Justice Antonin Scalia’s Death Quickly Sparks Political Battle
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep Saturday during a visit to Texas. His death immediately triggered a monumental election-year battle in Washington over whether President Barack Obama should choose a successor who could tilt the Supreme Court toward liberals. Within two hours of Scalia’s death being reported, presidential candidates along with Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill were feuding over whether Obama should appoint a replacement for the eloquent and outspoken Scalia or wait for the next administration to make a decision. The battle lines underscored the huge political stakes in the 2016 election, which could cement the ideological balance of the court for years to come. News of Scalia’s death broke hours before the latest Republican presidential debate and added another explosive element to a heated GOP primary campaign. Even before Saturday, the fate of the Supreme Court was already a key election issue, given the possibility that the next President could get the chance to nominate at least two or three Justices due to the age of those on the bench.
Many Say Scalia’s Death Suspicious
The seemingly quick conclusion that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of “natural causes” this weekend is prompting calls for an autopsy and toxicological reports by activists and across social media platforms. “Anytime a head of state, member of Congress, or the most conservative member of the U.S. Supreme Court is found dead, an extensive autopsy and toxicology examination should be both immediate and mandatory,” said William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration. “The horrid reaction and comments about his death expressed by many liberals online illustrate that Scalia was hated by many people.” Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara, who pronounced Scalia dead, said the death certificate will say the cause of death was natural, and that he died of a heart attack. She said no autopsy was necessary. Guevara said she talked to Scalia’s doctor in Washington, D.C., who told her he had been sick. According to Guevara, Scalia told his group Friday at dinner he was not feeling well and went to his room early. He then missed breakfast and lunch Saturday and was later found unresponsive in his bed. It then took hours for authorities in remote West Texas to find a justice of the peace, officials said Sunday. When they did, she pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes without seeing the body and decided not to order an autopsy. A second justice of the peace, who was called but couldn’t get to Scalia’s body in time, said she would have ordered an autopsy, reports the Washington Post. Scalia was animated and engaged during dinner Friday night, says Houston businessman John Poindexter, who owns the 30,000-acre luxury ranch. “We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled,” said Poindexter.”
- Extremely suspicious death at just the right time for Obama to be able to swing the court left once again
Pope’s Efforts to Stop Church Child Abuse Ineffective
A member of a commission set up by Pope Francis to advise him on child abuse says the group is a “token body” exercising in “smoke and mirrors” that won’t help children stay safe from abusive priests. Peter Saunders, the commission member, is now on a leave of absence as he considers whether to continue with an effort he says he has lost faith in. Meanwhile, new Catholic bishops are still being taught they’re not obliged to report cases of child abuse by priests to the police. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Francis set up with much fanfare in 2014, was supposed to issue guidelines for the Vatican on how to deal with child abuse. But the body was never consulted about the training for new bishops, a sign that Francis’ reform efforts, and his pledge to clean up the Catholic Church’s most damaging crisis, seem to be unraveling before they’ve even really gotten started. The problems come as Pope Francis pays a visit to Latin America, a region where, as GlobalPost has reported, the church is accused of reassigning and protecting many alleged predator priests. Among the latest scandals in the region, Chileans are outraged that the pope appointed a bishop accused of shielding the country’s most despised pedophile priest from investigation.
Pope Condemns Corruption, Violence in Mexico
Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico was unprecedented — the world’s first Latin American pope meets with Latin American political and religious leaders, and celebrates Mass at the center of Latin American Catholic devotion. To state leaders, he cautioned that a selfish society becomes “a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death.” From the assembled Mexican bishops, he demanded “prophetic courage” to heal ravaged areas. At evening Mass, he sought hope for “the suffering but resilient hearts” of families that lose children to violence and crime. As the popemobile whisked Francis from one speech to the next, crowds stretched from one horizon to the other. The air remained festive, even jubilant, and peaceful. But as the pope spoke, he seemed to tap into the frustration many Mexicans have expressed here over the past two days: a pervasive sense of government corruption and the inability of authorities to bring years of cartel violence under control. Mexicans are desperately praying that the pope’s visit will bring peace to Mexico, by raising the spiritual conscience of government leaders and of those involved in crime and the drug trade.
U.S. Power Grid Targeted by Terror Groups
There are any number of terror groups – ISIS, Al Qaeda, even entire countries like North Korea – that would love to see America brought to her knees. Thanks to the deplorable condition of the country’s electric grid, it could be done without a single bullet being fired, reports Newsmax.com. “Experts describe it as having so many weaknesses that a hacker could sit at a terminal on the other side of the globe and successfully take over computers that control power stations all across the United States.” A USA TODAY analysis of federal energy records found that the grid is struck by a physical or cyberattack every four days. We don’t hear about most of these attacks, but some we do. Perhaps the best known was the one on a Pacific Gas & Electric substation in San Jose, California. Shooting for 19 minutes, snipers managed to destroy 17 giant transformers that provided essential power as far away as Silicon Valley. It took workers 27 days to restore the facility. No arrests were made. Former CIA official Dr. Peter Pry warns, “There is an imminent threat from ISIS to the national electric grid and not just to a single U.S. city.” Dr. Pry says that attacks on just 9 of the nation’s 55,000 electrical substations could result in nationwide blackouts for up to 18 months.
Obama Cutting Counterterrorism Funds in Budget Proposal
Sen. Charles Schumer is slamming a White House proposal that would reduce funding for counterterrorism programs across the country by nearly $300 million. The New York Democrat is pushing President Barack Obama to reconsider the cuts. Schumer notes that the cuts to the Urban Area Security Initiative were included in the proposed 2017 budget released last week by the White House. The initiative helps fund programs in cities across the U.S. to prevent extremist attacks, or respond to and recover from them. The proposed budget would cut the funding from $600 million to $330 million. “In light of recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the vow by our extremist enemies to launch more attacks on our shores, it makes no sense to propose cuts to vital terror-prevention programs like UASI.”
- It makes no sense unless Obama wants a crisis so that he can institute martial law
U.S. Seeks to Redefine Terrorism Rules to Include Anti-Government Protestors
The U.S. Justice Department is considering legal changes to combat what it sees as a rising threat from domestic anti-government extremists, senior officials told Reuters, even as it steps up efforts to stop Islamic State-inspired attacks at home. Extremist groups motivated by a range of U.S.-born philosophies present a “clear and present danger,” John Carlin, the Justice Department’s chief of national security, told Reuters in an interview. The U.S. State Department designates international terrorist organizations to which it is illegal to provide “material support.” No domestic groups have that designation, helping to create a disparity in charges faced by international extremist suspects compared to domestic ones. A Reuters analysis of more than 100 federal cases found that domestic terrorism suspects collectively have faced less severe charges than those accused of acting on behalf of Islamic State since prosecutors began targeting that group in early 2014.
Systems to Weed Out Problem Teachers Defective
An investigation by the USA TODAY NETWORK found fundamental defects in the teacher screening systems used to ensure the safety of children in the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts. The patchwork system of laws and regulations — combined with inconsistent execution and flawed information sharing between states and school districts — fails to keep teachers with histories of serious misconduct out of classrooms and away from schoolchildren. States fail to report the names of thousands of disciplined teachers to a privately run database that is the nation’s only centralized system for tracking teacher discipline. The names of at least 9,000 educators disciplined by state officials are missing from a clearinghouse operated by the non-profit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. At least 1,400 of those teachers’ licenses had been permanently revoked, including at least 200 revocations prompted by allegations of sexual or physical abuse. Three states already have begun internal investigations and audits based on questions raised during the course of this investigation.
The European Union warned Greece on Friday to do a better job of stemming the flood of migrants crossing through to other European nations or face a suspension of the EU’s passport-free travel rights. The ultimatum demands that Greece fix its border controls within three months or lose free travel rights for up to two years. Greece is the main gateway for several thousand migrants a day who are fleeing wars in Syria and elsewhere en route to more prosperous northern Europe. EU leaders have accused Greece of not doing enough to keep so many war refugees and other migrants seeking better economic opportunities from transiting through the country.
The ultimatum came as the 28-nation bloc struggles to cope with its worst refugee crisis since World War II. More refugees and migrants have braved wintry seas to reach Europe so far this year than in the first four months of 2015, according to the United Nations. Children are increasingly among those making the treacherous journey to Greece. “One in three people arriving to Greece were children as compared to just one in 10 in September 2015,” U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
Three people have died in Venezuela from complications related to the Zika virus, President Nicolas Maduro said. There have been 319 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the nation, state-run newspaper Correo Del Orinoco reported Thursday. The Zika virus is a flavivirus, part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile and dengue. But unlike some of those viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika and no medicine to treat the infection. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of locally acquired Zika virus in the United States in the latest outbreak. The case was transmitted via sex, and not by the most common route, which is via mosquito bite.
A rare neurological disorder is on the rise in several Latin American countries that are also seeing an outbreak of the Zika virus, the World Health Organization said Saturday. The U.N. health body in Geneva said in a weekly report that Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), which can cause temporary paralysis, has been reported in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela. The increase in Guillain-Barre cases is appearing in conjunction with the spread of the Zika virus to 34 countries. However, the health agency said “the cause of the increase in GBS incidence … remains unknown, especially as dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus have all been circulating simultaneously in the Americas.”
Oil prices scored their biggest one-day gain since 2009 Friday after hitting 12-year lows a day earlier, as hopes of production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries fueled a rally. The spike came after a United Arab Emirates Energy Minister suggested that OPEC members “are ready to cooperate on a cut,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Cuts by OPEC would mark a reversal. In January OPEC increased production by 280,000 barrels per day to 32.6 million
U.S. stocks also rallied in a big way Friday, getting a lift from an explosive rally in oil and some good news in the beleaguered banking sector. The Dow Jones industrials snapped a five-day losing streak, jumping 314 points, or 2.0%, to close at 15,974. Also helping was news that giant German bank Deutsche Bank announced plans to buy back more than $5 billion in debt to help cool market jitters about its financial health. Concerns about European and U.S. banks have been one of the reasons stocks had such a rocky week. Even with Friday’s rebound, the Dow is now down 1,451 points this year, while the S&P 500 is off 9% and remains near two-year lows.
The middle class remains under siege. Since 2010, as the country began to recover from the Great Recession, income of the top 20% of households grew 3.7% from 2010 through 2014. During that time, incomes of the middle 20% of households declined 0.7%.
The last Gaza war began in the air with rockets that Hamas militants fired at Israel. Now, Israelis living next door to the Palestinian territory see worrisome signs that the next war will be waged underground. Hamas appears to be building new tunnels under their feet to smuggle fighters into Israel to kill or kidnap residents. In response, the Israeli government is stepping up efforts — and developing secret high-tech methods — to detect and destroy the labyrinth of tunnels Hamas builds to circumvent a tight embargo that Israel and Egypt imposed around Gaza. Israel says Hamas has resumed digging tunnels since the last war ended. Hamas claims it has built more than 50 tunnels in the past 18 months.
It was a violent weekend in Israel, with security forces and civilians facing multiple attacks by Palestinians wielding knives, guns and other weapons. On Sunday evening, two Palestinians opened fire at security forces near the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City. Police shot both attackers dead before they could wound anyone. Earlier Sunday, IDF troops stationed near the security fence north of Jenin came under fire Sunday, killing two terrorists after an exchange of fire. Elsewhere Sunday afternoon, another Palestinian teenager pulled out a knife and charged Border Police officers at a checkpoint south of Jerusalem. The attacker was shot dead before he could wound anyone. Another attempt at stabbing was reported Sunday in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot. Israel has experienced an increase of violence from ‘lone wolves’ since October.
The U.S. government called Saturday on Turkey to stop shelling American-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria as the militants sought to seize new ground before a possible cease-fire, creating dangerous fissures between tenuous allies in the war against Islamic State extremists. The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon both pressed Turkey to immediately stop shelling and urged America’s Kurdish allies in Syria not to expand their areas of control as world leaders struggle to cement the details of a cease-fire meant in Syria to take hold within days. The surge in violence threatens to drive a new wedge between the U.S. and Turkey, wary allies in the war against Islamic State. And it is a reflection of the fractured Syrian battlefield that makes it difficult for world leaders to work out a durable cease-fire in the five-year-old war.
Perhaps never before have the dangers — or the complications — of what amounts to a mini world war been so apparent as in the battle underway for control of Aleppo, notes the Washington Post. While a cease-fire in Syria is supposed to take place by week’s end, the fighting is escalating and new parties, such as Saudi Arabia, are preparing to enter the fray. On Sunday, Turkey announced the arrival of Saudi military jets that are poised to join the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Syria. Turkey and Qatar are also considering sending ground troops into the fight, according to the Andalou News Agency. In a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, Syria’s foreign ministry accused Turkey of shelling government forces in northern Syria and sending military supplies accompanied by gunmen into its country, according to the Al Arabiya television network. Two hospitals in Syria were hit by airstrikes Monday causing a number of deaths, according to media reports. Doctors Without Borders said a hospital it funds in the town of Marat Al Numan, in Idlib province in the north of the country, was hit by four rockets in at least two attacks, leaving at least eight staff members missing.
Somalia’s Islamic extremist terror group, Al Shabaab, said Saturday they carried out the bombing of a commercial passenger jet earlier this month that blew a hole in the fuselage, sucking out the suspected bomber and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. Western and Turkish intelligence agents aboard the Daallo Airlines flight to Djibouti on Feb. 2 were the targets of the bombing, the terror group said in a statement. The Al Qaeda-affiliated group said it had planned to destroy the Airbus 321 plane but failed. The bomb detonated shortly after takeoff from Mogadishu airport, when the plane was at 11,000 feet and ascending. Experts said if the plane had been at its intended cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, the explosion could’ve brought the plane down.
10,000 Greek farmers staged a massive revolt in Athens, destroying several police cars. The farmers are upset with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the government for a proposal to triple the social security burden and double income taxes in an effort to appease European Union leaders Brussels who claim that Greece has not made enough progress towards fiscal consolidation since the country’s third bailout was agreed last August. Tsipras swept to power a little over a year ago with promises to roll back austerity, but “prolonged negotiations with creditors and the resulting economic malaise that gripped the country last summer broke the PM’s revolutionary spirit and now, he’s been reduced to something of a technocrat rather than a socialist firebrand,” reports Freedom’s Phoenix. Putting Greece on a sustainable path is a virtual impossibility at this juncture, the report contends. “There are myriad structural problems that cut to the heart of the currency bloc’s woes and on top of that, Athens’ debt burden is simply astounding.”
The Haitian Parliament elected a new interim president Sunday, one week after the previous president stepped down with no successor lined up. Former head of Parliament Jocelerme Privert is the new interim president. Privert will serve a term of 120 days and must confirm a consensus prime minister. A new round of elections will take place on April 24, with the elected winner to be installed on May 14. In the past, Haiti’s elections have been marred by delays, protests that sometimes turned violent and claims of vote-rigging.
An Antarctic iceberg the size of a major city that’s blocked access to the sea since 2010 for thousands of Adelie penguins threatens to completely wipe out the colony. Once 160,000 strong, the flightless birds now number only 10,000 after being forced to waddle some 40 miles in search of food, according to new research from the Climate Change Research Center at Australia’s University of New South Wales. Scientists predict the colony will vanish in 20 years unless the ice breaks up or the giant iceberg, which measures 1,000 square miles, is somehow dislodged.
A magnitude-5.1 earthquake struck Oklahoma early Saturday. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported the epicenter of the earthquake was 17 miles northwest of Fairview. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The earthquake occurred at 12:07 a.m. at a depth of 1 kilometer, the USGS said. This is the strongest quake to rattle the state since 2011. Though Oklahoma has a history of earthquakes, the USGS says there has been a significant increase in the rate of quakes since 2009. The USGS says waste water injected into deep geologic formations is a likely contributing factor to the seismic activity increase. This method of retrieving oil and natural gas is known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A moderate earthquake, magnitude 5.8, struck near the coast of New Zealand’s south island early Sunday afternoon (local time), where some residents were urged to evacuate. The quake was centered about 17 kilometers miles (11 miles) east-northeast of Christchurch, New Zealand. The earthquake was relatively shallow, with an epicenter at a depth of 8 kilometers (5 miles). Residents reported seeing a dust cloud emerging through the sky near Christchurch. The same portion of New Zealand was rocked by a strong, magnitude 6.3 earthquake back nearly five years ago on Feb. 22, 2011. Although that earthquake led to the deaths of at least 180 people, this most recent earthquake appears to have been a relatively low-impact event. The quake Sunday caused a cliff to crumble near Taylor’s Mistake bay. Some narrowly escaped the collapse.
A blast of bitter cold arctic air has brought the coldest temperatures in decades to some Northeast cities Valentine’s Day morning. Boston fell to minus 9 degrees Sunday, making it the coldest temperature recorded in the city since Jan. 15, 1957, or nearly 60 years. Boston also crushed its Valentine’s Day record low of minus 3 degrees set in 1934. In New York City, the low temperature dipped to a daily record low of 1 degree below zero. Wind chills Sunday morning dropped into the 40s below zero in portions of Upstate New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, including Saranac Lake, New York (minus 45 degrees), Pittsfield, Massachusetts (minus 43 degrees), and Montpelier, Vermont (minus 45 degrees). This bitter cold air mass has prompted the National Weather Service to issue wind chill warnings for a large portion of the Northeast for “life-threatening” cold conditions. Boston fell to minus 9 degrees Sunday morning, making it the coldest temperature recorded in the city since Jan. 15, 1957.
Winter Storm Olympia will bring snow and ice to a number of states from the Midwest and South into the Northeast to start this week. The storm was named Sunday morning after the National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings from parts of central Kentucky to western Virginia. At least three people were killed and scores were injured Saturday when dozens of vehicles slammed into each other during a ‘whiteout’ on a stretch of Pennsylvania Interstate 78 in Lebanon County. T winter storm brought a snowy, icy mess from Georgia to Maine on Monday, snarling air and road travel and threatening power outages across the region. More than 510 flights had been canceled nationwide as of 8:20 a.m. ET, with the heaviest disruptions so far coming in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Although precipitation may start as snow or ice in the East Monday into Monday night, many locations will change to rain during the course of the storm, including along the I-95 corridor.
Record warmth has been giving much of the West a very early summer preview, as temperatures have soared into the 80s and 90s. The change has been rather abrupt, as conditions more typical during an El Niño winter, has been replaced by dry and unseasonably warm conditions. A nearly steady string of storm systems through the late fall and early winter brought much-needed rain to the region. Unfortunately, the current warm, dry spell has put further drought-relief on hold, at least in the short-term. Dozens of record highs have been toppled over the past week across the Golden State, Desert Southwest and other parts of the West, as many locations have risen into the 80s and 90s. The warmth has been a staggering 15 to 25 degrees above average.
- End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)