Archive for March, 2016

Signs of the Times (3/28/16)

March 28, 2016

Georgia Governor Vetoes Religious Liberty Bill Amid Boycott Threats

Facing threats of a massive economic boycott, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday he will veto a controversial religious liberty bill that critics describe as anti-gay and supporters describe as necessary to protect their religious rights. The Republican governor had been under intense pressure to veto the religious liberty bill which would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. It also would let employers retain the right to fire employees not aligned with those beliefs. Supporters said the bill would protect religious viewpoints and in turn prevent discrimination against faith-based groups. In the past week, nearly three-dozen actors, directors and studio companies have threatened to pull out of lucrative projects in Georgia — a popular filming location dubbed the “Hollywood of the South” — if Deal signed the bill. Coca-Cola and other Georgia companies joined the National Football League urging Deal to reject the proposal.

Illegal Immigrants Getting Obamacare Benefits Illegally

Taxpayers are subsidizing health care for illegal immigrants in counties across the country, despite a provision in the Affordable Care Act explicitly prohibiting government-subsidized care for illegal immigrants, reports Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in 20 of the 25 U.S. counties with the largest illegal immigrant populations are able to sign up for health care benefit programs paid for by taxpayers that act as health insurance, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of those 25 counties. And at least 750,000 illegal immigrants are receiving care in those counties, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion. Most of the programs allow residents of the county to sign up without regard to their immigration status, and some are explicitly intended for immigrants. Those who sign up for the plans can receive free doctor visits, shots, prescription drugs and surgeries and other benefits, depending on the program. President Obama’s healthcare law prohibits illegal immigrants from signing up for subsidized plans, but the counties surveyed by The WSJ are treating them anyway, reasoning the reduced emergency room costs will be more cost effective than denying them coverage.

Islamist Says Big Attack Coming to America

The deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels last week and in Paris last November are dress rehearsals for a coming “big” attack inside the United States, a leading Islamic State-allied militant claimed in an exclusive interview. Abu al-Ayna al-Ansari, a Salafist movement senior official in the Gaza Strip, made the claim in a pre-recorded, hour-long interview to air in full on Sunday on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Klein asked Ansari whether IS maintains cells inside the U.S. and if the terrorist group is “planning anything in America.” Ansari responded: “Aaron, the battle with America is a very long one, a very tough one, a very hard one. America has a black record with the mujahedeen, and this black record will not be purified but with blood, and lots of blood. Only blood will cleanse what America did to the mujahedeen. And I can confirm that our leadership made it very clear that what happened in Paris, what happened in Brussels was only a small rehearsal before the big thing that will happen in America.”

Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable

As a dragnet aimed at Islamic State operatives spiraled across Brussels into at least five European countries on Friday, the authorities were also focusing on a narrower but increasingly alarming threat: the vulnerability of Belgium’s nuclear installations. The investigation into this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels has prompted worries that the Islamic State is seeking to attack, infiltrate or sabotage nuclear installations or obtain nuclear or radioactive material. This is especially worrying in a country with a history of security lapses at its nuclear facilities, a weak intelligence apparatus and a deeply rooted terrorist network, reports the New York Times. On Friday, the authorities stripped security badges from several workers at one of two nuclear plants. Video footage of a top official at another Belgian nuclear facility was discovered last year in the apartment of a suspected militant linked to the extremists who unleashed the horror in Paris in November.

Tourists Avoiding Europe after Terror Attacks

Americans were shying away from Europe as a travel destination even before Tuesday’s terror attack in Brussels, and experts say the horrific bombing of the airport and train station will accelerate that trend. “There’s definitely a shift going on,” said Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for the travel-data firm Hopper. “It feels like that’s been the trend since the Paris attacks, and now you’ve got an attack directly on an airport.” Hopper’s data shows that searches by travelers considering Europe are down 13% so far this year, compared to the same period last year. Overall, worldwide travel searches and bookings have remained stable. People are still traveling, but are avoiding Europe, he said. Priceline, Expedia and TripAdvisor all reported reduced revenues in the weeks after the Paris terror attacks left 130 dead in November, said Tuna Amobi, an equity analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

U.S. Immigration Shifting to Non-Mexicans

In 37 states, a country other than Mexico is now the most common country of origin for newly arrived immigrants, according to a Stateline analysis of census data. The numbers reflect a steep decline in Mexican immigration since 2005 and point to a swift and dramatic shift toward Asia — especially China and India — as the dominant source of newcomers to the U.S. “It is east of the Mississippi that shows a flip from Mexican to Indian, Chinese and other origins,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Much of the shift can be attributed to economic reasons. During the U.S. housing boom, still in full swing in 2005, many Mexican immigrants came to work in construction. But the housing bust and recession, plus stricter border enforcement and better job prospects in Mexico, reduced the flood to a trickle. Meanwhile, a booming job market for people with technical and scientific skills has drawn increasing numbers of immigrants from India and China. The U.S. Census Bureau figures show 428,000 new immigrants came from India and China in 2014, more than double the 2005 number. Meanwhile, the number of new immigrants from Mexico dropped by two-thirds, to 240,000. Their number had peaked in 2000, at about 875,000.

Native American Girls have Highest Rate of Incarceration

American Indian and Native Alaskan girls are a small fraction of the population, but they are over-represented in the juvenile justice system, whether they are living on or off the reservation. Native American girls have the highest rates of incarceration of any ethnic group, reports the USA Today. They are nearly five times more likely than white girls to be confined to a juvenile detention facility, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. They’re also poor, more likely to be sexually abused, end up in foster care, drop out of school, become homeless. They’re often the prey of traffickers. American Indian girls often find themselves without state or local social service programs tailored to their cultural backgrounds and experiences, which are distinct from other girls living in or on the edge of poverty. “As Indian people, our greatest hope is our children. And our kids are really at risk,” said Carla Fredericks, director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. “The only way we can help these girls is if we do it cooperatively, with the states, federal government and within our own communities.”

Persecution Watch

A bomb blast in a park filled with Christian families celebrating Easter in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed 65 people and wounded hundreds more, a government official said Sunday. A breakaway Taliban faction told the Associated Press that it was responsible for the explosion. Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the militant group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said it deliberately targeted Christians and warned of more attacks to follow. Salman Rafiq, a health adviser to the chief minister of Punjab province, said many of those injured were in critical condition and warned that the death toll could climb. Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for the chief minister, said at least 300 were injured in addition to those killed. When the U.S. Department of State released a statement condemning the Pakistani Taliban faction’s Easter bombing in a Lahore park, it noticeably omitted the fact that Easter-celebrating Christians were specifically targeted, despite the Taliban’s public claim.

Migrant Update

The once-great wave of refugees motoring in cheap rubber rafts across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands has suddenly become a ripple. Where thousands arrived in a day, now hundreds — and some days far fewer — splash onto the Greek shores from Turkey, a possible sign that the largest mass migration of the 21st century is slowing or that refugees are changing course as Europe scrambles to erect new barriers, reports the Washington Post. Migration officials and aid workers said that rough seas in recent days may be responsible for the dramatic reduction. But in the Syrian quarter of Izmir, once teeming with refugees shopping for life preservers, the cheap hotels are empty. Over the past 15 months, about 1 million refugees were smuggled from Turkey to the Greek islands. The maritime smuggling mafias made more than $4 billion last year, authorities said. Some 400 people have died in the Aegean Sea crossings. Most of them drowned, according to the Greek coast guard. An additional 170 are listed as missing.

In a brief Easter weekend radio address, President Obama vowed to decimate the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but he said the United States will do so by offering an example of freedom, tolerance and open society. “Our openness to refugees fleeing ISIL’s violence; our determination to win the battle against ISIL’s hateful and violent propaganda — a distorted view of Islam that aims to radicalize young Muslims to their cause,” are paramount in the fight, Obama told Americans during his weekly radio address. Admitting entry to Syrian and Iraqi refugees has become a divisive issue in the U.S. as well as Europe, but Obama made clear he has no plan to back off his promise to admit 100,000 to the U.S. this year.

  • Apparently Obama hasn’t been reading news accounts of the widespread chaos and violence across Europe caused by the Muslim refugees. Maybe that’s because the mainstream media isn’t reporting these incidents.

Economic News

U.S. consumer spending posted a tiny gain for the third straight month in February while income growth slowed sharply. Consumer spending edged up 0.1% in February, matching similar lackluster gains in January and December, the Commerce Department reported Monday. Personal incomes rose a modest 0.2% in February after a much stronger 0.5% rise in January. The slowdown reflected a 0.1% drop in wages and salaries, the first drop in this key category since September. A key price gauge followed by the Federal Reserve showed prices fell 0.1% in February and are up just 1% over the past 12 months.

The portion of the U.S. population working or looking for jobs — known as the labor force participation rate — has risen to 62.9% from 62.4% since September, Labor Department figures show. The rate had been falling since 2008, mostly because of baby boomer retirements, and that’s still expected to be the long-term trend. Yet part of the decline was caused by a bruising post-recession job market that prompted discouraged workers to drop out of the labor force. At least some of those idled workers are returning to work or looking again now that the jobless rate has fallen to 4.9%, a level many economists consider full employment. They’ve been drawn back by employers who are raising pay or becoming less selective.

The U.S. oil industry, having grown into a giant on par with Saudi Arabia’s, is shrinking, with the biggest collapse in investment in energy in 25 years. More than 140,000 have lost energy jobs. Banks are bracing for tens of billions of dollars of defaults, and economists and lawyers predict the financial wreckage will accelerate this year, notes the Washington Post.

Islamic State

Syrian government forces backed by unrelenting Russian airstrikes recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State militants on Sunday, the Syrian army announced. The announcement followed a three-week siege that left hundreds of militants killed and sent many more fleeing into the desert, the army said. It follows a string of military setbacks for the Islamic State in its efforts to create a Sunni-based caliphate from a wide swath of Syria and Iraq. “Palmyra city is now fully cleared of ISIS terrorists after the army established complete control over all its parts,” the Syrian army said in a statement through the government controlled Syrian Arab News Agency. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed Syrian army gains, saying government forces and Shia militias were also taking control of neighborhoods on the outskirts of the United Nations heritage site known in the region as “the bride of the Syrian desert.” Iraqi forces on Sunday cleared villages from which they ousted jihadists south of Mosul, the Islamic State group’s main hub in the country.


A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people and wounded 60 others in an attack on a crowd gathered at a soccer stadium south of Baghdad on Friday. The blast occurred during a trophy presentation in the village of Iskandariya about 25 miles south of the Iraqi capital. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the group also known as ISIL or ISIS. The Islamic State has carried out several suicide bombings in and around Baghdad as Iraqi forces with U.S. military support recaptured territory from the terrorist group in recent months.


Friday, three female suicide bombers planning to carry out an attack near the northern Cameroon village of Limani were spotted by local vigilantes before they could blow themselves up, Cameroon’s state broadcaster CRTV said One girl escaped. One girl who was captured claimed to be part of the group of 276 teenage girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, NTA reported. Boko Haram sparked international outrage when it abducted the girls from the town in northeastern Nigeria, police said. About 50 girls escaped but authorities fear the rest may have been raped, brutalized or forced to convert to Islam. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group based in Nigeria whose purpose is to institute Sharia, or Islamic law.


More than 1,100 people have been diagnosed with yellow fever in Angola since December, according to the World Health Organization, and at least 178 have died. It’s the worst outbreak of yellow fever in the country in three decades, and the supply of vaccines is running low. The outbreak began in the capital of Luanda but has now spread to at least 10 of the 18 provinces in the country. Of greater concern to health officials is that China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya have reported cases they suspect were imported from Angola. According to WHO, there are between 84,000 and 170,000 cases of yellow fever a year and as many as 60,000 of those cases are fatal. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease transmitted by two types of mosquitoes.


Just days after President Barack Obama concluded his historic three-day visit to Cuba, former leader Fidel Castro published an op-ed piece attacking the U.S. president. In a column published in the Communist government’s official newspaper on Monday entitled “My Brother Obama, Castro mocks the U.S. president’s efforts. He responded to sections of Obama’s speech line by line, engaging in an ex-post-facto dialogue with the American president with pointed critiques of perceived slights and insults, including Obama’s failure to give credit to indigenous Cubans and Castro’s prohibition of racial segregation after coming to power in 1959. He ends with a dig at the Obama administration’s drive to increase business ties with Cuba. “I warn you that we are capable of producing the food and material wealth we need with the effort and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us nothing.”


Usually idyllic beaches, waterways and estuaries near the massive, biodiverse ecosystem along central Florida’s Atlantic coast are littered with scores of dead, rotting fish; hundreds of thousands of them are floating belly up in brackish, polluted water as far as the eye can see. El Nino has soaked Florida recently, even during its usual “dry season.” In January, parts of central Florida received triple the amount of rain they normally do for the month. All that rainwater eventually made its way into estuaries via urbanized neighborhoods, picking up fertilizer and other pollutants along the way. In addition, temperatures were warmer than usual during the winter, allowing a toxic algae bloom and brown tide to deplete the water of oxygen.


A volcano on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands erupted Sunday afternoon and sent ash 20,000 feet into the air, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. The agency says the Pavlof Volcano, which is about 600 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted at 4:18 p.m. local time. The eruption also led to tremors on the ground. The agency says the volcano, which is about 4.4 miles in diameter, has had 40 known eruptions and “is one of the most consistently active volcanoes in the Aleutian arc.” During a previous eruption in 2013, ash plumes rose 27,000 feet. Other eruptions have generated ash plumes as high as 49,000 feet. The community closest to the volcano is Cold Bay, which is about 37 miles southwest.


The wildfire season has gotten underway early this year in the U.S. due to prolonged dry conditions and warmer than normal temperatures. As of last Friday, 887,920 acres had burned, the most since 2006 and more than twice the average over the last ten years. A wildfire that started in Oklahoma and spread into southern Kansas has become the “largest in Kansas history and one of the largest in U.S. history,” the Kansas Forest Service said in a release Friday. At least 620 square miles – roughly 397,000 acres – of land have been scorched in the fire, which started Tuesday.


March has been a very warm month for most of the U.S. Numerous locations from the Rockies to the East Coast, with the exception of much of the South, are in position to see a top-five warmest March. Heading into early April, however, a surge of colder temperatures is expected to push southward into the Midwest and portions of the East.

A severe thunderstorm pelted southern parts of the Orlando metro area Saturday evening with hailstones up to the size of quarters. Even more impressive was the volume of hail, which accumulated on lawns and streets, making some areas appear to be a winter wonderland, quite unusual in Florida.

Snow once again blanketed parts of the Rockies, including Colorado Sunday. Fortunately, this system was nothing like the paralyzing blizzard earlier in the week. Snowfall of 14 inches was recorded near Norris, South Dakota while Kebler Pass in Colorado received 13 inches with 12 inches in the Colorado Springs area.

Signs of the Times (3/25/16)

March 25, 2016

Security Breakdowns Failed to Prevent Brussels Terror Strikes

Explosions at the airport and a downtown metro stop rocked Brussels Tuesday, killing at least 31 people (including two Americans), wounding more than 100 and shutting down all public transportation. Belgium’s federal prosecutor confirmed the blasts at the airport were caused by a suicide attack. The explosion at the metro station was near buildings that house European Union institutions in central Brussels. More casualties were avoided when a huge bomb failed to detonate at the airport and the terrorist who brought it fled. Police, tipped by a taxi driver, raided a bomb making house in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek and confiscated explosives. They also found a computer in a street trash can that contained a suicide note from Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers, who wrote in French that he felt increasingly unsafe and “did not want to end up in jail.” “We were fearing terrorist attacks and that has now happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said. The attack follows the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in November’s Paris attacks who was captured in Brussels last week after a four-month manhunt. A suspect in the Brussels suicide attacks was shot Friday as police carried out a major sweep in the district of the Belgian capital where investigators say the attackers hid and built their bombs.

Two days after the worst terror attack on Belgian soil, signs are growing that the Belgium government’s failure to address security warnings may have contributed to Tuesday’s bombings. Belgian authorities received a detailed warning about a planned terror attack on the Brussels airport in the days before the attack, reports Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet. Haaretz reported that other Western intelligence agencies also knew about an impending assault on the subway, planned by the caliphate of ISIS in Syria.  But law enforcement in Brussels was not prepared. The suicide bomber who blew himself up in a Brussels subway station had been wanted since December in connection with the Paris attacks, Belgium’s federal prosecutor admitted Thursday. At least one of the Brussels suicide bombers, suspected of being a terrorist, was deported by Turkey less than a year ago. “Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter,” President Erdogan of Turkey told a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday, “the Belgian authorities could not identify a link to terrorism.” On Wednesday there were renewed calls for a pan-European intelligence agency that would effectively share information from different countries. A man arrested this week by French police for allegedly plotting an attack on the country has been linked by authorities in Belgium to the suspected ringleader of last year’s Paris terror attacks.

Hundreds of Terrorist Attacks since Paris

The Brussels terrorist attacks are the most violent to hit Europe since the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, but not the first nor even the hundredth. Since the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, there have been literally hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world. Factor out the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and there still have been dozens of attacks over the past five months. Some, like the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., were well-reported. The attack in Ivory Coast earlier this month also was widely covered. But most attacks have flown under the radar. Below are just some of them:

  • 11/20/15: A group of al-Qaeda-linked militants took 170 people hostage, ultimately killing 20, during a mass shooting at a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali in West Africa.
  • 11/24/15: A bus loaded with Tunisian presidential guards was struck by a suicide bomber linked to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS)
  • 12/2/15: In the most prominent terrorist attack in the U.S. since Paris, two shooters, a husband and wife team, opened fire on the husband’s colleagues at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, an attack “inspired” by ISIS according to the FBI
  • 1/12/16: A suicide bombing in a popular central square in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, left 13 people dead and 14 people injured. All of the dead were foreigners. The perpetrator was identified as an ISIS follower from Syria.
  • 1/14/16: A series of suicide bombings and shootings in Indonesia’s capital left eight people dead, including four assailants. Another 24 people were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility
  • 1/15/16: A group of al-Qaeda backed militants attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At least 30 people were killed, and another 56 were wounded.
  • 2/17/16: Kurdish freedom fighters attacked a convoy of buses, killing military personnel and civilians during evening rush hour. At least 29 people died and another 60 people were injured.
  • 2/26/16: A group of militants linked to al-Shabab killed at least 15 people and left others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the gate of the SYL hotel in Mogadishu.
  • 3/13/16: At least 18 people were killed and another 33 were injured when an al-Qaeda-linked group attacked the Étoile du Sud hotel.
  • 3/13/16: A second attack in Ankara, Turkey, this year resulted in the deaths of 37 people with another 127 people injured. As with the first attack, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the assault.
    • The point? Terrorism is increasing and virtually all of the attacks are being carried out by adherents of Islam, the so-called ‘peaceful’ religion. Just as Genesis 16:12 prophesied about the descendants of Ishmael, they not only attack ‘infidels’ but either other as well. “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (NIV)

AP Reports Over 400 Terrorists Loose in Europe

Isis has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage, The Associated Press reports. Estimates range from 400 to 600 Isis fighters trained specifically for terrorist attacks. The head of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes , (R-CA) told reporters on Wednesday that there was some reason to believe that Tuesday’s attack in Brussels had targeted Americans. Nunes said he drew that conclusion based on location of the twin bombing sites: next to stands for U.S. airliners United, American and Delta at Brussels’s Zaventem airport, and at a downtown metro station less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. Government Admits Released Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Have Killed Americans

Prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have killed Americans, a senior Defense Department official reported to lawmakers this week. According to the Associated Press, Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure, was speaking to the Republican-majority House Foreign Affairs Committee. “What I can tell you is unfortunately there have been Americans that have died because of (Guantanamo) detainees,” Lewis said. Currently, there are 91 prisoners at Guantanamo. There were 250 when Obama took office in 2009.

U.S. Cities Ramp Up Security in Wake of Brussels Attacks

U.S. cities and airports have stepped up security in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Brussels on Tuesday. Airports in cities across the country — including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia ramped up security in the wake of the attacks, though there are no known threats, according to officials. In Washington, police across the Metropolitan Transportation Authority metro system will increase K9 sweeps and police patrols. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed state law enforcement officials to “step up security at high-profile locations around the state, including our airports, bridges, tunnels and mass transit systems.” “The department has deployed additional counterterrorism resources across the city including the Counterterrorism Response Command, the Strategic Response Group and Hercules Teams,” said a New York Police Department spokesman.

U.S. Border Chief says Feds Fudging Numbers/Nationalities of Illegals

The number of arrests made at the border of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan is up significantly this year compared to last, the president of the National Border Patrol Council said when he testified during a House hearing on Tuesday, reports the Daily Caller. Brandon Judd, who served as a Border Patrol agent for nearly 20 years, also told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security that he has witnessed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials fudge alien apprehension statistics by low-balling the number of “got aways” — illegal border-crossers who enter the country but avoid being apprehended by border agents. Judd began by denying what he says is the Obama administration’s claim that “the border is more secure today than it’s ever been.” “As a Border Patrol Agent, I will tell you the exact opposite,” Judd said. The Obama administration fails “to give the American public key indicators such as the number of arrests of persons from countries with known terrorist ties or from countries that compete economically with our interests,” he added.

Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee Favored by Abortion Proponents

The media has been quick to brand President Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a “moderate” who won’t tip the ideological balance of our nation’s highest court. But the truth is, President Obama has nominated a Justice who will reverse the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy of defending the unborn’s right to life, reports the National Pro-Life Alliance. Ilyse Hogue, President of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is pushing for the Senate to confirm Garland. And Cecile Richards, President of the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood, met with Obama immediately following his announcement of Garland’s nomination. Shortly after their meeting, Planned Parenthood launched a nationwide social media campaign advocating for Garland’s confirmation as well.

  • In Garland’s tenure as a judge, he hasn’t had to deal with the topic of abortion, so his public position is now known. However, we can infer his leanings based on the people and organizations supporting him.

U.S. Charges Iran-Linked Hackers with Targeting Banks, N.Y. Dam

The Justice Department on Thursday announced it has indicted seven hackers associated with the Iranian government and charged them with cybercrimes. The crimes include disrupting U.S. banks’ public websites from late 2011 through May 2013 and with breaking into a small dam in Rye, N.Y., in an apparent attempt to stop its operation. The indictment marks the first time the government is charging people linked to a national government with disrupting or attempting to disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure or computer systems of key industries such as finance and water. According to an 18-page indictment, the hackers were working for two Iran-based computer security companies — ITSec Team and Mersad Co. — on behalf of the Iranian government. The institutions and businesses affected included Bank of America, the Nasdaq composite index, the New York Stock Exchange, Capital One, AT&T and PNC, the indictment alleges. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the attacks caused tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Chinese Hackers Stealing Defense Secrets

A Chinese businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles to helping two Chinese military hackers carry out a damaging series of thefts of sensitive military secrets from U.S. contractors. The plea by Su Bin, a Chinese citizen who ran a company in Canada, marks the first time the U.S. government has won a guilty plea from someone involved with a Chinese government campaign of economic cyberespionage. The resolution of the case comes as the Justice Department seeks the extradition from Germany of a Syrian hacker — a member of the group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army — on charges of conspiracy to hack U.S. government agencies and U.S. media outlets.

Hackers Hitting U.S. Hospitals with Ransomware

Last week, yet another American hospital was tossed into chaos after its computers were infected by hackers. Methodist Hospital, an averaged-sized medical facility located in western Kentucky, got hit with ransomware, a particularly nasty type of computer virus that encrypts computer files. Hackers don’t give you a key to unlock documents until they are paid a ransom. It’s only the latest medical facility to be hit this way, falling in line with a prediction by cybersecurity firm Trend Micro (TMICF) that “2016 will be the year of online extortion.” An email laced with ransomware managed to make it past the hospital’s email spam filter, according to hospital spokeswoman Brandi Schwartz. Someone opened the email, which spread the infection into the network. The hackers demanded to be paid in Bitcoin (XBT), an electronic money that’s difficult to trace.

Obamacare Online Portal Logged 316 Cybersecurity Incidents

The web portal used by millions of consumers to get health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law has logged more than 300 cybersecurity incidents and remains vulnerable to hackers, nonpartisan congressional investigators said Wednesday. The Government Accountability Office said none of the 316 security incidents appeared to have led to the release of sensitive data on, such as names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, financial information, or other personal information. Although GAO said the administration is making progress, its report concluded that security flaws “will likely continue to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity and availability of” The report also found “significant weaknesses” in health insurance sites operated by states, which connect to the data hub. Currently, 12 states and Washington, D.C., run their own websites.

Federal Appeals Court Slams IRS in Tea Party Case

In a blistering rebuke of the IRS, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court has ordered the tax-collecting agency to quit stalling and produce the names of organizations it targeted based on their political leanings. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit gave the IRS two weeks to turn over the documents sought as part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots. The NorCal Tea Party Patriots sued the IRS in 2013 after a Treasury inspector general concluded the IRS had unfairly singled out for extra scrutiny conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. “The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court,” the judges stated in court documents.

Unhappy 6th Birthday for Obamacare

A February poll conducted by National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that only 15% of respondents said that they have benefitted from Obamacare while 25% say they have been harmed by the law. With Obamacare now six-years old, enrollment figures are also a disappointment: only 12.7 million people have signed up, just about half of original government projections. The New York Times noted that, “for many consumers, the sticker shock is coming not on the front end, when they purchase plans, but on the back end when they get sick; sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.”

Temple of Baal Coming to Times Square

The New York Times reported that, “Next month, the Temple of Baal will come to Times Square. Reproductions of the 50-foot arch that formed the temple’s entrance are to be installed in New York and in London, a tribute to the 2,000-year-old structure that the Islamic State destroyed last year in the Syrian town of Palmyra. The group’s rampage through Palmyra, a city that reached its peak in the second and third century A.D., enraged the world, spurring scholars and conservationists into action. Numerous nongovernmental organizations are now cataloging and mapping damaged cultural heritage sites in the region.” Of course, most nonreligious Americans don’t understand who Baal was, nor do they really care, notes Charisma News. “But the truth is that many of the elements of ancient Baal worship are being mirrored in our society in 2016.” In ancient times, child sacrifice and bisexual orgies were common practices at the altars of Baal.

  • With growing support for abortion and the gay agenda, Baal is alive and well in the U.S.

Economic News

Red flags are rising on Corporate America’s debt. The average rating on U.S. corporate debt has hit nearly a 15-year low, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s. “We believe corporate default rates could increase over the next few years,” according to S&P. The average rating on companies that issue debt has fallen to ‘BB,’ or junk status. That is even below the average S&P rating for U.S. corporate debt during and in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. There are already concerns about energy companies defaulting on loans due to low oil prices. But new tech firms like Solera and media companies like iHeart too have had their credit rating downgraded this year, according to S&P.

U.S. oil stockpiles skyrocketed by 9.4 million barrels last week to 532.5 million barrels, according to figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s roughly triple what analysts had been bracing for and adds to “historically high” inventory levels. Last week crude climbed above $40 a barrel for the first time since early December amid hopes that global producers will freeze their production at current levels. Now, oil prices are dropping once again. Fracking now accounts for more than half of all U.S. oil output, according to the Energy Information Administration. It’s a stunning feat considering fracking made up less than 2% of American oil production in 2000.

Millennials are graduating from college, starting new jobs, getting married and having kids. But one life goal that’s eluding a lot of Millennials is homeownership, according to a new NerdWallet analysis. It’s not that young people don’t want to own homes. In fact, most Millennials would like to buy a home but haven’t yet done so because they think they can’t afford it. A 2014 Fannie Mae survey found that 57% of young renters cited financial reasons for not buying a home. Those reasons included poor credit, high down payment costs, a low monthly income and too much existing debt as the main obstacles. Home affordability could also be a roadblock to Millennials as interest rates climb and the median price of existing homes keeps rising. In February, the median price rose 4.4% to $210,800 year over year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Islamic State

ISIS launched a series of attacks Monday on Iraqi military interests, claiming its suicide bombers were responsible for the deaths of dozens of soldiers from Anbar province to northern Iraq. In some of the attacks, the Iraqi military said its troops responded and managed to kill the ISIS militants. Several of the terrorist attacks took place near the town of Albaghdadi, about 10 miles north of the large al-Asad military base in Anbar province. According to ISIS, five suicide vehicle bombers attacked an Iraqi military barracks near the town, killing more than 60 Iraqi soldiers. Three of the attackers were believed to be foreign, Separately, ISIS said a British suicide bomber named Abu Musa al-Britani detonated his car bomb as an Iraqi military convoy was leaving the al-Asad base, killing 30 Iraqi forces and destroying 11 military vehicles. from France, Jordan and Turkey.

A U.S. special operations team killed the Islamic State’s second-in-command in a pre-dawn raid early Thursday morning inside Syria, two senior defense officials confirmed to Fox News. Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Ala al-Afri, had a $7 million bounty on his head by the U.S. government. Al-Afri is a former physics professor from Iraq who originally joined Al Qaeda in 2004. After spending time in an Iraqi prison, he was released in 2012 and traveled to Syria to join up with what is now ISIS. He was the top deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and was considered the man most likely to take over for al-Baghdadi if he were captured or killed.


The Syrian army closed in on the Islamic State-controlled city of Palmyra on Thursday. The army identified three directions from which to storm Palmyra and was clearing all roads leading to it of mines and explosives. “We might witness in the next 48 hours an overwhelming victory in Palmyra,” an army spokesman said. “The army is advancing in a precise and organized way to protect what is possible of monuments and archaeological sites.” Since seizing the historic city in May, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has destroyed a number of ancient monuments at the Greco-Roman site. The group controls vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Syrian troops have entered the ancient city of Palmyra Thursday and are now poised to retake it from ISIS militants, Syrian state media reported.


The U.S. military conducted an airstrike Tuesday against an Al Qaeda training camp in Yemen, causing dozens of casualties, a Pentagon spokesman said. The training camp was located in the mountains, and was being used by more than 70 terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The airstrike hit a former military base that had been taken over by AQAP militants about 47 miles west of the terror group’s stronghold city of Mukalla. A tribal member at the site said about 40 people were killed and wounded.


President Barack Obama called for the U.S. embargo against Cuba to be lifted and for Cubans themselves to embrace change in a historic address from Havana. “But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba,” he said. Obama noted that there were still “very real differences” between the two countries, stretching from their political systems to their economic models, and made an extended appeal for greater freedoms on the Communist island. He said that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear” — a line that drew applause. He also said that people should be able “to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,” and that they should not be arrested for doing so. Obama told the crowd that democracy allows for the fullest expression of the ideals of any revolution.


Extreme fire conditions enabled several wildfires to spread Wednesday in the Plains states, scorching thousands of acres of land and forcing residents from their homes. In one Kansas county alone, about 180,000 acres were torched by a single wildfire. No injuries have been reported in any of these fires. Strong winds associated with Winter Storm Selene blasted across the Plains on Wednesday, which combined with low humidity to make for dangerous wildfire conditions. But there is hope in sight, as long as the weather cooperates. Conditions were expected to become more favorable for firefighters as the weekend neared, giving them a better chance to gain control over these infernos.


Winter Storm Selene clobbered areas from Denver to southeastern Wyoming Wednesday morning, dumping large amounts of snowfall at a very rapid rate. Up to 16 inches of snow was recorded in the California mountains as the system made its way across the West Coast. In parts of Wyoming and Colorado, more than a foot of snow has already fallen as of Wednesday morning. Interstate 25 was closed from Wellington, Colorado to the Wyoming state line Wednesday morning as the snowfall and winds picked up. More than 57,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning. Denver International Airport was working to get back on track Thursday after a fierce blizzard forced the airport to close for the first time in a decade on Wednesday.

A round of severe weather that moved across the southern U.S. Thursday spawned several tornadoes, including an EF2 that left damage to several mobile homes in northwestern Arkansas and injured at least two people. The storms are expected to continue moving through the south on Friday. The storms also dropped damaging hail in North Texas Wednesday night. Strong winds damaged at least 13 mobile homes in the Tampa area. In the Florida Panhandle, an 18-wheeler blown over during a storm shut down northbound I-65. Melbourne reported golf ball-sized hail.

Signs of the Times (3/21/16)

March 21, 2016
  1. Dakota Governor Signs 4th of 4 Pro-Life Bills

Governor Dennis Daugaard signed an informed consent bill into law on Wednesday, making the fourth pro-life law passed and signed this legislative session. The newly signed informed consent law lets mothers know that their chemical abortion can be reversed if action is quickly taken. The three other pro-life bills signed into South Dakota law ban abortions on pain-capable babies, require the state health department to make its abortion facility inspection records public, and make the sale of aborted baby parts a felony. The pro-life governor signed H.B. 1157, “[a]n Act to require that a doctor provide a woman additional information as a part of informed consent prior to performing a first trimester abortion.” The law requires that no less than two hours before committing an abortion, the abortionist must make sure the woman knows certain facts. The abortionist must acknowledge “that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The abortionist must also tell the woman the true risks associated with abortion, including “infection, hemorrhage, danger to subsequent pregnancies, and infertility,” as well as the possibility of negative psychological effects, such as depression, distress, and suicide ideation.

Supreme Court Issues Pro-Gun Ruling In First Post-Scalia 2nd Amendment Case

Conservatives have been worried about the sanctity of the Second Amendment following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch gun rights advocate on the Supreme Court. A decision released Monday, however, has been hailed a victory for gun rights, and conservatives everywhere will be relieved to see the court standing up for the Constitution even without Scalia. In a decision with no dissents, the country’s highest court ruled in favor of Jaime Caetano, who in 2011 was arrested for possession of a stun gun in violation of a state law banning such weapons. Caetano said she carried the stun gun for self-defense because her former partner was violent and abusive. In March 2015, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the stun gun was not covered by the constitutional right to bear arms. The Supreme Court, however, decided that ruling was inconsistent with a 2008 Supreme Court decision declaring an individual right to bear arms.

Four Wycliffe Bible Translators Murdered by Islamist Militants

Four Bible translators have been murdered by militants in the Middle East, Bible translating ministry Wycliffe Associates, reports. According to Wycliffe, a raid took place on the translators’ office. Two of the translators were shot and killed, while another two died of wounds from being beaten. These last two managed to protect and save the lead translator by lying on top of him while the militants beat them with their now-empty weapons. The militants also destroyed translating equipment, including Print on Demand equipment, books, and translation materials. However, Wycliffe says the militants did not destroy the “computer hard drives containing translation work for eight language projects.” Wycliffe thanked the Lord for this blessing and requested prayer for the families of the slain translators. Wycliffe also asked for prayer for God to raise up new translators to carry on the work being done. In addition, Wycliffe asked for prayer for the killers. “Pray for these whose hearts are so hard. Pray the Lord will open their eyes to what they have done. Please ask the Lord to meet them, each one, right where they are. Pray that He will show Himself merciful, that they will know His forgiveness, His love, and His peace.”

Final Paris Terrorist Arrested

After a four-month search for Europe’s most-wanted fugitive, Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured Friday, Belgian officials said. Abdeslam was wounded in a gunbattle with authorities in an anti-terror raid in the Brussels’ suburb of Molenbeek. Four other people were arrested. Belgian federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van der Sypt said the others detained included three members of a family who helped hide Abdeslam. French President Francois Hollande said Paris prosecutors will urgently request the extradition of Abdeslam. The arrest also resulted in authorities finding a large number of weapons. “He was ready to restart something in Brussels,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Sunday.

Belgium Central to European Terrorism

Brussels: It’s a quaint but bustling city, famed for its picture postcard squares, its chocolate and its beer. But it is rapidly becoming infamous, too, as a fertile recruiting ground for jihadi fighters. According to police, the carnage of the Paris attacks was plotted here, and it was in these streets that fugitive Salah Abdeslam hid out in an apartment after abandoning his mission, dumping his suicide belt in a Parisian street and calling friends for help, after apparently driving his co-conspirators to their deaths. Belgium remains wary and on edge, its alert level stuck at “grave” and with security forces warning of a very real threat of attack. Belgian officials have been unable to quell the flow of fighters traveling to and from ISIS territory, and authorities are terrified the fighters will bring another Paris-style attack back to Europe, reports CNN.

Brazil Descends into Chaos as Olympics Looms

Brazil is spiraling dramatically into chaos even as the Olympics are fast approaching in August. An increasingly uncertain political backdrop is sparking widespread, and sometimes violent, protests. The country is in the midst of its worst recession in 25 years. A massive corruption scandal involving its biggest company has engulfed numerous executives and politicians. Add to that the deadly Zika virus, and you have a country in crisis mode, reports CNN. Concerns are rising over whether Brazil will be adequately prepared for the upcoming Olympic Games scheduled to begin August 5th in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil was awarded these Olympics games in 2009, when the country’s economy was booming. No one is saying that the Olympics will be canceled. But there is the potential for more violent protests, as well as a global warning advising pregnant women not to travel to Brazil. And no one knows who will be president in August.

McConnell, White House Spar over Supreme Court Nomination

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried Sunday to keep Senate Republicans united behind his decision to not hold confirmation hearings this election year for a Supreme Court nominee, saying “the American people should have a voice.” The Kentucky Republican was standing by his decision, despite increasing pressure to at least hold hearings now that President Obama has nominated appellate Judge Merrick Garland, considered a moderate who might appeal to conservatives and liberals. “The president nominates. The Senate confirms. The American people should have a voice, not this lame duck president out the door,” McConnell told “Fox News Sunday.” “All we are doing is following the long-standing tradition of not fulfilling a nomination in the middle of a presidential year.” Garland would replace Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a strong conservative on the nine-member Supreme Court who died Feb. 13th.

Economic News

In just five weeks, the S&P 500 is up an incredible 13% from the February 11 lows. That rally has lifted the stock market into positive territory in 2016 after its worst start to a year on record. The turnaround was fueled by a combination of events: oil prices stopped its downward spiral and started soaring; overblown U.S. recession fears faded; and the Federal Reserve hit the brakes on its plans in increase interest rates. But the speed of this rebound has some scratching their heads. After all, the reality of sluggish global growth hasn’t changed. The sharp rise is due for a pause and could even be followed by a pullback, say many skeptics.

Banks have been cutting back on local offices for years, and the trend will continue — hastened by customers’ ability to conduct more business through phones, computers and tablets. Richard Hunt, CEO of the Consumer Bankers Association, sees the branch count dropping another 10% to 20% in the next few years. Many banks would like to close even more underutilized branches but have been stymied in some cases by regulators concerned about the impact on communities. In addition, local offices will look and feel different. Many will be smaller and staffed by fewer employees better trained and able to conduct more transactions — what Hunt calls “universal tellers.” Fewer customers will drop in regularly, but people still like to have local offices nearby, in case complicated problems arise.

A new report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows that there were 10,388 severe injuries caused by workplace conditions in 2015. These injuries led to 7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations. In a handful of cases there were even reports of people having their eyes gouged out. The manufacturing industry had the highest proportion of accidents — it accounted for 57% of all amputations and 26% of all hospitalizations. Among the other industries with high rates were construction, transportation and warehousing as well oil and gas extraction. OSHA estimates that roughly 50% of all injuries in the 26 states where it collects data, aren’t reported. To combat this, OSHA has raised fines for unreported injuries from up to $1,000 to as much as $7,000, and plans to hike them further.


Russia on Monday warned the United States that it will begin responding to cease-fire violations in Syria unilaterally starting Tuesday if the U.S. refuses to coordinate rules of engagement against the violators. The Russian military have accused the U.S. of dragging its feet on responding to Moscow’s proposals on joint monitoring of a Syria cease-fire. A top Russian general said on the weekend that further delays are leading to civilian casualties, as in Aleppo where 67 civilians reportedly have been killed by militant fire since the truce started. The Russian- and U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began on Feb. 27 has helped significantly reduce hostilities. But ISIS and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front did not participate in the truce negotiations.


A suicide attacker detonated a bomb on Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping street on Saturday, killing five people, the city’s governor said. Turkey’s health minister said 36 people were wounded in the attack including 12 foreign nationals. Two of the dead were American-Israeli dual citizens. Governor Vasip Sahin said the explosion occurred outside a local government office on Istiklal Street, which is also home to cafes, restaurants and foreign consulate buildings. The private Dogan news agency said at least three of the injured are Israeli nationals and that the wounded included two children. And private NTV said at least one Iranian was among the injured. The suicide bomber was a Turkish citizen with links to ISIS, Turkey’s Interior Minister Efkan Ala said Sunday.


Thirteen Egyptian policemen were killed in a mortar attack in Sinai, the country’s Interior Ministry said via Facebook on Saturday. The mortar round targeted a checkpoint in al-Arish, according to the ministry. In a separate statement also posted online, ISIS claimed responsibility. Egyptian state media reported that “security forces are currently undertaking operations to catch the armed men, who launched mortar shells at the checkpoint in the El-Safa neighborhood of the city.”


A U.S. service member was killed at a northern Iraqi base after it came under rocket attack on Saturday. Two rockets hit the base, but one didn’t cause any casualties or damage. The last American service member to be killed in combat in Iraq was Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, 39, who died in October. Wheeler, a Special Forces soldier from Roland, Okla., was killed in a raid that freed 70 Islamic State hostages from a makeshift prison in northern Iraq. He was the first soldier to die in combat in Iraq since 2011 when U.S. forces withdrew after more than eight years of combat there.


A military court in Cameroon this week sentenced 89 Boko Haram insurgents to death for their roles in terror attacks in the country’s Far North Region. The 89 condemned insurgents were among nearly 1,000 who were convicted by the military court. The judgment handed down Wednesday marks the most extreme implementation of a controversial anti-terrorism law that prescribes the death penalty for “any activity which can lead to a general revolt of the population or disturb the normal functioning of the country” and for “anyone who supplies arms, war equipment, bacteria and viruses with the intention of killing.” A military magistrate told CNN that “the judgment was not subject to appeal.”


An outbreak of yellow fever has killed at least 146 people in Angola since December, according to the World Health Organization. Most of the deaths have been in the capital of Luanda. Dr. Margaret Harris, a pandemic expert at the WHO, described it as a “large outbreak.” The disease is transmitted by two types of mosquitoes, one of which is responsible for the Zika virus that has ravaged the Americas. The yellow fever virus is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected monkey and then bites a human being. Symptoms include fever, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, and can be confused for malaria or other mosquito-borne illnesses.

North Korea

North Korea fired five short-range projectiles into waters off the country’s east coast Monday in an apparent rebuke of joint military exercises underway between the U.S. and South Korea. The projectiles were launched from a site near the northeastern city of Hamhung and flew about 125 miles before landing in waters off North Korea’s east coast. South Korea and the United States were scheduled for talks Monday on implementing new sanctions on North Korea imposed over its nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch last month. Pyongyang has repeatedly issued nuclear strike threats against both Seoul and Washington. The country has fired several short-range missiles off its east coast since the U.N. imposed broad sanctions in response to its nuclear and missile tests.


President Obama touched down in Havana Sunday for a historic two-day visit, becoming the first sitting president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. The trip is a part of the White House’s ongoing efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island nation, following the opening of a U.S. embassy in the country last summer. Prior to the trip, Obama announced relaxed bank and travel restrictions. With the first lady and their two daughters in tow, Obama will tour Old Havana, attend a baseball game and sit down with President Raul Castro for dinner. The first family will then fly to Argentina for another two days of diplomatic relations. Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays also arrived in Havana on Sunday for their historic exhibition baseball game against Cuba’s national team on Tuesday.

Just hours before President Obama landed Sunday in Cuba for his historic visit to the communist island, Cuban authorities arrested more than 50 dissidents who were marching to demand improved human rights. Some in the group thought Cuban authorities would back off this Sunday out of respect for Obama’s visit. Despite dozens of international reporters in town for Obama’s trip, the group was quickly rounded up in buses and police cars. “For us, it’s very important that we do this so President Obama knows that there are women here fighting for the liberty of political prisoners,” Berta Soler, one of the founding members, said before being arrested. “And he needs to know that we are here being repressed simply for exercising our right to express ourselves and manifest in a non-violent way.”


A 6.0-magnitude earthquake was recorded near the island of Barbuda in the Eastern Caribbean Sea early Saturday morning. The strong quake was centered about 76 miles northeast of Codrington, Barbuda, the island’s most populous city, around 7:30 a.m. local time. Saturday’s tremor was centered sufficiently far from the Leeward Islands to lead to any significant damage, and was too weak to trigger a tsunami. Though the tremor registered at a 6.0, minimal damage was seen on nearby islands. Light shaking was felt as far south as Dominica and as far west as St. Martin.


More than 10 inches of snow fell by Friday morning in Boulder, according to National Weather Service reports. Heavy snow forced the Department of Transportation to close a stretch of Interstate 80 from Laramie to Cheyenne on Thursday – nearly 50 miles of roadway. After dumping upwards of 18 inches of snow on parts of Colorado, Winter Storm Regis moved east and delivered a snowy punch to parts of the Northeast on the first day of spring. As much as a foot of snow could fall on New England before the storm system moves out to sea, and officials are taking no chances. Schools in Boston will be closed on Monday, and travel advisories have been issued in other locales. Snowfall totals of 6 inches or more are likely in parts of eastern New England, with some locations locally seeing up to 10 inches of snow. As of Monday morning, a half foot or more of snow had piled up in parts of eastern Connecticut, eastern Massachusetts, extreme southeast New Hampshire and eastern Maine.

Signs of the Times (3/18/16)

March 18, 2016

State Department Admits that Islamic State is Committing Genocide

The Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims in Syria and Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. The U.S. House approved a similar finding in a unanimous vote Monday. Religious groups in the U.S. have been pressuring Washington for such a declaration — and a commitment to stop the carnage. Kerry listed numerous cases of slaughter by the group, also known as Da’esh, since 2014. He credited an intensive multinational effort with taking back 40% of land once held by the militants in Iraq and 20% in Syria. “The fact is Da’esh kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shias because they are Shias,” Kerry said, adding that “we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.” A spending bill passed by Congress in December gave the State Department 90 days to make a determination on whether genocide was being conducted. Thursday marked the deadline.

Franklin Graham: ‘This is Islam: They Persecute the Church, They Persecute Christians’

Franklin Graham said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that Muslims are continuing to persecute Christians and that the U.S. should prioritize welcoming Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities into the country as refugees. Graham was very clear about his beliefs on Islam. “This is Islam,” said Graham, “They persecute the Church, they persecute Christians.” He continued, “We see in Syria and Iraq where they cut the heads off Christians, they rape the women, take them as sex slaves. They take the Yazidis, the minorities, and they do the same thing. They kill the men but take the women to have sex with them.” Graham has continued to be a voice against bringing in Muslim refugees. “I would love to see those immigrants be the minorities – the Christians, the Yazidis, and other minorities, the Assyrians, and so forth, that still live in Syria and that are minorities, and allow these Christians and minorities to come to this country.”

Attacks on Religion in America Doubled in 3 Years

Each year, First Liberty Institute compiles a list of incidents of hostility based on religious beliefs. This year showed 1,285 such incidents – more than double the number documented by the initial survey, published in 2013. First Liberty attorney Justin Butterfield tells OneNewsNow that some of the attacks have been in areas that used to be unthinkable. “We’ve seen numerous religious ministries forced by the government to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs that would violate their religious beliefs,” he begins. “We’ve seen a football coach suspended for praying after a football game on his own. We’ve seen the Department of Veterans Affairs stop Native Americans from practicing their faith.” In addition, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue was sued by the government for meeting in a private home – and a Marine was court-martialed for refusing to remove a Bible verse. Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, says even though attacks are on the rise and are “coming from all directions,” there is still good news: “The Constitution hasn’t changed. Religious liberty is still our first, foundational freedom – and when Americans stand up for their rights, they can win.”

Obama Nominates Merrick Garland to Supreme Court

President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, who is respected across political lines, to the Supreme Court Wednesday. The nomination challenges the resolve of Republicans who have vowed to block any replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia until a new president takes office. GOP leaders, caught in the undertow of an election in which the conservative grass-roots are already in revolt, immediately renewed their refusal to consider Garland, 63, saying their reservations were not personal but motivated by a desire for the American people to weigh in on Scalia’s replacement. The showdown is even more fraught than most Supreme Court fights, since Obama’s choice could tilt the ideological balance of the court away from conservatives for years to come. Obama and Democrats argue that with 10 months left in his term, there is plenty of time for the Senate to take up and confirm a new justice. “Our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Lead Taints Drinking Water in Hundreds of Schools, Day-Cares across USA

In hundreds of schools across the nation children are exposed to water containing excessive amounts of an element doctors agree is unsafe at any level, a USA Today investigation found. An analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showed that nearly 20% of the water systems nationally are testing above the agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion. One water sample at a Maine elementary school was 41 times higher while another at a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher. And a sink in a music-room bathroom at Caroline Elementary tested this year at 5,000 ppb of lead, results released by the school system show. That’s the cutoff where the EPA labels a substance “hazardous waste.” But at this point it’s impossible to know how big the problem is because the federal government requires only about 10% of the nation’s schools and a tiny fraction of day cares to test for lead at all. The EPA estimates that about 90,000 public schools and half a million child-care facilities are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act because they depend on water sources such as municipal utilities which are expected to test their own water.

CDC Urges Doctors to Reduce Prescribing Painkillers

Prescription painkillers should not be a first choice for treating common ailments like back pain and arthritis, according to new federal guidelines designed to reshape how doctors prescribe drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin. Amid an epidemic of addiction and abuse tied to these powerful opioids drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging primary care doctors to try physical therapy, exercise and over-the-counter pain medications before turning to painkillers for chronic pain. The new recommendations — which doctors do not have to follow — represent an effort to reverse nearly two decades of rising painkiller use, which public health officials blame for a more than four-fold increase in overdose deaths tied to the drugs. In 2014, U.S. doctors wrote nearly 200 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, while deaths linked to the drugs climbed to roughly 19,000 — the highest number on record. More than 40 Americans die every day from painkiller overdoses, a staggering rate that Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, said is “doctor driven.” Use of opioid painkillers is also fueling the rise of heroin addiction, also in the opioid family.

Persecution Watch

Having driven the last Christian out of Mosul, ISIS has now released a chilling video showing a bonfire consuming a huge pile of Bibles and other Christian literature. The video, entitled “Diwan of education destroys Christian instruction books in Mosul,” was made by ISIS’ “morality police,” the infamous Diwan Al-Hisbah, according to Christian Today. It comes as the U.S. is deliberating over whether to label the terrorist group’s actions in Iraq as genocide, a term that has important ramifications under international law. While ISIS has killed, enslaved and displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, the destruction of religious materials could also be part of a genocide determination. The House voted unanimously Monday to approve a resolution branding ISIS’ actions as genocide, which the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines in part as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Migrant Update

European Union and Turkish officials reached an agreement Friday on how to deal with a flood of Syrian refugees. Under the deal, virtually all migrants attempting to cross the Aegean Sea by raft or boat — including Syrians fleeing the country’s five-year-old civil war — would be sent back to Turkey, which would, in effect, become the region’s migrant holding center. The Europeans pledged to accept a relatively small number of Syrians, but no other nationalities, after legal processing in Turkey. The talks were held to address the largest influx of refugees into Europe since World War II, though the more than 1 million people who have fled to Europe pale compared to the more than 2.7 million registered in Turkey alone. The discussions could be significant for Turkey not only in receiving financial aid to deal with this problem, but also expedite its push to join the 28-member European Union. “I hope we will be achieving our goal to help all the refugees, as well as to deepen Turkish-EU relations,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Friday in Brussels.

Cheap Oil Hits Middle East Budgets

Oil’s dramatic price fall has sent shock waves through many Middle Eastern economies. The years when oil cost $100 a barrel and generated $1 trillion in export revenues are gone, and the oil-rich Gulf nations and their people are being forced to accept a new reality. All six countries in the region are now cutting subsidies, raising prices at the pump and the cost of water and power. Generous fuel and food subsidies have been slashed, new taxes introduced, and social benefits axed. The collapse in crude prices is forcing Kuwait to think the unthinkable: tax company profits. Saudi Arabia’s has reduced public spending by 14%. Qatar is expected to run its first budget deficit in 15 years in 2016. Bahrain raised petrol prices for the first time in more than 30 years in January, and cut subsidies on energy. Oman has also hiked the price of fuel, and announced an increase in corporate income tax to 15% from 12%.

Economic News

Stocks rose at the open Friday as Wall Street continued its recent rally with the Dow Jones industrial average rising for a sixth straight day as it pushed further into positive territory for the year. The rally boosted the Standard & Poor’s 500 index back into the black for 2016. Rising oil prices continued to boost financial markets as benchmark U.S. crude jumped 1.5% to $40.81 a barrel after closing Thursday above $40 for the first time since early December.

Global fears are creeping up on the Federal Reserve. The Fed on Wednesday said it is not going to raise its key interest rate as expected. The Fed also cut its forecast for U.S. economic growth and inflation, and significantly lowered its estimate for the number of rate hikes in 2016. The Fed’s committee, led by Chair Janet Yellen, had estimated in December that the economy would grow 2.4% this year and it would raise rates four times. Then stock markets became volatile, oil prices fell and fears of a U.S. recession magnified in January and early February. Now the Fed is dialing back. Yellen and other Fed leaders are only calling for about two rate hikes this year, reflecting the Fed’s concerns about how much the global slowdown is impacting American growth.

Foreign governments are dumping U.S. debt like never before. In a bid to raise cash, foreign central banks and government institutions sold $57.2 billion of U.S. Treasury debt and other notes in January, according to figures released on Tuesday. That is up from $48 billion in December and the highest monthly tally on record going back to 1978. It’s part of a broader trend that gathered steam last year when central banks sold a record $225 billion of U.S. debt. They’re mostly using the funds to stimulate their own economies as the global growth slowdown and crash in oil prices continue to take their toll. Countries exposed to the oil price crash are using the cash to fill giant holes in their budget. Despite all these foreign government sales, demand for U.S. Treasuries remains high. In fact, the U.S. can borrow money at a lower rate now than at the beginning of the year.

The consumer price index slipped 0.2%, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The index was up 1% over the past year. Excluding volatile food and gasoline, so-called core inflation rose 0.3%. Core Inflation was up 2.3% over the past 12 months, the largest annual increase since May 2012. Gasoline prices fell a whopping 13% in February, though they have risen in recent weeks along with oil prices. Regular unleaded averaged $1.95 a gallon Tuesday, up from $1.70 a month ago but still below the year-ago price of $2.43, according to AAA.

Natural gas is on pace to overtake coal as the most popular fuel for electricity generation in the U.S., another sign of coal’s struggles. The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes natural gas will provide 33% of generation in 2016, while coal’s share will likely fall to 32%. That would be the first time that natural gas beats coal on an annual basis. Coal accounted for half of all U.S. electricity generation between 2000 and 2008. But coal use has declined sharply over the last decade, as the U.S. fracking boom flooded the market with cheap natural gas. As a result, coal companies have come under intense pressure. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, warned early Wednesday it may go out of business, the latest sign of the brutal conditions in the battered industry. Peabody reported a loss of $2 billion last year. Revenue tumbled 17% to $5.6 billion as the average price and amount of coal that it sold fell. It warned of further declines this year due to reduced use of coal by U.S. utilities along with lower demand from overseas markets.

Islamic State

A Virginia man who joined ISIS and surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters earlier this week has expressed regret for entering the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, saying he “made a bad decision” and “was not thinking straight.” In an interview broadcast on the Kurdistan 24 news station, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, said he had made his way to the ISIS-held city of Mosul, Iraq with an unidentified woman whom he had met in Turkey while traveling. The pair traveled from Istanbul to Mosul by bus and private vehicle, arriving on Jan. 16. It was not immediately possible to establish the woman’s identity, whether she was a member of ISIS, her ultimate fate or whether she even existed. U.S. officials told The Daily Beast this week that the terror group has established a network of women responsible for recruiting new fighters. Khweis said he was only able to stay in Mosul for a month before he had enough. “It is not like Western countries. It is very strict and no smoking there,” he said, adding that most of the foreign fighters he saw were from countries in central and southern Asia. Khweis’ parents had moved to the U.S. from the Palestinian territories before he was born.


Syrian Kurds declared a federal region in northern Syria after being excluded from peace talks aimed at ending the 5-year-old conflict, according to media reports Wednesday. The plan is to combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas into a federal system in an alarming challenge to neighboring Turkey. On Saturday, Syria’s government ruled out the idea of a federal system, but its ally Russia said it could be possible, Reuters reported. The peace talks resumed in Geneva on Monday.


Pakistani police say a bomb blast has ripped through a bus carrying government employees in northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 15. Nearly 40 other people were wounded. An improvised explosive device was planted under a seat in the bus. Suspicion likely is to fall on the Pakistani Taliban and their allied militants, who have been waging a war on the state for more than a decade, killing tens of thousands of people.


Two female suicide bombers killed at least 22 worshipers in an attack during dawn prayers Wednesday on a mosque on the outskirts of the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri. At least 17 other people were wounded and evacuated to the hospital. One bomber blew herself up inside the mosque and the second waited outside to detonate as survivors tried to escape. The mosque is on the outskirts of the city that is the command center of the Nigerian military’s war against Boko Haram Islamic insurgents.

North Korea

North Korea has launched two ballistic missiles off the west coast of the Korean peninsula in response to new sanctions, the South Korean military and U.S. defense officials said Friday. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said that one ballistic missile flew a distance of about 500 miles overland toward the sea off the country’s east coast, while a second projectile, assumed to be a missile, was detected by radar but disappeared at an altitude of about 10 miles. The military said it was closely tracking and monitoring the situation and maintaining a readiness posture for any North Korean provocation. The launches come one week after North Korea fired two missiles from North Hwanghae province, south of Pyongyang, toward the sea east of the Korean Peninsula. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned North Korea’s actions and said Japan would take “precautionary measures,” including surveillance.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife after finding their numbers have “rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today.” But many environmentalists and grizzly bear experts strongly disagreed with the USFWS’s proposition. Doug Peacock, author of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness and veteran grizzly bear conservationist, told that he opposed the grizzly bear’s removal from the federal protection list, saying that the federal government was taking wild guesses and that the feds had erred before on delisting the gray wolf.


The relentless rain that soaked much of the South last week has created a spooky scene in Louisiana. Caskets unearthed from low-lying cemeteries by more than a week of rain were spotted Tuesday floating in flooded Calcasieu Parish, on the Texas border. But as workers from the parish coroner’s office went out by boat to wrangle the coffins, they did so under partly cloudy skies — a welcome change after more than a week of rain and violent thunderstorms across the region that killed six people and forced thousands more to flee their homes. Across the border in Texas, the town of Deweyville remained cut off by record rainfall that swelled the Sabine River to historic levels, Floodwaters reached the roofs of houses in Deweyville on Thursday.

The Weather Channel reported Wednesday. Lake Travis, a 65-mile-long reservoir on the Colorado River near Austin, Texas, rose to 99 percent of capacity on Monday, just one foot below what’s considered full for the waterway. Over the past decade, the lake had steadily declined as the Lone Star State had been stuck in the throes of a severe drought. With the massive rains last week and previous spells of rain, reservoirs are filling up once again.

Many people in the Fort Worth, Texas, area were awakened early Thursday morning by severe thunderstorms packing large hail. Just after 4 a.m. CDT the first severe thunderstorm moved through, resulting in numerous reports of golf ball and ping pong ball size hail. Dime size hail was also abundant across the area. A second severe storm packing even larger hail moved through the Fort Worth area after 7:00 a.m. CDT. That storm produced hail up to the size of tennis balls near Texas Christian University. Some cars were damaged by the hail and had their windshields smashed in the Fort Worth area. A total of 23 ambulances were taken out of service at MedStar in Fort Worth due to hail damage.

Signs of the Times (3/15/16)

March 15, 2016

Religion on the Decline in U.S.

American observance of religion is on the wane, according to a new study from University College London and Duke University. Publishing in the American Journal of Sociology, the researchers note that the number of Americans who believe in God, attend church regularly, and identify with a particular religious sect are all in slow, but steady decline. Results vary widely by age: 68% Americans aged 65 and over said they had no doubt God existed compared to 45% of young adults, aged 18-30; 41% of people 70 and older said they attend church services at least once a month, compared to 18% of people 60 and below. The decline in religiosity is on par with drops in other western nations. Duke Professor Mark Chaves, noted, “The U.S. decline has been so gradual that until recently scientists haven’t had enough data to be sure the trend was real.”

Released Illegal Immigrants Committing More Crimes

The Center for Immigration Studies released a report Monday detailing the Obama administration’s negligent release of criminal illegal aliens who’ve gone on to commit heinous crimes after being allowed to remain in the country. According to the report, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 30,558 criminal aliens in 2014. CIS states these individuals had already been convicted of a collective 92,347 crimes before their release. Many of these criminals go on to commit more crimes after being released, CIS reports. “As of July 25, 2015, a total of 1,895 aliens have been charged with a crime after being freed by ICE. As of that date, 1,607 aliens had been convicted of a crime after being freed by ICE. The total number of new crimes for which these aliens were convicted after ICE released them was 2,560.”

Police Blame Sentencing Overhaul for Increase in California Crime

California communities may be feeling the fallout from a controversial measure that reduced penalties for a range of crimes, as law enforcement report an uptick in everything from robberies to auto theft – and point the finger squarely at what’s known as Prop 47. The measure was approved at the ballot box in 2014 and downgraded many nonviolent offenses like property crimes and simple drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, part of an effort to reduce prison over-crowding in the state. But as the measure has been implemented, several police departments have reported a spike in shop-lifting, burglary, identity theft and auto theft, among other crimes. Since the law went into effect, major cities have seen an increase in more serious crimes as well. In San Francisco, robberies are up 23 percent; in Los Angeles, violent crimes are up 20 percent; and in Sacramento, homicides are up 23 percent.

Unprecedented U.N. Global Data Gathering in Support of Sustainable Development

Six months after giving birth to a cluster of nebulous Sustainable Development Goals that aim to dramatically change the economic, social and environmental course of the planet, the United Nations is working on a drastic renovation of global data gathering to measure progress against its sweeping international agenda, reports Fox News. The so-called “draft global indicators framework” likely will add huge new volumes of information that governments will be required to collect as they measure progress toward what amounts to a global socialist or progressive agenda, notes Fox. In all, the draft framework outlines 230 statistical indicators to measure progress toward the SDGs.

Eight Billion Hours Wasted in Commuting Last Year

Los Angeles has the worst traffic of any U.S. city in terms of average time wasted per commuter, according to a 2015 traffic scorecard from transportation analytics firm Inrix. Los Angeles snagged the top spot with 81 hours spent in traffic per commuter in 2015. Residents of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco were a little better off — but not much. They tied for second with 75 wasted hours per year. INRIX said across commuters spent more than 8 billion extra hours of traffic across the U.S. in 2015. However, Inrix said that increased traffic often comes hand-in-hand with economic advances. “Cities that have experienced the most economic improvement during the past year are at highest risk for consequences related to worsened traffic conditions, including reduced productivity, higher emissions and increased stress levels,” the company said.

Migrant Update

Europe has struggled to cope with the large number of Muslim migrants and refugees, many of whom refuse to assimilate and are instead embracing criminal activity. German police are reluctantly admitting that they have essentially lost control of several “problem neighborhoods” or “no-go zones” throughout the country, and that enforcing the law in these areas has become next to impossible, according to Breitbart, citing a German-language report in the Rheinische Post. Police in North Rhine-Westphalia report that roughly 78 percent of all regions within the district have had to be reinforced in order to deal with migrant criminal gangs, a problem other countries in Europe have reported as well. These ethnic and nationally based gangs sometimes even launching attacks upon police officers attempting to maintain law and order. While there is no doubt that some of the migrants fleeing the Middle East have traveled to places like Germany in search of work and a better life, it is also a fact that far too many of them have come with sinister ulterior motives, such as spreading their Islamic faith, or even launching terror attacks.

Persecution Watch

A Christian charity says that Christian refugees at Muslim-dominated camps in Germany are being psychologically abused and mistreated. According to, Germany took in more than 1 million refugees last year. Open Doors International claims that there have been reports of violence against Christians in the camps, particularly in Berlin. “We’ve heard much about the nasty treatment of Christians, and we’re compiling a report to push politicians into action,” said Rachel Marsuk, a spokesperson for Open Doors. “Politicians at [the] local and national level here have done nothing to help and don’t want to hear about these cases. They don’t see how religious differences have fueled tensions and led to persecution,” she said.

Despite being a “Christian” province, West Papua, Indonesia has been experiencing heightened Christian persecution. Christian Today reports that though the majority of people living in West Papua are Christians, reports of Christian persecution have been surfacing. The majority of Indonesians are Muslims, and there are reports of Muslim persecution of Christians. “The Indonesians want to replace the Christian religion with Islam,” says a report by an Australian Catholic organization. “Many mosques are being built everywhere. They want Papua to be a Javanese Malay nation. Radicalization is happening in Papua, with some militias very active near the border with PNG. They burn down the Papuan houses.”

Economic News

Retail sales dipped last month on tumbling gasoline prices while January’s total was revised down sharply in a sign that consumption has been less robust than believed so far this year. Consumer purchases dipped 0.1% in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding volatile autos and gasoline, retail sales increased 0.3%. Sales in January were revised down sharply to a 0.4% decline from a 0.2% rise, raising concerns about the recent strength of consumption.

Americans with lower credit scores are falling behind on auto payments at an alarming pace. The rate of seriously delinquent subprime car loans soared above 5% in February, according to a Fitch Ratings review of loans that are packaged and resold on Wall Street. That’s worse than during the Great Recession and the highest level since 1996. Fitch blames it on a dramatic rise in the availability of loans along with lax borrowing standards that have helped fuel the recent boom in auto sales. More Americans bought new cars last year than ever before as the amount of auto loans soared beyond $1 trillion for the first time ever.

The Obama administration abandoned its plan to allow new offshore oil drilling on the U.S. southeast coast, dealing a blow to petroleum companies that had hopes of tapping new reserves. The reversal comes after environmentalists, coastal residents and the U.S. military vocalized opposition to the plan. It also comes amid declining industry investment in new exploration and production activities as oil prices fell by about 70% since late 2014 — although the industry is still seeking long-term investment opportunities under the assumption that oil prices will recover.


Police in Belgium were hunting Tuesday for at least one suspect who fled after shots were fired and at least one officer was wounded during a raid “linked to the Paris attacks investigation,” Sky News reported. As many as three police officers were wounded in the raid. National security forces have been searching for suspects connected to the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks. The skirmish Tuesday occurred in the Forest suburb, which is not far from the Molenbeek neighborhood where two of the Paris attackers lived. Two suspects reportedly were seen fleeing the area. Eleven suspects have been arrested in Belgium since the massacre, which saw 130 people killed when gunmen opened fire at a sidewalk cafe and at the Bataclan theater.

Islamic State

Islamic State forces have attacked an Iraqi town at least twice this week with mortars containing an unidentified chemical, killing a three-year-old child and wounding or driving out hundreds of people, Iraqi officials said, according to media reports. In the latest attack, the town of Taza, near the northern city of Kirkuk, was hit early Saturday, the Associated Press reports, quoting security and hospital officials. A German and an American forensics team have arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents. The wounded are suffering from infected burns, suffocation and dehydration.

An American who allegedly was fighting with the Islamic State was detained by Kurdish military forces Monday while apparently trying to defect and flee to Turkey, authorities said. The Kurdish news agency Rudaw, citing a local commander, said Muhammad Jamal Amin is an American citizen from Virginia with a Palestinian father and Iraqi mother from Mosul. Rudaw said Amin had mistaken the Peshmerga territory for the Turkish border when he approached a checkpoint near the Iraqi town of Sinjar.


Russia began withdrawing its forces from Syria on Tuesday in a move that will leave behind both significant destruction and a Syrian regime to fend for itself to a much greater extent. The first group of Russian planes left Hmeymim air base in Syria on Tuesday morning. Russia’s surprise announcement Monday that it would withdraw from the conflict came as suddenly as its devastating airstrike campaign that started in September. “We were not surprised because the decision was made in coordination and consultation with us,” Bouthaina Shaaban, senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told CNN. “The Russians came here to achieve certain jobs, and we and they agreed that most of the jobs have been achieved.”

Syria peace talks resumed Monday, as the conflict approaches its fifth anniversary. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva that the resumption of the negotiations was a “moment of truth” and that the “only Plan B available is return to war.” De Mistura said the first round of talks will end around March 24, followed by a 7- to 10-day break. A second round will last for at least two weeks, followed by another break and then a third round, if necessary. De Mistura suspended the first round of talks more than a month ago, citing continued violence and lack of humanitarian relief on the ground.

U.S.-backed Syrian rebels say Al Qaeda militants seized their bases and stolen weapons in a series of raids in the northern Idlib province. Division 13 of the Free Syrian Army said on Twitter Sunday that the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front occupied and looted its posts late the night before. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, says Nusra seized anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms from the division, which has received weapons, training, and money from the U.S. government. Both the FSA and the Nusra Front are fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

  • Once again, American arms fall into the hands of those who want to inflict harm on us


A suicide car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara on Sunday, killing at least 36 people and wounding over 100, officials said, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks to hit Turkey. A female suicide bomber and a male accomplice were behind a car bomb attack in the Turkish capital city that claimed the lives of at least 35 civilians, an official said Monday. Eleven people have been detained in relation to Sunday’s bombing in Ankara, Kurtulmus said, and 10 more remain at large. Although the government has not officially blamed the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, for carrying out the suicide attack. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Monday that the evidence uncovered in the investigation very strongly indicates a “separatist terrorist organization” is responsible. Turkish warplanes struck multiple targets in northern Iraq Monday morning in retaliation for the massive car bomb attack in Ankara which authorities blame on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) faction. The attack was quickly condemned by most world governments.


Iran said Monday that it would welcome American dollars being pumped into its aging oil and gas industry. Iran is staging a big economic comeback following its landmark nuclear deal with global powers. The country’s enormous oil and natural gas resources are at the center of the rebound — but years of economic isolation have left Iran’s energy infrastructure seriously outdated. That’s why Iran has been trying to drum up Western investments. For instance, in January French oil giant Total (TOT) signed a memorandum of understanding to buy crude oil from Iran and weigh potential investments in the country’s oil industry. “Iran is desperate for investment in its oil and gas infrastructure in order to catch up with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar,” said Majid Rafizadeh, a Middle East scholar at Harvard. But the U.S. still has sanctions in place that block most American companies from investing in Iran. They are different from the ones that were lifted in January, which cleared the way for non-U.S. citizens and businesses to head to Iran without fear of American penalties.


Despite the crisis confronting millions of Ethiopians lacking food and drinking water, a world caught up in strife is paying insufficient attention to their plight, because it is distracted by other urgent needs. The government and the United Nations are trying to raise $1.4 billion to feed 10.2 million Ethiopians, but only half has come through so far, as the wars in Syria and Yemen plus the migrant crisis dominate the news. A strong El Nino has blocked two consecutive rainy seasons that normally nourish crops that feed 85% of the country. The drought has forced the government to find additional food aid from the United States and other donors. The U.S. Agency for International Development dispatched a response team to Ethiopia to provide emergency assistance that includes nearly $4 million in corn and wheat seeds for more than 200,000 families.

South Sudan

Horrific allegations were made in a United Nations report released Friday focusing on South Sudan. It chronicles what it called a “scorched earth policy that deliberately targeted civilians” by those working with and for the African nation’s government. Atrocities included burning people to death, suffocating them in shipping containers, looting and destroying villages, and raping girls and women by the hundreds, if not the thousands — sometimes by groups of soldiers, who made family members watch and then took their victims away as property. This has been the dark reality since a civil war flared in December 2013, after which all parties, including rebels, allegedly inflicted pain, suffering and humiliation on innocents. South Sudanese forces gained the upper hand in 2015 and, in doing so, began carrying out an inordinate amount of travesties, according to the U.N. report.

Ivory Coast

The United States and France have pledged assistance to Ivory Coast as the West African nation investigates a terror attack that left at least 18 people dead. Gunmen stormed three hotels Sunday in the beach resort city of Grand-Bassam about 25 miles from the country’s largest city, Abidjan. Foreign nationals, including four French citizens and a German woman, were among the dead. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility on a social media account tied to the group. Three soldiers and 15 civilians were among those killed, President Alassane Ouattara said as he visited the sites of the attack. Three terrorists also were killed in the attack.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered tests of a nuclear warhead in the “nearest future,” state-run news agency KCNA said Tuesday. According to KCNA, the proposed tests are the result of years of development and “diligent research” into heat-resistant materials and technology. South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, warned North Korea should be ready to accept the consequences if it did not curb its nuclear ambitions. South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Moon Sang-kyun, questioned the authenticity of the claims. “From our analysis on various sources, it has not achieved re-entry technology,” he said at a press briefing.”


The Obama administration announced a new round of measures chipping away at the decades-long sanctions against Cuba Tuesday, encouraging more person-to-person educational travel and allowing Cuban nationals to get jobs in the United States or to open U.S. bank accounts. The new measures come days before President Obama departs for Havana for a historic two-day mission to improve economic ties with the communist nation, even while he also plans to meet with dissidents in an effort to push the regime toward democracy. It’s the fifth round of new rules the Obama administration has announced since opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014.


Living or working in an unhealthy environment caused almost one-quarter of all deaths worldwide in 2012, a report made public Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) found. In that year, about 12.6 million people died due to human-caused environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposure, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, the study found. Environmental risks are deadliest for young children and older people, the report said, with children under five and adults aged 50 to 75 years most imperiled. Yearly, 1.7 million children under five and 4.9 million adults aged 50 to 75 deaths could be prevented through better environmental management. Geographically, the report said Asia had the largest environment-related disease burden. This includes countries such as China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.


A magnitude 4.5 earthquake rocked south-central Alaska on Saturday and was felt in the state’s largest city, Anchorage. The quake hit at 12:57 p.m. and was centered 50 miles northwest of Homer, a city near the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula. It was the third notable quake of the day for the state. The Alaska Earthquake Center reported a magnitude 6.1 quake at 9:06 a.m. in the Andreanof Islands. The quake was felt in Adak. No damage was reported. The Alaska Earthquake Center also reports a magnitude 5.0 quake at 4:23 a.m. in the Andreanof Islands, but no damage was reported.


For the third month in a row, Earth’s global temperatures in February 2016 were the most abnormally warm on record for any month, according to an analysis released by NASA Saturday. February’s global temperature departure of 1.35 degrees Celsius above the 1951-1980 average topped the previous record just set in January (1.13 degrees Celsius above average), according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. NASA’s analysis found this was the largest monthly warm temperature anomaly in their database dating to 1880, topping a record set the previous two months in a row. The global record was paced again by exceptional warmth in the northern hemisphere higher latitudes. Much of Alaska into western and central Canada, as well as eastern Europe, Scandinavia and much of Russia were at least 4 degrees Celsius (roughly 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above February averages, according to NASA/GISS.

  • Global warming isn’t a manmade phenomenon, it’s an end-time sign (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

The Southeast finally got a respite Saturday from persistent rainfall, but floodwaters continued to rise, forcing some residents to flee homes their homes. Mississippi emergency officials deployed 255,000 sandbags, 7,200 bottles of water and 150 tarps statewide. Mandatory evacuations were ordered Sunday in Deweyville, Texas, after a week of storms have pushed the nearby Sabine River beyond historic flood levels. Upwards of 18 inches of rain fell in the Sabine River Basin from a weather system that lingered over the area for five days, and as of Sunday morning the river was just shy of 29 feet. At that level, Deweyville becomes isolated, with no vehicle access other than by boat or helicopter. By Tuesday, the river is expected to be over 35 feet.

A strong frontal system moving into the Northwest and northern California hit the West Coast with high winds, as well as more heavy rain and mountain snow, impacting a swath from Washington to California. This storm is the tail end of the “Pineapple Express” parade of storms that have hammered the coast over the last two weeks. One person was killed high winds that caused numerous problems across the state on Sunday. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 58 to 76 mph in Grey Harbor County. More than 200,000 customers in Washington were without power at one point Sunday. Meanwhile, water from the rain-swollen Sacramento River is spilling over a 33.5-foot-high concrete wall and into a bypass built to divert flood water. Four straight days of rain have replenished several key reservoirs in Northern California, raising hopes that water-use restrictions might be eased.

Signs of the Times (3/12/16)

March 12, 2016

Syrian Muslims Embracing Jesus by the Thousands

An unprecedented number of Muslims living in the war-torn country of Syria are embracing Christianity after experiencing the love of missionaries and witnessing miraculous healings in the name of Christ. A ministry leader in Syria told the Christian Aid Mission that despite the dangers of remaining in the country, he and 21 others continue to faithfully serve predominantly Muslim communities, providing medical care, shelter, food, and spiritual guidance for those in need. Many Muslims are drawn to Christian communities after hearing stories of miraculous healings. Many Muslims find that a relationship with Christ brings incomparable joy: one mother, Aveen, along with her husband, Mohamad, and their seven children, are part of a church in an undisclosed town in Syria. Recent converts Aveen and Mohamad both come from very fanatical Muslim families who wish to stone them to death, and yet they still fearlessly display their strong love for the Lord.

Despite Government Crackdown, House Churches in Iran are Growing

Christianity is spreading swiftly inside Iran despite a government crackdown against house churches, reports CBN News. Some Christians argue the persecution by the Islamic nation has actually created an opposite effect. A London-based organization that trains Iranian Christians reports hundreds of thousands of new Christians—former Muslims—are worshipping secretly in a rapidly accelerating house church movement inside the Islamic Republic. According to Open Doors USA, as many as 450,000 Iranians are now practicing Christianity inside the country. Other groups have placed the figure as high as 1 million.

Major Marriage Victory in Alabama

In a major ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court has rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage opinion by issuing its own judgment in favor of Liberty Counsel’s Petition for Mandamus. In the petition, Liberty Counsel demanded on behalf of its Alabama clients – Alabama Policy Institute (“API”) and Alabama Citizens Action Program (“ALCAP”) – that the state’s probate judges obey Alabama’s Constitution and laws. The Alabama Justices labeled the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling as “illegitimate” and without legal or precedential authority. The Court then ordered the probate judges to immediately cease issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The judgment makes permanent the Alabama Supreme Court’s order prohibiting probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justice Tom Parker issued concurring opinions openly criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court marriage opinion.

Court Rules Church Has Right to Hire, Fire Employees Based on Religious Beliefs

A Missouri court has ruled in favor of a Catholic diocese’s decision to fire employees that violate the diocese’s religious beliefs. According to, the Missouri court ruled that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had the right to fire Colleen Simon from her role as director for social ministries at St. Francis Xavier Parish in May 2014. The diocese found out that Simon was married to another woman. “Churches should have the right to hire and fire people based on how consistently they live out their religious beliefs. If an employee is undermining or publicly opposing the church’s teaching, the church is within its constitutional rights to terminate employment,” said Jeremiah Galus, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

U.S. Sends Aid to Violence-Stricken Central America

The number of Central American unaccompanied minors rushing to the U.S. is back on the rise. Consequently, the U.S. is sending $750 million to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to try and improve the security and economic situation in those countries. Last year, 57% of U.S. assistance to the region was dedicated to economic and civilian aid programs, with the rest going toward security, military and rule of law programs, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America, a research group. When Congress passed a new aid package for 2016, it dedicated 66% of U.S. aid to economic and civilian institution programs. And in 2017, the White House is asking for that figure to increase to 69%.

Migrant Update

Political parties campaigning to stem the rising tide of immigrants pouring into Europe are resorting to posters that have racial undertones and denigrate Muslims, critics say. The latest example: a poster of a white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag promoted by Switzerland’s largest party in a failed bid to win last month’s referendum that would have expelled immigrants convicted of crimes. The Swiss People’s Party’s anti-immigration message — “Make the country safe, say yes to deportation of foreign criminals” — did not persuade a majority of Swiss to support its view. The Feb. 28 referendum was defeated by 59% of voters. While the black sheep may appear to be a racial metaphor, “it’s not about race,” said Georg Lutz, director of the Swiss Electoral Studies at the University of Lausanne. “It symbolizes a foreigner, an outsider.”

Persecution Watch

Middle Eastern Christian leaders and human rights advocates from the Knights of Columbus along with In Defense of Christians (IDC), released a powerful and comprehensive report Thursday which makes the case that the terror campaign against Christians and other minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East can only be called one thing: genocide. The report, along with the personal accounts conveyed at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, put even more pressure on the Obama administration to officially label the atrocities as genocide. The State Department and White House so far have not done so, but are facing a congressionally mandated March 17 deadline to make a decision. The report lists 1,131 Iraqi Christians killed between 2003 and June 9, 2014, including where they were killed and when. It also incorporates 24 pages of witness statements collected between February and March of this year, and nearly 200 documented attacks — including destruction of property, sexual assaults, enslavement, torture, imprisonment and killing — in Iraq, Syria and North Africa. Also included is a documenting of attacks on 125 Iraqi churches from 2003 to 2014.

Economic News – Domestic

There’s a lot of confusion about why more than 80% of voters say they’re worried about the economy when America is growing and unemployment is so low. But one look at how much money American families have been taking home in recent years solves the mystery. American households today earn about the same as they did 20 years ago (once you adjust for inflation). That makes it hard to get ahead, especially for indebted families. In addition, workers without a high school degree are getting left behind in the United States.

The jobless rate for workers who haven’t graduated high school is almost three times what it is for those with a college degree — and their wages are far lower, according to the Labor Department. These workers used to make up the bulk of the manufacturing laborers in America. Some of those jobs have gone overseas or been replaced by machines. While other jobs have been created in the U.S., workers without a high school degree are having trouble transitioning.

And it’s true the rich have gotten richer and corporations are earning record profits. Inequality in America today is now as bad as it was in the 1920s. The top 10% of income earners in America took half the income made in the United States in 2014. In 1990, it was 40% and in 1980 that figure was only 35%, according to data collected by Emmanuel Saez, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on income inequality.

Since September, the labor force participation rate — a measure how many people are working or looking for work — has increased. Even some people who gave up looking for jobs are restarting their searches. There are valid reasons for job seekers to feel more optimistic: the unemployment rate is down to 4.9% and America added 2.6 million jobs last year. However, participation is still very low. The participation rate hit its lowest point in September in nearly 40 years. Participation has been dropping since 2000. Part of the decline is natural: many from the Baby Boomer generation are retiring. But since the Great Recession, many younger people have also dropped out of the job market, discouraged that they can’t find work.

Oil prices have spiked an unbelievable 42% in just over three weeks. Prices stopped collapsing on February 11 after briefly sinking to $26 a barrel. Oil has zoomed back to $37 a barrel Tuesday, a remarkable rally that has inspired a big comeback in the U.S. stock market. But given the epic oil supply glut, Goldman Sachs doesn’t think the price increase is justified. There’s been a “premature surge” in commodity prices that is “not sustainable,” Goldman argues in a new report published Tuesday. However, oil prices might have ‘bottomed out’ as output begins to fall and Iran’s return to world markets fails to live up to expectations, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

The number of active oil and natural gas rigs in the U.S. has plunged to the lowest level on record going back to 1949, according to a Baker Hughes report released on Friday. Baker Hughes said there were just 480 rigs drilling for oil and natural gas last week, down by a stunning 57% from the year before. The previous low was set in 1999. It’s a reflection of the dramatic downturn in the U.S. energy industry caused by excess supply.

Economic News – International

The European Central Bank on Thursday cut all three of its main interest rates to new record lows — taking the deposit rate even deeper into negative territory — and said it would print more money as it tries to head off deflation in the eurozone. Starting in April, it will buy 80 billion euros ($87 billion) worth of bonds each month — up from 60 billion euros at present. It said it will start buying debt issued by companies as well as governments. Markets cheered the news. European stocks jumped by more than 2%, U.S. stock futures moved higher.

Even as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wraps up his state visit to the United States, his country’s unemployment rate rose to a three-year high of 7.3% in February. It marked the third consecutive month that Canada’s jobless rate increased. Canada, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, lost nearly 9,000 jobs last month in the natural resources industry, which includes the oil sector. The job cuts in the industry began late in 2014 shortly after oil prices topped out above $100 a barrel. Canada’s economy relies on oil exports. It slipped into recession last year amid the oil downturn for the first time since the Great Recession.

Middle East

A pair of Palestinian terrorists carried out two separate shooting attacks in Jerusalem Wednesday morning, a day after three separate attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva resulted in one American tourist killed and several other people wounded. Four of the terrorists involved in these attacks were shot dead by police while others were wounded and/or arrested. A former U.S. Army officer who was part of a Vanderbilt University tour group was stabbed to death in a terror attack that left 10 others wounded in an old section of Tel Aviv, officials said Tuesday. The school said in a separate statement that Force was among 29 students and four staff members who had gone to Israel to study global entrepreneurship. They were in Jaffa by the Mediterranean Sea when they were attacked. The stabbing attack occurred along a popular oceanfront boardwalk in southern Tel Aviv not far from where U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting. The attacker, a Palestinian from the West Bank, was fatally shot by police.

The Israeli Air Force carried out strikes against four Hamas targets in the northern part of Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday. One 10 year-old Palestinian boy was killed and his 8-year-old sister was injured, according to Palestinian medical sources. The IDF said the airstrikes were in response to the launch of four rockets at Israel from Gaza. No one was injured in those attacks because the rockets landed in open areas. There have been seven rockets fired at Israel from Gaza since the beginning of the year, according to the IDF.

Islamic State

A top general said more U.S. troops will be needed to retake key areas from ISIS and has sent recommendations outlining that request up the chain of command. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, pointed to the need for “additional capability” to retake the ISIS stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, as well as Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate. While Austin declined to share his specific recommendations in the hearing, he said additional U.S. military personnel could help develop better intelligence on the ground, provide more advise-and-assist teams and help with some logistics.

A disillusioned former Islamic State militant leaked tens of thousands of documents containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of 22,000 of the group’s extremists to Sky News, the British broadcaster said Thursday. Sky said the informant, who calls himself Abu Hamed, stole a memory stick containing the information from the head of the extremist group’s internal security police and passed it to its reporter at a secret location in Turkey. Sky reported that jihadis from at least 51 countries including Britain, the United States and Canada joined the group after filling out a form with 23 questions. It said some of those on the list were known to authorities, but others were not and the details, which have been passed on to officials, could be used to prevent further attacks.

Chemical attacks by the Islamic State are becoming more frequent in Iraq, causing panic and disarray among soldiers and civilians alike, according to the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga. Chemical weapons are banned under an international treaty signed in the wake of their lethal use during World War I. Makhmour has been hit by four chemical attacks — chlorine and mustard gas — since the strike in August. Mortars made of metal pipes and more sophisticated 122mm Grad rockets carry the potentially deadly chemicals. The Islamic State group has launched two chemical attacks near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing a three-year-old girl, wounding some 600 people and causing hundreds more to flee, Iraqi officials said Saturday. Wednesday, the U.S. military revealed that it destroyed an Islamic State chemical weapons facility as a result of intelligence from a captured fighter who was a top chemical weapons official under Saddam Hussein.


Iran reportedly test-fired two ballistic missiles Wednesday with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written in Hebrew on them, a show of force by the Islamic Republic as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel. The semiofficial Fars news agency offered pictures Wednesday it said were of the Qadr H missiles being fired. It said they were fired in Iran’s eastern Alborz mountain range to hit a target some 870 miles away off Iran’s coast into the Sea of Oman. Fars quoted Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, saying the test was aimed at showing Israel that Iran could hit it whenever it wants to. “The 1,240-mile range of our missiles is to confront the Zionist regime,” Hajizadeh said. “Israel is surrounded by Islamic countries and it will not last long in a war. It will collapse even before being hit by these missiles.” Iran’s foreign ministry insisted on Thursday that the missile tests carried out by the country’s Revolutionary Guard this week do not violate Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers or a U.N. Security Council resolution, claiming they were for “legitimate defense.”

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claimed Tuesday that his county’s scientists have developed miniature nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles, according to the official state news agency” The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them,” state media agency KCNA quoted Kim as saying as he inspected a nuclear facility. “This can be called true nuclear deterrent,” he added. The latest developments from the reclusive country come amid heightened tensions following claims it tested a hydrogen bomb in January. Tensions remain high after North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, which prompted the United Nations to adopt tough new sanctions.

North Korea warned Monday of pre-emptive nuclear strikes after the United States and South Korea began holding their biggest ever war games. North Korea’s provocative nuclear rhetoric has gotten so bad even the Kremlin has come out against the hermit kingdom, warning continued nuclear threats could justify an invasion. Russia also had harsh words for the U.S. and South Korea, condemning the “unprecedented” exercises. North Korea responded Thursday to new sanctions from South Korea by firing short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in a show of defiance and vowing to “liquidate” all remaining South Korean assets at former cooperative projects in the North.


The upper-air weather pattern over North America this week has been an extreme one that has yielded record-breaking results. An area of low pressure in the upper atmosphere that pushed into California on Monday dove southward into Mexico, where it became mostly detached from the main jet stream to the north. This allowed it to stall over northern Mexico, resulting in rare March snow for parts of that country and extreme flooding in the southern United States. At the same time, the jet stream built north over southeast Canada, where an expansive area of high pressure both aloft and at the surface of the earth has resulted in extreme warmth early in the season. Unseasonably warm, March weather will continue across much of the central and eastern states through this weekend.

Several Northeast cities saw their warmest temperatures on record for so early in a calendar year on Wednesday. Albany, New York, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Hartford (Bradley Int’l), Connecticut, Newark, New Jersey, Poughkeepsie, New York all saw their earliest first 80s on record Wednesday afternoon. The record-shattering high temperature of 81 degrees at Albany, New York, was also 40 degrees above the average high of 41 for the date. In addition, Boston and New York City both hit 77 degrees, making it the warmest day on record so early in the season.

five-plus-day heavy rain event, which featured up to two feet of record March rain in the South, is almost finally over. However, major river flooding will continue for the next several days, rising to historic levels in some areas. Record flooding is already occurring along a stretch of the Sabine River, and will move downstream the next several days along the Texas/Louisiana border. Record flooding has also occurred in four other locations, so far, including the Bogue Falaya River in Covington, Louisiana, and Bayou Dorcheat at Lake Bistineau, Louisiana, and is either nearing or expected to occur at several other locations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. A record rainfall of aver 23 inches of rain has fallen near Monroe, Louisiana, through Friday morning, prompting numerous rescues. Overall, five people have been killed and thousands of homes have been evacuated as widespread flooding continues to bear down on parts of the South.

Two people are dead and four others had to be rescued from a flooded river in Southern California as a slew of Pacific storms caused major problems for parts of the West Coast. Crews rushed to the scene of a train derailment Monday night in Northern California’s Alameda County after the lead car plunged into a creek, injuring 9 people. Officials said the passenger train’s derailment occurred because a mudslide pushed a tree onto the tracks. The rushing waters of the swollen creek made the rescue very difficult. Flood warnings were in effect for the Napa River near St. Helena and the Russian River near Guerneville Friday. A California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) worker was on the scene to clear a mudslide when a second slide nearly toppled his truck off the highway on Friday.

Winds ripped through western Washington state on Thursday, downing trees and knocking out power to more than a hundred-thousand customers. According to the National Weather Service’s Seattle office, wind gusts reached up to 127 mph in Mission Ridge and 101 mph in Crystal Mount.


Signs of the Times (3/8/16)

March 8, 2016

Open Doors Names 2015 the Worst Year for Christian Persecution in Modern History

Christian persecution is at an all-time high, according to Open Doors. The advocacy group released its most recent World Watch List, naming the 50 worst countries for Christians. According to the report, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution.” Front Page Mag reports Muslims are most often responsible for persecution of Christians. Islamic extremism was the main source of persecution in 41 of the 50 countries from the Open Doors report. Nine of the top 10 countries on the World Watch List were Muslim majority. However, the worst country for Christian persecution in 2015 was North Korea. Other countries that were listed in the top 10 for severe Christian persecution included Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. In total, the survey found that more than 7,100 Christians were killed in 2015 for “faith-related reasons,” up 3,000 from the previous year.

China to Become World’s Largest Christian Nation?

Within 15 years, China should become the country with the most Christians in the world, according to a new study. Fenggang Yang, of Purdue University, predicts that China will reach 224 million Christians by the year 2030, as quoted in the UK Financial Times. “By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Yang, an expert in sociology and author of “Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.” In 2010, the U.S. had around 159 million Protestants, and many observers say congregations are in decline. As part of a possible passing of the baton, China is now sending missionaries—especially to North Korea. Currently, there are about 100 million Christians in the world’s most populous nation, which eclipses the 86.7 million-strong membership of the ruling Communist party, according to the Financial Times. “The number of Christians is extremely underestimated (in China) intentionally because the increase of religion would reflect negatively on government officials.” said Yang.

Fundamentalist LDS Takes Severe Blow from Feds

These are dark days for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the reclusive polygamous sect led by imprisoned prophet Warren Jeffs. The U.S. Justice Department dealt a double blow to FLDS leadership on Monday: In Phoenix, a federal jury found that church leaders controlled the municipal governments of two cities that discriminated against nonbelievers. And in Salt Lake City, a federal magistrate ordered Jeffs’ brother, Lyle, the so-called bishop of the two towns, to remain behind bars as he awaits trial in an alleged food stamp swindle and money laundering scheme. It remained unclear what would happen to Hildale and Colorado City. The municipal governments could be decertified or fall under receivership, and the shared police force could be disbanded. In that case, outside police agencies could take over control from the Colorado City Marshal’s Office.

  • While true Christians applaud the dismantling of FLDS, it is a harbinger of what is in store for Christianity in general as the federal government ramps up its prosecution of discrimination and hate crimes

Migrant Update

European leaders were meeting in Brussels on Monday to try and find ways to stem the flow of migrants continuing to arrive on the continent. European Council President Donald Tusk visited countries on the Western Balkans route, the main route taken by migrants to northern Europe, last week to try and build a consensus ahead of the talks. The EU intends to close the route, which Tusk said 880,000 migrants entered in 2015 and 128,000 in the first two months of this year. He said despite some progress, the number of people illegally entering Greece from Turkey remained too high. Most migrants fleeing conflict in countries including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrive in Greece by boat from Turkey. Tusk said he and Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu believed that economic migrants should be returned to Turkey. The leaders of the 28-nation bloc will also discuss increasing humanitarian aid to refugees. The EU’s executive proposed last week to provide $760 million over the next three years for basic necessities like food, shelter, clean water and emergency health care. The EU has also pledged more than $3 billion in aid for refugees in Turkey. More than 2 million Syrian refugees are living there.

Zika Update

A new study provides the strongest evidence yet that the Zika virus is the cause of devastating birth defects seen in Brazil, home to the largest outbreak of the disease. Ultrasounds found major abnormalities in 29% of the fetuses from women who tested positive for Zika, but none of the women without Zika infections, according to the study, published online Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Economic News

It’s tempting to get excited about the market’s recent rally. But as impressive as the bounce has been, it is far from repairing some of the worst damage. There are still 196 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500, or 40%, mired in bear markets, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. A bear market is a decline of 20% or more from the recent high. The fact so many stocks are still badly beaten, despite the market’s impressive 9% rally from the lows this year. Roughly $1.6 trillion in market value has been restored to the portfolios of investors in the S&P 500, which is a good start, but stocks are still down nearly $2.2 trillion from the highs last year.

Economists at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a group of 60 global central banks, are warning of potential risks from the negative interest rates in place in Europe and Japan. Central banks in the eurozone, Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland have all taken rates below zero and into uncharted territory. But nobody’s quite sure what the long-term results will be from the new and unconventional policies, which involve the central banks charging commercial lenders to deposit funds with them. The aim is typically to encourage people and businesses to spend money rather than save it.

BP lost $5.2 billion in 2015 and announced plans to cut 7,000 jobs by the end of 2017. But CEO Bob Dudley’s paycheck has gotten much bigger. Dudley took home total of $19.6 million in pay and benefits in 2015, a 20% jump from 2014. His annual cash bonus went up 40% to $1.4 million in 2015 from $1 million in 2014. Last month, BP posted an annual loss of $5.2 billion, compared with a profit of $8.1 billion in 2014.

Islamic State

ISIS isn’t about to file for bankruptcy — but its balance sheet is hurting. In 2015, ISIS lost about 40% of the area it held in Iraq, as well as parts of northeastern Syria that have both good farmland and oil. Airstrikes on the oil infrastructure it controlled have further diminished the balance sheet. Some of its senior financial officials have been killed. Trading through Turkey has become much more difficult. Its cash depots have been bombed. A terror group that claims to be a state, or a “caliphate,” needs a lot of money, especially when 4 to 5 million people live under its control. ISIS has to provide basic social services, health care, water and electricity, and maintain roads and sewage systems. It has to pay wages, especially to its soldiers.

ISIS did have a lot of money. Even before it went on its land-grab in 2014 it probably had assets worth $875 million, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. Much of that came through extortion. It also enjoyed windfall profits in the expansionary days of 2014. These included, according to U.S. estimates, between $500 million and $1 billion seized from Iraqi bank vaults. The branch of the Central Bank in Mosul alone was said to contain more than $400 million. Speaking in October 2014, senior U.S. Treasury official David S. Cohen said ISIS “has amassed wealth at an unprecedented pace.” A conservative estimate would be that ISIS’ cash pile and revenues amounted to at least $1.5 billion a year ago. But ISIS was also spending money — fast.


Less than a week into a tenuous cease-fire in Syria, anti-government protests spread Friday across much of the territory held by rebel forces that have been fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad. Images posted to social media show large crowds with banners and speakers using megaphones, reportedly in Azaz, in Maarat al-Numan, where several well-known rebel leaders from Idlib were photographed, and in the Damacus suburb of Ghouta, among many other locations. According to Norwegian-Emirati Syria watcher Iyad El-Baghdadi, there were 104 protests across rebel-held Syria on Friday. Opposition leaders called for the removal of the Assad regime from power, an end to all sieges, provision of adequate humanitarian aid, the release of detainees and the expulsion of Iranian and Shiite sectarian militia, according to a translation by Lister.


A suicide bomber on Sunday rammed his explosives-laden fuel truck into a security checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 47 people and wounding dozens, officials said, the latest episode in an uptick in violence in the war-ravaged country. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group. IS and other Sunni militants frequently use car bombs and suicide attacks to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Among the dead were 39 civilians, while the rest were members of the security forces.


Iran conducted multiple ballistic missile tests Tuesday in what it said was a display of ‘deterrent power,’ defying US sanctions imposed earlier this year aimed at disrupting its missile program. State media announced that short-, medium- and long-range precision guided missiles were fired from several sites to show the country’s ‘all-out readiness to confront threats’ against its territorial integrity. Pictures of the launches were broadcast and reports said the armaments used had ranges of 300 kilometers (190 miles), 500 km, 800 km and 2,000 km. The United States hit Iran with fresh sanctions on its missile program in January, 24 hours after separate sanctions related to Tehran’s nuclear activities had been lifted under a landmark deal with world powers.


A Pakistani police official says a suicide bomber attacked the entrance to a court in a northwestern Pakistan, killing seven people Monday. Ali Jan Khan says the blast in the town of Shabqadar also wounded another 15 people. He says two police officers are included among the dead. No one has claimed responsibility, but suspicion is likely to fall on the local Taliban branch, which has been waging a war against the state for over a decade.


The day after Turkish police in riot gear seized the country’s leading newspaper, its content changed from critical to complimentary of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today’s Zaman, circulation 650,000, was taken over Friday at the request of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which accused its owners of acting for a political rival that the government accuses of terrorism and attempting a coup. The seizure prompted protests outside the newspaper building Saturday, until police fired water canons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. “This is the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it,” the White House said Friday in a statement. Turkey is a member of NATO and a key ally in the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State, which holds large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is also a jumping off point for Syrian refugees flooding into Europe.


At least 45 people — including 28 terrorists — were killed Monday near Tunisia’s border with Libya in one of the deadliest clashes seen so far between Tunisian forces and extremist attackers, the government said. The fighting in the border town of Ben Guerdane in eastern Tunisia comes amid increasing concern that violent extremism in Libya could destabilize the region. The government closed its two border crossings with Libya because of the attack that left 28 terrorists, seven civilians and 10 members of Tunisia’s security forces dead. Libya’s chaos, five years after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, has allowed the Islamic State to take control of several cities.


American aircraft on Saturday struck a training camp in Somalia belonging to the Islamist militant group the Shabab, the Pentagon said, killing about 150 fighters who were assembled for what American officials believe was a graduation ceremony and prelude to an imminent attack against American troops and their allies in East Africa. Defense officials said the strike was carried out by drones and American aircraft, which dropped a number of precision-guided bombs and missiles on the field where the fighters were gathered. Pentagon officials said they did not believe there were any civilian casualties, but there was no independent way to verify the claim, reported the New York Times. It was the deadliest attack on the Shabab in the more than decade-long American campaign against the group, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, and a sharp deviation from previous American strikes, which have concentrated on the group’s leaders, not on its foot soldiers.


An al Qaeda umbrella group is denying links to an attack that killed 16 people including four nuns at an elderly home founded by Mother Teresa in Yemen. Gunmen raided the building Friday, handcuffing victims and shooting them in the head. We Ansar Al-Sharia deny any connection or relation to the operation that targeted the elders house,” the group said in a statement Sunday. In light of the denial, it was not immediately clear who carried out the attack. ISIS sympathizers are now suspected.

North Korea

The U.S. military is holding exercises in South Korea amid increased tensions with North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his country’s nuclear weapons to be at the ready. About 2,100 Marines and sailors recently arrived in South Korea for the training exercises which began last Wednesday and will last until March 20, Marine Corps officials said. Held every two years, the exercise involves U.S. and South Korean troops conducting amphibious operations for possible disaster relief or wartime missions. North Korea on Monday again threatened to launch nuclear strikes on the United States and South Korea. In response, South Korea on Tuesday announced unilateral sanctions against North Korea, blacklisting dozens of individuals and organizations it said were involved in the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

The Philippines will impound a suspected North Korean cargo vessel docked at a port northwest of Manila and eventually deport its North Korean crewmen under terms of a tough new United Nations sanctions introduced in response to Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, a presidential spokesman said Saturday. Presidential Communications Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III said the U.N. sanctions would be applied to the 4,355-ton MV Jin Teng, which arrived Thursday at Subic Bay, a commercial port that formerly served as a U.S. naval base. It is the first known compliance with the U.N. Security Council sanctions, passed unanimously on Wednesday, that aims to cripple parts of the North Korean economy that fuel its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.


More than 10 months after devastating earthquakes rocked Nepal and claimed the lives of nearly 9,000, the government has yet to rebuild. Though volunteers and NGOs responded rapidly to the April quake and its May aftershock, the official reconstruction process has languished — to the extent that Nepal’s government has not utilized any of the $4.1 billion pledged by other countries, the United Nations, the World Bank and other international agencies to help provide long-term relief. For now, this money remains with the donors, who are still awaiting the Nepali government’s reconstruction plans. Reconstruction is sorely needed. By the government’s count, the 2015 earthquakes damaged nearly 900,000 houses, over 900 health facilities, and more than 8,300 schools.


A human-caused wildfire that started Sunday afternoon in eastern Arizona has charred about 500 acres of the same forest area burned more than a decade ago by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, forest officials said. Local and Forest Service firefighters are battling the blaze in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests near Aripine. The fire, dubbed the Phoenix Fire for its proximity to the Phoenix Park Wash, is 0% contained as of Tuesday morning. The Phoenix Fire that started Sunday was a different kind of blaze, forest officials said. Instead of tall, densely growing pines, the fire was fueled by low grass and brush that had regrown over the last 14 years.


A parade of Pacific storms began soaking California and other parts of the West Coast last Friday. This much wetter weather pattern was accompanied by a so-called atmospheric river, or “Pineapple Express”, at times, unleashing bouts of heavy rain, feet of Sierra snow, and strong winds, high surf and coastal flooding. The storms brought over 8 inches of rain to Northern California and covered the Sierra Nevada with snow. A 48-year-old woman hs died after the car she was a passenger in drove into deep flood waters on Highway 65 Saturday. Four others had to be rescued from the flooded Los Angeles river. An 88 mph wind gust was recorded Saturday evening at Mount Diablo nearly 25 miles east of San Francisco. Sustained 65 mph gusts were also felt in the area.

At least ten drivers were hospitalized after sudden snow squalls caused a 40-car pileup on Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire between Windham and Londonderry Friday morning. “It was literally a whiteout,” a tow truck driver told CBS Boston. “You couldn’t see 40, 50 feet in front of you.” people driving in into the near whiteout conditions couldn’t see the stopped traffic, and when they did it was too late to stop. The snow moved in ahead of schedule, several hours before any winter weather advisories were issued by the National Weather Service.

A days-long round of severe weather and heavy rainfall began Monday night in parts of the South. The storms continued Tuesday morning in North Texas, bringing severe storms and torrential rainfall to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In the town of Denton, a school bus was trapped in floodwaters Tuesday morning, and crews had to pull six children and the driver to safety. The National Weather Service reported several structures and vehicles were damaged by a possible tornado in Parker County near Highway 180 Monday night. Among the cities that should be alert for potentially major flash flooding the next few days are Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Shreveport, Louisiana and Little Rock, Arkansas, and New Orleans.

Findings of a new analysis of storm data and model projections warn that flooding is going to be a worsening problem around the world, with a warmer atmosphere already leading to heavier downpours in both arid and wet climates. The study identified “robust increases” in “extreme daily precipitation” — the types of drenching storms that can wipe out homes and flood fields. “The extremes are increasing in both the wet and dry areas,” said Markus Donat, a University of New South Wales climate researcher who led the new study, published Monday in Nature Climate Change.

  • Floods, heat and hail are end-times events (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Signs of the Times (3/4/16)

March 4, 2016

Muslims Turning to Christ in Record Numbers

Hundreds of thousands of Christians are secretly worshipping in Iran as part of a house church movement in the country. The Iranian government considers Christianity a threat to Islam. However, Open Doors USA estimates that as many as 450,000 Christians are in Iran. Others estimate there are more than 1 million practicing Christians in the country. About four or five Christians are part of each house church. They change the place of meeting each time. “If they want to sing, they have to sing very quietly or not sing at all,” the source said. “It is not anti-Iranian,” the source said. “It’s an Iranian movement. It’s a great, great number of Muslims turning to Christ.” According to the Christian Post, a London-based theological center is training Christian leaders in Iran. Some 200 Iranian Christians are being trained by the London-based Pars Theological Centre to become Christian leaders of the house church movement.

Supreme Court Hears Biggest Abortion Case in Decades

The Supreme Court will hear its most important abortion case this week since 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey Wednesday, and it will have to do so without conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. Texas clinics are fighting a 2013 law that forces doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requires clinics to meet standards for outpatient surgery centers. Texas legislators say the rules protect women’s health, while the nation’s leading abortion rights groups say the rules present a roadblock for women seeking abortions.

Apple Files Appeal Against iPhone Order

Apple has filed an appeal against an order demanding that it help investigators gain access to data on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers. The tech firm filed the appeal against the order issued last month by U.S. District Court Magistrate Sheri Pym under the federal All Writs Act late Tuesday. Apple says it will refuse the order to write code to unlock an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists in the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. that killed 14 people. The Department of Justice maintains that Apple should help law enforcement on what it considers an isolated request. On Monday, a federal judge in Brooklyn denied a Department of Justice request for a court order that would force Apple to bypass the security passcode on the iPhone of a criminal defendant in a drug case.

Technology is Outpacing the Law

The FBI-Apple encryption battle is just the beginning of an important debate this country needs to have about what to do when U.S. innovation outpaces American law. As with the coming of the telephone, the car, the radio and TV, the spread of the mobile Internet has gotten ahead of case law. With hand-held smartphones now ubiquitous, a consumer technology has outstripped the ability of the government to complete an important terrorist investigation. Given the pace of development in the tech industry — especially in machine learning and artificial intelligence — hardware and software likely will soon outstrip the law in other areas, too. A recent accident between Google’s self-driving car and a bus appears to be the car’s fault, but determining legal responsibility remains difficult to determine because current law focuses on the drivers. If someone was hurt on the bus or in some other accident caused by the automated car, is the manufacturer liable? What if it’s the software’s fault that was developed by yet another company? Or what about a hypothetical Uber driver of the future who overrides the control of an autonomous vehicle to avoid an old lady walking her dog — but instead hits and kills an Amazon grocery deliveryman — who is liable? There currently aren’t laws or precedents to handle these situations.

Five Months Later, High Lead Levels Remain in Flint’s Water

It’s been five months since the state of Michigan relented and switched Flint’s drinking water source back to the Great Lakes, after a disastrous trial using the Flint River. But residents still can’t drink what comes out of their taps. Despite testing that shows that water lead levels have dropped in many Flint homes, there are still more than 600 homes where the water tested well above the EPA’s action level for lead. When the state switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River, it did not properly treat the water, and the water corroded the pipes. Even though the water switched back, the pipes are damaged, and lead-tainted water, which can stunt childhood development and affect nearly every part of the body, is still coming out of taps in some areas. Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver has asked for $55 million to begin replacing about 8,000 water lines. The state of Michigan has pledged $58 million to Flint. But none of that is for the replacement of lead service lines.

14 More Charged in 2014 Armed Standoff with Feds

Federal authorities have charged another 14 individuals for their alleged role in a 2014 armed standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and federal authorities who were trying to remove his cows from public land. The latest arrested are just a fraction of the hundreds who authorities say used armed force against law enforcement officers to “thwart the seizure” of the cows after Bundy refused to obtain permits or pay fees for 20 years that would allow them to graze on public land. A federal grand jury in Nevada charged the defendants Thursday with at least eight counts, including assault on a law enforcement officer, conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and interstate travel in aid of extortion. Some of those counts have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Migrant Update

NATO’s top general warned that the mass influx of migrants to Europe is allowing ISIS to spread “like a cancer.” Following testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told reporters that mass migration spurred by the ongoing conflict in Syria and the threat of ISIS in the Middle East was allowing terrorists free entry into the continent. Breedlove, who is head of Supreme Allied Command in Europe, said the migration “masks the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters (into Europe).” European Council President Donald Tusk told would-be illegal migrants Thursday not to come to Europe, while Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for sanctions to be imposed on EU states that refuse to take in their share of people.

The European Union announced plans for 700 million euros in emergency aid to Greece to house and care for migrants. The aid proposal — intended to meet basic needs such as food, water and shelter over the next three years — came a day after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned of a burgeoning humanitarian disaster in Europe. More than 131,000 migrants had entered Europe in just the first two months of 2016 — a number that was close to the total for the entire first half of 2015, according to UNHCR figures. A record 1.2 million people registered for asylum in the European Union in 2015, more than double the number of the previous year. The cost to Europe to handle the migrants could be as high as 18 billion euros ($20 billion) per year, the European Commission said Friday.

A judge gave the green light last week for the French government to tear down part of the Calais “Jungle,” as the refugee camp is commonly called, but riots broke out this week amid the resulting chaos. Police and bulldozers began pushing migrants out of tents and temporary shelters Monday, tearing apart the ad hoc camp that houses an estimated 6,000 people. Camp residents fought back Tuesday, starting fires and attacking police with rocks. The situation Wednesday was calmer, if not less tense. Confusion, uncertainty and sorrow still hang over the camp and the people who have no place to go.

Economic News

Employers added 242,000 jobs in February as the labor market bounced back from a short-lived slowdown and provided further evidence that it’s shrugging off global economic troubles and market turbulence. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9%, the Labor Department said Friday. A sharp rise in employment was offset a similar-sized increase in the labor force, which includes those working and looking for jobs. Also encouraging is that job gains for December and January were revised up by a total 30,000. But average hourly wages fell 3 cents to 25.35 after rising sharply in January, and are up 2.2% the past year.

The U.S. manufacturing sector shrank for the fifth straight month in February. It’s the longest recession for the sector since 2009. The good news is that consumers and services make up 70% of U.S. economic activity. Manufacturing only makes up about 10%. U.S. manufacturers are reeling from two key factors. Economic growth has slowed down in many developing countries because prices for commodities like oil have plunged over the past year and a half. At the same time, the dollar has gained a lot of value, making American products more expensive — and less attractive — to foreign buyers.

More Americans are finding jobs, wages are starting to grow faster and people are spending selectively. But American confidence has declined. It’s got to do with a combustion of factors from a negative start to the stock markets this year, fears of China slowing down more and ongoing volatility in oil prices. American confidence levels remain higher than during the recession. However, it’s been trending downward lately — Gallup’s economic confidence index has been on a downward trajectory over the past 12 months.

Corporate profits may have shrunk in 2015. But an elite group of U.S. companies found a way to grab a bigger piece of the smaller pie. Just 28 companies, including gadget maker Apple, bank JPMorgan Chase and Warren Buffett’s diversified Berkshire Hathaway, collectively hauled in more than half the total net income reported by U.S-based companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 last year, according to a USA Today analysis of 462 U.S.-based companies that have reported their net income for calendar year 2015. Seeing such a small group of big companies generate such a high percentage of the nation’s total corporate net income shows how profits have gotten even more concentrated, much as the gap between the wealthy and middle class has widened.

The U.S. pumped an average of 9.43 million barrels per day last year, according to new government figures. That’s the highest level since 1972 and represents an impressive growth of 89% since 2008. The crash in oil prices has caused production to slow a little in recent months. But shale oil producers have held up far better than many feared. The shale oil revolution has made America one of the planet’s biggest oil producers behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Middle East

A bloc of six Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia says it has formally declared Lebanon’s Hezbollah a terrorist organization. A statement from the Gulf Cooperation Council said Wednesday that it was taking the step because of hostile acts by the militant group within its member states. The group accused Hezbollah seeking to recruit members within the GCC and the smuggling of weapons and explosives. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Police announced on Thursday that they recently cooperated to arrest two Israeli-Arab men on suspicion that they were preparing to carry out a terrorist attack on behalf of the Islamic State ((IS) terror militia. They were formally charged Wednesday at the Nazareth District Court with providing aid during war to an enemy of Israel, with additional related charges.

Islamic State

U.S. Special Operations forces have captured their first suspected ISIS operative in Northern Iraq as part of a highly secretive targeting team led by the Army’s elite Delta Force, CNN reported. The detainee is being interrogated by the U.S. and is expected to be turned over to Iraqi officials in the coming days, two U.S. officials confirmed. The mission was carried out by the Pentagon’s expeditionary targeting force. Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged the expeditionary targeting force has been sent to Iraq to conduct raids against ISIS and to capture or kill suspects. The plan is to use the new intelligence gleaned from raids and interrogations to develop further targeting information for follow-up missions.

ISIS militants planned to strike civilian and military targets inside Jordan but were foiled by authorities, a government agency said. A series of raids carried out Tuesday into Wednesday in Irbid, Jordan, led to the arrests of 13 people alleged to have been part of the plot, the state-run Petra news agency reported. But, seven other alleged terrorists, wearing suicide belts and carrying automatic weapons, then attacked Jordanian security forces in the northern Jordanian city, which is 55 miles north of Amman and about 13 miles from the Syrian border. That onslaught ended with all seven attackers killed, as well as one member of Jordan’s specialized security force. Two civilians and two security force members were wounded.


The Syrian government reported a nationwide power outage on Thursday — just the latest electricity problem in a country that has seen frequent outages during a five-year war between the regime, rebels and terror groups. The government didn’t immediately know the reason for the outage, and was taking steps to address the electricity loss, which it said affected all provinces. many cities outside of the government’s control already weren’t being served by the government-run power grid. The ISIS terror group and other militant groups control large parts of the country, and many cities in these areas use fuel-powered generators for electricity.


Police in Istanbul on Thursday shot and killed two women who had hidden inside a building after attacking police with gunfire and a hand grenade, an official said. Two police officers were slightly injured. Security camera footage showed the women firing at a police bus outside a riot police station in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa neighborhood and also hurling a hand grenade, before apparently taking aim at the police station. The hand grenade did not explode. They escaped the scene in a vehicle and hid inside a building a short distance from the police station. Police quickly surrounded the building and launched an operation after the pair ignored calls for them to surrender. The attack comes amid a surge in violence in Turkey since last summer.


Extreme neglect has left Iraq’s Mosul Dam on the brink of failure, which could kill at least 1 million people, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad warned this week. Controlled by Islamic State militants for a short time in 2014, the dam is the only thing holding back the Tigris River from hundreds of thousands of residents living in the path of a potential breach downstream. The dam has been structurally flawed since it was constructed in 1984 because its base was made from gypsum, a mineral that can be eaten away by water, according to Engineers must work six days a week drilling holes in the dam and then filling those holes with a cement grout mixture just to keep the wall from falling apart.

North Korea

The U.N. Security Council Wednesday unanimously approved the toughest sanctions in decades against North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and missile tests. The broad sanctions were made possible due to cooperation by China, which previously blocked tough measures against the rogue regime that has been heavily dependent on Chinese economic and diplomatic support. The vote on the resolution was drafted by the United States and North Korea’s number one ally, China, during the council’s first meeting of the year. The sanctions would be the first to require North Korean cargo ships and aircraft to be inspected before entering and after leaving the reclusive country. They would also prohibit small arms and other conventional weapons sales to North Korea. Pyongyang appears to have wasted no time in demonstrating its defiance to the international sanctions. Just hours after the Security Council resolution passed, North Korea fired several short-range projectiles into the sea, according to the South Korean defense ministry. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington.


In a “show of force,” the U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and five escort ships to the South China Sea amid rising tensions between the U.S., China and other Southeast Asian nations claiming territory in the disputed region, multiple defense officials confirmed to Fox News Friday. The dispatch sends a signal to China that the U.S. Navy will continue to conduct freedom of navigation patrols even as China continues to “militarize” islands, those officials say. Tensions have increased over the last month after it was learned that China had placed surface-to-air-missiles on one of the Paracel Islands


Ukraine’s prolonged crisis and political stalemate are causing a growing sense of despair and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warned in a report released Thursday. The fragile ceasefire is pierced daily by violations, while the number of conflict-related civilian casualties keeps climbing. More than 3 million are struggling to eke out a living in the conflict zone,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “They are in urgent need of greater protection and support.” Estimated casualty figures since the beginning of the conflict have risen to more than 30,000. That includes at least 9,160 killed and 21,000 injured. The figures include civilians, Ukrainian military personnel and members of armed groups.


Brazil is plunging into its worst recession in over two decades. The Brazilian economy shrank 3.8% in 2015, according to government data published Thursday. That’s the biggest annual drop since 1990 and the country is in its longest recession since the 1930s. In 2011, the South American country was the world’s sixth largest economy, surpassing the United Kingdom. Large oil reserves attracted development and foreign investors, and China became its top trade partner. Brazil emerged from the 2009 global financial crisis largely unscathed. Now the good times are over. Unemployment is rising, consumer confidence has plummeted and the country’s currency, the real, has lost 24% of its value against the dollar in the past year. The engine behind Brazil’s economy is commodities like oil, sugar and coffee. Prices for all of them have plummeted over the last two years, hurting Brazil badly. An unprecedented corruption scandal at the giant government-run oil company Petrobras was another big driver of the recession as Brazilians’ confidence in the government and business plummeted.


A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra Wednesday evening local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake occurred at a depth of 6.2 miles and its epicenter was 411 miles southwest of Muara Siberut, Indonesia. The 7.8 magnitude quake did not trigger a tsunami, and there were no deaths and no major damage. According to local reports, residents of the Mentawai Islands, west of Sumatra, were being evacuated to higher ground due to tsunami fears, but there was no tsunami. The 7.9 magnitude would make it the strongest earthquake on the planet since an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit near the coast of Chile on Sept. 16, 2015. Since 2000, there have been 29 earthquakes worldwide that were magnitude-7.9 or higher. All 22 of the early-warning tsunami buoys that Indonesia deployed after the 2004 tsunami disaster were inoperable when the massive undersea earthquake struck off the coast.


Several cities in New England reported their warmest meteorological winter on record, while many others were very close to historic warmth. That includes Boston, which was on pace for its second-warmest winter since record-keeping began. Unsurprisingly, plants and animals don’t know how to react when temperatures soar at a time they should have plummeted. Flowers that normally bloom first are sprouting a month earlier than expected. Wildlife experts have also documented wood frogs and spring peepers making appearances in late-February, weeks before they should be observed in New England. But winter weather is still possible through March in New England. If there’s another cold snap, or a big snowstorm covers everything in frozen precipitation, all that has bloomed could die.

An 18-year drought has continued to worsen in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and a new NASA study concluded it’s likely the worst one in nearly a millennium. Studying tree rings to better understand the region’s climate, scientists were able to get a complete history of drought in the Eastern Mediterranean dating back as far as 900 years. From their analysis, they realized that this is likely the driest stretch for countries like Cypress, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey since at least the 12th century. The study finds that the recent drought that began in 1998 is at least 50 percent drier than the driest period over the last 500 years, and as much as 20 percent drier than any dry period since 1100.

February saw record low sea ice extent, with ice running a significant 448,000 square miles below average. In essence, a chunk of ice four times the size of Arizona went missing in action from the Arctic. Once again, the Arctic was super warm for this time of year. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which released the new data on Wednesday, said that temperatures ranged from 11°-14°F above average in the central Arctic.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Signs of the Times (3/1/16)

March 1, 2016

Battle over Transgender Bathroom Laws in State Capitals

A fierce debate is playing out in state capitals throughout the country over which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender students in public schools should use. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard faces a deadline next week to act on a bill passed by the state legislature that would require students to use bathrooms or locker rooms for the gender that corresponds with their “chromosomes and anatomy” at birth, what would be the first-of-its kind law in the country. If Daugaard, a Republican, doesn’t sign or veto the bill by Tuesday, it automatically becomes law. In Oklahoma, legislation has been introduced that calls for withholding of state aid if a parent files a merited complaint that a school district has allowed a student to use a sex-segregated bathroom or changing facility that doesn’t align with the student’s gender at birth. A proposal introduced last month in Virginia would require that local school boards develop policies that require restrooms and locker rooms be only used by “individuals whose anatomical sex matches” the gender designation of the facilities. In all, more than two dozen similar bills have been filed in state legislatures across the country in the first two months of 2016.

Donald Trump Defends Planned Parenthood Abortion Business

Though he repeated his line about supporting de-funding and opposing the abortion component of Planned Parenthood, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continued defending the abortion company in the Republican presidential debate Friday night. “I am pro-life, I am totally against abortion having to do with Planned Parenthood, but millions and millions of women, [with] cervical cancer, breast cancer, are helped by Planned Parenthood,” Trump said. “You can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood who are helped greatly. I wouldn’t fund it, I’d defund it because of the abortion factor,” he added.

IRS Hack Larger than First Estimated

A 2015 cyber hack of the IRS potentially gained access to personal data from more than 700,000 taxpayer accounts, more than double the total previously estimated, the tax agency said Friday. The information includes Social Security numbers, birth dates and other data that cyber thieves could use to impersonate a real taxpayer, file a false federal tax return and collect a refund. The unidentified electronic attackers got in, giving the IRS an embarrassing black eye, by taking taxpayer information they acquired elsewhere and using it to correctly answer personal identity-verification questions in the “Get Transcript” application on the agency’s website. The function, disabled after the IRS discovered the breach last May, enabled legitimate taxpayers to view their tax account transactions or line-by-line tax return information for a specific tax year.

Doctors Who Discovered Cancer Enzymes in Vaccines all Found Murdered recently reported about an epidemic of doctors who have been murdered, twelve holistic doctors in the space of ninety days last year. Now, they report that more recently six doctors have been murdered in Florida. These scientists all shared a common trait, they had all discovered that the nagalase enzyme protein was being added to vaccines which were then administrated to humans. Nagalase is what prevents vitamin D from being produced in the body, which is the body’s main defense to naturally kill cancer cells. According to, nagalase is a protein that’s also created by all cancer cells. This protein is also found in very high concentrations in autistic children. This prevents the body from utilizing the Vitamin D necessary to fight cancer and prevent autism. Nagalase disables the immune system. It’s also known to cause Type 2 Diabetes.

  • They’re putting it in vaccines? And murdering doctors/scientists who’ve discover this? A serious accusation that deserves deeper investigation.

Zika Update

Nine pregnant U.S. women have been diagnosed with Zika, and one gave birth to a baby with microcephaly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. Of the eight other women, two miscarried, two had abortions, two gave birth to healthy babies and two are still pregnant. None of the women were hospitalized. Health officials are investigating 10 additional possible Zika infections in pregnant women in the U.S. All of the women are U.S. residents who traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks, according to the CDC. The agency has tested blood from 257 women with potential exposure to the virus and established a voluntary pregnancy registry to gather more information from across the U.S.

For the first time, researchers have shown that the Zika virus can cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition in which the immune system attacks nerve cells and causes paralysis. Five Latin American countries with Zika epidemics — Brazil, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Suriname — have reported increases in Guillain-Barre syndrome. Until now, however, doctors didn’t have scientific evidence showing the virus actually triggers the condition. The new evidence comes from a study published Monday in The Lancet, in which researchers analyzed 42 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome that were diagnosed during a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia from 2013 to 2014. All 42 of the Guillain-Barre patients had antibodies designed to neutralize Zika’s effects on the body.

Is the Oil Crash Over?

Oil has stopped crashing. Despite the recent rally, oil prices are down by nearly half from a year ago when they were sitting at $62 a barrel, down from over $100 a barrel a year earlier. Oil prices plummeted to a 13-year low of $26.05 a barrel on February 11, but they rose to $34 a barrel at market close Monday, marking an incredible 30% spike in the span of just 11 trading days. However, the surge from the recent lows reflects a swing in sentiment, but not a dramatic shift in the fundamentals. The world still has too much oil and U.S. production hasn’t slowed enough yet to ease the epic supply glut. Optimism has been fueled by OPEC. Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers agreed to a tentative deal on February 17 to freeze output. However, that freeze deal requires the participation of other producers like Iran. Officials from Iran recently blasted the freeze as a “joke” and told CNN on Monday the country still plans to significantly ramp up output now that sanctions have been lifted. “The recent output freeze talks are unlikely to have any immediate impact on market balances,” Barclays wrote in a report. Analysts also pointed out that the countries that have agreed to freeze production are already producing close to their full capacity.

Economic News – Domestic

The U.S. natural gas industry achieved a new milestone last week as a ship sailed from Louisiana with the first export of gas from America’s abundant shale fields. The tanker Asia Vision set off for Brazil with liquefied natural gas from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal, marking a stunning reversal in LNG trade. Cheniere is well on its way toward building the capacity at Sabine Pass and at another site in Corpus Christi, Texas, to export LNG at the rate of more than 40 million tons per year – capacity that the company says will represent 10% of the global LNG supply by 2020. Moreover, competitors are building three other export terminals in Louisiana, Maryland and Texas.

Easy credit and cheap gas propelling U.S. auto sales to record heights is beginning to show a downside. Delinquencies on the securities backed by subprime auto loans have reached the highest level since 2009, Fitch Ratings reports. Nearly 5% of subprime auto loans were delinquent by 60 days or more, the highest level since September 2009. Earlier this month Experian Automotive, which tracks the new and used-car finance industry, reported that 20.8% of auto loans are now held by consumers with subprime or deep subprime credit scores — defined by FICO scores of between 300 and 620. The annualized net loss rate — the percentage of subprime loans regarded as likely to default — was 8.72% in January and is expected to trend closer to 10% by the end of 2016.

Many young Americans are moving to Europe for free college. There are at least 44 schools across Europe where Americans can earn their bachelor’s degree for free, according to Jennifer Viemont, the founder of an advising service called Beyond the States. All public colleges in Germany, Iceland, Norway and Finland are free for residents and international students. And some private schools in the European Union don’t charge for tuition either. Many are going out of their way to attract foreigners by offering programs taught entirely in English. When they do charge for tuition, the bill is paltry compared to the U.S.

A shortage of pilots has caused a major feeder airline to file for bankruptcy. Republic Airways, which flies smaller regional jets for United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, said the shortage of pilots has caused it to ground so many of its planes that it was forced it to file for bankruptcy protection last Thursday. Republic has a fleet of about 240 regional jets and operates about 1,250 flights a day to about 100 cities in the U.S. and Canada. They fly under the American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express names. It has about 6,000 employees, of whom 2,100 are pilots. Safety rules have tightened in recent years, and new regional airline pilots today must have 1,500 hours of flying experience compared to 250 hours previously. So filling the shortage of pilots at regional carriers won’t be fixed quickly.

Economic News – International

Deflation has returned to Europe and that can only mean one thing: More official action to boost the economy. Consumer prices fell by 0.2% in February, pulled down by the plunging cost of energy. That’s the first time inflation has turned negative since September last year. Equally troubling the European Central Bank and its president Mario Draghi will be the drop in “core inflation” to 0.7% from 1% in January. The ECB began buying government bonds and other assets at a rate of 60 billion euros ($65 billion) a month in March 2015. It is likely to buy even more in the future. Draghi made clear the ECB would pump out more money in March if necessary.

The global oil crisis isn’t just taking a toll on Russia’s economy. It’s also hitting ordinary citizens. Economists have long warned about the Russia’s dangerous dependency on oil exports. But it’s not the only cause of the economy’s collapse. Sanctions and counter sanctions over Ukraine have restricted the economy and driven up food prices. The ruble has tumbled by more than half its value compared with the U.S. dollar. With job losses mounting, many Russians are taking second jobs and combining households to survive.

China’s workers are also starting to feel the pain of the global commodities bust. The Chinese government said Monday it was planning to shed 1.8 million coal and steel jobs in an effort to reduce excess capacity. The cuts represent about 20% and 11% of China’s coal and steel jobs, respectively, according to IHS Insight. China’s slowdown has triggered a rout in global commodities. For years, China pumped up its economy by building infrastructure and factories, fueling huge demand for coal and steel. Many of these projects now lie incomplete and abandoned.

India is slapping new taxes on cars and SUVs as it tries to bring down record levels of pollution. Buyers of small cars will now pay a tax of 1%, while diesel cars will be taxed at 2.5%. SUVs and vehicles with bigger engines will be hit by a 4% tax. Thirteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to air quality data released by the World Health Organization in 2014. India’s capital New Delhi, which is home to more than 20 million people, topped the list.

Persecution Watch

A Chinese pastor and his wife have been given jail sentences for their refusal to comply with the Chinese government’s cross removal campaign. The Christian Post reports that Bao Guahua and his wife Xing Wenxiang were sentenced to 14 years and 12 years in prison, respectively, for their protest against the campaign to remove crosses from China’s churches. Over the past two years, government authorities have reportedly taken down 1,200 crosses from churches as part of their campaign to have all religion under government control. Although Bao and Xing were indicted on corruption charges and accused of financial crimes and of gathering people to disturb social order, human rights organizations such as China Aid maintain that the couple’s sentence, as well as the sentences of other pastors who have been accused of similar charges, have to do with their opposition to the government’s crackdown on religion. Although China ostensibly allows the free expression of Christianity, the government highly regulates what is permissible in worship.

Islamic State

Backed by paramilitary forces and aerial support, Iraqi troops on Tuesday launched a new push to retake a key area north of the capital, Baghdad, and dislodge Islamic State militants from there, officials said. The operation came as a group of suicide bombers targeted a military headquarters in western Iraq, killing eight officers on Tuesday. According to a statement by the Joint Operations Command, the “new offensive” began at dawn in a swath agricultural area northeast of the city of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, with the aim to cut ISIS supply lines and to tighten the grip around the ISIS-held northern city of Mosul. The statement did not say if the U.S.-led international coalition was involved in the operation.

The Pentagon stepped up its cyberwar on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, disrupting the terror group’s ability to communicate and command its forces, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday. Carter declined to detail the tactics, which are secret, but spoke publicly about the cyberwarfare initiative in order to illustrate the progress he said the Pentagon is making against the Islamic State in both countries. The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars and set up a separate Cyber Command to boost its cyber warfare capabilities, which range from defending the Pentagon’s own communications network to being able to attack and disrupt an enemy’s computer network. Carter said cyber warfare tactics against the Islamic State have significantly disrupted the militant group’s communications networks.


The Islamic State is taking on recruits faster than anyone can keep up with, and it’s heading towards Libya’s oil crescent, eyeing billions of barrels that a country at war with itself cannot protect — even with U.S. air strikes, reports the USA Today. In mid-December, the United Nations brokered a power-sharing agreement between Libya’s rival factions, but there is no chance of implementing this. That means there is no chance that the Libyan government can fight back the advance of ISIS. Things are about to get messy, and U.S. air strikes will put only a small dent in a big problem, notes According to U.S. intelligence figures, there are an estimated 6,000 ISIS fighters now in Libya, headquartered in the town of Sirte. From here, they control hundreds of miles of coastline. There is nothing in Sirte they want; this is simply a strategic base. From here, they control hundreds of miles of coastline. There is nothing in Sirte they want; this is simply a strategic base. ISIS fighters have also been tracked down to Benghazi, but here they have not solidified control yet. Still, Benghazi is an important recruitment venue.


The death toll from twin bombings by the Islamic State at a market in Baghdad rose to 73 Monday, Iraqi officials said. The attack Sunday is the deadliest in the Iraqi capital this year. The suicide bombers rode motorcycles and blew themselves up in the bustling mobile phone market in the mainly Shiite district of Sadr City, wounding more than 100 people, Reuters reported. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. “Our swords will not cease to cut off the heads of the rejectionist polytheists, wherever they are,” the extremist group said in an online statement, using a derogatory term for Shiite Muslims.


A cease-fire in Syria’s civil war that began at midnight Saturday local time was shaky from the very start. Some of the numerous combatants have not signed on while others have vowed to continue fighting. The agreement for a “cessation of hostilities” in the 5-year-old war was brokered by the United States and Russia and approved by Western-backed rebels and the Syrian government to allow humanitarian aid to reach besieged communities and pave the way for elections. With combatants from more than a dozen countries involved, the outlook for a halt to fighting was unpredictable, as heavy bombing continued in the hours leading up to the case-fire deadline. A suicide car bomb exploded Saturday on the edge of a government-held central town, killing two people and wounding four, hours after a cease-fire brought relative calm to parts of Syria. Russian state-run media reported that the six attacks on Damascus after the truce took effect originated from areas held by Syrian opposition fighters. Meantime an international group monitoring the conflict said warplanes had continued their strikes, albeit at a reduced rate.


Militants forced their way into a hotel and a nearby public garden in the Somali capital on Friday night, exchanging fire with hotel guards in attacks that left at least 14 dead and many others wounded. A suicide bomber rammed his car into the hotel’s entrance in Mogadishu and blew it up, allowing gunmen to fight their way past hotel guards at the first security barrier, said Capt. Mohamed Hussein. A second car bomb, which exploded within 30 minutes of the attack on the hotel, targeted a public garden near the hotel. Four gunmen and the suicide bomber were killed, Hussein said, adding that the attackers did not get past the last security checkpoint. He said at least nine dead bodies of civilians could also be seen outside the hotel after the attack there, which was claimed by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab. On Sunday, at least 30 people were killed in twin bomb attacks claimed by al-Shabab Islamists at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa.


A new report from Human Rights Watch accuses the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen of using American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas. If true, it not only violates U.S. export laws but also raises further questions related to why U.S. lawmakers and military officials condone the sale and use of this controversial weapon. Human rights groups have consistently expressed concern over growing civilian casualties from the use of cluster munitions in Saudi Arabia’s fight against the Houthi rebels, which has raged since March 2015. The weapon — which not only delivers an initial explosion on impact but also contains multiple smaller bombs that spread over a wide area — is largely condemned by the international community due to the risk of civilian casualties when used in populated areas. The United States is one of 80 countries, including China, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Saudi Arabia, that have rejected a ban on the sale or use of cluster munitions.


Moderate candidates backing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have won a majority in the nation’s parliament and the clerical assembly that selects Iran’s supreme leader, the Associate Press reported Monday. The results, if confirmed, would provide a boost for Rouhani’s efforts to strengthen social and economic ties with the West. reformists and moderates combined for 158 seats in the 290-seat parliament. Hard-liners won 68 seats, down from 100 in the current parliament. Religious minorities claimed five seats, and 59 seats are subject to a runoff, AP said. Iran’s Fars News Agency, however, said the hardline Principlists Party had won half of parliament’s seats. Fars said reformists and moderates claimed 44% of the seats and independents 6%, with 34 seats facing runoffs in April.


Around 500 people, mostly women and girls, died in honor killings last year, usually for alleged infidelity and refusing to submit to arranged marriages, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Women’s rights activists say the actual number of victims in orthodox Muslim communities is far higher than officially reported, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “So-called ‘honor killings’ take place in virtually every part of Pakistan, urban or rural, developed or underdeveloped, all social classes, castes, ethnicities, sects,” said Rubina Saigol, a rights activist in Lahore. “Pakistan has not moved forward significantly with regard to violence against women and discriminatory laws despite an increased number of women in parliament and government.” A Pakistani film about such honor killings won an Oscar Sunday night for best documentary short subject. Girl in the River by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy tells the story of Pakistani teenager Saba Qaiser, who survived an honor killing attempt at the hands of her father and uncle after she married against their wishes.


December through February, a three-month period known as “meteorological winter,” has shattered warm and wet records in 2015-2016 across the U.S. At least 11 cities in the Northeast have clinched a record warm winter, according to data from the National Weather Service and the Southeast Regional Climate Center. Winter also shattered precipitation records in parts of the U.S., including the Southeast, Upper Midwest, and Northwest. Not surprisingly, given the record-tying strong El Niño, several locations in South Florida smashed winter wet records, in what is normally the dry season in the Sunshine State. Miami (20.24 inches as of February 26) smashed their previous wet winter record by over 4 inches.

A rockslide shut down both directions of Interstate-75 in Campbell County in Tennessee on Friday, and has spilled so much debris onto the roadway that it will likely be closed for weeks to come. The slide occurred Friday afternoon and drivers at the scene said they had to wait about an hour to get off the interstate, according to the Associated Press. Locally heavy rain fell across the Campbell County area from Tuesday into Wednesday, dropping about two inches of rain