Signs of the Times (3/1/16)

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

FreedomOutpost.com 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 Thebigriddle.com, 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.

Libya

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 Oilprice.com. 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.

Iraq

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.

Syria

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.

Somalia

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.

Yemen

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.

Iran

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.

Pakistan

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.

Weather

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

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