Signs of the Times (3/21/16)

  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.

Syria

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.

Turkey

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.

Egypt

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.”

Iraq

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.

Cameroon

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.”

Angola

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.

Cuba

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.”

Earthquakes

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.

Weather

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.

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