Signs of the Times (5/28/16)

Eleven States Sue over Obama Administration’s Transgender Directive

Texas and 10 other states filed suit Wednesday against the Obama administration over its directive on transgender student access to public school facilities, firing the first shot in what is likely to be a protracted and messy legal battle over that guidance. The suit was filed in a Texas federal court in response to the directive handed down to schools earlier this month that said transgender students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress.” Joining Texas in the suit were: Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona’s Department of Education, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. Conservative states had vowed to defy the federal directive, calling it a threat to the safety of students. Texas’ lieutenant governor has previously said the state is willing to forfeit $10 billion in federal education dollars rather than comply.

S.C. Gov. Haley Signs Law Banning Abortion after 20 Weeks

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill into law on Wednesday that makes it illegal for a woman to obtain an abortion after her pregnancy reaches 20 weeks. The law takes effect immediately. Abortions may be performed after 20 weeks only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The bill does not provide exceptions for rape or incest. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act says there is “substantial medical evidence” that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks. The Republican governor’s signature makes South Carolina the 13th state to enforce a ban, along with Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Any physician who violates the law is guilty of a misdemeanor offense and faces a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment plus a potential fine.

Americans Greatly Overestimate Gay and Lesbian Population

The American public believes that twenty-three percent of Americans are gay or lesbian, according to Gallup. In fact, only 3.8 percent of the adult population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Our perception has been shaped by a decades-long strategy to normalize and then legalize same-sex relations and the LGBT agenda. Today it’s hard to find a movie or television show in which a homosexual couple does not appear or the LGBT agenda is not lauded. Now that this movement has been both normalized and legalized, we’re in the third phase: criminalizing opposition, notes ChristanHeadlines.com. In Sweden, pastors can be fined for preaching sermons or even citing biblical texts deemed to be “anti-gay.” A Christian preacher in the U.K. was recently fined for delivering “homophobic” sermons. Recent legislation in Canada forbids statements deemed to incite “abhorrence” of gay people, even if the speaker states demonstrable facts. The mayor of Houston, Texas, made headlines in 2014 when her office demanded that area pastors turn over all sermons dealing with homosexuality or gender identity. She backed down after her actions provoked a national public uproar.

America’s Infrastructure Crumbling

Nearly 40 million Americans will kick off one of the busiest travel seasons in history this Memorial Day weekend, jarred by potholes on America’s roads, crossing her aging bridges, riding her antiquated railways and taking off from airports that draw international scorn, reports CNN. Long a source of national pride, America’s infrastructure is in critical need of repair, but federal government spending on maintenance has gone down 9% in the past decade. As former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says, “We’re like a third-world country when it comes to infrastructure.” Nearly 60,000 bridges across the country are in desperate need of repair.

  • Despite spending trillions in taxes and debt money, government bloat and inefficiency is reaching epic proportions, as further evidenced below

U.S. Still Using Antiquated Technology to Run its Nuclear Program

Want to launch a nuclear missile? You’ll need a floppy disk. That’s according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the Pentagon was still using 1970s-era computing systems that require “eight-inch floppy disks.” Such disks were already becoming obsolete by the end the 1970s, being edged out by smaller, non-floppy 3.5 to 5.25-inch disks, before being almost completely replaced by CDs in the late 90s. Except in Washington. The GAO report says that U.S. government departments spend upwards of $60 billion a year on operating and maintaining out-of-date technologies. That’s three times the investment on more modern technology. The report says the Pentagon is planning to replace its floppy systems — which currently coordinate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft — by the end of 2017. Other departments were also put on notice to update their systems. The U.S. Treasury for example, still depends on assembly language code “initially used in the 1950s.”

VA has Declared Thousands of Living Vets Dead

The Department of Veterans Affairs has mistakenly declared thousands of veterans to be deceased and canceled their benefits over the past five years, a new snafu to emerge at the embattled department. The VA has made the error more than 4,000 times over a half-decade because of employee mistakes or erroneous cross-checking of data by the department’s computers, among other reasons, reports the Wall Street Journal. The VA has changed its procedures to address the issue, but it isn’t yet clear whether the new system is effective. Every year, about 400,000 veterans or others receiving VA benefits die and their awards are canceled, according to department statistics. Of the roughly two million veterans declared deceased in the past five years, 4,201 cases involved incorrect declarations.

Americans are Fatter than Ever

The results from one of the largest and broadest surveys of health in the United States released Wednesday shows some encouraging results, but the gains were overshadowed by rising rates of obesity and diabetes. The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contains data from the 2015 survey, which included more than 100,000 people. the big negative is that the rate of obesity in the United States is continuing its upward march. In 2015, 30.4% of Americans 20 and older were obese, up from 29.9% in 2014. It is a continuation of the trend that has been evident since at least 1997, when only 19.4% of Americans said they were obese. Other surveys say the problem is even worse. In 2012, the National Health and Nutrition Survey found that 34.9% of adults 20 and older were obese.

The CDC researchers found that rates of obesity were higher among blacks than Hispanic and white adults. Adults between the ages of 40 and 59 showed the highest level of obesity at 34.6%. The other discouraging finding from the report is that the number of Americans who said they had been diagnosed with diabetes continued to rise. Among people 18 and older, 9.5% said they had diabetes in 2015, compared with 9.1% in 2014. The increase between years was not huge, but as with obesity rates, it suggests a continuing upward trend. In 1997, only 5.1% of Americans had diabetes.

Pestilence Update

A study published Tuesday found that one-third of babies with a birth defect linked to the Zika virus also display eye abnormalities that could affect their vision. The 29 babies in the study were born with microcephaly, a condition that results in abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development. Brazil noted a sharp increase in microcephaly cases about six months after the first reported cases of Zika in that country. Ten of the 29 infants showed eye abnormalities, according to the study, led by researchers at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil and published in JAMA Ophthalmology. Nearly 80% of the babies’ mothers reported suspected Zika symptoms while pregnant, including rash, fever, joint pain, headache and itch. The World Health Organization said Friday that there is “no public health justification” for postponing or canceling the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of the Zika outbreak. The statement came after 150 health experts issued an open letter to the U.N. health agency, calling for the games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.”

The United States’ first known case of a superbug that cannot be killed by a last resort-style kind of antibiotic was detailed in a report by the U.S. Department of Defense on Thursday. A 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman showed the presence of a rare kind of E. coli infection that is resistant to antibiotics, even Colistin, which doctors sometimes use as a last resort when other antibiotics fail. No other details were available, including how the woman became infected. She has not traveled outside the United States within the past five months. The CDC and the Pennsylvania State Health Department mobilized immediately to investigate the case and to trace the contacts the patient may have had to see if the bacteria had spread.

G7 Leaders Vow Action on Economy, Climate Change

Group of Seven leaders on Friday expressed concern about the fragility of the global economy, pledging to address economic challenges, climate change and terrorism. The leaders, including President Obama, who met Thursday and Friday in Ise-Shima, Japan, issued a statement following their summit vowing to embrace their “special responsibility to lead international efforts to tackle these challenges.” “Global growth remains moderate and below potential, while risks of weak growth persist,” the statement said. “Escalated geo-political conflicts, terrorism and refugee flows complicate the global economic environment. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later said at a news conference that the world’s developing countries are hurting from sudden declines in commodity prices, including oil, steel and various raw materials. The leaders also reiterated their commitment to the global carbon emissions-reducing climate agreement struck last year in Paris.

Economic News

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Friday that the central bank is likely to raise interest rates in coming months if the economy continues to improve as expected. Yellen did not say whether Fed policymakers are leaning toward hiking the central bank’s benchmark rate in June or July, but she said the economy is picking up after a weak first quarter, leaving a move in the next two months on the table. Fed policymakers have indicated they expect to raise interest rates twice this year, which would essentially require an initial hike no later than September.

U.S. benchmark oil prices on Thursday topped $50 per barrel in intraday trading for the first time since October as the commodity continued its upward momentum. Crude oil briefly slipped below $30 per barrel in early 2016 as a global glut of production cratered pricing, triggering bankruptcies of U.S. exploration-and-production firms and deficits in oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia. But a steady contraction in production among cash-strapped U.S. producers and a corresponding slide in inventories have fueled a rebound. Another factor bolstering prices was the massive wildfire that has undermined Canadian oil production in recent weeks.

Denmark has led the charge for renewable energy, but now the green policies have become too expensive. In 2015, Denmark set a new world record by generating the equivalent of 42.1% of the country’s total energy consumption by wind. Denmark is also the world’s largest exporter of wind power equipment. The cost of subsidizing wind power has become increasingly heavy as oil and natural gas prices in the Nordic countries have fallen dramatically over the last couple of years, making the renewable alternatives a lot less attractive. The Danish consumers and companies pay the highest prices for electricity within the European Union

Persecution Watch

A Muslim mob ransacked and torched seven Christian homes in a province south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, after rumors spread that a Christian man had an affair with a Muslim woman, according to a statement by the local Orthodox Coptic church. Security officials said the woman was beaten and insulted while being paraded naked by the mob through the village. They said the mob was made of about 300 men. Police arrived at the scene nearly two hours after the attacks began and arrested six people. Minya’s top cleric, Anba Makarios, said the family of the Christian man had notified the police of threats against them by Muslim villagers the day before the attack.

Pakistan

The leader of a Pakistani Islamic council has proposed a bill that allows husbands to “lightly beat” their wives as a form of discipline. In the 75-page proposal, Mohammad Khan Sheerani suggests a light beating is acceptable should the need arise to punish a woman. The proposal bans forceful beating, saying only a small stick is necessary to instill fear. The Council of Islamic Ideology is a powerful constitutional body that advises the Pakistani legislature whether laws are in line with the teachings of Islam. Proposals by the Council of Islamic Ideology are recommendations and are not applicable unless passed by legislators.

Israel

The Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah announced this week that it has launched an effort to dig terror tunnels under the border with Israel similar to the tunnels dug by Hamas under the Gaza border. As part of a response, the IDF Homefront Command announced a number of steps this week to defend the border area, including the formation of civil defense units made up of civilian volunteers, both Jewish and Arab. The civil defense units are not given weapons or military training and do not wear uniforms. Their primary function would be to assist in medical evacuation, disaster relief and similar functions.

Just 15 years ago, Israel relied entirely on imported coal, natural gas and oil for its energy needs. All that could change in the next few years following the discovery of giant gas fields. In fact, Israel may have so much natural gas it has to export some to its neighbors. Since it was discovered in 2009, production at the Tamar natural gas field has risen steadily and now averages 1.2 billion cubic feet a day, enough for 40% of Israel’s power generation. In 2011, Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek discovered the Leviathan field. Until recently, it was the largest gas field ever discovered in the Mediterranean. It contains an estimated 22 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to make Israel a major player in the regional market. More discoveries followed – the Tanin field in 2012 and Karish a year later. The gas fields added 3 trillion cubic feet to Israel’s gas reserves. If development of Leviathan begins this year, the field could be producing gas by 2019, but it remains untapped because of regulatory delays. Israel needs foreign investment to develop the gas fields. Leviathan requires an estimated $6 billion. The government this week approved plans for a legal framework that would encourage foreign investors to participate in the development of gas fields.

Islamic State

Iraqi security forces and supporting militias have retaken the key town of Karma from ISIS, the government’s first significant victory in its push to reclaim Falluja. The recapture of Karma, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) northeast of Falluja, brings most of the territory east of Falluja under government control. Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi troops, police, Sunni tribal fighters and the country’s elite counter-terrorism force have converged on the outskirts of Fallujah. U.S. artillery batteries at a nearby base have lobbed shells onto Islamic State positions, and more than 20 airstrikes in and around the city have killed 70 fighters, Most of Fallujah’s 300,000 residents fled after Islamic State militants stormed into Iraq in 2014 and seized several major cities. About 50,000 civilians remain, and they are being asked to put white sheets on their homes to avoid shelling and bombing.

Iraq

Iraqi security forces and supporting militias have retaken the key town of Karma from ISIS, the government’s first significant victory in its push to recapture Falluja, a spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said Thursday. Karma is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) northeast of Falluja, and its capture means Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs, now control most territory east of that city. Iraqi forces launched a campaign Monday to reclaim Falluja, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad. It remains, along with Mosul, one of the last two Iraqi cities under the Sunni terror group’s control.

France

Unions on Friday called for workers to step up protests that have crippled parts of France for the past week. Employees of oil refineries, nuclear power plants and some public transportation have left one in three gas stations dry, forcing vehicles to search for well-stocked stations and causing long lines at the pump. People are now hoarding gas, worried that it may be some time until supply levels are back to normal. The workers are protesting a labor reform bill put forward by the government that will make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. The government’s argument is that restrictive laws make French workers among the best protected in the world, leaving companies in a difficult position having to carry underperforming employees.

Ukraine

Ukraine is showing signs of backsliding on reforms and a cease-fire agreement with Russian-backed separatist forces in the east as Europe weighs in June whether to continue sanctions against Russia for its role in the conflict. Germany, which has provided support to Ukraine since its conflict with Russia began in 2014, wants Ukraine’s government to implement a law governing elections in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were seized in April 2014 by militants allegedly supplied and backed by Russian forces. Ukraine wants cease-fire violations by the militants to end before it passes the election law. Both Italy and Hungary, which seek to resume trade with Russia, have said the renewal of sanctions would not be automatic when the European Commission considers them at the end of June.

Russia

Romania and Poland are in the potential crosshairs of Russian rockets because they are hosting parts of the U.S. missile defense shield that Moscow considers a threat to its national security, President Vladimir Putin warned Friday. Putin warned the European nations that Moscow has repeatedly said it would have to retaliate if the missile defense shield was put into place, but U.S. allies have ignored Russia’s warnings. Earlier this month, the U.S. program was declared operational at a site in Romania, drawing an angry reaction from Russia. NATO said the system is purely defensive and a response to a growing capability of ballistic missiles globally. Washington has said that the shield is needed to protect Europe from Iran and is not a threat. Another part of the shield is getting ready to be implemented in Poland.

North Korea

Federal officials have opened a national security investigation into the recent $101 million hack of Bangladesh’s central bank amid suspicions that North Korea was involved, law enforcement officials told CNN Friday. The probe, launched by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, echoes the suspicions of private cybersecurity firms. The massive digital heist of Bangladesh Bank and at least three other banks could pose a serious threat to the global banking system. In recent months, a hacking team known as the “Lazarus Group” has broken into Bangladesh’s central bank and stolen $101 million. It has also slipped into banks in Ecuador, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Venezuela

Venezuela is drifting into complete chaos with hunger, blackouts and government shutdowns plaguing the country, reports the New York TImes. The courts? Closed most days. The bureau to start a business? Same thing. The public defender’s office? That’s been converted into a food bank for government employees. Step by step, Venezuela has been shutting down. Venezuela has grown accustomed to painful shortages, even of basic foods. But that is only the start of the country’s woes. Electricity and water are being rationed, and huge areas of the country have spent months with little of either. In recent weeks, the government has taken what may be one of the most desperate measures ever by a country to save electricity: A shutdown of many of its offices for all but two half-days each week. The growing economic crisis is fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generate hydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production.

Wildfires

Over 1,575,000 acres of U.S. land have been consumed by wildfires this year through 5/27. This is more than four times the acreage last year over the same timeframe and is the most since 2011. Eight large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Arizona, having already consumed about 15,000 acres.

Weather

One person drowned when a vehicle was swept off a road in central Oklahoma, and two people were critically injured after a tornado touched down near Dodge City, Kansas, as severe storms pummeled parts of the Plains Tuesday afternoon and evening. At least 26 tornadoes were reported from Colorado to Michigan. Several people in Ford County, Kansas, reportedly were hurt in Tuesday’s storms. A large, violent tornado narrowly missed a central Kansas town Wednesday night as another round of severe weather rolled across the Plains. Between 15 and 25 homes were hit, with damage ranging from minor to total destruction. Severe weather continued to spawn numerous tornadoes across large stretches of Kansas Thursday, prompting residents to anxiously watch the skies but causing only scattered damage in rural areas and no injuries or deaths.

Two people have died and three are missing in Texas after a storm system fired up once again in the Plains, bringing heavy rain and severe flooding to parts of the region. Numerous rivers in the state are heading toward historic crests, and a disaster declaration has been made for Bastrop County, Texas, as more rain is forecast over the holiday weekend. High waters covered roadways and prompted evacuations across the region Thursday and into Friday. Over 17 inches of rain hammered the official reporting station in Brenham, Texas, about 65 miles west-northwest of downtown Houston. Tornadoes that caused damage were also reported in the Lone Star State and Kansas, where twisters have been spotted for a third consecutive day.

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