Signs of the Times (9/13/16)

Abortion Bullies Target Pregnancy Centers

Facing difficult circumstances with a pregnancy, millions of women turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers for very personal services. These centers offer women help and a true “choice” for themselves and the life of their baby. Yet, the abortion industry sees theses pro-life centers as thorns in their flesh, cutting into their profits from money made through exorbitant fees for abortions, reports libertyaction.org. Now, because of intense pro-abortion lobbying, pro-life centers in California are being forced by law to promote nearby abortion facilities and services to women who walk through their doors. California’s Assembly Bill 775 requires all licensed and unlicensed pregnancy counseling centers in the state to post a government-prescribed message. Centers not licensed by the State of California must post a notice that they are not a licensed medical facility. Licensed crisis pregnancy centers must also provide women the phone number to social services and post or distribute a message telling their clients that California has other programs and choices available to women, including abortion. There is no similar mandate for the abortion mills to tell their clients that there are Crisis Pregnancy Centers nearby.

Planned Parenthood Using Zika Scare to Encourage Abortions

Many pro-abortion advocates have been capitalizing on the threat of Zika to encourage women to abort their babies. However, according to new research, only two percent of women who have Zika will give birth to babies with microcephaly, the deformity associated with the virus. This hasn’t stopped abortion advocates from using the Zika virus to scare would-be mothers, however. WORLD News Service’s Evan Wilt noted, “Beginning in late August, volunteers from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, started canvassing neighborhoods in South Florida to warn residents about the risk of birth defects linked to Zika.” Micaiah Bilger of LifeNews.com adds, “Right now in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control knows of almost 600 women who are pregnant and have the Zika virus. Many of them are facing increasing pressure to abort their unborn babies because of a link between the virus and birth defects.”

ISIS Threat in Europe Grows

European security officials estimate that 30 to 40 suspected ISIS terrorists who helped support the November 13 Paris terror attacks are still at large, CNN reports. This development comes as European officials told CANN they believe ISIS is ratcheting up its planning for international attacks to retaliate for losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The European countries most firmly in the crosshairs are launching air strikes against ISIS with the US-led coalition: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Denmark, as well as Germany, which is flying target reconnaissance sorties. Terror analysts warn that despite the buffer provided by the Atlantic Ocean, the US is vulnerable, too. Matthew Henman, editor of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in the U.K. notes that the U.S. border with Mexico, which “is far from secure or impenetrable.” Airports are another point of entry. Western European passport holders can travel to the US without a visa.

Three women who were likely planning an “imminent and violent” attack were arrested Thursday near Paris, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. Describing the women as radicalized, Cazeneuve said the three were arrested in connection with gas cylinders found this week inside a car left in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A French security official says a 19-year-old woman linked to gas canisters found in an abandoned car near Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November, and authorities have struggled to monitor thousands of domestic radicals on their radar.

U.S. & Russia Reach Deal for Ceasefire in Syria

The United States and Russia announced a plan Friday to bring about a ceasefire in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Today we are announcing an arrangement that we think has the capability of sticking, but it’s dependent on people’s choices,” Kerry said in Geneva, Switzerland, appearing alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Kerry said the pact calls for the Syrian government and the opposition to respect a nationwide ceasefire scheduled to take effect at sundown Monday. He said the accord would also prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force from flying combat missions anywhere the opposition is present, calling this provision the “bedrock of the agreement.” He labeled Assad’s air force the “main driver of civilian casualties” and migrant flows. “That should put an end to the barrel bombs, an end to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods,” Kerry said. The deal was reached after 10 months of failed cease-fires and suspended efforts for a political settlement in the conflict. At least 90 people were killed in airstrikes that rained down on northwestern Syria on Saturday and Sunday, a rights group said, just hours after the US and Russia announced the new ceasefire plan. Violence has increased prior to the ceasefire start Tuesday morning.

  • The likelihood of the ceasefire holding in Syria is slim because there are too many factions fighting in Syria for too many conflicting reasons.

Iran May Have Received up to $33.6B from U.S.

Iran may have received a total of $33.6 billion in secret cash and gold payments facilitated by the Obama administration between 2014 and 2016, according to testimony provided before Congress by an expert on last summer’s nuclear agreement with Iran, Fox News reported Friday. Between January 2014 and July 2015, when the Obama administration was hammering out the final details of the nuclear accord, Iran was paid $700 million every month from funds that had previously been frozen by U.S. sanctions. A total of $11.9 billion was ultimately paid to Iran, but the details surrounding these payments remain shrouded in mystery, according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In total, “Iran may have received as much as $33.6 billion in cash or in gold and other precious metals,” Dubowitz disclosed.

Fewer Going Hungry in U.S. but Many Still Do

The number of children and adults nationwide who are food insecure — meaning they don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet — has declined to 12.7% in 2015 from 14% in 2014. But some 15.8 million households are still food insecure, according to a report released on Wednesday from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The survey results not only revealed that food insecurity is on the decline, but also showed that the problem is still more prevalent than it was in 2007. Then, it was at 11.1%, right before the Great Recession officially began. The percentage of households that face hunger described as “very low food security” decreased from 5.6% in 2014 to 5% in 2015 (6.3 million households).

Murder Rates Rose in a Quarter of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities

Murder rates rose significantly in 25 of the nation’s 100 largest cities last year, according to an analysis by The New York Times of new data compiled from individual police departments. The findings confirm a trend that was tracked recently in a study published by the National Institute of Justice. “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” the study concluded. In the Times analysis, half of the increase came from just seven cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington, D.C. The number of cities where rates rose significantly was the largest since the height of violent crime in the early 1990s. Nationally, homicide rates are still much lower than they were in the 1990s.

Wells Fargo Fires 5,300 Employees for Creating Fake Accounts

On Thursday, federal regulators said Wells Fargo employees secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money. Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that it had fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to the shady behavior. Employees went so far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services. Relentless pressure. Wildly unrealistic sales targets. Employees leaning on family members and friends to open unnecessary bank accounts. That’s how more than a dozen former Wells Fargo employees described the bank’s culture to CNNMoney. Managers turned a blind eye when ethical and even legal lines were crossed. Wells Fargo has been accused by federal regulators of illegal activity on a stunning level. Wells Fargo agreed to pay penalties of $185 million and fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to this illegal activity.

Migrant Update

In what could be a “told you so” moment for Donald Trump, the U.K. on Tuesday announced plans to build a “big new wall” at a border port in France to prevent migrants in nearby camps from sneaking aboard vehicles heading to Britain, reports Fox News. Robert Goodwill, minister of state for immigration, announced the plan for a wall in Calais, France, at a Home Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, saying it would be in addition to an already existing fence. The four-meter-high wall (about 13 feet) would be built along both sides of a one-kilometer (.6 mile) stretch of the main road into the Calais port. The office estimates it will be done by the end of the year. Calais is a common point for migrants trying to enter the U.K. illegally. The wall is intended to protect the road from migrants who frequently try to intercept vehicles approaching the port and jump on board.

Zika Update

Planes completed aerial spraying for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus early Friday in the Miami area, despite concerns over possible effects that the insecticide Naled may have on health and the environment. So far, there have been 56 local transmissions of the Zika virus in Florida, which has 20.6 million residents. The state has seen 596 travel-related cases of Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health officials have sprayed pesticide and larvicide on the ground in areas where they believe the mosquitoes may be, and expanded those efforts with the aerial use of Naled on Friday. Experts say there’s no reason to be concerned over the effects of the insecticide on human health and the environment. “Aerial spraying using Naled and other insecticides has been used in many populated areas of the continental United States,” the CDC said on its website.

The rate of birth defects involving the nervous system nearly doubled across Brazil after Zika arrived. This stark statistical reality was discovered by a team of researchers from Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which analyzed hospital records across Brazil from 2008, well before Zika arrived, until the end of February 2016. The results, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, found “an unprecedented and significant rise in the hospitalization rate for congenital malformations of the nervous system, Guillain-Barré syndrome, encephalitis, myelitis and encephalomyelitis” beginning in mid-2014. That’s more than a year before the world became aware of the outbreak in October 2015, and stories of Zika’s terrible consequences began to appear in the news.

Economic News

The world’s four most powerful central banks have pumped more than $9 trillion into the global economy since the financial crisis in a bid to boost growth, inflation and employment. That’s equivalent to the value of all the goods and services the U.S. produces in six months. The Federal Reserve alone has injected $3.9 trillion dollars via three rounds of asset buying. It started in November 2008, shortly after the financial world went into meltdown, and continued until October 2014. In normal times, it is enough for central banks to cut interest rates to prompt lending. But record low interest rates, and in some cases, negative interest rates weren’t doing enough. So they turned to stronger medicine and experimented with buying bonds to flood markets with new money. Experts are divided over whether this has worked.

  • In 2015, the U.S. spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of the federal budget, paying for interest on its debt. In recent years, interest rates have been at historic lows. As they return closer to normal levels, the amount the government spends on interest will rise substantially.

The European Central Bank kept all of its key interest rates unchanged last Thursday, and reiterated that rates will stay low for an extended period of time and wouldn’t rule out stretching out its bond-buying program beyond March 2017. The eurozone economy has held up better than expected since the late-June vote by Britain to exit the European Union.

After years of watching their incomes go nowhere, America’s middle class finally got a big raise last year. Median household income rose to $56,516 in 2015, up 5.2% from a year earlier, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday. It marks the first increase in median income since 2007, the year before the Great Recession started. Also, the poverty rate ticked down to 13.5% in 2015, from 14.8% a year earlier. The jump in median income was one of the largest annual increases Census has recorded. The growth was also widespread, with geographic regions and races (except for Asians) seeing increases. Behind the pay hike is the big increase in employment, Census officials said. Some 3.3 million more Americans were working full-time, year-round, pushing up median income. Some 1.4 million more men and 1 million more women had jobs last year.

The price of food has fallen sharply in the past few months. And while that’s great for consumers, it’s terrible news for big supermarket chains. Weak global demand (particularly in China) as well as excess supply thanks to advances in agricultural technology have helped push the prices of key food commodities sharply lower lately. The price of corn, cocoa and lean hogs are down more than 10% in the past year. Wheat has tumbled 20%. Cattle futures have plunged 30%. Falling food prices have hurt higher-end organic rivals like Sprouts and Whole Foods as well as grocery chain Supervalu and Kroger, whose stock has fallen 25% this year.

Israel

Reuters was reporting Tuesday afternoon that the US and Israel have reached an agreement on a new 10-year package of US military aid to Israel totaling $38 billion. The agreement is expected to be signed within days following months of rumors and tough negotiations which the Obama Administration wanted to wrap up before leaving office in January. Final details of the agreement are expected to be officially announced soon.

Defense officials say Israel has begun work on an underground barrier along the border with Gaza meant to block Hamas militants from tunneling into Israel. The officials say the concrete barrier is set to run dozens of meters (hundreds of feet) deep and will ultimately stretch along the entire border with Gaza. Israel is currently building an initial phase of the barrier over a small stretch of land measuring just dozens of meters. The barrier’s full construction could take years. Hamas militants have often used underground tunnels to infiltrate and attack Israel.

Iran

Iran threatened to shoot down two US Navy aircraft over the weekend as they were flying just inside the Strait of Hormuz, a US defense official said. The EP-3 and P-8 planes were in international airspace but “near Iranian airspace.” The Iranians made three radio calls to the two planes warning them not to enter Iranian airspace and risk being shot down with surface-to-air missiles, the official said. The US Navy crews knew they were flying “outside the known range of Iranian air defenses” and proceeded with their flight plans. The two planes were reconnaissance aircraft that routinely fly that flight pattern in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran began building its second nuclear power plant with Russian help on Saturday, the first such project since last year’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers. The project in the southern port city of Bushehr will eventually include two power plants expected to go online in 10 years. Construction on the second plant is set to begin in 2018. The entire project will cost more than $8.5 billion, with each plant producing 1,057 megawatts of electricity. “Construction of the power plant is a symbol of Iran enjoying the results of the nuclear deal,” Senior Vice-President Ishaq Jahangiri said at a ceremony marking the start of the project. “We will continue working with Russia as a strategic partner and friend,” he added. Iran’s sole operational nuclear reactor, also built in Bushehr with Russian assistance, produces 1,000 megawatts. It went online in 2011.

The United Nations agency monitoring the nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers reported Thursday that it has found no violations of the deal meant to crimp Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms. But touching on one potentially sensitive area, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a review issued Thursday that Iran had begun manufacturing rotor tubes for centrifuges, the spinning machines used to enrich uranium. Iran is allowed to make the parts, but only under certain conditions… In its confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, the atomic energy agency said “related technical discussions” with Iran on rotor tube manufacturing are ongoing. The agency needs to keep a close eye on how many rotor tubes are being made and for what models of centrifuges to make sure they are being produced only in quantities and for machines allowed under the 2015 nuclear agreement that sets a schedule for when and how many advanced centrifuges can be tested.

Turkey

Turkey has suspended thousands of teachers over alleged links to a militant Kurdish group, according to sources and state-run news agency Anadolu. At least 11,285 schoolteachers across the country were suspended over suspected links to a separatist terrorist organization, Anadolu reported Thursday. That number could reach 14,000 during an investigation conducted in coordination with governors’ offices across the country, Anadolu reported. Although the ministry did not specify the group, the term “separatist terrorist organization” usually refers to the Kurdistan worker’s party, or PKK. There are more than 850,000 teachers in Turkey. The individuals in question are temporarily suspended, placed on paid leave, pending formal investigation.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he wanted U.S. Special Forces out of his country’s south and blamed America for inflaming Muslim insurgencies in the region, in his first public statement opposing the presence of U.S. troops. Washington said it had not received a formal request to remove U.S. military personnel. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated that Duterte had tendency to make “colorful comments.” Duterte’s relationship with the U.S. has been a bit rocky since he became president in June. Duterte has been openly critical of American security policies and wants to chart a foreign policy that would not depend on America, his country’s long-time treaty ally.

North Korea

North Korea claimed Friday that it successfully conducted a “higher level” test of a nuclear weapon, its second in eight months and its fifth since 2006. The announcement drew immediate condemnation from the United States, South Korea, China and Japan. The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the matter Friday. The North Korean government in the capital of Pyongyang said the test was of a nuclear warhead designed to be mounted on ballistic rockets and demonstrated that it was prepared to hit back at its enemies including the United States if provoked. The test violates United Nations resolutions and will further strain North Korea’s already tense relations with the U.S. and other countries in the region. South Korean officials said the underground test, North Korea’s fifth, produced a more powerful explosive yield than the North’s previous detonations.

Could North Korea actually put a nuclear warhead atop a rocket and fire it at a potential adversary? Some still doubt North Korea can make a warhead small enough, or miniaturize it enough, to mount atop a missile. But that’s what North Korea said it proved Friday, reports CNN. South Korean monitors said Friday’s nuclear test had a yield equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT, which would make it North Korea’s most powerful of five tests to date. Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador to South Korea, said Friday it’s time to stop guessing about North Korea’s capabilities and start planning a response. “Before long, I think they’re going to have a nuclear warhead on a missile and we have to look really carefully and see what we’re going to do,” said Hill, who was the top U.S. diplomat in Seoul from 2004 to 2005.

Environment

In the wake of Hurricane Hermine, many Floridians are having to put up with an unpleasant stench in the air. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tens of millions of gallons of sewage has been released into the waters of Tampa Bay and into watersheds all over Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. After heavy rain from Hermine backed up aging sewer systems unable to handle big storms throughout the region, partially treated water along with raw sewage spewed from manholes, forcing cities to dump partially treated water to handle the backup at wastewater treatment plants. At least 30 million gallons of partially treated water and raw sewage were released into Tampa Bay alone, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Even before the storm arrived several cities, including the city of St. Petersburg, performed what is called a “controlled wastewater discharge into Tampa Bay,”

A Russian river located by the Arctic town of Norilsk turned bright red Tuesday, looking more like an enormous blood vessel than a body of water, reports CNN. The water may have reddened due to discharge from “an unidentified chemical” from the nearby Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement Wednesday. If a pipeline broke, contaminants could have leaked into the river, the ministry added. The plant is owned by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel producer. The river isn’t connected to the public water supply and the incident doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the residents’ well-being, the Norlisk city administration said.

Earthquakes

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake has left at least 11 dead in the Lake Victoria region of northern Tanzania on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, the country’s president, John Magufuli, said that many had been killed by the quake that struck at 3:27 p.m. local time. Regional police commander Augustine Olomi said most of the deaths occurred in brick structures in the town of Bukoba which incurred significant damage. The quake, which was considered shallow at a depth of 25 miles, was reportedly felt as far away as western Kenya, parts of Uganda and Rwanda.

Weather

After one of the hottest summers on record, another prolonged spell of heat may flirt with daily records in the Northeast the past few days. Not only will highs climb into the 90s, but the humidity made it feel even more unbearable with heat index values topping 100 degrees in some cities. The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories from Delaware and parts of Maryland’s Eastern Shore to eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and the five boroughs of New York City, as heat indices soared as high as 105 degrees. On Friday, daily record highs were set at the following places: Washington D.C. (Dulles Airport): 98 degrees, Atlantic City, New Jersey: 97 degrees; Philadelphia: 95 degrees; Wilmington, Delaware: 95 degrees; Baltimore: 95 degrees; New York City (La Guardia Airport): 93 degrees.

Super Typhoon Meranti remains a very intense Category 5 as it heads west-northwest on a path that will take its eye near or just south of southern Taiwan on Wednesday. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph as of 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday. This ties Tropical Cyclone Winston as the strongest tropical cyclone anywhere in the world so far in 2016. As of Tuesday late morning (EDT), or late Tuesday evening Taiwan time, Meranti was centered about 325 miles southeast of Taipei, Taiwan.

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