Signs of the Times (9/20/13)

Terrorist Bomb in New York City

A powerful explosion from a explosive device injured at least 29 people in New York’s popular Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday night. N.Y. Gov. Cuomo says the NYC blast was ‘terrorism. The explosion came just after 8:30 p.m. ET at 133 W. 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh Avenue in a neighborhood known for its vibrant nightlife. City officials said police located the explosive device in the street next to a trash bin. The explosion was so powerful it blew out the windows in a nearby building. The city’s fire department said none of the victims had life-threatening injuries, but witnesses reported seeing victims cut by shrapnel, metal fragments and glass. After an initial news conference, a second device believed to be a pressure cooker was found on West 27th Street, four blocks from the initial blast on West 23rd, according to New York Police Department. The NYPD tweeted at about 2:24 a.m. ET Sunday that, the “suspicious device on West 27 Street” had been safely removed by the bomb squad.

A suspect was taken into custody Monday after authorities issued a wanted poster, raided an apartment and began to link the blast with another bomb found in the city and others in New Jersey. Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, was taken into custody following a shootout in Linden, N.J. Bollwage said Rahami and at least one officer was wounded. Authorities were led to suspect by a fingerprint found on an unexploded device, A notebook found on New York and New Jersey bombings suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami contained ramblings about terrorists and also mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American imam who was a spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The reference to Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 and has been a source of inspiration for several terrorist attacks. Authorities say Rahami’s wife left America a few days before the attack. Rahami was “completely different” after what friends thought was a trip to Afghanistan several years ago. Two years before Ahmad Khan Rahami went on a bombing rampage in New York and New Jersey, his father told the police that the son was a terrorist, prompting a review by federal agents, according to two senior law enforcement officials as reported in the New York Times.

Several Bombs Found in New Jersey, One Explodes at Charity Race

A pipe-bomb-style device detonated in a garbage can at the start of the route of a Marine Corps charity race at Seaside Park Saturday morning, injuring no one but sparking a massive law-enforcement response and suspicions of terrorism. The device went off about 9:35 a.m. ET near the starting point of the Seaside Semper Five 5K. At a brief news conference Saturday afternoon, Brad Cohen, the Special Agent in Charge of the Newark FBI Office, said the agency was taking the lead in investigation, specifically the agency’s Joint-Terrorism task force. The Elizabeth, N.J., mayor says a suspicious device exploded outside a train station early Monday. The device was one of five that two men found in a trash can.

Islamic Terrorist Stabs 8 People in Minnesota Mall

A man dressed as a security guard who talked about Allah stabbed eight people at a shopping mall Saturday evening before he was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer. ISIS on Sunday morning claimed responsibility for the attack, saying, “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition,” the statement said. According to St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, the shooting happened inside Macy’s. Eight patients were taken to St. Cloud Hospital. On Sunday morning, hospital Communications Specialist Chris Nelson told the Times that five were released, and three were admitted with injuries that were not life-threatening. Anderson said the attacker, who was armed with a knife, reportedly made references to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim. The attacker has been identified as 22-year-old Dahir A. Adan. Adan went to college in St. Cloud and worked for a private security firm at the time of the attack.

Syria Charges U.S. Led Attack on Syrian Forces

The U.S. military said it halted a series of airstrikes Saturday in eastern Syria after Russia warned the United States that it mistakenly struck and killed Syrian military forces. The Russian Defense Ministry said 62 Syrians were killed in the strike, and the Syrian government said the coalition airstrike allowed the Islamic State to advance around Deir el-Zour province where the attack took place. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said U.S. forces halted the attack when informed by Russia it was possible they were striking Syrian regime personnel and vehicles. She said U.S. officials were investigating the incident. The accusations come only days after the United States and Russia reached a fragile ceasefire agreement in Syria that was designed to lead to broader military cooperation between the two countries in Syria.

World Leaders Gather to Combat Superbugs

Global health experts are so alarmed by the threat of superbugs that the United Nations will convene heads of state to tackle the health problem. World leaders will gather on Wednesday with doctors and other experts for a high-level meeting to discuss the root of the problem – antimicrobial resistance – at the UN General Assembly. They are expected to adopt a political declaration that would then go to the full assembly to be adopted as a resolution. Superbugs threaten to plunge the world into a dangerous, post-antibiotic era in which germs we’ve long been able to control become deadly. Antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms mutate after being exposed to drugs, such as antibiotics or anti-viral medications, and those medicines grow less effective over time. A recently-published review commissioned by former British Prime Minster David Cameron found that 700,000 people worldwide die of drug-resistant infections every year, and the toll could reach 10 million a year by 2050 – surpassing annual deaths from cancer, experts warn.

Hundreds of Deportees Mistakenly Granted Citizenship

More than 800 immigrants who had been ordered deported were mistakenly granted U.S. citizenship because of gaps in fingerprint recordkeeping, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General reports. The immigrants were from “special interest” countries and had previously been ordered deported or removed from the U.S., the report said. But the immigrants beat the system by simply using another name or birth date to apply for citizenship. Homeland Security investigations resulted in two immigrants being stripped of citizenship, but “very few” of the 858 cases of citizenship have been investigated to determine if the citizen should be denaturalized or criminally prosecuted, the report added. The inspector general’s office found that fingerprints were missing from Homeland Security digital records because paper-based fingerprint cards used prior to 2008 were not consistently uploaded into the digital system.

Colorado’s Failed Marijuana Experiment

Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, teen marijuana use is 74% higher than the national average, reports the Center for Arizona Policy. Newborns testing positive for marijuana are on the rise. In one hospital alone, half of newborn babies test positive for marijuana. Marijuana-related fatal car crashes have increased 67% since legalization. Marijuana-related emergency room visits by visitors to the state doubled in the first year and are up 49% overall. Despite promises to the contrary, the black market in Colorado thrives. Colorado’s attorney general says illegal dealers are “hiding in plain sight.” Surrounding states have taken legal action against Colorado in an effort to stop the importation of marijuana into their states. There are more pot shops than both McDonald’s and Starbucks.

More Bathroom Insanity

This past week the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) pulled all championship events out of North Carolina for the 2016-2017 season simply because that state passed a law, known as HB 2, which requires men and women to use the restroom or locker room corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. In essence, the North Carolina legislature said men use the men’s room and ladies use the ladies room, reports the American Family Association. By doing this, North Carolina was simply protecting women and children from sexual predators and voyeurs. Along with punishing North Carolina, the NCAA is forcing all potential championship host sites to fill out an “Anti-Discrimination Policy” questionnaire that assures men have access to female bathroom facilities. Question number six from the policy reads, “…does your institution have provisions that interfere with any person’s choice of bathroom or locker room?”

Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Reaches All-Time-Low

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has sunk to a new low of 32 percent, down eight percentage points from last year. The measure has been on a steady decline for more than a decade. “Over the history of the entire trend, Americans’ trust and confidence hit its highest point in 1976, at 72%, in the wake of widely lauded examples of investigative journalism regarding Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily,” Gallup’s report states. Only 14 percent of Republicans trust the media, Gallup reports, a sharp decline from 32 percent in 2015 and the lowest recorded measure of confidence among members of the party in 20 years. 51 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents expressed trust in mass media, compared with 55 percent and 33 percent in 2015.

Abortion Update

According to Charisma News, Donald Trump has made the most unequivocal pro-life commitment that any presidential candidate has ever made. If elected, Trump has committed to nominating pro-life Supreme Court justices, signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions, and to making the Hyde Amendment a permanent law, making sure taxpayer dollars do not go to funding abortions. Trump has also appointed a pro-life advocate to head up his campaign’s pro-life coalition. Marjorie Dannenfelser is the head of the pro-life organization the Susan B. Anthony List and has fought for the pro-life cause for over two decades.

Persecution Update

This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe. “Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Hungary’s Minister for Human Capacities, Zoltan Balog said. “In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.” The move sets a precedent on the international stage. It comes after Hungary’s right-wing conservative Prime Minister, Victor Orban, drew criticism in the EU by saying Europe should focus on helping Christians, before helping millions of “Islamic people” coming into Europe.

Immigrant Update

With less than two months to go before the presidential election, the Obama administration has dedicated another $10 million to groups that assist with quickly naturalizing immigrants, in addition to the $19 million the Obama administration spent just a few months ago for the same reason. According to Judicial Watch, the money is to be disseminated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to various groups that offer naturalization pathways and educational courses to new immigrants. The fresh $10 million will reportedly help more than 25,000 immigrants from more than 50 countries in the citizenship process, according to USCIS. The move comes just over a year after Obama formed a Task Force on New Americans, a special group dedicated to helping green card holders become U.S. citizens.

Since the Balkan route to northern Europe closed in March, and with Austria and France imposing tight controls along their borders, Switzerland is now the preferred transit corridor for migrants bound for countries within the European Union. But Switzerland has also increased security along its border with Italy, deploying helicopters and a drone over the region to keep out illegal immigrants. Nearly all the migrants at Como, Italy, have tried — and failed — to cross the Swiss border. Some are so desperate they walk along busy highways or hike on remote mountain trails to reach Switzerland. And one migrant even tried to sneak into the country crammed into a suitcase, before being intercepted at the border when guards became suspicious of the shape and the weight of the bag.

Economic News

The wage gap between blacks and whites is the worst it’s been in nearly four decades, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Last year, the hourly pay gap between blacks and whites widened to 26.7%, with whites making an average of $25.22 an hour compared to $18.49 for blacks, the EPI found. Almost 40 years ago, in 1979, the wage gap between blacks and whites was 18.1%, with whites earning an inflation-adjusted average of $19.62 an hour and blacks earning $16.07 an hour. What’s driving the wage gap has little to do with access to education, disparities in work experience or where someone lives, EPI found. Rather, the researchers found “discrimination…and growing earnings inequality in general,” to be the primary factors.

Americans wasted over $2 billion last year putting expensive premium gasoline into cars that don’t need it, the automobile ownership group AAA said Tuesday. Most car engines in America are designed to run on regular gasoline and, despite the superior-sounding name, premium gasoline provides no benefit over cheaper regular gasoline in those engines. Premium has a higher octane rating than regular gas. That means it’s able to tolerate higher pressures inside the engine. Engines designed to run on regular don’t operate at pressures high enough to require the extra octane, so putting premium fuel into an engine that doesn’t require it is simply a waste of money, AAA said. That means Americans spent more $2.1 billion on more expensive fuel for no reason, the group calculated. About 16% of Americans drive vehicles that actually do require premium fuel, though. These are mostly high-performance or luxury models. Using cheaper regular fuel in these engines can cause damage.

The Bank for International Settlements is warning that conditions are right for a “full-blown banking crisis” in China.  Since the last financial crisis, there has been a credit boom in China that is really unprecedented in world history.  At this point the total value of all outstanding loans in China has hit a grand total of more than 28 trillion dollars.  That is essentially equivalent to the commercial banking systems of the United States and Japan combined.  While it is true that government debt is under control in China, corporate debt is now 171 percent of GDP, and it is only a matter of time before that debt bubble bursts.  The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution.”

Israel

Israeli security agencies were on maximum alert throughout the country Monday following a string of renewed terrorist attacks knife over the weekend which continued Monday. Two Israeli Border Police officers were severely wounded Monday morning by a Palestinian terrorist wielding a knife. He was shot by nearby officers and was also listed in critical condition at an area hospital. Later on Monday, another attack was attempted at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, leaving one officer lightly wounded and one terrorist dead with the other being wounded.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon issued a scathing criticism Thursday of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent labeling of demands by the Palestinian Authority to eject all Jewish residents of the West Bank from their homes as “ethnic cleansing.” Elsewhere, a statement by the French government condemned Israel for demolishing structures France had built in the West Bank without proper licenses.

Islamic State

Just weeks after ISIS suffered a major loss when its chief spokesman was taken out in an air attack, the US announced it had killed his close associate in a strike. The US has now killed two of the “very few” ISIS leaders in the last two months. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has seen his small inner circle getting much smaller, said U.S. officials Monday.

Iraqi forces aided by the U.S.-led coalition have retaken half the territory the Islamic State group once held in the country, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday during a visit to Baghdad. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced $181 million to address a humanitarian crisis that has festered in Iraq despite progress on the battlefield. More than 3.3 million Iraqis remain displaced from their homes due to violence, according to the United Nations. Despite a series of major defeats in recent months, IS still controls Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Iraq hopes to launch an operation to retake Mosul this year, which U.N. and U.S. officials say could displace another 1 million people.

Syria

Four days into a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war, aid convoys have yet to reach civilians in government- and rebel-held areas of Aleppo, as Russian troops prepared to deploy along a key road getting for supplies through. Syrian government forces have been replaced by Russian troops on Castello Road, which leads to rebel-held areas of the besieged city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group. Humanitarian aid could arrive in rebel-held parts of Aleppo later Friday, but other obstacles remain, the group said, citing violence, and objections from other parties on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia needs to pressure the Syrian government to let aid through to Aleppo and other areas or the United States will not set up a joint facility to coordinate attacks on terrorists and share intelligence. Kerry called the delays in humanitarian aid to Aleppo “repeated” and “unacceptable.” The United Nations suspended aid deliveries to Syria on Tuesday, hours after a convoy carrying humanitarian aid to rebel-held parts of Aleppo was attacked killing around 20 people.

South Sudan

Over one million refugees have been forced to flee the conflict and violence in South Sudan. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but just two years later, internal fighting broke out between government leaders. This sparked an ongoing conflict that has internally displaced 1.6 million people and exiled another million. South Sudan now ranks with Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia as countries that have displaced over one million refugees. Many of South Sudan’s refugees are seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic have all accepted tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political party, United Russia, has won a majority in the country’s parliamentary elections. According to a report from Russian state-run news agency Tass, United Russia won 54.28% of the vote, with 93% of all votes counted. Tass says preliminary results from the Central Election Commission suggests the party will win 343 seats of the 450 up for grabs. The Communist Party is expected to win 42 seats with 13.54% of the votes, ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party with 39 seats and the Fair Russia Party with 23 seats. Turnout for the State Duma vote was 47%, according to Tass — well down on the 60% five years ago.

Environment

Officials are warning residents in the Southeast about possible gas shortages in the coming days after a gasoline spill south of Birmingham, Alabama, forced the shutdown of a key pipeline that supplies fuel to millions along the East Coast. Crews were working to ensure the gasoline did not reach nearby rivers. The pipeline spilled between 6,000 and 8,000 barrels of gas, Colonial Pipeline announced. The pipeline, which was shut down last Friday, normally transports 1.3 million barrels of refined gasoline and other petroleum products each day and is a major supplier of fuel from Houston to New York Harbor. Gas prices are spiking in the Southeast because of the broken pipeline — and some drivers are having trouble finding gas at all on Monday.

A massive sinkhole opened up underneath a storage pond in Florida, causing more than 200 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from a fertilizer plant to leak into one of the state’s main underground resources of drinking water, weather.com reported Saturday. According to Mosaic, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate, the hole opened up beneath a pile of waste material called a “gypsum stack.” The 215-million-gallon storage pond sat atop the waste mineral pile. The company said the sinkhole is about 45 feet in diameter. The sinkhole, discovered by a worker on Aug. 27, is believed to reach down to the Floridian aquifer, the company said in a news release. Aquifers are vast, underground systems of porous rocks that hold water and allow water to move through the holes within the rock.

Toxic algae has shown up in more than 40 state lakes and waterways from Los Angeles to the northern reaches of California, the highest count in state history. Water agencies have been caught off guard by the growing extent of the algae, which is triggering health warnings, the closing of swim areas and a reduction in park visitors and revenues. The cyanobacterium, which occurs naturally, can cause gastrointestinal problems and allergic reactions in people and sickness and death among pets and wildlife. The cyanobacterium has blossomed during the state’s drought. Some lake managers are testing herbicides to reduce algae blooms, but experts say there is no quick solution. “There is no silver bullet,” said Beverley Anderson-Abbs, an environmental scientist with the state Water Resources Control Board. “Generally, the best thing to do is to stay out of the water until the bloom is over.”

Wildfires

A wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, has forced officials to postpone the launch of a commercial satellite. The fire broke out Saturday in a remote canyon at the South Base of Vandenberg. The Atlas V rocket was scheduled to launch Sunday from the base, carrying the WorldView-4 satellite, which is slated to take high-resolution images of Earth, according to NASA Space Flight. As of Sunday, the fire dubbed the “Canyon Fire” had scorched 2,200 acres with no containment. Hundreds of state, federal and local firefighters have been dispatched to battle the blaze.

Firefighters are battling another wildfire in northern California that has prompted the evacuation of a campground as well as several ranches and private developments near Mammoth Lakes. Officials with the U.S. Forest service said the wildfire, dubbed the “Owens River Fire,” broke out Saturday afternoon about 7 miles north of the ski resort town along State Route 395. The fire has burned at least 6,000 acres of brush and timber in Inyo National Forest. The fire is 20 percent contained.

Weather

The death toll continues to rise in the wake of Super Typhoon Meranti, which slammed Taiwan, China and several northern Philippines islands with fierce winds, heavy rain and massive waves, killing 30 with 15 still missing. Chinese authorities have reported 13 people are have died in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and another 14 people remain missing. In Taiwan, officials reported two people dead and 38 injured. Chinese officials also said Typhoon Meranti was responsible for destroying 1,600 homes and displacing 33 million people. At least 10 ships came unmoored in Kaohsiung Harbor during the storm. Many villages were poorly equipped to withstand another battering after Super Typhoon Nepartak hit the island in July, according to the China Post. As Meranti advanced toward Taiwan as a massive super typhoon, the storm dealt a violent blow to several small islands in the northern Philippines.

Typhoon Malakas ripped through southern Japan on Tuesday, dumping torrential rain and causing widespread flooding. After clipping Taiwan, the typhoon made landfall in Kyushu shortly after midnight local time, packing winds of up to 100 miles per hour. More than 600,000 were evacuated prior to the storm’s arrival. Air and railway transportation was halted during the storm, mainly in the west and southwest regions of the country, and more than 114,000 households lost power in Kyushu.

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