Signs of the Times (10/3/16)

U.S. Military to Fund Gender Reassignment Treatments

Starting the first week of October, the government will pay for gender reassignment treatments and surgeries for eligible soldiers — an estimated expense between $2.4 million to $8.4 million per year. There are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender troops in the active-duty force of 1.3 million, according the RAND Corp. which conducted a study for the Pentagon. Of those troops, RAND estimates that between 30 and 140 would like hormone treatment, and 25 to 130 would seek surgery. The Defense Department policy states if a service member’s ability to serve is hindered by a “medical condition or medical treatment related to their gender identity,” they will be treated.

University of Michigan Professors Instructed to Use ‘Preferred Pronouns’

On Wednesday, the University of Michigan unveiled a new webpage that allows students to choose their preferred pronouns, including “they” and “ze.” Preferred pronouns will appear on class rosters, and if professors accidentally use the wrong pronoun, “you can acknowledge that you made a mistake and use the correct pronoun next time,” said the university’s provost and vice president for student life in a campus-wide email announcement. A university spokesman said“If there were a persistent pattern of ignoring a student’s preference, we would address that as a performance matter.

  • An insane world continues to grow crazier and crazier

Judge Roy Moore Suspended Over Refusal to Approve Same-Sex Marriages

On Friday, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ) — lacking the votes to remove Chief Justice Moore from office — instead voted to suspend Justice Moore for the remainder of his term. The COJ’s order Friday morning said Moore will remain suspended from his office, without pay, for the remainder of his current six-year term, which does not end until January of 2019. Since there is no meaningful difference between suspension for the remainder of the term and removal from office, the COJ did what the rules say they cannot do, maintains Liberty Counsel, which will file an emergency appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court. Liberty Counsel is calling for a new panel of judges to be convened to hear this case. “The evidence and the arguments presented Wednesday by our Liberty Counsel team showed that Chief Justice Moore should be immediately reinstated. He did nothing wrong. The Chief Justice’s accusers presented no live testimony or affidavits. The charges should be dismissed. Nonetheless, the COJ ruled to suspend the Chief Justice for the rest of his term and threw the rule of law out the window!”

First Baby with DNA of 3 Parents is Born

The “three-parent” procedure used to birth the first baby with DNA from three parents is under fire from critics for who say it is “playing God,” reports ChristianHeadlines.com. The baby boy was born last week to a Jordanian couple in Mexico. The three-parent procedure is illegal in the United States. But American Dr. John Zhang, a reproductive endocrinologist at New Hope Fertility Center in New York City, and the participants went to Mexico because “there are no rules” there, Zhang reportedly told New Scientist. The mother, Ibtisam Shaban, has Leigh syndrome, a fatal disease that affects the nervous system, in her mitochondrial DNA. She had no symptoms of Leigh syndrome, but her first two children died to the disease at six and eight months. According to Stream.org, U.S. Dr. John Zhang removed the nucleus and placed it in the shell of a donor’s egg, which contained healthy mitochondria DNA. Thus, the baby would have DNA from three parents. “We do not yet know the interaction between the mitochondria and nuclear DNA. To say that it is the same as changing a battery is facile. It’s an extremely complex thing.” Dr Trevor Stammers, Program Director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St. Mary’s University, said.

Congress Passes Stopgap Government Funding Bill, $1.1B for Zika Fight

Averting an election-year crisis, Congress late Wednesday sent President Barack Obama a bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 9 and provide $1.1 billion in long-delayed funding to battle the Zika virus. The House cleared the measure by a 342-85 vote. The votes came after top congressional leaders broke through a stalemate over aid to help Flint, Michigan, address its water crisis. Democratic advocates for Flint are now satisfied with renewed guarantees that Flint will get funding later this year to help rid its water system of lead. The hybrid spending measure was Capitol Hill’s last major to-do item before the election and its completion allows lawmakers to jet home to campaign to save their jobs. Congress won’t return to Washington until the week after Election Day.

Ailing ObamaCare May Have to Change to Survive

The fierce struggle to enact and carry out the Affordable Care Act was supposed to put an end to 75 years of fighting for a health care system to insure all Americans. With the new enrollees sicker than expected, many insurers are pulling out or increasing premiums. The law’s troubles could make it just a way station on the road to another, more stable health care system, reports the New York Times. Seeing a lack of competition in many of the health law’s online insurance marketplaces, Hillary Clinton, President Obama and much of the Democratic Party are calling for more government intervention, not less. They and nearly one-third of the Senate have endorsed a new government-sponsored health plan, the so-called public option, to give consumers an additional choice. A significant number of Democrats, for whom Senator Bernie Sanders spoke in the primaries, favor a single-payer arrangement, which could take the form of Medicare for all. Donald J. Trump and Republicans in Congress would go in the direction of less government, reducing federal regulation and requirements so insurance would cost less and no-frills options could proliferate, notes the Times.

Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report Condemning Religious Freedom

The Obama administration’s Commission on Civil Rights has just released a report that would lay out the ground rules to actually persecute Christians in the United States. The report was entitled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” says that the free exercise of religion is an excuse for bigots and racists to get away with discrimination. It seems that everything that someone does that is protected by the Constitution of the United States is suddenly wrong, notes the Conservative Daily Post. “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ … remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance,” said Martin Castro, the chairman of the commission. So even though the United States Constitution gives people the freedom to practice whatever religion they want, the Obama administration wants to persecute them on the grounds that they are trying to get away with discrimination.

Muslim Immigrant in Ohio Shoots Daughter in Apparent ‘Honor’ Killing

While Ohio Police are baffled at what motive Jamal Mansour had when he took a gun into his daughter’s bedroom and shot her in the head twice, but the clues are there for anyone who knows the history and teachings of Islam, reports Constitution.com. As police seem to overlook the obvious, an “honor” killing is the most likely answer. Jamal Mansour, 63, who migrated from Jordan to the US and became a naturalized citizen, took a gun into his daughter’s bedroom at around 1:15am last Tuesday morning. He then shot 27-year-old Tahani Mansour twist in her forehead. She died nearly 10 hours later at the hospital. Mansour stood just hours later before a judge and had the audacity to call the fatal shooting of his daughter “an accident.” He is facing murder, felonious assault and domestic violence charges. “Mr. Mansour might have assimilated to Western culture sufficiently to shave his beard and wear jeans but not to accept his daughter behaving like western girls,” said Attorney Daniel Akbari, author of “Honor Killing: A Professional’s Guide to Sexual Relations and Ghayra Violence from the Islamic Sources.”

Migrant Update

Hungary is recruiting thousands of so-called “border hunters” to patrol its razor-wire boundary fence, planning to equip the special unit with night-vision goggles, riot gear and dogs in an effort to keep migrants at bay, The Washington Post reported. The nation is hoping to attract 3,000 border hunters to support the 10,000 police officers and soldiers already trying to keep migrants at bay in Serbia, the BBC reported. Recruits must be 18 and pass a psychological test. They will be trained for six months before going on duty. “Every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Economic News

U.S. consumer spending in August turned in the weakest performance in five months, reflecting a drop in spending on autos. Income growth also slowed as wages and salary gains slowed following four strong months. Consumer spending was unchanged last month after solid gains of 0.4% in July and 0.3% in June, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It was the poorest showing since a similar flat reading in March. Personal incomes rose 0.2% last month, just half the gain in July. It was the weakest showing since a 0.1% drop in February. Wages and salaries, the biggest income category, were up just 0.1% after two months of 0.5% increases.

A surprise deal by major oil producers to cut output is unlikely to make a big difference to the low gas prices consumers have been enjoying at the pump, reports CNN Money. The OPEC deal includes Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer that had previously refused to cut back. But it won’t rein in some of the other top crude exporters. Iran, which recently emerged from sanctions, will be allowed to raise production further. Nigeria and Libya, which have had some of their oil facilities damaged by terrorist attacks, are also being given room to pump more. The deal represents a U-turn by Saudi Arabia, which had led OPEC on a production binge to force higher cost competitors out of the market. Oil supplies and inventories remain high. And the International Energy Agency warned that despite low prices, demand is slowing in countries that were previously driving the market, such as India and China.

Deutsche Bank is Germany’s biggest lender and is facing a $14 billion bill for improper selling of mortgage-backed bonds before the financial crisis of 2008. Many experts don’t feel that they would have to pay the whole fine but say that it is within the rights of the Treasury to insist the fine is paid.  If this happens, there is little doubt that would lead to the total collapse of the bank in its current form. According to Die Zeit, the German financial sector is in talks with the government to have a rescue plan in place to head off a total collapse of the bank. Germany’s second largest bank is also under stress, Commerzbank is planning to cut almost 10,000 jobs over and will stop paying dividends to shareholders.

Syria

The United States formally suspended talks with Russia about the protracted Syria conflict on Monday because of the Russian military’s role in the assault on the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. The United States also shelved plans with Russia for the joint military targeting of jihadists in Syria, the State Department said in a statement. The American step reflected aggravated tensions with Russia on a range of issues and raised new challenges over how to de-escalate and resolve the Syria war, which has left roughly half a million people dead since 2011. Roughly 275,000 civilians are trapped in Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. Hundreds of people there have been killed in the past week, international aid groups say.

Russia warned the United States about taking direct action against the Syrian regime, saying it would cause negative consequences across the Middle East, Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency reported Saturday. Meanwhile, intense fighting continued in the besieged Syrian city Aleppo on Saturday, with one of the main hospitals bombed by Russian-backed Syrian forces. Syrian government forces took control of a hospital in Aleppo Friday, a day after seizing a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern city from rebels, according to Syria’s military. The military said its forces captured the Kindi hospital and were strengthening their positions in the Handarat refugee camp. Doctors without Borders called on the Syrian government and its allies to “stop indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo.” It said two hospitals that it supported were bombed and put out of service on Sept 28.

Afghanistan

Afghan officials say the Taliban have attacked a police headquarters the in southern Helmand province, killing the local police chief. It’s the second major Taliban assault Monday in Afghanistan. The insurgents are also attacking the northern city of Kunduz since early morning. A suicide car bomber struck the police compound in Naway district, blasting through the gate and allowing gunmen in afterward. Helmand, a Taliban heartland, is the source of most of the opium produced in Afghanistan, which helps fund the insurgency.

Iraq

President Obama has authorized sending an additional 600 American troops to Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in the looming battle to take back the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, United States officials said last week. The announcement means that there will soon be 5,000 American troops in Iraq, seven years after the Obama administration withdrew all American troops from the country. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the additional troops would help with logistics as well as providing intelligence for Iraqi security forces in the fight for Mosul. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that Iraqi forces would be ready to retake the city by early October.

Iran

The Obama administration agreed to back the lifting of United Nations sanctions on two Iranian state banks blacklisted for financing Iran’s ballistic-missile program on the same day in January that Tehran released four American citizens from prison, according to U.S. officials and congressional staff briefed on the deliberations. The U.N. sanctions on the two banks weren’t initially to be lifted until 2023, under a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers that went into effect on Jan. 16. The new details emerged after administration officials briefed lawmakers in September about the U.S. decision.

Sudan

Amnesty International accused the Sudanese military on Thursday of using chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, in one of the most remote corners of the Darfur region over the past eight months. The Britain-based human rights group said it had gathered “horrific evidence” including satellite imagery, more than 200 in-depth interviews with survivors, and expert analysis of dozens of images in an investigation that suggests at least 30 chemical attacks took place in the Jebel Marra area. “The scale and brutality of these attacks is hard to put into words,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s director of crisis research. Darfur has been witness to bloodshed since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The U.N. estimates 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

Kashmir

Two Pakistani soldiers were killed after clashes with Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, Pakistan’s military said. The Indian army said it had conducted “surgical attacks” across the de-facto border between the two countries to foil a “terrorist attack,” according to India’s Director General of Military Operations. But Pakistan insisted that no incursion had taken place into the territory it controls, saying there had only been an exchange of fire. It promised a “forceful response” if there was a repeat of the operation. India said it had acted to protect its citizens — Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh told reporters on Thursday the strikes had been based on “specific credible information” that militants were planning to carry out strikes in Indian cities. On Friday, India relocated more than 10,000 people from around the disputed border area of Kashmir as tensions with Pakistan continue to escalate.

Columbia

Voters narrowly rejected a government peace deal with FARC rebels, which has thrown the country into disarray. Likened to the fallout from the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum, the vote’s unexpected failure has left the Colombian political classes reeling and unsure how to respond in order to save four years of hard negotiation with the Marxist militia. In the weeks leading up to Sunday’s vote, many Colombians were angered by what they saw as insufficient punishment for those who perpetrated a litany of crimes against their people. It’s estimated 220,000 were killed in the 52-year conflict which displaced as many as 5 million people. Now the rebels and the Colombian government, facilitated by international leaders, will have to go back to the drawing board to re-imagine a peace that is acceptable to the people of Colombia.

Earthquakes

Officials are warning residents in Southern California that a large earthquake is becoming more likely in the next few days along the San Andreas Fault. The earthquake advisory is in effect for Ventura, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles, Kern and Imperial counties. The advisory has been issued in response to the recent earthquake swarm of small tremors along the fault line. Still, the odds of a 4.3 magnitude or larger earthquake are small, and the most important takeaway from the advisory is that residents need to brush up on emergency plans should the Big One strike.

Wildfires

A fast-moving brush fire atop Loma Prieta in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains left one firefighter injured and destroyed at least eight homes, officials said. The Loma fire has also torched nine outbuildings. According to Cal Fire’s latest report, the fire has grown to more than 4,300 acres and is 34 percent contained. Mandatory evacuations have been canceled in Santa Cruz County, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said 325 structures are still threatened in Santa Clara County. Those evacuations remain in place.

Weather

Major Hurricane Matthew strengthened to a rare Category 5 late Friday evening, before weakening just a bit to a strong Category 4 hurricane overnight. Matthew is the first Category 5 hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. The storm poses a danger to Jamaica, parts of Hispañola, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas early next week. Its potential U.S. impact later next week still remains unclear. Impacts are possible in Florida during the middle of next week. As of 8 a.m. Monday, Matthew located was 220 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and 280 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Six years after a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, Haiti braces for Hurricane Matthew amid fears that the country is ill-equipped to face another deadly natural disaster. With an expected 15-25 inches of rain on the way, Haiti is looking at even more devastation exacerbated by deforestation, which increases the potential for floods and mudslides. Couple that with the state of the country’s dilapidated homes and buildings and the possibility of heavy casualties from the storm seems likely, the Associated Press reports. The latest advisory says southern Haiti and southwestern Dominican Republic can expect 15 to 25 inches with possible isolated downpours of up to 40 inches. Eastern Cuba and western Haiti could see up to a foot of rain, with isolated amounts of 20 inches, while Jamaica could see 5 to 10 inches.

A powerful typhoon is inching closer Monday to Japan’s southernmost Okinawa island chain, packing powerful winds equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, which has prompted the closure of the airport and forced flight cancellations. The “most intense typhoon to hit parts of Okinawa on record” has forced the closure of Okinawa’s main Naha airport. The typhoon has also prompted the country’s two largest airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, to cancel a combined 125 domestic flights. The island of Kumejima could potentially see “spectacular damage” as the typhoon passes over the island that is home to 8,700 people, weather.com chief meteorologist Jon Erdman said, noting that this will be the strongest typhoon on record to pass within 65 nautical miles of the island.

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