Signs of the Times (10/24/16)

Five Places Still Perform Late-Term Abortions

The topic of late-term abortions was raised in last week’s Presidential debate. Operation Rescue reports that there are five abortion facilities in the U.S. that perform late-term abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later. They call New Mexico the “Wild West” for late-term abortionists because there are essentially no laws restricting the practice or regulating it. The Southwestern Women’s Options facility is the largest late-term abortion facility in the U.S. “Documentation exists that provide details of a severely botched 35-week abortion there in 2011, which ruptured the uterus of the patient.” Like New Mexico, Colorado law allows for abortions through all nine months of pregnancy. According to a Federal Court lawsuit filed in Colorado, one patient suffered a horrific Third Trimester dismemberment abortion complication in 2013. The three other late-term abortion facilities are in Dayton, Ohio, Beverly Hills, California and Germantown, Maryland where one woman died of complications from a 33-week abortion in 2013.

  • 81% of Americans support banning abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy, according to a Marist poll in November, 2015. Even among those who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” two-thirds oppose second and third trimester abortions.

Iran Seeks More Cash for Hostages

Iran is seeking “many billions of dollars” in payments from the United States in exchange for the release of several U.S. hostages still being detained in Iran, according to reports by Iran’s state-controlled press that are reigniting debate over the Obama administration’s decision earlier this year to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash. Senior Iranian officials, including the country’s president, have been floating the possibility of further payments from the United States for months. Since the White House agreed to pay Tehran $1.7 billion in cash earlier this year as part of a deal bound up in the release of American hostages, Iran has captured several more U.S. citizens. Future payments to Iran could reach as much as $2 billion, according to sources familiar with the matter, who said that Iran is detaining U.S. citizens in Iran’s notorious Evin prison where inmates are routinely tortured and abused. Iranian news sources close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been handling prisoner swaps with the United States, reported on Tuesday that Iran expects “many billions of dollars to release” those U.S. citizens still being detained.”

Widespread Cyberattack Takes Down Sites Worldwide

A number of popular websites like Twitter and Netflix went down for some users on Friday in a massive cyberattack with international reach. Affected sites included Twitter, Etsy, Github, Vox, Spotify, Airbnb, Netflix and Reddit. The cyberattack that took down large swaths of the internet around the world on Friday was carried out, in part, by unsuspecting devices connected to the internet. Security firm Flashpoint said it believes that digital video recorders and webcams in people’s homes were taken over by malware and then, without owners’ knowledge, used to help execute the massive cyberattack. Tens of millions of IP addresses were used and hundreds of thousands of devices appear to have have been infected with the malware. It was a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack. Using the malware, hackers were able to flood a website with so much traffic that it impaired normal service. The FBI said Friday that it was “investigating all potential causes of the attack,” and the U.K.’s Home Office said it was looking into the matter.

83 Arrested at Dakota Access Pipeline Protest

Eighty-three people were arrested Saturday at a protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, authorities in North Dakota said. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said 300 protesters trespassed on private property and “engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior” at a spot three miles west of State Highway 1806, along the pipeline right-of-way. The 1,172-mile pipeline would stretch from the oil-rich Bakken Formation — a vast underground deposit where Montana and North Dakota meet Canada — southeast into South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. After the pipeline is completed, it would shuttle 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to the developer, Energy Access Partners. Protesters say the pipeline will damage the environment and affect historically significant Native American tribal lands. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation in North Dakota is near the pipeline route, and other tribes oppose the project.

Persecution Watch

According to the findings of a new survey from the Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA, religious minorities who seek safe haven in the European nation are finding a general lack of protection. Since February, nearly 800 Christians and Yazidi refugees were attacked by others at the relief centers and camps. The findings showed that nearly half of the respondents said they suffered some sort of injury. Nearly 300 said they received death threats against themselves or their families. Others were sexually assaulted, insulted, discriminated against or subjected to psychological pressure.

Thousands of Christian refugees who fled their homes in Iraq due to persecution are only finding more persecution in Turkish refugee camps. ChristianToday.com reports that about 45,000 refugees who fled Iraq are now living in poverty in Turkey and are discriminated against by their Muslim neighbors.

According to Open Doors World Watch List, North Korea is the single worst country for Christian persecution. The Christian Post reports that citizens in North Korea are told by the government that Christians are evil and want to kill people and drink their blood. this revelation came from a North Korean woman who was imprisoned for her faith, but was eventually able to escape to South Korea. Before she became a Christian Hae Woo heard stories of the horrendous things Christians reportedly did. “Every form of religion, and especially Christianity, was like opium: addictive and destructive. I heard stories about Christians who went to hospitals, enticed people into cellars, killed them there and sucked the blood out of their bodies so that they could sell it.”

A key Christian leader from Sudan reported to Barnabas Aid that there is no more recognition of religions other than Islam following the separation of largely-Christian South Sudan. “This has come from President Omer El Bashir, but they didn’t put it in the constitution, only in government officials’ practices and government institutions, like the law enforcement agencies.” The government is working hard to close all church activities in North Sudan by arresting the active church leaders and closing the churches or schools. The government recently closed about 6-7 local churches from the Presbyterian Evangelical Church around Khartoum state.

Migrant Update

French authorities began clearing the “Jungle” refugee camp on Monday, bussing out more than 1,000 people by the afternoon as it readies to raze the patch of wasteland where thousands have made temporary homes. An old hangar in the port city of Calais was converted into a processing center for between 6,000 and 10,000 migrants. Authorities offered them two choices — stay in France or go back to their country of origin. Some migrants have refused to leave the camp, which sits at one end of the Eurotunnel — a direct route to Britain that many have risked their lives trying to traverse, hiding in lorries. Some have even walked the 30 miles. In 2015, the Eurotunnel operator intercepted 37,000 migrants attempting to travel to the UK illegally. Britain is a preferred destination for many migrants — its economy is doing better than most of its European counterparts, unemployment rates are low and a lot of migrants have at least a basic command of English.

Economic News

U.S. single-family starts surged in September, pointing to sustained housing market strength even as a drop in the construction of multi-family dwellings pushed overall home building activity to a 1-1/2-year low. A tightening labor market, which is steadily pushing wages higher, as well as low mortgage rates are underpinning demand for housing. Single-family starts are also getting a boost from a chronic shortage of previously owned homes available for sale. Overall groundbreaking activity, however, declined 9.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.05 million units last month, the lowest level since March 2015.

The U.S. economy is inching along, productivity is flagging and millions of Americans appear locked out of the labor market, notes the Wall Street Journal. In addition, the U.S. is creating startup businesses at historically low rates. The American economy has long relied on fast-growing young companies to fuel job growth and spread the latest innovations. But government data shows a decades-long slowdown in entrepreneurship. In 2014, the most recent year of data, the startup rate was the second-lowest on record. The share of employment at such firms, meanwhile, has slipped from nearly 4% to about 2% of private-sector jobs.

Despite the tepid economic recovery, retailers began gearing up to hire holiday-season workers in August this year, an unusually early start showing how competition has intensified for temporary help in a tight labor market, reports the Wall Street Journal. Data from job-search site Indeed.com shows retailers, warehouses and logistics firms started searching for temporary workers a month earlier than in recent years. This suggests retailers and other firms “anticipate stronger consumer demand and expect that it will be harder to find the people they want to hire,” said Indeed.com.

Islamic State

Hundreds of ISIS fighters are fleeing Mosul in Iraq and crossing into neighboring Syria as coalition forces close in on the city. ISIS fighters dressed in women’s clothes were caught fleeing Mosul while the group’s commanders have ordered their wives and girlfriends to escape before the city is encircled, reports Fox News. Their desperate last-ditch escape comes as Kurdish forces and elite Iraqi counter-terror troops began a lightning advance on the city. Leading US generals and French president Francois Hollande say ISIS fighters are fleeing – and must be blocked from regrouping in nearby Raqqa. Major General Gary Volesky, who heads the anti-ISIS coalition’s land component, said many foreigners among the 3,000 to 4,500 ISIS fighters would likely end up forming the core of the holdout jihadist force. So far 78 towns have been liberated and 772 ISIS fighters killed in first week of this major battle, officials report.

ISIS executed 284 men and boys as coalition forces closed in on Mosul, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN Saturday. ISIS used a bulldozer to dump the corpses in a mass grave at the scene of the executions — Mosul’s defunct College of Agriculture in the north of the city. The victims were all shot and some were children, said the source. The United Nations earlier said it is “gravely worried” that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul and is using them as human shields as Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle the terror group for control of Iraq’s second-largest city.

Iraq

Militants armed with assault rifles and explosives attacked targets in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk early on Friday in an assault quickly claimed by the Islamic State group and likely aimed at diverting authorities’ attention for the battle to retake ISIS-held Mosul. At least 11 workers, including two Iranians, were killed when ISIS militants stormed a power plant north of Kirkuk and then blew themselves up. Multiple explosions meanwhile rocked the city and gun battles were underway, said witnesses in Kirkuk. Much of the fighting was centered on a government compound in the city.

Syria

Turkish jets and artillery struck U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters in northern Syria Thursday, and Turkey’s state-run news agency said as many as 200 militiamen were killed, in a major escalation of Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria. A senior commander with the main Syria Kurdish militia confirmed that Turkish jets and artillery were still attacking his forces north of Aleppo, but disputed the casualty count, saying no more than 10 fighters had been killed so far. Further south, a humanitarian pause announced by Russia for the besieged rebel-held city of Aleppo took effect, and the Syrian military, using loudspeakers, called on residents to evacuate and for gunmen to lay down their weapons. But there was no sign of residents leaving the bombed-out districts.

An international team has determined that the Syrian government carried out a third chemical attack in the conflict-wracked nation, according to a report released late Friday. In August, the team from the United Nations and the chemical weapons watchdog blamed President Bashar Assad’s government for using chlorine gas in two attacks and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters for using mustard gas in one attack. The team said at that time that three other attacks indicated possible government involvement. In a report sent to the U.N. Security Council late Friday and seen by The Associated Press, the team said there was “sufficient evidence” to conclude that Syrian forces were responsible for one of the attacks in Qmenas in Idlib governorate on March 16, 2015. It said a device, dropped from a high altitude, “hit the ground and released the toxic substance that affected the population.”

Somalia

Somali pirates have released 26 hostages after nearly five years in captivity, according to an organization involved in mediation efforts. The dozens of hostages freed were in a ship hijacked south of the Seychelles in March 2012. Of the 29 crew members seized, one died during the hijacking and two died from illness while in captivity, according to the organization, Oceans Beyond Piracy. The hostages were all men from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. John Steed of Oceans Beyond Piracy said the crew of Naham 3 was released Saturday. He did not provide specifics on the terms or conditions of their release, or whether any ransom was paid. “They are reported to be in reasonable condition considering their ordeal,” Steed said. “They are all malnourished. Four are currently receiving medical treatment.” Somali pirates and their peers have made millions in ransom money hijacking vessels in the region.

Niger

Thousands of children in the west African nation of Niger are suffering from severe malnutrition and lack of clean water. ChristianToday.com cites a report from the World Food Program, which states that 44 percent of children in Niger suffer from malnutrition. Niger is a poor country and many men leave their families to look for work elsewhere. Many of the malnourished children suffer severe pain, other illnesses and stunted growth.

China

A U.S. Navy warship on Friday passed through waters claimed by China near disputed islands in the South China Sea, the Defense Department said, drawing Chinese condemnation. The destroyer ship USS Decatur conducted the transit operation near the Paracel Islands. He said it was done “in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident.” A Chinese defense ministry statement called it “a gravely illegal act” and “intentionally provocative.” The Chinese navy sent a guided missile destroyer and an escort vessel that “spotted and verified the American ships and warned them to leave,” the statement said. The Paracels, a group of islands and reefs, are occupied by China but are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. Ross said the ship passed within an “excessive” claim of territorial waters by China between two land features, although it did not go within 12 nautical miles of them, the standard distance for territorial boundaries.

Venezuela

Earlier this year, Venezuelans suffered through acute food shortages. Now food is starting to reappear on more and more supermarket shelves. But the prices are prohibitive for almost everyone. Venezuelans say they’ve seen staggering price hikes as the country struggles with exponentially rising inflation. The IMF forecasts inflation in Venezuela to rise 475% this year. For example, Venezuela’s most popular dish is the arepa. It’s made with cornmeal. The government’s price for cornmeal was 190 bolivars — or about 16 cents — for a two-pound bag. In supermarkets, today though, cornmeal made in Venezuela is now selling for 975 bolivars, and imported cornmeal goes for 1,850 bolivars. The black-market price for that bag of cornmeal is as much as 3,500 bolivars — or $3.

Haiti

A manhunt is underway after 174 inmates escaped from a prison in Haiti following a riot during which one guard was killed, authorities said. A dozen have been captured as of Sunday morning. The prison break occurred at a facility in Arcahaie on Saturday. The uprising was led by “heavily armed individuals,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office. Teams from SWAT and the defense forces are searching for the inmates. Nearby residents have been urged to be cautious and cooperate with police. Teams from SWAT and the defense forces are searching for the inmates. Nearby residents have been urged to be cautious and cooperate with police. Arcahaie is about 30 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Environment

Many residents of Atchison, Kansas, are being evacuated following a chemical leak that sent a plume of toxic gas into the sky above the city. Officials with the Atchison County Emergency Management Agency told weather.com that the spill occurred at MPG Ingredients, Inc. earlier today. They believe the plume is comprised of chlorine. A lack of wind in the area Friday meant the plume would remain over the city until the winds pick up and disperse it.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake in western Japan knocked loose roof tiles, toppled store shelves and caused power outages Friday afternoon, but apparently caused no widespread damage. Seven people were injured, one seriously. At least two houses collapsed. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the 6.6-magnitude quake occurred in Tottori, a prefecture on the Sea of Japan about 430 miles west of Tokyo. The epicenter was at a relatively shallow depth of 7 miles. The earthquake caused temporary blackouts at about 32,000 homes.

Weather

Tyhoon Haima slammed into southern China on Friday after hammering the northern Philippines with ferocious wind and rain, triggering flooding, landslides and power outages and killing at least 13 people. Haima, known locally as “Lawin,” made landfall shortly after noon in the city of Shanwei in Guangdong province, packing winds of up to 166 kilometers (103 miles) per hour before weakening to a tropical storm. China had suspended dozens of flights and rail services in several southern provinces. In the city of Shenzhen, authorities ordered schools, markets and factories to close, halted public transportation and evacuated some areas. Hong Kong hunkered down as Haima lashed the financial hub with rain and wind gusts of up to 109 kph (68 mph). Schools and offices were shut, trading on the stock market suspended and commuter ferry services halted. In the Philippines, Haima’s blinding winds and rain on Thursday had rekindled fears of the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which left 7,300 dead, but large casualties appeared to have been averted after more than 100,000 people fled to safer ground. Several villages were cut off by fallen trees, landslides and floods, impeding communications and aid. The provincial government of Cagayan said it is possible that 100 percent of houses in Tuguegarao City were either partially or completely damaged by Super Typhoon Haima.

Snow fell over some of the higher elevations of the Northeast this weekend, shifting the area away from a week of record warmth. Several locations saw about a half foot of snow in the Adirondacks of New York. Snow also accumulated in parts of Vermont and New Hampshire. Bolton, Vermont, saw 9 inches of snow.

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