Signs of the Times (11/14/16)

Christianity Growing in Muslim Nations

Two hundred Iranians and Afghans recently converted from Islam to Christianity and were baptized into their new faith, according to ChristianToday.com. Christianity has been growing in Iran despite persecution. Mark Howard of Elam Ministries, which reported on the baptisms, stated, “Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran.” Now, however, he says there is an estimated 300,000 to 400,000.

A Muslim Imam was miraculously raised from the dead and converted to Christianity after having a vision of Jesus. ChristianToday.com reports that Munaf Ali (name changed for security reasons) was an influential religious leader in the Middle East. While he was walking home one day, he suddenly lost consciousness, fell to the ground, and was found dead by his family. While his body remained lifeless, however, Munaf Ali had a vision of demons coming to take his soul away. It was then that Jesus appeared with a group of angels and drove the demons away. Then, to the shock of his family, Munaf Ali awoke. He immediately gave his life to Christ and told his family about what he saw. His family believed him and also became Christians.

Obama and Trump Have Cordial Transition Meeting

President Barack Obama welcomed President-elect Donald Trump to the White House Thursday, as both men put past antagonisms aside in a time-honored ritual epitomizing the peaceful transfer of political power. Three days after mocking Trump as unfit to control the codes needed to launch nuclear weapons, Obama told his successor that he wanted him to succeed and would do everything he could to ensure a smooth transition. Trump, who spent years pursuing Obama over false claims he is not a natural-born American and accused him of being the founder of ISIS on the campaign trail, called Obama a “very good man” and said he would seek his counsel in future, calling the meeting a “great honor”. Trump also thanked Obama for the meeting which he said had originally been scheduled for 10 minutes and went on for 90. The extraordinary meeting was a reflection of the swift and sudden change in the political mood between the frenzied last days of an election campaign and the reality of government and the transition of power between two administrations. Trump later met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

While all eyes were on President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office Thursday, another changing of the guard meeting was taking place a few doors down between First Lady Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. The first lady hosted the soon-to-be first lady for tea and a tour of the White House residence. During the cordial visit to Trump’s future home, the two moms discussed raising children in the White House. Melania Trump’s son Barron is ten years old and will be the first son to grow up in the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr.

Trump Softens Stances on Immigration and Hillary

President-elect Donald Trump, in his first television interview since his surprise election victory, repeated his vows to build a wall across America’s southern border, deport criminal illegal aliens, and repeal and replace ObamaCare. But he backed off the mass deportations he vowed in the election campaign. “What we are going to do is get the people that are [criminals] and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers,” Trump said. “We have a lot of these people. Probably two million, it could be even three million. We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told CNN that the Republican administration was “not looking for mass deportations.” Trump also appeared to back away from his promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. “I don’t want to hurt them,” Trump said. “They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them.”

Protesters Target Trump in Many Cities

For the third day in a row since Donald J. Trump was elected president, thousands of people took part in protests that bloomed across the country, venting their frustration at the election results. In Miami, protesters shook signs and chanted during a demonstration on Friday evening, blocking the causeway that connects the city’s downtown and South Beach. In Madison, Wis., they interrupted commuters near the University of Wisconsin. Near Iowa City, they blocked traffic on a section of Interstate 80. In Portland, Ore., the police reported a shooting around 1 a.m. Saturday at a bridge that had been blocked by demonstrators. Witnesses said a protester had been shot in the leg after an altercation with a car full of people, who they said were angry about traffic being stalled. Demonstrators also marched in Atlanta, rushing over a bridge to block a highway. Later in the evening, a flag was set alight in front of the Georgia Capitol, as protesters referenced Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan, chanting “America was never great.”

They protested in Tempe, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla., in Raleigh, N.C., and Olympia, Wash. Shouts of “Not my president” and chants declaring “We don’t accept the president-elect” rang out over Sixth Avenue in Manhattan as a crowd began to march uptown toward Trump Tower, the home of the president-elect. Late Friday night, the New York Police Department said that 11 people had been arrested for disorderly conduct. Eight thousand people angry about President-elect Donald Trump’s policies on immigration, the environment, LGBT rights and other issues marched in the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, the fourth day of anti-Trump demonstrations.

Pro-Trump Bigots Target Minorities

Fears of heightened bigotry and hate crimes have turned into reality for some Americans after Donald Trump’s presidential win. Racist, pro-Trump graffiti painted inside a high school. A hijab-wearing college student robbed by men talking about Trump and Muslims. At the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, students discovered the name of the President-elect written on the door to a prayer room for Muslims. “#Go back to Africa” and “Make America great again,” someone wrote on a toilet paper dispenser at Maple Grove Senior High School. The bathroom door was also covered with graffiti, including “Whites only,” “White America” and “Trump.” A San Diego State University student walking to her car was confronted by two men who made comments about Trump and Muslims, SDSU police said. “Comments made to the student indicate she was targeted because of her Muslim faith, including her wearing of a traditional garment and hijab,” SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said.

Down-Ballot Women Make History

This year’s presidential election ultimately was not kind to Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee for a major party, but down-ballot, some of the election’s female candidates made history. From the Senate and the House to statehouses across the country, female challengers won office. Somali-American Ilhan Omar was elected to the Minnesota House, making history by becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the United States. Zena Stephens also made history by being the first African-American woman to be elected to the office of sheriff in Texas.

The US Senate will welcome four new female members. The Senate will see the first biracial senators, the first Latina senator and the first Thai-born Senator. The incoming Democratic senator for Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, lost both her legs when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting crashed. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris becomes the state’s first senator of Indian descent — and the country’s first black female senator since 1999. She succeeds Barbara Boxer. Democrat and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto replaces Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who leaves office after serving the state of Nevada for 30 years. She holds the distinction of being the first Latina to serve in the Senate. Maggie Hassan, another Democrat, unseated her Republican rival Kelly Ayotte in the New Hampshire Senate race.

Obamacare Sigh-Ups Surge

Americans signed up for Obamacare in droves Wednesday, right after Donald Trump — who has vowed to dismantle the program — was elected President. More than 100,000 selected plans through the federal Obamacare exchange, healthcare.gov, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. It was the busiest day since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, when around 95,000 signed up. Administration officials are using the data point to promote the importance of Obamacare to Americans, trying to counter Republicans’ assertions that it is pricey and broken. Some 11.4 million people are expected to enroll in 2017, according to Obama administration projections. Next year’s enrollment was seen as critical to bringing insurers back into the program and securing Obamacare’s future, which was battered this year by skyrocketing premiums and insurer defections.

Migrant Update

More than 900 migrants were rescued from boats in the Mediterranean in the space of only a few hours Saturday morning, according to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, known globally as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The group said via Twitter that 797 people — including 205 women and 22 children — were now on its ship, the Argos. Another 129 people were rescued earlier from a rubber boat by another MSF ship, the Aquarius, the group said. This is already the deadliest year for migrants crossing the Mediterranean bound for Europe, the UN refugee agency said. The number believed dead or missing at sea is more than 4,200 to date. Those seeking to make the journey from Libya are at greatest risk, the agency said. Libya is a popular jumping-off point for migrants seeking to reach Europe from North Africa. Smuggling networks are well-established there, and the lack of an effective central government makes the job of traffickers easier. But the crossing can be treacherous, with too many crammed into what are often barely seaworthy boats.

Economic News

A day after voters chose to send Donald Trump to the White House, the expectation of less austerity and more pro-business policies propelled the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new high at the opening bell. The Dow easily sailed above its previous intraday record high of 18668 points, as it rose 162 points, or 0.91% to 18759. The broader S&P 500 gained 17 points, or 0.8%, to 2180, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 49 points, or 0.92%, to 5299. “With the promise of a tax repatriation scheme for multinationals, lower tax rates, and higher government spending, it seems the markets are waking up to the chance of a growth-driven economic period for the U.S,” said Joshua Mahony, IG market analyst.

China’s currency sank to a six-year low against the U.S. dollar on Thursday as investors weighed what a Donald Trump presidency could mean for trade between the world’s two largest economies. On the campaign trail, Trump talked tough about China, accusing it of “raping” the U.S. through trade tariffs and manipulating its currency, the yuan. One dollar now buys around 6.8 yuan, the weakest the Chinese currency has been since September 2010. It’s fallen around 4.5% against the dollar so far this year after dropping a similar amount in 2015.

Islamic State

Iraqi troops consolidated gains in their advance on the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, regrouping as they clear neighborhoods and houses once occupied by the Islamic State group. In Mosul proper, where troops have a foothold in a sliver of territory in the city’s east, the special forces control the Zahra neighborhood, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, and have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood, military officials said. Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country’s second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. More than 47,730 people have been displaced because of the ongoing military operations to retake Mosul from ISIS, according to the International Organization for Migration. Roughly 12,800 people have fled since Tuesday

A senior ISIS commander has been killed in the battle for Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, Iraqi military intelligence sources told CNN Friday. ISIS confirmed his death in a video montage, referring to Mahmoud Shukri al Nuaimi as “the martyr of the battle.”

The U.N. human rights office is citing new details as proof that the Islamic State group is using chemical weapons as Iraqi government forces try to oust its fighters from the city of Mosul. Amid concerns about ISIS’ use of human shields in the city, rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said four people died from inhaling fumes after ISIS shelled and set fires to the al-Mishrag Sulfur Gas Factory in Mosul on Oct. 23. Reports indicated ISIS has stockpiled “large quantities” of ammonia and sulfur that have been placed in the same areas as civilians. International law requires protection of civilians near such chemicals.

Pakistan

A suicide bomb attack killed at least 52 people and injured more than 100 others during a religious ceremony in the remote mountains of Pakistan Saturday evening, according to local law enforcement. ISIS claimed responsibility for the blast on a Sufi shrine in the Lasbela district of Balochistan, 120 miles from Karachi. About 500 people had assembled to perform a Sufi ritual at the Shah Noorani Shrine when the bomb went off. The remoteness of the region made it difficult to get emergency services to the area, but rescue operations are underway. In September, Pakistan’s military acknowledged for the first time that ISIS had a presence in the country. In October, ISIS attacked a police academy in Quetta, Pakistan killing 61 and injuring 117.

Afghanistan

An attack killed four people and injured more than a dozen others Saturday when an explosive device was detonated at Bagram Airfield, the largest US military base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility in a tweet praising the “strong attack” on Bagram Airfield. Bagram is more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. NATO said 14 people were injured in the blast, which happened shortly after 5:30 a.m. local time. The question now is, how did someone get inside? There are about 14,000 people on the Bagram base, with about 60% contractors. Locals move on and off the base in some contractor roles.

Iran

Iran violated one of the terms of its nuclear deal signed with six world powers by exceeding a limit on its heavy water stockpile, according to a report from United Nations monitors on Wednesday — the same day the rogue nation demanded the U.S. stick to the deal, no matter what. This is the second time that Iran has exceeded the limit, according to investigators. The confidential report by the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, seen by The Associated Press, came out shortly after Iran issued its warning to the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump. The president-elect earlier described the Iran agreement as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

Germany

Five key ISIS recruiters have been arrested in Germany, authorities said Tuesday. The men were allegedly involved in smuggling people out of Germany to join the terror group fighting in Syria. Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah — a 32-year-old Iraqi national also known as “Abu Walaa” — was the ringleader of the multi-regional recruitment network, according to the official statement. Federal prosecutors said he openly acknowledged belonging to ISIS, and was a speaker at several radical gatherings of Salafists and jihadists. The other suspects include a 50-year-old Turkish citizen identified as Hasan C., and a 36-year-old with double German and Serbian nationality named as Boban S., according to the statement. Their job was to teach Arabic and radical Islamic beliefs to those willing to go to Syria, the statement said. A 27-year-old German, Mahmoud O., and a 26-year-old Cameroonian identified as Ahmed F.Y. organized and carried out the trips to Syria.

France

Investigators have identified the suspected coordinator of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks as Oussama Atar, a French intelligence source has told CNN. Atar, also known as Abu Ahmad, is a cousin of the El Bakraoui brothers who blew themselves up in the Brussels Airport and metro attacks in March. Authorities believe Atar helped to radicalize at least one of the brothers online. Atar, 32, who has dual Belgian and Moroccan nationality, is suspected of having directed the attacks from Syria. He remains at large.

Mexico

Mexico’s congressional committee rejected a measure on Wednesday that would’ve legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. The measure on legalizing same-sex couples’ right to wed in the constitution was defeated 19-8, with one abstention, in the Commission on Constitutional Matters. Commission chairman Edgar Castillo Martinez said the vote means the matter is “totally and definitively concluded. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional for states to bar same-sex marriage. The decision did not have the effect of overturning or rewriting any laws.

Columbia

Colombia’s government and the FARC rebel group signed a revised peace accord Saturday after years of negotiations and a half a century of conflict. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the new deal in a TV address Saturday evening, saying it will build a “broader, deeper peace.” A peace deal negotiated earlier this year with FARC rebels was unexpectedly defeated by Colombian voters in October. Many were angered by what they saw as insufficient punishment for those who perpetrated a litany of crimes against their people. Among the new stipulations are reparations for victims which will come from FARC’s assets and money, Santos said. The accord also sets up transitional areas where FARC members stay to be rehabilitated and have “activities of reparation,” Santos said. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for “his resolute efforts” to end the country’s civil war.

Earthquakes

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Christchurch, New Zealand, around 12 a.m. local time on Monday. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the quake occurred 6 miles below the surface near the South Island. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami has been generated, and was measured 8.2 feet above normal tide level by a gauge near Kaikoura, New Zealand. A 1.4-foot tsunami was measured near Wellington. Thousands of Wellington inner city residents have reportedly left their homes for safer areas in the city. Several aftershocks have struck as well. New Zealand is sending military helicopters and a navy ship to rescue about 1,000 tourists and hundreds of residents who remain stranded in Christchurch. It also knocked out water supplies and sewerage systems in Kaikoura. Landslides made roadways impassable, leaving people with no easy way out. One person reportedly died in Kaikoura, where a house collapsed during the earthquake. The clean-up will take months and run into the hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars, officials say. “It’s just utter devastation,” said Prime Minister John Key.

Wildfires

With little to no rain in recent weeks and prolonged drought conditions affecting much of the Southeast, a spate of wildfires has broken out across much of the region, sending up a blanket of smoke that covers several states and metro areas, including Atlanta. Many of the fires are the result of arson, officials say, and three people have been arrested thus far, reports the Associated Press. One of them is a “wannabe meteorologist” who deliberately set a wildfire in an attempt to garner a larger Facebook following. According to the Courier-Journal, at least 150 of 210 wildfires — or 76 percent — that have broken out since October in Kentucky are arson-related.

More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires. About 40 aircraft have been brought in to assist the fire fighters. After dozens of fires broke out this week, the state’s Department for Public Health issued a smoke inhalation advisory for the southeastern part of the state due to poor air quality and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a state of emergency. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Human Services said since Nov. 6, there had been 2,829 wildfires affecting more than 18,158 acres on state-protected lands across North Carolina this year. Dozens of wildfires in Eastern Tennessee have left a blanket of smoke across much of the area. Hundreds of fires have broken out in Georgia in the past few weeks as drought conditions continue, especially in northern counties.

Weather

The long awaited La Niña, which was first predicted by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) back in April, has finally arrived in the Pacific Ocean, NOAA announced Thursday — and it’s expected to stick around through the winter. La Niña conditions, which are characterized by below-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, were observed during October and have persisted into November — prompting the CPC to raise the ENSO Alert System from a La Niña Watch to a La Niña Advisory. La Niña, much like its warmer counterpart, El Niño, has far reaching global impacts extending beyond the Pacific Ocean. For the United States, NOAA forecasters say the current La Niña will “likely contribute to drier and warmer weather in the southern US and wetter, cooler conditions in the Pacific Northwest and across to the northern tier of the nation this winter.” This is bad news for the southeast, which is currently seeing an expanding and worsening drought. Following an autumn that had well above-average temperatures and scant rainfall has left more than 20% of the region in an Extreme or Exceptional Drought, the two highest designations in the US Drought Monitor.

Last week, we saw all-time record highs set in the Northwest. We’ve seen temperatures in the 70s penetrate as far north as Alberta, Canada, upper Michigan, as well as the typically rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest in November. More daily record highs were set over the weekend in parts of the West and Midwest. Record dry streaks continued in the south. Some locations haven’t seen measurable rain since late September. Chief among these streaks is Birmingham, No measurable rain (at least .01 inches) has been tallied at Birmingham’s Shuttlesworth International Airport since Sept. 18, approaching a two-month-long dry streak, topping their previous longest dry streak on record – 52 straight days – from fall 1924.Alabama’s most-populous city.

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