Signs of the Times (11/29/16)

Jesus Named King of Poland

Jesus was named King of Poland at a ceremony Saturday attended by Poland’s president Andrzej Duda. The ceremony took place at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow. The ceremony coincided with the end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy and the 1050th anniversary of Polish Christianity. “In our hearts, rule us, Christ! In our families, rule us, Christ! … In our schools and universities, rule us, Christ,” the ceremony’s prayer said. “Through the Polish nation, rule us, Christ! … We pledge to defend your holy worship and preach Thy royal glory, Christ our King, we promise. We entrust the Polish people and Polish leaders to you. Make them exercise their power fairly and in accordance with your laws. … rule us, Christ! Reign in our homeland and reign in every nation – for the greater glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the salvation of mankind.”

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls to Lowest in Decades

The abortion rate has decreased to its lowest level in decades according to a new report issued earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It included data from 47 states through 2013, the last year for which statistics were available. The CDC data is incomplete because the government does not require states to report abortion numbers. The report did not include information from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. In 1971, two years prior to the ruling in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion, the CDC reported a low abortion rate, but that rate went up dramatically by 1980 when there were 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In 2013, however, the abortion rate dropped to half of what it was in 1980. Only 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 were recorded in 2013, totaling 664,435 abortions. The data also showed a 5% drop from 2012 and a 20% drop since 2004. But the good news does not extend to the African-American Community. Constituting just 13% of the U.S. population, 35% of the babies killed in abortions are black babies.

Islamist Ohio State Attacker Wounds Ten

Abdul Razak Artan was identified as he man who plowed a car into a crowd at Ohio State University before stabbing several pedestrians with a butcher knife on Monday. Artan is said to have referred to American-born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a “hero” on his social media accounts. Law enforcement sources told Fox News on Tuesday that the reference of al-Awlaki on social media accounts is “deeply concerning” because it could suggest he was self-radicalized before launching the attack. The Islamic State group has urged sympathizers online to carry out lone-wolf attacks in their home countries with whatever weapons are available to them. The Somali-born student had only recently transferred to the university. Numerous calls for greater gun control resounded before it became clear that only a car and knife were employed.

Post-Election Nation Deeply Divided

After a bruising presidential election featuring the two least liked major-party candidates in recent history, more than 8-in-10 Americans say the country is more deeply divided on major issues this year than in the past several years, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And more than half say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S. Almost 8-in-10 also say the Republicans should make an effort to include Democratic policies in any legislation they pass rather than sticking to a GOP-driven agenda. And most say they would like to see President-elect Donald Trump, who won with an Electoral College majority despite trailing in the popular vote nationwide, pursue policies that could draw in new supporters rather than appeal solely to those who backed him during the campaign. Less than half, 40%, say that Trump’s win means he has a mandate to pursue the agenda his supporters favor.

  • Frequently, politicians, and many ordinary Americans, refer to the United States as a democracy. It is not and never has been. In a democracy, citizens vote directly on laws. In the United States, elected representatives do that and, therefore, the U.S. is a republic.

Green Party Files for Wisconsin Recount

Green Party officials filed Friday for a recount in Wisconsin, following reports of voting discrepancies, and were seeking a deeper investigation into the election results, which handed the state to Donald Trump two weeks ago. Wisconsin Green Party co-chairman George Martin said that they were seeking a “reconciliation of paper records” — a request that would go one step further than a simple recount, spurring, he said, an investigation into the integrity of the state’s voting system. The announcement came as Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s Thanksgiving fundraising blitz passed $5 million. The money is well beyond the $2 million mark the Green Party initially set, and Wisconsin party officials said that any additional money not used for the recount would be used to train Green Party candidates for local office. Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join the effort in Wisconsin and the pursuit of a new count in two other states, the New York Times reported Sunday. Clinton officials have moved to explore “any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally” in key battlegrounds, reports the Washington Post.

Trump’s Businesses and Politics Could Become Intertwined

Donald Trump’s election may usher in a world in which his stature as the U.S. president, the status of his private ventures across the globe and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined, the Washington Post opined Saturday. In that world, Trump could personally profit if his election gives a boost to his brand and results in its expansion overseas. His political rise could also enrich his overseas business partners — and, perhaps more significantly, enhance their statuses in their home countries and alter long-standing diplomatic traditions by establishing them as new conduits for public business. Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency, the Post asserts. Several stalled overseas Trump Towers suddenly sparked to life in Georgia (a former Soviet republic) and Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, foreign government leaders seeking to speak with Trump have reached out to the president-elect through his overseas network of business partners.

Six Mosques Receive Letters Calling for Genocide

An anonymous group calling itself “Americans for a Better Way” has sent a letter to at least five California mosques, according to the Council for Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group. A sixth letter was sent to a mosque in Savannah, according to the group. The anonymous author addressed the letter “to the children of Satan” and called Muslims “a vile and filthy people.” “There’s a new sheriff in town,” the letter said, “President Donald Trump. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews,” the letter said. “You muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”

  • Trump has disavowed such groups but their venom continues to spread

Dakota Pipeline Protesters Ordered Out by Dec. 5

A new confrontation is brewing over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters fighting pipeline construction must vacate property near the Cannonball River in North Dakota — the location of a large campsite for demonstrators — by December 5 or face arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” Col. John Henderson of the Corps said in a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leader. Tribal Chairman Cave Archambault II issued a statement blasting the Corps, but didn’t say exactly how the tribe would respond. Protesters said they will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday.

Millions Opt for Penalties Over Obamacare

While millions of people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 28 million Americans remain uninsured. Preliminary data shows that about 5.6 million paid a tax penalty rather than buy health insurance in 2015, according to The New York Times. Last tax season, Steve Lopez paid a mandatory penalty of nearly $1,000 for his family. That’s because the IT professional found it preferable to the $400 to $500 monthly cost of an Obamacare health plan. “I’m paying $6,000 to have the privilege of then paying another $5,000 [in deductibles],” said Lopez, who lives in Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. “It’s baloney — not worth it.”

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew 3.2% in the third quarter, according to new estimates published by the Commerce Department, the best quarter of growth in two years. The solid numbers were driven by a major, one-time increase in exports and solid consumer spending, which makes up the majority of the economy’s activity. However, one red flag in the economy is that businesses aren’t investing in new buildings, equipment or projects. Spending on these, long-term assets has declined for four straight quarters.

Digital marketplaces were shoppers’ best friends as online sales surged nearly 14% from a year ago on Thanksgiving Day, according to Adobe Digital Insights. Consumers have been feeling especially cheerful this holiday-shopping season after a contentious election cycle came to a close earlier this month. What’s more, a key gauge of consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan out on Wednesday jumped in November, indicating optimism. It was that optimistic feeling that helped fuel more than $1 billion in online sales Thanksgiving Day, Adobe’s data show. While the majority of those sales were made from desktop computers, 40 percent were made from mobile devices.

Shoppers flocked to gun stores on Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for gun sales. The Black Friday weapon sales are not driven by the Christmas spirit since gun laws in many states prohibit buying guns for someone else. The sales are driven by sharp discounts. This turnout was in spite of the fact that Hillary Clinton — the gun industry’s biggest boogieman with her gun control policies — failed to win the White House.

Israel

Israel’s prime minister said a rash of fires that has raged for five days is under control but “not yet over” and that the focus has moved on to recovery efforts. Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet Sunday in Haifa, the hardest-hit city, where major blazes forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. He vowed to fast track bureaucracy and start rebuilding and reimbursing victims immediately. Though no deaths were reported, dozens were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and hundreds of homes were damaged. Approximately 7,500 acres of forests and 2,700 acres of urban areas have been destroyed in several communities The blazes began five days ago near Jerusalem and backed by dry, windy weather they later spread elsewhere around the country. All major fires have been extinguished. Initial investigations point to the majority of the fires being caused by arson. Netanyahu has accused Arab attackers of being the culprits. Israeli police have detained 23 people on suspicion of arson in connection with the wildfires.

Israeli aircraft struck a machine gun-mounted vehicle inside Syria Sunday, killing four Islamic State-affiliated militants inside after they had opened fire on a military patrol on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said. Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering only sporadic incidents of spillover fire over the frontier that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors of the Assad regime. But Sunday’s event, in the southern part of the Golan Heights, appears to be a rare case of an intentional shooting ambush by Islamic militants targeting Israeli troops.

Syria

Syrian regime forces have entered eastern Aleppo and retaken parts of its largest district, launching a long-threatened ground assault to wrest control of the area from rebels. The troops’ gains in the key neighborhood of Masaken Hanano were backed by regime airstrikes and mark the first time that government forces have taken a significant part of eastern Aleppo since rebels seized the area more than four years ago. Government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a bloody push toward eastern Aleppo on November 15 as warplanes decimated much of the zone with airstrikes following a three-week lull. The state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency reported that forces were now in “full control” of the area, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an activist group on the ground said only parts were in the hands of the regime.

Up to 16,000 people have fled the violence in Syria’s war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, with food stocks “practically finished” and every hospital bombed beyond use, the UN’s humanitarian chief said Tuesday. But nearly 200,000 people are believed to be still in eastern Aleppo, as the Syrian regime pounds it with airstrikes and troops storm through it in an operation to retake the enclave after more than four years of rebel control. “There are no modes of transportation and no vehicles in the streets, so civilians are fleeing and walking close to 8 or 9 kilometers on foot, carrying what they can and their children, and fleeing towards the western parts of Aleppo,” an activist told CNN.

Yemen

The Iranian-backed Houthi movement has formed a new government in the capital of Yemen, in a surprise move that is expected to hinder efforts to end a 20-month-old civil war in the impoverished country. The minority Shia group has been in control of Sanaa over the past two years, after driving out the internationally-recognized government and forcing its president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia. The so-called National Salvation Government, formed on Monday, will be headed by Abdul Aziz Habtoor, a politician who had defected from Hadi’s government and joined the Houthi coalition last year, according to the movement’s news agency Saba. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed al Bukhaiti said that the new government was formed with a number of allied groups. “It includes parties from all the political spectrum,” he told CNN over the phone from Sanaa, while adding that it excluded politicians supportive of Hadi’s exiled government.

Philippines

Nine members of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team have been injured after their convoy was hit by an explosive device. One person is in a critical condition after the blast in Marawi, in the southern island of Mindanao. President Duterte was not with the convoy. The team were part of a 50-person advance convoy preparing for Duterte’s planned visit to Marawi on Wednesday. Duterte’s visit will go ahead, a spokesman told CNN. It is believed that the incident may be a diversionary tactic by the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao currently facing a military offensive after it laid siege to Butig in Lanao Del Sur last week. The group has been linked to a bombing in Duterte’s hometown of Davao in September that left 14 people dead.

Cuba

Fidel Castro, died Nov. 25. He was 90. Castro led a Cuban revolution that made his Caribbean island a potent symbol of the 20th-century ideological and economic divisions, and whose alliance with communism and the former Soviet Union put the world at peril of nuclear war. His death was announced on Cuban state TV by his younger brother, Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel 10 years ago as the country’s leader. The son of a prosperous sugar planter, Mr. Castro took power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959, promising to share his nation’s wealth with its poorest citizens, who had suffered under the corrupt quarter-century dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Castro became a romantic figure in olive-drab fatigues and combat boots, chomping monstrous cigars through a bushy black beard. He became a spiritual beacon for the world’s political far left. In Miami, hundreds of Cuban refugees flooded the streets to celebrate Castro’s death.

Environment

Coral across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered its most devastating die-off on record, a new report says. In just nine months, bleaching caused by warmer water has killed around 67% of the coral in a previously pristine part of the reef, one of the natural wonders of the world. “We’ve seen three bleaching events (in the reef) and each time it can be explained by where the warm water was,” the report’s author Terry Hughes says. “In the north, the summer temperatures got up to two degrees above the normal maximum and that caused severe bleaching,” he said. Extensive aerial surveys and teams of divers were used to map the bleaching, which covered a length of 700 kilometers (about 420 miles). Hughes said it could take up to 15 years for coral to grow back to previous levels.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano surprised observers with a startling sight Friday: a massive column of ash billowing in the air. An explosion sent steam, gas and ash 5 km (3.1 miles) above the volcano’s crater, officials said. Authorities warned people to stay away from the volcano, particularly its crater. Already, ash has fallen in two municipalities in Puebla state. The volcano last erupted in April, spewing smoke, ash and lava. The volcano, which is located about 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City, had been dormant for decades until its eruption in 1994. Since then, its rumblings have become a party of daily life for are residents. Popocatépetl is one of an estimated 1,500 potentially active volcanoes in the world.

Wildfires

The Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are reeling Tuesday morning after mass evacuations were ordered as several wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains quickly advanced on the area, burning dozens of homes and businesses. More than 100 homes and a 16-story hotel were destroyed in the Cobbly Nob area of Gatlinburg and at least 14,000 were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone overnight. Roads became packed as residents of Gatlinburg began to flee the town. Authorities asked evacuees to avoid using their cell phones to avoid taxing communication systems. Social media was replete Monday night with videos of harrowing escapes from the flames as residents attempted to flee the fire. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told WBIR that 29 backcountry hikers were from wildfires in Sevier County overnight. Cash, who’s fought fires from the east coast to the west, said he’s never seen anything to compare with this fire.

Weather

The death toll in Australia has risen to six from a rare condition known as thunderstorm asthma that afflicted thousands on Monday, officials said Sunday. Five others remain on life support in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city. Another 8,500 received hospital treatment after thousands developed respiratory distress following the thunderstorm that struck the city that is home to 4.5 million. The storm caused rain-sodden ryegrass pollen grains to be swept up into the storm from which they exploded and dispersed over the city, with tiny pollen particles penetrating deep into lungs. Around a third of patients who suffered asthma attacks on Monday reported never having asthma before, reports the AP.

The death toll from Hurricane Otto has risen to 12 after Costa Rican authorities announced nine deaths after the storm cut through Central America. Earlier in the week, civil defense officials in Panama reported that three people died as a result of the hurricane. Nearly 15,000 people were evacuated from Nicaragua and Costa Rica ahead of the hurricane which made landfall last Thursday.

Winter Storm Blanche continued its march across the northern plains Tuesday after leaving behind an estimated 4 feet of snow in mountain areas of Wyoming and treacherous travel conditions across several states. Earlier Sunday evening, Blanche dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The winter storm pushed east on Monday and began hammering the northern Plains with its snow and wind. The highest total from Blanche thus far was estimated at 56 inches in upper elevations near Elk Mountain, Wyoming.

Severe storms marched across the Midwest and South Monday afternoon and evening, knocking down trees and power lines while spawning more than a half-dozen reported tornadoes in Iowa. The dangerous storms pushed east, hammering Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi with severe weather, including damaging winds. Most of the wind damage reports were in Mississippi, where more than 23,000 homes and businesses lost power Monday evening. The system also brought a serious threat to Iowa, where several reported tornadoes were reported, some of which caused minor structural damage. No injuries have been reported so far. Multiple reports of damage were also seen in the Memphis area, where strong winds moved through Monday afternoon.

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