Signs of the Times (12/20/16)

Electoral College Declares Trump President

Donald Trump surpassed the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College on Monday, taking the next step in the official process to become President. Trump received 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227. Six “faithless” electors voted for other candidates, costing Trump two votes and Clinton four. The results mean Trump — who lost the popular vote by more than 2 percentage points to Clinton — easily staved off a long-shot bid by opponents to turn Republican electors against him. The Electoral College results will be officially certified January 6 during a joint session of Congress.

Attorney General Says Russian Hacking Not Significant

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was little evidence the Russians had violated the integrity of the U.S. election system. “The Department of Homeland Security was actively engaged in reaching out to every state to make sure that they had access to every resource they needed to protect the state electoral system,” she explained, adding “we didn’t see the sort of tactical interference that I know people had concerns about.” Lynch spoke at an event hosted by Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman Thursday morning. However, Sen. John McCain said Russian election-related hacks threaten to “destroy democracy” and faulted the American response as “totally paralyzed.”

Trump’s Pick for Israel Ambassador Roils the Status Quo

Donald Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel signals a potential shift in long-standing US policy that has implications for Washington’s relationships in the region, with Europe and even the American Jewish community. The President-elect tapped New York-based attorney David Friedman Thursday to represent the United States. Friedman, who maintains a residence in Jerusalem, is known for hardline views that depart from decades of established American policy and in some cases, are to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman argues that Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian areas shouldn’t be illegal and has called the effort to find a two-state solution an “illusion.” In Trump’s announcement, the bankruptcy lawyer and Orthodox Jew welcomed moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem” — settling in one phrase a fraught issue that has been designated for final peace talks, as Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital as well. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat warned that the implementation of Trump’s pledge would destroy any prospects for peace with Israel.

  • Finally, an administration that is a defender of Biblical Israel and Jerusalem

Obama Grants Clemency to Historic Number of Federal Inmates

President Obama pardoned 78 people and also granted commutations to 153 nonviolent drug offenders who he says were sentenced under harsh and outdated laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In total, Obama has pardoned 148 people and granted 1,176 commutations for federal inmates under the clemency initiative that he and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. launched two years ago. Obama plans to issue more commutations before he leaves office, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said.

Plan to Increase Number of Abortion Facilities Fails

Operation Rescue’s annual survey of abortion facilities found that after all the dust had settled on a very active year of reorganization within the Abortion Cartel, closures of abortion facilities compensated for the new openings. This has left the number of abortion facilities in America essentially the same as 2015 – despite the best efforts of the Abortion Cartel to expand abortion services in a year characterized by conditions that favored it. A total of 31 abortion facilities permanently closed in 18 states in 2016. “The political pendulum has swung our way, and we plan to work very hard to take advantage of this opportunity to immediately call for enforcement of laws that will shut down abortion facilities and save lives,” the report states.

Muslim Chaplain Says It’s Okay to Beat Wives

Dr. Iqbal Al-Navdi is the Muslim Chaplain of the Canadian Army and an important Muslim leader here in North America. In fact, he is one of the very few in North America who have the authority to give a fatwah and is very well respected as professor of Shariah Law and jurisprudence. In February of 2015, Dr. Navdi delivered a speech on the importance of the family in society and in Islam. Dr. Navdi spent some time covering one issue that is quite controversial in the West (though not so controversial in the Muslim world): wife beating. Dr. Navdi explained that the Quran most certainly allows husbands to beat their wives, but because their relationship is so important, the beating should only happen as part of an attempt to resolve conflict between the two and that the beatings should always happen in private.

Facebook’s ‘Fake News’ Labels Under Fire

As Facebook introduces “fake news” warning labels, the social network faces a fundamental problem: Some of its users don’t trust the fact-checkers. There was an immediate uproar, led by right-wing web sites, when Facebook announced the labeling plan on Thursday. The overarching fear expressed by some of the writers is that what begins as reasonable flagging of hoaxes could devolve into damaging cover-ups of conservative political opinions. Facebook says it is moving carefully and taking steps to ensure that the warning labels are not misused. But even before the labels started to show up on the social network, The Drudge Report’s banner headline about the Facebook plan was “RISE OF TRUTH POLICE!” Infowars predicted that Facebook would probably “use the new feature to blacklist information that runs contrary to any mainstream media narratives.”

U.S. Mobile Internet Slow vs. World Standards

Some of the world’s richest countries are very poorly served with mobile Internet. The U.S., U.K., and Germany are still lagging behind developing nations when it comes to 4G access and download speeds. A report by consultancy OpenSignal found that American users have to put up with an average speed of just 13 Megabytes per second. That’s the 69th slowest in the world, and way behind countries such as Ecuador (25 Mbps), China and Kazakhstan (both 22 Mbps). World leader Singapore boasts 46 Mbps. And the global average stands at 17.4. While the U.S. ranks poorly in speed, it’s doing much better in terms of access. A typical user in the U.S. can get onto a 4G network 81% of the time. That puts the U.S. in 10th spot in the global ranking. The U.K., by contrast, ranks just 54th in the world in terms of 4G availability. A typical user in Britain can only access 4G 58% of the time, behind Albania, Panama and Peru.

Navajo Nation Slow to Build Homes

If the Navajo Reservation were a state, it would be the 41st largest in size, the least populated and the poorest in the nation, with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment. Its housing needs are also more acute than anywhere else, too. Almost 20 years ago, a study estimated nearly 21,000 families on the Navajo Reservation needed new homes. More than a decade later, despite hundreds of millions of tax dollars allocated, that number grew to more than 34,000. An Arizona Republic review of housing records from the Navajo Housing Authority showed why the numbers weren’t getting better. Amid years of mismanagement, failed projects and wasted tax dollars, the NHA only sporadically has built homes on tribal trust lands that cover nearly all of the sprawling reservation. For several years, they built none at all. Most of the land is too rugged, or without roads, infrastructure, nearby jobs or shopping. Even where dwellings might be built, legal permission can be nearly impossible to secure. More than 90 percent of the reservation technically belongs to the U.S. government, managed under a trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Less than 1 percent is owned by individuals who can freely sell their land or build on it. Environmental, archaeological and other permits also are needed.

  • There’s nothing like government bureaucracy to make accomplishing worthy goals nearly impossible

California Worst State for Driving

California is the worst state for drivers, according to a new study, with Iowa ranking first. That’s according to a Bankrate.com study that looked at six criteria, including fuel expenses, insurance costs, car thefts and auto-related fatalities. To arrive at an overall ranking, Bankrate.com translated each of six criteria into numerical zero-to-ten scores then averaged all the scores. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000.

Bill Gates Heads Clean Energy Investment Group

Bill Gates has been chosen to lead a $1 billion investment fund in clean energy. The Microsoft founder is joined by some of the world’s richest people in supporting a 20-year fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Investors include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma. Gates will serve as the chairman of the fund, which is the venture arm of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group founded last year to accelerate research and investment in clean energy. The fund will invest in companies and technologies that have “the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton,” according to the website. It will specifically target innovations in electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and architecture.

Economic News – Domestic

The volatile housing starts numbers took another dive, down 18.7% in November, following an 11% decline in October, according to the Census Bureau New Residential Construction report for November 2016. Meanwhile, mortgage rates have risen 104 basis points (1.04 percentage points) since July 8. This may well keep the Federal Reserve from moving ahead as fast as they want on raising interest rates in 2017.

General Motors is cutting almost half the jobs at its only plant inside Detroit city limits. In another sign of slowing auto sales, the Detroit-Hamtramck plant will eliminate its second shift and about 1,300 of its 3,000 jobs. The layoffs will take place in March. GM said it will try to find jobs for the employees at other plants. The Detroit facility is the third GM plant to eliminate the second shift. Plants in Lansing, Michigan, and Lordstown, Ohio, announced layoffs in November, the first permanent cuts by GM at its U.S. plants since 2010. In all, GM will cut about 3,300 jobs at the three plants.

Economic News – International

Mired in a cash crisis of its own making, the Indian government has announced plans to hand out $50 million to encourage people to use digital money. As many as two million Indians could benefit from a new temporary lottery that will be based on ID numbers attached to government e-payment systems. The lottery — billed by the government as a Christmas gift to the nation — will begin on Dec. 25 and run until April 14, 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly scrapped India’s two biggest bank notes on Nov. 8, saying he wanted to tackle corruption and tax evasion. But the decision made 86% of India’s cash effectively worthless overnight, plunging the economy into turmoil. The country runs on cash, but the distribution of the new notes has been bungled, leaving people struggling to make daily purchases. “At present, only 5% of personal consumption expenditure in India is digital,” said Amitabh Kant, who runs the government-run think tank that came up with the policy. “Our objective is to make digital payments a huge mass movement in this country,” he added.

Terrorism Update

Russia has warned it will not make “concessions to terrorists” a day after its ambassador was gunned down in the Turkish capital Ankara. The man who opened fire on the ambassador was identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the attack intended to “harm our relations and destroy all the achievements we have made together recently.” He welcomed the investigative team from Russia, insisting the two countries would work together to “uncover who is behind this vile and treacherous terror attack.” On Monday night, Altintas, a Turkish police officer, fired several shots at Karlov shouting “Allahu akbar (God is greatest). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

A man detained by police after a large truck was rammed into a Berlin Christmas market may not have been the driver, German authorities said, leading to fears that the attacker could still be at large. Berlin Police President Klaus Kandt said that officials could not be certain that the detainee, who was picked up about a mile away from where 12 people were killed and 48 others injured on Monday evening, was responsible for the attack. German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said that the detainee was an asylum seeker who was “probably from Pakistan”. German authorities are investigating the incident as a terror attack.

A gunman walked into an Islamic center in central Zurich and shot three men, police in the Swiss city said Monday. The man, decked out in dark clothing, opened fire on a group of worshipers standing inside a prayer room at about 5:30 p.m., police said, citing eyewitnesses. The shots injured the men, some seriously. The gunman fled and police blocked off the area, not far from the central train station. Witnesses said the shooter, who is still being sought, appeared to be about 30 years of age.

Syria

Evacuations of thousands of civilians and rebels from Syria’s eastern Aleppo were set to resume Sunday after faltering, having left many to sleep on the streets in subzero temperatures and in bombed-out buildings for two nights. A new deal was struck Saturday after almost two days of negotiations to give safe passage to those remaining in the last pocket of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The deal is essentially a people swap between four cities that will see those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime evacuated from areas held or besieged by rebels. In exchange, civilians, rebels and others loyal to the opposition will be given safe passage from eastern Aleppo, now almost entirely government controlled. But the plan was temporarily put on hold Sunday after a number of buses were set on fire. Hours later, the first “limited evacuations” began.

Jordan

Four policemen and a Canadian woman were killed in an ongoing shootout in southern Jordan on Sunday, as unknown gunmen fired at security patrols and police stations. Gunmen fired at police in three different locations, the deadliest at an ancient castle in the city of Karak. The site is now cordoned off by security officers who are still engaged with the gunmen.

Yemen

A suicide attack in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday killed at least 41 soldiers and injured others. Emergency trucks flooded the area of the attack and streets were closed down by military forces. The injured soldiers were taken to four hospitals in the city. The suicide bomber attacked Al Solban military base as soldiers were lining up to receive their salaries. The officials told CNN the attacker was able to enter the base dressed as a soldier. On December 10, at least 48 soldiers were killed in an ISIS attack on the same camp, targeting soldiers queuing up to get their salaries, according to the official news agency Saba. Aden is the de-facto capital of the UN-recognized and Saudi-backed government of Yemen. The actual capital, Sanaa, has been under the control of Houthi rebels since last year.

Poland

A bitter political crisis in Poland worsened over the weekend with heated protests both in and outside the nation’s parliament and a swirl of allegations of attempted coups and threats to democracy. In Poland’s lower house of parliament, opposition lawmakers formed a phalanx around the podium, effectively halting proceedings in the chamber in protest over an alleged government attack on press freedoms. Outside, in freezing temperatures, angry anti-government demonstrators besieged the parliament, preventing politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party from leaving, before police dragged them off the roads. The spark for the unrest was a government plan to limit media access to the Polish Parliament. Since the country’s return to democracy 27 years ago, journalists have had almost unrestricted access to the corridors of power.

Environment

For months during 2016, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s emerald waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a fetid blanket of guacamole-green goop that killed off fish, suffocated oyster beds and triggered a ferocious outcry from coastal residents. From NBC’s “Today Show” to The Daily Telegraph of London, news outlets chronicled the closing of beaches, the declaration of a state of emergency and the desperate, heart-breaking efforts of people using garden hoses to save manatees, affectionately known as sea cows, caked in toxic slime and struggling to breathe. But the reports didn’t explain the most tragic part of the story – that this calamity is man-made. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. Despite talk of spending $10.5 billion over the next two decades to fix the problem, a cloud of political uncertainty leaves it unclear when, how – or even if – the harmful algae blooms will be stopped, reports Weather.com.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Colima Volcano erupted three times within the span of a few hours Sunday, spewing ash and vapor more than a mile into the air. The biggest of the eruptions sent columns of ash reaching 1.25 miles in height. Colima is Mexico’s most active volcano and has erupted several times over the past 10 days. Also known as the “Volcan de Fuego” or Volcano of Fire, the 12,533-foot volcano is 430 miles west of Mexico City. Mexico has more than 3,000 volcanoes, with 14 of them considered active.

Earthquakes

According to the Los Angeles Times, a swarm of small earthquakes rattled parts of central California during the early hours of Wednesday. The largest struck in Sonoma County and registered 5.0 on the Richter scale. A magnitude 3.9 quake struck the Mammoth Lakes area and was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

Weather

Blasts of cold air mixed with freezing rain created treacherous road conditions throughout the United States over the weekend, causing multiple-car pileups and fatalities. At least six people died in Virginia, Maryland and Oklahoma because of the dangerous road conditions, authorities said. Bismarck, North Dakota, posted a new record low for the date of Dec. 17 with 31 degrees below zero on Saturday. Colorado residents were digging out after up to 16 inches of snow fell across the state on Saturday. Temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees and lower across much of the northern Plains overnight Sunday, as a fresh surge of bitter arctic air reached into the Midwest.

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