Archive for January, 2017

Signs of the Times (1/31/17)

January 31, 2017

Trump Fires Acting AG Who Declined to Defend Travel Ban

President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” the White House said. Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in at 9 p.m. ET, per an administration official. A few hours later, Boente issued a statement rescinding Yates’ order, instructing DOJ lawyers to “defend the lawful orders of our President.” The dramatic move came after Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees. Yates was appointed by President Barack Obama and was set to serve until Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, if confirmed. Currently, there are cases filed in at least five states including Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Washington and California that are challenging Trump’s order. Amazon and Expedia have joined a legal challenge to President Trump’s travel ban arguing that it will hurt their employees and their business.

Christian Groups Express Concern over Trump’s Refugee Ban

As the Trump administration seeks to move on to new issues, protests against his controversial refugee ban continue — including from a community that supported him significantly during the election. White evangelical voters backed President Donald Trump by 80% in the presidential election, according to exit polling, but some members of the community involved in resettling refugees are speaking out against his executive order clamping down on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, said he understood concerns about the vetting process but alienating refugees does not solve perceived problems. And Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, a Christian nonprofit that helps resettle refugees, said those fleeing are often the people harmed most by terrorists. Leaders at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, argue that a ban isn’t necessary in promoting national security. However, the American Center for Law & Justice says that ISIS is publicly calling for jihadists to use refugee programs as camouflage to infiltrate and terrorize America.

Trump’s Immigration Ban Sends Shockwaves Worldwide

President Donald Trump’s seismic move to ban more than 218 million people from the United States and to deny entry to all refugees reverberated worldwide Saturday, as chaos and confusion rippled through US airports, American law enforcement agencies and foreign countries trying to grasp Washington’s new policy. Trump’s executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days. A federal judge in New York on Saturday night blocked the deportation of people stranded in US airports under the executive action. Two Iraqis who were named as the petitioners in the motion had been released by Saturday night, but lawyers said in a court filing that “dozens and dozens” of people remained in detention at JFK. Protesters converged on at least eight major U.S. airports, demonstrating against the policy, which critics see as a Muslim ban. The White House reversed a part of the order Monday, allowing people from banned nations who hold green cards to return to the United States.

President Donald Trump enters the second week of his presidency facing a growing political backlash — with protesters in the streets, lawsuits mounting and his own party fracturing over his executive order banning travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations. Meanwhile, stories of students, public figures and even a military translator who are suddenly unclear on whether they can enter the United States are setting social media ablaze. It all comes as the nascent Trump administration enters a critical period, with Trump still seeking Senate confirmation for most of his Cabinet nominees. Trump released a statement defending his ban Sunday evening, while also lashing out at two Republican senators who had opposed it and the news media over its coverage of the ban. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” On Monday, the order was modified to allow travelers from the seven banned countries who had green cards to enter the U.S.

Trump Reviving Plan to Empower Police to Enforce Immigration Law

To build his highly-touted deportation force, President Donald Trump is reviving a long-standing program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law. The program received scant attention during a week in which Trump announced plans to build a border wall, hire thousands more federal agents and impose restrictions on refugees from Middle Eastern countries. But the program could end up having a significant impact on immigration enforcement around the country, despite falling out of favor in recent years amid complaints that it promotes racial profiling. More than 60 police and sheriff’s agencies had the special authority as of 2009, applying for it as the nation’s immigration debate was heating up. Since then, the number has been halved and the effort scaled back as federal agents ramped up other enforcement programs and amid complaints officers weren’t focusing on the goal of catching violent offenders and instead arrested immigrants for minor violations, like driving with broken tail lights. Sheriff Joe Arpaio used the program most aggressively in metro Phoenix, and he became arguably the nation’s best-known immigration enforcer at the local level in large part because of the special authority.

Trump Leaves Intact LGBTQ Work Protections

The White House says President Trump will leave intact a 2014 executive order that protects federal workers from anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In a statement released early Tuesday, the White House says Trump “is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community” and that he “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election.” The directive protects people from LGBTQ discrimination while working for federal contractors. The statement says the protections will remain intact “at the direction” of Trump.

Six Dead in Quebec Mosque Shooting

Six people are dead after a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, according to Quebec Provincial Police. Eight people were injured. Thirty-nine people who were at the mosque during shooting were unharmed. The attack, which took place at the city’s Quebec Islamic Cultural Center, is being investigated as an act of terrorism by police. Authorities charged a 27-year-old Canadian man with murder and attempted murder with a firearm Monday following the deadly attack. Alexandre Bissonnette was charged with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder, according to officials. The Sûreté du Québec, the Quebec provincial police, said two men were arrested Sunday night, though authorities said Monday that only one of the men is now a suspect in the mass shooting. Police provided no motive as they began their investigation of the attack in one of Canada’s safest cities.

VP Pence is First VP to Speak at March for Life

In his first major address as vice president, Mike Pence championed a cause that he tirelessly spoke about on the campaign trail: his anti-abortion stance. “Life is winning,” Pence declared Friday at the March for Life rally in Washington. His address to the anti-abortion rally marked the highest ranking US official to speak to the group in person. “More than 240 years ago, our founders wrote words that have echoed through the ages. They declared these truths to be self-evident, that we are all endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said to a sizable crowd who braved the cold for the speeches. Pence referenced the Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade, saying the court had “abandoned” ideals in the first amendment but now things were turning around with the new administration. “That is evident in the election of pro-life majorities in the congress of the United States of America.”

Women’s March Leader a Kidnapper, Torturer & Murderer

A leading black feminist and featured speaker at the Women’s March on Washington – who speaks on women’s issues and prison reform – is a convicted murderer and kidnapper who was part of a seven-person gang that abducted, tortured and killed a 62-year-old white man, reports WorldNetDaily. Donna Hylton was convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree kidnapping on March 12, 1986. She had been an accessory in the gruesome murder of Long Island real-estate broker Thomas Vigliarole, whose body was found locked inside a trunk in a Manhattan apartment in 1985. He was starved, beaten, raped, burned and tortured. Hylton served 27 years at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for the crime. After the Women’s March, Hylton was interviewed by the Chinese Government Television Network. In that interview, she claimed “black and brown women” are being “criminalized for our color.

Mayors to Fight Trump over Sanctuary Cities

Democratic mayors of the nation’s largest cities are quickly banding together to fight President Donald Trump’s crack down on so-called sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that have policies in place designed to limit cooperation with or involvement in federal immigration enforcement actions. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that White House press secretary Sean Spicer said will “strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants.” But mayors in cities including Los Angeles, Boston and New York, as well as legal scholars, are confident their status as sanctuary cities is secure, pointing to Supreme Court cases that have made it difficult for Washington to punitively withdraw money from state and local governments.

Trump Administration Starts Obamacare Rollback

The Trump Administration said on Thursday night that it is pulling back advertising promoting HealthCare.gov as open enrollment draws to a close for this year. The Health and Human Services Department said in a statement that the government has pulled back about $5 million in ads as part of an effort to cut costs. The statement said HHS had already spent more than $6 0million to promote sign-ups this year under former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. Former Obama officials immediately accused the new administration of ‘sabotage’.

Trump Issues More Executive Orders

President Donald Trump signed three executive actions Saturday, imposing a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials, reorganizing the National Security Council’s structure and calling for a plan to be delivered to him within 30 days on how to defeat ISIS. Like Trump, Obama campaigned on a vision of Washington reform, promising to target the revolving door of political service and lobbying jobs. Once in office, he ordered a two-year ban on administration officials from lobbying. Trump said on Saturday Obama’s ban was insufficient. Trump’s move to ban his aides from cashing in on their current jobs may be easier said than done. Lobbying can be ambiguously titled in practice, and while former staffers may not become registered lobbyists, they could potentially trade influence and government experience for a hefty paycheck all the same. The action on ISIS outlined specific requirements of the plan Trump wants, including a “comprehensive strategy,” recommended changes to the rules of engagements and use of force as well as the “identification of new coalition partners.”

Senate Panel Backs Perry, Zinke Nominations Amid Sessions Fight

A Senate panel on Tuesday approved President Trump’s nominees to lead the Energy and Interior departments, even as senators clashed elsewhere on Capitol Hill over the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general. In early-morning action, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nominations of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for Interior secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy secretary. The votes come on a very busy day for Senate lawmakers as they vote on a half-dozen Trump’s picks in committee. But the biggest showdown is occurring before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote, eventually, on the nomination of Sen. Sessions to become the next United States attorney general. His nomination was complicated by the fallout from Trump’s controversial executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Economic News

Volkswagen’s huge emissions scandal is still unfolding, but it hasn’t stopped the German company from dethroning Toyota as the world’s biggest selling automaker. Toyota announced Monday that its global sales last year inched up 0.2% to 10.2 million vehicles. That leaves it behind the 10.3 million that VW delivered over the same period. The Japanese giant had held on to the top spot for four years in a row after recapturing it from General Motors in 2012.

Amid the hue and cry over President Trump’s travel ban, news of another potential change to American immigration rules has set off a panic attack in India’s tech industry. Major Indian tech shares took a nosedive on Tuesday on reports that Trump is planning to make changes to the H-1B visa program that allows skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. Shares in Tata Consultancy Services, India’s biggest private sector employer, plunged more than 5% on Mumbai’s stock exchange, while other top firms like Infosys and Wipro fell by more than 4%. India’s vast outsourcing industry employs millions of people. Its business in the U.S. is highly dependent on the H-1B visa.

NATO

NATO members flexed their military muscle in Russia’s backyard Monday, as allied warships headed toward the Black Sea while American tank fire echoed across Polish plains.  The naval force “Standing Maritime Group 2,” which consists of eight vessels from eight NATO member states, is going to the Black Sea to participate in an exercise off the coast of Romania known as “Sea Shield.” The Black Sea, like the Baltics, is becoming an increasingly contested space between Russia and NATO as Moscow has militarized Crimea, according to the alliance. “This is a demonstration of the alliance’s resolve to defend all allies against any threat, and to enhance maritime security in the region,” said a NATO official.

Mexico

President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke on the phone Friday after a blowup the day before between the two leaders over the proposed border wall. Both Trump’s and Peña Nieto’s offices released statements after the call, saying the two leaders spoke about the importance of their relationship and issues — such as stemming the sale of illegal drugs and arms — that they could work on together. But the respective statements differed on one key point: a promise, per the Mexican side, to not speak publicly about who would pay for the wall. Nieto promised not to speak publicly about the wall, but Trump’s statement did not include that promise.

Israel

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave an interview with Israel Radio on Friday in which he said, among other things, that it is “completely clear that the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.” Palestinian officials reacted with outrage to the comment, which is supported by extensive historical writings as well as archeological evidence unearthed over the last 150 years. Fayez Abu Eitah, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that “[The statements] are a direct attack on the Palestinian people’s right in the holy city, biased in favor of the site of occupation, and akin to granting legitimacy to Israel’s illegal presence in Jerusalem.”

Islamic State

A notorious ISIS executioner who beheaded hundreds of innocent citizens has been stabbed to death by a hit squad in northwest Iraq. Abu Sayyaf was one of the terror group’s main executioners and appeared in many of the group’s propaganda videos showing brutal decapitations. He is the second ISIS executioner to be killed in region in the last few days. A group of unknown assailants ambushed Sayyaf in his car killing him instantly. Another ISIS killer accompanying the executioner also died in the attack, according to local sources.

Iran

Iran has conducted its first missile test since US President Donald Trump took office, giving the nascent administration an early opportunity to show the world how they plan to deal with a key US adversary. Intelligence reports confirmed Monday that Iran had conducted a test of a nuclear-capable missile in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. The reports also indicated that the the re-entry vehicle on the Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile failed to function properly, resulting in the missile’s destruction after flying approximately 600 kilometers. The United States Mission to the United Nations says it’s requesting that the UN Security Council hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the test, which it said involved the launch of a ballistic missile. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his Monday briefing confirmed the test occurred, but didn’t give any details on how the White House plans to deal with the Iranian show of force.

Yemen

A U.S. service-member died of wounds suffered during a raid in Yemen against al Qaeda — the first American combat death under President Donald Trump, US Central Command said Sunday. The U.S. operation resulted in an estimated total of 14 members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula being killed and the capture of information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots. A U.S. defense official said the operation was authorized by Trump. The military said there were no civilian casualties as a result of the raid.

South Korea

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has reaffirmed the U.S.’ commitment to defend South Korea “against the evolving North Korean threat”. Mattis spoke with the South Korean Defense Minister Han Minkoo Tuesday ahead of his inaugural trip as secretary of defense to visit Japan and South Korea, the U.S.’ closest Asian allies. Han and Mattis expressed their commitment to proceed with the THAAD missile defense system deployment and the need for closer co-operation on policies on North Korea.

Chile

A chain of wildfires has unleashed a catastrophe over wide swaths of central and southern Chile, killing at least 11 people, destroying thousands of homes and consuming an area about three times the size of New York City, authorities said. “We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” President Michelle Bachelet said. Many of those killed are firefighters battling more than 100 separate fires, about half of which are still uncontrolled, according to government reports.

Weather

Heavy lake-effect snow impacted portions of the Great Lakes snowbelts from Thursday into early Monday, particularly east of lakes Erie and Ontario. Snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour were reported in a band of snow east of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Some locations in upstate New York picked up more than two feet of snow during this event. Lacona, New York, saw the most snow with 40 inches reported east of Lake Ontario. The Tug Hill town of Redfield, New York, reported 38 inches of snow, including 28 inches on Sunday alone. This put Redfield over the 200-inch mark for the season. Early Monday morning, a band of heavy lake-effect snow impacted the Cleveland metro area. Up to a foot of snow was reported on the west side of Cleveland in Lakewood. Parts of the Mid-Atlantic states received about an inch of snow Sunday night into Monday morning. Dozens of schools were closed or delayed in the Washington, D.C. area Monday and in Baltimore, the snow prompted school delays.

Signs of the Times (1/27/17)

January 27, 2017

Massive Attendance Expected at March for Life

After a week of debate over crowd sizes at various events in the nation’s capital, organizers anticipate a huge crowd at the March for Life Friday. The 43rd annual pro-life gathering will get a boost from notable speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, key adviser to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and unlike last year’s event, weather will not deter participants. “Each of our speakers exemplifies this year’s theme, ‘the power of one’, in a beautiful way,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. “Their words are sure to motivate the marchers, as well as the millions of pro-life Americans who will be watching, who dedicate themselves to restoring a culture of life in the United States.”

Trump Calls Out Media for Failing to Report on March for Life

During a Wednesday night interview with ABC, President Trump called out the media for covering a pro-abortion march but ignoring the March for Life. ABC’s David Muir asked Trump if he “could hear the voices from the women’s march here in Washington?” “I couldn’t hear them, but the crowds were large,” Trump responded. “You’re gonna have a large crowd on Friday, too, which is mostly pro-life people. You’re gonna have a lot of people coming on Friday… Pro-life people. And they say the press doesn’t cover them.” Friday’s March for Life is the 44th annual gathering demanding human rights for the pre-born. It is the largest annual American civil rights demonstration. A recent study by Katie Yoder of NewsBusters revealed that the networks covered the 2017 pro-abortion women’s march 129 times more than the 2016 March for Life.

Study: Hillary Received 800,000 Votes from Noncitizens

The Washington Times reports that Hillary Clinton garnered more than 800,000 votes from noncitizens on Nov. 8, an approximation far short of President Trump’s estimate of up to 5 million illegal voters but supportive of his charges of fraud. Based on national polling by a consortium of universities, the study says that 6.4 percent of the estimated 20 million adult noncitizens in the U.S. voted in November. Political scientist Jesse Richman of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, worked with university colleagues to produce the groundbreaking research on noncitizen voting, and this week posted the results in his blog.

Trump Changed the Presidency in Just 7 Days

Forget the first 100 days. It’s only been a week and Donald Trump is reinventing the presidency, notes CNN. “Amid a torrent of action, disruption and protest, the new President’s moves on trade, immigration and foreign policy have honored his campaign promises — and dramatically reshaped Washington’s role in national and global affairs.” It is now clear that Trump won’t have an epiphany and suddenly embrace political conventions. His staff is learning how to work together as they jockey for power. And amid it all, Trump still manages to surprise: Lawmakers and business leaders say the larger than life president listens more than he talks, CNN reports.

Democrats Plan a Scorched-Earth Approach to Fighting Trump

For the past two months, Democratic leaders have been reportedly discussing ways to approach the presidency of Donald Trump and have largely landed on a conclusion: fight him at every turn in a ‘not-now-not-ever’ opposition, reports Fox News. It apparently did not take very long for these politicans to determine that a working relationship with Trump was not possible. Of course, there are drawbacks about being the opposition party and some interviewed have concerns that 10 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018 who work in states that Trump won.

Trump Initiates Border Wall War

President Trump signed an executive action that calls for work to begin immediately on the wall he pledged to build as a candidate. Trump hasn’t even been president for a week and already the U.S.-Mexico battle over a border wall is turning red hot. Not giving an inch, Trump bluntly said Thursday that it would be better to cancel his scheduled meeting later this month with the Mexican president if he continues to refuse to pay for a wall on the border. Trump’s pushback came after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said reiterated on Wednesday that his country “will not pay for any wall,” The country’s largest source of cash comes from Mexicans living in the United States. That is now under the microscope after Trump issued an executive order Wednesday to start building a wall on the border. Trump threatened to halt or tax cash transfers — known as remittances — from the U.S. to Mexico if the country refused to pay for the wall. Nieto on Thursday canceled his planned visit. Trump also fired Mark Morgan, the Border Patrol chief who backed former President Barack Obama’s plans to safeguard some illegal immigrants from deportation, NewxMax reports.

At least 1,300 miles long, 40 feet high, and containing 19 million tons of concrete. Donald Trump’s much heralded wall along the Mexican border would be a massive undertaking. Trump has cited a $10 billion cost estimate that was given to him during the campaign by the National Precast Concrete Association. That comes to about $7.4 million per mile. By comparison it only costs about $3 million to build a mile of a typical two-lane road. But other estimates suggest there are enough uncertainties to drive the cost up to $15 billion, and possibly as much as $25 billion. None of these estimates includes the cost of acquiring the land where the wall will be built, which could also be considerable.

Trump to Order Military to Hit ISIS Harder

The White House is drafting a presidential directive that calls on Defense Secretary James N. Mattis to devise plans to more aggressively strike the Islamic State, which could include American artillery on the ground in Syria and Army attack helicopters to support an assault on the group’s capital, Raqqa, officials said. President Trump, who is to make his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief on Friday, will demand that the new options be presented to him within 30 days, the officials said. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly said that he had a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State, but he also said that he would give his commanders a month to come up with new options. President Donald Trump also said waterboarding “works” and torture is sometimes appropriate for Islamic State soldiers who persecute and kill Christians, his words have drawn criticism from many quarters, Christians included.

Trump Freezes Obama’s Last-Minute Cash Gift to Palestinians

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, in his waning hours, quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority, which Congress had been blocking. The Trump administration announced it is freezing the move. The State Department is reviewing the last-minute decision. Former Secretary of State John Kerry formally notified Congress that State would release the money Friday morning, just hours before President Donald Trump took the oath of office. When asked about the transfer by a reporter during Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “[Trump is] going to make sure that every deal, every dollar that is spent by the government is done in a way that respects the American taxpayer.”

Trump Preparing to Reduce U.S. Role in UN

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders to drastically reduce the U.S. role in the United Nations and other international organizations, The New York Times reported Wednesday. According to the Times, the draft order establishes criteria that would trigger the U.S.-defunding of UN organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity circumventing sanctions against Iran or North Korea. The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization “controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or conducts persecutions or violates human rights.

House Votes to Ban Taxpayer Funding of Abortion

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of permanently banning taxpayer funding of abortion by a vote of 238 to 183. The No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act (HR 7), introduced makes permanent the so-called Hyde Amendment. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted in 1976. The bill would also ensure that taxpayers do not have to fund abortion via their healthcare. According to a 2017 Marist poll, the majority of Americans (61 percent) do not support tax dollars going to fund abortion.

Planned Parenthood Touts but Refuses Prenatal Care

Offering prenatal care is a benefit that Planned Parenthood has long promoted as one of the many services they offer women beyond pregnancy termination. Yet an undercover video investigation released this week from the pro-life activist group Live Action appears to show employees at multiple Planned Parenthood clinics actually turning away clients who ask for prenatal care. According to the Live Action video, only five of the 97 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted in the nationwide investigation were able to offer any level of prenatal care. One worker was caught on tape admitting, “Planned Parenthood offers abortions, so they don’t offer prenatal care.” Another admits that its name is “deceptive.”

State Department’s Entire Senior Administrative Team Resigned

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era. Tillerson was actually inside the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, looking to replace the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed Kennedy out the door. All were career foreign service officers who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

ACLU Preparing for Massive Campaign Against Religious Liberty

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has launched what may be the largest, most aggressive anti-faith, anti-family legal assault in our nation’s history, reports the Liberty Counsel. The ACLU announced a “7-Point Plan Of Action” organized around a radical anti-life, anti-marriage and anti-family agenda. And the ACLU has amassed a massive financial war chests for this plan, with $47 MILLION already raised since the election. The ACLU’s executive director said, “We need to go on offense from the very beginning, and we will litigate everything that we possibly can.” And the ACLU is backing up the words with action, having already filed its first lawsuit against the Trump administration and announcing plans to add 100 staff members in anticipation of the flood of ACLU lawsuits to come.

California Stops Effort to Provide ObamaCare to Illegal Aliens

Lawmakers in California have halted a first-in-the-nation effort to expand access to its health care exchange to undocumented immigrants living in the state. At the behest of the state legislature, Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange, withdrew its request to sell unsubsidized health plans to people who are here illegally. Under the Affordable Care Act, people who cannot prove they are in the country legally are barred from purchasing coverage on the exchange. Immigrants in this situation had pinned their hopes on the state’s request for an exemption from that rule, submitted last fall to the federal government. Had it been approved, undocumented Californians would have been allowed to buy Covered California plans.

Cancer Down 20% Nationwide

Cancer deaths in the United States dropped over 20% between 1980 and 2014, but a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that some places are being left behind. Researchers examined death records from the National Center for Health, and pinpointed cancer clusters where deaths have not come down. In fact, some places have gotten worse. The ten counties with the cancer highest mortality rates were in Kentucky (6), South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas (1 each). The ten counties with the lowest cancer rates were in Colorado (6), Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Alaska (1 each). Of the 19.5 million cancer deaths on record during the 24-year period, nearly half came from three cancers: Cancer of the lungs and airways took the lion’s share, followed by colorectal and breast cancers. Liver cancer increased by almost 88% nationwide over the 24 years, from 3.6 to 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The authors pointed out clusters along Texas’ border with Mexico and in several counties in states with large Native American populations: New Mexico, Alaska and South Dakota.

Scientists Create Part-Human, Part-Pig Embryo

For the first time, scientists have grown an embryo that is part-pig, part-human, raising the possibility of interspecies organ transplants. The experiment, described Thursday in the journal Cell, involves injecting human stem cells into the embryo of a pig, then implanting the embryo in the uterus of a sow and allowing it to grow. After four weeks, the stem cells had developed into the precursors of various tissue types, including heart, liver and neurons, and a small fraction of the developing pig was made up of human cells. The human-pig hybrid — dubbed a “chimera” for the mythical creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail — was “highly inefficient,” the researchers cautioned. But it’s the most successful human-animal chimera and a significant step toward the development of animal embryos with functioning human organs.

Lab-Made DNA Used to Breed New Life Forms

Lab-made DNA has been used to breed a new life form for the first time by expanding the genetic code with the help of common E. coli microbes. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California modified common E. coli microbes to carry expanded genetic material which they believe will eventually allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave. Researchers said they believe their work will lead to new kind of protein that can be harvested and turned into drugs to treat a range of diseases along with new kinds of materials, reported The Guardian. Their work was published Monday online on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

  • These experiments are scary because in a fallen world beset with evildoers, the likelihood of corrupt applications and unintended consequences as humanity plays god is quite high

Economic News

After weeks of close calls, the Dow Jones Industrial average made history on Wednesday by blowing past 20,000 the first time ever. The Dow climbed 156 points to 20,069 and was joined in record territory by the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. The historic milestone leaves the Dow up more than 1,700 points since President Donald Trump’s victory in November. The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and has served as a broad measure of the market’s health since 1896. During the current bull market, the second longest in history, the Dow has more than tripled since March 2009.

The U.S. national debt is right on the verge of hitting 20 trillion dollars. There has been a very close correlation between the national debt and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a long time. Since 1981, the Dow is up by a factor of 20, while national debit is up by 22. Our prosperity has been fueled by the greatest debt binge in the history of the world.

However, America had another year of sluggish growth. The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.6% in 2016, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It’s the slowest pace of growth since 2011. Weak economic growth was a key reason behind President Trump’s election. He promises to get growth up to 4% a year, something that hasn’t happened since the late 1990s. The Federal Reserve forecasts U.S. growth to hover around 2% for the next few years, though its leaders admit that could change with time. A major problem plaguing the economy is productivity. It’s growing at a slower pace than it used to, and that holds down wages and overall growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000 for the week ended Jan. 21, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 99 consecutive weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 2,000 to 245,500 last week, the lowest since November 1973.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have liberated the eastern half of Mosul from ISIS’ grip, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reported Tuesday on state television. Mosul is divided by the Tigris River, with both sides making up about half of Iraq’s second-largest city. The U.S. praised Iraqi efforts to keep civilians safe as it fended off mortar, sniper and drone attacks, while ISIS used human — including child shields — and stored weapons in hospitals, mosques and schools. The battle to wrest control of the west side could drag on into March. Losing its last major Iraqi stronghold would be a huge blow to ISIS, which has already lost Ramadi, Falluja, Hit, Qayyara and Sharqat.

Syria

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed Tuesday to the outlines of a plan to reinforce a cease-fire in Syria, establishing the three most significant allies of the protagonists in the conflict as guarantors to a peace process. The deal concluded two days of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, that drew Iran into a burgeoning alliance with Russia and Turkey over ways to secure a settlement. It set broad but vague parameters for a cease-fire enforcement mechanism and committed the three countries to jointly fight the Islamic State and Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate. It will also provide a test of Russia’s new role as the lead power broker in efforts to secure a sustainable, long-term solution to the war. The United States, which is not a party to the emerging peace process, said it welcomed any “actions that sustainably de-escalate violence and reduce suffering in Syria,” according to a statement issued by the State Department in Washington.

A powerful jihadist group has crushed a Free Syrian Army rebel faction in northwestern Syria, in an attack that threatens to deal a critical blow to the more moderate wing of the Syrian rebellion and derail new Russian-backed peace talks. The Jabhat Fateh al-Sham jihadist group, formerly known as the Nusra Front, launched an attack on a number of FSA groups in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, accusing them of conspiring against it at peace talks in Kazakhstan this week. The fighting has engulfed the rebels’ last major territorial stronghold in northwestern Syria, prompting a major Islamist insurgent faction to warn on Wednesday that the attacks could allow President Bashar al-Assad and his allies to capture the area.

Wildfires

Dry conditions and strong winds spurred multiple fires in central Oklahoma Tuesday. The biggest of the fires, a grass fire in Logan County, destroyed two homes and damaged several other buildings. A separate fire in Oklahoma City destroyed a third house. Wildfires were also reported near Tuttle in Grady County and Shawnee in Pottawatomie County. A combination of winds gusting occasionally above 30 mph and low humidity helped these fires grow. Temperatures were also 25 degrees above average.

Weather

Winter Storm Leo pushed into the Plains and Midwest midweek after several days of rain and snow in the West, and its combined impacts were blamed for at least five deaths. The potent winter storm dumped as much as three feet of snow in northern Arizona before moving east; in parts of the Plains, travel was shut down as up to 22 inches of heavy snow fell. Some cities declared snow emergencies and closed schools as a response to the winter storm.

Significant lake-effect snow will likely continue right through the weekend over all the Great Lakes snowbelts, with the heaviest bands expected to set up in the Chautauqua Ridge east of Lake Erie and the Tug Hill Plateau east of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Wind gusts over 30 mph are expected, and blowing and drifting snow may lead to whiteouts, especially in the most intense snow bands. This will be a multi-day event that won’t end until Sunday evening, so snowfall will continue to pile up, with impressive totals expected in localized spots.

Signs of the Times (1/24/17)

January 24, 2017

President Trump Signs Executive Order to Defund International Planned Parenthood

President Donald Trump today signed an executive order Monday to defund International Planned Parenthood. Most pro-life Americans are anxiously awaiting Congress to pass a bill to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business. While that defunding legislation concerns the domestic-based Planned Parenthood abortion corporation, President Trump has the ability to put in place an executive order that would revoke funding for its International affiliate. When pro-abortion former President Barack Obama took office, Obama overturned a policy that prevented funding of groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. Over $400 million in federal funds flowed to foreign abortion businesses including International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.

Trump Freezes Hiring of Federal Workers

President Trump instituted a government-wide hiring freeze Monday, signing an executive order that he said would affect all employees ““except for the military.” Trump had pledged to halt government hiring as part of his campaign’s “Contract with the American Voter,” which he framed as part of a larger effort to “clean up corruption and special interest in Washington D.C.” That campaign plan, however, also included exemptions for public safety and public health. During the final weeks of the Obama administration, top officials at several government agencies went on a hiring spree in an effort to staff up before the expected hiring freeze hit.

Trump Abandons TPP and Seeks to Renegotiate NAFTA

After meeting with business executives at the White House to discuss the U.S. manufacturing industry, the president signed an executive order formally ending U.S. participation in the TransPacific Partnership. President Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday, pulling away from Asia and scrapping his predecessor’s most significant trade deal. Trump sharply criticized the partnership agreement during last year’s campaign, calling it a bad deal for American workers. Although the deal had not been approved by Congress, the decision to withdraw the American signature at the start of Mr. Trump’s administration is a signal that he plans to follow through on promises to take a more aggressive stance against foreign competitors. The president’s withdrawal from the Asian-Pacific trade pact amounted to a drastic reversal of decades of economic policy in which presidents of both parties have lowered trade barriers and expanded ties around the world.

President Trump also gave notice that he hopes to get a better deal for American workers by renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The President put a bug in the ear of business executives, warning in a meeting they would face huge tariffs if they send manufacturing abroad. And he huddled with union leaders, promising a torrent of new jobs and factories. Tuesday, the President will meet with the heads of the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Trump’s vow to kill or renegotiate multilateral trade deals was an important factor in his narrow November election victories in industrialized states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which upended the political map based on the votes of many workers — including Democrats — who feel left behind by economic globalization.

Trump Signs Orders Reviving Pipeline Projects

President Trump signed executive orders on Tuesday effectively reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, which had been stalled by the Obama administration under pressure from environmental and other groups. The president said both projects would be subject to a renegotiation of the terms.  The president signed a total of five orders related to pipeline construction, including others expediting the permitting process for related projects and directing the Commerce Department to maximize the use of U.S. steel. While the Canada-to-Texas Keystone project was at the center of a heated debate for years until the Obama administration rejected a key permit in November 2015, the Dakota pipeline more recently became the subject of fierce protests until the Army Corps of Engineers in December blocked construction of a controversial segment. The moves are likely to spark a new fight with environmentalists.

Women March Around the World

Marches for women’s rights in the United States and around the world protested against Donald Trump on his first full day in office. More than a million Americans took to the streets of the United States, not including the many thousands of people who took part in the main event — The Women’s March on Washington — for which there was no official crowd estimate. It was not immediately clear what political impact the marches would have on the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress. One central hurdle for protesters was their effort to draw attention to so many different political priorities. Even the signs they carried reflected the diversity of their agendas. Meanwhile, the Democratic mantra so prevalent in the final weeks of the campaign — “when they go low, we go high” — was largely absent. Actress Ashley Judd, for instance, read a poem that said Trump bathes in “Cheeto dust.” Madonna delivered remarks laden with expletives. The march has evolved organically from a post-election call to action on Facebook to an organized effort that included a roster of high-wattage activists and attendees including feminist Gloria Steinem, singer Katy Perry, actors America Ferrera, and Scarlett Johansson.

Thousands of marchers gathered in more than 600 cities across the globe in protest, including Antarctica where 30 people gathered aboard a ship in the international waters of Antarctica. The organizers said the participants include eco-minded tourists and non-government scientists, who are raising signs that read slogans including “penguins for peace” and “seals for science.” On Saturday, thousands demonstrated in London, marching from the US embassy on Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square, to send a message to the incoming administration that “women’s rights are human rights,” according to organizers. Speakers said that at least 100,000 people had turned out, but London’s Metropolitan Police did not provide official crowd estimates.

Trump’s Day Two: Mends Fences with the CIA, Attacks the Media

President Donald Trump moved fast to mend his relationship with the CIA on just his second day in office, then ignited a feud with the media over the size of his inauguration crowd. Trump offered new evidence that he will be as disdainful of convention and protocol as President as he was in the campaign trail. His broadside against the media, which he believes is unfairly representing the size of the crowd on Friday, and the sight of huge anti-Trump crowds in US cities and around the world also made another thing clear: the political acrimony that rattled the nation for the past 18 months is not going away. The visit to the CIA was an important moment for Trump, who raised doubts about his relationship with US intelligence agencies by initially casting doubt on their assessment that Russia intervened in the election by hacking Democratic email accounts. “This is my first stop officially, there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump, there is nobody,” he said.  His comments were warmly received by CIA employees who came in on a Saturday to see their new president.

Ethics Group Sues Trump Over Foreign Business Interests

An ethics group sued President Trump on Monday, charging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments through his business empire. The lawsuit by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal office holders from accepting any “present, emolument, office or title” from a foreign state. The suit argues that the clause prohibits Trump’s business empire from accepting anything of value from a foreign government, including payments at his Washington hotel, without congressional consent. At a press conference earlier this month, Trump promised to turn hotel profits from foreign governments over to the United States Treasury. But the suit says that step in no way solves the constitutional violation. Even if there were an exception, the plan would be insufficient because it has no enforcement mechanism and because it proposes to turn over only profits, not all money from foreign governments, the suit says.

Trump has Resigned from More Than 400 Businesses

President Trump says he has resigned from positions in hundreds of business entities, according to a document provided to CNN by the Trump Organization. The text of the 19-page letter reads: “I, Donald J. Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold” in more than 400 entities listed on the following pages. The letter is signed by Trump and dated January 19, the day before he was sworn in. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are “fully in charge of the company.” A lawyer for Trump, Sheri Dillon, said on January 11 that the chief compliance officer would ensure that the Trump businesses do not take “any actions that could be perceived as exploiting the office of the presidency. She said the ethics adviser would analyze Trump Organization deals for potential conflicts of interest.

Obama Quietly Sent $221M to Palestinians in Obama’s Last Hours

Officials said Monday that the Obama administration– in its waning hours– defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority that GOP members of Congress had been blocking. A State Department official and several congressional aides told The Associated Press that the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning. In addition to the $221 million for the Palestinians, the Obama administration also told Congress on Friday it was going ahead with the release of another $6 million in foreign affairs spending, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for U.N. organizations, the congressional aides said. Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but Congress put a hold on 2017 funding. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding.

Migrant Update

The U.S. has already been taking somewhere in between 70,000 and 110,000 legal refugees per year from various countries, which include up to 10,000 Somalian refugees and 12,000 Syrian refugees per year, WorldNetDaily reports. According to Reuters, Africans, as well as immigrants from Central America, have also been looking to make their way to the U.S. via Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Because Mexico has few diplomatic ties with African nations, it’s difficult for authorities to deport illegal immigrants from Africa back to their homelands. As a result, the Mexican government, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, chose to deal with the situation by giving them temporary transit permits, which gives them 20 days to leave Mexico, according to Reuters. In practice, this allows the immigrants almost three weeks to make their way north to the U.S. border without being detained by Mexican immigration authorities.

Economic News

Foreigners are dumping U.S. debt at a faster rate than we have ever seen before, and U.S. Treasury yields have been rising. This is potentially a massive problem, because our entire debt-fueled standard of living is dependent on foreigners lending us gigantic mountains of money at ultra-low interest rates. If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt just got back to 5%, which would still be below the long-term average, we would be paying out about a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt. If foreigners keep dumping our debt and if Treasury yields keep climbing, a major financial implosion is a distinct possibility

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday that the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank has been approved. The vast majority of the new units will be built in established settlement blocs such as Ariel and Gush Etzion. “We are returning to normative life in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman declared. His office added that plans are also proceeding for the construction of an industrial zone near the Palestinian village of Tarqumyia, to provide jobs for residents there. The announcement signals a new approach by Israel in response to the election of President Trump. The administration of former president Barack Obama opposed the expansion of settlements.

Islamic State

U.S.-led coalition warplanes successfully targeted a flotilla of 90 Islamic State boats being used by the militants to cross the Tigris River in a desperate effort to escape fighting in eastern Mosul, the U.S. military announced Saturday. The airstrikes occurred as coalition-backed security forces seized the eastern portion of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and began preparations for clearing the western side of the city. The city is divided by the Tigris River. The strikes targeted 90 boats and three barges between Wednesday and Friday, the coalition said in a statement. Most were being used by the Islamic State to escape from the eastern part of the city, which has been secured by Iraqi forces in recent days. Since the Mosul operation began in October, the coalition has hit 112 watercraft on the Tigris River in Mosul.

Syria

Syria peace talks in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, got off to an explosive start Monday as rebel groups announced they would not talk face to face with the regime and the chief Syrian delegate slammed the armed opposition as “terrorists.” The talks were aimed at consolidating a shaky ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey, and could potentially open the path to discussing a political solution to end the brutal civil war, which has raged for almost six years. But rebel groups refused to talk directly with the regime, as both sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire in the Wadi Barada area outside the capital Damascus and of controlling the water supply to the capital as a weapon of war.

Yemen

Yemeni security and tribal officials say suspected U.S. drone strikes have killed three alleged al-Qaida operatives in the country’s southwestern Bayda province. They say the two Saturday strikes killed Abu Anis al-Abi, an area field commander, and two others. Saturday’s strikes were the first to be reported since Donald Trump assumed office as Barack Obama’s successor. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said as many as 117 civilians had been killed in drone and other counterterror attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere during Obama’s presidency.

Mexico

Protesters took control of vehicle lanes at one of the busiest crossings on the U.S. border Sunday to oppose Mexican gasoline price hikes, waving through motorists into Mexico after Mexican authorities abandoned their posts. Motorists headed to Mexico zipped by about 50 demonstrators at the Otay Mesa port of entry connecting San Diego and Tijuana, many of them honking to show support. Other protests closed southbound traffic for hours at the San Diego-Tijuana San Ysidro port of entry, the busiest crossing along the 2,000-mile border, and halted southbound traffic at one of two crossings in Nogales, Arizona. The demonstrations, which are unrelated to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, have disrupted Mexican border crossings for weeks. Earlier this month, police in the Mexican state of Sonora fought a pitched three-hour battle to free a border rail crossing at Nogales that had been blocked by people protesting the 20 percent nationwide hike in gasoline prices that took effect on New Year’s Day.

Chile

Fast-spreading blazes in south-central Chile have destroyed around 300,000 acres of forest; many are still burning, and more are expected to flare up. Residents in the town of Pumanque, located in the hard-hit south-central region of O’Higgins, have lost most of their belongings and their very livelihood to some of the worst wildfires ever seen in Chile. Chile’s Public Works Ministry said Monday that heavy machinery will be sent to the area to bury the hundreds of animals that died in the wave of fires, which have been stoked by a prolonged drought and temperatures topping 100 Fahrenheit. “Chile is living the greatest forest disaster in our history,” President Michelle Bachelet said.

Earthquakes

A major 7.9-magnitude earthquake severely shook Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Sunday afternoon local time. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the deep quake, which had a depth of over 84 miles, and was centered on Bougainville Island, an island of approximately 175,000 people in the Solomon Islands chain. Despite its depth, very strong to severe shaking was likely felt near the epicenter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

An enormous storm system that kicked up tornadoes, shredded homes and left other destruction scattered around the Southeast has claimed at least 20 lives after a two-day assault on the region, with dozens injured. The day’s deadliest toll came before daybreak Sunday when an apparent tornado blew through a mobile home park in south Georgia — about 60 miles southeast of Albany — shearing away siding, upending homes and killing seven people. About half of the 40 homes were “leveled.” In Albany, Georgia, a city of roughly 77,000 in the southwestern part of the state, Doughtery County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas described the area as looking like a nuclear bomb went off. From the morning of January 21 through January 22, 41 reports of tornadoes were received by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in five southern states from Louisiana to South Carolina.

A mix of snow, freezing rain, and sleet brought on by a nor’easter has closed numerous schools and made for difficult driving in northern New England and Upstate New York on Tuesday morning. A powerful nor’easter started Monday in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where it toppled trees, slowed travel and knocked out power. One person was killed. Some snow fell across the region, but the big challenge on the roads Tuesday morning was ice and strong winds. Several crashes have been reported Tuesday on Interstate 87 and Interstate 95 in New York. Docked boats were smacking into one another in Rye Harbor, New Hampshire. There were some scattered power outages; utilities prepared for the possibility of more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for 50 California counties that have been drenched by series of storms, including ongoing Winter Storm Leo, which have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. In this latest round of storms to pound the state, at least four people died, three were missing and many others were rescued from raging floodwaters. The governor’s proclamations are designed to provide state assistance to local governments coping with flooding, mudslides and erosion and to help obtain federal emergency funding to fix damaged roads and highways. Brown’s proclamations said the damage has created “conditions of extreme peril” to people and property.

Signs of the Times (1/21/17)

January 21, 2017

Trump Brings Populism to Washington

The 45th President of the United States blazed onto the campaign trail more than a year ago with a message that stunned the Washington establishment, reports CNN. He was going to be a pure populist. He promised to give voice to “forgotten Americans.” He said he would restore wealth to a middle class left behind in the economic resurgence. In his first address as commander in chief Friday, he delivered that very same message. His words were a remarkable repudiation, not only of his predecessor’s agenda, but what he views as a failure of government of all political stripes. There was no explicit embrace of Republican values, no clear ideological bent — only a vow to reshape government to serve the “tens of millions” of frustrated Americans who rose up to support his campaign. He rebuked the “small group in our nation’s capital” that “has reaped the rewards the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” and viewed his vows as “an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” He also made repeated calls for unity, as well as compassion for “mothers and children trapped in poverty in inner cities,” Americans affected by “shuttered factories” that “have left our shores,” and people impacted by crime, gangs and drugs “that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” “Most Importantly, we Are Protected by God,” Trump affirmed. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas became the first African-American to administer the oath of office at a presidential inauguration.

World Reaction to Trump’s Inauguration Varies

On the streets, in small gatherings and in the halls of government, people around the globe weighed in on US President Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday, anticipating how his policies may play out on the international stage. But it was Russia’s officials who tweeted some of the most celebratory messages, with one senator calling the day “a defining moment in history.” A Women’s March in Brussels elicited criticism of Trump’s offensive comments about women and alleged cases of sexual harassment. The demonstration drew participants from a range of countries, including Norway and Spain. Cuba’s state media paid little attention and China cast a wary eye in what could be a more contentious relationship between the world’s two largest economies. Trump received a warm congratulations from India’s prime minister, but Iran ripped the U.S. for its policies in Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him a welcoming tweet, “”Congrats to my friend President Trump. Look fwd to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel & USA stronger than ever.” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted nearly two hours after Trump’s address, congratulating the new leader and expressing a desire to strengthen the relationship between the countries.

More Than 200 Arrested in D.C. Protests on Inauguration Day

President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day was slightly marred by noisy demonstrations, shoving matches and sporadic clashes with cops that resulted in more than 200 arrests. Three-thousand members of local, state and federal law enforcement — backed by 5,000 National Guard members and police officers from as far away as New Jersey — patrolled the streets as the evening’s festivities got under way as the of protesters threatened more disruptions. Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham said that by around 6:30 p.m. ET things had calmed down, but authorities were still monitoring several groups. The worst fracas on Friday erupted in Franklin Square, about a mile-and-a-half from Capitol Hill, just before Trump’s swearing-in ceremony got underway, police said. Six police officers suffered minor injuries when protesters flung bricks, trash cans and other objects, and ignited small fires. Four businesses were vandalized and sustained significant damage and, demonstrators also torched a limousine. All of the 217 people arrested on Friday were charged with rioting,

Pro-Choice Women’s March on Washington Dumps Pro-Life Group

The day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, as many as 200,000 women will march on Washington to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” Pro-life women will be welcome at the event, they say, but organizers removed one pro-life group after backlash over the weekend. The group in question, New Wave Feminists, say they want to “take feminism back from those who have corrupted it.” In statements on their blog, they tie this corruption to those who support abortion. “Abortion creates a world that is undeniably anti-woman,” the NSF said. The march’s organizers issued a statement addressing the removal Monday. “The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one.”

UN Ambassador Nominee Nikki Haley Will Oppose Making Abortion a Human Right

During her confirmation hearing Wednesday, Trump UN Ambassador nominee Nikki Haley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she will oppose abortion on an international level, saying she is “strongly pro-life.” The United Nations appointment is important as pro-abortion nations are pushing the United Nations to make abortion a so-called human right. Previously, the Obama administration had joined those other nations to push abortion on an international level. As UN Ambassador, South Carolina Governor Haley could help stop that effort and work to ensure that unborn children are respected in that International body.

U.S. Abortions Drop Below One Million Annually

For the first time in more than four decades, abortions dropped below 1 million annually in the United States, according to a new report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The pro-abortion research group, considered to have the most comprehensive abortion numbers for the U.S., reported an estimated 926,200 abortions in 2014 and 958,700 in 2013. Notably, the pro-abortion researchers partially attributed the decline to pro-life efforts. In the past, Guttmacher and other abortion advocacy groups have avoided giving pro-lifers credit for the declines.

Trump Signs Anti-ObamaCare Executive Order

President Trump signed an executive order late Friday giving federal agencies broad powers to unwind regulations created under the Affordable Care Act, which might include enforcement of the penalty for people who fail to carry the health insurance that the law requires of most Americans. The executive order, signed in the Oval Office as one of the new president’s first actions, directs agencies to grant relief to all constituencies affected by the sprawling 2010 health-care law: consumers, insurers, hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, states and others. It does not describe specific federal rules to be softened or lifted, but it appears to give room for agencies to eliminate an array of ACA taxes and requirements.

Fox News Poll: Views on ObamaCare Shift

The number of voters who want Obamacare completely repealed is at a new low — as is the number who wants to keep it as is.  And for the first time, more favor expanding the law than killing it entirely.  Yet a new Fox News Poll also finds a majority continues to favor at least partial repeal of the health care law.  The poll, released Thursday, finds 57 percent of voters favor doing away with all (23 percent) or parts of Obamacare (34 percent).  On the other hand, 41 percent would expand it (28 percent) or leave the law as is (13 percent). Since 2010, between 54-61 percent have favored repealing at least some of the law, and 31-41 percent have favored keeping or expanding it.  What’s new is only 23 percent want the law repealed entirely.  That’s down from 32 percent in July 2015 and a high of 39 percent in June 2013.

Gen. James Mattis, Gen. John Kelly Confirmed for Trump Cabinet

Gen. James Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense and Gen. John Kelly was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security, the first of Trump’s Cabinet nominees to be officially voted upon Friday. Mattis was approved by a vote of 98-1. Trump signed the commissions for Mattis and Kelly later Friday. Vice President Mike Pence swore in both Generals. Noting the Senate approved seven of former President Obama’s Cabinet nominees on the first day of his administration in 2009, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chastised Democrats for refusing to consider confirmation of more of Trump’s nominees.

Republicans Move to Slash Obama-Era Rules

After just two weeks of work, the House has already passed several sweeping bills that, if enacted, would roll back scores of Obama administration regulations and make it significantly harder for future presidents — including Trump — to write similar rules. One measure would allow Congress to eliminate a host of regulations in one fell swoop, while another would make it harder for agencies to issue rules to begin with. Next month, the House is expected to take up more targeted measures that would use fast-track procedures to undo several recent rules issued by executive-branch agencies. The effort to eliminate existing regulations and place curbs on future ones has garnered almost unheard-of unanimity among fractious House Republicans and heralds sweeping changes to federal labor, environmental and financial oversight as the GOP takes control of Washington.

Former Texas Governor Perry Changes His Positions

In Rick Perry’s confirmation hearing for his nomination as Energy Secretary, he modified his positions on climate change and eliminating the Energy Department. Perry said he believes the climate is changing, contrary to what Trump has said in the past. “I believe the climate is changing,” he said, adding “some is caused by human activity.” He added that he wants to figure out how to deal with it so that it doesn’t jeopardize productivity in the U.S. Perry also said in his hearing that he regrets saying in the past that he wanted to get rid of the energy department. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Obama Gives Another $500 Million to Global Climate Fund

With just three days left in office, the Obama administration has doubled an initial $500 million commitment to a fund that helps developing nations fight climate change and adapt to its consequences. The State Department’s announcement Tuesday brings U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund to $1 billion since 2016. The fund helps poor countries reduce carbon emissions by promoting clean energy and spurring private investment in the field. President-elect Donald Trump and a number of GOP lawmakers have complained that support for the fund wasn’t specifically approved by Congress. The administration argues the current fiscal year’s budget allows it to take the money from an unobligated portion of a total of $4.3 billion in economic support fund assistance.

Obama Commutes the Most Sentences Ever

President Barack Obama granted 330 commutations, the White House announced Thursday, the most commutations given in a single day by a US president. The move brings the total number of individuals who sentences Obama reduced to a total of 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons, including 568 who had been sentenced to life in prison. The large majority of sentences Obama commuted Thursday — and in total — were those that came from nonviolent drug offenses. In comparison, George W. Bush commuted 11 and pardoned 189 while Bill Clinton commuted 61 and pardoned 396.

Economic News – Domestic

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave the U.S. economy a nearly clean bill of health, two days before Donald Trump arrives at the White House. “Now, it’s fair to say, the economy is near maximum employment and inflation is moving toward our goal,” Yellen said in a speech Wednesday in San Francisco. She touted the economy’s performance over the last several years, noting that over 15 million jobs had been added since 2010, and that unemployment had dropped to 4.7% from 10% in 2009. But she admitted the economy’s recovery has “been a long, slow slog.” Yellen reiterated that she and other Fed leaders expect to raise rates a “few times a year” until 2019.

Saudi Arabia tried to kill off the U.S. oil boom. Instead, it just made the industry more efficient. The U.S. shale industry is “much leaner and fitter” following a massive slump in oil prices last year, according to the International Energy Agency. “Not only is the [U.S.] rig count rising, but recent reports tell us that the productivity of shale activity has improved in leaps and bounds,” the IEA said in a new report released Thursday.

Economic News – International

Banks are already preparing to move thousands of jobs out of Britain after Prime Minister Theresa May revealed that she supported a complete break with the European Union, as voters decided last year. May said Tuesday that Brexit meant the U.K. would also cease to be a member of the European Union’s single internal market. That is forcing banks and financial services based in Britain to shift jobs and operations to the EU to ensure they can continue to do business across the bloc’s 27 remaining members.

According to figures released by the Treasury Department on Wednesday evening, China’s holdings of U.S. government bonds fell $66 billion in November to $1.05 trillion. It is the sixth straight month that China has reduced its exposure to U.S. Treasuries. Since May, the value of China’s Treasury holdings has dropped by nearly $195 billion. Japan passed China in October to become the largest foreign owner of U.S. debt. However, Japan also cut back on its Treasury holdings in November, reducing them by $23.3 billion to about $1.11 trillion. This is the fourth straight month that Japan has pulled back on U.S. debt. It has cut its holdings by $46 billion since July. The selling began before Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. Russia boosted its Treasury position by $12 billion, but its debt holdings pale in comparison to Japan and China.

Migrant Update

As Italy looks for fresh ways to cope with the hundreds of thousands of migrants bottled up in the country, one solution is rising to the top of the agenda: deportation. The pressure on Rome to ease its migration problem is growing after the country saw a record 180,000 migrants arrive by boat last year, bringing the total of seaborne arrivals to about half a million since the start of 2014. The revelation that the Tunisian man accused of a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market had evaded an Italian expulsion order also has given Italy new impetus to toughen its stance. In response, the new government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is set to unveil plans Wednesday to open 16 new detention centers throughout the country to hold migrants who receive expulsion orders, enabling Rome to raise the number of forced repatriations. They are also ordering police to intensify efforts to find illegal migrants.

Israel

Police forces throughout Israel were on high alert Wednesday following morning clashes between police and residents of an unrecognized Beduin village in the Negev which left one police officer and his alleged assailant dead. Arab-Israeli MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint (Arab) List faction was also wounded in the melee which occurred as police entered the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran to carry out demolitions of illegally constructed buildings. According to police accounts, soon after they entered the village a truck driven by Yacoub Abu al Kian, a 50 year-old school teacher with ties to the Islamist Movement (which is the Israeli-Arab franchise of the Moslem Brotherhood) “accelerated his car towards the officers to carry out a ramming attack.” He was successful in hitting several officers including 34 year-old Erez Levy, who was killed as a result of the attack. Surviving officers then fired on the vehicle, killing al Kian.

In 2013, the only legal decision about who rightfully owns the West Bank was issued by Versailles Court of Appeal who ruled that Israel, not the Palestinians, is the legal occupant of the West Bank. The case involved the building of the Jerusalem light rail system. A French company won the bid and the job was completed in 2011. The rail line extends across Jerusalem all the way to the east side and the and the so-called ‘occupied territories’. The PLO filed a complaint with the High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) of Versailles France, against Alstom and Veolia, because the construction of the tram is illegal since the UN, the EU, many NGOs and governments consider that Israel illegally occupies the Palestinian territories. The court rejected all the PLO arguments and concluded that Israel has legal rights to the territory, a decision that the mainstream media has conveniently ignored.

Islamic State

Since declaring its caliphate in June 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has conducted or inspired more than 140 terrorist attacks in 29 countries other than Iraq and Syria, where its carnage has taken a much deadlier toll. Those attacks have killed at least 2,043 people and injured thousands more, according to CNN.

U.S. B-2 bombers struck and destroyed two ISIS camps in Libya Wednesday night, with initial estimates that over 80 militants were killed, U.S. officials said Thursday. There were no women or children in the area, the official said. The mission, expected to be the last, was approved several days ago by the President Obama. The strikes were on external actors who were actively “plotting attacks in Europe,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters. “They (the ISIS fighters) posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and US national interests,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. “While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful.” A U.S. defense official said the militants were seen immediately beforehand carrying weapons, wearing tactical vests, holding mortars and standing in formation.

Syria

The U.S. Air Force conducted a second “major strike” in consecutive days killing over 100 Al Qaeda fighters at a training camp in northern Syria on Friday. A single U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber and an undisclosed number of drones dropped 14 precision-guided bombs at noon eastern time Thursday on an Al Qaeda “basic training” camp in Syria west of the city of Aleppo near the border with Turkey. A Pentagon official described the fighters as “core Al Qaeda,” and said the camp had been operational since at least 2013. The latest strike was President Barack Obama’s last as commander-in-chief.

Pakistan

A bomb exploded Saturday in a market in a northwest tribal region that borders Afghanistan, killing 22 people and wounding at least 50, officials said. The explosion took place when the market was crowded with retailers buying fruits and vegetables from a wholesale shop. Lashker-e-Jhangvi, a banned sectarian militant group that has attacked minority Shiites Muslims in the past, claimed responsibility for the attack. Shiites are a minority in Sunni-dominated Pakistan.

Nigeria

Boko Haram extremists attacked a refugee camp in Nigeria on Thursday evening, with reports suggesting the death toll could be as high as 170. Over 100 Boko Haram fighters launched the attack as soldiers battled for hours trying to repel them, according to witnesses. The attack came after Nigeria’s air force bombed a camp housing Boko Haram refugees multiple times on Tuesday. Nigerian officials called the attack an accident. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that “around 90” people were killed in the bombing. The charity also noted that residents and community leaders said the death toll could potentially be as high as 170.

Earthquakes

A swarm of moderate earthquakes struck central Italy Wednesday afternoon, shaking many of the same towns that were devastated by a pair of strong earthquakes last year. The U.S. Geological Survey said three earthquakes of magnitude 5.3 or higher were located near the town of Amatrice. The largest tremor was a 5.7, which was reported 3 miles west-southwest of Amatrice at 11:14 a.m. local time. Shaking was felt as far away as Rome, and as a precaution, the subway was shut down in Rome, and parents were asked to pick up their children from school early. No deaths have been reported. Heavy snow in central Italy crippled travel in recent days, which will further complicate rescue and relief efforts.

Weather

An outbreak of severe thunderstorms is expected this weekend in parts of the Gulf Coast and Deep South, with damaging winds, tornadoes, and heavy rain triggering flash flooding. Four people were killed when a tornado touched down in the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi early Saturday morning as many residents slept. Firefighters and police were going door-to-door to rescue tornado victims. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said that structural damage was reported in Forrest, Lamar and Perry Counties in the area. Search and Rescue teams were dispatched to help emergency management officials in the Hattiesburg area. Interstate 59 north of Hattiesburg was also closed due to debris.

Hundreds of travelers were stranded in Oregon Friday after Winter Storm Kori forced officials to close more than 200 miles of Interstate 80. In addition, Interstate 82 was also shut down between I-84 and the Washington border. Earlier in the week, parts of I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass were closed due to snow slides and freezing rain that caused multiple spinouts. Hundreds of truck drivers and other travelers left stranded in motel rooms or along the side of the road. More than 20 people escaped injury when a flood swept cabins and vehicles down a coastal canyon as the second in a trio of storms drenched California with heavy rain and brought more snow to the mountains. After years of dry weather, California has been buffeted by rain and snow this winter. Northern California has gotten the lion’s share and most of that region has now emerged from drought.

Two leading U.S. science agencies Wednesday jointly declared 2016 the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record set just last year — which, itself, had topped a record set in 2014. Average surface temperatures in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, were 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 2015, and featured eight successive months (January through August) that were individually the warmest since the agency’s record began in 1880. The average temperature across the world’s land and ocean surfaces was 58.69 Fahrenheit, or 1.69 degrees above the 20th century average of 57 degrees, NOAA declared. NASA concurred with NOAA, also declaring 2016 the warmest year on record in its own dataset that tracks the temperatures at the surface of the planet’s land and oceans. NASA actually found a bigger leap upward of temperatures in 2016, measuring the year as .22 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the prior record year of 2015. The agency also noted that just since the year 2001 the planet has seen “16 of the 17 warmest years on record.”

  • Records only go back to 1880. Historically, warm and cold cycles can go on for much longer, so it is not conclusive that this is an ongoing trend. However, end-time prophecies support weather getting warmer and more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (1/17/17)

January 17, 2017

Inauguration Chaos Planned in D.C. & Mexico

The stage is set for a potentially very ugly confrontation between radical leftist protesters on one side and law enforcement authorities and Trump supporters on the other side.  It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters will be arriving in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the inauguration. But it is also estimated that hundreds of thousands of people will be coming to D.C. to specifically protest Trump’s inauguration.  These protesters plan to set up blockades, disrupt inaugural balls and generally cause as much chaos as they possibly can.  In fact, a spokesperson for #DisruptJ20 says that the goal of his organization is for Trump to be inaugurated “amid complete chaos.”

Islamic terrorists and drug cartels in Mexico are planning attacks against U.S.-Mexico border ports around Inauguration Day, according to a report by the Washington watchdog group Judicial Watch. Jihadist and cartel groups reportedly attacked near the site of a new U.S. Consulate last week in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which is located directly across the border from Laredo, Texas. A deadly shootout took place last week at the construction site of a new $155 million U.S. Consulate building, which is scheduled to be completed in September. A local newspaper in Tamaulipas reported that 13 people died during the shootout. The attacks are part of an effort to send incoming President Donald Trump a message about who is in control, the report states. Trump “is causing a huge amount of fear in Mexico throughout all sectors; private, government, business, criminal, police,” the report says.

Trump’s Pre-Inauguration Approval Rating Drops to Lowest in Decades

When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, he’ll be the most unpopular man to do so in decades, two new polls showed. A majority of Americans — 54% — have an unfavorable opinion of the incoming president, a Tuesday Washington Post/ABC News poll showed. A second survey, conducted by CNN and ORC, reported that 52% of people do not approve of the way the President-elect has been handling the transition. In each poll, just 40% of respondents said they view Trump and his transition team favorably. Trump was quick to dismiss the polls. “The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls,” he tweeted Tuesday morning.

Historic Calvary Baptist Church Hires Lesbian Couple as Pastors

Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors. Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Sunday, January 8, and are set to begin their new jobs on February 26. The 155-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012. It found itself at loggerheads with the group on several issues, including the SBC’s stance against homosexuality. Sarratt and Swearingen come to Calvary from Greenville, South Carolina, where Sarratt has been serving as associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Health System and Swearingen as associate chaplain at Furman University, according to a news release from the church. Sarratt has also been filling the role of part-time associate minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Thousands of Middle-East Muslims Turning to Christ

Thousands of Muslims are turning to Jesus Christ and what they view as the “religion of freedom” amid ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East, reports the Christian Post. Churches in the area believe that millions of people will accept Christ amid a “spiritual hunger” that is forming in the wake of persecution. “There are thousands upon thousands coming to Christ,” VOMC revealed. “We are in regular contact with our FM stations in Iraq and have talked with many people who have family in the Middle East. Some of our Middle Eastern broadcasters have shared testimonies [about many turning to Christ] with us, which they hear directly from listeners when visiting there.” In Iran, Christian house churches are regularly targeted and shut down by the nation’s Islamic government. Despite this persecution, mission group Elam Ministries revealed that Christians have been growing in terms of numbers, and today estimates suggest there are 360,000 believers in Iran – up from only 500 in 1979. “Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Elam Ministries stated.

  • Persecution always backfires because that’s when disillusioned people are most likely to receive Christ

Middle-East Peace Conference Calls for Two-State Solution

The Mideast peace conference in Paris closed Sunday, calling for Israel and the Palestinians to embrace a two-state solution as the only route to peace, despite Israel’s Prime Minister branding the conference “useless.” The conference, which was attended by representatives from some 70 countries, began Sunday with the aim of bringing both sides to the negotiating table and maintaining support for a two-state solution. “They emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to this solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity,” the closing statement from the conference read. Any two-state solution should satisfy both sides, the statement said. That includes recognizing Palestinians’ sovereignty and their right to statehood, as well as Israel’s security needs, while ending “the occupation that began in 1967” and resolving all “permanent status issues” based on UN Security Council resolutions.

  • The two-state solution calls for the division of Jerusalem which was Israel’s capital since the first temple was constructed in 967 BC, almost 800 years before Mohammed established Islam.

Israel Scores a Diplomatic Victory in Brussels

Monday’s meeting of 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels ended without adopting either UN Security Council Resolution 2334 or the declaration that emerged from the Paris conference on Sunday, handing Israel another diplomatic victory ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the UN Security Council meant to discuss developments in the Middle East. Monday’s meeting included a frantic effort by France to have the results of the Paris meeting endorsed, which were reportedly rejected by the UK and some Eastern European governments.

U.S./Russian Relations Improving

Russia has invited the incoming Trump administration to Syrian peace talks it is sponsoring later this month with Turkey and Iran, part of a process from which the Obama administration pointedly has been excluded. U.S. participation, especially if an agreement is reached, would be the first indication of the enhanced U.S.-Russia cooperation that President Vladi­mir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump have promised under a Trump administration. A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the United States would attend the talks to be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The talks are tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 23, three days after Trump’s inauguration. Syrian government and opposition representatives are also expected to attend. Trump also said he will offer to end sanctions against Russia in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, The Times reported.

European Leaders Shocked as Trump Slams NATO and E.U.

European leaders said Monday that they may have to stand alone without the United States once Donald Trump enters office, raising the prospect of an unprecedented breach in transatlantic relations after Trump’s comments that the European Union is bound for a breakup and that NATO is obsolete. Trump said in a weekend interview with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper that the 28-nation European Union was a vehicle for German interests and said that he was indifferent to the bloc’s fate. He also said he was committed to European defense even as he expressed skepticism about NATO’s current configuration. Trump’s attitudes have alarmed Europe, which is facing a wave of elections this year in which anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic leaders could gain in power. Trump’s hard line has created the grim realization in Europe that they may now have to stand alone, without their oldest, strongest partner.

Most Expensive/Capable Fighter Jets Sent to Japan

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive and one of the most controversial weapons systems in U.S. history, is on its way to Japan to be “the cornerstone” of U.S. defense in the Pacific. The first of 16 US Marine Corps F-35Bs left Arizona Monday on the initial overseas deployment for the stealth jets. The planes are heading for Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, not far from Hiroshima, on the Japanese main island of Honshu. Sending the $104 million jets to Iwakuni shows Washington’s “commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the U.S. inventory,” said a U.S. military spokesperson. “It will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats.”

U.S. Transfers 10 Guantanamo Prisoners to Oman

Oman said Monday it accepted 10 inmates from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay ahead of President Barack Obama leaving office, part of his efforts to shrink the facility he promised to close. Oman’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Oman News Agency that it had accepted the prisoners at Obama’s request. The sultanate of Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, previously accepted 10 Guantanamo prisoners from Yemen in January 2016 and another six in June 2015. Meanwhile, Oman’s neighbor Saudi Arabia took four prisoners on Jan. 5 and the United Arab Emirates took 15 prisoners in the largest-single transfer during Obama’s administration last Aug. 15.

  • Recent experience shows that some of these will return to their terrorist ways

Trump, House Republicans May Butt Heads on Tax Plan

President-elect Donald Trump said Friday that one of the key parts of the House Republicans’ corporate-tax plan that would tax imports and exempt exports was “too complicated.” The border adjustment tax plan is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. The measure is reportedly part of a broader plan to encourage companies to locate jobs and production in the U.S. Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders. Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes. House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Obama Releases NSA Cache of Private Data

A new door for government agencies to share “raw information” about citizens has been opened by a rules change made by President Obama, according to a report in WND editor Joseph Farah’s G2 Report. The change was made in a document called “Procedures for the Availability or Dissemination of Raw Signals Intelligence Information by the National Security Agency under Section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333.” “President Barack Obama’s administration just finalized rules to make it easier for the nation’s intelligence agencies to share unfiltered information about innocent people,” explains the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of multiple privacy organizations expressing concern about the change. The organization noted that the rules “will let the NSA – which collects information under that authority with little oversight, transparency, or concern for privacy – share the raw streams of communications it intercepts directly with agencies including the FBI, the DEA, and the Department of Homeland Security.”

Trump Vows ‘Insurance for Everybody’ in Obamacare Replacement

President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government for Medicare and Medicaid prices. Trump’s plan is likely to face questions from the right, after years of GOP opposition to further expansion of government involvement in the health-care system, and from those on the left, who see his ideas as disruptive to changes brought by the Affordable Care Act that have extended coverage to tens of millions of Americans. In addition to his replacement plan for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, Trump said he will target pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. “They’re politically protected, but not anymore,” he said of pharmaceutical companies.

The Clinton Global Initiative Organization Shutting Down

After Donald J. Trump devastated the once formidable Clinton political machine in November, the Clinton Global Initiative, is being shut down. The CGI was the centerpiece initiative of the Clinton Foundation, the former first couple’s political and financial power structure. The initiative became unsustainable after Hillary Clinton’s defeat, as foreign governments began reducing or even withdrawing their donations. The Australian government, for example, ended a decade of funding the organization, and the government of Norway reduced its contribution by more than $15 million. The abandonment of CGI soon after the Clintons lost political power will only further accusations the foundation was the hub of a “pay-to-play” network of influence peddling that existed to personally enrich Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, notes WorldNet Daily.

Economic News

Eight men now control as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people, according to a new report from Oxfam International. The men — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Amancio Ortega, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg — are collectively worth $426 billion, the anti-poverty group said on Sunday. The Oxfam report also said that the richest 1% own more wealth than the remaining 99% worldwide. In the U.S., the richest 1% control 42% of the wealth.

The release of Oxfam’s annual inequality report coincides with the World Economic Forum in Davos. The annual meeting in the Swiss mountain resort brings together political and financial leaders and some of the wealthiest people in the world. Protesters in Davos said the rich elites need to “get out of their bubble.”

  • These elites are who really control the world, regardless of whether Obama, Hillary or Trump lead the U.S.

Under attack from President-elect Donald Trump for its investment in Mexican plants, General Motors announced plans Tuesday to invest at least $1 billion in U.S. factories, a move it said will create or retain at least 1,000 jobs. The investment has been in the works for some time and it is not part of any deal with Trump, a GM spokesman said. But the company joins a number of major employers eager to demonstrate a commitment to U.S. jobs ahead of Friday’s inauguration.

Walmart, which employs more workers than any other American business, plans to add 10,000 U.S. jobs this year. The job growth will represent less than 1% of the company’s current American workforce of about 1.5 million people. But it bucks the trend of major brick-and-mortar retailers, which have been slashing jobs and closing stores. Walmart announced a year ago it would close 269 underperforming stores, including 154, employing 10,000 workers, in the United States. Amazon announced last week it would add 100,000 U.S. jobs.

It takes an average of 12 years to recoup the cost of getting a Bachelor’s degree, according to a new report from The College Board. College grads with a full-time job earned a median of 67% more than high school grads last year. That doesn’t include those who went on to receive an advanced degree. The unemployment rate for 25-34 year-olds with a Bachelor’s degree was 2.6% last year, more than five percentage points below the unemployment rate for those with just a high school education.

Islamic State

ISIS has destroyed all five bridges crossing the Tigris River in Mosul, an attempt to slow the advance of Iraqi troops toward the western side of the city, according to the commander of Iraqi Forces in Nineveh province. The bridges had already been damaged in airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in recent weeks. ISIS taking out bridges ahead of Iraqi troop advances before, but Iraqi forces built temporary or floating bridges, causing troops to slow down but not to stop. Iraqi forces captured the Mosque of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, after driving Islamic State group militants from a new neighborhood in eastern Mosul, a spokesman said on Tuesday, and the U.N. said that nearly 150,000 people have been displaced since the operation started in mid-October.

United Kingdom

In a speech meant to clarify Britain’s relations with its European neighbors, Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday charted a defined course toward a clean break with the European Union, calling for the country to abandon the single market after more than four decades of integration with the EU. Mrs. May emphasized Britain’s determination to regain control of migration and rejected the supremacy of the European Court of Justice, even at the risk of losing unfettered access to the single market. She also said she wanted to procure tariff-free trade with the bloc and to keep parts of its customs union. The long-awaited speech represents a shift for Mrs. May, who had dropped heavy hints about her thinking but had refused to outline publicly how it should be done After months of stressing that there was no “divide” over Britain’s membership in the EU, she explicitly ruled out staying a member, arguing that it was necessary for Britain to control its borders and set all of its laws. British voters supported a withdrawal from the EU in a June referendum.

Ukraine

Ukraine has filed a case against Russia at the United Nations’ highest court, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebel groups in eastern Ukraine. Kiev also is seeking compensation for deadly incidents including the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. In the case announced Tuesday by the International Court of Justice, Ukraine accused Moscow of “intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine’s citizens.” Kiev further alleged that Moscow’s takeover of Crimea “brazenly defied the U.N. Charter, seizing a part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory by military force.” Fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,600 people in eastern Ukraine since it began in 2014. No date was immediately announced for hearings in the case, which is likely to take many months to complete.

Cuba

President Barack Obama is ending the longstanding “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who arrive in the United States without a visa to become permanent residents, the administration announced last week. The move, which wasn’t previously outlined and is likely one of the final foreign policy decisions of Obama’s term, terminates a decades-long policy that many argued amounted to preferential treatment for a single group of migrants. “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries,” Obama said in a statement. Following a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States, former President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s changed the “open door” policy on Cuban refugees — first established by President Lyndon B. Johnson — to the “wet, foot, dry foot” policy that repatriated Cubans intercepted at sea but allowed those who reach land to stay.

Environment

Coal emissions in Southeast Asia are projected to triple by 2030, resulting in an increase in pollution-related deaths, according to a new Harvard-backed report published Friday. Researchers at Harvard and Greenpeace say the demand for electricity in Southeast Asia is projected to increase by a staggering 83% between 2011 and 2035 — twice the global average. in Southeast Asia — unlike in the US, Europe, China or India — these demands are still likely to be met by coal-fired power plants rather than renewable energy. The report estimates that approximately 20,000 people in the region die every year from coal-fired power station emissions, and it projects this number will increase to 70,000 by 2030 if all the proposed power plant projects in the region go ahead.

Weather

Deadly ice spread across the Plains and Midwest Sunday, threatening to cripple the entire region of the country for days. During its trek eastward, Winter Storm Jupiter has killed at least six, spreading freezing rain and ice that created dangerous road conditions from Oklahoma and Kansas to mid-Missouri and southern Illinois. Multiple states declared emergencies. Sections of I-80 were closed in both directions in Nebraska. Freezing rain contributed to many accidents across Kansas Friday and Saturday. Ice as thick as one inch downed tree limbs all over Oklahoma Sunday, Fairbury, Nebraska, saw up to three quarters of an inch of ice, resulting in broken tree limbs and power outages. Ice and snow continued to impact a swath of the Great Lakes region on Tuesday and will continue spreading across areas of the interior Northeast and New England into Wednesday.

While much of the lower 48 states enjoy a January thaw this week, Alaska is experiencing some of its coldest air of this winter season. This follows a record-warm 2016 for the nation’s 49th state, where some locations even shattered average. On Sunday, Fairbanks saw a low temperature of minus 38 degrees, making it the coldest reading there since February 2015. Monday and Tuesday, parts of western Alaska were in the minus 40s. Highs for much of this week will only reach the 20s, 30s and 40s below zero over the state’s interior.

Signs of the Times (1/13/17)

January 13, 2017

Massive Security Preparations Under Way for Inauguration

The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls.

Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Contradict Trump’s Campaign Promises

Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned. Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States must honor the “imperfect ­arms-control agreement” with Iran that Trump has vowed to dismantle because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.” He also took a more adversarial stance than Trump has toward Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and cited Moscow as one of the nation’s top threats. Mattis, also stated that Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), whom Trump picked to head the CIA, assured the Intelligence Committee that he would “absolutely not” use brutal interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects in contravention of the law, even if ordered to do so by a president who campaigned on a promise to reinstate the use of such measures. Rex W. Tillerson, whom Mr. Trump has chosen to be secretary of state, rejected a ban on Muslim immigrants, called the United States’ commitment to NATO “inviolable” and said he did not agree with Mr. Trump’s previous comments that Japan should perhaps obtain nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted. “I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

CNN: BuzzFeed’s Journalism ‘Hurts Us All’

CNN is throwing BuzzFeed under the bus after President-elect Donald Trump accused the news organization of propagating the allegations in the piece published by BuzzFeed, saying BuzzFeed’s journalism “hurts us all.” During Trump’s press conference on Wednesday, Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta and called CNN “terrible.” In CNN’s statement, they claimed that, unlike BuzzFeed, they did not publish any of the “unsubstantiated memos” about Trump. Jake Tapper defending CNN, stated that, “It’s irresponsible to put uncorroborated information on the internet. I understand why Trump would be upset about that. I would be upset about it too. It’s why we did not publish it and why we did not detail any specifics from it, because it was uncorroborated.” On Tuesday evening, BuzzFeed News released an “explosive” dossier filled with damaging accusations about President-elect Donald Trump’s alleged “deep ties” to Russia. The problem is, however, even BuzzFeed admits the entire document they chose to publish is completely unverified and riddled with mistakes.

New Report Reveals Fake News/Dirty Tricks Group Worked for Planned Parenthood

The Daily Caller has reported Thursday that the same “opposition research group” that was behind the fake intelligence report that made contrived allegations against President-Elect Donald J. Trump, is the same “shady outfit” hired by Planned Parenthood to issue a report saying the Center for Medical Progress videos were “doctored.” But Planned Parenthood did not reveal that the Washington D.C.-based Fusion GPS that came up with those findings was really an opposition research group. Instead, Planned Parenthood portrayed the Fusion GPS “dirty-tricks” group as one that had “expertise” in forensic analysis. Fusion GPS makes no claims to expertise in forensic analysis on their own suspicious two-paragraph website. Those allegations against Trump were found to be completely fictitious. Trump took news organizations Buzzfeed and CNN to task yesterday for publishing the unfounded accusations, and issued a strong rebuke to them for propagating “fake news,” reports Operations Rescue

Planned Parenthood’s Aborted Baby Parts Provider Drops Lawsuit

The biomedical company accused of contracting with Planned Parenthood to harvest and sell aborted baby body parts has dropped its lawsuit against the pro-life undercover investigators at the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), and are walking away with nothing. CMP’s exposure of Planned Parenthood’s baby body parts business via its undercover journalism showed that the company, StemExpress, was intimately involved with collecting aborted babies. In September, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives voted to hold StemExpress in contempt of Congress for stonewalling its investigation into the baby body parts scandal. StemExpress tried to take legal action against CMP by seeking a settlement. But less than a year later, its lawyers at McDermott, Will & Emery stopped representing the company and the lawsuit was dropped. The Select Panel reported that StemExpress destroyed documents shortly after filing their lawsuit, in violation of document retention rules and Congressional subpoenas.

Trump to Turn Over Business Operations to a Trust Run by His Sons

President-elect Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that he would place his vast business empire in a trust controlled by his two oldest sons and take other steps in an attempt to remove any suggestion of a conflict of interest with his decisions as president. But he said he would not sell his holdings. Trump says he will donate to the United States government all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels, top officials with his company said Wednesday, describing the arrangements as voluntary measures taken to answer concerns about potential conflicts of interest that would allow Mr. Trump to focus on running the country. The Trump Organization will also refrain from entering into any new deals with foreign partners, his legal advisers said, backing off from an earlier claim by Mr. Trump that his company would have “no new deals” of any kind during his presidency. Instead, the Trump enterprise will have to clear any new transactions with an ethics adviser to be chosen by the president-elect in coming days. The government’s top ethics monitor said the plan was wholly inadequate and would leave the president vulnerable to “suspicions of corruption.”

President Obama Says U.S. Constitution ‘Just a Piece of Parchment’

President Obama, as he concluded his farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday, called the U.S. Constitution “just a piece of parchment.” “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift,” said Obama. “But it’s really just a piece of parchment.” “It has no power on its own,” he went on. “We the people give it power. We the people give it meaning with our participation and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.” Many of his critics would argue that his statement on the Constitution alone sums up his legacy in which he disrupted the balance of powers specified in the Constitution by using Executive Orders to create de-facto laws which only Congress is authorized to do.

Senate Initiates Obamacare Repeal Process

Senate Republicans launched their effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law early Thursday morning, approving a budget blueprint that they’ve dubbed the Obamacare “repeal resolution.” The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines for the measure, which relies on the same budget process used seven years ago to approve the landmark healthcare law to now attempt to dismantle it. “This resolution will set the stage for true legislative relief from Obamacare that Americans have long demanded while ensuring a stable transition,” Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming said, just after 1 a.m. “The Obamacare bridge is collapsing and we’re sending in a rescue team.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the most vocal GOP opponents of voting on a repeal bill before coming up with a replacement package, voted against the budget resolution and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein was absent.

India/Pakistan Ramp Up Nuclear Capabilities

The Pakistani army has successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable cruise missile from a submarine for the first time, less than a month after India launched its Agni-V missile. Pakistan’s military says its missile, the Babur-3, will help bolster the country’s defenses as its neighbors develop their own technology. From a deterrence standpoint, Karnad says it makes sense for Pakistan to publicly trumpet its missile launch in order to dissuade adversaries from moving against Islamabad. But India isn’t overly worried about deterring Pakistan — they’ve got their eye on China, and China in turn is focused on United States, according to Bharat Karnad, a research professor at India’s Centre for Policy Research.

Cartels, Smugglers Exploit Border Wall Fears

Mexican drug cartels and human traffickers are cashing in ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration by exploiting anxiety over his vow to build a border wall and crack down on illegal immigration – fueling the latest surge across the U.S.-Mexico line, according to local law enforcement. The president-elect reiterated his pledge at a press conference Wednesday to build a “wall” – which he claims will curb illegal immigration, reduce gun violence and stop drugs from being smuggled into the country. For now, however, the Obama administration’s leniency, combined with concerns about Trump’s crackdown, is seen as contributing to a spike in crossings from California to Texas, according to Fox News.

Migrant Update

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall are making life even harder for thousands of refugees living in limbo across Europe. The cold snap gripping Europe has left dozens of people dead, including refugees in Bulgaria. Volunteers say thousands of refugees are still living in outdoor tents. “Asylum-seekers on the Greek islands face overcrowding, freezing temperatures, lack of hot water, violence and hate-motivated attacks,” Iverna McGowan, director of Amnesty International’s European Institution’s Office, said. Refugees elsewhere in Europe are not faring much better amid plummeting temperatures.

French Jews have been leaving France in greater and greater numbers and emigrating to Israel following increasing attacks on their communities. According to ChristianToday.com, this year 5,000 Jews have left France to settle in Israel. This continues a trend seen over the last few years. In 2015, 7,900 Jews left France and in 2014, 7,231 left. Since 2006, a total of 40,000 Jews left the country. However, France still maintains one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, with an estimated 500,000 Jews living there. Daniel Benhaim, the head of The Jewish Agency of Israel, maintains that the threat of terrorism is the number one motivating factor for Jews leaving the country. Four Jews were killed in the attack on the Jewish Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris the same day 12 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks which took place two years ago. Another attack occurred at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France in 2012, as well as a kidnapping and murder of a young Jewish man in Paris in 2006.

Persecution Update

Kim Burrell is a black gospel singer whose song “I See A Victory” appears on the soundtrack of the film Hidden Figures, a box-office hit about the true story of three black women mathematicians who played important roles at NASA in the early days of the space program. Burrell, in addition to being a gospel singer is a pastor, and, with the release of Hidden Figures, a video emerged on the Internet of her passionately preaching in her church against homosexuality. Burrell was scheduled, as part of the film’s promotion, to appear and perform, along with the film’s soundtrack producer, Pharrell Williams, on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” But DeGeneres, an open lesbian, canceled Burrell’s appearance as a result of the video. Next, Burrell’s radio show, which is produced at Texas Southern University, was canceled. Then she was disinvited from the BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Awards, where she was a co-honoree.

  • Free speech and tolerance no longer apply to Christians who risk their careers by simply speaking out what they believe

Economic News

The number of people out of work around the world will hit 200 million in 2017, a new record high. The International Labor Organization said global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million this year, and by 2.7 million in 2018, because the workforce is growing at a faster pace than jobs are being created. In a separate report, the ILO said global wage growth, once inflation is taken into account, fell to its slowest pace in four years in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Rising pay in some developed economies, including the United States and Germany, was not enough to make up for declines elsewhere.

The small business optimism index hit a 12-year high in December, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. It rose to 105.8 from 98.4 the previous month, the biggest one month gain since July 1980. Expectations for better sales and more favorable business conditions in the next six months under President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress accounted for the lion’s share of the increase.

The global oil industry is slated to make some big investments in 2017 following a painful two-year spending slump. And the U.S. is expected to lead the recovery. Industry research firm Wood Mackenzie predicts U.S. oil sector spending will grow by 23% to $61 billion this year as American companies capitalize on rising crude prices. Fracking in Texas and parts of New Mexico will really ramp up as American drillers look to extract more oil and gas from the Permian basin.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler of using secret software that allowed illegal excess emissions from at least 104,000 diesel vehicles. Affected models include the light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3-liter diesel engines sold in the United States. The software resulted in excess emissions of nitrogen oxides from the vehicles, which have harmful health effects. The EPA stopped short of calling the software “defeat devices,” which Volkswagen used to cheat on diesel emissions tests.

Volkswagen is now engulfed in a huge scandal over the devices. A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan handed down an indictment to the six “high-ranking” VW executives for their roles in a nearly 10-year conspiracy that enabled the company’s cars to cheat U.S. emissions standards, investigators said Wednesday. The announcement by the Justice Department came as the automaker agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties.

The World Bank says President-elect Donald Trump’s tax cuts and spending plans could deliver a shot in the arm to the U.S. economy, lifting growth around the world, although uncertainty about his trade policies adds to the risks. The Trump administration could squander the economic gains of fiscal stimulus if it imposes new trade barriers that provoke retaliation by other countries, the Washington-based development lender said Tuesday in the latest update to its global economic outlook.

European Union

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Thursday that European countries need to work together to ensure their own security, warning that there is no “infinite guarantee” from tradition partners, especially the U.S. The remarks come just days before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in to office. He has been critical of NATO. She said Europe can only master global challenges if it is willing to “take on more responsibility in the world in the future.” The U.S. is the biggest contributor to NATO’s budget out of the 27 member nations.

Israel

A draft of the summary statement that will be released at the conclusion of a 70-nation peace conference organized by France in Paris has been leaked. This communique is going to call for the division of the land of Israel, for the establishment of a Palestinian state, for the 1967 borders to serve as the basis for final negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and for the condemnation of any officials that refuse to support a two-state solution. This comes on the heels of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which many believe represents America’s greatest betrayal of Israel. Israeli government officials are publicly warning that there is a possibility the principles agreed upon at this conference may form the basis for another Security Council resolution before Jan. 20, President-elect Trump’s inauguration day. Netanyahu says the peace conference is ‘rigged’ against Israel.

The incoming Trump administration has told allies it is moving ahead with plans to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — even as those countries issue stark warnings of the potential impact and the Palestinians and Arab nations are escalating calls not to do it. In Israel, officials have lobbied countries for years to move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital. There is speculation that a U.S. announcement could be made as early as May 24 — “Jerusalem Day” in Israel, a celebratory national holiday. That date comes just days before a waiver signed by President Barack Obama blocking the move expires. While some diplomats said there are signs President-elect Donald Trump may pull back from his campaign pledge, Arab and European allies have warned the incoming administration that the move could unleash further violence, undermine the peace process, damage U.S. standing in the Middle East, and endanger American personnel.

Afghanistan

Deadly attacks ripped across Afghanistan on Tuesday, with two suicide bombings near the Afghan Parliament in Kabul, an explosion at a Kandahar province government compound and a suicide bombing in Helmand province. The strikes left dozens of people dead and wounded, U.S. and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attacks, which killed at least 36 people and injured 76 others in the capital. Separately, an explosion in Kandahar killed at least 11 people and injured 14 others, including the deputy governor of Kandahar. Five Emirati humanitarian workers were also among those killed in the Kandahar attack. In Helmand province, a suicide bomber killed at least seven Afghans, including both civilian and military personnel.

Iraq

Iraqi special forces entered Mosul University on Friday in their latest advance along the eastern front as they battle Islamic State militants for control of the city. “We broke through the terrorists’ defenses and we destroyed their lines and their units and their bases,” said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi, who was overseeing the assault Friday. The university is located in the eastern section of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which is divided by the Tigris River into roughly an eastern and a western half. Over the past two years since the Islamic State seized Mosul in a 2014 blitz that captured much of northern and western Iraq, the militants have had time to prepare for an assault by Iraqi forces, building tunnels and getaways across the city. The push into Mosul University came a day after Iraqi army forces north of the city linked up with troops pushing in from the city’s eastern edge. Iraqi forces have largely surrounded Mosul.

Russia

Russia is willing to work on improving relations with the new US administration — even if American sanctions aren’t lifted any time soon. Relations first went sour over Russia’s annexation of Crimea out of the Ukraine resulting in economic sanctions against Russia. Relations have deteriorated even more over the past year as the two nations have stood on opposing sides of the Syria conflict and locked horns several times at the UN Security Council over the nearly six-year war. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Certainly, sanctions are an element that very negatively affect bilateral relations, but still even under the backdrop of sanctions, Moscow would, undoubtedly, welcome any prospect for dialogue and it is ready for that,” welcoming the change in administrations.

Poland

Thousands of U.S. troops crept up on Russia’s doorstep Thursday, rolling into Poland with a slew of unanswered questions about their future in the region. It marked the first deployment of armored brigade combat teams and armor to Europe after a long drawdown from the continent. Soldiers in camouflage with tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland on Thursday morning from Germany and headed for Zagan, their planned base. Poland’s prime minister and defense minister said official ceremonies will be held Saturday to celebrate the Americans’ arrival. For decades, Poland has asked for help in keeping Moscow at bay, but at the same time, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he would try to pursue a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, the president-elect said Wednesday nothing was off the table. “I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t.” Russia clearly wasn’t happy with the deployment. “We perceive it as a threat,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “These actions threaten our interests, our security, especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders.”

Weather

Freezing rain and ice moving into the Plains has already started to cause trouble on the roads and several governors have declared states of emergency as Winter Storm Jupiter pushes east. The Plains and Midwest states have been preparing for days for the storm, which could cause widespread power outages and leave millions of residents stranded for days. More than three dozen flights out of St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport were cancelled Friday morning as freezing rain moved into the area. Gov. Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency earlier Friday morning after having activated the state Emergency Operations Center Thursday as Missourians prepared for the incoming ice.

Days of heavy rain in California and Nevada spawned flooding, a tornado and mudslides.  The storms have dumped more than 7 inches of rain since Monday and the National Weather Service says 6-12 feet of snow have fallen in the Sierra Nevada. More than 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes as rivers and creeks around the region rose.  At least five deaths have been attributed to the weather conditions brought on by these storms, along with dozens of water rescues. The heavy rains forced rivers out of their banks and toppled trees. The back-to-back storm systems are part of an “atmospheric river” weather phenomenon that draws precipitation from the Pacific Ocean as far west as Hawaii. The heavy rain and snow is helping to ease the drought that has gripped the state for several years.

Shipping was suspended along Europe’s second-longest waterway on Tuesday due to ice. A polar spell heas gripped a large swathe of the continent, causing hardship especially among migrants, the homeless and the elderly. The deep freeze has caused at least 61 deaths since it began last week, a third of those in Poland. Romanian police halted shipping at midday for an undetermined period along a 900-kilometer (565-mile) stretch of the Danube River, which crosses Romania. Croatian and Serbian authorities also stopped river traffic on the Danube.

 

 

Signs of the Times (1/10/17)

January 10, 2017

Christians Most Persecuted Group in World for Second Year

Christians continued to be the most persecuted group across the globe in 2016, according to a report from Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions. The study determined that 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs worldwide last year and nearly a third were at the hands of Islamic extremists like ISIS. The study also found that as many as 600 million Christians were prevented from practicing their faith in 2016. The findings continue a disturbing trend from the previous year in which Christians around the world endured horrific acts of persecution, including imprisonment and beheadings. While the situation is most dire in the Middle East, Christianity is under assault in Africa and Asia, too. It cited persecution at the hands of Islamist terror groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and other extremists in Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of the continent.

2017 Bringing Many New ‘Bathroom Bills’

In the first days of 2017, legislators in five states have introduced so-called “bathroom bills” restricting access to public accommodations. Legislative moves this week in Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Virginia represent the latest efforts at the center of a broader public debate over transgender rights. Additionally, lawmakers in Alabama, South Carolina and Washington filed so-called bathroom bills last year for introduction during the upcoming sessions. Since 2013, at least 24 states have considered restricting access to restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities on the basis of biological sex, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. So far, North Carolina remains the only state to enact the controversial legislation banning people from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex as listed on their birth certificates. Backlash has caused significant economic losses for the state, such as businesses canceling plans to expand and the NBA moving its All-Star game from Charlotte to another city. The economic costs, however, have not deterred other states from following suit.

Prisoner to Receive Sex Change Paid for With Taxpayer Dollars

Prisoners should be entitled to medically necessary procedures, as guaranteed under the 8th Amendment. To refuse prisoners medical treatment is to sentence them to a slow and painful death. However, determining what’s “medically necessary” is a conundrum. Obviously, plastic surgery and having veneers installed isn’t, and shouldn’t be covered by the law. But is a sex change operation the same thing? California’s Department of Corrections says that it isn’t, and describes sex reassignment surgery as a medically necessary treatment. New guidelines were established by the department in 2015 after the Transgender Law Center brought two cases against the state. Officials fought against paying for the treatment before it was finally put in place. 57-year-old Shiloh Heavenly Quine, a convicted killer, is to be the first inmate in the country to receive sex reassignment surgery paid for with tax dollars, via the State of California. Quine is expected to be moved to a women’s prison following her sex change. Quine told the prison psychologist who recommended the operation that it would provide her “drastic, internal completeness.”

  • Can the world get any crazier? The Bible says yes (2Timothy 3:1-6)

Activists Plan to Disrupt Trump’s Inauguration

Radical leftists are planning to make January 20th the most chaotic Inauguration Day in American history.  Their stated goal is to “disrupt” the Inauguration festivities as much as possible, and they are planning a wide range of “actions” to achieve that stated goal.  Some of the more moderate groups are using terms such as “civil resistance” and “civil disobedience”, but others are openly talking about “blockades”, jumping barricades, throwing projectiles and “citywide paralysis”. Thousands of activists, journalists, scientists, entertainers, and other prominent voices took out a full-page call to action in the New York Times on last Wednesday. “Stop the Trump/Pence regime before it starts! In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America!” the ad states. The ad pointed people to refusefascism.org, and it asserted that Trump must be stopped whether he was legitimately elected or not. Refusefascism.org, states that the protests that they are organizing in Washington D.C. will begin on January 14th. Another group that plans to kick things off on January 14th is DisruptJ20 which invites supporters to “Join us for a bold mobilization against the inauguration of Donald Trump.”

Intel Says Putin Ordered Election Interference, But Not Vote Tallying

A declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a campaign to influence the U.S. election and hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy – findings made public after officials briefed President-elect Donald Trump. The intelligence report said this campaign included cyber activity and other efforts. President-elect Trump and the intelligence community seemed to find some common ground after the briefing. Both Trump and the report said the Russians did not target vote tallying. Trump, in a statement, went a step further and said “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.” The report did not make an assessment on the impact on the election outcome. Still, the report lays out in new and alarming detail an alleged influence campaign stemming from Moscow, which Ryan and others condemned. Trump also slammed the Democrats for poor cyber-security which some experts says was easily hacked.

Planned Parenthood Has Shut Down 5 Clinics Since Trump’s Election

Planned Parenthood shut down two more of its facilities in Massachusetts this month, bringing the total number closed since Donald Trump won the election up to five. The news comes not long after a Pennsylvania affiliate of the abortion group announced that it also was closing three of its facilities in December. Administrators there cited budgetary reasons for the closings. Not all of these clinics performed abortions, but referred women to other abortion clinics in the state. While Planned Parenthood claims that it does not use tax dollars for abortion, its reports increasingly point to abortion as its main business. Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion business in the U.S. It performs about 320,000 abortions nation-wide annually and receives about half a billion in tax dollars.

Senate Confirmation Hearings to Begin Without All Background Checks

As Senate Republicans embark on a flurry of confirmation hearings this week, several of Donald J. Trump’s appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees. Republicans, who are expected to hold up to five hearings on Wednesday alone, say they simply want to ensure that the new president has a team in place as soon as possible. But Democrats are calling for the process to be slowed and for the hearings to be spread out. That, they say, would allow more time to vet the nominees. Republicans say they expect the missing documents to be submitted for all the nominees eventually and that none of the nominees could receive a full vote on the Senate floor before the vetting was complete. Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions is the first of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees to face a Senate confirmation hearing starting Tuesday.

Shooter at Fort Lauderdale Airport Had Been Released by FBI/Police

Esteban Santiago went to baggage claim Friday afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and picked up his one piece of checked luggage containing a case with a handgun inside. Santiago took the gun out of its case and fired at other passengers, killing five and wounding eight others. Almost 40 more people would get hurt in the rushed evacuation after the attack. Santiago didn’t resist when he was taken into custody. The 26-year-old lives in Alaska, where he was a security guard. Alaska was also the site of his last military assignment. He was a member of the Alaska Army National Guard from November 2014 until this past August when he was discharged for unsatisfactory performance. In November, Santiago paid a visit to the FBI office in Anchorage, telling agents he was being directed by a US intelligence agency to fight for ISIS. Santiago was turned over to local authorities and he voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation. When Esteban Santiago was in the Alaska FBI office in November, he left two things in the car, a gun and his newborn child. The gun was taken from him, but Santiago got the gun back a month later when he retrieved the pistol from police headquarters, and it was that weapon, law enforcement sources told CNN, that he used at the airport. Relatives of Santiago say he has a history of mental health problems and was receiving psychological treatment at his home in Alaska. Santiago “lost his mind in Iraq,” the family says.

New Army Regulations Permit Hijabs, Turbans and Religious Beards

The U.S. Army has issued a directive on grooming and appearance regulations that allows observant Sikh men and conservative Muslim women to wear religious head coverings. The policy also permits Sikh soldiers to maintain their beards and female soldiers to wear their hair in dreadlocks. “The Army has reviewed its policies to ensure soldiers can serve in a manner consistent with their faith so that we can recruit from the broadest pool of America’s best,” Army Secretary Eric Fanning said in a statement. Soldiers will have to submit their requests for brigade-level approval, the Army Times reported. Soldiers, however, will still be required to wear combat helmets or other protective gear when training or deployment requires it.

Trump/Navy Plan Resurgence of Ship Building

With President-elect Donald Trump demanding more ships, the Navy is proposing the biggest shipbuilding boom since the end of the Cold War to meet threats from a resurgent Russia and saber-rattling China. The Navy’s 355-ship proposal released last month is even larger than what the Republican Trump had promoted on the campaign trail, providing a potential boost to shipyards that have struggled because budget caps that have limited money funding for ships. “Whether Congress and the government can actually fund it, is a whole other ball game,” said Rich Nolan, president of the shipyard’s largest union.

Economic News

Alibaba founder Jack Ma met with Donald Trump Monday and pledged to create one million jobs in the U.S. over the next five years through the company’s e-commerce platform. He’s talking about stimulating trade by helping one million small businesses sell American goods to consumers in China and Asia. Ma has been pushing since 2015 to increase U.S. sales to China through Alibaba.

A middle-income, married couple with two children will spend an estimated $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015, according to a report released by the Department of Agriculture Monday. And that number only covers costs from birth through age 17, so it doesn’t include college expenses. Families can expect to spend between $12,350 and nearly $14,000 a year, on average, to raise a child.

The Limited, a once-popular women’s clothing brand that offers casual attire and workwear, no longer has any storefronts. On Saturday, a message on the store’s website read, “We’re sad to say that all The Limited stores nationwide have officially closed their doors. But this isn’t goodbye.” The website will still be up and running and will continue to ship nationwide, the company said. Sears said on Thursday that it would close 109 Kmart stores and 41 of its namesake Sears outlets. The announcement came on the same day that Sears disclosed plans to sell its iconic Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker. Sears also closed 78 stores last year and more than 200 in 2015.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Sunday announced a $1 billion investment to expand factories in Ohio and Michigan and create 2,000 jobs in the United States. The announcement is the latest phase in an “industrialization plan” the company announced a year ago. In a 2015 labor deal with the United Auto Workers union, the company had committed to invest $5.3 billion in American plants to guarantee additional union jobs.

Israel

A truck plowed into a group of soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four people and injuring at least 13. All the slain victims were in their 20s. A group had gotten off a bus and were getting organized with their bags when the terrorist rammed his truck into the group. Then he reversed and tried to ram them again until shots were fired, and the terrorist was shot and killed at the scene. The attack happened on a popular promenade overlooking the walled Old City of Jerusalem. Hamas, the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization, praised the attacker on Twitter. Hamas’ stated goal is the creation of an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state and the destruction of the state of Israel. The driver may have been an ISIS sympathizer, authorities say, whom they identified as 28-year-old Fadi Qunbar.

Islamic State

ISIS has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings at crowded Baghdad markets on Sunday, killing 16 people. The attacks happened the same day anti-ISIS forces advanced on the terror group’s stronghold in Mosul. At least 11 people were killed and 25 others were wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded in an outdoor busy market in eastern Baghdad on Sunday. A suicide bomber drove his car and detonated it in Alwat-Jamila market in eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City. The ISIS media wing, Amaq, claimed responsibility in a statement posted on Twitter and tweeted by various ISIS supporters. The statement reads that the attacker targeted Shiites gathering in the area. In the second attack, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up at a busy market in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Baladiyat, police said. At least five people were killed, and 12 were wounded.

Media reports in Germany indicate that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been engaged in planning to attack pro-Israel organizations in several European countries. The reports are based on investigations by German’s federal prosecutor which led to individuals being arrested on charges of espionage, conspiracy to assassinate a public official and related crimes.

Syria

Around 50 people have been killed and 80 more injured in a massive car bombing Saturday in the rebel-held city of Azaz in northern Syria. The explosion occurred around 11:40 a.m. local time near the courthouse and grocery market, and that was caused by a truck bomb. There has been no claim of responsibility so far, but ISIS car bombs have targeted the city, near the Turkish border, in the past. The reported violence comes despite a nationwide ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, that has largely held since coming into force December 30.

Russia/Turkey

Russian warplanes have carried out airstrikes to support Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria against the Islamic State, an important evolution in a budding Russian-Turkish partnership. The deepening ties threaten to marginalize the United States in the struggle to shape Syria’s ultimate fate. The air missions, which took place for about a week near the strategically important town of Al Bab, represent the Kremlin’s first use of its military might to help the Turks in their fight against the militant group. The Russian bombing is a remarkable turnabout from November 2015, when a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 attack plane that had violated Turkey’s airspace. Russia and Turkey had already been involved in a joint effort to establish a cease-fire in Syria — one that does not involve the United States. At the same time, ties between the United States and Turkey have come under growing strain as the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has become increasingly alarmed about the Kurdish forces known as the Y.P.G. The United States has aligned itself with those forces to combat the Islamic State in Syria.

Iran

Senior Iranian officials late last week confirmed reports that the total amount of money paid to Iran over the past four years is in excess of $10 billion, a figure that runs counter to official estimates provided by the White House. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi confirmed last week a recent report in the Wall Street Journal detailing some $10 billion in cash and assets provided to Iran since 2013. The latest disclosure by Iran sheds further light on the White House’s back room dealings to bolster Iran’s economy and preserve the Iran nuclear agreement. The Obama administration has been obfuscating details about its cash transfers to Iran, only belated admitting that a $1.7 billion cash payment was actually a ransom to free imprisoned Americans.

Reports emerged Tuesday that the Obama Administration in the U.S. has agreed with other world governments to approve the transfer of a 116 metric-ton shipment of natural uranium from Russia to Iran as part of the loosening of sanctions under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. The move came despite increased tensions between Iran and the West highlighted on Sunday by an incident in the Persian Gulf in which Iranian gunboats attempted to interfere in the operation of a US Navy warship, which was obliged to fire flares to warn off the Iranian boats.

  • In order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we’re shipping nuclear material to them? What a great nuclear agreement.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s minimum wage keeps rocketing skyward as the country grapples with insane levels of inflation. President Nicolas Maduro hiked the minimum wage another 50% on Sunday, the fifth increase in the past year. That sounds like a big raise, but it pales in comparison with the dizzying increases in prices that have made food too expensive for many Venezuelans. Inflation is expected to surge to 1,660% this year and 2,880% next year, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund. The government has resorted to increasingly extreme measures to try to combat the economic chaos, which has left people facing severe shortages of food and medicines. The country’s plunging currency and runaway inflation have made its banknotes virtually worthless. Maduro announced plans last month to print new bills in far higher denominations to replace the old ones, including a 20,000 bolivar note (200 times bigger than the largest note previously in circulation).

Brazil

Four people died Sunday in a riot at a prison in Brazil, the nation’s third deadly prison uprising in seven days. Three inmates were decapitated and one was asphyxiated in the Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa public jail in the northern part of the country. The jail, which was shut down in October because of improper conditions, was reopened last week after deadly uprisings at other prisons in Brazil. Nearly 300 prisoners had been transferred to the jail. On January 1, at least 56 prisoners died in a riot at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex, also in Manaus. A Friday riot at the Agricultural Penitentiary of Monte Cristo, in Brazil’s Roraima state in the Amazon, left at least 33 people dead, authorities said.

Environment

London breached its annual air pollution limits five days into the new year, Mayor Sadiq Khan said Friday. An environmental activist said an “incredible” level of pollution was detected on Brixton Road — a busy shopping and transport hub — and that bus services should have been suspended and pedestrians warned to leave the area. European Union law stipulates that a maximum nitrogen dioxide concentration of 200 micrograms per cubic meter must not be exceeded for more than 18 hours over the entire year. European Union law stipulates that a maximum nitrogen dioxide concentration of 200 micrograms per cubic meter must not be exceeded for more than 18 hours over the year.

Weather

Winter Storm Iras continues to bring a wintry mess to much of the Midwest Tuesday after dumping more than a foot of snow in some locations of the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies and leaving at least two dead on Monday. In California, 25 inches was reported in Mammoth Lakes, while in Colorado, an estimated 18.2 inches fell in the higher terrain near Steamboat Springs. In Idaho, 12 inches fell in Haily, while Montana saw 6.5 inches. Further west, an estimated 20 inches fell on Paulina, Oregon. Cle Elum, Washington, recorded 14 inches, while Nevada saw 5 inches near Incline Village.

An atmospheric river dumped torrential rain, even at high elevations, triggering the worst flooding in parts of northern California and western Nevada in 11 years this past weekend. Hundreds have been evacuated and at least three people have died as one of the worst flooding disasters in the past decade hits California and Nevada. Residents voluntarily evacuated at least 1,300 homes in a south Reno neighborhood Sunday as the Truckee River breached its banks. The Truckee River peaked about six feet above flood stage Monday morning in neighboring Sparks, where several feet of water is expected to flood an industrial area where 25,000 people work. A state of emergency has been declared in Nevada. In just 24 hours from Sunday morning through Monday morning, there were 105 reports of flooding, flash flooding, or landslides in California and Nevada. Parts of the Sierra, and coastal ranges of northern California have picked up over a foot of rain since Saturday morning. Flood watches and warnings continue in parts of southwest Oregon, much of northern California below snow level, and western Nevada. One of northern California’s most iconic and beloved big sequoia trees – the ‘tunnel tree’ – was toppled by the storm.

Winter storm Helena spread winter weather across a broad belt of the South from Texas to North Carolina and Virginia. By Sunday, Heavy snow had made way inland from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast, bringing blizzard conditions to parts of eastern Virginia. Helena moved well east of Cape Cod, but brought heavy snow and gusty winds to the peninsula as it tracked off the Northeast seaboard. Snow totals in the east included 19.5 inches in East Bridgewater, Mass., with 7 inches in Boston and up to 10 inches in Connecticut and New Jersey. Maryland and Delaware got about a foot of snow, as did Williamsburg, VA, although Washington D.C. got less than one inch. Sleet, ice and snow fell in the deep south, with areas of North Carolina getting up to a foot with Georgia receiving 6 inches in some areas. Alabama and Mississippi saw around 3 inches while areas of Oklahoma and Texas got up to 5 inches.

Heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures continued to sweep across Europe on Saturday, contributing to more than a dozen deaths and disrupting transportation in Turkey and Italy. In Poland, at least 10 people have died of the cold in the past days. In Belgium, one man died Saturday when his lorry slid off the highway. In Italy, sub-freezing temperatures were blamed for the deaths of a half-dozen homeless people. Heavy snow and high winds resulted in re-routed flights, delayed ferries, canceled trains and closed roads in Italy. Heavy snow crippled Istanbul, and more than 650 Turkish Airlines flights were canceled. One of the main highways in Istanbul resembled a parking lot after drivers deserted their cars Friday night to walk home rather than battle the snow. “This is the coldest weather we’ve had for 20 years,” Italian meteorologist Edoardo Ferrara said. Wintry conditions caused a pileup in Serbia that left 22 people injured, including children, on the outskirts of the city of Nis.

Signs of the Times (1/6/17)

January 6, 2017

Alabama Supreme Court Rules Unborn Baby is a Person

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a woman who claims her doctor caused her to have a miscarriage by administering an abortion-inducing drug can proceed. Kimberly Stinnett’s usual doctor was reportedly out the day of her appointment. Karla Kennedy, the doctor who was filling in that day, believed that Stinnett had an ectopic pregnancy since she had had one previously. Thus, Kennedy decided to administer methotrexate, a drug that, as the court noted, is “intended to cause the end of the pregnancy.” However, when Stinnett’s usual doctor, William Huggins, examined her pregnancy via ultrasound, he found that Stinnett did not have an ectopic pregnancy after all, but instead had a normal intrauterine pregnancy. He said that Stinnett’s pregnancy was now doomed to fail, which it did a few weeks later. The court’s decision to allow Stinnett’s case to proceed has significant implications for the pro-life movement since they based their decision on the belief that Kennedy had possibly contributed to a homicide–meaning that Stinnett’s unborn baby was a person and not simply a fetus.

Poll Reveals 5 Key Findings on Religion in the U.S.

A recent Gallup poll on religion in America has revealed five specific noteworthy trends: 1) While America remains a predominantly Christian nation overall, it is becoming less so than in years past, down 6 percentage points since 2008; 2) Formal religious identification is decreasing, with about 20% having no formal religious identity vs. 3% in the 1950s; 3) 53%of Americans still say that religion plays an important role in their lives, down from 70% in 1950; 4) Seventy-two percent believe that religion is declining in American life, up significantly from the 1950s; 5) On the whole, Republicans tend to identify as religious more often than Democrats. Just over half of Republicans are “highly religious” and regularly attend religious services, while only a third of Democrats identify as the same.

Religious Makeup of the New Congress Overwhelmingly Christian

The United States Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Nearly 91 percent of members of the 115th Congress that convened on January 3rd describe themselves as Christian, compared to 95 percent of Congress members serving from 1961 to 1962, according to congressional data compiled by CQ Roll Call and analyzed by Pew. That comes even as the share of Americans who describe themselves as Christian (now at 71 percent) has dropped in that time, Pew researchers noted. The share of Protestants in Congress has dropped from 75 percent to 56 percent since the 1960s, while the share of Catholics has jumped from 19 percent to 31 percent.

Senate Takes First Step to Defund Planned Parenthood

The U.S. Senate took the first step in the process of defunding Planned Parenthood. According to LifeNews.com, the Senate held a party-line vote approving of a budget resolution bill aimed at directing taxpayer funding away from the abortion provider to family healthcare providers that offer less controversial healthcare. Pro-life advocates are hopeful the Senate will make defunding Planned Parenthood a priority in the new budget. President-elect Trump has said he is committed to defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to provide abortions.

Repealing ObamaCare “First Order of Business”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to assure Republican lawmakers and voters that “the first order of business” for the incoming Donald Trump administration is to repeal ObamaCare. Pence told lawmakers in a meeting Wednesday morning that they hope to have a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by Feb. 20, one month after the inauguration.  Pence spoke as President Obama huddled with fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill to strategize on ways to preserve at least parts of his signature health care law. The separate sessions came on the second day of the new, GOP-led Congress.

House Moves to Kill Obama’s Last-Minute ‘Midnight’ Regs

Members of the House of Representatives voted along party lines Wednesday to make it easier to undo last-minute regulations published by President Barack Obama’s administration before President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office. The House voted 235-181 to approve California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s Midnight Rules Relief Act, which amends the Congressional Review Act and gives Congress authority to kill blocks of new regulations issued in the last 60 days of a president’s term. “Regulations impacting the economy, the environment, families, and our community should be done with great caution and transparency, not get rushed in last-minute on a President’s way out of office,” Issa said in a statement.

New Rasmussen Poll: Media Biased Against Trump

A new poll released on Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports found that nearly half the American people are still convinced that the media are biased against President-elect Donald Trump since Election Day. Rasmussen reported that 48 percent “of all Likely U.S. Voters believe most reporters are biased against the president-elect” while “12% think they are biased for Trump. About 31% feel most reporters try to be fair and balanced.” A majority (74%) of Republican respondents and plurality (47%) of Democratic participants agreed that the media coverage of Trump was tilted against him. However, 47% of Democrats believe most reporters try to be fair and balanced, a view shared by just 29% of unaffiliated voters and only 15% of GOP voters.

Obama Sends Special Forces to Lithuania

An American Special Forces contingent is stationed in Lithuania to bolster the training of the Baltic state’s own commandos and to serve as a deterrence against potential “Russian aggression.” “The United States was the first to offer additional safety assurance measures to the Baltic countries following the deterioration of the security situation in the region after the annexation of the Crimea,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Asta Galdikaite said Tuesday after an earlier New York Times report which broke the news. The NYT claimed that dozens of U.S. Special Operations Forces are already training troops in the Baltic states which, as the newspaper puts it, are “confronting a looming threat from Russia.” The U.S. contingent is also engaged in enhancing the “Americans’ ability to detect Moscow’s shadowy efforts to destabilize the former Soviet republics.”

Black Lives Matter Activists Torture Special-Needs White Teen

Four black suspects have been charged in connection with the attack on a special-needs white teen that was streamed on Facebook Live. Video of the torture has stunned the country, not just because of the graphic abuse, but because of the comments made by some of the assailants in which they cursed Trump and white people. The teen was tied up and beaten for almost five hours. One of the assailants used a knife to carve off a portion of his scalp. The police department sought hate crime charges because of the victim’s diminished mental capacity and the racial epithets heard on the video. The four people torturing him are Black Lives Matter activists, reports EagleRising.com and Constitution.com.

Natural Disasters Caused $175 Billion in Damage in 2016

Earthquakes in Japan. Devastating floods in China. A deadly hurricane that swept across Haiti. These disasters helped push the total damage caused by natural catastrophes to $175 billion in 2016, according to the German reinsurance firm Munich RE. The global cost was the highest in four years. Only 30% of the losses — $50 billion — were insured. The costliest disasters were in Asia. Two earthquakes in Japan combined to produce $31 billion in losses, while floods that struck China during the summer caused $20 billion in damage. In North America, the costliest single event was Hurricane Matthew, which killed hundreds of people in Haiti and produced $10 billion in damage. The North American continent was hit by a total of 160 disaster events in 2016, which is more than any year since 1980. However, the number of people killed by natural disasters in 2016 was down from 25,400 in 2015 to 8.700 last year.

Migrant Update

With New Year’s Eve celebrations across Europe once again marred by sex assaults and rioting by Muslim immigrants amid heightened terror warnings, many Europeans are arming themselves and some of their leaders are urging drastic action. In Dortmund, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, more than two-dozen people were injured when a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted “Allahu Akhbar,” launched fireworks at police and set fire to the roof of Germany’s oldest church, St. Reinolds. In Hamburg, 14 women were the victims of sex attacks. Officers said three Syrians, three Iraqis, two Afghans, one Eritrean and one German were arrested in connection with the assaults. Firefighters and police were called out to more than 2,000 incidents during the celebrations. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere called for putting his country’s police and intelligence services under the authority of a single national police force and giving the federal government responsibility for deporting rejected asylum-seekers, the Telegraph of London reported.

According to UNICEF, 51% of the world’s refugees are children below 18 years of age. Many of these children have witnessed violence, have limited to no access to education and medicine, and have experienced days—if not months—on the move. Some have been separated from their families. All have been displaced from their communities. Some of these children have experienced sexual abuse in addition to those challenges. Some have been trafficked, taken as sex slaves or sold as child brides. Others have been forced into “survival sex” in exchange for basic needs (e.g., food or shelter).

Persecution Update

A Christian woman in China has been sentenced to prison for holding a Bible study. She has been sentenced to serve three years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” for her Bible study. She was taken into police custody with four other Christians after officials said she was holding the Bible study without government approval. Recently, China’s government has been pursuing non-government sanctioned Christian gatherings and arresting pastors and Christians.

In Austrian, an unnamed woman survived a stabbing attack by an Afghan Muslim migrant at a refugee camp in Austria for reading the Bible. She was asked by other Christian residents of the refugee center to read the Bible and lead a Bible study with them in the center’s kitchen. While she read from the Bible, however, a 22-year-old refugee from Afghanistan burst into the kitchen and began attacking her. He reportedly stabbed her repeatedly, but miraculously, because of the large coat she was wearing, she survived.

Economic News

In December, the U.S. economy added a slightly disappointing 156,000 jobs. It marked the 75th consecutive month of job gains since the Great Recession. For all of 2016, the U.S. added over 2 million new jobs. The unemployment rate rose to 4.7% from 4.6% in November, which was the lowest rate since 2007. Wages grew a solid 2.9% in December, the best pace since 2009. Wage growth has been one of the last economic measures to gain momentum. U.S. unemployment hit a high of 10% in October 2009 and is now at less than half that level. However, over 5 million Americans have part-time jobs but want to work full time. And many blue-collar workers feel left behind in the economic recovery.

A surge in December deals pushed the number of cars sold in 2016 to a record high for the seventh year in a row. Sales for 2016 set a record of 17.6 million cars and trucks, a slight increase over the 17.5 million vehicles sold the year before. The record was aided by the number of older cars on the road, improved economic conditions, easy credit, compelling product and Millennials aging and buying cars. Back in 2009, massive job losses and tight credit sent car sales plunging to only 10.4 million.

After berating Ford and GM, the U.S. president-elect is now going after Toyota for making cars in Mexico for the U.S. market. His attack has set off alarm bells in Japan, prompting the national government and another top carmaker to step into the fray. Trump threatened to slap a “big border tax” on Toyota cars if their new plant isn’t built in the U.S.

Macy’s said Wednesday it’s shutting down 68 stores and cutting more than 10,000 jobs. The announcement was issued alongside an unfavorable earnings report, showing comparable store sales dipped 2.1% last quarter. A few stores have already been shuttered, but 63 will close down between now and mid-2017, leaving about 660 U.S. stores left open.

It’s the end of an era for Sears. The struggling retailer is selling its iconic Craftsman brand to tool maker Stanley Black & Decker. Sears will continue to sell Craftsman tools in its stores. Sears will get $525 million from Stanley Black & Decker once the deal closes, another $250 million at the end of the third year and a percentage of annual payments of new Craftsman sales for the next 15 years. The total of $90 million in cash is sorely needed by Sears, owner of the also-struggling Kmart.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a year-end meeting of Israel’s ambassadors and chiefs of missions in Europe on Tuesday, warning that there are serious efforts underway at the UN and several world capitals to deliver harsh diplomatic blows to Israel before the inauguration on 20 January of incoming US President Donald Trump. The largest looming threat comes from a planned international summit in Paris on 15 July, where the Palestinians are hoping to secure backing for a UN Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian State.

American lawmakers voted 342-80 on Thursday for a non-binding resolution that declares unwavering support for Israel and insists that the US reject any future actions at the UN that are similarly “one-sided and anti-Israel.” The House action was taken in response to the Obama administration’s abstention in the passing of Resolution 2334 at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last month, which condemns Israeli “settlements” – i.e. Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – as an obstacle to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The House action was taken in response to the Obama administration’s abstention in the passing of Resolution 2334 at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last month, which condemns Israeli “settlements” – i.e. Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – as an obstacle to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to scuttle resolutions that condemn Israel. Disputes between Israel and the Palestinians must be resolved through direct negotiations, according to longstanding practice and policy.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV News show reported Friday that the IDF’s “Eros B” spy satellite had found evidence of Russian “Iskander” medium-range and nuclear capable ballistic missiles at a military base controlled by forces loyal to the Assad regime in Latakia, Syria. The discovery indicates intentions for a much deeper involvement in the Middle East by Russia than Moscow has previously admitted.

Islamic State

At least 14 American military personnel have been wounded in combat since the start of October while battling Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to Defense Department data reviewed by Military Times. The sudden increase accounts for nearly half of the 30 wounded-in-action reports that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged since the ISIS campaign began in August 2014, and coincides with two ongoing offensives targeting the terror group’s strongholds in both countries: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the Islamic State’s self-declared capital.

Syria

The latest joke in the Syrian capital is also a prayer of sorts: “May the gold you hold become water.” It is a half-hearted attempt to make light of a water crisis that is impacting millions in Damascus, a city that has been relatively sheltered from the violence raging elsewhere in the country. Some four million people in Damascus have suffered from acute water shortages for more than a week after springs outside the Syrian capital were targeted. Water from the Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fija springs, which serve 70 percent of the population in and around Damascus, was cut after infrastructure was damaged in fierce clashes. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs described the damages as “deliberate,” without saying who was responsible.

Iran

Iran increased oil production in 2016 from 870,000 to 3.67 million barrels a day by November, an increase of approximately 321 percent. The remarkable surge in production followed an easing of international sanctions brought about by the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in July 2015, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. With production back to pre-sanctions levels, Iran now needs investment partners to help get the most out of its oil fields going forward. In response, the oil ministry qualified 29 international oil companies to bid on investment projects. Among the most notable qualified corporations is China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. China was one of the members of the P5+1, the group of countries that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.

Turkey

Turkish authorities said Wednesday they have identified the gunman who killed 39 people in the New Year’s nightclub terror attack in Istanbul. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu announced the development but did not name the suspect or provide his nationality. Authorities have also detained 20 alleged members of ISIS in connection with Sunday morning’s attack at the Reina nightclub.

A car bombing linked to a major Turkish insurgent group killed at least two people in western Turkey on Thursday, police announced, adding that one of the three heavily armed attackers was still on the loose. Officers shot and killed the other two attackers in the coastal city of Izmir before the third escaped. The unnamed killers, packing Kalashnikov rifles and grenades, fought with police outside a courthouse in the city before blowing up their car. Officials believe the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party likely ordered the attack. In another attack, two people were killed in an explosion Thursday near a courthouse in the city of Izmir in western Turkey. Nine people were hospitalized with injuries. Police killed two assailants, according to Izmir Gov. Erol Ayyildiz, who blamed the militant Kurdistan Worker’s Party.

Philippines

A manhunt continues in the Philippines after an armed raid led to a mass prison escape. As many as 158 inmates fled the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan City in the southern Philippines early Wednesday after armed men attacked the compound. More than 100 armed men attacked the facility. The firefight lasted two hours. One jail officer was killed and another was injured during the conflict. The inmates escaped through the back portion of the jail as the firefight raged. Fourteen men have since been apprehended and six have been killed. Two inmates have voluntarily surrendered. The jail’s latest recorded population is 1,511 inmates.

Weather

Heavy rains produced localized flooding, mudslides and power outages in the San Francisco Bay area, making Wednesday morning’s commute difficult. Several roads were flooded in the San Francisco Bay area, including eastbound 980 near Berkeley, where approximately 6-8 inches of water was reported on the highway. Flooding was also been reported on portions of U.S. 101, with six inches of water in Marin County three miles south of San Rafael. On the highway four miles northeast of Daly City, vehicles were reportedly hydroplaning because of the flooding.

Winter Storm Helena has begun pushing east after pummeling the west with heavy snow, and the storm’s impacts are already being felt in Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, further east, the rush was on as millions in the Deep South began preparations Thursday for the dangerous, deadly winter storm that could cause serious problems across the region. Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina have all declared states of emergency.

Signs of the Times (1/3/17)

January 3, 2017

Troubling Trends for Christian Persecution

According to Mission Network News, the last few years have presented troubling trends for Christian persecution worldwide. The year 2016 was the third year in a row in which persecution continued to rise significantly. The International Business Times reported that Nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in the past year, which is the equivalent of one Christian being martyred every six minutes. In addition to the astounding number of Christians killed for their faith, millions of others were prevented from freely practicing their religion. Open Doors revealed that North Korea will again top their World Watch List in 2017, the country’s 15th year as the worst country for Christian persecution.

Uproar Over Sex Change Book for Young Children

A controversial new book on gender is set to be introduced as a resource in some British primary schools later this month, and it’s already causing an uproar. It’s called “Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?” Written by CJ Atkinson, a self-described “trans advocate,” the book aims to teach children as young as seven about gender identity and is told from the point of view of a child unhappy with their gender. The book challenges children to think about—and even challenge—their biology. The book’s subject, a 12-year-old “transitioning” from female to male, uses puberty blocking drugs to undergo a sex change. Jessica Kingsley Publishers says that the book is the first to “explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above.” The book is set to be distributed by the government-funded organization, Educate and Celebrate, for use in schools.

  • In our fallen world, God’s initial design for humanity continues to be corrupted by genetic abnormalities that some wish to set as the norm.

Bible Museum to Open in Washington, D.C.

The Bible, the world’s most popular and famous book, is getting its own museum in Washington, D.C. The Museum of the Bible is set to open later this year as envisioned by Steve Green, the billionaire evangelical president of Hobby Lobby. The eight-story, 430,000-square-foot, high-tech museum is expected to cost about $1 billion to build and include over 40,000 biblical texts and artifacts. The museum’s exhibits range from fragments of the Gutenberg Bible to first editions of the King James Bible. Visitors will see the world’s oldest Jewish prayer book and its largest collection of Torah scrolls. The Museum will also house the Green Collection, which includes the second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scrolls in the world, collected by Steve Green.

Legalized Pot Affecting Newborns

After Colorado legalized marijuana, St. Mary-Corwin hospital in Pueblo reports that 1 in 10 babies have tested positive for the psychoactive constituent of cannabis, known as THC. And nearly a third of babies tested from January 2015 to September 2016 had THC in their systems. Steve Simerville, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary-Corwin medical Center told WebmD that, “We’ve known for years, since the 70s, that babies exposed to marijuana have diminished school performance, are more likely to drop out, and more likely to experiment later in life.” A study published in a Scandinavian medical journal says heavy marijuana usage in teens is associated with lower IQ scores. But the impact on newborns remains unknown, but worrisome, reports Newsmax.

220 Illegal Alien Kids Released Per Day into U.S.

During the month of November alone, the Obama administration sent enough border-crossing illegal alien children to live in American communities to fill up 12 Washington, D.C. middle schools, reports mrctv.org. Over the entire 30-day period, the Obama administration processed and turned loose 6,623 illegal alien kids who’d recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully. The administration released about 600 more kids in November than they did during the month of October, when 6,051 children were sent to live with sponsors in the U.S. pending their day in immigration court. FY2016 data reveals the vast majority of these children are teens claiming to be between 15 and 17 years of age. Data from the federal immigration court system shows that more than a third of these children won’t show up for their court date, including about 90 percent of those children who are ordered removed from the country. Additionally, recently released information from the Department of Health and Human Services shows the administration only conducts home studies for about six percent of the illegal alien children released, failing to follow up on the vast majority who are left to disappear into communities across the country, possibly into gangs.

How Terrorists Get into U.S.

Newsmax reports that the most common way terrorists get into the U.S. is actually legal via the Green Card, which serves as proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and take employment in the United States. Of the 154 foreign-born terrorists who entered America to commit terrorist, 54 were Green Card residents. Among the rest, 34 had tourist visas, 20 were refugees, 19 had student visas, 10 were illegal immigrants, 4 were asylum seekers, 3 were under the Visa Waiver Program and one had received a Fiancé Waiver. The status of nine others couldn’t be determined.

Even Democrats Blast Kerry’s Two-State Solution Speech

Democratic lawmakers criticized Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech Wednesday deploring Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria and defending the US abstention from last week’s anti-Israel UN resolution. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) said his former Senate colleague “seems to have forgotten the history of settlements in Gaza,” referring to Israel’s withdrawal from the area in 2005 and evacuation of close to 9,000 Jewish residents of thriving agricultural communities. The result was a Hamas takeopver of the Strip, continuous rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and two full-scale wars. He also warned that Kerry’s speech may have “emboldened extremists on both sides.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) said Kerry reaffirmed America’s commitment to Israel, but she opposed the Obama administration’s decision to abstain at the resolution, thus enabling the UN Security Council to condemn Israel. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D – MD) also criticized Kerry’s address and said the UNSC resolution “will not bring peace closer.” Kerry’s speech “inevitably disadvantaged Israel in any negotiation,” he said.

Trump Rebukes House GOP for Gutting Ethics Panel

Donald Trump called out House Republicans Tuesday for proposing a measure that would gut an independent ethics panel, although the President-elect suggested the ethics panel was “unfair.” “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS,” Trump said over two consecutive tweets. House Republicans later reversed course and withdrew a plan to eliminate the ethics office, after intense criticism from Donald Trump and others. On Monday night, House Republicans voted to gut Congress’ independent watchdog by 119-74 in opposition to GOP leadership. It would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those very lawmakers, a move that outraged Democrats, GOP leadership and Trump.

WikiLeaks Assange Says Russians Not the Source of DNC Hacking

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in an exclusive interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, said the Russian government was not the source of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign that his organization released during the 2016 presidential race. Despite the Obama administration’s claims that Russia was behind cyber-intrusions meant to interfere with the U.S. election – and punitive measures taken against Moscow last week – Assange said nobody associated with the Russian government gave his group the files. “We can say, we have said, repeatedly that over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party,” Assange told Fox News. In addition, the Washing Post reports that federal officials investigating suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, now say the incident is not linked to the Russian government, as initially reported.

Leaked Audio: Kerry/Obama Wanted ISIS to Grow

As President Obama reflects on his legacy, a recording of Secretary of State John Kerry conversing with leaders of Syrian opposition groups is casting more light on his approach to ISIS, indicating his administration believed that allowing the Islamic State to grow would serve the White House’s objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad. The recording was leaked to the New York Times and reported Sept. 30, but the Conservative Tree House blog this week featured portions of Kerry’s statements that were virtually ignored at the time. Regime change was Obama’s only objective in Syria, Kerry indicates, and the administration not only hoped ISIS would carry out the task, it gave arms to the jihadist army and its allies, reports WorldNetDaily.com. Kerry also admits the U.S. didn’t calculate that Assad would turn to Russia for help.

Obama Leaves U.S. with No Carrier at Sea

For the first time since World War II, there is no U.S. aircraft carrier at sea to respond to threats, according to Fox News. In a nearly unprecedented move, there will likely be a nearly one-month gap between the docking of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which docked last Friday, and the deployment of the USS George H.W. Bush, the ship meant to replace it. According to Defense News, the Bush is not scheduled to leave the port of Norfolk until at least the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump, and it could possibly leave later. The Bush, Fox News reported, has been delayed in the shipyards for over six months. A carrier at port could be “surged” in order to meet any threat that emerges, the Navy said. However, at a time of geopolitical instability, it is notable that President Obama has taken our most important defense option out of service.

States Already Moving to Reform Healthcare

While Washington has been gridlocked over healthcare, the nation’s states haven’t been idle. In 2016, legislatures in 46 states passed more than 200 laws to fix problems in their healthcare systems, Newsmax reports. The pace of such changes is expected to accelerate when President-elect Trump takes office. Several states are considering free market reforms that make it easier for consumers and providers to adjust to supply and demand as well as other market factors. The goal is to inform consumers why services are so expensive and to facilitate cost comparisons among healthcare providers such as hospitals, imaging centers or clinics.

Trump Threatens Chicago Over Murder Rate

President-elect Donald Trump said Monday that if Mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t turn the tide on Chicago’s soaring murder rate, Washington may need to step in. Trump, who frequently cited Chicago’s violence during the presidential campaign, tweeted about The Windy City a day after the Chicago Police Department released year-end crime stats showing homicide numbers that dwarfed those of New York and Los Angeles combined. “Chicago murder rate is record setting – 4,331 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016. If Mayor can’t do it he must ask for Federal help!” Trump tweeted. Most of the Chicago statistics were grim, showing the nation’s third-largest city recorded 1,100 more shooting incidents than in 2015 and had homicides spike by 278 – the largest increase in 60 years.

Economic News

President-elect Donald Trump sent a threat Tuesday to General Motors: Make the Chevrolet Cruze in the United States or face a heavy tax. “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border,” Trump tweeted. “Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!” “GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S.,” the company said. In its statement, GM stressed that it makes the sedan model of the Cruze at its plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM said it employs about 100,000 people in the U.S. and 15,000 in Mexico.

Ford is canceling plans to build a new plant in Mexico. It will invest $700 million in Michigan instead, creating 700 new U.S. jobs. Ford CEO Mark Fields said the investment is a “vote of confidence” in the pro-business environment being created by Donald Trump. However, he stressed Ford did not do any sort of special deal with the president-elect. The $700 million investment will go to the Flat Rock, Michigan plant to produce more electric and self-driving cars. Ford believes electric vehicles will outsell gas-powered vehicles within the next 15 years.

The Labor Department reported that some 600,000 out-of-work Americans have been out of work for two or more years. Overall, almost 1 out of every 10 workers has been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, Employment experts say that these people have exhausted their unemployment benefits and are often deeply in debt. They also find that their job skills have deteriorated and many employers are reluctant to accept them back into the workforce.

Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, amounting to 560 euros ($587), in a unique social experiment which is hoped to cut government red tape, reduce poverty and boost employment. The two-year trial kicked off January 1st, with the 2,000 randomly picked citizens who receive unemployment benefits. Those chosen will receive $587 every month, with no reporting requirements on how they spend it. The amount will be deducted from any benefits they already receive.

Bitcoin kicked off 2017 with a bang. The value of the digital currency topped $1,000 on Monday, its best level in at least three years. Bitcoin has spiked in recent months following a series of unexpected global events kicked off by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the sudden ban of large rupee notes in India. The rise of populism globally means that “walls are going up rather than coming down,” and people are seeing higher risks of trade wars and other fallout from the ratcheting up of tensions. All this has led Bitcoin’s value to more than double in the past year to $1,023, from around $430. Just since Trump’s election, it has spiked 40%.

Islamic State

The Islamic State starts the new year with a drastically depleted bank account, counterterrorism officials say, following months of intensified efforts to deprive the Islamists of oil profits and other revenue used to finance military operations and terrorist attacks abroad. Coalition aircraft in the past 15 months have destroyed more than 1,200 tanker trucks — including 168 vehicles struck in a single air raid in Syria in early December — while also using new weapons and tactics to inflict lasting damage on the terrorists’ remaining oil fields. The military strikes are being paired with new measures intended to shut down financial networks used by the Islamic State to procure supplies and pay its fighters, the officials say. Two weeks ago, the U.S. and Iraqi governments announced the first coordinated effort to punish Iraqi and Syrian financial services companies used by the terrorists to conduct business.

Iraq

A suicide attack on a busy commercial street in Baghdad has left at least 28 people dead and scores wounded. Two suicide bombers carried out the attack in the center of the city Saturday, the Baghdad Operations Command. At least 53 were wounded in the twin explosions in al Sinag street, a historic thoroughfare in central Baghdad. So far, no claims of responsibility have been made for the attack.

Turkey

A New Year’s bash in an upscale club in Istanbul’s Besiktas municipality turned into yet another bloodbath, with at least 39 revelers killed and almost 70 people hospitalized after an unknown attacker entered the club and started shooting. The victims were from 14 different countries. Some people jumped into the Bosporus strait, he said, a testament to the panic that engulfed the nightspot. Temperatures were near freezing in Istanbul and yet people were willing to leap into the frigid waters to escape. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the attacker is a lone assailant and that the authorities “are trying hard” to identify and apprehend the person in order to investigate any ties to terror groups. The owner of the Istanbul nightclub targeted early Sunday by the Santa Claus-clad killer reportedly said his establishment had increased security in the past week after warnings from “American intelligence.” On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Eight people have been detained by police and are being questioned in connection with the attack.

Nigeria

Two young female Boko Haram suicide bombers wearing bomb vests planned a suicide bomb attack in a crowd in Maiduguri, Nigeria. One vest detonated but there are no report as to casualties yet. The other bomber’s vest failed to detonate. She was chased down by a mob of her would-be victims and was beaten to death. The suicide bombers, thought to be a member of Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, attacked a cattle market.

Spain/Morocco

More than 50 Moroccan and Spanish border guards were injured repelling around 1,100 African migrants who attempted to storm a border fence and enter Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, Spanish authorities said Sunday. About 50 Moroccan and five Spanish border guards were injured early on Sunday when the large group of migrants tried to enter Spain. A spokesman said two migrants managed to reach Spanish soil. Both were injured in scaling the six-meter (20-foot) -high border fence and were taken to a hospital by Spanish police. A further 100 migrants climbed the fence, but Spanish agents sent them directly back to Morocco.

Environment

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that nearly 10,000 metric tons of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year. The roughly 22 million pounds of plastic a year entering the lakes comes from both the U.S. and Canada. Lake Michigan is the most polluted in terms of plastic concentration, with 5,000 metric tons per year. Second place goes to Lake Erie with 2,500 metric tons and Lake Ontario with 1,400. However, what sets the plastic pollution in the Great Lakes apart from the infamous garbage patches that collect in the ocean is that plastic debris in the Great Lakes ultimately makes its way to shore where it is washed up on beaches.  The contamination of Lake Michigan – which is the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. –  could also be detrimental to local fishing economies.

Four children died after someone at their home sprayed water on a previously applied pesticide, causing a reaction that produced toxic phosphine gas, officials in Amarillo, Texas, said. At least five other people were hospitalized in Monday’s incident. A family member had used water in an attempt to wash away the pesticide — aluminum phosphide — which had been applied under the home. There were 10 people inside the mobile home at the time. First responders also went to the hospital for treatment for possible exposure to the gas. Aluminum phosphide is listed in the Toxicity Category I by the Environmental Protection Agency — the highest and most toxic category. The substance is used to kill insects and burrowing rodents, especially in grain stores. When mixed with water it produces toxic phosphine gas.

Earthquakes

Dozens of earthquakes helped bring in the New Year around Brawley, California, but they are more of a curiosity than a concern, experts say. Earthquake “swarms” aren’t unexpected around Brawley — there also was a swarm in 2012 — because the fault-riddled region called the Brawley Seismic Zone lies between the large San Andreas Fault and the Imperial Fault. More than 100 earthquakes hit the region this past weekend, but most were too weak, under 2.5 magnitude, to be noticed by people

Wildfires

There were fewer wildfires and less acreage burned in 2016 than in 2015 and also less the 10-year average. In 2016, 62,864 wildfires burned 5.4 million acres, way down from the 9.9 million acres in 2015 and the 10-year average of 7.0 million acres.

Weather

Five people were killed Monday night as a powerful storm system swept across the Southern states, leaving a trail of destruction. The line of severe thunderstorms spawned several possible tornadoes. Four people were killed when a tree fell on a home as a tornado swept through a rural Alabama community on Monday evening. Seven people were inside the home when the storm hit in the unincorporated community of Rehobeth.