Signs of the Times (1/6/17)

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.

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