Signs of the Times (1/10/17)

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.

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