Signs of the Times (2/14/17)

200,00 Evacuated in CA as Nation’s Tallest Dam Crumbles

Another pair of storms are expected to hit California this week, and forecasters say they will be strong enough to bring 2 to 6 inches of rain to Oroville, where the concrete spillway at Oroville Dam has been crumbling since Tuesday and an emergency earthen spillway with a concrete lip was eroding so severely Sunday that officials warned a 30-foot wall of water could be unleashed on Oroville and other towns along the Feather River. Nearly 200,000 people remained under evacuation orders Tuesday as California authorities try to fix erosion of the emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam that could unleash uncontrolled flood waters if it fails. About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville – one of California’s largest man-made lakes – had water levels so high that an emergency spillway was used Saturday for the first time in almost 50 years. The evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon after engineers spotted a hole on the concrete lip of the secondary spillway for the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam and told authorities that it could fail within the hour. Panicked and angry residents fought bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours after the evacuation order was given Sunday. In an unrelated incident in Sacramento County, residents from about 20 homes in the Tyler Island area south of Walnut Grove were ordered to evacuate Monday due to a compromised levee

Trump’s National Security Advisor Resigns

President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned Monday night after reports he misled Trump administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump during the campaign. Trump is also considering former CIA Director David Petraeus and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL, for the post, according to a senior administration official. Michael Flynn handed in his resignation late Monday night, conceding that he gave “incomplete information” about his calls with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. A Russian official said Tuesday that the resignation of President Trump’s national security adviser may show early signs that the administration has been “infected” by anti-Russian feelings, Reuters reported.

AG Sessions Refuses to Defend Obama’s Gender-Identity Order

Less than 48 hours after his confirmation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice made it clear the agency was under new management by refusing to defend the Obama Administration’s controversial order to let students of both sexes use any locker room, shower, or restroom they want. The Obama administration had announced that it was simply changing the understanding of “sex” under non-discrimination law so that “sex” includes “gender identity.” That would mean a boy who says he’s a girl would have to be allowed in a girls’ shower room, or vice versa. Several states sued and U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued the injunction against the application of the newly created definition. “It is clear from Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent that this court has the power to issue a nationwide injunction where appropriate,” ruled O’Connor in Texas at the time. “Both Title IX and Title VII rely on the consistent, uniform application of national standards in education and workplace policy.” Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who were involved in a number of challenges to the Obama administration strategy to impose open restrooms on public schools, said the injunction needed to be nationwide “to prevent harm to children in other parts of the country.”

Deportation in AZ Yields Two Competing Viewpoints

Immigrant-rights advocates have portrayed the Mesa mother deported back to Mexico on Thursday as one of the first casualties of President Donald Trump’s sweeping new deportation orders. Her deportation has elicited an outpouring of public sympathy, including from many elected officials, among them Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. He called Garcia de Rayos’ detention and deportation “a tragedy” for her family. At the same time, however, her deportation has been viewed very differently by many on social media who have praised Trump’s immigration orders and Garcia de Rayos’s deportation given she had a felony conviction for criminal impersonation and possessing a false social security card. That conviction stemmed from a 2008 work-site raid by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio which found that more than half of the 197 employees at Golfland Sunsplash, the operators of Big Surf, Waterworld and Golfland fun parks, were working with questionable employment documents. “The president is doing what he said he’d do. She was a criminal and that’s who he said he’d go after… we are a nation of emigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws,” observed one commenter.

  • In a world of both good and evil, there is seldom a perfection solution – that is, until Jesus Christ comes again to rule and reign with a perfect combination of truth, love and righteousness.

Mexican Woman Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Voter Fraud

A Mexican citizen living in Texas was sentenced this week to eight years in prison for voting illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014. Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, was found guilty Wednesday on two counts of illegal voting after she falsely claimed to be a United States citizen and voted at least five times between 2012 and 2014. A jury sentenced her Thursday to eight years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Ortega’s identity came into question after she tried to register to vote twice in Tarrant County. She had voted in five elections in Dallas before her registration was canceled in April 2015.

  • Just the tip of the voter-fraud iceberg

Federal Agents Conduct Immigration Enforcement Raids

U.S. immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least a half-dozen states this week in a series of raids that marked the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 26 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes. Trump has pledged to deport as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. President Donald Trump lashed out at criticism of raids that have targeted hundreds of illegal immigrants around the country, justifying the actions as fulfillment of his campaign vow. “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” he tweeted Sunday.

Two NYC Men Plead Guilty to ISIS-Inspired Terrorism

Two New York residents accused of conspiring to support ISIS and plotting to set off a pressure-cooker bomb in the city have pleaded guilty to all charges, federal prosecutors and New York officials said. Munther Omar Saleh, 21, of Queens, and Fareed Mumuni, 22, of Staten Island, were charged with “conspiring and attempting to provide material support” to ISIS and with assaulting and conspiring to assault federal officers. Mumuni also was charged with “attempted murder of federal officers.” That charge resulted from an incident in which Mumuni repeatedly stabbed an FBI agent as law enforcement officials carried out a search warrant at his home about two years ago. Saleh, a U.S. citizen and a former aeronautics student, faces up to 53 years in prison. Mumuni’s immigration status is not clear; he faces up to 85 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16.

Dutch Immigration Expert Says 50 Million Muslims are Violent

A leading immigration expert has warned the European Union that at least 50 million Muslims are willing to approve of violence and support jihad terror attacks to “defend” their religion, reports WorldNetDaily.com. Of the approximately 1 billion adult Muslims in the world, “half of them are attached to an arch-conservative Islam which places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals, and people of other faiths,” according to Dutch professor Ruud Koopmans. Koopmans cited the U.S.-based Pew Research Center as the basis for his estimates, which he notes are conservative. In an interview with a German news website, he said, of these 500 million conservative Muslims, more than 50 million are OK with using violence against non-Muslims. Koopmans, who is a professor of sociology and migration research at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the director of integration research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, said it’s important to note that not every one of these 50 million is ready to launch a violent attack. But they do nothing to curb radicalization in their midst. “They support the radicals. They encourage them and provide them shelter or simply keep their mouths shut when they observe radicalization,” Koopmans added.

Trump’s Post-Election Foreign Policy Quickly Softens

As President. Trump begins to shape his foreign policy, he is proving to be less of a radical than either his campaign statements or his tempestuous early phone calls with foreign leaders would suggest, notes the New York Times. In a phone conversation with President Xi Jinping of China and a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Trump scaled back his campaign statement that the ‘one-China’ policy was no longer valid. And after pledging to rip up the nuclear agreement with Iran, Trump told the European Union’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, that the United States would fully carry out the agreement. “Every president discovers that it looks different from the perspective of the Oval Office than it did on the campaign trail,” said Martin S. Indyk, the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution.

Republican Officials Facing More Protests Across U.S.

Republicans this weekend faced more protests at public events — backlash that appears to be growing against President Trump and the GOP-led Congress for trying to dismantle ObamaCare and against other parts of their agenda. The episodes — like those faced by other House Republicans and by recently confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — appear similar to those staged by the Tea Party movement in 2009, notes Fox News. Members’ grassroots opposition to the increasing size of government under then-President Obama led to the 2010 wave election in which Republicans seized control of the House. DeVos, a supporter of vouchers and other alternatives to pubic education, was temporarily blocked Friday when trying to enter a District of Columbia public school. On Saturday, for the second week in a row, Florida GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis reportedly faced about a hundred people at a town hall meeting upset about Republican plans to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, without a solid alternative. A massive crowd took to the streets in North Carolina on Saturday in opposition of President Donald Trump and to a state law limiting LGBT rights.

Casual Sex on the Rise Among Millennials

A new survey detailing the extent of casual sex among singles shows many are having intimate relations before their first real date. This week, the dating service Match released a new survey on sex and singles conducted by Research Now. Included in the data are the revelations that 34 percent of singles have had sex before a first date and that millennials are 48 percent more likely to have sex before a first date than all other generations of singles in order “to see if there is a connection.” In a USA Today story on the survey, sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson suggests millennials have inverted the relationship process, using sex to determine if they want to pursue anything further with that person. “Now sex is almost a given, and it’s not the intimate part. The intimate part is getting to know someone and going on a date,” Anderson says.

$89,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Drug after 70-Fold Increase

A drug to treat muscular dystrophy will hit the U.S. market with a price tag of $89,000 a year despite being available for decades in Europe at a fraction of that cost. Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC’s pricing of the drug, which has been available in Europe, is the latest example of a business model that has drawn ire from doctors, patients and legislators in recent years: cheaply acquiring older drugs and then drastically raising their prices. The practice has prompted congressional investigations and hearings into companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Marathon’s drug, a corticosteroid called deflazacort, to treat a rare type of muscular dystrophy that affects some 12,000 boys in the U.S., most of whom die in their 20s and 30s. The drug isn’t a cure, but it has been shown to improve muscle strength, the FDA said.

European Union Moves to Eliminate Cash

The European commission has quietly launched the next offensive in the war on cash following on the heels of India. “These unelected bureaucrats have boldly asserted their intention to crack down on paper transactions across the E.U. and solidify a trend that has been gaining momentum for years”, reports Technocracy News. The financial uncertainty amplified by Brexit has incentivized governments throughout Europe to seize further control over their banking systems. France and Spain have already criminalized cash transactions above a certain limit, but now the commission has unilaterally established new regulations that will affect the entire union. With less physical currency circulating, these trends ensure that the impact of any additional central bank policies will be maximized. If economic conditions deteriorate, the threat of citizens pulling cash out of their accounts and starting a bank run is eliminated in a cashless system.

Economic News

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen signaled that the next rate hike could come as early as March in her testimony before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. Yellen stressed that the U.S. economy is doing pretty well and “has continued to make progress.” She called the U.S. job market strong and said prices are moving up at a faster pace. The Fed currently predicts three rate hikes in 2017. However, the Fed began 2016 predicting four rate hikes and ended up doing only one.

Delta Airlines announced Monday it plans to buy 32% of Aeromexico, the country’s oldest airline. Delta already owned shares of the Mexican airline, and its upcoming purchase brings Delta’s total stake to 49% of Aeromexico’s shares. The news sent Aeromexico’s stock soaring, up 16% Monday to an all-time high. Delta’s stock also jumped up 2% by Monday afternoon. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval in Mexico and the U.S. Delta said it’s not just investing in an airline, but in Mexico’s economy.

Toshiba’s chairman is stepping down after the Japanese company reported a $6.3 billion write-down for its troubled U.S. nuclear business. The massive hit to Toshiba’s bottom line dragged the struggling conglomerate to an estimated net loss of $4.4 billion for the nine months ending December 31, raising concerns about whether it can survive its latest financial woes.

Credit Suisse said Tuesday that it plans to cut up to 6,500 jobs after suffering a loss of 2.4 billion Swiss francs ($2.4 billion U.S.) in 2016. The Zurich-based lender said the bulk of the loss resulted from of a $2 billion provision it made for a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department announced in January that Credit Suisse would pay a total of $5.3 billion to settle claims that it packaged and sold toxic mortgages between 2005 and 2007. Bank CEO Tidjane Thiam said Tuesday that reaching the settlement removed a “major source of uncertainty for our future.” But it also cemented a second consecutive year of losses for the new CEO. Credit Suisse lost 2.9 billion Swiss francs ($2.9 billion U.S.) in 2015.

Venezuela

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a significant role in international drug trafficking. The Treasury Department has been investigating El Aissami for years over his alleged relations with Venezuela’s largest convicted drug trafficker and a Middle Eastern militant group, resulting in the decision to designate him a narcotics trafficker under the federal “Kingpin Act.” The department said he orchestrated drug shipments from a Venezuelan air base and multiple seaports, some weighing more than 2,200 pounds per shipment. The department also sanctioned Samark Lopez Bello, a Venezuelan businessman accused of being El Aissami’s frontman. Treasury officials would not comment on whether the Justice Department will seek indictments against the two men. But the sanctions include freezing all their U.S.-based assets, which include a twin-engine Gulfstream jet, and blocking all their U.S.-based companies and properties. The pair controlled tens of millions of dollars in Miami real estate

New data shows Venezuelans are leading asylum requests to the United States for the first time, as the middle class in the country are fleeing the crashing, oil-dependent economy. The U.S. government’s Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that 18,155 Venezuelans submitted asylum requests last year, a 150 percent increase over 2015 and six times the level seen in 2014. Data showed China in second place, with 17,745 requests coming from the country’s citizens. Venezuelans began to uproot as triple-digit inflation pulverized salaries and widespread food and medicine shortages made life unbearable for many. A large number of the asylum seekers are middle-class Venezuelans who don’t qualify for refugee status reserved for those seeking to escape political persecution.

Afghanistan

A young couple eloped in Afghanistan and was later killed by an angry mob, the New York Times reports. The woman was said to have been married to someone else against her will, and eloped with her lover. Police caught the couple Saturday and held them on suspicion of adultery, and the mob descended on the police station within hours, eventually dragging the couple away and killing them as well as injuring three police officers, one seriously, in the process. The 250- to 300-person mob was said to have been made up mostly of the woman’s legal husband’s family, but it also reportedly included her own brothers and cousins.

  • A consequence of Islam’s treatment of women as property

North Korea

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned North Korea late Monday over its latest ballistic missile launches and warned of “further significant measures” if Pyongyang doesn’t stop nuclear and missile testing. A statement from the 15 Council members strong condemned the latest launch as well as U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to deal with North Korea “very strongly.” The Security Council said North Korea’s efforts to develop its nuclear weapons delivery systems violate U.N. sanctions and increase tensions. It called on all U.N. members “to redouble their efforts” to implement U.N. sanctions. North Korea has repeatedly flouted six Security Council resolutions demanding an end to its nuclear and ballistic missile activities.

The United States and Japan held a joint press conference on Saturday night following reports that North Korea fired a ballistic missile in what would be its first such test of the year. A spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command said in an emailed statement to Fox News that the, “U.S. Strategic Command systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch.” The missile felt to the sea off the coast of Japan, seen as a warning shot to the U.S. and Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch calling on North Korea “to fully comply with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.” President Donald Trump assured Japan that the U.S. stands behind the country completely.

Germany

Germany’s parliamentary assembly has elected Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, as the country’s president. The position of president in Germany is largely ceremonial, because the chancellor is the official head of government and has a higher profile on the world stage. Steinmeier previously served as vice chancellor and foreign minister under current Chancellor Angela Merkel. His predecessor, Joachim Gauck, did not seek another term and will step down on March 18. Steinmeier, 61, has been a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump.

France

The mayor of a town in suburban Paris appealed for calm Sunday after demonstrations over the alleged rape of a young man by police turned violent. More than 2,000 people marched Saturday in Bobigny, a suburban town nearly six miles (9.2 kilometers) northeast of the French capital. They chanted and carried signs demanding justice for a 22-year-old man who says he was sodomized by a police officer’s baton. The demonstrations turned violent when a few hundred protesters broke away from the march and began rioting, police said. They smashed windows, set cars and trash cans on fire and attacked law enforcement personnel, who responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. Several vehicles were set on fire. No one was injured but 37 people were arrested.

Earthquakes

Six people were reported dead and over 100 injured in the Philippines after a strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Surigao City on Friday night. Surigao City has been placed under a state of calamity, Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas said. The earthquake also forced the closure of Surigao City domestic airport, officials said. All flights were canceled due to damaged runway. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said the airport might be closed until March 10. “This is the worst earthquake we have ever experienced,” Matugas said.

Weather

Flooding from heavy rain and rapid snowmelt last week led to mudslides, water rescues and has contributed to at least three deaths in the western United States. Parts of Nevada and California continued to battle heavy rain and rapid snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada, which led to at least two deaths attributed to widespread flooding that triggered numerous mudslides and road washouts. In Sacramento County, a freight train reportedly derailed Friday afternoon after flooding collapsed part of a railroad bridge.

New England began to dig out after another winter snowstorm Monday. Maine received the brunt of the snowfall totals in the region. Portland International Jetport had canceled all flights starting Sunday night, but resumed service Monday night. Snow totals generally ranged between a foot and foot-and-a-half across Maine, while areas of central Maine, including Waterville, received as much as two feet. In Massachusetts, the storm was generally light on snow but heavy with wind. Gusts reached 50-60 mph on the state’s coasts. The winter storm was the second such weather incident in the past week, as New York and New England was hit with more than a foot of snow in some areas on Thursday and Friday. Overnight, winds gusted to 66 mph at Reagan National Airport and 72 mph at Joint Base Andrews, just across the Potomac.

The southern Plains experienced a wild weather weekend, with temperatures dropping, in some spots, more than 50 degrees in just two days. Those temperature drop-offs were followed by snow in some spots, after reaching 85 degrees just days before. Temperatures in eastern New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and southern Kansas reached into the 80s and even some 90s on Saturday. Numerous temperature records were set.

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