Signs of the Times (2/28/17)

Confidence in Military High, Media Low

More voters have faith in the U.S. military than in other national institutions, according to the latest Fox News Poll released Monday. The news media rank at the bottom of the list asked about in the poll. Virtually all voters believe in the military: 96 percent have either a great deal (67 percent) or some (29 percent) confidence in our armed forces. The military is followed by the Supreme Court (83% confidence), the FBI (80%), and the IRS (55%). Confidence in the Supreme Court is up 14 percentage points since 2014, the last time the question was asked on a Fox News Poll. Narrow majorities have confidence in the presidency (53 percent) and Congress (53 percent).  Yet four times as many have a “great deal” of faith in the presidency (33 percent) as in Congress (8 percent). While overall faith in the institution of the presidency is up just one point in the last three years, the number having a “great deal” of confidence is up 10 points to 33 percent.  Some 44 percent have faith in the media.  While that’s mostly unchanged since 2014, it’s a significant 19-point drop since 2002.

Majority Believe Trump Is Keeping Campaign Promises, Media Too Hard on Him

Fifty-six percent of voters believe President Donald Trump is delivering on his campaign promises, while 27 percent disagree, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals. The poll also found that 50 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 45 percent disapprove. And, 69 percent say Trump has accomplished at least what they expected or more, compared to 20 percent who say he has accomplished less. “An overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters, and even many of his critics, see a president who is delivering on his promises,” said Kyle Drop, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.

A majority of Americans believe the “media has been too critical” in their coverage of President Donald Trump, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published Sunday. The poll revealed that 51 percent: say the media has been too critical, while 41 percent say the media have been mostly fair and objective. Another 6 percent say the uedia has not been critical enough, while 2 percent were not sure.

Deportation Agency Ignored 1.6M Visa Overstays under Obama

The government flagged more than 1.6 million foreign visitors for overstaying their visas from 2013 to 2015, but deportation agents said they fell too low on President Obama’s list of priorities to bother targeting for removal, according to a watchdog report released Monday. Some estimates say more than 40 percent of illegal immigrants each year arrived legally but overstayed, reports the Washington Times. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the deportation agency, concluded that it would cost too much to pursue the overstays, the Government Accountability Office said. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch instead chose to focus on illegal immigrants who jumped the border and who amassed serious criminal records — the priorities Mr. Obama laid out. Overstays pose an increasingly prominent problem in illegal immigration, with estimates saying that as the border has become more secure, migrants are attempting to enter by getting legal passes and refusing to leave when their time is up.

Trump Administration Releases First Details of Budget

The White House on Monday announced the first details of the president’s spending plan, highlighting a $54 billion, 10% increase in defense spending and equal cuts to domestic programs, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and foreign aid. “We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday morning. But Trump’s reluctance to embrace cuts to entitlement programs could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health. Republicans have long advocated significantly changing the programs to address the nation’s debt, which is now nearly $20 trillion. White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted Monday that the president intends to keep his campaign promise to preserve the programs.

Trump Concedes Health Law Overhaul Is ‘Unbelievably Complex’

President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. The president also suggested that the struggle to replace the Affordable Care Act was creating a legislative logjam that could delay other parts of his political agenda. Governors of both parties added still more confusion on Monday when they called for any replacement to cover all the people already benefiting from the landmark law. Because of the intricate procedures that govern budget legislation and the inherent complexity of health care, Republicans appear unlikely to undo the health law as quickly as they had hoped. Trump said Congress must tackle the Affordable Care Act before it can overhaul the tax code, also a high priority for Republicans, reports the New York Times.

Trump Rejects DHS Intelligence Report on Travel Ban

Officials in President Trump’s administration Friday downplayed an intelligence report by the Homeland Security Department that contradicts the White House’s main argument for implementing a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries. The report, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, determined that the “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The intelligence report found that in the past six years, foreign-born individuals who were “inspired” to strike in the U.S. came from 26 different countries. The Trump administration has taken the position that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries should be blocked from the U.S. due to their terror risk. Trump used terrorism a primary justification when he announced the now court-blocked travel ban in late January. The White House called the report politically motivated and that it overlooked some information that supported the ban.

RFP’s Go Out for Trump’s Border Wall

President Trump’s administration on Friday made its first tangible step towards developing and implementing one of the president’s chief campaign promises: to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. The administration issued a preliminary request for proposals (RFPs) to contractors. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April. The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20. Finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

Feds Rescind Opposition to Key Part of Texas Voter ID Law

The Trump administration plans to abandon the federal government’s longstanding opposition to a key portion of Texas’ toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Monday. It’s a dramatic break from the agency under President Barack Obama, which spent years arguing that the 2011 voter ID law that Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature passed was intended to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. The law requires voters to show one of seven forms of state-approved photo identification — gun permits are acceptable but college IDs are not. Voting rights activists sued, and the case returns to court Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. A federal appeals court last year ruled on effect, deciding that the Texas law discriminated against minorities and the poor and ordering changes ahead of the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined a Texas appeal that sought to restore the law, but Chief Justice John Roberts left the door open for another appeal at a later time.

  • We need a driver’s license to operate an automobile, so having to show ID (only 1 of 7 different kinds) is the least we can do to reduce voter fraud

Democrats Verify Voter-IDs Before Electing Party Chairman

Democrats fight voter ID laws and say there’s no such thing as voter fraud. But, the American Mirror reported, Democrats not only required voter ID to participate in the election of their new chairman, they verified those IDs in order to prevent voter fraud. According to the American Mirror, the Democratic National Committee was planning to use electronic “clickers” to cast ballots for its next leader, but that plan was scrapped moments before the vote was scheduled to begin. “Pursuant to the rules of procedure, the chair has the discretion as to the voting mechanism,” chairwoman Donna Brazile said. “And it’s my determination, based on the system that we tested this morning, that I would like to use paper ballots. And I’ll tell you why. We have to make sure that we can not just count the ballots but verify every name and signature,” Brazile said.

Mandatory Use of E-Verify has had Mixed Results

One of the ways President Trump wants to crack down on undocumented immigrants is to require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify to check that their workers are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Employers who currently use E-Verify submit their employee’s personal information online, where it’s then checked against databases at the Social Security Administration and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This allows them to determine whether they are a naturalized citizen or if they might be using a fake or stolen Social Security number. E-verify is a software program created and managed by the Department of Homeland Security. Arizona was the first state to mandate that all employers use E-Verify beginning in 2008. Several other states have started requiring the use of the verification system in some manner since then, including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Arizona’s lawmakers hoped that E-Verify would reduce the number of undocumented workers and open up job opportunities for residents legally authorized to work in the state. But, according to one study from researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, that wasn’t exactly the case. Between 2007 and 2009, the study found that the state’s undocumented population declined by about 92,000 people, or about 17%, as workers left the state to look for jobs. Many of the workers who remained, however, were pushed into so-called “informal employment,” working as day laborers or independent contractors. The self-employment rate for unauthorized, less-skilled men doubled from 8% to 16% between 2007 and 2009. For employers, it was easier to hire these independent workers because Arizona does not mandate the use of E-Verify for contractors and in many cases, they were paid under the table.

  • E-Verify has its flaws, but it is far better than doing nothing. It needs to be tightened up to include independent contractors, even though some employers will opt to circumvent the process with cash payments.

Transgender Wrestler Wins Texas Girls Title

In a 12-2 victory against Chelsea Sanchez in the 110-pound classification, Mack Beggs ended a highly controversial and dramatic weekend by becoming the first transgender participant to win a Class 6A girls’ state championship in Texas high school wrestling. “I just witnessed my sport change,” a longtime Texas wrestling coach said moments after Beggs, a 17-year-old junior at Trinity High in Euless, won the championship. Beggs’ transition from girl to boy began two years ago, and now includes testosterone injections. Beggs was quicker and noticeably stronger, and entered the tournament unbeaten in 52 matches against girls. The University Interscholastic League, which oversees sports in Texas public schools, ordered Beggs to continue competing in the girls’ division despite heavy uproar and a lawsuit earlier this month in a Travis County district court.

Economic News

The red-hot Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at an all-time high yet again on Monday, its 12th consecutive record day. That’s only happened two other times in the 120-year history of the Dow. There has never been a 13-day streak of records, though that could change on Tuesday. So why is the stock market on fire? Clearly, investors remain extremely optimistic about President Trump’s promises to grow the American economy faster. The Dow has skyrocketed an incredible 2,400 points since Trump’s victory. Others warn that the market is oversold and a crash is imminent.

U.S. home prices rose in December from a year earlier at the fastest pace in 11 months, as prospective buyers bid against each other for a limited supply of available property. The Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, increased 5.6 percent, the most since January 2016. The price gain reflects the healthy pace of home sales, which increased in January to the fastest level in a decade. Steady job gains and growing consumer confidence have encouraged more people to take the plunge and look for a home. Still, mortgage rates have risen since last fall, and with prices also increasing, homes are becoming less affordable. A measure of pending home sales declined in January, a sign that final sales may soon fall as well.

In a very serious misconception, almost half of college students recently polled believe they won’t be saddled with student loans soon after graduation. According to a survey of 500 current college students conducted by LendEDU, 49.8 percent believe they would be able to receive federal forgiveness on their student loans after graduation. This belief displays a lack of knowledge about the limited circumstances in which these loans can actually be forgiven. The U.S. Department of Education says that federal direct student loan borrowers can get off the hook if they enter public service jobs for a specified period of time, agree to teach in an underserved area, die or become permanently disabled, or if the school they attended shuts down while they are enrolled.

Persecution Watch

Egyptian Christians are fleeing the restive Sinai Peninsula, some with just the clothes on their backs, amid a series of killings and an explicit call by Islamic State for its followers to target the minority group. The internal displacement has reached a scale rarely seen in Egypt outside natural disasters. Some 118 Coptic Christian families have fled the northern town of Al Arish—a hotbed of Islamic State activity in Egypt—since Thursday after a Coptic man was shot and killed in front of his family. Seven Copts have been killed in north Sinai in the past month. The exodus comes in the wake of an Islamic State video, released last week, instructing followers to target Coptic Christians. It featured a tribute to the militant they claim carried out a December suicide bombing at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral that killed more than 25 worshipers, one of the biggest attacks ever on Egypt’s Christians.

After the Sterling Heights City Council agreed to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department and allow a third mosque to be built in the city, this time right in the midst of a neighborhood populated by Christian refugees who escaped persecution from Islam, some residents said they planned to move out of the city. Sterling Heights, Michigan, is home to the nation’s second largest community of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, many of them coming directly from Iraq where their families were the victims of a genocide by ISIS, al-Qaida and other Islamic militants over the past 50 years.

Between 75 and 100 tombstones were overturned and damaged Saturday night at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, police said Sunday. The vandalism was especially worrisome because it comes less than a week after a similar incident at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis where more than 100 headstones were toppled. Bomb threats have also recently plagued many Jewish groups and community centers. From the start of the year through Monday, 69 bomb threats have been made to 54 Jewish centers in the United States and Canada.

A small fire that damaged a mosque in suburban Tampa, Florida, has been ruled arson, Hillsborough County fire investigators said Friday. The fire was reported about 2 a.m. Friday at the Islamic Society of New Tampa. Authorities have not decided if the fire was a hate crime, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference: “This is no different than the wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish community centers and synagogue and bomb threats that have been called in all across the country, including in Tampa over the recent months.” Forty-Eight Jewish community centers in 26 US states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January. Diaz Clevenger said mosque members appreciate the outpouring of support from the community.

Israel

Israel’s Air Force (IAF) bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday in response to a rocket attack by Gaza-based terrorists on Israel earlier in the day. The IAF targeted five Hamas positions throughout the Gaza. The strikes were a response to a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists early Monday morning, which exploded in an open space, causing no casualties or damage. Israel said that the continued unrest on the southern border compels Israel to respond, and while Israel does not seek escalation, it will react to any rocket fire on its territory. Israel has recently adopted a policy of responding to each and every rocket attack from Gaza, holding the Hamas Islamic terror group, which rules Gaza, responsible for all attacks emanating from its territory.

Islamic State

Iraqi militarized police captured the Tayaran neighborhood in western Mosul on Sunday morning amid clashes with Islamic State militants. At least 10 suicide car bombs were deployed by ISIS militants. Nine of the car bombs were blown up before reaching their targets. The tenth killed two policemen and wounded five. Further west, Iraqi special forces captured the Mamun neighborhood by early Sunday afternoon. Up to 3,000 people fled from the Mamun neighborhood Sunday morning, and just over 2,500 people fled the previous day. More than 50 civilians have been killed or injured by landmines since Friday night as they fled a village about 9 miles west of Mosul.

Syria

Twin attacks on two Syrian security offices in the central city of Homs Saturday killed at least 32 people, including a senior security official who heads the feared Military Intelligence services, state media and officials reported. An Al Qaeda-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also left another high-ranking officer seriously wounded. In a statement on their Telegram channel, the group said five attackers stormed the two different security offices. The group said bombs were also detonated at checkpoints outside the buildings just as rescuers were arriving, leading to more casualties. The attackers were wearing suicide belts, which they detonated in the security offices.

North Korea

Informal talks scheduled for next week between a North Korean delegation and a team of U.S. officials were canceled Friday after the Trump administration withdrew its initial approval of the North Koreans’ visas. The back-channel talks were to be held in New York between the U.S. experts and a six-member team of North Koreans led by Choe Son-hui, the director of the American affairs bureau of the country’s foreign ministry. The last-minute withdrawal of the approval of the visas came hours after the Malaysian government announced that VX nerve agent was used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, the estranged brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on February 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Macau. The extremely toxic chemical is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. South Korea has accused Pyongyang of ordering the killing, and the Malaysian government has implicated four North Koreans in Kim’s death.

Wildfires

About five out of every six wildfires battled in the continental U.S. during the past two decades were started by humans, new research shows, either by accident or by an arsonist. The rest were ignited naturally by lightning strikes. A campfire lit near a waterfall grew into the fatal Soberanes Fire, destroying 57 Californian homes last summer. Two teens were accused of starting the Gatlinburg fire in the fall, which killed 14 in eastern Tennessee. Canadian investigators blamed human firestarters for the wildfire that forced the evacuation of 90,000 from Fort McMurray. The federal government alone spent about $2 billion fighting wildfires in 2016 — slightly less than the record-breaking level in 2015. In the 1990s, the federal government rarely spent more than $500 million a year on firefighting.

Weather

February continues to defy the calendar, with over 4,400 record highs stretching from the northern US border to the south since February 1. In that same timeframe, only 29 record lows have been recorded. The trees are responding accordingly and are producing leaves as far north as The District of Columbia. According to the USA National Phenology Network, spring is arriving a full three weeks early. With spring-like weather comes spring-like storms, and Friday brought severe weather across the Great Lakes. With spring-like weather comes spring-like storms, and Friday will bring severe weather across the Great Lakes, but they are now. February would normally feature a snowy landscape and the Great Lakes covered with abundant ice. But not this year. As of Wednesday, 0% of the Midwest had snow cover, and only 7% of the Great Lakes featured ice (normal for the date would be about 40%).A large swath of the U.S., stretching from Arizona into the Great Lakes and most of New England will likely experience above-average temperatures in March. Areas from Texas into South Carolina and as far north as southern Missouri and western Kentucky will likely see temperatures well-above average. Chicago will go through an entire January and February without so much as an inch of snow on the ground for the first time in recorded history (since the 1880s)

At least four tornadoes, one a February first on record in Massachusetts, tore through parts of the Northeast on February 25. An EF1 tornado struck near Conway, Massachusetts, about 85 miles west-northwest of downtown Boston. Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 110 mph, which created a small, but concentrated area of structural damage to homes in this area. One injury occurred when a tree landed on a house. An EF2 tornado damaged about 30 homes in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. This tornado had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and was on the ground for 12.8 miles. Over a thousand trees were knocked down along its path. In southern Pennsylvania, an EF1 tornado tore a four-mile path in York County. Straight-line winds estimated to 95 mph collapsed farm buildings in Lancaster County.

The cost to repair California’s storm and flood-damaged roads, dams and other critical infrastructure could top $1 billion, finance director, Michael Cohen, said Friday. This comes on top of a $6 billion backlog of repairs for roads, highways and bridges that leaders can’t agree on a way to fund. The tally includes $595 million to clean up mudslides and repair state highways and as much as $200 million to repair the Oroville Dam spillway, where nearly 200,000 were evacuated last week amidst fears of dam failure.   There are many local communities that have already drained their emergency budgets and are seeking millions in aid from state and federal governments. Some of the areas with the costliest damage include a section of mountain highway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe that buckled, with repairs estimated to cost $6.5 million. In Big Sur, a bridge on Highway 1 has crumbled beyond repair and will be closed for up to a year for repairs. Until it is rebuilt, visitors will have to drive up to view the rugged coastline, then turn back.

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