Archive for March, 2017

Signs of the Times (3/28/17)

March 28, 2017

Republicans Split in Aftermath of Failed ObamaCare Replacement

The Republican division that doomed the party’s ObamaCare replacement bill appears as equally wide in the aftermath, with leaders in disagreement about the next step. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday cancelled the final vote for the ObamaCare replacement bill, upon concluding he didn’t have enough votes despite the chamber’s GOP majority. Trump’s new strategy appears to be to allow ObamaCare to continue –with the expectation that the 2010 health care law will implode amid increasing costs and few options for Americans. The Republican president also argues that ObamaCare will become so problematic that Democrats eventually ask the GOP-controlled Congress to work together on improvement. The Trump administration will have to decide whether 20 million people who gained coverage under the sweeping 2010 health reform law will remain insured.

Trump’s Approval Rating Drops Some More

President Trump’s approval rating dipped to a new low after the Obamacare repeal debacle. The Gallup poll found that as of Sunday, 36% of Americans approve of how the president is doing his job, while 57% disapprove. The most recent numbers, which are tracked daily, came a couple days after a vote was canceled on a GOP proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act. The president’s approval rating was at its highest at 46% in the days after his inauguration.

Trump’s Executive Order Will Undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to roll back the Clean Power Plan rule, keeping a campaign vow to undo the Obama administration’s aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions. The Supreme Court has blocked the rule’s implementation since last year while legal challenges are heard. Trump told crowds in coal-producing states that lifting carbon restrictions would not only keep energy costs affordable but also help revitalize the coal industry and the communities economically ravaged by environmental regulations. The budget outline that the White House issued earlier this month called for defunding the Clean Power Plan that Obama announced in 2015, which some two dozen states are suing to overturn. Under Trump’s America First Energy Plan, the budget “reorients EPA’s air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy.” States are suing because they contend Washington does not have the authority to enact such a sweeping measure which they say would lead to higher electricity costs and reduced reliability of the nation’s power grid.

Sheriffs Dispute Federal Claim of Deportation Non-Cooperation

An executive order that President Trump signed in January prompted the government to document jurisdictions not cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. The top five counties nationwide for Jan. 28 to Feb. 3: Clark County, Nev., which has Las Vegas as its largest city, 51; Nassau County, N.Y., on Long Island just east of Queens, 38; Cook County, Ill., which has Chicago as its largest city, 13; Montgomery County, Iowa, population 10,000, about 45 miles southeast of Omaha, Neb., 12; Snohomish County, Wash., just north of Seattle, 12. Also in the top 10 was Franklin County, Iowa. However, Montgomery County Sheriff Joe Sampson and Franklin County Sheriff Linn Larson, both Republicans, said their departments did not receive any detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement during that period.

AG Sessions Says He’ll Punish Sanctuary Cities for Not Deporting Criminal Aliens

Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially put sanctuary cities on notice Monday that they are violating federal laws and could lose access to billions of dollars in Justice Department grants if they continue to thwart efforts to deport illegal immigrants. That would mean Chicago, Philadelphia and other prominent sanctuaries would not only lose money going forward, but might have to pay back tens of millions of dollars from their treasuries. “Countless Americans would be alive today — and countless loved ones would not be grieving today — if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended,” Mr. Sessions said from the White House, saying the time is ripe to take action. Immigrant rights groups, however, blasted Mr. Sessions, calling him a “bully” and blaming him for poisoning relationships between immigrants and local police.

Trump Administration Approves Keystone XL Pipeline

The Trump administration has issued a presidential permit to pipeline builder TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department determined that building Keystone serves the U.S. national interest. That’s the opposite conclusion to the one the State Department reached during the Obama administration. The State Department says it considered foreign policy and energy security in making the determination. The permit was signed by Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving as undersecretary of state for political affairs. That’s because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recused himself due to his previous work running Exxon Mobil. Keystone will carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Trump Asks for $1 Billion for 62 Miles of Border Wall

The Trump administration wants the first $1 billion installment of border wall funding to cover 62 miles — including replacing some existing fencing along the southern border. The $999 million requested by the White House in its budget supplement for defense and border security spending would cover just 48 miles of new wall, with 14 miles of fencing to be replaced. The money will fund 14 miles of new border wall in San Diego, 28 miles of new levee wall barriers and six miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley region and 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego. Estimates for a full wall along the Southern border have ranged from $12 billion to more than $20 billion.

U.S. Leads Boycott of UN Talks to Ban Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced Monday that the United States and almost 40 other nations would not participate in the first-ever talks on an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Flanked by ambassadors from about 20 nations, including nuclear powers United Kingdom and France, Haley said, “there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” the former South Carolina governor said. “But we have to be realistic.” “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?” Haley asked. President Barack Obama’s administration also opposed the talks, which the General Assembly voted to approve in December. Nuclear powers Russia and China also are not taking part.

U.S. Accused of Killing Civilians in Iraqi Airstrike

The U.S-led coalition in Iraq said Saturday that one of its airstrikes struck fighters and equipment of the ISIS terror group in West Mosul on March 17 at the location where there were reports of more than 100 civilian casualties. The airstrike was carried out at the request of Iraqi forces, the coalition said in a statement. Reports have indicated that the airstrike may have killed more than 100 civilians in western Mosul where U.S.-backed government troops are battling ISIS extremists in fierce fighting. The coalition said that it takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened “to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.” The Iraqi military aid 61 bodies have been pulled from the rubble of a home in Mosul after allegations surfaced that around 200 civilians had been killed in airstrikes in the city.

Trump Administration Orders Tougher Screening of Visa Applicants

The Trump administration is making it tougher for millions of visitors to enter the United States by demanding new security checks before giving visas to tourists, business travelers and relatives of American residents. Diplomatic cables sent last week from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to all American embassies instructed consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny. It was the first evidence of the “extreme vetting” Mr. Trump promised during the presidential campaign. The new rules generally do not apply to citizens of 38 countries — including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea — who can be speedily admitted into the United States under the visa waiver program. That program does not cover citizens from any country in the Middle East or Africa. stricter security checks for people from six predominantly Muslim nations remain on hold because federal courts have temporarily blocked President Trump’s travel ban.

Most Western Converts to Islamic Terrorism are Young

As terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda continue to search for new followers capable of being radicalized to violence, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) released a new report that explores the diverse backgrounds of 131 American, Canadian, European, and Australian converts to Islam who have attempted or succeeded in becoming foreign fighters, propagandists or recruiters, and domestic terrorists. CEP’s report found that at least 60 percent converted at age 25 or younger; 28 percent pledged allegiance to or acted on behalf of ISIS; 18 percent allied themselves with al-Qaeda or its affiliates; and 18 percent were influenced by radical preacher and terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Jamal Ahjjaj, an imam at As-Soennah Mosque in The Hague, once observed that converts to Islam are “the most vulnerable because they do not yet fully understand Islam,” noting that “sometimes there are people – the wrong people – waiting outside the mosque to greet them.”

Social Media Firms Must Do More to Stop Terror

David Ibsen, the executive ­director of the Counter Extremism ­Project, a New York think tank which combats online extremism, warned that the battle against jihadi groups would increasingly be fought on the ­internet. He told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘Online channels are key to jihadi ­movements. The growth of Isil was ­accompanied by directing attacks through modern communications channels, or inspiring attacks by ­modern communications channels.’ He said extremist groups used ­programs like WordPress to build sites to publicize their cause and ­achievements, while using encrypted communications channels like ­Telegram either to plan attacks, or to coordinate publicity for attacks after the fact.”

Concern Over NSA Surveillance that Unmasked Names

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes went public last week with charges the Obama administration collected and spread information from surveillance of President Trump’s transition team. On Friday, he said that the documents he’s been shown concerned him. “It appears that this was all legal as far as I can tell… but you have to ask why names were unmasked.” By law, Americans caught incidentally during surveillance of foreign targets must be protected by having their names “masked.” Nunes said more than one American – and possibly Trump – had their names “unmasked” and their names and information was widely distributed within the intelligence community. However, Democrats are asking Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump administration’s contacts with Russia after it was disclosed he was at the White House the day before he went public with his concerns.

More Americans Failing Employer Drug Tests

The percentage of American workers testing positive for illegal drugs has climbed steadily over the last three years to its highest level in a decade, according to Quest Diagnostics, which performed more than 10 million employment drug screenings last year. The increase has been fueled in part by rural America’s heroin epidemic and the legalization of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado. More than 9% of employees tested positive for one or more drugs in oral fluid screenings in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available. Because of the increase in positive drug tests, refugees who have reached America in recent years are finding a more welcoming hiring climate, at least for menial manufacturing jobs.

Transgenders Turning Female Sports Upside Down

Biological males who have become transgender females are joining many women’s sports teams, smashing records and dominating in sports such as weightlifting, softball, cycling, track, wrestling, football, volleyball, dodgeball, handball, cricket, golf, basketball and mixed martial arts. Physiologically speaking, there’s a gender gap between men and women that cannot be erased. As the 2015 edition of Runner’s World explained, “At every distance up to the marathon, the gap between men’s and women’s world record times is nine to 10 percent – and it’s a similar or even higher percentage among recreational runners.” Since these physical and physiological factors give most men a clear competitive edge in sports, critics ask, ‘is it fair or even safe for biological males – with larger muscle mass, hearts and lungs and greater strength, acceleration and speed – to compete against girls and women?”

Economic News

Consumer confidence surged to a new 16-year high in March, fueled by strong job and wage growth, lofty stock prices and cheap gasoline. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its confidence index jumped to 125.6 – highest since December 2000 — from an upwardly revised 116.1 in February. Americans’ perceptions of both current conditions and their outlook over the next six months improved substantially. The share saying business conditions are “good” increased to 32.2% from 28.3% in February. And 31.7% said jobs are “plentiful,” up from 26.9%. Just 19.5% said jobs are “hard to get.” Meanwhile, 27.1% of those surveyed expect business conditions to improve the next six months, up from 23.9%. Just 8.4% expect them to worsen.

Wall Street no longer believes President Trump’s agenda is a slam dunk. The Dow Industrial Average slumped more than 45 points Monday as Trump’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare spooked investors. It’s the eighth-straight down day for the Dow. That hasn’t happened since 2011. The market retreat is a reflection of rising fears on Wall Street that Trump’s bold promises of sweeping tax reform, regulatory relief and infrastructure spending is in doubt. However, the market was up early Tuesday after the consumer confidence report.

Islamic State

Two companies from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are being deployed to the Middle East to bolster security in Iraq and Syria at the request of the top American commander in Baghdad fighting ISIS. Some of the additional forces from the 82nd Airborne Division will head to the Qayyarah Airfield West, or “Q-West” as the soldiers call it, an official said. U.S. forces have occupied the former Iraqi military base since the summer. Currently, Apache gunships and GPS-guided rocket systems called HIMARS are based there roughly 40 miles south of Mosul to support the ongoing battle for Iraq’s second largest city.

Russia

The Kremlin’s ambitions in the Middle East reach far beyond Syria, according to US officials. From Afghanistan to Libya, Pentagon officials are increasingly concerned by mounting Russian military and diplomatic activity they believe is aimed at undermining the US and NATO. Some of the actions Moscow is accused of participating in include sending operatives to support an armed faction in Libya and providing political legitimacy — and maybe even supplies — to the Taliban in Afghanistan. These moves come on top of their overt dispatching of warplanes and ships to target the political opponents of its ally in Syria. “It is my view that they are trying to increase their influence in this critical part of the globe,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the region.

Thousands of people crowded into Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Sunday for an unsanctioned protest against corruption in the Russian government, part of a wave of demonstrations taking place throughout the country. Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is leading the opposition to President Vladimir Putin, was arrested while walking from a nearby subway station to the demonstration. Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption had called for the protests, which attracted crowds of hundreds to thousands in most sizeable Russian cities, from the Far East port of Vladivostok to the European heartland. The protests were the largest coordinated outpourings of dissatisfaction in Russia since the massive 2011-12 demonstrations that followed a fraud-tainted parliamentary election. Scuffles with police erupted sporadically and some demonstrators were arrested.

Iran

The United States has imposed sanctions on 30 foreign companies or individuals for transferring sensitive technology to Iran for its missile program or for violating export controls on Iran, North Korea and Syria, the State Department said on Friday. Eleven companies or individuals from China, North Korea or the United Arab Emirates were sanctioned for technology transfers that could boost Tehran’s ballistic missile program, the State Department said in a statement. Nineteen entities or individuals were sanctioned for other violations under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. They are believed to have transferred or acquired sensitive technology that could contribute to development of weapons of mass destruction.

Afghanistan

The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed that a U.S. counter-terrorism airstrike conducted March 19 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, resulted in the death of Qari Yasin, a well-known Al Qaeda terrorist leader responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocent victims, including two American service members. Yasin, a senior terrorist figure from Balochistan, Pakistan, had ties to Tehrik-e Taliban and had plotted multiple Al Qaeda terror attacks, including the Sept. 20, 2008, bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of innocent people, among them the two U.S. service members. Yasin was also responsible for the 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed and six members of the team were injured.

Bangladesh

At least six people, including two policemen, have died in explosions in eastern Bangladesh as troops battle suspected militants holed up with an ammunitions cache, police said Sunday. The explosions Saturday on a road near an Islamic religious school in Sylhet city also wounded at least 25 people. Paramilitary troops have been trying since Friday to flush out Islamist radicals who have holed up in a building with a large cache of ammunition. Several explosions have occurred, including a large blast Sunday afternoon. Police have barred civilians including journalists from the area. The gun battle with suspected militants comes after a man killed himself by detonating explosives near a police post on a busy road near the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Philippines

Officials say a man lobbed a grenade at a store in the southern Philippines, killing four people and wounding 23 in an attack that appears to be unrelated to terrorism. The attacker was arrested following the late Saturday grenade blast in Busbus village near the airport in Sulu province’s Jolo town. The attacker, who was identified by police as Sedimar Rabbah, returned to the area to retaliate after being beaten by a group of men who accused him of stealing a cellphone. Along with kidnappings for ransom and killings by Abu Sayyaf extremists, predominantly Muslim Sulu has long been troubled by a large number of illegal guns and other weapons.

Uganda

Uganda is celebrated around the world for its generosity toward those desperately fleeing violence. Unlike other East African nations like Kenya, where refugees are restricted to camps, Uganda in the past gave refugees land to farm and build a home, plus free health care and education. But a three-year civil war has sent 700,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing, many to their southern neighbor. Refugees also are escaping violence in nearby countries such as Burundi. That is putting pressure on camps in Uganda, which can’t provide enough shelter, food, water and medical care, leaving the most vulnerable struggling to survive. A year ago, only a few huts dotted the northern Ugandan town of Bidi Bidi. Today, more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees live there, according to the United Nations. The camp — now one of the largest refugee settlements in the world — opened last summer after a new round of clashes erupted in South Sudan.

Wildfires

Wildfires fueled by gusting winds, hot, dry weather, and desiccated plant life have burned nearly 900,000 acres of Oklahoma so far this year, a record, as well as parts of Kansas and Texas. The blazes have destroyed dozens of buildings and killed seven people as well as hundreds of cattle. While this time of year is typically the main wildfire season for Oklahoma and surrounding areas, this season has seen a record-breaking amount of land scorched by 133 large wildfires (over 100 acres) were ignited in the Panhandle and eastern Oklahoma, with conditions exacerbated by a perfect storm of ideal fire weather and a deepening drought.

Weather

A system packing a round of severe thunderstorms sprouted possible tornadoes in Tennessee and Mississippi and downed trees and power lines in Nashville, Tennessee, Monday. Severe storms brought high winds and dropped hail the size of softballs on parts of Texas and Oklahoma Sunday, causing widespread damage. The hail was reported in the areas of Denton County and Justin in north Texas, while an unconfirmed tornado was spotted southwest of Justin. Several homes and businesses in the Denton area were damaged by the large hail. On Monday, officials with the Little Elm Independent School District southeast of Denton announced that many school buses were damaged were out of commission due to hail damage. The severe storms came just two days after an EF2 tornado ripped through Cato, Arkansas, destroying four mobile homes and injuring at least six Friday.

Residents of northeastern Australia are cleaning up and recovering Tuesday (which is Wednesday there) from powerful Cyclone Debbie, which slammed into the coast with winds estimated at up to 120 mph. Gusts as high as 163 mph reported at Hamilton Island. Debbie was the equivalent of a Category 3 (major) hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. One death was blamed on the cyclone when a tourist was killed amid stormy weather on Monday. Thousands are without power. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the state of Queensland has been hit by nine tropical cyclones of Category 3 or higher strength since 1989. Four of these storms have hit since 2011, the Weather Underground said.

The South African city of Cape Town is facing a “real crisis” with only 100 days left before it runs out of water, officials say. During the past two years, the tourism mecca of the nation and home to 3.7 million people has had the least amount of rainfall on record. With average water levels below 30 percent and the remaining water becoming unusable at the city’s six main dams, the city scrambled to avoid water outages with water pressure reductions and other restrictions. Authorities hope the coming rainy season, which begins in May or June, will replenish the water supply, but until that time, fears are mounting that outages will occur. Many residents have reported gastrointestinal problems after drinking the remaining tap water.

Signs of the Times (3/23/17)

March 23, 2017

London Parliament Attack Claimed by ISIS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the terror attack that left four people dead, including the assailant and a police officer, outside of London’s Parliament building on Wednesday, according to the Amaq media agency. “The perpetrator of the attacks yesterday in front of the British Parliament in London is an Islamic State soldier and he carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of the coalition,” the Amaq statement said. The claim of responsibility comes fewer than 24 hours after a man driving an SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge near the Parliament building. Two people were killed and more than 30 others injured before the attacker fatally stabbed police officer Keith Palmer on the Parliament’s grounds. Police shot the attacker, who later was pronounced dead. British Prime Minister Theresa May said the terrorist was born in Britain and was known to authorities who had once investigated him for links to religious extremism. British police announced that six homes were raided and eight arrests were made in connection to the Wednesday terror attack.

Paris Airport Attack Committed by Islamic Terrorist

The 39-year-old suspected attacker killed at Paris’ Orly airport on Saturday after trying to wrestle away a soldier’s weapon had already crossed authorities’ radars for suspected Islamic extremism. A French official connected to the investigation confirmed French media reports identifying the attacker as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who was involved just hours earlier in a carjacking and the shooting of a police officer at a traffic stop, French authorities said Saturday. Paris prosecutors said the suspect’s house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. Those searches targeted people with suspected radical leanings. The prosecutor’s office said its anti-terrorism division was handling the investigation and had taken the attacker’s father and brother into custody for questioning.

Electronics Banned from Aircraft Coming from 8 Countries

The ban on all electronic devices larger than a cell phone being brought into the cabin of passenger aircraft coming from several Middle Eastern and African countries is indefinite and applies to nine airlines and 10 airports in eight countries, Fox News reported Tuesday. The ban on electronics in the cabin applies to U.S.-bound direct flights only. Laptops, tables, Kindles, iPads and gaming devices larger than a cellphone will be prohibited from the cabin of the passenger flights. Senior administration officials are calling the measure an active-emergency amendment based on “evaluated intelligence” that terrorist groups continue to target aviation and consumer items for use in an attack. The eight countries affected by the ban are all Muslim-majority nations. They include Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Morocco. Airports affected by the ban include: Queen Alia Airport, Cairo Airport, Ataturk Airport, King Abdulaziz Airport, King Khalid International Airport, Kuwait International Airport, Mohammed V International Airport, Doha Airport, Dubai Airport, and Abu Dhabi Airport. The airlines affected include: Royal Jordanian, Emirates, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Kuwait Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and Royal Air Maroc. Britain’s government has banned electronic devices in the carry-on bags of passengers traveling to the U.K. from six countries, following closely on a similar ban imposed by the United States.

TrumpCare on Life Support, House Vote Postponed

Republican leaders canceled a vote in the House on the plan to replace ObamaCare Thursday, after leadership’s attempts to lobby enough votes apparently failed — a major setback for House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump. Trump and Republican leaders had spent much of the day scrambling to get both moderates and conservatives on board with the increasingly unpopular legislation. The House now hopes to vote on the legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare Friday morning, following a day of drama and multiple high-level, tension-filled meetings. Twenty-six House Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, and four more have indicated they are likely to oppose it, though negotiations were ongoing Thursday. All Democrats are opposed.

FBI Intel Confirms Trump Team’s Communications with Russia

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source. The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. In his statement on Monday, Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

House Intelligence Chairman Verifies Trump Surveillance

House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Wednesday a source within the intelligence community had shown him “dozens” of reports that were produced from “incidentally collected” communications between members of the Trump transition team and foreign targets. The announcement Wednesday that intelligence agencies disseminated surveillance on the Trump transition team is fueling President Trump’s push to root out those who allegedly have been spreading the classified information throughout government and to news organizations. Several individuals on the Trump team were eventually “unmasked” and had their identities “widely disseminated,” despite the information being of limited intelligence value, Nunes said. The bombshell news conference appeared to partially back up Trump’s assertion earlier this month that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him. If presidential transition officials had their communications monitored and “unmasked” by the intelligence community, that would provide the first major piece of evidence of suspected illegal activity by Obama officials against Donald Trump as president-elect.

Rape by Illegal Alien Stirs Angst Against Sanctuary Cities

Residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, were horrified recently by the news that two Latin American teenagers, at least one of whom is an illegal alien, had brutally raped a 14-year-old girl in Rockville High School. Parents and concerned citizens were further outraged by the Montgomery County school district’s laissez-faire attitude toward illegal aliens who may be attending their schools. Henry Sanchez, 18, had a pending deportation order, which was not carried out while immigration activists tried to block the deportation. “I think it’s important to remember that this really starts with the feds,” said Daniel Horowitz, senior editor at Conservative Review. “People are focusing on sanctuary cities, but we’ve had a sanctuary nation policy where essentially we’ve telegraphed a message to Latin America that if you come here with children, even teenagers, even hardened criminals and gang members, you are here to stay.” The major network news shows largely ignored the story.

Transgender Fallout

A teenage boy in Pennsylvania was told by school leaders that he had to “tolerate” undressing in front of a female student and to make it as “natural” as possible, according to a The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, alleges the Boyertown Area School District shamed the teenage boy and violated his personal privacy. They are also alleging sexual harassment in the lawsuit filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court. The assistant principal told the student that, “students who mentally identify themselves with the opposite sex could choose the locker room and bathroom to use, and physical sex did not matter,” the lawsuit states.

Jewish Center Bomb Threats Allegedly Made by Israeli Teen

The Jerusalem Post reports a 19-year-old Jewish dual American-Israeli citizen from Ashkelon, Israel has been arrested for being behind “most of the series of bomb threats” that gripped the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in recent months. The Jerusalem Posts states the man is not in the IDF, is not part of the Orthodox community, emigrated from the United States and may potentially suffer from psychological problems. According to the Associated Press, the Anti-Defamation League claims there have been more than 120 bomb threats to American Jewish community centers since Jan. 9.

Suspension of Debt Ceiling Has Ended, Crisis Looming

On Wednesday, the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling ended, and so now the federal government is not going to be able to go into any more debt until the debt ceiling is raised.  For the moment, the Trump administration can implement “emergency measures” to stay under the debt limit, but the federal government is quickly running out of cash.  Already, the U.S. Treasury has less cash on hand than Apple or Google, according to ZeroHedge. Since President Barack Obama signed the “Bipartisan Budget Act” on Nov. 2, 2015 there had been no legal limit on the amount of money the federal government could borrow until now. During the 16 and a half months between the signing of that deal and today, the U.S. national debt rose by a whopping $1,414,397,000,000. But now the U.S. national debt will not be allowed to rise by another penny until the debt ceiling is raised or suspended once again. The Trump administration is pushing hard to get the debt ceiling raised, which is a complete reversal from how Trump felt about the debt ceiling back in 2013. “I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling — I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!” he tweeted then.

TrumpCare Boosting Health Industry Stocks

Obamacare may eventually become Trumpcare. And even though there are issues that must be worked out before the Affordable Care Act is repealed and replaced by the American Health Care Act, investors are excited. Health care stocks are soaring. Two big health care ETFs — the Health Care Select Sector SPDR and iShares U.S. Healthcare funds — are each up nearly 10% this year. Several insurers are even hotter than that. Cigna and Anthem, which had hoped to merge, are up 14% and 17% respectively. (Humana and Aetna, the other two that were looking to combine, are each up about 6%. Drug makers Johnson & Johnson and Merck are up about 10% too. Big biotech Amgen has soared 16%. It appears that investors are betting that the final bill will ultimately be favorable to many of the larger players throughout health care.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by about 238 points Tuesday, a drop of more than 1%. It was its biggest slide of the year and biggest decline since the election. The broader S&P 500 was also down more than 1%. The Nasdaq, which includes many hot tech stocks such as Apple, Facebook and Amazon, fell nearly 2%.

Almost one-quarter of workers said they and their spouse combined have less than $1,000 saved for retirement, according to a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Nearly half of everyone surveyed said they had less than $25,000. Most of those workers who said they’ve saved less than $1,000 don’t have access to a savings account like a 401(k) at work. There are roughly 55 million workers in the U.S. who don’t have access to an employer-sponsored plan.

AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise and Johnson & Johnson have halted ads on certain Google platforms after major brands learned their promotional posts were appearing alongside extremist content. “We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” a spokesperson for AT&T said in a statement to CNNTech. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.” An investigation published last week by The Times in London revealed that ads from brands like the BBC and L’Oreal were placed near inappropriate content on YouTube posted by religious extremists, a Ku Klux Klan leader and more.

Persecution Watch

Christians have been the targets of a hate crime every other day in India so far in 2017. At least 15 believers assaulted – including two women beaten by their husbands; two church meetings and two marriage services disrupted; several church buildings vandalized and looted; a Christian orphanage shut down by police for “child trafficking”; pastors threated; a peace gathering attacked by a mob. Such is the litany of frequently violent persecution experienced by Indian Christians at the hands of Hindus in a single month: February 2017. The Evangelical Fellowship of India recorded 20 verified hate crimes against Christians in February alone, taking the total for the first two months of 2017 to 38, more than one every other day. Indian believers are living on the persecution front line in a country where they are supposed to be protected by law.

Israel

A just-published United Nations report claims to find Israel guilty of the “crime of apartheid,” That is just one element of a broader legal and propaganda offensive being pushed by an obscure  U.N. regional commission to stigmatize Israel and build support for the Palestinian cause, according to documents examined by Fox News. The offensive has been gestating for at least two years within the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), whose entire membership are Arab states. It is timed to coincide with this year’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 war between Arab states and Israel, which resulted in Israel’s control of the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, which it categorizes as an “occupation.” The Trump administration said Monday that it is boycotting a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, amid growing concerns by the administration over the U.N.’s anti-Israel stance.

Middle East

For the first time, Israel deployed its advanced Arrow defense system, intercepting an incoming missile from Syria that was likely launched by Hezbollah. One reportedly landed in Jordan, and the other two in the Jordan Valley in Israel. No injuries or damage occurred. The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is unusual. According to a statement by the IDF, “Overnight, March 17, 2017, IAF aircraft targeted several targets in Syria. Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF Aerial Defense Systems intercepted one of the missiles.” The IDF normally does not divulge information regarding its operations, but in this case made an exception due to the sounds of explosions heard in Jewish communities in the Jordan Valley as well as in some areas in Jerusalem, where civilians were awakened close to 3 a.m.

Syria

Damascus residents say fierce clashes have broken out on the eastern side of the Syrian capital following an ambush by rebel-aligned forces. Rebels are reported to have detonated two large car bombs at 5:20 a.m. Sunday morning close to the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Residents say artillery shells and rockets are landing inside the heart of the city. Government warplanes responded with a number of raids around the areas of the clashes. Syrian state media said terrorists had infiltrated the city through tunnels in the middle of the night and reported clashes in the Qaboun and Jobar neighborhoods. Jobar is one of three pockets in the Syrian capital still in opposition hands. It is besieged by government forces.

The United States said Thursday that an airstrike on an al-Qaeda meeting site in Syria killed “several terrorists,” but reports emerged Friday that dozens of civilians may have died in the same attack. The U.S. Central Command said it struck a “meeting location” in the northwestern province of Idlib, which it described as “a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years. The attack involved two Reaper drones, which fired about eight Hellfire missiles and dropped at least one 500-pound GPS-guided bomb. But local activists and a monitoring group claimed that the airstrike hit a mosque in the western Aleppo countryside next to Idlib province, killing at least 46 people and leaving dozens more under the rubble.

North Korea

The Trump administration gave its clearest signal yet that it would consider taking military action against North Korea, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that “all options are on the table” to deter the threat from Pyongyang. “Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister. He was referring to the Obama administration policy of trying to wait North Korea out, hoping that sanctions would prove so crippling that Pyongyang would have no choice but to return to denuclearization negotiations. Tensions are running high in Northeast Asia, with North Korea making observable progress toward its goal of building a missile that could reach the U.S. mainland and China. North Korea is incensed about South Korea’s decision to deploy an American antimissile battery. On Saturday, China urged the United States to take a “cool-headed” approach to escalating tensions with North Korea, calling for a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Afghanistan

The Taliban captured the strategic district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand on Thursday, reports the New York Times. It was the culmination of a years-long offensive that took the lives of more combatants than any other fight for territory in Afghanistan. While spokesmen for the central government denied claims by the Taliban that the district had fallen to them, some conceded that the insurgents had overrun the district center and government facilities. But local Afghan government and military officials said there was no doubt Sangin had finally fallen to their enemy. A spokesman for the American military played down the development, saying Afghan security forces were still in the district and had merely moved its seat of government.

Three U.S. Army soldiers were shot and wounded Sunday when an Afghan Army soldier opened fire on them inside a base in southern Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province. Coalition security forces on the base killed the soldier to end the attack. The severity of the soldiers’ wounds was not immediately clear. There are roughly 8,400 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan — more than in Iraq and Syria combined. Additionally, the Pentagon is weighing a decision to send more U.S. forces to Afghanistan. The top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. John Nicholson, told Congress earlier this year he needed more U.S. and allied soldiers to help train the Afghan army.

Environment

For months during 2016, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s emerald waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a fetid blanket of green goop that killed off fish, suffocated oyster beds and triggered a ferocious outcry from coastal residents. From NBC’s “Today Show” to The Daily Telegraph of London, news outlets chronicled the closing of beaches, the declaration of a state of emergency and the desperate, heart-breaking efforts of people using garden hoses to save manatees caked in toxic slime and struggling to breathe. But the reports didn’t explain the most tragic part of the story – that this calamity is man-made. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. Despite talk of spending $10.5 billion over the next two decades to fix the problem, a cloud of political uncertainty leaves it unclear when, how – or even if – the harmful algae blooms will be stopped, notes Weather.com.

These tropical wetlands have been drained and maintained for decades at great expense for the benefit of Florida’s sugar cane industry, which is dominated by two politically connected companies. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a regional flood control system that keeps the cane fields from flooding during periods of heavy rain and irrigated during droughts. The cane fields sit on 450,000 acres of reclaimed wetlands just below Lake Okeechobee in south-central Florida. The area is home to about 40,000 people and an economy based on farming. By contrast, some 6 million people live in the coastal zone affected by the algae – a region fueled by a great diversity of commercial activity, but especially tourism. The economic boon of the smaller community has become the bane of the larger one.

Wildfires

Wildfire activity is way up this year so far. As of 3/17, 10,289 wildfires have burned over 2 million acres, versus the ten-year average of almost 217,000 acres consumed by this time of year.

Weather

The two warmest Februaries on earth since 1880 have occurred in the past two years. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculated the Earth’s mean temperature over land and water in February was 1.1 degrees Celsius above average, second only to February 2016’s 1.32-degrees Celsius departure from average in 137 years of records. Another independent analysis from the Japan Meteorological Agency also found February 2017 was the second warmest February in its records dating to 1891. Before October 2015, not one of the 1,629 months in NASA’s database dating to 1880 had a warm temperature difference of 1 degree Celsius. Since October 2015, 8 of the past 17 months have seen such warm global anomalies, seven of those months occurring consecutively from October 2015 through April 2016. Increasing warmth punctuated by repeated winter heat waves stymied Arctic sea ice growth this winter, setting a record-low for the third year in a row at both poles (satellite measurements began in the 1950s).

Georgia blueberries and South Carolina peaches, along with a number of other crops like strawberries and apples, were nearly wiped out last week by the deep freeze that hit the Southeast. The Associated Press reports that the freeze hit just as South Carolina’s peach trees were blooming, and it destroyed an estimated 85 percent of the state’s crop, according to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. In Georgia, the freeze destroyed up to 80 percent of the state’s blueberry crop, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said after touring the state late last week. Blueberry production in Georgia in 2015 was estimated to be worth about $255 million, so last week’s freeze is seen as a tremendous blow to the state’s farmers. Temperatures fell below freezing and even well into the 20s in some areas late last week in parts of the Southeast, which is not uncommon in mid-March. The crops were particularly vulnerable this year, however, because unusually warm temperatures in late February prompted trees to blossom some three weeks early.

Intense rains have led to flooding and mudslides in northern Peru this week, leaving thousands homeless and seventy-two people dead. At least 115,000 homes have been destroyed, roadways are impassable and 117 bridges are reportedly washed out. Flooding also struck Peru’s capital of Lima, where flooding rarely occurs. Police aided hundreds of residents living in a suburb cross a flooded road by guiding them one-by-one along a rope through choppy waters.

Signs of the Times (3/16/17)

March 16, 2017

Millennials Lack Biblical Worldview

Only four percent of America’s more than 75 million Millennials have a biblical worldview, according to the latest poll by George Barna, executive director of the American Culture & Faith Institute. The longtime Christian pollster describes Millennials (those reaching young adulthood around the year 2000 and later) as “one of the most spiritually challenging generations to reach adulthood in the past century.” They are “raising a new set of challenges to Christianity and to a nation whose morals and values have long reflected biblical principles,” he adds. When given a 20-question survey with questions like: Do you believe all people are essentially good? … Is the Bible the word of God, without error? … and Can you get to heaven by being good? – only one in 25 Millennials came up with answers that put them in the “biblical worldview” category. “By and large they are not inclined to move toward Christianity,” Barna tells OneNewsNow. “They’re less likely to describe themselves as Christians, they’re less likely to embrace Christ as their Savior, [and] they’re more likely to say that they have no kind of faith connection whatsoever.”

Federal Judge in Hawaii Halts Trump Travel Ban

President Trump’s revised travel ban was put on hold Wednesday by a federal judge in Hawaii just hours before it was set to take effect after hearing arguments that the executive order discriminates on the basis of nationality. Trump addressed the judge’s move during a rally in Nashville, Tennessee calling it “unprecedented judicial overreach” and vowed to fight. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson prevents the executive order from going into effect, at least for now. Hawaii had requested a temporary restraining order. “Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this Court,” Watson wrote in his ruling. In a statement released late Wednesday night the Department of Justice said they strongly disagreed with the ruling and called the move “flawed both in reasoning and scope.” The ruling came as opponents renewed their legal challenges across the country, asking judges in three states to block the executive order that targets people from six predominantly Muslim countries.

Trump Budget Boosts Military & Wall, Cuts Funding Everywhere

President Trump on Thursday morning released a $1.15 trillion budget proposal that seeks a major increase in military and other security spending while slashing spending for a wide range of other agencies including the EPA and State Department. “We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said in a statement, calling for $54 billion in “reductions to non-Defense programs” to offset the additional defense spending. The $54 billion, 10 percent boost for the military is the largest since President Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon buildup in the 1980s, promising immediate money for troop readiness, the fight against Islamic State militants and procurement of new ships, fighter jets and other weapons. The proposal also makes a hefty down payment on Trump’s sought-after southern border wall, seeking an immediate $1.4 billion infusion in the ongoing fiscal year, with another $2.6 billion planned for the 2018 budget year starting Oct. 1.

On the other side, the budget goes after frequent targets of the party’s staunchest conservatives, eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, legal aid and heating assistance for low-income Americans, and the AmeriCorps national service program established by former President Bill Clinton. While law enforcement agencies like the FBI would be spared in the budget plan, 12 of the government’s 15 Cabinet agencies would absorb cuts under the president’s proposal. The biggest losers are Agriculture, Labor, State, and the Cabinet-level EPA. Lawmakers will have the final say on Trump’s proposal in the arduous budget process, and many of the cuts will be deemed dead on arrival. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the proposed cuts “devastating to the middle class.” The Trump proposal covers only a quarter of the roughly $4 trillion federal budget – representing the “discretionary” portion that Congress passes each year. It doesn’t address taxes, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Trump has vowed not to cut Social Security and Medicare and is dead set against raising taxes.

GOP Health Care Act Increases Uninsured but Cuts Deficit

The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 24 million by 2026, while slicing $337 billion off federal budget deficits over that time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The American Health Care Act, as Republicans call their bill, was already facing widespread criticism from health care providers, some conservatives and a united Democratic Party, reports the New York Times. The Trump administration immediately denounced the budget office’s conclusions. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, suggested the report offered an incomplete picture because it did not take into account regulatory steps he intends to take, as well as other legislation that Republicans plan as part of their multistep strategy to repeal and replace the health law.

Many Seniors Are Against New Healthcare Plan

The Republicans’ health-care proposal is running into a new political problem: opposition from older people. After House GOP leaders unveiled their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the advocacy group for Americans over 50 years of age, came out in opposition to the new plan. Independent analysts have predicted that the House plan would significantly boost costs for low- and middle-income seniors. Democrats, sensing an opening, are targeting their criticism on how the GOP health bill would affect older people, particularly those between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office analysis, released Monday, found that a 64-year-old could see his premium on the individual market climb by as much as 25% under the GOP’s America’s Health Care Act. That could be a problem for Republicans, who tend to draw more support from older voters.

Attorney General Sessions Asks Remaining 46 U.S. Attorneys to Resign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked the remaining 46 U.S. attorneys who served under the Obama administration to resign, the Justice Department announced Friday, describing the move as part of an effort to ensure a “uniform transition.” The department said some U.S. attorneys, as in prior transitions, already had left the department. Now, the Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations. It is customary, though not automatic, for the country’s 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office. Incoming administrations over the past several decades typically have replaced most U.S. attorneys during the first year or two. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, known as the ‘sheriff of Wall Street,’ refused to resign and was subsequently fired.

Religious Symbols can be Banned by Employers, EU Court Rules

Employers across Europe can now ban workers from wearing visible religious symbols including the Islamic headscarf, the European Union’s top court ruled on Tuesday, finding it would not constitute “direct discrimination.” The ruling, seen as a victory for many in the political right wing, was the first of its kind amid a series of legal disputes surrounding women’s rights to wear a hijab at work. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that companies with legitimate reasons to project a neutral image could establish internal rules banning political, philosophical or religious symbols.

Two Russian Spies Indicted in Yahoo Hack

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that four people — including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) — have been indicted in connection to a massive hack of Yahoo information. The hack, which the DOJ said was initiated in January 2014, affected at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. Some of the stolen information was used to “obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, US and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies,” the DOJ said in a statement. Hackers stole data that included names, email addresses and passwords — but not financial information, according to Yahoo’s announcement regarding the breaches. The two hackers were identified as officers of the FSB — Russia’s successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945, UN Says

Twenty million people in four countries face starvation and famine in what has been called the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the United Nations was founded in 1945, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Friday. U.N. and food organizations define famine as when more than 30 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day. The U.N. urged unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria “to avert a catastrophe,” The U.N. said donations of $4.4 billion by July are necessary to meet the needs of starving people in these four countries. The largest humanitarian crisis is in war-torn Yemen where two-thirds of the population – 18.8 million people – need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from. That’s three million more people more than in January.

Economic News

For the second time in three months, the Federal Reserve increased its benchmark interest rate a quarter point amid rising confidence that the economy is poised for more robust growth. The move, widely anticipated by financial markets, takes the overnight funds rate to a target range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent and sets the Fed on a likely path of regular hikes ahead. Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike.

The number of Americans who have stopped paying their car loans appears to be increasing — a development that has the potential to send ripple effects through the U.S. economy. Losses on subprime auto loans have spiked in the last few months, jumping to 9.1% in January, up from 7.9% in January 2016.

The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday.

According to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars.  Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars. If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally. So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.

Some 1.2 billion barrels of oil have been discovered in Alaska, marking the biggest onshore discovery in the U.S. in three decades. The massive find of conventional oil on state land could bring relief to budget pains in Alaska brought on by slumping production in the state and the crash in oil prices. Production could begin as soon as 2021 and lead to as much as 120,000 barrels of output per day.

Middle East

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Mahmoud Abbas.  “The president noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other,” the statement continued. According to a PA spokesperson, the call was “cordial” and included Abbas giving his assurances that he believes “in peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.” President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House for consultations during a phone call between the two on Friday. According to a White House readout of the call, Trump told Abbas that “Peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal.” The readout also included a statement that “The U.S. will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal.”

Israeli warplanes hit two targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to the Islamist terror militia Hamas on Thursday morning in retaliation for a rocket fired into Israeli territory from the Strip a few hours earlier. The flare-up on the Gaza border came hours after a Palestinian terrorist attempted to ram her vehicle into a group of Israelis waiting for a bus at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem. The attack was thwarted by concrete barriers and the terrorist was shot and wounded by nearby security personell. Medical units treated her at the scene for her wounds and transported her to a nearby hospital. There have been several incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem of varying degrees of intensity over the past few days.

Syria

Suicide bombings on Wednesday struck a courthouse and restaurant in the capital of Damascus, killing more than two dozen people and injuring others, Syrian state news said. At least 25 people were killed at the Palace of Justice, the main courthouse in the city center of Damascus A number of people were also wounded in the attack, which occurred during busy work hours. The Syrian prosecutor general said the strike was timed to inflict many casualties. Police tried to prevent the attacker from entering, but he was able to force his way in and blow himself up. The violence unfolded as the Syrian conflict, which started in March 2011, enters its seventh year with no end in sight. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war, which the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, reports the Washington Post. The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces. Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State.

North Korea

After a week in which Pyongyang successfully launched four intermediate-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, U.S. officials are no longer seeing North Korea’s weapons tests as amateurish, attention-grabbing provocations. Instead, they are viewed as evidence of a rapidly growing threat — and one that increasingly defies solution. Over the past year, technological advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have dramatically raised the stakes in the years-long standoff between the United States and the reclusive communist regime. Pyongyang’s growing arsenal has rattled key U.S. allies and spurred efforts by all sides to develop new first-strike capabilities, increasing the risk that a simple mistake could trigger a devastating regional war, the analysts said. Longtime observers say the risk of conflict is higher than it has been in years, and it is likely to rise further as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks to fulfill his pledge to field long-range missiles capable of striking U.S. cities.

Somalia

Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. The Aris 13 on Monday reported being approached by two skiffs. Over two dozen men boarded the ship off Somalia’s northern coast. The ship was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital.

Weather

Winter Storm Stella was a blockbuster storm that brought 3 to almost 5 feet of snow to parts of New York state, Pennsylvania and Vermont, along with wind gusts over hurricane force to coastal New England. The Bolton Valley Ski Area, located in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont east of Burlington, reported a storm total of 58 inches of snow early on the morning of March 16. Stella also became the heaviest snowstorm on record in Binghamton, New York, surpassing Winter Storm Argos in November. From March 14-15, 35.3 inches of snow had been measured at Binghamton Regional Airport, pushing this winter to the snowiest on record in this south-central New York city with 131.7 inches. Stella was the second-heaviest snowstorm in 117 years of records in Burlington, Vermont, and a record for the month of March, with 30.4 inches of snow. At Bradley International Airport near Windsor Locks, Connecticut, Stella’s 15.8 inches of snow on March 14 was the snowiest calendar day in any spring month (March through May) in records dating to 1905. It was also the third-heaviest March snowstorm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At least one location in 16 states has seen a foot of snow from Stella in the Midwest and Northeast. Chicago O’Hare International Airport had officially picked up 7.7 inches of snow through 7 p.m. CDT March 14 from Stella and the lake-effect snow. Chicago went through January and February without so much as an inch of snow on the ground for the first time in recorded history.

The number of blizzards in the U.S. have increased by almost a factor of four since the mid-20th century, a recent study has found. From 1959 through 2014, 713 blizzards in the Lower 48 states were documented by the study published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climate. The study found the number of blizzards each season in the U.S. rose from about 6 at the beginning of the study to 21 to 22 by the 2013-2014 season. These include winds over 35 mph, coupled with falling or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile for at least three hours. Over the 55-year period, the average number of blizzards in the Lower 48 states was 13, but varied from a low of 1 in 1980-1981 to 32 in 2007-2008.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (3/11/17)

March 11, 2017

Pope Signals He’s Open to Married Catholic Men Becoming Priests

Pope Francis has said he is open to married men becoming priests to combat the Roman Catholic Church’s shortage of clergy. In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Pope Francis said the lack of Catholic priests was an “enormous problem” for the Church, and indicated he would be open to a change in the rules governing eligibility for the priesthood. The option would allow men who are already married to be ordained as priests. But single men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, according to the Pope. Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest.

Kentucky Passes Religious Freedom Bill

The state of Kentucky has passed a bill to protect the right to religious expression in public schools. The impetus for the bill was due to a censorship issue that occurred around Christmastime. School officials censored the scene from the beloved “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which the character Linus talks about the true meaning of Christmas. The state senate easily passed the religious freedom bill in a 31-3 vote. The bill also passed the House easily in a 81-8 vote. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin, who is known for his Christian faith. “Even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that schools can include the Bible and other religious stories and elements as part of the educational process, there was confusion in Kentucky over this play,” Sharp said. “And so what this law does is reaffirm what the Constitution says.”

Conservatives Revolt Against ObamaCare Repeal Bill

Congressional conservatives vowed Tuesday to introduce their own legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare, escalating their fight against GOP leaders’ long-awaited health care overhaul bill just hours after it was released. Lawmakers from the right flank of the Republican Party railed against the new legislation, which key committees will address Wednesday. Signaling turbulence ahead for party leaders, the lawmakers said they’ll revive a 2015 repeal bill that already passed the Republican-controlled Congress. Republican congressional leaders joined with the Trump administration to defend the plan on the table as a positive starting point. On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee became the first panel to approve the Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill, nearly a full day after debate began.

Conservatives derided the new bill as Obamacare Lite, Obamacare 2.0 and even RyanCare. Conservatives pushed back on various aspects of the plan, including a new system of tax credits that would replace the existing subsidies; a short-term continuation of the Medicaid expansion; and a new surcharge insurance companies would be allowed to impose for coverage that lapses. They also said the wealthy would benefit because the bill would eliminate two surcharges on the those with incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 for couples) that are being levied to help pay for Obamacare subsidies and other provisions. The most glaring weakness of the GOP bill is that it will likely leave millions uninsured, critics said.

FBI Probes 300 Refugees in U.S. for Terrorism

“More than 300 people … who came here as refugees are under an FBI investigation today for potential terrorism-related activities,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this week. A total of 1,000 counter-terrorism investigations involving ISIS or individuals inspired by the terror group are currently under way, congressional sources confirmed to Reuters. Sessions said the nations affected in the revised travel ban are state sponsors terrorism or safe havens for terrorists. Iran, he explained, “has been designated as a state sponsor of terror,” Libya “is an active combat zone, with hostilities between the internationally recognized government and its rivals,” Somalia has provided “safe havens” for terrorists, Sudan, too, is “a state sponsor of terrorism,” Syria likewise has held that designate since 1979, and Yemen “is the site of an ongoing conflict between the incumbent government and the Houthi-led opposition.”

Illegal Border Crossings Decrease by 40% in Trump’s First Month

The number of people illegally crossing the U.S. southern border has dropped 40 percent in President Trump’s first full month in office, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that the number of illegal border crossings dropped from 31,578 to 18,762 persons. Kelly said border agents usually see a 10 to 20 percent increase in illegal immigrant apprehensions from January to February. Kelly said, “Since the administration’s implementation of executive orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years.”

New Health Care Act Would Dispense with Addiction Mandate

The Republican healthcare plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would strip away what advocates say is essential coverage for drug addiction treatment as the number of people dying from opiate overdoses is skyrocketing nationwide. Beginning in 2020, the plan would eliminate a requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans. The proposal would also roll back the Medicaid expansion under the act which would affect many states bearing the brunt of the opiate crisis, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Insurance giant Anthem lent its support to parts of the Republican health care bill, but said changes must be made as soon as possible for the Obamacare market to survive.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban for Syrian Family

A federal judge on Friday blocked President Trump ‘s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape their war-torn homeland by fleeing to Wisconsin. The ruling is the first by a judge since Trump issued a revised travel ban on Monday. The Syrian man filed a new complaint on Friday afternoon, alleging the new order is still an anti-Muslim ban that violates his freedom of religion and right to due process. U.S. District Judge William Conley said there were daily threats to the Syrian man’s wife and child that could cause “irreparable harm.” He issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family. The order doesn’t block the entire travel ban. Legal challenges against the revised travel ban mounted Thursday as Washington state said it would renew its request to block the executive order. It came a day after Hawaii launched its own lawsuit,

DOJ to Send Out More Judges to Attack the Backlog

The Justice Department is reportedly sending 50 judges to immigration detention centers across the U.S. to hear more cases and cut down on the massive backlog of immigration cases. The court will be in session from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Judges will be asked to volunteer for one or two month deployments at detention centers. If the amount of volunteers is inadequate, the department would assign judges, Reuters reported. Immigration courts have a backlog of more than 550,000 cases, according to the Justice Department. The judges will be sent to detention centers in Adelanto, Calf., San Diego and Chicago

Fallout from Wikileaks CIA Hacking Dump Reverberates Worldwide

The fallout from WikiLeaks’ disclosure of alleged CIA hacking secrets stretched around the world Thursday, as Chinese officials accused the U.S. of “stealing secrets” and German prosecutors continued to investigate claims about a major American cyber-spying base in Frankfurt. While stateside investigators hunted the source of the leaks — a trove of more than 8,000 documents that WikiLeaks claims is the ‘entire hacking capacity of the CIA’ — foreign officials were examining what the release revealed about the CIA’s interests abroad. Routers produced by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE were named as devices targeted by CIA hackers, Reuters reported, prompting a rebuke from Beijing. Thousands of miles away, federal prosecutors in Germany were looking into WikiLeaks-derived allegations that the CIA operated a hacking hub out of the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt. One of the more startling revelations divulged by WikiLeaks is an alleged CIA ability to turn Samsung smart televisions into microphones, technology the anti-secrecy website says was developed in tandem with Britain’s intelligence services. South Korea-based Samsung released a statement Wednesday saying it was “urgently looking into the matter.” FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday that Americans should no longer have the expectations of complete privacy.

  • At this point, we have to assume that we are all being watched wherever we are. But that’s no big deal if we’re living righteously. Besides, God is watching us too, and He even knows our thoughts, so live right, trust in God and don’t worry about the rest.

 ‘Day Without a Woman’ Closes Some Schools

Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in “A Day Without a Woman” strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home. The gender equality demonstration, which comes on the same day as International Women’s Day, was organized prior to President Trump’s election. It was inspired by women’s protests in other countries. Critics say it is meant to denounce his presidency and bring politics into the classroom. The strike was created by the organizers of the historic Women’s March on Washington in January, which drew hundreds of thousands in protest of Trump. Among the groups supporting Wednesday’s demonstration are Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org and Amnesty International, according to the Women’s March website. President Donald Trump paid tweeted tribute to women on International Women’s Day Wednesday morning, saying, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.”

Indiana School Show ‘Gender Expression’ Video without Parents’ Permission

Indiana parents are furious after eighth graders at Lincoln Junior High School were exposed to a classroom lesson on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity issues – without being notified in advance by the school district. The 12-year-olds were required to watch a video titled, “LGBTQ: Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities.” They were also required to answer a questionnaire with all sorts of probing questions. Among the questions: 1. What is sexual orientation? 2. What is gender? 3. At what age do kids start being exposed to gender stereotypes? 4. What is an LGBTQ ally? 5. What is gender expression? 6. What is ‘coming out’? 7. Name at least three resources that you can use to support you if you come out? 9. What are two things you can do to show support of the LGBTQ community. Plymouth Schools Superintendent Dan Tyree defended the one-day lesson — and said they haven’t received a single complaint.

  • Children’s indoctrination centers (aka public schools) promote the religion of secular humanism in any way they can. Christian parents need to remove their children from the public school system.

Persecution Watch

The disturbing spate of bomb threats against Jewish centers and schools across the country is not letting up. A new wave of threats was just reported in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. The number of total reported threats? An astounding 140 since January, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In response, all 100 US senators have signed a letter urging President Trump to step up security at Jewish community centers, day schools and synagogues.

Seven Christians were killed in the North Sinai town of Al-Arish in just over a month — all targeted by Al Wilayat Sinai, a local affiliate of ISIS waging a low-level insurgency on the peninsula. Over 500 Christians from Al-Arish have arrived to the city of Ismailia, 200 km away, since the Hakims were attacked on February 21. The Coptic Orthodox Church said an unspecified number of families fled to other provinces across Egypt. It is unclear how many others are left behind. Egypt’s Christians make up 10% of the population.

Economic News

President Trump’s first full month was a big one for jobs, CNN reports. The U.S. economy added a robust 235,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%. Unemployment peaked at 10% in 2009, after the financial crisis. Last year the economy averaged about 190,000 new jobs per month. The economy is showing other signs of strength: Consumer and business confidence is high and stocks are at record levels. Wage growth continued showing signs of progress after persisting at a sluggish pace for years until 2016. Wages grew a solid 2.8% in February compared with a year ago.

The largest job growth in February came in the construction industry, which added 58,000 jobs  — and 177,000 jobs in the last six months. Manufacturing added 28,000 jobs in February, for an increase of 57,000 jobs over the past three months. Solid job gains almost certainly clear the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates next week. Fed leaders like Chair Janet Yellen said a rate hike in March would be appropriate if the economy stayed on track, and it did.

The U.S. debt clock is actually spinning backwards since Donald Trump moved into the White House Jan. 20. On inauguration day, the debt stood at $19.947 trillion. Since then it has reversed by $68 billion, or 0.3 percent, for the first time in at least 10 years, reports WorldNetDaily.

Syria

U.S. Marines have arrived in northern Syria with artillery to support U.S.-backed local forces fighting there. Military commanders have discussed for weeks the possibility of putting artillery forces into the area, with the goal of accelerating the capabilities of the U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces there. A similar deployment last year near Mosul, Iraq involved several hundred Marines equipped with artillery guns that fire shells to provide covering fire for advancing forces. The Marines deployed from ships in the Persian Gulf region. This is the second major expansion of U.S. ground forces in northern Syria in days. The U.S. had also deployed approximately 100 Army Rangers in and around Manbij, Syria.

Twin blasts Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people and wounded 120, most of them Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Islamic State militants have carried out similar attacks before against Shiite shrines in the Syrian capital and elsewhere. Extremist Sunni groups, such as ISIS, view Shiites as apostates and consider shrines a form of idolatry.

Afghanistan

Gunmen wearing white lab coats stormed a military hospital in Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. The attack on the 400-bed military hospital, which is located near two civilian hospitals in Kabul’s heavily-guarded diplomatic quarter, set off clashes with security forces that lasted several hours. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, says there were “more than 30 killed and more than 50 wounded” in the attack. Waziri said a suicide bomber had detonated his payload and another attacker was shot dead, and that one member of the security forces was killed and three wounded.

South Korea

In a historic ruling Friday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court formally removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil, worsened an already-serious national divide and led to calls for sweeping reforms. It was a stunning fall for Park, the daughter of a dictator who rode a lingering conservative nostalgia for her father to a big win in 2012, only to see her presidency descend into scandal. The unanimous ruling opens her up to possible criminal proceedings. Park is South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed early from office since democracy came in the country in the late 1980s.

North Korea

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, said the isolated nation of North Korea is closer than people realize to developing a nuclear missile that could cross the ocean and strike the U.S. North Korea has provoked the world by firing ballistic missiles in defiance of a United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting the country from doing so. And those tests have sparked global fear that North Korea could soon attack foreign countries with nuclear weaponry. In a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Gary Samore, former Obama White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, testified on the global nuclear weapons environment. He called North Korea’s mission to achieve a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile the “most significant and the most immediate” of new nuclear threats.

Wildfires

Deadly wildfires burning across four Plains states have nearly doubled in size overnight Tuesday, jumping from 625 square miles to more than 1,000. High winds are helping to fan the blazes, which broke out on Monday and have forced thousands to evacuate and contributing to the deaths of six people. Parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Texas Panhandle were the hardest hit by the wildfires In Kansas, wildfires have burned over 600,000 acres of land and killed one person. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management said late Tuesday that the heaviest damage is in Clark County, where 548 square miles have burned. That fire started in Oklahoma before moving into the Kansas ranching community. In the Texas Panhandle, three fires have burned more than 195 square miles of land and killed at least four people. In Oklahoma, numerous residences and secondary structures were burned by a wildfire estimated to be 185,000 acres in size near Knowles and Gate. In northeastern Colorado, a fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. Nearby residents were warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire advances toward them. The Kansas grass fires have killed thousands of cattle, devastating farming and ranching communities. Oklahoma continues to be ravaged by wildfires with 14 large ones (over 100 acres) currently burning, having already consumed over 755.000 acres.

Alligator Alley, a portion of Interstate 75 southwest Florida, remained shut down Wednesday due to smoky conditions from a large wildfire in Picayune Strand State Forest. Alligator Alley, a major east-west route acorss southern Florida, runs between Naples on the southwest coast and Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Coast. At least two homes have been lost in eastern Collier County. Several nearby communities RV parks were evacuated. As the inferno grew, thick smoke clouds covered the area, pushing over the beach and into the Gulf of Mexico at times. The Lee Williams Road fire has burned at least 6,000 acres of land and was 30 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon. A portion of Interstate 75 in southwest Florida, was reopened Wednesday after smoky conditions from the large wildfire finally began to ease

Weather

There have been 37 reports of tornadoes with more than 450 reports of severe wind and hail, stretching from Oklahoma and Arkansas northward into Minnesota and Wisconsin earlier this week. As of early Wednesday morning, 28 tornadoes have been confirmed but surveys continue. A dozen injuries were reported in Oak Grove, Missouri, after an EF3 tornado touched down and tracked nearly 12 miles at ground level. In Trimble, Missouri, multiple homes were damaged by an EF2 tornado. Significant damage occurred north of the Kansas City metro area Monday evening near Trimble, Plattsburg and Lathrop in Missouri from an EF2 tornado with estimated winds around 132 mph. Six EF1 tornadoes were also confirmed in Missouri. Farther north in Minnesota, hail up to 4 inches in diameter was measured in the town of Cokato from the same storm system. Many cities ravaged by tornadoes in the Midwest recently will be covered in snow by this weekend or early next week.

High winds across parts of the Great Lakes prevented firefighters from fighting a blaze that left at least five people dead in Michigan on Wednesday. The strong gusts, which reached more than 80 mph in some areas, also knocked down trees and power lines throughout the region, interruped traffic and caused massive power outages. The blaze consumed an eight-unit apartment building in Detroit, Michigan which was home to males overcoming substance abuse and mental issues. Also in the Detroit area, more than 400,000 DTE Energy customers lost power by mid Wednesday afternoon. “We’re having the most severe high wind event I can remember in my 50 years in Michigan today, with sustained winds of 40-plus mph at multiple locations, and some gusts over 60 mph,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for wunderground.com.

Tropical Cyclone Enawo made landfall March 7 in Madagascar in what turned out to be the island’s strongest landfall in 13 years. Just prior to landfall at 11 a.m. local time March 7, the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. Three people were killed by Enawo. Damage caused by the cyclone also left 500 people homeless. More than a foot of rain drenched the town of Sambava near where the center of Enawo moved inland.

Signs of the Times (3/7/17)

March 7, 2017

New Travel Ban Issued by Trump Administration

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday blocking citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, the most significant hardening of immigration policy in generations, even with changes intended to blunt legal and political opposition, reports the New York Times. The order was revised to circumvent blockage of Trump’s first immigration directive on Jan. 27 by a federal appeals court. The new order continued to impose a 90-day ban on travelers, but it removed Iraq, a redaction requested by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who feared it would hamper coordination to defeat the Islamic State, according to administration officials. It also exempts permanent residents and current visa holders, and drops language offering preferential status to persecuted religious minorities, a provision widely interpreted as favoring other religious groups over Muslims. In addition, it reversed an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, replacing it with a 120-day freeze that requires review and renewal. But the heart of the sweeping executive action is still intact, reflecting Mr. Trump’s “America first” pledge to safeguard against what he has portrayed as a hidden influx of terrorists and criminals until an “extreme vetting” process can be established. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that apart from the six countries listed on Monday’s travel ban, there are “13 or 14” other countries that also have questionable vetting procedures, but acknowledged that he doesn’t expect the list of countries subject to the travel ban will grow.

House Republicans Release ObamaCare Replacement Bill

House Republicans on Monday evening released the text of their long-awaited ObamaCare replacement bill, proposing to eliminate the various taxes and penalties tied to the original legislation while still preserving certain patient protections.   It also would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, replacing them with tax credits for consumers. The system of tax credits is aimed at enticing Americans to purchase insurance on the open market. The bill would continue Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to additional low-earning Americans until 2020. After that, states adding Medicaid recipients would no longer receive the additional federal funds the statute has provided. More significantly, Republicans would overhaul the federal-state Medicaid program, changing its open-ended federal financing to a limit based on enrollment and costs in each state. Asked about some conservatives’ concerns that GOP leaders are merely pushing ‘ObamaCare Lite,’ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, countered, “It is ObamaCare gone.” Republicans want to restore power to the states and control costs in Medicaid and elsewhere. The White House signaled its approval of the plan. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the proposal “would cut and cap Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood, and force Americans, particularly older Americans, to pay more out of pocket for their medical care all so insurance companies can pad their bottom line.”

Supreme Court Sends Transgender Case Back to Lower Court

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a dispute over a Virginia transgender student’s bathroom access back to a lower court, without reaching a decision. The court vacated the current dispute after the Trump administration withdrew support for an Obama administration order supporting transgender students. The case had been scheduled for argument in late March. Instead, the lower court in Virginia must now evaluate the federal law known as Title IX and the extent to which it applies to transgender students. The law bars sex discrimination in schools. The case came from a federal appeals court and was brought by Virginia’s Gloucester County school board, which wanted to prevent a transgender girl from using the boys’ bathrooms. The school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.

  • With Scalia’s seat still empty, the Supreme Court has been avoiding controversial cases until the Court has a full complement once again.

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of CIA Programs & Documents

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released what it said is the full hacking capacity of the CIA in a stunning 8,000-plus page disclosure the anti-secrecy website contends is “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” The 8,761 documents and files — released as “Vault 7 Part 1” and titled “Year Zero” — were obtained from an “isolated, high-security network” at the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va., a press release from the website said. The trove had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors,” one of whom “recently” gave the archive to WikiLeaks. The collection of purported intelligence documents includes information on CIA-developed malware — bearing names such as “Assassin” and “Medusa” — intended to target iPhones, Android phones, smart TVs and Microsoft, Mac and Linux operating systems, among others. An entire unit in the CIA is devoted to inventing programs to hack data from Apple products, according to WikiLeaks. Some of the remote hacking programs can allegedly turn numerous electronic devices into recording and transmitting stations to spy on their targets, with the information then sent back to secret CIA servers. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News.

Trump Calls for Congressional Probe of Wiretapping His Campaign

The White House on Sunday called for congressional investigations into its claims the Obama administration meddled in the 2016 election cycle in an attempt to gather information on then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. “Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” The statement follows an explosive allegation Saturday by Trump that former President Barack Obama ordered phones wiretapped at Trump Tower. The former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration denies there was a secret court order for surveillance at Trump Tower. He also said he hasn’t seen any evidence suggesting President Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to get elected.

Trump Puts Russia Deal on Hold, Citing Recent Provocations

President Trump is reportedly telling advisers he might temporarily shelve a plan to pursue a deal with Russia on how to handle the Islamic State as well as other national security matters. Administration officials and Western diplomats told the Associated Press on Saturday that Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations, including deploying a cruise-missile which violates a Cold War-era arms control treaty. Trump has been pressured by members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and European allies to not give concessions to Russia. In his first meeting with the National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia – as well as China – as a country that wants to upend the current world order, an administration official told AP.

Missile Defense System Stokes U.S. Tensions with Beijing, Moscow

The U.S. decision to send equipment needed to set up a controversial missile defense system in South Korea is likely to add to tensions with Beijing and Moscow, countries that have spoken out in the past about deploying the system. China said Tuesday it would take measures against the U.S. missile system deployed in South Korea, and that the U.S. and Seoul would bear the consequences. Washington and Seoul says the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, is not meant to be a threat to China or Russia. The U.S. military said in a statement that THAAD can intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights. But China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

Trump Makes Proposal to Planned Parenthood

President Trump has offered to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood if the group stops providing abortions. Its president has spurned the proposal and noted that federal money already is not allowed to be used for abortion. Trump confirmed to The New York Times about the ‘informal proposal’. In a statement to the newspaper, Trump says “there is an opportunity for organizations to continue the important work they do in support of women’s health, while not providing abortion services.” White House officials mentioned that there could even be an increase in federal funds if Planned Parenthood stopped work related to abortions. In a response to the report of the proposal, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards says the group “will always stand for women’s ability to make decisions about their health and lives, without interference from politicians.”

Alzheimer’s Could Bankrupt Medicare, Experts Say

Every 66 seconds this year, an American will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association annual report, released Tuesday. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double to one every 33 seconds. That means, says the report, that by the middle of the century, over half of all Americans 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s. Those startling statistics are mirrored worldwide. In 2016, the World Alzheimer’s Report estimated that 47 million people around the globe had dementia — more than the current population of Spain. The global number of people diagnosed is expected to triple by 2050. Nine of 10 people with dementia in low- and middle-income countries and half of those in high-income countries are not diagnosed. “What is driving these numbers is that there is no disease modifying treatment, no prevention and no cure,” said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “And while U.S. deaths from Alzheimer’s have doubled in the last 15 years, deaths from other major diseases have been declining.” The issue is mainly funding, agreed Rudy Tanzi, a Harvard professor of neurology who also heads up MassGeneral’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit. “We are a knowledge-rich yet budget-constrained field. We have many clues about how to stop Alzheimer’s, especially from recent genetic studies, but insufficient funds to explore how.”

Economic News

About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.

February continued the recent downturn in gun sales following Trump replacing Obama as President. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 2,234,817 checks in February, according to FBI documents. That’s a retreat of nearly 400,000 checks from last February. The slowing but still historically high sales levels come on the heels of the highest year in history for gun sales. The FBI processed more than 27.5 million NICS checks in 2016. That’s millions more than the previous record set in 2015.

General Motors has reached a deal to sell its money-losing European operations to the French maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars. The agreement announced early Monday will create a new European automobile giant, bringing the Opel and Vauxhall brands under the control of France’s PSA. GM is also selling its European financial arm to PSA and French bank BNP Paribas. The combined value of the deals is about $2.3 billion. The agreement removes a financial headache for GM — Germany’s Opel and Britain’s Vauxhall have lost $22.4 billion over the past 17 years. It will also make PSA Europe’s second biggest carmaker after Volkswagen.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest country is still crawling through its worst recession in its history. Brazil’s economy shrank 3.6% in 2016. That’s just a slight improvement from 2015, when it contracted 3.8%, but still far from good. It’s the country’s longest recession with eight consecutive quarters of contraction. Unemployment hit 12.6% in January. A year ago, it was 9.5%. By comparison, at the height of the U.S. recession in 2009, unemployment peaked at 10%. Nearly 13 million Brazilians are out of work. An investigation into a massive government bribery ring helped spark the downturn as Brazil prepared to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. These days, Olympic facilities like Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium have become “ghost stadiums” with stolen seats, parched soccer fields and vandalized equipment.

Migrant Update

Migration is the “Trojan wooden horse” of terrorism and the current lull in the migrant flow is only temporary, Hungary’s prime minister said Tuesday. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an early supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, has ordered the reinforcement of fences on Hungary’s southern borders to keep out migrants. Orban says the migrants, many of whom are Muslims. Orban said the migration issue would remain as long as its causes in the countries of origin were not dealt with and its potential risks were not recognized. “The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own — at European standards of living. We are still, at this moment, under siege,” Orban said.

Islamic State

Iraqi troops encountered the “heaviest” clashes yet with Islamic State group fighters Sunday in western Mosul since the start of the new push more than two weeks ago. ISIS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. The militants, he said, are moving from house to house and deploying snipers. ISIS fighters have “some mortar (teams) and snipers positioned inside homes,” said Iraqi special forces Maj. Ali Talib, explaining that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have helped destroy some of the IS defenses, but clashes are still ongoing.

A Pentagon plan for the coming assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria, calls for significant U.S. military participation, including increased Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, and arms supplies to the main Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting force on the ground, reports the Washington Post. This is the military’s favored option among several variations currently under White House review. The proposal would ease a number of restrictions on U.S. activities imposed during the Obama administration. Officials involved in the planning have proposed lifting a cap on the size of the U.S. military contingent in Syria, currently numbering about 500 Special Operations trainers and advisers to the combined Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. While the Americans would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to work closer to the front line and would delegate more decision-making authority down the military line from Washington.

Syria

Ignoring a United Nations report that decried the use in Syria of chemical weapons, targeted air attacks on civilians and forced deportations, Russian and Assad regime air forces are steadily continuing the same illegal tactics while U.N.-sponsored peace talks founder in Geneva, reports Fox News. The regime forces also seem to be refining new forms of their illegal chemical weapons. Syria researchers in London have pointed to the strong possibility that pro-regime forces have put warheads containing chlorine gas on short-range, ground-to-ground rockets as a supplement to poison-filled gas canisters and bombs dropped out of helicopters and other aircraft.

Iran

Continuing a pattern of provocative actions, Iran last weekend test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles and sent fast-attack vessels close to a U.S. Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. officials confirmed to Fox News. One of Iran’s ballistic missile tests were successful, destroying a floating barge approximately 155 miles away, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch said. The launches of the Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles were the first tests of the missile in two years, one official said. It was not immediately clear if this was the first successful test at sea — raising concerns for the U.S. Navy, which operates warships in the area, one of which had an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. boats on Saturday. The IRGC boats approached to within 600 yard of the tracking ship USNS Invincible and then stopped, officials confirmed. The Invincible was accompanied by three ships from the British Royal Navy and all four ships were forced to change course, Reuters reported.

North Korea

North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew 620 miles into the ocean off its eastern coast, South Korean officials said Monday, in an apparent reaction to huge military drills by Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal. It was not immediately clear the exact type of missile fired; Pyongyang has staged a series of missile test-launches of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February. The ramped-up tests come as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for a nuclear and missile program that can deter what he calls U.S. and South Korean hostility toward the North. Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.

American cyberwarriors are trying to sabotage North Korea’s missile program — but analysts argue over whether the effort has had real results, a New York Times investigation found. Soon after ex-President Obama ordered the secret program three years ago, North Korean missiles began exploding, veering off course or crashing into the sea, the newspaper reported Saturday. By most accounts, the North Korean missile failures were possibly caused by US sabotage, the Times says. But it’s also likely many of the missile failures resulted from North Korean incompetence. Obama reportedly ordered the cyber sabotage in early 2014 after deciding that 60 years of U.S. efforts to figure out how to shoot down incoming missiles had not yielded a system that would reliably defend against a missile attack.

Somalia

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Yemen

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee was among those killed in recent U.S. airstrikes on terror targets in Yemen, the Pentagon said Monday. Yasir al-Silmi, who was held at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, was killed in airstrikes on March 2nd. The Pentagon confirmed that al-Silmi was counted among those who had returned to terrorism. As the Obama administration wound down, officials stepped up efforts to shrink the prison population at Guantanamo Bay, though Obama was never able to realize his campaign pledge of closing the U.S. detention facility. While Obama assured the U.S. in December that only “low-level” terrorist operatives had been released from Guantanamo Bay, the emergence of former detainees taking on high-level roles in terror groups has undermined that message. One of them, Ibrahim al Qosi, became the face of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Wildfires

A brush fire in Miami-Dade County, Florida, erupted to 670 acres and emitted smoke and ashes that shut down a roadway Sunday. Crews shut down Southwest Eighth Street between 137th Avenue and Krome Avenue due to the fire Sunday. The Trail Fire began near a canal and a heavily wooded area. The fire reportedly jumped Krome Avenue and threatened structures. Winds were gusting over 30 mph frequently in the Miami area Sunday morning into early afternoon, fanning the blaze. Flammable shrubs and trees known as Melaleuca are fueling the fire.

Weather

Almost five dozen tornadoes and just over 1,000 total reports of severe weather tore through parts of the Midwest, South and East from February 28 through March 1, 2017, in what was the largest severe weather outbreak since the late spring 2011. National Weather Service surveys have confirmed at least 59 tornadoes occurred in 11 states from Kansas and Iowa to Michigan to Tennessee during the outbreak. One EF4 tornado tore a roughly 50-mile path through southeast Missouri and southern Illinois, the first violent (EF4 or stronger) tornado of 2017. Peak winds were estimated by an NWS-Paducah damage survey of 180 mph.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more severe (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

More than a dozen people were injured and dozens of homes damaged Monday night, March 6, after at least two tornadoes reportedly touched down in Missouri. According to the National Weather Service, there were 29 reports of unconfirmed tornadoes in four states: Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. A tornado damaged about 20 homes in Oak Grove, east of Kansas City. A reported 10 to 15 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries. North of Kansas City, in Smithville, 20 to 25 homes were damaged. The Kansas City Star also reports damage to planes and hangars at the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, Kansas. About 40,000 customers in the Kansas City area remained without power early Tuesday, down from more than 100,000 Monday night.

Floods in Zimbabwe have killed 246 people, injured 128 and left nearly 2,000 homeless since December, according to government officials. Those who have survived the floods say they have lost their possessions. Many survivors are now housed at a camp where they are crammed in tents and plastic shelters and survive on charity. For weeks, heavy rains have been pouring in Zimbabwe, especially southern parts of the country, ending a years’ long drought. This southern African country last week appealed to international donors for $100 million to help those affected by the floods, which have washed away bridges and roads and cut off some communities.

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Signs of the Times (3/4/17)

March 4, 2017

Jesus Film Project Announces 1,500th Translation of ‘JESUS’ Film

Jesus Film Project® announced Friday during the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention the completion of its 1,500th language translation of “JESUS,” the most watched film in history according to “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The 1,500th language, Daasanach, belongs to an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Since 1979, Jesus Film Project’s resources and strategies have been utilized in 7.5 billion gospel presentations in more than 230 countries, and for many individuals in remote areas around the world, “JESUS” is the first motion picture they have ever viewed. The powerful impact of seeing the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in their heart language has resulted in more than 490 million indicated decisions for Christ following a film showing.

  • And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Islam Growing Faster than Christianity

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the religion of Islam is growing rapidly and there will be more people who identify as Muslim than as Christians by the year 2070. In 2010, there were about 2.17 billion Christians in the world and 1.6 billion Muslims, but the study found that, by 2070, there will be 2.92 billion Muslims and 2.76 billion Christians. In the U.S., Muslims are expected to make up 2.1 percent of the population by 2050. Currently, they make up about one percent. One of the reasons why Islam is growing at such a fast rate is that Muslims have the highest fertility rate (3.1 children per woman) and they also have the youngest average age (34 percent are under 15).

Trump Addresses Congress, Promises Economic Acceleration

President Trump declared Tuesday that a “new chapter of American greatness is now beginning” as he made economic revival the centerpiece of his first address to Congress – issuing a clarion call to “restart the engine of the American economy” through tax cuts, better trade deals, immigration enforcement and a $1 trillion infrastructure program.  He also called on Congress to replace what he called the “imploding ObamaCare disaster” with legislation that lowers costs and expands access, an ambitious goal for GOP lawmakers still trying to come together on a plan. He offered a decidedly upbeat vision for the future of the country that stood in contrast to his at-times foreboding inauguration address. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope,” Trump said, urging lawmakers to “join forces” to deliver.  Declaring “the time for small thinking is over,” Trump appealed to the country to “believe, once more, in America.” President Trump began his first address to Congress Tuesday by acknowledging the apparent recent surge in anti-Semitism and the fatal attack on an Indian immigrant in Kansas, saying the country “stands united in condemning hate and evil.”

AG Sessions Defuses Media Uproar, Recuses Himself from Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself being forced to decide whether to resign or recuse himself after a Washington Post story ignited a media firestorm over his past contacts with the Russian ambassador. He chose to recuse himself from any FBI investigation of Russia and the campaign. The question of whether the attorney general misled Congress is fueling the controversy that utterly dominated the news, especially with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi holding press conferences to say Sessions should step down. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions maintains that his two contacts with Sergey Kislyak, one of them a meeting in his Senate office, had nothing to do with his role as a key Trump surrogate. Sessions recused himself from the probe that is looking the question of whether Moscow was involved in hacking the Democrats. A perjury investigation could be the next hurdle faced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with Democrats and civil liberties groups unimpressed by his decision to recuse himself from any investigations involving the presidential campaigns. Russia’s top diplomat says the uproar over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador is a replay of McCarthyism.

Dems Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton Also Had Russian Contacts

Even as top Democratic lawmakers demanded the attorney general’s resignation over past meetings with Russia’s ambassador, after pictures emerged of the same lawmakers in similar meetings, exposing them to “hypocrisy” charges. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in particular, has egg on her face after she told Politico reporters that she had never met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Not with this ambassador, no,” she said. But Politico unearthed a 2010 photo from a meeting of congressional lawmakers with then-Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, at which both Pelosi and Kislyak were present. Trump tweeted: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” Many of those sounding the loudest alarm bells over Russian influence in U.S. politics were curiously silent when far greater concerns were raised about the Clintons, notes Fox News.  Unlike the revelations so far concerning Russian ties in the Trump camp, the Clinton deals involved hundreds of millions of dollars and enormous favors that benefitted Russian interests. Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a small energy company alongside Russian officials that received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund, a relationship Podesta failed to fully disclose on his federal financial disclosures as required by law, reports ConservativeByte.com

Majority of Voters say ‘Move On’ from Protesting Trump

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets since Donald Trump won the presidential election.  But a majority of voters would tell protesters: “it’s time to move on.”  That’s according to a Fox News Poll of registered voters released Thursday. The poll asks, “What message would you like to send to people who are protesting President Trump and his policies?”  Over half, 53 percent, would tell them “it’s time to move on,” while 44 percent would implore them “don’t give up the fight.” Not surprisingly, these results are highly partisan.  Fully 81 percent of Democrats want the protesters to keep fighting, while even more Republicans (87 percent) say it’s time to move on. women are split on protesting Trump:  49 percent would tell protesters to move on and 48 percent would say “don’t give up.” By a 57-38 percent margin, men say it’s time to move on.

Christian Street Preachers Convicted for Quoting the Bible in U.K.

Two Christian street preachers have been convicted of religiously aggravated harassment after quoting from the King James Bible when asked questions about Islam and homosexuality by hecklers. The prosecution claimed that in the context of modern society this “must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.” After the trial their solicitor, Michael Phillips said: This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act.” A Barnabas Fund staff member who acted as an expert witness for the defense affirmed that what the men said was an orthodox biblical understanding of the Christian faith as it has been historically understood. Both the conviction and the claims made by the CPS prosecutor raise considerable concerns about the UK’s longstanding constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  • This is a harbinger of Christian persecution to come in the U.S. where even speaking Biblical truths will be labeled hate crimes.

European Union Threatens Visa War with U.S.

In what has been called a “visa war,” the European Union’s parliament on Thursday called on the bloc to force American tourists visiting Europe to first obtain visas because the U.S. excludes five EU countries from its no-visa policy. The Wall Street Journal reported that the request is unlikely to change policy, but reflects “hostility among some European politicians to the Trump administration.” U.S. citizens can travel to all EU countries without visas but the U.S. hasn’t granted visa-free travel to citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. The legislature urged the European Commission to act within two months. The Commission has cautioned that suspending the visa waiver for Americans would also hurt trade, tourism and the European economy.

Muslims Unite to Help Fix Vandalized Jewish Cemeteries

Once again, dozens of Jewish headstones have been vandalized, stoking fears of heightened anti-Semitism. And once again, members of the Muslim community are rallying to help. The latest spate of destruction came over the weekend at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, where 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled over. A week earlier, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi, who had started a fund-raising campaign to help clean up the St. Louis cemetery, sprung to action again after the Philadelphia attack. “We must stand together against these acts of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia,” he wrote. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised $138,000 — nearly seven times the original goal of $20,000.

Pro-Life Activists Begin 40 Days for Life Outreach

Roughly two dozen pro-life activists, students and clergy held a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, kicking off an international campaign to hold around-the-clock outreach efforts outside abortion clinics during the season of Lent. In its 11th year, 40 Days for Life estimates that it has saved more than 12,000 lives by peaceably assembling outside abortion clinics and ministering to patients and employees as they come and go. The biannual campaign has teams in 340 locations in 40 different countries this year.

Thousands of Virginia Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

When Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall asked the state’s 133 local governments to provide numbers on noncitizens and jury pools, Loudoun County produced some alarming figures. Between 2009 and 2014, the Washington, D.C., exurb of more than 350,000 residents had disqualified more than 9,000 of them for jury duty because they were not U.S. citizens, reports the Washington Times. Loudoun County jury pools come from two sources — voter registration lists and Department of Motor Vehicle driver’s license applications. The county’s 9,000 juror disqualifications mean that a potentially significant number of noncitizens vote illegally in Virginia.

Colon/Rectal Cancer Rate Rising for those Under 55

Colon and rectal cancer rates are rising sharply for Americans under age 55, according to a study published Wednesday. Someone born in 1990 has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Because routine screening is generally not recommended for most people under 50, these cancers are often found in more advanced stages. The surge of younger diagnoses contrasts with the overall trend of colorectal cancer, which has been dropping for several decades. The data looked at nearly 500,000 cases of colorectal cancer from 1974 to 2013, but the reasons behind the increase was not discovered.

Pension Funds Drying Up

The New York Teamsters Road Carriers Local 707 Pension Fund reportedly has officially run out of money as the federal insurance company has taken over payments to retirees at a reduced rate. As it has with 70 other bankrupt union pensions, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. stepped in. However, under the maximum benefits provided by the PBGC, many former Teamsters said their monthly retirement checks have been slashed by two-thirds.  Sadly, the (PBGC) itself is also running out of cash funds to cover union pensions, its director said Wednesday. PBGC has $2 billion in assets built up over 42 years, Reeder said. Last year, when PBGC was supporting 65 bankrupt plans, it paid out $113 million a month. PBGC is projected to run out of money in eight to 10 years. Many union pension plans are projected to run out in 20 years. The federal agency’s limited liquidity “is part of the spiraling U.S. pension crisis that threatens to wipe out the retirement savings of more than a million Americans,” the New York Daily News reported.

  • Underfunded pension liabilities are an increasing problem nationwide, not just for unions but for many municipalities who are being forced to raise taxes to pay the pensions of retirees who are living longer

Manufacturing Back, Good Jobs Not

Manufacturing output is at an all-time high in the U.S., according to one government statistic (others indicate it’s near a record). While manufacturing has roared back, the jobs — especially $30-an-hour jobs — have not. America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Some blame robots and machines for replacing humans; others say the jobs went to Mexico, China and beyond. Many think trade deals like NAFTA have caused manufacturing jobs to disappear and wages to go down. NAFTA, the deal with Mexico and Canada that allows goods from those countries to come into the U.S. tax free, went into effect in January 1994. U.S. manufacturing actually did well for much of the 1990s. But it’s been a different story since 2000, the tipping point when manufacturing jobs began to disappear rapidly. The Detroit auto industry is booming and unemployment in Michigan has been 5% or less for the past year. It’s the lowest level since 2001. But workers say there’s one big problem: A lot of the jobs around now don’t pay well. There were 103,000 American UAW workers employed by Ford in 1994, the year NAFTA took effect, according to a UAW spokesman. Now there are just 56,000.

Economic News

Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said Friday that the Fed was likely to raise its benchmark interest rate this month, barring any unpleasant economic surprises. Fed officials put investors on notice that a rate increase was coming sooner than had been widely expected.

American banks raked in record profits last year as they continue to rebound from the meltdown of 2008. FDIC statistics published this week show that loan growth was strong and the number of “problem banks” fell to a seven-year low. Banks made $171.3 billion in profits last year, while the percentage of banks suffering losses dipped to 8.1%.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post. The EPA’s annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion, just one of anticipated cuts need to pay for the $54 billion expansion in defense spending in Trump’s budget proposal.

AT&T has agreed to bring 3,000 outsourced jobs home to the U.S. The union that represents AT&T workers, the Communications Workers of America, said Thursday that it’s reached a tentative agreement with AT&T Southwest — a regional landline arm of the company — that includes a commitment to hire American workers to do jobs that were previously done by contractors overseas.

President Trump talked up his plans to help American coal and steel workers in his address to Congress. Meanwhile, China is planning to cut half a million jobs in heavy industries this year. That’s on top of 726,000 jobs that were axed in the coal and steel industries last year. It’s all part of a plan announced a year ago to shed 1.8 million coal and steel jobs over a period of years as China tries to reduce excess capacity in industries dominated by bloated and inefficient state-owned enterprises. The government is spending billions of dollars to help redeploy workers who are affected. In stark contrast, Trump believes America needs more steel and coal jobs.

One of Mexico’s biggest corporations says it’s willing to provide the cement for President Trump’s proposed border wall. Cemex, one of the world’s largest providers of building materials, said Wednesday that it would provide building materials for a border wall — if a client asks for it. If Cemex does get involved, that could test Trump’s promise to “buy American, hire American,” notes CNN Money.

Persecution Watch

According to a new report from US-based NGO Freedom House, persecution of Chinese Christians and other faith groups has “intensified” in recent years. “Combining both violent and nonviolent methods, the (Communist) Party’s policies are designed to curb the rapid growth of religious communities and eliminate certain beliefs and practices,” the report said. Its release comes amid hot speculation over whether the Vatican and Beijing will strike a potentially historic deal on the ordination of Chinese bishops, ending decades of frosty ties. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, Freedom House said, the scale of religious oppression has increased at all levels of society. Religious practice in China is tightly controlled by the government, with the five recognized faiths — Chinese Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism — supervised by official organizations such as the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Buddhist Association of China.

A German man was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines after a deadline to pay his ransom passed. Philippine and German officials confirmed that 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner had been killed after being held for three months by the Islamist militant group. It was the second time Kantner, 70, had been abducted. He was held along with his partner, Sabine Merz, by Somali pirates for nearly two months in 2008. Abu Sayyaf posted a gruesome video of its militants beheading Kantner.

New Orleans’ transgender community is on edge after two transgender women were murdered within 48 hours of each other. Chyna Gibson was gunned down Saturday night, while the second woman was found with multiple stab wounds Monday morning. No arrests have yet been made in the cases. Police Commander Doug Eckert said the two crimes in two days showed an increase in violence against transgender people in the city.

Islamic State

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has admitted defeat in Iraq and ordered militants to either flee or kill themselves in suicide attacks, it has been claimed. The terror mastermind is said to have issued a statement called ‘farewell speech’ which was distributed among ISIS preachers and clerics in parts of Iraq it still controls. According to local media, he urged supporters to run and hide and told ‘non-Arab fighters’ to either return home or blow themselves up with the promise of ’72 women in heaven’.

Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jaudat said the militants were increasingly cut off from each other and that their leaders were fleeing the remaining pockets of militant control. Iraqi forces retook the eastern part of Mosul from ISIS a month ago, completing a key phase in the effort to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from the terror group. Jaudat said government artillery was targeting remaining “terrorist dens” in the western half of the city. Islamic State terrorists desperate to save their lives have tried blending in with the growing crowds of innocent men, women and children escaping Mosul.

Some of America’s most critical allies in the fight against ISIS have made a deal to cede territory to Russian and Syrian government troops in northern Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Friday. The Manbij Military Council, a key US ally in Syria, has permitted Russian and Syrian regime forces to take over villages near the town of Manbij. As a result, U.S. military advisers could soon find themselves in close proximity to Syrian and Russian troops. The advisers are currently training local forces in Manbij to combat ISIS in the vicinity, part of the approximate 500-strong contingent of American Special Operations Forces in Syria.

Yemen

For the second consecutive night Friday, US drones and jets continued striking Al Qaeda militants in Yemen, in a sign the Trump administration is ramping up operations as part of a broader campaign against the terrorist group long considered the biggest threat to the United States. The U.S. military conducted over 30 airstrikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula across three provinces in Yemen. According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, the U.S. military has averaged 30 airstrikes a year since 2012. In only two nights this week, the U.S. military has already the five-year average. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in Yemen numbers slightly more than 3,000 fighters, according to official estimates. U.S. officials say AQAP represents a greater threat to the US homeland than ISIS, because of its history pursuing “non-metallic” bombs which can slip through airport screening.

Pakistan

A Taliban official says a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan the previous day killed a top commander of the militant Haqqani network — the man who in 2014 accompanied U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he was handed over to U.S. authorities. The Taliban official identified the man as Qari Abdullah, saying he died in the “area of Khost.” Pakistani intelligence officials had earlier said a suspected U.S. strike hit in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan’s Khost, a Haqqani stronghold, killing two militants.

Jordan

Jordan on Saturday executed 15 men convicted in a series of bombings and shooting attacks since 2003 that killed a British tourist, an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism and members of the Jordanian security forces, the government spokesman said. It was the largest round of executions in recent memory, and the first since pro-Western Jordan launched a crackdown on Islamic extremists two years ago, after the killing of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot by the Islamic State group. Jordan is a part of a U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, which holds territory in Syria and Iraq.

Afghanistan

A gun fight reportedly broke out between Afghan security forces and several gunmen in Kabul on Wednesday after an explosion rang out on the western side of the city. The fire fight was near a district police headquarters located near a military training school. At least one person was killed and 35 wounded, The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted three sites in Kabul, according to Al Jazeera.

Earthquakes

Oklahoma and southern Kansas’s earthquake risk is now equal to that of California, with 3 million people at risk from man-induced tremblors, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey forecast released Wednesday. The agency noted that the increase in earthquakes in the region is thought to be the result of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and the disposal of wastewater deep underground, a byproduct of the oil extraction process. “Injected fluids cause pressure changes that can weaken a fault and therefore bring it closer to failure,” the report notes. Before 2000, there were only about two earthquakes per year of magnitude-2.7 or greater, but that number has jumped to 2,500 in 2014 and 4,000 a year later. The largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma occurred last year near Pawnee, measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale. In November, a 5.0-magnitude temblor shook the town of Cushing, known as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”

Environment

The rural West has seen more-persistent smog over the last 20 to 25 years, despite laws limiting the emission of smog-forming chemicals from cars, airplanes and factories. A study published March 1 in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics determined that the culprits are an intrusion of pollution from Asia in the western U.S. and more-frequent heat waves in the eastern U.S. Asian countries – China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and India – have collectively tripled their nitrogen-oxide emissions since 1990, and this is traveling across the Pacific Ocean in the spring, when winds are generally out of a westerly direction, and settling into western U.S. Smog, or ground-level ozone, is harmful to human health and can increase the risk of asthma attacks or cause difficulty breathing. Sensitive trees and crops can also be harmed from too much exposure to ozone. Smog-forming chemicals, such as nitrogen oxides, have been cut in half in the U.S. over the past quarter century. This has led to an overall decrease in ozone in the East – though it typically increases during heat waves, which have become more frequent in the past few decades – but ozone levels have actually climbed in the rural West.

Weather

Winter pushed its way back into Northeast Friday, with much colder temperatures that will linger through the weekend. Light snow is possible in a few areas. After a break, another Pacific storm will pile another foot or more of snow in California’s Sierra Nevada and northern Rockies this weekend, adding to what’s been a near-record snowpack for late winter.

Several record highs were tied or broken last week across the country, including Springfield, Missouri (77 degrees), Shreveport, Louisiana (85 degrees), Tyler, Texas (68 degrees), Jacksonville (87 degrees), Tampa (86 degrees), Scranton, Pennsylvania (64 degrees), and Binghamton, New York (58 degrees).

At least four people have died from a severe weather outbreak Tuesday and Wednesday in the Midwest, from Missouri and Illinois to Michigan and Tennessee. Some 30 confirmed tornadoes at least EF3 in strength, have been reported across four states, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of homes were destroyed. Near Perryville, Missouri, at least a dozen vehicles, including a semi-truck, were blown off Interstate 55 after a tornado was spotted in the area. Buildings and structures in the area were also damaged by winds. A large and dangerous confirmed tornado killed one person in Ottawa, Illinois. In Ottawa, a town of about 19,000 located 80 miles southwest of Chicago, At least 14 people were transported to a local hospital with injuries Minor injuries were also reported at an Ottawa nursing home. In Naplate, Illinois, about one-quarter of all structures in the town of 500 residents were damaged from winds up to 155 mph.

An unusually damp Arizona winter has triggered a temporary salad mix shortage in the nation’s groceries. According to Bloomberg, bags of baby spinach and spring mix largely originate from Yuma County in the winter months. But things are a little different this year. The shortage, which will hit stores in about three weeks, is being blamed on mildew that came from wet weather. As a result, growers were forced to pull vegetables from fields, ending the harvest earlier than usual.