Signs of the Times (3/23/17)

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: