Archive for April, 2017

Signs of the Times (4/22/17)

April 22, 2017

New Study Finds Unborn Babies Likely Feel Pain in the First Trimester

A study published in the Journal Cell on 23 March 2017 reveals that the nervous system of embryos and fetuses may be greatly more developed than was previously believed.  Entitled “Tridimensional Visualization and Analysis of Early Human Development” the study shows that unborn babies in the first trimester have “adult-like” patterns of nerves. Researchers “combined whole-mount immunostaining, 3DISCO clearing, and light-sheet imaging to start building a 3D cellular map” and found that “the adult-like pattern of skin innervation is established before the end of the first trimester, showing important intra- and inter-individual variations in nerve branches.” The implication is that babies feel pain much earlier than first thought. The prevailing assumption that babies don’t feel pain in the first trimester will have to be re-examined. There is increasing evidence that unborn babies can feel pain much earlier than 20 weeks — possibly as early as five weeks. Some evidence exists to show that fetal pain may be even worse in the first trimester, due to the uneven maturation of fetal neurophysiology, reports LiveNews.com.

Smuggling Cartels Big Threat to U.S.

Smuggling cartels are now a major threat to the fabric of American society, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly declared Tuesday, saying the international crime syndicates have shown an incredible ability to sneak drugs and people —potentially terrorists and dirty bombs — into the U.S. Mr. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general who is three months into his tenure as secretary, said among all the other dangers facing Americans, the threat from the cartels, known in the security world as “transnational criminal organizations” is what keeps him up at night. He said the Trump administration has already notched some victories over the criminal networks, including cutting the level of illegal immigration across the southwestern border by a staggering 70 percent. But he said the quantity of drugs has increased and that the smuggling cartels share ties with the terrorist networks that the U.S. is fighting overseas.

Congress Grappling with Shutdown Threat

Lawmakers return to session next week with just four days to fund the government and avert a shutdown. The deadline is April 28. The dynamics are different this time, compared with the 2013 meltdown. There’s a Republican House and Senate. This is the first government funding go-round with President Trump occupying the White House. No one is quite sure how the Trump administration will handle the negotiations or what are their untouchable requests. But there’s not a lot of time to figure this out. Some Republicans fret that House GOP leaders burned way too much time trying to rescue their failed health care bill. The White House said Thursday that it wants to see money for President Trump’s border wall included in the spending bill Congress must pass next week — a demand Democrats said sours negotiations and makes a government shutdown more likely.

Proposed Budget Cuts in Foreign Aid Worry U.N.

President Trump’s pledge to cut U.S. foreign aid loomed large over meetings the United Nations’ refugee chief held with economic development officials Friday. “I’m worried about possible reductions,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees, told USA TODAY. “I’ll have to cut back programs that help millions of people,” said Grandi, who is responsible for serving people fleeing conflicts in places like Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and North Africa. Trump’s proposed budget would slash foreign aid by 37%. Critics, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have said that would hurt America’s image as the world’s foremost provider to the neediest people. Security concerns are legitimate, but the reality is that the number of terrorist acts committed by people posing as refugees is low, Grandi said. Far more terrorist acts were committed by second- and third-generation immigrants, which points to a different kind of threat, he said. “It means that someone was not integrated properly,” he said. That’s less of a problem in the U.S. and Canada than it is in Europe, Grandi said.

Justice Department Threatens Sanctuary Cities

The Trump administration intensified its threats to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, warning nine jurisdictions Friday that they may lose coveted law enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation. It sent letters to officials in California and major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. But some of the localities remained defiant, despite risking the loss of funds that police agencies use to pay for everything from body cameras to bulletproof vests. “We’re not going to cave to these threats,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said, promising a legal fight if the money is pulled.

Scientists March in D.C. to Protest Trump Policies

Crowds of people are marching Saturday in the United States and around the world in support of science and evidence-based research in a protest fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump’s environmental and energy policies. Besides the main march in Washington, organizers said more than 600 “satellite” marches were due to take place globally in a protest timed to coincide with Earth Day. The march has been billed by its organizers as political but nonpartisan. The event’s website describes it as “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments.” U.S. scientists said they fear Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have a major impact on research and science-based policy as well as undermine the importance of science in society and limit future innovation.

Increasing Intolerance for Free Speech on College Campuses

There has been an inreasing intolerance for the exchange of ideas at American colleges and universities. In recent months, battles over free speech on campuses have descended into violence across the nation, reports CNN. Free speech came to fisticuffs before alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer could even begin his speech at Auburn University. The University of California, Berkeley, erupted into near-riots in February during protests against right-winger Milo Yiannopoulos and again last week over President Donald Trump. When eugenicist Charles Murray spoke last month at Middlebury College in Vermont, protesters got so rowdy that a professor accompanying him was injured. Students and faculty are stifling free speech, especially if it involves conservative causes, CNN notes. More and more American universities are avoiding controversial speech altogether by banning polarizing speakers. On Wednesday Berkeley said it would seek to cancel next week’s scheduled speech by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, citing safety concerns. And students say the middle ground on campuses is in danger of becoming quicksand, a place where neither side dares tread.

ANTIFA is Becoming the New Face of the Alt-Left

In the recent riots at Berkley and some other college campuses, the violence seems to be largely initiated and conducted by people in black clothes, hoodies, or masks. From many reports, these people are from a new organization called ANTIFA, which stands for anti-fascism. They are reportedly funded by billionaire George Soros and have communistic, or at least radical socialism. The believe that President Trump, conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, are fascists, which is far from the truth – except for the alt-right. Are they becoming the new face of liberals and the Democratic Party? Let’s hope not, because if you don’t agree with them, you are immediately shouted down as a racist, bigot, or fascist. So much for tolerance and free speech.

Race, Not Terrorism, Motive for Fresno Killings

Police say race is what drove a homeless African-American man in Fresno to shoot and kill three white men on Tuesday – bringing his homicide total to four since last week. “We don’t believe it’s a terrorist act,” Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters about the Tuesday rampage led by suspect Kori Ali Muhammad. “We believe it’s a hate crime. Dyer said the incident ended with Muhammad, 39, shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is great” – as police took him down to the ground. Muhammad sought to kill as many white people as possible, Dyer said. The shootings were random, he added. “This is solely based on race,” he said.

Millennials Vastly Different that Previous Generations

“Today’s young adults look different from prior generations in almost every regard: how much education they have, their work experiences, when they start a family, and even who they live with while growing up,” says a report from the Census Bureau released Wednesday. It found they increasingly live at home and delay starting a family. According to the report, that trend reflects a wider shift in attitudes about the importance of work and education over family. For example, more than half of all Americans think marriage and children are not important steps in becoming an adult, while “more than 9 in 10 Americans believe that finishing school and being gainfully employed are important milestones of adulthood.” The Census Bureau looked at four common milestones of adulthood: Getting married, having kids, getting a job and living on your own. The report found that the percentage of Americans achieving all four of those milestones by age 34 dropped from 45% in 1975 to 24% in 2016.

Young adults are increasingly putting off children and marriage. Being a “single worker” is now the second most common lifestyle scenario by 2016, a rise from 6% to 23%. The report also found young women are pulling ahead in employment and wages, while those numbers on are the decline for young men. In 1975, 25% of men between 25 and 34 had incomes of less than $30,000 (adjusted for inflation) per year. By 2016, it was 41%. The number of young women ages 25 to 34 in the workforce jumped more than 40% between 1975 and 2016. Those young women saw their median income rise from $23,000 to $29,000 in the same time period, although it remains $11,000 lower than young men. Between 1975 and 2016, the number of young female “homemakers” dropped from 43% to 14%.1 in 3 young Americans lives with a parent or parents. Of those, 1 in 4 do not work or go to school. In 1975, far more young adults lived with a spouse than a parent. By 2016, more young adults lived with their parents than a husband or wife. 41% of young families had a student debt in 2013, up from 17% in 1989 and the amount owed on those loans has almost tripled.

Economic News

Existing home sales rose 4.4 percent in March to a higher-than-expected annualized rate of 5.71 million. This is the best rate since February 2007. Single-family sales were up 4.3 percent to a 5.08 million rate and condo sales were up 5.0 percent to a 630,000 rate. Year-on-year sales increases also were higher, up 5.9 percent, at 6.1 percent for single-family homes and 5.0 percent for condos. The median price of the homes sold rose 3.6 percent over February to $236,400 for a year-on-year increase of 6.8 percent. The lack of supply and heated sales pace are reflected in the number of days the homes were on the market, which were down to 34 days from 45 in the prior month and 47 days a year ago.

Retail sales declined in February and March, according the Commerce Department Tuesday. Shoppers haven’t been this stingy since early 2015, and it’s likely to hurt the economy. The U.S. is on track for very sluggish 0.5% growth in the first three months this year, according to the latest estimates from Macroeconomic Advisers and the Atlanta Federal Reserve. About 70% of the American economy comes from consumer purchases.

Out of the nearly 11.1 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S., Pew Research projected that there were about 8 million in the workforce in 2014. About 3.4 million, of those workers paid Social Security taxes, according to 2014 estimates from the Social Security administration. Unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers contributed $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010, the most current estimate. Judges tend to look more favorably upon illegal immigrants who have a history of filing and paying their taxes.

Venezuela

Venezuelan authorities seized the General Motors plant there, the company confirmed late Wednesday, in a move that broadens the international implications of the country’s political and economic decomposition. The fate of other automotive plants in Venezuela was not immediately clear. The development puts an abrupt end to GM’s operations in the country, which the world’s third largest automaker described as an “illegal judicial seizure of its assets.” It also comes as the South American nation experiences intense public protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Three people were killed late Wednesday as tens of thousands of Venezuelans took the streets to demand fresh presidential elections and the release of jailed opposition politicians. The country has high crime and inflation rates and there are shortages of many basic goods and services. It is oil-rich but cash-poor. The troubled Venezuelan economy has dragged down the auto industry for several years, as tanking sales and abysmal currency exchange rates have undermined earnings reports. After weeks of violent protests that left at least 22 people dead, Venezuelans will take to the streets Saturday dressed in white to pay tribute to those killed in anti-government demonstrations this month.

United Kingdom

Members of the British Parliament have approved Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to hold an early general election on June 8. May made a unexpected announcement Tuesday that she would seek a “snap” election less than halfway through her government’s five-year term, with the aim of gaining a stronger mandate for the country’s historic withdrawal from the European Union. After debating the motion put forward by May in Parliament, 522 of the 650 sitting MPs voted in favor of the June 8 election, easily passing the threshold of two-thirds needed to approve the plan. The announcement marked a U-turn for May, who had repeatedly said she would not seek an early vote. The snap vote is the latest twist in a turbulent year in British politics, which was plunged into turmoil when the country unexpectedly voted to leave the European Union last year. The hotly contested “Brexit” referendum ended with the resignation of then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

North Korea

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded to 30 warheads and will grow further as Pyongyang produces increased quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, according to estimates by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. In just three years, the North’s unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-un, will control sufficient fissile material to double that arsenal to as many as 60 weapons, the Institute says. To underscore this alarming increase, the U.S. estimated that North Korea owned just one or two nuclear weapons in 1999 and would have 10 or more by 2020, according to a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report obtained by The Washington Times. “The bottom line is that North Korea has an improving nuclear weapons arsenal,” said David Albright, founder and director of the Institute. The numbers show that North Korea is becoming a true nuclear power with the ability to hit its neighbors and, one day, the U.S.

Iran

Iran is cheating on its historical deal with the U.S. by secretly conducting research into nuclear weapons components such as bomb triggers and enriched uranium, the main Iranian opposition group said Friday. The regime is doing engineering and weaponization testing at a walled military complex south of Tehran, a location which Iran has declared off-limits to inspectors, said the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main operational arm, the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran. “This is the site that has been kept secret,” said Alireza Jafrazadeh, NCRI’s Washington office deputy director. “There is secret research to manufacture the bomb and basically cover up the real activities of the Iranian regime.” The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated by the Obama administration, has become a major foreign policy issue for the Trump White House as it evaluates whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran has benefited with billions of dollars in freed-up funds while it pursues interventions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen against U.S. interests. Iran is failing to fulfill the “spirit” of its nuclear deal with world powers, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, setting an ominous tone for his forthcoming decision about whether to pull the U.S. out of the landmark agreement.

France

The gunman who killed a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Elysees in Paris was arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to kill police officers, French media reported Friday. The suspect was detained and later freed because of a lack of evidence. In 2003, the man was convicted of attempted homicide in the shootings of two police officers. On Thursday, the gunman opened fire on a police van on the famous Paris boulevard Thursday before he was shot and killed. Multiple media outlets named the gunman as Karim Cheurfi, a French national and a father of two. The Islamic State identified him by the pseudonym Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki (father of Yusuf the Belgian) through its Amaq news agency. The attack came days before the first round of voting in the French presidential election on Sunday in which terrorism has been a major issue.

Egypt

A policeman was killed and four others were wounded after the Islamic State terror group tried to attack the St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, Egypt this week. The attack on the Christian monastery was thwarted. ISIS gunmen reportedly opened fire from a hilltop overlooking a police checkpoint near the entrance to the monastery. They fled the scene following the shootout, but killed one officer. Johnnie Moore, founder and CEO of The KAIROS Company and human rights advocate, told The Christian Post that the attempted attack is cause for “great alarm” throughout the global Christian community. On Palm Sunday, radicals bombed two churches in Alexandria and Tanta, killing 45 Christians. They promised more attacks would follow.

Syria

Syria retains chemical weapons and has dispersed its warplanes in recent days, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a news conference Friday. The aircraft dispersal suggests possible concerns about further U.S. missile strikes after President Trump ordered strikes on a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in Idlib province on April 4 that killed 89 people. Scientists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found “incontrovertible” evidence that the victims were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance after samples from 10 victims were analyzed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes sarin as a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Generally odorless and tasteless, it can cause death in minutes.

Afghanistan

An Afghan official says 140 army personnel have been killed or wounded after gunmen wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in Balkh province. The attack on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army killed or wounded hundreds of soldiers and other personnel. Two terrorists carried out suicide attacks and eight other attackers were killed in the battle. The attackers even shot some soldiers as they prayed in a mosque inside the base. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to media.

Haiti

President Trump’s immigration agency is recommending that the U.S. end temporary protections by next January for 50,000 Haitians allowed to remain in the United States following a series of natural disasters that have crippled the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation. The agency says conditions in Haiti have improved enough to end “temporary protected status” for Haitians. The Obama administration first offered temporary protection to Haitians following the devastating 2010 earthquake. The protection has been extended several times, the latest set to expire July 22. A final decision on the Haitians’ fate rests with the Department of Homeland Security.

Wildfires

Homes were destroyed and thousands have been evacuated as Florida firefighters continue to battle 91 wildfires burning across the state, officials said Friday. More than 25,000 additional acres have burned in the state since just Thursday. In Collier County, a wildfire has grown rapidly since it broke out on Thursday. Several homes have been destroyed as another 2,000 homes were evacuated on Friday. Officials say another 5,000 homes are on a voluntary evacuation order. The so-called 30th Avenue fire ignited near the Naples neighborhood of Golden Gate Estates on Thursday. It has scorched 4,800 acres and is just 10 percent contained. Authorities said as many as nine structures, several of which are homes, have been destroyed by the blaze. In Central Florida, about 800 homes were evacuated in Indian Lake Estates near Lakeland. The fire had burned about 600 acres and destroyed several structures by Friday night. Wildfires have burned at nearly 150,000 acres across Florida since January, exceeding the five-year average of acreage that is typically burned in an entire year.

Weather

Heavy rain and spring snow runoff have caused severe flooding on the Ottawa and Rigaud rivers in Quebec, Canada, prompting a state of emergency and evacuations. About 60 homes have already flooded in the town located 20 miles west of Montreal and another 150 homes are under evacuation. The majority of the homes under evacuation in the town of 7,500 are accessed by a single road that authorities said became submerged by Thursday night.

A new round of heavy rainfall triggered additional mudslides Wednesday that killed at least 14 and injured two dozen in a mountain city in Colombia. Many in the town of Manizales were still asleep when the land gave way in the early-morning hours. The country is still recovering after floods killed at least 300 in the town of Mocoa, located in southern Colombia. The city of 400,000 received a month’s worth of rain in a span of five hours, and dozens of hillsides gave way. In all, 40 to 50 mudslides were reported, destroying homes and leaving several roadways impassable.

Signs of the Times (4/18/17)

April 18, 2017

900,000 Christians Martyred in One Decade

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year. Open Doors also documented a total of 1,329 churches attacked worldwide for faith-related reasons between Nov. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2016. The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000. The top 10 countries for extreme persecution of Christians are, in order: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Transgender Confusion Shaking up Women’s Sports

USA Volleyball, the national governing body for volleyball in the USA and recognized by the United States Olympic Committee, formed a Gender Committee to consider a transgender application. After a 32-year-old biological male provided medical documentation demonstrating a lower testosterone level for three years, the committee gave him approval to play on the women’s team in an event in Hawaii. This particular biological male is a large person who’s going to have a decided advantage in women’s volleyball from size alone, not to mention his superior muscle strength.

The latest girls’ 100- and 200-meter dash winner from Cromwell High School in Connecticut has broad shoulders, manly biceps, and a mustache. The 15-year old biological male who has not taken drugs nor undergone surgery to mimic femininity was allowed to compete against other girls and, to no one’s surprise, he won – quite handily.

In Texas, a 17-year-old girl who identifies as a boy is taking testosterone supplements as she begins to “transition” to being male. She is in the news because she wrestles on the girls’ team and just won a tournament when her opponent in the finals forfeited because the other girl’s parents protested the match. She is effectively taking a performance enhancing drug, and in a physically-taxing sport like wrestling, the differences are quite tangible. That’s why the lawsuit brought by the parents of another female wrestler urged the governing body to suspend her because of the use of the steroid that is banned in most sports.

A New Zealand weightlifter absolutely smoked the competition, beating her nearest competitor, a Samoan woman, by nearly 20 kilograms. The only problem is that Laurel is a biological male, born Gavin, which is why a number of the competitors felt the competition was unfair. “Imagine training for this your whole life, as a woman, only to have a known leader in men’s weightlifting take your title,” one observer complained.

  • Many more examples are increasingly showing up in women’s sporting events around the world

Evangelical Churches Growing in Brazil’s Poorest Communities

Evangelical churches are thriving in Brazil, particularly in the country’s poorest communities. Brazil is a traditionally Catholic country, but evangelical churches are providing what many poor Brazilians need, materially and spiritually. According to Christian Today, many poor Brazilians are drawn to evangelical churches because the churches are the one thing in their communities that are caring for them and providing for their physical needs, as well as their spiritual ones. Churches are a stable presence in these poor communities, providing education, security, and economic development, as well as spiritual help. About 20 percent of people who live in Brazil’s major cities live in poor communities called favelas, so there is a great need for these churches to help.

Trump’s Immigration Order Could Swamp Backlogged Immigration Courts

Coast to coast, immigration judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are straining to decipher how the federal immigration rules released in February by the Trump administration will impact the system — amid an already burgeoning backlog of existing cases. The new guidelines, part of President Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, give enforcement agents greater rein to deport immigrants without hearings and detain those who entered the country without permission. But that ambitious policy shift faces a tough hurdle: an immigration court system already juggling more than 500,000 cases and ill-equipped to take on thousands more. Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney who works with juveniles, noted that “There isn’t an empty courtroom. We don’t have enough judges. You can say you’re going to prosecute more people, but from a practical perspective, how do you make that happen?”

Trump Signs “Buy American, Hire American” Order

President Trump signed a double-barreled, “Buy American, Hire American” executive order Tuesday, during a visit to Snap-On Tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The “Buy American” portion of the order will require federal agencies to buy more goods and services from U.S. companies and workers. It also includes language requiring transportation projects to use steel “melted and poured” in the U.S. The “Hire American” side of the order will clamp down on guest worker visas, specifically the H-1B visa program, which allows 85,000 foreign workers into the U.S. each year to take specific high-skilled jobs with U.S. companies. By combining aspects of immigration policy with federal procurement regulations, Trump is using executive action to advance his philosophy of economic nationalism without waiting for action from Congress.

Trump’s Reelection Campaign Already Raised $13.2 Million

President Trump’s reelection campaign has already raised $13.2 million this year, according to federal records filed Friday night and obtained by Politico. Roughly 80 percent of the money was raised through small, online donations, with about $4.7 million spent on hats, T-shirts, mugs and stickers. Trump’s three campaign committees have a total of about $16 million in the bank after expenses. The Republican National Committee confirmed earlier this month that it had raised $41.3 million over the same period.

Trump Supporters, Protesters Clash in Berkeley, California

At least 21 people were arrested as Trump supporters and opponents clashed Saturday at a park in Berkeley, California. Eleven people were injured, with seven transported to the hospital. “A large number of fights have occurred and numerous fireworks have been thrown in the crowds,” Berkeley police said in a statement. “There have also been numerous reports of pepper spray being used in the crowd.” CNN affiliate KPIX reported that Trump supporters planned a “Patriot Day” rally at noon and counter-protesters showed up a few hours earlier. Hundreds of people had gathered in Civic Center Park. Police set up a barrier of orange mesh fence to separate the two sides but it quickly fell down as protesters started fighting. Peaceful protests were held in dozens of cities across the United States on Saturday for the anti-Trump “Tax Day.” President Trump says he is unimpressed with the tax protests —  and indicated he has no plans to release his tax returns anytime soon.

Diabetes Rising in America’s Youth

The rate at which America’s children are diagnosed with diabetes is climbing and researchers don’t know why. A first-ever study of new diabetes diagnoses of U.S. youth under age 20 found both Types 1 and 2 diabetes surged from 2002-2012. The diagnosis of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity, increased about 5% each year from 2002 to 2012, nearly 50% over the ten-year period. New cases of Type 1, the most common form for young people, went up about 2% every year, nearly one out of every four youth over the ten years studied.

The study, published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed higher rates of diabetes diagnoses among minorities. Type 2 diabetes, which the CDC stated makes up about 90% to 95% of diagnosed diabetes cases, rose by 8.5% a year in Asian Americans ages 10-19. Blacks in the same age group saw a 6.3% annual increase, followed by a 3.1% bump in Hispanics with whites at fewer than a 1% increase per year. Hispanics saw the biggest rate increase of Type 1 diabetes with a 4.2% annual increase, followed by blacks at 2.2% and whites at 1.2%.

In terms of gender, girls and women 10-19 saw a 6.2% annual increase in Type 2 diabetes, while men and boys of the same age experienced a 3.7% increase. Across all age groups, Type 1 diabetes increased 2.2% a year in males and 1.4% in females. CDC epidemiologist Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore said those who develop diabetes at a young age are at risk of developing complications from the disease earlier, lowering their quality of life, shortening life expectancy and increasing health care costs.

  • Poor diet is most likely the primary cause of this increase in diabetes

Economic News

American homeowners paid property taxes totaling nearly $278 billion in 2016, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, the nation’s largest property. That means that each of the country’s 84 million single-family homeowners paid an average of $3,296 in property taxes, which amounts to an average 1.15% effective tax rate. According to the report, there were nine counties in the country with a population of at least 100,000 that had average annual property taxes of more than $10,000: Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties in New York; Essex, Bergen, Union and Morris counties in New Jersey; Marin County, California; and Fairfield County, Connecticut. The lowest effective tax rate is 0.32% in Hawaii, with the highest is 2.31% in New Jersey.

While the United States is still at the top in total investment in research and development — spending $500 billion in 2015 —  a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study to be released Monday has made a startling finding: A couple of years ago, China quietly surpassed the U.S. in spending on the later stage of R&D that turns discoveries into commercial products. And at its current rate of spending, China will invest up to twice as much as the U.S., or $658 billion, by 2018 on this critical late-stage research. The U.S. Is doing the hard work of inventing new technologies, and China, among other countries, is reaping the benefits by taking those ideas and turning them into commercial products before we do.

Uber’s gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. But that rapid growth came at a high cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016. Uber’s CEO had previously said it had been losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing last August. Uber is currently conducting an “urgent” investigation in response to a former employee who made public allegations of sexism and harassment at the company.

The International Monetary Fund has issued a warning to political leaders: Don’t raise trade barriers. The IMF upgraded its forecast for the global economic growth by 0.1 percentage points on Tuesday to 3.5%. But it said that “inward-looking policies” could derail economic improvements. The warning appears to be aimed at President Trump’s “America First” agenda and other protectionist policies. Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of one vast trade deal in the Pacific. He’s also promised to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, and threatened to slap tariffs or taxes on imports. The U.S. Federal Reserve agrees, arguing that American businesses that export to Mexico would be hurt if the Trump administration scraps NAFTA.

Great Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned her nation and its European partners Tuesday with a call for an early national election on June 8, seeking to cement her political backing as Britain moves ahead with difficult negotiations on its break from the European Union. The surprise announcement — made outside her office at 10 Downing Street — comes amid internal political strains over Britain’s exit, known as Brexit, and fresh moves by Scotland to potentially carve its own independent path to remain in the European Union. On the wider European stage, the election cannot undo Britain’s break from the E.U. But it will help set the tone for Britain’s contentious talks to split from the bloc, whose 27 remaining leaders have taken a hard line against any major concessions on key issues such as trade. If May emerges strengthened from the election — as opinion polls currently suggest — she will have greater clout to mute domestic dissent as she buckles down for talks. But if anti-Brexit voices do well in the polls, May could be forced to soften her demands from Europe.

Syria

A car bomb exploded near buses carrying Syrians evacuated from towns besieged by rebels in northern Syria. At least 100 people have been killed, according to Syrian state TV. The explosion Saturday hit an evacuation point south of Aleppo city where dozens of buses have been parked for over 30 hours as a much-criticized population transfer deal stalled. A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers. The buses carrying nearly 5,000 pro-government evacuees have been stuck in an area on the edge of Aleppo. But as the government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, the buses were left stuck at two separate but adjacent parts of the city.

Afghanistan

The number of militants killed in an attack by the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military has risen to 94, an Afghan official said Saturday. “Fortunately, there is no report of civilians being killed in the attack,” said Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor in Nangarhar. The U.S. attack on a tunnel complex in remote eastern Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border killed at least four IS group leaders, Khogyani said. He said a clearance operation to assess the site of the attack was continuing. The U.S. estimates 600-800 IS fighters are in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar. The U.S. has concentrated on fighting them while also supporting Afghan forces against the Taliban. The U.S. has more than 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

North Korea

A failed test of a medium-range ballistic missile that blew up almost immediately Sunday did not provoke a U.S. military response. Even so, North Korea has made progress with its nuclear weapons and missile programs and tensions between the two countries remain dangerously high for the indefinite future. President Trump has vowed that he will not allow North Korea to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States, and Kim has vowed to pursue that very goal to prevent a pre-emptive U.S. strike.

In a show of military strength and defiance, tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers goose-stepped and new missiles and other military hardware were wheeled out in display during a celebratory parade Saturday in the capital of Pyongyang. But there were no nuclear weapons or missile tests that President Trump had warned the isolated regime to avoid or face unspecified consequences. The parade marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, a date celebrated as the “Day of the Sun” in North Korea. He is the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-Un, who was on hand to witness the spectacle. North Korea has warned that it was prepared to strike back against the United States and South Korea as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula. Last weekend, the U.S. sent aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to nearby waters as heated words ratcheted up. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned both the United States and North Korea on Friday that, “If war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, multiple parties will lose and no one will win.”

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a “historic” victory Sunday in a tightly contested national referendum that would radically change his country’s system of government and give the president vast, new powers. With 99% of the ballots counted, Erdogan’s referendum had 51.4% “yes” votes, while 48.6% opposed the changes, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. But multiple opposition parties alleged voting irregularities and sought a recount. The United States views the referendum as a turn away from Turkey’s secular democracy and toward a religious-based, authoritarian regime in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of about 80 million people. Turkey is a NATO member and crucial partner in the international effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Wildfires

As of April 14, wildfires in the U.S. have burned over 2.1 million acres, over four times the average for the last ten years. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida have borne the brunt of wildfire carnage. Dozens of wildfires have burned at least 126,000 acres across Florida since January, exceeding the five-year average of acreage that is typically burned in an entire year. Experts warn that the fire risk may increase over the coming weeks as Florida enters its dry season. Smoke from some fires has forced Florida Highway Patrol troopers to close major highways for hours at a time. Health officials have recommended that people with asthma or chronic lung or heart conditions should stay indoors with windows closed to avoid smoke from blazes near them.

Weather

Significant flooding in northeast Washington state washed out roads and knocked one home partially into a river. The Ferry County Sheriff’s Office is preparing for an unprecedented flooding disaster, with 6 feet of snow still in the mountains and 6 feet of frost underground. “The Sanpoil Valley is currently experiencing the worst flooding in decades,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. Residents have been put on alert for rock and mud slides, and are being asked to have sufficient food, water and medication on hand in case roads are rendered impassable by flooding.

A long-lived supercell thunderstorm in the Texas panhandle Friday evening spawned multiple tornadoes, including an EF3 that was a mile wide and caused damage just outside the town of Dimmitt. The persistent supercell thunderstorm developed just after 4 p.m. CDT on Friday, pushing east through the Texas panhandle for about nine hours. The storm first brought large hail as it sluggishly moved eastward. Hail larger than a baseball was reported near Bovina and Friona, Texas, shattering windshields of at least two cars, including one police car. By 6 p.m, the supercell thunderstorm began to produce tornadoes as it entered Castro County, Texas. The most significant tornado was on the ground for about 20 minutes in Castro County west of Dimmitt and had a damage path up to 1.1 miles wide. A metal building was completely destroyed and displaced hundreds of feet northwest of its original location. Winds were estimated as high as 140 mph in the area that saw the worst damage.

Heavy rain triggered flash flooding in northwest Iran Saturday, leaving at least 30 dead and seven missing. State television says another five people were injured in the flooding. Iranian Red Crescent Society’s Search and Rescue Department provided assistance to as many as 1150 people in 33 cities and villages in northwest Iran.

Signs of the Times (4/14/17)

April 14, 2017

Downward Trend in Religious Restrictions Reversed in 2015

The number of countries with “high levels” of restrictions on religion due to government policies or actions of people increased in 2015, reversing a downward trend, according to a new study. A total of 40 percent of surveyed countries registered “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions, according to Pew Research Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion released April 11. That’s up from 34 percent in 2014, according to the data. The percentage had declined during the previous two years, tumbling from 43 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2013. Of the 198 countries Pew surveyed, 25 percent reported “high” or “very high” levels of government restriction, up just slightly from 24 percent in 2014. And 27 percent reported “high” or “very high” numbers of acts of religious hostility by individuals, organizations or groups, a jump from 23 percent in 2014. That happened in a year when European countries welcomed an increasing number of refugees, religion-related terror attacks rocked France and people with albinism were targeted for rituals by witch doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said. It’s too soon to tell if the increase is a blip or a trend, Pew says.

14% of U.S. Christians Left Their Churches after Trump was Elected

Research from The Washington Post found that about 14 percent of Christians left their churches after Donald Trump was elected president. The survey followed up with 957 people before and after the presidential election. According to the results, by mid-November, 14 percent of those surveyed had left their particular church. While Trump secured 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, the research shows that Trump seems to have “relatively low support” among evangelicals right now. The change results from American politics becoming divisive within the church (about 15 percent said that’s what’s dividing the church). The report said that people who are leaving the church did so because division in the church had spurred acrimonious debate. The people who are leaving their churches self-identified and responded as 10 percent evangelicals, 18 percent mainline Protestants and 11 percent Catholics.

Trump Signs Law Allowing States to Defund Planned Parenthood

President Trump signed a law this week overturning a last-minute Obama-era regulation forcing states to fund Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion business. The regulation forced states to give Title X money to organizations that commit abortions. Now, states – if they wish – will be able to withhold Title X money from abortion-committing organizations, instead prioritizing non-abortion businesses. Federal Title X dollars fund “family planning services,” but technically not abortion. However, government money Planned Parenthood receives, helps the abortion-centered organization overall. “This week the pro-life movement had two huge victories: first, the swearing-in of Justice Gorsuch and now, President Trump will undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List.

U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on Islamic State in Afghanistan

The U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb — a massive 21,000-pound munition nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs” — on an Islamic State tunnel complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. Afghanistan officials said 36 Islamic State militants were killed. It marked the first time it has been used in combat and reflected the growing flexibility of the Pentagon to wage war. The target was in a remote area where the risk of civilian casualties would be low. Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the decision to drop the bomb was made because it was the best fit for the target. Trump was told about the bomb’s use but his approval was not required, a point Trump noted, as well. “We have given them total authorization,” Trump said. “This was another very, very successful mission.” Trump had criticized Obama’s management of the war against the Islamic State, pledging to ramp up pressure on the terror group and give the military more flexibility to combat them. The Pentagon spokesman said the bomb had been brought to Afghanistan some time ago for potential use. The bomb explodes in the air, creating air pressure that can make tunnels and other structures collapse.

Russia Vetoes UN Measures Condemning Syrian Chemical Warfare

The UN Security Council (UNSC) failed yet again on Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning last week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria. Permanent member Russia vetoed the resolution which sought to condemn the killings and call on the Assad regime to cooperate with an international investigation into the attack. Wednesday’s veto was the eighth time Russia has used its veto — often along with China — to torpedo a UN draft resolution on Syria since its civil war began in 2011. The latest resolution to fail at the hands of Russia’s veto power came in the wake of the gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The draft resolution condemned the attacks and called for an international investigation into the perpetrators. This time China abstained.

‘Catch & Release’ Replaced with Focus on Repeat Offenders

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared “a new era” in immigration enforcement on Tuesday, saying his prosecutors will try to bring stiffer criminal charges against repeat illegal immigrants and smugglers as part of President Trump’s crackdown. Sessions said his enforcement priorities will end the “catch and release” practices of the Obama administration and give the Justice Department a more active role in stemming illegal immigration. Prosecutors should prioritize cases against smugglers and should bring felony charges against illegal immigrants who have been removed before and have sneaked back into the U.S. or have other criminal convictions on their records, according to the guidance issued by the attorney general. As part of a broader plan to reduce backlogs in immigration courts and to speed up the deportation process, the Justice Department will hire 125 more immigration judges over the next two years, the attorney general said.

Famine Threatens Most People Since World War II

The world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe. But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II, reports the Washington Post. As defined by the United Nations, famine occurs when a region’s daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people. Each of these four countries is in a protracted conflict. While humanitarian assistance can save lives in the immediate term, none of the food crises can be solved in the long term without a semblance of peace. The threat of violence can limit or prohibit aid workers’ access to affected regions, and in some cases, starvation may be a deliberate war tactic. Children are always the most affected, as even those who survive may be mentally and physically stunted for life. Ongoing conflicts in Congo, the Central African Republic, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have also left millions hungry in those places, too.

Terrorism Suspected in Bombing of German Soccer Team Bus

German authorities suspect “terrorist involvement” in a bomb attack on the bus of the Borussia Dortmund soccer team and are investigating a possible radical Islamist link, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. The investigation is focused on two suspects from the “Islamist spectrum,” spokeswoman Frauke Koehler said. Their homes have been searched and one has been temporarily detained, she said. Three explosive devices shattered windows and injured a player on the Borussia Dortmund team bus Tuesday evening local time as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League match against AS Monaco. The devices, which were hidden behind a bush, contained metal fragments and had a reach of 100 meters (109 yards), the prosecutor’s office said.

Swedes Questioning Open-Door Policy

Sweden has taken in the most migrants per capita of any European country: In 2015, more than 160,000 applied for asylum in this country of 10 million, according to government figures. Most came from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Swedes are known for their tolerant society, but last week’s deadly truck rampage by a frustrated asylum-seeker left many questioning whether the country’s open-door policy for refugees swung open too far. On Friday, a man from Uzbekistan who had been denied asylum plowed through a crowded street of shoppers in a stolen beer truck before crashing into a department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15. Now, supporters of the liberal government are considering switching sides to the far right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party in next year’s parliamentary elections, reports the USA Today.

Government Jobs Unfilled Despite Trump’s Lift of Hiring Freeze

Many federal government jobs will remain unfilled despite President Trump’s lifting the hiring freeze Wednesday, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. Trump signed a memorandum in January freezing large portions of federal government hiring, barring the military and positions deemed necessary for national security and public safety. As part of the memorandum, Trump gave the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to come up with a long-term plan to reduce the federal government’s size. While the guidance issued Wednesday does not contain agency-specific hiring goals or limits, Mulvaney said that agencies targeted with significant budget cuts in Trump’s first budget proposal, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, would be expected to make significant cuts to their workforces. Agencies that Trump wants to spend more on, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, would be expected to see their payrolls rise. Under the guidance, agencies will have until June to submit drafts for overhauling their workforces.

Economic News – Domestic

Retail sales in the U.S. fell for a second straight month in March on weaker gasoline and auto sales but a core measure that excludes those and other volatile items rose solidly. Sales overall fell 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Excluding volatile categories — autos, gasoline, food services and building materials — sales jumped 0.5%. February’s sluggish 0.1% increase was revised to a 0.3% drop. Analysts said snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast could have kept shoppers at home. U.S. households generally are benefiting from solid job and income growth, cheap gasoline, lofty stock and home prices and reduced debt. Consumer spending makes up about 70% of economic activity is expected to drive economic growth this year.

Consumer prices fell in March by the largest amount in more than two years, pushed lower by another sharp decline in the price of gasoline and other energy products. Consumer prices dropped 0.3% in March following a tiny 0.1% rise in February, the Labor Department reported Friday. It was the first monthly decline in 13 months and the biggest drop since prices fell 0.6% in January 2015. In addition to a big 6.2% fall in gasoline prices, the cost of cell phone plans, new and used cars and clothing were all lower last month. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, dropped 0.1% last month. Over the past 12 months, inflation is up a moderate 2.4% while core prices have risen 2%.

The luxury electric-car company Tesla has yet to turn a profit, losing hundreds of millions of dollars last year alone. But on Monday, the darling of Silicon Valley became the most valuable American car company, surpassing General Motors. Shares of Tesla, run by high-profile chief executive Elon Musk, put the company’s value at $51.5 billion, above GM’s $50.2 billion. Tesla blew by Ford ($44.6 billion) last week. Musk’s company produced just 84,000 cars last year, with starting prices of $68,000. Tesla’s reputation goes beyond being just a car company. It recently absorbed Musk’s Solar City company for $5 billion which has captured the imagination of California’s technology pack and, apparently, investors. The company has also been developing batteries that could store power from rooftop solar panels, expanding its mission into a renewable-energy enterprise.

General Motors is significantly increasing the number of people working on its self-driving car projects. Its new research and development facility in California is hiring 1,100 people. The new employees will be working at the Cruise Automation unit, a tech start-up GM paid $581 million for in March 2016. The self-driving car unit had already grown to about 150 engineers, according to GM, up from the 40 at the time of its purchase.

Economic News – International

Youth unemployment in the Eurozone has been stuck between 19% to 25% for the past eight years. In Spain and Greece, it’s more than 40%. Youth unemployment in the U.S. is just below 10%. The bleak numbers underscore the uphill battle many young Europeans face in finding jobs that match their aspirations and education. Many are still living at home, while others have left their families and moved to new countries in search of work. The trend is thought to be factor in rising populism in Europe, which now threatens to upend the political establishment. One major test will come later this month when France votes in the first round of a pivotal national election.

Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft might end up owning Citgo, a US energy company based in Houston, Texas. This isn’t a direct takeover. Instead, it hinges on the ability of Venezuela’s state-run oil company to pay back its Russian loan. The Venezuelan company owns Citgo, which was used as collateral for the loan. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are highly alarmed. In hotly worded letters to the Trump Administration in recent days, members of Congress and senators warned that it could be a big problem for US national security if Russia gets a hold of Citgo.

Beijing-based LeEco has pulled the plug on a plan to buy U.S. electronics maker Vizio for $2 billion. In a statement, the companies blamed “regulatory headwinds” for the deal’s collapse. It’s a sharp turnaround from July, when LeEco touted the acquisition of the U.S. smart TV maker as “an important step” in its efforts to grow in North America. The Chinese government has begun restricting overseas investments and acquisitions in recent months in order to rein in the huge sums of money flowing out of its economy. That appears to have sunk other high-profile deals, including one by China’s richest man to buy the producer of the Golden Globes.

Israel

Reports surfaced this week that a strike by a UAV (drone) in the city of Rafah, in the Egyptian Sinai, killed one person just a few hours after a Grad rocket strike destroyed an agricultural structure in Israel’s Eshkol region, near the Egyptian border. The rocket strike was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror militia, which also claimed a bomb attack on two Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta during Palm Sunday services on Sunday which killed dozens of Christian worshipers.

A British woman has been stabbed to death by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The student, in her early 20s, was traveling on the Jerusalem Light Rail near Old City when she was attacked. Israel’s Shin Bet security agency identified the assailant as a 57-year-old Palestinian and said he suffered with mental health problems who had previously tried to take his own life. In a statement, Shin Bet said: “This is one of many instances where a Palestinian suffering personal strife… chooses to carry out an attack in order to find release for his problem.”

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad said an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 86 people last week was a “fabrication” to justify a U.S. military strike. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Moscow Wednesday that the U.S. is confident of its conclusion that Syrian government forces were behind the attack. U.S. military and intelligence intercepts before the attack captured military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin gas attack in Idlib last week, CNN reported Thursday, citing an unnamed U.S. official. The conversations were discovered after the U.S. military ordered a review of intercepted information to figure out what happened following the incident. The Syrian government was supposed to have had its chemical weapons destroyed in 2014. Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, a general who said he defected from Assad’s army, told CNN in 2013 that Assad would not give up the chemical weapon stockpile.

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria mistakenly killed 18 soldiers from a U.S.-backed rebel force battling the Islamic State, the military said Thursday. “The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.” The coalition airstrike occurred Tuesday near Tabqah, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a key battle against the Islamic State over a strategically important dam. Those troops are the main U.S.-backed force battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a stern ultimatum to Russia Tuesday: side with America and its allies on Syria, or stand alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah. Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.” A meeting of “likeminded” countries was arranged on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 7 industrialized economies days after the U.S. launched airstrikes against Assad’s forces, and hours before Tillerson flew to Moscow to pressure Russia’s leaders to end their support for Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov began his meeting with Tillerson, his U.S. counterpart, with a warning — do not strike the Syrian regime again. They announced several initiatives to build trust and improve U.S.-Russian relations, which both top diplomats said is in bad shape. Tillerson said he and Putin agreed that in Syria, “we want to deny a safe haven for terrorists who want to attack both our countries,” but they disagree on tactics.

North Korea

President Trump on Tuesday said North Korea “is looking for trouble” and vowed to get the murderous regime of dictator Kim Jong-Un under control with or without China’s help. Trump sent the warning in a pair of tweets just days after he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China traditionally has acted as a counterweight on North Korea, helping to moderate some actions of the isolated country. Trump indicated a favorable trade deal could await China if they stepped up pressure on North Korea. However, Trump also appeared ready to reign in the provocative nation on his own. “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” he tweeted. North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States if provoked by a U.S. Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft that was steaming towards the western Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump in a phone call Wednesday that Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but wants to do so through peaceful means. Despite Beijing’s public efforts to rein in North Korea’s provocative behavior, Chinese companies continue to act as enablers, providing the isolated communist regime with technology and hardware that allow its missiles to take flight, according to current and former U.S. and U.N. officials and independent weapons experts.

South Sudan

On April 4, government militias loyal to the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, entered the town of Pajok and began killing and raping men, women and children. Opposition forces led by the vice president, James Wani Igga, estimate that more than 200 innocent civilians were killed in Pajok. “At the onset of the massacre, the tribal army burned down several buildings in the town and indiscriminately shot at the innocent civilians including kids and women who were trying to run for their lives,” a security officer in South Sudan told Fox News. “Primary school pupils were forced to lay on the ground in a straight line and were run over by tanks, and crushing them flat.” South Sudan military’s ongoing rape and killing of citizens who are not part of the dominant Dinka tribe is largely being ignored in the world’s poorest country. Non-Dinkas have been left with no help and no future.

Somalia

The U.S. is sending “dozens” of additional troops to Somalia to train and equip the Somali National Army and the forces participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia there. A US military official told CNN that the new contingent would consist of about 40 soldiers. The U.S. troops will join the small number of US special operations forces already there providing counterterrorism support to local forces battling the local al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabaab. That advisory mission has been underway for several years. President Donald Trump last month granted additional authority to US Africa Command to conduct counterterrorism airstrikes against the terror group.

Turkey

Turkey has experienced upheaval and chaos caused by the government’s vast purge of Turkish institutions since the failed coup in July — the backdrop for a referendum on Sunday to expand the president’s powers. For example, roughly 40,000 teachers were purged from Turkey’s education system after last year’s attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Most of them have not been replaced, forcing schools to combine classes. Mr. Erdogan’s government has sought to root out any remaining dissent by targeting nearly every segment of society. The government has fired or suspended about 130,000 people suspected of being dissidents from the public and private sectors. Most are accused of affiliations with the Gulen movement, the Islamic followers of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric accused of orchestrating the attempted coup. More than 8,000 army officers, 8,000 police officers, 5,000 academics and 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been forced out, reports the New York Times. Watchdogs say that around 1,200 schools, 50 hospitals and 15 universities have been closed.

Wildfires

More than 100 wildfires continue to burn in Florida, causing Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. A fire known has the Cowbell Fire was burning in the Big Cypress National Reserve and has scorched nearly 26 square miles. The blaze that began March 30 is 11 percent contained as of Thursday morning. Another fire in the preserve, called the Parliament Fire, is the largest active blaze and has burned more than 41 square miles. It is 95 percent contained. That fire started March 18. Since February, over 70,000 acres have been scorched across the state. Nineteen homes have been lost. Most of the fires have started between Lake Okeechobee to the south and the Ocala National Forest to the north. Polk, Collier, Marion, Nassau, Broward, Hernando and Glades counties have been hard hit.

Weather

Pest populations are expected to boom this spring and summer in several regions of the country, and warmer-than-average winter months are at least partially to blame. Ticks, mosquitoes and other insects could emerge in unusually large numbers as temperatures rise, experts say. A boom in ticks is expected in the Northeast, and that could lead to an increase in Lyme disease cases.  Experts also say that, as the world gets warmer, blooming seasons might become longer as well, bringing about more pollen that causes seasonal allergies.

Signs of the Times (4/10/17)

April 10, 2017

Senate Confirms Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday to become the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, capping a political brawl that lasted for more than a year and tested constitutional norms inside the Capitol’s fraying upper chamber. The development was a major triumph for President Trump, whose campaign last year rested in large part on his pledge to appoint another committed conservative to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. However rocky the first months of his administration may have been, Mr. Trump now has a lasting legacy: Judge Gorsuch, 49, could serve on the court for 30 years or more, notes the New York Times. He was sworn into office Monday morning.

U.S. Strikes Syrian Airbase Where Chemical Attacks Originated

President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against Syria Thursday, saying “no child of God should ever suffer” the horror of the chemical weapons attack Syria launched on its own people. Trump ordered the strike against Syria early Friday local time in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people on Tuesday, including many women and children. The attack, the first conventional assault on another country ordered by Trump, comes a day after he declared that the chemical weapons assault had “crossed many, many lines,” including causing the deaths of 27 children. From his resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said Syrian President Bashar Assad “launched a horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent. Years of previous attempts to change Assad’s behavior had failed, Trump said. The 59 missiles, fired from the destroyers USS Porter and Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, struck the airfield where Syria based the warplanes used in the chemical attack, according to the Pentagon. The Syrian airfield targeted by United States airstrikes early Friday was “almost completely destroyed,” a human rights group in the country said, damaging over a dozen hangars, a fuel depot and an air defense base with 20 jets destroyed.

U.S. Allies Praise Trump’s Strikes on Syrian Airbase

The Saudi Foreign Ministry praised Trump’s “courageous decision” and blamed the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the chemical weapons attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his support for the strike. “In words and actions, President Trump sent a strong and clear response: The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. Israel fully and unequivocally supports the president’s decision. Great Britain said that it “fully supports the U.S. action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said in a joint statement: “President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “fully supports” the United States’ “limited and focused action.” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council of EU leaders, said, “U.S. strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.” President Donald Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria garnered 57 percent approval from Americans, but they don’t want any further unilateral action taken, according to a new CBS News poll released Monday.

Syria Condemns Attack that Killed Nine

Syria condemned U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base, describing them Friday as a “blatant act of aggression.” The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that nine civilians were killed, including four children, when the projectiles hit the base and nearby villages. It said several others were injured. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said six Syrian jets were destroyed but the air base’s runway was intact. He said, “the combat efficiency of the U.S. strike was very low” and that 23 of the 59 missiles fired by the U.S. reached the base. The Syrian army said the strikes made the U.S. a “partner” of the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations. President Bashar Assad’s allies Russia and Iran also condemned the U.S. strikes, saying they violated international law. “It is an act of aggression under a completely far-fetched pretext,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday. “This is reminiscent of the situation in 2003, when the U.S. and the U.K., along with some of their allies, invaded Iraq without the consent of the U.N. Security Council and in violation of international law,” he said. However, many Syrians praised the attack. “I am so happy. People are happy. They have hope the U.S. can end this war by stopping the regime aircraft from more bombs,” 27-year-old aid worker in Idlib, Ali Essa, told Fox News.

Iran Issues Threat over U.S. Strikes in Syria

Iran “won’t be quiet” after the U.S. missile attack that hit a number of military targets in central Syria, Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA.ir, said Friday. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, declared “Russia and Iran won’t be quiet against such acts which violate interests of the region,” according to the report. Boroujerdi warned serious consequences would follow the U.S. action. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the allegation that the Syrian military used chemical weapons as “bogus.” Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Friday the U.S missile strike was “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law,”

Civil War in Syria has Displaced Millions

As Syria’s six-year-long civil war appears to continue without end, the country’s conditions are insufferable for civilians. About 4.9 million Syrians have fled the country since the start of the conflict, out of a total population of around 23 million people. Another 6.3 million have been internally displaced, but remain in the country, according to U.N. refugee agency statistics. The number of Syrians killed in the war is estimated at 470,000, with 13.5 million requiring humanitarian assistance. Over the six years, nearly 3 million children have been born, growing up knowing nothing but war.

Swedish PM Calls Deadly Truck Ramming a ‘Terror Attack’

A large truck slammed into a department store in a busy Stockholm pedestrian mall Friday in what Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven calls an apparent “terror attack.” Swedish media says at least 4 people were killed. The incident occurred around 3 p.m. on Drottninggatan (Queen Street), one of the city’s main pedestrian streets. Swedish intelligence agency said that there were a large number of people injured in the incident. “The depravity of using cars and trucks as weapons of terror has become an all-too-familiar tactic, long encouraged and celebrated by groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” notes the Counter Extremism Project.

Arrests of Illegal Aliens Spikes, Entries Down

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers reportedly arrested 368 criminal illegal immigrants in seven states and Washington, D.C. in one week – a nearly 250 percent jump from the week earlier. The Washington Examiner reported the biggest busts were in Texas, where 158 were arrested. Raids were carried out as far north as Wyoming. In one five-day raid around Virginia and Washington late last month, 82 illegals from 26 countries were arrested. “ICE’s primary immigration enforcement efforts target convicted criminal aliens,” Daniel Bible, field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in San Antonio, Texas, told the Examiner. Arrests of illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the United States across the Mexican border plummeted in March to the lowest monthly figure in more than 17 years, the Department of Homeland Security reported last week. The first months of the new administration have seen a huge drop in the number of people being caught by agents on the U.S.-Mexico border, reports Newsmax.

Sanctuary Cities Have Higher Crime Rates

An August 2016 study of the relationship between “sanctuary city” policies and crime rates shows that cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities consistently have significantly higher violent crimes rates than do non-sanctuary cities with similar populations and demographics, WorldNetDaily has found. An analysis of data from a study published last fall by researchers from the University of California-Riverside and Highline College reveals that non-sanctuary cities comparable in population, size and demographics consistently experience and report lower percentages of violent crime as well as lower percentages of property crimes. The authors of the study, supporters of sanctuary cities, concluded that the difference was only “slightly higher,” but WND’s analysis showed differences between cities of comparable size was consistently in the 20% to 30% range.

Target CEO Regrets Transgender Bathroom Policy

A recent Wall Street Journal article shows that Target CEO Brian Cornell regrets his company’s policy announcement welcoming men to use women’s restrooms and fitting rooms. Cornell expressed frustration about how the bathroom policy was publicized without his permission or knowledge, and told colleagues he wouldn’t have approved the decision to flaunt it with a public statement that is still on Target’s website today. WSJ reported that Cornell told staff that “Target didn’t adequately assess the risk, and the ensuing backlash was self-inflicted.” The American Family Association launched the immensely successful #BoycottTarget initiative nearly a year ago. The 1.5 million-signature boycott sent the strong message to the retailer that its misguided and potentially dangerous bathroom policy is the reason millions of families are no longer shopping there.

More Insurers Bail Out of Obamacare

Aetna announced Thursday that this would be the last year it participates on the Obamacare exchange in Iowa, where it is the dominant insurer. The move comes days after Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield announced it was leaving the state’s market after this year. Both insurers also will stop selling individual market policies outside of the exchange in Iowa. Aetna and Wellmark are the latest carriers to exit Obamacare for 2018. They cited financial risk and uncertainty as the reasons behind their decisions. Humana announced in February that it was pulling the plug in the 11 states where it sells policies, leaving roughly 40,000 people in Tennessee without a choice of carrier next year. Obamacare has been plagued by insurer defections after finding their customers are sicker and costlier than expected.

Retail Apocalypse

A fresh round of distress signals sounded in the retail industry this week, as another big-name chain announced hundreds of new store closings and still others moved aggressively to recalibrate their businesses for the online shopping stampede. Payless ShoeSource filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and outlined plans to immediately close nearly 400 of its 4,400 stores globally. Ralph Lauren is shuttering its flagship Polo store, a foot-traffic magnet located on tony 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the latest step in a massive cost-cutting effort. Big-box office supplies stalwart Staples is reportedly considering putting itself up for sale. The Limited filed for bankruptcy and shuttered all 250 of its stores. Hudson’s Bay, the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, announced a $75 million annual cost-cutting effort. Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch each named a new chief executive, leadership changes that were precipitated by ongoing struggles to connect with customers. The wave of store closures by Macy’s and Sears alone will empty 28 million square feet of retail real estate. The shake-out among retailers has been building for years, and it is now arriving in full force.

Economic News

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 4.5%, the lowest level since May 2007. However, hiring slowed substantially in March, President Trump’s second full month in office. America only added 98,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department. The U.S. added 219,000 jobs in February and averaged 187,000 new jobs a month last year, but economists are already calling it a one month “blip.” It’s common to see a weak month of hiring at some point during the winter. Most experts expect job growth to pick up again soon. Wages were 2.7% higher in March compared to a year ago. For much of the recovery, wages had only been growing about 2%.

The U.S. added 26,000 factory jobs in February and 11,000 in March. It’s a contrast to the Obama years when most of the job gains came in the service sector — tech, retail, business, health, etc. — not in manufacturing. But overall employment in manufacturing remains at 1940s levels. The glory days of manufacturing were the 1970s. Back then, over 19.5 million Americans earned their paycheck from factory work. It’s been a fairly steady decline ever since. Today only 12.4 million workers remain in the manufacturing industry.

On Friday, members of Congress left town for their two week “Easter vacation”, and they won’t resume work until April 25th.  What this means is that Congress will have precisely four days when they get back to pass a bill to fund government operations or there will be a government shutdown starting on April 29th. Up to this point, there has been very little urgency by either party to move a spending bill forward.

Persecution Watch

Government agents in Sudan are telling the Christians who belong to an estimated 25 churches that their buildings are on government land and they are going to be demolished. Apparently, even if they’re not on the wrong land. Reports of the escalation of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority country come from the American Center for Law and Justice. More than a year ago, ACLJ reported when the Sudanese Air Force dropped four bombs on an Episcopal Church of Sudan complex, destroying the compound. Authorities also bulldozed a Lutheran Church of Sudan building without any warning when local authorities said the church was built on land allocated for business. And government agents destroyed a 600-worshipper Sudanese Church of Christ to take land for “low-cost housing,” says the ACLJ. Also, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services this week “arrested 12 administrators and teachers at a Christian school in Khartoum.

Israel

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has rebuffed attempts by the U.N. cultural body to deny an historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem. “In the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant,” Bokova said last week at the policy conference of the European Coalition for Israel, a grassroots Christian initiative. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justifies its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List,” she added. In October 2016, UNESCO passed two controversial resolutions condemning Israeli actions at Jerusalem’s holy sites as well as ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Islamic terrorists launched rockets for Sinai, on the eve of Passover, two of which landed in southern Israel. ISIS has claimed responsibility. A greenhouse was damaged but there were no injuries when ISIS rockets slammed into southern Israel. In wake of Monday’s rocket-launching, Israeli authorities closed the Taba Crossing into Sinai, urging all citizens to return home. “Increased activity by the [Islamic State-affiliated] ‘Sinai Province’ in recent months has also found expression against Israel in its desire to commit terrorist attacks against tourists in Sinai, including Israelis, in the immediate term, Israel said. An apparent terrorist car-ramming attack Thursday morning near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Jerusalem, killed 20-year-old IDF Sgt. Elchai Taharlev and wounded one of his comrades. The driver was taken into custody and identified by Palestinian media as a resident of a nearby village.

Russia

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is taking a hard line against Russia on the eve of his first diplomatic trip to Moscow, calling the country “incompetent” for allowing Syria to hold on to chemical weapons and accusing Russia of trying to influence elections in Europe using the same methods it employed in the United States. Tillerson said America’s relationship with Russia is already reverting to the norm: one of friction, distrust and mutual efforts to undermine each other’s reach. Yet as Mr. Tillerson arrived in Italy to meet with foreign ministers before going to Moscow, the administration was sending conflicting signals about its policy on Syria and the extent to which it would hold the country’s patron Russia responsible for continued violence, notes the New York Times.

Syria

Government warplanes returned Saturday to the devastated Syrian town hit by chemical weapons earlier this week, despite a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base that’s already back in business, in a show of defiance by President Bashar al-Assad. The new airstrikes killed one woman and wounded one other person in Khan Sheikhoun, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. That’s the same town where the gas attack took place earlier this week, killing 86 people, including dozens of children, prompting the U.S. missile launch. It’s not clear whether the new attack was launched from Shayrat, the base damaged by some of the 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles the U.S. military launched. In a letter delivered to Congress on Saturday justifying the strike, President Trump said he wasn’t ruling out additional military action.

Egypt

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombings at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt that killed at least 44 people during crowded Palm Sunday services. The blasts took place in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and the coastal city of Alexandria. The death toll in Tanta was 26, the Interior Ministry reported. Al-Ahram Arabic reported that security forces also dismantled two explosive devices at Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta, a city of more than 400,000 about 80 miles southeast of Alexandria. The mosque is considered among the most important mosques in city. The attacks came less than a week after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited President Donald Trump at the White House.

North Korea

North Korea vowed to bolster its defenses to protect itself against airstrikes similar to the ones President Donald Trump ordered on Friday against a Syrian airbase. North Korea called the strikes “absolutely unpardonable,” saying they prove its nuclear weapons are justified to protect the country against Washington’s “evermore reckless moves for a war.” Trump has said that if China doesn’t exert more pressure on North Korea, the United States will act alone. China understands how dangerous North Korea’s nuclear program has become and agrees action must be taken to stop it, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday, as the US sent an aircraft carrier strike group toward the Korean Peninsula.

India

Millions of Indian farmers who borrowed from banks to finance their crops no longer have to pay their loans back. The country’s biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, has announced that it will forgive debts worth about $5.6 billion. More than 21 million small farmers who own less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land will benefit from the relief. That includes 700,000 farmers whose loans were already listed as non-performing by their banks. The loan waiver was a key campaign promise by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and aims to provide respite to farmers struggling to make ends meet.

Wildfires

A large, fast-moving brush fire shut down Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg during Friday’s rush hour. It was one of two major brush fires to strike Florida on the day, as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for wildfire danger due to the dry conditions. The brush fire was caused by a commercial lawn mower overheating and lighting grass on fire. With no fire hydrants nearby, rescue personnel had to use trucks to shuttle in water. The fire quickly spread to between 40 and 50 acres due to gusty winds. I-275 reopened by 8 p.m.

Weather

The first three months of 2017 claimed the most billion-dollar weather disasters for the same stretch of any year on record, according to a report released Thursday by NOAA. Five separate disasters, ranging from tornado outbreaks and wind damage to late season freezes that wiped out crops in the South, racked up damage tolls over $1 billion. This frequency of billion-dollar events is the largest since records began in 1980 and more than doubles the average number of 2.4 such disasters over the last five years.

California’s northern Sierra Nevada is nearing its all-time wettest “water year” after the latest barrage of stormy weather to hit the mountain range late last week. The “water year” in California runs from October through September, and in peaks from November through March. Each spring, the melted snowpack from the Sierra supplies water to much of California. As of Sunday, the northern Sierra was less than 1 inch of water below the record of 88.5 inches, set during the 1982-83 water year. Last week’s storm brought 10 to 40 inches of snow to the Sierra, and more rain and mountain snow are expected Tuesday through Thursday in the week ahead.

Nearly three dozen tornadoes have been confirmed across the South late last week, and meteorologists expect that number to rise as the National Weather Service continues to survey areas damaged by this week’s severe weather outbreak. The severe weather moved up the east coast and damage some buildings in Washington, D.C., and a tornado reportedly touches down in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Signs of the Times (4/5/17)

April 5, 2017

Cadbury Takes ‘Easter’ out of Annual Easter Egg Hunt

By removing the word “Easter” from its annual Easter egg hunt, the National Trust is “airbrushing faith,” the Church of England says. The Church of England’s comments came after the National Trust and Cadbury decided to rebrand the annual event from “Easter Egg Trail” to the “Great British Egg Hunt.” During the annual hunt, thousands of children search for the Cadbury chocolate eggs at National Trust properties. The National Trust, however, said that it didn’t make the change in rebranding. “The National Trust is in no way downplaying the significance of Easter, which is why we put on a huge number of events, activities and walks to bring families together at this time of year,” a spokesperson said. “We work closely with Cadbury, who are responsible for the branding and wording of our egg hunt campaign.”

FDA Expands Use Of RU-486 Abortion Drug To 70 Days

The FDA will now allow women a longer window to chemically starve unborn babies, with less medical oversight, notes Technocracy News. The Food and Drug Administration quietly expanded abortion access last Wednesday. This change was a careful relabel aimed at increasing access to the abortifacient mifepristone, or RU-486. The FDA approved its use up to 70 days after a woman’s last menstrual cycle began, up from the previous 49-day limit. According to the manufacturer, since its approval, more than 2.75 million women in the United States have taken mifepristone to end a pregnancy early in its gestation. While RU-486 use now comprises one-fourth of abortions, it’s not without significant risks for the mother, such as heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and painful uterine contractions.  About 2% hemorrhage and more than 1 in a 100 require hospitalization. In addition, for 4-5% of women, the pills don’t work, making them return for surgical abortions.

  • Three weeks after fertilization—which, given the usual timeline of a woman’s fertility cycle is approximately five weeks before the FDA’s new RU-486 cutoff—a baby already has a beating heart.

31,725 Illegals from Terror Hotbeds Have Disappeared

A staggering 31,725 illegal immigrants from countries that aid and abet terrorist organizations received deportation orders from U.S. immigration courts from 2003 through 2015, but what became of them is anyone’s guess, finds a report by a former immigration judge at the behest of the Center for Immigration Studies. In fact, some 3,095 of these aliens fled their hearings, among them 338 people from Iran, Sudan, and Syria, nations the State Department declares state sponsors of terrorism. Federal law — 18 U.S.C. § 3146 — imposes penalties from one year to 15 years in prison for those who fail to show up for federal court proceedings. Yet those who dodge immigration court are treated much differently. They can literally abandon their cases without fear of incarceration or removal and, in turn, imperil national and domestic security. American immigration courts, in fact, have the highest failure to appear rate of any court-system in the nation, reports WorldNetDaily.

Border Patrol Urges Trump to Cut Obama’s Red Tape

The Homeland Security Department has been reluctant to send helicopters on nighttime missions to aid the Border Patrol, leaving agents to face drug smugglers and illegal immigrants without critical air cover, the chief of the agents’ labor union told Congress. Brandon Judd, an agent who is also president of the National Border Patrol Council, said that when the Border Patrol controlled its own helicopters, it got the air support it needed. But after the Homeland Security Department was created more than a decade ago, the helicopters were turned over to the Office of Air and Marine, which has been reluctant to fly the nighttime hours the agents need. Mr. Trump’s early changes to enforcement policy, freeing agents to carry out the law enforcement duties they signed up for, has helped boost morale, Judd said. Chris Crane, the head of the union for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council concurred. Mr. Crane said, “a good ol’ boy network” pervades ICE, which he said is too heavy on managers who get in the way of agents trying to enforce immigration laws in the interior. He said agents are eager to enforce laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants, but their hands are tied.

Trump Administration Moves to Combat H-1B Visa Fraud

On Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it would take a “more targeted approach” in site visits to the workplaces of H-1B petitioners. Also on Monday, the Justice Department issued a press release “cautioning” employers petitioning for H-1B visas to not discriminate against American workers. USCIS, which has been conducting random site visits since 2009, said it will now specifically target H-1B dependent employers, or companies that have 15% of their U.S. workforce on the visa. Employers that have H-1B employees who work offsite at another company will also be subject to these site visits, as will companies that do not have readily available information about their business online. While H-1B visas are used to fill the U.S. skills gap, the Trump administration has voiced concerns about abuse of the program. In some cases, outsourcing firms flood the system with applicants, obtaining visas for foreign workers and then contracting them out to tech companies. American jobs are sometimes replaced in the process, critics say.

Democrats Stall Vote on Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor just before 7 p.m. ET Tuesday vowing to talk “as long as I’m able” to protest Republicans’ 2016 blockade of President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland — in the latest disruption on the road to a vote for President Trump’s nominee. As of Wednesday morning, the Democratic senator has spoken for over 15 hours. Republicans are increasingly likely to use the so-called “nuclear option” to push through a Democratic filibuster. The nuclear or constitutional option is a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override a rule or precedent by a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of by a supermajority of 60 votes. Senators of both parties bemoaned the further erosion of their traditions of bipartisanship and consensus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew a distinction between legislation being filibustered and the filibuster being used against nominees, something that is a more recent development.

Trump Signs Order to Repeal Internet Privacy Protections

President Trump signed into law Monday a resolution that repeals protections requiring Internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing data. These protections — which had not yet gone into effect — were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration. The providers collect data on web browsing history, app usage and geo-location. The White House said last week that repealing the protections will create an “equal playing field” between Internet service providers and tech companies. Opponents of the privacy rules argued they would place an undue burden on broadband providers while leaving large Internet companies like Facebook and Google free to collect user data without asking permission.

DEA War Against Oxycodone Ends with a Whimper

To combat an escalating opioid epidemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration trained its sights in 2011 on Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of the highly addictive generic painkiller oxycodone. It was the first time the DEA had targeted a manufacturer of opioids for alleged violations of laws designed to prevent diversion of legal narcotics to the black market. And it is the largest prescription-drug case the agency has pursued. Government investigators alleged in internal documents that the company’s lack of due diligence could have resulted in nearly 44,000 federal violations and exposed it to $2.3 billion in fines, according to confidential government records and emails obtained by The Washington Post. But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement with federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, which remains confidential, Mallinckrodt would agree to pay a $35 million fine and admit no wrongdoing.

Women Missing from Highest Paid Jobs

If it’s a high-paid job, chances are you won’t find a woman in it. That’s the conclusion of a LinkedIn analysis, prepared for Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, of how women fared in the top 100 highest-paying job-categories in the U.S. On average, women make up less than 30% of employees in each of the highest-paid job categories. Among the highest-paid jobs, only three of them employ more women than men — all within human resource roles. “Parity has been an uneven and slow progress,” says Paul Ko, head of economic graph analysis at LinkedIn. The disparity is pronounced in the upper echelons of tech leadership, where females are underrepresented as chief technology officer (5%), vice president of engineering (5%) and director of system engineering (7%) roles. Equal Pay Day represents the date that U.S. working women’s pay catches up to men’s from the prior year. Women on average are paid 20% less than men in the U.S., according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The gap is wider for women of color: black women are paid 37% less and Hispanic women 46% less.

Women Most Likely to Hold On-Demand ‘Gig’ Jobs

Got a side gig? Among those in the ranks of the on-demand, or “gig” economy, are more and more women. Professional freelance work, like computer programming via Upwork, was the most popular type of gig work. Direct selling – Mary Kay, Rodan + Fields, Stella & Dot – was the second most popular gig job. Women cited flexible hours and control over earning totals as the top benefits of gig work; however, they also cited inconsistent income and a lack of benefits among major drawbacks. However, while many women have turned to gig work to supplement income, few have embraced it as a full-time job. Most are augmenting their money with either another part-time job, full-time employment or a spouse’s income, reports Hyperwallet, a company that manages payments for a number of gig-economy companies.

Economic News

Businesses added 263,000 jobs in March, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday, possibly heralding a third straight month of strong hiring in the government’s closely watched employment report to be issued Friday. professional and business services led the job gains with 57,000. Leisure and hospitality added 55,000; construction, 49,000; health care, 46,000; and trade, transportation and utilities, 34,000. Generally, the 200,000-plus monthly job gains so far this year have soundly beat the estimates of economists who figured the low, 4.7% unemployment rate would slow hiring by providing employers with fewer available workers.

U.S. auto sales trailed estimates, with Kia and Ford reporting some of the biggest declines. Heavy incentive spending failed to contain plunging demand for sedan and compact models. Combined deliveries for Kia and its affiliate Hyundai slumped 11 percent, and Ford dropped 7.2 percent last month. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota also fell short of expectations. March was supposed to be the month U.S. auto sales rebounded from decreases in January and February. Sales for sedans like Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion each plunged by more than 35 percent in March as crossovers become America’s vehicle of choice. Overall, U.S. auto sales so far in 2017 have been described as a “disaster” by some analysts.

After years of many experts lamenting how Millennials weren’t interested in becoming homeowners, it turns out many are actually diving in. Millennials are the largest group of homebuyers, according to Ellie Mae, a software company that analyzes mortgage data. In January, Millennials represented around 45% of all purchase loans, up from 42% the same month in 2016. But their path to homeownership won’t be easy. Millennials are mostly first-time buyers and they are competing against repeat buyers who have more buying leverage and experience. A shortage of available homes has driven up prices — particularly among starter homes that tend to fall within first-time buyers’ budgets. There were 3% fewer homes on the market in February compared to a year ago, and home prices are up nearly 7%.

Islamic State

As the battle to liberate west Mosul from the Islamic State intensifies, more Iraqi civilians have been caught in the crossfire and are dying in airstrikes that have gotten scant attention, residents who escaped report. A March 17 strike on a building that killed at least dozens and possibly as many as 200 civilians provoked international concern. Yet eyewitnesses to the destruction in Mosul told USA TODAY that many similar strikes occur in the city without public notice. The U.S. military acknowledged that allegations of civilian casualties as a result of a U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign against the Islamic State have increased significantly this year. The coalition received 27 reports of incidents involving civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria in January, up from 12 in December, according to the most recent statistics.

Syria

A suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria on Tuesday killed scores of civilians and drew an international outcry on the eve of a global conference to discuss the future of the beleaguered, war-weary nation. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said 58 people were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province, including 11 children. The death toll is likely to rise, the group said. Activists blamed the airstrike on either the Syrian government or Russian warplanes. Syrian forces loyal to Assad have been involved with chemical weapons before in the brutal six-year civil war against U.S-backed rebels. The Russian Defense Ministry quickly denied any involvement, saying Russian planes carried out no strikes in the area. The chemical weapons tragedy was the result of a Syrian airstrike that hit a militant workshop producing the internationally banned weapons, the Kremlin said Wednesday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia will submit data to support the claim at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council being conducted Wednesday. The U.S. has placed blame directly on Assad’s government forces.

Russia

More than a dozen people were killed and dozens more injured Monday when an explosion rocked a subway train in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, authorities said. Metro stations across the city were shut down following the mid-afternoon blast. The man believed to have unleashed the suicide bomb attack was identified Tuesday as a 22-year-old Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. Akbardzhon Dzhalilov was named as the killer by Russia’s Investigative Committee. Detectives said they also found his DNA on a bag holding a second bomb in a nearby subway station — which crews defused before it could explode. Russian investigators have linked the suspected attacker to radical Islamic terror groups.

North Korea

North Korea has fired a newly developed medium-range ballistic missile into its eastern waters in a display of military bravado on the eve of a critical meeting between President Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping. U.S. and South Korean officials identified the projectile as a KN-15 medium-range missile, which was first publicly tested in February.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had said after its test two months ago that the missile, called “Pukguksong-2” in North Korea, gives Pyongyang another nuclear attack capability against the United States and South Korea. The missile uses pre-loaded solid fuel which means it takes shorter time to prepare for a launch than the liquid propellant missiles that make up most of its arsenal. The Pentagon said Wednesday that the missile launch Wednesday likely was a failure. The topic is expected to be a major part of the talks Friday and Saturday between Trump and Xi in Mar-a-Lago.

North Korea’s hacking operations are growing and getting more bold — and increasingly targeting financial institutions worldwide. North Korea is now being linked to attacks on banks in 18 countries, according to a new report from Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky. And the stolen money is likely being spent advancing North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, according to two international security experts. Banks and security researchers have previously identified four North Korean cyber-heists attempted on financial institutions in Bangladesh, Ecuador, the Philippines and Vietnam. But researchers at Kaspersky now say the same hacking operation — known as “Lazarus” — also attacked financial institutions in Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Uruguay. The hackers can be traced back to North Korea, according to Kaspersky researchers.

Yemen

U.S. special operations force have stepped up ground operations inside Yemen amid growing concern that the al-Qaeda affiliate there continues to actively plan attacks on western targets, including targeting commercial aviation, reports CNN. The covert ground missions have the specific goal of secretly collecting intelligence on the al-Qaeda affiliate, including their top operatives and locations where they may be hiding. The U.S. military has not acknowledged any specific ground operations since the Navy SEAL raid soon after Trump took office that became controversial after the death of a Navy SEAL and civilians.

Iran

The Boeing Company announced a tentative agreement on Tuesday to sell up to 60 737s to an Iranian airline, a transaction valued at $6 billion that angered American critics of Iran. The agreement appears likely to test the Trump administration’s avowed opposition to supporting Iran which is seen to be violating the nuclear accord. Boeing, a leading commercial aerospace company and a top American exporter, said in a statement that the agreement, which requires United States government approval, would create about 18,000 American jobs. The company’s agreement with Aseman Airlines, an Iranian carrier described as the nation’s third largest, is the first to be announced by any big American business with Iran since President Trump took office in January. Boeing announced a separate agreement last December to sell 80 commercial aircraft to Iran Air, the national carrier, a deal valued at $16.6 billion.

Weather

Storms and tornadoes swept through the South Sunday, bringing large hail, damaging winds and flash floods to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where tens of thousands lost power. Two people were killed Sunday morning by an EF1 tornado that damaged their mobile home near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. A brief tornado was reported Sunday morning in Center Point, Texas, while golf-ball sized hail was seen near Buffalo, Texas. Water rescues were underway in Del Rio, Texas, early Sunday morning as heavy rain hit the area, and more structural damage was reported in the Austin area, near Lake Travis. Flooding was also reported Sunday night in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where water rescues were reported.

As the storms continued to dump big rainfall totals Monday morning, several homes were evacuated in Rankin, Mississippi. An elementary school, a fire department and parts of the downtown area saw significant damage in Goodman, Missouri, from a reported tornado Tuesday. Another round of severe weather with damaging winds is expected to sweep across the South on Wednesday, bringing damaging winds in Alabama and Georgia, according to forecasters.

As a wet winter gave way to spring, California’s deserts and Central Valley exploded in vibrant colors because of a wildflower bloom that could be seen for miles – and even from space. Wildflower blooms occur in arid regions that receive an unusually high amount of rain. The Anza-Borrego Desert received 5.51 inches of rain from December through February, more than twice as much as a year ago. There’s bad news along with the beauty – as NASA notes, all this rainfall could allow underbrush to grow in typically hot, dry areas. And that could add literal fuel to the fires in future heat waves.

Heavy rains produced an “avalanche of water” in Columbia that left more than 230 dead while they slept early Saturday. The massive amount of water caused a river to overflow, unleashing a sudden barrage of mud and debris which inundated nearby homes. At least 234 were killed and over 200 more were injured in the city of Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo. At least 220 remain missing, and authorities expect the death toll to rise. Seventeen neighborhoods were affected by the mudslides, with structures destroyed and boulders “the size of a house” lying in the streets.

Signs of the Times (4/1/17)

April 1, 2017

Muslim Converts Revitalizing Europe’s Fading Christian Churches

Due to Muslim conversions, faith leaders indicate Christianity now is making a comeback in Europe. Many parts of Europe are becoming more secular, and worship houses are losing congregants in noticeable amounts. An increasing number of Muslims, many of them refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are converting to Christianity in Europe where it is safer to do so. Local experts said the converts are embracing various Christian denominations, including Protestants, evangelical and Catholic. “European churches have struggled for decades to share the Gospel with modern secular Europeans,” Matthew Kaemingk, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, told Fox News. “They have found Muslim immigrants to be much more open to the message of Christianity. Europeans are wealthy, comfortable, healthy, and powerful,” Kaemingk said. “In short, they don’t think they need God.” Conversely, he said Muslim immigrants are intensely spiritual and more open to hearing about Christ.

Proportion of Born-Again Christians Dropping

The results of a new national survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute suggest that the numbers of born-again Christians are dwindling. The ACFI study is not based on people who call themselves born-again. Instead, the survey identified born again adults as those who believe they will experience an afterlife in the presence of God only because they have confessed their sins against Him and accepted Jesus Christ as the redeemer who saves them from eternal punishment. The research found that only three out of every ten adults in the US (30%) currently qualify as born-again Christians based on these criteria. That represents a significant drop from nearly half of the adult population meeting the same criteria just two decades ago. Three out of every four born-again adults (76%) believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and seven out of ten (70%) contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the life principles it teaches. However, less than half (46%) read the Bible at least once a week. Most shocking – and puzzling – is the fact that less than half of them believe that the Bible contains and conveys absolute moral truths. These statistics help to explain why only 30% of born-again Christians have a biblical worldview – in spite of the fact that eight out of ten think they do.

New Arizona Abortion Law Strictest in U.S.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed into law what appears to be the most comprehensive restrictions in the country on what doctors have to do if a baby is born alive during an abortion, reports the Daily Courier. Ducey’s action came less than 48 hours after he got the final version of the bill from the state senate. The law which takes effect this summer expands on existing statutes which say if there is a live birth, it is the duty of any doctors in attendance to see that “all available means and medical skills are used to promote, preserve and maintain the life of such fetus or embryo.” The new law provides the first-ever definition in statute being “delivered alive.” In essence, it says that includes any fetus or embryo, no matter how premature, shows breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.” At that point, medical professionals are required to do everything possible to keep the baby alive. Some doctors testified that it would be cruel to subject a premature or severely deformed baby to extraordinary measures that will not save its life. Instead, they said the practice is to provide comfort to the baby and, if the family wants, give it to the mother to hold. The ability to do that under the new law is limited, they say.

Kentucky Orders Last Abortion Business to Close

The State of Kentucky is engaged in an epic legal showdown with the state’s last remaining abortion facility, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, in an effort to shut it down – possibly as early as Monday, April 3, 2017 – for failing to meet licensing requirements. Gov. Matthew G. Bevin and his administration issued a letter on March 13, 2017, to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, informing them that they were in non-compliance with licensing regulations for failure to have adequate transfer agreements with an ambulance company and a hospital. Bevin successfully shut down EMW’s Lexington abortion office last June for conducting abortions without a license to do so – an order that was later upheld by the State Supreme Court. He also closed an illegally operating Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Louisville that had begun conducting abortions without a license.

  • America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, recently opened a new clinic in Washington D.C. which cost $20 million.

Travel Ban Suspension Extended

A federal judge in Hawaii issued an extension on his order blocking President Trump’s travel ban hours after hearing arguments Wednesday. Hawaii contends the travel ban discriminates against Muslims and hurts the state’s tourist-dependent economy. The Trump administration had asked Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, to narrow his ruling to cover only the part of the president’s executive order that suspends new visas for people from six Muslim-majority nations. Earlier this month, Watson prevented the federal government from suspending new visas for people from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen and freezing the nation’s refugee program. His ruling came just hours before the federal government planned to start enforcing Trump’s executive order.

Undetectable Laptop Bombs Led to Aircraft Electronics Ban

U.S. intelligence sources suggest ISIS and other terrorist groups can build laptop bombs capable of slipping past airport security scanners. The sources fear that terrorists have gotten their hands on sophisticated airport security equipment that allows them to properly conceal explosives in laptops and other large electronic devices, Fox News reported Friday. That intelligence is behind the recent decision to ban electronics in carry-on bags from flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries. The U.S. ban applies to nonstop U.S.-bound flights from 10 international airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the Associated Press reports. Six passengers were hurt on a plane at an airport in Somalia in March of 2016 when a bomb planted in a laptop exploded. Heightening the concern is intelligence suggesting that terrorists have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how to effectively conceal explosives in laptops and other electronic devices, reports CNN.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis says Iran Continues to Sponsor Terrorism

Iran is continuing to behave as an exporter of terrorism and still sponsors militant activity, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in London on Friday. Asked about comments Mattis made in 2012 that the three primary threats the United States faced were “Iran, Iran, Iran,” Mattis told reporters that Iran’s behavior had not changed in the years since. “At the time when I spoke about Iran, I was a commander of U.S. central command and Iran was the primary exporter of terrorism. Frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today,” Mattis said.

Border Wall Funding Hits Roadblock

Republicans in Congress are considering delaying a decision on President Trump’s request for $1.5 billion this year to begin construction on a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reuters reported Tuesday that some Republicans say that the money needed for the project would likely not be in a spending bill that must pass next month to avoid a government shutdown. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told Reuters that funding would be considered “at a later time.” Trump’s first budget proposal to Congress asked lawmakers for a $2.6 billion down payment for the wall. An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated that a wall along the entire border would cost about $21 billion. Lawmakers have been balking at his plans to sharply cut other federal spending to pay for the wall and other boosts to border security, while also increasing military spending. A group of House Republicans on Thursday introduced the first major bill to fund President Trump’s border wall, saying the government could collect billions of dollars by imposing a 2 percent fee on all the money Mexicans and other immigrants send back home. Estimates vary, but remittances from those in the U.S. to their relatives back home could top $130 billion a year. A 2% tax could net more than $2.5 billion a year.

Trump Issues Executive Orders to Crack Down on Unfair Trade Practices

President Trump signed two executive orders Friday aimed at cracking down on foreign competitors’ unfair trade practices, and pledged that his actions are setting the stage for a “great revival” of American manufacturing. “From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the documents at the White House. “Under my administration, the theft of American prosperity will end.” The first executive order aims to ensure that duties are fully collected when imposed on foreign importers who cheat. The second order directs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Trade Representative to compile a report within 90 days to identify a broad range of trade abuses, country by country and product by product.

Treasury Hits North Korea with New Sanctions over Nuclear Program

The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on 11 North Koreans and one company Friday over Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The sanctions target North Korean nationals working as agents of the regime in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba to provide financial support or procurement services for weapons of mass destruction, in violation of U.N. resolutions. Under the sanctions, any property or interests in property of the designated persons must be blocked. “Today’s sanctions are aimed at disrupting the networks and methods that the government of North Korea employs to fund its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He said the sanctions “underscore this administration’s commitment to countering the threat to the United States, to our allies, and to stability on the Korean peninsula and in the wider Asia Pacific region posed by the Kim regime in Pyongyang.”

Senate Passes Bill to Let States Strip Funding from Planned Parenthood

With Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday to let states strip federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood, marking the first successful strike against the country’s largest abortion network. The bill, which already cleared the House and now heads to President Trump, rolls back an Obama-era rule that said states couldn’t deny family planning money to organizations just because they performed abortions. While other clinics may be affected, both sides acknowledged the fight was about Planned Parenthood, which has been a target for Republicans in Washington and in state capitals across the country in recent years. Democrats vowed political retribution, saying women are already anxious over the GOP’s agenda and will see this as an assault on their health care choices.

North Carolina Repeals & Replaces ‘Bathroom Bill” but LGBT Activists Object

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed a repeal of the bathroom access law that had spawned a nearly yearlong boycott against the state, but LGBT rights advocates criticized the new measure as being just as discriminatory as the law it replaced. As part of a compromise between the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and its Democratic governor, the General Assembly delivered the repeal, called House Bill 142, to Mr. Cooper’s desk in an expedited effort Thursday. “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said Wednesday about the legislation. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and gay and transgender activists have complained that the new law still denies them certain protections from discrimination.

U.S. Gives NATO Allies 2 Months to Boost Defense Spending

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned NATO allies Friday to boost defense spending or come up with plans to reach the alliance’s budget guidelines within two months. Tillerson, in his first talks with NATO counterparts in Brussels, said that Washington is spending a “disproportionate share” on defense compared with its 27 partners, and that he expects action by the time President Donald Trump meets with other alliance leaders on May 25. NATO leaders pledged in 2014 to halt defense spending cuts and move toward a guideline target of 2 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. Only four other nations currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland. Tillerson did not say what would happen if European allies and Canada fail to respect their pledges. During election campaigning, Trump suggested that he might not come to the defense of those allies who do not do their fair share, rocking allies near an increasingly aggressive Russia, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Trump Allegedly Did Business with Russian Organized Crime

To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor. The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering. Trump’s Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall’s election.

Anti-Abortion Activists Charged with Felonies for Secret Tapes

Two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood were charged with 15 felonies, California prosecutors announced Tuesday. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Becerra said the two used a fictitious bioresearch company to meet with women’s health care providers and covertly record them. Prosecutors said they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent, reports Fox News. Daleiden and Merritt allegedly filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person and the 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy. Daleiden called the charges “bogus” and that they were coming from “Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.” Planned Parenthood said in a tweet that the charges send a “clear message… You can’t target women & health care providers without consequences.”

Premature Deaths in Young People Rising

Premature deaths soared in 2015, according to a new report released Wednesday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the report, the largest affected group were people aged 25-44. The rate among that group soared in 2015, due in large part to a surge of drug overdoses in suburban areas. Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24-year-olds, but almost three times as many people in this age group died by homicide, suicide or in motor vehicle crashes, according to the new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). A rural and urban divide, along with racial differences, were also evident in the data. Young white adults in rural areas were more likely to die by suicide or overdose, while homicides by firearms were much more common for young black victims.

Economic News

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50, the legislation that begins Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, on Wednesday. Britain’s notification letter sets off a process in which the EU will respond within 48 hours. Britain will have two years to negotiate the terms of this long-awaited divorce, meaning it will leave the EU by April 2019. The negotiations could be heated. Of particular concern is whether Britain decides to remain in the EU’s single market, the borderless trade area that also allows EU citizens to live and work, without a visa, in any other EU country. The government has pledged that it is prepared to give up this crucial trade access as it tries to lower immigration.

Mexico’s central bank raised interest rates for the fourth time since the U.S. election on Thursday, partly in an attempt to save the Mexican peso, which hit an all-time low on January 20, Trump’s inauguration day. Interest rates were raised by 0.25 percentage point to 6.50%. Trump’s threats — to build a wall, tax Mexican imports and remittances, and withdraw from the free trade agreement NAFTA — caused the peso to lose value throughout the election. Mexico’s central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, said before the election he and other Mexican leaders had a “contingency plan” in place if Trump won, expecting the peso to plunge. He’s kept his word, taking several measures to shore up the currency, including hiking interest rates and selling dollars to international investors. It appears to be working. Since Trump’s inauguration the peso has rallied, up 16% over that time. Its value is almost back to where it was the night before the November 8 election when it plunged in value.

On Friday, SpaceX — run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — launched a used rocket. It marked the first time in the history of spaceflight that the same rocket has been used on two separate missions to orbit. After successfully launching a satellite toward geosynchronous orbit — 22,000 miles into space — the rocket then returned to Earth and landed on a remotely piloted platform, known as a droneship, in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the company’s sixth successful landing on a seaborne platform. The launch was a huge step for SpaceX. Reusing rockets is essential for companies like SpaceX that want to drive down the cost of space travel.

Israel

Israel’s government approved the first West Bank settlement in two decades Thursday, creating the first serious test for U.S. President Trump’s new foray into Middle East peacemaking. The White House pointedly avoided any specific condemnation of the announcement, although it said that further settlement activity “does not help advance peace” and that it expects Israel to show restraint moving forward. Still, the relatively tepid response was a far cry from the automatic condemnations voiced in the past by the Obama’s administration in reaction to Israeli settlement announcements. The White House statement even went so far as to “welcome” what appears to be a limited Israeli commitment to take Trump’s concerns about settlements into “consideration,” without any guarantees to avoid similar announcements.

Islamic State

An Iraq government statement says Iraqi fighter jets have carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group outside Mosul, killing more than 100 militants. Saturday’s statement says the strikes hit three ISIS targets in Baaj, a remote northwestern town near the Syrian border, and killed between 150-200 militants. It said the militants had crossed over from Syria, suggesting that ISIS still enjoys free movement across the borders. Airstrikes by Iraqi Air Force and U.S.-led international coalition have been vital to the months-long operation to retake Mosul from ISIS. In January, Iraqi authorities declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated.”

Fighting is still underway to recapture the city’s western side, where the civilian death toll appears to exceed 140 people, reports CNN. “U.S.-backed Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State to liberate Mosul are suffering heavy casualties in the deadliest urban combat since World War II, according to top U.S. commanders for the Middle East. A United States military spokesman said Thursday that Islamic State fighters had been herding local Iraqi residents into buildings in western Mosul, calculating that rising civilian casualties would restrain the United States from using airstrikes to help retake that half of the city. “ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and they’re trying to bait the coalition to attack,” said Col. Joseph E. Scrocca.

ISIS supporters are reportedly on a recruiting blitz in the wake of last week’s deadly terror attacks in London, despite suggestions from British police on Monday that attacker Khalid Masood may not be associated with any terror groups. Hundreds of violent, pro-ISIS videos reportedly have hit the web since Wednesday’s attack. According to the Times of London, Google, the owner of YouTube, has apparently failed to take many of them down. One YouTube video viewed by Fox News on Monday showed a series of brutal executions, and encourages followers to “live the cause.”

Russia/Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have grown closer through their mutual support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In a meeting this week, they mostly focused on flourishing economic ties in the fields of energy and industry. Putin said in televised comments after the meeting that trade between the countries had “grown more than 70 percent” last year. “This is truly a good result considering that it was achieved in unstable global conditions and amid persistent volatility on the commodity and currency markets,” Putin said. A joint statement published by the Kremlin said that “special attention” had been paid to cooperation in energy, with both sides pledging to continue efforts to stabilize the international market.

  • Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies an alliance between Russia and Iran in an end-time war against Israel

Pakistan

A powerful car bomb exploded near a minority Shiite Muslim place of worship in the northwest town of Parachinar on Friday, killing at least 22 people and wounding over 70 others, officials said. The attack took place near Parachinar’s Shiite mosque. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for attack. The blast was so powerful it also damaged vehicles and nearby shops. Parachinar is a key town in the Kurram tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and it has been racked by sectarian violence in the past.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s president and Supreme Court backed down Saturday from a surprise move to strip congress of its legislative powers that had sparked widespread charges that the South American country was no longer a democracy. President Nicolas Maduro asked the Supreme Court in a late-night speech to review a ruling nullifying the lawmaking body after that decision set off a storm of criticism from the opposition as well as from foreign governments. The court on Saturday released new rulings that apparently reinstated congress’ authority. It was a rare instance of the embattled socialist president backing away from a move to increase his power. Opposition critics celebrated the reversal as proof that cracks are beginning to show in Maduro’s control of the country, with his approval ratings dipping below 20 percent amid a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.

Peru

The roads cutting through the Amazon rain forest are lined with signs encouraging people to protect Peru’s natural resources and take care of the environment, but people aren’t sure why the government posts them anymore. Many rivers in Peru run orange with pollution from illegal gold mining as well as from cleared land where trees were cut away to make room for sifting towers and excavators. Peru, the largest gold producer in Latin America and the sixth largest in the world, has long struggled with illegal gold mining. Thousands of small, unchecked operations extracting gold from the Amazon are responsible for nearly 200 square miles of deforestation and mercury poisoning to the water so severe that several regions declared a state of emergency last year. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski imposed stricter environmental regulations, streamlined the process to grant permits for legal mines and offered financial incentives for mining operations to submit to government oversight. imposed stricter environmental regulations, streamlined the process to grant permits for legal mines and offered financial incentives for mining operations to submit to government oversight.

Paraguay

Anti-government protesters in Paraguay’s capital set the country’s congressional building on fire Friday night. Protesters vandalized offices and hallways throughout the building in Asunción as the flames spread through the structure. Police vehicles also were targeted. Police fired rubber bullets at some of the protesters. The violence stems from the ruling party’s decision to create an alternative Senate with the purpose of passing a law that would allow President Horacio Cartes to seek re-election. A Senate meeting that was supposed to be held Saturday morning was canceled. Protesters indicated they will stop the demonstrations once they get a commitment from Cartes that he will not seek a second five-year term, something prohibited under the country’s 1992 constitution.

Wildfires

Traffic in and around Atlanta was even more of a tangled mess than usual Friday morning after a fire erupted from underneath Interstate 85 and caused a portion of it to collapse Thursday during rush hour. The Georgia DOT said Friday that in addition to the collapse of the northbound lanes, damage to the southbound lanes was so extensive that a section of those lanes must also be replaced. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Officials said it’s still too early to tell how long the construction will take. An estimated 250,000 vehicles drive daily through the closed stretch of I-85. Three people were arrested Friday in connection with the fire and charged with criminal damage to property. Officials would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.

Weather

New England residents awoke Saturday morning and realized it was no April Fools’ joke after more than a foot of heavy snow blanketed parts of the region – and, it’s still snowing as of Saturday morning. The heavy, wet snow knocked out power to more than 12,000 customers in Maine. The Associated Press reports 6,000 customers are without power in Vermont, with 3,500 in the dark in New Hampshire. The heaviest snowfall total so far was reported in Washington, New Hampshire, where 16.5 inches of heavy snow was recorded. In Maine, 10.4 inches was recorded near North Windham and 15.8 inches fell near Rochester, Vermont.

Authorities are assessing damage Saturday, a day after severe storms lashed parts of Virginia and North Carolina, with several reports of unconfirmed tornadoes hitting areas south of Virginia Beach. A church in Chesapeake and dozens of beach homes in Virginia Beach suffered significant damage during the storms. About 50 homes were damaged by the storm, and twelve of them were condemned by the fire department. A second tornado reportedly passed between Suffolk and Chesapeake, Virginia. An additional tornado was reported in northeastern Bertie County, North Carolina, near Powellsville.

Las Vegas was reeling Friday, a day after an intense windstorm blew into the area, causing widespread power outages, toppling semi-trucks, ripping off roofs and injuring at least one person. Winds exceeding 70 mph knocked utility poles down onto cars near the famed Las Vegas strip. A gust of 82 mph clocked at the Red Rock Conservation Area west of Las Vegas. One person was injured when a construction wall collapsed inside the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino. An estimated 44,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency and encouraged drivers to use mass transit.

A siege of severe weather lashed parts of the South from Texas to Arkansas on Wednesday, killing two brothers who were electrocuted by downed power lines in Texas. The boys, ages 11 and 12, were killed Wednesday evening in a heavily wooded area near Oakland Lake Park in East Fort Worth. Damaging winds battered Texas and spawned a radar-confirmed tornado in Houston, where violent winds tossed shipping containers like toys. Most of the containers were empty but some full containers were also turned over.

The signs that California is emerging from its brutal five-year drought are everywhere, from a whopping snowpack in the Sierra Nevada to a spectacular “super bloom” that is turning some deserts into rare and dazzling displays of color. The snowpack along the 400-mile mountain range, which stretches north to south along the Nevada border, is critical to California’s water supply. On average, it provides about 30% of the state’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. In its latest snow survey completed Thursday, the department found that the snowpack for the entire Sierra Nevada was at 164% of average for this time of year. In Yosemite National Park, a kiosk at the top of Tioga Pass that was easily accessible two years ago is now completely covered in snow.