Signs of the Times (4/18/17)

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.

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