Signs of the Times (5/30/17)

Gender Accommodation Causes Turmoil in PA High School

Officials in the Boyertown Area School District in Pennsylvania, who have been sued for instituting what amounts to coed showers in their locker rooms, suddenly now are concerned about “student privacy,” reports WorldNetDaily.com. Several students, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Independence Law Center, brought a case against Supt. Richard Faidley and others for allowing both boys and girls to change and shower in the same room under the guise of accommodating “gender orientation.” The lawsuit charges that without any notice to students or their parents, school officials “secretly opened” their sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex. ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek argued “laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex.” Now the school district has released a statement to WND revealing that its board met recently and “unanimously approved a proposal by an area architectural firm to study how to possibly enhance student privacy in the high school’s locker and restrooms.

No Terror Problems in Countries that Ban Muslim Refugees

As the debate continues to rage in the U.S. over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, in Japan, there is no such debate about refugees nor is there any terrorism. That’s because the Asian nation has a permanent ban on refugees from Muslim countries. Terrorism is not happening in Poland, either. Nor is it happening in Slovenia or Hungary. All of these countries keep Islamic migrants out, and Hungary recently punctuated its policy by erecting a razor-wire fence along its southern border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has scolded Japan repeatedly over the years, trying to get the country to accept refugees, mostly Muslim, from various countries. The Japanese have steadfastly refused. Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, has also refused the constant pressure from the European Union for her country to accept its “quota” Muslim refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Referencing the Islamic suicide bombing that killed 22, mainly children, and injured dozens more at a pop concert in Manchester this week, the Catholic prime minister called out the EU’s political elites on their “folly.”

Appeals Court Refuses to Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

Describing President Trump’s revised travel ban as intolerant and discriminatory, a federal appeals court last Thursday rejected government efforts to limit travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim nations. The White House derided the court decision as a danger to the nation’s security, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision was the first from a federal appeals court on the revised travel ban issued March 6, which was an effort to make good on a campaign centerpiece of the president’s national security agenda. It echoed earlier skepticism by lower federal courts about the legal underpinnings for Mr. Trump’s executive order, which sought to halt travelers for up to 90 days while the government imposed stricter vetting processes.

Brits Fuming Over U.S. Leaks of Manchester Info

President Trump arrived at NATO headquarters here Thursday under a cloud of suspicion about the security of foreign intelligence shared with the United States, a controversy he tried to head off by vowing to end leaks of secret information. British Prime Minister Theresa May was incensed and confronted Trump over intelligence leaks about the Manchester suicide attack. Shortly after he arrived at NATO, Trump released a written statement denouncing unsanctioned disclosures. “The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” the statement said. “These leaks have been going on for a long time and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” In particular, Trump singled out the New York Times for reporting information they could have only gotten from unauthorized sources. “The leaks just went from undermining our President, to deadly,” notes the American Center for Law and Justice. “The deep state shadow government is putting the lives of millions of Americans in danger. The leaks have caused our closest ally to stop sharing critical counterterrorism intelligence with the U.S.”

Trump Chastises Europe for Not Paying Fair Share in NATO

President Trump shamed European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defenses and lectured them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for “not paying what they should be paying.” He used a ceremony to dedicate the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform from which to exhort leaders to “focus on terrorism and immigration” to ensure their security. And he held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most dearly wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of NATO’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them. Instead, European leaders gazed unsmilingly at Trump while he said that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,” and that they owe “massive amounts” from past years.

Trump Chides Nations Over Unfair Trade Practices at G-7 Summit

Wrapping up his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, President Trump left the G-7 summit Saturday in Italy amid ongoing international deadlocks over trade and climate change. While the American president and G-7 allies agreed to increase efforts to fight terrorism, Trump aides and other world leaders acknowledged ongoing disputes over trade rules and whether the United States should remain a part of the new Paris climate change agreement, which calls for nations to restrict heat-generating carbon emissions. Climate talks in particular were “very unsatisfactory,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. Trump, who receives conflicting advice on climate change from aides, tweeted after the G-7 meetings that “I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” He has pushed back previous plans to make that announcement. In addition to protesting Trump’s views on climate change, Germany and other G-7 members pushed back on Trump’s claims that other countries engage in unfair trade practices against the United States. The back-and-forth discussions ended what European Union President Donald Tusk called “the most challenging G-7 summit in years.” As the Group of Seven summit wrapped up Saturday, thousands demonstrated in the streets, rallying around dozens of issues from immigration to capitalism and everything in between.

Foreign Leaders Distance Themselves from Trump

President Trump received a largely cordial welcome on the first overseas trip of his presidency. But now that he’s returned to Washington, the foreign leaders he met with are increasingly blunt in their reviews of the American president. In separate remarks intended mostly for domestic consumption, leaders of Germany, France and Israel all sought to distance themselves from Trump, just days after meeting with the president during his nine-day foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Brussels and Italy. Among the sources of friction: Trump’s reluctance to unreservedly commit to the North Atlantic alliance, his skepticism of a climate change accord signed on to by his predecessor, and the outreach to Palestinians in pursuit of a Middle East peace agreement. The dynamic is partly one of Trump’s brash style and confrontational manner.

House Health Care Bill Reduces Premiums, Covers Less

House Republicans boast that their health care bill would reduce average premiums, but that’s because the insurance policies will generally cover less. That might be fine for those who never see the doctor, but it would mean those who actually use the coverage will pay more to get treatment. Obamacare put in place an array of protections that pushed up premiums, but shielded Americans from big health care bills. Also, the law capped how much consumers have to pay out-of-pocket each year for the essential health benefits — $7,150 in 2017 — and it prevented insurers from settling annual or lifetime limits on these benefits. However, as insurers losses mounted, many have either raised prices significantly or pulled out of Obamacare leaving some states with only one provider.

Native Americans Worried About Trump’s Budget Cuts

Native Americans have, by far, the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country. The sweeping cuts included in the Trump budget proposal have sent shivers through the Native American community. Trump’s plan would slash the budget for the Interior Department — which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that provides services for nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives — by 12%, to $11.6 billion. The cuts could be devastating, according to Mason Big Crow, the Oglala Sioux tribe treasurer. The tribe could lose at least half the money it receives from federal sources, Big Crow said.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s Up 55% in U.S.

The rate of people dying from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States rose by 55% over a 15-year period, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. The number of those patients dying at home from the neurodegenerative condition also rose, from 14% to 25% over the same time period studied, 2009-2014. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, causing symptoms including memory loss, impaired language, difficulties in concentrating and decision making, confusion, or disorientation. The disease mainly affects people over the age of 65 and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. That number is predicted to rise to 16 million by 2050.

Economic News

Nearly a tenth of homes with a mortgage in the United States were considered “seriously underwater” at the end of the first quarter of 2017, according to statistics from ATTOM Data Solutions. And nearly a third of all homes nationwide valued at less than $100,000 are seriously underwater. A property is seriously underwater if the amount owed on the loan secured against it is at least 25% higher than the value of the property. The good news is that the number of seriously underwater homes is down slightly from a year ago. While negative equity continued to trend steadily downward in the first quarter, it remains stubbornly high in often-overlooked pockets of the housing market. These pockets exist in several Rust Belt cities, Las Vegas and central Florida.

Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage in 10 years. Democrats on Capitol Hill decided to mark the occasion by introducing a bill that probably won’t pass, reports CNNMoney. They introduced legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2024. The bill isn’t likely to go anywhere in Congress. Republicans run the House, Senate and the White House, and no members of the GOP have given their endorsement. Meanwhile, many states have been enacting their own changes amid inaction at the federal level. Nineteen states began 2017 with higher minimum wages, from Arkansas to Michigan to Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York, California and Washington D.C. all passed laws in 2016 that put them on track for $15 an hour.

OPEC, Russia and other major oil producers agreed this week to continue their reduced production volume for another nine months. These coordinated production cuts are aimed at mopping up the massive supply glut that sent crude crashing to unthinkably-low prices last year. While OPEC’s ability to cobble together an agreement has managed to keep a lid on prices this year, oil stockpiles in the U.S. and other major economies remain stubbornly-high — and that’s spooking impatient investors. Oil stockpiles in developed countries in the OECD jumped by 24 million barrels during the first quarter to a new record of 1.2 billion, according to the International Energy Agency.

Persecution Watch

Human rights activists told Capitol Hill lawmakers that Christians in North Korea are facing persecution that is likely “on par” with the level of persecution that the Early Christian Church endured under Roman emperor Nero. The activists, convened by International Christian Concern, told lawmakers about the human rights abuses that Christians face. For the past 15 years, North Korea has ranked as the top persecutor of Christians by Open Doors USA. Any Christian worship, or religious worship, is illegal and can be punished be arrest, torture or execution. Organizations such as Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the Korean Institution for National Unification [have] interviewed thousands of defectors who brought testimony of extremely severe religious persecution.

United Kingdom

Police arrested two more suspects Saturday over the deadly Manchester concert bombing, as Britons began a sunny holiday long weekend under heightened security. Greater Manchester Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were detained early Saturday in the northwest England city on suspicion of terrorism offenses. Police used an explosive device to get into a property to make the arrests. Police say they are now holding 11 men, aged between 18 and 44, in custody and have made major progress in their investigation. Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism police officer, said authorities have dismantled a “large part” of the network around bomber Salman Abedi. But he said there were still “gaps in our understanding” of the plot, as investigators probed Abedi’s potential links to jihadis in Britain, Europe, Libya and the Middle East.

Islamic State

The Islamic State lured the U.S.-led forces into conducting an airstrike in March that killed over 100 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a top American military official said Thursday. An investigation into the March bombing found that the terror groups rigged a house with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, put civilians in the basement, and employed two ISIS snipers on the roof to bait the U.S.-led coalition to attack. The bomb used by the American jet, a GBU-38 (500-lb bomb), would not have caused the type of damage associated with the destruction of the building. The probe found that the U.S. bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted in the lower floors of the concrete building.

Egypt

Masked gunmen opened fire Friday on a caravan of Coptic Christian pilgrims heading to a monastery south of Cairo, killing at least 29 men, women and children, Egyptian security and health officials said. ISIS claimed credit. Christians of the Muslim majority Arab nation have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants. The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed — following the pope’s visit — to escalate attacks against Christian. The gunmen, riding in three 4 x 4 vehicles, ambushed a minibus and two cars of pilgrims heading along a desert road to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the Minya governorate, about 130 miles south of the Egyptian capital.

Egyptian fighter jets struck militant bases in eastern Libya late Friday in retaliation for the attack by masked gunmen on a caravan of Coptic Christians that left 28 people dead. In a televised address, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his forces were hitting what he called “training bases” for the militants who carried out the killings. Senior officials said the warplanes targeted the headquarters of the Shura Council in the city of Darna, where local militias are known to be linked to al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State.

Iraq

The death toll of a deadly nighttime bombing outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad has risen to 31 as ISIS militants claimed responsibility. Iraqi officials said families with children were enjoying a late-night snack after breaking their fast for Ramadan when the explosions went off. The attacks come as ISIS militants are steadily losing more territory to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. The Sunni extremists are increasingly turning to insurgency-style terror attacks to detract from their losses.

Afghanistan

At least 18 people were killed when a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of provincial security forces in eastern Afghanistan. The target was a group of guards providing security for U.S. forces in Khost province but most of the victims in Saturday’s attack were civilians. The convoy of Khost provincial forces was targeted near the province’s main bus station. The attack comes on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The Taliban had warned about their new spring offensive.

Philippines

The black flag of ISIS has been raised in the Philippines. At least 103 people have died in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao in less than a week as fighters affiliated with the Islamic State engaged in violent clashes with government forces, and martial law was declared over the entire island. Hundreds of hostages were taken, most of them Christians. The militants entered the predominantly Muslim city of some 200,000 suddenly, on the afternoon of May 24, wearing masks and carrying assault rifles. Black ISIS flags emblazoned in white with the words “There is no god but God” were flying from every corner in the city. Photos showed long queues of cars piled with people and belongings leaving Marawi, as tanks and armored troop vehicles headed toward the beleaguered city. Clashes between government forces and militants had claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 11 military and four policemen, as of Sunday afternoon, with at least 61 militants also killed.

North Korea

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. It landed in Japan’s exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast. Because Monday’s test — the North’s ninth ballistic missile launch this year — was apparently of a short-range variety of which Pyongyang has a surplus of reliable missiles, it may have been meant more as a political and military message to outsiders than as a crucial test of not-yet-perfected technology.

Volcanoes

The Bogoslof Volcano in the Aleutian Islands erupted again on Sunday, sending a cloud of ash at least 35,000 feet into the air and prompting an aviation red alert. Ash can harm and stop jet engines. Ash from southwest Alaska volcanos is a threat airliners operating between North America and Asia when a cloud rises above 20,000 feet. The Bogoslof volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest in an unpredictable condition. Additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time. Bogoslof, one of the United State’s most active volcanoes, has erupted at least 36 times in the past four months.  Bogoslof Island, located in the Bering Sea north of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, has nearly tripled in size due to pyroclastic fall and flow deposits.

Weather

One of the year’s most severe outbreak of thunderstorms struck the U.S. Saturday. Almost 500 reports of severe weather were received by National Weather Service offices Saturday and Saturday night, from southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico to Virginia and North Carolina. Trees have been downed by straight-line winds across central Missouri. Many powerlines were snapped. An 80-mph wind gust was recorded in Salem, Missouri late Saturday afternoon as a squall line intensified. Early Saturday afternoon softball size hail was reported near Adrian and Ballard, Missouri. Supercell thunderstorms struck during the evening hours in Oklahoma, with hail as large as tennis balls. Wind gusts up to 69 mph blew a satellite dish off the roof of the Memphis’ emergency management office and overturned a semi on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Richmond, Virginia received hail as large as eggs, and much of central Virginia saw severe storms including damaging hail up to golf ball sized. At least a dozen people have been hurt and more than a dozen mobile homes were ‘flipped’ after storms struck in eastern North Carolina Monday.

Heavy rainfall in Sri Lanka triggered flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 200 people and left at least 100 others missing Friday. Tens of thousands have been displaced. The dangerous conditions could worsen, and citizens who live close to areas prone to flooding and mudslides have been urged to evacuate by the government. Heavy rains have lashed several parts of the country for a week, inundating roads and houses. Much of Sri Lanka has been heavily deforested for export crops such as tea and rubber, leaving the countryside exposed.

At least 16 people have been killed after strong thunderstorms and high winds buffeted Moscow and surrounding areas on Monday. Winds up to 70 mph were reported, and officials said most of the deaths were caused by falling trees. 60,000 people in Russia’s Stavropol region are being evacuated due to the threat of flooding. More than 200 houses lost roofs, more than 2,000 cars were damaged and around 14,000 trees were downed.

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