Signs of the Times (6/12/17)

Harvard Law Journal Article Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the “life” part includes unborn persons. Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections. Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a “child” in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the “independent and actual existence of the child before birth.” Craddock concludes, “The Fourteenth Amendment’s use of the word “person” guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn.”

In China, 100,000 People Turning to Christ Every Year

Despite increased persecution in China (or, perhaps because of it), a pastor who trains Chinese Christian leaders says the Church in China is growing and as many as 100,000 new believers are coming to Christ every year. Rev. Erik Burklin works with China Partner, training Chinese Christian leaders. He is encouraged to see how God is working to build the Church in China, despite the government’s crackdown on Christianity. Burklin also shared how the government decided to donate nearly $7.3 million to Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing. “I was just scratching my head, thinking to myself, ‘How in the world is it possible that in China, where Communism still runs the country, a person in the Central Government would donate so that a local school — in this case, the national seminary in China — can finish constructing their chapel?’ It’s unbelievable,” Burklin said, according to The Christian Post.

Second Appeals Court Rules Against Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

A second federal appeals court on Monday ruled against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was the latest in a string of court rulings rejecting the administration’s efforts to limit travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The administration has already sought a Supreme Court review of a similar decision issued last month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va. In an earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit in February blocked Mr. Trump’s original travel ban. After that ruling, Mr. Trump narrowed the scope of his initial executive order, issued on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. The new ban’s 90-day suspension of entry from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was more limited and subject to case-by-case exceptions. It omitted Iraq, which had been listed in the earlier order, and it removed a complete ban on Syrian refugees. It also deleted explicit references to religion.

Former FBI Director Comey’s Testimony Disappoints

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in what was highly anticipated to be a strong indictment of President Trump. However, Comey’s statements fell short of the bombshell many expected, or hoped, would lead to charges of obstruction against Trump. Instead, he admitted that Trump didn’t order him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but rather strongly urged him to do so, inappropriate but not illegal. He also accused Trump of lying and said he hoped Trump had made recordings of their conversations. President Donald Trump, however, claimed, “total and complete vindication” of collusion and obstruction. Comey opened the door to potential blowback when he admitted that he was the one to leak memos to a friend in order to inform the media about his personal conversations with the president. President Trump’s lawyer said he will file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comey Raises Questions about Past/Present Attorneys General

In one fell swoop, former FBI Director James B. Comey chipped away Thursday at the credibility of two of his former bosses, saying Obama administration Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation deeply concerned him and raising the specter that there may be more to the story of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ problematic ties to Russia. one of Mr. Comey’s biggest bombshells involved Ms. Lynch and what he described as an attempt to change the FBI’s description of its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. The change was meant to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe. In addition, the ousted FBI director, who testified as a private citizen, raised intrigue about the “variety of reasons” why the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Mr. Comey said there were reasons he couldn’t discuss in a nonclassified setting that officials believed would make Mr. Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”

Maryland/D.C. Sue President Trump Over Foreign Payments

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed suit against President Trump on Monday, alleging that he has violated the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C., both Democrats, allege that Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit cites not just the president’s luxury hotel in Washington, which has been at the center of concerns about conflicts of interest, but his worldwide network of hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from the business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means that he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office. The suit asks the court for an injunction blocking Trump from accepting foreign money.

Trump Commits to NATO Common Defense

President Donald Trump said on Friday what he would not at NATO headquarters last month: He is committed to NATO’s principle of common defense. “I am committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump said at Friday’s press conference, referring to the alliance’s principle that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on them all. Appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, Trump also reiterated his call for NATO members to meet the guideline — along with his claim that NATO members should repay what he regards as underpayments from previous years. Iohannis stated that Romania was the first country under Trump’s administration to “step up to 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.”

More London Terror

A nursery school teacher has been beaten and knifed in a London street by three women who chanted verses from the Koran. They pulled her to the ground, kicking and punching her. One of them got a knife out and cut her arm.  She was taken to hospital but her injuries are not thought to be life threatening. The women ran off and have not been located by police, who are investigating. The attack came less than a week after the London Bridge terror atrocity in which eight people died and about 50 were injured. Meanwhile, London police arrested a 19-year-old man Sunday night in connection to the London Bridge terror attack. Police are currently holding six other men, who are between the ages of 27 to 30, in the assault on the London Bridge area. Police have released 12 others who had been arrested in the early days of the investigation.

Austria Bans Islamic Dresses for Women, Forces Integration

Austria has passed a controversial law that fines women who wear Islamic dress covering the whole face, and takes away welfare benefits from immigrants who fail to learn the language. “Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” reads the text of the law. Earlier this year, the draft law drew thousands of protesters against the government and parliamentarians, but it was passed by a centrist coalition last month and now was signed by the president. According to the law, women will face a fine of €150 ($168) if they wear Islamic dresses, either the niqab or the burqa, in public places. In addition to the fines, all new migrants coming to Austria to live will now be forced to take a 12-month “integration course” that includes German language lessons if they wish to receive any welfare benefits.

Rallies Against Islamic Law Draw Counter-Protests

Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said the anti-Islamists stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion. In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street. Hundreds marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying, “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens. A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.

  • The problem is that Islamic (Sharia) law relegates non-Muslims to second-class citizens whose freedom is severely constrained and they have to pay a special Sharia tax. Sharia law is very intolerant and exclusive.

Hawaii First State to Pass Law Committing to Paris Climate Accord

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday signed a bill that aligns the state’s carbon emissions with the Paris climate accord. Gov. David Ige signed the bill that calls on documenting sea level rise and set strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Many of the greatest challenges of our day hit us first, and that means that we also need to be first when it comes to creating solutions,” Mr. Ige, a Democrat, said, according to The New York Times. “We are the testing grounds — as an island state, we are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment.” Ige says Hawaii is the first state to enact legislation implementing parts of the Paris climate agreement.

More Insurers Drop Obamacare

Washington State has had a fairly healthy Obamacare exchange — until now. Two counties won’t have any insurers participating in the individual next year unless another company steps in, the Washington insurance department said Wednesday. Washington would become the third state to have locales without any Obamacare insurers. Enrollees in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and in parts of Ohio also won’t have any options on their exchanges next year unless other carriers join. Insurers are mainly concerned that the White House is undermining the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to buy coverage, and won’t commit to continue funding the cost-sharing subsidies that reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income Obamacare enrollees.

A ‘Superbug’ Fungus Is Spreading Across the U.S.

Over the past nine months, the number of US cases of an emerging, multi-drug resistant fungus has ballooned from 7 to more than 122. What’s more, the fungus, Candida auris, seems to be spreading, according to a field report the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday. So-called ‘superbugs’ usually reference bacteria that are especially hard to kill, having evolved resistance to multiple antibiotics. C. auris causes severe illness and has a high-mortality rate, especially among high-risk, hospitalized patients. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and has now been reported in more than a dozen countries. According to the CDC, which issued an initial warning last June, 77 cases have been identified in hospitals in seven states, mainly in elderly people. The number jumped to 122 when close contacts of those patients were also found to be infected. New Jersey has 17 cases, the most of any single state.

Zika Update

Nearly 1,900 pregnant women in U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infections, according to the CDC. Nearly 1,600 have completed their pregnancies. Of those with confirmed Zika infections, 1 in 10 women in at least 44 states have had a baby with brain damage or other serious defects. Even in Washington, a low-risk state where the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that spread Zika aren’t found, 18 pregnant women have been identified with lab evidence of the virus since last year. All appear to have acquired the virus through travel, though Zika can be transmitted through sex as well. Scientists now know that Zika, a once-obscure virus, targets and attacks neural stem cells in the developing fetal brain. Babies born with congenital Zika syndrome often have severe microcephaly, diminished brain tissue and eye damage, as well as restricted joint movement and rigid muscle tone. Recent research suggests they also might suffer hearing problems and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy.

Economic News

The list of U.S. retailers with troubled financials that could make them potential bankruptcy risks now totals 22, according to ratings by Moody’s Investors Service — topping the 19 recorded at the peak of the Great Recession. The ranks of distressed firms and retail sector defaults are likely to grow during the next 12 to 18 months due to the surge in online purchasing, the rating agency predicted. Nonetheless, the companies on the distressed list represent just 16% of the retailers analyzed by Moody’s. “The majority of retailers remain fundamentally healthy,” the report said. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year, said Garrick Brown, vice president of Americas retail research for commercial broker Cushman & Wakefield — more than twice as many as the 4,000 last year. He sees this figure rising to about 13,000 next year.

An increasingly byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements partly accounts for housing construction that remains 35% below normal levels across the country, especially for affordable starter houses, builders and economists say. And that building deficit is the chief culprit behind a skimpy supply of both new and existing homes that has driven up prices about 40% the past five years, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. Rising prices are good for homeowners but shut out many buyers, especially Millennials shopping for their first house.

American drivers are poised to reap unexpected savings at the gas pump after oil prices recently kicked into reverse. Oil plunged Wednesday after a report indicated that supply was outpacing demand, setting the stage for lower-than-expected fuel prices. Oil’s sharp decline followed an Energy Information Administration report that U.S. crude oil inventories ballooned by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2. The EIA report, released Wednesday projected that U.S. oil production would hit an all-time record of 10 million barrels per day in 2018, topping the previous mark of 9.6 million set in 1970. The price of gasoline was $2.36 a gallon on Wednesday, down 2.3 cents from a week ago. Nearly half (45%) of America’s massive appetite for crude oil comes from passenger vehicles.

Israel

Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily relinquish his long-standing demand for Israel to freeze its construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as a prerequisite to the restarting of the diplomatic process with Israel, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, which is based on an interview with Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, Abbas will also tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes at international courts and to rally condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. During his recent visit in Israel, President Donald Trump reportedly put pressure on Abbas to renew the diplomatic process with Israel. The negotiations have been stalled since 2014, when US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered talks, which collapsed after nine months.

Israel announced on Friday that it had discovered a network of terror tunnels running beneath two schools in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and demanded that the UN “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” as it already is classified by the US, Canada, EU and several other governments. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov tweeted on Saturday; “Despicable to risk the lives of children! Hamas must end illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza.” On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during his remarks to the Cabinet that “I regret that UNRWA, to a large degree, by its very existence, perpetuates – and does not solve – the Palestinian refugee problem Therefore, the time has come to disband UNRWA.”

Great Britain

​British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday she will try to form a governing coalition with Northern Ireland’s small party in the wake of an election setback that cost her Conservatives a majority in Parliament. The Conservatives won 319 seats, seven short of a majority in the House of Commons and 12 fewer than they had going into the election. The Labour Party won 261 seats, a gain of 29, while the Scottish National Party wound up with 35, a loss of 21. The Northern Ireland party won 10 seats, enough to give May a majority under a partnership in Parliament. The outcome was a significant political embarrassment for May, who called for an early election in April based on polls that showed the Conservatives would increase their majority and give her more clout in difficult talks with the European Union on terms for exiting the political and economic alliance. The fallout of the election disaster has led two top aides to Theresa May to resign, increasing pressure on May to resign as well.

North Korea

A former U.S. ambassador wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday warning that North Korea’s nuclear threat is not limited to a bomb striking a U.S. city. A nuclear bomb that detonates 40 miles above a target (and hundreds of miles away) could deliver serious consequences, said Henry F. Cooper, who was the director of the Strategic Defense initiative under President George H.W. Bush. North Korea has in its possession the designs for these so-called “super EMP nuclear weapons,” the op-ed said. Such a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would render “critical electricity-dependent infrastructure” on the ground inoperable. The op-ed raises questions about whether or not North Korea ran a “dry run” recently, when a medium-range missile reportedly exploded midflight in what was seen as a failure. The article questions if the missile was deliberately detonated.

South Korea

South Korea’s new government has suspended the deployment of a controversial US missile defense system that strained relations with China and angered North Korea. While Seoul will not withdraw two launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that are already in action, four additional launchers will not be deployed until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.” During the recent election campaign, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the THAAD rollout to be halted and any decision about its future to be put before the country’s parliament. Deployment of THAAD was agreed by his predecessor — disgraced President Park Geun-hye — and Washington. Relations between Seoul and Beijing have soured significantly as a result of its deployment, affecting South Korean businesses and Koreans living in China.

Philippines

United States special forces joined the Philippine army to help end a siege in Marawi by Islamic State-linked militant groups, as a drawn-out battle for control of the southern Philippines city nears the end of a third week. “At the request of the government of the Philippines, U.S. special operations forces are assisting the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with ongoing operations in Marawi that help AFP commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG militants,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement. The Maute group, also known as Islamic State Lanao, led the attack on Marawi which began on May 23 and has resulted in the deaths of 58 security forces, 20 civilians and around 138 militant fighters. On Friday, 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 wounded in house-to-house combat during clearing operations.

Afghanistan

An Afghan army soldier turned his weapon on U.S. servicemembers Saturday, killing three and injuring another in eastern Afghanistan. The Afghan soldier was killed during the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting. The attack occurred in Achin district, where U.S. special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan troops against Islamic State and Taliban militants. In addition, three civilians were killed after a roadside bomb hit a convoy of American soldiers early Monday in Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan. The United States military said that none of its personnel had been wounded.

Somalia

The U.S. military in Africa says it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia Sunday morning that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp, 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu, the capital. There was no immediate comment on the airstrike from Somalia’s homegrown extremist group, al-Shabab, which is allied to Al Qaeda. Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed the airstrike, saying that Somali and partner forces destroyed an al-Shabaab training camp near Sakow, in the Middle Juba region. He said such attacks would disrupt the group’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.

Qatar

Five Iranian planes filled with food have landed at Doha airport as the blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries starts to take hold. Iran said the planes were filled with vegetables and that it plans to send 100 tons of fresh fruit and legumes every day to the import-dependent nation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut links with Qatar last Monday, accusing Qatar of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere — a charge Qatar denies. As well as cutting air, sea and land links with Doha, three of the countries involved — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE — ordered Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days. On Sunday, Qatar said that the 11,000 citizens of those countries that have cut ties will be allowed to stay in the country.

Wildfires

Storms that swept into Cape Town, South Africa have killed at least nine people and unleashed winds that fanned fires, forcing evacuations of about 10,000. Strong winds from a storm that hit the coast Wednesday fanned multiple blazes, which destroyed dozens of homes and also damaged an evacuated hospital and a school. Four of the deaths occurred in a fire caused by lightning, and one other person died when a home collapsed, local media reported. Three others died in a separate fire. Hundreds of homes were flooded or damaged. While the storm provided some drought relief, officials said sustained rainfall over several years is needed in a city whose reservoirs are at very low levels.

After weeks of hot, dry weather following a wet winter and early spring, there are 12 wildfires burning in Arizona which have consumed nearly over 28,000 acres of land as of Monday morning. Five of the fires were deemed “significant” by the Bureau of Land Management. No structures have burned as yet, but many are threatened in some of the areas. Some road closures are also in effect. Increased winds Friday near the Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff forced a closure of U.S. 180 between mileposts 236 and 248. The Antelope Fire, near Kingman, was also being watched closely because of “threats to homes,” authorities said. Many of the fires were lightning-caused, though others remain under investigation.

Weather

Days of heavy rain in South Florida left some residents comparing the floods to tropical systems of the past as roads were closed and flights were canceled. Nearly two feet of rain fell in some places, and even in a state that’s used to big rainfall in a short period of time, there were plenty of problems. Some of the heaviest rain occurred in Marco Island, where the biggest rainfall total was reported to the NWS – more than 23 inches. By Wednesday, the problems were so widespread that every road on the island had flooding. In some areas, catfish were seen “walking” in flood water and in gutters along the roadside. While the flooding was troublesome, the storms provided much-needed drought relief for parts of South Florida that have battled abnormally dry conditions for years.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were clocked in parts of the Midwest Sunday, taking down tree limbs and leaving more than 90,000 without power at the height of a severe storm moving through the area. A line of severe thunderstorms raced across eastern South Dakota, southern Minnesota and into Wisconsin with wind gusts of 60-80 mph. The most dramatic damage was reported at Monticello High School, which was destroyed by the storm, reports the Star Tribune. Monday to Wednesday, another weather system will sweep through the nation’s northern tier, bringing additional rounds of severe storms to the Plains and Upper Midwest.

A brutal heat wave sweeping across the Midwest and East was leaving a string of record temperatures in its wake while the Upper Midwest was dealing with hail so heavy it looked like snow. The Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids broke out a snowplow and front-end loader after a hail storm left some streets covered. But for most of the Midwest and East, heat was the story. Record-breaking temperatures were likely to linger from Omaha to New York until at least Wednesday, forecasters said. Chicago saw 88 degrees on Saturday. Sunday’s high was in the 90s, Monday 95 and Tuesday a scorching 97. In the East, the big cool-off will begin Wednesday when a “back door” front rolls down from the north, bringing scattered storms and dipping temperatures.

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