Signs of the Times (1/22/21)

“The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights… The time is come to hear about responsibilities… America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.”  (Former Senate Chaplain Reverend Peter Marshall in 1947)

Trump Declared Friday 1/22 as Sanctity of Life Day, The 48-Year Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On Friday, the majority of Americans who are pro-life mourned 48 years of legalized abortion under Roe v Wade. Before leaving office, President Trump declared January 22nd as National Sanctity of Human Life Day, proclaiming, “Every human life is a gift to the world.  Whether born or unborn, young or old, healthy or sick, every person is made in the holy image of God.  The Almighty Creator gives unique talents, beautiful dreams, and a great purpose to every person.  On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we celebrate the wonder of human existence and renew our resolve to build a culture of life where every person of every age is protected, valued, and cherished.”

  • Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court decision that legalized the killing of children in the womb in all fifty states. Since then, the number of abortions has skyrocketed. It has already killed 61,628,584 babies as of 2019 according to the analysis released by National Right to Life News using the data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Guttmacher Institute.

Dr. Fauci Tells WHO That Biden Administration Committed to Abortion

In comments made to the World Health Organization (WHO) Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the Biden regime’s commitment to the promotion of abortion, as well as a new relationship between the United States and the WHO. Fauci has been named as Chief Medical Adviser to Joe Biden and became Biden’s de facto spokesman to the WHO at the 148th session of the Executive Board of the organization which is currently taking place. Fauci touted Biden’s commitment to the promotion of “sexual and reproductive health,” and “reproductive rights,” both of which are common euphemisms for abortion and contraception.

Biden Inaugural Prayer Service ‘Most LGBTQ Inclusive’ Ever

The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is calling Thursday’s Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service the “most LGBTQ inclusive” inaugural prayer service in history for its inclusion of two transgender faith leaders and three other “trailblazing LGBTQ faith leaders.” The service was hosted by the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., although much of the program was virtual. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watched the service remotely from the White House. Patti LaBelle and Josh Groban sang, and several well-known faith leaders, including Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, spoke. Paula Stone Williams, pastor of the Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colo. read Isaiah 58:6-12 and Barbara Satin, faith work director for the National LGBTQ Task Force in Minneapolis said a brief prayer for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

Biden Calls for End to ‘Uncivil War’ in America

President Biden vowed Wednesday to put his entire “soul” into the job of president of the United States and called for an end to an “uncivil war” of political division so the country can combat a multitude of crises. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We can do this — if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” Biden said it was time to “stop the shouting” and “lower the temperature.” “I will be a president for all Americans,” he said, vowing to fight as hard for people who supported him as those who did not. “To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden said. “If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America — the right to dissent peaceably.”

Biden’s Opening Approval Lower than Trump’s in Rasmussen Poll

Joe Biden is beginning his presidential term with an approval rating lower than Donald Trump’s at the start of his term, according to a Rasmussen Poll (it should be noted that Rasmussen has been accused of being right-leaning). The first Rasmussen daily tracking poll for Biden found 48% of likely U.S. voters approve of his performance while 45% disapprove. Trump opened with a 56% approval rating while 44% disapproved. President Obama opened with 67% approval and 32% disapproval.

  • The net of it is that the U.S. is still strongly divided and entrenched in their positions.

Trump’s Impeachment Trial in Limbo

The impeachment article for President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial will head to the Senate Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced on the Senate floor Friday morning. Schumer said it was still unclear how long the trial will last and when it will begin in earnest, issues he is still discussing with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. There have also been discussions about how to ensure that the trial can move ahead quickly but not overwhelm President Biden’s agenda. The GOP has proposed delaying the trial till February.

  • Though Democrats technically took the reins of the chamber this week (50 Senators each, but VP Harris can cast a deciding vote), they have been unable to reach a power-sharing deal with Republicans, leaving the Senate partially frozen.

Biden’s Day One Blitz of Executive Orders Rolls Back Trump’s Initiatives

In the first few hours following his inauguration on Wednesday, President Joe Biden kept several campaign promises by signing 15 executive orders and two agency actions. It was the most executive orders ever signed by a president on his first day in office. Biden moved swiftly to dismantle former President Trump’s legacy by signing executive actions that reversed course on immigration, climate change, racial equity, and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. With the stroke of a pen hours after taking the oath of office, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization, and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office—and each signed just one. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one requiring masks and physical distancing on federal property and by federal employees. Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden says these initial orders will be followed by dozens more over the next ten days.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki brushed off criticism of President Biden and his family being spotted without face masks at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, saying the new administration has “bigger issues to worry about.”

Biden Administration Plans to Vaccinate 100 Million in 100 Days

The Biden administration is aiming to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, but the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it won’t necessarily mean calling up the local pharmacy to schedule your COVID-19 shot in the coming weeks, as was once predicted by Trump’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said, “I don’t think late February we’re going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.” However, despite challenges with distributing and administering Covid-19 vaccines, the U.S. “can and should” vaccinate 70-85% of adults by the end of summer, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says. That could bring a semblance of normalcy by the fall, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. About 4 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of January 21.

Biden Says He Will Invoke Defense Production Act to Speed Up Vaccine Production

On his second day in office, President Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up COVID-19 vaccine production. Whether that can rapidly increase output is an open question, experts say. The administration’s 198-page COVID-19 strategy plan says it will use the production act to strengthen the supply chain for the raw materials needed to make vaccines and support expanding capacity to make lipid nanoparticles, a crucial and complex part of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Ensuring manufacturing plants have enough raw materials to make the vaccines is something the Defense Production Act could help with, experts say. If the issue is a lack of production capacity requiring building new plants or re-tooling existing ones to fix, it will take time.

Biden’s Plan for Pandemic Involves More Federal Intervention

The new president national strategy for the pandemic involves more: more tests, more vaccines, more equipment and treatments, and more federal government involvement. That’s the gist from the White House’s 21 pages of highlights released Thursday, ahead of an additional 198-page pandemic plan to be published later. President Biden’s strategy will not be a total federal takeover of the pandemic response, but much greater involvement. Key parts of the plan are to require Congress to supply more funding to states. Among those requests: the White House will ask Congress to cover the cost of vaccinating low-income residents on Medicaid. One executive orders mandates that interstate travelers wear masks at airports and on buses, planes and trains.

  • President Biden has also empowered FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to open 100 federally supported centers for mass vaccinations. The draft plan suggests the largest site could do 6,000/day. Some worry about having the federal government get directly involved in performing vaccinations.

President Biden Halts ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

Hope among asylum seekers bloomed in Mexican border cities Thursday after President Joe Biden’s administration halted the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program and said it would review asylum policies. During Biden’s first hours in office Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement suspending new enrollments in the program also known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Some 70,000 migrants were caught in the net of the Migrant Protection Protocols from its inception in early 2019 and turned back to Mexico. Many have been hunkered down in shelters for months, even years.” All current MPP participants should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials,” DHS said in the statement. 

Trump Issued 143 Pardons and Commutations Before Leaving Office

President Trump’s final list of 73 pardons and 70 commutations was issued Wednesday morning. The most notable name on the list of people being granted clemency in some form: Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist charged with fundraising fraud. Not on the list: Trump himself, members of his family, or Rudy Giuliani; there had been speculation he might issue preemptive pardons in those cases. Others on the list include: Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, who are jailed on weapons charges; Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for the Trump campaign who pleaded guilty in a corruption and bribery case; conservative political operative Paul Erickson, the ex-boyfriend of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges; Israeli air force officer Aviem Sella, whom the U.S. accused of spying; and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, convicted of racketeering, extortion, corruption, and other charges and several others convicted of various crimes.

  • President Donald Trump’s earlier batch of 95 pardons and commutations isn’t the highest of his recent predecessors. But his record of clemency could very well be the most controversial. Unlike past presidents, Trump showed little interest in using the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney system for assessing requests for executive clemency. Instead, petitioners are approaching the White House directly, calling or emailing senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows or White House counsel Pat Cipollone — when they can’t get a hold of Trump himself. Many of the people Trump pardoned earlier include Roger Stone and Michael Flynn who remained loyal to him through their legal troubles; Jared Kushner’s father Charles; celebrities or people connected to celebrities, such as Rod Blagojevich; and those whose cause was taken up by conservative media, such as Blackwater security guards who killed Iraqi civilians.

Trump Hints at Political Comeback in Farewell Address

With a possible eye towards a potential comeback in four years, outgoing President Trump told supporters that “we will be back in some form.” Trump, speaking Wednesday morning before boarding Air Force One for the last time as president on a flight to his home in Florida, told a crowd of family, friends, aides and supporters that “I will always fight for you” and that “we will see you soon.” Sixteen hours earlier, in his final video as president, Trump emphasized that “I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning” and he added that “the best is yet to come.” Trump has repeatedly vowed to play an influential role in the party going forward, threatening to back primary challenges to Republicans up for reelection in 2022 who didn’t support his unsuccessful push to upend his election defeat to Biden.

  • According to a report Tuesday evening in the Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the matter,” Mr. Trump has discussed creating a third political party, called the  “Patriot Party.”
  • President Joe Biden said Wednesday that former President Donald Trump left him a “very generous letter” before departing the White House. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.”

Just Small Protests at Heavily Fortified Statehouses in U.S. Last Weekend

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol. As darkness fell Sunday, there were no reports of any clashes. Security was stepped up after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

  • Twelve National Guard members have been removed from duties related to the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., two of them for expressing anti-government sentiments, Defense Department officials said on Tuesday. Two of the members were removed over texts and social media posts that made threatening comments toward political officials, Pentagon officials said. They declined to specify the exact nature of the threats.
  • A Florida deputy was arrested Tuesday for threatening to kill federal officials following the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, officials said. Deputy Peter Heneen, 29, was charged with making written threats to kill, conduct a mass shooting, or commit an act of terrorism.

Protests Across Nation Target Trump, Biden, ICE

Police declared an unlawful assembly Wednesday night in Portland, Ore., after about 150 rioters caused damage to a federal immigration facility in the city. Eight were arrested. The unrest near the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) building was declared after rioters started throwing rocks and eggs, and vandalizing the building. Individuals were seen carrying pepper ball guns, electronic control weapons (similar to stun guns) — shields, fireworks, and rocks. Other cities saw some tension on Inauguration Day. Seattle witnessed property damage and objects hurled at cars, with four arrested. Reporters said demonstrators were protesting against President Biden and law enforcement, and carried a sign reading, “Abolish ICE.” In Denver, protesters burned an American flag in separate demonstrations that reportedly involved members of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as others who chanted anti-Trump and anti-Biden slogans.

  • Authorities said Thursday that the protests in Portland saw Antifa protesters clash with police as they gathered to voice dissatisfaction with President Biden, forcing officers to retreat and taking at least one police bicycle and damaging Democratic headquarters. The so-called J20 protest was a demonstration against Biden and law enforcement that also attracted BLM members. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took to Twitter Thursday night to call on President Biden to condemn the Inauguration Day protests that turned into violent riots in Portland and Seattle.
  • Anarchists don’t care who is President, they just want to tear down the U.S. Meanwhile, Progressives believe Biden is too centrist and will not implement their agenda, such as AOC’s Green New Deal.

Justice Department Charges Oath Keepers Leader with Coordinating Capital Breach

Prosecutors have levied the first significant conspiracy charge against an apparent leader in the extremist Oath Keepers movement, alleging the Virginia man was involved in “planning and coordinating” the breach of the Capitol earlier this month, according to court documents. The Justice Department charged Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old from Virginia with a leadership role in the paramilitary right-wing group, with four counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense, obstruction of an official proceeding and “Violent entry or disorderly conduct.” Oath Keepers are part of the resurgent militia movement, which believes the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.

  • At least five alleged rioters with ties to self-styled militias have been documented in criminal complaints released in recent days. Members of militant groups that stormed the Capitol have quickly become a top focus of federal law enforcement investigating the January 6 incident. Prosecutors say these groups moved in “organized and practiced” maneuvers in breaching the Capitol. One of the service members removed for expressing support for President Trump in addition to making menacing comments.
  • A leader of the Proud Boys, an extremist group that took part in the US Capitol insurrection, was taken into custody and is facing charges, federal officials said. Joseph Randall Biggs, 37, of Florida was arrested Wednesday and is facing three counts — obstruction of a proceeding, entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct — for his part in the siege of the Capitol on January 6.
  • Federal agents recovered a sniper rifle and more than a dozen high-powered weapons from the home of Eric Munchel, a Nashville man charged in connection with this month’s U.S. Capitol riot and storming in Washington D.C. They also found a tactical vest covered in patches and a set of plastic restraints that match those that caught the attention of social media users in the aftermath of the riot and led to the nickname “zip tie guy.” The items, discovered when federal agents searched his home, are among several reasons why federal prosecutors argue Munchel should remain in custody as his case proceeds

Conservative Social Media Platform Parler Gets Back Online

Apple, along with Amazon and Google, effectively kicked conservative social media platform Parler off the internet in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot. But Sunday, Parler was back online, indicating it found a hosting service, although it’s not clear which host that might be. “Hello world, is this thing on?” reads a message from CEO John Matze, who said last week his family has gone into hiding due to death threats. “Now seems like the right time to remind you all—both lovers and haters—why we started this platform. We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media,” his post says. “Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”

Qanon Followers Censored by Twitter

Twitter has been suspending accounts left and right as it cracks down on the QAnon conspiracy theory, and one pretty big name is included in the 70,000 suspensions so far: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Georgia congresswoman has endorsed QAnon, and has also tweeted claims of widespread election fraud. In fact, one of her latest tweets before the suspension, along with a series of other tweets posted Sunday morning, were slapped with Twitter warnings for misinformation. Greene’s account remains viewable to the public, but she was locked out of it Sunday and will not be able to access it for 12 hours. In response, she called on Congress to “protect free speech in America.”

Backlash Against Companies & Congress Members that Supported Trump

Many companies have announced they will no longer support politicians who voted against certifying the election. The 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election this month have lost the support of 20 of their largest corporate backers, as companies continue to grapple with the recent political turmoil. In addition, retail chains are banning items made by companies and/or CEOs of companies who supported Trump in social media, such as MyPillow. J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Macy’s now list MyPillow merchandise as ‘out of stock’. And consumers are posting negative reviews for such companies as well.

Christian Organization Calls on Franklin Graham to Resign

Last Friday, Faithful America, a Christian organization, created a petition calling for the firing or resignation of Evangelist Franklin Graham from his roles as President and CEO of both humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The petition, which currently has over 20,000 signatures, criticized Graham in his defense of President Trump, such as “tending” to believe Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen. “On January 14, Graham literally compared Trump to Jesus, accusing Republicans who voted for impeachment of accepting ‘thirty pieces of silver’ to betray him,” the Faithful America petition asserted. They continued their criticism by noting Graham’s reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in reference to 10 House Republicans for voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment last week.

  • The ‘Cancel Culture’ has all of Christianity in its sights now.

Covid-19 Daily Cases and Deaths Declining, But New Variants Could Cause Reversal

Reports of new infections have started declining in recent days. But public health experts, alarmed by the spread of new variants, and fear that this recent progress could prove fleeting. New Covid-19 cases have been going down in 41 states. However, deaths are still going up in 17 states. Overall in the U.S., the 7-day average of new cases/day has gone down from a peak of 237,635 on 1/1 to 188,110 on 1/21. The 7-day average of Covid-related deaths per day has also gone down from a peak of 3,347 on 1/13 to 3,078 on 1/21.

  • Arizona’s 7-day average of new daily cases had gone down from about 10,000/day reported on 1/10 to about 7,100 on 1/19, but the past two days have seen 9,398 on 1/21 and 8,099 reported on 1/22.
  • At least four new variants of the coronavirus are worrying scientists. One that was first identified in southeast England, has now shown up in at least 50 countries and appears to be spreading more efficiently than older variations of the virus. Others, identified in South Africa and Brazil, haven’t traveled as far and wide but show a constellation of mutations that have grabbed the attention of geneticists. And then there is a new variation that’s shown up in California that may or may not be driving renewed spread there.

China Fighting Renewed Outbreak of Coronavirus

China is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak in months, which has seen hundreds of cases reported and tens of millions of people placed under lockdown in its northern provinces. It also demonstrated the extent and speed of contact tracing and screening by Chinese health authorities, which have played a crucial role in taming local outbreaks. A Covid-19 “superspreader” who traveled around northeastern China has been linked to 102 confirmed infections, according to Chinese officials. The individual, who worked as a salesman promoting health products to the elderly, bringing the virus with him.

1 in 8 Recovered COVID-19 Patients in UK Die Within 5 Months, 29% Re-Hospitalized

Almost one-third of patients who recovered from COVID-19 were readmitted to the hospital within five months and one in eight died, according to a report by Leicester University and the Office for National Statistics in the U.K. Statistics showed that out of 47,780 people who were discharged from the hospital during the first wave of COVID-19, 29.4% returned to the hospital and 12.3% died from COVID-19 related problems. Many survivors of COVID-19 go on to develop serious health issues such as heart problems, diabetes, and chronic kidney and liver disease.

Covid-19 Recoverees Say Symptoms Last from 6-10 Months

COVID-19 recoverees say their ongoing symptoms – lingering anywhere from six to 10 months after becoming stricken with the disease – have made it difficult to resume their careers. They typically continue to experience symptoms for several weeks to multiple months after their initial infection, even though they test negative for the virus, according to University of California, Davis Health. 

Locked-Down California vs. Open Florida Yield Similar Covid-19 Results

Nearly a year since COVID-19 first touched the United States, locked-down California, and open Florida have virtually the same number of cases per capita. Florida, which has been more open and less restricted than its west coast counterpart, has recorded just above 1.5 million cases. Yet California, despite being among the strictest in the nation when it comes to COVID lockdowns, has recorded nearly twice that figure since the start of the pandemic. Florida has a smaller population than California, so both states have roughly the same number of cases per 100,000 residents. Deaths in Florida though – at 110 per 100,000 residents – have surpassed those in California, at 81 per 100,000, according to the CDC. The higher numbers, however, reflect Florida’s older population, so that probably comes out close to even as well. However, California’s hospitalization rates have surpassed Florida, at 56 per 100,000 residents, compared with Florida at around 36 per 100,000 residents.

  • Given the nearly identical Covid-19 results, Florida can expect a much less severe economic impact going forward as a result of fewer restrictions on businesses.

New Coronavirus Variant in UK Might be More Deadly, But Vaccine Still Good

The new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK may be more lethal than previous strains, according to the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We’ve been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly… there is some evidence that the new variant… may be more associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said at a news conference on Friday. “Both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant,” he added.

Vaccines Produce More Antibodies than in Covid-19 Recoverees

The level of antibodies that the Pfizer-developed Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produces is higher than what’s found in those who contracted the virus with their bodies producing the antibodies naturally, the Israeli Health Ministry has found. Dr. Roy Singer, Deputy Director of the Department of Epidemiology at the Israeli Ministry of Health, said that he does not know if there is another such virus in which “the vaccine will protect better than infection with the disease itself.”

Concerns Raised that Covid-19 Vaccines Could Cause Miscarriages

Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine include a mRNA sequence that will hijack your body’s production system to create a spike protein. Your body will then fight against what it just created with antibodies that should also recognize and overpower the COVID virus. One of the concerns with this is that this spike protein shares an amino acid sequence with syncytin-1, a rare protein found inside a pregnant woman’s placenta. This has led multiple doctors to voice concerns that the antibody response to this vaccine could train a woman’s body when she conceives to also reject and attack her placenta and cause a miscarriage. Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute, told CNBC that the development and testing of a vaccine can take more than 10 years. The truncated testing done so far leading to ‘emergency authorization’ only determined efficacy (ability to destroy the virus) and immediate side effects. Long-term issues will evolve over years with the U.S. public serving as the Guinea pigs.

California Says One Moderna Vaccine Lot Causing Allergic Reactions

Health officials in California are telling medical providers across the state not to administer doses from one lot of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine while they investigate possible severe allergic reactions last week in a number of people who got shots at a community vaccination clinic. More than 330,000 doses from the lot were distributed to 287 providers across the state from January 5-12. Tens of thousands of doses may have already been administered.

Some Moderna Vaccine Lots Arriving Out of Temperature Range

Gel packs used for maintaining COVID-19 vaccine temperatures during transport are again in question amid potentially ruined lots. As states clamor for more supply, shipments of the Moderna vaccine have arrived at sites at out-of-range temperatures, affecting 4,400 doses in Maine and another 11,900 doses in Michigan earlier this week. Both instances involve the same distributor — McKesson — and Moderna and federal officials are working on a full analysis on implications for viability of the vaccines.

Fire at World’s Biggest Vaccine Maker Kills Five

A fire that broke out at a facility of the world’s biggest vaccine maker that killed five people would not affect vaccine production, the head of the company said Thursday. The blaze at the Serum Institute of India (SII) in the western city of Pune was brought under control on Thursday though the cause is still under investigation. SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, is in partnership with Oxford University and AstraZeneca to produce the Covishield vaccine. In December, the company said it was producing 50 to 60 million doses of Covishield per month, with production to be scaled up to 100 million doses in January or February. A family business started 50 years ago to bring cheaper vaccines to the masses, the SII is aiming to produce hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccines for not only India, but also other developing countries in multiple production buildings that had been kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies.

Scientists: No Way To Control Super-Intelligent AI

Some scientists are now concerned that a day will come with super-intelligent Artificial Intelligence programs will take on an autonomous life of their own. Already there are AI programs that perform learned tasks without the programmers understanding how it arrived at that state. Now, a new study concludes there may be no way to stop the rise of machines. An international team says humans would not be able to prevent super artificial intelligence from doing whatever it wanted to. Scientists from the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute say it appears to be virtually impossible to keep a super-intelligent AI in line.

Processed, Sugary, and Fried Foods Age the Brain Faster

Eating processed, sugary, or fried foods is the number one habit that can lead to premature brain aging and cognitive decline increasing your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, reports a new study published Jan. 7 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers tracked over 5,000 people for 20 years and found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish while eschewing red meat, processed and fried food foods, had brains that were 5.8 years younger than the folks who strayed off the diet track.

Economic News

President Biden will ask the Department of Agriculture on Friday to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals programs for low-income students started in the pandemic, according to Biden officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, Biden officials said.

Another 900,000 filed for jobless claims last week, down slightly from the previous week, but still a historically high level as Biden inherits worst job market of any modern president. Normally, only about 250,000 initial claims are filed weekly. The rise in claims this year also reflects an uptick in filings delayed over the December holidays, as well as the new $300 in supplemental weekly jobless benefits drawing some of those out of work who had given up filing claims.

Prior to 2020, the all-time record for new unemployment claims in a single week was just 695,000, and that old record was set all the way back in 1982. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic has been above 695,000 for 44 weeks in a row. Fed officials estimate that the unemployment rate for low wage workers “is above 20%”.

Approximately 12 million U.S. renters are “at least $5,850 behind in rent and utilities payments”, the Aspen Institute reported. They estimate that up to 40 million people could be facing eviction when the rent and mortgage moratoriums finally end.

STR, Inc, a hotel industry market data firm, reports that the U.S. hotel occupancy rate was 44% for the 2020, down from 66% in 2019. This was the lowest occupancy rate on record. In an earlier report, STR said the industry had one billion unsold room nights for the first time, surpassing the record of 786 million during the recession in 2009.

The number of “seated diners,” (a daily measure which OpenTable uses to track walk-ins and diners with reservations) in the week through January 20 in the U.S. was down on average by 57% from the same period last year.

The housing market had its hottest year in over a decade in 2020 fueled by record-low mortgage rates and historically thin inventory, even as the economy was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales of existing homes were 5.64 million in 2020, the best in 14 years, rising 5.6% from 2019.

Ford has ordered a month-long production halt at one of its plants in Germany, the latest sign that a global shortage of computer chips is putting carmakers under increasing pressure and threatening their recovery from the pandemic. Leading semiconductor manufacturers reassigned capacity from automakers last year after the pandemic slashed car sales, instead shipping chips to companies that produce smartphones, gaming systems and other tech gadgets that remained in high demand.

Trump Departure Jeopardizes Future Arab-Israel Peace Deals, Says Outgoing U.S. Envoy

Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, outgoing U.S. special envoy for economic normalization in the Middle East, voiced optimism about the region while acknowledging that a changing U.S. administration has led to uncertainty about future peace deals in an interview with Kan News on Wednesday. The Trump administration has successfully brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Lightstone said he has been involved in talks with “over a dozen more” countries. When asked whether the lack of a second term for the Trump administration had damaged developing peace negotiations between Arab nations and Israel, Lightstone said, “I don’t want to say ‘damaged,’ but certainly has given pause.”

Israel Gears Up for Clash With Biden Over Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli government officials are gearing up for a possible clash with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden over his promise to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. A senior Israeli security official didn’t mince words, telling Channel 12 News, “If Biden adopts Obama’s plan, we will have nothing to talk about with him.” On the campaign trail, Biden stated he intends to reverse Trump’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal from the deal and re-enter the agreement. Israel isn’t the only regional actor concerned about Biden’s plans. Saudi Arabia recently warned Biden that the kingdom, along with the other Gulf nations, must be consulted if he plans to re-enter the deal. After former President Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018, Iran has repeatedly violated the terms of the deal.

Russia Welcomes President Biden’s Proposal to Extend Nuclear Arms Treaty

The Kremlin on Friday welcomed President Biden’s proposal to extend the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries, which is set to expire in less than two weeks. The White House said Thursday that Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia stands for extending the pact and is waiting to see the details of the US proposal.

Iran, Pressured By Blackouts And Pollution, Blames Bitcoin

Iran’s capital and major cities plunged into darkness in recent weeks as rolling outages left millions without electricity for hours. Traffic lights died. Offices went dark. Online classes stopped. With toxic smog blanketing Tehran skies and the country buckling under the pandemic and other mounting crises, social media has been rife with speculation. Soon, fingers pointed at an unlikely culprit: Bitcoin. Within days, as frustration spread among residents, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Bitcoin processing centers, which require immense amounts of electricity to power their specialized computers and to keep them cool — a burden on Iran’s power grid.

Fourth American Imprisoned By Iranian Regime

Just days prior to the U.S. presidential inauguration ceremonies, a Tehran court sentenced Iranian-American businessman Emad Sharghi without trial to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage and gathering military information. Sharghi’s arrest and imprisonment makes him the fourth U.S. citizen held hostage presently by the regime, joining Siamak and Baquer Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz. The sentence against Sharghi follows an earlier seven-month term in 2018 at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where he faced abusive treatment and was subject to repeated interrogations by Iranian authorities.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Deadly Baghdad Bombings

Twin suicide bombings ripped through a crowded marketplace in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding at least 75 others in the first such attack in Iraq’s capital in more than two years. The explosions shattered a period of relative calm after the Islamic State lost the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria in 2019. The blasts highlight the security challenges facing Iraq after the U.S. withdrew much of its military presence from the country in the last days of the Trump administration. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a communiqué issued on Thursday.

Migrant Caravans Deterred in Guatemala

Guatemalan security forces have cleared a road occupied by hundreds of U.S.-bound migrants who crossed into the country from Honduras last week. Some members of the migrant caravan agreed to take buses back to the Honduran border Monday after several nights stuck at a roadblock on a rural highway in Vado Hondo, about 35 miles north of the Honduras and El Salvador borders. A small number of migrants were forcefully sent back after a scuffle with Guatemalan police and soldiers, while others scattered into the mountains. Another group of about 800 migrants was 25 miles farther north where security forces blocked their advancement.

Earthquakes

A massive search-and-rescue operation is underway in Indonesia after a powerful earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, toppling homes and buildings as people slept. The death toll reached 90 Tuesday and thousands more people have been  displaced. The 6.2-magnitude earthquake caused significant damage to hundreds of homes, a mall, hospital, hotels and government buildings and has been followed by more than 39 aftershocks.

An earthquake initially measured at magnitude 4.5 rattled Northern California last Saturday night. The quake was felt throughout much of the San Francisco Bay Area. The epicenter of the quake was near Aromas, about 30 miles northeast of Monterey. Social media users in San Francisco reported being rattled by the quake, which struck around 8 p.m. local time. No injuries or damage was initially reported.

Volcanoes

Explosions from Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, sent lava rocks flying into the air and left orange streams oozing down the slopes Tuesday night in a spectacular display. Mount Etna sent glowing orange lava flowing towards the Valle del Bove after the sudden activity. Two powerful lava arms emerged from the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, the Ingv of Catania reported.

Wildfires

Several small wildfires that erupted around California’s Santa Cruz Mountains on Tuesday were likely started by wind that fanned embers which have been smoldering underground for months after a huge fire outbreak in the same region last year. A thick layer of soil called “duff,” made up of decaying plant material, covers much of the area. In some cases in the mountains, the duff is  3-4 feet deep and can actually catch fire from smoldering embers beneath the surface.

Firefighters gained the upper hand on several wildfires fueled by powerful winds that toppled trees and knocked out power across parts of California. The Wolf Fire near Bakersfield grew to slightly more than 1 square mile before it was 80% contained Tuesday night. More than 180,000 homes and businesses were without power as of 2:00 a.m. Wednesday PST.

Weather

The drought in the southwestern U.S. intensified over the past few weeks, although welcome moisture has begun falling this week. As of Tuesday, 65% of the western third of the nation was in severe drought or worse (47% in extreme drought).New Mexico has the worst drought with 99.5% of the state in severe to extreme drought. Arizona and Utah are not far behind with 98% in severe or extreme drought. Colorado and Nevada are at 91% with California at 78%.

Powerful winds toppled trees and knocked out power late Monday and early Tuesday across the San Francisco Bay Area and much of central California. The gusts also made it difficult for firefighters to control several small brush and vegetation fires. More than 125,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity as of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday PST. A dust storm tore through Colorado and was so big Monday that it could be seen from space. The dust storm caused several crashes due to high winds and low visibility on Jan. 17, with one fatality reported.

The Sahara sand dunes were blanketed in snow on Sunday for only the fourth time in recorded history. Snow started falling on the Algerian town of Ain Sefra in the early hours of Sunday morning, giving children an opportunity to race each other down the slopes. Rising temperatures melted later in the day.

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