Signs of the Times (3/7/17)

March 7, 2017

New Travel Ban Issued by Trump Administration

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday blocking citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, the most significant hardening of immigration policy in generations, even with changes intended to blunt legal and political opposition, reports the New York Times. The order was revised to circumvent blockage of Trump’s first immigration directive on Jan. 27 by a federal appeals court. The new order continued to impose a 90-day ban on travelers, but it removed Iraq, a redaction requested by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who feared it would hamper coordination to defeat the Islamic State, according to administration officials. It also exempts permanent residents and current visa holders, and drops language offering preferential status to persecuted religious minorities, a provision widely interpreted as favoring other religious groups over Muslims. In addition, it reversed an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, replacing it with a 120-day freeze that requires review and renewal. But the heart of the sweeping executive action is still intact, reflecting Mr. Trump’s “America first” pledge to safeguard against what he has portrayed as a hidden influx of terrorists and criminals until an “extreme vetting” process can be established. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that apart from the six countries listed on Monday’s travel ban, there are “13 or 14” other countries that also have questionable vetting procedures, but acknowledged that he doesn’t expect the list of countries subject to the travel ban will grow.

House Republicans Release ObamaCare Replacement Bill

House Republicans on Monday evening released the text of their long-awaited ObamaCare replacement bill, proposing to eliminate the various taxes and penalties tied to the original legislation while still preserving certain patient protections.   It also would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, replacing them with tax credits for consumers. The system of tax credits is aimed at enticing Americans to purchase insurance on the open market. The bill would continue Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to additional low-earning Americans until 2020. After that, states adding Medicaid recipients would no longer receive the additional federal funds the statute has provided. More significantly, Republicans would overhaul the federal-state Medicaid program, changing its open-ended federal financing to a limit based on enrollment and costs in each state. Asked about some conservatives’ concerns that GOP leaders are merely pushing ‘ObamaCare Lite,’ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, countered, “It is ObamaCare gone.” Republicans want to restore power to the states and control costs in Medicaid and elsewhere. The White House signaled its approval of the plan. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the proposal “would cut and cap Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood, and force Americans, particularly older Americans, to pay more out of pocket for their medical care all so insurance companies can pad their bottom line.”

Supreme Court Sends Transgender Case Back to Lower Court

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a dispute over a Virginia transgender student’s bathroom access back to a lower court, without reaching a decision. The court vacated the current dispute after the Trump administration withdrew support for an Obama administration order supporting transgender students. The case had been scheduled for argument in late March. Instead, the lower court in Virginia must now evaluate the federal law known as Title IX and the extent to which it applies to transgender students. The law bars sex discrimination in schools. The case came from a federal appeals court and was brought by Virginia’s Gloucester County school board, which wanted to prevent a transgender girl from using the boys’ bathrooms. The school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.

  • With Scalia’s seat still empty, the Supreme Court has been avoiding controversial cases until the Court has a full complement once again.

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of CIA Programs & Documents

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released what it said is the full hacking capacity of the CIA in a stunning 8,000-plus page disclosure the anti-secrecy website contends is “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” The 8,761 documents and files — released as “Vault 7 Part 1” and titled “Year Zero” — were obtained from an “isolated, high-security network” at the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va., a press release from the website said. The trove had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors,” one of whom “recently” gave the archive to WikiLeaks. The collection of purported intelligence documents includes information on CIA-developed malware — bearing names such as “Assassin” and “Medusa” — intended to target iPhones, Android phones, smart TVs and Microsoft, Mac and Linux operating systems, among others. An entire unit in the CIA is devoted to inventing programs to hack data from Apple products, according to WikiLeaks. Some of the remote hacking programs can allegedly turn numerous electronic devices into recording and transmitting stations to spy on their targets, with the information then sent back to secret CIA servers. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News.

Trump Calls for Congressional Probe of Wiretapping His Campaign

The White House on Sunday called for congressional investigations into its claims the Obama administration meddled in the 2016 election cycle in an attempt to gather information on then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. “Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” The statement follows an explosive allegation Saturday by Trump that former President Barack Obama ordered phones wiretapped at Trump Tower. The former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration denies there was a secret court order for surveillance at Trump Tower. He also said he hasn’t seen any evidence suggesting President Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to get elected.

Trump Puts Russia Deal on Hold, Citing Recent Provocations

President Trump is reportedly telling advisers he might temporarily shelve a plan to pursue a deal with Russia on how to handle the Islamic State as well as other national security matters. Administration officials and Western diplomats told the Associated Press on Saturday that Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations, including deploying a cruise-missile which violates a Cold War-era arms control treaty. Trump has been pressured by members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and European allies to not give concessions to Russia. In his first meeting with the National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia – as well as China – as a country that wants to upend the current world order, an administration official told AP.

Missile Defense System Stokes U.S. Tensions with Beijing, Moscow

The U.S. decision to send equipment needed to set up a controversial missile defense system in South Korea is likely to add to tensions with Beijing and Moscow, countries that have spoken out in the past about deploying the system. China said Tuesday it would take measures against the U.S. missile system deployed in South Korea, and that the U.S. and Seoul would bear the consequences. Washington and Seoul says the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, is not meant to be a threat to China or Russia. The U.S. military said in a statement that THAAD can intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights. But China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

Trump Makes Proposal to Planned Parenthood

President Trump has offered to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood if the group stops providing abortions. Its president has spurned the proposal and noted that federal money already is not allowed to be used for abortion. Trump confirmed to The New York Times about the ‘informal proposal’. In a statement to the newspaper, Trump says “there is an opportunity for organizations to continue the important work they do in support of women’s health, while not providing abortion services.” White House officials mentioned that there could even be an increase in federal funds if Planned Parenthood stopped work related to abortions. In a response to the report of the proposal, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards says the group “will always stand for women’s ability to make decisions about their health and lives, without interference from politicians.”

Alzheimer’s Could Bankrupt Medicare, Experts Say

Every 66 seconds this year, an American will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association annual report, released Tuesday. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double to one every 33 seconds. That means, says the report, that by the middle of the century, over half of all Americans 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s. Those startling statistics are mirrored worldwide. In 2016, the World Alzheimer’s Report estimated that 47 million people around the globe had dementia — more than the current population of Spain. The global number of people diagnosed is expected to triple by 2050. Nine of 10 people with dementia in low- and middle-income countries and half of those in high-income countries are not diagnosed. “What is driving these numbers is that there is no disease modifying treatment, no prevention and no cure,” said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “And while U.S. deaths from Alzheimer’s have doubled in the last 15 years, deaths from other major diseases have been declining.” The issue is mainly funding, agreed Rudy Tanzi, a Harvard professor of neurology who also heads up MassGeneral’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit. “We are a knowledge-rich yet budget-constrained field. We have many clues about how to stop Alzheimer’s, especially from recent genetic studies, but insufficient funds to explore how.”

Economic News

About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.

February continued the recent downturn in gun sales following Trump replacing Obama as President. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 2,234,817 checks in February, according to FBI documents. That’s a retreat of nearly 400,000 checks from last February. The slowing but still historically high sales levels come on the heels of the highest year in history for gun sales. The FBI processed more than 27.5 million NICS checks in 2016. That’s millions more than the previous record set in 2015.

General Motors has reached a deal to sell its money-losing European operations to the French maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars. The agreement announced early Monday will create a new European automobile giant, bringing the Opel and Vauxhall brands under the control of France’s PSA. GM is also selling its European financial arm to PSA and French bank BNP Paribas. The combined value of the deals is about $2.3 billion. The agreement removes a financial headache for GM — Germany’s Opel and Britain’s Vauxhall have lost $22.4 billion over the past 17 years. It will also make PSA Europe’s second biggest carmaker after Volkswagen.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest country is still crawling through its worst recession in its history. Brazil’s economy shrank 3.6% in 2016. That’s just a slight improvement from 2015, when it contracted 3.8%, but still far from good. It’s the country’s longest recession with eight consecutive quarters of contraction. Unemployment hit 12.6% in January. A year ago, it was 9.5%. By comparison, at the height of the U.S. recession in 2009, unemployment peaked at 10%. Nearly 13 million Brazilians are out of work. An investigation into a massive government bribery ring helped spark the downturn as Brazil prepared to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. These days, Olympic facilities like Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium have become “ghost stadiums” with stolen seats, parched soccer fields and vandalized equipment.

Migrant Update

Migration is the “Trojan wooden horse” of terrorism and the current lull in the migrant flow is only temporary, Hungary’s prime minister said Tuesday. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an early supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, has ordered the reinforcement of fences on Hungary’s southern borders to keep out migrants. Orban says the migrants, many of whom are Muslims. Orban said the migration issue would remain as long as its causes in the countries of origin were not dealt with and its potential risks were not recognized. “The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own — at European standards of living. We are still, at this moment, under siege,” Orban said.

Islamic State

Iraqi troops encountered the “heaviest” clashes yet with Islamic State group fighters Sunday in western Mosul since the start of the new push more than two weeks ago. ISIS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. The militants, he said, are moving from house to house and deploying snipers. ISIS fighters have “some mortar (teams) and snipers positioned inside homes,” said Iraqi special forces Maj. Ali Talib, explaining that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have helped destroy some of the IS defenses, but clashes are still ongoing.

A Pentagon plan for the coming assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria, calls for significant U.S. military participation, including increased Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, and arms supplies to the main Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting force on the ground, reports the Washington Post. This is the military’s favored option among several variations currently under White House review. The proposal would ease a number of restrictions on U.S. activities imposed during the Obama administration. Officials involved in the planning have proposed lifting a cap on the size of the U.S. military contingent in Syria, currently numbering about 500 Special Operations trainers and advisers to the combined Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. While the Americans would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to work closer to the front line and would delegate more decision-making authority down the military line from Washington.

Syria

Ignoring a United Nations report that decried the use in Syria of chemical weapons, targeted air attacks on civilians and forced deportations, Russian and Assad regime air forces are steadily continuing the same illegal tactics while U.N.-sponsored peace talks founder in Geneva, reports Fox News. The regime forces also seem to be refining new forms of their illegal chemical weapons. Syria researchers in London have pointed to the strong possibility that pro-regime forces have put warheads containing chlorine gas on short-range, ground-to-ground rockets as a supplement to poison-filled gas canisters and bombs dropped out of helicopters and other aircraft.

Iran

Continuing a pattern of provocative actions, Iran last weekend test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles and sent fast-attack vessels close to a U.S. Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. officials confirmed to Fox News. One of Iran’s ballistic missile tests were successful, destroying a floating barge approximately 155 miles away, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch said. The launches of the Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles were the first tests of the missile in two years, one official said. It was not immediately clear if this was the first successful test at sea — raising concerns for the U.S. Navy, which operates warships in the area, one of which had an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. boats on Saturday. The IRGC boats approached to within 600 yard of the tracking ship USNS Invincible and then stopped, officials confirmed. The Invincible was accompanied by three ships from the British Royal Navy and all four ships were forced to change course, Reuters reported.

North Korea

North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew 620 miles into the ocean off its eastern coast, South Korean officials said Monday, in an apparent reaction to huge military drills by Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal. It was not immediately clear the exact type of missile fired; Pyongyang has staged a series of missile test-launches of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February. The ramped-up tests come as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for a nuclear and missile program that can deter what he calls U.S. and South Korean hostility toward the North. Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.

American cyberwarriors are trying to sabotage North Korea’s missile program — but analysts argue over whether the effort has had real results, a New York Times investigation found. Soon after ex-President Obama ordered the secret program three years ago, North Korean missiles began exploding, veering off course or crashing into the sea, the newspaper reported Saturday. By most accounts, the North Korean missile failures were possibly caused by US sabotage, the Times says. But it’s also likely many of the missile failures resulted from North Korean incompetence. Obama reportedly ordered the cyber sabotage in early 2014 after deciding that 60 years of U.S. efforts to figure out how to shoot down incoming missiles had not yielded a system that would reliably defend against a missile attack.

Somalia

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Yemen

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee was among those killed in recent U.S. airstrikes on terror targets in Yemen, the Pentagon said Monday. Yasir al-Silmi, who was held at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, was killed in airstrikes on March 2nd. The Pentagon confirmed that al-Silmi was counted among those who had returned to terrorism. As the Obama administration wound down, officials stepped up efforts to shrink the prison population at Guantanamo Bay, though Obama was never able to realize his campaign pledge of closing the U.S. detention facility. While Obama assured the U.S. in December that only “low-level” terrorist operatives had been released from Guantanamo Bay, the emergence of former detainees taking on high-level roles in terror groups has undermined that message. One of them, Ibrahim al Qosi, became the face of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Wildfires

A brush fire in Miami-Dade County, Florida, erupted to 670 acres and emitted smoke and ashes that shut down a roadway Sunday. Crews shut down Southwest Eighth Street between 137th Avenue and Krome Avenue due to the fire Sunday. The Trail Fire began near a canal and a heavily wooded area. The fire reportedly jumped Krome Avenue and threatened structures. Winds were gusting over 30 mph frequently in the Miami area Sunday morning into early afternoon, fanning the blaze. Flammable shrubs and trees known as Melaleuca are fueling the fire.

Weather

Almost five dozen tornadoes and just over 1,000 total reports of severe weather tore through parts of the Midwest, South and East from February 28 through March 1, 2017, in what was the largest severe weather outbreak since the late spring 2011. National Weather Service surveys have confirmed at least 59 tornadoes occurred in 11 states from Kansas and Iowa to Michigan to Tennessee during the outbreak. One EF4 tornado tore a roughly 50-mile path through southeast Missouri and southern Illinois, the first violent (EF4 or stronger) tornado of 2017. Peak winds were estimated by an NWS-Paducah damage survey of 180 mph.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more severe (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

More than a dozen people were injured and dozens of homes damaged Monday night, March 6, after at least two tornadoes reportedly touched down in Missouri. According to the National Weather Service, there were 29 reports of unconfirmed tornadoes in four states: Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. A tornado damaged about 20 homes in Oak Grove, east of Kansas City. A reported 10 to 15 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries. North of Kansas City, in Smithville, 20 to 25 homes were damaged. The Kansas City Star also reports damage to planes and hangars at the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, Kansas. About 40,000 customers in the Kansas City area remained without power early Tuesday, down from more than 100,000 Monday night.

Floods in Zimbabwe have killed 246 people, injured 128 and left nearly 2,000 homeless since December, according to government officials. Those who have survived the floods say they have lost their possessions. Many survivors are now housed at a camp where they are crammed in tents and plastic shelters and survive on charity. For weeks, heavy rains have been pouring in Zimbabwe, especially southern parts of the country, ending a years’ long drought. This southern African country last week appealed to international donors for $100 million to help those affected by the floods, which have washed away bridges and roads and cut off some communities.

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Signs of the Times (3/4/17)

March 4, 2017

Jesus Film Project Announces 1,500th Translation of ‘JESUS’ Film

Jesus Film Project® announced Friday during the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention the completion of its 1,500th language translation of “JESUS,” the most watched film in history according to “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The 1,500th language, Daasanach, belongs to an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan. Since 1979, Jesus Film Project’s resources and strategies have been utilized in 7.5 billion gospel presentations in more than 230 countries, and for many individuals in remote areas around the world, “JESUS” is the first motion picture they have ever viewed. The powerful impact of seeing the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in their heart language has resulted in more than 490 million indicated decisions for Christ following a film showing.

  • And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Islam Growing Faster than Christianity

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the religion of Islam is growing rapidly and there will be more people who identify as Muslim than as Christians by the year 2070. In 2010, there were about 2.17 billion Christians in the world and 1.6 billion Muslims, but the study found that, by 2070, there will be 2.92 billion Muslims and 2.76 billion Christians. In the U.S., Muslims are expected to make up 2.1 percent of the population by 2050. Currently, they make up about one percent. One of the reasons why Islam is growing at such a fast rate is that Muslims have the highest fertility rate (3.1 children per woman) and they also have the youngest average age (34 percent are under 15).

Trump Addresses Congress, Promises Economic Acceleration

President Trump declared Tuesday that a “new chapter of American greatness is now beginning” as he made economic revival the centerpiece of his first address to Congress – issuing a clarion call to “restart the engine of the American economy” through tax cuts, better trade deals, immigration enforcement and a $1 trillion infrastructure program.  He also called on Congress to replace what he called the “imploding ObamaCare disaster” with legislation that lowers costs and expands access, an ambitious goal for GOP lawmakers still trying to come together on a plan. He offered a decidedly upbeat vision for the future of the country that stood in contrast to his at-times foreboding inauguration address. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope,” Trump said, urging lawmakers to “join forces” to deliver.  Declaring “the time for small thinking is over,” Trump appealed to the country to “believe, once more, in America.” President Trump began his first address to Congress Tuesday by acknowledging the apparent recent surge in anti-Semitism and the fatal attack on an Indian immigrant in Kansas, saying the country “stands united in condemning hate and evil.”

AG Sessions Defuses Media Uproar, Recuses Himself from Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself being forced to decide whether to resign or recuse himself after a Washington Post story ignited a media firestorm over his past contacts with the Russian ambassador. He chose to recuse himself from any FBI investigation of Russia and the campaign. The question of whether the attorney general misled Congress is fueling the controversy that utterly dominated the news, especially with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi holding press conferences to say Sessions should step down. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions maintains that his two contacts with Sergey Kislyak, one of them a meeting in his Senate office, had nothing to do with his role as a key Trump surrogate. Sessions recused himself from the probe that is looking the question of whether Moscow was involved in hacking the Democrats. A perjury investigation could be the next hurdle faced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with Democrats and civil liberties groups unimpressed by his decision to recuse himself from any investigations involving the presidential campaigns. Russia’s top diplomat says the uproar over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador is a replay of McCarthyism.

Dems Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton Also Had Russian Contacts

Even as top Democratic lawmakers demanded the attorney general’s resignation over past meetings with Russia’s ambassador, after pictures emerged of the same lawmakers in similar meetings, exposing them to “hypocrisy” charges. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in particular, has egg on her face after she told Politico reporters that she had never met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Not with this ambassador, no,” she said. But Politico unearthed a 2010 photo from a meeting of congressional lawmakers with then-Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, at which both Pelosi and Kislyak were present. Trump tweeted: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” Many of those sounding the loudest alarm bells over Russian influence in U.S. politics were curiously silent when far greater concerns were raised about the Clintons, notes Fox News.  Unlike the revelations so far concerning Russian ties in the Trump camp, the Clinton deals involved hundreds of millions of dollars and enormous favors that benefitted Russian interests. Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a small energy company alongside Russian officials that received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund, a relationship Podesta failed to fully disclose on his federal financial disclosures as required by law, reports ConservativeByte.com

Majority of Voters say ‘Move On’ from Protesting Trump

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets since Donald Trump won the presidential election.  But a majority of voters would tell protesters: “it’s time to move on.”  That’s according to a Fox News Poll of registered voters released Thursday. The poll asks, “What message would you like to send to people who are protesting President Trump and his policies?”  Over half, 53 percent, would tell them “it’s time to move on,” while 44 percent would implore them “don’t give up the fight.” Not surprisingly, these results are highly partisan.  Fully 81 percent of Democrats want the protesters to keep fighting, while even more Republicans (87 percent) say it’s time to move on. women are split on protesting Trump:  49 percent would tell protesters to move on and 48 percent would say “don’t give up.” By a 57-38 percent margin, men say it’s time to move on.

Christian Street Preachers Convicted for Quoting the Bible in U.K.

Two Christian street preachers have been convicted of religiously aggravated harassment after quoting from the King James Bible when asked questions about Islam and homosexuality by hecklers. The prosecution claimed that in the context of modern society this “must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.” After the trial their solicitor, Michael Phillips said: This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act.” A Barnabas Fund staff member who acted as an expert witness for the defense affirmed that what the men said was an orthodox biblical understanding of the Christian faith as it has been historically understood. Both the conviction and the claims made by the CPS prosecutor raise considerable concerns about the UK’s longstanding constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  • This is a harbinger of Christian persecution to come in the U.S. where even speaking Biblical truths will be labeled hate crimes.

European Union Threatens Visa War with U.S.

In what has been called a “visa war,” the European Union’s parliament on Thursday called on the bloc to force American tourists visiting Europe to first obtain visas because the U.S. excludes five EU countries from its no-visa policy. The Wall Street Journal reported that the request is unlikely to change policy, but reflects “hostility among some European politicians to the Trump administration.” U.S. citizens can travel to all EU countries without visas but the U.S. hasn’t granted visa-free travel to citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. The legislature urged the European Commission to act within two months. The Commission has cautioned that suspending the visa waiver for Americans would also hurt trade, tourism and the European economy.

Muslims Unite to Help Fix Vandalized Jewish Cemeteries

Once again, dozens of Jewish headstones have been vandalized, stoking fears of heightened anti-Semitism. And once again, members of the Muslim community are rallying to help. The latest spate of destruction came over the weekend at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, where 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled over. A week earlier, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi, who had started a fund-raising campaign to help clean up the St. Louis cemetery, sprung to action again after the Philadelphia attack. “We must stand together against these acts of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia,” he wrote. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised $138,000 — nearly seven times the original goal of $20,000.

Pro-Life Activists Begin 40 Days for Life Outreach

Roughly two dozen pro-life activists, students and clergy held a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, kicking off an international campaign to hold around-the-clock outreach efforts outside abortion clinics during the season of Lent. In its 11th year, 40 Days for Life estimates that it has saved more than 12,000 lives by peaceably assembling outside abortion clinics and ministering to patients and employees as they come and go. The biannual campaign has teams in 340 locations in 40 different countries this year.

Thousands of Virginia Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

When Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall asked the state’s 133 local governments to provide numbers on noncitizens and jury pools, Loudoun County produced some alarming figures. Between 2009 and 2014, the Washington, D.C., exurb of more than 350,000 residents had disqualified more than 9,000 of them for jury duty because they were not U.S. citizens, reports the Washington Times. Loudoun County jury pools come from two sources — voter registration lists and Department of Motor Vehicle driver’s license applications. The county’s 9,000 juror disqualifications mean that a potentially significant number of noncitizens vote illegally in Virginia.

Colon/Rectal Cancer Rate Rising for those Under 55

Colon and rectal cancer rates are rising sharply for Americans under age 55, according to a study published Wednesday. Someone born in 1990 has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Because routine screening is generally not recommended for most people under 50, these cancers are often found in more advanced stages. The surge of younger diagnoses contrasts with the overall trend of colorectal cancer, which has been dropping for several decades. The data looked at nearly 500,000 cases of colorectal cancer from 1974 to 2013, but the reasons behind the increase was not discovered.

Pension Funds Drying Up

The New York Teamsters Road Carriers Local 707 Pension Fund reportedly has officially run out of money as the federal insurance company has taken over payments to retirees at a reduced rate. As it has with 70 other bankrupt union pensions, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. stepped in. However, under the maximum benefits provided by the PBGC, many former Teamsters said their monthly retirement checks have been slashed by two-thirds.  Sadly, the (PBGC) itself is also running out of cash funds to cover union pensions, its director said Wednesday. PBGC has $2 billion in assets built up over 42 years, Reeder said. Last year, when PBGC was supporting 65 bankrupt plans, it paid out $113 million a month. PBGC is projected to run out of money in eight to 10 years. Many union pension plans are projected to run out in 20 years. The federal agency’s limited liquidity “is part of the spiraling U.S. pension crisis that threatens to wipe out the retirement savings of more than a million Americans,” the New York Daily News reported.

  • Underfunded pension liabilities are an increasing problem nationwide, not just for unions but for many municipalities who are being forced to raise taxes to pay the pensions of retirees who are living longer

Manufacturing Back, Good Jobs Not

Manufacturing output is at an all-time high in the U.S., according to one government statistic (others indicate it’s near a record). While manufacturing has roared back, the jobs — especially $30-an-hour jobs — have not. America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Some blame robots and machines for replacing humans; others say the jobs went to Mexico, China and beyond. Many think trade deals like NAFTA have caused manufacturing jobs to disappear and wages to go down. NAFTA, the deal with Mexico and Canada that allows goods from those countries to come into the U.S. tax free, went into effect in January 1994. U.S. manufacturing actually did well for much of the 1990s. But it’s been a different story since 2000, the tipping point when manufacturing jobs began to disappear rapidly. The Detroit auto industry is booming and unemployment in Michigan has been 5% or less for the past year. It’s the lowest level since 2001. But workers say there’s one big problem: A lot of the jobs around now don’t pay well. There were 103,000 American UAW workers employed by Ford in 1994, the year NAFTA took effect, according to a UAW spokesman. Now there are just 56,000.

Economic News

Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said Friday that the Fed was likely to raise its benchmark interest rate this month, barring any unpleasant economic surprises. Fed officials put investors on notice that a rate increase was coming sooner than had been widely expected.

American banks raked in record profits last year as they continue to rebound from the meltdown of 2008. FDIC statistics published this week show that loan growth was strong and the number of “problem banks” fell to a seven-year low. Banks made $171.3 billion in profits last year, while the percentage of banks suffering losses dipped to 8.1%.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post. The EPA’s annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion, just one of anticipated cuts need to pay for the $54 billion expansion in defense spending in Trump’s budget proposal.

AT&T has agreed to bring 3,000 outsourced jobs home to the U.S. The union that represents AT&T workers, the Communications Workers of America, said Thursday that it’s reached a tentative agreement with AT&T Southwest — a regional landline arm of the company — that includes a commitment to hire American workers to do jobs that were previously done by contractors overseas.

President Trump talked up his plans to help American coal and steel workers in his address to Congress. Meanwhile, China is planning to cut half a million jobs in heavy industries this year. That’s on top of 726,000 jobs that were axed in the coal and steel industries last year. It’s all part of a plan announced a year ago to shed 1.8 million coal and steel jobs over a period of years as China tries to reduce excess capacity in industries dominated by bloated and inefficient state-owned enterprises. The government is spending billions of dollars to help redeploy workers who are affected. In stark contrast, Trump believes America needs more steel and coal jobs.

One of Mexico’s biggest corporations says it’s willing to provide the cement for President Trump’s proposed border wall. Cemex, one of the world’s largest providers of building materials, said Wednesday that it would provide building materials for a border wall — if a client asks for it. If Cemex does get involved, that could test Trump’s promise to “buy American, hire American,” notes CNN Money.

Persecution Watch

According to a new report from US-based NGO Freedom House, persecution of Chinese Christians and other faith groups has “intensified” in recent years. “Combining both violent and nonviolent methods, the (Communist) Party’s policies are designed to curb the rapid growth of religious communities and eliminate certain beliefs and practices,” the report said. Its release comes amid hot speculation over whether the Vatican and Beijing will strike a potentially historic deal on the ordination of Chinese bishops, ending decades of frosty ties. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, Freedom House said, the scale of religious oppression has increased at all levels of society. Religious practice in China is tightly controlled by the government, with the five recognized faiths — Chinese Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism — supervised by official organizations such as the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Buddhist Association of China.

A German man was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines after a deadline to pay his ransom passed. Philippine and German officials confirmed that 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner had been killed after being held for three months by the Islamist militant group. It was the second time Kantner, 70, had been abducted. He was held along with his partner, Sabine Merz, by Somali pirates for nearly two months in 2008. Abu Sayyaf posted a gruesome video of its militants beheading Kantner.

New Orleans’ transgender community is on edge after two transgender women were murdered within 48 hours of each other. Chyna Gibson was gunned down Saturday night, while the second woman was found with multiple stab wounds Monday morning. No arrests have yet been made in the cases. Police Commander Doug Eckert said the two crimes in two days showed an increase in violence against transgender people in the city.

Islamic State

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has admitted defeat in Iraq and ordered militants to either flee or kill themselves in suicide attacks, it has been claimed. The terror mastermind is said to have issued a statement called ‘farewell speech’ which was distributed among ISIS preachers and clerics in parts of Iraq it still controls. According to local media, he urged supporters to run and hide and told ‘non-Arab fighters’ to either return home or blow themselves up with the promise of ’72 women in heaven’.

Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jaudat said the militants were increasingly cut off from each other and that their leaders were fleeing the remaining pockets of militant control. Iraqi forces retook the eastern part of Mosul from ISIS a month ago, completing a key phase in the effort to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from the terror group. Jaudat said government artillery was targeting remaining “terrorist dens” in the western half of the city. Islamic State terrorists desperate to save their lives have tried blending in with the growing crowds of innocent men, women and children escaping Mosul.

Some of America’s most critical allies in the fight against ISIS have made a deal to cede territory to Russian and Syrian government troops in northern Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Friday. The Manbij Military Council, a key US ally in Syria, has permitted Russian and Syrian regime forces to take over villages near the town of Manbij. As a result, U.S. military advisers could soon find themselves in close proximity to Syrian and Russian troops. The advisers are currently training local forces in Manbij to combat ISIS in the vicinity, part of the approximate 500-strong contingent of American Special Operations Forces in Syria.

Yemen

For the second consecutive night Friday, US drones and jets continued striking Al Qaeda militants in Yemen, in a sign the Trump administration is ramping up operations as part of a broader campaign against the terrorist group long considered the biggest threat to the United States. The U.S. military conducted over 30 airstrikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula across three provinces in Yemen. According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, the U.S. military has averaged 30 airstrikes a year since 2012. In only two nights this week, the U.S. military has already the five-year average. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in Yemen numbers slightly more than 3,000 fighters, according to official estimates. U.S. officials say AQAP represents a greater threat to the US homeland than ISIS, because of its history pursuing “non-metallic” bombs which can slip through airport screening.

Pakistan

A Taliban official says a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan the previous day killed a top commander of the militant Haqqani network — the man who in 2014 accompanied U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when he was handed over to U.S. authorities. The Taliban official identified the man as Qari Abdullah, saying he died in the “area of Khost.” Pakistani intelligence officials had earlier said a suspected U.S. strike hit in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan’s Khost, a Haqqani stronghold, killing two militants.

Jordan

Jordan on Saturday executed 15 men convicted in a series of bombings and shooting attacks since 2003 that killed a British tourist, an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism and members of the Jordanian security forces, the government spokesman said. It was the largest round of executions in recent memory, and the first since pro-Western Jordan launched a crackdown on Islamic extremists two years ago, after the killing of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot by the Islamic State group. Jordan is a part of a U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, which holds territory in Syria and Iraq.

Afghanistan

A gun fight reportedly broke out between Afghan security forces and several gunmen in Kabul on Wednesday after an explosion rang out on the western side of the city. The fire fight was near a district police headquarters located near a military training school. At least one person was killed and 35 wounded, The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted three sites in Kabul, according to Al Jazeera.

Earthquakes

Oklahoma and southern Kansas’s earthquake risk is now equal to that of California, with 3 million people at risk from man-induced tremblors, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey forecast released Wednesday. The agency noted that the increase in earthquakes in the region is thought to be the result of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and the disposal of wastewater deep underground, a byproduct of the oil extraction process. “Injected fluids cause pressure changes that can weaken a fault and therefore bring it closer to failure,” the report notes. Before 2000, there were only about two earthquakes per year of magnitude-2.7 or greater, but that number has jumped to 2,500 in 2014 and 4,000 a year later. The largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma occurred last year near Pawnee, measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale. In November, a 5.0-magnitude temblor shook the town of Cushing, known as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.”

Environment

The rural West has seen more-persistent smog over the last 20 to 25 years, despite laws limiting the emission of smog-forming chemicals from cars, airplanes and factories. A study published March 1 in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics determined that the culprits are an intrusion of pollution from Asia in the western U.S. and more-frequent heat waves in the eastern U.S. Asian countries – China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and India – have collectively tripled their nitrogen-oxide emissions since 1990, and this is traveling across the Pacific Ocean in the spring, when winds are generally out of a westerly direction, and settling into western U.S. Smog, or ground-level ozone, is harmful to human health and can increase the risk of asthma attacks or cause difficulty breathing. Sensitive trees and crops can also be harmed from too much exposure to ozone. Smog-forming chemicals, such as nitrogen oxides, have been cut in half in the U.S. over the past quarter century. This has led to an overall decrease in ozone in the East – though it typically increases during heat waves, which have become more frequent in the past few decades – but ozone levels have actually climbed in the rural West.

Weather

Winter pushed its way back into Northeast Friday, with much colder temperatures that will linger through the weekend. Light snow is possible in a few areas. After a break, another Pacific storm will pile another foot or more of snow in California’s Sierra Nevada and northern Rockies this weekend, adding to what’s been a near-record snowpack for late winter.

Several record highs were tied or broken last week across the country, including Springfield, Missouri (77 degrees), Shreveport, Louisiana (85 degrees), Tyler, Texas (68 degrees), Jacksonville (87 degrees), Tampa (86 degrees), Scranton, Pennsylvania (64 degrees), and Binghamton, New York (58 degrees).

At least four people have died from a severe weather outbreak Tuesday and Wednesday in the Midwest, from Missouri and Illinois to Michigan and Tennessee. Some 30 confirmed tornadoes at least EF3 in strength, have been reported across four states, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of homes were destroyed. Near Perryville, Missouri, at least a dozen vehicles, including a semi-truck, were blown off Interstate 55 after a tornado was spotted in the area. Buildings and structures in the area were also damaged by winds. A large and dangerous confirmed tornado killed one person in Ottawa, Illinois. In Ottawa, a town of about 19,000 located 80 miles southwest of Chicago, At least 14 people were transported to a local hospital with injuries Minor injuries were also reported at an Ottawa nursing home. In Naplate, Illinois, about one-quarter of all structures in the town of 500 residents were damaged from winds up to 155 mph.

An unusually damp Arizona winter has triggered a temporary salad mix shortage in the nation’s groceries. According to Bloomberg, bags of baby spinach and spring mix largely originate from Yuma County in the winter months. But things are a little different this year. The shortage, which will hit stores in about three weeks, is being blamed on mildew that came from wet weather. As a result, growers were forced to pull vegetables from fields, ending the harvest earlier than usual.

Signs of the Times (2/28/17)

February 28, 2017

Confidence in Military High, Media Low

More voters have faith in the U.S. military than in other national institutions, according to the latest Fox News Poll released Monday. The news media rank at the bottom of the list asked about in the poll. Virtually all voters believe in the military: 96 percent have either a great deal (67 percent) or some (29 percent) confidence in our armed forces. The military is followed by the Supreme Court (83% confidence), the FBI (80%), and the IRS (55%). Confidence in the Supreme Court is up 14 percentage points since 2014, the last time the question was asked on a Fox News Poll. Narrow majorities have confidence in the presidency (53 percent) and Congress (53 percent).  Yet four times as many have a “great deal” of faith in the presidency (33 percent) as in Congress (8 percent). While overall faith in the institution of the presidency is up just one point in the last three years, the number having a “great deal” of confidence is up 10 points to 33 percent.  Some 44 percent have faith in the media.  While that’s mostly unchanged since 2014, it’s a significant 19-point drop since 2002.

Majority Believe Trump Is Keeping Campaign Promises, Media Too Hard on Him

Fifty-six percent of voters believe President Donald Trump is delivering on his campaign promises, while 27 percent disagree, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals. The poll also found that 50 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 45 percent disapprove. And, 69 percent say Trump has accomplished at least what they expected or more, compared to 20 percent who say he has accomplished less. “An overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters, and even many of his critics, see a president who is delivering on his promises,” said Kyle Drop, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer.

A majority of Americans believe the “media has been too critical” in their coverage of President Donald Trump, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published Sunday. The poll revealed that 51 percent: say the media has been too critical, while 41 percent say the media have been mostly fair and objective. Another 6 percent say the uedia has not been critical enough, while 2 percent were not sure.

Deportation Agency Ignored 1.6M Visa Overstays under Obama

The government flagged more than 1.6 million foreign visitors for overstaying their visas from 2013 to 2015, but deportation agents said they fell too low on President Obama’s list of priorities to bother targeting for removal, according to a watchdog report released Monday. Some estimates say more than 40 percent of illegal immigrants each year arrived legally but overstayed, reports the Washington Times. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the deportation agency, concluded that it would cost too much to pursue the overstays, the Government Accountability Office said. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch instead chose to focus on illegal immigrants who jumped the border and who amassed serious criminal records — the priorities Mr. Obama laid out. Overstays pose an increasingly prominent problem in illegal immigration, with estimates saying that as the border has become more secure, migrants are attempting to enter by getting legal passes and refusing to leave when their time is up.

Trump Administration Releases First Details of Budget

The White House on Monday announced the first details of the president’s spending plan, highlighting a $54 billion, 10% increase in defense spending and equal cuts to domestic programs, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and foreign aid. “We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday morning. But Trump’s reluctance to embrace cuts to entitlement programs could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health. Republicans have long advocated significantly changing the programs to address the nation’s debt, which is now nearly $20 trillion. White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted Monday that the president intends to keep his campaign promise to preserve the programs.

Trump Concedes Health Law Overhaul Is ‘Unbelievably Complex’

President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. The president also suggested that the struggle to replace the Affordable Care Act was creating a legislative logjam that could delay other parts of his political agenda. Governors of both parties added still more confusion on Monday when they called for any replacement to cover all the people already benefiting from the landmark law. Because of the intricate procedures that govern budget legislation and the inherent complexity of health care, Republicans appear unlikely to undo the health law as quickly as they had hoped. Trump said Congress must tackle the Affordable Care Act before it can overhaul the tax code, also a high priority for Republicans, reports the New York Times.

Trump Rejects DHS Intelligence Report on Travel Ban

Officials in President Trump’s administration Friday downplayed an intelligence report by the Homeland Security Department that contradicts the White House’s main argument for implementing a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries. The report, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, determined that the “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The intelligence report found that in the past six years, foreign-born individuals who were “inspired” to strike in the U.S. came from 26 different countries. The Trump administration has taken the position that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries should be blocked from the U.S. due to their terror risk. Trump used terrorism a primary justification when he announced the now court-blocked travel ban in late January. The White House called the report politically motivated and that it overlooked some information that supported the ban.

RFP’s Go Out for Trump’s Border Wall

President Trump’s administration on Friday made its first tangible step towards developing and implementing one of the president’s chief campaign promises: to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. The administration issued a preliminary request for proposals (RFPs) to contractors. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April. The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20. Finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

Feds Rescind Opposition to Key Part of Texas Voter ID Law

The Trump administration plans to abandon the federal government’s longstanding opposition to a key portion of Texas’ toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Monday. It’s a dramatic break from the agency under President Barack Obama, which spent years arguing that the 2011 voter ID law that Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature passed was intended to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. The law requires voters to show one of seven forms of state-approved photo identification — gun permits are acceptable but college IDs are not. Voting rights activists sued, and the case returns to court Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. A federal appeals court last year ruled on effect, deciding that the Texas law discriminated against minorities and the poor and ordering changes ahead of the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined a Texas appeal that sought to restore the law, but Chief Justice John Roberts left the door open for another appeal at a later time.

  • We need a driver’s license to operate an automobile, so having to show ID (only 1 of 7 different kinds) is the least we can do to reduce voter fraud

Democrats Verify Voter-IDs Before Electing Party Chairman

Democrats fight voter ID laws and say there’s no such thing as voter fraud. But, the American Mirror reported, Democrats not only required voter ID to participate in the election of their new chairman, they verified those IDs in order to prevent voter fraud. According to the American Mirror, the Democratic National Committee was planning to use electronic “clickers” to cast ballots for its next leader, but that plan was scrapped moments before the vote was scheduled to begin. “Pursuant to the rules of procedure, the chair has the discretion as to the voting mechanism,” chairwoman Donna Brazile said. “And it’s my determination, based on the system that we tested this morning, that I would like to use paper ballots. And I’ll tell you why. We have to make sure that we can not just count the ballots but verify every name and signature,” Brazile said.

Mandatory Use of E-Verify has had Mixed Results

One of the ways President Trump wants to crack down on undocumented immigrants is to require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify to check that their workers are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Employers who currently use E-Verify submit their employee’s personal information online, where it’s then checked against databases at the Social Security Administration and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This allows them to determine whether they are a naturalized citizen or if they might be using a fake or stolen Social Security number. E-verify is a software program created and managed by the Department of Homeland Security. Arizona was the first state to mandate that all employers use E-Verify beginning in 2008. Several other states have started requiring the use of the verification system in some manner since then, including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Arizona’s lawmakers hoped that E-Verify would reduce the number of undocumented workers and open up job opportunities for residents legally authorized to work in the state. But, according to one study from researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, that wasn’t exactly the case. Between 2007 and 2009, the study found that the state’s undocumented population declined by about 92,000 people, or about 17%, as workers left the state to look for jobs. Many of the workers who remained, however, were pushed into so-called “informal employment,” working as day laborers or independent contractors. The self-employment rate for unauthorized, less-skilled men doubled from 8% to 16% between 2007 and 2009. For employers, it was easier to hire these independent workers because Arizona does not mandate the use of E-Verify for contractors and in many cases, they were paid under the table.

  • E-Verify has its flaws, but it is far better than doing nothing. It needs to be tightened up to include independent contractors, even though some employers will opt to circumvent the process with cash payments.

Transgender Wrestler Wins Texas Girls Title

In a 12-2 victory against Chelsea Sanchez in the 110-pound classification, Mack Beggs ended a highly controversial and dramatic weekend by becoming the first transgender participant to win a Class 6A girls’ state championship in Texas high school wrestling. “I just witnessed my sport change,” a longtime Texas wrestling coach said moments after Beggs, a 17-year-old junior at Trinity High in Euless, won the championship. Beggs’ transition from girl to boy began two years ago, and now includes testosterone injections. Beggs was quicker and noticeably stronger, and entered the tournament unbeaten in 52 matches against girls. The University Interscholastic League, which oversees sports in Texas public schools, ordered Beggs to continue competing in the girls’ division despite heavy uproar and a lawsuit earlier this month in a Travis County district court.

Economic News

The red-hot Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at an all-time high yet again on Monday, its 12th consecutive record day. That’s only happened two other times in the 120-year history of the Dow. There has never been a 13-day streak of records, though that could change on Tuesday. So why is the stock market on fire? Clearly, investors remain extremely optimistic about President Trump’s promises to grow the American economy faster. The Dow has skyrocketed an incredible 2,400 points since Trump’s victory. Others warn that the market is oversold and a crash is imminent.

U.S. home prices rose in December from a year earlier at the fastest pace in 11 months, as prospective buyers bid against each other for a limited supply of available property. The Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, increased 5.6 percent, the most since January 2016. The price gain reflects the healthy pace of home sales, which increased in January to the fastest level in a decade. Steady job gains and growing consumer confidence have encouraged more people to take the plunge and look for a home. Still, mortgage rates have risen since last fall, and with prices also increasing, homes are becoming less affordable. A measure of pending home sales declined in January, a sign that final sales may soon fall as well.

In a very serious misconception, almost half of college students recently polled believe they won’t be saddled with student loans soon after graduation. According to a survey of 500 current college students conducted by LendEDU, 49.8 percent believe they would be able to receive federal forgiveness on their student loans after graduation. This belief displays a lack of knowledge about the limited circumstances in which these loans can actually be forgiven. The U.S. Department of Education says that federal direct student loan borrowers can get off the hook if they enter public service jobs for a specified period of time, agree to teach in an underserved area, die or become permanently disabled, or if the school they attended shuts down while they are enrolled.

Persecution Watch

Egyptian Christians are fleeing the restive Sinai Peninsula, some with just the clothes on their backs, amid a series of killings and an explicit call by Islamic State for its followers to target the minority group. The internal displacement has reached a scale rarely seen in Egypt outside natural disasters. Some 118 Coptic Christian families have fled the northern town of Al Arish—a hotbed of Islamic State activity in Egypt—since Thursday after a Coptic man was shot and killed in front of his family. Seven Copts have been killed in north Sinai in the past month. The exodus comes in the wake of an Islamic State video, released last week, instructing followers to target Coptic Christians. It featured a tribute to the militant they claim carried out a December suicide bombing at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral that killed more than 25 worshipers, one of the biggest attacks ever on Egypt’s Christians.

After the Sterling Heights City Council agreed to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department and allow a third mosque to be built in the city, this time right in the midst of a neighborhood populated by Christian refugees who escaped persecution from Islam, some residents said they planned to move out of the city. Sterling Heights, Michigan, is home to the nation’s second largest community of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, many of them coming directly from Iraq where their families were the victims of a genocide by ISIS, al-Qaida and other Islamic militants over the past 50 years.

Between 75 and 100 tombstones were overturned and damaged Saturday night at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, police said Sunday. The vandalism was especially worrisome because it comes less than a week after a similar incident at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis where more than 100 headstones were toppled. Bomb threats have also recently plagued many Jewish groups and community centers. From the start of the year through Monday, 69 bomb threats have been made to 54 Jewish centers in the United States and Canada.

A small fire that damaged a mosque in suburban Tampa, Florida, has been ruled arson, Hillsborough County fire investigators said Friday. The fire was reported about 2 a.m. Friday at the Islamic Society of New Tampa. Authorities have not decided if the fire was a hate crime, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference: “This is no different than the wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish community centers and synagogue and bomb threats that have been called in all across the country, including in Tampa over the recent months.” Forty-Eight Jewish community centers in 26 US states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January. Diaz Clevenger said mosque members appreciate the outpouring of support from the community.

Israel

Israel’s Air Force (IAF) bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday in response to a rocket attack by Gaza-based terrorists on Israel earlier in the day. The IAF targeted five Hamas positions throughout the Gaza. The strikes were a response to a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists early Monday morning, which exploded in an open space, causing no casualties or damage. Israel said that the continued unrest on the southern border compels Israel to respond, and while Israel does not seek escalation, it will react to any rocket fire on its territory. Israel has recently adopted a policy of responding to each and every rocket attack from Gaza, holding the Hamas Islamic terror group, which rules Gaza, responsible for all attacks emanating from its territory.

Islamic State

Iraqi militarized police captured the Tayaran neighborhood in western Mosul on Sunday morning amid clashes with Islamic State militants. At least 10 suicide car bombs were deployed by ISIS militants. Nine of the car bombs were blown up before reaching their targets. The tenth killed two policemen and wounded five. Further west, Iraqi special forces captured the Mamun neighborhood by early Sunday afternoon. Up to 3,000 people fled from the Mamun neighborhood Sunday morning, and just over 2,500 people fled the previous day. More than 50 civilians have been killed or injured by landmines since Friday night as they fled a village about 9 miles west of Mosul.

Syria

Twin attacks on two Syrian security offices in the central city of Homs Saturday killed at least 32 people, including a senior security official who heads the feared Military Intelligence services, state media and officials reported. An Al Qaeda-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee claimed responsibility for the attacks, which also left another high-ranking officer seriously wounded. In a statement on their Telegram channel, the group said five attackers stormed the two different security offices. The group said bombs were also detonated at checkpoints outside the buildings just as rescuers were arriving, leading to more casualties. The attackers were wearing suicide belts, which they detonated in the security offices.

North Korea

Informal talks scheduled for next week between a North Korean delegation and a team of U.S. officials were canceled Friday after the Trump administration withdrew its initial approval of the North Koreans’ visas. The back-channel talks were to be held in New York between the U.S. experts and a six-member team of North Koreans led by Choe Son-hui, the director of the American affairs bureau of the country’s foreign ministry. The last-minute withdrawal of the approval of the visas came hours after the Malaysian government announced that VX nerve agent was used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, the estranged brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on February 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as he waited to board a flight to Macau. The extremely toxic chemical is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. South Korea has accused Pyongyang of ordering the killing, and the Malaysian government has implicated four North Koreans in Kim’s death.

Wildfires

About five out of every six wildfires battled in the continental U.S. during the past two decades were started by humans, new research shows, either by accident or by an arsonist. The rest were ignited naturally by lightning strikes. A campfire lit near a waterfall grew into the fatal Soberanes Fire, destroying 57 Californian homes last summer. Two teens were accused of starting the Gatlinburg fire in the fall, which killed 14 in eastern Tennessee. Canadian investigators blamed human firestarters for the wildfire that forced the evacuation of 90,000 from Fort McMurray. The federal government alone spent about $2 billion fighting wildfires in 2016 — slightly less than the record-breaking level in 2015. In the 1990s, the federal government rarely spent more than $500 million a year on firefighting.

Weather

February continues to defy the calendar, with over 4,400 record highs stretching from the northern US border to the south since February 1. In that same timeframe, only 29 record lows have been recorded. The trees are responding accordingly and are producing leaves as far north as The District of Columbia. According to the USA National Phenology Network, spring is arriving a full three weeks early. With spring-like weather comes spring-like storms, and Friday brought severe weather across the Great Lakes. With spring-like weather comes spring-like storms, and Friday will bring severe weather across the Great Lakes, but they are now. February would normally feature a snowy landscape and the Great Lakes covered with abundant ice. But not this year. As of Wednesday, 0% of the Midwest had snow cover, and only 7% of the Great Lakes featured ice (normal for the date would be about 40%).A large swath of the U.S., stretching from Arizona into the Great Lakes and most of New England will likely experience above-average temperatures in March. Areas from Texas into South Carolina and as far north as southern Missouri and western Kentucky will likely see temperatures well-above average. Chicago will go through an entire January and February without so much as an inch of snow on the ground for the first time in recorded history (since the 1880s)

At least four tornadoes, one a February first on record in Massachusetts, tore through parts of the Northeast on February 25. An EF1 tornado struck near Conway, Massachusetts, about 85 miles west-northwest of downtown Boston. Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 110 mph, which created a small, but concentrated area of structural damage to homes in this area. One injury occurred when a tree landed on a house. An EF2 tornado damaged about 30 homes in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. This tornado had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and was on the ground for 12.8 miles. Over a thousand trees were knocked down along its path. In southern Pennsylvania, an EF1 tornado tore a four-mile path in York County. Straight-line winds estimated to 95 mph collapsed farm buildings in Lancaster County.

The cost to repair California’s storm and flood-damaged roads, dams and other critical infrastructure could top $1 billion, finance director, Michael Cohen, said Friday. This comes on top of a $6 billion backlog of repairs for roads, highways and bridges that leaders can’t agree on a way to fund. The tally includes $595 million to clean up mudslides and repair state highways and as much as $200 million to repair the Oroville Dam spillway, where nearly 200,000 were evacuated last week amidst fears of dam failure.   There are many local communities that have already drained their emergency budgets and are seeking millions in aid from state and federal governments. Some of the areas with the costliest damage include a section of mountain highway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe that buckled, with repairs estimated to cost $6.5 million. In Big Sur, a bridge on Highway 1 has crumbled beyond repair and will be closed for up to a year for repairs. Until it is rebuilt, visitors will have to drive up to view the rugged coastline, then turn back.

Signs of the Times (2/24/17)

February 24, 2017

European Welfare Benefits Help Fund ISIS Fighters

Governments across Europe have accidentally paid taxpayer-funded welfare benefits such as unemployment funds, disability pensions and housing allowances to Islamic State militants who have used the money to wage war in Iraq and Syria, authorities and terrorism experts say. Danish officials said this week that 29 citizens were given $100,000 in public pension benefits because they were considered too ill or disabled to work, and they then fled to Syria to fight for the radical group. It took eight months before welfare authorities cut off benefits paid to a Swedish national who had joined the terror group in its Syrian stronghold Raqqa. Authorities concluded that several of the plotters in the Brussels and Paris terror attacks that killed 162 people in 2015 and 2016 were partly financed by Belgium’s social welfare system while they planned their atrocities. The French government has cut the social-welfare benefits of several hundred French citizens who have left the country to join jihadist groups.

Islam OK, Christianity Illegal in NJ Public Schools

‘Selective allowable discrimination’ is defined as the practice of allowing discrimination of a selective group while banning discrimination of opposite groups. For the past fifty years, any semblance of Christianity is discriminated against if it involves any government person or agency. Courts have said that you can’t have schools involved in reading the Bible or praying because someone was or could be offended. Yet in many of the same schools that actively ban all references to the Bible and Christianity are now reading and teaching the Quran, reciting the Islamic call to prayer, have students reciting that Allah is God, and allowing Muslim students to roll out their prayer rugs and pray to Mecca during school hours. No concern is given to the fact that many non-Muslims are offended. A recent example of ‘selective allowable discrimination’ was seen in the public schools of New Jersey. The issue was the teaching of Islam as part of the normal classroom curriculum while at the same time, the teaching of Christianity is illegal. Parents of students at Chatham Middle School are calling on the board of education to eliminate lessons on Islam from the 7th grade social studies curriculum they believe proselytizes the religion. “Where are the atheists who file lawsuits against everything that hints of Christianity in public schools?” asks Constitution.com.

  • Islam teaches severe repression of women and abhors homosexuals, and yet Christianity is singled out as the ‘hate’ religion even though Jesus’ primary mandate is love for everyone.

Trump Withdraws Federal Protections for Transgender Students

The Trump administration on Wednesday night withdrew Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity, not their biological sex. The announcement is a significant victory for opponents of the Obama administration’s guidelines who believe the federal government never should have gotten involved in the issue. Civil rights groups, meanwhile, denounced the withdrawal as a politically motivated attack that will endanger transgender children and sow confusion over the federal government’s role in enforcing civil rights. Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The letter to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding was issued jointly by the departments of Education and Justice. The letter did not take a position on the underlying question of whether Title IX protects gender identity. The departments withdrew the guidance “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved.”

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Cutoff of Medicaid for Planned Parenthood

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Texas can’t cut off Medicaid dollars to Planned Parenthood over secretly recorded videos taken by anti-abortion activists in 2015 that launched Republican efforts across the U.S. to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider. Texas is now at least the sixth state where federal courts have kept Planned Parenthood eligible for Medicaid reimbursements for non-abortion services, although a bigger question remains over whether President Donald Trump will federally defund the organization. Sparks’ decision preserves what Planned Parenthood says are cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services for nearly 11,000 low-income women at 30 clinics. Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have also had similar efforts blocked.

Canada Sees Spike in Border Crossers Coming from U.S.

Thousands are leaving the United States for Canada and immigration advocates say the political rhetoric of the Trump administration is playing a role. Many cross illegally, braving snow and frigid cold in a dash for asylum. They avoid border checkpoints and the risk of being sent back to the U.S. due to a pact dubbed the “Safe Third Country Agreement.” It requires the majority of migrants to apply for refugee protection in the first country of arrival. Canadian authorities say the migrants come from all over the world and cover a broad-spectrum, including families with children, some pushing baby carriages or carrying infants. According to the Canada Border Services Agency, more than 1,400 people have made claims at land border ports of entry in the region since November. That’s already more than all of 2015.

Trump Accuses FBI of Leaking Info

President Trump, after a brief hiatus, returned to throwing Twitter bombs Friday morning to accuse his own FBI of failing to crack down on leaks – on the heels of reports about a conversation his chief of staff had with the bureau about Russia-related allegations. Reports surfaced overnight that Reince Priebus had asked a top FBI official to dispute media reports that Trump’s campaign advisers frequently were in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election. The White House pushed back, claiming in response that while Priebus did speak with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, McCabe initiated the contact to inform Priebus that The New York Times report about campaign contacts with Russia was incorrect. Trump, who has been battling leaks in several federal agencies since his inauguration, on Friday blasted the bureau for apparently letting that conversation go public.

Trump’s Poll Numbers Dropping

In a national survey released Wednesday, Quinnipiac University found that 38% of American voters approve of Trump’s job performance, while 55% disapprove. A poll released earlier this month by Quinnipiac taken shortly after Trump’s inauguration found that 42% of American voters approved of his job performance, while 51% disapproved. Thirty-eight percent of American voters said they trust Trump to do the right thing “almost all of the time” or “most of the time,” while 61% said they trust him to do what is right “some of the time” or “hardly ever.” Inversely, 58% of voters reported they trust US courts to do the right thing “almost all of the time” or “most of the time,” while 40% said they trust the courts to do what is right “some of the time” or “hardly ever.” Fifty-nine percent of American voters approved of court actions blocking Trump’s travel ban, a revision of which is expected soon.

Support for ObamaCare at All-Time High

Support for Obamacare is at an all-time high in a new survey released Thursday, as Republican leaders continue to press the case for repeal amid fierce resistance at town halls from the public. A survey from the Pew Research Center found 54% of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act — the highest level ever recorded by Pew — while 43% disapprove. That’s up from an even split (48%-47%) in a Pew survey from December, suggesting support for the law may be galvanized by the ongoing public fight over its future. Predictably, Republicans are most likely to say they disapprove (89%) while Democrats are most likely to express approval (85%). But slightly more independents say they approve (53%) than disapprove (45%) — up about 10 points from December. The survey results also found that even among those who disapprove of the law, 25% want GOP leaders to “make modifications” while just 17% want to “get rid of the law entirely.”

Obama Created ‘Widespread’ Security Violations, Inspector General Says

One of former President Barack Obama’s pet projects — to drag federal bureaucracy into the digital age — morphed into a rogue operation that disregarded information security policies, used unauthorized software and information systems on government networks, and exposed sensitive information to potential hackers, according to a watchdog report. Many of the most egregious security violations took place long after the Obama administration’s 2014 admission of one of the worst cyber-security losses in history: the theft by China-based intruders of 4.2 million personnel files from its Office of Personnel Management — a revelation that set off a wide-ranging review of all federal cybersecurity. In all, the watchdogs found, 100 of 116 software items were unauthorized, ranging from collaborative note-taking and data-sharing tools, to website monitoring tools and social media marketing dashboards. All were banned from GSA use by June 2016. A collaboration app, Slack, had “potentially exposed sensitive information” over a five-month period ending in May.

Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Site Cleared

The main Standing Rock protest camp near the Dakota Access Pipeline was cleared Thursday, a day after a deadline to leave the area expired, authorities said. Early Thursday, officials entered the closed Oceti Sakowin camp after the arrest of 10 people following Wednesday’s deadline. At least 23 people holding out in the camp were arrested Thursday morning after they refused to leave. Another 23 people were arrested as the cleanup of the site progressed. “The past two days have gone very smoothly in a challenging environment and complex effort to clear the camp,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a news release. On Wednesday, Burgum had said the remaining protesters at the camp, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, would be allowed to leave without being arrested so contractors can continue cleaning up the protest site near the controversial 1,172-mile long pipeline.

Global Life Expectancy to Soar, Except in U.S.

Average life expectancy will increase globally by 2030, both at birth and at the age of 65, according to a new study. The two-time points help define when lifespans in a population are extending due to improvements in maternal and child health as well as improved adult health. In 2015, global average life expectancy at birth was 71.4 years, according to the World Health Organization. The average for women at birth will exceed 85 years in many countries by 2030, and South Korea is projected to lead the way with a woman’s life expectancy of 90.8 years. Life expectancy among men born in South Korea in 2030 is predicted to be 84.1 years. In Europe, French women and Swiss women are predicted to have the highest life expectancy, with averages of 88.6 and 84 years respectively. The lowest life expectancy at birth is likely to be in the US, with an average of 83.3 years for women and 79.5 years for men — similar to Mexico and Croatia.

For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the United States has dropped significantly for the entire population, not just certain groups. On average, Americans can now expect to live 78.8 years, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Thursday. The infant mortality rate — the ratio of infant deaths to live births in a given year — is generally regarded as a good indicator of the overall health of a population,” according to the report. The IMR changed from 582.1 infant deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014 to 589.5 in 2015. The biggest takeaway: Heart disease and cancer are still far and away the top killers of both men and women. “The good news is that there are three things you can do to drastically reduce your risk of developing both: eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.”

  • The ‘land of plenty’ needs to learn that too much of a good thing is not good for one’s health

$1B in Social Security Benefits to Those Without a SSN

The Social Security Administration paid $1 billion in benefits to individuals who did not have a Social Security Number (SSN), according to a new audit. The agency’s inspector general found errors in the government’s documentation for representative payees, otherwise known as individuals who receive retirement or disability payments on behalf of another person who is incapable of managing the benefits themselves. The audit released Friday found thousands of cases where there was no SSN on file. Over the last decade, the agency paid $1 billion to 22,426 representative payees who “did not have an SSN. “Furthermore, unless it takes corrective action, we estimate SSA will pay about $182.5 million in benefits, annually, to representative payees who do not have an SSN or paper application supporting their selection,” the inspector general said.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished with a more than 30-point gain Thursday and hit its tenth record closing high in a row. Hopes for tax cuts and a rollback on regulations from President Trump and the Republican-led Congress are helping to fuel the rally, notes CNNMoney. Investors are also excited about the potential for a big federal infrastructure spending plan that could put people to work building new roads and bridges.

America’s three biggest banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — earned more than $6.4 billion last year from ATM and overdraft fees, according to an analysis by CNNMoney. That works out to over $25 in fees annually for every adult American. Despite public outcry, banks show no sign of scaling back on fees. The big three banks collected nearly $300 million more in ATM and overdraft fees in 2016 than they did in 2015. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other watchdog groups have tried to warn people: Beware of bank fees. “These fees have a disproportionate impact on low and moderate income families living paycheck to paycheck,” says Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel at Consumers Union, an advocacy group.

Department store operator J.C. Penney said on Friday it would close about 130-140 stores over the next few months, and reported a bigger-than-expected drop in same-store sales for the holiday quarter. The company said it would also initiate a voluntary early retirement program for about 6,000 eligible employees and close two distribution facilities. J.C. Penney’s store closures come after larger rival Macy’s said in November it would shut 100 stores, as department stores struggle with weak demand for apparel and growing competition from online retailers.

Israel

the international effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered a devastating setback Thursday when the partners of the Leviathan gas reservoir announced plans to invest $3.75 billion in its development over the next 3 years. The Leviathan field, located about 130 km. west of Haifa, contains enough natural gas to fully supply Israel’s domestic energy needs for decades to come with enough surplus supply to export. It’s development will directly create hundreds of new jobs in Israel and is expected to also generate large tax revenues for the government. “This is a great victory,” said Groner. “The next stage is to ensure that many other energy exploratory companies form around the world will invest here.”

Islamic State

Iraqi federal police forces – backed by U.S. air support – entered Mosul International Airport and took control of the runway from the Islamic State, an official said Thursday. Thursday’s advance is part of a major assault that started five days ago to drive ISIS militants from the western half of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. ISIS is estimated to have between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters in Mosul.

ISIS is on the path to poverty, according to a new joint study, “Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes,” from the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Ernst & Young. The terror group is apparently suffering from financial difficulties as revenues for ISIS have fallen by more than 50 percent. “The group’s most significant sources of revenue are closely tied to its territory. They are: (1) taxes and fees; (2) oil; and (3) looting, confiscations, and fines. We have found no hard evidence that foreign donations continue to be significant. Revenues from the sale of antiquities and kidnap for ransom, are unlikely to have been major sources of income. The study authors say the reason ISIS is currently facing financial trouble is that members constantly rely too heavily on the populations and territories they take over as sources of money. According to figures provided by the Global Coalition, by November 2016 Islamic State had lost 62 percent of its mid-2014 ‘peak’ territory in Iraq, and 30 per cent in Syria. From a revenue perspective, this means fewer people and businesses to tax and less control over natural resources such as oil fields, the report stated.

China

China is reportedly nearing completion of more than 20 buildings on its artificial islands in the South China Sea that are capable of housing long-range surface-to-air missiles. The concrete structures have retractable roofs and are about 66 feet long and 33 feet tall. U.S. intelligence community are monitoring whether surface-to-air missiles would be shipped to the reefs to protect China’s three airstrips. A Pentagon report released last year said that three artificial islands in the Spratly Island chains sport 10,000-foot runways and large ports. China has also excavated deep channels, created and dredged harbors and constructed communications, logistics and intelligence gathering facilities. A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. was committed to “non-militarization in the South China Sea” and urged the countries that claim territory in the region to take action consistent with international law.

South Sudan

After three years of war, the South Sudanese government and humanitarian agencies officially have declared famine in parts of the country. More than 100,000 people are starving in the country, according to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan. In some areas, particularly north of the country, more than 30 percent of the population there is suffering from acute malnutrition. The Integrated Food Security Report estimated that nearly five million South Sudanese in total are facing dire hunger. Unless more humanitarian aid is provided, some 275,000 children are at risk of starving to death, U.N. humanitarian agencies said.

Volcanoes

The Barren Island volcano, the only active volcano in India and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has erupted again for the first time since 1991. The Barren Island volcano has an elevation of 1,161 feet and sits on a small, uninhabited mile-wide island, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program. Its eruption in 1991 dramatically modified the structure of the central cinder cone, lowering its height from 1,000 feet to 738 feet.

Weather

Warmer-than-average temperatures have already broken hundreds of records in the central and eastern U.S., and dozens more are likely to be set in the days ahead. Hundreds of record highs were toppled Thursday-Wednesday (Feb. 16-21) in the Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes and East. Monday marked the fourth-consecutive day that daily record highs were set in Chicago. Minneapolis/St. Paul set a daily record high for six consecutive days Friday-Wednesday. These persistent well-above-average temperatures have caused plants and trees to begin blooming nearly 20 days earlier than average in the southern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, Southeast and as far north as Kentucky and Virginia. Highs will be 20 to 40 degrees above average at times for parts of the Midwest and Northeast through Friday.

California has already received double the normal amounts of winter precipitation, ending a five-year drought. Residents are continuing to clean up after days of heavy rainfall led to flooding, mudslides and at least eight deaths. Another round of storms expected to hit the flood-weary state this weekend. About 500 residents of a Northern California community were under evacuation orders after a river levee became damaged amid rising water levels and pounding storms. Crews were able to stop the breach on the river levee by 8:45 p.m. Monday, but the evacuation order remained in place, according to the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services. The breach was found on the eastern side of the San Joaquin River, south of Manteca. San Jose’s Coyote Creek swelled to four feet above flood level, cresting at 14.4 feet around 3 p.m. Tuesday in downtown San Jose, easily breaking a 95-year-old record of 12.8 feet set in 1922

Signs of the Times (2/21/17)

February 21, 2017

Norma McCorvey, ‘Roe’ of ‘Roe v. Wade’ Dies as Pro-Life Hero

Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, died Saturday a pro-life convert. “It was the biggest mistake of my life,’ she said recently. McCorvey was just 22 years-old when she stepped into the spotlight as “Jane Roe” in the historic Roe. v. Wade Supreme Court case of 1973. However, while Roe v. Wade officially legalized abortion in America, McCorvey later deeply regretted her role in the case and became a Christian. “Back in 1973, I was a very confused twenty-one-year-old with one child and facing an unplanned pregnancy,” she says in an ad released nearly 10 years ago. “At the time, I fought to obtain a legal abortion, but truth be told, I have three daughters and never had an abortion. Upon knowing God, I realized that my case, which legalized abortion on demand was the biggest mistake of my life,” she added. “I think it’s safe to say that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie.” McCorvey didn’t want to be remembered as the woman behind the biggest abortion case in America, but as a vocal pro-life activist.

Melania Trump Criticized for Reciting ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ at Campaign Rally

Leftists on social media tore into First Lady Melania Trump, mocking her accent and religion and branding her everything from a hostage to a whore – all for the secular offense of reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” Melania Trump began President Trump’s rally Saturday in Florida by delivering the prayer, which Christians – many of whom recite the prayer in church each week – believe was first said by Jesus Christ. The crowd at Orlando-Melbourne Airport received the prayer enthusiastically.

  • The-end-time anti-Christ spirit is ramping up to insane levels. Soon it will be a crime to pray in public.

Christian Persecution Watch

A year and half ago, Donald Vander Boon walked into the break room of his family-owned business – Michigan Beef Company, outside Grand Rapids – and found material touting and supporting unnatural marriage. The Christian business owner countered that by placing in the break room a faith-based article describing marriage as defined in the Bible: one man, one woman. Shortly thereafter, meat inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid Vander Boon a visit. He explains what happened: “They called me into my own office and took this article that I had printed and put it on the table in my office and proceeded to ask me if I was going to leave that article on the break room table – because if I was, they were going to immediately remove the USDA inspectors from this facility.” Without those inspectors, the doors of his business would have to close – thereby denying him his livelihood and that of his 45 employees. He did not return the article to the break room but also filed a complaint regarding the denial of his rights with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. To date, the business owner has heard nothing from the USDA. According to Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco, the government employees cited a written USDA policy which says “federal bureaucrats can determine what speech is disrespectful and insulting and restrict that speech – and the First Amendment does not allow them to do that,” he adds.

  • So, it’s free speech if you’re supporting gay marriage but hate speech if you’re not? America was founded on free speech for everyone, as the First Amendment makes clear.

Trump: Anti-Semitic Threats Against Jewish Community Centers ‘Horrible, Painful’

President Donald Trump denounced anti-Semitism Tuesday morning, making his most forceful remarks to date about a spate of threats to Jewish community centers around the country. Several Jewish community centers were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving bomb threats. He spoke after a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture which he said provided a “meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all forms.” “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said. Earlier Tuesday, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the series of threats and attacks against Jews and Jewish groups “so troubling” in a tweet that urged Trump to speak out against them across the U.S.

Millennials View Evangelicals, Muslims, Atheists Equally, Favor Buddhists

Despite the latest round of Islamic terrorism sweeping the United States in recent years, Americans are increasingly warming up to Muslims and atheists in society, with the younger generation viewing them as favorably as they do evangelical Christians – according to a Pew Research Center survey published last week. Millennials gave Muslims 58 percent likeability, with atheists [at] 59 percent – the same as evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, who were also rated at 59 percent. Young Americans liked Buddhists the best, at 66 percent, and Mormons the least, with 54 percent. Over all age groups combined, Americans like Jews and Roman Catholics the most in society, giving them 67 and 66 percent favorability ratings, respectively. Muslims and atheists remained the most distrusted, but compared to their scores in 2014, enjoyed significant gains.

  • The notion of inclusivity has leveled the religious playing field among our youth, but Jesus says he is the only way to salvation and eternal life in heaven (John 14:6). And yet, Jesus is inclusive because everyone can receive the free gift of salvation from Him. (Romans 6:23).

Global Arms Trade Hits Highest Level Since End of Cold War

The global arms trade has risen to its highest level since the end of the Cold War. The spike was fueled by conflicts in the Middle East, tensions in the South China Sea and the perceived threat from Russia to its neighbors, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The U.S. is by far the world’s biggest arms exporter, accounting for 33% of all weapons exports in the five years through 2016, the SIPRI report said. Russia was the second biggest supplier, with China third. “The U.S. has delivered a lot of weapons in 2016, both very expensive weapons and strategically important weapons — missile systems, surveillance and navigation technology,” SIPRI said. The U.S. has delivered major weapons to at least 100 countries over the five-year period, significantly more than any other exporting country. Of all the weapons the U.S. exported in the last five years, 47% ended up in the Middle East. The main buyers were Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey.

  • Historically, many of these weapons wind up being used against the U.S. (e.g. Iran, Iraq, Yemen, etc.)

VP Pence Reassures NATO and Europe of U.S. Support

Vice President Pence on Saturday worked to assure NATO allies that the United States would be “unwavering” in its commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance. Pence, in his first overseas trip as vice president, told the Munich Security Conference that President Donald Trump intends to “stand with Europe.” However, he also warned European leaders that they must increase spending on defense. Pence sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression and have been alarmed by the U.S. president’s positive statements about his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Pence said the U.S. would demand that Russia honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, to end violence in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists. “The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found,” Pence said. Pence was met with outward skepticism from the bloc’s top leaders on Monday.

Trump Not Wrong about Sweden

President Trump’s comments during a Florida campaign rally on Saturday – which some took as a misstatement about a supposed terror attack – dovetail with what Swedish police investigator Peter Springare has been seeing during a typical week in Orebro, Sweden. Five rapes, three assaults, a pair of extortions, blackmail, an attempted murder, violence against police and a robbery made up Springare’s caseload for a five-day period earlier this month, according to a Feb. 3 Facebook post he wrote. The suspects were all from Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Turkey – save for one Swedish man nabbed in a drug-related case. “Mohammed, Mahmod, Ali, again and again,” Springare wrote of those arrested. On Monday, Riots erupted in a heavily immigrant Stockholm suburb Monday night, as masked looters set cars ablaze and threw rocks at cops, injuring one police officer, Swedish officials said. A photographer from media outlet Dagens Nyheter said a group of 15 people beat him as he tried to document the chaos. Reports of rapes in Sweden jumped 13 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, and reports of sexual assaults were up 20 percent. Recent migration to Sweden hit its peak in 2015 with more than 160,000 asylum applications.

Tove Lifvendahl, a Swedish columnist reports, “Sweden has grown used to refugee-related crime stories, from attacks on asylum centres to gang-related killings. I met a journalist in Stockholm a few days ago who told me that such stories – shootings in Malmö, even suicides of unaccompanied child refugees swallowed up by the burgeoning immigrant underclass – don’t make the news in a way they should because such stories have become commonplace. Thousands of kids show up with no parents, are packed off into understaffed homes then are sold into prostitution or trafficked – and the authorities are hopelessly underequipped. The awful truth is that Trump was right to say they are dealing with problems that they never imagined. Who, for example, would have thought Sweden would be Europe’s greatest exporter of jihadis?”

Trump Drafting New Travel-Ban Order

President Trump’s revised travel ban will target the same seven countries listed in his original executive order, but exempts travelers who already have a visa to travel to the U.S., even if they haven’t used it yet. A senior White House official said the order will target only those same seven Muslim-majority nations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya. Trump was forced to come up with a second order after federal courts held up his original immigration and refugee ban. The official said the order could come sometime this week. Green-card holders and dual citizens of the U.S. and any of those countries will be exempt. The new draft also no longer directs authorities to single out — and reject — Syrian refugees when processing new visa applications.

‘Immigration Launch’ Announced Tuesday

The White House is planning a “big immigration launch” Tuesday morning that will focus on the implementation of the recent Department of Homeland Security proposal that called for the hiring of thousands of officers and fast-tracking deportations, a senior administration official said. The DHS plan was signed Friday by the agency’s new secretary, John Kelly. It would give federal authorities more power to aggressively detain and deport illegal immigrants inside the country and along U.S. borders. Kelly called for 10,000 additional ICE officers and agents and 5,000 new hires at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. “The surge of immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,” wrote Kelly, citing 10,000 to 15,000 more apprehensions along that border between 2015 and 2016. Under the Obama administration, undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were the priority for removal. Now, immigration agents, customs officers and border patrol agents have been directed to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offense.

Trump Determined to Find Leakers

President Trump is setting out to uncover the saboteurs leaking damaging details about his administration, as speculation intensifies over whether current officials or a cabal of Obama lieutenants – or both – are leaking sensitive information. One former senior intelligence official told Fox News he suspects ex-intelligence and other security officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, were in some way involved in revealing details of Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. Those details contradicted what Flynn had told Vice President Pence and other Trump officials, leading to his resignation as national security adviser earlier this week. Trump said during his Thursday news conference he’s called on the Justice Department to “look into the leaks” that have buffeted the start of his White House tenure. “Those are criminal leaks,” Trump said.

‘Day Without Immigrants’ Workers Fired

Jim Serowski, founder of JVS Masonry in Commerce City, Colorado, said his employees told him they planned to skip work on Thursday to participate in “A Day Without Immigrants,” the nationwide day of protest. his message to them was clear and unwavering: “If you’re going to stand up for what you believe in you have to be willing to pay the price.” As promised, when his foreman and some 30 brick layers failed to show up for work he fired them all with “no regrets,” he said. “They were warned, ‘if you do this you’re hurting the company, and if you go against the team you’re not a member of the team.” Bill McNally, owner of “I Don’t Care Bar and Grill” in Catoosa, Oklahoma, said his 12 line cooks gave him no heads up that they planned to participate in the day of action. They didn’t even call to say they were not coming in. Consequently, he said they were fired just like anyone else who’s a no-show for work. “If you’re going to be late call in. If you’re not coming to work call us. That’s the American way,” he said.

Historians Rank Obama 12th Best President in New Survey

C-SPAN released a survey Friday that asked historians to rank past presidents. Former-President Obama was voted the country’s 12th best, behind Woodrow Wilson and in front of James Monroe. Historians were asked to essentially grade the presidents on items like “public persuasion” and “moral authority.”  Politico reported that Obama rated high in the category of “equal justice for all,” but received low marks for his relationship with Congress. However, it is difficult to judge the effectiveness of a presidency so soon after the president left office. Abraham Lincoln retained the top position, and George Washington came in a close second. owHHH

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Lobbies for New World Order

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, wrote in a 5,800-word manifesto his personal vision of recreating the world in his image – an image that includes a true “global community that works for all of us,” he said, in an interview with the Associated Press. The manifesto, entitled “Building Global Community,” was posted on Facebook. “Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community… Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community.”

  • A one-world government will come to pass because the Bible tells us so. Unfortunately, anti-Christ humanism and Satan will be in charge. (Revelation 13)

Hundreds in Texas Voted Improperly

Officials in Texas acknowledge that hundreds of people were able to bypass voter ID laws and improperly cast ballots in the presidential election. Voters were able to sign a sworn statement instead of showing ID. The chief election officers in two of Texas’ largest counties are considering whether to refer cases to prosecutors for possible charges. Officials in many other areas say they will let the mistakes go, adding that there was widespread confusion among workers and voters. The law requires voters to show one of seven approved forms of identification. The affidavit process was adopted after an appeals court ruled that the voter ID law discriminated against minorities. The change was intended to help voters who could not obtain identification for a variety of reasons, including disability or illness, lack of transportation or conflicts with work schedules.

Economic News

Small business optimism rose again in January to its highest level since December 2004, suggesting that the post-election surge has staying power, according to the monthly National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Index of Small Business Optimism, released last week. “The stunning climb in optimism after the election was significantly improved in December and confirmed in January,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “Small business owners like what they see so far from Washington.”

After a painful two-year price war with OPEC, the worst may finally be over for the American oil industry. U.S. oil companies didn’t merely survive OPEC’s attempt to drown them in low prices. The energy industry is emerging from this dark period of bankruptcies and job cuts much leaner and ready to thrive, even at prices that were once too low. OPEC’s decision in November to abandon its strategy of flooding the world with excess supply allowed oil prices to stabilize above $50 a barrel. That bottom in prices has allowed the U.S. shale oil producers that have driven the boom in American oil production over the past decade to once again start pumping more oil. And many have even started to rehire some of the thousands of workers laid off during the downturn.

Israel

Terrorists fired two missiles at Israel from the Sinai Peninsula on Monday. The missiles exploded in an open space in the Eshkol Region, causing no casualties or damage. The Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate in the Sinai is suspected of being behind the attack. It occurred a day after ISIS said that the IDF had killed five of its operatives in the Sinai Peninsula who were responsible for a missile attack on the southern city of Eilat 10 days ago. The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency reported that that an Israel Air Force (IAF) drone fired at the terror cell as it was traveling in a vehicle. The strike occurred on Saturday near the village of Shibana.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a large-scale military operation on Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul and dislodge Islamic State militants. It is the latest phase in a 4-month-old offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city. Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” last month, however ISIS militants continued to launch attacks there. Hours after the latest operation was announced, suicide bombers struck troops and pro-government Sunni militiamen in eastern Mosul. Plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky early Sunday morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery toward the city. The battle for western Mosul promises to be the most daunting yet, as the half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, who have been told to shelter in place.

Saudi Arabia

Women are breaking the glass ceiling in Saudi finance. Three top jobs in banking and financial markets have been filled by women within the last week. One of Saudi Arabia’s top banks, Samba Financial Group, appointed Rania Nashar as chief executive officer on Sunday. Saudi-owned Al Arabyia TV reported Monday that another bank, Arab National Bank, has appointed Latifa Al Sabhan as its chief financial officer. The two banking picks follow an announcement last Thursday that the country’s stock exchange would be lead by a women — Sarah Al Suhaimi — for the first time. Some Saudi women have taken leading roles in family businesses but they have not been as prominent in the corporate world. While the Saudi executives promoted in the past few days will occupy influential positions, there are still serious obstacles to women working in the kingdom. They’re not allowed to drive and need permission from a male guardian to travel abroad.

China

The United States deployed the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday as part of maritime “routine operations.” Sailing with the 97,000-ton Vinson is the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, the Navy said in a statement. The Vinson carries a flight group of more than 60 aircraft, including F/A-18 jet fighters. The operation comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over territory and trade, and as the Trump administration looks set to take a more confrontational stance toward China than his predecessor. During his confirmation hearing, new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should be blocked from accessing the artificial islands it’s built, setting the stage for a potential showdown. China’s Foreign Ministry warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty.

Ukraine

Earlier this month, bombs rained down, rocket systems cracked the air and heavy shelling ripped through eastern Ukraine — marking the heaviest level of violence the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) had experienced since a peace agreement was signed in 2015. A tentative ceasefire brokered between the pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine’s army began on Monday, but civilians are not very optimistic that it will hold. The area has seen an uptick in violence the past two weeks, and Russia allegedly brought in heavy-duty armaments — such as the Buk missile system, which is so strong it brought down airliner MH17. Officials speculate that the surge in violence could be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s provocative way of testing President Trump to determine whether the new commander in chief will turn a blind eye to the escalation — or whether he will take action.

Somalia

At least 30 people were killed in a car-bomb blast at a market Sunday. Medina Hospital medics said more than 50 people were injured, some critically. Those injured were mostly traders and customers at the market. The death toll was likely to rise because of the number of seriously injured. The dead included soldiers and civilians. The blast occurred at the Kawo-Godey market in Mogadishu’s Wadajir district. The attack was the first in the capital since the February 8 election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a Somali-American citizen from Buffalo, New York. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. Previously, Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the country.

Wildfires

Due to record warmth, there have been a greater number of large wildfires so far this year. Through 2/18, there have been 5,087 wildfires that have consumed 127,218 acres compared to the average over the past ten years of 3,445 fires burning 72,203 acres. Most of the large (over 100 acres) wildfires have occurred in Oklahoma which has been unseasonably warm and dry. Currently, there are nine large wildfires burning in Oklahoma which have consumed over 39,000 acres. Thirteen previous wildfires in the Sooner state have been fully contained.

Weather

Officials warned residents in northern California to be ready to evacuate again as a second round of storms is already causing issues in Northern and Central California. At least seven people have been killed by a slow-moving Pacific storm that pounded California with torrential rain and damaging winds as up to 8 inches of rain fell in some parts of the region. A sinkhole opened up last Friday near Studio City, California, swallowing two cars. A second sinkhole opened on southbound Interstate 15, catching a fire truck. Multiple vehicles were swept away Friday night from a road in San Bernardino County, prompting the helicopter rescued of one person from the roof of their car. Winds gusting to 70 mph or more lashed parts of the region, while heavy rains turned creeks and rivers into brown torrents, releasing slews of mud from hillsides burned barren by wildfires. In Marin County, a mudslide on Monday dropped debris and a large tree onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, briefly, closing the roadway in both directions. For the first time since 1997, the spillway gates of the Don Pedro Reservoir were opened Tuesday morning..

Severe storms rolled through Texas Monday morning, and a confirmed tornado left widespread damage in northern San Antonio. More than 100 structures were damaged when a severe storm hit just south of San Antonio International Airport. Most of the damaged buildings were homes, but an elementary school was also damaged. At the height of the outages, CPS Energy reported nearly 40,000 customers without power due to the storms. The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado was spawned near Linda Drive and Interstate 281.

The central and eastern U.S. will continue to experience spring fever through much of this week. The warmer-than-average temperatures have already broken numerous records, and dozens more are likely to be set in the days ahead. Numerous record highs were toppled Thursday-Monday in the Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes and East. Monday marked the fourth-consecutive day that daily-record highs were set in Chicago. Minneapolis/St. Paul set a daily record high for three-consecutive days Friday-Sunday. Monday’s 70-degree record-high temperature in Chicago was only the fifth time in recorded history the Windy City has reached 70 degrees or higher in February. It has been a warm February for the vast majority of Americans living in the central and eastern states, and the vegetation surrounding us is in full response, sprouting much earlier than usual.

Signs of the Times (2/17/17)

February 17, 2017

House Overturns Obama’s Last-Minute Funding of Planned Parenthood

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 230 to 188 Friday to overturn former President Obama’s “eleventh hour” HHS rule forcing states to give Title X money to organizations that commit abortions. Title X money comes from the government to fund “family planning services,” but technically not abortion. Before he left office, Obama pushed through an HHS regulation that essentially forces states to give Planned Parenthood Title X funding. Rep. Diane Black, R-TN, introduced H.J. Res. 43 to overturn what pro-life groups call the Obama administration’s “parting gift” to Planned Parenthood. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called the Obama HHS regulation a “backdoor handout for the abortion industry.” But thanks to the Congressional Review Act, Congress may overturn such agency regulations within 60 legislative days. Only 51 Senate votes are needed now that it has passed the House.

Majority of Americans Favor Heartbeat Bill

A new poll conducted by the Barna Group reveals that an overwhelming majority of Americans—nearly 7 out of 10—agree with the premise of the Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017, reports Charisma News. Otherwise known as the “Federal Heartbeat Bill,” HR 490 was offered by pro-life U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has vowed to introduce the bill into every Congress until it is adopted. The bill would prohibit abortions everywhere in America whenever a fetal heartbeat is detected. According to the Barna findings, 69 percent of Americans agree with the statement “If a doctor is able to detect the heartbeat of an unborn baby, that unborn baby should be legally protected.” While the measure has much greater support among Republicans (86%) and Independents (61%), even a majority of Democrats (55%) who were polled said they supported the statement.

Up to 2 Million Non-Citizen Hispanics Illegally Registered to Vote

A new analysis has calculated that as many as 2 million non-citizen Hispanics were illegally registered to vote in the U.S., the Washington Times reported. The analysis combines a 2013 Hispanic survey with U.S. Census data finds the number of illegally registered Hispanics could range from 1 million to 2.1 million. It is derived from National Hispanic Survey, conducted in June 2013 by McLaughlin and Associates, and the number of non-citizen Hispanic adults in the U.S. Census of the same year. The National Hispanic Survey randomly selected sample of 800 Hispanics. Fifty-six percent, or 448, said they were non-citizens, and of those, 13 percent said they were registered to vote, the Times reported. James Agresti, director of the research nonprofit “Just Facts,” applied the 13 percent figure to the 11.8 million non-citizen Hispanic adults in the United States, which would amount to 1.5 million illegally registered Latinos. The estimate of 1 million to 2.1 million accounts for the margin of error based on the sample size of non-citizens. Another analysis by a political scientist at Old Dominion University, Jesse Richman, estimated Hillary Clinton received 834,381 net votes from noncitizens on Nov. 8.

Trump Attacks Media in Combative Press Conference

President Donald Trump made his most extensive attack on the media since taking office Thursday while defending his administration from critical coverage. In a press conference that lasted more than an hour, Trump repeatedly accused journalists of being hostile and dishonest in their reporting on his first month in office. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice,” Trump said. “We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.” The press conference, which was nominally intended to announced Trump’s pick for labor secretary, was the president’s idea. A senior administration official told CNN that Trump walked into the Oval Office Thursday morning and told his top aides: “Let’s do a press conference today.” Trump also complained about the tone of the media’s coverage: “The tone is such hatred,” he said. The bulk of Trump’s remarks centered on defending his performance as president. “I inherited a mess,” Trump said three times. Instead of reported White House chaos, Trump said the administration is running like a “fine-tuned machine.” The president had been criticized recently for ignoring questioners from the mainstream media when holding his news conferences with foreign leaders. On Thursday, he took questions from more than a dozen reporters with mainstream outlets, including NPR, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, among others.

Trump Accuses Intelligence Agencies of Illegal Leaks

President Trump on Wednesday suggested the U.S. intelligence community may be “illegally” leaking sensitive information to hurt his administration, effectively ending a brief detente with agencies he previously accused of working against him. Trump’s latest Twitter screed comes in the wake of a string of damaging news stories based primarily on anonymous government sources, involving information apparently gathered by the nation’s spy agencies. The leaks culminated in National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Monday night resignation. This was after The Washington Post reported he had discussed sanctions with a Russian official during the transition period – something Flynn had told Vice President Pence did not occur. The New York Times on Tuesday night also published a story alleging vague connections between several Trump associates – many of whom were not named – and Russian intelligence agents. “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Trump Tweeted.

Spy Agencies Reportedly Keeping Intelligence from Trump

Sensitive intelligence reportedly is being withheld from President Trump by U.S. intelligence officials because they are concerned that the information could be compromised. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that in some cases officials opted not to show the president how they collected the information. The paper, citing both former and current officials, said the decision to hold back information underscores the mistrust between the Executive Branch and intelligence agencies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the accusation late Wednesday that intelligence officials were withholding information from Trump. The Week magazine published an article Tuesday about how America’s spy agencies “took down Michael Flynn” who was forced to resign as Trump’s National Security Advisor.

Existing Border Wall Breached 9,000 Times in Five Years

While President Trump and government officials develop plans for a “wall” between the U.S. and Mexico, the agency responsible for securing the border is uncertain how successful the current fence has been. The 654 miles of fence already lining the border have been breached more than 9,200 times between 2010 and 2015, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), citing records from the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection). CBP officials say efforts to measure the effectiveness of fencing were stopped in 2013 due to “funding shortfalls.” Border Patrol officials interviewed by the GAO said fencing helps divert illegal border-crossings away from urban areas and into rural areas where agents can more readily respond. But officials also said smugglers and others can breach border fences by simply cutting through or finding ways over or under them.

‘Day Without Immigrants’ Only a Partial Success

Immigrants in all but a dozen states took part in a Día Sin Inmigrantes, a Day Without Immigrants, according to media reports. Fast food places and schools felt the greatest impact. Many fast food restaurants struggled with slow service. In Phoenix, as many as a third of students skipped class in some schools. The Thursday protest was organized nationwide in response to President Trump’s highly controversial executive orders and policies on immigration and to support undocumented immigrants who have become a target of the Trump administration. In 2015, about 26.3 million foreign-born people were working in the United States, 16.7% of the workforce, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Immigrants made up about 47% of the nation’s workforce expansion from 2004 through 2014, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Census estimates show that more than 13% of the U.S. population is foreign born, almost 43 million people.

U.S. Sees a Resurgence of Repackaged White Nationalism

Across the country, repackaged white-nationalism flyers are showing up on college campuses. Some promote blatant neo-Nazi rhetoric, others are much more subtle. “Protect your heritage.” “Let’s become great again.” “Our future belongs to us.” “White people, do something.” “Serve your people,” the flyers proclaim. They represent a less extreme white supremacist movement targeting the young and educated. On Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based organization that monitors hate crimes across the country, released its annual report on extremism in America. The report says the number of groups across the country increased in 2016 to 917, up from 892 in 2015. In 2011, SPLC recorded 1,018 active organizations, the highest tally it found in more than 30 years of tracking hate groups. That number had fallen to 784 in 2014.

ObamaCare in ‘Death Spiral,’ Aetna CEO Says

The leader of one of the U.S.’s largest health insurance agencies—who has been saying for months that ObamaCare is on the ropes– said Wednesday that statistics indicate that the law has now entered a “death spiral.” Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini told The Wall Street Journal that the health law’s market is nearing failure because healthier people have dropped out while premiums continue to climb. Health insurer Humana announced Tuesday that it is leaving the law’s public insurance exchanges for next year. Humana Inc. covers about 150,000 people on exchanges in 11 states. The health insurance industry claims that some consumers were abusing special enrollment by signing up when they needed expensive treatments, only to drop out later.

Scott Pruitt, Longtime Adversary of EPA, Confirmed to Head the Agency

Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various forms of pollution, was confirmed Friday as the agency’s next administrator. Pruitt cleared the Senate by a vote of 52-46. The vote came after Democrats held the Senate floor for hours overnight and through the morning to criticize Pruitt as climate-change skeptic and a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry. Republicans pressed forward with the afternoon vote, saying Pruitt had been thoroughly vetted in recent months and calling on Democrats to end what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called “a historic level of obstruction” in holding up Trump administration nominees. Pruitt’s confirmation marked a serious defeat for environmental advocacy groups, which wrote letters, waged a furious social media campaign, lobbied members of Congress, paid for television ads and sponsored a series of public protests to keep the Oklahoman from taking the reins of EPA.

Andrew Puzder Withdraws from Labor Nomination

Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s labor secretary nominee, withdrew from consideration Wednesday amid growing resistance from Senate Republicans centered primarily on Puzder’s past employment of an undocumented housekeeper. The collapse of Puzder’s nomination threw the White House into further turmoil just two days after the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, amid revelations that ¬Flynn had spoken repeatedly, and possibly illegally, with the Russian ambassador last year about lifting U.S. sanctions. Puzder’s fate amplified the deteriorating relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill, where bipartisan support grew Wednesday for expanded investigations into ties between Trump, his presidential campaign and Russian officials.

Washington Florist Found Guilty of Discrimination

A Washington state florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding in 2013 broke the state’s antidiscrimination law, the state’s Supreme Court ruled. Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in the town of Richland, said she was exercising her First Amendment rights.  Her lawyers promised that they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision. Stutzman had previously sold the couple flowers and knew they were gay. However, Stutzman told them that she couldn’t provide flowers for their wedding because same-sex marriage was incompatible with her Christian beliefs. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the couple sued her, saying she broke state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, and the lower court agreed. The state’s nine high court justices upheld that verdict.

  • Private businesses, whether Christian or not, should be allowed to refuse service to anyone for any reason. Public corporations, though, are not individuals and are not protected by the First Amendment.

Boy Scouts of America has Lost its Focus

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America made the decision to allow homosexual males to join the organization; and in 2016, BSA opened the doors to homosexual scout leaders. Earlier this year, the Scouts decided to welcome gender-confused girls into its ranks as well. The National Organization for Women has taken the latter development as a cue to demand the organization now begin taking girls into its ranks. NOW president Terry O’Neill says “it’s long past due that girls have equal opportunities in Scouting.”

  • This is crazy. Equal opportunity? Isn’t there already the Girl Scouts of America? Talk about gender confusion.

55,000 U.S. Bridges Structurally Deficient

A new report says the Brooklyn Bridge and Washington’s Arlington Memorial Bridge are among thousands of spans considered structurally deficient. Although the numbers of deficient bridges have declined in recent years, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s analysis of transportation department data shows more than 55,000 bridges in the U.S. have been deemed deficient. More than one out of every four bridges in the United States is more than 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work. ARBTA says deficient bridges are crossed about 185 million times a day. The top 14 most-traveled deficient bridges are located in California. Bridges labeled structurally deficient aren’t necessarily in immediate danger of collapse. The term is applied when spans need rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component has advanced deterioration or other problems.

U.S. Infrastructure Poor Overall

Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers said that the condition of America’s infrastructure as a whole only gets a “D+” grade. Federal spending on infrastructure has decreased by 9 percent over the past decade. The average age of America’s dams is now 52 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the condition of America’s dams a “D” grade recently. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, over two-thirds of our roads are “in dire need of repair or upgrades”. In order to completely fix all of our roads and bridges, it would take approximately 808 billion dollars. America does not have a single airport that is considered to be in the top 25 in the world.

Economic News

U.S. consumer prices recorded their biggest increase in nearly four years in January as households paid more for gasoline and other goods, suggesting inflation pressures could be picking up. The Labor Department said on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index jumped 0.6 percent last month after gaining 0.3 percent in December. January’s increase in the CPI was the largest since February 2013. In the 12 months through January, the CPI increased 2.5 percent, the biggest year-on-year gain since March 2012. Inflation is trending higher as prices for energy goods and other commodities rebound as global demand picks up. The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks a different inflation measure which is currently at 1.7 percent. Gradually firming inflation and a tightening labor market could allow the Fed to raise interest rates at least twice this year.

Total household debt climbed to $12.58 trillion at the end of 2016, an increase of $266 billion from the third quarter. For all of 2016, household debt ballooned by $460 billion — the largest increase in almost a decade. That means the debt loads of Americans are flirting with 2008 levels, when total consumer debt reached a record high of $12.68 trillion, just prior to the Great Recession. Mortgage originations increased to the highest level since the Great Recession. Student loan debt balances rose by $31 billion in the fourth quarter to a total of $1.31 trillion. Auto loans jumped by $22 billion as new auto loan originations for the year climbed to a record high. Credit card debts rose by $32 billion to hit $779 billion. But while these increases may sound alarming, there is one big difference between now and 2008, according to the Federal Reserve: Fewer delinquencies. At the end of 2016, 4.8% of debts were delinquent, compared to 8.5% of total household debt in the third quarter of 2008. There were also less bankruptcy filings — a little more than 200,000 consumers had a bankruptcy added to their credit report in the final quarter of last year, a 4% drop from the same quarter in 2015.

The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq soared to record highs on Wednesday, the fifth-straight day of all-time highs. It’s the first time all three major market averages have achieved that feat since January 1992, according to a FactSet analysis provided to CNNMoney. The Dow has skyrocketed an incredible 2,279 points since the presidential election. The tech-dominated Nasdaq is in the midst of its biggest string of records since the dotcom bubble, despite predictions that Trump would be bad for tech stocks..Asked on Wednesday why stocks have gone up, Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen said investors are “likely anticipating shifts in fiscal policy that will stimulate growth and perhaps raise earnings.”

Israel

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made their debut Wednesday as chummy partners preparing to tackle the Middle East’s toughest challenges side by side. Netanyahu beamed at his new American counterpart and declared him the best friend Israel could possibly wish for, while Trump offered lofty praise for Israel, denounced the Iranian nuclear deal and declined to back a two-state solution — a longstanding, bipartisan U.S. policy that the Israeli Prime Minister has resisted. But Trump also made clear that he would not give Israel carte blanche, taking a harder line on some issues than he had during the campaign. “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump told his counterpart. He said Wednesday he’d “love” to see the US Embassy move to Jerusalem but offered no indication it would happen in the near future, as he had promised before he stepped into office.

Islamic State

The US Special Operations head said Tuesday that the US and its allies had eliminated more than 60,000 ISIS fighters. The estimate represents a sharp increase over recent numbers provided by the U.S. and its allies. The US-led coalition has ramped up airstrikes against the terror group’s self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria, in recent weeks, while Iraqi troops, backed by US air power, have continued their assault on Mosul. They have so far succeeded in driving ISIS from the eastern part of Iraq’s second-largest city. Coalition leaders have said that thousands of ISIS fighters have been killed in the battle for Mosul. Multiple American officials say that the Pentagon does not officially tally body counts.

Security forces in Pakistan killed dozens of militants and arrested scores of people Friday after an ISIS suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in the south of the country killed at least 88 people. The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State, happened at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th century Muslim saint, in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province Thursday. At least 20 children were among the dead. Meanwhile, the death toll in an Islamic State car bombing at an auto dealership in the Iraqi capital Baghdad rose to 59 Friday, with 66 other people injured, the AP reported. Authorities said four other attacks in the Baghdad area Thursday killed eight people and wounded about 30. The Islamic State launched a string of attacks in Baghdad following setbacks in areas including Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi troops have been engaged in an operation to retake the city from the militants since October.

Syria

Russian warplanes and the aircraft of dictator Bashar al-Assad are still bombing civilians and civilian infrastructure in opposition areas of Syria. They are also attacking U.S.-backed opposition forces and consolidating Assad’s grip on major parts of the battered country, even as a United Nations-sponsored effort to produce peace in Syria staggers toward a Geneva meeting on Feb. 23. Behind a façade of preparations for peace talks, the scale of attacks is going back up again after a decline following the fall of the rebel stronghold of east Aleppo City last December. Assad’s rag-tag military and militia is bolstered by thousands of Iranian and Iranian-trained foreign irregulars and members of radical Hezbollah.

Russia

The Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov on Wednesday morning was spotted 40 miles closer to the U.S. — and not far from a Navy submarine base in Connecticut, a U.S. official told Fox News. The ship was spotted 30 miles south of Groton, Conn., but it remained in international waters. The U.S. territorial boundary extends 12 miles from the coast. As of Friday, the Leonov is currently “loitering” off the coast of Norfolk, Va., home to the largest naval base in the world. The spy ship is armed with surface-to-air missiles, but its main function is to intercept communications and collect data on U.S. Navy sonar capability. This was the furthest north the Viktor Leonov had ever traveled up the eastern seaboard. The Russian spy ship’s venture near the U.S. mainland follows other recent Russian provocations — four Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea on Friday, coming within 200 yards of USS Porter. The Russian jets had their identifying transponders turned off and ignored repeated radio calls from the American warship.

Moscow has deployed a cruise missile in an apparent treaty violation, a senior military official told CNN Tuesday. The move is just the latest in a string of Russian provocations in the early days of the Trump administration, which has called for warmer relations with the Kremlin. The ground-launched cruise missile seems to run counter to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. “The Russian Federation remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations not to possess, produce or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement issued Tuesday.

France

Police in Paris are struggling to cope with the fallout from a plague of riots which have kicked off in the city’s northern suburbs, reports RedFlagNews.com. Five large areas have been reduced to no-go areas for the past five nights as masked men continue to cause mayhem on the streets. Now there are fears the fallout from allegations of police brutality could spread all over the country as unrest in the city grows. Residents have been on lockdown as armed police try to tackle the rioters who have caused millions of pounds of damage. Police were hit with Molotov cocktails and the heavy metal balls used in the French game Petanque. The areas of Aulnay-Sous-Bois, Aulnay, Argenteuil, Bobigny and Tremblay-en-France in the Saint-Seine-Denis district have all been affected. The area of Paris currently crippled by riots is estimated to be around 33% Muslim. Monday night, witnesses claimed that rioters shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ during the violent protests. The violent anti-police protests spread from the suburbs into the center of Paris on Wednesday night.

Weather

One man was killed in Vermont Thursday as the latest in a succession of winter storms began to make its way out of the Northeast and New England, where it piled onto the feet of snow that had already fallen. More than a foot of snow fell quickly in Maine, a state that was already digging out from several feet of snow in the past week. In New Hampshire, authorities warned residents to clear snow from the roofs of their homes and businesses or risk roof collapses under the weight of more snow. All across the region, customers swarmed stores in search of shovels, roof rakes and snow blowers, but those items quickly sold out.

A line of severe storms spawned at least six tornados, injured at least seven and caused damage in southeastern Texas Tuesday morning near the Houston metro area. In Van Vleck, Texas, recreational vehicles were flipped and structural damage was reported along a path approximately a mile long. The Associated Press said seven people were transported to local hospitals with minor injuries in the town of about 1,400 located some 70 miles southwest of Houston. Tops of trees were twisted off and at least one home was completely torn apart. Southwest of Houston, roof damage to homes and businesses was reported near Stafford, Texas, due to a confirmed EF0 tornado. An EF2 tornado was confirmed south of Rosenberg, Texas. CenterPoint energy reported that nearly 21,000 customers lost power in the Houston metro area in the aftermath of the storms.

The central and eastern U.S. will likely experience spring fever late this week and through the Presidents Day holiday weekend. The warmer-than-average temperatures may break numerous records. Many of these areas have seen fairly mild temperatures recently, and this trend will continue into late February. This surge of mild temperatures will last for several days for areas east of the Rockies, making it feel more like spring than mid-February.

Signs of the Times (2/14/17)

February 14, 2017

200,00 Evacuated in CA as Nation’s Tallest Dam Crumbles

Another pair of storms are expected to hit California this week, and forecasters say they will be strong enough to bring 2 to 6 inches of rain to Oroville, where the concrete spillway at Oroville Dam has been crumbling since Tuesday and an emergency earthen spillway with a concrete lip was eroding so severely Sunday that officials warned a 30-foot wall of water could be unleashed on Oroville and other towns along the Feather River. Nearly 200,000 people remained under evacuation orders Tuesday as California authorities try to fix erosion of the emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam that could unleash uncontrolled flood waters if it fails. About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville – one of California’s largest man-made lakes – had water levels so high that an emergency spillway was used Saturday for the first time in almost 50 years. The evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon after engineers spotted a hole on the concrete lip of the secondary spillway for the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam and told authorities that it could fail within the hour. Panicked and angry residents fought bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours after the evacuation order was given Sunday. In an unrelated incident in Sacramento County, residents from about 20 homes in the Tyler Island area south of Walnut Grove were ordered to evacuate Monday due to a compromised levee

Trump’s National Security Advisor Resigns

President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned Monday night after reports he misled Trump administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump during the campaign. Trump is also considering former CIA Director David Petraeus and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL, for the post, according to a senior administration official. Michael Flynn handed in his resignation late Monday night, conceding that he gave “incomplete information” about his calls with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. A Russian official said Tuesday that the resignation of President Trump’s national security adviser may show early signs that the administration has been “infected” by anti-Russian feelings, Reuters reported.

AG Sessions Refuses to Defend Obama’s Gender-Identity Order

Less than 48 hours after his confirmation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice made it clear the agency was under new management by refusing to defend the Obama Administration’s controversial order to let students of both sexes use any locker room, shower, or restroom they want. The Obama administration had announced that it was simply changing the understanding of “sex” under non-discrimination law so that “sex” includes “gender identity.” That would mean a boy who says he’s a girl would have to be allowed in a girls’ shower room, or vice versa. Several states sued and U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued the injunction against the application of the newly created definition. “It is clear from Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent that this court has the power to issue a nationwide injunction where appropriate,” ruled O’Connor in Texas at the time. “Both Title IX and Title VII rely on the consistent, uniform application of national standards in education and workplace policy.” Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who were involved in a number of challenges to the Obama administration strategy to impose open restrooms on public schools, said the injunction needed to be nationwide “to prevent harm to children in other parts of the country.”

Deportation in AZ Yields Two Competing Viewpoints

Immigrant-rights advocates have portrayed the Mesa mother deported back to Mexico on Thursday as one of the first casualties of President Donald Trump’s sweeping new deportation orders. Her deportation has elicited an outpouring of public sympathy, including from many elected officials, among them Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. He called Garcia de Rayos’ detention and deportation “a tragedy” for her family. At the same time, however, her deportation has been viewed very differently by many on social media who have praised Trump’s immigration orders and Garcia de Rayos’s deportation given she had a felony conviction for criminal impersonation and possessing a false social security card. That conviction stemmed from a 2008 work-site raid by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio which found that more than half of the 197 employees at Golfland Sunsplash, the operators of Big Surf, Waterworld and Golfland fun parks, were working with questionable employment documents. “The president is doing what he said he’d do. She was a criminal and that’s who he said he’d go after… we are a nation of emigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws,” observed one commenter.

  • In a world of both good and evil, there is seldom a perfection solution – that is, until Jesus Christ comes again to rule and reign with a perfect combination of truth, love and righteousness.

Mexican Woman Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Voter Fraud

A Mexican citizen living in Texas was sentenced this week to eight years in prison for voting illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014. Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, was found guilty Wednesday on two counts of illegal voting after she falsely claimed to be a United States citizen and voted at least five times between 2012 and 2014. A jury sentenced her Thursday to eight years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Ortega’s identity came into question after she tried to register to vote twice in Tarrant County. She had voted in five elections in Dallas before her registration was canceled in April 2015.

  • Just the tip of the voter-fraud iceberg

Federal Agents Conduct Immigration Enforcement Raids

U.S. immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least a half-dozen states this week in a series of raids that marked the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 26 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes. Trump has pledged to deport as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. President Donald Trump lashed out at criticism of raids that have targeted hundreds of illegal immigrants around the country, justifying the actions as fulfillment of his campaign vow. “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” he tweeted Sunday.

Two NYC Men Plead Guilty to ISIS-Inspired Terrorism

Two New York residents accused of conspiring to support ISIS and plotting to set off a pressure-cooker bomb in the city have pleaded guilty to all charges, federal prosecutors and New York officials said. Munther Omar Saleh, 21, of Queens, and Fareed Mumuni, 22, of Staten Island, were charged with “conspiring and attempting to provide material support” to ISIS and with assaulting and conspiring to assault federal officers. Mumuni also was charged with “attempted murder of federal officers.” That charge resulted from an incident in which Mumuni repeatedly stabbed an FBI agent as law enforcement officials carried out a search warrant at his home about two years ago. Saleh, a U.S. citizen and a former aeronautics student, faces up to 53 years in prison. Mumuni’s immigration status is not clear; he faces up to 85 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16.

Dutch Immigration Expert Says 50 Million Muslims are Violent

A leading immigration expert has warned the European Union that at least 50 million Muslims are willing to approve of violence and support jihad terror attacks to “defend” their religion, reports WorldNetDaily.com. Of the approximately 1 billion adult Muslims in the world, “half of them are attached to an arch-conservative Islam which places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals, and people of other faiths,” according to Dutch professor Ruud Koopmans. Koopmans cited the U.S.-based Pew Research Center as the basis for his estimates, which he notes are conservative. In an interview with a German news website, he said, of these 500 million conservative Muslims, more than 50 million are OK with using violence against non-Muslims. Koopmans, who is a professor of sociology and migration research at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the director of integration research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, said it’s important to note that not every one of these 50 million is ready to launch a violent attack. But they do nothing to curb radicalization in their midst. “They support the radicals. They encourage them and provide them shelter or simply keep their mouths shut when they observe radicalization,” Koopmans added.

Trump’s Post-Election Foreign Policy Quickly Softens

As President. Trump begins to shape his foreign policy, he is proving to be less of a radical than either his campaign statements or his tempestuous early phone calls with foreign leaders would suggest, notes the New York Times. In a phone conversation with President Xi Jinping of China and a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Trump scaled back his campaign statement that the ‘one-China’ policy was no longer valid. And after pledging to rip up the nuclear agreement with Iran, Trump told the European Union’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, that the United States would fully carry out the agreement. “Every president discovers that it looks different from the perspective of the Oval Office than it did on the campaign trail,” said Martin S. Indyk, the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution.

Republican Officials Facing More Protests Across U.S.

Republicans this weekend faced more protests at public events — backlash that appears to be growing against President Trump and the GOP-led Congress for trying to dismantle ObamaCare and against other parts of their agenda. The episodes — like those faced by other House Republicans and by recently confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — appear similar to those staged by the Tea Party movement in 2009, notes Fox News. Members’ grassroots opposition to the increasing size of government under then-President Obama led to the 2010 wave election in which Republicans seized control of the House. DeVos, a supporter of vouchers and other alternatives to pubic education, was temporarily blocked Friday when trying to enter a District of Columbia public school. On Saturday, for the second week in a row, Florida GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis reportedly faced about a hundred people at a town hall meeting upset about Republican plans to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, without a solid alternative. A massive crowd took to the streets in North Carolina on Saturday in opposition of President Donald Trump and to a state law limiting LGBT rights.

Casual Sex on the Rise Among Millennials

A new survey detailing the extent of casual sex among singles shows many are having intimate relations before their first real date. This week, the dating service Match released a new survey on sex and singles conducted by Research Now. Included in the data are the revelations that 34 percent of singles have had sex before a first date and that millennials are 48 percent more likely to have sex before a first date than all other generations of singles in order “to see if there is a connection.” In a USA Today story on the survey, sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson suggests millennials have inverted the relationship process, using sex to determine if they want to pursue anything further with that person. “Now sex is almost a given, and it’s not the intimate part. The intimate part is getting to know someone and going on a date,” Anderson says.

$89,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Drug after 70-Fold Increase

A drug to treat muscular dystrophy will hit the U.S. market with a price tag of $89,000 a year despite being available for decades in Europe at a fraction of that cost. Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC’s pricing of the drug, which has been available in Europe, is the latest example of a business model that has drawn ire from doctors, patients and legislators in recent years: cheaply acquiring older drugs and then drastically raising their prices. The practice has prompted congressional investigations and hearings into companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Marathon’s drug, a corticosteroid called deflazacort, to treat a rare type of muscular dystrophy that affects some 12,000 boys in the U.S., most of whom die in their 20s and 30s. The drug isn’t a cure, but it has been shown to improve muscle strength, the FDA said.

European Union Moves to Eliminate Cash

The European commission has quietly launched the next offensive in the war on cash following on the heels of India. “These unelected bureaucrats have boldly asserted their intention to crack down on paper transactions across the E.U. and solidify a trend that has been gaining momentum for years”, reports Technocracy News. The financial uncertainty amplified by Brexit has incentivized governments throughout Europe to seize further control over their banking systems. France and Spain have already criminalized cash transactions above a certain limit, but now the commission has unilaterally established new regulations that will affect the entire union. With less physical currency circulating, these trends ensure that the impact of any additional central bank policies will be maximized. If economic conditions deteriorate, the threat of citizens pulling cash out of their accounts and starting a bank run is eliminated in a cashless system.

Economic News

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen signaled that the next rate hike could come as early as March in her testimony before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. Yellen stressed that the U.S. economy is doing pretty well and “has continued to make progress.” She called the U.S. job market strong and said prices are moving up at a faster pace. The Fed currently predicts three rate hikes in 2017. However, the Fed began 2016 predicting four rate hikes and ended up doing only one.

Delta Airlines announced Monday it plans to buy 32% of Aeromexico, the country’s oldest airline. Delta already owned shares of the Mexican airline, and its upcoming purchase brings Delta’s total stake to 49% of Aeromexico’s shares. The news sent Aeromexico’s stock soaring, up 16% Monday to an all-time high. Delta’s stock also jumped up 2% by Monday afternoon. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval in Mexico and the U.S. Delta said it’s not just investing in an airline, but in Mexico’s economy.

Toshiba’s chairman is stepping down after the Japanese company reported a $6.3 billion write-down for its troubled U.S. nuclear business. The massive hit to Toshiba’s bottom line dragged the struggling conglomerate to an estimated net loss of $4.4 billion for the nine months ending December 31, raising concerns about whether it can survive its latest financial woes.

Credit Suisse said Tuesday that it plans to cut up to 6,500 jobs after suffering a loss of 2.4 billion Swiss francs ($2.4 billion U.S.) in 2016. The Zurich-based lender said the bulk of the loss resulted from of a $2 billion provision it made for a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department announced in January that Credit Suisse would pay a total of $5.3 billion to settle claims that it packaged and sold toxic mortgages between 2005 and 2007. Bank CEO Tidjane Thiam said Tuesday that reaching the settlement removed a “major source of uncertainty for our future.” But it also cemented a second consecutive year of losses for the new CEO. Credit Suisse lost 2.9 billion Swiss francs ($2.9 billion U.S.) in 2015.

Venezuela

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a significant role in international drug trafficking. The Treasury Department has been investigating El Aissami for years over his alleged relations with Venezuela’s largest convicted drug trafficker and a Middle Eastern militant group, resulting in the decision to designate him a narcotics trafficker under the federal “Kingpin Act.” The department said he orchestrated drug shipments from a Venezuelan air base and multiple seaports, some weighing more than 2,200 pounds per shipment. The department also sanctioned Samark Lopez Bello, a Venezuelan businessman accused of being El Aissami’s frontman. Treasury officials would not comment on whether the Justice Department will seek indictments against the two men. But the sanctions include freezing all their U.S.-based assets, which include a twin-engine Gulfstream jet, and blocking all their U.S.-based companies and properties. The pair controlled tens of millions of dollars in Miami real estate

New data shows Venezuelans are leading asylum requests to the United States for the first time, as the middle class in the country are fleeing the crashing, oil-dependent economy. The U.S. government’s Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that 18,155 Venezuelans submitted asylum requests last year, a 150 percent increase over 2015 and six times the level seen in 2014. Data showed China in second place, with 17,745 requests coming from the country’s citizens. Venezuelans began to uproot as triple-digit inflation pulverized salaries and widespread food and medicine shortages made life unbearable for many. A large number of the asylum seekers are middle-class Venezuelans who don’t qualify for refugee status reserved for those seeking to escape political persecution.

Afghanistan

A young couple eloped in Afghanistan and was later killed by an angry mob, the New York Times reports. The woman was said to have been married to someone else against her will, and eloped with her lover. Police caught the couple Saturday and held them on suspicion of adultery, and the mob descended on the police station within hours, eventually dragging the couple away and killing them as well as injuring three police officers, one seriously, in the process. The 250- to 300-person mob was said to have been made up mostly of the woman’s legal husband’s family, but it also reportedly included her own brothers and cousins.

  • A consequence of Islam’s treatment of women as property

North Korea

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned North Korea late Monday over its latest ballistic missile launches and warned of “further significant measures” if Pyongyang doesn’t stop nuclear and missile testing. A statement from the 15 Council members strong condemned the latest launch as well as U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to deal with North Korea “very strongly.” The Security Council said North Korea’s efforts to develop its nuclear weapons delivery systems violate U.N. sanctions and increase tensions. It called on all U.N. members “to redouble their efforts” to implement U.N. sanctions. North Korea has repeatedly flouted six Security Council resolutions demanding an end to its nuclear and ballistic missile activities.

The United States and Japan held a joint press conference on Saturday night following reports that North Korea fired a ballistic missile in what would be its first such test of the year. A spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command said in an emailed statement to Fox News that the, “U.S. Strategic Command systems detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch.” The missile felt to the sea off the coast of Japan, seen as a warning shot to the U.S. and Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned North Korea’s latest missile launch calling on North Korea “to fully comply with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.” President Donald Trump assured Japan that the U.S. stands behind the country completely.

Germany

Germany’s parliamentary assembly has elected Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, as the country’s president. The position of president in Germany is largely ceremonial, because the chancellor is the official head of government and has a higher profile on the world stage. Steinmeier previously served as vice chancellor and foreign minister under current Chancellor Angela Merkel. His predecessor, Joachim Gauck, did not seek another term and will step down on March 18. Steinmeier, 61, has been a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump.

France

The mayor of a town in suburban Paris appealed for calm Sunday after demonstrations over the alleged rape of a young man by police turned violent. More than 2,000 people marched Saturday in Bobigny, a suburban town nearly six miles (9.2 kilometers) northeast of the French capital. They chanted and carried signs demanding justice for a 22-year-old man who says he was sodomized by a police officer’s baton. The demonstrations turned violent when a few hundred protesters broke away from the march and began rioting, police said. They smashed windows, set cars and trash cans on fire and attacked law enforcement personnel, who responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. Several vehicles were set on fire. No one was injured but 37 people were arrested.

Earthquakes

Six people were reported dead and over 100 injured in the Philippines after a strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Surigao City on Friday night. Surigao City has been placed under a state of calamity, Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol Matugas said. The earthquake also forced the closure of Surigao City domestic airport, officials said. All flights were canceled due to damaged runway. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said the airport might be closed until March 10. “This is the worst earthquake we have ever experienced,” Matugas said.

Weather

Flooding from heavy rain and rapid snowmelt last week led to mudslides, water rescues and has contributed to at least three deaths in the western United States. Parts of Nevada and California continued to battle heavy rain and rapid snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada, which led to at least two deaths attributed to widespread flooding that triggered numerous mudslides and road washouts. In Sacramento County, a freight train reportedly derailed Friday afternoon after flooding collapsed part of a railroad bridge.

New England began to dig out after another winter snowstorm Monday. Maine received the brunt of the snowfall totals in the region. Portland International Jetport had canceled all flights starting Sunday night, but resumed service Monday night. Snow totals generally ranged between a foot and foot-and-a-half across Maine, while areas of central Maine, including Waterville, received as much as two feet. In Massachusetts, the storm was generally light on snow but heavy with wind. Gusts reached 50-60 mph on the state’s coasts. The winter storm was the second such weather incident in the past week, as New York and New England was hit with more than a foot of snow in some areas on Thursday and Friday. Overnight, winds gusted to 66 mph at Reagan National Airport and 72 mph at Joint Base Andrews, just across the Potomac.

The southern Plains experienced a wild weather weekend, with temperatures dropping, in some spots, more than 50 degrees in just two days. Those temperature drop-offs were followed by snow in some spots, after reaching 85 degrees just days before. Temperatures in eastern New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and southern Kansas reached into the 80s and even some 90s on Saturday. Numerous temperature records were set.

Signs of the Times (2/10/17)

February 10, 2017

Trump Experiences the Limits of Executive Power

President Donald Trump suffered more than a legal defeat of his immigration ban Thursday night. He ran up against the limits of executive power. Three federal judges unanimously refused to restore the White House’s controversial travel ban. Trump’s responded by tweet: “See You in Court” suggesting he will be taking the “disgraceful” decision to the Supreme Court. Trump’s vision of an administration rooted in the muscular use of executive power — similar to that he enjoyed as a business leader — will not go unchallenged by the U.S. system of checks and balances. In a stinging rebuke, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s argument that the judiciary lacked the authority to block the travel ban as “contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” The tone and content of the decision immediately called into question Trump’s gamble in enacting such a fundamental reshaping of the nation’s immigration laws through presidential order rather than a law debated and passed by Congress.

Trump Right About Media Under-Reporting Islamic Terrorism

President Donald Trump has been severely critical of the news media for doing what he called a poor job of covering instances of Islamic terrorism not only in the U.S. but around the world. As many terrorism experts told WND, it’s not the amount of coverage given to a specific event that counts but rather the type of coverage. A classic example of that can be found by comparing and contrasting the coverage that two news agencies – WND and the BBC – gave to a brutal machete attack at the Nazareth Mediterranean Restaurant one year ago in February 2016 that left four patrons wounded, one critically. In the BBC story, there is no mention of the words Islam, jihad, Muslim, refugee or immigrant. Every one of those words applied to the attacker, Mohamed Barry, who was a Muslim immigrant from the West African country of Guinea, as pointed out in the WND story. The point is not that they ignore the stories, but they deliberately conceal and/or misrepresent the aspects of them that make it clear that they’re Islamic jihad attacks,” said Robert Spencer, editor of Jihad Watch.

Foiled France Terrorists Appear to be ISIS-Inspired

Suspects arrested Friday in a foiled terror plot in France had just started making the same powerful explosive used in the ISIS-directed Paris and Brussels attacks, and they appear to have been inspired by the terror group, a source close to the investigation tells CNN. French police “thwarted an imminent attack on French soil” when they arrested four people, including a 16-year-old girl and three men, in cities across France, the interior minister said in a statement Friday. A partially assembled improvised explosive device was also found as part of the investigation.

Whistleblower Says Immigrant Vetting Process Severely Flawed

A recently retired U.S. State Department veteran has published a whistleblower letter in the Chicago Tribune fingering the refugee resettlement program as fraught with “fraud” and “abuses.” Mary Doetsch said the problems were apparent before President Obama took office but got worse under his leadership. Doetsch retired about two months ago as a refugee coordinator. One of her assignments was at a United Nations refugee camp in Jordan, from which many of the Syrian refugees are flowing into the U.S. She did three tours of duty, in Cairo, Egypt, dealing with Middle East refugees. She says the “vetting” of refugees from broken countries such as Somalia, Syria and Sudan often consists largely of a personal interview with the refugee. These countries have no law enforcement data to vet against the personal story relayed to the U.S. government about the refugee’s background. Sometimes even their name and identity is fabricated and they have no documentation, such as a valid passport, or they have fraudulent documentation.

Venezuela Sold Visas to Terrorists

CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered serious irregularities in the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism. The investigation involved reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting interviews in the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah. A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.

New Poll: Trump Trusted More Than Media

According to a new poll by Emerson College, the Trump administration is considered truthful by 49% of voters, to 48% of voters who consider it untruthful. Meanwhile, the news media is considered truthful by only 39% of voters, while a majority of 53 % find the media untruthful. there is a political split in these numbers. Emerson College Polling indicates 89% of Republicans find the Trump administration truthful, versus 77% of Democrats who find the administration untruthful. When it comes to media, 69% of Democrats find the news media truthful, while a whopping 91% of Republicans consider them untruthful. Independents don’t indicate much trust for either the Trump administration or the media – but trust the Trump administration more by 3% points.

Military Sounds Alarm about ‘Insidious Decline’ in Readiness

For decades, the F/A-18 Hornet has been the Navy’s front-line combat jet – taking off from aircraft carriers around the globe to enforce no-fly zones, carry out strikes and even engage in the occasional dogfight. But the Navy’s ability to use these planes is now greatly hindered as more than 60 percent of the jets are out of service. That number is even worse for the Marine Corps, where 74 percent of its F-18s – some of the oldest in service – are not ready for combat operations. These figures are reflective of the erosion in readiness across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Top service branch officials sounded the alarm in a pair of congressional hearings this week about how bad the problem has become. “Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The vice chiefs pleaded with lawmakers to repeal legislation limiting defense spending, arguing that fiscal constraints have crippled the military’s capability to respond to threats.

Army Issues Permit to Continue Constructing Dakota Pipeline

The US Army Corps of Engineers will grant an easement in North Dakota for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, allowing the project to move toward completion despite the protests of Native Americans and environmentalists. Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to advance approval of this pipeline and others, casting aside efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to block construction. That order directed “the acting secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law.” “The decision was made based on a sufficient amount of information already available which supported approval to grant the easement request,” the Army said. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has long opposed the project near its home, promised a legal fight.

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Price Estimates Increase

The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall will reportedly cost at least $21.6 billion, much more than earlier estimates, and could take more than three years to finish, according to Homeland Security. House Speaker Paul Ryan said last month that the project could cost $8 billion to $14 billion. Trump had previously said the wall could cost $12 billion. The border wall was President Trump’s key campaign promise and his insistence that Mexico would pay for it. Though Trump has insisted Mexico will eventually pay the U.S. back, American taxpayers are expected to initially foot the bill. The report said the first phase would cover 26 miles near San Diego, El Paso, Texas and a part the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The second phase would cover 151 miles in and around the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Texas, Tucson, Ariz., Big Bend, Texas and El Paso. The final phase would cover the remaining 1,080 miles.

Trump Urged to Close Tax-Credit Loophole for Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigrants need only one number to access billions of dollars in free taxpayer cash. The Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) unlocks an exclusive gateway for non-citizens to receive monies meant for working, low-income Americans. The nine-digit code was created by bureaucrats in 1996 for foreigners who had to deal with the IRS. It allows people without a Social Security number, including those in the country illegally, to file taxes. The problem with ITIN, critics say, is gives non-citizens access to federal cash that they should not be entitled to receive. Once illegal immigrants file ITIN tax returns, they can apply for a Child Tax Credit – which entitles them to $1,000 per child. Unlike the Earned Income Tax Credit, which requires a Social Security Number to qualify, the Child Tax Credit is a cash program that does not. Numerous investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have chronicled not only improper Child Tax Credit fraud and error payments ranging from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion, but schemes such as nearly 24,000 ITIN payments going to the same address.

Americans Renouncing Citizenship at Record High

The number of Americans confirmed to have renounced their citizenship has hit a new high, up 26 percent from 2015, to a new record 5,411, according to government data. The number of Americans renouncing citizenship had set a record for 2015 as well, up 58 percent from the previous year. The IRS reportedly publishes the names of those individuals quarterly. Before 2011, fewer than 1,000 individuals chose to expatriate each year, the data found. Still, many cases were not counted, according to Forbes. The report did not show why many Americans made the decision to expatriate. The report pointed out that the U.S. is one of the few countries that taxes based on nationality. American citizens are liable to pay U.S. taxes even if they live abroad.

Sessions Confirmed for AG after Contentious Senate Battle

Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States, capping a Senate fight so contentious that one of the nominee’s biggest critics was forced by majority Republicans to sit out the last leg of the debate. The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present. Sessions became just the sixth Cabinet nominee approved by the Senate, joining Trump’s choices for Defense, Homeland Security, Education, Transportation and State. Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor.

Price Confirmed as Head of HHS, Aims to Dismantle Obamacare

The Senate early Friday morning confirmed President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, placing him in position to lead the way in dismantling Obamacare. It was the Senate’s fourth consecutive contested vote for a Trump Cabinet secretary. Partisan battles for Cabinet posts are usually rare, but the first weeks of Trump’s presidency have seen little collegiality between Republicans and Democrats. Price is a veteran House member and orthopedic surgeon who Republicans call a knowledgeable pick for the job. Democrats say he’s an ideologue whose policies would snatch care from many Americans. On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to pare back elements of ObamaCare that do not require a congressional vote, Price is now expected to carry out that order.

Planned Parenthood Caught Offering Incentives for Abortion

Testimony from a former Planned Parenthood employee has revealed that the organization focuses on selling abortion services and offers incentives for employees to make more “sales.” According to a report from the Washington Examiner, Planned Parenthood employees are offered rewards such as paid time off or free pizza for getting more women to get abortions through Planned Parenthood. Sue Thayer was a former Planned Parenthood employee in Storm Lake, Iowa. She shared in a Live Action video how Planned Parenthood employees are trained to sell abortions to women who come through their doors. “I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal.” This tactic has apparently worked well for Planned Parenthood. They performed more than 300,000 abortions in 2015. However, with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, efforts to defund the abortion provider are on the table.

Public School Children Now Rank in Bottom Half of World

American school children exhibited declining skills in math over the past three years, according to rankings released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They recently released the results of a worldwide exam administered every three years to 15-year-olds in 72 countries. The exam monitors reading, math and science knowledge. Based on their findings, the United States saw an 11-point drop in math scores and nearly flat levels for reading and science. Overall, the U.S. fell below the OECD average – and failed to crack the top ten in all three categories. U.S. 15-year-olds now rank lower than more than 36 countries including the Slovak Republic. This continues a pattern of continuous decline in the performance of our public schools.

NYC Curbs Stop & Frisk Even Though it’s Working

The New York Police Department agreed Thursday to further cut back stop-and-frisk tactics – even as city investigators were using data gleaned from the practice to arrest the man now accused in a vicious sexual assault and murder. The discovery of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano’s body in a Queens park in August made national headlines as authorities had very little information identifying her killer. But The New York Daily News reported it was a review of stop-and-frisk reports from the area near the crime scene that helped cops zero in on 20-year-old Chanel Lewis – who was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree murder. “To the extent that it’s not used as a national tactic, we all lose,” former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Fox News. “It’s helpful in this case and that’s obviously a good thing, and quite frankly that should be standard practice.”

Whistleblower Says Obama Scientist Cooked Climate Change Data

A key Obama administration scientist brushed aside inconvenient data that showed a slowdown in global warming in compiling an alarming 2015 report that coincided with the White House participation in the Paris Climate Conference, a whistle blower is alleging. A blockbuster study by a team of federal scientists led by Thomas Karl, published in the journal Science in June 2015 and later known as the “pausebuster” paper, sought to discredit the notion of a slowdown in warming. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, said in a statement Tuesday, “In the summer of 2015, whistleblowers alerted the Committee that the Karl study was rushed to publication before underlying data issues were resolved to help influence public debate about the so-called Clean Power Plan and upcoming Paris climate conference. Since then, the Committee has attempted to obtain information that would shed further light on these allegations, but was obstructed at every turn by the previous administration’s officials.”

Arctic Ice Set Record Lows

Arctic sea ice extent continues to set record lows. The low amounts of ice, compared to average, in the Arctic region have been an ongoing concern since November, and hasn’t let up through the start of February. Ice extent in the Arctic region set daily record lows through most of January, leading to the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. For January, Arctic sea ice extent averaged an area of about 13.38 million square kilometers (5.17 million square miles), about 1.26 million square kilometers (487,000 square miles) below the 1981-2010 average for that month.

  • We must keep in mind that 38 years of records is infinitesimally small compared to a history of long ice ages and long warm periods

Economic News

OPEC is showing a rare degree of discipline in sticking to its promise to slash oil production. The International Energy Agency said Friday that the cartel achieved 90% compliance in January on its share of production cuts that total 1.8 million barrels per day. The production cuts — made from a very high baseline — were designed to support prices and ease the budget pressure being felt by major producers. While the strategy is working, higher prices are stimulating investment and production elsewhere. U.S. shale producers, for example, are returning to the market after being hammered by collapsing oil prices in 2014. Crude oil prices have increased from lows in the $30s per barrel last year to $53.50 Thursday.

China

President Trump told China President Xi Jinping the U.S. would honor the “one China” policy months after Trump suggested he might use American policy on Taiwan as a bargaining chip between the two sides. Trump “agreed at the request of President Xi,” to honor the policy, the White House said in a statement late Thursday. The one China policy had been a source of friction between the U.S. and China since Trump’s election in November. Trump had questioned Washington’s policy on Taiwan, which shifted diplomatic recognition from self-governing Taiwan to China in 1979. He said it was open to negotiation. China bristled at the comments Trump made.

Israel

Israeli Defense Forces in the south of Israel were on high alert Thursday following a rocket attack launched by the Islamic State terror militia in the Egyptian Sinai against the southern Negev resort city of Eilat. The IDF said an Iron Dome air defense system defending Eilat had intercepted three incoming rockets while a fourth had landed in an open area outside the city, causing no damage or injuries. Four people were reportedly treated for shock at a local hospital, but police said the city was operating normally Thursday morning.

Israeli security forces throughout the country were also on high alert Friday following a terrorist shooting and stabbing attack Thursday afternoon in Petah Tikvah which left six Israelis wounded. The terrorist, an 18-year old Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Nablus, was captured shortly after his attack. “This attack is a direct result of the ongoing incitement of Palestinian leadership,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. “The international community must take decisive and immediate steps against this incitement before it leads to more bloodshed.”

Iran

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday to swear allegiance to the clerical establishment following U.S. President Donald Trump’s warning that he had put the Islamic Republic “on notice”, state TV reported… They carried “Death to America” banners and effigies of Trump, while a military police band played traditional Iranian revolutionary songs. State TV showed footage of people stepping on Trump’s picture in a central Tehran street. Marchers carried the Iranian flag and banners saying: “Thanks Mr. Trump for showing the real face of America.” The rallies were rife with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Syria

The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. airstrikes conducted in Syria last week killed 11 Al Qaeda operatives, including one with ties to former leader Usama bin Laden. The airstrike near Idlib killed 10 operatives in a building used as an Al Qaeda meeting site. A strike the next day killed Abu Hani al-Masri, who U.S. officials said oversaw the creation and operation of Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. “These strikes disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability to plot and direct external attacks targeting the US and our interests worldwide,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Yemen

Yemen has withdrawn permission for U.S. forces to conduct antiterror ground missions in the country after a deadly commando raid last month that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties. The New York Times, citing unnamed American officials, reported Tuesday that neither the White House nor the Yemenis have publicly announced the suspension.  The report said it is unclear if the Yemenis were influenced at all by President Trump’s travel ban order that included Yemen on the list of banned countries. U.S. Central Command said earlier this month that civilians may have been hit by gunfire from aircraft called in to assist U.S. troops, who were engaged in a ferocious firefight on Jan. 29 with militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Times reported that photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire caused outrage in Yemen.

Afghanistan

Gunmen killed six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a spokesman for the aid group said. Ahmad Ramin Ayaz, the group’s Kabul-based spokesman, said the attack took place in the northern Jowzjan province. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Rahmatullah Turkistani, the chief of the provincial police, said militants loyal to the Islamic State group have a presence in the area. The Taliban denied involvement.

At least 20 people are dead after a suicide blast Tuesday outside Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a parking lot near the court in the Afghan capital. The attack at around 3:45 p.m. local time targeted Supreme Court employees as they were leaving for the day. At least 35 people were wounded in the blast.

The number of child casualties in the long-running Afghan war jumped last year, spiking 24% from 2015 in large part from leftover munitions, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report on Monday. “Children have been killed, blinded, crippled — or inadvertently caused the death of their friends — while playing with unexploded ordnance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Of the 11,418 overall casualties in 2016, 3,512 were children: 923 who died and 2,589 who were injured.

East Africa

Severe drought has stricken east Africa. A food crisis is escalating, not only in Kenya but also in northern Uganda, which has absorbed over half a million refugees from South Sudan since last July, mostly women and children. “Children have dropped out of school due to hunger; the elderly, and pregnant women, are the most affected. Cattle, which are the only source of livelihood, are dying and the remaining ones are stolen by bandits,” cries a Kenyan pastor in East Pokot, where the last rainfall was in June 2016. From nearby Marsabit, Pastor Jeremiah Omar reports that 70% of the livestock are already dead from drought – a disaster for the many nomadic communities. In Uganda, deaths from malnutrition are expected to start this month. There will be no relief until June at the earliest, and then only if the rains come at the normal time.

Environment

Rescuers were engaged in a heartbreaking race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand. About 275 of the pilot whales are already dead. Hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in history. Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. And then half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again.

Weather

Snow emergencies were declared in two major Northeast metro areas, Philadelphia and Boston, as the rapidly strengthening storm blanketed the Northeast with up to 2 feet of snow in places.  Governors in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio urged people to stay off the roads Thursday to keep them clear for plows and emergency vehicles. Despite the warnings, the rapid accumulation of snow caught many drivers out in the open. Connecticut State Police responded to more than 600 calls during the storm, including 68 accidents with four injuries and several jackknifed semi-trucks that closed stretches of Interstate 95. New Jersey State Police reduced speed limits to 35 mph along the 122-mile length of the New Jersey Turnpike but still fielded more 600 calls for assistance. In New York, dozens of motorists were stranded on Long Island after they couldn’t make it up icy ramps. Schools in the area remained closed Friday.

Heavy rain and rapid snowmelt in the Sierra Mountains has led to widespread flooding in parts of Nevada and California, triggering numerous mudslides and road washouts. In Oroville, water opened up a massive hole in a dam. Officials shut down flow from the Oroville Dam after chunks of concrete went flying from the spillway and created a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole on Wednesday. The dam break poses no threat to the public but is expected to grow before engineers can make the necessary repairs. High snow levels across parts of California and western Nevada have led to rain falling on areas where feet of snow have fallen in recent weeks, prompting flooding near the Sierras and in the central valley. The final in a series of storms is made its way through the West Coast Thursday and Friday. With the ground already saturated, the risk of additional landslides and flooding will remain elevated to close out the week.

A powerful tornado touched down Tuesday in the New Orleans East neighborhood, flipping cars, smashing homes and injuring several dozen people, some seriously. The severe weather spanned a wide swath of southeastern Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards said seven confirmed tornadoes were recorded in at least six different parishes. The storm system damaged dozens of homes and businesses and left thousands without power. “But the Lord has blessed us because not a single fatality has been reported or confirmed as this time,” Edwards told reporters.

Signs of the Times (2/7/17)

February 7, 2017

ISIS-Inspired “Lone Wolves” Were Guided by Planners in Syria and Iraq

The New York Times reports that many, if not most, of so-called ‘lone-wolf’ attacks were actually guided step-by-step by ISIS planners in Syria and Iraq. They are examples of what counterterrorism experts are calling enabled or remote-controlled attacks: “violence conceived and guided by operatives in areas controlled by the Islamic State whose only connection to the would-be attacker is the internet.” For the most part, the operatives who are conceiving and guiding such attacks are doing so from behind a wall of anonymity. Because the recruits are instructed to use encrypted messaging applications, the guiding role played by the terrorist group often remains obscured. The ‘lone-wolves’ don’t even know who they are or what they look like. As a result, remotely guided plots in Europe, Asia and the United States in recent years, including the attack on a community center in Garland, Tex., were initially labeled the work of “lone wolves,” with no operational ties to the Islamic State, and only later was direct communication with the group discovered.

Iraqi Archbishop Says World Ignoring Persecuted Christians

Catholic Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Iraq said on the Catholic website Crus, “It is terrible to live with terrorism. My country lives with terrorism daily. And if the United States wants to have a strong vetting process, I can understand and appreciate that… From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria.”

Washington Judges Blocks Trump’s Immigration Ban

U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart of Seattle on Friday issued a nationwide restraining order temporarily blocking the travel ban put in place by President Trump last week. The White House quickly responded, saying the federal government would challenge the judge’s decision. President Trump, in a Saturday morning tweetstorm, personally challenged the credentials of the “so-called” federal judge in Seattle who issued a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking the travel ban Trump put in place last week. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned,” Trump tweeted from his winter retreat in Mar-a-Lago. In a conference call Friday night, airlines were told that the U.S. government would reinstate previously canceled traveling visas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection advised airlines that refugees possessing U.S. visas will be allowed to enter as well, according to media reports. A federal appeals court in San Francisco denied the Trump administration request for immediate reinstatement of a controversial, temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations and all refugees. A U.S. federal appeals court Tuesday will hear arguments over President Trump’s controversial temporary travel ban, and whether Trump’s order should be restored after last week’s federal judge’s ruling.

  • The legal battle over the immigration ban is likely to continue for some time, probably reaching to the Supreme Court.

Judge’s Assertion Proven Wrong by the Associated Press

Judge James Robart, a federal district judge in Seattle, stated that no one from the seven countries on Trump’s list – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya – has been arrested on terrorism charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America. However, the judge was wrong in stating that no one from the seven countries targeted in Trump’s order has been arrested for extremism in the United States since the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to the Associated Press (AP). “Just last October, an Iraqi refugee living in Texas pleaded guilty to attempting to provide support to the Islamic State group, accused of taking tactical training and wanting to blow himself up in an act of martyrdom. In November, a Somali refugee injured 11 in a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University, and he surely would have been arrested had he not been killed by an officer.”

Tech Firms Oppose the Travel Ban

America’s biggest tech firms have stepped into the legal fight against President Donald Trump’s travel ban. A total of 97 companies — including Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Netflix and Twitter — filed a court motion Sunday night declaring that Trump’s executive order on immigration “violates the immigration laws and the Constitution.” Almost all the companies that signed on in support are tech companies. The few exceptions include yogurt producer Chobani, snack maker Kind and fashion brand Levi Strauss. All three companies were founded by immigrants.

Thousands March near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida

Hundreds of people took to the streets of downtown West Palm Beach to protest President Trump’s policies. About 2,000 gathered outside Trump Plaza and marched 2.5 miles down Flagler Drive. There were many young people, parents with children in strollers or on their shoulders, women in hijabs and even a woman in a wheelchair. Protesters chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has to go” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here” in reference to Trump’s temporary travel ban on refugees into the U.S. Some brought handmade signs reading “Deport Trump,” “Welcome refugees” and “The dark side will not take away our freedom.” Demonstrators also gathered in cities such as Denver, Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington.

Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary after VP Pence Breaks Tie

The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos on Tuesday as education secretary, approving the embattled nominee only with the help of a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, reports the New York Times. The 51-to-50 vote elevates Ms. DeVos to be steward of the nation’s schools. She is a wealthy philanthropist from Michigan who has devoted much of her life to expanding educational choice through charter schools and vouchers, but has limited experience with the public-school system. Two Republicans voted against Ms. DeVos’s confirmation, a sign that some members of President Trump’s party are willing to go against him, possibly foreshadowing difficulty on some of the president’s more contentious legislative priorities.

Trump Blames ‘Obama People’ for Leaked Telephone Transcripts

President Trump on Saturday denounced the leaks of transcripts of his telephone conversations with leaders of Australia and Mexico as “disgraceful” and said his administration was searching “very, very hard” for the leakers. Trump, speaking to Fox News, accused “Obama people” of giving news organizations embarrassing details of his recent tense phone conversations with his Australian and Mexican counterparts, and said that the holdovers from the Obama administration still serving on his White House and National Security Council staff were being replaced. “It’s a disgrace that they leaked because it’s very much against our country,” Trump said. According to the Daily Caller; Three brothers who managed office information technology for members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and other lawmakers were abruptly relieved of their duties on suspicion that they accessed congressional computer networks without permission.

Pentagon Failed to Disclose Thousands of U.S. Airstrikes in Middle East

The U.S. military failed to disclose thousands of airstrikes over the last several years in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Military Times. An investigation revealed Sunday that the U.S. conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan last year that were not recorded in the open-source database kept by the U.S. Air Force. The airstrikes were conducted my several U.S. aircraft – including helicopters and drones. Military officials told the Military Times they were unable to determine how far back some information was excluded in reports. But the incomplete data might date back as far as when the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001 and could question other data the Pentagon releases to the public, including casualties, the bill footed by the American taxpayer and the military’s progress in the war on terror in the Middle East.

Persecution Watch

The residents of a small Mississippi town have engaged in rallies and protests after an atheist organization forced the mayor to take down the Christian flag at a local park. TheBlaze.com reports that the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue the town of Rienzi, Mississippi for $500,000 if Mayor Walter Williams did not remove the flag from the public park. Williams felt he had no choice but to give in to the FFRF’s demands since Rienzi is such a small town and does not have the funds to engage in an expensive lawsuit. However, the residents of Rienzi, who are predominantly Christian, were not surrendering without a fight. They organized and staged protests in an attempt to send a message that there was support for the flag to fly, even in a public space.

A Christian preacher in the U.K. was arrested and accused of a hate crime after he responded to a gay teen’s question about homosexuality. The Telegraph reports that 42-year-old Gordon Larmour was handing out leaflets and street preaching in the town of Irvine when he was approached by the 19-year-old who questioned him on what the Bible said about homosexuality. Lamour proceeded to tell the young man about Scripture and specifically shared the story of Adam and Eve and how God told them to be fruitful and multiply. He also reportedly told the young man and his friends, “Don’t forget Jesus loves you and He died for your sins.” Soon after responding to the young man’s question, police arrested Lamour, accused him of using threatening or abusive language regarding sexual orientation, and locked him up in a jail cell overnight. Now, after a prolonged trial, Lamour has been acquitted of all charges. Although thankful to be released, he and many other Christians worry about the state of free speech due to this incident.

An atheist group filed a complaint against a Tennessee school district after a pastor prayed with a high school football player who was seriously injured. OneNewsNow.com reports that when a high school footbal player at the Tennessee school was severely injured, youth pastor Eric Dill of Bayside Baptist Church was asked by another student to pray for the injured player who reportedly received a hard blow to his neck and was unable to move his legs. Upon hearing that Dill prayed with the student and that some teachers and coaches had bowed their heads in prayer as well, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint against the school district, alleging that “coaches cannot participate in prayer in school, and even that student-led prayer at football games is unconstitutional,” according to the FFRF’s complaint.

Economic News

US bankruptcy filings by consumers rose 5.4% in January, compared to January last year, to 52,421 according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In December, bankruptcies rose 4.5% from a year earlier. This was the first time that consumer bankruptcies increased in back-to-back months since 2010. Business bankruptcies began to surge in November 2015 and continued surging on a year-over-year basis in 2016, to reach a full-year total of 37,823 filings, up 26% from 2015.

General Motors sold 10 million cars in a year for the first time in its century-plus history. Strong sales in China more than made up for slower sales in the United States. The milestone led GM, the largest American automaker, to record profit. GM was in third place among world automakers, behind Volkswagen, which sold 10.3 million cars, and Toyota, which sold 10.2 million. GM was the world’s largest automaker for 77 years but lost the title to Toyota in 2008. Volkswagen topped global sales for the first time in 2016.

Domino’s and Papa John’s are booming — even as many other big restaurant and food chains have struggled lately. Sales at McDonald’s have started to cool off in the U.S. after a resurgence last year. Starbucks just reported disappointing domestic results. And Chipotle is still a mess as it struggles to win back customers after its E coli woes.

Israel

Israel’s Knesset passed a historic bill Monday evening retroactively legalizing nearly 4,000 homes built over the last several years in various communities in the West Bank on land whose ownership is disputed. It also imposes Israeli law in parts of Area C, setting in motion what many on the Left decried as a step towards Israeli annexation of the disputed territories. Several NGOs announced plans to challenge the move in the courts while Palestinian leaders warned that it was the beginning of the end of hopes for a Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit predicted that the legislation would be easily overturned in the courts, citing over 40 years’ worth of rulings against the legalization of Israeli-built structures on land owned by private Palestinian interests.

Syria

Thousands of people have been hanged at a Syrian prison in a secret crackdown on dissent by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a report by Amnesty International has alleged. The human rights group says up to 13,000 people have been executed at Saydnaya prison north of the capital Damascus in a “hidden” campaign authorized by senior regime figures. Amnesty’s report says prisoners are moved in the middle of the night from their cells under the pretext of being transferred. They are taken to the grounds of the prison, where they are hanged. The report is based on result of a year-long investigation, including interviews with 84 witnesses including security guards, detainees, judges and lawyers, Amnesty says.

Iran

In apparent defiance of the new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Iran held a military exercise Saturday to test missile and radar systems. The aim of the exercise, held in Semnan province, was to “showcase the power of Iran’s revolution and to dismiss the sanctions,” Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards website said. “If the enemy does not walk the line, our missiles come down on them,” Gen. Amir Ali Haijazadeh said. The drill comes a day after the White House imposed sanctions on Tehran for its recent ballistic missile test.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Saturday that Iran was the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, as President Donald Trump slapped fresh sanctions on the country’s weapons procurement network. “As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Mattis said at a press conference in Tokyo, but added that the U.S. had no plans to increase troop numbers in the Middle East in response. “It does no good to ignore it. It does no good to dismiss it and at the same time I don’t see any need to increase the number of forces we have in the Middle East at this time,” he said.

Turkey

Turkey detained nearly 750 suspects in a police operation against the Islamic State group, authorities said Monday. Anti-terrorism police launched the security operation against people with alleged links to IS early Sunday, conducting simultaneous raids in 29 provinces. The Interior Ministry released a statement Monday saying that 748 people have been detained in the police sweep, but did not give their nationalities. In addition, 72 other suspects were detained last week, it said. The state-run Anadolu Agency said police seized IS documents, digital material and six firearms during the raids. Anadolu, citing police sources, said the IS was “searching” for ways to carry out a “sensational attack” in Turkey, and was actively engaged in propaganda in order to recruit fighters. It said the raids targeted suspects believed to be in contact with IS operatives in conflict zones.

Afghanistan

At least 20 people are dead after an explosion Tuesday outside the Supreme Court in the Afghan capital, Kabul, sources told CNN. At least 35 people were wounded in the blast, according to Saleem Rasooli, head of Kabul’s hospitals.

Environment

A new study predicts that invasive wild pigs could soon be a major problem from coast to coast. The study published in The Journal of Applied Ecology this week found the United States’ wild pig population is steadily growing and predicts that the animals could inhabit most counties in the continental U.S. within three to five decades.

Weather

California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack measured in at 173 percent of average last week. According to the California Department of Water Resources, runoff from the overall Sierra snowpack is at its highest level since 1995. In a year when snowfall is plentiful, runoff can provide up to a third of the state’s water. Gov. Jerry Brown will wait to decide on lifting a drought-related emergency declaration until the spring, when the rain and snow season winds down, state officials said. But the snowpack indicates that California’s long-standing drought might finally be over.

Residents south of the Mason-Dixon Line began seeing flowers bloom in their gardens and other plants beginning to grow – in January. This year, the Spring Leaf Index is being reached in the southern U.S. weeks ahead of schedule, as a result of recent warmth in these regions, reports weather.com. Some parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are already nearly three weeks ahead of schedule. Temperatures climbed to 20 to 25 degrees above average in the southern Plains and lower Mississippi Valley on Monday.

At least 119 people have died in avalanches along the Afghan-Pakistani border triggered by heavy snowfall, officials said Monday. Those figures were expected to rise as rescue teams made their way through snow-blocked roads to afflicted areas. A least 89 people have been injured and 190 homes destroyed by avalanches in multiple provinces. Most of the fatalities come from Nuristan province, near the Pakistani border, where two villages were buried in snow.

Signs of the Times (2/2/17)

February 3, 2017

Christian Persecution Increased in 2016

In the past year, the persecution of Christians has not only increased, but it has also spread to more corners of the globe – with incidents occurring on every continent, according to a new report. The advocacy group Open Doors USA recently released the latest edition of its annual World Watch List, which ranks countries based on the treatment of their Christian populations. The group said the increase in incidents considered persecution was alarming and only getting worse. Open Doors said about 215 million Christians around the globe are facing some degree of persecution. The report comes on the heels of another study by the Center for Studies on New Religions that showed nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016 and that as many as 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death. There has been an increase in persecution in various countries throughout Asia, driven by governments and Islamic extremism. Christians in that part of the world have been targeted by nationalist religious movements — Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist — in such countries as Pakistan, India and Myanmar.

Trump Vows to ‘Destroy’ Law Banning Political Activity by Churches

President Trump vowed Thursday to overturn a law restricting political speech by churches, reports the New York Times. Mr. Trump said his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from engaging in political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. Repealing the law would require approval by Congress. Certain tax-exempt organizations — in this case, churches — are not allowed to openly endorse or campaign for political candidates. If they do, under existing law, they risk losing the benefits of their tax-exempt status. Speaking to a gathering of religious leaders, Mr. Trump said, “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

President Trump Speaks at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘The World Is in Trouble’

Every year the National Prayer Breakfast seeks to unite politicians and members of the religious and business communities for one cause: to come together for fellowship and prayer. It’s a tradition that first began in 1953, dating back to over half a century ago, during Dwight Eisenhower’s Presidency. Organized by the Fellowship Foundation and hosted by a committee of Congress members, over 3,000 people attend the event each year, hearing a variety of speakers in addition to the current president. “Freedom is a gift from God,” Trump said. And at another point stated, “It is God who gave us life and liberty.” He also said, “The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out.”

Women’s March Given 3 Times More Coverage Than March for Life

Network news didn’t spend enough time covering the March for Life, Katie Yoder, of Newsbusters, wrote in her column Monday. Yoder says the news spent a total of about 22 minutes on the annual march compared to the more than 1 hour of coverage on the Women’s March on Washington. Still, it was more time than the networks spent in 2016 on the march when networks gave it only 35 seconds of total coverage. This year’s 44th March for Life featured Vice President Mike Pence and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway as speakers.

Homeless Find Rest in Faith-Based Shelters More Than Others

Religious organizations are providing more than half of the emergency shelter beds for homeless people in major cities across the country, a new Baylor University study shows. In a preliminary study of 11 U.S. cities, 58 percent of emergency beds for the homeless were at faith-based organizations. That percentage ranged widely across the cities, with 90 percent of emergency beds in Omaha, Neb., provided by faith groups to 33 percent in Portland, Ore. The report found that cities with higher participation by religious groups had lower percentages of unsheltered homeless people. Researchers also estimated that there was a three-year total of $119 million in taxpayer savings connected to faith-based organizations that provided transitional housing programs in those cities, which provide longer lengths of stay and include mentoring and rehabilitation.

Conservatives Hail Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

Republican lawmakers and conservative groups hailed President Trump’s nomination of federal appeals judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Tuesday night, even as Democrats questioned whether the nominee has sufficient “respect for constitutional values of liberty, equality and justice for all.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who kept the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open through the presidential election, said Trump had made “an outstanding decision.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Trump had “fulfilled his [campaign] pledge to nominate a judge who has a demonstrated loyalty to the Constitution and a strong commitment to life.” Even Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent critic of Trump, tweeted his approval of the nomination, calling Gorsuch “a tremendous pick.” President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, along with a few of their family members, as well as Maureen Scalia, and Fr. Paul Scalia, the wife and son of the deceased conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, prayed with Judge Neil Gorsuch before his nomination to the nation’s highest court.

Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Faces Big Battle

President Trump nominated federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, choosing a jurist widely seen by conservatives as a fitting successor to the late Scalia – and touching off what is sure to be a fierce confirmation battle with Senate Democrats already vowing resistance. “The Democrats are not going to succeed in filibustering the Supreme Court nominee,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Politico. “All procedural options are on the table. The bottom line is we will confirm a strong conservative to replace Justice Scalia.” The advantages of trying a filibuster are clear – make Republicans work to find the 60 votes needed to end it, including at least eight Democrats, and as a result, delay or block the nomination. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority. Republicans have threatened to change the rules and eliminate the filibuster altogether, in which case Democrats will have lost their most powerful weapon. Republicans did not try to filibuster either of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

Judge Orders Halt to Trump’s Ban for Immigrant Visa Holders

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ordered the U.S. government to allow people holding immigrant visas from seven majority-Muslim nations into the United States despite President Trump’s executive order banning them. In a temporary restraining order issued late Tuesday, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ordered the government not to cancel any validly obtained immigrant visas or bar anyone from the seven nations holding them from entering the U.S. But it was unclear whether the order will have any effect. The State Department ordered all visas from the seven countries revoked on Friday, and the government has maintained that orders similar to Birotte’s do not apply because the visas are no longer valid. More than 100,000 visas have been revoked due to President Trump’s travel ban, a Justice Department attorney says.

Trump: Whatever You Call It, Order Keeps ‘Bad People’ Out of U.S.

President Donald Trump Wednesday morning dismissed arguments about whether his executive order blocking refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. is a “ban.” “Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters. “It’s a vetting system to keep America safe.” The text of Trump’s executive order calling for a temporary ban on immigration from seven countries does not include the word “religion.” Or “faith.” Or “Muslim.” Or “Islam.” In fact, the list of seven countries named in Trump’s order came from a bipartisan bill Obama himself signed into law, restricting visa waivers for people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The Trump administration has said it decided to focus its 90-day ban on travelers from seven “countries of special interest” because these nations make it nearly impossible to access reliable data upon which to vet their citizens seeking to enter the U.S. on visas.

22,000 ‘High-Risk Travelers’ Banned from Flights to U.S. Last Year

According to a recently released Government Accounting Office study, the number of U.S.-bound travelers pulled aside at foreign airports and banned from boarding their flights totaled 22,000 “high risk” travelers that were interdicted by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in Fiscal 2015. Among that group, 10,648 were declared inadmissible while the balance, 11, 589, were told they could not board with the paperwork presented. While CBP’s pre-departure programs have helped identify and interdict high-risk travelers, CBP has not fully evaluated the overall effectiveness of these programs using performance measures and baselines, the GAO report states. Sunni Muslim extremists are infiltrating the U.S., coming up from South America and Mexico with the help of known Latin American smuggling cartels, according to an intelligence report by the U.S. Southern Command. the U.S. Southern Command, reports that 10% of the 330,000 people who tried to cross the Southern border were from countries of special interest, which include many of the same nations on Trump’s list.

Majority Favor Trump Immigration Reform in New Poll

Despite continuing protests and legal challenges, just over half of voters favor President Trump’s temporary refugee ban. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 52% of Likely U.S. Voters favor a ban that keeps refugees from all countries from entering the United States for the next four months until there is a better system in place to keep out individuals who are terrorist threats. Forty-three percent (43%) are opposed. The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted on January 31-February 1, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports, a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

Trump Calls for Rescinding Funding to U.C. Berkeley after Riots

President Trump suggested eliminating the University of California, Berkeley’s federal funding after violent protests seized the campus and shut down Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled speech. Before Yiannopoulos’ talk Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, issued a statement claiming the school is bound by the First Amendment and could not cancel the speech, even though the university administration believes Yiannopoulos’ opinions contradict the values of the university. At the end of his statement, Dirks said he the school “encourage[s] those of you who wish to exercise your right to protest this event to review our standing suggestions regarding how to protest safely.” Instead of protesting “safely,” protesters tore down barricades, destroyed buildings, and set the campus on fire. As a result of the violence, Berkeley eventually pulled the plug on Yiannopoulos’ talk.

DHS Secretary Plans to Complete Trump’s Wall in 2 Years

In his first television interview as Homeland Security secretary, retired four-star Marine Gen. John F. Kelly told Fox News he wants the U.S.-Mexico border wall finished in two years – setting an ambitious schedule for the project ordered last week by President Trump. “The wall will be built where it’s needed first, and then it will be filled in.” The Rio Grande Valley, known as the “RGV sector,” is among the busiest. On any given day, Border Patrol agents pick up at least 600 people who have crossed the Mexican border, entering the U.S. illegally. Kelly also said he supported a “surge” of resources to the border so that processing those who cross illegally can happen in a matter of weeks, not “600 plus days.”

Army Corps Ordered to Finish the Dakota Access Pipeline

The 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline is nearly complete, except for a hotly contested section under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe that’s been the topic of massive protests. But now, the Army is allowing that final section to be built, two lawmakers said. Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer “has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Sen. John Hoeven said in a statement Tuesday. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which opposes the project, responded that Hoeven’s announcement is premature and maintains that further environmental review is needed for the pipeline. Rep. Kevin Cramer, also a North Dakota Republican, said he received word that the US Army Corps will grant final approval and praised President Donald Trump as a “man of action” after Trump signed executive actions last week to advance approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

California Lawmakers Want ‘Third Gender Option’ for Drivers’ Licenses

Legislation introduced in California would create a third gender option on drivers’ licenses and expedite the process for individuals to change their sex on their birth certificate without undergoing a sex change. The “Gender Recognition Act,” sponsored by state senators Toni Atkins of San Diego and Scott Weiner of San Francisco, would add “nonbinary” to the list of male and female genders on state identification documents. California law currently requires individuals seeking to change their birth certificate to provide proof from a doctor that they have undergone “clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition.” The new legislation would remove this requirement and allow individuals to change their gender without a hearing, if no one files an objection.

California Democratic Lawmakers Move to Become a ‘Sanctuary State’

California Senate Democrats moved Tuesday to become the first “sanctuary state,” advancing bills that would create a statewide sanctuary for illegal immigrants, provide money to pay lawyers for immigrants facing deportation and hamper any attempts by the Trump administration to create a Muslim registry. The move comes days after President Trump launched his crackdown on immigration and sanctuary cities across the nation. San Francisco filed a lawsuit against Trump earlier Tuesday, claiming his executive order that would cut funding from sanctuary cities is unconstitutional and a “severe invasion of San Francisco’s sovereignty.” San Francisco receives about $1.2 billion a year in federal funding for services that include housing, health and social services, and homelessness. Republicans and law enforcement groups said the bill would make it harder for authorities to work together to fight crime.

Economic News

America added 227,000 jobs in January, well ahead of December’s gain of 157,000 jobs. The unemployment rate ticked up a bit to 4.8%. More Americans started looking for work again — a good sign — which explains the small increase in unemployment. While the top line numbers are pretty strong, Trump is also inheriting problems in the U.S. job market. The underemployment rate — people that are unemployed plus those who work part-time — actually rose in January to 9.4% from 9.2% in December. There are 5.8 million Americans working part-time jobs but who want a full-time position. The quality of jobs is another issue. America added 76,000 retail and restaurant jobs in January, which tend to be lower-paying, low-skill positions. While manufacturing barely added any jobs in January, some see the outlook for factory jobs improving under President Trump. However, Americans saw a boost in wages. Paychecks grew 2.5% in January compared to a year ago, a sign of continued momentum from last year.

President Trump plans to sign an executive order on Friday to ease regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to rein in Wall Street, according to a White House spokeswoman. The move would address another one of Trump’s campaign promises: Dismantling 2010’s financial reform legislation, known as Dodd Frank. The legislation forced banks to take various steps to prevent another financial crisis, including holding more capital and taking yearly “stress tests” to prove they could withstand economic turbulence. The financial industry, particularly the small community banks, complained the rules went too far. “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” Trump said during a meeting with business leaders Friday morning.

India’s annual budget, rolled out Wednesday by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, slashes the tax rate from 10% to 5% on income between 250,000 rupees ($3,700) and 500,000 rupees ($7,400). The change means that the roughly 20 million Indians with incomes within that bracket will see their tax liability halved next year. Indians earning less than 250,000 rupees do not pay income tax. Indians with larger incomes will also enjoy the tax break, saving 12,500 rupees ($185) each. But they will still face higher rates on income earned above 500,000 rupees. The Indian government hopes the concession will convince more people to pay taxes and widen the country’s shockingly small tax base. Less than 2% of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens pay any income tax at all. The predominance of cash in India’s economy makes it possible for people to evade taxes.

Israel

President Donald Trump’s administration warned Thursday that new Israeli settlement activity could potentially hamper the peace process, a surprisingly new stance for a White House that’s previously remained adamant in its support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel. Despite the shift, the White House said it hadn’t taken an official position on Israeli settlements, saying it would wait until Trump meets with Netanyahu later this month to formally develop a position. “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement.

Israeli police stormed a synagogue Thursday where about 200 Israeli protesters, some of them as young as 12-years-old, had barricaded themselves in Amona, an unauthorized Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The court-ordered evacuation began Wednesday with mostly peaceful resistance from settlers. On Thursday, police officers wearing goggles and wielding plastic shields broke through the doors and sprayed water to push back defiant protesters. The police later began dragging young protesters out of the building. The protesters retaliated by throwing rocks. They used bookcases and large sheets of metal to try to block authorities from entering the complex. Police said protesters injured at least 24 officers and that 13 young protesters have been arrested. Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts erected in the West Bank by Jewish settlers without formal permission but with tacit Israeli government support. It was built on private Palestinian land and Israel’s Supreme Court ordered it demolished.

Iran

The Treasury Department placed new sanctions on Iran Friday, the first move by the Trump administration in response to a ballistic missile test that led the White House to announce it was putting Iran “on notice.” The sanctions were imposed on several Iranian officials and entities involved in procurement of material for the missile testing, which the administration said is not part of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. “Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” said John Smith, acting director of Treasury’s office of foreign assets. “Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA. We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”

The Iranian-backed suicide attack targeting a Saudi frigate off the coast of Yemen on Monday may have been meant for an American warship, two defense officials told Fox News. The incident in question occurred in the southern Red Sea and was carried out by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Two Saudi sailors were killed and three were wounded. At first the ship was thought to have been struck by a missile. But based on new analysis of a video showing the attack, American intelligence officials now believe this was a suicide bomber whose small boat rammed the side of the Saudi vessel. In the audio heard on the video, a voice narrating the attack shouts in Arabic, “Allahu akbar [God is great], death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory for Islam.”

Ukraine

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations offered a strong condemnation of Russia in her first appearance at the UN Security Council on Thursday, calling on Moscow to de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine and saying that US sanctions against Moscow would remain in place until it withdraws from Crimea. “The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea,” said Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s envoy to the world body. “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces is escalating, officials have warned. A higher number of ceasefire violations were reported between Sunday and Tuesda evenings, compared with the previous 48 hours, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said Monday. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said 12 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donbass region in two days. At least 26 troops were wounded. “Russian occupation forces carried out massive attacks across the contact line using all available weapons, including (artillery, mortars and tanks) — all prohibited by the Minsk agreements — and small arms,” the ministry said. Civilians are being evacuated from the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, as the upsurge in fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces leaves around 20,000 residents living in deteriorating conditions.

Australia

For more than 70 years, Australia and the United States have been inseparable allies. However, President Trump supposedly had a heated phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the weekend which could push the two countries apart. In the phone call on Saturday, Trump and Turnbull butted heads about a deal struck with the Obama administration for the United States to take 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centers. However, both Trump and Turnbull have downplayed their differences. “Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!” Trump tweeted Friday morning. On Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered assurances the U.S. would uphold the deal to take in 1,250 refugees from Australia.

Volcanoes

Ethiopia’s most active volcano, Erta Ale, better known as the “smoking mountain” and the “gateway to hell,” is spewing massive amounts of lava. The activity began increasing on Jan. 20, with the lake sputtering lava to heights of up to 100 feet. New fissures opened up on Jan. 21. Erta Ale is located where three tectonic plates are separating on the African continent, in a place where temperatures can rise to more than 125 degrees Fahrenheit. At 150 feet below sea level, the Denakil Depression is a vast desert basin, characterized by two active volcanoes and the Erta Ale living lava lake, which is only one of four in the world. There are also impressive geysers, acid ponds, along with expanses of yellow mounds of sulfur, salt and mineral deposits.

Weather

After a few days’ break, the storm parade marched back into the West, with soaking rain, heavy mountain snow, and yet another freezing rain event into part of the Pacific Northwest’s Interstate 5 corridor, including Portland, Oregon. A well-defined Pacific low-pressure system approached the West Coast late Wednesday into Thursday, bringing more rain to California and additional heavy snowfall to the Sierra Nevada. Authorities said foggy conditions were to blame for a pileup that involved at least 50 vehicles near Armona, California, Tuesday morning, as well as several other crashes in the middle of the state. At least five people were killed in separate crashes Wednesday on slick Colorado roads that were made dangerous by winter weather. Icy conditions from freezing rain caused a treacherous commute Friday in winter-weary Portland, with multiple wrecks reported.

European consumers have been plunged into crisis by a vegetable shortage caused by severe weather. Shops across Europe – and particularly in the UK – have seen the shelves stripped of green produce like lettuce, broccoli and spinach. Courgettes (zucchinis, if you’re American), aubergines (eggplant) and peppers have also been badly affected. The problems stem from a blast of cold weather which has overtaken large parts of southern Europe. These areas are usually able to grow vegetables even through the cold season, but snow and floods have stopped supplies in their tracks.