Posts Tagged ‘abortion’

Signs of the Times (4/22/17)

April 22, 2017

New Study Finds Unborn Babies Likely Feel Pain in the First Trimester

A study published in the Journal Cell on 23 March 2017 reveals that the nervous system of embryos and fetuses may be greatly more developed than was previously believed.  Entitled “Tridimensional Visualization and Analysis of Early Human Development” the study shows that unborn babies in the first trimester have “adult-like” patterns of nerves. Researchers “combined whole-mount immunostaining, 3DISCO clearing, and light-sheet imaging to start building a 3D cellular map” and found that “the adult-like pattern of skin innervation is established before the end of the first trimester, showing important intra- and inter-individual variations in nerve branches.” The implication is that babies feel pain much earlier than first thought. The prevailing assumption that babies don’t feel pain in the first trimester will have to be re-examined. There is increasing evidence that unborn babies can feel pain much earlier than 20 weeks — possibly as early as five weeks. Some evidence exists to show that fetal pain may be even worse in the first trimester, due to the uneven maturation of fetal neurophysiology, reports LiveNews.com.

Smuggling Cartels Big Threat to U.S.

Smuggling cartels are now a major threat to the fabric of American society, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly declared Tuesday, saying the international crime syndicates have shown an incredible ability to sneak drugs and people —potentially terrorists and dirty bombs — into the U.S. Mr. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general who is three months into his tenure as secretary, said among all the other dangers facing Americans, the threat from the cartels, known in the security world as “transnational criminal organizations” is what keeps him up at night. He said the Trump administration has already notched some victories over the criminal networks, including cutting the level of illegal immigration across the southwestern border by a staggering 70 percent. But he said the quantity of drugs has increased and that the smuggling cartels share ties with the terrorist networks that the U.S. is fighting overseas.

Congress Grappling with Shutdown Threat

Lawmakers return to session next week with just four days to fund the government and avert a shutdown. The deadline is April 28. The dynamics are different this time, compared with the 2013 meltdown. There’s a Republican House and Senate. This is the first government funding go-round with President Trump occupying the White House. No one is quite sure how the Trump administration will handle the negotiations or what are their untouchable requests. But there’s not a lot of time to figure this out. Some Republicans fret that House GOP leaders burned way too much time trying to rescue their failed health care bill. The White House said Thursday that it wants to see money for President Trump’s border wall included in the spending bill Congress must pass next week — a demand Democrats said sours negotiations and makes a government shutdown more likely.

Proposed Budget Cuts in Foreign Aid Worry U.N.

President Trump’s pledge to cut U.S. foreign aid loomed large over meetings the United Nations’ refugee chief held with economic development officials Friday. “I’m worried about possible reductions,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees, told USA TODAY. “I’ll have to cut back programs that help millions of people,” said Grandi, who is responsible for serving people fleeing conflicts in places like Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and North Africa. Trump’s proposed budget would slash foreign aid by 37%. Critics, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have said that would hurt America’s image as the world’s foremost provider to the neediest people. Security concerns are legitimate, but the reality is that the number of terrorist acts committed by people posing as refugees is low, Grandi said. Far more terrorist acts were committed by second- and third-generation immigrants, which points to a different kind of threat, he said. “It means that someone was not integrated properly,” he said. That’s less of a problem in the U.S. and Canada than it is in Europe, Grandi said.

Justice Department Threatens Sanctuary Cities

The Trump administration intensified its threats to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, warning nine jurisdictions Friday that they may lose coveted law enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation. It sent letters to officials in California and major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. But some of the localities remained defiant, despite risking the loss of funds that police agencies use to pay for everything from body cameras to bulletproof vests. “We’re not going to cave to these threats,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said, promising a legal fight if the money is pulled.

Scientists March in D.C. to Protest Trump Policies

Crowds of people are marching Saturday in the United States and around the world in support of science and evidence-based research in a protest fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump’s environmental and energy policies. Besides the main march in Washington, organizers said more than 600 “satellite” marches were due to take place globally in a protest timed to coincide with Earth Day. The march has been billed by its organizers as political but nonpartisan. The event’s website describes it as “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments.” U.S. scientists said they fear Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have a major impact on research and science-based policy as well as undermine the importance of science in society and limit future innovation.

Increasing Intolerance for Free Speech on College Campuses

There has been an inreasing intolerance for the exchange of ideas at American colleges and universities. In recent months, battles over free speech on campuses have descended into violence across the nation, reports CNN. Free speech came to fisticuffs before alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer could even begin his speech at Auburn University. The University of California, Berkeley, erupted into near-riots in February during protests against right-winger Milo Yiannopoulos and again last week over President Donald Trump. When eugenicist Charles Murray spoke last month at Middlebury College in Vermont, protesters got so rowdy that a professor accompanying him was injured. Students and faculty are stifling free speech, especially if it involves conservative causes, CNN notes. More and more American universities are avoiding controversial speech altogether by banning polarizing speakers. On Wednesday Berkeley said it would seek to cancel next week’s scheduled speech by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, citing safety concerns. And students say the middle ground on campuses is in danger of becoming quicksand, a place where neither side dares tread.

ANTIFA is Becoming the New Face of the Alt-Left

In the recent riots at Berkley and some other college campuses, the violence seems to be largely initiated and conducted by people in black clothes, hoodies, or masks. From many reports, these people are from a new organization called ANTIFA, which stands for anti-fascism. They are reportedly funded by billionaire George Soros and have communistic, or at least radical socialism. The believe that President Trump, conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, are fascists, which is far from the truth – except for the alt-right. Are they becoming the new face of liberals and the Democratic Party? Let’s hope not, because if you don’t agree with them, you are immediately shouted down as a racist, bigot, or fascist. So much for tolerance and free speech.

Race, Not Terrorism, Motive for Fresno Killings

Police say race is what drove a homeless African-American man in Fresno to shoot and kill three white men on Tuesday – bringing his homicide total to four since last week. “We don’t believe it’s a terrorist act,” Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters about the Tuesday rampage led by suspect Kori Ali Muhammad. “We believe it’s a hate crime. Dyer said the incident ended with Muhammad, 39, shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is great” – as police took him down to the ground. Muhammad sought to kill as many white people as possible, Dyer said. The shootings were random, he added. “This is solely based on race,” he said.

Millennials Vastly Different that Previous Generations

“Today’s young adults look different from prior generations in almost every regard: how much education they have, their work experiences, when they start a family, and even who they live with while growing up,” says a report from the Census Bureau released Wednesday. It found they increasingly live at home and delay starting a family. According to the report, that trend reflects a wider shift in attitudes about the importance of work and education over family. For example, more than half of all Americans think marriage and children are not important steps in becoming an adult, while “more than 9 in 10 Americans believe that finishing school and being gainfully employed are important milestones of adulthood.” The Census Bureau looked at four common milestones of adulthood: Getting married, having kids, getting a job and living on your own. The report found that the percentage of Americans achieving all four of those milestones by age 34 dropped from 45% in 1975 to 24% in 2016.

Young adults are increasingly putting off children and marriage. Being a “single worker” is now the second most common lifestyle scenario by 2016, a rise from 6% to 23%. The report also found young women are pulling ahead in employment and wages, while those numbers on are the decline for young men. In 1975, 25% of men between 25 and 34 had incomes of less than $30,000 (adjusted for inflation) per year. By 2016, it was 41%. The number of young women ages 25 to 34 in the workforce jumped more than 40% between 1975 and 2016. Those young women saw their median income rise from $23,000 to $29,000 in the same time period, although it remains $11,000 lower than young men. Between 1975 and 2016, the number of young female “homemakers” dropped from 43% to 14%.1 in 3 young Americans lives with a parent or parents. Of those, 1 in 4 do not work or go to school. In 1975, far more young adults lived with a spouse than a parent. By 2016, more young adults lived with their parents than a husband or wife. 41% of young families had a student debt in 2013, up from 17% in 1989 and the amount owed on those loans has almost tripled.

Economic News

Existing home sales rose 4.4 percent in March to a higher-than-expected annualized rate of 5.71 million. This is the best rate since February 2007. Single-family sales were up 4.3 percent to a 5.08 million rate and condo sales were up 5.0 percent to a 630,000 rate. Year-on-year sales increases also were higher, up 5.9 percent, at 6.1 percent for single-family homes and 5.0 percent for condos. The median price of the homes sold rose 3.6 percent over February to $236,400 for a year-on-year increase of 6.8 percent. The lack of supply and heated sales pace are reflected in the number of days the homes were on the market, which were down to 34 days from 45 in the prior month and 47 days a year ago.

Retail sales declined in February and March, according the Commerce Department Tuesday. Shoppers haven’t been this stingy since early 2015, and it’s likely to hurt the economy. The U.S. is on track for very sluggish 0.5% growth in the first three months this year, according to the latest estimates from Macroeconomic Advisers and the Atlanta Federal Reserve. About 70% of the American economy comes from consumer purchases.

Out of the nearly 11.1 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S., Pew Research projected that there were about 8 million in the workforce in 2014. About 3.4 million, of those workers paid Social Security taxes, according to 2014 estimates from the Social Security administration. Unauthorized immigrant workers and their employers contributed $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010, the most current estimate. Judges tend to look more favorably upon illegal immigrants who have a history of filing and paying their taxes.

Venezuela

Venezuelan authorities seized the General Motors plant there, the company confirmed late Wednesday, in a move that broadens the international implications of the country’s political and economic decomposition. The fate of other automotive plants in Venezuela was not immediately clear. The development puts an abrupt end to GM’s operations in the country, which the world’s third largest automaker described as an “illegal judicial seizure of its assets.” It also comes as the South American nation experiences intense public protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Three people were killed late Wednesday as tens of thousands of Venezuelans took the streets to demand fresh presidential elections and the release of jailed opposition politicians. The country has high crime and inflation rates and there are shortages of many basic goods and services. It is oil-rich but cash-poor. The troubled Venezuelan economy has dragged down the auto industry for several years, as tanking sales and abysmal currency exchange rates have undermined earnings reports. After weeks of violent protests that left at least 22 people dead, Venezuelans will take to the streets Saturday dressed in white to pay tribute to those killed in anti-government demonstrations this month.

United Kingdom

Members of the British Parliament have approved Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to hold an early general election on June 8. May made a unexpected announcement Tuesday that she would seek a “snap” election less than halfway through her government’s five-year term, with the aim of gaining a stronger mandate for the country’s historic withdrawal from the European Union. After debating the motion put forward by May in Parliament, 522 of the 650 sitting MPs voted in favor of the June 8 election, easily passing the threshold of two-thirds needed to approve the plan. The announcement marked a U-turn for May, who had repeatedly said she would not seek an early vote. The snap vote is the latest twist in a turbulent year in British politics, which was plunged into turmoil when the country unexpectedly voted to leave the European Union last year. The hotly contested “Brexit” referendum ended with the resignation of then-Prime Minister David Cameron.

North Korea

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded to 30 warheads and will grow further as Pyongyang produces increased quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, according to estimates by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. In just three years, the North’s unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-un, will control sufficient fissile material to double that arsenal to as many as 60 weapons, the Institute says. To underscore this alarming increase, the U.S. estimated that North Korea owned just one or two nuclear weapons in 1999 and would have 10 or more by 2020, according to a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report obtained by The Washington Times. “The bottom line is that North Korea has an improving nuclear weapons arsenal,” said David Albright, founder and director of the Institute. The numbers show that North Korea is becoming a true nuclear power with the ability to hit its neighbors and, one day, the U.S.

Iran

Iran is cheating on its historical deal with the U.S. by secretly conducting research into nuclear weapons components such as bomb triggers and enriched uranium, the main Iranian opposition group said Friday. The regime is doing engineering and weaponization testing at a walled military complex south of Tehran, a location which Iran has declared off-limits to inspectors, said the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main operational arm, the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran. “This is the site that has been kept secret,” said Alireza Jafrazadeh, NCRI’s Washington office deputy director. “There is secret research to manufacture the bomb and basically cover up the real activities of the Iranian regime.” The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated by the Obama administration, has become a major foreign policy issue for the Trump White House as it evaluates whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran has benefited with billions of dollars in freed-up funds while it pursues interventions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen against U.S. interests. Iran is failing to fulfill the “spirit” of its nuclear deal with world powers, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, setting an ominous tone for his forthcoming decision about whether to pull the U.S. out of the landmark agreement.

France

The gunman who killed a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Elysees in Paris was arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to kill police officers, French media reported Friday. The suspect was detained and later freed because of a lack of evidence. In 2003, the man was convicted of attempted homicide in the shootings of two police officers. On Thursday, the gunman opened fire on a police van on the famous Paris boulevard Thursday before he was shot and killed. Multiple media outlets named the gunman as Karim Cheurfi, a French national and a father of two. The Islamic State identified him by the pseudonym Abu Yusuf al-Beljiki (father of Yusuf the Belgian) through its Amaq news agency. The attack came days before the first round of voting in the French presidential election on Sunday in which terrorism has been a major issue.

Egypt

A policeman was killed and four others were wounded after the Islamic State terror group tried to attack the St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, Egypt this week. The attack on the Christian monastery was thwarted. ISIS gunmen reportedly opened fire from a hilltop overlooking a police checkpoint near the entrance to the monastery. They fled the scene following the shootout, but killed one officer. Johnnie Moore, founder and CEO of The KAIROS Company and human rights advocate, told The Christian Post that the attempted attack is cause for “great alarm” throughout the global Christian community. On Palm Sunday, radicals bombed two churches in Alexandria and Tanta, killing 45 Christians. They promised more attacks would follow.

Syria

Syria retains chemical weapons and has dispersed its warplanes in recent days, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a news conference Friday. The aircraft dispersal suggests possible concerns about further U.S. missile strikes after President Trump ordered strikes on a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in Idlib province on April 4 that killed 89 people. Scientists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found “incontrovertible” evidence that the victims were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance after samples from 10 victims were analyzed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes sarin as a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Generally odorless and tasteless, it can cause death in minutes.

Afghanistan

An Afghan official says 140 army personnel have been killed or wounded after gunmen wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in Balkh province. The attack on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army killed or wounded hundreds of soldiers and other personnel. Two terrorists carried out suicide attacks and eight other attackers were killed in the battle. The attackers even shot some soldiers as they prayed in a mosque inside the base. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to media.

Haiti

President Trump’s immigration agency is recommending that the U.S. end temporary protections by next January for 50,000 Haitians allowed to remain in the United States following a series of natural disasters that have crippled the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation. The agency says conditions in Haiti have improved enough to end “temporary protected status” for Haitians. The Obama administration first offered temporary protection to Haitians following the devastating 2010 earthquake. The protection has been extended several times, the latest set to expire July 22. A final decision on the Haitians’ fate rests with the Department of Homeland Security.

Wildfires

Homes were destroyed and thousands have been evacuated as Florida firefighters continue to battle 91 wildfires burning across the state, officials said Friday. More than 25,000 additional acres have burned in the state since just Thursday. In Collier County, a wildfire has grown rapidly since it broke out on Thursday. Several homes have been destroyed as another 2,000 homes were evacuated on Friday. Officials say another 5,000 homes are on a voluntary evacuation order. The so-called 30th Avenue fire ignited near the Naples neighborhood of Golden Gate Estates on Thursday. It has scorched 4,800 acres and is just 10 percent contained. Authorities said as many as nine structures, several of which are homes, have been destroyed by the blaze. In Central Florida, about 800 homes were evacuated in Indian Lake Estates near Lakeland. The fire had burned about 600 acres and destroyed several structures by Friday night. Wildfires have burned at nearly 150,000 acres across Florida since January, exceeding the five-year average of acreage that is typically burned in an entire year.

Weather

Heavy rain and spring snow runoff have caused severe flooding on the Ottawa and Rigaud rivers in Quebec, Canada, prompting a state of emergency and evacuations. About 60 homes have already flooded in the town located 20 miles west of Montreal and another 150 homes are under evacuation. The majority of the homes under evacuation in the town of 7,500 are accessed by a single road that authorities said became submerged by Thursday night.

A new round of heavy rainfall triggered additional mudslides Wednesday that killed at least 14 and injured two dozen in a mountain city in Colombia. Many in the town of Manizales were still asleep when the land gave way in the early-morning hours. The country is still recovering after floods killed at least 300 in the town of Mocoa, located in southern Colombia. The city of 400,000 received a month’s worth of rain in a span of five hours, and dozens of hillsides gave way. In all, 40 to 50 mudslides were reported, destroying homes and leaving several roadways impassable.

Signs of the Times (4/18/17)

April 18, 2017

900,000 Christians Martyred in One Decade

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year. Open Doors also documented a total of 1,329 churches attacked worldwide for faith-related reasons between Nov. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2016. The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000. The top 10 countries for extreme persecution of Christians are, in order: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Transgender Confusion Shaking up Women’s Sports

USA Volleyball, the national governing body for volleyball in the USA and recognized by the United States Olympic Committee, formed a Gender Committee to consider a transgender application. After a 32-year-old biological male provided medical documentation demonstrating a lower testosterone level for three years, the committee gave him approval to play on the women’s team in an event in Hawaii. This particular biological male is a large person who’s going to have a decided advantage in women’s volleyball from size alone, not to mention his superior muscle strength.

The latest girls’ 100- and 200-meter dash winner from Cromwell High School in Connecticut has broad shoulders, manly biceps, and a mustache. The 15-year old biological male who has not taken drugs nor undergone surgery to mimic femininity was allowed to compete against other girls and, to no one’s surprise, he won – quite handily.

In Texas, a 17-year-old girl who identifies as a boy is taking testosterone supplements as she begins to “transition” to being male. She is in the news because she wrestles on the girls’ team and just won a tournament when her opponent in the finals forfeited because the other girl’s parents protested the match. She is effectively taking a performance enhancing drug, and in a physically-taxing sport like wrestling, the differences are quite tangible. That’s why the lawsuit brought by the parents of another female wrestler urged the governing body to suspend her because of the use of the steroid that is banned in most sports.

A New Zealand weightlifter absolutely smoked the competition, beating her nearest competitor, a Samoan woman, by nearly 20 kilograms. The only problem is that Laurel is a biological male, born Gavin, which is why a number of the competitors felt the competition was unfair. “Imagine training for this your whole life, as a woman, only to have a known leader in men’s weightlifting take your title,” one observer complained.

  • Many more examples are increasingly showing up in women’s sporting events around the world

Evangelical Churches Growing in Brazil’s Poorest Communities

Evangelical churches are thriving in Brazil, particularly in the country’s poorest communities. Brazil is a traditionally Catholic country, but evangelical churches are providing what many poor Brazilians need, materially and spiritually. According to Christian Today, many poor Brazilians are drawn to evangelical churches because the churches are the one thing in their communities that are caring for them and providing for their physical needs, as well as their spiritual ones. Churches are a stable presence in these poor communities, providing education, security, and economic development, as well as spiritual help. About 20 percent of people who live in Brazil’s major cities live in poor communities called favelas, so there is a great need for these churches to help.

Trump’s Immigration Order Could Swamp Backlogged Immigration Courts

Coast to coast, immigration judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are straining to decipher how the federal immigration rules released in February by the Trump administration will impact the system — amid an already burgeoning backlog of existing cases. The new guidelines, part of President Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, give enforcement agents greater rein to deport immigrants without hearings and detain those who entered the country without permission. But that ambitious policy shift faces a tough hurdle: an immigration court system already juggling more than 500,000 cases and ill-equipped to take on thousands more. Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney who works with juveniles, noted that “There isn’t an empty courtroom. We don’t have enough judges. You can say you’re going to prosecute more people, but from a practical perspective, how do you make that happen?”

Trump Signs “Buy American, Hire American” Order

President Trump signed a double-barreled, “Buy American, Hire American” executive order Tuesday, during a visit to Snap-On Tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The “Buy American” portion of the order will require federal agencies to buy more goods and services from U.S. companies and workers. It also includes language requiring transportation projects to use steel “melted and poured” in the U.S. The “Hire American” side of the order will clamp down on guest worker visas, specifically the H-1B visa program, which allows 85,000 foreign workers into the U.S. each year to take specific high-skilled jobs with U.S. companies. By combining aspects of immigration policy with federal procurement regulations, Trump is using executive action to advance his philosophy of economic nationalism without waiting for action from Congress.

Trump’s Reelection Campaign Already Raised $13.2 Million

President Trump’s reelection campaign has already raised $13.2 million this year, according to federal records filed Friday night and obtained by Politico. Roughly 80 percent of the money was raised through small, online donations, with about $4.7 million spent on hats, T-shirts, mugs and stickers. Trump’s three campaign committees have a total of about $16 million in the bank after expenses. The Republican National Committee confirmed earlier this month that it had raised $41.3 million over the same period.

Trump Supporters, Protesters Clash in Berkeley, California

At least 21 people were arrested as Trump supporters and opponents clashed Saturday at a park in Berkeley, California. Eleven people were injured, with seven transported to the hospital. “A large number of fights have occurred and numerous fireworks have been thrown in the crowds,” Berkeley police said in a statement. “There have also been numerous reports of pepper spray being used in the crowd.” CNN affiliate KPIX reported that Trump supporters planned a “Patriot Day” rally at noon and counter-protesters showed up a few hours earlier. Hundreds of people had gathered in Civic Center Park. Police set up a barrier of orange mesh fence to separate the two sides but it quickly fell down as protesters started fighting. Peaceful protests were held in dozens of cities across the United States on Saturday for the anti-Trump “Tax Day.” President Trump says he is unimpressed with the tax protests —  and indicated he has no plans to release his tax returns anytime soon.

Diabetes Rising in America’s Youth

The rate at which America’s children are diagnosed with diabetes is climbing and researchers don’t know why. A first-ever study of new diabetes diagnoses of U.S. youth under age 20 found both Types 1 and 2 diabetes surged from 2002-2012. The diagnosis of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity, increased about 5% each year from 2002 to 2012, nearly 50% over the ten-year period. New cases of Type 1, the most common form for young people, went up about 2% every year, nearly one out of every four youth over the ten years studied.

The study, published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed higher rates of diabetes diagnoses among minorities. Type 2 diabetes, which the CDC stated makes up about 90% to 95% of diagnosed diabetes cases, rose by 8.5% a year in Asian Americans ages 10-19. Blacks in the same age group saw a 6.3% annual increase, followed by a 3.1% bump in Hispanics with whites at fewer than a 1% increase per year. Hispanics saw the biggest rate increase of Type 1 diabetes with a 4.2% annual increase, followed by blacks at 2.2% and whites at 1.2%.

In terms of gender, girls and women 10-19 saw a 6.2% annual increase in Type 2 diabetes, while men and boys of the same age experienced a 3.7% increase. Across all age groups, Type 1 diabetes increased 2.2% a year in males and 1.4% in females. CDC epidemiologist Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore said those who develop diabetes at a young age are at risk of developing complications from the disease earlier, lowering their quality of life, shortening life expectancy and increasing health care costs.

  • Poor diet is most likely the primary cause of this increase in diabetes

Economic News

American homeowners paid property taxes totaling nearly $278 billion in 2016, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, the nation’s largest property. That means that each of the country’s 84 million single-family homeowners paid an average of $3,296 in property taxes, which amounts to an average 1.15% effective tax rate. According to the report, there were nine counties in the country with a population of at least 100,000 that had average annual property taxes of more than $10,000: Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties in New York; Essex, Bergen, Union and Morris counties in New Jersey; Marin County, California; and Fairfield County, Connecticut. The lowest effective tax rate is 0.32% in Hawaii, with the highest is 2.31% in New Jersey.

While the United States is still at the top in total investment in research and development — spending $500 billion in 2015 —  a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study to be released Monday has made a startling finding: A couple of years ago, China quietly surpassed the U.S. in spending on the later stage of R&D that turns discoveries into commercial products. And at its current rate of spending, China will invest up to twice as much as the U.S., or $658 billion, by 2018 on this critical late-stage research. The U.S. Is doing the hard work of inventing new technologies, and China, among other countries, is reaping the benefits by taking those ideas and turning them into commercial products before we do.

Uber’s gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. But that rapid growth came at a high cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016. Uber’s CEO had previously said it had been losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing last August. Uber is currently conducting an “urgent” investigation in response to a former employee who made public allegations of sexism and harassment at the company.

The International Monetary Fund has issued a warning to political leaders: Don’t raise trade barriers. The IMF upgraded its forecast for the global economic growth by 0.1 percentage points on Tuesday to 3.5%. But it said that “inward-looking policies” could derail economic improvements. The warning appears to be aimed at President Trump’s “America First” agenda and other protectionist policies. Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of one vast trade deal in the Pacific. He’s also promised to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, and threatened to slap tariffs or taxes on imports. The U.S. Federal Reserve agrees, arguing that American businesses that export to Mexico would be hurt if the Trump administration scraps NAFTA.

Great Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned her nation and its European partners Tuesday with a call for an early national election on June 8, seeking to cement her political backing as Britain moves ahead with difficult negotiations on its break from the European Union. The surprise announcement — made outside her office at 10 Downing Street — comes amid internal political strains over Britain’s exit, known as Brexit, and fresh moves by Scotland to potentially carve its own independent path to remain in the European Union. On the wider European stage, the election cannot undo Britain’s break from the E.U. But it will help set the tone for Britain’s contentious talks to split from the bloc, whose 27 remaining leaders have taken a hard line against any major concessions on key issues such as trade. If May emerges strengthened from the election — as opinion polls currently suggest — she will have greater clout to mute domestic dissent as she buckles down for talks. But if anti-Brexit voices do well in the polls, May could be forced to soften her demands from Europe.

Syria

A car bomb exploded near buses carrying Syrians evacuated from towns besieged by rebels in northern Syria. At least 100 people have been killed, according to Syrian state TV. The explosion Saturday hit an evacuation point south of Aleppo city where dozens of buses have been parked for over 30 hours as a much-criticized population transfer deal stalled. A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers. The buses carrying nearly 5,000 pro-government evacuees have been stuck in an area on the edge of Aleppo. But as the government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, the buses were left stuck at two separate but adjacent parts of the city.

Afghanistan

The number of militants killed in an attack by the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military has risen to 94, an Afghan official said Saturday. “Fortunately, there is no report of civilians being killed in the attack,” said Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor in Nangarhar. The U.S. attack on a tunnel complex in remote eastern Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border killed at least four IS group leaders, Khogyani said. He said a clearance operation to assess the site of the attack was continuing. The U.S. estimates 600-800 IS fighters are in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar. The U.S. has concentrated on fighting them while also supporting Afghan forces against the Taliban. The U.S. has more than 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

North Korea

A failed test of a medium-range ballistic missile that blew up almost immediately Sunday did not provoke a U.S. military response. Even so, North Korea has made progress with its nuclear weapons and missile programs and tensions between the two countries remain dangerously high for the indefinite future. President Trump has vowed that he will not allow North Korea to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States, and Kim has vowed to pursue that very goal to prevent a pre-emptive U.S. strike.

In a show of military strength and defiance, tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers goose-stepped and new missiles and other military hardware were wheeled out in display during a celebratory parade Saturday in the capital of Pyongyang. But there were no nuclear weapons or missile tests that President Trump had warned the isolated regime to avoid or face unspecified consequences. The parade marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, a date celebrated as the “Day of the Sun” in North Korea. He is the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-Un, who was on hand to witness the spectacle. North Korea has warned that it was prepared to strike back against the United States and South Korea as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula. Last weekend, the U.S. sent aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to nearby waters as heated words ratcheted up. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned both the United States and North Korea on Friday that, “If war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, multiple parties will lose and no one will win.”

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a “historic” victory Sunday in a tightly contested national referendum that would radically change his country’s system of government and give the president vast, new powers. With 99% of the ballots counted, Erdogan’s referendum had 51.4% “yes” votes, while 48.6% opposed the changes, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. But multiple opposition parties alleged voting irregularities and sought a recount. The United States views the referendum as a turn away from Turkey’s secular democracy and toward a religious-based, authoritarian regime in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of about 80 million people. Turkey is a NATO member and crucial partner in the international effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Wildfires

As of April 14, wildfires in the U.S. have burned over 2.1 million acres, over four times the average for the last ten years. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida have borne the brunt of wildfire carnage. Dozens of wildfires have burned at least 126,000 acres across Florida since January, exceeding the five-year average of acreage that is typically burned in an entire year. Experts warn that the fire risk may increase over the coming weeks as Florida enters its dry season. Smoke from some fires has forced Florida Highway Patrol troopers to close major highways for hours at a time. Health officials have recommended that people with asthma or chronic lung or heart conditions should stay indoors with windows closed to avoid smoke from blazes near them.

Weather

Significant flooding in northeast Washington state washed out roads and knocked one home partially into a river. The Ferry County Sheriff’s Office is preparing for an unprecedented flooding disaster, with 6 feet of snow still in the mountains and 6 feet of frost underground. “The Sanpoil Valley is currently experiencing the worst flooding in decades,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. Residents have been put on alert for rock and mud slides, and are being asked to have sufficient food, water and medication on hand in case roads are rendered impassable by flooding.

A long-lived supercell thunderstorm in the Texas panhandle Friday evening spawned multiple tornadoes, including an EF3 that was a mile wide and caused damage just outside the town of Dimmitt. The persistent supercell thunderstorm developed just after 4 p.m. CDT on Friday, pushing east through the Texas panhandle for about nine hours. The storm first brought large hail as it sluggishly moved eastward. Hail larger than a baseball was reported near Bovina and Friona, Texas, shattering windshields of at least two cars, including one police car. By 6 p.m, the supercell thunderstorm began to produce tornadoes as it entered Castro County, Texas. The most significant tornado was on the ground for about 20 minutes in Castro County west of Dimmitt and had a damage path up to 1.1 miles wide. A metal building was completely destroyed and displaced hundreds of feet northwest of its original location. Winds were estimated as high as 140 mph in the area that saw the worst damage.

Heavy rain triggered flash flooding in northwest Iran Saturday, leaving at least 30 dead and seven missing. State television says another five people were injured in the flooding. Iranian Red Crescent Society’s Search and Rescue Department provided assistance to as many as 1150 people in 33 cities and villages in northwest Iran.

Signs of the Times (4/14/17)

April 14, 2017

Downward Trend in Religious Restrictions Reversed in 2015

The number of countries with “high levels” of restrictions on religion due to government policies or actions of people increased in 2015, reversing a downward trend, according to a new study. A total of 40 percent of surveyed countries registered “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions, according to Pew Research Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion released April 11. That’s up from 34 percent in 2014, according to the data. The percentage had declined during the previous two years, tumbling from 43 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2013. Of the 198 countries Pew surveyed, 25 percent reported “high” or “very high” levels of government restriction, up just slightly from 24 percent in 2014. And 27 percent reported “high” or “very high” numbers of acts of religious hostility by individuals, organizations or groups, a jump from 23 percent in 2014. That happened in a year when European countries welcomed an increasing number of refugees, religion-related terror attacks rocked France and people with albinism were targeted for rituals by witch doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said. It’s too soon to tell if the increase is a blip or a trend, Pew says.

14% of U.S. Christians Left Their Churches after Trump was Elected

Research from The Washington Post found that about 14 percent of Christians left their churches after Donald Trump was elected president. The survey followed up with 957 people before and after the presidential election. According to the results, by mid-November, 14 percent of those surveyed had left their particular church. While Trump secured 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, the research shows that Trump seems to have “relatively low support” among evangelicals right now. The change results from American politics becoming divisive within the church (about 15 percent said that’s what’s dividing the church). The report said that people who are leaving the church did so because division in the church had spurred acrimonious debate. The people who are leaving their churches self-identified and responded as 10 percent evangelicals, 18 percent mainline Protestants and 11 percent Catholics.

Trump Signs Law Allowing States to Defund Planned Parenthood

President Trump signed a law this week overturning a last-minute Obama-era regulation forcing states to fund Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion business. The regulation forced states to give Title X money to organizations that commit abortions. Now, states – if they wish – will be able to withhold Title X money from abortion-committing organizations, instead prioritizing non-abortion businesses. Federal Title X dollars fund “family planning services,” but technically not abortion. However, government money Planned Parenthood receives, helps the abortion-centered organization overall. “This week the pro-life movement had two huge victories: first, the swearing-in of Justice Gorsuch and now, President Trump will undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List.

U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on Islamic State in Afghanistan

The U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb — a massive 21,000-pound munition nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs” — on an Islamic State tunnel complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. Afghanistan officials said 36 Islamic State militants were killed. It marked the first time it has been used in combat and reflected the growing flexibility of the Pentagon to wage war. The target was in a remote area where the risk of civilian casualties would be low. Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the decision to drop the bomb was made because it was the best fit for the target. Trump was told about the bomb’s use but his approval was not required, a point Trump noted, as well. “We have given them total authorization,” Trump said. “This was another very, very successful mission.” Trump had criticized Obama’s management of the war against the Islamic State, pledging to ramp up pressure on the terror group and give the military more flexibility to combat them. The Pentagon spokesman said the bomb had been brought to Afghanistan some time ago for potential use. The bomb explodes in the air, creating air pressure that can make tunnels and other structures collapse.

Russia Vetoes UN Measures Condemning Syrian Chemical Warfare

The UN Security Council (UNSC) failed yet again on Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning last week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria. Permanent member Russia vetoed the resolution which sought to condemn the killings and call on the Assad regime to cooperate with an international investigation into the attack. Wednesday’s veto was the eighth time Russia has used its veto — often along with China — to torpedo a UN draft resolution on Syria since its civil war began in 2011. The latest resolution to fail at the hands of Russia’s veto power came in the wake of the gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The draft resolution condemned the attacks and called for an international investigation into the perpetrators. This time China abstained.

‘Catch & Release’ Replaced with Focus on Repeat Offenders

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared “a new era” in immigration enforcement on Tuesday, saying his prosecutors will try to bring stiffer criminal charges against repeat illegal immigrants and smugglers as part of President Trump’s crackdown. Sessions said his enforcement priorities will end the “catch and release” practices of the Obama administration and give the Justice Department a more active role in stemming illegal immigration. Prosecutors should prioritize cases against smugglers and should bring felony charges against illegal immigrants who have been removed before and have sneaked back into the U.S. or have other criminal convictions on their records, according to the guidance issued by the attorney general. As part of a broader plan to reduce backlogs in immigration courts and to speed up the deportation process, the Justice Department will hire 125 more immigration judges over the next two years, the attorney general said.

Famine Threatens Most People Since World War II

The world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe. But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II, reports the Washington Post. As defined by the United Nations, famine occurs when a region’s daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people. Each of these four countries is in a protracted conflict. While humanitarian assistance can save lives in the immediate term, none of the food crises can be solved in the long term without a semblance of peace. The threat of violence can limit or prohibit aid workers’ access to affected regions, and in some cases, starvation may be a deliberate war tactic. Children are always the most affected, as even those who survive may be mentally and physically stunted for life. Ongoing conflicts in Congo, the Central African Republic, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have also left millions hungry in those places, too.

Terrorism Suspected in Bombing of German Soccer Team Bus

German authorities suspect “terrorist involvement” in a bomb attack on the bus of the Borussia Dortmund soccer team and are investigating a possible radical Islamist link, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. The investigation is focused on two suspects from the “Islamist spectrum,” spokeswoman Frauke Koehler said. Their homes have been searched and one has been temporarily detained, she said. Three explosive devices shattered windows and injured a player on the Borussia Dortmund team bus Tuesday evening local time as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League match against AS Monaco. The devices, which were hidden behind a bush, contained metal fragments and had a reach of 100 meters (109 yards), the prosecutor’s office said.

Swedes Questioning Open-Door Policy

Sweden has taken in the most migrants per capita of any European country: In 2015, more than 160,000 applied for asylum in this country of 10 million, according to government figures. Most came from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Swedes are known for their tolerant society, but last week’s deadly truck rampage by a frustrated asylum-seeker left many questioning whether the country’s open-door policy for refugees swung open too far. On Friday, a man from Uzbekistan who had been denied asylum plowed through a crowded street of shoppers in a stolen beer truck before crashing into a department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15. Now, supporters of the liberal government are considering switching sides to the far right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party in next year’s parliamentary elections, reports the USA Today.

Government Jobs Unfilled Despite Trump’s Lift of Hiring Freeze

Many federal government jobs will remain unfilled despite President Trump’s lifting the hiring freeze Wednesday, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. Trump signed a memorandum in January freezing large portions of federal government hiring, barring the military and positions deemed necessary for national security and public safety. As part of the memorandum, Trump gave the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to come up with a long-term plan to reduce the federal government’s size. While the guidance issued Wednesday does not contain agency-specific hiring goals or limits, Mulvaney said that agencies targeted with significant budget cuts in Trump’s first budget proposal, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, would be expected to make significant cuts to their workforces. Agencies that Trump wants to spend more on, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, would be expected to see their payrolls rise. Under the guidance, agencies will have until June to submit drafts for overhauling their workforces.

Economic News – Domestic

Retail sales in the U.S. fell for a second straight month in March on weaker gasoline and auto sales but a core measure that excludes those and other volatile items rose solidly. Sales overall fell 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Excluding volatile categories — autos, gasoline, food services and building materials — sales jumped 0.5%. February’s sluggish 0.1% increase was revised to a 0.3% drop. Analysts said snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast could have kept shoppers at home. U.S. households generally are benefiting from solid job and income growth, cheap gasoline, lofty stock and home prices and reduced debt. Consumer spending makes up about 70% of economic activity is expected to drive economic growth this year.

Consumer prices fell in March by the largest amount in more than two years, pushed lower by another sharp decline in the price of gasoline and other energy products. Consumer prices dropped 0.3% in March following a tiny 0.1% rise in February, the Labor Department reported Friday. It was the first monthly decline in 13 months and the biggest drop since prices fell 0.6% in January 2015. In addition to a big 6.2% fall in gasoline prices, the cost of cell phone plans, new and used cars and clothing were all lower last month. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, dropped 0.1% last month. Over the past 12 months, inflation is up a moderate 2.4% while core prices have risen 2%.

The luxury electric-car company Tesla has yet to turn a profit, losing hundreds of millions of dollars last year alone. But on Monday, the darling of Silicon Valley became the most valuable American car company, surpassing General Motors. Shares of Tesla, run by high-profile chief executive Elon Musk, put the company’s value at $51.5 billion, above GM’s $50.2 billion. Tesla blew by Ford ($44.6 billion) last week. Musk’s company produced just 84,000 cars last year, with starting prices of $68,000. Tesla’s reputation goes beyond being just a car company. It recently absorbed Musk’s Solar City company for $5 billion which has captured the imagination of California’s technology pack and, apparently, investors. The company has also been developing batteries that could store power from rooftop solar panels, expanding its mission into a renewable-energy enterprise.

General Motors is significantly increasing the number of people working on its self-driving car projects. Its new research and development facility in California is hiring 1,100 people. The new employees will be working at the Cruise Automation unit, a tech start-up GM paid $581 million for in March 2016. The self-driving car unit had already grown to about 150 engineers, according to GM, up from the 40 at the time of its purchase.

Economic News – International

Youth unemployment in the Eurozone has been stuck between 19% to 25% for the past eight years. In Spain and Greece, it’s more than 40%. Youth unemployment in the U.S. is just below 10%. The bleak numbers underscore the uphill battle many young Europeans face in finding jobs that match their aspirations and education. Many are still living at home, while others have left their families and moved to new countries in search of work. The trend is thought to be factor in rising populism in Europe, which now threatens to upend the political establishment. One major test will come later this month when France votes in the first round of a pivotal national election.

Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft might end up owning Citgo, a US energy company based in Houston, Texas. This isn’t a direct takeover. Instead, it hinges on the ability of Venezuela’s state-run oil company to pay back its Russian loan. The Venezuelan company owns Citgo, which was used as collateral for the loan. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are highly alarmed. In hotly worded letters to the Trump Administration in recent days, members of Congress and senators warned that it could be a big problem for US national security if Russia gets a hold of Citgo.

Beijing-based LeEco has pulled the plug on a plan to buy U.S. electronics maker Vizio for $2 billion. In a statement, the companies blamed “regulatory headwinds” for the deal’s collapse. It’s a sharp turnaround from July, when LeEco touted the acquisition of the U.S. smart TV maker as “an important step” in its efforts to grow in North America. The Chinese government has begun restricting overseas investments and acquisitions in recent months in order to rein in the huge sums of money flowing out of its economy. That appears to have sunk other high-profile deals, including one by China’s richest man to buy the producer of the Golden Globes.

Israel

Reports surfaced this week that a strike by a UAV (drone) in the city of Rafah, in the Egyptian Sinai, killed one person just a few hours after a Grad rocket strike destroyed an agricultural structure in Israel’s Eshkol region, near the Egyptian border. The rocket strike was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror militia, which also claimed a bomb attack on two Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta during Palm Sunday services on Sunday which killed dozens of Christian worshipers.

A British woman has been stabbed to death by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The student, in her early 20s, was traveling on the Jerusalem Light Rail near Old City when she was attacked. Israel’s Shin Bet security agency identified the assailant as a 57-year-old Palestinian and said he suffered with mental health problems who had previously tried to take his own life. In a statement, Shin Bet said: “This is one of many instances where a Palestinian suffering personal strife… chooses to carry out an attack in order to find release for his problem.”

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad said an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 86 people last week was a “fabrication” to justify a U.S. military strike. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Moscow Wednesday that the U.S. is confident of its conclusion that Syrian government forces were behind the attack. U.S. military and intelligence intercepts before the attack captured military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin gas attack in Idlib last week, CNN reported Thursday, citing an unnamed U.S. official. The conversations were discovered after the U.S. military ordered a review of intercepted information to figure out what happened following the incident. The Syrian government was supposed to have had its chemical weapons destroyed in 2014. Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, a general who said he defected from Assad’s army, told CNN in 2013 that Assad would not give up the chemical weapon stockpile.

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria mistakenly killed 18 soldiers from a U.S.-backed rebel force battling the Islamic State, the military said Thursday. “The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.” The coalition airstrike occurred Tuesday near Tabqah, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a key battle against the Islamic State over a strategically important dam. Those troops are the main U.S.-backed force battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a stern ultimatum to Russia Tuesday: side with America and its allies on Syria, or stand alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah. Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.” A meeting of “likeminded” countries was arranged on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 7 industrialized economies days after the U.S. launched airstrikes against Assad’s forces, and hours before Tillerson flew to Moscow to pressure Russia’s leaders to end their support for Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov began his meeting with Tillerson, his U.S. counterpart, with a warning — do not strike the Syrian regime again. They announced several initiatives to build trust and improve U.S.-Russian relations, which both top diplomats said is in bad shape. Tillerson said he and Putin agreed that in Syria, “we want to deny a safe haven for terrorists who want to attack both our countries,” but they disagree on tactics.

North Korea

President Trump on Tuesday said North Korea “is looking for trouble” and vowed to get the murderous regime of dictator Kim Jong-Un under control with or without China’s help. Trump sent the warning in a pair of tweets just days after he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China traditionally has acted as a counterweight on North Korea, helping to moderate some actions of the isolated country. Trump indicated a favorable trade deal could await China if they stepped up pressure on North Korea. However, Trump also appeared ready to reign in the provocative nation on his own. “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” he tweeted. North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States if provoked by a U.S. Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft that was steaming towards the western Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump in a phone call Wednesday that Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but wants to do so through peaceful means. Despite Beijing’s public efforts to rein in North Korea’s provocative behavior, Chinese companies continue to act as enablers, providing the isolated communist regime with technology and hardware that allow its missiles to take flight, according to current and former U.S. and U.N. officials and independent weapons experts.

South Sudan

On April 4, government militias loyal to the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, entered the town of Pajok and began killing and raping men, women and children. Opposition forces led by the vice president, James Wani Igga, estimate that more than 200 innocent civilians were killed in Pajok. “At the onset of the massacre, the tribal army burned down several buildings in the town and indiscriminately shot at the innocent civilians including kids and women who were trying to run for their lives,” a security officer in South Sudan told Fox News. “Primary school pupils were forced to lay on the ground in a straight line and were run over by tanks, and crushing them flat.” South Sudan military’s ongoing rape and killing of citizens who are not part of the dominant Dinka tribe is largely being ignored in the world’s poorest country. Non-Dinkas have been left with no help and no future.

Somalia

The U.S. is sending “dozens” of additional troops to Somalia to train and equip the Somali National Army and the forces participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia there. A US military official told CNN that the new contingent would consist of about 40 soldiers. The U.S. troops will join the small number of US special operations forces already there providing counterterrorism support to local forces battling the local al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabaab. That advisory mission has been underway for several years. President Donald Trump last month granted additional authority to US Africa Command to conduct counterterrorism airstrikes against the terror group.

Turkey

Turkey has experienced upheaval and chaos caused by the government’s vast purge of Turkish institutions since the failed coup in July — the backdrop for a referendum on Sunday to expand the president’s powers. For example, roughly 40,000 teachers were purged from Turkey’s education system after last year’s attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Most of them have not been replaced, forcing schools to combine classes. Mr. Erdogan’s government has sought to root out any remaining dissent by targeting nearly every segment of society. The government has fired or suspended about 130,000 people suspected of being dissidents from the public and private sectors. Most are accused of affiliations with the Gulen movement, the Islamic followers of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric accused of orchestrating the attempted coup. More than 8,000 army officers, 8,000 police officers, 5,000 academics and 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been forced out, reports the New York Times. Watchdogs say that around 1,200 schools, 50 hospitals and 15 universities have been closed.

Wildfires

More than 100 wildfires continue to burn in Florida, causing Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. A fire known has the Cowbell Fire was burning in the Big Cypress National Reserve and has scorched nearly 26 square miles. The blaze that began March 30 is 11 percent contained as of Thursday morning. Another fire in the preserve, called the Parliament Fire, is the largest active blaze and has burned more than 41 square miles. It is 95 percent contained. That fire started March 18. Since February, over 70,000 acres have been scorched across the state. Nineteen homes have been lost. Most of the fires have started between Lake Okeechobee to the south and the Ocala National Forest to the north. Polk, Collier, Marion, Nassau, Broward, Hernando and Glades counties have been hard hit.

Weather

Pest populations are expected to boom this spring and summer in several regions of the country, and warmer-than-average winter months are at least partially to blame. Ticks, mosquitoes and other insects could emerge in unusually large numbers as temperatures rise, experts say. A boom in ticks is expected in the Northeast, and that could lead to an increase in Lyme disease cases.  Experts also say that, as the world gets warmer, blooming seasons might become longer as well, bringing about more pollen that causes seasonal allergies.

Signs of the Times (4/1/17)

April 1, 2017

Muslim Converts Revitalizing Europe’s Fading Christian Churches

Due to Muslim conversions, faith leaders indicate Christianity now is making a comeback in Europe. Many parts of Europe are becoming more secular, and worship houses are losing congregants in noticeable amounts. An increasing number of Muslims, many of them refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are converting to Christianity in Europe where it is safer to do so. Local experts said the converts are embracing various Christian denominations, including Protestants, evangelical and Catholic. “European churches have struggled for decades to share the Gospel with modern secular Europeans,” Matthew Kaemingk, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, told Fox News. “They have found Muslim immigrants to be much more open to the message of Christianity. Europeans are wealthy, comfortable, healthy, and powerful,” Kaemingk said. “In short, they don’t think they need God.” Conversely, he said Muslim immigrants are intensely spiritual and more open to hearing about Christ.

Proportion of Born-Again Christians Dropping

The results of a new national survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute suggest that the numbers of born-again Christians are dwindling. The ACFI study is not based on people who call themselves born-again. Instead, the survey identified born again adults as those who believe they will experience an afterlife in the presence of God only because they have confessed their sins against Him and accepted Jesus Christ as the redeemer who saves them from eternal punishment. The research found that only three out of every ten adults in the US (30%) currently qualify as born-again Christians based on these criteria. That represents a significant drop from nearly half of the adult population meeting the same criteria just two decades ago. Three out of every four born-again adults (76%) believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and seven out of ten (70%) contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the life principles it teaches. However, less than half (46%) read the Bible at least once a week. Most shocking – and puzzling – is the fact that less than half of them believe that the Bible contains and conveys absolute moral truths. These statistics help to explain why only 30% of born-again Christians have a biblical worldview – in spite of the fact that eight out of ten think they do.

New Arizona Abortion Law Strictest in U.S.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed into law what appears to be the most comprehensive restrictions in the country on what doctors have to do if a baby is born alive during an abortion, reports the Daily Courier. Ducey’s action came less than 48 hours after he got the final version of the bill from the state senate. The law which takes effect this summer expands on existing statutes which say if there is a live birth, it is the duty of any doctors in attendance to see that “all available means and medical skills are used to promote, preserve and maintain the life of such fetus or embryo.” The new law provides the first-ever definition in statute being “delivered alive.” In essence, it says that includes any fetus or embryo, no matter how premature, shows breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.” At that point, medical professionals are required to do everything possible to keep the baby alive. Some doctors testified that it would be cruel to subject a premature or severely deformed baby to extraordinary measures that will not save its life. Instead, they said the practice is to provide comfort to the baby and, if the family wants, give it to the mother to hold. The ability to do that under the new law is limited, they say.

Kentucky Orders Last Abortion Business to Close

The State of Kentucky is engaged in an epic legal showdown with the state’s last remaining abortion facility, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, in an effort to shut it down – possibly as early as Monday, April 3, 2017 – for failing to meet licensing requirements. Gov. Matthew G. Bevin and his administration issued a letter on March 13, 2017, to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, informing them that they were in non-compliance with licensing regulations for failure to have adequate transfer agreements with an ambulance company and a hospital. Bevin successfully shut down EMW’s Lexington abortion office last June for conducting abortions without a license to do so – an order that was later upheld by the State Supreme Court. He also closed an illegally operating Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Louisville that had begun conducting abortions without a license.

  • America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, recently opened a new clinic in Washington D.C. which cost $20 million.

Travel Ban Suspension Extended

A federal judge in Hawaii issued an extension on his order blocking President Trump’s travel ban hours after hearing arguments Wednesday. Hawaii contends the travel ban discriminates against Muslims and hurts the state’s tourist-dependent economy. The Trump administration had asked Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, to narrow his ruling to cover only the part of the president’s executive order that suspends new visas for people from six Muslim-majority nations. Earlier this month, Watson prevented the federal government from suspending new visas for people from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen and freezing the nation’s refugee program. His ruling came just hours before the federal government planned to start enforcing Trump’s executive order.

Undetectable Laptop Bombs Led to Aircraft Electronics Ban

U.S. intelligence sources suggest ISIS and other terrorist groups can build laptop bombs capable of slipping past airport security scanners. The sources fear that terrorists have gotten their hands on sophisticated airport security equipment that allows them to properly conceal explosives in laptops and other large electronic devices, Fox News reported Friday. That intelligence is behind the recent decision to ban electronics in carry-on bags from flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries. The U.S. ban applies to nonstop U.S.-bound flights from 10 international airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the Associated Press reports. Six passengers were hurt on a plane at an airport in Somalia in March of 2016 when a bomb planted in a laptop exploded. Heightening the concern is intelligence suggesting that terrorists have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how to effectively conceal explosives in laptops and other electronic devices, reports CNN.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis says Iran Continues to Sponsor Terrorism

Iran is continuing to behave as an exporter of terrorism and still sponsors militant activity, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in London on Friday. Asked about comments Mattis made in 2012 that the three primary threats the United States faced were “Iran, Iran, Iran,” Mattis told reporters that Iran’s behavior had not changed in the years since. “At the time when I spoke about Iran, I was a commander of U.S. central command and Iran was the primary exporter of terrorism. Frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today,” Mattis said.

Border Wall Funding Hits Roadblock

Republicans in Congress are considering delaying a decision on President Trump’s request for $1.5 billion this year to begin construction on a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reuters reported Tuesday that some Republicans say that the money needed for the project would likely not be in a spending bill that must pass next month to avoid a government shutdown. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told Reuters that funding would be considered “at a later time.” Trump’s first budget proposal to Congress asked lawmakers for a $2.6 billion down payment for the wall. An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated that a wall along the entire border would cost about $21 billion. Lawmakers have been balking at his plans to sharply cut other federal spending to pay for the wall and other boosts to border security, while also increasing military spending. A group of House Republicans on Thursday introduced the first major bill to fund President Trump’s border wall, saying the government could collect billions of dollars by imposing a 2 percent fee on all the money Mexicans and other immigrants send back home. Estimates vary, but remittances from those in the U.S. to their relatives back home could top $130 billion a year. A 2% tax could net more than $2.5 billion a year.

Trump Issues Executive Orders to Crack Down on Unfair Trade Practices

President Trump signed two executive orders Friday aimed at cracking down on foreign competitors’ unfair trade practices, and pledged that his actions are setting the stage for a “great revival” of American manufacturing. “From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the documents at the White House. “Under my administration, the theft of American prosperity will end.” The first executive order aims to ensure that duties are fully collected when imposed on foreign importers who cheat. The second order directs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Trade Representative to compile a report within 90 days to identify a broad range of trade abuses, country by country and product by product.

Treasury Hits North Korea with New Sanctions over Nuclear Program

The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on 11 North Koreans and one company Friday over Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The sanctions target North Korean nationals working as agents of the regime in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba to provide financial support or procurement services for weapons of mass destruction, in violation of U.N. resolutions. Under the sanctions, any property or interests in property of the designated persons must be blocked. “Today’s sanctions are aimed at disrupting the networks and methods that the government of North Korea employs to fund its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He said the sanctions “underscore this administration’s commitment to countering the threat to the United States, to our allies, and to stability on the Korean peninsula and in the wider Asia Pacific region posed by the Kim regime in Pyongyang.”

Senate Passes Bill to Let States Strip Funding from Planned Parenthood

With Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday to let states strip federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood, marking the first successful strike against the country’s largest abortion network. The bill, which already cleared the House and now heads to President Trump, rolls back an Obama-era rule that said states couldn’t deny family planning money to organizations just because they performed abortions. While other clinics may be affected, both sides acknowledged the fight was about Planned Parenthood, which has been a target for Republicans in Washington and in state capitals across the country in recent years. Democrats vowed political retribution, saying women are already anxious over the GOP’s agenda and will see this as an assault on their health care choices.

North Carolina Repeals & Replaces ‘Bathroom Bill” but LGBT Activists Object

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed a repeal of the bathroom access law that had spawned a nearly yearlong boycott against the state, but LGBT rights advocates criticized the new measure as being just as discriminatory as the law it replaced. As part of a compromise between the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and its Democratic governor, the General Assembly delivered the repeal, called House Bill 142, to Mr. Cooper’s desk in an expedited effort Thursday. “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said Wednesday about the legislation. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and gay and transgender activists have complained that the new law still denies them certain protections from discrimination.

U.S. Gives NATO Allies 2 Months to Boost Defense Spending

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned NATO allies Friday to boost defense spending or come up with plans to reach the alliance’s budget guidelines within two months. Tillerson, in his first talks with NATO counterparts in Brussels, said that Washington is spending a “disproportionate share” on defense compared with its 27 partners, and that he expects action by the time President Donald Trump meets with other alliance leaders on May 25. NATO leaders pledged in 2014 to halt defense spending cuts and move toward a guideline target of 2 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. Only four other nations currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland. Tillerson did not say what would happen if European allies and Canada fail to respect their pledges. During election campaigning, Trump suggested that he might not come to the defense of those allies who do not do their fair share, rocking allies near an increasingly aggressive Russia, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Trump Allegedly Did Business with Russian Organized Crime

To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor. The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering. Trump’s Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall’s election.

Anti-Abortion Activists Charged with Felonies for Secret Tapes

Two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood were charged with 15 felonies, California prosecutors announced Tuesday. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Becerra said the two used a fictitious bioresearch company to meet with women’s health care providers and covertly record them. Prosecutors said they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent, reports Fox News. Daleiden and Merritt allegedly filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person and the 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy. Daleiden called the charges “bogus” and that they were coming from “Planned Parenthood’s political cronies.” Planned Parenthood said in a tweet that the charges send a “clear message… You can’t target women & health care providers without consequences.”

Premature Deaths in Young People Rising

Premature deaths soared in 2015, according to a new report released Wednesday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the report, the largest affected group were people aged 25-44. The rate among that group soared in 2015, due in large part to a surge of drug overdoses in suburban areas. Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24-year-olds, but almost three times as many people in this age group died by homicide, suicide or in motor vehicle crashes, according to the new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). A rural and urban divide, along with racial differences, were also evident in the data. Young white adults in rural areas were more likely to die by suicide or overdose, while homicides by firearms were much more common for young black victims.

Economic News

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50, the legislation that begins Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, on Wednesday. Britain’s notification letter sets off a process in which the EU will respond within 48 hours. Britain will have two years to negotiate the terms of this long-awaited divorce, meaning it will leave the EU by April 2019. The negotiations could be heated. Of particular concern is whether Britain decides to remain in the EU’s single market, the borderless trade area that also allows EU citizens to live and work, without a visa, in any other EU country. The government has pledged that it is prepared to give up this crucial trade access as it tries to lower immigration.

Mexico’s central bank raised interest rates for the fourth time since the U.S. election on Thursday, partly in an attempt to save the Mexican peso, which hit an all-time low on January 20, Trump’s inauguration day. Interest rates were raised by 0.25 percentage point to 6.50%. Trump’s threats — to build a wall, tax Mexican imports and remittances, and withdraw from the free trade agreement NAFTA — caused the peso to lose value throughout the election. Mexico’s central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, said before the election he and other Mexican leaders had a “contingency plan” in place if Trump won, expecting the peso to plunge. He’s kept his word, taking several measures to shore up the currency, including hiking interest rates and selling dollars to international investors. It appears to be working. Since Trump’s inauguration the peso has rallied, up 16% over that time. Its value is almost back to where it was the night before the November 8 election when it plunged in value.

On Friday, SpaceX — run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — launched a used rocket. It marked the first time in the history of spaceflight that the same rocket has been used on two separate missions to orbit. After successfully launching a satellite toward geosynchronous orbit — 22,000 miles into space — the rocket then returned to Earth and landed on a remotely piloted platform, known as a droneship, in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the company’s sixth successful landing on a seaborne platform. The launch was a huge step for SpaceX. Reusing rockets is essential for companies like SpaceX that want to drive down the cost of space travel.

Israel

Israel’s government approved the first West Bank settlement in two decades Thursday, creating the first serious test for U.S. President Trump’s new foray into Middle East peacemaking. The White House pointedly avoided any specific condemnation of the announcement, although it said that further settlement activity “does not help advance peace” and that it expects Israel to show restraint moving forward. Still, the relatively tepid response was a far cry from the automatic condemnations voiced in the past by the Obama’s administration in reaction to Israeli settlement announcements. The White House statement even went so far as to “welcome” what appears to be a limited Israeli commitment to take Trump’s concerns about settlements into “consideration,” without any guarantees to avoid similar announcements.

Islamic State

An Iraq government statement says Iraqi fighter jets have carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group outside Mosul, killing more than 100 militants. Saturday’s statement says the strikes hit three ISIS targets in Baaj, a remote northwestern town near the Syrian border, and killed between 150-200 militants. It said the militants had crossed over from Syria, suggesting that ISIS still enjoys free movement across the borders. Airstrikes by Iraqi Air Force and U.S.-led international coalition have been vital to the months-long operation to retake Mosul from ISIS. In January, Iraqi authorities declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated.”

Fighting is still underway to recapture the city’s western side, where the civilian death toll appears to exceed 140 people, reports CNN. “U.S.-backed Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State to liberate Mosul are suffering heavy casualties in the deadliest urban combat since World War II, according to top U.S. commanders for the Middle East. A United States military spokesman said Thursday that Islamic State fighters had been herding local Iraqi residents into buildings in western Mosul, calculating that rising civilian casualties would restrain the United States from using airstrikes to help retake that half of the city. “ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and they’re trying to bait the coalition to attack,” said Col. Joseph E. Scrocca.

ISIS supporters are reportedly on a recruiting blitz in the wake of last week’s deadly terror attacks in London, despite suggestions from British police on Monday that attacker Khalid Masood may not be associated with any terror groups. Hundreds of violent, pro-ISIS videos reportedly have hit the web since Wednesday’s attack. According to the Times of London, Google, the owner of YouTube, has apparently failed to take many of them down. One YouTube video viewed by Fox News on Monday showed a series of brutal executions, and encourages followers to “live the cause.”

Russia/Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have grown closer through their mutual support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In a meeting this week, they mostly focused on flourishing economic ties in the fields of energy and industry. Putin said in televised comments after the meeting that trade between the countries had “grown more than 70 percent” last year. “This is truly a good result considering that it was achieved in unstable global conditions and amid persistent volatility on the commodity and currency markets,” Putin said. A joint statement published by the Kremlin said that “special attention” had been paid to cooperation in energy, with both sides pledging to continue efforts to stabilize the international market.

  • Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies an alliance between Russia and Iran in an end-time war against Israel

Pakistan

A powerful car bomb exploded near a minority Shiite Muslim place of worship in the northwest town of Parachinar on Friday, killing at least 22 people and wounding over 70 others, officials said. The attack took place near Parachinar’s Shiite mosque. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility for attack. The blast was so powerful it also damaged vehicles and nearby shops. Parachinar is a key town in the Kurram tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and it has been racked by sectarian violence in the past.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s president and Supreme Court backed down Saturday from a surprise move to strip congress of its legislative powers that had sparked widespread charges that the South American country was no longer a democracy. President Nicolas Maduro asked the Supreme Court in a late-night speech to review a ruling nullifying the lawmaking body after that decision set off a storm of criticism from the opposition as well as from foreign governments. The court on Saturday released new rulings that apparently reinstated congress’ authority. It was a rare instance of the embattled socialist president backing away from a move to increase his power. Opposition critics celebrated the reversal as proof that cracks are beginning to show in Maduro’s control of the country, with his approval ratings dipping below 20 percent amid a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.

Peru

The roads cutting through the Amazon rain forest are lined with signs encouraging people to protect Peru’s natural resources and take care of the environment, but people aren’t sure why the government posts them anymore. Many rivers in Peru run orange with pollution from illegal gold mining as well as from cleared land where trees were cut away to make room for sifting towers and excavators. Peru, the largest gold producer in Latin America and the sixth largest in the world, has long struggled with illegal gold mining. Thousands of small, unchecked operations extracting gold from the Amazon are responsible for nearly 200 square miles of deforestation and mercury poisoning to the water so severe that several regions declared a state of emergency last year. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski imposed stricter environmental regulations, streamlined the process to grant permits for legal mines and offered financial incentives for mining operations to submit to government oversight. imposed stricter environmental regulations, streamlined the process to grant permits for legal mines and offered financial incentives for mining operations to submit to government oversight.

Paraguay

Anti-government protesters in Paraguay’s capital set the country’s congressional building on fire Friday night. Protesters vandalized offices and hallways throughout the building in Asunción as the flames spread through the structure. Police vehicles also were targeted. Police fired rubber bullets at some of the protesters. The violence stems from the ruling party’s decision to create an alternative Senate with the purpose of passing a law that would allow President Horacio Cartes to seek re-election. A Senate meeting that was supposed to be held Saturday morning was canceled. Protesters indicated they will stop the demonstrations once they get a commitment from Cartes that he will not seek a second five-year term, something prohibited under the country’s 1992 constitution.

Wildfires

Traffic in and around Atlanta was even more of a tangled mess than usual Friday morning after a fire erupted from underneath Interstate 85 and caused a portion of it to collapse Thursday during rush hour. The Georgia DOT said Friday that in addition to the collapse of the northbound lanes, damage to the southbound lanes was so extensive that a section of those lanes must also be replaced. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Officials said it’s still too early to tell how long the construction will take. An estimated 250,000 vehicles drive daily through the closed stretch of I-85. Three people were arrested Friday in connection with the fire and charged with criminal damage to property. Officials would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.

Weather

New England residents awoke Saturday morning and realized it was no April Fools’ joke after more than a foot of heavy snow blanketed parts of the region – and, it’s still snowing as of Saturday morning. The heavy, wet snow knocked out power to more than 12,000 customers in Maine. The Associated Press reports 6,000 customers are without power in Vermont, with 3,500 in the dark in New Hampshire. The heaviest snowfall total so far was reported in Washington, New Hampshire, where 16.5 inches of heavy snow was recorded. In Maine, 10.4 inches was recorded near North Windham and 15.8 inches fell near Rochester, Vermont.

Authorities are assessing damage Saturday, a day after severe storms lashed parts of Virginia and North Carolina, with several reports of unconfirmed tornadoes hitting areas south of Virginia Beach. A church in Chesapeake and dozens of beach homes in Virginia Beach suffered significant damage during the storms. About 50 homes were damaged by the storm, and twelve of them were condemned by the fire department. A second tornado reportedly passed between Suffolk and Chesapeake, Virginia. An additional tornado was reported in northeastern Bertie County, North Carolina, near Powellsville.

Las Vegas was reeling Friday, a day after an intense windstorm blew into the area, causing widespread power outages, toppling semi-trucks, ripping off roofs and injuring at least one person. Winds exceeding 70 mph knocked utility poles down onto cars near the famed Las Vegas strip. A gust of 82 mph clocked at the Red Rock Conservation Area west of Las Vegas. One person was injured when a construction wall collapsed inside the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino. An estimated 44,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency and encouraged drivers to use mass transit.

A siege of severe weather lashed parts of the South from Texas to Arkansas on Wednesday, killing two brothers who were electrocuted by downed power lines in Texas. The boys, ages 11 and 12, were killed Wednesday evening in a heavily wooded area near Oakland Lake Park in East Fort Worth. Damaging winds battered Texas and spawned a radar-confirmed tornado in Houston, where violent winds tossed shipping containers like toys. Most of the containers were empty but some full containers were also turned over.

The signs that California is emerging from its brutal five-year drought are everywhere, from a whopping snowpack in the Sierra Nevada to a spectacular “super bloom” that is turning some deserts into rare and dazzling displays of color. The snowpack along the 400-mile mountain range, which stretches north to south along the Nevada border, is critical to California’s water supply. On average, it provides about 30% of the state’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. In its latest snow survey completed Thursday, the department found that the snowpack for the entire Sierra Nevada was at 164% of average for this time of year. In Yosemite National Park, a kiosk at the top of Tioga Pass that was easily accessible two years ago is now completely covered in snow.

Signs of the Times (3/11/17)

March 11, 2017

Pope Signals He’s Open to Married Catholic Men Becoming Priests

Pope Francis has said he is open to married men becoming priests to combat the Roman Catholic Church’s shortage of clergy. In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Pope Francis said the lack of Catholic priests was an “enormous problem” for the Church, and indicated he would be open to a change in the rules governing eligibility for the priesthood. The option would allow men who are already married to be ordained as priests. But single men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, according to the Pope. Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest.

Kentucky Passes Religious Freedom Bill

The state of Kentucky has passed a bill to protect the right to religious expression in public schools. The impetus for the bill was due to a censorship issue that occurred around Christmastime. School officials censored the scene from the beloved “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which the character Linus talks about the true meaning of Christmas. The state senate easily passed the religious freedom bill in a 31-3 vote. The bill also passed the House easily in a 81-8 vote. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin, who is known for his Christian faith. “Even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that schools can include the Bible and other religious stories and elements as part of the educational process, there was confusion in Kentucky over this play,” Sharp said. “And so what this law does is reaffirm what the Constitution says.”

Conservatives Revolt Against ObamaCare Repeal Bill

Congressional conservatives vowed Tuesday to introduce their own legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare, escalating their fight against GOP leaders’ long-awaited health care overhaul bill just hours after it was released. Lawmakers from the right flank of the Republican Party railed against the new legislation, which key committees will address Wednesday. Signaling turbulence ahead for party leaders, the lawmakers said they’ll revive a 2015 repeal bill that already passed the Republican-controlled Congress. Republican congressional leaders joined with the Trump administration to defend the plan on the table as a positive starting point. On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee became the first panel to approve the Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill, nearly a full day after debate began.

Conservatives derided the new bill as Obamacare Lite, Obamacare 2.0 and even RyanCare. Conservatives pushed back on various aspects of the plan, including a new system of tax credits that would replace the existing subsidies; a short-term continuation of the Medicaid expansion; and a new surcharge insurance companies would be allowed to impose for coverage that lapses. They also said the wealthy would benefit because the bill would eliminate two surcharges on the those with incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 for couples) that are being levied to help pay for Obamacare subsidies and other provisions. The most glaring weakness of the GOP bill is that it will likely leave millions uninsured, critics said.

FBI Probes 300 Refugees in U.S. for Terrorism

“More than 300 people … who came here as refugees are under an FBI investigation today for potential terrorism-related activities,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this week. A total of 1,000 counter-terrorism investigations involving ISIS or individuals inspired by the terror group are currently under way, congressional sources confirmed to Reuters. Sessions said the nations affected in the revised travel ban are state sponsors terrorism or safe havens for terrorists. Iran, he explained, “has been designated as a state sponsor of terror,” Libya “is an active combat zone, with hostilities between the internationally recognized government and its rivals,” Somalia has provided “safe havens” for terrorists, Sudan, too, is “a state sponsor of terrorism,” Syria likewise has held that designate since 1979, and Yemen “is the site of an ongoing conflict between the incumbent government and the Houthi-led opposition.”

Illegal Border Crossings Decrease by 40% in Trump’s First Month

The number of people illegally crossing the U.S. southern border has dropped 40 percent in President Trump’s first full month in office, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that the number of illegal border crossings dropped from 31,578 to 18,762 persons. Kelly said border agents usually see a 10 to 20 percent increase in illegal immigrant apprehensions from January to February. Kelly said, “Since the administration’s implementation of executive orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years.”

New Health Care Act Would Dispense with Addiction Mandate

The Republican healthcare plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would strip away what advocates say is essential coverage for drug addiction treatment as the number of people dying from opiate overdoses is skyrocketing nationwide. Beginning in 2020, the plan would eliminate a requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans. The proposal would also roll back the Medicaid expansion under the act which would affect many states bearing the brunt of the opiate crisis, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Insurance giant Anthem lent its support to parts of the Republican health care bill, but said changes must be made as soon as possible for the Obamacare market to survive.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban for Syrian Family

A federal judge on Friday blocked President Trump ‘s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape their war-torn homeland by fleeing to Wisconsin. The ruling is the first by a judge since Trump issued a revised travel ban on Monday. The Syrian man filed a new complaint on Friday afternoon, alleging the new order is still an anti-Muslim ban that violates his freedom of religion and right to due process. U.S. District Judge William Conley said there were daily threats to the Syrian man’s wife and child that could cause “irreparable harm.” He issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family. The order doesn’t block the entire travel ban. Legal challenges against the revised travel ban mounted Thursday as Washington state said it would renew its request to block the executive order. It came a day after Hawaii launched its own lawsuit,

DOJ to Send Out More Judges to Attack the Backlog

The Justice Department is reportedly sending 50 judges to immigration detention centers across the U.S. to hear more cases and cut down on the massive backlog of immigration cases. The court will be in session from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Judges will be asked to volunteer for one or two month deployments at detention centers. If the amount of volunteers is inadequate, the department would assign judges, Reuters reported. Immigration courts have a backlog of more than 550,000 cases, according to the Justice Department. The judges will be sent to detention centers in Adelanto, Calf., San Diego and Chicago

Fallout from Wikileaks CIA Hacking Dump Reverberates Worldwide

The fallout from WikiLeaks’ disclosure of alleged CIA hacking secrets stretched around the world Thursday, as Chinese officials accused the U.S. of “stealing secrets” and German prosecutors continued to investigate claims about a major American cyber-spying base in Frankfurt. While stateside investigators hunted the source of the leaks — a trove of more than 8,000 documents that WikiLeaks claims is the ‘entire hacking capacity of the CIA’ — foreign officials were examining what the release revealed about the CIA’s interests abroad. Routers produced by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE were named as devices targeted by CIA hackers, Reuters reported, prompting a rebuke from Beijing. Thousands of miles away, federal prosecutors in Germany were looking into WikiLeaks-derived allegations that the CIA operated a hacking hub out of the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt. One of the more startling revelations divulged by WikiLeaks is an alleged CIA ability to turn Samsung smart televisions into microphones, technology the anti-secrecy website says was developed in tandem with Britain’s intelligence services. South Korea-based Samsung released a statement Wednesday saying it was “urgently looking into the matter.” FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday that Americans should no longer have the expectations of complete privacy.

  • At this point, we have to assume that we are all being watched wherever we are. But that’s no big deal if we’re living righteously. Besides, God is watching us too, and He even knows our thoughts, so live right, trust in God and don’t worry about the rest.

 ‘Day Without a Woman’ Closes Some Schools

Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in “A Day Without a Woman” strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home. The gender equality demonstration, which comes on the same day as International Women’s Day, was organized prior to President Trump’s election. It was inspired by women’s protests in other countries. Critics say it is meant to denounce his presidency and bring politics into the classroom. The strike was created by the organizers of the historic Women’s March on Washington in January, which drew hundreds of thousands in protest of Trump. Among the groups supporting Wednesday’s demonstration are Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org and Amnesty International, according to the Women’s March website. President Donald Trump paid tweeted tribute to women on International Women’s Day Wednesday morning, saying, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.”

Indiana School Show ‘Gender Expression’ Video without Parents’ Permission

Indiana parents are furious after eighth graders at Lincoln Junior High School were exposed to a classroom lesson on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity issues – without being notified in advance by the school district. The 12-year-olds were required to watch a video titled, “LGBTQ: Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities.” They were also required to answer a questionnaire with all sorts of probing questions. Among the questions: 1. What is sexual orientation? 2. What is gender? 3. At what age do kids start being exposed to gender stereotypes? 4. What is an LGBTQ ally? 5. What is gender expression? 6. What is ‘coming out’? 7. Name at least three resources that you can use to support you if you come out? 9. What are two things you can do to show support of the LGBTQ community. Plymouth Schools Superintendent Dan Tyree defended the one-day lesson — and said they haven’t received a single complaint.

  • Children’s indoctrination centers (aka public schools) promote the religion of secular humanism in any way they can. Christian parents need to remove their children from the public school system.

Persecution Watch

The disturbing spate of bomb threats against Jewish centers and schools across the country is not letting up. A new wave of threats was just reported in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. The number of total reported threats? An astounding 140 since January, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In response, all 100 US senators have signed a letter urging President Trump to step up security at Jewish community centers, day schools and synagogues.

Seven Christians were killed in the North Sinai town of Al-Arish in just over a month — all targeted by Al Wilayat Sinai, a local affiliate of ISIS waging a low-level insurgency on the peninsula. Over 500 Christians from Al-Arish have arrived to the city of Ismailia, 200 km away, since the Hakims were attacked on February 21. The Coptic Orthodox Church said an unspecified number of families fled to other provinces across Egypt. It is unclear how many others are left behind. Egypt’s Christians make up 10% of the population.

Economic News

President Trump’s first full month was a big one for jobs, CNN reports. The U.S. economy added a robust 235,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%. Unemployment peaked at 10% in 2009, after the financial crisis. Last year the economy averaged about 190,000 new jobs per month. The economy is showing other signs of strength: Consumer and business confidence is high and stocks are at record levels. Wage growth continued showing signs of progress after persisting at a sluggish pace for years until 2016. Wages grew a solid 2.8% in February compared with a year ago.

The largest job growth in February came in the construction industry, which added 58,000 jobs  — and 177,000 jobs in the last six months. Manufacturing added 28,000 jobs in February, for an increase of 57,000 jobs over the past three months. Solid job gains almost certainly clear the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates next week. Fed leaders like Chair Janet Yellen said a rate hike in March would be appropriate if the economy stayed on track, and it did.

The U.S. debt clock is actually spinning backwards since Donald Trump moved into the White House Jan. 20. On inauguration day, the debt stood at $19.947 trillion. Since then it has reversed by $68 billion, or 0.3 percent, for the first time in at least 10 years, reports WorldNetDaily.

Syria

U.S. Marines have arrived in northern Syria with artillery to support U.S.-backed local forces fighting there. Military commanders have discussed for weeks the possibility of putting artillery forces into the area, with the goal of accelerating the capabilities of the U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces there. A similar deployment last year near Mosul, Iraq involved several hundred Marines equipped with artillery guns that fire shells to provide covering fire for advancing forces. The Marines deployed from ships in the Persian Gulf region. This is the second major expansion of U.S. ground forces in northern Syria in days. The U.S. had also deployed approximately 100 Army Rangers in and around Manbij, Syria.

Twin blasts Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people and wounded 120, most of them Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Islamic State militants have carried out similar attacks before against Shiite shrines in the Syrian capital and elsewhere. Extremist Sunni groups, such as ISIS, view Shiites as apostates and consider shrines a form of idolatry.

Afghanistan

Gunmen wearing white lab coats stormed a military hospital in Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. The attack on the 400-bed military hospital, which is located near two civilian hospitals in Kabul’s heavily-guarded diplomatic quarter, set off clashes with security forces that lasted several hours. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a Defense Ministry spokesman, says there were “more than 30 killed and more than 50 wounded” in the attack. Waziri said a suicide bomber had detonated his payload and another attacker was shot dead, and that one member of the security forces was killed and three wounded.

South Korea

In a historic ruling Friday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court formally removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil, worsened an already-serious national divide and led to calls for sweeping reforms. It was a stunning fall for Park, the daughter of a dictator who rode a lingering conservative nostalgia for her father to a big win in 2012, only to see her presidency descend into scandal. The unanimous ruling opens her up to possible criminal proceedings. Park is South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed early from office since democracy came in the country in the late 1980s.

North Korea

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, said the isolated nation of North Korea is closer than people realize to developing a nuclear missile that could cross the ocean and strike the U.S. North Korea has provoked the world by firing ballistic missiles in defiance of a United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting the country from doing so. And those tests have sparked global fear that North Korea could soon attack foreign countries with nuclear weaponry. In a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Gary Samore, former Obama White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, testified on the global nuclear weapons environment. He called North Korea’s mission to achieve a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile the “most significant and the most immediate” of new nuclear threats.

Wildfires

Deadly wildfires burning across four Plains states have nearly doubled in size overnight Tuesday, jumping from 625 square miles to more than 1,000. High winds are helping to fan the blazes, which broke out on Monday and have forced thousands to evacuate and contributing to the deaths of six people. Parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and the Texas Panhandle were the hardest hit by the wildfires In Kansas, wildfires have burned over 600,000 acres of land and killed one person. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management said late Tuesday that the heaviest damage is in Clark County, where 548 square miles have burned. That fire started in Oklahoma before moving into the Kansas ranching community. In the Texas Panhandle, three fires have burned more than 195 square miles of land and killed at least four people. In Oklahoma, numerous residences and secondary structures were burned by a wildfire estimated to be 185,000 acres in size near Knowles and Gate. In northeastern Colorado, a fire has burned more than 45 square miles of land and destroyed three homes. Nearby residents were warned to be ready to evacuate if the fire advances toward them. The Kansas grass fires have killed thousands of cattle, devastating farming and ranching communities. Oklahoma continues to be ravaged by wildfires with 14 large ones (over 100 acres) currently burning, having already consumed over 755.000 acres.

Alligator Alley, a portion of Interstate 75 southwest Florida, remained shut down Wednesday due to smoky conditions from a large wildfire in Picayune Strand State Forest. Alligator Alley, a major east-west route acorss southern Florida, runs between Naples on the southwest coast and Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Coast. At least two homes have been lost in eastern Collier County. Several nearby communities RV parks were evacuated. As the inferno grew, thick smoke clouds covered the area, pushing over the beach and into the Gulf of Mexico at times. The Lee Williams Road fire has burned at least 6,000 acres of land and was 30 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon. A portion of Interstate 75 in southwest Florida, was reopened Wednesday after smoky conditions from the large wildfire finally began to ease

Weather

There have been 37 reports of tornadoes with more than 450 reports of severe wind and hail, stretching from Oklahoma and Arkansas northward into Minnesota and Wisconsin earlier this week. As of early Wednesday morning, 28 tornadoes have been confirmed but surveys continue. A dozen injuries were reported in Oak Grove, Missouri, after an EF3 tornado touched down and tracked nearly 12 miles at ground level. In Trimble, Missouri, multiple homes were damaged by an EF2 tornado. Significant damage occurred north of the Kansas City metro area Monday evening near Trimble, Plattsburg and Lathrop in Missouri from an EF2 tornado with estimated winds around 132 mph. Six EF1 tornadoes were also confirmed in Missouri. Farther north in Minnesota, hail up to 4 inches in diameter was measured in the town of Cokato from the same storm system. Many cities ravaged by tornadoes in the Midwest recently will be covered in snow by this weekend or early next week.

High winds across parts of the Great Lakes prevented firefighters from fighting a blaze that left at least five people dead in Michigan on Wednesday. The strong gusts, which reached more than 80 mph in some areas, also knocked down trees and power lines throughout the region, interruped traffic and caused massive power outages. The blaze consumed an eight-unit apartment building in Detroit, Michigan which was home to males overcoming substance abuse and mental issues. Also in the Detroit area, more than 400,000 DTE Energy customers lost power by mid Wednesday afternoon. “We’re having the most severe high wind event I can remember in my 50 years in Michigan today, with sustained winds of 40-plus mph at multiple locations, and some gusts over 60 mph,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for wunderground.com.

Tropical Cyclone Enawo made landfall March 7 in Madagascar in what turned out to be the island’s strongest landfall in 13 years. Just prior to landfall at 11 a.m. local time March 7, the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. Three people were killed by Enawo. Damage caused by the cyclone also left 500 people homeless. More than a foot of rain drenched the town of Sambava near where the center of Enawo moved inland.

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 (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.