Posts Tagged ‘end-times’

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 (4/10/17)

April 10, 2017

Senate Confirms Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday to become the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, capping a political brawl that lasted for more than a year and tested constitutional norms inside the Capitol’s fraying upper chamber. The development was a major triumph for President Trump, whose campaign last year rested in large part on his pledge to appoint another committed conservative to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. However rocky the first months of his administration may have been, Mr. Trump now has a lasting legacy: Judge Gorsuch, 49, could serve on the court for 30 years or more, notes the New York Times. He was sworn into office Monday morning.

U.S. Strikes Syrian Airbase Where Chemical Attacks Originated

President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against Syria Thursday, saying “no child of God should ever suffer” the horror of the chemical weapons attack Syria launched on its own people. Trump ordered the strike against Syria early Friday local time in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people on Tuesday, including many women and children. The attack, the first conventional assault on another country ordered by Trump, comes a day after he declared that the chemical weapons assault had “crossed many, many lines,” including causing the deaths of 27 children. From his resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said Syrian President Bashar Assad “launched a horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent. Years of previous attempts to change Assad’s behavior had failed, Trump said. The 59 missiles, fired from the destroyers USS Porter and Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, struck the airfield where Syria based the warplanes used in the chemical attack, according to the Pentagon. The Syrian airfield targeted by United States airstrikes early Friday was “almost completely destroyed,” a human rights group in the country said, damaging over a dozen hangars, a fuel depot and an air defense base with 20 jets destroyed.

U.S. Allies Praise Trump’s Strikes on Syrian Airbase

The Saudi Foreign Ministry praised Trump’s “courageous decision” and blamed the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the chemical weapons attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his support for the strike. “In words and actions, President Trump sent a strong and clear response: The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. Israel fully and unequivocally supports the president’s decision. Great Britain said that it “fully supports the U.S. action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said in a joint statement: “President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “fully supports” the United States’ “limited and focused action.” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council of EU leaders, said, “U.S. strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.” President Donald Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria garnered 57 percent approval from Americans, but they don’t want any further unilateral action taken, according to a new CBS News poll released Monday.

Syria Condemns Attack that Killed Nine

Syria condemned U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base, describing them Friday as a “blatant act of aggression.” The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported that nine civilians were killed, including four children, when the projectiles hit the base and nearby villages. It said several others were injured. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said six Syrian jets were destroyed but the air base’s runway was intact. He said, “the combat efficiency of the U.S. strike was very low” and that 23 of the 59 missiles fired by the U.S. reached the base. The Syrian army said the strikes made the U.S. a “partner” of the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations. President Bashar Assad’s allies Russia and Iran also condemned the U.S. strikes, saying they violated international law. “It is an act of aggression under a completely far-fetched pretext,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday. “This is reminiscent of the situation in 2003, when the U.S. and the U.K., along with some of their allies, invaded Iraq without the consent of the U.N. Security Council and in violation of international law,” he said. However, many Syrians praised the attack. “I am so happy. People are happy. They have hope the U.S. can end this war by stopping the regime aircraft from more bombs,” 27-year-old aid worker in Idlib, Ali Essa, told Fox News.

Iran Issues Threat over U.S. Strikes in Syria

Iran “won’t be quiet” after the U.S. missile attack that hit a number of military targets in central Syria, Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA.ir, said Friday. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, declared “Russia and Iran won’t be quiet against such acts which violate interests of the region,” according to the report. Boroujerdi warned serious consequences would follow the U.S. action. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the allegation that the Syrian military used chemical weapons as “bogus.” Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Friday the U.S missile strike was “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law,”

Civil War in Syria has Displaced Millions

As Syria’s six-year-long civil war appears to continue without end, the country’s conditions are insufferable for civilians. About 4.9 million Syrians have fled the country since the start of the conflict, out of a total population of around 23 million people. Another 6.3 million have been internally displaced, but remain in the country, according to U.N. refugee agency statistics. The number of Syrians killed in the war is estimated at 470,000, with 13.5 million requiring humanitarian assistance. Over the six years, nearly 3 million children have been born, growing up knowing nothing but war.

Swedish PM Calls Deadly Truck Ramming a ‘Terror Attack’

A large truck slammed into a department store in a busy Stockholm pedestrian mall Friday in what Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven calls an apparent “terror attack.” Swedish media says at least 4 people were killed. The incident occurred around 3 p.m. on Drottninggatan (Queen Street), one of the city’s main pedestrian streets. Swedish intelligence agency said that there were a large number of people injured in the incident. “The depravity of using cars and trucks as weapons of terror has become an all-too-familiar tactic, long encouraged and celebrated by groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” notes the Counter Extremism Project.

Arrests of Illegal Aliens Spikes, Entries Down

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers reportedly arrested 368 criminal illegal immigrants in seven states and Washington, D.C. in one week – a nearly 250 percent jump from the week earlier. The Washington Examiner reported the biggest busts were in Texas, where 158 were arrested. Raids were carried out as far north as Wyoming. In one five-day raid around Virginia and Washington late last month, 82 illegals from 26 countries were arrested. “ICE’s primary immigration enforcement efforts target convicted criminal aliens,” Daniel Bible, field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in San Antonio, Texas, told the Examiner. Arrests of illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the United States across the Mexican border plummeted in March to the lowest monthly figure in more than 17 years, the Department of Homeland Security reported last week. The first months of the new administration have seen a huge drop in the number of people being caught by agents on the U.S.-Mexico border, reports Newsmax.

Sanctuary Cities Have Higher Crime Rates

An August 2016 study of the relationship between “sanctuary city” policies and crime rates shows that cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities consistently have significantly higher violent crimes rates than do non-sanctuary cities with similar populations and demographics, WorldNetDaily has found. An analysis of data from a study published last fall by researchers from the University of California-Riverside and Highline College reveals that non-sanctuary cities comparable in population, size and demographics consistently experience and report lower percentages of violent crime as well as lower percentages of property crimes. The authors of the study, supporters of sanctuary cities, concluded that the difference was only “slightly higher,” but WND’s analysis showed differences between cities of comparable size was consistently in the 20% to 30% range.

Target CEO Regrets Transgender Bathroom Policy

A recent Wall Street Journal article shows that Target CEO Brian Cornell regrets his company’s policy announcement welcoming men to use women’s restrooms and fitting rooms. Cornell expressed frustration about how the bathroom policy was publicized without his permission or knowledge, and told colleagues he wouldn’t have approved the decision to flaunt it with a public statement that is still on Target’s website today. WSJ reported that Cornell told staff that “Target didn’t adequately assess the risk, and the ensuing backlash was self-inflicted.” The American Family Association launched the immensely successful #BoycottTarget initiative nearly a year ago. The 1.5 million-signature boycott sent the strong message to the retailer that its misguided and potentially dangerous bathroom policy is the reason millions of families are no longer shopping there.

More Insurers Bail Out of Obamacare

Aetna announced Thursday that this would be the last year it participates on the Obamacare exchange in Iowa, where it is the dominant insurer. The move comes days after Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield announced it was leaving the state’s market after this year. Both insurers also will stop selling individual market policies outside of the exchange in Iowa. Aetna and Wellmark are the latest carriers to exit Obamacare for 2018. They cited financial risk and uncertainty as the reasons behind their decisions. Humana announced in February that it was pulling the plug in the 11 states where it sells policies, leaving roughly 40,000 people in Tennessee without a choice of carrier next year. Obamacare has been plagued by insurer defections after finding their customers are sicker and costlier than expected.

Retail Apocalypse

A fresh round of distress signals sounded in the retail industry this week, as another big-name chain announced hundreds of new store closings and still others moved aggressively to recalibrate their businesses for the online shopping stampede. Payless ShoeSource filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and outlined plans to immediately close nearly 400 of its 4,400 stores globally. Ralph Lauren is shuttering its flagship Polo store, a foot-traffic magnet located on tony 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the latest step in a massive cost-cutting effort. Big-box office supplies stalwart Staples is reportedly considering putting itself up for sale. The Limited filed for bankruptcy and shuttered all 250 of its stores. Hudson’s Bay, the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, announced a $75 million annual cost-cutting effort. Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch each named a new chief executive, leadership changes that were precipitated by ongoing struggles to connect with customers. The wave of store closures by Macy’s and Sears alone will empty 28 million square feet of retail real estate. The shake-out among retailers has been building for years, and it is now arriving in full force.

Economic News

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 4.5%, the lowest level since May 2007. However, hiring slowed substantially in March, President Trump’s second full month in office. America only added 98,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department. The U.S. added 219,000 jobs in February and averaged 187,000 new jobs a month last year, but economists are already calling it a one month “blip.” It’s common to see a weak month of hiring at some point during the winter. Most experts expect job growth to pick up again soon. Wages were 2.7% higher in March compared to a year ago. For much of the recovery, wages had only been growing about 2%.

The U.S. added 26,000 factory jobs in February and 11,000 in March. It’s a contrast to the Obama years when most of the job gains came in the service sector — tech, retail, business, health, etc. — not in manufacturing. But overall employment in manufacturing remains at 1940s levels. The glory days of manufacturing were the 1970s. Back then, over 19.5 million Americans earned their paycheck from factory work. It’s been a fairly steady decline ever since. Today only 12.4 million workers remain in the manufacturing industry.

On Friday, members of Congress left town for their two week “Easter vacation”, and they won’t resume work until April 25th.  What this means is that Congress will have precisely four days when they get back to pass a bill to fund government operations or there will be a government shutdown starting on April 29th. Up to this point, there has been very little urgency by either party to move a spending bill forward.

Persecution Watch

Government agents in Sudan are telling the Christians who belong to an estimated 25 churches that their buildings are on government land and they are going to be demolished. Apparently, even if they’re not on the wrong land. Reports of the escalation of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority country come from the American Center for Law and Justice. More than a year ago, ACLJ reported when the Sudanese Air Force dropped four bombs on an Episcopal Church of Sudan complex, destroying the compound. Authorities also bulldozed a Lutheran Church of Sudan building without any warning when local authorities said the church was built on land allocated for business. And government agents destroyed a 600-worshipper Sudanese Church of Christ to take land for “low-cost housing,” says the ACLJ. Also, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services this week “arrested 12 administrators and teachers at a Christian school in Khartoum.

Israel

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has rebuffed attempts by the U.N. cultural body to deny an historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem. “In the Torah, Jerusalem is the capital of King David, where Solomon built the Temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant,” Bokova said last week at the policy conference of the European Coalition for Israel, a grassroots Christian initiative. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justifies its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List,” she added. In October 2016, UNESCO passed two controversial resolutions condemning Israeli actions at Jerusalem’s holy sites as well as ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Islamic terrorists launched rockets for Sinai, on the eve of Passover, two of which landed in southern Israel. ISIS has claimed responsibility. A greenhouse was damaged but there were no injuries when ISIS rockets slammed into southern Israel. In wake of Monday’s rocket-launching, Israeli authorities closed the Taba Crossing into Sinai, urging all citizens to return home. “Increased activity by the [Islamic State-affiliated] ‘Sinai Province’ in recent months has also found expression against Israel in its desire to commit terrorist attacks against tourists in Sinai, including Israelis, in the immediate term, Israel said. An apparent terrorist car-ramming attack Thursday morning near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Jerusalem, killed 20-year-old IDF Sgt. Elchai Taharlev and wounded one of his comrades. The driver was taken into custody and identified by Palestinian media as a resident of a nearby village.

Russia

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is taking a hard line against Russia on the eve of his first diplomatic trip to Moscow, calling the country “incompetent” for allowing Syria to hold on to chemical weapons and accusing Russia of trying to influence elections in Europe using the same methods it employed in the United States. Tillerson said America’s relationship with Russia is already reverting to the norm: one of friction, distrust and mutual efforts to undermine each other’s reach. Yet as Mr. Tillerson arrived in Italy to meet with foreign ministers before going to Moscow, the administration was sending conflicting signals about its policy on Syria and the extent to which it would hold the country’s patron Russia responsible for continued violence, notes the New York Times.

Syria

Government warplanes returned Saturday to the devastated Syrian town hit by chemical weapons earlier this week, despite a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base that’s already back in business, in a show of defiance by President Bashar al-Assad. The new airstrikes killed one woman and wounded one other person in Khan Sheikhoun, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. That’s the same town where the gas attack took place earlier this week, killing 86 people, including dozens of children, prompting the U.S. missile launch. It’s not clear whether the new attack was launched from Shayrat, the base damaged by some of the 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles the U.S. military launched. In a letter delivered to Congress on Saturday justifying the strike, President Trump said he wasn’t ruling out additional military action.

Egypt

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for bombings at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt that killed at least 44 people during crowded Palm Sunday services. The blasts took place in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and the coastal city of Alexandria. The death toll in Tanta was 26, the Interior Ministry reported. Al-Ahram Arabic reported that security forces also dismantled two explosive devices at Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta, a city of more than 400,000 about 80 miles southeast of Alexandria. The mosque is considered among the most important mosques in city. The attacks came less than a week after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited President Donald Trump at the White House.

North Korea

North Korea vowed to bolster its defenses to protect itself against airstrikes similar to the ones President Donald Trump ordered on Friday against a Syrian airbase. North Korea called the strikes “absolutely unpardonable,” saying they prove its nuclear weapons are justified to protect the country against Washington’s “evermore reckless moves for a war.” Trump has said that if China doesn’t exert more pressure on North Korea, the United States will act alone. China understands how dangerous North Korea’s nuclear program has become and agrees action must be taken to stop it, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday, as the US sent an aircraft carrier strike group toward the Korean Peninsula.

India

Millions of Indian farmers who borrowed from banks to finance their crops no longer have to pay their loans back. The country’s biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, has announced that it will forgive debts worth about $5.6 billion. More than 21 million small farmers who own less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land will benefit from the relief. That includes 700,000 farmers whose loans were already listed as non-performing by their banks. The loan waiver was a key campaign promise by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and aims to provide respite to farmers struggling to make ends meet.

Wildfires

A large, fast-moving brush fire shut down Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg during Friday’s rush hour. It was one of two major brush fires to strike Florida on the day, as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for wildfire danger due to the dry conditions. The brush fire was caused by a commercial lawn mower overheating and lighting grass on fire. With no fire hydrants nearby, rescue personnel had to use trucks to shuttle in water. The fire quickly spread to between 40 and 50 acres due to gusty winds. I-275 reopened by 8 p.m.

Weather

The first three months of 2017 claimed the most billion-dollar weather disasters for the same stretch of any year on record, according to a report released Thursday by NOAA. Five separate disasters, ranging from tornado outbreaks and wind damage to late season freezes that wiped out crops in the South, racked up damage tolls over $1 billion. This frequency of billion-dollar events is the largest since records began in 1980 and more than doubles the average number of 2.4 such disasters over the last five years.

California’s northern Sierra Nevada is nearing its all-time wettest “water year” after the latest barrage of stormy weather to hit the mountain range late last week. The “water year” in California runs from October through September, and in peaks from November through March. Each spring, the melted snowpack from the Sierra supplies water to much of California. As of Sunday, the northern Sierra was less than 1 inch of water below the record of 88.5 inches, set during the 1982-83 water year. Last week’s storm brought 10 to 40 inches of snow to the Sierra, and more rain and mountain snow are expected Tuesday through Thursday in the week ahead.

Nearly three dozen tornadoes have been confirmed across the South late last week, and meteorologists expect that number to rise as the National Weather Service continues to survey areas damaged by this week’s severe weather outbreak. The severe weather moved up the east coast and damage some buildings in Washington, D.C., and a tornado reportedly touches down in Chesapeake, Virginia.

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 (3/28/17)

March 28, 2017

Republicans Split in Aftermath of Failed ObamaCare Replacement

The Republican division that doomed the party’s ObamaCare replacement bill appears as equally wide in the aftermath, with leaders in disagreement about the next step. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday cancelled the final vote for the ObamaCare replacement bill, upon concluding he didn’t have enough votes despite the chamber’s GOP majority. Trump’s new strategy appears to be to allow ObamaCare to continue –with the expectation that the 2010 health care law will implode amid increasing costs and few options for Americans. The Republican president also argues that ObamaCare will become so problematic that Democrats eventually ask the GOP-controlled Congress to work together on improvement. The Trump administration will have to decide whether 20 million people who gained coverage under the sweeping 2010 health reform law will remain insured.

Trump’s Approval Rating Drops Some More

President Trump’s approval rating dipped to a new low after the Obamacare repeal debacle. The Gallup poll found that as of Sunday, 36% of Americans approve of how the president is doing his job, while 57% disapprove. The most recent numbers, which are tracked daily, came a couple days after a vote was canceled on a GOP proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act. The president’s approval rating was at its highest at 46% in the days after his inauguration.

Trump’s Executive Order Will Undo Obama’s Clean Power Plan

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to roll back the Clean Power Plan rule, keeping a campaign vow to undo the Obama administration’s aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions. The Supreme Court has blocked the rule’s implementation since last year while legal challenges are heard. Trump told crowds in coal-producing states that lifting carbon restrictions would not only keep energy costs affordable but also help revitalize the coal industry and the communities economically ravaged by environmental regulations. The budget outline that the White House issued earlier this month called for defunding the Clean Power Plan that Obama announced in 2015, which some two dozen states are suing to overturn. Under Trump’s America First Energy Plan, the budget “reorients EPA’s air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy.” States are suing because they contend Washington does not have the authority to enact such a sweeping measure which they say would lead to higher electricity costs and reduced reliability of the nation’s power grid.

Sheriffs Dispute Federal Claim of Deportation Non-Cooperation

An executive order that President Trump signed in January prompted the government to document jurisdictions not cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. The top five counties nationwide for Jan. 28 to Feb. 3: Clark County, Nev., which has Las Vegas as its largest city, 51; Nassau County, N.Y., on Long Island just east of Queens, 38; Cook County, Ill., which has Chicago as its largest city, 13; Montgomery County, Iowa, population 10,000, about 45 miles southeast of Omaha, Neb., 12; Snohomish County, Wash., just north of Seattle, 12. Also in the top 10 was Franklin County, Iowa. However, Montgomery County Sheriff Joe Sampson and Franklin County Sheriff Linn Larson, both Republicans, said their departments did not receive any detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement during that period.

AG Sessions Says He’ll Punish Sanctuary Cities for Not Deporting Criminal Aliens

Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially put sanctuary cities on notice Monday that they are violating federal laws and could lose access to billions of dollars in Justice Department grants if they continue to thwart efforts to deport illegal immigrants. That would mean Chicago, Philadelphia and other prominent sanctuaries would not only lose money going forward, but might have to pay back tens of millions of dollars from their treasuries. “Countless Americans would be alive today — and countless loved ones would not be grieving today — if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended,” Mr. Sessions said from the White House, saying the time is ripe to take action. Immigrant rights groups, however, blasted Mr. Sessions, calling him a “bully” and blaming him for poisoning relationships between immigrants and local police.

Trump Administration Approves Keystone XL Pipeline

The Trump administration has issued a presidential permit to pipeline builder TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department determined that building Keystone serves the U.S. national interest. That’s the opposite conclusion to the one the State Department reached during the Obama administration. The State Department says it considered foreign policy and energy security in making the determination. The permit was signed by Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving as undersecretary of state for political affairs. That’s because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recused himself due to his previous work running Exxon Mobil. Keystone will carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Trump Asks for $1 Billion for 62 Miles of Border Wall

The Trump administration wants the first $1 billion installment of border wall funding to cover 62 miles — including replacing some existing fencing along the southern border. The $999 million requested by the White House in its budget supplement for defense and border security spending would cover just 48 miles of new wall, with 14 miles of fencing to be replaced. The money will fund 14 miles of new border wall in San Diego, 28 miles of new levee wall barriers and six miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley region and 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego. Estimates for a full wall along the Southern border have ranged from $12 billion to more than $20 billion.

U.S. Leads Boycott of UN Talks to Ban Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced Monday that the United States and almost 40 other nations would not participate in the first-ever talks on an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Flanked by ambassadors from about 20 nations, including nuclear powers United Kingdom and France, Haley said, “there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” the former South Carolina governor said. “But we have to be realistic.” “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?” Haley asked. President Barack Obama’s administration also opposed the talks, which the General Assembly voted to approve in December. Nuclear powers Russia and China also are not taking part.

U.S. Accused of Killing Civilians in Iraqi Airstrike

The U.S-led coalition in Iraq said Saturday that one of its airstrikes struck fighters and equipment of the ISIS terror group in West Mosul on March 17 at the location where there were reports of more than 100 civilian casualties. The airstrike was carried out at the request of Iraqi forces, the coalition said in a statement. Reports have indicated that the airstrike may have killed more than 100 civilians in western Mosul where U.S.-backed government troops are battling ISIS extremists in fierce fighting. The coalition said that it takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened “to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.” The Iraqi military aid 61 bodies have been pulled from the rubble of a home in Mosul after allegations surfaced that around 200 civilians had been killed in airstrikes in the city.

Trump Administration Orders Tougher Screening of Visa Applicants

The Trump administration is making it tougher for millions of visitors to enter the United States by demanding new security checks before giving visas to tourists, business travelers and relatives of American residents. Diplomatic cables sent last week from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to all American embassies instructed consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny. It was the first evidence of the “extreme vetting” Mr. Trump promised during the presidential campaign. The new rules generally do not apply to citizens of 38 countries — including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea — who can be speedily admitted into the United States under the visa waiver program. That program does not cover citizens from any country in the Middle East or Africa. stricter security checks for people from six predominantly Muslim nations remain on hold because federal courts have temporarily blocked President Trump’s travel ban.

Most Western Converts to Islamic Terrorism are Young

As terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda continue to search for new followers capable of being radicalized to violence, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) released a new report that explores the diverse backgrounds of 131 American, Canadian, European, and Australian converts to Islam who have attempted or succeeded in becoming foreign fighters, propagandists or recruiters, and domestic terrorists. CEP’s report found that at least 60 percent converted at age 25 or younger; 28 percent pledged allegiance to or acted on behalf of ISIS; 18 percent allied themselves with al-Qaeda or its affiliates; and 18 percent were influenced by radical preacher and terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Jamal Ahjjaj, an imam at As-Soennah Mosque in The Hague, once observed that converts to Islam are “the most vulnerable because they do not yet fully understand Islam,” noting that “sometimes there are people – the wrong people – waiting outside the mosque to greet them.”

Social Media Firms Must Do More to Stop Terror

David Ibsen, the executive ­director of the Counter Extremism ­Project, a New York think tank which combats online extremism, warned that the battle against jihadi groups would increasingly be fought on the ­internet. He told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘Online channels are key to jihadi ­movements. The growth of Isil was ­accompanied by directing attacks through modern communications channels, or inspiring attacks by ­modern communications channels.’ He said extremist groups used ­programs like WordPress to build sites to publicize their cause and ­achievements, while using encrypted communications channels like ­Telegram either to plan attacks, or to coordinate publicity for attacks after the fact.”

Concern Over NSA Surveillance that Unmasked Names

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes went public last week with charges the Obama administration collected and spread information from surveillance of President Trump’s transition team. On Friday, he said that the documents he’s been shown concerned him. “It appears that this was all legal as far as I can tell… but you have to ask why names were unmasked.” By law, Americans caught incidentally during surveillance of foreign targets must be protected by having their names “masked.” Nunes said more than one American – and possibly Trump – had their names “unmasked” and their names and information was widely distributed within the intelligence community. However, Democrats are asking Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump administration’s contacts with Russia after it was disclosed he was at the White House the day before he went public with his concerns.

More Americans Failing Employer Drug Tests

The percentage of American workers testing positive for illegal drugs has climbed steadily over the last three years to its highest level in a decade, according to Quest Diagnostics, which performed more than 10 million employment drug screenings last year. The increase has been fueled in part by rural America’s heroin epidemic and the legalization of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado. More than 9% of employees tested positive for one or more drugs in oral fluid screenings in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available. Because of the increase in positive drug tests, refugees who have reached America in recent years are finding a more welcoming hiring climate, at least for menial manufacturing jobs.

Transgenders Turning Female Sports Upside Down

Biological males who have become transgender females are joining many women’s sports teams, smashing records and dominating in sports such as weightlifting, softball, cycling, track, wrestling, football, volleyball, dodgeball, handball, cricket, golf, basketball and mixed martial arts. Physiologically speaking, there’s a gender gap between men and women that cannot be erased. As the 2015 edition of Runner’s World explained, “At every distance up to the marathon, the gap between men’s and women’s world record times is nine to 10 percent – and it’s a similar or even higher percentage among recreational runners.” Since these physical and physiological factors give most men a clear competitive edge in sports, critics ask, ‘is it fair or even safe for biological males – with larger muscle mass, hearts and lungs and greater strength, acceleration and speed – to compete against girls and women?”

Economic News

Consumer confidence surged to a new 16-year high in March, fueled by strong job and wage growth, lofty stock prices and cheap gasoline. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its confidence index jumped to 125.6 – highest since December 2000 — from an upwardly revised 116.1 in February. Americans’ perceptions of both current conditions and their outlook over the next six months improved substantially. The share saying business conditions are “good” increased to 32.2% from 28.3% in February. And 31.7% said jobs are “plentiful,” up from 26.9%. Just 19.5% said jobs are “hard to get.” Meanwhile, 27.1% of those surveyed expect business conditions to improve the next six months, up from 23.9%. Just 8.4% expect them to worsen.

Wall Street no longer believes President Trump’s agenda is a slam dunk. The Dow Industrial Average slumped more than 45 points Monday as Trump’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare spooked investors. It’s the eighth-straight down day for the Dow. That hasn’t happened since 2011. The market retreat is a reflection of rising fears on Wall Street that Trump’s bold promises of sweeping tax reform, regulatory relief and infrastructure spending is in doubt. However, the market was up early Tuesday after the consumer confidence report.

Islamic State

Two companies from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are being deployed to the Middle East to bolster security in Iraq and Syria at the request of the top American commander in Baghdad fighting ISIS. Some of the additional forces from the 82nd Airborne Division will head to the Qayyarah Airfield West, or “Q-West” as the soldiers call it, an official said. U.S. forces have occupied the former Iraqi military base since the summer. Currently, Apache gunships and GPS-guided rocket systems called HIMARS are based there roughly 40 miles south of Mosul to support the ongoing battle for Iraq’s second largest city.

Russia

The Kremlin’s ambitions in the Middle East reach far beyond Syria, according to US officials. From Afghanistan to Libya, Pentagon officials are increasingly concerned by mounting Russian military and diplomatic activity they believe is aimed at undermining the US and NATO. Some of the actions Moscow is accused of participating in include sending operatives to support an armed faction in Libya and providing political legitimacy — and maybe even supplies — to the Taliban in Afghanistan. These moves come on top of their overt dispatching of warplanes and ships to target the political opponents of its ally in Syria. “It is my view that they are trying to increase their influence in this critical part of the globe,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the region.

Thousands of people crowded into Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Sunday for an unsanctioned protest against corruption in the Russian government, part of a wave of demonstrations taking place throughout the country. Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is leading the opposition to President Vladimir Putin, was arrested while walking from a nearby subway station to the demonstration. Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption had called for the protests, which attracted crowds of hundreds to thousands in most sizeable Russian cities, from the Far East port of Vladivostok to the European heartland. The protests were the largest coordinated outpourings of dissatisfaction in Russia since the massive 2011-12 demonstrations that followed a fraud-tainted parliamentary election. Scuffles with police erupted sporadically and some demonstrators were arrested.

Iran

The United States has imposed sanctions on 30 foreign companies or individuals for transferring sensitive technology to Iran for its missile program or for violating export controls on Iran, North Korea and Syria, the State Department said on Friday. Eleven companies or individuals from China, North Korea or the United Arab Emirates were sanctioned for technology transfers that could boost Tehran’s ballistic missile program, the State Department said in a statement. Nineteen entities or individuals were sanctioned for other violations under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. They are believed to have transferred or acquired sensitive technology that could contribute to development of weapons of mass destruction.

Afghanistan

The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed that a U.S. counter-terrorism airstrike conducted March 19 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, resulted in the death of Qari Yasin, a well-known Al Qaeda terrorist leader responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocent victims, including two American service members. Yasin, a senior terrorist figure from Balochistan, Pakistan, had ties to Tehrik-e Taliban and had plotted multiple Al Qaeda terror attacks, including the Sept. 20, 2008, bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens of innocent people, among them the two U.S. service members. Yasin was also responsible for the 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed and six members of the team were injured.

Bangladesh

At least six people, including two policemen, have died in explosions in eastern Bangladesh as troops battle suspected militants holed up with an ammunitions cache, police said Sunday. The explosions Saturday on a road near an Islamic religious school in Sylhet city also wounded at least 25 people. Paramilitary troops have been trying since Friday to flush out Islamist radicals who have holed up in a building with a large cache of ammunition. Several explosions have occurred, including a large blast Sunday afternoon. Police have barred civilians including journalists from the area. The gun battle with suspected militants comes after a man killed himself by detonating explosives near a police post on a busy road near the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Philippines

Officials say a man lobbed a grenade at a store in the southern Philippines, killing four people and wounding 23 in an attack that appears to be unrelated to terrorism. The attacker was arrested following the late Saturday grenade blast in Busbus village near the airport in Sulu province’s Jolo town. The attacker, who was identified by police as Sedimar Rabbah, returned to the area to retaliate after being beaten by a group of men who accused him of stealing a cellphone. Along with kidnappings for ransom and killings by Abu Sayyaf extremists, predominantly Muslim Sulu has long been troubled by a large number of illegal guns and other weapons.

Uganda

Uganda is celebrated around the world for its generosity toward those desperately fleeing violence. Unlike other East African nations like Kenya, where refugees are restricted to camps, Uganda in the past gave refugees land to farm and build a home, plus free health care and education. But a three-year civil war has sent 700,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing, many to their southern neighbor. Refugees also are escaping violence in nearby countries such as Burundi. That is putting pressure on camps in Uganda, which can’t provide enough shelter, food, water and medical care, leaving the most vulnerable struggling to survive. A year ago, only a few huts dotted the northern Ugandan town of Bidi Bidi. Today, more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees live there, according to the United Nations. The camp — now one of the largest refugee settlements in the world — opened last summer after a new round of clashes erupted in South Sudan.

Wildfires

Wildfires fueled by gusting winds, hot, dry weather, and desiccated plant life have burned nearly 900,000 acres of Oklahoma so far this year, a record, as well as parts of Kansas and Texas. The blazes have destroyed dozens of buildings and killed seven people as well as hundreds of cattle. While this time of year is typically the main wildfire season for Oklahoma and surrounding areas, this season has seen a record-breaking amount of land scorched by 133 large wildfires (over 100 acres) were ignited in the Panhandle and eastern Oklahoma, with conditions exacerbated by a perfect storm of ideal fire weather and a deepening drought.

Weather

A system packing a round of severe thunderstorms sprouted possible tornadoes in Tennessee and Mississippi and downed trees and power lines in Nashville, Tennessee, Monday. Severe storms brought high winds and dropped hail the size of softballs on parts of Texas and Oklahoma Sunday, causing widespread damage. The hail was reported in the areas of Denton County and Justin in north Texas, while an unconfirmed tornado was spotted southwest of Justin. Several homes and businesses in the Denton area were damaged by the large hail. On Monday, officials with the Little Elm Independent School District southeast of Denton announced that many school buses were damaged were out of commission due to hail damage. The severe storms came just two days after an EF2 tornado ripped through Cato, Arkansas, destroying four mobile homes and injuring at least six Friday.

Residents of northeastern Australia are cleaning up and recovering Tuesday (which is Wednesday there) from powerful Cyclone Debbie, which slammed into the coast with winds estimated at up to 120 mph. Gusts as high as 163 mph reported at Hamilton Island. Debbie was the equivalent of a Category 3 (major) hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. One death was blamed on the cyclone when a tourist was killed amid stormy weather on Monday. Thousands are without power. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the state of Queensland has been hit by nine tropical cyclones of Category 3 or higher strength since 1989. Four of these storms have hit since 2011, the Weather Underground said.

The South African city of Cape Town is facing a “real crisis” with only 100 days left before it runs out of water, officials say. During the past two years, the tourism mecca of the nation and home to 3.7 million people has had the least amount of rainfall on record. With average water levels below 30 percent and the remaining water becoming unusable at the city’s six main dams, the city scrambled to avoid water outages with water pressure reductions and other restrictions. Authorities hope the coming rainy season, which begins in May or June, will replenish the water supply, but until that time, fears are mounting that outages will occur. Many residents have reported gastrointestinal problems after drinking the remaining tap water.

Signs of the Times (3/23/17)

March 23, 2017

London Parliament Attack Claimed by ISIS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the terror attack that left four people dead, including the assailant and a police officer, outside of London’s Parliament building on Wednesday, according to the Amaq media agency. “The perpetrator of the attacks yesterday in front of the British Parliament in London is an Islamic State soldier and he carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of the coalition,” the Amaq statement said. The claim of responsibility comes fewer than 24 hours after a man driving an SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge near the Parliament building. Two people were killed and more than 30 others injured before the attacker fatally stabbed police officer Keith Palmer on the Parliament’s grounds. Police shot the attacker, who later was pronounced dead. British Prime Minister Theresa May said the terrorist was born in Britain and was known to authorities who had once investigated him for links to religious extremism. British police announced that six homes were raided and eight arrests were made in connection to the Wednesday terror attack.

Paris Airport Attack Committed by Islamic Terrorist

The 39-year-old suspected attacker killed at Paris’ Orly airport on Saturday after trying to wrestle away a soldier’s weapon had already crossed authorities’ radars for suspected Islamic extremism. A French official connected to the investigation confirmed French media reports identifying the attacker as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who was involved just hours earlier in a carjacking and the shooting of a police officer at a traffic stop, French authorities said Saturday. Paris prosecutors said the suspect’s house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. Those searches targeted people with suspected radical leanings. The prosecutor’s office said its anti-terrorism division was handling the investigation and had taken the attacker’s father and brother into custody for questioning.

Electronics Banned from Aircraft Coming from 8 Countries

The ban on all electronic devices larger than a cell phone being brought into the cabin of passenger aircraft coming from several Middle Eastern and African countries is indefinite and applies to nine airlines and 10 airports in eight countries, Fox News reported Tuesday. The ban on electronics in the cabin applies to U.S.-bound direct flights only. Laptops, tables, Kindles, iPads and gaming devices larger than a cellphone will be prohibited from the cabin of the passenger flights. Senior administration officials are calling the measure an active-emergency amendment based on “evaluated intelligence” that terrorist groups continue to target aviation and consumer items for use in an attack. The eight countries affected by the ban are all Muslim-majority nations. They include Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Morocco. Airports affected by the ban include: Queen Alia Airport, Cairo Airport, Ataturk Airport, King Abdulaziz Airport, King Khalid International Airport, Kuwait International Airport, Mohammed V International Airport, Doha Airport, Dubai Airport, and Abu Dhabi Airport. The airlines affected include: Royal Jordanian, Emirates, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Kuwait Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and Royal Air Maroc. Britain’s government has banned electronic devices in the carry-on bags of passengers traveling to the U.K. from six countries, following closely on a similar ban imposed by the United States.

TrumpCare on Life Support, House Vote Postponed

Republican leaders canceled a vote in the House on the plan to replace ObamaCare Thursday, after leadership’s attempts to lobby enough votes apparently failed — a major setback for House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump. Trump and Republican leaders had spent much of the day scrambling to get both moderates and conservatives on board with the increasingly unpopular legislation. The House now hopes to vote on the legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare Friday morning, following a day of drama and multiple high-level, tension-filled meetings. Twenty-six House Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, and four more have indicated they are likely to oppose it, though negotiations were ongoing Thursday. All Democrats are opposed.

FBI Intel Confirms Trump Team’s Communications with Russia

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source. The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. In his statement on Monday, Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

House Intelligence Chairman Verifies Trump Surveillance

House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Wednesday a source within the intelligence community had shown him “dozens” of reports that were produced from “incidentally collected” communications between members of the Trump transition team and foreign targets. The announcement Wednesday that intelligence agencies disseminated surveillance on the Trump transition team is fueling President Trump’s push to root out those who allegedly have been spreading the classified information throughout government and to news organizations. Several individuals on the Trump team were eventually “unmasked” and had their identities “widely disseminated,” despite the information being of limited intelligence value, Nunes said. The bombshell news conference appeared to partially back up Trump’s assertion earlier this month that former President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him. If presidential transition officials had their communications monitored and “unmasked” by the intelligence community, that would provide the first major piece of evidence of suspected illegal activity by Obama officials against Donald Trump as president-elect.

Rape by Illegal Alien Stirs Angst Against Sanctuary Cities

Residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, were horrified recently by the news that two Latin American teenagers, at least one of whom is an illegal alien, had brutally raped a 14-year-old girl in Rockville High School. Parents and concerned citizens were further outraged by the Montgomery County school district’s laissez-faire attitude toward illegal aliens who may be attending their schools. Henry Sanchez, 18, had a pending deportation order, which was not carried out while immigration activists tried to block the deportation. “I think it’s important to remember that this really starts with the feds,” said Daniel Horowitz, senior editor at Conservative Review. “People are focusing on sanctuary cities, but we’ve had a sanctuary nation policy where essentially we’ve telegraphed a message to Latin America that if you come here with children, even teenagers, even hardened criminals and gang members, you are here to stay.” The major network news shows largely ignored the story.

Transgender Fallout

A teenage boy in Pennsylvania was told by school leaders that he had to “tolerate” undressing in front of a female student and to make it as “natural” as possible, according to a The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, alleges the Boyertown Area School District shamed the teenage boy and violated his personal privacy. They are also alleging sexual harassment in the lawsuit filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court. The assistant principal told the student that, “students who mentally identify themselves with the opposite sex could choose the locker room and bathroom to use, and physical sex did not matter,” the lawsuit states.

Jewish Center Bomb Threats Allegedly Made by Israeli Teen

The Jerusalem Post reports a 19-year-old Jewish dual American-Israeli citizen from Ashkelon, Israel has been arrested for being behind “most of the series of bomb threats” that gripped the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in recent months. The Jerusalem Posts states the man is not in the IDF, is not part of the Orthodox community, emigrated from the United States and may potentially suffer from psychological problems. According to the Associated Press, the Anti-Defamation League claims there have been more than 120 bomb threats to American Jewish community centers since Jan. 9.

Suspension of Debt Ceiling Has Ended, Crisis Looming

On Wednesday, the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling ended, and so now the federal government is not going to be able to go into any more debt until the debt ceiling is raised.  For the moment, the Trump administration can implement “emergency measures” to stay under the debt limit, but the federal government is quickly running out of cash.  Already, the U.S. Treasury has less cash on hand than Apple or Google, according to ZeroHedge. Since President Barack Obama signed the “Bipartisan Budget Act” on Nov. 2, 2015 there had been no legal limit on the amount of money the federal government could borrow until now. During the 16 and a half months between the signing of that deal and today, the U.S. national debt rose by a whopping $1,414,397,000,000. But now the U.S. national debt will not be allowed to rise by another penny until the debt ceiling is raised or suspended once again. The Trump administration is pushing hard to get the debt ceiling raised, which is a complete reversal from how Trump felt about the debt ceiling back in 2013. “I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling — I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!” he tweeted then.

TrumpCare Boosting Health Industry Stocks

Obamacare may eventually become Trumpcare. And even though there are issues that must be worked out before the Affordable Care Act is repealed and replaced by the American Health Care Act, investors are excited. Health care stocks are soaring. Two big health care ETFs — the Health Care Select Sector SPDR and iShares U.S. Healthcare funds — are each up nearly 10% this year. Several insurers are even hotter than that. Cigna and Anthem, which had hoped to merge, are up 14% and 17% respectively. (Humana and Aetna, the other two that were looking to combine, are each up about 6%. Drug makers Johnson & Johnson and Merck are up about 10% too. Big biotech Amgen has soared 16%. It appears that investors are betting that the final bill will ultimately be favorable to many of the larger players throughout health care.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by about 238 points Tuesday, a drop of more than 1%. It was its biggest slide of the year and biggest decline since the election. The broader S&P 500 was also down more than 1%. The Nasdaq, which includes many hot tech stocks such as Apple, Facebook and Amazon, fell nearly 2%.

Almost one-quarter of workers said they and their spouse combined have less than $1,000 saved for retirement, according to a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Nearly half of everyone surveyed said they had less than $25,000. Most of those workers who said they’ve saved less than $1,000 don’t have access to a savings account like a 401(k) at work. There are roughly 55 million workers in the U.S. who don’t have access to an employer-sponsored plan.

AT&T, Verizon, Enterprise and Johnson & Johnson have halted ads on certain Google platforms after major brands learned their promotional posts were appearing alongside extremist content. “We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” a spokesperson for AT&T said in a statement to CNNTech. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.” An investigation published last week by The Times in London revealed that ads from brands like the BBC and L’Oreal were placed near inappropriate content on YouTube posted by religious extremists, a Ku Klux Klan leader and more.

Persecution Watch

Christians have been the targets of a hate crime every other day in India so far in 2017. At least 15 believers assaulted – including two women beaten by their husbands; two church meetings and two marriage services disrupted; several church buildings vandalized and looted; a Christian orphanage shut down by police for “child trafficking”; pastors threated; a peace gathering attacked by a mob. Such is the litany of frequently violent persecution experienced by Indian Christians at the hands of Hindus in a single month: February 2017. The Evangelical Fellowship of India recorded 20 verified hate crimes against Christians in February alone, taking the total for the first two months of 2017 to 38, more than one every other day. Indian believers are living on the persecution front line in a country where they are supposed to be protected by law.

Israel

A just-published United Nations report claims to find Israel guilty of the “crime of apartheid,” That is just one element of a broader legal and propaganda offensive being pushed by an obscure  U.N. regional commission to stigmatize Israel and build support for the Palestinian cause, according to documents examined by Fox News. The offensive has been gestating for at least two years within the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), whose entire membership are Arab states. It is timed to coincide with this year’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 war between Arab states and Israel, which resulted in Israel’s control of the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, which it categorizes as an “occupation.” The Trump administration said Monday that it is boycotting a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, amid growing concerns by the administration over the U.N.’s anti-Israel stance.

Middle East

For the first time, Israel deployed its advanced Arrow defense system, intercepting an incoming missile from Syria that was likely launched by Hezbollah. One reportedly landed in Jordan, and the other two in the Jordan Valley in Israel. No injuries or damage occurred. The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is unusual. According to a statement by the IDF, “Overnight, March 17, 2017, IAF aircraft targeted several targets in Syria. Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF Aerial Defense Systems intercepted one of the missiles.” The IDF normally does not divulge information regarding its operations, but in this case made an exception due to the sounds of explosions heard in Jewish communities in the Jordan Valley as well as in some areas in Jerusalem, where civilians were awakened close to 3 a.m.

Syria

Damascus residents say fierce clashes have broken out on the eastern side of the Syrian capital following an ambush by rebel-aligned forces. Rebels are reported to have detonated two large car bombs at 5:20 a.m. Sunday morning close to the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Residents say artillery shells and rockets are landing inside the heart of the city. Government warplanes responded with a number of raids around the areas of the clashes. Syrian state media said terrorists had infiltrated the city through tunnels in the middle of the night and reported clashes in the Qaboun and Jobar neighborhoods. Jobar is one of three pockets in the Syrian capital still in opposition hands. It is besieged by government forces.

The United States said Thursday that an airstrike on an al-Qaeda meeting site in Syria killed “several terrorists,” but reports emerged Friday that dozens of civilians may have died in the same attack. The U.S. Central Command said it struck a “meeting location” in the northwestern province of Idlib, which it described as “a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years. The attack involved two Reaper drones, which fired about eight Hellfire missiles and dropped at least one 500-pound GPS-guided bomb. But local activists and a monitoring group claimed that the airstrike hit a mosque in the western Aleppo countryside next to Idlib province, killing at least 46 people and leaving dozens more under the rubble.

North Korea

The Trump administration gave its clearest signal yet that it would consider taking military action against North Korea, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that “all options are on the table” to deter the threat from Pyongyang. “Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister. He was referring to the Obama administration policy of trying to wait North Korea out, hoping that sanctions would prove so crippling that Pyongyang would have no choice but to return to denuclearization negotiations. Tensions are running high in Northeast Asia, with North Korea making observable progress toward its goal of building a missile that could reach the U.S. mainland and China. North Korea is incensed about South Korea’s decision to deploy an American antimissile battery. On Saturday, China urged the United States to take a “cool-headed” approach to escalating tensions with North Korea, calling for a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Afghanistan

The Taliban captured the strategic district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand on Thursday, reports the New York Times. It was the culmination of a years-long offensive that took the lives of more combatants than any other fight for territory in Afghanistan. While spokesmen for the central government denied claims by the Taliban that the district had fallen to them, some conceded that the insurgents had overrun the district center and government facilities. But local Afghan government and military officials said there was no doubt Sangin had finally fallen to their enemy. A spokesman for the American military played down the development, saying Afghan security forces were still in the district and had merely moved its seat of government.

Three U.S. Army soldiers were shot and wounded Sunday when an Afghan Army soldier opened fire on them inside a base in southern Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province. Coalition security forces on the base killed the soldier to end the attack. The severity of the soldiers’ wounds was not immediately clear. There are roughly 8,400 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan — more than in Iraq and Syria combined. Additionally, the Pentagon is weighing a decision to send more U.S. forces to Afghanistan. The top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. John Nicholson, told Congress earlier this year he needed more U.S. and allied soldiers to help train the Afghan army.

Environment

For months during 2016, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s emerald waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a fetid blanket of green goop that killed off fish, suffocated oyster beds and triggered a ferocious outcry from coastal residents. From NBC’s “Today Show” to The Daily Telegraph of London, news outlets chronicled the closing of beaches, the declaration of a state of emergency and the desperate, heart-breaking efforts of people using garden hoses to save manatees caked in toxic slime and struggling to breathe. But the reports didn’t explain the most tragic part of the story – that this calamity is man-made. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. Despite talk of spending $10.5 billion over the next two decades to fix the problem, a cloud of political uncertainty leaves it unclear when, how – or even if – the harmful algae blooms will be stopped, notes Weather.com.

These tropical wetlands have been drained and maintained for decades at great expense for the benefit of Florida’s sugar cane industry, which is dominated by two politically connected companies. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a regional flood control system that keeps the cane fields from flooding during periods of heavy rain and irrigated during droughts. The cane fields sit on 450,000 acres of reclaimed wetlands just below Lake Okeechobee in south-central Florida. The area is home to about 40,000 people and an economy based on farming. By contrast, some 6 million people live in the coastal zone affected by the algae – a region fueled by a great diversity of commercial activity, but especially tourism. The economic boon of the smaller community has become the bane of the larger one.

Wildfires

Wildfire activity is way up this year so far. As of 3/17, 10,289 wildfires have burned over 2 million acres, versus the ten-year average of almost 217,000 acres consumed by this time of year.

Weather

The two warmest Februaries on earth since 1880 have occurred in the past two years. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculated the Earth’s mean temperature over land and water in February was 1.1 degrees Celsius above average, second only to February 2016’s 1.32-degrees Celsius departure from average in 137 years of records. Another independent analysis from the Japan Meteorological Agency also found February 2017 was the second warmest February in its records dating to 1891. Before October 2015, not one of the 1,629 months in NASA’s database dating to 1880 had a warm temperature difference of 1 degree Celsius. Since October 2015, 8 of the past 17 months have seen such warm global anomalies, seven of those months occurring consecutively from October 2015 through April 2016. Increasing warmth punctuated by repeated winter heat waves stymied Arctic sea ice growth this winter, setting a record-low for the third year in a row at both poles (satellite measurements began in the 1950s).

Georgia blueberries and South Carolina peaches, along with a number of other crops like strawberries and apples, were nearly wiped out last week by the deep freeze that hit the Southeast. The Associated Press reports that the freeze hit just as South Carolina’s peach trees were blooming, and it destroyed an estimated 85 percent of the state’s crop, according to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. In Georgia, the freeze destroyed up to 80 percent of the state’s blueberry crop, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said after touring the state late last week. Blueberry production in Georgia in 2015 was estimated to be worth about $255 million, so last week’s freeze is seen as a tremendous blow to the state’s farmers. Temperatures fell below freezing and even well into the 20s in some areas late last week in parts of the Southeast, which is not uncommon in mid-March. The crops were particularly vulnerable this year, however, because unusually warm temperatures in late February prompted trees to blossom some three weeks early.

Intense rains have led to flooding and mudslides in northern Peru this week, leaving thousands homeless and seventy-two people dead. At least 115,000 homes have been destroyed, roadways are impassable and 117 bridges are reportedly washed out. Flooding also struck Peru’s capital of Lima, where flooding rarely occurs. Police aided hundreds of residents living in a suburb cross a flooded road by guiding them one-by-one along a rope through choppy waters.

Signs of the Times (3/7/17)

March 7, 2017

New Travel Ban Issued by Trump Administration

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

House Republicans Release ObamaCare Replacement Bill

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

Supreme Court Sends Transgender Case Back to Lower Court

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

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

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of CIA Programs & Documents

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

Trump Calls for Congressional Probe of Wiretapping His Campaign

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

Trump Puts Russia Deal on Hold, Citing Recent Provocations

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

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

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

Trump Makes Proposal to Planned Parenthood

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

Alzheimer’s Could Bankrupt Medicare, Experts Say

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Migrant Update

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

Islamic State

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

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

Syria

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

Iran

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

North Korea

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

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

Somalia

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

Yemen

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (3/4/17)

March 4, 2017

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

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

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

Islam Growing Faster than Christianity

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

Trump Addresses Congress, Promises Economic Acceleration

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

AG Sessions Defuses Media Uproar, Recuses Himself from Russian Probe

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

Dems Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton Also Had Russian Contacts

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

Majority of Voters say ‘Move On’ from Protesting Trump

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

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

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

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

European Union Threatens Visa War with U.S.

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

Muslims Unite to Help Fix Vandalized Jewish Cemeteries

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

Pro-Life Activists Begin 40 Days for Life Outreach

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

Thousands of Virginia Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

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

Colon/Rectal Cancer Rate Rising for those Under 55

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

Pension Funds Drying Up

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

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

Manufacturing Back, Good Jobs Not

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

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

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

Yemen

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

Pakistan

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

Jordan

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

Afghanistan

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

Earthquakes

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

Environment

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (2/28/17)

February 28, 2017

Confidence in Military High, Media Low

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

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

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

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

Deportation Agency Ignored 1.6M Visa Overstays under Obama

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

Trump Administration Releases First Details of Budget

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

Trump Concedes Health Law Overhaul Is ‘Unbelievably Complex’

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

Trump Rejects DHS Intelligence Report on Travel Ban

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

RFP’s Go Out for Trump’s Border Wall

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

Feds Rescind Opposition to Key Part of Texas Voter ID Law

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

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

Democrats Verify Voter-IDs Before Electing Party Chairman

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

Mandatory Use of E-Verify has had Mixed Results

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

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

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

Transgender Wrestler Wins Texas Girls Title

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Syria

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

North Korea

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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