Signs of the Times (8/25/16)

August 25, 2016

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked an Obama administration directive on bathroom rights for transgender students in U.S. public schools. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth issued the preliminary injunction Sunday. Texas and 12 other states asked O’Connor to halt the directive after the federal government told U.S. public schools in May that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. That announcement came days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had likened that law to policies of racial segregation. Republicans have argued such laws are commonsense privacy safeguards.

Gender Confusion in Schools

It didn’t take long for the federal government’s new gender identity policy to cause confusion in public schools. A memo from one assistant principal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told teachers not to refer to students as boys or girls. The case mirrored one in Charlotte, N.C., where teachers have been advised to stop calling children “boys and girls,” according to a training presentation on transgender issues. Instead, the progressives who control Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools want teachers to identify the youngsters as either “students” or “scholars.” The Albuquerque school later rescinded the change, but parents were incensed over the ongoing confusion. According to the Albuquerque Public School district’s newly implemented “Non-Discrimination for Students: Gender Identity and Expression” policy, students shall have the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun corresponding to their chosen gender identity.

  • The world is going insane and the inmates are taking over

Major Study Undermines Gay Agenda

A major new report, published Tuesday in the journal The New Atlantis, challenges the leading narratives that the media has pushed regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, reports Charisma News. Co-authored by two of the nation’s leading scholars on mental health and sexuality, the 143-page report discusses over 200 peer-reviewed studies in the biological, psychological and social sciences, painstakingly documenting what scientific research shows and does not show about sexuality and gender. The major takeaway, as the editor of the journal explains, is that ‘some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The study finds that gays are not born that way and they can possibly change; non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse when compared to the general population; non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes; and the idea that “a person might be ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’ or ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’—is not supported by scientific evidence.

Kim Davis Wins the Fight for Religious Freedom

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has won the fight for religious freedom after a federal judge issued an order dismissing all three 2015 marriage license lawsuits against her Monday. Despite the ACLU’s attempt to continue the case against Kim Davis and assess damages against her, the federal district court dismissed the case, closed the files and ordered all the pending cases to be removed from the docket. Davis, represented by Liberty Counsel, spent six days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of her right to freedom of conscience. Davis would not issue the licenses because they had her name and authority on them. Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. “County clerks are now able to perform their public service without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”

Twitter Suspends 235,000 Accounts for Extremism

Twitter said it has suspended 235,000 accounts for violating policies on the promotion of extremism and terrorism over the past six months, bringing the overall number of suspended accounts to 360,000 in the last year. The company has also expanded the teams that review reports of misuse of the networking service, which had become a go-to tool for some terror and extremist groups looking to get their message out. Twitter said daily suspensions are up more than 80% since last year and that such suspensions jump just after terrorist attacks, when presumably extremists wish to tout their success. Twitter said it is working to disrupt extremists’ ability to quickly create replacement accounts by expanding the teams that review reports of behavior that violates its terms and agreements. These teams work 24 hours a day, the company said.

U.S. Opioid Deaths Skyrocketing

An increasing heroin epidemic has plagued the nation’s urban and rural communities alike. Cabell County, West Virginia was hit with 26 overdoses in a four-hour span last week. The wave of misery was focused in a Huntington public housing complex, where victims injected from a batch of the drug believed to have been laced with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It was the latest cluster of overdoses to take place in communities ranging from gritty cities to rural farmlands. Overdoses involving heroin and synthetic drugs like “spice” left two dozen hospitalized earlier this month in Ohio; killed two and sickened 16 two months ago in New Haven, Conn.; and hospitalized 33 last month in Brooklyn. Incidents of large-scale overdoses like these bring headlines, but public health and law enforcement officials say the underlying opioid crisis gripping the nation claims most of its victims quietly, one or two at a time. In Cabell County, there have been at least 440 overdoses this year, including 26 fatalities. CDC statistics show West Virginia has the highest per capita rate of lethal overdoses in the nation, followed by New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.

Tanning Industry Blames 10,000 Salon Closings on ObamaCare

Business owners around the country say the little-noticed 10 percent tax on tanning in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has crippled the industry, forcing the closing of nearly 10,000 of the more than 18,000 tanning salons in the U.S. The tax, similar to that imposed on tobacco, is meant to discourage a practice known to increase the risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says those who use tanning beds before age 35 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent. Congressional experts also projected the tax would raise about $2.7 billion to help expand health coverage for uninsured Americans, but the industry says it actually has raised just a fraction of that. The industry has spent millions lobbying to repeal the tax, which it says destroyed 81,000 tanning jobs.

Obamacare Options Dwindling

Many consumers will find they have few choices when shopping on the Obamacare exchanges for 2017. Industry giants Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Humana are scaling back their presences on the exchanges. And smaller insurers, including more than a dozen co-ops funded by the federal government to foster competition, have gone out of business or are dropping out of the program. Nearly 36% of markets may have only one insurer participating on the exchanges, up from 4% this year, reports CNN. And nearly 55% may have two or fewer choices, up from 33% in 2016. Most affected by the upheaval in the Obamacare markets are the residents of Pinal County, Arizona. This rural county outside of Phoenix has the dubious distinction of being the first place without any options since the exchanges opened in 2014. Federal and state regulators must now scramble to deal with this unprecedented situation.

Louisiana Flood Update

The historic flood in southern Louisiana claimed 13 lives and the ticket for property losses is ever climbing. State officials at midweek estimated 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 11,000 people were in shelters following a 25-inch downpour. By week’s end, the Red Cross said, some 32,000 people had stayed at least a night in its shelters. Two-thirds of the shelters had emptied by Friday, but for some Louisianians there was no home to return to. State officials estimated that 75% of the homes in East Baton Rouge Parish and some 90% of the homes in adjoining Livingston Parish were flooded or damaged. Parts of Louisiana still have over two feet of standing water as of Tuesday morning.

Economic News

The annual deficit has been on a downward trajectory since 2009. But that streak could end this year. The Congressional Budget Office now projects this year’s deficit will rise to $590 billion, or 3.2% of the economy. That’s up from $438 billion, or 2.5% of GDP in 2015. The majority of that increase is due to slower-than-expected growth in the first half of the year and lower-than-expected revenue coming into the federal government. The biggest chunk of mandatory spending is the automatic payments of Medicare and Social Security benefits, which are growing as the population ages and health costs rise. By contrast, so-called discretionary spending — which basically pays for most other things (education, defense, cybersecurity, national parks, infrastructure scientific research, etc.) — is on track to fall to its lowest level as a share of the economy since 1962.

A scarcity of affordable homes on the market helped drag down existing homes sales in July as low inventory levels and higher prices put an end to a four-month climb. Existing home sales fell 3.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million from a revised 5.57 million in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. That includes transactions of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops. The West was the only region that posted sales growth, rising 2.5% to an annual rate of 1.23 million, yet still slightly below a year ago. Meanwhile, the median sale price showed no sign of cooling down. It climbed 5.3% to $244,100 from a year ago, the 53rd straight month of year-over-year growth.

America’s economy has a problem: Workers just aren’t producing as much as they once did. Output per American worker (known as “worker productivity”) is at its lowest level since the 1970s, according to government data. Throughout the 1990s, worker productivity shot up by 2.2% a year, on average. In the early 2000s, it went up a brisk 2.6% a year. Since the Great Recession, it’s been crawling along at barely more than 1% a year, on average. Now it’s getting worse. The latest reading came in at negative 0.5% for the period between April and June, meaning that American workers were less productive this spring than a year ago. The U.S. is in an alarming productivity slump, and it’s not clear how to fix it.

Companies are sitting on near record levels of cash. In a healthy economy, businesses typically spend money on new factories, tools and research. That’s not happening. Businesses are either hording cash in their bank accounts or using it to buy back stock. Those activities do little to help the economy. Some blame the U.S. election. Sixty-two percent of business economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics this summer said “uncertainty about the national election” is holding back growth, mostly because companies are hesitant to invest for the future. Other experts point to increased regulatory compliance costs.

Cheap gas and an improving economy have been blamed for a soaring number of traffic deaths for a second straight year. Traffic deaths nationally jumped 9% in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary numbers from the National Safety Council. That’s 19,100 deaths overall. The NSC report was released a month after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2015 saw the most traffic fatalities on U.S. roads since 2008. The NSC concluded that the increased fatalities are in part a result of the uptick in the U.S. economy, and the fall in gas prices. On average, gas prices fell 16% from 2015 to the first six months of 2016. Those lower prices and more spending money led to a 3.3% increase in the amount of miles driven from January to May of this year. Florida has seen a particularly grisly increase with traffic deaths up 43% since 2014, according to the NSC. During that time, Vermont’s traffic fatalities surged by 82%, and Oregon’s by 70%, but because they are less populous states they don’t involve as many vehicles as Florida.

Israel

The Israeli military carried out a series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late Sunday, targeting Hamas positions in response to a Palestinian rocket attack that hit an Israeli border town earlier in the day. Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qidra said two Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were lightly wounded. Palestinian officials said nearly all of the airstrikes took place in northern Gaza, near the Israeli border. While most of the attacks targeted Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, one struck a military camp used by the smaller Islamic Jihad group. Israel accused Hamas of trying to “inflict pain, cause fear and to terrorize” Israelis in the middle of the summer vacation period. Sunday’s rocket attack struck the Israeli border town of Sderot in the middle of the day and disrupted what has been a quiet summer in the volatile area. The rocket landed in a residential area, exploding next to a house. There were no injuries.

Islamic State

Turkey sent tanks and special forces over the Syrian border Wednesday to capture an Islamic State stronghold, and push Kurdish YPG forces from its southern border, as the capital Ankara looks to boost its military involvement in the Syrian conflict. However, U.S. forces supporting anti-Islamic State operations in Syria are working with the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist group seeking Kurdish independence. The offensive targeted the border city of Jarablus, a key ISIS supply line. Turkish artillery launched intense fire on Jarablus followed by Turkish warplanes bombing Islamic State targets in the town. Turkey has vowed to “cleanse” Islamic State militants from its borders following a weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey (see below) Turkey blames the Islamic State for the attack..

Turkey

An explosion at a wedding ceremony hall late Saturday in Turkey’s southeastern city of Gaziantep has left at least 50 people dead and 90 injured, government officials said. Twenty-two children were killed. The suicide bomber was between 12 and 14 years old, Turkey’s president announced Sunday, blaming the Islamic State terror group for the massacre. Gaziantep is about 76 miles from Aleppo, the Syrian city devastated by five years of civil war and recent Russian and Syrian-state airstrikes. The war has risked destabilizing Turkey, a NATO ally that’s experienced a wave of terror attacks this year and whose government resisted an attempted military coup in July. There have been at least five terror attacks in Turkey in the first half of this year. A child wearing an explosive belt was stopped and disarmed by Iraqi officials in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk one day after a boy about the same age killed 51 people in a suicide bombing in the Kurdish region of Turkey. The youth, age 12 or 13, was captured before he could detonate his explosives belt in Kirkuk’s Huzairan neighborhood.

Iraq

Iraq has executed 36 men convicted of taking part in the Islamic State group’s massacre of hundreds of soldiers in 2014, according to Iraqi officials. The men were hanged at the Nasiriyah prison in southern Iraq on Sunday. ISIL captured an estimated 1,700 soldiers after the group overran Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in 2014. Shortly after taking Tikrit, ISIL posted graphic images of gunmen shooting the men dead after forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch. The Speicher massacre sparked outrage across Iraq and partially fueled the mobilization of Shiite militias in the fight against ISIL. Iraqi forces arrested dozens of men allegedly linked to the massacre after retaking Tikrit in 2015 with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes. The men executed on Sunday were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court earlier this year.

Iran

Russia will stop using a base in Iran for airstrikes targeting militants in Syria for the time being, Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters in Tehran on Monday that the strikes were “temporary, based on a Russian request” and were “carried out with “mutual understanding and with Iran’s permission,” according to the Associated Press. He said the Russian mission “is finished, for now” and that Russia “has no base in Iran.”

Afghanistan

An American service member was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, the first combat casualty there since January, the military announced. Another U.S. service member and six Afghan troops were also wounded in the attack.  The roadside bomb attack occurred in Helmand province where Taliban forces have been gaining ground against Afghan government security forces. The U.S.-led NATO coalition bolstering Afghan troops have scrambled in recent days to keep them from losing Helmand province, the restive area home to many Taliban members. About 100 U.S. special operations forces were sent there Monday to train and advise Afghan forces who were struggling to control the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Thirteen people were killed in an attack on Kabul Universitythat began Wednesday evening in the Afghan capital, reported CNN on Thursday. Two gunmen were killed after police entered a building hours after the shooting started. A third attacker was killed when he detonated an explosives-laden car Wednesday night in front of the university wall. The 13 killed included seven students, three police, two security guards and a doorman. Thirty students were injured in the attack, for which no group has claimed responsibility.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s military said Tuesday it believes an airstrike has “fatally wounded” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, but there was no way to confirm yet another claim of the death of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist leader. The statement does not say how the military got the information but identifies other commanders as “confirmed dead” in an air raid on Friday. The statement comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, with President Muhammadu Buhari, on a visit to discuss Islamic extremism and regional security. Shekau, according to a BBC profile, is known as a “fearless loner” with a photographic memory, a complex and often paradoxical man who is part intellectual, part terrorist.

North Korea

A ballistic missile fired from a North Korean submarine on Wednesday flew about 310 miles, the longest distance achieved by the North for such a weapon, Seoul officials said, putting all of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan, within its striking distance. North Korea already has a variety of land-based missiles that can hit South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases in those countries. But its development of reliable submarine-launched missiles would add weapons that are harder to detect before liftoff. North Korea claimed that it now has the ability to strike the U.S. from its submarine platform.

Haiti

Last week, the United Nations acknowledged some responsibility for the cholera epidemic in Haiti that broke out six years ago, killing more than 9,000 people. But the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that despite this admission the UN cannot be sued in U.S. courts. The victims and the families of the victims have 90 days to decide whether they would like to appeal the case up to the Supreme Court. Cholera wasn’t reported in Haiti until UN peacekeepers from Nepal arrived. Nepal had an active cholera epidemic at the time. The UN had been steadfastly denying this since the first case of cholera in Haiti was reported, in fall 2010. In order to keep people in Haiti from getting cholera, the country needs proper water and sanitation systems. But despite everything that’s happened, those still don’t exist there.

Colombia

The longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere is coming to a close as the Colombian government reached a historic peace accord with rebel leaders Wednesday in Havana. The final round of negotiations between the leaders of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC yielded the “termination of armed confrontation” and the “end of the enormous suffering the conflict has caused,” according to a joint statement. The two sides have battled for five decades in the remote corners of Colombia’s jungles and mountains, leaving more than 220,000 Colombians dead, forcing 360,000 to flee the country and displacing about 6.7 million Colombians from their homes. The peace accord still must be certified in a national referendum, which will ask voters to approve or reject the deal. After Wednesday’s signing, Santos said he would send the agreement to Congress and that the national vote will take place Oct. 2.

Brazil

With Olympic festivities and distractions largely gone, Brazil faces a long uphill battle to resurrect its economy that’s deep in recession. Its political crisis will be back on the spotlight again soon: President Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial that starts on August 29. Rousseff was suspended for six months after Brazil’s senate voted to begin the impeachment process in May. Her vice president and now bitter rival, Michel Temer, took over as interim president. It’s upon him to reestablish the public’s faith in the government after an unprecedented corruption scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. Brazil is in the midst of its longest recession since the 1930s and over 11.6 million people are unemployed. Between April and June, the unemployment rate in Brazil was 11.3%, up from 8.3% a year ago.

Earthquakes

A large, damaging 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck three towns in central Italy at 3:36 a.m. local time Wednesday morning (9:36 p.m. EDT Tuesday night), killing at least 247 people, many while they slept. The death toll is expected to rise as countless others are missing in the debris. Much of the heart of Amatrice, a town of about 2,700 in the province of Rieti, Central Italy, has been reduced to rubble. Rescuers arrived Wednesday morning in Amatrice and were combing through debris in the hopes of finding survivors.  One woman was pulled out of a collapsed building alive with her dog. Meanwhile, rescuers had rescued dozens alive from the rubble in the devastated town of Pescara del Tronto, to the north in the Marche region of central Italy. Italian news agencies had reported several deaths in that town too. The quake’s epicenter was 4.1 miles west-northwest of Accumoli, Italy, and a little more than 100 miles northeast of Rome. More than 30 aftershocks have been reported since the initial quake, seven of which were greater than 4.0 in magnitude.

Central Myanmar was hit by a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday, killing at least three people a day after another tremor struck the Southeast Asian nation. The quake struck 15.5 miles west of Chauk, at a depth of 84km, the US Geological Survey said. Tremors were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and India, sending fearful residents into the streets. At least 66 stupas (dome-shaped Buddhist shrines). in Bagan have been damaged, a spokesman from the department of archaeology told the BBC. The ancient capital is a major tourist site, home to thousands of Buddhist monuments. A 22-year-old man was killed in the town of Pakokku due to a building collapse.

Wildfires

Thirty-five large, uncontained wildfires were burning in the West, and firefighters were making initial attacks on another 112 new blazes to prevent them from spreading. Firefighters in the region mostly faced windy, dry conditions that have fanned flames that destroyed buildings and forced evacuations in California, Washington, Montana, Utah and Idaho. Late last week, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, upped what it calls the National Preparedness Level to 4, one shy of the highest level, as competition for limited firefighting resources increased.

A series of wildfires burning near Spokane, Washington, destroyed at least 18 homes and continued to expand due to weather conditions that allowed for rapid growth. One of the fires has forced the evacuation of hundreds of people. The blazes in the Spokane region erupted Sunday afternoon. Together the three blazes scorched over seven square miles of terrain. A fire burning on the Spokane Indian Reservation was 30 percent contained. That fire covered more than 27 square miles and had destroyed at least 13 homes on the reservation, said Jamie Sijohn, a spokeswoman for the tribe.

Weather

Reports of at least 10 tornadoes in three states were reported Saturday night. Some of the greatest damage from the severe storms was reported southeast of Grandville, Michigan, where two possible tornadoes touched down Saturday afternoon, causing downed trees, power lines and damaged at least one home. Unofficial storm reports indicate that six touchdowns occurred in Michigan on Saturday, five of them from one thunderstorm. Consumers Energy reports at least 21,000 customers in the dark in Allegan, Barry, Kent and Ottawa counties. Major flooding prompted water rescues in northeast Iowa early Wednesday morning after up to 7 inches of rain fell during heavy thunderstorms. Damage is still being assessed across the Midwest on Thursday morning after a series of tornadoes tore paths across Indiana and Ohio. Miraculously, only minor injuries have been reported in both areas where widespread damage has been confirmed.

Dozens of people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been evacuated after monsoon rains have flooded several Indian states. The rains have pushed the Ganges River and its tributaries to their limits, the Associated Press reports, flooding about 20 districts of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Officials told the AP that as of Monday morning at least 17 people have died in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Bihar and nine in Uttar Pradesh because of drowning, electrocution or injuries from collapsed houses. Roughly 600,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in a dozen districts.

Typhoon Mindulle is roaring over Tokyo after making landfall earlier Monday, one of two storms which have lashed Japan over the past two days, killing one person and injuring 11. A third typhoon is predicted for later this week. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled and parts of the country have been left flooded after typhoons Mindulle and Kompasu caused strong winds and pouring rains. At least 100,000 people were told to evacuate in Kanagawa prefecture ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Signs Of The Times (8/20/16)

August 20, 2016

State Department Finally Admits $400M Cash Payment to Iran was for Hostage Release

he State Department conceded for the first time on Thursday that it delayed making a $400 million payment to Iran for several hours in January ‘to retain maximum leverage’ and ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day. For months the Obama administration had maintained that the payment was part of a settlement over an old dispute and did not amount to a ‘ransom’ for the release of the Americans. Instead, administration officials said, it was the first installment of the $1.7 billion that the United States intends to pay Iran to reimburse it for military equipment it bought before the Iranian revolution in 1979 that the United States never delivered. But at a briefing on Thursday, John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said the United States ‘took advantage of the leverage’ it felt it had that weekend in mid-January to obtain the release of the hostages and ‘to make sure they got out safely and efficiently.’

  • This admission severely undercuts the long-established principle of not paying ransom for hostages

Obama Administration Sneaks in a New Regulation for Transgender Bathrooms

Because of a surprise regulation published in the Federal Register on Thursday, every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every federal building in the U.S. are now open to people of any gender. The Obama administration established the mandate seemingly overnight. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel says it’s a sweeping regulation, encompassing every federal building – including court houses and schools. And it was done as a regulation because, Staver says, President Obama knew he couldn’t get the move past Congress. “There have been attempts in the … Senate and House to amend Title VII to include ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ – and every single time for the last decade that has come up, it has always failed,” he points out. Staver says the courts could eventually step in. “There’s a legal remedy to be launched and there’s certainly challenges that are pending on this particular issue,” he explains, “[but] it’s going to take a while for those to go through the court system.”

Target to Spend $20 Million on Transgender Bathrooms After Boycott Threat

Target Corp. will spend about $20 million to add single-stall bathrooms to stores after receiving threats of boycotts after this year’s decision to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. The American Family Association, whose mission is “to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture,” created a petition to boycott the retail chain because Target’s policy “is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims.” Target’s store policy “endangers women and children by allowing men to frequent women’s facilities,” the AFA asserts. The AFA said single-occupancy unisex bathrooms are a “common-sense approach and a reasonable solution” to the issue. Target cut its yearly profit forecast after sales fell last quarter by 1.1%.

Louisiana Flood: Worst U.S. Disaster Since Hurricane Sandy

The catastrophic flood devastating Louisiana is now the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy four years ago, the Red Cross said. “Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now,” said Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross’ vice president of disaster services operations and logistics. The calamity struck quickly and ferociously. In one part of Livingston Parish, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours. At least 13 people have died across five parishes. And with more rain forecast, the destruction could mount. On Thursday, some residents returned to their homes, only to find their belongings soaked and destroyed. Gov. John Bel Edwards said at least 40,000 homes have suffered at least some damage. It’s not clear how many are uninhabitable. Thousands more are without power in hot, humid conditions. River levels are expected to fall, but some will remain in flood stages at least through the weekend.

Judges Denied DHS Bids to Deport Illegal Immigrants Nearly 100,000 Times

Immigration judges around the country are denying the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to deport illegal immigrants in record numbers, according to a new report. Over the last 10 months, immigration judges opted against the department’s efforts to remove some 96,223 illegal immigrants, including criminals, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University-based nonprofit. At this rate, TRAC estimates the number of illegal immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. despite DHS attempts to remove them will surpass last year’s record-breaking number of 106,676. With the court’s protection, subjects can often remain indefinitely. Nationwide, there is a backlog of around 500,000 cases pending in the immigration courts, and as it grows, judges become more lenient, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “From the judge’s perspective, because the courts are so backlogged, it is easier to let people stay in the country than actually try to remove them,” Mehlman noted. “There are endless layers of appeal and no finality in it.” “It’s concerning to me that the immigration courts are becoming such a frequently used back-door route to green cards,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute.

Zika Update

Pregnant women should not travel to an area of Miami Beach where local Zika virus transmission has been confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. This is in addition to a previously identified area of transmission north of downtown Miami. The CDC also advised pregnant women and their sexual partners to consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County. Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that five locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in an area of Miami Beach. Three of those individuals were visitors to the area when they contracted the virus. The visitors have returned to their homes in Texas, New York and Taiwan. Friday’s developments bring the total number of locally transmitted cases in Florida to 36. To date, there have been more than 500 reported cases of Zika in the Sunshine State, with 63 reported among pregnant women.

Puerto Rico officials have warned that as many as 270 babies may be born with the severe birth defect known as microcephaly caused by Zika infections in their mothers during pregnancy. As of August 12, Puerto Rico had 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika, including 1,035 pregnant women. In New York City, 49 women have tested positive for Zika since April, and one baby has been born with microcephaly. Federal officials say that there have been 420 Zika cases in NYC.

As Florida state and local officials scramble to contain a Zika virus outbreak in Miami Beach – a serious threat to the region’s $24 billion-a-year tourism industry — congressional lawmakers from both parties continue to be locked in battle over a billion dollars in vital funding that experts say is needed to keep the virus from breaking out across America. In February the Obama administration asked for $1.9 billion in order to fight the virus, including funding for vaccine development. A $1.1 billion funding package was proposed in the Senate, but the bill failed after Democrats claimed their Republican colleagues packed the legislation with politically-charged amendments — in particular, a provision that would block the use of $95 million of federal grants to be used to distribute birth control for women in Puerto Rico. Shortly after the bill stalled in the Senate in June, Congress broke for summer recess, leaving unresolved the question of Zika funding. Since then, however, the crisis has spiraled. Experts say that with money running out to fight the virus, health officials are resorting to using funds meant for other diseases.

Persecution Watch

Simone Manuel has become a celebrity at the Rio Olympic Games. The 20-year-old swimmer won four medals, and became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. In an interview directly after her historic swim in which she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak for gold, Manuel praises God for her victory. However, as Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org points out, the mainstream media seems to have edited out Manuel’s comments giving glory to God. Mattingly posted two videos of post-swim interviews with Manuel, one which includes the original interview, and another shown by the medial in which Manuel’s comment of “All glory to God” is absent. According to Baptist Press, Manuel and her family attend The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas. Mattingly questions why sources like the New York Times have left out any reference to Manuel’s faith when she herself has made a point to speak of it.

Economic News

The rich are still getting richer in the U.S., with the wealthiest 10% controlling three-quarters of all family wealth in the country. The top 10% of families — those who had at least $942,000 — held 76% of total wealth. The average amount of wealth in this group was $4 million. Everyone else in the top 50% of the country accounted for 23% of total wealth, with an average of $316,000 per family. That leaves just 1% of the total pie for the entire bottom half of the population. The average held was $36,000 for families that fell in the 26th to 50th percentiles. Those in the bottom quarter had zero wealth and in fact, were $13,000 in debt on average, the Congressional Budget Office found. Not surprisingly, wealth was higher for households headed by someone 65 or older. Median wealth for these families was $211,000, or almost three-and-a-half times higher than the median for households run by someone 35 to 49. Families run by adults with college degrees, meanwhile, had a median wealth of $202,000, or nearly four times that of families headed by someone who only had a high school diploma.

Immigrants in America work more, search for jobs more and get paid way less than native-born U.S. citizens. Documented and undocumented immigrants make up nearly 20% of America’s labor force, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. Immigrants have a lower unemployment rate (4.3%) than native-born U.S. citizens (4.9%). But they make far less than native-born citizens. Immigrants weekly income is about $681. Native-born Americans earn $837 a week, according to Goldman. Moody’s Analytics estimates that 77% of the potential job gains under Hillary Clinton’s economic plan would come from immigration reform. Clinton has called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and visas for high-skilled foreign workers.

Israel

Israeli security sweeps in the West Bank overnight Wednesday netted five terror suspects and large quantities of contraband weapons, ammunition and explosives. The raids followed Tuesday’s arrest of Sheikh Hussein Abu Kuweik, a senior official in the Islamist terror militia Hamas tied to the groups campaign for upcoming municipal elections in the Palestinian areas. Hamas immediately accused Israel of interfering in internal Palestinian politics. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman unveiled a new policy this week meant to offer a “carrot and stick” approach to relations with Palestinians in the West Bank, explaining that “anyone who is prepared for co-existence will prosper, while those who opt for terrorism will lose.”

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed on Tuesday that it has rolled up several supporters of the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah operating in the West Bank during recent counter-terror sweeps. The suspects were recruited by Hezbollah via Facebook, which the Shin Bet said is also a growing issue among Israel’s Arab population.  In related news, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset State Control Committee Tuesday that as many as 60,000 Palestinians illegally infiltrate Israel daily from the West Bank. Most of them come to Israel to work in the underground economy, Eisenkot explained, returning to their homes in the West Bank in the evening.

Syria

Russia launched a second day of air strikes against Syrian militants from an Iranian air base, rejecting U.S. suggestions its co-operation with Tehran might violate a U.N. resolution. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday called the Iranian deployment “unfortunate,” saying the United States was looking into whether the move violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which prohibits the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran. Russia bristled at those comments on Wednesday after announcing that Russian SU-34 fighter bombers flying from Iran’s Hamadan air base had for a second day struck Islamic State targets in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province, destroying two command posts and killing more than 150 militants. Moscow first used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes in Syria on Tuesday, deepening its involvement in the five-year-old Syrian civil war.

The Pentagon warned the Syrian government against carrying out airstrikes near U.S. and allied personnel Friday, one day after attacks caused the U.S. to scramble jets to protect special operations forces. The U.S. has increased combat air patrols in that area and has warned Syria that America will defend coalition troops. The main US ally fighting ISIS in Syria was bombed by Syrian warplanes for the first time Thursday while US military advisers were “nearby,” a US defense official told CNN. The attack against the Kurdish YPG took place in Hasakah province in northern Syria. The U.S. has approximately 300 special operations forces in Syria. During the five-year civil war, the Syrian government has largely refrained from striking the Kurdish group, which has established an autonomous area of control in the country’s north. The YPG has primarily battled ISIS as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the US has supplied the with arms and training. A clash between Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces and America’s Kurdish allies could seriously undermine US efforts to fight ISIS or force the U.S. into direct conflict with the Syrian air force, something the U.S. has refrained from doing.

In a stunning diplomatic surprise, Turkey and Iran have announced a preliminary agreement on fundamental principles for a settlement of the Syrian conflict. The common approach to a Syria settlement outlined by Turkey and Iran represent what appears to be the first significant diplomatic break in a five-year international conflict on Syria that has been immune from any real peace negotiations up to now. International conferences on Syria under UN auspices have generated no real moves toward compromise. The new negotiations between Iran and Turkey are the result of a major policy shift by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and away from alignment with the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has been coordinating military assistance to the armed opposition to the Assad government – including jihadists and other hardline extremists – with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since early in the war. However, Erdogan began searching in May for an alternative policy more in line with Turkey’s primary strategic interest in Syria: containing the threat of Kurdish demands for a separate state.

  • The end-time alliance between Russia, Turkey and Iran further fulfills the Biblical prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39 of Russia and Persia aligning to wage war against Israel

Iran/Iraq

As many as 100,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia are now fighting on the ground in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials — raising concerns that should the Islamic State be defeated, it may only be replaced by another anti-American force that fuels further sectarian violence in the region. The ranks have swelled inside a network of Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Since the rise of Sunni-dominated ISIS fighters inside Iraq more than two years ago, the Shiite forces have grown to 100,000 fighters, Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, confirmed in an email to Fox News. According to some experts, this still is an alarmingly high number, diminishing hopes that defeating ISIS is not going to result in any lasting peace.

Turkey

Three bomb attacks targeting Turkish security forces in the east of the country have killed 11 people and wounded nearly 300 others, authorities said Thursday. Turkish officials blame the banned militant group Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, for the attacks. Clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces have been ongoing since a peace process crumbled in 2015, bringing an end to a two-year ceasefire. Since then, hundreds of Turkish security forces and about 5,000 PKK members have been killed in the conflict. Considered a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 seeking an independent state for the country’s Kurdish minority.

The U.S. has started transferring American nuclear weapons stationed at an airbase in southeastern Turkey to Romania, the independent Euractiv website reported on Thursday. The reported move comes after a U.S.-based think tank said on Monday that the stockpile at Incirlik airbase, which consists of some 50 nuclear bombs, was at risk of being captured by ‘terrorists or other hostile forces.’ The Romanian Foreign Ministry strongly denied that any U.S. nuclear weapons were transferred to Romania.  While critics have long been alarmed about the nuclear stockpile at Incirlik airbase, the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey on July 15 has sparked renewed fear.

Germany

Germany may soon ban full-face veils worn by Muslim women in certain circumstances, the latest instance of a European nation restricting Muslim garb. France has a nationwide ban against full-face veils, as does Belgium. Some cities in Spain and Italy also have such bans. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in a televised speech that a full veil “does not belong in our cosmopolitan country,” Agence France-Presse reported Friday. De Maizière’s comments come after a number of seaside towns in France, including Cannes, banned the burkini ­— a full-body swimsuit. At least four women have been fined for wearing burkinis in Cannes since the ban was introduced this month. “It is about respecting the principle of secularism,” said Py, a member of the right-wing Les Républicains party, according to The Telegraph. “This is the public domain, and (the burkini) is an ostentatious religious sign.”

Nigeria

Nigerian Christians displaced by Boko Haram are beginning to return home. They are being encouraged by the government, which has won back territory from the insurgents but which is also struggling to provide enough aid. World Watch Monitor received first-hand accounts describing day-to-day living now that the population is back in a mostly Christian part of Adamawa, one of the states most affected by the Islamist insurgents. The reports find people full of renewed hope as they began to pick up their lives back in their desolated towns. An estimated two million people were displaced by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the government wants people to return home because it’s unable to provide for so many refugees. “Many Christians did not need asking twice. In the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps some faced pressure to convert to Islam just to get food. Outside the camps, people found staying with friends, family or other hosts was no easier – they were dependent on the goodwill of businessmen or other Christians. Often food ran out and the living arrangements were not suitable in the long term,” WWM reports

Environment

Montana wildlife officials indefinitely closed off a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River and hundreds of miles of other waterways Friday, barring all fishing, rafting and other activities to prevent the spread of a parasite believed to have killed tens of thousands of fish. The closure could last for months if river conditions don’t improve and fish keep dying, according to officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It extends to hundreds of miles of waterways that feed into the Yellowstone, including the Boulder, Shields and Stillwater rivers. Even when the river reopens, there are fears the fish die-off could deal a lasting blow to the Yellowstone’s reputation as a world-class trout fishery that draws visitors from around the world. The total number of dead fish is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. The closure aims to stop the spread of the parasite, which causes fish to contract a fatal kidney disease.

Wildfires

Two huge wildfires have caused major destruction and chased thousands from their homes as yet another Western wildfire season intensifies. In Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest, the Blue Cut fire started Tuesday morning and exploded to more than 57 square miles, forcing officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders for over 82,000 residents. On Friday, Cal Fire said 96 homes and 213 outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire. Firefighters have started to make steady progress against the massive blaze. By Saturday morning, the fire had burned more than 37,000 acres and was 40 percent contained. Some evacuated residents on the fire’s northeast side were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, and Interstate 15 was reopened in both directions. In Northern California, the fast-moving, wind-driven Clayton fire near Lower Lake, California, has destroyed around 300 buildings in the town, including an estimated 198 homes, and has forced the evacuation of about 4,000 people. As of Saturday morning, the fire had burned just under 4,000 acres and was 75 percent contained.

Weather

A scorching heat wave will continue in the Pacific Northwest through the weekend, with temperatures threatening or topping daily record highs. The core of the heat will be mainly west of the Cascades in western Oregon and western Oregon. The National Weather Service has issued various heat alerts in the Pacific Northwest through Saturday, including Seattle, Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford. Portland, Oregon, set a new daily record high Thursday by reaching 99 degrees (old record was 96 degrees, set just last year). Medford, Oregon, soared to a daily record of 108 degrees.

Signs of the Times (8/16/16)

August 16, 2016

Poll: Most Churches Avoid Discussing Social Issues

A new Pew Research Center poll has revealed that most Christians do not hear about relevant social issues from the pulpits of their churches. The poll asked respondents how often they heard about various social issues in a sermon. Only forty percent of respondents said that the pastor had spoken about religious liberty. Thirty-nine percent said that the pastor had spoken about homosexuality. And only 29 percent said they heard about abortion from the pulpit. The findings of the survey held true across denominations, including for White Evangelicals, Black Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Possible reasons for why clergy are reluctant to discuss such sensitive social issues from the pulpit are that they are afraid of the controversy such a discussion may ignite, or they may be afraid of losing their tax-exempt status, reports ChristianHeadlines.com.

Evangelical Lutheran Church Passes Anti-Israel Resolutions

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a resolution at its triennial convention in New Orleans Saturday which demanded an end to US aid to Israel unless it end construction of Jewish communities in the West Bank and “enable an independent Palestinian state.” Also on Saturday, the convention approved a resolution supporting the international effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel. Additionally, the resolution demanded that the US recognize an independent Palestinian State and not block efforts for such a state to join the United Nations and other international bodies.

  • Another end-time sign. The Word of God says to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6, NKJ)

Anti-Police Protests Rock Milwaukee

For a second night, violent protests rocked Milwaukee over the police shooting of an armed African-American man. At least two people were injured after shots were fired and objects hurled during the protest early Monday, police said. One victim was shot during the Monday unrest and rushed to a hospital in an armored vehicle. A police officer was injured and also taken to the hospital. The death of Sylville Smith, 23, triggered unrest hours after his killing on Saturday. Protesters torched six businesses, including a gas station, burned cars and threw rocks at officers. During the first night of protests, four officers were injured and 17 people were arrested. The turbulent weekend prompted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to declare a state of emergency on Sunday. But the National Guard was not deployed Monday as local police sought to restore order. The incident began when a pair of police officers stopped Smith and another person in a car on Saturday about 3:30 p.m., police said. The men fled the car and the officers followed, shooting Smith in the arm and chest when he failed to put his gun down. The handgun, along with 500 rounds of ammunition, were stolen during a burglary in nearby Waukesha in March, police said. Milwaukee has the unfortunate distinction of being the country’s most segregated metropolitan area, according to a recent study released by the City of Milwaukee Health Department (p15).

Obama Administration Violates Bid Process to Build Detention Center

As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the standard public bidding process and agreed to a deal that offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum. The four-year, $1 billion contract — details of which have not been previously disclosed — has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive and ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge. In hundreds of other detention contracts given out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied. But in this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is underutilized, reports the Washington Post.

Pentagon Releases 15 More Gitmo Detainees

The Obama administration has approved the release of 15 detainees from the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates, a move derided Monday night by a leading member of Congress as reckless. Rep. Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the released detainees “hardened terrorists” who will be a threat for years to come. When President Obama took office in 2009, there were 242 detainees still in the Guantanamo Bay prison, down from a high of almost 700. There are 61 detainees remaining at Guantanamo. Obama earlier this year announced a plan to close down the facilities at Guantanamo, arguing that the keeping them open was “contrary to our values.” “In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk,” Royce said in a statement. “Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat.”

  • As we’ve chronicled before, several of the previously released detainees became active terrorists once again

Britain’s ‘Most Hated Man’ Convicted for ISIS Support

A notorious hate preacher who led a flag-burning demonstration outside the US embassy on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and voiced support for jihad has been convicted of inviting support for ISIS. Anjem Choudary, 49, has courted controversy over two decades, skirting the edges of the law, backing extremism but with no proof of actually inciting violence. He earned the wrath of Britain’s tabloid newspapers, making him – by his own admission — the country’s “most hated man.” In 2014, he pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, bringing him under scrutiny and leading to his arrest. British authorities say they were able to link him to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria; UK police say they don’t know exactly how many of the 850 Britons who have traveled there were directly influenced by Choudary, but they say he is a “key” figure in ISIS’s recruitment drive. Under the UK’s Terrorism Act, he could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Russia Launches Syria Airstrikes from Iranian Base

Russians warplanes have conducted missions over Syria from an airbase in Iran — the first time a major power has done so since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979. Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 tactical bombers took off from Hamedan airbase in western Iran Tuesday, and hit targets belonging to ISIS and the Jabhat al-Nusra militant group in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Idlib, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement. The raids “eliminated” five major arms depots, used to supply ISIS militants near the city of Aleppo, as well as three militant command points and training camps in the cities of Serakab, Al-Bab, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor. Tehran and Moscow “enjoy strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria and share their facilities and capacities to this end,” Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said Tuesday.

  • The alliance of Russia and Iran (Persia) is a key end-time indicator leading up to war against Israel (Ezekiel 38-39)

Russia Building Dozens of Underground Nuclear Command Bunkers

In the latest indication that Moscow is pushing ahead with a major modernization of its armed forces, Russia is constructing numerous nuclear command bunkers, The Washington Free Beacon reports. American intelligence officials say the building of dozens of underground bunkers has been proceeding for years and is a clear sign that the West should be concerned about the nuclear use doctrine Moscow is adopting. Recently, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti warned that Moscow is considering using low-yield nuclear weapons in a future conflict in order to conclude it to its advantage, confident that the West would not respond with nuclear weapons of its own. The general said this is why he insists that the West’s nuclear deterrence must be enhanced and taken seriously, especially as the Obama administration has been considering a declaration that it would not use nuclear weapons to stop aggression by conventional forces.

5,400 diagnosed with Cancers Linked to 9/11 Attacks

Next month will mark 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but thousands of people across the country continue to feel its effects on their health. As of June 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s World Trade Center Health Program enrolled more than 5,400 people who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to the 9/11 attacks, according to statistics released by the program. The number of people with 9/11-related cancers could be even higher; the 5,441 number reflects only the people who’ve chosen to enroll in the federal health program. The program provides health care, medical monitoring and treatment to thousands of people directly affected by the 9/11 attacks. Among those in the program, 4,692 are first responders, emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The other 749 people are other survivors who lived, worked or went to school near the World Trade Center on September 11 or in the subsequent months.

Aetna to Pull Out of Most Obamacare Exchanges

In the latest blow to Obamacare, Aetna is vastly reducing its presence on the individual exchanges in 2017. The insurer will stop offering policies on the exchanges in 11 of the 15 states where it currently operates, according to a press release it issued Monday evening. The company noted Monday that it has lost $430 million in its individual policies unit since the exchanges opened in January 2014. Aetna, which had 838,000 exchange customers at the end of June, said its policyholders are turning out to be sicker and costlier than expected. The company, along with its peers, has criticized the federal program designed to mitigate those risks. Like Aetna, a growing number of insurers on the Obamacare exchanges are voicing concerns about the viability of the program as they run up big losses. United Healthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, is expecting to lose about $1 billion on Obamacare policies in 2015 and 2016, and is exiting most Obamacare exchanges in 2017. Humana announced last month that it was pulling out of nearly 1,200 counties in eight states next year. Others, including several Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, are also scaling back.

  • This is what happens when our big, bloated government takes over for free-market enterprise. Obamacare doesn’t need to be repealed, its already dying from self-inflicted wounds.

Obama One of the Most Prolific Presidents Issuing Executive Orders

In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life, reports the New York Times. “Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.” Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, President. Obama “created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.”

  • President Obama has seriously undercut and damaged the balance of powers called for by the U.S. Constitution, and has employed Executive Orders to further grow an already bloated, intrusive federal government

Zika Update

The Obama administration Friday declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico due to the Zika virus, which has infected at least 10,690 people. Among them are 1,035 pregnant women, who bear the greatest risk from the infection. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell declared the emergency at the request of Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, because of the threat to pregnant women and their children. The newest statistics were released a day after the U.S. surgeon general visited Puerto Rico and said he expects 25 percent of people on the island will be infected by Zika by year’s end. Zika can cause catastrophic birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and, in most cases, incomplete brain development. The declaration will give Puerto Rico more money to fight the outbreak. Although Zika is normally a mild illness, causing no symptoms in 80% of patients, 90 Puerto Ricans have been hospitalized due to the virus and 30 have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, which develops when the immune system attacks the body’s nerves, causing paralysis.

Migrant Update

Nine Iraqi men were arrested on suspicion of raping a German tourist in Austria, police said Monday. The incident happened in Vienna on New Year’s Day, when the men are accused of taking the woman from a downtown neighborhood to an apartment where two of them lived. He said the suspects who were arrested are aged between 21 and 47 and are either asylum-seekers or were recently granted asylum. In neighboring Germany, more than 100 women reported being sexually assaulted and robbed on New Year’s Eve in the western city of Cologne. Criminal proceedings have begun against 50 people, many of them asylum-seekers. Figures from the Pew Research Center showed about 1.3 million people sought asylum in Europe in 2015, many of them fleeing conflict in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Economic News

Housing starts posted a robust gain in July, increasing 2.1% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.21 million, its highest level since February 2016 and the second highest level since October 2007, when housing starts hit 1.26 million. Single-family housing starts rose just 0.5% but multi-family housing units of 5 or rose 8.3%. Building permits dipped by 0.1% but stayed at a healthy level as home builders strive to catch up with strong demand. Rising home sales and prices have grown steadily in recent months.

Consumer prices cooled in July as the cost for gasoline fell sharply, helping to keep inflation in check. The consumer-price index, which measures prices paid by Americans for major consumer items, was unchanged in July on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The CPI had risen in four previous months, including 0.2% in June. Excluding food and energy prices, which are considered more volatile, consumer prices rose 0.1% in July, the smallest increase since March. Total energy costs fell 1.6% as the cost off all types of gasoline tumbled 4.7%. Food costs were unchanged in July.

Global central banks are unloading America’s debt. In the first six months of this year, foreign central banks sold a net $192 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds, more than double the pace in the same period last year, when they sold off $83 billion. China, Japan, France, Brazil and Colombia led the pack of countries dumping U.S. debt. It’s the largest selloff of U.S. debt since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data. U.S. Treasurys are considered one of the safest assets in the world. A lot of foreign countries keep their cash holdings in U.S. government bonds. Many countries have been selling their holdings of U.S. Treasuries so they can get cash to help prop up their currencies if they’re losing value.

Japan’s economy is growing, but very slowly. The country managed meager GDP expansion of only 0.2% in the second quarter of this year, according to official data released Monday. Japan has pumped vast amounts of money into its struggling economy in recent years to try to spur growth and combat falling prices. But the efforts are failing to produce their desired results. Japanese businesses are suffering from the country’s strengthening currency, which has surged more than 18% against the dollar this year. That hurts exporters by making goods produced in Japan more expensive abroad. Exports fell during the second quarter, and so did business investment. After plunging into recession in 2014, Japan’s economy has swung back and forth between growth and contraction. It has also failed to pull free of deflation.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed fighters have seized a key Islamic State stronghold in northern Syria after two months of heavy fighting and freed hundreds of civilians the extremists had used as human shields, Syrian Kurdish officials and an opposition activist group said Saturday. Nasser Haj Mansour, of the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces told The Associated Press that the town of Manbij “is under full control,” adding that operations are ongoing to search for any IS militants who might have stayed behind. The SDF launched its offensive in late May to capture Manbij under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. The town lies on a key supply route between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the IS group’s self-styled caliphate. Manbij residents finally freed from the stranglehold of ISIS occupation celebrated in the streets Saturday, cutting off beards, burning niqabs and smoking cigarettes, things they weren’t allowed to do during the terror group’s two-year rule over the city.

The leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed by a U.S. drone last month, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News Friday. Hafiz Saeed Khan died July 26 from an airstrike in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. “Khan was known to directly participate in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, and the actions of his network terrorized Afghans, especially in Nangarhar,” Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said. He added that ISIS had been active in the region since last summer and used the area to train and equip militants and provide a “continuous supply of enemy fighters.”

Syria

Airstrikes in opposition areas of Syria’s northern Aleppo province struck a market, a hospital and a village on Friday, killing at least 18 people, including children and two hospital staffers, activists and rescue workers said. The air raids hit the only hospital for women and children in the town of Kafr Hamra before dawn, killing two staffers, including a nurse. The Syrian Civil Defense, a group of first responders, said it pulled 10 people alive from under the rubble. Kafr Hamra is near the northern front line in the divided city of Aleppo, where government troops have sealed the main route into opposition areas, effectively trapping nearly 300,000 residents. The Syrian Civil Defense said one of its centers in the rebel-held part of Aleppo was hit.

Yemen

An airstrike on Monday hit a hospital in northwestern Yemen and killed at least 11 people, said humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. Medical teams are treating the wounded after an airstrike hit the Abs hospital in Hajjah province, the aid group said on Twitter. At least 19 were injured, the group said. “We are assessing the situation to secure the safety of patients and staff,” Doctors Without Borders said. More than 4,600 patients have received medical help since the group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, began supporting the hospital in July 2015. The facility has been providing a range of services and medical aid for internally displaced people, along with emergency and maternal health care and surgery, the group said on its website. The strike on the hospital comes on the heels of Saudi-led coalition planes bombing two schools in northern Yemen on Saturday, killing at least 14 children. The coalition insists the target of the airstrikes was a militia training camp. The country has become a proxy battleground between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Arab coalition began launching airstrikes in support of the Sunni government against the Shiite Houthi minority rebels in March 2015. UN-led peace talks reached a dead end last week

Venezuela

Venezuela’s economic turmoil has brought malaria back, spreading it from the jungle to the cities at levels not seen in decades. With Venezuela’s economy in tatters, at least 70,000 people from all walks of life have been streaming into a mining region to hunt for gold in watery pits. It is a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Then, with the disease in their blood, the miners return home to cities where there is often no medicine and little fumigation, and they have passed the disease on to tens of thousands more people and left entire towns desperate for help.

Environment

On Monday, Scientists reported that most of the methane emissions contributing to a “hot spot” the size of Delaware recorded over the Four Corners region of the U.S. was due to natural gas production equipment and infrastructure. The hot spot was originally identified in a NASA report that used satellite imagery of the Four Corners, which includes the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico. Using data collected from air and land surveys covering about 1,200 square miles across the region in April 2015, researchers identified more than 250 sources for atmospheric methane, which included natural gas storage tanks, wells, pipelines and processing plants. Those sources released methane gas into the atmosphere at rates up to 11,000 pounds per hour, according to the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Solving the problem will require the oil and gas industry to cut emissions from all sources, large and small, the report states.

Hot and stagnant weather is making this summer one of the worst for smog in Southern California, leading to an increase in people seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses. According to the Los Angeles Times, the area has not had so many bad air days or had these levels of ozone pollution since 2009, and with the bad air quality come increases in the number of people seeking medical treatment for respiratory illnesses like asthma and chronic bronchitis. According to a report by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, ozone levels have exceeded federal standards on 91 days so far this year compared to 67 days over the same period last year. In June, only four days had healthy air across the South Coast basin and in July, the ozone levels violated the federal health standards each day except July 31, and in August, each day so far has been over the federal limit of 70 parts per billion, according to the study.

Wildfires

Four thousand people have been forced to flee their homes as a fire rages across Northern California. Residents in Lower Lake and Clearlake have been evacuated, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The area is around 130 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze, known as the Clayton Fire, has scorched 3,000 acres so far, the Clayton Fire Department said, with 5% of it contained. A thousand homes are threatened by the fire, Cal Fire said, while 100 structures already are damaged with 10 completely destroyed.

The wildfire season in the U.S. so far this year is much better than last year and less than the ten-year average, with 37407 fires (vs. 40,509 in 2015 and a ten-year average of 49847) having consumed 3,889,265 acres (vs. 6,969,074 acres in 2015 and a ten-year average of 4,897,036 acres).

Weather

The federal government declared a major disaster in Louisiana Sunday after torrential rain inundated the state killing at least six people, flooding thousands of homes and prompting thousands of water rescues. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the widespread flooding spawned by the region’s pounding rain across the southern part of the state a “truly historic event” that won’t be over anytime soon. Edwards said Sunday that more than 20,000 people had been rescued by all participating agencies and volunteers since the flooding outbreak began. As many as 10,000 people are in shelters as a result of the widespread flooding. As of Saturday, more than 30 inches of rain fell in Watson, Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service. Gov. Edwards said the weekend flooding was the third major flooding event the state has endured this year. The downpours have sent at least six river gauges to record levels in Louisiana. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state of emergency Saturday for Adams, Amite, Pike, and Wilkinson counties, as well as any other counties also affected by the heavy rainfall and flooding.

Nearly a third of all the homes in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, have been flooded as floodwater overtopped a levee along the Amite River. Though skies have cleared as of Tuesday morning, the region is still dealing with the massive amount of water left behind, which is responsible for at least seven deaths and is pushing flood control systems to their limits. Ascension is just one of close to the 30 parishes Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expects to eventually be declared disasters – nearly half of the state’s 64 parishes, CNN reported Tuesday. “We’re going to have standing water all over south Louisiana,” Edwards said.

Global mean temperatures in July 2016 were the warmest on record not just for July, but for any month dating to the late 1800s, according to separate just-released analyses. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found July 2016 was the globe’s warmest July in their dataset dating to 1880. This marked the tenth straight month setting a warm record for that month in NASA’s analysis. Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), operated by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), calculated the global average July temperature was nearly one-fifth of a degree Celsius higher than previous July temperature records set in 2015 and in 2009, in their dataset dating to 1979.

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

Signs of the Times (8/12/16)

August 12, 2016

Churches Enact New Security Measures in Face of Terror Threats

“Many churches are now hiring self-defense instructors for classes or security guards that include off-duty police,” said Ryan Mauro, a professor of Homeland Security at Liberty University and national security analyst for the Clarion Project. “If you are an Islamist terrorist seeking self-glory, executing a priest will bring you more attention than executing an average civilian. While no lethal terror attacks have occurred inside a U.S. church to date, experts like Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, notes the threat tally is growing. In February, Khial Abu-Rayyan, 21, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., was arrested after he told an undercover FBI agent he was preparing to “shoot up” a major church near his home on behalf of ISIS. A month earlier, the Rev. Roger Spradlin of Valley Baptist Church – one of the biggest congregations in Bakersfield, Calif. – told attendees that they had received a threat written in Arabic. Last September, an Islamic man clad in combat gear was charged with making a terrorist threat after entering Corinth Missionary Baptist Church, in Bullard, Tex., and claiming that God had instructed him to kill Christians and “other infidels.” A year earlier, police were called to Saint Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Columbus, Ind., after the house of worship was vandalized with the word “Infidels!” along with a Koranic verse sanctioning death for nonbelievers. Similar graffiti was found that same night at nearby Lakeview Church of Christ and East Columbus Christian Church. And in France, a priest had his throat slit by a terrorist just last week.

Thirteen States Ask Court to Stall Obama Transgender Bathroom Order

Some 13 states led by Texas asked a federal judge Friday to halt the Obama administration’s order to allow transgender students in U.S. public schools to use the restrooms of their choice. The hearing in Fort Worth was the latest episode in the battle between the federal government and various states opposed to the policy change. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor heard arguments over the states’ request for a preliminary injunction to halt the Obama directive just weeks before school re-opens for the fall. It is not known when the judge might issue a ruling. The White House in May told the nation’s public school districts that they must allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity or risk losing federal funding. States responded with a joint lawsuit challenging the order. The other states involved are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

California’s Christian Colleges Get Relief

A California state senator says he will amend a bill that would have forced Christian colleges to give up their beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity or lose state aid for low-income students wanting to attend their schools, reports the Los Angeles Times. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens), is dropping a provision that would have removed a religious exemption to anti-discrimination laws for faith-based schools. Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, told CBN News last month that the bill would have used the leverage of state financial aid to try and prevent faith-based schools from using religious beliefs as criteria in admissions and hiring decisions. Now it appears that the threat is eliminated, for now.

Suicides in Homosexual ‘Marriages’ Much Higher than for Heterosexuals

A new study from Sweden reveals that homosexuals who “marry” each other are 270% more likely to commit suicide than those in heterosexual marriages. This is according to a study published in the May issue of the peer-reviewed European Journal of Epidemiology. The risk, the authors acknowledge, could be as high as 480%. Homosexuality has been a celebrated lifestyle in Sweden for decades. If there is any place on earth where homosexuals can indulge in their passions with no fear of reprisal or disdain, it’s Sweden. But despite all the tolerance and affirmation they receive, “married” homosexuals are still committing suicide at 2.7 times the rate of heterosexual married couples. The Netherlands is probably the most gay-friendly nation in the world. Yet studies there, according to Life Site News, indicate that homosexuals experience exaggerated rates of “mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, suicide attempts, eating disorders, and panic attacks.”

Majority of Americans Favor Abortion Restrictions

A recent survey has found that the majority of Americans favor more restrictions on abortion, even if they are pro-choice. The Christian Institute reports that the study, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and carried out by The Marist Institute for Public Opinion, surveyed 1,009 people for a week in July. The survey found that nearly eight in 10 Americans favor more restrictions on abortion. Additionally, 62 percent of those who identified as pro-abortion, also agreed that there should be more restrictions. Additional findings of the survey were that 56 percent of people questioned said that health care providers should not be forced to perform abortions if it went against their religious beliefs. Forty-one percent of those who identify as pro-abortion also agreed with this. “The American people have spoken clearly on their desire for abortion restrictions, less taxpayer funding of it, and common sense regulations on this industry to protect women’s health. Our courts, politicians, candidates and parties should heed this consensus,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus.

‘Purpose-Driven Life’ Turned Michael Phelps’ Life Around

Michael Phelps has won several more gold medals at this year’s Olympics and is, by far, the all-time leader in Olympic gold medals. However, if it wasn’t for a Christian friend, former football star Ray Lewis, Phelps might have committed suicide in 2012 following his gold medal haul in London. Following his retirement, Phelps told ESPN that he struggled to figure out who he was outside the pool. In his words, “I was a train wreck. I was like a time bomb, waiting to go off. I had no self-esteem, no self-worth. There were times where I didn’t want to be here. It was not good. I felt lost.” After self-medicating with marijuana and alcohol, he cut himself off from family and other loved ones and “thought the world would just be better off without me . . . I figured that was the best thing to do — just end my life.” Lewis convinced Phelps to enter rehab and gave him a book to read while he was there: “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren. The book changed Phelps’ life. Within a few days, Phelps called Lewis and told him, “You saved my life.” As Phelps told ESPN, Rick Warren’s book “turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”

Marijuana to Remain Illegal under Federal Law

Marijuana advocates who hoped the cascade of states moving to legalize medical marijuana would soften the federal stance on the drug were disappointed Thursday when the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it will keep marijuana illegal for any purpose. Marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Substances in Schedule 1 are determined by the Food and Drug Administration to have no medical use. States that allow marijuana for medical use or legalize recreational use remain in defiance of federal law. The announcement published Friday in the Federal Register relaxes the rules for marijuana research to make it easier for institutions to grow marijuana for scientific study. The DEA currently authorizes just one grow facility in Mississippi. In reaching its conclusion, the DEA said a Health and Human Services evaluation shows marijuana has no ‘‘currently accepted medical use’’ because “the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.”

Network of 330,000 Cash Registers Hacked

One of the largest point-of-sale payment systems in the hospitality industry, used in restaurants and hotels globally, has been breached by a Russian organized crime group. The breach occurred in systems run by MICROS Systems, which was purchased by Oracle in 2014. Oracle security engineers found malware in some systems run by MICROS and identified the affected systems and blocked malicious processes and unauthorized network connections, the company said in an undated letter and FAQ sent to customers Monday. Whether actual customer financial data was accessed by the hackers in unknown. The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company said it would contact customers whose data was affected by the malware. According to Oracle, MICROS point of sale programs were used by hotels, food and beverage facilities and retailers at more than 330,000 sites in 180 countries in 2014.

US Fertility Rate Falls to Record Low

The US fertility rate fell to the lowest point since record keeping started more than a century ago, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fertility rate is the number of births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44. In the first three months of 2016, the fertility rate in the US fell to 59.8 births per 1,000 women. The US fertility rate has been in a steady decline since the post-World War II baby boom. Back at its height in 1957, the fertility rate was 122.9 births per 1,000 women. The latest quarterly CDC data also indicate the larger pattern of women having babies later in life. As birth rates increased among women in their 30s and 40s, the rate among teenagers and women in their 20s dropped. The average age when women had their first child increased from 24.9 in 2000 to 26.3 in 2014.

Terrorism Update

Germany unveiled a raft of proposals Thursday to ramp up security after a spate of attacks in the country, two of them claimed by the Islamic State. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the plans include creating thousands of security jobs, and making it easier to detain individuals deemed to be threats to public safety and to deport foreign terror suspects, German news agency DPA reported. Authorities are also considering screening the social media profiles of migrants. The plans would be in place by the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s third term in late 2017, he said, according to DPA. Germany saw four attacks in the space of just one week last month, three of them carried out by asylum-seekers.

Canadian police shot and killed an Islamic State sympathizer, thwarting what authorities believed was a suicide bomb plot. The suspect, Aaron Driver, 24, was previously banned from associating with extremists from ISIS. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said it “received credible information of a potential terrorist threat” in a statement Wednesday. “A suspect was identified and the proper course of action has been taken to ensure that there is no danger to the public’s safety,” it added, without elaborating.

Economic News

Consumers pulled back in July after a spring shopping spree as retail sales were flat for the month of July. Economists expected a 0.4% increase. A core measure of retail sales –that excludes the volatile categories of autos, gasoline, food services and building materials – was unchanged. Auto sales rose 1.1% while gasoline station sales fell 2.7%. Sales fell 0.5% at department stores, 2.2% at sporting goods stores, 0.5% at apparel shops and 0.2% at restaurants and bars. After Americans spent cautiously in the early part of the year, they opened their wallets in April May and June. But the surge in consumer spending in the second quarter was more than offset by weak business investment and stockpiling, resulting in economic growth of just 1.2% at an annual rate.

Retailers continue to face a challenging environment in 2016, with Macy’s becoming only the latest top name to announce a wave of store closings this year. Macy’s (M) said it will close 100 of its 675 full-line locations amid falling profitability. Other top retailers closing stores in 2016 so far include: Sports Authority with 460 stores shutting down; Walmart is closing 269 stores, including 154 U.S. locations; Aeropostale with 154 stores closing; Kmart/Sears with 78 stores closing. Retail stores are suffering as online sales continue to rise.

In the second quarter, total household debt increased by $35 billion to $12.3 trillion, according to the New York Fed’s latest quarterly report on household debt. That increase was driven by two categories: auto loans and credit cards. While auto loans have been rising at a steady clip for the past six years, rising credit-card balances are a new development. After the recession, households cut back on credit-card use until 2014. Since then, card balances have risen by about $70 billion. From 2008 to 2013, total household debts dropped by more than $1.5 trillion. But first student-loan and auto-loan balances began to rise, and then mortgages and finally credit cards. Total household debt balances are still $400 billion below their 2008 peak. Credit-card debt had declined as households cut back on their use and as financial institutions cut off credit. These effects were particularly pronounced among people with low credit scores. Now, credit cards are returning among individuals with low credit or subprime credit scores.

OPEC smashed an all-time oil production record in July, pumping relentlessly despite the low prices. The oil cartel produced just over 33.1 million barrels of oil per day in July, up 46,400 barrels compared to June, it said in a new report released Wednesday. That’s over a million barrels a day more than it produced on average in 2015 and 2 million more than in 2014. The cartel has been pumping relentlessly for the last two years, aiming to defend its market share despite the collapsing oil prices. OPEC produces just under 35% of crude oil globally. That compares with the low of 32.6% it produced in April 2014. Total production in the United States, including crude and other forms, is expected to drop to an average of 13.6 million barrels a day this year, a drop of almost 3% compared to 2015.

Israel

A Palestinian man used a screwdriver to stab an Israeli man in the neck and back in Jerusalem on Thursday, the first such attack after a five-week lull in assaults by Palestinians that began last fall. The assailant, who was not identified, fled the scene and was being sought by security forces. Israel has clamped down on such attacks by retaliating against the assailants’ families rather than cracking down on all. “Unlike in the previous intifada (uprising), Israel has seen much higher rates of success in isolating the terrorists from their communities,” rather than applying collective punishment and further inflaming the tensions that spur revenge attacks, said Shlomo Brom, an Israeli strategy analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Islamic State

U.S.-led coalition aircraft destroyed an estimated $11 million worth of oil and trucks over the weekend in the largest single airstrike this year against the Islamic State’s black market oil trade in Syria. Waves of aircraft destroyed 83 oil tankers sitting in the open in Sunday’s attack. The attacks were ordered after a pilot spotted some vehicles gathering in Deir ez-Zor province, a key oil-producing region in Syria controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The coalition command sent a surveillance aircraft over the area. The command then quickly directed A-10 attack planes, F-16s and two coalition aircraft, which together launched more than 80 weapons, including bombing and strafing runs, at the vehicles. After the coalition bombing campaign began two years ago, militants have since learned to avoid concentrating their forces or supplies in the open to avoid airstrikes. “This is a very good indication that they’re having trouble commanding and controlling their forces,” Air Force Lt. Gen, Jeffrey Harrigian said.

Syrian activists said airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group’s de factor capital of Raqqa on Thursday killed at least 20 civilians in a new round of bombardment that came as Turkey called on Russia to carry out joint operations against the Islamic State. Turkey also announced that they will resume its airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, months after they were suspended amid a major row with Moscow. Turkey had temporarily suspended its limited participation in the airstrikes campaign by the U.S.-led coalition, following soured relations with Moscow after Turkish air force jets downed a Russian warplane on the Syrian border in November.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s president ordered the army to be on combat alert Thursday on the country’s de-facto border with Crimea and on the front line in eastern Ukraine following Moscow’s accusations that Ukraine sent in “saboteurs” to carry out attacks in Crimea. Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 following a hastily called referendum. The move sparked Russia-backed separatists to begin fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, where deadly battles are still ongoing. The Russian intelligence agency FSB on Wednesday said one of its officers and an army soldier were killed over the weekend in two separate incidents while fending off what Moscow described as a series of attacks by Ukrainian “saboteurs.” Ukraine rejected the claims as “fantasy” and “a provocation.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on his official Twitter account Thursday that the army will be put on combat alert not only on the de-factor border with Crimea but also the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, where both sides were supposed to have pulled back heavy weapons.

Russia

Russia has just marked 18 months of a deep and painful recession. The country’s economy was 0.6% smaller in the second quarter of 2016 than the same period last year, according to official data published on Thursday. But there is a glimmer of hope for Russians who have seen their living standards suffer over the last year and a half — the pace of the slowdown is starting ease. The economy shrank by 1.2% in the first quarter, following a 3.7% plunge in 2015. Russia has been hit by a double whammy of low oil prices and economic sanctions, and has not grown for six consecutive quarters. The sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the crisis in Ukraine have severely curtailed investment into the country, and cut Russian firms off from European and American finance.

Thailand

At least four people were killed and dozens wounded when a series of bombs went off in areas popular with tourists across Thailand over the last 24 hours. At least four of the blasts occurred in the beach resort of Hua Hin, about 120 miles southwest of the capital Bangkok, on Thursday and Friday. A street vendor was killed and about 20 people wounded, some of them tourists from Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands in the Thursday attacks. Two more bombs went off in Hua Hin on Friday morning, killing one person and wounding four. Other bombs also went off in Patong Beach in the southern resort of Phuket and in the southern provinces of Trang. Separatist insurgents are likely to be suspected of carrying out the attacks, the BBC reported.

Venezuela

Venezuela is extremely short of most staple food categories: meat, fish, fruits, sugar and bread. The government just doesn’t have enough money to pay for them. It’s created a staggering humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, CNN Money reports. Looting and riots have rocked the country. The declines in exports of certain food categories are staggering. Venezuelans “can’t buy bread and meat and all you can really get is cereals,” says Chris Rogers, a research analyst at Panjiva. Venezuela’s economy has plunged into a deep recession and the country is fast running out of cash. The key problem behind Venezuela’s inability to pay its bills is that the value of its currency, the bolivar, has plummeted dramatically in the last couple of years. Venezuela is the world’s worst-performing economy this year, according to the International Monetary Fund which warns that inflation could skyrocket over 700%.

Wildfires

A Southern California wildfire has surged in size and put thousands of homes in potential peril. Smoke plumes roiling from flaming ridges of the San Bernardino Mountains blew all the way across the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas as the blaze forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes Monday. Firefighters aided by 16 aircraft battled flames that spread across nearly 10 square miles on the northern side of the rugged mountain range east of Los Angeles. People in some 375 homes were ordered to evacuate. Residents of about 5,000 more were advised that they may want to evacuate.

At least four people are dead, multiple homes destroyed and thousands evacuated after high winds whipped raging infernos in Portugal and on a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Wednesday. Three elderly people were killed and hundreds injured in Funchal, the capital of Portugal’s Madeira Islands, after fires swept into the city overnight. The Madeira fire forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents and tourists in the islands. Residents described chaotic nighttime scenes on Tuesday, with people fleeing the flames by car at high speed on the wrong side of the road. At least186 wildfires were counted Wednesday on Portugal’s mainland in the midst of the prime tourist season, with hot, dry and windy weather fueling the flames. Ninety-five miles north of Lisbon on the mainland, a fourth fatality was reported after a forest watchmen died when another blaze engulfed the caravan he was sleeping in.

Weather

The National Weather Service declared a flash flood emergency Friday morning as rising water entered St. Helena Parish Hospital and a local nursing home and isolated the towns of Greenburg, Louisiana, and Osyka, Mississippi. Up to 10 inches of rain had fallen in some locations across the region by Friday morning. The heavy rain will continue over Louisiana and Mississippi through at least Saturday morning Tangipahoa Parish officials told the Baton Rouge Advocate that about 75 people have been saved from flooded homes so far. Water rescues have also been reported in Centreville, Mississippi. Numerous schools have been closed across Louisiana after hours of heavy rain were too much for waterways in the region. Flash flood emergencies were issued for Pike County and parts of Amite and Wilkinson counties in Mississippi.

Flooding in Florida has led to at least one rescue as rain continues to fall across the Gulf Coast region Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the Fort Pickens campground on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola in response to the anticipation of intense rain and flooding still on the way. In Largo, raw sewage flowed from several manholes across the city Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Record-shattering temperatures this summer have scorched countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and beyond. Parts of the United Arab Emirates and Iran experienced a heat index — a measurement that factors in humidity as well as temperature — that soared to 140 degrees in July, and Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, recorded an all-time high temperature of nearly 126 degrees. Temperatures in Kuwait and Iraq startled observers. On July 22, the mercury climbed to 129 degrees in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. A day earlier, it reached 129.2 in Mitribah, Kuwait.

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

Signs of the Times (8/8/16)

August 8, 2016

Supreme Court Agrees to Stay Transgender Bathroom Order

With the Supreme Court out of session and still down one justice, it seemed unlikely the high court would take any action on a Virginia school district’s request to stay a lower court’s order regarding a transgender student, reports Charisma News. The justices split 5-3 on the request, which lifts—until the court can issue its own opinion on the case—the Gloucester County School District’s obligation to allow “Gavin” Grimm to use opposite-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. “Gavin” is a biological girl who suffers from a psychological disorder in which she believes she is a boy. Following a “joint guidance” issued by the Obama Administration’s education and justice departments, a lower federal court ruled the Virginia school district had to allow Grimm to use opposite-sex facilities. After Democratic-appointed Associate Justice Stephen Breyer joined with the court’s four GOP appointees to stay that order, it would seem no school district is bound to follow the Obama Administration’s transgender mandate. Breyer said he agreed to the stay as a “courtesy” and to “preserve the status quo” until the Supreme Court can hear the case next year. A ruling would be unlikely until next spring, at the earliest.

High Court in Ireland Rules an Unborn Baby Has a Right to Life

A High Court judge has ruled that the word ‘unborn’ in the Irish Constitution means an “unborn child” with rights beyond the right to life which “must be taken seriously” by the State. The Irish Times reports that Justice Richard Humphreys said an unborn child, including the unborn child of a parent facing deportation, enjoys “significant” rights and legal position at common law, by statute, and under the Constitution, “going well beyond the right to life alone”. He also said that Article 42a of the Constitution, inserted by a 2012 referendum, obliges the State to protect “all” children and that because an “unborn” is “clearly a child”, Article 42a applied to all children “both before and after birth.” Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said that this was a significant ruling which confirmed that the unborn baby was deserving of all the rights and protections to which every other person was entitled. She added that the ruling was a blow to those who were seeking to discriminate against children before birth and who argued that the preborn child was not fully human or entitled to human rights.

FBI Documents Confirm IRS Targeted the Tea Party

A government watchdog says FBI documents it has obtained confirm an orchestrated effort by the IRS to target tea party groups, One News Now reported last week. Judicial Watch obtained 294 pages of FBI documents that reveal top IRS officials knew about the targeting of tea party groups and other conservative groups two years before disclosing it to Congress and the public. The scandal centers around conservative groups that were seeking non-profit status so they could legally form an organization. Besides tea party groups, hundreds of other groups were flagged, too, including pro-life groups, a conservative Hispanic group, a conservative Hollywood group, pro-Israel groups, and a voting-rights group. Claims that liberal groups were also targeted was found to be an exaggeration after the IRS inspector general scrutinized the records. The scandal was first blamed on “rogue agents” in the Cincinnati office, but that claim was dropped when it became public that high-ranking officials in Washington, D.C. were instructing those agents to flag applications.

First Commercial Mission to Moon Approved

he U.S. government has given a Cape Canaveral company the go-ahead to fly the first commercial mission to the moon. The first-of-its-kind approval announced Wednesday morning clears the way for Moon Express to fly a robotic lander about the size of the “Star Wars” drone R2-D2 to the lunar surface as soon as next year. A startup with Silicon Valley roots and investors, Moon Express becomes the first from a growing group of entrepreneurial space firms lining up to fly missions beyond near-Earth orbit. SpaceX hopes to launch an unmanned “Red Dragon” mission to Mars as soon as 2018. Planetary Resources wants to mine asteroids. And Bigelow Aerospace, which recently attached a prototype habitat to the International Space Station, envisions lunar and Mars bases. Each at some point will need an approval like the one given to Moon Express by the Federal Aviation Administration, which led a months-long review also involving the White House, State Department, NASA and Defense Department.

Drowsy Driving Causes Thousands of Accidents

Drowsy driving is a common but neglected problem responsible for thousands of deaths each year in crashes that cost more than $100 billion, concludes a report by state safety advocates released Monday. Drowsy driving hasn’t received the attention of drunken or distracted driving, partly because diagnosing the problem is difficult. Many crashes involve a single car and driver, and definitive clues as to the cause are lacking. Police cited drowsy driving in at least 72,000 crashes from 2009 through 2013, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those accidents included 41,000 injuries and 800 deaths, NHTSA said. However, the AAA Foundation estimates that drowsiness causes an average 328,000 crashes per year, with 109,000 involving 6,400 fatalities. Risks of drowsy crashes are similar to drunken driving, with less scanning of the road and even nodding off at the wheel, according to the report. Slower reaction times, more frequent eye closure and failure to pay attention are among the risks.

10 Refugees Form Olympic Team to Compete in Rio

A team of 10 refugees are makomg Olympic history by being the first team of refugees ever to compete in the Olympic Games. According to The New Yorker, the team is made up of six men and four women, all of whom have stories of overcoming not only athletic challenges, but challenges of actual survival. The team is comprised of two swimmers from Syria, two judo competitors from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a marathoner from Ethiopia, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan. The 10 participants were selected from a group of 43 refugees by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The opening ceremony in Rio featured a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are struggling worldwide. Thomas Back, the president of the IOC, stated, “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village, together with all the athletes of the word. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honor, and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills, and strength of the human spirit.”

Zika Update

At least 41 American service members, including one pregnant woman, have been diagnosed with the Zika virus while on active duty overseas, a Pentagon spokesperson told Fox News Wednesday. The Pentagon said that seven family members of those servicemen and women also have contracted the virus, which usually leads to mild symptoms, but can cause severe birth defects in children and has been linked to paralysis and birth defects. All of the troops contracted Zika overseas, and are being treated at undisclosed locations. The two types of mosquitoes known to carry the virus— including its primary vector, the Aedes aegypti— are found at nearly 200 stateside installations ranging from Texas and Florida to New York, Military.com reported.

Economic News

The labor market turned in a strong showing for the second straight month in July as employers added 255,000 jobs, following 287,000 new jobs in June. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9%, the Labor Department said Friday, as the sharp rise in employment was offset by a similar-size increase in the ranks of those looking for jobs. Businesses added 217,000 jobs, led by professional and business services, health care and finance. Federal, state and local governments added 38,000. This makes two straight months of solid job increases following May’s anemic 24,000 jobs. Average hourly wages rose 8 cents to $25.69 and are up 2.6% the past year. Every month, the U.S. economy must create at least 150,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth.

Bitcoin owners targeted by hackers last week may lose about 36% of their money. Bitfinex, the Hong Kong-based exchange that was hacked, has started to bring its platform back online. It was shut down last week after 119,756 bitcoins, worth more than $65 million based on exchange rates at the time, were stolen from some users’ accounts. Bitfinex said it decided “after much thought, analysis and consultations” to generalize the losses across all users. That means even people who weren’t affected by the hack will find that 36% of the value of their accounts will be replaced by a “token” labeled BFX. The company said it will use those tokens to keep track of customers’ losses and will work to compensate the accounts in the future.

Since oil prices began to fall in mid-2014, cheap crude oil has been blamed for 195,000 job cuts in the U.S., according to a report published on Thursday by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, and the shedding of jobs may not be over yet. It’s an enormous toll that is especially painful because these tend to be well-paying jobs. The average pay in the oil and gas industry is 84% higher than the national average, according to Goldman Sachs. The cuts have occurred at a time when many other segments of the American economy have been adding jobs.

Islamic State

A U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias have seized nearly all of the strategic northern Syrian city of Manbij after a more than two-months’ long offensive against ISIS militants, a rights group reported Saturday. The militias, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, are now sweeping through the city, located in the northeast part of Aleppo province. Operations are still under way in the center of town and some ISIS members are still hiding there, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Activists CNN has spoken to in the city say ISIS still controls at least one neighborhood and intense clashes are ongoing in others.

ISIS militants have captured up to 3,000 people displaced from their homes trying to flee conflict zones in northern Iraq, the United Nations said Friday, reportedly killing 12 of them. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that an estimated 100 to 120 ISIS militants had captured around 1,900 civilians. It said the militants were using the captives as human shields in fighting against Iraqi forces. The move is the latest by ISIS militants to retain a grip on swaths of the country as Iraqi forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, try to recapture Mosul, ISIS’ most significant stronghold outside Syria. There are more than 4 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, according to data from the UN refugee agency.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Sunday for an attack by a machete-wielding man in Belgium that left two female police officers seriously injured, the group’s Amaq news agency said on Twitter. Shortly before the claim, Belgian prosecutors had identified the assailant as a 33-year-old Algerian, K.B., who had lived in Belgium since 2012, saying that he may have been inspired by terrorism. The attacker, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) during the assault on Saturday, was shot by police and died of his injuries.

Syria

After months of being pummeled from the air and by Syrian artillery, an Islamist-led rebel coalition has made a dramatic breakthrough in relieving the siege of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Their assault — the first test for a new group born out of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate — appears to have taken the exhausted Syrian army by surprise. If consolidated, the rebels’ offensive — which they have dubbed “The Great Battle for Aleppo” — could change the landscape of the conflict in northern Syria. What is beyond dispute is that the renewed fighting, and the waves of regime airstrikes and rocket attacks launched in response, is inflicting yet further suffering and destruction in Syria’s oldest city. The rebel offensive has been led by Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly the al Nusra Front. Two weeks ago, al Nusra very publicly declared it was breaking its long-standing ties with al Qaeda to build closer alliances with other jihadist and rebel groups in Syria.

Turkey

Turkey’s ruling party on Friday ordered a purge of followers of a U.S.-based imam the government blames for masterminding the country’s failed July 15 coup. The order came a day after Turkey issued a warrant for Fethullah Gulen’s arrest, a move seen as a prelude to a formal extradition request. The government has branded Gulen’s movement a terrorist organization and has launched a sweeping crackdown on its alleged followers since the attempted coup, which left more than 270 people dead. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in Turkey later this month, amid strained relations with Washington over the possible extradition of Gulen.

Pakistan

Scores of people were killed Monday in a suicide bombing at the main gate of a hospital in southwestern Pakistan. At least 64 people were killed in the incident at the Civil Hospital in the city of Quetta in the Balochistan province. An additional 92 people were being treated for injuries. The explosion, which was followed by gunfire, struck the entrance to the hospital’s emergency department. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. A number of people have been killed in Quetta in incidents linked to separatist insurgents, sectarian tensions and crime, the BBC said. Reuters reported that several lawyers were among those killed in recent weeks.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants attacked a convoy carrying about a dozen foreign tourists including three Americans in Afghanistan. Police were escorting the tourists when the ambush happened about 90 miles from the western city of Herat. The tourists were heading to see historical monuments in Herat. The Washington Post said at least six people were injured. It reported that the tourists in the convoy included six Britons and one German and said that efforts were underway to airlift the victims to Herat by helicopter. In another incident Thursday, six people aboard a Pakistani military helicopter were taken hostage by the Taliban after it crashed in Afghanistan.

India

At least 14 people were killed Friday when alleged Christian terrorists attacked a market in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, authorities said. Fifteen others were hurt in the attack, including 12 with serious injuries. The attackers are believed to be part of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a Christian separatist group that India has classified as a terrorist group. Three attackers opened fire about 11 a.m. at the market in Kokrajhar, authorities said. The army killed one of the assailants, and authorities are looking for the other two

Ukraine

The increasingly tense situation on the frontline between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine has resulted in a spike in civilian casualties, according to new figures released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The agency documented 69 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine in June, including 12 dead and 57 injured — nearly double the figure for May and the highest figure since August 2015. July saw 73 civilian casualties, including eight dead and 65 injured. More than half the total casualties recorded in the past two months were caused by shelling, while the remaining part were caused by mines, booby traps and improvised explosive devices.

Brazil

Brazil has deployed the largest security contingent in Olympic history — up to 100,000 officers — to secure the city of 6.5 million people. With many of them decked out in camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles, it has created a distinctly military feel in a city more accustomed to flip flops and bikinis. Most of the major roads leading to and from Olympic venues are lined with a combination of military, federal and state police. Teams of motorcycle officers sit in rows around the city, ready to serve as rapid response units. Even the view from iconic Copacabana Beach has been obscured in recent days by a Brazilian navy warship cruising just offshore. While there have been reports of muggings, assaults and one person shot dead on Friday night outside the opening ceremony, there hasn’t been the kind of widespread mayhem predicted by some leading up to the Games.

The Rio Olympics opened to big pageantry but relatively low ratings in the United States for NBC. Friday’s broadcast of the Rio opening ceremony brought in an overnight rating of 16.5 — the lowest overnight rating for a summer Olympics opening ceremony since 1992 when the games were held in Barcelona. The opening of the London games in 2012 had a 23.0 overnight rating. The network may even have to compensate advertisers for lower-than-expected viewership by giving them free ads later.

Environment

A once top-secret subterranean U.S. nuclear base in northern Greenland is thawing out, potentially exposing the environment to radioactive coolant, PCBs, and raw sewage that the military originally believed would stay entombed for millennia. The hazardous waste could emerge by the end of the century, according to a new, peer-reviewed study published Thursday in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Camp Century was a U.S. base built on the Greenland ice sheet in 1959. To the public, its mission was scientific tasks such as drilling for ice cores. But it also doubled as a top-secret site for testing nuclear missiles during the height of the Cold War. Codenamed Project Iceworm, it was a test base to see if launch sites could be built close enough for missiles to reach the Soviet Union. The camp included a series of tunnels roughly 50 feet underground. It was one of five ice-sheet bases in northern Greenland.

Volcanoes

Last week the most dangerous volcano in Mexico erupted and three major volcanoes in Indonesia all erupted within the space of just 72 hours. Mexico and Indonesia are both considered to be part of “the Ring of Fire,” and all along the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean volcanoes are starting to go off like firecrackers right now, reports Charisma News. According to Volcano Discovery, 25 volcanoes in areas that are considered to be within the Ring of Fire have erupted recently. Our planet appears to have entered a time of increased seismic activity, the report notes. In Mexico, some scientists are becoming concerned that this recent activity may be building up to “a major disastrous eruption” by Mt. Popocatepetl near Mexico City.

Wildfires

A wildfire that began just after noon on Sunday and consumed 1,500 acres within eight hours brings the total number of active fires in California to 20. The Pilot fire, located 50 east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino National Forest, spread quickly through dry timber and brush and forced the evacuation of dozens of homes in Summit Valley, California. Hindered by the mountainous terrain near Pilot Rock Conservation Camp above Silverwood Lake, firefighters battled the rapidly-spreading fire through the night into Monday morning, but the fire remains 0 percent contained. Several highways in the area were closed because of the fire.

Federal officials say 27 large wildfires across the West are being fueled by hot, dry temperatures often combined with high winds, which is making conditions difficult for thousands of firefighters. The fires have destroyed dozens of homes and have forced evacuations. The 2-week-old wildfire churning through the ruggedly scenic coastal mountains north of California’s Big Sur has grown to more than 84 square miles. But an army of 5,500 firefighters established containment lines on about a third of the perimeter. A total of 57 residences and 11 outbuildings have been destroyed and a bulldozer operator has been killed in an accident since an unattended campfire ignited the blaze July 22.

Firefighters have started two simultaneous emergency burns trying to stop an 81-square-mile wildfire that on Friday moved to within a few miles of a small town in mountainous central Idaho. Nearly 1,500 firefighters are battling the blaze burning timber in rugged terrain. Numerous fire lines have had to be abandoned as flames moved north. About 25 miles of State Highway 21 remains closed. Utah authorities say a rural wildfire near the Idaho border has torched about 30 square miles and destroyed three structures. Fire officials hope to have full containment by Sunday on the largest wildfire in Wyoming this summer. The fire in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has been burning since July 17 when it was started by lightning. It has burned about 49 square miles of timber, but firefighters have gained 84 percent containment.

Weather

At least three homes collapsed Thursday and thousands of people were left without power after a severe storm hit New Orleans. The homes collapsed at around 4 p.m. local time, as heavy rain and high winds moved through the area. The storm produced wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour that knocked down power lines and trees across the metro New Orleans area.

Hurricane Earl has weakened to a tropical depression after strengthening into a modest tropical storm in the Bay of Campeche Friday night. Earl made landfall early Thursday morning near Belize City as a Category 1 hurricane with estimated maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. Six people were killed in the Dominican Republic Sunday into Monday as this system passed near the island. Now, the main concern going forward will transition to excessive rainfall and major flooding. Earl was the first hurricane to landfall in Belize, or anywhere in the western Caribbean Sea west of Jamaica, since Ernesto almost exactly four years ago. Mountain communities in two Mexican states are recovering from weekend mudslides that killed 39 people during heavy rains brought by remnants of Hurricane Earl.

At least 21 are dead, six are missing and 60 have been hospitalized after torrential rain hit the Macedonian capital of Skopje, authorities said Sunday. Police and army helicopters have been dispatched to search for the missing and hundreds have been evacuated from the flood zone. The system brought heavy rain, strong winds and thunderstorms into the city and its northern suburbs late Saturday. The floods destroyed hundreds of homes and vehicles and roads are still impassable. Several areas remain without electricity.

Signs of the Times (8/3/16)

August 3, 2016

Newspaper Rejects Ad Because it Includes the Word ‘Christian’

A Tennessee newspaper has caused a stir for refusing to run an advertisement placed by a Christian store. FoxNews.com reports that Lois McGinnis and her family own Cedar Springs Christian Store in Knoxville. The McGinnis family owns two store locations, but recently decided to close the second location. McGinnis called the local newspaper, the News Sentinel, to place a going-out-of-business ad. When McGinnis opened the newspaper the day the ad was scheduled to run, it wasn’t there, so she called the newspaper office. The employee whom she spoke with explained to her why the paper hadn’t run her ad: “She said our ad did not run because it contained an offensive word,” McGinnis told Fox News’s Todd Starnes. “I asked what that offensive word was and she said the offensive word was ‘Christian.’”

  • This is but a harbinger of the times to come when being Christian is not just offensive to secular America, but a hate crime

Satanic Temple Pushing for After School Satanist Clubs

The Satanic Temple is promoting an after school program called the After School Satan Club that they hope to establish in public schools this school year. According to The Washington Post, members of the Satanic Temple hope that their after school program will compete with the Christian program, the Good News Club, that is allowed in public schools. Members of the Satanic Temple who are proponents of the program say that the purpose of the club would not actually be to worship the devil, but rather to promote rational thinking. Doug Mesner, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder, says that “Satan” is just a “metaphorical construct” that represents the rejection of tyranny of the human mind. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Christian clubs were allowed in public schools because to exclude them would be to violate the right to free speech. Proponents of the satanist clubs hope to capitalize on this precedent.

  • Freedom of speech is paramount, but this development shows how well a non-metaphorical but real Satan continues to undermine the One True God and the One True Savior.

Illinois Gov. Signs Bill Forcing Christian Doctors and Pregnancy Centers to Promote Abortion

Abortion is now the official state-preferred choice for Illinois women in unexpected pregnancies, after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 1564 into law Friday afternoon, reports LiveNews.com. Rauner, a Republican, held veto power over the legislation, but he went against the wishes of his own party in approving the legislation. “We are extremely disappointed in Gov. Rauner for siding with pro-abortion Democrats by signing SB 1564 and expanding abortions in Illinois,” Emily Zender, executive director of Illinois Right to Life said in a press release. “This radical bill is a direct assault on the consciences of medical professionals and the missions of community supported pregnancy help centers.

ISIS Recruiting Citizens to Commit Homeland Terrorism

Believing he was answering a holy call, Harry Sarfo left his home in the working-class city of Bremen last year and drove for four straight days to reach the territory controlled by the Islamic State in Syria. He barely had time to settle in before members of the Islamic State’s secret service, wearing masks over their faces, came to inform him and his German friend that they no longer wanted Europeans to come to Syria. Where they were really needed was back home, to help carry out the group’s plan of waging terrorism across the globe, reports the New York Times. Sarfo told the Times that ISIS has ‘loads of people’ living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people. The operatives belonged to an intelligence unit of the Islamic State known in Arabic as the Emni, which has an external operations branch, dedicated to exporting terror abroad. Interrogation records show that operatives are selected by nationality and grouped by language into small, discrete units, tasked with plotting their own attacks.

DC Police Officer Charged with Aiding ISIS

A Washington, D.C. metro transit authority police officer was charged on Wednesday with trying to provide material support to ISIS — the first time a law enforcement officer has been charged with an ISIS-related crime. Nicholas Young, 36, who has served with the department since 2003, was arrested Wednesday morning by FBI agents. Young allegedly sent mobile-based gift card IDs to a law enforcement source last week with the understanding that the cards would be used by overseas ISIS fighters to communicate, according to a copy of the indictment viewed by The Washington Post. Young has been monitored by the FBI since September 2010, The Post reported.

Navy Ship to be Named after Renowned Pedophile

The Navy is set to name a ship after the late homosexual rights icon and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, according to a Congressional notification obtained by USNI News. The July 14, 2016 notification, signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, indicated he intended to name a planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO-206). Harvey Milk was the first homosexual activist elected to public office in the United States and was assassinated in 1978. Milk, who served in the Navy at a time it was illegal for homosexuals to do so often bragged about being a pedophile. Milk was “a sexual predator who preyed upon teen boys”, notes the American Family Association.

Migrant Update

A record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in one of the 28 member states of the European Union, Norway or Switzerland in 2015, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. The previous 700,000 high water mark was set in 1992 around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1985, Europe has received about 11.6 million asylum applications, the analysis showed. About half of all applications in 2015 came from just three war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Since 2012, Germany has emerged as the primary destination for asylum seekers in Europe, receiving 442,000 asylum applications in 2015 alone. Hungary was second with 174,000 applications and Sweden third with 156,000 asylum requests.

Zika Update

For the first time, the Zika virus has prompted public health officials to warn pregnant women to avoid traveling to a part of the continental United States, in the wake of a growing outbreak of the disease in South Florida. For the first time, the Zika virus has prompted public health officials to warn pregnant women to avoid traveling to a part of the continental United States, in the wake of a growing outbreak of the disease in South Florida. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning to women who are pregnant to avoid unnecessary travel to the affected area, which is just north of downtown Miami.

The Zika epidemic that has spread from Brazil to the rest of Latin America is now raging in Puerto Rico — and the island’s response is in chaos. Infections are skyrocketing and many residents fail to protect themselves against bites because they believe the threat is exaggerated. Federal and local health officials are feuding, and the governor’s special adviser on Zika has quit in disgust, reports the New York Times. There are about 5,500 confirmed infections on the island, including 672 pregnant women. But experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they believe that is a radical undercount. Tests on donated blood, the most reliable barometer of the epidemic’s spread, show that almost 2 percent of the donors were infected in the last 10 days.

Economic News

Manufacturing activity grew at a slower pace in July as low oil prices and a weak global economy amplified by the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote continued to hamper the industry. An index of factory activity dipped to 52.6 from 53.2 in August, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday. A reading above 50 means the sector is expanding; below 50 indicates contraction. Although sluggish, manufacturing activity nevertheless expanded for the fifth straight month after a string of declines. A weak global economy has clobbered manufacturers’ exports, while a strong dollar has magnified the effects by making U.S. goods more expensive for overseas customers. Meanwhile, low oil prices have dampened drilling activity and the related production of steel pipes and other materials.

Consumer spending grew at a healthy pace for the third straight month in June. Personal spending, which measures how much Americans pay for everything from cars to haircuts, rose 0.4%, matching May’s rise, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. In April spending increased 1.1%, the biggest jump in almost seven years. Household consumption makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Personal income, including wages and salaries, gained a moderate 0.2% in June, and has risen steadily in recent months as employee earnings have picked up. The personal saving rate fell to 5.3% from 5.5% in May, a sign that consumers are becoming less cautious.

Crude oil prices plunged 4% on Monday, sliding to $39.86 a barrel Monday. It’s the first time the price has been below $40 a barrel in nearly four months. It rose slightly on Tuesday to go just above $40. Oil prices are now down more than 22% since topping out above $51 a barrel in early June. The price had peaked at $107 in June 2014. The recent selling has been driven by a realization that the epic oil glut remains largely intact — and some U.S. oil companies may make it worse by starting to drill more. Not only is there an historic oversupply of crude, but gasoline inventories are now at record highs, despite the fact that it’s summer driving season.

Islamic State

U.S. warplanes carried out airstrikes in Libya Monday, targeting Islamic State forces near their stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, the Pentagon announced. Libyan’s interim government requested the attack, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. The Islamic State has established a presence in war-torn Libya and in Afghanistan. They have been struck by U.S. warplanes in support of local ground forces in both countries. In February, an airstrike in Libya killed 49 fighters from the Islamic State. Additional airstrikes will continue as forces aligned with the Libyan Government of National Accord continues to take ground from ISIS, Cook said.

According to the group IntelCenter, which tracks acts of terrorism, there has been a significant attack directed or inspired by ISIS every 84 hours since June 8 in cities outside the war zones in Iraq, Syria, Sinai in Egypt and Libya. CNN’s tracking of attacks supports that conclusion. More than half of those attacks have been beyond big cities in places “not traditionally under threat of terrorist attacks,” says IntelCenter. This rash of random, low-tech but deadly attacks has fueled public unease in Europe and eroded faith in governments to tackle the threat of terrorism or discern who might turn to violence.

Syria

Dozens of families and some opposition fighters started leaving besieged rebel-held neighborhoods in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday after the government opened safe corridors for civilians and fighters who want to leave. The government had completely closed the main road into rebel-held areas of Aleppo on July 17, effectively besieging the 300,000 people living there. Earlier this week, Syrian President Bashar Assad offered an amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms and surrender to authorities in the next three months. Opposition activists denied reports that Aleppo residents were leaving rebel-held neighborhoods of the city, saying that state media was attempting to falsely suggest that civilians were fleeing the area in large numbers.

A Russian helicopter was shot down Monday after delivering aid to the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing all five people on board, Russian state media reported. It was the biggest single loss of life for Russia in Syria since Russian warplanes started carrying out airstrikes in September 2015 in the country ravaged by war for the past five years. Video footage showed dozens of men cheering around the flaming wreckage, some of them taking photographs with their phones and others yelling, “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). An empty rocket pod lay next to the wreckage, raising questions about whether the helicopter was carrying aid. Rescuers in Syria said Tuesday a helicopter dropped barrels filled with toxic gas, seriously injuring dozens of people, not far from where a Russian transport helicopter was shot down the day before, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan

The United States has spent more than $17 billion to provide weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment to Afghanistan’s struggling defense forces, even as the number of Afghans enlisted in these services dips amid a resurgence in Taliban-backed violence, according to new figures published by a government oversight body. The United States has spent nearly $13 billion to arm the Afghan National Army as of May 31, 2016 and another $4.2 billion on weapons for the Afghan National Police, according to figures from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The latest tally of U.S. expenditures for these forces comes amid a new surge of violence in Afghanistan caused by the Taliban, which President Obama said had been “toppled” on Monday. As the United States continues to send great amounts of taxpayer aid to the war-torn country, the strength of its security forces have reached new lows, casting doubt on the ability of American and allied forces to completely hand off security control of the country, reports Fox News.

Iran

The Obama administration secretly airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran in January to settle a decades-old legal dispute just as the Iranians were releasing four Americans detained by Tehran, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal, citing U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation, said wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currency were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane. The money was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the administration reached with Iran to resolve a 37-year-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979. The legal wrangling was being arbitrated before the international tribunal in The Hague. According to the Journal, senior U.S. officials denied the payment was a quid pro quo for the release of the prisoners. They said the timing was coincidental. Republican lawmakers are fuming say the transaction has put more Americans at risk of being taken hostage.

Ethiopia/Zimbabwe

In Ethiopia, up to ten million people are in danger of starvation. Two failed rainy seasons followed by catastrophic flooding have destroyed crops across large parts of a country in which the persecution of Christians is growing. The present famine is the worst it has been in the past fifty years. In Zimbabwe, over four million people are in critical danger of starvation. Approximately 11.5 million of the population live off the food they grow themselves, but drought has caused between 95% and 100% crop failure. Many families are reduced to one meal a day, sometimes less; children are too weak from hunger to go to school; unable to get jobs, hardly anyone has money to buy what scarce food there is. Barnabas Aid has been helping in the region since the food crisis of 2008-9, working through local churches to reach the most needy and vulnerable Christians in both Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

  • Just $13.50 will help feed a family of five for a month. Donate here

Nigeria

A U.N. humanitarian convoy under military escort came under Boko Haram gunfire during an ambush in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, the United Nations and Nigerian military said Friday. Three humanitarian staff members and two soldiers were injured. The convoy was returning to Maiduguri late Thursday after making delivery of much-needed food supplies to a camp of 24,000 impoverished people displaced by Boko Haram raids in the town of Bama. Several relief groups were part of the convoy. The attack prompted a temporary suspension of U.N. humanitarian assistance missions in the area pending a reevaluation of the security situation, a UNICEF statement said.

Earthquakes

A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean early Saturday. The quake occurred at a depth of 117 miles some 19 miles south-southwest of the uninhabited island of Agrihan in the U.S. territory, the U.S. Geological Survey said. A barely noticeable wave of about two inches was recorded in Saipan, the largest of the islands. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands lies about 5,800 miles south-southwest of California’s Pacific shore. The quake was felt in the neighboring territory of Guam.

Environment

Southern New England’s lobster population has gotten so low that fishermen may need to start throwing back smaller lobsters just to keep the species from being wiped out. The region’s historic lobster fishery may be facing new restrictions because of a population decline that hasn’t been seen before. As the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission looks for ways to help preserve the species, the group released a report suggesting the lobsters could be preserved by increasing the minimum harvesting size, and the commission’s lobster board may take action on the population decline Thursday. New England lobster fishing is one of America’s oldest industries, and it was worth more than a half-billion dollars last year. But the catch south of Cape Cod has plummeted as ocean temperatures have risen. The lobster catch sank to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, down from a peak of about 22 million in 1997. The fishery commission’s report states that management strategies can do only so much if environmental conditions persist.

Wildfires

The deadly wildfire burning south of Monterey, California, the Soberanes Fire, has grown to more than 43,000 acres, larger than San Francisco. According to the latest CalFire incident report updated Monday morning, there are more than 5,000 firefighters battling the blaze that is now 18 percent contained. Fifty-seven homes and 11 structures have been destroyed, while another five structures were damaged from the fire. Some 2,000 structures remain threatened. The fire claimed the life of Robert Reagan, a 35-year-old father of two daughters from Fresno County, last week after his bulldozer overturned on steep terrain while he worked to combat the fire. CalFire said the fire continues to “burn in steep, rugged and inaccessible terrain” and they estimate that it will continue to burn until the end of August. Authorities have determined that an illegal, abandoned campfire caused the massive wildfire.

More than a dozen homes have reportedly been destroyed by the Roaring Lion wildfire near Hamilton, Montana, that has scorched more than 4,400 acres and forced evacuations. Authorities say the number of homes destroyed has risen to 14 and Ravalli County commissioners declared a state of emergency on Monday. According to an incident report, about 500 homes have been evacuated or warned they may have to evacuate. The fire, which broke out around 2 p.m. Sunday about five miles south of Hamilton, quickly grew to 2,000 acres within a period of seven hours. The fire grew so rapidly that the initial attack team had no chance of containing the wildfire. Authorities expanded evacuation orders to over 700 homes Monday.

Weather

After battling a major wildfire that made world headlines in May, Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, is drying out after facing a natural disaster of another kind — flash flooding. The fire in May, fueled by dry conditions and high winds, destroyed about 10 percent of the buildings in the city and forced the evacuation of 88,000 people. Now, after a weekend of heavy downpours, the community is reeling once again after being inundated with so much water that flooding occurred in parts of the city. More than 3 inches of rain fell, with the majority falling within two hours Sunday morning, according to CTV. In fact, more rain fell on Sunday than Fort McMurray’s average rainfall for the entire month of July. The heavy rains led to residents still recovering from the devastation of fire waking up to flooded basements, sewer backups and flooded parking lots. Power outages were also reported across the city.

Monsoonal rains swept through the Phoenix metro area Tuesday afternoon, causing major flooding, which led to water rescues and the evacuation of several schools, but no deaths or injuries. Some areas in the Phoenix metro picked up two or more inches of rain within an hour. The Phoenix Fire Department said officials made numerous water rescues amid the heavy rains, including one man forced to climb atop his vehicle along Interstate 17. The highway was closed in both directions at Indian School Road due to flooding. Flooding also caused additional closures and delays on Interstate 10. Both highways were open again by Wednesday morning. A flash flood deluged Yarnell, Arizona, on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 2, and then receded as quickly as it hit, leaving a thick coating of mud everywhere. The rushing waters were highly localized, as heavy rains fell on the slope blackened by June’s Tenderfoot Fire, and, with no vegetation to slow the flow of rainwater and hold the soil in place, the water gushed right through town, covering Highway 89 in several inches of slippery, black mud.

A state of emergency was declared in Ellicott City, Maryland after major flooding destroyed much of its downtown area. A torrent of floodwaters swept through Ellicott City, Maryland, Saturday night sweeping cars away, damaging buildings, and prompting water rescues. One fatality had been confirmed and at least two people were still missing as of Saturday morning. Gas leaks also occurred in downtown Ellicott City along Main Street. Natural gas service had been turned off in the downtown area and it is unclear how long it will be before it is restored. There is extensive structure damage to multiple businesses, residential areas, along with sidewalks and streets. Ellicott City, an affluent unincorporated community of 65,800 people and famous for its historic downtown, is about 12 miles west of Baltimore. Video from the scene shows cars being swept away in roads that look like rivers.

Signs of the Times (7/30/16)

July 30, 2016

Supreme Court Favoring Discrimination over Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court’s defense of religious freedom looks like it’s on the decline. Still reeling from the death of its most devout justice, Antonin Scalia, the high court has put preventing discrimination above protecting religion in a series of cases over the past year, from same-sex marriage to abortion and contraception. By refusing to consider a family-owned pharmacy’s objection to a Washington state regulation forcing it to stock and sell emergency contraceptives, Justice Samuel Alito warned that the court was sending an “ominous sign.” “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” Alito said.

Hillary Clinton Promotes Free Tax-Payer Funded Abortions.

During her keynote address to the Democratic convention on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton wasted no opportunity promoting abortion. She began her speech promoting the Democratic Party platform that calls on Americans taxpayers to fund for abortions. The proposed Democratic Party platform this year is more extreme than it has ever been, calling for taxpayer funding of abortion and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arises from incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother. The Democratic Party platform already supports legalized abortion on demand for any reason up until birth, reports Life News.

Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina’s Voter-ID Law

Voting rights activists scored legal victories in key presidential election states Friday, the most important being a federal appeals court ruling that North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature enacted new voting restrictions in 2013 to intentionally blunt the growing clout of African American voters. The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was a victory for the Justice Department and civil rights groups. Election law experts consider North Carolina’s voter law one of the nation’s most far-reaching. In Wisconsin, where one federal judge already had eased restrictions on voter-ID requirements, a second judge found that additional elements of the law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) were unconstitutional.

Right to Homeschool Children under Attack Again in California

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has reported that the right to homeschool children is under attack in California. HSLDA reports that its members in the San Benito High School District recently received a letter stating, “Under California Law, a home school is not a private school, nor is it a lawful alternative to public school.” Homeschool advocates were confused as to why this letter was sent because back in 2008, a court case had already established that homeschooling was legal in California. HSLDA questioned why the right to homeschool in California is now under attack once again.

Humana Drops Obamacare to Stop Balance Sheet Losses

After nearly $1 billion in losses last year, Humana, one of the nation’s leading health insurance providers, announced July 21 it is pulling out of Obamacare plans in nearly all states. The announcement came the same day the Obama administration declared it would take legal action against a multi-billion-dollar merger between Humana and another top-five health insurance provider, Aetna. According to Humana, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reforms have had a severe effect on the company, resulting in limited revenue and “increasing the company’s medical and operating costs.” Other insurance companies also are suffering financial difficulties. UnitedHealth Group said in April it would pull out of most Obamacare marketplaces in 2017. UnitedHealth is the biggest health insurance provider in the United States, and has said it lost $475 million on ACA exchanges last year and could lose $500 million this year.

California Risks $135M in Federal Grants over ‘Sanctuary City’ Policy

California state and local law enforcement agencies may have to choose between more than $100 million in federal aid and the “sanctuary city” immigration policies that supporters say are humane, but critics say fuel crime. The policies, whether in writing or just in practice, preclude local law enforcement from working with federal authorities when they catch an illegal immigrant who by law faces deportation. The laws have sparked a national controversy in the wake of dozens of murders and other violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants who local law enforcement did not report to the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans in Congress, saying such non-cooperation is illegal. For California, which enacted the California Trust Act, that could mean as much as $135 million in grants will be withheld. “This irresponsible legislation has already caused the release of thousands of criminals that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement was trying to deport,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Washington DC-based Center for Immigration Studies.

  • These sanctuary city policies have helped fuel the recent rise in violent crime reported below

Violent Crime on the Rise in U.S.

Violent crime is on the rise so far this year in major cities across the US compared to the number of homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults and shootings that occurred in the same cities by this point in 2015, a new report has found. The midyear violent crime survey released Monday by the Major Cities Chiefs Association shows 307 more homicides so far in 2016, according to data from 51 law enforcement agencies from some of the largest US cities. In addition to a large increase in homicides, major cities in the US have experienced more than 1,000 more robberies, almost 2,000 more aggravated assaults and more than 600 non-fatal shootings in 2016 compared to this time last year. The only category of violent crime not reflecting an increase when compared to last year is rape. The 316 homicides reported by the Chicago Police Department were by far the most of any law enforcement agency included in the survey, a 48% increase over last year.

FBI Put in Charge of Responding to Cyber Attacks

A presidential directive signed by President Obama Tuesday will put the FBI in charge of responding to all cyber threats and give the federal government a more active role in investigating, preventing and mitigating attempts to hack into U.S.-based computer networks. Obama’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the change was necessary because it’s not always clear whether those responsible for a hacking incident are other countries, terrorists or criminals. “This directive establishes a clear framework to coordinate the government’s response to such incidents,” Monaco told a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York Tuesday. “It spells out which federal agencies are responsible. And it will help answer a question heard too often from corporations and citizens alike — ‘In the wake of an attack, who do I call for help?'”

Florida Zika Cases a ‘Game Changer’

Both American athletes and sports fans have canceled plans to travel to Brazil for next week’s Olympics for fear of contracting the Zika virus. Now the apparent spread of Zika to Florida, confirmed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott Friday, means that Americans could face the risk of becoming infected in their own backyards. “This is a game changer,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “I’m concerned that this is just the beginning.” Four people infected with Zika in South Florida likely contracted the virus from local mosquitoes, marking the first time the disease has been transmitted by the insects in the continental U.S., Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday. Florida’s Department of Health believes the mosquitos that transmitted the virus are active in a small area just north of downtown Miami. More than 1,650 people in the U.S. have contracted Zika, but until now all were linked to travel to areas outside the U.S. with outbreaks of the virus. Zika, which can cause devastating birth defects, is spreading rapidly in more than 30 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America. The virus primarily spreads through bites from infected mosquitoes, but can also be spread through sex. Only one in five people with Zika develop symptoms, which include rash, fever, muscle aches and headaches.

Six Michigan Employees Criminally Charged in Flint Water Crisis

Six Michigan employees were criminally charged Friday in connection with the Flint water crisis. Charged are three Department of Health and Human Services workers and three Department of Environmental Quality employees, according to testimony Friday morning in Flint’s district court. They are charged with hiding unsafe lead levels. In April, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced felony charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint official. At that time, he promised more criminal charges would be forthcoming. Flint’s drinking water became contaminated in lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched from treated water supplied from Detroit to raw water from the Flint River. Department of Environmental Quality officials have acknowledged a mistake in failing to require corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water. As a result, lead leached from pipes, joints and fixtures into Flint households and harmful lead levels spiked in Flint children.

Fears of Terrorism and Violence Growing in Rio Ahead of Olympics

It happens so frequently in Brazil, that it even has a name, a “lightning kidnapping.” That’s when a person is forced to withdraw money from cash machines by robbers, often at gunpoint, and that’s what New Zealand jiu-jitsu fighter, Jason Lee, claimed happened to him, reports Fox News. What made the athlete’s story more shocking, however was that the crime allegedly was committed by military policemen from Rio de Janeiro state, the very people who are supposed to protect people from such acts. Lee’s story is far from an isolated case. The incidence of violent crime in greater Rio de Janeiro increased in every category in May, the most recently-released data, from the year before. There were a record number of homicides and street theft grew about 43 percent. Despite urban violence being so prevalent in Rio, the country’s Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, identified terrorism as “the biggest challenge of the games.” In the last week a group of 12 people who pledged their allegiance to ISIS were arrested on suspicions of planning an attack on the Olympics, and a second possible ISIS cell was also identified.

Economic News

The US economy grew meekly for a third straight quarter in the April-June period, raising new concerns about the risk of recession, as the drag from falling business investment more than offset strong consumer spending. The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of goods and services produced in the nation — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast growth of 2.6%. Growth from 2012 to 2015 was 2.2%. Of concern, however, is that the economy has expanded at about half that pace over the past 12 months. Consumer spending surged last quarter as expected, rising 4.2%. Consumers have been buoyed by solid job and income growth, still low gasoline prices and reduced household debt. But business investment declined for the third straight quarter, sliding 2.2%. Capital spending has been subdued because of the long-standing downturn in exports as well as the oil industry slump triggered by low crude prices.

Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in June by the largest amount in nearly two years, reflecting a big decline in the volatile category of commercial aircraft. Demand for durable goods dropped 4% in June, the biggest setback since an 18.4% drop in August 2014, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. June’s result was led by a 58.8% plunge in orders for commercial aircraft. Outside of transportation, orders were down 0.5%. The new report indicates manufacturing remains under stress from weak global demand and a strong dollar.

It’s taken 11 years, but home prices have finally climbed back to pre-crash levels. The median home price in the U.S. was $231,000 last month, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions (formerly RealtyTrac). That’s 9% higher than a year ago and 1% above the previous record of $228,000 hit in July 2005. Median home prices have been rising on a national level every month for more than four years, and it’s created an affordability issue in many housing markets. Wages have remained relatively stagnant since the financial crisis while lenders have become more stringent with their borrowing terms. Rents have also been on the rise, making it difficult for homebuyers to save for a down payment. Last month, sellers sold their homes for an average of $41,000 more than their purchase price.

The percentage of Americans that own a home has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.  During the second quarter of 2016, the non-seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to just 62.9 percent, which was exactly where it was at when the U.S. Census began publishing this measurement back in 1965. Rising home prices in an economy of stagnant wages (for the lower 80%) have pushed entry-level homes out of reach for many people. First time buyers are having trouble saving for a down payment due to soaring rents.

Islamic State

At least 44 people were killed and 140 injured Wednesday in an explosion in the northern Syrian town of Qamishli near the Turkish border. The bomb went off near Kurdish security headquarters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a monitoring group based in Britain. The Islamic State extremist group, which has carried out previous bombings against Kurds in the area, has claimed responsibility, the BBC reports. Many of the wounded sustained severe injuries, raising the likelihood that the death toll will increase. A witness said the blast was so powerful it shattered windows in stores in Nusaybin, the Turkish town directly across the border, Reuters reports.

U.S.-led coalition targeting a village in northern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed 28 civilians, including seven children, Syrian activists said Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said aircraft belonging to the coalition struck the village of al-Ghandour late on Thursday. Observatory’s chief Rami Adurrahman said another 13 people were killed in the strikes but that he could not say if they were IS fighters or civilians. Al-Ghandour is 15 miles northwest of the town of Manbij, a key hub in the extremist group’s Syria network and a supply route to the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa. The bombings came a week after airstrikes, also blamed by Syrian activists on U.S. aircraft, killed at least 56 civilians in Islamic State-held territory in northern Syria.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to elicit Russian military cooperation in the fight against Islamic State in Syria suffered two potentially crippling blows on Thursday. First, the Syrian army said it had cut off all supply routes into the eastern part of the city of Aleppo – Syria’s most important opposition stronghold – and President Bashar al-Assad’s government asked residents to leave the city. That move, U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said on Thursday, appeared to be an effort to pre-empt a U.S. demand that Russia and Syria reopen a major road into the divided northern city before talks could begin on creating a joint intelligence center to coordinate air attacks against Islamic State.

Germany

Germans are on edge due to multiple terrorist attacks in just one week. An ax attack, a mass shooting, a machete assault and a suicide blast. Four attacks in one week, all in Germany’s Bavaria region. They appear to be unrelated for now. But three of the attackers were recently arrived refugees. One was a German-Iranian dual citizen. And all were young men between the ages of 18 and 27. Bavaria’s Interior Minister, Joachim Herrman, was visibly shaken early Tuesday morning, hours after a Syrian refugee blew himself with a backpack explosive. “I have been Interior Minister in Bavaria for nearly nine years,” he told the press. “And I have never experienced anything like this until now.” “Wilkommenskultur” — the buzzword that welcomed more than a million refugees into the country last year — has given way to an unsettling fear that the country is not prepared for the security and integration challenges of taking in a diverse, often traumatized population that comes with their emotional baggage and Islamic beliefs.

Afghanistan

Five U.S. Special Operations troops, fighting alongside their Afghan counterparts, were wounded recently while battling Islamic State militants in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, the top U.S. general there said Thursday. Speaking to reporters from Kabul, U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said that the troops had been wounded from small-arms fire and shrapnel in the past week. He did not specify when exactly the injuries occurred. The troops came under fire during what Nicholson called ‘clearing operations’ as U.S. and Afghan troops pushed into southern Nangahar following a series of airstrikes.”

Nigeria

The increasing massacre of Christians in Nigeria has led one leader to estimate that as many Christians have been killed in the country in the first half of 2016 as were killed in all of 2015. Much of Nigeria has become a war-torn place due to terrorist organization Boko Haram, as well as other perpetrators of violence such as Fulani herdsman who have been targeting Christians. The Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) has called on the Nigerian government to do something about the continual massacre of Nigerian Christians. “Whatever the federal government is doing, if anything, is either too slow or insignificant compared with the reoccurrence of the killings; the federal government needs to step up and take bold actions to give members of the Christian community in the country a sense of security and belonging,” said Pastor Ade Oyesile, executive director of CANAN.

Hundreds of thousands of children in Nigeria are suffering from starvation after Boko Haram militants ravaged the country. ChristianToday.com reports that the chaos in Nigeria created by Boko Haram terrorists has resulted in 20,000 murders and the displacement of nearly two million people. It has also led to severe starvation and malnutrition of many. Nearly a quarter of a million children in parts of Borneo State, where the conflict is the worst, are facing starvation. Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Wildfires

A wildfire burning south of Monterey, California, has grown to nearly 30,000 acres, and fire officials have estimated it will take until the end of August to completely extinguish the blaze, dubbed the Soberanes Fire. Eight hikers found themselves trapped inside a forest south of San Francisco for five days by the Soberanes fire, which has been blazing since last Friday. Instead of becoming victims of the wildfire, the men were rescued Tuesday after Cal Fire and Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies carried out a daring search and rescue mission. The unidentified men were unharmed, although they spent much of their time in the forest without food and water. Meanwhile, north of Los Angeles, firefighters are making headway on a second massive fire. The Sand Fire has consumed more than 38,000 acres, but as of Friday morning was 65 percent contained.

Weather

A return of monsoonal moisture across much of the Southwest U.S, triggered thunderstorms that produced damaging winds, dust storms, heavy rain and hail late on Friday as the region braces for more of the same going into next week. APS said that roughly 26,000 lost power on Friday night as a result of strong thunderstorms wind gusts, with Buckeye and West Valley seeing the highest impact totals. The City of Phoenix on Friday advised residents against using certain roads, and reported that street crews were working to clear downed trees from roadways. 70-mph winds were reported at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. No injuries have been confirmed as a result of the fierce winds. Dust storm warnings were also issued for large parts of Arizona in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Flash flooding occurred in parts of the Ohio Valley on Thursday, and the risk for heavy rain and flash flooding now spreads eastward into southeast new England as series of disturbances push through the region. More rain will move into these regions this weekend. Early Thursday morning, over 3 inches of rain in 2 hours swamped parts of the Cincinnati metro area, stranding numerous vehicles in Anderson Township. In Bellevue, Kentucky, more than 20 homes were flooded with water up to 6 feet deep. On Thursday evening, roughly 2 inches of rain fell in about an hour in Manhattan, Kansas, causing flash flooding on area roadways. The National Weather Service has placed parts of Massachusetts under a flash flood watch.

Large hail driven by strong winds damaged virtually every home in the Wyoming town of Pine Bluffs Wednesday evening, prompting help from the Wyoming National Guard. Around 500 homes were damaged in Pine Bluffs, about 40 miles east of Cheyenne near the Nebraska state line. Thursday, Governor Matt Mead ordered 27 members of the Wyoming National Guard to assist with cleanup in the town of about 1,200 residents. This included clearing of trees and boarding shattered windows. The hailstorm was from one of a pair of supercell thunderstorms that pelted parts of southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska and northeast Colorado with wind-driven, large hail that damaged numerous homes, businesses and vehicles Wednesday.

Signs of the Times (7/26/16)

July 26, 2016

Charges Dropped Against Anti-Abortion Activists behind Planned Parenthood Videos

A Texas judge on Tuesday dismissed the last remaining charge against two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials selling baby body parts. District Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the charge of tampering with government records against 27-year-old David Daleiden and 63-year-old Sandra Merritt upon the request of the Harris County prosecutor’s office. Prosecutors had alleged that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses to conceal their identities while dealing with Planned Parenthood. “The dismissal of the bogus, politically motivated charges against [Center for Medical Progress] project lead David Daleiden and investigator Sandra Merritt is a resounding vindication of the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists, and also a clear warning to any of Planned Parenthood’s political cronies who would attack whistleblowers to protect Planned Parenthood from scrutiny,” Daleiden said in a statement.

A Big Win against Birth Control Mandate

A federal judge ruled Thursday that forcing insurers to include birth control coverage despite their conflicting religious convictions is unconstitutional. The case addresses a section of Obamacare that requires insurers to pay for birth control. Missouri Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, and his wife filed a lawsuit arguing that being forced to pay for birth control coverage violates their Catholic faith. They cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the federal government cannot “substantially burden” religious rights unless the law is the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton agreed, saying the federal government cannot legally compel Wieland and his wife to pay for birth control coverage.

  • Whether or not birth control is an issue for Christians, this is an important case in defense of religious freedom.

California Religious Liberty Threat ‘Most Significant’ Ever’

A bill rushing through California’s state legislature could deliver a fatal blow to Christian education, legal experts warn. “I’ve been practicing religious freedom law for about 20 years now and I believe this bill is one of the most significant threats that there has ever been to religious freedom,” Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said at the Heritage Foundation. Hours before adjourning for July recess, a California State Senate committee advanced a bill that seeks to punish faith-based colleges and universities for holding biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. If signed into law, SB 1146 could expose schools to punitive litigation and the loss of millions in student aid. Schools wanting to avoid any penalty would have to dissolve student codes of conduct based on biblical teachings about sex and wouldn’t be able to base hiring decisions on religious convictions about sexuality, gender identity, and marriage.

Same-Sex Marriage Fallout: Woman Sues to Marry an Animal

A Kentucky woman filed a suit against County Clerk Kim Davis, among others, because the state refused to let her marry an animal. Elizabeth Ording is suing Davis, Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear. The 56-page lawsuit says Ording’s marriage to an animal wouldn’t be that different than same-sex marriage, according to WDRB. Ording says the county attorney told her she could have a wedding, but the state wouldn’t recognize the marriage. Earlier this month, Mark “Chris” Sevier filed a lawsuit against the same defendants because he was unable to marry his computer.  Sevier, a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School whose law license was suspended in 2011, previously filed similar suits in Texas and in Florida. Sevier says he is trying to prove that marriage between a same-sex couple has the same legitimacy as a human marrying an inanimate object.

Marriage and Divorce Rates Both Down in U.S.

Declining marriage and divorce rates go hand in hand and reveal a cultural skepticism about relationship definition, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation. The marriage rate has been trending downward for decades. From 2004 to 2014, the U.S. marriage rate fell by 20 percent, a drop of 8.3 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women over age 15, according to Heritage’s 2016 Index of Culture and Opportunity. The report also noted the divorce rate’s steady decline since 1979, from 5.3 per 1,000 people to 3.2 per 1,000 people in 2014—a 40 percent drop. Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First and author of the report’s essay on divorce, says, “Widespread divorce led people to believe that although relationships are good, relationship definition is risky.” Generation X children lived through the rise of the divorce culture in the ’70s and early ’80s, almost half within broken homes. The result for Gen Xers: risk avoidance, undefined relationships, and a widespread belief that marriage is just a piece of paper, she says.

Russia Accused of Playing in U.S. Politics through Hacking of Emails

Forensic evidence suggests Russian intelligence agencies were behind the release of 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee, reports the New York Times. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager argued that the emails were leaked “by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” The emails, released first by a supposed hacker and later by WikiLeaks, exposed the degree to which the Democratic apparatus favored Hillary Clinton over her primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and triggered the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, on the eve of the convention’s first day. Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult. But researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyber-operations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year.

Economic News

Consumer confidence held steady in July despite increased market volatility after the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union. A closely watched index of Americans’ perceptions of the economy and labor market dipped marginally to a still-solid 97.3 from a downwardly revised 97.4 last month, the Conference Board said Tuesday. Consumers’ view of present conditions improved while their short-term outlook worsened slightly. The measure had bounced back sharply in June after two straight drops. Consumers are benefiting from low gasoline prices, reduced household debt and solid job growth. Consumer confidence can be an indicator of spending, which makes up the majority of economic activity and was surprisingly strong in the second quarter.

Summer gas prices haven’t been this cheap since 2004 — and there are growing signs they could slip even lower. Cheap gas is being fueled by sub-$50 oil prices. But there’s another hidden force at play: a serious oversupply problem. It seems that the well-chronicled glut in crude oil has spread to gasoline and other products. Despite the fact that it’s the heart of summer driving season, the U.S. is sitting on 241 million barrels of gasoline in storage. That’s the highest level for this time of the year since the government began tracking this metric in 1990. Nationwide, average gas prices dropped to $2.18 a gallon on Friday, according to AAA. That compares with $2.32 a gallon last month and about $2.75 this time last summer. Crude crumbled to three-month lows of $42.36 a barrel on Tuesday. That leaves oil down 12% in July.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index posted 5% annual growth in May, the same as in April. It marked the fourth straight month of flat or falling home prices on an annual basis after a long string of increases. Portland, Ore., Seattle and Denver continued their lead among the 20 cities, while former front runners such as San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles lost some steam. Existing home sales also maintained a robust growth, according to figures released last week. The annual rate climbed to 5.57 million in June, the highest since February 2007.

Seven of the 10 metro areas with the nation’s highest concentrations of manufacturing jobs had unemployment rates below the 4.7% national rate in May, the latest local data available, according to figures from the Labor Department, Wells Fargo and Moody’s Analytics. The overall U.S. rate was 4.9% in June. Buffeted by automation and foreign imports that decimated the country’s manufacturing payrolls, employment in these communities is likely to remain well below pre-recession levels.  But at least the towns are growing jobs once again. Factories have been helped by the housing and auto recoveries, and they are now trying to diversify their industrial bases. Manufacturers are competing against cheaper imports by automating some functions and providing better quality and service.

Israel

In the latest indication that efforts to isolate Israel diplomatically are failing, a delegation of political and business leaders from Saudi Arabia were in Jerusalem on Friday to openly declare their interest in deepening ties with the Jewish State. However, during their meetings with Israeli leaders they made it clear that moves towards normalized ties would only come following a resolution of the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians. Despite its unofficial and low-key nature, the visit was widely reported on in the Arab world and roundly condemned by a few governments and most terrorist organizations.

Islamic State

The deadly tentacles of ISIS have spread quickly from the terrorist group’s epicenter in Iraq and Syria to points around the globe. Since declaring its caliphate in June 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has conducted or inspired more than 125 terrorist attacks in 27 countries other than Iraq and Syria, where its carnage has taken a much deadlier toll. Those attacks have killed at least 1,767 people and injured thousands more.

Iraq

Terror once again struck the streets of Iraq’s capital Sunday, after a suicide bombing killed at least 21 people in a residential neighborhood in northern Baghdad. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya, which also injured more than 35 others. Sunday’s attack came just weeks after the deadliest terror attack in war-weary Baghdad in years, when a suicide truck bomb plowed into a busy shopping district killing almost 300 people. Analysts say this demonstration of the terror group’s capacity to strike at the heart of the capital may force a delay of the long-awaited government push to retake the northern city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.

Germany

One person is dead and at least 10 hurt after an explosion at a restaurant/bar Sunday night in Ansbach, Germany. Authorities say the attacker, a 27-year-old Syrian who was denied asylum, died in the blast when the device he was carrying exploded. Carda Seidel, the mayor of Ansbach, told reporters Sunday that the blast was deliberate, the Guardian reported. The blast took place outside of a popular music festival. Ansbach is a community near Nuremberg. About 2,000 people were evacuated from the nearby, open-air music festival, the BBC reported. The Islamic State claims responsibility for suicide attack in Ansbach, Germany. The Syrian suicide bomber left behind a video on a mobile phone pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and said he was engaging in an act of revenge against Germans, Last Friday, nine people died during a shooting rampage in Munich and a week ago, several people were hurt during an ax attack on board a train in Wurzberg.

  • The free and open welcome Germany gave to Islamic migrants is turning deadly

Turkey

Turkish authorities issued warrants on Monday for the detention of 42 journalists and took 31 academics into custody, official media reported, as the government pressed ahead with a crackdown against people allegedly linked to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric following a failed coup. Security officials also conducted a raid against the military’s Istanbul-based War Academy, detaining 40 people. Prosecutors requested their detention to shed light on the coup plot and the warrants are not related to their “journalistic activities, but possible criminal conduct,” a senior official in Erdogan’s office said in a text message sent to foreign media. The government declared a three-month state of emergency and detained more than 13,000 people in the military, judiciary and other institutions following the foiled coup.

France

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a French church Tuesday in which an elderly priest was killed and four hostages seized during mass. The two attackers, whom the terror group described as “soldiers,” according to the Associated Press, were later shot and killed by police. Another person inside the church, near the Normandy city of Rouen, was seriously injured. The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency made the claim of the militants’ involvement, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremist online activity. However, it was not clear whether the assailants had direct contact with the terror group.

Somalia

Two suicide bombers detonated explosives-laden cars on Tuesday outside the U.N. Mine Action Service offices and a Somali army checkpoint in Mogadishu, killing 13 people, including seven U.N. guards, Somali police officials said. The two blasts took place near the African Union base. Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to the group’s Andalus radio station. Unlike previous attacks by al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, gunmen did not accompany the suicide bomber. Unlike previous attacks by al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, gunmen did not accompany the suicide bomber, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein. The first suicide car bomber tried to speed through the barrier at the U.N. office but guards shot at the car. A second suicide blast targeted a checkpoint manned by Somali security forces near the African Union base in Mogadishu.

Japan

At least 19 are dead and 26 injured Tuesday after a former employee of a care facility for mentally disabled people near Tokyo allegedly broke into the facility early Tuesday and went room to room stabbing patients with a knife. He was arrested without incident after he turned himself in at a police station nearby, according to Kyodo News Service. The apparently disturbed man had earlier warned authorities that he might carry out the attack, according to police and local news media. It is one of the worst mass killings in Japan since World War II. Police said the man, identified as Satoshi Uematsu, told them “I did it,” and “It’s better that the disabled disappear,” according to Kyodo. According to police, Uematsu delivered a handwritten letter to the official residence of the House of Representatives speaker in February, at about the time he left his job for personal reasons, in which he suggested that he was planning to kill people at the facility. He indicated the attack would take place at night, when fewer staff were on duty. Uematsu was hospitalized until March on the grounds that he was a threat to others; no further details on his condition or why he was released were available Tuesday.

Mexico

Two mayors were killed Saturday in Mexico. The Saturday slayings took place hundreds of miles apart and were apparently unrelated. But a group representing Mexico’s mayors isn’t waiting for more details about the attacks before it calls on government officials to take action. In a statement Sunday, the National Association of Mayors said Mexico’s government should create a system for providing stepped up security for local officials in light of the killings. Since 2006, when Mexico’s government began a crackdown on cartels and violence surged in some parts of the country, 40 mayors have been killed, according to the association.

Environment

A huge toxic algae bloom in Utah has closed one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River, sickening more than 100 people and leaving farmers scrambling for clean water for days during the hottest part of the year. The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae has spread rapidly to cover almost all of 150-square-mile Utah Lake, turning the water bright, anti-freeze green with a pea soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore. “It smells like something is rotting,” said Jason Garrett, water quality director for the Utah County Health Department. “We don’t have an idea of how long this event will last.” Toxic algae is a problem around the country. An enormous outbreak in Florida is now fouling beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area without tap water for two days. The lake is largely fed by treated wastewater as well as agricultural runoff, said Erica Gaddis, assistant director for the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Wildfires

Flames raced down a steep Southern California hillside “like a freight train,” forcing crews to evacuate another 10,000 homes by Monday as a wildfire raged through tinder-dry canyons there. The fire has destroyed at least 18 homes in northern Los Angeles County. It gained ferocious new power two days after it broke out, sending so much smoke in the air that planes making drops on it had to be grounded for part of the day Sunday. Fire officials said they’ve ordered about 20,000 residents to leave their homes. Officials said late Sunday that the blaze had burned through at least 57 square miles of brush north of Los Angeles — but that number is expected to jump Monday when better assessment is done at daylight. It’s just 10 percent contained. A burned body was discovered Saturday in an area northeast of Los Angeles Saturday. Thousands of evacuees were allowed to return to their homes just north of Los Angeles Monday night after more than 33,000 acres were scorched.

As of Monday, 31,790 wildfires have burned 3 million acres of land in the U.S. However, that is less than the 10-year average for this date (43,662 wildfires, 3.7 million acres) and much less than last year at this time (34,287 wildfires, 5.5 million acres.

Weather

Six heat-related deaths have been reported as dangerously high temperatures continue to scorch portions of the Eastern U.S. where heat advisories remain in effect into Monday. Cody Flom, 12, suffered a fatal heat stroke while hiking at the Sonoran Mountain Preserve in Phoenix on Friday, where temperatures soared to a sweltering 111 degrees. Heat indexes well over 100 degrees are expected across dozens of states in the nation’s central and eastern portions, the National Weather Service forecasts. A heat index, or the “feels like” temperature, combines the effects of temperature and humidity on the human body. Temperatures also could reach the century mark Monday afternoon in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Tropical Storm Darby hammered Hawaii with torrential downpours overnight Sunday and into Monday morning, but the island chain escaped relatively unscathed as the storm passed Monday afternoon. In just three hours’ time overnight Sunday, Darby dumped as much as 7 inches of rain on eastern Oahu. That led to ponding along Interstate H-1 near Honolulu, and the city’s police department asked drivers to stay off the roads until the flooding subsided. The heavy rains kept city crews busy dealing with numerous sewage spills across Oahu — including 42,000 gallons at the Kailua Wastewater Treatment Plant and 1,000 gallons near the Ala Moana Shopping Center. The rains also flooded Kalihi Stream on Oahu, creating a muddy scene on Dillingham Boulevard at a major intersection.

At least seven people have died and 1.2 million others were displaced from their homes in India’s northeastern state of Assam after heavy monsoon rains and flooding inundated the country. Army soldiers rescued thousands of people using boats. Many residents were stranded on the roofs of their homes and had to be taken to a safe location. Much of Assam is under water after the Brahmaputra and its tributaries breached their banks, with 18 of the state’s districts affected. Large chunks of main roads and highways have been washed away. District officials said more than 200 relief camps have been set up for flood victims.

Signs of the Times (7/22/16)

July 23, 2016

Atheists Try to Stop Schools from Visiting Ken Ham’s Ark

The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent letters to more than 1,000 school districts, warning them of the unconstitutionality of allowing students to visit Ken Ham’s newly-opened Ark Encounter. According to EAGnews.com, the FFRF sent the letters to school districts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio. The group claims that a public school field trip to the Ark Encounter, which is a life-size, interactive replica of Noah’s Ark, would “violate the Constitution and the First Amendment.” Schools are in danger of facing lawsuits because of the FFRF’s warning. Many schools fear incurring large legal costs, even if they were to defy the FFRF and win a lawsuit.

Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, and the head of Ark Encounter, offered to admit schoolchildren into the Ark for $1 and teachers for free. Admission is normally $40. Ham also issued a statement in response to the letters sent by the FFRF: “On the basis of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, public schools are absolutely free to take students on field trips (with appropriate parental permissions) to facilities like the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, provided they are for historical, recreational, or educational purposes. FFRF has no right (and no legal basis whatsoever) to intimidate government-run schools.”

Bangladesh: Thousands of Muslims Converting to Christianity Despite Persecution

Despite persecution, more and more Muslims are converting to Christianity in Bangladesh, a Muslim-dominated country. According to The Christian Post, Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population. However, the number of Christian converts is rising. Human rights organization Christian Freedom International estimates that as many as 91,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity in the country over the last six years. There are now estimated to be 1.6 million Christians in the country, which has a total population of 165 million. Christian converts know that persecution will likely follow their conversions. Sometimes, it is obvious persecution such as physical violence, torture, or rape, but sometimes the persecution is less obvious. Conversion is not forbidden by law, but pressure to recant the Christian faith will be exerted by family, friends, and neighbors. There have been several reports of Christians having to give up their shops or businesses due to the pressure by the Muslim majority.

  • It’s not despite persecution, it’s because of persecution which is how the gospel has spread from the very beginning.

40-Nation Summit Plans Next Moves against Islamic State

An unprecedented 40-nation summit on combating the Islamic State focused Thursday on bolstering the military campaign against the extremist group and countering propaganda it spreads to recruit fighters from around the world. “We are engaged in a historic effort,” Secretary of State John Kerry said of the anti-Islamic State coalition. “Nothing like this coalition has ever before been assembled. We’re not following a manual on anti-terror activities. We’re writing it.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the meeting is the first held together with both foreign and defense ministers. “We now have momentum on the ground with clear results,” Carter said, “And this week we’re making further plans, clear commitments to help us destroy” the Islamic State. Countering the Islamic State in the future will require greater sharing of intelligence and information, so police and border guards of coalition countries, Kerry said.

Islamic State Threatens Israeli/American Athletes at Olympics

As the world’s attention begins to focus on Rio, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Islamist terrorist groups have issued a call for “lone wolf” attacks at the Games against athletes and tourists from Western countries, including Israel. “One small knife attack against Americans/Israelis in these places will have bigger media effect than any other attacks anywhere else in sha Allah,” said one social media post on a jihadist site. “Your chance to take part in the global Jihad is here! Your chance to be a martyr is here!”

Terrorist Truck Driver in Nice, France had Accomplices

Terrorist truck driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had been planning the Nice attack for months and had at least five accomplices, reports the USA Today. The suspected accomplices were four men and one woman and are now in custody in Nice and were indicted Thursday on various terrorism charges. While none of the accomplices was known to intelligence agents for ties to Islamic radicalism, one of them — identified as Franco-Tunisian Ramzi A. — had been charged six times for other crimes, ranging from theft to violence, NBCNews reports. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Bouhlel “benefited from support and complicity” and regularly communicated with the five suspects arrested Thursday, sending a text to one on April 4 that read: “Load the truck with 2000 tons of iron, cut the brake and I’ll watch you.”

Russia Bombs U.S. Base in Syria

Russian warplanes reportedly bombed a secret military base in Syria used by elite American and British forces last month. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Russian strike on the CIA-linked site was part of a campaign by Russia to pressure the White House to agree to closer cooperation in the Syrian skies, U.S. military and intelligence officials said. Despite the attack, the U.S. and Russia agreed to a pact last week to target airstrikes against the Al Qaeda affiliate in the region – Nusra Front – despite objections from the Pentagon and CIA. Russia agreed to stop airstrikes on U.S.-backed rebels and restrain the Syrian air campaign. The two sides are still talking about designations where Russia would need U.S. approval to conduct an airstrike. Officials in the Pentagon and CIA contend that Washington bowed to Moscow in the deal and believe that the U.S. needs to confront Russia., the WSJ reports.

Texas Voter-ID Law Struck Down by Federal Court

A federal court ruled Wednesday that Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act prohibition on racial discrimination in elections. In its 9-6 ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 2011 voter ID law makes it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote, and asked a district court to make changes to the law before the general election in November. “The district court must ensure that any remedy enacted ameliorates [the law’s] discriminatory effect, while respecting the legislature’s stated objective to safeguard the integrity of elections by requiring more secure forms of voter identification,” the court said. The law, Senate Bill 14, requires voters to present proof of identification, including a state driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. passport, an election ID certificate, a military ID card, a concealed handgun license or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

  • We need a license to drive but we can vote without proof of citizenship?

Migrant Update

An estimated 2,977 migrants and refugees have died trying reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, the International Organization for Migration, a watchdog, said Friday. The figure represents an increase of about 50% over last year at a similar time. It will soon be the third straight year in a row that fatalities have exceeded 3,000 and much earlier than the two prior years when it took to September and October, respectively, to reach that dreadful mark. Overall, an estimated 242,179 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea in 2016, mostly via Italy and Greece. The vast majority of all the fatalities occurred on the treacherous route between Libya and Italy, said IOM spokesman Joel Millman. He said that the flows of migrants on the safer, shorter route between Turkey and Greece “have almost disappeared.”

Persecution Watch

A recent poll found that the majority of Americans want the major presidential candidates–Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump–to address the issue Christian persecution. ChristianToday.com reports that the Harris poll was commissioned by Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors Christian persecution around the world. The poll found that 76 percent of respondents said they agreed to the following statement: “It is important to me that the next US President be committed to addressing the persecution that some Christians face around the world (e.g., imprisonment, beheadings, rape, loss of home and assets).” Back in March, the U.S. officially declared ISIS atrocities against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East to be genocide. Hillary Clinton also acknowledged that “we now have enough evidence” to label the persecution of minorities in the Middle East “genocide.” David Curry, the president and CEO of Open Doors, stated: “Persecution of Christians, as well as adherents of other faiths, has grown exponentially in recent years. Governments are clamping down on religious freedom of expression, causing millions to face displacement, harassment, imprisonment, beatings and even death.”

Economic News

The U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of $19,402,361,890,929.46 as of July 20th, according to the Economic Collapse website.  When Barack Obama first entered the White House, the federal government was only 10.6 trillion dollars in debt.  That means that we have added an average of 1.1 trillion dollars a year to the national debt under Obama, who is on track to be the first president in all of U.S. history to not have a single year when the U.S. economy grew by 3 percent or better. At this point, our national debt is more than 30 times larger than it was just 40 years ago. The U.S. government is responsible for about a third of all the government debt in the entire world.

Corporate debt is exploding, on track to hit $75 trillion in the next four years from $51 trillion now, reports Money and Markets. The surge stems from $38 trillion in refinance volume and $24 trillion in fresh debt. Corporate Debt is now $5 trillion more than Standard & Poor’s most recent projection. It’s coming even as the percentage of companies considered “highly leveraged” soars, and as previous borrowers are defaulting on their bonds at a rate not seen since the Great Recession. More than 100 companies reneged on their debts in 2016 so far, up 50% from a year ago and the most since 2009.

Even with the peak travel season in full swing, gasoline prices are stuck in reverse. Gas prices have plunged to their lowest July level in 12 years, according to AAA, even as Americans are racking up more miles. In fact, gas prices have dropped in 39 out of the last 40 days, lopping 20 cents a gallon off in total during that span, according to AAA. World “petro-politics” is the cause. Leaders in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top oil producers, have held down prices to dampen production in other nations, including the resurgent oil industry in the U.S. Amid a global glut of oil inventories that has kept oil prices below $50 per barrel for most of 2016, the national average price of gas dropped to $2.19 on Thursday, marking its lowest average for this time of year since 2004.

It’s been one month since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union and British businesses are already taking a major hit. An early reading of factory and services activity in July revealed the sharpest decline in output since the height of the global financial crisis in 2007-09. Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, called the plunge “a dramatic deterioration in the economy.” The group’s flash purchasing managers index, which tracks the whole economy, slumped sharply to its lowest level in more than seven years. Output and new orders both fell for the first time since the end of 2012.

U.S. antitrust officials announced Thursday the intent to block Anthem’s planned $48 billion purchase of Cigna, as well as Aetna’s planned $34 billion purchase of Humana. The Department of Justice filed the lawsuits on Thursday, alleging the mergers would badly hurt competition in the industry. In a mid-morning press conference, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said if the deals were to proceed, American consumers would suffer. “They would leave much of the multi-trillion-dollar health insurance industry in the hands of three mammoth insurance companies, and restricting companies, and restricting competition in key markets,” she said. In a statement to FOXBusiness.com, Anthem said, “Today’s action by the Department of Justice is an unfortunate and misguided step backwards for access to affordable healthcare for America.”

U.K./E.U.

Britain will not start exit talks with the European Union until “our objectives are clear” — and that won’t be this year, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday, at her first meeting with an EU leader as the U.K. begins the long, uncertain process of leaving the bloc. May met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, on her first foreign trip as Britain’s leader. At a joint news conference, the two women conveyed a desire to work together but exhibited little sense of urgency, or even a concrete idea of how the complex divorce process will play out. May said Britain won’t invoke Article 50 of the EU constitution, triggering formal exit talks, this year. “All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations,” she said.

Islamic State

Iraq’s military and U.S.-backed opposition forces in Syria are advancing on the Islamic State’s key strongholds. “It’s fair to say we have the initiative,” Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top coalition commander, said Iraqi forces in recent weeks have made rapid advances toward the city of Mosul, while U.S.-backed opposition forces in northern Syria are advancing on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital. MacFarland and other top leaders acknowledge that tough fighting lies ahead. Both cities are home to thousands of civilians, and the U.S.-backed forces will face a complex urban battlefield, making it difficult to use airstrikes against the militants. Commanders declined to predict a timeline, but any final assault is at least still months away.

Turkey

Turkey on Wednesday intensified a sweeping crackdown on the media, the military, the courts and the education system following an attempted coup, targeting tens of thousands of teachers and other state employees for dismissal in a purge that raised concerns about basic freedoms and the effectiveness of key institutions. The Turkish government focused in particular on teachers suspected of backing Friday’s failed uprising, taking steps to revoke the licenses of 21,000 teachers at private schools and sacking or detaining half a dozen university presidents. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers run a worldwide network of schools, of fomenting the insurrection, which was quashed by security forces and protesters loyal to the government. Turkey’s government declared a three-month state of emergency Wednesday.Tthe aftermath last week’s failed coup may have damaged the U.S. ally’s ability to help fight the Islamic State, analysts said Thursday.

  • Some observers allege that President Erdogan staged the attempted coup himself in order to lay the groundwork for a more authoritarian government

Afghanistan

At least 61 people were killed and more than 200 injured Saturday when suicide bombers attacked a large demonstration in the Afghan capital of Kabul, according to officials and media reports. The demonstration was organized by ethnic Hazaras demanding that a major regional power line be rerouted through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni. The privately owned Afghan TOLOnews reported that the extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility online for the attack, saying two of its fighters detonated explosive belts during the march. The news network also quoted an unidentified high-ranking Afghan security official as saying the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was behind the attack, and that security forces killed a third bomber before he could detonate another explosive.

Germany

Germany authorities said Saturday that the 18-year-old German-Iranian who killed nine people and himself in a shooting spree acted alone and had no connection to international terrorism, but did display a fascination with mass killings. Police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters Saturday there were indications the gunman suffered from depression. He added that the shooter, who was born in Munich and held dual German-Iranian citizenship. Andrae said the shooter’s parents came to Germany in the late 1990s as asylum seekers. Authorities said there was no apparent motive for Friday’s attack by the teenage gunman whose name was not released.  The dead included three “youngsters,” police said. Three people among the 27 injured in the attack remained in critical condition. The shooting began Friday evening outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the northern section of Munich and later erupted at the Olympia shopping mall. The gunman sent out online invitations about a bogus free giveaway to attract more people to the site of the attack, investigators said.

Nigeria

A humanitarian catastrophe is underway in northeastern Nigeria’s war-torn Borno State, where at least 500,000 people are in urgent need of food, medical care, water, and shelter, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned Thursday. As the Nigerian army regains control of towns and villages in the conflict with Boko Haram, the extent of the emergency is becoming more apparent. Many people have been cut off from the outside world for as long as two years. Displaced people now living in towns controlled by the military are entirely dependent on outside aid and many are suffering from malnutrition due to insufficient food supplies. “Aid agencies must deploy a massive relief operation to respond to this humanitarian emergency,” said Dr. Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations.

China

There have been a number of anti-U.S. protests in China over the outcome of a United Nations tribunal that ruled against Beijing in its spat with the Philippines over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese nationalists have protested at KFC outlets and called for boycotts of the fast-food chain while photos and video circulating online and on social media show people wearing scarves and banners with patriotic slogans smashing Apple iPhones in protest. The case against China was brought by U.S. ally the Philippines but the protesters’ public anger has been fueled in part by Chinese government accusations that Washington encouraged Manila to oppose Beijing’s claims to the vast tracts of ocean.

Environment

Several Southern California beaches remained closed Thursday after more than two million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the streets of Los Angeles earlier this week. A buried pipe collapsed near the downtown area on Monday, causing a blockage and spill of 2.4 million gallons of foul-smelling sewage that poured into streets and storm drains that feed into the Los Angeles River which empties into Long Beach Harbor 20 miles downstream. About 4 miles of coastline in Long Beach and a mile in neighboring Seal Beach have been closed. Health officials must record two consecutive days of test results showing the beaches are safe before they can be reopened.

Wildfires

Flames lit up the evening sky as a wildfire marched across hillsides north of Los Angeles, blackening thousands of acres, fire officials said Friday. The fire also created a huge cloud of smoke that wafted across the metropolis. As of 9:45 p.m. PT Friday, the fire had burned 3,327 acres, the Los Angeles County Fire Department reported. The Sand Fire broke out in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles as afternoon temperatures neared 100 degrees. The wildfire was burning through heavy brush on hillsides tinder dry from a subpar year for rain in Southern California. It broke out along the Antelope Valley Freeway. The orange flames were visible from Los Angeles’ upscale west side.

A wildfire raging just south of Anchorage, Alaska, is inching toward homes after closing the only highway leading south out of the city to all but one lane for a 5-mile stretch. An increase in winds late Monday night and early Tuesday caused the 600-acre McHugh fire to flare up, sending rocks and burning debris onto the Seward Highway. A pilot car had been leading traffic on the highway between Mileposts 108 and 113. The fire was just over a mile away from Potter Valley and homes in Rainbow Valley late Tuesday afternoon.

Weather

A massive dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere is gripping the nation’s midsection this week with dangerously hot temperatures and high humidity. The National Weather Service issued heat alerts for more than a dozen states in the central U.S., from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin to Louisiana on Wednesday. For the first time in at least a decade, portions of the nation’s three largest metro areas — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — were all under heat wave alerts Friday morning. Other big cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix and Minneapolis were also under heat watches, warnings or advisories. Washington, D.C., could join that list Saturday. In all, 122 million Americans in 26 states were under heat alerts, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will approach or surpass 100 degrees over a large area Friday. Combined with an extremely humid air mass this will result in dangerous heat indices well above 100 degrees and even as high as 115 degrees for some areas.

Strong storms clobbered Iowa Tuesday with heavy rain, leaving thousands without power and flooding roadways in Des Moines. The slow-moving cluster of thunderstorms dumped extremely heavy rainfall over parts of Iowa, prompting the National Weather Service to issue flash flood warnings, as roadways became flooded and impassable, and rivers and streams overflowed their banks. At least two reported tornadoes were spotted, but no damage was reported.

At least 154 people have died and 124 are left missing in northern China due to some of the region’s worst flooding in years, officials said Saturday. The deluge was triggered by torrential rain that led to landslides and destroyed homes across the country. A majority of the fatalities were reported in the northern province of Hebei. The provincial Department of Civil Affairs announced 114 people had been killed and 111 others were missing. In the city of Xingtai, 25 people were killed and another 13 were missing. The Xingtai village of Daxian was swamped by a flash flood early Wednesday as residents were asleep. Eight people, including three children, were killed and another was missing in the flood. Authorities blamed extraordinary rainfall and a failure of a river levee near the village for the sudden water surge.

Signs of the Times (7/19/16)

July 19, 2016

Baton Rough Killer Ambushed Police Officers

The man who fatally shot three law enforcement officers here and wounded three others before being killed by the police on Sunday morning “was targeting officers,” state police officials said Monday. “Our preliminary investigation shows that he definitely ambushed those officers,” Lt. J.B. Slaton, a public affairs commander for the Louisiana State Police, said in a phone interview Monday morning with the New York Times. Like the gunman who killed five police officers more than a week ago in Dallas, Mr. Long had served abroad in the military. On Sunday night, about half a dozen police vehicles went racing up the quiet tree-lined street in Kansas City, that is listed as his address. The officers blocked off the street — ordering reporters out of the area and advising neighbors to stay indoors. An unidentified man emerged from the house voluntarily and was taken into custody.

The Louisiana gunman who shot at a half-dozen Baton Rouge police officers Sunday, killing three of them, reportedly assumed an outspoken persona online who railed against the police and the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Law enforcement sources told The Advocate that Gavin Eugene Long’s military records matches that of a so-called “spiritual advisor,” life coach and author named Cosmo Setepenra. Long served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years, starting in 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, according to The Advocate. The paper reported that he posted a video in a YouTube series called Convos with Cosmos titled “Protesting, Oppression and how to deal with Bullies,” where he talked about Sterling’s death and the protests that came after it. “If y’all wanna keep protesting, do that, but for the serious ones, the real ones, the alpha ones, we know what it’s going to take,” Setepenra said. “Revenue and blood. Nothing else.”

Police Officer Deaths from Guns Up 72%

The shooting deaths of three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday pushed the number of law enforcement fatalities past a tragic benchmark. As of Sunday, 31 law enforcement officers were shot to death in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which keeps data on officers killed on the job. That’s up 72% from this time last year, when there were 18 gun-related deaths. In total, firearms were responsible for 41 of 123 officer fatalities in 2015, according to the memorial fund, but it was not the No. 1 cause of death. Traffic-related incidents, such as automobile and motorcycle crashes, caused 48 deaths. Things such as drownings, electrocutions, falls and fire-related incidents led to 34 additional deaths.

Thousands of Christians Flood the Nation’s Capital to Pray for Our Nation

In the sweltering summer heat, thousands of Christians gathered near the Washington Monument on Saturday to pray for a “broken” America. Nick Hall, a young evangelical Christian and leader of the Pulse ministry, organized the event to encourage young Christians to unite in prayer for the problems in the world and then take action, the Religion News Service reports. “We believe #JesusChangesEverything,” the organizers said. The hashtag became a trending topic on Twitter during the event. “We believe there’s power in coming together. Jesus promised whenever two or more come together in His name, He is present. It’s emboldening to join with others, to know we’re not alone, to realize we can do more together than apart.” Speakers at the event avoided talking too much about politics. Instead, they focused on praying for an end to violence and suffering, and restored protections for the vulnerable all across the world.

Christian Billboard Taken Down in Favor of Atheist Billboard at Republican Convention

A Christian-themed billboard at the Republican National Convention has been rejected, and an atheist billboard has been approved in its place at the Quicken Loans Arena. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the billboard was to feature the Christian film “God’s Not Dead 2,” which is soon to be released to DVD. The proposed billboard would have featured a picture of actress Melissa Joan Hart, who plays the lead character in the film, along with the words, “I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.” The billboard company Orange Barrel Media initially seemed set to approve the billboard but just days before the convention they told Pure Flix, the distributor of the film, that the billboard has been rejected because its message is “too political” and “way too incendiary.” The convention will, however, feature a billboard sponsored by the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation featuring a picture of Ronald Reagan and the quote, “We establish no religion in this country… Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”

Republicans Adopt Most Pro-Life Platform Ever

On a voice vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio today, GOP delegates from every state and territory in the nation adopted what pro-life advocates consider to be the strongest pro-life platform the Republican party has ever adopted, reports LifeNews.com. Historically, the party has been a champion for the right to life, with its platform recognizing “that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” The new platform calls for an end to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and a ban on the use of aborted babies’ body parts in research. The new GOP platform also would condemn the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet basic health and safety standards. It also calls for new Supreme Court judges who will reverse the decision and uphold the right to life for unborn babies, the report states.

Pastor Warns That Pokémon Go is ‘Magnet for Demonic Powers’

Pokémon Go has become the new craze. Kids and adults alike have been playing the game which involves using the Pokémon Go app to find Pokémon characters in real-life places. While some believe the game is simply a fun way to spend time, a number of Christians have warned that it may pose more serious dangers. There have already been game-related fatalities. U.S. pastor Rick Wiles, who runs the Trunews website, believes the game is also dangerous on a spiritual level, noting that the game “is a magnet for demonic powers.” Wiles added that “these Pokémon creatures are like virtual cyber-demons.”

McDonalds and Starbucks Now Filtering Its Wi-Fi for Porn

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation partnered with Enough is Enough on its campaign to get McDonalds and Starbucks to filter their public Wi-Fi to prevent public access to pornography. In the first quarter of 2016, McDonald’s began to implement its new filtered Wi-Fi policy in its corporate-owned restaurants in the U.S., and made the same service available to their franchisees. “This policy change to offer filtered Wi-Fi is a huge victory,” NCOSE said. “Now the majority of McDonald’s restaurants will offer safer Wi-Fi for their patrons and will no longer be contributing to the public health crisis of pornography.”

Update on Attack in Nice

There is no evidence linking the truck driver who killed 84 people in Nice with the Islamic State despite the group’s claim that the attacker was a “soldier” for the organization, France’s interior minister said Monday. While Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in Nice, may have been inspired by the terrorist network any “links for now have not been established by the investigation.” Meanwhile, Bouhlel’s uncle told the Associated Press that his nephew was indoctrinated about two weeks ago by an Algerian member of the Islamic State in Nice. Nearly 60 people remain hospitalized after the attack last Thursday, 29 of them in intensive care. More than 300 people were injured overall. The French government has come under pressure for failing to thwart the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months.

Even though Muslims were among those killed and wounded by the rampaging truck in Nice, many Muslims now fear that their entire community will be the target of blame, just as French Muslims were victims of hate crimes following two terror attacks in Paris in January and November 2015. “Life in Nice won’t be the same again,” said Nora Louzgani, 20, a university student from Morocco who was one of the thousands of celebrants on the waterfront when the truck drove over people for more than a mile before police shot the Muslim driver.

More Young Adults Now Live with Parents

Living with mom and dad is now the most popular housing choice for 18 to 34-year Americans, according to Pew Research. This is the first time that has happened since the U.S. Census started keeping records about living arrangements over 130 years ago. “Any stigma that used to exist isn’t there anymore,” says Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew. The “live at home” trend is especially popular among men under 35. A whopping 35% of young adult men in America now live with their parent(s), versus just 29% of young women. Young men are delaying marriage and all the usual trappings that come with it like home buying and kids. The main reason? Money, or the lack of it. “Men who don’t have jobs are much more likely to live at home,” says Parker, and “men without jobs are much less likely to be married.”

Economic News

U.S. consumer prices increased for a fourth straight month in June as Americans paid more for housing, gasoline and healthcare, pointing to steadily rising inflation pressures. The Labor Department said on Friday its Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in May. In the 12 months through June, the CPI advanced 1.0 percent. The year-on-year increase remains below the 1.7 percent average annual increase over the last 10 years. The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, also rose 0.2 percent in June, rising by the same margin for three consecutive months. That lifted the year-on-year core CPI gain to 2.3 percent from 2.2 percent in May. This increase is slightly higher than the average annual rate of 1.9 percent over the past 10 years.

Housing starts and building permits improved modestly in June, as the housing market continued a slow but steady recovery. New-home construction jumped 4.8% in June to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.189 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Building permits increased 1.5 % to 1.15 million, heralding future gains in starts. Home prices and sales both grew at solid paces in recent months. The median home value in the United States is $186,100. United States home values have gone up 5.4% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 2.9% within the next year.

The global economy is expected to grow a bit more slowly than expected because of the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday. The IMF attributed its surprisingly mild downward revision despite the so-called Brexit vote to better-than-expected world growth so far this year and the Fund’s assumption that the uncertainty fomented by the decision will gradually ebb. It also pointed to the sharp rebound in financial markets following an initial post- Brexit sell-off. The agency expects global growth of 3.1% this year and 3.4% in 2017. The U.S. economy is expected to be largely unaffected by Brexit as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates lower for longer.

Persecution Watch

Christians in central Egypt gathered for protests and prayers Monday after officials said a Muslim mob attacked priests with knives and batons, leaving one person dead in the chaos. The fighting may have stemmed from an argument over whether Christian or Muslim children had priority to pass through a street, the English-language site Ahram Online reported. The attack came months after an armed Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman and paraded her naked on the streets while looting and torching seven Christian homes in the same area, security officials said. Three people, including the father of one of the priests, were wounded, investigators said. Police arrested four people after the attack. Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population.

Islamic State

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility Saturday for inspiring the truck attack in the French resort city of Nice as police detained five people thought to be linked to the man who killed 84 people and wounded more than 200 others. The Islamic State did not refer to the suspect by name, saying only that a “soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens in “Crusader states.”

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an ax and knife rampage on a German commuter train that injured at least five people, the group said in a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency Tuesday. The statement said the attacker, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was a member of the Islamic State group and carried out the attack in response to its calls to attack countries that are members of an anti-Islamic State coalition. The assailant was shot dead by police as he fled the scene.

Syria

Airstrikes on Islamic State-held villages in northern Syria killed at least 56 civilians on Tuesday as intense fighting was underway between the militants and U.S-backed fighters, Syrian opposition activists said. Residents in the area blamed the U.S.-led coalition for the strikes that targeted two villages, Tokhar and Hoshariyeh, which are controlled by the Islamic State, activists said. The villages are near the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij, a town that members of the predominantly Kurdish U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces have been trying to capture in a weeks-long offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 56 civilians, including 11 children, were killed in the strikes on the villages, which also wounded dozens.

Turkey

Government forces crushed a coup attempt, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday. Erdogan vowed retribution after a chaotic night of clashes between loyalists and rebels that left over 200 people dead. Erdogan said the coup’s supporters — rogue elements in the military — would “pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey” and that “those who stain the military’s reputation must leave. Turkey has detained about 6,000 people in a government crackdown on alleged coup plotters and government opponents, the Justice Ministry announced Sunday. Turkish authorities moved to widen their purge of perceived opponents on Monday by removing thousands of police officers from their posts. Turkey’s ministry of education announced Tuesday it sacked 15,200 personnel, including 1,577 university deans, for alleged involvement with a group the government claims plotted Friday’s deadly failed coup, in the latest mass crackdown against government workers there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup attempt and he called for his extradition Saturday Political instability in Turkey, a NATO member and critical U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism, could pose a setback for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and sermons blaring from speakers continue to echo throughout the cosmopolitan districts of Istanbul in the wake of Friday’s failed military coup, creating a “surreal” scene and stoking fears a nation that remained proudly secular for the last century could be hurtling down the path to full-blown Islamic rule, reports FoxNews.com.

Iran

Key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will start to ease years before the 15-year accord expires, advancing Tehran’s ability to build a bomb even before the end of the pact, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press. The diplomat who shared the text with the AP described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal in the form of a document submitted by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining its plans to expand its uranium enrichment program after the first 10 years of the nuclear deal.

Two days before the anniversary of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, the Islamic Republic attempted to launch a new type of ballistic missile using North Korean technology, multiple intelligence officials told Fox News. The test, in violation of a UN resolution, failed shortly after liftoff when the missile exploded, sources said. The effort occurred on the evening of July 11-12 near the Iranian city of Saman, an hour west of Isfahan, where Iran has conducted similar ballistic missile tests in the past. It would be at least the fourth time Iran has launched or attempted to launch a ballistic missile since the nuclear accord was signed on July 14, 2015. Iran is barred from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years under UN Resolution 2231, which went effect July 20, 2015, days after the nuclear accord was signed.

Armenia

A group of armed men took over a police station in the Armenian capital Yerevan Sunday, taking an unknown number of people hostage. The armed group showed up in trucks ramming through the gates of the police headquarters and took control of the building Sunday morning. The armed men demanded the release of Jirair Sefilian, an opposition leader and former military official, who was arrested in June. Sefilian, a harsh critic of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, spoke out again the government’s role in the ongoing conflict between pro-Armenian separatists and the breakaway Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

North Korea

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into its eastern sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said. The launch came as an apparent retaliatory protest at South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in the country. Two of the missiles traveled between 310 to 375 miles, a sufficient range to reach South Korea. South Korea and the U.S. maintain they need the missile defense system because of volatile and aggressive moves from North Korea, which carried out its fourth nuclear test in January. North Korea is pushing to develop a long-range nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the mainland U.S. Defense officials believe the North does not yet possess such a weapon.

Russia

An investigation by the global agency that polices drug cheating in sports has found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Russian government ran a widespread doping regime for years in multiple Olympic sports, calling into question whether any Russian athletes should be permitted to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. Russia’s ministry of sport covered up positive doping results by Olympic athletes for years in both Summer and Winter Olympic sports, the investigation found, and Russian intelligence agents participated in an elaborate covert scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to replace tainted urine samples of cheating Russian athletes with clean ones.

Venezuela

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighboring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year. A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices. President Nicolas Maduro ordered the 1,378-mile border shut in August 2015 to clamp down on criminal gangs smuggling goods and gasoline across the border that were sold at subsidized prices in Venezuela. Maduro blames the shortages of food, medicine and basic staples in Venezuela on his opponents, who he accuses of trying to sow economic chaos to oust him from office. His critics accuse his socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Earthquakes

A small but rare earthquake struck about 100 miles off Daytona Beach, Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnitude 3.7 earthquake struck around 4 p.m. Saturday. There are no reports of damage or that it was felt on land. In June, another earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 hit off the coast of St. Augustine. According to the Florida’s Department Environmental Protection, the sunshine state sits on a section of the North American Plate that is less active than the section situated under California. The mysterious “earthquake” detected off the Florida coast over the weekend was actually the result of testing by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Geological Survey officials said Monday. The pseudo-earthquake triggered by a manmade explosion of a 10,000-pound bomb designed to test the seaworthiness of a new U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Jackson.

Wildfires

In northern Arizona, wind gusts and low humidity have refueled a 2-week-old wildfire near the highway that allows tourists to get to the lodge, restaurant and main campgrounds on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The lightning-caused Fuller fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon grew to 11,382 acres overnight and is burning out of control, according to a Sunday update from fire officials. Firefighters aim to hold the fire east of Cape Royal Road, according to fire officials. The northern area of the fire moved from the wilderness into South Canyon Point grass areas in the Kaibab National Forest. “We are balancing the need to protect resources where appropriate while still allowing the fire to spread naturally where it is safe to do so,” Deputy Incident Commander Rick Miller said in a statement.

Weather

Weather forecasters warn that some of the hottest temperatures of the season may sear a large portion of the United States this week. Very high humidity is expected to accompany the heat, especially in the Midwest, and that will create what’s known as a “heat dome” over most of the country. Only the Northwest will be spared. Forecasters say the heat index, which measures what the temperature really feels like when you add in the humidity will likely reach the dangerous category, increasing the risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death.

A line of severe thunderstorms moved across the Northeast on Monday and was blamed for one death in New Jersey. Every major Northeastern airport was forced into a ground stop Monday afternoon by the storms. Those ground stops spanned every major airport from Boston Logan International Airport down to the three airports in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. According to the National Weather Service, spotters saw a tornado near Woodland, Maine. Tornadoes in Maine and New Hampshire are rare, according to weather.com.


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