Signs of the Times (12/3/16)

December 3, 2016

French Government Votes to Ban Pro-Life Websites

The socialist government of France passed a bill after one day’s debate that criminalizes websites that might dissuade women from abortion, reports LifeSiteNews.com. The “digital interference” bill is aimed at cracking down on French websites that would, in the words of the bill, “deliberately mislead, intimidate and/or exert psychological or moral pressure to discourage recourse to abortion.” Convicted website owners could face two years in prison and fines up to 30,000 euros ($31,799 USD). The majority left voted in a block for the bill while the minority right formed a block against it. Bruno Retailleau, who heads the Republicans party group in the Senate, told French radio Thursday that the bill “is totally against freedom of expression.” Christian Democratic Party member Jean-Frederic Poisson also blasted the bill  on Twitter for what he saw as the government’s double standard in banning sites that propose “alternatives” to abortion but not “jihadist websites.”

Criminal Charges Filed Against Priest for Praying Outside Planned Parenthood

Father James Linton was arrested last month outside the San Bernardino Planned Parenthood for offering to pray with women entering the abortion facility. Police held him for six hours and later charged him with criminal trespass. If convicted, Father Linton could be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine, reports LifeNews.com. When he was arrested, Father Linton, an Anglican pastor, was standing on a public easement offering incoming mothers and fathers alternatives to abortion and praying for them to change their minds. “The arrest of Father Linton is an outrageous violation of his First Amendment rights,” stated Allison Aranda, Senior Staff Counsel for the Life Legal Defense Foundation. Father Linton was doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to speak freely on the public sidewalk and rights of way in their community. They are not violating the law. “In fact, the code section under which Father Linton was charged specifically exempts from criminal liability those who are engaging in activities protected by the California and United States Constitutions,” Ms. Aranda noted.

Immigration Violations Constitute the Majority of Federal Cases

For the first time, immigration violations now make up more than half of all federal prosecutions, easily outpacing drugs, fraud, organized crime, weapons charges and other crimes. In the last fiscal year, 52 percent of all federal prosecutions – 69,636 cases – involved an immigration violation, compared to 63,405 prosecutions for all other federal crimes, according to a new study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse, which sued the Justice Department to obtain the information. The two most common charges pursued by prosecutors relate to illegal entry or re-entry to the U.S. The penalty for a conviction on either charge can range from a few months to typically two years in federal prison for a person who re-enters the U.S. after being deported. However, a more serious outcome from a conviction isn’t jail, but a 10-year prohibition from entering the U.S. “Imagine the other crimes that are not being prosecuted because immigration is such a priority,” study co-author Susan Long told Fox News.

2/3 Of Aliens Admitted Under Obama’s ‘Minor’ Program Are Adults

Recent government data shows that more than two-thirds of the aliens brought into the United States under the Obama’s Central American Minors (CAM) program weren’t actually minors at all, reports MRCTV.com. To date, more than 10,600 Central Americans from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have applied for refugee status or humanitarian parole under the CAM program, the State Department said Wednesday. The controversial initiative was launched in December 2014 as part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigrant, and was touted as a way to bring illegal alien children from certain Central American countries into the United States to be reunited with their families, who are often here illegally themselves. The move was allegedly designed to keep underage children from relying on dangerous human smugglers to bring them across the U.S. –Mexico border illegally. Unfortunately, the program struggled to convince potential applicants that its long, extensive application process was more appealing than simply paying a smuggler to transport them across the border. To help bolster the floundering program, the administration expanded CAM in August to include adult relatives of “qualifying” children, effectively nullifying the original point of the program.

Obama Strikes ‘Classified’ Deal to Accept 2,500 Refugees Australia Rejected

Nearly 2,500 refugees from terrorism hotspots around the world are bound for the U.S. after being rejected by Australia, but not even top lawmakers can get answers about who they are, reports Fox News. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. State Department has classified details on refugees to be resettled in America via a secret deal made with Australia. The bi-lateral agreement, which Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a “one-off,” involves 2,465 people currently being held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru who will now be transferred onto U.S. soil. “This is a backroom deal, wheeling and dealing with another country’s refugee problem,” Center for Immigration Studies fellow Don Barnett told FoxNews.com. “I don’t believe for a moment it’s a one-time deal. That’s for public consumption.”

Philippines President Duterte says Trump Wished his Drug Crackdown ‘Success’

President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday Donald Trump wished his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs would succeed during a telephone call, and he assured the U.S. president-elect the Philippines would maintain its ties with America — a departure from Duterte’s hostility toward the Obama administration. Duterte called to congratulate Trump late Friday in their first talk that was described by an aide of the Philippine president as “very engaging, animated conversation” in which both leaders invited each other to visit his country. In a video released by Duterte’s close aide, Bong Go, the Philippine leader is seen smiling while talking to Trump and saying: “We will maintain … and enhance the bilateral ties between our two countries.” The other parts of the conversation were not aired in the video but in a statement released by his aides, Duterte said “he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.” Duterte’s crackdown has encouraged violence against drug dealers which much of the international community has condemned.

China Lodges Complaint over Trump-Taiwan Call

China’s foreign ministry said Saturday it has lodged a complaint with the United States over a controversial phone call between President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President that has overturned decades of diplomatic protocol. China views Taiwan as a renegade province and, since 1979, the US has acknowledged Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China, with US-China relations governed by a set of protocols known as the ‘one China’ policy. This means there are no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan — so Trump’s decision to take Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s call could risk a major upset. Trump’s transition team said Friday that the President-elect had chatted with Tsai, who passed along her congratulations. The chat marks the first publicly reported call between a US President or President-elect and the leader of Taiwan since Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. Trump on Friday night emphasized that Taipei initiated the call. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” tweeted the President-elect.

  • Trump promised to shake things up and he is doing so. Whether it turns out well remains to be seen.

Wisconsin Recount Underway, Much Ado About Nothing

The first results in Thursday evening from the recount in Wisconsin were from Menominee County. Trump lost two votes compared to the initial count and Democrat Hillary Clinton lost one, according to The Journal Times. Stein gained 17 votes and Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up 12 — a discrepancy the state Elections Commission reported was due to “human error” in which their vote totals from certain wards were omitted from the initial tally. They have until December 13th to finish the recount of nearly 3 million votes, so they’re likely to find more discrepancies like this. But Trump won the state by 22,000 votes, so a few missed votes here and there aren’t likely to change anything.

Trump Vows to Cut All Business Ties

Donald Trump promised Wednesday to ‘remove’ himself from his businesses and said he will announce details in two weeks about how he’ll avoid conflicts of interest when he is president. Trump used his favorite method of communicating with the public — Twitter — to announce plans for a “major news conference” on Dec. 15 to discuss plans to leave the Trump Organization. His adult children, whom he has said he will put in charge of the company, will be a part of the news conference. Trump owns or has a position in more than 500 companies, according to a CNN analysis. That includes about 150 that have done business in at least 25 foreign countries, including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There have been growing questions about the potential conflicts of interest posed by Trump’s continued business interests and his role as president.

Trump’s Health Secretary Would Replace Obamacare

Tax credits to buy insurance on the individual market. Incentives to sock money away in Health Savings Accounts. Limits on employer-sponsored plans. High-risk pools to cover the sick. These are some of the ways Tom Price, Donald Trump’s choice as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, would replace Obamacare. An orthopedic surgeon who chairs the House Budget Committee, Price has long been an opponent of Obamacare. The Georgia Republican says the health reform law has hiked premiums and limited access to doctors.

Trump Treasury Secretary Promises Huge Tax Overhaul

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection for Treasury secretary says tax reform will be his top priority and promises the largest tax overhaul since the Reagan administration. Steven Mnuchin, a former Wall Street insider who ran an eclectic series of businesses before becoming a Hollywood producer, confirmed that he was Trump’s pick for the Treasury job, which has vast responsibility for regulating the financial industry and oversees the IRS. Mnuchin told CNBC he expects interest rates to stay relatively low for the next two years. He also said Janet Yellen has done a “good job” as Federal Reserve chair.

‘King of Debt’ Hires ‘King of Bankruptcy’ as Commerce Secretary

The self-proclaimed King of Debt has chosen someone that Wall Street has dubbed the King of Bankruptcy to be his Commerce Secretary. Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who is known for buying up distressed and failing companies, is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the job, reports CNN Money. That news, combined with the nomination of former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood executive Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, shows that Trump wants businessmen — and not career politicians — in key financial posts.

Trump Nominate Retired Marine Gen. Mattis as Secretary of Defense

President-elect Donald Trump kicked off his post-election “Thank You” tour Thursday by announcing that he would nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense. At a rally in Cincinnati, Trump described Mattis as “one of our great, great generals” and added, “They say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have,” Trump told the crowd. Mattis’ record in combat and his credentials as a senior commander are widely admired. The 66-year-old Mattis, known by his nickname, “Mad Dog,” retired from the military in 2013 after serving as the commander of the U.S. Central Command. General Mattis’ tour of duty was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran. His appointment to run the Pentagon would require a waiver from Congress, since federal law requires military personnel to be retired for seven years before taking a civilian position in the in the Department of Defense.

Persecution Update

November was a tragically painful month for Christians living in Nigeria. The month was filled with anti-Christian violence, but not necessarily from the fearsome terrorists at Boko Haram, reports Liberty Alliance. Two separate November attacks saw about 50 Christian men, women (including pregnant women), and children slaughtered not by organized Muslim terrorists but by Muslim herdsmen. Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked two Christian villages in what Christian leaders call a campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing. The herdsmen also burned down both Protestant and Catholic churches in the region.

Economic News – Domestic

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, and the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.6% from 4.9% in October, defying forecasts of an economic downturn if Trump got elected. November was the 74th consecutive month America added jobs. However, the total size of the labor force — which includes both employed and unemployed people — decreased. “Our best answer here is that more people stopped looking for work,” says Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager at Federated Investors. “The headline numbers here are okay but the underlying numbers are less rosy.”

Air conditioning company Carrier said Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with President-elect Donald Trump that would keep 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis. Carrier had announced in February that it would lay off workers and move those jobs to Mexico. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Indiana’s outgoing governor, traveled to the state Thursday to unveil the agreement alongside company officials. “Companies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences,” Trump said Thursday at the Indiana plant where the company makes furnaces. Trump said that those consequences would include paying higher tariffs on imports.

More manufacturing jobs are coming soon to America, courtesy of China. In October, Chinese garment manufacturer Tianyuan Garments Co. sealed a deal to acquire a defunct 100,000-square foot metal fabrications plant in Little Rock, Arkansas. The $20 million investment would make Tianyuan — which produces clothes for brands like Adidas, Reebok and Armani — the first Chinese manufacturer to make clothing in the U.S. The Chinese firm expects to hire 400 American workers to run the refurbished factory, slated to open in late 2017. Tianyuan Garment is the second Chinese company in a span of six months to announce it was expanding production to the U.S. In April, Chinese paper products maker Sun Paper Industry said it was opening its first North America factory in South Arkansas, investing more than $1 billion to construct a new bio-products mill that would create 250 local jobs.

Economic News – International

After a painful two-year price war against U.S. shale, the Saudi Arabia-led cartel finally blinked this week by agreeing to stop flooding the world with excess supply. OPEC’s first production cut since 2008 reflects a recognition that hopes of drowning U.S. producers with cheap oil has failed to kill the American oil boom. In fact, the price collapse crushed the budgets of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers, creating financial stress that was unthinkable just years ago. Moreover, U.S. frackers have emerged from the oil crash stronger and leaner than before. Now they’re positioned to ramp up output at prices that were once too low to survive on. As a result, the price of crude oil spiked 14% in just the past three days, ending Friday at a 17-month high of $51.68 a barrel.

India’s gross domestic product grew by 7.3% in the quarter ended September, a slight increase from the previous quarter and much stronger than China’s 6.7%. That means India is still the fastest growing major economy in the world. The boom could come to an abrupt halt, however, because a bombshell announcement on Nov. 8 scrapping the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes has drained billions of dollars’ worth of cash from the economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise move was aimed at tackling corruption and tax evasion. But it rendered about 86% of Indian banknotes effectively worthless overnight. Millions continue to line up at banks and ATMs, which are rapidly running out of cash as the government scrambles to print and circulate new 500 rupee and 2,000 rupee notes.

Known for the punishing hours demanded by its ‘salaryman’ culture, Japan has struggled to tackle the impact of overwork on employees’ health. A recent government study found that one in five workers are at risk of working themselves to death. It’s such a big problem that Japan even has its own word for it: karoshi (death by overwork). Calls for tougher measures to deal with the issue intensified recently following the death of a 24-year-old employee at Dentsu, a major advertising agency. Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from a company dormitory in late December 2015. Last month, Tokyo officials recognized her suicide as the result of karoshi, which is defined as employees working so hard that they die from stress-related disease — or become so depressed that they kill themselves.

Children as young as eight are working at plantations that supply palm oil to some of the world’s biggest brands, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Amnesty’s investigation into plantations in Indonesia also found workers performing dangerous tasks without adequate protection. Others were paid less than the legal minimum wage or exposed to dangerous chemicals. Amnesty said some plantation workers were earning as little as $2.50 a day. The group also uncovered examples of people working unlawfully long hours without a pension, health insurance or job security.

Syria

Rebel groups in Syria’s war-ravaged Aleppo put up a united front on Thursday in a final effort to prevent regime forces from seizing the whole city. Rebels in eastern Aleppo have held ground in the Sheikh Saeed neighborhood as they continue to clash with regime troops, in an attempt to protect the southern parts of the enclave south after Syrian forces made sweeping territorial gains in the north. Syrian troops backed by militia gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad entered eastern Aleppo on Saturday and have seized the entire northeast. They are now in control of more than 20% of eastern Aleppo. At least 40 people were killed in shelling on Thursday as they were trying to flee rebel-held areas, the Aleppo Media Center said. The death toll has reached more than 600 since Saturday, according to various activist groups.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just announced that the only reason Turkish military forces have entered northern Syria is to “end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad”.  By publicly proclaiming that Turkey intends to use military force to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan has essentially declared war on the Syrian government.  This puts a member of NATO in direct military conflict with Russia, since Russia is working very hard to prop up the Assad regime. If all-out war broke out between Turkey and Russia, could that be the spark that causes wide-scale war to erupt in the Middle East? If so, would NATO and the U.S. be drawn into the conflict, igniting World War III?

  • Russia (Rosh, NKJV) has already aligned itself with Iran (Persia) as Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies, perhaps setting the stage for the Middle East conflagration that would usher in the anti-Christ who engineers the “covenant with many” as prophesied in Daniel 9:27

Iran

The Senate moved decisively Thursday to renew a decades-old sanctions law that lawmakers said gives the United States the clout to punish Iran should it fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal. Senators passed the bill unanimously, 99-0, two weeks after the House also approved the legislation by an overwhelming margin of 419-1. The bill to grant a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act will be sent to President Barack Obama, who planned to sign it. The White House deemed the bill unnecessary but said it didn’t violate the international accord meant to slow Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms. Seeking to address Iran’s concerns, White House officials emphasized that the administration can and will waive all the nuclear-related sanctions included in the renewal.

Indonesia

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians took to the streets Friday to protest Jakarta’s embattled Christian governor. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, has faced demonstrations calling for his ouster amid allegations of blaspheming the Quran. An ethnic Chinese Christian, Ahok is currently under investigation by Indonesian police over a speech he gave in which hardline Islamists claim he insulted the Quran. Ahok quoted a verse from the Muslim holy book and said that people had been “lied to” by those saying they would go to hell for voting for him. Police estimate around 200,000 people converged on Jakarta’s main square Friday for noon prayers. Islamist groups, NGOs, students and ordinary citizens came from Jakarta and other cities and towns outside the capital. Supporters of Ahok gathered Friday outside his headquarters to pray for him, according to a statement from the campaign team.

Wildfires

Wildfires in the Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have killed at least 12 people and scorched more than 15,000 acres. Several people remain missing. On Wednesday, local authorities asked residents to conserve water as much as possible as firefighting activities and the loss of water from burned structures has placed a significant burden on water resources in Gatlinburg. On Wednesday, local authorities asked residents to conserve water as much as possible as firefighting activities and the loss of water from burned structures has placed a significant burden on water resources in Gatlinburg.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes from Louisiana to the Carolinas over a two-day period wrapping up November 2016. So far, 23 tornadoes have been confirmed. This is the most number of tornadoes in any U.S. outbreak since August 24, when two dozen tornadoes were confirmed in Indiana and Ohio. Five people were killed as the storms ripped through the South early Wednesday. Three people were killed in Alabama, all in a mobile home. Another person in the home was critically injured. In addition to the reported fatalities, four children were critically injured after a 24-hour daycare center was flattened. Two others were killed in Tennessee.

Fall 2016 was the warmest on record for dozens of U.S. cities from southern New England to the Great Lakes, Southeast, central and southern Plains and Desert Southwest. At least 73 locations tied or broke their previous warmest September through November period in 2016. Among the cities setting records, Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and even Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, crushed their previous fall records from 1931 – a Dust Bowl year. Fall 2016 was “runner-up” warm in the fall record books of another 87 cities, from Caribou, Maine, to Minot, North Dakota, to Salem, Oregon, to Houston. Salt Lake City set a record warm fall for the second year in a row. Despite colder weather in November, America’s northernmost town, Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), about 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, also had their record warmest fall. One of America’s southernmost cities, Brownsville, Texas, also easily soared past their previous record warmest fall from 2004.

  • The Bible prophesies scorching heat, large hail and floods for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (11/29/16)

November 29, 2016

Jesus Named King of Poland

Jesus was named King of Poland at a ceremony Saturday attended by Poland’s president Andrzej Duda. The ceremony took place at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow. The ceremony coincided with the end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy and the 1050th anniversary of Polish Christianity. “In our hearts, rule us, Christ! In our families, rule us, Christ! … In our schools and universities, rule us, Christ,” the ceremony’s prayer said. “Through the Polish nation, rule us, Christ! … We pledge to defend your holy worship and preach Thy royal glory, Christ our King, we promise. We entrust the Polish people and Polish leaders to you. Make them exercise their power fairly and in accordance with your laws. … rule us, Christ! Reign in our homeland and reign in every nation – for the greater glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the salvation of mankind.”

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls to Lowest in Decades

The abortion rate has decreased to its lowest level in decades according to a new report issued earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It included data from 47 states through 2013, the last year for which statistics were available. The CDC data is incomplete because the government does not require states to report abortion numbers. The report did not include information from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. In 1971, two years prior to the ruling in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion, the CDC reported a low abortion rate, but that rate went up dramatically by 1980 when there were 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In 2013, however, the abortion rate dropped to half of what it was in 1980. Only 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 were recorded in 2013, totaling 664,435 abortions. The data also showed a 5% drop from 2012 and a 20% drop since 2004. But the good news does not extend to the African-American Community. Constituting just 13% of the U.S. population, 35% of the babies killed in abortions are black babies.

Islamist Ohio State Attacker Wounds Ten

Abdul Razak Artan was identified as he man who plowed a car into a crowd at Ohio State University before stabbing several pedestrians with a butcher knife on Monday. Artan is said to have referred to American-born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a “hero” on his social media accounts. Law enforcement sources told Fox News on Tuesday that the reference of al-Awlaki on social media accounts is “deeply concerning” because it could suggest he was self-radicalized before launching the attack. The Islamic State group has urged sympathizers online to carry out lone-wolf attacks in their home countries with whatever weapons are available to them. The Somali-born student had only recently transferred to the university. Numerous calls for greater gun control resounded before it became clear that only a car and knife were employed.

Post-Election Nation Deeply Divided

After a bruising presidential election featuring the two least liked major-party candidates in recent history, more than 8-in-10 Americans say the country is more deeply divided on major issues this year than in the past several years, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And more than half say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S. Almost 8-in-10 also say the Republicans should make an effort to include Democratic policies in any legislation they pass rather than sticking to a GOP-driven agenda. And most say they would like to see President-elect Donald Trump, who won with an Electoral College majority despite trailing in the popular vote nationwide, pursue policies that could draw in new supporters rather than appeal solely to those who backed him during the campaign. Less than half, 40%, say that Trump’s win means he has a mandate to pursue the agenda his supporters favor.

  • Frequently, politicians, and many ordinary Americans, refer to the United States as a democracy. It is not and never has been. In a democracy, citizens vote directly on laws. In the United States, elected representatives do that and, therefore, the U.S. is a republic.

Green Party Files for Wisconsin Recount

Green Party officials filed Friday for a recount in Wisconsin, following reports of voting discrepancies, and were seeking a deeper investigation into the election results, which handed the state to Donald Trump two weeks ago. Wisconsin Green Party co-chairman George Martin said that they were seeking a “reconciliation of paper records” — a request that would go one step further than a simple recount, spurring, he said, an investigation into the integrity of the state’s voting system. The announcement came as Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s Thanksgiving fundraising blitz passed $5 million. The money is well beyond the $2 million mark the Green Party initially set, and Wisconsin party officials said that any additional money not used for the recount would be used to train Green Party candidates for local office. Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join the effort in Wisconsin and the pursuit of a new count in two other states, the New York Times reported Sunday. Clinton officials have moved to explore “any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally” in key battlegrounds, reports the Washington Post.

Trump’s Businesses and Politics Could Become Intertwined

Donald Trump’s election may usher in a world in which his stature as the U.S. president, the status of his private ventures across the globe and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined, the Washington Post opined Saturday. In that world, Trump could personally profit if his election gives a boost to his brand and results in its expansion overseas. His political rise could also enrich his overseas business partners — and, perhaps more significantly, enhance their statuses in their home countries and alter long-standing diplomatic traditions by establishing them as new conduits for public business. Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency, the Post asserts. Several stalled overseas Trump Towers suddenly sparked to life in Georgia (a former Soviet republic) and Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, foreign government leaders seeking to speak with Trump have reached out to the president-elect through his overseas network of business partners.

Six Mosques Receive Letters Calling for Genocide

An anonymous group calling itself “Americans for a Better Way” has sent a letter to at least five California mosques, according to the Council for Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group. A sixth letter was sent to a mosque in Savannah, according to the group. The anonymous author addressed the letter “to the children of Satan” and called Muslims “a vile and filthy people.” “There’s a new sheriff in town,” the letter said, “President Donald Trump. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews,” the letter said. “You muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”

  • Trump has disavowed such groups but their venom continues to spread

Dakota Pipeline Protesters Ordered Out by Dec. 5

A new confrontation is brewing over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters fighting pipeline construction must vacate property near the Cannonball River in North Dakota — the location of a large campsite for demonstrators — by December 5 or face arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” Col. John Henderson of the Corps said in a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leader. Tribal Chairman Cave Archambault II issued a statement blasting the Corps, but didn’t say exactly how the tribe would respond. Protesters said they will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday.

Millions Opt for Penalties Over Obamacare

While millions of people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 28 million Americans remain uninsured. Preliminary data shows that about 5.6 million paid a tax penalty rather than buy health insurance in 2015, according to The New York Times. Last tax season, Steve Lopez paid a mandatory penalty of nearly $1,000 for his family. That’s because the IT professional found it preferable to the $400 to $500 monthly cost of an Obamacare health plan. “I’m paying $6,000 to have the privilege of then paying another $5,000 [in deductibles],” said Lopez, who lives in Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. “It’s baloney — not worth it.”

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew 3.2% in the third quarter, according to new estimates published by the Commerce Department, the best quarter of growth in two years. The solid numbers were driven by a major, one-time increase in exports and solid consumer spending, which makes up the majority of the economy’s activity. However, one red flag in the economy is that businesses aren’t investing in new buildings, equipment or projects. Spending on these, long-term assets has declined for four straight quarters.

Digital marketplaces were shoppers’ best friends as online sales surged nearly 14% from a year ago on Thanksgiving Day, according to Adobe Digital Insights. Consumers have been feeling especially cheerful this holiday-shopping season after a contentious election cycle came to a close earlier this month. What’s more, a key gauge of consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan out on Wednesday jumped in November, indicating optimism. It was that optimistic feeling that helped fuel more than $1 billion in online sales Thanksgiving Day, Adobe’s data show. While the majority of those sales were made from desktop computers, 40 percent were made from mobile devices.

Shoppers flocked to gun stores on Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for gun sales. The Black Friday weapon sales are not driven by the Christmas spirit since gun laws in many states prohibit buying guns for someone else. The sales are driven by sharp discounts. This turnout was in spite of the fact that Hillary Clinton — the gun industry’s biggest boogieman with her gun control policies — failed to win the White House.

Israel

Israel’s prime minister said a rash of fires that has raged for five days is under control but “not yet over” and that the focus has moved on to recovery efforts. Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet Sunday in Haifa, the hardest-hit city, where major blazes forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. He vowed to fast track bureaucracy and start rebuilding and reimbursing victims immediately. Though no deaths were reported, dozens were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and hundreds of homes were damaged. Approximately 7,500 acres of forests and 2,700 acres of urban areas have been destroyed in several communities The blazes began five days ago near Jerusalem and backed by dry, windy weather they later spread elsewhere around the country. All major fires have been extinguished. Initial investigations point to the majority of the fires being caused by arson. Netanyahu has accused Arab attackers of being the culprits. Israeli police have detained 23 people on suspicion of arson in connection with the wildfires.

Israeli aircraft struck a machine gun-mounted vehicle inside Syria Sunday, killing four Islamic State-affiliated militants inside after they had opened fire on a military patrol on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said. Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering only sporadic incidents of spillover fire over the frontier that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors of the Assad regime. But Sunday’s event, in the southern part of the Golan Heights, appears to be a rare case of an intentional shooting ambush by Islamic militants targeting Israeli troops.

Syria

Syrian regime forces have entered eastern Aleppo and retaken parts of its largest district, launching a long-threatened ground assault to wrest control of the area from rebels. The troops’ gains in the key neighborhood of Masaken Hanano were backed by regime airstrikes and mark the first time that government forces have taken a significant part of eastern Aleppo since rebels seized the area more than four years ago. Government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a bloody push toward eastern Aleppo on November 15 as warplanes decimated much of the zone with airstrikes following a three-week lull. The state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency reported that forces were now in “full control” of the area, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an activist group on the ground said only parts were in the hands of the regime.

Up to 16,000 people have fled the violence in Syria’s war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, with food stocks “practically finished” and every hospital bombed beyond use, the UN’s humanitarian chief said Tuesday. But nearly 200,000 people are believed to be still in eastern Aleppo, as the Syrian regime pounds it with airstrikes and troops storm through it in an operation to retake the enclave after more than four years of rebel control. “There are no modes of transportation and no vehicles in the streets, so civilians are fleeing and walking close to 8 or 9 kilometers on foot, carrying what they can and their children, and fleeing towards the western parts of Aleppo,” an activist told CNN.

Yemen

The Iranian-backed Houthi movement has formed a new government in the capital of Yemen, in a surprise move that is expected to hinder efforts to end a 20-month-old civil war in the impoverished country. The minority Shia group has been in control of Sanaa over the past two years, after driving out the internationally-recognized government and forcing its president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia. The so-called National Salvation Government, formed on Monday, will be headed by Abdul Aziz Habtoor, a politician who had defected from Hadi’s government and joined the Houthi coalition last year, according to the movement’s news agency Saba. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed al Bukhaiti said that the new government was formed with a number of allied groups. “It includes parties from all the political spectrum,” he told CNN over the phone from Sanaa, while adding that it excluded politicians supportive of Hadi’s exiled government.

Philippines

Nine members of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team have been injured after their convoy was hit by an explosive device. One person is in a critical condition after the blast in Marawi, in the southern island of Mindanao. President Duterte was not with the convoy. The team were part of a 50-person advance convoy preparing for Duterte’s planned visit to Marawi on Wednesday. Duterte’s visit will go ahead, a spokesman told CNN. It is believed that the incident may be a diversionary tactic by the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao currently facing a military offensive after it laid siege to Butig in Lanao Del Sur last week. The group has been linked to a bombing in Duterte’s hometown of Davao in September that left 14 people dead.

Cuba

Fidel Castro, died Nov. 25. He was 90. Castro led a Cuban revolution that made his Caribbean island a potent symbol of the 20th-century ideological and economic divisions, and whose alliance with communism and the former Soviet Union put the world at peril of nuclear war. His death was announced on Cuban state TV by his younger brother, Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel 10 years ago as the country’s leader. The son of a prosperous sugar planter, Mr. Castro took power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959, promising to share his nation’s wealth with its poorest citizens, who had suffered under the corrupt quarter-century dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Castro became a romantic figure in olive-drab fatigues and combat boots, chomping monstrous cigars through a bushy black beard. He became a spiritual beacon for the world’s political far left. In Miami, hundreds of Cuban refugees flooded the streets to celebrate Castro’s death.

Environment

Coral across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered its most devastating die-off on record, a new report says. In just nine months, bleaching caused by warmer water has killed around 67% of the coral in a previously pristine part of the reef, one of the natural wonders of the world. “We’ve seen three bleaching events (in the reef) and each time it can be explained by where the warm water was,” the report’s author Terry Hughes says. “In the north, the summer temperatures got up to two degrees above the normal maximum and that caused severe bleaching,” he said. Extensive aerial surveys and teams of divers were used to map the bleaching, which covered a length of 700 kilometers (about 420 miles). Hughes said it could take up to 15 years for coral to grow back to previous levels.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano surprised observers with a startling sight Friday: a massive column of ash billowing in the air. An explosion sent steam, gas and ash 5 km (3.1 miles) above the volcano’s crater, officials said. Authorities warned people to stay away from the volcano, particularly its crater. Already, ash has fallen in two municipalities in Puebla state. The volcano last erupted in April, spewing smoke, ash and lava. The volcano, which is located about 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City, had been dormant for decades until its eruption in 1994. Since then, its rumblings have become a party of daily life for are residents. Popocatépetl is one of an estimated 1,500 potentially active volcanoes in the world.

Wildfires

The Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are reeling Tuesday morning after mass evacuations were ordered as several wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains quickly advanced on the area, burning dozens of homes and businesses. More than 100 homes and a 16-story hotel were destroyed in the Cobbly Nob area of Gatlinburg and at least 14,000 were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone overnight. Roads became packed as residents of Gatlinburg began to flee the town. Authorities asked evacuees to avoid using their cell phones to avoid taxing communication systems. Social media was replete Monday night with videos of harrowing escapes from the flames as residents attempted to flee the fire. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told WBIR that 29 backcountry hikers were from wildfires in Sevier County overnight. Cash, who’s fought fires from the east coast to the west, said he’s never seen anything to compare with this fire.

Weather

The death toll in Australia has risen to six from a rare condition known as thunderstorm asthma that afflicted thousands on Monday, officials said Sunday. Five others remain on life support in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city. Another 8,500 received hospital treatment after thousands developed respiratory distress following the thunderstorm that struck the city that is home to 4.5 million. The storm caused rain-sodden ryegrass pollen grains to be swept up into the storm from which they exploded and dispersed over the city, with tiny pollen particles penetrating deep into lungs. Around a third of patients who suffered asthma attacks on Monday reported never having asthma before, reports the AP.

The death toll from Hurricane Otto has risen to 12 after Costa Rican authorities announced nine deaths after the storm cut through Central America. Earlier in the week, civil defense officials in Panama reported that three people died as a result of the hurricane. Nearly 15,000 people were evacuated from Nicaragua and Costa Rica ahead of the hurricane which made landfall last Thursday.

Winter Storm Blanche continued its march across the northern plains Tuesday after leaving behind an estimated 4 feet of snow in mountain areas of Wyoming and treacherous travel conditions across several states. Earlier Sunday evening, Blanche dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The winter storm pushed east on Monday and began hammering the northern Plains with its snow and wind. The highest total from Blanche thus far was estimated at 56 inches in upper elevations near Elk Mountain, Wyoming.

Severe storms marched across the Midwest and South Monday afternoon and evening, knocking down trees and power lines while spawning more than a half-dozen reported tornadoes in Iowa. The dangerous storms pushed east, hammering Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi with severe weather, including damaging winds. Most of the wind damage reports were in Mississippi, where more than 23,000 homes and businesses lost power Monday evening. The system also brought a serious threat to Iowa, where several reported tornadoes were reported, some of which caused minor structural damage. No injuries have been reported so far. Multiple reports of damage were also seen in the Memphis area, where strong winds moved through Monday afternoon.

Signs of the Times (11/25/16)

November 25, 2016

Town Renames Good Friday to be Culturally Sensitive

“Whenever you hear a liberal talking about cultural diversity and sensitivity it normally means something insensitive is about to happen to Christians,” writes Todd Starnes of Fox News. The latest case in point: Bloomington, Indiana – the home of Indiana University. Mayor John Hamilton recently announced that are renaming two paid holidays for city workers — in an effort to respect “differing cultures.” Columbus Day will henceforth be known as “Fall Holiday” and Good Friday will be known as “Spring Holiday.” Mayor John Hamilton told Fox 59 the name change will “better reflect cultural sensitivity in the workplace.” “It was not necessary and just stands to divide rather than unite when it comes to Good Friday,” the Herald Times noted in a staff editorial.

Electors Revolting & Threatened as Demands for a Recount Rise

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is now nearing 2 million votes, with many calling for a recount in several states. As of Wednesday afternoon, Clinton leads Trump by 1.82 million votes, 63,964,956 to 62,139,188 (a difference of 1%).  Clinton lost the Electoral College solidly, and the climbing popular vote spread doesn’t change anything about who will hold power in Washington. Green Party nominee Jill Stein launched a bid Wednesday to seek a vote recount in three key Rust Belt states as pressure builds among liberals to challenge election results. The Stein campaign said it needed to raise over $2 million by Friday to pay for recounts. That goal was reached by early Thursday morning, and the campaign has now increased the target to $4.5 million.

The New York Daily News is reporting that six electors, from states in which Donald Trump won the majority of the vote, have pledged to cast their votes against Trump.  Some of these same electors are trying to encourage their counterparts to do the same. However, the chances that something like this could ‘unseat’ Trump are still slim. With 270 electoral votes needed to win, Donald Trump’s 290 electoral votes gave him a good margin of victory.  And the state of Michigan has not yet awarded their 16 electoral votes, and still remains too close to call, although Trump is in the lead. If Trump fails to win Michigan — an unlikely outcome, as he leads Clinton by more than 11,000 votes — Clinton would still need at least 22 electors to disregard their states’ popular vote and pick her over Trump. Alternatively, Trump could be prevented from winning the Electoral College if he — in addition to losing Michigan — saw at least 21 electors abstain from voting altogether.

Texas electors are not bound by law to vote for Trump. They’ve signed an affidavit with their Party saying they would vote the way the state’s people voted, but legally, they’re allowed to vote however they want. Texas doesn’t have a law against faithless electors, because they’ve never had a problem with electors not voting with the will of the people. Some Democrats are desperately trying to get electors to vote for Hillary. Electoral College members have been deluged with death threats from embittered Democrats who want electors to break ranks, reports Constitution.com. One Texas elector is receiving a myriad of messages threatening death or physical harm if he doesn’t vote the “right” way. “At first everyone was kind of enchanted by it. Now all the electors are starting to get beaten down. There are some electors who have been threatened with harm or with death,” elector Alex Kim told NBC5.

U.S. Jews Persecuted More than Muslims

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports: Hate Crime Statistics, 2014, there were 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes in the U.S. in 2014. Of the 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 57 percent of the victims were Jewish. That amounts to approximately 648 instances where Jewish individuals, businesses or institutions were targeted. About 16% of the crimes showed anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias, amounting to approximately 184 instances where Muslim individuals, businesses or institutions were targeted. The results in 2015 were much the same as in 2014. In 2015 the number of anti-religious hate crimes rose from 1,140 in 2014 to 1,402 and 52% of the hate crimes were committed against Jews, with 22% showing anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias with 13% anti-Christian. The anti-Muslim proportion was higher, but still well less than half of the anti-Jewish hate crimes.

Nick Cannon: Abortion and Planned Parenthood Inflict “Genocide” on Black Americans

Nick Cannon – rap artist, comedian, and host of America’s Got Talent – is a name familiar to many pro-life people. His 2005 video told about the amazing story of how he was almost aborted before birth, but then his teenage mother chose life at the last moment. Now Cannon says the Planned Parenthood abortion business is perpetrating a genocide against black people because it targets black communities with abortion clinics. Cannon raised concerns recently about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s ties to Planned Parenthood, calling their work a “real genocide” on the black community. Iit’s real genocide, and it’s been like that for years,” Cannon said during an interview with New York City’s “The Breakfast Club”. “I come from a long line of community leaders and I’ve always thought that to who much is given, you’re responsible for that, much is required,” he said, referring to Luke 12:48. “So I use my platform to tell the truth at the end of the day.”

Trump Denounces Alt-Right

President-elect Donald Trump denied Tuesday that he did anything to “energize” the alt-right movement through his presidential campaign and sought to distance himself from it, even though many of the movement’s leaders have sought to tether their political views to Trump’s rise. “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump told a group of New York Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters in New York. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” he added. Trump denounced the alt-right, a far-right political movement that is rife with white nationalist, anti-Semitic and racist ideologies.

Trump Softens Stance on Climate Change

President-elect Donald Trump conceded Tuesday there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity. The statement marks a softening in Trump’s position on U.S. involvement in efforts to fight climate change, although he did not commit to specific action in any direction. During the campaign, he vowed to “cancel” the US’s participation in the Paris climate agreement and stop all US payments to UN programs aimed at fighting climate change. “I think there is some connectivity… It depends on how much,” Trump said Tuesday in a meeting with New York Times reporters, columnists and editors. He has previously called climate change a “hoax” invented by the Chinese.

  • Whether caused by human activity or not, climate change is an end-time phenomenon (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Trump Appoints Two Pro-Life Women

President-elect Donald Trump has named another pro-life advocate to a key position involving pro-life policies. After selecting pro-life Senator Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, Trump has named pro-life Governor Nikki Haley as his United Nations ambassador. Haley has a long record of supporting pro-life legislation and signing it as governor of the state of South Carolina. The United Nations appointment is important as pro-abortion nations are pushing the United Nations to make abortion a so-called human right. Previously, the Obama administration had joined those other nations to push abortion on an international level. As UN Ambassador, Governor Haley could help stop that effort and work to ensure that unborn children are respected in that International body. President-elect Donald Trump also named another pro-life advocate to his cabinet. He has chosen Michigan school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his education secretary. DeVos was the chair of the Michigan Republican Party and finance chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation are strong supporters of pro-life organizations like Michigan’s Foundation for Traditional Values and Right to Life of Michigan. Meanwhile, presidential candidate Ben Carson is mulling over an offer from Trump to be Secretary of HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).

Trump Foundation Admits Violating Ban on ‘Self-Dealing’

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the Internal Revenue Service that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families, reports the Washington Post. The admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. In one section of the form, the IRS asked whether the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person, in this context, might be Trump — the foundation’s president — or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business. The foundation checked yes. Another line on the form asked whether the Trump Foundation had engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years. The Trump Foundation checked yes again. Such violations can carry penalties including excise taxes, and the charity leaders can be required to repay money that the charity spent on their behalf. During the presidential campaign, The Post reported on several instances in which Trump appeared to use the Trump Foundation’s money to buy items for himself or to help one of his for-profit businesses.

U.S. Issues Europe Travel Alert

The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Monday urging U.S. nationals to exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets in Europe in the coming weeks, a day after French security services thwarted an ISIS-linked plot. French authorities arrested seven people after anti-terror raids in Strasbourg and Marseilles on Sunday. The eight-month-long investigation foiled a “new terrorist attack that had been planned for a long time on our soil,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said during a news conference in Paris. Strasbourg is home to one of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe, with 2 million people expected to visit after it opens Friday. French media reported the market was a potential target of the cell. In 2000, the Strasbourg Christmas market was the target of a thwarted plot by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

Federal Judge Issues Injunction Against Obama Labor Regulation

The Obama administration received a crushing blow on Tuesday after a Texas federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against one of the president’s top regulatory initiatives enacted by the Labor Department. Texas U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, an Obama appointee, ruled that implementation of the controversial overtime regulation is to be postponed immediately, despite rapidly approaching deadlines. The regulation – which sought to expand mandated overtime requirements for salaried employees earning less than $47,476 annually, up from $23,660 – was set to begin on December 1. A preliminary injunction preserves the status quo while the Court determines the department’s authority to make the Final Rule as well as the Final Rule’s validity. Twenty-one state attorney generals and dozens of business groups fought the overtime rule, contending the act itself was illegal with cost increases that would hurt employers. Judge Mazzant further noted that he’s not the first judge to file an injunction against an Obama administration executive initiative, citing a Fort Worth, Texas judge’s decision to block an Education Department rule back in August.

Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent

A New York woman seriously hurt protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline faces multiple surgeries and could lose an arm. Protesters and law enforcement gave conflicting accounts about what might have caused the explosion that injured her. Sophia Wilansky, 21, was listed in serious condition and was undergoing surgery at a Minneapolis hospital. Wilansky’s father said his daughter was hurt when law enforcement threw a grenade. The Morton County Sheriff’s Office maintains authorities did not use concussion grenades or any devices that produce a flash or bang during a clash late Sunday and early Monday near the camp along the pipeline route in southern North Dakota where protesters have gathered for months. The sheriff’s office suggested in a statement Monday that an explosion heard during the skirmish might have been caused by small propane tanks that authorities said protesters had rigged to explode.

Economic News

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says in a new report that the poor — who were hit hard by the financial crisis — have been left behind in the global recovery. The group found that the bottom 10% of earners in developed countries saw their real incomes fall by 16.2% between 2007 and 2010. The incomes of the top 10% fell by only 4.6% over the same period. The recovery has also produced unequal results. Between 2010 and 2014, the incomes of the bottom 10% have risen by only 1.6% compared to the 5.2% growth rate enjoyed by the highest earners. The end result is more income inequality. The wages earned by the top 10% had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, while the poorest earned 14% less than they did before the crisis.

Mortgage rates have pushed past 4% for the first time this year. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.03%., from 3.94% last week. Rates have been moving higher since Donald Trump was elected president. The interest rate on the U.S. government’s 10-year Treasury note has climbed to 2.38% on Wednesday from 1.85% on Election Day. Treasury notes serve as a benchmark for various types of credit, including mortgages. The Federal Reserve is scheduled to meet in December and is expected to increase the federal funds rate, which is the short-term interest rate it uses to lend money to financial institutions.

Europe

Donald Trump’s surprising election victory in the U.S. should have come as no surprise to Europe. Across the continent, parties of the center-left that have dominated politics for decades — and that have given Europe its reputation for generous social welfare systems — now find themselves beaten, divided and directionless. Hillary Clinton and U.S. Democrats are just the latest members of a beleaguered club. In Germany and Britain, once-mighty center-left parties have been badly diminished, locked out of their nations’ top jobs for the foreseeable future. In Spain and Greece, they have been usurped by newer, more radical alternatives. And in France and Italy, they’re still governing — but their days in power may be numbered. The rout of the center-left has even extended deep into Scandinavia, perhaps the world’s premier bastion of social democracy. Overall, the total vote share for the continent’s traditional center-left parties is now at its lowest level since at least World War II.

Russia

The flood of so-called “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation. Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia, reported the Washington Post (itself strongly biased against Trump).

France

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins says that five men arrested recently in two French cities were planning a terror attack in France as early as next week, and that they were receiving their orders from an Islamic State group member based in Iraq or Syria. Molins spoke to reporters Friday, the day after anti-terrorism authorities took the unusual step of holding the men in custody without charge beyond the normal maximum period, relying on a recent anti-terrorism measure. The five were arrested in Strasbourg and Marseille.

Israel

Dry weather and heavy winds are fueling the spread of a large wildfire in northern Israel that has forced thousands to evacuate. At least eight neighborhoods in the city of Haifa had been evacuated by early Thursday afternoon. Over 60,000 people have been evacuated, the Jerusalem Post reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested assistance from Greece, Croatia and Russia in battling a rash of wildfires across the country which started earlier this week and have rapidly spread. Fire officials suspect that many of the fires were deliberately set (terrorism), while others appeared to be accidental. Several homes and businesses had been destroyed and thousands of residents remained evacuated Thursday as weather forecasts called for more winds and little hope of rain to assist the firefighters. A wildfire roared through parts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as the country’s leaders raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blaze. By Friday, 12 people had been detained in connection to the fires. “Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such. Anyone who tries to burn parts of the State of Israel will be severely punished,” Netanyahu stated.

Islamic State

When the Islamic State seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians, as “People of the Book”, four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed. The vast majority fled – an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and even crucifixion, according to testimonies collected from Iraqi refugees in Jordan by the religious freedom charity ADF International. While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with U.S. and U.K. air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from ISIS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatized by their experiences to countenance returning. Some say they feel betrayed by neighbors who supported ISIS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia.

Uganda

Uganda’s High Court has described the Bridge International Academies (BIA) — which is funded by the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda’s national standards and put the “life and safety” of its 12,000 young students on the line. The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved. “The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said. The low-cost education provider, which has 63 campuses across Uganda, is allowed to remain open until December 8 to allow students to sit for exams and finish third term. BIA — which runs more than 400 nursery and primary schools across Africa — has continuously denied the allegations that have been made by the government. BIA suggested that the opposition against BIA was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools.

Mexico

Investigators have found 32 bodies and nine human heads in clandestine graves in a municipality in southern Mexico where rival drug gangs have been engaged in a wave of extortion, kidnappings and turf battles, authorities said Thursday. Soldiers and police found the graves on Tuesday at an outlaw camp in Guerrero state after receiving a tip that people were being held at the site located near a mountain in the municipality of Zitlala. They said they rescued a kidnap victim and discovered 12 bodies and human remains in coolers. On Thursday, officials announced that further excavations of the site had found the additional human remains. Residents of the community of Tixtla, Guerrero found nine decapitated bodies on Monday along a highway. Guerrero has seen an upsurge in gang-related violence.

Earthquakes

Residents living in and around Usulutá, El Salvador were shaken by a major earthquake in the afternoon hours on Thursday. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck approximately 6.4 miles below ground at 12:45 p.m. local time. The earthquake struck approximately 100 miles from Usulutá – a city in El Salvador with a population of roughly 72,000. Civil Protection authorities in El Salvador tweeted at 1:10 p.m. local time that no damage had been reported as a result of the earthquake.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan on Tuesday, injuring several while also generating 4.6-foot tsunami waves that hit the coast. The temblor struck at 5:59 a.m. local time Tuesday morning (3:59 p.m. EST) 23 miles east-southeast of Namie, Japan, at a depth of 7 miles. Several strong aftershocks, including at least three with a magnitude greater than 5 were reported in the wake of the 6.9 quake. At least 14 people were injured by the quake, some with broken bones, the Associated Press reported, but otherwise widespread damage was averted. The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which leaked radiation after the 2011 Japanese quake, reported no issues or damage.

Weather

Central America may have mostly dodged a Thanksgiving day bullet, as Hurricane Otto, now a tropical storm again, passed over Nicaragua and Coast Rica with minimal damage and is now headed out into the Pacific. Nearly 15,000 people were evacuated from Nicaragua and Costa Rica ahead of the hurricane. Tropical Storm Otto is now in the eastern Pacific Ocean pulling away from Nicaragua and Costa Rica after a historically late-in-season hurricane landfall on Thanksgiving Day near the town of San Juan de Nicaragua in southern Nicaragua. Maximum sustained winds were 110 mph at landfall, making Otto a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Otto was the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record this late in the year. Otto’s landfall in Nicaragua was the latest in a calendar year that a hurricane has made landfall in that country. It’s also the farthest south a hurricane has made landfall on record in Central America. Otto is now over 100 miles west of the Costa Rica Pacific coast, as of Friday morning. Earlier, three deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Otto in Panama as the storm moved toward Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Civil defense officials in Panama said Tuesday that two people died in landslides and a child was killed when a tree collapsed on top of a car outside a school in Panama City. The landslide occurred just west of Panama City and trapped nine people. Seven people were rescued. Costa Rica ordered the evacuation of 4,000 people from its Caribbean coast ahead of the storm.

 

Signs of the Times (11/21/16)

November 21, 2016

Churches with Conservative Theology Have Better Growth Rates

A five-year study has revealed that churches that adhere to more conservative theology tend to have better growth rates. ChristianToday.com reports that the study, called “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy” was conducted by Canadian researchers who interviewed 2,225 churchgoers and 29 clergy members in the province of Ontario. The study’s lead researcher, David Haskell, noted that the study showed that growing churches, “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading.” For example, 71 percent of clergy in growing churches read the Bible daily, while only 19 percent of clergy in declining churches did so. Additionally, 100 percent of clergy in growing churches said it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” compared to only 50 percent of clergy in declining churches who said the same.

Pope Allows Priests to Forgive Abortion

Pope Francis has extended the powers of Catholic priests to forgive abortions, making the announcement in an apostolic letter released Monday. Pope Francis has extended the powers of Catholic priests to forgive abortions, making the announcement in an apostolic letter released Monday. “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father,” the letter states. “May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation,” the letter says.

Election Protests Ebbing

Since Election Day, thousands of people have taken to the streets nationwide. Demonstrations surged in the days after Trump’s election, though they seem now to be ebbing.  But many of the protesters who took to the streets in cities across the country over the past week didn’t cast a ballot for the candidate who could have beaten him, reported the Washington Post. The NBC affiliate in Portland found that of more than 100 protesters arrested there last week, more than half did not vote in the state. Clinton still won Oregon, along with most of the other states where the biggest protests have erupted. Since Election Day, thousands of people have taken to the streets nationwide. Demonstrations surged in the days after Trump’s election, though they seem now to be ebbing.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the US since Election Day. “They’ve been everywhere — in schools, in places of business like Walmart, on the street,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said Monday. Recent days have witnessed ugly episodes of racist or anti-Semitic pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims. “If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it,” Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

After the cast of the Broadway show “Hamilton” embarrassed and lectured Vice president-elect Mike Pence who was in the audience about needing to establish an “inclusive” administration Friday, the Twitterverse soon exploded with opposing points of view. President-elect Trump tweeted that the cast “rude” and should apologize to Pence. Soon calls for a boycott of the show were trending on Twitter under the hashtag #BoycottHamilton.

The Detroit News reported that an Electoral College elector from Michigan, who’s bound to vote for Donald Trump, has been threatened in order to convince him to vote for Hillary Clinton. You have people saying ‘you’re a hateful bigot, I hope you die,’” elector Michael Banerian said. “I’ve had people talk about shoving a gun in my mouth and blowing my brains out. And I’ve received dozens and dozens of those emails. Even the non-threatening-my-life emails are very aggressive.”

Police Ambushes Continue

St. Louis Police have killed a gunman they say ambushed an officer in a shooting on Sunday. “This officer was not trying to pull this car over,” St. Louis Police Department Police Chief Sam Dotson said. “This officer was driving down the road and was ambushed.” To take precaution against further attacks, Dotson said all St. Louis officers will be partnered up on patrol for the foreseeable future. Earlier in the day Sunday, a San Antonio police officer was fatally shot during a traffic stop. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described the shooting as a targeted attack that resembled police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One person was in custody Sunday after shooting a Florida police officer. Sanibel police said the incident occurred at around 8 p.m. The Sanibel police chief said the officer was wounded during a routine traffic stop. The shooter fired at the officer and then fled the scene.

Trump Settles Trump University Lawsuits

Donald Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits against Trump University. The deal will keep the president-elect from having to testify in a trial in San Diego that was set to begin November 28. The settlement ends a suit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, as well as two class action suits in California. About 6,000 former students are covered by the settlement. The victims will receive at least half of their money back. “While we have no doubt that Trump University would have prevailed at trial based on the merits of this case, resolution of these matters allows President-Elect Trump to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation,” a Trump Organization spokesperson said. On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted he settled the lawsuit for a “small fraction” because he wants to focus on the task at hand.

White House Office of Personnel Management Regresses on Cyber-Security

The White House Office of Personnel Management, two years ago the focus of the worst cybersecurity intelligence breach in U.S. history, is actually regressing in its efforts to provide adequate defenses against further cyber-intrusions, according to a new report by the agency’s own Inspector General. The report is depressing news for an agency that has been in more-or-less continuous turmoil since a devastating cyber-attack in March 2014 stole the sensitive personal information of some 25 million U.S. government employees, including millions of security clearance files, from the agency files and those of two of its important contractors. The fingerprint data of some 5.6 million of those employees was also stolen. Despite improvements that the Inspector General acknowledges, the agency known as OPM is still stumbling toward an adequate response to the disaster, along with other high-profile and expensive efforts to modernize its information technology and security, and has had a “significant regression” in complying with information security requirements along the way.

Dakota Pipeline Protests Escalate

Police and about 400 people who were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline clashed Sunday evening as demonstrators set cars on fire and police launched tear gas and water at the crowds. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department described Sunday’s events as an “ongoing riot.” Protesters set fire to two trucks and several parts of the bridge, police said. On Sunday night, police released a statement saying that the protesters “attempted to flank and attack the law enforcement line from the west,” describing their actions as “very aggressive.” Officers tried to disperse the crowds with water cannons. Physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council called for “the immediate cessation of use of water cannons” over concerns of hypothermia in the cold weather conditions. They criticized the “potentially lethal use of these confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled.” But police say the protesters are not peaceful and that water was used to put out fires as well as to control the crowds.

Obama Blocks New Oil, Gas Drilling in Arctic Ocean

The Obama administration is blocking new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, handing a victory to environmentalists who say industrial activity in the icy waters will harm whales, walruses and other wildlife and exacerbate global warming. A five-year offshore drilling plan announced on Friday blocks planned sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska. The plan allows drilling to go forward in Alaska’s Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage. Besides Cook Inlet, the plan also allows drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, long the center of U.S. offshore oil production. The blueprint for drilling from 2017 to 2022 can be rewritten by President-elect Donald Trump, in a process that could take months or years.

Zika Update

The World Health Organization declared an end to its global health emergency over the spread of the Zika virus, prompting dismay from some public health experts still wrestling with the epidemic. An agency advisory committee said it ended the emergency because Zika is now shown to be another dangerous mosquito-borne disease like malaria or yellow fever, and should be treated, like them, as an ongoing problem, not an exceptional situation. Committee members repeatedly emphasized that they did not consider the Zika crisis over. Like all mosquito-borne diseases, Zika is seasonal and may repeatedly return to countries with the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry it, said Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program.

Migrant Update

An estimated 350 migrants are believed to have died in six incidents on the Mediterranean in just three days this week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement. While the number of people attempting to crossing into Europe has dropped sharply this year — down to 343,589 from 1.02 million in 2015 — more people than ever are losing their lives on the journey. More than 4,600 migrants are presumed to have died after attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year, the UN said Friday, following the latest deadly capsizings on the route. “This means that 1,000 more deaths have been recorded this year than during the same period last year,” the IOM said in a statement Friday.

Economic News

U.S. stocks rose to record levels Monday aided by a jump in oil prices and a pullback in the dollar. The S&P 500 index rose 10 points, or 0.5%, at 2,192, trading above its closing record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 55 points, or 0.3%, to 18,922, while the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 31 points, or 0.6%, to 5,353, setting its intraday record at 5,359.90. Since Election Day and the surprise presidential election win for Donald Trump, the Dow has climbed 2.9%, the S&P 500 has gained 2%, and the Nasdaq has risen 2.5%.

Oil prices rose to a three-week high Monday as investors continued to bet that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will reach a production deal at the end of the month. Light, sweet crude for December delivery gained $1.27, or 2.7%, to $47.79 a barrel, trading at the highest level since Oct. 31. Prices were buoyed by news that the energy ministers from two of OPEC’s most reluctant members in terms of cutting output, Iraq and Iran, are backing the proposal. The cartel meets Nov. 30 when it will formally decide on strategy for the first half of 2017.

Eight million Americans could get a lower interest rate on their student loans, and many of them might not even know it. That’s the estimated number of borrowers eligible to refinance their debt, according to a new report from Credible, an online student loan marketplace. It’s roughly one-third of all people who are currently paying down student loans. Federal loans, which make up most of the country’s student debt, come with much lower interest rates now than they did a decade ago. But the government doesn’t allow people with older loans to refinance at current rates. Instead, you have to turn to a private lender to refinance both federal and private loans. Some banks now offer student loan refinancing and a handful of online lenders have recently launched specifically for this purpose

Islamic State

Intelligence experts estimate that the Islamic State extremist group has between 60 and 80 operatives planted in Europe to carry out attacks, the Dutch counterterrorism coordinator said Friday. Dick Schoof said in an interview with The Associated Press that would-be fighters are also heeding messages from the militant group telling them not to go to Syria and Iraq, but to prepare attacks in Europe. Schoof said military operations to oust the Islamic State from its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq are scattering the extremist group’s fighters and supporters abroad. This will likely lead to a gradual increase of refugees that will pose a danger to the national security of the Netherlands and other European countries, he said.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an overhaul of the United Nations on Monday, saying its Security Council had failed to address the Syria conflict and other global challenges. Erdogan gave an unabashed speech in Istanbul at the closing of a NATO meeting, where he slammed the Security Council’s concentration of power, reiterating that “the world is bigger than five.” The Security Council, responsible for international peace and security issues, includes five permanent member states — the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom — which all hold the power to veto decisions or resolutions. The Council has been widely criticized as ineffective over its inaction in the Middle East, failing to push through decisions on conflicts since they broke out after the Arab Spring in 2011. That’s because Russia — an ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government — has used its veto power five times regarding the Syrian conflict. China also used its veto power four times.

Syria

More than 1,000 people have died in airstrikes and shelling in the Syrian city of Aleppo since a short-lived ceasefire broke down 60 days ago, according to a UK-based monitoring group. The figure includes deaths in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, in government-controlled western Aleppo and in the surrounding countryside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday. The group’s tally comes as Russian-backed Syrian government forces once again pummel eastern Aleppo. Of the 1,086 dead, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented across the city since then, 231 were children and 98 were women. More than 4,000 people were injured on both sides of the war-torn northern city over the same period, the group said.

Iraq

Iraqi paramilitary forces are in a raging battle to take a key ISIS stronghold west of Mosul, but their presence is prompting fears that the fighting could result in the escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq. Further complicating the Mosul offensive, the Iraqi Prime Minister has maintained that Kurdish forces must withdraw from towns captured from ISIS once the terror group has been defeated. Tensions are mounting between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government over future control of the territory in northern Iraq. Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, are playing a critical role in the battle to defeat the terror group, fighting alongside Iraqi government troops and other forces in the coalition to retake Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province. But cracks are emerging in the anti-ISIS partnership over the question of what the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government plans for areas it captures from the terror group.

Afghanistan

An Afghan official says that at least 27 civilians have been killed after a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite mosque in the capital, Kabul. At least 35 others were wounded in the attack. The suicide attack took place inside the Baqir-ul Ulom mosque in western Kabul. The attacker was on foot and detonated his suicide vest among the crowds inside the mosque.

Yemen

The Saudi-led military coalition declared a 48-hour ceasefire in Yemen on Saturday, on the condition that Shiite rebels abide by it and allow humanitarian assistance into besieged cities, namely Taiz. The Saudi news agency SPA carried a statement from the coalition that said the truce would take effect at 12 p.m. Yemeni time on Saturday and that it could be renewed. The coalition warned the rebels, known as Houthis, against any sort of military movement. The ceasefire comes at a time that forces loyal to the Saudi-backed, internationally-recognized government have made advances in the key western city of Taiz, which has been besieged by the rebels for the past year. Activists in Taiz said that rebel shelling continued in the city, despite the ceasefire.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s banks are running out of cash and there’s a sense of distrust, panic and frustration among locals. Since the hyperinflation of 2009, many have begun hoarding cash. The cash liquidity crunch is extreme. Locals are forced to queue for hours outside banks for the chance to withdraw a maximum of $50 from their account each day — and some are even being turned away simply because the banks don’t have enough cash in their vaults.

Environment

Miami Beach is one of the most noted tourist destinations in the world, with its posh high-rise hotels and suntanned beachgoers, but it’s facing a problem that strikes at the core of the city’s identity. It’s losing its sand. While rising sea levels have put Miami Beach in dire need of a solution to losing its picturesque sand, the issue is far from new for the state of Florida. Significant beach erosion occurred along the state’s East Coast with hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. After Hurricane Matthew, Atlantic coast counties from south of the Space Coast to the Georgia border were assessing lost sand and faced with reclaiming the beaches. From 1996 to 2015, water levels for Miami Beach for high and low tide rose about 4.2 inches, according to data from the University of Miami.

The Dead Sea, a salt lake nestled by Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, is shrinking at an alarming rate — about 3.3 feet per year, according to the environmentalist group EcoPeace Middle East. And human actions are largely to blame. The Dead Sea needs water from the other natural sources surrounding it, such as the Jordan River basin. But around the 1960s, some of the water sources it relied upon were diverted. Israel, for instance, built a pipeline during that time so it could supply water throughout the country. Mineral extraction industries are another main reason the water levels are declining, experts say. The Dead Sea’s minerals have been hailed for their therapeutic properties and can often be found in cosmetics and other consumer products. Last year, Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million deal in an effort to stabilize the Dead Sea’s water levels. It entails building a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea so that both countries would be able to not only supply water to Israel and Jordan but also to pump much needed water — some 300 million cubic meters annually — into the Dead Sea.

Earthquakes

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit New Zealand this week lifted the seabed two meters (about 6.5 feet), leaving seaweed-covered rocks and marine animals exposed above tide level. “Much of the northeastern coast of the South Island was uplifted during the earthquake. We know this from photos of rock platforms covered in seaweed and marine animals such as crayfish and paua (sea snails) stranded above tide levels,” GNS Science, a New Zealand government-owned research institute, said in a report. New Zealand is regularly hit by earthquakes because it sits in between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.

Weather

Winter Storm Argos will continue to hammer parts of the interior Northeast Monday with heavy snow and strong winds, leading to whiteout conditions in parts of New York state and northern New England, with snowfall rates of over 1 inch per hour in spots. Several locations in New York state have already picked up well over a foot of snow, so far. More than 17,000 customers were left in the dark in the Rochester, New York, area on Sunday evening, due to a combination of heavy snow and 30-40 mph wind gusts taking down power lines.

Earlier, at least two were killed in fatal crashes after Winter Storm Argos moved across parts of the Intermountain West, through the Plains and into the Northeast. Parts of the region were clobbered by a heavy round of snow – the first of the season, for many. The snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of Wyoming and Montana Thursday before marching eastward into the Plains and Midwest on Friday. Nearly two feet fell on parts of Minnesota. Schools were canceled in some parts of the upper Midwest ahead of the storm’s arrival, and authorities urged drivers to stay home when the heavy snow started to fall. The Minnesota State Patrol says there were nearly 450 crashes and 860 spinouts statewide as the storm marched across the country. At least two deaths happened on icy roads Friday. Winter Storm Argos will produce snow and strong winds over mainly interior portions of the Northeast through Monday.

Storm Angus, the first named winter storm of the season, hit the United Kingdom with full-force Sunday, flooding roads, downing trees and prompting rescues throughout the region. A gust to 84 mph was clocked on the island of Guernsey. Angus also unleashed its fury on the low countries of The Netherlands and Belgium Sunday. Gusts of at least 60 mph were clocked at both Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and Rotterdam The Hague Airport. A new, weaker system was also hitting the south of England Monday, leading the U.K. Met Office to issue dozens of flood alerts, including amber flood warnings — the second most severe kind of warning — for portions of southwest England.

Signs of the Times

November 18, 2016

U.S. Foreign Policy has Devastated Christian Populations in Middle East

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Christians made up around 15% of the population of the Middle East. A century later the figure was 4%, reports Barnabas Aid. At least 80% of Iraq’s Christian population, estimated to have been 1.5 million in 1990, have now fled the country. During the 1970s, western politicians tended to view Islam as a gentle, peaceful, primarily eastern religion, a naïve view that ignored the periodic massacres of Christians that had been happening in the Middle East over the previous 150 years, Barnabas Aid asserts. During the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. supplied vast amounts of arms to radical Islamist groups fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, notably the Taliban. When the so-called Arab Spring occurred, the West repeated its mistakes, maintaining that the rebel groups want only “freedom and democracy”. In Africa, U.S. policy has also had devastating consequences for Christians in northern Nigeria where, right up until November 2013, the US State Department continued to insist that the Islamist-inspired violence was due to “socio-economic” differences between Christians and Muslims, implying that Christians were equally to blame.

The U.S. and its allies are in fact reported to be supporting Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, which was part of an Islamist coalition, including the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front that attacked the historic Christian town of Maloula where, as we reported, Christians were told to either convert to Islam or face beheading. It was the Pakistan Taliban who later carried out attacks on Christians with those same weapons.  “This view still informs the policies of the Obama administration who even now flatly deny that there is any link between Islamic ideology and violence against non-Muslims. Consequently, when it talks about being committed to seeing a “whole, unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian Syria”, it unwittingly embraces jihadist groups who routinely target Christians. “If current trends continue, the Christian community in Iraq and Syria, which has existed since the dawn of Christianity, could be wiped out within the next decade,” Barnabas Aid concludes.

Global Terrorism Deaths Fall, But Rise 650 Percent in OECD Countries

Deaths from terrorism in OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) increased by 650 percent last year despite a marked fall globally as Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram militants suffered military defeats at home but committed more attacks abroad, a report said on Wednesday. The Global Terrorism Index said worldwide there had been 29,376 deaths caused by terrorism in 2015, a drop of 10 percent and the first fall in four years, as action against Islamist militants in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria cut the numbers killed there by a third. However, the report said the groups had spread their actions to neighboring states and regions, causing a huge increase in fatalities among OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries such as the United States and European nations.

Up to 50,000 Iraqi Christians to Pray for Peace

As many as 50,000 Christians are expected to gather in Erbil, Iraq on Friday to pray for the church in Iraq and for peace to prevail. Iraqi forces have been in the process of liberating many Iraqi towns from control by Islamic State. While most of ISIS’ strongholds have fallen, Iraqis have a long road ahead of them to restore their homeland. The prayer event is being organized by Agape Love, a ministry that partners with local churches. Between 25,000 to 50,000 Christians who have been persecuted by Islamic State or displaced from their homes are expected to participate in the six-hour long event which will also be broadcast across the Middle East by Christian satellite network SAT-7. In addition to prayer, the event will include stories and testimony from those who come from the recently-liberated towns near Mosul, Iraq.

Trump Says Same-Sex Marriage Already Settled by Supreme Court

President-Elect Donald Trump said that the issue of same-sex marriage has already been decided by the Supreme Court and he is “fine” with that. “It’s law,” Trump said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.” Although during the primaries Trump said, if elected, he would consider appointing Supreme Court justices who would overrule the Obergefell decision which legalized gay marriage and even stated that the gay marriage decision should have been left up to the states, he has since tempered his stance, notes ChristianHeadlines.com. On the issue of abortion, however, Trump said he remains committed to appointing pro-life Supreme Court justices who may overturn Roe v. Wade. In the interview with 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl, Trump was asked about his $400,000 presidential salary. The President-elect stated that he wouldn’t be taking it. He said he’ll only take a dollar a year. In addition to not taking the usual $400,000 salary, President-elect Trump has also pledged not to take long vacations. “There’s just so much to be done,” Trump told Stahl. “So I don’t think we’ll be very big on vacations, no.”

Japan’s Prime Minister Says He Trusts Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday he had a “very candid discussion” with President-elect Donald Trump, during a brief press availability following their in-person meeting. Abe declined to explain in detail what he discussed with Trump because the visit was “unofficial” as Trump has not yet assumed the presidency, but he stressed that he emerged feeling that the US and Japan will be able to maintain “a relationship of trust” with Trump as president. The meeting was Trump’s first in-person meeting with a foreign head of state since he clinched the presidency last week and comes after Trump has repeatedly suggested Japan should shoulder a bigger financial burden of the US’s military forces in the region. Abe declined to say if the two men hashed out the defense issue or discussed their disagreement over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but stressed that he emerged “convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence.”

Trump’s Team Taking Shape

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his nominee for the next attorney general, an official close to the transition process told CNN Friday. Sessions, 69, is currently serving his fourth Senate term and was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump. During Trump’s campaign, he served as a key validator from within the Republican establishment at critical times and urged Republicans to coalesce around Trump. United by their hardline stance against illegal immigration, Sessions helped Trump craft his campaign’s national security policy. The former US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and Alabama attorney had been mentioned as a potential running mate for Trump and advised him on his selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now helming Trump’s transition effort.

President-elect Donald Trump has offered retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn the role of national security advisor, a transition official told CNN Thursday. Flynn’s appointment won’t require Senate confirmation, which is potentially helpful for Trump, as Flynn has a long history of controversial remarks and was fired as President Barack Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn wrote in his 2016 book, “The Field of Fight,” that he was booted from Obama’s administration by “censors” who were unhappy he’d told a congressional committee “that we were not as safe as we had been a few years back. Trump has also asked Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas to be his CIA director, sources told CNN Friday. Pompeo was an early supporter of Trump in the House and was one of a handful of conservatives who argued House Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy did not go far enough in his report on Clinton earlier this year. The selection of Pompeo rounds out Trump’s trio of national security picks.

Poll Finds Tempered Optimism but Doubts about Trump Mandate

Americans emerged from President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory in last week’s election with passionate and polarized reactions, overall expressing tempered optimism about his presidency but unconvinced that he has a mandate to enact a sweeping new policy agenda, according to a Washington Post-Schar School national poll. The poll finds Americans still reeling from Trump’s long battle against Hillary Clinton, with more than 7 in 10 saying the campaign made them angry and more than half feeling stressed out by campaign news. Trump’s supporters are largely ebullient when asked how they feel about the result, while Clinton backers range from disappointed to fearful to apoplectic. Nationally, just 3 in 10 Americans — 29 percent — say he has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the campaign. That 29 percent figure is sharply lower than the 50 percent who said the same for President Obama after his first election in 2008 and the 41 percent for former president George W. Bush after the 2000 election and the contentious recount that followed. Over 6 in 10 Americans expect to see major changes in Washington during his presidency. Almost as many say they are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve on his watch, while 52 percent say they think living standards will increase.

Sanctuary City Mayors Prepare for Clash with Trump Administration

Democratic mayors in so-called “sanctuary cities” are poised for a major clash with President-elect Donald Trump as city officials from Los Angeles to Washington vow not to cooperate with his administration on deportation orders for illegal immigrants. Trump’s election has spurred mayors and police chiefs in nearly a dozen major cities to re-affirm their “sanctuary” status, putting them in direct conflict with Trump’s immigration enforcement push — and effectively daring him to slash sanctuary-city funding as he promised during the campaign. In sanctuary cities, local law enforcement officials aren’t required to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the immigration status of people they come in contact with. That can mean, for example, that they don’t notify the feds when an undocumented immigrant is about to be released from custody.

College Students Desecrate U.S. Flags on Veterans Day in Anti-Trump Protests

Students at Brown University and American University, as well as protesters around the country, burned, ripped, and stomped on American flags on Veterans Day. According to MSN.com, students at Brown University set up flags as part of a Veterans Day display. Soon after, they found that many of the flags had been taken down. Other students had tore them in half, stomped on them, and threw them in the trash. Additionally, at American University, some students set American flags on fire. Many students said they participated in desecrated the flags to protest Donald Trump’s election and the inequality in the country. Debate over the current state of the country also raged over social media. Some students condemned the protests and vandalism, while others maintained that minorities had reason to be fearful.

FBI: Hate Crimes Spike, Mostly Against Muslims

The latest FBI annual hate crime report shows a sharp spike in the number of hate crimes nationwide, with attacks against Muslims increasing the most sharply. In one year, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 67%, from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 in 2015, according to the latest numbers released in the bureau’s Hate Crime Statistics report on Monday. In sheer numbers, anti-Jewish incidents (664) were higher in 2015, but the percentage increase was much higher for incidents involving Muslim victims. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The bureau’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program data showed 5,850 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2015, a 6.8% increase from the 5,479 incidents reported in 2014. Of those, 59.2% were motivated by a racial, ethnic and/or ancestry bias; 19.7% by a religious bias; 17.7% by a sexual orientation bias; and 3.3% by a gender identity, disability or gender bias. Anti-Jewish hate crimes rose 9%, anti-black hate crimes went up by almost 8%, and anti-LGBT hate crimes increased by nearly 5%, while anti-Latino hate crimes remained steady.

Dementia Now England’s Leading Cause of Death for Women

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales, a news report says. Statistics show that dementia outpaced heart disease to take the top place in killer ailments for women, BBC News says. Dementia accounted for 15.2 percent of all female deaths, up from 13.4 percent in 2014. The Office of National Statistics cited an aging population and a decline in other deaths – especially heart disease – as the reasons. Also, doctors have gotten better at diagnosing dementia and so the condition is now given more weight on death certificates, the article adds. Heart disease continues to be the biggest killer of men in those countries, the article says. Statistics also show dementia killed twice the number of women compared to men – 41,283, to 20,403. There are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, the statistics report says.

Dakota Pipeline Project Delayed

The companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project are asking a federal court to allow them to complete the pipeline, following the announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers that construction was delayed for further talks with the Native American tribe opposed to the project. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners filed two actions in federal court in Washington late Monday, seeking “a judgment declaring that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build.” Tuesday, the Corps announced it had delayed construction work on the controversial pipeline to hold further “discussion and analysis” with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Protests have simmered for months, spawning bitter clashes over the 1,172-mile oil pipeline currently under construction that would span North Dakota to Illinois. Tuesday, thousands of people took the streets in many parts of the country, calling on officials to ditch the plan altogether.

Economic News

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index soared 13 points last week to turn positive for the first time since March 2015 in the wake of Donald Trump’s White House victory. The index moved from a slightly negative evaluation (-10) to a slightly positive one (+3). The index had been consistently negative throughout the year leading up to the election. The index is the average of two components: how Americans rate current economic conditions and whether they feel the economy is improving or getting worse. The index has a theoretical maximum of +100 if all Americans were to say the economy is doing well and improving, and a theoretical minimum of -100 if all Americans were to say the economy is doing poorly and getting worse.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in prepared remarks Thursday that the Fed could raise interest rates “relatively soon.” The Fed last raised its key interest rate in December 2015 for the first time in a nearly decade. “The case for an increase in the target range has continued to strengthen,” Yellen said. President-elect Trump has lambasted Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed of herself.” He claims Yellen is creating a “false economy” by keeping interest rates very low.

Some ominous economic data: Nearly 7 out of every 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Credit card delinquencies have hit the highest level since 2012. Approximately 35 percent of all Americans have a debt that is at least 180 days past due. The rate of homeownership has fallen for eight years in a row and is now hovering near a 50-year low. At 63.5 percent, it is down from its high of 69.2 percent at the height of the last housing boom, according to the U.S. Census. The total number of government employees now outnumbers the total number of manufacturing employees in this country by almost 10 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics released in September.

The largest source of shale oil the U.S. Geological Survey has ever assessed has been discovered in West Texas in a geologic formation known as the Wolfcamp Shale. The vast field could yield 20 billion barrels of oil, agency officials said, along with an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, the agency said in a release. The discovery is nearly three times larger than the shale oil found in 2013 in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in the Dakotas and Montana. The advent of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other advancements allows for the removal of shale oil at a volume that will make the Permian Basin viable.

Islamic State

Iraqi paramilitary forces have recaptured a strategic airbase outside the northern city of Tal Afar, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces said. Ahmed al Assadi acknowledged that militia forces have yet to extinguish some pockets of ISIS resistance inside the airbase, with mopping up operations expected to last for a day or two. The base will serve as a staging area for Iraqi Security Forces in their battle with ISIS west of Mosul, authorities said.

Iraqi security forces have discovered two mass graves near the city of Mosul containing around 250 bodies, police said Thursday. The graves were found near the town of Hammam al-Alil and were created by ISIS militants, Iraqi Federal Police Commander Brig. Gen. Faris Radhi Abbas told CNN. Their discovery follows the uncovering of 100 decapitated bodies in another mass grave near the same town on November 7. Hammam al-Alil is on the Tigris River around 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Mosul. It was liberated by Iraqi Federal Police about 10 days ago. Iraqi forces entered Mosul on November 3 in an operation to free the city from more than two years of ISIS rule. “Islamic State militants probably killed more than 300 Iraqi former police three weeks ago and buried them in a mass grave near the town of Hammam al-Alil south of Mosul,” Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Police in Kosovo say they have arrested 19 people and thwarted simultaneous Islamic State attacks in Kosovo and neighboring Albania, including a planned assault on the Israeli national soccer team during a match. The suspects, who were planning “synchronized terror attacks,” were rounded up over the past 10 days in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, police said in a statement Wednesday. The suspects were receiving orders from Islamic State member Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq,” police said. The statement said officers searching the suspects’ homes and premises found explosive devices, weapons and electronic equipment, including “religious material and literature from well-known authors recognized for their extremist ideology.”

Syria

At least 21 people were killed and dozens injured as airstrikes and barrel bombs pounded eastern Aleppo for the third consecutive day, the Syrian Civil Defense volunteer group said Thursday. Warplanes carried out heavy airstrikes on neighborhoods in rebel-held east Aleppo for the first time in weeks Tuesday, as Syrian government forces launched a renewed assault to take the city. The blitz had been threatened in mass text messages sent to residents by the government Sunday, instructing them to leave within 24 hours. According to Syrian state television, the army is making a ground push in several areas to tighten their siege of rebel-held neighborhoods, and has cut off supply lines from the rebel-held province of Idlib in the north. Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov began combat operations against “terrorist” targets in the provinces of Idlib and Homs Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced. The resumption of the heavy bombardment of Aleppo Tuesday came after a nearly three-week lull in airstrikes on the area by Syrian and Russian aircraft, following a moratorium announced by the Russian Defense Ministry. Fierce clashes have continued on the front lines of the battle for Aleppo, however, with artillery shelling causing casualties in both the rebel-held and government-held parts of the divided city.

Iran

The United States and Iran on Thursday clashed openly at the U.N. atomic watchdog for the first time since they signed a landmark nuclear deal last year, differing over Tehran’s repeated testing of one of the deal’s less strictly defined limits. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is policing the deal, said Iran’s overstepping of the limit on its stock of a sensitive material for the second time this year risked undermining countries’ support for the agreement. “Iran must strictly adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration,” U.S. ambassador to the IAEA Laura Holgate said in a statement to the agency’s quarterly Board of Governors meeting. “We note with concern Iran’s accumulation of heavy water in excess of the limit set forth in the JCPOA of 130 metric tons,” Holgate said, using the abbreviation for the deal’s full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran said the issue was not that clear-cut. “Where is (the) limit?” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, asked reporters. “The JCPOA is very clear,” he added. “It says that the needs of Iran are estimated (to be) 130 tons. Who is the native English speaker to tell me what estimated means?”

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for legislation to extend American sanctions on Iran for 10 years, a move that proponents called critical economic leverage to ensure Iranian compliance with an international nuclear agreement. The legislation, known as the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, needs Senate approval and President Obama’s signature before the end of the year, when American sanctions are set to expire. Under the nuclear agreement, which took effect in January, between Iran and six world powers including the United States, many economic sanctions were suspended or relaxed in exchange for Iran’s verifiable pledges of peaceful nuclear work. But the deal also contained a “snapback” provision that would allow for the re-imposition of sanctions if Iran were found to have violated the terms. The legislation approved by the House on Tuesday would also extend longstanding American sanctions against Iran that predate the dispute over that country’s nuclear activities.

Environment

Coconuts around the world are under threat from disease, rising sea levels and lack of rain, with supplies getting tight. Coconuts have become a hot commodity in today’s health conscious world. Demand has grown upwards of 500 percent in the last decade, WorldAtlas reports, partly due to skyrocketing popularity of products such as soaps, virgin coconut oil, health products and coconut water. But even as demand rises, coconut producers around the globe are battling fresh outbreaks of insect-borne diseases such as lethal yellowing and Bogia coconut syndrome. In the Caribbean, lethal yellowing disease has wiped out entire farms. Overall, Caribbean plantations have shrunk by about 17 percent since 1994, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization

Earthquakes

As aftershocks continue to rattle New Zealand, flooding and up to 100,000 landslides are hampering rescue efforts following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near Christchurch on Monday. According to GeoNet, New Zealand’s official source of geological hazard information, there have been somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 landslides since the quake, with many roads closed indefinitely. The coastal town of Kaikoura has been completely cut off from the rest of the country by landslides, prompting a mass evacuation that began Tuesday. At least six fault lines were ruptured in the New Zealand earthquake, which uplifted parts of the coast by almost 10 feet.

Wildfires

Dozens of wildfires continue to burn in the Southeast, prompting evacuations and sending hundreds in Tennessee to the hospital for respiratory issues, killing one person. Air quality alerts have been issued across the region, with residents as far south as Atlanta facing a red alert Wednesday, meaning air quality is unhealthy for all individuals. Fueled by prolonged drought conditions in the Southeast, the fires have burned more than 128,000 acres in five states and have prompted officials to declare states of emergency in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky. More than a thousand North Carolina residents were evacuated. More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires. Many of the fires are the result of arson, officials say, and three people have been arrested thus far.

Weather

The snow cover in the lower 48 states has shattered mid-November record lows, according to a government analysis. Less than one-half of one percent of the land area of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground on the morning of Nov. 14, according to NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center’s National Snow Analysis, mainly in the highest peaks of the Rockies and Cascades. There was none in northern New England, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Even the few places in the mountain West reporting snow on the ground had only minor amounts. This dearth of early-season snow can be attributed to recent record warmth.

Signs of the Times (11/14/16)

November 14, 2016

Christianity Growing in Muslim Nations

Two hundred Iranians and Afghans recently converted from Islam to Christianity and were baptized into their new faith, according to ChristianToday.com. Christianity has been growing in Iran despite persecution. Mark Howard of Elam Ministries, which reported on the baptisms, stated, “Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran.” Now, however, he says there is an estimated 300,000 to 400,000.

A Muslim Imam was miraculously raised from the dead and converted to Christianity after having a vision of Jesus. ChristianToday.com reports that Munaf Ali (name changed for security reasons) was an influential religious leader in the Middle East. While he was walking home one day, he suddenly lost consciousness, fell to the ground, and was found dead by his family. While his body remained lifeless, however, Munaf Ali had a vision of demons coming to take his soul away. It was then that Jesus appeared with a group of angels and drove the demons away. Then, to the shock of his family, Munaf Ali awoke. He immediately gave his life to Christ and told his family about what he saw. His family believed him and also became Christians.

Obama and Trump Have Cordial Transition Meeting

President Barack Obama welcomed President-elect Donald Trump to the White House Thursday, as both men put past antagonisms aside in a time-honored ritual epitomizing the peaceful transfer of political power. Three days after mocking Trump as unfit to control the codes needed to launch nuclear weapons, Obama told his successor that he wanted him to succeed and would do everything he could to ensure a smooth transition. Trump, who spent years pursuing Obama over false claims he is not a natural-born American and accused him of being the founder of ISIS on the campaign trail, called Obama a “very good man” and said he would seek his counsel in future, calling the meeting a “great honor”. Trump also thanked Obama for the meeting which he said had originally been scheduled for 10 minutes and went on for 90. The extraordinary meeting was a reflection of the swift and sudden change in the political mood between the frenzied last days of an election campaign and the reality of government and the transition of power between two administrations. Trump later met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

While all eyes were on President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office Thursday, another changing of the guard meeting was taking place a few doors down between First Lady Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. The first lady hosted the soon-to-be first lady for tea and a tour of the White House residence. During the cordial visit to Trump’s future home, the two moms discussed raising children in the White House. Melania Trump’s son Barron is ten years old and will be the first son to grow up in the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr.

Trump Softens Stances on Immigration and Hillary

President-elect Donald Trump, in his first television interview since his surprise election victory, repeated his vows to build a wall across America’s southern border, deport criminal illegal aliens, and repeal and replace ObamaCare. But he backed off the mass deportations he vowed in the election campaign. “What we are going to do is get the people that are [criminals] and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers,” Trump said. “We have a lot of these people. Probably two million, it could be even three million. We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told CNN that the Republican administration was “not looking for mass deportations.” Trump also appeared to back away from his promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. “I don’t want to hurt them,” Trump said. “They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them.”

Protesters Target Trump in Many Cities

For the third day in a row since Donald J. Trump was elected president, thousands of people took part in protests that bloomed across the country, venting their frustration at the election results. In Miami, protesters shook signs and chanted during a demonstration on Friday evening, blocking the causeway that connects the city’s downtown and South Beach. In Madison, Wis., they interrupted commuters near the University of Wisconsin. Near Iowa City, they blocked traffic on a section of Interstate 80. In Portland, Ore., the police reported a shooting around 1 a.m. Saturday at a bridge that had been blocked by demonstrators. Witnesses said a protester had been shot in the leg after an altercation with a car full of people, who they said were angry about traffic being stalled. Demonstrators also marched in Atlanta, rushing over a bridge to block a highway. Later in the evening, a flag was set alight in front of the Georgia Capitol, as protesters referenced Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan, chanting “America was never great.”

They protested in Tempe, Ariz., and Orlando, Fla., in Raleigh, N.C., and Olympia, Wash. Shouts of “Not my president” and chants declaring “We don’t accept the president-elect” rang out over Sixth Avenue in Manhattan as a crowd began to march uptown toward Trump Tower, the home of the president-elect. Late Friday night, the New York Police Department said that 11 people had been arrested for disorderly conduct. Eight thousand people angry about President-elect Donald Trump’s policies on immigration, the environment, LGBT rights and other issues marched in the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, the fourth day of anti-Trump demonstrations.

Pro-Trump Bigots Target Minorities

Fears of heightened bigotry and hate crimes have turned into reality for some Americans after Donald Trump’s presidential win. Racist, pro-Trump graffiti painted inside a high school. A hijab-wearing college student robbed by men talking about Trump and Muslims. At the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, students discovered the name of the President-elect written on the door to a prayer room for Muslims. “#Go back to Africa” and “Make America great again,” someone wrote on a toilet paper dispenser at Maple Grove Senior High School. The bathroom door was also covered with graffiti, including “Whites only,” “White America” and “Trump.” A San Diego State University student walking to her car was confronted by two men who made comments about Trump and Muslims, SDSU police said. “Comments made to the student indicate she was targeted because of her Muslim faith, including her wearing of a traditional garment and hijab,” SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said.

Down-Ballot Women Make History

This year’s presidential election ultimately was not kind to Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee for a major party, but down-ballot, some of the election’s female candidates made history. From the Senate and the House to statehouses across the country, female challengers won office. Somali-American Ilhan Omar was elected to the Minnesota House, making history by becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the United States. Zena Stephens also made history by being the first African-American woman to be elected to the office of sheriff in Texas.

The US Senate will welcome four new female members. The Senate will see the first biracial senators, the first Latina senator and the first Thai-born Senator. The incoming Democratic senator for Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, lost both her legs when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting crashed. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris becomes the state’s first senator of Indian descent — and the country’s first black female senator since 1999. She succeeds Barbara Boxer. Democrat and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto replaces Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who leaves office after serving the state of Nevada for 30 years. She holds the distinction of being the first Latina to serve in the Senate. Maggie Hassan, another Democrat, unseated her Republican rival Kelly Ayotte in the New Hampshire Senate race.

Obamacare Sigh-Ups Surge

Americans signed up for Obamacare in droves Wednesday, right after Donald Trump — who has vowed to dismantle the program — was elected President. More than 100,000 selected plans through the federal Obamacare exchange, healthcare.gov, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. It was the busiest day since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, when around 95,000 signed up. Administration officials are using the data point to promote the importance of Obamacare to Americans, trying to counter Republicans’ assertions that it is pricey and broken. Some 11.4 million people are expected to enroll in 2017, according to Obama administration projections. Next year’s enrollment was seen as critical to bringing insurers back into the program and securing Obamacare’s future, which was battered this year by skyrocketing premiums and insurer defections.

Migrant Update

More than 900 migrants were rescued from boats in the Mediterranean in the space of only a few hours Saturday morning, according to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, known globally as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The group said via Twitter that 797 people — including 205 women and 22 children — were now on its ship, the Argos. Another 129 people were rescued earlier from a rubber boat by another MSF ship, the Aquarius, the group said. This is already the deadliest year for migrants crossing the Mediterranean bound for Europe, the UN refugee agency said. The number believed dead or missing at sea is more than 4,200 to date. Those seeking to make the journey from Libya are at greatest risk, the agency said. Libya is a popular jumping-off point for migrants seeking to reach Europe from North Africa. Smuggling networks are well-established there, and the lack of an effective central government makes the job of traffickers easier. But the crossing can be treacherous, with too many crammed into what are often barely seaworthy boats.

Economic News

A day after voters chose to send Donald Trump to the White House, the expectation of less austerity and more pro-business policies propelled the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new high at the opening bell. The Dow easily sailed above its previous intraday record high of 18668 points, as it rose 162 points, or 0.91% to 18759. The broader S&P 500 gained 17 points, or 0.8%, to 2180, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 49 points, or 0.92%, to 5299. “With the promise of a tax repatriation scheme for multinationals, lower tax rates, and higher government spending, it seems the markets are waking up to the chance of a growth-driven economic period for the U.S,” said Joshua Mahony, IG market analyst.

China’s currency sank to a six-year low against the U.S. dollar on Thursday as investors weighed what a Donald Trump presidency could mean for trade between the world’s two largest economies. On the campaign trail, Trump talked tough about China, accusing it of “raping” the U.S. through trade tariffs and manipulating its currency, the yuan. One dollar now buys around 6.8 yuan, the weakest the Chinese currency has been since September 2010. It’s fallen around 4.5% against the dollar so far this year after dropping a similar amount in 2015.

Islamic State

Iraqi troops consolidated gains in their advance on the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, regrouping as they clear neighborhoods and houses once occupied by the Islamic State group. In Mosul proper, where troops have a foothold in a sliver of territory in the city’s east, the special forces control the Zahra neighborhood, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, and have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood, military officials said. Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country’s second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. More than 47,730 people have been displaced because of the ongoing military operations to retake Mosul from ISIS, according to the International Organization for Migration. Roughly 12,800 people have fled since Tuesday

A senior ISIS commander has been killed in the battle for Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, Iraqi military intelligence sources told CNN Friday. ISIS confirmed his death in a video montage, referring to Mahmoud Shukri al Nuaimi as “the martyr of the battle.”

The U.N. human rights office is citing new details as proof that the Islamic State group is using chemical weapons as Iraqi government forces try to oust its fighters from the city of Mosul. Amid concerns about ISIS’ use of human shields in the city, rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said four people died from inhaling fumes after ISIS shelled and set fires to the al-Mishrag Sulfur Gas Factory in Mosul on Oct. 23. Reports indicated ISIS has stockpiled “large quantities” of ammonia and sulfur that have been placed in the same areas as civilians. International law requires protection of civilians near such chemicals.

Pakistan

A suicide bomb attack killed at least 52 people and injured more than 100 others during a religious ceremony in the remote mountains of Pakistan Saturday evening, according to local law enforcement. ISIS claimed responsibility for the blast on a Sufi shrine in the Lasbela district of Balochistan, 120 miles from Karachi. About 500 people had assembled to perform a Sufi ritual at the Shah Noorani Shrine when the bomb went off. The remoteness of the region made it difficult to get emergency services to the area, but rescue operations are underway. In September, Pakistan’s military acknowledged for the first time that ISIS had a presence in the country. In October, ISIS attacked a police academy in Quetta, Pakistan killing 61 and injuring 117.

Afghanistan

An attack killed four people and injured more than a dozen others Saturday when an explosive device was detonated at Bagram Airfield, the largest US military base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility in a tweet praising the “strong attack” on Bagram Airfield. Bagram is more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. NATO said 14 people were injured in the blast, which happened shortly after 5:30 a.m. local time. The question now is, how did someone get inside? There are about 14,000 people on the Bagram base, with about 60% contractors. Locals move on and off the base in some contractor roles.

Iran

Iran violated one of the terms of its nuclear deal signed with six world powers by exceeding a limit on its heavy water stockpile, according to a report from United Nations monitors on Wednesday — the same day the rogue nation demanded the U.S. stick to the deal, no matter what. This is the second time that Iran has exceeded the limit, according to investigators. The confidential report by the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, seen by The Associated Press, came out shortly after Iran issued its warning to the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump. The president-elect earlier described the Iran agreement as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

Germany

Five key ISIS recruiters have been arrested in Germany, authorities said Tuesday. The men were allegedly involved in smuggling people out of Germany to join the terror group fighting in Syria. Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah — a 32-year-old Iraqi national also known as “Abu Walaa” — was the ringleader of the multi-regional recruitment network, according to the official statement. Federal prosecutors said he openly acknowledged belonging to ISIS, and was a speaker at several radical gatherings of Salafists and jihadists. The other suspects include a 50-year-old Turkish citizen identified as Hasan C., and a 36-year-old with double German and Serbian nationality named as Boban S., according to the statement. Their job was to teach Arabic and radical Islamic beliefs to those willing to go to Syria, the statement said. A 27-year-old German, Mahmoud O., and a 26-year-old Cameroonian identified as Ahmed F.Y. organized and carried out the trips to Syria.

France

Investigators have identified the suspected coordinator of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks as Oussama Atar, a French intelligence source has told CNN. Atar, also known as Abu Ahmad, is a cousin of the El Bakraoui brothers who blew themselves up in the Brussels Airport and metro attacks in March. Authorities believe Atar helped to radicalize at least one of the brothers online. Atar, 32, who has dual Belgian and Moroccan nationality, is suspected of having directed the attacks from Syria. He remains at large.

Mexico

Mexico’s congressional committee rejected a measure on Wednesday that would’ve legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. The measure on legalizing same-sex couples’ right to wed in the constitution was defeated 19-8, with one abstention, in the Commission on Constitutional Matters. Commission chairman Edgar Castillo Martinez said the vote means the matter is “totally and definitively concluded. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional for states to bar same-sex marriage. The decision did not have the effect of overturning or rewriting any laws.

Columbia

Colombia’s government and the FARC rebel group signed a revised peace accord Saturday after years of negotiations and a half a century of conflict. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the new deal in a TV address Saturday evening, saying it will build a “broader, deeper peace.” A peace deal negotiated earlier this year with FARC rebels was unexpectedly defeated by Colombian voters in October. Many were angered by what they saw as insufficient punishment for those who perpetrated a litany of crimes against their people. Among the new stipulations are reparations for victims which will come from FARC’s assets and money, Santos said. The accord also sets up transitional areas where FARC members stay to be rehabilitated and have “activities of reparation,” Santos said. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for “his resolute efforts” to end the country’s civil war.

Earthquakes

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Christchurch, New Zealand, around 12 a.m. local time on Monday. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the quake occurred 6 miles below the surface near the South Island. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami has been generated, and was measured 8.2 feet above normal tide level by a gauge near Kaikoura, New Zealand. A 1.4-foot tsunami was measured near Wellington. Thousands of Wellington inner city residents have reportedly left their homes for safer areas in the city. Several aftershocks have struck as well. New Zealand is sending military helicopters and a navy ship to rescue about 1,000 tourists and hundreds of residents who remain stranded in Christchurch. It also knocked out water supplies and sewerage systems in Kaikoura. Landslides made roadways impassable, leaving people with no easy way out. One person reportedly died in Kaikoura, where a house collapsed during the earthquake. The clean-up will take months and run into the hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars, officials say. “It’s just utter devastation,” said Prime Minister John Key.

Wildfires

With little to no rain in recent weeks and prolonged drought conditions affecting much of the Southeast, a spate of wildfires has broken out across much of the region, sending up a blanket of smoke that covers several states and metro areas, including Atlanta. Many of the fires are the result of arson, officials say, and three people have been arrested thus far, reports the Associated Press. One of them is a “wannabe meteorologist” who deliberately set a wildfire in an attempt to garner a larger Facebook following. According to the Courier-Journal, at least 150 of 210 wildfires — or 76 percent — that have broken out since October in Kentucky are arson-related.

More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires. About 40 aircraft have been brought in to assist the fire fighters. After dozens of fires broke out this week, the state’s Department for Public Health issued a smoke inhalation advisory for the southeastern part of the state due to poor air quality and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a state of emergency. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Human Services said since Nov. 6, there had been 2,829 wildfires affecting more than 18,158 acres on state-protected lands across North Carolina this year. Dozens of wildfires in Eastern Tennessee have left a blanket of smoke across much of the area. Hundreds of fires have broken out in Georgia in the past few weeks as drought conditions continue, especially in northern counties.

Weather

The long awaited La Niña, which was first predicted by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) back in April, has finally arrived in the Pacific Ocean, NOAA announced Thursday — and it’s expected to stick around through the winter. La Niña conditions, which are characterized by below-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, were observed during October and have persisted into November — prompting the CPC to raise the ENSO Alert System from a La Niña Watch to a La Niña Advisory. La Niña, much like its warmer counterpart, El Niño, has far reaching global impacts extending beyond the Pacific Ocean. For the United States, NOAA forecasters say the current La Niña will “likely contribute to drier and warmer weather in the southern US and wetter, cooler conditions in the Pacific Northwest and across to the northern tier of the nation this winter.” This is bad news for the southeast, which is currently seeing an expanding and worsening drought. Following an autumn that had well above-average temperatures and scant rainfall has left more than 20% of the region in an Extreme or Exceptional Drought, the two highest designations in the US Drought Monitor.

Last week, we saw all-time record highs set in the Northwest. We’ve seen temperatures in the 70s penetrate as far north as Alberta, Canada, upper Michigan, as well as the typically rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest in November. More daily record highs were set over the weekend in parts of the West and Midwest. Record dry streaks continued in the south. Some locations haven’t seen measurable rain since late September. Chief among these streaks is Birmingham, No measurable rain (at least .01 inches) has been tallied at Birmingham’s Shuttlesworth International Airport since Sept. 18, approaching a two-month-long dry streak, topping their previous longest dry streak on record – 52 straight days – from fall 1924.Alabama’s most-populous city.

Signs of the Times – Election Edition

November 9, 2016

Best Election Headline

The Deplorables Decide it’s Time to Drain the Swamp” (Todd Starnes, Fox News)

President Trump Gracious in Victory, Clinton & Obama in Defeat

Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States, CNN projected Wednesday morning, a historic victory for outsiders that represents a stunning repudiation of Washington’s political establishment. The billionaire real estate magnate and former reality star needed an almost perfect run through the swing states — and he got it, winning Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. The Republican swept to victory over Hillary Clinton in the ultimate triumph for a campaign that repeatedly shattered the conventions of politics to pull off a remarkable upset. Speaking at a victory party in New York, Trump was gracious toward Clinton and called for unity. “We owe (Clinton) a very major debt of gratitude to her for her service to our country,” Trump said. “I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.” He added: “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”

President Barack Obama spoke to President-elect Donald Trump Wednesday morning to congratulate him on his victory, the White House said in a statement. Obama invited Trump to meet with him at the White House on Thursday to update him on the transition, the statement said. “Ensuring a smooth transition of power is one of the top priorities the President identified at the beginning of the year and a meeting with the President-elect is the next step,” the statement said. Hillary Clinton also called Trump to concede as the results became clear. “Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country,” Clinton said at Wednesday morning’s press conference. “I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans… We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. And we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.”

Presidential Election Defies Polls and Expectations

Pollsters flubbed the 2016 presidential election in seismic fashion, notes the USA Today. Donald Trump’s victory dealt a devastating blow to the credibility of the nation’s leading pollsters, calling into question their mathematical models, assumptions and survey methods. Several months of polls pegged Hillary Clinton as the leader in the polarizing race and as the leader in many so-called battleground states. But Trump’s surge crushed the conventional wisdom among pollsters. Early Wednesday, he was far outpacing projections across the board. The results suggest pollsters may have wildly underestimated the number of hidden Trump voters — people who stampeded to the ballot box on Election Day but never showed up on the radar of surveyors. There was one notable exception among pollsters. The Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California tracking poll consistently pegged Trump as the leader throughout the final months of the campaign — much derision from political pundits who are now scrambling for explanations.

U.S. Media Out of Touch with Americans

The American political-media establishment did not understand the depth of anger in its own country, concludes CNN. That is one of the most significant lessons of the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump overcame the doubts of a majority of reporters, pollsters and political scientists who believed Hillary Clinton was headed for a decisive victory. Instead, white rural voters turned out in numbers that few so-called political experts expected, delivering that decisive victory to Trump. Trump’s campaign manager credited the phenomenon of “undercover Trump voters.” “The media are so, so far removed from their country,” said Alec MacGillis, the veteran political journalist who writes for ProPublica. “The gaps have gotten so large. The media are all in Washington, D.C., and New York now thanks to the decline of local and metro papers. And the gaps between how those cities and the rest of the country are doing have gotten so much larger in recent years.”

Trump’s Triumph Resonates in House and Senate Races

Republicans everywhere assumed Trump would be a drag on the party’s hopes of keeping Senate control. He wasn’t. He actually had coattails. The results suggest that there weren’t many split-ticket voters. Republican candidates were terrified prior to the election, but Trump turned out to work well for the party’s advantage. Republicans appear to have control now of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Ballot Measures

In Arizona, Proposition 205 to legalize recreational marijuana was soundly defeated. However, Proposition 206 passed which will increase the minimum wage from $8.05 to $10.00 next year and to $12.00 per hour by 2020. Colorado and Maine also voters approved measures phasing in a $12 minimum hourly wages by 2020. In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters approved a measure raising that to $13.50 an hour by 2020. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. California, Massachusetts and Nevada did vote to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Voters in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved measures allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. In Nebraska, voters reinstated the death penalty.

Another hot-button issue — gun control — was on the ballot in four states, including California, which already has some of the nation’s toughest gun-related laws. Voters there approved a measure that will outlaw possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, require permits to buy ammunition and extend California’s unique program that allows authorities to seize firearms from owners who bought guns legally but are no longer allowed to own them. Washington state approved a ballot measure that will allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from individuals who are deemed a threat. In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions promoting ballot measures that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. Both contests were too close to call early Wednesday.

Colorado voters approved a measure that will allow physicians to assist a terminally ill person in dying. That’s already a practice in five other states. Coloradans defeated a proposal that would have set up the nation’s first universal health care system. California voters repealed a nearly two-decade-old law that limited bilingual education in public schools. Washington voters rejected a plan to promote cleaner energy by imposing a tax of $25 per metric ton on carbon emissions from fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal and natural gas.

Protests Break Out in California

Protests erupted in Northern California early Wednesday after Donald Trump was declared the next president of the United States. According to KTVU, about 100 protesters gathered in Oakland and sought to block freeways and create a commotion. The protesters forced BART to shut down and at least one demonstrator was struck by a vehicle. The station also reported that some cars were set on fire and other vehicles had broken windows. Protesters were also seen in Berkeley, chanting “not my president.”

The Shifting Electorate

Barack Obama was catapulted into office eight years ago by what was, at the time, the most diverse electorate in history. The Americans who headed to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots for his successor are even more diverse. Thirty-one percent of eligible voters were racial or ethnic minorities, up from 29% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. And the share of non-Hispanic white voters eligible to vote will be the lowest in history, the continuation of a steady decline in white voters over the past three decades. In 1988, whites made up about 84% of all voters. Now it’s down to 69%. The Census Bureau projects that no one racial group will be a majority of the country by the year 2044.

World Gasps in Disbelief over Trump’s Election

The world gasped in collective disbelief on Wednesday following the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race, with apprehensive allies seeking to put a brave face on a result they had dreaded and American adversaries exulting in an outcome they see as a potential turning point in global affairs, observes the Washington Post. Within minutes of Trump’s triumph, congratulatory messages poured in from leaders around the world, both friend and foe alike, even as security councils convened emergency meetings and dumbfounded diplomats struggled to understand the implications of Trump’s win. In a Moscow ceremony to welcome new ambassadors, Russian President Vladimir Putin referenced Trump’s call for warmer ties and said “Russia is ready and willing to restore full-fledged relations with the United States.” News of the Republican’s victory was greeted with broad smiles and a round of applause in the lower house of the Russian parliament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had criticized Trump during the presidential campaign for showing intolerance toward Muslims, said that Trump’s victory was a “positive sign” and the “beginning of a new era in the United States.” But beneath the assurances of business as usual, and even optimism in some quarters, was deep anxiety that Trump’s win could fundamentally unsettle the global order. The terms “shock” and “nightmare,” which were trending on Twitter in Germany, appeared to reflect the sentiment among many observers and politicians in Berlin. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen called Trump’s victory a “severe shock.” Concerns were also sharp in Brussels, the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, where Trump had been universally opposed, as well as among key Asian strategic allies such as Japan and South Korea. But China’s state media chortled at how the elections revealed the decline of American democracy.

Obamacare Not Affordable for Middle Class

Obamacare is now a tale of two health insurance programs, reports CNNMoney. For the 85% of enrollees with lower incomes, federal subsidies make the premiums more affordable. Those even closer to the poverty line can get additional subsidies that reduce the deductibles, which can run into thousands of dollars. But for many middle class Americans — a single person earning more than $47,520 or a family of four with an income of $97,200 — the pricey premiums and deductibles mean health care coverage remains out of reach. This schism is turning Obamacare into another government benefit program for lower- and moderate-income Americans, CNNMoney concludes.

Economic News

Last year –for the first time – spending on federal healthcare programs outpaced spending on Social Security, reports Money and Markets. In fact, the government spent $936 billion on health programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and subsidies related to the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare. That’s a massive 13 percent jump from 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In contrast, spending on Social Security totaled $882 billion,

Tesco Bank has halted online banking transactions after fraudsters stole money from 20,000 customer accounts. The banking division of Britain’s biggest supermarket chain said 40,000 accounts had been affected by “online criminal activity” over the weekend, but money was fraudulently taken from only half of the accounts. Tesco said it was suspending online transactions for current (checking) accounts as a precautionary measure. Customers using Tesco’s online support forum were reporting that sums of up to “several thousands” of pounds had vanished from their accounts. Tesco said it was hoping to refund all customers within 24 hours.

The world’s fastest growing economy has woken up to a countrywide bank shutdown. Banks and ATMs all over India were closed on Wednesday, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock decision a day earlier to withdraw 500 and 1,000 rupee notes — the country’s two largest denominations — from circulation at midnight. Indians use cash for most transactions, and the measures were making it hard for them to conduct business or purchase everyday items. The currency move is an attempt to combat corruption and recover “black money,” billions in illegal funds often stashed overseas by tax evaders. For now, it means an incredible 23 billion notes (more than 80% of those in circulation) are now just “pieces of paper,” as Modi put it during his speech Tuesday. They will either have to be deposited or exchanged. That will have to wait till banks reopen on Thursday when the Reserve Bank of India says it will roll out new higher security 500 and 2,000 rupee notes.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian forces announced the start of a plan Sunday to retake the Islamic State terror group’s de facto capital of Raqqa — an operation they called “Euphrates Rage.” The statement said 30,000 fighters would take part in the operation. The announcement came as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces had entered the eastern edges of the ISIS-held city of Mosul and were working to push deeper into the last ISIS urban bastion in Iraq. The Kurdish officials said the two campaigns were not coordinated. The SDF is dominated by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The United States considers the group as the most effective force against ISIS, but Turkey views them as a terror organization and claims it’s linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish group. American and Turkish military leaders agreed on a long-term plan for “seizing, holding and governing” the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, following meetings in the Turkish capital Ankara on Monday, according to the US Department of Defense’s news service.

Islamic State (ISIS) militants have forced about 1,500 families to retreat with them near Mosul, as Iraqi forces push ahead with their offensive to drive the militants out of their stronghold, the U.N. human rights commission said Tuesday. ISIS militants also abducted 295 former Iraqi Security Forces members from villages on the outskirts of the city, Reuters reports. Speaking at a U.N. briefing in Geneva, Shamdasani said the abducted families, taken from Hammam al Alil town, were being taken to Mosul airport, adding that “[t]he fate of these civilians is unknown for the moment.” The campaign by Iraqi government forces, Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militias supported by U.S. air strikes to push ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is now in its fourth week. Mosul is the militant’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Environment

Delhi, India’s capital, is choking under off-the-charts smog, with some parts of the city reporting levels almost five times those considered “unhealthy” by the US environmental protection agency. An emergency ruling issued over the weekend saw more than 5,000 schools closed and construction work halted for the next three days. Officials warned that the number of vehicles allowed on the streets may be restricted if the situation does not improve. In Khan Market, one of Delhi’s trendiest areas, shops that specialized in anti-pollution masks were doing brisk business as people queued up to buy some modicum of protection from the toxic smog. On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to protest outside Parliament in the city center as others voiced their displeasure online, posting to Twitter with the slogan #MyRightToBreathe.

A massive sinkhole formed in the middle of a street in Fukuoka City, Japan, spanning the entire length of the four-lane road and the sidewalks as well. The cause of the sinkhole has not yet been determined. No injuries were reported, despite the large size of the sinkhole in the middle of a busy, business area. Fortunately, it struck early in the morning. By 8 a.m. local time Tuesday morning, emergency crews surrounded the gaping hole, which was partially filled with water. In the vicinity, power outages and a broken gas line were also reported.

Earthquakes

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sunday near Cushing, Oklahoma, prompting evacuations and school closures. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the tremor occurred at 7:44 p.m. CST at a depth of 3.1 miles. The quake’s epicenter was 1.2 miles west of Cushing in central Oklahoma. The quake was reportedly felt as far away as Kansas City, Missouri, and Arkansas. A few minor injuries were reported. The damage reported in Cushing was primarily in the downtown area. One senior living complex was evacuated. Those residents were transported to a youth center gymnasium.

Wildfires

With little to no rain in recent weeks and prolonged drought conditions affecting much of the Southeast, a spate of wildfires has broken out across much of the region, sending up a blanket of smoke that covers several states. Firefighters in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida are battling numerous wildfires as dry conditions continue to plague areas that are in much need of rain. At least 20 different forest fires spread over 11,000 acres are burning in Eastern Kentucky. Dozens of wildfires in Eastern Tennessee have left a blanket of smoke across much of the area. Hundreds of fires have broken out in Georgia in the past few weeks as drought conditions continue, especially in northern counties. Thousands of acres have burned in Western North Carolina after dozens of wildfires broke out in recent days, according to The Citizen-Times.

Weather

A tornado struck near Rome, Italy, Sunday, killing at least two and injuring dozens. The tornado that struck around 6 p.m. local timeDozens of buildings were damaged in Ladispoli by the twister and an undetermined number of injuries have been reported. Several homes were evacuated amid fears of gas leaks. The Ladispoli City Council announced on Sunday that schools would be closed on Monday. The storm the produced the tornado also brought localized street flooding to Rome.

The Power of Prayer

November 9, 2016

As the discombobulated media fumbles for reasons to explain President Trump’s historic win, it was the power of prayer that overcame all the polls and expectations. Now it’s incumbent to pray that nothing happens to undo the electoral process when the Electoral College meets to formalize the triumph on December 19th.

Signs of the Times (11/5/16)

November 5, 2016

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Nov. 6

This Sunday, November 6, marks the 20th International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). Christians around the world are facing increasing persecution for sharing their faith, handing out Bibles, and meeting together to worship. From Christians who have been arrested and banned from meeting together in China to Christians in the Middle East who have suffered under ISIS’ control to Christians in Pakistan who suffer under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, Christians around the world are in great need of prayer. “According to statistics, persecution is the daily reality of at least 100 million Christians around the world,” says Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Religious Liberty Commission, according to BibleGateway.com. “These Christians, who face routine harassment and difficulties, often suffer in silence and isolation. Over the years, the IDOP has served as a platform to highlight their stories and advocate their plight. Moreover, in so doing, the IDOP has also been a source of solidarity and encouragement to persecuted Christians by reminding them that they are part of a larger, global family of believers.”

Federal Judge Rebukes President Obama Over Lack of Christian Refugees

A federal judge called out the Obama administration over the lack of Christian refugees being allowed into the United States from war-torn Syria. “It is well‐documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war‐torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one‐half of 1 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote. In 2016 alone, some 11,000 Syrian refugees have entered the United States, only 56 were Christians, according to data produced by the Refugee Processing Center. So far, between 500,000 and 1 million Christians have fled the violence or were murdered. Manion took aim at Obama’s policy in a 7th U.S. Court of Appeals opinion on a lawsuit filed by the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. The group advocates for immigrants and those fleeing violence from their home countries.

FBI Warns of Possible Pre-Election Day Terror Attacks

Al-Qaeda may be planning pre-Election Day attacks on Monday in New York, Texas and Virginia, says the FBI. U.S. intelligence officials have alerted joint terrorism task forces of the threat, whose credibility was still being assessed, sources told The New York Post. Specific sites that may be targeted in the three states were not mentioned in the threat. “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a senior FBI official told CBS News. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday he had learned of the threat several days ago during classified briefings. “We are still very much assessing the credibility. It is not at all clear how credible this is,” Blasio said.

Voters Disgusted with U.S. Politics

An overwhelming majority of voters are disgusted by the state of American politics, and many harbor doubts that either major-party nominee can unite the country after a historically ugly presidential campaign, according to the final pre-election New York Times/CBS News Poll. With more than eight in 10 voters saying the campaign has left them repulsed rather than excited, the rising toxicity threatens the ultimate victor. Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidate, and Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, are seen as dishonest and viewed unfavorably by a majority of voters. More than a quarter of Trump’s supporters say they will probably not accept the outcome if Mrs. Clinton is declared the winner, and nearly 40 percent of them say they have little or no confidence that Americans’ votes will be counted properly.

Intelligence Agencies Expect Russia to Continue Meddling in U.S. Politics

U.S. intelligence agencies do not see Russia as capable of using cyberespionage to alter the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, but they have warned that Moscow may continue meddling after the voting has ended to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the result, U.S. officials said. The assessment reflects widespread concern among U.S. spy agencies that a months-long campaign by Russia to rattle the mechanisms of American democracy will probably continue after polls close on one of the most polarizing races in recent history, extending and amplifying the political turbulence, reports the Washington Post. In recent weeks, officials at the Department of Homeland Security have collected evidence of apparent Russian “scanning” of state-run databases and computer voting systems. The decentralized nature of U.S. polling would make it extraordinarily difficult to subvert a nationwide race. Instead, U.S. officials said it is more likely that Russia would use hacking tools to expose or fabricate signs of vote-rigging, aiming to delegitimize the election outcome.

Voter issues

A federal judge in North Carolina granted a preliminary injunction to the NAACP on Friday, holding that residents whose voter registrations were canceled in recent months because of a so-called “individual challenge law” must have their registration restored. The ruling could affect thousands of voters. “The court concludes that the balance of the equities and public interest factors weigh decidedly in favor of protecting eligible voters who are being removed from the voter rolls,” wrote Loretta Biggs of the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Kim Westbrook Strach, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying her office “is working quickly to establish the procedures necessary to comply with the court order between now and Election Day.” Civil Rights groups praised the ruling that comes in a key swing state just four days before Election Day. Strach says that the challenges at issue were not initiated by the counties, but by private individuals.

Jerry Mosna was gardening outside his San Pedro, Calif., home Saturday when he noticed something odd: Two stacks of 2016 ballots on his mailbox. The 83 ballots, each unused, were addressed to different people, all supposedly living in his elderly neighbor’s two-bedroom apartment. “I think this is spooky,” Mosna said. “All the different names, none we recognize, all at one address.” His wife, Madalena Mosna, noted their 89-year-old neighbor lives by herself, and, “Eighty people can’t fit in that apartment.” They took the ballots to the Los Angeles Police Department, but were directed to the post office. They felt little comfort there would be an investigation, and called another neighbor, John Cracchiolo – who contacted the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office. A spokeswoman for the Registrar said the office will investigate. Both Cracchiolo and Jerry Mosna told FoxNews.com they think they stumbled upon a case of fraud.

Pre-Election Gun Sales on the Rise

The FBI’s background check system for gun sales processed more than 2.3 million checks in October, setting an all-time record. There were 2,333,539 gun-related checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, last month, according to FBI documents posted on Monday. That represents an increase of more than 350,000 checks over the previous October, itself a record. It’s also the 18th month in a row to set a record for the month.

  • Next week’s election has clearly made many people nervous.

Suicide Rate Doubles for U.S. Children

Since 2007, the rate of suicide deaths among children between the ages of 10 and 14 has doubled, according to new government data released Thursday. The death rate data, published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, measured children’s deaths between the years 1999 and 2014. The child suicide rate fluctuated from 1999 to 2007, but rose sharply after 2007. The lowest rate of suicide fatalities was 0.9 deaths per 100,000 kids in 2007, but that number doubled to 2.1, or 425 deaths, in 2014. Dr. Lisa Boesky, a private clinical psychologist and author who studies adolescent suicide, says younger kids will often take their own lives impulsively. Young kids may attempt to harm themselves for different reasons than teens. Most of the time, bad relationships between family and friends provoke kids to hurt themselves, Boesky says. The younger children are much more likely to suffer from (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), Boesky says.

America’s Undocumented Immigrant Workforce has Stopped Growing

In the years that followed the Great Recession, the number of undocumented workers joining America’s workforce came to a standstill. According to a report released Thursday from Pew Research Center, an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants were either working or looking for work in the U.S. in 2014, down from the 8.1 million that were in the U.S. workforce in 2009. Overall, this group made up about 5% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, Pew reported. The declining growth rate in the number of undocumented workers is a sharp contrast to the decade prior to the recession. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. workforce more than doubled from 3.6 million to 7.3 million, Pew reported. Mexico’s stablizing economy has helped stem the flow of undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S.

Economic News – Domestic

Wall Street is on edge ahead of next week’s election. The S&P 500 dropped for the ninth straight day on Friday. That’s the longest losing streak for the index since December 1980. Over the nine-day period, the S&P 500 has fallen by 3.1%. Compared with that, the S&P 500 fell a lot more in December 1980 — 9.4% — over the course of nine days. The slow downward momentum is due to election uncertainty, analysts say.

The economy added 161,000 jobs in October, a solid gain, suggesting it is maintaining its healthy and steady pace. Jobs added during the previous month were also revised up from 156,000 to 191,000 by the Labor Department. Unemployment fell a tick to 4.9%. That’s down by half since 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10%. Wage growth — one of the last metrics to move in the right direction post-recession — continued to show signs of accelerating. Wages grew 2.8% in October compared to a year ago, the fastest growth since June 2009.

A more-realistic unemployment rate is probably closer to 10 percent and a wide swatch of the American public remains out of work, reports NewsMax. Millions of Americans are working part time but would prefer full-time work. The alternative gauge of joblessness, the U-6 rate, that counts not only the officially unemployed but also the part-timers who’d prefer full-time work and people who have stopped looking for jobs, fell to 9.5 percent. That’s the lowest point since 2008. Still, it is higher than is typical in a healthy economy. Meanwhile, CNS News reports that “94,609,000 Americans aren’t in the labor force, 425,000 more than last month’s 94,184,000, and the second highest number on record.”

America has gained 10.9 million new jobs since President Obama took office. But as CNNMoney points out, the total job gains under Obama are far fewer than under Presidents Reagan and Clinton. The question is, how good are those jobs? Overall, manufacturing jobs have declined 122,000 since February 2009. But some blue-collar jobs are growing, such as construction. Almost all of the job gains under President Obama have been in so-called service jobs, including the low-end jobs of toiling in stores and restaurants, concludes CNNMoney.

America’s greenback recently hit its highest point since early March, rallying on the rising hopes that the Federal Reserve will finally raise interest rates in December. Last week, the Fed hinted that it plans to raise rates “relatively soon,” a comment that added to the dollar’s rally. It’s up 3% against a basket of currencies since late September, surpassing the level seen after the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. A rate increase in the U.S. would be the first in a year and a reflection of a healthy economy.

Crude oil got crushed this week due to new signs the oil glut isn’t going away just yet. Oil prices have dropped from over $50 per barrel of crude to under $44 after a government report revealed that stockpiles of crude unexpectedly skyrocketed. The Energy Information Administration said crude inventories surged by 14.4 million barrels last week. It’s the biggest increase on records that go back to 1982. Analysts had anticipated an increase of just 1 million barrels.

The FBI’s background check system for gun sales processed more than 2.3 million checks in October, setting an all-time record. There were 2,333,539 gun-related checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, last month, according to FBI documents posted on Monday. That represents an increase of more than 350,000 checks over the previous October, itself a record. It’s also the 18th month in a row to set a record for the month.

  • Next week’s election has clearly made many people nervous.

Economic News – International

A senior British court on Thursday dealt a severe blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to begin the process of exiting the European Union early next year, ruling she must get Parliament’s approval before she acts. The decision greatly complicates May’s stated plan to trigger Article 50 — the never-before-used mechanism for a country to leave the European Union — by the end of March at the latest. Most members of Parliament opposed Brexit in the lead-up to Britain’s June referendum, when voters opted for an exit by a 52-to-48 margin. But it risks setting off an angry backlash from voters who favor leaving the E.U. and believe the issue was completely settled.

Migrant Update

French authorities Wednesday finished moving the last of the 1,616 unaccompanied minors housed at the country’s “Jungle” migrant camp, as British officials prepared to assess them for settlement in the UK. The children had been living in shelters made from converted shipping containers at the camp in the port town of Calais as the tents and shacks around them, which once housed thousands of other migrants, were demolished over the past week. Last week, France evacuated at least 6,000 migrants and bussed them to other regions to begin the process of resettlement.

During the first six months of 2016, migrants in Germany committed 142,500 crimes, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office. Germany has been hit by a spate of horrendous violent crime including rapes, sexual and physical assaults, stabbings, home invasions, robberies, burglaries and drug trafficking. Adding to the country’s woes is the fact that thousands of people have gone missing, reports Technocracy News. Germany took in more than 1.1million migrants in the past year and parts of the country are crippled with a lack of infrastructure. According to Freddi Lohse of the German Police Union in Hamburg, many migrant offenders view the leniency of the German justice system as a green light to continue delinquent behavior, says the report.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces entered ISIS-held Mosul on Thursday for the first time in more than two years, and are in a head-to-head battle with ISIS militants on the front line, defense officials said. Penetrating the eastern border has been the most significant breakthrough in the offensive launched two weeks ago to free Mosul from the militant group’s brutal rule. Officials warned that entering the city would likely trigger the fiercest fighting yet, and that the battle is expected to be fought “street to street,” or even “house to house.” The Defense Ministry says there is now a safe passage for civilians to flee the front line and hundreds of civilians have poured out of Mosul. Many of them waved white flags to show they were civilians.

As the attention of Western media focuses on the besieged rebel-held eastern enclave of Aleppo, Christians in the government controlled areas are fighting a daily struggle to survive. In the Christian quarter, there are 3,221 Christians over the age of 80 who have no one to turn to, as their families have left the country to escape the war. “The poor and the poorest are those who remain,” reports Barnabas Aid. “One [US] dollar used to be 50 Syrian pounds but now it is 500 – 600. Food and medicine are available, but very expensive. The cost of a kilogram of milk used to be 260 Syrian pounds before the war, but now it is 2,600.

Turkey

A car bomb attack in the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region killed eight people Friday, hours after authorities detained at least 12 pro-Kurdish legislators for questioning in terror-related probes. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said two police officers, a technician and five civilians died in the attack near a building used by the riot police. Up to 100 people were hurt in the blast but only seven of them remain in hospital, he said. The Diyarbakir governor’s office said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out with a minibus laden with a ton of explosives. The blast caused a large crater near the police building and damaged several buildings and businesses nearby.

Afghanistan

Two U.S. service members were killed Thursday during a joint raid by U.S. special operations forces and Afghan troops targeting senior Taliban commanders — rare combat deaths for Western forces who handed over the task of securing Afghanistan to local troops some two years ago. Four U.S. service members suffered injuries. More than 30 Afghan civilians were killed in the fighting as well, according to local reports. The American service members “came under fire” alongside Afghan troops while attempting to “clear a Taliban position” in Kunduz province, military officials said. At least five Americans have been killed in action in Afghanistan since early October.

Jordan

Three U.S. service-members were killed in a shootout Friday at the gates of an air base in southern Jordan, the military said, a U.S. official told Fox News. The shots were fired as a car carrying the trainers tried to enter the al-Jafr base near the southern Jordanian town of Mann, said the military. A Jordanian officer was also wounded. Jordan is grappling with homegrown extremism, with hundreds of Jordanians fighting alongside ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, with several thousand more supporting the extremist group from within the Jordanian kingdom. Last November, a Jordanian police captain opened fire in an international police training facility, killing two Americans and three others.

Nigeria

Women and girls who survived Boko Haram violence were raped by government officials at camps in northern Nigeria where they sought safety, according to a new rights group report. Dozens of victims who stayed at camps for the displaced in Borno State’s capital Maiduguri told Human Rights Watch they were sexually abused or coerced into sex by camp leaders, vigilante group members, policemen and soldiers. Many of the women were abandoned after becoming pregnant. “It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them,” said Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at HRW.

Earthquakes

The 6.6-magnitude earthquake that rocked the Umbria region of Italy on Sunday was the strongest earthquake to strike the country in 30 years and caused serious damage to houses and other structures as far away as Rome. In addition, there was a huge displacement of the ground across an area of 50 square miles, from several inches to up to more than two feet. The greatest displacement occurred around the mountain village of Castelluccio, where the ground heaved over 28 inches. The result of the massive shift caused devastating destruction to the city’s structures. The quake, which was very shallow, destroyed the entire village of Arquata del Tronto, including the historic Basilica of Saint Benedict in Norcia.

Weather

Warm weather was persistent and smashed many records in October. It was the hottest October on record in such locations as Huntsville, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Perhaps the most eye-popping October warmth, however, was in Alaska. America’s northernmost town, Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, about 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, had a monthly temperature departure of 12.9 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Overall, there were 5,824 record highs in cities and towns across the U.S. while only 501 low-temperature records were set.

Parts of the Deep South haven’t seen measurable rain since September, setting new all-time dry-streak records and quickly worsening the Southeast’s drought this fall. No measurable rain (at least .01 inches) has been tallied in Alabama at Birmingham’s Shuttlesworth International Airport since Sept. 18, over a month and a half’s time, a record-long dry streak for the city dating back to 1930. They’re not alone. Anniston, Alabama, Meridian, Mississippi, and Rome, Georgia, each have 39-day dry streaks through Friday. Surprising dry streaks of over a month-long have also occurred along the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, each at 38 straight days through Nov. 4. As a result, numerous wildfires are burning from Alabama northward into Tennessee and Kentucky.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is drying up and shrinkingThe lake’s decline has been caused by a combination of factors, both natural and man-made. The Beehive State continues to be impacted by a long-term drought that has persisted for five years. But the problems have been growing for more than 150 years, when humans began removing more water from the lake and its watershed than was being replenished. Some 40 percent of the river water that should flow into and refill the lake is being diverted by farming and other industries, as well as for human consumption.

Signs of the Times (11/1/16)

November 1, 2016

Supreme Court Takes Up School Bathroom Rules for Transgender Students

The Supreme Court said Friday that it will decide whether the Obama administration may require public school systems to let transgender students use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, putting the court once again at the center of a divisive social issue. School districts across the country are split on how to accommodate transgender students amid conflicting guidance from courts, the federal government and, in some cases, state legislatures that have passed laws requiring people to use public restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates. The justices accepted a petition from the School Board of Gloucester County, Va., seeking to overturn a lower court’s order that 17-year-old Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, be allowed to use the boys’ restroom during his senior year of high school. It is the most high-profile case the eight-member court has accepted since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. The case will not be heard until next year, and it is unclear whether Scalia’s seat will be filled by then.

A Wide Variety of Significant State Ballot Measures on Tap

While this year’s explosive presidential politics have drowned out battles at the state level, voters across the country nevertheless face a daunting number of weighty ballot questions on Nov. 8 – ranging from an effort to abolish the death penalty to one that would usher in a state-run health care system. Other states are jumping on the bandwagon of weighing marijuana legalization, while minimum-wage hikes, gun control and even a statewide plastic-bag ban are being put to voters. As usual, California leads in the number of statewide ballot measures with 17, including ones that revisit two hot-button social issues from the past. At the top of the list are two competing measures regarding the death penalty – one (Proposition 62) putting an end to it and replacing it with life without parole. The other (Proposition 66) puts time limits on appeals in an attempt to fast-track executions. If both measures get a majority, the one that receives the most “yes” votes wins. California is also voting on Proposition 58, which would allow public schools to restart controversial bilingual programs.

In neighboring Nevada, voters are considering a far-reaching electricity deregulation measure known as Question 3. If approved, it would insert language into the state constitution to require an “open, competitive retail electricity market.” Supporters see it as a way of breaking the public utility monopoly and jump-starting a marketplace filled with clean, alternative energy providers. Colorado voters are being asked to approve ColoradoCare, which would finance a $36-billion “universal healthcare” system to cover almost all Coloradans. To do so, Amendment 69 imposes a 10-percent payroll tax on employers, who would pay two-thirds of it, and employees, who would pay the remaining third. Voters in Democratic-leaning Oregon also are being asked to slap a tax increase – 2.5 percent on gross sales in excess of $25 million – on some of the state’s largest employers. Five states are considering the legalization of marijuana for recreational uses (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada).

Minimum-wage fights will play out on five state ballots. Arizona, Colorado and Maine voters will consider initiatives that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Washington’s minimum-wage measure would raise it to $13.50 by 2020 and mandate that many employers provide paid sick leave. In South Dakota, voters face a referendum on a law that would lower the minimum wage for under-18 workers from $8.50 an hour to $7.50 an hour – an effort supporters say would reduce teen unemployment.

FBI Roils Election with Email Probe

In an unprecedented move, FBI Director James Comey threw a monkey-wrench into the November 8 Presidential election by sending a letter to Congress indicating that the FBI is reopening the Hillary Clinton classified email probe. The basis for reopening the closed case was the additional emails found on disgraced Congressman’s Andrew Weiner’s laptop. Weiner is under investigation for sexting a 15-year old girl. Thousands of emails involving Clinton and her top aide, Huma Abedin, Weiner’s estranged wife, were found on the laptop. While no charges were filed against Clinton in the original probe that called her handling of classified material “extremely careless,” a renewed probe could possibly result in criminal charges which would throw the election into turmoil. Clinton has asked for a full disclosure of these emails while Abedin has apparently retreated off the campaign trail into hiding. The Department of Justice reprimanded Comey for taking an investigation public in violation of normal FBI protocol.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch ‘Pleads the Fifth’ Over Iran Payment

According to a new report from The Washington Free Beacon, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is refusing to answer any questions about her role in the Obama administration’s $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran that coincided with the release of several Americans in Iranian custody. Effectively, she’s “pleading the fifth” to avoid incriminating herself over these payments, according to lawmakers and communications made public in the Free Beacon report. At issue is a series of questions asked by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) over how the payment to Iran was approved and delivered. In an Oct. 24 response, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik responded on Lynch’s behalf, refusing to answer the questions and informing the lawmakers that they are barred from publicly disclosing any details about the cash payment. The response from the attorney general’s office is “unacceptable” and provides evidence that Lynch has chosen to “essentially plead the fifth and refuse to respond to inquiries regarding [her] role in providing cash to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” Rubio and Pompeo wrote on Friday in a follow-up letter to Lynch.

NAACP Sues North Carolina Over Voting Registration Purge

The NAACP filed suit in federal court on Monday against the North Carolina State Board of Elections, arguing that state officials in at least three counties have canceled “thousands” of voter registrations. Lawyers for the civil rights group say that boards of elections in Beaufort, Moore and Cumberland counties have canceled thousands of voter registrations after a small number of individuals challenged the registration of approximately 4,500 voters based “exclusively on mass mailings that were returned as undeliverable.” They argue the “en-masse” cancellation was done in violation of the National Voter Registration Act that prohibits systemic voter removal programs within 90 days of a federal election and that it disproportionately targeted African-American voters. CNN identified several who are alive and still living within the county. “In many cases, voters purged by defendants still reside at the address where they are registered to vote, or have moved within the county and remain eligible to vote there,” NAACP lawyers argued. Under North Carolina law any voter in a county can challenge the eligibility of any other county voter up to 25 days before the election.

Migrants from Around the World Sneaking Across U.S. Border

Arrest data from the Homeland Security Department reported that an increasing number of people from around the globe have tried to sneak in the U.S. among the hundreds of thousands of other, mostly Latin American migrants caught at the Mexican border within the last year. More than 408,000 people were caught illegally crossing the Mexican border in the last year. The arrests suggest a rising trend in migrants searching for an alternative route into the U.S. from across the seas to South America, then over land to Central America and finally through Mexico before arriving at the U.S. border illegally. While in the past Mexico has led the numbers for most immigrants using the border to come to the U.S. illegally, that number has since dropped significantly in recent years. India and China are now among the top 10 countries of origin for people caught trying to sneak into the United States. In 2013 Mexican immigration authorities arrested fewer than 1,000 migrants from Asia and Africa, while the number rose to nearly 11,000 from January through August of this year. The uptick in arrivals of people from other continents, combined with an increase in overall border crossings in the last 12 months, has led to a spike of more than 40,000 people being held in immigration jails.

Obamacare Price Increases Vary Widely by State

As Obamacare enrollment began Tuesday, the impact of an average 22% rise in benchmark plan prices will vary wildly depending on where you live. While Obamacare plans on some state exchanges will have modest price increases, others will have staggering hikes. The premium for the benchmark plan is more than doubling in Arizona, to an average of $422 a month for a 27-year-old enrollee. In Oklahoma, it’s increasing 69% to $424. Monthly premiums range from a low of $219 in New Hampshire and Massachusetts to $760 in Alaska. Nationally, 85% of those enrolled receive a tax credit, which is based on the price of the second-lowest cost silver plan and an enrollee’s income. These subsidies put a limit on how much enrollees have to pay, thus passing along the price increase to taxpayers.

Deadly Fire Shuts Down Key U.S. Pipeline

A crucial pipeline that carries gasoline and other fuel to the U.S. East Coast has been shut down for the second time in two months, bringing a new threat of price hikes at the pump. A fire broke out Monday afternoon along a section of the Colonial Pipeline in Alabama, killing one person and injuring five others, the pipeline operator said. Images from the scene showed a massive plume of flames and smoke towering over nearby trees. The blaze, which continued to rage late Monday, prompted the closure of the pipeline, which stretches from Houston to New York and provides gasoline for 50 million people, according to company estimates. AAA said the shutdown is likely to cause gas prices to rise in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the country. In early September, part of the pipeline was closed for nearly two weeks because of a huge gasoline leak. That caused gas prices to spike by 28 cents in Georgia and 17 cents in Tennessee, according to AAA.

U.S. Inmates Launch a Nationwide Strike

Last month, on the 45th anniversary of the infamous Attica Prison uprising, tens of thousands of U.S. inmates launched a nationwide protest that continues today, according to advocates who helped organize the effort. The inmates’ grievances are as varied as the states they came from: Pennies for labor in South Carolina, racial discrimination in California, excessive force in Michigan. However, they share an overarching goal: End legalized slavery inside American correctional facilities. Jails and prisons don’t have to be comfortable, but the US Supreme Court has said they’re not supposed to be dangerous or dehumanizing. Yet the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, while banning slavery, allows prisoners to work for little to no pay, in what inmate advocates say crosses the limits of human decency, amounting to modern-day servitude. Since September 9, the Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee, a prisoner rights advocacy group, estimates as many as 50,000 inmates have taken part in coordinated strikes planned through social media on cell phones and snail mail across nearly two-dozen states, claims that have not been independently verified.

Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops Unfulfilled

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on  fears that they are unsafe to eat. But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides. The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weed-killers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides. Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen well short of the promise.

Economic News

Europe and Canada just signed a wide-ranging free trade agreement on Sunday, to make it easier and cheaper to conduct trans-Atlantic trade in goods and services. European officials say the deal, which eliminates 99% of tariffs, will ultimately save European companies 500 million euros or about $548 million per year. The deal, called CETA, also makes it easier for European companies to bid on Canadian government contracts, and vice versa. Europeans will get easier access to investments in Canada, and vice versa.

Mexico’s economy only grew 2% between July and September, compared to the same time a year ago, the government announced Monday, it’s worst quarterly growth in two years. The government has cut spending, manufacturing production has been weak and consumer confidence has declined, all holding down overall growth. Low oil prices, and weak demand from Americans also held back Mexico during the quarter, economists say. Trade with other nations — largely with America — makes up over a third of Mexico’s economy.

Islamic State

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been snatched from their homes and forced into the center of Mosul as the battle intensifies to drive ISIS out of Iraq’s second-largest city. Using these civilians as human shields is ISIS’s attempt to hold onto the city, the jewel of its self-proclaimed caliphate. No one expected the militants to surrender Mosul without a fight. But for Iraqis still living under ISIS control in the city and surrounding areas, every option now is grim. It’s a horrifying prospect: be killed by ISIS or be killed in the attacks to defeat ISIS.

Iraqi forces were on the doorstep of ISIS-held Mosul on Tuesday, encountering snipers, landmines and road-blocking boulders to edge ever closer to the key city. Troops came within hundreds of meters from Mosul on Monday evening and are now the closest they’ve been since launching an operation two weeks ago to wrest the city from more than two years of ISIS rule. Officials have said that entering Mosul will likely trigger the fiercest fighting seen yet in the offensive, and that the battle is expected to be fought “street to street,” or even “house to house.”

Turkey

The U.S. government has ordered all civilian family members of its Istanbul consulate staff to leave Turkey because of increasing threats from terrorist organizations, according to a travel warning issued Saturday by the U.S. State Department. “The Department of State made this decision based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent,” the warning said. Turkey has become increasingly volatile in the past year because of terrorist attacks at home and its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Turkey has detained 13 journalists in an ongoing wave of government crackdowns following a coup attempt in July. The Turkish government has accused the journalists of publishing stories to “legitimize the coup d’etat” just before the July 15 coup attempt. The journalists are accused of crimes on behalf of enemies of the state. Supporters of the newspaper, including opposition politicians, protested the move outside the publication’s Istanbul offices Monday. The arrests followed a weekend during which more than 10,000 public servants were fired and over a dozen media companies were shut down.

Kashmir

India and Pakistan say 13 civilians have been killed in cross-border shelling from both sides of the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed region of Kashmir. At least seven civilians on the Indian side of the Line of Control were killed Tuesday and 15 others injured in shelling that came from the Pakistani side, according to local Indian authorities. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that six civilians on the Pakistani side had been killed by shelling from India Monday, and eight injured. Neither side has responded to the allegations of ceasefire violations that have been made against the other. India and Pakistan have been fighting over the region since both countries gained their independence in 1947.

Haiti

Many Haitians are still struggling to get clean drinking water after Hurricane Matthew contaminated or damaged reservoirs and pipe networks across the country’s southern peninsula. Sewage from the latrines that are commonly used in rural Haiti overflowed, ocean storm surge damaged infrastructure and wells were submerged by flooded rivers carrying cholera bacteria. Now, nearly a month after the Category 4 storm hit the island nation, residents cannot get enough clean water to drink, let alone bathe, in places like the town of Coteaux, adding to the misery in an area where many people lost their homes, crops and livestock. Roughly 90 percent of the piped water supply systems in southwest Haiti were damaged by the storm. Many people still had been sleeping in cars or evacuated to shelters or hotels in other areas after a pair of strong jolts on Wednesday, and 1,300 had been evacuated to the coast, with more to follow.

Earthquakes

Central Italy was rocked by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake Sunday morning, making it the latest temblor to strike the region since Wednesday. The quake was centered about 4 miles north of Norica, Italy, and hit at 7:40 a.m. local time. Last Wednesday’s 6.1 and 5.5 magnitude earthquakes were also centered in this same general area, along with many aftershocks in the following days. The head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, said there were no immediate reports of deaths, but that some people had suffered injuries as numerous buildings that had resisted the previous temblors collapsed. Many roads were blocked by rockslides. More than 15,000 people are being housed in temporary shelters. Several churches were destroyed, including the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, built on the traditional birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monastic order; and the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, known for its 15th century frescoes. Experts say they can’t exclude the possibility that there will be more, possibly stronger aftershocks in the area near Norcia .

Weather

Dozens of daily record highs were broken Monday, making it the hottest Halloween on record in parts of the heat-weary South and Plains states. Records fell in Atlanta, Georgia (86 degrees), Huntsville, Alabama (88 degrees), and Tallahassee, Florida (90 degrees). A number of other cities reached 90 degrees on Halloween, including Colby, Kansas, Dodge City, Kansas, Garden City, Kansas, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Meridian, Mississippi, Montgomery, Alabama, Albany, Georgia, and Macon, Georgia.