Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

June 21, 2017

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

Russian officials on Monday threatened that their country would treat U.S.-led coalition planes in some parts of Syria as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Russia’s defense ministry said planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, would be considered targets. The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in nearly 20 years the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat. The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement. The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7. The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. The operation “targeted Takfiri forces in the Deir Ezzor region in Eastern Syria.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard uses the term Takfiri to describe ISIS. A U.S. aircraft shot down an armed Iranian drone advancing on coalition forces in southern Syria on Tuesday. This is the second the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month.

  • Iran and Russia have become end-time allies just as prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. But don’t lose heart – Jesus wins in the end.

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

The man suspected of mowing down a crowd exiting Ramadan prayers at a London mosque early Monday was captured on video blowing a kiss at bystanders as he was hauled off to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. At least one person was killed and 10 others were injured in the assault, which authorities were treating as a terrorist attack. The 48-year-old man was arrested in the collision with pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, Metropolitan police said. The attacker reportedly shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims.” The incident occurred outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight after Ramadan prayers. Police said all of the injured were members of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders decried the collision as a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.

Terror in Brussels

The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces foiled a “terror attack” by shooting a suspect following a small but fiery blast, the country’s top prosecutor said. A small explosion went off at Central Station, sparking panic and evacuations, before the attacker was killed by police. Fortunately, investigators believe the powerful explosive failed to detonate because of poor preparation, which Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office believes was made at the suspect’s home. The terrorist has been identified as a Moroccan national in his 30s. Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack. Brussels has been on high alert since March 2016 when three coordinated suicide bombings at the city’s airport in Zavendem and at the Maalbeek Metro station left 32 dead. It’s the third terror attack in Europe in two weeks.

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has cut back the injunction he issued against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban order, Politico is reporting. Watson’s move comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his injunction, but noted portions that blocked the administration from reviewing vetting procedures were too broad. The judge narrowed the injunction clearing the way for the administration to conduct internal reviews of other nation’s vetting procedures for visa applicants while the case is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has called the move a “big win,” but others were more cautious. “Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Michigan Officer Stabbed at Flint Airport in “Act of Terrorism”

The stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport Wednesday by a Canadian citizen who yelled “Allahu Akbar” and referenced people being killed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, officials said. Amor Ftouhi, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, entered Bishop International Airport in Flint around 9:45 a.m. and went to a restroom before dropping both of his bags, coming out with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before stabbing Officer Jeff Neville in the neck. The Canadian citizen was motivated to come to the airport and conduct this act of violence out of a “hated of the United States,” according to the FBI. He legally entered the U.S. at Lake Champlain in New York on June 16, and then made his way to Flint.

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

According to a recent Gallup poll, fears of potential terror attacks are driving more Americans to avoid crowds. Gallup found that 38% of Americans – a record-high percentage since the research organization began asking the question after 9/11 – are less willing to attend large events due to the threat of terrorism. The percentage was 32% right after 9/11. The rising percentage of Americans unwilling to attend large events or be in crowded spaces comes as a potential terror attack at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday is under investigation. Another occurred in France outside of Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago and a string of attacks in the U.K. were carried out in the past month, including the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the June 3 attack on the crowded London bridge. Americans are also less willing to travel overseas, fly, or go into skyscrapers due to terrorism concerns, Gallup found.

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. “We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News. The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

A California university’s decision to put a limit on the number of American citizens it enrolls — while placing no such restrictions on illegal immigrants who want to attend the school — is drawing sharp criticism from education activists. “The UC system, like many others around the country, is routinely giving preferential treatment to illegal aliens at the expense of American students, many of whom are attending at great sacrifice of their parents,” Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group, told Fox News. “Ultimately, and ironically, the California government is actually penalizing Californians by not counting illegals as out-of-state students and thus allowing them to, in effect, take seats away from in-state students,” he said. Officials for the University of California say that the school system is simply being consistent with state law.

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a state law banning abortions after 20 weeks. Life News reports that the ACLU challenged the fetal pain abortion bill in 2012, preventing the law from being enforced. After the court’s decision, it will now be illegal for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks; violating the law will be a felony. The fetal abortion pain bill was so-named because science has proven unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. Georgia Life Alliance executive director Camila Zolfaghari said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

The Army has begun mandatory transgender sensitivity training for soldiers. The training covers everything from “transfemale” soldiers to transgender shower etiquette to dealing with a transgender male soldier who becomes pregnant. The matter of male soldiers with child is tucked away inside the Army’s “Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module, Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders.” “This training is mandatory for all uniformed members, as well as Department of the Army civilians,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told USA Today. The Army guidelines mandate facilities will not be designed, modified or constructed to make transgender-only areas. “Accommodations cannot isolate or stigmatize the TG soldier,” the guidelines state. The Army’s response to a transgender male pregnancy? “Transgender Soldiers with a medical condition, including pregnancy, will be treated the same as any other Soldier with that condition,” the policy states. “Millions of dollars and training hours have been consumed with lectures on how to deploy transgender personnel in a war zone that has laws against that behavior,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “Military commanders should be focused on fighting wars, not on how to deal with transgender personnel.”

Strong Cultural Divide in America

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy? Who deserves the most help in society? President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans, the report notes.

Economic News

Rising housing costs are putting a major squeeze on Americans. Nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Experts generally advise budgeting about 30% of monthly income for rent or mortgage costs. But millions of Americans are far exceeding that guideline. One-third of households in 2015 were “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million are paying more than 50% of their income to cover their housing needs.

Consumer confidence fell in June to its lowest point since November, according to the University of Michigan’s closely followed index and survey. The confidence index is now at 94.5. Before the election, it was 87.2. By January, when he was inaugurated, it had shot up to 98.5, the highest level in more than a decade. That was largely because of hopes that Trump would cut taxes, spend big on infrastructure and shed government regulations. Those hopes are now dimming a bit.

Various indicators show U.S. companies, particularly small firms, have been taking out fewer loans in recent months, a sign they’re spending less on new equipment and structures. And that can crimp economic growth and hiring. Economists cite a variety of reasons, including uncertainty over Trump’s agenda getting through Congress amid probes into his ties with Russia, as well as recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Islamic State

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat. ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.

U.S.-backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq’s second largest city. ISIS captured Mosul when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraq launched a massive operation to retake the city last October, and has driven the militants from all but a handful of neighborhoods. The extremists are expected to make their last stand in the Old City, a densely populated quarter with narrow, winding alleys.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte begged forgiveness Tuesday for declaring martial law in Mindanao island and vowed to rebuild Marawi, the battle-scarred city at the heart of nearly four weeks of fighting between Philippines forces and ISIS-affiliated militants. “I will rebuild Marawi,” he promised. The battle has resulted in numerous deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the Philippines government, more than 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The majority have found shelter with friends and family, but more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are crowded into evacuation centers, where government agencies are trying to provide basic necessities.

Britain

One week after a massive high-rise apartment fire killed 79 people, supporters of the victims and now-homeless residents marched to Parliament on Wednesday to express anger over what some are calling Britain’s Hurricane Katrina moment. The demonstration also included anti-government protesters calling for British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign because of the government’s slow response. The demonstration was planned to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech for the official opening of Parliament, when the government spells out its lawmaking priorities for the next two years. After the queen’s speech, the prime minister addressed Parliament and acknowledged that government support for the victims after the fire was “not good enough.” Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the June 14 blaze at the 24-story Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in London’s wealthy North Kensington neighborhood. In the following days, the horror and frustration over Britain’s worst disaster in years have turned into public outrage.

North Korea

North Korea is continuing to mass resources at a known weapons testing site inside the country, a defense source told Fox News on Wednesday, prompting worries Pyongyang could be plotting to greenlight another provocative nuclear bomb test amid heightened tensions following the death this week of an American student who had been imprisoned by Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. North Korea is relentlessly pursuing its goal of building a nuclear bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already conducted five nuclear tests and recently launched an advanced missile that suggests a functioning ICBM may be within reach.

The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans – and three Americans — regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts. Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine. There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said.

Wildfires

Forest fires in Portugal have killed dozens of people and injured many others this weekend about 100 miles northeast of Lisbon. At least 62 people were killed, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road through the forest between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including four firefighters. A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area. Authorities said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.

Earthquakes

Four people remain missing on the western coast of Greenland after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the village of Nuugaatsiaq. The surge of water struck the village late Saturday night and destroyed at least 11 homes. Officials believe the tremor triggered a landslide into the water, which started the tsunami. Four missing people were inside their home when it was swept into the sea by the tsunami. After the tsunami, 39 people were evacuated from Nuugaatsiaq.

Weather

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday as Tropical Storm Cindy turned deadly and roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast, slashing the region with heavy rains and flooding. A 10-year-old boy died in Alabama, parts of Louisiana had five inches of rain by early afternoon, and Pensacola was slammed by more than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. And more was on the way. Cindy, armed with sustained winds of 50 mph, was expected to generate up to 15 inches of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night, and a few tornadoes also were possible through Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could produce “life-threatening flash floods along the central Gulf Coast,” the agency said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Cindy was about 135 miles south of Lake Charles, La., and about 125 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. Cindy was expected to move inland toward southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Dangerously hot temperatures have been gripping the Southwest this week, threatening the all-time record-high temperature in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere has developed over the Southwest. Beneath the dome, sinking air is causing temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in many areas. At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday. Needles, California, tied its all-time record high Tuesday when it reached 125 degrees. Las Vegas also tied its all-time record high by reaching 117 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Daily record highs were set Tuesday in Phoenix (119 degrees), Tucson, Arizona (116 degrees), Yuma, Arizona (120 degrees), and Palm Springs, California (122 degrees – tie).

Signs of the Times (6/16/17)

June 16, 2017

Anti-Trump/GOP Gunman Shoots Five in D.C.

James Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old Illinois man who opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers and their aides at a Northern Virginia baseball diamond was a living portrait of simmering anger and sometimes strange behavior, neighbors and family members say. The attack left Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., critically injured and also wounded Capitol Hill police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey as well as House staff aide Zach Barth and Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika. Three U.S. Capitol Police officers, who were at the field as part of their duty to protect a senior Republican lawmaker, returned fire and kept the attacker off balance and outside the ballfield fence, giving lawmakers and staffers a chance to run for their lives. A congressional staffer told WND that the gunman approached the game and asked Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.: “Are you Democrats or Republicans?” When DeSantis replied, “Republicans,” the gunman walked away and then came back blasting.

Hodgkinson’s social media and online postings included angry and menacing comments about Republican lawmakers, including a March 22 Facebook post in which he wrote that “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” He was also outspoken in other forums, writing frequently to the local newspaper about his opposition to Republican policies and contacting the office of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., at least 10 times over the past year to express his opposition to the Republican agenda. He attended a 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest in St. Louis, railing to a local television reporter about growing income inequality.”

  • The alt-left ‘Resist’ is rising up to counter the alt-right, with more violence on the horizon following ongoing strident rhetoric

Congressional Democrats Suing President Trump over Foreign Payments

Almost 200 Democratic members of Congress sued President Trump on Wednesday, alleging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The lawsuit says that Trump is in breach of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which says that the president may not accept payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit was filed by 196 members of Congress — 30 from the Senate and 166 from the House. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said it was the largest number of plaintiffs in any congressional lawsuit against the president in the nation’s history. The complaint says that the Emoluments Clause was meant to ensure “that our nation’s leaders would not be corrupted by foreign influence or put their own financial interests over the national interest.”

AG Sessions Rips Congress over Loony Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out swinging Tuesday, blasting his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate for their sham investigation into these “loony accusations” that somehow Mr. Sessions conspired with Russians to rig last year’s election. Sessions offered an indignant defense against what he called “an appalling and detestable lie,” but he declined during an often contentious Senate hearing to answer central questions about his or President Trump’s conduct. Critics claim Sessions’ refusal to answer many of their questions is a sign of collusion. But, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ repeated refusal to answer lawmakers’ skeptical inquiries at Tuesday’s congressional hearing draws on a long legal and political tradition: Private deliberations involving the president and his top advisers often can be kept out of public view. Analysts disagreed on whether the attorney general was appropriately using executive privilege to advance a worthy goal, or merely suggesting it as a shield to fend off questions he did not want to take.

Trump Announced Revisions to Obama’s Cuba Policy

President Trump announced a new policy toward Cuba Friday that prohibits any commercial dealings with Cuba’s powerful military. The new policy also limits the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel to the island, but leaves in place many changes implemented by Obama. Unlimited “family” travel and money sent to private Cubans on the island will remain unchanged. In a speech delivered in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, Trump declared an end to what the White House calls the Obama administration’s policy of “appeasement.” The White House argues that any benefits of an opening to Cuba should “go to the Cuban people” and not the Cuban military and intelligence services.

U.S. Senate Voted for New Russia, Iran Sanctions

The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia. In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes. The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war. If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

Social Media Could Be Held Liable for Terrorism

A string of lawsuits is pushing a new legal theory that social media can be held liable for acts of terrorism, Slate is reporting. The new lawsuits, including one filed by relatives of victims of the San Bernardino, California shooting, argue social media companies are liable for not only allowing terrorists to use their platforms, but also profiting from that use, the online magazine said. It noted social media companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, bring in revenue from advertising. “The ads target specific viewers based on the content of the pages they visit,” wrote Nina Iacono Brown for Slate. “When it comes to terrorist posts, plaintiffs argue that social media companies don’t just publish content provided by ISIS — they actually profit from selling ads to those who might be most sympathetic to terrorist messages.”

Obamacare Enrollments Down in 2017

Some 10.3 million people actually enrolled in Obamacare, as of mid-March, Trump administration officials said Monday. That’s down from the 12.2 million who signed up for coverage when open enrollment ended on January 31. It’s not uncommon for the numbers to drop since some consumers select plans, but don’t complete the enrollment process by paying their first month’s premium. Last year, some 12.7 million people picked policies by the open enrollment deadline. But 11.1 million people had enrolled by the end of March. That means there are 800,000 fewer Americans enrolled in Obamacare this year than last. The Trump administration has thrown Obamacare into turmoil as it seeks to dismantle the landmark health reform act. It canceled millions of dollars in advertising in the final days before open enrollment ended.

Trump Administration Will Continue Obama Dreamer Program

President Trump has officially reversed his campaign pledge to deport the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as small children. The Department of Homeland Security announced late Thursday night that it would continue the Obama-era program intended to protect those immigrants from deportation and provide them work permits so they can find legal employment. Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of President Obama announcing the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Ever since, more than 780,000 have been accepted, with most now on their second or third renewal. The program requires applicants to show they have haven’t committed any serious crimes, attended school or joined the military, and arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.

Target’s Transgender Bathroom Policy Claims Another Victim

Target’s dangerous policy of allowing men into women’s dressing rooms has claimed another innocent victim of sexual voyeurism. Just last week, in The Woodlands, Texas, a woman was sexually violated when a man freely entered the women’s dressing room and began videotaping her trying on bathing suits. Store security cameras clearly show Target employees in the area doing nothing to stop the Peeping Tom. Even after the woman screamed for help, two store employees stood by and allowed it to happen.

Nearly 10 Million U.S. Adults Suffer from Mental Illness

Nearly 10 million American adults have a serious mental illness, and a similar number have considered suicide during the past year, according to a new government report on the nation’s behavioral ills. The report also said that 15.7 million Americans abuse alcohol and 7.7 million abuse illicit drugs. The researchers also found that 12.5 million people are estimated to have misused prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) or hydrocodone (Vicoprofen). Despite the growing number of Americans with mental health problems, about a third of those who need help aren’t getting it, notes the report from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Rich Stopped Smoking, the Poor Didn’t

After decades of lawsuits, public campaigns and painful struggles, Americans have finally done what once seemed impossible: Most of the country has quit smoking, saving millions of lives and leading to massive reductions in cancer. That is, unless those Americans are poor, uneducated or live in a rural area, reports the Washington Post. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But, among the nation’s less-educated people — those with a high-school-equivalency diploma — the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower socioeconomic communities to retain their customer base, researchers say. Nonprofit and advocacy groups are retooling their programs for the complex and more difficult work of reaching and treating marginalized groups.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday. It’s the Fed’s third rate hike since December. And it’s a sign that the central bank believes the U.S. economy is on solid ground. “It reflects the progress the economy has made,” Fed chair Janet Yellen said at a press conference. Rising interest rates eventually affect millions of Americans from home buyers to credit card holders to savers. However, interest rates for mortgages are not expected to rise immediately. The Fed’s key interest rate will now hover in a range between 1% and 1.25%. Overall, rates are still very low compared to prior decades. The Fed also said it’s planning to start gradually selling off the assets that it had bought during and after the financial crisis to boost the economy.

In a 150-page report released Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration calls for dismantling strict regulations overseeing Wall Street banks. Fifteen pages of recommendations resemble significant aspects of the Republican bill passed last week by the House. Trump had given Mnuchin 120 days to come up with a plan to address what he said were onerous regulations crimping banks’ ability to lend and stifling economic growth. Among the recommendations in Monday’s report: give Treasury greater power to oversee bank regulators; require regulatory agencies to analyze the cost of new rules; and strip the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of its responsibility to oversee banks’ plans for how they should be unwound if they fail.

Bankruptcies continue to pile up in the retail industry. More than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, according to data from BankruptcyData.com. Most of those filings were for small companies — the proverbial Mom & Pop store with a single location. But there are also plenty of household names on the list as well, including Radio Shack, Payless Shoes and The Limited. Most of these stores are suffering from the same thing: A shift away from traditional storefronts to online shopping.

After more than two decades, Yahoo’s time as an independent company has come to an end. Verizon officially completed its deal to acquire Yahoo’s core Internet assets for $4.48 billion after months of uncertainty about the deal. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is resigning from the company. She will receive a $23 million severance package, according to an earlier company filing. Yahoo and AOL will form a new digital media company under Verizon called Oath. Verizon’s goal is to use Yahoo’s enormous reach to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google for online advertising.

On Friday, Amazon announced that it had paid $13.7 billion to buy Whole Foods to expand their reach into the grocery marketplace.

Islamic State

Russia said Friday that it killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other leaders in a strike in late May. The ISIS leader is considered the world’s most wanted man. The report could not be immediately confirmed. The Russian ministry said Friday that al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders. It said the air raid on May 28 that targeted an ISIS meeting held on the southern outskirts of Raqqa in Syria also killed about 30 mid-level militant leaders and about 300 other fighters.

North Korea

North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. Warmbier has been in a coma for more than a year, since shortly after his last public appearance during his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016.  “At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said in a statement. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the U.S. where he will be reunited with his family.” The statement offered no other details citing privacy concerns, but it noted that the State Department is continuing “to have discussions” with North Korea about the release of other American citizens who are jailed there. Warmbier is in stable condition but has suffered a “severe neurological injury,” doctors say. Warmbier’s father said Wednesday that his son was “terrorized” and “brutalized” by North Korea.

A suspected North Korean drone had photographed a U.S. missile defense shield in South Korea before it crashed near the border where it was found last week, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. The drone was found at a South Korean border town last Friday and South Korean investigators have since discovered hundreds of photos from its Sony-made in-built camera, a Defense Ministry official said. Ten of the photos were of U.S. missile launchers and a radar system installed in the southeastern town of Seongju earlier this year. The United States deployed key components of the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system last spring to cope with what it calls North Korea’s advancing nuclear threats.

Qatar

Just days after President Donald Trump accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, the U.S. signed an agreement to sell the country fighter jets. Qatar’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday the country signed a deal to buy F-15 fighter jets from the United States for $12 billion. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and representatives from Qatar were set to meet Wednesday to seal the agreement, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters. Bloomberg News reported the deal was for 36 jets. The sale will increase security co-operation and interoperability between the US and Qatar, the Pentagon said in a statement on Wednesday.

Somalia

An overnight attack and siege by al-Shabab extremists on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital has killed at least 31, police said. Security forces in Mogadishu ended the siege at Pizza House restaurant, a popular eatery frequented by the city’s elite, Thursday morning after snipers fired on the attackers. Senior Somali police office Capt. Mohamed Hussein said many of the attack’s victims were killed at point-blank range after the attackers hunted them down. The attack began Wednesday evening after a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and then gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment. Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group that often targets popular areas in the country’s capital, claimed responsibility.

Earthquakes

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern Greek island of Lesbos on Monday, damaging scores of homes, killing one woman and injuring 10 others. The woman was found dead in the southern village of Vrisa, which suffered the worst damage from the undersea quake. By Monday night, local authorities and the fire service said nobody remained missing or trapped. The quake was also felt in western Turkey, including Istanbul, and on neighboring islands.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck western Guatemala early Wednesday morning. Damage and landslides were reported after the quake, and at least five people were killed, officials said. The earthquake was centered 3 miles north-northeast of San Pablo, Guatemala, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at 3:29 a.m. EDT at a depth of more than 58 miles. San Marcos has more than 25,000 residents. Schools were canceled Wednesday as officials inspected the structures. Only two earthquakes stronger than 6.9 have been recorded so far in 2017, both of which were in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Wildfires

Dry and windy conditions fed nearly 30 wildfires tearing through Arizona Monday, drawing thousands of firefighters from across the West to the state that has the most blazes burning in the nation. At least 80 square miles across the state are ablaze. Gusty winds and parched vegetation fueled the flames. There were no injuries reported and just one vacant house was destroyed. Evacuation orders are in place for at least 30 homes. Arizona has seen 858 fires so far this year that have charred 205 square miles.

As many as 200 people have been evacuated and the governor was forced to activate the state’s emergency operations center Thursday as a fast-moving wildfire claimed at least 600 acres in northern New Mexico. The Cajete fire spread quickly through an area of the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos along Highway 4. From miles away, the inferno’s towering smoke plume could be seen. The blaze was about 20 miles away from Los Alamos, and burn scars from previous wildfires may keep it from threatening the city.

Weather

Dangerously hot temperatures will grip the Southwest by this weekend in what could be an extended heat wave that lasts well into next week. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere will be in place over the Southwest by this weekend. Beneath the dome, sinking air will cause temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in some areas. This is a classic pre-monsoon heat event for the Southwest region. Some of the highest temperatures of the year can be recorded before the onset of the summer monsoon. The National Weather Service has issued various heat alerts across southern Arizona, far southern Nevada and portions of northern, central and southeastern California. Highs may reach or exceed 115 degrees in Phoenix late in the weekend into early next week.

Storms tore through the Midwest Tuesday, generating at least 12 reports of tornadoes. Winds reaching 75 mph were reported at the Columbus airport. No injuries were reported. Near Russell, Kansas, strong winds blew over two semi-tractor trailers on Interstate 70. Large hail between 1 to 2.75 inches in diameter was reported in a broad swath from Minnesota to West Texas.

Two people were injured Monday as a tornado outbreak hammered the Plains and Midwest. At least 23 tornadoes were reported in northeastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and Wyoming, with reports of damage caused by hail and strong winds. A suspected tornado tore the roof off a nursing home and damaged several homes in the Bayard, Nebraska, area. Five tornadoes were reported in Laramie County, Wyoming, including one near Carpenter that damaged four or five homes, downed power lines and damaged a gas line. There were no reports of injuries. Hail as large as softballs fell in Wheatland, Wyoming.

At least 140 people were killed in landslides that struck southeastern Bangladesh following heavy rainfall, officials said Wednesday. The mudslides swept over thatched homes and settlements in three hilly districts Monday, and it wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was still missing a day later. Scores of people were injured and the death toll could rise. Police and soldiers were struggling to deliver aid to the remote areas. Several soldiers were killed while clearing debris and mud from a highway. Five injured soldiers were flown to a military hospital in Dhaka.

Signs of the Times (6/12/17)

June 12, 2017

Harvard Law Journal Article Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the “life” part includes unborn persons. Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections. Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a “child” in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the “independent and actual existence of the child before birth.” Craddock concludes, “The Fourteenth Amendment’s use of the word “person” guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn.”

In China, 100,000 People Turning to Christ Every Year

Despite increased persecution in China (or, perhaps because of it), a pastor who trains Chinese Christian leaders says the Church in China is growing and as many as 100,000 new believers are coming to Christ every year. Rev. Erik Burklin works with China Partner, training Chinese Christian leaders. He is encouraged to see how God is working to build the Church in China, despite the government’s crackdown on Christianity. Burklin also shared how the government decided to donate nearly $7.3 million to Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing. “I was just scratching my head, thinking to myself, ‘How in the world is it possible that in China, where Communism still runs the country, a person in the Central Government would donate so that a local school — in this case, the national seminary in China — can finish constructing their chapel?’ It’s unbelievable,” Burklin said, according to The Christian Post.

Second Appeals Court Rules Against Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

A second federal appeals court on Monday ruled against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was the latest in a string of court rulings rejecting the administration’s efforts to limit travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The administration has already sought a Supreme Court review of a similar decision issued last month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va. In an earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit in February blocked Mr. Trump’s original travel ban. After that ruling, Mr. Trump narrowed the scope of his initial executive order, issued on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. The new ban’s 90-day suspension of entry from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was more limited and subject to case-by-case exceptions. It omitted Iraq, which had been listed in the earlier order, and it removed a complete ban on Syrian refugees. It also deleted explicit references to religion.

Former FBI Director Comey’s Testimony Disappoints

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in what was highly anticipated to be a strong indictment of President Trump. However, Comey’s statements fell short of the bombshell many expected, or hoped, would lead to charges of obstruction against Trump. Instead, he admitted that Trump didn’t order him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but rather strongly urged him to do so, inappropriate but not illegal. He also accused Trump of lying and said he hoped Trump had made recordings of their conversations. President Donald Trump, however, claimed, “total and complete vindication” of collusion and obstruction. Comey opened the door to potential blowback when he admitted that he was the one to leak memos to a friend in order to inform the media about his personal conversations with the president. President Trump’s lawyer said he will file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comey Raises Questions about Past/Present Attorneys General

In one fell swoop, former FBI Director James B. Comey chipped away Thursday at the credibility of two of his former bosses, saying Obama administration Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation deeply concerned him and raising the specter that there may be more to the story of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ problematic ties to Russia. one of Mr. Comey’s biggest bombshells involved Ms. Lynch and what he described as an attempt to change the FBI’s description of its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. The change was meant to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe. In addition, the ousted FBI director, who testified as a private citizen, raised intrigue about the “variety of reasons” why the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Mr. Comey said there were reasons he couldn’t discuss in a nonclassified setting that officials believed would make Mr. Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”

Maryland/D.C. Sue President Trump Over Foreign Payments

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed suit against President Trump on Monday, alleging that he has violated the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C., both Democrats, allege that Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit cites not just the president’s luxury hotel in Washington, which has been at the center of concerns about conflicts of interest, but his worldwide network of hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from the business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means that he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office. The suit asks the court for an injunction blocking Trump from accepting foreign money.

Trump Commits to NATO Common Defense

President Donald Trump said on Friday what he would not at NATO headquarters last month: He is committed to NATO’s principle of common defense. “I am committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump said at Friday’s press conference, referring to the alliance’s principle that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on them all. Appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, Trump also reiterated his call for NATO members to meet the guideline — along with his claim that NATO members should repay what he regards as underpayments from previous years. Iohannis stated that Romania was the first country under Trump’s administration to “step up to 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.”

More London Terror

A nursery school teacher has been beaten and knifed in a London street by three women who chanted verses from the Koran. They pulled her to the ground, kicking and punching her. One of them got a knife out and cut her arm.  She was taken to hospital but her injuries are not thought to be life threatening. The women ran off and have not been located by police, who are investigating. The attack came less than a week after the London Bridge terror atrocity in which eight people died and about 50 were injured. Meanwhile, London police arrested a 19-year-old man Sunday night in connection to the London Bridge terror attack. Police are currently holding six other men, who are between the ages of 27 to 30, in the assault on the London Bridge area. Police have released 12 others who had been arrested in the early days of the investigation.

Austria Bans Islamic Dresses for Women, Forces Integration

Austria has passed a controversial law that fines women who wear Islamic dress covering the whole face, and takes away welfare benefits from immigrants who fail to learn the language. “Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” reads the text of the law. Earlier this year, the draft law drew thousands of protesters against the government and parliamentarians, but it was passed by a centrist coalition last month and now was signed by the president. According to the law, women will face a fine of €150 ($168) if they wear Islamic dresses, either the niqab or the burqa, in public places. In addition to the fines, all new migrants coming to Austria to live will now be forced to take a 12-month “integration course” that includes German language lessons if they wish to receive any welfare benefits.

Rallies Against Islamic Law Draw Counter-Protests

Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said the anti-Islamists stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion. In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street. Hundreds marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying, “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens. A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.

  • The problem is that Islamic (Sharia) law relegates non-Muslims to second-class citizens whose freedom is severely constrained and they have to pay a special Sharia tax. Sharia law is very intolerant and exclusive.

Hawaii First State to Pass Law Committing to Paris Climate Accord

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday signed a bill that aligns the state’s carbon emissions with the Paris climate accord. Gov. David Ige signed the bill that calls on documenting sea level rise and set strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Many of the greatest challenges of our day hit us first, and that means that we also need to be first when it comes to creating solutions,” Mr. Ige, a Democrat, said, according to The New York Times. “We are the testing grounds — as an island state, we are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment.” Ige says Hawaii is the first state to enact legislation implementing parts of the Paris climate agreement.

More Insurers Drop Obamacare

Washington State has had a fairly healthy Obamacare exchange — until now. Two counties won’t have any insurers participating in the individual next year unless another company steps in, the Washington insurance department said Wednesday. Washington would become the third state to have locales without any Obamacare insurers. Enrollees in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and in parts of Ohio also won’t have any options on their exchanges next year unless other carriers join. Insurers are mainly concerned that the White House is undermining the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to buy coverage, and won’t commit to continue funding the cost-sharing subsidies that reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income Obamacare enrollees.

A ‘Superbug’ Fungus Is Spreading Across the U.S.

Over the past nine months, the number of US cases of an emerging, multi-drug resistant fungus has ballooned from 7 to more than 122. What’s more, the fungus, Candida auris, seems to be spreading, according to a field report the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday. So-called ‘superbugs’ usually reference bacteria that are especially hard to kill, having evolved resistance to multiple antibiotics. C. auris causes severe illness and has a high-mortality rate, especially among high-risk, hospitalized patients. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and has now been reported in more than a dozen countries. According to the CDC, which issued an initial warning last June, 77 cases have been identified in hospitals in seven states, mainly in elderly people. The number jumped to 122 when close contacts of those patients were also found to be infected. New Jersey has 17 cases, the most of any single state.

Zika Update

Nearly 1,900 pregnant women in U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infections, according to the CDC. Nearly 1,600 have completed their pregnancies. Of those with confirmed Zika infections, 1 in 10 women in at least 44 states have had a baby with brain damage or other serious defects. Even in Washington, a low-risk state where the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that spread Zika aren’t found, 18 pregnant women have been identified with lab evidence of the virus since last year. All appear to have acquired the virus through travel, though Zika can be transmitted through sex as well. Scientists now know that Zika, a once-obscure virus, targets and attacks neural stem cells in the developing fetal brain. Babies born with congenital Zika syndrome often have severe microcephaly, diminished brain tissue and eye damage, as well as restricted joint movement and rigid muscle tone. Recent research suggests they also might suffer hearing problems and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy.

Economic News

The list of U.S. retailers with troubled financials that could make them potential bankruptcy risks now totals 22, according to ratings by Moody’s Investors Service — topping the 19 recorded at the peak of the Great Recession. The ranks of distressed firms and retail sector defaults are likely to grow during the next 12 to 18 months due to the surge in online purchasing, the rating agency predicted. Nonetheless, the companies on the distressed list represent just 16% of the retailers analyzed by Moody’s. “The majority of retailers remain fundamentally healthy,” the report said. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year, said Garrick Brown, vice president of Americas retail research for commercial broker Cushman & Wakefield — more than twice as many as the 4,000 last year. He sees this figure rising to about 13,000 next year.

An increasingly byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements partly accounts for housing construction that remains 35% below normal levels across the country, especially for affordable starter houses, builders and economists say. And that building deficit is the chief culprit behind a skimpy supply of both new and existing homes that has driven up prices about 40% the past five years, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. Rising prices are good for homeowners but shut out many buyers, especially Millennials shopping for their first house.

American drivers are poised to reap unexpected savings at the gas pump after oil prices recently kicked into reverse. Oil plunged Wednesday after a report indicated that supply was outpacing demand, setting the stage for lower-than-expected fuel prices. Oil’s sharp decline followed an Energy Information Administration report that U.S. crude oil inventories ballooned by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2. The EIA report, released Wednesday projected that U.S. oil production would hit an all-time record of 10 million barrels per day in 2018, topping the previous mark of 9.6 million set in 1970. The price of gasoline was $2.36 a gallon on Wednesday, down 2.3 cents from a week ago. Nearly half (45%) of America’s massive appetite for crude oil comes from passenger vehicles.

Israel

Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily relinquish his long-standing demand for Israel to freeze its construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as a prerequisite to the restarting of the diplomatic process with Israel, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, which is based on an interview with Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, Abbas will also tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes at international courts and to rally condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. During his recent visit in Israel, President Donald Trump reportedly put pressure on Abbas to renew the diplomatic process with Israel. The negotiations have been stalled since 2014, when US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered talks, which collapsed after nine months.

Israel announced on Friday that it had discovered a network of terror tunnels running beneath two schools in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and demanded that the UN “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” as it already is classified by the US, Canada, EU and several other governments. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov tweeted on Saturday; “Despicable to risk the lives of children! Hamas must end illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza.” On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during his remarks to the Cabinet that “I regret that UNRWA, to a large degree, by its very existence, perpetuates – and does not solve – the Palestinian refugee problem Therefore, the time has come to disband UNRWA.”

Great Britain

​British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday she will try to form a governing coalition with Northern Ireland’s small party in the wake of an election setback that cost her Conservatives a majority in Parliament. The Conservatives won 319 seats, seven short of a majority in the House of Commons and 12 fewer than they had going into the election. The Labour Party won 261 seats, a gain of 29, while the Scottish National Party wound up with 35, a loss of 21. The Northern Ireland party won 10 seats, enough to give May a majority under a partnership in Parliament. The outcome was a significant political embarrassment for May, who called for an early election in April based on polls that showed the Conservatives would increase their majority and give her more clout in difficult talks with the European Union on terms for exiting the political and economic alliance. The fallout of the election disaster has led two top aides to Theresa May to resign, increasing pressure on May to resign as well.

North Korea

A former U.S. ambassador wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday warning that North Korea’s nuclear threat is not limited to a bomb striking a U.S. city. A nuclear bomb that detonates 40 miles above a target (and hundreds of miles away) could deliver serious consequences, said Henry F. Cooper, who was the director of the Strategic Defense initiative under President George H.W. Bush. North Korea has in its possession the designs for these so-called “super EMP nuclear weapons,” the op-ed said. Such a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would render “critical electricity-dependent infrastructure” on the ground inoperable. The op-ed raises questions about whether or not North Korea ran a “dry run” recently, when a medium-range missile reportedly exploded midflight in what was seen as a failure. The article questions if the missile was deliberately detonated.

South Korea

South Korea’s new government has suspended the deployment of a controversial US missile defense system that strained relations with China and angered North Korea. While Seoul will not withdraw two launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that are already in action, four additional launchers will not be deployed until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.” During the recent election campaign, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the THAAD rollout to be halted and any decision about its future to be put before the country’s parliament. Deployment of THAAD was agreed by his predecessor — disgraced President Park Geun-hye — and Washington. Relations between Seoul and Beijing have soured significantly as a result of its deployment, affecting South Korean businesses and Koreans living in China.

Philippines

United States special forces joined the Philippine army to help end a siege in Marawi by Islamic State-linked militant groups, as a drawn-out battle for control of the southern Philippines city nears the end of a third week. “At the request of the government of the Philippines, U.S. special operations forces are assisting the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with ongoing operations in Marawi that help AFP commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG militants,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement. The Maute group, also known as Islamic State Lanao, led the attack on Marawi which began on May 23 and has resulted in the deaths of 58 security forces, 20 civilians and around 138 militant fighters. On Friday, 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 wounded in house-to-house combat during clearing operations.

Afghanistan

An Afghan army soldier turned his weapon on U.S. servicemembers Saturday, killing three and injuring another in eastern Afghanistan. The Afghan soldier was killed during the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting. The attack occurred in Achin district, where U.S. special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan troops against Islamic State and Taliban militants. In addition, three civilians were killed after a roadside bomb hit a convoy of American soldiers early Monday in Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan. The United States military said that none of its personnel had been wounded.

Somalia

The U.S. military in Africa says it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia Sunday morning that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp, 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu, the capital. There was no immediate comment on the airstrike from Somalia’s homegrown extremist group, al-Shabab, which is allied to Al Qaeda. Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed the airstrike, saying that Somali and partner forces destroyed an al-Shabaab training camp near Sakow, in the Middle Juba region. He said such attacks would disrupt the group’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.

Qatar

Five Iranian planes filled with food have landed at Doha airport as the blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries starts to take hold. Iran said the planes were filled with vegetables and that it plans to send 100 tons of fresh fruit and legumes every day to the import-dependent nation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut links with Qatar last Monday, accusing Qatar of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere — a charge Qatar denies. As well as cutting air, sea and land links with Doha, three of the countries involved — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE — ordered Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days. On Sunday, Qatar said that the 11,000 citizens of those countries that have cut ties will be allowed to stay in the country.

Wildfires

Storms that swept into Cape Town, South Africa have killed at least nine people and unleashed winds that fanned fires, forcing evacuations of about 10,000. Strong winds from a storm that hit the coast Wednesday fanned multiple blazes, which destroyed dozens of homes and also damaged an evacuated hospital and a school. Four of the deaths occurred in a fire caused by lightning, and one other person died when a home collapsed, local media reported. Three others died in a separate fire. Hundreds of homes were flooded or damaged. While the storm provided some drought relief, officials said sustained rainfall over several years is needed in a city whose reservoirs are at very low levels.

After weeks of hot, dry weather following a wet winter and early spring, there are 12 wildfires burning in Arizona which have consumed nearly over 28,000 acres of land as of Monday morning. Five of the fires were deemed “significant” by the Bureau of Land Management. No structures have burned as yet, but many are threatened in some of the areas. Some road closures are also in effect. Increased winds Friday near the Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff forced a closure of U.S. 180 between mileposts 236 and 248. The Antelope Fire, near Kingman, was also being watched closely because of “threats to homes,” authorities said. Many of the fires were lightning-caused, though others remain under investigation.

Weather

Days of heavy rain in South Florida left some residents comparing the floods to tropical systems of the past as roads were closed and flights were canceled. Nearly two feet of rain fell in some places, and even in a state that’s used to big rainfall in a short period of time, there were plenty of problems. Some of the heaviest rain occurred in Marco Island, where the biggest rainfall total was reported to the NWS – more than 23 inches. By Wednesday, the problems were so widespread that every road on the island had flooding. In some areas, catfish were seen “walking” in flood water and in gutters along the roadside. While the flooding was troublesome, the storms provided much-needed drought relief for parts of South Florida that have battled abnormally dry conditions for years.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were clocked in parts of the Midwest Sunday, taking down tree limbs and leaving more than 90,000 without power at the height of a severe storm moving through the area. A line of severe thunderstorms raced across eastern South Dakota, southern Minnesota and into Wisconsin with wind gusts of 60-80 mph. The most dramatic damage was reported at Monticello High School, which was destroyed by the storm, reports the Star Tribune. Monday to Wednesday, another weather system will sweep through the nation’s northern tier, bringing additional rounds of severe storms to the Plains and Upper Midwest.

A brutal heat wave sweeping across the Midwest and East was leaving a string of record temperatures in its wake while the Upper Midwest was dealing with hail so heavy it looked like snow. The Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids broke out a snowplow and front-end loader after a hail storm left some streets covered. But for most of the Midwest and East, heat was the story. Record-breaking temperatures were likely to linger from Omaha to New York until at least Wednesday, forecasters said. Chicago saw 88 degrees on Saturday. Sunday’s high was in the 90s, Monday 95 and Tuesday a scorching 97. In the East, the big cool-off will begin Wednesday when a “back door” front rolls down from the north, bringing scattered storms and dipping temperatures.

Signs of the Times (6/7/17)

June 8, 2017

More Terror in London

At least eight people died and three attackers were killed in multiple “terrorist incidents” Saturday in London after a van plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge and assailants went on a stabbing rampage at nearby Borough Market, police say. London Ambulance Service said they had taken at least 30 patients to six hospitals, and treated a number of people at the scene with less serious injuries. Police believe all three of the attackers were killed, but arrested a total of twelve suspected accomplices. Britain has weathered two terrorism attacks in recent months. In March, four people were killed in London after Khalid Masood rammed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament. All the attacks have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the “evil ideology” behind the London terror attacks, adding that there’s “too much tolerance” of Islamist extremism.

Known Wolves Attacking Britain

Terrorists involved in each of the three recent Islamist assaults on Britain were known to authorities prior to the attacks that claimed a combined 34 lives, but in each instance British authorities failed to act in time to stop the fiendish plots, notes Fox News. British officials have acknowledged Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood, Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge terrorist Khuram Butt were on police radars for links to Islamic extremism. But in each case the men were apparently not viewed as sufficient threats to merit more attention.

Italian intelligence operatives told Politico Europe on Tuesday that Moroccan-born Youssef Zaghba, another member of the London Bridge terror trio, was detained while trying to fly from Italy into Istanbul – likely bound for ISIS-controlled territory in Syria – in March 2016. Italian officials said they warned Moroccan and British authorities about Zaghba, however, British police on Tuesday issued a statement that Zaghba “was not a police or MI5 subject of interest.”

Butt was openly supportive of ISIS, appearing in a British television documentary last year called “The Jihadis Next Door.” In the footage, he’s seen praying near an ISIS flag and with a radical Muslim leader who’s a close associate of jailed hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Despite his extremist associations and activities, however, British police said he was not viewed as a serious threat before the London Bridge massacre.

Imams Refuse to Perform Funeral Rites for Attackers

More than 130 Muslim religious leaders were refusing to say funeral prayers for any members of the ISIS cell associated with the London Bridge terrorist attacks. The decision by the Muslim leaders was seen as an “unprecedented” move because the funeral ritual is typically performed on a deceased Muslim no matter the person’s past actions. Youssef Zaghba, a Moroccan-born Italian man, was identified Tuesday morning as the final member of the trio that descended upon the London Bridge on Saturday. The other two attackers were named Monday as Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane. ISIS claimed responsibility for Saturday night’s brazen attack that started on London Bridge, then continued in the streets surrounding Borough Market. Police have 11 people in custody on suspicion of violating the Terrorism Act, but they haven’t been named or charged. Others who had been arrested were released without being charged.

U.S. Gun Purchases Hit Record Level after Terror Attacks Abroad

Gun purchase background checks soared to a record for the month of May, snapping a five-month streak of year-over-year declines since President Trump was elected. Experts say that the demand for guns is picking up again due to recent terrorist attacks overseas. More than 1.9 million checks were run through the federal government’s database in May. The numbers helped to dispel worries about a post-Obama “Trump slump” in gun sales, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, saying their own calculations of data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System suggest a healthy market.

Anti-Trump Leaker of Classified NSA Info Revealed

The alleged leaker accused of feeding a classified report to an online news site has a colorful history on social media that lays bare her political leanings as an environmentalist who wanted to “resist” President Trump. Reality Winner, 25, is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a federal facility in Georgia, where she allegedly leaked a classified intelligence report containing “Top Secret Level” information. The Intercept published details of a National Security Agency report on Russian hacking efforts during the 2016 presidential election. According to the Justice Department, Winner admitted to printing a classified intelligence document despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge the report was classified. Winner attacked Trump ferociously in numerous social media posts.

  • Meanwhile, the mainstream media says her motive is unknown, a “mystery” – talk about media bias

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from Marine over Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from a former Marine who was court-martialed in part for expressing her Christian faith in the workplace. Lower courts had concluded orders from her military superiors did not constitute a “substantial burden” on her First Amendment rights. The justices on Monday upheld her court-martial without comment. At issue was the extent a federal law on religious freedom protects members of the armed forces like Monifa Sterling, who continued posting biblical verses at her desk, despite orders from a superior that she remove them. The intersection of free speech on government property, especially within a military context, made this appeal closely watched by a number of advocates on both sides of the debate. The First Liberty Institute, which represented Sterling, lamented the Supreme Court’s call on Monday. “The military court’s outrageous decision means federal judges and military officials can strip our service members of their constitutional rights just because they don’t think someone’s religious beliefs are important enough to be protected. Our service members deserve better.”

DOJ Ends Obama ‘Slush Fund’ Settlement Payments

The Justice Department announced Wednesday it will no longer allow prosecutors to strike settlement agreements with big companies directing them to make payouts to outside groups, ending an Obama-era practice that Republicans decried as a “slush fund” that padded the accounts of liberal interest groups. In a memo sent to 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices early Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would end the practice that allowed companies to meet settlement burdens by giving money to groups that were neither victims nor parties to the case. “When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people—not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said in a statement.

U.S./Mexico Reach Trade Deal over Sugar

Cooler heads prevailed in heated trade talks between the U.S. and Mexico. The two nations reached an agreement on Tuesday regarding Mexican sugar exported to the United States. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. Mexico agreed to export far less refined sugar to the U.S. At the same time, the deal allows for an increase in exports of raw sugar from Mexico. Mexican raw sugar producers are one of the biggest providers to U.S. sugar refineries.  The agreement was seen as a test for both sides before they sit down for much bigger talks on NAFTA, the free trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Those talks could begin in August. President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA because he says it’s responsible for the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Supporters across the political spectrum say NAFTA is a job creator.

U.S. Among World’s Worst on Rich/Poor Health Divide

The U.S. has one of the world’s largest health disparities between the rich and poor — behind only Chile and Portugal — and its healthcare system and lack of social supports are to blame, experts say. Researchers examining surveys on health and income from people in thirty-two middle- and high-income countrie, found poor Americans reported worse health than rich U.S. residents in significant numbers. Of the poorest third of Americans surveyed, 38.2% reported “fair or poor health” compared to just 12.3% of the richest third, leaving the U.S. in the bottom three of the nations examined, according to the Harvard study, published in the June issue of Health Affairs. The gap is caused by several factors, including the high number of uninsured in the country, particularly before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said Joachim O. Hero, the study’s lead author. The study covered the years 2001-2013. Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale and the faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute who was not involved in the study, said another issue may be that the U.S. provides fewer social safety nets than most of these other nations.

Uber/Lyft Killing Taxi Jobs in Chicago

Operators of the nation’s second-biggest taxi fleet are now accelerating toward their extinction, becoming virtual dinosaurs in the era of ride-sharing monsters Uber and Lyft. About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers’ union. More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

Dish Ordered to Pay $252 Million to U.S. & States

Dish Network Corp. must pay $252 million to the U.S. and four states for using robocalls to consumers on do-not-call lists, a federal judge in Illinois said. U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough issued the order Monday, directing the company to pay $168 million to the federal government and $84 million to California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. The U.S. and the four states sued Dish in 2009, alleging the company violated two consumer telemarketing laws by making more than 55 million illegal calls. The U.S. asked for $900 million in fines, while the states sought more than $110 million.

Economic News

The U.S. dollar slumped to a seven-month low against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, wiping away the last of its post-election gains. The currency gained more than 5% to hit its highest level in 13 years following President Trump’s electoral victory. But momentum has reversed because of weak economic data and doubts over Trump’s ability to finalize his economic agenda and move it through Congress. Investors also expect fewer rate cuts this year from the U.S. Federal Reserve, with no sign of rising prices as inflation remains tame.

America has more job openings than ever before. There were 6 million open jobs in the United States in April, a record high, according to data released by the Labor Department Tuesday. During the Great Recession, job openings were as low as 2.2 million in 2009. The record comes at a time when 6.8 million unemployed Americans are looking for a job. What the numbers illustrate is one of the key problems that has plagued the U.S. labor market in recent years. Job seekers tend to lack the skills in demand.

Despite a low unemployment rate (4.3%) which economists consider ‘full-employment,’ there is still a nationwide malaise about jobs. The number of working age Americans that do not have a job right now is far higher than it was during the worst moments of the last recession.  In addition, once dominant industries, like manufacturing — which paid well even without a college degree — have been overtaken by service sector jobs, most of which are low-paying, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, knowledge-based jobs are continuing to grow, which leaves a lot of undereducated workers on the sidelines or in low-paying or part-time jobs.

The U.S. added 400 coal mining jobs during May, according to Friday’s payroll report, an increase of just 0.8%. While those gains are helpful, they aren’t enough to offset the dramatic job losses the coal industry has experienced in recent years. The U.S. now has about 51,000 coal mining jobs, down 43% from the 89,400 positions counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of 2011. While environmentalists push for the complete evacuation from coal, President Trump’s pullback from the Paris climate accord is meant to revitalize the coal industry.

President Trump has blasted companies for shipping U.S. jobs to Mexico. But Canada is also aggressively luring factories from across the northern border. The Canadian government recently gave GE $2 billion in incentives to shut down in Wisconsin and move to a city in Ontario, Canada. It’s a huge blow for the town of Waukesha. The engine factory has been a bedrock of the community for over a century. All 350 people working on the factory floor will lose their jobs.

Since Trump was elected President and tried to institute a travel ban from six Muslim countries, tourism to the U.S. is down. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that the U.S. will lose $1.3 billion in travel-related revenues in 2017, taking hotels, food, rental cars and shopping into account. The organization thinks more than 4,200 jobs could be lost as a result.

Islamic State

U.S. backed forces began an offensive to rout the Islamic State from Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria, the American-led coalition announced Tuesday. The offensive will be difficult but will deal a decisive blow to the terror group, which has been losing ground over the past year in both Iraq and Syria, said Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition commander. The offensive is being led by a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces, which are backed by coalition advisers and airstrikes. Raqqa is the remaining stronghold of the terror group’s so-called caliphate. Iraqi forces are close to clearing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from Islamic State control.

Iran

Attackers have mounted simultaneous gun and suicide bomb assaults on Iran’s parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s revolutionary founder, in one of the most audacious assaults to hit Tehran in decades. At least 12 people were killed and dozens more injured in the twin assaults on the Iranian capital, state media reported. A third attack was foiled, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said. ISIS issued a swift claim of responsibility. By choosing the burial site of Iran’s revered revolutionary leader, and the national legislative forum, the attackers picked highly symbolic targets. The attack shocked Tehran: Until now, Iran has largely escaped the regular assaults launched against other participants in Syria’s civil war. The government’s promised revenge is likely to be swift and brutal based on their response to past terror attacks in the country

North Korea

North Korea launched several ballistic missiles from its east coast Thursday, according to South Korea’s military. “North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles, assumed to be surface-to-ship missiles, this morning from the vicinity of Wonsan, Gangwon Province,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The JCS said the South Korean military has beefed up surveillance and vigilance against the possibility of additional provocations, maintaining full preparedness. The missiles fired Thursday traveled around 120 miles, according to the military. The latest provocation came less than a week after United Nations Security Council passed a new resolution expanding sanctions against the country as punishment for its missile tests.

Qatar

The rift between Qatar and other Arab nations intensified Monday when Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar and at least five Gulf-based airlines announced they will halt service to the desert peninsula nation. Qatar is predominantly Sunni and is a member of the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni nations. However, has close economic ties with Shiite Iran, including sharing a major offshore gas reserve. Last week, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani roiled the Saudis when he phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with congratulations on his re-election. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen cut ties to Qatar on Monday, claiming the energy-rich monarchy is undermining stability in the region by supporting in the Iran-aligned militant groups. Authorities gave Qataris living in and visiting their countries two weeks to leave. The United States maintains its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, complicating the U.S. relationship with the Saudis.

Afghanistan

At least seven civilians were killed and another 16 were injured Tuesday in an explosion in western Afghanistan. The blast took place at around 3 p.m. near the northern gate of the Great Mosque of Herat. Seven other people died Saturday in Kabul when suicide bombers struck the funeral of a man killed during anti-government protests, Afghan official said. The blasts were from three suicide bombings. The Taliban denied involvement in the funeral attack, which injured 119 people.

Venezuela

As a humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela deepens, a growing number of Venezuelan women are working in bars and brothels across Colombia. Venezuelan migrants are also lured by false promises of well-paid work in Colombia’s restaurants and bars or as domestic workers. But then they find they are forced to work long hours with little or no pay, are not free to leave the bar they work in, and may be trapped by debts owed to the agents who brought them across the border. According to Asmubuli, a Colombian sex workers association, currently there are around 4,500 Venezuelan sex workers in the country.

Weather

A severe weather outbreak tore through parts of several states Saturday. As many as three people died in Missouri because of flash flooding. Nearly 200,000 customers lost power in Memphis in the wake of the storms. Softball-sized hail clobbered parts of Missouri Saturday afternoon as severe thunderstorms were also underway in the Ozarks. A confirmed tornado was reported near Twin Bridges, Missouri, but there were no reports of major damage or injuries. Another suspected tornado was reported near Falcon, Missouri, and emergency management reported damage from another possible tornado near Laclede. Later in the evening, another tornado was reported near Welty, Oklahoma, a town located south of Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. There were no notable reports of damage.

Tropical moisture surging north from the Gulf of Mexico resulted in heavy downpours across parts of the South, Gulf Coast and into drought-stricken Florida this week. On Sunday, more than a dozen water rescues were reported in and around Houston as cars became stranded on flooded roads. A thunderstorm that moved through Dallas early Sunday evening also produced flash flooding. More than 7 inches of rain fell in a few hours on Sunday in Chambers County, Texas, which is located along the southeast Texas coast. Flash flooding on Monday morning resulted in numerous road closures in Batesville, Arkansas. Water rescues from flash flooding were reported as far north as Marion, Ohio. Several homes were evacuated in Affton, Missouri, Sunday night as floodwaters quickly invaded homes. A reported tornado caused damage to homes and at least one business in Pitt County, North Carolina, Monday evening. Flooding plagued parts of Florida Tuesday morning. On Marco Island, where more than a half-foot of rain fell in less than 12 hours, multiple cars were stranded on flooded roads during the morning hours. Tuesday, the heaviest swath of rain lined up across parts of South Florida. One location near Everglades City picked up just under 15 inches of rain in 24 hours ending Tuesday afternoon.

At least 10 people died within a 24-hour period in parts of Uttar Pradesh, India, after a heat wave settled over India and Pakistan this week. Hospitals across the area are filled with patients suffering from heat stroke, with symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting and high fever. In Harwatand village, more than 120 people are suffering from food poison after eating tainted food spoiled by the heat. Some locations in northern India have seen temperatures top 115 degrees early this week.

Signs of the Times (6/2/17)

June 2, 2017

Trump Backs Out of Climate Deal, But Emissions Still Decreasing

President Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate accord is a blow to environmental activists, but the nation’s steady, years-long reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming won’t suddenly stop. Utility companies have announced plans to fully or partially close more than a half dozen coal-fired power plants since Trump took office fewer than five months ago, taking some of the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitters off-line. Since 2010, more than 250 coal-fired power plants have closed in the U.S. And large businesses are moving away from fossil fuels due to market conditions, further contributing to increased use of cleaner energy sources. “The United States is making progress,” said John Coequyt, Global Climate Policy Director for the Sierra Club. “We’re moving forward. We believe the rest of the world will do the same.” U.S. stocks advanced on Thursday, with each of the major U.S. indexes notching record highs following Trump’s announcement.

Trump had already taken unilateral steps to roll back regulations that were designed to implement the Paris agreement, including reversing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan rule that sought to lower greenhouse emissions. Trump said during the Rose Garden announcement that, “The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other counties of the world.” The international agreement, which was signed in 2015 and went into effect seven months ago, is considered a major part the environmental legacy of the Obama administration. Michael A. Needham, chief executive officer of the conservative Heritage Action for America, applauded the president’s move. “Withdrawal from the agreement marks a critical step in unraveling former President Obama’s destructive legacy,” Needham said. “Not only did Obama make this agreement without approval from Congress, but in doing so he handed more control of America’s energy to foreign officials.”

World Leaders Slam Trump Climate Deal Decision

World leaders on Thursday condemned President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Although the president said he is willing to work for a better deal, France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement that the accord cannot be re-negotiated. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged allies to “speed up” efforts to fight against climate change and said they would do more to help poorer countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s decision, saying his country is “deeply disappointed.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the decision “irresponsible.” The European Union’s top climate change official echoed Rasmussen’s sentiments, calling it “a sad day for the global community.” Former Mexican president Vincente Fox unleashed a tweetstorm, saying Trump has “surrendered the hopes and future of a nation.”

State Governors, Businesses Pledge to Honor Paris Climate Accord

Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord. New York Gov. Cuomo, California Gov. Brown and Washington Gov. Inslee said they were forming a coalition of states determined to stick to the Paris targets. The three states account for a fifth of the U.S. economy. In a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s announcement in the rose garden of the White House, Cuomo unveiled a plan for New York to invest $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the largest ever procurement of renewable energy by an American state. California’s senate voted Wednesday to make utilities use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 and 60 percent by 2030. The current standard in both California and New York is for utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, more than two dozen big companies — including Apple, Morgan Stanley, and Royal Dutch Shell — also pledged to do their part. Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Disney, both resigned from the president’s advisory council after Trump’s withdrawal.

Billionaires Pledge to Give Away Half Their Wealth

Fourteen more billionaires have signed on to the Giving Pledge – the initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 to “help address society’s most pressing problems” by shifting “the social norms of philanthropy toward giving more, giving sooner and giving smarter.” The new signatories plan to use their wealth to support causes focused on poverty alleviation, education, healthcare research, climate change and the environment. More than 168 billionaires have now signed the pledge and they represent 21 countries and range in age from 31 to 93. “We all have a moral obligation as the more affluent in society to give back as best we know how,” MeTL Group CEO Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania said in a statement.

U.S. Intercepts a Long-Range Missile for the First Time

The U.S. military on Tuesday successfully intercepted an intercontinental-range missile for the first time, a key test of its missile-defense system amid heightening tensions with North Korea. The interceptor was launched from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and hit the test missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, the Missile Defense Agency said. The test was a major challenge because an intercontinental ballistic missile flies faster than a shorter-range missile. Prior to Tuesday, the U.S. military had conducted 17 tests of its missile-defense system and nine were successful, all against short-range missiles. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have injected a new sense of urgency to building an effective defense against the country and actions of its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un, who is trying to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the U.S. mainland.

U.S. 114th in World Ranking of Peacefulness

America is far from the most peaceful spot on earth according to the 11th annual “Global Peace Index,” which bases its conclusions on a complex gauge of social, economic and political factors, including rates of homicide and terrorism activities. The U.S. is now at No. 114, falling 11 places in the last year, the analysis says. Armenia and Rwanda are just in front of America on the list, El Salvador and China follow. “Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark. There was also very little change at the bottom of the index. Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen,” the report said. Most U.S. allies are in the top-20 of the index, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Germany. The United Kingdom is at No. 41, however. “The U.S. deterioration is primarily driven by the growing intensity of internal conflict within the country, which was partly seen in the divisive 2016 Presidential election, as well as increases in the perceptions of criminality across American society,” the analysis said, also citing the impact of “rising homicide rates in several major American cities” and several terrorist attacks on American soil.

49 Shot in Chicago over Memorial Day Weekend – Less than 2016

The grim tally of 49 shot over Memorial Day weekend, historically one of the most violent times of the year here, is oddly the latest sign the city may be turning a corner in the fight against gun violence. Five people were killed and 44 wounded in shootings between Friday evening and Monday night, an improvement over last year’s total of 7 killed and 61 injured. The decrease highlights the slow progress police say they’ve made in the first five months of the year to reduce Chicago’s stubbornly high murder rate through technology that helps commanders better deploy street cops. As of Tuesday morning, Chicago has recorded 235 murders so far this year, compared to 244 for the same time period in 2016. Shooting incidents have dropped more significantly to 1,047 compared to 1,222 last year, according to police department data.

Planned Parenthood Killed 328,348 Babies in 2015

The abortion chain Planned Parenthood released its annual report this week, about four months later than it usually does. The report shows increases in abortion numbers and taxpayer funding in 2015, alongside decreases in contraception, breast exams and overall patient numbers. Planned Parenthood continued to maintain its status as the largest abortion provider in the United States. The abortion group performed 328,348 abortions on unborn babies, 4,349 more than the previous year. At the same time, it saw 2.4 million patients, about 100,000 fewer than the previous year and about 500,000 fewer than five years ago. Contraception services, which the abortion chain touts as its primary service, also dropped from 2.94 million to 2.8 million during the past two years. Meanwhile, the abortion chain received more taxpayer funding. The report shows Planned Parenthood receiving $554.6 million, up from $553.7 million the previous year.

Teen Births Hit Historic Low

Teen births continue to decline in the United States, with health officials reporting a 9 percent drop from 2013 to 2014. Births to 15- to 19-year-olds fell to a historic low of 24 births per 1,000 women in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. At the same time, the proportion of births to women 30 and older increased. Mothers 30 and older accounted for 30 percent of births in 2014 — up from 24 percent in 2000, the researchers found.

Erotic Drag Show at School District Talent Show

Parents are furious after children as young as 5-years-old were exposed to an erotic drag show performance at what was supposed to be a school district talent show in New York City. The May 25th performance shocked and enraged parents who could not believe the school district would allow a grown man to spread his legs and display his crotch to wide-eyed children. The New York Daily News described the lewd performance as “complete with gyrations, tongue gymnastics and a flashed G-string.” The talent show was emceed by District 4 Superintendent Alexandra Estrella. And the individual who performed in drag was identified as the president of the Public School 96 Parent Association.

  • The lack of moral boundaries opens the cesspool of human depravity (Romans 1:24-25)

Persecution Watch

A Catholic farmer in Michigan is suing the city of East Lansing after he was barred from a municipal farmers market over his views on same-sex marriage. Stephen Tennes filed a lawsuit at a federal court on Wednesday (May 31), seeking his reinstatement. Tennes says he was prohibited from selling his products after his business, Country Mill Farms, refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding at its orchard in Charlotte, 22 miles outside the city and he stated on Facebook “his Catholic belief that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman.” Country Mill Farms had sold fruit and produce at the market for six years, but after city officials learned about the Facebook post, they “strongly and immediately pressured us not to return to the farmers market,” Tennes told a news conference at the state Capitol. According to the lawsuit, Country Mill is the only business to have been prohibited under the market’s anti-discrimination policy.

A Christian geologist-turned-creationist, who claimed Grand Canyon National Park denied his request to obtain rocks from the Park based on his religious beliefs, is suing on grounds of alleged religious discrimination. Andrew A. Snelling, a geologist with a doctorate in the field from the University of Sydney, named the Grand Canyon National Park and the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service in his lawsuit. Dr. Snelling, in November 2013, requested permission to remove 60 half-pound rocks from various areas of the Colorado River within the canyon, from park administrators – a request that was denied last July. His beliefs were not mentioned in his permit request, but, according to the New York Times, Dr. Snelling was “no strange to park officials, as he had guided many Biblical-themed rafting trips through the canyon and done research there.” “It’s one thing to debate the science,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian nonprofit representing Dr. Snelling. “But to deny access to the data not based on the quality of a proposal or the nature of the inquiry, but on what you might do with it is an abuse of government power.”

Economic News

Hiring slowed substantially in May as employers added just 138,000 jobs but the disappointing showing likely won’t stop the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates this month. Also discouraging is that job gains for March and April were revised down by 66,000. March’s job report was revised to 50,000 from 79,000, and April’s to 174,000 from 211,000. The labor market was largely expected to return to form (over 200,000 jobs) last month after volatile weather made for sharp gyrations the first five months of the year.

The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell from 4.4% to 4.3%, lowest since May 2003, the Labor Department said Friday. Average hourly wages rose 4 cents to $26.22, holding annual gains steady at 2.5%. Although earnings have picked up the past year or two from a tepid 2% pace, the annual increases have moderated in recent months, down from nearly 3%.

In a recent GoBankingRates study, 69% of adults admitted to having less than $1,000 in the bank, while 34% said they actually don’t have any savings at all. Only 37% of seniors 65 and older claimed to have $1,000 or more in the bank. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found not so long ago that almost half of Americans die nearly broke. Of the general population, 46% of retirees die with savings of $10,000 or less. But that number climbs to 57% among retirees who are single. Also, 57% of single-adult households and 50% of widowed households had no housing equity when they died.

Despite enormous question marks swirling around the fate of President Trump’s economic agenda and his political future, American financial markets have remained unusually calm. During the first 100 trading days of 2017, the S&P 500 averaged a tiny move of just 0.56% between the day’s high point and its low point. That marks the least volatile start to a year since intraday records began in 1970. Trump has failed to get any landmark legislation through Congress so far. The tax reform that investors were really banking on doesn’t appear to be anywhere near happening. The timing and scale of tax reform continues to get dialed back, with some predicting temporary tax cuts are more likely than the sweeping reform once envisioned.

Some analysts are concerned about several economic ‘bubbles’ that are about to burst. Global debt as a percent of global Gross Domestic Product is 30 to 40 percent higher than it was in 2007. Technology stocks are at record highs, reminiscent of the dot-com boom and bust 17 years ago. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s east money policies have been very successful in boosting asset prices, but wages haven’t followed, especially hurting the Millennial generation, which is why auto sales are down, with many of them putting off purchasing their first home due to high real estate prices. Jobless claims just shot up to a five-week high of 248,000. The number of job cuts in May was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016. U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to an 8 month low in May which also saw the third worst drop in U.S. construction spending in the last six years.

Egypt

Twenty-nine Egyptian Coptic Christians, who were slaughtered by ISIS last week refused to renounce their faith. At least 10 masked Islamic State followers forced the Coptic believers to leave the bus one by one. WorldWatchMonitor.org reports that as each person left the bus they were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them refused. Each Christian was then killed with a gunshot to the head or throat, including children.

Israel

President Trump renewed a waiver Thursday that keeps the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as he had promised during the presidential campaign. “While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House said Thursday in a statement. “President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the statement continued. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, before such a peace agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians would be highly controversial because the status of Jerusalem is disputed. Israel claims rights to Jerusalem dating back to biblical times, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.

Islamic State

Cruise missiles launched by the Russian Navy hit a number of ISIS targets in Palmyra, Syria, Wednesday, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. The strikes reportedly targeted militant ISIS “shelters” east of the ancient city, which housed heavy equipment and militant troops transferred from ISIS’ de facto capital Raqqa. The Admiral Essen frigate and Krasnodar submarine of the Russian Navy fired four Kalibr cruise missiles and all four struck their targets, the Ministry said. The noted that the U.S., Turkey, and Israel were informed of the strikes at the “appropriate time.”

Afghanistan

At least 80 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked a diplomatic area near the presidential palace in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. An estimated 350 people were injured in the bombing, which happened near Zambaq Square during rush hour in the center of Kabul. Most of the wounded were civilians, including women and children. The bomb, which went off near the entrance to the German embassy, was hidden in a sewage tanker. The attack, which blew doors off their hinges hundreds of yards away and shattered windows, came days after the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Iran

A day after winning re-election last month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed a campaign pledge: that he’ll find a way to free his country from sanctions that hobble its economy. That’s a vow President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are making harder than ever to keep. Trump used his first overseas trip last week to portray Shiite-led Iran as the embodiment of evil, the common enemy that could bring America’s Sunni-led Gulf allies together with Israel to achieve Middle East peace. In Washington, Republicans in Congress are also doubling down, pressing for legislation to add more sanctions, not lift those that remain after the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Philippines

A Philippine bomber plane accidentally killed 11 soldiers and injured seven others, security officials said Thursday, as troops struggled to end a bloody siege by 500 Islamic State group-aligned extremists in a southern city, one of the boldest militant attacks in Southeast Asia in years. The plane was making a bombing run over militant positions in Marawi city on Wednesday when one bomb accidentally hit army troops locked in close battle with extremists who had taken cover in buildings and houses. Precision-guided bombs were used earlier in airstrikes in Marawi’s urban areas, but the military ran out of the high-tech munitions and used conventional ones in Wednesday’s bombing run. About 500 militants, including foreign fighters, joined the siege of Marawi, a mosque-studded city that is the heartland of the Islamic faith in the southern Philippines.

At least 36 people huddling in a hotel room died of suffocation Friday after a lone gunman set gaming tables on fire at a Philippines casino resort in what authorities said was a botched robbery and not terrorism, say local authorities. An official from Resorts World Manila, a complex of hotels, restaurants and stores, said the dead included 22 guests. Another guest died of an apparent heart attack in fleeing the melee. The victims died “due to suffocation at the second-floor gaming area, which had been set on fire by the perpetrator” before the gunman committed suicide on the fifth floor of the resort’s Maxim Hotel. Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said all evidence pointed to a criminal act by an “apparently emotionally disturbed individual.”

Brazil

Political chaos, record high unemployment and weak growth after a historic recession are just some of Brazil’s extensive list of problems in 2017. Over 14 million Brazilians are out of work and the unemployment rate hit a new record of 13.6%, according to figures published this week. Before the economic crisis, it was half that at 6.5%. Brazil’s job outlook is worsening as President Michel Temer is embroiled in new corruption allegations that he paid hush money to a former congressional leader now in jail. Temer denies the claims. Temer’s corruption allegations come one year after Brazil’s Congress launched the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff on charges she manipulated the nation’s budget. Rousseff was forced out in August. Brazilian firm JBS, the world’s largest meat packing company, agreed to pay a record high fine of $3.2 billion for its role in the country’s widespread corruption scandals. JBS’s fine exceeds that of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht’s, which got hit with the previous world record for a corruption fine. In April, a U.S. judge ruled Odebrecht must pay authorities $2.6 billion this year.

Environment

A Swiss company has launched the world’s first chemical facility to commercially remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into a useful product. Climeworks, which launched its new facility near Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday, compresses CO2 it captures and uses it as fertilizer to grow crops in greenhouses. The company wants to dramatically scale its technology over the next decade, and its long-term goal is to capture 1 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. Along with cutting fossil fuel use to zero, removing carbon dioxide from the air is increasingly seen as one way to stop the long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Climeworks plant represents the beginning of an industry that is attempting to perfect the technology. Other companies, such as British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering, are also working on direct-air capture plants that will commercially suck carbon dioxide from the air.

Weather

Heavy rainfall caused flash flooding in the north-central Texas town of Throckmorton on Friday, which prompted an emergency and evacuations. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the town after up to 9 inches of rain fell and the storms continued in the afternoon hours. A dozen homes and one business were flooded by the rising waters. In addition to the evacuations, all roads in and out of Throckmorton were closed, the report added. No injuries have been reported.

Tropical Storm Beatriz made landfall Thursday evening in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, bringing heavy rains that triggered mudslides, which resulted in two deaths. Two other people there are reported missing. Beatriz was downgraded to a tropical depression soon after making landfall around 7 p.m. local time Thursday between Puerto Angel and Zipolite Beaches. On Friday, the storm was further downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. Schools were closed Friday throughout Oaxaca and flights have been canceled or delayed in the region. Heavy rain has soaked parts of Mexico’s coastal Oaxaca state. Puerto Angel reported more than 9 inches of rain had fallen from the tropical cyclone through Thursday.

Signs of the Times (5/30/17)

May 30, 2017

Gender Accommodation Causes Turmoil in PA High School

Officials in the Boyertown Area School District in Pennsylvania, who have been sued for instituting what amounts to coed showers in their locker rooms, suddenly now are concerned about “student privacy,” reports WorldNetDaily.com. Several students, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Independence Law Center, brought a case against Supt. Richard Faidley and others for allowing both boys and girls to change and shower in the same room under the guise of accommodating “gender orientation.” The lawsuit charges that without any notice to students or their parents, school officials “secretly opened” their sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex. ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek argued “laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex.” Now the school district has released a statement to WND revealing that its board met recently and “unanimously approved a proposal by an area architectural firm to study how to possibly enhance student privacy in the high school’s locker and restrooms.

No Terror Problems in Countries that Ban Muslim Refugees

As the debate continues to rage in the U.S. over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, in Japan, there is no such debate about refugees nor is there any terrorism. That’s because the Asian nation has a permanent ban on refugees from Muslim countries. Terrorism is not happening in Poland, either. Nor is it happening in Slovenia or Hungary. All of these countries keep Islamic migrants out, and Hungary recently punctuated its policy by erecting a razor-wire fence along its southern border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has scolded Japan repeatedly over the years, trying to get the country to accept refugees, mostly Muslim, from various countries. The Japanese have steadfastly refused. Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, has also refused the constant pressure from the European Union for her country to accept its “quota” Muslim refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Referencing the Islamic suicide bombing that killed 22, mainly children, and injured dozens more at a pop concert in Manchester this week, the Catholic prime minister called out the EU’s political elites on their “folly.”

Appeals Court Refuses to Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

Describing President Trump’s revised travel ban as intolerant and discriminatory, a federal appeals court last Thursday rejected government efforts to limit travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim nations. The White House derided the court decision as a danger to the nation’s security, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision was the first from a federal appeals court on the revised travel ban issued March 6, which was an effort to make good on a campaign centerpiece of the president’s national security agenda. It echoed earlier skepticism by lower federal courts about the legal underpinnings for Mr. Trump’s executive order, which sought to halt travelers for up to 90 days while the government imposed stricter vetting processes.

Brits Fuming Over U.S. Leaks of Manchester Info

President Trump arrived at NATO headquarters here Thursday under a cloud of suspicion about the security of foreign intelligence shared with the United States, a controversy he tried to head off by vowing to end leaks of secret information. British Prime Minister Theresa May was incensed and confronted Trump over intelligence leaks about the Manchester suicide attack. Shortly after he arrived at NATO, Trump released a written statement denouncing unsanctioned disclosures. “The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” the statement said. “These leaks have been going on for a long time and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” In particular, Trump singled out the New York Times for reporting information they could have only gotten from unauthorized sources. “The leaks just went from undermining our President, to deadly,” notes the American Center for Law and Justice. “The deep state shadow government is putting the lives of millions of Americans in danger. The leaks have caused our closest ally to stop sharing critical counterterrorism intelligence with the U.S.”

Trump Chastises Europe for Not Paying Fair Share in NATO

President Trump shamed European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defenses and lectured them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for “not paying what they should be paying.” He used a ceremony to dedicate the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform from which to exhort leaders to “focus on terrorism and immigration” to ensure their security. And he held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most dearly wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of NATO’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them. Instead, European leaders gazed unsmilingly at Trump while he said that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,” and that they owe “massive amounts” from past years.

Trump Chides Nations Over Unfair Trade Practices at G-7 Summit

Wrapping up his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, President Trump left the G-7 summit Saturday in Italy amid ongoing international deadlocks over trade and climate change. While the American president and G-7 allies agreed to increase efforts to fight terrorism, Trump aides and other world leaders acknowledged ongoing disputes over trade rules and whether the United States should remain a part of the new Paris climate change agreement, which calls for nations to restrict heat-generating carbon emissions. Climate talks in particular were “very unsatisfactory,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. Trump, who receives conflicting advice on climate change from aides, tweeted after the G-7 meetings that “I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” He has pushed back previous plans to make that announcement. In addition to protesting Trump’s views on climate change, Germany and other G-7 members pushed back on Trump’s claims that other countries engage in unfair trade practices against the United States. The back-and-forth discussions ended what European Union President Donald Tusk called “the most challenging G-7 summit in years.” As the Group of Seven summit wrapped up Saturday, thousands demonstrated in the streets, rallying around dozens of issues from immigration to capitalism and everything in between.

Foreign Leaders Distance Themselves from Trump

President Trump received a largely cordial welcome on the first overseas trip of his presidency. But now that he’s returned to Washington, the foreign leaders he met with are increasingly blunt in their reviews of the American president. In separate remarks intended mostly for domestic consumption, leaders of Germany, France and Israel all sought to distance themselves from Trump, just days after meeting with the president during his nine-day foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Brussels and Italy. Among the sources of friction: Trump’s reluctance to unreservedly commit to the North Atlantic alliance, his skepticism of a climate change accord signed on to by his predecessor, and the outreach to Palestinians in pursuit of a Middle East peace agreement. The dynamic is partly one of Trump’s brash style and confrontational manner.

House Health Care Bill Reduces Premiums, Covers Less

House Republicans boast that their health care bill would reduce average premiums, but that’s because the insurance policies will generally cover less. That might be fine for those who never see the doctor, but it would mean those who actually use the coverage will pay more to get treatment. Obamacare put in place an array of protections that pushed up premiums, but shielded Americans from big health care bills. Also, the law capped how much consumers have to pay out-of-pocket each year for the essential health benefits — $7,150 in 2017 — and it prevented insurers from settling annual or lifetime limits on these benefits. However, as insurers losses mounted, many have either raised prices significantly or pulled out of Obamacare leaving some states with only one provider.

Native Americans Worried About Trump’s Budget Cuts

Native Americans have, by far, the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country. The sweeping cuts included in the Trump budget proposal have sent shivers through the Native American community. Trump’s plan would slash the budget for the Interior Department — which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that provides services for nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives — by 12%, to $11.6 billion. The cuts could be devastating, according to Mason Big Crow, the Oglala Sioux tribe treasurer. The tribe could lose at least half the money it receives from federal sources, Big Crow said.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s Up 55% in U.S.

The rate of people dying from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States rose by 55% over a 15-year period, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. The number of those patients dying at home from the neurodegenerative condition also rose, from 14% to 25% over the same time period studied, 2009-2014. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, causing symptoms including memory loss, impaired language, difficulties in concentrating and decision making, confusion, or disorientation. The disease mainly affects people over the age of 65 and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. That number is predicted to rise to 16 million by 2050.

Economic News

Nearly a tenth of homes with a mortgage in the United States were considered “seriously underwater” at the end of the first quarter of 2017, according to statistics from ATTOM Data Solutions. And nearly a third of all homes nationwide valued at less than $100,000 are seriously underwater. A property is seriously underwater if the amount owed on the loan secured against it is at least 25% higher than the value of the property. The good news is that the number of seriously underwater homes is down slightly from a year ago. While negative equity continued to trend steadily downward in the first quarter, it remains stubbornly high in often-overlooked pockets of the housing market. These pockets exist in several Rust Belt cities, Las Vegas and central Florida.

Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage in 10 years. Democrats on Capitol Hill decided to mark the occasion by introducing a bill that probably won’t pass, reports CNNMoney. They introduced legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2024. The bill isn’t likely to go anywhere in Congress. Republicans run the House, Senate and the White House, and no members of the GOP have given their endorsement. Meanwhile, many states have been enacting their own changes amid inaction at the federal level. Nineteen states began 2017 with higher minimum wages, from Arkansas to Michigan to Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York, California and Washington D.C. all passed laws in 2016 that put them on track for $15 an hour.

OPEC, Russia and other major oil producers agreed this week to continue their reduced production volume for another nine months. These coordinated production cuts are aimed at mopping up the massive supply glut that sent crude crashing to unthinkably-low prices last year. While OPEC’s ability to cobble together an agreement has managed to keep a lid on prices this year, oil stockpiles in the U.S. and other major economies remain stubbornly-high — and that’s spooking impatient investors. Oil stockpiles in developed countries in the OECD jumped by 24 million barrels during the first quarter to a new record of 1.2 billion, according to the International Energy Agency.

Persecution Watch

Human rights activists told Capitol Hill lawmakers that Christians in North Korea are facing persecution that is likely “on par” with the level of persecution that the Early Christian Church endured under Roman emperor Nero. The activists, convened by International Christian Concern, told lawmakers about the human rights abuses that Christians face. For the past 15 years, North Korea has ranked as the top persecutor of Christians by Open Doors USA. Any Christian worship, or religious worship, is illegal and can be punished be arrest, torture or execution. Organizations such as Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the Korean Institution for National Unification [have] interviewed thousands of defectors who brought testimony of extremely severe religious persecution.

United Kingdom

Police arrested two more suspects Saturday over the deadly Manchester concert bombing, as Britons began a sunny holiday long weekend under heightened security. Greater Manchester Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were detained early Saturday in the northwest England city on suspicion of terrorism offenses. Police used an explosive device to get into a property to make the arrests. Police say they are now holding 11 men, aged between 18 and 44, in custody and have made major progress in their investigation. Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism police officer, said authorities have dismantled a “large part” of the network around bomber Salman Abedi. But he said there were still “gaps in our understanding” of the plot, as investigators probed Abedi’s potential links to jihadis in Britain, Europe, Libya and the Middle East.

Islamic State

The Islamic State lured the U.S.-led forces into conducting an airstrike in March that killed over 100 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a top American military official said Thursday. An investigation into the March bombing found that the terror groups rigged a house with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, put civilians in the basement, and employed two ISIS snipers on the roof to bait the U.S.-led coalition to attack. The bomb used by the American jet, a GBU-38 (500-lb bomb), would not have caused the type of damage associated with the destruction of the building. The probe found that the U.S. bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted in the lower floors of the concrete building.

Egypt

Masked gunmen opened fire Friday on a caravan of Coptic Christian pilgrims heading to a monastery south of Cairo, killing at least 29 men, women and children, Egyptian security and health officials said. ISIS claimed credit. Christians of the Muslim majority Arab nation have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants. The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed — following the pope’s visit — to escalate attacks against Christian. The gunmen, riding in three 4 x 4 vehicles, ambushed a minibus and two cars of pilgrims heading along a desert road to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the Minya governorate, about 130 miles south of the Egyptian capital.

Egyptian fighter jets struck militant bases in eastern Libya late Friday in retaliation for the attack by masked gunmen on a caravan of Coptic Christians that left 28 people dead. In a televised address, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his forces were hitting what he called “training bases” for the militants who carried out the killings. Senior officials said the warplanes targeted the headquarters of the Shura Council in the city of Darna, where local militias are known to be linked to al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State.

Iraq

The death toll of a deadly nighttime bombing outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad has risen to 31 as ISIS militants claimed responsibility. Iraqi officials said families with children were enjoying a late-night snack after breaking their fast for Ramadan when the explosions went off. The attacks come as ISIS militants are steadily losing more territory to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. The Sunni extremists are increasingly turning to insurgency-style terror attacks to detract from their losses.

Afghanistan

At least 18 people were killed when a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of provincial security forces in eastern Afghanistan. The target was a group of guards providing security for U.S. forces in Khost province but most of the victims in Saturday’s attack were civilians. The convoy of Khost provincial forces was targeted near the province’s main bus station. The attack comes on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The Taliban had warned about their new spring offensive.

Philippines

The black flag of ISIS has been raised in the Philippines. At least 103 people have died in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao in less than a week as fighters affiliated with the Islamic State engaged in violent clashes with government forces, and martial law was declared over the entire island. Hundreds of hostages were taken, most of them Christians. The militants entered the predominantly Muslim city of some 200,000 suddenly, on the afternoon of May 24, wearing masks and carrying assault rifles. Black ISIS flags emblazoned in white with the words “There is no god but God” were flying from every corner in the city. Photos showed long queues of cars piled with people and belongings leaving Marawi, as tanks and armored troop vehicles headed toward the beleaguered city. Clashes between government forces and militants had claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 11 military and four policemen, as of Sunday afternoon, with at least 61 militants also killed.

North Korea

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. It landed in Japan’s exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast. Because Monday’s test — the North’s ninth ballistic missile launch this year — was apparently of a short-range variety of which Pyongyang has a surplus of reliable missiles, it may have been meant more as a political and military message to outsiders than as a crucial test of not-yet-perfected technology.

Volcanoes

The Bogoslof Volcano in the Aleutian Islands erupted again on Sunday, sending a cloud of ash at least 35,000 feet into the air and prompting an aviation red alert. Ash can harm and stop jet engines. Ash from southwest Alaska volcanos is a threat airliners operating between North America and Asia when a cloud rises above 20,000 feet. The Bogoslof volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest in an unpredictable condition. Additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time. Bogoslof, one of the United State’s most active volcanoes, has erupted at least 36 times in the past four months.  Bogoslof Island, located in the Bering Sea north of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, has nearly tripled in size due to pyroclastic fall and flow deposits.

Weather

One of the year’s most severe outbreak of thunderstorms struck the U.S. Saturday. Almost 500 reports of severe weather were received by National Weather Service offices Saturday and Saturday night, from southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico to Virginia and North Carolina. Trees have been downed by straight-line winds across central Missouri. Many powerlines were snapped. An 80-mph wind gust was recorded in Salem, Missouri late Saturday afternoon as a squall line intensified. Early Saturday afternoon softball size hail was reported near Adrian and Ballard, Missouri. Supercell thunderstorms struck during the evening hours in Oklahoma, with hail as large as tennis balls. Wind gusts up to 69 mph blew a satellite dish off the roof of the Memphis’ emergency management office and overturned a semi on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Richmond, Virginia received hail as large as eggs, and much of central Virginia saw severe storms including damaging hail up to golf ball sized. At least a dozen people have been hurt and more than a dozen mobile homes were ‘flipped’ after storms struck in eastern North Carolina Monday.

Heavy rainfall in Sri Lanka triggered flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 200 people and left at least 100 others missing Friday. Tens of thousands have been displaced. The dangerous conditions could worsen, and citizens who live close to areas prone to flooding and mudslides have been urged to evacuate by the government. Heavy rains have lashed several parts of the country for a week, inundating roads and houses. Much of Sri Lanka has been heavily deforested for export crops such as tea and rubber, leaving the countryside exposed.

At least 16 people have been killed after strong thunderstorms and high winds buffeted Moscow and surrounding areas on Monday. Winds up to 70 mph were reported, and officials said most of the deaths were caused by falling trees. 60,000 people in Russia’s Stavropol region are being evacuated due to the threat of flooding. More than 200 houses lost roofs, more than 2,000 cars were damaged and around 14,000 trees were downed.

Signs of the Times (5/25/17)

May 25, 2017

Trump Calls for End to Islamic Extremism & Peace in Israel

President Trump urged leaders of Muslim countries to stand up against what he called “Islamic extremism” on Sunday, adopting a tough stance on terror while in Saudi Arabia, who gave the President a warm welcome. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump received rave reviews for her advocacy of greater inclusion of women in the Saudi Arabian workforce. The World Bank announced that Arab countries had contributed $100 million toward her women’s entrepreneurship initiative. On the second leg of Trump’s first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, he greeted Israeli leaders in Jerusalem Monday with hopes to lay the groundwork for a peace deal with the Palestinians – saying a “rare opportunity” exists, and the threat posed by Iran is bringing Arab neighbors together toward that goal. “There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran,” Trump said, speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Trump also became the first sitting U.S. president to visit and pray the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Trump’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Tuesday took him to Bethlehem, a Palestinian city of just 22,000 people but symbolically important to people around the world. Meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his presidential palace in Bethlehem, Trump said, “Peace is a choice we must make each day, and the United States is here to help make that dream possible for young Jewish, Christians and Muslim children all across the region. In this spirit of hope, we come to Bethlehem, asking God for more peaceful, safe and far more tolerant world for all of us.” Trump departed Israel on Tuesday afternoon following an eventful 28-hour visit. Throughout his many stops and statements, key talking points emerged including supporting Israel against the threats from Iran and jihadi terror militias, as well as his keenness to oversee the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump proclaimed the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, invoking the reign of King David. On Wednesday, Trump met with Pope Francis where they discussed “the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue” and homed in on the need to protect Christians in the Middle East.”

Manchester Concert Bombing Claims 22 Lives

Investigators are trying to establish whether a suicide bomber was working alone or as part of a network after a deadly explosion killed at least 22 people — including some children — following an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, northern England, police said early Tuesday.  Thousands of terrified concert-goers ran for the exits as chaos unfolded after the blast at Manchester Arena, one of the largest concert venues in Europe. Greater Manchester Police are treating the incident as a terror attack and said the attacker was killed in the blast. ISIS claimed one of its members planted bombs in the middle of crowds at the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena. The Search International Terrorist Entities Intelligence Group said that the Islamic State has celebrated the attack on social media. British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack a display of “appalling, sickening cowardice – deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people.”

The Libyan links of suicide bomber Salman Abedi drew severe scrutiny Wednesday as authorities tried to determine if the British-born local resident acted alone. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the sophistication of the attack indicate Abedi, 22, did not act alone. Abedi had “proven” links with the Islamic State terror network, British intelligence officials say. Abedi had recently traveled to two Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Libya, where investigators believe he likely got help planning the Manchester bombing. Three suspects were rounded up in Manchester Wednesday in connection with Monday’s deadly concert bombing, as British authorities raced to prevent another attack that they sat could be imminent.

Trump’s First Budget Proposal Goes to Congress

President Trump’s first budget proposal was sent to Capitol Hill Tuesday. Trump is proposing major cuts to health care, food assistance and other safety-net programs for the poor to balance the budget in 10 years while increasing spending for the military. “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. “If you’re on disability insurance … and you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.”  Critics argue the proposed budget would hurt the most vulnerable parts of the country’s population. Opposition to Trump’s budget is likely to be strong in Congress — and not just among Democrats. The budget proposal assumes passage of the House Obamacare repeal bill, which cuts spending on Medicaid and insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income families while repealing taxes imposed to pay for the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of insurance coverage to millions more Americans.

Other major sources of savings —the most cuts ever proposed by a president —include student loan programs, federal retiree benefits, crop subsidies, disability payments and tax credits for the working poor and families with children. The budget proposes double-digit percentage cuts next year for many Cabinet departments and major agencies, including 31% at the Environmental Protection Agency, 29% at State, and around 20% at the Agriculture and Labor departments. By contrast, the Defense and Homeland Security departments, along with Veterans Affairs, would enjoy increases of 5% or more next year. Trump also wants to increase spending for school voucher programs and infrastructure projects and to offer, for the first time, six weeks of paid family leave to new mothers and fathers.

Demand Soars for Concealed Carry Permits

The number of concealed carry permits in the United States has topped 15 million over the last year, according to data collected by the Crime Prevention Research Center. It was the largest one-year increase ever in the number of permits issued, according to the research center. In July 2016, the center reported that 14.5 million people had concealed handgun permits. As of May of this year, the number is already 15.7 million. Several states, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Texas, have seen a big jump in the number of gun permits issued. Between 2012 and 2016, Lott said, the growth rate for women was twice as much as it was for men. Minorities are also purchasing handguns at a higher rate compared to previous years. Firearms instructors are reporting an increase in the number of black women learning how to use guns around the country.

Abortion Conference Video Reveals Gruesome Details

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released video footage from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) conference during which abortionists admit they work they do is “killing,” complain about how “difficult” it is to tear apart a fetus, and lament that they’re not given a place to discuss the “heads that get stuck that we can’t get out.” A judge’s gag order prevented this footage from being released for over a year. Some of this footage was previously leaked by Got News, but this is the first time CMP has publicly released it with subtitles, reports lifesitenews.com. “An eyeball … fell down into my lap, and that is gross!” exclaimed Dr. Uta Landy, the founder of Planned Parenthood’s Consortium of Abortion Providers (CAPS). The audience laughed. Dr. Susan Robinson, an abortionist at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, used forceps to show undercover CMP investigators how she pulls babies apart during abortions. Dr. Deborah Nucatola, who appeared in one of CMP’s first videos discussing altering abortion methods to obtain better fetal body parts to sell, describes in this video how she beheads babies so their skulls and brains can be sold.

Eight States Have Only One Abortion Clinic Open

Eight states are reportedly on their way to being abortion free and each have only one abortion clinic remaining. LifeNews.com reports that the eight states are Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas. West Virginia and Kentucky were the most recent states to shut down all abortion clinics except one.

Android Apps Track Users With Hidden ‘Beacons’

An increasing number of Android applications are tracking users without their knowledge, according to a new report. Over recent years, companies have started hiding “beacons”, ultrasonic audio signals inaudible to humans, in their advertisements, in order to track devices and learn more about their owners. Electronic devices equipped with microphones can register these sounds, allowing advertisers to uncover their location and work out what kind of ads their owners watch on TV and which other devices they own, reports Technocracy News. Researchers at Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany found that, while six apps were known to be using ultrasound cross-device tracking technology in April 2015, this number grew to 39 by December 2015, and has now increased to 234.

Economic News

Home builders throughout the country are struggling to find workers, and it’s causing major problems: Labor costs are rising, homes are taking longer to complete and buyers are facing higher prices. When the housing market collapsed nearly a decade ago, home construction came to a screeching halt, leaving many workers in the field without jobs. Workers fled to other industries or other countries, and many haven’t come back. Some took jobs in the manufacturing and auto industries, while others found work in the energy sector. Foreign-born workers, the vast majority of whom come from Mexico, made up a significant chunk of home buildering crews, and many of them returned home during the Great Recession and ultimately found gainful employment there.

A record 107 million Americans have auto loan debt, according to data released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s about 43% of the entire adult population in the U.S. In early 2012, only 80 million Americans had car loans. In fact, more Americans had home mortgages than auto loans in 2012. But all that has changed. Today the number of auto loans far outpaces home loans. Car sales notched another all-time high in 2016, though lately the buying frenzy seems to be over.

Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. Specifically, the Fed’s survey found that 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. The survey also found that 23 percent of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month, while 25% reported skipping medical treatments.

The combined enrollment in the four largest safety net programs in the U.S. has reached a new all-time record; More than 74 million Americans are on Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program); More than 58 million Americans are on Medicare; More than 60 million Americans are on Social Security; and approximately 44 million Americans are on food stamps. This latter number is dramatically higher than the 26 million Americans that were on food stamps prior to the last financial crisis.

America’s entrepreneurial sector is in deep trouble. The number of new entrepreneurs and business owners has been dropping – as a percent of the working-age population – for more than a generation, declining by 53 percent between 1977 and 2010. The share of self-employed Americans has also been declining since 1991; by 2010 it had dropped by more than 20 percent. This is bad for our economy – new businesses are a vital source of new ideas and new jobs, notes newamerica.org.

Solar employment expanded last year 17 times faster than the total U.S. economy, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency report published on Wednesday. Overall, more than 260,000 people work in the solar industry, up by 24% from 2015. The solar business has benefited from the falling cost of solar energy and generous federal tax credits that make it more affordable for businesses and homeowners to install solar panels. Elon Musk’s Tesla recently started taking orders for solar roofs that is made of solar shingles to satisfy concerns that solar panels are ugly.

Digital currency bitcoin is more popular than ever. Prices surged to a record high above $2,000 over the weekend and were trading above $2,100 on Monday. Bitcoin prices have soared 125% thus far in 2017. Traders can probably thank President Trump for at least part of the big spike due to the uncertainty about future U.S. government policies. One of the reasons digital currencies like bitcoin and lesser known ones such as Ethereum and Ripple have soared this year is because they, like gold, are not backed by governments. And even though the record of transactions is public, there is a level of anonymity about who is making the transactions.

North Korea

U.S. and South Korean officials announced on Sunday that North Korea fired a medium-range missile, in the latest ballistics test for a country speeding up its development of nuclear weapons and missiles. U.S. Pacific Command said it tracked the missile until it landed into the sea. The missile flew eastward about 310 miles. North Korea tested a longer-range missile last weekend, which experts say was a significant advance for a weapons program that aims at having a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike America. The test triggered a new U.S.-backed push for a fresh round of U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

Iran

Iran’s newly re-elected president Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that his country will continue its ballistic missile program despite criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.  “The U.S. leaders should know that whenever we need a missile test because of a technical aspect, we will test,” Rouhani said in a news conference. “We will not wait for them and their permission.” “Our missiles are for peace, not for attack,” he added. The remarks came three days after he won Iran’s presidential election, securing another four-year term. On Sunday, Trump also made a speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that urged leaders in the Middle East region to combat extremism. Iran has built a third underground ballistic missile production factory and will keep developing its missile program, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Wednesday. The development is likely to fuel tensions with the United States in a week when President Donald Trump, on his first foreign trip, has called Iran a sponsor of militant groups and a threat to countries across the Middle East.

China

The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward, reports the New York Times. Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

Philippines

Muslim extremists abducted a Catholic priest and more than a dozen churchgoers while laying siege to a southern Philippine city overnight, burning buildings, ambushing soldiers and hoisting flags of the Islamic State. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the southern third of the nation and warned he would enforce it harshly. The violence erupted Tuesday night after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a reward of up to $5 million for his capture. The militants called for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute, and some 50 gunmen managed to enter the city of Marawi. Martial law allows Duterte to harness the armed forces to carry out arrests, searches and detentions more rapidly.

Venezuela

Massive demonstrations, violence and a rising death toll marked 50 consecutive days of anti-government protests in Venezuela. Hundreds marched on Saturday along Caracas’s Francisco Fajardo highway, one of city’s major routes. Protests turned violent in Caracas later on Saturday when demonstrators and police clashed surrounded by a mix of tear gas and exploding Molotov cocktails. More than 950 have been injured in Venezuela since the protests began, the country’s attorney general’s office said Saturday. Anti-government protesters want new elections and have called for President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation. The government has repeatedly blocked any attempts to oust Maduro from power by a referendum vote. It has also delayed local and state elections. Since March 29, opposition leaders have faced off with Maduro and his supporters, accusing him of imposing a dictatorship.

Nigeria

The 82 Nigerian schoolgirls recently released after more than three years in Boko Haram captivity reunited with their families Saturday as anxious parents looked for signs of how deeply the extremists had changed their daughters’ lives. This month’s release was the largest liberation of hostages since 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted from their boarding school in 2014. Five commanders from the extremist group were exchanged for the girls’ freedom, and Nigeria’s government has said it would make further exchanges to bring the 113 remaining schoolgirls home.

Environment

Sea-level rise recently “accelerated significantly,” said study lead author Sönke Dangendorf of the University of Siegen in Germany. Before 1990, the Earth’s oceans were rising less than a half-inch per decade. But from 1993 through 2012, the seas rose about 1.22 inches per decade, the research found. Sea level has risen nearly 8 inches worldwide since 1880 but, unlike water in a bathtub, it doesn’t rise evenly. In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities because of ocean currents and naturally sinking land. “Ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic store some hundred times more water than glaciers,” Dangendorf said. “As a result, further melting of the ice sheets poses a particular risk for low coastal areas.”

A massive landslide buried a section of California’s iconic Highway 1 in Big Sur, according to authorities. More than one million tons of rock and dirt buried a quarter-mile stretch of Highway 1 under forty-feet of debris. The highway snakes around the California coastline and is a major tourist destination. Officials called the landslide “one of a kind,” and said authorities aren’t sure when the highway will reopen. The slide went from bad to worse over the weekend and it will be a major undertaking to open the road again, the sheriff’s office said.

Weather

The Sierra Nevada snowpack will rapidly melt this week as very warm temperatures grip the region, raising the risk of major flooding near a couple of Nevada towns. Snowpack in the Sierra from this past winter was still well above average to begin May. The SNOTEL network estimated water content of the snowpack in the Sierra was almost three times the early-May average. With well-above-average temperatures in place to start this week, melting of that snowpack will be accelerated. Rapidly increasing flows are likely on rivers and streams in the region. Flows on some waterways could be two to three times greater than normal. The Walker River in western Nevada poses the greatest risk of property damage, as it is forecast to experience major to record flooding by late week near the towns of Mason and Yerington.

Damaging storms hammered Austin County, Texas Tuesday afternoon, where trees and power lines were downed and a major interstate was closed for hours. At least a dozen small planes were damaged in Texas after an overnight storm brought winds of almost 50 mph through the area. Nearly a dozen reports of tornadoes came in across the South Tuesday evening. Parts of Highway 90 were shut down Tuesday in south Georgia, and at least 10 structures in the Peach State were damaged due to storms. At least one person was injured near Salemburg, North Carolina, after a mobile home was overturned. The local volunteer fire department building in Autryville was destroyed by a reported tornado.

For the second time in as many days, residents cleaned up damage across the South as severe storms hit the region Wednesday. Tornadoes were reported in Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday during another round of severe weather. At least four homes were damaged in South Carolina. A radar-confirmed tornado destroyed an elementary school gym in North Carolina. There were also reports of several flipped vehicles.

Signs of the Times (5/20/17)

May 20, 2017

Miracle Harvest of Souls Among ISIS Refugees

Reports from several Christian organizations on the ground in ISIS-torn regions say that the flood of Muslims coming to Christ shows no end in sight. The challenge we face is that the need already is greater than our resources can provide. “This is an unprecedented, miracle harvest of souls resulting from the despicable terror acts of ISIS marauders and the murderous civil war in Syria. Refugees are running for their lives from ISIS evil and are running directly to our partnering camps where Christian workers are ministering to these refugees’ physical needs and sharing the Good News. The miracle harvest is so great that one of our partner’s churches that is operating a camp for Syrian refugees is reporting that more than TWO-THIRDS of their workers are former refugees who have come to faith in Christ and are now ministering God’s love to other refugees.,” reports Liberty Relief. They are in desperate need of at least 10,000 Bibles. You can contribute to this harvest at:

Christianity Growing in North Korea Despite Persecution

North Korea is the number one country for most severe persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, but despite the extreme persecution Christians there face, the church is growing, reports a North Korean defector. The Christian Post reports that Kim Chung-seong was able to escape North Korea right before he was to be killed. He now lives in South Korea and is involved in missions work. “The one thing that the North Korean regime fears the most, and is afraid of, is the spreading of the Gospel,” he said Friday while attending the first annual World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. He said that Christians in North Korea are forced to hide their faith from the government and sometimes even from their own families in order to avoid persecution. But despite these obstacles, there are an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea.

Planned Parenthood Closing Multiple Abortion Clinics in Iowa

The abortion chain Planned Parenthood announced plans Thursday to close four Iowa clinics as a result of a new state law that defunds it. Reports lifennews.com. At the end of June, Planned Parenthood facilities in Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City, Iowa will close; and a fourth in Quad City will close when the building is sold, Iowa Public Radio reports. Three of the facilities did abortions. The tax money that used to go to Planned Parenthoods in Iowa now will be given to community health clinics that offer comprehensive health care but not abortions. In contrast to the 12 (soon to be eight) Planned Parenthood facilities in Iowa, there are 221 community health clinics in Iowa, according to local news reports. These facilities will be able to expand services to low-income, minority and other patients with the funding increase.

Court Grants Christian T-shirt Printer the Right to Decline Pro-LGBT Orders

In a surprise decision, the owner of a Christian t-shirt printing business recently won an appeals case after he objected to printing a pro-LGBT message on an order of t-shirts, representing one of very few cases resolved in favor of religious freedom. Owner Blaine Adamson says he and his staff never refuse to do business with someone based on their personal beliefs, but he did feel compelled in 2012 to decline to print a message for a gay pride event because it went against his convictions. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization promoting the event then filed a discrimination lawsuit against Adamson and his company. Hands On Originals’ case was taken up by Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF attorneys appealed the case to the Fayette Circuit Court, which overruled the original ruling against Adamson which was handed down by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission in 2014. “’It is also a victory for all Americans because it reassures us all that, no matter what you believe, the law can’t force you to express a message in conflict with your deepest convictions,” ADF’s lead attorney said.

Trump Travels to Middle East as Bombshells Multiply in Washington

President Trump began an ambitious five-city, nine-day foreign trip in Saudi Arabia on Saturday with the goal of uniting the Muslim world against terror — even as his presidency is embroiled in a quickly escalating controversy over his ties to the Russian government. In Riyadh, there’s a clear sense of national pride that Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign destination as president. Bright electronic billboards line King Salman Road the airport to downtown, showing side-by-side photos of President Trump and the Saudi king under the banner “Together we Prevail.” President Trump on Saturday signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal to help the Persian Gulf ally with its military-defense system. From Saudi Arabia, Trump will travel Monday to Jerusalem for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an issue that has confounded every modern president even under the best of circumstances. Trump comes to Israel amid revelations he divulged top secret Israeli intelligence to Russia, and after a diplomatic flare-up over the U.S. refusal to recognize Jerusalem as wholly within Israeli territory.

Defense Secretary Mattis says Trump’s Orders Will Annihilate ISIS

New approaches approved by President Trump to defeat Islamic State militants have begun to bear fruit, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Friday. Commanders in the field have been given greater authority to press the fight without approval from Washington, and a tactical shift to “annihilation” from a war of attrition has thrown fighters from the Islamic State, or ISIS, on “their back foot,” Mattis said. Trump’s order, Mattis said, has shifted the focus from surrounding ISIS fighters in their strongholds and waiting them out to attacking them and choking off their lines of retreat. Mattis declined to put a timeline on defeat for the terror organization, calling it a “transnational, long-term threat.”

Furor Over Trump Leaks to Russians

During an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials, a current and a former U.S. official said, President Trump described highly classified material about a new ISIS plot. The details had not even been shared with American allies, and the disclosure could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship, notes the New York Times. However, President Trump on Tuesday defended conversations he had with Russian officials, saying he shared “facts” about terrorism and had “the absolute right to do” so. Under U.S. law, the President has the right to declassify sensitive material. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all strongly pushed back Monday evening following The Washington Post report that Trump disclosed to Russian officials the foreign city where an ISIS plot was hatched – a development that could potentially lead the Russians to discover U.S. intelligence sources and methods. In addition, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denied Saturday that the dismissal of FBI director James Comey was discussed during his meeting last week with President Trump in the Oval Office.

Israeli Intelligence Angry Over Leak

Reports that Israel was the source of highly classified information that President Trump shared with Russian officials last week left a chill among current and former intelligence officials here. Israeli intelligence officers are taking the matter seriously, a military intelligence officer said Tuesday. The officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Israel was warned months ago to be careful about sharing information with Trump’s staff, and now that warning has been realized, reports the USA Today. Last week’s incident will likely lead to some adjustments in the quality of intelligence shared in the future by Israel and other countries, said Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general and former intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces.

Putin Offers to Hand Over Records of Trump-Lavrov Meeting

Vladimir Putin offered Wednesday to help settle the controversy over claims President Trump shared classified intel with his diplomats. Railing against “dangerous” U.S. politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment,” the Russian president dismissed the claim that Trump disclosed such information to Kremlin officials and offered to hand over records of the Oval Office meeting to Congress. Speaking during a joint news conference with the Italian prime minister, Putin said those attacking Trump for allegedly being too cozy with Russian politicians were guilty of “political schizophrenia.” If Trump did disclose classified intel, Putin said he would have to reprimand Lavrov since the alleged intelligence was never passed along to him. “He hasn’t shared those secrets with us,” Putin concluded. Turning to Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Putin said he initially found the claim “funny” but said Moscow is now “concerned because it’s hard to imagine what the people who produce such nonsense can come up with next.”

White House Disputes Report that Trump Asked Comey to End Flynn Probe

The White House grappled late Tuesday with the political ghost of James Comey, as an explosive new report said a memo written by the ousted FBI chief claimed President Trump once asked him to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House sharply disputed the report, as Democrats seized on it as potential proof of “obstruction” of justice. According to The New York Times the memo quoted Trump as saying he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to Flynn. The Times said Comey wrote the memo shortly after an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn resigned from the Trump administration. The paper acknowledged it had not seen a copy of the memo. “The President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” an official said.

  • President Trump has insisted that his press coverage has been historically negative, and a newly released Harvard journalism study backs him up. A major study released Thursday by the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that the coverage of Mr. Trump during his first 100 days was “unsparing,” with negative reports outnumbering positive ones by 80 to 20 percent. “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity,” the report states.

Special Council to Investigate Alleged Russian Campaign Collusion

On Wednesday, former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed to be a special counsel to oversee the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign. Robert S. Mueller III, is a former FBI who has spent most of his life in public service. Mueller, 72, was named to head the FBI one week before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks – and spent the next 12 years at the helm of the agency, a tenure second in length only to J. Edgar Hoover. Now, he has a new challenge: Overseeing the FBI’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump election campaign associates and Russia. President Trump denied the collusion charges and called the probe the “greatest witch hunt” in U.S. history.

Ransomware Hack Linked to North Korea

Clues point to a link between a hacking group connected to North Korea and the ransomware attacks that have crippled computer systems worldwide, according to two cyber-security firms. Experts at the global cyber-security firm Symantec found that earlier versions of the ransomware known as WannaCry were found on computers that also bore evidence of the cyber tools used against Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as banks in Poland and Bangladesh’s central bank— attacks that all were linked to North Korea. Also, a researcher at Google singled out an identical code used both in the ransomware and used by the Lazarus Group, a team of hackers tied to North Korea. Microsoft, whose older Windows operating system was the target of the ransomware that a quarter-million computers in 150 countries, has blamed the National Security Agency for stockpiling cyberweapons that were then stolen and used to form the attack, a scenario echoed by cybersecurity firms. In the WannaCry attack, which started Friday, the attackers have demanded $300 per computer in payments to unlock infected computers, a scheme that paralyzed computers at U.K. hospitals, a Spanish telephone company, and European car factories. But payouts so far have yet to top $100,000, according to firms tracking the attackers’ bitcoin accounts.

Factory Wages Too Low to Generate Rust Belt Renaissance

President Trump made boosting manufacturing the centerpiece of his economic agenda, vowing to revitalize blue-collar America, but factories just aren’t what they used to be, and the notion of “good-paying” manufacturing jobs that connect high school graduates to the middle class is quickly becoming a myth, reports the Washington Times. Instead, rank-and-file production workers now lag behind much of the rest of the economy in terms of paychecks, forcing economists to wonder whether the push for more factories is desirable in the first place, notes the conservative newspaper. Even the service industry, long dismissed as second-tier employment, averages higher wages than factory laborers, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service. In 2000, the average factory worker earned 5.1 percent more on an hourly basis than workers in the services sector. By last year, factory workers earned 4.3 percent less.

Robots to Slash Retail Jobs

Robots have already cost millions of factory jobs across the nation. Next up could be jobs at your local stores. Between 6 million to 7.5 million existing jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation, according to a new study this week from by financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group. That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers. Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study. “Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy,” said the report. And these job losses will hit women particularly hard, since about 73% of cashiers are women.

Economic News

U.S. household debt has topped the record level reached in 2008, a milestone for the recovery that shows consumers are borrowing again. But while the debt doesn’t pose the risks that toppled the financial system nine years ago, there are still some signs of potential trouble, notably high student loan debt and delinquency rates. Debt balances for American households increased $149 billion, or 1.2%, in the first quarter to $12.73 trillion, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Wednesday. That’s modestly above the $12.68 trillion peak in 2008 and 14.1% higher than the bottom in 2013. But the makeup of that debt is starkly different from what it was at the brink of the 2008 financial crisis. While mortgages still comprise the majority of the obligations, they represent a far lower share and the rebound has been led by student and auto debt. Household debt represented nearly 100% of household income in 2008, compared with 80% today, presenting a far lower risk to individual solvency and the broader economy

President Trump’s election and his promise to implement an “America First” agenda propelled the U.S. dollar to 13-year highs. But the Trump bump has proved fleeting for the greenback, which has lost virtually all of its post-election gains. Currency analysts are concerned about weak U.S. economic growth to kick off this year and concern that Trump’s political troubles will doom his economic agenda. However, the tech-heavy NASDAQ composite stock index posted a new record-high Tuesday. But on Wednesday, the stock market took a steep nosedive after allegations surfaced that President Trump revealed classified information about ISIS to Russian diplomats.

Ford Motor Co. plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried jobs in North America and Asia Pacific this year in an effort to boost profits. The company says it will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to its workers. It expects 1,400 positions to be affected by the end of September. Ford says its European and South American operations have already cut workers and won’t be affected. Ford’s stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent over the last three years as investors worry that U.S. sales are peaking. Ford is also spending heavily on future technology, like self-driving and fully electric cars.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s experiment with socialism has undermined what was once the most prosperous country in South America. The result? Daily riots and protests that have resulted in at least 40 deaths in recent weeks at the hands of government security forces. Inflation estimated at 720 percent. Shortages of basic foods and medicines. Newborn babies deposited in dresser drawers because hospitals have no beds. Zoo animals hunted down and butchered for food by the ravenous population. Finally, this week, and only at the urging of the United States, the United Nations is considering how to address this desperate situation. President Nicholas Maduro, who assumed power after the death of the charismatic but egomaniacal Hugo Chavez, was forced earlier this year to ask the U.N. for emergency aid, an admission of his inability to keep his people fed and secure.

Russia

Russia is buying up more of America’s debt. In March, the country bought $13.5 billion of U.S. government bonds — better known as “Treasury securities.” Russia’s total holdings of U.S. debt have now increased to nearly $100 billion, according to recently released Treasury Department data. It’s the third straight month of buying from Russia. A key reason is that Russia is restocking its foreign reserves, which declined dramatically when oil prices crashed last year to their lowers level since 2003. Foreign reserves are the cushion a country builds up to weather a rainy day. The Russian ruble hit an all-time low in early 2016 when oil prices fell to around $26 a barrel. The ruble’s crash could have been worse had the Russian government not spent lots of its US dollar holdings to keep the currency afloat.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces have dislodged Islamic State from all but 12 square km of Mosul, a military spokesman said on Tuesday, after planes dropped leaflets into the city telling civilians the battle was nearly won. Seven months into the U.S.-backed campaign, the militants now control only a few districts in the western half of Mosul including the Old City, where Islamic State is expected to make its last stand.

Under siege in other parts of Syria, Islamic State forces staged a surprise attack Thursday on two government-held villages in central Syria’s Hama province that killed more than 50 people, according to media reports and sources in the region. Fierce clashes between IS fighters and pro-Syrian government forces in the villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh left at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-regime troops dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has monitors in the area. IS suffered 15 casualties, the observatory said.

Syria

The U.S. military launched fresh air strikes against pro-Assad troops in Syria after the troops ignored repeated warnings from both coalition and Russian forces, officials told Fox News Thursday. The Syrian forces, in several vehicles including at least one tank, were near the Jordanian border and deemed a threat to coalition partners on the ground, a Pentagon official said. The coalition commander assessed the threat and after shows of force didn’t stop the regime forces and those forces refused to move out of the deconfliction zone, the commander on the ground called for the air strike as a matter of force protection. Another military source told The Associated Press it appeared the Syrian forces were poised to attack an area that included U.S. advisers. “They were building a fighting position” about 55 kilometers from a U.S.-coalition base close to At Tanf, where advisers train members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition.

Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer says NATO should be prepared to move fast to deploy additional forces if President Trump and other heads of states agree to bolster the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan, where government forces are locked in a stalemate with the Taliban. “What I asked my counterparts to do today is be prepared to act quickly,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday after a meeting with NATO’s military leaders. “If the political decision is to do more, let’s do more as fast as we can.” The decision is urgent because Afghanistan is entering the so-called fighting season, when snow is melting and mountains are becoming passable once again, allowing the Taliban to increase their attacks. Wednesday’s meeting will help set the stage for next week’s gathering of NATO leaders, including President Trump, in Brussels. The White House has said the president will make a decision on whether to increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan after that meeting.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose more moderate policies included greater internal freedoms and a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. that brought about some sanctions relief, won a resounding victory for a second four-year term, Iranian State TV said Saturday. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told a news conference that the 68-year-old cleric won 57% of the vote against three other contenders to avoid a runoff. Voting hours were extended several times because of the high turnout — 41.2 million voters, or 73% of the electorate. In 2013, Rouhani won his first term with nearly 51% of the vote. Iran’s president is the second-most powerful figure in the country’s political system. He is subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

South Sudan

Violence in South Sudan over the past three weeks has prompted a massive flight of refugees into neighboring countries, according to the United Nations. More than 60,000 people, most of whom are women and children, have fled the country since fighting began at the end of June, the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR reported on Tuesday. Armed groups “are looting villages, murdering civilians, and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks,” UNHCR Spokesman Melissa Fleming said. Despite a peace deal brokered on July 11, clashes between forces loyal to the country’s President Salva Kiir and those allied with former Vice President Riek Machar are ongoing.

Volcanoes

An eruption at Bogoslof volcano – one of two to erupt in the Aleutian Islands Tuesday – is its first after more than two months of inactivity, causing ash to fall in a nearby community before drifting south over the Pacific Ocean. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said Tuesday night’s eruption at the volcano about 60 miles west of Unalaska, which began just after 10:30 p.m. and lasted for 73 minutes, sent a plume to an altitude of 34,000 feet. Overall, 39 volcanoes around the world are either erupting right now or have recently erupted according to Volcano Discovery. Most of those active volcanoes are along the Ring of Fire. Fortunately, the U.S. portion of the Ring of Fire has been less active than other areas in recent years.  But experts say this will eventually change because seismic tension continues to build.  One example of this is what is happening at Mount St. Helens right now. Since mid-April, small earthquakes have been cropping up deep beneath Mount St Helens at ‘relatively high rates,’ bringing roughly one tremor every few hours. In the last 30 days, scientists have located 55 seismic events in the vicinity, and say there may be well over 100 earthquakes linked to the swarm so far.

Environment

Cicadas are emerging from the ground four years ahead of schedule in the Mid-Atlantic states. Cicadas last emerged by the billions in 2004, were expected to remain underground for the typical 17 years and emerge again in 2021. Scientists believe the premature emergence could be due to climate change and protracted warming in the area. The connection is far from proven, but some experts suggest longer growing seasons could shorten life cycles of the 17-year broods and allow them to grow big enough in just 13 years to rise from the soil early, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Warmer temperatures and deviations in rainfall patterns appears to be the reasons why tree populations in the eastern U.S. are shifting north and, more surprisingly, west, according to new research. Overall, the changing climate has pushed trees an average of 20 miles north and 25 miles west over the past 30 years. While individual trees don’t move, of course, where they sprout can change. Saplings can expand into a new region while older growth dies in another. While the northern shift was expected due to warming temperatures, researchers think the more surprising westward movement could be the result of a change in rainfall patterns. The eastern U.S. has gotten warmer over the past few decades, and the Southeast has been trending drier. Deciduous trees like oak and maple are primarily moving west, and evergreens are moving north.

Weather

For a sixth straight day, severe thunderstorms, not to mention flash flooding, pelted parts of the Plains and Midwest on Friday, including many of the same areas of the Plains states that were hit by tornadoes and severe storms Tuesday and Thursday. A serious flash flood event is now ongoing in Middle Tennessee. The heaviest rain has now shifted north into Kentucky and southern West Virginia, where additional local flash flooding is possible. Winds gusted to 68 mph at St. Louis Lambert International Airport just after 5 a.m.

Winter Storm Valerie was an unusually strong late-spring snowstorm that dumped more than three feet of snow on the Rockies, caused tree damage and power outages, and also forced road closures over the past few days. Winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories remain in effect throughout Wyoming and the mountains of Colorado Friday. The top snowfall amount so far is 38.2 inches near Ward, Colorado, 8.4 inches of which fell in just under three hours Thursday afternoon. The snow has forced a stretch of Interstate 80 to be closed in Wyoming between Laramie and Cheyenne. The Front Range of Colorado will see its most significant snow through Friday morning. The greatest impacts, including power outages and tree damage, are expected west of Interstate 25.

A dramatic weather pattern change is occurring along the Eastern Seaboard this week allowing temperatures to soar toward near-record levels after a relatively cool start to May. The first half of May featured a southward dip in the jet stream across the Great Lakes and East, resulting in cooler-than-average temperatures overall. Higher-terrain locations in New England even saw snow from a nor’easter over last weekend. This week, the jet stream is reconfiguring itself with a northward bulge – or upper-level ridge – along the East Coast, resulting in temperatures 10 to 25 degrees above average. This will be a true taste of summer with daily record highs threatened in some locations, while others may see their first 90s of the season.

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

Signs of the Times (5/15/17)

May 15, 2017

China Projected to Have World’s Largest Christian Population by 2030

According to a report from The Christian Post, China is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030, despite the increased persecution Chinese Christians have been experiencing. The report projects 200 million Chinese believers by 2030. China’s current government under President Xi Jinping is increasingly hostile toward Christians and Christianity. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, their cross symbols removed, and Christians have been imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for their faith. Despite the persecution and lack of religious freedom, however, many Chinese Christians echo the words of Yu Jie, a Christian democracy activist: “Neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism, nor capitalism, nor democracy, nor any earthly thing will determine the fate of my land.”

Only 17% of ‘Christians’ Have biblical Worldview

A vast majority of Americans who call themselves Christians do not hold a biblical worldview, a new study by the Barna Group finds. Only 17 percent do, the survey showed. The research “found strong agreement with ideas unique to nonbiblical worldviews among practicing Christians.” Elements rooted in new age spirituality were supported by 61 percent. Fifty-four percent identified with postmodern beliefs, 36 percent with Marxism and 29 percent with secularism. “For instance, almost three in 10 … practicing Christians strongly agree that ‘all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being,’” Barna reported. A large number of Christians also embrace secularism in their worldviews. One of its component beliefs, materialism, holds that the material world is all that exists. Those respondents told Barna that the purpose of life is “’to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life.’” That attitude was shared by 20 percent of so-called Christians.

  • The ‘falling away’ prophesied in the Bible (2Thessalonians 2:3) is underway in earnest

Rebellion Grows Against Muslim Indoctrination in Public Schools

From coast to coast, parents are rebelling against what they describe as Islamic indoctrination of their children in public schools. In Florida, for example, parents are protesting a newly approved textbook they say whitewashes Islam’s violent history of conquest and subjugation. Last week, a Groesbeck, Texas, couple moved their sixth-grade daughter to a new school after they discovered her history homework assignment on Islam. In one assignment, students were asked to list the five tenets of Islam required for salvation. In late March, a middle school in Chatham, New Jersey, was using a cartoon video to teach the Five Pillars of Islam to seventh-grade students. Meanwhile, in an initiative to “combat Islamophobia and the bullying of Muslims students,” the San Diego Unified School District, as WND reported, has formed a partnership with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). In a late April school board meeting, the Blaze reported, parent Christopher Wyrick confronted the San Diego school board about the Islamic instruction attached to the program and its relationship with the Islamic group. CAIR has sued the authors of a WND Books exposé, “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” which documented the group’s radical ties. A trial in the case is expected to commence this fall.

  • Not a whiff of Christianity is allowed in our public schools, so why is the teaching of Islam allowed? Anti-bullying and anti-persecution teaching can be accomplished without teaching the tenets of Islam.

Christians in Syria Boiled, Burned, Beheaded

The American Center for Law & Justice reports that Christians face unthinkable barbarity in Syria from ISIS operatives. Many are boiled, burned alive, and beheaded. Two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have been murdered or displaced. Up to 87% of Iraq’s Christians have been decimated. ISIS bombed two churches on Palm Sunday, and is threatening all “Christian gatherings” in Egypt. It’s crucifying children. There are mass graves of Christians. Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. “It is safe to say that over 100,000 a year are killed because of their faith in Christ. In the last 10 years that would be close to a million people. It’s the equivalent of a Christian genocide,” Graham told the World Summit in Defense of Christians.

Tennessee Passes Strict Anti-Abortion Law

Tennessee’s governor signed a strict new abortion measure into law Friday, drawing praise and sharp criticism. The measure will further limit the few abortions already performed in Tennessee past the point of fetal viability — and potentially send doctors to jail if they fail to prove in court that an abortion of a viable fetus was necessary to save a woman’s life or prevent substantial or irreversible harm to a “major bodily function of a pregnant woman.” On July 1, Tennessee will become one of at least 21 states that explicitly ban abortions beyond viability. But the measure, called the Tennessee Infants Protection Act, goes further than most other bans and could become the subject of a lengthy court challenge.

Massive Cyberattack Hits as Many as 74 Countries

As many as 200,000 computers in 150 countries (not North America) were hit by a huge, fast-moving and global ransomware attack that locks computers and demands the digital equivalent of $300 ransom per computer, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian-based cybersecurity company, said Friday. The infections crippled more than a dozen hospitals in the United Kingdom, Spain’s largest telecom company and universities in Italy as well as some FedEx computers. Ransomware encrypts the files on a computer or network demanding that payment be made in Bitcoin or another untraceable digital currency before the criminals will unlock the files. Infected computers showed a screen giving the user three days to pay the ransom. After that, the price would be doubled. After seven days, the files would be deleted, it threatened. In Spain, the largest telecommunications company reportedly would have had to pay close to $550,000 to unlock all the encrypted computers hit on its network. “We have never seen such a fast spreading, well-coordinated attack with as many victims,” said Csaba Krasznay, director of the Cyber Security Academy at Hungary’s National University of Public Service. The National Health Service in the U.K. was repeatedly warned about its out-of-date and vulnerable systems before it suffered a devastating cyberattack on Friday, reports the New York Times.

Cyberattack Employed NSA Tools

The ransomware code is named WanaCrypt and has been in use by criminals since at least February. It is available in at least 28 languages, including Bulgarian and Vietnamese, according to Avast, a Czech security company that is following the fast-moving attack. A new variant dubbed WannaCry was created that makes use of a vulnerability in the Windows operating system that was patched by Microsoft on March 14. Computers that have not installed the patch are potentially vulnerable to the malicious code, according to a Kaspersky Lab blog post on Friday. The attack began with a simple phishing email, similar to the one Russian hackers used in the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other targets last year. The virus then quickly spread through victims’ systems using a hacking method that the N.S.A. is believed to have developed as part of its arsenal of cyberweapons. The connection to the N.S.A. was particularly chilling. Starting last summer, a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” began to post software tools that came from the United States government’s stockpile of hacking weapons, the first time a cyberweapon developed by the N.S.A., funded by American taxpayers and stolen by an adversary had been unleashed by cybercriminals.

Ban on Laptops, Tablets on Trans-Atlantic Flights Appears Inevitable

A U.S. ban on laptops and tablets in cabins of trans-Atlantic flights to the United States appeared all but inevitable Friday after Department of Homeland Security officials briefed European governments on a proposal that would affect millions of passengers. The move, which would impact routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights, would expand a ban already in place for planes flying out of eight Middle East and African countries. The restriction was introduced in March over fears that bombs or explosive materials could be concealed on electronic devices brought onboard. Cellphones would still be allowed in cabins but virtually every other electronic device would not be permitted and would need to be stowed in checked bags. One issue that has become a focus for security officials is how to make sure that lithium batteries used in laptops aren’t turned into bombs that can be detonated mid-air even if stored in luggage holds. Two airline officials briefed on the discussions said DHS gave no timetable for an announcement, but they were resigned to its inevitability.

Trump Appoints Voter-ID Champion to Panel Probing Fraud

Fulfilling yet another campaign promise, President Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity headed by Vice President Mike Pence that will review and report on “systems and practices” that could be used for “fraudulent voting.” Significantly, Trump has appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has led the implementation of some of the nation’s strictest voting laws, as vice chairman of the panel. Kobach championed his state’s controversial proof of citizenship law, which requires voters to provide a birth certificate or passport to register. The issue of voter fraud long has divided the nation, with Democrats insisting it doesn’t exist on a scale that would impact election outcomes. Democrats, at the same time, have opposed voter ID laws and other preventative measures, asserting they discriminate against minority voters. The problem is that amid many individual reports of voter fraud, there are no reliable figures as yet to prove it exists on a meaningful scale.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Reinstate NC Voter ID Law

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” The justices left in place the lower court ruling striking down the law’s photo ID requirement and reduction in early voting. The situation was complicated when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein tried to withdraw the appeal, which was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor. The dispute is similar to the court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, also struck down as racially discriminatory. Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits challenging the new laws. The Trump administration already has dropped its objections to the Texas law. Shortly before Trump took office in January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal.

ICE Arrests 1300 in Anti-Gang Operation

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced its largest anti-gang operation ever on Thursday, a six-week program that netted more than 1,300 arrests nationwide. Though the effort was led by ICE, the focus was not exclusively on immigrants. Of the arrests, 933 were US citizens and 445 were foreign nationals, with 384 in the country illegally. Of the 1,378 total arrests, 1,095 were confirmed to be gang members or affiliates of a gang, ICE said, including mostly Bloods, followed by Sureños, MS-13 and the Crips. MS-13 has been an increasing focus of the Trump administration as part of its border security and immigration enforcement efforts. The arrests mostly took place in the Houston, New York, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, areas.

Enraged Californians Rebel Against Tax Hike on Cars and Gas

In California, a state known for its love of driving, high-priced gasoline and history of tax revolts, a rebellion is brewing against Gov. Jerry Brown’s massive gas-and-car tax increase. In the two weeks since the Democrat signed Senate Bill 1, opponents have launched an initiative drive to repeal the $52.4 billion transportation package. Gas is already expensive in California — the state vies with Hawaii for the nation’s highest per-gallon prices — and SB1 will make it more so by dinging motorists with a 12-cent-per-gallon excise tax hike on gasoline, a 20-cent increase on diesel and higher vehicle registration fees in order to fill potholes, repair roads and bridges, and expand mass transit. “The voters are enraged,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, the Orange County Republican behind the repeal initiative. What has Mr. Allen fuming is that lawmakers pushed through the largest fuel tax hike in state history without bringing it before the voters.

Union’s Paywatch Report Ignores High Salaries of Union Bosses

A powerful labor union’s new report slams the pay gap between CEOs and rank-and-file workers, but critics say it conveniently ignores the sky-high salaries union bosses pull down. The group’s annual Executive Paywatch report unveiled this week, found that last year the average S&P 500 CEO earned a total of $13.1 million in compensation, while the average U.S. worker made only $37,632, a pay ratio of 347:1. But not included in any of the figures are the total compensations of nearly 192 union presidents who earned more than the average executive’s income. An audit of past Paywatch reports by the American Enterprise Institute found that the AFL-CIO’s conclusion of the disparaging CEO-to-worker pay ratio is faulty and misleading, saying that the actual average U.S. chief executive earns $194,350. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are actually 246,240 ‘chief executives’ in the U.S. who earned an average annual salary of $180,700 in 2014.

More Price Hikes Likely for Obamacare Insurance Markets

Early moves by insurers suggest that another round of price hikes and limited choices will greet insurance shoppers around the country when they start searching for next year’s coverage on the public markets established by the Affordable Care Act, reports Newsmax. Regulators in Virginia and Maryland have reported early price hike requests ranging from just under 10 percent to more than 50 percent. Increases like that will probably will be seen in other states, too. Prices for this type of insurance are already being affected by evaporating competition. With the latest departures, more than 40 percent of U.S. counties would have only one insurer selling coverage on their marketplaces for next year, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Competition for customers was supposed to keep prices low. But insurers faced big losses in some markets, and they got less financial support from the government than they expected. They’ve been raising prices and pulling out of some markets altogether in response.

Economic News

With the low unemployment rate giving workers more leverage than they’ve had in years, a surprisingly large number are either job hopping or on the lookout for new opportunities. About 27% of employees switched jobs in the 12 months ending in the first quarter. Three years ago, about 23% of workers left one job for another during the prior year. Nearly half of all leisure and hospitality workers and one-third of those in professional and business services changed jobs the past year. Not surprisingly, job hoppers are snaring bigger pay increases than their more loyal colleagues. In the first quarter, switchers who worked full-time realized average annual earnings gains of 5.2%, compared with 4.3% for full-time job holders.

For years, the nation’s solid job growth and tumbling unemployment have been tainted by the shadow of millions of underemployed (i.e. part-time) Americans not counted in the official jobless rate. However, the number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs fell by 281,000 last month to 5.3 million, down from a peak of 9.2 million in 2010 and the lowest number in nine years, according to the Labor Department. Altogether, the broadest measure of U.S. joblessness that includes part-timers, discouraged workers who have stopped looking as well as unemployed people is now at 8.6%, compared with 9.7% a year ago and a high of 16.9% in 2010. It’s slightly above the pre-recession mark of 8.4%.

The United States and China have agreed to take action by mid-July to increase access for U.S. financial firms and expand trade in beef and chicken among other steps as part of Washington’s drive to cut its trade deficit with Beijing, Reuters reported. The deals are the first results of 100 days of trade talks that began last month, when a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping proved far more friendly than had been expected after last year’s U.S. presidential campaign. “China trade, huge. Because the president has basically changed his campaign position,” the Newsmax Finance Insider said. The United States ran a trade deficit of $347 billion with China last year, U.S. Treasury figures show.

North Korea

North Korea’s latest launch of a ballistic missile Sunday drew strong criticism from the United States and other nations. This time, the missile landed closer to Russia than to Japan. The White House issued a statement late Saturday saying that North Korea has been “a flagrant menace for too long,” and that the latest “provocation” should serve as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against the North. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, called the situation on the Korean peninsula “complex and sensitive” and that countries “should not do things that further escalate tensions in the region.” South Korean President Moon called the launch a “clear” violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a “serious challenge” to international peace and security. U.S. officials are closely “monitoring” the aftermath of the latest North Korean missile test after the rogue regime claimed that its newest rocket was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead – and that its arsenal could reach American shores. North Korea’s Hwasong-12 missile reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (1,312 miles) and flew 787 kilometers (489 miles), according to state news agency KCNA. Analysts estimated its ranged as 4,500 kilometers which would put the US territory of Guam within its reach.

Russia

A Russian military jet “came within approximately 20 feet” of a US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane while it was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea earlier last week. A U.S. defense official told CNN that the Russian aircraft was armed with six air-to-air missiles and that the pilot took photos of the U.S. plane during the encounter. Russia has conducted several flights off the US coast in recent months. Last week, two Russian bombers, flanked by a pair of fighter jets, were intercepted by stealth U.S. F-22 aircraft off the coast of Alaska. And during a stretch in April, Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska four times in as many days. The fact that Tuesday’s encounter took place near Crimea adds an additional level of significance, as the two countries’ opposing views on the conflict in Ukraine have become a hot-button issue between the sides. The US, meanwhile, has positioned military assets across Europe in an effort to reassure its European and NATO allies in the wake of Russia’s movements in Ukraine.

Syria

Monitors say Kurdish-led Syrian forces, backed by a U.S.-led air coalition, are battling Islamic State extremists on the northern outskirts of Raqqa, the IS de facto capital seized by the militant group three years ago. The activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced within four kilometers of Raqqa as fighting raged at several points north and east of the besieged city. An SDF spokesman, speaking Friday, said an anti-jihadist assault on the fortified northern city would most likely begin in the next several months.

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has fired Health Minister Antonieta Caporale days after the government’s first release of health data in two years showed soaring infant and maternal mortality rates. The firing came after the health ministry recently released new data showing infant and maternal deaths and cases of malaria are skyrocketing in the country already grappling with severe medical shortages. Caporale had been on the job since January. The data from her office showed that confirmed malaria cases in 2016 stood at 240,000, a 76% increase over the previous year. Maternal — or pregnancy-related — deaths rose 66%, to 756. Last year, 11,466 infants died, a 30% increase. The new health minister, Luis Lopez, has been the deputy minister of hospitals for the national government and secretary of health for the Venezuelan state of Aragua.

France

Politicians, journalists and her own daughter have stepped forward in defense of Brigitte Trogneux, wife of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron, in response to a series of sexist and misogynistic slurs against her. Many of the unwelcome comments have focused on the fact that Trogneux — age 64 with seven grandchildren — is 24 years her husband’s senior. She famously went from being Macron’s teacher to his partner, and eventually his wife. Now she is France’s first lady. U.S. President Donald Trump is 24 years older than Melania Trump, but few people are making a fuss about their age gap.

Earthquakes

Last week, within the span of 24 hours, 45 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater struck Alaska. Twenyt-five of them were of magnitude 4.0 or greater. The worst one had a magnitude of 6.2, but none of the earthquakes did much damage because none of them hit heavily populated areas. But the reason why all this shaking is causing so much concern is because the “Ring of Fire” runs right along the southern Alaska coastline, and all of the earthquakes except for one were along the southern coast. After running along the southern Alaska coastline, the Ring of Fire goes south along the west coast of Canada, the United States and Mexico. What affects one part of a fault network will often trigger something along another portion of the same fault network, and so many living on the West coast are watching the shaking in Alaska with deep concern. For a long time scientists have acknowledged that a major Cascadia subduction zone earthquake is way overdue, and when one finally strikes the devastation that we could see in the Pacific Northwest is likely to be off the charts. In fact, some scientists believe that the coming Cascadia subduction zone earthquake could potentially be as high as magnitude 9.0, reports Charisma News.

Weather

A confirmed EF1 tornado was reported in the Sherwood Forrest area near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday morning, which tossed cars into the air like toys and injured at least one person. The National Weather Service said the tornado that remained on the ground for a half-mile packed winds as high as 90 mph and was 30 yards wide. One person was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after the truck in which they were driving was flipped by the strong winds. Several other vehicles were tossed about, some structures may have been damaged and nearly 2,600 residents in the area were without power. A man was killed and several people injured in Passaic, New Jersey, on Sunday when strong, fast-moving thunderstorms rolled through the New York metropolitan area.

An active week is ahead as multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes, threaten the central states. Some of the storms may also produce heavy rain, leading to localized areas of flash flooding. The severe weather setup this week involves a strong jet stream dip – or upper-level trough – over the Rockies, with two separate disturbances riding along that trough and punching into the Plains states. At least two rounds of severe storms are anticipated. Snow will blanket much of the mountain West the next several days, adding to a still-impressive mid-May snowpack from a winter that was the wettest on record for some areas.

Signs of the Times (5/11/17)

May 11, 2017

Molecular Genetics says Just Two Genders

After extensive study of the human genome, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered there are no less than 6,500 genes “that are expressed…. differently in the two sexes.” Since there are about 30,000 genes in the entire human genome, this means more than 20 percent of it codes for traits that are gender specific. The Weizmann Institute of Science is a public research university in Rehovot, Israel, south of Tel Aviv established in 1934. The scientists at Weizman used something called the GTEx project, a comprehensive study of human gene expression in the organs and tissues of 550 adult donors. For the first time ever, they were able to develop a comprehensive map of the sex-differential in genetic architecture between the two sexes.

  • There are so many genetic differences between male and female, that efforts to change gender can only be minimally effective, leaving the so-called transgender in genetic confusion. It is a corrupted gene pool in this fallen world that has caused many to question their gender.

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

The search for a new permanent FBI director will move full-steam ahead Wednesday after President Trump stunned the political world by firing James Comey, abruptly ending a tenure marked by political controversies.  Basing the decision on a recommendation by the Justice Department, who excoriated Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State, Trump’s decision calls into question the future of the investigation into Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election. Democrats were quick to slam Trump’s move as a blatant attempt to short-circuit the Russia investigation, with many calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. As calls for an independent prosecutor intensify on both sides of the aisle, President Trump and aides argued Wednesday that, “The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired,” Trump tweeted.

Investigation into Trump’s Russian Ties Intensifies

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to hear the testimony of acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other national security officials on Thursday as part of its ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. James Comey, ousted from his role as FBI director by President Trump, had been scheduled to testify, and Democrats said Comey should still appear so he can answer questions about the status of the FBI’s probe and its potential connection to his dismissal. Late Wednesday, the committee subpoenaed former national security adviser Michael Flynn for information about communications with Russian officials that might be relevant to its investigation.

Texas Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton already has filed suit against local jurisdictions that had been accused of not cooperating with federal immigration agents, in a preemptive bid to uphold a newly signed anti-sanctuary city law and head off numerous legal challenges. Paxton filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, as Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed the SB4 crackdown law which bars sanctuary policies and gives local law enforcement officers the right to ask the immigration status of anyone they stop. Under the law, local officers who won’t cooperate with federal immigration agents could face jail time and fines up to $25,000 per day. Texas isn’t the first state to ban sanctuary cities. More than 80 bills related to sanctuary policies are pending across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Thousands Fleeing Chicago Due to Increased Violence

An estimated 89,000 more people moved from the Chicago area to other portions of the country in the past year than those who moved in, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. In particular, wealthy people are living the city in droves.  It has been reported that 3,000 millionaires left the city of Chicago in 2015 alone. High taxes are one reason given, but gang violence has also been a major factor. In 2016, the number of murders in the city jumped nearly 60 percent to over 760, more than New York and Los Angeles combined. There were more than 4,300 shooting victims in the city last year, according to police. Decades of open borders and unrestrained illegal immigration have contributed to rapid growth in gang membership, now numbering over 150,000 in the metropolitan area, according to the Chicago Crime Commission. There are currently 12,244 police officers in Chicago. That means that the police are outnumbered by at least a 12 to 1 margin. The Chicago Police Department warned its officers Monday about gangs armed with high-powered weapons, after three people were shot to death over the weekend and two cops were targeted in an ambush last week. Prosecutors said Monday that a reputed gang member sprayed a police van with more than two dozen rounds from an assault rifle after mistaking the vehicle and plainclothes officers inside for rival gang members.

Kentucky on Its Way to Becoming First Abortion-Free State

Kentucky is on its way to becoming the first state with no abortion clinics. There is only one abortion clinic left in the state and officials say that the clinic has not complied with basic safety standards. LifeNews.com reports that the administration of Kentucky’s conservative Christian Gov. Matt Bevin is working to end access to abortion in the state. Administration officials argue that EMW Women’s Clinic–the last clinic open for business–is in violation of regulations that mandate the clinic obtain ambulance and hospital admittance privileges from a local hospital. The clinic maintains that it is not in violation of these regulations and, along with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, filed a lawsuit against the state. Gov. Bevin said, “This administration will have no tolerance for the type of brazen disregard that Planned Parenthood has shown for both the safety of women and the rule of law. We will hold Planned Parenthood accountable for knowingly endangering their patients by providing illegal abortions at a facility that was not properly licensed nor prepared to handle an emergency.”

Americans Dissatisfied with Colleges

American adults are deeply divided about the U.S. higher education system and are increasingly frustrated with the costs, a new report released on Thursday finds. The survey, conducted by left-leaning think tank New America, found that only one in four adults believe that the higher education system is functioning as it should. Dissatisfaction is especially keen among Millennials, who have experienced rising dropout rates and dealt with debilitating school debt. Community colleges were one of the few bright spots in the study which surprised researchers, who found that many Americans see them as more promising and cost-effective than either their public or private four-year counterparts.

Life Expectancy Varies Widely by County in U.S.

Life expectancy at birth differs by as much as 20 years between the lowest and highest United States counties, according to new research published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Overall life expectancy at birth in the U.S. increased by 5.3 years for both men and women — from 73.8 years to 79.1 years — between 1980 and 2014. During that time period, men gained 6.7 years, from 70 years on average to 76.7 years, while women gained four years, from 77.5 years to 81.5 years. The counties with lowest life expectancy are located in South and North Dakota, while counties along the lower half of Mississippi, in eastern Kentucky, and southwestern West Virginia also showed lower life expectancies compared to the rest of the nation. The North and South Dakota counties include Native American reservations. At the other extreme, residents of counties in central Colorado can expect to live longest. Summit County, Colorado, ranked as the county with highest life expectancy in 2014 at 86.8 years, is home to several ski resort towns. The study shows that “60% of the differences in life expectancy across counties can be explained by socioeconomic factors alone” yet that leaves a “substantial amount of unexplained differences.” “Behaviors like smoking and physical activity, along with risk factors like obesity and diabetes, are also very important,” the report said.

Aetna Says Good-Bye to Obamacare

Aetna is saying goodbye to Obamacare. The insurance giant announced Wednesday that it would not offer policies in Nebraska or Delaware next year, completing its exit from the exchanges. Earlier this year, Aetna said it would pull out of Iowa and Virginia in 2018. The company said it expects to lose more than $200 million in its individual business line this year, on top of nearly $700 million in losses between 2014 and 2016. Aetna withdrew from 11 of its 15 markets for 2017. It has 255,000 Obamacare policyholders this year, down from 964,000 at the end of last year. These customers, however, continue to be costlier than the company expected, Aetna said. Aetna’s exit leaves Medica as the only insurer on the Nebraska exchange and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield as the sole carrier on the Delaware exchange. Aetna’s withdrawal is the latest in a series of insurers leaving Obamacare. The exodus began last year, when several carriers announced they were exiting or downsizing in 2017 after suffering large losses. Humana already announced it is completely abandoning the individual market in 2018. UnitedHealthcare pulled out of Virginia, and Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield said it would stop selling individual policies in Iowa in 2018.

Retail Woes Continue

The tale of woe for traditional retailers continues. Macy’s, Kohl’s and Dillard’s all reported lower sales for the last three months and missed Wall Street’s forecasts. Department store chains have been struggling lately due to intense competition from Amazon, a resurgent Walmart and newer retailers like Uniqlo, H&M and Zara. These three retail icons aren’t the only ones that have been hit hard by a rapid change in how consumers shop. Sears continues to struggle. And JCPenney, which will report its latest results Friday morning, has been unable to find a way to get sales growing either. Target has been hit hard as well. And former teen fashion king Abercrombie & Fitch is now looking for someone to buy it. American Apparel, Wet Seal, The Sports Authority and Aeropostale have all filed for bankruptcy. RadioShack has gone bankrupt — twice. All of this turmoil has led to tens of thousands of layoffs in the retail sector as well.

Economic News

Drivers are getting a break at the pump, thanks to the recent slide in crude oil prices. Gas prices have fallen virtually every day for the last three weeks, pushed down by the sudden drop in crude oil prices. The national average is now $2.34 a gallon for regular, according to AAA, about 8 cents cheaper than it was on April 20. Crude oil prices have fallen about 11% since early April. Typically this is a time of the year when gas prices are going up, not down, as refiners switch over to making the more expensive form of gasoline used during the summer months.

America has 5.7 million openings, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. That’s close to the record number of job openings since Labor started tracking them in 2000. The U.S. had an all-time high of 5.9 million openings last July. Employers are hiring and workers are starting to feel more confident about leaving a job for another one. Experts say that such a high number of job openings is due partially to a gap between the job skills employers demand and the skills job seekers have.

The number one reason a large number of Americans wind up in financial trouble and have to file for bankruptcy has nothing to do with self-indulgence. Rather, it’s because of medical debt. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than a quarter of U.S. adults struggle to pay their medical bills. This includes folks who have insurance, whether independently or through an employer. In fact, medical debt is the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S., and in 2014, an estimated 40% of Americans racked up debt resulting from a medical issue.

The euro notched up its highest level in six months after centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election on Sunday, neutralizing the biggest political challenge to the currency in its 18-year history. His far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, had threatened to scrap the euro and reintroduce France’s old money — the franc. Losing its second biggest economy could have spelled the end of the euro.

Persecution Watch

An Indonesian court has sentenced Jakarta’s governor, who is a Christian, to two years in prison on a charge of blasphemy. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, was charged for using a Quranic verse in his re-election campaign in September. Opponents of Ahok had used the same verse to argue that Muslims should not choose a non-Muslim to lead them. Ahok said his opponents had used the verse to trick people into voting against him. According to ChristianToday.com, his speech that included the verse was posted online and soon went viral. Protests were started, including one that drew about half a million people. Ahok lost the election in April and his term ends in October. Now he’s headed to jail. Said Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiaro of the sentencing: “As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions, including the religion of the defendant himself.”

Mexico

Mexico was the second deadliest country in the world last year. Although Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan dominated the news, Mexico’s drug wars claimed 23,000 lives during 2016 — second only to Syria, where 50,000 people died as a result of the civil war. “This is all the more surprising, considering that the conflict deaths [in Mexico] are nearly all attributable to small arms,” said John Chipman, chief executive and director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which issued its annual survey of armed conflict on Tuesday. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community,” said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey.

France

The European political establishment breathed a heavy sigh of relief Sunday, as French voters easily elected pragmatic centrist Emmanuel Macron as president over right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen, who threatened to upend Europe’s existing order. Macron won with 66% of the vote against 34% for Le Pen, with 99% of the votes counted. Le Pen, of the National Front party, had threatened to curb immigration, particularly for Muslims, pull France out of the European Union and return the country to the French franc — moves that would have caused political and economic upheaval in Europe and around the world. Macron’s victory, coming on the heels of defeats for right-wing populist candidates in Austria and the Netherlands, appears to blunt the anti-establishment fervor sweeping Europe amid a backlash against economic stagnation, a flood of migrants pouring into their countries and a string of nerve-rattling terror attacks. Macron, 39, is a former investment banker and economy minister who strongly supports the European Union. He will become France’s youngest president, despite never having held any elected office before.

Middle East

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Israel and urged Muslims to flood Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Speaking in Istanbul to the International Forum on Al-Quds Waqfs, a conference aimed at promoting Palestinian economic development, Erdogan said that about 26,000 Turks visited Jerusalem last year — the highest number among Muslim countries. In contrast, he said about 600,000 Americans, 400,000 Russians and 300,000 French citizens visited Jerusalem in 2015. “We, as Muslims, should be visiting Al-Quds more often,” he said, referring to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, calling those visits “the greatest support to our brothers there.”

Erdogan criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians as “racist” and “discriminatory.” “Here is the only solution: the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 1967,” he said. The Israel Foreign Ministry responded to Erdogan’s comments with a strongly-worded statement: “Whoever systematically violates human rights in their own country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region. Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite the baseless smears launched against it.”

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump had authorized arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), green-lighting a US policy that had sat on the backburner for years to avoid confrontation with Turkey, a key NATO ally. It said that the provision of supplies and weapons was aimed at aiding the only group it sees fit enough to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the ISIS group’s de facto capital. Turkey lashed out at Washington’s plan to send arms to Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS in Syria, calling for an end to the U.S. strategy that has long rattled Ankara. The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of rebel fighters that Washington considers its main ally in the country. But Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization threatening Turkish sovereignty.

North Korea

An American teacher was detained in North Korea over the weekend, raising to four the number of U.S. citizens now being held by the communist nation’s authoritarian regime. Kim Hak-song had worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the same school where American Tony Kim had worked prior to being arrested at Pyongyang International Airport two weeks ago. Other Americans being held in North Korea include Ohio native Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was arrested in January 2016 while he was on a tour of North Korea, and Kim Dong Chul, who was arrested in October 2015 while in North Korea on business. Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have grown more strained in recent months as Pyongyang conducts nuclear and ballistic missile tests in defiance of international bans.

South Korea

Moon Jae-in won South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded, possibly opening a rift with the United States over relations with North Korea. The election result was driven largely by domestic concerns over corruption and a slowing economy, but Moon, a liberal, has signaled a softer approach toward neighboring North Korea than his predecessor, the hawkish Park Geun-hye. Park, the nation’s first female president, was impeached over corruption charges in March, triggering the election. Moon, 64, has questioned the effectiveness of the strict sanctions against North Korea and left the door open for greater diplomatic and economic ties with the reclusive communist country.

Nigeria

Boko Haran, an extremist group allied with the Islamic State, released 82 young women it had held captive for more than three years, government officials said late Saturday. The terrorist group is still holding an estimated 100 young women hostage. They were kidnapped from a school in the town of Chibok in April 2014. President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said in a statement that the girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon. Government officials said the women were released in exchange for an unspecified number of imprisoned Boko Haram members. The girls were undergoing medical checks before being airlifted to Maiduguri, a city in Nigeria’s northeast.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s air force has pounded Islamic State targets in an eastern province where an Afghan and U.S. military raid last month killed the militant group’s top commander, the government said on Monday. The Interior Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 34 Islamic State fighters over the past 24 hours and destroyed an insurgent-controlled radio station in Nangarhar province. The ministry also said that the strikes targeted ISIS hideouts in Nazyan and Achin districts. The government statement came after Pentagon announced on Sunday night that a military raid last month killed Abdul Haseeb Logari, the ISIS chief in Nangarhar.

Venezuela

Infant and maternal deaths and cases of malaria are skyrocketing in Venezuela, which is grappling with severe medical shortages during the country’s economic meltdown and political chaos. Confirmed malaria cases in 2016 stood at 240,000, a 76% increase over 2015. Maternal deaths rose 66% to 756. Last year, 11,466 infants died, a 30% increase, according to new records recently released by Venezuela’s health ministry. The staggering increases illustrate how badly Venezuela lacks basic medicine, equipment and supplies to treat even the simplest of injuries. According to statistics released by the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation, by June 2016, the country was already facing a shortage of more than 80% of the medicines doctors need. More than 13,000 doctors — about 20% of the country’s medical workforce — have left the country in recent years due to the collapse of the health sector.

Wildfires

Evacuations in the St. George area of Georgia have led to the closure of Charlton County schools for both students and staff, according to a statement from the district. Firefighters are using St. George Elementary School as a staging area for firefighters. The West Mims fire has scorched about 208 square miles in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and is 12 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Conditions have not been ideal for firefighters attempting to control the blaze. Temperatures are warm, the air is dry and winds have been gusting. The area, on the Georgia-Florida line, is also under a dense smoke advisory that is expected to impact visibility in the towns of St. George, Callahan, Ratliff and northern Duval County near the Jacksonville International airport. Some road closures were in effect and the main entrance to the refuge was closed.

It has been a long, costly spring for Flordia, where dozens of fires continue to burn. Gov. Rock Scott declared a state of emergency in April. More than 2,000 wildfires have been reported statewide this year, and those blazes have claimed at least 230 square miles of land. Currently, there are more than 125 wildfires actively burning across the state. “Florida is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam told CBS Miami. Nationally, 20,482 wildfires have consumed 1,998, 139 acres of land through May 5, significantly more than the ten-year average of 841,462 acres, although the number of wildfires is down from 20,779. That means the average acreage burned per wildfire is way up, from 40.5 acres per fire to 97.6, more than double.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms rolled through Colorado Monday afternoon, dumping hail as big as baseballs in some areas and blanketing downtown Denver in a thick layer of the frozen precipitation. In most areas, the hailstones did not exceed the size of golf balls, but that was enough to punch out car windshields and the windows of some businesses. In Wheat Ridge, just northwest of downtown Denver, baseball-sized hail was observed, the National Weather Service said.

Drought coverage in the Lower 48 is at its lowest level in 17 years of records, according to last week’s update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, providing a stunning contrast to the opposite extreme experienced a few years ago. About 5 percent of the contiguous United States was in drought as of May 2. The largest drought coverage ever analyzed by the Drought Monitor occurred on Sept. 25, 2012 when 65 percent of the U.S. – particularly the Plains, Midwest and West – was experiencing drought, much of it severe, especially California.

Tropical Storm Adrian kicked off a record early start to the 2017 eastern Pacific hurricane season Tuesday several hundred miles off the southern Mexican coast, but appears destined for a long-lived stall off the coast into at least next week. Adrian was the earliest tropical cyclone to form in the northeast Pacific in the satellite era. This record was previously held by Hurricane Alma in 1990. Tropical Storm Adrian is centered about 460 miles south-southeast of Salina Cruz, Mexico, and is moving slowly toward the northwest. It weakened into a tropical depression Thursday.

Nations around the world have adopted more than 1,200 laws to curb climate change, up from about 60 two decades ago, which is a sign of widening efforts to limit rising temperatures, a study showed on Tuesday. The study, by the London School of Economics (LSE), reviewed laws and executive policies in 164 nations, ranging from national cuts in greenhouse gases to curbs in emissions in sectors such as transport, power generation or industry. Forty-seven laws had been added since world leaders adopted a Paris Agreement to combat climate change in late 2015, a slowdown from a previous peak of about 100 a year from 2009-2013.

  • End-time climate change is prophesied in the Bible (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11). Human efforts to counter it will fail.