Signs of the Times (9/20/18)

September 20, 2017

Attacks on Religious Liberty Up 133% in 5 Years

Attacks on religious liberty have jumped by 133 percent in the last five years, according to a new report by the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group. Its annual report, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America,” asserts that in the last year, there has been a 15 percent increase in attacks on religious liberty in the U.S. with more than 1,400 religious liberty incidents. In 2011, the group reported that there were 600 cases of attacks on religious liberty. “It’s school cases, it’s military cases, it’s open public places cases, employment cases. Unfortunately, it is not one particular area, it’s across the board. So really it is just the tip of the iceberg because what’s published is really a fraction of what is actually happening,” First Liberty CEO and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said. The First Liberty report comes after the conservative advocacy group Family Research Council released a report earlier this year that said there had been a 76 percent increase in religious freedom violations over the past three years.

U.S. Aid to Palestinian Authority Funding Terrorists

While the Palestinian Authority teaches extreme hatred toward the Jews and incentivizes acts of terror, the U.S. sends hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year in “aid” money that is placed in the hands of terrorists and their families, reports Liberty Counsel. Sen. Ted Cruz says the Palestinians give over $300 million to terrorists and their families each year out of the $700 millions of direct and indirect aid to the Palestinians. “Our tax dollars are footing the bill to reward terrorists who kill American and Israeli citizens!” notes Liberty Counsel. The Trump administration has announced its “strong support” for the Taylor Force Act, a bill that restricts U.S. economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza until the Palestinian Authority stops paying terrorists who are guilty of violence against Israelis and Americans. The Palestinian Authority has devoted almost half of its U.S. foreign “aid” money to rewarding acts of terror against Israelis and innocent bystanders, as was the case in the death of American war hero Taylor Force, for whom the bill is named. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taylor Force Act and sent it to the full Senate who have yet to vote on it.

Another Missile Launch by North Korea

North Korea launched another missile Friday, the rogue nation’s first missile launch since its massive nuclear test more than a week ago, prompting U.S. officials to issue a sharp round of condemnation. The missile was launched eastward early Friday from Sunan, the site of Pyongyang’s international airport. It flew over northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean, according to U.S. Pacific Command. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the missile a reckless act by the North Koreans, adding that the missile “was fired over Japan and put millions of Japanese in duck and cover.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council “represent the floor, not the ceiling” of actions that need to be taken against North Korea. North Korea’s military is clandestinely building a nuclear-powered submarine, according to a Japanese newspaper report, the latest provocation by Pyongyang in an escalating clash with the U.S. and its allies in a region already on edge.

In his President Trump’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its Asian allies. He denounced Pyongyang’s “reckless” pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and taunted North Korea leader Kim Jong Un with a campaign-style nickname. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” he said. The morning after his aggressive speech to the United Nations, President Trump on Wednesday blamed his predecessors – and previous political rival Hillary Clinton – for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “After allowing North Korea to research and build Nukes while Secretary of State (Bill C also), Crooked Hillary now criticizes,” Trump tweeted.

Terror Attack in London

An apparent terrorist-planted explosive set off a small fire on a train at a London subway station during the busy morning rush hour Friday, resulting in 22 non-serious injuries from the fire as well as from people being trampled by panicked commuters fleeing the scene, police said Friday. Police say the bomb did not fully detonate. The incident happened shortly after 8 a.m. local time, when London’s Underground system is crowded with commuters and children going to school. Most of the injuries were flash burns. It was Britain’s fifth terrorist attack this year. The Islamic State claimed credit for that attack through an affiliated unit. British police said Saturday that they had made a “significant” arrest by taking an eighteen-year-old man into custody in the port city of Dover. A 21-year-old man was arrested late Saturday night in Hounslow in west London under the Terrorism Act, authorities said.

Judge Rules DOJ Can’t Withhold Grants from Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge issued a ruling Friday that blocks the Justice Department from requiring cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for federal law enforcement grants. The ruling blocks nationwide enforcement of two of the three new conditions the Justice Department sought to impose on jurisdictions seeking funds through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which doles out nearly $400 million to state and local agencies each year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new stipulations in July as a means to ensure that local jurisdictions were cooperating with federal immigration agents and not working to shield illegal immigrants from deportation. But Chicago officials sued, arguing that the attorney general had no authority to add the new eligibility conditions to the grant.

Trump Signs Charlottesville Congressional Resolution With a Signing Statement

In sending the president a joint resolution condemning “racist violence” in Charlottesville, Congress gave President Trump a choice: sign the resolution and reject white supremacists, or veto it and align with the far right. Trump chose a third option: Sign it — but with a signing statement attached. In it, Trump said that Americans “oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms. No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We are nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal.” He also continued to blame “both sides” for the violence, holding the left-wing “Antifa” protesters equally responsible.

U.S. Rushes Hurricane Irma Aid to Caribbean Islands, Not Cuba

The U.S. government is providing humanitarian aid to a string of Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, but Cuba — just 90 miles off the coast of Florida — is not among them. The guidelines for U.S. assistance include a requirement that a host country must request help. Cuba — a proud adversary in a decades long battle with its superpower neighbor — is not inclined to do so. The Category 5 hurricane, the worst to hit the communist island since 1932, spent 24 hours grinding away over northern parts of Cuba, damaging more than 4,000 homes, inundating downtown Havana with knee-high floods and destroying thousands of acres of cane sugar. More than 3.1 million people — a quarter of the island’s population — lost water service. Small beach towns also were destroyed on the northern coast, causing millions of dollars in losses and leaving thousands homeless. At least 10 people were killed.

Trump Urges U.N. to Cut Waste and Mismanagement

In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump said Monday that the U.N. must cut its wasteful spending and end mismanagement. “The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals,” Mr. Trump told diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York. “Yet in recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement.” Trump said the U.N. budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, but “we are not seeing the results in line with this investment. The president praised U.N. Secretary General António Guterres for undertaking reforms of the world body “to better serve the people it represents.” “I know that under the secretary general, that’s changing, and it’s changing fast,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he supports the push “to focus more on people and less on bureaucracy.”

New Health-Care Plan Stumbles Under Opposition from Governors

Senate Republicans and the White House pressed ahead Tuesday with their suddenly resurgent effort to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, even as their attempt was dealt a setback when a bipartisan group of governors and several influential interest groups came out against the proposal. Powerful health-care groups continued to rail against the bill, including AARP and the American Hospital Association, both of which urged a no vote. The measure marks the last gasp of Republican attempts to dramatically gut Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In a letter to Senate leaders, a group of 10 bipartisan governors argued against the Graham-Cassidy bill and wrote that they prefer the bipartisan push to stabilize the insurance marketplaces that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had been negotiating before talks stalled Tuesday evening.

Insurers Help Fuel the Opioid Crisis

At a time when the United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications, reports the New York Times. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive. Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people in the second quarter of this year. Only one-third of the people covered, for example, had any access to Butrans, a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid, buprenorphine. And every drug plan that covered lidocaine patches, which are not addictive but cost more than other generic pain drugs, required that patients get prior approval for them. In contrast, almost every plan covered common opioids and very few required any prior approval.

80 Arrested in St. Louis Protests Over Police Officer’s Acquittal

St. Louis Riot police arrested dozens Sunday night following the latest round of clashes with demonstrators protesting the acquittal of a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man. At least 80 arrests were made in what was the third night of violence in the city, with hundreds of people protesting Friday’s court decision. Both Friday and Saturday, the protesters got agitated and confronted the police officers. The violent agitators reportedly damaged property and sprayed unknown substance on police officers. One cop suffered a leg injury and was taken to the hospital. After ignoring the call to disperse, arrests were made before midnight by officers wearing riot gear. Mayor Lyda Krewson told reporters at a late-night news conference that “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” and the violence was perpetrated by “a group of agitators,” Reuters reported.

Teens Not Grasping Adulthood

Today’s teens are on a slow road to adulthood, putting off risky behaviors from drinking to sex, but also delaying jobs, driving, dating and other steps towards independence, according to a new study based on 40 years of survey data. Compared to teens from the 70s, 80s and 90s, today’s teens “are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and the responsibilities of adulthood,” said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study published Tuesday in the journal Child Development. “The whole developmental pathway has slowed down,” she said, with today’s 18-year-olds living more like 15-year-olds once did. Only 29% of 9th graders had sex, down from 38%. About 29% of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56%. Just 32% of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63%.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is going on the financial equivalent of a diet. The central bank announced that it will begin selling off some of its $4.5 trillion in assets, a sign of its leaders’ confidence in the economy. The move begins the process of gradually unwinding the massive and unprecedented stimulus program instituted after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed will sell off $10 billion in assets in October and slowly raise the rate of sales in the months to come.

Unfunded pension liabilities hit $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2016 in U.S. states, a $56 billion or 4.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, Moody’s Investors Service reported. The credit rating agency attributed the higher adjusted net pension liability for the 50 states to underperforming investment returns, low interest rates and insufficient contributions to retirement systems for government workers. It projected the liability will grow again in fiscal 2017 to $1.7 trillion. Overall, fiscal 2016’s $1.3 trillion unfunded liability equaled 122 percent of state revenue.

Motorists and homeowners throughout Texas and Florida as well as those who live anywhere from Alabama to Wyoming could see their premiums rise, as insurance companies pay out billions of dollars to customers whose properties were destroyed or damaged. The estimated U.S. insured losses, excluding any National Flood Insurance Program claims, are $20 billion to $25 billion from Harvey and $40 billion to $60 billion from Irma. Insurers are looking to stay flush as they cover their reinsurance policies while trying to prepare for any extreme future weather that could harm their customers.

While the U.S. homeownership rate has climbed slightly since reaching a 50-year low in 2016, it remains near a generational low at just 63.7%. Simply put, more people are choosing to rent than buy their homes in recent years than at any point since the 1960s. Seventy percent of Americans surveyed believe that people these days will need to rent well into their 30s to be able to save enough money to buy a home. Thirty-five percent of Americans say that they would prefer renting a home over ownership to maintain a flexible lifestyle, since the average person changes jobs about 12 times during his or her career. Americans are increasingly valuing experience over ownership, and this is particularly evident in the younger Millennial generation — the 18-to-35 age group. While previous generations have valued ownership more, millennials seem to be willing to sacrifice homeownership if it means they can afford to spend more money on experiences (e.g. travel).

Universities known for being hotbeds of campus protest and liberal activism are struggling with declining enrollments and budget shortfalls, and higher education analysts say that’s no coincidence. According to a document leaked to The Oberlin Review, the school’s student newspaper, the small liberal arts college famous for social justice hoaxes has had trouble attracting and retaining students, missing this year’s enrollment mark by 80 and racking up a $5 million budget deficit in the process. Similar shortfalls are being experienced at other universities known for liberal social activism.

Puerto Rico is years into an economic crisis. Now it’s facing a natural disaster with the landfall Wednesday of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico’s government owes $74 billion to bondholders, and an additional $50 billion in pension obligations to teachers and almost all other government employees. In May, it filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Many residents are moving from the island for the mainland United States, leaving it with few skilled workers to handle the rebuilding and development process. Without workers and funds, Puerto Rico will have a very difficult time recovering from this latest disaster.

40 Million Slaves in the World

More than 40 million people were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016 — and one in four of those were children. Those are the findings of a new report produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency focusing on labor rights, and the Walk Free Foundation, an international NGO working to end modern slavery. The report estimates that last year, 25 million people were in forced labor — made to work under threat or coercion — and 15 million people were in forced marriage. According to the report, women and girls accounted for 71 percent of slavery victims, including 99 percent of those in the commercial sex industry and 84 percent of victims of forced marriages. Children made up around 37 percent of those forced to marry, as well as 18 percent of forced labor victims and 21 percent of victims of sexual exploitation.

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar

The United Nations’ top human rights official called Myanmar’s (Burma’s) ongoing military campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in that country’s Rakhine state “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Using a pretext of rooting out Islamist insurgents, Burma’s military, together with Buddhist villagers, are terrorizing the Rohingya, emptying and razing their villages, and attempting to hound them out of the country. Of a total of 1.1 million Rohingya that remained in Burma despite repeated waves of violence since the late 1970s, more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in just the past month.

Israel Claims UN Ignored Intel on Secret Iran Nuke Sites

Israeli officials have reportedly accused the U.N. organization tasked with ensuring Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal of ignoring information it received detailing forbidden nuclear military research and development being carried out at several sites across Iran. The officials said that “a Western entity” told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of sites that Iran failed to disclose under the deal – which offered Iran relief from punishing sanctions in exchange for having it roll back its nuclear program – but the body failed to investigate or carry our inspections at the locations, Haaretz reported Sunday.

Trump Calls for End to Iranian Nuclear Deal

President Trump on Tuesday signaled he is close to ditching the Iran nuclear agreement struck by former President Barack Obama, by saying the deal is an “embarrassment to the United States” in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly. “We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said. Making his debut appearance at the annual United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Iran of exporting “violence, bloodshed and chaos” and of seeking to project its influence in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in a region rife with sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Trump in his U.N. address sand aid he seeks to “address together the terrible nuclear deal” with Iran.

Iran is Arming Houthis in Yemen

The top American admiral in the Middle East said on Monday that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling Iranian-backed rebels to fire missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching. Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen, in which rebels from the country’s north, the Houthis, ousted the government from the capital of Sana in 2014. The officer, Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, said that Iran is sustaining the Houthis with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border.”

Earthquakes

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Mexico City Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, killing at least 225 people and leaving multiple people reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings. Nearly 100 people were confirmed dead in Mexico City alone, where dozens of buildings were brought down by the temblor Officials confirmed at least 71 fatalities in Morelos state after the quake struck about 70 miles southeast of Mexico City. The tremor, which was about 31 miles deep, hit near the small town of San Juan Raboso. The earthquake toppled buildings, sent rescue workers digging through rubble for survivors and knocked out power to millions.

Wildfires

As wildfires continue to blacken parts of the West, the Forest Service has already spent more than $2 billion this year battling the blazes, a record in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons. Wildfires ravaged the West this summer. As of last Thursday, 64 large blazes were burning across 10 states, including 21 fires in Montana and 18 in Oregon. In all, 48,607 wildfires have burned nearly 13,000 square miles. The fires have stretched firefighting resources, destroyed more than 500 homes and triggered health alerts as choking smoke drifted into major Western cities. As of Saturday, 8,378,990 acres have burned nationwide so far this year, up from 4,776,167 acres last year. The emphasis on firefighting means that money for prescribed burns, insect control and other prevention efforts is diverted to putting out fires in a self-defeating cycle. The end result is that small trees and vegetation remain in the forest for future fires to feed on.

Weather

Hurricane Maria slammed into the small Caribbean island of Dominica Monday night with “mind-boggling” devastation, according to the country’s prime minister, leaving at least nine dead and two missing. There is still little word from the small island of Dominica as of Wednesday morning due to power and communication outages. Maria has made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico Wednesday morning as the strongest landfall on that island in 85 years, with sustained winds of 145 mph and life-threatening gusts nearing 200 mph. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.

Maria is expected to continue on a northwest track, moving along the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday before skirting the southern Bahamas early on Friday. It is then predicted to swing to the north into the open Atlantic and move between the American East Coast and Bermuda.

Jose, a Category 1 hurricane in the western Atlantic, will continue to produce dangerous high surf and rip currents as it moves parallel to the Eastern Seaboard in the upcoming week. Rain and tropical storm-force winds could also brush portions of the East Coast.

The already-catastrophic 2017 hurricane season shows no signs of letting up. And we still have more than two months to go. The hurricanes that have formed this year — seven so far — are about double the average to date, as is the energy generated by the storms. For the first year in recorded hurricane history, which dates to 1851, two Category-4 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) slammed into the United States the same year.

Barbuda has been left completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. An estimated 95% of Barbuda’s structures are damaged, and the entire island of around 1,800 people has been evacuated. Evacuees from Barbuda were sent to Antigua, which did not suffer the same level of damage from Irma. Though Barbudan evacuees are safe, people are living in cramped quarters in government facilities and nursing homes, including some 500 school-aged children. Now that school is back in session, Antigua must find room for these students.

At least four people have been killed and 10 more were injured by Typhoon Doksuri as it made landfall in Vietnam last Friday. The provinces of Ha Tinh and Quang Binh were hardest-hit, with upwards of 100,000 homes sustaining damage. Nearly 300,000 residents fled their homes in Vietnam ahead of Doksuri.

Signs of the Times (9/14/17)

September 14, 2017

Irma Aftermath at End under Weather

Important Religious Freedom Case Goes to Supreme Court

Potentially “huge ramifications” for religious liberty – that’s what is at stake, says the American Family Association, as a Colorado cake shop case is to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. In 2012, cake shop owner Jack Phillips declined to provide a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his faith and lost before Colorado courts. Attorney General Sessions’ Department of Justice has submitted a 34-page “friend of the court” brief to the nation’s top court encouraging a ruling in favor of Phillips. “We’ve seen over a dozen examples specifically of Christian business owners who are being driven out of business by various commissions and bureaucrats because of their religious beliefs,” AFA spokesman Walker Wildmon said. “And this case could be a turning point at the Supreme Court for religious liberty and frankly for the First Amendment rights of people of faith.”

U.N. Agrees to Toughest-Ever Sanctions Against North Korea

The U.N. Security Council on Monday agreed on its toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea that passed unanimously after the United States softened its initial demands to win support from China and Russia. The sanctions set limits on North Korea’s oil imports and banned its textile exports in an effort to deprive the reclusive nation of the income it needs to maintain its nuclear and ballistic missile program and increase the pressure to negotiate their way out of punishing sanctions. “Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The new sanctions come on top of previous ones that cut into North Korea’s exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. Haley said that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s reported exports are now fully banned by sanctions. President Trump called for a complete U.N. blockade of North Korea to stop all imports and exports.

President Trump Renews 9/11 Emergency Proclamation

President Trump has become the third president to renew a post-9/11 emergency proclamation, stretching what was supposed to be a temporary state of national emergency after the 2001 terror attacks into its 17th year. But the ongoing effects of that perpetual emergency aren’t immediately clear, because the executive branch has ignored a law requiring it to report to Congress every six months on how much the president has spent under those extraordinary powers, USA TODAY reports. Exactly 16 years ago Thursday, President Bush signed Proclamation 7463, giving himself sweeping powers to mobilize the military in the days following terrorist attacks that crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It allowed him to call up National Guard and Reserve troops, hire and fire military officers, and bypass limits on the numbers of generals that could serve. Presidents Bush and Obama renewed that emergency each year. And on Wednesday, Trump published a now-routine notice in the Federal Register extending the emergency for the 16th time, explaining simply that “the terrorist threat continues.” But as Trump extends the emergency into a third presidential administration, legal experts say a review of those powers is long overdue.

Supreme Court: No Expansion of Travel Ban’s Refugee Exemptions

The Supreme Court handed President Trump a temporary victory Tuesday, blocking a lower court decision that would have greatly expanded the number of refugees exempted from his controversial travel ban. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments next month in the broader constitutional challenge to the travel ban from states and immigrant rights groups. The current dispute is over which immigrants and refugees can enter in the meantime. Trump administration lawyers asked the court on Monday to set aside last week’s federal appeals court ruling that would allow more refugees into the United States while the case is pending. That ruling was due to take effect Tuesday because the lower court had said thousands of refugees were “gravely imperiled.” The administration argued that by granting entry to any refugees who had been matched up with a resettlement agency in the U.S., the lower court went far beyond the type of personal relationship Trump required.

Trump’s Debt Deal with Democrats Stuns GOP

President Trump has stunned Republican lawmakers with his abrupt decision to strike a deal with Democrats for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling tied to Hurricane Harvey relief money. The president made the deal during a White House meeting Wednesday with the top congressional leaders of both parties. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had wanted a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling that would also cover hurricane relief funding. Instead, Trump sided with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in agreeing to a three-month deal that would both fund the government and raise the debt ceiling through mid-December. The deal averts the threat of a shutdown or even default for now, but virtually guarantees a congressional showdown before the end of the year. It appeared to some observers that Trump grew weary of the ongoing back-and-forth negotiations and decided to strike an agreement to end it. Fox News reported that Trump wanted to come out of that meeting with the decks cleared so he could get Congress to focus on tax reform – his big legislative agenda item this fall.

Trump Also Working with Democrats about DACA

President Donald Trump is moving closer to a deal with Democrats that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and put off funding for his marquee campaign promise of a border wall along the US-Mexico border, reports CNN. The bombshell developments, which were first announced in a statement Wednesday night by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi and reiterated by Trump himself Thursday morning, were met with immediate outrage from conservatives and put pressure on the President’s Republican allies in Congress. The two Democratic leaders announced that following a dinner at the White House, they had “agreed to enshrine the protections of (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” Trump insisted on Twitter Thursday morning that “no deal was made” on DACA, and Schumer and Pelosi later issued a statement clarifying that what was agreed upon was Trump supporting congressional actions to put DACA protections into law. The wall will come later, he said.

Russian Meddling Documented in 27 Countries Since 2004

Russia has meddled in the affairs of at least 27 European and North American countries since 2004 with interference that ranges from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns, according to an analysis by a surveillance organization. The alleged Russian interference was compiled by the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund, a nonprofit organization that fosters closer bonds between the United States and Europe. The meddling started in former Soviet republics allied with the West and spread to Western Europe. More recently, Canada and the United States were targeted. The U.S. Congress and an independent prosecutor are investigating possible Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, Facebook said an internal investigation uncovered $100,000 in advertising spending by hundreds of fake accounts and pages, likely operated out of Russia, which sought to sow political division during the U.S. presidential election. The ads were traced to a Russian “troll farm,” a Facebook official said.

Equifax: 143M U.S. Consumers Affected by Criminal Cybersecurity Breach

Credit reporting company Equifax announced Thursday that a cybersecurity data breach could have impacted about 143 million U.S. consumers. The company said in a statement the unauthorized entry occurred mid-May through July 2017, as criminals exploited a website “vulnerability” to access files ranging from social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. Hackers also accessed the credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers in the U.S. and other documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people in the U.S. Equifax said it discovered the breach on July 29, 2017 but did not publicly disclose the information until Sept. 7, 2017. Three Equifax executives sold stock prior to the announcement. The company has set up a website for consumers Opens a New Window. that will help them identify if their information was affected. It will also send notices directly in the mail to consumers that have had credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information compromised. “The Equifax data compromise was due to (Equifax’s) failure to install the security updates provided in a timely manner,” said the Apache Foundation, noting that the exploited flaw was found, reported and fixed two months prior to the hack. Several class-action lawsuits have been filed.

Hackers Can ‘Whisper’ Commands to Alexa, Siri, Google Now

Your digital assistant of choice, be it Alexa, Siri, or Google Now, should only carry out the voice commands you issue. But it turns out these assistants are not as loyal as we thought, and all a hacker has to do is whisper to them, reports PC Magazine. A research team at Zhejiang University in China figured out how to issue commands to the digital assistants provided by Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei that nobody else can hear. That includes Alexa, Cortana, Google Now, Huawei HiVoice, Samsung S Voice, and Siri They named the technique DolphinAttack, and it’s possible due to a security flaw in the way these assistants work. The DolphinAttack takes advantage of the 20kHz and above frequencies that humans can’t hear. A voice command is recorded and then translated it to an ultrasonic frequency version. Microphones still pick up the ultrasound just like a normal voice command and therefore treat it as such. Issuing commands to make a call, open a web address, even to unlock a door will all work with the appropriate silent command. Modifying a smartphone to issue such commands costs around $3, the researchers say.

U.S. Bans Russia’s Kapersky Security Software

The U.S. government on Wednesday moved to ban the use of a Russian brand of security software by federal agencies amid concerns the company has ties to state-sponsored cyberespionage activities. In a binding directive, acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke ordered that federal civilian agencies identify Kaspersky Lab software on their networks. After 90 days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk. “The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems, directly implicates U.S. national security.”

White Christians Swing from Majority to Minority in U.S.

Those Americans who identify as white Christians are now considered to be a minority of the country’s population, according to a new survey. The number has dipped below 50 percent for the first time, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, said a report released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). While Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent, white Christians – once a mainstay of the country’s religious life — now comprise only 43 percent of the population. About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago. The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarters identify as white Christians. By comparison, in the Democratic Party, white Christians have become a minority shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent currently.

International Planned Parenthood Surpasses 1 Million Abortions in 2016

One of the world’s most extensive and prolific abortion networks has passed a tragic milestone. In 2016, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), for the first time reported in its history, aborted more than one million unborn baby boys and girls in a single year. IPPF, a London-based international pro-abortion organization, maintains a vast network of affiliates (Member Associations) across the globe that actively perform and/or advocate for abortion. IPPF maintains 142 Member Associations worldwide and is currently active in 171 countries. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is IPPF’s Member Association in the United States. IPPF claims that its network has contributed to over 950 legislative or policy changes worldwide since 2005. IPPF claims the organization contributed to more legislative and policy changes in 2016 than at any other point in its history. In 2016, IPPF also significantly increased its reach among the youth in the domain of sex education. According to the Financial Statements 2016, over 28.1 million adolescents and young adults were given “comprehensive sex education” programming through one of IPPF’s Member Associations

Economic News

U.S. median income hit $59,039 in 2016, the highest ever reported by Census Bureau. Middle-class household income set an all-time record last year, besting the previous high set in 1999, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Median income is a key measure of the economic health of the U.S. middle class, which struggled during the slow economic growth of the early 2000s and was devastated by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent in 2016, with 40.6 million people living in poverty, 2.5 million fewer than in 2015, the agency reported. The poverty rate hit its post-recession peak in 2010 at 15.1 percent and is now slightly above where it was in 2007.

The U.S. dollar is cooling off after a red-hot surge. Though it rose in the weeks following President Trump’s election victory last November, the greenback has steadily fallen this year. It’s now down to its lowest level since January 2015. Since January 1, 2017, the dollar is down 11%. Financial analysts point to disappointment with the progress of President Trump’s agenda, as well as Europe’s economy picking up steam as the primary causes. Also, investors are disappointed over the diminishing prospects of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve this year.

A study released last summer by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, claimed the Red Cross had spent $124 million — or a quarter of the money donors gave after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti — on internal expenses. Since 2014, National Public Radio and ProPublica have teamed up for investigations into Red Cross spending. Those reports argue that the agency, whose main role is as a blood broker, spends just a small fraction of its money on its high-publicity disaster relief programs and has made “dubious claims of success.” The reports specifically slammed the agency’s response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in 2012. And last year, the Red Cross came under more fire for its response to flooding in Louisiana with numerous complaints from relief workers and organizers who often were left without promised assistance.

Hurricane Harvey packed such a powerful punch that more than a dozen Gulf Coast oil refineries are still hurting two weeks after the storm struck Texas. Five oil refineries remain shuttered as of Monday. Refinery comeback efforts have been disrupted by flooding, damage, power outages and challenges created by the sudden nature of some shutdowns. All told, about 2.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity in Texas is offline because of Harvey. At one point, about 4 million barrels of refining capacity was shut down. Gasoline prices spiked around the United States. The good news, however, is that gas prices have stopped spiking. The average price has held steady for five days at $2.67 a gallon, up from $2.36 a month ago, according to AAA.

Christianity is Dying in Germany, Islam Rising

There are about 47 million Catholics and Protestants combined in Germany, representing roughly 60 percent of the German population, but that number is falling by 500,000 a year, according to the Gatestone Institute. All across Germany, churches now sit mostly empty on Sunday mornings, and it’s a problem for Catholics and Protestants alike. In 2016 alone, the German Catholic Church lost 162,093 faithful attendees and closed 537 parishes, according to data from the German Bishops’ Conference. One-quarter of all German Catholic communities that existed in 1996 have now closed. Similarly, in 2016, 340,000 German Protestants died while 190,000 people left the church. Only 25,000 people joined the church. While Christianity is dying in Germany, Islam is on the rise. Historian Walter Laqueur wrote that Germany had about 700 “little mosques and prayer rooms” in the 1980s but “more than 2,500 at the present time” – and that was in 2009. Today, Turkey controls 900 mosques or religious communities in Germany. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is committed to building more mosques in European capitals, just as he has built 17,000 Islamic prayer sites in Turkey since taking power.

Iran Sanctions Up for Renewal

President Trump must decide by Thursday whether to once again waive economic sanctions on Iran, a task imposed on him by a deal he holds in contempt and appears to be preparing to ditch, reports the Washington Post. But despite his concern that Iran is an international threat, Trump is expected to waive sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors for the second time since taking office. If not, the United States will be in breach of the landmark 2015 deal that is a legacy of the Obama administration. Even if Trump waives sanctions, as he must by law reassess every 120 days, it comes as Iran and the agreement it negotiated with six world powers are coming under increasing attack. In a series of public critiques of the deal and Iran’s behavior, administration officials appear to be laying the groundwork to kill the existing agreement, possibly by finding a way to reopen it for modifications. The next and most consequential decision on the horizon is Oct. 15, when Trump must decide whether Iran is fully complying with its commitments under the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The president is required to revisit the issue every 90 days, and in July he reportedly was angry that his advisers offered no options except to certify it. More than 80 nuclear nonproliferation specialists issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the agreement “has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

Earthquakes

At least 90 people died after a massive earthquake hit off the southwestern coast of Mexico late Thursday. The magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Mexico’s Chiapas state. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake’s epicenter was 54 miles southwest of Pijijiapan, Mexico, not far from Guatemala. It had a depth of more than 40 miles. Some people continued to sleep outside, fearful of more collapses, as strong aftershocks continued to rattle the town, including a magnitude 5.2 jolt early Sunday. Local officials said they had counted nearly 800 aftershocks of all sizes since late Thursday’s big quake, and the U.S. Geological Survey counted nearly 60 with a magnitude of 4.5 or greater. The powerful quake caused buildings to sway violently and people to flee into the streets in panic as far away as the Mexico City. Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco said the quake was the strongest on record in state history, topping a magnitude 7.9 quake in 1902; and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

Wildfires

Several fires believed to have been caused by lightning continue to burn across Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, prompting mandatory evacuations and the closure of a lake. Officials shut down Lake Frances in Pondera County Tuesday so fire crews can use the water to battle the blazes. “The western fires are not stopping,” incident commander trainee James Casaus, who is working with the team managing three fires on the Front, told the Great Falls Tribune. “They’re just getting bigger.” Twenty-one large (over 100 acre) wildfires are burning in western Montana, having already consumed 413,000 acres (645 square miles), more than half the size of Rhode Island. In addition, 25 large wildfires are burning in Oregon and Washington, with a total of 766,000 acres torched, as the northwest drought continues.

Weather

Irma has finally disappeared from the map after a nearly two-week onslaught of destruction, death and terror. Now, millions of people from the wiped-out Caribbean island of Barbuda to the devastated Florida Keys try to piece their lives back together. The storm is responsible for the deaths of least 68 people, with 32 of those in battered Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. More than 2.6 million customers were still without power in Florida as of Thursday morning. Florida fruit growers and farmers fear the damage Irma wrought on the state’s citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops will be significant. FEMA estimates that 25% percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed. Another 65 percent suffered major damage. At least 99 percent of structures were at least partly damaged in hard-hit Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos. The situation remains dire in parts of the Caribbean with some residents running out of food and water as power outages linger. The Dutch Red Cross said more than 200 people were still listed as missing on St. Maarten, the Dutch side of St. Martin. Looting has become rampant.

With Texas and Florida still digging out from Harvey and Irma, Hurricane Jose inched closer to the U.S. mainland Thursday, but forecasters said the storm would likely shift northward in the next few days and skirt the Mid-Atlantic on its way up the coast. While a U.S. landfall was not totally out of the picture yet, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas, tracking models show Jose likely remaining well offshore. On Thursday morning, Jose was located about 510 miles south-southwest of Bermuda moving west at 3 mph. It was packing sustained winds of 75 mph.

Signs of the Times (9/6/17)

September 6, 2017

For Irma Information see Weather at End of Newsletter

North Korea Claims It Detonated a Hydrogen Bomb

North Korea claimed Sunday to have detonated a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on a missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. The claim, although unverified, will sharply increase tensions between the Pyongyang regime and the rest of the world. The bomb was a two-stage weapon with a yield that analysts said could make it a “city buster.” South Korea and Japan confirmed that North Korea had conducted its sixth nuclear test Sunday, with the explosion so powerful it was felt in northeastern China. Tensions have already been running high, with Kim repeatedly defying international condemnation and continuing to launch ballistic missiles, while President Trump issuing increasingly blunt and threatening warnings. South Korea strengthened the deployment of a controversial U.S.-made missile defense system and launched a huge show of military might on Monday. North Korea has made rapid advances in its nuclear weapons program, but the rogue nation probably can’t yet reach U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles, analysts say.

The blast that shook the ground at North Korea’s test site Sunday instantly erased lingering skepticism about Pyongyang’s technical capabilities and brought the prospect of nuclear-tipped North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of devastating a major city one step closer to reality, U.S. analysts and weapons experts said. South Korea’s defense minister on Monday said it was worth reviewing the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula to guard against the North, a step that analysts warn would sharply increase the risk of an accidental conflict. U.S. officials are urging governments to cut off all fuel supplies to North Korea, which is “begging for war.”

What Does North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Want?

Analysts say that it would take five concessions in order for North Korea to back down from their threats of war against South Korea, Japan and the U.S., according to the USA Today. First, he would need a guarantee of no overthrow attempts; second, that North Korea be allowed to keep their nuclear weapons; third, all sanctions against North Korea would have to be completely lifted; fourth, the U.S. would have to remove all troops from South Korea; and fifth, a formal peace treaty ending the 1950-1953 Korean War. A formal peace treaty would provide a huge economic and political boost for North Korea. Without negotiations, the Trump administration warned Sunday of a “massive military response” against North Korea and President Trump threatened to halt trade with China after Pyongyang conducted the alarmingly powerful nuclear test.

Trump May Withdraw from South Korean Trade Pact

The Trump administration could give notice to South Korea as early as this week that it plans to withdraw from a bilateral trade agreement that has been in effect since 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. President Donald Trump has long slammed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS FTA, and the ensuing rise of the nation’s trade deficit since it was implemented, the Journal reported. Negotiations this summer have been tense — and American officials say that Seoul remains unwilling to make significant changes to the agreement. The question remains of whether the White House is seriously considering withdrawing from the agreement. U.S. business groups have called on its members to reach out to legislators to stop any withdrawal, the Journal reported.

DOJ Concludes No Evidence of Obama Wiretapping

The Justice Department confirmed in a court filing there is no evidence that Trump Tower was targeted for surveillance by the Obama administration — contradicting President Trump’s controversial claim first made in March. A “Motion for Summary Judgment” filed Friday evening in D.C. district court says neither the FBI nor the Justice Department’s National Security Division have records confirming wiretaps that Trump accused the Obama administration of ordering. The document was submitted in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Trump Fades Out DACA, but Gives Congress Opportunity to Save It

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and has formally rescinded the Obama administration policy. The Justice Department also announced a plan to continue renewing permits for anyone whose status expires in the next six months, giving Congress time to act before any currently protected individuals lose their ability to work, study and live without fear in the U.S. Trump called on Congress to replace the policy with legislation before it fully expires on March 5, 2018. In the five years since DACA was enacted, the nearly 800,000 individuals who have received the protections have started families, pursued careers and studied in schools and universities across the United States. The business community and education community at large has joined Democrats and many moderate Republicans in supporting the program, citing the contributions to society from the population and the sympathetic fact that many Dreamers have never known another home than the U.S.

Houston Faces Ongoing Threat of Mold, Fumes & Toxic Water

Residents of Harris County, Texas, returning to an estimated 156,000 homes flooded by Harvey face dangers from mold, electrical hazards and deadly fumes and toxins in the receding water. Thirteen of the 41 toxic Superfund sites in Texas were flooded and “experiencing possible damage” as a result of Hurricane Harvey, federal environmental officials confirmed Saturday. The death toll has risen to at least 42, with a house-by-house search for survivors continuing. An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County — more than 10% of all structures — were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district. More than 457,000 people have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance by Friday. More than 121,000 survivors have already been approved for more than $83.4 million in assistance from FEMA. The Red Cross and its partners sheltered 42,399 people in Texas, and another 1,487 in Louisiana, according to FEMA.

Small Towns Still Struggling in Harvey’s Wake

While the Houston urban area has understandably captured the country’s attention post-Harvey, small communities in Texas have waged their own struggles dealing with the storm’s aftermath. Colorado River water levels crested Thursday at 50.5 feet, inundating much of Wharton in waist-deep water. The town as a whole has less than a 1-foot difference in elevation. Officials estimated that more than 60% of Wharton’s 9,000 residents had floodwater in their homes or on their properties. “At one point, we were boxed in on all of our exits due to waters, or due to the neighboring cities having a mandatory evacuation. Our emergency medical services couldn’t get to a hospital,” said Wharton’s city spokeswoman, Paula Favors, human resources director and city secretary.

Economic News

North Korea’s biggest ever nuclear test has sent a fresh wave of nervousness through global markets. Stocks in nearby countries like South Korea and Japan slid as investors moved money into assets considered safer bets, such as gold. Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’ jumped 34% and the Dow Jones Industrial stock average dropped 240 points Tuesday.

The elderly American population in this country is set to explode, given the retirement of baby boomers and an improvement in medical care, medicines, and medical care access. Right now, there are approximately 48 million people aged 65 and up, but by 2035 that figure is expected to climb to 79 million. That’s a 65% increase in 18 years, and it’s going to be a major strain on the Social Security program. As the number Social Security recipients increases, the number of workers providing that all-important payroll-tax revenue won’t be growing by nearly enough to offset the baby boomer exodus from the workforce. Between 2017 and 2035, the SSA is estimating that the worker-to-beneficiary ratio, which currently sits at 2.8-to-1, could fall by 21% to 2.2-to-1. Raising payroll taxes on the wealthy, or all workers, are solutions currently under consideration.

Europe Overrun with Jihadists

EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimates more than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe. “Three years ago, it was easy to identify someone who has become radicalized,” de Kerchove told El Mundo. “Now, most fanatics disguise their convictions. We do not have exact figures, but it is not difficult to do approximate calculations. United Kingdom… has 20,000. France, 17,000. Spain much less, but more than 5,000, I suppose. In Belgium, almost 500 have gone to Syria and there are about 2,000 radicals or more. I would not venture to a specific figure, but tens of thousands, more than 50,000.” In a separate interview with a Belgian publication, de Kerchove said Europol, the European police office, has identified at least 30,000 active jihadist websites.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, has previously warned that Islamic terrorists are using the refugee crisis to slide into Europe undetected and plan attacks across the continent. In total, about 130,000 migrants arrived in Europe during the first eight months of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 10,000 of those arrived in Spain by water, and thousands more entered Spain by land. Meanwhile, authorities detained 2,474 people trying to cross the Romanian border illegally during the first six months of this year, according to Balkan Insight.

German law-enforcement officials are busy tracking down dozens of members of Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most brutal jihadist groups in Syria. The jihadists are suspected of slaughtering hundreds of Syrian soldiers and civilians. Police have identified roughly 25 of them and apprehended a few, but dozens more are thought to be hiding in towns and cities across Germany, according to the Gatestone Institute. The suspected terrorists entered Germany posing as refugees. More than 400 migrants who came to Germany as asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 are now under investigation for being members of Middle Eastern Islamic jihadist groups, according to the Federal Criminal Police.

Islamic State

Islamic State fighters in Libya shot and beheaded groups of captive Ethiopian Christians, a video purportedly from the extremists showed Sunday. The attack widens the circle of nations affected by the group’s atrocities while showing its growth beyond a self-declared ‘caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq. The release of the 29-minute video comes a day after Afghanistan’s president blamed the extremists for a suicide attack in his country that killed at least 35 people — and underscores the chaos gripping Libya after its 2011 civil war and the killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Syria

Syrian government forces and their allies reached the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, ending a nearly 3-year-old ISIS siege on government-held land near the Iraqi border, Syrian state TV reported. State TV said troops advancing from the west reached the outskirts of the city and broke the siege after ISIS defenses “collapsed.” Breaking the siege marks another victory for President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been advancing on several fronts against ISIS and other insurgent groups over the past year. Syrian troops and allied militiamen, backed by Russia’s air force, have for months been advancing toward Deir el-Zour, the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of the same name. The breach is expected to end a nightmare siege for tens of thousands of people trapped in a handful of neighborhoods.

Myanmar

Tens of thousands of refugees are trapped on the border into Bangladesh without basic food and medicine amid operations by the Myanmar military, which have already killed hundreds. Satellite photos released by Human Rights Watch Saturday showed what they are desperate to escape — entire villages torched to the ground in clashes between Myanmar’s armed forces and local militants. More than 73,000 Rohingyas have now fled across the border since August 25, the United Nations said Sunday. But in northern Rakhine State there are reports of at least another 30,000 Rohingyas trapped in hilly terrain without basic supplies of food, water or medicine. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are considered some of the most persecuted people in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma, considers them Bangladeshi and Bangladesh says they’re Burmese.

Earthquakes

One of the strongest earthquake to hit Idaho in years struck the southeastern region of the state Saturday night, followed by more than 40 smaller quakes throughout the night. According to the Idaho State Journal, residents in Caribou County were startled by the 5.3-magnitude earthquake that hit shortly before 6 p.m. local time Saturday. No structural damage or injuries were reported. The United States Geological Survey said the initial quake was relatively shallow at a depth of 6.2 miles and was located about 10 miles east of Soda Springs, Idaho. The quakes were also felt in cities in northern Utah and throughout southeast Idaho. Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said he hasn’t experienced anything like the quakes in his 40 years of service in Idaho.

Wildfires

Dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states have sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver — prompting health warnings and cancellations of outdoor activities for children by many school districts. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, said 80 large fires were burning on 2,200 square miles (5,700 square kilometers) in nine Western states. A growing Oregon wildfire, the Eagle Creek fire, covered parts of Portland’s metropolitan area Tuesday with ash and forced the shutdown of a lengthy stretch of highway through the state’s scenic Columbia River Gorge. The 16-square mile (41-square kilometers) fire east of Portland forced hundreds of home evacuations. Embers from the fire drifted in the air across the Columbia River — sparking blazes in neighboring Washington state. The wildfire grew rapidly late Monday and overnight, giving authorities just minutes to warn residents on the Oregon side of the river to leave their homes. Authorities say they believe the blaze, which started Saturday, was caused by a 15-year-old boy and friends using fireworks. A 30-mile (48-kilometer) section of Interstate 84 was closed in both directions because of thick smoke and falling ash and because flames reached the roadway in some spots.

A fast-moving wildfire in northern Utah swept down a canyon Tuesday — destroying structures, forcing evacuations and closing highways. At least five homes burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as high winds fed the flames in the canyon north of Salt Lake City. Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways as firefighters struggled to fight the blaze fueled by winds gusting up to 40 mph. Outside California’s Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire made its way deeper into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees on Labor Day. Officials said the fire had gone through about half the grove but had not killed any trees. Elsewhere in Northern California, a fire destroyed 72 homes and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people from their houses. The fire burned 14 square miles in the community of Helena about 150 miles south of Oregon. A wildfire burning near Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state grew to more than 29 square miles and heavy smoke blanketed many cities in Washington state. The air quality in Spokane, Washington, was rated as hazardous.

A wildfire in northern Los Angeles was the largest wildfire in the city’s history, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Saturday. At least 700 homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale were evacuated as the La Tuna Canyon wildfire threatened structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. At least three buildings have been destroyed. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions. “Our biggest concern is the wind and weather,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said. Officials canceled evacuation orders Monday citing progress against the fire.

Weather

Hurricane Irma slammed into islands in the northeast Caribbean with devastating force early Wednesday, damaging buildings and sending debris flying with winds estimated at 185mph. The National Weather Service says the eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm and the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, passed over the island of Barbuda at 1:47am, the AP reports. The storm ripped the roofs off of buildings, including the island’s police station, and damage was also reported on the neighboring island of Antigua. Many residents on both islands have fled to shelters, fearing the storm will destroy their homes. The storm tore off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy. Other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis, are under hurricane warnings, as are Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic, reports Reuters. The National Hurricane Center has warned of “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards” for places in Irma’s path. The center predicts that Irma will hit the other Leeward Islands on Wednesday morning before passing over the Virgin Islands and close to northern Puerto Rico later in the day. Cruise ships bound for Caribbean destinations are being diverted.

As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials have declared disasters and ordered evacuations throughout the Sunshine State. About 420,000 people living in Miami Evacuation Zones A and B along the coast have been told to flee. The last time a similar evacuation was ordered was for Hurricane Wilma in 2005. A state of emergency has been declared for all counties in Florida, and residents across the region are trying to stock up on food, water and other essentials. The order frees up funding for emergency protective measures such as shoring up beach dunes, preparing for evacuations and building emergency beams. The U.S. military ordered the evacuation of over 5,000 personnel and their families from a Naval Air Station in Key West. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights for Wednesday and more for Thursday and Friday.

High temperatures set all-time records in California this past weekend. San Jose set a new record high for September on Friday when the thermometer reached 108 degrees, as did the Oakland International Airport with a high of 101 degrees. Most impressive is the new all-time record high set on Sept. 1 in San Francisco when the mercury soared to 106 degrees, breaking the previous record of 103 degrees set in June 2000. To put this in perspective, the average high on Sept. 1 is 70 degrees. San Francisco’s high temperature topped out at 102 degrees Saturday, making it only the third time since 1874 that the city has seen back to back days with highs over 100 degrees.

  • 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 (9/2/17)

September 2, 2017

President Trump Calls for National Day of Prayer

President Trump has declared Sunday as “A National Day of Prayer”— joining with Texas Governor Greg Abbott who has called on Texans to pray for recovery efforts and those suffering from Hurricane Harvey. “As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much-needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture’s promise that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,’” the proclamation states. The President said it is appropriate “during times of great need to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance.” President Trump signed the declaration Friday after meeting with faith leaders in the Oval Office. “We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are suffering from this great crisis,” the President said in his remarks.

Trump Pledges $1 Million to Harvey Relief Efforts

With the recovery process just beginning in some parts of Texas on Thursday, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump pledged $1 million of his own money to aid relief efforts, which got little notice from the mainstream media, and not even one mention from NBC. “President Trump today pledged $1 million of his own money to disaster relief. The White House has asked for suggestions as to where that money should go,” reported Co-Anchor Margaret Brennan in a news brief on CBS Evening News. Brennan then touted Vice President Pence’s efforts saying: “Today, Vice President Mike Pence comforted victims in Rockport, Texas. Then he got to work, rolled up his sleeves in 90-degree heat and helped clear debris in the city.”

Fake Photos Plaguing the Internet

As a captivated nation watched a historic storm ravage the Texas coast, people around the country shared extraordinary images of Harvey and its aftermath. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t real. The shark ostensibly swimming along a flooded freeway in Houston is a doctored image has been online for years, but still managed to fool a Fox News reporter). The airplanes presumably submerged on the tarmac in Houston actually shows New York’s LaGuardia Airport. And the one showing President Obama serving food to people evacuated from the Houston floods actually was shot at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., where Obama and his family served Thanksgiving dinner in 2015. Doctored photos aren’t reserved for natural disasters. After President Trump held a rally in Phoenix last week, his supporters shared an image of what was purportedly a massive crowd in the streets ahead of his speech, but the photo is actually an aerial shot from the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade.

Humanitarian Efforts Help to Minimize Harvey’s Misery

From good Samaritan Cajuns to pet lovers in Austin with pickup trucks and motorized canoes, humanitarian efforts are underway in Houston and beyond to minimize the misery of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez this week called upon anyone with a “high-water, safe boat or vehicle” to pitch in — and like clockwork the boats arrived. Hundreds of boats from around the region, as well as others from the “Cajun Navy,” have been traversing the flooded streets of Houston for days. Aid groups, accustomed to widespread disaster declarations, expected the Harvey relief effort to be among their biggest ever. The Salvation Army of Georgia said its Harvey intervention would be the “largest and longest emergency response” in the history of the organization. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief said it began sending teams to Texas before Harvey made landfall on Friday and will likely be in Houston “for months to come.”

In the midst of deadly Tropical Storm Harvey’s assault on Texas, people stepped up to help those trapped by rising floodwaters and shut out from basic necessities, with heroes forming human chains, delivering pizzas on kayaks and engaging in dramatic rescues. However, others tried to profit from the tragedy through scams, price gouging and fraud. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it received about 600 complaints as of Tuesday, adding the “number is rising,” according to the San Antonio Express. Officials warned about fake fundraisers being shared and urged people to only donate to established organizations. Looters were also posing as helpers.

Flooded Texas Chemical Plant Explodes Three Times

Multiple explosions were reported at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early Thursday morning just a day after the company’s CEO warned of an unpreventable, imminent explosion. One deputy was rushed to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine others hospitalized themselves after the explosion, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office said.  Because of the volatile chemicals – organic peroxides commonly used by the plastics and rubber industries – stored at the plant, the company and local authorities agreed that “the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” the Houston Chronicle reported. All residents within 1.5 miles of the chemical plant in Crosby were already told to evacuate Tuesday because of the rising risk of an explosion. All workers at the plant were evacuated Tuesday over the threat. The plant has been heavily flooded by more than 40 inches of rain, causing its refrigeration system and backup power generators to fail. Officials yet again watched in helpless horror Friday evening as a chemical plant exploded and caught fire in Crosby, Texas, for a third time.

FEMA: Emergency Housing for Hurricane Harvey a Long Difficult Process

After search-and-rescue efforts wind down for survivors of Harvey, federal officials warned Texas that housing for thousands of displaced residents could be a long-term problem that in prior storms was fraught with unhealthy trailers and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted. “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Monday. “It’s a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations.” For displaced survivors, FEMA’s goal is to move them out of shelters and into temporary housing near where they work, and then a return to a permanent residence, Long said. Anyone in a shelter or without financial means to replace their housing in 18 counties qualifying for individual disaster assistance can receive aid for a motel or to rent an apartment. Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast in August 2005. FEMA did not end its temporary housing mission for Katrina until February 2012.

National Flood Insurance Program in Dire Straits

The National Flood Insurance Program has faced criticism for years that it provided lousy customer service while compiling $25 billion in debts that federal managers concede policyholders will never be able to repay. Now Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall in Texas will funnel as many as 100,000 more claims into a system that is set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress — unable to agree for years on a long-term fix — can reach a compromise to keep it afloat. Past storm victims who filed flood insurance claims complained of being shortchanged and made to feel like criminals. But former federal officials said not having coverage is even worse because regular homeowner insurance doesn’t cover floods, and disaster aid is capped and means-tested. Early estimates say only about 1 in 5 homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, which could lead uninsured families wiped out by Harvey to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts.

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Immigration Bill

A federal judge in Texas late Wednesday temporarily blocked key provisions of an impending state law that banned sanctuary jurisdictions in the state. The law was slated to go into effect on Friday. The SB4 bill established civil penalties for local government and law enforcement officials who didn’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests. Additionally, under the law, government entities would be fined $25,500 for every day the law was violated. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill in May, said the judge’s preliminary injunction would be appealed “immediately,” and he is confident that the law will be upheld as constitutional. But critics of the bill have come out in support of the preliminary injunction, claiming that Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.

David Daleiden Fined $200,000 for Releasing Undercover Abortion Videos

A federal judge hit pro-life undercover investigator David Daleiden and two of his lawyers with a heavy fine this week after they released undercover footage of a National Abortion Federation conference. Townhall reports U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who has ties to the abortion industry, ordered Daleiden and attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira to pay $195,359.04 in fines on Monday. In July, Orrick held Daleiden and the two lawyers in contempt for releasing the videos in violation of a court order. Orrick quickly forced the videos to be taken down after they were released in May. In June, Daleiden’s lawyers asked that Orrick recuse himself from the case, arguing that he has had a long relationship with a group that partners with Planned Parenthood, and his wife has publicly supported abortion online.

Colleges that Blocked Free Speech Facing Fallout

Both the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College have been rocked by left-wing demonstrations, some of which administrators in both schools allowed. Now both have had to deal with falling enrollment and a decline in funds – and there are fears the situation could spread to other schools. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit that advocates for a variety of higher education issues, told Fox News, “When they look to what college to pick, parents and students are thinking of the largest investment their family is likely to make beyond the purchase of a home.” There is increasing concern, she said, “about a lack of openness to having a full conversation” amid a growing intolerance of views that are different or considered offensive.

  • These ‘offensive’ viewpoints are mostly Conservative and Christian

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey is now the second most destructive storm in U.S. history, behind only Hurricane Katrina. The devastation is massive: 46 dead and an estimated $80 billion in damage — so far. Harvey could end up being the most expensive of all. It depends on what happens in the coming weeks. The longer homes stay flooded and businesses remain closed, especially the major oil refineries that supply a substantial amount of the country’s gasoline, the bigger the hit to Texas and the entire U.S. economy. Gas prices are at the highest level in two years after Harvey shut down 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Americans across the country are seeing a hit to their wallets from the added costs, and the country might not be able to export oil for a while.

Harvey may have ruined up to one million vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to automotive data firm Black Book. Black Book says more than 500 dealerships in the Houston area were affected. In the Houston area, about one in seven cars may have been destroyed, according to analysts from Evercore ISI, an investment banking advisory and research firm. Sandy is believed to have destroyed about 250,000 vehicles, while Katrina ruined about 200,000, according to Cox Automotive.

Estimates indicate that only about one-in-five homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, a scenario that will likely drive hundreds of thousands of people and business owners to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts, not to mention heightened pleas from local governments for more federal subsidies. The Consumer Federation of America estimates only about 20% of homeowners with flood damage in the region have insurance protection.

Flooding in the southeast Texas city of Port Arthur prompted officials to begin shutting down the nation’s largest oil refinery. Motiva told media outlets it began shutting its Port Arthur refinery around 5 a.m. Wednesday “in response to increasing local flood conditions” and will remain closed until flood waters recede. Motiva refinery is owned by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco. Motiva joins 12 other refineries that have shut down as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Gas prices spiked overnight Thursday and are up about 17 cents a gallon since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas. Meanwhile, a pair of oil companies announced Friday that two more spills occurred in Texas because of Harvey’s flooding.

Hurricane Harvey took direct aim at the country’s Gulf Coast energy production facilities. But the blow is being softened by huge supplies of shale. The shale revolution didn’t exist when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pummeled the Gulf a decade ago and sent gas prices soaring. This time, hotbeds of shale in places like North Dakota, far from the reach of the storm, should limit the damage at the pump. The shale boom has transformed the energy landscape and vaulted the United States to the upper echelon of global oil producers, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration has tapped an emergency stockpile of crude oil in response to the major refinery outages in the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he authorized 500,000 barrels of crude oil to be drawn down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is made up of a complex of tanks and deeper underground storage caverns. The move is aimed at shielding Americans from gasoline prices, which have begun to rise sharply due to a shortage of gasoline caused by refinery shutdowns. Port closures have also left refineries still operating with less access to crude oil shipments.

The U.S. economy picked up steam during the second quarter, notching the fastest pace of growth in two years. During the first full quarter with President Trump in charge, economic growth hit 3%, according to revised estimates released by the government on Wednesday. It’s more than double the pace of the first three months of 2017. The economic momentum was driven by stronger consumer spending and healthier business investment. Trump promised 4% growth on the campaign trail, but his administration has since set a goal of 3%.

However, the U.S. economy added just 156,000 jobs in August as unemployment ticked up slightly to 4.4 percent, federal economists reported Friday. The growth missed expectations of job growth continuing over 200,000 a month. Average hourly wages rose 3 cents last month to $26.39, up 2.5 percent from a year ago. The data shows the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and mining industries all grew. sThe report does not include any effects from Hurricane Harvey, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.

Persecution Watch

Israel’s religious establishment is taking its persecution of Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus to a new level. A rabbinic court, or Sanhedrin, has ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country. All marriages in Israel are controlled by religious authorities, whether Jewish, Islamic, Christian or Druze, according to laws first handed down under the Ottoman Empire. These laws were retained by the British Mandate and continued after the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The judges wrote that if the couple “declares before the court they have completely given up their Christian beliefs, including their belonging to a Messianic Jewish community and missionary activities, the court will discuss their matter anew.”

Israel

Ambassador Danny Danon announced a “victory for Israel in the Security Council” regarding the adoption of a new resolution forcing the UN peacekeeping mission to act against Hezbollah’s buildup. According to the decision made upon the annual renewal of this mandate, UNIFIL, the UN’s peacekeeping mission, is now required to expand its reports to the Security Council and take deliberate action against Hezbollah’s violations. UNIFIL’s presence on the ground will increase significantly, and troops will be required to tour the Hezbollah-controlled areas of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL must also report all instances of Hezbollah’s violations and attempts to deny access immediately. “This is a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation in southern Lebanon and expose the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah set up on the border with Israel,” Danon stated.

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) secured a massive federal court victory this week in the most significant U.S. federal court case in defense of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state ever undertaken. Just over a year ago a group of Palestinian activists, led by the head of a family of notorious terrorists, Bassem al-Tamimi, filed a $34.5 billion dollar lawsuit in federal court against numerous organizations that support the State of Israel. This lawsuit was meant to accomplish in court what the terrorists could never do themselves – eliminate the Jewish State, or at the very least weaken and frighten her supporters into submission. The ACLJ sent a senior team of lawyers to defend these claims. Working with the other law firms representing other clients, they filed numerous responses including a motion to dismiss the case. Friday, the federal court issued an opinion that dismissed the case. The court noted that it lacks jurisdiction to hear this case, including the fact that the lawsuit is “replete with non-justiciable political questions.”

North Korea

U.S., Japanese and South Korean warplanes carried out a show of force against North Korea. Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets from the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, joined four South Korean jets and two Japanese warplanes for the exercises Wednesday. During the 10-hour mission, the U.S. and Japanese warplanes flew over waters near Kyushu in western Japan before the American and South Korean aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced their attack capabilities with live-fire in a training area.

Russia

The Trump administration has ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia, the State Department said Thursday. Last month, Russia demanded that the U.S. diplomatic presence there be reduced by hundreds of people. In retaliation, the State Department has ordered the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures must be complete by Saturday. The diplomatic reprisals underscore the continued deterioration of relations between the nuclear-armed nations, with more acts of payback likely to come. And they appear to place President Trump’s hopes for closer ties with Russia further out of reach, notes the Washington Post.

Germany

The U.S. and U.K. blanketed Germany with at least 1.3 million tons of bombs during World War II, and as much as 10% of that never exploded. The Smithsonian reported in 2016 that more than 2,000 tons of unexploded munitions are found in the country annually. That would make the discovery of an unexploded bomb in Frankfurt this week relatively unsurprising—if not for its sheer size. The 2-ton bomb is an HC 4000 and has the ability to impact buildings more than half a mile away. Its discovery has spurred what Deutsche Welle reports is the biggest evacuation since the end of WWII: Some 70,000 people, or roughly 10% of the city’s population, will need to leave their Frankfurt homes on Sunday.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have seized the strategically important town of Tal Afar from ISIS, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday. An operation to retake the northwestern town, captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, began 10 days ago. Tal Afar was the last town still under the control of ISIS militants in Iraq’s Nineveh province following the liberation of Mosul, about 45 miles to the east. Al-Abadi also issued a warning to any fighters for ISIS, also known as Daesh, who remain in Iraq. “We say to the criminals of Daesh: Wherever you are, we are coming for liberation, and you have no choice but to die or surrender.”

India

India’s economy is having a difficult year. The South Asian nation’s gross domestic product grew 5.7% in the quarter ended June, the government said Thursday. That’s a big drop from the quarter before and much slower than the 7.1% growth it recorded in the same period last year. It’s the weakest rate of growth in three years. The slowdown has ended India’s claim to be the world’s fastest-growing major economy and is being blamed on big reforms introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including last year’s sudden ban on 86% of the country’s cash, and the recent introduction of a national goods and services tax.

Kenya

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned the result of last month’s presidential election and ordered a new vote within 60 days. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, which the court said came about due to an unfair vote, was declared null and void. It is the first time a presidential election result in East Africa’s economic hub has ever been nullified. Members of the opposition danced and cheered with joy in the streets after the ruling. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, said they felt vindicated. The six-judge bench at the country’s top court ruled 4-2 in favor of a petition by Odinga, who claimed that electronic voting results were hacked in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga’s lawyer said a scrutiny of the forms used to tally the votes had anomalies affecting nearly 5 million votes.

Wildfires

Numerous wildfires continue to plague drought-stricken eastern Montana, Washington and Oregon. Thirty-one large (over 100 acres) wildfires are currently burning in Montana, having already consumed over 363,000 acres. Twenty-three large fires are burning in Washington and Oregon, with over 372,000 acres already torched. The weather forecast is for mostly dry conditions, making the task for thousands of firefighters much more difficult.

Wildfires ravaging parts of California have triggered evacuations in the southern part of the state, while fires further north prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an emergency declaration. At least 200 homes remain under evacuation orders Saturday as a large wildfire threatened to destroy structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by dry, windy conditions. As of early Saturday, the fire burned through about 1,500 acres and is now 10 percent contained. Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday in Trinity County north of San Francisco due to the Helena Fire, which has burned 8 square miles and is 0 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

Weather

Nearly all waterways in and around Houston have crested and water is starting to recede, the Harris County Flood Control District said Wednesday. The piece of good news for flood-battered Houston came hours after Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall just west of Cameron, La. Harvey dropped substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri. Tropical Storm Harvey has broken the all-time contiguous U.S. rainfall record from a tropical storm or hurricane, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. East of Highlands, the Cedar Bayou gauge has picked up 51.88 inches of rain from Harvey, the weather service said. This broke the record of 48 inches set in Medina, Texas, from Amelia in 1978. It’s just under the all-time U.S. rainfall record from a tropical cyclone, which was 52 inches in Hawaii from Hurricane Hiki in 1950.

Tuesday night into Wednesday, torrential rainfall triggered massive flooding in the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, with reports of water in homes. Jack Brooks Regional Airport, near Port Arthur, picked up a staggering 26.03 inches of rain Tuesday alone, more than doubling their previous calendar-day rainfall record from September 1963. Their total since Saturday is an incredible 43.27 inches of rain. The Neches River at Beaumont is expected to reach record flood levels by late in the week, topping the Oct. 22, 1994 record crest, flooding numerous homes in northeast Beaumont and Rose City. Beaumont, Texas, has lost its water supply, city officials say, due to flooding on the Neches River. Residents in Beaumont, Texas, waited in lines that stretched for more than a mile Friday for bottled water after flooding on the Neches River knocked out the city’s water utility system. The Houston Independent School District announced Wednesday all students will eat all school meals for free during the 2017-2018 school year thanks to the USDA waiving eligibility rules. The storm impacted more than 1 million students in 244 public and charter school districts statewide, the Texas Education Agency said. At least 16 hospitals in Texas are closed due to flooding as of Wednesday.

Thursday, significant flash flooding was reported in parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Nashville metro area, from Harvey’s remnants. Numerous roads were closed and county schools were closed Friday in Simpson County, Kentucky. Harvey’s long-lived odyssey of rain is in its final chapter, spreading heavy rain into the Ohio Valley Friday, potentially triggering additional flash flooding. Although rain has come to an end in flood-ravaged southeast Texas, rivers will remain high for days to come as recovery efforts continue. A confirmed tornado caused minor injuries and left behind damage Thursday in Alabama as flooding prompted officials in Tennessee and Kentucky to urge some residents to evacuate.

Tropical Storm Lidia has resulted in four deaths in Mexico and it continues to bring the threat of flooding rain, strong winds and some storm-surge flooding. Lidia made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula west of La Paz Friday morning and will continue to impact the region into this weekend. The remnants of Lidia may also bring a few showers and thunderstorms in the Desert Southwest and coastal areas of California later this weekend.

Signs of the Times (8/29/17)

August 29, 2017

Harvey Devastates Houston with Catastrophic Rain

Tropical Storm Harvey’s center has moved back over the Gulf of Mexico, but only will do so briefly. After virtually stalling out this past weekend, the center of Harvey is on the move again, and is just off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s still moving slower than your average tropical cyclone. More heavy rain remains possible for flood-ravaged southeast Texas. Torrential rain is falling over parts of Texas and Louisiana Tuesday morning. Harvey will finally move well inland later this week and begin to dissipate, eventually bringing an end to the widespread heavy rain threat in Texas and Louisiana, though patchy bands of locally heavy rain can’t be completely ruled out. The massive volume of water draining toward the Gulf of Mexico will leave mainstem rivers such as the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe above flood stage into the Labor Day weekend, possibly beyond. As of Tuesday afternoon, 30% of Harris County, which includes Houston, is underwater.

As Harvey spins offshore, the storm is expected to dump an additional 7 to 13 inches of rain through Friday over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, exacerbating the life-threatening, catastrophic flooding in the Houston area. Isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast, including the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area. In the past four days, the weather service forecast office in Houston has picked up more than 42 inches of rain. Brief tornadoes may also form anywhere from Galveston eastward to just south of New Orleans. An already-swollen reservoir west of downtown Houston overtopped its spillway Tuesday, sending an “uncontrolled release” of Harvey’s floodwaters into nearby neighborhoods, and putting the besieged city into “uncharted territory,” officials said. Officials in Brazoria County, located south of Houston, warned on Twitter that a levee at Columbia Lakes had been breached by floodwaters for the first time in history and urged any residents who had not already evacuated the area to leave immediately, writing “Get Out Now!!” Other levees may potentially fail as well.

Swollen rivers in east Texas aren’t expected to crest until later this week, but federal officials are already predicting Tropical Storm Harvey will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 victims to seek some sort of disaster assistance. The George R. Brown Convention Center, which has been transformed into an emergency shelter, for Harvey evacuees has already exceeded its estimated capacity of 5,000 people. The Houston area looks like an inland sea dotted by islands, said Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who also said that people needed to prepare for “a new and different normal for this entire region.”

Trump Pardons Arizona Sherriff Arpaio

President Donald Trump has pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his criminal contempt conviction, removing the only legal consequences the lawman faced stemming from a long-running racial-profiling suit. The White House announced the pardon Friday evening in a news release that recounted Arpaio’s lengthy career of “admirable service” in federal and local law enforcement and called him “a worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.” Reached moments after the announcement, Arpaio said he had not spoken to Trump, but “I’m very appreciative of the president issuing that pardon. It shows how he backs up law enforcement.” Arpaio, 85, was convicted of criminal contempt on July 31, and was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5. He faced up to six months in jail. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey supported the pardon, but U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the pardon is within the president’s authority, but “doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”

Berkley Protesters Skirmish, Antifa Members Arrested

More than a dozen people were arrested in Berkeley, California, after members of the left-wing Antifa movement allegedly attacked peaceful protesters over the weekend. Several thousand people converged in Berkeley Sunday for a “Rally Against Hate” in response to a planned right-wing protest that raised concerns of violence and triggered a massive police presence. Several people were arrested for violating rules against covering their faces or carrying items banned by authorities. Tense but brief skirmishes erupted when several dozen left-wing protesters surrounded and shouted at a handful of right-wing demonstrators. Three of those targeted sought safety by rushing toward officers and were escorted out of the park. They were put in a van that was kicked by yelling left-wing protesters as it drove away. The left-wing protesters far outnumbered those who showed up for the largely peaceful rally, which police tried to keep safe by setting up barricades around it and checking people who entered to make sure they did not have prohibited items like baseball bats, dogs, skateboards and scarves or bandanas they could use to cover their faces. However,

San Francisco Shuts Down Right-Wing Gathering

Protesters opposing a right-wing gathering in liberal San Francisco claimed victory Saturday when the event was cancelled after city officials walled off a city park — a move that the event’s organizer said was more about silencing his group’s message than preventing a violent clash. Civic leaders in San Francisco — a cradle of the free speech movement that prides itself on its tolerance — repeatedly voiced concerns that the event organized by Patriot Prayer would lead to a clash with counter-demonstrators. Joey Gibson, a Japanese American who leads Patriot Prayer, said his group disavows racism and hatred and wanted to promote dialogue with people who may not share its views. He cancelled a planned rally Saturday at a field under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge after he said his members received anonymous threats on social media and feared civic leaders and law enforcement would fail to protect them. Earlier in the week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee raised concerns that Patriot Prayer would attract hate speech and potential violence. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat who represents San Francisco, called the planned rally a “white supremacist” event.

Trump Lifts Obama Ban on Military Equipment to Local Police

Police and sheriffs’ groups across the country applauded President Donald Trump Monday for lifting a ban on delivering surplus military equipment to local and state police. The ban had been installed during President Barack Obama’s administration. “We applaud the president’s actions, and we are encouraged to see him acting on this important issue that we have vocally advocated for,” the association said in the statement. “Across the country we have seen how valuable this equipment has been to local law enforcement from San Bernardino to Orlando in fighting terrorism, but also by saving lives in floods in South Carolina and snow storms in North Dakota, just to name a few,” the association said.

Interior Secretary Recommends Shrinking Some National Monuments

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he’s urging President Trump to change the boundaries of a “handful” of national monuments. This represents the opening salvo in a largely unprecedented effort to roll back federal protections for some of America’s most popular public lands. Zinke said he wouldn’t recommend the elimination of any monuments, despite a push from some congressional Republicans to rescind Bears Ears in Utah, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, among other monuments established by previous presidents. Trump asked Zinke to review 22 land monuments in April, following years of criticism from conservative lawmakers about what they saw as President Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act. The 1906 law gives presidents the authority “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on lands already owned or controlled by the federal government.

Border Wall Working Near Yuma Arizona

President Donald Trump’s promise to build a border wall has earned him a lot of backlash, but a wall built near Yuma, Arizona, is proving that border walls work exceptionally well. Iillegal crossings dropped 94 percent, according to testimony from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Washington Examiner reported. The Daily Caller reported that a Department of Homeland Security official said the town has seen an 82 percent reduction in illegal crossings since 2007 after the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Border Walls Working in Europe

Building border walls has worked for six European countries, according to a NewsMax report. Greece built a 7-mile, 12-foot wall along its border with Turkey which dropped illegal immigration by 90%. Refugees pouring in across the border spurred Macedonia to build a 20-mile-long wall on its border with Greece in 2015 which also reduced illegal crossings by 90%. Bulgaria began building a 10-foot wall in 2014 along its Turkish border which stretches for 18 miles and has seen illegal crossings reduced seven-fold. In 2015, Hungary built a wall along its border with Serbia to stem the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa on their way to Germany and other Northern European nations. After the 110-mile-long, 13-foot high barrier was constructed, illegal immigration essentially ceased.

99% of U.S. Visa Scofflaws Never Arrested

Many immigrants come to the U.S. lawfully, but then overstay their visas. According to a recent Inspector General’s report, less than 1% of those who overstay their visas ever get arrested. The report estimates that in 2015, 527,000 individuals overstayed their visas. Only 3,402 were apprehended. Two of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. legally, but failed to leave after their visas had expired. Investigators place a lot of the blame for the la enforcement on antiquated and inefficient technology. Immigration officials have to consult up to 27 different computer systems before they can verify an individual’s visa status with any certainty, reports NewsMax.

South Carolina Governor Issues Order to Defund Abortion Businesses

The governor of South Carolina issued an executive order last week that blocks state agencies from using taxpayer dollars to fund the abortion industry. The order prevents the use of either state or local taxpayer funds to go to any doctor or Health Clinic that is an affiliate of an abortion business. McMaster’s administration is already putting the new order into effect and helping women find health care alternatives not run by an abortion agency. Three clinics run by the Planned Parenthood abortion company will no longer be reimbursed by Medicaid for abortions.

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey swamped gasoline production capacity in the Texas Gulf Coast, triggering spikes in fuel prices as the energy-rich region reels from ferocious flooding. Outages at gasoline refineries have temporarily shuttered more than 10% of the nation’s refining capacity. With rain continuing to pummel the Houston region, U.S. motorists are likely to experience an increase of up to 25 cents per gallon in some areas.

The average American saves less than 5% of his or her disposable income. Many financial advisers say that isn’t enough to ensure a comfortable retirement. The personal saving rate, calculated by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, has hovered around 5% for the past few years. By the end of June, the rate had dipped to 3.8%, the bureau reported. Financial advisors encourage clients to save 10% to 15% of their disposable income. Decades ago, Americans’ personal saving rate was closer to that target. From 1950 to 2000, it averaged about 9.8%. It peaked in May 1975, hitting 17% before beginning to slide. At its lowest, in July 2005, it was 1.9%.

The biggest chunk of the average American’s budget goes toward housing, which accounts for 37% of take-home pay. Many people spend even more. In some parts of the country (e.g. New York and the rest of the Northeast), the percentage spent on housing is even higher. The standard measure of housing affordability is 30% of pre-tax income. While many poorer renters have no choice, many middle-income people have bought homes beyond the recommended limit, which could become a problem if there is another economic downturn.

Investors are fleeing U.S. stocks in a way they haven’t since 2004. For 10 straight weeks a total of $30 billion has left U.S. stocks, marking the longest streak of outflows since 2004, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said. Investors turned instead to emerging markets and European and Japanese stocks, which saw $36 billion in inflows over the last 10 weeks, the report said. The 10-week outflow from U.S. stocks comes despite the S&P 500’s nearly 1 percent gain this quarter and a record high on Aug. 8.

Denmark, the world’s most taxed country said Tuesday that it is planning sweeping cuts to levies on cars and pensions that are designed to encourage people to work more. Denmark has the highest tax to GDP ratio of any developed nation, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The average Danish worker faced a net tax rate of 36% in 2016, far higher than the 25.5% average across the OECD. “It has to pay off to work,” the country’s finance ministry said in a statement. Reducing the tax burden is seen as one way to encourage more people to work. That, in turn, could help the country avoid a labor shortage and support an economy that grew by just 0.5% in the second quarter.

The cutting edge of drone delivery isn’t one of the usual technology hotspots, such as Singapore or the United States. Tate honor belongs to East Africa. A second East African nation announced Thursday it will launch a fully automated drone delivery program. While plenty of countries have dabbled in drone delivery, no program has matched the scale and impact of what’s unfolding in Rwanda and now, Tanzania. In early 2018, Tanzania’s government will begin using drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas. The government expects to save lives thanks to faster delivery of medical supplies. Rwanda has already completed 1,400 similar deliveries.

Middle East

Israel will not stand by while Iran advances in Syria and establishes itself militarily on Israel’s northern border, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated. Liberman explained that “Iran, through its Revolutionary Guard, is trying to create a new reality around us with Iranian air and naval bases in Syria, with Shi’ite militias which number thousands of mercenaries and by the production of accurate weaponry in Lebanon.” The Iranian forces are currently estimated to number 500 Iranian army soldiers, 5,000 Hezbollah terrorists and several thousand guerrillas from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The potential for a growing Iranian influence across the region is raising concern in predominantly Sunni Arab countries as well.

For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state. But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has changed, too. It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations, reports the New York Times. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

Faced with an ultimatum from the Palestinians to declare a two-state solution within 45 days, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. refuses to demonstrate “bias” by taking sides ahead of negotiations between the two sides. Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, arrived in the Middle East with a delegation to try and jumpstart the peace process. They met last Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will also hold talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab nations. President Donald Trump has agreed with Netanyahu that there should be no preconditions.

North Korea

North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan Monday and into waters short of Guam. North Korea has twice fired rockets that it said were carrying satellites over Japan — in 1998 and 2009 — but it is the first time it has fired a ballistic missile over the island nation. North Korea has threatened to fire missiles off the coast of Guam, a U.S. territory to the southeast. Earlier, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles toward the East Sea near Japan on Saturday morning, according to U.S. and South Korean military. Pacific Command spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham said two missiles flew about 155 miles. It said earlier that the third missile appears to have blown up immediately. The North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) determined the missiles “did not pose a threat to North America.” The incident happened amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which has been warned by President Trump about missile build-up and development of nuclear armaments. South Korea’s air force staged a live-fire drill Tuesday, simulating the destruction of North Korea’s leadership.

Pakistan

A glossy women’s magazine has hit virtual newsstands, its front cover splashed with the image of a woman, veiled from head to toe, walking off into a yellow-hued desert. But, unlike other fashion or beauty publications, this one has a niche audience in mind: would-be female jihadists. The English-language magazine was published by the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), earlier this month. The first edition of Sunnat E Khaula, which harks back to a seventh-century female Muslim warrior named Khaula, calls on “like-minded jihadi sisters” to organize “secret gatherings at home,” arrange “physical training classes” and “prepare for martyrdom operations.” “We want to provoke women of Islam to come forward and join the ranks of mujahideen [holy warriors] of Islam,” an opening editorial reads. The TTP’s women’s magazine takes a page out of the ISIS propaganda playbook to target women. And the timing of its release isn’t accidental. As ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban has seized on an opportunity — offering an alternative for radicalized women willing to shift their loyalties.

Myanmar

Thousands of ethnic Rohingya are attempting to flee violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, braving hostile border guards, treacherous territory and high waters to cross into neighboring Bangladesh. Ethnic Rohingya militants in western Myanmar launched overnight attacks on more than two dozen police and border outposts, leaving 80 people dead, the government said Friday, in a significant escalation of their armed struggle. The militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, took responsibility for the overnight attacks on more than 25 locations, saying they were in defense of Muslim Rohingya communities that had been abused by government forces. The clashes were the worst since an attack by the militants on three border posts last October killed nine policemen, setting off months of brutal counterinsurgency operations by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya communities in Rakhine state. Human rights groups accused the army of carrying out massive human rights abuses including killing, rape and burning down more than 1,000 homes and other buildings.

South Sudan

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after 98% of the population voted to break away from Sudan. The world’s youngest country quickly fell into civil war that took on ethnic undertones. The United Nations estimates that the conflict has left 1.89 million people internally displaced, while another 1.97 million were refugees in neighboring countries. It categorized 6 million people as being “severely food insecure.”

Nigeria

Nigerian Islamist militants have used 83 children —  including a baby strapped to a girl — as “human bombs” since the beginning of this year, UNICEF said this week. This year witnessed a 400% increase in child bombers as compared to last year. “The use of children in this way is an atrocity. Children used as ‘human bombs’ are, above all, victims, not perpetrators,” UNICEF said in a statement. Boko Haram militants operating in northeast Nigeria held about 8,000 children since 2009 in areas under their influence.

Weather

Seasonal monsoon rains triggered devastating floods in South Asia, killing at least 950 people in recent weeks and impacting nearly 40 million across northern India, southern Nepal and northern Bangladesh, officials said Thursday. The widespread flooding has occurred in a broad arc across the Himalayan foothills in those countries. The heavy rain led to landslides, damaged crops, roads and electric towers and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. Army soldiers and volunteers have evacuated around 770,000 people from inundated areas.

Signs of the Times (8/24/17)

August 24, 2017

Earthquake Hits Yellowstone During Solar Eclipse, Eruption Feared

As tens of thousands of people gathered in Yellowstone National Park Monday morning to witness the once-in-a-century solar eclipse, the area was hit by a 3.2 magnitude earthquake. This recent tremor, though not large, is part of an ongoing series of quakes that began June 12. Experts believed the unusually large swarm of earthquakes would gradually die down but by the beginning of August, over 1,400 minor tremors had been recorded at the site.  Monday’s tremor, following a 2.5 magnitude quake at 7:23 PM Sunday night, indicates that the earthshaking problem is unlikely to simply go away. Should the super-volcano erupt, the threat to the Earth, said NASA scientist Brian Wilcox, “is substantially greater than an asteroid or comet threat.” As a result, scientists are investigating how to cool off the seismic hotspot in order to prevent a catastrophic super-eruption. NASA announced this week that it is working on plans to drill six miles down into the volcanically active region and pump water into the magma at high pressures. The water would return to the surface at 662 degrees Fahrenheit, bringing some of the volcano’s heat with it. The project is massive, estimated to cost $3.46 billion, and admittedly risky, possibly setting off a massive eruption.

Kindergarten Teacher Holds Transgender Transition Celebration

A number of angry parents are considering legal action after a charter school kindergarten teacher staged what one critic calls a transgender “transition ceremony” in class for a five-year-old boy without informing parents beforehand. Parents only found out what happened from their kids, says Jonathan Keller of the California Family Council, a Focus on the Family-founded group that’s advising the parents. But Rocklin Academy Schools has countered that it didn’t have to tell parents about the transgenderism lesson that has left a number of five-year-olds shaken and disturbed. Because gender identity isn’t sex education, the administration said, it’s not subject to California’s parental consent and opt-out laws, reported Fox40News. Moreover, the school said that gender identity and gender expression are prohibited grounds for discrimination in the state. Not to accept a five-year-old “trans girl” could leave the Sacramento-area charter school board open to lawsuits.

‘Free Speech’ Rally Fizzles as Thousands of Counter-Protesters Swarm Boston

By their sheer numbers, thousands of anti-racist protesters marching through downtown Boston on Saturday effectively prevented conservative activists from mounting a “Free Speech Rally” in the aftermath of deadly clashes last week in Virginia. Only a handful of rally-goers, some wearing red “Make America Great Again” Trump caps, appeared to navigate their way through waves of marchers pouring into the Boston Common area, where the “Boston Free Speech” event was planned. During a post-rally press conference, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans thanked the mostly peaceful protesters and police officers. “I’m just fortunate that none of the officers got hurt, none of the public got hurt,” said Evans, speaking with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh behind him. “Overall it was a good day for our city in that we won’t tolerate hatred and bigotry. People came out to say Boston is united.” President Donald Trump went clearly conciliatory towards the counter-protestors on Twitter, a sharp contrast to previous comments following the Virginia protests last weekend. “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!” Trump wrote.

Rise of Antifa Alarms Free-Speech Advocates

Even those who despise neo-Nazis are worried about the rise of the “antifa,” the masked protesters whose stock rose after they took on white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reports the Washington Times. The antifa, which stands for “anti-fascists,” may be the sworn enemies of Nazism and racism, but the radical left-wing protesters also aren’t fans of the First Amendment, having shut down scheduled speeches by conservatives Milo Yiannapoulos and Ann Coulter earlier this year in Berkeley, California. The guiding principle behind the movement, which has its roots in prewar Europe, is to defeat “fascists” before they can gain a foothold in government and society in order to avoid another Nazi Germany. If that means using threats, intimidation and even violence to muzzle so-called “fascists,” then so be it, said Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” which is scheduled for release Sept. 12. “Antifa are anarchists and communists and socialists who are revolutionaries and don’t have any inherent regard for the law,” said Mr. Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth College.

Protesters at Trump’s Phoenix Rally Used Gas Canisters, Rocks to Assault Police

A group of anti-Trump demonstrators used gas canisters, rocks and bottles to assault police Tuesday night and create havoc at what officials said was mostly a peaceful protest in Phoenix. Video captured by a local reporter also shows a smoking object being thrown at police while hundreds of officers attempted to keep order at a rally after President Trump’s speech at the Phoenix Convention Center had ended. “A very small number of individuals chose criminal conduct,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told reporters late Tuesday. The individuals broke down fencing and “at one point, dispersed gas into and at the police officers,” Williams said. The violence resembled the mayhem perpetrated by Antifa groups, militant far-left “anti-fascist” groups that have protested Trump at other venues.

Federal Judge Again Throws Out Texas Voter ID Law

A federal judge Wednesday rejected Texas’ revised voter identification requirements, handing another court defeat to the state’s Republicans over voting rights. Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court earlier found racial gerrymandering in Texas’ congressional maps and ordered two of the state’s 36 voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a watered-down version of the voter ID law that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. The judge’s new ruling came three years after she struck down the earlier version of the law. The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which once opposed the law but has reversed its position since President Donald Trump took office. Judge Ramos said Texas didn’t go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won’t cast a ballot.

DOJ Ends Obama’s Choke Point Program

The Trump Justice Department is ending an Obama-era program that had attempted to cut off credit to shady businesses but came under fire from Republicans for unfairly targeting gun dealers and other legitimate operations. Just days after top House Republicans had pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shutter Operation Choke Point, the department confirmed in a response letter that the program is dead. “All of the Department’s bank investigations conducted as part of Operation Chokepoint are now over, the initiative is no longer in effect, and it will not be undertaken again,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in the Aug. 16-dated letter, calling it a “misguided initiative” from the prior administration.

Spanish Police Kill Suspected Terrorist Van Driver

All terror suspects identified as part of the 12-person extremist cell responsible for coordinating the deadly Spain attacks last week, including a former imam, are either dead or under arrest, authorities said Monday. The man thought to be the driver in the Barcelona van attack was shot dead by Spanish police Monday after authorities announced he also was suspected of killing the owner of a hijacked getaway car. The fugitive was wearing a bomb belt, authorities said. Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot when officers confronted him in Subirats, a rural area known for its vineyards about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Barcelona. Abouyaaqoub, 22, had been the target of an international manhunt that had raised fears throughout the region since last Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona. Authorities said Monday they now have evidence that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that plowed down the city’s famed Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring more than 120 others. They said Abouyaaqoub, who was born in Morocco and has Spanish residency, also is suspected of carjacking a man and stabbing him to death as he made his getaway, raising the death toll between the Barcelona attack and a related attack hours later to 15. Another vehicle attack occurred early Friday by other members of what Catalonia regional police have described as a 12-member extremist cell killed one person and wounded several others in the coastal town of Cambrils. That ended in a shootout with police, who killed five attackers.

6 Police Officers Shot in Florida and Pennsylvania

Six police officers were shot overnight during separate incidents Friday in Florida and Pennsylvania. Officer Matthew Baxter was shot and killed while responding to a suspicious activity call Friday evening in Kissimmee, Florida. Officer Sam Howard was shot during the same incident and died Saturday afternoon. Two other officers were shot with a high-powered rifle while responding to reports of an attempted suicide late Friday night about 200 miles away in Jacksonville. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, two state troopers were shot Friday evening outside a store in Fairchance, a borough of around 2,000 about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. Both officers survived but the suspect did not. A total of 135 police officers died while on the job last year, according to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. More than 900 civilians were shot and killed by police during that same span, according to The Washington Post.

Blacks & Hispanics More Under-Represented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis. The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans. More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened. Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions. Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Persecution Watch

Pakistan is one of the most pernicious persecutors of Christians ever, reports the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). Pakistani Christians are tortured, raped, and burned alive. Some are falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to execution by hanging because of their faith. Others face mob violence and governmental abuse and injustice. “Despite the increasing extremism, the Pakistani government persistently fails to protect Christians from violence or bring its perpetrators to justice. Even worse the government of Pakistan itself is one of the world’s worst jihadist persecutors of Christians. Yet it receives the most U.S. foreign aid of any nation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “fake hate” threat against Liberty Counsel and all pro-faith, pro-family Americans is escalating by the day. Apple’s announcement of a $1 million gift to the SPLC has further proliferated the SPLC’s attack campaign. J.P. Morgan — the nation’s largest bank — just announced it was donating $500,000 to SPLC, and yesterday, George Clooney through his foundation is donating $1 million. Apple has also enabled direct donations through its iTunes store, funneling potentially millions more to SPLC for its attacks. “These “endorsements” are further cementing the SPLC as the clearinghouse of the radical Left’s purge campaign that includes marginalizing people of faith and pro-family groups,” notes Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

Last week, CNN listed the American Family Association as a “hate group” which could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way. After much outcry from AFA supporters and other pro-family organizations, CNN has since issued a correction and removed AFA from its website. However, CNN continues to link to the Southern Poverty Law Center website which still falsely lists AFA as a “hate group.” “While AFA wants CNN to fully retract the story, it is a positive sign that our voices are being heard.”

Economic News

Americans retreated from buying homes in July as sales sank 1.3% to their lowest level of the year. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes slipped 1.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million. Despite the second straight monthly drop, sales are 2.1% higher than a year ago. But purchases are starting to slow as fewer properties are coming onto the market. The number of existing homes listed for sale has plunged 9 percent over the past 12 months to 1.92 million properties. This steep drop in inventory has led to prices consistently climbing faster than wages.

The delivery economy is growing so fast that government statistics seem unable to keep up. Food delivery, once largely limited to pizza and Chinese takeout, has exploded. The idea that virtually the entire world of retail and dining is available to consumers at home with a few taps of their smartphone keys has given rise to armies of delivery people, with announcements about new delivery options coming weekly. DoorDash, which started four years ago with only a few drivers, now has 100,000 “dashers.”  Postmates started in 2011 with only a few hundred delivery people and now has more than 65,000, reports USA Today. Pizza Hut announced it would hire 14,000 delivery drivers. Walmart is working with Uber to create a delivery service. Mobile delivery and take out accounted for 60% of all restaurant traffic in 2016.

Sears Holdings said Thursday that it would close another 28 Kmart locations as it continues its cost-cutting campaign amid a precipitous decline in the department-store sector. The Kmart closures add to a list of 330 Sears or Kmart locations shuttered or set to be closed later this year as the retailer seeks stability. Kohl’s said Tuesday that it is cutting floor space in “nearly half” of its stores as the department-store sector reels in competition with Amazon and nimble fast-fashion retailers. Unlike competitors Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Kohl’s has avoided major rounds of closures in recent years despite struggles for department stores.

Islamic State

A week after a terrorist van attack in Barcelona, Spain, left 15 people dead and more than 100 injured, the Islamic State released a video warning more attacks were imminent in the Iberian Peninsula. In the video, two ISIS fighters are heard speaking in Spanish proclaiming that Al Andalus, a region in central and southern Spain once controlled for more than five centuries by Muslims, would once against become “part of the caliphate.” “If you can’t make the hegira [journey] to the Islamic State, carry out jihad where you are; jihad doesn’t have borders,” one of the men says. “Spanish Christians: Don’t forget the Muslim blood spilled during the Spanish Inquisition,” Muhammad Ahram said in the video. “We will take revenge for your massacre, the one you are carrying out now against the Islamic State.”

At least 11 people have been beheaded in southern Libya following an attack apparently carried out by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Nine fighters loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), the force aligned with Libya’s eastern government, and two civilians were executed following an assault on a checkpoint 300 miles south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in Jufra. The onslaught against the LNA forces, under the command of Gaddafi-era General Khalifa Haftar, comes as Libyan military sources warn ISIS is regrouping following catastrophic defeats in December 2016. The Times of London reported there were now believed to be 1,000 ISIS fighters in Libya.

Although Islamic State is losing fighters and territory in Iraq and Syria, it remained the world’s deadliest militant organization last year and the number of its attacks actually increased, according to a report from the University of Maryland. Islamic State operatives carried out more than 1,400 attacks last year and killed more than 7,000 people, representing a roughly 20% increase over 2015, according to the university’s Global Terrorism Database. The increase occurred even as overall militant attacks worldwide and resulting deaths fell about 10% in 2016.

North Korea

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on 16 mainly Chinese and Russian companies and people for assisting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and helping the North make money to support those programs. The Treasury Department says the penalties are intended to further isolate North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests. The 16 do business with previously sanctioned companies and people, work with the North Korean energy sector, help it place workers abroad or evade international financial curbs. The measures block any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from transactions with them.

Afghanistan

America’s longest war is going to get longer after President Trump late Monday outlined a strategy for the U.S. military in Afghanistan that gives the Pentagon the authority to increase troop levels and “fight to win” the nearly 16-year-old conflict. In a televised address, Trump admitted his initial instinct was to withdraw U.S. forces from the country. Instead, he unveiled a “path forward” mostly at odds with what he had been saying about Afghanistan for years. In his address Monday night, he conceded that troop withdrawal could lead to a security vacuum filled by terrorist groups including the Islamic State. The President is giving the Pentagon authority to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan by several thousand, but said they would not divulge actual troop numbers. The president’s decision, several officials said, was less a change of heart than a weary acceptance of the case made by military leaders during months of debate. “This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, the aim being to get them to the negotiating table.

Yemen

After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years. Yemen has long been the Arab world’s poorest country and suffered from frequent local armed conflicts. The most recent trouble started in 2014, when the Houthis, rebels from the north, allied with parts of the Yemeni military and stormed the capital, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations launched a military campaign aimed at pushing back the Houthis and restoring the government. The campaign has so far failed to do so, and the country remains split between Houthi-controlled territory in the west and land controlled by the government and its Arab backers in the south and east. Many coalition airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians, including strikes on Wednesday around the capital. The bombings have also heavily damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, including a crucial seaport and important bridges as well as hospitals, sewage facilities and civilian factories.

Brazil

Brazil has opened a massive swath of the Amazon to mining. The government has abolished a reserve that straddles the northern states of Pará and Amapá, a move that opens the vast area to mineral exploration and commercial mining. The reserve, which was established in 1984, covers 18,000 square miles, an area twice the size of New Jersey. The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history. Brazil said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands. An official report from 2010 said that up to two-thirds of the reserve is subject to such protections.

Earthquakes

Two people were killed and at least 39 were injured when a 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian island of Ischia Monday night. Firefighters worked overnight and into Tuesday morning to rescue three young brothers trapped under the rubble of a collapsed structure, and all three were removed from the building alive. The temblor was recorded at a depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The resort island is located just off Naples.

Wildfires

Hundreds of people in Oregon near the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse were ordered to evacuate Friday as a raging wildfire closed in. The late afternoon order threatened to create more tie-ups on rural and narrow roads already expected to be burdened with up to 200,000 visitors coming to the area from all over the world to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse. About 1 million people are expected in Oregon, where the moon’s shadow first makes landfall in the continental U.S. About 600 residents were told to leave the tourist town of Sisters, Oregon, and authorities said Saturday another 1,000 people had been told to be ready to leave if necessary. No structures had been lost and no injuries have been reported since the fire began last week.

In California, authorities issued an evacuation order for the small town of Wawona as a week-old fire in Yosemite National Park grew and air quality reached a hazardous level. The U.S. Forest Service said the fire grew to more than 4 square miles overnight due to winds from thunderstorms. Authorities ordered people to leave as air quality was expected to worsen. The fire has closed campgrounds and trails in the national park since it began a week ago.

Weather

The Trump administration disbanded a 15-person advisory committee that helped communicate scientific climate change findings to businesses and government officials. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acting chief Ben Friedman notified the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment that its charter would not be extended after its expiration on Sunday. Members of the committee lambasted the Trump Administration’s decision to dissolve the advisory committee. The move by the Trump administration was the latest roll-back of Obama-era climate change protection and adaptation policies. Last week, the Trump administration revoked an executive order that required strict building standards for all federal building projects to better prepare for sea level rise flooding. Earlier this year, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and cancel payments to the Green Climate Fund.

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages. But to the scientists from Woods Hole Research Center who have come to Alaska to study the effects of climate change, the most urgent is the fate of permafrost, the always-frozen ground that underlies much of the state. The permafrost is no longer permanent. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, the premafrost contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

A “quickly strengthening” Tropical Storm Harvey is now forecast to become a “major hurricane” before making landfall on the Texas coast and bring “life-threatening flooding” to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are now 65 mph, but is forecast to grow into a “major hurricane” when it approaches the middle Texas coast on Friday, according to the NHC. Harvey is forecast to make landfall late Friday night or early Saturday morning along the south-central Texas coast, possibly as a Category 3 storm with winds upwards of 115 mph.

Typhoon Hato killed at least 16 people in Macau and southern China. Another 153 were injured amid extensive flooding and power outages. Flooding and injuries were also reported in Hong Kong, which lies across the water 40 miles from Macau, but there were no reports of deaths. Hato’s fierce gales blew out windows on skyscrapers in the Asian financial capital, raining shattered glass onto the eerily quiet streets below. Hong Kong’s weather authorities had raised the hurricane signal to the highest level for the first time in five years.

Signs of the Times (8/18/17)

August 18, 2017

Iranian Youth Turning to Christ

The Christian Post reports that there has been a “massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ.” According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades. Now even leading Islamic seminary officials, such as Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, have pointed to “accurate reports indicating that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has also been raising alarm over the number of Iranian youths becoming Christians, and has blamed “foreign influence” for the conversions. Other ayatollahs, such as Wahid Khorasani, have slammed government officials “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity.”

Terrorism in Spain & Finland

A white van jumped up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district Thursday, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents. Barcelona police are calling it a terror attack, and an official says 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured. Two men were arrested by authorities. Hours later police fatally shot five men in a car which was hitting pedestrians in the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils. In the coordinated attack, the men were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts. Responsibility for the incidents, which mimicked events in Berlin, London, Stockholm and the French city of Nice over the past year, was claimed by the Islamic State. The news agency Amaq, which represents the Islamic State, said in a statement that the Barcelona attackers were soldiers of the extremist group. Police have not confirmed whether they have any evidence to support the claim. The perpetrators of the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils originally planned to use explosive devices to wreak greater devastation but were apparently thwarted because their materials detonated prematurely, police said Friday.

At least two people have been killed and six others hospitalized in a stabbing attack in the Finnish city of Turku on Friday, police said. Three people are now undergoing surgery, state broadcaster YLE reports. Police earlier shot and arrested a suspect after the stabbing in the southwestern city and said they were searching for other possible perpetrators. The attack occurred at two market places close to each other in the city center. Police earlier said that it was too early to tell whether the attack was terror-related.

North Korea Backs Down

North Korea says its plan to fire ICBMs into the waters around Guam is on hold while it waits to see what the “foolish Yankees” do next. North Korean state media said Tuesday that Kim Jong Un has reviewed the plan for “the enveloping fire at Guam,” discussed it with military officials, and decided to delay a decision, the BBC reports. The official KCNA news agency said Kim decided to see “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula” per Reuters. Pyongyang earlier called for the US to stop flying heavy B-1B bombers around South Korea. The last such flight involving the Pacific island-based bombers was on Aug. 7, the Guardian reports.

U.S. Missile Defense System is effective but Not Foolproof

If North Korea fires a missile toward Guam, as it has threatened, there is a good chance that the U.S. military or an ally will be able to shoot it down. The United States and allies in the Pacific have an effective, though not foolproof, defense against a North Korea missile launch in the region, analysts say. Missile defense systems are located in Guam, South Korea and aboard naval ships in the area. The defenses include the ability to counter the Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range missile that can travel about 2,800 miles, which was cited by North Korea in its threat to target Guam, which is about 2,100 miles away. A missile of that range would be easier to intercept than a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, which travels faster and spends much of its travel time outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

More Than 14,000 Clergy Members Condemn White Supremacy

More than 14,000 clergy members, all part of The Clergy Letter Project, have released a statement saying that while some language used by white supremacists may be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, it isn’t acceptable. The Clergy Letter Project is an effort from American Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist clergy in support of the teaching of evolution. Michael Zimmerman, founder and executive director for The Clergy Letter Project, said the project was created to “demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible.” “For the average geneticist, race simply does not exist,” he says. “Similarly, from a religious perspective, we know that all people, regardless of any demographic attribute, should be treated fairly. Therefore, simply put, the vile rhetoric being spewed by white supremacists is religiously and biologically bankrupt,” he added.

Confederate Monuments Prompt Protests Across USA

The violent fallout from a decision by city officials in Charlottesville to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park has energized efforts to eliminate Confederate symbols across the nation. There are more than 700 across at least 31 states. In Louisville, more than 150 people rallied Monday at a bronze statue of Confederate officer John B. Castleman, shouting “Mayor Fischer, take it down! Mayor Fischer, take it down!” Meanwhile, at a rally 75 miles to the east in Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray drew cheers for his decision to remove two Confederate statues from public grounds. And the Kentucky chapter of the NAACP said it wants a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis removed from the state Capitol Rotunda. In Nashville, protesters demanded that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate officer who later helped lead the KKK, be removed from the state Capitol. Protesters in North Carolina took a more direct approach Monday, toppling a statue of a Confederate soldier near the courthouse in downtown Durham. A college student was arrested Tuesday for toppling the nearly century-old statue in front of a cheering crowd. Statues dedicated to Confederate heroes were swiftly removed across Baltimore in the early morning hours Wednesday, just days after violence broke out over the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.

Solar Eclipse Monday Drawing Millions, Sparking Prophecies

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in totality within a band across the entire contiguous United States; it will only be visible in other countries as a partial eclipse. The band in the U.S. extends through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun’s, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness.

Millions of people are hitting the road to spend the weekend in towns along the path of totality for Monday’s total solar eclipse. Some highways and side streets were already filling up Thursday afternoon. In Oregon, a traffic jam extended 15 miles along Highway 26 leading to the town of Prineville. Authorities are expecting similar traffic problems elsewhere along the path of totality Friday and into the weekend as visitors spend the next few days enjoying whatever small town they chose to view the once-in-a-generation event.

Ominous prophesies are accompanying this rare event. Numerous religious commentators, including Anne Graham Lotz, are claiming that it’s a sign from God showing that the last days—prophesied in the Bible—are now upon on us. One of the main Bible prophecies that some of these commentators point to is Joel 2:31, which says, “The sun will be turned to darkness…before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations,” Anne notes. “While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”

Major Arrests of M-13 Gang Members

More than a dozen alleged members of the feared MS-13 street gang were arrested during early morning raids Tuesday in Ohio and Indiana, the Department of Justice said. Federal prosecutors said a grand jury had charged 10 gang members of the “Columbus Clique” with conspiracy to commit extortion and money laundering, as well as the use of firearms during a violent crime, in an indictment returned in late July. The indictment alleges the 10 “conspired to commit extortion through the use of threatened or actual force, violence or fear to intimidate their victims into paying money to the defendants and their co-conspirators.” Prosecutors said money was then sent “usually by wire transfer and often through intermediaries,” to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador and elsewhere to promote the group’s criminal activities. Besides the 10 members charged in the federal indictment, federal officials said an additional five people were arrested and charged with federal immigration offenses.

Trump Ends Obama’s Central American Youth Immigration Program

The Trump administration on Wednesday shut down yet another Obama-era program — this one created to give Central American minors fleeing poverty and gang violence in their homeland temporary legal status in the United States. The “CAM parole” program was established in 2014 in response to a surprise spike in the number of unaccompanied minors and families entering the country from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The program allowed minors who did not make the cut for “refugee status” to enter the U.S. on a two-year, renewable parole if they had a parent already legally in the country. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversaw the project, 1,465 minors have been granted entry under the parole program. Another 2,714 people had been conditionally approved to enter the U.S. but have now lost the opportunity. The program’s termination was announced in the federal register.

Arkansas Can Defund Planned Parenthood, Court Rules

A U.S. appeals court has reversed a ruling that prohibited the state of Arkansas from cutting funding to Medicaid, which in turn would have maintained funding for Planned Parenthood. In the earlier court decision, three women claimed the state violated their rights to choose their preferred healthcare provider, as federally mandated through Medicaid. However, the 8th Circuit Court has now ruled that the federal law does not unequivocally give patients this right; therefore, Arkansas can proceed with its plan to direct taxpayers’ dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Arkansas’ initial restriction of funds to Planned Parenthood came after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos in 2015, allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

Texas Bans Taxpayer Insurance Funding of Abortion

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill today to restrict state funding for abortion insurance. The new law will keep Texans from having to pay for elective abortions through their insurance plans. “As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Gov. Abbott said. “This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.” HB-214, which the House passed last week and the Senate approved Sunday, applies to “elective” abortions and specifically includes an exemption for cases of medical emergency to save the mother’s life.

U.K. Legislating Calories, Sugar & Salt

After cracking down on sugar and salt, Public Health England said Friday it now wanted companies to slash the calories in food to tackle an obesity epidemic among children. It plans to set calorie targets for fast food and other meals popular with kids by the start of 2018. The new targets would be voluntary to start, Lemon said. But if the program doesn’t work, the government would consider making the targets legally binding. The U.K. introduced a tax last year as part of an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 milliliters are affected by the levy with a higher rate ($0.30 per liter) for drinks with over 8 grams.

  • While obesity is a worthy target, the march toward socialism and technocracy, spurred by the sustainability requirements of the U.N.’s Agenda 2030, are leading toward government intrusion into virtually all aspects of life. Can the mark of the beast be closer to implementation if consumers don’t toe the line?

Economic News

Consumer confidence was better than expected in August, beating projections from economists surveyed by Reuters. The consumer sentiment index, a survey of consumers by The University of Michigan, rose to 97.6 in August. Economists estimated the index would climb to 94 from the 93.4 reading in July. Consumer confidence rose in the first half of August to its highest level since January due to a more positive outlook for the overall economy as well as more favorable personal financial prospects. The consumer sentiment index nearly returned to peak levels recorded earlier in 2017 before the last recession.

A slump in motor vehicle production pushed down U.S. factory output unexpectedly in July, Federal Reserve data showed Thursday. Factory output dropped 0.1%. Manufacturing output minus motor vehicles rose 0.2%, reflecting a pickup in non-durable goods production. Total industrial production, which also includes mines and utilities, increased 0.2%. Automobile production fell 3.6 percent in July, the fourth decline in the last five months.

U.S. homebuilders bounced back in August from a recent funk, as current sales and sales expectations leaped forward. New home sales in June were 9 percent higher compared with a year ago, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A monthly index of builder sentiment rose 4 points to the highest level since May. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index now stands at 68. Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment. The index was at 59 last August. Builders say over-regulation at the federal, state and local levels have hampered production and driven up the cost of new construction. Sentiment had dropped more recently due to rising material costs, especially lumber. The Trump administration imposed a tariff on Canadian lumber, causing the price to spike.

These days “gig workers” aren’t just Uber drivers or Task-Rabbits (a website for finding manual laborers). They also include freelancers, contractors, consultants and on-demand workers — basically anyone who is working on a temporary basis. The gig economy now makes up about 34% of the U.S. workforce, according to Intuit. That’s expected to grow to 43% — or 7.7 million people — by 2020. Some are turning to the gig economy out of necessity, while others are hoping to get a better work-life balance.

Persecution Watch

Many Christian organizations are fearful for their safety after CNN published a bogus “hate map” concocted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” CNN’s headline declared. The list included among others American Family Association, Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel and Pacific Justice Institute. American Family Association blasted the CNN story calling it a “sham news article that could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way.” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver demanded an immediate retraction – calling CNN’s report “false, defamatory and dangerous.” “Liberty Counsel is not a hate group,” he said. “The false ‘hate’ label is very damaging to our reputation and is a safety risk to our staff. Liberty Counsel is a Christian ministry, and hates no one.”

Middle East

The U.N. is allowing Hezbollah – an officially recognized terrorist group – to amass significant weapons on Israel’s border. Hezbollah jihadists are funded and directed by Iran. Hezbollah – Iran’s army in the region – is preparing for war against our ally Israel, and the U.N. is refusing to do anything about it, notes Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). “This continues a long line of U.N. betrayals of Israel. Israel could be wiped off the face of the map and the U.N. wouldn’t blink.” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is demanding action from the U.N. to stop this threat to Israel. Meanwhile, the ACLJ is preparing “critical legal action at the U.N. and the International Criminal Court if necessary to defend Israel.”

Islamic State/Al-Qaeda

While the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria is inching closer to victory, the worst may not be over. Al Qaeda-linked militants continue to make significant advances and maintain territorial control some 150 miles west of the de facto caliphate capital of Raqqa, sweeping through the war-shattered country’s province of Idlib. Late last month the extremist faction Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) waged war with more mainstream Ahrar al-Sham, successfully seizing control of most of Idlib and capturing a key border crossing into Turkey. The increasing HTS dominance could see the U.S. dragged further into the conflict, especially given the credible threat Al Qaeda still poses to the U.S. homeland. HTS was previously known as Syria’s Al Qaeda (AQ) branch al-Nusra Front, and later named Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. “The United States continues to target Al Qaeda in Idlib governorate and across Syria in order to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks,” Eric Pahon, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, told Fox News.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his country could abandon the nuclear deal it struck with six world powers in 2015 “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions. He said that once restarted; the program could quickly be brought to a much more advanced level than it was in 2015. However, he added that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the nuclear deal. Last month, the Senate voted to approve a new package of stiff financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The sanctions impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. President Trump signed the new sanctions into law earlier this month. Iran’s missile development is banned by the U.N. but not covered by the nuclear deal, which capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of previous international sanctions.

Iraq

Iraq has begun an aerial bombardment of Tal Afar, a town under Islamic State control west of Mosul, Baghdad-based al-Sumariya TV said on Tuesday. The ground attack to try to take the city will start when the air campaign is over. Tal Afar, 50 miles west of Mosul that was recently recaptured, is the next target in the war on the Islamist militant group that swept through swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Afghanistan

An American service member died in Afghanistan on Wednesday after being wounded in an operation against the Islamic State’s affiliate in the country, the military said. American and Afghan troops were also injured in the raid, which took place in eastern Afghanistan. American military spokesmen did not disclose how many were hurt or provide details about their mission. Even as the United States has sought to help Afghan forces push back the Taliban, it has been involved in a separate fight with the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, as the affiliate is known.

Volcanoes

Scientists have announced the discovery of 91 volcanoes underneath the West Antarctica ice sheet – a discovery that makes the area one of the largest volcanic regions in the world. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh conducted an expansive study of the West Antarctic Rift System and found 178 cone-shaped structures under the ice sheet. They determined that 138 were volcanoes, 91 of which were previously undiscovered. It’s likely that the West Antarctic Rift System will surpass east Africa’s volcanic ridge, home to Mount Kilimanjaro, as the location with the highest density of volcanoes in the world. “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes?” asked Robert Bingham, a glacier expert and one of the paper’s authors, in a report from the Guardian. “That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”

Wildfires

Forest fires trapped 2,000 people in a village in Portugal Wednesday as firefighters fought to control two massive blazes burning in the country. “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Mação because of the flames and the smoke,” Mação village mayor Vasco Estrela said. The wildfire first erupted Tuesday evening and surrounded the village by Thursday morning. About 133 people were evacuated beforehand from the village. The firefighters were also concerned about the forecast – hotter weather could re-ignite extinguished fires and trigger blazes in new locations. Portugal’s government declared a state of public calamity ahead of the expected temperature rise.

In the U.S., drought in the Northwest has caused numerous wildfires in Washington, Oregon, western Montana and northern California. At least 25 large wildfires are burning across this region, with 11 of them major Incident One fires, drawing firefighters from across the U.S. The rest are Incident Twos, tapping firefighting resources from across the region. Even more wildfires are being handled by local firefighters. The weather forecast remains warm and dry, making things even more difficult for the thousands of firefighters. More than 19,700 firefighters have been assigned to fires in the West, Alaska and Florida. In 2017 to date, wildfires have consumed 6,371,233 acres of land, well above the ten-year average of 4,653,087.

Weather

Flash flooding in Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday morning has sent water into homes and businesses, covered bridges and stranded vehicles. Arkansas with hit with rainfall rates of more than an inch per hour. Damascus picked up 7 inches of rain in just three hours early Tuesday. Water covered the roadway on Highway 41 north and south of Branch, Arkansas, and shut down several bridges outside of town. There were also reports of cars under water in Clarksville and Russellville.

Red Cross officials estimate that 500 people are still missing after heavy rains and flash flooding led to landslides in the west African nation of Sierra Leone on Monday. Local officials estimate that more than 400 people have died and say they expect the death toll to continue to rise. A hillside in the Regent area collapsed early on Monday following heavy rains leaving many houses completely covered in mud. Many people may were caught asleep when the mudslide occurred.

Signs of the Times (8/14/17)

August 14, 2017

Charlottesville Violence Kills 3 at White Supremacist Rally

Three people were killed and 35 injured in a day of violence surrounding a white supremacist rally in the usually quite college town of Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. Early in the day, clashes had broken out as the groups that planned the “Unite the Right” rally were met with counter protesters. After the rally, a car plowed into a crowd, killing one person and injuring 19 others. A 32-year-old woman was killed in the car crash. A 20-year-old Ohio man is accused of driving a car into a crowd. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, espoused Nazi ideals in high school, former teacher says. A state police helicopter that was monitoring the protests crashed outside the city, killing two officers who had been assisting police to monitor the protests. Sixteen people were injured in clashes between the two opposing groups of protesters. Twitter dispatches showed a violent scene with protesters wielding shields, sticks and flags in massive scuffles that left people bloodied. One of the main organizers was alt- right blogger Jason Kessler, who filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the removal of a Confederate statue. President Trump denounced groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name on Monday and announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the death of a counter-protester at a white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend as he sought to mitigate mounting criticism of his initial tepid response to the violence.

Charlottesville Has Become the Epicenter for White Supremacist Protests

The “Unite the Right” rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, marks the third time white nationalist groups gathered there this year. The protests began after the Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. A judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city, a progressive college town where over 80% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton, from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported. The city also voted to rename Lee and Jackson parks this spring. Statues of Confederate leaders nationwide have been removed in recent years as communities viewed them as symbols of slavery, but a USA TODAY analysis in May found that more than 700 Confederate monuments in 31 states still stand. Several dozen torch-wielding demonstrators, led by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, gathered by the Lee statue on May 13 to protest the vote for its removal.

Anger/Violence Rising Across the U.S.

Violent crime is on the rise this year in some of the country’s biggest cities, according to statistics, which find Chicago still leads as the deadliest city while homicide cases have spiked in Baltimore and New Orleans. Of the 62 police departments that reported data, 32 said the number of homicides has risen and 35 said there were more aggravated assaults. Chicago’s data showed it was about on the same pace as 2016 and still leads the country, with 328 people killed in the first six months of this year. Homicides in Baltimore were up 24 percent, with 170 killed from January to June. By Aug. 7, the number hit 211 homicides. Other cities reporting significant homicide increases this year include Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans; Philadelphia; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. “The uptick in murders is a continuation of the violent crime wave seen over the past several years,” said Justice Department spokesman Drew Hudson.

  • Anger has risen dramatically in the U.S. which has led to the uptick in violence, another end-time marker: Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11 NKJ) When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. (Revelation 6:3-4, NKJ)

U.S. Plans to Intercept North Korean Missiles at Guam

If North Korea follows through on its threat to fire ballistic missiles at Guam, the U.S. military plans to shoot them down, raising the stakes even further in a dangerous global standoff. North Korea said Thursday it was developing plans to launch four medium-range ballistic missiles that would land 19 to 25 miles from the western Pacific island. U.S. commanders would have little time to make a critical decision about whether any inbound missiles represented a threat to Guam, home to two large military bases and about 7,000 U.S. service members. A ballistic missile would take only about 14 minutes to reach Guam from North Korea, according to Guam’s Homeland Security office. U.S. surveillance, including spy satellites, also watch North Korea’s preparations before a missile launch, giving U.S. authorities a little additional time to assess the threat.

2016 Warmest Year on Record Says the NOAA

The federal government confirmed 2016 as the planet’s warmest year on record, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year led to last year’s all-time record heat, NOAA said. The report also noted other signs of a warming planet in 2016: Greenhouse gases were the highest on record; Sea-surface temperatures were the highest on record; Global upper ocean heat content near-record high; Global sea level was the highest on record; Antarctic had a record low sea ice extent. Known as the State of the Climate, the annual report is prepared by more than 450 scientists from more than 60 countries around the world and published in conjunction with the American Meteorological Society. It’s the most comprehensive annual summary of Earth’s climate.

  • The Bible prophesies extreme weather for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

State of Emergency over New Orleans Flooding Crisis

Louisiana’s governor has declared a state of emergency in New Orleans as officials and residents scrambled in the aftermath of last Saturday’s heavy storm that left hundreds of homes and businesses flooded. Within three to four hours on Saturday, as much as 8 to 10 inches of rain fell across New Orleans. With more rain in the forecast, New Orleans leaders rushed to deal with a series of malfunctions in the city’s drainage system — and to face criticism of local officials who waited days to reveal the full extent of system failures. The city has struggled with its unique drainage system for years. Century-old pumps are in constant need of repair, catch basins repeatedly clog, and potholes and sinkholes form seemingly everywhere. Because of New Orleans’ unusual topography — with many areas below sea level and protected by levees — pumps in every neighborhood must suck rainwater out of storm drains and canals and push it into a nearby lake or other water bodies.

Seas Rising on U.S. Southeast Atlantic Coast

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers with the University of Florida say the sea has risen more than six times faster in the Southeast Atlantic coast over the past few years than the average global sea level rise, about three-quarters of an inch per year from 2011 to 2015. The result of this rise has been recurring coastal street flooding and sea insurgencies, particularly at high tide, from the Carolinas to Miami. The scientists concluded that the “hot spot” of sea level rise that has affected areas from Cape Hatteras down the coast to Miami is due to a “one-two punch from naturally occurring climate variations,” according to a press release. The researchers say an interaction between El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation, which is a shift in atmospheric pressure over the ocean that can have large effects on the winds blowing toward the American coast, created a pile up of water off the shoreline. The hot spots, or bursts of accelerated sea rise like the one observed in the Southeast, can last from three to five years, according to the study.

President Trump Cuts Funding for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program

President Trump recently cut funding to a questionable teen pregnancy prevention program that has given millions of dollars to the abortion business Planned Parenthood, reports LiveNews.com. President Barack Obama created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in 2010 to teach vulnerable populations of students about preventing pregnancy. Participants in the program recently learned that their grant funding will end next year, two years sooner than expected, according to the report. Trump’s administration notified the 81 grant recipients that funding for the program is being cut by about $200 million and their grants will end on June 30, 2018, the report states. Among the groups receiving grants to teach sex education are several Planned Parenthood affiliates. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Mark Vafiades told the New York Times that there is very little evidence that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is working. Democrats and abortion activists are upset by the cuts, and are sending letters to HHS Secretary Tom Price in protest. Many speculate that the cuts could mean Trump’s administration will support abstinence-based programs instead.

College Student Jailed for Registering Dead Voters

A Virginia college student was sentenced this week to 100 days incarceration for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms listing the names of dead people and other faulty information for a political organization connected to the Democratic Party. Andrew J. Spieles, 21, was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for knowingly submitting false Virginia voter registration forms during the 2016 election, according to the Justice Department. Spieles, a student at James Madison University, worked as a staffer for Harrisonburg Votes — a group affiliated with the Democratic Party — and was paid to register voters in the area during the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, reports Fox News.

Uncertainty Spurs Obamacare Insurers to Leave, Hike Premiums

Consumers will likely find fewer choices and higher premiums on their Obamacare exchanges next year, as insurers grapple with the Republicans’ quest to dismantle the law, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report has found. The number of carriers that filed to participate next year dropped to an average of less than five. That’s down from a high of nearly seven in 2015. Insurers that assumed the individual mandate would not be enforced added between 1.2% to 20% to their premium requests. The mandate — which requires nearly all Americans get coverage or pay a penalty — is key to encouraging younger and healthier consumers to enroll.

U.S. Life Expectancy Rate of Increase Dropping

While mortality rates from 2000 to 2009 generally improved each year by about 1%-2% for both males and females, according to the most recent report by the Society of Actuaries, throughout recent years that rate of improvement has declined. In the five-year period that ended in 2014, the rate of increase dropped to an average of 0.6% for males and 0.42% for females. In 2015, the average life expectancy was 78.8 years of age, a slight decrease from the year prior. The Society of Actuaries forecasts that the current trend could mean that companies owe as much as 2% less in retirement benefits than forecasts based on earlier life expectancy estimates.

Economic News

Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy. Household debt— everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans — reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter, surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effects of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show. U.S. consumer debt is more than the size of China’s entire economy and almost four times that of Germany’s. On the surface, liabilities at an all-time high aren’t alarming when the assets side of ledger is taken into account. Household net worth stands at a record $94.8 trillion, thanks to rebounding home values and soaring stock portfolios. But that increase has primarily benefited the nation’s wealthiest. For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living, which is not fueling the economy’s growth at levels seen during pervious economic recoveries.

The number of residential houses available to buy is at a 20-year low as the appeal of McMansions wanes and as Baby Boomers show a greater reluctance to sell, according to a report by Realtor.com. “The housing shortage forced many first-time homebuyers to consider smaller homes and condos as a way to literally get their foot in the door,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com. The report states that 85% of Baby Boomers say they have no plans to sell their home in the next year. Homeownership among Baby Boomers is at 78%, or about 33 million properties. That’s nearly twice as high as Millennials. Older age groups have historically moved less frequently than younger home buyers and the trend continues. And the market dynamics have shifted because there are more people in the older age groups than in past years. People age 55-74 made up 21% in 2015, compared to 16% in 1985.

The retail apocalypse continues unabated. Macy’s, Kohl’s and Dillard’s all reported drops in same store sales in their latest earnings reports Thursday. Same store sales are a key measure of health for retailers that look at how well locations open for at least one year are doing. Stocks for each retailer plunged on the news. It’s yet another sign that the rise of Amazon and resurgence of Walmart have taken a toll on many traditional retailers. All of these old-school retailers are grappling with how to get customers in the door. Many have resorted to big discounts and promotions — and that has hurt their profits.

U.S. crude oil prices dipped by as much as 1% on Friday after an International Energy Agency report showed that major oil producers are struggling to comply with an agreement to slash output. OPEC and other major producers including Russia agreed to reduce output in November, part of an attempt to eliminate a global oil glut and boost prices. But the strength of the agreement now appears to be fading. The IEA, which monitors energy market trends for the world’s richest countries, said that compliance by OPEC countries dropped to a new low of 75% in July. In total, the group produced 470,000 barrels a day more than agreed.

Islamic State

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS), in its three years in control of major cities in Iraq, plundered more than $800 million from Iraqi bank facilities and reserves, according to the country’s Central Bank. In a new report, the Central Bank of Iraq says that extremists linked to ISIS have taken $101 million and 856.5 billion Iraqi dinars ($727.6 million) from banks in the territory it controlled following the creation of its self-styled caliphate in July 2014, a total of almost $830 million. The number is a significant amount but analysts had believed the group to have stolen trillions of Iraqi dinars, so the actual amount appears lower than initially feared.

Iran

Iranian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to increase the country’s budget for its ballistic missile program and foreign operations by the Revolutionary Guards, a direct challenge to new United States sanctions against the Islamic republic. Some lawmakers shouted, “Death to America” after the outlines of the bill “to counter America’s terrorist and adventurist actions” were passed by an overwhelming number of votes in Parliament, state television reported. The increase in the military budget and other measures came in retaliation to legislation passed by Congress and reluctantly signed by President Trump this month to impose new sanctions on Iran over its missile program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to leave the nuclear agreement, which was struck by the United States, Iran and other world powers in 2016. That has led to rising frustration in Iran, where the agreement was hailed by ordinary citizens as a fresh start after years of sanctions. It was also seen as a counterweight to hardliner forces in the country.

Yemen

Quietly, the United States has managed to turn its war on Yemen from a “leading from behind with a lot of technical assistance” program to a “if you want something done right, do it yourself” system, reports the Washington Post. A contingent of U.S. troops is involved in a Yemeni operation to push al-Qaeda militants from one of their key strongholds in central Yemen, the Pentagon said Friday. The announcement comes a day after the United Arab Emirates said in a statement that its forces, along with U.S. troops, were supporting the Yemeni military in the Shabwa governorate in a bid to oust al-Qaeda fighters entrenched there. Since Feb. 28, the United States has conducted roughly 80 airstrikes against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen. While the U.S. continues to stress that it is not at war with the Houthi rebels, it has provided a massive amount of tactical support to the Saudis who are at war with the Houthis.

Somalia

The U.S. military says it conducted two drone strikes Thursday against Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab fighters in southern Somalia. The results of the strikes were still being assessed, a statement from the U.S. Africa Command said. The strikes took place near the Banadiir region of Somalia, an area that includes the capital, Mogadishu. President Trump authorized the military to conduct offensive operations against al-Qaeda’s third largest affiliate, which is seen as the most lethal terrorist group in Africa.

Wildfires

Firefighters struggled to battle numerous wildfires burning in Portugal and the French island of Corsica Sunday after hot and dry weather stoked the blazes. More than 250 fires are burning, prompted officials to reach out to other European Union nations for assistance. Currently, over 4,000 firefighters are trying to corral the flames. Portugal set an annual single-day record for new fires on Saturday, when 268 separate fires started. That surpassed the previous year-to-date high mark of 220 fires reached Friday. On Corsica, fires that have raged since Thursday forced the evacuation of 1,000 people.

A wildfire cut off the return route for dozens of people staying in Montana’s Glacier National Park backcountry chalet, leaving them the choice of remaining until rangers tell them it’s safe or hiking out along a longer and more difficult trail, park officials said Friday. Park rangers also planned to lead out 39 other hikers who were staying in backcountry campsites near fires that broke out after a passing lightning storm last Thursday.

Firefighters are battling a wildfire that has grown to 1,000 acres in Riverside, California. The wildfire near the University of California prompted an evacuation order. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire broke out near a city street Sunday afternoon and quickly burned uphill into Box Springs Mountains, which includes a reserve managed by the university. Authorities issued evacuation orders for a neighborhood east of the mountain in Moreno Valley. In Central California, a 300-acre wildfire burning near the town of Wawona has forced the closure of a popular trail in Yosemite National Park.

Weather

A record-shattering two-week heat wave in the Pacific Northwest came to an end this past weekend, thanks to an abrupt change in the jet-stream pattern. In the heat-fatigued Interstate 5 corridor of western Washington and western Oregon, 90s will be replaced by 70s in most areas by Sunday. The torrid heat wave has set several notable records for longevity. Salem, Oregon, topped its previous record streak of 90-degree-plus highs of 11 days set in 1967 and 1938. Spokane, Washington, broke its record 90-degree-plus high streak of 14 days that stood since 1894. The first nine days of August were the hottest such period on record in Seattle, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Oregon, and Yakima, Washington.

Homes and vehicles were heavily damaged last Wednesday in WaKeeney, Kansas, a town of about 1,800 located some 200 miles northwest of Wichita, when severe storms dumped huge hail on the area. In one part of the town, 90 percent of the vehicles in a parking lot were damaged by the hail, and nearby homes had roof, window and siding damage In Trego County, hailstones as large as softballs were seen in some areas. The storms also brought wind gusts in excess of 70 mph, toppling a tractor-trailer on Interstate 70.

Heavy monsoon rains have unleashed landslides and floods that have killed at least 160 people and displaced millions of others across northern India, southern Nepal and Bangladesh. The seasonal floodwaters damaged bridges, toppled power lines and washed away thousands of homes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. People have been killed by drowning or being caught inside collapsing houses or beneath falling trees. In neighboring Nepal, police were searching for 85 people reported missing after rivers burst their banks and killed at least 75. Another 20 people died over the last few days in Bangladesh. About 700 people became stranded in Nepal Sunday after heavy rainfall triggered flooding and landslides.

At least 200 people are dead after heavy rains and flash flooding led to landslides in the west African nation of Sierra Leone on Monday. A hillside in the Regent area collapsed early on Monday following heavy rains leaving many houses completely covered in mud, the BBC reports. Many people had been caught asleep when the mudslide occurred. Relatives were frantically digging through the mud in search of their loved ones and a morgue in the nearby national capital of Freetown overflowed with bodies.

 

Signs of the Times (8/9/17)

August 10, 2017

U.N. Security Council Imposes Strong Sanctions Against North Korea

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday imposed sharply increased economic sanctions on North Korea worth one-third of North Korea’s annual $3 billion exports in an effort to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile program. China, which holds enormous financial leverage against North Korea, joined the other members of the council in the 15-0 vote. Nikki Haley, ambassador to the U.N. for the United States, which drafted the resolution, said the vote “put the North Korean dictator on notice” and represented a “strong, united step holding North Korea accountable for its behavior.” The sanctions, which target North Korea’s foreign currency earnings, ban its exports of coal, coal ore, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. It also prohibits countries from increasing the number of North Koreans working abroad and bans new joint ventures with the North as well as any new investment in current joint ventures.

North Korea Vows Revenge & Guam Strike

North Korea vowed Monday to strike the U.S. with “thousands-fold” revenge due to the new sanctions. On Wednesday, North Korea threatened to strike Guam with a missle. The remote island paradise of Guam — a 210-square-mile blot of land in the Pacific — is an unlikely place for a ballistic missile crisis. But the island, considered a vacationer’s dream with crystal-clear waters, fabulous sunsets, white beaches, and near-perfect temperatures, has long been an important strategic U.S. military outpost. And that’s likely why North Korea, located roughly 2,100 miles away to the northwest, has selected it as the focal point of a high-stakes war of words with the United States. North Korea’s military said Wednesday that it is considering operational measures to strike near the U.S. strategic military installations in Guam with its intermediate range ballistic missiles, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is threatening “fire and fury” on North Korea. The President has the authority as Commander-in-Chief to defend the country from threats, and the Executive Branch has used that authority in the past for a range of military actions.

U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Potent but Aging

The U.S. nuclear arsenal of 6,800 warheads is very strong, but aging. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on Wednesday, said, “While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth,” Mattis said in a statement. “The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates. The Congressional Budget Office in February put the price tag of nuclear modernization at $400 billion from now until 2026. The so-called nuclear triad consists of aircraft, missiles and submarines capable delivering nuclear weapons. It underpins U.S. strategy, deterring adversaries from attacking because they would be assured of obliteration. The CBO noted that the Pentagon has not built new nuclear systems since the end of the Cold War, and that the weapons and means to deliver them are nearing the end of their expected life spans. Almost all of them will have to be refurbished or replaced over the next 20 years.

Letting Illegal Immigrants Stay Costs Six Times Deportation

Critics often say it would be far too expensive for the United States to deport all illegal immigrants. But the cost of letting them stay in the country would be much, much higher, according to a new analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies. In fact, it would cost roughly six times as much to allow all current illegal immigrants to live in the U.S. for life than it would to deport them all, the study found. CIS used data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which reported the average cost of a deportation was $10,854 in fiscal year 2016. This figure includes the cost of apprehension, detention and processing. Meanwhile, the average lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) for each illegal immigrant is $65,292. This figure was based on fiscal estimates of immigrants by education level from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Deportation Orders Up 31 Percent under President Trump

Deportation orders have jumped 31 percent this year compared to last year, according to numbers released by the Justice Department. The numbers, released Tuesday, are an indication President Trump is carrying out his pledge to get tough on illegal immigrants. From February 1 to the end of July, there were 57,069 illegal immigrants who were either deported or left voluntarily. That’s a 31 percent increase from the same time period last year, when there were 43,595 deportations or self-deportations. At the same time, those allowed to stay in the U.S. declined by 21 percent. The Justice Department also touted that under Trump, the notoriously backlogged immigration court system has improved.

Trump Endorses Merit-Based System to Cut Legal Immigration by Half

President Trump threw his support Wednesday behind a Senate bill that would cut legal immigration in half and impose a merit-based system, giving preference to English-speaking immigrants who demonstrate job skills and curtailing the traditional pipeline that rewarded extended family ties. Meeting at the White House with Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the bill’s sponsors, the president said the legislation would be the biggest change to immigration policy in 50 years. His aides signaled that they expect it to be a major part of the national debate heading into midterm elections next year. Democrats vowed to resist the changes, and immigrant rights groups said Mr. Trump was catering to “white nationalists” with the proposal, which would slash legal immigration over the next decade from about 1.1 million green cards a year to 500,000.

LA County Admits Registered Voters 144% of Resident Citizens of Voting Age

The Election Integrity Project California provides a list of 11 California counties that have more registered voters than voting-age citizens, reports Judicial Watch. In addition, Los Angeles County officials informed the project that the number of registered voters now stands at a number that is a whopping 144% of the total number of resident citizens of voting age. The Election Integrity Project California, Inc. has joined Judicial Watch, Inc., a non-partisan organization in Washington, D.C., in sending a National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) Section 8 notice of violation letter to California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.

Federal Court Forces Pregnancy Center to Pay for Abortions

In a major defeat for pro-life organizations, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court ruled that a secular pregnancy center must be forced to comply with the Obamacare mandate that forces organizations to pay for drugs that cause abortions. The Supreme Court decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases held that a religious oriented company or organization does not have to comply with the Obamacare mandate and be forced to pay for abortion-causing drugs in their employee health care plans. However, those decisions were limited in scope and did not apply to every kind of pro-life organization or company. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that pro-life organizations that are secular in nature are not entitled to the religious exemption from the mandate even though their consciences compel them to oppose abortion and being forced to pay for abortions.

California Pregnancy Centers Forced to Offer Abortion

Liberty Counsel reports that three California faith-based Crisis Pregnancy Centers are being forced by a new state law to advertise an offer of “immediate free or low-cost… abortion” to their clients. This malicious law, accurately nicknamed the “Bully Bill,” forces them to share a message profoundly at odds with their religious beliefs. The intention of this California law is clearly to promote abortion. But these organizations believe that unborn children are human beings who are sensitive to pain, and deserve life and the opportunity to pursue happiness. “It is an egregious and dangerous overreach of government to demand someone promote the opposite of what they believe. Essentially, the state of California is obligating our clients to participate in the murder of innocents, which should shake every freedom-loving American to the core,” states Liberty Counsel, which is representing these pregnancy centers at no cost. You can contribute to this cause here.

Suicidal Military Members Not Getting Needed Help

Pentagon health care providers failed to perform critical follow-up for many troops diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome who also were at high risk for suicide, according to a new study released Monday by the RAND Corp. Just 30% of troops with depression and 54% with PTSD received appropriate care after they were deemed at risk of harming themselves. The report, commissioned by the Pentagon, looked at the cases of 39,000 troops who had been diagnosed in 2013 with depression, PTSD or both conditions. From 2001 to 2014, about 2.6 million troops have deployed to combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Estimates on how many have been affected by post-traumatic stress vary widely — from 4% to 20%, according to the report. The rate of suicide doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to the Pentagon. It has stabilized but has not diminished. There has been some improvement in mental health care for troops with depression, but more is needed.

Marijuana Use Increases Blood Pressure Death Risk Three-Fold

People who smoke marijuana have a three times greater risk of dying from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug, scientists said on Wednesday. The risk grows with every year of use, says the report from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University in the U.S. The results showed marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of death from hypertension than non-users, and a 1.04 greater risk for each year of use. The findings, from a study of some 1,200 people, could have implications in the United States among other countries. Several states have legalized marijuana and others are moving toward it. It is decriminalized in a number of other countries.

Economic News

The Freedom Foundation sued Seattle Wednesday over its controversial new income tax on the rich, which critics call “an assault” on the law that sets a dangerous precedent.  The tax, passed by the Seattle City Council last month, targets high-income earners as part of what local lawmakers describe as “a new formula for fairness.” The tax measure requires residents to pay a 2.25 percent additional Its passage prompted a court challenge from the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that considers the tax a slippery slope that could open the door to more taxes in the future.tax if they are a single filer and make more than $250,000 annually or file jointly and make more than $500,000. New York City is also considering a “millionaire’s tax” to pay for upgrades to their crumbling subway system.

The U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs last month, continuing a steady pace of job growth this year. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.3 percent, compared with 4.4 percent in June, and wages rose by 2.5 percent from the year before. Average monthly jobs gains this year, which are now at 184,000, are basically in line with the average monthly gains of 187,000 in 2016. After accounting for shifts in population, the level of employment has returned to what it was at in November 2007, before the recession decimated the job market.

The U.S. dollar on Wednesday hit its lowest level against the euro in more than 2-1/2 years on uncertainty over the path of interest rate hikes for the Federal Reserve this year and expectations for European Central Bank hawkishness, Reuters reported. Tepid U.S. inflation along with political turmoil in Washington has lessened the possibility of another Federal Reserve rate hike this year. Improving data in other major economies has also served to push the greenback down nearly 11 percent from January highs, conversely benefiting commodities and emerging markets. President Donald Trump is continuing to proclaim his dislike of a strong dollar, breaking with the traditional practice of presidents not commenting on the American currency. “I like a dollar that’s not too strong,” he said, according to a Wall Street Journal interview transcript.

Toyota and Mazda have announced plans to build a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in the United States that will create as many as 4,000 jobs. The Japanese automakers said in a statement Friday that the facility would be operational by 2021, but did not specify where it would be built. Mazda plans to build new crossover vehicles for the U.S. market at the plant, while Toyota will produce its Corolla model there. The move is likely to be seen as a win for President Trump, who attacked Toyota earlier this year over its plans to build a new factory in Guanajuato, Mexico. He threatened to slap a “big border tax” on Toyota cars if the plant isn’t built in the U.S.

Terrorism Update

The suspected driver who rammed a vehicle into a crowd of soldiers, injuring six of them, in a Paris suburb was arrested Wednesday after he was wounded during a brief standoff with policeThe condition of the man, who was not immediately identified, is unknown at this time. He was arrested hours after a driver rammed a car into a crowd of soldiers, leaving at least three of the six with serious injuries — though they are believed to be non-life threatening.

Twin terror plots, one involving the bombing of a passenger plane and the other a potential poison gas attack, have been described by police as the “most sophisticated” ever attempted on Australian soil. A senior ISIS commander sent parts — including weapons-grade explosives — by air cargo from Turkey with the express aim of constructing an improvised explosive device. The other scheme involved a plan to release a toxic gas in public.

In a weekend attack in Minneapolis, an explosive shattered windows and damaged a room of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in suburban Minneapolis as worshippers prepared for morning prayers. No one was hurt in the blast, which happened around 5 a.m. Saturday. Windows of the imam’s office were shattered, either by the blast or by an object thrown through them. “This is an act of terrorism. This is against the law in America,” Gov. Mark Dayton said at a news conference afterward.

Middle East

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) pounded Gaza overnight Wednesday in response to a rocket attack aimed at the southern city of Ashkelon. The rocket from Gaza landed in an open area in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. There were no injuries. No group has yet claimed responsibility. However, Israel holds Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible for any missiles of other attacks emanating from the Strip. Reports indicate there were at least three injuries caused by the IAF strike, in which recently acquired F-35 stealth fighter jets were reportedly used, according to the Jerusalem Post.

North Korea

Hyeon-soo Lim, the Korean Canadian church leader sentenced to life in prison with hard labor, was freed, Aug. 9, “on sick bail,” says a North Korean state news agency. Convicted in Dec. 2015 by the country’s Supreme Court of numerous charges, including an attempt to overthrow the government, he had been detained in North Korea since February 2015. His release comes weeks after 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier died at home, a week after he had been belatedly freed after his 15-month detention for stealing a small flag from his Pyongyang hotel. This still leaves three Korean-Americans detained in North Korea, two of whom taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Another was involved with work in orphanages.

Afghanistan

As the United States winds down the Afghan war — the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides — regional adversaries are muscling in, reports the New York Times. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain the dominant players. But Iran is also making a bold gambit to shape Afghanistan in its favor. Over the past decade and a half, the United States has taken out Iran’s chief enemies on two of its borders, the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iran has used that to its advantage, working quietly and relentlessly to spread its influence. “In Iraq, it has exploited a chaotic civil war and the American withdrawal to create a virtual satellite state. In Afghanistan, Iran aims to make sure that foreign forces leave eventually, and that any government that prevails will at least not threaten its interests, and at best be friendly or aligned with them.”

Two U.S. service members were wounded Thursday night in a suicide attack that left one Georgian soldier dead and three Georgians and an Afghan interpreter wounded in Qarabagh District, in Kabul Province. In addition, two Afghan civilians were killed and seven were wounded in the attack. It was the second deadly attack last week against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. On Wednesday an attack in Kandahar killed two U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. Four other U.S. Army soldiers were wounded in the same blast.

Yemen

Peter Mauer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) returned from a trip across war-torn Yemen last month, telling Fox News he is “profoundly concerned for the plight of its people.” “This outbreak is manmade. It is a direct consequence of more than two years of warfare. People are dying from easily treatable chronic diseases,” he said. “Key services like garbage disposal have ceased to function.” Maurer also stressed that thousands of people have been detained by parties to the conflict, languishing in prison unable to contact their loved ones. “The suffering of its people only grows in intensity. I’ve met families forced to make impossible choices about whether to buy bread, water or medicine for their children.”

Venezuela

Venezuela remained a powder keg on Sunday as authorities said they had quelled an anti-government paramilitary attack at a military base that led to the deaths of two people. Sunday’s incident came amid daily anxiety in the South American nation, where the economic hardship and bloody political turmoil that had roiled the country for months came to a head last week when the Constituent Assembly was voted into office, taking the place of the opposition-led National Assembly. Authorities said the early-morning rebellion, which took place at a military base in Valencia, about 95 miles west of Caracas, was swiftly contained. The Trump administration recently hit Venezuela with sanctions and threatened more if Maduro goes through with rewriting the constitution.

Venezuela’s newly elected constitutional assembly convened Friday. Critics say it will be used by President Nicolas Maduro to impose authoritarian rule. Maduro, who faces a worsening economic crisis despite Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves (largest in the world), sought the new assembly as a friendly body that would bypass the opposition-controlled Congress and rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. The Assembly held its first session Saturday. In its first order of business, the assembly unanimously fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz. Her removal from office happened after she said she would open an investigation into fraud allegations surrounding last Sunday’s election. But Ortega, speaking Sunday at Caracas’ Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, sloughed off the exercise. “I will continue being the attorney general of this country,” she told reporters.

Earthquakes

A powerful 6.5 magnitude earthquake killed at least 19 people and injured 247 in central China. The tremor struck one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions – a national park in a mountainous region. Crews continued to dig through rubble with their hands and detectors to search for remaining survivors, but the task was made more difficult by power outages and phone networks knocked offline by the Tuesday night quake. Many of the deaths and injuries were in Zhangzha township, not far from Jiuzhai Valley National Park, known for towering waterfalls and karst formations attractive to both visitors from China and elsewhere. President Xi Jinping called for rapid efforts to respond to the disaster, which struck a quake-prone region bordered by Sichuan and Gansu provinces. The area is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Wildfires

Just two weeks ago, the Mount Jefferson area was expected to be among Oregon’s most popular places to view the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.  But with the Whitewater Fire continuing to expand, U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday closed a large swath of land surrounding Oregon’s second tallest mountain through eclipse day. The closure includes almost 185 square miles of roads, trails and mountains in and around the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Tens of thousands of backpackers were expected to visit the Jefferson and Detroit Lake areas because they are smack in the middle of the eclipse’s path of totality. The Whitewater Fire was at almost 9 square miles Tuesday and is expected to continue growing, perhaps to the north or southwest, officials said. None of it has been contained.

Weather

Tropical Storm Franklin gained strength Wednesday to become a Category 1 hurricane — with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The first Atlantic hurricane of the season, Franklin is expected to make landfall Wednesday night in the Mexican state of Veracruz, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was in the Bay of Campeche, in the far southern Gulf of Mexico, when it was classified as a hurricane Wednesday afternoon. Earlier, when it was still a tropical storm, Franklin made landfall on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The storm battered Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula with heavy rain and strong winds.

Parts of New Orleans saw widespread flooding over the weekend after heavy rainfall overwhelmed the city’s pump stations. City officials said Sunday that some neighborhoods saw between 8 and 10 inches of rain over a few hours Saturday. With more heavy rain predicted for Monday afternoon, the city’s pumping capacity could be overwhelmed again.

A relentless heat wave that has been dubbed “Lucifer” has gripped parts of Europe this week, killing at least 2 people in Romania. Temperatures soared to record highs for several days. Unprecedented heat in parts of France, Italy, Spain and the Balkans has sparked dozens of wildfires and damaged crops. Authorities issued traffic restrictions in some areas and banned outdoor work during the hottest part of the day as temperatures soared to over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Red alerts, which are issued when conditions are considered “very dangerous,” were issued for parts of Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Poland. Orange alerts were issued for Spain, southern France, Greece and much of the Mediterranean.

Rescuers in Vietnam have recovered 16 more bodies over the past three days, bringing the death toll from floods in four northern provinces to 23. According to the Central Natural Disasters Committee Sunday, floods have destroyed 228 houses, damaged roads, crops and irrigation system. Nearly 5,000 soldiers, police and residents have been mobilized to search for the missing. Vietnam is prone to floods and storms, which kill hundreds of people each year.

Signs of the Times (8/2/17)

August 3, 2017

Transgenders Suicide Attempts Approach 50%, Called Unfit for Military

Suicide attempts among transgenders from 18-24 years-of-age is 45%, according to a joint report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute. Some military officials believe these statistics make them unfit for military service. With suicide rates already increasing in U.S. military ranks, banning transgenders from the military would actually save many lives, they believe. Regardless, the gay rights movement and liberal media erupted in protest of the President Trump’s proposed ban on transgenders in the military, and some activists are counting on Pentagon leaders to buck their commander-in-chief and keep the status quo.

However, more than a dozen retired generals and admirals have signed a letter to President Trump thanking him for his announced policy to ban transgender people from the armed forces. “We write today to express our gratitude to you for making the extremely courageous decision to reverse President Obama’s transgender social experiment,” the conservative retired flag officers wrote. “There may be an enormous amount of vitriol directed at you for making this policy correction, but please know that overturning this policy may have done more in the long-term to save the culture and war-fighting capacity of the U.S. military than perhaps any other military policy you will adopt as president.”

A decision on whether to allow transgender recruits is pending after Defense Secretary Mattis pushed a July 1 deadline to the end of the year. He ordered the services to study the current effect of transgender troops on readiness. The ban could save American taxpayers nearly $2 billion according to a July report produced by the conservative D.C. think tank Family Research Council. Only 12 percent of military members support transgenders serving, according to the Military Times.

Princeton Asks Students to Pick from Six ‘Genders’

Princeton University is giving its students the option of picking a gender or several genders. The Ivy League’s student services interface, known as TigerHub, allows — but does not require — students to select one or more of the following: “Cisgender,” “Genderqueer/gender non-conform[ing],” “Trans/transgender,” “Man,” “Woman,” and “Other”. “Students use TigerHub to provide the University with personal information on a confidential basis,” a university spokesman told Fox News.  “This information includes emergency contacts, their preferred name, and, if they wish, the gender with which they identify.” Princeton students can presumably choose to be both male and female. “You may select multiple gender identities,” the form reads. “Your gender identity is confidential and is not generally available.” Princeton is not alone. More than 50 colleges or universities allow students to choose their genders without documentation of medical intervention, the Washington Post said. Some schools, such as the University of Michigan, offer students the option of creating their own designated pronouns. In response to that option — and as a protest against it — one undergraduate chose “His Majesty.” Reportedly, some of His Majesty’s professors now address this student with this self-proclaimed title

  • The lunatics have taken over the asylum

President Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Bill, Calls it “Seriously Flawed”

President Trump on Wednesday signed a bill that imposes new sanctions on Russia, ending immediate hopes that he might be able to reset U.S. relations with the Kremlin as Congress overruled his opposition to the provisions’ curb on his executive power. Trump’s reluctant signing of the legislation came nearly a week after it was approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the Senate and after a similarly large majority in the House. The president issued two statements outlining his concerns with the bill, which he called “seriously flawed,” primarily because it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval. “By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.

Senate Rejects Measure to Partly Repeal Affordable Care Act

Senate Republicans suffered a dramatic failure early Friday in their bid to advance a scaled-back plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, throwing into question whether they can actually repeal the 2010 health law. Their latest effort to redraw the ACA failed after Sen. John McCain’s decision to side with two other Republicans against President Trump and GOP leaders. The Arizona Republican, diagnosed with brain cancer last week, returned to Washington on Tuesday and delivered a stirring address calling for a bipartisan approach to overhauling the ACA, while criticizing the process that produced the current legislation. The vote was 49 to 51 — all 48 members of the Democratic caucus joined with McCain and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to approve the new, narrower rewrite of the health law at some point Friday, after facing dozens of amendments from Democrats. But the GOP defections left McConnell without a clear path forward.

North Korean Missiles Can Now Reach U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lashed out at Russia and China early Saturday, following North Korea’s second test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – and reports that Kim Jong Un’s regime was now capable of striking cities on the U.S. mainland. Kim expressed “great satisfaction” following the ICBM test. The missile traveled 620 miles until landing in waters near Japan. Analysts now believe Pyongyang’s weapons can hit U.S. cities such as Los Angeles or Chicago. Tillerson labeled Russian and China as the “principal economic enablers” of North Korea’s weapons programs, and called on them to ramp up efforts to curb the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang. “All nations should take a strong public stance against North Korea by maintaining and strengthening U.N. sanctions to ensure North Korea will face consequences for its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them,” Tillerson said. The U.S. military on Sunday conducted a successful test of its THAAD anti-ballistic missile system, two days after North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he and President Donald Trump agreed to take further action against North Korea following its latest missile launch. National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster on Saturday agreed to a request from his counterpart in South Korea to start negotiations allowing South Korea to build up its missile capabilities to help counteract North Korea’s growing missile tests and technology, the office of South Korea President Moon Jae-in reports.

Trump Ousts Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump drove out his chief of staff on Friday, replacing Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in an explosive move that ends a turbulent six-month tenure. The announcement came a day after his feud with Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House. With his agenda stalled, President Trump became convinced that Reince Priebus was a “weak” leader and had been lobbied intensely by rival advisers to remove the establishment-aligned Republican, who has long had friction with Trump loyalists, according to White House officials. Priebus this week became President Donald Trump’s sixth senior-level official to leave the administration in the last six months.

“I’m always going to be a Trump fan,” Priebus said afterwards. “I’m on Team Trump and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.” Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general who grew up in Boston, was tapped as the new White House chief of staff on Friday in a stunning announcement by President Trump. Kelly, an Irish Catholic, had a brief stint as secretary of Homeland Security. Before he headed DHS, he had recently ended a long and distinguished career in the military. His last post was as head of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Latin America and the Caribbean. Kelly’s first order of business was to fire the embattled Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director because he “lacked discipline.”

With Fifth Judge Confirmed, Trump Outpaces Obama and Bush

President Trump may be facing a roadblock on the rest of his nominees — but he’s outpacing his predecessors when it comes to getting federal judges confirmed, with his fifth court pick approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Alabama lawyer Kevin Christopher Newsom was confirmed to a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 66-31 vote, with 16 Democrats joining the GOP. He’s the third circuit judge approved so far, and combined with one district judge and Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, puts the president and the GOP-led Senate well ahead of past Presidential judicial appointments. By comparison, President Obama had zero judges confirmed in his first six months and it took him until November of 2009 to get three circuit court nominees cleared through the Senate. President George W. Bush had one circuit judge and two district judges confirmed by August of his first term.

Professional Hackers Breached Dozens of Voting Machines Within Minutes

Professional hackers were invited to break into dozens of voting machines and election software at this year’s annual DEFCON cybersecurity conference. They successfully hacked every single one of the 30 machines acquired by the conference, Politico reported. Carten Schurman, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, was able to break into one voting machine in just a few minutes. With access to the voting machine, Schurman had the the power not only to see all the votes cast on the machine, but also to manipulate the results. DEFCON’s hacking exercise came as the U.S. grapples with the fallout from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which included attempts to tamper with voting systems. Bloomberg reported in June that election systems in as many as 39 states could have been attacked by Russian state actors, though voting tallies are not believed to have been altered or manipulated in any way.

First Human Embryo Editing in U.S. Fixes Gene for Heart Condition

Scientists have successfully edited the DNA of human embryos to erase a heritable heart condition that is known for causing sudden death in young competitive athletes, cracking open the doors to a controversial new era in medicine. This is the first time gene editing on human embryos has been conducted in the United States. The embryos were allowed to grow for only a few days, and there was never any intention to implant them to create a pregnancy. But they also acknowledged that they will continue to move forward with the science, with the ultimate goal of being able to “correct” disease-causing genes in embryos that will develop into babies. The experiment is the latest example of how the laboratory tool known as CRISPR (or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a type of “molecular scissors.” It is pushing the boundaries of our ability to manipulate life, and has been received with both excitement and horror. The most recent work is particularly sensitive because it involves changes to the germ line — that is, genes that could be passed on to future generations.

Researchers Shut Down AI that Invented its Own Language

An artificial intelligence (AI) system being developed at Facebook has created its own language. It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English, reports the Digital Journal. The observations made at Facebook are the latest in a long line of similar cases. In each instance, an AI being monitored by humans has diverged from its training in English to develop its own language. Facebook’s researchers recently noticed its new AI had given up on English. The advanced system is capable of negotiating with other AI agents so it can come to conclusions on how to proceed. The agents began to communicate using phrases that were unintelligible to the researchers. The AI apparently realized that the rich expression of English phrases wasn’t required for it to communicate with other AIs.

Economic News

Oil rose above $50 a barrel early Monday before retreating a bit. While the milestone was brief, it marked the first time since May 25 that oil traded above $50. The development came after crude spiked nearly 9% last week, its biggest weekly rally in nearly a year. Just five weeks ago crude plunged into a bear market, sinking to as low as $42.05 a barrel. It’s now up almost 16% since then. Most of the rebound has been driven by easing fears about the supply glut, but in recent days, oil bulls have also seized on the deepening chaos in Venezuela. Anything that knocks out more oil production in Venezuela, which has the most oil reserves in the world, could lift crude prices.

The Dow climbed above the 22,000 mark for the first time on Wednesday, buoyed by Apple’s healthy quarterly iPhone sales. Apple jumped 4.73 percent to a record high after the world’s largest publicly listed company reported strong results. It is up 36 percent this year. The iPhone maker’s rise helped push the Dow to a record closing high, although tech heavyweights Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet all lost ground following recent strong gains that have made the sector the strongest performer in 2017.

In July, the Dow rose nearly 550 points, or 2.6%, finishing at record highs in four straight sessions. Stocks overall have gotten a lift from strong earnings across Corporate America. Also helping: rebounds in U.S. job growth and second-quarter economic expansion after a sluggish start to the year. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index are collectively on track for profit growth of 10.8%, putting the index on pace for its first back-to-back quarters of 10%-plus earnings growth in six years.

Persecution Watch

A Christian bridal shop in Pennsylvania has closed after feeling threatened by the LGBT community because they declined to provide a wedding dress for a lesbian wedding. The Christian Post reports that the owners of W. W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg refused to provide a wedding dress for Julie Ann Samanas who was marrying her fiance, Shannon Kennedy. The lesbian couple posted about their experience at the bridal shop in a Facebook post in which they tagged the bridal shop. The bridal shop owners received death threats. They have decided to close their doors to further business except in cases of appointments. “We simply ask that we be given the ability to live our lives according to our convictions,” the owners said.

Terrorism Update

A 26-year-old Middle Eastern man wielding a machete killed a man and wounded six other shoppers in a crowded supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, Friday. The jihadist was reported by multiple witnesses to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” before running into the Edeka shop where he stabbed one person and slashed half a dozen others, then tried to run away. But two men who were walking by the store chased after him and wrestled him to the ground, then called the police, who later arrested him.

Australian airports have increased security after police arrested four men on Sunday in connection with a plot to bring down an airplane. Authorities with the counter terrorism force said the plot was “Islamist-inspired,” and because of the sophistication of the plan, it’s believed they may have had help from outside the country. Police raided five homes in the suburbs of Sydney. Dozens of officers in gas masks participated in the raids, and inside at least one home they found likely bomb-making material. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a kitchen mincer was among the items taken by police, and they believe the men intended to smuggle it onto a plane to use as an improvised explosive device.

Middle East

More than 1,000 Jews braved a searing heat wave Tuesday morning to visit the Temple Mount on Tisha b’Av, the saddest date on the Hebrew calendar, while thousands more sat on the floor – a traditional Jewish sign of mourning – at the Western Wall Plaza to commemorate the destruction of ancient Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in the year 70 AD. Four people were arrested when a fight broke out adjacent to the Chain Gate between three Jews and an Arab man as the group left the Mount. Throughout the morning, hundreds of people stood in line adjacent to the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims, to visit the site. There are 11 entrances for Muslims only.

Israel banned Muslim men under the age of 50 from the Temple Mount last Friday on a day that usually draws tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers for Friday prayers. Israeli Police said the ban was introduced after some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the holy site — which is known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews — overnight so they could join protests later. Rosenfeld said the would-be protesters were removed. Clashes erupted Thursday between police and Muslim worshipers shortly after the site in the Old City reopened following an 11-day prayer boycott over metal detectors and other security measures Israel installed at the site, which is administered by Jordan. Israel placed the metal detectors at the entry gates to the Esplanade of the Mosques last week after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli police guards near the shrine on July 14. The detectors sparked mass prayer protests by Muslims outside the Old City and protests by Palestinians elsewhere.

Various polls indicate that 60 to 78 percent of Arabs in East Jerusalem share the same opinion – they prefer to live under an Israeli government. Under Israeli governance the adult illiteracy rate had plummeted to 14 percent. More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, and many more worked in the 2,000 industrial plants that Israel built in the West Bank. Mortality rates fell significantly and life expectancy rose from 48 to 72 years by 2000. Childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated. Since 1995 the Palestinian people have been ruled by the Palestinian Authority government. Whereas Israel had spent millions of dollars dramatically improving public services like electricity, water, roads, universities, and clinics, Palestinian leaders are lining their own pockets with donations from many nations designated to help the Palestinian people. When Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he was worth some $1 billion. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be worth around $100 million, reports IsraelAnswers.com

Russia

Russia seized two American diplomatic properties Friday and ordered the United States Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, the government’s first retaliatory steps against new American sanctions. The move, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a law expanding economic sanctions against Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. The law, mirroring one passed by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, now goes to President Trump for his signature. The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff throughout Russia to 755 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.

Five Russians accused of being hackers have been arrested in a series of American-led raids over the last nine months – all of them grabbed while on vacation across Europe. The arrests come at a moment when relations between Moscow and Washington are tense — at best — and where politicians are grappling with the allegations that Kremlin hackers intervened in the U.S. election in an effort to help President Trump. According to Axios, the arrests also come as Russian security services struck a deal with the country’s cybercriminals that allow them to work as long as they also conduct state-ordered missions.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office over accusations of corruption, delivering a historic ruling that is likely to shift the country’s tumultuous political balance and deal a serious blow to the legacy of a man who helped define the past generation of Pakistani politics. The removal of Mr. Sharif, who was serving his third term in office, comes roughly a year before his term was to end. The verdict means the governing political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, must choose an interim prime minister to replace Mr. Sharif until the next general election, which is scheduled for mid-2018.

Afghanistan

A Shiite mosque in western Afghanistan was stormed during evening prayers Tuesday, torn asunder by grenades and a suicide bomber’s detonated vest, law enforcement officials say. By the time the scene had settled at the place of worship, at least 29 people were killed and dozens more were injured. And local officials say the death toll could still rise. ‘Two attackers entered the mosque and started shooting and throwing grenades at people,’ worshipper Mohammad Adi, who was hospitalized for his wounds after the assault, tells Reuters.

A suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday, causing casualties, the U.S. military said. A military spokesman, would not say how many casualties there were, or provide their nationalities. The NATO mission, known as Resolute Support, “can confirm that a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack did cause casualties,” he said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Somalia

A car bomb blast near a police station in Somalia’s capital has killed at least five people and wounded at least 13 others. The explosion near Waberi police station along the busy Maka Almukarramah road may have been caused by a suicide bomber, police say. Most of the victims were civilians. The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab often carries out similar, deadly bombings in Mogadishu.

Venezuela

The U.S. slammed the elections in Venezuela on whether to grant the country’s ruling party unlimited power Sunday, vowing “strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism.” Venezuelan electoral authorities said on Sunday that more than 8 million people voted to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling socialist party with virtually unlimited powers. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million. Venezuela has an estimated 2.6 million government employees, “suggesting that a large fraction of the votes could have not been voluntary.” U.S. State Department released a statement calling it a flawed election. “The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy,” the State Department said in a statement. The Treasury Department on Monday slapped sanctions on President Maduro, sending a clear signal of the Trump administration’s opposition to his regime.

Wildfires

Montana has become the state most ablaze due to their lingering drought. Five major, Incident 1 (the highest classification) are currently burning across Montana. Over 81% of Montana is officially in drought, with 38% in severe to extreme drought. In total, 15 large (more than 100 acres) wildfires have scorched over 332,000 acres and destroyed 41 structures. Overall in the U.S. there have been fewer wildfires (39,000) to date than the 10-year average of 41,881. However, these fires have burned 5.5 million acres of land, up 45% over the 10-year average of 3.8 million acres.

Weather

A scientific study released Monday said that the Earth’s atmosphere will warm by at least another 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) — regardless of what we do in the future to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The study shows a mere 1% chance that warming could be at or below 1.5 Celsius, which was the target set by the landmark 2016 Paris Agreement. “Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen,” said study lead author Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington. The Paris Agreement of 2016 was signed by 195 countries including the United States to keep global temperature rise less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact earlier this year. A second study, which used different methodology to reach its conclusion, focused on how much warming is already baked in. It said that even if humans could instantly turn off all emissions of greenhouse gases — which will of course not happen — Earth would continue to heat up about 1.3 degrees C by 2100. The second study was also published in Nature Climate Change and was led by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado.

  • Global warming and extreme weather are prophesied in the Bible for the latter days (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

A blistering heat wave will sear the West Coast this week, threatening some all-time record highs in parts of Oregon and Washington, pushing Seattle toward a rare triple-digit high. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued excessive heat warnings and heat advisories from parts of western and southern Washington to interior portions of southwest California and western Nevada. The peak of the heat wave will likely be Wednesday and Thursday, with highs in the 100s commonplace from California’s Central Valley and western Nevada into Oregon and much of Washington’s lower elevations away from the immediate Pacific coast. Some of the hottest interior locations may even flirt with 110-degree highs.

Heavy rain triggered flooding in several states across the South and mid-Atlantic on Saturday. Water rescues were reported, creeks overflowed onto streets, and some roads were closed. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for parts of northern West Virginia, including Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties. The governor’s office said emergency officials are evacuating some areas and the West Virginia National Guard has been mobilized to help. Ohio County authorities recovered a body that washed up on the Ohio River. In Pennsylvania, the area south of Pittsburgh saw a lot of flood-related activity Friday evening into Saturday morning, with trees and wires down and cars floating in some places along numerous Allegheny County roadways.