Signs of the Times (9/28/16)

September 28, 2016

FBI Director Warns of Upcoming Massive “Terrorist Diaspora”

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that even though he is convinced that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will be destroyed soon, that will not be the end of it. Comey, in testimony before Congress, said the U.S. remains extremely concerned that violent extremists will eventually flow out of Syria and Iraq and into other countries in hopes of committing terrorist attacks. “There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen before,” Comey said. Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that in addition to ISIS militants, U.S. government officials are concerned about the capabilities and ambitions of al-Qaida and its affiliates. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said terrorist threats have evolved, moving from terrorist-directed attacks “to a world that also includes the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks” in which individuals who live in the U.S. are “self-radicalized” to attack their own country. Johnson says that by their nature, terrorist-inspired attacks and terrorist-enabled attacks are difficult to detect by intelligence and law enforcement communities, and can occur with little or no notice.

Transcripts Show ISIS Influence On Orlando Gunman

The Wall Street Journal reports that Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter, told a hostage negotiator that he was angry about the death of a top Islamic State operative, according to recently released transcripts of their phone conversations during Mateen’s massacre earlier this year. The new details of the conversations, released by Orlando Police last week, show Mateen had more than a passing interest in Islamic State, counterterrorism experts said.  He specifically singled out the death of Abu Wahib, one of the more visible leaders of the terror group, as one of the main motivations for his attack. Abu Wahib was killed in an airstrike in Iraq just weeks before Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in June in an attack that killed 49 people and wounded 53. Mateen died in a shootout with police.

Homeland Security Says They’re Unable to Fully Vet Refugees

Refugee fraud is “easy to commit” and much tougher to detect, Homeland Security officials acknowledged in an internal memo made public by members of Congress. The U.S. has relaxed requirements for refugees to prove they are who they say they are, and at times may rely solely on testimony. That makes it easier for bogus applicants to conspire to get approved, according to the department memo, which was obtained by the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. “Refugee fraud is easy to commit, yet not easy to investigate,” the undated memo says. The memo says that there have been clear instances where “bad actors … have exploited this program,” gaining a foothold in the U.S. through bogus refugee claims.

Children from Central America Flood U.S. Border Again

The number of Central American children fleeing to United States is booming once again, as security and economic troubles continue to grip El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The rush of minors across the southwest border became a political firestorm in the summer of 2014, prompting the Obama administration to enact emergency measures to stem the flow. Last year, the efforts seemed to work as the number of unaccompanied minors from those three countries entering the U.S. dropped from nearly 70,000 in 2014 to 39,970. Now the exodus to the USA is back on the rise. In the first 11 months of the 2016 fiscal year, which ends in September, 54,052 children made the journey. In El Salvador, people are fleeing a staggering level of violence that has made the country the murder capital of the world. In Guatemala, pockets of intense violence are driving some to the U.S. But Guatemalan officials said at the United Nations last week that their migrants are leaving mostly for economic reasons and should not be considered refugees.

Senate Overwhelmingly Overrides Obama’s 9/11 Veto

The Senate on Wednesday voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill letting the victims of the 9/11 attacks sue Saudi Arabia, striking a blow to the president on foreign policy. The 97-1 vote marks the first time the Senate has mustered enough votes to overrule Obama’s veto pen. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was the sole vote to sustain Obama’s veto. Not a single Democrat came to the Senate floor before the vote to argue in favor of Obama’s position. Lawmakers don’t want to be seen as soft on punishing terrorist sponsors a few weeks before the election, at a time when voters are increasingly worried about radical Islamic terrorism in the wake of recent attacks in Manhattan, Minnesota and Orlando, Fla., reports MinutemenNews.com.

Charlotte Protesters Disrupt Council Meeting

Protesters overwhelmed an emotionally charged Charlotte City Council meeting Monday night, chanting “No justice, no peace” and demanding the resignations of Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Police Chief Kerr Putney. More than 50 people stepped to the podium, including a few children, to express anger over the fatal police shooting of African American Keith Lamont Scott and the city’s response to days of sometimes angry and violent demonstrations that followed. The packed audience held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and the names of residents killed by police officers. The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance, with many in the crowd refusing to stand. Police Chief Kerr Putney acknowledged there “is no definitive, visual evidence” that Scott had a gun in his hand. “You see something in the hand and that he pointed it at an officer,” Putney said before the videos were released. The department has said officers perceived Scott’s movements as posing an imminent threat.

Violent Crime Up Nearly 4% in 2015

Overall violent crime in the U.S., increased by nearly 4 percent last year, a new FBI report concluded Monday, as several major cities struggled to deal with rising gun violence. The FBI’s annual crime report found that murder was up 12.8 percent in cities, driving the overall increase. Property-related crime, however, dropped by 2.6 percent. While the one-year violent crime increase was significant, the 2015 total was nearly 1 percent lower than in 2011 and 16.5 percent below the level a decade ago, according to FBI records. Facing increasing questions about police departments’ use of deadly force, the Justice Department is attempting to create a database to track deadly encounters between police and the public.

Mississippi Forces Welfare Users to Work for Food Stamps

A new Mississippi policy requiring that food stamp recipients find work or volunteer to maintain their benefits went into effect recently. Mississippi Gulf Coast news station WLOX reported that the policy requires that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work or volunteer 20 hours per week. One volunteer at an organization that provides food for the homeless said, “It’s more of a job opportunity to help you get out into the job world, and being up here helps you out a lot.” Fox News notes that, “More and more states are moving to require able-bodied adults to work in exchange for food stamps.” However, more than 40 states still do not require welfare recipients to work.

Migrant Update

French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to the port of Calais Monday that the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp would be “definitively dismantled” under a plan to relocate the migrants to centers around the country. The French government has tried to close “The Jungle” in Calais multiple times. But so far, each attempt has failed.

A total of 204 bodies have been recovered from the migrant boat that capsized off the coast of Egypt last week. The vessel had set off from Egypt carrying around 450 people and was heading for Italy when it overturned last Wednesday. Most of those on board were from Egypt, Eritrea and Somalia. On the same day the boat capsized near Rashid, the coast guard foiled an illegal immigration attempt, rescuing 294 on board a boat off the shore of Egypt.

Economic News

U.S. consumer confidence rose in September to the highest level in nine years. The Conference Board says that its consumer confidence index rose to 104.1, up from 101.8 in August. It was the strongest reading since the index stood at 105.6 in August 2007, four months before the beginning of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The September gain was primarily propelled by an improvement of consumers’ views about the labor market.

About 3.5 million Americans were able to raise their chins above the poverty line last year, according to census data released earlier this month. More than seven years after the recession ended, employers are finally being compelled to reach deeper into the pools of untapped labor, reports the New York Times. Employers are creating more jobs, especially among retailers, restaurants and hotels. They are also paying higher wages to attract workers and meet new minimum wage requirements. Poverty declined among every group. But African-Americans and Hispanics — who account for more than 45 percent of those below the poverty line of $24,300 for a family of four in most states — experienced the largest improvement.

When Barack Obama entered the White House, the U.S. government was 10.6 trillion dollars in debt.  Today, the U.S. government is 19.5 trillion dollars in debt and will increase to over $20 million by the end of his term. The rate at which we are adding to the national debt is actually increasing.  During the fiscal year that is just ending, the U.S. government has added another 1.36 trillion dollars to the national debt. It isn’t just the federal government that is on a massive debt binge.  Total U.S. corporate debt has nearly doubled since the end of 2007. Default rates on U.S. corporate debt are the highest that they have been since the last financial crisis.

U.S. home prices rose again in July, pulled up by strong gains in Portland, Seattle and Denver. The Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, rose 5% in July from a year earlier. The latest report is further evidence that prices are being pushed higher by the limited inventory of homes on the market. That is hurting sales of both new and existing homes, despite buyer enthusiasm and historically low mortgage rates. The Commerce Department reported Monday that new home sales fell 7.6% in August. And the National Association of Realtors said last week that sales of existing homes slipped 0.9% in August. Inventory collapsed 10.1% from a year ago to 2.04 million homes.

Despite the improvements in home prices, MarketWatch.com reports that there are at least 9 cities where more than 20% of homes are underwater, meaning that their mortgages cost more than the homes are worth. Cleveland is highest at 27.5% with Las Vegas next at 25.7%. Nationally, only about 12% of homes are underwater. During the month of August, commercial bankruptcy filings were up 29 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Corporate profits have fallen for five quarters in a row, and it is being projected that it will be six in a row once the final numbers for the third quarter come in.

Two former Wells Fargo employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the bank seeking $2.6 billion or more for California workers who were fired or demoted after refusing to open fake accounts. The suit accuses Wells Fargo of orchestrating a “fraudulent scheme” to boost its stock price that forced employees to “choose between keeping their jobs and opening unauthorized accounts.” It’s the latest legal headache facing Wells Fargo, which earlier this month was fined $185 million for inflating sales metrics by opening more than two million fake bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo also faces a hearing in the House, an investigation from the Department of Justice and is still reeling from a grilling by the Senate banking committee last week.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants are ‘dead set’ on using chemical arms and are likely to try them again as Iraqi forces advance on Mosul, a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday, a week after a rocket with a possible chemical agent landed near U.S. troops. The rocket fired Tuesday landed in an unpopulated area near Qayyara West base, several hundred yards from where hundreds of U.S. troops are working to prepare an airfield for an Iraqi offensive to recapture the city of Mosul. No one was hurt in the attack.

Syria

There’s been more violence in Syria as diplomacy to establish a ceasefire seems to have failed once again. Air raids are worse than before the ceasefire went into effect, the opposition says. About 200 airstrikes have pummeled neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo since Friday morning, said Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. Rescue teams are still working to extract people from the rubble. More than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured within Aleppo neighborhoods by the airstrikes, said al-Selmo. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the Syrian offensive’s airstrikes, incendiary weapons and bunker-buster bombs in densely populated places may amount to war crimes. The secretary-general urged the international community to unite and say it will not tolerate the indiscriminate use of power weapons against civilians. As many as 20 churches have reportedly been destroyed in the renewed bombing attacks in Aleppo, Syria, reports Christian Headlines Daily.

As deadly airstrikes pounded Aleppo, Syria over the weekend, a major foreign ground force was also converging on the region. As many as 3,000 Iranian-backed fighters have arrived in Aleppo supporting the Syrian regime in its fight to crush the rebellion, two U.S. officials confirm to Fox News. There are an estimated 250,000 Syrian civilians trapped in Aleppo facing an onslaught of Russian and Syrian bombs, according to reports. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias include fighters from neighboring Iraq as well as Afghanistan, officials say.

Iraq

An explosion Sunday evening in central Baghdad marked the third attack of the day in the Iraqi capital, where a total of eight people were killed and at least 25 wounded in the three blasts. ISIS claimed responsibility for the day’s deadliest attack, a suicide bombing that killed at least six people. Separately, at least one person was killed and two wounded when a bomb exploded on a bus in central Baghdad, the Baghdad Operations Center told CNN.

Iran

Iran is not ready to compromise on the issues of intelligence sharing, sanctions and definitions of terrorist groups in order to join an international task force against terror financing, a minister said today. Iran, along with North Korea, is blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and aims to be removed from “high risk and non-cooperative” status, even if it does not obtain full membership. Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia said Iran is not obliged to accept all the conditions put forward by the task force.  But it will implement some of the recommendations in an Action Plan developed with the FATF in order to be upgraded to either a fully cooperating or partially cooperating country, he added.

A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Tuesday that Iran is in possession of missiles that can hit Israel. Iran’s Press TV quoted Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh as telling reporters that “we do not need missiles with a range of over 2,000 kilometers. The longest range required for [Iran’s] missiles is the [Israeli] occupied lands.” The commander warned that “the Zionist regime is our biggest target.”

Germany

Security has been stepped up in the German city of Dresden, following two bomb attacks on a mosque and a conference center Monday evening. No one was injured in the attacks, which included two homemade devices, according to police. The bombings come ahead of next weekend’s German Unity Day celebrations, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to attend. The celebrations mark the 26th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany. The explosions — first at the mosque and then at the International Congress Center — happened within minutes of each other, leading police to believe they’re related. Part of Dresden’s Unity Day celebrations were set to be held at the center. All Muslim institutions in the city are now under increased surveillance, It is unclear at this point who is behind the attacks.

Ukraine

The New York Times reports that a Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists. The report, by a team of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, was significant for applying standards of evidence admissible in court while still building a case directly implicating Russia, and it is likely to open a long diplomatic and legal struggle. With meticulous detail, working with cellphone records, social media, witness accounts and other evidence, the prosecutors traced Russia’s role in deploying the missile system into Ukraine and its attempts to cover its tracks afterward.

Mexico

Tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City on Saturday in opposition to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s push to legalize same-sex marriage. Organizers of the National Front for the Family estimated at least 215,000 people participated, and while that number could not be immediately confirmed, it was clearly one of the largest protest marches in Mexico in recent years. On the other side of a police barricade separating the two sides at Mexico’s Independence Monument, a far smaller crowd of same-sex marriage supporters — perhaps a couple hundred — listened to music and speeches. Many saw the massive march as the Roman Catholic church flexing its political muscle in a country where about 80 percent of people identify as nominally Catholic. In May, Pena Nieto proposed legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Columbia

A conflict that lasted over five decades. An estimated 220,000 people killed. Five million displaced. These staggering figures are now consigned to history as the Colombian government buries the hatchet with its longtime nemesis, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group. In a symbolic gesture, the pens used to sign the historic peace deal, years in the making, have been made from recycled bullets once used in the fifty-two year conflict. An inscription on the side of the pens reads: “Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future.” The two sides, joined by leaders from the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Cuba and the United Nations, came together on Monday in the coastal colonial city of Cartagena to sign the accord.

Earthquakes

Nearly 200 small earthquakes — including three of a magnitude greater than 4 — struck the Salton Sea area in Southern California over the past few days. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the swarm of quakes started early Monday morning and continued into the evening. Quakes measuring 4.3 and 4.2 magnitude occurred Monday night.  Nine of the quakes measure greater than 3.0. The sea sits atop a very thin crust that is being constantly stretched as the North American and Pacific plates grind against each other. The area is also veined by dozens of faults — most notably the San Andreas — that run parallel to and crisscross one another. The quakes continued Tuesday but the size of the temblors were decreasing.

Volcanoes

Indonesian authorities are searching for several hundred tourists after Mount Barujari on Lombok island spewed a massive column of ash into the atmosphere and have evacuated more than 1,100 others, the country’s disaster agency says. The volcano, also known as the Child of Rinjani because it sits within the Mount Rinjani caldera, erupted without warning on Tuesday afternoon, delaying flights from airports on the islands of Lombok and Bali, the AP reports. The ash column reached more than a mile into the air. A Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman says that nearly 400 foreign and local tourists had been registered since Sunday to climb the mountain, leaving from a monitoring post about 7 miles from the volcano’s crater.

Wildfires

A fast-moving brush fire on top of Loma Prieta in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains has led to mandatory evacuations. The Loma fire is threatening homes and has grown to least 2,250 acres, according to Cal Fire, and is 10 percent contained. Evacuations have been ordered for 300 structures near the fire. Several roads are closed. The fire broke out at 2:45 p.m. Monday and began as a structure fire.

Weather

Thousands of Iowans are taking no chances in advance of what could be one of the worst floods in the state’s history. For days, the rising waters of rivers and creeks in eastern Iowa have forced more than 10,000 residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city, out of their homes and businesses. Volunteers filled sandbags and moved objects to higher ground over the weekend in preparation for the flooding. The recommended evacuation was not mandatory, but fire officials requested names of the next of kin from those who didn’t leave their homes. A curfew has been ordered in the evacuation zone between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to local officials. Swollen by floodwaters, the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has crested at nearly 22 feet Tuesday, 6 feet above flood stage and was flowing at 85,000 cubic feet per second, much faster than the typical 24,000 cfs.

Torrential rainfall led to flooding that closed roads and even some schools in the San Antonio area Monday morning. Rainfall rates up to 3 inches per hour fell on parts of Bexar County prior to the morning commute, and before the event was over, up to 7 inches of total rainfall had been reported. KENS-TV said the heavy rainfall led to water rescues in multiple places around the city, and some streets had to be closed after they became inundated with flood water. Among those road closures were parts of interstates 35 and 10.

After Taiwan suffered a direct blow from Typhoon Megi, which has killed at least five people and injured hundreds, China’s Fujian province was swamped by heavy rains that left widespread flooding. The storm was also responsible for several collapsed structures in the Chinese town of Quanzhou, where one person was killed. Megi prompted school closures and dozens of flight cancellations in Quanzhou Wednesday. More than 120,000 fishermen were evacuated in Fujian province alone. More than 600 people were injured – many of which were caused by flying debris – during the storm, the AP reported. In the wake of the typhoon, more than 2.9 million Taiwanese homes and businesses lost power.

Signs of the Times (9/24/16)

September 24, 2016

President Obama Calls for One-World Government

Only by submitting to a one-world-style government can the countries of the world effectively fight terror, Barack Obama warned during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week. In what will likely be his last speech before the body, Obama told the audience that he believes global security can only be achieved with the help of international institutions like the U.N. Only by surrendering our individual and national rights – our “freedom of action,” as he puts it – will we truly “enhance our security. Obama said “powerful nations” like the United States will have to accept constraints and give up some of their freedoms. The president acknowledged that he has been criticized by his own citizens for this belief but he remains convinced he is right. Obama also stated that while countries will have to accept some limits on their freedom, they should not give up autonomous rights like the freedom to defend themselves.

  • Revelation 13 prophesies that the one-world government to come will be run by people controlled by Satan

Joint Chiefs Chair Says Military “Will Not” Execute Administration’s Policy

For the first time, a serving general officer has explicitly and categorically — and officially — contradicted the stated policy of the Obama administration.  He’s basically said the policy will not be executed. Reports Minutemen News. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that it would be a bad idea to share intelligence with Russia on the conflict in Syria. “The U.S. military role will not include intelligence sharing with the Russians,” Dunford told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on U.S. national security challenges and ongoing military operations.

Federal Charges Against NYC Bomber Omits Link to Al-Qaeda/ISIS

Pages from the bloody journal of the New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami show he was a follower of Al Qaeda as well as the Islamic State terror group, yet federal investigators made no reference to ISIS in their complaint charging him on Tuesday, reports the Counter Extremism Project. Rahami’s screed also praised 9/11 mastermind Usama bin Laden and Nidal Hasan, the former Army officer who went on a deadly shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas.  Rahami and Hasan were both influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American and Yemeni imam and Islamic lecturer. The Counter Extremism Project’s research counted 77 extremists — 43 U.S. extremists and 34 European extremists — with ties to Awlaki. They include the Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen in June, as well as Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre in December 2015.

  • The Obama Administration continues to ignore and cover-up Islamic terrorism in America even as it fosters anti-Christian hatred.

Ahmad Rahami Passed Scrutiny After Being Flagged Twice

When NYC bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami returned in March 2014 from a nearly yearlong trip to Pakistan, he was flagged by customs officials, who pulled him out for a secondary screening. Still concerned about his travel, they notified the National Targeting Center, a federal agency that assesses potential threats, two law enforcement officials said. A report on Mr. Rahami was passed along to the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies. Five months later, when Mr. Rahami’s father told the police after a domestic dispute that he was concerned about his son having terrorist sympathies, federal agents again examined his travel history. And again, despite Mr. Rahami’s now having been flagged twice for scrutiny, the concerns were not found to warrant a deeper inquiry. Rahami was never interviewed by federal agents. Details contained in Rahimi’s notebook suggest he drew inspiration largely from the Islamic State.

President Obama Plans to Resettle 110,000 Refuges in U.S. in 2017

President Obama has informed Congress that he plans to “permanently resettle 110,00 refugees in fiscal year 2017, which begins on October 1st, with roughly half of them coming from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma and other jihadist hotspots where vetting of refugees is extremely difficult,” as recently reported by World Net Daily. Fox News reported, “Of the 10,801 refugees accepted in fiscal 2016 from the war-torn country [Syria], 56 are Christians, or .5 percent.” All the rest were Muslim, despite Christians representing a significantly higher percentage among the refugees. The FBI has reported that they are investigating over a thousand individuals who may be related to ISIS in every state in the Union. As witnessed this past weekend in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, “lone wolf” terrorist acts by radicalized Muslims in America are on the rise.

  • A much better process for selecting, vetting and investigating these refugees is a must before allowing so many more refugees into our country

A Rich Recruiting Pool for Jihadists in U.S.

In last weekend’s bombings in New York and New Jersey and the stabbings at a mall in Minnesota, the suspected perpetrators fit the same rough pattern as in previous attacks at the Boston Marathon in 2013; in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015; and in Orlando, Fla., in June, as well as in the terrorist assaults in Paris and Brussels, notes the New York Times. They were young men caught between cultures, sons of immigrant families, feeling lost or rejected — and angry about American-led wars. Online they encountered the silver-tongued recruiters of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, who said their first loyalty should be not to their nation but to Islam. Then they plotted sensational violence. This “rich recruiting pool” for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State includes what psychologists call “in-betweeners,” young adults whose identities have not yet solidified. Their uncertainty makes them vulnerable, said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego. “It allows the individual to attach his identity to something that is larger and inflates his sense of himself,” he said.

State of Emergency Declared in Charlotte After Violent Protests

After violent protests raged for the second night in Charlotte over the police shooting of a black man, one big question remains: Why hasn’t police footage been released? The family of Keith Lamont Scott has requested to see the video of his shooting, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney says he hopes to accommodate that. However, he has no intention to release the video “to the masses,” he said, adding it would be inappropriate to present footage of “a victim’s worst day” for public consumption. He further said the video would not provide “definitive visual evidence” that Lamont pointed a gun at police officers, but other evidence and witness accounts support that claim. Scott’s shooting Tuesday afternoon set off violent protests, which continued Wednesday night. Nine civilians were injured in the unrest overnight, and 44 people were arrested (most of them from out of state) for crimes including failure to disperse, assault as well as breaking and entering. Gunfire killed a man in what authorities called a “civilian on civilian” confrontation. Subsequent daily protests have largely been peaceful. Lamont’s family released video showing the events leading up to his death, but it did not show the actual shooting.

President Obama Vetoes Terrorism Lawsuit Bill, Setting Up Override Battle

President Obama vetoed a bill Friday that would allow lawsuits against foreign sponsors of terrorism in federal court on Friday, setting up what could be the most contentious veto override vote of his presidency. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, would provide an exception to the doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” which holds that one country can’t be sued in another country’s courts. Families of terror victims have lobbied for the bill, which would allow them to sue Saudi Arabian officials who intelligence agencies have suggested had ties to the hijackers of the four planes used in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The White House has argued that the bill would allow federal courts to make key foreign policy decisions best left to the executive branch. It would be Obama’s 12th veto, and come on a bill that passed by voice vote in both the House and Senate, suggesting near unanimous support in Congress. It would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to override the veto, something that has never happened during the Obama presidency.

Yahoo Data Breach Largest Ever

Information from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts was stolen from the company in 2014, the company said Thursday, indicating it believes it was a state-sponsored hack. The theft may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers, Yahoo said. Even in an Internet-dependent population accustomed to the regular occurrence of massive data breaches, the size of this one —  thought to be the largest ever in terms of user accounts — is attention-grabbing. And the possibility that another country could be behind the attack adds to the shock factor. Claims surfaced in early August that a hacker using the name “Peace” was trying to sell personal information of Yahoo account users on the dark web — a black market of thousands of secret websites.

Drugs Kill More People than Cars or Guns

Drugs are the leading cause of accidental death in this country. Fatal overdoses surpassed shooting deaths and fatal traffic accidents in 2010, reports CNN. The rise was rapid, from about 18,000 deaths in 1999 to around 47,000 in 2014. It took about 50 years for the rate of heart disease to double. It took drug deaths a fraction of that time. Heroin-related deaths increased 439% from 1999 to 2014. As of 2014, heroin-related deaths had more than tripled in five years and quintupled in 10 years. In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths — 61% of all US drug overdose deaths — and 10,574 were related to heroin. Prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused because they are so addictive. Epidemiologists in several states blame the increasing number of drug-related deaths on greater use of heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Creepy Clown Sightings Sweep the Nation

All over America sick and twisted people are dressing up like creepy clowns in order to frighten the living daylights out of others.  This trend started back in August, and since then social media has helped it spread like wildfire.  So far there have been creepy clown sightings in 11 different states. A lot of young kids seem to think that this is a great idea for a “prank”, but authorities are taking the creepy clown phenomenon very, very seriously because in recent days the threats of violence have become much more chilling.  Individuals posing as “creepy clowns” on social media are openly naming specific schools that they plan to target and are threatening to commit horrific acts of violence. It is also feared that pedophiles are using this tactic to attract young children.

Migrant Update

Four crew members were arrested Thursday after a boat believed to be carrying 450 migrants capsized off the Egyptian coast, according to state-run Nile TV. The men were detained on possible charges of “human trafficking and involuntary manslaughter.” One of them is the owner of the vessel. Hundreds of migrants are feared dead, with just 163 people rescued and about 100 bodies already recovered. The boat had set off from Egypt and was heading for Italy.

Economic News

A divided Federal Reserve decided Wednesday to hold off on a second interest rate hike due to the stagnant unemployment rate. Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters that despite solid job growth this year, the unemployment rate has been stuck at 4.9% because discouraged workers on the sidelines have been drawn into an improving labor market. She called that a positive development policymakers want to encourage by keeping rates low longer. At the same time, she said, “We don’t want the economy to overheat,” adding that the case for a rate increase “has strengthened” and a move is expected later this year. Three of the 10 voting policymakers dissented, preferring to hike rates now.

The $1.9 trillion shortfall in U.S. state and local pension funds is poised to grow as near record-low bond yields and global stock-market turmoil reduce investment gains, increasing pressure on governments to put more money into the retirement systems. Pensions in Illinois, Missouri and Hawaii this year have moved to roll back the assumed rate of return on their investments, joining the dozens of other states that have taken that step over the past two years. “There’s little light at the end of the tunnel as far as pension funding is concerned,” said Vikram Rai, head of municipal-bond strategy at Citigroup Inc. in New York. “I expect funded ratios will drop further. It’ll require increased pension contributions on the part of the states and local government, but most state and local governments don’t have the ability to do so.”

Islamic State

ISIS is suspected of firing a shell with mustard agent that landed at the Qayyara air base in Iraq Tuesday where US and Iraqi troops are operating, according to several US officials. After the shell landed on the base, just south of Mosul, US troops tested it and received an initial reading for a chemical agent they believe is mustard. No US troops were hurt or have displayed symptoms of exposure to mustard agent.

US and allied warplanes have sunk over 100 ISIS boats, destroying 65 of them in September alone, according to the international military coalition. While Iraq is nearly entirely land-locked, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that cross that country are navigable, and ISIS has been using watercraft for a variety of purposes, including transporting fighters and conducting improvised explosive attacks.

Syria

Four aid workers were killed and one was critically injured Wednesday after an airstrike hit a medical clinic in northern Syria. The aid workers were part of International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, a Paris-based humanitarian group that operates in territory held by rebels near the besieged city of Aleppo. This latest incident came as Washington blamed Moscow for an attack on an aid convoy near Aleppo on Monday that killed at least 20 people. Russia said it was not involved. The United Nations has since suspended the aid deliveries and the one-week truce is effectively over. Secretary of State John Kerry launched a blistering attack on Russia Wednesday for its actions in Syria, pointing to the bombing of a UN aid convoy that left more than 20 dead and its inability to stop continued Syrian air attacks. Russia has announced it is sending its only aircraft carrier to waters off Syria’s coast to join other Russian ships already in place.

Russian aircraft dropped dozens of bombs Friday on rebel and Islamic State areas, including civil defense centers in Aleppo. Russian aircraft dropped 50 bombs in the city and 30 in the surrounding areas, killing at least 14 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Residents told Reuters the attacks included helicopters dropping bombs made from oil drums, a common tactic of the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army during the country’s 5-year-old civil war. The Syrian military command in the city announced the start of its operations in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, and called “on citizens to keep away from sites and centers of armed terrorist groups,” according to the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA. The military is offering to provide civilians shelter, “including those who were misled” by rebel fighters, the statement said. Syrian government forces captured a rebel-held area on the edge of Aleppo on Saturday, tightening their siege on opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city as an ongoing wave of airstrikes destroyed more buildings. The new government push came as the U.N. said that nearly 2 million people in Aleppo are without running water following an escalation in fighting over the past few days.

Sudan

Last December, two evangelical pastors from the Church of Christ in Sudan were taken from their churches and thrown into jail. Last month, the Rev. Abdulraheem Kodi and the Rev. Kuwa Shamal Abu Zumam were charged with numerous offenses, including waging war against the state, espionage and undermining Sudan’s constitutional system. Their trial has begun and they could get the death penalty if found guilty. Kodi and Zumam hail from the Nuba Mountains, a region that continues to be bombed and brazenly targeted by Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, in what human rights and Christian groups say is an effort to rid the country of the Nuba people — indigenous groups who do not fit the regime’s vision of an Islamic nation and are accused of supporting anti-government rebels.

North Korea

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are one of the biggest threats to international peace and security, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Wednesday. More than 21 ballistic missiles have been launched by North Korea this year alone, Abe said, with several of them reaching waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone — 200 nautical miles from its coast. “There is no alternative but to say that the threat has now reached a dimension altogether different from what has transpired until now.” Also speaking Wednesday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. China is North Korea’s only real ally, and has long publicly lobbied against Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Despite this, tests have proceeded.

Wildfires

On July 22, an illegal campfire sparked a blaze that would grow explosively for weeks. Two months later, that wildfire is still burning in California’s Los Padres National Forest. According to InciWeb, the Soberanes fire has consumed nearly 200 square miles during its tear through the forest – more than enough land that the burn scar can be clearly seen from space by NASA’s satellites. Although crews have been battling the wildfire since mid-July, the blaze is just 71 percent contained. There are still more than 2,000 firefighters assigned to the fire, and officials estimate the inferno should be fully contained by the end of the month.

The first significant Santa Ana wind event of the season will keep residents of Southern California, who reside in areas vulnerable to fires, on edge this weekend. The National Weather Service in Los Angeles issued a red flag warning for the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through 3 p.m. Monday for the valleys and coastal mountains of those two counties. Santa Ana winds are strong dry, downslope winds that often heat up and dry out Southern California. These winds can lead to fires that are quickly fanned out of control.

Weather

Humanity just sweltered through its hottest summer ever recorded, beating the previous mark set only last year (records only go back to 1880). From June to August, average temperatures across global land and ocean surfaces soared 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average of 60.1 degrees (F), according to a federal climate report released Tuesday. Climatologists define summer as the three months of June, July and August. Before 1880, scientists rely on paleoclimatic records such as ice cores, tree rings and lake sediments that provide an ever further look back in time: “It is plausible that this summer was the warmest in thousands of years, perhaps even longer,” said meteorologist Michael Mann of Penn State University.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme, from floods (Daniel 9:26b) to great hail (Revelation 11:19, 16:11) to scorching heat (Revelation 16:8)

Several inches of rain fell in a short time throughout the Midwest Wednesday night into Thursday morning, prompting a flash flood emergency, closing roads, prompting evacuations and rescues, and stranding cars.The National Weather Service reports that mudslides are being reported in terrain areas of southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. The Upper Mississippi Valley has been hit by multiple heavy rain events over the past several weeks, so there was little room for additional rain, much less another 3 to 11 inches of rain seen over the past few days.

At least two reported tornadoes hit the state of Utah on Thursday, leaving ravaged homes in their wake but no serious injuries. Damage to several homes was confirmed after a reported tornado was spawned in a neighborhood south of Ogden. Storm damage was also reported in the Layton area. More than 37,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers across the state were without power following the storms.

Signs of the Times (9/20/13)

September 20, 2016

Terrorist Bomb in New York City

A powerful explosion from a explosive device injured at least 29 people in New York’s popular Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday night. N.Y. Gov. Cuomo says the NYC blast was ‘terrorism. The explosion came just after 8:30 p.m. ET at 133 W. 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh Avenue in a neighborhood known for its vibrant nightlife. City officials said police located the explosive device in the street next to a trash bin. The explosion was so powerful it blew out the windows in a nearby building. The city’s fire department said none of the victims had life-threatening injuries, but witnesses reported seeing victims cut by shrapnel, metal fragments and glass. After an initial news conference, a second device believed to be a pressure cooker was found on West 27th Street, four blocks from the initial blast on West 23rd, according to New York Police Department. The NYPD tweeted at about 2:24 a.m. ET Sunday that, the “suspicious device on West 27 Street” had been safely removed by the bomb squad.

A suspect was taken into custody Monday after authorities issued a wanted poster, raided an apartment and began to link the blast with another bomb found in the city and others in New Jersey. Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, was taken into custody following a shootout in Linden, N.J. Bollwage said Rahami and at least one officer was wounded. Authorities were led to suspect by a fingerprint found on an unexploded device, A notebook found on New York and New Jersey bombings suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami contained ramblings about terrorists and also mentioned Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American imam who was a spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The reference to Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 and has been a source of inspiration for several terrorist attacks. Authorities say Rahami’s wife left America a few days before the attack. Rahami was “completely different” after what friends thought was a trip to Afghanistan several years ago. Two years before Ahmad Khan Rahami went on a bombing rampage in New York and New Jersey, his father told the police that the son was a terrorist, prompting a review by federal agents, according to two senior law enforcement officials as reported in the New York Times.

Several Bombs Found in New Jersey, One Explodes at Charity Race

A pipe-bomb-style device detonated in a garbage can at the start of the route of a Marine Corps charity race at Seaside Park Saturday morning, injuring no one but sparking a massive law-enforcement response and suspicions of terrorism. The device went off about 9:35 a.m. ET near the starting point of the Seaside Semper Five 5K. At a brief news conference Saturday afternoon, Brad Cohen, the Special Agent in Charge of the Newark FBI Office, said the agency was taking the lead in investigation, specifically the agency’s Joint-Terrorism task force. The Elizabeth, N.J., mayor says a suspicious device exploded outside a train station early Monday. The device was one of five that two men found in a trash can.

Islamic Terrorist Stabs 8 People in Minnesota Mall

A man dressed as a security guard who talked about Allah stabbed eight people at a shopping mall Saturday evening before he was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer. ISIS on Sunday morning claimed responsibility for the attack, saying, “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition,” the statement said. According to St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, the shooting happened inside Macy’s. Eight patients were taken to St. Cloud Hospital. On Sunday morning, hospital Communications Specialist Chris Nelson told the Times that five were released, and three were admitted with injuries that were not life-threatening. Anderson said the attacker, who was armed with a knife, reportedly made references to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim. The attacker has been identified as 22-year-old Dahir A. Adan. Adan went to college in St. Cloud and worked for a private security firm at the time of the attack.

Syria Charges U.S. Led Attack on Syrian Forces

The U.S. military said it halted a series of airstrikes Saturday in eastern Syria after Russia warned the United States that it mistakenly struck and killed Syrian military forces. The Russian Defense Ministry said 62 Syrians were killed in the strike, and the Syrian government said the coalition airstrike allowed the Islamic State to advance around Deir el-Zour province where the attack took place. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said U.S. forces halted the attack when informed by Russia it was possible they were striking Syrian regime personnel and vehicles. She said U.S. officials were investigating the incident. The accusations come only days after the United States and Russia reached a fragile ceasefire agreement in Syria that was designed to lead to broader military cooperation between the two countries in Syria.

World Leaders Gather to Combat Superbugs

Global health experts are so alarmed by the threat of superbugs that the United Nations will convene heads of state to tackle the health problem. World leaders will gather on Wednesday with doctors and other experts for a high-level meeting to discuss the root of the problem – antimicrobial resistance – at the UN General Assembly. They are expected to adopt a political declaration that would then go to the full assembly to be adopted as a resolution. Superbugs threaten to plunge the world into a dangerous, post-antibiotic era in which germs we’ve long been able to control become deadly. Antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms mutate after being exposed to drugs, such as antibiotics or anti-viral medications, and those medicines grow less effective over time. A recently-published review commissioned by former British Prime Minster David Cameron found that 700,000 people worldwide die of drug-resistant infections every year, and the toll could reach 10 million a year by 2050 – surpassing annual deaths from cancer, experts warn.

Hundreds of Deportees Mistakenly Granted Citizenship

More than 800 immigrants who had been ordered deported were mistakenly granted U.S. citizenship because of gaps in fingerprint recordkeeping, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General reports. The immigrants were from “special interest” countries and had previously been ordered deported or removed from the U.S., the report said. But the immigrants beat the system by simply using another name or birth date to apply for citizenship. Homeland Security investigations resulted in two immigrants being stripped of citizenship, but “very few” of the 858 cases of citizenship have been investigated to determine if the citizen should be denaturalized or criminally prosecuted, the report added. The inspector general’s office found that fingerprints were missing from Homeland Security digital records because paper-based fingerprint cards used prior to 2008 were not consistently uploaded into the digital system.

Colorado’s Failed Marijuana Experiment

Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, teen marijuana use is 74% higher than the national average, reports the Center for Arizona Policy. Newborns testing positive for marijuana are on the rise. In one hospital alone, half of newborn babies test positive for marijuana. Marijuana-related fatal car crashes have increased 67% since legalization. Marijuana-related emergency room visits by visitors to the state doubled in the first year and are up 49% overall. Despite promises to the contrary, the black market in Colorado thrives. Colorado’s attorney general says illegal dealers are “hiding in plain sight.” Surrounding states have taken legal action against Colorado in an effort to stop the importation of marijuana into their states. There are more pot shops than both McDonald’s and Starbucks.

More Bathroom Insanity

This past week the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) pulled all championship events out of North Carolina for the 2016-2017 season simply because that state passed a law, known as HB 2, which requires men and women to use the restroom or locker room corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. In essence, the North Carolina legislature said men use the men’s room and ladies use the ladies room, reports the American Family Association. By doing this, North Carolina was simply protecting women and children from sexual predators and voyeurs. Along with punishing North Carolina, the NCAA is forcing all potential championship host sites to fill out an “Anti-Discrimination Policy” questionnaire that assures men have access to female bathroom facilities. Question number six from the policy reads, “…does your institution have provisions that interfere with any person’s choice of bathroom or locker room?”

Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Reaches All-Time-Low

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has sunk to a new low of 32 percent, down eight percentage points from last year. The measure has been on a steady decline for more than a decade. “Over the history of the entire trend, Americans’ trust and confidence hit its highest point in 1976, at 72%, in the wake of widely lauded examples of investigative journalism regarding Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily,” Gallup’s report states. Only 14 percent of Republicans trust the media, Gallup reports, a sharp decline from 32 percent in 2015 and the lowest recorded measure of confidence among members of the party in 20 years. 51 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of independents expressed trust in mass media, compared with 55 percent and 33 percent in 2015.

Abortion Update

According to Charisma News, Donald Trump has made the most unequivocal pro-life commitment that any presidential candidate has ever made. If elected, Trump has committed to nominating pro-life Supreme Court justices, signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions, and to making the Hyde Amendment a permanent law, making sure taxpayer dollars do not go to funding abortions. Trump has also appointed a pro-life advocate to head up his campaign’s pro-life coalition. Marjorie Dannenfelser is the head of the pro-life organization the Susan B. Anthony List and has fought for the pro-life cause for over two decades.

Persecution Update

This week, Hungary, which has during the past year come under pressure for its handling of Europe’s mass migration crisis, has become the first government to open an office specifically to address the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Europe. “Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,” Hungary’s Minister for Human Capacities, Zoltan Balog said. “In 81 countries around the world, Christians are persecuted, and 200 million Christians live in areas where they are discriminated against. Millions of Christian lives are threatened by followers of radical religious ideologies.” The move sets a precedent on the international stage. It comes after Hungary’s right-wing conservative Prime Minister, Victor Orban, drew criticism in the EU by saying Europe should focus on helping Christians, before helping millions of “Islamic people” coming into Europe.

Immigrant Update

With less than two months to go before the presidential election, the Obama administration has dedicated another $10 million to groups that assist with quickly naturalizing immigrants, in addition to the $19 million the Obama administration spent just a few months ago for the same reason. According to Judicial Watch, the money is to be disseminated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to various groups that offer naturalization pathways and educational courses to new immigrants. The fresh $10 million will reportedly help more than 25,000 immigrants from more than 50 countries in the citizenship process, according to USCIS. The move comes just over a year after Obama formed a Task Force on New Americans, a special group dedicated to helping green card holders become U.S. citizens.

Since the Balkan route to northern Europe closed in March, and with Austria and France imposing tight controls along their borders, Switzerland is now the preferred transit corridor for migrants bound for countries within the European Union. But Switzerland has also increased security along its border with Italy, deploying helicopters and a drone over the region to keep out illegal immigrants. Nearly all the migrants at Como, Italy, have tried — and failed — to cross the Swiss border. Some are so desperate they walk along busy highways or hike on remote mountain trails to reach Switzerland. And one migrant even tried to sneak into the country crammed into a suitcase, before being intercepted at the border when guards became suspicious of the shape and the weight of the bag.

Economic News

The wage gap between blacks and whites is the worst it’s been in nearly four decades, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Last year, the hourly pay gap between blacks and whites widened to 26.7%, with whites making an average of $25.22 an hour compared to $18.49 for blacks, the EPI found. Almost 40 years ago, in 1979, the wage gap between blacks and whites was 18.1%, with whites earning an inflation-adjusted average of $19.62 an hour and blacks earning $16.07 an hour. What’s driving the wage gap has little to do with access to education, disparities in work experience or where someone lives, EPI found. Rather, the researchers found “discrimination…and growing earnings inequality in general,” to be the primary factors.

Americans wasted over $2 billion last year putting expensive premium gasoline into cars that don’t need it, the automobile ownership group AAA said Tuesday. Most car engines in America are designed to run on regular gasoline and, despite the superior-sounding name, premium gasoline provides no benefit over cheaper regular gasoline in those engines. Premium has a higher octane rating than regular gas. That means it’s able to tolerate higher pressures inside the engine. Engines designed to run on regular don’t operate at pressures high enough to require the extra octane, so putting premium fuel into an engine that doesn’t require it is simply a waste of money, AAA said. That means Americans spent more $2.1 billion on more expensive fuel for no reason, the group calculated. About 16% of Americans drive vehicles that actually do require premium fuel, though. These are mostly high-performance or luxury models. Using cheaper regular fuel in these engines can cause damage.

The Bank for International Settlements is warning that conditions are right for a “full-blown banking crisis” in China.  Since the last financial crisis, there has been a credit boom in China that is really unprecedented in world history.  At this point the total value of all outstanding loans in China has hit a grand total of more than 28 trillion dollars.  That is essentially equivalent to the commercial banking systems of the United States and Japan combined.  While it is true that government debt is under control in China, corporate debt is now 171 percent of GDP, and it is only a matter of time before that debt bubble bursts.  The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution.”

Israel

Israeli security agencies were on maximum alert throughout the country Monday following a string of renewed terrorist attacks knife over the weekend which continued Monday. Two Israeli Border Police officers were severely wounded Monday morning by a Palestinian terrorist wielding a knife. He was shot by nearby officers and was also listed in critical condition at an area hospital. Later on Monday, another attack was attempted at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, leaving one officer lightly wounded and one terrorist dead with the other being wounded.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon issued a scathing criticism Thursday of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent labeling of demands by the Palestinian Authority to eject all Jewish residents of the West Bank from their homes as “ethnic cleansing.” Elsewhere, a statement by the French government condemned Israel for demolishing structures France had built in the West Bank without proper licenses.

Islamic State

Just weeks after ISIS suffered a major loss when its chief spokesman was taken out in an air attack, the US announced it had killed his close associate in a strike. The US has now killed two of the “very few” ISIS leaders in the last two months. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has seen his small inner circle getting much smaller, said U.S. officials Monday.

Iraqi forces aided by the U.S.-led coalition have retaken half the territory the Islamic State group once held in the country, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday during a visit to Baghdad. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced $181 million to address a humanitarian crisis that has festered in Iraq despite progress on the battlefield. More than 3.3 million Iraqis remain displaced from their homes due to violence, according to the United Nations. Despite a series of major defeats in recent months, IS still controls Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Iraq hopes to launch an operation to retake Mosul this year, which U.N. and U.S. officials say could displace another 1 million people.

Syria

Four days into a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war, aid convoys have yet to reach civilians in government- and rebel-held areas of Aleppo, as Russian troops prepared to deploy along a key road getting for supplies through. Syrian government forces have been replaced by Russian troops on Castello Road, which leads to rebel-held areas of the besieged city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group. Humanitarian aid could arrive in rebel-held parts of Aleppo later Friday, but other obstacles remain, the group said, citing violence, and objections from other parties on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia needs to pressure the Syrian government to let aid through to Aleppo and other areas or the United States will not set up a joint facility to coordinate attacks on terrorists and share intelligence. Kerry called the delays in humanitarian aid to Aleppo “repeated” and “unacceptable.” The United Nations suspended aid deliveries to Syria on Tuesday, hours after a convoy carrying humanitarian aid to rebel-held parts of Aleppo was attacked killing around 20 people.

South Sudan

Over one million refugees have been forced to flee the conflict and violence in South Sudan. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but just two years later, internal fighting broke out between government leaders. This sparked an ongoing conflict that has internally displaced 1.6 million people and exiled another million. South Sudan now ranks with Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia as countries that have displaced over one million refugees. Many of South Sudan’s refugees are seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic have all accepted tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political party, United Russia, has won a majority in the country’s parliamentary elections. According to a report from Russian state-run news agency Tass, United Russia won 54.28% of the vote, with 93% of all votes counted. Tass says preliminary results from the Central Election Commission suggests the party will win 343 seats of the 450 up for grabs. The Communist Party is expected to win 42 seats with 13.54% of the votes, ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party with 39 seats and the Fair Russia Party with 23 seats. Turnout for the State Duma vote was 47%, according to Tass — well down on the 60% five years ago.

Environment

Officials are warning residents in the Southeast about possible gas shortages in the coming days after a gasoline spill south of Birmingham, Alabama, forced the shutdown of a key pipeline that supplies fuel to millions along the East Coast. Crews were working to ensure the gasoline did not reach nearby rivers. The pipeline spilled between 6,000 and 8,000 barrels of gas, Colonial Pipeline announced. The pipeline, which was shut down last Friday, normally transports 1.3 million barrels of refined gasoline and other petroleum products each day and is a major supplier of fuel from Houston to New York Harbor. Gas prices are spiking in the Southeast because of the broken pipeline — and some drivers are having trouble finding gas at all on Monday.

A massive sinkhole opened up underneath a storage pond in Florida, causing more than 200 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from a fertilizer plant to leak into one of the state’s main underground resources of drinking water, weather.com reported Saturday. According to Mosaic, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate, the hole opened up beneath a pile of waste material called a “gypsum stack.” The 215-million-gallon storage pond sat atop the waste mineral pile. The company said the sinkhole is about 45 feet in diameter. The sinkhole, discovered by a worker on Aug. 27, is believed to reach down to the Floridian aquifer, the company said in a news release. Aquifers are vast, underground systems of porous rocks that hold water and allow water to move through the holes within the rock.

Toxic algae has shown up in more than 40 state lakes and waterways from Los Angeles to the northern reaches of California, the highest count in state history. Water agencies have been caught off guard by the growing extent of the algae, which is triggering health warnings, the closing of swim areas and a reduction in park visitors and revenues. The cyanobacterium, which occurs naturally, can cause gastrointestinal problems and allergic reactions in people and sickness and death among pets and wildlife. The cyanobacterium has blossomed during the state’s drought. Some lake managers are testing herbicides to reduce algae blooms, but experts say there is no quick solution. “There is no silver bullet,” said Beverley Anderson-Abbs, an environmental scientist with the state Water Resources Control Board. “Generally, the best thing to do is to stay out of the water until the bloom is over.”

Wildfires

A wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, has forced officials to postpone the launch of a commercial satellite. The fire broke out Saturday in a remote canyon at the South Base of Vandenberg. The Atlas V rocket was scheduled to launch Sunday from the base, carrying the WorldView-4 satellite, which is slated to take high-resolution images of Earth, according to NASA Space Flight. As of Sunday, the fire dubbed the “Canyon Fire” had scorched 2,200 acres with no containment. Hundreds of state, federal and local firefighters have been dispatched to battle the blaze.

Firefighters are battling another wildfire in northern California that has prompted the evacuation of a campground as well as several ranches and private developments near Mammoth Lakes. Officials with the U.S. Forest service said the wildfire, dubbed the “Owens River Fire,” broke out Saturday afternoon about 7 miles north of the ski resort town along State Route 395. The fire has burned at least 6,000 acres of brush and timber in Inyo National Forest. The fire is 20 percent contained.

Weather

The death toll continues to rise in the wake of Super Typhoon Meranti, which slammed Taiwan, China and several northern Philippines islands with fierce winds, heavy rain and massive waves, killing 30 with 15 still missing. Chinese authorities have reported 13 people are have died in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and another 14 people remain missing. In Taiwan, officials reported two people dead and 38 injured. Chinese officials also said Typhoon Meranti was responsible for destroying 1,600 homes and displacing 33 million people. At least 10 ships came unmoored in Kaohsiung Harbor during the storm. Many villages were poorly equipped to withstand another battering after Super Typhoon Nepartak hit the island in July, according to the China Post. As Meranti advanced toward Taiwan as a massive super typhoon, the storm dealt a violent blow to several small islands in the northern Philippines.

Typhoon Malakas ripped through southern Japan on Tuesday, dumping torrential rain and causing widespread flooding. After clipping Taiwan, the typhoon made landfall in Kyushu shortly after midnight local time, packing winds of up to 100 miles per hour. More than 600,000 were evacuated prior to the storm’s arrival. Air and railway transportation was halted during the storm, mainly in the west and southwest regions of the country, and more than 114,000 households lost power in Kyushu.

Signs of the Times (9/13/16)

September 13, 2016

Abortion Bullies Target Pregnancy Centers

Facing difficult circumstances with a pregnancy, millions of women turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers for very personal services. These centers offer women help and a true “choice” for themselves and the life of their baby. Yet, the abortion industry sees theses pro-life centers as thorns in their flesh, cutting into their profits from money made through exorbitant fees for abortions, reports libertyaction.org. Now, because of intense pro-abortion lobbying, pro-life centers in California are being forced by law to promote nearby abortion facilities and services to women who walk through their doors. California’s Assembly Bill 775 requires all licensed and unlicensed pregnancy counseling centers in the state to post a government-prescribed message. Centers not licensed by the State of California must post a notice that they are not a licensed medical facility. Licensed crisis pregnancy centers must also provide women the phone number to social services and post or distribute a message telling their clients that California has other programs and choices available to women, including abortion. There is no similar mandate for the abortion mills to tell their clients that there are Crisis Pregnancy Centers nearby.

Planned Parenthood Using Zika Scare to Encourage Abortions

Many pro-abortion advocates have been capitalizing on the threat of Zika to encourage women to abort their babies. However, according to new research, only two percent of women who have Zika will give birth to babies with microcephaly, the deformity associated with the virus. This hasn’t stopped abortion advocates from using the Zika virus to scare would-be mothers, however. WORLD News Service’s Evan Wilt noted, “Beginning in late August, volunteers from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, started canvassing neighborhoods in South Florida to warn residents about the risk of birth defects linked to Zika.” Micaiah Bilger of LifeNews.com adds, “Right now in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control knows of almost 600 women who are pregnant and have the Zika virus. Many of them are facing increasing pressure to abort their unborn babies because of a link between the virus and birth defects.”

ISIS Threat in Europe Grows

European security officials estimate that 30 to 40 suspected ISIS terrorists who helped support the November 13 Paris terror attacks are still at large, CNN reports. This development comes as European officials told CANN they believe ISIS is ratcheting up its planning for international attacks to retaliate for losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The European countries most firmly in the crosshairs are launching air strikes against ISIS with the US-led coalition: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Denmark, as well as Germany, which is flying target reconnaissance sorties. Terror analysts warn that despite the buffer provided by the Atlantic Ocean, the US is vulnerable, too. Matthew Henman, editor of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in the U.K. notes that the U.S. border with Mexico, which “is far from secure or impenetrable.” Airports are another point of entry. Western European passport holders can travel to the US without a visa.

Three women who were likely planning an “imminent and violent” attack were arrested Thursday near Paris, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. Describing the women as radicalized, Cazeneuve said the three were arrested in connection with gas cylinders found this week inside a car left in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A French security official says a 19-year-old woman linked to gas canisters found in an abandoned car near Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November, and authorities have struggled to monitor thousands of domestic radicals on their radar.

U.S. & Russia Reach Deal for Ceasefire in Syria

The United States and Russia announced a plan Friday to bring about a ceasefire in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Today we are announcing an arrangement that we think has the capability of sticking, but it’s dependent on people’s choices,” Kerry said in Geneva, Switzerland, appearing alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Kerry said the pact calls for the Syrian government and the opposition to respect a nationwide ceasefire scheduled to take effect at sundown Monday. He said the accord would also prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force from flying combat missions anywhere the opposition is present, calling this provision the “bedrock of the agreement.” He labeled Assad’s air force the “main driver of civilian casualties” and migrant flows. “That should put an end to the barrel bombs, an end to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods,” Kerry said. The deal was reached after 10 months of failed cease-fires and suspended efforts for a political settlement in the conflict. At least 90 people were killed in airstrikes that rained down on northwestern Syria on Saturday and Sunday, a rights group said, just hours after the US and Russia announced the new ceasefire plan. Violence has increased prior to the ceasefire start Tuesday morning.

  • The likelihood of the ceasefire holding in Syria is slim because there are too many factions fighting in Syria for too many conflicting reasons.

Iran May Have Received up to $33.6B from U.S.

Iran may have received a total of $33.6 billion in secret cash and gold payments facilitated by the Obama administration between 2014 and 2016, according to testimony provided before Congress by an expert on last summer’s nuclear agreement with Iran, Fox News reported Friday. Between January 2014 and July 2015, when the Obama administration was hammering out the final details of the nuclear accord, Iran was paid $700 million every month from funds that had previously been frozen by U.S. sanctions. A total of $11.9 billion was ultimately paid to Iran, but the details surrounding these payments remain shrouded in mystery, according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In total, “Iran may have received as much as $33.6 billion in cash or in gold and other precious metals,” Dubowitz disclosed.

Fewer Going Hungry in U.S. but Many Still Do

The number of children and adults nationwide who are food insecure — meaning they don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet — has declined to 12.7% in 2015 from 14% in 2014. But some 15.8 million households are still food insecure, according to a report released on Wednesday from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The survey results not only revealed that food insecurity is on the decline, but also showed that the problem is still more prevalent than it was in 2007. Then, it was at 11.1%, right before the Great Recession officially began. The percentage of households that face hunger described as “very low food security” decreased from 5.6% in 2014 to 5% in 2015 (6.3 million households).

Murder Rates Rose in a Quarter of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities

Murder rates rose significantly in 25 of the nation’s 100 largest cities last year, according to an analysis by The New York Times of new data compiled from individual police departments. The findings confirm a trend that was tracked recently in a study published by the National Institute of Justice. “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” the study concluded. In the Times analysis, half of the increase came from just seven cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington, D.C. The number of cities where rates rose significantly was the largest since the height of violent crime in the early 1990s. Nationally, homicide rates are still much lower than they were in the 1990s.

Wells Fargo Fires 5,300 Employees for Creating Fake Accounts

On Thursday, federal regulators said Wells Fargo employees secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money. Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that it had fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to the shady behavior. Employees went so far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services. Relentless pressure. Wildly unrealistic sales targets. Employees leaning on family members and friends to open unnecessary bank accounts. That’s how more than a dozen former Wells Fargo employees described the bank’s culture to CNNMoney. Managers turned a blind eye when ethical and even legal lines were crossed. Wells Fargo has been accused by federal regulators of illegal activity on a stunning level. Wells Fargo agreed to pay penalties of $185 million and fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to this illegal activity.

Migrant Update

In what could be a “told you so” moment for Donald Trump, the U.K. on Tuesday announced plans to build a “big new wall” at a border port in France to prevent migrants in nearby camps from sneaking aboard vehicles heading to Britain, reports Fox News. Robert Goodwill, minister of state for immigration, announced the plan for a wall in Calais, France, at a Home Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, saying it would be in addition to an already existing fence. The four-meter-high wall (about 13 feet) would be built along both sides of a one-kilometer (.6 mile) stretch of the main road into the Calais port. The office estimates it will be done by the end of the year. Calais is a common point for migrants trying to enter the U.K. illegally. The wall is intended to protect the road from migrants who frequently try to intercept vehicles approaching the port and jump on board.

Zika Update

Planes completed aerial spraying for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus early Friday in the Miami area, despite concerns over possible effects that the insecticide Naled may have on health and the environment. So far, there have been 56 local transmissions of the Zika virus in Florida, which has 20.6 million residents. The state has seen 596 travel-related cases of Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health officials have sprayed pesticide and larvicide on the ground in areas where they believe the mosquitoes may be, and expanded those efforts with the aerial use of Naled on Friday. Experts say there’s no reason to be concerned over the effects of the insecticide on human health and the environment. “Aerial spraying using Naled and other insecticides has been used in many populated areas of the continental United States,” the CDC said on its website.

The rate of birth defects involving the nervous system nearly doubled across Brazil after Zika arrived. This stark statistical reality was discovered by a team of researchers from Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which analyzed hospital records across Brazil from 2008, well before Zika arrived, until the end of February 2016. The results, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, found “an unprecedented and significant rise in the hospitalization rate for congenital malformations of the nervous system, Guillain-Barré syndrome, encephalitis, myelitis and encephalomyelitis” beginning in mid-2014. That’s more than a year before the world became aware of the outbreak in October 2015, and stories of Zika’s terrible consequences began to appear in the news.

Economic News

The world’s four most powerful central banks have pumped more than $9 trillion into the global economy since the financial crisis in a bid to boost growth, inflation and employment. That’s equivalent to the value of all the goods and services the U.S. produces in six months. The Federal Reserve alone has injected $3.9 trillion dollars via three rounds of asset buying. It started in November 2008, shortly after the financial world went into meltdown, and continued until October 2014. In normal times, it is enough for central banks to cut interest rates to prompt lending. But record low interest rates, and in some cases, negative interest rates weren’t doing enough. So they turned to stronger medicine and experimented with buying bonds to flood markets with new money. Experts are divided over whether this has worked.

  • In 2015, the U.S. spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of the federal budget, paying for interest on its debt. In recent years, interest rates have been at historic lows. As they return closer to normal levels, the amount the government spends on interest will rise substantially.

The European Central Bank kept all of its key interest rates unchanged last Thursday, and reiterated that rates will stay low for an extended period of time and wouldn’t rule out stretching out its bond-buying program beyond March 2017. The eurozone economy has held up better than expected since the late-June vote by Britain to exit the European Union.

After years of watching their incomes go nowhere, America’s middle class finally got a big raise last year. Median household income rose to $56,516 in 2015, up 5.2% from a year earlier, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday. It marks the first increase in median income since 2007, the year before the Great Recession started. Also, the poverty rate ticked down to 13.5% in 2015, from 14.8% a year earlier. The jump in median income was one of the largest annual increases Census has recorded. The growth was also widespread, with geographic regions and races (except for Asians) seeing increases. Behind the pay hike is the big increase in employment, Census officials said. Some 3.3 million more Americans were working full-time, year-round, pushing up median income. Some 1.4 million more men and 1 million more women had jobs last year.

The price of food has fallen sharply in the past few months. And while that’s great for consumers, it’s terrible news for big supermarket chains. Weak global demand (particularly in China) as well as excess supply thanks to advances in agricultural technology have helped push the prices of key food commodities sharply lower lately. The price of corn, cocoa and lean hogs are down more than 10% in the past year. Wheat has tumbled 20%. Cattle futures have plunged 30%. Falling food prices have hurt higher-end organic rivals like Sprouts and Whole Foods as well as grocery chain Supervalu and Kroger, whose stock has fallen 25% this year.

Israel

Reuters was reporting Tuesday afternoon that the US and Israel have reached an agreement on a new 10-year package of US military aid to Israel totaling $38 billion. The agreement is expected to be signed within days following months of rumors and tough negotiations which the Obama Administration wanted to wrap up before leaving office in January. Final details of the agreement are expected to be officially announced soon.

Defense officials say Israel has begun work on an underground barrier along the border with Gaza meant to block Hamas militants from tunneling into Israel. The officials say the concrete barrier is set to run dozens of meters (hundreds of feet) deep and will ultimately stretch along the entire border with Gaza. Israel is currently building an initial phase of the barrier over a small stretch of land measuring just dozens of meters. The barrier’s full construction could take years. Hamas militants have often used underground tunnels to infiltrate and attack Israel.

Iran

Iran threatened to shoot down two US Navy aircraft over the weekend as they were flying just inside the Strait of Hormuz, a US defense official said. The EP-3 and P-8 planes were in international airspace but “near Iranian airspace.” The Iranians made three radio calls to the two planes warning them not to enter Iranian airspace and risk being shot down with surface-to-air missiles, the official said. The US Navy crews knew they were flying “outside the known range of Iranian air defenses” and proceeded with their flight plans. The two planes were reconnaissance aircraft that routinely fly that flight pattern in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran began building its second nuclear power plant with Russian help on Saturday, the first such project since last year’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers. The project in the southern port city of Bushehr will eventually include two power plants expected to go online in 10 years. Construction on the second plant is set to begin in 2018. The entire project will cost more than $8.5 billion, with each plant producing 1,057 megawatts of electricity. “Construction of the power plant is a symbol of Iran enjoying the results of the nuclear deal,” Senior Vice-President Ishaq Jahangiri said at a ceremony marking the start of the project. “We will continue working with Russia as a strategic partner and friend,” he added. Iran’s sole operational nuclear reactor, also built in Bushehr with Russian assistance, produces 1,000 megawatts. It went online in 2011.

The United Nations agency monitoring the nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers reported Thursday that it has found no violations of the deal meant to crimp Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms. But touching on one potentially sensitive area, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a review issued Thursday that Iran had begun manufacturing rotor tubes for centrifuges, the spinning machines used to enrich uranium. Iran is allowed to make the parts, but only under certain conditions… In its confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, the atomic energy agency said “related technical discussions” with Iran on rotor tube manufacturing are ongoing. The agency needs to keep a close eye on how many rotor tubes are being made and for what models of centrifuges to make sure they are being produced only in quantities and for machines allowed under the 2015 nuclear agreement that sets a schedule for when and how many advanced centrifuges can be tested.

Turkey

Turkey has suspended thousands of teachers over alleged links to a militant Kurdish group, according to sources and state-run news agency Anadolu. At least 11,285 schoolteachers across the country were suspended over suspected links to a separatist terrorist organization, Anadolu reported Thursday. That number could reach 14,000 during an investigation conducted in coordination with governors’ offices across the country, Anadolu reported. Although the ministry did not specify the group, the term “separatist terrorist organization” usually refers to the Kurdistan worker’s party, or PKK. There are more than 850,000 teachers in Turkey. The individuals in question are temporarily suspended, placed on paid leave, pending formal investigation.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he wanted U.S. Special Forces out of his country’s south and blamed America for inflaming Muslim insurgencies in the region, in his first public statement opposing the presence of U.S. troops. Washington said it had not received a formal request to remove U.S. military personnel. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated that Duterte had tendency to make “colorful comments.” Duterte’s relationship with the U.S. has been a bit rocky since he became president in June. Duterte has been openly critical of American security policies and wants to chart a foreign policy that would not depend on America, his country’s long-time treaty ally.

North Korea

North Korea claimed Friday that it successfully conducted a “higher level” test of a nuclear weapon, its second in eight months and its fifth since 2006. The announcement drew immediate condemnation from the United States, South Korea, China and Japan. The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the matter Friday. The North Korean government in the capital of Pyongyang said the test was of a nuclear warhead designed to be mounted on ballistic rockets and demonstrated that it was prepared to hit back at its enemies including the United States if provoked. The test violates United Nations resolutions and will further strain North Korea’s already tense relations with the U.S. and other countries in the region. South Korean officials said the underground test, North Korea’s fifth, produced a more powerful explosive yield than the North’s previous detonations.

Could North Korea actually put a nuclear warhead atop a rocket and fire it at a potential adversary? Some still doubt North Korea can make a warhead small enough, or miniaturize it enough, to mount atop a missile. But that’s what North Korea said it proved Friday, reports CNN. South Korean monitors said Friday’s nuclear test had a yield equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT, which would make it North Korea’s most powerful of five tests to date. Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador to South Korea, said Friday it’s time to stop guessing about North Korea’s capabilities and start planning a response. “Before long, I think they’re going to have a nuclear warhead on a missile and we have to look really carefully and see what we’re going to do,” said Hill, who was the top U.S. diplomat in Seoul from 2004 to 2005.

Environment

In the wake of Hurricane Hermine, many Floridians are having to put up with an unpleasant stench in the air. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tens of millions of gallons of sewage has been released into the waters of Tampa Bay and into watersheds all over Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. After heavy rain from Hermine backed up aging sewer systems unable to handle big storms throughout the region, partially treated water along with raw sewage spewed from manholes, forcing cities to dump partially treated water to handle the backup at wastewater treatment plants. At least 30 million gallons of partially treated water and raw sewage were released into Tampa Bay alone, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Even before the storm arrived several cities, including the city of St. Petersburg, performed what is called a “controlled wastewater discharge into Tampa Bay,”

A Russian river located by the Arctic town of Norilsk turned bright red Tuesday, looking more like an enormous blood vessel than a body of water, reports CNN. The water may have reddened due to discharge from “an unidentified chemical” from the nearby Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement Wednesday. If a pipeline broke, contaminants could have leaked into the river, the ministry added. The plant is owned by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel producer. The river isn’t connected to the public water supply and the incident doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the residents’ well-being, the Norlisk city administration said.

Earthquakes

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake has left at least 11 dead in the Lake Victoria region of northern Tanzania on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, the country’s president, John Magufuli, said that many had been killed by the quake that struck at 3:27 p.m. local time. Regional police commander Augustine Olomi said most of the deaths occurred in brick structures in the town of Bukoba which incurred significant damage. The quake, which was considered shallow at a depth of 25 miles, was reportedly felt as far away as western Kenya, parts of Uganda and Rwanda.

Weather

After one of the hottest summers on record, another prolonged spell of heat may flirt with daily records in the Northeast the past few days. Not only will highs climb into the 90s, but the humidity made it feel even more unbearable with heat index values topping 100 degrees in some cities. The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories from Delaware and parts of Maryland’s Eastern Shore to eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and the five boroughs of New York City, as heat indices soared as high as 105 degrees. On Friday, daily record highs were set at the following places: Washington D.C. (Dulles Airport): 98 degrees, Atlantic City, New Jersey: 97 degrees; Philadelphia: 95 degrees; Wilmington, Delaware: 95 degrees; Baltimore: 95 degrees; New York City (La Guardia Airport): 93 degrees.

Super Typhoon Meranti remains a very intense Category 5 as it heads west-northwest on a path that will take its eye near or just south of southern Taiwan on Wednesday. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph as of 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday. This ties Tropical Cyclone Winston as the strongest tropical cyclone anywhere in the world so far in 2016. As of Tuesday late morning (EDT), or late Tuesday evening Taiwan time, Meranti was centered about 325 miles southeast of Taipei, Taiwan.

Signs of the Times (9/7/16)

September 7, 2016

Intelligence Agencies Investigating Covert Russian Influence in U.S.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are probing what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said. The officials cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” the official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.” U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs. The Russian government hack of the Democratic National Committee, disclosed by the DNC in June but not yet officially ascribed by the U.S. government to Russia, and the subsequent release of 20,000 hacked DNC emails by WikiLeaks, shocked officials. Cyber-analysts traced its digital markings to known Russian government hacking groups.

U.S., China Formally Join Global Climate Pact

President Obama on Saturday said cooperation was “the single best chance that we have” to save the planet as he stood with China’s President Xi Jinping to formally enter their two nations into last year’s Paris climate change agreement. At a ceremony on the sidelines of a global economic summit, Obama and Xi, representing the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, delivered documents to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The papers certified the U.S. and China have taken the necessary steps to join the Paris accord that set nation-by-nation targets for cutting carbon emissions. The announcement means the accord could take force by the end of the year, a faster than anticipated timeline. Xi, speaking through a translator, said he hoped the announcement would spur more countries to take action.

  • The pace of globalization continues to quicken with the one-world government of Revelation 13 taking shape, although it still has years to go before the anti-Christ rises to his throne

‘Gaps of Trust’ Preventing Syria Cease-Fire

During a 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to make a breakthrough in negotiating a cease-fire agreement for Syria. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” Obama said during a news conference in Hangzhou. The two leaders agreed to keep looking for a path to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in the war-torn state. They also discussed Ukraine and U.S. concerns over cyber-security.

Oil Pipeline Protest Turns Violent over Destruction of Indian Burial Site

A protest of a four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline turned violent Saturday after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews at the site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, including a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed, he said. The Sheriff’s office said law enforcement authorities had no reports of protesters being injured. There were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred. The crowd disbursed when officers arrived and no one was arrested. Over the past few weeks, thousands of Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country have traveled to this central North Dakota reservation to camp in a nearby meadow and show solidarity with a tribe they think is once again receiving a raw deal at the hands of commercial interests and the U.S. government.

Senate Deadlocked on Zika & Government Funding

The top Republican and Democratic Senate leaders returned from their seven-week summer recess Tuesday and picked up where they left off in July — harshly blaming the other’s party for inaction on critical bills to battle Zika and fund the government. In a pair of votes, Democrats blocked taking up GOP bills to pay for a public health response to the virus and to fund the Pentagon next year leaving in doubt Congress’ ability to pass either bill. Each failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance. If an agreement is not reached, the government could shut down on September 30, just a few weeks before the presidential and congressional elections. The Zika vote came as the mosquito-borne virus, which can also be transmitted sexually, spreads widely in the Puerto Rico and some US states. Democrats blocked the bill because they say it included a provision to prevent funding for Planned Parenthood.

Migrant Update

Europe is “close to limit” on accepting refugees, EU President Donald Tusk said Sunday, as he urged the international community to do more to step up resettlement of those seeking refuge. G20 leaders are meeting in Hangzhou, about one hour outside of Shanghai, through Monday to tackle issues including trade, terrorism and climate change. Tusk urged fellow G20 member countries to do more to support the world refugee population. “In light of an unprecedented number of 65 million displaced people all over the world, the G20 community needs to scale up its share of responsibility,” Tusk said.

An anti-immigration party made a strong showing at the expense of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in her home district Sunday, a repudiation of her open-door policy for migrants. Official results showed the far-right Alternative for Germany came in second with 20.8% of the vote, ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democrats at 19%, the party’s worst showing since German reunification a quarter-century ago. The center-left Social Democrats came out on top with 30.6% of the vote. Alternative for Germany had made as its main campaign issue Merkel’s decision to allow more than 1 million war refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to settle in Germany in the past year.

Nearly 50 million children worldwide have been uprooted from their homes due to violence, poverty and other factors out of their control, according to a new report released by the U.N. children’s agency. Of that total, 28 million are child refugees who fled conflict, states the UNICEF report. An additional 20 million are child migrants who left their homes in search of better lives. Although a migrant can be a refugee, the term refugee is specifically used to note people fleeing persecution.

Economic News

Americans are borrowing more than ever for new and used vehicles, and 30- and 60-day delinquency rates rose in the second quarter, according to the automotive arm of one of the nation’s largest credit bureaus. The total balance of all outstanding auto loans reached $1.027 trillion between April 1 and June 30. More consumers also are turning to leases, which accounted for 31.44% of all new car and truck transactions in the second quarter, up from 26.9% a year earlier. The average new car loan was $29,880, up 4.8% from the second quarter of 2015, and about $4,000 less than the average new vehicle selling price. The average monthly payment on those loans was $499, up from $483 a year earlier. A growing portion of those loans are for a longer term, sometimes as long seven years. Last month, Fitch Ratings issued a report that found that among subprime and deep subprime borrowers, the percentage that are 60 days or more behind on payments reached 4.59% in July, a 17% increase from a year earlier.

A weak reading for the services segment of the economy was reported Monday. The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index slumped to 51.4, the lowest since February 2010, from 55.5 in July.  A reading over 50 indicates expansion, so this is the latest economic measure that suggests the rate of growth of the U.S. economy is slowing down.

Global leaders ended a major economic summit in eastern China on Monday with a forceful endorsement of free trade. In a joint statement on the summit, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Britain, Japan, Russia and other Group of 20 economies pledged to boost sluggish global growth by promoting innovation and to strengthen the global financial system.

Islamic State

The sophisticated ISIS network that plots foreign strikes had planned for the carnage in the November 2015 Paris attacks to be far worse, to occur in other European countries as well and, investigators believe, had planned to follow them up with strikes in several locations, CNN has learned. “ISIS is increasing its international attack planning,” said Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst. “It’s increasingly sophisticated in the way it does this. It’s set up an intricate, logistical support system for these terrorists … to launch these terrorist attacks.” A CNN team spent months going through 90,000 pages of documents, most of them in French, that included a trove of interrogations, investigative findings and data pulled from cell phones offering insight into the external operations wing of ISIS known as the Amn al-Kharji.

A senior European counter-terrorism official who spoke to CNN said that according to investigations into the network that carried out the Paris attacks, they were a slimmed-down version of an even more ambitious plan to hit Europe. European investigators now believe that ISIS initially planned for the operatives it sent last year to also attack the Netherlands, as well as other targets in France including shopping areas and possibly a supermarket in Paris. These plans were compromised when authorities captured two men who intended to travel to France alongside the two suicide bombers who eventually blew themselves up outside a Paris stadium.

Terrorist group ISIS has reportedly named Pope Francis its number one enemy. According to a recent publication by the terror group, Francis is hated for being a “non-believer” and defending homosexual people. Pope Francis has also sought to open communication and understanding between Christians and Muslims, which ISIS has denounced. The group wrote, “Recent popes – and especially Pope Francis – have attempted to paint a picture of heartwarming friendship, seeking to steer Muslim masses away from the obligation of waging jihad against disbelief.”

Syria

Turkey’s military launched a second incursion into Syria Saturday against an Islamic State-held border town, in a move that U.S. officials view as a necessary step to flushing out the jihadist group from the war-torn country. A Turkish armored unit supported by artillery strikes moved across the border into Al-Rai, a Syrian city that Syrian rebels lost to the Islamic State earlier in May and which is located roughly halfway along the line of control between the Turkish-Syrian border. A statement from the Turkish military said that Syrian rebels, fighting with the support of Turkish armored units and artillery, had regained control of the Syrian town.

A string of bombings, including a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State group, struck in and around several Syrian cities on Monday, killing at least 43 people, mainly in government-controlled areas. The SANA news agency reported blasts around the coastal city of Tartus, the central city of Homs, the suburbs of the capital Damascus, and the northeastern city of Hasakeh. Areas controlled by President Bashar Assad’s forces have seen several bombings and other attacks during the country’s five-year civil war, with many claimed by Al Qaeda-linked militant groups.

A suspected chlorine attack by Syrian government forces was blamed Wednesday for one death and respiratory injuries suffered by scores of civilians near rebel-held Aleppo. Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of forensics in the war-torn city, told the Associated Press one man died overnight of heart failure and acute respiratory distress caused by inhaling toxic gas. The BBC said at least 100 people (including dozens of children) were treated with respiratory issues following the alleged barrel-bomb attack Tuesday in the Sukkari area south of the Aleppo. A United Nations report issued last month accused the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad of carrying out at least two toxic gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

Iran

The U.S. transferred a total of $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in order to settle a long-running dispute over a failed 1979 arms deal, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ said late Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration sent $400 million in cash to Iran in January, with two more subsequent shipments of similar amounts, totaling another $1.3 billion, according to congressional officials briefed by the U.S. State, Treasury and Justice departments. “The cash payments — made in Swiss francs, euros and other currencies— settled a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal dating back to 1979,” the WSJ reported. It said that U.S. officials acknowledged that the payment of the first $400 million “coincided with Iran’s release of American prisoners and was used as leverage to ensure they were flown out of Tehran’s Mehrabad on the morning of January 17.”

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” following a deadly ‘terrorist’ explosion at an open-air market in southern Davao City that killed at least 14 people and injured at least 70 others during a presidential visit to his hometown on Friday. Duterte added that the “state of lawlessness” did not constitute martial law, though it does authorize security forces to conduct searches throughout the country. The region was under a heightened security alert because of a military offensive against Abu Sayyaf militants. The explosion erupted near one of the top hotels in the city, which is frequented by Duterte. Earlier Friday, the president dismissed rumors of a plot to assassinate him. Duterte was dubbed “the Punisher” after taking a hard stance against the drug trade during his 22 years as mayor of Davao City. Now, President, Duterte has been cracking down hard on drug dealers, even encouraging vigilante justice.

North Korea

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Monday, as China hosted leaders from across the world for the G-20 summit, according to reports from the South Korean News Service and the Associated Press. Earlier on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye criticized the neighbor to the north for what she described as provocations that are hurting Seoul-Beijing relations. The U.S. condemned the tests, saying they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to aircraft and commercial ships in the region. The U.N. Security Council in late August strongly condemned four North Korean ballistic missile launches in July and August, calling them “grave violations” of a ban on all ballistic missile activity.

Laos

President Obama on Tuesday said the United States would spend $90 million over the next three years on clearing unexploded bombs that it dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Obama made the announcement during remarks delivered at the Lao National Cultural Hall in the capital Vientiane. The pledge doubles the current U.S. funding for the effort. Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian country. “The spirit of reconciliation is what brings me here today. Given our history here, the U.S. has a moral obligation to help Laos heal,” Obama said. Obama said he wanted to make the two nations “whole again.”

Earthquakes

Oklahoma was hit by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake Saturday morning. It tied for the strongest ever recorded in the state. The quake struck at a depth of about 41 miles below the surface, about 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma, and about 75 miles north of Oklahoma City, according to the United States Geological Survey. Officials with the Pawnee County Emergency Management say at least one building has collapsed there as the result of the quake. Governor Fallin said six buildings on the Pawnee Nation reservation were left “uninhabitable” and emergency responders found a “variety of damage.” The police received lots of reports of buildings with bricks that came off and broken windows. The quake was felt as far away as Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri; Houston and Dallas, Texas; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Omaha, Nebraska.

Five months before Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude temblor in central Oklahoma, government scientists warned that oil and natural gas drilling had made a wide swath of the country more susceptible to earthquakes. Saturday’s earthquake spurred state regulators in Oklahoma to order 37 disposal wells, which are used by frackers, to shut down over a 725-square mile area. Fracking is used by oil and gas producers to extract oil from the ground — and it’s behind the massive boom in U.S. oil production. Fracking is a far more efficient drilling technique, but it’s also controversial because it contaminates local water supplies and forcibly breaks apart underground shale formations.

Wildfires

Several fires raging around Spain’s eastern Costa Blanca resorts on Sunday and Monday forced more than 1,400 residents and tourists to flee and have prompted a search for the arsonist responsible for the blazes. The fires, which authorities said were brought under control on Monday, destroyed at least 20 homes, scorched more than 2,000 acres. On Monday afternoon, police reportedly found several empty containers of gasoline they believe were used by the arsonist to light the fires. “This is environmental terrorism, it goes beyond putting at risk our natural heritage, it directly attacks people,” Ximo Puig, the head of the regional government of Valencia, told reporters. Meanwhile, a separate fire broke out near Bolulla that continues to rage out of control. The fire forced the evacuation of at least 100 people and reportedly destroyed at least 40 buildings.

Weather

Three people have reportedly died from Hurricane Newton which made landfall Tuesday on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula near the Cabo San Lucas resort area. Newton pounded Baja California Sur with hurricane-force winds of 90 mph and heavy rains. At least 14,000 tourists were stranded in Los Cabos. All flights had been canceled late Monday ahead of the storm. With storm surge expected to impact low-lying coastal areas, ports in the area were closed and shelters capable of providing sanctuary for at least 16,000 were opened. Before the storm system became a tropical storm, at least 70 homes and schools were damaged in Acapulco in the state of Guerrero and 200 people were trapped in a housing complex. Newton turned to the northeast and emerged over the very warm waters of the Gulf of California late Tuesday, likely keeping it at hurricane strength into Wednesday.” After the storm makes its second landfall in northeast Mexico on Wednesday, it is expected to weaken to a tropical storm and even further to a tropical depression as it makes its way into Arizona delivering abundant rain to the southern regions of the state.

After clobbering the Gulf Coast of Florida, Hurricane Hermine has left at least one reportedly person missing as it tracked through the Southeast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Tens of thousands were without power Friday in southern Georgia as trees and power lines were downed by the storm’s strong winds. A possible tornado associated with the storm also damaged several structures in the Savannah area. At least eight counties across Georgia reported damage associated with the storm. The Red Cross opened five shelters in South Georgia so residents had a place to stay Thursday night. Hermine struck a major blow to the Labor Day weekend tourist trade along the coast of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Although Post-Tropical Cyclone Hermine remains far from shore off the Northeast coast as of Monday, officials were warning residents and visitors to heed warnings about deadly rip currents and possible coastal flooding.

Signs of the Times (9/2/16)

September 2, 2016

Obama’s Judicial Appointments Ensure Ongoing Liberal Legacy

President Obama, over the course of his two terms, has appointed hundreds of justices to the lower federal courts, leading to a majority of appeals courts now dominated by Democratic picks. The president has successfully seated a total of 329 federal judges during his two terms – all of them, lifetime appointments. While those nomination battles aren’t nearly as high-profile as they are for the Supreme Court, the impact of the appointments is just as pronounced. “It’s often overlooked, but nominees to the lower courts … are often one of the most important legacies a president leaves behind,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. The tilt on the federal appeals courts – particularly as the Supreme Court, which takes relatively few cases as it is, remains split 4-4 – is a trend that worries conservatives. When Obama took office, only three appellate courts had more Democrat-appointed judges than Republican-appointed judges. Now, nine of the 13 circuits do. Meanwhile, Obama’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland, remains stalled in the Senate.

US-Led Nuke Negotiators Allowed Inspections Loopholes for Iran

The U.S. and world powers had a secret deal with Iran to allow the Islamic Republic to dodge restrictions in last year’s landmark nuclear deal, Fox News confirmed. Reuters reported Thursday that the findings are based on information from several officials involved in the negotiations. The full details are set to be published by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Iran is not being held to the publicly announced conditions of the deal, which was supposed to allow a decade of inspections and transparency aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The institute’s president, David Albright, told Reuters that the “exemptions or loopholes are happening in secret, and it appears that they favor Iran.” Albright had previously worked as an inspector with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency.

Chi-raq Homicides on Record Pace

They call it “Chi-raq” for a reason. Chicago is already on track to cross a disturbing threshold and top the number of shootings and homicides in the city for the entire year in 2015. Last Friday to Sunday alone, gun violence has been blamed for eight homicides and 64 non-fatal shootings, according to Chicago police. As of Sunday, homicides so far this year total 459. There have been 2,818 shooting victims this year — just 170 shy of 2015’s total of 2,988, according to the Chicago Tribune. With an average of nearly 82 shootings per week, the city will likely soon pass last year’s mark.

‘Burning Man’ Festival Largest Gathering of Occult Hedonism

About 70,000 people have descended upon a very bleak stretch of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for what is perhaps the largest celebration of hedonism on the entire planet, reports RedFlagNews.com. Burning Man has been described as a “dystopian hellscape“, and that description is not too far from the truth. From August 25th to September 5th (Labor Day Monday), revelers from all over the world will dance, carouse and “express themselves” in a temporary city that has been created entirely by its citizens. This festival is part Mad Max, part Woodstock and part Eyes Wide Shut, and many “Burners” look forward all year long to these eight days of completely unrestrained hedonism. 30 years ago,

Burning Man began as a small beach gathering in San Francisco. Initially held during the Summer Solstice, it quickly took on a life of its own and was moved to Nevada in 1990. Ever since then, this eight-day party has not stopped growing, and people literally fly in from all over the world to witness one of the most bizarre spectacles in America. In this very isolated corner of the Black Rock Desert, you will find nudists (lots of them), palm readers, neopagans, “ecosexuals”, witches, sorcerers, shamans, New Age gurus, “goddesses”, Satanists, “polyamorists” and just about every type of fetishist that you can possibly imagine. The reason why the festival is called “Burning Man” is because of the gigantic effigy that is burned toward the end of the eight-day celebration. Nobody is physically harmed during the burning of this enormous “wicker man”, but it does seem to parallel the human sacrifices that the Druids would do in ancient times.

  • If ever there was a sign of the end-times to come, this is it.

Migrant Update

The United States accepted the 10,000th refugee from Syria Tuesday as part of President Obama’s policy to vastly increase the number of humanitarian admissions from the war-torn country, the White House said Monday. And officials suggested that the ceiling for next year could be even higher. The milestone comes more than a month ahead of schedule, and despite congressional concerns that the administration doesn’t have the capacity to vet the influx of refugees. It’s also been an issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican Donald Trump calling the refugee program a “Trojan horse” for terrorists. Democrat Hillary Clinton has proposed increasing the Syrian refugee ceiling even higher, to 65,000.

Over the past 12 months, Europe has gone to great lengths to repel the tide of refugees and other migrants — rather than welcome them as they had beforehand. European countries responded to a populist backlash against migrants entering the continent by increasing border controls, tightening asylum rules and accelerating deportations. The well-trod Balkan land route was closed. The European Union and Turkey brokered a deal that significantly reduced the number of people making perilous journeys across the Aegean Sea to Greece and other European ports. German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to defend her welcoming refugee policy but has put limits on it. These barriers, however, have not deterred migrants from making the journey, even as some die attempting to find a better life in Europe. The International Organization for Migration, a watchdog group, said 2,901 people drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in the first six months of 2016 — a 37% increase from the same period last year. The Italian coast guard said it has rescued nearly 7,000 migrants, most of them from Eritrea and Somalia, in dozens of rescue missions since Sunday.

Zika Update

The U.S. has nearly exhausted all of its funding allocated to fight the Zika virus. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC has spent $194 million of the $222 million approved by Congress to fight the virus. As new Zika cases are announced virtually every day in places like Miami, Frieden fears they wouldn’t have enough money to stop a bigger outbreak. “The cupboard is bare,” Frieden told the Washington Post. “Basically, we’re out of money, and we need Congress to act to allow us to respond effectively.” Already, 16 infants have been born with microcephaly in the U.S. and more than 1,200 pregnant women with confirmed cases of Zika are being tracked by the CDC. Florida reported its first case in February, and as of Monday, the state has documented 588 residents with infections, including 75 pregnant women.

A team of researchers may have taken the first steps towards creating a treatment to stop Zika. The team identified nine compounds or medicinal mixtures, that appear to stop the Zika virus from killing fetal brain cells and from reproducing. The findings were published Monday in Nature Medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins explained that repurposing already-approved drugs is a quicker alternative than developing a new medicine. Of the 6,000 compounds tested, one already on the market showed the ability to inhibit the infection from spreading and reproducing. Zika is a mosquito-borne disease first discovered in 1947. The virus can lead to catastrophic birth defects including microcephaly – incomplete brain development. In the past nine years, the virus has crossed four continents. The World Health Organization reports that since 2015, 53 countries have reported Zika infections. Since February, eleven countries have reported sexual transmission of the disease. It was first reported in the Americas in Brazil in 2014 and has since spread to the United States.

Zika Spraying Kills Millions of Honeybees

Millions of honeybees lie dead after being sprayed with an insecticide targeting Zika-carrying mosquitoes. Beekeeper Juanita Stanley, co-owner of Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply in Summerville, South Carolina, said she lost 46 beehives — more than 3 million bees — in mere minutes after the spraying began. Stanley said Summerville Fire Capt. Andrew Macke, who keeps bees as a hobby, also lost thousands of bees. She said neither of them had protected their hives because they didn’t know about the aerial spraying. It’s a tragedy that could be repeated across the country as cases of Zika continue to rise and local mosquito control districts struggle to protect their residents and ease local fears. Dorchester County used a product called Trumpet, which contains the pesticide naled, recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for control of adult Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits Zika.

  • Bees have already been in steep decline due to colony collapse for reasons not yet fully understood

Gun boom: Sales Soar 40%

The gun industry is booming. Smith & Wesson revealed on Thursday a 40% surge in quarterly sales and a doubling of profits from last year. Consumers purchased 42% more Smith & Wesson handguns than last year. Shipments of long guns, which include shotguns hunting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, spiked by 119%. It’s the latest evidence of a thriving gun industry, in part due to concerns among many that recent mass shootings in the U.S. will cause the government to limit gun sales. FBI background checks for gun purchases have surged in recent months and are on track to shatter last year’s record.

Economic News – Domestic

U.S. payroll growth slowed in August after two booming months as employers added 151,000 jobs, underscoring that employment growth may be moderating and lowering the odds of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike this month. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9%, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 126,000 jobs, led by health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services. Federal, state and local governments added 25,000. Job gains for June and July averaged 273,000. Average hourly earnings rose 4 cents to $25.73 and are up 2.4% over the past year.

Factory activity contracted in August for the first time in six months as manufacturers continued to grapple with a sluggish global economy and the oil industry’s downturn. The unexpected decline raises more questions about the industry’s recovery and the health of the economy. A closely-watched index of manufacturing activity dipped to 49.4 from 52.6 in July, the Institute for Supply Management said Thursday. A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding, while below 50 means contraction. The report marks the industry’s first contraction following five straight months of expansion.

U.S. productivity fell in the April-June quarter by a larger amount than first estimated, while labor costs accelerated sharply. Productivity declined at an annual rate of 0.6%, even worse than the 0.5% drop initially reported, the Labor Department said Thursday. It marked the third straight quarter that productivity has fallen. Labor costs rose at an annual rate of 4.3%, the biggest rise since a 5.7% increase in the fourth quarter. Labor costs had fallen at a 0.3% rate in the first quarter. Productivity growth has slowed significantly in this recovery and is a major reason that overall growth has been so slow.

Slightly more Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the overall levels still remain near historic lows in a positive sign for the job market. The Labor Department says applications for jobless aid rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 263,000. The number of people collecting unemployment checks has fallen 4.4% from a year ago to 2.16 million. Applications have remained below 300,000 for 78 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1970 when the total number of U.S. workers was much lower.

Consumer confidence surged to a 12-month high in August as strong job gains and low gasoline prices more than offset concerns about weak economic growth. The Conference Board’s index of Americans’ views of the economy and labor market rose to 101.1 from 96.7 in July as their assessment of current conditions and their six-month outlook both improved. Monthly job growth averaged 273,000 in June and July, bouncing back resoundingly from a two-month slump. Meanwhile gasoline prices have edged up this year but remain low, with unleaded regular at $2.21 a gallon, according to AAA. And while stocks have been volatile, they’re hovering near all-time highs.

Apple must pay up to $14.5 billion in back taxes to Ireland, the European Union ruled Tuesday after the bloc’s anti-trust arm concluded that the technology firm was given illegal tax benefits over two decades. “Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies — this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. Vestager said a three-year investigation found Ireland granted such lavish tax breaks to Apple over many years. She said multinational’s effective corporate tax rate on its European profits dropped from 1% in 2003 to a mere 0.0005% in 2014. In a letter addressed to customers and published Tuesday, Apple says the EU’s decision will have “serious, wide-reaching implications.” Irish authorities have vowed to fight the finding, and the U.S. government has disputed the EU’s conclusions.

Economic News – International

During the second quarter of 2016, Canada’s GDP contracted at a 1.6 percent annualized rate.  That was the worst number in seven years.Canada has been hit very hard by the collapse in oil prices. For many years, high oil prices and booming exports enabled the Canadian economy to significantly outperform the U.S. economy.  But now conditions have changed dramatically, and all of the economic bubbles up in Canada are starting to burst.  This includes the housing bubble, with home sales home sales during the first two weeks of August in British Columbia down a whopping 51% on a year over year basis.

India’s breakneck growth rate has slowed, but not enough to cost it the title of world’s fastest growing big economy. Gross domestic product growth dipped to 7.1% in the quarter ended June, a disappointing performance but one that still trumps the 6.7% posted by China in its most recent quarter. The slowdown comes as unease mounts over the pace of economic reforms, leadership at the central bank, and intractable problems that politicians seem unable to tame: corruption, bureaucracy and onerous regulation. Economists have even called into question the validity of the country’s GDP statistics, which have diverged from other indicators after government officials changed how the number is calculated. Shilan Shah, an economist at Capital Economics, estimated that growth was “almost certainly weaker” than official statistics indicate, and perhaps as slow as 5.5% or 6% in the quarter.

Mexico heavily depends on its workers living abroad to send cash back home. Almost $25 billion flowed last year from the pockets of Mexicans living overseas, almost all of it from the U.S. That’s even higher than what Mexico earns from its oil exports. Essentially, Mexico’s most lucrative natural resources are the people who leave their home country. The cash remittances are a lifeline for the country and a critical source of economic development.

In the second quarter, Brazil’s economy contracted 3.8%, after shrinking 5.4% in the first three months of the year. It’s the longest recession since the 1930s for Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy. Brazil’s unemployment rate has shot up to 11.6% from 6.8% two years ago. Brazil’s first female president was impeached and voted out of office Wednesday, but not barred from the ballot if she wants to run again. A massive bribery ring between Petrobras officials, construction firms and Brazilian politicians has unraveled over two years of investigations which has led to multiple arrests of well-known businessmen and politicians. Although Rousseff hasn’t been formally accused of involvement, just about everyone around her has.

Nigeria slumped into recession and Norway’s economic growth slowed to a standstill in the second quarter due to the ongoing oil crisis. Both countries rely on oil for a big chunk of their exports and have been hit hard by the collapse in prices. Oil has recovered from February’s low of just over $26 per barrel but the current price of about $46 is still less than half what producers were getting just two years ago. Nigeria’s second quarter GDP fell by more than 2% compared to last year, after slipping by 0.4% in the first quarter. Two consecutive quarters of decline mean Nigeria is now officially in recession. Nigeria isn’t only hurting from low prices. Its oil output also fell sharply because of a series of rebel attacks on infrastructure. Norway’s offshore oil, gas and shipping activity shrank by 1.4% in the quarter, while mainland GDP grew just 0.4%. Norway’s central bank said the country might be forced to withdraw more than $9 billion from the $888 billion pension fund in 2016 to make up for the collapse in oil revenue.

Middle East

Palestinian authorities are silencing dissent by cracking down on free speech and abusing local journalists and activists critical of their policies, a leading international human rights group said Tuesday. Human Rights Watch said both the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and its rival, the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are “arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities.” HRW said that in the West Bank, Palestinian forces arrested activists and musicians who “ridiculed Palestinian security forces” and “accused the government of corruption” in statements posted on Facebook or stated in graffiti and rap songs.

Islamic State

The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 ISIS mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group’s territory shrinks. In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when ISIS extremists took over their region. For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, ISIS propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth. Still, even the known victims buried are staggering — from 5,200 to more than 15,000.

Mohammad al-Adnani, the official spokesman of ISIS and one of its most senior members, has died in Syria, the terror group said in a rare public statement. His death marks the highest-profile killing yet of an ISIS member. A key deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he was the person touted to be his successor should anything happen to al-Baghdadi. A statement from ISIS’ Amaq news agency on Tuesday said al-Adnani died while inspecting military operations in the area of Aleppo,

Somalia

A truck bomb exploded Tuesday outside the Somali presidential palace and the popular Somali Youth League Hotel in Mogadishu. Twelve people died in the blast. Police said at least 15 people were hurt and the death toll is expected to rise, with many of the wounded in critical condition. Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack via its Radio Andalus station. The explosion caused extensive damage to parts of the hotel and the second checkpoint of the entrance to the presidential palace.

Kyrgyzstan

A suspected suicide bomber on Tuesday crashed a car through the entrance of the Chinese Embassy in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek, detonating a bomb that killed the attacker and wounded three embassy employees. The interior ministry described it as a terrorist attack. Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razakov in comments to the Interfax news agency called it a suicide bombing. Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked former Soviet republic that borders China, has a predominantly Muslim population that is considered moderate in outlook.

Mexico

Mexicans lashed out at unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto’s decision to meet with Donald Trump on Wednesday as analysts said the meeting appeared to favor the Republican presidential nominee. Jesús Silva-Herzog, a Mexican academic, called the encounter the “biggest stupidity in the history of the Mexican presidency.” In the meeting, Peña Nieto didn’t demand that Trump apologize for calling Mexican migrants rapists and criminals. He also stood silently by in their joint press conference while Republican candidate repeated his promise to build a border wall between the countries, reports the USA Today. “The humiliation is now complete,” tweeted Carlos Loret de Mola, a news anchor for broadcaster Televisa.

Venezuela

Protesters packed the streets of Venezuela’s capital Thursday, demanding a recall vote to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power. Demonstrators blamed Maduro’s government for food shortages and major economic problems. Protesters filled three major avenues in the east of Caracas. Images of the protests showed throngs of people in plazas and roadways. Maduro told crowds clad in red that authorities had detained right-wing opposition leaders who were planning to plant bombs in the capital. He pressed his supporters to be ready in case of a coup. In recent days, the government has detained at least six opposition leaders, accusing them of conspiring against the government.

Cuba

When JetBlue Flight 387 touched down in Cuba on Wednesday, it became the first direct commercial flight between the US and the island in over a half-century. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Santa Clara, Cuba, flight was the latest symbol of the thawing of relations between the former Cold War adversaries, who restored diplomatic ties in 2015. Soon up to a maximum of 110 daily flights operated by such carriers as JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Silver Airways are due to begin flying to the communist-run island, according to the US Department of Transportation. Tourism to Cuba is still illegal, but there are now 12 categories of “authorized travel.” Before US citizens can board flights to Cuba, they will need to sign an affidavit swearing their travel falls within the permitted categories, including educational, religious and humanitarian reasons.

Earthquakes

Two earthquakes rocked Iceland early Monday, striking in quick succession underneath the caldera of Katla, one of the country’s largest volcanos. Authorities are monitoring the situation at the volcano in southern Iceland after the two quakes, which measured magnitude 4.2 and magnitude 4.5 and were followed by some 20 aftershocks. Iceland, an island nation in the remote North Atlantic, is a volcanic hotspot often hit by seismic activity. Its volcanos attracted international attention in April 2010, when ash from an eruption of its Eyjafjallajokull volcano grounded flights across Europe for days, disrupting travel for millions.

Weather

Hurricane Hermine has now weakened to a tropical storm while moving farther inland across the Southeast states early Friday morning. Heavy rain from Hermine will continue to impact a swath from Florida to Georgia and the Carolinas on Friday. Tropical storm-force winds, isolated tornadoes and storm surge flooding are also threats in that same area. Hermine will likely become a non-tropical low by this weekend and will hover near or off the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast seaboard, potentially resulting in strong winds, coastal flooding and other impacts. Hurricane Hermine has claimed at least one life in Florida. About 253,000 had lost power after the storm landed. Other areas of the state received heavy rains which led to flooding and the rescue of at least 18 people from rising waters in Pasco County. Hermine, which had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, was the first hurricane to come ashore in Florida since Wilma struck 11 years ago. In Florida, life-threatening flooding remains a risk as rain has pounded the Gulf Coast since Wednesday. Forecasters say much more is in store for the beleaguered state.

Monsoonal flooding that began in June has broken records along India’s Ganges River, officials say. Water levels reached “unprecedented levels” at four locations in northern India over the past week, chief of India’s Central Water Commission GS Cha told BBC.com. This includes Patna, the state capital of Bihar, where floodwaters reached 166 feet on Aug. 26, breaking the record of 164 feet set in 1994. Several other areas that surpassed previous records. The heavy monsoon rains and subsequent flooding over the past week forced more than 200,000 people in Uttar Pradesh state to be evacuated and moved to relief camps after floodwaters entered homes in some 800 villages across large swaths of the state.

Signs of the Times (8/29/16)

August 29, 2016

New Wave of Islamic Terrorist Sent to Attack Europe/UK

Increasing numbers of terrorists have been sent by ISIS using fake documents to sneak into Europe in order to carry out terror attacks. The alert came as the EU’s top law enforcement officer who revealed that increasing numbers of jihadists are using fake documents to sneak into Europe. Others were exploiting the “industrial scale” production of false documents by criminals to obtain EU passports and move freely over the continent. Britain was also warned Monday of a rising threat from Islamic State fighters sent “on mission” from Syria. Europol’s director Rob Wainwright said ISIS had taken a “strategic decision” to send its fanatics to attack the continent in an attempt to distract attention from battlefield defeats in its heartland.

Black Pastor Blasts ‘Black Lives Matter’ Over Abortion

Clenard Childress, senior pastor for New Calvary Baptist in New Jersey, says that the Black Lives Matter movement needs to separate itself from Planned Parenthood. In a column in LifeNews.com, he said, “There has never been a stranger paradox than the announcement that Planned Parenthood is in collaboration with ‘Black Lives Mattes,’ the epitome of oxymoronic examples. Black Lives Matter is partnering with an institution which was designed with the hope of completely eliminating African American people. Some would call this genocide, for this same organization is responsible for over twenty million African Americans missing by sanctioned murder in America.”

  • Previous studies have shown that a higher proportion of black babies are aborted than for whites

Fewer Americans Believe in God, More Leaving the Church

A new study has revealed that more and more Americans are leaving church, and one of the reasons is lack of belief in miracles. A Pew Research Center study revealed that half of Americans who have left church say they no longer believe in God. The number of people in the country who don’t believe in God is also increasing the study says. These so-called “nones” say they left church and stopped believing in God for a number of reasons, some of which include not liking organized religion, “common sense,” and believing science trumps miracles. Many respondents mentioned ‘science’ as the reason they no longer believe in religious teachings. Other reasons people cited for leaving church and not believing in God included “Learning about evolution when I went away to college, “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things,” and “Because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business…it’s all about money.”

  • Science doesn’t refute religion, it reveals how God’s creation functions

Christian Business Wins Court Battle Over Employing Transgender

The Christian owner of a Michigan funeral home has won a legal battle which allowed him to maintain the right to fire an employee who failed to comply with the funeral home’s policies. The Christian Institute reports that Thomas Rost, a devout Christian who believes God has called him to minister to grieving families through his business, came under fire after he dismissed an employee who began dressing as a female, though the employee was biologically a male. Rost’s funeral home has a gender-specific dress code, and since being hired in 2007, Anthony Stephens had complied with it. However, in 2013, Stephens decided to dress like a female and insisted he be called Aimee. Rost told Stephens he was free to dress how he wished at home, but had to comply with the dress code while at work. Stephens refused, and was therefore dismissed. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission brought the case against Rost’s funeral home, alleging that Stephens was dismissed unfairly. Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization defending Rost, stated, “The government must respect the freedom of those who are seeking to serve the grieving and vulnerable. They shouldn’t be forced into violating their deepest convictions.”

Judge Allows 3 at N.C. University to Choose Restrooms

A federal judge temporarily ruled Friday that the University of North Carolina can’t block two transgender students and an employee from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder partially granted a preliminary injunction to the students and the employee in response to their lawsuit challenging a state law that decreed restroom use was limited to biological gender. The injunction applies only to the plaintiffs, the judge said. But he indicated he also expects them to succeed in their claim that the law known as state House Bill 2 violates the federal Title IX law, which bars sex discrimination in schools. His decision represents a win for the American Civil Liberties Union and Justice Department, which had sued to block the law. His final decision on the law won’t come until after a November trial.

Fentanyl in Pain Relievers Killing Many Americans

Synthetic fentanyl showing up in the street drug supply is an enormous game changer,” says Carol Falkowski, CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, a group that helps track drug trends for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “It means anybody who purchases illegal drugs can unknowingly be taking fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine.” All it takes is a dose of fentanyl the size of three grains of sand to kill. Fentanyl is an opioid. Its effect on the body is exactly like heroin, or any other opiate-based medication. But fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl powder is cheap and easy to obtain on the dark web, experts warn, making it attractive to those manufacturing it into pill form mixed with other drugs. Those counterfeit drugs are sold on the street, and are usually labeled as something less potent. Even forensic scientists can’t tell whether some of the pills sold on the street are counterfeit or not just by looking at them. Those who take fake prescriptions likely have no idea if fentanyl is inside, or how much. Pills found in Prince’s Minnesota home were reportedly marked as hydrocodone, but when tested the pills turned out to have fentanyl in them.

Cheaper Takata Airbags Known to be Dangerous

In the late 1990s, General Motors got an unexpected and enticing offer. A little-known Japanese supplier, Takata, had designed a much cheaper automotive airbag, the New York Times reports. G.M. turned to its airbag supplier — the Swedish-American company Autoliv — and asked it to match the cheaper design or risk losing the automaker’s business. But when Autoliv’s scientists studied the Takata airbag, they declined, pointing out that the Takata airbags relied on a dangerously volatile compound in its inflater, a critical component that causes the airbag to expand. Today, that compound is at the heart of the largest automotive safety recall in history. At least 14 people have been killed and more than 100 have been injured by faulty inflaters made by Takata. More than 100 million of its airbags have been installed in cars in the United States by General Motors and 16 other automakers.

  • Once again, corporate greed supersedes safety (as in the VW electronic cover-up of high emissions)

Obama Creates Largest Ocean Reserve by Decree

President Obama, with the stroke of a pen, created the world’s largest ocean reserve on Friday off Hawaii, days after designating a massive federal monument in Maine – moves that have angered local lawmakers who accuse the president of disregarding the impact on residents. Obama used a presidential proclamation to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii by over 400,000 square miles. The preserve now stretches 582,578 square miles, the world’s largest marine protected area. “The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species … [and] will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems,” the White House said in a statement. But the decision drew sharp criticism from the fishing industry and even fellow Democrats, as it will drastically expand the area where commercial fishing and drilling is banned.

The announcement came after Obama used his executive authority to create the National Park Service’s newest national monument at Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. The new monument was created as part of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. The White House said the monument will protect 87,500 acres and will bolster the forest’s resilience against the impact of climate change. The monument’s creation, though, was opposed by state lawmakers and critics who warn it will hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy in the region.

Health-Care Exchange Sign-Ups Far Short of Forecasts

Enrollment in the insurance exchanges for President Obama’s signature health-care law are less than half the initial forecast, pushing several major insurance companies to stop offering health plans in certain markets because of significant financial losses. As a result, the administration’s promise of a menu of health-plan choices has been replaced by a grim forecast: Next year, more than 1 in 4 counties are at risk of having a single insurer on its exchange, said Cynthia Cox, who studies health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation. The success of the law depends fundamentally on the exchanges being profitable for insurers — and that requires more people to sign up, notes the Washington Post. In February 2013, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 24 million people would buy health coverage through the federally and state-operated online exchanges by this year. Just 11.1 million people were signed up as of late March. The law requires every American to get health coverage or pay a penalty, but the penalty hasn’t been high enough to persuade many Americans to buy into the health plans. Even those who qualify for subsidized premiums sometimes balk at the high deductibles on some plans.

America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Ready to Go

The turbines stand like sentinels off the coast of this tiny island, each rising twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. Workers attached the final 240-foot-long blades just days ago, turning the nation’s first offshore wind farm into a reality, reports the Washington Post. When residents look out at the altered horizon from their gray-shingled houses, some see progress, the birth of a promising industry, a way to ditch the 1 million gallons of diesel fuel that Block Island burns each year for power. Others see an expensive eyesore, a boondoggle that they contend will enrich private investors while burdening the state’s ratepayers and doing little to improve daily life here. One group went even to federal court in an unsuccessful effort to stall the project. America’s inaugural foray into offshore wind power is modest compared with the sprawling developments that have existed in Europe for decades. The five-turbine, 30-megawatt project, which is set to start operating this fall, will feed into New England’s electrical grid via underwater cables and provide enough energy to power about 17,000 homes.

Zika Update

The Food and Drug Administration has recommended screening the entire US blood supply for the Zika virus, it announced Friday, noting that screening donated blood is already underway in Florida and Puerto Rico. The new recommendation applies “across the board to anyone collecting blood,” explained Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. This includes very large blood collection establishments, such as the American Red Cross, and some very small establishments, such as academic centers, he said. The Red Cross said it will phase in universal testing. Currently, it is conducting Zika tests in five southeastern states and will expand testing to four additional states in the south central and southwestern US over the next two weeks.

Persecution Watch

When Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015, many thought the milestone event could signal a breakthrough in the campaign to promote religious freedom in the Caribbean island nation. But now the memory of that papal visit seems to have been forgotten as Cuba’s communist regime has launched a renewed crackdown on the Christian faith with reports of churches destroyed, pastors imprisoned, religious leaders’ personal property seized and Christians violently stopped from worshipping. In its latest report, the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says the Cuban regime has launched a major crackdown against churches and has seized and demolished at least 1,400 church buildings. The regime is justifying its action by claiming that the churches are unregistered, and therefore, illegal. The report cites more than 1,000 cases of religious freedom violations, including the “destruction of church property, arbitrary detention and other forms of harassment, in particular seizure of religious leaders’ personal belongings.”

Economic News

American consumers boosted spending at a slower pace in July, while their incomes accelerated slightly. Spending grew 0.3% in July following a 0.5% increase in June, the Commerce Department reported Monday. Spending on durable goods such as autos rose by a solid 1.6%, but spending for nondurable goods fell. The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at an anemic annual rate of 1.1% in the April-June quarter, marking a full year in which growth has limped along at an annual rate of 1.2%

The economy has been mired in a funk since late last year, but there’s cause for optimism: Business startup activity has returned to near pre-recession levels. About 550,000 new businesses were launched each month last year, on average, up from 466,000 in 2013, according to figures released this month by the Kauffman Foundation based on Census Bureau and Labor Department data. That’s the highest level since 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, the number of business startups with one additional employee – a subset that better captures firms that contribute significantly to economic growth — is also rising. There were 398,000 additional-employer businesses that were a year old or younger last year, up 7% from 2014 and the most since 2008, according to the Labor Department.

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve, signaled Friday that a rate hike is still on the table later this year. “I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months,” Yellen said in a speech in Jackson, Wyoming. But Yellen was vague on timing. The Fed’s committee next meets in late September. It also has a meeting in early November, however, it’s unlikely the Fed would raise rates right before the U.S. elections.

Uber may be the most valuable privately held company in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s making money. The company lost at least $1.27 billion in the first half of this year, according to Bloomberg News. Bloomberg reported that Uber’s head of finance Gautam Gupta shared the losses during a call with shareholders on Friday. Uber is said to have lost $520 million in the first quarter, and $750 million in the second quarter of 2016.

Islamic State

A suicide car bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on Monday killed at least 45 pro-government recruits, officials said. Over 60 wounded were being taken to three area hospitals. The men were at a staging area near two schools and a mosque when a pickup truck suddenly accelerated through the building’s gate as a food delivery arrived, exploding amid the crowd, witnesses said. Yemen is embroiled in a civil war pitting the internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition against the Shiite Houthi rebels aligned with ISIS.

ISIS has released a video online showing five young boys killing five prisoners. The video identifies the children, dressed in camouflage and holding handguns, as British, Egyptian, Kurdish, Tunisian and Uzbek. The men they kill were Kurdish prisoners, according to the video. Authorities in the region say ISIS is increasingly using children to commit acts of terrorism, exploiting them through propaganda and sending them out to kill. The terrorist group maintains an army of child soldiers, stolen from their families and indoctrinated to their cause. The children have been as young as seven years-old.

  • The sheer depravity of ISIS abundantly demonstrates their evil roots and reveals that their god is Satan

Syria

A helicopter dropped two barrel bombs on a funeral wake for children in the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing at least 16 people, Syrian monitoring groups said. The wake was being held Saturday in the rebel-controlled neighborhood of Bab al-Nayrab, the same area where 15 people were killed in a barrel bombing Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday. Barrel bombs — oil drums filled with explosives and shrapnel and dropped by aircraft — killed more than 3,000 civilians in Aleppo 2014, according to a report last year by Amnesty International. The human rights organization said barrel bombs are a common tactic of the Syrian government, which has been fighting rebels in a civil war since 2011.

Turkey

Kurdish militants on Friday attacked a police checkpoint in southeast Turkey with an explosives-laden truck, killing at least 11 police officers and wounding 78 other people, the state-run news agency said. The attack struck the checkpoint some 50 meters (yards) from a main police station near the town of Cizre, in the mainly-Kurdish Sirnak province that borders Syria. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack which was the latest in a string of bombings targeting police or military vehicles and installations. Authorities have blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, for those attacks.

Iran

Dangerous confrontations between Iranian and American warships in the Persian Gulf are up more than 50 percent in 2016 compared with this time last year, according to a U.S. defense official – despite the highly touted nuclear accord, as well as a recent $1.7 billion U.S. payment to Tehran. The latest incidents of provocative Iranian behavior flared in the Persian Gulf earlier this week, including one filmed by the U.S. Navy. The video showed four Iranian gunboats from its Revolutionary Guard Corps coming within 300 yards of USS Nitze, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Through the first six months alone of 2016, there were 26 dangerous confrontations that U.S. military officials called “unsafe and unprofessional.”

Iran has deployed the Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system around its Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility, Iranian state media reported on Monday. Iranian state TV on Sunday aired footage of deployment of the recently delivered missile system to the nuclear site in the central Iran. ‘Our main priority is to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities under any circumstances,’ Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) air defense force told state TV.

  • Iran wants to be prepared when the world learns of their duplicity in developing their nuclear weapons

France

Mayors do not have the right to ban burkinis, France’s highest administrative court ruled Friday. The Council of State’s ruling suspends a ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, and could affect cities around the country that have prohibited the full-length swimsuit commonly worn by Muslim women. More than 30 French towns have banned burkinis, which cover the whole body except for the face, hands and feet. Officials say the ban on the burkini was a response to growing terror concerns. Human rights activists argue that such measures are illegal, and that pushes to outlaw the garment are Islamophobic.

Philippines

Lifeless bodies lying on the streets of the Philippines are a visceral sign of new President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, reports CNN. So far more than 1,900 people have died. Of those more than 700 have been killed in police operations since Duterte took office in late June, according to police statistics. Many of the unsolved deaths are attributed to vigilantes. Duterte’s tough talk on the country’s drug and crime problems won him the election and, 60 days on from his inauguration, he remains extremely popular. A Senate inquiry is underway into the police and the extrajudicial killings. Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa told the committee there was no shoot to kill order, but people are happy with what the police are doing, despite mistakes by officers. But for all the plaudits, there are families heartbroken, jails swamped, rehab centers overwhelmed.

Bangladesh

Police killed three suspected militants, including the alleged mastermind behind the attack which left 22 people dead at an upscale bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, authorities said on Saturday. The alleged planner, Bangladeshi-Canadian Tamim Chowdhury, was killed during a police house raid in the district of Narayanganj, said counterterrorism official Monirul Islam. Bangladesh police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said the militants belonged to Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, a banned Islamist group in Bangladesh.

Environment

The nation’s creeks and streams may be tainted with hard drugs. A new study found amphetamines polluting water sources in Baltimore, CNN reports. Researchers who tested samples from six streams around the Maryland city found them tainted with “amphetamine concentrations are high enough to alter the base of the aquatic food web.” The drugs got there after they were flushed down the toilet by users either purposefully or through excretions. Limited filtering systems at wastewater treatment plants or “leaks in the sewer” enable the release of the drugs into the environment. Any living presence in those streams from moss to water bugs—and the creatures that eat them like fish and birds are at risk. A 2014 study found that meds flushed into the environment could be causing a global wildlife crisis, reported the Guardian.

Earthquakes

As strong aftershocks continue to rattle central Italy days after a large magnitude 6.2 earthquake, officials are losing hope of finding additional survivors, with the death toll rising to almost 300. The aftershocks damaged the devastated town of Amatrice even further. On Friday, the biggest aftershock, measured by the U.S. Geological Survey as a 4.7, shook the town at 6:28 a.m. local time. The town’s mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, said the aftershocks damaged two major roads, which may isolate the town at a time when rescue crews and aid workers are using the streets to get in and out of town. That severe aftershock was preceded by more than 50 tremors overnight and was followed by another nine in the next hour — part of the nearly 1,000 aftershocks that have rocked Italy’s central Apennine Mountains since the original 6.2-magnitude quake early Wednesday.

Weather

Heavy rains pounded the Kansas City metro area Friday night, prompting water rescues and closing roadways. A slow moving line of storms developed north of the Kansas City metro area and inched into downtown dropping two to five inches of rain. The Kansas City Fire Department assisted with water rescues in multiple parts of the downtown area. A flash flood emergency was in effect – the first ever by the National Weather Service Kansas City office. Thousands of Indianapolis residents were in the dark Friday morning as a round of damaging storms rolled through the city, knocking down trees and power lines. These storms came just two days after a round of severe weather spawned a handful tornadoes in the Hoosier State.

In India, heavy monsoon rains over the past week led to flooding as the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks, submerging large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi. Thousands of devotees were kept away by floodwaters, which also swamped nearby Allabahad. More than 200,000 people in Uttar Pradesh state have been evacuated and are living in relief camps after floodwaters entered homes in some 800 villages across large swaths of the state. Rainfall is common during India’s monsoon season from June through September, but rainfall this season has been particularly heavy after two years of drought across the northeastern states of India.

 

Signs of the Times (8/25/16)

August 25, 2016

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

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

Gender Confusion in Schools

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

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

Major Study Undermines Gay Agenda

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

Kim Davis Wins the Fight for Religious Freedom

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

Twitter Suspends 235,000 Accounts for Extremism

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

U.S. Opioid Deaths Skyrocketing

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

Tanning Industry Blames 10,000 Salon Closings on ObamaCare

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

Obamacare Options Dwindling

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

Louisiana Flood Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Turkey

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

Iraq

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

Iran

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Nigeria

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

North Korea

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

Haiti

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

Colombia

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

Brazil

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs Of The Times (8/20/16)

August 20, 2016

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

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

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

Obama Administration Sneaks in a New Regulation for Transgender Bathrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zika Update

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

Economic News

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

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

Israel

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

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

Syria

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

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

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

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

Iran/Iraq

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

Turkey

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

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

Germany

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

Nigeria

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

Environment

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

Signs of the Times (8/16/16)

August 16, 2016

Poll: Most Churches Avoid Discussing Social Issues

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

Evangelical Lutheran Church Passes Anti-Israel Resolutions

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

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

Anti-Police Protests Rock Milwaukee

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

Obama Administration Violates Bid Process to Build Detention Center

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

Pentagon Releases 15 More Gitmo Detainees

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

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

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

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

Russia Launches Syria Airstrikes from Iranian Base

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

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

Russia Building Dozens of Underground Nuclear Command Bunkers

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

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

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

Aetna to Pull Out of Most Obamacare Exchanges

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

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

Obama One of the Most Prolific Presidents Issuing Executive Orders

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

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

Zika Update

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

Migrant Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

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

Syria

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

Yemen

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

Venezuela

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

Environment

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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