Signs of the Times (8/11/14)

Anti-Semitism Flares in Europe Amid Gaza War

Four weeks of fighting between Hamas militants and Israel fueled a rise in anti-Semitism outbursts across Europe, ranging from violent attacks to chants of “Deaths to the Jews” at anti-Israel demonstrations. In Germany and other European countries — especially France, which has a large Jewish and Muslim population — Jews have been attacked on the street, synagogues have been bombed, Jewish groups have received hate mail and anti-Semitic slogans have been spray-painted on buildings. Three consecutive weekends of pro-Palestinian demonstrations turned into anti-Semitic attacks across France. Eight synagogues have been attacked, as well as several Jewish protesters. In Turkey — a mostly Muslim nation — Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who is running for president, has accused Israel of aggression similar to that of Adolf Hitler.

Ebola-Infected American Doctor Getting Stronger

Dr. Kent Brantly, the American doctor infected with Ebola released a statement Friday afternoon— his first since being brought back to the U.S. Brantly was working for humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse in West Africa, treating Ebola patients at a Liberia hospital when he contracted the deadly virus. On Saturday, August 2, he was flown to Emory University Hospital, where he has been in isolation while receiving care. He released the following statement through Samaritan’s Purse: “I am writing this update from my isolation room at Emory University Hospital, where the doctors and nurses are providing the very best care possible. I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease. I also want to extend my deep and sincere thanks to all of you who have been praying for my recovery. My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital. One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients.”

  1. S. to Quarantine Ebola-Exposed Missionaries

Missionaries returning to the United States after working with patients infected with Ebola will be put in quarantine and monitored, health officials said Sunday. The quarantine will last at least three weeks since the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus. The missionaries are with Charlotte-based SIM USA. None of them are sick or have shown any signs of having Ebola, but they agree with health officials that everyone should be as cautious as possible, SIM USA president Bruce Johnson said in a statement. The aid group isn’t releasing how many missionaries were in Liberia or when they will return to protect the privacy of their families. The returning missionaries will arrive in an area of the Charlotte airport away from the public.

  • Ebola’s spread to the United States is “inevitable” due to the nature of global airline travel, but any outbreak is not likely to be large, US health authorities said Thursday.

Ingress of Children from Central America Slowed in July

The number of children and families apprehended by the Border Patrol in July crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally fell by more than half in July from June, according to Customs and Border Protection. The significant drop reverses the recent surge in unaccompanied children and families fleeing north from Central America. “I think it’s a combination of factors: stepped up anti-smuggling efforts, the fact that Mexico is returning substantially larger numbers of people crossing their territory … and the fact that the countries themselves have been making a huge effort to tell people that what the smugglers are saying is not true and that the journey is really dangerous,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who served as a commissioner in the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

White Students No Longer the Majority

For the first time, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children. Non-Hispanic whites are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.9%. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students when added together will now make up the majority. About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15% are black and 5% are Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Native Americans Lack Internet Access

The broadband penetration rate across the 566 federally recognized tribes is less than 10%, according to a Native Public Media and New America Foundation analysis. The lack of broadband access even includes key community institutions on reservations, such as libraries. “Students will drive to neighboring cities and sit in the McDonald’s (MCD) parking lot to get connectivity,” said Traci Morris of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. The country’s major broadband providers tend to pass over rural tribal lands, in favor of wiring more densely populated urban areas. Wiring homes for broadband is expensive, and they can get a bigger bang for their buck in cities and towns, explained Morris. Regulatory hurdles also have dissuaded Internet companies from wiring reservations. Doing business in a reservation begins with a lengthy, multi-tiered bureaucratic process that starts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and includes navigating each sovereign tribal nation’s unique system of governance.

Economic News

U.S. workers were more productive in the April-June quarter and labor costs rose slightly, a sharp turnaround from grim first-quarter figures. The Labor Department says that productivity increased 2.5 percent at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, after plummeting 4.5 percent in the first quarter. That was the steepest drop in 31 years, and reflected a sharp 2.1 percent contraction in the economy. Labor costs rose just 0.6 percent, after surging 11.8 percent in the first quarter.

It’s no secret that many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, but a big chunk of households have saved nothing at all. Nearly a third, or 31% of U.S. adults said they had no savings or pension to help them afford retirement, according to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more alarming: 19% of those very close to retirement age, between the ages of 55 and 64, said they had no savings. As a result, more than half of these respondents said they planned to either work full-time or part-time during their retirement years.

The U.S. Postal Service boosted its revenue through price increases and a continued focus on package-shipping, but still ended the third quarter with a $1.96 billion loss. The agency boosted revenue by 2% to $16.5 billion in the period ending June 30. The improvement was due mainly to growth in its package-delivery business, which saw revenue rise 6.6% to $3.19 billion as postal customers increased their online spending.

Persecution Watch

Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria have reached a new level of terrorism as the Muslim extremists have began systematically killing Christians in a mass genocide. According to respected Chaldean-American businessman Mark Arabo, the militants hang men, rape and kill women and behead children. “This is a genocide in every sense. They are killing every Christian they see.” Arabo compared the tragedy to a “Christian Holocaust.” Thousands of Christians have fled the region in search of refuge. The few who remain in areas controlled by IS are either forced to convert to Islam or die.

The U.S. Navy has instructed housekeepers to remove Gideon-placed Bibles from every hotel room on its military bases after it received a letter from the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). NEXCOM (Navy Exchange Service Command) issued the directive to bases offering hotel accommodations, ordering them to impound Bibles from 34 Navy Lodge locations and 24,000 Navy Gateway Inns & Suites guest rooms on Navy bases worldwide. The Air Force tried unsuccessfully to remove Bibles from its lodgings in 2012, but after public outcry, the Air Force reversed itself.

Middle East

Palestinian negotiators on Sunday said they had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a new 72-hour truce with Israel, clearing the way for a possible resumption of talks on a long-term cease-fire arrangement in the Gaza Strip. Israel had walked away from cease-fire talks over the weekend, after militants resumed their rocket fire on southern Israel with the expiration of an earlier three-day truce. Sunday’s decision was aimed at bringing the Israelis back to the negotiations. Israeli later on Sunday accepted Egypt’s call for a new 72-hour cease-fire in the Gaza fighting to start at one minute after midnight Monday and for a resumption of Egyptian-mediated negotiations toward a more durable solution for Gaza.

Hopes that a 72-hour cease-fire might lead to a formal cessation of hostilities were dashed Friday when Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel, which responded with strikes on targets inside the Palestinian enclave. The breakdown was not entirely unexpected, as Hamas had warned it would not extend the cease-fire because Israel had not responded to any of the Palestinian demands. Chief among them is Hamas’ insistence that Israel end its 7-year blockade of Gaza and allow normal trade and traffic into the Mediterranean seaside territory that is home to 1.8 million people. Israel maintains it is willing to consider easing border restrictions but wants Hamas to disarm. Hamas officials said they were willing to continue negotiations, but Israel said it would not conduct negotiations under fire and would protect its citizens by all means.

Iraq

With American strikes beginning to show clear effects on the battlefield, Kurdish forces counterattacked Sunni militants in northern Iraq on Sunday, regaining control of two strategic towns with aid from the air. U.S. military aircraft conducted a strike Friday on ISIS artillery that had been used near Irbil, Iraq. After months of resisting sending Americans to fight ISIS, President Barack Obama on Thursday gave authorization to launch “targeted airstrikes” if needed to protect U.S. interests from fighters with the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS. The U.S. military could also use airstrikes to intervene in a humanitarian crisis that the Islamic State is inflicting on religious minorities. The Islamic State moved closer to U.S. interests in Iraq’s Kurdish region in the north this week, taking towns from the Kurdish fighting force, known as the Peshmerga. Before the Islamic State’s onslaught, the region had been the most stable in Iraq and a cooperative ally of the United States. U.S. military advisers and consular personnel are stationed in the Kurdish capital, Irbil.

Obama stressed that the U.S. wouldn’t be dragged into another war but would protect its people and interests in Iraq and prevent genocide of religious minorities. President Obama sought to prepare Americans for an extended presence in the skies over Iraq, saying the airstrikes he ordered last week, could last months. Iraqi officials said U.S. airstrikes Saturday killed 16 fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist militia that calls itself the Islamic State. The U.S. also conducted a second airdrop of food and water for thousands of refugees trapped in Iraq’s Sinjar mountains early Saturday. Three planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies for the refugees. Included in the aid were more than 28,000 meals and more than 1,500 gallons of water. According to the U.N., between 35,000 and 50,000 fled to nearby Mount Sinjar and other areas, and for the last several days they have been without adequate food and water. The United States is sending weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq who have begun to roll back gains made by Sunni militants.

Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is taking his struggle to keep his job to the courts after announcing he will file a legal complaint on Monday against the country’s newly elected president. The deadlock over a new government has plunged Iraq into a political crisis. Al-Maliki has resisted calls for his resignation and the political infighting could hamper efforts to stem advances by the Sunni militants. Meanwhile, Iraqi President Fuad Masum on Monday appointed Haider al-Abadi as Iraq’s new Prime Minister, in an event shown live on state television. Al-Abadi now has 30 days to form the Cabinet of the new government.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s feuding presidential candidates have agreed to resolve their election dispute and say they will set the inauguration before the end of August. The breakthrough comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened a second day of talks in Afghanistan on Friday aimed at preventing the fragile country from collapsing into political chaos after disputed elections. Kerry paid a courtesy call on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and met later with the two men, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. They’ve been locked in a bitter dispute over who will succeed Karzai.

Ukraine

Ukrainian forces have seized a key town, leaving the rebel region’s largest city of Donetsk surrounded. “The Donetsk-Horlivka group of the fighters of Novorossiya is completely surrounded,” said Igor Girkin, a top commander of the pro-Russia insurgency. The statement was posted on a rebel social media page. Novosrossiya, or New Russia, is a term widely used for the rebel region. As fighting raged Sunday in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, a Ukrainian military spokesman denied separatists’ calls for a cease-fire, saying a truce would only be possible if they surrender.

Liberia

Liberians packed churches in the capital Monrovia on Sunday to seek solace from an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, defying official warnings to avoid public gatherings to try to contain an epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa. With its creaking healthcare system completely overrun, Liberia declared a state of emergency last week to tackle the highly contagious and incurable disease, which has also stricken neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

Riot police in Monrovia, Liberia quelled a demonstration that blocked one of the nation’s busiest highways Saturday as an angry crowd protested the government’s delays in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims. Several bodies had been lying by the roadside for two days in the central town of Weala, 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia. Nearly 300 Liberians have died from the virus, which is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims, including touching or handling corpses. The Liberian government has ordered that all Ebola victims be cremated.

Wildfires

At least nine wildfires are currently burning in California, and there might not be much help on the way from the weather with thunderstorms and more lightning expected. The blazes are all located in the northeastern corner of the state and were all sparked by lightning. Over the weekend, new wildfires burned in Lassen, Modoc and Shasta counties. In Mendocino County, crews continued to fight a fire that has burned 8,700 acres of land. The Lodge fire was started by lightning on July 30, and firefighters have contained 35 percent of the blaze. An evacuation order remains in effect as the fire about 160 miles north of San Francisco threatens nearly 60 structures across six communities. The fire is smaller than the fire that has charred 50 square miles in Shasta County, but CalFire officials said remote and rugged terrain in Mendocino County makes it tougher to fight. CalFire officials said that eight firefighters sustained “minor” burns while battling the Lodge Fire.

An evacuation order was lifted for 740 homes threatened by the Columbia Gorge wildfire in Oregon. Firefighters there made good progress on the blaze, upping containment figures to 55 percent. And in Washington, a dozen wildfires in the central and eastern portions of the state put more than a thousand homes and structures in some danger, though firefighters started to get control of about half the blazes. Unfortunately, more bad news could be on the way for the thousands of firefighters in California, Washington and Oregon, with fire weather watches and red flag warnings in effect with an increased risk of thunderstorms through Tuesday

Weather

The one-two hurricane punch that was supposed to hit Hawaii is looking more like a jab and a missed left hook. After Hawaii cleared Tropical Storm Iselle largely without deterring sunbathers and surfers, the state looked toward Hurricane Julio, which was expected to pass roughly 160 miles northeast of the islands at its closest point early Sunday and linger near the state into Monday. While prospects for Julio could quickly change, the storms appear to have been more a scare for Hawaii than a significant threat. The Big Island took the brunt of a weakening Iselle on Thursday night and early Friday. Iselle knocked down power lines, phones and trees, but it not did not cause major damage or injuries. While it lacked power, Iselle was the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years.

Halong made landfall near Aki, Kōchi prefecture, Japan as a tropical storm Sunday, forcing the evacuations of more than 1 million people, killing one person, injuring 52 others and dumping record-breaking rainfall on parts of western Japan as it moved through the island nation out to sea. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) issued a rare emergency weather warning for Mie prefecture due to “unprecedented” rainfall that could spark landslides and flooding of extremely swollen rivers. At least 17 inches of rain was recorded during a 24 hour period in the town of Hakusan with a total of 34-42 inches reported in some area over a two-day period.

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