Archive for August, 2015

Signs of the Times (8/31/15)

August 31, 2015

Southern Baptists to Cut up to 800 Missionaries due to Lack of Funds

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced this week that it will need to cut staff and missionaries to balance its budget. According to Christianity Today, David Platt, the president of the board, announced Thursday that 600 to 800 missionaries and staff positions need to be cut to make up for a $21 million deficit. Currently, the IMB employs about 450 people and oversees about 4,700 missionaries. Over the past six years, the IMB has spent about $210 million more than it has brought in.

Illiteracy in America Reaching Epidemic Levels

Studies are showing that illiteracy in America has reached epidemic levels. U.S. military leaders have even gone so far as to term the illiteracy rate of young Americans “a national security threat,” according to Christianity Today. Only a third of America’s eighth graders–students who are 13 or 14 years old–scored proficient or higher on reading tests in 2013. Children from low income families are even less likely to be able to read and to attain a sufficient education.

  • In light of how integral reading is to Christianity with Jesus embodying “the Word” and the Bible being a printed document that we read, this is a serious spiritual problem as well.

ISIS ‘Growing Like Crazy’ Due to Obama’s Weak Response

September marks the first anniversary of the U.S. war against the Islamic State group (ISIS), but American efforts are showing little success, NBC News reported on Sunday. NBC’s Richard Engel reported on “Meet the Press,” that one U.S. officials said the terror group’s international branches are “growing like crazy,” spreading North and West Africa, Arabia, Afghanistan and into the Far East. “ISIS has expanded far more quickly and extensively than Al Qaeda ever did,” Engel said. The current strategy is based on three pillars, “and they’re all shaky,” Engel said. Retraining of the Iraqi army has been slow, and Iran often calls the shots, he said. Only a few Syrian rebels have been trained, and many have been kidnapped already. The airstrikes have been successful in killing ISIS leaders and fighters, but they all are quickly replaced.

  • It certainly didn’t help when Obama referred to ISIS as a Junior Varsity squad

Kerry signs UN Gun Ban Treaty against Wishes of U.S. Senate

Secretary of State John Kerry last Wednesday signed a controversial U.N. treaty on arms regulation, riling U.S. lawmakers who vow the Senate will not ratify the agreement. As he signed the document, Kerry called the treaty a “significant step” in addressing illegal gun sales, while claiming it would also protect gun rights. U.S. lawmakers, though, have long claimed the treaty could lead to new gun control measures. They note the U.S. Senate has final say on whether to approve the agreement. Senators note that the treaty raises “fundamental issues” concerning “individual rights protected by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the most vocal opponents of the treaty, also sent a letter to Kerry declaring the treaty “dead in the water,” since a majority of senators has gone on record against the agreement.

U.S. Leads the World in Mass Public Shootings – By Far

When it comes to gun massacres, the United States is tragically exceptional: There are more public mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world, according to a new study published by the University of Alabama. Between 1966 and 2012, there were 90 mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are defined for the study as having four or more victims and don’t include gang killings or slayings that involve the death of multiple family members. The recent slaying of the on-air TV reporter and cameraman while high-profile, does not fit this definition. The 90 U.S. mass shootings are nearly a third of the 292 such attacks globally for that period. While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it had 31% of all public mass shootings. In the United States, people have a greater chance of dying in mass shootings if they’re at work or at school. Overseas, these incidents typically happen near military installations.

  • In a world of good and evil, there is no perfect solution to the gun conundrum until Jesus returns to rule and reign on earth

Voter Fraud Alert! Look Many U.S. Counties Have More Voters than People

A public interest law firm is threatening to bring lawsuits against more than 100 counties across the United States that appear to have more registered voters than living residents. The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a law firm dedicated to election integrity based in Indiana, recently sent statutory notice letters to election officials in 141 counties putting them on notice of their discoveries. The group says if action is not taken to correct the questionable voter rolls, they will bring lawsuits against every single county on the list. “Voter rolls across America have been discovered that contain substantial numbers of ineligible voters, resulting in the possible disenfranchisement of legally eligible voters via ballot dilution that threatens to subvert the nation’s electoral process,” PILF states.

  • This is why liberals are so opposed to voter ID laws, since they benefit from fraudulent voting

University Sells staff and Students to Stop Using Traditional Gender Language

The University of Tennessee has told its staff and students to stop calling each other ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’ and ‘her’ – and to start referring to one another with terms like ‘xe’, ‘zir’ and ‘xyr’ instead. The Knoxville branch of the public university, which has 27,400 students, sent a memo round to its members filled with unusual new parts of speech to avoid referring to anybody’s gender. Donna Braquet, who runs the university’s Pride Center, wrote the guidelines, which are accompanied with a long table demonstrating how to replace the regular parts of gender speech. Officials have since insisted the the guidelines are not compulsory and that they do not want to ‘dictate speech’.

  • Are gay activists so blind that they cannot see the absurdity of their proposal? Apparently so.

Company Plans to Ship Fresh Water from Alaska to Drought-Plagued California

An Alaska company is planning to ship massive amounts of fresh water to drought-plagued California, potentially as much as 10 million gallons a month. “We are prepared to deliver bulk water now, and we are currently working with customers who hope to be able to take delivery by the end of the year,” Alaska Bulk Water CEO Terry Trapp said. Trapp, who used to run a bottled water company, would perform the feat by shipping the water on a tanker. The water would be taken from the Blue Lake in Sitka, where the company has rights to up to 9 billion gallons of “some of the most pure water on Earth.” California’s drought is now in its fourth year, and 97% of the state is experiencing dry conditions, sparking water shortages and huge wildfires. Even though it’s been unusually hot and dry this year in Alaska — which is suffering one of its worst wildfire seasons on record — there’s plenty of water in Sitka, Trapp said.

Cuts in Disability Benefits Coming?

The future for Medicare and Social Security might not look bright at the moment, but it’s particularly bleak for the government’s disability insurance program. According to the Social Security trustees’ report released last month, the disability insurance trust fund will run out money in 2016 and it needs immediate attention. In the absence of any attention, millions of Americans will receive an automatic 19% reduction in their Social Security disability benefits in the fourth quarter of 2016. In 2015, the average Social Security disability insurance benefit amount was $1,165 per month, but beneficiaries can receive up to $2,663. Why the cuts? Social Security is precluded from spending money it doesn’t have.

  • However, most experts don’t expect lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to actually cut Social Security disability insurance benefits, but that will require some fancy footwork.

Economic News – Domestic

Wall Street ended a tumultuous week on a calmer note. The three major averages were mixed, but they all managed to post weekly gains. The Nasdaq led the way with a 2.6% advance. The Dow and S&P 500 rose 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively. However, stock indexes are still about 5% below their pre-crash highs and economists are mixed about whether stocks are still in a major correction or not. Stocks fell at the open Monday as uncertainty about the timing of Federal Reserve rate hikes and continuing fears about a China slowdown weigh on financial markets.

Crude oil prices rallied for the second straight day on Friday as a conflict in Yemen raised fears of supply constraints in the Middle East. West Texas Intermediate futures rose $2.66, or 6%, to settle at $45.22, a barrel after surging 10% on Thursday, capping the biggest weekly gain six years. The oil industry “has yet to feel the full impact of capital spending cuts and project cancellations that will provide a tighter market of oil in the future when the global economy comes back,” senior energy analyst Phil Flynn of the Oil Price Futures Group said.

The word of the week for investors was “sell.” Mom and pop investors are dumping their stocks and moving to cash at levels not seen since the financial crisis of 2008. It’s an “investor revolt,” is how Credit Suisse characterized it. Normally when investors panic about stocks falling, they sell stocks and buy bonds, which are viewed as safer. But that’s not happening now. Investors aren’t just fleeing stocks, they’re exiting bonds, commodities and international funds too. This week alone, investors have pulled nearly $30 billion from stock funds. That’s the largest weekly outflow since Bank of America Merrill Lynch began tracking the data in 2002.

The U.S. economy grew more rapidly than previously thought in the second quarter on stronger business stockpiling, commercial construction and consumer spending. The nation’s gross domestic product expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.7% in the April-June period, the Commerce Department said Thursday, above the 2.3% initially estimated. The surge was partly a rebound from meager 0.6% growth in a first quarter hampered by harsh winter weather and a West Coast ports slowdown.

Construction of homes and commercial buildings is up significantly this year but the industry would be sizzling if not for a critical shortage of workers, industry officials say. The labor crunch is delaying projects, raising home prices and forcing companies to turn down work, which in turn curtails building activity and economic growth. Spot labor shortages began in 2012 as new construction slowly came to life following the 2000’s real estate crash. But they’ve spread across most of the country and have been accentuated this year by a strong recovery in both residential and commercial building. Nearly 70% of home builders surveyed in June reported a shortage of carpenters and 86% of commercial builders said they’re having trouble filling hourly or salaried positions.

Economic News – International

Central bankers are swooping to the rescue of shaky economies, soothing investor panic for now but highlighting a global addiction to easy money. China’s central bank stepped in to shore up its flagging economy this week after a sharp stock plunge and fears about slowing growth triggered waves of selling across global markets. Central banks in Canada, India, Australia, and Norway have cut interest rates this year and most of those countries are expected to ease further. Rates in Switzerland have languished in negative territory since late last year. And policymakers in Europe and Japan are printing money as a tool to support growth. Five of the seven biggest economies are in cheap money mode, while the U.S. and the U.K. remain stuck in neutral — at least for now. The U.S. was on track to raise rates as early as next month, but the problems plaguing China and rest of world may put that off.

  • The world’s addiction to cheap money has built a foundation of sinking sand, and the house of cards is going to eventually come down in a resounding crash, as prophesied in Revelation 6:5-6.

Once a major economic success story, Brazil sank into recession on Friday. Its currency is plummeting, unemployment is rising, its stock market is down 20% from a year ago and its president, Dilma Rousseff, has an 8% approval rating. Its economy contracted 1.9% in the second quarter. It was the second consecutive quarter of contraction. Prices for all of Brazil’s key commodities — oil, sugar, coffee, metals — have tanked. Commodities are the engine behind Brazil’s economy and they’ve lost value fast. In addition, Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, is mired in a massive corruption scandal tied to many members in Rousseff’s political party.

China’s insatiable appetite for metals like copper is falling off a cliff. It’s destroying prices of raw materials, and killing U.S. jobs. Copper — a key indicator of global growth — has been hit especially hard by China’s slowdown. Prices have tumbled 40% since early 2013. There’s now an oversupply of copper in the world, because the frenzied demand from China has fizzled. Besides electronic products and cars, copper is widely used in wiring, plumbing and building construction — key components in China’s massive infrastructure development boom of the last decade. That building boom is now fading. Freeport-McMoRan, the world’s largest publicly traded copper miner, is slashing its mining employees and contractors by 10%.

Western investors have thrown Ukraine a financial lifeline worth $3.6 billion by agreeing to write off some debt and delay bond repayments. The restructuring applies to about $18 billion worth of bonds. It means Ukraine will avoid a costly default. Ukraine’s economy was brought to the brink of collapse by the turmoil triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, and a wider conflict with separatist rebels in the east of the country.

In what could be the largest natural gas discovery in history, Italian energy company Eni says it has unearthed a “supergiant” gas field in the Mediterranean Sea covering about 40 square miles. The gas field could hold a potential of 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Eni says that’s the energy equivalent of about 5.5 billion barrels of oil. The company won’t know the field’s true size until it begins to develop it. Found in the deep waters off the northern coast of Egypt, Eni claims the gas field to be the largest ever in the Mediterranean and possibly the world.

Persecution Watch

Heightened hostilities against Christians in India that began late last year continued through a hot summer, with Hindu extremists threatening Christians and forcing them to “reconvert” to Hinduism, church leaders said. In Rajasthan in the northwest, 10 Christian families in Nakhnool village, near Alwar, have fled after intolerant Hindus harassed and threatened to kill them, area church leaders said. “Since June 27, we have not been able to have any kind of worship meetings,” area pastor Malkeet Singh told Morning Star News. “The extremists threatened to harm us if we utter the name of Christ or conduct any Christian meetings.”

Two churches in Syria were hit by a mortar attack which killed nine people and left 50 wounded. The bombing hit two churches on the outskirts of Damascus, one a Maronite church, another a Catholic church, leaving the churches in ruins and people dead or injured. Christians in Syria also frequently suffer persecution at the hands of ISIS militants. “In my country, Syria, Christians are caught in the middle of a civil war and they are enduring the rage of an extremist jihad. It is unjust for the West to ignore the persecutions these Christian communities are experiencing,” Jean Clément Jeanbart, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo declared.

Persecution against Iraqi Christians will finally be addressed with the creation of a committee that will work to end human rights abuses against them. Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi has authorized the establishment of the committee, according to Christian Today. In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Currently, there are thought to be less than 200,000. This drastic drop in the number of Christians who live in Iraq is due in large part to the abuses they have experienced for their faith at the hands of the Islamic State.

A Pakistani man and his wife who converted to Christianity were severely persecuted and then shot by family members. The couple, Aleem and Nadia Masih, had gotten married about a year ago after Nadia converted to Christianity from Islam. Nadia’s Muslim family continually threatened the couple so that they fled Lahore, Pakistan and began traveling to a town called Narang Mandi, about 37 miles from Lahore, according to the Christian Post. Nadia’s father and brothers pursued the couple as they traveled to Narang Mandi, overtaking them on the road. They kidnapped the couple and took them to a farm where they brutally beat and kicked them before shooting them.

  • When have we ever heard of Christians murdering those who convert to other religions? Never.

Islamic State

A U.S. drone strike in Syria Tuesday reportedly killed a fugitive British computer hacker who had become one of ISIS’ top online recruiters. The Wall Street Journal reported the death of Junaid Hussein late Wednesday, citing two people familiar with the operation. The officials said that Hussein was killed by a targeted airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS’ self-proclaimed “caliphate”. Adopting the name of Abu Hussain Al Britani, he repeatedly called for young, computer-literate Muslims to come to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. “You can sit at home and play call of duty or you can come here and respond to the real call of duty… the choice is yours,” Hussein tweeted in 2014, referencing the popular video game. In recent months, officials told the Journal that Hussein had tried to use social media to recruit would-be jihadis to carry out attacks against U.S. service personnel.

Turkey announced Saturday that its fighter jets have carried out their first airstrikes as part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria. A Foreign Ministry statement said the jets began attacking IS targets late Friday across the border in Syria that were deemed to be threats to Turkey. After months of hesitance, Turkey agreed last month to take on a more active role in the fight against IS. U.S. officials announced they had reached a technical agreement concerning their cooperation, which calls for Turkey to be fully integrated into the coalition air campaign.

Iran

The Democratic National Committee reportedly failed this weekend to pass a resolution supporting President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, with Congress set to vote on the issue as early as next week. Obama and his White House team have worked extremely hard to get enough Capitol Hill votes for the resolution to pass, amid strong opposition from the Republican-controlled House and Senate. The failure of the Democrats to pass such the resolution is largely being considered at setback for what would likely become Obama’s signature foreign policy victory. Some congressional Democrats who are Jewish oppose the deal, fearing it will put Israel at greater risk of attack by neighbor and bitter rival Iran.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) states that the Iranian regime, a serial violator of its international obligations, cannot be trusted to uphold its commitments in the nuclear deal. Tehran has violated international agreements “at least 20 times,” including by building a secret uranium enrichment site deep inside a mountain. Iran’s record of cheating, coupled with a weak inspections regime that gives Iran up to 24 days to stall inspections of suspected nuclear facilities, are key reasons why America needs a better deal, UANI states. “We may wish that Iran change its behavior, but trusting this radical regime to do so is a very dangerous and risky proposition,” said UANI CEO Mark D. Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and UANI Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, former U.S. senator from Connecticut.

Europe

Austria, Germany and Hungary tightened border checks on Monday in new operations aimed at cracking down on human traffickers after 71 people died in a food truck near Vienna last week. The development comes as European authorities scrambled to find solutions to an unprecedented migration crisis that is claiming lives on land and sea. Austria increased inspections of trucks at its border with Hungary, creating an 18.5-mile traffic jam on the main Budapest-Vienna highway. Germany also introduced traffic checks on its highways near the border with Austria. And in Budapest, Hungarian authorities stepped up inspections of trains bound for other destinations in central Europe. European leaders announced over the weekend they would hold a summit on Sept. 14 in Brussels to try to devise a strategy for dealing with the crisis. Authorities in Greece said they rescued nearly 2,500 migrants from the sea in dozens of search-and-rescue operations over the weekend.

At least 150 people are believed to have drowned off western Libya after a fishing boat carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean, Libyan and international relief officials said on Friday. On Thursday, the discovery of 71 dead migrants in the back of a truck in Austria came just a day after the Italian coast guard said 54 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, highlighted once again the scale of the migration crisis gripping Europe. Another 3,000 men, women and children were rescued in multiple operations off the Libyan coast on Wednesday. However, migrants’ bodies were washing up along a stretch of Libya’s western coast in alarming numbers, over 40 on one recent day. More than 300,000 people are estimated to have tried the crossing this year, and at least 2,500 have died or are missing, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The death toll for the whole of 2014 was 3,281.

Environment

Thousands of Pacific walrus have returned to the northwest coast of Alaska in what scientists say is a sad annual sign of climate change. Once again, melting sea ice has left the animals with nowhere to go but the shores of Point Lay, Alaska. According to Associated Press, the walrus have been swimming to Point Lay for nearly eight years as the sea ice they rely on for survival disappears at a record pace. Unable to swim for long stretches, the marine mammals rest on ice and between dives for clams, snails and other food. Mothers will also often leave walrus pups on the ice as they hunt. Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service have advised Alaska residents avoid large groups of the animals that are prone to stampedes when gathered in large numbers. They are easily scared by loud noises.

Fish, wildlife and ultimately people could be exposed to harmful levels of toxic chemicals in the waters of the Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The study, published last week in the scientific journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, found that concentrations of mercury and selenium in the Grand Canyon’s food webs – the interconnected food chains that exist within an ecosystem – regularly exceeded levels considered risky for consumption by fish and other animals. Researchers from USGS surveyed six sites spread out over a 250-mile stretch of the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon, downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, and found potentially harmful concentrations of the chemicals “in everything from bugs to trout to algae.” The presence of the toxic chemicals in a place like the Grand Canyon – “one of the most remote ecosystems in the United States,” the USGS points out – shows the far-reaching impacts that the industrialized world has on even largely well-preserved environments like our national parks.

Piles of bug carcasses covered the ground at a gas station in Lone Pine, California. They were inches deep on the sides of the street, dead after flying by the thousands toward even the smallest sources of light. Such has been the skin-crawling reality for the past two months in the high-desert communities at the foot of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern slopes, where residents have seen an explosion of the black-and-red seed bug species, Melacoryphus lateralis. Scientists say it’s the first such swarm they’ve seen in California. The bugs are getting into everything, including homes, cars and food. The influx has been driven by a mild winter and monsoonal weather, which provided healthier vegetation for the nutrient-sucking bugs, the scientists say. To the north, a different type of bug is infesting the site of the popular Burning Man counterculture festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. State officials are working to identify the green, coin-shaped insects swarming the outdoor venue and biting workers setting up for this year’s event, which starts Aug. 30.

Volcanoes

One of the world’s most active volcanoes began erupting again on Hawaii’s Big Island Thursday morning, sending a thick ribbon of lava from its summit down into the forests nearby. The volcano’s lava flow posed no threat to surrounding communities at this time. Lava from the volcano had moved about half a mile in less than 24 hours. Reuters reports that a magnitude 3.8 earthquake occurred beneath the volcano on Thursday, and “low levels of seismic activities continue across the volcano,” USGS added.

Wildfires

Infernos that have been burning for weeks in a part of Siberia have turned the landscape into what some say resembles Hell on Earth. Near Lake Baikal, the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, large wildfires are sending huge amounts of smoke into the air, shrouding the popular vacation area in the middle of summer. These wildfires have burned more than 540 square miles in Russia. Aside from the environmental hazards created by the smoke rising into the atmosphere for weeks, there’s another problem: “Fires near the lake’s shores actually kill the water arteries, thus damaging the water balance in the lake,” said Mikhail Slipenchuk, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on natural resources and ecology.

Weather

Tropical Storm Erika lashed Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Friday with heavy rains and wind after killing at least four people and causing devastating floods and landslides in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, where several people remained missing. The rain from Erika could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency ahead of the approaching storm, which could impact the state by Sunday or Monday. However, as of Saturday morning, Erika was breaking up, but its remnant moisture is still bringing locally heavy rain to the Southeast U.S., especially Florida, as we start the week..

The governor of Hawaii declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of Hurricane Ignacio, which became a major hurricane Saturday morning. Forecasts are still uncertain, but current models predict the storm will pass just north of Hawaii’s Big Island Monday afternoon local time.

Two people have died after an unusually strong storm system moved through the Northwest, bringing down trees and causing power outages. Puget Sound Energy estimated 224,000 customers without power. Three other Seattle area utilities had 240,000 customers without power between them.

A massive chunk of ice that scientists say is roughly the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier and begun floating into the sea, in what is likely one of the biggest ice calving events in recorded human history. This calving event broke off nearly 11 cubic miles of ice, which means this chunk of ice could cover the whole of Manhattan Island by a layer of ice nearly 1,000 feet thick. The world has seen three inches of sea level rise since the early 1990s and we should expect “at least three feet” more by roughly the end of the century, NASA scientists said in a press briefing Wednesday, as global warming accelerates the melting of the planet’s ice sheets and the slow but steady expansion of the oceans.

Signs of the Times (8/25/15)

August 25, 2015

4,500 Babies Saved From Abortions After Texas De-Funds Planned Parenthood

New Texas abortion figures are out today and they confirm that de-funding the Planned Parenthood abortion business has real results. Almost 4,500 unborn babies were saved from abortions as the new Texas abortion figures show a decline in abortions from 68,298 in 2012 to 63,849 abortions in 2013, the last year for which data is available. In July, 2011, pro-life Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 7, a health care measure containing language that would revoke the taxpayer funding for the Planned Parenthood abortion business. The measure de-funded Planned Parenthood of $34 million or more. Americans nationwide have called for de-funding Planned Parenthood after the massive scandal at Planned Parenthood, where its staff and officials have been caught selling aborted babies and their body parts.

StemExpress CEO Admits Planned Parenthood Sells Fully Intact Aborted Babies

Just a short time after a judge issued a ruling that the biotech firm StemExpress can’t block the Center for Medical Progress from releasing another video that shows what it does with aborted babies Planned Parenthood sells to it, the pro-life group put up a preview of the 8th video in its series, reports LifeNews.com. In the video, Cate Dyer, the CEO of StemExpress, is shown in a lunch meeting with undercover operatives posing as representatives of a biotech firm. Dyer is laughing about how StemExpress purchases fully intact aborted babies from Planned Parenthood. She laughs about how shippers of the aborted babies would give a warning to lab workers to expect such a baby. “Oh yeah, if you have intact cases — which we’ve done a lot — we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety,” she says.

Boy Scouts Sued after Homosexual Troop Leaders Abuse Four Kids

“Yet another man is charging the Boy Scouts with failing to protect him decades ago against a former St. Paul adult scout leader who allegedly abused him dozens of times when he was an adolescent and took naked photographs of him,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The scout leader, Leland Lee Opalinski, has been named in three other civil suits against the Boy Scouts of America since late June, when Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough announced he was seeking damages from the Scouts and the local Northern Star Council for four years of sexual abuse by Opalinski. In a civil suit filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court, John Doe 153 charges that Opalinski repeatedly had ‘sexual contact’ with him between 1967 and 1971, when he was 12 to 16.”

400,000 ‘Anchor Babies’ Born in U.S. Each Year

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship has focused new attention on the law deemed to grant automatic citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal alien parents. Children gaining birthright citizenship are pejoratively referred to as “anchor babies” because they provide an anchor in the U.S. for family members seeking to enter the country legally. The number of babies gaining birthright citizenship has been steadily rising and is now estimated to top 300,000 and reach as high as 400,000 a year, according to John Feere of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The Pew Hispanic Center puts the estimate at 340,000 a year. In the most recent analysis, nearly three-quarters of all children of undocumented immigrants were U.S. citizens, and the children of illegals cost taxpayers some $52 billion a year in education expenses alone, Judicial Watch disclosed. Nearly 4 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. have at least one child who is a citizen. And 66 percent of the immigrants who were granted permanent residency in a recent year were sponsored by family members who were American citizens.

Three Americans Subdue Armed Terrorist on European Train

Three Americans are being hailed as heroes Saturday for tackling and disarming a gunman on a high-speed train travelling between Amsterdam and Paris Friday. Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, was traveling with childhood friends Spencer Stone, an Air Force serviceman from Carmichael, California, and Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsmen from Roseburg, Oregon, when they heard a gunshot and breaking glass. Sadler told The Associated Press that they saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a gunman with an automatic rifle. “As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, ‘Spencer, go!’ And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler said. “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.” Another passenger helped the servicemen tie the gunman up, and Stone then quickly turned to help another passenger who had been wounded in the throat, stopping his bleeding until paramedics came. The armed gunman was on authorities’ radar in three different countries and had ties to radical Islam

Two Women Make Army Ranger History

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver made history Friday as the first two women to graduate from the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger School. The two received their tabs as part of Ranger Class 08-15 at Fort Benning, Georgia, marking a historic moment in the integration of women in the U.S. military, after completing weeks of grueling physical training across woods, mountains and swamplands. At an outdoor ceremony, Maj. Gen. Austin S. Miller, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, addressed critics who questioned whether standards of the rigorous course were lowered for the two female Rangers. They met every requirement the men did, he said.

Women Register to Vote for the First Time in Saudi Arabia

For the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia, women can begin registering to vote this week. According to local media, women will be able to vote and run in elections held in December of this year, marking a step forward for proponents of women’s rights in a country that has received heavy criticism for its treatment of women. Official voter registration begins August 22, and candidate registration begins on August 30, according to a Saudi government website. However, women will only participate in elections at the municipal level for now.

Government Workers Cope with Fallout from Ashley Madison Hack

The massive data breach at Ashley Madison has outed some 32 million adulterers, including some 15,000 email addresses from government and military accounts, indicated by .gov and .mil domains. CNNMoney has identified multiple Assistant U.S. Attorneys among the site’s users, along with an IT specialist for the Department of Homeland Security, a trial attorney for the Department of Justice, and other government workers with sensitive positions. “No justification.” That’s how one attorney at the Department of Justice describes his use of the cheating site while in the office. That time of my life was just not good personally,” he told CNNMoney. And now that he’s been exposed? “You look like a moron,” he said. The Ashley Madison data leak has also spawned an uptick in requests for private investigators. A startup called Trustify — a website for hiring private investigators on-demand — has seen a major spike in business over the past two days.

  • For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come to light. (Luke 8;17)

Extreme Weather to Cause Extreme Food Shortages

Food shortages and price hikes caused by extreme weather will be three times more likely over the coming decades, according to a new report. The U.K.-U.S. Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience found that extreme weather in areas that produce our most important crops will mostly be the cause. A massive drought is already underway in California — the world’s richest food-producing region — causing a loss of 30% of its cropland at a value of nearly $2 billion. The U.S. isn’t alone in feeling the impact of extreme weather. Venezuela is also undergoing shortages because of a heat wave. The U.S. and European Union will likely be sheltered from widespread impacts because of strong economies and the ability to outbid other countries for food supplies, the report found. Still, it says global cooperation needs to happen to prevent large food shocks. That means policy and trade agreements that take into account sharing water resources and banning restrictions on certain staple crops.

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

Student Loan Debt: America’s Next Big Crisis

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its latest Report on Household Debt and Credit Developments, and the news isn’t good for student-borrowers. As of the second calendar quarter ending June 30, seriously delinquent student loans (which the FRBNY describes as those whose payments are 90 or more days past due), increased to 11.5% of the $1.19 trillion dollars’ worth of education loans, versus 11.1% in the first quarter. Although student loans make up only 10% of all consumer debt, the amount of seriously past due student loan payments total nearly one-third of all seriously past-due debt payments. What’s more, of the total $1.19 trillion in outstanding education-related loans, only about half that amount is actually in repayment at this time (the balance is deferred because the borrowers are still in school). So instead of 11.5% being seriously delinquent, it’s actually twice that amount: 23%.Not only that but the FRBNY’s numbers don’t include problems in the making — loans with payments that are currently between 30 and 90 days late.

Economic News

Stocks jumped about 2% at the open Tuesday as Wall Street rebounded from Monday’s 588-point drop in the Dow in a stock market rout that began last week. Investors were encouraged after five days of intense selling as China cut interest rates for the fifth time since November in an effort to boost its slowing economy. The market sell-off took on an especially nasty tone Friday as stocks dropped for a fourth straight day with the Dow plunging more 531 points and oil setting a new 6 1/2-year low as it dipped below $40 a barrel. Global markets have come under pressure this week on growing concerns about a slowing Chinese economy and slumping oil prices. Fresh data from China Friday showing weaker manufacturing added to the worries. The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 531 points, or 3.1%, to 16,460, a day after the blue-chip index tumbled 358 points in its biggest point plunge since Nov. 9, 2011. Friday’s losses sent the blue-chip index down 10.1% from its May 19 record closing high of 18,312.39.

Gas prices have dropped about 5% in the last month to $2.60 a gallon according to AAA. And they’re expected to fall even more this fall, as they begin to more closely track the price of oil, which plunged 18% over the past month. Gasoline has been slow to follow oil prices lower due to outages at several major refineries. Also keeping prices higher is the fact that gas stations are required to sell a more expensive summer blend of gas until Sept. 15, when environmental regulations allow the winter blend to roll out.

There is almost no way that China’s economy is growing as well as the government says it is. For years, experts have questioned whether China cooks its books. “The question is not whether they’re right, it’s how wrong are they,” says Derek Scissors, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute. China wouldn’t be making a surprise devaluation of the yuan to boost exports, propping up its markets by actually buying stocks, and cutting interest rates in an effort to stimulate its economy if the country really was chugging along at the 7% growth rate that the latest government data claims.

Persecution Watch

Bokom Haram has reportedly killed about 8,000 members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. According to the Christian Post, Rev. Samuel Dali said that the terrorist group has destroyed about 70 percent of the churches. “Seventy percent of our churches have been destroyed in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states by Boko Haram; over 8,000 of our members were killed; one hundred and seventy-six of the girls kidnapped in Chibok are our members,” said Dali, who is the president of the Church of the Brethren.

The Kenyan government is cracking down on churches in the country, using two high-profile incidents of misconduct to help justify the new regulations. In mid-August, Deputy President William Ruto said the government will tighten regulations on the registration of religious organizations and their leaders in an attempt to tame “rogue” pastors. But the latest incidents involving preacher misconduct have nothing to do with church-related activities, but instead they were fatal traffic accidents which one tried to cover up. The new rules, announced earlier this year, would require pastors, rabbis, imams, and other religious leaders to obtain certificates of good conduct from the police and clearance from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Middle East

The increasingly radical Jewish militants who target Palestinians are the latest front in Israel’s struggle against terrorism. Israeli security authorities estimate hundreds belong to the extremist groups, but only about 100 have been involved in the violent attacks. A July 31 arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists in the Palestinian village of Duma left a toddler and his father dead and sparked nationwide soul-searching. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the act of “Jewish terrorism” and launched a crackdown that included the arrest of a number of high-profile, ultra-nationalist activists. Many of the extremists are associated with the so-called “price tag” movement, which vows to exact a “price” by attacking Palestinian properties or people whenever Israel attempts to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians and the Israeli settlers have disputed the ownership of the West Bank for four decades. Some settlers, so avid in their claims to the land, have defied the Israeli government’s wishes by living in the contested zones.

Islamic State

The No. 2 figure in ISIS, Haji Mutazz, was killed in an August 18 drone strike near Mosul, Iraq, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council announced Friday. Mutazz was traveling in a car with a Islamic State media operative named Abu Abdullah when the vehicle was hit. Mutazz was in charge of ISIS operations in Iraq and was a key military planner. The U.S. believes Mutazz was also prominently involved in directing ISIS’ financial operations. Several news organizations, including CNN, reported his death at the end of last year, based on information from senior U.S. administration officials.

Fragments from an ISIS mortar fired on Kurdish forces near Makhmour, Iraq, earlier this month tested positive for sulfur mustard agent during a field test conducted by the U.S. military. In another case of apparent chemical weapons use by ISIS, the U.S. government also has test results from an ISIS attack in Hasakah, Syria, from three weeks ago that confirm the terror group used a mustard agent as a weapon, according to several officials.

Islamic State militants have destroyed a temple at Syria’s ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists said Sunday, realizing the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar. Palmyra, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name.

Fourteen people have been detained in Morocco and Spain on suspicion of recruiting people to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Spanish Interior Ministry said. They are accused of being part of a network that recruited and sent foreign fighters to join the ranks of ISIS.

Iran

Iran unveiled a short-range solid fuel ballistic missile Saturday, an upgraded version that the government says can more accurately pinpoint targets. The surface-to-surface Fateh-313, or Conqueror, was unveiled at a ceremony marking Defense Industry Day and attended by President Hassan Rouhani, who said military might was necessary to achieve peace in the volatile Middle East. The new missile has a quicker launch capability, a longer lifespan and can strike targets with pinpoint accuracy within a 500-kilometer (310-mile) range.

Afghanistan

NATO says three American contractors have been killed in a suicide car bombing in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Afghan officials say the blast killed at least 10 people. The attack that wounded 60 others. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Taliban has stepped up its assaults on Afghan security forces since U.S. and NATO troops ended their combat mission in the country last year.

Macedonia

Thousands of migrants — most of them fleeing Syria’s bitter conflict — remained stranded Saturday in a no-man’s land on the border between northern Greece and Macedonia. Armored vehicles on the Macedonian side of the border, prevented the men, women and children crammed up against the concertina wire that demarcates the border from crossing. As some started rushing the razor fence and opened up a section of it, Macedonian military fired two stun grenades. Overnight Friday to Saturday it rained for hours, adding to the woes of those caught in the bottleneck. The desperate scenes come after Macedonia declared a state of emergency Thursday in its southern and northern border regions as it struggles to deal with the flow of migrants. Macedonia is not a member of the European Union, but a favored transit country along migrant routes toward Western and Northern Europe. More than 7,000 migrants have crossed into Serbia from Macedonia since Friday, according to the U.N.

Lebanon

Protesters clashed with police in central Beirut over the weekend, as a campaign that began with demands to solve an ongoing trash problem developed into a major crisis for the Lebanese government. Formed in mid-July as a response to garbage piling up in the streets of the capital, the “You Stink” movement has gained momentum over the past few weeks, galvanizing a weary public that has grown sick of government inaction and corruption. Several thousand people turned out for the demonstration on Sunday — the largest public action in Lebanon in many years — a day after security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in central Beirut. Protesters damaged property and lit fires in. More than 400 protesters were injured over the weekend, including one seriously. Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said 99 police officers were hurt, and that 32 “rioters” were arrested.

Korea

North and South Korea reached an agreement early Tuesday to resolve the showdown on the divided peninsula, with Pyongyang promising to express regret for recent provocations, including a land-mine attack that severely injured two South Korean soldiers. In return, Seoul agreed to turn off the loudspeakers that have angered Pyongyang so much that it had entered what the North called a “quasi-state of war.” Shortly after noon Tuesday, South Korea announced that it had stopped the broadcasts. The deal came after three days of marathon talks during which North Korea was moving troops and military equipment to the border, apparently trying to signal that it was ready for combat, while South Korea declared that it would retaliate against any provocation.

Nepal

Protesters in western Nepal have killed at least seven police officers as violent clashes broke out over the country’s proposals for a new constitution. Thousands of people had come out onto the streets in defiance Monday, encroaching a “prohibited zone” imposed by the administration since Friday. A mob surrounded officers in the district of Kailali, in the far west of Nepal as officials attempted to enforce restrictions. The protesters used axes, scythes and spears to attack the officers. A child was also killed during the attack. The proposed changes to the constitution — which has been under review since 2008 following a Maoist insurgency which deposed the country’s monarchy — would federalize the country, dividing it into seven provinces. Members of the country’s Tharu minority have been vocal in their opposition to the plan, which they say would see the group further marginalized.

Wildfires

Seventy firefighters from Australia and New Zealand, along with about 200 volunteers in the United States, have been called upon to help fight the largest wildfire in Washington state history. In addition, the Washington Department of Natural Resources issued a call for volunteers, hoping for former firefighters or heavy equipment operators who can bulldoze fire lines. Nearly 4,000 volunteers have answered the call, but only about 200 people with the right experience have been cleared to work. At more than 255,000 acres (86 sq. miles), the Okanogan Complex of fires has surpassed last year’s Carlton Complex wildfires as the biggest blaze in Washington’s recorded history. That’s nearly three times the size of Seattle. The latest group of fires grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four more were injured near Twisp, Washington.

Nearly 7.5 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires this year – an area roughly the size of Massachusetts – according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s well above the 10-year average of about 5.22 million acres through Aug. 24. There are currently dozens of large wildfires burning across the West. Idaho had 16 large (over 100 acres) fires Monday, the most in the nation. Firefighters in Idaho planned to hold and secure fire lines against a group of fires burning in timber a couple miles from the northern Idaho town of Kamiah. The blazes have destroyed 42 homes and scorched about 72 square miles, but nearly 800 firefighters have them 45 percent contained. Oregon has ordered more evacuations because of a wildfire that has already destroyed dozens of homes. The blaze has wrecked about 40 homes and another 50 other buildings, such as barns. Sixteen active wildfires were burning in California, but none posed serious danger Monday.

Weather

Typhoon Goni began pounding Japan’s southern Ryukyu Islands as of Sunday evening Japane. Winds gusted up to 159 mph at one location on the island of Ishigakijimase time. Goni made landfall in the Kumamoto prefecture on the Japanese Island of Kyushu just before 6 a.m. Tuesday (Japanese time), and is now weakening in the Sea of Japan. Mount Unzen in Nagasaki prefecture broke its all-time one-hour rainfall record when 5.30 inches, of rain was measured in one hour on Tuesday morning. Miyagawa in Mie prefecture picked up an incredible 26.65 inches, of rain in 24 hours ending at 9:00pm local time, an August record for the location dating to 1978. The storm damaged buildings, flooded streets and triggered landslides. At least 26 people were injured. Nearly 120,000 people in Kumamoto and Hiroshima prefectures were placed under an “evacuation advisory” while 2.2 million in the region have been “advised to prepare for evacuation.” A landslide warning was issued for Fukuoka, the seventh-largest city in Japan with a population of about 1.5 million

Prior to impacting southern Japan, Goni brought deadly impacts to the northern Philippines as it moved very slowly just north of Luzon Island. This resulted in a prolonged period of heavy rain and strong winds. Goni killed at least 19 people with 16 unaccounted for in the Philippines. Baguio City has picked up over 28 inches of rain.

 

Signs of the Times (8/21/15)

August 21, 2015

Protests against Planned Parenthood This Saturday

On Saturday, August 22 public protests of Planned Parenthood (PP) abortion clinics and facilities will take place all over the United States. Thousands are expected to attend these protests with the purpose of creating awareness of the barbaric practice of abortion and the sale of aborted baby body parts – a scandal that has erupted in recent weeks due to undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. Currently, there are over 300 cities in 47 states and 5 countries represented in the nationwide protest. Operation Rescue is a sponsor of this historic effort to expose Planned Parenthood’s participation in the illegal trafficking in the remains of aborted children.

  • For more information or to locate a protest in your area, please go to com

7th Planned Parenthood Video Reveals They Harvested Baby’s Heart While It Was Still Beating

The third episode in a new documentary web series and 7th video on Planned Parenthood’s supply of aborted fetal tissue tells a former procurement technician’s harrowing story of harvesting an intact brain from a late-term male fetus whose heart was still beating after the abortion. This latest video catches the nation’s biggest abortion business harvesting the brain of an aborted baby who was still alive. Dr. Theresa Deisher is a world-renowned scientist in the field of stem cell research who holds patents after discovering adult stem cells in human hearts. Deisher helped the pro-life activists who spent three years recording undercover videos and capturing documents and information showing the Planned Parenthood abortion business selling aborted babies and their body parts. Now, in a new interview, Deisher says she has reviewed the information the activists collected and she is making a shocking claim that Planned Parenthood is keeping some babies alive after the abortion procedure in order to better collect their organs for harvesting — such as their hearts.

Side Deal with Iran Allows Them to do Their Own Inspections

A draft document exclusively obtained by Fox News supports reports that Iran would play a major role in inspections at its controversial Parchin nuclear site, by providing U.N. inspectors with crucial materials. The so-called side deal, labeled “Separate arrangement II,” says Iran will “provide to the [International Atomic Energy Agency]” photos and videos of locations and environmental samples, “taking into account military concerns.” Details of the arrangement were first reported by the Associated Press. The details of the agreement for Parchin, where Iran has long been suspected of trying to build nuclear weapons, have fueled concerns from critics. “The agreement looks like Iran calls the shots, vetoing technical inspections when they want, where they want at the Parchin military site,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement.

  • For the sake of his ‘legacy’ President Obama has handed Iran the keys to the nuclear kingdom

Hackers Post Millions of Adulterer Names & Data

Hackers who stole Ashley Madison customers’ personal information have followed through with their threat to release it to the public. The hackers claim to have posted 32 million names, credit card numbers, email and physical addresses along with the sexual preferences of customers entered into the cheaters’ dating site. The data is posted on what is known as the “Dark Web,” a part of the Internet that can’t be searched by Google or most common search engines. It can only be viewed with a special Tor browser. But that information won’t likely stay hidden there for long — it’s easy to copy the information and paste it anywhere on the Internet for all to see. Ashley Madison, which is owned by Avid Life Media, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses. Its slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.” The website claims to have nearly 39 million customers.

Caught in the spotlight was Josh Duggar, Christian reality TV star, who admitted, “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife,” Earlier this year, Duggar was forced to apologize after reports emerged alleging he molested girls as a teenager, including his sisters. He said then that he “acted inexcusably.”

  • Some of the greatest harm to the cause of Christ comes from pseudo-Christians who behave badly

At Some VA hospitals, Thousands of Critical Positions Unfilled

About one in three jobs are vacant at nine of the nation’s regional Veterans Affairs health care systems, leaving veterans waiting weeks, sometimes months, to get care. Nationally, one in six positions — nearly 41,000 — for critical intake workers, doctors, nurses and assistants were unfilled as of mid-July, in part due to complex hiring procedures and poor recruitment, according to critics of the nation’s network of 139 hospitals and clinics that treat veterans. The vacancy data obtained by USA TODAY through the Freedom of Information Act offers the first look at how serious staffing issues are at some VA hospitals and clinics. In 13 regional healthcare systems, 40 to 64% of psychologist positions are vacant.

Obama Legacy Includes Banker Impunity

While it may continue to baffle us how no bankers went to jail in the wake of the financial crisis even as banks paid tens of billions of dollars in fines for wrongdoing, there is very little mystery to it, wrote Darrell Delamaide in Wednesday’s USA Today. The three government officials most responsible for the failure to bring any top banker to trial for widespread fraud – former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and former DOJ official Lanny Breuer – are all now making millions of dollars a year in Wall Street-related jobs, he reports. “Those who resist the reality of Washington’s revolving door don’t want to think that for all its size and sophistication, this country still has much in common with a banana republic – a country where money buys political clout and puts people above the law. As President Barack Obama burnishes his political legacy and lays the plans for a billion-dollar monument to himself… ultimately, the responsibility for this dereliction of duty lies with him.”

  • Despite the earlier ruckus about Wall Street greed and illegal practices, it’s business as usual as they continue to rake in humongous personal income despite the fines

Economic News – Domestic

Fears of a China slowdown ripped through global markets and sent U.S. stocks to their lowest level of the year on Thursday. The Dow fell 358 points to close below 17,000, for the first time since last October. The index fell 2.06% — the worst loss since February 2014. The Dow was down over 7% from its recent high in May. In early Friday trading, the Dow was down another 200 points. China’s economic slowdown and currency devaluation have investors worried that things could get worse as the year goes on. Developing countries like Brazil and Russia are struggling to revive their economies as their currencies depreciate dramatically against the dollar. About 44% of the revenues from S&P 500 companies come from outside the United States.

Inflation slowed in July after sharp increases the previous two months, the government announced Wednesday. The consumer price index edged up 0.1%, the Labor Department said. Over the past year, prices were up 0.2%.Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, also increased 0.1%.Core prices are up 1.8% the past year. Last month, gasoline prices increased 0.9% and food prices rose 0.2%.Rent was up sharply for the fourth straight month, climbing 0.3%. And motor vehicle insurance jumped 0.6%.But airline fares tumbled 5.6% and used car and truck prices fell 0.6%.

The inflation report could be key in helping the Federal Reserve decide whether to raise its benchmark interest rate next month for the first time in nine years, a move that’s expected by many economists. Before it acts, the Fed is seeking signs of a pickup in annual inflation, which has been running below its 2% target partly because of low gasoline prices and a strong dollar that’s making imports cheap for consumers.

With oil prices collapsing and energy companies in retrenchment, a federal auction in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday attracted the lowest interest from producers since 1986. It was the clearest sign yet that the fortunes of oil companies are skidding so fast that they now need to cut back on plans for production well into the future, reports the New York Times. Until now, most companies have insisted that they would not sacrifice production in future years when they said oil prices were sure to rebound strongly. But in recent weeks, executives have expressed concern that the oil price collapse could last through 2016 and even 2017.

Economic News – International

Germany’s Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a third bailout package for Greece despite misgivings by some conservative lawmakers of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party. Lawmakers voted 454-113 in favor of the deal on Wednesday, with 18 abstentions. Germany is the largest single contributor to the bailouts. Greece received the first 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) from its new bailout package on Thursday, allowing it to pay a debt of 3.2 billion euros to the European Central Bank and avoid a messy default. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced Thursday he was resigning and called for early parliamentary elections, resetting the debt-ridden country’s government after members of his own party opposed economic reforms that European lenders demanded for Greece’s latest bailout.

China’s beleaguered stock market endured yet another sell off on Friday, shedding 4%. Earlier this week, China’s Shanghai composite index slumped 5% on Wednesday and 6.2% on Tuesday — its biggest decline in three turbulent weeks. Last week, Chinese stocks sold off following a dramatic devaluation of the country’s yuan currency that led to the nation’s central bank injecting cash into the financial system. Analysts say investors are again selling Chinese stocks fearing the yuan may be devalued further. The devaluation is expected to aid exports. A key gauge of China’s all-important manufacturing sector has tumbled to its lowest level in more than six years Friday, indicating that the country’s factories are losing momentum.

Other Asian markets also suffered losses — Japan’s Nikkei 225 index dropped 1.6% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 1.3%. Britain’s FTSE 100 benchmark stock index fell to a new seven-month low on Thursday, taking it more than 10% below its record high in April. British markets have been hard hit by the market turmoil in China and the oil crash. That’s because the London index is heavily weighted towards mining and resource companies, which have been hit by the slowdown in commodities demand.

Persecution Watch

Iranian officials beat and arrested at least eight Christian converts during worship at a house church in Karaj. According to the Christian Post, officers raided the church, beat up the worshippers and confiscated their Bibles. It is unclear where the Christians were taken, but three of them were reportedly released on bail. About eight are still missing. BosNewLife reported that the officials searched the Christians’ homes without the proper legal paperwork. Many house churches have been raided in the past few months. There are reportedly some 360,000 Christians in the country.

An Iranian American pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran was recently subjected to a raid by guards on his prison cell. The Human Rights Activists News Agency Iran has reported that Saeed Abedini’s condition is “very worrisome” due to “dishonorable and harsh” actions by his prison guards. s been imprisoned since 2012, according to The Christian Post. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is pushing for more forceful efforts to be taken by the U.S. government to pressure Iran to release Abedini and other Americans being held in Iranian prisons.

“We are seeing mass murder, we are seeing killing, we are seeing an attempted eradication of Christianity from where it began,” said Doug Bandow, Cato Institute foreign policy expert. “Christianity risks, in many ways, being wiped out in large sections of the Middle East.” The US and other Western countries should be doing much more to help, he said. In Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. And in Iraq, there are estimated to be just 300,000 Christians left in the country, down from 1.56 million in 2003. Those who remain risk being kidnapped and killed, but Western countries have turned a deaf ear to their pleas, reports Barnabas Aid.

Islamic State

ISIS militants have beheaded an 82-year-old archaeologist who had been in charge of overseeing the ancient site at Palmyra in Syria, a government official said Tuesday. Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters that the family of Khaled Asaad had informed Abdulkarim that Asaad had been beheaded earlier in the day and his body hanged from a column in the town’s main square. Asaad had been held and interrogated by members of the terror group for over a month before his death. The official said that Asaad’s captors had been looking for information about where the town’s treasures had been hidden to save them from ISIS, but they had no success getting the information from the scholar. ISIS drew international condemnation after it released videos showing members destroying artifacts with hammers and drills in a museum in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and using explosives to wreck other sites. In March, ISIS members in Iraq razed 3,000-year old Nimrod and bulldozed 2,000-year old Hatra — both UNESCO world heritage sites.

Turkey

At least eight Turkish soldiers were killed Wednesday in a bomb attack in a southeastern province. The state-run Anadolu news agency said the soldiers were killed in a roadside attack. The Hurriyet Daily News reported that attack was mounted by the Kurdish PKK guerrilla organization in the province of Siirt. Separately, two men were arrested for allegedly firing on security guards outside Dolmabache Palace. The agency said one police officer was slightly injured. Both incidents come amid an escalation of violence between Turkey’s security forces and Kurdish rebels and as Turkey has been conducting operations against terror groups including the Islamic State group. Turkey has rounded up more than 1,000 people linked to the Islamic State, Kurdish rebels and leftist militants.

Egypt

A massive car bomb exploded early Thursday near a national security building in a popular residential neighborhood in Cairo, wounding at least six police officers and blowing the facades off nearby buildings. There were no immediate reports of deaths from the explosion, which demolished a wall in front of the government building and smashed its structure, leaving gaping holes exposing its offices. Wrecked cars stood around the building, as security forces patrolled the streets and set up roadblocks to ward off hysterical residents. A statement apparently issued by the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt hours later claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was to avenge the execution of six convicted militants in May.

Korea

North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire Thursday near the fierce rivals’ tense border. The South Korean military said in a statement that a town on its western border with North Korea was fired on by Pyongyang and that it retaliated. No damage was detected. About 80 residents in Yeonchen, where the North Korean shell landed, were evacuated to underground bunkers as a precaution. North Korea has not commented. Previously, Pyongyang vowed to retaliate for loudspeaker broadcasts on the border by Seoul that it alleges were critical of the North. South Korea began the broadcasts recently in response to what it said were North Korean laid land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers. Kim Jong Un, the supreme commander of the North Korean military, ordered front-line units along the heavily fortified frontier to move to a war footing on Friday

Volcanoes

With volcano eruptions seemingly on the rise, scientists are studying the recent periods of volcanic eruptions to see if there’s a trend, or even if something’s causing the increase in these events – but they still don’t have any concrete answers. They tried to link the increase in eruptions to climate change, but haven’t as yet been able to do so. Another theory is that minute changes in the earth’s spin rate might be the culprit, but again the evidence is inconclusive.

  • The Bible shows that the end-times will see increased volcanic activity as well as more earthquakes and extreme weather, no matter what the underlying causality might be.

Environment

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed new rules meant to help combat climate change by curbing methane emissions from new hydraulically fractured crude oil wells and natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure. Tuesday’s proposal applies only to new and modified sources of methane and is expected to cut methane emissions by the equivalent of up to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2025. Methane is about 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. The oil and gas industry is responsible for about 29 percent of all the nation’s known methane emissions, according to the EPA. Although recent studies have found large amounts of methane leaking from existing crude oil and natural gas wells, pipelines and fracking operations, the EPA said the agency has no immediate plans to regulate methane emissions from existing wells and other sources.

Wildfires

Three firefighters died and four more were injured Wednesday in Washington during a firefight when their vehicle crashed and was likely caught by flames. The accident happened near the town of Twisp, Washington. This tragedy came as firefighting crews were working wildfires on several fronts which threatened towns in the north-central section of the state. The news came after officials urged people in the popular outdoor-recreation centers of Twisp and Wintrop, in the scenic Methow River valley about 115 miles northeast of Seattle, to evacuate as a fire near Twisp grew to about 2 square miles. A stream of cars poured south out of Twisp as dark smoke clouds loomed; the highway to the north was closed.

Drought and heat have combined to make this fire season the most active in the United States in over ten years. Nearly 29,000 firefighters are battling some 100 large blazes across the West, including Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and California. So far this year, 7,210,959 acres have burned in the U.S. compared to just 2,630,176 last year. The ten-year average is 4,484,069 acres.

Weather

The drought in California will cost the state’s economy $2.7 billion this year and nearly 21,000 jobs as the four-year drought continues in the nation’s most populous state, according to a new study from the University of California-Davis. The biggest hit comes in agriculture, which will lose $1.84 billion this year, the study said. Almost half of the job losses — 10,000 — are in seasonal agriculture jobs. In addition, the drought will force 542,000 acres to lie fallow, nearly all in the Central Valley. Despite the drought, the state’s agricultural economy remains strong, mainly because of California’s huge, but shrinking, reserves of groundwater.

As the drought in California continues to put a strain on the water supply, another long-standing issue comes into play: the ground is sinking. According to a report by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the State Department of Water Resources (DWR), an occurrence known as subsidence has been causing portions of San Joaquin Valley in California’s Central Valley to sink nearly two inches per month. Subsidence is the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land. In California, the ground is collapsing because farmers have been continuously pumping out groundwater in order to keep their crops alive throughout the drought. When this water is pumped out of the aquifer underground, the clay in between the pockets of water collapses and causes the ground to deflate.

July was the hottest month worldwide since records began being kept in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday. Much of western and central Europe was extremely hot. Several cities in Austria sweltered to their hottest month ever recorded in the country’s 249-year period of records. Spain had its hottest July on record, while France had its third-warmest July. Germany and the United Kingdom both broke all-time July heat records. In Africa, July’s average temperature was the second highest. The United States was one of the few areas that didn’t see the extreme heat, along with portions of western Asia. The USA did have a slightly warmer-than-average July, but no states set a record high.

The West Antarctic is one of the most remote places on the planet, but its fate is intimately tied with hundreds of millions living along the world’s coastlines. That’s because its frozen expanse contains enough ice to raise sea levels by up to 13 feet. There have been multiple warnings of growing instability across the region and the possibility of collapse due to a mix of warming water and air and the topography below the ice. New research published Tuesday in The Cryosphere revises how much West Antarctica could contribute to sea level rise. The findings indicate that West Antarctica could contribute an additional 8 inches of water on top of an estimated of 39 inches of sea level rise projected by the end of this century. The average temperature has risen 4.3°F over the past 50 years in the region. Warm water is also putting West Antarctica’s massive stores of ice at risk of sliding into the sea.

Signs of the Times (8/18/15)

August 18, 2015

Several Christians Released from Prison by Repressive Regimes

Persecution and human rights organizations rejoiced in early August as three repressive regimes released five Christians held on trumped-up charges. Sudan released from prison two South Sudanese pastors accused of spying. Two Christian prisoners in Vietnam and one in Iran also gained their freedom after serving “unwarranted” sentences. Sudanese officials arrested and tried Pastors Yat Michael Ruot and Peter Yein Reith on multiple charges, including breach of the peace, managing a criminal or terrorist organization, and collecting and leaking information harmful to national security, World Watch Monitor reported. A Sudanese court found them guilty of two lesser charges and released them for time served.

Vietnamese authorities released Catholic blogger Paulus Le Van Son and Protestant activist Nguyen Van Oai. Both served four-year prison terms for “trying to overthrow the legitimate government.” They were arrested during a 2011 crackdown against bloggers and others with ties to human and religious rights groups, Asia News reported. Radio Free Asia (RFA) said authorities detained them without warrants and gave them limited access to lawyers. Van Oai told RFA in recent months’ security personnel pressured him to plead guilty and even sign a confession, but he would not. He proclaimed his innocence throughout. The communist nation ranks 16th on Open Door’s World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, persecution of Christians is even more severe than in Vietnam. Iranian Christians rejoiced when authorities released Church of Iran member Alireza Seyyedian on Aug. 1, Middle East Concern reported. Seyyedian served three and a half years in prison after authorities re-arrested him in March 2012 for trying to enter Turkey. His first arrest was in 2010. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, his lawyer said Iranian courts considered Seyyedian’s baptism in Turkey an act against the state.

Aborted Baby Body Parts Have Been Sold Since 1993

Although the Center for Medical Progress’s undercover videos documenting the sale of aborted baby body parts have caused a major outcry, there is evidence that fetal tissue sales are not a new occurrence. In a One New Now report, Linda Royall, a reporter for The Stream, says that one of the first things Bill Clinton did when he became president in 1993 was to remove moratoriums that were in place to prevent fetal tissue sales. That, Royall says, is what got the industry going. In 2009, Royall interviewed a doctor who operated a late-term abortion clinic. “He made clear that what is described above is business as usual in the fetal body parts industry in America. Many a child is slaughtered in the womb and then rendered, packaged and brokered to a multitude of industries, whose products and projects comprise the aftermarket for the roughly 1.2 million U.S. abortions annually,” Royall reported.

Increased Terror Threat as Result of Iranian Nuclear Deal

Appearing last Thursday in a webcast sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged that the Iran nuclear deal will increase global terrorism. As explained by Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine, “Moniz’s admission provides critics of the nuclear deal with a startling admission that backs up their claims that the massive influx of cash into the ayatollahs’ coffers will enable it to increase their support of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists who are preparing for a war [against] the nation Iran has targeted for elimination: Israel.” Most importantly, says Tobin, “it debunks the notion that Iran is moderating and won’t take advantage of the pact to undermine the interests of the US and its allies.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave another firebrand speech on Monday declaring, among other things, that the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would not result in the Islamic Republic opening up to the West, a key hope of Western diplomats who used the idea as a rationalization for their support of the JCPOA. “We won’t allow American political, economic or cultural influence in Iran,” Khamenei flatly declared. His statement is in line with a string of hostile rhetoric from senior Iranian officials in recent days.

Record Number of Americans Giving Up Citizenship

2014 was a record year for expatriation. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 2,999 U.S. citizens and long-term residents moved abroad and gave up (or abandoned efforts to obtain) American citizenship in 2013. A year later, Treasury Department statistics showed a 14 percent increase in expatriations, to 3,415. And that could be just the beginning. TaxNews.com noted that July 1, 2014 was the deadline for complying with the new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. FATCA, which requires taxpayers to declare assets and income owned abroad so that the Internal Revenue Service can tax them, was apparently a big reason that so many Americans decided to hand in their passports and leave the country last year. But it’s not the only reason. Nearly equally important, it seems, is the view that there are better educational opportunities abroad (48 percent cited that as a major motivation, versus 51 percent citing lower taxes). Even more important was the perception that health care is “more affordable” in countries outside the U.S., according to a new poll conducted by British money transfer firm Transferwise.

IRS Hack Far Larger than First Disclosed

A hack of the Internal Revenue service first reported in May was nearly three times as large as previously stated, the agency revealed Monday. Thieves gained access to as many as 334,000 taxpayer accounts, the IRS said. In May, the IRS reported that identity thieves were able to use the agency’s Get Transcript program to get personal information about as many as 114,000 taxpayers.

Feds Launch Program to Counter Epidemic in Heroin Use

The White House announced a new strategy on Monday to tackle the explosion in heroin use in a collection of eastern states, focusing on treating addicts rather than punishing them and targeting high-level suppliers for arrest. The move is a response to a sharp rise in the use of heroin and opiate-based painkillers, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has described as an epidemic. Heroin use has more than doubled among people aged 18-25 in the United States in the past decade, according to CDC figures, while overdose death rates have nearly quadrupled. An estimated 45 percent of U.S. heroin users are also addicted to prescription painkillers. Announcing the ‘Heroin Response Strategy’ on Monday, Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said the new plan will address the heroin and painkiller epidemics as both “a public health and a public safety issue.” The policy is in line with new criminal justice strategies that seek to treat more drug offenders as addicts within the public health system rather than as criminals who must serve long sentences in jail.

Traffic Deaths Jump 14% in 2015

Traffic fatalities are up 14% so far in 2015, according to new data from the nonprofit National Safety Council. That puts the year on pace to be the deadliest for drivers since 2007. There were more than 18,600 motor-vehicle deaths from January through June this year, compared to 16,400 deaths in the first six months of 2014. The NSC partly attributes the jump in fatalities to the fact that people are driving more because gas is cheaper. On average, gas prices are down 30% from 2014. There are also more commuters on the road heading to work, since the U.S. economy has been steadily adding jobs throughout 2015. NSC president Deborah Hersman also attributes the uptick in fatal crashes to the fact that drivers are more distracted behind the wheel thanks to their smartphone

Economic News _ Domestic

Oil prices fell to a new 6 ½-year low Monday, raising the prospect of dramatically cheaper gasoline after the summer driving season. For now, a blockbuster driving season and a major refinery outage are keeping pump prices surprisingly high despite the plunge in crude. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate declined 63 cents, or 1.5%, to close at $41.87 as abundant supplies and fears of a global slowdown continue to push down prices. That’s the lowest since March 2009 and it marks a tumble of 30% from late June and 55% from a year ago.

The federal government on Monday gave Royal Dutch Shell the final permit it needs to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s northwest coast for the first time in more than two decades. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced that it approved the permit to drill below the ocean floor after the oil giant brought in a required piece of equipment to stop a possible well blowout. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said it’s possible Shell will complete a well this summer.

A new study concludes that high-paying jobs have grown the fastest in the economic recovery, casting doubt on the widespread lament that low-wage jobs have dominated payroll growth since 2010. The report, by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, says its findings are more accurate than prior analyses that cite a prevalence of low-paid jobs because it evaluated occupations rather than industries. Based on that measure, nearly 3 million, or 44%, of the jobs added from 2010 to 2014 were high-paying positions with salaries above $53,000. Only 1.9 million, or 29%, of the newly formed jobs were middle-wage ($32,000 to $53,000) and 1.8 million, or 27%, were low-wage (less than $32,000).

Economic News – International

On top of the oil slump, Russia is also facing pain from Western sanctions, imposed on Moscow over its role in the crisis in Ukraine. This double hit has pushed Russia into deep recession, its first since 2009. Russia’s economy shrank 4.6% in the second quarter, the biggest drop since the global financial crisis in 2009. The IMF expects Russian GDP to shrink by 3.4% this year and by more than 1% in 2016, as falling real wages, the higher cost of borrowing and shattered confidence hit domestic demand. Moscow’s retaliatory embargo on Western food has helped drive inflation higher. It reached 16% in July.

Japan’s economy contracted in the second quarter, a result that raises questions about the ambitious stimulus plan championed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Gross domestic product fell by an annualized 1.6% in the three months ended June, Japan’s Cabinet Office said Monday. Poor economic growth has fueled Abe’s critics, who are quick to point out that his “Abenomics” plan — a massive bond-buying campaign coupled with structural reforms and stimulus from the central government — has largely failed to lift wages, or dramatically boost growth. Two years after Abenomics was launched, Japan’s economy is still not on track.

China’s Shanghai composite index plunged another 6% Tuesday and other Asian markets also declined as investors appeared to show a delayed reaction to last week’s sell-off following a dramatic devaluation of China’s yuan currency that led to the nation’s central bank injecting cash into the financial system.

Middle East

Israel authorities say troops have shot and killed a Palestinian after he stabbed a guard at a West Bank checkpoint. Tensions have been high in Israel since the July arson attack at a Palestinian West Bank home, when an 18-month-old toddler was burned to death. His father later died from his wounds. Several stabbing attacks have taken place recently.

Islamic State

A group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted online a purported list of names and contacts for Americans it refers to as “targets,” according to officials. Though the legitimacy of the list is questionable, and much of the information it contains is outdated, the message claims to provide the phone numbers, locations, and “passwords” for 1400 American government and military personnel as well as purported credit card numbers, and excerpts of some Facebook chats.

Thousands of female soldiers have joined Kurdish forces in an effort to protect Christians and minorities from ISIS. The Christian Post reports about 8,000 women from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey have joined the Women’s Protection Unit, or YPJ, a Kurdish military that aims to defend Syrian civilians. Many of the young women are on the front lines, operating heavy weapons and killing ISIS militants in battle. The female soldiers have a slight advantage over ISIS fighters, as the militants fear being killed by women. According to their Islamic extremist beliefs, dying at the hand of a woman means they will not enter heaven.

A 23 year-old man who the FBI describes as an ISIS supporter was arrested and charged with plotting to detonate a backpack bomb on a Florida beach on Tuesday. Harlem Suarez of Key West has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in the U.S. Authorities say the young man first popped up on the FBI’s radar through his extremist online posts that praised ISIS. Suarez told an FBI informant that he wanted to build a timer bomb and then bury it on a Key West beach before detonating it. He was arrested on Monday immediately after taking possession of an inert explosive device provided by the informant.

Syria

The top U.N. humanitarian official said Monday that the conflict in Syria continues to escalate and that he is “horrified” by what he’s seen. “I am absolutely horrified by the total disregard for civilian life by all parties in this conflict,” Stephen O’Brien said. “Attacks on civilians are unlawful, unacceptable and must stop. I appeal to every party engaged in violence and fighting to protect civilians and to respect international humanitarian law.” Syria has been locked in a civil war since 2011. At least 250,000 Syrians have been killed, more than a million injured, and almost half of the population have been displaced, according to O’Brien.

Airstrikes from Syrian government forces hit the rebel-held town of Douma on Sunday, killing as many as 82 people and wounding hundreds, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and aid groups. At least 250 people were wounded in the attack, conducted by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces. Multiple airstrikes hit a busy local vegetable market in Douma, about 10 miles northeast of Damascus, causing large-scale casualties. The Syrian Revolution Network, an online network of activists with more than a million followers, tweeted: “50 markets bombed by Assad regime since the beginning of 2015. This one in #Douma bombed twice in 4 days.”

Iraq

At least 10 people were killed and 70 people wounded Sunday when a parked car bomb detonated in Baghdad’s Sadr City district. The car bomb detonated in Al-Habibiya, an area of Sadr City. This incident comes after a massive truck bomb struck another part of the predominantly Shiite district Thursday, killing at least 36 and wounding scores in one of the worst attacks to hit the capital in months. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Mediterranean Sea

At least 40 migrants died Saturday in the hold of an overcrowded smuggling boat in the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya, apparently killed by fuel fumes, and some 320 others on the same boat were saved by the Italian navy, the rescue ship’s commander said. Migrants by the tens of thousands are braving the perilous journey across the Mediterranean this year, hoping to reach Europe and be granted asylum. They are fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Germany

Attacks against refugees are increasing in Germany. The acts include an ugly spate of arson targeting refugee centers as well as physical attacks on refugees themselves, marking the return of what critics say is an unnerving brand of xenophobia to Western Europe’s most populous nation. The attacks are undercutting Germany’s image as the country leading the effort to aid a record flow of refugees into Europe, highlighting the rising social tensions in the region amid the avalanche of asylum-seekers. At the same time, the violence has ignited a heated national debate over what pundits here say is a rise in overt racism and intolerance — in a nation highly sensitive to both because of Nazi-era atrocities. All this is happening as Germany takes in more asylum-seekers than any other nation in Europe — a number set to reach an estimated 500,000 this year alone — while quickly running out of places to house them. As a result, the national government in Berlin is turning to insular and almost wholly white enclaves to take in the newcomers, who are mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

Thailand

A bomb rocked the commercial hub of Bangkok, Thailand, during the evening rush hour on Monday. Reuters reported that at least 12 people were dead. The explosion appears to have gone off in front of the Erawan Shrine, a Hindu shrine that is popular with tourists and locals. The explosion happened at the Rajprasong intersection, the center of many political demonstrations in recent years.

China

New explosions and fires rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin on Saturday, as one survivor was pulled out and authorities ordered evacuations to clean up chemical contamination more than two days after a fire and a series of blasts set off the disaster. The death toll in Wednesday’s inferno and blasts that devastated industrial and residential zones climbed to 112, including 21 firefighters — making the disaster the deadliest for Chinese firefighters in more than six decades. About 95 people, including 85 firefighters, remain missing, and a total of 720 people have been injured in the rapid succession of explosions that began with a fire from shipping containers containing hazardous material at a warehouse. The warehouse was storing 700 tons of sodium cyanide — 70 times more than it should have been. The government set up a no-man zone within 1.8 miles of the explosions to clean up chemical contamination from sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical that becomes combustible on contact with water or damp air.

Volcanoes

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said Saturday he would declare a state of emergency as the Cotopaxi volcano spewed ash into the sky, prompting evacuations of several nearby villages. Cotopaxi, a volcano not far from the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, spouted hot glass and rock after decades of inactivity and sent large gray puffs of ash 3 miles high. Officials said the evacuations were ordered as a precautionary measure as the volcano became increasingly active, but no landslides have been recorded yet. The Sakurajima volcano in Japan also showed increased activity Saturday and Japan’s meteorological agency warned residents on the country’s southwestern island of Kyushu to get ready to evacuate.

Wildfires

Wildfires continued to ravage three western states Sunday, with scores of homes and cabins lost, and many more menaced by flames. The Lawyer Complex Fire near Kamiah, in northwest Idaho, has destroyed an estimated 50 homes and 75 outbuildings. So far, it is 15% contained, with more than 770 firefighters working to bring the flames under control. It includes the Old Greer, Kamiah Gulch, Lawyer 6 and Adams Grade fires, across a combined total of around 20,759 acres.

Wind-pushed fires burned around Chelan and McNeil Canyon, in central Washington State, and remain actively burning with zero containment and the potential to grow, fire officials said Saturday. An estimated 100 structures have already been lost, including homes and cabins in the four fires around Chelan, a town of about 4,000 people. Up to 1,500 evacuation orders are in place, and fire officials are scrambling to come up with a plan of attack.

In California’s Angeles National Forest, the Cabin Fire covers 1,484 acres and is 20% contained. Five structures have burned down. The fire is south of Falling Springs off Highway 39, which is closed in the affected areas for the rest of the weekend. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for parts of California, where four years of historic drought have made it easy for flames to spread.

As of Tuesday morning, 92 large (over 100 acres) wildfires were burning in the U.S., the most in many years. The vast majority were located in the drought-parched northwest. So far this year, a total of 6,699,074 acres have been consumed, the most in over ten years.

Weather

Water supply from the Colorado River will not run short next year, contrary to the dismal projections a few months ago. Water managers even expect to stave off a shortage in 2017 thanks to an unusually wet spring and a multistate agreement to take less water out of Lake Mead, the reservoir that stores water for lower-basin states and Mexico. The Bureau of Reclamation released a report Monday that projects Lake Mead to stand more than seven feet above the level that would trigger a shortage. Lake Mead hit record lows this summer, but has now recovered enough to project an improved forecast.

California’s signature giant sequoia trees are feeling the wrath of nearly five years without sufficient rainfall, and ecologists are worried about what could happen to the natural giants if conditions don’t change. According to The Huffington Post, the historically resilient trees are beginning to show major signs of distress with some losing up to 75 percent of their leaves. To keep an eye on the situation, scientists from the United States Geological Survey and several major universities have joined forces to begin researching what measures forest managers will need to take in order to protect the trees at the highest risk.

On Friday, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport recorded a high of 117 degrees, tying the Arizona capital’s all-time record high for the month of August previously set Aug. 26, 2011. Like that date, Friday’s low was 93, so it also tied for Phoenix’s warmest daily mean temperature on record for the month of August.

Signs of the Times (8/14/15)

August 14, 2015

Pro-Lifers Organize Planned Parenthood Protests in 180 Cities Nationwide

Pro-life advocates across the country will unite on Aug. 22 to protest abortion, Planned Parenthood and the company’s alleged sale of aborted fetal organs. Life News reports the protests will at Planned Parenthood clinics in 180 cities and 43 states nationwide. Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal, the Pro-Life Action League and 40 Days for Life are sponsoring the event alongside over 60 additional pro-life groups. The advocates organized the mass protest after five videos leaked online, appearing to show Planned Parenthood profiting from the illegal sale of aborted organs. Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society said, “Now is the time for all of us to take to the streets and publicly expose Planned Parenthood for the pro-death organization that it is.”

Sixth Expose Video of Planned Parenthood Released

A few weeks ago, Holly O’Donnell, a former “procurement technician” at StemExpress, provided a firsthand account in a video of the process used to sell aborted baby parts in conjunction with Planned Parenthood. In the second part of her story, Ms. O’Donnell describes how StemExpress (a contracted partner with Planned Parenthood) removed aborted baby parts without the consent of the mother. Other times, according to O’Donnell, women were pressured into consenting while they were still under the influence of the medication used during the abortion procedure.

Judge Rules StemExpress Can’t Confiscate Planned Parenthood Videos

In a victory for the pro-life activists behind the expose’ videos that have caught Planned Parenthood selling aborted babies and their body parts for research, a judge has ruled the biotech firm StemExpress can’t take videos and documentation from them. While the videos have focused on the Planned Parenthood abortion business, the biotech firm StemExpress, which buys and resells aborted baby body parts from the abortion giant, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block some information the Center for Medical Progress obtained in its three year undercover operation. A Superior Court of the State of California issued a decision Thursday in StemExpress v. The Center for Medical Progress, which prohibits a biomedical company from accessing the material of an investigative journalist exposing Planned Parenthood’s selling of fetal body parts.

Obama Administration Cracks Down on States’ Efforts to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Obama Administration says that the recent action taken by Louisiana and Alabama to defund Planned Parenthood is in violation of federal law. The two states have contacted their respective Planned Parenthood headquarters, notifying the clinics that their Medicaid provider agreement with the states will be terminated. According to LifeNews, both states gave Planned Parenthood the required 30-days’ notice of agreement termination–an action that either party in the agreement could have made at any time. However, the Obama Administration, through the federal Center for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS), has contacted Louisiana and Alabama, warning the states that their recent actions may place them in conflict with federal law, restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider.

Sixteen States Support Christian Universities in Challenge to Obamacare

Sixteen states have agreed to join three Christian universities to challenge ObamaCare. According to Fox News, the 16 states filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court to support East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary. The colleges have appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that requires the schools to have contraception options in their health insurance plans. The 16 states to ally with the schools are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, according to Fox News. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Missionary Alliance Foundation and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities have also pledged to support the colleges.

Christian Universities Grapple with Implications of Gay Marriage Ruling

Many Christian universities are grappling with the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the U.S. A few schools in particular–Hope College, Belmont University, and Baylor University–have already made changes to their official school policies in order to accommodate homosexual students. According to One News Now, Baylor University has taken the words “homosexual acts,” as well as other sexual references, from its sexual misconduct policy. It is reported that Hope College and Belmont University have similarly changed their policies.

  • The secular humanists aligned with the gay agenda are weakening Christianity from the inside out – and too many Christian institutions are caving in

TV Shows for Children Show Record Number of LGBT Characters

Awareness and acceptance of homosexuality has been gaining unprecedented support in America and elsewhere; now that awareness and support is even affecting children’s TV. In a Christian Today article, Jeff Johnston, Christian media watcher, reported that “There are definitely more gay and transgender characters and stories in children’s television.” Johnston has warned that parents who are concerned about the morals and values to which their children are being exposed ought to be aware that homosexual, transgender, and sexually ambiguous characters are becoming more prevalent not only in television shows, but in children’s books and games as well.

  • The entertainment industry is in an all-out war to foist homosexuality on our children, following similar efforts in our public schools. The number of gays in TV shows and movies are far out of proportion with their numbers overall. Even so, this is ultimately Satan’s ploy to undermine families and Christianity.

Record 42.1 Million Immigrants in U.S.

A new analysis of legal and illegal immigrant counts by the Census Bureau released Thursday reveals that there is a record 42.1 million in the United States, an explosion that is being driven by Mexicans flooding across the border. The report by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that the total immigrant population surged 1.7 million since 2014. The growth was led in the last year by an additional 740,000 Mexican immigrants. The 42.1 million tabulated by Census in the second quarter represent over 13 percent of the U.S. population, the biggest percentage in 105 years.

Seven Million Fewer Uninsured this Year

The number of Americans without health insurance dropped from 36 million last year to 29 million in the first quarter of this year, according to the federal government. Among adults 18-64, 18.1% had public coverage, 70.4% had private coverage and 13% were uninsured. The uninsured rate was down from 16.3% in 2014. Among children, 4.6% were uninsured — less than half the 1997 rate of 13.9% — and 40.4% had public coverage. Just over 56% were covered by private plans. Since 2013, poor and near-poor children and working-age adults saw the biggest drops in their uninsured rates.

  • However, many of the newly insured and those forced to change policies have such high deductibles that they are actually losing money unless a catastrophic illness or accident occurs

Economic News – Domestic

Retail sales in the U.S. rose 0.6% in July as consumers began spending more on new vehicles and dining out. Retail sales rose 0.4% excluding autos. Car sales rose 1.4%. Home and furniture store sales rose 0.8%, while sales at building supply and gardening retailers rose 0.7%. The Commerce Department also revised June’s surprising 0.3% decline in retail sales to a 0.2% increase, making it five straight months with increased sales.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for jobless benefits rose 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000 last week. Yet the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 1,750 to 266,250, the lowest since April 15, 2000. Economists note that when adjusted for population growth, the current level of applications is likely at all-time lows. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The low readings also suggest that employers are confident about the economy’s health and see little need to shed workers. The number of Americans receiving aid rose 15,000 to 2.27 million. That figure has fallen 10.7% in the past 12 months. Some of those former recipients have likely gotten jobs, but many others used up all the benefits available to them.

Prices charged by producers rose more slowly in July, reflecting declines in both food and energy. The Labor Department said Friday its producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach the consumer, increased 0.2% in July compared to June when prices had risen 0.4%. Over the past 12 months, prices at the wholesale level have fallen 0.8%, the sixth straight month that prices have been down on a year-over-year basis. Core prices, which exclude the volatile categories of energy and food, are up a modest 0.6% over the past 12 months.

Economic News – International

China’s central bank on Thursday allowed its yuan currency to drop against the dollar for a third straight day, although the devaluation was smaller than ones earlier this week. The People’s Bank of China, or PBOC, cut its so-called guiding rate against the dollar by 1.1% but also issued assurances that the currency was not in free fall. China also devalued its currency Wednesday as the world’s second largest economy aggressively pushed back against slowing growth and trade, roiling global financial markets and driving expectations the currency could be set for more falls and even open a new currency war. The yuan fell as much as 2% Wednesday against the dollar before paring losses. U.S. companies that rely heavily on sales to China, including Apple and fast-food chain Yum Brands, are feeling the pain of China’s move to weaken its currency. Apple shares cratered 5.2%, while Yum, which owns KFC, slid 4.9%.

Oil prices hit a six-year low Thursday, reacting to the devaluation of the Chinese yuan and a report of higher Iranian oil production. West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude, for September delivery closed at $41.35 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since 2009. Just over a year ago oil was comfortably hovering above $100 a barrel. Falling oil prices reflect a changing world situation in which the U.S. is producing more while the Chinese economy is slowing, creating less demand for oil and other raw materials.

At the same time, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has raised its output. Much of the increase was due to Iran, which boosted production by 32,300 barrels a day in July to 2.86 million a day, highest since June 2012, as sanctions are being lifted due to the nuclear accord. OPEC’s strategy to pump like crazy despite collapsing oil prices seems to be finally paying off: The U.S. oil industry is declining as more oil producers rethink their priorities and cut production. The U.S. drilling activity is already down steeply from the October 2014 peak; 59% fewer rigs were operating at the end of July.

According to Bloomberg and other sources, the International Monetary Fund is expected to announce a reserve currency alternative to the U.S. dollar on October 20th of this year, which experts say will send hundreds of billions of dollars moving around the world, literally overnight. This announcement is expected to trigger one of the most profound transfers of wealth in our lifetime. Bloomberg reports that this decision comes on the heels of China pushing for their own currency to be elevated to reserve currency status.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants allegedly used deadly mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week. The Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported the allegations, citing unnamed defense and intelligence officials. Mustard gas is a deadly agent that was used extensively in World War I, causing blisters on the skin and lungs. The chemical could be disbursed with artillery shells or rockets. The Islamic State was previously accused of using chlorine gas in weapons.

For the first time, the United States launched manned airstrikes from a base in Turkey against ISIS forces in Syria, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The attacks from Incirlik Air Base are part of an agreement reached last month between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. The United States has long wanted to use Turkish bases for manned airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and parts of Iraq. Such access should shorten flight times for U.S. (and presumably allied) fighter jets compared with taking off from bases in Iraq or aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. While the U.S. has helped train moderate Syrian rebels as well as Iraqi forces, the U.S. military hasn’t put any of its troops in combat roles — though Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s outgoing chief of staff, said this should be a real option if more progress isn’t made against ISIS.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets, reports the New York Times. A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

Iraq

At least 76 people were killed in Baghdad on Thursday after a massive truck bombed ripped through a food market. Around 200 people were wounded in the blast in Sadr City, a district of Iraq’s capital. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The Sunni militant group frequently targets predominantly Shiite neighborhoods such as Sadr City. The Sunni militants currently hold territory in about a third of Iraq. Last month, an attack by the Islamic State group on a crowded marketplace in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed 115 people, including women and children.

Syria

A 48-hour truce began early Wednesday between pro-government forces and rebel groups in three Syrian towns. The truce involves the rebel-held city of Zabadani on the outskirts of Damascus, and the towns of Kefraya and al-Fouaa on the outskirts of Idlib in the north. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, reported that negotiations were ongoing between “Iranian delegations and Hezbollah on one hand and the local Zabadani fighters and fighters of the factions in the other hand.” These involve two key issues, the group said — providing buses to evacuate Ahrar Al-Sham rebels from Zabadani, and allowing food aid into Kefraya and al-Fouaa, which have been besieged by rebel groups. Iran props up both the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Greece

Greek lawmakers approved their country’s draft third bailout on Friday after a nearly 24-hour marathon parliamentary procedure culminated in a vote that saw the government coalition suffer significant dissent. The government needed the bill to pass in time for Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos to head to Brussels to meet his eurozone counterparts, who will decide Friday afternoon whether to approve the draft agreement. The rescue package would give Greece about 85 billion euros ($93 billion) in loans over three years in exchange for harsh spending cuts and tax hikes.

Greek ministers met Thursday in Athens amid concern over the treatment of migrants on the Greek island of Kos, following reports of thousands being corralled in a stadium for days with little access to food, water or shelter. More than 7,000 migrants arrived on the small island of Kos in July, according to medical charity Doctors Without Borders. They are part of an unprecedented wave of people venturing across the Mediterranean in boats, many of them not seaworthy, to reach European soil. The migrants had been ordered to go to the stadium by police who carried out a sweep of parks and public squares where they’d congregated — for want of any proper facilities to house them — with only three officers deployed to register them. With no shade, toilets or water provided, the situation deteriorated. Doctors Without Borders pulled its staff out of the stadium late Tuesday because of safety concerns, but they have returned since.

  • Greece is already struggling under a failed economy and severe austerity measures imposed by the EU as a condition for bailout funds. An influx of migrants is the last thing they (and the migrants) need.

Cuba

The United States and Cuba entered a new phase in their long, tumultuous history Friday when the American flag was raised outside the recently reopened U.S. Embassy along Havana’s historic waterfront. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry oversaw the event, which followed a similar flag-raising ceremony outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., last month. The events represent the latest steps in the changing relationship between the two nations since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced an end to the diplomatic freeze in December. Kerry also highlighted rifts that are likely to persist even as American commerce and connections expand on the island, including U.S. calls for “genuine democracy” in Cuba and improvements in human rights to open more room for civil and political groups

Environment

A disturbing trend has earned Hawaii the dubious nickname of “the extinction capital of the world,” reports the Washington Post. Hawaii is home to 25 percent of the endangered species in US, reports the Huffington Post, while representing just 0.25 percent of the country’s land mass. As of August 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service counts more than 80 species that are endangered or threatened. A team of researchers recently published the first rigorous assessment of extinction of invertebrates in the islands, reporting that the rate of extinction in the state has been as high as 14 percent per decade. According to the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, 271 species of all indigenous and endemic flora and fauna have become extinct in the last 200 years alone. But despite its rank as the state with the highest number of endangered or threatened species, the paper states, Hawaii receives less than 5 percent of the funding allotted by the federal government’s endangered species program — in 2013 just $1.5 million out of $32 million given to 20 states.

Despite all the leaps the United States made in the past few years to cut ozone emissions, researchers found China’s pollution is blowing into the Western U.S. and putting a dent in the progress. The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, show the ozone levels in the troposphere – the lowest level of the atmosphere – rose by about 7 percent over China from 2005 to 2010. The study also said that the Chinese pollution has offset 43 percent of all efforts to reduce ozone in the Western U.S. Ozone pollution can lead to a slew of respiratory problems, including asthma and respiratory infections.

Wildfires

Officials have ordered more evacuations in a Northern California town as firefighters said that one wildfire has merged with another. At least 150 residents have been pushed from their homes in the Hidden Valley area. Many of those who were forced out by the advancing Jerusalem fire were also evacuated a week ago when the Rocky fire threatened their properties. On Tuesday, Cal Fire officials confirmed that the two fires have merged. Cooler weather has been helping crews battle the fires, but unpredictable winds have added a challenge to the firefight. The blazes are being pushed away from populated areas, but the infernos are moving into areas with bad access because of steep terrain. The Jerusalem fire has burned at least 14,000 acres and is 5 percent contained. The Rocky fire has burned nearly 70,000 acres and is 88 percent contained. 43 homes and 53 outbuildings have been destroyed by the Rocky fire, none so far by the Jerusalem fire.

One of the state’s worst wildfire seasons in history has scorched 5 million acres of tundra and forests across Alaska, and experts here fear climate change will cause even more devastating fires through a combination of lower snowpack, drying tundra and melting permafrost. Anchorage, for example, had its least snowy winter on record, with just over two feet of snow, the National Weather Service reported. The number and size of the fires in the drought-parched West are pushing lawmakers to ask Congress to change the way it funds firefighting. This week, senators from Oregon and Idaho said they would propose bipartisan legislation that would allow firefighting agencies to use federal disaster funds to fight fires.

Weather

California’s searing drought forced wildlife officials to remove tons of rainbow trout from a fish hatchery in the central part of the state, as they moved them by truck to cooler lake water. About 80,000 pounds of trout were scooped up from the San Joaquin Hatchery near Fresno and hauled 30 miles uphill to Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Temperatures in Millerton Lake, which flow through into the hatchery on the San Joaquin River, had reached nearly 70 degrees, threatening the trout’s survival. In June, wildlife officials trucked millions of young Chinook salmon from a hatchery near Redding to the San Francisco Bay 200 miles away. The drought depleted rivers that the migratory fish normally travel to the Pacific Ocean.

The Los Angeles Reservoir has been transformed into a huge black ball pit in an effort to preserve the water. L.A. officials dropped 20,000 more black balls into the reservoir Wednesday, Aug. 12, bringing the total number of balls to 96 million. These are shade balls, part of a serious initiative to combat the California drought. The black balls block sunlight and UV rays that promote algae growth and slow down evaporation. They also prevent chemical reactions from triggering, deter birds and other wildlife and protect the water from dust.

An extended heat wave is smashing all-time records in parts of Europe for the second time this summer, and may remain in place into the weekend. Triple-digit heat prompted Poland’s national supplier to cut electricity to factories for several hours Monday. The combination of this extended heat plus dry weather has left rivers that are used to cool Poland’s power plants running low. Wroclaw, Poland, set an all-time high temperature Saturday of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Germany tied its all-time record high Friday, when Kitzingen soared to a high of 104.5 degrees. At least 19 cities in the Czech Republic tied or set new all-time heat records.

At least three people have died and some 11,000 people were forced from their homes by severe flooding in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province. After a weekend storm brought another unusual soaking to the Atacama Desert of Chile, a stalled frontal boundary and slow-moving upper-air low-pressure system produced heavy rain from northern Argentina to Uruguay. On Wednesday, Economy Minister Alex Kicillof announced plans to provide aid to retirees and low-income families affected by the flooding.

Signs of the Times (8/11/15)

August 11, 2015

Environmental Woes

Three million gallons of highly acidic mine wastewater was accidentally released from an abandoned mine into a creek that flowed into and contaminated the Animas River in La Plata County, Colorado, on Wednesday, turning it a burnt orange. The mine continues to discharge 500 gallons per minute as of Monday morning. The water, which spilled into Cement Creek before flowing into the Animas River, contains high concentrations of metals like iron, aluminum, cadmium, zinc and copper, but may also contain substances more toxic to humans like mercury, lead and arsenic. In an ironic twist, a mining safety team working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that was trying to access, treat and pump out the wastewater for an ongoing cleanup project triggered the release using heavy equipment. On Sunday the city of Durango, Colo., and La Plata County, Colo., declared a state of emergency. The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management also issued a state of emergency declaration in response to the spill. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was in Farmington over the weekend to tour the damage. “The magnitude of it, you can’t even describe,” she said. “They are not going to get away with this,” said Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, which intends to sue the EPA. The toxic plume was moving toward Lake Powell in Arizona and is steadily approaching the Grand Canyon.

Just weeks after a new report from The Associated Press uncovered virus and bacteria levels in the waters where Olympic athletes will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the same polluted water is blamed for making U.S. athletes sick. Thirteen rowers on the 40-member U.S. team came down with a stomach illness at the World Junior Rowing Championships — a trial run for next summer’s Olympics — and the team doctor said she suspected it was due to pollution in the lake where the competition took place. On July 30, The Associated Press published an independent analysis of water quality that showed high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage in all of Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic water venues.

A huge mat of brownish, foul-smelling seaweed is probably the last thing most vacationers want to see when they head to the beach. But the crystal clear waters and dazzling sands of the Caribbean are being increasingly invaded by just such a plague. Mounds of seaweed that in some cases have piled up nearly 10 feet high on beaches, have choked scenic coves and cut off moored boats. Researchers says that both the size and frequency of these huge clumps of grass have increased exponentially in the last few years. Some shorelines have been so severely hit that some tourists have canceled their vacations and lawmakers on Tobago have termed it a “natural disaster.”

A giant bloom of algae, commonly known as a red tide, floating off the Pacific coast may be larger and more widespread than scientists first believed. This coastal ribbon of microscopic organisms stretches from California to Alaska and is up to 40 miles wide while dropping 650 feet below the ocean’s surface in some places. The bloom is flourishing amid unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures and may be the biggest one ever recorded. It has also lasted for an incredibly long time — months, instead of the usual week or two.

Millions of people around the world rely on river deltas for everyday life, from the Mississippi to the Amazon. Unfortunately, this could be changing the geological phenomena for good. A new study from Science Magazine found that human interaction is putting river deltas at serious risk. The study analyzed 48 major river deltas and found that global sea-level rise, regional water management and human activity are among the factors changing the deltas forever. Highly populated deltas like India’s Ganges-Brahmaputra where the construction of dams and new channels have sunk the land even lower are now far more likely to take a hit from flooding and major natural disasters. Louisiana has already felt that threat, losing an estimated 1,900 square-miles of coastal land to the ocean in the last 80-years. The threat of further loss still looms over a large population in the state’s southern fishing communities. The Mississippi Delta has also been largely altered by humans but features a vast flood prevention system that includes massive levees.

144 Protesters Arrested on 4th Night of Demonstrations in Ferguson

At least 23 people were arrested in Ferguson, Mo. Monday night as protesters confronted police on a fourth consecutive night of demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Sunday night’s demonstration was thrown into chaos after by gunfire and a police shooting that left an 18-year-old critically injured. Earlier Monday, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency. By early Monday evening, hundreds of people had gathered. They marched up and down West Florissant Avenue, the thoroughfare that was the site of protests and rioting after Brown was fatally shot last year in a confrontation with a Ferguson police officer. Some demonstrators threw water bottles and other debris at officers. In all, approximately 144 protesters were arrested around the St. Louis area Monday, including 64 protesters who blocked afternoon rush-hour traffic on Interstate 70 Monday afternoon. At midday, 57 protesters demanding the dissolution of the Ferguson Police Department were arrested near the federal courthouse in St. Louis.

Rogue Drones a Growing Nuisance across U.S.

Rogue drone operators are rapidly becoming a national nuisance, invading sensitive airspace and private property — with the regulators of the nation’s skies largely powerless to stop them. In recent days, drones have smuggled drugs into an Ohio prison, smashed against a Cincinnati skyscraper, impeded efforts to fight wildfires in California and nearly collided with three airliners over New York City. Earlier this summer, a runaway two-pound drone struck a woman at a gay pride parade in Seattle, knocking her unconscious. In Albuquerque, a drone buzzed into a crowd at an outdoor festival, injuring a bystander. In Tampa, a drone reportedly stalked a woman outside a downtown bar before crashing into her car. The altercations are the byproduct of the latest consumer craze: cheap, easy-to-fly, remotely piloted aircraft. Even basic models can soar thousands of feet high and come equipped with powerful video cameras. The FAA was particularly worried about a surge in reports of drones flying dangerously close to airports. The Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group, estimates that hobbyists will buy 700,000 of the remote-controlled aircraft in the United States this year.

Seven Countries near Bankruptcy

Puerto Rico defaulted on its $58 million debt repayment this week for the first time in its history. With its failure to repay creditors, the commonwealth joins the ranks of countries and governments burdened by crippling debt levels and extremely low credit ratings. Moody’s Investors’ Service rates seven countries at a level suggesting they are near bankruptcy, including Jamaica, Argentina, Venezuela, Belize, Greece, Ukraine, and Belarus. The debt of four of the seven countries was equal to more than 75% of Gross Domestic Product. In Jamaica and Greece, debt was well over 100% of GDP.

Economic News – Domestic

Gas prices are down, and they are about to fall even further — perhaps to less than $2 a gallon. Gas prices have dropped about 6% in the last month to $2.59 a gallon, while oil prices have plunged 16% in the same time period. Gas hasn’t fallen as much as oil partly because stations are required to sell a more expensive summer blend of gasoline through September 15 to meet environmental standards. But gas prices should see a steep drop once the less-expensive winter blend hits gas stations.

The last two reports on wage growth were mediocre. Average hourly earnings rose only 2.1% annually in July — well below the Fed’s 3.5% target. Another measure, the Employment Cost Index was also very weak in July. In addition, oil prices are back down near their lowest point this year. A barrel of oil is $43.87. The low for this year is $42.43. These factors may keep the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates soon.

Social Security is flat broke. The just-released 2015 Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds report says the system is $25.8 trillion in the red. That’s almost a year and a half of U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Detroit went bankrupt in large part because its pensions were some 20% underfunded. Social Security is 32% underfunded. We need to raise the system’s 12.3% payroll tax by almost one third – by 4 cents on every dollar we earn – to pay all the system’s promised benefits.

Total liabilities in the U.S. have exceeded $59 trillion, up almost $10 trillion, or 17%, from the beginning of the 2007 meltdown. The previous pre-crash bubble had public debt as a percentage of GDP at 65%. This number has now skyrocketed to 102%, an increase of 57. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates near zero since late 2008, for almost 80 straight months. Is it any wonder that debt levels have shot higher? %., notes economist Patrick Wood. And now, the Fed is trapped by bubbles on every side: stocks are at all-time highs with no earnings to justify it; real estate is on the edge of another huge deflation and more so if interest rates rise; the commodities bubble has already popped and prices have cratered; and the bond market is hugely overpriced.

  • Wood, a Christian economist, is forecasting another imminent crash worse than that of 2007.

Economic News – International

China took action Tuesday that resulted in the biggest one-day drop in the value of its currency in a decade, with the apparent goal of reinvigorating a slowing economy. The yuan slid 1.9% after the Chinese government changed currency controls. The move came amid the latest release of data showing weakening trade in the world’s second largest economy. A devalued currency will boost foreign trade by making Chinese goods cheaper overseas. In the process, it helps guarantee that Chinese factories will keep their work forces mostly intact, with millions on payrolls, and help avoid the political turmoil that mass layoffs could produce. Global markets fell Tuesday after the unexpected devaluation.

Greece and its creditors have completed negotiations on the terms of a third bailout package. The deal, worth up to 86 billion euro ($95 billion), still needs to receive a stamp of approval by the eurozone leaders, but is expected to be finalized within days. Greece will have to pass more economic reforms in order to receive the money. It has already agreed to overhaul its pension system, increase taxes, adopt Europe-wide banking rules, and transfer up to 50 billion euros ($55 billion) worth of assets to an independent fund. The new agreement sets limits to Greece’s budget deficit for the next three years.

Middle East

The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued a demand Saturday for Palestinians to launch attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and all over Israel following the death of Sa’ad Dawabhse, victim of a so-called “price tag” arson attack on his home in the village of Duma last Friday in which his 18-month-old son Ali was killed. “The burning of the family is a turning point that will bring about the start of the intifada against the occupier in the West Bank,” a Hamas statement read. Meanwhile, Israeli security forces arrested several suspects in connection with the case over the weekend. In possibly related news, a Palestinian man stabbed a 26 year old Israeli motorist at a gas station on highway 443 just north of Jerusalem on Sunday evening. A suspect was shot and killed by IDF troops, while other individuals believed to have participated in the attack remain at large.

Islamic State

Islamic State is holding dozens of Christians in the southeastern Syrian province of Homs, Syrian Orthodox community leaders said on Friday, after it captured the town of Qaryatain in its efforts to establish a stronghold outside the major city of Homs. The precise number of Christians rounded up in the raid wasn’t clear. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said more than 230 people were kidnapped. The town is made up mostly of Sunni Muslims, with a small Christian minority.

A multifaith group of religious freedom advocates this week called on President Obama and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to declare “that the Islamic State’s actions against religious and ethnic minority populations in the Middle East is genocide.” Declaring ISIS’ actions genocide could open new doors to military, diplomatic and humanitarian intervention by the international community, intergovernmental organizations and individual countries. But it won’t be easy. Despite a growing chorus of experts and advocates who believe that ISIS’ atrocities against Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims and other religious and ethnic groups amount to crimes against humanity and genocide, U.S. and U.N. officials appear reluctant to explicitly label the group’s actions as such.

  • Obama and the one-world government folks are reluctant to target Islam which would undermine their war against Christianity

Afghanistan

Two massive attacks in Kabul on Friday, one near a government and military complex in a residential area and the other a suicide bombing outside a police academy, killed at least 35 people, sending the strongest message yet to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — that militants are still able to strike at his heavily fortified seat of power. The assaults undermine claims by security services and the government that the capital is immune from devastating attacks. They also pose a major challenge to Ghani, who has made the peace process with the Taliban the hallmark of his presidency since taking office last year. A NATO coalition soldier and eight Afghan contractors were killed in an attack on an American military base in Kabul, NATO said Saturday. Camp Integrity is run by U.S. security contractor Academi, which was known as Blackwater before being sold to investors. On Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated his car at a checkpoint near the entrance to Kabul International Airport, killing four people and wounding 15 others.

Turkey

One person was reported killed and 10 others were wounded after an Istanbul police station was attacked early Monday — first with a bomb and then with guns. Two attackers were also killed after police returned fire. The violence began around 1 a.m. Monday in the city’s Sultanbeyli district,when a vehicle-borne bomb exploded near the police station, wounding at least 10 people. Then, around 6:45 a.m., assailants opened fire at security forces who were guarding the damaged police station. Also Monday, two women staged an armed attack on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. One woman was arrested and the other was being sought. There were no casualties. The attacks come at a time of a sharp spike in violence between Turkey’s security forces and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Mali

Twelve people — including five Malian soldiers — died as a result of a hostage situation and ensuing battle between the attackers and soldiers at a Mali hotel Saturday. Five foreigners have been evacuated from the hotel in Sevare, in central Mali. Soldiers stormed the hotel to end a daylong siege that started Friday when gunmen raided the hotel after attacking a military site nearby. The freed hostages, who hid from the attackers in the hotel, are now safe at U.N. offices in the city.

Wildfires

The Willow Fire, which was first reported near Needles, Calif., on Saturday morning, has grown to around 6,000 acres and has prompted a widening evacuation of as many as 1,000 homes in the Mohave Valley area. Needles is on the Arizona-California border about 40 miles northwest of Lake Havasu City. The fire has damaged 18 structures as of Tuesday morning. The cause of the fire, which is zero percent contained, remains under investigation. Local fire officials expressed confidence they’ve steered flames to the least destructive path. But the weather is unlikely to cooperate and erratic wind gusts could change the outlook. The lightning-sparked fire was 10 percent contained by late Monday afternoon.

Weather

A wave of rushing water after a flash flood in northern Arizona on Sunday sent mud and huge boulders crashing onto U.S. Highway 89A near the Grand Canyon, leaving transportation crews with a massive cleanup effort ahead of them after the storm. The Arizona Department of Transportation reported that a 24-mile-long stretch of the highway was closed from about five miles west of Marble Canyon, Arizona, to Jacob Lake, near the junction of U.S. highways 89A and 67, the route to the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The flash floods were part of a storm that swept through the Gray Mountain area of Arizona, located about 27 miles north of Flagstaff, leaving behind reports of a tornado and wind gusts up to 70 mph.

Before it was downgraded to a tropical storm, Typhoon Soudelor killed more than two dozen people, left several missing and caused millions of dollars in damage. At least eight people died in Taiwan, including a mother and daughter swept out to sea, and another 26 were killed in China when mudslides and flooding inundated multiple provinces. Damages in Taiwan and China combined are estimated to add up to over $600 million. At one point, Soudelor left over 4 million Taipower customers without power, breaking the record previously held by Typhoon Herb, which rendered 2.79 million powerless in 1996. As the storm rushed ashore in eastern Taiwan, wind gusts over 140 mph were clocked in Su-ao, Yilan County.

As if their ongoing economic crisis isn’t enough, Puerto Ricans are being forced to learn how to live without water thanks to a severe drought that is forcing businesses to temporarily close, public schools to cancel breakfast service and people to find creative ways to stay clean amid sweltering temperatures. Rationing rules that had limited water coming through the pipes to only one day out of three will be increased – the cutoff will now be one day out of four starting this week, government officials say.

Signs of the Times (8/7/15)

August 7, 2015

Alabama Becomes 3rd State to De-Fund Planned Parenthood

Alabama has become the third state to de-fund the Planned Parenthood abortion business in the wake of five videos exposing how the abortion giant sells the body parts of aborted babies for research. Governor Robert Bentley announced on Twitter today that Alabama would also be cutting all state taxpayer funding to the abortion company. The state follows Louisiana, which is revoking a contract with Planned Parenthood using state Medicaid dollars, and New Hampshire, which zapped $650,000 in state taxpayer funding.

Poll: Religious Liberty a Priority over Gay Rights

A national poll done by Caddell Associates shows almost three-quarters of Americans (71%) desire “a commonsense solution that both protects religious freedom and gay and lesbian couples from discrimination.” Thus far, however, protection from such “discrimination” typically has come at the cost of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. When asked which was more important – protecting religious liberty or protecting homosexual rights – voters by a 4-to-1 margin (31% to 8%) chose religious freedom. Caddell also asked respondents whether it should be up to the federal government to determine what constitutes legitimate religious beliefs. Only 11 percent agreed and a massive 79 percent disagreed.” Indeed, even two-thirds of those on the ‘left’ of the segmentation disagreed,” Patrick Caddell said.

Cuba Sees Christianity Boom as Bibles Pour into Communist Nation

Cuba is experiencing a Christian revival, as tens of thousands of Bibles pour into the communist-ruled nation. Christian Today reports that 83,000 Bibles were sent to Cuba last month alone by the International Missions Board. Additionally, the American Bible Society has set a goal of sending one million Bibles to Cuba by 2017. So far, 60,000 copies have been distributed in the nation. According to the American Bible Society website, Christianity is booming in Cuba. “With a population of 11 million, a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent and an unprecedented growth in Christianity thanks to social, economic and political reforms, many Cubans are seeking guidance and hope found in God’s Word. As a result of this unprecedented spiritual and cultural shift, demand for Bibles has outpaced supply.” Only recently did Bible distribution become legal in the nation.

Chinese Government Continues to Crackdown on Churches

Religious tension is mounting in China as the government continues to crackdown on Christian churches. China began a campaign in 2013 to take down the prominent red crosses that sit atop many Chinese churches. According to ABC News, authorities in Zhejiang province have been instructed to take down every cross from the 4,000 or so churches in the province within a two-month timeframe. China’s semiofficial Christian associations have warned that the very effort to stamp out any enemies may create more enemies where there were none to begin with. The increasing severity of the cross campaign is thought to be due to the leadership of President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping who came to power in 2012.

  • Satan never learns. Persecution has always backfired, resulting in a wider, stronger spread of Christianity

Victory in Sudan: Two Pastors Facing Death Penalty are Freed

Two South Sudanese pastors who were facing death or life in prison have been freed. Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Reight were arrested on six charges, including “offending Islamic beliefs,” promoting hatred and undermining the constitutional system, according to Christian Today. Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirmed the men’s freedom on Wednesday. In a hearing on Wednesday, Michael was convicted of inciting hatred and Reith was convicted of breaching public peace. Both were released on time already served.

Al Qaeda Branch Calls for New Attacks against the U.S.

Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, which officials have called the terror group’s most dangerous affiliate, has issued two threatening new communiques praising recent lone-wolf style attacks against the West and calling for more of them. “We urge you to strike America in its own home and beyond,” says a letter attributed to Ibrahim al-Asiri, the master bomb-maker with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Intelligence officials say Asiri was a key player in the 2009 Christmas Day bomb attempt in which a passenger from Africa almost managed to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound plane that he’d hidden in his underwear. Asiri was also behind the placing of bombs in printer cartridges aboard planes headed for the United States that were intercepted before they reached their targets.

Most States Waiving Work Requirements for Food Stamps

Most states still are waiving work requirements for those on food stamps, raising concerns that despite an improving job market the Obama administration is fostering government dependency, all at the expense of taxpayers. Forty-four of the 50 states have to some degree eased work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. “The explosion of enrollment on SNAP of able-bodied adults without requiring work is a recipe for long-term dependency, and is hurting the country’s economic recovery,” said Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, Josh Archambault. Supporters of waiving work requirements counter that there still aren’t enough jobs out there.

  • Increasing dependency on government is a key strategy of the one-world government folks, giving them control to implement their socialist-humanist agenda

Sixteen States ask Obama Admin to Put Power Plant Rules on Hold

The campaign to stop President Barack Obama’s sweeping emissions limits on power plants began taking shape Wednesday, as sixteen states asked the government to put the rules on hold while a Senate panel moved to block them. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is leading the charge against the rules, banded together with 15 other state attorneys general in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy requesting that the agency temporarily suspend the rules while they challenge their legality in court. The EPA and the White House both said they believe the limits are legal and have no plans to put them on hold. But by submitting the formal request, the attorneys general are laying the groundwork to ask the courts to suspend the emissions limits instead.

Infant Mortality Rate Hits Record Low, although Racial Disparities Persist

The USA’s infant mortality rate hit a record low in 2013, falling to 5.96 deaths per 1,000 live births, or about 23,400 deaths, according to a CDC report issued Thursday. While health officials cheered those new numbers, they noted that the USA still lags behind other nations and that mortality among black babies is far higher than among whites. Infant mortality in the USA has dropped 13% since 2005. Infant mortality rates are considered one of the strongest measures of a country’s health, because they reflect women’s well-being, overall access to health care, quality of health care, social and economic conditions, and public health practices. However, the USA ranks last among 26 high-income countries for infant mortality, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,   below even former Eastern Bloc countries such as Hungary and Poland. And infant mortality among blacks — 11.1 deaths per 1,000 births — remains more than twice as high as among whites, according to the CDC study.

Deadly Infections from Medical Scopes go Unreported

Reports of superbug outbreaks linked to a specialized type of medical scope continue to climb, but government efforts to assess the public health risk are stymied: No one knows how often the infections occur — or where. Duodenoscopes, which are run down the throat to treat intestinal problems, have been tied to scores of infections and more than a dozen deaths at hospitals in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and other cities. Indiana’s health department recently notified federal officials of two more scope-related infections that have not been disclosed previously. But for every duodenoscope-related illness that’s reported, countless others go uncounted, an ongoing USA TODAY investigation finds. Many suspicious illnesses in duodenoscope patients never come to the attention of federal authorities, including cases identified by the newspaper in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states. So federal health officials know the cause of the problem — bacteria can lodge in the scopes’ recesses and move from patient to patient — but they can’t discern its prevalence or the magnitude of the threat it may pose.

Hacker’s RollJam Device can Steal Your Car Keys & Open Your Garage

A proven electronic code system that’s kept millions of cars and garages safe from thieves soon may be rendered useless by a hacker’s device — assembled from about $20 in parts. Your car key uses what’s known as “rolling code.” Every time you press the button, a new, randomly generated code is sent over a radio frequency to your car, which has a synchronized code generator that recognizes it and then burns it so it can never be used again. The key and the car then create new codes for the next time around, and the process repeats. White-hat hacker Samy Kamkar, who last week cracked GM’s OnStar smartphone app security and demonstrated his ability to illicitly unlock and start a car over a cellular network, has developed a device made from $20 worth of parts that he calls the RollJam, which intercepts the codes and can then use them to access the car or garage.

Persecution Watch

Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor who has been detained in Iran since 2012 when he was arrested while visiting family members and helping to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht, has become the poster child for the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on Christians. Despite the high level of visibility his plight has received, he and three other US citizens being held by the Islamic Republic, as well as the extreme persecution suffered by Christians in Iran, are not being considered in the ongoing debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s renegade nuclear program. Abedini’s imprisonment is one of many issues raised by a recent report by Amnesty International accusing Iran of massive human rights abuses.

Economic News

The economy added a solid 215,000 jobs last month in a development that could help give the Federal Reserve the evidence it needs to raise interest rates in September for the first time in nearly a decade. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, was unchanged at 5.3%, the Labor Department said Friday, as the modest rise in employment was offset by an increase in the labor force as some Americans on the sidelines resumed their job searches. Businesses added 210,000 jobs on strong advances by retail, health care, professional services and leisure and hospitality. Federal, state and local governments added 5,000.

America has millions of jobs openings — more than any point since 2000. There were 5.3 million job openings in America in May, according to the most recent data from the Labor Department. That’s better than the meager 2.1 million job openings at the depth of the recession. However, the high number of job openings raises red flags because it means companies aren’t finding the right people to fill the jobs. It signals a persistent problem in America’s economy: the skills gap. So far this year, for every job opening, about 30 people apply on average. Of those applicants, less than 20% meet the qualifications for the job, according to Corporate Executive Board, a research group. Experts say that job training programs in the U.S. remain lackluster compared to the country’s global peers in Europe and Asia. “Employers want “ready-now” people, they say, but may be setting the bar too high.

The U.S. trade deficit increased in June as solid consumer spending pulled in more imports, while the strong dollar restrained exports. The Commerce Department said Wednesday the trade gap jumped 7% to $43.8 billion in June, up from $40.9 billion in May. Imports increased 1.2% to $232.4 billion, while exports edged lower to $188.6 billion from $188.7 billion.

Middle East

A Christian tourist from France visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday, pulling an Israeli flag out of his bag as he stood near the al-Aksa Mosque. The man was immediately attacked by four Moslem men and severely beaten before being rescued by Israeli police. His attackers were also arrested, but police said the tourist might face charges of incitement to violence.

Islamic State

Syrian activists say the Islamic State group has seized a key town in central Syria following clashes with President Bashar Assad’s forces. The town of Qaryatain lies southwest of the historic town of Palmyra, which the extremist group seized in May. The capture of Qaryatain, a heavily populated town, allows the IS group to link up areas under its control in and around Palmyra with areas in the eastern countryside of Qalamoun north of Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the IS group seized the town Thursday after three suicide bombers targeted army checkpoints at the entrance the day before, setting off a fierce battle. Up to 500 people are unaccounted for, but the observatory has confirmed that at least 230 people have been taken hostage.

Egypt

Egypt received a show of international support on Thursday as it inaugurated a major extension of the Suez Canal which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hopes will power an economic turnaround in the Arab world’s most populous country. The former armed forces chief, who led a military takeover two years ago but ran for president as a civilian last year, told a ceremony attended by French, Russian, Arab and African leaders that Egypt would defeat the terrorism that dogged the project. “Work did not take place in normal circumstances, and these circumstances still exist and we are fighting them and we will defeat them,” Sisi said after signing an order allowing ships to cross the New Suez Canal. “We promised a gift to the world and we accomplished it in record time – an additional artery for prosperity and for connecting civilization to enhance the movement of international trade,” he said, as the first vessel passed through the canal.

Afghanistan

A bomb hidden in a truck exploded in the center of the Afghan capital, killing seven people and wounding about 400, police and health officials said Friday. The pre-dawn blast was near a Defense Ministry compound, but all of the victims were civilians, including women and children. Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullha Mayar about 400 people were hurt, mostly after being hit by flying glass. The blast comes after the United Nations said Wednesday that a growing number of women and children are getting hurt or killed in Afghanistan’s war against the Taliban and other insurgents. The number of women casualties rose by 23 percent and children by13 percent over last year.

Saudi Arabia

A bomb ripped through a mosque in Saudi Arabia used by Interior Ministry special forces in the southwestern city of Abha on Thursday, killing 17 people, according to the official Saudi Al-Ekhbariya news channel. A Saudi Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press that the bomb targeted police trainees as they were in the middle of prayer. Ekhbariya said at least 10 of the dead were members of the security forces. The attack was likely perpetrated by the Islamic State group, whose local affiliate has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in recent months.

Pakistan

Two Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed four militants in a troubled tribal region near the Afghan border. The officials said Friday two missiles hit a militant hideout in the village of Datta Khel in North Waziristan, where the military has been carrying out a major offensive against local and foreign militants since June last year. The officials say the apparent target of late Thursday’s strike were members of the Haqqani militant network. The U.S. has been using drone strikes to kill militants for several years now, but U.S. officials rarely comment on the covert drone program run by the CIA.

Mali

Four Malian soldiers, two Islamic extremists and at least one foreigner are dead after a shootout at a hotel near an army camp in central Mali Friday. Armed jihadists attacked the hotel and then exchanged gunfire with Malian soldiers trying to protect the Hotel Debo in the town of Sevare, about 9 miles from Mopti in the country’s central region. Smoke was seen rising from the town after the attack at the hotel, frequented by personnel from the country’s United Nations peacekeeping mission. Attacks by extremists on Malian army positions have moved into central and southern Mali this year. Mali’s north fell under the control of Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led military intervention in 2013 scattered the extremists, though the region remains insecure.

Bangladesh

A group of attackers hacked a Bangladeshi blogger to death Friday in his apartment in the capital of Dhaka, authorities said. The killing of the secular blogger, who uses the pen name Niloy Neel, was at least the fourth this year targeting those who posted online pieces critical of Islam. Neel wrote posts condemning the recent killings of three other bloggers in his country. He also routinely posted on women’s and minority rights, communal violence and the oppression of Hindus in Bangladesh.

Pestilence

Millions of locusts have descended on farmlands in southern Russia, devouring entire fields of crops and causing officials to declare a state of emergency in the region. Officials say at least 10% of crops have already been destroyed, and the locust feeding frenzy is far from over, threatening to devastate the livelihoods of local farmers. Russian news broadcasts are linking the plague to climate change, connecting the phenomenon to recent flooding amid higher than average temperatures. Officials say the locust swarms are moving fast across southern Russia, sometimes too fast for the authorities to keep up, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

Environment

The ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is much larger than expected. Measuring in at 6,474 miles, the annual Gulf of Mexico dead zone this year covers an area roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. A dead zone is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life. These areas are also referred to as hypoxia areas and occur when there is nutrient runoff, largely due to the fertilizer used in nearby fields. This accelerates algae growth, which compromises the oxygen levels in the water when they decompose. In 2002, the NOAA reported that the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone spanned 8,497 square miles. Though the size of this year’s dead zone is significantly smaller, it is still three times larger than the reduction goal set by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.

Wildfires

Fifty-two large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in the U.S. as of Friday morning. Most of these are in California (16, 170,000 acres), Oregon (8, 35,000 acres), Washington (7, 56,000 acres), Idaho (5, 2,700 acres) and Arizona (8, 13,500 acres). So far this year, over six million acres of land has been consumed by wildfires, up 50% over the ten-year average.

Hundreds of people who were forced to leave their Northern California homes because of a massive wildfire began to trickle back to their neighborhoods on Thursday. Many found their houses destroyed. About 43 homes were destroyed as the blaze swept through nearly 109 square miles of dry brush.

Weather

On the heels of a hot finish to July across much of the southern U.S., another string of hot days is on the way. In many spots, the heat will only worsen by this weekend. If 100-degree heat was not bad enough, high levels of humidity will make it feel even more uncomfortable. Little relief is expected at night as cities like Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi, may struggle to fall below 80 degrees.

A heat wave that has already killed dozens and sickened thousands in Japan reached another torrid milestone Thursday as the nation’s capital, Tokyo, suffered an unprecedented eighth consecutive day of extreme heat. Tokyo reached 98.1 degrees Fahrenheit Friday, marking its eighth straight day of highs at or above Japan’s “extreme heat” threshold of 95 F. An analysis of Japan Meteorological Agency data, conducted by The Weather Channel, confirmed that the previous record was just four consecutive days. The toll from Japan’s ongoing heat wave accelerated last week, boosting the year’s official tally to 55 heat-related deaths and sending more than 11,000 to the hospital.

Heavy rain of up to 20 inches and 110-120 mph winds threaten Taiwan on Friday as Typhoon Soudelor makes landfall. Once the most powerful storm of 2015, Soudelor has weakened but is expected to hit with the strength of a Category 3 hurricane Friday night (local time). Earlier in the week, the U.S. commonwealth Saipan and other islands took a direct hit from what was then a super typhoon, resulting in a “state of disaster” in Saipan.

Torrential monsoon rains in the aftermath of cyclone Komen continue to cause flooding in India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, leaving hundreds dead and millions displaced. In India, at least 178 are dead due to the heavy downpours and related accidents. Late Tuesday, flooding under a bridge derailed two trains traveling in Madhya Pradesh, killing dozens of the 230 people estimated to be on board.

The world’s glaciers are losing ice at a faster pace so far this century than at any time since record-keeping began more than 120 years ago, according to a new study that says glacial melt is a worldwide phenomenon and will continue even if the world stopped warming any further than it already has. The study, published last month in the Journal of Glaciology and conducted by the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, states, “The observed glaciers currently lose between 1.5 to 3 feet of its ice thickness every year – this is two to three times more than the corresponding average of the 20th century,”

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

Signs of the Times (8/4/15)

August 4, 2015

Thousands Turn from Islam to Embrace Christianity

As the Islamic State tries to overrun Syria and Iraq, thousands are reportedly turning away from the extremist values and finding Jesus. “I was a devote Muslim and often preached, but there was something missing. There was something empty about Allah and the Quran. Jesus appeared to me in a dream and open my eyes… what has missing was His love and peace,” said Iraqi Barazan Azeezi to The Christian Post. Some Islamic State fighters are telling stories of meeting a man who healed them. They then come to accept Jesus. “A decade ago, we would all hear when even one Muslim came to Christ in Lebanon or Syria. Now there are so many we cannot keep count,” a humanitarian worker told The Christian Post.

  • Praying for salvations should be our top priority as the end-times unfold

Atheists Get Slapped Down in Pennsylvania Ten Commandments Case

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at a local high school, declaring that the complainants have not suffered injury from the display. In 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against the [Ten Commandments] display on behalf of local resident Marie Schaub and her daughter, who complained that they were disturbed by the monument’s presence” at her high school.

5th Video Catches Planned Parenthood Official Selling “Fully Intact” Aborted Babies

The pro-life advocates behind the four shocking videos exposing Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted babies for research have released a 5th video Tuesday that catches a Planned Parenthood official discussing how the abortion business sells “fully intact” aborted babies. This undercover video shows the Director of Research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Melissa Farrell, promoting the Texas Planned Parenthood branch’s track record of fetal tissue sales, including its ability to deliver fully intact aborted babies. The video makes it appear the Planned Parenthood abortion business may be selling the “fully intact” bodies of unborn babies purposefully born alive and left to die. If so, Planned Parenthood could be breaking the federal law known as the Born Alive Infants Protection Act that requires abortion clinics, hospitals and other places that do abortions to provide appropriate medical care for a baby born alive after a failed abortion. Most abortion methods would do damage to the baby’s body.

Senate Fails to Advance Planned Parenthood Defunding Measure

The Senate failed Monday to advance a Republican-led measure to halt federal aid to Planned Parenthood, but leaders of the GOP-controlled chamber appear ready to continue the fight, galvanized by a series of unsettling videos about the group. The vote to bring debate on the bill was 53-46, shy of the 60 votes needed to advance. Republicans might try to gain leverage for the defund effort when Congress returns from August recess by threating to vote against spending bills to keep the government running after Sept. 30 if they include Planned Parenthood funds. However, GOP leaders are reluctant to force a shutdown fight that could haunt them in the 2016 elections.

Obamacare’s Deductible Caps Too High for Many

Obamacare went a long way toward preventing the insurmountable medical bills that led to a large percentage of U.S. bankruptcies. But for many people, the $6,600 per-person, per-year cap on out-of-pocket costs is way too high. Many enrollees are now paying more out-of-pocket than before. The family cap of $13,200 is only reached for serious medical issues. Patients are now responsible for an increasing portion of their health care costs. Out-of-pocket maximums include deductibles as well as co-pays and co-insurance, but not premiums or cost-sharing when you get care out of network. Maximums for private plans are often lower than $6,600 — sometimes by a lot.

Puerto Ricans Brace for Crisis in Health Care

The first visible sign that the health care system in Puerto Rico was seriously in trouble was when a steady stream of doctors — more than 3,000 in five years — began to leave the island for more lucrative, less stressful jobs on the U.S. mainland. Now, as Puerto Rico faces another hefty cut to a popular Medicare program and grapples with an alarming shortage of Medicaid funds, its health care system is headed for an all-out crisis, which could further undermine the island’s gutted economy. More than 60 percent of residents receive Medicare or Medicaid — an indicator of Puerto Rico’s poverty and rapidly aging population, reports the New York Times. When Puerto Rico defaulted on debt obligations Monday that only added fuel to the crisis. In addition, Puerto Rico is also running out of water. A drought has forced the island’s government to ration water. It’s become so bad that the government is actually turning off tap water in people’s homes, sometimes for days at a time. The main tourist areas, however, are exempt for now.

10 Million to Get Green Cards in Next 10 Years

The immigrant population is due to soar over the next decade, with the American government set to issue more new green cards over the next 10 years than the combined populations of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. According to information from the Senate’s Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, exclusively obtained by Breitbart, the vast majority of U.S. immigration stems from legal visas that are issued, most of which go to lesser-skilled and lower-paid workers and their dependents. The federal government has been issuing roughly 1 million green cards every year, for a total of 5.25 million in the last five years alone, according to the briefing. By comparison, just 3 million green cards per decade were issued during the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s (that’s just 300,000 per year). Since 1970, the foreign-born population has increased more than four-fold, standing at a record of 42.1 million today. Green card holders not only receive the benefit of lifetime work authorization but also have access to federal benefits such as welfare, Social Security and Medicare.

Obama Targets Coal Companies

It’s a terrible time to be in the coal business. Companies have struggled for five years in an environment of strict regulation and low prices, along with a host of poorly-timed mergers. Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy on Monday, becoming the latest coal company to succumb to the difficult environment. Life is about to get even tougher as President Obama — never a friend of the coal industry — rolled out new rules aimed at further reducing America’s coal-burning power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama established tougher greenhouse gas cuts on American power plants, aiming to jolt the world to action and setting the stage for a confrontation in the courts with energy producers and Republican-led states. Since Obama took office in January 2009, shares of many coal companies have plummeted more than 90%. Several companies have gone bust. Shares of several coal companies crumbled further on Monday as Obama announced the new climate change initiative.

Economic News – Domestic

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warns that government spending is “extremely dangerous” to the future of the US economy. Greenspan decried a rise in entitlement costs, which he contended have pressured the U.S. economy. Social expenditures in the U.S. were 19.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, up from 15.5 percent in 2005, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). What’s worse, the portion of GDP spent on social benefits of the 34 member nations of the OECD averaged 21.6 percent. “To me the discussion today shouldn’t even be on monetary policy, it should be on how do we constrain this extraordinary rise in entitlements?” Greenspan said.

Six years after the Great Recession ended, only about a quarter of Americans have a positive view of the U.S. economy and its prospects, though significantly more feel good about their personal financial situation, according to a new USA TODAY/Wells Fargo survey. The findings underscore that although perceptions have improved along with the economy, the scars of the downturn have left Americans warier and less optimistic about the future.

Consumer spending rose modestly in June amid solid gains in job and income growth. Americans’ purchases increased 0.2% in June after jumping a revised 0.7% in May, the Commerce Department said Monday. Personal income increased 0.4%. Personal income was revised up 0.2% in 2012, and was revised down to 0.7% in 2013 and 0.3% in 2014.

General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Nissan posted strong sales performances in July, as the auto industry creeps closer to its first full year of 17 million-unit sales since before the Great Recession. The automakers reaped increased profits from consumers’ rush to buy bigger vehicles with gasoline prices remaining low.

Economic News – International

Debt-ravaged Puerto Rico is in default after forking over only a fraction due in a bond payment, raising the prospect of further pain for the recession-plagued commonwealth and potential impacts on U.S. investors. Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank paid only $628,000 of the $58 million due creditors. Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt of $72 billion is far bigger than Detroit’s $20 billion bankruptcy two years ago but a fraction of Greece’s $350 billion in obligations. But unlike Detroit, there’s no law allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. And U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the federal government won’t bail out the island.

The latest economic data from Canada shows that it is inching toward recession, after its economy posted its fifth straight month of contraction. Statistics Canada revealed on July 31 that the Canadian economy shrank by 0.2% on an annualized basis in May, perhaps pushing the country over the edge into recessionary territory for the first half of 2015. It followed a contraction in the first quarter at an annual rate of 0.6%.

Collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions on big banks and energy companies tipped Russia into a financial crisis at the end of 2014. The ruble plunged and inflation soared. Russia jacked up interest rates in response, sold dollars and euros to defend its currency, pumped money into the banks and slashed government spending. The IMF expects Russian GDP to shrink by 3.4% this year, as falling real wages, the higher cost of borrowing and shattered confidence hit domestic demand.

Greek stock markets suffered a second day of losses Tuesday as Greek banking stocks once again fell by around 30%, the daily limit.

Middle East

Israel’s security cabinet approved new measures Sunday against Israelis who attack Palestinians, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will have “zero tolerance” for Jewish extremists. The tough talk follows a pair of attacks last week that shocked Israelis. On Friday, suspected Jewish extremists set fire to a Palestinian home in the West Bank and burned a toddler to death. On Thursday, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed revelers at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, and a 16-year-old girl wounded in that attack died of her wounds Sunday. Israel’s security cabinet issued a statement Sunday night saying it had directed the security agencies “to take all necessary steps to apprehend those responsible and prevent similar acts.”

The Beit Hanina intersection in Jerusalem was the scene of a terror attack Monday. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a vehicle causing moderate wounds to a female passenger and a pedestrian who was struck when the driver lost control. The car was completely destroyed in the resulting fire. It was the latest in a series of violent attacks against Jews suspected of being in revenge for last Friday’s “price tag” attack which killed a Palestinian toddler and seriously wounded his parents and brother. Elsewhere, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki presented a file to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague accusing Israel of being behind a series of what the file called “settler terrorism” attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Nigeria

The Nigerian army said Sunday that it rescued 178 captives near the town of Bama in the militants’ stronghold of Borno state in the north of the country — 101 children, 67 women and 10 men. A Boko Haram commander was also captured. The Nigerian Air Force said it killed “a large number” of militants in repelling an attack on Bitta village, 30 miles southwest of Bama. It is not currently known whether the freed captives include any of the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted by the extremists in Chibok, northeastern Nigeria, in 2014.

Wildfires

Wildfires engulfing parts of California could intensify Monday, with gusty winds potentially fanning fires caused by lightning strikes. More than 9,300 firefighters are now battling at least 21 wildfires. With only 5 percent of the Rocky wildfire contained, California’s largest wildfire has rapidly consumed 62,000 acres in three counties. In a span of five hours from Saturday into Sunday, the fire doubled in size. The fire has destroyed 24 homes and 26 outbuildings, also threatening 6,300 homes scattered throughout rural areas. On Monday, the wildfire crossed a highway in several locations, breaking past containment lines.

A large forest fire was threatening suburbs of Jerusalem on Monday in the midst of one of the most intense heat waves to hit Israel in years. Dozens of families in Moshav Even Sapir and the Ein Kerem neighborhood near Hadassah University Medical Center were evacuated due to the fires which, officials said, was mostly contained by Monday morning. Smaller brush fires were reported in other areas throughout Israel as temperatures hit record highs and forecasters warned that there would be little relief before the end of the current week. The Israel Electric Company also warned of the risk of blackouts as electricity use hit all-time record highs. Searing temperatures also affected Israel’s neighbors, including Jordan where the capital of Amman was covered Sunday in a massive dust storm.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms rocked the Chicago area Sunday, killing at least one person when a tent collapsed at a festival. At least 16 people were injured in storm-related incidents, and there were six reports of tornadoes spawned across the region. The storms left plenty of damage behind and knocked out power to more than 230,000 customers at the height of the event. A dome at the Ballpark at Rosemont in Rosemont, Illinois, collapsed.

Heavy rains soaked Tampa, Florida, Saturday, causing flooding that rendered roads impassable and motorists stranded. Slow-moving thunderstorms moved through the Tampa metro Saturday afternoon, where the ground is already saturated by heavy rainfall from the past couple of weeks. Pasco County, Florida, declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to heavy flooding that slammed the area over the past weeks.

Summer heat is gripping opposite sides of the country this weekend, including parts of the Northwest and the Northeast. The heat has helped to clinch one of the hottest Julys on record for some Northwest cities. It’s also helped set a record for the most 90-degree days in a year in Seattle and has given Portland its hottest temperatures since 2009. The Northeast heat will not be as extreme, but it will stick around into early this week for some cities.

At least 167 people are reported dead in three Asian countries in the wake of a monsoon depression that briefly became a tropical cyclone last week, unleashing over 3 feet of rain in parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar. India’s Home Ministry says heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 90 people in the past week and forced tens of thousands of people to take shelter in state-run relief camps. On Saturday, at least 20 people were swept away by a landslide that flattened up to 10 homes in a tiny village in the northeastern Manipur state.

Food, water, cots, generators, and other federal emergency supplies were being rushed Tuesday from Hawaii and Guam to help Saipan after the Earth’s most powerful storm of 2015 — Super Typhoon Soudelor — blasted through the tiny U.S. island in the Western Pacific. The storm continued its violent march through the Pacific Ocean with sustained winds of more than 160 mph and gusts approaching 200 mph. The typhoon was taking aim at Taiwan and China, though it is expected to weaken to a Category 3 or 4 storm by then.

Signs of the Times (8/1/15)

August 1, 2015

Pastor Leads Church Burglar to Christ at Gunpoint

A pastor who made headlines earlier this week for shooting a burglar at his church reportedly led the man to Christ while holding him at gunpoint. As previously reported, Benny Holmes of The Church of New Beginning in Baytown, Texas shot intruder Lee Marvin Blue in the shoulder when he heard the 27-year-old attempting to gain entry into the church early Tuesday morning (July 28). Charisma News reports Holmes called 9-1-1 himself and the pastor is heard guiding the burglar to ask Jesus into his heart while they wait for police to arrive. The burglar followed the pastor’s instructions and reported accepted Jesus as his Savior.

Court Blocks Release of Another Planned Parenthood Body Parts Video

The company featured in undercover videos of Planned Parenthood has gone to court to block release of one of the videos. The man behind those videos says StemExpress has good reason to be frightened of that video’s contents. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released four of a promised series of videos with Planned Parenthood executives and abortionists discussing abortions and harvesting organs and tissue from the aborted babies to sell. One of the companies Planned Parenthood allegedly sells body parts to is StemExpress. An unnamed executive at StemExpress has obtained a temporary restraining order against release of a specific video in which CMP spokesman David Daleiden interviewed top officials at StemExpress. “StemExpress is trying to suppress a specific video recording of a meeting with their top leadership where their leadership admitted that they sometimes get fully intact fetuses shipped to their laboratory from the abortion clinics that they work with – and that could be prima facie evidence of born-alive infants,” Daleiden stated. “So that’s why they’re trying to suppress that videotape – and they’re very scared of it.”

Senate Will Vote On Defunding Planned Parenthood

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the U.S. Senate will vote next week on a bill to completely defund Planned Parenthood Federation of America, following four shocking videos showing the abortion provider actively engages in the harvesting and selling of the body parts of aborted babies. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) quickly garnered at least 32 co-sponsors for S. 1881: A bill to prohibit Federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The key language of the bill reads, “…no Federal funds may be made available to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, or to any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics.” Planned Parenthood currently receives $540 million dollars from the federal government.

  • Actually, they are being funded by taxpayers who are outraged over the gruesome sale of baby body parts

Networks Covered Cecil the Lion More in 1 Day than Abortion Videos in 2 Weeks

America’s news anchors have spoken: the shooting of one lion vastly outweighs the trafficking of baby parts by a taxpayer-funded abortion giant. In other words, the broadcast news shows spent more time in one day on Cecil the Lion than they did on the Planned Parenthood videos in two weeks. The three broadcast networks, ABC, NBC and CBS censored the third video released Tuesday by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) exposing Planned Parenthood’s practice of harvesting aborted baby parts — censored it at Planned Parenthood’s urging. But the news shows did find more than 14 minutes for a more important story: the “outrage” over the shooting of Cecil, a famed African lion, by an American dentist, reports visiontoamerica.com

Wealthy Donors Pump Huge Sums into 2016 Presidential Election

More than 50 individuals and entities have shelled out at least $1 million apiece to big-money groups backing presidential candidates — with close to half of the big donors giving to a super PAC aligned with former Florida governor Jeb Bush. With 15 months to go before Election Day, donors have already contributed $272.5 million to independent groups supporting the large Republican field, more than four times the $67 million raised through their official campaigns, according to a tally by The Washington Post. In all, 58 donors together were responsible for $120 million given to GOP and Democratic super PACs by June 30 — more than 40 percent of the total amount raised by those groups.

  • Despite supposed reforms, major elections are still bought and paid for by the 1%

Washington D.C. is Sinking

Washington, D.C., where the powers that reign over the United States reside, is sinking into the ocean. Scientists predict that the land underneath the nation’s capital will drop more than 6 inches in the next 100 years. Washington’s sinking land is an entirely independent phenomenon from the rising sea levels, which scientists have attributed to climate change. The area is going through what geologists call a “forebulge collapse,” also known as the reason for many of Washington’s foreseeable geological woes. During the last ice age, a mile-high ice sheet pushed the land under the Chesapeake Bay region up. When the ice sheet melted 20,000 years ago, the bulging land began to settle back down. Global sea levels have risen about 8 inches since reliable record keeping started in 1880, research from institutions such as National Climatic Data Center and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have reported. Those sea levels are projected to keep rising another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.

  • End-time woes are coming regardless of what humans do or don’t do

Trials Show New Ebola Vaccine is ‘Highly Effective’

A newly developed vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus is “highly effective” and could help prevent its spread in the current and future outbreaks, the World Health Organization said Friday. Trials of the single-dose VSV-EBOV vaccine began in March in Guinea — one of three West African nations at the center of the outbreak — and have shown such promise that this week it was decided to extend immediate vaccination to “all people at risk” after close contact with an infected person. More research is needed, but the results so far on this trial show 100% efficacy. To date, more than 4,000 close contacts of almost 100 Ebola patients, including family members, neighbors and co-workers, have voluntarily participated in the trial.

Persecution Watch

Police stood by watching idly as a mob of Hindu extremists dragged Christians from a prayer meeting in West Delhi, India, and beat them. Police then questioned those who were attacked as if they were guilty of fraudulent conversion, sources said. A mob said to be members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stormed the prayer meeting in Nangloi, Nihal Vihar on July 18. When a pastor, Rajan Gill, led a group of Christians to the police station to help the pastors already in custody, the Hindu extremists beat them there. Initially, the police officers refused to register a case against the assailants, Christian leaders said. After about 400 Christians staged a protest in front of the police station against police inaction the next day, police filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the assailants.

A Pakistani Christian mother of three children has reportedly been kidnapped and forced into an “Islamic marriage.” Christian Today reports Fouzia Sadiq, a bonded laborer was taken by her Muslim landlord on July 23. The next day, Sadiq’s family was told she had converted to Islam and was married to her landlord Muhammed Nazir. Sadiq’s family have been moved to a safe house but the British Pakistani Christian Association says police have refused to investigate the incident.

A Georgia school district will be forced to pay the American Humanist Association $22,500 over allegations that local high school coaches led their teams in prayer before practices and games. The Christian Post reports that the Hall County School District of Gainesville, Georgia will use its insurance to foot the bill. According to the lawsuit, coaches at Chestatee High School and North Hall High School prayed with student athletes and used scripture verses in team materials. North Hall football coaches allowed a banner with scripture on it to be used at a game, while the Chestatee marching band director allowed students to elect student chaplains.

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal to keep a Ten Commandments monument on the state’s Capitol grounds. Christian Today reports the monument was placed at the Capitol in 2012; the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission previously requested that the statue remain in place, but the Supreme Court denied the request. The monument was privately funded and is supported by lawmakers in the state. Previously, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said the monument would stay at the Capitol while lawmakers sought an appeal of the original decision.

Economic News – Domestic

The U.S. economy bounced back in the second quarter on strong consumer spending, exports and home construction, and its performance in the first quarter wasn’t as feeble as initially believed. Gross domestic product — the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. — expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.3% in the April-June period, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The government also revised up its estimate for the first quarter, turning a 0.2% contraction into 0.6% growth, mostly because of stronger business investment and federal government spending.

U.S. wages and benefits grew in the spring at the slowest pace since 1982. The slowdown also likely reflects a sharp drop-off in bonus and incentive pay for some workers. Wages and salaries alone also rose just 0.2%.Salaries and benefits for private sector workers were unchanged, the weakest showing since the government began tracking the data in 1980.

Second quarter profits reported by the three giant integrated oil companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 — Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum — fell to $4.9 billion, a 90% drop. That’s the lowest quarterly profit in at least 10 years. The price of West Texas Crude has lost more than half its value over the past year — a crushing blow for the big energy companies to absorb. Most of them haven’t been able to cut costs fast enough to defray the imploding price of the underlying commodity.

A new Pew study out this week revealed that more millennials than ever are living at home or with family. In fact, the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds are more likely to be living with their families today than they were in the depths of the Great Recession. The national unemployment rate for people ages 18-34 is at 7.7% now, versus about 12% who didn’t have jobs in 2010. Despite the improvements, only 67% of millennials are living independently. That’s down 2% over the last five years.

Economic News – International

Puerto Rico will almost certainly be in default by Monday. The commonwealth needs to make a $58 million debt payment by August 1, but top Puerto Rican government officials say that they don’t have the money to pay. The August 1 payment is a very small part of the commonwealth’s $70 billion in outstanding debt, but it would be the first default for the island in this crisis. Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla claims the commonwealth can’t pay all of its debts. He says the island’s economy is in a “death spiral.”

Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday it’ll cut about 6,500 jobs and capital investment this year as it restructures and dumps some businesses to prepare for a “prolonged downturn” in oil prices. The Netherlands-based energy company also said its second-quarter net income fell 25% to $3.99 billion. Operating costs will be cut by $4 billion and capital investment plans will be lowered by $7 billion this year, the company said. In addition, British firm Centrica will shed 6,000 jobs, partly due to a reduced focus on oil and gas production.

Spain was on the brink of collapse three years ago. Now the country is surging ahead. The fourth biggest economy in the eurozone has just reported its eighth successive quarter of growth, and the pace is picking up. Gross domestic product grew by an annual rate of just over 3% in the second quarter, making it one of the fastest growing developed economies in the world. And it’s not alone. Five countries were bailed out by their European partners during the region’s debt crisis, and of those only Greece is still going backwards.

Middle East

One year after Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome defense system helped protect citizens from a rocket barrage launched from Gaza, the Jewish State has deployed the shield to the north, amid fears that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah is getting an infusion of cash and weapons from Iran. Some military analysts have expressed skepticism that the revolutionary defense shield will hold up under a sustained assault from a wide variety of more lethal missiles attacking from different points of the compass.

A Palestinian’s home was burned during a “price tag” attack Friday that killed a toddler and critically injured at least three other relatives, Israeli and Palestinian officials said. The baby, was about 18 months old. Authorities found the words “price tag” on the walls of the house in Duma. A “price tag” attack is a term used by radical Israeli settlers to denote reprisal against Palestinians in response to moves by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts.

An Orthodox Jew who stabbed marchers at a Jerusalem gay pride parade 10 years ago launched another knife attack at the same type of parade in the same city Thursday, stabbing and wounding six people who were on the streets for the event. Of the six people stabbed Thursday, two were injured seriously. Israeli police say Shlissel, an Orthodox Jew, was released from prison three weeks ago after serving a 10-year prison sentence for stabbing and wounding three marchers at a Jerusalem gay pride parade in 2005.

Syria

A Syrian insurgent group at the heart of the Pentagon’s effort to fight the Islamic State came under intense attack on Friday from a different hardline Islamist faction, a serious blow to the Obama administration’s plans to create a reliable military force inside Syria. The American-led coalition responded with airstrikes to help the American-aligned unit, known as Division 30, in fighting off the assault. The strikes were the first known use of coalition air power in direct battlefield support of fighters in Syria who were trained by the Pentagon. The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers rescued 71 people, almost all girls and women, in firefights that killed many Boko Haram militants in villages near the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the military said Thursday. Some captives told The Associated Press they were in the clutches of the Islamic extremists for as long as a year and often went hungry because the extremists never provided enough food. But attacks have increased in recent weeks, with hundreds killed in suicide bombings and village assaults. At least two women and one young girl who were suicide bombers this month came from the area where those freed this week were held. It is feared Boko Haram is turning its captives into weapons.

Environment

The Associated Press commissioned a study of the virus and bacteria levels in the waters where Olympic athletes will compete next year in Rio de Janeiro. The testing found dangerously high levels of pathogens from human sewage waste. Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. Global water experts who examined AP’s data said the water is not safe for swimming or boating.

Volcanoes

Papua New Guinea’s Madang province has been put on alert in the wake of an eruption at Manam volcano Friday morning. The volcano on Manam Island erupted just after 11 a.m. Friday morning. It covered the town of Bogia in ash. Locals were told to stay away from the town four main valleys. Ash shot as high as 12 miles into the air during the eruption. Papua New Guinea’s geohazards department said that “the eruption has opened the vent’s plumbing system and possible ongoing eruptions of variable magnitudes are possible.” An eruption of Manam killed five people and forced more than 9,000 residents to flee in November 2004, and many of those evacuees still live in temporary housing.

Wildfires

A firefighter has been killed and hundreds of people forced from their homes as an army of firefighters battles multiple blazes burning through California’s forests and woodlands. An estimated 8,000 firefighters are battling 23 massive fires, several of which were ignited by lightning strikes, raging across Northern California. “Because of the dry conditions, because of the drought-stricken vegetation accompanied by the steep terrain and winds, we’re seeing activity that’s abnormal for this time of year,” state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection division chief Nick Schuler. The biggest fire was in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco where firefighters had to wade through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock in rural neighborhoods as their owners fled to safety. The fast-moving fire had burned three homes by Friday and was threatening 450 other structures. Only 5 percent contained, it had spread across 28 square miles and was growing quickly. The fires prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for California on Friday. As part of the order, he activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.

Weather

The amount of rain that California has missed out on since the beginning of its record-setting drought in 2012 is about the same amount it would see, on average, in a single year, a new study has concluded. Drought began creeping across the California landscape in 2012 and has continued to mushroom year after year as winter rains and snows were much diminished. The atmospheric rivers that normally funnel in moisture-laden air were thwarted by a persistent area of high pressure that blocked them from reaching California. This winter, precipitation that did manage to fall mostly did so as rains thanks to record-high temperatures linked to extremely warm waters off the coast, leaving the snowpack at record low levels. Californians cut their water use 27.3% in June, beating Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory 25% target in the first month it took effect.

Freakishly hot, dry weather in the Pacific Northwest is killing millions of fish in the overheated waters of the region’s rivers and streams. Sockeye salmon losses in the Columbia River due to the heat number in the hundreds of thousands. Water temperatures in the Columbia River — part of which runs along the border of Oregon and Washington — reached the low 70s shortly after July 4th. High temperatures — coupled with the low water levels — can be lethal to fish, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. High temperatures — coupled with the low water levels — can be lethal to fish, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. With no end to the drought in sight, there could be additional fish die-off.

A slow-moving monsoon depression that has already unleashed lethal amounts of rain in South Asia formed into a tropical cyclone over the northern Bay of Bengal Wednesday. The cyclonic storm, named Komen, threatens to further drench regions that are already reeling from flooding and mudslides. Gusty winds and rough seas are adding to the dangers, which in all have claimed at least 33 lives in two countries.

Even in the Middle East, where scorching heat is part of everyday life during the summer, coping with extreme temperatures has its limits. A heat wave that has been building for days is testing those limits – and will test the region’s national temperature records too. The searing heat has led to an impromptu, mandatory four-day holiday in Iraq beginning this past Thursday. The government has urged residents to stay out of the sun and drink plenty of water, but for many of the more than 3 million Iraqis displaced by violent conflict, that poses a dilemma. Thursday, the observation site at the Mahshahr Airport in southwest Iran reported a temperature of 109 degrees and a dew point of 90 degrees. Using the American heat index formula, those figures yielded a mind-boggling feels-like temperature of 159 degrees. Mahshahr soared to a staggering heat index of 163 degrees Friday.