Signs of the Times (8/11/15)

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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