Signs of the Times (5/6/16)

Revival in West Virginia

A spiritual revival has been sweeping through southern West Virginia where hundreds have reportedly turned to the Lord and been saved. CBN News reports that the revival began as a three-day event at a local church, featuring Tennessee evangelist Matt Hartley. However, the revival continued after the three days were up, and has been going on for three weeks. “This is not man-made, charismatic, hyper spiritual,” Hartley told CBN News. “This is the presence of God that is overwhelming us, that is being released upon hungry people that are tired of just stagnant Christianity and ‘safe’ church. They want Jesus more than anything else. That’s why they’re here.” “Four-hundred to 450 students got saved at Mingo Central from Matt Hartley coming in and speaking at a voluntary prayer club,” Katie Endicott, with the Mingo Central High Prayer Club, told CBN News. The revival has spread like wildfire, from school to school and church to church. Some are calling it the biggest revival ever to have taken place in the history of southern West Virginia.

Donald Trump Hires Pro-Life Advocate as Top Domestic Policy Director

Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is winning praise from pro-life advocates for hiring a top pro-life advocate as a key domestic policy advisory. The presumptive GOP nominee hired long-time conservative congressional aide John Mashburn as his policy director. Mashburn is pro-life and has worked for pro-life lawmakers including the late Sen. Jesse Helms, former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott and current North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. As the Washington Examiner reports, pro-life groups see the move as Trump making serious overtures to pro-life voters and hail it as Trump indicating he will govern in a pro-life manner if elected president.

Obama Threatens NC to Implement Co-Ed Bathrooms or Lose Education Funding

The Justice Department on Wednesday warned North Carolina state officials that they would lose millions of dollars in federal funding unless they change the controversial measure limiting access to bathrooms for transgender people because they are in violation of federal civil rights law, reports the New York Times. The Obama Administration has threatened the state of North Carolina, to either force women to share bathrooms with men, or lose millions of dollars in education funds, confirms The Washington Times. The Justice Department on Wednesday said a North Carolina law barring people from using the public facilities of the opposite sex is in conflict with federal nondiscrimination laws. The department said state officials have until Monday to address the issue or lose millions in federal education funding by not complying with the order. North Carolina public schools received $861 million in federal funding this school year

Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

Medical errors kill about 250,000 people a year according to a new study from a well-known Johns Hopkins medical school professor and author. Professor Martin Makary is now the second to report that medical mistakes represent the third-leading cause of deaths in the U.S. In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general reported that up to 180,000 Medicare patients alone died a year from medical errors. John James, a NASA toxicologist whose son died of what he believes was a hospital error, did the last report on the subject in 2013 and estimated between 210,000 and 440,000 deaths a year could be attributed to medical error. Death certificates in this country don’t have a place for hospitals to acknowledge medical error, which needs to be improved so the problem can be better estimated and addressed. Makary and co-author Michael Daniel wrote that strategies to reduce death from medical care should include making errors “more visible” when they occur, having remedies available to “rescue patients,” and making errors less frequent by following principles that take “human limitations” into account.

Suicidal Soldiers Still Fear that Counseling will Harm their Careers

Even as troop suicides remain at record levels, the Pentagon has failed to persuade servicemembers to seek counseling without fears that they’ll damage their careers, a stinging government review concludes. Despite six major Pentagon or independent studies from 2007 through 2014 that urged action to end the persistent stigma linked to mental health counseling, little has changed, analysts said in the April report by the Government Accountability Office. One key problem is that many Defense Department policies covering job assignments and security clearances still discriminate against anyone who receives mental health care, the report said. “The potential for inconsistent decision making by commanders and leaders in suspending clearances or removing individuals from sensitive positions may further impede the department’s efforts to address stigma,” the report said. The most recent health survey of U.S. troops from 2011 shows that 37% of active duty servicemembers, nearly 600,000, felt that seeking mental health care through the military would probably or definitely hurt their careers. Results from a follow-up survey last year shows little change in that percentage

Record Number of Exonerations in the U.S.

There was a record 149 known exonerations in the United States and its territories in 2015, according to a Wednesday report from the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School. On average, the exonerated defendants had served more than 14 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Homicides and drug cases made up more than two-thirds of the total. The reasons for the exonerations are varied. Many involved official misconduct or cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, and some involved false confessions. But half were cases in which no crime occurred, according to the report. However, the cases are a mere fraction of the millions of arrests made each year in the United States. FBI crime statistics show an average of 12 million arrests per year from 2010 to 2014. The number of arrests is on a downward trend, as is violent crime over the last five years. Still, the report calls the exonerated cases a “drop in the bucket.” “By any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country, and many more that have accumulated over the decades,” the report says.

Blue Collar Unemployment Worsening

Nearly one-quarter of white men with only a high school diploma aren’t working. Many of these men, age 25 to 64, aren’t just unemployed … they aren’t even looking for a job, according to federal data. The plight of these blue collar workers is now in the national spotlight. The 2016 presidential election has awakened their political power and reshaped the course of the campaign. Their anger — which has brought millions to the polls, particularly on the Republican side — has prompted the candidates to focus heavily on manufacturing, trade and other issues of importance to this slice of America. In Scioto County, a stretch of Appalachia in southern Ohio just across the river from Kentucky, only 53.8% of men age 16 to 64 are employed, CNN Money reports. Gone are all but one of the shoe manufacturing factories that used to employ thousands. Shuttered are most of the steel mills that supported middle class families. Shrunken are the railroad maintenance yards that once carried coal from Kentucky and paid well. One of the main problems is that many residents don’t have the education or training to make it in today’s economy. Only 14.4% have a college degree, compared to 25.6% statewide and 29.3% nationally. A generation ago, Scioto residents didn’t need to go to college to earn a decent wage.

Economic News

Payroll growth slowed in April as employers added 160,000 jobs, raising concerns that weak economic growth may finally be crimping the U.S. labor market. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5%, the Labor Department said Friday, as a fall in the number of Americans employed was offset by a similar-sized decline in the number working and looking for jobs. Payroll advances for February and March were revised down by 19,000. Average hourly wages rose 8 cents to $25.53 and are up 2.5% the past year, a bit faster than the 2% pace during the recovery from the recession.

Total US rail traffic in April plunged 11.8% from a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported Wednesday. Carloads of bulk commodities such as coal, oil, grains, and chemicals plummeted 16.1% to 944,339 units. In April, carloads of coal plummeted 40% from the already beaten-down levels a year ago. Because rail traffic is down so dramatically, many operators have large numbers of engines that are just sitting around collecting dust.

General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads within a year, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry. The plan is being hatched a few months after GM invested $500 million in Lyft, a ride-hailing company that rivals Uber Technologies Inc. The program will also rely on technology being acquired as part of GM’s separate $1 billion planned purchase of San Francisco-based Cruise Automation Inc., which has been working on self-driving technology for about two years.

The eurozone economy appears to have lost some of the momentum that saw it grow faster than the U.S. in the first quarter of the year. A spate of economic indicators Wednesday showed business activity moderated in the past couple of months. Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said retail sales across the 19-country single currency bloc fell by 0.5 percent during March from the previous month. And financial information company Markit said its purchasing managers’ index for the region — a broad gauge of business activity — fell modestly to 53 points in April from 53.1 the previous month. Though still above the 50 threshold indicating expansion, the reading has fallen from the start of the year.

Zika Update

A Connecticut woman who traveled to Central America and became pregnant while there has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, the state Department of Public Health announced Tuesday. The department said the woman, whose name, age and hometown have not been released, became ill with a fever and a rash while traveling about a month ago. She was tested for Zika after returning to Connecticut. The woman is the third Connecticut resident to be diagnosed with Zika. The first was a woman in her 60s and the second was a man.

Persecution Watch

Christians in Pakistan are protesting the impending demolition of four churches which are set to be torn down to accommodate a train line. According to Christian Today, Christians protested outside Lahore High Court on May 3rd. Pakistan is one of the worst countries for abuse of religious freedom rights, according to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom. Christians in Pakistan recently suffered a massive attack when 72 people were killed in a suicide bombing on Easter Sunday. Additionally, a couple years ago in 2014, 134 children, mostly Christian, were killed in a massacre in Peshawar.

Last week, gunmen shot at a car carrying Roman Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan in the country’s southern Edo state. The cardinal was returning home after attending the 10th anniversary celebrations for the Uromi Diocese. He was unharmed. The attack on the cardinal comes amid increasing violence and kidnappings of clergy for ransom in the West African country. In March, gunmen kidnapped and later released the Rev. Emmanuel Dziggau, president of the United Churches of Christ in Nigeria. In December, Anglican Bishop Gabriel Adebanjo of central Abuja was kidnapped, along with his wife. In September 2015, Anglican Bishop Moses Tabuwaye of Gwagwalada was kidnapped and released, presumably after ransoms were paid. And last month, The Punch newspaper reported that the decomposing body of a cleric kidnapped in northern Nigeria in March had been found.

 Middle East

The Israeli Air Force launched strikes against several terrorist targets in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Friday morning in response to mortar and gunfire attacks on IDF troops patrolling the border. The upsurge in kinetic activity comes as the IDF announced Thursday evening that it had uncovered another terror tunnel running under the border into Israeli territory. Earlier, Israel’s Air Force attacked several Hamas targets Wednesday evening in response to several Hamas mortar attacks on IDF troops operating on the border with Gaza in the past two days. An IDF spokesman said four Hamas targets were hit in the northern Gaza Strip in one attack, and earlier the IAF struck five Hamas targets in the south of the Strip. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s incidents consist of a serious escalation on the border, as it was the first time since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 that Hamas terrorists fired mortar shells at IDF targets. The IDF has been operating on the border with Gaza to detect cross-border terror tunnels, and Hamas’ attacks are apparently an attempt to disrupt their actions. There were no Israeli casualties in any of the attacks.

Islamic State

ISIS has the capability to stage a Paris-style attack in the U.S. using local cells to strike in multiple locations and inflict dozens of casualties, according to the Obama administration’s top U.S. intelligence official. “They do have that capacity,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s Peter Bergen in an exclusive interview on “AC 360” on terrorism. However, President Barack Obama and some of his other security advisors spoke of the threat in less stark terms and emphasized efforts to protect the U.S. Obama told Bergen that “we, here in the United States, face less of a threat than Europe” from ISIS. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said “whether or not” ISIS can attack the U.S., the administration would do “our utmost to try to prevent it.”

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syria and its allies in Moscow and Tehran Tuesday that they have until August for starting a political transition to move President Bashar Assad out, or they risk consequences of a new U.S. approach toward ending the five-year conflict. Kerry failed to specify what type of consequences the Syrian government and its backers face if Assad isn’t ousted. It’s unlikely the White House would approve a more active American combat role in the country. The administration is more likely to approve giving Saudi Arabia and the moderate rebels new weapons to fight Assad. Kerry condemned last week’s hospital attack in the city that killed at least 20 people. He said the U.S. rejects violence against civilians, whether it’s by Assad’s government or Western-backed opposition groups. Despite Russia’s claim that it would withdraw most of its forces from Syria, it maintains a strong presence at its airbase near Latakia. While some assets have been removed, others have been added, reports CNN.

At least 28 people were killed when warplanes struck a refugee camp Thursday in Syria, the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, with many of the dead women and children. Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the London-based group, told CNN it was not immediately clear whether Syrian or Russian planes conducted the airstrike. The planes attacked the Kamuna camp next to Sarmada village in the northern countryside of Idlib province on the border with Turkey, according to the observatory. Tnumber of casualties may go higher because so many people were injured. The bombing was part of heavy fighting that erupted in Syria a day after the United States and Russia brokered a ceasefire for Aleppo, one of the country’s most war-torn cities, and surrounding areas. Syrian government helicopters shelled the southern countryside of Aleppo with rockets and barrel bombs, and Syrian forces targeted the road connecting the city and Damascus, the monitoring group reported.

Iraq

Twenty-five additional heavily armed U.S. Marines arrived at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad Friday, a U.S. official told CNN. The Marines were requested by the State Department, which is in charge of security. Concerns have risen since demonstrations occurred there last week in Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” where the embassy is located. More demonstrations had been expected Friday but the U.S. official said the area has remained peaceful so far. Neither the Pentagon or State Department disclosed the precise number of security forces already on site.

Turkey

Turkey’s prime minister stepped down Thursday, possibly paving the way for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consolidate power amid complaints from opponents over his increasingly hardline policies. The decision by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to bow out of upcoming elections marks another potential step by Erdogan to move Turkey toward a presidential system and reduce the powers of parliament — further cementing the president’s authority and probably stirring more outrage from rights groups and other critics. Erdogan has taken an increasingly hard line against perceived opponents, including prosecuting journalists and others for “insulting” him. Davutoglu reportedly was not supportive of the push toward a stronger executive, putting him more at odds with Erdogan. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, faces multiple crises, including a raging Kurdish insurgency, attacks from Islamic State militants and negotiations with the European Union over how to handle migration flows over the Aegean Sea. Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the war against the Islamic State.

Russia

Russian officials said Wednesday that Moscow will create three new divisions of about 10,000 soldiers each to counter NATO’s planned troop buildup in Eastern Europe. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the new Russian divisions would be formed by the end of the year. Western officials told The Wall Street Journal last week that NATO is planning to send about 4,000 troops to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance’s planned buildup in the Baltics wouldn’t have happened if Russia didn’t insert itself into the Ukraine conflict in 2014. Stoltenberg said NATO’s deployment was a reaction to Russian aggression.

North Korea

When North Korea’s first party congress in 36 years kicks off Friday, it is certain to feature all the pageantry, saber-rattling and over-the-top rhetoric the world has come to expect of the reclusive and erratic regime. Kim Jong-un, the nation’s 33-year-old leader, is expected to consolidate power and gain formal approval for his policy of Byongjin — simultaneous development of both the economy and nuclear weapons. That will replace the Songun, or “military first,” policy of his late father, Kim Jong-il, whom the young leader succeeded in 2011. Songun has bankrupted North Korea and made it permanently dependent on China,” said Robert E. Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University, in South Korea. That would be good news for North Koreans, because resources would be freed up from the military that could go to the civilian sector.

Cuba

The first cruise ship in decades to travel from the United States to Cuba docked Monday in Havana. The Adonia, a ship on Carnival Corp.’s Fathom cruise line, carried about 700 passengers. he ship’s arrival marks the first stop on a historic, seven-day voyage that signals closer ties between the United States and its communist-run neighbor. Large crowds waved to the boat from the shore as it approached Havana. Bands and dancers greeted passengers at the port.

Environment

Thirty-five tons of dead fish washed up in a lake in China this week. Residents of Haikou city on China’s southern Hainan island began noticing the dead white and yellow fish on Wednesday. The fish — members of the herring family — were likely pushed up an estuary by a tidal surge and then got caught in a pumping system that deposited them in the lake, according to Hainan.net, a local news website. More than 100 sanitation workers were mobilized to scoop up the fish which floated to the lake’s surface over a period of two days. The workers bagged up the fish and sent them to garbage incinerators to prevent them being sold at a local food market.

Earthquakes

A 3.5 magnitude earthquake was reported along the New Madrid fault line on Sunday (May 1), and possibly is a precursor to a deadlier quake, writes Michael Snyder in a column for Charisma News. The quake was reported very early on Sunday morning (1:12 a.m.) near the town of La Center, Kentucky. It was also felt 267 miles away in Miller, Missouri. The earthquake took place on the New Madrid fault line, a seismic zone that Snyder says actually has the potential to be much more devastating than the more more well-known San Andreas fault line in California. The New Madrid fault line includes parts of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Volcanoes

Just off the northern coast of New Zealand, a small, explosive eruption on White Island left the volcano and surrounding area coated in a funky green ash. The green color is due to minerals in the ash. White Island is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, being built up by constant volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. Nearly 70 percent of the volcano is submerged under the Bay of Plenty. The eruption was the volcano’s first since October 2013. The volcano’s eruption formed a new crater in the northeast corner of the volcanic complex, giving way to a landslide.

Wildfires

A large wildfire that has been burning for days exploded in size around Fort McMurray, Canada, growing eight times larger from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday afternoon. The blaze grew from 25,000 acres to 210,000 acres in just 24 hours, making the fire larger than the city of Chicago. Meanwhile, the number of evacuees continues to rise as more residents are pushed from their homes by the massive blaze. All of Fort McMurray’s 80,000 residents were forced to leave Tuesday evening as the fire quickly spread, putting homes, schools, businesses and lives in danger. Local officials said Wednesday morning that 80 percent of the homes in Beacon Hill have been lost, over 1600 destroyed. So far, no serious injuries or deaths have been reported from the devastating blaze. Several airport buildings were also destroyed. Wednesday night, authorities issued another mandatory evacuation order for Anzac, Gregoire Lake Estates and the Fort McMurray First Nation – about 900 additional people in total. A convoy of 1,500 vehicles carrying evacuees fleeing the Fort McMurray fire began rolling south early Friday under the watchful eye of Canadian police. Helicopters hovered overhead to look out for smoke and flames along the route, while emergency fuel stations were set up along the way to keep the convoy moving.

Weather

Thunderstorms developed near Carson City, Nevada, Thursday, producing hail that accumulated quickly on the roadways. The hail accumulated quickly and measured at least three inches in some areas. Snowplows were summoned in Lyon County to clear some of the roadways. While hail in the Reno-Sparks metro area was dime-size or smaller, hail up to half-dollar size (1.25 inches) was reported in Yuba City, California. Western Nevada recorded a downburst, or a sudden blast of thunderstorm winds, with a peak wind gust to 60 mph.

California’s devastating 4-year-old drought showed signs Thursday of easing its grip on the nation’s most populous state — but just by a little. For the first time in three years, less than 90% of California is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The dip is largely due to El Niño, a natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that impacts weather around the globe and typically brings wetter conditions to the West Coast. Currently, 89.68% of the state is in a drought, down from a high of 100% in October 2014. Only 21% is in “exceptional drought,” the worst level, down from a high of 58% from August to October 2014.

India’s killer heatwave is leaving the country reeling from the worst drought in decades with a rural population struggling to survive. Central Water Commission data shows that India’s major reservoirs are 79% empty, and 75% of India’s basins are holding less water than the 10-year average. This year has seen an unprecedented spike in temperatures. The monsoon season typically starts in mid-June, but the past two monsoon seasons have seen below average rainfall. The government estimates up to 330 million people are currently be affected by the dry climate conditions.

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