Archive for June, 2016

Signs of the Times (6/27/16)

June 27, 2016

Pope Francis Says Christians Should Apologize to Gays

In a groundbreaking statement about homosexuality, Pope Francis says Christians and the Catholic Church should seek forgiveness from gay people and others they have offended or treated poorly in the past. “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally,” the pope told reporters Sunday aboard the papal plane returning from Armenia to Rome. In 2013, Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, saying that homosexual acts were sinful but not homosexual orientation.

  • Jesus tells us to love everyone, even our enemies: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38) and “I say to you, love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43). Thus, we must also love gays even as we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27)

Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Restrictions

The Supreme Court delivered its most significant ruling on abortion in a generation Monday, striking down restrictions on Texas clinics and doctors that threatened to make the procedure more difficult for women to access. The divided court, acting on the last day of a term in which it became shorthanded after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled 5-3 that the Texas law’s restrictions go beyond the type permitted under the court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The ruling could have an impact beyond the Lone Star State by prompting legislatures and courts to reconsider other limits on abortion. Legislatures across the nation have imposed some 250 restrictions in the past five years. If the law, called H.B. 2, were fully implemented, the number of clinics in the nation’s second largest state would have been reduced from more than 40 to about 10.

Justice Stephen Breyer ruled for the majority that states cannot impose restrictions that pose an undue burden on women seeking abortions without sufficient medical reasons. Texas had argued that the restrictions — requiring clinics to meet surgical-center operating standards and doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — were necessary to protect women’s health. Abortion rights advocates said that by adding delays and distance to the obstacles women face, the medical risks would only rise. Breyer was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. The ruling could have an immediate impact on other cases that had been working their way toward the Supreme Court from Louisiana, Mississippi, Wisconsin and several more states in which restrictions have been challenged by abortion rights supporters.

  • And so the murder of millions of innocent babies continues unabated

In Latin America, Requests for Abortions Rise as Zika Spreads

In Latin American countries, where abortion is highly restricted if not downright illegal, pregnant women are seeking abortions at significantly higher rates, a new study shows. In the absence of universal abortion availability, women in Latin America have in recent years turned to Women on Web, a nonprofit that provides online access to abortion medications, specifically mifepristone and misoprostol — which are not the so-called morning-after pills. Researchers found that in places where governments issued health advisories about Zika and pregnancies, requests for abortions through Women on Web jumped by up to 108%. These were not necessarily requests from women who’d even contracted the Zika virus, the report said. These were women who feared they might get it. In countries where health advisories were not issued, the numbers generally went up far less.

Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Immigration Plan

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Obama’s immigration executive actions, in a tie decision that delivers a win to states challenging his plan to give a deportation reprieve to millions of illegal immigrants. The justices’ one-sentence opinion on Thursday effectively kills the plan for the duration of Obama’s presidency. The 4-4 tie vote sets no national precedent but leaves in place the ruling by the lower court. In this case, the federal appeals court in New Orleans said the Obama administration lacked the authority to shield up to 4 million immigrants from deportation and make them eligible for work permits without approval from Congress. Texas led 26 Republican-dominated states in challenging the program Obama announced in November 2014. The case dealt with two separate Obama programs. One would allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. The other would expand an existing program to protect from deportation a larger population of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Supreme Court Upholds University of Texas Affirmative Action Plan

The Supreme Court, 4-3, upheld the race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas Thursday, saying that the plan, that takes race into consideration as one factor of admissions, is constitutional, rejecting a challenge brought by a white woman to the affirmative action program. The court’s three more conservative justices dissented. In his scathing dissent, Justice Samuel Alito called the program “discriminatory” and questioned how it could be upheld. Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the Texas plan complied with earlier court rulings allowing colleges to take account of race in pursuit of diversity on campus. Eight states prohibit the use of race in public college admissions: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

Supreme Court Rules Domestic Abusers Can Lose Gun Ownership Rights

Gun ownership rights can be denied to people who commit reckless acts of domestic violence, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision that brought a blistering dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas. The 7-2 ruling, written by Justice Elena Kagan and endorsed by conservative as well as liberal justices, upheld the sentences imposed on two Maine men who had argued their misdemeanor convictions for domestic abuse should not trigger a federal gun control statute. Thomas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. The federal law was intended to deny guns to people convicted of violent acts against family members, based in part on research showing they are more likely to use guns domestically in the future. Thomas, whose questions from the bench during oral argument in February were his first in a decade, said the result was a denial of a Second Amendment right. “We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly,” he said in his dissent.

Britain Votes to Leave European Union

The British public voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum Thursday. The departure is dubbed “Brexit” — Britain’s exit from the 28-member bloc. The margin of victory for “Brexit” in the referendum was 52% to 48%, according to a final tally announced early Friday. “Leave” supporters argued that severing ties with the EU is the only way to reduce high levels of immigration and ensure the U.K.’s sovereignty. The “remain” camp said jobs, the economy, national security and the U.K.’s standing on the world stage would be compromised outside the bloc. Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the EU, announced he will step down. “We should aim to have a new prime minister in place by the start of the Conservative Party conference in October,” he said in a speech outside Downing Street on Friday soon after the vote tally was announced.

More than 3 million UK citizens have signed an official online petition calling for a re-do of the Brexit referendum, generating so much traffic on Saturday that Parliament’s website temporarily crashed. Leaders of the European Union leaders will hold a summit in Brussels next week “to start a wider reflection on the future of our Union,” EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters on Friday. The United Kingdom’s historic vote to leave the European Union is emboldening far-right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe to push for their own referendums to leave the political bloc as an expression of independence and freedom.

Economic News

On Friday, after the Brexit vote, the British pound fell 11% to a 31-year low and Britain’s main stock index nosedived 8.7% to 5,790 points shortly after the open Friday. U.S. stocks also plummeted, with the Dow off 601 points Friday, wiping out a record $2.1 trillion from global markets. Early Monday trading is down around 300 more points. Bitcoin prices surged Friday as the vote sent investors out of stocks, commodities and the British pound.

The Brexit vote could prompt the Federal Reserve to delay hiking interest rates amid predictions of a global slowdown resulting from the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The Brits’ decision to leave the EU, rendered in a national referendum Thursday, triggered selloffs in financial markets worldwide. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 3% Friday. The British Pound tumbled to its 30-year low, and the dollar is up about 3% against major currencies. Many multinational companies and global banks have used the U.K. as its gateway to the European market. But they’re now expected to shrink their presence in the country as its unfettered access to the continental economy will likely shrink.

Germany has mandated that all new cars registered in the country will have to be emissions-free by the year 2030. And to make this a reality, the government has cut a deal with automakers to jointly spend $1.4 billion on incentives to boost electric car sales. They’re hoping to sell 500,000 EVs by 2020. So they’re subsidizing the EV industry with demand for the lithium used in the batteries surging.

OPEC’s 13 member countries saw oil export revenues slump to their lowest level in a decade last year. Crude revenues fell nearly 46% to $518 billion in 2015, according to OPEC’s annual bulletin published Wednesday. Collapsing world oil prices also meant that OPEC countries spent more importing goods than they raised from exports for the first time in 17 years. The cartel posted a combined current account deficit of just under $100 billion in 2015, compared with a surplus of $238 billion in 2014. Crude prices dropped a whopping 35% last year to levels not seen since the global financial crisis.

Persecution Watch

A local pastor is battling a Colorado city over his church’s Jesus-related ads on public transit benches. The controversy in Colorado Springs involves ads on about 20 bus stop benches that say “Jesus is Lord.” Pastor Lawson Perdue of Charis Christian Center said he was told that the ads will no longer be allowed if they refer to Jesus. According to Perdue, the city transit agency told him that if the name Jesus was allowed, hate messages would have to be allowed, too, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported. “Don’t we have the freedom of speech in the United States?” Perdue told the paper. “Isn’t that a constitutional right?”

Migrant Update

Over 650 migrants arrived in Messina, Sicily, on Sunday morning after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea earlier this week. They were rescued by the SOS Mediterranee and the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

Israel

As the second anniversary of the Israel-Gaza war nears, the Israeli government is taking an extraordinary step to avert a new war with Hamas militants who govern the Palestinian strip. Israel recently announced plans to build an underground wall along its 37-mile border with Gaza to thwart Hamas’ sophisticated underground network of tunnels and bunkers. Hamas, which said Gazans are gearing up for the next war, used tunnels to smuggle weapons, supplies and fighters to attack Israel during the 50-day conflict that began July 8, 2014. “The purpose is to keep Hamas deterred, and we are minimizing their ability to build up their forces,” military intelligence director Herzi Halevy said last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that an agreement has been reached between Israel and Turkey to return to full diplomatic relations six years after a rupture prompted by the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. The agreement is reported to include compromises on several issues both countries consider vital national interests, while leaders in Ankara and Jerusalem said it will make the turbulent Middle East a little bit more secure.

Islamic State

A senior Iraqi commander declared Sunday that the city of Fallujah was “fully liberated” from Islamic State group militants after a more than month-long military operation. Iraqi troops have entered the northwestern al-Julan neighborhood, the last area of Fallujah to remain under IS control. Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said the operation, which began late May, “is done and the city is fully liberated.” The Iraqi army was backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and paramilitary troops, mostly Shiite militias. Fallujah had been under the control of Islamic State militants since January 2014. Fallujah was the scene of some of the bloodiest urban combat with American forces. In 2004, more than 100 U.S. troops died and another 1,000 were wounded fighting insurgents in house-to-house battles. IS extremists still control significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city of Mosul.

Syria

Health workers pulled lifeless bodies out from under mounds of rubble after airstrikes reportedly hit and killed 25 children in the eastern part of the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, a U.N. agency said. Three air attacks targeted heavily crowded areas, including a mosque during prayer time on Saturday, in the town of al-Quriyah, UNICEF said in a statement. Deir Ezzor city, the provincial capital, has been a hotbed of conflict since ISIS militants captured the northern suburbs in January. The city has been a critical junction for ISIS, with roads east and south toward Iraq and west to areas it controls in Homs province, including Palmyra. It is also surrounded by some of ISIS’ most valuable oilfields, which have been intensively targeted by both U.S. and Russian airpower in recent months.

Lebanon

A group of suicide bombers detonated their explosives in a northeastern Lebanese village near the border with Syria on Monday, killing five people and wounding at least 15. The National News Agency said the blasts occurred in the predominantly Christian village of Qaa, only few hundred yards away from the border. It said four suicide bombers were involved in the rare multiple attack. Four members of the military were among the wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Jordan

Weapons shipped into Jordan for Syrian rebels by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia were stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, the New York Times reported, citing American and Jordanian officials. Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman. The theft of the weapons has led to a flood of new weapons available on the arms black market, the New York Times said.

Somalia

Gunmen, bolstered by a suicide bomber detonating explosives in a vehicle, attacked a popular hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu Saturday, leaving at least fourteen people dead. A car bomb was detonated at the gate of the hotel as the attackers poured in. Police say the attack on a hotel in the Somali capital ended Sunday, with at least 14 people killed, including two of the gunmen. Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the assault. The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group has been waging a deadly insurgency across large parts of Somalia and often carries out such attacks.

Wildfires

A new wildfire in California has killed two and burned more than 150 structures and forced the evacuation of nearly a dozen communities in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Three firefighters have suffered smoke inhalation injuries battling the Erskine Fire, which has consumed around 30,000 acres near Lake Isabella in Kern County. about 40 miles northeast of Bakersfield. About 1,500 additional structures remain threatened. Hillside homes along dirt roads were consumed by heavy flames in Squirrel Mountain Valley, a community of about 500 people. California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Kern County, California, Friday. Two elderly residents in Lake Isabella were killed when they were overcome by smoke as they tried to flee. Authorities fear that there may be additional victims amid the rubble left behind by the explosive fire.

Elsewhere in the West, a forest fire near the Colorado-Wyoming line exploded in size and forced campers to evacuate. A shift in the wind turned a blaze burning slowly in a heavily wooded area with no permanent residents into a fast-moving threat, growing from 1 square mile to about 5. Trees killed by a beetle infestation were fueling the flames 140 miles north of Denver and 2 miles from Wyoming. In southwest Utah, a fire forced evacuations of at least 185 homes in the town of Pine Valley, about 35 miles north of the city of St. George.

In eastern Arizona, firefighters expected to keep a wildfire spanning some 67 square miles from moving any closer to a rural town. The flames threatening the community of Cedar Creek made no significant movement in the last 24 hours thanks to sparse vegetation. In central New Mexico, more evacuees were expected to return home as firefighters inched closer to snuffing out a massive wildfire that ignited last week. The nearly 28-square-mile blaze in the mountains south of Albuquerque is more than halfway contained after destroying at least two dozen homes.

There are at least 66 million dead trees in California, according to the U.S. National Forest Service, and they may provide more tinder to the already volatile wildfire situation in the state. The Forest Service, in a statement released Wednesday, blamed the tree die off on four years of consecutive drought, a “dramatic” rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures. The trees are located in six counties across 760,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada region of the state and could contribute to a more destructive wildfire season.

Weather

At least 26 people have died and more than 100 homes have been destroyed in West Virginia after heavy rains flooded several towns. Both Virginia and West Virginia have declared states of emergency due to the devastating event that has been described as “complete chaos.” “Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes washed off foundations,” said Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill. “Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

At least 12 tornadoes touched down in Illinois Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, and thousands were left without power across the Midwest as a severe weather outbreak swept through the region. Several mobile homes at a trailer park were destroyed and two children suffered minor injuries. The storms then marched toward Chicago, and at Soldier Field, some 50,000 soccer fans attending the Copa America semifinal game between Chile and Colombia were asked to clear the stands and seek shelter Wednesday evening. The severe storms rolled eastward through Indiana later Wednesday evening, damaging several buildings, a radio tower and downing numerous trees across the state.

At least 51 people have been killed after a tornado — accompanied by hailstorms, thunderstorms and lightning — hit eastern China early Thursday afternoon. The severe weather swept through parts of Yancheng city in Jiangsu Province around 2:30 p.m. local time, injuring dozens. Scores of cars were swept away and factories were flattened in Yancheng city after the extreme weather hit populous regions.

The tropical northern Pacific Ocean is in the midst of its biggest tropical cyclone drought in at least 45 years, immediately following one of its most hyperactive seasons on record. There hasn’t been a single named storm of at least tropical storm intensity anywhere in the North Pacific Basin since Hurricane Pali became a January oddball just north of the equator and well southwest of Hawaii. By mid-June 2015, there had already been eight tropical cyclones, including three super typhoons of Category 5 equivalent intensity.

Signs of the Times (6/22/16)

June 22, 2016

Coal Country Revival Update: 4,000 People Saved

In the small towns that dot the mountainous coal region of West Virginia, a revival that began in early April brought 4,000 souls to Christ over eight weeks. The number of people saved exceeds the population of the two small towns at the epicenter of God’s move of the Spirit. The population of Delbarton is about 500 and Williamson is about 3000. Many were drawn from surrounding counties and even other states. Some residents in the area put their vacations on hold so they could be part of what God was doing, reports Breaking Christian News. Matt Hartley, the Tennessee evangelist who was God’s instrument to spark revival, has taken a break for a few weeks. “He was exhausted,” says Sonya Hackney, at Regional Church of God. “Nobody thought when we scheduled him for three days that he would be here for eight weeks.”

LGBT Gun Rights Group Sees Membership Skyrocket after Orlando Shooting

The gun club for LGBT people has roughly doubled in size to 230 members following this month’s nightmarish shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 dead and 53 injured. Pink Pistols has 35 active chapters across the U.S., and nationally, its Facebook membership has increased from 1,500 before the shooting to about 6,500 as of Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Patton said. Patton said several of the chapters have become active since last week. The organization helps its members “select a firearm, acquire a permit, and receive proper training in its safe and legal use for self-defense,” according to its website. Omar Mateen, the killer in the Orlando attacks, did not belong to the Pink Pistols.

ISIS Hacks, Threatens U.S. Bases

ISIS has collected information on 77 U.S. and NATO air force facilities around the world and is calling on supporters to attack them, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) says ISIS’ hacking organization, the United Cyber Caliphate, collected details of U.S. air force units in South Korea including Osan Air Base. Addresses and Google satellite maps have been released through the Telegram messaging service. In its statement Sunday, the NIS warned that “terror against South Korean citizens and foreigners in this country is becoming a reality.” Over the past five years, 50 people suspected of being part of terrorist organizations have been deported from South Korea.

Senate Blocks Gun Measures Offered in Wake of Orlando Shooting

On Monday, the Senate rejected four partisan gun measures offered in the wake of the Orlando massacre, including proposals to keep guns out of the hands of people on terror watch lists.The Senate voted down similar bills in December after the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif. With the current party split in the Senate, any successful bid to toughen gun laws would need bipartisan support to get to the 60-vote threshold required. There are 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats and Independents. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested Democrats are simply using the issue as a political talking point and said the two GOP measures sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are “real solutions.”Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the Republican measures “political stunts” and said they are “meaningless in doing something to stop gun violence.”

Supreme Court Lets Stand Law Banning Some Semi-Automatic Assault Weapons

The Supreme Court has rejected challenges to assault weapons bans in Connecticut and New York, in the aftermath of the shooting attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people dead. The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that upheld laws that were passed in response to the mass shooting involving a semi-automatic weapon in Newtown, Connecticut. The Supreme Court has repeatedly turned away challenges to gun restrictions since two landmark decisions that spelled out the right to a handgun to defend one’s own home. Since its landmark 2008 decision upholding the right to possess guns at home for self-defense, the Supreme Court also has refused to strike down state and municipal restrictions.  Seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning assault weapons. The others are California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Supreme Court Ruling on Police Powers Draws Scathing Dissent

A divided Supreme Court bolstered police powers on Monday, ruling that evidence of a crime in some cases may be used against a defendant even if the police did something wrong or illegal in obtaining it. The 5-3 decision drew heated dissents from liberal justices who warned that the outcome would encourage police to violate people’s rights. The ruling comes in a case in which a police detective illegally stopped defendant Joseph Edward Strieff on the streets of South Salt Lake City, Utah. A name check revealed an outstanding warrant for him. Police Detective Doug Fackrell arrested Strieff and routinely searched him, finding that he was carrying methamphetamine. The case raised the question of whether the valid warrant outweighs the stop, which was illegal because Fackrell lacked any reasonable suspicion that Strieff had been violating the law.

California Faces Summer Blackout Risk Amid Natural Gas Shortage

Southern California is always vulnerable to power outages during heat waves — but the blackout risk facing millions is even greater summer which is already scorching hot. Already, a few thousand residents in the Los Angeles area experienced power outages during Monday’s heat wave. But that’s just a small taste of the worst-case scenario California regulators are scrambling to avoid. The main problem: the shutdown of a massive natural gas storage facility — the Aliso Canyon field — that is the chief backup supplier for the region’s electric utilities during peak demand. The vital facility was shut down after a leak was discovered last October and it isn’t back up and running yet. Regulators recently warned the lack of gas supply could spark power outages that affect millions of customers during as many as 14 summer days.

U.S. Treasurer says Women’s Equality in Workplace has Declined

U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios may have won the fight to put a woman on currency, but she said that overall America has “taken steps back” in the fight for gender equality. It was Rios’ persistence over six years that led to Treasury’s announcement earlier this year that Harriet Tubman will be the next face of the $20 bill, marking the first time a woman will appear on U.S. paper money in more than a century. “I feel like we have so much more to do, whether it’s women on corporate boards, women in the C-Suite, or women in congress. We have taken steps back,” she said at a Women’s Entrepreneurship Day forum in New York on Monday. She pointed to statistics like those recently released from research firm Catalyst that show women have made little progress gaining leadership roles at major companies.

Social Security/Medicare Projected to Run Dry by 2034/2018

If lawmakers don’t act, Social Security’s trust fund will be tapped out in about 18 years. At that point the program will only have enough revenue coming in to pay about three-quarters of promised benefits, says the Social Security and Medicare trustees’ annual report released Wednesday. Social Security’s projected insolvency date of 2034 is the same as projected last year by the trustees. In terms of Medicare, the trustees project that the trust fund for Part A, which covers hospital costs for seniors, will run dry by 2028. That’s two years earlier than they projected last year, but 11 years later than had been projected before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. By 2028, Medicare Part A would only be able to pay out 87% of expected benefits.

Economic News

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, citing “considerable uncertainty” in the U.S. economic outlook and “vulnerabilities” from abroad, says the U.S. central bank will proceed “cautiously” when raising interest rates and sees a “gradual” pace of rate increases. Her testimony before Congress Tuesday came less than a week after the Fed broke from its two-day June meeting and Yellen told investors that the Fed not only wasn’t hiking rates in June but was also dialing back the number of interest rate hikes it sees in 2017 and 2018 amid an acknowledgment that U.S. economic growth will stay in the sub-par 2% range until at least through 2018.

Despite OPEC’s strategy of flooding the oversupplied market with tons of crude, American oil production has not fallen off a cliff. And now that prices have rallied back to $50 a barrel, there are early signs that U.S. shale is on the rebound, too. U.S. oil rigs had declined 20 of 21 weeks up until mid-May, when oil prices hit four-month highs above $47 a barrel. To be sure, the U.S. rig count remains down dramatically (79% to be exact) from the October 2014 high. Still, the problem for the oil industry is that an influx of American crude may not be needed at this point — and could actually backfire.

The upper middle class grew to 29.4% of the population in 2014, up from 12.9% in 1979, according to a new Urban Institute report. It defines this group as having household income of between $100,000 and $350,000 for a three-person family. The rich also expanded their ranks, to 1.8%, up from 0.1%. Overall, the middle class shrank — to 32%, from 38.8%. And the proportion of lower middle class and poor Americans also declined.

More Americans are struggling to make rent. The number of renters dedicating at least half of their income toward housing hit a record high of 11 million people in 2014, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released this week. A total of 21.3 million are spending 30% or more of their paycheck to cover the rent — also a record high.

The British pound is seeing its biggest gains in months after taking a beating last week. The stunning rally Monday follows a series of opinion polls suggesting that more U.K. voters are being swayed to vote to remain in the European Union during a historic referendum on Thursday. But the polls are volatile, and many people have yet to make up their minds with three days of campaigning left.

Migrant Update

A record 65.3 million people around the world were displaced from their homes due to wars and persecution by the end of 2015, the highest total since the United Nations began keeping records, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported Monday. The report, released on World Refugee Day, said the total represented almost 6 million more people than were displaced a year earlier. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said refugees also face increasing dangers. “At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders,” Grandi said.

Families fleeing the combat in the Iraqi city of Fallujah have been forced to sleep in the open desert for almost a week, with aid agencies warning that people are at risk of dying as supplies of tents and water run dangerously low. More than 85,000 people have escaped the city and its surroundings in recent weeks as Iraqi security forces battle to recapture the city from the Islamic State. About 4.4 million people in the country are now internally displaced, one of the highest totals of any country.

Many Christians who are fleeing Islamic persecution in Pakistan are coming to Thailand only to be denied asylum and subjected to inhumane living conditions. Migrants say that Thai authorities treat refugees humanely, transporting them in vehicles with cages and even chaining them like dogs. In some refugee facilities, twice as many people are crammed into a room than the room can hold. “The stench as you walk in is overpowering. They have two toilets to serve over 200 people,” Wilson Chowdhry said. More than 100,000 Pakistanis have fled their country because of Islamic extremism. Nearly 11,000 have gone to Thailand, many of them Christians.

The United Nations’ secretary-general is calling on European nations to provide additional aid to Greece as it struggles to cope with the migrant crisis. An estimated 1 million people fled from Turkey to Greece last year, many of them risking their lives in boats to reach the Greek Islands, where they can seek asylum to remain in the European Union. Thousands remain stuck in the islands, and even more are on the mainland. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “The international community must do more to resolve conflicts and address the factors causing so much suffering and upheaval.”

Islamic State

Islamic State militants struggled to hold ground on two fronts Sunday as Iraqi troops drove out pockets of resistance in Fallujah, while Syrian government forces pressed closer to the militant capital of Raqqa. The military gains, however, have done little to improve the dire humanitarian crisis facing the region. In Iraq, the Amiriyah Fallujah District Council said security forces had liberated more neighborhoods in northern Fallujah from Islamic State control, killing dozens of militants. Refugee camps were overwhelmed in recent days as thousands of Fallujah families sought safety from the fighting. In Syria, where humanitarian issues have been equally dire, government forces advanced to within a few miles of the Islamic State-occupied Tabqa air base. The base, about 30 miles from Raqqa, was overrun by militants almost two years ago. Government forces also recaptured the nearby Thawra oil field.

The Islamic State (IS) terror militia staged a suicide car-bomb attack on a Jordanian Army border post Tuesday morning, killing and wounding several soldiers. The attack, which analysts warned represents a major escalation which will likely prompt a harsh response by Jordan, came a day after US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter warned that as IS loses battles and territory it is more likely to lash out with increasingly desperate and destructive terrorist attacks all over the world.

Syria

Syrian gains against the Islamic State came just days after more than 50 officials with the U.S. State Department signed a confidential document calling for targeted military strikes against Syrian forces with a goal of regime change, The New York Times first reported. The officials cited continued breaches by Syrian forces of a cease-fire agreement designed to protect U.S.-backed Syrian rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. Airstrikes in Syria targeting the Islamic State’s de facto capita of Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians, including two children, activists said Wednesday. The barrage, delivered by the Russian and Syrian air force, came as government forces sought to recover from losses in a stalled offensive on the extremist-held city.

Afghanistan

A Taliban suicide bomber killed 14 Nepalese security guards in an attack Monday on their minibus in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the Interior Ministry and an Afghan security official said, in one of a string of bombings that killed more than 20 people. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a bomb rigged to a motorbike killed 10 Afghan civilians during morning rush hour in a busy market in a province in the northeast. And later Monday in Kabul, a second Taliban bombing killed an Afghan civilian and wounded five people, including a provincial council member who was the intended target of that attack. The new Taliban attacks come a month after the U.S. military killed the leader of the Taliban in a drone strike in Pakistan.

Libya

Fierce clashes in Libya between pro-government militiamen and Islamic State militants in the city of Sirte and an explosion at a depot near the capital, Tripoli, left more than 60 dead and 140 wounded IS fighters reportedly have hunkered down at the militant group’s headquarters in Sirte, the sprawling Ouagadougou convention center that was built by late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. in just one day, a spokesman and a Libyan state news agency reported Wednesday. In Sirte, the last bastion of the Islamic State in Libya, Tuesday’s clashes killed 36 militiamen aligned with the newly-U.N. brokered government. The militias, mainly from the western town of Misrata, have been leading an offensive since early May to take full control over Sirte.

Mexico

Violent clashes between police and members of a radical teachers’ union who had blockaded roads in southern Mexico on Sunday left six people dead and more than 100 injured, officials said. The teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, are opposed to the mandatory testing of teachers as part of Mexico’s sweeping education reform and are also protesting the arrest of union leaders on money laundering and other charges. In Sunday’s clashes in the southern state of Oaxaca, protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and burned vehicles, while Associated Press journalists saw riot police firing on protesters. Clashes took place in several municipalities in Oaxaca, but the most violent were in Nochixtlan, north of the state capital also called Oaxaca.

Brazil

Rio de Janeiro’s largest public hospital and one of the five designated to treat tourists during the upcoming Summer Olympic Games was attacked by armed gunmen during the weekend, leaving one person dead and two injured. The group was trying to free an alleged drug kingpin known as “Fat Family,” who had been taken to the hospital a week ago following a shootout with police and was under police surveillance. In addition, Australian Olympic authorities demanded greater security for athletes in Rio immediately, after a gold-medal winning Paralympian was mugged in the city at gunpoint. Six-time Australian Paralympics athlete 47-year-old Liesl Tesch had her bike stolen at a bus stop near her hotel on Sunday morning by two men, who threatened her and sailing team member Sarah Ross with a pistol. Questions have previously been raised over whether Brazil is ready to host the Olympic Games in August, as violence, governmental chaos and worries about the Zika virus continue to plague the event.

Wildfires

Twin wildfires fueled by intense heat roared through brush surrounding suburban neighborhoods outside Los Angeles on Tuesday, driving residents from 1,000 homes ahead of the fast-growing blazes. The fires, raging just a few miles apart in and around the Angeles National Forest, were both listed as 0% contained early Tuesday and has burned nearly 5,500 acres as of Wednesday morning. A fatal car crash ignited the first blaze near Azusa at about 11 a.m Monday, forcing evacuation of more than 300 homes, fire officials said. The city of more than 45,000 people is about 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles. More than 300 firefighters were battling Reservoir Fire, which had grown to 2,400 acres by Tuesday morning. The Fish Fire started about an hour after the Reservoir Fire, but the cause of the blaze was not immediately known. Authorities ordered evacuations of about 700 homes. The Fish Fire had grown to more than 3,000 acres early Tuesday.

Other blazes burned wide swaths across Arizona and New Mexico, where firefighters also faced blistering temperatures. In central New Mexico, a 28-square-mile fire that erupted last week and destroyed 24 homes in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque was largely uncontained. Farther north, a small blaze ignited in a popular recreation area in the Santa Fe National Forest. In eastern Arizona, a fire doubled to nearly 42 square miles and led officials to warn a community of 300 residents to prepare to evacuate. The blaze on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation southwest of Show Low was not moving quickly toward the community of Cedar Creek because of sparse vegetation and shifting winds. As of Monday evening, 26 wildfires were burning in Arizona.

Three times in a week, authorities have grounded firefighting aircraft battling the Saddle Fire in Utah because they’ve detected drones in the area. Protocols dictate that aircraft be grounded for safety reasons until the skies clear. The lightning-sparked Saddle Fire in southwest Utah is only about 318 acres but firefighters say helicopters and airplanes would be of significant assistance if they could fly consistently. Interfering with firefighters is a federal offense, and Utah also has a new law specifically penalizing the use of drones in a no-fly zone. That new law calls for felony prosecution if a drone collides with a firefighting aircraft.

Weather

A lethal, record-setting heat wave has hit the southwestern United States. So far six people have been killed. At least three large wildfires are burning in the region, covering an area larger than Paris. And over 30 million people are under extreme heat warnings or advisories. It’s the hottest start to summer ever in three states — California, New Mexico and Arizona. Phoenix set a new daily record Sunday, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday. The highest temperature recorded on Sunday in the United States was 120 degrees in nearby Glendale. Seven areas in western and central New Mexico broke heat records in addition to 14 places in California — where Palm Springs, Thermal, Indio and Borrego all saw temperatures 117 degrees or higher. On Monday, Bullhead City, Arizona, officially reached 122 degrees.

Damaging winds and huge hail caused big problems in the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday afternoon as a round of storms marched through the region. In addition, one tornado was confirmed by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Poplar Springs, Maryland, at 1:29 p.m. EDT Tuesday afternoon. The preliminary rating is an EF0 with 80 mph maximum winds. It was on the ground for nearly 13 miles before lifting back into the clouds by 1:48 p.m. EDT. Officials said the tornado left a path of debris as wide as 500 yards. More than 35,000 customers lost power in Maryland during the storms. An even stronger wind gust occurred in Cape May, New Jersey, where an 80-mph gust was reported, according to the National Weather Service. Some 35,000 customers lost power in New Jersey following the storm.

More than four dozen people have been killed by flooding and landslides and many others remain missing in central Java as of Sunday. Heavy rain submerged 16 districts with flooding Saturday and triggered landslides that buried dozens of houses in the area. Rescue workers including soldiers, police and volunteers were still searching for victims and evacuating others. Seasonal rains often cause flooding and landslides in Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or flood-prone plains close to rivers. At least 90 people, most of them farm laborers working in the fields during the monsoon season in India, have been killed by lightning over the past two days, according to state officials.

Twenty-five people have been killed and 33,200 have been displaced after a week of torrential rainfall inundated southern China. Six people are still missing and 4 million people in 10 provinces have been affected by floods and landslides due to heavy rainfall. In southeastern Jiangxi Province, people pushed cars floating in waist-high water while online footage showed vehicles swept away, as near record levels of rainfall battered southwestern China. This rainy season has been particularly wet. Water levels in some major rivers have exceeded those of 1998, when China was hit by disastrous floods that affected 180 million people.

Signs of the Times (6/18/16)

June 18, 2016

Conservative Gay Writer Slams Liberals Over Support of Islam

Conservative gay writer Milo Yiannopoulos had a few choice words about the Orlando terrorist and Muslim immigrants everywhere, and those words will have liberal heads everywhere about to explode. In an article at Breitbart, Yiannopoulos slammed liberals who agree with policies that allow Muslim refugees to enter Europe at an alarming rate. He said the political left’s “willful, suicidal ignorance about Muslim culture is at odds with virtually every one of their cherished social justice prescriptions.” He accused progressives of turning a blind eye to one of the most dangerous cultures in the world. He criticized them for being offended by Halloween costumes yet ignoring “the regular atrocities of cultures that mass-murder each other over regional, tribal, and sectarian differences.” Yiannopoulos pointed out the ridiculousness of liberals who call conservatives who disagree with their definition of gay marriage bigots but “welcome into their midst a culture that wants to execute queers like me.”

Victim’s Family Sues Facebook, Google and Twitter over Paris Terrorist Attack

The family of a California college student killed in November’s terrorist attacks in Paris is suing Facebook, Google and Twitter, alleging the companies provided “material support” to the Islamic State and other extremist groups. The Islamic Stateuses popular Internet services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube to spread propaganda, attract and train new recruits, celebrate terrorist attacks and publicize executions. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court is the latest to target social media services for making it too easy for the ISIS to spread its message. Cal State Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez was among 130 people killed in the Paris attacks. In January, Twitter was sued by the widow of an American killed in an attack on a Jordanian police training center. In February, Twitter said it had suspended 125,000 accounts connected to the Islamic State over the previous six months. In what may be the first act of terrorism broadcast on Facebook Live, the suspected killer of a French police commander and his wife this week streamed a 13-minute video threatening attacks on European soccer competition Euro 2016.

CIA Director Contradicts Obama Over Islamic State Terrorism

CIA Director John Brennan, in a chilling warning on the Islamic State’s growing influence, told lawmakers Thursday that U.S.-led efforts to strike at the terror group have not hampered its “terrorism capability and global reach” – a message that stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s more upbeat assessment earlier this week. Brennan, testifying in a rare open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said ISIS likely will “intensify” terror attacks around the world even as its core fighters come under pressure in Iraq and Syria, by deploying operatives for further attacks on the West. Brennan said ISIS is “resilient” and likely will adapt, and warned coalition gains in Iraq and Syria are not blunting its capacity to carry out deadly operations abroad. The testimony undermined Obama’s comments on Tuesday when he said the anti-ISIS campaign “is firing on all cylinders” and the group “is under more pressure than ever before.”

Defense Officials Break from Obama’s Syrian Policy

Dozens of U.S. officials have called on the Obama administration to order “targeted military strikes” against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, with the aim of pressuring Damascus to accept a binding cease-fire and engage in peace talks. The Wall Street Journal reported that 51 State Department officials advising Syria policy signed the so-called “dissent channel cable”. State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the cable’s existence Thursday, but said he would not comment further until officials have reviewed its contents. The cable expresses clear frustration with America’s inability to halt a civil war that has killed perhaps a half-million people and contributed to a worldwide refugee crisis, and goes to the heart of Obama’s reluctance to enter the fray. “It’s embarrassing for the administration to have so many rank-and-file members break on Syria,” a former State Department official told the Journal.

Hackers Uncover 138 Vulnerabilities in Pentagon Websites

High-tech hackers brought in by the Pentagon to breach Defense Department websites were able to burrow in and find 138 different security gaps, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday. The so-called white-hat hackers were turned loose on five public Pentagon internet pages and were offered various bounties if they could find unique vulnerabilities. The Pentagon says 1,410 hackers participated in the challenge and the first gap was identified just 13 minutes after the hunt began. “These are ones we weren’t aware of, and now we have the opportunity to fix them. And again, it’s a lot better than either hiring somebody to do that for you, or finding out the hard way,” said Carter.

FBI’s Massive Facial Recognition Database ‘Dangerously Flawed’

The FBI steadily, stealthily compiled a massive facial recognition database without oversight and in disregard of federal law, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office. The bombshell report reveals that the FBI dipped into driver’s license photo databases from 16 states, as well as passport and visa photo databases from the State Department, feeding its facial recognition with millions of photos of Americans and foreigners who have never been accused of a crime. The FBI has access to a whopping 411.9 million images for use in facial recognition, only 30 million of which are mug shots, reports Technocracy News. The sheer number of photos described in the GAO report is staggering, but what’s worse is that the FBI didn’t make public disclosures about the program required by law, the GAO report says.

New Report: Common Core Does NOT Prepare Students for College

A recently released report confirms what Common Core critics have suspected all along: Common Core State Standards do not adequately prepare students for college-level work. The ACT report finds many concerning shortcomings in the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by most states. Teachers who must adjust their curriculum to fit Common Core aligned state tests now find themselves in a bind. As the report finds, the Common Core math standards do not adequately provide a child with the skills needed to succeed in the classroom, forcing teachers to add on extra material to their limited instruction time. Additionally, high school English teachers must now emphasize material that leaves students lacking in original thought and analytical skills, according to many college professors. For example, only 18 percent of college professors surveyed rated their students as prepared to distinguish between opinion, fact, and reasoned judgement—a skill determined to be important for college-level work. ACT [American College Testing Program] is now the more popular college admissions standardized test in the US, with the number of test-takers exceeding that of the SAT.

Insurers Want to Hike Obamacare Premiums by 10% for 2017

The benchmark Obamacare silver plan premiums are projected to rise 10% for 2017, on average, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation report that looked at insurers’ proposed rate increases for a 40-year-old consumer in 14 major cities. That’s double the 5% increase for 2016 policies, but it could change since state regulators often reduce insurers’ rate requests. Many Obamacare enrollees are turning out to be sicker and more expensive than insurers predicted, so the premiums didn’t cover the claims. The pricing of the benchmark plan — the second lowest cost silver policy in an area — is important because it is one of the most popular choices and federal subsidies are based on it. Enrollees who qualify for subsidies and pick the benchmark plan don’t feel the impact of the rate hikes since the federal payments cover all but 9.66% of the cost. Some 82% of enrollees received subsidies last year.

Economic News – Domestic

Men have been disappearing from the workforce for decades. But a closer look at the data reveals that lower-income men account for much of the change — and that reflects a big problem with the economy. Only 69% of these men, ages 25 to 54, are employed, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. That figure was 80% in 1980. Among middle class and upper-income men, 92% are working, down only slightly from 94% in 1980. Brookings found that lower-income Americans are more likely to be black or Hispanic, less likely to have a college degree and less likely to be married. They work fewer hours — only 46% work more than 40 hours a week — and the head of the household typically earns $12 an hour. This group of low-income men are much more dependent on government benefits and have a median annual income of $24,000.

U.S. consumer prices rose a moderate amount in May, driven up by rising energy costs and the biggest increase in shelter costs in more than nine years. Consumer prices increased 0.2% last month following a 0.4% April increase, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Energy prices rose for a third straight month, but food costs fell. The Federal Reserve indicated Wednesday that it is still concerned about low inflation. The central bank left its key policy rate unchanged in a range of 0.25% to 0.5%. After moving the rate up by a quarter-point in December, the first rate hike in nearly a decade, the central bank has delayed any further increases because of concerns about tepid economic growth and inflation that is stuck at ultra-low levels.

Housing starts dipped in May, continuing the seesaw pattern over much of the last 12 months. New-home construction edged down 0.3% from April to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.16 million, the Commerce Department said Friday. Building permits increased 0.7 % to 1.13 million, indicating a future rise in building starts. The increase in total building permits was mainly driven by apartment building permits, which rose 6.7% to 381,000. Single home permits fell 2% to 726,000.

The average new car payment in America has crept above the $500 per month mark for the first time, settling in at $503, according to a recent study by Experian. And if that weren’t bad enough, the average length of a car loan now stands at 68 months. Nearly one-third of new car purchases in the first quarter of 2016 included loans that stretched from 73 to 84 months, stretching budgets to the breaking point.

Economic News – International

The acting governor of Rio de Janeiro’s state government declared a state of financial disaster Friday in an effort to change budgetary priorities. Francisco Dornelles’ office said in a statement that the decision was made because a dip in revenues from taxes and oil royalties was “stopping the state of Rio de Janeiro from honoring its commitment to the organization of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” The statement said the state is facing a “public calamity. The financial crisis has brought several difficulties in essential public services and it could cause the total collapse of public security, health care, education, urban mobility and environmental management.” Rio’s state government is in such dire straits that two of its hospitals were taken over by the Rio de Janeiro city government to allow doctors to keep receiving their paychecks. Some police stations are so underfunded that they have asked neighbors to donate basic items like toilet paper. Public workers and retirees have suffered months-long delays in receiving their money.

Switzerland voted to withdraw its application to become part of the European Union. The vote comes just a week before Britain decides whether to leave the EU in a referendum. Twenty-seven members of the upper house, the Council of States, voted to cancel Switzerland’s longstanding EU application, versus just 13 senators against. Two abstained the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported. Thomas Minder, counsellor for the state of Schaffhausen and an active promoter of the concept of “Swissness,” said he was eager to “close the topic fast and painlessly” as only “a few lunatics” may want to join the EU now, he told the newspaper. Hannes Germann, also representing Schaffhausen, highlighted the symbolic importance of the vote, comparing it to Iceland’s decision to drop its membership bid in 2015. “Iceland had the courage and withdrew the application for membership, [and] no volcano erupted,” he said, jokingly.

Nervous investors are hoping to ride out looming financial storms by staying in cash. In recent weeks global fund managers have increased their cash stockpiles to the highest level since November 2001, right after the 9/11 terror attacks, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey. The defensive maneuvering is a further sign that some investors are too scared to be stuck holding risky stocks and bonds ahead of potential upcoming shocks. The biggest fear among survey respondents is Brexit, the U.K. referendum on leaving the European Union taking place next week. Fund managers’ average cash allocation jumped to 5.7% this month, surpassing even the levels during the 2008 Wall Street meltdown or the 2011 U.S. debt ceiling debacle, BofA said.

On June 13, businesses from around the world presented a signed Commitment Letter to sustainable development to the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Lenni Montiel. The submission of the letter took place as part of a symposium, titled Commitment to Agenda 2030, Partnerships for Innovation and Social Responsibility, which explored how business can help realize sustainable development. The symposium was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and was co-organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and FiSO Group, LLC. The businesses committed to seeking the comprehensive realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the global development agenda adopted by 193 nations in September of 2015. In particular, the businesses committed to using the Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to inform and assess their business strategies and operations, as well as for monitoring and reporting.

  • The 2030 Agenda and ‘Sustainable Development’ are the keystones in the push for global governance

Britain

The heated campaign over whether Britain should leave the European Union came to an abrupt halt Thursday following the assassination of a member of Parliament who played a visible role campaigning for continued membership in the EU. Police would not comment on a possible motive of the fatal shooting and stabbing of Labour Party MP Jo Cox, 41, by a lone assailant as she met with constituents. Yet the murder in broad daylight, a rare event in this country, could alter the outcome of next Thursday’s high-stakes referendum. Polls show a closely divided public on the referendum. Cox’s assailant, by one account, repeatedly shouted the name of a far-right political group that favors a British exit, or “Brexit,” from the EU. The suspect detained by British police had ties to a neo-Nazi group in the United States, according to a group that monitors extremism.

Islamic State

Elite Iraqi forces entered the center of Fallujah on Friday, securing the government center and other buildings in a major victory by the Iraqi government over the Islamic State. Iraq’s special forces seized the surrounding neighborhood as well, the Associated Press reported. Iraqi forces, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, launched the offensive to take Fallujah several weeks ago. In the past few days, they had established a foothold in the southern edges of the city, located about 40 miles west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and cut off much of the city so the Islamic State militants could not get resupplies or reinforcements. The ground seized Friday came amid intense fighting with hundreds of Islamic State militants holed up in the city. The city is far from secured. In past battles when the Islamic State has withdrawn from cities, the militants have left bombs that could explode and launched counter attacks against government forces. Militants remain holed up in various parts of the sprawling city, where many civilians remain trapped as “human shields.”

Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan — America’s longest conflict — will grind on for at least another four years as NATO allies are prepared to commit $5 billion through 2020 to train, equip and pay Afghan security forces, according to a senior NATO diplomat. Last week, President Obama granted U.S. troops in Afghanistan expanded authority to attack Taliban insurgents. The new rules allow U.S. forces to advise regular Afghan combat units and to call in airstrikes. There are about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Obama has pledged to reduce their number to 5,500 by year’s end. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the new, more aggressive approach put U.S. forces closer to the fight with the Taliban.

Libya

The Pentagon says it is encouraged by progress Libyan militias are making in driving the Islamic State from its stronghold in the oil-rich country, but is not offering new military assistance for a unity government that still lacks allegiance from some of the militias. The Islamic State had expanded to as many as 6,000 fighters in Libya over the past year, capitalizing on disarray that followed the collapse of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in 2011. Gadhafi’s government was overthrown by opposition forces within his country with the backing of a NATO-led coalition air campaign. Militias from the western city of Misrata launched a surprise offensive in recent days to retake the militants’ stronghold, the coastal city of Sirte, driving them from parts of the city. The offensive comes as a U.N.-backed unity government attempts to establish control over rival factions based primarily in the capital, Tripoli, and the eastern city of Benghazi, site of the lethal 2012 attack on a U.S. compound.

Iran

Iran has finalized a historic deal with Boeing to buy passenger planes from the U.S. aircraft manufacturer as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the country’s civilian air fleet, Iranian media reported Tuesday. If approved, the agreement would mean that new American aircraft would fly over Iran for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Reuters reported. IranAir would acquire more than 100 Boeing jets under the potential multi-billion-dollar deal. However, any deal between Boeing and Iran is contingent upon approvals from the U.S. government because remaining sanctions currently ban the use of dollars in trade with Iran. What’s more, Republican lawmakers who opposed the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran could also oppose this transaction.

Now that sanctions are gone, Iran is seriously flexing its oil muscles in hopes of luring back Western energy companies. Iran pumped 3.64 million barrels per day in May, just four months after sanctions were lifted, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s the fastest pace since June 2011, before tougher sanctions were imposed by the U.S. and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear program. All told, Iran’s oil production has surged by 730,000 barrels per day since the end of 2015, the largest gain from any OPEC country. Iran’s waterborne crude exports surged to 2.6 million barrels per day in May, nearly tripling the pace from November 2015. The influx of Iranian crude has helped offset large and unexpected production outages in Nigeria and Canada. However, the overall glut of oil is likely to impact prices once those countries get back on track.

France

A Paris police official says 26 people were injured wounded, including 20 police officers, in violence during street protests against French labor reform, the Associated Press reported. Protesters smashed windows and threw stones at police as thousands marched through the city Tuesday in protest of a planned change to loosen labor rules, which would make hiring and firing easier. Police responded with tear gas and reportedly arrested 13 people in the street march. The Eiffel Tower was closed Tuesday in Paris because operators said they could not guarantee public safety and taxi drivers temporarily blocked some of the city’s main access roads in the morning. The march comes amid a time when police are already stretched to ensure safety and security during the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. France has also been on high alert since the terror attacks in November that left 130 dead.

Belgium

Belgian authorities, fearing an imminent terror attack, arrested 12 people in dozens of overnight raids in a major security operation, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said Saturday. The operation in 16 municipalities was mounted after investigation “necessitated an immediate intervention. The dozen suspects were among as many as 40 people rounded up in overnight raids mainly in and around Brussels, according to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.  Authorities also examined more than 150 locked-up garages. Among the municipalities where the raids took place were Molenbeek and Schaerbeek, two Brussels suburbs where suspected terrorists were detained in recent weeks following the March 22 suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and metro system that left 32 people dead.

Bangladesh

Authorities in Bangladesh have arrested nearly 150 suspected militants and more than 11,000 others as part of a crackdown on extremism after a wave of brutal killings. Police said they detained 145 suspected Islamist militants over four days of raids and that the rest were accused of everything from theft and drug dealing to violence. An officially secular but Muslim-majority nation, Bangladesh has seen a surge of targeted killings — blamed on Islamist radicals — that have claimed the lives of secularists, religious minorities and gay activists. Police have said that most of the suspected militants were members of Jama’atul Mujahedin Bangladesh, a banned Islamist group. The JMB also has been blamed for bomb attacks.

Venezuela

Hungry Venezuelans escalated attacks on trucks carrying scarce food to the country’s largest cities Wednesday, a day after hundreds of protesters were arrested by security forces. Photos on social media showed looters attacking trucks on the highway that connects Venezuela’s main port of Puerto Cabello to the industrial city of Valencia. Others said that trucks ferrying food can no longer enter Cumana due to frequent attacks being carried out on the highways entering the city. Looting was reported throughout the country, including Caracas, where merchants refused to open their shops. The looting and violent protests are threatening President Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power.

Wildfires

Major wildfires burning across the West have consumed tens of thousands of acres and forced evacuations in at least three states. In New Mexico, one particular wildfire exploded in size to around 16,000 acres by Thursday night, forcing evacuations in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. The largest of these fires has burned more than 26,000 acres in the San Mateo Mountains of southwestern New Mexico. Dry conditions are hampering firefighting efforts in a region that is expected to see dangerous and potentially deadly heat over the weekend and into early next week. More than 1,200 firefighters worked to contain a wildfire that has burned about 4,000 acres west of Santa Barbara, California. Authorities evacuated 400 homes and businesses. Some vehicles became trapped as flames reached Highway 101, according to the California Highway Patrol.

On Thursday, wildland firefighters attempted to gain the upper hand on the Cedar Creek Fire as it burned out of control about 10 miles south of Show Low, Arizona. The blaze was the second wildfire in a week to menace residents of Arizona’s high country, this time forcing residents in Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and surrounding communities to prepare to evacuate just as residents of Yarnell did a week ago. The Cedar Creek Fire had grown to more than 5,200 acres by Thursday evening, sending plumes of smoke billowing through the scenic White Mountains and sparking flashbacks to the infamous Rodeo-Chedeski Fire, one of the largest in recorded state history, that ravaged the area 14 years ago. Strategic burnouts and better-than-expected wind conditions Thursday allowed firefighters to stave off additional evacuations in communities near the Cedar Fire.

Weather

A round of severe storms rolled through the High Plains on Tuesday afternoon and evening, leaving wind damage behind and spawning several reported tornadoes. Multiple tornadoes struck northeastern South Dakota on Tuesday afternoon, the first of which was spotted near the town of Webster. Another tornado was also reported south of Waubay. There were no reports of damage from either incident. Storms then pushed east into Minnesota and Iowa, where damage was created and some flooding was triggered. Several trees were brought down at a campground in Worthington, Minnesota, and winds gusted as high as 51 mph nearby. In northern Iowa, a wind gust of 73 mph was reported near the town of Estherville. Multiple reports of wind damage also occurred nearby, with the majority being tree or power line damage, but there was some roof damage reported as well.

Severe thunderstorms blew into the Northeast on Thursday, causing winds that downed trees and left one injured in Pennsylvania. As the storms pushed east, hail as big as baseballs hit parts of Virginia. The storms knocked out power to more than 160,000 customers in Virginia. Injuries were reported and at least 100,000 customers lost power in South Carolina and Georgia as a round of severe storms rushed across the South on Friday.

Some cities received record-breaking temperatures this week: Columbia, Missouri, broke its old record high of 96 degrees (set in 1952) by reaching 99 degrees on Wednesday. Des Moines, Iowa, tied its old record high of 96 degrees (set in 1913) on Wednesday. The most extreme heat in the coming days will be in the Desert Southwest where highs could climb to near 120 degrees, including in Phoenix, where it hasn’t been that hot in more than 20 years. The National Weather Service (NWS) in Phoenix said that heat of this magnitude in their area is rare, dangerous and deadly.

Signs of the Times (6/14/16)

June 14, 2016

Orlando ISIS Terrorist Had Been on FBI Watch List – Summary of Latest Info

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the shooting at the Pulse nightclub Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded at least 53 others in the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11. ISIS said in a radio broadcast Monday that “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America” carried out the attack at the gay nightclub. American-born Omar Mateen, 29, from Fort Pierce, Fla., pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call shortly before the assault. After a standoff of about three hours, while people trapped inside the club desperately called and messaged friends and relatives, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and stun grenades and killed Mateen after failed attempts at negotiation. “It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Sunday. Negotiators described Mateen as “cool and calm.”

Other people are also being investigated in relation to the attack, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said. Some eyewitnesses were purported to say that others were involved in the shootings. Several regulars at the Pulse nightclub offered a startling revelation: They had seen Mateen there before, they said, drinking, arguing and talking about his family, reports the USA Today, possibly for surveillance. One man also said he recognized Mateen from an app used to arrange dates and hookups for gay men, supporting rumors that Mateen was gay, reports Fox News.

Mateen was a U.S. citizen; his parents are from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. The ex-wife of the slain Orlando nightclub shooter described him late Sunday as a mentally and emotionally unstable — and possibly bipolar — spouse who physically abused her during their brief marriage. Mateen was described by a former colleague as an “unhinged and unstable” person who repeatedly made racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. “There was never a moment where he didn’t have anger and rage,” Daniel Gilroy told “The Kelly File”. Gilroy described Mateen as a devout Muslim who brought a prayer mat to work and prayed several times a day. A Muslim speaker at the mosque in Orlando called for the death of homosexuals on a video shown by WFTC 9.

Two years his divorce, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in after reports from Mr. Mateen’s co-workers that he, the American-born son of Afghan immigrants, had suggested he may have had terrorist ties. The F.B.I. interviewed him twice, but after surveillance, records checks and witness interviews, agents were unable to verify any terrorist links and closed their investigation. Then, in 2014, the F.B.I. discovered a possible tie between Mr. Mateen and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who had grown up in nearby Vero Beach and then became the first American suicide bomber in Syria, where he fought with the Nusra Front, a Qaeda-aligned militant group. Again, the F.B.I. closed its inquiry after finding “minimal” contact between the two men.

The security firm that employed Omar Mateen said it carried out two background checks on him and found nothing of concern. G4S said it had employed Mateen since Sept. 2007 and that he was off-duty at the time of the shooting early Sunday. Mateen was an armed security officer for G4S and the firm was trying to ascertain whether any guns used in the attack were related to his employment. The company, the largest security firm in the world, operates in more than 110 countries and has over 623,000 employees. G4S is headquartered in Britain.

Muslims Attempt to Establish Sharia Court in Irving, Texas

The group of Muslims who attempted to establish the first Islamic Sharia court inside the United States in the town of Irving, Texas received a devastating blow when the town’s mayor stood strong and refused to back down. Mayor Beth Van Duyne made a public Facebook post stating that she backs the new Texas law which prohibits any kind of foreign law from being practiced in the state of Texas. There were a multitude of illegal activities taking place behind the attempted formation of the Sharia court, including the fact that all four of the “voluntary” Sharia lawyers were not licensed to practice law in Texas, reports the Conservative Tribune. The rules of the Sharia court had different guidelines for women and men, with typical Islamic humiliation tactics to be used against women, which is constitutionally illegal. The Sharia court “lawyers” also conveniently failed to inform the city of Irving that they were operating a court inside of the town — again, illegal. “We don’t care about the bill. It’s not going to affect us in any way, shape or form. The bottom line is the foundation of this bill is anti-Islamic,” Zia Sheikh said.

Target Continues to Suffer for Transgender Bathroom Policy

Life continues to grow gloomier by the day for Target CEO Brian Cornell, who was reportedly called out by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting of investors this week for his refusal to admit that his transgender bathroom policy has cost the company billions. “Target’s shareholder meeting was appalling from beginning to end,” investor Justin Danhof, director of the National Center Free Enterprise Project, said in a statement released after the meeting, according to Breitbart. “Cornell just kept repeating the same vacuous lines about diversity and inclusion,” the statement continued. “He doesn’t seem to get that he has offended the sensibilities of millions of Americans.” Nor does he seem to comprehend that his company’s stock price has dropped by 18 percent since April, as he repeatedly tried to claim that Target has suffered “zero negative financial implications” from its policy.

Obama’s Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Court

A federal court upheld net-neutrality regulations designed to preserve equal access to the internet, handing a victory to the Obama administration and a defeat to telephone and cable providers. The Washington-based court Tuesday denied challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s rules, which were backed by President Barack Obama. Broadband providers “act as neutral, indiscriminate platforms for transmission of speech,” the court wrote in its opinion. The ruling is a win for Alphabet Inc.’s Google, online video provider Netflix Inc. and others who championed the notion of an open internet where internet service providers are prevented from offering speedier lanes to those willing to pay extra for them. Challengers including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. had said the rule would discourage innovation and investment.

Economic News

Retail sales grew more slowly in May after surging the previous month but still posted a solid gain. Driven partly by rising gasoline prices, sales increased 0.5%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales increased 0.3%. In May, gasoline station sales climbed 2.1% as prices continued to edge up. Partly offsetting the gains were declines of 0.9% at department stores, 1.8% at building material stores and 0.1% at furniture stores. After shopping with restraint in the first quarter, Americans splurged in April. That, along with higher pump prices, pushed up retail sales 1.3% in the second quarter, a 13-month high. But payroll growth slowed in April and was even more anemic in May as employers added just 38,000 jobs, leading some economists to predict a pullback in consumer purchases.

A surprising factor has helped lift oil prices back to the $50 threshold: militants blowing up oil facilities in Nigeria. The recent wave of sabotage on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure has knocked nearly 1 million barrels of daily production off line, adding to the country’s financial stress and dethroning it as Africa’s biggest producer. Nigeria’s oil production plunged to an average of 1.4 million barrels a day in May, its lowest monthly pace since the late 1980s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The attacks, carried out by a militant group known as the Niger Delta Avengers, combined with wildfires in Canada to deliver a powerful one-two punch to world oil supplies. Now the huge surplus that sent crude crashing to $26 a barrel in February appears to be fading, with oil nearing a balance between supply and demand.

Americans have set a new record for charitable giving. U.S. individuals, estates, foundations and companies donated $373.3 billion in 2015, according to the annual report Giving USA. That’s 4% more than the previous record of $359 billion set in 2014. Individual donors were, by far, the biggest source of charitable contributions, according to the report, increasing nearly 4% to $264.6 billion last year. Meanwhile, donations from foundations jumped 6.5% to $58.5 billion and charitable bequests rose 2% to $31.8 billion. Corporate giving totaled $18.5 billion, an increase of 4%.

Women continue to have a tough time when it comes to being appointed to a corporate boards, a new survey finds. Men land four of every five board seats, finds the survey by Catalyst, which specializes in finding ways to promote women within organizations. It’s even worse when it comes to female CEOs. They hold only 4.2% of the elite top jobs. “Our new Census shows little progress has been made at the board level, and even less progress has been made in the pipeline for women officers and directors – suggesting women are nowhere near the path to parity with men,” says Deborah Gillis, CEO of Catalyst.

Israel

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon made history on Monday by being elected chairman of the UN Legal Committee, the first time an Israeli has assumed that position since Israel was admitted to the UN in 1949. The appointment came despite fierce opposition to the idea from the self-described Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as several governments. “Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism,” Danon said. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world.”

Islamic State

The U.S.-led air campaign is ramping up its strikes against Islamic State truck bombs and the facilities that make them as the militant group is increasingly resorting to suicide attacks against civilian targets after being forced out of territory across Iraq and Syria. “They’re kind of regressing back to being a terrorist organization,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, who commands U.S. air forces in the Middle East. The Islamic State has managed to detonate massive car and truck bombs inside Baghdad in recent months. In April and May, coalition pilots struck 112 car and truck bombs in Iraq and Syria, about 20% of the total 550 vehicle bombs targeted in the nearly two-year old air campaign, according to military statistics.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State said Tuesday it could not confirm reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. airstrike. Army Col. Chris Garver, the top spokesman for the coalition in Iraq, told USA Today he was aware of the reports from the Islamic news agency AlhlulBayt and other sources. Garver said that, if true, Baghdadi’s death would be welcome news but would not signal the end of the fight. AlhlulBayt reported that the militant leader had been killed Sunday in an air strike in the Raqqa, Syria.

France

The terrorist who killed a police officer and his partner in Magnanville, France, broadcasting it on Facebook Monday night also threatened the Euro 2016 football championship in the Facebook video posted from the scene of the attack, reports CNN. Larossi Abballa, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, said that the tournament currently underway in France “will be like a cemetery.” Police investigating the killings of a French police officer and his partner by the terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS, found a list of targets at the scene of the Monday attack in Magnanville, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday. The list included celebrities, rappers, police officers, prison guards and journalists, he said.

Syria

At least eight people were killed and more than a dozen injured Saturday in suicide bomb attacks in a predominantly Shiite suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Syrian State TV and Syria’s state news agency SANA said the blasts in the Sayyida Zeinab area just south of Damascus killed eight people and wounded 13. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people were killed and dozens were wounded in the two explosions. Police told SANA that the first blast, at the entrance to the town, came from a suicide attacker wearing an explosive belt. The second blast was from a booby-trapped car in the town. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Libya

Libyan forces have retaken parts of Sirte from ISIS militants, gaining ground in the extremist group’s most significant stronghold outside Syria and Iraq, according to a Libyan military group. However, Libyan forces encountered fierce resistance Sunday, which included three suicide car bombs. One detonated near a field hospital in the city. In the ongoing offensive, forces supporting the U.N.-brokered government gained control of a port late Friday after fierce clashes with ISIS militants and are in complete control of the al-Sarawa area east of Sirte. The offensive has lasted almost two weeks and has left more than a hundred fighters dead and about 400 others wounded.

Yemen

A suspected U.S. drone killed three alleged al-Qaida fighters in an airstrike in the central Shabwa province, Yemeni security officials said Monday. The officials said the overnight attack hit the men’s vehicle as they were travelling near the town of Haban. The officials also said that in the onetime al-Qaida stronghold of Mukalla, on Yemen’s southern coast, troops from the United Arab Emirates and others in the Saudi-led coalition who are primarily fighting Yemen’s anti-government Shiite rebels conducted raids on homes seeking al-Qaida operatives. They say some 150 suspects were detained. Activists close to al-Qaida said the men were being tortured in prisons run by Emirati forces.

Philippines

Philippine officials confirmed Tuesday that Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded a Canadian man, the second Canadian hostage to be killed in two months after their demands for a large ransom were not met. The hostage, Robert Hall, was abducted from a marina last September along with another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipino. The other Canadian, former mining executive John Ridsdel, was beheaded in April. An Abu Sayyaf deadline for the payment of a large ransom lapsed Monday and police later found the severed head outside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Sulu province’s main Jolo town.

Weather

Severe weather and flash flooding struck parts of the Plains this weekend, causing flooding and prompting water rescues in Oklahoma. Sunday morning, water rescues took place in the Paoli and Maysville areas of Oklahoma, which saw up to 8 inches of rainfall Saturday. Water up to three feet deep was reported across State Highway 19 in Gavin County and numerous streets in Pauls Valley had to be closed due to water up to a foot deep. Flooding forced water rescues early Monday morning in Navarro County southeast of Dallas. In Trophy Club, north of Fort Worth, five homes caught fire due to lightning strikes. The slow-moving cluster of thunderstorms dumped torrential rainfall across parts of central Oklahoma Sunday morning. Rainfall rates were well over an inch per hour in some places.

Six people were injured and more than 40 homes were damaged after an EF-3 tornado touched down in Baker, Montana, on Saturday night. No fatalities were reported in Baker, with the most serious injury being a broken hip suffered by a resident during the storm. The electric substation in the town also sustained damage, so it is likely that power will not be restored until Monday.

Signs of the Times (6/10/16)

June 10, 2016

United Methodist Church Votes to Become Pro-Life

According to ChristianToday.com, the United Methodist Church General Assembly voted 445-310 last month to reverse the 46-year-old trend of supporting Roe v. Wade and to become officially pro-life. The UMC had been heavily involved in the pro-choice movement and had donated to Planned Parenthood, so the church’s recent decision came as a surprise to many. Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, stated regarding the UMC’s decision: “Christians of all denominations should praise God for the United Methodist Church’s historic repudiation of abortion. This is good news for orthodoxy, for the unity of the Body of Christ, and for the vulnerable unborn and their mothers.”

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Christian College Group

A federal court ordered North Carolina State University to immediately halt its policy that requires Christian students to obtain a permit before gathering. Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom represented the Grace Christian Life student group in a hearing before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Two days later, Chief Judge James C. Dever III issued his order, which applies to any kind of non-commercial student speech or communication anywhere on campus. “Because the only permit required for free speech on a public university campus is the First Amendment, we welcome the court’s decision to put a stop to NC State’s policy,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said.

Terror Attacks at ‘All-Time High’ a New Study Finds

Terrorist attacks are at an all-time high and there are more refugees now than at any time since the Second World War, according to a new study which suggests the world is becoming more violent. The worsening conflict in the Middle East, the lack of a solution to the migrant crisis and an increase in major terrorist incidents have all contributed to making the planet less peaceful, the 2016 Global Peace Index found. The index showed that most attacks it classed as terrorist were concentrated in five countries – Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Threat of Nuclear Attack on Europe High

The threat of a terrorist attack using nuclear material is the highest since the end of the Cold War, with ISIS actively trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, according to a leading international think-tank on proliferation. ‘Isis has already carried out numerous chemical weapons attacks in Syria; we know it wants to go further by carrying out a nuclear attack in the heart of Europe. This, combined with poor levels of security at a host of nuclear research centres in the former Soviet Union mean the threat of a possible ‘dirty-bomb’ attack on a Western capital is high,’ said Moshe Kantor, the president of the International Luxembourg Forum.

U.N. Declares Ireland’s Abortion Ban Discriminatory to Women

U.N. human rights experts ruled Thursday that Ireland’s abortion ban subjects women to discriminatory, cruel and degrading treatment and should be ended for cases involving fatal fetal abnormalities. The U.N. Human Rights Committee found that Ireland’s law violates the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 29-page report from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Committee accepted a complaint filed by Amanda Mellet, a Dublin woman who was denied a 2011 abortion in Ireland after her doctor informed her that her fetus had a fatal heart defect and could not survive outside the womb. Ireland permits abortions only in cases where the woman’s own life is endangered by continued pregnancy. Its ban on abortion in all other circumstances requires women to carry a medically doomed fetus to full term in Ireland or travel abroad for abortions, usually to England, where an estimated 5,000 Irish citizens have abortions annually.

  • Regardless of your position on Ireland’s law, this is another example of the rise of global governance as prophesied in Revelation 13:7-8

About 12 released Guantanamo Detainees Implicated in Attacks on Americans

About 12 detainees released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have launched attacks against U.S. or allied forces in Afghanistan, killing about a half-dozen Americans, according to current and former U.S. officials. In March, a senior Pentagon official made a startling admission to lawmakers when he acknowledged that former Guantanamo inmates were responsible for the deaths of Americans overseas. The official, Paul Lewis, who oversees Guantanamo issues at the Defense Department, provided no details, and the Obama administration has since declined to elaborate publicly on his statement because the intelligence behind it is classified. But The Washington Post has learned additional details about the suspected attacks, including the approximate number of detainees and victims involved and the fact that, while most of the incidents were directed at military personnel, the dead also included one American civilian.

Zika Update

People living in areas where the Zika virus is circulating should consider delaying pregnancy to avoid having babies with birth defects, the World Health Organization recommended Thursday. The advice affects millions of couples in 46 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean where Zika transmission is prevalent. According to a recent study, more than five million babies are born each year in parts of the Western Hemisphere where the mosquitoes known to spread the virus are found, reports the New York Times. At the moment, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and American Samoa are the only parts of the United States with local transmission of the virus. But clusters of cases are expected to appear in Florida and along the Gulf Coast this summer. The W.H.O.’s new guidelines essentially acknowledge that, with no vaccine available and mosquito eradication efforts failing to stem the spread of the infection, delaying pregnancy may be the best way that women in affected areas can avoid having children with severe brain damage.

Economic News

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Monday sketched a generally positive picture of the economy and labor market, saying Friday’s dismal jobs report was “concerning” but policymakers still plan to gradually raise rates. She did not specify whether a rate hike at the Fed’s June 14-15 meeting was still feasible, but financial markets are giving less than 5% odds of such a move and Yellen said nothing to alter that view.

America has a record number of job openings. In April, there were 5.78 million job openings, according to Labor Department data published Wednesday. That matches the all-time high set in July 2015. Such a high overall number open positions is both good and bad news. On one hand, it means employers are hiring more. At the worst part of the recession in 2009 there were only 2.3 million job openings. But on the other hand, it is also a symptom of a growing problem in the U.S. economy, where employers can’t find skilled workers for the jobs that they need.

Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign that employers are hanging on to workers despite a sluggish economy. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment aid fell by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000. The less volatile four-week average dropped by 7,500 to 269,500. Weekly jobless claims have come in below the historically low level of 300,000 for 66 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1973. The total number of people collecting unemployment benefits slipped below 2.1 million last week to the lowest level since 2000; it’s down 7.5% from a year ago.

Nearly half of Washington, D.C. employers said they have either laid off employees or reduced the hours of employees to adapt to the District of Columbia’s minimum wage hikes. The minimum wage in the District of Columbia has increased from a $8.25 hourly rate in 2014 to the current rate of $11.50 per hour. According to the Employment Policies Institute report, just over half of the businesses surveyed said they planned to raise prices in order to offset the cost of a minimum wage hike. Thirty-five percent said they would likely reduce staffing levels and 37 percent said they would reduce employees’ hours or reduce the number of hours they were open for business.

Capital spending fell 6.2% at an annual rate in the first quarter following a 2.1% drop late last year, its worst such stretch since 2009 and a big reason the economy nearly stalled in that period, Commerce Department data shows. The investment slump has widened in recent months across a diverse array of U.S. companies and sectors, the USA Today reported Friday. Business spending typically makes up 12.5% of economic activity but has an outsized impact on the economy and stock market. Purchases of equipment and software, and the construction and renovation of buildings, create thousands of jobs for manufacturers.

The Top 1% saw their incomes nearly triple in recent decades, while middle class and lower-income Americans saw theirs creep up by only 18%, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The average federal tax rate of the Top 1% was 34% in 2013. Those in the middle class, or the middle 60% of Americans by income, had an average federal tax rate of 13.8%. The wealthy pay a larger share of the nation’s taxes. Those in the top 20% of the income scale earned a little more than half of total before-tax income, but paid more than two-thirds of all federal taxes, the CBO found. Taxpayers in the middle quintile took home about 14% of the income and paid about 9% percent of the taxes. And the poorest 20% received about 5% of the income and paid less than 1% of the taxes.

Migrant Update

Almost 300 Iraqi refugees voluntarily left Greek refugee camps to return home this year. The reverse flight illustrates how numerous refugees have become disillusioned as European countries erected walls to prevent their passage north and then steered them to camps in remote villages or cordoned them off in tent cities like in Calais, France. “The borders are closed, and a lot of people realize that Europe may not be the promised land that everyone imagined,” said Christine Nikolaidou, spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, which bought plane tickets for refugees returning home. “A lot of people are trapped.”

Persecution Watch

Assailants hacked a Hindu holy man to death Friday in northern Bangladesh and fled without anyone witnessing the attack, which police suspect was carried out by Islamist militants who have waged a violent campaign targeting the country’s secular writers, gay rights activists and religious minorities. Pandey was the second Hindu to be killed in Bangladesh this week, after motorbike-riding assailants shot and hacked a Hindu priest to death Tuesday in southwestern Bangladesh. Two days before that, assailants killed a Christian man inside his grocery shop in the northwest, and the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Hindu extremists in India reportedly beat and tortured 29 Christians when they refused to convert to Hinduism. The Christian Post reports that the Hindu extremists attempted to convert the Christians to Hinduism, but when they refused, the extremists beat them and drove them out of their homes. According to Christian watchdog group Open Doors, “The villagers accused them saying – because of you our god and goddess are fleeing from our village. When they refused to forsake Christ they began to beat them.”

Israel

Israel’s military has cancelled most travel permits for Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and deployed more troops to the West Bank after gunmen identified by police as Palestinian cousins from Hebron killed four Israelis at a popular food market in central Tel Aviv. The attack Wednesday on the Sarona Market, located across the street from the Israeli military’s headquarters, was among the deadliest and most brazen attacks in a nine-month wave of violence. One Israeli witness, who was sitting at an upscale restaurant, tells The Jerusalem Post the attackers looked like “wealthy Italian businessmen in fancy suits and skinny ties.”  She tells The Jerusalem Post the pair had a “cold, calm look on their faces as they fired everywhere.” In response, Israel froze 83,000 permits for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to visit family in Israel, attend Ramadan prayers in Jerusalem or travel abroad via Israel’s Tel Aviv airport. The military also suspended Israeli work permits for 204 of the attackers’ relatives.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish forces in northern Syria were closing in on the Islamic State-controlled town of Manbij from three sides, a militia spokesman said Wednesday, as thousands of civilians fled the area in anticipation of the battle to retake the strategic locale. The forces, supported with airstrikes carried out by a U.S.-led international military coalition, have seized more than 50 villages from Islamic State fighters since launching an offensive last week to recapture Manbij and the surrounding countryside from the radical group. The number of casualties on both sides wasn’t known. The operation to seize Manbij is part of a bid to take control of a 60-mile stretch of territory along the Syria-Turkey border through which Islamic State funnels foreign fighters.

Iraqi security forces have recaptured their first neighborhood in ISIS-held Falluja, the military announced Wednesday, in the wake of U.N. warnings that fleeing civilians faced a threat from government-allied militias. Iraq military spokesman Col. Mohammed Ibrahim told CNN that the neighborhood of al-Shuhada al-Thaniya in southern Falluja had been liberated, and Iraq’s flag was now flying over a government building in the area. He said the operation to free the neighborhood had taken more than 48 hours as soldiers removed mines and explosives that ISIS left in its wake.

Syria

Airstrikes on two neighborhoods in Aleppo Wednesday killed at least 10 people, including children, according to the U.K.-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Bombs from airstrikes also hit three hospitals on Wednesday in the rebel-held side of Aleppo, Syria, including a pediatrics center supported by the United Nations, in what aid providers and opposition activists called a new atrocity in the fighting that has ravaged the city. The Middle East regional office of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement that the attacks happened within a space of three hours on al-Bayan and al-Hakeem hospitals and the Abdulhadi Fares clinic. Unicef provided no details on casualties, damage or who was responsible, but it said the attack was the second on al-Hakeem hospital, which it helps operate.

For the first time since 2012, food aid reached starving residents in the Syrian town of Darayya, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said. Trucks carrying medicine, flour and a month’s worth of food arrived Darayya on Thursday. Darayya is a rebel-held suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus that has been cut off by President Bashar Assad’s government. Darayya, which had a population of 80,000 before the start of Syria’s five-year-old conflict, now has about 8,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, many of them starving to death.

Iraq

At least 27 people were killed Thursday in two separate car bombings in the Baghdad area. At least 15 civilians were killed and around 35 injured when a car bomb exploded in a commercial area of New Baghdad, a Shiite area in the east of the Iraqi capital. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. In another incident, seven civilians and five soldiers were killed in a suicide car bombing at an army checkpoint in Taji, about 12 miles north of of Baghdad. At least 70 people were also injured in both incidents.

Afghanistan

Unidentified militants seized 47 passengers traveling on a highway in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province on Wednesday, officials said, the latest in a series of kidnappings fueling concerns that the government is losing control of major routes. Armed men seized people from a bus and car after stopping the vehicles on the outskirts of Kunduz city, which was briefly held by the Taliban late last year. The highway connects Kunduz to the neighboring province of Takhar. The abductees were taken to the provincial town of Uqtash, a Taliban stronghold, local officials said. Most of Kunduz province is under Taliban control, with the government restricted mainly to the city. There was no immediate claim or motive in the assault, but the Taliban are suspected.

After months of debate, the White House has approved plans to expand the military’s authority to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban when necessary, as the violence in Afghanistan escalates, senior U.S. and defense officials said Thursday. Several officials said the decision was made in recent days to expand the authority of U.S. commanders to strike the Taliban and better support and assist the Afghan forces when needed in critical operations, using the U.S. troops already in the country. The 9,800 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, however, would still not be involved in direct combat.

Turkey

A car bomb targeting a police vehicle in Istanbul killed 11 people and wounded 36, creating new security anxieties in a country on edge over resurgent Kurdish militant violence and Islamic State attacks. The blast occurred near an Istanbul University building in the city’s busy Vezneciler district during the morning rush hour. Terrorism has been on the rise in Turkey recently. Militants killed more 60 people in bombings in Istanbul and Ankara in February and March. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, rebels and the Islamic State have been behind the series of deadly bombings in Turkey.

China

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry are in Beijing for a two-day annual meeting on trade and security between China and the U.S. that started Monday. China on Tuesday agreed to cut its excess steel output and work with the U.S. to enforce anti-nuclear sanctions against North Korea. The two nations announced no progress on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Lew said China also agreed to avoid competitive devaluations of the yuan. Washington promised to boost its savings rate and investment, particularly in infrastructure. For the first time, China agreed to allow U.S. banks to clear transactions denominated in the Chinese currency.

Earthquakes

A 5.2 magnitude earthquake early Friday occurred along one of Southern California’s most active faults and triggered hundreds of aftershocks but caused no major damage, the Los Angeles Times reported. The quake occurred near Borrego Springs in San Diego County in a sparsely populated area far from major cities. Still, the 1:04 a.m. quake was felt from San Diego to parts of L.A. and beyond, as far as Las Vegas. Friday’s temblor occurred on the San Jacinto fault, the most active in region. More than 450 aftershocks have been reported since the initial quake.

Wildfires

An Arizona wildfire has forced hundreds to evacuate from the town of Yarnell – where a blaze in 2013 killed 19 members of an elite firefighting crew. About 250 to 300 people had to leave their homes in the town, about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix. The fire, dubbed the Tenderfoot Fire by the BLM, grew quickly to over 600 acres Wednesday and by Friday it exploded to 5000 acres. Three outbuildings have burned but no homes have been lost so far. There have been no reports of any injuries. There are now 12 wildfires burning in Arizona, having consumed over 60,000 acres.

Weather

Tropical Storm Colin made landfall in Florida Monday night, knocking out power and flooding roads, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for more than half the counties in the Sunshine State. Colin dumped locally more than 10 inches of rain near the Tallahassee area Monday. Flood warnings were issued in many parts of the Tampa Bay area Tuesday and commuting became difficult as roads were underwater and closed off completely in some areas.

El Niño and rising sea levels spurred a record number of days of “nuisance flooding” last year in seven coastal U.S. cities, according to a new federal report. Wilmington, N.C., recorded an all-time high of 90 days, or one-quarter of the year, partly underwater from the “clear-sky” flooding, which isn’t caused by heavy rain from a storm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in the report released Wednesday. Charleston, S.C., also topped its record with 38 days and Key West, Fla., with 14 days. Nuisance flooding leads to road closures, overwhelmed storm drains and damaged property. Since 1880, the ocean has risen nearly 8 inches worldwide, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, but it doesn’t do so evenly. In the past 100 years, it’s climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities.

The coverage of ice in the Arctic has dwindled to the lowest level ever seen for the month of May, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. During the month, daily sea ice extents tracked about 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) below any previous year in the 38-year satellite record. For perspective, 232,000 square miles is almost the size of Texas (about 86 percent). Since scientists began using satellite-based data in 1978, the Arctic ice cover has been declining at a rate of about 13 percent per decade, according to NASA.

  • With measurements only going back to 1978, it is impossible to tell if this is just a normal cycle or not

Signs of the Times (6/6/16)

June 6, 2016

Washington State to Teach Kindergartners about Transgenderism

Starting in the fall of 2017, public schools in Washington state will begin teaching students as young as kindergartners about transgenderism. The Daily Caller reports that the state recently made changes to their health education learning standards, revising them to include instruction about gender expression. A part of the sexual health curriculum titled “Self-Identify” will begin in kindergarten where students will be taught to “Understand there are many ways to express gender.” Students will be taught that gender expression is subjective to individual preference and is not restricted to biology. By the time they reach third grade under the new curriculum, students will be expected to “Explain that gender roles can vary considerably.”

  • This is so sick and illogical, let alone ungodly, that it underscores the irrational delusions of end-time immorality

Smuggling Network Guides Illegals from Middle East Terror Hotbeds into U.S.

A smuggling network has managed to sneak illegal immigrants from Middle Eastern terrorism hotbeds straight to the doorstep of the U.S., including helping one Afghan who authorities say was part of an attack plot in North America. Immigration officials have identified at least a dozen Middle Eastern men smuggled into the Western Hemisphere by a Brazilian-based network that connected them with Mexicans who guided them to the U.S. border, according to internal government documents reviewed by The Washington Times. Those smuggled included Palestinians, Pakistanis and the Afghan man who Homeland Security officials said had family ties to the Taliban and was “involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. and/or Canada.” He is now in custody. Some of the men handled by the smuggling network were nabbed before they reached the U.S., but others made it into the country. The Afghan man was part of a group of six from “special-interest countries.” The group, guided by two Mexicans employed by the smuggling network, crawled under the border fence in Arizona late last year and made it about 15 miles north before being detected by border surveillance.

GOP Lawmakers Want Answers on Deleted State Department Briefing Video

Top Republican lawmakers are demanding answers after the State Department admitted an official intentionally deleted several minutes of footage from a press briefing dealing with sensitive questions on the Iran nuclear deal. The department has not identified who actually ordered the deletion. “In tampering with this video, the Bureau of Public Affairs has undermined its mission to ‘communicate timely and accurate information with the goal of furthering U.S. foreign policy,’” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a letter to Inspector General Steve Linick. “This is all the more troubling given that the video in question dealt with hugely consequential nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” At issue is footage from a 2013 briefing where then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared to acknowledge misleading the press over the Iran nuclear deal. Fox News later discovered the Psaki exchange was missing from the department’s official website and its YouTube channel. Eight minutes from the briefing, including the comments on the Iran deal, were edited out.

VFW Fires Back at Obama’s Denigration

The nation’s largest veterans group hit back at President Obama on Thursday and urged him not to “denigrate” their intelligence after the president suggested their members were easily swayed by cable news and “right-wing radio.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars called out the president after Obama referenced the political opinions at “VFW halls” in an Indiana speech Wednesday that toggled between campaign politics and the economy. “I don’t know how many VFW Posts the president has ever visited, but our near 1.7 million members are a direct reflection of America,” VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. said in a statement. “We don’t have confused politics, we don’t need left or rightwing media filters telling us how to think or vote, and we don’t need any President of the United States lecturing us about how we are individually [affected] by the economy. Our nation was created and continues to exist solely because of the men and women who wear the uniform,” he said. “Let’s not denigrate their service, their sacrifice or their intelligence.”

San Jose Protesters Attack Trump Supporters with Punches, Eggs

Protesters attacked Donald Trump supporters on the sidelines of a San Jose rally Thursday night, in a raucous scene where a dozen or more people were punched and at least one woman was pelted with an egg and another had her ear bloodied. Protesters also reportedly grabbed Trump hats from supporters and set the hats on fire on the ground. Police eventually moved into the crowd to break it up and make arrests. At least four people were taken into custody.

  • Liberal left-wing protesters at Trump rallies have been vile and violent even as Trump’s supporters have remained peaceful. And they say that Trump is the one stirring up fear and strife? Some protesters have admitted to being paid to protest.

Fentanyl, the Powerful Drug that Killed Prince, a Growing Threat

Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that a medical examiner identified as the drug that killed the superstar Prince six weeks ago, has been responsible for an epidemic of overdose deaths around the United States, according to federal officials. The most potent narcotic known, it is a man-made opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more so than morphine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website. The agency says illegally manufactured non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, and related overdoses, are a rising problem. Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids jumped by 80 percent in 2014 over the previous year, the CDC said. In Ohio, fentanyl overdoses jumped to 514 in 2014 from 92 a year earlier.

Getting a Tattoo Similar to Undergoing a Satanic Ritual says Ex-Witch

A former self-confessed witch said getting tattoos is very similar to undergoing a Satanic ritual. On her blog entitled “The Other Side of Darkness,” the ex-witch named Beth revealed that the act of getting a tattoo has similarities with occult blood rituals, where a person enters into a covenant with the devil. “A blood ritual is a Satanic ritual that is done as a covenant or pact. There are at least two people involved in this type of ritual. The person who is shedding their own blood, and the person who is invoking a demon and its power,” the former witch said on her blog post, as quoted by Charisma News. Beth said that the wounds opened during a Satanic ritual and when getting a tattoo become the devil’s entry point into a person’s body. “The person who is shedding their blood is the recipient in this transaction. They are giving their blood (life) in order to receive some sort of benefit, such as life, prosperity, fame, fortune or power. The cuts are now an open doorway for the entrance of evil spirits… By agreeing to and participating in the shedding of your blood, you have (given) the devil a right to you.”

Chicago: Where Gunfire Has Become the Terrifying Norm

In Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend, 64 people were shot in this city of 2.7 million, six of them fatally. In a population made up of nearly equal numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics, 52 of the shooting victims are black, 11 Hispanic and one white. Eight are women, the rest men. Some 12 people are shot in cars, 11 along city sidewalks, and at least four on home porches. It is a level of violence that has become the terrifying norm, particularly in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. With far fewer residents, Chicago has more homicides than Los Angeles or New York, reports the New York Times. The result? The new logic of one Chicago mother in the South Side neighborhood: She is glad her own son is in jail, because the alternative is unbearable. “He was bound to be shot this summer,” she says.

Migrant Update

More than 100 bodies believed to be migrants from capsized boats washed up on a Libyan beach, while hundreds of others are missing in a separate sinking off Greece, officials said Friday. The bodies of 117 people were recovered from a beach near Zwara, Libya, by Libyan Red Crescent volunteers. The dead included 75 women, 36 men and six children. Meanwhile, a boat carrying around 700 migrants capsized 75 nautical miles off the Greek island of Crete, prompting a major rescue operation for hundreds still missing. So far, 340 people have been rescued, and nine bodies recovered as of Saturday morning. Some 25,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, have descended on the Aegean island of Lesbos so far this year, — a massive increase that has piled pressure on debt-ridden Greece

Economic News

The labor market slowed dramatically in May as employers added 38,000 jobs, raising concerns that a sluggish economy is taking a bigger toll on employment and lowering the odds of a Federal Reserve rate hike this month. The weak employment gains were the smallest in 5 1/2 years. Also discouraging: Job growth for March and April was revised down by a total 59,000. March’s tally was revised to 186,000 from 208,000, and April’s, to 123,000 from 160,000. The unemployment rate fell from 5% to 4.7%, lowest since November 2007 the Labor Department said Friday, but that was because nearly 500,000 Americans stopped working or looking for jobs.

After a sluggish winter, U.S. consumer spending rose 1% in April compared to March, the best gain since August 2009, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday. The latest spending figures confirm an ongoing trend: Americans are buying big ticket items like refrigerators, roofs, cars and televisions. Spending on those pricey goods rose 2.2% in April, and cars accounted for the majority of the increase. Consumer spending makes up the majority of U.S. economic activity. The closely-followed University of Michigan’s consumer spending index also shot up to nearly 95% in May from 89% in April.

Here we go again. Credit card issuers are pushing cashback and 0% credit cards, opening up doors for the subprime borrower and offering bigger lines of credit when possible. The number of new credit card accounts jumped to 80.3 million — up 16.3% from a year earlier, according to the American Bankers Association’s latest Credit Card Market Monitor. New accounts are being driven, in part, by a 26% increase year-over-year in new subprime accounts, which bankers say still remain below prerecession levels.

The 40-year ban on exporting U.S. crude was lifted last December. Since then, there’s been a sevenfold increase in America’s oil exports to destinations other than Canada, which was excluded from the ban. The frenzy of export activity, while still relatively small, is the only bright spot in the depressed environment in the oil industry these days. Not only is the U.S. pumping less oil, but there remains a lingering glut of oil around that world that earlier this year caused crude to crash to 13-year lows.

OPEC isn’t going to stop flooding the market with oil any time soon. The oil cartel wrapped up its summit in Vienna on Thursday by deciding not to change its output policy. The meeting discussed a proposal by Saudi Arabia to implement a cartel-wide production quota range aimed at restoring a sense of unity to the fractured group. However OPEC members failed to agree on the proposal. OPEC believes its strategy of all-out production is working by reducing output from other global oil producers.

It appears that big auto companies are no longer immune to the sluggish U.S. economy. Most major car makers reported decreased sales in May. Sales fell at GM, Ford, Toyota and Honda. Fiat Chrysler was the only major auto company to buck the trend, extending the company’s impressive sales growth streak to 74 consecutive months. Still, sales were up only 1.1% though, led mainly by strong demand for its Jeep brand. The auto industry has, up until recently, been a bright spot for the U.S. economy. Sales hit a record last year, thanks to robust demand for trucks and SUVs as gas prices remained low. But the slowdown in May is a troubling sign — especially now that gasoline prices have surged in the past few months.

Persecution Watch

Chinese authorities continue to intensify their crackdown on churches, recently forbidding a church to hold services and requiring its members to register with the government. As many as 1,700 churches in China have been demolished by authorities in the past two years and many Christians have been targeted by government officials. Some have even been beaten and jailed. Christian charity China Aid warns that China’s Communist Party aims to wipe out Christianity from the country. The Chinese government wants to replace “Christ as the head of the church with submission to the Communist Party,” said the ministry. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also recognized China’s increased persecution of Christians, stating that the Chinese government has “stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a ‘socialist society.”

Two months after the Obama administration called out militant terror group Islamic State (ISIS) for committing genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, refugee data show those finding a safe haven in the United States are not the ones suffering the most persecution. State Department figures show 499 Syrian refugees have resettled in America this month, but not a single one was a Christian or member of another religious minority group targeted for genocide, according to CNSNews reports. Of the 2,705 Syrian refugees who came to the United States this fiscal year, 97 percent are Sunni Muslims. Only 12 identified with a form of Christianity. Tempers flared during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on May 26 as lawmakers noted the disproportionate numbers. Some compared the crisis in Iraq and Syria to Jewish persecution during the holocaust.

Islamic State

Coalition warplanes bombed ISIS command centers and tunnel networks Friday in Falluja, Iraq, killing dozens of militants, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command said, as the fight intensifies to retake the strategic city. militants had been meeting in southern Falluja at the time of the airstrikes, including a newly appointed ISIS military leader known as the “Emir of the Falluja State.” Iraqi army forces have encircled Falluja and are expected to storm this city west of Baghdad soon. Falluja became the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIS in January 2014. An estimated 50,000 residents are trapped in the city between opposing fighters, including 20,000 children. ISIS is shooting civilians attempting to leave Falluja, a European non-profit operating in Iraq says.

Syrian troops reached the edge of the northern province of Raqqa on Saturday, home to the de facto capital of the Islamic State group’s self-styled caliphate, in a push that leaves the extremists fighting fierce battles on four fronts in Syria and neighboring Iraq. The Syrian government has had no presence in Raqqa since August 2014, when ISIS captured the Tabqa air base and killed scores of government soldiers. The provincial capital, Raqqa, became the militants’ first captured city. ISIS, which controls large swaths of territory in both countries, is fighting Syrian troops, U.S.-backed fighters and opposition militants in northern Syria and while also facing the offensive by Iraqi government forces on their stronghold of Fallujah.

The U.S. Navy has opened up another front against the Islamic State group, this time launching jets from the USS Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean loaded with bombs to drop on Iraq and Syria. The carrier’s air wing flew multiple sorties on Friday. The trip through the Mediterranean is the carrier’s latest leg on a seven-month deployment — recently extended by a month — that included 1,407 sorties and 1,110 missiles launched. The Truman, which is accompanied by the cruiser Anzio and the destroyers Bulkeley, Gonzalez and Graveley, is operating in the Mediterranean to support strikes against Islamic Stat.

Jordan

Five people were killed in an attack apparently targeting Jordanian intelligence officers at a refugee camp near Amman on Monday. No group immediately claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reported. Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah said on Twitter that the attack was a “vile terrorist act.” Jordan is a member of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The incident came on the first day of Ramadan, a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset observed by Muslims worldwide.

Afghanistan

Taliban gunmen stormed a court building in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing seven people, including a newly appointed chief prosecutor, the latest in a series of insurgent attacks on judicial employees. The attack began as the prosecutor, Akram Nejat, was addressing a ceremony to introduce him in his new position. A statement from the interior ministry said 21 others, including six police officers, were wounded in the attack on the courthouse in Puli Alim, the provincial capital. The three attackers were shot dead by Afghan security forces. The Taliban have increasingly targeted the judiciary since the government executed six convicted insurgents last month. The executions signaled a tougher approach to the Taliban after two years of failed government efforts to revive peace talks.

Philippines

The Philippine president-elect has encouraged the public to help him in his war against crime, urging citizens with guns to shoot and kill drug dealers and fight back in their neighborhoods. “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support,” Duterte said, warning of an extensive illegal drug trade that involves even the country’s police. If a drug dealer resists arrest or refuses to be brought to a police station and threatens a citizen with a gun or a knife, “you can kill him,” Duterte said. “Shoot him and I’ll give you a medal.” The 71-year-old Duterte won the May 9 presidential election on a bold promise to end crime and corruption within six months of his presidency. That vow resonated among crime-weary Filipinos, though police officials considered it campaign rhetoric that was impossible to accomplish. Duterte has been suspected of playing a role in many killings of suspected criminals in his city by motorcycle-riding assassins known as the “Davao death squads,” but human rights watchdogs say he has not been criminally charged because nobody has dared to testify against him in court.

Venezuela

In almost any other country, going food shopping is an afterthought. You head to the market, buy food then head home. But in Venezuela, where the economy is on the brink of collapse, food shopping has become a dangerous adventure. There’s an hours-long wait to enter the supermarkets. Shelves are empty. Meat and chicken, and even diapers, are nowhere to be found. People are so desperate for food that fights break out in the aisles. There were more than 70 cases of looting or looting attempts in May, most of them in supermarkets, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. Bicentenario Supermarket, the state-run grocery store chain that began operating in 2010. The chain used to operate 32 stores around the country, but now 10 of those supermarkets are closed, some in the country’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia.

Brazil

The Olympic Games arrive in Brazil at a time when the country is ravaged by crises. With two months to go until the cauldron is lit in Rio de Janeiro, the host of South America’s first Games is grappling with a public health emergency, a governmental meltdown and economic woes. Despite the spread of the Zika virus throughout the region, as well as President Dilma Rousseff standing down amid corruption allegations and Brazil’s worst recession in over two decades, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insist the show will go on.

Wildfires

A car crash that downed power lines northwest of Los Angeles set the hills on fire, forcing thousands from their homes and putting entire neighborhoods at risk in the prosperous semi-rural enclave of Calabasas. The blaze grew to 200 acres in a matter of hours and has now burned over 500 acres as of Sunday morning. Fifty-foot-high flames erupted on the ridges and embers turned trees into candles Saturday afternoon. And while the flames eased overnight, firefighters continued Sunday to battle the blaze. Some 3,000 homes were threatened and about 5,000 residents were evacuated. The fire flared as Southern California sweltered under temperatures that hit the mid-90s in many places.

Firefighters are also battling a series of brush fires throughout Southern California this weekend. A brush fire that broke out in Temecula has doubled in size to 70 acres and forced the southbound I-15 freeway to close. Another brush fire broke out in Jurupa Valley, a city roughly 50 miles north of Temecula. Several more wildfires broke out in the region Saturday due to the hot, dry conditions. The Juniper Wildfire burning in the Tonto National Forest once again caused the Arizona Department of Transportation to close a 13-mile stretch of State Route 288 on Saturday. At almost 18,000 acres, it was 20 percent contained Saturday.

More acreage has been burned by wildfires so far this year than in the last ten years. A total of 1,583,590 acres have been consumed versus just 410,990 last year, not including the massive wildfire in Fort McMurray, Canada. There are currently ten wildfires burning, with five of them in Arizona where intense heat, low humidity and strong winds have led to fire warnings across all of central and southern Arizona.

Weather

A high of 113 degrees Friday broke the previous daily record in Phoenix. Another record high temperature of 115 degrees was set at Phoenix on Saturday and 113 on Sunday. Record highs were also recorded in Las Vegas (109), Needles, CA (118) and Bullhead City, AZ (119). An excessive-heat warning that went into effect Friday morning has been extended until 8 p.m. Monday for all the southwest. Tropical Storm Colin has strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico and will bring the threat of heavy rain to parts of Florida and the Southeast Monday and Tuesday. Three people have been killed in floodwaters from a strong storm that pounded Australia’s east coast over the weekend.

A new round of severe thunderstorms drenched southeast Texas on Thursday morning, closing schools and forcing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to declared a state of disaster across 31 counties. At least two dozen streets were closed, including a stretch of Interstate 35 in San Antonio early Thursday. Heavy rain was falling at a rate of up to 3 inches per hour. A flood wave was expected to move down the Medina River from swollen Medina Lake Thursday morning, potentially impacting property near Castroville, Texas, about 25 miles west-southwest of downtown San Antonio. Nine Fort Hood soldiers are dead after floodwaters overturned their army truck n Owl Creek during a morning training exercise on the sprawling Central Texas army post. Elsewhere, tornadoes caused damage in the Lone Star State and Kansas, where twisters had been spotted for three consecutive days. Since spring 2015, parts of the South have received over 100 inches of rain over the 15-month timeframe.

Torrential rains across France and Germany left at least 16 people dead, drove thousands from their homes. Flooding has killed at least 5 people in Germany and prompted evacuations across Europe as slow-moving storm system dumped rain across the continent. The system intense and record-breaking rainfall. Sections of northeast France (near the border with Belgium) received six full weeks of rain in just a 24-hour period during the multi-day event. Flooding got dramatically worse on Wednesday, with the whole center of Triftern, a town of just over 5,000 people on the Austrian border, flooded by the Altbach river. The Louvre Museum in Paris closed its doors to visitors Friday to focus on removing art from areas threatened by the rising Seine River. An 86-year-old woman died in her flooded home in Souppes-sur-Loing, southeast of Paris. A total of 10 people have been killed by the flooding across Europe.

Signs of the Times (6/1/16)

June 1, 2016

Atheists File Complaint against Christian School for LGBT Policy

The atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a complaint against a Christian school for the school’s LGBT policy. According to The Christian Post, St. John’s Lutheran School of Baraboo, Wisconsin, says it maintains the right as a private Christian school to “discipline and dismiss student” for their adherence to a homosexual lifestyle. The FFRF, also a Wisconsin-based organization, alleges that the school does not have the right to discriminate against LGBT students. The FFRF filed its complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. In comments emailed to The Christian Post, the school maintains that “the complaint is without merit.” They also said the school is “confident that the government will recognize, as it always has, the church’s constitutional right to teach and practice our beliefs without interference from the government. The federal funds we receive are designed to help children and families not fund and operate our school.”

  • This is just the initial volley in the war to come against Christian organizations for not adhering to the gay agenda.

High School Graduates Defy Atheists and Recite Lord’s Prayer

A graduating class from Ohio decided to defy a district decision to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the graduation ceremony and instead, the senior class recited it themselves. The district had banned the students from singing the Lord’s Prayer after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the Lord’s Prayer violated the Constitution and promoted religion. The singing of the Lord’s Prayer was a 70-year-old tradition for the high school. As the valedictorian finished his welcome, the seniors began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. “The class thought it was wrong that we were being forced to remove it,” senior Bobby Hill said.

Russian President Putin Warns He’ll Retaliate against NATO Missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia will retaliate against the placement of U.S. missiles in nearby countries such as Romania, according to Russia’s state-run news agency TASS. “If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply didn’t know what it means to be in the cross hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” Putin said. The United States installed a ground-based missile defense system earlier this month in Romania. The system is meant to defend Europe against rogue states like Iran and not intended to target Moscow’s missiles, Washington has said. NATO, which operates the missile defense system, said the missiles could not be used offensively as they don’t include explosives and are designed to simply “punch” targets out of the sky.

World’s Most Enslaved Nations

Mauritania, the West African country long thought to be home to the world’s highest percentage of enslaved people, no longer holds that lamentable title, according to a report released late Monday by the Walk Free Foundation. WFF’s slavery index says the percentage of people living in modern slavery in Mauritania dropped from 4% in 2014 to about 1% this year and now has the world’s seventh-highest incidence of slavery. The Mauritanian government last year established special anti-slavery courts. North Korea now ranks worst on the index. Nearly one in five people there are thought to be enslaved. Uzbekistan has the second highest estimated proportion of prevalence of modern slavery. 18.3 million people are in some form of modern slavery in India. Globally 45.8 million people are held in slavery, according to the report. That’s a 28% uptick since the group’s last slavery index report was released in 2014. Slavery is not a thing of the past, and we must stop thinking that it is,” the Walk Free Foundation said in a statement issued to CNN. “The very nature of modern slavery means it is clandestine and hidden from view, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t everywhere. Every country in the world is affected.”

Tech Giants Pledge to Remove Hate Speech within 24 Hours

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft are teaming up with the European Union to crack down on online hate speech. The internet giants signed up to a new set of rules designed to stop racist, violent and illegal content from going viral. They agreed to review a “majority” of flagged content within 24 hours. They’ll remove it, if necessary. The companies also agreed to promote “independent counter-narratives” to fight hate speech, including content promoting non-discrimination, tolerance and respect. Facebook (FB, Tech30) said it gets as many as 1 million violation reports from users every day. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred,” said Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner.

  • The problem is the definition of hate speech. Speaking out God’s Word about LGBT issues is regarded by the liberal left as ‘hate speech.’ Soon, much of Christianity will be censored.

Critics Slam Obama’s Efforts to Settle 10,000 Syrian Migrants in U.S.

Nearly eight months into an effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, Mr. Obama’s administration has admitted just over 2,500. And as his administration prepares for a new round of deportations of Central Americans, including many women and children pleading for humanitarian protection, the president is facing intense criticism from allies in Congress and advocacy groups about his administration’s treatment of migrants. They say Mr. Obama’s lofty message about the need to welcome those who come to the United States seeking protection has not been matched by action. And they warn that the president, who will host a summit meeting on refugees in September during the United Nations General Assembly session, risks undercutting his influence on the issue at a time when American leadership is needed to counteract a backlash against refugees. The delay is frustrating for Mr. Obama, who has made a point of speaking out against anti-immigrant sentiment both in the United States and abroad.

  • Conservatives, however, are quite pleased with Obama’s inability to back up his words with action

U.S. Death Rate Up for First Time in a Decade

The death rate in the United States rose last year for the first time in a decade, preliminary federal data show, a rare increase that was driven in part by more people dying from drug overdoses, suicide and Alzheimer’s disease. The death rate from heart disease, long in decline, also edged up slightly. Death rates — measured as the number of deaths per 100,000 people — have been declining for years due to improvements in health, disease management and medical technology. The death rate rose to 729.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, up from 723.2 in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It was one of the few times in the past 25 years that the rate has increased. A bad flu season pushed it up in 2005, and AIDS and the flu contributed to a sharp increase in 1993. Recent research has documented a sharp rise in the death rates less-educated whites, who have been hardest hit by the prescription drug epidemic

Zika Update

A baby girl delivered Tuesday in New Jersey is the first in the continental U.S. to be born with the Zika virus-related brain condition, giving rise to new fears about the spread of the disease. The 31-year-old mother, whose name was not disclosed, apparently contracted the Zika virus while in Honduras and was admitted to the emergency room at Hackensack University Medical Center on Friday while vacationing in the U.S. Doctors at Hackensack performed an emergency caesarean section to deliver the baby girl, who was born with microcephaly (a partially formed brain) as well as intestinal and visual issues. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a woman in Hawaii delivered a baby who suffered from severe microcephaly as a result of Zika infection.

Economic News

Consumer spending surged in April by the largest amount in more than six years, led by a big jump in purchases of autos and other durable goods. Consumer spending rose 1% last month after a flat reading in March, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. The increase was the biggest one-month climb since a 1.3% rise in August 2009. Incomes were up a solid 0.4%, matching the March gain. The strong April showing for consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity, is a good sign that the economy is performing notably better this quarter after nearly stalling out at the start of the year.

Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would eliminate another 2,200 positions, which means that its total job losses are roughly equivalent to the entire payroll of the tech giant Facebook. By the end of 2016, Shell will have slashed 12,500 positions. Much of Shell’s attrition is due to the collapse of oil prices, which has plunged the Anglo-Dutch oil major into a cash flow crisis.

India has done it again. The country’s economy outpaced all other major markets during the most recent quarter, further cementing its reputation as a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy world economy. India’s gross domestic product expanded by 7.9% in the quarter ended March 31, a better-than-expected performance that trumps the 6.7% growth posted by China’s slowing economy over the same period. Some experts have called into question the validity of the country’s GDP statistics. Industrial production and investment spending fell at the end of 2015, and exports remain weak. Critics argue that economic reality is being disguised by low oil prices, which have slashed India’s huge energy import bill.

Migrant Update

Over 1,000 migrants are feared dead in three Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks south of Italy in the last few days as they tried desperately to reach Europe in unseaworthy smuggling boats, the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday. An estimated 100 people are missing from a smugglers’ boat that capsized Wednesday and about 550 other migrants and refugees are missing from a smuggling boat that capsized Thursday morning after leaving the western Libyan port of Sabratha a day earlier. In a third shipwreck on Friday, Sami says 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies were recovered and an unknown number of people — many more, the migrants say — are missing. Around 1,900 migrants were rescued by the Italian Coastguard.

The makeshift Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece, which housed people fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East and which was home to some 8,200 refugees, was closed last Tuesday, with residents being evacuated to other areas around Greece. The majority of the people in Idomeni were Syrian refugees, but there was also a large contingent from Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran.Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for the Greek government’s refugee crisis committee, told the Athens News Agency that “we believe that it will take up to 10 days to transfer the refugees.”

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprising announcement Monday evening, saying that his government is now ready to enter into negotiations with the Palestinian Authority based on the so-called Arab Peace initiative, which would see Israel withdraw from the West Bank and make other concessions in return for diplomatic relations with the 22 members of the Arab League. “I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said in a press conference. “The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

Islamic State

Iraqi troops entered the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah on Monday in an effort to drive out the militants. Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army. Iraqi forces then repelled a four-hour attack counter-attack by the Islamic State in the south of the city on Tuesday. The city is one of the last major Islamic State strongholds in Iraq, along with the country’s second-largest city, Mosul. It was also the first city to fall to the militants when they swept across northern and western Iraq in early 2014. Several hundred innocent families used as human shields for the terror group, the United Nations refugee agency reported.

Meanwhile, ISIS launched a string of bombings in and around Baghdad that left at least 24 people dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for two bombings in the capital in an online. One bomb killed eight civilians and three soldiers. The second bombing occurred in Sadr City when a motorcycle exploded in a market killing three people and injuring 10. A third bombing in Tarmiyah, about 31 miles north of Baghdad, killed seven civilians and three policemen.

Syria

A wave of late night airstrikes pummeled the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, killing at least 23 people, wounding dozens and trapping several under the rubble of their homes as the intense bombardment struck near two hospitals and a mosque, opposition activists said Tuesday. At least seven children were among those killed, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claiming that Russian aircraft carried out the strikes. Moscow, however, insisted it was not involved in the strikes on Idlib, a city held by several militant groups, including Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front. Since the Russian military campaign began last September in an effort to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against Islamic militants, Moscow has staunchly denied that its warplanes have hit any civilian areas in Syria.

Afghanistan

The Taliban attacked several buses on a road in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, forcing passengers to disembark, killing nine people and abducting at least 35, officials said. The assault in the volatile, northern Kunduz province took place in Aliabad district as the buses were travelling from the capital, Kabul, northeast to Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. The attackers were wearing Afghan army uniforms. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but government spokespersons blamed the Taliban, who are increasingly active in the area and have been behind mass abductions last year across Afghanistan.

Turkey

Five people were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a checkpoint between two ancient Syrian Orthodox villages in Turkey. ChristianToday.com reports that the bombing took place very close to St. Mary Church (Idto d’Yoldath-Aloho), in Hah, Tur Abdin. The church is considered to be the oldest church in the world. It is thought that the three Wise Men who traveled to Bethlehem to see the infant Christ passed through the spot on which it is built. Tur Abdin is situated in a mountainous region, and the meaning of its name is “The Mountain of the Servants of God.” It is considered to be the heartland of Syriac Orthodox Christianity.

Kenya.

Kenya is shutting all its refugee camps, displacing 600,000 people. The government said the camps have become infiltrated by terrorists. There are five camps that make up Dadaab in eastern Kenya near the Somali border — the largest refugee complex in the world. The largest camp, Ifo looks like a rural village, with goats and camels wandering around small shops that sell everything from clothes to camel milk. Now the Kenya government wants to repatriate Dadaab refugees to Somalia. The government also wants to close another camp, Kakuma, that houses refugees from South Sudan, where a fragile cease-fire has taken hold in that country’s civil war. Kenya announced that it would will shutter the camps by November and send refugees back to Somalia and elsewhere after numerous attacks staged by al-Shabab, a Somalia terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

North Korea

North Korea attempted to launch a missile Tuesday, although it appeared to be unsuccessful, South Korea’s military said. It appears to be the latest in a string of missile tests as the country tries to advance its weapons program in defiance of the international community and its closest regional ally, China. Initial reports suggested it was an intermediate-range Musudan missile, according to a U.S. defense official; if confirmed, it would be the fourth time North Korea has tried and failed to launch this type of missile. The missile apparently flew for about two or three seconds and then exploded. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged all parties “to refrain from taking any action that may escalate tensions” on the Korean Peninsula.

Brazil

Brazil’s economy, the largest in Latin America, shrank 5.4% in the first quarter of this year, according to government figures released Wednesday. On Tuesday, government officials announced that unemployment in Brazil had shot up to 11.2% in the period between April and February. There are 11.4 million unemployed Brazilians, up nearly 20% from a year ago. The news comes as Brazil is only 65 days away from hosting the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the country is in the midst of immense political turmoil. Just last month, President Dilma Rousseff was temporarily suspended by a congressional impeachment vote. Her vice president, Michel Temer, has taken over as interim president. Brazil is in its longest recession since the 1930s. Inflation has spiked up, consumer confidence has plummeted and a massive corruption scandal continues to engulf public officials two years since it first began. Brazil is also a fighting an extensive Zika virus epidemic.

Weather

Tropical Depression Bonnie made landfall Saturday in South Carolina. Bonnie weakened from a tropical storm to a tropical depression Sunday morning. Maximum sustained winds were 35 mph as of Sunday morning. Rain, some wind, and choppy surf affected some of the beaches of the Carolinas and Georgia through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Seven people died and at least four others were missing as of Tuesday morning after heavy rains in Texas and Kansas caused severe flooding. In one case near Austin, which received nine inches of rain this week, a vehicle with two people was swept off a flooded roadway. Threats of floods prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of prisoners near Houston. Most of the deaths took place in rural Washington County, Texas, between Austin and Houston, where more than 16.5 inches of rain fell in some places late last week. Over 18 inches of rain hammered the official reporting station in Brenham, Texas, about 65 miles west-northwest of downtown Houston, according to the National Weather Service. That set a new 24-hour rainfall record for the location. With heavy rain continuing and one river forecast to crest at a record high level, Texas can expect little relief with more rain due all week. Flooding in Texas is driving wildlife, some of it dangerous and deadly, into homes along the Brazos River as the animals flee the rising waters. The rising water carried water moccasin snakes, ants and debris into neighborhoods of houses and businesses.

Lightning strikes on Saturday injured more than 40 in Europe, including children playing at a popular park in Paris and attendees at a children’s soccer game in Germany. In Paris’ Park Monceau, a surprise spring storm prompted adults and children attending a birthday party to seek shelter under a tree. Eleven people, including eight children, were injured when lightning struck. In Western Germany, lightning struck a children’s soccer match, seriously injuring three adults.