Archive for July, 2016

Signs of the Times (7/30/16)

July 30, 2016

Supreme Court Favoring Discrimination over Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court’s defense of religious freedom looks like it’s on the decline. Still reeling from the death of its most devout justice, Antonin Scalia, the high court has put preventing discrimination above protecting religion in a series of cases over the past year, from same-sex marriage to abortion and contraception. By refusing to consider a family-owned pharmacy’s objection to a Washington state regulation forcing it to stock and sell emergency contraceptives, Justice Samuel Alito warned that the court was sending an “ominous sign.” “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” Alito said.

Hillary Clinton Promotes Free Tax-Payer Funded Abortions.

During her keynote address to the Democratic convention on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton wasted no opportunity promoting abortion. She began her speech promoting the Democratic Party platform that calls on Americans taxpayers to fund for abortions. The proposed Democratic Party platform this year is more extreme than it has ever been, calling for taxpayer funding of abortion and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arises from incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother. The Democratic Party platform already supports legalized abortion on demand for any reason up until birth, reports Life News.

Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina’s Voter-ID Law

Voting rights activists scored legal victories in key presidential election states Friday, the most important being a federal appeals court ruling that North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature enacted new voting restrictions in 2013 to intentionally blunt the growing clout of African American voters. The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was a victory for the Justice Department and civil rights groups. Election law experts consider North Carolina’s voter law one of the nation’s most far-reaching. In Wisconsin, where one federal judge already had eased restrictions on voter-ID requirements, a second judge found that additional elements of the law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) were unconstitutional.

Right to Homeschool Children under Attack Again in California

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has reported that the right to homeschool children is under attack in California. HSLDA reports that its members in the San Benito High School District recently received a letter stating, “Under California Law, a home school is not a private school, nor is it a lawful alternative to public school.” Homeschool advocates were confused as to why this letter was sent because back in 2008, a court case had already established that homeschooling was legal in California. HSLDA questioned why the right to homeschool in California is now under attack once again.

Humana Drops Obamacare to Stop Balance Sheet Losses

After nearly $1 billion in losses last year, Humana, one of the nation’s leading health insurance providers, announced July 21 it is pulling out of Obamacare plans in nearly all states. The announcement came the same day the Obama administration declared it would take legal action against a multi-billion-dollar merger between Humana and another top-five health insurance provider, Aetna. According to Humana, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reforms have had a severe effect on the company, resulting in limited revenue and “increasing the company’s medical and operating costs.” Other insurance companies also are suffering financial difficulties. UnitedHealth Group said in April it would pull out of most Obamacare marketplaces in 2017. UnitedHealth is the biggest health insurance provider in the United States, and has said it lost $475 million on ACA exchanges last year and could lose $500 million this year.

California Risks $135M in Federal Grants over ‘Sanctuary City’ Policy

California state and local law enforcement agencies may have to choose between more than $100 million in federal aid and the “sanctuary city” immigration policies that supporters say are humane, but critics say fuel crime. The policies, whether in writing or just in practice, preclude local law enforcement from working with federal authorities when they catch an illegal immigrant who by law faces deportation. The laws have sparked a national controversy in the wake of dozens of murders and other violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants who local law enforcement did not report to the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans in Congress, saying such non-cooperation is illegal. For California, which enacted the California Trust Act, that could mean as much as $135 million in grants will be withheld. “This irresponsible legislation has already caused the release of thousands of criminals that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement was trying to deport,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Washington DC-based Center for Immigration Studies.

  • These sanctuary city policies have helped fuel the recent rise in violent crime reported below

Violent Crime on the Rise in U.S.

Violent crime is on the rise so far this year in major cities across the US compared to the number of homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults and shootings that occurred in the same cities by this point in 2015, a new report has found. The midyear violent crime survey released Monday by the Major Cities Chiefs Association shows 307 more homicides so far in 2016, according to data from 51 law enforcement agencies from some of the largest US cities. In addition to a large increase in homicides, major cities in the US have experienced more than 1,000 more robberies, almost 2,000 more aggravated assaults and more than 600 non-fatal shootings in 2016 compared to this time last year. The only category of violent crime not reflecting an increase when compared to last year is rape. The 316 homicides reported by the Chicago Police Department were by far the most of any law enforcement agency included in the survey, a 48% increase over last year.

FBI Put in Charge of Responding to Cyber Attacks

A presidential directive signed by President Obama Tuesday will put the FBI in charge of responding to all cyber threats and give the federal government a more active role in investigating, preventing and mitigating attempts to hack into U.S.-based computer networks. Obama’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the change was necessary because it’s not always clear whether those responsible for a hacking incident are other countries, terrorists or criminals. “This directive establishes a clear framework to coordinate the government’s response to such incidents,” Monaco told a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York Tuesday. “It spells out which federal agencies are responsible. And it will help answer a question heard too often from corporations and citizens alike — ‘In the wake of an attack, who do I call for help?'”

Florida Zika Cases a ‘Game Changer’

Both American athletes and sports fans have canceled plans to travel to Brazil for next week’s Olympics for fear of contracting the Zika virus. Now the apparent spread of Zika to Florida, confirmed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott Friday, means that Americans could face the risk of becoming infected in their own backyards. “This is a game changer,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “I’m concerned that this is just the beginning.” Four people infected with Zika in South Florida likely contracted the virus from local mosquitoes, marking the first time the disease has been transmitted by the insects in the continental U.S., Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday. Florida’s Department of Health believes the mosquitos that transmitted the virus are active in a small area just north of downtown Miami. More than 1,650 people in the U.S. have contracted Zika, but until now all were linked to travel to areas outside the U.S. with outbreaks of the virus. Zika, which can cause devastating birth defects, is spreading rapidly in more than 30 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America. The virus primarily spreads through bites from infected mosquitoes, but can also be spread through sex. Only one in five people with Zika develop symptoms, which include rash, fever, muscle aches and headaches.

Six Michigan Employees Criminally Charged in Flint Water Crisis

Six Michigan employees were criminally charged Friday in connection with the Flint water crisis. Charged are three Department of Health and Human Services workers and three Department of Environmental Quality employees, according to testimony Friday morning in Flint’s district court. They are charged with hiding unsafe lead levels. In April, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced felony charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint official. At that time, he promised more criminal charges would be forthcoming. Flint’s drinking water became contaminated in lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched from treated water supplied from Detroit to raw water from the Flint River. Department of Environmental Quality officials have acknowledged a mistake in failing to require corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water. As a result, lead leached from pipes, joints and fixtures into Flint households and harmful lead levels spiked in Flint children.

Fears of Terrorism and Violence Growing in Rio Ahead of Olympics

It happens so frequently in Brazil, that it even has a name, a “lightning kidnapping.” That’s when a person is forced to withdraw money from cash machines by robbers, often at gunpoint, and that’s what New Zealand jiu-jitsu fighter, Jason Lee, claimed happened to him, reports Fox News. What made the athlete’s story more shocking, however was that the crime allegedly was committed by military policemen from Rio de Janeiro state, the very people who are supposed to protect people from such acts. Lee’s story is far from an isolated case. The incidence of violent crime in greater Rio de Janeiro increased in every category in May, the most recently-released data, from the year before. There were a record number of homicides and street theft grew about 43 percent. Despite urban violence being so prevalent in Rio, the country’s Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, identified terrorism as “the biggest challenge of the games.” In the last week a group of 12 people who pledged their allegiance to ISIS were arrested on suspicions of planning an attack on the Olympics, and a second possible ISIS cell was also identified.

Economic News

The US economy grew meekly for a third straight quarter in the April-June period, raising new concerns about the risk of recession, as the drag from falling business investment more than offset strong consumer spending. The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of goods and services produced in the nation — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast growth of 2.6%. Growth from 2012 to 2015 was 2.2%. Of concern, however, is that the economy has expanded at about half that pace over the past 12 months. Consumer spending surged last quarter as expected, rising 4.2%. Consumers have been buoyed by solid job and income growth, still low gasoline prices and reduced household debt. But business investment declined for the third straight quarter, sliding 2.2%. Capital spending has been subdued because of the long-standing downturn in exports as well as the oil industry slump triggered by low crude prices.

Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in June by the largest amount in nearly two years, reflecting a big decline in the volatile category of commercial aircraft. Demand for durable goods dropped 4% in June, the biggest setback since an 18.4% drop in August 2014, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. June’s result was led by a 58.8% plunge in orders for commercial aircraft. Outside of transportation, orders were down 0.5%. The new report indicates manufacturing remains under stress from weak global demand and a strong dollar.

It’s taken 11 years, but home prices have finally climbed back to pre-crash levels. The median home price in the U.S. was $231,000 last month, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions (formerly RealtyTrac). That’s 9% higher than a year ago and 1% above the previous record of $228,000 hit in July 2005. Median home prices have been rising on a national level every month for more than four years, and it’s created an affordability issue in many housing markets. Wages have remained relatively stagnant since the financial crisis while lenders have become more stringent with their borrowing terms. Rents have also been on the rise, making it difficult for homebuyers to save for a down payment. Last month, sellers sold their homes for an average of $41,000 more than their purchase price.

The percentage of Americans that own a home has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.  During the second quarter of 2016, the non-seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to just 62.9 percent, which was exactly where it was at when the U.S. Census began publishing this measurement back in 1965. Rising home prices in an economy of stagnant wages (for the lower 80%) have pushed entry-level homes out of reach for many people. First time buyers are having trouble saving for a down payment due to soaring rents.

Islamic State

At least 44 people were killed and 140 injured Wednesday in an explosion in the northern Syrian town of Qamishli near the Turkish border. The bomb went off near Kurdish security headquarters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a monitoring group based in Britain. The Islamic State extremist group, which has carried out previous bombings against Kurds in the area, has claimed responsibility, the BBC reports. Many of the wounded sustained severe injuries, raising the likelihood that the death toll will increase. A witness said the blast was so powerful it shattered windows in stores in Nusaybin, the Turkish town directly across the border, Reuters reports.

U.S.-led coalition targeting a village in northern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed 28 civilians, including seven children, Syrian activists said Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said aircraft belonging to the coalition struck the village of al-Ghandour late on Thursday. Observatory’s chief Rami Adurrahman said another 13 people were killed in the strikes but that he could not say if they were IS fighters or civilians. Al-Ghandour is 15 miles northwest of the town of Manbij, a key hub in the extremist group’s Syria network and a supply route to the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa. The bombings came a week after airstrikes, also blamed by Syrian activists on U.S. aircraft, killed at least 56 civilians in Islamic State-held territory in northern Syria.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to elicit Russian military cooperation in the fight against Islamic State in Syria suffered two potentially crippling blows on Thursday. First, the Syrian army said it had cut off all supply routes into the eastern part of the city of Aleppo – Syria’s most important opposition stronghold – and President Bashar al-Assad’s government asked residents to leave the city. That move, U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said on Thursday, appeared to be an effort to pre-empt a U.S. demand that Russia and Syria reopen a major road into the divided northern city before talks could begin on creating a joint intelligence center to coordinate air attacks against Islamic State.

Germany

Germans are on edge due to multiple terrorist attacks in just one week. An ax attack, a mass shooting, a machete assault and a suicide blast. Four attacks in one week, all in Germany’s Bavaria region. They appear to be unrelated for now. But three of the attackers were recently arrived refugees. One was a German-Iranian dual citizen. And all were young men between the ages of 18 and 27. Bavaria’s Interior Minister, Joachim Herrman, was visibly shaken early Tuesday morning, hours after a Syrian refugee blew himself with a backpack explosive. “I have been Interior Minister in Bavaria for nearly nine years,” he told the press. “And I have never experienced anything like this until now.” “Wilkommenskultur” — the buzzword that welcomed more than a million refugees into the country last year — has given way to an unsettling fear that the country is not prepared for the security and integration challenges of taking in a diverse, often traumatized population that comes with their emotional baggage and Islamic beliefs.

Afghanistan

Five U.S. Special Operations troops, fighting alongside their Afghan counterparts, were wounded recently while battling Islamic State militants in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, the top U.S. general there said Thursday. Speaking to reporters from Kabul, U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. said that the troops had been wounded from small-arms fire and shrapnel in the past week. He did not specify when exactly the injuries occurred. The troops came under fire during what Nicholson called ‘clearing operations’ as U.S. and Afghan troops pushed into southern Nangahar following a series of airstrikes.”

Nigeria

The increasing massacre of Christians in Nigeria has led one leader to estimate that as many Christians have been killed in the country in the first half of 2016 as were killed in all of 2015. Much of Nigeria has become a war-torn place due to terrorist organization Boko Haram, as well as other perpetrators of violence such as Fulani herdsman who have been targeting Christians. The Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) has called on the Nigerian government to do something about the continual massacre of Nigerian Christians. “Whatever the federal government is doing, if anything, is either too slow or insignificant compared with the reoccurrence of the killings; the federal government needs to step up and take bold actions to give members of the Christian community in the country a sense of security and belonging,” said Pastor Ade Oyesile, executive director of CANAN.

Hundreds of thousands of children in Nigeria are suffering from starvation after Boko Haram militants ravaged the country. ChristianToday.com reports that the chaos in Nigeria created by Boko Haram terrorists has resulted in 20,000 murders and the displacement of nearly two million people. It has also led to severe starvation and malnutrition of many. Nearly a quarter of a million children in parts of Borneo State, where the conflict is the worst, are facing starvation. Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Wildfires

A wildfire burning south of Monterey, California, has grown to nearly 30,000 acres, and fire officials have estimated it will take until the end of August to completely extinguish the blaze, dubbed the Soberanes Fire. Eight hikers found themselves trapped inside a forest south of San Francisco for five days by the Soberanes fire, which has been blazing since last Friday. Instead of becoming victims of the wildfire, the men were rescued Tuesday after Cal Fire and Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies carried out a daring search and rescue mission. The unidentified men were unharmed, although they spent much of their time in the forest without food and water. Meanwhile, north of Los Angeles, firefighters are making headway on a second massive fire. The Sand Fire has consumed more than 38,000 acres, but as of Friday morning was 65 percent contained.

Weather

A return of monsoonal moisture across much of the Southwest U.S, triggered thunderstorms that produced damaging winds, dust storms, heavy rain and hail late on Friday as the region braces for more of the same going into next week. APS said that roughly 26,000 lost power on Friday night as a result of strong thunderstorms wind gusts, with Buckeye and West Valley seeing the highest impact totals. The City of Phoenix on Friday advised residents against using certain roads, and reported that street crews were working to clear downed trees from roadways. 70-mph winds were reported at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. No injuries have been confirmed as a result of the fierce winds. Dust storm warnings were also issued for large parts of Arizona in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Flash flooding occurred in parts of the Ohio Valley on Thursday, and the risk for heavy rain and flash flooding now spreads eastward into southeast new England as series of disturbances push through the region. More rain will move into these regions this weekend. Early Thursday morning, over 3 inches of rain in 2 hours swamped parts of the Cincinnati metro area, stranding numerous vehicles in Anderson Township. In Bellevue, Kentucky, more than 20 homes were flooded with water up to 6 feet deep. On Thursday evening, roughly 2 inches of rain fell in about an hour in Manhattan, Kansas, causing flash flooding on area roadways. The National Weather Service has placed parts of Massachusetts under a flash flood watch.

Large hail driven by strong winds damaged virtually every home in the Wyoming town of Pine Bluffs Wednesday evening, prompting help from the Wyoming National Guard. Around 500 homes were damaged in Pine Bluffs, about 40 miles east of Cheyenne near the Nebraska state line. Thursday, Governor Matt Mead ordered 27 members of the Wyoming National Guard to assist with cleanup in the town of about 1,200 residents. This included clearing of trees and boarding shattered windows. The hailstorm was from one of a pair of supercell thunderstorms that pelted parts of southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska and northeast Colorado with wind-driven, large hail that damaged numerous homes, businesses and vehicles Wednesday.

Signs of the Times (7/26/16)

July 26, 2016

Charges Dropped Against Anti-Abortion Activists behind Planned Parenthood Videos

A Texas judge on Tuesday dismissed the last remaining charge against two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials selling baby body parts. District Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the charge of tampering with government records against 27-year-old David Daleiden and 63-year-old Sandra Merritt upon the request of the Harris County prosecutor’s office. Prosecutors had alleged that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses to conceal their identities while dealing with Planned Parenthood. “The dismissal of the bogus, politically motivated charges against [Center for Medical Progress] project lead David Daleiden and investigator Sandra Merritt is a resounding vindication of the First Amendment rights of all citizen journalists, and also a clear warning to any of Planned Parenthood’s political cronies who would attack whistleblowers to protect Planned Parenthood from scrutiny,” Daleiden said in a statement.

A Big Win against Birth Control Mandate

A federal judge ruled Thursday that forcing insurers to include birth control coverage despite their conflicting religious convictions is unconstitutional. The case addresses a section of Obamacare that requires insurers to pay for birth control. Missouri Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, and his wife filed a lawsuit arguing that being forced to pay for birth control coverage violates their Catholic faith. They cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the federal government cannot “substantially burden” religious rights unless the law is the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton agreed, saying the federal government cannot legally compel Wieland and his wife to pay for birth control coverage.

  • Whether or not birth control is an issue for Christians, this is an important case in defense of religious freedom.

California Religious Liberty Threat ‘Most Significant’ Ever’

A bill rushing through California’s state legislature could deliver a fatal blow to Christian education, legal experts warn. “I’ve been practicing religious freedom law for about 20 years now and I believe this bill is one of the most significant threats that there has ever been to religious freedom,” Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said at the Heritage Foundation. Hours before adjourning for July recess, a California State Senate committee advanced a bill that seeks to punish faith-based colleges and universities for holding biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. If signed into law, SB 1146 could expose schools to punitive litigation and the loss of millions in student aid. Schools wanting to avoid any penalty would have to dissolve student codes of conduct based on biblical teachings about sex and wouldn’t be able to base hiring decisions on religious convictions about sexuality, gender identity, and marriage.

Same-Sex Marriage Fallout: Woman Sues to Marry an Animal

A Kentucky woman filed a suit against County Clerk Kim Davis, among others, because the state refused to let her marry an animal. Elizabeth Ording is suing Davis, Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear. The 56-page lawsuit says Ording’s marriage to an animal wouldn’t be that different than same-sex marriage, according to WDRB. Ording says the county attorney told her she could have a wedding, but the state wouldn’t recognize the marriage. Earlier this month, Mark “Chris” Sevier filed a lawsuit against the same defendants because he was unable to marry his computer.  Sevier, a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School whose law license was suspended in 2011, previously filed similar suits in Texas and in Florida. Sevier says he is trying to prove that marriage between a same-sex couple has the same legitimacy as a human marrying an inanimate object.

Marriage and Divorce Rates Both Down in U.S.

Declining marriage and divorce rates go hand in hand and reveal a cultural skepticism about relationship definition, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation. The marriage rate has been trending downward for decades. From 2004 to 2014, the U.S. marriage rate fell by 20 percent, a drop of 8.3 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women over age 15, according to Heritage’s 2016 Index of Culture and Opportunity. The report also noted the divorce rate’s steady decline since 1979, from 5.3 per 1,000 people to 3.2 per 1,000 people in 2014—a 40 percent drop. Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First and author of the report’s essay on divorce, says, “Widespread divorce led people to believe that although relationships are good, relationship definition is risky.” Generation X children lived through the rise of the divorce culture in the ’70s and early ’80s, almost half within broken homes. The result for Gen Xers: risk avoidance, undefined relationships, and a widespread belief that marriage is just a piece of paper, she says.

Russia Accused of Playing in U.S. Politics through Hacking of Emails

Forensic evidence suggests Russian intelligence agencies were behind the release of 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee, reports the New York Times. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager argued that the emails were leaked “by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” The emails, released first by a supposed hacker and later by WikiLeaks, exposed the degree to which the Democratic apparatus favored Hillary Clinton over her primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and triggered the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, on the eve of the convention’s first day. Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult. But researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyber-operations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year.

Economic News

Consumer confidence held steady in July despite increased market volatility after the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union. A closely watched index of Americans’ perceptions of the economy and labor market dipped marginally to a still-solid 97.3 from a downwardly revised 97.4 last month, the Conference Board said Tuesday. Consumers’ view of present conditions improved while their short-term outlook worsened slightly. The measure had bounced back sharply in June after two straight drops. Consumers are benefiting from low gasoline prices, reduced household debt and solid job growth. Consumer confidence can be an indicator of spending, which makes up the majority of economic activity and was surprisingly strong in the second quarter.

Summer gas prices haven’t been this cheap since 2004 — and there are growing signs they could slip even lower. Cheap gas is being fueled by sub-$50 oil prices. But there’s another hidden force at play: a serious oversupply problem. It seems that the well-chronicled glut in crude oil has spread to gasoline and other products. Despite the fact that it’s the heart of summer driving season, the U.S. is sitting on 241 million barrels of gasoline in storage. That’s the highest level for this time of the year since the government began tracking this metric in 1990. Nationwide, average gas prices dropped to $2.18 a gallon on Friday, according to AAA. That compares with $2.32 a gallon last month and about $2.75 this time last summer. Crude crumbled to three-month lows of $42.36 a barrel on Tuesday. That leaves oil down 12% in July.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index posted 5% annual growth in May, the same as in April. It marked the fourth straight month of flat or falling home prices on an annual basis after a long string of increases. Portland, Ore., Seattle and Denver continued their lead among the 20 cities, while former front runners such as San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles lost some steam. Existing home sales also maintained a robust growth, according to figures released last week. The annual rate climbed to 5.57 million in June, the highest since February 2007.

Seven of the 10 metro areas with the nation’s highest concentrations of manufacturing jobs had unemployment rates below the 4.7% national rate in May, the latest local data available, according to figures from the Labor Department, Wells Fargo and Moody’s Analytics. The overall U.S. rate was 4.9% in June. Buffeted by automation and foreign imports that decimated the country’s manufacturing payrolls, employment in these communities is likely to remain well below pre-recession levels.  But at least the towns are growing jobs once again. Factories have been helped by the housing and auto recoveries, and they are now trying to diversify their industrial bases. Manufacturers are competing against cheaper imports by automating some functions and providing better quality and service.

Israel

In the latest indication that efforts to isolate Israel diplomatically are failing, a delegation of political and business leaders from Saudi Arabia were in Jerusalem on Friday to openly declare their interest in deepening ties with the Jewish State. However, during their meetings with Israeli leaders they made it clear that moves towards normalized ties would only come following a resolution of the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians. Despite its unofficial and low-key nature, the visit was widely reported on in the Arab world and roundly condemned by a few governments and most terrorist organizations.

Islamic State

The deadly tentacles of ISIS have spread quickly from the terrorist group’s epicenter in Iraq and Syria to points around the globe. Since declaring its caliphate in June 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has conducted or inspired more than 125 terrorist attacks in 27 countries other than Iraq and Syria, where its carnage has taken a much deadlier toll. Those attacks have killed at least 1,767 people and injured thousands more.

Iraq

Terror once again struck the streets of Iraq’s capital Sunday, after a suicide bombing killed at least 21 people in a residential neighborhood in northern Baghdad. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya, which also injured more than 35 others. Sunday’s attack came just weeks after the deadliest terror attack in war-weary Baghdad in years, when a suicide truck bomb plowed into a busy shopping district killing almost 300 people. Analysts say this demonstration of the terror group’s capacity to strike at the heart of the capital may force a delay of the long-awaited government push to retake the northern city of Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.

Germany

One person is dead and at least 10 hurt after an explosion at a restaurant/bar Sunday night in Ansbach, Germany. Authorities say the attacker, a 27-year-old Syrian who was denied asylum, died in the blast when the device he was carrying exploded. Carda Seidel, the mayor of Ansbach, told reporters Sunday that the blast was deliberate, the Guardian reported. The blast took place outside of a popular music festival. Ansbach is a community near Nuremberg. About 2,000 people were evacuated from the nearby, open-air music festival, the BBC reported. The Islamic State claims responsibility for suicide attack in Ansbach, Germany. The Syrian suicide bomber left behind a video on a mobile phone pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and said he was engaging in an act of revenge against Germans, Last Friday, nine people died during a shooting rampage in Munich and a week ago, several people were hurt during an ax attack on board a train in Wurzberg.

  • The free and open welcome Germany gave to Islamic migrants is turning deadly

Turkey

Turkish authorities issued warrants on Monday for the detention of 42 journalists and took 31 academics into custody, official media reported, as the government pressed ahead with a crackdown against people allegedly linked to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric following a failed coup. Security officials also conducted a raid against the military’s Istanbul-based War Academy, detaining 40 people. Prosecutors requested their detention to shed light on the coup plot and the warrants are not related to their “journalistic activities, but possible criminal conduct,” a senior official in Erdogan’s office said in a text message sent to foreign media. The government declared a three-month state of emergency and detained more than 13,000 people in the military, judiciary and other institutions following the foiled coup.

France

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a French church Tuesday in which an elderly priest was killed and four hostages seized during mass. The two attackers, whom the terror group described as “soldiers,” according to the Associated Press, were later shot and killed by police. Another person inside the church, near the Normandy city of Rouen, was seriously injured. The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency made the claim of the militants’ involvement, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremist online activity. However, it was not clear whether the assailants had direct contact with the terror group.

Somalia

Two suicide bombers detonated explosives-laden cars on Tuesday outside the U.N. Mine Action Service offices and a Somali army checkpoint in Mogadishu, killing 13 people, including seven U.N. guards, Somali police officials said. The two blasts took place near the African Union base. Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to the group’s Andalus radio station. Unlike previous attacks by al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, gunmen did not accompany the suicide bomber. Unlike previous attacks by al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, gunmen did not accompany the suicide bomber, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein. The first suicide car bomber tried to speed through the barrier at the U.N. office but guards shot at the car. A second suicide blast targeted a checkpoint manned by Somali security forces near the African Union base in Mogadishu.

Japan

At least 19 are dead and 26 injured Tuesday after a former employee of a care facility for mentally disabled people near Tokyo allegedly broke into the facility early Tuesday and went room to room stabbing patients with a knife. He was arrested without incident after he turned himself in at a police station nearby, according to Kyodo News Service. The apparently disturbed man had earlier warned authorities that he might carry out the attack, according to police and local news media. It is one of the worst mass killings in Japan since World War II. Police said the man, identified as Satoshi Uematsu, told them “I did it,” and “It’s better that the disabled disappear,” according to Kyodo. According to police, Uematsu delivered a handwritten letter to the official residence of the House of Representatives speaker in February, at about the time he left his job for personal reasons, in which he suggested that he was planning to kill people at the facility. He indicated the attack would take place at night, when fewer staff were on duty. Uematsu was hospitalized until March on the grounds that he was a threat to others; no further details on his condition or why he was released were available Tuesday.

Mexico

Two mayors were killed Saturday in Mexico. The Saturday slayings took place hundreds of miles apart and were apparently unrelated. But a group representing Mexico’s mayors isn’t waiting for more details about the attacks before it calls on government officials to take action. In a statement Sunday, the National Association of Mayors said Mexico’s government should create a system for providing stepped up security for local officials in light of the killings. Since 2006, when Mexico’s government began a crackdown on cartels and violence surged in some parts of the country, 40 mayors have been killed, according to the association.

Environment

A huge toxic algae bloom in Utah has closed one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River, sickening more than 100 people and leaving farmers scrambling for clean water for days during the hottest part of the year. The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae has spread rapidly to cover almost all of 150-square-mile Utah Lake, turning the water bright, anti-freeze green with a pea soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore. “It smells like something is rotting,” said Jason Garrett, water quality director for the Utah County Health Department. “We don’t have an idea of how long this event will last.” Toxic algae is a problem around the country. An enormous outbreak in Florida is now fouling beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area without tap water for two days. The lake is largely fed by treated wastewater as well as agricultural runoff, said Erica Gaddis, assistant director for the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Wildfires

Flames raced down a steep Southern California hillside “like a freight train,” forcing crews to evacuate another 10,000 homes by Monday as a wildfire raged through tinder-dry canyons there. The fire has destroyed at least 18 homes in northern Los Angeles County. It gained ferocious new power two days after it broke out, sending so much smoke in the air that planes making drops on it had to be grounded for part of the day Sunday. Fire officials said they’ve ordered about 20,000 residents to leave their homes. Officials said late Sunday that the blaze had burned through at least 57 square miles of brush north of Los Angeles — but that number is expected to jump Monday when better assessment is done at daylight. It’s just 10 percent contained. A burned body was discovered Saturday in an area northeast of Los Angeles Saturday. Thousands of evacuees were allowed to return to their homes just north of Los Angeles Monday night after more than 33,000 acres were scorched.

As of Monday, 31,790 wildfires have burned 3 million acres of land in the U.S. However, that is less than the 10-year average for this date (43,662 wildfires, 3.7 million acres) and much less than last year at this time (34,287 wildfires, 5.5 million acres.

Weather

Six heat-related deaths have been reported as dangerously high temperatures continue to scorch portions of the Eastern U.S. where heat advisories remain in effect into Monday. Cody Flom, 12, suffered a fatal heat stroke while hiking at the Sonoran Mountain Preserve in Phoenix on Friday, where temperatures soared to a sweltering 111 degrees. Heat indexes well over 100 degrees are expected across dozens of states in the nation’s central and eastern portions, the National Weather Service forecasts. A heat index, or the “feels like” temperature, combines the effects of temperature and humidity on the human body. Temperatures also could reach the century mark Monday afternoon in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Tropical Storm Darby hammered Hawaii with torrential downpours overnight Sunday and into Monday morning, but the island chain escaped relatively unscathed as the storm passed Monday afternoon. In just three hours’ time overnight Sunday, Darby dumped as much as 7 inches of rain on eastern Oahu. That led to ponding along Interstate H-1 near Honolulu, and the city’s police department asked drivers to stay off the roads until the flooding subsided. The heavy rains kept city crews busy dealing with numerous sewage spills across Oahu — including 42,000 gallons at the Kailua Wastewater Treatment Plant and 1,000 gallons near the Ala Moana Shopping Center. The rains also flooded Kalihi Stream on Oahu, creating a muddy scene on Dillingham Boulevard at a major intersection.

At least seven people have died and 1.2 million others were displaced from their homes in India’s northeastern state of Assam after heavy monsoon rains and flooding inundated the country. Army soldiers rescued thousands of people using boats. Many residents were stranded on the roofs of their homes and had to be taken to a safe location. Much of Assam is under water after the Brahmaputra and its tributaries breached their banks, with 18 of the state’s districts affected. Large chunks of main roads and highways have been washed away. District officials said more than 200 relief camps have been set up for flood victims.

Signs of the Times (7/22/16)

July 23, 2016

Atheists Try to Stop Schools from Visiting Ken Ham’s Ark

The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent letters to more than 1,000 school districts, warning them of the unconstitutionality of allowing students to visit Ken Ham’s newly-opened Ark Encounter. According to EAGnews.com, the FFRF sent the letters to school districts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio. The group claims that a public school field trip to the Ark Encounter, which is a life-size, interactive replica of Noah’s Ark, would “violate the Constitution and the First Amendment.” Schools are in danger of facing lawsuits because of the FFRF’s warning. Many schools fear incurring large legal costs, even if they were to defy the FFRF and win a lawsuit.

Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, and the head of Ark Encounter, offered to admit schoolchildren into the Ark for $1 and teachers for free. Admission is normally $40. Ham also issued a statement in response to the letters sent by the FFRF: “On the basis of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, public schools are absolutely free to take students on field trips (with appropriate parental permissions) to facilities like the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, provided they are for historical, recreational, or educational purposes. FFRF has no right (and no legal basis whatsoever) to intimidate government-run schools.”

Bangladesh: Thousands of Muslims Converting to Christianity Despite Persecution

Despite persecution, more and more Muslims are converting to Christianity in Bangladesh, a Muslim-dominated country. According to The Christian Post, Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population. However, the number of Christian converts is rising. Human rights organization Christian Freedom International estimates that as many as 91,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity in the country over the last six years. There are now estimated to be 1.6 million Christians in the country, which has a total population of 165 million. Christian converts know that persecution will likely follow their conversions. Sometimes, it is obvious persecution such as physical violence, torture, or rape, but sometimes the persecution is less obvious. Conversion is not forbidden by law, but pressure to recant the Christian faith will be exerted by family, friends, and neighbors. There have been several reports of Christians having to give up their shops or businesses due to the pressure by the Muslim majority.

  • It’s not despite persecution, it’s because of persecution which is how the gospel has spread from the very beginning.

40-Nation Summit Plans Next Moves against Islamic State

An unprecedented 40-nation summit on combating the Islamic State focused Thursday on bolstering the military campaign against the extremist group and countering propaganda it spreads to recruit fighters from around the world. “We are engaged in a historic effort,” Secretary of State John Kerry said of the anti-Islamic State coalition. “Nothing like this coalition has ever before been assembled. We’re not following a manual on anti-terror activities. We’re writing it.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the meeting is the first held together with both foreign and defense ministers. “We now have momentum on the ground with clear results,” Carter said, “And this week we’re making further plans, clear commitments to help us destroy” the Islamic State. Countering the Islamic State in the future will require greater sharing of intelligence and information, so police and border guards of coalition countries, Kerry said.

Islamic State Threatens Israeli/American Athletes at Olympics

As the world’s attention begins to focus on Rio, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Islamist terrorist groups have issued a call for “lone wolf” attacks at the Games against athletes and tourists from Western countries, including Israel. “One small knife attack against Americans/Israelis in these places will have bigger media effect than any other attacks anywhere else in sha Allah,” said one social media post on a jihadist site. “Your chance to take part in the global Jihad is here! Your chance to be a martyr is here!”

Terrorist Truck Driver in Nice, France had Accomplices

Terrorist truck driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had been planning the Nice attack for months and had at least five accomplices, reports the USA Today. The suspected accomplices were four men and one woman and are now in custody in Nice and were indicted Thursday on various terrorism charges. While none of the accomplices was known to intelligence agents for ties to Islamic radicalism, one of them — identified as Franco-Tunisian Ramzi A. — had been charged six times for other crimes, ranging from theft to violence, NBCNews reports. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Bouhlel “benefited from support and complicity” and regularly communicated with the five suspects arrested Thursday, sending a text to one on April 4 that read: “Load the truck with 2000 tons of iron, cut the brake and I’ll watch you.”

Russia Bombs U.S. Base in Syria

Russian warplanes reportedly bombed a secret military base in Syria used by elite American and British forces last month. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Russian strike on the CIA-linked site was part of a campaign by Russia to pressure the White House to agree to closer cooperation in the Syrian skies, U.S. military and intelligence officials said. Despite the attack, the U.S. and Russia agreed to a pact last week to target airstrikes against the Al Qaeda affiliate in the region – Nusra Front – despite objections from the Pentagon and CIA. Russia agreed to stop airstrikes on U.S.-backed rebels and restrain the Syrian air campaign. The two sides are still talking about designations where Russia would need U.S. approval to conduct an airstrike. Officials in the Pentagon and CIA contend that Washington bowed to Moscow in the deal and believe that the U.S. needs to confront Russia., the WSJ reports.

Texas Voter-ID Law Struck Down by Federal Court

A federal court ruled Wednesday that Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act prohibition on racial discrimination in elections. In its 9-6 ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 2011 voter ID law makes it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote, and asked a district court to make changes to the law before the general election in November. “The district court must ensure that any remedy enacted ameliorates [the law’s] discriminatory effect, while respecting the legislature’s stated objective to safeguard the integrity of elections by requiring more secure forms of voter identification,” the court said. The law, Senate Bill 14, requires voters to present proof of identification, including a state driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. passport, an election ID certificate, a military ID card, a concealed handgun license or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

  • We need a license to drive but we can vote without proof of citizenship?

Migrant Update

An estimated 2,977 migrants and refugees have died trying reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, the International Organization for Migration, a watchdog, said Friday. The figure represents an increase of about 50% over last year at a similar time. It will soon be the third straight year in a row that fatalities have exceeded 3,000 and much earlier than the two prior years when it took to September and October, respectively, to reach that dreadful mark. Overall, an estimated 242,179 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea in 2016, mostly via Italy and Greece. The vast majority of all the fatalities occurred on the treacherous route between Libya and Italy, said IOM spokesman Joel Millman. He said that the flows of migrants on the safer, shorter route between Turkey and Greece “have almost disappeared.”

Persecution Watch

A recent poll found that the majority of Americans want the major presidential candidates–Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump–to address the issue Christian persecution. ChristianToday.com reports that the Harris poll was commissioned by Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors Christian persecution around the world. The poll found that 76 percent of respondents said they agreed to the following statement: “It is important to me that the next US President be committed to addressing the persecution that some Christians face around the world (e.g., imprisonment, beheadings, rape, loss of home and assets).” Back in March, the U.S. officially declared ISIS atrocities against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East to be genocide. Hillary Clinton also acknowledged that “we now have enough evidence” to label the persecution of minorities in the Middle East “genocide.” David Curry, the president and CEO of Open Doors, stated: “Persecution of Christians, as well as adherents of other faiths, has grown exponentially in recent years. Governments are clamping down on religious freedom of expression, causing millions to face displacement, harassment, imprisonment, beatings and even death.”

Economic News

The U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of $19,402,361,890,929.46 as of July 20th, according to the Economic Collapse website.  When Barack Obama first entered the White House, the federal government was only 10.6 trillion dollars in debt.  That means that we have added an average of 1.1 trillion dollars a year to the national debt under Obama, who is on track to be the first president in all of U.S. history to not have a single year when the U.S. economy grew by 3 percent or better. At this point, our national debt is more than 30 times larger than it was just 40 years ago. The U.S. government is responsible for about a third of all the government debt in the entire world.

Corporate debt is exploding, on track to hit $75 trillion in the next four years from $51 trillion now, reports Money and Markets. The surge stems from $38 trillion in refinance volume and $24 trillion in fresh debt. Corporate Debt is now $5 trillion more than Standard & Poor’s most recent projection. It’s coming even as the percentage of companies considered “highly leveraged” soars, and as previous borrowers are defaulting on their bonds at a rate not seen since the Great Recession. More than 100 companies reneged on their debts in 2016 so far, up 50% from a year ago and the most since 2009.

Even with the peak travel season in full swing, gasoline prices are stuck in reverse. Gas prices have plunged to their lowest July level in 12 years, according to AAA, even as Americans are racking up more miles. In fact, gas prices have dropped in 39 out of the last 40 days, lopping 20 cents a gallon off in total during that span, according to AAA. World “petro-politics” is the cause. Leaders in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top oil producers, have held down prices to dampen production in other nations, including the resurgent oil industry in the U.S. Amid a global glut of oil inventories that has kept oil prices below $50 per barrel for most of 2016, the national average price of gas dropped to $2.19 on Thursday, marking its lowest average for this time of year since 2004.

It’s been one month since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union and British businesses are already taking a major hit. An early reading of factory and services activity in July revealed the sharpest decline in output since the height of the global financial crisis in 2007-09. Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, called the plunge “a dramatic deterioration in the economy.” The group’s flash purchasing managers index, which tracks the whole economy, slumped sharply to its lowest level in more than seven years. Output and new orders both fell for the first time since the end of 2012.

U.S. antitrust officials announced Thursday the intent to block Anthem’s planned $48 billion purchase of Cigna, as well as Aetna’s planned $34 billion purchase of Humana. The Department of Justice filed the lawsuits on Thursday, alleging the mergers would badly hurt competition in the industry. In a mid-morning press conference, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said if the deals were to proceed, American consumers would suffer. “They would leave much of the multi-trillion-dollar health insurance industry in the hands of three mammoth insurance companies, and restricting companies, and restricting competition in key markets,” she said. In a statement to FOXBusiness.com, Anthem said, “Today’s action by the Department of Justice is an unfortunate and misguided step backwards for access to affordable healthcare for America.”

U.K./E.U.

Britain will not start exit talks with the European Union until “our objectives are clear” — and that won’t be this year, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday, at her first meeting with an EU leader as the U.K. begins the long, uncertain process of leaving the bloc. May met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, on her first foreign trip as Britain’s leader. At a joint news conference, the two women conveyed a desire to work together but exhibited little sense of urgency, or even a concrete idea of how the complex divorce process will play out. May said Britain won’t invoke Article 50 of the EU constitution, triggering formal exit talks, this year. “All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations,” she said.

Islamic State

Iraq’s military and U.S.-backed opposition forces in Syria are advancing on the Islamic State’s key strongholds. “It’s fair to say we have the initiative,” Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top coalition commander, said Iraqi forces in recent weeks have made rapid advances toward the city of Mosul, while U.S.-backed opposition forces in northern Syria are advancing on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital. MacFarland and other top leaders acknowledge that tough fighting lies ahead. Both cities are home to thousands of civilians, and the U.S.-backed forces will face a complex urban battlefield, making it difficult to use airstrikes against the militants. Commanders declined to predict a timeline, but any final assault is at least still months away.

Turkey

Turkey on Wednesday intensified a sweeping crackdown on the media, the military, the courts and the education system following an attempted coup, targeting tens of thousands of teachers and other state employees for dismissal in a purge that raised concerns about basic freedoms and the effectiveness of key institutions. The Turkish government focused in particular on teachers suspected of backing Friday’s failed uprising, taking steps to revoke the licenses of 21,000 teachers at private schools and sacking or detaining half a dozen university presidents. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers run a worldwide network of schools, of fomenting the insurrection, which was quashed by security forces and protesters loyal to the government. Turkey’s government declared a three-month state of emergency Wednesday.Tthe aftermath last week’s failed coup may have damaged the U.S. ally’s ability to help fight the Islamic State, analysts said Thursday.

  • Some observers allege that President Erdogan staged the attempted coup himself in order to lay the groundwork for a more authoritarian government

Afghanistan

At least 61 people were killed and more than 200 injured Saturday when suicide bombers attacked a large demonstration in the Afghan capital of Kabul, according to officials and media reports. The demonstration was organized by ethnic Hazaras demanding that a major regional power line be rerouted through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni. The privately owned Afghan TOLOnews reported that the extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility online for the attack, saying two of its fighters detonated explosive belts during the march. The news network also quoted an unidentified high-ranking Afghan security official as saying the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was behind the attack, and that security forces killed a third bomber before he could detonate another explosive.

Germany

Germany authorities said Saturday that the 18-year-old German-Iranian who killed nine people and himself in a shooting spree acted alone and had no connection to international terrorism, but did display a fascination with mass killings. Police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters Saturday there were indications the gunman suffered from depression. He added that the shooter, who was born in Munich and held dual German-Iranian citizenship. Andrae said the shooter’s parents came to Germany in the late 1990s as asylum seekers. Authorities said there was no apparent motive for Friday’s attack by the teenage gunman whose name was not released.  The dead included three “youngsters,” police said. Three people among the 27 injured in the attack remained in critical condition. The shooting began Friday evening outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the northern section of Munich and later erupted at the Olympia shopping mall. The gunman sent out online invitations about a bogus free giveaway to attract more people to the site of the attack, investigators said.

Nigeria

A humanitarian catastrophe is underway in northeastern Nigeria’s war-torn Borno State, where at least 500,000 people are in urgent need of food, medical care, water, and shelter, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned Thursday. As the Nigerian army regains control of towns and villages in the conflict with Boko Haram, the extent of the emergency is becoming more apparent. Many people have been cut off from the outside world for as long as two years. Displaced people now living in towns controlled by the military are entirely dependent on outside aid and many are suffering from malnutrition due to insufficient food supplies. “Aid agencies must deploy a massive relief operation to respond to this humanitarian emergency,” said Dr. Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations.

China

There have been a number of anti-U.S. protests in China over the outcome of a United Nations tribunal that ruled against Beijing in its spat with the Philippines over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese nationalists have protested at KFC outlets and called for boycotts of the fast-food chain while photos and video circulating online and on social media show people wearing scarves and banners with patriotic slogans smashing Apple iPhones in protest. The case against China was brought by U.S. ally the Philippines but the protesters’ public anger has been fueled in part by Chinese government accusations that Washington encouraged Manila to oppose Beijing’s claims to the vast tracts of ocean.

Environment

Several Southern California beaches remained closed Thursday after more than two million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the streets of Los Angeles earlier this week. A buried pipe collapsed near the downtown area on Monday, causing a blockage and spill of 2.4 million gallons of foul-smelling sewage that poured into streets and storm drains that feed into the Los Angeles River which empties into Long Beach Harbor 20 miles downstream. About 4 miles of coastline in Long Beach and a mile in neighboring Seal Beach have been closed. Health officials must record two consecutive days of test results showing the beaches are safe before they can be reopened.

Wildfires

Flames lit up the evening sky as a wildfire marched across hillsides north of Los Angeles, blackening thousands of acres, fire officials said Friday. The fire also created a huge cloud of smoke that wafted across the metropolis. As of 9:45 p.m. PT Friday, the fire had burned 3,327 acres, the Los Angeles County Fire Department reported. The Sand Fire broke out in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles as afternoon temperatures neared 100 degrees. The wildfire was burning through heavy brush on hillsides tinder dry from a subpar year for rain in Southern California. It broke out along the Antelope Valley Freeway. The orange flames were visible from Los Angeles’ upscale west side.

A wildfire raging just south of Anchorage, Alaska, is inching toward homes after closing the only highway leading south out of the city to all but one lane for a 5-mile stretch. An increase in winds late Monday night and early Tuesday caused the 600-acre McHugh fire to flare up, sending rocks and burning debris onto the Seward Highway. A pilot car had been leading traffic on the highway between Mileposts 108 and 113. The fire was just over a mile away from Potter Valley and homes in Rainbow Valley late Tuesday afternoon.

Weather

A massive dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere is gripping the nation’s midsection this week with dangerously hot temperatures and high humidity. The National Weather Service issued heat alerts for more than a dozen states in the central U.S., from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin to Louisiana on Wednesday. For the first time in at least a decade, portions of the nation’s three largest metro areas — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — were all under heat wave alerts Friday morning. Other big cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix and Minneapolis were also under heat watches, warnings or advisories. Washington, D.C., could join that list Saturday. In all, 122 million Americans in 26 states were under heat alerts, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will approach or surpass 100 degrees over a large area Friday. Combined with an extremely humid air mass this will result in dangerous heat indices well above 100 degrees and even as high as 115 degrees for some areas.

Strong storms clobbered Iowa Tuesday with heavy rain, leaving thousands without power and flooding roadways in Des Moines. The slow-moving cluster of thunderstorms dumped extremely heavy rainfall over parts of Iowa, prompting the National Weather Service to issue flash flood warnings, as roadways became flooded and impassable, and rivers and streams overflowed their banks. At least two reported tornadoes were spotted, but no damage was reported.

At least 154 people have died and 124 are left missing in northern China due to some of the region’s worst flooding in years, officials said Saturday. The deluge was triggered by torrential rain that led to landslides and destroyed homes across the country. A majority of the fatalities were reported in the northern province of Hebei. The provincial Department of Civil Affairs announced 114 people had been killed and 111 others were missing. In the city of Xingtai, 25 people were killed and another 13 were missing. The Xingtai village of Daxian was swamped by a flash flood early Wednesday as residents were asleep. Eight people, including three children, were killed and another was missing in the flood. Authorities blamed extraordinary rainfall and a failure of a river levee near the village for the sudden water surge.

Signs of the Times (7/19/16)

July 19, 2016

Baton Rough Killer Ambushed Police Officers

The man who fatally shot three law enforcement officers here and wounded three others before being killed by the police on Sunday morning “was targeting officers,” state police officials said Monday. “Our preliminary investigation shows that he definitely ambushed those officers,” Lt. J.B. Slaton, a public affairs commander for the Louisiana State Police, said in a phone interview Monday morning with the New York Times. Like the gunman who killed five police officers more than a week ago in Dallas, Mr. Long had served abroad in the military. On Sunday night, about half a dozen police vehicles went racing up the quiet tree-lined street in Kansas City, that is listed as his address. The officers blocked off the street — ordering reporters out of the area and advising neighbors to stay indoors. An unidentified man emerged from the house voluntarily and was taken into custody.

The Louisiana gunman who shot at a half-dozen Baton Rouge police officers Sunday, killing three of them, reportedly assumed an outspoken persona online who railed against the police and the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Law enforcement sources told The Advocate that Gavin Eugene Long’s military records matches that of a so-called “spiritual advisor,” life coach and author named Cosmo Setepenra. Long served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years, starting in 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, according to The Advocate. The paper reported that he posted a video in a YouTube series called Convos with Cosmos titled “Protesting, Oppression and how to deal with Bullies,” where he talked about Sterling’s death and the protests that came after it. “If y’all wanna keep protesting, do that, but for the serious ones, the real ones, the alpha ones, we know what it’s going to take,” Setepenra said. “Revenue and blood. Nothing else.”

Police Officer Deaths from Guns Up 72%

The shooting deaths of three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday pushed the number of law enforcement fatalities past a tragic benchmark. As of Sunday, 31 law enforcement officers were shot to death in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which keeps data on officers killed on the job. That’s up 72% from this time last year, when there were 18 gun-related deaths. In total, firearms were responsible for 41 of 123 officer fatalities in 2015, according to the memorial fund, but it was not the No. 1 cause of death. Traffic-related incidents, such as automobile and motorcycle crashes, caused 48 deaths. Things such as drownings, electrocutions, falls and fire-related incidents led to 34 additional deaths.

Thousands of Christians Flood the Nation’s Capital to Pray for Our Nation

In the sweltering summer heat, thousands of Christians gathered near the Washington Monument on Saturday to pray for a “broken” America. Nick Hall, a young evangelical Christian and leader of the Pulse ministry, organized the event to encourage young Christians to unite in prayer for the problems in the world and then take action, the Religion News Service reports. “We believe #JesusChangesEverything,” the organizers said. The hashtag became a trending topic on Twitter during the event. “We believe there’s power in coming together. Jesus promised whenever two or more come together in His name, He is present. It’s emboldening to join with others, to know we’re not alone, to realize we can do more together than apart.” Speakers at the event avoided talking too much about politics. Instead, they focused on praying for an end to violence and suffering, and restored protections for the vulnerable all across the world.

Christian Billboard Taken Down in Favor of Atheist Billboard at Republican Convention

A Christian-themed billboard at the Republican National Convention has been rejected, and an atheist billboard has been approved in its place at the Quicken Loans Arena. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the billboard was to feature the Christian film “God’s Not Dead 2,” which is soon to be released to DVD. The proposed billboard would have featured a picture of actress Melissa Joan Hart, who plays the lead character in the film, along with the words, “I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.” The billboard company Orange Barrel Media initially seemed set to approve the billboard but just days before the convention they told Pure Flix, the distributor of the film, that the billboard has been rejected because its message is “too political” and “way too incendiary.” The convention will, however, feature a billboard sponsored by the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation featuring a picture of Ronald Reagan and the quote, “We establish no religion in this country… Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”

Republicans Adopt Most Pro-Life Platform Ever

On a voice vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio today, GOP delegates from every state and territory in the nation adopted what pro-life advocates consider to be the strongest pro-life platform the Republican party has ever adopted, reports LifeNews.com. Historically, the party has been a champion for the right to life, with its platform recognizing “that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” The new platform calls for an end to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and a ban on the use of aborted babies’ body parts in research. The new GOP platform also would condemn the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet basic health and safety standards. It also calls for new Supreme Court judges who will reverse the decision and uphold the right to life for unborn babies, the report states.

Pastor Warns That Pokémon Go is ‘Magnet for Demonic Powers’

Pokémon Go has become the new craze. Kids and adults alike have been playing the game which involves using the Pokémon Go app to find Pokémon characters in real-life places. While some believe the game is simply a fun way to spend time, a number of Christians have warned that it may pose more serious dangers. There have already been game-related fatalities. U.S. pastor Rick Wiles, who runs the Trunews website, believes the game is also dangerous on a spiritual level, noting that the game “is a magnet for demonic powers.” Wiles added that “these Pokémon creatures are like virtual cyber-demons.”

McDonalds and Starbucks Now Filtering Its Wi-Fi for Porn

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation partnered with Enough is Enough on its campaign to get McDonalds and Starbucks to filter their public Wi-Fi to prevent public access to pornography. In the first quarter of 2016, McDonald’s began to implement its new filtered Wi-Fi policy in its corporate-owned restaurants in the U.S., and made the same service available to their franchisees. “This policy change to offer filtered Wi-Fi is a huge victory,” NCOSE said. “Now the majority of McDonald’s restaurants will offer safer Wi-Fi for their patrons and will no longer be contributing to the public health crisis of pornography.”

Update on Attack in Nice

There is no evidence linking the truck driver who killed 84 people in Nice with the Islamic State despite the group’s claim that the attacker was a “soldier” for the organization, France’s interior minister said Monday. While Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in Nice, may have been inspired by the terrorist network any “links for now have not been established by the investigation.” Meanwhile, Bouhlel’s uncle told the Associated Press that his nephew was indoctrinated about two weeks ago by an Algerian member of the Islamic State in Nice. Nearly 60 people remain hospitalized after the attack last Thursday, 29 of them in intensive care. More than 300 people were injured overall. The French government has come under pressure for failing to thwart the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months.

Even though Muslims were among those killed and wounded by the rampaging truck in Nice, many Muslims now fear that their entire community will be the target of blame, just as French Muslims were victims of hate crimes following two terror attacks in Paris in January and November 2015. “Life in Nice won’t be the same again,” said Nora Louzgani, 20, a university student from Morocco who was one of the thousands of celebrants on the waterfront when the truck drove over people for more than a mile before police shot the Muslim driver.

More Young Adults Now Live with Parents

Living with mom and dad is now the most popular housing choice for 18 to 34-year Americans, according to Pew Research. This is the first time that has happened since the U.S. Census started keeping records about living arrangements over 130 years ago. “Any stigma that used to exist isn’t there anymore,” says Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew. The “live at home” trend is especially popular among men under 35. A whopping 35% of young adult men in America now live with their parent(s), versus just 29% of young women. Young men are delaying marriage and all the usual trappings that come with it like home buying and kids. The main reason? Money, or the lack of it. “Men who don’t have jobs are much more likely to live at home,” says Parker, and “men without jobs are much less likely to be married.”

Economic News

U.S. consumer prices increased for a fourth straight month in June as Americans paid more for housing, gasoline and healthcare, pointing to steadily rising inflation pressures. The Labor Department said on Friday its Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in May. In the 12 months through June, the CPI advanced 1.0 percent. The year-on-year increase remains below the 1.7 percent average annual increase over the last 10 years. The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, also rose 0.2 percent in June, rising by the same margin for three consecutive months. That lifted the year-on-year core CPI gain to 2.3 percent from 2.2 percent in May. This increase is slightly higher than the average annual rate of 1.9 percent over the past 10 years.

Housing starts and building permits improved modestly in June, as the housing market continued a slow but steady recovery. New-home construction jumped 4.8% in June to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.189 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Building permits increased 1.5 % to 1.15 million, heralding future gains in starts. Home prices and sales both grew at solid paces in recent months. The median home value in the United States is $186,100. United States home values have gone up 5.4% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 2.9% within the next year.

The global economy is expected to grow a bit more slowly than expected because of the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday. The IMF attributed its surprisingly mild downward revision despite the so-called Brexit vote to better-than-expected world growth so far this year and the Fund’s assumption that the uncertainty fomented by the decision will gradually ebb. It also pointed to the sharp rebound in financial markets following an initial post- Brexit sell-off. The agency expects global growth of 3.1% this year and 3.4% in 2017. The U.S. economy is expected to be largely unaffected by Brexit as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates lower for longer.

Persecution Watch

Christians in central Egypt gathered for protests and prayers Monday after officials said a Muslim mob attacked priests with knives and batons, leaving one person dead in the chaos. The fighting may have stemmed from an argument over whether Christian or Muslim children had priority to pass through a street, the English-language site Ahram Online reported. The attack came months after an armed Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman and paraded her naked on the streets while looting and torching seven Christian homes in the same area, security officials said. Three people, including the father of one of the priests, were wounded, investigators said. Police arrested four people after the attack. Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population.

Islamic State

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility Saturday for inspiring the truck attack in the French resort city of Nice as police detained five people thought to be linked to the man who killed 84 people and wounded more than 200 others. The Islamic State did not refer to the suspect by name, saying only that a “soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens in “Crusader states.”

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an ax and knife rampage on a German commuter train that injured at least five people, the group said in a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency Tuesday. The statement said the attacker, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was a member of the Islamic State group and carried out the attack in response to its calls to attack countries that are members of an anti-Islamic State coalition. The assailant was shot dead by police as he fled the scene.

Syria

Airstrikes on Islamic State-held villages in northern Syria killed at least 56 civilians on Tuesday as intense fighting was underway between the militants and U.S-backed fighters, Syrian opposition activists said. Residents in the area blamed the U.S.-led coalition for the strikes that targeted two villages, Tokhar and Hoshariyeh, which are controlled by the Islamic State, activists said. The villages are near the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij, a town that members of the predominantly Kurdish U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces have been trying to capture in a weeks-long offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 56 civilians, including 11 children, were killed in the strikes on the villages, which also wounded dozens.

Turkey

Government forces crushed a coup attempt, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday. Erdogan vowed retribution after a chaotic night of clashes between loyalists and rebels that left over 200 people dead. Erdogan said the coup’s supporters — rogue elements in the military — would “pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey” and that “those who stain the military’s reputation must leave. Turkey has detained about 6,000 people in a government crackdown on alleged coup plotters and government opponents, the Justice Ministry announced Sunday. Turkish authorities moved to widen their purge of perceived opponents on Monday by removing thousands of police officers from their posts. Turkey’s ministry of education announced Tuesday it sacked 15,200 personnel, including 1,577 university deans, for alleged involvement with a group the government claims plotted Friday’s deadly failed coup, in the latest mass crackdown against government workers there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup attempt and he called for his extradition Saturday Political instability in Turkey, a NATO member and critical U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism, could pose a setback for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and sermons blaring from speakers continue to echo throughout the cosmopolitan districts of Istanbul in the wake of Friday’s failed military coup, creating a “surreal” scene and stoking fears a nation that remained proudly secular for the last century could be hurtling down the path to full-blown Islamic rule, reports FoxNews.com.

Iran

Key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will start to ease years before the 15-year accord expires, advancing Tehran’s ability to build a bomb even before the end of the pact, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press. The diplomat who shared the text with the AP described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal in the form of a document submitted by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining its plans to expand its uranium enrichment program after the first 10 years of the nuclear deal.

Two days before the anniversary of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, the Islamic Republic attempted to launch a new type of ballistic missile using North Korean technology, multiple intelligence officials told Fox News. The test, in violation of a UN resolution, failed shortly after liftoff when the missile exploded, sources said. The effort occurred on the evening of July 11-12 near the Iranian city of Saman, an hour west of Isfahan, where Iran has conducted similar ballistic missile tests in the past. It would be at least the fourth time Iran has launched or attempted to launch a ballistic missile since the nuclear accord was signed on July 14, 2015. Iran is barred from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years under UN Resolution 2231, which went effect July 20, 2015, days after the nuclear accord was signed.

Armenia

A group of armed men took over a police station in the Armenian capital Yerevan Sunday, taking an unknown number of people hostage. The armed group showed up in trucks ramming through the gates of the police headquarters and took control of the building Sunday morning. The armed men demanded the release of Jirair Sefilian, an opposition leader and former military official, who was arrested in June. Sefilian, a harsh critic of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, spoke out again the government’s role in the ongoing conflict between pro-Armenian separatists and the breakaway Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

North Korea

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into its eastern sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said. The launch came as an apparent retaliatory protest at South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in the country. Two of the missiles traveled between 310 to 375 miles, a sufficient range to reach South Korea. South Korea and the U.S. maintain they need the missile defense system because of volatile and aggressive moves from North Korea, which carried out its fourth nuclear test in January. North Korea is pushing to develop a long-range nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the mainland U.S. Defense officials believe the North does not yet possess such a weapon.

Russia

An investigation by the global agency that polices drug cheating in sports has found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Russian government ran a widespread doping regime for years in multiple Olympic sports, calling into question whether any Russian athletes should be permitted to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. Russia’s ministry of sport covered up positive doping results by Olympic athletes for years in both Summer and Winter Olympic sports, the investigation found, and Russian intelligence agents participated in an elaborate covert scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to replace tainted urine samples of cheating Russian athletes with clean ones.

Venezuela

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighboring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year. A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices. President Nicolas Maduro ordered the 1,378-mile border shut in August 2015 to clamp down on criminal gangs smuggling goods and gasoline across the border that were sold at subsidized prices in Venezuela. Maduro blames the shortages of food, medicine and basic staples in Venezuela on his opponents, who he accuses of trying to sow economic chaos to oust him from office. His critics accuse his socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Earthquakes

A small but rare earthquake struck about 100 miles off Daytona Beach, Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnitude 3.7 earthquake struck around 4 p.m. Saturday. There are no reports of damage or that it was felt on land. In June, another earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 hit off the coast of St. Augustine. According to the Florida’s Department Environmental Protection, the sunshine state sits on a section of the North American Plate that is less active than the section situated under California. The mysterious “earthquake” detected off the Florida coast over the weekend was actually the result of testing by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Geological Survey officials said Monday. The pseudo-earthquake triggered by a manmade explosion of a 10,000-pound bomb designed to test the seaworthiness of a new U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Jackson.

Wildfires

In northern Arizona, wind gusts and low humidity have refueled a 2-week-old wildfire near the highway that allows tourists to get to the lodge, restaurant and main campgrounds on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The lightning-caused Fuller fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon grew to 11,382 acres overnight and is burning out of control, according to a Sunday update from fire officials. Firefighters aim to hold the fire east of Cape Royal Road, according to fire officials. The northern area of the fire moved from the wilderness into South Canyon Point grass areas in the Kaibab National Forest. “We are balancing the need to protect resources where appropriate while still allowing the fire to spread naturally where it is safe to do so,” Deputy Incident Commander Rick Miller said in a statement.

Weather

Weather forecasters warn that some of the hottest temperatures of the season may sear a large portion of the United States this week. Very high humidity is expected to accompany the heat, especially in the Midwest, and that will create what’s known as a “heat dome” over most of the country. Only the Northwest will be spared. Forecasters say the heat index, which measures what the temperature really feels like when you add in the humidity will likely reach the dangerous category, increasing the risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death.

A line of severe thunderstorms moved across the Northeast on Monday and was blamed for one death in New Jersey. Every major Northeastern airport was forced into a ground stop Monday afternoon by the storms. Those ground stops spanned every major airport from Boston Logan International Airport down to the three airports in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. According to the National Weather Service, spotters saw a tornado near Woodland, Maine. Tornadoes in Maine and New Hampshire are rare, according to weather.com.

Signs of the Times (7/15/16)

July 15, 2016

Truck Attack in Nice, France, Kills at least 84

A truck plowed into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, on Thursday, killing at least 84 people, including two Americans, and injuring dozens of others. The driver of the large white commercial truck killed scores of people as he drove through a pedestrian-only area while crowds were watching Bastille Day fireworks. The driver was eventually shot dead by police. The driver was identified as Nice’s mayor’s office confirmed Friday that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, of Tunisian descent and a resident of the French seaside city. Cars and trucks were barred from the Promenade des Anglais during Thursday’s Bastille Day festivities, but the terrorist who plowed a 19-ton truck into a mile-long crowd of revelers got past police by telling them he had ice cream to hand out, reports Fox News.

The attack marks the third time France has endured gruesome carnage on its own soil in the past year and a half. Bouhlel does not appear to have been known to intelligence services and was not on a watch-list, according to the Nice-Matin newspaper. The attack in Nice is an example of a shift in tactics by terror groups who are encouraging followers in the West to stay home and wreak havoc with whatever means they have at their disposal, reports the USA Today. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have advocated the use of vehicles to kill people over the past few years.

Coup Underway in Turkey

Turkey’s military launched a coup Friday against the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish officials and the country’s armed forces said, in a stunning move that will likely plunge the country into further turmoil and reverberate across an already bloodstained and chaotic region. “The Turkish Armed Forces, in accordance with the constitution, have seized management of the country to reinstate democracy, human rights, and freedom, and to ensure public order, which has deteriorated,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in a statement Friday. Armored vehicles and military personnel were deployed across key areas of the capital, Ankara, and the largest city, Istanbul. The military declared martial law and imposed a curfew, according to a statement carried by state-run broadcaster TRT. Helicopters and fighter jets flew low over both cities Friday night as the embattled government struggled to maintain control. Speaking to Turkish broadcaster CNNTurk via FaceTime, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the chain of command had been violated and encouraged Turkish citizens to challenge the coup attempt by gathering on streets and at airports.

Black Lives Matter Protest Turns Violent

Black Lives Matter activists staged protests and demonstrations in major cities across the United States, and while some have remained “peaceful,” others have led to violence. Many of these protests have blocked major roadways and interstates, such as the Interstate 40 bridge in Memphis where motorists were recently stranded for hours, unable to get to school, work or other engagements, while activists stood across the road, demanding “justice.” But, not everyone has bowed down to the protesters, and several have resorted to extreme measures to get through the blocked roadways. One social media user has created a video compilation of several instances where motorists have plowed through the activists with their vehicles. These protests have hindered emergency workers from tending to injured or sick people, and there has been at least one instance of these demonstrations preventing a child from getting to the hospital. Blocking a roadway is a crime under several state laws — including Tennessee where, despite the law, police officers were told to stand down and allow the protesters to block I-40.

Black Panthers Seek to Create Their Own Nation

The self-professed national minister of defense for the People’s New Black Panther Party has declared that they, along with other organizations have set a goal of setting up “our own government in a nation within a nation.” Babu Omowale appeared in an interview with reporter Aaron Klein and said that a new “Black Nation” would be composed of five states: Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. “We just need to start migrating back to those states and taking control of the economics in those states,” he said. “If black people move in, most definitely white people will move out. So it’s not a hard process for us to have our own country within a country.” Omowale is the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which states on their website that they seek to “develop over time to a regimented Black Army.”

Target Transgender Bathroom Policy Causing Problems

In April Target announced it would begin allowing transgender men free access to the same restrooms and changing rooms as little girls. Since this boycott began there have been multiple examples of why Target’s policy is dangerous. The most recent and startling example occurred in an Idaho Target store this week. According to East Idaho News, “an Idaho Falls man who police say identifies as transgender was arrested this past Tuesday afternoon after deputies say he took photos of a woman in a fitting room in Target.” The man was booked at a local jail on one felony count of voyeurism. Though he identified as a woman, the jail inmate roster lists him as a man. The American Family Association says, “Target’s lack of action on this issue has proven that their main concern is not the safety of their customers. Target management is more concerned with political correctness and pleasing the sexual deviants than protecting women and children.”

House Passes Bill to Protect Pro-Life Conscience Rights

The House of Representatives passed the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (S. 304), by a 245-182 vote Thursday. The bill would prevent the government from discriminating against any health care provider who refuses to “perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion.” It also allows victims of discrimination to sue in civil court. The law would codify into law the Weldon Amendment, an amendment passed every year since 2004 but which Republicans and the U.S. Catholic bishops say the Obama administration has ignored. On the House floor, several Republicans quoted President Obama’s 2009 speech at Notre Dame, in which he said, “Let us honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause” related to ObamaCare. Yet last month, the Obama administration ruled that two Catholic universities in California must offer abortion coverage in their health insurance plans, despite their religious objections.

Pokémon Go Game Sweeping the Nation, Causing Problems

Two men suffered moderate injuries when they tumbled off a seaside cliff north of San Diego while reportedly playing Pokémon Go, fire officials said Thursday. One of the men told sheriffs’ deputies that he and his friend were playing the smartphone augmented-reality game Pokémon Go when they fell over the cliff’s edge, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Pokémon Go has become a summer phenomenon, a game played on smartphones in which characters are projected on the phone’s screen amid the player’s actual surroundings. The goal of the game is to capture the animated figures. Some players have become involved in traffic accidents and many have violated private property. Many of the sites selected to contain Pokémon characters are incensed and demanding to be delisted, including the Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz, Poland.

Zika Update

At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, three senior U.S. government officials warned the Western hemisphere is under threat from the Zika virus, and that Florida, Puerto Rico and Brazil are the regions most at risk, McClatchyDC reported. The officials urged Congress to pass legislation stalled by partisan politics. In Florida, officials reported 13 new infections on Monday, bringing the state’s total known cases to 282. Of these,129 of were in South Florida, a total more than any other state except New York. Addressing the Senate, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden noted that funds already redirected from other important public health activities are not enough to support a comprehensive Zika response. Frieden criticized the partisan disagreements that have held up the emergency funding. The CDC has recommended pregnant women not travel to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. American athletes and spectators can go if they observe safety precautions, Frieden said. Brazil has more than 100,000 cases of Zika, with at least 5,000 newborns affected by microcephaly.

Economic News

Retail sales jumped 0.6% in June, the Commerce Department said Friday, well above the 0.1% rise economists expected. Excluding autos and gasoline, which are more volatile, sales increased 0.7%. Economists expected a 0.3% advance. Consumers opened their wallets in the spring after displaying caution earlier in the year, buoyed by still-low gasoline prices and generally solid job growth. After payroll gains slowed in April and May, employers added a solid 287,000 jobs in June. Last month, auto sales edged up just 0.1% and gasoline station sales rose 1.2% as price increases moderated. The overall increase, however, was buoyed by a 3.9% jump at building material and garden supply stores.

Prices charged by U.S. producers rose in June at the fastest pace in 13 months, reflecting a big jump in the price of gasoline and other energy products. The Labor Department says that its producer price index, which measures cost pressures before they reach the consumer, increased 0.5% in June. That was the largest one-month jump since a similar rise in May 2015. Energy prices were up 4.1% last month while food costs rose 0.9%. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose 0.4% in June, the biggest uptick since January. Even with the June acceleration, producer prices are up just 0.3% over the past 12 months, while core inflation is up a moderate 1.3%.

OPEC is pumping out more oil than at any time in recent history. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries produced nearly 32.9 million barrels of oil a day in June, according to its monthly statistical bulletin. That’s 260,000 barrels per day more than in May. OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, has been waging a price war since 2014 with oil producers outside the group, particularly in the U.S., in a bid to defend its market share. And it appears to be working. Supplies from non-OPEC nations are expected to fall by 900,000 barrels per day this year to about 56 million, OPEC predicted. Crude oil is currently trading at about $46 per barrel, less than half the price in mid-2014. But it has recovered strongly from recent lows of around $26 per barrel in February.

Persecution Watch

Russian Christians are extremely worried about their religious freedom after Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning all evangelism outside of churches. The Christian Post reports that the new law comes as a heavy blow to Russian Christians. It restricts all religious preaching and teaching outside of church buildings and makes breaking this restriction a punishable offense. The law is ostensibly aimed at protecting the country from terrorism. However, many have equated it to Soviet-era measures. Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, told National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) that “This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church. Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.” Thousands of churches in Russia are coming together to fast and pray that the law would be repealed. Some have even stated that they intend to defy the law and keep evangelizing. Haukka asked Christians worldwide to join their Russian brothers and sisters in prayer.

Middle East

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon addressed the Security Council Tuesday on the ten-year anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, in which the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets into Israel after provoking a conflict by attacking an Israeli border patrol. Danon told the Council that Hezbollah has not abided by the terms of the UN-brokered cease-fire which ended the war and is today poised to launch even deadlier attacks against Israel whenever its Iranian masters order it to. Danon specifically mentioned the massive arsenal of 120,000 rockets it has amassed in southern Lebanon, 17 times the number is had in 2006, all of which are banned by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” “When the war ended, this Council pledged that Hezbollah would no longer be allowed to threaten Israel and hold the people of Lebanon hostage,” Danon said. “I have the unfortunate task of informing this Council that 10 years later, the situation has gone from bad to worse. The government of Lebanon never stopped Hezbollah, and Hezbollah never stopped its military buildup.”

An investigation by the Jerusalem Post and the German newspaper Bild revealed this week that a federal agency and a private agency in Germany have conspired to violate EU sanctions on Iran, providing fraudulent quality control certificates to various businesses. Bonn-based TÜV InterCert SAAR issued the certificates in cooperation with the federal German Accreditation Council order to obtain a “competitive advantage” for German companies operating in Iran, according to the report. The Iranian companies were primarily industrial firms producing equipment, software and vehicles used for hydrocarbon exploration and production, but experts noted the dual-use nature of the equipment which can also be used for military purposes. Additionally, banks named in the report have been linked to Iran’s renegade nuclear program.

Islamic State

Even as it launches waves of terrorist attacks around the globe, the Islamic State is quietly preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago, reports the Washington Post. At the same time, the group is vowing to press on with its recent campaign of violence, even if the terrorists themselves are driven underground. U.S. counterterrorism experts believe the mass-casualty attacks in Istanbul and Baghdad in the past month were largely a response to military reversals in Iraq and Syria. Such terrorist acts are likely to continue and even intensify, at least initially, analysts say, as the group evolves from a quasi-state with territorial holdings to a shadowy and diffuse network with branches and cells on at least three continents.

Pakistan/Afghanistan

A militant leader who orchestrated a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including a 2014 assault at a school that left more than 130 children dead, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The July 9 airstrike killed Umar Khalifa and four other “enemy combatants” in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. Khalifa was a leader connected to the Tariq Gidar Group and was responsible for the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. Khalifa was also connected to a January 2016 attack on Bacha Khan University, which killed about 22 people, and a September 2015 Badaber Air Force Base attack that left 29 people dead, the Pentagon said.

Iran

Iran’s economy has benefited notably from the removal of nuclear sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the landmark deal between Tehran and major powers. But he stressed that the US will continue to apply sanctions pressure on the country over its alleged support for terror and its ballistic missile program, despite Tehran’s criticisms that Washington has not fully followed through with its side of the nuclear deal. ‘The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached one year ago today was a landmark international achievement, removing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran while illustrating the power of economic sanctions, coupled with tough diplomacy, to bring about a safer world,’ Lew said in a statement. In the year since then, he said, Iran has been able to sharply increase crude oil exports, and has opened more than 300 accounts with foreign banks to establish lines of credit worth billions of dollars. He also said the country has seen a more than $3 billion increase in planned foreign direct investment. Despite the agreement. Iran has taken advantage of a poorly worded United Nations resolution that merely ‘calls upon’ Iran to limit its missile testing. Instead, Iran has kept up a steady pace of tests, with more and more capable weaponry, reports United Against Nuclear Iran. In addition, Tehran is still sending its forces to support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and to gain influence in Iraq.

South Sudan

The U.S. military in Africa says it has sent 40 additional soldiers to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, to help secure American personnel and facilities in the war-torn city. Amid a tense cease-fire which has held since Monday night, the U.S. troops deployed at the request of the State Department. The U.S. Embassy in Juba said it is organizing flights to evacuate non-essential staff and for all U.S. citizens wishing to leave South Sudan. In five days of fighting in the capital President Salva Kiir’s forces ousted those loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar from one of their bases. The fighting left hundreds dead in the capital and aid workers said bodies remain in the streets.

Environment

A tiny species of whitefly has become a major concern in seven more Florida counties. According to a release from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), the Q-biotype whitefly is a light-colored flying insect that can cause significant damage to crops and other plants. “Crops that could eventually be affected include tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals,” said UF/IFAS. Whiteflies transmit more than 100 plant viruses, a major concern for South Florida’s vegetable industry. According to the Palm Beach County website, it’s estimated that the Q-biotype whitefly is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost food production worldwide.

Several canals in Brevard County, Florida, have acquired a thin film of green algae, the most recent in a string of algae-related incidents to hit the Sunshine State. Florida Institute of Technology scientists told Florida Today that the most recent bloom is a mix of two types of algae called dinoflagellates, which propel themselves through the water using whip-like tails. The algae is considerably larger-celled than most of the harmful algae blooms the lagoon suffers from, Johnson added, making the algae have a higher visual impact at much lower densities. Dead marine life is appearing on the lagoon’s bottom, WESH reports, and the outbreak may also be linked to new manatee deaths in the area, according to Florida wildlife officials.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) implemented the statewide Lionfish Challenge to remove some of the poisonous species from the waters and raise awareness to their impact. So far, 42 divers have removed 6,307 fish. Lionfish are an invasive species that can negatively affect other species and their habitats. The fish have up to 18 venomous spines on their fins, which can cause painful stings that can lead to swelling, blistering, dizziness and temporary paralysis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lionfish have very few predators in Florida’s waters, which make them an ongoing problem.

Wildfires

Thirty-one homes have been completely destroyed with 60 total buildings damaged or lost after a fire burned through Timberon, a community southeast of Alamogordo, Wednesday and Thursday. One firetruck for Timberon’s volunteer fire department was also lost to the flames. Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency in order to free up federal funds to help in the emergency response. The fire was estimated as being 290 acres in size Thursday night. Though flames and smoke had dissipated since the fire first started Wednesday evening, it continues to burn and is 0 percent contained as of Friday morning.

A lightning-ignited wildfire has burned more than 3,000 acres on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, national park officials said Thursday. The Fuller Fire is burning in the area north of Fuller Canyon Road and about 3 miles southwest of Point Imperial. Several roads and many trails have been closed in the area. The wildfire is feeding on dead and downed logs on the forest floor and aspen-tree regeneration in an area burned by the 2000 Outlet Fire. That fire burned more than 14,000 acres.

Weather

Severe weather clobbered several regions of the country on Thursday, scattering damage in the wake of multiple lines of storms. A strong storm system blew into Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday, with high winds that took down trees and heavy rains that flooded roads. Thousands were left without electricity as power lines were downed throughout the Sooner State. In Inola, the storm flattened a mobile home. he storms also damaged vehicles in transit in the Tulsa area. Half of a mobile home was overturned on a city highway Thursday. Strong winds blew over a tractor-trailer rig on Interstate 44. Creek Turnpike was blocked by flooding and a large downed tree. A downed tree blocked the road north of 91st Street on Riverside Drive, and traffic lights were knocked out at 21st Street and Utica Avenue. In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the storm ripped off the roof of a store at Curt’s Shopping Center.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were hustled away from an Arkansas high school graduation ceremony Thursday, NBC News reports, after severe winds began breaking windows. Trees and buildings were damaged by straight-line winds across the Natural State Thursday afternoon and evening. Some 150,000 Arkansas homes and businesses were without power Thursday night.

Signs of the Times (7/12/16)

July 12, 2016

Planned Parenthood Tweets “Stop Killing Black Children!”

Planned Parenthood is probably not even aware of the sheer hypocrisy in one of their recent tweets. In an attempt to declare their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in light of officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, they tweeted an image of a protester’s sign that read: “Stop Killing Black Children!” The sign’s message was flanked by handguns. However, Planned Parenthood itself is the leading killer of black children, having aborted far more black babies than guns, knives or any other atrocity in the U.S.

Massachusetts Enacts Transgender Rights Law

A new anti-discrimination law was passed by the Massachusetts state House and Senate last week which gives transgender people the right to use public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities, regardless of their sex at birth. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) will adopt policies to enforce its provisions, a statement from the governor’s office said. Opponents such as the Massachusetts Family Institute argue that the bill fails to protect women and children from predators and violates fundamental rights of privacy. The group said Baker “gave in to a radical and aggressive agenda.”

New Study Finds Correlation between Depression and Same-Sex Parenting

Children who grow up in same-sex parented households may face a significantly higher risk of depression later in life, reports ChristianHeadlines.com. That’s the conclusion of a study published a few weeks ago, without fanfare, in the open-access journal Depression Research and Treatment. The study found that young adults who had grown up with same-sex parents were more than twice as likely to be depressed as those raised by a mother and a father. The new study, “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents,” claims to be the first to “examine children raised by same-sex parents into early adulthood.” It uses survey data that followed adolescents over a period of 13 years.

37 Violent Anti-Police Protests Promoted on Dark Web

Violent anti-police rallies in 37 US cities are being promoted on the dark web for this Friday, July 15, beginning at 7 PM eastern US time, reports Red Flag News. SuperStation95 obtained access to this information and if it goes as planned, many cities in the United States will erupt in ferocious violence, under the guise of being a “Nationwide Call To Action” against police brutality. While this “National Call to Action” is what appears on the regular Internet to lure people in, on the Dark Web, it is being called a “Day of Rage” and plans are being pursued for hideous and widespread violence. All this despite the fact that more whites (238) have been killed by police so far this year compared to 123 blacks, according to statista.com.

Police Shootings Update

A white Illinois police officer shot an African-American man in the chest Monday while responding to a call that a man had a handgun, authorities in Decatur said. Interim Decatur Police Chief James Getz said the man, who was armed with a gun and knife, was in serious condition with a gunshot wound to the chest. “We ask that everyone remain peaceful and reserve judgment until all the facts are known,” Getz said.

Five people were arrested early Tuesday after shots were fired at police, authorities said. When officers arrived in marked police cruisers on reports of shots fired on 6th Street Southwest, the people inside the vehicle immediately started shooting at the police. The officers also started shooting back. However, no one was hit or injured. The SUV’s occupants refused to leave the vehicle and were barricaded inside for 30 minutes before three women and two men surrendered and were arrested.

Protests Across U.S. Over Police Killings of Blacks

Protestors across the U.S. continued over the weekend, as people decried police brutality over the killing of two African-American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police, earlier this week. After four days of peaceful protests in Baton Rouge where Sterling was shot, tensions between police and protesters escalated. A line of police officers wearing riot gear with shields and assault-style weapons advanced on the crowd to move them off the busy street. Tensions escalated as demonstrators threw bottles and apples at police. Several people were handcuffed and loaded into a police van before the crowd began to disperse. At least 198 people were arrested in New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police in Minnesota where Castile was shot said Sunday they arrested as many as 100 people after a protest over police shootings turned violent, with at least five officers injured. In St. Paul, demonstrators marched from Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence into the I-94 freeway, shutting down the roadway despite police efforts to stop them. Twenty police officers were injured and one officer suffered a spinal fracture there when a large block of concrete was dropped on his head,

In Atlanta, hundreds of protesters massed Friday and marched through downtown. They were met by Georgia State Troopers and Atlanta police near the downtown connector, but the confrontation remained peaceful. In Phoenix, police officers dressed in riot gear deployed pepper spray as crowds got heated and reached the police barricade. A protest in Rochester on Friday and into Saturday morning ended with 74 arrests. More than a thousand people stood together crying, shouting and praying at a vigil in front of Nashville City Hall followed by a march that closed Broadway downtown Friday evening. In San Francisco, hundreds took to the streets and blocked roads and ramps to get on and off the Bay Bridge. Hundreds more broke off from Pittsburgh’s 200th-anniversary parade to protest the recent police shootings.

  • In this fallen world, there are indeed prejudiced police officers, but there are also violent-prone protesters looking for trouble. Civil unrest is growing, playing right into the hands of globalists seeking to undermine U.S. dominance in the world. Jesus is the only answer, but He is not coming back until after the one-world government under the anti-Christ is established (Revelation 13)

Killings of Police Rapidly Rising

The number of police officers shot and killed in the USA is 44% higher than at this time last year following the Dallas ambush Thursday night that left five officers dead, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The deaths of four Dallas police officers and one Dallas transit officer from sniper fire during a protest in the city Thursday raised the national total of firearm deaths among police to 26, compared with 18 at this point in time in 2015. The Dallas attack was also the latest of 11 ambushes of police officers so far this year across the country, already outpacing the eight ambushes of law enforcement that occurred last year. “It’s really an assassination,” says Nick Breul, director of research for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Police Group asks Justice Department to Classify Police Killings as Hate Crime

The Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest group of sworn law-enforcement officers, is asking the Justice Department to “immediately” investigate the killing of five Dallas police officers as a hate crime. “The U.S. Department of Justice is always quick to insert itself into local investigations,” group President Chuck Canterbury said Friday. “Today we expect action just as swift. We want a federal investigation into those who were motivated by their hatred of police to commit mass murder in Dallas.” “If there has ever been an assassination of police officers that fits the current hate crime legislation, Dallas is it,” Canterbury told National Public Radio on Friday. “Though the main offender is dead, the hate crime investigation will show to the Justice Department and to the country that this was a hate-based crime.”

56 Percent Disapprove FBI’s Decision Not to Charge Clinton

Majority of Americans do not approve of the FBI’s decision not to charge Hillary Clinton over her handling of emails during her tenure as secretary of state, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday. The poll results show that 56% disapprove of FBI’s decision not to charge Clinton while only 35% support the decision. Breaking down the results by party lines, almost nine out of 10 Republicans disapprove of the FBI’s decision not to charge Clinton, while 3 out of 10 Democrats did not like the FBI’s decision. Sixty percent of independent voters sided with Republicans, saying they disapproved of the FBI’s decision.

Economic News

U.S. stocks zoomed to their first record high in more than a year on Monday. The S&P 500 rallied above 2,139, surpassing the previous all-time record set back in May 2015. Wall Street extended its record-setting ways Tuesday as the Dow joined the S&P 500 in taking out its 2015 all-time high. That ends a 14-month period where the markets appeared to hit a wall and even fell precipitously at one point and flirted with a new bear market. Markets were bolstered by the June jobs report that dramatically eased fears of a slowdown in the U.S. economy. Just two weeks ago, global markets panicked after the shocking Brexit vote. The U.K. referendum sent the Dow plummeting nearly 900 points over two days, but now all of that has been gained back and more.

A top banking regulator warned that the $1 trillion car loan industry has gotten more dangerous. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency cited “unprecedented” growth in auto loans, rising delinquencies and shrinking used car values. The banking watchdog also pointed to cutthroat competition among banks, which has led them to relax underwriting standards. Earlier this year, Fitch Ratings pointed out that the rate of seriously delinquent subprime car loans has climbed to the highest level since 1996.

The top 1% earners in the U.S. are earning less than they did nearly a decade ago. The average income of this elite group was $1.36 million in 2015. That’s 12.6% less than it was in 2007, when it hit $1.56 million, according to newly updated data from the University of California, Berkeley. While the Top 1% have enjoyed strong income growth in recent years, they were hit hard during the recession — particularly by the collapse of the stock market when their average income fell to $992,892 in 2009. The 99% has also suffered a decline in earnings from an average of $48,768 in 2015, down from $51,280 in 2007. After watching their income barely budge for years after the economic collapse, the 99% are enjoying their second year of gains. Their average income rose 3.9% in 2015, the best growth in 17 years.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have retaken an air base from ISIS near Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday. The Iraqi military and counter-terrorism forces are now in the process of sweeping al-Qayyara air base, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. At least 38 ISIS militants were killed in the operation to retake the base, Sabah Nouri. Recapturing and securing al-Qayyarah — one of the biggest air bases in Iraq — is seen as a breakthrough in the mission to liberate Mosul, as the base can be used by the army and the U.S.-led international coalition in further missions against ISIS in the region. It also comes just weeks after Iraq declared it had regained full control of Falluja, ISIS’ main stronghold in the country, as the militant group loses more and more ground.

Iraq

A suicide car bombing ripped through an outdoor market in a Shiite-dominated northeastern district of Baghdad on Tuesday morning, killing at least 11 people. An explosives-laden pickup truck exploded during the morning rush hour at a vegetable and fruit market in the al-Rashidiya district. Government forces deployed in most of the Iraqi capital and closed off major roads around the city. The developments came on the heels of two large-scale attacks claimed by the Islamic State group that killed more than 300 people last week. On Monday, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Washington will send 560 more troops to Iraq to help battle IS.

North Korea

North Korea fired a submarine-launched missile off its eastern coast early Saturday, U.S. and South Korea confirmed, further extending its defiance of international sanctions. The missile successfully ejected from the submarine’s launch tube but failed in its early stage of flight. The missile flew a couple miles before exploding midair, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. “We strongly condemn this and North Korea’s other recent missile tests, which violate U.N. Security Council Resolutions explicitly prohibiting North Korea’s launches using ballistic missile technology,” said Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.

Poland

The United States will send about 1,000 troops to Poland as part of what the alliance says is the biggest deployment of NATO personnel since the end of the Cold War. President Obama announced the troop movement at the NATO Summit in Warsaw Friday, saying the United States would rotate battalions into Poland “to serve shoulder to shoulder with Polish soldiers.” An armored brigade will also move its headquarters to Poland, which Obama called one of the United States’ “most committed and important allies.” Both moves are expected sometime next year. The move is an effort to bolster NATO’s strength in eastern Europe in order to deter further Russian aggression following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

China

An international tribunal ruled Tuesday that China’s claims to much of the South China Sea have no legal basis. The ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, is the first to address competing claims and interests among a half-dozen countries fronting the South China Sea. The case was brought by the Philippines over China’s vast territorial claims and island-building in the region. The panel said any historic rights to resources that China may have had were invalid because they are incompatible with exclusive economic zones established under a U.N. treaty. China said it did not recognize the ruling, which it described as “null-and-void.” “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards,” China said in on official statement.

South Sudan

The fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence was marred by violence that left nearly 150 soldiers and civilians dead. Heavy gunfire broke out Friday between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and others backing Vice President Riek Machar. Sporadic shootings continued throughout the night in pockets of areas around Jebel and Gurei, but relative calm had returned to the capital, Juba, on Saturday. The latest violence apparently started as Kiir and Machar were meeting to discuss previous clashes between their forces. Outside the presidential compound where the meeting took place. On Monday, the United States is evacuating non-emergency staff from its embassy in South Sudan, after the escalation of fighting in the capital that has killed scores including a Chinese U.N. peacekeeper.

Philippines

Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on a vow to kill 100,000 criminals, is making good on his promise less than two weeks into his term. In that short span, he has left a bloody trail of drug world executions that is drawing alarm from human rights groups and opposition politicians. Duterte was sworn in on June 30, and within the first week of his presidency 72 accused drug dealers were killed by police and vigilante groups, according to a “Kill List” compiled by the newspaper Philippine Inquirer. Dating back to Duterte’s election victory on May 10, the figure jumps to 119. Duterte, whose incendiary rhetoric has earned him comparisons to Donald Trump, campaigned on a platform of law and order and ending corruption. The seven-term mayor of Davao, a city on the restive southern island of Mindanao, was wildly popular for solving the city’s drug and crime problems. But his tactics, which earned him nicknames such as “The Punisher” and “Duterte Harry,” included more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings using death squads, according to rights groups.

Wildfires

A fast-moving brush fire sent about 2,000 people fleeing from their homes in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains north of Los Angeles on Sunday. The blaze broke out in the Stevenson Ranch area of the Santa Clarita Valley shortly after noon and grew to 1.25 square miles in mere hours. The flames were fanned by winds gusting up to 25 mph. By dusk, firefighters contained 15 percent of the blaze, which is burning close to Interstate 5, the main artery connecting Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

Two campers from Alabama were arrested for arson in the Cold Springs Fire, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. The fire grew to more than 600 acres Sunday and forced almost 2,000 people to evacuate. Three homes were destroyed by the blaze, with the sheriff’s office saying it expected that number to increase. The sheriff’s office says the men did not ensure the fire was property extinguished before they left, and that winds — combined with the hot and dry weather — allowed the campfire to keep smoldering.

Weather

A combination of flooding rain and reported tornadoes hammered parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Monday into early Tuesday morning in the latest round of severe weather to hit the Midwest. One twister left widespread moderate damage on the northwest side of Litchfield, Minnesota, just after 5:30 p.m. CDT. Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze said 15-20 homes sustained damaged and two other dwellings are a total loss. Litchfield Mayor Keith Johnson told Fox 9 this is the worst tornado damage he has ever seen in the city. The National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minnesota, estimated at least four tornadoes occurred in central Minnesota Monday. High winds have contributed to three drowning deaths on Lake Michigan last Saturday.

After leaving three people dead and more than 100 injured in Taiwan, Typhoon Nepartak spun across the Taiwan Strait into China, leaving at least two dead and 17 others missing there. The storm lashed China’s east coast with powerful winds and heavy rains Saturday toppling homes and triggering landslides. More than 438,000 people had been relocated, according to the Fujian’s water resources department. Damaged power stations left areas of the province without electricity, while hundreds of flights and trains were canceled.

June 2016 was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States, scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information announced. At an average temperature of 71.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the June record was broken with none of the Lower 48 turning in below-average temperatures for the month. NOAA said 17 states in the West, Great Plains and Southeast were well above average, rising the national average temperature to the highest ever recorded for the month of June. June 1933 was previously the warmest NOAA had ever recorded, at 71.56 degrees. June 2015 is now the third-warmest on record, at 71.4 degrees.

  • In contrast, a taste of winter weather swept into the northern Rockies Sunday into early Monday where snow was reported in parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. This snow is due to much colder air rushing into the northern Rockies from a trough of low pressure aloft (dip in the jet stream) moving across the region. Temperatures are also much below average for the middle of July. On Monday morning, a wind chill of 21 degrees was reported at Point 6 mountain to the north of Missoula, Montana.

Arctic sea ice has shrunken to its lowest level in 38 years – a record low that sets the stage for what could become the smallest Arctic ice extent in history. Compared to normal conditions, a Texas-sized slab of ice spreading across 4.63 million square miles is missing. Temperatures averaged about 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across the Arctic Ocean this spring, making daily sea ice extents average about 232,000 square miles smaller than any May average in almost four decades.

Signs of the Times (7/8/16)

July 8, 2016

Sniper in Dallas Police Slayings ‘Wanted to Kill White People’

A sniper suspected of killing five police officers during a protest march in downtown Dallas late Thursday told negotiators before he died that he was upset over recent police-involved shootings of African Americans and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said. Seven other police officers and two civilians were wounded in the melee that sent protesters scrambling as heavy gunfire erupted. After almost an hour of negotiations, the heavily armed gunman — who was holed up in a building overlooking the protest route — was killed by police using a robot-controlled explosive device, Brown told reporters Friday morning. Brown said the sniper, Micah Xavier Johnson, was not affiliated with any other groups and stated that he did this alone. An arsenal of weapons – including bomb-making material – was found in the Johnson’s home.

Head of Police Group Blames Obama for Dallas Attack

William Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said in an interview with Fox on Friday morning that, “I think [the Obama’s administration] continued appeasements at the federal level with the Department of Justice, their appeasement of violent criminals, their refusal to condemn movements like Black Lives Matter, actively calling for the death of police officers, that type of thing, all the while blaming police for the problems in this country has led directly to the climate that has made Dallas possible.” Johnson also said, “It’s a war on cops and the Obama administration is the Neville Chamberlain of this war.” Police departments across the country took steps Friday to protect their officers after the deadly shootings in Dallas.

Bloody Ramadan Month Finally Over

Ramadan drew to a close Tuesday, following weeks of bloodshed throughout the world as Islamist extremists sought to sow terror during the Muslim holy month. The scale of the carnage inflicted by extremists over the past week alone has been staggering. More than 290 killed by a truck bomb in a crowded Baghdad market; 44 killed at an airport in Istanbul, Turkey; 23 killed in a siege of a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But among the most horrifying in its symbolism for many of the world’s Muslims was the attack in the Saudi city of Medina — the resting place of the Prophet Mohammed and the second holiest site in Islam. The attack — the deadliest of three that occurred in Saudi Arabia during in a 24-hour span — killed four security staff in a parking lot outside the Prophet’s Mosque. For many Muslims worldwide, this was “an assault on Islam itself.” At least four people were killed Thursday when militants attacked police guarding the largest gathering in Bangladesh to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. At least 37 people were killed and more than 62 wounded when suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad Thursday night.

  • The Bible prophesied thousands of years ago that Ishmael’s descendants would war against everyone, even themselves (Genesis 16:12)

VA Still Has ‘Profound Deficiencies’ says New Congressional Report

Two years after a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs still has “profound deficiencies” in delivering health care to millions of veterans, a congressional commission says in a new report. The Commission on Care said in a report released Wednesday that the VA needs to improve its service to veterans, adding that the VA’s health care operations “require urgent reform. America’s veterans deserve a better organized, high-performing health care system.” Congress created the 12-member commission in 2014 after approving a landmark law overhauling the VA in the wake of the wait-time scandal, which also revealed that VA employees were covering up chronic delays with false paperwork and secret waiting lists. The Commission also found that the long-term viability of VA health care is threatened by problems with staffing, facilities, capital needs, information systems and other problems.

State Department Reopens Internal Probe of Clinton Emails

The State Department is re-opening an internal investigation into whether Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her top aides mishandled classified information, Fox News confirmed late Thursday. The State Department started its review in January after declaring 22 emails from Clinton’s private server to be “top secret.” The investigation was halted after the FBI began investigating Clinton’s so-called “homebrew” email setup last April. On Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there would be no indictments resulting from the FBI probe. “Given the Department of Justice has now made its announcement, the State Department intends to conduct its internal review,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “Our goal will be to be as transparent as possible about our results, while complying with our various legal obligations.”

20 Veterans a Day Committed Suicide in 2014

An average of 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a trend that reflects record high rates among young men fresh out of the military and growing numbers of women taking their lives, according to a new study that represents the first actual count of suicides among former service members. The Department of Veterans Affairs previously had only estimated suicides. The 2014 data released Thursday is based on a precise tabulation of the 7,403 deaths. The 2014 count is the first slice of a massive examination of 55 million veteran death records dating back to 1979. The VA found the worst suicide pattern among male veterans, ages 18-29. Their suicide rate was 86 per 100,000 people, nearly four times the rate among active-duty service members last year. By contrast, the overall U.S. suicide rate is 13 per 100,000 people, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Automobile Deaths Up in 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that an estimated 35,200 died on U.S. roads in 2015, up nearly 8% from the previous year. The biggest reason for the jump is an increase in miles driven. “As the economy has improved and gas prices have fallen, more Americans are driving more miles,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. But the rate of fatal accidents also crept up slightly, to 1.12 fatalities per 100 million miles driven, up from 1.08 the year before. The overwhelming cause of the accidents was driver error, according to Rosekind. He said 94% of the deaths could be blamed on the driver rather than road conditions or a problem with the car’s equipment. While drunk driving remains a cause of close to one-third of traffic fatalities, the overwhelming majority of accidents involve drivers who are not physically impaired. The biggest increase in deaths was a 10% jump in fatal accidents involving a driver age 15 to 20.

The U.S. has seen a 31% reduction in its motor vehicle death rate per capita over the past 13 years. But compared with 19 other wealthy countries, which have declined an average of 56% during the same period, the U.S. has the slowest decrease. Road death rates in countries such as Spain and Denmark have dropped 75.1% and 63.5%, respectively. The United States also performed badly in other measures. It ranks first in crash deaths per 100,000 people and per 10,000 registered vehicles. It’s the second-highest, after Canada, in the percentage of deaths involving alcohol (at 31%). And the United States is the third-lowest, after Austria and Belgium, in national front seat belt use (at 87%) among the 20 countries.

First Confirmed Zika Death in U.S.

A Utah woman has died after becoming infected with the Zika virus, the Salt Lake County Health Department announced Friday. The elderly woman had an underlying health condition and had traveled to areas with mosquitoes known to spread the Zika virus. “While this individual did test positive for Zika virus, the exact cause of death has not been determined, and it may not be possible to determine how the Zika infection contributed to the death. Due to health privacy laws, health officials will not release further details about the individual or the individual’s travel history,” the Salt Lake County Health Department said on its website.

Mobile News Surges, Newspapers Fall Further

The Pew Research Center survey found an acceleration in the use of mobile devices for news over the past three years, as fewer Americans relied on newspapers. Television meanwhile held steady as a source of news, including local, network and cable. The portion of Americans who get at least some news on a mobile device rose to 72 percent in 2016 from 54 percent in 2013, Pew said. That included 36 percent who said they “often” get news from a smartphone or tablet. Just 20 percent of adults said they often got news from print newspapers, compared with 27 percent three years earlier. The demographics for newspaper readership were especially challenging: just five percent in the 18-29 age group said they often read newspapers, compared with 48 percent in the over-65 age group. Fully 81 percent of Americans get at least some of the news through websites, apps or social networking sites. Television remains a major source of information, with 57 percent of adults often getting TV-based news, with an increase in the percentage watching cable news.

Noah’s Ark Replica Opens in Kentucky

A 510-foot-long, $100 million Noah’s ark attraction built by Christians who say the biblical story really happened is ready to open in Kentucky this week. “I believe this is going to be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of this era in history,” said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, the ministry that built the ark. Ham said the massive ark will stand as proof that the stories of the Bible are true. Ham says the ark is built based on dimensions in the Bible. Inside are museum-style exhibits: displays of Noah’s family along with rows of cages containing animal replicas, including dinosaurs. The ark will open to the public Thursday and Ham’s group has estimated it will draw 2 million visitors in its first year. Since its announcement in 2010, the ark project has rankled opponents who say the attraction will be detrimental to science education and shouldn’t have won state tax incentives.

Economic News

Employers added 287,000 jobs in June as the labor market bounced back resoundingly from a spring slump and eased concerns about a longer-term slowdown in payroll growth. The unemployment rate rose to 4.9% from 4.7% as about 400,000 Americans streamed into the labor force, including discouraged workers who had stopped looking for jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 265,000 jobs, led by leisure and hospitality, health care and finance. Federal, state and local governments added 22,000. The number of jobs vastly exceeded economists’ expectations, and were up substantially from revised total job additions of 11,000 in May and 144,000 in April. Average hourly wages rose a modest 2 cents to $25.61 and are up 2.6% the past year. The Federal Reserve is seeking more rapid pay increases before raising interest rates again.

The proportion of people who described their retirement as “very satisfying” dipped from 60.5 percent in 1998 to 48.6 percent in 2012 — the first time that number has ever fallen below half. Although the EBRI study didn’t identify reasons for the increase in retirees’ unhappiness, other research suggests that financial woes are at least partly to blame. From 1980 to 2008, the proportion of non-government, salaried workers who got a traditional pension fell from 38 percent to 20 percent.

Syria

The Syrian military declared a unilateral three-day cease-fire Wednesday, bringing another temporary halt to a civil war that has raged for more than five years, killed hundreds of thousands and sent millions of refugees fleeing the country. It is not clear what impact the cease-fire, reported by the Associated Press, would have on combat operations inside the country, where a U.S.-led coalition continues to battle Islamic State forces, primarily in the northeast. Russian aircraft and other forces have been supporting the regime of Bashar Assad, who also is battling Islamic State militants. U.S. trained militias are also fighting the Assad regime. The new Syrian announcement made no mention of whether the latest cease-fire also would exclude these other groups.

Yemen

Yemeni officials said Wednesday that a suicide car bombing targeted a security compound near the international airport in the southern city of Aden, killing at least 10 people. The death toll is expected to rise. After the car bomb hit the Central Security headquarters, adjacent to the Aden International Airport, militants stormed the compound and clashed with soldiers. No group immediately claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which came as Muslims worldwide celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Yemen has recently been hit by attacks from an Islamic State affiliate.

Afghanistan

President Obama announced another revision to his Afghanistan withdrawal plans on Wednesday, saying the United States would leave 8,400 troops when he steps down next year in the latest acknowledgment that his hopes for ending the long war there have not worked as planned. Obama, who came into office promising to end the wars started by his predecessor, has already changed his timetable for removing troops from Afghanistan several times in an indication of the Taliban’s continued strength and the weaknesses of local security forces. There are now about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, tasked with a dual mission to support local forces and hunt down al-Qaeda and other militants. Obama had originally hoped to leave nothing more than a normal embassy presence at the end of his second term in 2017, but he had already altered that goal and, up until the announcement Wednesday, the White House had planned to whittle the current force to 5,500 by early next year.

Environment

Lawmakers and staff at a U.S. Capitol office building were offered blood tests Wednesday after the discovery of lead-contaminated water in the drinking fountains. According to a notice obtained by Politico and sent to chiefs of staff, House staffers working in Cannon House Office Building may have been exposed to lead-contaminated water for as long as nine months. Concern was mounting on Capitol Hill after the tests results were revealed and officials turned off the water in the building, reports the Associated Press. The news comes on the heels of a new report that says more than 18 million Americans live in communities with illegal water systems in place. The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that the EPA, which is in charge of ensuring that those systems are safe, is aware of the problem and does little to change it.

Landslides

A massive landslide in southern Alaska last week poured millions of tons of rock onto a glacier, moved seismograph needles and threw up a dust cloud so large one local pilot had trouble seeing the ground. More than 100 million tons of rock collapsed from a 4,000-foot high mountainside in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska Dispatch News reported, and the debris spread out over six miles. For reference, small SUVs average around two tons, so the slide is the equivalent of more than 50 million SUVs crashing down the hill. All that weight shook the Earth so hard that the impact registered as a 2.9 magnitude earthquake at the Alaska Earthquake Center and also registered at other stations, some up to 1,500 miles away.

Weather

Torrential rain triggered major flash flooding in parts of Kentucky and Tennessee overnight Wednesday night into Thursday morning, swamping homes and prompting evacuations. More than 50 reports of flooding were received by the National Weather Service overnight. Evacuations were underway at a mobile home park in Hardin early Thursday morning and multiple agencies in the county were conducting water rescues. Some of the worst flooding was in the Land Between the Lakes region of southwest Kentucky and northwest Tennessee, where radar estimated 6 to 8 inches of rain had fallen. A reported tornado struck the town of Eureka, Kansas, late Thursday, damaging multiple structures, including a nursing home. A dozen tornadoes were reported across the Midwest as a result of a severe storm system that brought torrential rain to Kentucky, Illinois and Tennesee.

The center of a weakened Typhoon Napartak is back out to sea over the Taiwan Strait headed for its final landfall in southeast China, with more drenching rain ahead. Super Typhoon Nepartak came ashore near Taitung City in southeastern Taiwan as a Category 4 tropical cyclone shortly after 6:30 a.m. Taiwan local time, Friday morning, forcing 15,000 people to evacuate their homes. Wind gusts up to 125 mph battered the southeastern coast of Taiwan, and over a 1 to 2 feet of rain has fallen across the southern and eastern part of the country. Higher wind gusts have likely been measured over higher elevations including on the smaller island of Lanyu, where gusts climbed to 160 mph at an elevation over 1,000 feet in the outer eyewall. It’s too early yet for reports of damage and deaths.

Signs of the Times (7/5/16)

July 5, 2016

NJ Governor Vetoes Bill to Send $7.4 Million to Planned Parenthood

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill last Friday that the New Jersey legislature approved which would have sent $7.5 million to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion business. Christie has repeatedly cut funding for the Planned Parenthood abortion business, slashing millions in taxpayer funds. Christie, who is pro-life, vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times before he ran for re-election in a state that is not known as a bastion of conservatism. Now he’s vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood a 6th time. The state defunded the abortion giant after it was found engaging in fraudulent Medicaid activity in New Jersey. The U.S. Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services uncovered a consistent problem with New Jersey-based family planning clinics run by the Planned Parenthood abortion business. A government audit found that they were improperly billing Medicaid for services that did not qualify as family planning.

St. Louis Planned Parenthood Sends 60th Patient to Emergency Room

Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified certain abortion safety laws, a medical emergency at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in St. Louis, MO, has illustrated how women have been left in jeopardy by the nation’s High Court, reports Operation Rescue. It happened on Saturday, July 2, 2016, a heavy abortion day. Paramedics were photographed by pro-life activists as they removed a Planned Parenthood patient from the abortion facility and loaded her into an awaiting ambulance. Abortion workers and an armed security guard attempted to conceal the incident by holding up large brown tarps. This medical emergency represented the 60th time since 2009 that ambulances have been dispatched to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood to render aid to patients that Planned Parenthood was not equipped to provide.

FBI Recommends that No Charges should be Filed against Hillary Clinton

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that he would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state but that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” handling classified information. “Although we did not find clear evidence” of intentional misconduct, he said, “There is evidence that they were extremely careless of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said neither the Department of Justice nor the White House knew what he was going to announce Tuesday. The decision helps remove what was arguably the biggest threat to her presidential campaign going forward – a criminal referral that could have led to an indictment – just weeks before her party’s national convention in Philadelphia where she is set to seal her nomination as the Democrat standard bearer. In the wake of the report, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump stepped up his criticism of her email actions and said she belongs in “jail.”

White House Reveals Civilian Death Count from Drone Strikes

President Barack Obama’s administration estimated Friday that between 64 and 116 civilians have died during the years 2009-2015 from U.S. drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the same time span, the administration said between 2,372 and 2,581 militants had been taken out by drones. The information was released as part of an effort by Obama to introduce more transparency into a controversial military tactic that he has defended as necessary to fight terror. Human rights groups, however, were unsatisfied by the government’s disclosed figures, which came in far lower than independent estimates of civilian causalities. The numbers released Friday included deaths outside established war zones. The administration didn’t specify which countries were included, though the military and CIA are believed to have carried out strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and various countries in Africa.

California Governor Signs Six Stringent Gun Bills

Gov. Jerry Brown signed six stringent gun-control measures Friday that will require people to turn in high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks for ammunition sales, as California Democrats seek to strengthen gun laws that are already among the strictest in the nation. The state’s move to tighten them further comes amid years of gridlock at the federal level, which spawned a tense clash in Washington last week as Democrats camped out on the floor of the U.S. House and shouted down Republicans. The bills angered Republicans and gun-rights advocates who say Democrats are trampling on 2nd Amendment rights, creating new restrictions that won’t cut off the flow of guns to people intent on using them for nefarious purposes.

Bangladesh Terrorist Attack by Islamic State

The deadly hostage takeover of a bakery in the heart of Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka on Friday is the latest in a series of grisly attacks linked to Islamic extremists since 2013. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault on Holey Artisan Bakery in the city’s upscale diplomatic zone that left at least 22 civilians dead and dozens held hostage. 20 people who were unable to quote from the Quran were pulled aside and hacked or knifed to death. Police officials later stormed the cafe in an intense standoff Saturday morning, killing six assailants and rescuing 13 captives. Earlier Friday, the group said one of its operatives hacked to death a Buddhist and a Hindu temple worker, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremist activity. The deaths are the latest in a series of dozens of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked murders, often by hacking or stabbing but sometimes by shooting, mostly targeting writers, activists, foreigners and religious minorities in the majority Muslim country.

Deaths from Heart Disease, Cancer Down in U.S.

According to the CDC, heart disease is still the number one cause of death among people in the U.S., followed by cancer. However, the adult death rates were down 1% in 2014. Over the years, the data has shown a significant decrease in deaths from heart problems and cancer. Fewer people smoke, and medications have improved. The statistics also showed life expectancy increased for black men, Hispanic people and non-Hispanic black men. However, life expectancy declined for non-Hispanic white women.

New Panama Canal a Big Boost for LNG Exporters

Exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas stand to benefit substantially from the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal which opened last week. The expansion will lead to much shorter travel time and much lower costs for shipments from the Gulf Coast to big markets in Asia and South America. Wider and deeper navigation channels and larger locks mean the canal can accommodate 90% of the world’s LNG tankers, including vessels that hold as much as 3.9 billion cubic feet of the fuel, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Before the expansion, the canal could handle only much smaller ships, representing only 6% of the LNG fleet.

Economic News

America now has more untapped oil than any other country on the planet. That’s according to a new report from Rystad Energy that estimates the U.S. is sitting on an incredible 264 billion barrels of oil reserves. Thanks to the shale oil boom, the U.S. is now sitting on more oil reserves than Russia, which Rystad estimates as having 256 billion barrels of untapped oil. The next-richest countries in terms of oil after that are: Saudi Arabia (212 billion), Canada (167 billion), Iran (143 billion) and Brazil (120 billion). More than half of America’s untapped oil is shale oil, according to Rystad. Shale oil is the previously-unreachable crude that, thanks to fracking and new technology, has reshaped the global energy landscape and vaulted the U.S. into the upper echelon of global oil producers. The findings suggest the U.S. could shoulder even more of the weight of global oil production in the future, especially as prices recover.

An unusual flurry of minimum wage increases took effect Friday in Maryland and Oregon, as well as in 13 cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC and Louisville, Ky. The initiatives will boost minimum pay to as much as $13 to $14.82 an hour in parts of California. The pay for low-wage workers is now rising far more rapidly than their higher-earning counterparts. Meanwhile, employer advocates are taking an increasingly aggressive stance against the raises, running ads to argue they’re hurting businesses and jeopardizing summer job opportunities for teens.

The British pound slumped again Tuesday amid renewed concerns about the ramifications of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. The pound was down 1.3% to $1.3139 in intraday trading, the weakest in 31 years. The declines were related to fears over how Brexit will affect U.K. property prices. A weaker pound makes the U.K. a relatively more attractive destination for American tourists arriving with dollars to spend but makes it more expensive for U.S. companies and employees based there.

Murray Energy Corp., the largest privately held coal miner in the U.S., has warned that it may soon undertake one of the biggest layoffs in the sector during this time of low energy prices. In a notice sent to workers this week, Murray said it could lay off as many as 4,400 employees, or about 80% of its workforce, because of weak coal markets. The company said it anticipates “massive workforce reductions in September.” The law requires a 60-day waiting period before large layoffs occur. The American coal industry, especially in Appalachia, has languished as cheap natural gas replaces coal as fuel for power plants. World-wide demand for coal has also slumped, and new environmental regulations are making many coal mines unprofitable to operate.

Israel

Israel’s Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan slammed Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg for what he said was their partial responsibility for the wave of Palestinian terror attacks which is fanned by incitement posted on Facebook and other social media outlets. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday, Erdan said that “part of the blood of the murdered is on Facebook’s hands,” and demanded that the social media network take action to combat the terrorism incited its website. “Facebook has become a monster,” the Israeli minister charged. “The discourse of the younger [Palestinian] generation on the web, all the incitement and lies, it all occurs on this platform.”

The Israeli military struck a series of militant sites in Gaza early Saturday in response to a rocket attack that hit a kindergarten in the Israeli border town of Sderot. No injuries were reported on either side but damage was caused to buildings. The exchange comes amid an escalation of violence in the West Bank following a pair of fatal attacks against Jewish settlers that has sparked Israel’s largest military surge in two years. The military said its airstrikes targeted four training sites belonging to Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Late Friday, a rocket from Gaza struck an empty kindergarten, marking a rare successful hit of a civilian target in Israel. Rocket attacks have been sporadic since Israel and Hamas waged a deadly 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

The deputy commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard declared Friday that there are tens of thousands of missiles in Lebanon ready to strike Israel. “Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles that are ready to hit Israel to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories if the Zionist regime repeats its past mistakes,” Gen. Hossein Salami was quoted as saying, according to the Reuters news service. “Today, the grounds for the annihilation and collapse of the Zionist regime are (present) more than ever,” he said..

Islamic State

The terrorist attack in Bangladesh Friday highlights the resiliency of the Islamic State and its ability to pull off high-profile assaults around the world, despite losing territory in Iraq and Syria. The terror attacks like the one in Bangladesh and earlier this week in Istanbul show that the group has established cells around the world — and is still capable of deadly attacks. “ISIS has tens of thousands of individuals that are scattered not just in the Middle East but also to West Africa, to Southeast Asia, and beyond,” CIA Director John Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations last week. The Islamic State has established a presence in Bangladesh, a predominately Muslim country, as it has in other parts of the world, said Patrick Johnston, a terrorism analyst at Rand Corp. The group has been able to build its presence in places like Bangladesh by exploiting local grievances and weak governments, Johnston said.

Two ISIS senior military commanders died last week in a U.S. airstrike, including the man that the United States says oversaw the terror group’s 2014 offensive to capture the all-important Iraqi city of Mosul, the Pentagon said Friday. The June 25 airstrike near Mosul killed ISIS’ deputy minister of war, Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, and Hatim Talib al-Hamduni, a military commander in the area. “These deaths are the latest in coalition efforts to systemically eliminate ISIL’s cabinet wherever they hide, disrupting their ability to plot external terror attacks and hold onto the territory they use to claim legitimacy. The international coalition fighting ISIL, working with local, capable, and motivated forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, continues to make sustained progress in our campaign to deal ISIL a lasting defeat.”

Iraq

At least 149 people were killed Sunday in a suicide bombing in central Baghdad claimed by the Islamic State, the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital this year, officials said. Among those killed were at least 15 children, 10 women and six policemen when a bomber’s pickup truck laden with explosives went off outside a crowded shopping center, wounding 192 other people. The bombing was the first major Islamic State terror attack in Baghdad since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Fallujah, a city about 35 miles west of the capital, in a major defeat a week ago for the terror organization.

Saudi Arabia

Three suicide attacks in 24 hours — that’s how Saudis will remember the end of Ramadan, a month that has seen the wider region plunged into a wave of terror-related violence. The attacks — including one in Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam — follow massive jihadi assaults from Turkey to Iraq that have been been tied to ISIS. Analysts believe events in Saudi Arabia could also be the work of the terror group. Two of the attacks failed but four people were killed in the third, all of which appear to be coordinated — targeting both Saudi security forces and Western interests. The deadliest attack occurred in Medina, where four people were killed and another person was wounded. The city is a major spot in Islam because that’s where the Prophet Mohammed is buried.

A suspected suicide bomber carried out an unsuccessful attack early Monday near the U.S. consulate in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. The attacker died and two security men were wounded with minor injuries, according to the interior ministry. The attacker detonated his suicide vest when security guards approached him near the parking lot of a hospital. The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia confirmed to the Associated Press that there were no casualties or injuries among the consular staff. The U.S. consulate was the scene of an attack in 2004, when five employees and four gunmen were killed. The Saudi wing of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack.

Taiwan

A Taiwan warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile toward China Friday, hitting a fishing boat and killing the boat’s captain in an incident China called “a serious matter.” A spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense apologized on behalf of the military. The ministry has also asked the Navy to provide assistance and compensation to the family of the victims. The missile, the “Hsiung Feng III,” ripped through the fishing boat but did not explode. Relations between Taiwan — officially the Republic of China — and the People’s Republic of China have been increasingly tense since the landslide election of Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has traditionally leaned in favor of formal independence from China.

Brazil

The Olympic Games are just 31 days away — and Rio de Janeiro is in crisis. Violence is on the rise and police officers are at loggerheads with the government after claiming they’ve not been paid for months. The state’s police officers vented their anger last week with a sign saying “Welcome to Hell” outside Rio airport. “Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe,” the sign said. Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes told CNN that the state was doing a “terrible” job in regard to security in the lead up to the Olympic Games.

A group of Brazilian scientists have detected a drug-resistant bacteria growing off of some of Rio de Janeiro’s most stunning beaches, one month before the city is due to host the 2016 Olympic Games. According to lead researcher Renata Picao, the “super bacteria” entered the city’s waterways when sewage coming from local hospitals got channeled into the bay. The news comes as Rio prepares to host hundreds of thousands of athletes and tourists during next month’s Summer Olympics. Among the beaches flagged were Flamengo and Botafogo, which border the bay where Olympic sailors are scheduled to compete. German Paralympic sailor Heiko Kroger believes the super bacteria may have caused a severe skin infection in one of his teammates during recent training.

Wildfires

A wildfire in northern California has prompted the evacuation of 1,650 people and threatens 2,600 structures in the Sierra foothills. The blaze, dubbed the Trailhead Fire, started Tuesday afternoon and grew to more than five square miles Saturday as it rapidly swept through inaccessible terrain and climbed out of a steep canyon along the middle fork of the American River. The blaze now covers 3,218 acres and is located in El Dorado and Placer counties, about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento. It threatens hundreds of homes, businesses, and other structures. Although mandatory evacuations were lifted in Placer County Friday night, residents in adjacent El Dorado county continue to be evacuated.

Firefighters on Sunday battled a wildfire burning in steep, inaccessible terrain in central California, threatening at least 300 homes in or near a gated community, one day after a fast-moving brush fire in San Bernardino burned five homes and injured at least three people. The central California fire has grown to 2.8 square miles since it began Friday afternoon, Phil Neufeld, a spokesman for the Kern County Fire Department said Saturday. It is 20 percent contained. The blaze is among 12 wildfires burning in California.

Wildlife

Dry weather in New England has heightened the risk of black bear encounters, prompting wildlife officials to issue precautions. Black bears have been spotted from Maine to Maryland rummaging through garbage cans and backyard grills, and even plundering through birdfeeders for a bite to eat. The recent dry weather has caused a scarcity of the berries and other plants they generally feed on in the woods. More than 200 complaints have been received by the Warden Service in Maine, which has the largest black bear population in the eastern U.S.

Weather

Heavy rain has caused flooding in parts of the Plains and Midwest over the weekend, with Missouri and Kansas both reporting high water. In addition to flooding in Wichita, flash floods were also confirmed in the Kansas cities of Hesston, Newton, McPherson and Moundridge. 2 to 6 inches of rain fell along parts of the I-70 corridor in eastern Kansas and Missouri as of Sunday morning.

The dearth of named tropical cyclones in the tropical northern Pacific Ocean in 2016 has now set a pair of records immediately following one of the most hyperactive years in 2015. There hasn’t been a single named storm of at least tropical storm intensity in the North Pacific Basin since Hurricane Pali became a January oddball just north of the equator and well southwest of Hawaii. Most impressive is the lack of a single tropical storm, much less a typhoon (the term for a hurricane in the western North Pacific Basin), west of the international date line since mid-December 2015, in the world’s typically busiest tropical cyclone corridor. This has now set a new record for the longest stretch without at least a single tropical storm in the western North Pacific basin in 66 years of record-keeping. By the end of June 2015, there had already been nine tropical cyclones in the northwest Pacific basin, including three super typhoons of Category 5 equivalent intensity.

Catastrophic floods have taken over 200 lives in China and Pakistan this weekend after days of heavy rain. In China, 186 have been killed and another 45 people have been reported missing by the nation’s flood and drought relief headquarters. Nearly 1.5 million people have been evacuated or are in need of aid in Hubei. Almost 9,000 houses have collapsed or are seriously damaged and more than 710,000 hectares of crops have been affected, causing direct economic losses of 50.6 billion yuan ($7.6 billion), the provincial civil affairs department said. In Pakistan, heavy monsoon rains and flash floods have claimed at least 30 lives and washed away a mosque and several houses in Ursoon.

Signs of the Times (7/1/16)

July 1, 2016

Revival Sweeping Nepal, 200,000 Buddhists Saved

More than 200,000 Tibetans have accepted Jesus into their lives, Breaking Christian News reported Friday. Asian Access’ Joel Handley says he believes much of the faith sweeping the region stems from Christian response to the devastating Nepalese earthquake more than a year ago.  “They haven’t seen Buddhists, Hindus or other religious groups helping in the midst of the rubble. Rather, week after week, it is the followers of Jesus who have proved the test of time, sacrificed their own lives to serve and been the hands and feet of Jesus,” Handley says.

Christianity on the Rise in Cuba

Cuban Christianity has “grown in the shadows of culture for many years,” according to the Deseret News. With help from Christian organizations, such as The Luis Palau Bible Institute and the International Bible Society, that growth is continuing. Those groups are distributing bibles and holding gospel-training sessions to help Cubans gain biblical knowledge. Many of the churches and church leaders were born in the trenches and underground,” said Dr. Carlos Barbieri, director of the Luis Palau Bible Institute. “They are bold and persistent. They are undoubtedly a living example for others, committed to the scriptures and passionate about the Lord,” “Most important of all is that Cuban Christians feel more free to engage in these events and participate in these training courses without fear,” Barbieri said.

Russian Government Introduces Draconian Restrictions on Religious Freedom

A series of amendments to anti-terrorist legislation in Russia requires individuals to gain prior state authorization before even discussing their faith with someone else. The Duma adopted the amendments Wednesday despite major protests by churches. The bill was passed by the Council of the Russian Federation and is now on its way to President Putin for his expected signature. The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorization from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present.

Judge blocks Mississippi Religious Objections Law

A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs in denying or delaying services to same-sex couples. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves filed orders in two lawsuits blocking the law just moments before it was to take effect Friday. State attorneys are expected to appeal. The law would allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies. Judge Reeves wrote that the law violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. More than 100 similar bills have been filed in more than 20 state legislatures across the nation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling nearly a year ago that legalized same-sex marriage.

Concealed Carrier Prevents Mass Shooting at SC Nightclub

A man with a concealed carry license stopped a shooter after the latter opened fire on a crowd of people at a nightclub in South Carolina early Sunday morning, according to WISTV.com. After getting into a fight with another person, the 32-year-old suspect pulled out a gun and began to fire at a crowd of people gathered outside of the club, hitting and injuring four, WISTV reports. One of the victims, who holds a concealed-carry permit, shot back in self-defense, hitting the suspect in the leg. The suspect has been charged with four counts of attempted murder. He was also charged for unlawfully carrying a weapon and for carrying one while committing a violent crime.

  • Of course, the mainstream media has failed to report this story even as it continues to belabor the Orlando shooting as a call to gun control

13-Year Old Boy Fends off Burglars with Mother’s Gun

A 13-year-old boy in Ladson, South Carolina, fended off two would-be burglars by using his mother’s gun to protect himself while home alone Tuesday, reports the local newspaper, Post and Courier. He killed one of them in an exchange of gunfire, and the second suspect was later arrested, according to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. The boy was not injured in the shootout. The attempted burglary unfolded just before 1:30 p.m. at the Woodside neighborhood residence, where the boy said he became suspicious after seeing a vehicle pull up behind the house. The boy saw a man try to break into the back of the home, “at which time he feared for his safety” and grabbed his mother’s pistol, the arrest affidavit states. After the boy opened fire, the two suspects fled, and as they drove away, the boy continued shooting at them, according to the affidavit.

  • The liberal mainstream media fails to report these kinds of stories because they undermine their case for increased gun control

House Releases Final Benghazi Report

A damning report authored by the Republican-led House committee probing the Benghazi terror attacks faulted the Obama administration for a range of missteps before, during and after the fatal 2012 attacks – saying top administration officials huddled to craft their public response while military assets waited hours to deploy to Libya. The report released Tuesday pointedly blamed a “rusty bureaucratic process” for the slow-moving response the night of the attack. The report said despite orders from President Obama and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to deploy, the first military force did not do so until more than 13 hours after the attack started. The report said one anti-terrorism security team known as the FAST unit sat waiting for three hours in Rota, Spain awaiting orders While various officials debated how to proceed, U.S. personnel were under attack at two sites in Benghazi. In the end, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attacks. The report also said, “Security deficiencies plagued the Benghazi Mission compound in the lead-up to September 2012.” The claim that the fatal 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks were sparked by an anti-Muslim video was crafted in Washington by Obama administration appointees and reflected neither eyewitness nor real-time reports from the Americans under siege, according to the final report

Exploding UK Immigration Behind ‘Brexit’ Vote

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union last week appears to have been driven largely by a historical surge of immigrants in recent years that has transformed the island nation. Annual legal immigration into the U.K. is now 10 times what it was in 1993, and experts believe this cultural dynamic fed fears of globalization and job losses which, in turn, drove last Thursday’s vote to exit the EU. The migration influx has been so dramatic in recent years that currently one in 20 people living in the U.K. — 3 million people — were citizens of another EU country just two years ago, according to the British Office of National Statistics.

Before 2004, when the EU expanded to include 10 new member states such as Latvia, Poland and other eastern European nations, net EU immigration to the U.K. averaged around 10,000 per year, according to the national statistics office. Last year, 270,000 citizens from EU countries immigrated to the U.K., the statistics office estimates. A full third of those who voted in favor of Britain leaving the EU said immigration concerns were the reason. Fifty-three percent said they were motivated by the U.K.’s inability to make its own laws without interference from EU bureaucrats based in Brussels.

Unnamed U.S. Government Agency Hit with 1,370 Cyberattacks in 2014

In 2014, a single U.S. government agency was hit with a blizzard of more than 1,370 external attacks on its most vital computer systems, with three out of every eight incidents resulting in a loss of data, according to a new report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, suggesting hackers have been far more successful at getting at sensitive government information than previously disclosed. The highly besieged agency was not named in the report, which was given to government officials in May and made public last week. The eye-opening number of data leaks that resulted from the attacks — 516 “incidents” in all — is barely mentioned in the 94-page GAO report, notes Fox News. It is mostly buried in the fine print of an information diagram on page 24 of the wordy and technical document. The fact that the data losses all came from one agency is mentioned only in a footnote to the diagram, and the extraordinary success rate of the attacks has to be calculated from figures speckled on the previous page.

U.S. & China to Participate in Massive Pacific War Games

Warships from a record 26 nations — including the United States and China — are converging on waters near Hawaii this week for a five-week-long series of exercises designed to promote international security, good will and cooperation on the high seas. The massive “Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, war games will take place amid increasing tension and competition in waters of the Asia-Pacific region and will include warships from at least seven nations with competing claims or interests in the region. China will take part in the RIMPAC exercise, held every two years, for just the second time. Some members of Congress and the U.S. defense community have called for the invitation to be withdrawn because of China’s assertive territorial claims and island-building program in the South China Sea. China has claimed sole ownership over virtually all of that key waterway, through which passes an estimated $5 trillion in annual trade. In just the past two years, China has built at least seven landfill islands in the South China Sea, including some with military-grade runways, deep-water ports and extensive land facilities.

Tesla Driver on Autopilot Killed by Tractor Trailer

The U.S. announced Thursday the first fatality of a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode. Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, was the owner of a technology company and had praised Tesla’s sophisticated “Autopilot” system just one month earlier for preventing a collision on an interstate. The government said it is investigating the design and performance of the system aboard the Tesla Model S sedan. Brown died in the accident Williston, Florida, when the car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to government records obtained Thursday.

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

Newsmax reports that medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., based on data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the National Center for Healthcare Statistics. Over 250,000 lives were lost due to errors such surgical procedures on the wrong body parts, improperly filled prescriptions, inadequately sterilized instruments, and the wrong medicines given to the wrong patients. One in ten of all U.S. deaths are caused by medical errors, ranking only behind heart disease and cancer as the nation’s leading cause of death.

Blue Cross, Health Net Drop Affordable Care Act Marketplace Plans

Two major health insurance companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona and Health Net, will drop Affordable Care Act plans next year in Maricopa and Pinal counties, forcing tens of thousands of consumers to switch plans next year. Stung by financial losses on marketplace plans in 2014 and 2015, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona has filed documents with the Arizona Department of Insurance to discontinue such plans in Maricopa and Pinal counties. About 44,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield customers will need to find new sources of health coverage for 2017. Similarly, state filings show Health Net will drop Affordable Care Act plans in Maricopa and Pinal counties next year, eliminating coverage for about 14,000 current Health Net customers.

Economic News

Single-family home prices notched at least a 5% annual rise for the sixth consecutive month in April, but the growth is slowing slowly. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index showed home prices increased 5% in April compared to a year ago, down from a revised 5.1% rise in March. That marks the third straight slowdown in annual price appreciation, which topped out at 5.4% in January.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that consumer spending increased 0.4% in May on top of a 1.1% surge in April. Spending on durable goods such as autos and appliances grew 0.6%, down from a 2.6% jump in April. Spending on nondurable goods, such as food and clothing, grew 0.5%. And spending on services grew just 0.1%. The overall numbers underscore that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity, picked up in the spring after getting off to a slow start in 2016. But, Americans’ incomes grew just 0.2% in May, down from 0.5% in April.

Apartment rents are still surging but some relief is in sight. Average U.S. rent rose 0.4% in May, according to consumer price index data released this month, the 67th consecutive month of increases. Renting an average market-priced apartment now costs $1,282 a month. Rent has been climbing sharply since early last year, driven by strong demand as employment grew steadily in cities such as New York Atlanta, Phoenix and Tampa. Wage growth, meanwhile, hasn’t kept up with rising rents, making it tougher for apartment dwellers to save for a down payment. Many Millennials are moving out of their parents’ basements but still don’t have the savings to afford a home or can’t qualify for a mortgage.

In what is being called a ground-breaking agreement, Volkswagen will pay $14.7 billion not only to compensate owners for its polluting “clean” diesel-powered cars, but for environmental mitigation and to set up a fund to promote zero-emissions technology, the government announced Tuesday. Owners of the 475,000 Volkswagen vehicles with 2-liter diesels covered under the settlement will receive payments ranging from $5,100 to $10,000. In addition, Volkswagen will either repair their cars to bring them into compliance with emissions laws or buy them back in order to scrap them. VW has admitted to inserting software in VW and Audi cars with 2-lliter engines going back to 2009 that allows them to beat emissions tests.

Puerto Rico isn’t planning to make any of the $800 million payment to its bondholders due on July 1. Governor Alejandro García Padilla says it is in a “dire” financial position with only about $350 million in cash on hand right now. He argued that paying teachers, emergency personnel and other critical needs must come first. The deeply indebted island defaulted Friday on debt that is supposed to be guaranteed by the Puerto Rican constitution. In other words, Puerto Rico was supposed to pay creditors who hold general obligation bonds before paying anyone else. Puerto Rico’s default marks the first time that a state or state-like entity (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory) has failed to pay general obligation bonds since the Great Depression.

Brexit cost the U.K. its perfect AAA credit rating. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.K. by two notches to AA on Monday, the latest fallout from last week’s shocking U.K. referendum to leave the European Union. S&P warned that Brexit will “weaken the predictability, stability and effectiveness” of British policymaking and deter foreign investment in the U.K. The ratings firm said Brexit may also lead to a “deterioration” of the British economy — especially its vitally-important banking industry — and could even trigger a “constitutional crisis” if there is another referendum on Scottish independence.

Worst Countries for Human Trafficking

Myanmar, Sudan and Haiti are currently among the worst offenders for human trafficking, according to a new report published today by the U.S. State Department. The three nations were among 27 to be downgraded in this year’s annual Trafficking in Persons — or TIP — report. Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Turkmenistan also slipped to the bottom of the pile in this year’s report. After two years, Thailand moved off the bottom rung due to the government’s “significant efforts” to eliminate trafficking. However, the report says there’s still “widespread forced labor” in the country’s seafood sector. The only other country upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch list was Kuwait, while 10 nations were upgraded from the Watch List to Tier 2, including Namibia, Lebanon, Egypt and Cambodia. The upward move for Cambodia marks a major improvement for a country that’s long been embroiled in a battle against the sex trade and child sex tourism. Seven countries made the leap from Tier 2 to Tier 1, including Colombia, Cyprus, Lithuania and the Philippines, where human trafficking has historically been a critical issue.

Middle East

A Palestinian assailant broke into a home in a West Bank settlement early Thursday and stabbed a 13-year-old Jewish girl to death as she slept in bed, the latest in a nine-month wave of violence that had recently shown signs of tapering off. She was a cousin of Uri Ariel, a Cabinet minister from the Jewish Home, a party affiliated with the West Bank settler movement. The minister later said Israel would make “every effort” to build up settlements in the West Bank. The attacker, identified as a 17-year-old high school dropout, was fatally shot by security guards. The Israeli military sealed off the entrances to a nearby village, the home of the attacker, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on both the Palestinian leadership and the international community to condemn the brutal assault. “The horrifying murder of a young girl in her bed underscores the bloodlust and inhumanity of the incitement-driven terrorists that we are facing,” Netanyahu said after an emergency meeting with his defense minister.

Israeli security agencies were on high alert Friday following the thwarting of yet another attempted terrorist attack, this time a Palestinian woman who tried to stab an Israel Border Police officer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The terrorist was shot by the officer and later died of her wounds. Earlier, an Israeli father of 10 was killed in front of his children and three others were wounded in a shooting attack by a Palestinian terrorist near Hebron. The fatality has been identified as 40-year-old Michael “Micki” Marc from the nearby town of Otniel, who was traveling in his car with his family when it was targeted. His wife Chavi was seriously wounded in the attack, and was evacuated to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital with multiple gunshot wounds to her upper body. Two other family members were also wounded in the attack. According to initial reports, a “Kia” model car overtook the family as they drove along Route 60 and opened fire, striking both parents and causing the car to overturn. As many as 20 shots were fired at the car.

Palestinian leadership continues to incite violence against Israelis, as a senior Palestinian official called to end Israeli lives in a most violent fashion. “Wherever you see an Israeli, slit their throat,” declared Sultan Abu Alainin, member of Fatah’s Central Committee and aide to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in an interview with the Palestinian Donia Al-Watan newspaper on Monday.

Islamic State

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State rocked the extremist group near the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Wednesday, killing at least 250 suspected militants and destroying at least 40 vehicles. The reported strikes occurred south of the city, and are the latest setback for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which continues to suffer devastating defeats just two years after capturing large swaths of Iraq. An unnamed U.S. defense official told FOX News that a convoy of ISIL fighters was hit as they tried to leave a neighborhood on the outskirts of Fallujah. The Islamic State has lost about 45% of the territory it controlled at its peak last year in Iraq and about 20% of what it once occupied in Syria, the Pentagon says. “ISIL fighters are panicking on the battlefield, foreign recruits are now looking to return home, and leaders are struggling to maintain discipline, even despite the threat of execution for disobedience,” Brett McGurk, a special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.

Turkey

The death toll has climbed to 31 after three suicide bombers blew themselves up at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. The three men arrived at the airport in a taxi. They opened fire on passengers before blowing themselves up. Security footage captures one of the suicide bombers collapsing to the ground after being shot in the airport. He is seen squirming for several seconds before he sets off the bomb. Tuesday’s attack left 239 people wounded but 109 have been treated and discharged. The three suicide bombers were nationals from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a senior Turkish official said Thursday. Counter-terrorism teams launched 16 simultaneous raids in Istanbul, and Turkish police said they have detained 13 people, including three foreign nationals in connection with the attack. Turkish officials have strong evidence that the Istanbul airport attackers came to the country from the Syrian ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and that the group’s leadership was involved in the planning of the attack, a senior Turkish government source told CNN Thursday.

Iraq

The United States has extended a $2.7-billion line of credit to Iraq for the purchase of military equipment amid the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Wednesday that the deal gives Iraq a one-year grace period and eight and a half years total to pay for its purchases of ammunition and maintenance of its F-16s and M1A1 tanks. Like other oil-reliant countries, Iraq’s economy has been severely hit by plummeting crude prices since 2014, plunging the nation into an acute financial crisis. The OPEC member is struggling to feed a cash-strapped economy amid an expensive fight against IS militants, who still control key areas in the country’s north and west.

Afghanistan

A Taliban suicide attack struck a police convoy outside the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 50. The convoy of buses carried new officers from a graduation ceremony and was struck by two bombs, the BBC reported. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a suicide bomber on foot targeted a bus carrying trainee policemen and their instructors before a car bomber attacked 20 minutes later when police arrived to help. “The Taliban have once again shown their total disregard for human life. Their increased use of improvised explosive devises is taking a very heavy toll on the Afghan people,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Nigeria

The Nigerian Army reported on June 26th that it raided 15 villages in the remote north-east of the country as part of its continuing operation to defeat Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In the process, the army freed 5,000 people held hostage by the insurgents. For the past seven years, Boko Haram has fought to establish an Islamic State in the region. Their main targets are Christians, Western-style educational establishments (i.e. not Islamic), and security forces. More than 15,000 people have been killed, thousands more taken hostage, and 2 million displaced in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon during Boko Haram’s insurgency. In the last year, Nigeria’s armed forces, sometimes supported by troops from neighboring countries, have recaptured most of the territory that the Islamists had claimed.

Venezuela

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive. What has been a crisis developing in slow-motion appears to be careening into a new, more dangerous phase. The long economic decline of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves now shows signs of morphing into a humanitarian emergency, with government mismanagement and low petroleum prices leading to widespread shortages and inflation that could surpass 700 percent this year.

Brazil

The headache for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games organizers shows no signs of subsiding. Six weeks before the Games are set to begin, Francisco Dornelles, the acting governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that the state has not yet received recently-approved federal funds to beef up security and transportation for the quadrennial competition. The budget shortfall adds to the “perfect storm” Brazil is facing leading up to the Games, due to kick off on August 5. Organizers are dealing with concerns regarding the Zika virus, a doping scandal in which Brazil’s only testing lab was suspended, high crime and political upheaval involving the country’s highest figures. With just 36 days to go before the Rio Olympics kick off, the situation in the host city just went from bad to worse.

Hong Kong

Thousands of citizen in Hong Kong took to the streets for the southern Chinese city’s annual pro-democracy protest march Friday, as tensions persisted over the high-profile case of a bookseller secretly detained in the mainland. Protesters waved placards calling for Hong Kong’s independence from China and signs with photos of the bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, whose revelations last month about his ordeal rekindled concerns about Beijing’s tightening grip on the semiautonomous city. Lam is one of five booksellers who went missing for months only to turn up later in police custody in mainland China. Their disappearance sparked international concern that Beijing was eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Environment

The ozone hole over Antarctica is healing according to a study published in the journal Science. For decades, a large hole has opened in the ozone layer over Antarctica each year. The gap forms in late August or early September – spring in the Southern Hemisphere – and expands until it reaches its largest annual size in October. But a study published Thursday found that the ozone hole is healing, based on studies performed on the hole each September since 2000. It could be fully repaired by the middle or end of this century. Researcher Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at MIT, proved in 1986 that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) weakened the ozone layer over Antarctica. Made of chlorine and bromine, CFCs were found in many household objects until they were banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. As a result, the hole is shrinking.

Officials in five states have issued health advisories for dozens of beaches just days before thousands hit the road for the 4th of July holiday. Texas leads the way with 15 beaches with either high or medium levels of bacteria; Louisiana has a dozen beaches under advisory, and Mississippi and Alabama have one apiece. More than half of the Texas advisories are centered around Galveston, where the Galveston County Health District is assuring people that the advisories in the area are not related to the Vibrio bacteria, commonly referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria,” which killed at least 10 people last year in Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott added two more counties on Thursday to the state of emergency declared over a “guacamole-thick” algae bloom affecting a stretch of beaches promoted as the state’s “Treasure Coast.” At Central Marine boat docks in Stuart on Thursday, pea-green and brown algae coated the water and smelled strongly like cow manure. Blooms that started last week in the St. Lucie River continue to spread, threatening Atlantic beaches expecting crowds of families for the holiday weekend. Manatees have been seen struggling to get through the thick algae.

Water Woes

Eighteen million Americans live in communities where the water systems are in violation of the law. Moreover, the federal agency in charge of making sure those systems are safe not only knows the issues exist, but it’s done very little to stop them, according to a new report and information provided to CNN by multiple sources and water experts. States are the first line of enforcement, but when they fail — as they did recently in Flint, Michigan — the EPA is supposed to step in. But in many cases, the agency hasn’t. More than 5,300 water systems in America are in violation of the EPA’s lead and copper rule, a federal regulation in place to safeguard America’s drinking water from its aging infrastructure. Violations include failure to properly test water for lead, failure to report contamination to residents, and failure to treat water properly to avoid lead contamination. Yet, states took action in just 817 cases; the EPA took action in only 88 cases, according to NRDC’s report.

California’s Central Valley has three times more freshwater in underground aquifers than previously thought, drinking water that could help the state weather future drought and fortify itself against a changing climate, according to a new Stanford University study. But tapping that water, locked thousands of feet beneath the ground, will be expensive and comes with an enormous risk — it could cause the valley floor to sink, according to the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sinking land in the Central Valley is already threatening roads, homes and other infrastructure, and reduces the amount of water some aquifers can hold. To stave off losses during its four-year drought, California has relied on groundwater to irrigate its farm fields. So much groundwater is being used that the water table has fallen by 50 feet in some places in the Central Valley, and the valley floor is sinking, or subsiding, as aquifers are depleted.

Beijing residents have put up with choking smog, trash-filled rivers and toxic running tracks. Now they have another concern — sinking. An international study led by Beijing-based researchers has discovered that the city is dropping by as much as 11 centimeters (4 inches) in some districts per year. The thirsty city has depleted its groundwater, which the study identified as the cause of the sinking. Beijing is ranked as the fifth most water-stressed city in the world, the study notes, and as China continues to urbanize, the stress on subterranean aquifers is only set to worsen.

Wildfires

Residents east of Interstate 17 in Cordes Lakes who were evacuated Tuesday because of a fast-moving wildfire that burned more than 1,000 acres in a single afternoon were allowed to return to their homes late that night after fire managers said they had the blaze 50 percent contained. Smoke and flames from the Bug Creek Fire that skirted the interstate had choked northbound traffic for much of the day on the main route connecting Phoenix to popular destinations including Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Motorists reported hours-long delays. When conditions allowed, state transportation and public safety officials opened one northbound lane to let traffic pass. Otherwise, drivers were forced to turn around at Sunset Point, about 50 miles north of Phoenix.

People living in a rural subdivision 50 miles northeast of Sacramento were evacuated Tuesday as firefighters braved triple-digit temperatures to battle a wildfire that climbed out of a steep canyon along the middle fork of the American River. Homes near Todd Valley between the cities of Foresthill and Auburn were evacuated as a 20-acre fire quickly grew to 300 acres. The fire was approaching a subdivision with large lots and a scattered population. The fire began Tuesday afternoon in El Dorado County before jumping the river and climbing out of the canyon and into neighboring Placer County.

Weather

Severe storms slammed the Las Vegas area with hail and “unprecedented” heavy rain that led to flash flooding Thursday, causing water rescues and leaving thousands without power. Strong to severe thunderstorms developed northwest of Las Vegas and slowly dropped toward the southeast into southern Nevada bringing 1-2″ hail and high rainfall rates to Las Vegas. The hilly and urban terrain promoted flash flooding. An early monsoon and near record high atmospheric moisture helped these storms saturate the area. Erin Neff, spokeswoman for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District, characterized the rain in some parts of the area as “unprecedented.”

More heavy rainfall arrived in soggy West Virginia on Monday and Tuesday, bringing additional precipitation and flooding to a region that’s dealing with tragedy and a prolonged cleanup. The widespread flooding killed 23, left thousands homeless and prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a federal disaster. According to the National Weather Service, “extremely rare amounts of rainfall” swamped entire areas of the state, washing out roadways, flooding and destroying structures and cutting off power to thousands – a one in a thousand -year event.