Signs of the Times (7/8/16)

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.

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