Archive for June, 2017

Signs of the Times (6/28/17)

June 28, 2017

Supreme Court Partially Upholds Trump Travel Ban

The Supreme Court delivered a mixed ruling on Monday that will allow President Trump to implement his travel ban against six Muslim majority nations — but only for visitors lacking ties to the United States. They ruled that a complete ban went too far, and it only blocked the part affecting those with “standing” to challenge Trump’s executive order in U.S. courts. The court ruled that Trump may bar people from six majority Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — as long as they have no “bona fide” relationship to the U.S. Those that have established ties will be allowed to continue entering the country, which covers the majority of visitors from those countries. More than 100,000 people legally entered the U.S. from the six countries in fiscal 2016, which ended last Sept. 30, according to State Department data. Nearly 30,000 had immigrant visas, more than 25,000 arrived as refugees and thousands more came on student, diplomatic and research visas that require proof of a U.S. connection. All would be exempt from the ban under the court’s decision. The ruling means officials at the Department of Homeland Security and State will have to begin sorting through each application submitted by travelers from the six targeted countries to determine if they have enough of a link to the U.S. to enter.

Supreme Court Reopens Same-Sex Marriage Issues

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to reopen the national debate over same-sex marriage. The court will hear a challenge from a Colorado baker who had lost lower court battles over his refusal to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. Like a New Mexico photographer three years ago, the baker cited his religious beliefs. The justices — who upheld same-sex marriage nationwide in a landmark 2015 ruling — apparently decided that despite state laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, the merchants’ obligation to same-sex couples might be limited by religious freedom. A Kentucky appeals court recently upheld a printer’s right to refuse to print shirts promoting a gay pride festival, reasoning that his actions did not discriminate against any individuals because of their sexual orientation. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, previously has lost in lower courts his claim that the First Amendment protects his freedom of expression.

Supreme Court Rules for Missouri Church in Religious Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court has ruled for a Missouri church that claimed religious discrimination after it was refused state funds to improve its playground. The case pitted Trinity Lutheran Church against Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, which offered grants to help nonprofits pay for the resurfacing of playgrounds with recycled tires. Ruling 7-2, the court Monday determined that the state had unfairly treated Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. The state wrongly denied the church “an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion,” he argued.

Senate Cancels Vote on New Health Care Bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled the plug Tuesday on his Obamacare repeal bill, saying Republicans would resume talks to see whether they can get a bill they’ll agree upon. The bill is not dead, but it is on life support. Opposition to the bill from even GOP Senators intensified Monday after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that twenty-two million fewer people would have health care coverage by 2026 under this bill. However, the report said the legislation would cut deficits over the next decade by $321 billion. The Senate bill would have made sweeping cuts to Medicaid, gotten rid of the individual mandate, and eliminated Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy and insurers. It would have also prevented federal funds from reimbursing Planned Parenthood for any health services it provides. The next step for McConnell and other Republican leaders is to get everybody in a room and figure out what it would take to get various factions on board, which could prove to be virtually impossible.

Number of Refugees Entering U.S. Down 50% Under Trump

The number of refugees who entered the U.S. during President Trump’s first three months compared to the last months of President Obama’s term was cut nearly in half, according to statistics released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the statistics, a total of 13,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. in the past three months, compared to 25,000 under Obama, The Los Angeles Times reported. The most popular countries of origins remained the same: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Myanmar. Obama set the ceiling of 110,000 refugee arrivals across the U.S. President Trump cut that number to 50,000 this year. Congress has approved a budget for only 75,000 for this fiscal year. A U.S. State Department spokesman said the country is now resettling 900 refugee arrivals weekly, to remain within that budget.

Federal Government Owns 47% of All Western U.S. Land

The federal government owns 28 percent of all land in the United States?  These holdings include national parks, national forests, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, vast tracts of range and wasteland managed by the Bureau of Land Management, reservations held in trust for Native American tribes, military bases, and ordinary federal buildings and installations. In the 11 western states, the federal government collectively owns 47 percent of all land.  East of the Mississippi River, the feds only own 4 percent of all land.  In Connecticut and Iowa, the federal government only owns 0.3 percent of all land.  Critics point to this disparity in arguing that the federal government should cede control of western lands to the states. They also point out that thanks to mismanagement by the feds, wildfires tend to spread very rapidly in many areas owned and controlled by the federal government. Nevada has the highest proportion of federal land ownership at 85%, followed by Utah at 65% and Idaho at 61%.

CNN Producer Caught Admitting Russian Probe is Fake News

Project Veritas has released a video of CNN Producer John Bonifield who was caught on hidden-camera admitting that there is no proof to CNN’s Russia narrative. He confirmed that the driving factor at CNN is a push for ratings. Ethics no longer apply.” All the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is a business.” This comes on the heels of three reporters being forced out of CNN for publishing a false story that attempted to link a Russian investment fund with Trump. The article was removed from CNN.com on Friday after the network decided it could no longer stand by its reporting. President Trump has taken a lot of heat for referring to CNN as “fake news”, but after the events of the past several days he has been vindicated.

Border Patrol Rescuing Immigrants from Southwest Heat Wave

The Border Patrol is shifting agents with medical and rescue training to southern Arizona’s west desert in response to a record-breaking heat wave. The daytime temperatures, which have soared above 115 degrees, have already triggered a spike in rescues and might have claimed the life of at least one migrant this week. Volunteers from the group No More Deaths planned to search near Organ Pipe National Monument this weekend for at least one dead migrant who was reportedly seen in the area earlier this week. Two migrant groups passing through the area each reported seeing a dead body. The humanitarian group places water jugs in the desert to help prevent migrant deaths.

Three Men ‘Marry’ in Columbia

Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in 2016 and polyamorous marriage this year. Now, three men got legally married, reports Charisma News. Michael Brown, host of the Line of Fire radio program, noted that society can no longer deny that there is slippery slope when it comes to sex and the changing ideas about biblical standards for marriage. In a column for Charisma, he warned that an example of that “slippery slope” here in the United States would be if a lesbian couple with a child has the help of another man, “all three of whom become parents,” the Associated Press said. He also wrote that in New York you can now be fined for not accepting the stated identity of a transgendered employee. That slippery slope has now gone to Canada, where a bill allows its citizens to use whatever pronouns they want to refer to them.

  • As foundational precepts are torn down, chaos and anarchy are certain to follow

Another Worldwide Ransomware Attack

A virulent new strain of ransomware named Petya wreaked havoc on some of the most-established companies in Europe and North America on Tuesday, capitalizing on the same vulnerabilities that froze hundreds of thousands of computers a month ago. Computer-security company Kaspersky Lab said about 2,000 systems worldwide were affected. Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest overseas cargo carrier, and Russian oil behemoth Rosneft were among the high-profile corporate victims in at least six countries. Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and British media company WPP tweeted they had also been hit by Petya. By late Tuesday, the cyberattack had spread to North American divisions of European companies

111 Terminally Ill People End Their Lives under California’s New Right-to-Die Law

California health officials said 111 terminally ill people have legally ended their lives since a right-to-die law took effect in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday. The report found that of the those who died using prescription drugs, 58.6% had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, while neuromuscular disorders like ALS and Parkinsons’s accounted for 18% of the group. A little over 75% of the 111 people, were 60-89 years of age, and 89.5% were white. The majority of the people involved has at least some college education. California is not the first state to enact such a law. Oregon, became the first to adopt similar legislation in 1997, and U.S. doctor-assisted deaths are legal in Colorado, Montana, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., according to the Associated Press.

Citing LGBT Discrimination, California Bans Travel to 3 States

California’s attorney general blocked state-funded travel to four additional states on Thursday in response to what he considers anti-LGBT rights laws enacted this year. California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra added Texas, Alabama, South Dakota and Kentucky to the list of places where state employee travel is restricted. Lawmakers passed legislation last year banning non-essential travel to states with laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are already on the list. Louisville has been widely accepted as an LGBT-friendly city. In 2015, Louisville ranked 11th in the country for gay residents, and the University of Louisville was named one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the South by Campus Pride Index. But a recently passed bill, SB-17, could have indirect repercussions on the LGBT community, Becerra concluded. SB-17 affirms students’ constitutional right to express religious and political views in public schools.

Seattle’s Minimum Wage Hike Hurting Low-Level Workers

Seattle’s first-in-the-nation $15 per hour minimum wage law is hurting the workers it aimed to help, a new study has found. The working poor are making more per hour but taking home less pay. The University of Washington paper asserts the new wages boosted worker pay by 3 percent, but also resulted in a 9-percent reduction in hours and a $125 cut to the monthly paychecks. The law also cost the city 5,000 jobs, the report said. Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, passed by the Seattle City Council and signed by Mayor Ed Murray in 2014, was sold as a way to close the income inequality gap and help those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder. More than a dozen cities and counties, mostly in California and New York, followed suit.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve on Thursday released initial results of its yearly stress tests to determine whether the nation’s biggest banks are financially strong enough to weather a severe recession. They indicate that Wall Street banks are very healthy and have enough reserves to shield Americans from another financial crisis. All 34 financial institutions would be able to continue to lend to even under grim economic conditions. This is the seventh year in a row the Fed has run stress tests, which were put in place after the last financial crisis.

The recent drop in the cost of oil has been a happy surprise for drivers, who are enjoying the cheapest gas prices at the start of summer in 12 years. Oil prices have fallen to a glut of supply and gasoline prices have followed suit, falling every day since June 2, according to AAA. The average price nationally for a gallon of regular was $2.28 Thursday, down 10 cents since the start of the month. Wholesale gas prices suggest that prices drivers pay will keep falling.

The European Union’s competition watchdog slapped Google with a record-breaking $2.72 billion fine on Tuesday for breaching antitrust rules with its online shopping service. The announcement marks the latest clash between European regulators and large U.S. technology companies like Google, Apple and Amazon that have been ensnared in lengthy antitrust, tax and privacy-related investigations by European officials. Regulators said Google “abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.” Google has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Kent Walker, a senior vice president for the firm, said it would review the Commission’s findings, and may appeal.

Israel

Israel launched strikes on Syrian military positions Saturday, close to the two countries’ disputed border in the Golan Heights, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The action was a response to what the IDF said were more than 10 projectiles fired into Israel from inside Syria. The IDF described the projectile fire as “errant,” blaming it on internal fighting. Israeli aircraft targeted three positions from which the projectiles were fired, the IDF said. The strikes included hits on two tanks belonging to the Syrian regime. Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported several people were killed in the Israeli strikes. SANA said fighting in the area is between the Syrian regime and the al Nusra Front, a militant Syrian rebel group.

United Kingdom

Hackers hit the email system of the British Parliament in an apparent attempt to break into the accounts of hundreds of MPs, Lords and their staffs, according to a House of Commons spokesperson. The attack prompted security services to shut down access to anyone outside the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet. Parliament was working with the National Cyber Security Centre to secure the computer network investigate the incident. Members of the House of Commons and Lords were informed of the cyberattack Friday night and said they were unable to gain access to their emails on Saturday. “Closer investigation by our team confirmed that hackers were carrying out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in attempt to identify weak passwords,” a security statement said.

Venezuela

As political unrest in Venezuela erupts for the third consecutive month, thousands of people need medical aid but face difficulties obtaining basic supplies due to severe shortages. The country has been suffering an 85% shortage of medicine and a 90% deficit of other medical supplies used to treat severe conditions like cancer and hemophilia, according to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela — leaving a nation of 31 million without proper medical care. Although Venezuela has faced food and medicine shortages in the past, the situation has become heightened over the past four years under President Nicolás Maduro. Anti-government protests that began in April have resulted in at least 70 deaths and more than 4,000 arrests, according to local human rights groups. A police helicopter dropped grenades on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry Tuesday in what President Nicolas Maduro said was a thwarted “terrorist attack” aimed at ousting him from power.

China

A new US State Department report lists China as among the worst offenders for human trafficking, joining countries including Russia, Syria and Iran on the lowest rung of the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. China, the report said, “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, China was downgraded to Tier 3” — the lowest level. China was granted a waiver last year. This year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had the power to grant another one but has opted not to.

Around 10 people are dead and 140 people are missing, buried by a landslide that unleashed huge rocks and a mass of earth that crashed into homes in southwestern China early Saturday. The landslide from a mountain engulfed a cluster of more than 40 homes and a hotel in the village of Xinmo at about 6 a.m.. The landslide also blocked a 1.24 mile-section of a river. Wang Yongbo. An estimated 105 million cubic feet of earth and rock — equivalent to more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools —slid down the mountain. A second landslide struck the village in southwest China on Monday, where rescue workers have been looking for people buried over the weekend by the massive wave of rocks and debris. Before rescue work stopped Monday, only three people had been rescued and 10 bodies had been recovered.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit off Guatemala’s Pacific coast on Thursday, shaking much of the country and neighboring El Salvador. The Geological Survey said the 6:31 a.m. quake was centered about 24 miles southwest of Puerto San Jose and 6 miles below the surface. The quake sent people fleeing into the streets in El Salvador. Social media photos showed structural damage to buildings in Antigua, Guatemala, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Officials ordered all 1,400 residents in the central Arizona town of Mayer to evacuate Tuesday afternoon as a large wildfire continued to advance on the area. The Goodwin fire has burned around 18,000 acres of land in Prescott National Forest. Winds made conditions more dangerous for some 500 firefighters assigned to the inferno, and the blaze was just 5 percent contained on Tuesday afternoon. As a result, authorities requested a full evacuation of Mayer in addition to a few other areas nearby and closed Highway 69 in the vicinity. Nine structures have burned as of Wednesday morning. No fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires are blazing across the Southwest as the chance of rain remains low amid a deadly heatwave. Eighteen large fires (over 100 acres) are burning in the region, including six in Arizona, three in Utah, three in California, three in New Mexico, two in Nevada and a large one in Oregon. The two biggest wildfires are in southern Arizona and Utah. Wildfires already have caused far more destruction than usual in the first half of 2017, meteorologist Haley Brink of the CNN Weather Center said. Almost 1 million more acres than average have already burned. South of Tucson, blazing temperatures helped fuel a wildfire that destroyed four homes and eight structures overall. More than 100 homes in total were threatened by the inferno that started last Tuesday. Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to the growing number of wildfires in Arizona and directed additional resources be made available for fire-suppression efforts. Firefighters continued to battle the Frye Fire in southeast Arizona, which has burned more than 38,000 acres and is 43% contained as of Tuesday morning. The Goodwin fire burning eight miles southwest of Mayer, Arizona, has consumed about 1,500 acres and destroyed nine structures. Numerous residences are threatened. Evacuations, road and area closures are in effect. It is only 5% contained.

The Brian Head fire in Utah has burned more than 67 square miles – about three times the size of Manhattan and now the largest active wildfire in the United States – and officials warned strong winds and low humidity could push the inferno north after favorable conditions kept it from growing out of control over the weekend. Authorities ordered more evacuations near the site of a wildfire that has forced more than 1,500 people from their homes and cabins in southern Utah. The blaze sparked June 17 by someone using a torch tool to burn weeds has exceeded $7 million in firefighting costs, state emergency managers said. The fire in the near the ski town of Brian Head, generally known for weekend getaway homes for Las Vegas residents, is about 10 percent contained.

Weather

As many as 12 deaths in metro Phoenix last week may have been caused by an extreme heat wave that sent temperatures soaring as high as 119 degrees. In one week, Phoenix had five days with temperatures hotter than 115 degrees, tying the city’s record of days above 115 set 22 years ago. Other Arizona counties have reported at least four heat-related deaths since last week, including an elderly couple found dead in a home in Pinal County with a broken air-conditioning unit. Maricopa County, the state’s largest municipality, saw 130 heat deaths last year, up from 85 in 2015. The county is currently investigating a total of 27 deaths as heat-related.

At least 90 homes remained under mandatory evacuation Sunday after levees breached along the Kings River in Central California on Friday and Saturday. “A prolonged period of warmer-than-average temperatures during the past week has led to significant melting of snowpack in the Sierra. That, in turn, has led to high flows and rises on rivers and streams in the region,” authorities said. Deputies went door to door asking residents to leave after a 15-foot-wide breach opened along the river Friday. The Fresno Bee says 300 people had to evacuate and that floodwaters have damaged seven structures and 18 RVs in the area east of Kingsburg.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy brought heavy rain and localized flooding to the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys Friday, a day after the storm made landfall in Louisiana. On Thursday, an EF2 tornado struck just west of Birmingham, Alabama, where it destroyed several structures in the town of Fairfield. At least four people were injured in the town of 10,000 located about 10 miles southwest of Birmingham. The mayor of Lafitte, Louisiana, urged residents to evacuate Thursday afternoon as he feared rising floodwaters could inundate homes and trap people. Remnants of Cindy brought heavy rain and flooding as far north as Michigan Friday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley declared a state of disaster in Isabella and Midland counties in central Michigan Friday after heavy rains led to what he called “extraordinary flooding and resulting damage.” At least two people were killed as a powerful line of thunderstorms moved through Arkansas overnight Saturday.

Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

June 21, 2017

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

Russian officials on Monday threatened that their country would treat U.S.-led coalition planes in some parts of Syria as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Russia’s defense ministry said planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, would be considered targets. The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in nearly 20 years the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat. The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement. The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7. The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. The operation “targeted Takfiri forces in the Deir Ezzor region in Eastern Syria.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard uses the term Takfiri to describe ISIS. A U.S. aircraft shot down an armed Iranian drone advancing on coalition forces in southern Syria on Tuesday. This is the second the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month.

  • Iran and Russia have become end-time allies just as prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. But don’t lose heart – Jesus wins in the end.

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

The man suspected of mowing down a crowd exiting Ramadan prayers at a London mosque early Monday was captured on video blowing a kiss at bystanders as he was hauled off to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. At least one person was killed and 10 others were injured in the assault, which authorities were treating as a terrorist attack. The 48-year-old man was arrested in the collision with pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, Metropolitan police said. The attacker reportedly shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims.” The incident occurred outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight after Ramadan prayers. Police said all of the injured were members of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders decried the collision as a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.

Terror in Brussels

The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces foiled a “terror attack” by shooting a suspect following a small but fiery blast, the country’s top prosecutor said. A small explosion went off at Central Station, sparking panic and evacuations, before the attacker was killed by police. Fortunately, investigators believe the powerful explosive failed to detonate because of poor preparation, which Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office believes was made at the suspect’s home. The terrorist has been identified as a Moroccan national in his 30s. Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack. Brussels has been on high alert since March 2016 when three coordinated suicide bombings at the city’s airport in Zavendem and at the Maalbeek Metro station left 32 dead. It’s the third terror attack in Europe in two weeks.

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has cut back the injunction he issued against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban order, Politico is reporting. Watson’s move comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his injunction, but noted portions that blocked the administration from reviewing vetting procedures were too broad. The judge narrowed the injunction clearing the way for the administration to conduct internal reviews of other nation’s vetting procedures for visa applicants while the case is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has called the move a “big win,” but others were more cautious. “Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Michigan Officer Stabbed at Flint Airport in “Act of Terrorism”

The stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport Wednesday by a Canadian citizen who yelled “Allahu Akbar” and referenced people being killed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, officials said. Amor Ftouhi, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, entered Bishop International Airport in Flint around 9:45 a.m. and went to a restroom before dropping both of his bags, coming out with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before stabbing Officer Jeff Neville in the neck. The Canadian citizen was motivated to come to the airport and conduct this act of violence out of a “hated of the United States,” according to the FBI. He legally entered the U.S. at Lake Champlain in New York on June 16, and then made his way to Flint.

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

According to a recent Gallup poll, fears of potential terror attacks are driving more Americans to avoid crowds. Gallup found that 38% of Americans – a record-high percentage since the research organization began asking the question after 9/11 – are less willing to attend large events due to the threat of terrorism. The percentage was 32% right after 9/11. The rising percentage of Americans unwilling to attend large events or be in crowded spaces comes as a potential terror attack at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday is under investigation. Another occurred in France outside of Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago and a string of attacks in the U.K. were carried out in the past month, including the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the June 3 attack on the crowded London bridge. Americans are also less willing to travel overseas, fly, or go into skyscrapers due to terrorism concerns, Gallup found.

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. “We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News. The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

A California university’s decision to put a limit on the number of American citizens it enrolls — while placing no such restrictions on illegal immigrants who want to attend the school — is drawing sharp criticism from education activists. “The UC system, like many others around the country, is routinely giving preferential treatment to illegal aliens at the expense of American students, many of whom are attending at great sacrifice of their parents,” Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group, told Fox News. “Ultimately, and ironically, the California government is actually penalizing Californians by not counting illegals as out-of-state students and thus allowing them to, in effect, take seats away from in-state students,” he said. Officials for the University of California say that the school system is simply being consistent with state law.

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a state law banning abortions after 20 weeks. Life News reports that the ACLU challenged the fetal pain abortion bill in 2012, preventing the law from being enforced. After the court’s decision, it will now be illegal for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks; violating the law will be a felony. The fetal abortion pain bill was so-named because science has proven unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. Georgia Life Alliance executive director Camila Zolfaghari said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

The Army has begun mandatory transgender sensitivity training for soldiers. The training covers everything from “transfemale” soldiers to transgender shower etiquette to dealing with a transgender male soldier who becomes pregnant. The matter of male soldiers with child is tucked away inside the Army’s “Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module, Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders.” “This training is mandatory for all uniformed members, as well as Department of the Army civilians,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told USA Today. The Army guidelines mandate facilities will not be designed, modified or constructed to make transgender-only areas. “Accommodations cannot isolate or stigmatize the TG soldier,” the guidelines state. The Army’s response to a transgender male pregnancy? “Transgender Soldiers with a medical condition, including pregnancy, will be treated the same as any other Soldier with that condition,” the policy states. “Millions of dollars and training hours have been consumed with lectures on how to deploy transgender personnel in a war zone that has laws against that behavior,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “Military commanders should be focused on fighting wars, not on how to deal with transgender personnel.”

Strong Cultural Divide in America

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy? Who deserves the most help in society? President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans, the report notes.

Economic News

Rising housing costs are putting a major squeeze on Americans. Nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Experts generally advise budgeting about 30% of monthly income for rent or mortgage costs. But millions of Americans are far exceeding that guideline. One-third of households in 2015 were “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million are paying more than 50% of their income to cover their housing needs.

Consumer confidence fell in June to its lowest point since November, according to the University of Michigan’s closely followed index and survey. The confidence index is now at 94.5. Before the election, it was 87.2. By January, when he was inaugurated, it had shot up to 98.5, the highest level in more than a decade. That was largely because of hopes that Trump would cut taxes, spend big on infrastructure and shed government regulations. Those hopes are now dimming a bit.

Various indicators show U.S. companies, particularly small firms, have been taking out fewer loans in recent months, a sign they’re spending less on new equipment and structures. And that can crimp economic growth and hiring. Economists cite a variety of reasons, including uncertainty over Trump’s agenda getting through Congress amid probes into his ties with Russia, as well as recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Islamic State

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat. ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.

U.S.-backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq’s second largest city. ISIS captured Mosul when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraq launched a massive operation to retake the city last October, and has driven the militants from all but a handful of neighborhoods. The extremists are expected to make their last stand in the Old City, a densely populated quarter with narrow, winding alleys.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte begged forgiveness Tuesday for declaring martial law in Mindanao island and vowed to rebuild Marawi, the battle-scarred city at the heart of nearly four weeks of fighting between Philippines forces and ISIS-affiliated militants. “I will rebuild Marawi,” he promised. The battle has resulted in numerous deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the Philippines government, more than 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The majority have found shelter with friends and family, but more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are crowded into evacuation centers, where government agencies are trying to provide basic necessities.

Britain

One week after a massive high-rise apartment fire killed 79 people, supporters of the victims and now-homeless residents marched to Parliament on Wednesday to express anger over what some are calling Britain’s Hurricane Katrina moment. The demonstration also included anti-government protesters calling for British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign because of the government’s slow response. The demonstration was planned to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech for the official opening of Parliament, when the government spells out its lawmaking priorities for the next two years. After the queen’s speech, the prime minister addressed Parliament and acknowledged that government support for the victims after the fire was “not good enough.” Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the June 14 blaze at the 24-story Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in London’s wealthy North Kensington neighborhood. In the following days, the horror and frustration over Britain’s worst disaster in years have turned into public outrage.

North Korea

North Korea is continuing to mass resources at a known weapons testing site inside the country, a defense source told Fox News on Wednesday, prompting worries Pyongyang could be plotting to greenlight another provocative nuclear bomb test amid heightened tensions following the death this week of an American student who had been imprisoned by Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. North Korea is relentlessly pursuing its goal of building a nuclear bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already conducted five nuclear tests and recently launched an advanced missile that suggests a functioning ICBM may be within reach.

The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans – and three Americans — regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts. Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine. There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said.

Wildfires

Forest fires in Portugal have killed dozens of people and injured many others this weekend about 100 miles northeast of Lisbon. At least 62 people were killed, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road through the forest between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including four firefighters. A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area. Authorities said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.

Earthquakes

Four people remain missing on the western coast of Greenland after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the village of Nuugaatsiaq. The surge of water struck the village late Saturday night and destroyed at least 11 homes. Officials believe the tremor triggered a landslide into the water, which started the tsunami. Four missing people were inside their home when it was swept into the sea by the tsunami. After the tsunami, 39 people were evacuated from Nuugaatsiaq.

Weather

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday as Tropical Storm Cindy turned deadly and roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast, slashing the region with heavy rains and flooding. A 10-year-old boy died in Alabama, parts of Louisiana had five inches of rain by early afternoon, and Pensacola was slammed by more than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. And more was on the way. Cindy, armed with sustained winds of 50 mph, was expected to generate up to 15 inches of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night, and a few tornadoes also were possible through Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could produce “life-threatening flash floods along the central Gulf Coast,” the agency said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Cindy was about 135 miles south of Lake Charles, La., and about 125 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. Cindy was expected to move inland toward southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Dangerously hot temperatures have been gripping the Southwest this week, threatening the all-time record-high temperature in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere has developed over the Southwest. Beneath the dome, sinking air is causing temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in many areas. At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday. Needles, California, tied its all-time record high Tuesday when it reached 125 degrees. Las Vegas also tied its all-time record high by reaching 117 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Daily record highs were set Tuesday in Phoenix (119 degrees), Tucson, Arizona (116 degrees), Yuma, Arizona (120 degrees), and Palm Springs, California (122 degrees – tie).

Signs of the Times (6/16/17)

June 16, 2017

Anti-Trump/GOP Gunman Shoots Five in D.C.

James Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old Illinois man who opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers and their aides at a Northern Virginia baseball diamond was a living portrait of simmering anger and sometimes strange behavior, neighbors and family members say. The attack left Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., critically injured and also wounded Capitol Hill police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey as well as House staff aide Zach Barth and Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika. Three U.S. Capitol Police officers, who were at the field as part of their duty to protect a senior Republican lawmaker, returned fire and kept the attacker off balance and outside the ballfield fence, giving lawmakers and staffers a chance to run for their lives. A congressional staffer told WND that the gunman approached the game and asked Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.: “Are you Democrats or Republicans?” When DeSantis replied, “Republicans,” the gunman walked away and then came back blasting.

Hodgkinson’s social media and online postings included angry and menacing comments about Republican lawmakers, including a March 22 Facebook post in which he wrote that “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” He was also outspoken in other forums, writing frequently to the local newspaper about his opposition to Republican policies and contacting the office of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., at least 10 times over the past year to express his opposition to the Republican agenda. He attended a 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest in St. Louis, railing to a local television reporter about growing income inequality.”

  • The alt-left ‘Resist’ is rising up to counter the alt-right, with more violence on the horizon following ongoing strident rhetoric

Congressional Democrats Suing President Trump over Foreign Payments

Almost 200 Democratic members of Congress sued President Trump on Wednesday, alleging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The lawsuit says that Trump is in breach of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which says that the president may not accept payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit was filed by 196 members of Congress — 30 from the Senate and 166 from the House. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said it was the largest number of plaintiffs in any congressional lawsuit against the president in the nation’s history. The complaint says that the Emoluments Clause was meant to ensure “that our nation’s leaders would not be corrupted by foreign influence or put their own financial interests over the national interest.”

AG Sessions Rips Congress over Loony Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out swinging Tuesday, blasting his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate for their sham investigation into these “loony accusations” that somehow Mr. Sessions conspired with Russians to rig last year’s election. Sessions offered an indignant defense against what he called “an appalling and detestable lie,” but he declined during an often contentious Senate hearing to answer central questions about his or President Trump’s conduct. Critics claim Sessions’ refusal to answer many of their questions is a sign of collusion. But, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ repeated refusal to answer lawmakers’ skeptical inquiries at Tuesday’s congressional hearing draws on a long legal and political tradition: Private deliberations involving the president and his top advisers often can be kept out of public view. Analysts disagreed on whether the attorney general was appropriately using executive privilege to advance a worthy goal, or merely suggesting it as a shield to fend off questions he did not want to take.

Trump Announced Revisions to Obama’s Cuba Policy

President Trump announced a new policy toward Cuba Friday that prohibits any commercial dealings with Cuba’s powerful military. The new policy also limits the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel to the island, but leaves in place many changes implemented by Obama. Unlimited “family” travel and money sent to private Cubans on the island will remain unchanged. In a speech delivered in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, Trump declared an end to what the White House calls the Obama administration’s policy of “appeasement.” The White House argues that any benefits of an opening to Cuba should “go to the Cuban people” and not the Cuban military and intelligence services.

U.S. Senate Voted for New Russia, Iran Sanctions

The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia. In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes. The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war. If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

Social Media Could Be Held Liable for Terrorism

A string of lawsuits is pushing a new legal theory that social media can be held liable for acts of terrorism, Slate is reporting. The new lawsuits, including one filed by relatives of victims of the San Bernardino, California shooting, argue social media companies are liable for not only allowing terrorists to use their platforms, but also profiting from that use, the online magazine said. It noted social media companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, bring in revenue from advertising. “The ads target specific viewers based on the content of the pages they visit,” wrote Nina Iacono Brown for Slate. “When it comes to terrorist posts, plaintiffs argue that social media companies don’t just publish content provided by ISIS — they actually profit from selling ads to those who might be most sympathetic to terrorist messages.”

Obamacare Enrollments Down in 2017

Some 10.3 million people actually enrolled in Obamacare, as of mid-March, Trump administration officials said Monday. That’s down from the 12.2 million who signed up for coverage when open enrollment ended on January 31. It’s not uncommon for the numbers to drop since some consumers select plans, but don’t complete the enrollment process by paying their first month’s premium. Last year, some 12.7 million people picked policies by the open enrollment deadline. But 11.1 million people had enrolled by the end of March. That means there are 800,000 fewer Americans enrolled in Obamacare this year than last. The Trump administration has thrown Obamacare into turmoil as it seeks to dismantle the landmark health reform act. It canceled millions of dollars in advertising in the final days before open enrollment ended.

Trump Administration Will Continue Obama Dreamer Program

President Trump has officially reversed his campaign pledge to deport the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as small children. The Department of Homeland Security announced late Thursday night that it would continue the Obama-era program intended to protect those immigrants from deportation and provide them work permits so they can find legal employment. Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of President Obama announcing the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Ever since, more than 780,000 have been accepted, with most now on their second or third renewal. The program requires applicants to show they have haven’t committed any serious crimes, attended school or joined the military, and arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.

Target’s Transgender Bathroom Policy Claims Another Victim

Target’s dangerous policy of allowing men into women’s dressing rooms has claimed another innocent victim of sexual voyeurism. Just last week, in The Woodlands, Texas, a woman was sexually violated when a man freely entered the women’s dressing room and began videotaping her trying on bathing suits. Store security cameras clearly show Target employees in the area doing nothing to stop the Peeping Tom. Even after the woman screamed for help, two store employees stood by and allowed it to happen.

Nearly 10 Million U.S. Adults Suffer from Mental Illness

Nearly 10 million American adults have a serious mental illness, and a similar number have considered suicide during the past year, according to a new government report on the nation’s behavioral ills. The report also said that 15.7 million Americans abuse alcohol and 7.7 million abuse illicit drugs. The researchers also found that 12.5 million people are estimated to have misused prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) or hydrocodone (Vicoprofen). Despite the growing number of Americans with mental health problems, about a third of those who need help aren’t getting it, notes the report from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Rich Stopped Smoking, the Poor Didn’t

After decades of lawsuits, public campaigns and painful struggles, Americans have finally done what once seemed impossible: Most of the country has quit smoking, saving millions of lives and leading to massive reductions in cancer. That is, unless those Americans are poor, uneducated or live in a rural area, reports the Washington Post. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But, among the nation’s less-educated people — those with a high-school-equivalency diploma — the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower socioeconomic communities to retain their customer base, researchers say. Nonprofit and advocacy groups are retooling their programs for the complex and more difficult work of reaching and treating marginalized groups.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday. It’s the Fed’s third rate hike since December. And it’s a sign that the central bank believes the U.S. economy is on solid ground. “It reflects the progress the economy has made,” Fed chair Janet Yellen said at a press conference. Rising interest rates eventually affect millions of Americans from home buyers to credit card holders to savers. However, interest rates for mortgages are not expected to rise immediately. The Fed’s key interest rate will now hover in a range between 1% and 1.25%. Overall, rates are still very low compared to prior decades. The Fed also said it’s planning to start gradually selling off the assets that it had bought during and after the financial crisis to boost the economy.

In a 150-page report released Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration calls for dismantling strict regulations overseeing Wall Street banks. Fifteen pages of recommendations resemble significant aspects of the Republican bill passed last week by the House. Trump had given Mnuchin 120 days to come up with a plan to address what he said were onerous regulations crimping banks’ ability to lend and stifling economic growth. Among the recommendations in Monday’s report: give Treasury greater power to oversee bank regulators; require regulatory agencies to analyze the cost of new rules; and strip the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of its responsibility to oversee banks’ plans for how they should be unwound if they fail.

Bankruptcies continue to pile up in the retail industry. More than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, according to data from BankruptcyData.com. Most of those filings were for small companies — the proverbial Mom & Pop store with a single location. But there are also plenty of household names on the list as well, including Radio Shack, Payless Shoes and The Limited. Most of these stores are suffering from the same thing: A shift away from traditional storefronts to online shopping.

After more than two decades, Yahoo’s time as an independent company has come to an end. Verizon officially completed its deal to acquire Yahoo’s core Internet assets for $4.48 billion after months of uncertainty about the deal. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is resigning from the company. She will receive a $23 million severance package, according to an earlier company filing. Yahoo and AOL will form a new digital media company under Verizon called Oath. Verizon’s goal is to use Yahoo’s enormous reach to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google for online advertising.

On Friday, Amazon announced that it had paid $13.7 billion to buy Whole Foods to expand their reach into the grocery marketplace.

Islamic State

Russia said Friday that it killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other leaders in a strike in late May. The ISIS leader is considered the world’s most wanted man. The report could not be immediately confirmed. The Russian ministry said Friday that al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders. It said the air raid on May 28 that targeted an ISIS meeting held on the southern outskirts of Raqqa in Syria also killed about 30 mid-level militant leaders and about 300 other fighters.

North Korea

North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. Warmbier has been in a coma for more than a year, since shortly after his last public appearance during his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016.  “At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said in a statement. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the U.S. where he will be reunited with his family.” The statement offered no other details citing privacy concerns, but it noted that the State Department is continuing “to have discussions” with North Korea about the release of other American citizens who are jailed there. Warmbier is in stable condition but has suffered a “severe neurological injury,” doctors say. Warmbier’s father said Wednesday that his son was “terrorized” and “brutalized” by North Korea.

A suspected North Korean drone had photographed a U.S. missile defense shield in South Korea before it crashed near the border where it was found last week, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. The drone was found at a South Korean border town last Friday and South Korean investigators have since discovered hundreds of photos from its Sony-made in-built camera, a Defense Ministry official said. Ten of the photos were of U.S. missile launchers and a radar system installed in the southeastern town of Seongju earlier this year. The United States deployed key components of the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system last spring to cope with what it calls North Korea’s advancing nuclear threats.

Qatar

Just days after President Donald Trump accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, the U.S. signed an agreement to sell the country fighter jets. Qatar’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday the country signed a deal to buy F-15 fighter jets from the United States for $12 billion. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and representatives from Qatar were set to meet Wednesday to seal the agreement, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters. Bloomberg News reported the deal was for 36 jets. The sale will increase security co-operation and interoperability between the US and Qatar, the Pentagon said in a statement on Wednesday.

Somalia

An overnight attack and siege by al-Shabab extremists on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital has killed at least 31, police said. Security forces in Mogadishu ended the siege at Pizza House restaurant, a popular eatery frequented by the city’s elite, Thursday morning after snipers fired on the attackers. Senior Somali police office Capt. Mohamed Hussein said many of the attack’s victims were killed at point-blank range after the attackers hunted them down. The attack began Wednesday evening after a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and then gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment. Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group that often targets popular areas in the country’s capital, claimed responsibility.

Earthquakes

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern Greek island of Lesbos on Monday, damaging scores of homes, killing one woman and injuring 10 others. The woman was found dead in the southern village of Vrisa, which suffered the worst damage from the undersea quake. By Monday night, local authorities and the fire service said nobody remained missing or trapped. The quake was also felt in western Turkey, including Istanbul, and on neighboring islands.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck western Guatemala early Wednesday morning. Damage and landslides were reported after the quake, and at least five people were killed, officials said. The earthquake was centered 3 miles north-northeast of San Pablo, Guatemala, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at 3:29 a.m. EDT at a depth of more than 58 miles. San Marcos has more than 25,000 residents. Schools were canceled Wednesday as officials inspected the structures. Only two earthquakes stronger than 6.9 have been recorded so far in 2017, both of which were in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Wildfires

Dry and windy conditions fed nearly 30 wildfires tearing through Arizona Monday, drawing thousands of firefighters from across the West to the state that has the most blazes burning in the nation. At least 80 square miles across the state are ablaze. Gusty winds and parched vegetation fueled the flames. There were no injuries reported and just one vacant house was destroyed. Evacuation orders are in place for at least 30 homes. Arizona has seen 858 fires so far this year that have charred 205 square miles.

As many as 200 people have been evacuated and the governor was forced to activate the state’s emergency operations center Thursday as a fast-moving wildfire claimed at least 600 acres in northern New Mexico. The Cajete fire spread quickly through an area of the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos along Highway 4. From miles away, the inferno’s towering smoke plume could be seen. The blaze was about 20 miles away from Los Alamos, and burn scars from previous wildfires may keep it from threatening the city.

Weather

Dangerously hot temperatures will grip the Southwest by this weekend in what could be an extended heat wave that lasts well into next week. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere will be in place over the Southwest by this weekend. Beneath the dome, sinking air will cause temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in some areas. This is a classic pre-monsoon heat event for the Southwest region. Some of the highest temperatures of the year can be recorded before the onset of the summer monsoon. The National Weather Service has issued various heat alerts across southern Arizona, far southern Nevada and portions of northern, central and southeastern California. Highs may reach or exceed 115 degrees in Phoenix late in the weekend into early next week.

Storms tore through the Midwest Tuesday, generating at least 12 reports of tornadoes. Winds reaching 75 mph were reported at the Columbus airport. No injuries were reported. Near Russell, Kansas, strong winds blew over two semi-tractor trailers on Interstate 70. Large hail between 1 to 2.75 inches in diameter was reported in a broad swath from Minnesota to West Texas.

Two people were injured Monday as a tornado outbreak hammered the Plains and Midwest. At least 23 tornadoes were reported in northeastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and Wyoming, with reports of damage caused by hail and strong winds. A suspected tornado tore the roof off a nursing home and damaged several homes in the Bayard, Nebraska, area. Five tornadoes were reported in Laramie County, Wyoming, including one near Carpenter that damaged four or five homes, downed power lines and damaged a gas line. There were no reports of injuries. Hail as large as softballs fell in Wheatland, Wyoming.

At least 140 people were killed in landslides that struck southeastern Bangladesh following heavy rainfall, officials said Wednesday. The mudslides swept over thatched homes and settlements in three hilly districts Monday, and it wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was still missing a day later. Scores of people were injured and the death toll could rise. Police and soldiers were struggling to deliver aid to the remote areas. Several soldiers were killed while clearing debris and mud from a highway. Five injured soldiers were flown to a military hospital in Dhaka.

Signs of the Times (6/12/17)

June 12, 2017

Harvard Law Journal Article Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the “life” part includes unborn persons. Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections. Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a “child” in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the “independent and actual existence of the child before birth.” Craddock concludes, “The Fourteenth Amendment’s use of the word “person” guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn.”

In China, 100,000 People Turning to Christ Every Year

Despite increased persecution in China (or, perhaps because of it), a pastor who trains Chinese Christian leaders says the Church in China is growing and as many as 100,000 new believers are coming to Christ every year. Rev. Erik Burklin works with China Partner, training Chinese Christian leaders. He is encouraged to see how God is working to build the Church in China, despite the government’s crackdown on Christianity. Burklin also shared how the government decided to donate nearly $7.3 million to Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing. “I was just scratching my head, thinking to myself, ‘How in the world is it possible that in China, where Communism still runs the country, a person in the Central Government would donate so that a local school — in this case, the national seminary in China — can finish constructing their chapel?’ It’s unbelievable,” Burklin said, according to The Christian Post.

Second Appeals Court Rules Against Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

A second federal appeals court on Monday ruled against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was the latest in a string of court rulings rejecting the administration’s efforts to limit travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The administration has already sought a Supreme Court review of a similar decision issued last month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va. In an earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit in February blocked Mr. Trump’s original travel ban. After that ruling, Mr. Trump narrowed the scope of his initial executive order, issued on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. The new ban’s 90-day suspension of entry from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was more limited and subject to case-by-case exceptions. It omitted Iraq, which had been listed in the earlier order, and it removed a complete ban on Syrian refugees. It also deleted explicit references to religion.

Former FBI Director Comey’s Testimony Disappoints

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in what was highly anticipated to be a strong indictment of President Trump. However, Comey’s statements fell short of the bombshell many expected, or hoped, would lead to charges of obstruction against Trump. Instead, he admitted that Trump didn’t order him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but rather strongly urged him to do so, inappropriate but not illegal. He also accused Trump of lying and said he hoped Trump had made recordings of their conversations. President Donald Trump, however, claimed, “total and complete vindication” of collusion and obstruction. Comey opened the door to potential blowback when he admitted that he was the one to leak memos to a friend in order to inform the media about his personal conversations with the president. President Trump’s lawyer said he will file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comey Raises Questions about Past/Present Attorneys General

In one fell swoop, former FBI Director James B. Comey chipped away Thursday at the credibility of two of his former bosses, saying Obama administration Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation deeply concerned him and raising the specter that there may be more to the story of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ problematic ties to Russia. one of Mr. Comey’s biggest bombshells involved Ms. Lynch and what he described as an attempt to change the FBI’s description of its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. The change was meant to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe. In addition, the ousted FBI director, who testified as a private citizen, raised intrigue about the “variety of reasons” why the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Mr. Comey said there were reasons he couldn’t discuss in a nonclassified setting that officials believed would make Mr. Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”

Maryland/D.C. Sue President Trump Over Foreign Payments

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed suit against President Trump on Monday, alleging that he has violated the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C., both Democrats, allege that Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit cites not just the president’s luxury hotel in Washington, which has been at the center of concerns about conflicts of interest, but his worldwide network of hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from the business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means that he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office. The suit asks the court for an injunction blocking Trump from accepting foreign money.

Trump Commits to NATO Common Defense

President Donald Trump said on Friday what he would not at NATO headquarters last month: He is committed to NATO’s principle of common defense. “I am committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump said at Friday’s press conference, referring to the alliance’s principle that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on them all. Appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, Trump also reiterated his call for NATO members to meet the guideline — along with his claim that NATO members should repay what he regards as underpayments from previous years. Iohannis stated that Romania was the first country under Trump’s administration to “step up to 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.”

More London Terror

A nursery school teacher has been beaten and knifed in a London street by three women who chanted verses from the Koran. They pulled her to the ground, kicking and punching her. One of them got a knife out and cut her arm.  She was taken to hospital but her injuries are not thought to be life threatening. The women ran off and have not been located by police, who are investigating. The attack came less than a week after the London Bridge terror atrocity in which eight people died and about 50 were injured. Meanwhile, London police arrested a 19-year-old man Sunday night in connection to the London Bridge terror attack. Police are currently holding six other men, who are between the ages of 27 to 30, in the assault on the London Bridge area. Police have released 12 others who had been arrested in the early days of the investigation.

Austria Bans Islamic Dresses for Women, Forces Integration

Austria has passed a controversial law that fines women who wear Islamic dress covering the whole face, and takes away welfare benefits from immigrants who fail to learn the language. “Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” reads the text of the law. Earlier this year, the draft law drew thousands of protesters against the government and parliamentarians, but it was passed by a centrist coalition last month and now was signed by the president. According to the law, women will face a fine of €150 ($168) if they wear Islamic dresses, either the niqab or the burqa, in public places. In addition to the fines, all new migrants coming to Austria to live will now be forced to take a 12-month “integration course” that includes German language lessons if they wish to receive any welfare benefits.

Rallies Against Islamic Law Draw Counter-Protests

Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said the anti-Islamists stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion. In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street. Hundreds marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying, “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens. A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.

  • The problem is that Islamic (Sharia) law relegates non-Muslims to second-class citizens whose freedom is severely constrained and they have to pay a special Sharia tax. Sharia law is very intolerant and exclusive.

Hawaii First State to Pass Law Committing to Paris Climate Accord

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday signed a bill that aligns the state’s carbon emissions with the Paris climate accord. Gov. David Ige signed the bill that calls on documenting sea level rise and set strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Many of the greatest challenges of our day hit us first, and that means that we also need to be first when it comes to creating solutions,” Mr. Ige, a Democrat, said, according to The New York Times. “We are the testing grounds — as an island state, we are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment.” Ige says Hawaii is the first state to enact legislation implementing parts of the Paris climate agreement.

More Insurers Drop Obamacare

Washington State has had a fairly healthy Obamacare exchange — until now. Two counties won’t have any insurers participating in the individual next year unless another company steps in, the Washington insurance department said Wednesday. Washington would become the third state to have locales without any Obamacare insurers. Enrollees in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and in parts of Ohio also won’t have any options on their exchanges next year unless other carriers join. Insurers are mainly concerned that the White House is undermining the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to buy coverage, and won’t commit to continue funding the cost-sharing subsidies that reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income Obamacare enrollees.

A ‘Superbug’ Fungus Is Spreading Across the U.S.

Over the past nine months, the number of US cases of an emerging, multi-drug resistant fungus has ballooned from 7 to more than 122. What’s more, the fungus, Candida auris, seems to be spreading, according to a field report the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday. So-called ‘superbugs’ usually reference bacteria that are especially hard to kill, having evolved resistance to multiple antibiotics. C. auris causes severe illness and has a high-mortality rate, especially among high-risk, hospitalized patients. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and has now been reported in more than a dozen countries. According to the CDC, which issued an initial warning last June, 77 cases have been identified in hospitals in seven states, mainly in elderly people. The number jumped to 122 when close contacts of those patients were also found to be infected. New Jersey has 17 cases, the most of any single state.

Zika Update

Nearly 1,900 pregnant women in U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infections, according to the CDC. Nearly 1,600 have completed their pregnancies. Of those with confirmed Zika infections, 1 in 10 women in at least 44 states have had a baby with brain damage or other serious defects. Even in Washington, a low-risk state where the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that spread Zika aren’t found, 18 pregnant women have been identified with lab evidence of the virus since last year. All appear to have acquired the virus through travel, though Zika can be transmitted through sex as well. Scientists now know that Zika, a once-obscure virus, targets and attacks neural stem cells in the developing fetal brain. Babies born with congenital Zika syndrome often have severe microcephaly, diminished brain tissue and eye damage, as well as restricted joint movement and rigid muscle tone. Recent research suggests they also might suffer hearing problems and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy.

Economic News

The list of U.S. retailers with troubled financials that could make them potential bankruptcy risks now totals 22, according to ratings by Moody’s Investors Service — topping the 19 recorded at the peak of the Great Recession. The ranks of distressed firms and retail sector defaults are likely to grow during the next 12 to 18 months due to the surge in online purchasing, the rating agency predicted. Nonetheless, the companies on the distressed list represent just 16% of the retailers analyzed by Moody’s. “The majority of retailers remain fundamentally healthy,” the report said. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year, said Garrick Brown, vice president of Americas retail research for commercial broker Cushman & Wakefield — more than twice as many as the 4,000 last year. He sees this figure rising to about 13,000 next year.

An increasingly byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements partly accounts for housing construction that remains 35% below normal levels across the country, especially for affordable starter houses, builders and economists say. And that building deficit is the chief culprit behind a skimpy supply of both new and existing homes that has driven up prices about 40% the past five years, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. Rising prices are good for homeowners but shut out many buyers, especially Millennials shopping for their first house.

American drivers are poised to reap unexpected savings at the gas pump after oil prices recently kicked into reverse. Oil plunged Wednesday after a report indicated that supply was outpacing demand, setting the stage for lower-than-expected fuel prices. Oil’s sharp decline followed an Energy Information Administration report that U.S. crude oil inventories ballooned by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2. The EIA report, released Wednesday projected that U.S. oil production would hit an all-time record of 10 million barrels per day in 2018, topping the previous mark of 9.6 million set in 1970. The price of gasoline was $2.36 a gallon on Wednesday, down 2.3 cents from a week ago. Nearly half (45%) of America’s massive appetite for crude oil comes from passenger vehicles.

Israel

Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily relinquish his long-standing demand for Israel to freeze its construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as a prerequisite to the restarting of the diplomatic process with Israel, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, which is based on an interview with Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, Abbas will also tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes at international courts and to rally condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. During his recent visit in Israel, President Donald Trump reportedly put pressure on Abbas to renew the diplomatic process with Israel. The negotiations have been stalled since 2014, when US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered talks, which collapsed after nine months.

Israel announced on Friday that it had discovered a network of terror tunnels running beneath two schools in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and demanded that the UN “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” as it already is classified by the US, Canada, EU and several other governments. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov tweeted on Saturday; “Despicable to risk the lives of children! Hamas must end illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza.” On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during his remarks to the Cabinet that “I regret that UNRWA, to a large degree, by its very existence, perpetuates – and does not solve – the Palestinian refugee problem Therefore, the time has come to disband UNRWA.”

Great Britain

​British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday she will try to form a governing coalition with Northern Ireland’s small party in the wake of an election setback that cost her Conservatives a majority in Parliament. The Conservatives won 319 seats, seven short of a majority in the House of Commons and 12 fewer than they had going into the election. The Labour Party won 261 seats, a gain of 29, while the Scottish National Party wound up with 35, a loss of 21. The Northern Ireland party won 10 seats, enough to give May a majority under a partnership in Parliament. The outcome was a significant political embarrassment for May, who called for an early election in April based on polls that showed the Conservatives would increase their majority and give her more clout in difficult talks with the European Union on terms for exiting the political and economic alliance. The fallout of the election disaster has led two top aides to Theresa May to resign, increasing pressure on May to resign as well.

North Korea

A former U.S. ambassador wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday warning that North Korea’s nuclear threat is not limited to a bomb striking a U.S. city. A nuclear bomb that detonates 40 miles above a target (and hundreds of miles away) could deliver serious consequences, said Henry F. Cooper, who was the director of the Strategic Defense initiative under President George H.W. Bush. North Korea has in its possession the designs for these so-called “super EMP nuclear weapons,” the op-ed said. Such a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would render “critical electricity-dependent infrastructure” on the ground inoperable. The op-ed raises questions about whether or not North Korea ran a “dry run” recently, when a medium-range missile reportedly exploded midflight in what was seen as a failure. The article questions if the missile was deliberately detonated.

South Korea

South Korea’s new government has suspended the deployment of a controversial US missile defense system that strained relations with China and angered North Korea. While Seoul will not withdraw two launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that are already in action, four additional launchers will not be deployed until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.” During the recent election campaign, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the THAAD rollout to be halted and any decision about its future to be put before the country’s parliament. Deployment of THAAD was agreed by his predecessor — disgraced President Park Geun-hye — and Washington. Relations between Seoul and Beijing have soured significantly as a result of its deployment, affecting South Korean businesses and Koreans living in China.

Philippines

United States special forces joined the Philippine army to help end a siege in Marawi by Islamic State-linked militant groups, as a drawn-out battle for control of the southern Philippines city nears the end of a third week. “At the request of the government of the Philippines, U.S. special operations forces are assisting the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with ongoing operations in Marawi that help AFP commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG militants,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement. The Maute group, also known as Islamic State Lanao, led the attack on Marawi which began on May 23 and has resulted in the deaths of 58 security forces, 20 civilians and around 138 militant fighters. On Friday, 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 wounded in house-to-house combat during clearing operations.

Afghanistan

An Afghan army soldier turned his weapon on U.S. servicemembers Saturday, killing three and injuring another in eastern Afghanistan. The Afghan soldier was killed during the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting. The attack occurred in Achin district, where U.S. special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan troops against Islamic State and Taliban militants. In addition, three civilians were killed after a roadside bomb hit a convoy of American soldiers early Monday in Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan. The United States military said that none of its personnel had been wounded.

Somalia

The U.S. military in Africa says it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia Sunday morning that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp, 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu, the capital. There was no immediate comment on the airstrike from Somalia’s homegrown extremist group, al-Shabab, which is allied to Al Qaeda. Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed the airstrike, saying that Somali and partner forces destroyed an al-Shabaab training camp near Sakow, in the Middle Juba region. He said such attacks would disrupt the group’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.

Qatar

Five Iranian planes filled with food have landed at Doha airport as the blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries starts to take hold. Iran said the planes were filled with vegetables and that it plans to send 100 tons of fresh fruit and legumes every day to the import-dependent nation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut links with Qatar last Monday, accusing Qatar of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere — a charge Qatar denies. As well as cutting air, sea and land links with Doha, three of the countries involved — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE — ordered Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days. On Sunday, Qatar said that the 11,000 citizens of those countries that have cut ties will be allowed to stay in the country.

Wildfires

Storms that swept into Cape Town, South Africa have killed at least nine people and unleashed winds that fanned fires, forcing evacuations of about 10,000. Strong winds from a storm that hit the coast Wednesday fanned multiple blazes, which destroyed dozens of homes and also damaged an evacuated hospital and a school. Four of the deaths occurred in a fire caused by lightning, and one other person died when a home collapsed, local media reported. Three others died in a separate fire. Hundreds of homes were flooded or damaged. While the storm provided some drought relief, officials said sustained rainfall over several years is needed in a city whose reservoirs are at very low levels.

After weeks of hot, dry weather following a wet winter and early spring, there are 12 wildfires burning in Arizona which have consumed nearly over 28,000 acres of land as of Monday morning. Five of the fires were deemed “significant” by the Bureau of Land Management. No structures have burned as yet, but many are threatened in some of the areas. Some road closures are also in effect. Increased winds Friday near the Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff forced a closure of U.S. 180 between mileposts 236 and 248. The Antelope Fire, near Kingman, was also being watched closely because of “threats to homes,” authorities said. Many of the fires were lightning-caused, though others remain under investigation.

Weather

Days of heavy rain in South Florida left some residents comparing the floods to tropical systems of the past as roads were closed and flights were canceled. Nearly two feet of rain fell in some places, and even in a state that’s used to big rainfall in a short period of time, there were plenty of problems. Some of the heaviest rain occurred in Marco Island, where the biggest rainfall total was reported to the NWS – more than 23 inches. By Wednesday, the problems were so widespread that every road on the island had flooding. In some areas, catfish were seen “walking” in flood water and in gutters along the roadside. While the flooding was troublesome, the storms provided much-needed drought relief for parts of South Florida that have battled abnormally dry conditions for years.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were clocked in parts of the Midwest Sunday, taking down tree limbs and leaving more than 90,000 without power at the height of a severe storm moving through the area. A line of severe thunderstorms raced across eastern South Dakota, southern Minnesota and into Wisconsin with wind gusts of 60-80 mph. The most dramatic damage was reported at Monticello High School, which was destroyed by the storm, reports the Star Tribune. Monday to Wednesday, another weather system will sweep through the nation’s northern tier, bringing additional rounds of severe storms to the Plains and Upper Midwest.

A brutal heat wave sweeping across the Midwest and East was leaving a string of record temperatures in its wake while the Upper Midwest was dealing with hail so heavy it looked like snow. The Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids broke out a snowplow and front-end loader after a hail storm left some streets covered. But for most of the Midwest and East, heat was the story. Record-breaking temperatures were likely to linger from Omaha to New York until at least Wednesday, forecasters said. Chicago saw 88 degrees on Saturday. Sunday’s high was in the 90s, Monday 95 and Tuesday a scorching 97. In the East, the big cool-off will begin Wednesday when a “back door” front rolls down from the north, bringing scattered storms and dipping temperatures.

Signs of the Times (6/7/17)

June 8, 2017

More Terror in London

At least eight people died and three attackers were killed in multiple “terrorist incidents” Saturday in London after a van plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge and assailants went on a stabbing rampage at nearby Borough Market, police say. London Ambulance Service said they had taken at least 30 patients to six hospitals, and treated a number of people at the scene with less serious injuries. Police believe all three of the attackers were killed, but arrested a total of twelve suspected accomplices. Britain has weathered two terrorism attacks in recent months. In March, four people were killed in London after Khalid Masood rammed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament. All the attacks have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the “evil ideology” behind the London terror attacks, adding that there’s “too much tolerance” of Islamist extremism.

Known Wolves Attacking Britain

Terrorists involved in each of the three recent Islamist assaults on Britain were known to authorities prior to the attacks that claimed a combined 34 lives, but in each instance British authorities failed to act in time to stop the fiendish plots, notes Fox News. British officials have acknowledged Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood, Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge terrorist Khuram Butt were on police radars for links to Islamic extremism. But in each case the men were apparently not viewed as sufficient threats to merit more attention.

Italian intelligence operatives told Politico Europe on Tuesday that Moroccan-born Youssef Zaghba, another member of the London Bridge terror trio, was detained while trying to fly from Italy into Istanbul – likely bound for ISIS-controlled territory in Syria – in March 2016. Italian officials said they warned Moroccan and British authorities about Zaghba, however, British police on Tuesday issued a statement that Zaghba “was not a police or MI5 subject of interest.”

Butt was openly supportive of ISIS, appearing in a British television documentary last year called “The Jihadis Next Door.” In the footage, he’s seen praying near an ISIS flag and with a radical Muslim leader who’s a close associate of jailed hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Despite his extremist associations and activities, however, British police said he was not viewed as a serious threat before the London Bridge massacre.

Imams Refuse to Perform Funeral Rites for Attackers

More than 130 Muslim religious leaders were refusing to say funeral prayers for any members of the ISIS cell associated with the London Bridge terrorist attacks. The decision by the Muslim leaders was seen as an “unprecedented” move because the funeral ritual is typically performed on a deceased Muslim no matter the person’s past actions. Youssef Zaghba, a Moroccan-born Italian man, was identified Tuesday morning as the final member of the trio that descended upon the London Bridge on Saturday. The other two attackers were named Monday as Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane. ISIS claimed responsibility for Saturday night’s brazen attack that started on London Bridge, then continued in the streets surrounding Borough Market. Police have 11 people in custody on suspicion of violating the Terrorism Act, but they haven’t been named or charged. Others who had been arrested were released without being charged.

U.S. Gun Purchases Hit Record Level after Terror Attacks Abroad

Gun purchase background checks soared to a record for the month of May, snapping a five-month streak of year-over-year declines since President Trump was elected. Experts say that the demand for guns is picking up again due to recent terrorist attacks overseas. More than 1.9 million checks were run through the federal government’s database in May. The numbers helped to dispel worries about a post-Obama “Trump slump” in gun sales, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, saying their own calculations of data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System suggest a healthy market.

Anti-Trump Leaker of Classified NSA Info Revealed

The alleged leaker accused of feeding a classified report to an online news site has a colorful history on social media that lays bare her political leanings as an environmentalist who wanted to “resist” President Trump. Reality Winner, 25, is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a federal facility in Georgia, where she allegedly leaked a classified intelligence report containing “Top Secret Level” information. The Intercept published details of a National Security Agency report on Russian hacking efforts during the 2016 presidential election. According to the Justice Department, Winner admitted to printing a classified intelligence document despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge the report was classified. Winner attacked Trump ferociously in numerous social media posts.

  • Meanwhile, the mainstream media says her motive is unknown, a “mystery” – talk about media bias

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from Marine over Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from a former Marine who was court-martialed in part for expressing her Christian faith in the workplace. Lower courts had concluded orders from her military superiors did not constitute a “substantial burden” on her First Amendment rights. The justices on Monday upheld her court-martial without comment. At issue was the extent a federal law on religious freedom protects members of the armed forces like Monifa Sterling, who continued posting biblical verses at her desk, despite orders from a superior that she remove them. The intersection of free speech on government property, especially within a military context, made this appeal closely watched by a number of advocates on both sides of the debate. The First Liberty Institute, which represented Sterling, lamented the Supreme Court’s call on Monday. “The military court’s outrageous decision means federal judges and military officials can strip our service members of their constitutional rights just because they don’t think someone’s religious beliefs are important enough to be protected. Our service members deserve better.”

DOJ Ends Obama ‘Slush Fund’ Settlement Payments

The Justice Department announced Wednesday it will no longer allow prosecutors to strike settlement agreements with big companies directing them to make payouts to outside groups, ending an Obama-era practice that Republicans decried as a “slush fund” that padded the accounts of liberal interest groups. In a memo sent to 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices early Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would end the practice that allowed companies to meet settlement burdens by giving money to groups that were neither victims nor parties to the case. “When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people—not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said in a statement.

U.S./Mexico Reach Trade Deal over Sugar

Cooler heads prevailed in heated trade talks between the U.S. and Mexico. The two nations reached an agreement on Tuesday regarding Mexican sugar exported to the United States. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. Mexico agreed to export far less refined sugar to the U.S. At the same time, the deal allows for an increase in exports of raw sugar from Mexico. Mexican raw sugar producers are one of the biggest providers to U.S. sugar refineries.  The agreement was seen as a test for both sides before they sit down for much bigger talks on NAFTA, the free trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Those talks could begin in August. President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA because he says it’s responsible for the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Supporters across the political spectrum say NAFTA is a job creator.

U.S. Among World’s Worst on Rich/Poor Health Divide

The U.S. has one of the world’s largest health disparities between the rich and poor — behind only Chile and Portugal — and its healthcare system and lack of social supports are to blame, experts say. Researchers examining surveys on health and income from people in thirty-two middle- and high-income countrie, found poor Americans reported worse health than rich U.S. residents in significant numbers. Of the poorest third of Americans surveyed, 38.2% reported “fair or poor health” compared to just 12.3% of the richest third, leaving the U.S. in the bottom three of the nations examined, according to the Harvard study, published in the June issue of Health Affairs. The gap is caused by several factors, including the high number of uninsured in the country, particularly before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said Joachim O. Hero, the study’s lead author. The study covered the years 2001-2013. Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale and the faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute who was not involved in the study, said another issue may be that the U.S. provides fewer social safety nets than most of these other nations.

Uber/Lyft Killing Taxi Jobs in Chicago

Operators of the nation’s second-biggest taxi fleet are now accelerating toward their extinction, becoming virtual dinosaurs in the era of ride-sharing monsters Uber and Lyft. About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers’ union. More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

Dish Ordered to Pay $252 Million to U.S. & States

Dish Network Corp. must pay $252 million to the U.S. and four states for using robocalls to consumers on do-not-call lists, a federal judge in Illinois said. U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough issued the order Monday, directing the company to pay $168 million to the federal government and $84 million to California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. The U.S. and the four states sued Dish in 2009, alleging the company violated two consumer telemarketing laws by making more than 55 million illegal calls. The U.S. asked for $900 million in fines, while the states sought more than $110 million.

Economic News

The U.S. dollar slumped to a seven-month low against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, wiping away the last of its post-election gains. The currency gained more than 5% to hit its highest level in 13 years following President Trump’s electoral victory. But momentum has reversed because of weak economic data and doubts over Trump’s ability to finalize his economic agenda and move it through Congress. Investors also expect fewer rate cuts this year from the U.S. Federal Reserve, with no sign of rising prices as inflation remains tame.

America has more job openings than ever before. There were 6 million open jobs in the United States in April, a record high, according to data released by the Labor Department Tuesday. During the Great Recession, job openings were as low as 2.2 million in 2009. The record comes at a time when 6.8 million unemployed Americans are looking for a job. What the numbers illustrate is one of the key problems that has plagued the U.S. labor market in recent years. Job seekers tend to lack the skills in demand.

Despite a low unemployment rate (4.3%) which economists consider ‘full-employment,’ there is still a nationwide malaise about jobs. The number of working age Americans that do not have a job right now is far higher than it was during the worst moments of the last recession.  In addition, once dominant industries, like manufacturing — which paid well even without a college degree — have been overtaken by service sector jobs, most of which are low-paying, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, knowledge-based jobs are continuing to grow, which leaves a lot of undereducated workers on the sidelines or in low-paying or part-time jobs.

The U.S. added 400 coal mining jobs during May, according to Friday’s payroll report, an increase of just 0.8%. While those gains are helpful, they aren’t enough to offset the dramatic job losses the coal industry has experienced in recent years. The U.S. now has about 51,000 coal mining jobs, down 43% from the 89,400 positions counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of 2011. While environmentalists push for the complete evacuation from coal, President Trump’s pullback from the Paris climate accord is meant to revitalize the coal industry.

President Trump has blasted companies for shipping U.S. jobs to Mexico. But Canada is also aggressively luring factories from across the northern border. The Canadian government recently gave GE $2 billion in incentives to shut down in Wisconsin and move to a city in Ontario, Canada. It’s a huge blow for the town of Waukesha. The engine factory has been a bedrock of the community for over a century. All 350 people working on the factory floor will lose their jobs.

Since Trump was elected President and tried to institute a travel ban from six Muslim countries, tourism to the U.S. is down. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that the U.S. will lose $1.3 billion in travel-related revenues in 2017, taking hotels, food, rental cars and shopping into account. The organization thinks more than 4,200 jobs could be lost as a result.

Islamic State

U.S. backed forces began an offensive to rout the Islamic State from Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria, the American-led coalition announced Tuesday. The offensive will be difficult but will deal a decisive blow to the terror group, which has been losing ground over the past year in both Iraq and Syria, said Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition commander. The offensive is being led by a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces, which are backed by coalition advisers and airstrikes. Raqqa is the remaining stronghold of the terror group’s so-called caliphate. Iraqi forces are close to clearing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from Islamic State control.

Iran

Attackers have mounted simultaneous gun and suicide bomb assaults on Iran’s parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s revolutionary founder, in one of the most audacious assaults to hit Tehran in decades. At least 12 people were killed and dozens more injured in the twin assaults on the Iranian capital, state media reported. A third attack was foiled, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said. ISIS issued a swift claim of responsibility. By choosing the burial site of Iran’s revered revolutionary leader, and the national legislative forum, the attackers picked highly symbolic targets. The attack shocked Tehran: Until now, Iran has largely escaped the regular assaults launched against other participants in Syria’s civil war. The government’s promised revenge is likely to be swift and brutal based on their response to past terror attacks in the country

North Korea

North Korea launched several ballistic missiles from its east coast Thursday, according to South Korea’s military. “North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles, assumed to be surface-to-ship missiles, this morning from the vicinity of Wonsan, Gangwon Province,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The JCS said the South Korean military has beefed up surveillance and vigilance against the possibility of additional provocations, maintaining full preparedness. The missiles fired Thursday traveled around 120 miles, according to the military. The latest provocation came less than a week after United Nations Security Council passed a new resolution expanding sanctions against the country as punishment for its missile tests.

Qatar

The rift between Qatar and other Arab nations intensified Monday when Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar and at least five Gulf-based airlines announced they will halt service to the desert peninsula nation. Qatar is predominantly Sunni and is a member of the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni nations. However, has close economic ties with Shiite Iran, including sharing a major offshore gas reserve. Last week, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani roiled the Saudis when he phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with congratulations on his re-election. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen cut ties to Qatar on Monday, claiming the energy-rich monarchy is undermining stability in the region by supporting in the Iran-aligned militant groups. Authorities gave Qataris living in and visiting their countries two weeks to leave. The United States maintains its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, complicating the U.S. relationship with the Saudis.

Afghanistan

At least seven civilians were killed and another 16 were injured Tuesday in an explosion in western Afghanistan. The blast took place at around 3 p.m. near the northern gate of the Great Mosque of Herat. Seven other people died Saturday in Kabul when suicide bombers struck the funeral of a man killed during anti-government protests, Afghan official said. The blasts were from three suicide bombings. The Taliban denied involvement in the funeral attack, which injured 119 people.

Venezuela

As a humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela deepens, a growing number of Venezuelan women are working in bars and brothels across Colombia. Venezuelan migrants are also lured by false promises of well-paid work in Colombia’s restaurants and bars or as domestic workers. But then they find they are forced to work long hours with little or no pay, are not free to leave the bar they work in, and may be trapped by debts owed to the agents who brought them across the border. According to Asmubuli, a Colombian sex workers association, currently there are around 4,500 Venezuelan sex workers in the country.

Weather

A severe weather outbreak tore through parts of several states Saturday. As many as three people died in Missouri because of flash flooding. Nearly 200,000 customers lost power in Memphis in the wake of the storms. Softball-sized hail clobbered parts of Missouri Saturday afternoon as severe thunderstorms were also underway in the Ozarks. A confirmed tornado was reported near Twin Bridges, Missouri, but there were no reports of major damage or injuries. Another suspected tornado was reported near Falcon, Missouri, and emergency management reported damage from another possible tornado near Laclede. Later in the evening, another tornado was reported near Welty, Oklahoma, a town located south of Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. There were no notable reports of damage.

Tropical moisture surging north from the Gulf of Mexico resulted in heavy downpours across parts of the South, Gulf Coast and into drought-stricken Florida this week. On Sunday, more than a dozen water rescues were reported in and around Houston as cars became stranded on flooded roads. A thunderstorm that moved through Dallas early Sunday evening also produced flash flooding. More than 7 inches of rain fell in a few hours on Sunday in Chambers County, Texas, which is located along the southeast Texas coast. Flash flooding on Monday morning resulted in numerous road closures in Batesville, Arkansas. Water rescues from flash flooding were reported as far north as Marion, Ohio. Several homes were evacuated in Affton, Missouri, Sunday night as floodwaters quickly invaded homes. A reported tornado caused damage to homes and at least one business in Pitt County, North Carolina, Monday evening. Flooding plagued parts of Florida Tuesday morning. On Marco Island, where more than a half-foot of rain fell in less than 12 hours, multiple cars were stranded on flooded roads during the morning hours. Tuesday, the heaviest swath of rain lined up across parts of South Florida. One location near Everglades City picked up just under 15 inches of rain in 24 hours ending Tuesday afternoon.

At least 10 people died within a 24-hour period in parts of Uttar Pradesh, India, after a heat wave settled over India and Pakistan this week. Hospitals across the area are filled with patients suffering from heat stroke, with symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting and high fever. In Harwatand village, more than 120 people are suffering from food poison after eating tainted food spoiled by the heat. Some locations in northern India have seen temperatures top 115 degrees early this week.

Signs of the Times (6/2/17)

June 2, 2017

Trump Backs Out of Climate Deal, But Emissions Still Decreasing

President Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate accord is a blow to environmental activists, but the nation’s steady, years-long reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming won’t suddenly stop. Utility companies have announced plans to fully or partially close more than a half dozen coal-fired power plants since Trump took office fewer than five months ago, taking some of the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitters off-line. Since 2010, more than 250 coal-fired power plants have closed in the U.S. And large businesses are moving away from fossil fuels due to market conditions, further contributing to increased use of cleaner energy sources. “The United States is making progress,” said John Coequyt, Global Climate Policy Director for the Sierra Club. “We’re moving forward. We believe the rest of the world will do the same.” U.S. stocks advanced on Thursday, with each of the major U.S. indexes notching record highs following Trump’s announcement.

Trump had already taken unilateral steps to roll back regulations that were designed to implement the Paris agreement, including reversing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan rule that sought to lower greenhouse emissions. Trump said during the Rose Garden announcement that, “The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other counties of the world.” The international agreement, which was signed in 2015 and went into effect seven months ago, is considered a major part the environmental legacy of the Obama administration. Michael A. Needham, chief executive officer of the conservative Heritage Action for America, applauded the president’s move. “Withdrawal from the agreement marks a critical step in unraveling former President Obama’s destructive legacy,” Needham said. “Not only did Obama make this agreement without approval from Congress, but in doing so he handed more control of America’s energy to foreign officials.”

World Leaders Slam Trump Climate Deal Decision

World leaders on Thursday condemned President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Although the president said he is willing to work for a better deal, France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement that the accord cannot be re-negotiated. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged allies to “speed up” efforts to fight against climate change and said they would do more to help poorer countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s decision, saying his country is “deeply disappointed.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the decision “irresponsible.” The European Union’s top climate change official echoed Rasmussen’s sentiments, calling it “a sad day for the global community.” Former Mexican president Vincente Fox unleashed a tweetstorm, saying Trump has “surrendered the hopes and future of a nation.”

State Governors, Businesses Pledge to Honor Paris Climate Accord

Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord. New York Gov. Cuomo, California Gov. Brown and Washington Gov. Inslee said they were forming a coalition of states determined to stick to the Paris targets. The three states account for a fifth of the U.S. economy. In a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s announcement in the rose garden of the White House, Cuomo unveiled a plan for New York to invest $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the largest ever procurement of renewable energy by an American state. California’s senate voted Wednesday to make utilities use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 and 60 percent by 2030. The current standard in both California and New York is for utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, more than two dozen big companies — including Apple, Morgan Stanley, and Royal Dutch Shell — also pledged to do their part. Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Disney, both resigned from the president’s advisory council after Trump’s withdrawal.

Billionaires Pledge to Give Away Half Their Wealth

Fourteen more billionaires have signed on to the Giving Pledge – the initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 to “help address society’s most pressing problems” by shifting “the social norms of philanthropy toward giving more, giving sooner and giving smarter.” The new signatories plan to use their wealth to support causes focused on poverty alleviation, education, healthcare research, climate change and the environment. More than 168 billionaires have now signed the pledge and they represent 21 countries and range in age from 31 to 93. “We all have a moral obligation as the more affluent in society to give back as best we know how,” MeTL Group CEO Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania said in a statement.

U.S. Intercepts a Long-Range Missile for the First Time

The U.S. military on Tuesday successfully intercepted an intercontinental-range missile for the first time, a key test of its missile-defense system amid heightening tensions with North Korea. The interceptor was launched from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and hit the test missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, the Missile Defense Agency said. The test was a major challenge because an intercontinental ballistic missile flies faster than a shorter-range missile. Prior to Tuesday, the U.S. military had conducted 17 tests of its missile-defense system and nine were successful, all against short-range missiles. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have injected a new sense of urgency to building an effective defense against the country and actions of its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un, who is trying to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the U.S. mainland.

U.S. 114th in World Ranking of Peacefulness

America is far from the most peaceful spot on earth according to the 11th annual “Global Peace Index,” which bases its conclusions on a complex gauge of social, economic and political factors, including rates of homicide and terrorism activities. The U.S. is now at No. 114, falling 11 places in the last year, the analysis says. Armenia and Rwanda are just in front of America on the list, El Salvador and China follow. “Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark. There was also very little change at the bottom of the index. Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen,” the report said. Most U.S. allies are in the top-20 of the index, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Germany. The United Kingdom is at No. 41, however. “The U.S. deterioration is primarily driven by the growing intensity of internal conflict within the country, which was partly seen in the divisive 2016 Presidential election, as well as increases in the perceptions of criminality across American society,” the analysis said, also citing the impact of “rising homicide rates in several major American cities” and several terrorist attacks on American soil.

49 Shot in Chicago over Memorial Day Weekend – Less than 2016

The grim tally of 49 shot over Memorial Day weekend, historically one of the most violent times of the year here, is oddly the latest sign the city may be turning a corner in the fight against gun violence. Five people were killed and 44 wounded in shootings between Friday evening and Monday night, an improvement over last year’s total of 7 killed and 61 injured. The decrease highlights the slow progress police say they’ve made in the first five months of the year to reduce Chicago’s stubbornly high murder rate through technology that helps commanders better deploy street cops. As of Tuesday morning, Chicago has recorded 235 murders so far this year, compared to 244 for the same time period in 2016. Shooting incidents have dropped more significantly to 1,047 compared to 1,222 last year, according to police department data.

Planned Parenthood Killed 328,348 Babies in 2015

The abortion chain Planned Parenthood released its annual report this week, about four months later than it usually does. The report shows increases in abortion numbers and taxpayer funding in 2015, alongside decreases in contraception, breast exams and overall patient numbers. Planned Parenthood continued to maintain its status as the largest abortion provider in the United States. The abortion group performed 328,348 abortions on unborn babies, 4,349 more than the previous year. At the same time, it saw 2.4 million patients, about 100,000 fewer than the previous year and about 500,000 fewer than five years ago. Contraception services, which the abortion chain touts as its primary service, also dropped from 2.94 million to 2.8 million during the past two years. Meanwhile, the abortion chain received more taxpayer funding. The report shows Planned Parenthood receiving $554.6 million, up from $553.7 million the previous year.

Teen Births Hit Historic Low

Teen births continue to decline in the United States, with health officials reporting a 9 percent drop from 2013 to 2014. Births to 15- to 19-year-olds fell to a historic low of 24 births per 1,000 women in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. At the same time, the proportion of births to women 30 and older increased. Mothers 30 and older accounted for 30 percent of births in 2014 — up from 24 percent in 2000, the researchers found.

Erotic Drag Show at School District Talent Show

Parents are furious after children as young as 5-years-old were exposed to an erotic drag show performance at what was supposed to be a school district talent show in New York City. The May 25th performance shocked and enraged parents who could not believe the school district would allow a grown man to spread his legs and display his crotch to wide-eyed children. The New York Daily News described the lewd performance as “complete with gyrations, tongue gymnastics and a flashed G-string.” The talent show was emceed by District 4 Superintendent Alexandra Estrella. And the individual who performed in drag was identified as the president of the Public School 96 Parent Association.

  • The lack of moral boundaries opens the cesspool of human depravity (Romans 1:24-25)

Persecution Watch

A Catholic farmer in Michigan is suing the city of East Lansing after he was barred from a municipal farmers market over his views on same-sex marriage. Stephen Tennes filed a lawsuit at a federal court on Wednesday (May 31), seeking his reinstatement. Tennes says he was prohibited from selling his products after his business, Country Mill Farms, refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding at its orchard in Charlotte, 22 miles outside the city and he stated on Facebook “his Catholic belief that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman.” Country Mill Farms had sold fruit and produce at the market for six years, but after city officials learned about the Facebook post, they “strongly and immediately pressured us not to return to the farmers market,” Tennes told a news conference at the state Capitol. According to the lawsuit, Country Mill is the only business to have been prohibited under the market’s anti-discrimination policy.

A Christian geologist-turned-creationist, who claimed Grand Canyon National Park denied his request to obtain rocks from the Park based on his religious beliefs, is suing on grounds of alleged religious discrimination. Andrew A. Snelling, a geologist with a doctorate in the field from the University of Sydney, named the Grand Canyon National Park and the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service in his lawsuit. Dr. Snelling, in November 2013, requested permission to remove 60 half-pound rocks from various areas of the Colorado River within the canyon, from park administrators – a request that was denied last July. His beliefs were not mentioned in his permit request, but, according to the New York Times, Dr. Snelling was “no strange to park officials, as he had guided many Biblical-themed rafting trips through the canyon and done research there.” “It’s one thing to debate the science,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian nonprofit representing Dr. Snelling. “But to deny access to the data not based on the quality of a proposal or the nature of the inquiry, but on what you might do with it is an abuse of government power.”

Economic News

Hiring slowed substantially in May as employers added just 138,000 jobs but the disappointing showing likely won’t stop the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates this month. Also discouraging is that job gains for March and April were revised down by 66,000. March’s job report was revised to 50,000 from 79,000, and April’s to 174,000 from 211,000. The labor market was largely expected to return to form (over 200,000 jobs) last month after volatile weather made for sharp gyrations the first five months of the year.

The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell from 4.4% to 4.3%, lowest since May 2003, the Labor Department said Friday. Average hourly wages rose 4 cents to $26.22, holding annual gains steady at 2.5%. Although earnings have picked up the past year or two from a tepid 2% pace, the annual increases have moderated in recent months, down from nearly 3%.

In a recent GoBankingRates study, 69% of adults admitted to having less than $1,000 in the bank, while 34% said they actually don’t have any savings at all. Only 37% of seniors 65 and older claimed to have $1,000 or more in the bank. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found not so long ago that almost half of Americans die nearly broke. Of the general population, 46% of retirees die with savings of $10,000 or less. But that number climbs to 57% among retirees who are single. Also, 57% of single-adult households and 50% of widowed households had no housing equity when they died.

Despite enormous question marks swirling around the fate of President Trump’s economic agenda and his political future, American financial markets have remained unusually calm. During the first 100 trading days of 2017, the S&P 500 averaged a tiny move of just 0.56% between the day’s high point and its low point. That marks the least volatile start to a year since intraday records began in 1970. Trump has failed to get any landmark legislation through Congress so far. The tax reform that investors were really banking on doesn’t appear to be anywhere near happening. The timing and scale of tax reform continues to get dialed back, with some predicting temporary tax cuts are more likely than the sweeping reform once envisioned.

Some analysts are concerned about several economic ‘bubbles’ that are about to burst. Global debt as a percent of global Gross Domestic Product is 30 to 40 percent higher than it was in 2007. Technology stocks are at record highs, reminiscent of the dot-com boom and bust 17 years ago. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s east money policies have been very successful in boosting asset prices, but wages haven’t followed, especially hurting the Millennial generation, which is why auto sales are down, with many of them putting off purchasing their first home due to high real estate prices. Jobless claims just shot up to a five-week high of 248,000. The number of job cuts in May was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016. U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to an 8 month low in May which also saw the third worst drop in U.S. construction spending in the last six years.

Egypt

Twenty-nine Egyptian Coptic Christians, who were slaughtered by ISIS last week refused to renounce their faith. At least 10 masked Islamic State followers forced the Coptic believers to leave the bus one by one. WorldWatchMonitor.org reports that as each person left the bus they were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them refused. Each Christian was then killed with a gunshot to the head or throat, including children.

Israel

President Trump renewed a waiver Thursday that keeps the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as he had promised during the presidential campaign. “While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House said Thursday in a statement. “President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the statement continued. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, before such a peace agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians would be highly controversial because the status of Jerusalem is disputed. Israel claims rights to Jerusalem dating back to biblical times, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.

Islamic State

Cruise missiles launched by the Russian Navy hit a number of ISIS targets in Palmyra, Syria, Wednesday, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. The strikes reportedly targeted militant ISIS “shelters” east of the ancient city, which housed heavy equipment and militant troops transferred from ISIS’ de facto capital Raqqa. The Admiral Essen frigate and Krasnodar submarine of the Russian Navy fired four Kalibr cruise missiles and all four struck their targets, the Ministry said. The noted that the U.S., Turkey, and Israel were informed of the strikes at the “appropriate time.”

Afghanistan

At least 80 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked a diplomatic area near the presidential palace in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. An estimated 350 people were injured in the bombing, which happened near Zambaq Square during rush hour in the center of Kabul. Most of the wounded were civilians, including women and children. The bomb, which went off near the entrance to the German embassy, was hidden in a sewage tanker. The attack, which blew doors off their hinges hundreds of yards away and shattered windows, came days after the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Iran

A day after winning re-election last month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed a campaign pledge: that he’ll find a way to free his country from sanctions that hobble its economy. That’s a vow President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are making harder than ever to keep. Trump used his first overseas trip last week to portray Shiite-led Iran as the embodiment of evil, the common enemy that could bring America’s Sunni-led Gulf allies together with Israel to achieve Middle East peace. In Washington, Republicans in Congress are also doubling down, pressing for legislation to add more sanctions, not lift those that remain after the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Philippines

A Philippine bomber plane accidentally killed 11 soldiers and injured seven others, security officials said Thursday, as troops struggled to end a bloody siege by 500 Islamic State group-aligned extremists in a southern city, one of the boldest militant attacks in Southeast Asia in years. The plane was making a bombing run over militant positions in Marawi city on Wednesday when one bomb accidentally hit army troops locked in close battle with extremists who had taken cover in buildings and houses. Precision-guided bombs were used earlier in airstrikes in Marawi’s urban areas, but the military ran out of the high-tech munitions and used conventional ones in Wednesday’s bombing run. About 500 militants, including foreign fighters, joined the siege of Marawi, a mosque-studded city that is the heartland of the Islamic faith in the southern Philippines.

At least 36 people huddling in a hotel room died of suffocation Friday after a lone gunman set gaming tables on fire at a Philippines casino resort in what authorities said was a botched robbery and not terrorism, say local authorities. An official from Resorts World Manila, a complex of hotels, restaurants and stores, said the dead included 22 guests. Another guest died of an apparent heart attack in fleeing the melee. The victims died “due to suffocation at the second-floor gaming area, which had been set on fire by the perpetrator” before the gunman committed suicide on the fifth floor of the resort’s Maxim Hotel. Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said all evidence pointed to a criminal act by an “apparently emotionally disturbed individual.”

Brazil

Political chaos, record high unemployment and weak growth after a historic recession are just some of Brazil’s extensive list of problems in 2017. Over 14 million Brazilians are out of work and the unemployment rate hit a new record of 13.6%, according to figures published this week. Before the economic crisis, it was half that at 6.5%. Brazil’s job outlook is worsening as President Michel Temer is embroiled in new corruption allegations that he paid hush money to a former congressional leader now in jail. Temer denies the claims. Temer’s corruption allegations come one year after Brazil’s Congress launched the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff on charges she manipulated the nation’s budget. Rousseff was forced out in August. Brazilian firm JBS, the world’s largest meat packing company, agreed to pay a record high fine of $3.2 billion for its role in the country’s widespread corruption scandals. JBS’s fine exceeds that of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht’s, which got hit with the previous world record for a corruption fine. In April, a U.S. judge ruled Odebrecht must pay authorities $2.6 billion this year.

Environment

A Swiss company has launched the world’s first chemical facility to commercially remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into a useful product. Climeworks, which launched its new facility near Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday, compresses CO2 it captures and uses it as fertilizer to grow crops in greenhouses. The company wants to dramatically scale its technology over the next decade, and its long-term goal is to capture 1 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. Along with cutting fossil fuel use to zero, removing carbon dioxide from the air is increasingly seen as one way to stop the long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Climeworks plant represents the beginning of an industry that is attempting to perfect the technology. Other companies, such as British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering, are also working on direct-air capture plants that will commercially suck carbon dioxide from the air.

Weather

Heavy rainfall caused flash flooding in the north-central Texas town of Throckmorton on Friday, which prompted an emergency and evacuations. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the town after up to 9 inches of rain fell and the storms continued in the afternoon hours. A dozen homes and one business were flooded by the rising waters. In addition to the evacuations, all roads in and out of Throckmorton were closed, the report added. No injuries have been reported.

Tropical Storm Beatriz made landfall Thursday evening in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, bringing heavy rains that triggered mudslides, which resulted in two deaths. Two other people there are reported missing. Beatriz was downgraded to a tropical depression soon after making landfall around 7 p.m. local time Thursday between Puerto Angel and Zipolite Beaches. On Friday, the storm was further downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. Schools were closed Friday throughout Oaxaca and flights have been canceled or delayed in the region. Heavy rain has soaked parts of Mexico’s coastal Oaxaca state. Puerto Angel reported more than 9 inches of rain had fallen from the tropical cyclone through Thursday.