Signs of the Times (6/2/17)

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.

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