Signs of the Times (9/2/17)

President Trump Calls for National Day of Prayer

President Trump has declared Sunday as “A National Day of Prayer”— joining with Texas Governor Greg Abbott who has called on Texans to pray for recovery efforts and those suffering from Hurricane Harvey. “As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much-needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture’s promise that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,’” the proclamation states. The President said it is appropriate “during times of great need to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance.” President Trump signed the declaration Friday after meeting with faith leaders in the Oval Office. “We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are suffering from this great crisis,” the President said in his remarks.

Trump Pledges $1 Million to Harvey Relief Efforts

With the recovery process just beginning in some parts of Texas on Thursday, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump pledged $1 million of his own money to aid relief efforts, which got little notice from the mainstream media, and not even one mention from NBC. “President Trump today pledged $1 million of his own money to disaster relief. The White House has asked for suggestions as to where that money should go,” reported Co-Anchor Margaret Brennan in a news brief on CBS Evening News. Brennan then touted Vice President Pence’s efforts saying: “Today, Vice President Mike Pence comforted victims in Rockport, Texas. Then he got to work, rolled up his sleeves in 90-degree heat and helped clear debris in the city.”

Fake Photos Plaguing the Internet

As a captivated nation watched a historic storm ravage the Texas coast, people around the country shared extraordinary images of Harvey and its aftermath. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t real. The shark ostensibly swimming along a flooded freeway in Houston is a doctored image has been online for years, but still managed to fool a Fox News reporter). The airplanes presumably submerged on the tarmac in Houston actually shows New York’s LaGuardia Airport. And the one showing President Obama serving food to people evacuated from the Houston floods actually was shot at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., where Obama and his family served Thanksgiving dinner in 2015. Doctored photos aren’t reserved for natural disasters. After President Trump held a rally in Phoenix last week, his supporters shared an image of what was purportedly a massive crowd in the streets ahead of his speech, but the photo is actually an aerial shot from the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade.

Humanitarian Efforts Help to Minimize Harvey’s Misery

From good Samaritan Cajuns to pet lovers in Austin with pickup trucks and motorized canoes, humanitarian efforts are underway in Houston and beyond to minimize the misery of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez this week called upon anyone with a “high-water, safe boat or vehicle” to pitch in — and like clockwork the boats arrived. Hundreds of boats from around the region, as well as others from the “Cajun Navy,” have been traversing the flooded streets of Houston for days. Aid groups, accustomed to widespread disaster declarations, expected the Harvey relief effort to be among their biggest ever. The Salvation Army of Georgia said its Harvey intervention would be the “largest and longest emergency response” in the history of the organization. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief said it began sending teams to Texas before Harvey made landfall on Friday and will likely be in Houston “for months to come.”

In the midst of deadly Tropical Storm Harvey’s assault on Texas, people stepped up to help those trapped by rising floodwaters and shut out from basic necessities, with heroes forming human chains, delivering pizzas on kayaks and engaging in dramatic rescues. However, others tried to profit from the tragedy through scams, price gouging and fraud. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it received about 600 complaints as of Tuesday, adding the “number is rising,” according to the San Antonio Express. Officials warned about fake fundraisers being shared and urged people to only donate to established organizations. Looters were also posing as helpers.

Flooded Texas Chemical Plant Explodes Three Times

Multiple explosions were reported at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early Thursday morning just a day after the company’s CEO warned of an unpreventable, imminent explosion. One deputy was rushed to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine others hospitalized themselves after the explosion, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office said.  Because of the volatile chemicals – organic peroxides commonly used by the plastics and rubber industries – stored at the plant, the company and local authorities agreed that “the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” the Houston Chronicle reported. All residents within 1.5 miles of the chemical plant in Crosby were already told to evacuate Tuesday because of the rising risk of an explosion. All workers at the plant were evacuated Tuesday over the threat. The plant has been heavily flooded by more than 40 inches of rain, causing its refrigeration system and backup power generators to fail. Officials yet again watched in helpless horror Friday evening as a chemical plant exploded and caught fire in Crosby, Texas, for a third time.

FEMA: Emergency Housing for Hurricane Harvey a Long Difficult Process

After search-and-rescue efforts wind down for survivors of Harvey, federal officials warned Texas that housing for thousands of displaced residents could be a long-term problem that in prior storms was fraught with unhealthy trailers and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted. “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Monday. “It’s a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations.” For displaced survivors, FEMA’s goal is to move them out of shelters and into temporary housing near where they work, and then a return to a permanent residence, Long said. Anyone in a shelter or without financial means to replace their housing in 18 counties qualifying for individual disaster assistance can receive aid for a motel or to rent an apartment. Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast in August 2005. FEMA did not end its temporary housing mission for Katrina until February 2012.

National Flood Insurance Program in Dire Straits

The National Flood Insurance Program has faced criticism for years that it provided lousy customer service while compiling $25 billion in debts that federal managers concede policyholders will never be able to repay. Now Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall in Texas will funnel as many as 100,000 more claims into a system that is set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress — unable to agree for years on a long-term fix — can reach a compromise to keep it afloat. Past storm victims who filed flood insurance claims complained of being shortchanged and made to feel like criminals. But former federal officials said not having coverage is even worse because regular homeowner insurance doesn’t cover floods, and disaster aid is capped and means-tested. Early estimates say only about 1 in 5 homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, which could lead uninsured families wiped out by Harvey to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts.

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Immigration Bill

A federal judge in Texas late Wednesday temporarily blocked key provisions of an impending state law that banned sanctuary jurisdictions in the state. The law was slated to go into effect on Friday. The SB4 bill established civil penalties for local government and law enforcement officials who didn’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests. Additionally, under the law, government entities would be fined $25,500 for every day the law was violated. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill in May, said the judge’s preliminary injunction would be appealed “immediately,” and he is confident that the law will be upheld as constitutional. But critics of the bill have come out in support of the preliminary injunction, claiming that Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.

David Daleiden Fined $200,000 for Releasing Undercover Abortion Videos

A federal judge hit pro-life undercover investigator David Daleiden and two of his lawyers with a heavy fine this week after they released undercover footage of a National Abortion Federation conference. Townhall reports U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who has ties to the abortion industry, ordered Daleiden and attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira to pay $195,359.04 in fines on Monday. In July, Orrick held Daleiden and the two lawyers in contempt for releasing the videos in violation of a court order. Orrick quickly forced the videos to be taken down after they were released in May. In June, Daleiden’s lawyers asked that Orrick recuse himself from the case, arguing that he has had a long relationship with a group that partners with Planned Parenthood, and his wife has publicly supported abortion online.

Colleges that Blocked Free Speech Facing Fallout

Both the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College have been rocked by left-wing demonstrations, some of which administrators in both schools allowed. Now both have had to deal with falling enrollment and a decline in funds – and there are fears the situation could spread to other schools. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit that advocates for a variety of higher education issues, told Fox News, “When they look to what college to pick, parents and students are thinking of the largest investment their family is likely to make beyond the purchase of a home.” There is increasing concern, she said, “about a lack of openness to having a full conversation” amid a growing intolerance of views that are different or considered offensive.

  • These ‘offensive’ viewpoints are mostly Conservative and Christian

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey is now the second most destructive storm in U.S. history, behind only Hurricane Katrina. The devastation is massive: 46 dead and an estimated $80 billion in damage — so far. Harvey could end up being the most expensive of all. It depends on what happens in the coming weeks. The longer homes stay flooded and businesses remain closed, especially the major oil refineries that supply a substantial amount of the country’s gasoline, the bigger the hit to Texas and the entire U.S. economy. Gas prices are at the highest level in two years after Harvey shut down 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Americans across the country are seeing a hit to their wallets from the added costs, and the country might not be able to export oil for a while.

Harvey may have ruined up to one million vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to automotive data firm Black Book. Black Book says more than 500 dealerships in the Houston area were affected. In the Houston area, about one in seven cars may have been destroyed, according to analysts from Evercore ISI, an investment banking advisory and research firm. Sandy is believed to have destroyed about 250,000 vehicles, while Katrina ruined about 200,000, according to Cox Automotive.

Estimates indicate that only about one-in-five homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, a scenario that will likely drive hundreds of thousands of people and business owners to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts, not to mention heightened pleas from local governments for more federal subsidies. The Consumer Federation of America estimates only about 20% of homeowners with flood damage in the region have insurance protection.

Flooding in the southeast Texas city of Port Arthur prompted officials to begin shutting down the nation’s largest oil refinery. Motiva told media outlets it began shutting its Port Arthur refinery around 5 a.m. Wednesday “in response to increasing local flood conditions” and will remain closed until flood waters recede. Motiva refinery is owned by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco. Motiva joins 12 other refineries that have shut down as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Gas prices spiked overnight Thursday and are up about 17 cents a gallon since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas. Meanwhile, a pair of oil companies announced Friday that two more spills occurred in Texas because of Harvey’s flooding.

Hurricane Harvey took direct aim at the country’s Gulf Coast energy production facilities. But the blow is being softened by huge supplies of shale. The shale revolution didn’t exist when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pummeled the Gulf a decade ago and sent gas prices soaring. This time, hotbeds of shale in places like North Dakota, far from the reach of the storm, should limit the damage at the pump. The shale boom has transformed the energy landscape and vaulted the United States to the upper echelon of global oil producers, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration has tapped an emergency stockpile of crude oil in response to the major refinery outages in the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he authorized 500,000 barrels of crude oil to be drawn down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is made up of a complex of tanks and deeper underground storage caverns. The move is aimed at shielding Americans from gasoline prices, which have begun to rise sharply due to a shortage of gasoline caused by refinery shutdowns. Port closures have also left refineries still operating with less access to crude oil shipments.

The U.S. economy picked up steam during the second quarter, notching the fastest pace of growth in two years. During the first full quarter with President Trump in charge, economic growth hit 3%, according to revised estimates released by the government on Wednesday. It’s more than double the pace of the first three months of 2017. The economic momentum was driven by stronger consumer spending and healthier business investment. Trump promised 4% growth on the campaign trail, but his administration has since set a goal of 3%.

However, the U.S. economy added just 156,000 jobs in August as unemployment ticked up slightly to 4.4 percent, federal economists reported Friday. The growth missed expectations of job growth continuing over 200,000 a month. Average hourly wages rose 3 cents last month to $26.39, up 2.5 percent from a year ago. The data shows the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and mining industries all grew. sThe report does not include any effects from Hurricane Harvey, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.

Persecution Watch

Israel’s religious establishment is taking its persecution of Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus to a new level. A rabbinic court, or Sanhedrin, has ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country. All marriages in Israel are controlled by religious authorities, whether Jewish, Islamic, Christian or Druze, according to laws first handed down under the Ottoman Empire. These laws were retained by the British Mandate and continued after the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The judges wrote that if the couple “declares before the court they have completely given up their Christian beliefs, including their belonging to a Messianic Jewish community and missionary activities, the court will discuss their matter anew.”

Israel

Ambassador Danny Danon announced a “victory for Israel in the Security Council” regarding the adoption of a new resolution forcing the UN peacekeeping mission to act against Hezbollah’s buildup. According to the decision made upon the annual renewal of this mandate, UNIFIL, the UN’s peacekeeping mission, is now required to expand its reports to the Security Council and take deliberate action against Hezbollah’s violations. UNIFIL’s presence on the ground will increase significantly, and troops will be required to tour the Hezbollah-controlled areas of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL must also report all instances of Hezbollah’s violations and attempts to deny access immediately. “This is a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation in southern Lebanon and expose the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah set up on the border with Israel,” Danon stated.

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) secured a massive federal court victory this week in the most significant U.S. federal court case in defense of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state ever undertaken. Just over a year ago a group of Palestinian activists, led by the head of a family of notorious terrorists, Bassem al-Tamimi, filed a $34.5 billion dollar lawsuit in federal court against numerous organizations that support the State of Israel. This lawsuit was meant to accomplish in court what the terrorists could never do themselves – eliminate the Jewish State, or at the very least weaken and frighten her supporters into submission. The ACLJ sent a senior team of lawyers to defend these claims. Working with the other law firms representing other clients, they filed numerous responses including a motion to dismiss the case. Friday, the federal court issued an opinion that dismissed the case. The court noted that it lacks jurisdiction to hear this case, including the fact that the lawsuit is “replete with non-justiciable political questions.”

North Korea

U.S., Japanese and South Korean warplanes carried out a show of force against North Korea. Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets from the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, joined four South Korean jets and two Japanese warplanes for the exercises Wednesday. During the 10-hour mission, the U.S. and Japanese warplanes flew over waters near Kyushu in western Japan before the American and South Korean aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced their attack capabilities with live-fire in a training area.

Russia

The Trump administration has ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia, the State Department said Thursday. Last month, Russia demanded that the U.S. diplomatic presence there be reduced by hundreds of people. In retaliation, the State Department has ordered the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures must be complete by Saturday. The diplomatic reprisals underscore the continued deterioration of relations between the nuclear-armed nations, with more acts of payback likely to come. And they appear to place President Trump’s hopes for closer ties with Russia further out of reach, notes the Washington Post.

Germany

The U.S. and U.K. blanketed Germany with at least 1.3 million tons of bombs during World War II, and as much as 10% of that never exploded. The Smithsonian reported in 2016 that more than 2,000 tons of unexploded munitions are found in the country annually. That would make the discovery of an unexploded bomb in Frankfurt this week relatively unsurprising—if not for its sheer size. The 2-ton bomb is an HC 4000 and has the ability to impact buildings more than half a mile away. Its discovery has spurred what Deutsche Welle reports is the biggest evacuation since the end of WWII: Some 70,000 people, or roughly 10% of the city’s population, will need to leave their Frankfurt homes on Sunday.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have seized the strategically important town of Tal Afar from ISIS, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday. An operation to retake the northwestern town, captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, began 10 days ago. Tal Afar was the last town still under the control of ISIS militants in Iraq’s Nineveh province following the liberation of Mosul, about 45 miles to the east. Al-Abadi also issued a warning to any fighters for ISIS, also known as Daesh, who remain in Iraq. “We say to the criminals of Daesh: Wherever you are, we are coming for liberation, and you have no choice but to die or surrender.”

India

India’s economy is having a difficult year. The South Asian nation’s gross domestic product grew 5.7% in the quarter ended June, the government said Thursday. That’s a big drop from the quarter before and much slower than the 7.1% growth it recorded in the same period last year. It’s the weakest rate of growth in three years. The slowdown has ended India’s claim to be the world’s fastest-growing major economy and is being blamed on big reforms introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including last year’s sudden ban on 86% of the country’s cash, and the recent introduction of a national goods and services tax.

Kenya

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned the result of last month’s presidential election and ordered a new vote within 60 days. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, which the court said came about due to an unfair vote, was declared null and void. It is the first time a presidential election result in East Africa’s economic hub has ever been nullified. Members of the opposition danced and cheered with joy in the streets after the ruling. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, said they felt vindicated. The six-judge bench at the country’s top court ruled 4-2 in favor of a petition by Odinga, who claimed that electronic voting results were hacked in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga’s lawyer said a scrutiny of the forms used to tally the votes had anomalies affecting nearly 5 million votes.

Wildfires

Numerous wildfires continue to plague drought-stricken eastern Montana, Washington and Oregon. Thirty-one large (over 100 acres) wildfires are currently burning in Montana, having already consumed over 363,000 acres. Twenty-three large fires are burning in Washington and Oregon, with over 372,000 acres already torched. The weather forecast is for mostly dry conditions, making the task for thousands of firefighters much more difficult.

Wildfires ravaging parts of California have triggered evacuations in the southern part of the state, while fires further north prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an emergency declaration. At least 200 homes remain under evacuation orders Saturday as a large wildfire threatened to destroy structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by dry, windy conditions. As of early Saturday, the fire burned through about 1,500 acres and is now 10 percent contained. Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday in Trinity County north of San Francisco due to the Helena Fire, which has burned 8 square miles and is 0 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

Weather

Nearly all waterways in and around Houston have crested and water is starting to recede, the Harris County Flood Control District said Wednesday. The piece of good news for flood-battered Houston came hours after Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall just west of Cameron, La. Harvey dropped substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri. Tropical Storm Harvey has broken the all-time contiguous U.S. rainfall record from a tropical storm or hurricane, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. East of Highlands, the Cedar Bayou gauge has picked up 51.88 inches of rain from Harvey, the weather service said. This broke the record of 48 inches set in Medina, Texas, from Amelia in 1978. It’s just under the all-time U.S. rainfall record from a tropical cyclone, which was 52 inches in Hawaii from Hurricane Hiki in 1950.

Tuesday night into Wednesday, torrential rainfall triggered massive flooding in the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, with reports of water in homes. Jack Brooks Regional Airport, near Port Arthur, picked up a staggering 26.03 inches of rain Tuesday alone, more than doubling their previous calendar-day rainfall record from September 1963. Their total since Saturday is an incredible 43.27 inches of rain. The Neches River at Beaumont is expected to reach record flood levels by late in the week, topping the Oct. 22, 1994 record crest, flooding numerous homes in northeast Beaumont and Rose City. Beaumont, Texas, has lost its water supply, city officials say, due to flooding on the Neches River. Residents in Beaumont, Texas, waited in lines that stretched for more than a mile Friday for bottled water after flooding on the Neches River knocked out the city’s water utility system. The Houston Independent School District announced Wednesday all students will eat all school meals for free during the 2017-2018 school year thanks to the USDA waiving eligibility rules. The storm impacted more than 1 million students in 244 public and charter school districts statewide, the Texas Education Agency said. At least 16 hospitals in Texas are closed due to flooding as of Wednesday.

Thursday, significant flash flooding was reported in parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Nashville metro area, from Harvey’s remnants. Numerous roads were closed and county schools were closed Friday in Simpson County, Kentucky. Harvey’s long-lived odyssey of rain is in its final chapter, spreading heavy rain into the Ohio Valley Friday, potentially triggering additional flash flooding. Although rain has come to an end in flood-ravaged southeast Texas, rivers will remain high for days to come as recovery efforts continue. A confirmed tornado caused minor injuries and left behind damage Thursday in Alabama as flooding prompted officials in Tennessee and Kentucky to urge some residents to evacuate.

Tropical Storm Lidia has resulted in four deaths in Mexico and it continues to bring the threat of flooding rain, strong winds and some storm-surge flooding. Lidia made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula west of La Paz Friday morning and will continue to impact the region into this weekend. The remnants of Lidia may also bring a few showers and thunderstorms in the Desert Southwest and coastal areas of California later this weekend.

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