Archive for March, 2018

Signs of the Times (3/26/18)

March 26, 2018

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

States Considering ‘Red Flag’ Laws to Restrict Gun Access

States across the country are taking a closer look at “red flag” laws after a teen gunman, long known to law enforcement as troubled, killed 17 in Parkland, Florida. The laws allow family members or law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily restrict people’s access to firearms when they show “red flags” that they are a danger to themselves or others. After the shooting, Florida became the sixth state to pass a red-flag law, and other state lawmakers introduced a flurry of new bills, including first-time legislation in more than a handful of states. Bills are now pending in 22 states and the District of Columbia, while bipartisan efforts are coming together in Congress.

Students Lead Huge Rallies for Gun Control Across the U.S.

Standing before vast crowds in hundreds of rallies from Washington to Los Angeles to Parkland, Fla., the speakers — nearly all of them students, some still in elementary school — delivered an anguished and defiant message: They are “done hiding” from gun violence and will “stop at nothing” to get politicians to finally prevent it. The students vowed that their grief about school shootings and their frustration with adults’ inaction would power a new generation of political activism. For many of the young people, the Washington rally, called March for Our Lives, was their first act of protest and the beginning of a political awakening. But that awakening may be a rude one — lawmakers in Congress have largely disregarded their pleas for action on television and social media in the five weeks since the Parkland shooting.

  • Until Jesus comes again and eradicates evil in the world, there is no perfect solution to gun control.

Youth Suicide Rates Up

The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016, the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, their rate of increase was higher — 77%. A study of pediatric hospitals released last May found admissions of patients ages 5 to 17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled from 2008 to 2015. The group at highest risk for suicide are white males between 14 and 21. Experts and teens cite myriad reasons, including spotty mental health screening, poor access to mental health services and resistance among young men and people of color to admit they have a problem and seek care. There’s also a host of well-documented and hard to solve societal issues, including opioid-addicted parents, a polarized political environment and poverty that persists in many areas despite a near-record-low unemployment rate.

  • So-called experts conveniently leave out the rise in societal problems due to the removal of God from schools and the increase in violence-saturated video games, TV shows and movies.

Trump Expels Russians, Closes Consulate Over Poison Attack in UK

President Trump has expelled 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle over the poison attack in Great Britain, the administration said Monday. “The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. The U.S. sanctions resemble those of other nations in response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil; the United Kingdom and others have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the attack, something Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied.

Nine Iranians Charged in Massive Hacking Attack

The Trump administration announced criminal charges and sanctions Friday against Iranians accused in a hacking scheme to pilfer sensitive information from hundreds of universities, private companies and American government agencies. The nine defendants, accused of working at the behest of the Iranian government-tied Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, hacked the computer systems of about 320 universities in the United States and abroad to steal expensive science and engineering research that was then used by the government or sold for profit, prosecutors said. The hackers also are accused of breaking into the networks of government organizations, such as the Department of Labor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the United Nations, and private sector entities including technology companies and law and consulting firms. The defendants are unlikely to ever be prosecuted in an American courtroom since there’s no extradition treaty with Iran.

New Spending Bill Includes Increased Funding for Israel

The US Congress on Friday passed its Omnibus Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018, which included major pro-Israel legislation that will significantly boost its defense development. The spending bill contains a total of $705.8 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation, representing $105 million more than last year’s adopted funding level. These funds will support both procurement, research and development for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 cooperative missile defense systems—key programs that help Israel defend its citizens against rockets and missiles and also advance America’s own missile defense capabilities. The bill also includes $47.5 million for joint anti-terror tunneling technologies, a $5 million increase from last year.

Conservatives Blast $1.3 trillion Spending Bill, Special Interest Groups Cheer

Conservatives blasted the $1.3 trillion spending passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week. The deal would will increase domestic spending by $63 billion over last year’s levels, or about 12 percent, and it would boost military spending by $80 billion, about 15 percent. The House could vote on the measure as early as today, followed by the Senate later this week. Lawmakers have funded the government through a series of short-term spending bills, lurching from one shutdown threat to another for almost six months of the fiscal year. Fiscal conservatives support a boost in military spending, but they oppose the plumped-up domestic spending. In addition, the bill provides no funding for the President’s proposed border wall – a major setback for Trump who had demanded $25 billion to construct a concrete barrier to stop illegal crossings from Mexico. Nor does it defund Planned Parenthood.

Republicans and Democrats are now sparring over which party emerged victorious from the spending bill fight, but the real winners are thousands of interest groups — including wealthy foreign investors, striped bass fishing enthusiasts and cranberry researchers — to whom the bill doles out some serious assistance. Medical marijuana advocates maintained key protections for states that allow medicinal use, while researchers cheered a massive new infusion of cash in government-sponsored research and development. Space enthusiasts were ecstatic over the biggest boost for NASA in a decade. Lawmakers representing farm-heavy states secured a provision to maintain exemptions for certain emissions from animal manure from government reporting requirements. And animal welfare advocates cheered the bill’s de facto ban on horse-meat processing plants in the U.S.

California Cities Reject State’s Sanctuary Law

More towns and cities in California are exploring options to follow Los Alamitos in rejecting the state’s sanctuary law. Members of the Los Alamitos Council voted Monday to opt out of a state law that limits cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year and in effect since Jan. 1, includes prohibiting state and local police agencies from informing federal authorities in cases when illegal immigrants facing deportation are released from detention. The council’s move inspired officials in Orange County and the cities of Aliso Viejo and Buena Park to consider adopting similar measures against California’s sanctuary law. Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement Tuesday that she plans to present a similar ordinance to the Board of Supervisors. Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel said in a statement Tuesday that she plans to present a similar ordinance to the Board of Supervisors.

Trump Revokes Full Ban on Transgender Troops

President Trump issued an order late Friday that supports a ban on many (but not all) transgender troops, deferring to a new Pentagon plan that essentially cancels a policy adopted by the Obama administration. The decision revokes a full ban that Trump issued last summer but disqualifies U.S. troops who have had gender reassignment surgery, as recommended by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Current transgender service members who have not undergone reassignment surgery should be allowed to stay, as long as they have been medically stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex before joining the military and are able to deploy across the world, Mattis recommended.

FTC Opens Investigation into Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into Facebook following reports that a data analytics firm that had worked with the Trump campaign had improperly accessed names, “likes” and other personal information about tens of millions of the social site’s users without their knowledge. The FTC probe marks the most substantial political and legal threat yet to Facebook as it grapples with the fallout from Cambridge Analytica and its controversial tactics. And it could result in the U.S. government slapping Facebook with a massive fine. At issue for the company — and at the heart of the FTC probe — is a settlement they reached with the agency in November 2011, ending an investigation that Facebook deceived users about the privacy protections they are afforded on the site. Among other requirements, the resulting consent decree mandated that Facebook must notify users and obtain their permission before data about them is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established. Facebook shares took a big hit Monday, shaving about $37 billion off the value of the company. Fabricated news that misled millions, live broadcasts of homicides and terrorism, racist targeting of ads, troubling search results and Russian manipulation — all had chipped away at the social network’s reputation beforehand. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his personal Facebook page that the company will give users new tools to see how their data is being used and shared. Facebook added that it will further restrict developers’ access to data to prevent abuse.

Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Woman in Tempe, AZ

The operator in a self-driving Uber vehicle that hit and killed a 49-year-old woman Sunday night had served almost four years in an Arizona prison in the early 2000s on an attempted armed robbery conviction. A representative for Uber declined to comment on the conviction and the company’s hiring policies, citing an active investigation. Elaine Herzberg was walking a bike across a street outside a crosswalk in Tempe, Arizona, at about 10 p.m. when she was hit. Police said the vehicle was in autonomous mode with an operator, who has been identified as 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, behind the wheel at the time of the crash. Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Ronald Elcock said impairment did not initially appear to be a factor for either Vasquez or Herzberg. He added it was not apparent that the vehicle attempted to slow down while it approached Herzberg. The Uber cars were already having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, like big rigs, reports the New York Times. And Uber’s human drivers had to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects.

Economic News

Sales of new U.S. single-family homes unexpectedly fell for a third straight month in February, weighed down by steep declines in the Midwest and West. The Commerce Department said on Friday new home sales dropped 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 618,000 units last month. Economists had forecast that new home sales, which account for 10 percent of housing market sales, would rise 4.4 percent. The housing market has slowed in recent months as an acute shortage of homes, especially on the lower end of the market, squeezes sales while pushing up prices. Rising mortgage rates could make buying a home even less affordable for first-time buyers, who have been largely priced out of the market. The median new house price was $326,800, a 9.7 percent increase from a year ago. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is hovering at a four-year high of 4.45 percent. In contrast, annual wage growth has been stuck below 3 percent despite the unemployment rate dropping to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent.

Americans’ outlook for the economy climbed in March for a third straight month to match the highest level since 2002, data from the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index showed. The monthly gauge of economic expectations increased to 56 from 54.5; 39% of respondents said economy “getting better,” the biggest share since March 2002 and up from 38% a month earlier; it was 30% in December.

Persecution Watch

Masked attackers murdered a church pastor in Darfur, western Sudan, along with his wife and two daughters in the early hours of March 2, 2018. Before killing him, they demanded to know why he had not heeded their warnings to stop preaching about Jesus. In response, Pastor Stephen started telling them about Jesus. Barnabas Fund’s contact writes, They became furious and started to kick him and beat him up seriously. The attackers then tried to force the pastor to violate his daughters, Rachel and Priscilla. He refused. “They then began by killing the girls first, then their mother [Beatrice], and finally the pastor himself. They were cut in pieces as though they were cows.”

Boko Haram militants freed the majority of the 110 kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirls on Wednesday, March 21, but are still holding captive a Christian girl who refused to convert to Islam. A relative of another of the freed girls stated that the Christian girl was still being held because she had refused to convert to Islam. The Christian girl is understood to be 15-year-old Leah Sherubu. Her father has praised her faithfulness, stating, “I am grateful to God that my daughter refused to convert.”

Middle East

Saudi Arabia on Monday threatened retaliation against Iran, accusing the Shiite power of being behind multiple Yemeni rebel missile attacks on the kingdom that led to three deaths. Seven missiles were fired at the Saudi capital Riyadh on the third anniversary of the Saudi military intervention in Yemen civil war. Seven of the Houthi missiles were shot down. A Saudi coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki described the attacks by the Houthi rebels as a deadly escalation adding we “reserve the right to respond against Iran at the right time and right place” One Egyptian was killed and two of his countrymen were wounded by falling shrapnel in Riyadh, authorities said, with residents reporting loud explosions and bright flashes in the sky shortly before midnight.

Several Code Red alarms sounded in the southern Israel Sunday evening and Iron Dome defense batteries responded to what was thought to be missiles fired from the Gaza Strip. However, the sirens sounded following automatic gunfire emanating from Gaza. No missiles landed in Israeli territory. The IDF will study the event in order to figure out why the sirens went off. The Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, detonated bombs and fired machine guns in the streets in a 24-hour exercise that began Sunday morning. Israel Air Force (IAF) jets attacked a Hamas target in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday night after four Palestinians infiltrated Israeli territory. They tried damaging construction equipment being used to build an underground barrier to Hamas terror tunnels leading into Israel. Tensions at the border have been high recently. There were several attempts by Gaza terrorists to detonate explosive devices against IDF forces guarding the area, and Hamas has announced plans to lead a mass march into Israeli territory this coming Friday.

The Israeli military formally confirmed for the first time on Wednesday it carried out a 2007 air raid on a suspected nuclear reactor deep inside Syria. Israel was widely believed to have been behind the September 6, 2007 attack, but had never admitted it. Eight fighter jets flew at low altitude on the secret mission against the suspected plutonium nuclear reactor in the Deir el-Zour region of eastern Syria, the military said. Syria is believed to have received help from North Korea in developing the reactor. Damascus has never admitted to developing a nuclear facility and was silent following the Israeli attack, saying only that its airspace had been violated.

Afghanistan

An Islamic State suicide bomber struck on the road to a Shiite shrine in Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday, killing at least 29 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian new year. The Public Health Ministry said another 52 people were wounded in the attack, which was carried out by a bomber on foot. The Islamic State group claimed the attack in an online statement. IS said the attack targeted “a gathering of Shiites celebrating Nauruz.” The Persian new year, known in Afghanistan as Nauruz, is a national holiday, and the country’s minority Shiites typically celebrate by visiting shrines. The Sunni extremists of IS have repeatedly targeted Shiites, who they view as apostates deserving of death.

Nigeria

Boko Haram extremists returned most of the 110 girls they kidnapped a month ago from their school in northeastern Nigeria, the Nigerian government said Wednesday. Fighters from the militant group drove into the northern town of Dapchi in nine vans and dropped the girls off early Wednesday, just after Nigerian soldiers withdrew. The minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said no ransom was paid. He said the release was obtained through “back-channel efforts,” after “a pause in operations” and with the help of “some friends of the country.” As the extremists dropped off the girls Wednesday, they told residents: “This is a warning to you all,” the Associated Press reported. “We did it out of pity. And don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”

Environment

The world’s largest collection of ocean garbage is growing. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic, floating trash located halfway between Hawaii and California, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles, a study published Thursday finds. That’s twice the size of Texas. Winds and converging ocean currents funnel the garbage into a central location. First discovered in the early 1990s, the trash in the patch comes from countries around the Pacific Rim, including nations in Asia as well as North and South America. It includes some 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighs 88,000 tons — the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets. The new figures are as much as 16 times higher than previous estimates.

UBQ is an Israeli company that has patented a process to convert household trash from landfills into reusable plastic. After five years of development, the company is bringing its operations online, with hopes of revolutionizing waste management worldwide and making landfills obsolete. It remains to be seen, however, if the technology really works and is commercially viable. UBQ operates a pilot plant and research facility at Kibbutz Zeelim, on the edge of southern Israel’s Negev Desert, where it has developed its production line. Leading scientists serve on its advisory board, including Nobel Prize chemist Roger Kornberg, Hebrew University biochemist Oded Shoseyov and Connie Hedegaard, a former European Commissioner for Climate Action.

Hurricane Harvey’s strike on coastal Texas caused a far bigger environmental catastrophe than officials publicly disclosed, according to an investigation released this week by the Associated Press and Houston Chronicle. Their findings revealed that more than 100 toxic releases were caused by the devastating hurricane, and most were never made public. Since the storm, 89 incidents were investigated by state officials, but no action was announced at the end of those investigations. Several of the plants responsible for the releases are repeat offenders, the investigation found, and some of the chemicals, like benzene and vinyl chloride, are carcinogens. One reason why officials said they didn’t notify the public about the releases was because their priority was “addressing any environmental harms as quickly as possible, as opposed to making announcements about what the problem was.” Looking back,” added Samuel Coleman, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office during Harvey, they probably should have told the public about the worst “dozens of spills.”

Weather

Winter Storm Toby was the fourth nor’easter to hit the East in less than three weeks, bringing heavy snow and some winds from the Ohio Valley to the Northeast as spring officially arrived. Toby dumped a foot or more of snow in at least five states, with heavy snow stretching from Long Island to the Appalachians to parts of the Ohio Valley. Parts of Long Island were hammered by up to 19 inches of snow. New York’s Central Park picked up 8.2 inches of snow, the first time they had picked up at least 6 inches from a snowstorm in late March or April in 26 years (March, 19, 1992). Parts of New Jersey picked up over 6 inches of snow, including Newark Airport (7.9 inches). Central and southern Pennsylvania into northern Maryland was buried in over a foot of snow in several locations. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had its second heaviest late-March snowstorm in records dating to 1941, picking up 14.2 inches. More than 100,000 were without power in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast as of Thursday morning.

A series of storms have been a boon for California’s Sierra Nevada where nearly 16 feet of snow has piled up in March. Through the end of February, the Lake Tahoe ski resort Alpine Meadows had received 147 inches of snow this season at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Since then, 191 inches of snow, or nearly 16 feet, has fallen in just 18 days for a grand total of 338 inches (over 28 feet). That’s still a far cry from the more than 600 inches recorded there through mid-March last year, but above the 2014-15 and 2013-14 winters when less than 300 inches was tallied.

Monday’s severe weather outbreak in northern Alabama ended a record-long streak with no EF3 or stronger rated tornadoes in the United States. The tornado ripped apart buildings Monday night on the campus of Jacksonville  State University, which was mostly closed for Spring Break. The last tornado of that intensity occurred on May 16, 2017, when separate EF3 tornadoes touched down in Kansas and Wisconsin. A total of 306 days then went by with no tornadoes rated EF3 or stronger, besting the previous record of 249 days, based on data back to 1953 from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita Scale from EF0 to EF5 based on the damage they cause. EF2-EF3 tornadoes are considered strong while rare EF4-EF5 twisters are classified as violent. Tornadoes rated EF2-EF3 are not very common, making up about 9.5 percent of all twisters for the years 2000-2010. Less than one percent of all tornadoes were assigned an  EF4 or EF5 rating for that same period of time.

African dust from the Sahara Desert yielded very hazy conditions in Greece’s largest island, Crete, on Thursday as strong southerly winds blew the dust across the Mediterranean Sea. The plume of dust could be seen in space by NASA’s Terra satellite in a light brown color moving off the northern coast of Africa and heading toward Crete. Visibility was very limited on the Greek island Thursday thanks to the thick African dust plume that enveloped the island. It’s approximately 225 miles from the northern Africa coast to Crete, but Saharan dust can actually travel much farther.

Signs of the Times (3/19/18)

March 19, 2018

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Christian-Based ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Beats New Age ‘Wrinkle in Time’

The faith-based film “I Can Only Imagine” was a surprise hit at the box office over the weekend. The movie tells the story of Bart Millard, the lead singer of Christian rock band MercyMe, and what led him to write the bestselling Christian single of all time: “I Can Only Imagine.” The film earned nearly double its expected box office gross, bringing in $17.1 million across North America. It came in third for the weekend behind the opening of “Tomb Raider” and Marvel’s “Black Panther,” while playing in far fewer theaters. The Christian-themed movie beat out Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” a movie which had all of its original Christian elements removed by the screenwriter. It also beat a new film about a gay teenage romance.

Americans’ Support for Israel Hits Highest Level in Years

A Gallup poll published last Tuesday shows that 64% of the American public sympathize more with Israelis in the ongoing dispute with their neighbors, while only 19% lean toward the Palestinians. This tied 2013 and 1991 for the highest support Israel has ever received in the 30 years that Gallup has run this poll. Democrats’ preference for Israel lagged far behind their counterparts across the aisle in Congress, at 49% versus 87% of Republicans. Support for the Palestinians hasn’t changed much since 1988, the year of the first poll. Then, 15% supported them more than Israel, while the highest backing they received was 20%, back in 2007

Appeals Court Backs Trump, Texas in Sanctuary City Fight

States have the power to punish sanctuary cities within their borders and to force local police and sheriff’s departments to cooperate in turning over illegal immigrants to the federal government for deportation, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in upholding a Texas law. The 3-0 decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks a major victory for President Trump, who has demanded punishment for sanctuary cities that thwart the federal government to protect illegal immigrants. The judges didn’t go that far, but they did say the federal government’s detainer requests, which ask local governments to hold illegal immigrants for pickup, are legal. Known as SB4, the legislation Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed last year requires police to determine the legal status of those they encounter during their duties.

IRS Finds 1.3 Million Cases of Identity Theft by Illegal Immigrants

The Internal Revenue Service in 2011 through 2016 documented more than 1.3 million cases of identity theft perpetrated by illegal aliens whom the IRS had given Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN), which are only given to people who are ineligible to work in the United States or receive Social Security Numbers, according to information published by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). However, in response to inquiries from CNSNews.com, the IRS could not say if it had referred even one of these cases for criminal prosecution. TIGTA, which is the inspector general responsible for overseeing the IRS, discovered another approximately 1.2 million cases in 2017 in which an illegal alien working in the United States had filed a tax return reporting wages that had been earned using a Social Security Number that belonged to someone else or was fabricated. Yet the IRS also could not say whether it referred any of these cases for criminal prosecution.

Trump Sanctions Russians for Interfering in 2016 Elections

The Trump administration on Thursday sanctioned 19 Russian individuals and five Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election and engaging in cyber-attacks. The announcement was made by the Department of the Treasury and includes the 13 Russians who were recently indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The sanctions mean all property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. United States citizens are also prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.  The Treasury Department said the sanctions are meant to counter Russia’s destabilizing activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its destructive cyber-attacks. The department cited the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack the White House and the British government have attributed to the Russian military.

Senate Passes Rollback of Banking Rules Enacted after Recession

The Senate on Wednesday passed the biggest loosening of financial regulations since the economic crisis a decade ago, delivering wide bipartisan support for weakening banking rules despite bitter divisions among Democrats. The bill, which passed 67 votes to 31, would free more than two dozen banks from the toughest regulatory scrutiny put in place after the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite President Trump’s promise to do a “big number” on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the new measure leaves key aspects of the earlier law in place. Nonetheless, it amounts to a significant rollback of banking rules aimed at protecting taxpayers from another financial crisis and future bailouts. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the legislation’s passage. “The bill provides much-needed relief from the Dodd-Frank Act for thousands of community banks and credit unions and will spur lending and economic growth without creating risks to the financial system,” she said. Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) said, “Washington is poised to make the same mistake it has made many times before, deregulating giant banks while the economy is cruising, only to set the stage for another financial crisis,”

Students Stage Walkout to Promote Gun Control

Thousands of students across the nation were walking out of classrooms Wednesday to mark one month since the bloody rampage at a Florida high school that shocked the world and fueled a dynamic youth movement demanding an end to gun violence. Students from almost 3,000 schools were marking National Walkout Day, most by leaving their classrooms at 10 a.m. local time to show solidarity for the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In Washington, several hundred students of all ages massed outside the White House, waving signs and shouting “What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”

AG Sessions Announces Gun Control Measures

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that U.S. attorneys will more aggressively enforce the law that makes it a crime for gun buyers to lie on their federal background checks, one of several steps Justice Department officials outlined as part of the Trump administration’s response to last month’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The Justice Department also will increase the presence of law enforcement officers at schools and continue to review the way law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public, Sessions said.

44 Countries Still Don’t Have a U.S. Ambassador

Forty-four of 188 U.S. embassies and international organizations that still lack an ambassador since President Trump took office. (That number includes six countries for which the U.S. does not exchange a top diplomat). Trump on Sunday condemned Democrats for obstructing his nominations and urged the Senate to move faster. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., responded by slamming Trump for ambassador positions for which nominees haven’t been put forth. Trump does not have a representative in South Korea, which faces nuclear-armed North Korea. He has no envoy in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that helps stabilize the Middle East and counterbalances Iran’s influence. There’s no U.S. ambassador in Turkey, where President Recip Tayyip Erdogan blames the United States for an attempted coup in 2016. Trump has no personal envoy to the European Union as the continent struggles with far-right nationalist movements and Russian aggression. Ambassadors are needed in Germany, Europe’s largest economy; Cuba as it forges a new relationship with the United States, and Egypt, an ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

U.S. the World’s 18th Happiest Country

The World Happiness Report released Wednesday by the United Nations shows that the U.S. ranks 18th out of 156 on the happiness scale. The report ranked each country on six variables — income, life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust and generosity. Finland ranks first, up from fifth last year. Following Finland in the top 10 are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. The same countries over the past two years have been in the top 10 spots. They are characterized by lower wealth inequality, high taxes, good access to healthcare, long life expectancy, low corruption and support for those who need help from the state or communities. The ten least happy countries are Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, Rwanda. Syria, Liberia, Haiti, and Malawi.

Opioid-Exposed Babies at Risk for Developmental Delays

A new study shows that newborns who require treatment for opioid withdrawal are at higher risk than others for delayed language, cognitive and motor skills. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center this week released the study of 87 children who have been treated at its long-term Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Clinic. The study looked at neurodevelopment of 2-year-olds who’d been treated for the syndrome that can occur in newborns who were exposed to opioids in utero. Some of the mothers had taken heroin while pregnant; others were prescribed opioid medication for the addiction. These children also have higher rates of what’s called strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes, than the general population.

America Will Have More Elderly People Than Children by 2035

The U.S. Census Bureau that projects that “Adults 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by the year 2035.” This coming shift in U.S. demographics brings with it some notable implications for U.S. society. The number of elderly Americans will be so high by that time that 1 in every 5 Americans will be at retirement age. Additionally, the death rate will surpass the birth rate. Even though the U.S. population will still continue to grow, the only reason for that growth will be immigration. For the first time in U.S. history, immigration, and not births, will be the main driver of the country’s population growth. Since the number of births isn’t enough to replace those who die, the country will certainly be seeing a drop in caretakers as the population continues to age.

Facebook Facing Data Crisis

What happens to the data you post on Facebook? And who’s responsible for how those personal details are used? Facebook is under intense pressure to answer these questions — and more — after it admitted that a company linked to President Donald Trump’s campaign had accessed and improperly stored a huge trove of its user data. The controversy erupted as UK media and The New York Times reported that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica tried to influence how Americans voted using information gleaned from millions of Facebook profiles. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has done immense damage to the Facebook brand, sources across the company believe. It will now take a Herculean effort to restore public trust in Facebook’s commitment to privacy and data protection, they said. Outside observers think regulation has suddenly become more likely, and yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears missing in action. Facebook makes money by, among other things, harvesting your data and selling it to app developers and advertisers. Preventing those buyers from passing that data to third parties with ulterior motives may ultimately be impossible.

Economic News

President Trump has now amassed his first $1 trillion in debt, crossing that ignominious mark late last week — and analysts said it’s just a taste of what’s to come after the tax-cuts and spending spree of recent months. It’s a major reversal for a president who during the campaign had said given eight years he could eliminate the debt entirely but is instead looking at setting records for red ink, notes the conservative Washington Times. “We are in for a rude awakening,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Her organization calculated that with December’s tax cuts and January’s budget-busting spending deal, Mr. Trump has already signed legislation that will add at least $2.4 trillion to the debt in the next decade and, should Congress make those policies permanent, could add as much as $6 trillion.

Americans spend nearly twice as much on health care as other wealthy countries, but it’s not doing much to improve their health, a new study finds. The United States has the shortest life expectancy and highest infant and maternal mortality rates among the 11 highest-income nations. Steep spending on drugs and doctor’s salaries are among the major drivers of the high cost of health care in the United States, according to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Economics. But, contrary to popular belief, Americans don’t use more health care than residents in other countries. Health care spending accounted for 17.8% of the US economy in 2016, compared to an average of 11.5% in the 11 high-income countries the study examined.

Americans spent $9,400 per capita on health care in 2016, compared to an average of $5,400 in the peer nations, which include Canada, Japan, Australia and several Western European countries. Americans had lower rates of physician visits and spent fewer days in the hospital, though they had some of the highest rates for imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, and some common surgical procedures, such as knee replacements, cataract surgeries and cesarean births. Per capita spending on prescription drugs was more than $1,400, compared to an average of $750 for all nations studied. The average salary for a general practice physician in the United States was more than $218,000, compared to an average of nearly $134,000 in the peer nations. Specialists were paid $316,000, compared to nearly $183,000, while nurses earned more than $74,000, compared to just under $52,000.

A sharp rise in home values last year gave homeowners a strong increase in net worth in the form of home equity. It also helped more than half a million borrowers rise above water on their mortgages. All real estate is, of course, local, and some homeowners saw significantly bigger gains than others, especially those in the Western region of the nation. Homeowners with a mortgage, representing about 63% of all properties, saw their equity increase 12% over the course of last year, according to CoreLogic. That comes to an average of $15,000 per homeowner and a collective gain of $908.4 billion. States like California and Washington saw even higher price growth, so homeowners in those states gained an average of $44,000 and $40,000, respectively. In Louisiana, homeowners saw no growth at all, and in Oklahoma, barely $2,000 in additional equity.

Middle East

Calls for a “Day of Rage” Friday by the Islamist terror militia Hamas were being blamed for a violent weekend which saw three Israelis killed and two wounded in separate terror attacks. A car rammed into soldiers manning a position north of Jerusalem on Friday afternoon, killing Capt. Ziv Daus, 21, and Sgt. Netanel Kahalani, 20 while wounding two of their comrades. The driver was later captured. On Sunday afternoon, Adiel Kolman, 32, a father of four, was killed in a stabbing attack as he left his job at the City of David museum near Jerusalem’s Old City. His attacker was shot dead by nearby police. “This attack makes it clear that the intifada is continuing for the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Hazam Kasam. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Forces ran sweeping security operations in the West Bank over the weekend in response to the terror attacks, confiscating weapons, cash and other contraband and arresting several suspects. The IDF thwarted an attempt by Hamas to renovate a terror tunnel that the army had previously destroyed leading from Gaza into Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Several improvised explosive devices (IED) were detonated adjacent to the Israel-Gaza border fence Thursday morning. No injuries were reported, and IDF tanks returned fire at Hamas targets inside the Strip, including at least one Hamas lookout point. The incident was the latest in a series of incidents along the border fence in recent weeks. Last month, four IDF soldiers were injured, including two seriously, when an IED exploded as sappers checked for suspicious devices.  Two days before that attack, hundreds of Palestinians rioted on the Gaza side of the border fence; IDF officials believe the events served as cover to place the explosives that seriously injured the soldiers.

An assassination attempt on the lives of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and PA General Intelligence Services Chief Majid Faraj occurred last Tuesday morning when they entered the Gaza Strip and a bomb exploded near their motorcade. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said, “Hamas bears full responsibility for the cowardly targeting of the prime minister’s motorcade in Gaza,” despite Hamas’ statement condemning the attack. Hamas took offense, condemning the PA for condemning it and broadly hinting that Israel was responsible for the attack.

Iran

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad. Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” – which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama – or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

Syria

The fighting in Syria enters its eighth year on Thursday. A conflict that began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime escalated into a full-scale civil war that is now one of this century’s deadliest. Along the way, the Syrian conflict allowed Islamic State extremists to flourish, created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and exacerbated an international power struggle. The numbers speak for themselves: 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to United Nations estimates; more than half of Syria’s 20 million, pre-war population has been displaced; 5.5 million Syrians have fled abroad — 95% of them in just five countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt); 400,000 civilians are trapped in opposition-held suburbs of Syria’s capital Damascus as Assad’s government wages a relentless bombing campaign to retake the area; of Syria’s estimated 10 million children, 8.6 million are in dire need of assistance, up from about a half-million after the first year of war; nearly 6 million children are displaced or living as refugees, and about 2.5 million are out of school; about a third of Syria’s housing and half of its educational and medical facilities have been destroyed, according to a 2017 World Bank report.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seized control on Sunday morning of the city of Afrin, the target of a two-month military operation against Kurdish militias in the enclave in Syria. The takeover dealt a blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-administration there and added to Turkey’s growing footprint in the country. The Syrian rebel forces, which have served as advance troops for the Turkish operation, seemed to have entered the city without a fight, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., withdrew to the surrounding hills. But residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish airstrikes. The seizure of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish city near the Turkish border, came as other Syrian rebel groups appeared close to collapse in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus. Syrian forces have split the enclave into three parts under a blistering barrage of artillery and airstrikes.

Russia

Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. The move marks the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War and May said her government will also cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia. She said the use of the nerve agent against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, amounted to an “unlawful use of force” against Britain with chemical weapons. May said that she had spoken to Britain’s international allies including President Trump, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron and that they had agreed to “cooperate closely in responding to this barbaric act.” The Kremlin rejected British claims that it was involved in the poisoning incident. Russia retaliated against Britain on Saturday by expelling 23 British diplomats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin — the country’s longest-serving leader since former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin — scored an easy victory in Sunday’s election allowing him another six-year term. Putin’s re-election was widely expected, and elections officials had pushed hard for a strong turnout to claim an indisputable mandate. Putin has been president or prime minister since December 1999, making him the only leader that a generation of Russians has ever known. Earlier Sunday, there were widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but complaints of voting irregularities will likely do little to undermine Putin. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running against Putin, said he boycotted the election and had urged supporters not to vote because of the absence of any real competition.

Wildfires

Wildfires burned thousands of acres Thursday in Kansas and authorities warned that “extreme, catastrophic” fire conditions could prove disastrous for the region heading into the weekend. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a drought emergency earlier in the week, citing the persistent dry conditions and growing fire hazards. Strong winds and dry conditions fueled dozens of fires Thursday that scorched an estimated 13,000 acres in the Sunflower State. Numerous fires have been burning across Oklahoma fueled by extreme drought, consuming many thousands of acres. Fire crews from around the country are fighting several dozen blazes.

Residents are being allowed to return home after crews fully contained a blaze that ignited Friday on a Colorado Army post. Military officials told the Associated Press that a training exercise was underway at the time the fire sparked but haven’t said whether it caused the blaze at Fort Carson, located south of Colorado Springs. Several homes located off the base in El Paso County were among the structures destroyed in the fire. The blaze scorched five square miles of land.

Weather

Erie, Pennsylvania, has already shattered its seasonal snow record of 152.1 inches by more than 3 feet, and now it’s threatening the all-time snowiest winter ever recorded by its snowy neighbor, Buffalo, New York, some 80 miles to the northeast. Through Wednesday, Erie had recorded 191.5 inches of snow this winter season. Buffalo’s snowiest winter on record occurred 41 years ago, when 199.4 inches piled up during the winter of 1976-77.

Winter Storm Skylar left tens of thousands in the dark and a mess to clean up after hammering the Northeast on Tuesday with the third nor’easter in just 11 days. Some areas in the northeast received another two feet of snow. Dozens of vehicles shut down Interstate 71 in northeastern Ohio Tuesday after heavy snowfall triggered a massive pileup of 70 vehicles.

After being hit by the deadly “Beast from the East” earlier this month, Britain was again walloped by heavy snowfall and travel conditions so poor that some drivers were unable to get home Sunday night. More than 80 travelers were stranded along a 64-mile span of A30 that was shut down from Bodmin to Exeter and had to sleep in a nearby school Sunday night. In other parts of the country, crews spent much of the weekend rescuing motorists after they became stranded by the heavy snow. Rail service and flights were also canceled because of the winter storm.

Signs of the Times (3/12/18)

March 12, 2018

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Christianity Sweeping China as Millions Convert

China’s on track to contain the world’s largest Christian population thanks to a surge in underground house churches and state-sanction places of worship, according to the Council of Foreign Relations. In a background document titled “Christianity in China,” the CFR estimates of the number of Protestants at anywhere from 58 million to 115 million and higher — though fewer than 30 million attend officially registered churches. According to the background report, the number of Chinese Protestants has grown by an average of 10 percent annually since 1979, putting China on track to have the world’s largest population of Christians by 2030. Estimates of the Catholic faithful in China, meanwhile, range between 10 to 12 million — despite the fact that the Holy See and Beijing haven’t had formal diplomatic ties since 1951. According to the CFR, the two sides now are reportedly close to finalizing a deal on the appointment of Catholic bishops. Still, Christians have faced growing repression in recent years — and China has ranked 10th as a country where it’s most difficult and dangerous to practice Christianity, according to Open Doors, a U.S.-based Christian non-profit that tracks the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Wheaton College Wins Religious Freedom Case

Wheaton College has won a religious freedom battle it has been fighting for five years and will not be forced to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their employee healthcare plans. The Christian Post reports that a district court judge has ruled that forcing the Illinois-based Christian college to fund the morning after pill or abortion-inducing drugs would violate their religious freedom. Wheaton, as well as other Christian institutions and organizations, have been fighting against the contraceptive mandate included in Obamacare which would force them to include abortion-inducing drugs and birth control in their healthcare plans. “The government is not above the law — that’s why we have civil rights laws. Wheaton should never have had to go to court to protect its rights in the first place. This order ensures we won’t have to come back,” said Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the college.

Mississippi First State to Pass 15-Week Abortion Ban

The State of Mississippi became the first state legislature in the nation to ban abortions after 15 weeks. The Gestational Age Act originated in the Mississippi House of Representatives where it passed 79-31 before advancing to the Senate where it passed 35-14. The bill is on its way to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), and he has indicated he will sign the bill into law. Mississippi State Senator Angela Burks Hill (R) said, “The state has a compelling interest to also protect the health of the mother. As you get into the second-term abortions, the chances of complication totally increase by 100 percent when you start doing those second-trimester abortions.”

U.S. Taxpayers Gave Abortion Groups $1.6 Billion over Three Years

Abortion organizations received approximately $1.6 billion of U.S. taxpayer money from 2013 to 2015, according to a new government report. This report comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which examined federal funding for providers of “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Most of the $1.6 billion went to PPFA. This is consistent with the more than $500 million in federal funding the abortion giant reports annually. The London-based Marie Stopes received $110 million over the three-year period. Planned Parenthood’s international arm received $14 million.

Trump to Meet With North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

The White House has confirmed news that stunned the world late Thursday, marking a potentially dramatic breakthrough in the North Korea nuclear standoff. President Trump is planning to meet North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un before the end of May, in a location yet to be determined. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the meeting was made possible by a “dramatic” change in posture from the North Korean leader, the AP reports. He said Trump decided to accept the invitation after Kim displayed a surprisingly “forward-leaning” attitude in talks with a South Korean delegation. Tillerson said it will take “some weeks” to arrange a date for the meeting. Kim has committed to “denuclearization” and to suspending nuclear or missile tests, South Korea’s National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the White House after briefing Trump on South Korean officials’ meeting with Kim on Monday. President Trump’s condition for meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is that there be no further nuclear or missile testing in the interim, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Sunday.

International Women’s Day Celebrated Worldwide

On March 8, most of the world marked International Women’s Day. Some women went on strike demanding better working conditions, others protested violence and oppression, still others debated various issues related to feminism. Trains stopped in Spain as female workers went on the country’s first “feminist” strike, newspapers dropped their prices for women in France, and the IWD flag flew over the UK parliament. In India, women marched in several cities including Delhi, Karachi and Kolkata, and women also took to the streets in Bangladesh, Belarus, Nepal, Pristina and Ankara among many others. It was a day of celebration and a day in which the message was spelt out that much work still needed to be done to achieve global gender equality. Women in Saudi Arabia are celebrating a new found right this International Women’s Day – jogging in the streets. The green economy has thrown its weight behind today’s International Women’s Day, with several leading business figures arguing the world must step up its efforts on gender equality if the fight against climate change is to succeed. A number of key green voices such as former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo have contributed to a new book – ‘Why Woman Will Save the Planet’ – in a bid to highlight why tackling climate change and gender equality must go hand in hand.

The Worst Countries to Be a Woman

Syria and Afghanistan tied for being the worst places to be a woman, according to the 2018 Women, Peace and Security Index, put together by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. The index measured women’s “wellbeing and empowerment” in 153 countries and ranked the nations on peace, security and women’s inclusion. The measures including years of schooling, number of female lawmakers, employment, legal and other discrimination, war, intimate partner violence and cellphone use. Iceland was ranked as the best country in which to be a woman. The United States came in at No. 22. The top ten worst places include Pakistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mali, Sudan and Niger. The other top places are Norway, Switzerland, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium.

Women’s March Leader Supports Farrakhan

Calls for Women’s March president Tamika D. Mallory to resign erupted after she attended a Feb. 25 speech in Chicago at which Mr. Farrakhan railed against “the Satanic Jew,” saying “powerful Jews are my enemy” while singling her out for recognition. “Tamika Mallory, one of the March organizers, was in the audience, and got a special shout-out from Farrakhan,” said the Anti-Defamation League in a Feb. 26 report. “Mallory posted two Instagram photos from the event, which Carmen Perez, another Women’s March organizer, commented on with ‘raise the roof’ emojis.” Mallory said that had been attending the annual Nation of Islam Saviours’ Day event for more than 30 years, starting when she was a child, leaving little doubt that she was familiar with Mr. Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rants. Farrakhan was quoted as saying, “Jews are my enemy” and “The FBI has been the worst enemy of Black advancement. The Jews have control of these agencies.” The controversy sparked calls by many Republicans for Democrats to vigorously denounce Farrakhan’s remarks. Others who quickly condemned Farrakhan’s remarks also questioned why the media was either slow to report the story, or have chosen to ignore it entirely.

Judge Rules Trump’s DACA Phaseout Legal

A federal judge ruled Monday that President Trump’s phaseout of the Obama-era DACA program is legal, adding heft to the administration’s defense but doing little to solve the ongoing court quagmire. The ruling does not overturn two other federal courts, who had previously blocked the phaseout, which was supposed to take effect Monday. But it does offer a needed boost as the Justice Department appeals those other two rulings. Judge Roger W. Titus, a Bush appointee to the bench in Maryland, said the judges in California and New York who blocked the phaseout attempted to substitute their own judgments for that of the Homeland Security Department, crossing constitutional lines in order to strike at Trump’s policies. Judge Titus went even further, praising the Trump administration for the way it handled the situation with a six-month phaseout. “This decision took control of a pell-mell situation and provided Congress — the branch of government charged with determining immigration policy — an opportunity to remedy it. Given the reasonable belief that DACA was unlawful, the decision to wind down DACA in an orderly manner was rational,” the judge wrote.

Justice Department Suing California over Sanctuary Laws

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened a new front in the legal war over California’s sanctuary city policies Tuesday, asking a federal court to halt three state laws that prohibit police and businesses from cooperating with federal agents. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Sacramento, says those laws not only trample on the federal government’s powers to set national immigration policy, but endanger communities by freeing criminals back onto the streets. “The Department of Justice and Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you,” Mr. Sessions will say in a speech Wednesday to the California Peace Officers Association. The move comes just days after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accused the Trump administration of “terrorizing” immigrant communities with an enforcement sweep that netted more than 200 deportable migrants in the state’s bay area. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sparked controversy after she tipped immigrants off to the sweep. Federal officials said she may have helped as many as 800 criminal migrants escape deportation officers. The White House confirmed last week that Ms. Schaaf is under investigation for her actions.

Florida Passes Gun Control Bill, NRA Sues

Florida passed a new gun control bill on Wednesday in response to the horrific mass shooting in Parkland. The law bans the sales of firearms to adults between the ages of 18-21, among other actions such as banning bump stocks and requiring a waiting period when purchasing guns. FL. Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law earlier Friday. The National Rifle Association then filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida for infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of thousands of its citizens. Chris Cox, Legislative director of the NRA-ILA went on to say that “Swift action is needed to prevent young adults in Florida from being treated as second-class citizens when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms.” Meanwhile, gun sales have risen sharply.

Hollywood Condemns NRA While Increasing Gun Violence in TV/Movies

Hollywood declared war on American gun culture in 2013 with a public service announcement calling for stricter gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Now the industry is back on the attack in the wake of the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Celebrities routinely dub the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization. Yet a study by the Parents Television Council shows that portrayals of gun violence on television have increased dramatically in recent years, even in shows deemed appropriate for children. The entertainment industry’s love of gunplay and hatred for firearms muddles, if not negates, Hollywood’s role in a constructive conversation on the Second Amendment.

Puerto Ricans Leaving Country in Droves

Even before Hurricane Maria slammed the country, a record number of Puerto Ricans were already abandoning the island nation due to severe economic distress. Nearly 500,000 people left Puerto Rico for the mainland during the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center, pushing the stateside Puerto Rican population past the number living on the island last year — an estimated 3.3 million. The government of Puerto Rico’s guess is that by the end of 2018, 200,000 more residents will have left the U.S. territory for good, moving to places such as Florida, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England. It would mean another drop of more than 5 percent in the island’s population. Just this week, a power outage put nearly 900,000 residents in and around the capital city of San Juan in the dark and without water — again. Tens of thousands in Puerto Rico have had no electricity since the hurricane struck five months ago.

Opioid Makers Incent Doctors to Prescribe Them

As tens of thousands of Americans die from prescription opioid overdoses each year, an exclusive analysis by CNN and researchers at Harvard University found that opioid manufacturers are paying physicians huge sums of money — and the more opioids doctors prescribes, the more money they make. Of course, the manufacturers also make more money as sales increase. In 2014 and 2015, opioid manufacturers paid hundreds of doctors across the country six-figure sums for speaking, consulting and other services. Thousands of other doctors were paid over $25,000 during that time. Physicians who prescribed particularly large amounts of the drugs made the most money. “It smells like doctors being bribed to sell narcotics, and that’s very disturbing,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who is the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

  • Big Pharma doesn’t care about making people better, only making more money – even if it hurts people

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 313,000 jobs in February, smashing expectations, according to Friday’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate held steady for the fifth straight month at 4.1 percent, an 18-year low. Average hourly pay, meanwhile, grew by 2.6 percent from this time last year, a slight drop from January’s year-over-year improvement of 2.9 percent. Construction, retail, manufacturing and health care drove most of the growth in February. Retail trade expanded by a whopping 50,000 jobs. Manufacturing maintained a course of steady growth in February, increasing by 31,000 jobs. But the share of Americans who are either working or looking for jobs in February remained lower than economists would like to see. The workforce grew by 806,000 people, bringing the labor force participation rate up to 63 percent — a slight improvement from January’s 62.7 percent, but well below pre-recession rates.

President Donald Trump on Thursday slapped deeply contentious trade tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, swatting aside warnings of a global trade war and protests from allies in Europe and at home. The tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum will go into effect in 15 days, the White House said. They will not apply to Canada and Mexico initially, an official said, adding that security and trade partners could negotiate to seek exemption. The measures are likely to spark retaliatory sanctions from the European Union, China and other economic powers.

Middle East

Iran is building and testing short- to medium-range missiles armed with chemical warheads in Syria, former Syrian general Zuhair al-Saqit told the Jerusalem Post. Al-Saqit, who heads the Center for the Detection and Monitoring of the Use of Chemical Weapons in Belgium, also said that Iran’s Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah is in possession of chemical weapons, mostly handed to it by the Assad regime in order to hide their existence from international monitors. In an interview in Paris, al-Saqit said that a large part of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, which were hidden from international inspection bodies, were transferred to Hezbollah.

Thousands of US troops along with some of the Pentagon’s newest and most sophisticated equipment are in Israel this week for the launching of the 9th semi-annual Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in cooperation with the IDF. The scenarios being gamed out include defending Israel against incoming barrages of rockets and missiles from three fronts, while still maintaining readiness to repel traditional threats such as ground invasions, air raids and terrorist attacks.

North/South Korea

The rival Koreas continued their period of detente as the Winter Paralympics Games officially kicked off in Pyeongchang on Friday, but without a key symbol of that thaw: They marched under their own flags during the opening ceremony. North and South Korea chose not to march together following a complaint by Japan during the Olympic Games. The united Korean flag portrays disputed islands — known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan — that both countries claim. The islands are located in the Sea of Japan. North and South Korea couldn’t agree on a version of the flag to use, as the North insisted on keeping the islands. But International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the decision to march under separate flags doesn’t diminish the symbolism of the two Koreas coming together once again for an international sporting event. And during welcoming remarks at a reception before Friday’s opening ceremony, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stressed the importance that the Olympics and Paralympics have played in opening the door for the peace process on the Korean peninsula. “A small step to peace that started out a joint inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team has been growing rapidly like a snowball,” he said.

Syria

The Syrian army broke apart the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta on Sunday, cutting off two major towns from the rest of the area, state media said, after a fierce battle waged under cover of an unrelenting bombardment. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the onslaught on the biggest rebel stronghold near Damascus since it began three weeks ago with a withering aerial offensive, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The advance on Mudeira, after the capture of the neighboring town of Mesraba on Saturday, has driven a wedge deep inside the insurgent territory, leaving the major towns of Douma and Harasta cut off.

Afghanistan

The U.S. is bolstering its military presence in Afghanistan, more than 16 years after the war started, but the media and Congress are paying little attention to the buildup, reports Newsmax. At a Senate hearing this past week on top U.S. security threats, no senator asked about Afghanistan, suggesting little interest in a war where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are supporting combat against the Taliban. Just last month the bulk of an Army training brigade of about 800 soldiers arrived to improve the advising of Afghan forces. Since January, attack planes and other aircraft have been added to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. One of Washington’s closest watchers of the Afghanistan conflict, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote last month that the administration has made major improvements in military tactics and plans for developing Afghan forces but has “done nothing to deal with civil and political stability.”

China

China’s largely ceremonial parliament on Sunday overwhelmingly endorsed a controversial change to the country’s constitution, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely. Out of 2,964 ballots, just two delegates voted against the move and three abstained, suggesting minimal opposition to Xi’s push to rule for life. The ruling Communist Party announced the proposals on February 25 and, amid a backlash in some quarters, has justified the change as a necessity to align the presidency with Xi’s two other, more powerful, posts — heads of the party and the military — that have no term limits. The 64-year-old Xi, already hailed as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, last week gave a ringing endorsement to the proposed constitutional changes, calling them a reflection of the “common will of the party and the people.”

Volcanoes

A southern Japan volcano made famous in a James Bond film erupted Tuesday, sending smoke and ash thousands of feet into the air and grounding dozens of flights during its biggest eruption in years Tuesday. The Shinmoedake volcano erupted several times and lava was seen rising inside a crater on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. Ash and smoke shot up 7,500 feet into the sky in the volcano’s biggest explosion since 2011. In Kirishima city at the foot of the volcano, pedestrians wore surgical masks or covered their noses with hand towels, while others used umbrellas to protect from falling ash. Cars had layers of ash on their roofs. There were no reports of injuries or damage from the eruptions. The Meteorological Agency said the volcanic activity is expected to continue and cautioned residents against the possibility of flying rocks and pyroclastic flows – superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, incinerating or vaporizing everything in their path.

Earthquakes

A 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea just after midnight local time Wednesday morning, jarring an area that’s still recovering from a 7.5 tremor in late February. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 12:13 a.m. local time Wednesday morning about 70 miles southwest of Porgera. The temblor struck at a depth of about 6 miles and was located about 20 miles southwest of the Feb. 26 quake, which killed at least 55 people. It wasn’t immediately known if the latest earthquake caused additional damage or injuries.

Wildfires

Several grass fires, including a large fire fueled by dry conditions and gusty winds, damaged homes and forced the closure Tuesday of a busy highway south of Oklahoma City. A 2-mile section of Interstate 35 near Goldsby was closed for about an hour Tuesday afternoon as flames jumped the highway. A mobile home was consumed and destroyed by a fire south of Yukon, just west of Oklahoma City. A second trailer was damaged in the fire.

Weather

A nor’easter roaring through the Appalachians on Monday was poised to blast parts of already twice-battered New England with a “weather bomb” of blizzard conditions and up to two feet of snow. Residents in Kentucky and West Virginia woke up Monday to as much as a foot of snow on the ground from Winter Storm Skylar, and thousands of customers found themselves in the dark because of the system’s strong winds. More than 50,000 homes and businesses had no electricity in the two states Monday morning because of the storm. Forecasters in Kentucky warned residents that travel Monday morning would be difficult. In the Northeast, residents prepared for another wintry blast just days after Winter Storm Quinn knocked out power to more than 1 million customers. For some, this meant getting ready for the next storm with the power still out, especially in New Jersey, where more than 6,000 homes and businesses still lacking electricity.

At least three persons died and nearly 1 million homes and businesses were without power when Winter Storm Quinn walloped the Northeast last week. On Thursday, much of the region was still feeling the effects of the nor’easter which shut down schools, slowed travel and dumped as much as three feet of snow in some areas. The storm’s heavy, wet snow and wind gusts over 50 mph left more than 1 million customers in the dark by Thursday morning. More than 100,000 were already without power in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania after Winter Storm Riley battered the East Coast days before. Newark Liberty International Airport was closed because of the snowstorm. Nearly 400,000 homes and businesses remain without power Friday.

Freezing temperatures from a European winter storm last week dubbed the “Beast from the East” has resulted in a massive die-off of marine wildlife along the British coast. Photos posted to social media show mounds of dead crustaceans including lobster, clams, mussels and starfish washed up on eastern beaches along the North Sea in England. Scientists say the sea creatures died when water temperatures dropped significantly during the cold snap. There was a 3-degree-Celsius drop (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in sea temperature last week. Conservationists and fisherman in the area are now teaming up to help save stranded lobsters that remain alive.

Signs of the Times (3/5/18)

March 5, 2018

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8-9)

Majority of Americans Say U.S. is on the ‘Wrong Track’

It’s actually not a surprise that most adults currently believe the United States is not moving in the right direction. Since the 1980s, surveys evaluating such perceptions have typically found that most Americans believed the nation was “moving in the wrong direction” or was “on the wrong track.” Whether the president or the party in power has been Republican or Democrat, a majority of the public has not been satisfied with the way things were going. The latest survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) found that 59% of American adults describe themselves as “angry with the state of America” today. That’s better than people’s state of mind during 2017, when the average monthly reaction to the national condition was two-thirds (67%) admitting to being angry. Not surprisingly, peoples’ ideological leanings affected their assessment of these four elements of U.S. society. For the first time in many years, most conservatives (57%) are confident the nation is on the right track politically. However, less than three out of ten moderates (29%) and liberals (22%) agree.

Interest in Bible New Translations Has ‘Gone Viral’

The year 2018 is set to be an historic year for Bible translation, according to Wycliffe Associates. Bruce Smith, the leader of the Bible translating organization, said that interest in Bible translation has “gone viral” and that the organization is translating the Bible into more languages than ever before. Wycliffe has been able to make even greater progress in Bible translation due to modern Bible translation technology and methods. “This is at a pace – and at a scope around the world – that is really unprecedented in the history of the world,” Smith stated, according to OneNewsNow.com. “And so, as that happens, inevitably, the Christians in the surrounding communities – and even countries – get curious about how it happens so quickly, and why it’s happening. And when they find out that the tools and resources for them to steward God’s Word for their own people are now in place, that’s what creates that readiness … and that desire to have Scripture sooner – instead of later.” Wycliffe has already translated the New Testament into 193 languages in the past three years, and this year they have received requests for 600 new translations which they plan to launch soon.

  • And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Alabama Government May Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses

When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, Christians in the business of officiating marriages faced a new challenge. To avoid going against biblical teachings on marriage, some judges in Alabama skirted the conflict by simply closing down their marriage license divisions. To these judges, no marriages at all meant no same-sex marriages. This, in turn, meant preserving the belief in marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman. After closing down these marriage license divisions, some judges like Allen expected to face lawsuits. But no one sued them. This, as Debbie Elliot explains at NPR, is likely because “Alabama’s marriage law says probate judges may issue marriage licenses, not shall.”

  • Government has no business defining what marriage is or is not – it’s a private, personal, spiritual issue. Let’s leave it up to each person’s free will and let God sort it all out later.

Atheists Raise Unholy Hell About Government Honoring Billy Graham

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and other anti-religious groups are infuriated that Billy Graham lies in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, saying he was unworthy of such recognition. The Wisconsin-based atheist group wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “emphatically object to the U.S. Congress arranging to have a man known purely for his ministry (in his case, an evangelical Christian ministry)” lie in honor at the U.S. Capital. “Our membership is also highly concerned at the possibility of taxpayer outlay for the costs of transporting and displaying Graham’s casket in the rotunda,” the notorious atheists wrote. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a group of atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers who are on a crusade to eradicate Christianity from the public marketplace. They typically bully small towns and school districts with threatening letters and lawsuits.

Trump Administration Announced New Priorities for Sex Education

The Trump administration rolled out its new sex education priorities last week with an emphasis on abstinence and other sexual risk avoidance strategies. The announcement stressed the inclusion of natural family planning methods — also known as fertility awareness — among the broad range of services offered by grantees. Applicants also have to ensure their activities promote “positive family relationships for the purpose of increasing family participation in family planning and health decision-making” and emphasize the social science research on “healthy relationships, to committed, safe, stable, healthy marriages and the benefits of avoiding sexual risk or returning to a sexually risk-free status, especially (but not only) when communicating with adolescents.” For the first time, grantees will also have to ensure staff is annually trained to respond to threats such as child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. Similar monitoring and reporting programs will be required. Politico reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will offer $260 million in Title X grants to qualified health care providers.          These priorities would appear to leave Planned Parenthood without Title X funding.

More Movies Have Positive Christian Content Now

Movieguide® has become a trusted source for movie reviews and entertainment news that emphasize positive Christian content. At Movieguide’s 26th Annual Faith & Values Awards, they announced that, “we have seen some amazing changes in the movie industry: When we started, only 1% of movies contained positive Christian content. Last year, over 60% of movies contained positive Christian content!”

Targeted Judge Rejects Challenge to Trump’s Border Wall

President Trump on Wednesday hailed a “big victory” in the courts for his proposed border wall, after a federal judge ruled against an environmental challenge to Trump’s central campaign promise. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel found in favor of the administration Tuesday in a case that asked whether the government could ignore environmental laws to construct the southern border wall. The project had been challenged by environmental groups and the state of California. Curiel’s ruling means the administration can now issue waivers on environmental laws and build sections of the wall. Curiel was the judge whom Trump accused of being biased due to his Mexican-American heritage as he ruled over a case involving Trump University.

Zogby Poll Says Trump’s Approval Ratings Improving

A new nationwide Zogby poll of likely voters showed President Donald Trump’s job approval standing at 48 percent, with his popularity growing among millennials, where he registered an approval of 50 percent, as opposed to voters age 65 and up, where he came in at 44 percent.    Men were more likely to approve of his job at 56 percent than women, where he scored 41 percent, although Trump’s numbers among women were up from the month before. Trump registered highest among white voters at 56 percent, while Hispanic voters gave him 39 percent and African American voters gave him 16 percent. Republicans were more likely to approve of Trump’s job at 87 percent, while his numbers climbed with Independents at 41 percent and Democrats, 20 percent. Trump’s approval rating matches that of former President Barack Obama at the same point in his presidency, Zogby noted.

EU Warns Internet Giants to Remove Extremist Content

Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies must show the European Union within three months that they are removing extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so. Several governments have increased pressure on social media companies to do more to remove illegal content — from material related to groups such as Islamic state and incitement to commit atrocities — and the sector has increased efforts to demonstrate its progress. But in its strongest call yet to the technology sector the European Commission on Thursday recommended measures that internet platforms should take to stop the proliferation of extremist content, including the removal of such material within an hour of being notified of its existence. European governments have said that extremist content on the web has influenced lone-wolf attackers who have killed people in several European cities after being radicalized. “While several platforms have been removing more illegal content than ever before … we still need to react faster against terrorist propaganda and other illegal content which is a serious threat to our citizens’ security, safety and fundamental rights,” Digital Commissioner Andrus Ansip said in Thursday’s statement.”

California Has Worst Quality of Life in U.S.

Awards season is in full swing in California, and the Golden State just took home a booby prize of its own. Reports the USA Today. California ranks dead last among U.S. states in quality of life, according to a study by U.S. News, ranking behind New Jersey (49th) and Indiana (48th). The ignominious honor reflects California’s low marks in the sub-categories of environmental quality and social engagement. The latter category measures voting participation and community bonds. One way to measure quality life is whether residents can even afford to have a roof over their heads, and by that standard, California is failing. A 2017 Harvard University report said that one-third of renters in the Los Angeles area are “severely rent burdened,” meaning they spend at least half their income on housing. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles County has increased 67%, according to Zillow’s Rent Index. Homelessness has surged a stunning 75 percent in the last six years, the Los Angeles Times reports, and there are now at least 55,000 homeless people in the county.

Persecution Watch

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged nearly 60% in 2017, driven by an increase in such cases in schools and college campuses, a new report says. It’s the largest single-year increase on record — and every state reported at least one incident for the first time since at least 2010. In its annual audit, the Anti-Defamation League found 1,986 cases of harassment, vandalism or physical assaults against Jews and Jewish institutions last year. That’s up from the 1,267 incidents reported in 2016.

Economic News

President Donald Trump’s vow Thursday to slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum spooked investors, raised fears that other nations would punch back with their own sanctions and threatened to raise prices for U.S. consumers and companies that use steel and aluminum. The president said that sometime next week, he will formally announce tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum. Overproduction by China has flooded world markets with steel and aluminum, driving prices down and intensifying pressure on American producers. American steel and aluminum producers would benefit from a tax on imports and the higher prices that are likely to result. “Tariffs on steel and aluminum are a tax hike the American people don’t need and can’t afford,” said Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The announcement spooked the stock market, with the Dow down 420 points Thursday and another 71 points Friday. Investors fear a trade war with China. Canadians reacted with a mixture of anger, confusion and astonishment, upending decades of economic cooperation and integration. Canada is the largest exporter of steel and aluminum to the United States, supplying $7.2 billion of aluminum and $4.3 billion of steel to the United States last year.

Another bad week for retailers. JCPenney announced Friday that it will cut 360 jobs at its stores and corporate headquarters. That’s on top of the more than 5,000 layoffs in 2017 after JCPenney decided to close nearly 140 stores. Barnes & Noble posted a quarterly loss and a drop in sales Thursday morning, sending the bookstore’s shares to an all-time low. Nordstrom, which is trying to go private, failed to impress investors with its latest results after the closing bell Thursday. Foot Locker’s sales missed forecasts and its outlook was weak as well. Foot Locker’s stock dove 7% Friday morning.

Millennials falling for scams more than their grandparents. About 40% of Americans in their twenties reported fraud in 2017 and said they lost money to the schemes, the Federal Trade Commission said last week in its annual databook of consumer complaints. That easily surpassed the 18% of U.S. consumers 70 or older who reported they lost money to fraudsters last year, the FTC said. However, the median loss reported by adults in their seventies was $621, and for those aged 80 or over it was $1,092. Both age groups reported a higher median loss than the $400 for those aged 20-29.

The U.S. government is currently borrowing (i.e. debt) at the rate of $2 million every minute of every day, according to World Net Daily. Total debt is already $21 trillion, which equates to over $400,000 per taxpayer, or $165,000 per family.

Iran

Iran has built another permanent military base outside Syria’s capital city complete with hangers used to store missiles capable of hitting all of Israel, according to Western intelligence sources. Exclusive satellite images from ImageSat International obtained by Fox News show what is believed to be the new Iranian base, eight miles northwest of Damascus, operated by the Quds Force — the special operations arm of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). On Capitol Hill Tuesday, the top U.S. military commander for American forces in the Middle East said Iran was “increasing” the number and “quality” of its ballistic missiles it was deploying to the region.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave another one of his trademark fiery speeches on Thursday, praising the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and declaring that Teheran’s support for the regime won’t waver in the face of broad international condemnation for the brutal bombardment of civilian neighborhoods in eastern Ghouta. “Syria is on the front lines today; it is our duty to defend the Syrian resistance,” Khamenei declared. Israel is demanding that new sanctions and limitations be placed on all Iranian missiles with a range of more than 180 miles (or 300 kilometers) – including the precision missiles Iran is providing to Hezbollah – which can easily reach Israel.

North Korea

North Korea sent 50 tons of materials to Syria that can be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons, according to media reports citing a leaked United Nations document. The report, which has not been published, said the shipments were evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad was paying North Korea to help his regime manufacture chemical weapons, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons started an investigation on Sunday into reports that chlorine bombs were used a number of times this month in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, Reuters reported. At least one child was killed. More than 500 people died last week in the nearly seven-year civil war. The independent Syrian Center for Policy Research said 470,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin used an annual speech to his nation on Thursday to claim Russia was developing new nuclear weapons that he said could overcome any U.S. missile defenses. For the first time, Putin claimed that Russia had successfully tested nuclear-propulsion engines that would allow nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and underwater drones to travel for virtually unlimited distances and evade traditional defenses. He also warned that Moscow would consider a nuclear attack, of any size, on one of its allies to be an attack on Russia itself, and that it would lead to an immediate response. Putin did not specify which countries he considers allies. Putin made clear that his declaration of Russian prowess was aimed squarely at the United States, which he accused of fomenting a new arms race by resisting arms-control negotiations, developing new missile-defense systems, and adopting a more aggressive posture in its nuclear strategy.

  • Russia has aligned itself with Iran, just as Ezekiel 38 prophesied for the end-times

Earthquakes

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake shook parts of Oklahoma on Sunday evening. The quake struck around 5:15 p.m. local time. Preliminary results from the U.S. Geological Service indicate it was centered roughly 11 miles northeast of Enid, Oklahoma, and at a depth of 3.5 miles. No injuries or damage have been reported. Thousands of earthquakes have been recorded in Oklahoma in recent years with many linked to fracking, the underground injection of wastewater from oil and gas production. Oklahoma regulators have directed several oil and gas producers in the state to close injection wells and reduce volumes in others.

Weather

A major nor’easter slammed the East Coast on Friday from Georgia to Maine, bringing heavy rain, severe flooding, snow and the threat of hurricane-force winds in some coastal areas due to an explosive development known as bombogenesis, defined by a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure of at least 24 millibars in a period of 24 hours or less. At least seven people were killed by the strong winds, which brought down trees and power lines from North Carolina to Maine and knocked out power to more than 2.1 million homes and businesses. The governors of Maryland and Virginia declared states of emergency due to the conditions. National Guard members were activated in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to assist in the aftermath. Since Friday morning, nearly 4,000 domestic flights have been canceled, mostly in the Northeast. In Quincy, Massachusetts, floodwaters were so severe that officials had to use front-loaders to rescue residents. Flooding extended north to the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine on Friday afternoon, flooding streets and some structures. Residents along the Eastern Seaboard began their cleanup from a long, deadly weekend, but on Monday morning, some areas still were not freed from the coastal flooding that will largely be the legacy of Winter Storm Riley.

A round of storms swept into Southern California Thursday night and Friday morning, triggering at least one burn-scar mudslide after thousands were evacuated from vulnerable areas. The California Highway Patrol announced Friday morning that State Route 33 was closed above Ojai because of a debris flow. The evacuation order impacted as many as 30,000 people. With snow totals expected to be measured in feet at the higher elevations, officials warned drivers about the dangers of getting caught in the worst of Winter Storm Quinn as it began to dump heavy snow in northern California. Interstate 80 was closed in both directions through California’s Sierra Nevada because of whiteout conditions on Thursday. Parts of Idaho, California and Nevada have all received more than three feet of snow so far, with more on the way in California and Nevada.