Archive for April, 2018

Signs of the Times

April 30, 2018

As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:36-37)

Persecution Watch

Parents in Orange County, California may not opt their children out of lessons related to gender identity or sexual orientation, according to a memorandum written by the school district’s general counsel. “Parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction,” read the memorandum from Ronald Wenkart to the Orange County Board of Education. “However, parents are free to advise their children that they disagree with some or all of the information presented in the instructional program and express their views on these subjects to their children,” the attorney wrote.  The legislation requires school districts to provide students with comprehensive sexual health education. The law mandates that schools “teach about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. The courts have held that parents do not have the constitutional rights to override the determinations of the state legislature or the school district as to what information their children will be provided in the public-school classroom.”

  • What this implicitly means is that the state had more rights over children than their parents, a chilling foreboding that is yet another step down the end-time path of ungodly secular dominance

Concordia Publishing House has been in business since 1869 as the official publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod denomination but is now banned by Google AdWords. Apparently, the Christian content of its website, particularly an ad for an upcoming Vacation Bible School, is too much for Google AdWords, the online advertising service. Concordia CEO Bruce Kintz said in a Facebook post Monday, will no longer do business “because of the faith we express on our website.” Kintz said one of his associates was told by Google AdWords, as an example, that the “Bible challenge” on the publishers Vacation Bible School Web page “would clearly need to come down before they could consider us for ads.”

PragerU is a conservative educational non-profit that reaches millions of young people on the internet every day. YouTube has chosen repeatedly to restrict and/or demonetize over 40 PragerU videos for violating their “Community Guidelines.” Those guidelines are meant to protect users against viewing sexual, violent, or graphic content. The PragerU videos contain nothing remotely close to any of these categories. And yet, YouTube has restricted videos on topics ranging from religion to the history of the Iraq War to free speech on college campuses. PragerU is currently fighting for freedom of speech through a lawsuit against YouTube for its systematic censorship of their videos.

A picture posted on Facebook by a California journalist of a group of high schoolers has sparked unexpected controversy among social media users. The picture shows prom-ready high schoolers praying before a meal. The picture and the positive remarks about the praying teens drew some highly negative and judgmental comments from Facebook users. Many of the commenters attacked the implied Christianity of the students in the photo. Some used the photo and the journalist’s praise of the students as a platform to complain about the arrogance and pushiness of Christians. “This story is another example of how easily even the appearance of Christianity attracts hostility—especially hostility from groups that would likely consider themselves welcoming of diverse viewpoints,” notes ChristianHeadlines.com.

GQ Magazine is under fire for publishing an article titled “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read,” which list included the Bible. The editors claim that the Bible “is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” Relevant Magazine writer Jesse Carey noted that, regardless if someone is a Christian or not, suggesting we stop reading the Bible shows a lack of understanding of how “The Bible has helped shape western philosophy and provided the basis for many of modern history’s most pivotal moments.”

  • Persecution of all things Christian will only increase as we move deeper into the end-times (Revelation 13:5-7)

North/South Korean Leaders Vow to Denuclearize

The leaders of North and South Korea vowed Friday to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and start a “new era of peace,” after a summit that saw Kim Jong Un become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in 1953. Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said they had “sincere, candid” talks and would do everything in their power to denuclearize the region. Kim pledged to dismantle the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, in the north of his country in May. The two Koreas also said they hoped to declare an official conclusion to their decades-long war by the end of this year. North and South Korea are still technically at war, as an armistice was signed that stopped the fighting, but not a peace treaty. The two sides said they would transform the Demilitarized Zone that has separated them since 1953 into a “peace zone” and would end provocative acts such as propaganda loudspeakers along the military demarcation line. They also pledged to improve inter-Korean ties and “reconnect the blood relations of the people” through steps such as economic cooperation and restarting a stalled family reunion program that will allow separated families to meet again. The reunions will start again on August 15.

Israel Presents Concrete Evidence of Iranian Lies About Nuclear Intentions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed Iran’s big lie for all the world to see—the one their leaders have meticulously spread for years: that they are not interested in producing a nuclear arsenal—that it goes against their moral, ethical and religious beliefs, reports Breaking Christian News. Speaking from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv Monday, Netanyahu said the half ton of material Israel has in its possession proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran lied “big time.” The presentation included video clips, graphics, charts, photos and blueprints, all proving that Iranian leaders lied about their nuclear ambitions, which culminated in the nuclear deal signed with world powers in July 2015. The prime minister went into some detail about Project Amad. “We can now prove that project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” he said. “We can also prove that Iran is secretly storing project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

Federal Judge Orders Restart of DACA

A Republican-appointed federal judge delivered another blow to President Trump’s attempt to roll back the Obama-era DACA program, ruling Tuesday that last year’s revocation was illegal and the entire program would have to be restarted. That goes beyond other judges, who had also ruled the phaseout illegal but had only ordered Homeland Security to accept renewal applications from people who’d already been awarded DACA before. Judge John D. Bates’s ruling would require a full restart, meaning even illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who’d never been approved before would now be able to apply for DACA. The judge imposed a 90-day delay on his own ruling to give the government a chance to reargue its case, but for now the ruling stands as the most severe blow yet to Mr. Trump’s phaseout. Judge Bates said the government never gave an adequate justification for revoking DACA, so its decision seemed “arbitrary and capricious” — which makes it illegal under the Administrative Procedures Act.

House Panel’s Russia Report Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Collusion

The House Intelligence Committee on Friday declared that it found “no evidence” of collusion between the Russian government and Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, releasing a heavily redacted final report on its yearlong Russia investigation. The Republican-authored report — released over Democratic objections — stated the committee “found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.” The committee did, however, “find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns.” The more than 250-page report was heavily blacked out, however, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the leader of the committee investigation, slammed the intelligence community for their “overzealous redactions.” Many of the redactions include information that is publicly available, such as witness names and information previously declassified,” Conaway complained. The report also accuses the intelligence community of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. The top committee Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasted Republicans last month for “prematurely” shutting down the panel’s Russia probe and renewed that criticism on Friday.

Social Media’s Negligence Continuing to Enable Terrorism

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter continue to provide a platform to extremism, from ISIS-related videos to white nationalism. Even though this content clearly violates these companies’ Terms of Service and Community Guidelines, too little is being done to permanently remove it from their platforms. During a six-week period, from March 8 until April 18, 2018, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) found no less than 853 ISIS-related videos on YouTube, which garnered a total of 99,361 views. 221 or 26% of those videos remained online for more than 2 hours and no less than 84% was uploaded more than once. On March 10, 2018, a video titled “Hunt Them O, Monotheist” was uploaded to YouTube, calling for firearm and vehicular attacks in Western Europe. The video was originally uploaded by a Somali ISIS-affiliate on December 25, 2017. On March 10, it was available for 1 day 5 hours and 3 minutes before it was removed – amassing 405 views. The following day, the same video was re-uploaded and stayed online for 1 day 15 hours and 29 minutes –In the following days and weeks, the video was re-uploaded six more times, garnering hundreds of extra views. And this isn’t just an isolated incident, according to CEP.

Driver Kills 10, Wounds 15 in Canada

Alek Minassian, 25, used a rented Ryder truck to mow down pedestrians along Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street, leaving10 people dead and 15 seriously injured. The suspect was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Minassian turned to a blunt killing method that Islamic State group, or ISIS, terror suspects have employed repeatedly in recent years. ISIS backers have used trucks or vans to carry out mass casualty attacks on Bastille Day revelers on a crowded promenade in Nice, France; shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin; a popular tourist area in Barcelona; on London Bridge in the United Kingdom; and on a busy bike path in New York. In 2015, a Somali refugee carried out a similar attack in the Canadian city of Edmonton using a rented U-Haul truck.

Finland’s Basic Income Program Failed

Finland’s basic income program that drew international attention was a failure, the Finnish government announced Tuesday. The pilot program that paid about 2,000 randomly-chosen unemployed Finnish people a monthly check of €560 ($685) will be shut down by the end of the year, the BBC reported. The program, which started January 2017, was the first of its kind in Europe. The government hoped the extra money would fuel the economy, but that failed to materialize. The unemployment rate in Finland exceeds 8%. By comparison, the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 4.1%. A study published in February by the think tank Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the country’s income tax must increase by almost 30% to fund basic income.

Economic News

The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.3%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists had projected 2% growth. The economy grew at a healthy 2.9% pace in the fourth quarter and more than 3% in the final nine months of 2017 on the back of a free-spending consumer and a surge in business investment. “The economy is in fine shape,” says Gus Faucher, chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group. “We will see stronger growth the rest of 2018.” President Trump has promised to deliver at least 3% growth on a sustained basis, up from a 2.2% average during the nine-year-old economic expansion.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set rates for auto loans, mortgages and other lending, climbed to 3% on Tuesday for the first time since 2014. For Americans, that means borrowing costs are on the way up. For Wall Street, it’s a warning that higher interest rates may eat into corporate profits and that faster inflation is coming — both of which could eventually hurt the economy. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term interest rates at least twice more this year and three times in 2019, in an effort to tap the economy’s brakes. That will probably lead to even higher rates on longer-term Treasuries. In another potential warning sign in the bond market, short-term rates have also been rising. The difference in yields between short-term bonds and the 10-year note is narrowing, a phenomenon known as a flattening yield curve. If short-term rates move higher than long-term rates, that creates something known as an inverted yield curve — and that has often happened just ahead of recessions.

It’s getting increasingly difficult in the U.S. to be a home buyer. Home prices are up 6.7% from their peak in July 2006, and have been rising continuously for the past 70 months. Home buyers in Seattle, Las Vegas and San Francisco are facing the biggest gains. Seattle prices rose the most with a 12.7% year-over-year price increase, while Las Vegas prices jumped 11.6%. Low housing supply has been pushing up prices as demand surges. With a flourishing labor market, steady economic growth and wages finally starting to rise, home prices aren’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Mortgage rates have also started to creep up, which adds even more pressure to the affordability problem that many homeowners face.

Ford Motor’s announcement that it is killing almost all of its traditional car models is dramatic proof that sedans have lost their luster for U.S. automakers and drivers. Ford’s rival, General Motors, isn’t ready to call for last rites. “Although passenger car segments have declined over the last number of years, they’re still very important,” said Chuck Stevens, GM’s chief financial officer. “The compact crossover segment globally is the biggest, and then it’s compact cars.” Ford’s plan, announced Wednesday, is for the U.S. to stop selling the Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta and C-Max, leaving only the Mustang. Ford’s Focus will become a beefy five-door hatchback that looks like a crossover, the Focus Active.

Middle East

The death toll following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in several locations along the Israel-Gaza fence Friday rose to 10. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 700 people were hurt in the clashes that saw Israeli soldiers firing live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets or tear gas. Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinians participated in the clashes and the Israeli military said some of those protesters rolled burning tires and threw stones at forces stationed at the border. Israel said troops opened fire at the “main instigators.” On Friday, mosques across Gaza called on Palestinians to join the protests. Buses took protesters to the border area, and, by noon, thousands had arrived at the encampments.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly has a message for Palestinian leadership: “agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” The blunt comment from the next-in-line to the Saudi throne, made during a meeting with Jewish organizations in New York in March, comes as the Trump administration works to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given,” the crown prince said. Bin Salman was also quoted as saying the Palestinian issue is not at the top of the Saudi government’s list of concerns, and the Gulf state “has much more urgent and important issues to deal with,” such as Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Syria

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, missile strikes hit two military targets in Aleppo and Hama provinces late Sunday. The overnight missile attack struck weapons storage bases in Syria, destroying some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a regional official told The New York Times Monday. The official said the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.

Islamic State commanders fleeing Syria are conspiring with extremist groups in Africa to foment a new migration wave destined for Europe, the head of the UN World Food Program said. David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, said Europe needed to wake up to the extremists’ strategy in the Sahel region. Those forced out of Syria were uniting with local terrorist groups to use as a vehicle to push millions of Muslim Africans towards Europe, he said.

Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the Middle East on his first international trip since being confirmed by the Senate last week, accused Iran of “behaving worse” since signing the 2015 nuclear deal President Trump has repeatedly threatened to tear up. Pompeo hammered away with the administration’s recurring theme: Iran destabilizes the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups, ruthless Houthi rebels in Yemen and the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region — and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East,” Pompeo said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. “The United States is with Israel in this fight.” Israel has never supported the deal between Iran and the West that eased sanctions against the Shiite nation in return for Iran’s pledge to halt nuclear weapon development. Trump has said he will decide in the next two weeks whether the U.S. will pull out of the deal. Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that the attack was carried out by neighboring Israel. Regional officials said that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing.

Turkey

A Turkish court sentenced staff members of the country’s leading opposition newspaper to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. The high-profile trial, criticized as unfair by rights groups and supporters of the newspaper, was seen as a bellwether for thousands of political prisoners swept up in a crackdown on dissent following Turkey’s failed 2016 military coup. Fourteen staff members of Cumhuriyet, a secular, nationalist newspaper, were found guilty on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. Prosecutors alleged the staff had supported terrorist groups, including both the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an outlawed Kurdish militant group, and the conservative movement led by Fetullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric who Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement with the failed coup.

Nigeria

Gunmen opened fire during a Nigerian church service last Tuesday, killing at least 19, including two priests. State police told CNN the attackers were most likely Fulani herdsmen who continued their crusade by burning down 50 homes. “They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two reverend fathers were holding mass,” police commissioner Fatai Owoseni says. “We were able to recover 16 bodies from the scene of the attack and those of the two priests.” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted, “This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.” U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with Buhari this week.

China

A man has killed at least seven children and injured at least 12 others at a middle school in northern China, according to local officials. The deadly rampage is the latest in a string of knife attacks against school children to happen in the country in recent years. A local newspaper reported that the students were stabbed on their way home from school. Previously, a man stabbed and wounded 11 children with a kitchen knife at a kindergarten in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang region in January 2017. In February 2016, another man wounded 10 children with a knife on the southern island province of Hainan before he committed suicide.

Environment

Researchers have found an alarming amount of plastic particles deep in the ice of the Arctic Ocean. Ice samples from five regions across the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 of microplastic particles per liter of sea ice, researchers say. More than half the particles trapped in the ice were less than 1/500th of an inch wide — less than one-tenth the thickness of a credit card. The study raises concerns about the impact on human and sea life say researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research. “They could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms,” said biologist and report author Ilka Peeken. “No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

An explosion at a Wisconsin oil refinery chased residents from their homes on Thursday, and now, pollution experts say there were probably all kinds of toxins in the smoke that blew downwind. Although the fire was put out by Thursday evening, officials ordered an evacuation of a wide area around the Husky Energy refinery to reduce the public’s exposure to the plume. The asphalt fire sent chemicals into the air in gaseous form, and those tiny particles can stick around long after the smoke has dissipated. This includes volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause dizziness, breathing problems and nausea. In more extreme cases, liver damage and cancer can occur if the exposure is more prolonged and extreme. Also present in asphalt smoke are microscopic particles of chemicals that stick together as visible smoke. Those particles carry cancer-causing benzene and other contaminants that can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled.

Several sinkholes opened up in the central Florida town of Ocala Wednesday and Thursday, and some residents had to be evacuated from eight townhouses. Officials were testing the ground and said they wouldn’t lift evacuations until it was determined that residents were safe to return. “There was at least four to five of them that happened,” resident Shannon Cole told ClickOrlando.com, describing what he heard while the sinkholes formed. “It sounded like a bomb going off. It was very loud.”

Flooding and storm surge from last year’s spate of hurricanes not only displaced thousands of people, it also relocated hundreds of invasive aquatic species to new locations. In response, the U.S. Geological Survey spent the past six months creating new “flood and storm tracker” maps to help biologists monitor where the more than 200 non-native aquatic species, including alligators and snails, may be setting up new residence after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. The maps indicate where lakes, rivers, streams and other waterways merged during the storms, which may have offered aquatic species the opportunity to spread.

Volcanoes

Volcanic eruptions on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island have forced officials to order a mass evacuation, and weather conditions haven’t cooperated in recent days. The archipelago nation east of Australia is attempting to evacuate all 11,000 people who live on Ambae Island to nearby Santo Island because of ongoing eruptions at the Manaro volcano. A state of emergency was declared and many people began having respiratory problems as the smoke and ash from the eruption filled the air. Evacuations were even more difficult because of heavy rain that triggered flooding and mudslides. Santo Island officials agreed to house the evacuees after a reconciliation ceremony last Thursday; Ambae Island evacuees reportedly were critical of Santo in social media posts following a separate evacuation last year, which soured relations between the two islands.

Weather

Ten teenagers died, and several others were seriously injured in flash floods that struck Israel near the Dead Sea. The teenagers, all of whom were 18 years old, were hiking near the Dead Sea with a group of 25 students in a pre-army course. Police and army helicopters were among nearly 700 people who searched for the missing until nightfall, when the search was halted. On Friday, three youth leaders were arrested on charges of negligence following the tragedy.

Snow fell in upstate New York and northwest Pennsylvania Sunday morning as record lows were set in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, putting an exclamation mark on what has a been a difficult April in those regions. Accumulations were light in most areas, but the snow was a fitting end to one of the coldest Aprils on record in parts of upstate New York. Indianapolis and Cincinnati saw their coldest April 29 on record as the low temperature in both locations dipped to 30 degrees. For Cincinnati, the previous daily record low of 31 degrees was more than 140 years old, set in 1874. Chicago tied its daily record low for April 29 of 31 degrees Sunday morning.

Blowing dust and high winds led to a multiple-vehicle crash Sunday evening that shut down Interstate 80 in southern Nebraska. The National Weather Service in Hastings reported that the westbound lanes were closed near mile marker 332 just before 6 p.m. local time. The Nebraska State Patrol then shut down I-80 in both directions between Aurora and York.

Signs of the Times

April 23, 2018

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Priests Flock to Rome for Exorcism Courses

Exorcism, the Catholic-sanctioned ritual to root out demons, doesn’t just exist in movies. In fact, the practice has become so widespread that the Vatican’s weeklong workshop on the practice is now gaining worldwide attention – and attendance is booming. About 200 Roman Catholics arrived at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome on Monday for a series of lectures on topics such as spotting differences between demonic possession and mental illness and witchcraft in Africa. The focus of the course, titled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”, is “to offer a rich reflection and articulation on a topic that is sometimes unspoken and controversial,” Italian priest and exorcist Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio. The course was set up amid the increasing popularity of tarot cards readers and fortune tellers that opened “the door to the devil and to possession,” Palilla said. “We touch on the most burning issues: from the sects linked to Satanism to the [telling] their story of liberation [from] their possession,” he added.

  • Demonic influence and possession are increasing as the anti-Christ spirit draws more and more people away from Christianity and into seemingly harmless New Age, humanistic and satanic practices

Abortion Wars are Heating Up Ahead of November Midterms

Mississippi’s governor just signed a law, more restrictive than in any state, banning abortions after 15 weeks. Iowa’s state Senate is trying to go even further and stop abortions at around six weeks. And 20 Ohio lawmakers have proposed outlawing all abortions, even if the woman’s life is in danger. In many state capitols, Republican lawmakers are backing unusually strict antiabortion laws. Many are emboldened by President Trump, who has been more supportive of their agenda than any president in decades. Conservative lawmakers also are eager to get more tough restrictions on the books in case November’s elections bring a surge of pro-choice Democrats into office. Federal courts have immediately blocked many of these antiabortion laws, including Mississippi’s. But they still have a purpose: to set up legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, at a time when Trump could appoint the justice who helps overturn it.

States Take Action to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nebraska and Tennessee this month joined more than a dozen states that have cut funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, a pro-life campaign that has seen mixed results. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a budget that prohibits Title X funding from going to abortion providers, directing $1.9 million toward centers that neither perform abortions nor refer clients to abortion providers. Use of federal funds to perform abortions or to fund entities that perform abortions is prohibited by federal law, but Planned Parenthood claims it uses its $60 million in Title X funding and $390 million in Medicaid reimbursements for other services. In part because of that claim, many states’ efforts to direct Medicaid or Title X funding away from the abortion giant are tied up in court battles. Undeterred by those challenges, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed two pieces of legislation that defund Planned Parenthood in different ways. The first bill codifies an administrative policy from 2011 that prioritizes federally qualified health centers over other facilities, including abortion providers. The second law could face a tough legal challenge, as it blocks state funds from going to abortion providers. Similar measures in other states have had mixed success. Of the 16 states that have either legislatively or judicially redirected some or all funding from Planned Parenthood to other entities, at least a half-dozen had federal judges block the laws.

North Korea to Stop Nuclear Tests and Close Nuke Test Site

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he will suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close a nuclear test site. The Korean Central News Agency, which is North Korea’s state media agency, made the announcement as the nation’s reclusive leader is in ongoing peace talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and also in negotiations to meet with President Trump. “As the weaponisation of nuclear weapons has been verified, it is not necessary for us to conduct any more nuclear tests,” Kim said at a meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea. North Korea previously pledged on two occasions that it would abandon its nuclear programs. Both times it backtracked. But, for now, President Trump’s strong stand against North Korea appears to be bearing fruit.

CIA Chief Pompeo Met with Kim Jong Un

President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday morning that CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea and met with leader Kim Jong Un. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly, and a good relationship was formed,” the President tweeted. “Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Trump and Kim are set to meet in late May or early June in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader. An administration official familiar with Pompeo’s encounter with Kim told CNN the North Korean leader was “personable and well prepared” for the meeting but added there was a sticking point over the location of his meeting with Trump. Kim Jong-Un is no longer demanding that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for denuclearizing his country, the South’s president said.

South Korea Confirms Talks with North to End Korean War

South Korea confirmed on Wednesday that it had been in talks with American and North Korean officials about negotiating a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War after more than 60 years, as the United States and its ally try to establish a basis for persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, told South Korean officials last month that the North was willing to give up nuclear arms if it received security guarantees. In the past, the North has said that a peace treaty and the normalization of ties with the United States would be among the security guarantees it would require in exchange for surrendering its nuclear program. Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, said on Wednesday, “We held in-depth discussions on various ways of how to end hostilities and eventually establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, how to address the North Korean concerns and how to ensure a bright future for the North if it makes the right choice.”

YouTube Ran Ads from Hundreds of Brands on Extremist Channels

Ads from over 300 companies and organizations — including tech giants, major retailers, newspapers and government agencies — ran on YouTube channels promoting white nationalists, Nazis, pedophilia, conspiracy theories and North Korean propaganda, a CNN investigation has found. Companies such as Adidas, Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Hershey, Hilton, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Netflix, Nordstrom and Under Armour may have unknowingly helped finance some of these channels via the advertisements they paid for on Google-owned YouTube. U.S. tax dollars also have gone to the channels from five U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and Centers for Disease Control. Many of the companies that responded to CNN said they were unaware their ads had been placed on these channels and were investigating how they ended up there. The incidents have raised questions about whether YouTube can adequately safeguard ads and brands’ integrity, or whether its automated systems mean that advertisers will always be at risk of such ad placements.

SCOTUS Nixes Part of Law Requiring Deportation of Immigrants

The Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a provision of federal law that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of some “crimes of violence,” holding that the law is unconstitutionally vague. The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, had originated during the Obama administration but had been closely watched to see if the justices would reveal how they will consider the Trump administration’s overall push to both limit immigration and increase deportations. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices for the first time since joining the court to produce a 5-4 majority invalidating the federal statute. In doing so, Gorsuch was continuing the jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who also sided with liberals when it came to the vagueness of statutes used to convict criminal defendants.

Democratic Party Files Lawsuit Alleging Election Conspiracy

The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there. The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party. Suing a foreign country may present legal challenges for the Democrats, in part because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits. The DNC’s complaint argues Russia is not entitled to the protection because the hack constituted a trespass on the party’s private property.

California Has 8 of 10 Most Polluted U.S. Cities

Eight of the USA’s 10 most polluted cities, in terms of ozone pollution, are in California, according to the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report, released Wednesday. The Los Angeles/Long Beach area took the dubious distinction of being the nation’s most ozone-polluted city as it has for nearly the entire 19-year history of the report. Bakersfield, Calif., was in second place for ozone pollution. Other California cities on the list include Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego. The only non-California metro areas in the top 10 list were Phoenix and New York City. Of the 10 most polluted cities, seven cities did worse in this year’s report, including Los Angeles and the New York City metro area. “Near record-setting heat from our changing climate has resulted in dangerous levels of ozone in many cities across the country, making ozone an urgent health threat for millions of Americans,” Lung Association president and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said.

Puerto Rico’s Power Grid Fails Again

The power grid collapsed again Wednesday in Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island without electricity, but officials said most outages were restored by Thursday morning. The island’s Electric Power Authority said more than 1.1 million of customers regained power by Thursday morning, or more than 80 percent of those served. Officials said the blackout occurred when an excavator brought down a transmission tower by accident. The outage comes less than a week after a tree fell and knocked out power to 870,000 homes and businesses on the island Puerto Rico has struggled mightily to restore power more than six months after Hurricane Maria knocked out power to 100 percent of residents. Some 40,000 residents in remote areas of the U.S. commonwealth have yet to see their lights turned back on since the storm.

Economic News

Global debt is at a historic high reaching the equivalent of 225% of GDP (Gross domestic product is a monetary measure of the value of all the goods and services produced). the IMF (International Monetary Fund) said in its newly released Fiscal Monitor, that China is the “driving force” behind the new debt levels. The world is now 12% of GDP deeper in debt than it was at a peak debt cycle during the financial crisis in 2009, hitting a whopping $164 trillion. China owns the lion’s share, generating almost three-quarters of the increase in private debt since the financial crisis. But it’s not alone. Two other countries — Japan and U.S. — account for more than half of the overall global debt, according to the IMF.

Big banks are raking in monster profits. Morgan Stanley and Bank of America both revealed record quarterly earnings this week. Goldman Sachs hit a five-year high. And banking king JPMorgan Chase hauled in $8.7 billion during the first three months of 2018. That’s the largest quarterly profit by any US bank — ever. The industry got a huge boost from the Republican tax law. Banks traditionally pay high tax rates, making them among the biggest winners from the corporate tax rate falling from 35% to 21%. Big banks are also cashing in on the stronger economy, which has increased demand for mortgages, car loans and business borrowing.

Wells Fargo agreed to pay a record $1 billion fine to federal regulators Friday over mortgage and auto-loan violations. The settlement, announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Under the settlement, Wells Fargo will reimburse harmed consumers and make improvements to its risk management and compliance. The CFPB said that it will credit the $500 million penalty already collected by the OCC toward the satisfaction of the $1 billion fine.

Anyone planning to go new-car shopping for the first time in a while might want to prepare themselves for sticker shock. A combination of higher auto prices, longer loans and climbing interest rates means a buyer who finances their purchase could pay about $6,500 more than they would have five years ago, according to research from Edmunds.com. The average price paid for a new car reached $34,623 in March, according to Edmunds. Five years ago, that number was $31,078. Rising interest rates make borrowing more expensive. Last month, interest rates on new-car loans stood at 5.7%, up from 4.4% in March 2013. And as prices have risen, consumers have been financing larger balances: An average $31,020, compared with $26,533 five years ago. Plus, they’re taking on loans over a longer period of time. The average auto loan length is now 69.5 months compared with 65.7 months in March 2013.

Fidelity estimates it will cost a couple $280,000 to cover their health care costs in retirement, up 2% from last year and 75% since its 2002 estimate of $160,000. The math assumes a couple retires at 65 and is eligible for Medicare. The cost for care for males in retirement is an estimated $133,000, while the tab for women, who tend to live longer than men, is $147,000.

Middle East

In a U.S. State Department annual report on human rights, the controversial term “occupied” was largely eliminated in references to various territories in and adjacent to Israel. While the term “occupied” had been used in such reports since the Carter administration, the 2017 version drops this term, which is generally used pejoratively to criticize Israeli policy following military victories through which the Jewish state acquired control of various territories. The change comes after U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman advised the department in December to stop using the “misleading” term “occupied” in references to Judea and Samaria. The term “occupied” is considered by many to be a loaded phrase intended to demonize Israel with regard to its activities in disputed areas. In response to the State Department’s subsequent change in terminology, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted over the weekend, “The lie of the occupied Palestinian territories begins to be revealed. They say that a lie repeated often enough becomes true, but the truth is forever stronger. The State Department report is proof of that.”

Iran

Iran may resume its nuclear activities “at a much greater speed” if President Donald Trump moves forward with plans to pull the U.S. out of a landmark nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions against the nation, Iran’s foreign minister said Friday. Trump in January again extended the nuclear deal, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, despite threatening to withdraw the U.S. from it. That action effectively set a May 12 deadline for the president to decide again whether to again renew a waiver of sanctions against Iran, something that comes up for renewal every 120 days. The lifting of sanctions was agreed upon by the Obama administration as part of the international agreement, which had imposed additional restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. The European Union failed to agree new sanctions against Iran last week in an attempt to keep Trump from abandoning the agreement. This week, Trump is set to meet at the White House with President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, two leaders who reportedly hope to persuade Trump not to ditch the deal.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber struck a voter registration center in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing at least 57 people in an attack claimed by ISIS. Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majro said another 119 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack, updating an earlier toll. Gen. Daud Amin, the Kabul police chief, said the suicide bomber targeted civilians who had gathered to receive national identification cards. The large explosion echoed across the city, shattering windows miles away from the attack site and damaging several nearby vehicles. ISIS has claimed responsibility in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted Shiite “apostates.” Last week, three police officers responsible for guarding voter registration centers in two Afghan provinces were killed by militants. Afghanistan will hold parliamentary elections in October. Afghan security forces have struggled to prevent attacks by the ISIS affiliate as well as the more firmly established. Both groups regularly launch attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the government and security forces, and ISIS targeting the country’s Shiite minority.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters with a screening of “Black Panther.” America’s biggest movie theater company, AMC, played the Hollywood blockbuster on Wednesday at its new single-screen cinema in the financial district of the capital Riyadh. The gala opening was limited to about 500 invited guests, executives and officials, but public screenings of the movie will begin soon, AMC said. AMC said men and women would be able to sit together at the gala screening. The Saudi official said there would also be no segregation when theaters open to the public — moviegoers would be able to choose between mixed, male-only and female-only screenings. Saudi men and women are customarily separated in public places. But that restriction is being relaxed. Men and women were able to sit together at several music concerts and events in 2017.

Cuba

Miguel Diaz-Canel was officially named as the new leader of Cuba on Thursday, one day after a vote in the country’s National Assembly. It’s the first time in nearly six decades that Cuba is being led by a man not named Castro. Diaz-Canel, 57, was selected as the unopposed candidate to replace Raul Castro, 86. Castro endorsed Diaz-Canel — who wasn’t yet born when Fidel Castro led his revolution in 1959. Raul Castro is still expected to exercise a large measure of control over the Cuban government and have the final say on important decisions. He will remain first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, a member of the National Assembly and, even if he is no longer president, the most powerful public figure on the island. An electrical engineer by training, Díaz-Canel speaks in a soft monotone and rarely strays too far from the script in public appearances. But while there were other, more dynamic members of his generation who years earlier appeared to have a better lock on the top job, Díaz-Canel quietly made a name for himself as an efficient administrator while serving as the top Communist Party official for the provinces of Villa Clara and then Holguín, where Fidel and Raul Castro were born.

Wildfires

Strong winds, dry air and parched land combined to create a life-threatening danger, and fire crews were on alert from Arizona to Kansas. Residents in Colorado and Oklahoma watched helplessly from afar as aggressive grass fires destroyed their homes amid some of the most extreme fire conditions in years. At least 23 homes and multiple outbuildings were destroyed by a blaze that started Tuesday between Colorado Springs and Pueblo in Colorado’s Pueblo County. The fire grew rapidly, torching 64 square miles, but no injuries were reported. A separate fire near Colorado Springs chased 200 families from their homes and destroyed at least five dwellings and several outbuildings. In western Oklahoma, a blaze dubbed the Rhea Fire has burned more than 440 square miles – an area larger than New York City; it has destroyed at least 50 homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate in Dewey County. Authorities are investigating the possibility of arson as the cause of the deadly wildfire in western Oklahoma. Two deaths have been blamed on multiple fires in Oklahoma. n New Mexico, a fire that began Friday afternoon in Socorro County forced the closure of State Highway 116 and threatened 10 to 15 homes.

Weather

The amount of sea ice in the Bering Sea west of Alaska was less this winter than any year since written records of commercial whalers started in 1850. The part of the Bering Sea covered by ice in February was about 150,000 square miles less than average, an area nearly the size of California. The lack of sea ice was a hardship for the people living in communities along the Bering Sea. “Travel between communities via boat or snowmachine was difficult and limited due to thin, unstable sea ice,” said the report from the International Arctic Research Center. “At times there was not enough ice to harvest marine mammals, fish, or crabs. As a result of increased open water, storm surf flooded homes and pushed ice rubble onto shore,” the report added.

Four tornadoes were confirmed near the Gulf Coast on Sunday as a round of severe storms caused damage from southeastern Louisiana to southern Alabama and into the Florida Panhandle. A pair of EF0 tornadoes that injured five people were confirmed by the National Weather Service in Baldwin County, Alabama. The first of these tornadoes overturned five recreational vehicles at the Anchors Aweigh RV Park in the town of Foley, about 30 miles southeast of Mobile. In Florida, a waterspout roared ashore late Sunday afternoon on Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach, about 140 miles west of Tallahassee, heavily damaging at least one home, downing trees and power lines and tossing vehicles.

Another round of April snow buried parts of the winter-weary Upper Midwest with up to a foot of snow, just days after a winter storm produced over two feet of snow in parts of the Great Lakes. The storm produced snow from the Dakotas and northern Nebraska into the western Great Lakes on April 17-18. The heaviest snow fell in a roughly west-to-east swath from southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska into southern Wisconsin. Several towns near the Minnesota-Iowa border picked up a foot of snow, led by Stacyville, Iowa, with 12.8 inches. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picked up 6.2 inches of snow just four days after Winter Storm Xanto dumped the city’s heaviest April calendar-day snowfall on record. Thundersnow was reported in Wayne, Nebraska, thundersleet was reported near Clare, Iowa, and lightning accompanied freezing rain in Paton, Iowa, early Wednesday morning.

Signs of the Times

April 16, 2018

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. (Psalm 46:1-2)

Multitude of Egyptians Coming to Christ Despite Persecution by Radical Muslims

Despite continued persecution from Muslim extremists, Christians in Egypt remain unwavering in their faith, leading a “multitude” to come to Christ, church leaders said. The Rev. Sameh Hanna, associate pastor at the Evangelical Church in Cairo, said, “We see the multitude coming to the knowledge of Christ from every background, so this brings joy to us.” The Rev. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt, said that believers in the country put their faith in God alone, as further attacks by the Islamic State terror group or other extremists are a very real possibility—even in church. You can expect at any moment that someone will come with a bomb and create a massacre. So, every day we trust God and we go,” he said

Over 350 Groups of Students Walk-Out from School to Protest Abortion

Across the United States Wednesday, pro-life high school and college students from more than 250 schools and more than 350 student groups walked out of class to protest abortion. At 10:00 a.m. for each school’s local time, students left class to gather for seventeen minutes of silent witness for the ten children aborted by Planned Parenthood in that time period, and the more than 60 million babies killed since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. The National Pro-Life Walkout was devised by Rocklin High School student Brandon Gillespie of California, with organizational support provided by Students for Life of America. Students for Life covered the walkout with live video at several schools, including Rocklin, Moriarty High School in New Mexico, Los Alamitos High School in California, and Frederick East Classical High School in Maryland.

Pro-Life Groups Censored on Facebook Despite Zuckerberg’s Denial

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress yesterday and said that Facebook shouldn’t censor pro-life views. However, the social media giant is censoring them anyway, reports LifeSite News, “which has seen repeated attempts to censor our pro-life message or the pro-life messages of other organizations. We have had problems with certain posts being blocked on Facebook, and Facebook has denied LifeNews the ability to promote certain posts with content that it deems unacceptable.” Senator Ted Cruz read a long list of Facebook’s censorship of conservative sites and then questioned whether Zuckerberg was aware of this bias. Zuckerberg said that Facebook should not be censoring pro-life use even though abortion issues are controversial. Zuckerberg said that the platform was developing artificial intelligence tools to flag hate speech. He said he was “optimistic that over a five to ten-year period we will have AI tools that can get into some of the nuances, the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate in flagging things for our systems.”

  • Censorship of conservative posts and organization is not an AI problem. There are many Facebook employees who review posts, with some exercising personal bias.

Indiana Adopts Law That Counts Unborn Children as Persons

The state of Indiana has adopted a new law that essentially grants personhood to unborn children. Relevant Magazine reports that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed a bill into law that allows suspects to be charged with murder if they harm a pregnant woman who then loses her unborn child. Pro-life supporters are championing this bill, since it acknowledges the personhood of unborn children.

“God Enriches” Motto to be Displayed in Arizona Schools

On March 5, 2018, a hearing was held on SB1289 promoting the display of “In God we Trust” along with other historical documents.  Last Week, the bill was signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey after passing both the House and the Senate. A teacher or administrator in any school in this state may read or post in any school building copies or excerpts of the following materials: The national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”; The national anthem; The pledge of allegiance; The declaration of independence; Writings, speeches, documents and proclamations of the founding fathers and the presidents of the United States; and the Arizona state motto “Ditat Deus”, which means “God Enriches”.

U.S. & Allies Strike Syrian Chemical Facilities with 105 Missiles

The Pentagon said Saturday that the U.S.-led allied missile strikes in Syria successfully hit all three mission targets and have “significantly crippled” Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ability to make more chemical weapons. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I think we dealt them a severe blow. We’ve attacked the heart of the Syrians’ chemical weapons program.” McKenzie identified the targets as Barzah Research and Development, the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site and the Him Shinshar Bunker Facility. He said 105 missiles were launched by air and sea. There have been no reports of civilian casualties. President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished. A perfectly executed strike.” The strike was in response to Syria’s chemical attack on Douma a week ago. Biological samples from the area of the chemical attack in Syria have tested positive for chlorine and a sarin-like nerve agent, according to a U.S. official. The strikes are not expected to impact the overall status of the war in Syria between the government and numerous rebel forces. But now, Russia will pay an economic price for backing Assad in the form of more economic sanctions, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday.

2,000% Increase in Russian Trolls after Syria Strikes

The Pentagon claimed a 2,000% increase in Russian troll activity on social media following the U.S.-led missile strikes against Syria Friday night. Spokeswoman Dana White said in Saturday’s Pentagon briefing that, “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun.” Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says her organization’s Hamilton 68 dashboard has tracked “a concerted campaign to present alternative narratives to sow doubt about the evidence that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.” A Russian troll army deployed by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency has been accused of hijacking social media conversations to sow political division on social media, particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Pentagon has classified such efforts as a modern form of state-sponsored warfare, the ‘weaponization’ of information.

CIA Director Says Previous Syrian Strike Killed Hundreds of Russian Mercenaries

CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed Thursday that U.S. forces killed “a couple hundred” Russian mercenary troops in Syria in a strike earlier this year that he said sent a distinct signal to Moscow. Mr. Pompeo was testifying to the Senate as he seeks to win the top post at the State Department, after President Trump nominated him to replace outgoing Secretary Rex Tillerson. Being prodded on U.S. policy toward Russia and what Democrats said appeared to be a weak approach to Moscow, Mr. Pompeo said lawmakers need to look beyond sanctions to understand the full array of conflict and pressure. As one example he pointed to the February skirmish. Press reports say Russian mercenaries that appear to be backed by the Kremlin, and who are aligned with Syria’s government in its battle against U.S.-backed insurgents, tried to gain ground in an area where U.S. forces were. An American-led counterattack repulsed the offensive.

Thousands of National Guard Troops Deploying on Mexican Border

National Guard troops have begun deploying along the Mexican border, answering a call from President Trump to combat the “lawlessness that continues at our southern border.” “The goal is to have at least 4,000 (from all participating states) deployed in a month or two,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in San Antonio. “We should be adding 300 a week until we get staffed up.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced 225 guard members from his state deployed Monday, with more than 100 additional troops sent Tuesday. In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office told the Associated Press that more than 80 state National Guard troops would be deployed this week. About 250 troops from her state will ultimately be deployed. Even South Carolina has chimed in, with Gov. Henry McMaster offering to send troops to the Texas border. A major holdout thus far, however, has been California.

Arizona Supreme Court Strikes Down In-State Tuition for ‘Dreamers’

Arizona colleges can’t give in-state tuition to young immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. The justices unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals’ ruling that said existing federal and state laws don’t allow the Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition rates for DACA recipients.

More California Cities Vote to Opt Out of State’s Sanctuary Law

The Newport Beach city council voted unanimously earlier this week to challenge California’s sanctuary law, joining a dozen other California cities that are not interested in complying with the sanctuary policies. It’s the third city this week to take such action, joining about a dozen others in recent weeks.

Navajo Nation Sues Opioid Makers for Overdose Deaths, Addiction

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday filed a sweeping federal lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies for their role in an epidemic blamed for a surge in overdose deaths and addiction. The tribe’s lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in New Mexico, said that that prescription and illicit opioids led to 7,309 overdose deaths from 2014 through 2016 in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the three states that include parts of Navajo Nation. The Navajos lawsuit joins a growing list of states and cities that have sued opioid manufacturers and distributors for an epidemic that led to more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For generations, Native Americans have disproportionately suffered during health crises, and the opioid crisis is no different,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. “We aren’t going to sit back and let our community be torn apart while our children are suffering.”

Affordable Housing Crisis Causes Evictions to Soar

A nationwide affordable-housing crisis deepened across the U.S. last year, as rising rents and shrinking options led to yet another spike in rental evictions. Evictions — and the life-altering chaos they can create — have recently become a trending topic among housing advocates as tenant-protection laws sputter through statehouses and city councils. The Eviction Lab’s early numbers, which don’t yet include the entire United States, show over 900,000 evictions were ordered in 2016. By almost every available metric, Phoenix is one of the worst cities in America for low-income renters. The average rental price has climbed more than $150 a month since early 2016, and the apartment vacancy rate hovers below 5 percent. Whole city blocks have been swallowed by luxury apartments, in some cases clearing out what was once moderately priced housing. Wait lists for government programs like Section 8 or public housing can stretch on for years. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, households that earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last month, the Phoenix area offers just 20 affordable and available rental units. Nationwide, that figure is 35.

State Pension Funding Gap Rose to $1.4 Trillion in 2016

The funding deficit for U.S. state public pension systems rose to a record-high $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2016, a nearly $300 billion increase from fiscal 2015, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released on Thursday. The public worker retirement funds reported only $2.6 trillion in assets to cover total pension liabilities of $4 trillion. “Many state retirement systems are on an unsustainable course, coming up short on their investment targets and having failed to set aside enough money to fund the pension promises made to public employees,” the report said. Retirement systems in New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin were at least 90 percent funded in 2016, while pension funds in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey were less than 50 percent funded, according to Pew.

Economic News

U.S. retail sales rebounded in March after three straight monthly declines as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and other big-ticket items, suggesting consumer spending was heading into the second quarter with momentum. The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales increased 0.6 percent last month after an unrevised 0.1 percent dip in February. January data was revised to show sales falling 0.2 percent instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent drop. Consumer sentiment slipped in early April as households worried about the potential impact of the Trump administration’s trade policies on the economy.

After U.S. corporations got a big tax cut in December, a flurry of announcements touting bonuses and pay raises for hourly employees raised hopes that the cash windfall would keep flowing down to American workers. But the number of companies letting workers know they are getting a bonus, raise or other form of financial compensation has slowed to a trickle. Most of the extra cash from tax savings is going into the pockets of stock shareholders through dividend increases and companies buying back their own stock in hopes of boosting its price. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis found that fewer than 45 of the 500 big companies that make up the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index have paid out cash bonuses to their workers in the four months since the new tax law took effect.

The White House said Tuesday that China’s president just blinked in the trade feud between Washington and Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said his government would “significantly lower” tariffs on vehicle imports this year as part of efforts to further open its giant economy to the world. The pledge addresses one of the gripes of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose new tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese goods in a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Experts cautioned, though, that Xi’s comments may not do much to resolve the conflict, which has rocked markets in recent weeks.

Moody’s said in a report on Tuesday that retail sector defaults hit a record high during the first three months of 2018 as the rise of e-commerce and decline of malls continues to eat away at profits. Four retailers defaulted during February and another four defaulted in March — tied for the most in a single month since December 1998. And that’s on top of the 13 retail defaults in 2017, including one by bankrupt Toys “R” US. Struggling Sears and bankrupt Claire’s are among the nine retailers that defaulted on their debt during the first quarter despite the healthy overall economy. Last year, retailers announced a record 7,000 store closures.

Summer driving will be more expensive this year. Prices at the pump are likely to be 14% higher than last summer, the US government estimated on Tuesday. Although gas is well below the $4 a gallon prices of 2008, it has risen because of the recovery in the oil markets. The average gallon of gasoline fetched $2.66 on Thursday, according to AAA. That’s up from $2.39 last year, just as summer driving season was beginning. Drivers in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington State, Hawaii and Alaska already pay more than $3 per gallon, according to AAA. California’s average gas price has jumped to $3.52, compared with $2.99 a year ago. After crashing to just $26 a barrel in early 2016, crude oil has more than doubled in price. Supply in the United States is very strong. Production of crude recently hit record high because of the shale oil boom. But foreign oil supply is down, largely because of OPEC’s efforts to boost prices by curbing production. Saudi Arabia-led OPEC and Russia reached an agreement in late 2016 to pump less oil which has raised crude oil prices to over $66/gallon.

Middle East

Following an air strike on the Syrian Tiyas Military Airbase on Monday, subsequently attributed to the Israeli military, Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati issued several threats targeting Israel. Velayati, who serves as a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that that seven members of its military died in the attack. Velayati told IRNA “Defenders of the holy shrines are still standing by the Syrian people and government and will continue their fight against the enemies of the Islamic Ummah, particularly the Zionist regime and its masters. The crimes will not remain unanswered.”

Israeli Defense Forces on Saturday exposed and destroyed a terror tunnel running from Jabalia, in northern Gaza, into southern Israel near the community of Nahal Oz. The tunnel was exposed in what the IDF described as an “engineering operation” inside Israeli territory. An IDF spokesman said the tunnel was dug by the Hamas terror group and was connected to an intricate network of other tunnels running through Gaza. This is the fifth tunnel exposed and demolished by Israel on the border with Gaza in recent months. In this case, the IDF sealed, rather than bombed, the underground structure.

Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip remained the site of unruly demonstrations Friday by Palestinians, directed by the Hamas terrorist organization that has ruled the coastal enclave for the past decade. According to the IDF, Palestinians attempted to breach Israel’s border fence using explosives and Molotov cocktails. “The IDF will not allow damage to the security and fence infrastructures that protect Israeli citizens and will act against violent rioters and terrorists involved,” said the IDF statement. While the rioting has been portrayed as a peaceful “Great March of Return,” a large number of the protesters that have been killed have been identified by Hamas itself as military operatives and members of the terrorist organization. Israel’s response on the ground since the riots began in March has remained consistent, warning rioters who approach the fence that attempts to breach the barrier will not be tolerated.

Iran

The United States on Tuesday welcomed a push by some European Union states to impose new sanctions on Iran. The U.S. and EU also warned firms considering doing business with the Islamic Republic that they could be funding militant groups and promoting regional instability. President Donald Trump has set European allies a May 12 deadline to revamp an international deal agreed with Tehran in 2015 that lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Last month, France, Britain and Germany sought EU support for approval of new sanctions but have struggled to persuade other member states to back them.

Afghanistan

A new coalition air campaign aimed at crippling Taliban funding has destroyed 73 drug labs and cost the organization $42 million in lost revenue during the first six months of the operation, according to coalition statistics. The air campaign was launched in November after President Trump expanded the U.S. military’s authority to target insurgents in Afghanistan and represents the most robust effort yet to strike at the country’s $1.6 billion drug trade. “It’s the first time we’ve used air power to … strike and put pressure on Taliban revenue in the 17 years of the war,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who heads the air operation targeting insurgent revenues. The air campaign won’t eliminate the massive drug trade in Afghanistan but is designed to have an impact on Taliban operations as they gear up for another Spring fighting season.

Nigeria

Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram abducted over 1,000 children over the past five years, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday. The militants’ aim is to spread fear and show power, the agency said. Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” has staged frequent raids on schools since launching an Islamist insurgency in the country’s northeast in 2009. Its violent campaign to carve out an Islamic state there has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people. UNICEF said it had verified at least 1,000 kidnapping cases but warned the actual figure could be much higher. It added that the group had also killed at least 2,295 teachers and destroyed more than 1,400 schools.

Venezuela

A massive wave of Venezuelans are turning their backs on their homeland and its beleaguered socialist government. Countries across Central and South America are struggling to deal with the massive outflow. Regional analysts say the out-migration threatens to destabilize Venezuela’s neighbors and prove a massive drain on South American resources and economic development. The Venezuelan refugees in Argentina, driven from their homes by massive shortages, political upheaval and raging violent crime, have traveled 3,000 miles to find welcoming immigration laws and a thriving expatriate community. But not every country is dealing with the influx so smoothly. The handling of the crisis by Venezuela’s beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, figures to be a prime topic of conversation when regional leaders gather at the end of the week in Peru for the Summit of the Americas, which Vice President Pence will be attending.

Wildfires

Wildfires exploded across Oklahoma as drought and wind caused fires to spread rapidly. Two people are dead and hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed by wildfires that continue to ravage Oklahoma. The state of emergency declared by Gov. Mary Fallin will remain in effect until at least Tuesday for 52 counties. A wildfire in southwestern Oklahoma that began in Texas continues to burn after destroying over 40 square miles of land. Oklahoma Forestry Services says a blaze in northwestern Oklahoma has burned more than 375 square miles of land. The largest group of fires, named the 34 Complex Fire, has burned more than 100 square miles, destroyed several homes in northwestern Oklahoma’s Woodward County and forced evacuations. Overall, the wildfires have scorched more than 450 square miles as of Sunday evening.

A human-caused wildfire burning in eastern Arizona grew rapidly to about 2,644 acres late Saturday, and a portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests was closed off to the public, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Rattlesnake Fire was burning about 25 miles southwest of Alpine in the national forest and on the adjacent Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Continued high winds on Friday contributed to the fire’s fast growth, which had been at 400 acres by late Thursday. The fire spread smoke and worry over the region over nearby residents. No communities were immediately threatened by the fire. Firefighters late Sunday had contained about 3 percent of the fire burning near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Three other fires are burning in New Mexico having already consumed about 9,400 acres near the northern border between the two southwest states.

Weather

Winter Storm Xanto is beginning to finally wind down Monday after dumping record snow for the month of April on parts of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes over the weekend. Xanto officially brought 14.9 inches of snow to Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it the heaviest April snowstorm on record there. Green Bay, Wisconsin, picked up an astonishing 23.5 inches of snow from Xanto, ranking not only as the city’s heaviest April storm but also the second-heaviest snowstorm of all-time. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received 13.7 inches of snow from Xanto on Saturday, making it the heaviest one-day April snow total on record in the city. The highest snowfall total so far is 33 inches near Amherst, Wisconsin. Drifts 5 to 6 feet high were also reported in that location.

Tornadoes left widespread damage as part of a round of weekend severe weather that claimed at least two lives in the South. Extensive damage was reported in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the height of the outages, more than 75,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas. A possible tornado hit Sunday near Lynchburg, Virginia. Several buildings were damaged in Campbell County, while trees were snapped and cars were flipped. Following the storms, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, and a local emergency was declared in Greensboro. Sunday afternoon, a waterspout was reported near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Hillsborough County, Florida. A 2-year-old girl was killed Friday at a mobile home park in Haughton, Louisiana, when a tree fell on the RV where she was sleeping. Five people were hospitalized in Reidsville, North Carolina, on Sunday evening after a tree was blown onto a home on Highway 158. Strong winds destroyed barns and took down trees in Huntersville, some 15 miles from Charlotte, on Sunday.

Researchers in China are attempting to address the country’s water issues by building a massive rain-making network high in the Tibetan mountains. The system would consist of tens of thousands of chambers that burn fuel to make silver iodide, a particle that enters clouds and creates rain and snow, the South China Morning Post reports. The machines will be strategically placed in the mountains and cover an area of roughly 620,000 square miles, or three times as large as Spain. Winds would carry the silver iodide produced by the chambers into the sky, where it can seed the clouds. The researchers chose the Tibetan plateau because climate models suggest it will undergo severe drought triggered by the warming planet and a decrease in regional rain. This development will affect weather worldwide, some for the better, but some for the worse.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (4/9/18)

April 9, 2018

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

Faith-Based Movies are ‘Exploding’ in Hollywood

In an article in Yahoo News (3/29/18), called “Movie theaters cash in as Hollywood turns to God,” Frankie Taggart notes that, “Religion is reclaiming cinema for sacred purposes at a rate never seen in history, with faith-based movies exploding from an obscure cottage industry last century into a multi-billion-dollar business.” Taggart also observes, “The box office totals may not sound huge, but they add up to a genre of filmmaking that has amassed almost $2 billion” since 2000. The most important thing is that these films are changing lives. Currently there are three new Christian movies in theaters nationwide: God’s Not Dead3“Paul; The Apostle of Christ” (with Jim Caviezel); and “I Can Only Imagine,” a surprise hit which was number three in the box office one weekend. David A. R. White, who helped produce and has acted in all three of the “God’s Not Dead” series, says, “Faith is not dead in the United States. I think that hunger is there for spiritual content. People want answers. They want to learn about their faith, and they also want to be entertained, of course, because it’s in a movie theatre. But at the same token, they’re yearning for that spiritual content.”

Supreme Court Refuses to Overturn Gag Order of Planned Parenthood Videos

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request by attorneys from the Thomas More Society and their co-counsel that it decide the case of David Daleiden, the undercover journalist who exposed Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the commercial trafficking of aborted babies’ body parts. In David Daleiden et al v. National Abortion Federation, the nation’s highest court had been asked to overturn a lower court’s injunction that barred Mr. Daleiden from releasing more videos. These videos would be both politically embarrassing and potentially incriminating for Planned Parenthood and other NAF abortionists, maintains Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel, Thomas More Society. “Justice is not only blind, but it remains gagged for the time being,” Brejcha remarked. “We are confident David Daleiden’s First Amendment rights will be upheld ultimately,” he added.

Target Bathroom Policy: Another Innocent Child Victim

While Target remains steadfast in allowing men to enter women’s dressing and restrooms, the number of child victims of sexual crimes occurring in its stores continues to rise, reports the American Family Association. Last week, in a Chicago area Target store, a man forced himself into a bathroom stall being occupied by a young child and sexually exposed his private parts to her. The man ran away before police could arrive. No Target employee questioned the man or attempted to stop him from entering the women’s restroom because Target’s official policy allows men free and unrestricted access. This policy has resulted in over a dozen crimes being committed by sexual predators taking advantage of it, the AFA reports. “Predators and voyeurs, or anyone with evil intentions,” can take advantage of the Target bathroom policy to harm women and children, warns the AFA.

Trump Sends National Guard to Protect Border

President Trump signed a proclamation Wednesday night to send the National Guard to the southern border immediately, in response to what the administration described as an “unacceptable” flow of drugs, criminal activity and illegal immigrants. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at the White House press briefing that the signing would be done in conjunction with governors and that the administration hoped the deployment would begin immediately. Arizona and Texas announced Friday that they would send 400 National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border by this week in response to President Donald Trump’s call for troops to fight drug trafficking and illegal immigration. “Despite a number of steps this administration has taken…we continue to see unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity transnational criminal organizations and illegal immigration flow across our border,” Kirstjen said. “More than 1,000 people a day, 300,000 a year [are] violating our sovereignty as a nation.” President Trump on Thursday said that a caravan of more than 1,000 Central Americans traveling through Mexico had been “largely broken up” by Mexican authorities — adding that it had avoided “a giant scene” at the U.S. border.

Federal Judge Upholds Massachusetts Ban on AR-15

A federal district court judge in Boston has upheld the state’s ban on assault weapons – AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines – finding that the issue is not a constitutional matter but one for each state to determine on its own politically. “The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to ‘bear arms,’” U.S. District Judge William Young, a Reagan appointee, wrote in a decision Thursday in Boston, dismissing a lawsuit over the state law. In his ruling in Boston, Young quoted from the writings of the late Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia, a conservative and an “originalist,” who believed the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with its original meaning at the time it was written.

EPA Announces Rollback of Obama Fuel Standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt laid out plans on Tuesday to roll back Obama-era fuel standards in a move seen as a win for automakers, but one that is likely to ignite a major political and legal battle with the nation’s most populous state. “These standards that were set were inappropriate and need to be revised,” Pruitt said during a speech at the EPA in Washington D.C., adding that the rules are too expensive and hurt car buyers by making vehicles costlier. Pruitt’s decision to rewrite the nation’s first carbon limits on automobiles, which requires cars and light trucks sold in the United States to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, reflects the Trump administration’s determination to jump start the auto industry.

Lawyer is First Person Sentenced in Russian Election Interference

A Dutch attorney who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and a former Russian intelligence agent was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a $20,000 fine Tuesday. Alex Van Der Zwaan acknowledged making false statements about communications with Gates and the unidentified agent who prosecutors referred to as “Person A” as part of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Van Der Zwaan is the first person to be sentenced in the wide-ranging inquiry managed by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson rejected the defense request that he be permitted to pay a fine and return home to London. He faced a maximum punishment of six months in prison. “We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” Judge Jackson told Van Der Zwaan.

Students in Colorado & Florida in Pro-Second Amendment Rallies

Students in Colorado who support the Second Amendment staged their own walkout Wednesday, in an effort to counter the pro-gun control rallies taking place across the nation following the deadly shooting at a Florida high school in February. Students walked onto the school’s track carrying the American flag and holding signs that read “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “I support the right to bear arms.” The rally comes days after students in Central Florida organized a similar protest in support of the Second Amendment after they felt silenced when the movement to honor the Parkland shooting victims turned political.

Zuckerberg Apologizes for Facebook Scandals

The Facebook CEO and founder apologized for allowing third-party apps to grab the data of its users without their permission and for being “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference” during the U.S. election, according to his prepared remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Zuckerberg is set to appear before that panel Wednesday, but he will also face questions from senators Tuesday in the wake of a privacy scandal that has severely damaged Facebook’s reputation and share price. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg wrote. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Pulse Nightclub Attack Survivors Sue Google, Facebook, Twitter

Survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., perpetrated by a supporter of the Islamic State terror group, are suing Google, Facebook, and Twitter, alleging that the tech firms allowed the group to proliferate and spread propaganda. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Orlando’s federal courthouse, 16 victims of the June 12, 2016 shooting — the second deadliest in American history — claim that the three tech giants were responsible for letting ISIS disseminate propaganda on their platforms, thus providing “material support” to the terror group, in violation of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Such support, the suit alleges, let gunman Omar Mateen carry out his attack, which left 49 people dead and another 58 injured, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Mateen was killed in a shootout with responding police officers. The survivors of the attack also argue that the tech giants profited from content created by ISIS and that the terror group may have received money from Google-owned YouTube in the form of ad revenue.

  • The widow of Mateen, Noor Salman, was found not guilty Friday of obstruction and aiding and abetting by attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. She was acquitted of the charges despite reportedly admitting after the rampage that she knew about her husband “acquiring weapons, watching Islamic State videos and discussing possible locations in apparent preparation” for the attack. The acquittal happened in large part — according to the jury’s foreman — due to the bureau’s failure to record Salman’s interview statements.

Seattle Besieged by Homeless Encampments

Seattle has been under siege by an exploding homeless population since at least 2015, when ex-Mayor Ed Murray declared a “state of emergency” over the crisis. The city has struggled to play catch-up and is now beset with shelters at capacity and illegal encampments, such as the Space Needle “mansion.” Residents of the mega tent “mansion” homeless encampment near Seattle’s famed Space Needle are bragging about the practicality of their new digs, taunting local politicians: “If you can live on the street and not pay rent, then why would you pay rent?” Mental health teams are also working with Seattle officials to figure out if there’s any way to convince the people living in the camp to go somewhere else. Spokesman Will Lemke added the city has no immediate plans to remove the camp, but that may change in the future if there is a problem or safety concern.

Economic News

The federal deficit will hit $804 billion in fiscal 2018, a 21 percent increase from 2017’s deficit of $665 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The new tax law is projected to cut government revenue by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years, while adding nearly $300 billion in military and domestic spending over the next two years. The current national debt totals more than $20 trillion.

Employers added a disappointing 103,000 jobs in March as colder weather appeared to crimp hiring after solid employment gains the first two months of the year. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, was unchanged at 4.1%, the Labor Department said Friday. In February, unseasonably warm weather pulled forward hiring in industries such as construction and retail, leading to blockbuster job gains that topped 300,000. As a result, the weak showing is being viewed as a blip rather than a sign of a weakening labor market.

China has wasted no time in firing back after President Donald Trump’s salvo against its high-tech products. The world’s second-biggest economy has retaliated with its own package of tariffs on around $50 billion of U.S. imports. China will levy 25 percent tariffs on imports of 106 U.S. products, with U.S. farmers, airplane and automobile manufacturers likely to bear the brunt of the impact. That’s in response to 1,300 Chinese products that might be subjected to 25 percent tariffs from the U.S. President Trump upped the ante Thursday in the high-stakes trade dispute with China, proposing $100 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese goods. U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Friday as Wall Street reacted to the latest escalation in the trade fight between the U.S. and China. Stocks were on the upswing Monday.

Major automakers last Tuesday reported higher new vehicles sales for March on the back of a strong U.S. economy and big consumer discounts. General Motors posted a 16 percent jump in new vehicle sales from the previous March, led by a 14 percent increase in higher-margin retail sales to consumers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a 14 percent increase and said it saw a 45 percent spike in sales of its popular Jeep models, giving the brand its best sales month on record. Ford reported a 3.4 percent increase in overall sales for March, led by an 8.7 percent rise in fleet sales. Retail sales were up just 0.8 percent in the month, but Ford said sales of its best-selling F-Series pickup trucks were the best since 2000. Last year, U.S. auto sales fell 2 percent after hitting a record high of 17.55 million units in 2016. Sales are expected to fall later in 2018 as interest rates rise and push up monthly car payments.

A third of home buyers exceeded the upper limit of what they planned to spend, topping that cap by an average $16,510, according to a Owners.com survey of 1,214 Americans who purchased a house within the last four years. The survey was conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 8. The main reason? Price. In January, home prices nationally were up an average 6.2% from a year earlier. Prices have risen nearly 50% from their 2012 bottom. Supply shortages, combined with a healthy job market that’s fueling demand, are blamed for the recent price run-up.

Middle East

Russia on Monday said the Israel Air Force was responsible for a missile attack on an air base in central Syria that activists say killed at least 14 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), reported that “Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities” were killed in the strike. The “non-Syrians” likely refers to Iranians. Russia’s claim came hours after the Pentagon denied Syrian media reports that the U.S. conducted the air strikes in Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack that killed some 200 civilians on Saturday. Israel refused to comment on the allegations. Dozens of Syrians choked to death after a suspected chemical attack struck the rebel-held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus, with aid groups on Sunday blaming President Bashar al-Assad’s government for the assault. Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli fighter jets launched eight guided missiles at the T4 air base from Lebanon’s air space early Monday. The Russian ministry said the Syrian air force destroyed five missiles, and three reached the western part of the airfield. The U.S. has not ruled out launching airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to the weekend’s suspected chemical gas attack on civilians, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday.

Thousands of Palestinian rioters burned tires, threw Molotov cocktails and carry out terror attacks while attempting to infiltrate Israel on Friday as part of the latest round of protests and clashes on the Gaza-Israel border. “Rioters have attempted to damage & cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks & hurl of explosive devices & firebombs,” the IDF Spokesperson Unit said on Twitter late Friday afternoon. According to the IDF, which has declared the immediate area a closed military zone, Hamas has been attempting to create a “war zone” in the region with protests in five locations along the Gaza-Israel border. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, three Palestinian men have been killed and 200 injured as of Friday afternoon.

The Israeli Shin Bet security services announced Wednesday that 10 Islamic Jihad terrorists from Gaza were arrested last month as they were preparing an attack on a naval ship. The Shin Bet statement said, “This is another link in a chain of terror attacks planned and initiated by Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in recent months, including a cross-border attack tunnel that was neutralized on October 30, 2017, the firing of mortar shells at Israel on November 30, 2017 and December 28, 2017, and more.” A break in the case came on March 12, when an Israeli naval vessel on a routine patrol stopped a Palestinian fishing boat outside the permitted fishing zone and arrested those on board.

Syria

President Donald Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed later Wednesday that the U.S. mission in Syria is coming to a “rapid end.” Trump wants to ensure Islamic State militants are defeated but wants other countries in the region and the United Nations to step up and help provide stability in Syria, an official told Reuters. His advisers have been pressing him to maintain at least a small force in Syria to ensure the militants are defeated and prevent Iran from gaining an important foothold.

North Korea

North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States about potential denuclearization, administration officials said Sunday, a signal that the two sides have opened communications ahead of a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month. The message from Pyongyang offers the first reassurance that Kim is committed to meeting Trump. The U.S. president accepted an offer made in March on Kim’s behalf by South Korean emissaries during a meeting at the White House, but Pyongyang had not publicly commented. U.S. officials cautioned that Pyongyang offered no details about its negotiating position and noted that North Korea has violated past agreements, during the George W. Bush administration, to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Russia

The Trump administration is unleashing additional sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin along with 12 companies they own or control. The measures announced by the Treasury Department on Friday were also aimed at 17 senior Russian government officials and the state-owned Russian weapons trading company, Rosoboronexport, which has long-standing ties to Syria and its subsidiary, Russian Financial Corporation Bank. The punitive actions are the latest escalating step by the US to punish Putin’s inner circle for interfering in the 2016 election and other ongoing aggressions across the globe in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing the sanctions were “in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world.”

Germany

A driver of a delivery truck plowed into a crowd of pedestrians Saturday in the German city of Muenster, killing at least two people and injuring 20 before fatally shooting himself, German officials said. Six of the injured are in severe condition. The driver of the van was a German citizen. The investigation is at an early stage but “nothing speaks for there being any Islamist background,” officials say. The Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper identified the driver as a 49-year-old German with a history of psychological problems.

Cuba

If all goes as expected, Cuba will name a new president in two weeks — the first time in nearly 60 years that the communist country’s leader won’t be a Castro. Outgoing President Raúl Castro will still loom large in retirement, much like his older brother Fidel Castro, who hovered over the nation’s affairs in the years leading up to his death in 2016. But when the Cuban National Assembly meets April 19 to name the new president, it will mark a major shift in the history of the Caribbean island that has antagonized and tantalized Americans for decades. Castro’s successor likely will be a man largely unknown outside Cuba: Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, who has risen steadily through the ranks of the Communist Party of Cuba. His selection would represent a symbolic change for a regime mostly led by the bearded guerrillas who fought alongside the Castros during the 1959 revolution that overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista. Díaz-Canel’s ascension to the presidency is not a guarantee, however. It has become more difficult to assess the political situation in Cuba after the U.S. pulled most of its diplomats off the island. President Trump ordered a drawdown at the U.S. Embassy in Havana after a series of mysterious “health attacks” against employees there.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-5.3 earthquake rattled southern California on Thursday, shaking buildings in the Los Angeles area. The quake was centered in the Pacific Ocean, some 35 miles southeast of Channel Islands Beach, Calif., the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was the largest earthquake to strike the Channel Islands region since a 6.0 temblor in 1981. There were no reports of injuries with some minor damage. The quake struck around 12:30 p.m. and lasted about 10 seconds. The Los Angeles area experiences quakes of this magnitude on average about once a year. The Los Angeles area experiences quakes of this magnitude on average about once a year. Thursday’s earthquake is one of the biggest to hit southern California since a magnitude-5.2 quake in Borrego Springs in June 2016. The biggest quake in California in the past several years was a 6.0 that hit the Napa area in August 2014. That quake killed one person and injured 200.

Landslides

Residents of a Pennsylvania apartment complex will be displaced for weeks and a roadway will be shut down for months after a landslide struck early Saturday. Officials say recent rains triggered the slide on Route 30, causing debris to plummet down a roughly 40-foot steep hill in the borough of East Pittsburgh.  Thirty-one people were evacuated from 29 apartment units. One building in the apartment complex collapsed, but no injuries were reported. Remaining buildings of the complex were evacuated along with a home and a business. Route 30 will be closed in both directions for at least two months as crews figure out how to repair it.

Wildfires

Residents in southwestern Grand Junction, Colorado, were ordered to leave their homes Monday night as the Rosevale wildfire, fanned by strong winds, crept closer to their homes. Electricity was cut to the entire evacuation area as the inferno advanced. The fire burned an unknown number of structures, but no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire, which was first reported before 7:30 p.m. Monday night, is under investigation. Grand Junction, about 35 miles from the Utah state line, has a population of about 60,000.

Weather

Yet another snowmaker is blanketing the snow-fatigued Midwest and Plains, and some light snow could even reach the interior Northeast and central Appalachians Monday. Winter weather advisories have been issued by the National Weather Service from parts of the Dakotas to western and southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Monday, some light snow may linger in portions of the upper Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes, as well as in the central Appalachians. Up to 5 inches of snow is possible from portions of the Dakotas to southwestern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

A batch of severe storms caused damage and outages last Friday evening into early Saturday as it tore through Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. At least five possible tornadoes were reported. As of Saturday morning, more than 42,000 customers were without power in those three states. Golf ball-sized hail was spotted in north Texas.

Heavy rainfall from an atmospheric river that pummeled northern California Friday shut down Yosemite National Park and put authorities on edge. Roads inside of the valley took on up to 4 feet of water and electrical systems were affected. Officials reopened Yosemite National Park Sunday. San Francisco received record rainfall Friday from the “Pineapple Express” storm, which forced the cancelation of more than 150 flights at San Francisco International Airport and the first cancelation of a San Francisco Giants game in more than a decade. There were a number of road closures and minor car crashes reported Friday in Sonoma County.

Signs of the Times (4/2/18)

April 2, 2018

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

Catholic Employers Win Permanent Injunction against Obamacare Mandate

In a major victory for the First Amendment right to religious freedom, a federal judge has ruled in favor of Catholic Benefits Association (CBA) members, issuing declaratory relief and a permanent injunction against the Obamacare CASC (contraception, abortifacient, sterilization, and related counseling) Mandate. The ruling also eliminates $6.9 billion in fines that have accumulated against CBA members. The judgment means that the government cannot force Catholic employers who are members of the CBA to provide the mandate CASC coverage. The decision also declares the Mandate is illegal as applied to CBA members. While an injunction stops the federal government from enforcing the CASC Mandate against CBA members, the declaratory judgment speaks directly to the illegality of what the federal government has been trying to do to CBA members for years. The court stated that the federal government “violated RFRA” (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) by trying to coerce members into providing CASC services.

Judge Dismisses Class-Action Challenge to Travel Ban

A federal judge in Washington who had been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration reversed course Tuesday and ruled she could not force the State Department to grant visa lottery approvals to would-be immigrants from Iran and Yemen. The complicated case doesn’t directly challenge President Trump’s travel ban, but it does deliver a rare lower-court legal victory on one aspect of the ban, which has restricted visits and immigration from a number of majority-Muslim nations. Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the government had managed to run out the clock on would-be immigrants from Yemen and Iran, and there is no longer anything she can do to preserve their pathway to immigration. “There is no longer any meaningful relief this court can provide. Therefore, it must dismiss this case as moot,” she wrote. The case had been at the nexus of two controversial policies: Trump’s travel ban and the diversity visa lottery, which doles out immigration passes based on chance.

California Sues Over Addition of Citizenship Question to Census

The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night, arguing that the decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census violates the U.S. Constitution. The state’s attorney general acted just after the Commerce Department announced the change in a late-night release. The suit is just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said, among other things, that the data could help identify potential voting-rights violations by providing more accurate information than currently available about the proportion of a congressional district’s population that is eligible to vote by virtue of holding citizenship. Information about citizenship currently comes from a survey that samples a small percentage of the population.

WSJ Slams Democrats Over Stalled Appointees

The Wall Street Journal slammed Democrats for abusing Senate rules in an attempt to block political appointees from taking their posts. In an editorial posted Tuesday night, the WSJ noted the Senate is “sitting on 78 nominees who have already been vetted and passed out of committee but can’t get a floor vote.” Liberals are abusing the current rule and using it even for nominees with broad bipartisan support, the newspaper said. The Journal cited the example of Richard Grenell, who was nominated to be ambassador to Germany back in September. “Mr. Grenell has more than enough foreign-policy experience as the longest-serving U.S. spokesman at the United Nations, and even some liberal groups back him as an openly gay conservative,” the newspaper pointed out.

Paris Climate Accords Are Increasingly Ignored

The International Energy Agency announced last week that carbon emissions grew 1.7 percent in 2017. Not a single major industrial nation was on track to fulfill the commitments they made in the Paris climate-accord treaty. There are 195 signatories, of which only the following are considered even “in range” of their Paris targets: Morocco, Gambia, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines. Two years after countries signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris, the world remains far off course from reducing emissions. On Monday, the latest round of post-Paris international climate talks began in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to step up efforts.

Puerto Rico Mental Health Crisis

Mental health issues have made a alarming rise in Puerto Rico as residents continue to grapple with massive losses and crippled infrastructure six months after their island home was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The island nation was already battling surging mental health issues fafter a decade-long recession that left many unemployed and divided families due to people moving away. Maria’s blow and the devastation left behind has only added to the distress. A suicide prevention hotline center near San Juan says it received up to 600 calls daily from people who reach out to discuss their losses, economic situations, or family departures for the U.S. mainland. They are also receiving an alarming influx of people discussing thought-out suicide plans. In January, the hotline saw calls related to suicide double from 2,046 in August to 4,548. Attempts also jumped from 782 to 1,075 within the same timeframe.

Ransomware Cyberattack Hobbles Atlanta

Atlanta’s municipal government was brought to its knees last week by a ransomware attack — one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city. The digital extortion aimed at Atlanta, which security experts have linked to a shadowy hacking crew known for its careful selection of targets, laid bare once again the vulnerabilities of governments as they rely on computer networks for day-to-day operations. Police officers are filing reports on paper, residents can’t pay bills and the courts are frozen. In a ransomware attack, malicious software cripples a victim’s computer or network and blocks access to important data until a ransom is paid to unlock it. Part of what makes the attack on Atlanta so pernicious are the criminals behind it. Threat researchers at Dell SecureWorks, the Atlanta-based security firm helping the city respond to the ransomware attack, identified the assailants as the SamSam hacking crew, one of the more prevalent and meticulous of the dozens of active ransomware attack groups. Atlanta city officials are not saying whether they were strong-armed into paying the $51,000 ransom to hackers holding many of the municipality’s online services hostage, but they did announce progress in restoring some of their networks.

Self-Driving Cars Could Kill Hundreds but Save Thousands

Self-driving cars could kill hundreds of people every year in the early going but save many more lives, a Toyota executive said Thursday at an event near the New York Auto Show. After a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in Arizona earlier this month, concerns about the movement toward autonomous transportation have escalated. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey banned Uber self-driving cars following the incident. However, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said Thursday that more deaths are coming as automakers and tech companies pursue self-driving vehicles. “The reality is there will be mistakes along the way,” he said. “A hundred or 500 or a thousand people could lose their lives in accidents like we’ve seen in Arizona.” Lentz estimated that autonomous vehicles could eventually save 35,000 lives annually, representing the 98% of deadly crashes blamed on driver error.

NFL Finalizes $90M Social-Justice Deal Without Resolving Anthem Protests

NFL team owners unanimously gave their final approval Monday to an unprecedented $90 million social-justice initiative but made no decisions about how to handle players refusing to stand for the national anthem. nstead, owners are expected to continue the discussion about whether to change the game-day policy, which does not require players to stand, at the spring league meeting in May. The decision to avoid an anthem vote at the March 25-28 annual league meeting in Orlando came with the owners split on how to handle the divisive two-year-old sideline protests, which have been blamed in large part for the NFL’s 9.7 percent ratings decline in the 2017 regular season.

Flu Season Not Over, New Wave Underway

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu season is not over yet and issued a warning about a new wave of influenza B that’s on the rise. The strain of flu that has dominated this season, influenza A (H3N2), seems to be tapering off, but cases of influenza B have increased. The report notes that nearly 58 percent of all new laboratory-confirmed cases of flu were caused by the B strain. The CDC notes that influenza B can be every bit as deadly as other strains of the virus. During the week ending March 11, five pediatric deaths were reported, bringing the national total to 133 this season. Seventeen states reported widespread flu activity.

Economic News

China raised import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. pork, apples and other products Monday in an escalating dispute with Washington over trade and industrial policy. The government of President Xi Jinping said it was responding to a U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum. But that is just one facet of sprawling tensions with Washington, Europe and Japan over a state-led economic model that they say hampers market access, protects Chinese companies and subsidizes exports in violation of Beijing’s free-trade commitments. Economists say the impact of Monday’s move should be limited, but investors worry the global recovery might be set back if other governments respond by raising import barriers, sending the market down 2% early Monday.

Stocks marched backward in March, leaving a jittery Wall Street debating whether the the first quarterly loss since 2015 is just a short-term blip or a sign of more losses to come. The broad Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fell 1.2% in the first quarter of 2018, snapping a nine-quarter stretch of gains. After racing to 14 record highs through Jan. 26, U.S. stocks were undermined by fears about a trade war and jitters about rising interest rates and the user data privacy crisis engulfing Facebook and other social media companies. There was one glimmer of hope, however: stocks rallied sharply on the final trading day of the month.

Apartment rent increases slowed further in the first quarter, a development that, combined with faster wage growth, is expected to ease financial stress for low- and middle-income households over the next couple of years. Average rent rose 2.3% to $1,310 in the first three months of the year, according to RealPage, a real estate technology and analytics firm. That marks a decline from the fourth quarter’s 2.6% pace and the smallest yearly gain since the third quarter of 2010. Rent increases have slowed steadily since peaking at 5.3% in the second half of 2015. Equally significant is that apartment occupancy in the first quarter fell to 94.5% from 95.1% late last year. Tight apartment supplies and surging demand from Millennials had been pushing occupancy and rents higher.

Major credit card companies Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover are eliminating the need for shoppers to sign receipts for credit and debit sales beginning April 14. That means most merchants in the U.S. or Canada can decide whether or not to require signatures. Some merchants have already ditched signatures for some purchases but beginning in two weeks the credit card companies are collectively ending requirements for customers’ autographs. The encryption within the EMV chip, which began rolling out three years ago, has helped buttress robust security, as have other steps taken by credit card companies and the underlying payment networks in which banks participate in. Eliminating the signing of receipts will make the checkout process more efficient not only for shoppers, but also for retailers.

Middle East

An estimated 17,000 Palestinian residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip answered a call by the Islamist terror militia Hamas to congregate at five locations along the border with Israel Friday morning to participate in the so-called “Great March of Return.” Several dozen of the rioters threw stones and the scene grew highly chaotic, with IDF units firing tear gas to disperse the rioters while live ammunition was fired at ringleaders. Fourteen deaths and over a thousand injuries by live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets or tear gas fired, according to Hamas. The flag-waving demonstrations, which began Friday, were billed as the “Great March of Return” protests that are scheduled to end May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with a march through the border fence. Diplomatic fallout from Friday’s violent riots along the border between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which resulted in 16 Palestinian rioters being killed and several hundred more being wounded, was generally unfavorable towards Israel. Israel was characterized as having over-reacted with deadly force to “peaceful demonstrations” by a majority of the major media organizations, religious leaders and world governments.

Syria

President Assad’s forces were poised to take control of the last rebel area close to Damascus last night as an evacuation of the fighters and their families was underway — the largest so far in the seven-year war. The rebel-held area had held out against the surrounding government forces and their allies for almost five years. from which the rebels have been able to shell the capital. More than 80,000 civilians are thought to remain in Douma.

Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will hold a rare meeting aimed at improving ties and easing tensions on April 27, authorities announced Thursday. The leaders will hold talks at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom, a joint statement said. It will be the third summit between the two Koreas. The previous gatherings took place in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, in 2000 and 2007. The nations agreed to discuss security and protocol for the upcoming summit at meetings next Wednesday. The summit comes ahead of a meeting between Kim and President Trump set to take place by the end of May. It would be the first meeting between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on his first foreign visit since taking power that he is committed to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, Chinese state media reported Wednesday. Kim paid an “unofficial visit” to Beijing from Sunday to Wednesday, official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported, confirming days of speculation that the reclusive leader had traveled to his country’s closest ally.  It was Kim’s first foreign trip since taking power in late 2011. The visit is a precursor to another much-anticipated meeting later this year between Kim and President Trump.  “It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim said referring to his predecessors, according to Xinhua.

The United States and South Korea began their joint military training exercises Sunday, as diplomatic relations have been thawing on the Korean Peninsula. More than 11,500 U.S. troops and nearly 300,000 South Korean forces will take part in the four-week exercises. Foal Eagle, the largest annual joint military exercise in South Korea, usually runs about two months. Its start was delayed this year at the request of South Korea until after the Winter Olympics. North Korea has consistently protested the annual joint exercises as a military provocation, even though the U.S. stresses that the drills are for defensive purposes. But this year North Korea agreed not to object to the exercises as part of the agreement to meet with Trump.

Russia

NATO, Ireland, Belgium and the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova on Tuesday joined the United States and other countries who expelled Russian diplomats Monday in a show of solidarity with the United Kingdom over the nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in England. That makes 27 countries that have expelled Russian diplomats. Russia denies any involvement in the March 4 poisoning, which British authorities said involved a nerve agent called Novichuk, which was developed by the Soviet military. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s response will be up to President Vladimir Putin. “We will be guided by the principle of reciprocity as before,” Peskov said. Russia will close the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg and kick out 60 American diplomats in response to Monday’s coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States and a number of other countries, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last Thursday.

A new intercontinental ballistic missile hailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as being able to fly over the North or South Poles and strike any target in the world reportedly was test-launched for the second time Friday. Russia’s defense ministry released a video purportedly showing the Sarmat ICBM – dubbed “Satan 2” by NATO – blasting off in spectacular fashion from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in its northern Arkhangelsk province. “No defense systems will be able to withstand it,” Putin said about the missile during his state-of-the-nation speech in early March. Russia has been working for years to develop a new ICBM to replace the Soviet-designed Voyevoda, the world’s heaviest ICBM and known as “Satan” in the West. That ICBM carries 10 nuclear warheads.

Poland

Poland on Wednesday inked a deal to buy a U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile system for $4.75 billion. “It is an extraordinary, historic moment; it is Poland’s introduction into a whole new world of state-of-the-art technology, modern weaponry, and defensive means,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said during the signing ceremony. The deal with U.S. defense company Raytheon will see Poland acquire fou.r Patriot missile units, which are designed to shoot down incoming missiles and aircraft, with first deliveries expected to be made in 2022. The acquisition will allow Poland to co-ordinate its anti-missile operations with other NATO allies that already have the Patriot system, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece. The purchase is part of the country’s effort to modernize its armed forces amid heightened tensions with Russia.

Kosovo

Air pollution in the tiny young nation of Kosovo rivals big cities like Beijing, Mumbai and New Delhi. The dirty air here is so bad that it has spawned protests, apps and even its own hashtag. Two coal-fired power plants a mile outside the capital in the town of Obiliq spew the rancid smell of burning coal year-round, with wood stoves adding smoke to the mix. Pedestrians in Pristina, with 200,000 people, have to don masks when they go outside during the winter. Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has the world’s fifth largest reserve of brown coal, considered the dirtiest fossil fuel. And the World Bank has called the country’s aging coal-fired power plants the “worst single point source of pollution in Europe.”

Weather

Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes in Texas and parts of Louisiana last Wednesday evening through early Thursday during the latest round of flooding and severe weather to hit the South. A squall line of severe thunderstorms roared through the Texas Coastal Bend after midnight Thursday, producing scattered damage in Bee, Nueces, Refugio, Aransas, Nueces and Calhoun Counties. Several homes were missing roofs, and windows were blown out of many other homes. The squall line also blasted the Corpus Christi metro area, downing power lines. Earlier, the severe storms downed trees and power poles in Beeville, Texas. At least three EF1 tornadoes struck Louisiana. Wednesday afternoon, one of the storms touched down near Mangham, Louisiana, downing trees, at least one of which landed on a home. Several sheds and barns were also damaged.

On April 2nd, additional snow was falling in the northeast again, primarily Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, continuing the siege of winter on the northeast even as much of the country eases into Spring.