Signs of the Times

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.

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