Archive for May, 2018

Signs of the Times

May 29, 2018

Past Issues of Signs of the Times Available at lofj.wordpress.com

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

California Judge Rules in Favor of Christian Baker

A California judge has made a final ruling in favor of a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The baker’s refusal was based on her claim that making the cake would have forced her to go against her deeply held Christian beliefs and endorse something that she personally disagrees with. “The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace,” County Superior Court Judge David Lampe wrote in his decision. “The right of freedom of thought guaranteed by the First Amendment includes the right to speak, and the right to refrain from speaking. Sometimes the most profound protest is silence.” “Cathy gladly serves everyone who walks through her bakery’s doors, including same-sex couples. But she should not be forced by the government to express messages that conflict with her sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund president Charles LiMandri, whose religious liberty organization represented Miller pro-bono.

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Controversial Arkansas Abortion Law

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to a controversial Arkansas abortion law that blocked medication-induced abortions. Medication abortion — available only early in a pregnancy — involves the combination of two pills called mifepristone and misoprostol. The law, passed in 2015, says that any physician who “gives, sells, dispenses, administers, or otherwise provides or proscribes the abortion-inducing drug” shall have to have contract with a physician who has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The order, issued without comment, clears the way for the law to go into effect in mid-July if no other legal action is taken. Planned Parenthood is expected to make another challenge to the law in U.S. district court.

Irish Voters Repeal Decades-Old Ban on Abortion

Irish voters backed a repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion in a sweeping cultural change representing a move away from the nation’s conservative Catholic roots. The final tally showed that 66.4% supported the repeal out of 2.1 million votes cast on Friday. As a result of the vote, Ireland’s government will now seek to pass legislation that allows abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The current law prohibits all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk, and having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Thousands of Irish women had been traveling abroad – mostly to neighboring Britain – for abortions. The repeal will bring Ireland’s abortion practices in line with the United States and the rest of Europe. The vote is a “rejection of an Ireland that treated women as second-class citizens,” said Orla O’Connor, co-director of the Together for Yes group, adding: “This is about women’s equality and this day brings massive change, monumental change for women in Ireland, and there is no going back.” John McGuirk, spokesman for the Save the 8th group, said that Irish voters have created a “tragedy of historic proportions,” but McGuirk said the vote must be respected.

  • So now, jubilant Irish women have the freedom to kill babies any time they feel like it. Yippee.

Pre-Summit Meetings Continue with North Korea

The leaders of North and South Korea held a surprise meeting Saturday, their second in a month, two days after President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met for two hours at the Demilitarized Zone, the South Korean presidency said in a statement. The two “exchanged their opinions” on among other things successfully carrying out a future US-North Korea summit, according to the statement. On Thursday, Trump called off a June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore but then told reporters Friday he’s still open to rescheduling the meeting. In a tweet Friday, Trump maintained “very productive talks” were continuing on the North Korean summit. A team of U.S. officials crossed into North Korea on Sunday for talks to prepare for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, as both sides pressed ahead with arrangements despite the question marks hanging over the meeting. One of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s top officials is traveling to the United States Tuesday as the two countries continue to lay the groundwork for on-again, off-again talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12. North Korea said it has destroyed it’s nuclear testing facility last week, witnessed by foreign journalists who saw a massive explosion in the mountainous northeast section of the country.

Trump Announces Tariffs and Tech Crackdown on China

President Trump said Tuesday that he would proceed with tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports and introduce new limits on Chinese investment in U.S. high-tech industries as part of a broad campaign to crack down on Chinese acquisition of U.S. technology. Specifics of the new limits will be announced by June 30 and will take effect “shortly thereafter,” the White House said. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is due to arrive in Beijing on Saturday for talks aimed at cooling trade tensions between the two countries. The president has been seeking Chinese agreement to reduce the $375 billion U.S. goods trade deficit. But two days of talks in Washington ended earlier this month with only vague Chinese promises to buy more U.S. agriculture and energy products. The announced measures come amid bipartisan criticism of the president’s softening of penalties for ZTE, a Chinese telecom company that had traded with Iran and North Korea in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

Trump Targets Federal Bureaucracy with New Executive Orders

President Trump moved Friday to roll back civil-service protections that federal employees have enjoyed for a generation, making it easier to fire poor performers, curtailing time employees can be paid for union work and directing agencies to negotiate tougher union contracts. In three executive orders the president signed before the holiday weekend, Trump took his first significant steps toward fulfilling a campaign promise he made to overhaul a federal bureaucracy he told voters was awash in “waste, fraud and abuse.” The changes have been championed by Republicans who have sought to rein in the size and reach of the federal bureaucracy of 2 million employees, which under Trump has been gradually shrinking through hiring freezes and unfilled vacancies.

U.S. Government Lost Track of 1475 Migrant Children

In a scandal that lit up the internet: 1,475 undocumented immigrant children who were placed into temporary homes by the U.S. government, couldn’t be found afterwards. The number was first revealed in April during a Senate hearing. But the issue has caught fire in May, in the wake of the Department of Justice’s decision to begin prosecuting all parents caught entering the U.S illegally with their children. That decision was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to deter a wave of undocumented families arriving at the southern border, mostly from Central America. When parents are taken into custody for prosecution, their children will have to go somewhere. They’ll be put into housing by the Department of Health and Human Services — the same agency that couldn’t keep track of these prior migrant children.

Promulgation of Sexual Permissiveness Continues to Grow

A gathering of scouts from all over the world slated for next summer and hosted by big names such as Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada will include condoms that must be “readily and easily accessible for all participants” of any age. The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) has announced that its 24th World Scout Jamboree will be held from Sunday, July 21, 2019 to Thursday, August 1, 2019. Billed as a “celebration of cultural exchange, mutual understanding, peace, and friendship,” the announcement promises that the gathering of thousands of young people from more than 200 countries and territories will open “a new world of life-changing experiences that will help you develop your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual life.” But many fear that “new experiences” will take on an alarming new meaning this time, reports LifeSiteNews.com. Page 11 of the WOSM’s 2016 jamboree guidelines states that the “Host Organization must ensure that condoms are readily and easily accessible for all participants and [International Service Team] at a number of locations on the site,”

Parents of 7th graders at a Pittsburgh private middle school are up in arms after a science teacher allegedly described oral sex in graphic detail during class, reportedly telling students to “look it up” if they wanted more information. The incident happened at Propel Hazelwood, part of the Propel Charters. One parent complained her young daughter ended up seeing graphic sexual images after the teacher encouraged her classmate to Google “oral sex” on the internet. A school spokesperson said the school is actively looking into the situation after parents raised concerns at a student mediation meeting earlier this week. The spokesperson added that the speaker may not have been a teacher, but a representative with Adagio Health, a local health provider that reportedly partners with the school system to teach a sexual health education course. Parents in Albany, New York were incensed when an outside LGBT advocate was allowed to hand out vocabulary lists to 11-year-olds filled with more than 200 explicit terms. A small private middle school in Minneapolis found itself in hot water after parents found out the school had taken students to an adult sex shop on a field trip. A high school in Philadelphia came under fire last year for working sexually charged questions into students’ math homework.

Nearly 1 in 4 Millennials Still Living with Mom

Nearly 23% of Millennials live with their mother, according to a new report from Zillow, an online real estate database company. In 2005, only 14% did so. Fewer Millennials are moving into their own place because housing prices are outpacing wages, said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. Student loan debt has also become a major barrier to home ownership in America. More than 80% of people age 22 to 35 with student debt haven’t bought a house yet.

Economic News

Sales of new U.S. homes fell 1.5% in April from March as buying plunged in the West. The Commerce Department said that new homes sold last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 662,000. So far this year, new-home sales are 8.4% higher than in 2017. Momentum in the U.S. housing market has overcome even a supply shortage because mortgage rates remain near historic lows. But average mortgage rates have begun to climb, reaching a seven-year high of 4.61% on a 30-year loan, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

A spike in crude oil prices has lifted the national average price of gas by 31% over the past year to an average of $2.97 a gallon going into the Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. Fifteen states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, are already facing $3 average gas prices or higher. Gas in California and Hawaii, traditionally two of the priciest states, is north of $3.70 a gallon. The rebound in crude oil prices from the crash of 2015-2016 was engineered in large part by OPEC. The OPEC oil cartel teamed up with Russia to slash production beginning in early 2017 in a bid to fix a supply glut. That strategy eventually worked and global oil stockpiles, especially in the United States, have declined steadily.

Nearly three-quarters of American adults said they were doing okay financially or living comfortably in late 2017, according to a Federal Reserve report, a share that has climbed steadily as the unemployment rate has fallen in recent years – 74% said they were doing all right, up from 70% last year and 62% in 2013.

Bank profits soared by 28% during the first three months of 2018 to $56 billion, according to statistics published by the FDIC on Tuesday. The blockbuster earnings report, boosted by President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and the healthy economy, easily tops the prior record set just three quarters earlier. The record profits come just as Congress passed a bill, signed by President Trump, to roll back banking regulations established after the last recession.

2017 set the all-time record for retail store closings in a single year, and this year it looks like we are going to shatter the record once again.  It is projected that up to 9,000 retail stores could close by the end of this calendar year – 77 million square feet of retail space, according to CoStar Group Inc. With the shift to online shopping and retailer debt woes continuing, there’s no indication the shakeout will end anytime soon – if ever.

Middle East

Israeli jets bombed Gaza Tuesday morning, hours after militants from Gaza fired more than 25 mortar shells toward communities in southern Israel in what appeared to be the largest single barrage since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. The Israeli military said no one was hurt and that most of the mortar shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, though one of the shells landed near a kindergarten shortly before it opened. The high volume of projectiles came as tensions have been running high along the Israel-Gaza border.

Palestinian terrorists placed an explosive charge on the security fence between Gaza and Israel, attempting to harm IDF forces securing Israel’s border. Palestinians infiltrated Israel and attempted to damage security infrastructure. IDF troops on Sunday detonated the explosive device, which had been placed adjacent to the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday. No IDF soldiers were injured in the incident. In response, an IDF tank targeted a military observation post in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources reported that two Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in the shelling and a third was wounded.

Some 50 percent of air-defense batteries belonging to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad have been destroyed in recent months during multiple operations, a senior Israeli Air Force source said on last Wednesday. The attacks were in response to Syrian aircraft firing on Israel Air Force jets. In recent months, during a number of Israeli airstrikes against aggressive Iranian activity in Syria between February and May, Syrian air-defense systems fired on Israeli jets “hundreds of times,” an Israeli official revealed. “All of the batteries that fired on the IAF were destroyed. All of them. And this policy will continue. We do not destroy batteries that do not fire on us,” said the source to World Israel News.

Iran pledged to stay out of fighting in southwestern Syria during talks with Israel that took place in Amman, Jordan, according to Elaph, a Saudi-owned website as reported by Ma’ariv. The report said the negotiations were conducted last weekend between Iran’s ambassador to Jordan, who was in one hotel room in Amman with Iranian security personnel, while in the next room there were senior Israeli security officials, including the deputy head of the Mossad. The report said a Jordanian mediator carried messages between the sides. Israel made clear to the Iranians that tthey should not become involved in fighting close to the Israel-Syria ceasefire lines in the Golan and the Israel-Jordan border. One participant in the talks reportedly said that “the sides discussed this issue with the Israelis and arrived at a quick agreement that even surprised the Israeli representatives.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon informed the Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday that Iran had conducted two ballistic missile tests in January, in direct violation of Resolution 2231. “On 2 January 2018, Iran launched a SHAHAB 3 variant at the CHA-BAHAR (South East Iran) firing range. On 5 January 2018, Iran launched a Scud variant from a firing range 110 km North East of Kerman,” Danon revealed. Both the SHAHAB 3 and Scud missiles are Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) category one ballistic missiles, capable of delivering a nuclear payload of 500 kilograms for a range of over 300 kilometers (180 miles). UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the Iran nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany), explicitly prohibits Iran from tests and other activity on ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Belgium

Belgian authorities are investigating the killing of two policewomen and a passerby in the eastern city of Liege on Tuesday as a terror attack, the country’s prosecutor said. The incident occurred Tuesday morning when an assailant stabbed two policewomen from behind, before stealing their service weapons and using them on the officers. After killing the two officers, the attacker continued walking through the street and opened fire on a parked vehicle, fatally wounding the driver inside. the suspect then took refuge in a local high school where he held a woman hostage. When police intervened. The man opened fire, injuring several other officers, before he was shot dead. Liege is Belgium’s third-largest city, after Brussels and Antwerp.

Italy

Markets plunged worldwide Tuesday as investors worried that a growing political crisis in Italy could lead to that country’s withdrawal from the Eurozone — a replay of Britain’s vote to exit two years ago. The Dow Jones industrial average was down more than 500 points — about 2 percent — in early afternoon trading Tuesday on worries that Italy could become another Greece, whose deep debt required bailouts by the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank between 2010 and 2015. Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday blocked the formation of a coalition government, raising the prospect that a populist coalition could gain ground and lead to an exit from the Eurozone. Some have dubbed the movement “Quitaly”. Italy, which like Spain and Greece suffers from heavy debt, saw the yield on its debt rise dramatically as investors fled to the safety of the dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds. But Italy’s economy is Europe’s third largest and could be much harder to for its fellow Eurozone members to tame than was the Greek crisis.

Congo

An Ebola outbreak is “not under control” and has started to spread across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), killing dozens in its path, as the Health Minister urges people to be vaccinated before the virus reaches pandemic levels. Harvard professor Dr. Ashish Jah stated that if this outbreak spreads to the capital city of Kinshasa, it “could spread to Europe and the U.S.” Dr Ashish Jah said the spread of the disease to the urban city of Mbandaka last week poses serious concerns as to how far it spreads. The World Health Organization said there have been 22 confirmed, probable or suspected deaths from Ebola since April 4.

Volcanoes

At least 10 more homes were destroyed on the Big Island of Hawaii as lava flows from the Kilauea Volcano spread further into Leilani Estates Monday. More than 50 homes and 80 structures have been destroyed by the lava so far. Lava also covered one of the wells at the island’s geothermal power plant, prompting fears of a toxic gas leak as authorities urge residents to evacuate Leilani Estates due to the fast-moving lava flows. A well at Puna Geothermal Venture, known as PGV, was successfully plugged before the molten rock reached it Sunday evening. A second well that’s 100 feet away is also stable and secured. Neither well is expected to release any hydrogen sulfide. Evacuation orders remain in place, but many residents have gone back to their homes.

Earthquakes

In the past year, the towns of Anza and Aguanga in California’s ‘Inland Empire’ have experienced 6,913 earthquakes, according to data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey. A vast majority of the seismic events registered at a magnitude of less than 1.0 and likely went unnoticed by most. But in the past month, area residents say they’ve experienced an uptick in seismic activity, causing some to wonder whether this could be a prelude to the Big One. Nestled in between the Elsinore and San Jacinto fault lines, the mountains and valleys in the area are especially prone to seismic activity, but a more pronounced flurry of earthquakes in recent months has brought back attention to the region’s heightened risk.

Weather

The most severe drought to hit the Southwest U.S. in decades continues to grow even worse. Many are already comparing this current crisis to the disastrous Dust Bowl conditions of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In Arizona, 97% of the state is in severe drought, with extreme drought now covering 73% of the state; 16 % of Arizona is classified under exceptional drought, which is the worst drought category.  Agricultural production is down dramatically and major rivers such as the Colorado River and the Rio Grande are drying up. With little precipitation this year, the current drought comes after a prolonged 21-year period of below-average precipitation.

An expansive Plains and Midwest heat wave will begin to break Tuesday after setting dozens of daily record highs and also bringing all-time record heat for the month of May to a few cities. Minneapolis – St. Paul hit the century mark on Monday afternoon. This is the earliest in the year the Twin Cities have hit 100 degrees, and only the second time the cities have hit 100 in May. An all-time record high for the month of May was also set on Monday in Muskegon, Michigan, which topped out at 95 degrees. Numerous other cities also set daily record highs for May 28 on Monday including, Des Moines, Iowa, (98 degrees), Chicago (95 degrees – tie), Kansas City (94 degrees) and Cleveland (93 degrees).

Subtropical Depression Alberto was moving through the Deep South Tuesday, bringing a threat of flash flooding and tornadoes to the Southeast after making landfall along the Florida Panhandle Gulf Coast on Memorial Day. Flood watches continue from the Florida Panhandle through a swath of Alabama, Georgia, the piedmont of the Carolinas, southwest Virginia, much of Tennessee, western and central Kentucky, into parts of southern Illinois and southern Indiana. Rain bands both ahead of and associated with Alberto’s arrival dumped at least 3 inches of rain in six Southeast states. Stuart, Florida, saw the most rainfall with 7.66 inches. Louisville, Georgia recorded 6.1 inches.

For the second time in three years, Ellicott City, Maryland, dealt with extreme flooding Sunday after a half-foot of rain fell in two hours. Multiple water rescues were reported in Howard County, where Ellicott City is the county seat. Officials said one person was missing Monday morning. Much of the city had just finished rebuilding from 2016’s catastrophic flooding that killed two people and submerged the city. On Sunday, water levels peaked even higher than two years ago. Flooding on Main Street in Ellicott City swelled to the point that it almost reached the top of a stop sign.

At least 65 people died amid blistering temperatures and widespread power outages in Karachi, Pakistan, a welfare organization said last Tuesday. According to Pakistan’s state-run Meteorological Department, temperatures in Karachi reached 111 degrees.

Signs of the Times

May 21, 2018

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:6-7)

Bible Museum Visitors Top Half a Million in First Six Months

The Good Book is shaping up to be a good draw on the crowded landscape of museums in the nation’s capital. The Museum of the Bible, the newest tourist attraction near the National Mall, has drawn 565,000 visitors since it opened six months ago, according to museum figures released Thursday, May 17. By comparison, other museums have had a smaller draw in their first half-year. The Broad, a new contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, attracted fewer than 500,000 within six months of its 2015 opening. More than 1,700 groups have visited the high-tech Museum of the Bible, which sits two blocks from the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol, art galleries and other museums. Officials said visitors travel an average of 260 miles to the 430,000-square-foot museum.

President Trump Defunds Planned Parenthood

The Trump administration announced new regulations last Thursday to partially defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses of tens of millions of tax dollars. This is the second time Trump has taken steps to revoke taxpayer funding for the nation’s biggest abortion business. The United States spends about $260 million in Title X funds annually for family planning for low-income individuals, and Planned Parenthood is a huge recipient of those funds, as much as $50-$60 million annually. But under the proposed “Protect Life Rule,” Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses would not receive any of those tax dollars unless they completely separate their abortion business from their taxpayer-funded services, The Washington Examiner reported. “This proposal does not necessarily defund Planned Parenthood, as long as they’re willing to disentangle taxpayer funds from abortion as a method of family planning, which is required by the Title X law,” a Trump administration official said. There are 266 Planned Parenthood abortion facilities that are currently receiving Title X funding.

Christianity Out, Islam In in U.S. Schools

You can’t mention anything about Jesus or Christianity in U.S. public schools, but Islam is not only okay, but promoted. In yet another specific example, seventh-graders at a West Virginia public school were asked to write the Islamic declaration of faith in Arabic calligraphy in a social-studies class, drawing outrage from a Christian parent, reports WorldNetDaily.com. The assignment was included in a packet sent home with students of information about the history of Islam, the prophet Muhammad and the five pillars of the religion. A worksheet instructed students to practice calligraphy by copying by hand the Arabic form of the Shahada, the Islamic profession of faith that declares Allah is the one true god and Muhammad is his messenger.

American Muslims are Losing Their Faith Faster Than Christians

A series of polls from the last few years have revealed that the American Church is hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate — particularly millennials. However, there is another faith community experiencing and even steeper decline – Islam. A Pew survey taken earlier this year shows that, while America’s Muslim population has risen by some 50 percent in the last decade, an astonishing 23 percent of those raised as Muslim no longer identify with that faith. This means that approximately 1 in 4 Muslims in this country will leave their faith. As Michael David puts it at the Catholic Herald, “Americans are un-mosquing at an even faster rate than they are un-churching.” Surprisingly, Pew also found that most of those who are converting to Islam were raised in the Christian faith.

  • Lost in this comparison is the more important end-time trend: the only religion on the rise is Secular Humanism which elevates humanity above God.

64% of Christians Believe Evangelizing is Optional

A new study from the Barna Group has found that Christians are not evangelizing as often as they used to. A revealing change in the statistics between 1993 and today shows that “In 1993, 89 percent of Christians who had shared their faith agreed this is a responsibility of every Christian. Today, just 64 percent say so—a 25-point drop.” The way Christians approach evangelism has also changed over the past 25 years. “The most common approaches, a majority says, are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70 percent) and sharing their faith in the way they live rather than by speaking about it (65 percent),” says the study, which Barna conducted in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries. A majority of Christians 25 years ago reported emphasizing the beneficial aspects of accepting Jesus (78 percent)—a strategy that today is less common today (50 percent).

Maryland Bans ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’ for Minors

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill into law on Tuesday to prohibit health professionals from practicing “gay conversion therapy” on minors, as a growing number of states and municipalities are banning it. Maryland is the 11th state to enact legislation against the practice of trying to alter a person’s sexual orientation through psychological intervention. Supporters of the ban note the therapy is widely discredited by medical and mental health associations. The law will classify the practice as unprofessional conduct. Supporters say the measure will help protect youths from depression, anxiety and potential suicide by preventing them from being forced into such treatment. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington also have laws on the books, as well as the District of Columbia.

  • California is also working on similar legislation

North Korea Threatening to Scuttle Nuclear Meetings

A senior North Korean official warned Wednesday that Pyongyang may cancel its summit meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, if it is going to be pushed into giving up its nuclear arsenal. If the Trump administration pressures Pyongyang to unilaterally abandon its nuclear weapons, North Korea would have to reconsider the summit, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. The news came hours after the North canceled a high-level meeting with South Korean officials that was scheduled for Wednesday, citing a joint military exercise as the reason. KCNA claimed that the U.S. and South Korea’s joint air drill, which began on Friday, was “a bid to make a preemptive airstrike at the DPRK and win the air.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday said it was unclear if his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would still go forward and said he would continue to insist on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Supreme Court Backs Employers Over Workers

The Supreme Court dealt an initial blow to millions of workers Monday in the first of two major disputes this term pitting corporations against labor unions. In a 5-4 decision controlled by the court’s conservative wing, the justices ruled that employers have the right to insist that labor disputes get resolved individually, rather than allowing workers to join together in class action lawsuits. Millions of workers routinely sign such arbitration agreements unknowingly, only to find out later that they are barred from collective action. About 25 million workers are affected by those contracts.  Recently appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the decision, joined by the other four conservatives on the court. “As a matter of policy, these questions are surely debatable,” he said. “But as a matter of law the answer is clear. In the Federal Arbitration Act, Congress has instructed federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms.”

STDs Reach All-Time High in California

The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases in California reached a record high last year and officials are particularly concerned by a spike in stillbirths due to congenital syphilis, state health authorities said last Monday. More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2017, a 45 percent increase from five years ago. Rates of chlamydia are highest among young women, while men account for the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases. If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain. Syphilis can result in blindness, hearing loss and neurologic problems. The figure that caused the greatest alarm for researchers and administrators was 30 stillbirths resulting from congenital syphilis statewide. Los Angeles County alone saw congenital syphilis cases jump from eight in 2013 to 47 last year.

People are Leaving California in Droves

In recent years, the number of people moving away from the state of California has greatly outnumbered the number of people moving into the state.  Reasons for the mass exodus include rising crime, the worst traffic in the western world, a growing homelessness epidemic, influx of immigrants, wildfires, earthquakes and crazy politicians. But for most families, the decision to leave California comes down to one basic factor… money. For a lot of Californians, it simply does not make economic sense to remain in the state any longer.  So over the past decade approximately 5 million people have picked up and moved to another state, and many believe that this trend is going to accelerate if California does not start doing things differently. “The largest socioeconomic segment moving from California is the upper-middle class. The state is home to some of the most burdensome taxes and regulations in the nation. Meanwhile, its social engineering — from green energy to wealth redistribution — have made many working families poorer. As California begins its long decline, the influx outward is picking up in earnest,” writes Kristin Tate in TheHill.com (a website covering politics).

Six States Sue Maker of OxyContin

Attorneys general in six states filed lawsuits Tuesday against the maker of OxyContin and other pain medicines, for what the Texas attorney general called misleading marketing tactics that are fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic. Texas’ lawsuit accuses Purdue Pharma, the privately held manufacturer of OxyContin, of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by aggressively selling its products “when it knew their drugs were potentially dangerous and that its use had a high likelihood of leading to addiction,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee filed similar lawsuits Tuesday against the drug maker with headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. Attorney General Pam Bondi in Florida added four more opioid manufacturers and four distributors to her state’s complaint.

U.S. Birth Rate Plummets to Lowest Level in 30 Years

U.S. birth rates declined last year for women in their teens, 20s and – surprisingly – their 30s, leading to the fewest babies in 30 years, according to a government report released Thursday. Experts said several factors may be combining to drive the declines, including shifting attitudes about motherhood and changing immigration patterns. The survey counted 3.853 million births last year. That’s the lowest tally since 1987. Births have been declining since 2014, but 2017 saw the greatest year-to-year drop – about 92,000 less than the previous year. That was surprising, because baby booms often parallel economic booms, and last year was a period of low unemployment and a growing economy. Millennials may be more inclined to put off child-bearing or have fewer children, researchers said. Asians are making up a larger proportion of immigrants, and they have typically had fewer children than other immigrant groups. Also, use of IUDs and other long-acting forms of contraception has been increasing.

Economic News

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States. The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed “to survive in the modern economy,” says the report. California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%. Many of these people are the nation’s child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings

For nearly a decade, Americans have benefited from a magical trio of cheap loans, low prices and soaring stocks. It’s been a bevy of mortgage rates below 4%, cheap gas and double-digit investment returns. But now, nine years into the economic expansion, the Federal Reserve is raising benchmark interest rates, which means more expensive auto loans and mortgages. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has crept to a four-year high above 4.5%, still historically low but higher than the 3.25% a year ago. Gas prices this summer are expected to be the highest in four years. Bank of America forecasts global oil prices to top $100 a barrel next year which may cause gas prices to soon exceed $3/gallon on average nationwide. And the stock market is down over 10% since record highs in January.

Delinquent subprime auto-loans are now higher than they were in the last recession. While that recession was primarily caused by sub-prime real estate loans, the growing problem of sub-prime auto loans represents a major crack in the foundation of the U.S. economy. Thanks to the Federal Reserve, a near decade of zero-interest rate policies and three rounds of Quantitative Easing (which totaled over $3.8 trillion in printed money), consumers became hooked on cheap auto loans. Now that interest rates are rising, the squeeze is on – despite an overall economy that (on the surface) appears to be doing quite well.

Silicon Valley is targeting finance as the next industry ripe for disruption. In the not-too-distant-future, Amazon could let customers zap each other cash with Alexa, and then deposit the money in an Amazon-branded checking account. Apple is reportedly on the verge of launching a joint credit card with Goldman Sachs that would carry the Apple Pay brand. And Facebook just formed a team to explore the power of blockchain that could include creating its own cryptocurrency for payments. Big Tech’s experiment with finance is aimed at deepening relationships with customers — especially younger ones — making it less likely they’ll go through the hassle of taking their business elsewhere.

Middle East

Right on cue, the world has condemned Israel for the recent violence on its border with Gaza – just as Hamas scripted. “The terrorist organization recruits and sends its young men on suicide missions. Israel responds with the expected force. The media reports the events along anti-Israel lines. Then the nations of the world rise up to condemn evil Israel,” notes Dr. Michael L. Brown in OneNewsNow.com. David Friedman, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said, “”There’s a reason why Hamas sends impressionable kids to the front, telling them that the border is safe to cross. They want them to be killed or injured, to make the front page of the paper.” It doesn’t seem to matter to the media that Hamas has admitted that more than 80 percent of those killed on Monday were Hamas members. Nor does it matter that the dead baby seen with grieving mother, did not die at the hands of the IDF. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is now calling on the Islamic world to unite against Israel. And here in the West, celebrities are condemning evil Israel once again. However, the Trump Administration in the U.S. blamed Hamas for the deaths of 58 Palestinian rioters and the wounding of hundreds more in a series of violent incidents along the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip

  • End-time persecution of Israel is another key end-time marker

The U.S. and several Gulf countries have placed new anti-terror sanctions on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror organization, adding pressure to fight the group’s global financial network. The US Treasury Department stated Wednesday that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf nations are slapping sanctions on Hezbollah’s senior leadership. The sanctions are being coordinated by a US-Gulf partnership called the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center (TFTC), which was formed last May. Ten officials were hit with the sanctions, including Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy, Naim Qassem. The Arab League branded Hezbollah a terror organization in November 2017. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized the Trump administration’s commitment to working with all the Gulf nations to ensure that sanctions are “fully enforced” and to prevent their financial systems from being exploited by terrorists.

Israel

Paraguay moved its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, just days after the U.S. and Guatemala made the same move. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Paraguay’s decades-long support of the Jewish people, including helping Jews escape Nazi Germany, Paraguay’s support of the creation of the State of Israel and its recognition of the State of Israel in the United Nations. Wednesday morning, in offices on the third floor of a high-rise office building in the Malha Technological Park in Jerusalem, the embassy of Guatemala to Israel was inaugurated. “This is the beginning of something extraordinary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. In addition to the U.S., Guatemala and Paraguay, a number of other countries have expressed interest in moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, among them Honduras, the Czech Republic and Romania.

As Israel celebrates its 70th year of independence, its population is booming. When modern Israel was founded in 1948, its population numbered only about 806,000. Today that figure has grown ten-fold to 8.8 million. In 1948 Israel only had one major city with a population exceeding 100,000, Tel Aviv. Today it has more than 14 such cities, and Jerusalem is its most populous city with 865,700 inhabitants. Over the last year, 28,000 new immigrants have arrived in Israel.

Iran

The U.S. will aim to “crush” Iran with economic and military pressure unless it changes its behavior in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday. Pompeo said the U.S. will work to counter Tehran’s activities and curb its influence in the Middle East and make sure that it never gains a nuclear weapon. In exchange for a change in behavior, Pompeo said the U.S. would be willing to end sanctions, re-establish commercial relationships and allow it to have advanced technology. Pompeo issued a steep list of demands Monday that he said should be included in a nuclear treaty with Iran to replace the Obama-era deal. He said Iran must “stop enrichment” of uranium, which was allowed within strict limitations under the 2015 deal. Iran must also allow nuclear “unqualified access to all sites throughout the country,” Pompeo said, alluding to military sites that were off-limits under the 2015 deal except under specific circumstances.

  • European firms have started pulling back investment and abandoning commitments in Iran, responding to the decision last week to reimpose broad American sanctions on Tehran by year end.

Iraq

Moktada al-Sadr, a firebrand militia leader whose forces once battled American troops in Iraq and were implicated in widespread atrocities against civilians, has emerged as the surprise front-runner in the Iraqi national elections, according to Iraqi election officials. After American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Mr. Sadr remained vocally anti-American, though he has also been strongly critical of Iran, the other foreign power with widespread influence here. The victory of Mr. Sadr’s political coalition could complicate the American strategy in Iraq. The American military has been training, sharing intelligence and planning missions with former militias in the country, gambling that their military partnership can keep the Islamic State from making a comeback here. Mr. Sadr has been highly critical of American airstrikes in the country against the Islamic State, though he has said little recently about his willingness to allow American troops to remain on Iraqi soil.

China

After weeks of tensions, China and the United States have reached a ceasefire. Both sides this weekend said they had agreed to not impose new tariffs on one another while talks continue, after reaching an initial agreement on trade. In a joint statement on Saturday, the countries said China would “significantly increase” purchases of U.S. goods and services to reduce their trade imbalance. This was a top demand of the Trump administration during two days of trade talks in Washington with Chinese officials. “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Environment

An ozone-eating chemical that has been banned for years is mysteriously on the rise again in the atmosphere, scientists say. In 1987, countries around the world agreed to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) under the Montreal Protocol after scientists concluded that the chemicals were depleting the protective ozone layer of the atmosphere. The ban worked and the size of the developing hole over the South Pole began to shrink. But, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, there has been a 25 percent increase of emissions of CFCs. While countries have reported nearly zero emissions of the chemical since 2006, the researchers found that roughly 14,300 tons a year of CFC-11 has been released since 2013. CFCs are primarily used to make foam, degrease stains and for refrigeration.

Humans are dramatically altering water supply in many places worldwide, say NASA scientists who have been tracking regional changes via satellite. The researchers analyzed 14 years of data from NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, which the space agency has dubbed GRACE. They studied areas with large increases or decreases in freshwater — including water stored in aquifers, ice, lakes, rivers, snow and soil — to determine the most likely causes of these changes. In 14 areas, the scientists associated the water shifts partially or largely with human activity. That included groundwater depletion and drought in Southern California, the southern Great Plains from Kansas to the Texas Panhandle, the northern Middle East, northern Africa, southern Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Many areas where researchers saw direct human effects are farming regions that have relied heavily on groundwater pumping, including northern India, the North China Plain and parts of Saudi Arabia.

A new study reports that human activities — such as city sprawl, road construction and farming — are wreaking havoc on some 2.3 million square miles of protected land worldwide, an area about twice the size of Alaska. Forests, parks and conservation areas around the globe are all seeing human impacts, with protected areas in Asia, Europe and Africa — places with massive human populations — seeing some of the worst effects. The study appeared Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science. “Governments are claiming these places are protected for the sake of nature when in reality they aren’t,” said co-author James Watson of the University of Queensland in Australia. “It is a major reason why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, despite more and more land being protected over the past few decades.”

Volcanoes

Hawaii’s Big Island was rocked early Thursday morning by an explosive eruption at the Kilauea Volcano, which sent ash and debris shooting some 30,000 feet into the air and prompted emergency officials to urge everyone near the peak to shelter in place. The flow of lava was “very active” Saturday morning, advancing at rates of up to 300 yards per hour after the 22nd fissure opened up and destroyed four more homes. The lava has destroyed a total of 40 structures, 28 of which were homes. A man was seriously injured Saturday when he was hit with lava spatter while standing on his third-floor balcony — the first known injury related to Kilauea’s volcano eruptions. Lava destroyed four more homes and isolated dozens of others in the shadow of the volcano Saturday during a “very active” morning.

The fiery flow shut down parts of Highway 137 after molten rock piled up 20 feet high across the roadway, cutting off a key roadway for thousands who have few options to get to and from their homes. It then entered the Pacific Ocean, forming lava haze, or “laze,” as the hot lava hit the ocean. Residents were warned to stay away from any ocean plumes, as laze sends steam and hydrochloric acid peppered with fine glass particles into the air. Four people were evacuated by helicopter from a rural subdivision on Friday. Earthquakes continued to rattle roads and buildings at the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, and authorities said they were prepared to evacuate hundreds of people who might be cut off if the infrastructure gets damaged any further.

Wildfires

A catastrophic wildfire season has persisted for weeks in Siberia and Russia’s Far East, during which hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed, and the flames have even invaded some inhabited areas. The fires marched across the land, burning everything in their path – including some roads and fields in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where more than 250,000 people live, according to the Siberian Times. The fires have burned for more than a month outside the city, and Komsomolsk-on-Amur’s residents have grown impatient by what they say has been a lack of resources dedicated to fighting the blaze.

Weather

Powerful storms roared through the Northeast last week, spawning nine tornadoes and killing at least five people and leaving thousands of homes and businesses without power. All of the five people were killed by trees falling on their vehicles, including two in Connecticut, one in Pennsylvania and two in upstate New York. The storms downed numerous trees and power lines across the region. Lightning strikes led to structure fires in New Jersey and Massachusetts and upstate New York experienced baseball-size hail. Damage to train tracks from severe weather forced the closure of MARC’s Brunswick Line service in Maryland. Dozens of roads flooded and washed out in the mid-Atlantic on Friday. A woman was found dead in the North Carolina mountains over the weekend after heavy rainfall triggered flooding and mudslides. Flights were delayed and roads were flooded in Florida Sunday as heavy rain battered parts of the Sunshine State. Several vehicles in Hollywood, Florida, became stalled in standing water, which reached up to two feet deep in some areas.

At least 16 people died as Tropical Cyclone Sagar pounded the Middle East and eastern Africa over the weekend, making history as the strongest tropical storm ever recorded in Somalia. The deadly storm destroyed the homes of at least 80 families and left nearly 1,800 displaced. The emergency center of Yemen’s Health Ministry reported that flash flooding caused sewage to pour into the streets of the city of Aden.

Last month marked the planet’s 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures, federal scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. “We live in and share a world that is unequivocally, appreciably and consequentially warmer than just a few decades ago, and our world continues to warm,” said NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt. NOAA’s analysis found last month to be the 3rd-warmest April on record globally. The unusual heat was most noteworthy in Europe, which had its warmest April on record, and Australia, which had its second-warmest.

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

Signs of the Times

May 14, 2018

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (1Timothy 1:7)

U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Celebrated Monday

Monday’s inauguration of the controversial new location of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv has sparked Palestinian outrage. But, for all the commotion over President Trump’s announcement to move the embassy from Tel Aviv, the operation involves few changes to the current U.S. consular compound in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona — other than new street signs and a plaque marking the status change of the stone building. The move’s initial phase includes relocating U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and a small group of staff to the Arnona site, modifying the compound for his future office and additional security. Total cost: about $400,000, the embassy said. Most of the 850 embassy workers in Tel Aviv will not move to Jerusalem until a new building is constructed, which could take up to nine years. About 800 guests are expected to attend Monday’s ceremony, including members of Congress. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will lead the U.S. delegation, along with Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; and U.S. Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over a reception Sunday evening to mark both the culmination of “Jerusalem Day” and the imminent opening of the U.S. Embassy in the capital. “President Donald Trump is making history,” Netanyahu said, with the U.S. President’s daughter Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner sitting at a table nearby. “We are deeply grateful, and our people will be eternally grateful, for his bold decision.”
  • Dozens of Palestinians were killed along Israel’s border with Gaza on Monday as violent demonstrations grew even more deadly amid Israeli celebrations marking the U.S. Embassy’s contentious move here from Tel Aviv. At least 50 Palestinians dead, 2400 wounded as rioters set fires, hurl pipe bombs over embassy move. The demonstrations are part of a weeks-long protest, dubbed the Great March of Return, to mark 70 years since Palestinians were forced to leave when Israel was established on May 15, 1948. The embassy move has particularly outraged Palestinians who have long hoped to establish a capital themselves in the city’s eastern sector. But Israeli and U.S. officials were determined not to let the violence diminish the embassy celebration.

Trump Pulls Out of Iran Nuclear Deal, Reimposes Sanctions

President Trump’s decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran and end the United States’ participation in the 2015 nuclear deal forces U.S. allies in Europe, China, Russia and Iran to decide what to do next. The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had lifted most U.S. and international sanctions on Tehran as certain restrictions were placed on Iran’s nuclear program. Trump said Tuesday that the deal is a “horrible, one-sided deal” that “didn’t bring peace” and “never will.” It will take some time to set the regulatory scheme that would be required to re-impose sanctions. The practical effect of not issuing the waivers is to put banks, businesses and purchasers of Iranian crude oil on notice that in the next 180 days, before November, they have to either stop importing Iranian crude oil or make significant reductions of up to 20%. The European Union said Tuesday it plans to protect companies if Trump pulls out of the deal. New sanctions on Iranian oil exports would put a dent in global supply and could cause prices to spike. They’ve already soared 13% in a month, to their highest level in three years.

Trump Gives Hero Welcome to Released North Korean Hostages

Three Americans held captive for more than a year in North Korea arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington well before dawn Thursday to a hero’s welcome featuring President Trump, Vice President Pence and first lady Melania Trump. The president and first lady boarded the plane, while Pence, his wife, Karen, and Pompeo waited on the tarmac. Then Trump emerged followed by the three men who raised their arms in triumph and relief as they exited the plane. And after the three shook hands with the other U.S. officials, Trump led the group toward the assembled media. Speaking through an interpreter, Kim Dong-chul told reporters that if felt “like a dream. We are very, very happy.” Asked how they were treated in North Korea, he replied: “We were treated in many different ways. Me, I had to do a lot of labor, but when I got sick, I was also treated by them.” All three appeared to be in reasonably good health. The summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un is expected to take place June 12 in Singapore. “We’re starting off on a new footing,” Trump said. “This is a wonderful thing that he released these folks early.”

  • North Korea has scheduled a “ceremony” to dismantle its nuclear testing site on May 23-25 ahead of President Donald Trump’s summit with leader Kim Jong Un next month.

U.S. Trails Russia and China in Hypersonic Weapon Technology

Hypersonic missiles theoretically can hit any target around the world in one hour — while evading the most modern of missile defense systems. The Russians on Wednesday paraded one in Red Square, and China is aggressively pursuing a development program for its own variant. The Pentagon finds itself in an unfamiliar place: trailing its two main military rivals in cutting-edge military technology and scrambling to catch up. Top U.S. military brass, past and present, have touted the weapon’s speed and versatility as a viable alternative to the nuclear bomb — the only other weapon in the American arsenal that can travel as far and fast as a hypersonic missile. But after numerous test and design failures, Pentagon support faded for hypersonics and development of a Prompt Global Strike missile, and resources were shifted toward other efforts such as long-range missile defense systems and next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles. The combination of high speed, maneuverability and relatively low altitude makes hypersonics challenging targets for missile defense systems,

Parkland Shooter Casts Shadow over Obama-Era Discipline Directive

Broward County school officials bolstered the case against the Obama-era discipline directive by admitting — after months of emphatic denials — that the confessed Parkland shooter was referred to a program designed to keep youths out of the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The disclosure came as another hit to the district’s credibility and reignited criticism of the Promise program, a progressive protocol emphasizing counseling over suspensions, as a precursor to the Obama administrations’ hotly disputed 2014 discipline guidance. Ryan Petty, the father of shooting victim Alaina Petty, called the disclosure a “stunning revelation.” He argued that the district’s discipline protocols created “perverse incentives” and “deadly chaos for our children, teachers & staff.”

California Passes Law Making Solar Panels Mandatory on New Homes

California has become the first state in the nation to mandate solar panels for all new homes, in a move to cut greenhouse gas emissions that critics say will end up raising home prices in the already expensive market. In a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday, the California Energy Commission approved the policy. The regulation will require all homes and apartments built after 2020 to have solar panels, adding an average of roughly $10,000 to construction costs for a single-family home. On the flip side, the commission says, the panels could yield much more in energy savings. New homes would be expected to reduce energy use by more than 50 percent.

More Americans are Depressed

New data from insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield says major depression among Americans is on the rise. The report released Thursday finds more than 9 million commercially insured people in the U.S. suffer from major depression, a 33% jump from 2013 through 2016. Millennials and teenagers have experienced even faster rates of depression. According to the data, it’s up 47% for millennials and 63% for teens. The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come. One potential factor for the quick jump in major depression rates among teens and kids is increased screen time. Last year, a study from researchers at San Diego State and Florida State universities found nearly half of teens who spent five or more hours daily in front of electronic device screens experienced thoughts of suicide or prolonged periods of hopelessness or sadness.

Pedestrian Deaths in U.S. Way Up

Pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. have skyrocketed 46% since 2009, creating an emerging public health crisis as researchers grasp to understand the reasons. The increases far outpace growth in overall traffic deaths, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles on or along America’s roads in 2016, the latest year for which numbers are available. In 2016, pedestrians accounted for 16% of traffic deaths; in 2007, that figure was just 11%, according to NHTSA. Distraction behind the wheel, texting while walking and even marijuana legalization have all been suggested as potential culprits in past research.

Churchgoers Say Gifts to Charity, Needy Count as Tithing

Most Protestant churchgoers believe that giving 10 percent of their income is a biblical requirement they should follow but they define the practice of tithing in a variety of ways, a new survey shows. About half say they can give their tithes to a Christian ministry instead of a church. One in 3 say tithes can go to help a person who is in need. And more than 1 in 6 say their funds can go to a secular charity. For many churchgoers, tithing is just another term for generosity,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn., of the findings released Thursday (May 10). Pastors are less likely than people in the pews to view tithing as a continuing biblical command. While 83 percent of churchgoers say tithing is a current requirement, 72 percent of pastors agree. Pastors who affirm that tithing is a biblical command don’t agree on how to define it. More than half (56 percent) say it should be one-tenth of an individual’s gross income. Seventeen percent say it should be one-tenth of net income. Eleven percent say it is “whatever amount a person regularly sets aside to give” and 7 percent say it is “whatever amount a person actually gives.”

Economic News

The federal government took in a record tax haul in April enroute to its biggest-ever monthly budget surplus, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday, as a surging economy left Americans with more money to spend and more taxes to be collected. All told the government collected $515 billion and spent $297 billion, for a total monthly surplus of $218 billion. That swamped the previous monthly record of $190 billion, set in 2001. Analysts said they’ll have a better idea of what’s behind the surge as more information rolls in, but for now said it looks like individual taxpayers are paying more because they have higher incomes.

U.S. consumer prices increased modestly in April, pointing to a steady buildup of inflation that will likely keep the Federal Reserve on a path of gradual monetary policy tightening. In the 12 months through April, the Consumer Price Index increased 2.5 percent, the biggest gain since February 2017, after rising 2.4 percent in the comparable period in March. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI edged up 0.1 percent after two straight monthly increases of 0.2 percent. The so-called core CPI rose 2.1 percent year-on-year in April, matching March’s increase. Gasoline prices increased 3% in March and are continuing their upward climb in lockstep with the increases in crude oil prices. Price pressures could also get a boost from a tightening labor market. Other data on Thursday showed new applications for unemployment benefits holding near more than a 48-year low last week.

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Labor has announced that the number of job openings matches the number of unemployed people. This means that at least on paper, there is a job available for every single American worker — a situation that has never occurred since these statistics began being tracked. “The Labor Department reported Tuesday there were 6.6 million job openings in March, a record high — and enough for the 6.6 million Americans who were actively looking for a job that month,” the Washington Post reported. “The jobless rate for African Americans and Hispanic Americans is at an all-time low,” the Post added.

President Trump proposed canceling $15 billion in federal spending on Tuesday, relying on a rarely used budget maneuver to ease deficit concerns raised by conservative Republicans. The Trump administration has been working for weeks with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on the “rescission” package, which would claw back billions Congress set aside but that federal agencies never spent. Describing the package as the single-largest rescission proposal in U.S. history, a White House official said Monday that more than 30 programs would be cut overall if Congress approves the measure. The cuts include a $4 billion reduction in a loan program intended to improve vehicle technology that officials said has not been used since 2011. However, nearly half of those cuts — $7 billion — would come from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a safety-net program for low-income families that has enjoyed bipartisan support.

Maryland’s Obamacare insurers are asking for a 30 percent average rate increase for 2019, with some plans seeking hikes as high as 91 percent. The proposals Monday come a few days after Virginia insurers also called for double-digit rate increases. Maryland Obamacare insurers CareFirst, BlueCross, and BlueShield plan to raise rates for an HMO plan on the law’s exchanges by 18 percent, and 91 percent for an extended network, or PPO, plan. Kaiser Permanente, the state’s other Obamacare insurer, asked for a rate increase of 37 percent, according to a state filing. The rates must be approved by the state and must be finalized before open enrollment starts Nov. 1.

Newly-released federal data on mortgage lending from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows people with low- and moderate-incomes made up only 26.3% of borrowers in 2017, down from 36.6% in 2009. In part, that’s due to federal rules that sought to crack down on the subprime lending tactics that helped bring on the financial crisis. Also, skyrocketing housing costs have locked many people of modest means out of the market. But the data reveals another profound shift. Big banks are moving away from mortgage lending entirely, while independent mortgage companies — or “non-banks” — pick up the slack. “Non-bank” is a catchall term for financial institutions that don’t take deposits. Non-bank mortgage lenders just do mortgage lending, for example. In a time of low interest rates and higher regulatory costs, traditional banks have the option of moving into more profitable ventures, like credit cards.

U.S. household sentiment dropped last week to the lowest level since early February as views of the buying climate and personal finances dimmed, possibly reflecting higher fuel prices and unimpressive wage growth, this week’s Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index showed. The weekly comfort index declined to 55.8 from 56.5; down 2.3 points in last three weeks, most since September. Americans are growing more unsettled amid the highest gasoline prices since November 2014, as well as modest wage growth despite the lowest unemployment rate since 2000.

Middle East

Israel and Iran reached the brink of full-scale war Thursday as the Islamic Republic’s unprovoked rocket attack on soldiers in the Golan Heights gave way to an unprecedented Israeli counter-strike that targeted nearly all Iranian infrastructure inside Syria. Israel claims it struck almost all of Iran’s military capabilities in Syria after what it says was an Iranian missile attack on the Golan Heights. The scale of Israeli rocket fire appeared to be far higher than in previous incidents. Tensions between Israel and Iran have threatened to spill over in Syria, where the Iranian military and allied Shi’ite militia are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against rebels seeking to oust him. Israel has acknowledged carrying out over 100 airstrikes over the past seven years, most believed to be aimed at Iranian weapons shipments bound for the Hezbollah militant group.

Iran

Iran says it is ready to restart its nuclear program on an “industrial scale” in the wake of the decision by US President Donald Trump to abandon the deal that curbs the country’s nuclear ambitions. In a statement published Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he would embark on a round of international diplomacy to try and save the deal. At the same time, the country would make preparations to restart its program of nuclear enrichment. Zarif’s comments came as thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the largest demonstration since US President Donald Trump announced his decision to abandon the deal on Tuesday. Protesters burned an American flag and railed against the US and Israel after emerging from Friday prayers in Tehran.

  • According to research from the Middle East Media Research Institute, the president’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran has won broad support from Saudi Arabia. The report also noted that Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain likewise released similar announcements in support of President Trump.

Islamic State

At least five senior Islamic State officials have been captured in a three-month operation by Iraqi and American intelligence that involved phone apps and the breaking of secret bank accounts and communication codes. The New York Times, citing two unidentified Iraqi officials, reported that the five included Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi, who is described as a top aide to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the secretive leader of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate that he declared in 2014. He remains on the run. After weeks of interrogation, Ithawi was persuaded to contact several of his ISIS colleagues and lure them across the border. Iraqi agents used the Telegram messaging app on Ithawi’s mobile phone to draw the others into the trap. Also arrested were Saddam al-Jammel, a Syrian who had governed the Islamic State territory around Deir al-Zour, and Abu Abdel al-Haq, an Iraqi who had been the head of internal security for ISIS.

Indonesia

A family of six suicide bombers — including two young children — carried out deadly attacks on three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city on Sunday, police said. National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said the father exploded a car bomb, two sons ages 18 and 16 used a motorcycle for their attack, and the mother was with daughters ages 12 and 9 for her attack. It was one of the worst attacks on the Muslim nation’s Christian minority. At least seven people plus the six bombers died in the attacks in Surabaya. About 41 people were injured. The bombings were the worst to target churches in Indonesia since a series of attacks on Christmas Eve in 2000 killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. Religious minorities in Indonesia, especially Christians, have been repeatedly targeted by Islamic militants. The attacks, which included the use of children as suicide bombers, were spurred on by recent arrests of leaders of pro-Islamic State cells.

Afghanistan

Insurgent attacks have killed 252 Afghan troops during the past week and wounded about 400 others. The Taliban insurgency launched its annual “spring offensive” about two weeks ago. This was the first time in many months officials have reported casualty numbers for Afghan forces. The ministers told lawmakers that, since the end of April, Afghan forces have inflicted heavy casualties on the armed opposition, killing about 800 insurgents and wounding 500 others. They say more than 2,600 insurgent attacks were plotted against Afghan military and police forces, but that nearly 70 percent of them were foiled. The Taliban’s offensive has led to a sharp escalation in battlefield attacks and suicide bombings, which have become routine during the warmer months of the 17-year war.

France

The knife-wielding attacker who went on a stabbing rampage in Paris, killing one person and wounding four more, was born in Russia’s Chechnya region, a judicial source said. The attacker was shot dead by police after stabbing five people in a popular tourist district near the Paris opera house Saturday night. During the attack, he yelled the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is great,” city prosecutor François Molins said. He was on a police anti-terror watch list of people suspected of having radicalized views and posing a potential security risk, though had no criminal record. n a statement published online, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the assailant a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

Nigeria

About 1,000 hostages were reportedly freed by the Nigerian army on Monday after a week-long battle with Boko Haram in which 50 militants were killed. The operation, which began April 28, is still ongoing. Those rescued are mainly women and children, as well as some young men who had been forced to become Boko Haram fighters. The captives were rescued in Borno state, in northeastern Nigeria, the army said. The operation was conducted in conjunction with Cameroonian and Nigerian troops of the Multinational Joint Task Force.

Kenya

At least 44 people died and 40 were left missing after a dam burst its banks Wednesday night in Kenya’s Rift Valley, and 20 of the victims were children. Water rushed downhill after the Patel Dam broke in Solai, Nakuru County, sweeping away hundreds of homes. It’s the latest tragedy in a country that has been swamped by flooding for much of the spring. About 170 people have died in flooding and mudslides since the beginning of April. The floods hit as the East African nation was recovering from a severe drought

Environment

The United States is losing trees by the millions each year as deforestation continues at a blistering pace in metropolitan areas. A study, published in the May edition of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, discovered U.S. metropolitan areas are losing some 36 million trees every year to deforestation, equivalent in size to more than 208 Central Parks. Urban areas are growing as more people migrate back into cities. Not only are cities expanding and more trees are being cut down to make room for the demand, but green spaces inside those cities are also being removed. It’s all helping to enhance the urban heat island effect, which has become such a problem in a warming world that leaders are taking extreme measures, like painting streets white in Los Angeles to counter the rising temperatures inside the city.

Volcanoes

Scientists warn that Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano is on the verge of a new explosion that could send ash, steam and sulfur dioxide spewing from the summit crater and toss six-foot wide boulders as far as a half-mile away in all directions. Two new fissures opened on Hawaii’s Big Island Saturday, spewing lava and fueling fears of violent explosions more than a week after the Kilauea volcano erupted. Nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated since the Kilauea volcano erupted May 3. The 17th fissure, a crack on the ground through which lava pours out, was about a mile east of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, where officials removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquids due to safety concerns. Lava shot hundreds of feet into the air as the 18th fissure opened on private property early Sunday morning. So far, at least 37 structures – 28 of which are homes – have been destroyed.

Earthquakes

Residents of Southern California were jolted awake early Tuesday morning as a 4.5 magnitude earthquake was felt by millions. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the tremor struck at 4:49 a.m. PDT Tuesday morning at a depth of about 8.5 miles. The epicenter was located nearly 7 miles north of Cabazon, a town of about 2,500 located 90 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. No injuries or damage were reported. It’s the second earthquake to be felt by residents in the area in just over a month; a 5.3 magnitude temblor struck just off the coast April 5th.

Volcanoes

After nearly a full day of quiet, when lava retreated, and residents were allowed to return to their Hawaii homes to gather belongings, evacuations were ordered yet again as two new fissures opened up and spewed lava Tuesday, threatening additional homes near the Kilauea Volcano. In the Leilani Estates neighborhood, where most of the 1,700 evacuees reside, a total of 14 fissures have opened in the ground – two of which formed Tuesday afternoon. Thirty-six structures and several vehicles have been destroyed since the volcanic eruptions began May 3rd. Residents of Hawaii’s Big Island remain on edge following a warning from scientists Thursday that the Kilauea volcano is on the verge of a new explosion.

Indonesia’s most active volcano erupted again Friday morning, sending ash and smoke more than three miles into the sky. Anyone living within 3.1 miles of the erupting volcano was ordered to evacuate, fleeing either to shelters or other locations. No injuries or deaths have been reported following the blast. Adi Sucipto airport in Yogyakarta was closed for about one hour due to the spread of volcanic ash. The 9,737-foot mountain between Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces is the most active of 500 Indonesian volcanoes. Its last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the evacuation of 20,000 villagers.

Wildfires

Crews were able to get forward progress stopped on the Viewpoint Fire around 1630, Friday, May 11th. The fire started around 11am on May 11th and grew fast due to the dry fuels and gusty winds. The fire burned 5,100 acres before crews had control of the fast-moving fire. It destroyed 2 primary homes Poquito Valley-area. Twelve other structures were lost in the fire as well as 4 RV trailers and 6 vehicles. More than 250 fire personnel, along with a VLAT and other aircraft, assisted in fire suppression efforts. The fire is 80% contained as of Sunday morning.

Weather

Flooding in eastern Washington prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency Saturday for several counties. Rain and snowmelt have led to severe flooding in dozens of counties and is expected to worsen this week. Continued higher temperatures are predicted to increase snowmelt and cause additional flooding as rivers and streams continue to rise to record or near record levels. A western Montana river officially reached major flood stage this past Thursday for just the sixth time since records began, and the water is now expected to rise to the second-highest level on record as snowmelt and rainfall create problems for residents in Missoula. It is now in major flood stage above the town of more than 70,000 for the first time since 1981. The river is expected to crest Saturday above 14 feet, a level it hasn’t reached in 110 years.

At least 43 people have died as powerful storms swept northern India, demolishing houses, uprooting trees as winds turned the skies brown with dust and sand Sunday. More storms are expected in the region this week.. Most of the recent deaths occurred when wind and falling trees caused buildings to collapse, leaving people buried in the wreckage. These storms are not unusual at this time of the year officials said. “But the wind speed this year is a bit abnormal.”

Signs of the Times

May 7, 2018

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

North Korea Releases U.S. Detainees

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has released three U.S. citizens detained for years in his horrific prison camps, surrendering to another of President Trump’s demands in advance of a planned historic summit between the two leaders whose countries have long been adversaries. The three men —  Kim Hak-Song, also known as Jin Xue Song; Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang-Duk; and Kim Dong-Chul — were arrested on a variety of supposed anti-state crimes. However, the series of concessions by Mr. Kim, from agreeing to a goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula to freeing the three Americans, has not calmed fears among Mr. Trump’s critics that he will “wing it” in the talks and potentially empower the communist regime in Pyongyang. The president’s combative style and the maneuvering by his team from the National Security Council and State Department have reaped early wins, but they are still far from getting Mr. Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. “We’re in the beginning stages of the work, and the outcome is certainly yet unknown,” said Secretary of State. Pompeo, a former CIA chief.

  • Christians in South Korea have been fasting and praying for this very peace summit. In Paju, a city just south of the North Korean border, pastors held an all-night vigil and South Korean Christian politicians also fasted and prayed.

Iowa Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Most Restrictive Abortion Ban

The Republican-led legislature in Iowa passed the Heartbeat Bill that Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law Monday. It is the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban. It forbids doctors from performing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. In many cases, that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they’re expecting. Right now, Iowa bars most abortions after 20 weeks, already making it one the most restrictive states. But Senate File 359, or the “heartbeat bill,” ups the ante. And it’s most certainly going to be challenged in court, opponents say. In 2013, North Dakota passed a similar law that banned abortions after six weeks. The case made its way to the US Supreme Court, where it was blocked permanently. Lawmakers who support the “heartbeat bill” hope it does lead to a legal battle that winds its way to the highest court of the land. Emboldened by the court’s makeup, they think it will help overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the Supreme Court that legalized the right to an abortion in all 50 states.

Doctor Advised Mother to Abort Twins–She Refused, Now Top Grads

Doctors advised mother Heather Garrity to abort her twin babies, but she refused. Now, the identical twin boys are graduating at the top of their class and have a bright future. tA 22-weeks pregnant, doctors told Garrity that her twin boys were suffering from twin-twin transfusion syndrome, a serious medical condition that occurs when identical twins share a placenta and one becomes dehydrated while the other develops high blood pressure and produces too much urine. Despite this diagnosis, Garrity refused to abort her babies. Now, at 18, twins Ethan and Dominic overcame the twin-twin transfusion syndrome and went on to be healthy and accomplished children. Both boys are on the football team at their school, Nevada Union High School, and both have their prospects set on some of America’s top colleges.

U.S. Teachers Struggle with Stagnant Pay, Retirement Rules & Student Debt

Teacher protests in Colorado follow similar rallies, walkouts and teacher strikes in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Teachers across the country cite underfunded classrooms, stagnant pay and changes in retirement programs as reasons for the growing frustration. Also on teacher’s minds: Crushing student loan debt. The combination of rising college costs and a starting salary that is lower-than-average for college graduates can put new teachers in a financial bind. The national average public school starting teacher salary for 2016-17 was $38,617, according to the National Education Association. That falls far below the overall average starting salary of $50,359 for a bachelor’s degree graduate across all fields. About 70% of college graduates have student loan debt. The average amount owed was $30,100 per borrower, For a 10-year loan with a 6% interest rate, the monthly payment would be about $334. That would represent about 10% of monthly pay for a public-school teacher earning the average starting salary.

As Chicago Weather Warms, 81 People Shot

At least 81 people have been shot in the nation’s third-largest from last Monday through Sunday, a troubling uptick of violence for a city that has seen some recent success in reducing shooting incidents. The surge in violence, which includes four people who have been fatally shot, comes as Chicago Police Department officials have expressed optimism in recent months that gun violence was on the downward trend in a city that tallied more than 1,400 homicides in 2016 and 2017 combined. Chicago recorded a 22.3% reduction in murders and a 26.5% decline in shooting incidents for the first four months of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017, according to police department data.

Active Shooting Incidents Set Record Last Year

The violence last year helped break two grim records when it comes to active shooters: the most incidents and the most people killed in any one year since at least 2000, the first year the FBI has data on the subject. In 2017, there were 30 active shooting incidents throughout the nation. A total of 138 were killed in the shootings, the first time a death toll has risen above 90 for a single year. The highest death toll recorded before last year was in 2012 when 90 people were killed. An active shooter is defined by the FBI as someone actively killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. This data is not just mass shootings, which is the killing of three or more people. The data also doesn’t include drug and gang-related shootings that appeared targeted.

Students in 400 Schools Walk Out to Support 2nd Amendment

Thousands of students in as many as 400 schools are walked out of their classes Wednesday to join 16-minute rallies in support of the Second Amendment. The national walkout was organized by high-school senior Will Riley, 18, who attends Carlsbad High School in New Mexico. Riley told Fox News he believes the national gun walkout on March 14 was depicted by the media as a “united front from my generation and for my generation” in favor of increased gun control. That’s a myth I want to dispel.”

Caravan of Migrants from Central America Being Processed

All but 10 members of a caravan of migrants that traveled through Mexico from Central America have turned themselves into U.S. border officers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego to apply for asylum, organizers said Friday. An additional 70 presented themselves on Friday after spending five nights camped outside the gate in Tijuana. A total of 228 migrants from caravan have now turned themselves in to U.S. border officers, according to organizers. The 10 remaining may wait outside the gate in Tijuana to turn themselves in on Saturday. To qualify to apply for asylum, each migrant must pass an interview by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer to determine whether the fear they express of persecution or torture if forced to return to their home country is “credible.” The caravan left Tapachula, a town in the Mexican state of Chiapas on the border with Guatemala, on March 25 to provide protection to migrants from Central America fleeing gang violence, poverty and political turmoil and to call attention to the conditions forcing people to flee from those countries.

Trump Gives Hondurans 18 Months to Leaven the U.S.

The Trump administration on Friday ended a special immigration program for 57,000 Hondurans who have legally lived and worked in the U.S. for two decades, giving them 18 months to leave the country. The announcement is the latest step by the administration to phase out Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is granted to foreign nationals whose countries are decimated by hurricanes, earthquakes and civil wars. By cutting off TPS for Hondurans, the administration has now ended the program for 98% of the roughly 317,000 immigrants from six countries who had been legally residing in the U.S., some for nearly 30 years. Honduras was first granted TPS in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch devastated the Central American nation. The Department of Homeland Security concluded that conditions in Honduras have improved to the point that the country is ready to absorb the return of tens of thousands of citizens.

House Chaplain Restored to Office

House Speaker Paul Ryan reversed his decision to oust House chaplain Patrick Conroy on Thursday after Conroy challenged his forced resignation and essentially dared Ryan to fire him. In a two-page letter to Ryan, Conroy disputed the speaker’s public explanation for removing him and said he wanted to retract the resignation letter he submitted at Ryan’s direction last month. “I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain,” Conroy, a Catholic priest, wrote in a letter to Ryan. “It is my desire to continue to serve as House chaplain in this 115th United States Congress and beyond.” Hours after Conroy’s letter became public, Ryan said he accepted Conroy’s retraction and “decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House.” The Wisconsin GOP leader defended his original decision, saying he fired the chaplain because “a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served, or offered.”

Huge Overhaul of Foster Care Signed into Law

A new federal law, propelled by the belief that children in difficult homes nearly always fare best with their parents, effectively blows up the nation’s troubled foster care system. Few outside child welfare circles paid any mind to the law, which was tucked inside a massive spending bill President Donald Trump signed in February. But it will force states to overhaul their foster care systems by changing the rules for how they can spend their annual $8 billion in federal funds for child abuse prevention. The law, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, prioritizes keeping families together and puts more money toward at-home parenting classes, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment — and puts limits on placing children in institutional settings such as group homes. It’s the most extensive overhaul of foster care in nearly four decades.

No Nobel Prize for Literature after Sex Scandal

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature will not be awarded this year after the Swedish Academy, the body that selects the winner, was engulfed in a sex abuse scandal. The postponement came after Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer and leading figure in the arts in Sweden who is married to poet and former academy member Katarina Frostenson, was accused of sexual assault, including rape, by 18 women as the #MeToo movement gained traction worldwide. Frostenson and five other academy members have stepped down over the crisis. An independent investigation found that the academy also contravened its conflict of interest rules by providing financial support to Kulturplats Forum, a center run by Arnault and Frostenson.

Boy Scouts Are Dropping the Word ‘Boy’

The Boy Scouts of America doubled down Wednesday on its quest to become the scouting organization of choice for boys and girls, announcing it will drop “Boy” from the name of its signature program. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh also unveiled the group’s new “Scout Me In” marketing campaign aimed at promoting inclusiveness. The term Cub Scouts, for kids 7-10 years old, is gender neutral and will go unchanged. Change has been coming quickly to the iconic if shrinking organization. In October, it announced it would provide programs for girls. Several months before that, the group announced it would accept and register transgender youths into its organization. In 2015, it ended its ban on gay leaders. Allowing girls into the organization allows busy families to consolidate programs for their kids, BSA says. However, in actuality, most of the Cub packs and Scout troops will remain single gender.

Tick, Mosquito, Flea Illnesses have Tripled in U.S.

Sicknesses from mosquitoes, ticks and fleas have more than tripled since 2004 and the United States isn’t prepared to handle the increasing threat from the insects, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The government agency recorded 96,075 cases in 2016 compared to 27,388 in 2004, according to a report released Tuesday. It’s the first time the CDC has summarized disease cases caused by ticks, fleas and mosquitoes, which include Zika, West Nile, Lyme, dengue, plague and chikungunya, among others. Tickborne diseases led the way, accounting for more than 60% of the cases. Tickborne illnesses more than doubled over the 13 years during which researchers found seven new germs being spread by ticks. The CDC said in a statement the numbers “pose an increasing risk” for the U.S., which needs to be “better prepared” for the diseases. Tackling the problem would require “additional capacity” for state and local agencies to track and diagnose the diseases and control mosquitoes and ticks.

Economic News

The labor market bounced back modestly in April as employers added 164,000 jobs and unemployment fell below 4% for the first time in 17 years, easing concerns that trade tensions and worker shortages may be crimping hiring. The unemployment rate fell from 4.1% to 3.9%, lowest since December 2000, the Labor Department said Friday. The jobless rate for African-Americans reached 6.6 percent, the lowest level on Labor Department records dating to 1972. Professional and business services led the payroll gains, with a strong 54,000. Health care added 29,000 jobs; and leisure and hospitality added18,000. Construction added 17,000 jobs despite a dire shortage of workers in the industry, and manufacturers added 24,000. Average hourly wages increased four cents to $26.84, pushing down the annual gains to 2.6% from 2.7%. Pay increases have not been as robust as expected in light of the low unemployment rate that’s making it hard for employers to find workers.

The U.S. will need to hire 2.3 million new health care workers by 2025 in order to adequately take care of its aging population, a new report finds. But a persistent shortage of skilled workers — from nurses to physicians to lab technicians — will mean hundreds of thousands of positions will remain unfilled, according to research by global health care staffing consultancy Mercer. The largest number of new job openings — about 423,200 — will be for home health aides, the report found.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in March by the most in two years, while last week’s unemployment filings were below estimates and productivity gains remained lukewarm in the first quarter. The deficit narrowed to $49B from $57.7B in prior month, the smallest gap since September. The 15.2% decline was most in two years, and the $8.8B drop was the most since 2009. Imports fell 1.8% to $257.5B, the biggest drop in two years; exports rose 2% to a record $208.5B, the biggest gain since November. The merchandise-trade gap with China widened in March to $35.4B from $34.7B.

The slow but steady recovery from the Great Recession just hit a milestone: It’s tied for the second-longest economic expansion in American history. The recession ended in June 2009, which means the recovery is 106 months old through April of this year. That matches the expansion from 1961 to 1969, an era of big government spending under President John F. Kennedy and then President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Unlike the breathtaking growth of the 1960s, the current expansion won’t set any records for speed. It took far longer than many hoped for unemployment to get back to healthy levels. Wages have only recently begun to accelerate meaningfully. The absence of explosive growth and problematic inflation meant the Federal Reserve didn’t have to step in with aggressive rate hikes aimed at cooling the economy down. Low rates and steady growth allowed the stock market to quadruple from its March 2009 low.

California’s economy has surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world’s fifth largest, according to new federal data made public Friday. California’s gross domestic product rose by $127 billion from 2016 to 2017, surpassing $2.7 trillion, the data said. Meanwhile, the UK’s economic output slightly shrunk over that time when measured in U.S. dollars, due in part to exchange rate fluctuations. The data demonstrate the sheer immensity of California’s economy, home to nearly 40 million people, a thriving technology sector in Silicon Valley, the world’s entertainment capital in Hollywood and the nation’s salad bowl in the Central Valley agricultural heartland. California’s economic output is now surpassed only by the total GDP of the United States, China, Japan and Germany.

Middle East

Israeli defense officials have warned that Iran is planning to order its proxies to fire missiles at northern Israel in retaliation for recent airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel that killed Iranian personnel, The Times of Israel reported on Sunday. military and intelligence agencies are aware of Iranian preparations to have Hezbollah or other Shiite terrorist groups launch guided missiles at targets in Israel. Tehran is apparently interested in striking military targets, and not civilian ones, in the belief that this type of retaliation will avoid full-fledged war with Israel.

Demonstrations in Gaza, which began March 30, reflect a long-simmering demand by Palestinians for the right of return to Israel while Israel says Palestinians should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. The deadly confrontations, known as the Great March of Return, are set to reach a climax on May 15. Organizers and leaders from the terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, will urge masses of Palestinians to walk through the fence into Israel to reclaim homes left by their parents and grandparents in 1948 — the year Israel was formed. In response, the Israeli military has ordered soldiers to fire at people’s legs if they pose a threat. So far, at least 45 people have been killed, including four children and two journalists. The number of wounded has reached 5,500, according to the United Nations. Another forty Palestinians, including three journalists, were injured in protests near Israel’s barrier with the Gaza Strip on the sixth Friday of demonstrations. “Rioters are flying kites with burning items, intending to ignite fires in Israel,” the Israel Defense Forces announced on Twitter. “Also, rioters hurled an explosive device at IDF troops who are responding with riot dispersal means & fire in accordance with the rules of engagement.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faced a harsh, international backlash Wednesday and Thursday for a speech he gave to the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah on Monday in which he said, among other things, that European Jews faced persecution over the centuries because of their participation in banking, which motivated non-Jews to be hostile to them. “The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said. “This is why attempts to rewrite, downplay or deny it are dangerous… Abbas chose to “repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behavior of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust.” In a highly unusual statement for a UN official, he went on to declare that “Denying the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land and their holy sites in Jerusalem stands in contrast to reality.”

Afghanistan

The latest wave of terror attacks carried out in Afghanistan by ISIS demonstrates that, for all the recent setbacks it has suffered, the organization has lost none of its ability to wreak carnage around the world. ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the twin bombings in Kabul earlier this week which killed 25 people, including nine reporters, saying that they were directed at Afghanistan’s intelligence headquarters. The atrocity is significant for two reasons. First, in recent months, the majority of terror attacks carried out against the Afghan government have been the work of the Taliban, a rival Islamist terror organization that is seeking to reassert its influence in the country following the removal of the bulk of NATO forces. Second, the attacks illustrate just how much of a threat ISIS remains, despite the humiliating defeat it has suffered in Iraq and Syria, where its so-called caliphate has been reduced to rubble. Analysts believe that there remains a core of adherents to the ISIS creed who have simply melted away with the intention of regrouping and launching a fresh wave of terror attacks in the future. It looks like Afghanistan might be where ISIS is reforming.

Libya

Suicide bombers have stormed Libya’s electoral commission in Tripoli last week, killing at least a dozen people in an attack claimed by Islamic State jihadists. The bloodshed comes as the international community pushes for elections it hopes will help calm the turmoil that has plagued the north African country since the 2011 ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Two armed assailants attacked the electoral commission building, shooting guards and officials before blowing themselves up. The internationally backed Government of National Accord denounced “the cowardly suicide attack” and pledged its “commitment to the democratic process.”

Russia

More than 350 people — including prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny — were arrested Saturday in Russia during a day of nationwide protests of the upcoming inauguration of Vladimir Putin for a new six-year term as president. Navalny, a long-time Putin nemesis and anti-corruption campaigner, organized the nationwide rallies under the slogan “He is not our czar” in response to the president’s re-election in March. In Moscow, where thousands crowded into Moscow Pushkin Square, police in riot gear waded into the crowd and were seen grabbing some demonstrators and leading them away, but there were no immediate moves to disperse the crowd.

Ukraine

The Trump administration has quietly completed the transfer of lethal new anti-tank missile systems to Ukraine, angering the Kremlin and signaling a possible escalation of the fighting between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s divided east. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko confirmed this week that the initial deliveries of the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile are now in the hands of Ukrainian forces. The country’s defense minister, Stepan Poltorak also announced Tuesday that the country’s military will begin initial training on the U.S.-built anti-tank weapons as soon as Wednesday. The $47 million U.S. military aid package reinforces the White House’s argument that President Trump is willing to get tough on Russia The Obama administration held back on supplying Kiev with offensive weapons for fear of exacerbating the grinding military conflict sparked by a Russian-backed separatist revolt in Ukraine’s eastern half.

China

Chinese personnel at the country’s first overseas military base in Djibouti have been using lasers to interfere with US military aircraft at a nearby American base, activity that has resulted in injuries to US pilots and prompted the US to launch a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing. “During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” a U.S. statement said. The issue was of major concern because such activity could lead to major accidents.

Environment

Carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — reached its highest level in recorded history last month, at 410 parts per million. This amount is highest in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels had fluctuated over the millennia but had never exceeded 300 parts per million. “We keep burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide keeps building up in the air,” said Scripps scientist Ralph Keeling, who maintains the longest continuous record of atmospheric carbon dioxide on Earth. CO2 levels were around 280 parts per million prior to the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, when large amounts of greenhouse gases began to be released by burning fossil fuels. Scientists know how much carbon dioxide was in the air hundreds of thousands of years ago because they actually have small samples of ancient air stored in glacial ice.

  • Note: some scientists say CO2 does not contribute to global warming. However, the Bible says end-time weather will be quite extreme – scorching heat, floods, large hail etc. (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Volcanoes/Earthquakes

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions on Hawaii’s Big Island following an eruption of lava from the Kilauea Volcano. Red lava emerged on Mohala Street in the Leilani Estates subdivision. The evacuation order impacts more than 1,700 people on the east side of the volcano. The eruption forced the closure of several schools were, and several roads in the area were closed. The fissure that opened up around 4:30 p.m. continued to spew lava for about 2 hours. Scientists report lava and toxic gas spewing more than 200 feet in the air from cracks in the ground splintered by the volcano. Hawaii officials warned Friday that seniors, young people and those with respiratory problems should leave nearby areas immediately because of extremely high levels of sulfur dioxide gas. Twenty-six homes have been consumed by the creeping lava flow.

Earthquakes

A major 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Friday on Hawaii’s Big Island near the site where multiple eruptions from Kilauea Volcano sent lava spewing into communities, prompting evacuations. The earthquake, the largest since 1975, was felt more than 200 miles away from the epicenter in Honolulu. The 6.9 earthquake was the third large earthquake to rattle the eastern end of the Big Island since Thursday. Two smaller earthquakes, measured at 5.4 and 5.0 magnitude, signaled the beginning of the awakening of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano on Thursday and early Friday. Nearly 500 earthquakes have shaken the Big Island since mid-day Thursday. Kilauea is continuing its intermittent lava eruptions following Friday’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake. Two new fissures opened up late Saturday bringing the total number of fissures to 10, each measuring hundreds of yards in length. The fissures have been spewing lava into Leilani Estates, along with dangerous gasses.

Wildfires

Officials announced Thursday morning that a large wildfire burning in north-central Arizona has damaged or destroyed at least 41 homes. By Thursday night, the Tinder Fire had burned more than 15,841 acres in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. The inferno is 76 percent contained, but rapid growth days earlier near residential areas forced officials to evacuate about 1,000 homes in several Coconino County neighborhoods. The fire’s progress was slowed by improving weather conditions Wednesday and Thursday, including snowfall as temperatures plunged. The sprawling Tinder Fire has destroyed 33 primary homes and 54 minor structures since it was sparked by an abandoned illegal campfire two weeks ago. Residents returned home over the weekend, after the fast-moving Tinder Fire forced them out of the small forest communities north of Payson nearly a week ago. Officials said the blaze still has a few days to go before it is completely contained.

Weather

Approximately 191 feral horses have been found dead in a stock pond on Navajo land in northern Arizona, according to Navajo leaders, who attributed the death to ongoing drought and famine. Extreme drought in Arizona, as well as New Mexico and Colorado, has dried up many springs and ponds that wild animals need for the continued survival. The Navajo community in Arizona has had to contend with a growing feral horse population of about 50,000 to 70,000.

At least 131 people have died and another 200 were injured as heavy rain and a dust storm struck northern and western India overnight. Some of the most severe damage was reported in Agra, the northern Indian city that’s home to the Taj Mahal. More than 40 people were killed in the city when winds as high as 80 mph collapsed houses and brought down trees. The Taj Mahal was not damaged by the storms. At least 64 people died and another 67 were injured in northern Uttar Pradesh state. In the western state of Rajasthan, the Press Trust of India news agency said that 27 others died and another 100 were injured. Most deaths were caused by house collapses and lightning. Uprooted trees flattened mud huts of the poor.

At least 100 Kenyans have died and nearly 250,000 residents were forced from their homes by multiple rounds of flooding and mudslides that struck the African nation in April, the Red Cross said. As the calendar turned to May, additional deaths were reported Friday from overnight flooding that killed six more and left 11 missing. The floods have caused a humanitarian disaster that authorities say needs an immediate response before it worsens. Residents said flooding has cut them from off health care facilities.

At the end of April, the Bering Sea was ice-free, when normally there would be more than 500,000 square kilometers of ice. That’s about two Texases worth of ice that is missing this year. This winter brought less ice to the Bering Sea than any prior winter had since the start of written records in 1850, the International Arctic Research Center and NOAA stated.

Pakistan finished the month of April with a heat wave that baked the southern region of the country, and one particular reading might be the hottest ever recorded on the planet in April. A high temperature of 122.4 degrees Fahrenheit (50.2 degrees Celsius) was reported Monday in Nawabshah, Pakistan, some 125 miles northeast of Karachi. In all likelihood, this makes the city of 1.1 million the new hottest place on Earth for any April day on record.

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