Signs of the Times

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.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: