Signs of the Times

­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)

Pope Summons Bishops for February Abuse Prevention Summit

Pope Francis is summoning the presidents of every bishops conference around the world for a February summit to discuss preventing clergy sex abuse and protecting children — evidence that he realizes the scandal is global and that inaction threatens to undermine the church. Francis’ key cardinal advisers announced the decision Wednesday, a day before Francis meets with U.S. church leaders who have been deeply discredited by the latest accusations in the Catholic Church’s decades-long sex abuse and cover-up scandal. The Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican is believed to be the first of its kind. Earlier this year, Pope Francis faced what was then the worst crisis of his papacy when he repeatedly discredited victims of a notorious Chilean predator priest. He eventually admitted to “grave errors in judgment” and has taken steps to make amends, sanction guilty bishops and remake the Chilean episcopacy. Pope Francis will meet with a group of U.S. church officials led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at the Vatican Thursday amid growing criticism over the pope’s handling of sex-abuse cases.

Pastor Faces Eviction for Hosting Home Bible Study

A semi-retired Lutheran minister in Fredericksburg, Virginia faces the possibility of being evicted from a senior living community because he’s been hosting a small Bible study in the privacy of his apartment, his attorney alleges. First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, is representing Pastor Ken Hauge. The pastor has accused the management of The Evergreens at Smith Run of a pattern of verbal abuse and harassment directed at Christians who live in the complex. “The threat of eviction follows repeated religious discrimination by The Evergreens management, including forcing Hauge to refer to his event as a ‘Book Review’ rather than a ‘Bible Study,’” First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser wrote in a letter to the corporate owner of the community. Management also withdrew support of a social event because a resident said grace over a meal, and banned all religious activities from the community room.

Appeals Court Reinstates Missouri Abortion Restrictions

A federal appeals court handed pro-lifers a victory last week by reinstating a Missouri law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion clinics to be set up as “ambulatory surgical centers.” The 3-0 ruling Monday by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s injunction that prevented the law from going into effect. The decision could suspend abortion services in Columbia, Mo., and prevent a Kansas City clinic from regaining its license, Planned Parenthood officials told The Kansas City Star. Pro-lifers say the law is designed to protect women who undergo abortions.

Mainstream Media Acknowledge Universal Microchipping to Come

At one time, the notion that the general population would be microchipped someday was a “conspiracy theory”, but now the mainstream media is coming right out and telling us that we will all get chipped. Last month, USA Today published an article entitled “You will get chipped — eventually.” Of course, it is being portrayed as “cool” and “trendy,” and a lot of people will be fooled by that, notes Charisma News. Someday identity chips will be required for the entire population, and the potential for tyranny and control are frightening. Permanent digital identification is increasingly being pushed as the solution to problems such as identity theft, tax evasion, illegal immigration and money laundering. And tech companies would love to have a universal way to confirm the identities of individuals on the Internet. But very few people are talking about the dark side of this technology – but the Bible does. “No one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name… And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 13:17, 14:11)

Florence Floods Isolate Wilmington, NC

Storm-weary residents of North Carolina struggled Monday to loosen the grip of Florence, the lingering killer that has closed more than 100 roads, cut off power to almost 500,000 homes and businesses and essentially cut off the city of Wilmington from the world. At least 17 people have died in the wreckage of the hurricane-turned-tropical depression that dumped 30 inches of rain in parts of the state since last week. In Wilmington, officials were planning to fly food and water into the coastal city of almost 120,000 people. The National Weather Service has measured 23.59 inches of rain at the city’s airport since Thursday. Florence dumped 30.58 inches of rainfall in Swansboro, North Carolina. This breaks the all-time record for rainfall in a single storm system in the state of North Carolina. The previous record was 24.06 inches, and it was set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Dams and levees in areas pelted by Florence were showing signs of distress as rivers overran their banks and authorities warned of more flooding to come. Landslides have become a concern as well — especially in North Carolina’s western mountains. Early Monday, the storm was centered about 145 miles west-northwest of Greensboro, North Carolina. Rescue efforts were complicated by the closure of roads, including parts of interstates 95 and 40.

U.S. Has Highest Share of Foreign-Born Since 1910

The foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest share since 1910, according to government data released Thursday. The foreign-born population stood at 13.7 percent in 2017, or 44.5 million people, compared with 13.5 percent in 2016. The new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia and to have college degrees than those who arrived in past decades. The Census Bureau’s figures for 2017 confirm a major shift in who is coming to the United States. For years newcomers tended to be from Latin America, but a Brookings Institution analysis of that data shows that 41 percent of the people who said they arrived since 2010 came from Asia. Just 39 percent were from Latin America. About 45 percent were college educated, the analysis found, compared with about 30 percent of those who came between 2000 and 2009. The last historic peak in immigration to the United States came at the end of the 19th century, when large numbers of Europeans fled poverty and violence in their home countries. Some of the largest numbers came from Germany, Italy and Poland. That wave peaked around the turn of the century, when the total foreign-born population stood at nearly 15 percent. But after the passage of strict racial quotas in the 1920s, the foreign-born population fell sharply for decades in the middle of the 20th century. By 1970, the population was below 5 percent.

Detention of Migrant Children at Highest Levels Ever

Even though hundreds of children separated from their families after crossing the border have been released under court order, the overall number of detained migrant children has exploded to the highest ever recorded. Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017. Shelter capacities have hovered close to 90 percent since at least May, compared to about 30 percent a year ago. The huge increases, which have placed the federal shelter system near capacity, are due not to an influx of children entering the country, but a reduction in the number being released to live with families and other sponsors, the data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services suggests. Most of the children crossed the border alone, without their parents. Many are teenagers from Central America, and they are housed in a system of more than 100 shelters across the United States, with the highest concentration near the southwest border.

Migrant Arrests Up 3% in August

The number of migrant family members arrested for illegally entering the United States shot up 38 percent in August, according to statistics released last week, a surge homeland security officials characterized as a “crisis.” Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 13,000 members of “family units” last month, the latest data shows, the highest August total ever recorded. The increase followed President Trump’s decision to back off the provision of his “zero tolerance” crackdown that separated children from parents in an attempt to deter illegal migration. Overall, the number of foreigners apprehended or deemed “inadmissible” at border crossings rose to 46,560 in August, up from 40,011 in July. Department of Homeland Security officials said the arrival of so many families was due to court-imposed restrictions limiting the duration children may be detained in immigration jails. The result, officials said, is that parents bring children as a way to win quick release from government custody and avoid deportation.

$10 Million FEMA Budget Shifted to ICE

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency insisted Wednesday that the transfer of nearly $10 million of its budget to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not affect the agency’s hurricane response and other disaster relief efforts. “We have plenty of resources, both monetary, staff and commodities, to respond to the storm,” Jeff Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for the Office and Response and Recovery, told reporters during a morning briefing as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolina coast. The budget transfer document from the Department of Homeland Security specifically mentions the money would come from FEMA’s budgets for travel, training, public engagement and information technology work not from disaster relief funding.

Poll Confirms that Americans Don’t Trust the Press

A major poll from Gallup and the Knight Foundation confirms that Americans don’t trust the press. The news media, like many other major U.S. institutions, has suffered from a decline in public confidence in recent years,” the report states. Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults in the current survey say their trust in the news media has decreased in the past decade. Just 4 percent say their trust has increased, while 26 percent indicate their trust has not changed. Republicans (94 percent) and political conservatives (95 percent) are nearly unanimous in saying their trust in the media has decreased in the past decade. However, declining trust is not just confined to the political right — 75 percent of independents and 66 percent of moderates indicate they are less trusting than they were 10 years ago. However, a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows that voters trust the media over Trump by a 54-30 percent margin.

Heroin Use Down, Meth & Marijuana Up

Far fewer people started using heroin last year, but the decline among young new 18- to 25-year-old heroin users was almost imperceptible and this age group also saw a big jump in methamphetamine and marijuana use, according to a federal report out Friday. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health emphasizes what it calls these “transitional aged youth” because they have higher rates of cigarette use, alcohol abuse, heroin use disorder and use more cocaine, meth and LSD than people both younger and older. With all the publicity surrounding deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl, addiction experts expected there to be a move away from heroin  – just as crack cocaine fell out of favor decades ago. Use of illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and opioids by pregnant women increased significantly between 2015 and 2017, the report found. About 7 percent of pregnant women reported using marijuana, with about 3 percent saying they used it daily. The report says marijuana use is linked to fetal growth problems, preterm births, stillbirths, hyperactivity and impaired cognition in newborns.

E-Cigarettes an Epidemic Among Nation’s Youth

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb dramatically escalated his efforts to stop an “epidemic” of teenage vaping, announcing Wednesday a massive enforcement action against retailers for allegedly selling e-cigarettes to minors and warning manufacturers of a potential ban of flavored e-cigarette liquids. Officials said the move against more than 1,300 retailers was the largest coordinated enforcement action in the agency’s history. The threatened ban, if carried out, would significantly upend the fast-growing industry. Preliminary data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show a 75% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students this year compared to 2017. Much of the FDA’s sharp change in course is a result of the phenomenal success of Juul, which looks like a USB flash drive. In just three years, it has captured about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. Juul delivers high levels of nicotine in a way that istn’t harsh, and it packages the product in a streamlined, clever way. Juul also developed a social media and advertising campaign that made a Juul e-cigarette “cool and hip.” In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes also contain other harmful substances that may cause oral and oropharyngeal cancer.

Seven States Have Obesity Rates Above 35 Percent

Seven states boast adult obesity rates above 35 percent, a new report finds, while other states have seen their rates balloon rapidly. According to The State of Obesity 2018 report, no state showed significant statistical improvement in their obesity rates from a year earlier. Only two states — Hawaii and Colorado — and the District of Columbia had obesity rates below 25 percent. Seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia — had adult obesity rates above 35 percent. West Virginia held the highest rate at just over 38 percent. The report released by nonprofit organizations Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also found 22 states had obesity rates between 30 and 35 percent, while an additional 19 states had rates between 25 and 30 percent. Several studies have shown obesity has been linked to multiple diseases, from hypertension and diabetes to cancer. In May, a report from the World Cancer Research Fund linked 12 types of cancers, including breast and colorectal, to being overweight. The report says obesity costs an estimated $149 billion annually in directly related healthcare spending, and an additional $66 billion a year in lowered economic productivity.

Air Pollution Linked to Dementia

A recently released working paper by three Arizona State University economists makes the case that prolonged exposure to air pollution does not just cause respiratory problems, but also puts individuals at higher risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The ASU researchers estimate, for example, that implementation of an Environmental Protection Agency standard on fine-particulate air pollution in 1997 through the Clean Air Act in previously unregulated counties averted approximately 140,000 people living with dementia in 2013. The size of particulates smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter allows those particulates to remain airborne for long periods, to penetrate buildings, to be inhaled easily and to reach and accumulate within brain tissue, the researchers write. They cite other studies that show the accumulation of particulates in the brain can cause neuroinflammation, which is associated with symptoms of dementia.

Economic News

Household income grew for the third straight year in 2017 but at a slower pace and poverty edged down in signs that the healthy economy continued to lift Americans across the financial spectrum. The median U.S. household income rose 1.8 percent to $61,372, the Census Bureau said Wednesday. That followed gains of 5.2 percent in 2015 and 3.2 percent in 2016. The number of Americans living in poverty was unchanged at 39.7 million but due to increased population, the poverty rate dipped to 12.3 percent from 12.7 percent in 2016, the third straight annual decline. Since 2014, the rate has fallen from 14.8 percent. And there were 28.5 million Americans without health insurance, or 8.8 percent of the population, a figure that was unchanged from 2016.

U.S. employers advertised the most jobs on record in July, and the number of workers quitting their jobs also hit an all-time high. Americans are increasingly taking advantage of a tight labor market to find new, often higher-paying jobs. That could help push up wages broadly across the economy. The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of job openings rose 1.7 percent to 6.9 million, the most on record dating back to late 2000. The number of people quitting jumped 3 percent to 3.58 million, also a record. Quits are typically a good sign that jobs are plentiful, because people usually quit when they have another job or are confident they can find one. Even as the number of available jobs rose, overall hiring in July was essentially flat, with about 5.7 million people finding jobs, the report showed.

Poverty rates in some of the nation’s most populous metropolitan areas are on the decline, according to new data released Thursday. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics from its American Community Survey (ACS) show a decline in poverty rates in 13 of 25 of the most populous metro areas from 2016 and 2017. For several metro areas, it was the third consecutive year for a decline, according to the ACS. The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area had the lowest poverty rate of 7.9 percent.

For the first time since 1973, the United States is the world’s largest producer of crude oil, according to preliminary estimates published on Wednesday by the Energy Department. The feat demonstrates how the US shale oil boom has reshaped the global energy landscape. American oil output has more than doubled over the past decade. The United States isn’t expected to cede its crown any time soon. The EIA expects US oil production to stay ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia through 2019. The achievement underscores the profound impact of rapid technological advances in drilling. Fracking unlocked vast sums of oil and natural gas that had been trapped underground. Drilling costs declined dramatically.

Middle East

A prominent American-born Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager outside a shopping mall in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. The dead man, Ari Fuld, 45, was well-known by settlers as an outspoken Israeli advocate on social media. He was planning a lecture tour in the United States in November, according to his Twitter account. A civilian shot the attacker, who was taken to a hospital in moderate condition. Israeli media identified the attacker as Khalil Yusef Ali Jabarin, a 17-year-old from a nearby Palestinian village.

Korea

North and South Korea opened their first liaison office near their tense border Friday in a bid to facilitate better communication ahead of an eagerly awaited summit between their leaders in Pyongyang next week. The opening – in the North Korean border town of Kaesong – is the latest in a series of reconciliatory steps the rival Koreas have taken this year. The office is the first of its kind since the nations were divided at the end of World War II in 1945. South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said during the opening ceremony that the new office will become the “cradle of Korean co-prosperity.” Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said during the ceremony that the office would help the Koreas have “candid conversations” and further build ties.

China

The growing crack-down on unofficial churches in China deepened on Sunday (Sept. 9) when authorities closed one of the largest churches in Beijing. The Beijing Chaoyang District Civil Affairs Bureau informed Zion Church that it was “legally banned” for organizing events without registering as an official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church, Reuters reported. The church has faced growing threats from authorities, including eviction, since it refused to comply with a government order in April to install closed-circuit television cameras at its worship site. Bob Fu, president of advocacy group China Aid, said authorities are enforcing rules requiring registration as a TSPM church in order to exercise increased control over ideologies. He called the church closure part of a larger crackdown on Christianity across China.

Nigeria

A spate of attacks, in which at least 20 were killed in Nigeria’s central Plateau State over the last week of August, has shattered peace efforts by religious and political leaders in its capital, Jos. On Aug. 28, communities including a mining site at Wereh village (Ropp District), Abonong, Ziyat and Bek villages (Foron District), Nafan, Sagas, Rawuru and Rambuh villages (Fan District), all in Barkin Ladi, came under heavy attack by Fulani militants, reports Charisma News. Victims included a pastor and four members of his family. Rev. Adamu Wurim Gyang, 50, and his three children were set ablaze and burnt beyond recognition. His wife, Jummai, 45, was shot and left to die in a pool of blood. More than 14 were killed in that attack; 95 houses were burned down and 225 farm crops awaiting harvest were destroyed.

Weather

Typhoon Mangkhut struck the island of Luzon in the Northern Philippines early Saturday as the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, killing at least 65 people with hundreds missing, many believed buried under mud. About 87,000 people have been evacuated from high-risk areas and advised not to return home until the danger has passed. The most powerful typhoon to hit the disaster-prone Philippines this year slammed ashore before dawn in Cagayan province on the northeastern tip of Luzon island, a breadbasket that is also a region of flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces with a history of deadly landslides. Mangkhut’s sustained winds weakened to 105 mph with gusts of up to 161 mph after it sliced northwestward across Luzon then blew out to the South China Sea. Mangkhut then barreled into southern China on Sunday, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain, prompting Chinese authorities to issue a red alert, the country’s most severe storm warning. More than three million people have been moved to safety in southern China as Typhoon Mangkhut moved northward and continued to wreak havoc across the region Monday. Hong Kong was left reeling by ferocious winds of up to 107 miles per hour and gusts of up to 138 mph. The storm tore off roofs and scaffolding from skyscrapers, shattered windows, shook high-rise buildings and caused serious flooding in low-lying areas as waves of more than ten feet lashed the coast.

The Hurricane season has been causing devastation from the Pacific to the Atlantic as seven active store swirled across the globe last week – with high chances an eighth powerful storm will soon develop to break an all-time record. Overall, there have been 9 named storms in the Atlantic and 15 names storms in the Pacific since the official start of the hurricane season, way above normal. As one veteran meteorologist remarked, “in my 35 years forecasting the weather on TV, I have NEVER seen so much activity in the tropics all at the same time.”

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