Signs of the Times

­­We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. (2Corinthians 4:8-9,17)

Georgia Declares ‘Killing a Living Child is Not Healthcare’

As Georgia fights to defend the legality of its ban on aborting babies with beating hearts, state Attorney General Chris Carr took the opportunity to affirm that Georgia does not recognize abortion as a legitimate form of medical practice. “It is well-settled that ‘a fetus is a living organism within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb,'” the Republican AG argued in a motion filed Monday in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. “Accordingly, a State may properly recognize that an unborn child is alive even before ‘viability’ and—consistent with its power to protect unborn life—may prohibit the killing of that child by restricting certain types of pre-viability abortions.” Killing a living unborn child does not constitute ‘medical care’ or ‘health care,’ Carr declared. The filing was a motion opposing the ACLU’s, and Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction against enforcing the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, which forbids abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, except in cases of rape, incest, physical medical emergencies, and pregnancies deemed “medically futile.”

Thousands of Australians March for Life

As the winter night fell in Sydney, nearly ten thousand pro-life Austrailians amassed in the heart of the city, protesting a radical proposed new law permitting abortion on demand until birth. Thousands of protestors marched from Martin Place to the front of New South Wales Parliament buildings where legislators in the state’s Legislative Council, or upper house, were debating the bill. The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, which will permit even sex-selection abortion, was passed through New South Wales Legislative Assembly, or lower house, on August 8 by a vote of 59 to 31. It now has to pass through the New South Wales Legislative Council, or lower house, and receive the Governor’s assent for it to become law.

Planned Parenthood Opts Out of Title X Program

Planned Parenthood announced on Monday that it has withdrawn from the Title X federal family planning program. Last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for implementation of the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits Title X money from going to clinics that conduct or refer for abortions. Planned Parenthood asked the court to reconsider and enjoin the Protect Life Rule, but it declined to do so on Friday, August 16, 2019. That prompted Planned Parenthood to forgo approximately $60 million in federal funding in favor of continuing abortion referrals at its facilities that do not conduct abortions.

Three, No Four Potential Mass Shooters Stopped

Three potential mass shooters in three states are now in custody after arrests over the weekend, authorities say. Police say the men in Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio were arrested thanks to tips from the public. In the Ohio case, police say 20-year-old white nationalist James Reardon was arrested Saturday over an Instagram post that suggested he wanted to attack a Jewish community center. In Connecticut, 22-year-old Norwalk resident Brandon Wagshol was arrested after authorities received a tip that he was trying to buy large capacity rifle magazines from out of state. The Norwalk Police Department and the FBI say they discovered that Wagshol had posted on Facebook expressing interest in carrying out a mass shooting. Authorities say a raid on Wagshol’s home uncovered numerous weapons, along with items like a titanium body armor and a combat helmet. In the Florida case, Tristan Scott Wix, 25, was arrested Friday after he sent his ex-girlfriend texts threatening a mass shooting and she contacted authorities. In one message, the Daytona Beach resident said he wanted to “break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever.”

  • A California hotel cook who was upset over a work-related human resources issue was arrested Thursday after he threatened a mass shooting and stored guns and ammunition at his home, police said.  Authorities said Rodolfo Montoya, 37, told a co-worker he was going to shoot fellow employees and guests at the Long Beach Marriott. Multiple firearms, an assault rifle, tactical gear, dozens of high-capacity magazines and hundreds of bullets were seized from Montoya’s home.

Portland Alt-Right/Alt-Left Faceoff Mostly Peaceful

A heavy police presence largely kept members of the Proud Boys and other far-right groups separated from far-left, anti-fascist activists at a downtown park Saturday, mostly avoiding violent clashes that have marred earlier confrontations. The far-right forces were largely identifiable by their camouflage body armor and helmets, while the far-left antifa groups covered their faces with masks or bandanas. At least 13 people were arrested, and four people have minor injuries, according to Portland Police. Although the day was largely peaceful, police said they seized weapons such as metal and wooden poles, bear spray and shields from demonstrators. Police, some on bikes, many wearing helmets and armor, lined or patrolled the main road between the business district and the park to try to keep competing groups apart.

Immigration Update

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, crossed the seven-year mark of operations last week. The anniversary sparked a new round of introspection, with immigrant rights advocates saying the program has proved its worth by helping give opportunity to a generation of young people who have become doctors, soldiers, lawyers and teachers. But the program does have a darker side: those who use their reprieve for criminal activities. Several DACA recipients have been arrested for smuggling immigrants into the U.S. for money, the Washington Times reports. The Department of Justice has submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court arguing that President Donald Trump was acting within the law when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that the DHS would be scrapping the court-ordered Flores agreement, which prohibits children from being held in detention for more than 20 days. The administration argues the measure will allow it to keep families together while they are being processed through the U.S. immigration system. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan”This is a game-changer… Because of the current Flores settlement agreement, everybody knows… you grab a kid, that’s your U.S. passport into the United States because we can’t hold you more than 20 days. That’s not long enough to go through the immigration proceedings. That’s catch and release… This new rule is going to address this.”

Ransomware Attacks Against 40 U.S. Cities

This has been the summer of crippling ransomware attacks. Wilmer — a town of almost 5,000 people just south of Dallas — is one of 22 cities across Texas that are simultaneously being held hostage for millions of dollars after a sophisticated hacker, perhaps a group of them, infiltrated their computer systems and encrypted their data. More than 40 municipalities have been the victims of cyberattacks this year, from major cities such as Baltimore, Albany and Laredo, Tex., to smaller towns including Lake City, Fla. Lake City is one of the few cities to have paid a ransom demand — about $460,000 in Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency — because it thought reconstructing its systems would be even more costly. Intelligence officials say many of the ransomware attacks have come from Eastern Europe, Iran and, in some cases, the United States. The majority have targeted small-town America, figuring that sleepy, cash-strapped local governments are the least likely to have updated their cyberdefenses or backed up their data, reports the New York Times.

Terrorists Turn To Bitcoin For Funding

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, has been designated a terrorist organization by Western governments and some others and has been locked out of the traditional financial system. But this year its military wing has developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin. In the latest version of the website set up by the wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, every visitor is given a unique Bitcoin address where he or she can send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track. The site, which is available in seven languages and features the brigades’ logo, with a green flag and a machine gun, contains a well-produced video that explains how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities. Terrorists have been slow to join other criminal elements that have been drawn to Bitcoin and have used it for everything from drug purchases to money laundering. But in recent months, government authorities and organizations that track terrorist financing have begun to raise alarms about an uptick in the number of Islamist terrorist organizations experimenting with Bitcoin and other digital coins.

China Retaliates Against U.S. with $75B in Tariffs

The trade war between the U.S. and China escalated further Friday as China announced a new set of tariffs on American products. The China State Council announced it would impose tariffs ranging from 5% to 10% on an additional $75 billion in U.S. goods. The new tariffs are poised to go into effect in stages, with the first round beginning Sept. 1 and the second Dec. 15. This development comes after President Donald Trump earlier this month announced a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports – 10% on $300 billion in products. The two sides have so far failed to reach an agreement on a comprehensive trade pact. Tariffs on U.S. goods exported to China could make it more expensive for Chinese consumers to purchase American items and hurt sales for the American companies, while many Chinese products and raw materials are becoming more expensive for Americans. The stock market consequently plunged around 2% after the announcement on  Friday. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was ‘ordering’ U.S. companies to look at ways to close their operations in China and make more of their products in the United States instead.

  • American manufacturing activity is slowing as rising tariffs have made materials more expensive. The sector shrunk for the first time since September 2009. The global manufacturing sector might already be in a recession, said Charles Schwab chief investment strategist.

Economic News

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell vowed to ‘sustain the expansion’ but wouldn’t commit to deep interest rate cuts that President Trump has demanded. Powell said the U.S. economy is in a “favorable place” but the trade war presented a “complex, turbulent” situation. He vowed the Fed would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” suggesting another interest rate cut might be coming.

The U.S. deficit is estimated to soar by $800 billion more than expected over the next ten years because of the new budget deal and emergency border spending, says the Congressional Budget Office. A two-year budget deal struck between lawmakers and the White House will help push the nation into levels of debt unseen since the end of World War II, the Congressional Budget Office said. The office added that the effect of higher trade barriers might also hurt economic growth.

It’s been more than 10 years – a record long time, in fact – since the U.S. economy experienced a recession. More signs are popping up that another one could be on the horizon. The loose definition of recession is two straight quarters of declines in real gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of U.S. growth. Economists look at leading economic indicators to predict when a recession is coming. One of those is the inverted yield curve, the signal that occurred last week in the bond market and sent stocks into a tizzy. That’s when the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond sinks below the yield on the two-year bond. But the inversion only indicates a recession is coming. It doesn’t predict when it will arrive.

Freight shipments within the U.S. by all modes of transportation – truck, rail, air, and barge – fell 5.9% in July 2019, compared to July 2018, the eighth month in a row of year-over-year declines, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments, which tracks shipments of consumer and industrial goods but not of bulk commodities such as grains. This decline along with the 6.0% drop in May were the steepest year-over-year declines in freight shipments since the last recession. Freight shipments often go into recession sooner than the overall economy, so this might be a signal that recession is coming.

U.S. consumer sentiment fell to 92.1 in August, the lowest since the start of 2019, according to data released last Friday. A reading below 100 indicates negative consumer expectations. The dip points to further uncertainty in the U.S. economy, as consumers navigate wild market swings and a constantly shifting trade environment. Economists expected the preliminary read on August consumer sentiment to reach 97, down from 98.4 in July. However, the Commerce Department released solid July retail sales figures. Spending at retail stores and restaurants rose 0.7% during the month, after a 0.3% gain in June.

Meanwhile, U.S. industrial production just slipped back into contraction territory and the IHS Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index just fell to the lowest level that we have seen since September 2009. The total number of bankruptcy filings in the United States has been steadily shooting up, and it rose another 5 percent during the month of July. And, 74% of the economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics believe that a recession will begin in the United States by the end of 2021.

The Labor Department is revising down the number of jobs that employers added to payrolls by 501,000 during the 12-month period that ran from April, 2018, through March of this year. The government initially estimated the economy added 2.5 million jobs during those 12 months, or just over 200,000 a month. Now it appears it will be closer to 170,000 a month on average.

Persecution Watch

Hundreds of Christians lost their lives in the first half of 2019 alone as a wave of attacks by heavily-armed, mainly Muslim destroyed entire communities, Fulani militants continued to gather momentum in an agenda of “religious cleansing” that is aiding Boko Haram’s attempts to establish an Islamist caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria. The carnage has gone largely unchallenged by the Nigerian Federal Government.

When a marked security car passed a Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade group marching in the Easter parade in Gombe, Nigeria, no one thought much about it. Then suddenly the car turned and sped back towards the boys and girls as they marched, cruelly plowing into them from behind. Six boys and three girls, aged between eleven and 21, died instantly and 13 in total were reported to have perished in the heart-breaking incident.

A Virginia state agency targeted, harassed, and discriminated against a Christian realtor, Hadassah Carter, simply for putting a Bible verse (John 3:16) on her website and including “Jesus loves you” in her email signature. The Virginia state agency actually required her real estate broker to watch and report her religious speech at her job. To make matters worse, it is the Virginia state agency that is claiming religious discrimination, turning logic on its head, notes ACLJ. There are no actual complaints against Hadassah for any discrimination. In fact, she was first targeted by the government when SHE defended one of her own clients from discrimination.

An Obama-appointed federal judge is forcing Wisconsin taxpayers to provide costly sex reassignment surgery and hormonal procedures for low-income transgender residents who get free medical care from the government, reports Judicial Watch. In a recently issued ruling U.S. District Judge William M. Conley wrote that Medicaid, the publicly funded insurance that covers 65.7 million poor people, cannot deny the medical treatment needs of those suffering from “gender dysphoria.” Officials estimate it will cost up to $1.2 million annually to provide transgender Medicaid recipients in the Badger State with treatments such as “gender confirmation” surgery, including elective mastectomies, hysterectomies, genital reconstruction and breast augmentation. The intricate operations are typically done by plastic surgeons.

Israel

The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement garnered lots of media attention this past week when Israel banned BDS supporters, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from visiting Israel, calling them enemies of Israel. It is important to recognize that the intention BDS is not merely to get Israel to improve the lives of the Palestinians, but is, in fact, an effort to completely destroy Israel. BDS founder Omar Barghouti, said, “No Palestinian — rational Palestinian, not a sellout Palestinian — will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” What terrorist groups hope to succeed by exterminating Israel with bombs and missiles, BDS seeks to accomplish the same thing economically.

Researchers from the Geological Survey of Israel and the universities of California and Miami published an article this week in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters assessing that a recent uptick in seismic activity in and around Israel’s Sea of Galilee were caused by large-scale groundwater extraction, while also predicting that a large-scale earthquake is likely to occur in the foreseeable future. “The geological history of the fault combined with the close proximity to populated areas suggest that future pumping in the region should be closely monitored,” the study concluded.

Islamic State

Five months after American-backed forces ousted the Islamic State from its last shard of territory in Syria, the terrorist group is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American and Iraqi military and intelligence officers said. A recent inspector general’s report warned that a drawdown this year from 2,000 American forces in Syria to less than half of that, ordered by Mr. Trump, has meant the American military has had to cut back support for Syrian partner forces fighting ISIS. For now, American and international forces can only try to ensure that ISIS remains contained and away from urban areas. Although there is little concern that the Islamic State will reclaim its former physical territory, a caliphate that was once the size of Britain and controlled the lives of up to 12 million people, the terrorist group has still mobilized as many as 18,000 remaining fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Iran

The U.S. Justice Department issued a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar, a day after a judge in the British overseas territory ordered its release. The tanker “Grace 1” was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off the coast of Gibraltar. Authorities suspected it of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Its seizure aggravated fears of a conflict in the Persian Gulf, where Iran claims control of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments. But despite a last-minute U.S. attempt on Thursday to keep the oil tanker detained in Gibraltar, a court there ordered its release. Monday, the ship left for Greece. The United States has removed nearly 2.7 million barrels of Iranian oil from global markets daily as a result of Washington’s decision to reimpose sanctions on all purchases of Iran’s crude, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomb attack at a wedding in Kabul on Saturday killed 63 people and wounded 182. Among the victims were women and children. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. It said a Pakistani fighter detonated an explosive vest amid a large gathering of Shia Muslims. The terror group also said a car bombing followed the initial attack. The venue is in western Kabul, an area home to many of Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazara minority. It is also near the Darul Aman palace, where President Ashraf Ghani is expected to celebrate Afghan Independence Day on Monday. Afghanistan’s president on Monday vowed to “eliminate” all safe havens of the Islamic State group as the country marked a subdued 100th Independence Day after the horrific wedding attack.

South Korea

South Korea said Thursday it will end an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, a move that prompted immediate concern from U.S. military officials in the wake of repeated North Korean missile tests. A Pentagon spokesman said intelligence sharing is key to a united defense strategy in the region. The United States, South Korea and Japan are stronger and safer when they work together, he said. South Korea’s presidential office announced the decision to nix the intelligence-sharing pact in retaliation for Japan’s decision to downgrade South Korea’s trade status.

Hong Kong

Heavy rain fell on tens of thousands of umbrella-toting protesters Sunday as they marched from a packed park and filled a major road in Hong Kong, where mass pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity this summer. While police had granted approval for the park rally, they didn’t approve an accompanying march. Demonstrators nevertheless fanned out and filled the streets, as there was not enough space at the designated assembly area. In Beijing, You Wenze, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature, condemned statements from U.S. lawmakers supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Organizers claimed that 1.7 million people took part in the protest.

India

Local officials say that at least 2,000 Kashmiris — including business leaders, human rights defenders, elected representatives, teachers, and students as young as 14 — were rounded up by the federal security forces in the days right before and right after the Indian government unilaterally stripped away Kashmir’s autonomy. The detainees have not been able to communicate with their families or meet with lawyers. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Most were taken in the middle of the night, witnesses said. Critics say that even under India’s tough public safety laws this is illegal, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is bending the Indian legal system to cut off any possible criticism in Kashmir.

Indian baby girls are being aborted simply because of their gender. For a family living in poverty, a house full of sons is deemed more profitable, since they are considered the main breadwinners. Afraid of what a daughter will cost, many families choose to simply never have one. In the past three months, 216 babies were born in a handful of villages across northern India, according to a recent report. Not a single one of those babies was a girl. Despite the fact that gender-selective abortions were outlawed by the Indian government in 1994, the practice still occurs. While many other nations have either a balanced gender ratio or one that tips in favor of females, India’s population is skewed. As of 2018, there were only 92 females for every 100 males in the country.

Bangladesh

At least 1,200 tin shacks were destroyed in the Chalantika slum late on Friday, officials said. Many homes had plastic roofs, which helped the flames to spread. No deaths have been reported, although several people were injured. Most residents are low-wage earners and many were away after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. There is no word on the cause of the fire. The number of people made homeless by the fire is unclear, with Reuters news agency reporting it to be 3,000 people and AFP putting the number at 10,000.

Environment

Beaches along Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana remain closed after a steel mill spilled cyanide and ammonia that led to a large fish kill. ArcelorMittal, a steel and mining company, said in a statement that the spill resulted after its Burns Harbor mill, about 32 miles southeast of Chicago, “experienced a failure at the blast furnace water recirculation system. This isolated event resulted in the release of wastewater containing elevated levels of ammonia and cyanide.”

Wildfires

For the second time in a week, a wildfire has forced evacuations on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. More than 8,000 people have been ordered from their homes on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria on Monday as authorities declared a wildfire “unstoppable”. The fire has destroyed more than 23 square miles on the island that is part of Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Nine helicopters and two planes were aiding at least 600 people including firefighters and army emergency personnel who were working in shifts to tackle the blaze.

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest are generating smoke that can be seen from space and may have caused a daytime blackout more than 1,700 miles away in the country’s largest city. In the middle of the day on Monday, the sky above SãoPaulo was blanketed by smoke from the wildfires raging in the Amazon region. Reuters reported the Amazon rainforest has experienced a record number of fires this year, citing new data released by the country’s space agency. Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil, has already declared a state of emergency over the fires. Though the Amazon rainforest has been fire-resistant for much of its history because of its natural moisture and humidity, drought and human activities are creating conditions conducive to wildfires. The Amazon has 80% more fires this year than last. The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle.

Weather

Alaska has been in the throes of an unprecedented heat wave this summer, and the heat stress is killing salmon in large numbers. Scientists have observed die-offs of several varieties of Alaskan salmon, including sockeye, chum and pink salmon. The scientists and the director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission looked for signs of lesions, parasites and infections, but came up empty. Nearly all the salmon they found had “beautiful eggs still inside them.” Because the die-off coincided with the heat wave, they concluded that heat stress was the cause of the mass deaths.

A line of severe thunderstorms that roared across Kansas last Sunday morning reportedly brought winds so powerful they caused two trains with more than 100 cars to derail. Severe storms brought high winds and at least one tornado to parts of Iowa early Tuesday morning. Four semitrailers were blown over by high winds on Interstate 80 near Adair, about 50 miles west of Des Moines. At least two fires are believed to have been caused by lightning during the storms, one at a home and one at an apartment building.

With more than a month to go, India’s monsoon season has claimed more than 1,000 lives. More than 18 million people have been affected by the floods. Most of the deaths have been caused by drowning, wall collapses and landslides. Rainfall has been average this year, but has tended to come in heavy doses instead of being more spread out.

At least five people were killed and 150 injured by a series of lightning strikes in a mountain range on the border of Poland and Slovakia Thursday afternoon. Three people remained missing Friday morning and rescuers were still combing the area looking for other victims.

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