Signs of the Times

And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  (Luke 21:25-26)

Hurricane Dorian Devastates Bahamas, Misses Florida, Hits Carolinas

Hurricane Dorian has now moved away from the Bahamas, leaving chaos, devastation, and at least 30 dead behind it. Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands said that the death toll is expected to rise significantly when searches of hard-hit remote areas are completed. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people missing. The death toll could be “staggering” authorities say. The hurricane, which hit the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, is believed to have destroyed or severely damaged around half the homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, which are home to around 70,000 people. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said that the storm had caused “generational devastation” in the islands, where rescue crews have yet to reach some areas and survivors are desperate for food, medicine, and water.

Hurricane Dorian spawned damaging tornadoes and its high winds and torrential rains felled trees, flooded roads and knocked out power to thousands Thursday morning from Georgia to North Carolina. More than 226,000 customers in coastal South Carolina were without electricity as of 11:45 a.m. Another 8,200 in North Carolina had lost power, as had 6,600 in Georgia. There was more than 100 road closures in and around the city of Charleston, South Carolina, because of flooding and other blockages. As much as 20 inches of rain in places was forecast in the counties around Charleston. Dorian howled over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday, lashing the low-lying barrier islands as a weakened Category 1 hurricane. Destructive waves could reach nearly to the ceilings of one-story structures along the narrow strip of land, where many year-round residents were determined to ride out the storm. Virginia ordered evacuations along its shoreline. 370,000 have lost power in the Carolinas and Virginia as of Friday morning.

Historic Trial Begins over Undercover Abortion Videos

Pro-life advocates David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt’s historic criminal preliminary hearing began with a retired late-term abortionist, referred to in court as “Doe 3” admitting on video that she routinely “didged,” or killed the baby in utero with digoxin, because that gave her and the mother more “peace of mind.” It also prevented the “delivery of a live fetus,” which is “the biggest disaster and it never goes away,” Doe 3 said. Federal law obliges abortionists to attempt to resuscitate a baby who survives an abortion. The video’s screening in a San Francisco court is the first time the footage has been seen publicly because the undercover videos are under a federal injunction ban. Planned Parenthood abortion providers appeared under oath in court and admitted supplying the body parts of children in the womb to for-profit brokers like StemExpress. The two CMP investigative journalists are facing 15 felony charges for “intentionally and without the consent of all parties” recording “confidential” communications. They could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Philadelphia Bans Christian Foster Agencies

The briefs are flooding in at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case in which the justices are being asked to reverse a Philadelphia policy that critics say is causing “grave harm” to children. The policy bars faith-based foster-care agencies from helping needy children. “Religiously motivated providers and parents have played a critical role in filling this need for centuries from coast to coast, and to drive them out ignores the critical need and the grave harm to children that would be caused by their loss,” the lawmakers told the court. The city ordered Catholic Social Services to change its religious doctrine if it wanted to continue placing foster children as it had for a century. The city’s “nondiscrimination” policy requires any partner agency to place children with same-sex couples. Catholic Social Services, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, sued the city and now are appealing to the Supreme Court. Becket senior counsel Lori Windham said that as Philadelphia “attempts to shamelessly score political points, dozens of beds remain empty and children are suffering the consequences.”

Pentagon OKs $3.6B Military Funds to Build Border Wall

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved the use of $3.6 billion in funding from military construction projects to build 175 miles of wall along the Mexican border. Pentagon officials say half the money will come from military projects in the U.S., and the rest will come from projects in other countries. The money will be used to build 11 border projects. President Trump declared a national emergency in order to use military construction and other federal funds to build the wall after Congress provided only a portion of the $5.7 billion the president wanted for the barrier.

Border Arrests Soar

From 1998 to 2018, the share of all federal arrests by country of citizenship rose from 28 percent to 40 percent for Mexican citizens and from 1 percent to 20 percent for citizens of Central American countries, reports the Justice Department. In two of three federal arrests, the arrested person is a foreign national. Meanwhile, the rate fell from 63 percent to 36 percent for U.S. citizens. Apprehensions in the five judicial districts along the Mexican border, home to a quarter of all drug cases in 2018, have nearly doubled in the last decade,” Judicial Watch said. The number of Central Americans captured by federal authorities in the five border districts tripled in one year alone and has risen 30-fold in the last two decades. The border districts in California, Arizona, New Mexico and western and southern Texas “have experienced an eye-popping 539.6 percent [increase] in immigration-related arrests in the last two decades.

Trump Administration Considering Red Flag Data Gathering

The Trump administration is considering a proposal that would use Google, Amazon and Apple to collect data on users who exhibit characteristics of mental illness that could lead to violent behavior, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Those ‘red-flagged’ would have their guns confiscated. The proposal is part of an initiative to create a Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), which would be located inside the Health and Human Services Department, the report notes, citing sources inside the administration. The new agency would have a separate budget and the president would be responsible for appointing its director. HARPA would take after Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which serves as the research arm for the Pentagon. The idea was first crafted in 2017 but has since gotten a renewed push after mass shootings killed 31 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in August.

San Francisco Declares NRA a Domestic Terrorist Group

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has declared the National Rifle Association (NRA) a “domestic terrorist organization” after the July shooting in Gilroy, Calif., that left three people and the gunman dead. In a resolution passed Tuesday, the 11-member board declared the NRA “a domestic terrorist organization” and resolved that city and county officials should “take every reasonable step to assess the financial and contractual relationships our vendors have with this domestic terrorist organization.” While the resolution has no legal weight, San Francisco officials said that it would encourage other cities and governmental agencies to make similar declarations.

Judge Rules Terror Watchlist Violates Constitutional Rights

The government’s watchlist of more than 1 million people identified as “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of those placed on it, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. But the judge is seeking additional legal briefs before deciding what remedy to impose. The ruling from U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga grants summary judgment to nearly two dozen Muslim U.S. citizens who had challenged the watchlist with the help of a Muslim civil-rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The plaintiffs said they were wrongly placed on the list and that the government’s process for adding names is overbroad and riddled with errors. The watchlist is disseminated to a variety of governmental departments, foreign governments and police agencies.

Contaminant in Vaping Products Linked to Deadly Lung Illnesses

Officials investigating a mysterious outbreak of lung disease — more than 200 cases have been reported in 25 states — detected an oil derived from Vitamin E in marijuana vaping products used in different parts of the country, The Washington Post has found. Vitamin E acetate is a common nutritional supplement also used in topical skin treatments, but it could be dangerous when inhaled, experts said. New York state officials are focusing their investigation of vaping-related illnesses on vitamin E acetate after finding very high levels of the substance in marijuana-containing samples being examined.

Cancer Now Leading Cause of Death in Affluent Countries

Heart disease still claims the lives of more people globally, but in more affluent nations it has now ceded its place as the leading killer to cancer, a major new report finds. Around the world, 40% of all deaths are caused by heart disease, making it the No. 1 global killer. That means that of the estimated 55 million people who died around the world in 2017, approximately 17.7 million succumbed to heart disease. Cancer was the second leading killer globally, accounting for 26% of all deaths, the study authors said. For people living in “high-income” countries such as the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia, heart disease represented just 23% of deaths, while cancer was to blame for 55% of deaths

Economic News

Hiring slowed in August as employers added 130,000 jobs, further stoking recession fears and strengthening the Federal Reserve’s argument for another cut in interest rates this month. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7%, just above a 50-year low, the Labor Department said Friday. Further dimming the latest employment snapshot: Payroll gains for and June and July combined were revised down by a total 20,000. More broadly, payroll growth has slowed to an average monthly pace of 158,000 this year from 223,000 in 2018.

  • Black unemployment fell to a record low in August, helped by a jump in the number of black women on the job. The unemployment rate for black workers fell to 5.5% from 6%. The previous record low of 5.9% was set in May 2018.

The American manufacturing sector shrank last month, according to the Institute for Supply Management. It’s the first time that’s happened since August 2016. Against expectations, the group’s manufacturing index, a key gauge for the industry, came in at 49.1. Any number below 50 indicates a contraction. This is the third time that the U.S. manufacturing ISM index has dropped below 50 since the financial crisis, and the previous two events did not trigger recessions. But it’s definitely not a positive signal.

Employers also announced the most layoffs of any August since 2009. Job cuts rose 38 percent over July, with 53,480 positions to be slashed from employer payrolls, led by workforce reductions in health care, which had been a mainstay of recent job creation. “Employers are beginning to feel the effects of the trade war and imposed tariffs by the US and China,” said Andrew Challenger, of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas which issued the report.

The Trump administration is proposing a sweeping plan to remake housing market, including privatizing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. The changes would end more than a decade of government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing giants that back half of the nation’s mortgages. The overall plan is made up of 50 proposals, including changes to mortgage rules that a senior Treasury Department official described as “incremental and realistic.” Experts fear that the proposals — some of which do not require congressional approval — could increase mortgage costs and upset the housing market.

The United States and China have agreed to return to the negotiating table in Washington to discuss trade. It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since the trade war’s rapid escalation in recent weeks. The in-person discussions will resume in “early October,” according to a statement released in China Thursday morning by the country’s Commerce Ministry.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a double parliamentary defeat Wednesday after he failed in his bid to call a general election just hours after rebel lawmakers succeeded in forcing Parliament to block a “no-deal” Brexit. The development adds more confusion to what happens with Britain’s attempt to leave the European Union. It has been beset by multiple delays and conflicted votes. Next steps are far from clear: for Brexit, for Britain and perhaps for Johnson, who has insisted on taking a “do or die” approach to an EU departure.  Britain is scheduled to leave the 28-nation political bloc on Oct. 31. Johnson took over as Britain’s leader from Theresa May a little more than a month ago after he promised the ruling Conservative Party that he would to stick to the Oct. 31 timeframe with or without a formal withdrawal arrangement in place with the EU.

Middle East

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli military posted to twitter images of a Hezbollah compound it says the terror group is using to pursue Iran’s campaign to wipe out the Jewish state. We can now reveal that inside this Hezbollah facility is Iranian-supplied machinery used to manufacture precision guided missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters,” tweeted the IDF. The facility appears to be located near Nabi Chit, Lebanon, less than 100 kilometers from the Israeli border. The IDF added, “Iran is trying to turn its proxy Hezbollah into the first terror group in the world with precision guided missiles. We won’t let them.”

Reports emerged on Tuesday that Iran has begun construction of a large-scale military base near the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Al-Bukamal. The “Imam Ali” base is being built by and for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Analysts who reviewed satellite photos of the site estimated that it would become operational by early in 2020.

Hezbollah fired Kornet anti-tank missiles toward Moshav Avivim in Israel’s north last Sunday, but there were no casualties. Israel had prepared for the attack, which Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah promised would come in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria against Iranian-trained Hezbollah operatives. The Hezbollah terrorists fired at an armored ambulance. There were soldiers in the vehicle, which the Kornet missile narrowly missed. Israel had prepared a counterattack, but called if off because there were no casualties in Hezbollah’s attack.

Iran

This move is yet another in a series of steps Iran has taken over the summer away from the 2015 nuclear accord. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s atomic energy agency would begin research and development on “all kinds” of centrifuge machines that can more quickly enrich uranium. Under the nuclear deal, Iran has been limited to operating 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges. A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

The United States on Wednesday blacklisted an “oil for terror” network of firms, ships and individuals allegedly directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for supplying Syria with oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars in breach of U.S. sanctions.  Washington also issued a new international shipping advisory about IRGC’s use of “deceptive practices” to violate U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil sales and warned that those doing business with blacklisted entities “are now exposed to U.S. sanctions,” said State Department official Brian Hook, who oversees Iran policy.

The United States offered millions of dollars to the captain of an Iranian oil tanker to hand over the ship that is currently at the center of a diplomatic spat, according to the Financial Times and confirmed to the AFP by the U.S. state department. The current whereabouts of the Iranian oil tanker are unknown amid reports that it may have ‘gone dark’ – turning off its transponder while in the Mediterranean west of Syria. The Adrian Darya 1, previously known as Grace 1, was detained by British authorities in Gibraltar on July 4 after it was suspected of moving oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. It was released on August 15 after Iran gave assurances it would not discharge its cargo in Syria – despite the last-minute US effort to prevent its release.

Syria

The U.S. says it has carried out an attack on leaders of a group it calls al-Qaeda in Syria, in the country’s rebel-held Idlib province. US Central Command said the operation had targeted those “responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners and innocent civilians”. No details were given but other reports say some 40 people died in a missile strike on a jihadist training camp. It was hit just after Syrian government forces began a truce in Idlib.

Afghanistan

A Taliban suicide car bomb rocked Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area that includes the U.S. Embassy — the second such attack this week that underscored Afghan government warnings that a preliminary U.S.-Taliban deal on ending America’s longest war was moving dangerously quickly. “Peace with a group that is still killing innocent people is meaningless,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement. Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said another 42 people were wounded and 12 vehicles destroyed in the explosion. Hours later, the Taliban set off a car bomb outside an Afghan military base in a neighboring province, killing four civilians.

Yemen

Yemen is reeling from what has been described as the deadliest attack so far this year after multiple airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition hit a detention center run by the country’s Houthi rebels, killing at least 100 people and wounding dozens. The center in southwestern Dhamar province had around 170 detainees. The Red Cross said 40 wounded were being treated for injuries while the rest were presumed dead. The Saudi-led coalition, which has waged war on the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015, has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals, and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday declared that Moscow will begin producing missiles that were previously prohibited under the Cold War-era nuclear weapons ban that was repudiated by President Trump earlier this year. Putin said that although the country would move forward with plans for the shorter-range, “tactical” nuclear weapons, Moscow would not deploy them unless the U.S. made the first move. The landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty officially ended on August 1, six months after the U.S. announced its intent to withdraw following repeated complaints dating back to the Obama administration that Moscow was cheating on the deal.

Hong Kong

Gas masks, goggles and hard hats were part of students’ uniforms Monday as they headed back to school in Hong Kong, holding signs showing their support Hong Kong’s anti-government protests. Some students boycotted class entirely, wearing all black and joining hands to show solidarity with those who have fought for independence from mainland China. Morning commutes were blocked by protesters as they tried to stop people from boarding the trains at multiple stations. The demonstrations, at times turning violent, have now lasted for nearly three months. People taking to the streets have asked for democracy and an independent investigation into police conduct throughout the protests. Their demands include dropping charges against arrested demonstrators, and withdrawing an extradition bill that allows mainland China to bring Hong Kong residents to stand trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam formally withdrew an extradition bill Wednesday as protesters have demanded, a “dramatic U-turn” for the chief executive. The bill allowing Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trials has sparked massive protests that have rocked the city since June. Lam had previously suspended the bill, but protesters wanted it entirely withdrawn

Pestilence

African swine fever has wiped out a third of China’s pig population. Now government officials are discussing dramatic steps to stabilize the world’s largest pork market. The country is home to half of all the pigs on the planet. The meat is a staple of the Chinese diet. As of July, China had lost more than 100 million pigs to swine fever in the last year.

Wildfires

After years of destructive blazes, the U.S. wildfire season this year has been below average, and the Trump administration wants to keep it that way. The Interior Department has undertaken 2,500 fuel mitigation projects in 10 Western states. Officials are working with locals to clear brush, fortify firebreaks and thin overgrown forests on fire-prone public lands in accordance with President Trump’s Dec. 18 executive order on reducing wildfire risk. Those efforts have benefited from a cool, wet year that has significantly tamped down wildfire outbreaks in the Lower 48 states. A big exception is in Alaska, which has extended the end of its fire season from Aug. 31 to Sept. 30. Wildfires statewide have burned about 250 million acres this year. While Alaska is abnormally dry, the rest of the country is registering some of the lowest drought conditions since the U.S. Drought Monitor started keeping records in 2000.

The fast-moving Tenaja Fire continued to burn in Southern California on Friday morning after charring nearly 2,000 acres, triggering mandatory evacuations for hundreds of residents. The fire broke out around 4 p.m. in La Cresta, a small community perched above Murrieta that contains sprawling, multimillion-dollar estates. Mandatory evacuations were in effect for all residences along The Trails Circle in La Cresta and the Copper Canyon neighborhood south of Calle del Oso Oro between Clinton Keith and Murrieta Creek at Calle del Oso Oro.

 

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