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Signs of the Times

June 18, 2018

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

Record Support for Gay Relations, Pornography and Polygamy

A record percentage of Americans believe that gay and lesbian relations, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable, although a plurality believe that abortion is morally wrong, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup released its annual Values and Beliefs survey last week, which began in 2001. This year’s poll examined Americans’ beliefs on 21 issues. A record high of 67% of American adults believe that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable, an increase from last year’s previous high of 63%. The results set records on several other issues: 76% say divorce is morally acceptable (up from 73% last year); 43% say pornography is morally acceptable (previous high: 36% in 2017); 19% say polygamy is morally acceptable (previous high: 17% in 2017).

Religious People have Longer Lifespans than Atheists

A just-released study found that religious people live an average of four years longer than atheists. Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed 1,000 obituaries published across the United States since 2011 and found a correlation between faith and longevity. Baldwin Way, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and co-author of the study, said religious strictures on unhealthy practices such as alcohol consumption, drug use and sex with multiple partners, may explain the findings in part. Many religions also “promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation,” Mr. Way said.

Top Court in Canada Rules LGBT Rights Supersede Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Monday, June 18, that LGBT sexual equality “rights” trump religious rights in an unprecedented blow against religious freedom in Canada. In a pair of 7-2 rulings, the court ruled that it was “proportionate and reasonable” for the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario to refuse accreditation to future Trinity Western University students because the proposed Christian law school’s “community covenant” would discriminate against LGBTQ people. The ruling means that future grads from Trinity Western University’s law school—if the school, in fact, opens—will not be able to practice law in Ontario and B.C. This decision will have far-reaching impacts against religious freedom in Canada.

President Trump Says North Korea No Longer a Nuclear Threat

President Donald Trump claimed that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea after arriving back in Washington from Singapore where he met with Kim Jong Un for a historic summit. “Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer.” Of course, as with Iran, North Korea hasn’t yet proved its trustworthiness. However, for the moment, at least, the threat appears to be vastly improved.

North Korea’s official media described the unprecedented summit in Singapore between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un as a “historic” success for the North Korean leader, underscoring the meeting’s propaganda value for a regime long isolated from the international community. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that President Trump agreed to lift sanctions on Pyongyang as relations between the countries improved. However, that’s not quite true. Trump said the sanctions “will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor,” referring to Washington’s insistence that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program.

‘Zero Tolerance’ Border Policy Separating Children from Parents

In April, the Trump administration directed U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the southwest border to criminally prosecute adult migrants for entering the country illegally. In the past illegal entry had been handled as a civil matter. Since children cannot be held in the detention centers, they are placed elsewhere. The practice of separating children from their parents has been touted by the Trump administration as an amplified effort to deter migrants from entering the country illegally. Since the “zero tolerance” policy was announced at least 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults. These are only the children of parents who entered the country illegally, not those of parents who apply for asylum at border entry points. The separated children are being housed at shelters for unaccompanied children. Unaccompanied immigrant children have been held in detention facilities across the U.S. since before the 1990s. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is the agency under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for the children. They award contracts to licensed child-care providers to house them. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the policy Monday, “Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards.”

First Ladies Speak Out Against Zero Tolerance Policy

America’s first ladies, current and former, have weighed in on the “zero tolerance” policy that is leading to migrant families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” Melania Trump’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN Sunday. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.” Laura Bush, wife of former president George Bush, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

60,000 DACA Criminals Allowed to Stay in U.S.

Nearly 60,000 immigrants with arrest records — including 10 accused of murder — have been allowed to stay in the United States under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed Monday. According to DHS, 59,786 DACA recipients have been arrested while in the U.S. — approximately 7.8 percent of all who have been approved to remain in this country under the program since it was created in 2012. Of the 53,792 DACA recipients with a “prior” arrest, more than 4,500 had been arrested on allegations of assault or battery; 830 arrests were related to sex crimes — including rape, sexual abuse or indecent exposure; and 95 arrests were made on warrants for kidnapping, human trafficking or false imprisonment. The DHS statistics do not indicate how many of the arrested immigrants were convicted of crimes, nor do they indicate whether charges were reduced or dropped. They also do not indicate how many arrested DACA recipients were deported as the result of a conviction.

U.S. Clearing Backlog of Asylum Cases

The government is making headway on the asylum backlog for the first time in years, clearing more cases in May than it received, as officials finally think they have hit on ways to tamp down on people abusing the system as a backdoor method of illegal immigration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services took in 7,757 cases last month, but completed 7,959 cases. The success came on both sides of the ledger. New cases have been cut nearly in half when compared to the peak years during the Obama administration, while the number of cases closed more than doubled compared to the Obama years. And those achievements came even before the Justice Department’s decision this week to tighten standards for asylum. That move should speed USCIS’s ability to reduce a backlog that’s reached nearly 320,000 cases.

2,300 Suspected Online Sex Offenders Arrested

A three-month, nationwide operation targeting individuals suspected of Internet child sex crimes has resulted in the arrest of more than 2,300 people, the Department of Justice announced last week. The operation, known as Broken Heart, took place between March and May. The operation targeted individuals suspected of a variety of online sex crimes, including involvement in child pornography, child sex trafficking and the enticement of children for sexual purposes. Approximately 25,200 sexual abuse complaints were investigated during in the course of the operation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Any would-be criminal should be warned: this Department will remain relentless in hunting down those who victimize our children.”

Trade War Heats Up

China announced retaliatory tariffs designed to hit President Trump’s supporters in farm states and the industrial Midwest. The measures, announced barely an hour after the White House went ahead with 25 percent import tax on $50 billion of Chinese imports to the United States, brought the world’s two biggest economies into a tit-for-tat trade war that business leaders and Republicans in Congress have feared. Trump had promised that if China retaliated, the United States would “pursue additional tariffs.” The U.S. tariffs follow an administration report in March that complained China had forced foreign companies to surrender their technology secrets in return for market access and had pilfered other advanced U.S. technologies through a campaign of cybertheft and investment in Silicon Valley start-ups. India has also proposed hiking tariffs on 30 US products in order to recoup trade penalties worth $241 million, according to a World Trade Organization filing. moving forward with plans to hit back at the United States over trade.

Economic News

Overall enrollment in the country’s food stamp program has dropped to its lowest level in more than eight years as the economy continues to improve and the Trump administration attempts to tackle fraud in the program. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), enrollment in the program dropped in March to 40,083,954. The last time food stamp participation dipped this low was in February 2010, when 39,588,993 people were enrolled in the program. The agency expects about 8.8 million to leave the program in the next 10 years.

The International Monetary Fund believes the U.S. economy will post solid growth this year and next, helped by a sizable boost from tax cuts. But then it says growth will slide as huge budget deficits drag growth far below the Trump administration’s goals. In its annual assessment of the U.S. economy, the IMF says growth will hit 2.9 percent this year and 2.7 percent next year. Both are significant increases from last year’s 2.3 percent expansion. However, after an initial boost from the $1.5 trillion tax cut package, the IMF forecasts growth will slow steadily in future years, dropping to 1.4 percent by 2023.

The Federal Reserve hiked America’s benchmark interest rate a quarter point last Wednesday to 1.75 to 2 percent, a move that will likely cause a slight increase in mortgage, credit card, auto and small business loan rates. The hike was widely expected, and is the Fed’s second of 2018. The central bank signaled it is likely to do two more increases by the end of this year. The U.S. economy continues to strengthen, the Fed indicated, and it no longer needs the historically low interest rates that were put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis to stimulate growth. Unemployment is already at 3.8 percent, the lowest since 2000, and the Fed believes it will fall to 3.6 percent by the end of the year, which would be the best rate since the 1960s.

Retail sales rose 0.8% in May, the government reported Thursday — much better than expected. Spending was up 5.9% from a year ago. And the gains were broad: Spending surged at clothing stores, at restaurants and at home-improvement stores. In fact, the jump in spending at physical stores in May outpaced what the government calls non-store retailers, a category that includes Amazon and other online retailers. (It also includes catalog retailers, vending machines and even newspaper delivery. American shoppers appear to be feeling more confident because of a strong economy and job market.

A federal judge last Tuesday approved AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, a deal that promises to reshape the media industry. After a six-week trial, Judge Richard Leon ruled that the government had failed to prove that the deal violates antitrust law. AT&T vowed to close the deal by June 20 — meaning that HBO, CNN, Warner Bros. and Time Warner’s other brands will change hands next week. The deal will combine Time Warner’s TV shows and movies with AT&T’s enormous distribution system, including cell phone and satellite networks. AT&T said it needed Time Warner to survive in a rapidly changing media landscape, especially to compete against giants like Netflix and Amazon. Wall Street is betting the court decision will spark a wave of other deals.

Middle East

A large terrorist network operating in the Nablus (Shechem) region that plotted major attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem has been foiled by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), IDF and Israeli Police in recent months, the security agency revealed Sunday. The network consisted of over 20 operatives, most of who belong to Hamas, and includes individuals with a “rich history of terrorist activities and the production of explosive devices,” the Shin Bet statement said. Interrogation of the detainees revealed that they had planned to carry out major attacks in large Israeli cities, including planting a bomb in Tel Aviv, a suicide attack in Jerusalem and a shooting attack in Samaria. Shin Bet agents discovered a powerful 10-kilogram explosive device with cellular activation while investigating the case as well as 15 additional kilograms of explosives alongside bomb-making materials and instructions.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Wednesday rejected a US motion against Hamas, but affirmed a Palestinian-led initiative against Israel that condemned the Jewish state for the actions it took to prevent thousands of Gazans from overrunning its border fence. The UNGA also criticized Israel’s counter-terror and policing actions against Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. The initiative was passed by 120-8, with 45 abstentions. The text made no mention of Hamas, a terrorist group which controls the Gaza Strip and which has a long history of violent attacks against Israel. EU countries who supported the Palestinians were Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. EU countries that abstained were Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom (yes, the UK is still in the EU despite Brexit, with its exit still under negotiation).

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he needs the assistance of Iranian and Hizballah forces in Syria and they will stay for as long as they deem necessary. In an interview with Iran’s Al-Alam TV late on June 13, Assad said Iran did not have any military bases in Syria, unlike Russia, but he said that if there was “a need for Iranian military bases, we will not hesitate” to provide them. “Iran is an allied country, as [is] the case with Russia,” he said. Assad said he had received critical support from Iranian advisers and fighters as well as Iraqi Shi’ite militias and the Lebanese fighters in Hizballah’s militia in his seven-year civil war against Sunni rebels, which has killed more than a half-million people. He said those fighters were still needed for the government to regain control an estimated 40 percent of the country that is still controlled by rebel forces.

Syrian state media reported Monday that an airstrike against pro-government forces in the far east of the country caused casualties, while Iraqi officials said 20 Shiite paramilitaries were killed just across the border. The Syrian state TV report said the airstrike was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group. But a coalition spokesman said it had not carried out any strikes in the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the airstrike killed 38 foreign fighters allied with the Syrian government, mostly Iraqis. Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces in Syria include large numbers of Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters.

Afghanistan

As a cease-fire by the Afghan government and the Taliban took hold, security forces and insurgents celebrated and took pictures together for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramada. But at one of those celebrations in the eastern province of Nangarhar, an explosion went off Saturday afternoon, killing at least 36 people and wounding more than 65, among them civilians and members of both the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. Dozens of Afghan troops were being killed every day in the run-up to the cease-fires, raising doubts about whether a sudden cessation of fighting would take hold. But for much of Friday and Saturday, Afghans were happily surprised, stunned even, by how widely the truces had been embraced. The blast that took casualties from both sides was a reminder of how complex the Afghan war remains.

Iran

A week after it was announced that French carmaker Peugeot-Citroen had left the Iranian market, Japan’s Mazda and South Korean Hyundai have also suspended contracts with Iran. Hyundai had resumed cooperation with Iran after the ratification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. However, after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to leave JCPOA, Hyundai also prepared itself to end cooperation with the Iranian company Kerman Khodro. In an interview with the parliament-affiliated website, Valiyollah Maleki said June 12, “Mazda and Hyundai’s interests in the U.S. market are much more than in Iran, and they will not sacrifice their profit for the sake of Iran.” The European Investment Bank has balked at an EU proposal to do business in Iran to help offset U.S. sanctions and save the 2015 nuclear deal. The EU relented under pressure from the United States – where the bank raises much of its funds.

Yemen

Yemeni forces, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, launched an assault on Yemen’s most important port early Wednesday, despite efforts by the United Nations to broker a deal to avert a battle it said could trigger a massive humanitarian crisis. Its forces have “started a military operation to liberate the city of Hodeidah,” from Houthi rebels, Yemen’s government media office said in a statement. The ground attack on Hodeidah and its surrounding areas was being supported by intensifying strikes from the air and sea by coalition forces, according to one person there and local press reports. Mohammed al Jabir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, said on Twitter that “Hodeida will be liberated, and the Yemeni people will gain back a major artery of life. An essential lifeline that was previously plagued by the Iranian backed Houthi militia.

Myanmar/Bangladesh

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees are at risk as the monsoon season takes a firm hold of southern Bangladesh. The camps, teeming with some 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, are ill-equipped to handle the intensive rains. Last week, the refugee camps were hard hit by the first rains of the season, which reportedly killed three people and triggered at least 131 landslides. An estimated 12 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period that began June 9 and continued through the weekend. In preparation for the monsoon season, 29,000 of the 200,000 refugees most at risk were moved to safer ground.

Environment

New Delhi officials have ordered a two-day halt to construction in an attempt to reduce choking pollution that has cloaked the city in smog and dust. The government’s Central Pollution Control Board rated the city’s air quality Friday as “severe” – the worst possible category – for the fourth day in a row. New Delhi’s level of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that can dangerously clog lungs, exceeded 170 Friday morning, more than six times higher than the World Health Organization considers safe. The New Delhi government has made scattered attempts in recent years to try to control worsening air pollution, including stricter emission norms for cars and a tax on diesel-fueled trucks entering the city. But experts say there is little that can be accomplished without concerted national efforts, as the pollution has only gotten worse.

Earthquakes

At least three people are dead and more than 300 have been injured after a strong earthquake knocked over walls and ignited scattered fires around metropolitan Osaka in Western Japan on Monday. The earthquake struck around 8 a.m. north of Osaka at a depth of about 9 miles, A falling concrete wall at a school killed a 9-year-old girl during the 5.3 magnitude quake. The other two fatalities were both men in their 80s. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 214 people were treated for injuries at hospitals. Most of the injured were in Osaka – Japan’s second largest city. Injuries reported in Kyoto and three other neighboring prefectures were all minor.

Volcanoes

Massive eruptions of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano and Guatemala’s Fuego volcano captivated the entire world in recent days, and now it looks like even more volcanoes are starting to wake up. Yellow alerts were issued last week for Mexico’s Mt. Popocatepetl and Alaska’s Great Sitkin volcano. Mt. Popocatepetl and Great Sitkin both sit along the “Ring of Fire” that roughly encircles the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean, and many are becoming concerned that we may be witnessing some sort of “chain reaction” as volcanoes all over the globe begin to exhibit signs of increased activity. This even includes some unusual happenings at Yellowstone National Park where the Steamboat Geyser, the largest in the world, has now erupted eight times in less than three months. Until this recent series of eruptions, the last time Steamboat blew was in September 2014. Experts say that a major eruption at Yellowstone would cause a major catastrophe.

Authorities ordered new evacuations due to the activity at Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire Friday as troublesome climatic conditions and still-smoldering volcanic material continued to create a dangerous situation. Molten material, water and sediment spilling through four canyons prompted local disaster agency Conred to tell residents in the town of El Rodeo to leave their homes. The number of confirmed dead rose to 109 after 10 more bodies were taken in by morgues, the National Institute of Forensic Science said. Another 200 remain missing.

  • Increased earthquake and volcanic activity is a key end-time indicator (Revelation 6:12-14)

Wildfires

Rainfall left behind by Hurricane Bud helped fire crews battle blazes that continued to burn in Colorado and Wyoming Sunday. The 416 Fire wildfire in southwestern Colorado had more than doubling in size amid dry, gusty conditions before the rains arrived. More than 2,100 homes had been evacuated since the fire broke out June 1. Hundreds of residents were permitted to return to their homes Friday. There have been no reports of homes being damaged by the blaze. The fire burning 10 miles north of Durango had consumed 53 square miles as of Monday morning and was 25 percent contained.

Just north of the Colorado border, a blaze near Laramie, Wyoming, exploded in size last week, prompting the evacuation of numerous homes in several small communities and closing roads. The Badger Creek burned about 31 square miles and destroyed three structures. The cause of the fire is under investigation and is 85% percent contained Monday thanks to the precipitation.

Weather

Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday. The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded. If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they had hoped. Antarctica, the planet’s largest ice sheet, lost 219 billion tons of ice annually from 2012 through 2017 — approximately triple the 73 billion-ton melt rate of a decade ago, the scientists concluded. From 1992 through 1997, Antarctica lost 49 billion tons of ice annually.

Some residents of Alaska are having to double check the calendar to make sure it’s still June after encountering cold temperatures and snow this week. Fairbanks, Alaska, saw its temperature drop to 36 degrees last Tuesday, the coldest so late in the season since 1960. The average low temperature in Fairbanks this time of year is 49 degrees and the average high is 71 degrees. About 4-8 inches of snow also fell across parts of Alaska last week.

Major flash flooding swamped several towns on Sunday morning from northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin to Upper Michigan after heavy rainfall swept through the region. Residents of Houghton County, Michigan, were urged to shelter in place. The county received 4 to 7 inches of rain in seven hours. At least 60 sinkholes were reported between the Houghton and Hancock areas, Floodwaters caused “extensive washouts.” Flooding entered the administrative building on the Michigan Technological University campus in Houghton. Significant flooding was also reported in northeast Minnesota and northern Wisconsin early Sunday.

Signs of the Times

June 12, 2018

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.  (Psalm 34:17-18)

Another Win for Religious Freedom at Christian Colleges

A federal district court is blocking the federal government from enforcing the Obama abortion-pill mandate against Christian colleges in Indiana and California. “After reconsideration of their position, defendants with the federal government now agree that enforcement of the rules regarding the contraceptive mandate against employers with sincerely held religious objections would violate the RFRA.” the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, wrote. The order also declares that the mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton. The 1993 Act ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected. The Obama-era mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception through their health plans under threat of heavy penalties. The Department of Justice, under the Trump administration, abandoned its defense of the flawed mandate, which the Department of Health and Human Services implemented during the previous administration.

Parents Objecting to Transgender Boys Winning Girls’ Track Events

Parents in Connecticut have launched petitions to prevent transgender boys from running in girls’ track and field events, saying the current rules governing transgender teenagers gives boys an unfair advantage. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) – which governs high school sports in the state – allows athletes to compete as the gender with which they identify. That rule benefited Cromwell High School’s Andraya Yearwood, a boy who is racing in girls’ events and who won consecutive 100-meter sprint titles in Class M as a freshman and sophomore. Another boy competing as a girl, Bulkeley High School’s Terry Miller, won the 100- and 200-meter open races this year, setting records in each meet. There are now many transgender athletes competing across the state, the Hartford Courant reported. CIAC policy doesn’t tie gender to biological sex. The rules are different on the collegiate level and in international competitions, which require an athlete to complete hormone treatment to level the playing field.

Gallup Poll Shows Americans Still Pro-Life

More Americans (48 percent) still believe abortion (the killing of an unborn baby) is morally wrong, while 43 percent believe it is morally acceptable, according to Gallup in their most recent poll. These poll numbers have remained consistent over the past several years. Thanks to modern medical advances and the educational work of the pro-life movement, the humanity of the unborn child is clearer than ever to the average American, notes LifeNews.com. In addition, Gallop found that a slim majority of Americans are buying into the false “death with dignity” claims of the euthanasia movement, with 54 percent saying doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable. In contrast, 42 percent said the deadly practice is morally wrong. Americans widely oppose suicide itself, with 75 percent describing it as morally wrong, compared to 20 percent who find it morally acceptable, according to the poll.

Barna Survey Finds Christians Ignorant of Great Commission

A recent survey from Barna Group found that 51% of churchgoers don’t even know the term Great Commission, which refers to the mandate that Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 to evangelize the world. Even more ominously, the Barna survey found that only 10% of churchgoing Millennials said that they have “heard of and remember the Great Commission.” That’s alarming! Only 1 in 10 young people age 22-37 know the central mission of the church, notes the American Family Association. In addition, a recent study released on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, 40% of Millennials in the U.S. don’t know 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Thousands of Kachin Christians Facing Ethnic Cleansing

The past year has seen the cruel ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims of western Myanmar (Burma). It is good that the international media have repeatedly highlighted the appalling way in which these innocent people have been treated by their own government. But Christian ethnic groups in the north of the country have suffered for over 40 years with barely a glance from the world’s press, reports Barnabas Aid. Ten thousand Kachin Christians fled aerial bombardment in April in their homeland Myanmar and are in desperate need of food, clothes and other practical help. Sheltering in churches, they join many thousands of other displaced Kachin Christians who have been living for years in camps. All have lost their homes and livelihoods. It is the Burmese army who are their persecutors – burning villages, bombing from the air, forcing whole communities to flee again and again. Sky News has said there is no aid agency operating amongst the Kachin. But Barnabas Fund, working through our local Christian partners in Myanmar, is already helping the homeless Kachin people.

  • You can send donations to Barnabas Aid here

Historic Summit Meeting with North Korea Yields Promises but No Details

Nearly five hours of unprecedented talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un culminated on Tuesday with declarations of a new friendship but just vague pledges of nuclear disarmament. Trump meeting with Kim on Tuesday was, an historic summit that was filled with pomp but lacking in detail. When Trump and Kim met, it began with a handshake, the first time a sitting U.S. president has ever met with a leader of North Korea face-to-face. Trump declared that the summit would lead to denuclearization in North Korea, but he noted that this was only the beginning of such negotiations. However, it’s a major upgrade from when Trump was threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” last year, and North Korea warned it could attack Guam. Trump has “committed to provide security guarantees,” while Kim has “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Trump also said he would withdraw troops from South Korea and stop playing “war games” military exercises with the country. Trump and Kim held a wide-ranging press conference that went on for longer than an hour. Trump noted during the news conference that there would likely be a need for another meeting, and that he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House.

  • Basking in the afterglow of his apparently constructive meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump said that he’d soon like a “real deal” with the U.S.’ other long-time enemy Iran.

Trump’s Decision to End Military Exercises has South Korea Concerned

President Trump, as part of the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, reversed longstanding U.S. policy by calling for an end to military drills on the Korean Peninsula and saying he wants to bring U.S. troops home from the region. “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” Trump said after his meeting with Kim. “But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money.” He also said he wants to “bring our soldiers back home” from the region, though added this is not “part of the equation right now.” While both moves would align with Trump’s general principles of cutting costs and pulling soldiers back from conflicts where possible, they are causing concern in Seoul, South Korea, which views the presence of U.S. troops and the military exercises as important to regional security. “At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry said, adding that there have been no discussions yet with Washington on modifying military drills set for August.

Trump Refuses to Sign G-7 Joint Statement

President Trump feuded with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and threatened to impose penalties on foreign automobile imports Saturday, capping an acrimonious meeting of the Group of Seven industrial nations that further frayed ties between the United States and its closest allies. Trump said Saturday evening that he had instructed U.S. officials to withdraw support for a joint statement with other member nations he had backed just hours earlier, saying the United States would not join after Trudeau publicly criticized Trump’s trade policy. “Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!” Trump wrote on Twitter after leaving the summit. Earlier Saturday, Trudeau criticized Trump’s recent decision to place tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, saying it was “insulting” that Trump cited U.S. national security as his reason for doing so. Trump’s abandonment of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement and his decision to impose protectionist tariffs on European steel and aluminum products have established an unprecedented level of animosity between the United States and Europe.

Zero Tolerance on Border Overflowing Courts and Holding Facilities

The government’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants and its tactic of separating families at the border has taxed the immigration system, from overflowing holding facilities to crammed courts. Before the policy was enacted in May, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas would see about 20 to 30 immigrants a day charged with crimes. On Wednesday morning, 72 shackled defendants shuffled into the courtroom, filling nearly all six rows of wooden pews. They had all been charged with a federal misdemeanor for crossing into the U.S. without papers. Thirteen of them had been separated from their children, some as young as six years old. Another similarly-sized hearing was scheduled for later in the afternoon. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the policy is intended to act as a deterrent to others considering crossing illegally into the U.S. But critics maintain the policy has created a self-inflicted crisis, similar to one in 2014, when more than 70,000 unaccompanied minors flooded over the U.S. southern border with Mexico, overrunning holding facilities and courtrooms.

The Trump administration has started moving up to 1,600 immigration violators awaiting deportation hearings into federal prisons, a first-of-its-kind transfer that shows how many more immigrants are being rounded up under the president’s push to crack down on illegal immigration. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said Thursday that the agency entered into an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons to make the beds available for people caught illegally crossing the border.

ICE Arrests 114 Undocumented Workers in Ohio Raid

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 114 undocumented immigrants working at an Ohio gardening business in one of its largest workplace raids in recent years. In April, ICE arrested nearly 100 people accused of being in the US illegally at a Tennessee meatpacking plant. At the time, immigration rights groups said that operation was ICE’s largest workplace raid in a decade. The mass arrest is part of the Trump administration’s aggressive stance on immigration, and particularly its pledge to increase crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. “Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we’re going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers,” said Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan.

U.S. Suicide Rate Continues to Increase

Two celebrity suicides this past week have captured the attention of the mainstream media. However, they fail to note that suicide rates in the U.S. have been increasing for years. On average, 123 Americans commit suicide every single day, and now suicide has become the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. But among Americans between the ages of 10 and 34, it is now the second leading cause of death. Suicide rates in the United States “have risen nearly 30 percent since 1999” according to according to a report released last Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that rates have increased “among both sexes, all racial/ethnic groups, and all urbanization levels”, and so this is not just a trend that is affecting one particular demographic group. And virtually all age groups are seeing major increases as well.  For example, hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts and attempts at children’s hospitals approximately doubled over a recent 7 years period.

  • Such is the effect of the increasing godlessness in our once-Christian nation.

Obamacare Premiums Will Soar in 2019

Obamacare premiums could jump by double digits again next year, reports CNN. Insurers in several states have requested large rate hikes for 2019, with many pointing to steps taken by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress as the main reasons why. New York insurers want to hike rates by 24%, on average, while carriers in Washington are looking for a 19% average premium increase. In Maryland, CareFirst is asking for an average 18.5% rate bump for its HMO plans and a 91% spike for its PPO policies (which have far fewer enrollees), while Kaiser Permanente wants to boost premiums by more than 37%, on average. Many insurers cite two key drivers of the increases: Congress’ elimination of the penalty for the individual mandate — which requires nearly all Americans to have coverage or pay up — and the Trump administration’s expected expansion of two types of health plans that don’t have to adhere to Obamacare’s regulations.

Facebook Gave Chinese Companies Access to User Data

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including a manufacturing giant that has a close relationship with China’s government that has been flagged by U.S. intelligence as a security threat. The social media company said that the agreements, which date to at least 2010, gave private access to some user data to Huawei, a telecommunications equipment company that has been flagged by American intelligence officials as a national security threat, as well as to Lenovo, Oppo and TCL, reports the New York Times.

Mexico Hits U.S. With Tariffs

Mexico hit back at the United States on Tuesday, imposing tariffs on around $3 billion worth of American pork, steel, cheese and other goods in response to the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum levies, further straining relations between the two countries as they struggle to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement. The tariffs came as the Trump administration threw another complication into the fractious NAFTA talks by saying it wants to splinter discussions with Canada and Mexico and work on separate agreements rather than continue three-country discussions to rewrite the 1994 trade deal. The Trump administration hit Mexico and Canada with 25 percent steel tariffs and 10 percent aluminum tariffs on June 1 as part of a campaign to pressure the countries to agree to America’s demands on a revised NAFTA. The United States also imposed metals tariffs on the European Union, Japan and other countries as part of an effort to stop the flow of imported metals, which the administration has said threaten national security by degrading the American industrial base.

Economic News

The total costs of Social Security will exceed total income this year for the first time since 1982, according to the annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report released on Tuesday, as funds for Medicare are expected to run dry earlier than expected. The trustees forecast that 100% of benefits will be covered through 2034, after which the trust funds for Social Security, which also cover old age and disability insurance programs, will only be able to cover about 79% of benefits. Meanwhile, Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund is expected to run dry in 2026, three years earlier than what the trustees had predicted in last year’s report. At that time, funds will be sufficient to cover just 91% of Medicare Part A costs. Challenges for both programs are exacerbated by the aging of the baby boomer population, without an equivalent proportion of workers available to replace them in the workforce.

U.S. inflation accelerated in May to the fastest pace in more than six years, reinforcing the Federal Reserve’s outlook for gradual interest-rate hikes while eroding wage gains that remain relatively tepid despite an 18-year low in unemployment. The consumer price index rose 0.2 percent from the previous month and 2.8 percent from a year earlier. The annual gain was the biggest since February 2012 and follows a 2.5 percent annual increase in April. The pickup in headline inflation partly reflects gains in fuel prices, though the annual 2.2% gain in the core measure was the most since February 2017.The Fed is widely projected to raise borrowing costs this week for the sixth time in 18 months

For the first time in at least 20 years, there are now more job openings than there are people looking for work. The total number of job openings was 6.7 million at the end of April, with an especially large increase in manufacturing jobs. One of the reasons for this shortfall: The open jobs and the people looking for work aren’t in the same place. Also, available workers might not have the skills employers are looking for. Even with all the advances in job search platforms like LinkedIn, companies still have trouble finding workers with the exact qualifications they need, and very often end up hiring people from competitors rather than out of unemployment.

The total costs for a typical family of four insured by the most common health plan offered by employers will average $28,166 this year, according to the annual Milliman Medical Index. The estimate includes the average cost of health insurance paid by employers and employees, as well as deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. The largest portion of that amount goes to pay for health insurance. Last year, the premium for the most popular health plan offered by employers — what is known as a preferred provider organization — for family coverage was $19,481, according to the annual survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. Employers paid $13,430 and employees paid $6,050 of the premium on average.

The U.S. dethroned Hong Kong to retake first place among the world’s most competitive economies, thanks to faster economic growth and a supportive atmosphere for scientific and technological innovation, according to annual rankings by the Switzerland-based IMD World Competitiveness Center. The U.S., which reclaimed the No. 1 spot for the first time since 2015, scored especially well in international investment, domestic economy and scientific infrastructure sub-categories while earning below-average marks in public finance and prices. The renewed top ranking aligns with the positive U.S. growth narrative over the past year. Growth averaged 2.9 percent in the four quarters through March, versus 2 percent in the prior period.

Middle East

Iran’s Supreme leader again openly called for Israel’s complete destruction as his country continues its program to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles with which to deliver them. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted Sunday that Iran’s “stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.” Khamenei’s tweet over the weekend was followed by an announcement Monday that he had ordered Iranian atomic authorities to increase the nation’s nuclear enrichment capacity, claiming the step did not violate the 2015 nuclear deal, which European countries are desperately trying to salvage after the U.S. pulled out.

Firefighters continued to battle several large blazes in southern Israel Wednesday morning amidst an onslaught of incendiary kites sent into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. A massive fire was still burning near the campus of Sapir College in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, while other fires burned in or near communities including Kissufim, Nirim, Miflasim, Ein Hashlosha and Nir Am.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un’s overhaul of his top military leadership a week before the summit with President Trump may be a sign that the North Korean leader is worried about opposition from the country’s powerful armed forces as he heads into the talks, some analysts said Monday. All three of North Korea’s top military officials have been replaced, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Sunday. Opposition from the country’s powerful armed forces could limit how far Kim is willing to go in dismantling his nuclear arsenal. At a minimum Kim could cite those concerns to Trump as an excuse for moving slowly with denuclearization.

Syria

Airstrikes by the Syrian government on a village in rebel-held Syria have killed at least 44 civilians and injured a further 80, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has said, in the biggest attack in the area so far this year. The UK-based war monitor as well as the Syrian Civil Defence service said the attack on Zardana in Idlib province overnight on Thursday involved a “double tap”, in which planes returned to bomb the same area after paramedics arrived at the scene. Eight strikes hit the small settlement after dark, during which people were breaking the Ramadan fast. Both the Syrian and Russian air forces operate over Idlib, but the area has been subject to a de-escalation agreement between government and rebel forces since 2017.

Afghanistan

American warplanes have destroyed about 40 U.S.-supplied Humvees that the Taliban captured from Afghanistan’s military over the past several years, according to coalition military statistics. The statistics highlight a recurring problem: Taliban fighters have frequently attacked Afghan government outposts throughout the country, capturing U.S.-supplied equipment and then disappearing into the countryside with their U.S.-made booty. If the equipment can’t be recaptured with a ground attack it is destroyed from the air. The 40 Humvees were destroyed in U.S. airstrikes since January 2015, shortly after U.S. combat forces left Afghanistan and Afghan government troops took the lead in fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia issued its first driver’s licenses to 10 women on Monday as the kingdom prepared to lift the world’s only ban on female drivers in three weeks. But some who campaigned for the right to drive remained under arrest. Saudi women had long complained of having to hire costly male drivers, use taxis or rely on male relatives to get to work and run errands. A government statement said the 10 women who were issued licenses already held licenses from other countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Lebanon and Canada. They took a brief driving test and eye exam before being issued the licenses. Other women across the country have been preparing for the right to drive on June 24 by taking driving courses on female-only college campuses. Some are even training to become drivers for ride-hailing companies like Uber.

Volcanoes

Two explosions rocked Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano summit Monday, sending ash into the air and triggering at least one magnitude 5.4 earthquake. On Saturday, a small explosion on the summit triggered a magnitude 5.2 earthquake. Officials say there’s no way to know when the Kilauea Volcano will stop erupting on the Big Island, where more than 600 homes have been destroyed by lava. On Monday, officials began letting some residents return to their homes as lava flowing into the ocean posed no new threat. Roughly a mile of new land has formed from lava that flowed from Kilauea and reached Kapoho Bay.

Wildfires

A wildfire in southwestern Colorado grew to 31 square miles Monday, prompting more evacuations north of Durango. The 416 Fire is burning 8 miles north of Durango and is 15 percent contained. No homes have been damaged. The fire is one of several blazes burning in Colorado, New Mexico and California amid dry conditions and severe drought. One blaze in California claimed three lives. Officials said a woman and her two small children were found dead in a camping trailer burned by a wildfire that grew east of Monterey, California. A Ute Park blaze burning in northern New Mexico has consumed 57 square miles but was 92 percent contained as of Monday. The fire destroyed 14 unoccupied structures at the Boy Scouts’ Philmont Ranch overnight as it burned near Highway 64 in Ute Park. The Buzzard fire, ten miles east of Reserve, New Mexico, has burned 64 square miles and was 69% contained as of Monday. In Arizona, three wildfires burned a total of 15 square miles, but all were almost fully contained. No structures or injuries have been reported.

Weather

May shattered heat records across the U.S. as sizzling warmth was reported nationwide, federal scientists announced last Wednesday. The previous warmest May was in 1934 during the height of the Dust Bowl. Overall, the average May temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 65.4 degrees, which is 5.2 degrees above average Around 8,600 local heat records were also broken or tied during the month. “The warmth was coast-to-coast,” said climate scientist Jake Crouch from NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information. The heat was particularly noteworthy in the central U.S., especially in the upper Midwest and Ohio Valley. On May 28, the temperature in Minneapolis soared to a record 100 degrees, the city’s earliest 100-degree reading on record.

The drought in the U.S. southwest continues unabated. Arizona is in the worst shape, with 100% of the state experiencing drought, with 74% under extreme drought conditions, according to the National Drought Monitor. 100% of New Mexico is also suffering from drought, with 62% in extreme drought.

Signs of the Times

June 4, 2018

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Colorado Baker

A divided Supreme Court on Monday absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple, ruling that the state exhibited “religious hostility” against him. The 7-2 verdict criticized the state’s treatment of Jack Phillips’ religious objections to gay marriage in 2012, several years before the practice was legalized nationwide. The justices ruled that a state civil rights commission was hostile to him while allowing other bakers to refuse to create cakes that demeaned gays and same-sex marriages. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the court’s, departing from his long history of opinions in favor of gay rights dating back a generation. The narrow ruling here focused on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The court said the broader issuse, though, “must await further elaboration.”

Supreme Court Overturns Ruling Giving Undocumented Teen Access to Abortion

A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday declined to set a precedent for whether or not an undocumented teen in U.S. custody can get an abortion. The court granted a request from the Trump administration to wipe away a lower court opinion that allowed an undocumented teen in Texas to get an abortion last year. Although the teen has obtained the procedure, the administration wanted the opinion vacated so as not to create a precedent for other similar cases that could come up. The dispute arose weeks ago when the ACLU challenged the Trump administration’s new policy that prohibits federally funded shelters from taking any action to facilitate abortion access for unaccompanied minors.

Judge Blocks Iowa’s Heartbeat Abortion Ban

A judge has granted the abortion lobby’s request to temporarily block enforcement of Iowa’s new ban on aborting babies with detectable heartbeats, pending a final verdict on the law’s constitutionality. Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert made the decision Friday in a brief hearing. Attorneys representing the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Iowa City’s Emma Goldman Clinic claim the law violates both Roe v. Wade and the Iowa Constitution. Lawyers with the conservative Thomas More Society, which is representing Iowa in the place of Democratic state Attorney General Tom Miller, had agreed to the injunction ahead of time in the interest of “getting to a resolution on the merits sooner.” Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law, which is the strongest in the United States, on May 4. It is expected to stop most abortions, starting between 6-8 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and threats to a mother’s life.

Appeals Court Uphold ‘In God We Trust’ on Currency

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Thursday that the federal government can lawfully print “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency. The plaintiffs are a coalition of atheists and humanists who claim the motto’s appearance on U.S. currency burdens their deeply-held beliefs, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. The non-believing plaintiffs say the inscription forces them to carry and spread a message with which they disagree, while endorsing a religious position they hold to be false. The coalition is represented by Michael Newdow, a fixture of church-state controversies. In her opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an Obama appointee, rejected all of the claims. She explained that the burden placed on their beliefs was not substantial enough to constitute a violation. Other means of payment like credit cards or checks remain available to them, she noted, and the plaintiffs had failed to show why these auxiliary methods are not “feasible alternatives.

Planned Parenthood Caught in Sexual Abuse Coverups

The Planned Parenthood abortion chain has been caught repeatedly performing abortions on abuse victims as young as 12 and 13 years old, failing to report suspected sexual abuse to authorities, and sending victims back to their abusers. A new investigative report chronicles these cases and reveals Planned Parenthood’s decades-long pattern of helping child sex abusers cover up their crimes. As LifeNews has documented multiple times, Planned Parenthood has a history of not reporting statutory rape or sexual abuse to authorities. The abortion corporation frequently covers up cases of rape with abortion and refuses to report rape cases to law enforcement. Planned Parenthood is required by federal law to report suspected cases of sexual assault and abuse to law enforcement. But it has a long history of ignoring this requirement. Former employees have spoken of an unwritten “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding the potential sexual abuse of children.

Trump-Kim Summit Back on Schedule for June 12

President Trump announced Friday that his summit meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is back on schedule for June 12. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday presented a vision of a “connected and prosperous” North Korea with the nation’s envoy during preparations for the summit “If North Korea denuclearizes, there is a brighter path for North Korea,” Pompeo told reporters after hours of talks in New York City with the North’s Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol. “We envision a strong, connected and prosperous North Korea that maintains its cultural heritage but is integrated in the community of nations.” Pompeo referred to “the expected summit” on June 12 between Trump and spoke of a choice before the North’s leadership to take the country in a new direction. While the negotiations ahead will be difficult, he said he believes the North’s leaders “are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before.”

‘Zero Tolerance’ at Border Causing Child Shelters to Fill Up Fast

The number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has surged 21 percent in the past month, according to the latest figures, an increase driven by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown on families who cross the border illegally. Although the government has not disclosed how many children have been separated from their parents as a result of the new measures, the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that it had 10,773 migrant children in its custody, up from 8,886 on April 29. Under the “zero tolerance” approach rolled out last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, anyone who crosses into the United States illegally will face criminal prosecution. In most cases, that means parents who arrive with children stay in federal jails while their children are sent to HHS shelters.

Media Uses Obama-Era Photo to Trash Trump

The image of two illegal immigrant children sleeping on the floor in a chain-link fence “cage” swept the internet last weekend, sparking misdirected anger from activists who blamed President Trump for the conditions — which were actually from 2014, when the photo was taken, under President Obama. In fact, many of the illegal immigrant children are set up in comfy dormitories, coloring with “multicultural crayons,” watching their favorite soccer teams from back home on the extensive cable system, even kicking the ball around themselves on a beautiful new soccer field — all paid for by taxpayers at an average of $670/day, according to the Washington Times.

President Trump Signs Right to Try into Federal Law

President Trump signed the federal version of the Right to Try into law last week. This law gives new hope to Americans struggling with a terminal illness. Federal law now protects the right of dying patients to obtain and use cutting-edge medicines without asking first for government permission. The bill requires any manufacturer or sponsor of an eligible investigational drug to report to the Food and Drug Administration on any use of the drug on a “Right to Try” basis. The FDA will post an annual summary report of “Right to Try” use on its website. Under the new law, eligible drugs must have still undergone the FDA’s Phase I safety testing.

Cancer Treatment Better in Canada than in U.S.

Americans paid twice as much as Canadians for health care, but they didn’t get twice the benefit, according to a new study of patients with advanced colorectal cancer who lived, in some cases, mere miles from each other. The patients had similar diagnoses, levels of education, financial situations and other demographics that commonly affect health outcomes and mortality. Some of their ages were different, but the biggest difference between them is on which side of the border they live. The research was presented Friday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago. Using data from hospitals, Dr. Todd Yezefski of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington found that a total of about $12,345 was spent a month on the cancer patients in his study who lived in western Washington, whereas the monthly spending for British Columbia patients was $6,195. American patients in western Washington with advanced colorectal cancer survived about 21.4 months with treatment; in British Columbia, it was 22.1 months.

Millions of U.S. College Students are Mentally Disabled

“As many as one in four students at some elite U.S. colleges are now classified as disabled, largely because of mental-health issues such as depression or anxiety,” starts the Wall Street Journal’s recent report on the alarmingly high level of mental disorders and psychological problems currently plaguing America’s college students. The Journal cites a few examples: California’s Pomona College has “22 percent of students … considered disabled this year, up from 5 percent in 2014.” At three Massachusetts colleges – Hampshire, Amherst and Smith – as well as Yeshiva University in New York, “one in five students are classified as disabled. At Oberlin College in Ohio, it’s one in four. At Marlboro College in Vermont, it’s one in three. It’s the same story whether at elite private colleges or big public state universities. The Journal report includes just one sentence addressing causes: “Psychologists have many theories to explain the rise in mental-health diagnoses among college-age students, from social-media habits to less stigma around mental illness.” One online report, “The top mental health challenges facing students,” cites depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and suicide as the top issues, and the American Psychological Association, in its “Campus Mental Health” report, mentions rising levels of “sexual assault and self-injury” and the need to “develop suicide prevention programs” as possible causes.

Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends

As Facebook sought to become the world’s dominant social media service, it struck agreements allowing phone and other device makers access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information, reports the New York Times. Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers — including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung — over the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, “like” buttons and address books. But the partnerships, whose scope has not previously been reported, raise concerns about the company’s privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders.

Mexico & Europe Retaliate for Trump’s Tariffs on Metals

President Trump imposed tariffs last Thursday on imported steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, triggering immediate retaliation from U.S. allies against American businesses and farmers. The tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum —mark a major escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and its top trading partners. In response, the E.U. said it would impose duties “on a number of imports from the United States,” referring to a 10-page list of targets for retaliation which included Kentucky bourbon and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. European leaders also vowed to proceed with a complaint to the World Trade Organization. “This is protectionism, pure and simple,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 223,000 job in May as U.S. companies continued their hiring spree, according to the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report released Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, the lowest since 2000. The black unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in May — the lowest since the government started keeping track in 1972. Hiring was strong across the board with retail and health care leading the surge in May. Blue-collar jobs have also picked up in the past year as rising oil prices and the global economic rebound are driving more demand for construction and manufacturing workers. The United States has gained 95,000 manufacturing jobs and 110,000 construction jobs from the start of the year through May. Wage growth ticked up slightly to 2.7 percent over the past year, but is still sluggish.

Consumer spending rose more than expected in April, a sign of optimism about the U.S. economy. But people are also saving less — and that’s a potentially worrisome sign if the economy takes a sudden turn for the worse. The U.S. Commerce Department reported last Thursday that personal expenditures rose 0.6% in April. Economists had forecast just a 0.3% increase. Personal income rose just 0.3%, so the savings rate fell to 2.8%. That’s only the third time since the 2008 financial crisis that the savings rate has dipped below 3%.The savings rate was routinely below 3% before the Great Recession as consumer confidence was soaring thanks to surging stocks and skyrocketing home prices. But once the bottom fell out of both the housing and stock markets, consumers adopted more of a bunker mentality mode. The savings rate shot all the way up to 8.1% by May 2009.

Middle East

The “Great March of Return” riots along the border between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel continued over the weekend, despite last week’s declaration of a cease-fire. In addition to the riots, rockets were launched from Gaza at Israeli communities alongside arson attacks using kites, which destroyed hundreds of acres of unharvested crops and forests in Israel. The Israeli Air Force responded to the violence with strikes on Hamas terror infrastructure in the Strip. Another attempt to infiltrate through the fence by two Palestinian terrorists was broken up by the IDF Monday afternoon, with one terrorist being killed in the incident. On Sunday, Palestinians from Gaza breached the border fence and torched construction equipment within Israeli territory, after which they fled back to the Strip, the army reported.

Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists on Saturday night launched six rockets at Israel’s civilian population in the south, triggering alarms and sending thousands of civilians running for shelter. The Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted four of the projectiles, while one exploded in an open area and another fell inside Gaza. No Israelis were harmed, and no damage was caused by the projectiles. In response to the renewed fire on Israel, Israel Air Force (IAF) fighter jets targeted 10 terror sites in three military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip. Later in the night, as the rocket attacks on Israel continued, IAF fighters bombed five additional terror targets at a military compound belonging to Hamas’s naval force in northern Gaza.

Earlier last week, the Gaza-based Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups relentlessly fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israeli communities surrounding the Strip, one of which exploded in a kindergarten located in the Ein Hashlosha community. Fortunately, the children had not yet arrived at the school. While the majority of the explosive projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system or exploded in open spaces, some fell inside Israeli communities and seven Israelis, including three soldiers, were injured in the shelling. The IDF revealed that some of projectiles launched throughout the Palestinian terror offensive were Iranian-made rockets. Responding to the attacks, Israel Air Force fighter jets and attack helicopters overnight struck some 25 military targets belonging to Hamas, the most extensive airstrikes in four years.

Reports emerged on Thursday that Iranian forces and their Shi’ite proxy militias in southern Syria are preparing to redeploy further north, following a week of intense meetings between representatives from Israel, Jordan, the US and Russia aimed at achieving this objective. “Israel appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security needs, especially with regard to the situation on our northern border,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said. “It is important to continue the dialogue and to keep an open line between the IDF and the Russian army.”

Islamic State

American warplanes are working overtime against Islamic State targets in Syria, with the number of combat sorties against the terror group surging in May compared to recent months, says new airstrike figures released by command officials Friday. U.S. and coalition combat aircraft flew 225 airstrikes last month, hitting 280 known Islamic State or ISIS redoubts in Syria, located mostly in the volatile Euphrates River Valley, said American commanders with the U.S.-led counterterrorism mission Operation Inherent Resolve. “This demonstrates a 304 percent increase over the 74 strikes conducted in March and a 123 percent increase over the 183 strikes recorded in April,” according to Friday’s statement. “Operation Roundup will continue to build momentum against Daesh remnants remaining in the Iraq-Syria border region and the [Euphrates River Valley],” command officials said in the statement, using the derogatory Arabic term for ISIS.

Iran

Iran’s regime has not stopped its drive to secure technology and scientific knowledge to produce weapon of mass destruction, the intelligence agency of the German state of Baden-Württemberg disclosed in a report last week. “Iran continued to undertake, as did Pakistan and Syria, efforts to obtain goods and know-how to be used for the development of weapons of mass destruction and to optimize corresponding missile delivery systems,” said the intelligence document. The intelligence agency — the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution — monitors threats to Germany’s democratic, constitutional order.

Denmark

Denmark’s parliament on Thursday approved a law forbidding the wearing of garments covering the face in public, joining a number of European countries that have already introduced such bans. The law is being seen by many as targeting the dress worn by some conservative Muslim women, such as the niqab or burqa, and is being introduced amid concerns about growing Islamophobia in Europe. The law, carried by a 75-30 vote, forbids the wearing of full-face veils such as the niqab, balaclavas, face-covering ski masks, face masks and fake beards. First-time offenses can incur a fine of $157 with repeat offenses carrying higher penalties up to 10,000 kroner or a jail sentence up to six months.

Spain

Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez is set to take over as head of Spain’s government after toppling long-time rival Mariano Rajoy in Parliament. The 46-year-old Sanchez has pledged to open talks with Catalan separatists. Sanchez, the leader of the socialist PSOE party, became the designated prime minister after Rajoy’s government was ousted in a vote of no confidence. Sanchez filed the motion following a corruption scandal involving Rajoy’s center-right People’s Party. It likely spells a new era for the EU’s fourth-largest economy which had been ruled by Rajoy’s conservatives since 2011. During his time in opposition, Sanchez — a former economics professor — harshly opposed spending cuts imposed by the conservatives and pledged to extend welfare rights.

Volcanoes

Sunday marked one month since the first fissures began to spew lava into neighborhoods near the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, and yet another earthquake at the main crater was triggered by an eruption that sent ash thousands of feet into the air. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 5.5 magnitude tremor occurred at 3:50 p.m. local time Sunday afternoon. Although there was no tsunami threat, ash shot up to 8,000 feet in the air. There were 500 additional quakes in the summit area of Kilauea in a 24-hour period over the weekend — the highest rate ever measured at the summit area

Over the weekend, a 400-year-old lake vanished within hours after lava entered it and boiled away all of its water. Locally known as “Ka Wai a Pele,” the centuries-old freshwater lake has been described as one of the Big Island’s most scenic and natural spots. Despite orders to leave their homes and threats that those who ignore the mandatory evacuations could face arrest, rescue crews airlifted three people out of an area where they’d become trapped by lava Sunday morning. Officials also said those who need to be saved from areas that were ordered to evacuate could be forced to pay for their own rescue. So far, at least 87 homes have been destroyed by Kilauea’s lava flows, and 128 structures have been lost overall.

Kilauea’s volcanic haze is having far-reaching impacts. It has reached the American territory of Guam, located some 4,000 miles from the Big Island. Island. Officials warned residents and visitors to take precautions, as some could experience respiratory problems. Residents near the fissures have been warned that dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide are emerging from several vents, and vulnerable residents could be sickened.

Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego, or “Volcano of Fire,” erupted violently Sunday. Sunday’s explosion sent a large plume of ash and molten rock into the air, killing more than two dozen people. Another 20 people were injured. However, officials fear both the number of deaths and injured will rise with so many people still unaccounted for. Nearby villages were blanketed in ash, while lava flows reaching temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit spewed down the mountainside. Over 3,000 people fled their homes and an estimated 1.7 million people were affected by the eruption

Wildfires

Fires in Colorado, New Mexico and California have forced evacuations amid dry conditions and severe drought. A quickly spreading wildfire in southwestern Colorado has spurred evacuations for over 800 homes, La Plata County officials told the Associated Press. The blaze, dubbed the 416 Fire, was spotted north of Durango Friday morning and was being fueled by shifting winds onto the San Juan National Forest. More than 3 square miles were scorched by Monday morning. The fire is 10 percent contained. In addition to the more than 800 homes evacuated, another 700 homes were told to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice. About 500 residences are threatened in the Highway 550 corridor. Highway 550 was partially reopened Sunday.

Residents have been ordered to evacuate an area of northern New Mexico as an aggressive wildfire quickly burned more than 56 square miles of land through the weekend. The Ute Park Fire destroyed 14 unoccupied structures at the Boy Scouts’ Philmont Ranch overnight as it burned near Highway 64 in Ute Park. More than 200 buildings in Ute Park are threatened by the fire, and some 550 structures are threatened in Cimarron. Precipitation helped firefighters battle the blaze Sunday, and it is now 23 percent contained. Cimarron is under a mandatory evacuation order.

A new fire erupted near Laguna Beach, California, Saturday afternoon. Residents of some 2,000 Aliso Viejo homes were allowed to return late Saturday night after they were evacuated earlier in the day. The Aliso Fire, grew to 150 acres in Aliso Viejo and Laguna Beach’s Top of the World neighborhood. More than 400 firefighters battled the blaze, which is now 40 percent contained.

Weather

Evacuations were ordered last Wednesday morning below Lake Tahoma Dam in western North Carolina after a pair of landslides led to concerns about the dam’s integrity. Water was reported spilling over the sides of the dam just after midnight Wednesday Lake Tahoma is located about 5 miles northwest of Marion, North Carolina, or about 27 miles east-northeast of Asheville. Torrential rain from tropical storm Alberto triggered widespread flooding in the southern Appalachians. At least two people in North Carolina and one in Virginia are dead following Alberto’s prolific rainfall. Overall, nine people have died in the storm. Another round of heavy rain Sunday triggered additional flash flooding swamping roads in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia, prompting a state of emergency in eight West Virginia counties.

More than eight months after Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico and knocked out power to virtually the entire island of 3.3 million people, full power restoration remains another two months away with the new hurricane season under way as of June 1. It’s a highly fragile and vulnerable system that really could suffer worse damage than it suffered with Maria in the face of another natural catastrophe,” Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. Power authority director Walt Higgins said that only about 11,000 customers remain without power.

Signs of the Times

May 29, 2018

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

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

California Judge Rules in Favor of Christian Baker

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

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Controversial Arkansas Abortion Law

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

Irish Voters Repeal Decades-Old Ban on Abortion

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

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

Pre-Summit Meetings Continue with North Korea

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

Trump Announces Tariffs and Tech Crackdown on China

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

Trump Targets Federal Bureaucracy with New Executive Orders

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

U.S. Government Lost Track of 1475 Migrant Children

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

Promulgation of Sexual Permissiveness Continues to Grow

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

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

Nearly 1 in 4 Millennials Still Living with Mom

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

Belgium

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

Italy

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

Congo

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

Volcanoes

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times

May 21, 2018

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

Bible Museum Visitors Top Half a Million in First Six Months

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

President Trump Defunds Planned Parenthood

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

Christianity Out, Islam In in U.S. Schools

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

American Muslims are Losing Their Faith Faster Than Christians

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

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

64% of Christians Believe Evangelizing is Optional

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

Maryland Bans ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’ for Minors

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

  • California is also working on similar legislation

North Korea Threatening to Scuttle Nuclear Meetings

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

Supreme Court Backs Employers Over Workers

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

STDs Reach All-Time High in California

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

People are Leaving California in Droves

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

Six States Sue Maker of OxyContin

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Israel

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

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

Iran

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

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

Iraq

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

China

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

Environment

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

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

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

Volcanoes

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

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times

May 14, 2018

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

U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Celebrated Monday

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

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

Trump Pulls Out of Iran Nuclear Deal, Reimposes Sanctions

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

Trump Gives Hero Welcome to Released North Korean Hostages

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

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

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

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

Parkland Shooter Casts Shadow over Obama-Era Discipline Directive

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

California Passes Law Making Solar Panels Mandatory on New Homes

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

More Americans are Depressed

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

Pedestrian Deaths in U.S. Way Up

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

Churchgoers Say Gifts to Charity, Needy Count as Tithing

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

Iran

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

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

Islamic State

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

Indonesia

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

Afghanistan

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

France

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

Nigeria

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

Kenya

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

Environment

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

Volcanoes

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

Earthquakes

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

Volcanoes

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

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times

May 7, 2018

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

North Korea Releases U.S. Detainees

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

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

Iowa Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Most Restrictive Abortion Ban

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

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

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

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

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

As Chicago Weather Warms, 81 People Shot

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

Active Shooting Incidents Set Record Last Year

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

Students in 400 Schools Walk Out to Support 2nd Amendment

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

Caravan of Migrants from Central America Being Processed

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

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

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

House Chaplain Restored to Office

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

Huge Overhaul of Foster Care Signed into Law

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

No Nobel Prize for Literature after Sex Scandal

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

Boy Scouts Are Dropping the Word ‘Boy’

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Afghanistan

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

Libya

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

Russia

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

Ukraine

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

China

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

Environment

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

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

Volcanoes/Earthquakes

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

Earthquakes

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times

April 30, 2018

As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:36-37)

Persecution Watch

Parents in Orange County, California may not opt their children out of lessons related to gender identity or sexual orientation, according to a memorandum written by the school district’s general counsel. “Parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction,” read the memorandum from Ronald Wenkart to the Orange County Board of Education. “However, parents are free to advise their children that they disagree with some or all of the information presented in the instructional program and express their views on these subjects to their children,” the attorney wrote.  The legislation requires school districts to provide students with comprehensive sexual health education. The law mandates that schools “teach about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. The courts have held that parents do not have the constitutional rights to override the determinations of the state legislature or the school district as to what information their children will be provided in the public-school classroom.”

  • What this implicitly means is that the state had more rights over children than their parents, a chilling foreboding that is yet another step down the end-time path of ungodly secular dominance

Concordia Publishing House has been in business since 1869 as the official publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod denomination but is now banned by Google AdWords. Apparently, the Christian content of its website, particularly an ad for an upcoming Vacation Bible School, is too much for Google AdWords, the online advertising service. Concordia CEO Bruce Kintz said in a Facebook post Monday, will no longer do business “because of the faith we express on our website.” Kintz said one of his associates was told by Google AdWords, as an example, that the “Bible challenge” on the publishers Vacation Bible School Web page “would clearly need to come down before they could consider us for ads.”

PragerU is a conservative educational non-profit that reaches millions of young people on the internet every day. YouTube has chosen repeatedly to restrict and/or demonetize over 40 PragerU videos for violating their “Community Guidelines.” Those guidelines are meant to protect users against viewing sexual, violent, or graphic content. The PragerU videos contain nothing remotely close to any of these categories. And yet, YouTube has restricted videos on topics ranging from religion to the history of the Iraq War to free speech on college campuses. PragerU is currently fighting for freedom of speech through a lawsuit against YouTube for its systematic censorship of their videos.

A picture posted on Facebook by a California journalist of a group of high schoolers has sparked unexpected controversy among social media users. The picture shows prom-ready high schoolers praying before a meal. The picture and the positive remarks about the praying teens drew some highly negative and judgmental comments from Facebook users. Many of the commenters attacked the implied Christianity of the students in the photo. Some used the photo and the journalist’s praise of the students as a platform to complain about the arrogance and pushiness of Christians. “This story is another example of how easily even the appearance of Christianity attracts hostility—especially hostility from groups that would likely consider themselves welcoming of diverse viewpoints,” notes ChristianHeadlines.com.

GQ Magazine is under fire for publishing an article titled “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read,” which list included the Bible. The editors claim that the Bible “is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” Relevant Magazine writer Jesse Carey noted that, regardless if someone is a Christian or not, suggesting we stop reading the Bible shows a lack of understanding of how “The Bible has helped shape western philosophy and provided the basis for many of modern history’s most pivotal moments.”

  • Persecution of all things Christian will only increase as we move deeper into the end-times (Revelation 13:5-7)

North/South Korean Leaders Vow to Denuclearize

The leaders of North and South Korea vowed Friday to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and start a “new era of peace,” after a summit that saw Kim Jong Un become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in 1953. Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said they had “sincere, candid” talks and would do everything in their power to denuclearize the region. Kim pledged to dismantle the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, in the north of his country in May. The two Koreas also said they hoped to declare an official conclusion to their decades-long war by the end of this year. North and South Korea are still technically at war, as an armistice was signed that stopped the fighting, but not a peace treaty. The two sides said they would transform the Demilitarized Zone that has separated them since 1953 into a “peace zone” and would end provocative acts such as propaganda loudspeakers along the military demarcation line. They also pledged to improve inter-Korean ties and “reconnect the blood relations of the people” through steps such as economic cooperation and restarting a stalled family reunion program that will allow separated families to meet again. The reunions will start again on August 15.

Israel Presents Concrete Evidence of Iranian Lies About Nuclear Intentions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed Iran’s big lie for all the world to see—the one their leaders have meticulously spread for years: that they are not interested in producing a nuclear arsenal—that it goes against their moral, ethical and religious beliefs, reports Breaking Christian News. Speaking from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv Monday, Netanyahu said the half ton of material Israel has in its possession proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iran lied “big time.” The presentation included video clips, graphics, charts, photos and blueprints, all proving that Iranian leaders lied about their nuclear ambitions, which culminated in the nuclear deal signed with world powers in July 2015. The prime minister went into some detail about Project Amad. “We can now prove that project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons,” he said. “We can also prove that Iran is secretly storing project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

Federal Judge Orders Restart of DACA

A Republican-appointed federal judge delivered another blow to President Trump’s attempt to roll back the Obama-era DACA program, ruling Tuesday that last year’s revocation was illegal and the entire program would have to be restarted. That goes beyond other judges, who had also ruled the phaseout illegal but had only ordered Homeland Security to accept renewal applications from people who’d already been awarded DACA before. Judge John D. Bates’s ruling would require a full restart, meaning even illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who’d never been approved before would now be able to apply for DACA. The judge imposed a 90-day delay on his own ruling to give the government a chance to reargue its case, but for now the ruling stands as the most severe blow yet to Mr. Trump’s phaseout. Judge Bates said the government never gave an adequate justification for revoking DACA, so its decision seemed “arbitrary and capricious” — which makes it illegal under the Administrative Procedures Act.

House Panel’s Russia Report Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Collusion

The House Intelligence Committee on Friday declared that it found “no evidence” of collusion between the Russian government and Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, releasing a heavily redacted final report on its yearlong Russia investigation. The Republican-authored report — released over Democratic objections — stated the committee “found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.” The committee did, however, “find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns.” The more than 250-page report was heavily blacked out, however, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the leader of the committee investigation, slammed the intelligence community for their “overzealous redactions.” Many of the redactions include information that is publicly available, such as witness names and information previously declassified,” Conaway complained. The report also accuses the intelligence community of “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. The top committee Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasted Republicans last month for “prematurely” shutting down the panel’s Russia probe and renewed that criticism on Friday.

Social Media’s Negligence Continuing to Enable Terrorism

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter continue to provide a platform to extremism, from ISIS-related videos to white nationalism. Even though this content clearly violates these companies’ Terms of Service and Community Guidelines, too little is being done to permanently remove it from their platforms. During a six-week period, from March 8 until April 18, 2018, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) found no less than 853 ISIS-related videos on YouTube, which garnered a total of 99,361 views. 221 or 26% of those videos remained online for more than 2 hours and no less than 84% was uploaded more than once. On March 10, 2018, a video titled “Hunt Them O, Monotheist” was uploaded to YouTube, calling for firearm and vehicular attacks in Western Europe. The video was originally uploaded by a Somali ISIS-affiliate on December 25, 2017. On March 10, it was available for 1 day 5 hours and 3 minutes before it was removed – amassing 405 views. The following day, the same video was re-uploaded and stayed online for 1 day 15 hours and 29 minutes –In the following days and weeks, the video was re-uploaded six more times, garnering hundreds of extra views. And this isn’t just an isolated incident, according to CEP.

Driver Kills 10, Wounds 15 in Canada

Alek Minassian, 25, used a rented Ryder truck to mow down pedestrians along Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street, leaving10 people dead and 15 seriously injured. The suspect was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Minassian turned to a blunt killing method that Islamic State group, or ISIS, terror suspects have employed repeatedly in recent years. ISIS backers have used trucks or vans to carry out mass casualty attacks on Bastille Day revelers on a crowded promenade in Nice, France; shoppers at a Christmas market in Berlin; a popular tourist area in Barcelona; on London Bridge in the United Kingdom; and on a busy bike path in New York. In 2015, a Somali refugee carried out a similar attack in the Canadian city of Edmonton using a rented U-Haul truck.

Finland’s Basic Income Program Failed

Finland’s basic income program that drew international attention was a failure, the Finnish government announced Tuesday. The pilot program that paid about 2,000 randomly-chosen unemployed Finnish people a monthly check of €560 ($685) will be shut down by the end of the year, the BBC reported. The program, which started January 2017, was the first of its kind in Europe. The government hoped the extra money would fuel the economy, but that failed to materialize. The unemployment rate in Finland exceeds 8%. By comparison, the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 4.1%. A study published in February by the think tank Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the country’s income tax must increase by almost 30% to fund basic income.

Economic News

The nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.3%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists had projected 2% growth. The economy grew at a healthy 2.9% pace in the fourth quarter and more than 3% in the final nine months of 2017 on the back of a free-spending consumer and a surge in business investment. “The economy is in fine shape,” says Gus Faucher, chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group. “We will see stronger growth the rest of 2018.” President Trump has promised to deliver at least 3% growth on a sustained basis, up from a 2.2% average during the nine-year-old economic expansion.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set rates for auto loans, mortgages and other lending, climbed to 3% on Tuesday for the first time since 2014. For Americans, that means borrowing costs are on the way up. For Wall Street, it’s a warning that higher interest rates may eat into corporate profits and that faster inflation is coming — both of which could eventually hurt the economy. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term interest rates at least twice more this year and three times in 2019, in an effort to tap the economy’s brakes. That will probably lead to even higher rates on longer-term Treasuries. In another potential warning sign in the bond market, short-term rates have also been rising. The difference in yields between short-term bonds and the 10-year note is narrowing, a phenomenon known as a flattening yield curve. If short-term rates move higher than long-term rates, that creates something known as an inverted yield curve — and that has often happened just ahead of recessions.

It’s getting increasingly difficult in the U.S. to be a home buyer. Home prices are up 6.7% from their peak in July 2006, and have been rising continuously for the past 70 months. Home buyers in Seattle, Las Vegas and San Francisco are facing the biggest gains. Seattle prices rose the most with a 12.7% year-over-year price increase, while Las Vegas prices jumped 11.6%. Low housing supply has been pushing up prices as demand surges. With a flourishing labor market, steady economic growth and wages finally starting to rise, home prices aren’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Mortgage rates have also started to creep up, which adds even more pressure to the affordability problem that many homeowners face.

Ford Motor’s announcement that it is killing almost all of its traditional car models is dramatic proof that sedans have lost their luster for U.S. automakers and drivers. Ford’s rival, General Motors, isn’t ready to call for last rites. “Although passenger car segments have declined over the last number of years, they’re still very important,” said Chuck Stevens, GM’s chief financial officer. “The compact crossover segment globally is the biggest, and then it’s compact cars.” Ford’s plan, announced Wednesday, is for the U.S. to stop selling the Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta and C-Max, leaving only the Mustang. Ford’s Focus will become a beefy five-door hatchback that looks like a crossover, the Focus Active.

Middle East

The death toll following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in several locations along the Israel-Gaza fence Friday rose to 10. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 700 people were hurt in the clashes that saw Israeli soldiers firing live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets or tear gas. Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinians participated in the clashes and the Israeli military said some of those protesters rolled burning tires and threw stones at forces stationed at the border. Israel said troops opened fire at the “main instigators.” On Friday, mosques across Gaza called on Palestinians to join the protests. Buses took protesters to the border area, and, by noon, thousands had arrived at the encampments.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly has a message for Palestinian leadership: “agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” The blunt comment from the next-in-line to the Saudi throne, made during a meeting with Jewish organizations in New York in March, comes as the Trump administration works to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given,” the crown prince said. Bin Salman was also quoted as saying the Palestinian issue is not at the top of the Saudi government’s list of concerns, and the Gulf state “has much more urgent and important issues to deal with,” such as Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Syria

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, missile strikes hit two military targets in Aleppo and Hama provinces late Sunday. The overnight missile attack struck weapons storage bases in Syria, destroying some 200 surface-to-surface rockets, a regional official told The New York Times Monday. The official said the strikes killed 16 people, including 11 Iranians.

Islamic State commanders fleeing Syria are conspiring with extremist groups in Africa to foment a new migration wave destined for Europe, the head of the UN World Food Program said. David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, said Europe needed to wake up to the extremists’ strategy in the Sahel region. Those forced out of Syria were uniting with local terrorist groups to use as a vehicle to push millions of Muslim Africans towards Europe, he said.

Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the Middle East on his first international trip since being confirmed by the Senate last week, accused Iran of “behaving worse” since signing the 2015 nuclear deal President Trump has repeatedly threatened to tear up. Pompeo hammered away with the administration’s recurring theme: Iran destabilizes the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups, ruthless Houthi rebels in Yemen and the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region — and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East,” Pompeo said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. “The United States is with Israel in this fight.” Israel has never supported the deal between Iran and the West that eased sanctions against the Shiite nation in return for Iran’s pledge to halt nuclear weapon development. Trump has said he will decide in the next two weeks whether the U.S. will pull out of the deal. Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that the attack was carried out by neighboring Israel. Regional officials said that Tehran can be expected to hit back at Israel for the bombing.

Turkey

A Turkish court sentenced staff members of the country’s leading opposition newspaper to lengthy prison terms on Wednesday on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. The high-profile trial, criticized as unfair by rights groups and supporters of the newspaper, was seen as a bellwether for thousands of political prisoners swept up in a crackdown on dissent following Turkey’s failed 2016 military coup. Fourteen staff members of Cumhuriyet, a secular, nationalist newspaper, were found guilty on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. Prosecutors alleged the staff had supported terrorist groups, including both the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an outlawed Kurdish militant group, and the conservative movement led by Fetullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric who Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement with the failed coup.

Nigeria

Gunmen opened fire during a Nigerian church service last Tuesday, killing at least 19, including two priests. State police told CNN the attackers were most likely Fulani herdsmen who continued their crusade by burning down 50 homes. “They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two reverend fathers were holding mass,” police commissioner Fatai Owoseni says. “We were able to recover 16 bodies from the scene of the attack and those of the two priests.” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted, “This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.” U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with Buhari this week.

China

A man has killed at least seven children and injured at least 12 others at a middle school in northern China, according to local officials. The deadly rampage is the latest in a string of knife attacks against school children to happen in the country in recent years. A local newspaper reported that the students were stabbed on their way home from school. Previously, a man stabbed and wounded 11 children with a kitchen knife at a kindergarten in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang region in January 2017. In February 2016, another man wounded 10 children with a knife on the southern island province of Hainan before he committed suicide.

Environment

Researchers have found an alarming amount of plastic particles deep in the ice of the Arctic Ocean. Ice samples from five regions across the Arctic Ocean contained up to 12,000 of microplastic particles per liter of sea ice, researchers say. More than half the particles trapped in the ice were less than 1/500th of an inch wide — less than one-tenth the thickness of a credit card. The study raises concerns about the impact on human and sea life say researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute of the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research. “They could easily be ingested by arctic microorganisms,” said biologist and report author Ilka Peeken. “No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

An explosion at a Wisconsin oil refinery chased residents from their homes on Thursday, and now, pollution experts say there were probably all kinds of toxins in the smoke that blew downwind. Although the fire was put out by Thursday evening, officials ordered an evacuation of a wide area around the Husky Energy refinery to reduce the public’s exposure to the plume. The asphalt fire sent chemicals into the air in gaseous form, and those tiny particles can stick around long after the smoke has dissipated. This includes volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause dizziness, breathing problems and nausea. In more extreme cases, liver damage and cancer can occur if the exposure is more prolonged and extreme. Also present in asphalt smoke are microscopic particles of chemicals that stick together as visible smoke. Those particles carry cancer-causing benzene and other contaminants that can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled.

Several sinkholes opened up in the central Florida town of Ocala Wednesday and Thursday, and some residents had to be evacuated from eight townhouses. Officials were testing the ground and said they wouldn’t lift evacuations until it was determined that residents were safe to return. “There was at least four to five of them that happened,” resident Shannon Cole told ClickOrlando.com, describing what he heard while the sinkholes formed. “It sounded like a bomb going off. It was very loud.”

Flooding and storm surge from last year’s spate of hurricanes not only displaced thousands of people, it also relocated hundreds of invasive aquatic species to new locations. In response, the U.S. Geological Survey spent the past six months creating new “flood and storm tracker” maps to help biologists monitor where the more than 200 non-native aquatic species, including alligators and snails, may be setting up new residence after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate. The maps indicate where lakes, rivers, streams and other waterways merged during the storms, which may have offered aquatic species the opportunity to spread.

Volcanoes

Volcanic eruptions on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island have forced officials to order a mass evacuation, and weather conditions haven’t cooperated in recent days. The archipelago nation east of Australia is attempting to evacuate all 11,000 people who live on Ambae Island to nearby Santo Island because of ongoing eruptions at the Manaro volcano. A state of emergency was declared and many people began having respiratory problems as the smoke and ash from the eruption filled the air. Evacuations were even more difficult because of heavy rain that triggered flooding and mudslides. Santo Island officials agreed to house the evacuees after a reconciliation ceremony last Thursday; Ambae Island evacuees reportedly were critical of Santo in social media posts following a separate evacuation last year, which soured relations between the two islands.

Weather

Ten teenagers died, and several others were seriously injured in flash floods that struck Israel near the Dead Sea. The teenagers, all of whom were 18 years old, were hiking near the Dead Sea with a group of 25 students in a pre-army course. Police and army helicopters were among nearly 700 people who searched for the missing until nightfall, when the search was halted. On Friday, three youth leaders were arrested on charges of negligence following the tragedy.

Snow fell in upstate New York and northwest Pennsylvania Sunday morning as record lows were set in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, putting an exclamation mark on what has a been a difficult April in those regions. Accumulations were light in most areas, but the snow was a fitting end to one of the coldest Aprils on record in parts of upstate New York. Indianapolis and Cincinnati saw their coldest April 29 on record as the low temperature in both locations dipped to 30 degrees. For Cincinnati, the previous daily record low of 31 degrees was more than 140 years old, set in 1874. Chicago tied its daily record low for April 29 of 31 degrees Sunday morning.

Blowing dust and high winds led to a multiple-vehicle crash Sunday evening that shut down Interstate 80 in southern Nebraska. The National Weather Service in Hastings reported that the westbound lanes were closed near mile marker 332 just before 6 p.m. local time. The Nebraska State Patrol then shut down I-80 in both directions between Aurora and York.

Signs of the Times

April 23, 2018

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Priests Flock to Rome for Exorcism Courses

Exorcism, the Catholic-sanctioned ritual to root out demons, doesn’t just exist in movies. In fact, the practice has become so widespread that the Vatican’s weeklong workshop on the practice is now gaining worldwide attention – and attendance is booming. About 200 Roman Catholics arrived at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome on Monday for a series of lectures on topics such as spotting differences between demonic possession and mental illness and witchcraft in Africa. The focus of the course, titled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”, is “to offer a rich reflection and articulation on a topic that is sometimes unspoken and controversial,” Italian priest and exorcist Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio. The course was set up amid the increasing popularity of tarot cards readers and fortune tellers that opened “the door to the devil and to possession,” Palilla said. “We touch on the most burning issues: from the sects linked to Satanism to the [telling] their story of liberation [from] their possession,” he added.

  • Demonic influence and possession are increasing as the anti-Christ spirit draws more and more people away from Christianity and into seemingly harmless New Age, humanistic and satanic practices

Abortion Wars are Heating Up Ahead of November Midterms

Mississippi’s governor just signed a law, more restrictive than in any state, banning abortions after 15 weeks. Iowa’s state Senate is trying to go even further and stop abortions at around six weeks. And 20 Ohio lawmakers have proposed outlawing all abortions, even if the woman’s life is in danger. In many state capitols, Republican lawmakers are backing unusually strict antiabortion laws. Many are emboldened by President Trump, who has been more supportive of their agenda than any president in decades. Conservative lawmakers also are eager to get more tough restrictions on the books in case November’s elections bring a surge of pro-choice Democrats into office. Federal courts have immediately blocked many of these antiabortion laws, including Mississippi’s. But they still have a purpose: to set up legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, at a time when Trump could appoint the justice who helps overturn it.

States Take Action to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nebraska and Tennessee this month joined more than a dozen states that have cut funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, a pro-life campaign that has seen mixed results. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a budget that prohibits Title X funding from going to abortion providers, directing $1.9 million toward centers that neither perform abortions nor refer clients to abortion providers. Use of federal funds to perform abortions or to fund entities that perform abortions is prohibited by federal law, but Planned Parenthood claims it uses its $60 million in Title X funding and $390 million in Medicaid reimbursements for other services. In part because of that claim, many states’ efforts to direct Medicaid or Title X funding away from the abortion giant are tied up in court battles. Undeterred by those challenges, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed two pieces of legislation that defund Planned Parenthood in different ways. The first bill codifies an administrative policy from 2011 that prioritizes federally qualified health centers over other facilities, including abortion providers. The second law could face a tough legal challenge, as it blocks state funds from going to abortion providers. Similar measures in other states have had mixed success. Of the 16 states that have either legislatively or judicially redirected some or all funding from Planned Parenthood to other entities, at least a half-dozen had federal judges block the laws.

North Korea to Stop Nuclear Tests and Close Nuke Test Site

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he will suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close a nuclear test site. The Korean Central News Agency, which is North Korea’s state media agency, made the announcement as the nation’s reclusive leader is in ongoing peace talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and also in negotiations to meet with President Trump. “As the weaponisation of nuclear weapons has been verified, it is not necessary for us to conduct any more nuclear tests,” Kim said at a meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea. North Korea previously pledged on two occasions that it would abandon its nuclear programs. Both times it backtracked. But, for now, President Trump’s strong stand against North Korea appears to be bearing fruit.

CIA Chief Pompeo Met with Kim Jong Un

President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday morning that CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea and met with leader Kim Jong Un. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly, and a good relationship was formed,” the President tweeted. “Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Trump and Kim are set to meet in late May or early June in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader. An administration official familiar with Pompeo’s encounter with Kim told CNN the North Korean leader was “personable and well prepared” for the meeting but added there was a sticking point over the location of his meeting with Trump. Kim Jong-Un is no longer demanding that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for denuclearizing his country, the South’s president said.

South Korea Confirms Talks with North to End Korean War

South Korea confirmed on Wednesday that it had been in talks with American and North Korean officials about negotiating a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War after more than 60 years, as the United States and its ally try to establish a basis for persuading the North to give up its nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, told South Korean officials last month that the North was willing to give up nuclear arms if it received security guarantees. In the past, the North has said that a peace treaty and the normalization of ties with the United States would be among the security guarantees it would require in exchange for surrendering its nuclear program. Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, said on Wednesday, “We held in-depth discussions on various ways of how to end hostilities and eventually establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, how to address the North Korean concerns and how to ensure a bright future for the North if it makes the right choice.”

YouTube Ran Ads from Hundreds of Brands on Extremist Channels

Ads from over 300 companies and organizations — including tech giants, major retailers, newspapers and government agencies — ran on YouTube channels promoting white nationalists, Nazis, pedophilia, conspiracy theories and North Korean propaganda, a CNN investigation has found. Companies such as Adidas, Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Hershey, Hilton, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Netflix, Nordstrom and Under Armour may have unknowingly helped finance some of these channels via the advertisements they paid for on Google-owned YouTube. U.S. tax dollars also have gone to the channels from five U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and Centers for Disease Control. Many of the companies that responded to CNN said they were unaware their ads had been placed on these channels and were investigating how they ended up there. The incidents have raised questions about whether YouTube can adequately safeguard ads and brands’ integrity, or whether its automated systems mean that advertisers will always be at risk of such ad placements.

SCOTUS Nixes Part of Law Requiring Deportation of Immigrants

The Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a provision of federal law that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of some “crimes of violence,” holding that the law is unconstitutionally vague. The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, had originated during the Obama administration but had been closely watched to see if the justices would reveal how they will consider the Trump administration’s overall push to both limit immigration and increase deportations. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices for the first time since joining the court to produce a 5-4 majority invalidating the federal statute. In doing so, Gorsuch was continuing the jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who also sided with liberals when it came to the vagueness of statutes used to convict criminal defendants.

Democratic Party Files Lawsuit Alleging Election Conspiracy

The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there. The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party. Suing a foreign country may present legal challenges for the Democrats, in part because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits. The DNC’s complaint argues Russia is not entitled to the protection because the hack constituted a trespass on the party’s private property.

California Has 8 of 10 Most Polluted U.S. Cities

Eight of the USA’s 10 most polluted cities, in terms of ozone pollution, are in California, according to the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report, released Wednesday. The Los Angeles/Long Beach area took the dubious distinction of being the nation’s most ozone-polluted city as it has for nearly the entire 19-year history of the report. Bakersfield, Calif., was in second place for ozone pollution. Other California cities on the list include Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego. The only non-California metro areas in the top 10 list were Phoenix and New York City. Of the 10 most polluted cities, seven cities did worse in this year’s report, including Los Angeles and the New York City metro area. “Near record-setting heat from our changing climate has resulted in dangerous levels of ozone in many cities across the country, making ozone an urgent health threat for millions of Americans,” Lung Association president and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said.

Puerto Rico’s Power Grid Fails Again

The power grid collapsed again Wednesday in Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island without electricity, but officials said most outages were restored by Thursday morning. The island’s Electric Power Authority said more than 1.1 million of customers regained power by Thursday morning, or more than 80 percent of those served. Officials said the blackout occurred when an excavator brought down a transmission tower by accident. The outage comes less than a week after a tree fell and knocked out power to 870,000 homes and businesses on the island Puerto Rico has struggled mightily to restore power more than six months after Hurricane Maria knocked out power to 100 percent of residents. Some 40,000 residents in remote areas of the U.S. commonwealth have yet to see their lights turned back on since the storm.

Economic News

Global debt is at a historic high reaching the equivalent of 225% of GDP (Gross domestic product is a monetary measure of the value of all the goods and services produced). the IMF (International Monetary Fund) said in its newly released Fiscal Monitor, that China is the “driving force” behind the new debt levels. The world is now 12% of GDP deeper in debt than it was at a peak debt cycle during the financial crisis in 2009, hitting a whopping $164 trillion. China owns the lion’s share, generating almost three-quarters of the increase in private debt since the financial crisis. But it’s not alone. Two other countries — Japan and U.S. — account for more than half of the overall global debt, according to the IMF.

Big banks are raking in monster profits. Morgan Stanley and Bank of America both revealed record quarterly earnings this week. Goldman Sachs hit a five-year high. And banking king JPMorgan Chase hauled in $8.7 billion during the first three months of 2018. That’s the largest quarterly profit by any US bank — ever. The industry got a huge boost from the Republican tax law. Banks traditionally pay high tax rates, making them among the biggest winners from the corporate tax rate falling from 35% to 21%. Big banks are also cashing in on the stronger economy, which has increased demand for mortgages, car loans and business borrowing.

Wells Fargo agreed to pay a record $1 billion fine to federal regulators Friday over mortgage and auto-loan violations. The settlement, announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Under the settlement, Wells Fargo will reimburse harmed consumers and make improvements to its risk management and compliance. The CFPB said that it will credit the $500 million penalty already collected by the OCC toward the satisfaction of the $1 billion fine.

Anyone planning to go new-car shopping for the first time in a while might want to prepare themselves for sticker shock. A combination of higher auto prices, longer loans and climbing interest rates means a buyer who finances their purchase could pay about $6,500 more than they would have five years ago, according to research from Edmunds.com. The average price paid for a new car reached $34,623 in March, according to Edmunds. Five years ago, that number was $31,078. Rising interest rates make borrowing more expensive. Last month, interest rates on new-car loans stood at 5.7%, up from 4.4% in March 2013. And as prices have risen, consumers have been financing larger balances: An average $31,020, compared with $26,533 five years ago. Plus, they’re taking on loans over a longer period of time. The average auto loan length is now 69.5 months compared with 65.7 months in March 2013.

Fidelity estimates it will cost a couple $280,000 to cover their health care costs in retirement, up 2% from last year and 75% since its 2002 estimate of $160,000. The math assumes a couple retires at 65 and is eligible for Medicare. The cost for care for males in retirement is an estimated $133,000, while the tab for women, who tend to live longer than men, is $147,000.

Middle East

In a U.S. State Department annual report on human rights, the controversial term “occupied” was largely eliminated in references to various territories in and adjacent to Israel. While the term “occupied” had been used in such reports since the Carter administration, the 2017 version drops this term, which is generally used pejoratively to criticize Israeli policy following military victories through which the Jewish state acquired control of various territories. The change comes after U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman advised the department in December to stop using the “misleading” term “occupied” in references to Judea and Samaria. The term “occupied” is considered by many to be a loaded phrase intended to demonize Israel with regard to its activities in disputed areas. In response to the State Department’s subsequent change in terminology, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted over the weekend, “The lie of the occupied Palestinian territories begins to be revealed. They say that a lie repeated often enough becomes true, but the truth is forever stronger. The State Department report is proof of that.”

Iran

Iran may resume its nuclear activities “at a much greater speed” if President Donald Trump moves forward with plans to pull the U.S. out of a landmark nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions against the nation, Iran’s foreign minister said Friday. Trump in January again extended the nuclear deal, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, despite threatening to withdraw the U.S. from it. That action effectively set a May 12 deadline for the president to decide again whether to again renew a waiver of sanctions against Iran, something that comes up for renewal every 120 days. The lifting of sanctions was agreed upon by the Obama administration as part of the international agreement, which had imposed additional restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. The European Union failed to agree new sanctions against Iran last week in an attempt to keep Trump from abandoning the agreement. This week, Trump is set to meet at the White House with President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, two leaders who reportedly hope to persuade Trump not to ditch the deal.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber struck a voter registration center in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing at least 57 people in an attack claimed by ISIS. Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majro said another 119 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack, updating an earlier toll. Gen. Daud Amin, the Kabul police chief, said the suicide bomber targeted civilians who had gathered to receive national identification cards. The large explosion echoed across the city, shattering windows miles away from the attack site and damaging several nearby vehicles. ISIS has claimed responsibility in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted Shiite “apostates.” Last week, three police officers responsible for guarding voter registration centers in two Afghan provinces were killed by militants. Afghanistan will hold parliamentary elections in October. Afghan security forces have struggled to prevent attacks by the ISIS affiliate as well as the more firmly established. Both groups regularly launch attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the government and security forces, and ISIS targeting the country’s Shiite minority.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters with a screening of “Black Panther.” America’s biggest movie theater company, AMC, played the Hollywood blockbuster on Wednesday at its new single-screen cinema in the financial district of the capital Riyadh. The gala opening was limited to about 500 invited guests, executives and officials, but public screenings of the movie will begin soon, AMC said. AMC said men and women would be able to sit together at the gala screening. The Saudi official said there would also be no segregation when theaters open to the public — moviegoers would be able to choose between mixed, male-only and female-only screenings. Saudi men and women are customarily separated in public places. But that restriction is being relaxed. Men and women were able to sit together at several music concerts and events in 2017.

Cuba

Miguel Diaz-Canel was officially named as the new leader of Cuba on Thursday, one day after a vote in the country’s National Assembly. It’s the first time in nearly six decades that Cuba is being led by a man not named Castro. Diaz-Canel, 57, was selected as the unopposed candidate to replace Raul Castro, 86. Castro endorsed Diaz-Canel — who wasn’t yet born when Fidel Castro led his revolution in 1959. Raul Castro is still expected to exercise a large measure of control over the Cuban government and have the final say on important decisions. He will remain first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, a member of the National Assembly and, even if he is no longer president, the most powerful public figure on the island. An electrical engineer by training, Díaz-Canel speaks in a soft monotone and rarely strays too far from the script in public appearances. But while there were other, more dynamic members of his generation who years earlier appeared to have a better lock on the top job, Díaz-Canel quietly made a name for himself as an efficient administrator while serving as the top Communist Party official for the provinces of Villa Clara and then Holguín, where Fidel and Raul Castro were born.

Wildfires

Strong winds, dry air and parched land combined to create a life-threatening danger, and fire crews were on alert from Arizona to Kansas. Residents in Colorado and Oklahoma watched helplessly from afar as aggressive grass fires destroyed their homes amid some of the most extreme fire conditions in years. At least 23 homes and multiple outbuildings were destroyed by a blaze that started Tuesday between Colorado Springs and Pueblo in Colorado’s Pueblo County. The fire grew rapidly, torching 64 square miles, but no injuries were reported. A separate fire near Colorado Springs chased 200 families from their homes and destroyed at least five dwellings and several outbuildings. In western Oklahoma, a blaze dubbed the Rhea Fire has burned more than 440 square miles – an area larger than New York City; it has destroyed at least 50 homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate in Dewey County. Authorities are investigating the possibility of arson as the cause of the deadly wildfire in western Oklahoma. Two deaths have been blamed on multiple fires in Oklahoma. n New Mexico, a fire that began Friday afternoon in Socorro County forced the closure of State Highway 116 and threatened 10 to 15 homes.

Weather

The amount of sea ice in the Bering Sea west of Alaska was less this winter than any year since written records of commercial whalers started in 1850. The part of the Bering Sea covered by ice in February was about 150,000 square miles less than average, an area nearly the size of California. The lack of sea ice was a hardship for the people living in communities along the Bering Sea. “Travel between communities via boat or snowmachine was difficult and limited due to thin, unstable sea ice,” said the report from the International Arctic Research Center. “At times there was not enough ice to harvest marine mammals, fish, or crabs. As a result of increased open water, storm surf flooded homes and pushed ice rubble onto shore,” the report added.

Four tornadoes were confirmed near the Gulf Coast on Sunday as a round of severe storms caused damage from southeastern Louisiana to southern Alabama and into the Florida Panhandle. A pair of EF0 tornadoes that injured five people were confirmed by the National Weather Service in Baldwin County, Alabama. The first of these tornadoes overturned five recreational vehicles at the Anchors Aweigh RV Park in the town of Foley, about 30 miles southeast of Mobile. In Florida, a waterspout roared ashore late Sunday afternoon on Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach, about 140 miles west of Tallahassee, heavily damaging at least one home, downing trees and power lines and tossing vehicles.

Another round of April snow buried parts of the winter-weary Upper Midwest with up to a foot of snow, just days after a winter storm produced over two feet of snow in parts of the Great Lakes. The storm produced snow from the Dakotas and northern Nebraska into the western Great Lakes on April 17-18. The heaviest snow fell in a roughly west-to-east swath from southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska into southern Wisconsin. Several towns near the Minnesota-Iowa border picked up a foot of snow, led by Stacyville, Iowa, with 12.8 inches. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picked up 6.2 inches of snow just four days after Winter Storm Xanto dumped the city’s heaviest April calendar-day snowfall on record. Thundersnow was reported in Wayne, Nebraska, thundersleet was reported near Clare, Iowa, and lightning accompanied freezing rain in Paton, Iowa, early Wednesday morning.

Signs of the Times

April 16, 2018

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. (Psalm 46:1-2)

Multitude of Egyptians Coming to Christ Despite Persecution by Radical Muslims

Despite continued persecution from Muslim extremists, Christians in Egypt remain unwavering in their faith, leading a “multitude” to come to Christ, church leaders said. The Rev. Sameh Hanna, associate pastor at the Evangelical Church in Cairo, said, “We see the multitude coming to the knowledge of Christ from every background, so this brings joy to us.” The Rev. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt, said that believers in the country put their faith in God alone, as further attacks by the Islamic State terror group or other extremists are a very real possibility—even in church. You can expect at any moment that someone will come with a bomb and create a massacre. So, every day we trust God and we go,” he said

Over 350 Groups of Students Walk-Out from School to Protest Abortion

Across the United States Wednesday, pro-life high school and college students from more than 250 schools and more than 350 student groups walked out of class to protest abortion. At 10:00 a.m. for each school’s local time, students left class to gather for seventeen minutes of silent witness for the ten children aborted by Planned Parenthood in that time period, and the more than 60 million babies killed since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. The National Pro-Life Walkout was devised by Rocklin High School student Brandon Gillespie of California, with organizational support provided by Students for Life of America. Students for Life covered the walkout with live video at several schools, including Rocklin, Moriarty High School in New Mexico, Los Alamitos High School in California, and Frederick East Classical High School in Maryland.

Pro-Life Groups Censored on Facebook Despite Zuckerberg’s Denial

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress yesterday and said that Facebook shouldn’t censor pro-life views. However, the social media giant is censoring them anyway, reports LifeSite News, “which has seen repeated attempts to censor our pro-life message or the pro-life messages of other organizations. We have had problems with certain posts being blocked on Facebook, and Facebook has denied LifeNews the ability to promote certain posts with content that it deems unacceptable.” Senator Ted Cruz read a long list of Facebook’s censorship of conservative sites and then questioned whether Zuckerberg was aware of this bias. Zuckerberg said that Facebook should not be censoring pro-life use even though abortion issues are controversial. Zuckerberg said that the platform was developing artificial intelligence tools to flag hate speech. He said he was “optimistic that over a five to ten-year period we will have AI tools that can get into some of the nuances, the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate in flagging things for our systems.”

  • Censorship of conservative posts and organization is not an AI problem. There are many Facebook employees who review posts, with some exercising personal bias.

Indiana Adopts Law That Counts Unborn Children as Persons

The state of Indiana has adopted a new law that essentially grants personhood to unborn children. Relevant Magazine reports that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed a bill into law that allows suspects to be charged with murder if they harm a pregnant woman who then loses her unborn child. Pro-life supporters are championing this bill, since it acknowledges the personhood of unborn children.

“God Enriches” Motto to be Displayed in Arizona Schools

On March 5, 2018, a hearing was held on SB1289 promoting the display of “In God we Trust” along with other historical documents.  Last Week, the bill was signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey after passing both the House and the Senate. A teacher or administrator in any school in this state may read or post in any school building copies or excerpts of the following materials: The national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”; The national anthem; The pledge of allegiance; The declaration of independence; Writings, speeches, documents and proclamations of the founding fathers and the presidents of the United States; and the Arizona state motto “Ditat Deus”, which means “God Enriches”.

U.S. & Allies Strike Syrian Chemical Facilities with 105 Missiles

The Pentagon said Saturday that the U.S.-led allied missile strikes in Syria successfully hit all three mission targets and have “significantly crippled” Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ability to make more chemical weapons. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I think we dealt them a severe blow. We’ve attacked the heart of the Syrians’ chemical weapons program.” McKenzie identified the targets as Barzah Research and Development, the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site and the Him Shinshar Bunker Facility. He said 105 missiles were launched by air and sea. There have been no reports of civilian casualties. President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished. A perfectly executed strike.” The strike was in response to Syria’s chemical attack on Douma a week ago. Biological samples from the area of the chemical attack in Syria have tested positive for chlorine and a sarin-like nerve agent, according to a U.S. official. The strikes are not expected to impact the overall status of the war in Syria between the government and numerous rebel forces. But now, Russia will pay an economic price for backing Assad in the form of more economic sanctions, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday.

2,000% Increase in Russian Trolls after Syria Strikes

The Pentagon claimed a 2,000% increase in Russian troll activity on social media following the U.S.-led missile strikes against Syria Friday night. Spokeswoman Dana White said in Saturday’s Pentagon briefing that, “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun.” Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says her organization’s Hamilton 68 dashboard has tracked “a concerted campaign to present alternative narratives to sow doubt about the evidence that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.” A Russian troll army deployed by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency has been accused of hijacking social media conversations to sow political division on social media, particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Pentagon has classified such efforts as a modern form of state-sponsored warfare, the ‘weaponization’ of information.

CIA Director Says Previous Syrian Strike Killed Hundreds of Russian Mercenaries

CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed Thursday that U.S. forces killed “a couple hundred” Russian mercenary troops in Syria in a strike earlier this year that he said sent a distinct signal to Moscow. Mr. Pompeo was testifying to the Senate as he seeks to win the top post at the State Department, after President Trump nominated him to replace outgoing Secretary Rex Tillerson. Being prodded on U.S. policy toward Russia and what Democrats said appeared to be a weak approach to Moscow, Mr. Pompeo said lawmakers need to look beyond sanctions to understand the full array of conflict and pressure. As one example he pointed to the February skirmish. Press reports say Russian mercenaries that appear to be backed by the Kremlin, and who are aligned with Syria’s government in its battle against U.S.-backed insurgents, tried to gain ground in an area where U.S. forces were. An American-led counterattack repulsed the offensive.

Thousands of National Guard Troops Deploying on Mexican Border

National Guard troops have begun deploying along the Mexican border, answering a call from President Trump to combat the “lawlessness that continues at our southern border.” “The goal is to have at least 4,000 (from all participating states) deployed in a month or two,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in San Antonio. “We should be adding 300 a week until we get staffed up.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced 225 guard members from his state deployed Monday, with more than 100 additional troops sent Tuesday. In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office told the Associated Press that more than 80 state National Guard troops would be deployed this week. About 250 troops from her state will ultimately be deployed. Even South Carolina has chimed in, with Gov. Henry McMaster offering to send troops to the Texas border. A major holdout thus far, however, has been California.

Arizona Supreme Court Strikes Down In-State Tuition for ‘Dreamers’

Arizona colleges can’t give in-state tuition to young immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. The justices unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals’ ruling that said existing federal and state laws don’t allow the Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition rates for DACA recipients.

More California Cities Vote to Opt Out of State’s Sanctuary Law

The Newport Beach city council voted unanimously earlier this week to challenge California’s sanctuary law, joining a dozen other California cities that are not interested in complying with the sanctuary policies. It’s the third city this week to take such action, joining about a dozen others in recent weeks.

Navajo Nation Sues Opioid Makers for Overdose Deaths, Addiction

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday filed a sweeping federal lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies for their role in an epidemic blamed for a surge in overdose deaths and addiction. The tribe’s lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in New Mexico, said that that prescription and illicit opioids led to 7,309 overdose deaths from 2014 through 2016 in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the three states that include parts of Navajo Nation. The Navajos lawsuit joins a growing list of states and cities that have sued opioid manufacturers and distributors for an epidemic that led to more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For generations, Native Americans have disproportionately suffered during health crises, and the opioid crisis is no different,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. “We aren’t going to sit back and let our community be torn apart while our children are suffering.”

Affordable Housing Crisis Causes Evictions to Soar

A nationwide affordable-housing crisis deepened across the U.S. last year, as rising rents and shrinking options led to yet another spike in rental evictions. Evictions — and the life-altering chaos they can create — have recently become a trending topic among housing advocates as tenant-protection laws sputter through statehouses and city councils. The Eviction Lab’s early numbers, which don’t yet include the entire United States, show over 900,000 evictions were ordered in 2016. By almost every available metric, Phoenix is one of the worst cities in America for low-income renters. The average rental price has climbed more than $150 a month since early 2016, and the apartment vacancy rate hovers below 5 percent. Whole city blocks have been swallowed by luxury apartments, in some cases clearing out what was once moderately priced housing. Wait lists for government programs like Section 8 or public housing can stretch on for years. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, households that earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last month, the Phoenix area offers just 20 affordable and available rental units. Nationwide, that figure is 35.

State Pension Funding Gap Rose to $1.4 Trillion in 2016

The funding deficit for U.S. state public pension systems rose to a record-high $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2016, a nearly $300 billion increase from fiscal 2015, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released on Thursday. The public worker retirement funds reported only $2.6 trillion in assets to cover total pension liabilities of $4 trillion. “Many state retirement systems are on an unsustainable course, coming up short on their investment targets and having failed to set aside enough money to fund the pension promises made to public employees,” the report said. Retirement systems in New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin were at least 90 percent funded in 2016, while pension funds in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey were less than 50 percent funded, according to Pew.

Economic News

U.S. retail sales rebounded in March after three straight monthly declines as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and other big-ticket items, suggesting consumer spending was heading into the second quarter with momentum. The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales increased 0.6 percent last month after an unrevised 0.1 percent dip in February. January data was revised to show sales falling 0.2 percent instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent drop. Consumer sentiment slipped in early April as households worried about the potential impact of the Trump administration’s trade policies on the economy.

After U.S. corporations got a big tax cut in December, a flurry of announcements touting bonuses and pay raises for hourly employees raised hopes that the cash windfall would keep flowing down to American workers. But the number of companies letting workers know they are getting a bonus, raise or other form of financial compensation has slowed to a trickle. Most of the extra cash from tax savings is going into the pockets of stock shareholders through dividend increases and companies buying back their own stock in hopes of boosting its price. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis found that fewer than 45 of the 500 big companies that make up the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index have paid out cash bonuses to their workers in the four months since the new tax law took effect.

The White House said Tuesday that China’s president just blinked in the trade feud between Washington and Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said his government would “significantly lower” tariffs on vehicle imports this year as part of efforts to further open its giant economy to the world. The pledge addresses one of the gripes of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose new tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese goods in a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Experts cautioned, though, that Xi’s comments may not do much to resolve the conflict, which has rocked markets in recent weeks.

Moody’s said in a report on Tuesday that retail sector defaults hit a record high during the first three months of 2018 as the rise of e-commerce and decline of malls continues to eat away at profits. Four retailers defaulted during February and another four defaulted in March — tied for the most in a single month since December 1998. And that’s on top of the 13 retail defaults in 2017, including one by bankrupt Toys “R” US. Struggling Sears and bankrupt Claire’s are among the nine retailers that defaulted on their debt during the first quarter despite the healthy overall economy. Last year, retailers announced a record 7,000 store closures.

Summer driving will be more expensive this year. Prices at the pump are likely to be 14% higher than last summer, the US government estimated on Tuesday. Although gas is well below the $4 a gallon prices of 2008, it has risen because of the recovery in the oil markets. The average gallon of gasoline fetched $2.66 on Thursday, according to AAA. That’s up from $2.39 last year, just as summer driving season was beginning. Drivers in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington State, Hawaii and Alaska already pay more than $3 per gallon, according to AAA. California’s average gas price has jumped to $3.52, compared with $2.99 a year ago. After crashing to just $26 a barrel in early 2016, crude oil has more than doubled in price. Supply in the United States is very strong. Production of crude recently hit record high because of the shale oil boom. But foreign oil supply is down, largely because of OPEC’s efforts to boost prices by curbing production. Saudi Arabia-led OPEC and Russia reached an agreement in late 2016 to pump less oil which has raised crude oil prices to over $66/gallon.

Middle East

Following an air strike on the Syrian Tiyas Military Airbase on Monday, subsequently attributed to the Israeli military, Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati issued several threats targeting Israel. Velayati, who serves as a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that that seven members of its military died in the attack. Velayati told IRNA “Defenders of the holy shrines are still standing by the Syrian people and government and will continue their fight against the enemies of the Islamic Ummah, particularly the Zionist regime and its masters. The crimes will not remain unanswered.”

Israeli Defense Forces on Saturday exposed and destroyed a terror tunnel running from Jabalia, in northern Gaza, into southern Israel near the community of Nahal Oz. The tunnel was exposed in what the IDF described as an “engineering operation” inside Israeli territory. An IDF spokesman said the tunnel was dug by the Hamas terror group and was connected to an intricate network of other tunnels running through Gaza. This is the fifth tunnel exposed and demolished by Israel on the border with Gaza in recent months. In this case, the IDF sealed, rather than bombed, the underground structure.

Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip remained the site of unruly demonstrations Friday by Palestinians, directed by the Hamas terrorist organization that has ruled the coastal enclave for the past decade. According to the IDF, Palestinians attempted to breach Israel’s border fence using explosives and Molotov cocktails. “The IDF will not allow damage to the security and fence infrastructures that protect Israeli citizens and will act against violent rioters and terrorists involved,” said the IDF statement. While the rioting has been portrayed as a peaceful “Great March of Return,” a large number of the protesters that have been killed have been identified by Hamas itself as military operatives and members of the terrorist organization. Israel’s response on the ground since the riots began in March has remained consistent, warning rioters who approach the fence that attempts to breach the barrier will not be tolerated.

Iran

The United States on Tuesday welcomed a push by some European Union states to impose new sanctions on Iran. The U.S. and EU also warned firms considering doing business with the Islamic Republic that they could be funding militant groups and promoting regional instability. President Donald Trump has set European allies a May 12 deadline to revamp an international deal agreed with Tehran in 2015 that lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Last month, France, Britain and Germany sought EU support for approval of new sanctions but have struggled to persuade other member states to back them.

Afghanistan

A new coalition air campaign aimed at crippling Taliban funding has destroyed 73 drug labs and cost the organization $42 million in lost revenue during the first six months of the operation, according to coalition statistics. The air campaign was launched in November after President Trump expanded the U.S. military’s authority to target insurgents in Afghanistan and represents the most robust effort yet to strike at the country’s $1.6 billion drug trade. “It’s the first time we’ve used air power to … strike and put pressure on Taliban revenue in the 17 years of the war,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who heads the air operation targeting insurgent revenues. The air campaign won’t eliminate the massive drug trade in Afghanistan but is designed to have an impact on Taliban operations as they gear up for another Spring fighting season.

Nigeria

Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram abducted over 1,000 children over the past five years, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday. The militants’ aim is to spread fear and show power, the agency said. Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” has staged frequent raids on schools since launching an Islamist insurgency in the country’s northeast in 2009. Its violent campaign to carve out an Islamic state there has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people. UNICEF said it had verified at least 1,000 kidnapping cases but warned the actual figure could be much higher. It added that the group had also killed at least 2,295 teachers and destroyed more than 1,400 schools.

Venezuela

A massive wave of Venezuelans are turning their backs on their homeland and its beleaguered socialist government. Countries across Central and South America are struggling to deal with the massive outflow. Regional analysts say the out-migration threatens to destabilize Venezuela’s neighbors and prove a massive drain on South American resources and economic development. The Venezuelan refugees in Argentina, driven from their homes by massive shortages, political upheaval and raging violent crime, have traveled 3,000 miles to find welcoming immigration laws and a thriving expatriate community. But not every country is dealing with the influx so smoothly. The handling of the crisis by Venezuela’s beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, figures to be a prime topic of conversation when regional leaders gather at the end of the week in Peru for the Summit of the Americas, which Vice President Pence will be attending.

Wildfires

Wildfires exploded across Oklahoma as drought and wind caused fires to spread rapidly. Two people are dead and hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed by wildfires that continue to ravage Oklahoma. The state of emergency declared by Gov. Mary Fallin will remain in effect until at least Tuesday for 52 counties. A wildfire in southwestern Oklahoma that began in Texas continues to burn after destroying over 40 square miles of land. Oklahoma Forestry Services says a blaze in northwestern Oklahoma has burned more than 375 square miles of land. The largest group of fires, named the 34 Complex Fire, has burned more than 100 square miles, destroyed several homes in northwestern Oklahoma’s Woodward County and forced evacuations. Overall, the wildfires have scorched more than 450 square miles as of Sunday evening.

A human-caused wildfire burning in eastern Arizona grew rapidly to about 2,644 acres late Saturday, and a portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests was closed off to the public, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Rattlesnake Fire was burning about 25 miles southwest of Alpine in the national forest and on the adjacent Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Continued high winds on Friday contributed to the fire’s fast growth, which had been at 400 acres by late Thursday. The fire spread smoke and worry over the region over nearby residents. No communities were immediately threatened by the fire. Firefighters late Sunday had contained about 3 percent of the fire burning near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Three other fires are burning in New Mexico having already consumed about 9,400 acres near the northern border between the two southwest states.

Weather

Winter Storm Xanto is beginning to finally wind down Monday after dumping record snow for the month of April on parts of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes over the weekend. Xanto officially brought 14.9 inches of snow to Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it the heaviest April snowstorm on record there. Green Bay, Wisconsin, picked up an astonishing 23.5 inches of snow from Xanto, ranking not only as the city’s heaviest April storm but also the second-heaviest snowstorm of all-time. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received 13.7 inches of snow from Xanto on Saturday, making it the heaviest one-day April snow total on record in the city. The highest snowfall total so far is 33 inches near Amherst, Wisconsin. Drifts 5 to 6 feet high were also reported in that location.

Tornadoes left widespread damage as part of a round of weekend severe weather that claimed at least two lives in the South. Extensive damage was reported in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the height of the outages, more than 75,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas. A possible tornado hit Sunday near Lynchburg, Virginia. Several buildings were damaged in Campbell County, while trees were snapped and cars were flipped. Following the storms, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, and a local emergency was declared in Greensboro. Sunday afternoon, a waterspout was reported near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Hillsborough County, Florida. A 2-year-old girl was killed Friday at a mobile home park in Haughton, Louisiana, when a tree fell on the RV where she was sleeping. Five people were hospitalized in Reidsville, North Carolina, on Sunday evening after a tree was blown onto a home on Highway 158. Strong winds destroyed barns and took down trees in Huntersville, some 15 miles from Charlotte, on Sunday.

Researchers in China are attempting to address the country’s water issues by building a massive rain-making network high in the Tibetan mountains. The system would consist of tens of thousands of chambers that burn fuel to make silver iodide, a particle that enters clouds and creates rain and snow, the South China Morning Post reports. The machines will be strategically placed in the mountains and cover an area of roughly 620,000 square miles, or three times as large as Spain. Winds would carry the silver iodide produced by the chambers into the sky, where it can seed the clouds. The researchers chose the Tibetan plateau because climate models suggest it will undergo severe drought triggered by the warming planet and a decrease in regional rain. This development will affect weather worldwide, some for the better, but some for the worse.

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