Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Signs of the Times (4/5/17)

April 5, 2017

Cadbury Takes ‘Easter’ out of Annual Easter Egg Hunt

By removing the word “Easter” from its annual Easter egg hunt, the National Trust is “airbrushing faith,” the Church of England says. The Church of England’s comments came after the National Trust and Cadbury decided to rebrand the annual event from “Easter Egg Trail” to the “Great British Egg Hunt.” During the annual hunt, thousands of children search for the Cadbury chocolate eggs at National Trust properties. The National Trust, however, said that it didn’t make the change in rebranding. “The National Trust is in no way downplaying the significance of Easter, which is why we put on a huge number of events, activities and walks to bring families together at this time of year,” a spokesperson said. “We work closely with Cadbury, who are responsible for the branding and wording of our egg hunt campaign.”

FDA Expands Use Of RU-486 Abortion Drug To 70 Days

The FDA will now allow women a longer window to chemically starve unborn babies, with less medical oversight, notes Technocracy News. The Food and Drug Administration quietly expanded abortion access last Wednesday. This change was a careful relabel aimed at increasing access to the abortifacient mifepristone, or RU-486. The FDA approved its use up to 70 days after a woman’s last menstrual cycle began, up from the previous 49-day limit. According to the manufacturer, since its approval, more than 2.75 million women in the United States have taken mifepristone to end a pregnancy early in its gestation. While RU-486 use now comprises one-fourth of abortions, it’s not without significant risks for the mother, such as heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and painful uterine contractions.  About 2% hemorrhage and more than 1 in a 100 require hospitalization. In addition, for 4-5% of women, the pills don’t work, making them return for surgical abortions.

  • Three weeks after fertilization—which, given the usual timeline of a woman’s fertility cycle is approximately five weeks before the FDA’s new RU-486 cutoff—a baby already has a beating heart.

31,725 Illegals from Terror Hotbeds Have Disappeared

A staggering 31,725 illegal immigrants from countries that aid and abet terrorist organizations received deportation orders from U.S. immigration courts from 2003 through 2015, but what became of them is anyone’s guess, finds a report by a former immigration judge at the behest of the Center for Immigration Studies. In fact, some 3,095 of these aliens fled their hearings, among them 338 people from Iran, Sudan, and Syria, nations the State Department declares state sponsors of terrorism. Federal law — 18 U.S.C. § 3146 — imposes penalties from one year to 15 years in prison for those who fail to show up for federal court proceedings. Yet those who dodge immigration court are treated much differently. They can literally abandon their cases without fear of incarceration or removal and, in turn, imperil national and domestic security. American immigration courts, in fact, have the highest failure to appear rate of any court-system in the nation, reports WorldNetDaily.

Border Patrol Urges Trump to Cut Obama’s Red Tape

The Homeland Security Department has been reluctant to send helicopters on nighttime missions to aid the Border Patrol, leaving agents to face drug smugglers and illegal immigrants without critical air cover, the chief of the agents’ labor union told Congress. Brandon Judd, an agent who is also president of the National Border Patrol Council, said that when the Border Patrol controlled its own helicopters, it got the air support it needed. But after the Homeland Security Department was created more than a decade ago, the helicopters were turned over to the Office of Air and Marine, which has been reluctant to fly the nighttime hours the agents need. Mr. Trump’s early changes to enforcement policy, freeing agents to carry out the law enforcement duties they signed up for, has helped boost morale, Judd said. Chris Crane, the head of the union for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council concurred. Mr. Crane said, “a good ol’ boy network” pervades ICE, which he said is too heavy on managers who get in the way of agents trying to enforce immigration laws in the interior. He said agents are eager to enforce laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants, but their hands are tied.

Trump Administration Moves to Combat H-1B Visa Fraud

On Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it would take a “more targeted approach” in site visits to the workplaces of H-1B petitioners. Also on Monday, the Justice Department issued a press release “cautioning” employers petitioning for H-1B visas to not discriminate against American workers. USCIS, which has been conducting random site visits since 2009, said it will now specifically target H-1B dependent employers, or companies that have 15% of their U.S. workforce on the visa. Employers that have H-1B employees who work offsite at another company will also be subject to these site visits, as will companies that do not have readily available information about their business online. While H-1B visas are used to fill the U.S. skills gap, the Trump administration has voiced concerns about abuse of the program. In some cases, outsourcing firms flood the system with applicants, obtaining visas for foreign workers and then contracting them out to tech companies. American jobs are sometimes replaced in the process, critics say.

Democrats Stall Vote on Gorsuch to Supreme Court

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor just before 7 p.m. ET Tuesday vowing to talk “as long as I’m able” to protest Republicans’ 2016 blockade of President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland — in the latest disruption on the road to a vote for President Trump’s nominee. As of Wednesday morning, the Democratic senator has spoken for over 15 hours. Republicans are increasingly likely to use the so-called “nuclear option” to push through a Democratic filibuster. The nuclear or constitutional option is a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override a rule or precedent by a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of by a supermajority of 60 votes. Senators of both parties bemoaned the further erosion of their traditions of bipartisanship and consensus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew a distinction between legislation being filibustered and the filibuster being used against nominees, something that is a more recent development.

Trump Signs Order to Repeal Internet Privacy Protections

President Trump signed into law Monday a resolution that repeals protections requiring Internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing data. These protections — which had not yet gone into effect — were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration. The providers collect data on web browsing history, app usage and geo-location. The White House said last week that repealing the protections will create an “equal playing field” between Internet service providers and tech companies. Opponents of the privacy rules argued they would place an undue burden on broadband providers while leaving large Internet companies like Facebook and Google free to collect user data without asking permission.

DEA War Against Oxycodone Ends with a Whimper

To combat an escalating opioid epidemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration trained its sights in 2011 on Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of the highly addictive generic painkiller oxycodone. It was the first time the DEA had targeted a manufacturer of opioids for alleged violations of laws designed to prevent diversion of legal narcotics to the black market. And it is the largest prescription-drug case the agency has pursued. Government investigators alleged in internal documents that the company’s lack of due diligence could have resulted in nearly 44,000 federal violations and exposed it to $2.3 billion in fines, according to confidential government records and emails obtained by The Washington Post. But six years later, after four investigations that spanned five states, the government has taken no legal action against Mallinckrodt. Instead, the company has reached a tentative settlement with federal prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, which remains confidential, Mallinckrodt would agree to pay a $35 million fine and admit no wrongdoing.

Women Missing from Highest Paid Jobs

If it’s a high-paid job, chances are you won’t find a woman in it. That’s the conclusion of a LinkedIn analysis, prepared for Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, of how women fared in the top 100 highest-paying job-categories in the U.S. On average, women make up less than 30% of employees in each of the highest-paid job categories. Among the highest-paid jobs, only three of them employ more women than men — all within human resource roles. “Parity has been an uneven and slow progress,” says Paul Ko, head of economic graph analysis at LinkedIn. The disparity is pronounced in the upper echelons of tech leadership, where females are underrepresented as chief technology officer (5%), vice president of engineering (5%) and director of system engineering (7%) roles. Equal Pay Day represents the date that U.S. working women’s pay catches up to men’s from the prior year. Women on average are paid 20% less than men in the U.S., according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The gap is wider for women of color: black women are paid 37% less and Hispanic women 46% less.

Women Most Likely to Hold On-Demand ‘Gig’ Jobs

Got a side gig? Among those in the ranks of the on-demand, or “gig” economy, are more and more women. Professional freelance work, like computer programming via Upwork, was the most popular type of gig work. Direct selling – Mary Kay, Rodan + Fields, Stella & Dot – was the second most popular gig job. Women cited flexible hours and control over earning totals as the top benefits of gig work; however, they also cited inconsistent income and a lack of benefits among major drawbacks. However, while many women have turned to gig work to supplement income, few have embraced it as a full-time job. Most are augmenting their money with either another part-time job, full-time employment or a spouse’s income, reports Hyperwallet, a company that manages payments for a number of gig-economy companies.

Economic News

Businesses added 263,000 jobs in March, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday, possibly heralding a third straight month of strong hiring in the government’s closely watched employment report to be issued Friday. professional and business services led the job gains with 57,000. Leisure and hospitality added 55,000; construction, 49,000; health care, 46,000; and trade, transportation and utilities, 34,000. Generally, the 200,000-plus monthly job gains so far this year have soundly beat the estimates of economists who figured the low, 4.7% unemployment rate would slow hiring by providing employers with fewer available workers.

U.S. auto sales trailed estimates, with Kia and Ford reporting some of the biggest declines. Heavy incentive spending failed to contain plunging demand for sedan and compact models. Combined deliveries for Kia and its affiliate Hyundai slumped 11 percent, and Ford dropped 7.2 percent last month. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota also fell short of expectations. March was supposed to be the month U.S. auto sales rebounded from decreases in January and February. Sales for sedans like Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion each plunged by more than 35 percent in March as crossovers become America’s vehicle of choice. Overall, U.S. auto sales so far in 2017 have been described as a “disaster” by some analysts.

After years of many experts lamenting how Millennials weren’t interested in becoming homeowners, it turns out many are actually diving in. Millennials are the largest group of homebuyers, according to Ellie Mae, a software company that analyzes mortgage data. In January, Millennials represented around 45% of all purchase loans, up from 42% the same month in 2016. But their path to homeownership won’t be easy. Millennials are mostly first-time buyers and they are competing against repeat buyers who have more buying leverage and experience. A shortage of available homes has driven up prices — particularly among starter homes that tend to fall within first-time buyers’ budgets. There were 3% fewer homes on the market in February compared to a year ago, and home prices are up nearly 7%.

Islamic State

As the battle to liberate west Mosul from the Islamic State intensifies, more Iraqi civilians have been caught in the crossfire and are dying in airstrikes that have gotten scant attention, residents who escaped report. A March 17 strike on a building that killed at least dozens and possibly as many as 200 civilians provoked international concern. Yet eyewitnesses to the destruction in Mosul told USA TODAY that many similar strikes occur in the city without public notice. The U.S. military acknowledged that allegations of civilian casualties as a result of a U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign against the Islamic State have increased significantly this year. The coalition received 27 reports of incidents involving civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria in January, up from 12 in December, according to the most recent statistics.

Syria

A suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria on Tuesday killed scores of civilians and drew an international outcry on the eve of a global conference to discuss the future of the beleaguered, war-weary nation. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said 58 people were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province, including 11 children. The death toll is likely to rise, the group said. Activists blamed the airstrike on either the Syrian government or Russian warplanes. Syrian forces loyal to Assad have been involved with chemical weapons before in the brutal six-year civil war against U.S-backed rebels. The Russian Defense Ministry quickly denied any involvement, saying Russian planes carried out no strikes in the area. The chemical weapons tragedy was the result of a Syrian airstrike that hit a militant workshop producing the internationally banned weapons, the Kremlin said Wednesday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia will submit data to support the claim at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council being conducted Wednesday. The U.S. has placed blame directly on Assad’s government forces.

Russia

More than a dozen people were killed and dozens more injured Monday when an explosion rocked a subway train in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, authorities said. Metro stations across the city were shut down following the mid-afternoon blast. The man believed to have unleashed the suicide bomb attack was identified Tuesday as a 22-year-old Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. Akbardzhon Dzhalilov was named as the killer by Russia’s Investigative Committee. Detectives said they also found his DNA on a bag holding a second bomb in a nearby subway station — which crews defused before it could explode. Russian investigators have linked the suspected attacker to radical Islamic terror groups.

North Korea

North Korea has fired a newly developed medium-range ballistic missile into its eastern waters in a display of military bravado on the eve of a critical meeting between President Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping. U.S. and South Korean officials identified the projectile as a KN-15 medium-range missile, which was first publicly tested in February.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had said after its test two months ago that the missile, called “Pukguksong-2” in North Korea, gives Pyongyang another nuclear attack capability against the United States and South Korea. The missile uses pre-loaded solid fuel which means it takes shorter time to prepare for a launch than the liquid propellant missiles that make up most of its arsenal. The Pentagon said Wednesday that the missile launch Wednesday likely was a failure. The topic is expected to be a major part of the talks Friday and Saturday between Trump and Xi in Mar-a-Lago.

North Korea’s hacking operations are growing and getting more bold — and increasingly targeting financial institutions worldwide. North Korea is now being linked to attacks on banks in 18 countries, according to a new report from Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky. And the stolen money is likely being spent advancing North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, according to two international security experts. Banks and security researchers have previously identified four North Korean cyber-heists attempted on financial institutions in Bangladesh, Ecuador, the Philippines and Vietnam. But researchers at Kaspersky now say the same hacking operation — known as “Lazarus” — also attacked financial institutions in Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Uruguay. The hackers can be traced back to North Korea, according to Kaspersky researchers.

Yemen

U.S. special operations force have stepped up ground operations inside Yemen amid growing concern that the al-Qaeda affiliate there continues to actively plan attacks on western targets, including targeting commercial aviation, reports CNN. The covert ground missions have the specific goal of secretly collecting intelligence on the al-Qaeda affiliate, including their top operatives and locations where they may be hiding. The U.S. military has not acknowledged any specific ground operations since the Navy SEAL raid soon after Trump took office that became controversial after the death of a Navy SEAL and civilians.

Iran

The Boeing Company announced a tentative agreement on Tuesday to sell up to 60 737s to an Iranian airline, a transaction valued at $6 billion that angered American critics of Iran. The agreement appears likely to test the Trump administration’s avowed opposition to supporting Iran which is seen to be violating the nuclear accord. Boeing, a leading commercial aerospace company and a top American exporter, said in a statement that the agreement, which requires United States government approval, would create about 18,000 American jobs. The company’s agreement with Aseman Airlines, an Iranian carrier described as the nation’s third largest, is the first to be announced by any big American business with Iran since President Trump took office in January. Boeing announced a separate agreement last December to sell 80 commercial aircraft to Iran Air, the national carrier, a deal valued at $16.6 billion.

Weather

Storms and tornadoes swept through the South Sunday, bringing large hail, damaging winds and flash floods to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where tens of thousands lost power. Two people were killed Sunday morning by an EF1 tornado that damaged their mobile home near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. A brief tornado was reported Sunday morning in Center Point, Texas, while golf-ball sized hail was seen near Buffalo, Texas. Water rescues were underway in Del Rio, Texas, early Sunday morning as heavy rain hit the area, and more structural damage was reported in the Austin area, near Lake Travis. Flooding was also reported Sunday night in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where water rescues were reported.

As the storms continued to dump big rainfall totals Monday morning, several homes were evacuated in Rankin, Mississippi. An elementary school, a fire department and parts of the downtown area saw significant damage in Goodman, Missouri, from a reported tornado Tuesday. Another round of severe weather with damaging winds is expected to sweep across the South on Wednesday, bringing damaging winds in Alabama and Georgia, according to forecasters.

As a wet winter gave way to spring, California’s deserts and Central Valley exploded in vibrant colors because of a wildflower bloom that could be seen for miles – and even from space. Wildflower blooms occur in arid regions that receive an unusually high amount of rain. The Anza-Borrego Desert received 5.51 inches of rain from December through February, more than twice as much as a year ago. There’s bad news along with the beauty – as NASA notes, all this rainfall could allow underbrush to grow in typically hot, dry areas. And that could add literal fuel to the fires in future heat waves.

Heavy rains produced an “avalanche of water” in Columbia that left more than 230 dead while they slept early Saturday. The massive amount of water caused a river to overflow, unleashing a sudden barrage of mud and debris which inundated nearby homes. At least 234 were killed and over 200 more were injured in the city of Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo. At least 220 remain missing, and authorities expect the death toll to rise. Seventeen neighborhoods were affected by the mudslides, with structures destroyed and boulders “the size of a house” lying in the streets.

Signs of the Times (2/10/17)

February 10, 2017

Trump Experiences the Limits of Executive Power

President Donald Trump suffered more than a legal defeat of his immigration ban Thursday night. He ran up against the limits of executive power. Three federal judges unanimously refused to restore the White House’s controversial travel ban. Trump’s responded by tweet: “See You in Court” suggesting he will be taking the “disgraceful” decision to the Supreme Court. Trump’s vision of an administration rooted in the muscular use of executive power — similar to that he enjoyed as a business leader — will not go unchallenged by the U.S. system of checks and balances. In a stinging rebuke, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s argument that the judiciary lacked the authority to block the travel ban as “contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” The tone and content of the decision immediately called into question Trump’s gamble in enacting such a fundamental reshaping of the nation’s immigration laws through presidential order rather than a law debated and passed by Congress.

Trump Right About Media Under-Reporting Islamic Terrorism

President Donald Trump has been severely critical of the news media for doing what he called a poor job of covering instances of Islamic terrorism not only in the U.S. but around the world. As many terrorism experts told WND, it’s not the amount of coverage given to a specific event that counts but rather the type of coverage. A classic example of that can be found by comparing and contrasting the coverage that two news agencies – WND and the BBC – gave to a brutal machete attack at the Nazareth Mediterranean Restaurant one year ago in February 2016 that left four patrons wounded, one critically. In the BBC story, there is no mention of the words Islam, jihad, Muslim, refugee or immigrant. Every one of those words applied to the attacker, Mohamed Barry, who was a Muslim immigrant from the West African country of Guinea, as pointed out in the WND story. The point is not that they ignore the stories, but they deliberately conceal and/or misrepresent the aspects of them that make it clear that they’re Islamic jihad attacks,” said Robert Spencer, editor of Jihad Watch.

Foiled France Terrorists Appear to be ISIS-Inspired

Suspects arrested Friday in a foiled terror plot in France had just started making the same powerful explosive used in the ISIS-directed Paris and Brussels attacks, and they appear to have been inspired by the terror group, a source close to the investigation tells CNN. French police “thwarted an imminent attack on French soil” when they arrested four people, including a 16-year-old girl and three men, in cities across France, the interior minister said in a statement Friday. A partially assembled improvised explosive device was also found as part of the investigation.

Whistleblower Says Immigrant Vetting Process Severely Flawed

A recently retired U.S. State Department veteran has published a whistleblower letter in the Chicago Tribune fingering the refugee resettlement program as fraught with “fraud” and “abuses.” Mary Doetsch said the problems were apparent before President Obama took office but got worse under his leadership. Doetsch retired about two months ago as a refugee coordinator. One of her assignments was at a United Nations refugee camp in Jordan, from which many of the Syrian refugees are flowing into the U.S. She did three tours of duty, in Cairo, Egypt, dealing with Middle East refugees. She says the “vetting” of refugees from broken countries such as Somalia, Syria and Sudan often consists largely of a personal interview with the refugee. These countries have no law enforcement data to vet against the personal story relayed to the U.S. government about the refugee’s background. Sometimes even their name and identity is fabricated and they have no documentation, such as a valid passport, or they have fraudulent documentation.

Venezuela Sold Visas to Terrorists

CNN and CNN en Español teamed up in a year-long joint investigation that uncovered serious irregularities in the issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas, including allegations that passports were given to people with ties to terrorism. The investigation involved reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting interviews in the U.S., Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. One confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links Venezuela’s new Vice President Tareck El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID’s that were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah. A Venezuelan passport permits entry into more than 130 countries without a visa, including 26 countries in the European Union, according to a ranking by Henley and Partners. A visa is required to enter the United States.

New Poll: Trump Trusted More Than Media

According to a new poll by Emerson College, the Trump administration is considered truthful by 49% of voters, to 48% of voters who consider it untruthful. Meanwhile, the news media is considered truthful by only 39% of voters, while a majority of 53 % find the media untruthful. there is a political split in these numbers. Emerson College Polling indicates 89% of Republicans find the Trump administration truthful, versus 77% of Democrats who find the administration untruthful. When it comes to media, 69% of Democrats find the news media truthful, while a whopping 91% of Republicans consider them untruthful. Independents don’t indicate much trust for either the Trump administration or the media – but trust the Trump administration more by 3% points.

Military Sounds Alarm about ‘Insidious Decline’ in Readiness

For decades, the F/A-18 Hornet has been the Navy’s front-line combat jet – taking off from aircraft carriers around the globe to enforce no-fly zones, carry out strikes and even engage in the occasional dogfight. But the Navy’s ability to use these planes is now greatly hindered as more than 60 percent of the jets are out of service. That number is even worse for the Marine Corps, where 74 percent of its F-18s – some of the oldest in service – are not ready for combat operations. These figures are reflective of the erosion in readiness across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Top service branch officials sounded the alarm in a pair of congressional hearings this week about how bad the problem has become. “Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The vice chiefs pleaded with lawmakers to repeal legislation limiting defense spending, arguing that fiscal constraints have crippled the military’s capability to respond to threats.

Army Issues Permit to Continue Constructing Dakota Pipeline

The US Army Corps of Engineers will grant an easement in North Dakota for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, allowing the project to move toward completion despite the protests of Native Americans and environmentalists. Just a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to advance approval of this pipeline and others, casting aside efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to block construction. That order directed “the acting secretary of the Army to expeditiously review requests for approvals to construct and operate the Dakota Access Pipeline in compliance with the law.” “The decision was made based on a sufficient amount of information already available which supported approval to grant the easement request,” the Army said. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has long opposed the project near its home, promised a legal fight.

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Price Estimates Increase

The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall will reportedly cost at least $21.6 billion, much more than earlier estimates, and could take more than three years to finish, according to Homeland Security. House Speaker Paul Ryan said last month that the project could cost $8 billion to $14 billion. Trump had previously said the wall could cost $12 billion. The border wall was President Trump’s key campaign promise and his insistence that Mexico would pay for it. Though Trump has insisted Mexico will eventually pay the U.S. back, American taxpayers are expected to initially foot the bill. The report said the first phase would cover 26 miles near San Diego, El Paso, Texas and a part the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The second phase would cover 151 miles in and around the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Texas, Tucson, Ariz., Big Bend, Texas and El Paso. The final phase would cover the remaining 1,080 miles.

Trump Urged to Close Tax-Credit Loophole for Illegal Immigrants

Illegal immigrants need only one number to access billions of dollars in free taxpayer cash. The Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) unlocks an exclusive gateway for non-citizens to receive monies meant for working, low-income Americans. The nine-digit code was created by bureaucrats in 1996 for foreigners who had to deal with the IRS. It allows people without a Social Security number, including those in the country illegally, to file taxes. The problem with ITIN, critics say, is gives non-citizens access to federal cash that they should not be entitled to receive. Once illegal immigrants file ITIN tax returns, they can apply for a Child Tax Credit – which entitles them to $1,000 per child. Unlike the Earned Income Tax Credit, which requires a Social Security Number to qualify, the Child Tax Credit is a cash program that does not. Numerous investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have chronicled not only improper Child Tax Credit fraud and error payments ranging from $5.9 billion to $7.1 billion, but schemes such as nearly 24,000 ITIN payments going to the same address.

Americans Renouncing Citizenship at Record High

The number of Americans confirmed to have renounced their citizenship has hit a new high, up 26 percent from 2015, to a new record 5,411, according to government data. The number of Americans renouncing citizenship had set a record for 2015 as well, up 58 percent from the previous year. The IRS reportedly publishes the names of those individuals quarterly. Before 2011, fewer than 1,000 individuals chose to expatriate each year, the data found. Still, many cases were not counted, according to Forbes. The report did not show why many Americans made the decision to expatriate. The report pointed out that the U.S. is one of the few countries that taxes based on nationality. American citizens are liable to pay U.S. taxes even if they live abroad.

Sessions Confirmed for AG after Contentious Senate Battle

Sen. Jeff Sessions won confirmation Wednesday evening to become the next attorney general of the United States, capping a Senate fight so contentious that one of the nominee’s biggest critics was forced by majority Republicans to sit out the last leg of the debate. The Senate narrowly approved the Alabama Republican’s nomination on a 52-47 vote, the latest in a series of confirmation votes that have been dragged out amid Democratic protests. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Sessions. Sessions himself voted present. Sessions became just the sixth Cabinet nominee approved by the Senate, joining Trump’s choices for Defense, Homeland Security, Education, Transportation and State. Wednesday’s vote came after a rowdy overnight session during which Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was formally chastised for allegedly impugning Sessions’ integrity on the floor.

Price Confirmed as Head of HHS, Aims to Dismantle Obamacare

The Senate early Friday morning confirmed President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, placing him in position to lead the way in dismantling Obamacare. It was the Senate’s fourth consecutive contested vote for a Trump Cabinet secretary. Partisan battles for Cabinet posts are usually rare, but the first weeks of Trump’s presidency have seen little collegiality between Republicans and Democrats. Price is a veteran House member and orthopedic surgeon who Republicans call a knowledgeable pick for the job. Democrats say he’s an ideologue whose policies would snatch care from many Americans. On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to pare back elements of ObamaCare that do not require a congressional vote, Price is now expected to carry out that order.

Planned Parenthood Caught Offering Incentives for Abortion

Testimony from a former Planned Parenthood employee has revealed that the organization focuses on selling abortion services and offers incentives for employees to make more “sales.” According to a report from the Washington Examiner, Planned Parenthood employees are offered rewards such as paid time off or free pizza for getting more women to get abortions through Planned Parenthood. Sue Thayer was a former Planned Parenthood employee in Storm Lake, Iowa. She shared in a Live Action video how Planned Parenthood employees are trained to sell abortions to women who come through their doors. “I trained my staff the way that I was trained, which was to really encourage women to choose abortion; to have it at Planned Parenthood, because it counts towards our goal.” This tactic has apparently worked well for Planned Parenthood. They performed more than 300,000 abortions in 2015. However, with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, efforts to defund the abortion provider are on the table.

Public School Children Now Rank in Bottom Half of World

American school children exhibited declining skills in math over the past three years, according to rankings released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They recently released the results of a worldwide exam administered every three years to 15-year-olds in 72 countries. The exam monitors reading, math and science knowledge. Based on their findings, the United States saw an 11-point drop in math scores and nearly flat levels for reading and science. Overall, the U.S. fell below the OECD average – and failed to crack the top ten in all three categories. U.S. 15-year-olds now rank lower than more than 36 countries including the Slovak Republic. This continues a pattern of continuous decline in the performance of our public schools.

NYC Curbs Stop & Frisk Even Though it’s Working

The New York Police Department agreed Thursday to further cut back stop-and-frisk tactics – even as city investigators were using data gleaned from the practice to arrest the man now accused in a vicious sexual assault and murder. The discovery of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano’s body in a Queens park in August made national headlines as authorities had very little information identifying her killer. But The New York Daily News reported it was a review of stop-and-frisk reports from the area near the crime scene that helped cops zero in on 20-year-old Chanel Lewis – who was arrested Saturday and charged with second-degree murder. “To the extent that it’s not used as a national tactic, we all lose,” former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Fox News. “It’s helpful in this case and that’s obviously a good thing, and quite frankly that should be standard practice.”

Whistleblower Says Obama Scientist Cooked Climate Change Data

A key Obama administration scientist brushed aside inconvenient data that showed a slowdown in global warming in compiling an alarming 2015 report that coincided with the White House participation in the Paris Climate Conference, a whistle blower is alleging. A blockbuster study by a team of federal scientists led by Thomas Karl, published in the journal Science in June 2015 and later known as the “pausebuster” paper, sought to discredit the notion of a slowdown in warming. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, said in a statement Tuesday, “In the summer of 2015, whistleblowers alerted the Committee that the Karl study was rushed to publication before underlying data issues were resolved to help influence public debate about the so-called Clean Power Plan and upcoming Paris climate conference. Since then, the Committee has attempted to obtain information that would shed further light on these allegations, but was obstructed at every turn by the previous administration’s officials.”

Arctic Ice Set Record Lows

Arctic sea ice extent continues to set record lows. The low amounts of ice, compared to average, in the Arctic region have been an ongoing concern since November, and hasn’t let up through the start of February. Ice extent in the Arctic region set daily record lows through most of January, leading to the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. For January, Arctic sea ice extent averaged an area of about 13.38 million square kilometers (5.17 million square miles), about 1.26 million square kilometers (487,000 square miles) below the 1981-2010 average for that month.

  • We must keep in mind that 38 years of records is infinitesimally small compared to a history of long ice ages and long warm periods

Economic News

OPEC is showing a rare degree of discipline in sticking to its promise to slash oil production. The International Energy Agency said Friday that the cartel achieved 90% compliance in January on its share of production cuts that total 1.8 million barrels per day. The production cuts — made from a very high baseline — were designed to support prices and ease the budget pressure being felt by major producers. While the strategy is working, higher prices are stimulating investment and production elsewhere. U.S. shale producers, for example, are returning to the market after being hammered by collapsing oil prices in 2014. Crude oil prices have increased from lows in the $30s per barrel last year to $53.50 Thursday.

China

President Trump told China President Xi Jinping the U.S. would honor the “one China” policy months after Trump suggested he might use American policy on Taiwan as a bargaining chip between the two sides. Trump “agreed at the request of President Xi,” to honor the policy, the White House said in a statement late Thursday. The one China policy had been a source of friction between the U.S. and China since Trump’s election in November. Trump had questioned Washington’s policy on Taiwan, which shifted diplomatic recognition from self-governing Taiwan to China in 1979. He said it was open to negotiation. China bristled at the comments Trump made.

Israel

Israeli Defense Forces in the south of Israel were on high alert Thursday following a rocket attack launched by the Islamic State terror militia in the Egyptian Sinai against the southern Negev resort city of Eilat. The IDF said an Iron Dome air defense system defending Eilat had intercepted three incoming rockets while a fourth had landed in an open area outside the city, causing no damage or injuries. Four people were reportedly treated for shock at a local hospital, but police said the city was operating normally Thursday morning.

Israeli security forces throughout the country were also on high alert Friday following a terrorist shooting and stabbing attack Thursday afternoon in Petah Tikvah which left six Israelis wounded. The terrorist, an 18-year old Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Nablus, was captured shortly after his attack. “This attack is a direct result of the ongoing incitement of Palestinian leadership,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. “The international community must take decisive and immediate steps against this incitement before it leads to more bloodshed.”

Iran

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday to swear allegiance to the clerical establishment following U.S. President Donald Trump’s warning that he had put the Islamic Republic “on notice”, state TV reported… They carried “Death to America” banners and effigies of Trump, while a military police band played traditional Iranian revolutionary songs. State TV showed footage of people stepping on Trump’s picture in a central Tehran street. Marchers carried the Iranian flag and banners saying: “Thanks Mr. Trump for showing the real face of America.” The rallies were rife with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Syria

The Pentagon said Wednesday that two U.S. airstrikes conducted in Syria last week killed 11 Al Qaeda operatives, including one with ties to former leader Usama bin Laden. The airstrike near Idlib killed 10 operatives in a building used as an Al Qaeda meeting site. A strike the next day killed Abu Hani al-Masri, who U.S. officials said oversaw the creation and operation of Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. “These strikes disrupt Al Qaeda’s ability to plot and direct external attacks targeting the US and our interests worldwide,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Yemen

Yemen has withdrawn permission for U.S. forces to conduct antiterror ground missions in the country after a deadly commando raid last month that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties. The New York Times, citing unnamed American officials, reported Tuesday that neither the White House nor the Yemenis have publicly announced the suspension.  The report said it is unclear if the Yemenis were influenced at all by President Trump’s travel ban order that included Yemen on the list of banned countries. U.S. Central Command said earlier this month that civilians may have been hit by gunfire from aircraft called in to assist U.S. troops, who were engaged in a ferocious firefight on Jan. 29 with militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Times reported that photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire caused outrage in Yemen.

Afghanistan

Gunmen killed six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a spokesman for the aid group said. Ahmad Ramin Ayaz, the group’s Kabul-based spokesman, said the attack took place in the northern Jowzjan province. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Rahmatullah Turkistani, the chief of the provincial police, said militants loyal to the Islamic State group have a presence in the area. The Taliban denied involvement.

At least 20 people are dead after a suicide blast Tuesday outside Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a parking lot near the court in the Afghan capital. The attack at around 3:45 p.m. local time targeted Supreme Court employees as they were leaving for the day. At least 35 people were wounded in the blast.

The number of child casualties in the long-running Afghan war jumped last year, spiking 24% from 2015 in large part from leftover munitions, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report on Monday. “Children have been killed, blinded, crippled — or inadvertently caused the death of their friends — while playing with unexploded ordnance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Of the 11,418 overall casualties in 2016, 3,512 were children: 923 who died and 2,589 who were injured.

East Africa

Severe drought has stricken east Africa. A food crisis is escalating, not only in Kenya but also in northern Uganda, which has absorbed over half a million refugees from South Sudan since last July, mostly women and children. “Children have dropped out of school due to hunger; the elderly, and pregnant women, are the most affected. Cattle, which are the only source of livelihood, are dying and the remaining ones are stolen by bandits,” cries a Kenyan pastor in East Pokot, where the last rainfall was in June 2016. From nearby Marsabit, Pastor Jeremiah Omar reports that 70% of the livestock are already dead from drought – a disaster for the many nomadic communities. In Uganda, deaths from malnutrition are expected to start this month. There will be no relief until June at the earliest, and then only if the rains come at the normal time.

Environment

Rescuers were engaged in a heartbreaking race against time on Friday to save the lives of a large group of whales, after more than 400 of the animals swam aground along a remote beach in New Zealand. About 275 of the pilot whales are already dead. Hundreds of farmers, tourists and teenagers engaged in a group effort to keep the surviving 140 or so whales alive in one of the worst whale strandings in history. Getting the large animals back out to sea proved to be a major challenge. And then half of the 100 refloated whales managed to strand themselves again.

Weather

Snow emergencies were declared in two major Northeast metro areas, Philadelphia and Boston, as the rapidly strengthening storm blanketed the Northeast with up to 2 feet of snow in places.  Governors in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio urged people to stay off the roads Thursday to keep them clear for plows and emergency vehicles. Despite the warnings, the rapid accumulation of snow caught many drivers out in the open. Connecticut State Police responded to more than 600 calls during the storm, including 68 accidents with four injuries and several jackknifed semi-trucks that closed stretches of Interstate 95. New Jersey State Police reduced speed limits to 35 mph along the 122-mile length of the New Jersey Turnpike but still fielded more 600 calls for assistance. In New York, dozens of motorists were stranded on Long Island after they couldn’t make it up icy ramps. Schools in the area remained closed Friday.

Heavy rain and rapid snowmelt in the Sierra Mountains has led to widespread flooding in parts of Nevada and California, triggering numerous mudslides and road washouts. In Oroville, water opened up a massive hole in a dam. Officials shut down flow from the Oroville Dam after chunks of concrete went flying from the spillway and created a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole on Wednesday. The dam break poses no threat to the public but is expected to grow before engineers can make the necessary repairs. High snow levels across parts of California and western Nevada have led to rain falling on areas where feet of snow have fallen in recent weeks, prompting flooding near the Sierras and in the central valley. The final in a series of storms is made its way through the West Coast Thursday and Friday. With the ground already saturated, the risk of additional landslides and flooding will remain elevated to close out the week.

A powerful tornado touched down Tuesday in the New Orleans East neighborhood, flipping cars, smashing homes and injuring several dozen people, some seriously. The severe weather spanned a wide swath of southeastern Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards said seven confirmed tornadoes were recorded in at least six different parishes. The storm system damaged dozens of homes and businesses and left thousands without power. “But the Lord has blessed us because not a single fatality has been reported or confirmed as this time,” Edwards told reporters.

The Power of Prayer

November 9, 2016

As the discombobulated media fumbles for reasons to explain President Trump’s historic win, it was the power of prayer that overcame all the polls and expectations. Now it’s incumbent to pray that nothing happens to undo the electoral process when the Electoral College meets to formalize the triumph on December 19th.

Signs of the Times (10/14/16)

October 14, 2016

U.S. Strikes Yemen after Missiles Launched at U.S. Vessel

An American destroyer struck three sites in Yemen on Thursday, hours after missiles targeted a U.S. warship in the Red Sea for the second time in four days, defense officials said. The Pentagon said its destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting the coastal radar sites controlled by the Houthi group in “self-defense.” The USS Mason was targeted late Wednesday by missiles from territory controlled by the Houthis — a minority Shia group that has taken control of swathes of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. The same warship was targeted Sunday, when two missiles were launched within 60 minutes of each other, but in both incidents they missed the ship and landed in the water. The guided-missile destroyer was not damaged in either incident, officials said. The U.S. warship was conducting routine operations in international waters off the Yemen coast when it was targeted Wednesday, the Pentagon said. The strikes are the first instance of the U.S. firing at Houthi targets since the Yemen civil war erupted in March last year. Initial assessments indicate that all three targets were destroyed. The strikes were in remote areas with little risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage. Iran deployed two warships off Yemen threatening to further escalate tensions after the U.S. fired Tomahawk cruise missiles destroying three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory, a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News on Thursday.

U.S. Relations with Russia Deteriorating Rapidly

U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated sharply amid a barrage of accusations and disagreements, raising the stakes on issues ranging from the countries’ competing military operations in Syria, disputes over Eastern European independence and escalating cyber breaches. According to Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, it’s not a new Cold War. It’s not even a deep chill. It’s an outright conflict. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Oct. 8 that the situation between the U.S. and Russia today is more dangerous than it was during the Cold War. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the US was considering a “range” of “proportional” responses to alleged Russian hacking of US political groups. Washington publicly accused the Kremlin of cyberattacks on election systems and the U.S. government. That came after talks on a Syria ceasefire broke down as US officials suggested Russia be investigated for war crimes in the besieged city of Aleppo. Meanwhile, Moscow abruptly abandoned a nuclear security pact, citing U.S. aggression, and moved nuclear-capable Iskandar missiles to the edge of NATO territory in Europe. Its officials have openly raised the possible use of nuclear weapons.

  • Russia’s alliance with Iran is also troubling as they fulfill the prophecies in Ezekiel 38-39 of Russia (Rosh in the NKJV) and Persia (Iran, which is not Arabic)

New Child Bride Every 7 Seconds Worldwide

The statistics are startling: Around the world, every seven seconds, a girl under 15 is married. Girls as young as 10 are being married off. Becoming a child bride is one factor that greatly affects the future of women and girls around the world, according to a report by Save the Children released Tuesday. “Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” said Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The worst countries in which to be a girl are Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, Chad and Niger, which all ranked at the bottom of the Girls’ Opportunity Index. India has the highest number of child marriages of any country, partly owing to the large size of its population. Countries at the top include Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. The United States comes in 32nd.

Youth Concussions on the Rise in U.S.

Concussions have been on the rise for American youth since 2010, according to the Health of America Report recently released by Blue Cross Blue Shield. There was a 71% increase in rough-sports-related concussions reported by Blue Cross Blue Shield medical claims data since 2010 for patients ages 10 to 19. Fall, when football, rugby and soccer are traditionally played, is the peak time for these injuries, the report noted, and boys were twice as likely to be concussed than girls. Overall, patients ages 10 to 19 are five times more likely to be diagnosed with a concussion than all other age groups combined. Researchers want to increase awareness to prevent cases of potential paralysis, long-term memory loss and many other short-term and long-lasting side effects, even death.

College Students Nationwide Flood Mental-Health Centers

Nationwide, 17% of college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems during the past year, and 13.9% were diagnosed with or treated for depression, according to a spring 2016 survey of 95,761 students by the American College Health Association. That is up from 11.6% for anxiety and 10.7% for depression in the spring 2011 survey, reports the Wall Street Journal. Counseling centers say they are also seeing more serious illnesses, including an uptick in the number of students coming to college with long psychiatric histories. It is unclear why the rates of mental-health problems seem to be increasing among college students. Therapists point to everything from the economy and rising cost of tuition to the impact of social media and a so-called helicopter-parenting style that doesn’t allow adolescents to experience failure. Students are “overwhelmed with stress,” says Micky M. Sharma, director of Ohio State’s Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service.

Nobody Wants to Host the Olympic Games Anymore

Cities used to covet the Olympic Games. Hosting them meant glamour and prestige. Not anymore. Rome became the latest city to abandon a bid for the 2024 Summer Games when it withdrew on Tuesday because of worries over the cost. Budget concerns have led city after city to drop their Olympic dreams in recent years. Hamburg, Germany, previously bailed on 2024. Stockholm and Krakow, Poland, pulled the plug on bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which were later awarded to Beijing. An Olympic host city has to plan, pay for and construct massive infrastructure projects. Security costs can run into the billions of dollars. Thousands of hotel rooms must be built to house athletes and tourists. Most of it happens on the taxpayer dime — with little discernible economic benefit. Elected leaders have argued that ticket sales, construction jobs and increased tourism outweigh the costs. But economists say the real return on hosting the Olympics is not so rosy. Montreal, host city of the 1976 Summer Games, provides perhaps the best example of the long-term cost. Mismanagement and gross cost overruns left the city with $1.5 billion of debt that wasn’t paid off until 2006.

Economic News

Bankruptcy filings by U.S. businesses soared 38 percent in September from a year earlier, reports Newsmax Finance. Last month’s bankruptcies reached 3,072 to bring the year-to-date total to 28,789 and marked the eleventh straight month of increases from 2015, according to data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. The restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard with bankruptcies following the filings of Garden Fresh Corp., Cosi Inc., Logan’s Roadhouse. “The Fed’s policy of easy credit has encouraged businesses to borrow – those that could. But by now, this six-year debt binge has created an ominous debt overhang that is suffocating these businesses,” says Wolf Richter, editor of the Wolf Street blog.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the total amount of debt around the globe has now hit a staggering 152 trillion dollars.  That is an amount of money that is almost unimaginable, and the IMF says that it is equivalent to 225 percent of global Gross Domestic Product.  It is the biggest debt bubble in the history of the planet, and it is rising at an extremely alarming pace.  Many economists all over the world agree that when this debt bubble finally bursts, it is going to create an economic crisis on a scale that humanity has never seen before. The International Monetary Fund has urged governments to take action to tackle a record $152tn debt mountain before it triggers a fresh global financial and economic crisis.

A new survey has found that 69 percent of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.  GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. A staggering 34% of Americans don’t have any savings at all, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000. One of the primary reasons for this is that most of us are absolutely drowning in debt.  In fact, the total amount of household debt in the United States now exceeds 12 trillion dollars, more than $96,000 per household.

America’s dairy farmers have dumped 43 million gallons of milk in fields and elsewhere over the first eight months of the year as the US deals with a massive milk glut. The reason for the spilled milk is that the glut has cut the price of milk 22 percent since spring, to $16.39 per hundred pounds on Wednesday. At that price, some farmers can’t afford to truck the milk to market, according to the Wall Street Journal. The glut is the result of a price spike in 2014, which persuaded farmers to bring more dairy cows on line. Milk cows have increased by 40,000 this year, and each one is producing 1.4 percent more milk than a year ago, according to the US Dept. of Agriculture. Prices have declined 33 percent since 2014.

The difference between the government reported unemployment rate last month of 5% and Donald Trump’s stated 9.7% is that the higher rate includes part-time workers who want full-time jobs. It also counts unemployed people who looked for a job in the past four weeks, as well as unemployed people who have looked for a job in the past year. This is the government’s U6 rate. The 5% is the U3 rate that includes only unemployed people who were actively looking for a job in the past four weeks. The U6 rate peaked at 17% in 2010. The problem is that it has mostly been flat this year. This is a weak spot in the economy with 5.9 million Americans working part-time jobs but wanting full-time positions. Prior to the start of the recession in 2007, that figure was closer to 4.2 million workers, CNN Money reports.

Israel

The 58-member Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted on Thursday to approve a resolution tabled by the Palestinian Authority declaring the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City has no historic ties to Judaism. The vote passed with 24 nations voting yes and 6 voting no, while a nearly unprecedented 26 countries abstained from voting, leaving diplomatic analysts saying the vote was actually a hollow victory for the Palestinians. U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle harshly criticized a UNESCO resolution. Senator Ted Cruz complained that UNESCO had “doubled down on its reflexive anti-Israel bias by voting for yet another resolution that deliberately distorts history and denies the specific connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem going back thousands of years. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), also condemned the passage of the resolution. “I am outraged by the actions of the UNESCO Executive Board today in passing a resolution that is blatantly anti-Semitic and obviously revisionist as it seeks to eliminate all Jewish ties to the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount,” said Nadler.

Islamic State

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and ground fighting have depleted the Islamic State’s territory in Iraq and Syria in a big way, reportedly by 16 percent over just 9 months, a new study has found. ISIS now controls only 25,000 square miles of land in the region, an area roughly the size of West Virginia, IHS Conflict Monitor reports. It marks a sharp reversal from the terror network’s massive land grab in 2014 and is down drastically from the reported 35,000 square miles controlled at the start of 2015. Analysts said one of the biggest blows against ISIS came when Turkey, a stalwart ally of the U.S., entered Syria at the end of August, capturing the strategically important border town of Jarablus. The news comes ahead of a planned assault on Mosul, the terror group’s biggest stronghold in Iraq. Local counterterrorism units, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Sunni and Shia militias will take part in the assault along with coalition air support, The Telegraph reports.

Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq last week shot down a small drone the size of a model airplane. They believed it was like the dozens of drones the terrorist organization had been flying for reconnaissance in the area, and they transported it back to their outpost to examine it. But as they were taking it apart, it blew up, killing two Kurdish fighters in what is believed to be one of the first times the Islamic State has successfully used a drone with explosives to kill troops on the battlefield. In the last month, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least two other times, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device.

Iraq

ISIS militants set many oil wells on fire in Iraq hoping to obscure the view of Iraqi and coalition warplanes, but it didn’t stop Iraqi forces from driving them out of town in late August. Instead, residents are choking on the heavy toxic smoke. “It’s like poison,” one man said. “You feel sick all the time, it gets in your nose, your lungs, on your skin, everywhere.” Technicians from the provincial oil company were able to put six of the fires out, but there are still nine to go. The engineers estimate 5,000 barrels of oil are burning every day. Earlier this week ISIS militants sabotaged another well. Thirty-year oil industry veteran engineer Hussain Salim has the formidable task of putting out the fires, and told CNN that it can take up to a month to put out each of the fires.

Syria

Overnight shelling and more than a dozen airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Aleppo killed at least 11 people Thursday, bringing the death toll in the last three days to at least 65, according to an opposition activist group and Aleppo’s volunteer civil defense forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 20 airstrikes on eastern Aleppo, adding that clashes were taking place between government forces and insurgents on the city’s northern edge. The Halab Today TV channel reported “intense” airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Syria’s largest city, saying that cluster bombs were being dropped. The Observatory said Wednesday that at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since a U.S. and Russian-brokered truce collapsed on Sept. 19.

Nigeria

Boko Haram militants handed over 21 Chibok schoolgirls to Nigerian authorities Thursday after a series of negotiations, Nigeria’s government said, in the first mass release of any of the more than 200 girls and women kidnapped from their school two years ago. The 21 former captives were freed at about 3 a.m. in the northeastern Nigerian town of Banki, near the border with Cameroon. They are said to have been among the 276 girls that Boko Haram militants herded from bed in the middle of the night at a school in Chibok in April 2014 — a kidnapping that spurred global outrage. As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, and one was found this spring. Just under 200 remain unaccounted for after Thursday’s release. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered the deal between the Islamist militant group and the Nigerian government. Terms of Thursday’s deal were not immediately announced, but no captive Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, CNN reported.

More than 3 million people displaced and isolated by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria are facing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Every day, more children are dying because there isn’t enough food. Curable illnesses are killing others. Even polio has returned, reports the Washington Post.. Institutional failures have exacerbated the situation: For over a year, the United Nations and humanitarian groups dramatically underestimated the size of the disaster, and the Nigerian government refused to acknowledge the huge number of people going hungry in Africa’s second-richest nation. Thousands of people have already died because of the inaction, aid experts say. The crisis has been largely hidden from view, partly because it has been extremely dangerous for aid groups to visit the area.

Egypt

Egypt’s new capital city moved a step closer to reality with the announcement that Chinese developers will largely fund the megaproject. The China Fortune Land Development Company (CFLD) agreed to provide $20 billion for the currently unnamed city, after a meeting between heads of the firm and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. This follows a previous commitment of $15 billion from another Chinese state-owned company, bringing the project close to its $45 billion budget requirements for phase I. Plans for the new capital were first announced in March 2015. Government officials described the development as a solution to crowding, pollution and rising house prices in Cairo. The 700 square kilometer city to be constructed in the desert to the East of Cairo would become the new seat of government, and it is presented as a far grander vision than the current capital. Proposals for the city include housing for five million people, over 1,000 mosques, smart villages, industrial zones, a 5,000-seat conference center, and the world’s largest park.

Haiti

Haiti’s leader says Hurricane Matthew’s assault has accelerated the already existing cholera epidemic and undermined the strides made in fighting the disease. Thirteen people have died from cholera since Matthew hit Haiti and comes after a devastating cholera outbreak in 2010. Cholera, which is spread through water or food contaminated with Vibrio cholerae bacteria, can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, which leads to extreme dehydration. It can swiftly result in outbreaks, and patients who are not treated quickly can die within hours. Haiti has one of the highest rates of cholera in the world, with almost 10,000 people dead from the disease since 2010 and more than 27,000 suspected cases have been reported this year — an estimated 1 in 3 of them children, UNICEF said.

  • Haiti’s primary ‘religion’ is voodoo. A correlation?

China

China’s population is aging rapidly, a hangover of the one-child policy, which was finally overturned last year. The country is already home to more seniors — 114 million aged 65 or over — than any other developing country, according to a World Bank report. While Chinese law requires adults to support their parents, many seniors whose children have died or moved away are left without a network of care. More than 1,300 elderly people go missing in China every day — 500,000 per year, says a new report from Zhongmin Social Assistance Institute under the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Around 25% of those missing had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, while 72% suffered some sort of memory impairment, according to the report. Of those who were found after being reported missing, 25% then went missing again.

Weather

Last week, the European Union joined dozens of countries in signing onto a United Nations climate treaty, pushing it to within a month of taking legal force. Following the filing of paperwork in recent weeks by 73 countries, collectively responsible for 57 percent of annual climate emissions, a key threshold for the Paris agreement was passed Wednesday. The U.N. said the treaty will take effect Nov. 4. The agreement was finalized less than a year ago, following five years of contentious efforts to push global climate policy in an untested direction following the collapse of UN negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. The voluntary nature of the pact, however, offers few assurances that it will succeed. Future work to tighten pledges will be key to the treaty’s success, analysts say.

After tearing through the Caribbean, leaving more than 1,000 dead in Haiti, Hurricane Matthew hammered the coast of the southeastern United States, leaving behind a trail of coastal destruction, wind damage and freshwater flooding that claimed an additional 40 lives. Although Hurricane Matthew is long gone, communities from central Florida up through Virginia have been dealt problems ranging from substantial beach erosion and blackouts to uninhabitable homes and major flooding. In North Carolina, 1,500 were stranded by a levee breach and several counties were under severe flooding threats, including one town of 2,000 that remained under a mandatory evacuation early this week. Authorities made fresh appeals Wednesday for people in eastern North Carolina to leave low-lying areas as rivers swollen with rainwater caused flooding days after Hurricane Matthew passed. Evacuations were ordered for about 9,000 people in Greenville. The flooding is the result of up to 18 inches of rain that fell in eastern North Carolina from Matthew.

Signs of the Times (10/9/26)

October 9, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Brings Record River Flooding & Power Outages

Record-breaking flooding has occurred in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew dumped extreme amounts of rain on eastern parts of the state. Though the rain has ended, and it should remain dry for many days ahead, rivers will still be rising in some locations. That could lead to additional record flooding at some gauges. This flooding is the result of 6 to 16 inches of rain that fell in eastern North Carolina from Matthew. The top total was 15.65 inches at William O Huske Lock 3, followed by 14.82 inches in Fayetteville. Matthew left behind seven dead with 562 successful swift water rescues.

Rainfall from Matthew, as well moderate tidal flooding, has caused severe flooding in parts of Virginia. Several communities in southeast portions of the state were hit by street flooding Saturday after nearly a foot of rain fell as Hurricane Matthew began to pull away from the eastern seaboard. Heavy rain and strong winds affected the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas Saturday night. Street closures are being reported in the communities of Virginia Beach, Franklin, Hampton and Isle of Wight, where the James River Bridge Southbound has been closed due to high water and downed power lines and trees have caused roadways throughout the county to become dangerous.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, state energy provider South Carolina Energy & Gas reported that more than 825,000 were without power as of Saturday evening, Gov. Nikki Haley said in a Saturday evening press conference, but as of Sunday morning the number dropped to 191,000. The largest outages are in the Low Country areas. Hurricane Matthew began its strike on South Carolina early Saturday morning, leaving a major highway closed and more than 100 roads impassable in Charleston. Both directions of Interstate 95 were rendered impassible in South Carolina due to floodwaters and other obstructions. More than 370,000 in Georgia were without power Saturday with at least 3 dead.

Hurricane Matthew, in its destructive march along the Florida coast on Friday, caused widespread flooding, damage and power outages across the state. At least five people have died. Florida Power & Light’s latest report says it has restored power to 747,325 of the more than 1 million customers that lost power at the height of the storm. The electric company brought in 15,000 crews from all over the country to aid in the storm impacts, with workers coming from as far away as Massachusetts and Texas. Storm surge in St. Augustine engulfed city streets and pushed through residential areas. Jacksonville Beach residents were not allowed to return to the area Saturday. After surveying damages Friday night, Mayor Charlie Latham said it was not as bad as expected and began lifting the evacuation orders for some zones Sunday morning.

White House Puts Thousands of Deportation Cases on Hold

The Obama administration has delayed deportation proceedings against more than 56,000 Central American immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally since 2014, The New York Times reported Thursday. Federal officials told the Times that some deportation cases have been pushed as far back as 2023, creating what one retired immigration judge called “docket chaos.” Some of those whose cases have been delayed failed to report to government offices to be fitted with GPS ankle bracelets, the Times reports. Now, federal officials admit that many immigrants with delayed cases may never report for their court dates. In June 2014, the White House said it would work to process and deport illegal immigrants quicker after a surge of families and unaccompanied minors crossed the southern U.S. border over the previous months.

Immigration Agents Caught Barely Half of Illegal Border Crossers Last Year

Immigration authorities caught just over half of the people who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico last year, according to a report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security that offers one of the most detailed assessments of border security ever compiled. The report found that 54 percent of people who entered illegally between border crossings got caught in the 2015 fiscal year. That’s much lower than the 81 percent success rate that Homeland Security cited publicly using a different counting method, reports Fox News. The 98-page report was completed in May, and Homeland Security officials have declined to release it, despite urging from some members of Congress. The Associated Press obtained a copy from a government official involved in border issues who acted on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Admits Record Number of Muslim Immigrants

A recent study by Pew found that a record near-half of all refugees that entered the United States in FY2016 were Muslim, marking the highest number of Muslim refugees recorded since religious self-reporting data became available 14 years ago. According to Pew: A total of 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2016, making up almost half (46%) of the nearly 85,000 refugees who entered the country in that period, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. That means the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.” Pew added that “A slightly lower share of 2016’s refugees were Christian (44%) than Muslim, the first time that has happened since fiscal 2006, when a large number of Somali refugees entered the U.S.”

States that refuse to help resettle Syrian refugees are guilty of illegal discrimination, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, delivering a judicial rebuke to GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who, as Indiana’s governor, had tried to stop Syrians from being shipped into his state. “Federal law does not allow a governor to deport to other states immigrants he deems dangerous,” Judge Posner wrote. Posner added that there’s no evidence that Syrians are more dangerous than other refugees, and he said even if they are, allowing Indiana to refuse to resettle them would only foist the problem onto neighboring states.

U.S. Officially Accuses Russia of Hacking Attacks

The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. The denunciation, made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, came as pressure was growing from within the administration and some lawmakers to publicly name Moscow and hold it accountable for actions apparently aimed at sowing discord around the election. “The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the two agencies. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” “Today was just the first step,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Homeland Security Committee. “Russia must face serious consequences. The United States must upend Putin’s calculus with a strong diplomatic, political, ­cyber and economic response.”

N.S.A. Contractor Arrested in Theft of Classified Information

The F.B.I. secretly arrested a former National Security Agency contractor in August and, according to law enforcement officials, is investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer code developed by the agency to hack into the networks of foreign governments. The arrest raises the embarrassing prospect that for the second time in three years, a contractor for the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton managed to steal highly damaging secret information while working for the N.S.A. In 2013, Edward J. Snowden, who was also a Booz Allen contractor, took a vast trove of documents from the agency that were later passed to journalists, exposing surveillance programs in the United States and abroad. The contractor was identified as Harold T. Martin III of Glen Burnie, Md., according to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed Wednesday. According to court documents, the F.B.I. discovered thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers or other electronic devices at his home and in his car, a large amount of it classified.

Persecution Update

An American missionary has been charged with violating Russia’s new anti-evangelism laws, and although he has appealed the charge, his appeal was rejected. According to The Christian Post, Pastor Donald Ossewaarde has been living in Oryol, a town 224 miles south of Moscow, for nearly 15 years and was recently accused of illegal missionary activity. “I was accused of gluing two Gospel tracts to a bulletin board at the entrance of an apartment building” he said, and “of conducting a religious service in a private home, which they said was a violation of the new anti-missionary law.” Russia’s new anti-evangelism laws are supposedly meant to prevent the spread of terrorism, but many Christians believe that they will allow the state greater control over religion.

Economic News

The economy added 156,000 jobs last month, a tad lower than the revised job gains for August, but significantly down from the 252,000 jobs added in July, the Labor Department said Friday. Counting September’s gains, the United States has added 15 million jobs since employment hit its low in February 2010. The unemployment rate ticked up to 5% from 4.9%. Wages grew 2.6% in September compared with a year ago. That’s not stellar, but it’s better than the growth of 2% or less seen for years during the recovery.

The International Monetary Fund says the U.S. economy is losing momentum. The IMF said the American economy will expand by only 1.6% this year, down from 2.6% in 2015. The latest forecast is 0.6 percentage points lower than what the fund predicted just three months ago. The world’s largest economy grew by just 1.4% between April and June compared to the same period last year, according to U.S. government data. The performance was well below economists’ expectations.

The U.S. economy has only grown 2% a year since it bottomed out in June 2009. That’s far below the typical growth in rosy times of over 4% a year that the U.S. has experienced since World War II. It’s even below the rather sluggish rebound during President George W. Bush’s tenure of 2.7%, making it the slowest U.S. recovery since WWII, reports CNN.

Oil returned back above the $50 level on Thursday for the first time since late June. Prices for crude oil have surged 12% since OPEC surprised the world last week in Algeria by reaching an understanding to cut output for the first time in eight years. The framework deal could still collapse and awaits formal approval at OPEC’s regular meeting in November, but it represents a reversal from the cartel’s recent strategy of flooding the world with oil.

The British pound slumped to its lowest level in 31 years on Tuesday on fears that the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union will be bad for the economy. Brexit plans have begun to emerge in the last few days: talks with the EU will begin in early 2017, the exit will happen two years later, and the U.K. will give priority to controlling immigration. European leaders have made clear that if Britain does not allow free movement of EU citizens across its borders, it will lose some of its rights to access the free trade area. British exporters may find it harder to compete in Europe, and the country’s banks could lose the ability to do business freely across the region.

Israel

A Palestinian motorist launched a shooting spree near the Israeli police headquarters in Jerusalem Sunday, killing two people and wounding five others before being shot dead, Israeli police and emergency services said. Police officers on motorcycles chased the assailant, who eventually stepped out of his vehicle and opened fire at them. A separate police force ultimately shot and killed the attacker. The suspect was identified as a 39-year-old man from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Israeli media reported the man had previously served multiple sentences for violent acts and was due to report to prison Sunday for another sentence over assaulting a police officer. Israel Air Force (IAF) aircraft attacked Hamas terror targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists at Israel’s civilian population earlier in the day. Palestinian sources report of two terror targets that were hit. The rocket, fired by an unknown faction, exploded in an open space, causing no casualties and some minor damage.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published a report this week showing that the population in the 126 Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) had reached 385,900 by the end of 2015, totaling 4.5% of the overall population of the State. The vast majority of new residents of these communities were babies born to parents already living there. The report came out as the US State Department issued one of its sharpest ever rebukes of Israel over construction in West Bank settlement communities. The remarks by spokespersons from the State Department and the White House included references to the recently signed military assistance package for Israel and other elements of U.S. aid to the Jewish State, leading to statements of alarm from Israeli officials. The Obama administration on Wednesday issued unusually sharp criticism of Israel and strongly condemned its recent decision to advance a plan that would build some 100 housing units in the Shiloh area in Samaria, a compensation for Israeli families who are soon to lose their homes following a court ruling that their homes must be demolished because they were mistakenly built on privately owned Arab land.

Syria

Rival resolutions on Syria backed by the West and Russia were defeated in the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, offering no relief to the besieged city of Aleppo and leaving the key powers even more divided over a course of action in the war-ravaged country. Russia vetoed a French-drafted resolution demanding an immediate halt to the bombing campaign that the Syrian government and Russia are carrying out against rebel-held districts in Aleppo. The rival Russian draft which made no mention of a bombing halt was rejected because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes needed for approval by the 15-member council. The votes reflected the deep divisions in the U.N.’s most powerful body which is charged with ensuring international peace and security but has totally failed to take action to end the more than 5-year Syrian conflict which has killed over 300,000 people and displaced millions.

Russia has deployed an advanced anti-missile system to Syria for the first time, three US officials tell Fox News, the latest indication that Moscow continues to ramp up its military operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. It comes after Russia’s actions led to the collapse of a cease-fire and the cut-off of direct talks with the U.S. While Moscow’s motives are not certain, officials say the new weapon system could potentially counter any American cruise missile attack in Syria. It is the first time Russia has deployed the SA-23 system outside its borders.

A barrel bomb struck a center used by Syria’s civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, in the country’s capital of Damascus, the group said. The group tweeted that the center and vehicles at the scene were destroyed Wednesday, and some volunteers injured in the attack. White Helmets members describe themselves as a group of 3,000 volunteers whose goal is to save lives in Syrian communities. “We rush to the scene of attacks to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property,” the group says on its website.

Belgium

Two police officers were stabbed in the Brussels district of Schaarbeek on Wednesday, a Federal Prosecutor’s Office spokesman said. The stabbings are being treated as a suspected terror attack. The city remains on a high terror alert at level three, one below the highest level. On March 22, suicide bombers struck at the city’s airport and a subway station, killing 32 people. Brussels has become a hotbed of terror in Europe. The alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks in November last year, which killed 130 people, was arrested in Belgium.

Germany

German police searched nationwide Sunday for a 22-year-old Syrian man believed to have been preparing a bombing attack, who slipped through their fingers as they were closing in on him, and were questioning a second Syrian man on suspicion he was involved in the plot. The man in custody was one of three apprehended in the eastern city of Chemnitz on Saturday. He was the renter of the apartment that police raided in their search for the main suspect, Jaber Albakr from the Damascus area of Syria.

Turkey

A bomb mounted on a motorcycle exploded Thursday not far from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, wounding at least 10 people, Turkish officials said. The blast occurred outside a police station in the city’s Yenibosna district, northeast of the airport. The victims were civilians, and none of the injured was in serious condition. Police were searching for one person spotted leaving the area on a motorbike. No groups immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. Turkey has been rocked by a wave of terror attacks in the past year carried out by Kurdish rebels as well as Islamic State militants. Kurdish militants detonated a car bomb Sunday outside a military checkpoint in southeast Turkey, killing ten soldiers and eight civilians, the prime minister said. Turkey immediately launched a military operation against the rebels in response.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up after refusing to surrender to police during an operation in the outskirts of the capital Ankara Saturday, a senior official said. No one else was killed or hurt. Governor Erkan Topaca said police, acting on a tip, launched an operation to catch a man and a woman who were suspected of planning a suicide car bombing in Ankara. They were hiding inside a hut at a horse farm in the district of Haymana, just outside of the capital. “They blew themselves up before we could intervene,” Topaca told reporters at the scene.

Afghanistan

Nearly four dozen Afghan troops training in the U.S. have vanished in less than two years, officials confirmed Thursday. At least 44 Afghan troops have left their assigned bases since January 2015, calling into question their training programs’ screening processes. Of those 44, 25 were reported Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, in 2015, and 19 have gone AWOL this year. One of the eight Afghan students who disappeared in September of this year turned up at the Canadian border, the Pentagon reported. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the frequency of Afghan troops disappearing from military training was truly concerning, raising fears of terrorism in America.

Russia

Russia is currently conducting a drill that involves more than 40 million people and scenarios will cover biological, chemical, and nuclear emergencies. The huge four-day “civil defense” drill has set alarm bells ringing in Washington and London, with tensions already high over disagreements in Syria. Following a breakdown in communication between the USA and Russia, the Kremlin has now organized the huge emergency practice drill – either as a show of force or something more sinister. The drill will prepare Russian citizens for “large natural and man-made disasters”, according to the country’s Ministry for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disaster.

Russia has backed out of a deal to convert 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium into nuclear fuel each year. In the year 2000 Russia and the United States agreed to end the arms race and each turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into reactor fuel every year. The agreement was re-affirmed in 2010. In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United states of creating “a threat to strategic stability, as a result of unfriendly actions towards Russia.”

A document released by the French Ministry of defense states that on September 22nd FOUR European countries scrambled fighter jets to head off two Russian Blackjack bombers. The bombers headed across the top of Scotland from Norway, before skirting Ireland’s west coast towards France and Spain. Norway, the UK, France and Spain all sent up fighters to intercept the jets.

Columbia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people. Nobel judges conspicuously did not honor his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the rebels. The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about. “The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process wasn’t dead. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace,” rather a desire for more severe judgment against the rebels.

Volcanoes

The largest active volcano in Japan has erupted, sending a column of smoke and ash more than 11,000 meters (nearly 7 miles) into the air, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported early Saturday. It is extremely rare for an eruption column to exceed 10,000 meters, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Mount Aso, which stands 1,592 meters (a little over 5,200 feet) tall, is in Kumamoto Prefecture on the southwestern island of Kyushu. Images from the area showed a layer of volcanic ash coating streets, roofs and vehicles. No injuries have been reported. While the volcano is in its active phase, there is a “possibility” another eruption of the same scale could occur.

Weather

The number of people killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew has risen sharply, with coastal villages and towns beginning to make contact with the outside world, three days after being hit by the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. A Reuters news agency tally of deaths reported by civil protection officials at a local level on Friday showed the storm killed at least 877 people. Rural clinics overflowed with patients whose wounds including broken bones had not been treated since the storm hit on Tuesday. Food was scarce, and at least seven people died of cholera, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage. “Devastation is everywhere,” said Pilus Enor, mayor of the town of Camp Perrin. “Every house has lost its roof. All the plantations have been destroyed. Haitian officials said more than 28,000 houses have been damaged so far but assessments are only in the initial stages.

Leaving Haiti in “total disaster,” Hurricane Matthew slammed into Cuba Tuesday night. At least 283 deaths have been attributed to the storm. Twenty-three of the deaths were reported in Haiti. Six other deaths were recorded in the neighboring Dominican Republic and one each in Colombia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “It’s the worst hurricane that I’ve seen during my life,” Fidele Nicolas, a civil protection official in Nippes, told AP. “It destroyed schools, roads, other structures.” According to Haiti Libre, 14,530 people have been displaced, 2,703 families are affected and 1,885 houses are flooded. Major flooding was reported in several southern towns, including Petit Goave, where the Ladigue Bridge collapsed Tuesday, isolating southwest Haiti from the rest of the country.

Residents of Baracoa, Cuba, were digging out rubble that was left after Hurricane Matthew hit the eastern portion of the country Wednesday with heavy flooding and strong storm surge. Hit in some areas by 24-foot waves, Baracoa saw hundreds of homes were either damaged or destroyed when flooding and the storm surge overcame the city. Hundreds of people from Baracoa, Maisí and other territories to the east of Guantánamo have had their houses partially or completely destroyed. The road joining Guantanamo’s municipalities of Imías and Baracoa became flooded and impassable. Nearly 380,000 people were evacuated and strong measures were taken to protect communities and infrastructure.

Signs of the Times (9/13/16)

September 13, 2016

Abortion Bullies Target Pregnancy Centers

Facing difficult circumstances with a pregnancy, millions of women turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers for very personal services. These centers offer women help and a true “choice” for themselves and the life of their baby. Yet, the abortion industry sees theses pro-life centers as thorns in their flesh, cutting into their profits from money made through exorbitant fees for abortions, reports libertyaction.org. Now, because of intense pro-abortion lobbying, pro-life centers in California are being forced by law to promote nearby abortion facilities and services to women who walk through their doors. California’s Assembly Bill 775 requires all licensed and unlicensed pregnancy counseling centers in the state to post a government-prescribed message. Centers not licensed by the State of California must post a notice that they are not a licensed medical facility. Licensed crisis pregnancy centers must also provide women the phone number to social services and post or distribute a message telling their clients that California has other programs and choices available to women, including abortion. There is no similar mandate for the abortion mills to tell their clients that there are Crisis Pregnancy Centers nearby.

Planned Parenthood Using Zika Scare to Encourage Abortions

Many pro-abortion advocates have been capitalizing on the threat of Zika to encourage women to abort their babies. However, according to new research, only two percent of women who have Zika will give birth to babies with microcephaly, the deformity associated with the virus. This hasn’t stopped abortion advocates from using the Zika virus to scare would-be mothers, however. WORLD News Service’s Evan Wilt noted, “Beginning in late August, volunteers from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, started canvassing neighborhoods in South Florida to warn residents about the risk of birth defects linked to Zika.” Micaiah Bilger of LifeNews.com adds, “Right now in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control knows of almost 600 women who are pregnant and have the Zika virus. Many of them are facing increasing pressure to abort their unborn babies because of a link between the virus and birth defects.”

ISIS Threat in Europe Grows

European security officials estimate that 30 to 40 suspected ISIS terrorists who helped support the November 13 Paris terror attacks are still at large, CNN reports. This development comes as European officials told CANN they believe ISIS is ratcheting up its planning for international attacks to retaliate for losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The European countries most firmly in the crosshairs are launching air strikes against ISIS with the US-led coalition: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and Denmark, as well as Germany, which is flying target reconnaissance sorties. Terror analysts warn that despite the buffer provided by the Atlantic Ocean, the US is vulnerable, too. Matthew Henman, editor of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in the U.K. notes that the U.S. border with Mexico, which “is far from secure or impenetrable.” Airports are another point of entry. Western European passport holders can travel to the US without a visa.

Three women who were likely planning an “imminent and violent” attack were arrested Thursday near Paris, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. Describing the women as radicalized, Cazeneuve said the three were arrested in connection with gas cylinders found this week inside a car left in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A French security official says a 19-year-old woman linked to gas canisters found in an abandoned car near Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November, and authorities have struggled to monitor thousands of domestic radicals on their radar.

U.S. & Russia Reach Deal for Ceasefire in Syria

The United States and Russia announced a plan Friday to bring about a ceasefire in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Today we are announcing an arrangement that we think has the capability of sticking, but it’s dependent on people’s choices,” Kerry said in Geneva, Switzerland, appearing alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Kerry said the pact calls for the Syrian government and the opposition to respect a nationwide ceasefire scheduled to take effect at sundown Monday. He said the accord would also prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force from flying combat missions anywhere the opposition is present, calling this provision the “bedrock of the agreement.” He labeled Assad’s air force the “main driver of civilian casualties” and migrant flows. “That should put an end to the barrel bombs, an end to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods,” Kerry said. The deal was reached after 10 months of failed cease-fires and suspended efforts for a political settlement in the conflict. At least 90 people were killed in airstrikes that rained down on northwestern Syria on Saturday and Sunday, a rights group said, just hours after the US and Russia announced the new ceasefire plan. Violence has increased prior to the ceasefire start Tuesday morning.

  • The likelihood of the ceasefire holding in Syria is slim because there are too many factions fighting in Syria for too many conflicting reasons.

Iran May Have Received up to $33.6B from U.S.

Iran may have received a total of $33.6 billion in secret cash and gold payments facilitated by the Obama administration between 2014 and 2016, according to testimony provided before Congress by an expert on last summer’s nuclear agreement with Iran, Fox News reported Friday. Between January 2014 and July 2015, when the Obama administration was hammering out the final details of the nuclear accord, Iran was paid $700 million every month from funds that had previously been frozen by U.S. sanctions. A total of $11.9 billion was ultimately paid to Iran, but the details surrounding these payments remain shrouded in mystery, according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In total, “Iran may have received as much as $33.6 billion in cash or in gold and other precious metals,” Dubowitz disclosed.

Fewer Going Hungry in U.S. but Many Still Do

The number of children and adults nationwide who are food insecure — meaning they don’t have consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet — has declined to 12.7% in 2015 from 14% in 2014. But some 15.8 million households are still food insecure, according to a report released on Wednesday from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The survey results not only revealed that food insecurity is on the decline, but also showed that the problem is still more prevalent than it was in 2007. Then, it was at 11.1%, right before the Great Recession officially began. The percentage of households that face hunger described as “very low food security” decreased from 5.6% in 2014 to 5% in 2015 (6.3 million households).

Murder Rates Rose in a Quarter of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities

Murder rates rose significantly in 25 of the nation’s 100 largest cities last year, according to an analysis by The New York Times of new data compiled from individual police departments. The findings confirm a trend that was tracked recently in a study published by the National Institute of Justice. “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” the study concluded. In the Times analysis, half of the increase came from just seven cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington, D.C. The number of cities where rates rose significantly was the largest since the height of violent crime in the early 1990s. Nationally, homicide rates are still much lower than they were in the 1990s.

Wells Fargo Fires 5,300 Employees for Creating Fake Accounts

On Thursday, federal regulators said Wells Fargo employees secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money. Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that it had fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to the shady behavior. Employees went so far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services. Relentless pressure. Wildly unrealistic sales targets. Employees leaning on family members and friends to open unnecessary bank accounts. That’s how more than a dozen former Wells Fargo employees described the bank’s culture to CNNMoney. Managers turned a blind eye when ethical and even legal lines were crossed. Wells Fargo has been accused by federal regulators of illegal activity on a stunning level. Wells Fargo agreed to pay penalties of $185 million and fired 5,300 employees over the last few years related to this illegal activity.

Migrant Update

In what could be a “told you so” moment for Donald Trump, the U.K. on Tuesday announced plans to build a “big new wall” at a border port in France to prevent migrants in nearby camps from sneaking aboard vehicles heading to Britain, reports Fox News. Robert Goodwill, minister of state for immigration, announced the plan for a wall in Calais, France, at a Home Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, saying it would be in addition to an already existing fence. The four-meter-high wall (about 13 feet) would be built along both sides of a one-kilometer (.6 mile) stretch of the main road into the Calais port. The office estimates it will be done by the end of the year. Calais is a common point for migrants trying to enter the U.K. illegally. The wall is intended to protect the road from migrants who frequently try to intercept vehicles approaching the port and jump on board.

Zika Update

Planes completed aerial spraying for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus early Friday in the Miami area, despite concerns over possible effects that the insecticide Naled may have on health and the environment. So far, there have been 56 local transmissions of the Zika virus in Florida, which has 20.6 million residents. The state has seen 596 travel-related cases of Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health officials have sprayed pesticide and larvicide on the ground in areas where they believe the mosquitoes may be, and expanded those efforts with the aerial use of Naled on Friday. Experts say there’s no reason to be concerned over the effects of the insecticide on human health and the environment. “Aerial spraying using Naled and other insecticides has been used in many populated areas of the continental United States,” the CDC said on its website.

The rate of birth defects involving the nervous system nearly doubled across Brazil after Zika arrived. This stark statistical reality was discovered by a team of researchers from Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which analyzed hospital records across Brazil from 2008, well before Zika arrived, until the end of February 2016. The results, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, found “an unprecedented and significant rise in the hospitalization rate for congenital malformations of the nervous system, Guillain-Barré syndrome, encephalitis, myelitis and encephalomyelitis” beginning in mid-2014. That’s more than a year before the world became aware of the outbreak in October 2015, and stories of Zika’s terrible consequences began to appear in the news.

Economic News

The world’s four most powerful central banks have pumped more than $9 trillion into the global economy since the financial crisis in a bid to boost growth, inflation and employment. That’s equivalent to the value of all the goods and services the U.S. produces in six months. The Federal Reserve alone has injected $3.9 trillion dollars via three rounds of asset buying. It started in November 2008, shortly after the financial world went into meltdown, and continued until October 2014. In normal times, it is enough for central banks to cut interest rates to prompt lending. But record low interest rates, and in some cases, negative interest rates weren’t doing enough. So they turned to stronger medicine and experimented with buying bonds to flood markets with new money. Experts are divided over whether this has worked.

  • In 2015, the U.S. spent $223 billion, or 6 percent of the federal budget, paying for interest on its debt. In recent years, interest rates have been at historic lows. As they return closer to normal levels, the amount the government spends on interest will rise substantially.

The European Central Bank kept all of its key interest rates unchanged last Thursday, and reiterated that rates will stay low for an extended period of time and wouldn’t rule out stretching out its bond-buying program beyond March 2017. The eurozone economy has held up better than expected since the late-June vote by Britain to exit the European Union.

After years of watching their incomes go nowhere, America’s middle class finally got a big raise last year. Median household income rose to $56,516 in 2015, up 5.2% from a year earlier, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday. It marks the first increase in median income since 2007, the year before the Great Recession started. Also, the poverty rate ticked down to 13.5% in 2015, from 14.8% a year earlier. The jump in median income was one of the largest annual increases Census has recorded. The growth was also widespread, with geographic regions and races (except for Asians) seeing increases. Behind the pay hike is the big increase in employment, Census officials said. Some 3.3 million more Americans were working full-time, year-round, pushing up median income. Some 1.4 million more men and 1 million more women had jobs last year.

The price of food has fallen sharply in the past few months. And while that’s great for consumers, it’s terrible news for big supermarket chains. Weak global demand (particularly in China) as well as excess supply thanks to advances in agricultural technology have helped push the prices of key food commodities sharply lower lately. The price of corn, cocoa and lean hogs are down more than 10% in the past year. Wheat has tumbled 20%. Cattle futures have plunged 30%. Falling food prices have hurt higher-end organic rivals like Sprouts and Whole Foods as well as grocery chain Supervalu and Kroger, whose stock has fallen 25% this year.

Israel

Reuters was reporting Tuesday afternoon that the US and Israel have reached an agreement on a new 10-year package of US military aid to Israel totaling $38 billion. The agreement is expected to be signed within days following months of rumors and tough negotiations which the Obama Administration wanted to wrap up before leaving office in January. Final details of the agreement are expected to be officially announced soon.

Defense officials say Israel has begun work on an underground barrier along the border with Gaza meant to block Hamas militants from tunneling into Israel. The officials say the concrete barrier is set to run dozens of meters (hundreds of feet) deep and will ultimately stretch along the entire border with Gaza. Israel is currently building an initial phase of the barrier over a small stretch of land measuring just dozens of meters. The barrier’s full construction could take years. Hamas militants have often used underground tunnels to infiltrate and attack Israel.

Iran

Iran threatened to shoot down two US Navy aircraft over the weekend as they were flying just inside the Strait of Hormuz, a US defense official said. The EP-3 and P-8 planes were in international airspace but “near Iranian airspace.” The Iranians made three radio calls to the two planes warning them not to enter Iranian airspace and risk being shot down with surface-to-air missiles, the official said. The US Navy crews knew they were flying “outside the known range of Iranian air defenses” and proceeded with their flight plans. The two planes were reconnaissance aircraft that routinely fly that flight pattern in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran began building its second nuclear power plant with Russian help on Saturday, the first such project since last year’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers. The project in the southern port city of Bushehr will eventually include two power plants expected to go online in 10 years. Construction on the second plant is set to begin in 2018. The entire project will cost more than $8.5 billion, with each plant producing 1,057 megawatts of electricity. “Construction of the power plant is a symbol of Iran enjoying the results of the nuclear deal,” Senior Vice-President Ishaq Jahangiri said at a ceremony marking the start of the project. “We will continue working with Russia as a strategic partner and friend,” he added. Iran’s sole operational nuclear reactor, also built in Bushehr with Russian assistance, produces 1,000 megawatts. It went online in 2011.

The United Nations agency monitoring the nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers reported Thursday that it has found no violations of the deal meant to crimp Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms. But touching on one potentially sensitive area, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a review issued Thursday that Iran had begun manufacturing rotor tubes for centrifuges, the spinning machines used to enrich uranium. Iran is allowed to make the parts, but only under certain conditions… In its confidential report obtained by The Associated Press, the atomic energy agency said “related technical discussions” with Iran on rotor tube manufacturing are ongoing. The agency needs to keep a close eye on how many rotor tubes are being made and for what models of centrifuges to make sure they are being produced only in quantities and for machines allowed under the 2015 nuclear agreement that sets a schedule for when and how many advanced centrifuges can be tested.

Turkey

Turkey has suspended thousands of teachers over alleged links to a militant Kurdish group, according to sources and state-run news agency Anadolu. At least 11,285 schoolteachers across the country were suspended over suspected links to a separatist terrorist organization, Anadolu reported Thursday. That number could reach 14,000 during an investigation conducted in coordination with governors’ offices across the country, Anadolu reported. Although the ministry did not specify the group, the term “separatist terrorist organization” usually refers to the Kurdistan worker’s party, or PKK. There are more than 850,000 teachers in Turkey. The individuals in question are temporarily suspended, placed on paid leave, pending formal investigation.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he wanted U.S. Special Forces out of his country’s south and blamed America for inflaming Muslim insurgencies in the region, in his first public statement opposing the presence of U.S. troops. Washington said it had not received a formal request to remove U.S. military personnel. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated that Duterte had tendency to make “colorful comments.” Duterte’s relationship with the U.S. has been a bit rocky since he became president in June. Duterte has been openly critical of American security policies and wants to chart a foreign policy that would not depend on America, his country’s long-time treaty ally.

North Korea

North Korea claimed Friday that it successfully conducted a “higher level” test of a nuclear weapon, its second in eight months and its fifth since 2006. The announcement drew immediate condemnation from the United States, South Korea, China and Japan. The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the matter Friday. The North Korean government in the capital of Pyongyang said the test was of a nuclear warhead designed to be mounted on ballistic rockets and demonstrated that it was prepared to hit back at its enemies including the United States if provoked. The test violates United Nations resolutions and will further strain North Korea’s already tense relations with the U.S. and other countries in the region. South Korean officials said the underground test, North Korea’s fifth, produced a more powerful explosive yield than the North’s previous detonations.

Could North Korea actually put a nuclear warhead atop a rocket and fire it at a potential adversary? Some still doubt North Korea can make a warhead small enough, or miniaturize it enough, to mount atop a missile. But that’s what North Korea said it proved Friday, reports CNN. South Korean monitors said Friday’s nuclear test had a yield equivalent to 10 kilotons of TNT, which would make it North Korea’s most powerful of five tests to date. Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador to South Korea, said Friday it’s time to stop guessing about North Korea’s capabilities and start planning a response. “Before long, I think they’re going to have a nuclear warhead on a missile and we have to look really carefully and see what we’re going to do,” said Hill, who was the top U.S. diplomat in Seoul from 2004 to 2005.

Environment

In the wake of Hurricane Hermine, many Floridians are having to put up with an unpleasant stench in the air. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tens of millions of gallons of sewage has been released into the waters of Tampa Bay and into watersheds all over Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. After heavy rain from Hermine backed up aging sewer systems unable to handle big storms throughout the region, partially treated water along with raw sewage spewed from manholes, forcing cities to dump partially treated water to handle the backup at wastewater treatment plants. At least 30 million gallons of partially treated water and raw sewage were released into Tampa Bay alone, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Even before the storm arrived several cities, including the city of St. Petersburg, performed what is called a “controlled wastewater discharge into Tampa Bay,”

A Russian river located by the Arctic town of Norilsk turned bright red Tuesday, looking more like an enormous blood vessel than a body of water, reports CNN. The water may have reddened due to discharge from “an unidentified chemical” from the nearby Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said in a statement Wednesday. If a pipeline broke, contaminants could have leaked into the river, the ministry added. The plant is owned by Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel producer. The river isn’t connected to the public water supply and the incident doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the residents’ well-being, the Norlisk city administration said.

Earthquakes

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake has left at least 11 dead in the Lake Victoria region of northern Tanzania on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, the country’s president, John Magufuli, said that many had been killed by the quake that struck at 3:27 p.m. local time. Regional police commander Augustine Olomi said most of the deaths occurred in brick structures in the town of Bukoba which incurred significant damage. The quake, which was considered shallow at a depth of 25 miles, was reportedly felt as far away as western Kenya, parts of Uganda and Rwanda.

Weather

After one of the hottest summers on record, another prolonged spell of heat may flirt with daily records in the Northeast the past few days. Not only will highs climb into the 90s, but the humidity made it feel even more unbearable with heat index values topping 100 degrees in some cities. The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories from Delaware and parts of Maryland’s Eastern Shore to eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and the five boroughs of New York City, as heat indices soared as high as 105 degrees. On Friday, daily record highs were set at the following places: Washington D.C. (Dulles Airport): 98 degrees, Atlantic City, New Jersey: 97 degrees; Philadelphia: 95 degrees; Wilmington, Delaware: 95 degrees; Baltimore: 95 degrees; New York City (La Guardia Airport): 93 degrees.

Super Typhoon Meranti remains a very intense Category 5 as it heads west-northwest on a path that will take its eye near or just south of southern Taiwan on Wednesday. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph as of 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday. This ties Tropical Cyclone Winston as the strongest tropical cyclone anywhere in the world so far in 2016. As of Tuesday late morning (EDT), or late Tuesday evening Taiwan time, Meranti was centered about 325 miles southeast of Taipei, Taiwan.

Signs of the Times (8/25/16)

August 25, 2016

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked an Obama administration directive on bathroom rights for transgender students in U.S. public schools. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth issued the preliminary injunction Sunday. Texas and 12 other states asked O’Connor to halt the directive after the federal government told U.S. public schools in May that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. That announcement came days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had likened that law to policies of racial segregation. Republicans have argued such laws are commonsense privacy safeguards.

Gender Confusion in Schools

It didn’t take long for the federal government’s new gender identity policy to cause confusion in public schools. A memo from one assistant principal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told teachers not to refer to students as boys or girls. The case mirrored one in Charlotte, N.C., where teachers have been advised to stop calling children “boys and girls,” according to a training presentation on transgender issues. Instead, the progressives who control Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools want teachers to identify the youngsters as either “students” or “scholars.” The Albuquerque school later rescinded the change, but parents were incensed over the ongoing confusion. According to the Albuquerque Public School district’s newly implemented “Non-Discrimination for Students: Gender Identity and Expression” policy, students shall have the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun corresponding to their chosen gender identity.

  • The world is going insane and the inmates are taking over

Major Study Undermines Gay Agenda

A major new report, published Tuesday in the journal The New Atlantis, challenges the leading narratives that the media has pushed regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, reports Charisma News. Co-authored by two of the nation’s leading scholars on mental health and sexuality, the 143-page report discusses over 200 peer-reviewed studies in the biological, psychological and social sciences, painstakingly documenting what scientific research shows and does not show about sexuality and gender. The major takeaway, as the editor of the journal explains, is that ‘some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The study finds that gays are not born that way and they can possibly change; non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse when compared to the general population; non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes; and the idea that “a person might be ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’ or ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’—is not supported by scientific evidence.

Kim Davis Wins the Fight for Religious Freedom

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has won the fight for religious freedom after a federal judge issued an order dismissing all three 2015 marriage license lawsuits against her Monday. Despite the ACLU’s attempt to continue the case against Kim Davis and assess damages against her, the federal district court dismissed the case, closed the files and ordered all the pending cases to be removed from the docket. Davis, represented by Liberty Counsel, spent six days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of her right to freedom of conscience. Davis would not issue the licenses because they had her name and authority on them. Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. “County clerks are now able to perform their public service without being forced to compromise their religious liberty.”

Twitter Suspends 235,000 Accounts for Extremism

Twitter said it has suspended 235,000 accounts for violating policies on the promotion of extremism and terrorism over the past six months, bringing the overall number of suspended accounts to 360,000 in the last year. The company has also expanded the teams that review reports of misuse of the networking service, which had become a go-to tool for some terror and extremist groups looking to get their message out. Twitter said daily suspensions are up more than 80% since last year and that such suspensions jump just after terrorist attacks, when presumably extremists wish to tout their success. Twitter said it is working to disrupt extremists’ ability to quickly create replacement accounts by expanding the teams that review reports of behavior that violates its terms and agreements. These teams work 24 hours a day, the company said.

U.S. Opioid Deaths Skyrocketing

An increasing heroin epidemic has plagued the nation’s urban and rural communities alike. Cabell County, West Virginia was hit with 26 overdoses in a four-hour span last week. The wave of misery was focused in a Huntington public housing complex, where victims injected from a batch of the drug believed to have been laced with Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It was the latest cluster of overdoses to take place in communities ranging from gritty cities to rural farmlands. Overdoses involving heroin and synthetic drugs like “spice” left two dozen hospitalized earlier this month in Ohio; killed two and sickened 16 two months ago in New Haven, Conn.; and hospitalized 33 last month in Brooklyn. Incidents of large-scale overdoses like these bring headlines, but public health and law enforcement officials say the underlying opioid crisis gripping the nation claims most of its victims quietly, one or two at a time. In Cabell County, there have been at least 440 overdoses this year, including 26 fatalities. CDC statistics show West Virginia has the highest per capita rate of lethal overdoses in the nation, followed by New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.

Tanning Industry Blames 10,000 Salon Closings on ObamaCare

Business owners around the country say the little-noticed 10 percent tax on tanning in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has crippled the industry, forcing the closing of nearly 10,000 of the more than 18,000 tanning salons in the U.S. The tax, similar to that imposed on tobacco, is meant to discourage a practice known to increase the risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says those who use tanning beds before age 35 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent. Congressional experts also projected the tax would raise about $2.7 billion to help expand health coverage for uninsured Americans, but the industry says it actually has raised just a fraction of that. The industry has spent millions lobbying to repeal the tax, which it says destroyed 81,000 tanning jobs.

Obamacare Options Dwindling

Many consumers will find they have few choices when shopping on the Obamacare exchanges for 2017. Industry giants Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Humana are scaling back their presences on the exchanges. And smaller insurers, including more than a dozen co-ops funded by the federal government to foster competition, have gone out of business or are dropping out of the program. Nearly 36% of markets may have only one insurer participating on the exchanges, up from 4% this year, reports CNN. And nearly 55% may have two or fewer choices, up from 33% in 2016. Most affected by the upheaval in the Obamacare markets are the residents of Pinal County, Arizona. This rural county outside of Phoenix has the dubious distinction of being the first place without any options since the exchanges opened in 2014. Federal and state regulators must now scramble to deal with this unprecedented situation.

Louisiana Flood Update

The historic flood in southern Louisiana claimed 13 lives and the ticket for property losses is ever climbing. State officials at midweek estimated 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 11,000 people were in shelters following a 25-inch downpour. By week’s end, the Red Cross said, some 32,000 people had stayed at least a night in its shelters. Two-thirds of the shelters had emptied by Friday, but for some Louisianians there was no home to return to. State officials estimated that 75% of the homes in East Baton Rouge Parish and some 90% of the homes in adjoining Livingston Parish were flooded or damaged. Parts of Louisiana still have over two feet of standing water as of Tuesday morning.

Economic News

The annual deficit has been on a downward trajectory since 2009. But that streak could end this year. The Congressional Budget Office now projects this year’s deficit will rise to $590 billion, or 3.2% of the economy. That’s up from $438 billion, or 2.5% of GDP in 2015. The majority of that increase is due to slower-than-expected growth in the first half of the year and lower-than-expected revenue coming into the federal government. The biggest chunk of mandatory spending is the automatic payments of Medicare and Social Security benefits, which are growing as the population ages and health costs rise. By contrast, so-called discretionary spending — which basically pays for most other things (education, defense, cybersecurity, national parks, infrastructure scientific research, etc.) — is on track to fall to its lowest level as a share of the economy since 1962.

A scarcity of affordable homes on the market helped drag down existing homes sales in July as low inventory levels and higher prices put an end to a four-month climb. Existing home sales fell 3.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million from a revised 5.57 million in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. That includes transactions of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops. The West was the only region that posted sales growth, rising 2.5% to an annual rate of 1.23 million, yet still slightly below a year ago. Meanwhile, the median sale price showed no sign of cooling down. It climbed 5.3% to $244,100 from a year ago, the 53rd straight month of year-over-year growth.

America’s economy has a problem: Workers just aren’t producing as much as they once did. Output per American worker (known as “worker productivity”) is at its lowest level since the 1970s, according to government data. Throughout the 1990s, worker productivity shot up by 2.2% a year, on average. In the early 2000s, it went up a brisk 2.6% a year. Since the Great Recession, it’s been crawling along at barely more than 1% a year, on average. Now it’s getting worse. The latest reading came in at negative 0.5% for the period between April and June, meaning that American workers were less productive this spring than a year ago. The U.S. is in an alarming productivity slump, and it’s not clear how to fix it.

Companies are sitting on near record levels of cash. In a healthy economy, businesses typically spend money on new factories, tools and research. That’s not happening. Businesses are either hording cash in their bank accounts or using it to buy back stock. Those activities do little to help the economy. Some blame the U.S. election. Sixty-two percent of business economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics this summer said “uncertainty about the national election” is holding back growth, mostly because companies are hesitant to invest for the future. Other experts point to increased regulatory compliance costs.

Cheap gas and an improving economy have been blamed for a soaring number of traffic deaths for a second straight year. Traffic deaths nationally jumped 9% in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary numbers from the National Safety Council. That’s 19,100 deaths overall. The NSC report was released a month after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2015 saw the most traffic fatalities on U.S. roads since 2008. The NSC concluded that the increased fatalities are in part a result of the uptick in the U.S. economy, and the fall in gas prices. On average, gas prices fell 16% from 2015 to the first six months of 2016. Those lower prices and more spending money led to a 3.3% increase in the amount of miles driven from January to May of this year. Florida has seen a particularly grisly increase with traffic deaths up 43% since 2014, according to the NSC. During that time, Vermont’s traffic fatalities surged by 82%, and Oregon’s by 70%, but because they are less populous states they don’t involve as many vehicles as Florida.

Israel

The Israeli military carried out a series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late Sunday, targeting Hamas positions in response to a Palestinian rocket attack that hit an Israeli border town earlier in the day. Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qidra said two Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were lightly wounded. Palestinian officials said nearly all of the airstrikes took place in northern Gaza, near the Israeli border. While most of the attacks targeted Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, one struck a military camp used by the smaller Islamic Jihad group. Israel accused Hamas of trying to “inflict pain, cause fear and to terrorize” Israelis in the middle of the summer vacation period. Sunday’s rocket attack struck the Israeli border town of Sderot in the middle of the day and disrupted what has been a quiet summer in the volatile area. The rocket landed in a residential area, exploding next to a house. There were no injuries.

Islamic State

Turkey sent tanks and special forces over the Syrian border Wednesday to capture an Islamic State stronghold, and push Kurdish YPG forces from its southern border, as the capital Ankara looks to boost its military involvement in the Syrian conflict. However, U.S. forces supporting anti-Islamic State operations in Syria are working with the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist group seeking Kurdish independence. The offensive targeted the border city of Jarablus, a key ISIS supply line. Turkish artillery launched intense fire on Jarablus followed by Turkish warplanes bombing Islamic State targets in the town. Turkey has vowed to “cleanse” Islamic State militants from its borders following a weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey (see below) Turkey blames the Islamic State for the attack..

Turkey

An explosion at a wedding ceremony hall late Saturday in Turkey’s southeastern city of Gaziantep has left at least 50 people dead and 90 injured, government officials said. Twenty-two children were killed. The suicide bomber was between 12 and 14 years old, Turkey’s president announced Sunday, blaming the Islamic State terror group for the massacre. Gaziantep is about 76 miles from Aleppo, the Syrian city devastated by five years of civil war and recent Russian and Syrian-state airstrikes. The war has risked destabilizing Turkey, a NATO ally that’s experienced a wave of terror attacks this year and whose government resisted an attempted military coup in July. There have been at least five terror attacks in Turkey in the first half of this year. A child wearing an explosive belt was stopped and disarmed by Iraqi officials in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk one day after a boy about the same age killed 51 people in a suicide bombing in the Kurdish region of Turkey. The youth, age 12 or 13, was captured before he could detonate his explosives belt in Kirkuk’s Huzairan neighborhood.

Iraq

Iraq has executed 36 men convicted of taking part in the Islamic State group’s massacre of hundreds of soldiers in 2014, according to Iraqi officials. The men were hanged at the Nasiriyah prison in southern Iraq on Sunday. ISIL captured an estimated 1,700 soldiers after the group overran Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in 2014. Shortly after taking Tikrit, ISIL posted graphic images of gunmen shooting the men dead after forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch. The Speicher massacre sparked outrage across Iraq and partially fueled the mobilization of Shiite militias in the fight against ISIL. Iraqi forces arrested dozens of men allegedly linked to the massacre after retaking Tikrit in 2015 with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes. The men executed on Sunday were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court earlier this year.

Iran

Russia will stop using a base in Iran for airstrikes targeting militants in Syria for the time being, Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters in Tehran on Monday that the strikes were “temporary, based on a Russian request” and were “carried out with “mutual understanding and with Iran’s permission,” according to the Associated Press. He said the Russian mission “is finished, for now” and that Russia “has no base in Iran.”

Afghanistan

An American service member was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, the first combat casualty there since January, the military announced. Another U.S. service member and six Afghan troops were also wounded in the attack.  The roadside bomb attack occurred in Helmand province where Taliban forces have been gaining ground against Afghan government security forces. The U.S.-led NATO coalition bolstering Afghan troops have scrambled in recent days to keep them from losing Helmand province, the restive area home to many Taliban members. About 100 U.S. special operations forces were sent there Monday to train and advise Afghan forces who were struggling to control the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Thirteen people were killed in an attack on Kabul Universitythat began Wednesday evening in the Afghan capital, reported CNN on Thursday. Two gunmen were killed after police entered a building hours after the shooting started. A third attacker was killed when he detonated an explosives-laden car Wednesday night in front of the university wall. The 13 killed included seven students, three police, two security guards and a doorman. Thirty students were injured in the attack, for which no group has claimed responsibility.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s military said Tuesday it believes an airstrike has “fatally wounded” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, but there was no way to confirm yet another claim of the death of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist leader. The statement does not say how the military got the information but identifies other commanders as “confirmed dead” in an air raid on Friday. The statement comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, with President Muhammadu Buhari, on a visit to discuss Islamic extremism and regional security. Shekau, according to a BBC profile, is known as a “fearless loner” with a photographic memory, a complex and often paradoxical man who is part intellectual, part terrorist.

North Korea

A ballistic missile fired from a North Korean submarine on Wednesday flew about 310 miles, the longest distance achieved by the North for such a weapon, Seoul officials said, putting all of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan, within its striking distance. North Korea already has a variety of land-based missiles that can hit South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases in those countries. But its development of reliable submarine-launched missiles would add weapons that are harder to detect before liftoff. North Korea claimed that it now has the ability to strike the U.S. from its submarine platform.

Haiti

Last week, the United Nations acknowledged some responsibility for the cholera epidemic in Haiti that broke out six years ago, killing more than 9,000 people. But the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that despite this admission the UN cannot be sued in U.S. courts. The victims and the families of the victims have 90 days to decide whether they would like to appeal the case up to the Supreme Court. Cholera wasn’t reported in Haiti until UN peacekeepers from Nepal arrived. Nepal had an active cholera epidemic at the time. The UN had been steadfastly denying this since the first case of cholera in Haiti was reported, in fall 2010. In order to keep people in Haiti from getting cholera, the country needs proper water and sanitation systems. But despite everything that’s happened, those still don’t exist there.

Colombia

The longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere is coming to a close as the Colombian government reached a historic peace accord with rebel leaders Wednesday in Havana. The final round of negotiations between the leaders of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC yielded the “termination of armed confrontation” and the “end of the enormous suffering the conflict has caused,” according to a joint statement. The two sides have battled for five decades in the remote corners of Colombia’s jungles and mountains, leaving more than 220,000 Colombians dead, forcing 360,000 to flee the country and displacing about 6.7 million Colombians from their homes. The peace accord still must be certified in a national referendum, which will ask voters to approve or reject the deal. After Wednesday’s signing, Santos said he would send the agreement to Congress and that the national vote will take place Oct. 2.

Brazil

With Olympic festivities and distractions largely gone, Brazil faces a long uphill battle to resurrect its economy that’s deep in recession. Its political crisis will be back on the spotlight again soon: President Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial that starts on August 29. Rousseff was suspended for six months after Brazil’s senate voted to begin the impeachment process in May. Her vice president and now bitter rival, Michel Temer, took over as interim president. It’s upon him to reestablish the public’s faith in the government after an unprecedented corruption scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. Brazil is in the midst of its longest recession since the 1930s and over 11.6 million people are unemployed. Between April and June, the unemployment rate in Brazil was 11.3%, up from 8.3% a year ago.

Earthquakes

A large, damaging 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck three towns in central Italy at 3:36 a.m. local time Wednesday morning (9:36 p.m. EDT Tuesday night), killing at least 247 people, many while they slept. The death toll is expected to rise as countless others are missing in the debris. Much of the heart of Amatrice, a town of about 2,700 in the province of Rieti, Central Italy, has been reduced to rubble. Rescuers arrived Wednesday morning in Amatrice and were combing through debris in the hopes of finding survivors.  One woman was pulled out of a collapsed building alive with her dog. Meanwhile, rescuers had rescued dozens alive from the rubble in the devastated town of Pescara del Tronto, to the north in the Marche region of central Italy. Italian news agencies had reported several deaths in that town too. The quake’s epicenter was 4.1 miles west-northwest of Accumoli, Italy, and a little more than 100 miles northeast of Rome. More than 30 aftershocks have been reported since the initial quake, seven of which were greater than 4.0 in magnitude.

Central Myanmar was hit by a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday, killing at least three people a day after another tremor struck the Southeast Asian nation. The quake struck 15.5 miles west of Chauk, at a depth of 84km, the US Geological Survey said. Tremors were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and India, sending fearful residents into the streets. At least 66 stupas (dome-shaped Buddhist shrines). in Bagan have been damaged, a spokesman from the department of archaeology told the BBC. The ancient capital is a major tourist site, home to thousands of Buddhist monuments. A 22-year-old man was killed in the town of Pakokku due to a building collapse.

Wildfires

Thirty-five large, uncontained wildfires were burning in the West, and firefighters were making initial attacks on another 112 new blazes to prevent them from spreading. Firefighters in the region mostly faced windy, dry conditions that have fanned flames that destroyed buildings and forced evacuations in California, Washington, Montana, Utah and Idaho. Late last week, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, upped what it calls the National Preparedness Level to 4, one shy of the highest level, as competition for limited firefighting resources increased.

A series of wildfires burning near Spokane, Washington, destroyed at least 18 homes and continued to expand due to weather conditions that allowed for rapid growth. One of the fires has forced the evacuation of hundreds of people. The blazes in the Spokane region erupted Sunday afternoon. Together the three blazes scorched over seven square miles of terrain. A fire burning on the Spokane Indian Reservation was 30 percent contained. That fire covered more than 27 square miles and had destroyed at least 13 homes on the reservation, said Jamie Sijohn, a spokeswoman for the tribe.

Weather

Reports of at least 10 tornadoes in three states were reported Saturday night. Some of the greatest damage from the severe storms was reported southeast of Grandville, Michigan, where two possible tornadoes touched down Saturday afternoon, causing downed trees, power lines and damaged at least one home. Unofficial storm reports indicate that six touchdowns occurred in Michigan on Saturday, five of them from one thunderstorm. Consumers Energy reports at least 21,000 customers in the dark in Allegan, Barry, Kent and Ottawa counties. Major flooding prompted water rescues in northeast Iowa early Wednesday morning after up to 7 inches of rain fell during heavy thunderstorms. Damage is still being assessed across the Midwest on Thursday morning after a series of tornadoes tore paths across Indiana and Ohio. Miraculously, only minor injuries have been reported in both areas where widespread damage has been confirmed.

Dozens of people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been evacuated after monsoon rains have flooded several Indian states. The rains have pushed the Ganges River and its tributaries to their limits, the Associated Press reports, flooding about 20 districts of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Officials told the AP that as of Monday morning at least 17 people have died in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Bihar and nine in Uttar Pradesh because of drowning, electrocution or injuries from collapsed houses. Roughly 600,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in a dozen districts.

Typhoon Mindulle is roaring over Tokyo after making landfall earlier Monday, one of two storms which have lashed Japan over the past two days, killing one person and injuring 11. A third typhoon is predicted for later this week. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled and parts of the country have been left flooded after typhoons Mindulle and Kompasu caused strong winds and pouring rains. At least 100,000 people were told to evacuate in Kanagawa prefecture ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Signs Of The Times (8/20/16)

August 20, 2016

State Department Finally Admits $400M Cash Payment to Iran was for Hostage Release

he State Department conceded for the first time on Thursday that it delayed making a $400 million payment to Iran for several hours in January ‘to retain maximum leverage’ and ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day. For months the Obama administration had maintained that the payment was part of a settlement over an old dispute and did not amount to a ‘ransom’ for the release of the Americans. Instead, administration officials said, it was the first installment of the $1.7 billion that the United States intends to pay Iran to reimburse it for military equipment it bought before the Iranian revolution in 1979 that the United States never delivered. But at a briefing on Thursday, John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said the United States ‘took advantage of the leverage’ it felt it had that weekend in mid-January to obtain the release of the hostages and ‘to make sure they got out safely and efficiently.’

  • This admission severely undercuts the long-established principle of not paying ransom for hostages

Obama Administration Sneaks in a New Regulation for Transgender Bathrooms

Because of a surprise regulation published in the Federal Register on Thursday, every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every federal building in the U.S. are now open to people of any gender. The Obama administration established the mandate seemingly overnight. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel says it’s a sweeping regulation, encompassing every federal building – including court houses and schools. And it was done as a regulation because, Staver says, President Obama knew he couldn’t get the move past Congress. “There have been attempts in the … Senate and House to amend Title VII to include ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ – and every single time for the last decade that has come up, it has always failed,” he points out. Staver says the courts could eventually step in. “There’s a legal remedy to be launched and there’s certainly challenges that are pending on this particular issue,” he explains, “[but] it’s going to take a while for those to go through the court system.”

Target to Spend $20 Million on Transgender Bathrooms After Boycott Threat

Target Corp. will spend about $20 million to add single-stall bathrooms to stores after receiving threats of boycotts after this year’s decision to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. The American Family Association, whose mission is “to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture,” created a petition to boycott the retail chain because Target’s policy “is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims.” Target’s store policy “endangers women and children by allowing men to frequent women’s facilities,” the AFA asserts. The AFA said single-occupancy unisex bathrooms are a “common-sense approach and a reasonable solution” to the issue. Target cut its yearly profit forecast after sales fell last quarter by 1.1%.

Louisiana Flood: Worst U.S. Disaster Since Hurricane Sandy

The catastrophic flood devastating Louisiana is now the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy four years ago, the Red Cross said. “Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now,” said Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross’ vice president of disaster services operations and logistics. The calamity struck quickly and ferociously. In one part of Livingston Parish, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours. At least 13 people have died across five parishes. And with more rain forecast, the destruction could mount. On Thursday, some residents returned to their homes, only to find their belongings soaked and destroyed. Gov. John Bel Edwards said at least 40,000 homes have suffered at least some damage. It’s not clear how many are uninhabitable. Thousands more are without power in hot, humid conditions. River levels are expected to fall, but some will remain in flood stages at least through the weekend.

Judges Denied DHS Bids to Deport Illegal Immigrants Nearly 100,000 Times

Immigration judges around the country are denying the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to deport illegal immigrants in record numbers, according to a new report. Over the last 10 months, immigration judges opted against the department’s efforts to remove some 96,223 illegal immigrants, including criminals, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University-based nonprofit. At this rate, TRAC estimates the number of illegal immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. despite DHS attempts to remove them will surpass last year’s record-breaking number of 106,676. With the court’s protection, subjects can often remain indefinitely. Nationwide, there is a backlog of around 500,000 cases pending in the immigration courts, and as it grows, judges become more lenient, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “From the judge’s perspective, because the courts are so backlogged, it is easier to let people stay in the country than actually try to remove them,” Mehlman noted. “There are endless layers of appeal and no finality in it.” “It’s concerning to me that the immigration courts are becoming such a frequently used back-door route to green cards,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute.

Zika Update

Pregnant women should not travel to an area of Miami Beach where local Zika virus transmission has been confirmed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. This is in addition to a previously identified area of transmission north of downtown Miami. The CDC also advised pregnant women and their sexual partners to consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County. Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that five locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in an area of Miami Beach. Three of those individuals were visitors to the area when they contracted the virus. The visitors have returned to their homes in Texas, New York and Taiwan. Friday’s developments bring the total number of locally transmitted cases in Florida to 36. To date, there have been more than 500 reported cases of Zika in the Sunshine State, with 63 reported among pregnant women.

Puerto Rico officials have warned that as many as 270 babies may be born with the severe birth defect known as microcephaly caused by Zika infections in their mothers during pregnancy. As of August 12, Puerto Rico had 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika, including 1,035 pregnant women. In New York City, 49 women have tested positive for Zika since April, and one baby has been born with microcephaly. Federal officials say that there have been 420 Zika cases in NYC.

As Florida state and local officials scramble to contain a Zika virus outbreak in Miami Beach – a serious threat to the region’s $24 billion-a-year tourism industry — congressional lawmakers from both parties continue to be locked in battle over a billion dollars in vital funding that experts say is needed to keep the virus from breaking out across America. In February the Obama administration asked for $1.9 billion in order to fight the virus, including funding for vaccine development. A $1.1 billion funding package was proposed in the Senate, but the bill failed after Democrats claimed their Republican colleagues packed the legislation with politically-charged amendments — in particular, a provision that would block the use of $95 million of federal grants to be used to distribute birth control for women in Puerto Rico. Shortly after the bill stalled in the Senate in June, Congress broke for summer recess, leaving unresolved the question of Zika funding. Since then, however, the crisis has spiraled. Experts say that with money running out to fight the virus, health officials are resorting to using funds meant for other diseases.

Persecution Watch

Simone Manuel has become a celebrity at the Rio Olympic Games. The 20-year-old swimmer won four medals, and became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. In an interview directly after her historic swim in which she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak for gold, Manuel praises God for her victory. However, as Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org points out, the mainstream media seems to have edited out Manuel’s comments giving glory to God. Mattingly posted two videos of post-swim interviews with Manuel, one which includes the original interview, and another shown by the medial in which Manuel’s comment of “All glory to God” is absent. According to Baptist Press, Manuel and her family attend The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas. Mattingly questions why sources like the New York Times have left out any reference to Manuel’s faith when she herself has made a point to speak of it.

Economic News

The rich are still getting richer in the U.S., with the wealthiest 10% controlling three-quarters of all family wealth in the country. The top 10% of families — those who had at least $942,000 — held 76% of total wealth. The average amount of wealth in this group was $4 million. Everyone else in the top 50% of the country accounted for 23% of total wealth, with an average of $316,000 per family. That leaves just 1% of the total pie for the entire bottom half of the population. The average held was $36,000 for families that fell in the 26th to 50th percentiles. Those in the bottom quarter had zero wealth and in fact, were $13,000 in debt on average, the Congressional Budget Office found. Not surprisingly, wealth was higher for households headed by someone 65 or older. Median wealth for these families was $211,000, or almost three-and-a-half times higher than the median for households run by someone 35 to 49. Families run by adults with college degrees, meanwhile, had a median wealth of $202,000, or nearly four times that of families headed by someone who only had a high school diploma.

Immigrants in America work more, search for jobs more and get paid way less than native-born U.S. citizens. Documented and undocumented immigrants make up nearly 20% of America’s labor force, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. Immigrants have a lower unemployment rate (4.3%) than native-born U.S. citizens (4.9%). But they make far less than native-born citizens. Immigrants weekly income is about $681. Native-born Americans earn $837 a week, according to Goldman. Moody’s Analytics estimates that 77% of the potential job gains under Hillary Clinton’s economic plan would come from immigration reform. Clinton has called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and visas for high-skilled foreign workers.

Israel

Israeli security sweeps in the West Bank overnight Wednesday netted five terror suspects and large quantities of contraband weapons, ammunition and explosives. The raids followed Tuesday’s arrest of Sheikh Hussein Abu Kuweik, a senior official in the Islamist terror militia Hamas tied to the groups campaign for upcoming municipal elections in the Palestinian areas. Hamas immediately accused Israel of interfering in internal Palestinian politics. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman unveiled a new policy this week meant to offer a “carrot and stick” approach to relations with Palestinians in the West Bank, explaining that “anyone who is prepared for co-existence will prosper, while those who opt for terrorism will lose.”

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed on Tuesday that it has rolled up several supporters of the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah operating in the West Bank during recent counter-terror sweeps. The suspects were recruited by Hezbollah via Facebook, which the Shin Bet said is also a growing issue among Israel’s Arab population.  In related news, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset State Control Committee Tuesday that as many as 60,000 Palestinians illegally infiltrate Israel daily from the West Bank. Most of them come to Israel to work in the underground economy, Eisenkot explained, returning to their homes in the West Bank in the evening.

Syria

Russia launched a second day of air strikes against Syrian militants from an Iranian air base, rejecting U.S. suggestions its co-operation with Tehran might violate a U.N. resolution. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday called the Iranian deployment “unfortunate,” saying the United States was looking into whether the move violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which prohibits the supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran. Russia bristled at those comments on Wednesday after announcing that Russian SU-34 fighter bombers flying from Iran’s Hamadan air base had for a second day struck Islamic State targets in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province, destroying two command posts and killing more than 150 militants. Moscow first used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes in Syria on Tuesday, deepening its involvement in the five-year-old Syrian civil war.

The Pentagon warned the Syrian government against carrying out airstrikes near U.S. and allied personnel Friday, one day after attacks caused the U.S. to scramble jets to protect special operations forces. The U.S. has increased combat air patrols in that area and has warned Syria that America will defend coalition troops. The main US ally fighting ISIS in Syria was bombed by Syrian warplanes for the first time Thursday while US military advisers were “nearby,” a US defense official told CNN. The attack against the Kurdish YPG took place in Hasakah province in northern Syria. The U.S. has approximately 300 special operations forces in Syria. During the five-year civil war, the Syrian government has largely refrained from striking the Kurdish group, which has established an autonomous area of control in the country’s north. The YPG has primarily battled ISIS as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the US has supplied the with arms and training. A clash between Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces and America’s Kurdish allies could seriously undermine US efforts to fight ISIS or force the U.S. into direct conflict with the Syrian air force, something the U.S. has refrained from doing.

In a stunning diplomatic surprise, Turkey and Iran have announced a preliminary agreement on fundamental principles for a settlement of the Syrian conflict. The common approach to a Syria settlement outlined by Turkey and Iran represent what appears to be the first significant diplomatic break in a five-year international conflict on Syria that has been immune from any real peace negotiations up to now. International conferences on Syria under UN auspices have generated no real moves toward compromise. The new negotiations between Iran and Turkey are the result of a major policy shift by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and away from alignment with the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has been coordinating military assistance to the armed opposition to the Assad government – including jihadists and other hardline extremists – with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since early in the war. However, Erdogan began searching in May for an alternative policy more in line with Turkey’s primary strategic interest in Syria: containing the threat of Kurdish demands for a separate state.

  • The end-time alliance between Russia, Turkey and Iran further fulfills the Biblical prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39 of Russia and Persia aligning to wage war against Israel

Iran/Iraq

As many as 100,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia are now fighting on the ground in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials — raising concerns that should the Islamic State be defeated, it may only be replaced by another anti-American force that fuels further sectarian violence in the region. The ranks have swelled inside a network of Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Since the rise of Sunni-dominated ISIS fighters inside Iraq more than two years ago, the Shiite forces have grown to 100,000 fighters, Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, confirmed in an email to Fox News. According to some experts, this still is an alarmingly high number, diminishing hopes that defeating ISIS is not going to result in any lasting peace.

Turkey

Three bomb attacks targeting Turkish security forces in the east of the country have killed 11 people and wounded nearly 300 others, authorities said Thursday. Turkish officials blame the banned militant group Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, for the attacks. Clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces have been ongoing since a peace process crumbled in 2015, bringing an end to a two-year ceasefire. Since then, hundreds of Turkish security forces and about 5,000 PKK members have been killed in the conflict. Considered a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 seeking an independent state for the country’s Kurdish minority.

The U.S. has started transferring American nuclear weapons stationed at an airbase in southeastern Turkey to Romania, the independent Euractiv website reported on Thursday. The reported move comes after a U.S.-based think tank said on Monday that the stockpile at Incirlik airbase, which consists of some 50 nuclear bombs, was at risk of being captured by ‘terrorists or other hostile forces.’ The Romanian Foreign Ministry strongly denied that any U.S. nuclear weapons were transferred to Romania.  While critics have long been alarmed about the nuclear stockpile at Incirlik airbase, the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey on July 15 has sparked renewed fear.

Germany

Germany may soon ban full-face veils worn by Muslim women in certain circumstances, the latest instance of a European nation restricting Muslim garb. France has a nationwide ban against full-face veils, as does Belgium. Some cities in Spain and Italy also have such bans. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in a televised speech that a full veil “does not belong in our cosmopolitan country,” Agence France-Presse reported Friday. De Maizière’s comments come after a number of seaside towns in France, including Cannes, banned the burkini ­— a full-body swimsuit. At least four women have been fined for wearing burkinis in Cannes since the ban was introduced this month. “It is about respecting the principle of secularism,” said Py, a member of the right-wing Les Républicains party, according to The Telegraph. “This is the public domain, and (the burkini) is an ostentatious religious sign.”

Nigeria

Nigerian Christians displaced by Boko Haram are beginning to return home. They are being encouraged by the government, which has won back territory from the insurgents but which is also struggling to provide enough aid. World Watch Monitor received first-hand accounts describing day-to-day living now that the population is back in a mostly Christian part of Adamawa, one of the states most affected by the Islamist insurgents. The reports find people full of renewed hope as they began to pick up their lives back in their desolated towns. An estimated two million people were displaced by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the government wants people to return home because it’s unable to provide for so many refugees. “Many Christians did not need asking twice. In the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps some faced pressure to convert to Islam just to get food. Outside the camps, people found staying with friends, family or other hosts was no easier – they were dependent on the goodwill of businessmen or other Christians. Often food ran out and the living arrangements were not suitable in the long term,” WWM reports

Environment

Montana wildlife officials indefinitely closed off a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River and hundreds of miles of other waterways Friday, barring all fishing, rafting and other activities to prevent the spread of a parasite believed to have killed tens of thousands of fish. The closure could last for months if river conditions don’t improve and fish keep dying, according to officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It extends to hundreds of miles of waterways that feed into the Yellowstone, including the Boulder, Shields and Stillwater rivers. Even when the river reopens, there are fears the fish die-off could deal a lasting blow to the Yellowstone’s reputation as a world-class trout fishery that draws visitors from around the world. The total number of dead fish is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. The closure aims to stop the spread of the parasite, which causes fish to contract a fatal kidney disease.

Wildfires

Two huge wildfires have caused major destruction and chased thousands from their homes as yet another Western wildfire season intensifies. In Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest, the Blue Cut fire started Tuesday morning and exploded to more than 57 square miles, forcing officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders for over 82,000 residents. On Friday, Cal Fire said 96 homes and 213 outbuildings have been destroyed by the fire. Firefighters have started to make steady progress against the massive blaze. By Saturday morning, the fire had burned more than 37,000 acres and was 40 percent contained. Some evacuated residents on the fire’s northeast side were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, and Interstate 15 was reopened in both directions. In Northern California, the fast-moving, wind-driven Clayton fire near Lower Lake, California, has destroyed around 300 buildings in the town, including an estimated 198 homes, and has forced the evacuation of about 4,000 people. As of Saturday morning, the fire had burned just under 4,000 acres and was 75 percent contained.

Weather

A scorching heat wave will continue in the Pacific Northwest through the weekend, with temperatures threatening or topping daily record highs. The core of the heat will be mainly west of the Cascades in western Oregon and western Oregon. The National Weather Service has issued various heat alerts in the Pacific Northwest through Saturday, including Seattle, Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford. Portland, Oregon, set a new daily record high Thursday by reaching 99 degrees (old record was 96 degrees, set just last year). Medford, Oregon, soared to a daily record of 108 degrees.

Signs of the Times (12/11/14)

December 11, 2014

Abortion Rate at Lowest Level since Roe v. Wade

The abortion rate in the United States has declined to its lowest point since abortion’s legalization in 1973, according to an annual report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Forty-seven states reported 730,322 abortions in 2011 to the CDC (California, Maryland, and New Hampshire didn’t report their data). According to those reports, the abortion rate has fallen by 14 percent since 2002, to 13.9 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. The abortion rate among white women is 7.8 for every 1,000 births, compared to 16.1 for Hispanic women and 25.8 for black women. ). Teen abortions have declined from 29.2 percent of total abortions in 1980 to 13.9 percent in 2011.

The cause for the decline may come from multiple sources. The CDC partly credits contraceptive availability because most abortions stem from unplanned pregnancies. However, David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic, identifies two social trends leading to abortion’s decline. First, the pro-life movement has successfully increased the number of people who view abortion as morally wrong: 51 percent say it’s wrong while only 38 percent view it as morally acceptable, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. Second, single motherhood has become more socially acceptable than in previous decades, according to Frum. But the majority of abortions still involve unmarried women (85.5 percent.

Jesus and Bible OK’d for Air Force Cadets

After cadets at the Air Force Academy were censored for posting Bible verses on the erasable white-boards outside their rooms, thousands sent petitions to Congress and the Air Force. Now the U.S. Air Force has relented, and changed AFI 1-1, which had restricted Christians, but now specifically allows airmen to talk about Jesus Christ in uniform. The Air Force’s revised regulations governing religious expression contain a new clause guaranteeing airmen ‘the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs,’ reports the Military Times.

Senate Releases Controversial Report on CIA Torture

A report condemning the CIA’s use of torture against suspected terrorists was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. Newspapers around the world led their front pages with the explosive story Wednesday. There has been widespread global condemnation of the CIA’s use of torture. The hotly disputed Senate report on the CIA’s brutal interrogation tactics is tearing open barely healed political wounds first opened after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The report found CIA tactics were more brutal than previously known and accused the agency of keeping the Bush White House and Congress in the dark about them. The reaction of a deeply polarized Congress to the long delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report, not to mention fierce CIA push back, shows how hard it will be to build any national consensus on the proper approach to a threat like terrorism. Former Vice President Dick Cheney slammed the Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques Wednesday, calling it “full of crap,” and a “terrible piece of work” that was “deeply flawed.”

President Obama banned “enhanced interrogation techniques” like water boarding and sleep deprivation, which were the subject of the report released Tuesday, soon after taking office in 2009. The debate over interrogation techniques has left Obama facing an uncomfortable rift between two allies, the C.I.A. director and Democrats on the committee that produced the report. Republican senators and former C.I.A. officials say the agency was advised that its methods were not torture, and that the program played a critical role in dismantling Al Qaeda. All U.S. facilities around the world are being urged to review security and brace for potentially explosive reaction, with concern particularly high in the Middle East and North Africa.

Police Brutality Protests Continue

More than 1,000 protesters marched for hours on city streets, shutting down Interstate 80 and stopping a train in the third night of demonstrations Monday over police killings in Missouri, New York and Phoenix. They confronted a line of police officers in riot gear outside police headquarters before heading to a BART train station, prompting authorities to close it. Protesters then headed west on University Avenue, a four-lane divided street to shut down Interstate 80 in both directions. Dozens of protesters also marched to the railroad tracks, blocking an Amtrak train. A protester held up a sign “Black lives matter” in front of the stopped train. Hundreds of protesters rallied in London Wednesday at one of Europe’s largest shopping malls to show solidarity with U.S. demonstrations over the killing of unarmed black men by white officers.

95 School Shootings in Two Years since Newtown

School shootings in the USA during the two years since the Newtown, Conn., massacre often involved a minor taking a gun from home and using it in a confrontation that started out as an argument, according to a new report by two groups who went to Washington, D.C., Tuesday seeking political action to prevent gun violence. The two groups, whose definition of school shootings includes those involving gang violence, unintentional shootings and suicides, used news accounts to compile a list of 95 shootings that occurred in 33 states; 23 of the incidents resulted in at least one death. All told, the shootings caused 45 deaths and 78 gunshot injuries, according to the report from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Forty-nine of the shootings occurred at K-12 schools and 46 on college or university campuses. Of the 40 K-12 shootings in which the shooter’s age was known, 28 were committed by minors. Of the 16 K-12 shootings where it was possible to determine the source of the firearm, 10 of the young perpetrators got their guns from home. Critics say that most if not all of the 24 cases where gun origin could not be determined were from sources outside the home.

Americans Worried about Obama’s Use of Executive Orders

Majorities of American voters think President Barack Obama exceeded his authority with recent executive actions on immigration and are worried he may be permanently altering the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution, according to a new Fox News poll released Wednesday. By an 8-point margin, more voters disapprove (51 percent) than approve (43 percent) of the specific policy changes Obama made that will, among other things, allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain temporarily in the United States to work. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters think this easing of immigration laws will encourage more people to enter the country illegally (74 percent). Even more voters are unhappy with how Obama made these changes. By a 60-38 percent margin, voters disapprove of the president bypassing Congress to change how the government deals with illegal immigration. More than two-thirds — 68 percent of voters — are concerned that Obama’s use of executive orders and unilateral actions may be “permanently altering” our country’s system of checks and balances.

Court Decision Allows Driver’s Licenses for ‘Dreamers’ in Arizona

Barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, Arizona “dreamers” may be able to get driver’s licenses as early as next Tuesday, ending a ban imposed two years ago by Gov. Jan Brewer. On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by Brewer to keep on hold that panel’s July ruling against her ban while the state’s attorney general prepares a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. Gov.-elect Doug Ducey has said he supports Brewer’s policy of denying driver’s licenses to dreamers but will follow whatever the final court mandate may be on the matter. Unless the Supreme Court issues a stay, the 9th Circuit’s July ruling will take effect next Tuesday. At that point, U.S. District Judge David Campbell in Phoenix can issue an injunction that would require the Arizona Department of Transportation to issue driver’s licenses to dreamers who otherwise qualified.

“Dreamers’ are unauthorized immigrants who are under the age of 31; entered the United States before age 16; have lived continuously in the country for at least five years; have not been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor; and are currently in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military. Immigrants who meet these criteria are commonly referred to as “DREAMers” because they comprise most (though not all) of the individuals who meet the general requirements of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Congress Reaches Spending Deal

Top lawmakers agreed to $1.1 trillion government funding bill late Tuesday, just two days before federal agencies are due to run out of money. The negotiating breakthrough likely means the government will stay open as usual, avoiding a potential shutdown. The release of the bill was held up until late Tuesday night as negotiators haggled over a series of controversial policy provisions. “While not everyone got everything they wanted, such compromises must be made in a divided government,” Congressional negotiators said.

The measure bars the District of Columbia from using any money to implement a law the city recently passed to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Many Democrats on Capitol Hill maintain that Washington city leaders should be able to carry out a policy voters supported, but Congress has authority over the city’s finances. One of the provisions will allow for increased political donations, specifically the amount donors can give to national parties to help fund conventions, building funds and legal proceedings, such as recounts. Rather just giving the current cap of $32,400, donors would be able to give up to $97,200 for each of those actions — for a total of $324,000 annually

Some Democrats are already expressing opposition to a provision that repeals what they view as a key financial regulation that was part of a package of reforms for Wall Street banks. The spending bill does away with a rule that prevented banks from using funds backed by taxpayers to trade derivatives, which they argue contributed to the financial collapse in 2008. The resolution of many of these policy issues is critical to the bill’s prospects for passing the House and Senate.

Economic News

Crude oil prices accelerated their six-month slide Monday, plunging to fresh five-year lows. Oil prices have dropped 40% since June. A major energy company slashed its drilling and exploration budget by more than 20% and fresh reports pointed to slowing global economic growth. The latest drop in oil is likely to fuel fresh cuts in gasoline prices in the weeks ahead, saving consumers, shippers and airlines billions. Oil prices have yet to find a bottom. With oil prices in free fall, the fear is that hunting for new shale in the U.S. may just not be that profitable. ConocoPhillips became the first major U.S. oil company to reveal that it is slashing spending for 2015. There are expectations that more energy companies will follow.

The Energy Department again slashed its prediction for next year’s average price of gasoline across the U.S., this time to $2.60 a gallon. That would be 23% below this year’s projected average and the lowest full-year average since 2009.

Retail sales in November beat analyst expectations with a jump of 0.7% to $449.3 billion, the largest monthly gain since March. Sales excluding autos increased 0.5%. October’s sales increase was revised up to a jump of 0.5% from 0.3%.

The Labor Department says weekly applications fell 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 294,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up a slight 250 to 299,250. Over the past 12 months, the four-week average has declined by 10 percent.

The federal debt has risen 70 percent under President Obama, and when it hit $18 trillion last week, it meant that each household in the U.S. now carries the burden of $124,000 in national debt alone — or $56,378 per individual. David Stockman, White House budget chief under President Reagan, notes it took the United States 205 years to reach $1 trillion in debt, but only 33 more years to get to the current $18 trillion debt mountain. And he says things are about to get worse. Stockman estimates that today’s federal debt amounts to 106 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and when state and local debt is factored in, total government debt is 120 percent of GDP – a load that would put many Americans in a homeless shelter if they owed it money on an individual basis. He further estimates that the U.S. will generate at least $15 trillion of new public debt in the decade ahead. At that point, Stockman estimates America’s public debt will total a whopping 140 percent of GDP.

Persecution Watch

A government official in France maintains the number of anti-Semitic threats and incidents has more than doubled during 2014. France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve shared the staggering numbers during a rally on Sunday to protest a violent attack on a young Jewish couple, according to Christian Today. Recently, a 19-year-old Jewish woman was raped. Approximately 550,000 Jews live in France, the largest Jewish population base in Europe. “We feel that something has changed: it’s no longer just graffiti or minor incidents, these are death threats [against the Jewish community],” Roger Cukierman, the head of Conseil Représentatif des Institutions.

An eighth grade student in Texas was repeatedly slammed to the ground by police after he refused to remove his rosary beads at a football game. Sam Houston Middle School student Jacob Herrera had been given permission to wear the beads for religious and sentimental reasons: his older brother had given Herrera the beads before his death. The Christian Post reports police told Herrera to remove the rosary because it was a gang symbol. Herrera refused, telling the officer that he had permission to wear the beads. The officer ordered Herrera to put his arms behind his back, which the student refused. Herrera also refused other orders from the officer which led to his arrest and physical mistreatment. The Rutherford Institute founder and attorney John Whitehead said it was “excessive force” and “is a matter of religious freedom and a First Amendment right.”

Middle East

Palestinian Authority minister without portfolio Ziad Abu Ein died on Wednesday following a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during a protest in the West Bank village of Turmusiya. The IDF says they believe he died of a heart attack following a shouting match with the soldiers but Palestinian officials insist he died as a result of inhaling tear gas fired by the soldiers in an effort to break up the unauthorized protest and a Reuters photographer who was present said he saw IDF soldiers striking him shortly before he collapsed, after which he was put in an ambulance and rushed to a hospital in Ramallah but died en route. In comments echoed by other PA officials, President Mahmoud Abbas, in a statement, called Abu Ein’s death “a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept.” Security forces were bracing for more violence in the wake of the incident.

Islamic State

ISIS has released a set of photos on social media featuring young children learning to use assault rifles such as AK47s. The children appeal to be about 10 years old and are shown wearing full combat gear and masks as they are trained to kill. The terrorist organization is reportedly using the children in battle in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’ abuse of children has been documented for months. In September, CNN released a report of a 13-year-old boy who had escaped an ISIS camp and said he had been force to witness beheadings, stonings and a crucifixion. “When we go to the mosque, they order us to come the next day at a specific time and place to [watch] heads cut off, lashings or stonings. We saw a young man who did not fast for Ramadan, so they crucified him for three days, and we saw a woman being stoned [to death] because she committed adultery,” he said.

Syria

As winter approaches, United Nations funds to feed Syrian refugees had dried up. According to Christian Today, the World Food Programme petitioned donors for funds to ensure refugees can survive the harshest months of winter. A week after launching its social media campaign to raise emergency funding for food assistance aimed at Syrian refugees, WFP announced recently that it had not only reached its initial goal of $64 million, but also exceeded it thanks to a “massive expression” of support from the public, the private sector and donor countries. “This outpouring of support in such a short time is unprecedented,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in a statement.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber targeted a vehicle carrying Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Kabul on Thursday morning. The ensuing blast killed five and wounded 12 others, the defense ministry said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mali

French troops, in coordination with Malian forces in northern Mali, killed a senior jihadist leader wanted by the United States, the French military announced Thursday. Ahmed el Tilemsi was the head and co-founder of a jihadist group called the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The U.S. government had formally designated el Tilemsi a terrorist and offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to him. A French military spokesman, Col. Gilles Jaron, told CNN that about 10 suspected terrorists were “neutralized” — which means killed or taken captive, according to the French military — in the operation in al-Mourabitoun.

Hong Kong

Police arrested dozens of pro-democracy protesters Thursday as teams with sledgehammers and chainsaws demolished camps and tore down tents and supply stations established by activists as part of a mass civil disobedience movement that has lasted more than 10 weeks. The police clearance marked the end of the pro-democracy occupation that has paralyzed parts of the south China city. Among those arrested was popular singer Denise Ho, who led the crowd in chanting “civil disobedience, we are fearless!” reported the South China Morning Post newspaper. Four members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the key campaign organizers, also were arrested, the group tweeted.

China

China’s skyrocketing appetite for ivory is leading to the unsustainable slaughter of African elephants. As prices for precious ivory goods have surged in China, the number of poached elephants has also escalated. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, said 100,000 African elephants have been killed for their ivory in just the past three years. “African elephants could disappear from the wild within a generation,” unless China does more to end the sale of ivory, said Douglas-Hamilton. China is the world’s largest consumer of ivory as newly-wealthy Chinese consumers have developed a taste for exotic luxury goods. The wholesale price of raw tusks has tripled in just four years since 2010, while retail prices for finished ivory have increased exponentialy. Retail prices in Beijing, for example, have increased more than 13 times since 2002.

Weather

A powerful storm packing heavy rain, high winds and snow for higher elevations was pushing through northern California Thursday, threatening to trigger flash floods and landslides in the drought-plagued state. The worst of the storm will be in northern California on Thursday where widespread rainfall totals of 3 to 5 inches are expected. Meanwhile, the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are expected to get up to 2 feet of snow. Sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph will be found in the lower elevations with wind gusts over 50 mph possible. The higher elevations may see gusts up to 80 mph and blizzard warnings are in effect for parts of the Sierra Nevada above 6,500 feet. The storm was expected to be one of the strongest in terms of wind and rain intensity in more than five years for parts of northern California. Three lanes of eastbound I-80 six miles north of El Cerrito, California, were blocked just after 6 a.m. ET after a semi-truck crashed into a 2,000-pound Eucalyptus tree blown onto the road by wind gusts. The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) said that it had activated more than 3,000 employees and more than 1,500 pieces of equipment to deal with road-related hazards from the storm.

A winter storm dumped snow and rain on the Northeast and New England for several days this week, causing big problems in some areas. The fierce nor’easter also brought strong winds and flooding to coastal areas. Two people died in crashes on slippery roads during the storm. Snow totals have inched toward the two-foot mark in some parts of upstate New York.

A massive storm system is hitting parts of Europe, bringing plenty of headaches to the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The storm has already whipped up tremendous winds, including a pair of 96-mph gusts in Iceland Monday night and sustained hurricane-force winds at a major natural gas platform off the North Sea coast of Norway. Some 17,000 homes in the Western Isles lost power Wednesday, according to the BBC. The huge area of winds with this system whipped up seas as high as 35 feet northwest of the British Isles. Those waves are expected to grow even larger thanks to the storm’s slow eastward movement.

Signs of the Times

June 23, 2014

Biblical Marriage Supporters March in Washington, D.C.

Thousands marched on Thursday on the Capitol lawn in support for traditional marriage. People chanted, “one man, one woman” during the rally and held signs in favor of traditional marriage. The rally included speakers such as Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. The rally ended with a march from the Capitol lawn to the Supreme Court. The March for Marriage was meant to show lawmakers that many Americans still support traditional marriage. However, a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 53 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

  • This is the time for Christians to pray hard and fight loud over this pivotal end-time spiritual cross roads

Federal Appeals Court Denies Atheist Suit against Ground Zero Cross

A federal appeals court said this week that an atheist group trying to keep the so-called Ground Zero Cross out of the National September 11 Memorial Museum must better explain how displaying the artifact is “offensive” and violates members’ constitutional rights. The 17-foot-tall, steel beam “cross” was found in the rubble of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York that fell during the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The cross became a sort of shrine or place of comfort for first responders who often prayed there and left messages or flowers. It was moved away from the debris a few weeks later and became a tourist attraction through several years of reconstruction. American Atheists filed the suit in 2011, which was thrown out last year by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty argued that American Atheists had no right to bring a lawsuit in the first place. “Courts should not allow people to sue just because they claim to get ‘dyspepsia’ over a historical artifact displayed in a museum.”

Presbyterians Vote to Allow Gay Marriage by Whopping 3-1 Ratio

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Thursday (June 19) to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian denomination to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage. By a 76-24 percent vote, the General Assembly of the 1.8 million-member PCUSA voted to allow pastors to perform gay marriages in states where they are legal. Delegates, meeting in Detroit this week, also approved new language about marriage in the church’s Book of Order, or constitution, altering references to “a man and woman” to “two persons.” This change will not become church law until a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries vote to ratify the new language. But given the lopsided 3-1 ratio of the vote, approval is expected.

  • The end-time “falling away” of 2Thessalonians 2:3 is gaining steam as we proceed through the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:80 toward the seven-year Tribulation

Presbyterians Divest Israel to Support Palestinians

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday became the most prominent religious group in the United States to endorse divestment as a protest against Israeli policies toward Palestinians, voting to sell church stock in three companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories. The General Assembly passed the measure by a razor-thin margin — 310-303. The decision is expected to reverberate well beyond the church. It comes amid discouragement over failed peace talks that have left activists desperate for some way to affect change and as the broader movement known as BDS — or boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — has gained some momentum in the U.S., Israel’s closest and most important ally. The American Jewish Committee, a policy and advocacy group based in New York, said the vote was “driven by hatred of Israel.” Many American Jewish groups and their supporters have denounced the campaign as an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state

  • This is yet another end-time example of the Church “falling away” from uncompromising adherence to the Gospel and the Word of God which unabashedly supports Israel against those who loudly call for its annihilation (which includes the Palestinians) while Israel only acts in self-defense.

Media in Central America to Migrants: Don’t Go to U.S.

“The U.S. will not give asylum to migrant children,” blared Thursday’s front page of La Prensa Grafica, one of the largest papers in El Salvador. Other newspapers sported similar headlines. It has been all but impossible in this country in recent days to look at a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch a TV newscast without hearing this message. The same message that Vice President Joe Biden delivered in Guatemala City on Friday at a meeting with leaders from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. Much of this past week, evening newscasts in Central America either led with or prominently featured reports that minors apprehended in the United States would be deported back to El Salvador.

Over the past eight months, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing the border from Mexico, most of them into Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Roughly three-fourths of them have come from Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. Their numbers have jumped tenfold from three years ago.

  • The Obama administration is a little late to finally realize the impact of their failed policies that encouraged migrants to come to the U.S., but better late than never

Number of Displaced People Hits Post-World War II High

For the first time since the World War II era, the number of people forced from their homes worldwide has surged past 50 million, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday. Syrians fleeing the bloodletting at home and a fast-growing web of other crises across the world accounted for the spike in the displaced, the UNHCR said in its annual Global Trends Report. At the end of last year, 51.2 million people had been forced from their homes worldwide, the highest figure of displacement since World War II. That’s six million more people than at the end of the previous year, reflecting what the agency described as important undercurrents in international relations.

The massive increase was mainly driven by Syria’s civil war. By the end of last year, 2.5 million Syrians had become refugees in neighboring countries and more than 6.5 million had been displaced within Syria. In addition, more than a million Iraqis have been forced from their homes by conflict this year, a number likely to rise as Islamist militants and Iraqi security forces battle for control. Of the 51.2 million displaced worldwide last year, 16.7 million were refugees outside their countries’ borders. Nearly 12 million of them are cared for by U.N. agencies. More than half of the refugees under UNHCR’s care have been in exile for more than five years.

IRS Scandal Cover-Up?

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is facing accusations of a “cover-up” over the Tea Party targeting scandal, after claims surfaced that ex-official Lois Lerner’s hard drive was destroyed and emails from several other officials also have gone missing. GOP lawmakers are furious after learning a week ago that many Lerner emails from a two-year period supposedly have disappeared. Committee Republicans now say that the IRS may have known about this for months, and that the agency may have lost emails from another six employees. To boot, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he’s been told that Lerner’s hard drive was simply destroyed. “They just got rid of it,” he told Fox News. “It really looks bad and I’ve got to say it looks like a cover-up to me.”

Common Core to be Election Flashpoint

Common Core has emerged as the newest Republican litmus test for gauging candidates’ conservative bona fides, and experts say the controversial national education standard will help shape elections from school boards to the White House for the foreseeable future. Whether prompted by pressure from grassroots groups and well-funded political action committees, or simply by a realization of what is involved in the sweeping K-12 reform, Common Core has become a hot button issue within the GOP. Several Republican governors, including some rumored to be considering 2016 White House runs, have turned against the plan and critics have coined a loaded term for it that lays bare the political divide: “ObamaCore.” Earlier this week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a onetime backer of Common Core, issued an executive order designed to block its implementation in the Bayou State. Although Louisiana was one of 45 states that initially adopted the plan, Jindal has since turned against it, as criticism mounted around the nation. The ultimate goal of Common Core is to have every school district follow the same national standards. Stop Common Core, a PAC that has spent nearly $1 million on ads attacking proponents, says “This is a failed educational approach that will undermine educational quality and choice.”

  • Common Core is proving to be far more expensive to implement by states than first estimated, another example of the federal government foisting programs on states and forcing them to pay for it.

Stem-Cell Advances May Quell Ethics Concerns

Recent strides in stem-cell research show adult stem cells to be ever-more-promising, many scientists say, quelling the controversy steeped in faith and science that has long surrounded embryonic stem cells. In addition to these genetically reprogrammed adult cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells or IPS cells — scientists are on the cusp of being able to turn one type of cell into another in the body without using stem cells at all. IPS cells overcome the main ethical issues, namely the use and destruction of embryos many Americans consider sacred human life, putting it in the same category as abortion.

Ebola Called ‘Out of Control’ in West Africa

The deadliest-ever outbreak ever of the Ebola virus has surged in West Africa after slowing briefly, and the pandemic is now “out of control,” according to Doctors Without Borders. Nearly 600 infections and 340 Ebola-related deaths have been recorded in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the most since the virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan almost 40 years ago, the World Health Organization said this week. There’s no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious disease, which has mortality rate of up to 90%. “The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave,” Bart Janssens, a medical charity’s operations director, told the Associated Press on Friday. “And, for me, it is totally out of control.” He criticized the WHO and African governments for not doing more to contain the outbreak and to thoroughly trace everyone who has had contact with the sick or the dead.

Economic News

Prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs across the nation shot up to all-time highs in May, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price index for these items, which BLS has kept records of since 1967, “rose 1.4 percent in May after a 1.5 percent increase in April, with virtually all of its major components increasing,” the agency said. Only cereal and bakery products declined last month, falling 0.1 percent. The price increases in meat can be directly tied back to the cumulative impact of the drought in California and Texas as well as the drought that hit the Corn Belt.

Islamist militant gains in Iraq sent world oil prices higher Monday, sparking concerns that this could hurt global economic growth, especially in Europe where the recovery seems to be faltering. Prices have risen above $107 a barrel on the Nymex on fear that supplies could be hit later this year, just as world demand peaks. Prices are up 16% so far this year.

More than a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings, according to an annual survey released Monday by Bankrate.com. Of those who do have savings, 67% have less than six months’ worth of expenses, what Bankrate calls the recommended amount, and those with at least three months’ of expenses declined from 45% in 2013 to 40%.

The total number of disability beneficiaries in the United States topped 11 million for the first time last month, increasing from 10,996,447 in April to a record 11,004,507 in May, according to new data released by the Social Security Administration. The 11,004,507 total disability beneficiaries in May included a record 8,947,220 disabled workers. It also included 153,554 spouses of disabled workers and 1,903,733 children of disabled workers.

Middle East

The Israeli military says it has carried out airstrikes on a number of military targets inside Syria, including the military headquarters, in response to a cross-border attack that left an Israeli teenager dead. In a statement early Monday, the military said nine targets were struck and “direct hits were confirmed.” “Yesterday’s attack was an unprovoked act of aggression against Israel, and a direct continuation to recent attacks that occurred in the area,” said a military spokesman. He said Israel “will not tolerate any attempt to breach Israel’s sovereignty and will act in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel.” In the initial deadly incident, a civilian vehicle in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was targeted, killing a 14-year-old boy in the first deadly incident along the volatile area since the Syrian civil war erupted more than three years ago.

Ukraine

Hostilities between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists have escalated. On Thursday, government security forces claimed to have killed about 300 separatists in fierce clashes 60 miles from the border with Russia. The government said seven from its own military forces were killed. NATO said Thursday that Russia has resumed its military buildup along the border with Ukraine border in an apparent attempt to intimidate its neighbor. Ukrainian forces have completed an operation to close off the country’s eastern border with Russia, Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov told Ukraine’s Parliament on Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered military forces in central Russia on combat alert.

  • One concern not noted in the mainstream media is that there are a combined 230 nuclear weapons in the Ukraine and Crimea, recently annexed by Russia (a key end-time player in Ezekiel 38-39). Making matters worse, reports Newsmax, is that there are no fewer than eight Islamic terrorist factions with open alliances to these unstable militaries, including both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The potential for apocalyptic tribulation exists right there, right now.

Iraq

President Obama said Thursday that the United States will deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help beleaguered security forces fend off Sunni militants, edging the United States back into a military conflict that Obama thought he had left behind. Obama said, “We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if we conclude the situation on the ground requires it.” The president emphasized again that he will not send combat troops to Iraq, but he said the United States would help the Iraqis “take the fight” to the militants, who he said pose a threat to Iraq’s stability and to American interests because Iraq could become a sanctuary for terrorists who could strike the United States or its allies. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday in a bid to push for a power-sharing arrangement.

Twenty thousand Shiite militiamen have paraded in Baghdad and several other cities in southern Iraq with heavy weaponry, signaling their readiness to take on Sunni militants who seized much of the country’s north. The parades were staged by followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and came after the al-Qaeda breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — known as ISIL or ISIS — and allied Sunni militants, captured a crossing on the Syria-Iraq border the day before. Muqtada al-Sadr has referred to US military advisers en route to Iraq as ‘the occupier’ and warned ‘we will be ready for you if you are back.’ The Sunni ISIS push that has brought havoc to western Iraq continued virtually unabated Sunday as militants secured the town of Rutba, the fourth to fall in two days in embattled Anbar Province. At least 71 prisoners and five police officers were killed Monday when militants attacked an Iraqi police convoy transferring inmates from one prison to another. As the battles intensify, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out against U.S. intervention, telling the Iran state news agency IRNA that “Iran believes that people and government as well as religious leaders of Iraq can end the adventurism.”

Behind the image of savagery that the extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria present to the world lies a disciplined organization that employs social media and sophisticated financial strategies in the funding and governance of the areas it has conquered, notes the New York Times. The insurgents seized as much as $400 million from the central bank in Mosul, said Atheel Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh Province, and reportedly emptied the vaults in all the other banks in a city of more than one million residents. The terrorists may also have access to a secret sarin poison gas production facility in northeast Iraq as a result of a new alliance with a top military commander who previously was an aide to executed Sunni Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, WorldNetDaily reports.

Egypt

An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced three Al-Jazeera English journalists to seven years in prison. Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were convicted of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. The three were arrested in December as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Monday’s verdict is seen as a blow to freedom of expression. The managing director of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said in a statement that “not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them.”

Syria

A powerful truck bomb exploded on Friday in a government-held village in central Syria, killing at least 34 civilians and wounding more than 50. The attack “caused the destruction of a large number of houses and buildings in the village. The Islamic Front, an umbrella for several rebel groups in Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack in a video posted online.

Nigeria

Hours after an attack killed at least 21 young soccer fans watching a televised World Cup match, Nigerian security forces announced they had arrested a senior commander and more than 485 members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram that is terrorizing the country. The commander was arrested when police apprehended a convoy of suspected terrorists in the southern state of Abia. “Police refuse to disclose the identity of the militant,” reported Ludovica Iaccino for International Business Times. Boko Haram mainly targets villages in the north. The discovery of a senior Boko Haram militant in a southern state stoked fears that the insurgents are expanding their range. The slain soccer fans – reportedly mostly children and young soccer players – had gathered at an outdoor video screen to watch the World Cup’s Brazil v Mexico match in the tournament’s opening round. A bomb went off, apparently concealed in a pedicab-rickshaw.

China

Chinese police shot dead 13 people who attacked a police station in the restive northwest region of Xinjiang Saturday morning. A group of “thugs” drove a vehicle to ram the main office building of the public security bureau of Yecheng County in Kashgar District and detonated explosives. Three policemen were slightly injured and no civilians were hurt, Tianshan reported. The incident appears the latest in an escalating series of attacks over the past two years by radicalized members of Xinjiang’s native Uighur population. Beijing says overseas terrorist groups spread terrorism and extremist Islamic views within Xinjiang and other parts of China. Uighur exiles argue that Chinese repression triggers the growing violence.

Wildfire

A wildfire on the Navajo reservation straddling Arizona and New Mexico has burned 14,712 acres (about 23 square miles) and destroyed 19 structures. No injuries or deaths have been recorded in the sparsely populated area. As of Monday morning, the fire was 65% contained.

Weather

The same system that brought devastating tornadoes to Pilger, Nebraska, Monday night and Wessington Springs, South Dakota Wednesday night, has doused parts of South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois leading to historic flooding in some areas. On Friday, residents in several states continued preparations for the rising water, with people lining up for sandbags and moving items to higher ground. Days of flooding in Minnesota were too much for the land in one area, as a mudslide along the Mississippi River led to a partial road closure and the evacuation of some employees at a Minneapolis hospital. Meanwhile, the fast-moving Big Sioux River has been swollen by days of thunderstorms and is expected to crest Friday more than a foot above the previous record level set in 1969, threatening homes and businesses in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

A sinkhole that opened up last week in the wake of record-breaking rainfall in the World Cup host city of Natal, Brazil continues to expand, swallowing homes and cars and forcing the evacuation of 150 families. More rain fell on the coastal city in three days last week—more than 13 inches worth—than the area usually sees in the entire month of June, sparking landslides, flash flooding and opening up the sinkhole four miles from the Arena das Dunas stadium. Some 150 families have been evacuated from the affected area.

At least 12 people – including 2 children – were killed in torrential rains and flooding in northeastern Bulgaria. Dozens remain missing. The rush of water swamped streets and houses with mud and debris and left cars mangled and stacked on top of each other like toys. Roads in and out of Asparuhovo were blocked and tens of thousands were without electricity. Away from the northern Black Sea coastline, flooding has impacted a number of towns and cities across Central and Northeastern Bulgaria. A state of emergency has been declared in Veliko Tarnovo and Shumen, and also in the southern town of Pazardzhik.