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Signs of the Times (6/28/17)

June 28, 2017

Supreme Court Partially Upholds Trump Travel Ban

The Supreme Court delivered a mixed ruling on Monday that will allow President Trump to implement his travel ban against six Muslim majority nations — but only for visitors lacking ties to the United States. They ruled that a complete ban went too far, and it only blocked the part affecting those with “standing” to challenge Trump’s executive order in U.S. courts. The court ruled that Trump may bar people from six majority Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — as long as they have no “bona fide” relationship to the U.S. Those that have established ties will be allowed to continue entering the country, which covers the majority of visitors from those countries. More than 100,000 people legally entered the U.S. from the six countries in fiscal 2016, which ended last Sept. 30, according to State Department data. Nearly 30,000 had immigrant visas, more than 25,000 arrived as refugees and thousands more came on student, diplomatic and research visas that require proof of a U.S. connection. All would be exempt from the ban under the court’s decision. The ruling means officials at the Department of Homeland Security and State will have to begin sorting through each application submitted by travelers from the six targeted countries to determine if they have enough of a link to the U.S. to enter.

Supreme Court Reopens Same-Sex Marriage Issues

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to reopen the national debate over same-sex marriage. The court will hear a challenge from a Colorado baker who had lost lower court battles over his refusal to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. Like a New Mexico photographer three years ago, the baker cited his religious beliefs. The justices — who upheld same-sex marriage nationwide in a landmark 2015 ruling — apparently decided that despite state laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, the merchants’ obligation to same-sex couples might be limited by religious freedom. A Kentucky appeals court recently upheld a printer’s right to refuse to print shirts promoting a gay pride festival, reasoning that his actions did not discriminate against any individuals because of their sexual orientation. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, previously has lost in lower courts his claim that the First Amendment protects his freedom of expression.

Supreme Court Rules for Missouri Church in Religious Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court has ruled for a Missouri church that claimed religious discrimination after it was refused state funds to improve its playground. The case pitted Trinity Lutheran Church against Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, which offered grants to help nonprofits pay for the resurfacing of playgrounds with recycled tires. Ruling 7-2, the court Monday determined that the state had unfairly treated Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. The state wrongly denied the church “an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion,” he argued.

Senate Cancels Vote on New Health Care Bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled the plug Tuesday on his Obamacare repeal bill, saying Republicans would resume talks to see whether they can get a bill they’ll agree upon. The bill is not dead, but it is on life support. Opposition to the bill from even GOP Senators intensified Monday after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that twenty-two million fewer people would have health care coverage by 2026 under this bill. However, the report said the legislation would cut deficits over the next decade by $321 billion. The Senate bill would have made sweeping cuts to Medicaid, gotten rid of the individual mandate, and eliminated Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy and insurers. It would have also prevented federal funds from reimbursing Planned Parenthood for any health services it provides. The next step for McConnell and other Republican leaders is to get everybody in a room and figure out what it would take to get various factions on board, which could prove to be virtually impossible.

Number of Refugees Entering U.S. Down 50% Under Trump

The number of refugees who entered the U.S. during President Trump’s first three months compared to the last months of President Obama’s term was cut nearly in half, according to statistics released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the statistics, a total of 13,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. in the past three months, compared to 25,000 under Obama, The Los Angeles Times reported. The most popular countries of origins remained the same: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Myanmar. Obama set the ceiling of 110,000 refugee arrivals across the U.S. President Trump cut that number to 50,000 this year. Congress has approved a budget for only 75,000 for this fiscal year. A U.S. State Department spokesman said the country is now resettling 900 refugee arrivals weekly, to remain within that budget.

Federal Government Owns 47% of All Western U.S. Land

The federal government owns 28 percent of all land in the United States?  These holdings include national parks, national forests, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, vast tracts of range and wasteland managed by the Bureau of Land Management, reservations held in trust for Native American tribes, military bases, and ordinary federal buildings and installations. In the 11 western states, the federal government collectively owns 47 percent of all land.  East of the Mississippi River, the feds only own 4 percent of all land.  In Connecticut and Iowa, the federal government only owns 0.3 percent of all land.  Critics point to this disparity in arguing that the federal government should cede control of western lands to the states. They also point out that thanks to mismanagement by the feds, wildfires tend to spread very rapidly in many areas owned and controlled by the federal government. Nevada has the highest proportion of federal land ownership at 85%, followed by Utah at 65% and Idaho at 61%.

CNN Producer Caught Admitting Russian Probe is Fake News

Project Veritas has released a video of CNN Producer John Bonifield who was caught on hidden-camera admitting that there is no proof to CNN’s Russia narrative. He confirmed that the driving factor at CNN is a push for ratings. Ethics no longer apply.” All the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is a business.” This comes on the heels of three reporters being forced out of CNN for publishing a false story that attempted to link a Russian investment fund with Trump. The article was removed from CNN.com on Friday after the network decided it could no longer stand by its reporting. President Trump has taken a lot of heat for referring to CNN as “fake news”, but after the events of the past several days he has been vindicated.

Border Patrol Rescuing Immigrants from Southwest Heat Wave

The Border Patrol is shifting agents with medical and rescue training to southern Arizona’s west desert in response to a record-breaking heat wave. The daytime temperatures, which have soared above 115 degrees, have already triggered a spike in rescues and might have claimed the life of at least one migrant this week. Volunteers from the group No More Deaths planned to search near Organ Pipe National Monument this weekend for at least one dead migrant who was reportedly seen in the area earlier this week. Two migrant groups passing through the area each reported seeing a dead body. The humanitarian group places water jugs in the desert to help prevent migrant deaths.

Three Men ‘Marry’ in Columbia

Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in 2016 and polyamorous marriage this year. Now, three men got legally married, reports Charisma News. Michael Brown, host of the Line of Fire radio program, noted that society can no longer deny that there is slippery slope when it comes to sex and the changing ideas about biblical standards for marriage. In a column for Charisma, he warned that an example of that “slippery slope” here in the United States would be if a lesbian couple with a child has the help of another man, “all three of whom become parents,” the Associated Press said. He also wrote that in New York you can now be fined for not accepting the stated identity of a transgendered employee. That slippery slope has now gone to Canada, where a bill allows its citizens to use whatever pronouns they want to refer to them.

  • As foundational precepts are torn down, chaos and anarchy are certain to follow

Another Worldwide Ransomware Attack

A virulent new strain of ransomware named Petya wreaked havoc on some of the most-established companies in Europe and North America on Tuesday, capitalizing on the same vulnerabilities that froze hundreds of thousands of computers a month ago. Computer-security company Kaspersky Lab said about 2,000 systems worldwide were affected. Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest overseas cargo carrier, and Russian oil behemoth Rosneft were among the high-profile corporate victims in at least six countries. Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and British media company WPP tweeted they had also been hit by Petya. By late Tuesday, the cyberattack had spread to North American divisions of European companies

111 Terminally Ill People End Their Lives under California’s New Right-to-Die Law

California health officials said 111 terminally ill people have legally ended their lives since a right-to-die law took effect in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday. The report found that of the those who died using prescription drugs, 58.6% had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, while neuromuscular disorders like ALS and Parkinsons’s accounted for 18% of the group. A little over 75% of the 111 people, were 60-89 years of age, and 89.5% were white. The majority of the people involved has at least some college education. California is not the first state to enact such a law. Oregon, became the first to adopt similar legislation in 1997, and U.S. doctor-assisted deaths are legal in Colorado, Montana, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., according to the Associated Press.

Citing LGBT Discrimination, California Bans Travel to 3 States

California’s attorney general blocked state-funded travel to four additional states on Thursday in response to what he considers anti-LGBT rights laws enacted this year. California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra added Texas, Alabama, South Dakota and Kentucky to the list of places where state employee travel is restricted. Lawmakers passed legislation last year banning non-essential travel to states with laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are already on the list. Louisville has been widely accepted as an LGBT-friendly city. In 2015, Louisville ranked 11th in the country for gay residents, and the University of Louisville was named one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the South by Campus Pride Index. But a recently passed bill, SB-17, could have indirect repercussions on the LGBT community, Becerra concluded. SB-17 affirms students’ constitutional right to express religious and political views in public schools.

Seattle’s Minimum Wage Hike Hurting Low-Level Workers

Seattle’s first-in-the-nation $15 per hour minimum wage law is hurting the workers it aimed to help, a new study has found. The working poor are making more per hour but taking home less pay. The University of Washington paper asserts the new wages boosted worker pay by 3 percent, but also resulted in a 9-percent reduction in hours and a $125 cut to the monthly paychecks. The law also cost the city 5,000 jobs, the report said. Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, passed by the Seattle City Council and signed by Mayor Ed Murray in 2014, was sold as a way to close the income inequality gap and help those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder. More than a dozen cities and counties, mostly in California and New York, followed suit.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve on Thursday released initial results of its yearly stress tests to determine whether the nation’s biggest banks are financially strong enough to weather a severe recession. They indicate that Wall Street banks are very healthy and have enough reserves to shield Americans from another financial crisis. All 34 financial institutions would be able to continue to lend to even under grim economic conditions. This is the seventh year in a row the Fed has run stress tests, which were put in place after the last financial crisis.

The recent drop in the cost of oil has been a happy surprise for drivers, who are enjoying the cheapest gas prices at the start of summer in 12 years. Oil prices have fallen to a glut of supply and gasoline prices have followed suit, falling every day since June 2, according to AAA. The average price nationally for a gallon of regular was $2.28 Thursday, down 10 cents since the start of the month. Wholesale gas prices suggest that prices drivers pay will keep falling.

The European Union’s competition watchdog slapped Google with a record-breaking $2.72 billion fine on Tuesday for breaching antitrust rules with its online shopping service. The announcement marks the latest clash between European regulators and large U.S. technology companies like Google, Apple and Amazon that have been ensnared in lengthy antitrust, tax and privacy-related investigations by European officials. Regulators said Google “abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.” Google has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Kent Walker, a senior vice president for the firm, said it would review the Commission’s findings, and may appeal.

Israel

Israel launched strikes on Syrian military positions Saturday, close to the two countries’ disputed border in the Golan Heights, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The action was a response to what the IDF said were more than 10 projectiles fired into Israel from inside Syria. The IDF described the projectile fire as “errant,” blaming it on internal fighting. Israeli aircraft targeted three positions from which the projectiles were fired, the IDF said. The strikes included hits on two tanks belonging to the Syrian regime. Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported several people were killed in the Israeli strikes. SANA said fighting in the area is between the Syrian regime and the al Nusra Front, a militant Syrian rebel group.

United Kingdom

Hackers hit the email system of the British Parliament in an apparent attempt to break into the accounts of hundreds of MPs, Lords and their staffs, according to a House of Commons spokesperson. The attack prompted security services to shut down access to anyone outside the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet. Parliament was working with the National Cyber Security Centre to secure the computer network investigate the incident. Members of the House of Commons and Lords were informed of the cyberattack Friday night and said they were unable to gain access to their emails on Saturday. “Closer investigation by our team confirmed that hackers were carrying out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in attempt to identify weak passwords,” a security statement said.

Venezuela

As political unrest in Venezuela erupts for the third consecutive month, thousands of people need medical aid but face difficulties obtaining basic supplies due to severe shortages. The country has been suffering an 85% shortage of medicine and a 90% deficit of other medical supplies used to treat severe conditions like cancer and hemophilia, according to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela — leaving a nation of 31 million without proper medical care. Although Venezuela has faced food and medicine shortages in the past, the situation has become heightened over the past four years under President Nicolás Maduro. Anti-government protests that began in April have resulted in at least 70 deaths and more than 4,000 arrests, according to local human rights groups. A police helicopter dropped grenades on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry Tuesday in what President Nicolas Maduro said was a thwarted “terrorist attack” aimed at ousting him from power.

China

A new US State Department report lists China as among the worst offenders for human trafficking, joining countries including Russia, Syria and Iran on the lowest rung of the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. China, the report said, “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, China was downgraded to Tier 3” — the lowest level. China was granted a waiver last year. This year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had the power to grant another one but has opted not to.

Around 10 people are dead and 140 people are missing, buried by a landslide that unleashed huge rocks and a mass of earth that crashed into homes in southwestern China early Saturday. The landslide from a mountain engulfed a cluster of more than 40 homes and a hotel in the village of Xinmo at about 6 a.m.. The landslide also blocked a 1.24 mile-section of a river. Wang Yongbo. An estimated 105 million cubic feet of earth and rock — equivalent to more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools —slid down the mountain. A second landslide struck the village in southwest China on Monday, where rescue workers have been looking for people buried over the weekend by the massive wave of rocks and debris. Before rescue work stopped Monday, only three people had been rescued and 10 bodies had been recovered.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit off Guatemala’s Pacific coast on Thursday, shaking much of the country and neighboring El Salvador. The Geological Survey said the 6:31 a.m. quake was centered about 24 miles southwest of Puerto San Jose and 6 miles below the surface. The quake sent people fleeing into the streets in El Salvador. Social media photos showed structural damage to buildings in Antigua, Guatemala, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Officials ordered all 1,400 residents in the central Arizona town of Mayer to evacuate Tuesday afternoon as a large wildfire continued to advance on the area. The Goodwin fire has burned around 18,000 acres of land in Prescott National Forest. Winds made conditions more dangerous for some 500 firefighters assigned to the inferno, and the blaze was just 5 percent contained on Tuesday afternoon. As a result, authorities requested a full evacuation of Mayer in addition to a few other areas nearby and closed Highway 69 in the vicinity. Nine structures have burned as of Wednesday morning. No fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires are blazing across the Southwest as the chance of rain remains low amid a deadly heatwave. Eighteen large fires (over 100 acres) are burning in the region, including six in Arizona, three in Utah, three in California, three in New Mexico, two in Nevada and a large one in Oregon. The two biggest wildfires are in southern Arizona and Utah. Wildfires already have caused far more destruction than usual in the first half of 2017, meteorologist Haley Brink of the CNN Weather Center said. Almost 1 million more acres than average have already burned. South of Tucson, blazing temperatures helped fuel a wildfire that destroyed four homes and eight structures overall. More than 100 homes in total were threatened by the inferno that started last Tuesday. Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to the growing number of wildfires in Arizona and directed additional resources be made available for fire-suppression efforts. Firefighters continued to battle the Frye Fire in southeast Arizona, which has burned more than 38,000 acres and is 43% contained as of Tuesday morning. The Goodwin fire burning eight miles southwest of Mayer, Arizona, has consumed about 1,500 acres and destroyed nine structures. Numerous residences are threatened. Evacuations, road and area closures are in effect. It is only 5% contained.

The Brian Head fire in Utah has burned more than 67 square miles – about three times the size of Manhattan and now the largest active wildfire in the United States – and officials warned strong winds and low humidity could push the inferno north after favorable conditions kept it from growing out of control over the weekend. Authorities ordered more evacuations near the site of a wildfire that has forced more than 1,500 people from their homes and cabins in southern Utah. The blaze sparked June 17 by someone using a torch tool to burn weeds has exceeded $7 million in firefighting costs, state emergency managers said. The fire in the near the ski town of Brian Head, generally known for weekend getaway homes for Las Vegas residents, is about 10 percent contained.

Weather

As many as 12 deaths in metro Phoenix last week may have been caused by an extreme heat wave that sent temperatures soaring as high as 119 degrees. In one week, Phoenix had five days with temperatures hotter than 115 degrees, tying the city’s record of days above 115 set 22 years ago. Other Arizona counties have reported at least four heat-related deaths since last week, including an elderly couple found dead in a home in Pinal County with a broken air-conditioning unit. Maricopa County, the state’s largest municipality, saw 130 heat deaths last year, up from 85 in 2015. The county is currently investigating a total of 27 deaths as heat-related.

At least 90 homes remained under mandatory evacuation Sunday after levees breached along the Kings River in Central California on Friday and Saturday. “A prolonged period of warmer-than-average temperatures during the past week has led to significant melting of snowpack in the Sierra. That, in turn, has led to high flows and rises on rivers and streams in the region,” authorities said. Deputies went door to door asking residents to leave after a 15-foot-wide breach opened along the river Friday. The Fresno Bee says 300 people had to evacuate and that floodwaters have damaged seven structures and 18 RVs in the area east of Kingsburg.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy brought heavy rain and localized flooding to the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys Friday, a day after the storm made landfall in Louisiana. On Thursday, an EF2 tornado struck just west of Birmingham, Alabama, where it destroyed several structures in the town of Fairfield. At least four people were injured in the town of 10,000 located about 10 miles southwest of Birmingham. The mayor of Lafitte, Louisiana, urged residents to evacuate Thursday afternoon as he feared rising floodwaters could inundate homes and trap people. Remnants of Cindy brought heavy rain and flooding as far north as Michigan Friday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley declared a state of disaster in Isabella and Midland counties in central Michigan Friday after heavy rains led to what he called “extraordinary flooding and resulting damage.” At least two people were killed as a powerful line of thunderstorms moved through Arkansas overnight Saturday.

Signs of the Times (6/16/17)

June 16, 2017

Anti-Trump/GOP Gunman Shoots Five in D.C.

James Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old Illinois man who opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers and their aides at a Northern Virginia baseball diamond was a living portrait of simmering anger and sometimes strange behavior, neighbors and family members say. The attack left Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., critically injured and also wounded Capitol Hill police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey as well as House staff aide Zach Barth and Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika. Three U.S. Capitol Police officers, who were at the field as part of their duty to protect a senior Republican lawmaker, returned fire and kept the attacker off balance and outside the ballfield fence, giving lawmakers and staffers a chance to run for their lives. A congressional staffer told WND that the gunman approached the game and asked Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.: “Are you Democrats or Republicans?” When DeSantis replied, “Republicans,” the gunman walked away and then came back blasting.

Hodgkinson’s social media and online postings included angry and menacing comments about Republican lawmakers, including a March 22 Facebook post in which he wrote that “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” He was also outspoken in other forums, writing frequently to the local newspaper about his opposition to Republican policies and contacting the office of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., at least 10 times over the past year to express his opposition to the Republican agenda. He attended a 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest in St. Louis, railing to a local television reporter about growing income inequality.”

  • The alt-left ‘Resist’ is rising up to counter the alt-right, with more violence on the horizon following ongoing strident rhetoric

Congressional Democrats Suing President Trump over Foreign Payments

Almost 200 Democratic members of Congress sued President Trump on Wednesday, alleging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The lawsuit says that Trump is in breach of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which says that the president may not accept payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit was filed by 196 members of Congress — 30 from the Senate and 166 from the House. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said it was the largest number of plaintiffs in any congressional lawsuit against the president in the nation’s history. The complaint says that the Emoluments Clause was meant to ensure “that our nation’s leaders would not be corrupted by foreign influence or put their own financial interests over the national interest.”

AG Sessions Rips Congress over Loony Russian Probe

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out swinging Tuesday, blasting his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate for their sham investigation into these “loony accusations” that somehow Mr. Sessions conspired with Russians to rig last year’s election. Sessions offered an indignant defense against what he called “an appalling and detestable lie,” but he declined during an often contentious Senate hearing to answer central questions about his or President Trump’s conduct. Critics claim Sessions’ refusal to answer many of their questions is a sign of collusion. But, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ repeated refusal to answer lawmakers’ skeptical inquiries at Tuesday’s congressional hearing draws on a long legal and political tradition: Private deliberations involving the president and his top advisers often can be kept out of public view. Analysts disagreed on whether the attorney general was appropriately using executive privilege to advance a worthy goal, or merely suggesting it as a shield to fend off questions he did not want to take.

Trump Announced Revisions to Obama’s Cuba Policy

President Trump announced a new policy toward Cuba Friday that prohibits any commercial dealings with Cuba’s powerful military. The new policy also limits the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel to the island, but leaves in place many changes implemented by Obama. Unlimited “family” travel and money sent to private Cubans on the island will remain unchanged. In a speech delivered in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana, Trump declared an end to what the White House calls the Obama administration’s policy of “appeasement.” The White House argues that any benefits of an opening to Cuba should “go to the Cuban people” and not the Cuban military and intelligence services.

U.S. Senate Voted for New Russia, Iran Sanctions

The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia. In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes. The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war. If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

Social Media Could Be Held Liable for Terrorism

A string of lawsuits is pushing a new legal theory that social media can be held liable for acts of terrorism, Slate is reporting. The new lawsuits, including one filed by relatives of victims of the San Bernardino, California shooting, argue social media companies are liable for not only allowing terrorists to use their platforms, but also profiting from that use, the online magazine said. It noted social media companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, bring in revenue from advertising. “The ads target specific viewers based on the content of the pages they visit,” wrote Nina Iacono Brown for Slate. “When it comes to terrorist posts, plaintiffs argue that social media companies don’t just publish content provided by ISIS — they actually profit from selling ads to those who might be most sympathetic to terrorist messages.”

Obamacare Enrollments Down in 2017

Some 10.3 million people actually enrolled in Obamacare, as of mid-March, Trump administration officials said Monday. That’s down from the 12.2 million who signed up for coverage when open enrollment ended on January 31. It’s not uncommon for the numbers to drop since some consumers select plans, but don’t complete the enrollment process by paying their first month’s premium. Last year, some 12.7 million people picked policies by the open enrollment deadline. But 11.1 million people had enrolled by the end of March. That means there are 800,000 fewer Americans enrolled in Obamacare this year than last. The Trump administration has thrown Obamacare into turmoil as it seeks to dismantle the landmark health reform act. It canceled millions of dollars in advertising in the final days before open enrollment ended.

Trump Administration Will Continue Obama Dreamer Program

President Trump has officially reversed his campaign pledge to deport the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as small children. The Department of Homeland Security announced late Thursday night that it would continue the Obama-era program intended to protect those immigrants from deportation and provide them work permits so they can find legal employment. Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of President Obama announcing the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Ever since, more than 780,000 have been accepted, with most now on their second or third renewal. The program requires applicants to show they have haven’t committed any serious crimes, attended school or joined the military, and arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.

Target’s Transgender Bathroom Policy Claims Another Victim

Target’s dangerous policy of allowing men into women’s dressing rooms has claimed another innocent victim of sexual voyeurism. Just last week, in The Woodlands, Texas, a woman was sexually violated when a man freely entered the women’s dressing room and began videotaping her trying on bathing suits. Store security cameras clearly show Target employees in the area doing nothing to stop the Peeping Tom. Even after the woman screamed for help, two store employees stood by and allowed it to happen.

Nearly 10 Million U.S. Adults Suffer from Mental Illness

Nearly 10 million American adults have a serious mental illness, and a similar number have considered suicide during the past year, according to a new government report on the nation’s behavioral ills. The report also said that 15.7 million Americans abuse alcohol and 7.7 million abuse illicit drugs. The researchers also found that 12.5 million people are estimated to have misused prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) or hydrocodone (Vicoprofen). Despite the growing number of Americans with mental health problems, about a third of those who need help aren’t getting it, notes the report from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Rich Stopped Smoking, the Poor Didn’t

After decades of lawsuits, public campaigns and painful struggles, Americans have finally done what once seemed impossible: Most of the country has quit smoking, saving millions of lives and leading to massive reductions in cancer. That is, unless those Americans are poor, uneducated or live in a rural area, reports the Washington Post. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But, among the nation’s less-educated people — those with a high-school-equivalency diploma — the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower socioeconomic communities to retain their customer base, researchers say. Nonprofit and advocacy groups are retooling their programs for the complex and more difficult work of reaching and treating marginalized groups.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday. It’s the Fed’s third rate hike since December. And it’s a sign that the central bank believes the U.S. economy is on solid ground. “It reflects the progress the economy has made,” Fed chair Janet Yellen said at a press conference. Rising interest rates eventually affect millions of Americans from home buyers to credit card holders to savers. However, interest rates for mortgages are not expected to rise immediately. The Fed’s key interest rate will now hover in a range between 1% and 1.25%. Overall, rates are still very low compared to prior decades. The Fed also said it’s planning to start gradually selling off the assets that it had bought during and after the financial crisis to boost the economy.

In a 150-page report released Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration calls for dismantling strict regulations overseeing Wall Street banks. Fifteen pages of recommendations resemble significant aspects of the Republican bill passed last week by the House. Trump had given Mnuchin 120 days to come up with a plan to address what he said were onerous regulations crimping banks’ ability to lend and stifling economic growth. Among the recommendations in Monday’s report: give Treasury greater power to oversee bank regulators; require regulatory agencies to analyze the cost of new rules; and strip the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of its responsibility to oversee banks’ plans for how they should be unwound if they fail.

Bankruptcies continue to pile up in the retail industry. More than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, according to data from BankruptcyData.com. Most of those filings were for small companies — the proverbial Mom & Pop store with a single location. But there are also plenty of household names on the list as well, including Radio Shack, Payless Shoes and The Limited. Most of these stores are suffering from the same thing: A shift away from traditional storefronts to online shopping.

After more than two decades, Yahoo’s time as an independent company has come to an end. Verizon officially completed its deal to acquire Yahoo’s core Internet assets for $4.48 billion after months of uncertainty about the deal. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is resigning from the company. She will receive a $23 million severance package, according to an earlier company filing. Yahoo and AOL will form a new digital media company under Verizon called Oath. Verizon’s goal is to use Yahoo’s enormous reach to compete with the likes of Facebook and Google for online advertising.

On Friday, Amazon announced that it had paid $13.7 billion to buy Whole Foods to expand their reach into the grocery marketplace.

Islamic State

Russia said Friday that it killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other leaders in a strike in late May. The ISIS leader is considered the world’s most wanted man. The report could not be immediately confirmed. The Russian ministry said Friday that al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian strike in late May along with other senior group commanders. It said the air raid on May 28 that targeted an ISIS meeting held on the southern outskirts of Raqqa in Syria also killed about 30 mid-level militant leaders and about 300 other fighters.

North Korea

North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, an American serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday. Warmbier has been in a coma for more than a year, since shortly after his last public appearance during his trial in Pyongyang in March 2016.  “At the direction of the President, the Department of State has secured the release of Otto Warmbier from North Korea,” Tillerson said in a statement. “Mr. Warmbier is en route to the U.S. where he will be reunited with his family.” The statement offered no other details citing privacy concerns, but it noted that the State Department is continuing “to have discussions” with North Korea about the release of other American citizens who are jailed there. Warmbier is in stable condition but has suffered a “severe neurological injury,” doctors say. Warmbier’s father said Wednesday that his son was “terrorized” and “brutalized” by North Korea.

A suspected North Korean drone had photographed a U.S. missile defense shield in South Korea before it crashed near the border where it was found last week, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday. The drone was found at a South Korean border town last Friday and South Korean investigators have since discovered hundreds of photos from its Sony-made in-built camera, a Defense Ministry official said. Ten of the photos were of U.S. missile launchers and a radar system installed in the southeastern town of Seongju earlier this year. The United States deployed key components of the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system last spring to cope with what it calls North Korea’s advancing nuclear threats.

Qatar

Just days after President Donald Trump accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism, the U.S. signed an agreement to sell the country fighter jets. Qatar’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday the country signed a deal to buy F-15 fighter jets from the United States for $12 billion. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and representatives from Qatar were set to meet Wednesday to seal the agreement, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters. Bloomberg News reported the deal was for 36 jets. The sale will increase security co-operation and interoperability between the US and Qatar, the Pentagon said in a statement on Wednesday.

Somalia

An overnight attack and siege by al-Shabab extremists on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital has killed at least 31, police said. Security forces in Mogadishu ended the siege at Pizza House restaurant, a popular eatery frequented by the city’s elite, Thursday morning after snipers fired on the attackers. Senior Somali police office Capt. Mohamed Hussein said many of the attack’s victims were killed at point-blank range after the attackers hunted them down. The attack began Wednesday evening after a car bomb exploded at the gate to the restaurant and then gunmen posing as military forces stormed into the establishment. Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group that often targets popular areas in the country’s capital, claimed responsibility.

Earthquakes

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern Greek island of Lesbos on Monday, damaging scores of homes, killing one woman and injuring 10 others. The woman was found dead in the southern village of Vrisa, which suffered the worst damage from the undersea quake. By Monday night, local authorities and the fire service said nobody remained missing or trapped. The quake was also felt in western Turkey, including Istanbul, and on neighboring islands.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck western Guatemala early Wednesday morning. Damage and landslides were reported after the quake, and at least five people were killed, officials said. The earthquake was centered 3 miles north-northeast of San Pablo, Guatemala, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It struck at 3:29 a.m. EDT at a depth of more than 58 miles. San Marcos has more than 25,000 residents. Schools were canceled Wednesday as officials inspected the structures. Only two earthquakes stronger than 6.9 have been recorded so far in 2017, both of which were in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Wildfires

Dry and windy conditions fed nearly 30 wildfires tearing through Arizona Monday, drawing thousands of firefighters from across the West to the state that has the most blazes burning in the nation. At least 80 square miles across the state are ablaze. Gusty winds and parched vegetation fueled the flames. There were no injuries reported and just one vacant house was destroyed. Evacuation orders are in place for at least 30 homes. Arizona has seen 858 fires so far this year that have charred 205 square miles.

As many as 200 people have been evacuated and the governor was forced to activate the state’s emergency operations center Thursday as a fast-moving wildfire claimed at least 600 acres in northern New Mexico. The Cajete fire spread quickly through an area of the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos along Highway 4. From miles away, the inferno’s towering smoke plume could be seen. The blaze was about 20 miles away from Los Alamos, and burn scars from previous wildfires may keep it from threatening the city.

Weather

Dangerously hot temperatures will grip the Southwest by this weekend in what could be an extended heat wave that lasts well into next week. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere will be in place over the Southwest by this weekend. Beneath the dome, sinking air will cause temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in some areas. This is a classic pre-monsoon heat event for the Southwest region. Some of the highest temperatures of the year can be recorded before the onset of the summer monsoon. The National Weather Service has issued various heat alerts across southern Arizona, far southern Nevada and portions of northern, central and southeastern California. Highs may reach or exceed 115 degrees in Phoenix late in the weekend into early next week.

Storms tore through the Midwest Tuesday, generating at least 12 reports of tornadoes. Winds reaching 75 mph were reported at the Columbus airport. No injuries were reported. Near Russell, Kansas, strong winds blew over two semi-tractor trailers on Interstate 70. Large hail between 1 to 2.75 inches in diameter was reported in a broad swath from Minnesota to West Texas.

Two people were injured Monday as a tornado outbreak hammered the Plains and Midwest. At least 23 tornadoes were reported in northeastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and Wyoming, with reports of damage caused by hail and strong winds. A suspected tornado tore the roof off a nursing home and damaged several homes in the Bayard, Nebraska, area. Five tornadoes were reported in Laramie County, Wyoming, including one near Carpenter that damaged four or five homes, downed power lines and damaged a gas line. There were no reports of injuries. Hail as large as softballs fell in Wheatland, Wyoming.

At least 140 people were killed in landslides that struck southeastern Bangladesh following heavy rainfall, officials said Wednesday. The mudslides swept over thatched homes and settlements in three hilly districts Monday, and it wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was still missing a day later. Scores of people were injured and the death toll could rise. Police and soldiers were struggling to deliver aid to the remote areas. Several soldiers were killed while clearing debris and mud from a highway. Five injured soldiers were flown to a military hospital in Dhaka.

Signs of the Times (6/12/17)

June 12, 2017

Harvard Law Journal Article Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the “life” part includes unborn persons. Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections. Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a “child” in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the “independent and actual existence of the child before birth.” Craddock concludes, “The Fourteenth Amendment’s use of the word “person” guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn.”

In China, 100,000 People Turning to Christ Every Year

Despite increased persecution in China (or, perhaps because of it), a pastor who trains Chinese Christian leaders says the Church in China is growing and as many as 100,000 new believers are coming to Christ every year. Rev. Erik Burklin works with China Partner, training Chinese Christian leaders. He is encouraged to see how God is working to build the Church in China, despite the government’s crackdown on Christianity. Burklin also shared how the government decided to donate nearly $7.3 million to Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing. “I was just scratching my head, thinking to myself, ‘How in the world is it possible that in China, where Communism still runs the country, a person in the Central Government would donate so that a local school — in this case, the national seminary in China — can finish constructing their chapel?’ It’s unbelievable,” Burklin said, according to The Christian Post.

Second Appeals Court Rules Against Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

A second federal appeals court on Monday ruled against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was the latest in a string of court rulings rejecting the administration’s efforts to limit travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The administration has already sought a Supreme Court review of a similar decision issued last month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va. In an earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit in February blocked Mr. Trump’s original travel ban. After that ruling, Mr. Trump narrowed the scope of his initial executive order, issued on Jan. 27, a week into his presidency. The new ban’s 90-day suspension of entry from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was more limited and subject to case-by-case exceptions. It omitted Iraq, which had been listed in the earlier order, and it removed a complete ban on Syrian refugees. It also deleted explicit references to religion.

Former FBI Director Comey’s Testimony Disappoints

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in what was highly anticipated to be a strong indictment of President Trump. However, Comey’s statements fell short of the bombshell many expected, or hoped, would lead to charges of obstruction against Trump. Instead, he admitted that Trump didn’t order him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, but rather strongly urged him to do so, inappropriate but not illegal. He also accused Trump of lying and said he hoped Trump had made recordings of their conversations. President Donald Trump, however, claimed, “total and complete vindication” of collusion and obstruction. Comey opened the door to potential blowback when he admitted that he was the one to leak memos to a friend in order to inform the media about his personal conversations with the president. President Trump’s lawyer said he will file a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comey Raises Questions about Past/Present Attorneys General

In one fell swoop, former FBI Director James B. Comey chipped away Thursday at the credibility of two of his former bosses, saying Obama administration Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation deeply concerned him and raising the specter that there may be more to the story of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ problematic ties to Russia. one of Mr. Comey’s biggest bombshells involved Ms. Lynch and what he described as an attempt to change the FBI’s description of its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. The change was meant to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe. In addition, the ousted FBI director, who testified as a private citizen, raised intrigue about the “variety of reasons” why the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Mr. Comey said there were reasons he couldn’t discuss in a nonclassified setting that officials believed would make Mr. Sessions’ “continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”

Maryland/D.C. Sue President Trump Over Foreign Payments

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed suit against President Trump on Monday, alleging that he has violated the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire. The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C., both Democrats, allege that Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The suit cites not just the president’s luxury hotel in Washington, which has been at the center of concerns about conflicts of interest, but his worldwide network of hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from the business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means that he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office. The suit asks the court for an injunction blocking Trump from accepting foreign money.

Trump Commits to NATO Common Defense

President Donald Trump said on Friday what he would not at NATO headquarters last month: He is committed to NATO’s principle of common defense. “I am committing the United States to Article 5,” Trump said at Friday’s press conference, referring to the alliance’s principle that an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on them all. Appearing with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, Trump also reiterated his call for NATO members to meet the guideline — along with his claim that NATO members should repay what he regards as underpayments from previous years. Iohannis stated that Romania was the first country under Trump’s administration to “step up to 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.”

More London Terror

A nursery school teacher has been beaten and knifed in a London street by three women who chanted verses from the Koran. They pulled her to the ground, kicking and punching her. One of them got a knife out and cut her arm.  She was taken to hospital but her injuries are not thought to be life threatening. The women ran off and have not been located by police, who are investigating. The attack came less than a week after the London Bridge terror atrocity in which eight people died and about 50 were injured. Meanwhile, London police arrested a 19-year-old man Sunday night in connection to the London Bridge terror attack. Police are currently holding six other men, who are between the ages of 27 to 30, in the assault on the London Bridge area. Police have released 12 others who had been arrested in the early days of the investigation.

Austria Bans Islamic Dresses for Women, Forces Integration

Austria has passed a controversial law that fines women who wear Islamic dress covering the whole face, and takes away welfare benefits from immigrants who fail to learn the language. “Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” reads the text of the law. Earlier this year, the draft law drew thousands of protesters against the government and parliamentarians, but it was passed by a centrist coalition last month and now was signed by the president. According to the law, women will face a fine of €150 ($168) if they wear Islamic dresses, either the niqab or the burqa, in public places. In addition to the fines, all new migrants coming to Austria to live will now be forced to take a 12-month “integration course” that includes German language lessons if they wish to receive any welfare benefits.

Rallies Against Islamic Law Draw Counter-Protests

Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said the anti-Islamists stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion. In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street. Hundreds marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying, “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens. A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.

  • The problem is that Islamic (Sharia) law relegates non-Muslims to second-class citizens whose freedom is severely constrained and they have to pay a special Sharia tax. Sharia law is very intolerant and exclusive.

Hawaii First State to Pass Law Committing to Paris Climate Accord

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday signed a bill that aligns the state’s carbon emissions with the Paris climate accord. Gov. David Ige signed the bill that calls on documenting sea level rise and set strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Many of the greatest challenges of our day hit us first, and that means that we also need to be first when it comes to creating solutions,” Mr. Ige, a Democrat, said, according to The New York Times. “We are the testing grounds — as an island state, we are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment.” Ige says Hawaii is the first state to enact legislation implementing parts of the Paris climate agreement.

More Insurers Drop Obamacare

Washington State has had a fairly healthy Obamacare exchange — until now. Two counties won’t have any insurers participating in the individual next year unless another company steps in, the Washington insurance department said Wednesday. Washington would become the third state to have locales without any Obamacare insurers. Enrollees in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and in parts of Ohio also won’t have any options on their exchanges next year unless other carriers join. Insurers are mainly concerned that the White House is undermining the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to buy coverage, and won’t commit to continue funding the cost-sharing subsidies that reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income Obamacare enrollees.

A ‘Superbug’ Fungus Is Spreading Across the U.S.

Over the past nine months, the number of US cases of an emerging, multi-drug resistant fungus has ballooned from 7 to more than 122. What’s more, the fungus, Candida auris, seems to be spreading, according to a field report the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday. So-called ‘superbugs’ usually reference bacteria that are especially hard to kill, having evolved resistance to multiple antibiotics. C. auris causes severe illness and has a high-mortality rate, especially among high-risk, hospitalized patients. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and has now been reported in more than a dozen countries. According to the CDC, which issued an initial warning last June, 77 cases have been identified in hospitals in seven states, mainly in elderly people. The number jumped to 122 when close contacts of those patients were also found to be infected. New Jersey has 17 cases, the most of any single state.

Zika Update

Nearly 1,900 pregnant women in U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infections, according to the CDC. Nearly 1,600 have completed their pregnancies. Of those with confirmed Zika infections, 1 in 10 women in at least 44 states have had a baby with brain damage or other serious defects. Even in Washington, a low-risk state where the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that spread Zika aren’t found, 18 pregnant women have been identified with lab evidence of the virus since last year. All appear to have acquired the virus through travel, though Zika can be transmitted through sex as well. Scientists now know that Zika, a once-obscure virus, targets and attacks neural stem cells in the developing fetal brain. Babies born with congenital Zika syndrome often have severe microcephaly, diminished brain tissue and eye damage, as well as restricted joint movement and rigid muscle tone. Recent research suggests they also might suffer hearing problems and seizure disorders, such as epilepsy.

Economic News

The list of U.S. retailers with troubled financials that could make them potential bankruptcy risks now totals 22, according to ratings by Moody’s Investors Service — topping the 19 recorded at the peak of the Great Recession. The ranks of distressed firms and retail sector defaults are likely to grow during the next 12 to 18 months due to the surge in online purchasing, the rating agency predicted. Nonetheless, the companies on the distressed list represent just 16% of the retailers analyzed by Moody’s. “The majority of retailers remain fundamentally healthy,” the report said. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year, said Garrick Brown, vice president of Americas retail research for commercial broker Cushman & Wakefield — more than twice as many as the 4,000 last year. He sees this figure rising to about 13,000 next year.

An increasingly byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements partly accounts for housing construction that remains 35% below normal levels across the country, especially for affordable starter houses, builders and economists say. And that building deficit is the chief culprit behind a skimpy supply of both new and existing homes that has driven up prices about 40% the past five years, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. Rising prices are good for homeowners but shut out many buyers, especially Millennials shopping for their first house.

American drivers are poised to reap unexpected savings at the gas pump after oil prices recently kicked into reverse. Oil plunged Wednesday after a report indicated that supply was outpacing demand, setting the stage for lower-than-expected fuel prices. Oil’s sharp decline followed an Energy Information Administration report that U.S. crude oil inventories ballooned by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2. The EIA report, released Wednesday projected that U.S. oil production would hit an all-time record of 10 million barrels per day in 2018, topping the previous mark of 9.6 million set in 1970. The price of gasoline was $2.36 a gallon on Wednesday, down 2.3 cents from a week ago. Nearly half (45%) of America’s massive appetite for crude oil comes from passenger vehicles.

Israel

Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily relinquish his long-standing demand for Israel to freeze its construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as a prerequisite to the restarting of the diplomatic process with Israel, Bloomberg reported. According to the report, which is based on an interview with Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, Abbas will also tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes at international courts and to rally condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. During his recent visit in Israel, President Donald Trump reportedly put pressure on Abbas to renew the diplomatic process with Israel. The negotiations have been stalled since 2014, when US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered talks, which collapsed after nine months.

Israel announced on Friday that it had discovered a network of terror tunnels running beneath two schools in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and demanded that the UN “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” as it already is classified by the US, Canada, EU and several other governments. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov tweeted on Saturday; “Despicable to risk the lives of children! Hamas must end illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza.” On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during his remarks to the Cabinet that “I regret that UNRWA, to a large degree, by its very existence, perpetuates – and does not solve – the Palestinian refugee problem Therefore, the time has come to disband UNRWA.”

Great Britain

​British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday she will try to form a governing coalition with Northern Ireland’s small party in the wake of an election setback that cost her Conservatives a majority in Parliament. The Conservatives won 319 seats, seven short of a majority in the House of Commons and 12 fewer than they had going into the election. The Labour Party won 261 seats, a gain of 29, while the Scottish National Party wound up with 35, a loss of 21. The Northern Ireland party won 10 seats, enough to give May a majority under a partnership in Parliament. The outcome was a significant political embarrassment for May, who called for an early election in April based on polls that showed the Conservatives would increase their majority and give her more clout in difficult talks with the European Union on terms for exiting the political and economic alliance. The fallout of the election disaster has led two top aides to Theresa May to resign, increasing pressure on May to resign as well.

North Korea

A former U.S. ambassador wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday warning that North Korea’s nuclear threat is not limited to a bomb striking a U.S. city. A nuclear bomb that detonates 40 miles above a target (and hundreds of miles away) could deliver serious consequences, said Henry F. Cooper, who was the director of the Strategic Defense initiative under President George H.W. Bush. North Korea has in its possession the designs for these so-called “super EMP nuclear weapons,” the op-ed said. Such a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would render “critical electricity-dependent infrastructure” on the ground inoperable. The op-ed raises questions about whether or not North Korea ran a “dry run” recently, when a medium-range missile reportedly exploded midflight in what was seen as a failure. The article questions if the missile was deliberately detonated.

South Korea

South Korea’s new government has suspended the deployment of a controversial US missile defense system that strained relations with China and angered North Korea. While Seoul will not withdraw two launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that are already in action, four additional launchers will not be deployed until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.” During the recent election campaign, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the THAAD rollout to be halted and any decision about its future to be put before the country’s parliament. Deployment of THAAD was agreed by his predecessor — disgraced President Park Geun-hye — and Washington. Relations between Seoul and Beijing have soured significantly as a result of its deployment, affecting South Korean businesses and Koreans living in China.

Philippines

United States special forces joined the Philippine army to help end a siege in Marawi by Islamic State-linked militant groups, as a drawn-out battle for control of the southern Philippines city nears the end of a third week. “At the request of the government of the Philippines, U.S. special operations forces are assisting the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with ongoing operations in Marawi that help AFP commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG militants,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement. The Maute group, also known as Islamic State Lanao, led the attack on Marawi which began on May 23 and has resulted in the deaths of 58 security forces, 20 civilians and around 138 militant fighters. On Friday, 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 wounded in house-to-house combat during clearing operations.

Afghanistan

An Afghan army soldier turned his weapon on U.S. servicemembers Saturday, killing three and injuring another in eastern Afghanistan. The Afghan soldier was killed during the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting. The attack occurred in Achin district, where U.S. special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan troops against Islamic State and Taliban militants. In addition, three civilians were killed after a roadside bomb hit a convoy of American soldiers early Monday in Nangarhar Province, in eastern Afghanistan. The United States military said that none of its personnel had been wounded.

Somalia

The U.S. military in Africa says it carried out an airstrike in southern Somalia Sunday morning that killed eight Islamic extremists at a rebel command and logistics camp, 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu, the capital. There was no immediate comment on the airstrike from Somalia’s homegrown extremist group, al-Shabab, which is allied to Al Qaeda. Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed confirmed the airstrike, saying that Somali and partner forces destroyed an al-Shabaab training camp near Sakow, in the Middle Juba region. He said such attacks would disrupt the group’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.

Qatar

Five Iranian planes filled with food have landed at Doha airport as the blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries starts to take hold. Iran said the planes were filled with vegetables and that it plans to send 100 tons of fresh fruit and legumes every day to the import-dependent nation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut links with Qatar last Monday, accusing Qatar of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere — a charge Qatar denies. As well as cutting air, sea and land links with Doha, three of the countries involved — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE — ordered Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days. On Sunday, Qatar said that the 11,000 citizens of those countries that have cut ties will be allowed to stay in the country.

Wildfires

Storms that swept into Cape Town, South Africa have killed at least nine people and unleashed winds that fanned fires, forcing evacuations of about 10,000. Strong winds from a storm that hit the coast Wednesday fanned multiple blazes, which destroyed dozens of homes and also damaged an evacuated hospital and a school. Four of the deaths occurred in a fire caused by lightning, and one other person died when a home collapsed, local media reported. Three others died in a separate fire. Hundreds of homes were flooded or damaged. While the storm provided some drought relief, officials said sustained rainfall over several years is needed in a city whose reservoirs are at very low levels.

After weeks of hot, dry weather following a wet winter and early spring, there are 12 wildfires burning in Arizona which have consumed nearly over 28,000 acres of land as of Monday morning. Five of the fires were deemed “significant” by the Bureau of Land Management. No structures have burned as yet, but many are threatened in some of the areas. Some road closures are also in effect. Increased winds Friday near the Boundary Fire north of Flagstaff forced a closure of U.S. 180 between mileposts 236 and 248. The Antelope Fire, near Kingman, was also being watched closely because of “threats to homes,” authorities said. Many of the fires were lightning-caused, though others remain under investigation.

Weather

Days of heavy rain in South Florida left some residents comparing the floods to tropical systems of the past as roads were closed and flights were canceled. Nearly two feet of rain fell in some places, and even in a state that’s used to big rainfall in a short period of time, there were plenty of problems. Some of the heaviest rain occurred in Marco Island, where the biggest rainfall total was reported to the NWS – more than 23 inches. By Wednesday, the problems were so widespread that every road on the island had flooding. In some areas, catfish were seen “walking” in flood water and in gutters along the roadside. While the flooding was troublesome, the storms provided much-needed drought relief for parts of South Florida that have battled abnormally dry conditions for years.

Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were clocked in parts of the Midwest Sunday, taking down tree limbs and leaving more than 90,000 without power at the height of a severe storm moving through the area. A line of severe thunderstorms raced across eastern South Dakota, southern Minnesota and into Wisconsin with wind gusts of 60-80 mph. The most dramatic damage was reported at Monticello High School, which was destroyed by the storm, reports the Star Tribune. Monday to Wednesday, another weather system will sweep through the nation’s northern tier, bringing additional rounds of severe storms to the Plains and Upper Midwest.

A brutal heat wave sweeping across the Midwest and East was leaving a string of record temperatures in its wake while the Upper Midwest was dealing with hail so heavy it looked like snow. The Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids broke out a snowplow and front-end loader after a hail storm left some streets covered. But for most of the Midwest and East, heat was the story. Record-breaking temperatures were likely to linger from Omaha to New York until at least Wednesday, forecasters said. Chicago saw 88 degrees on Saturday. Sunday’s high was in the 90s, Monday 95 and Tuesday a scorching 97. In the East, the big cool-off will begin Wednesday when a “back door” front rolls down from the north, bringing scattered storms and dipping temperatures.

Signs of the Times (6/7/17)

June 8, 2017

More Terror in London

At least eight people died and three attackers were killed in multiple “terrorist incidents” Saturday in London after a van plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge and assailants went on a stabbing rampage at nearby Borough Market, police say. London Ambulance Service said they had taken at least 30 patients to six hospitals, and treated a number of people at the scene with less serious injuries. Police believe all three of the attackers were killed, but arrested a total of twelve suspected accomplices. Britain has weathered two terrorism attacks in recent months. In March, four people were killed in London after Khalid Masood rammed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before fatally stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament. All the attacks have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the “evil ideology” behind the London terror attacks, adding that there’s “too much tolerance” of Islamist extremism.

Known Wolves Attacking Britain

Terrorists involved in each of the three recent Islamist assaults on Britain were known to authorities prior to the attacks that claimed a combined 34 lives, but in each instance British authorities failed to act in time to stop the fiendish plots, notes Fox News. British officials have acknowledged Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood, Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and London Bridge terrorist Khuram Butt were on police radars for links to Islamic extremism. But in each case the men were apparently not viewed as sufficient threats to merit more attention.

Italian intelligence operatives told Politico Europe on Tuesday that Moroccan-born Youssef Zaghba, another member of the London Bridge terror trio, was detained while trying to fly from Italy into Istanbul – likely bound for ISIS-controlled territory in Syria – in March 2016. Italian officials said they warned Moroccan and British authorities about Zaghba, however, British police on Tuesday issued a statement that Zaghba “was not a police or MI5 subject of interest.”

Butt was openly supportive of ISIS, appearing in a British television documentary last year called “The Jihadis Next Door.” In the footage, he’s seen praying near an ISIS flag and with a radical Muslim leader who’s a close associate of jailed hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Despite his extremist associations and activities, however, British police said he was not viewed as a serious threat before the London Bridge massacre.

Imams Refuse to Perform Funeral Rites for Attackers

More than 130 Muslim religious leaders were refusing to say funeral prayers for any members of the ISIS cell associated with the London Bridge terrorist attacks. The decision by the Muslim leaders was seen as an “unprecedented” move because the funeral ritual is typically performed on a deceased Muslim no matter the person’s past actions. Youssef Zaghba, a Moroccan-born Italian man, was identified Tuesday morning as the final member of the trio that descended upon the London Bridge on Saturday. The other two attackers were named Monday as Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane. ISIS claimed responsibility for Saturday night’s brazen attack that started on London Bridge, then continued in the streets surrounding Borough Market. Police have 11 people in custody on suspicion of violating the Terrorism Act, but they haven’t been named or charged. Others who had been arrested were released without being charged.

U.S. Gun Purchases Hit Record Level after Terror Attacks Abroad

Gun purchase background checks soared to a record for the month of May, snapping a five-month streak of year-over-year declines since President Trump was elected. Experts say that the demand for guns is picking up again due to recent terrorist attacks overseas. More than 1.9 million checks were run through the federal government’s database in May. The numbers helped to dispel worries about a post-Obama “Trump slump” in gun sales, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, saying their own calculations of data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System suggest a healthy market.

Anti-Trump Leaker of Classified NSA Info Revealed

The alleged leaker accused of feeding a classified report to an online news site has a colorful history on social media that lays bare her political leanings as an environmentalist who wanted to “resist” President Trump. Reality Winner, 25, is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a federal facility in Georgia, where she allegedly leaked a classified intelligence report containing “Top Secret Level” information. The Intercept published details of a National Security Agency report on Russian hacking efforts during the 2016 presidential election. According to the Justice Department, Winner admitted to printing a classified intelligence document despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge the report was classified. Winner attacked Trump ferociously in numerous social media posts.

  • Meanwhile, the mainstream media says her motive is unknown, a “mystery” – talk about media bias

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from Marine over Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from a former Marine who was court-martialed in part for expressing her Christian faith in the workplace. Lower courts had concluded orders from her military superiors did not constitute a “substantial burden” on her First Amendment rights. The justices on Monday upheld her court-martial without comment. At issue was the extent a federal law on religious freedom protects members of the armed forces like Monifa Sterling, who continued posting biblical verses at her desk, despite orders from a superior that she remove them. The intersection of free speech on government property, especially within a military context, made this appeal closely watched by a number of advocates on both sides of the debate. The First Liberty Institute, which represented Sterling, lamented the Supreme Court’s call on Monday. “The military court’s outrageous decision means federal judges and military officials can strip our service members of their constitutional rights just because they don’t think someone’s religious beliefs are important enough to be protected. Our service members deserve better.”

DOJ Ends Obama ‘Slush Fund’ Settlement Payments

The Justice Department announced Wednesday it will no longer allow prosecutors to strike settlement agreements with big companies directing them to make payouts to outside groups, ending an Obama-era practice that Republicans decried as a “slush fund” that padded the accounts of liberal interest groups. In a memo sent to 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices early Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would end the practice that allowed companies to meet settlement burdens by giving money to groups that were neither victims nor parties to the case. “When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people—not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said in a statement.

U.S./Mexico Reach Trade Deal over Sugar

Cooler heads prevailed in heated trade talks between the U.S. and Mexico. The two nations reached an agreement on Tuesday regarding Mexican sugar exported to the United States. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. The sugar agreement helps both countries avoid a potential trade war. Mexico agreed to export far less refined sugar to the U.S. At the same time, the deal allows for an increase in exports of raw sugar from Mexico. Mexican raw sugar producers are one of the biggest providers to U.S. sugar refineries.  The agreement was seen as a test for both sides before they sit down for much bigger talks on NAFTA, the free trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Those talks could begin in August. President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA because he says it’s responsible for the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Supporters across the political spectrum say NAFTA is a job creator.

U.S. Among World’s Worst on Rich/Poor Health Divide

The U.S. has one of the world’s largest health disparities between the rich and poor — behind only Chile and Portugal — and its healthcare system and lack of social supports are to blame, experts say. Researchers examining surveys on health and income from people in thirty-two middle- and high-income countrie, found poor Americans reported worse health than rich U.S. residents in significant numbers. Of the poorest third of Americans surveyed, 38.2% reported “fair or poor health” compared to just 12.3% of the richest third, leaving the U.S. in the bottom three of the nations examined, according to the Harvard study, published in the June issue of Health Affairs. The gap is caused by several factors, including the high number of uninsured in the country, particularly before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said Joachim O. Hero, the study’s lead author. The study covered the years 2001-2013. Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale and the faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute who was not involved in the study, said another issue may be that the U.S. provides fewer social safety nets than most of these other nations.

Uber/Lyft Killing Taxi Jobs in Chicago

Operators of the nation’s second-biggest taxi fleet are now accelerating toward their extinction, becoming virtual dinosaurs in the era of ride-sharing monsters Uber and Lyft. About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers’ union. More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

Dish Ordered to Pay $252 Million to U.S. & States

Dish Network Corp. must pay $252 million to the U.S. and four states for using robocalls to consumers on do-not-call lists, a federal judge in Illinois said. U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough issued the order Monday, directing the company to pay $168 million to the federal government and $84 million to California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. The U.S. and the four states sued Dish in 2009, alleging the company violated two consumer telemarketing laws by making more than 55 million illegal calls. The U.S. asked for $900 million in fines, while the states sought more than $110 million.

Economic News

The U.S. dollar slumped to a seven-month low against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, wiping away the last of its post-election gains. The currency gained more than 5% to hit its highest level in 13 years following President Trump’s electoral victory. But momentum has reversed because of weak economic data and doubts over Trump’s ability to finalize his economic agenda and move it through Congress. Investors also expect fewer rate cuts this year from the U.S. Federal Reserve, with no sign of rising prices as inflation remains tame.

America has more job openings than ever before. There were 6 million open jobs in the United States in April, a record high, according to data released by the Labor Department Tuesday. During the Great Recession, job openings were as low as 2.2 million in 2009. The record comes at a time when 6.8 million unemployed Americans are looking for a job. What the numbers illustrate is one of the key problems that has plagued the U.S. labor market in recent years. Job seekers tend to lack the skills in demand.

Despite a low unemployment rate (4.3%) which economists consider ‘full-employment,’ there is still a nationwide malaise about jobs. The number of working age Americans that do not have a job right now is far higher than it was during the worst moments of the last recession.  In addition, once dominant industries, like manufacturing — which paid well even without a college degree — have been overtaken by service sector jobs, most of which are low-paying, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, knowledge-based jobs are continuing to grow, which leaves a lot of undereducated workers on the sidelines or in low-paying or part-time jobs.

The U.S. added 400 coal mining jobs during May, according to Friday’s payroll report, an increase of just 0.8%. While those gains are helpful, they aren’t enough to offset the dramatic job losses the coal industry has experienced in recent years. The U.S. now has about 51,000 coal mining jobs, down 43% from the 89,400 positions counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of 2011. While environmentalists push for the complete evacuation from coal, President Trump’s pullback from the Paris climate accord is meant to revitalize the coal industry.

President Trump has blasted companies for shipping U.S. jobs to Mexico. But Canada is also aggressively luring factories from across the northern border. The Canadian government recently gave GE $2 billion in incentives to shut down in Wisconsin and move to a city in Ontario, Canada. It’s a huge blow for the town of Waukesha. The engine factory has been a bedrock of the community for over a century. All 350 people working on the factory floor will lose their jobs.

Since Trump was elected President and tried to institute a travel ban from six Muslim countries, tourism to the U.S. is down. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that the U.S. will lose $1.3 billion in travel-related revenues in 2017, taking hotels, food, rental cars and shopping into account. The organization thinks more than 4,200 jobs could be lost as a result.

Islamic State

U.S. backed forces began an offensive to rout the Islamic State from Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria, the American-led coalition announced Tuesday. The offensive will be difficult but will deal a decisive blow to the terror group, which has been losing ground over the past year in both Iraq and Syria, said Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition commander. The offensive is being led by a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces, which are backed by coalition advisers and airstrikes. Raqqa is the remaining stronghold of the terror group’s so-called caliphate. Iraqi forces are close to clearing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from Islamic State control.

Iran

Attackers have mounted simultaneous gun and suicide bomb assaults on Iran’s parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s revolutionary founder, in one of the most audacious assaults to hit Tehran in decades. At least 12 people were killed and dozens more injured in the twin assaults on the Iranian capital, state media reported. A third attack was foiled, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said. ISIS issued a swift claim of responsibility. By choosing the burial site of Iran’s revered revolutionary leader, and the national legislative forum, the attackers picked highly symbolic targets. The attack shocked Tehran: Until now, Iran has largely escaped the regular assaults launched against other participants in Syria’s civil war. The government’s promised revenge is likely to be swift and brutal based on their response to past terror attacks in the country

North Korea

North Korea launched several ballistic missiles from its east coast Thursday, according to South Korea’s military. “North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles, assumed to be surface-to-ship missiles, this morning from the vicinity of Wonsan, Gangwon Province,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The JCS said the South Korean military has beefed up surveillance and vigilance against the possibility of additional provocations, maintaining full preparedness. The missiles fired Thursday traveled around 120 miles, according to the military. The latest provocation came less than a week after United Nations Security Council passed a new resolution expanding sanctions against the country as punishment for its missile tests.

Qatar

The rift between Qatar and other Arab nations intensified Monday when Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar and at least five Gulf-based airlines announced they will halt service to the desert peninsula nation. Qatar is predominantly Sunni and is a member of the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni nations. However, has close economic ties with Shiite Iran, including sharing a major offshore gas reserve. Last week, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani roiled the Saudis when he phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with congratulations on his re-election. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen cut ties to Qatar on Monday, claiming the energy-rich monarchy is undermining stability in the region by supporting in the Iran-aligned militant groups. Authorities gave Qataris living in and visiting their countries two weeks to leave. The United States maintains its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, complicating the U.S. relationship with the Saudis.

Afghanistan

At least seven civilians were killed and another 16 were injured Tuesday in an explosion in western Afghanistan. The blast took place at around 3 p.m. near the northern gate of the Great Mosque of Herat. Seven other people died Saturday in Kabul when suicide bombers struck the funeral of a man killed during anti-government protests, Afghan official said. The blasts were from three suicide bombings. The Taliban denied involvement in the funeral attack, which injured 119 people.

Venezuela

As a humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela deepens, a growing number of Venezuelan women are working in bars and brothels across Colombia. Venezuelan migrants are also lured by false promises of well-paid work in Colombia’s restaurants and bars or as domestic workers. But then they find they are forced to work long hours with little or no pay, are not free to leave the bar they work in, and may be trapped by debts owed to the agents who brought them across the border. According to Asmubuli, a Colombian sex workers association, currently there are around 4,500 Venezuelan sex workers in the country.

Weather

A severe weather outbreak tore through parts of several states Saturday. As many as three people died in Missouri because of flash flooding. Nearly 200,000 customers lost power in Memphis in the wake of the storms. Softball-sized hail clobbered parts of Missouri Saturday afternoon as severe thunderstorms were also underway in the Ozarks. A confirmed tornado was reported near Twin Bridges, Missouri, but there were no reports of major damage or injuries. Another suspected tornado was reported near Falcon, Missouri, and emergency management reported damage from another possible tornado near Laclede. Later in the evening, another tornado was reported near Welty, Oklahoma, a town located south of Interstate 44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. There were no notable reports of damage.

Tropical moisture surging north from the Gulf of Mexico resulted in heavy downpours across parts of the South, Gulf Coast and into drought-stricken Florida this week. On Sunday, more than a dozen water rescues were reported in and around Houston as cars became stranded on flooded roads. A thunderstorm that moved through Dallas early Sunday evening also produced flash flooding. More than 7 inches of rain fell in a few hours on Sunday in Chambers County, Texas, which is located along the southeast Texas coast. Flash flooding on Monday morning resulted in numerous road closures in Batesville, Arkansas. Water rescues from flash flooding were reported as far north as Marion, Ohio. Several homes were evacuated in Affton, Missouri, Sunday night as floodwaters quickly invaded homes. A reported tornado caused damage to homes and at least one business in Pitt County, North Carolina, Monday evening. Flooding plagued parts of Florida Tuesday morning. On Marco Island, where more than a half-foot of rain fell in less than 12 hours, multiple cars were stranded on flooded roads during the morning hours. Tuesday, the heaviest swath of rain lined up across parts of South Florida. One location near Everglades City picked up just under 15 inches of rain in 24 hours ending Tuesday afternoon.

At least 10 people died within a 24-hour period in parts of Uttar Pradesh, India, after a heat wave settled over India and Pakistan this week. Hospitals across the area are filled with patients suffering from heat stroke, with symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting and high fever. In Harwatand village, more than 120 people are suffering from food poison after eating tainted food spoiled by the heat. Some locations in northern India have seen temperatures top 115 degrees early this week.

Signs of the Times (5/25/17)

May 25, 2017

Trump Calls for End to Islamic Extremism & Peace in Israel

President Trump urged leaders of Muslim countries to stand up against what he called “Islamic extremism” on Sunday, adopting a tough stance on terror while in Saudi Arabia, who gave the President a warm welcome. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump received rave reviews for her advocacy of greater inclusion of women in the Saudi Arabian workforce. The World Bank announced that Arab countries had contributed $100 million toward her women’s entrepreneurship initiative. On the second leg of Trump’s first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, he greeted Israeli leaders in Jerusalem Monday with hopes to lay the groundwork for a peace deal with the Palestinians – saying a “rare opportunity” exists, and the threat posed by Iran is bringing Arab neighbors together toward that goal. “There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran,” Trump said, speaking alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Trump also became the first sitting U.S. president to visit and pray the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Trump’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Tuesday took him to Bethlehem, a Palestinian city of just 22,000 people but symbolically important to people around the world. Meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his presidential palace in Bethlehem, Trump said, “Peace is a choice we must make each day, and the United States is here to help make that dream possible for young Jewish, Christians and Muslim children all across the region. In this spirit of hope, we come to Bethlehem, asking God for more peaceful, safe and far more tolerant world for all of us.” Trump departed Israel on Tuesday afternoon following an eventful 28-hour visit. Throughout his many stops and statements, key talking points emerged including supporting Israel against the threats from Iran and jihadi terror militias, as well as his keenness to oversee the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump proclaimed the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, invoking the reign of King David. On Wednesday, Trump met with Pope Francis where they discussed “the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue” and homed in on the need to protect Christians in the Middle East.”

Manchester Concert Bombing Claims 22 Lives

Investigators are trying to establish whether a suicide bomber was working alone or as part of a network after a deadly explosion killed at least 22 people — including some children — following an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, northern England, police said early Tuesday.  Thousands of terrified concert-goers ran for the exits as chaos unfolded after the blast at Manchester Arena, one of the largest concert venues in Europe. Greater Manchester Police are treating the incident as a terror attack and said the attacker was killed in the blast. ISIS claimed one of its members planted bombs in the middle of crowds at the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena. The Search International Terrorist Entities Intelligence Group said that the Islamic State has celebrated the attack on social media. British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack a display of “appalling, sickening cowardice – deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people.”

The Libyan links of suicide bomber Salman Abedi drew severe scrutiny Wednesday as authorities tried to determine if the British-born local resident acted alone. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the sophistication of the attack indicate Abedi, 22, did not act alone. Abedi had “proven” links with the Islamic State terror network, British intelligence officials say. Abedi had recently traveled to two Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Libya, where investigators believe he likely got help planning the Manchester bombing. Three suspects were rounded up in Manchester Wednesday in connection with Monday’s deadly concert bombing, as British authorities raced to prevent another attack that they sat could be imminent.

Trump’s First Budget Proposal Goes to Congress

President Trump’s first budget proposal was sent to Capitol Hill Tuesday. Trump is proposing major cuts to health care, food assistance and other safety-net programs for the poor to balance the budget in 10 years while increasing spending for the military. “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. “If you’re on disability insurance … and you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.”  Critics argue the proposed budget would hurt the most vulnerable parts of the country’s population. Opposition to Trump’s budget is likely to be strong in Congress — and not just among Democrats. The budget proposal assumes passage of the House Obamacare repeal bill, which cuts spending on Medicaid and insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income families while repealing taxes imposed to pay for the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of insurance coverage to millions more Americans.

Other major sources of savings —the most cuts ever proposed by a president —include student loan programs, federal retiree benefits, crop subsidies, disability payments and tax credits for the working poor and families with children. The budget proposes double-digit percentage cuts next year for many Cabinet departments and major agencies, including 31% at the Environmental Protection Agency, 29% at State, and around 20% at the Agriculture and Labor departments. By contrast, the Defense and Homeland Security departments, along with Veterans Affairs, would enjoy increases of 5% or more next year. Trump also wants to increase spending for school voucher programs and infrastructure projects and to offer, for the first time, six weeks of paid family leave to new mothers and fathers.

Demand Soars for Concealed Carry Permits

The number of concealed carry permits in the United States has topped 15 million over the last year, according to data collected by the Crime Prevention Research Center. It was the largest one-year increase ever in the number of permits issued, according to the research center. In July 2016, the center reported that 14.5 million people had concealed handgun permits. As of May of this year, the number is already 15.7 million. Several states, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Texas, have seen a big jump in the number of gun permits issued. Between 2012 and 2016, Lott said, the growth rate for women was twice as much as it was for men. Minorities are also purchasing handguns at a higher rate compared to previous years. Firearms instructors are reporting an increase in the number of black women learning how to use guns around the country.

Abortion Conference Video Reveals Gruesome Details

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released video footage from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) conference during which abortionists admit they work they do is “killing,” complain about how “difficult” it is to tear apart a fetus, and lament that they’re not given a place to discuss the “heads that get stuck that we can’t get out.” A judge’s gag order prevented this footage from being released for over a year. Some of this footage was previously leaked by Got News, but this is the first time CMP has publicly released it with subtitles, reports lifesitenews.com. “An eyeball … fell down into my lap, and that is gross!” exclaimed Dr. Uta Landy, the founder of Planned Parenthood’s Consortium of Abortion Providers (CAPS). The audience laughed. Dr. Susan Robinson, an abortionist at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, used forceps to show undercover CMP investigators how she pulls babies apart during abortions. Dr. Deborah Nucatola, who appeared in one of CMP’s first videos discussing altering abortion methods to obtain better fetal body parts to sell, describes in this video how she beheads babies so their skulls and brains can be sold.

Eight States Have Only One Abortion Clinic Open

Eight states are reportedly on their way to being abortion free and each have only one abortion clinic remaining. LifeNews.com reports that the eight states are Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas. West Virginia and Kentucky were the most recent states to shut down all abortion clinics except one.

Android Apps Track Users With Hidden ‘Beacons’

An increasing number of Android applications are tracking users without their knowledge, according to a new report. Over recent years, companies have started hiding “beacons”, ultrasonic audio signals inaudible to humans, in their advertisements, in order to track devices and learn more about their owners. Electronic devices equipped with microphones can register these sounds, allowing advertisers to uncover their location and work out what kind of ads their owners watch on TV and which other devices they own, reports Technocracy News. Researchers at Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany found that, while six apps were known to be using ultrasound cross-device tracking technology in April 2015, this number grew to 39 by December 2015, and has now increased to 234.

Economic News

Home builders throughout the country are struggling to find workers, and it’s causing major problems: Labor costs are rising, homes are taking longer to complete and buyers are facing higher prices. When the housing market collapsed nearly a decade ago, home construction came to a screeching halt, leaving many workers in the field without jobs. Workers fled to other industries or other countries, and many haven’t come back. Some took jobs in the manufacturing and auto industries, while others found work in the energy sector. Foreign-born workers, the vast majority of whom come from Mexico, made up a significant chunk of home buildering crews, and many of them returned home during the Great Recession and ultimately found gainful employment there.

A record 107 million Americans have auto loan debt, according to data released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s about 43% of the entire adult population in the U.S. In early 2012, only 80 million Americans had car loans. In fact, more Americans had home mortgages than auto loans in 2012. But all that has changed. Today the number of auto loans far outpaces home loans. Car sales notched another all-time high in 2016, though lately the buying frenzy seems to be over.

Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. Specifically, the Fed’s survey found that 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. The survey also found that 23 percent of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month, while 25% reported skipping medical treatments.

The combined enrollment in the four largest safety net programs in the U.S. has reached a new all-time record; More than 74 million Americans are on Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program); More than 58 million Americans are on Medicare; More than 60 million Americans are on Social Security; and approximately 44 million Americans are on food stamps. This latter number is dramatically higher than the 26 million Americans that were on food stamps prior to the last financial crisis.

America’s entrepreneurial sector is in deep trouble. The number of new entrepreneurs and business owners has been dropping – as a percent of the working-age population – for more than a generation, declining by 53 percent between 1977 and 2010. The share of self-employed Americans has also been declining since 1991; by 2010 it had dropped by more than 20 percent. This is bad for our economy – new businesses are a vital source of new ideas and new jobs, notes newamerica.org.

Solar employment expanded last year 17 times faster than the total U.S. economy, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency report published on Wednesday. Overall, more than 260,000 people work in the solar industry, up by 24% from 2015. The solar business has benefited from the falling cost of solar energy and generous federal tax credits that make it more affordable for businesses and homeowners to install solar panels. Elon Musk’s Tesla recently started taking orders for solar roofs that is made of solar shingles to satisfy concerns that solar panels are ugly.

Digital currency bitcoin is more popular than ever. Prices surged to a record high above $2,000 over the weekend and were trading above $2,100 on Monday. Bitcoin prices have soared 125% thus far in 2017. Traders can probably thank President Trump for at least part of the big spike due to the uncertainty about future U.S. government policies. One of the reasons digital currencies like bitcoin and lesser known ones such as Ethereum and Ripple have soared this year is because they, like gold, are not backed by governments. And even though the record of transactions is public, there is a level of anonymity about who is making the transactions.

North Korea

U.S. and South Korean officials announced on Sunday that North Korea fired a medium-range missile, in the latest ballistics test for a country speeding up its development of nuclear weapons and missiles. U.S. Pacific Command said it tracked the missile until it landed into the sea. The missile flew eastward about 310 miles. North Korea tested a longer-range missile last weekend, which experts say was a significant advance for a weapons program that aims at having a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike America. The test triggered a new U.S.-backed push for a fresh round of U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

Iran

Iran’s newly re-elected president Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that his country will continue its ballistic missile program despite criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.  “The U.S. leaders should know that whenever we need a missile test because of a technical aspect, we will test,” Rouhani said in a news conference. “We will not wait for them and their permission.” “Our missiles are for peace, not for attack,” he added. The remarks came three days after he won Iran’s presidential election, securing another four-year term. On Sunday, Trump also made a speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that urged leaders in the Middle East region to combat extremism. Iran has built a third underground ballistic missile production factory and will keep developing its missile program, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Wednesday. The development is likely to fuel tensions with the United States in a week when President Donald Trump, on his first foreign trip, has called Iran a sponsor of militant groups and a threat to countries across the Middle East.

China

The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward, reports the New York Times. Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

Philippines

Muslim extremists abducted a Catholic priest and more than a dozen churchgoers while laying siege to a southern Philippine city overnight, burning buildings, ambushing soldiers and hoisting flags of the Islamic State. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the southern third of the nation and warned he would enforce it harshly. The violence erupted Tuesday night after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a reward of up to $5 million for his capture. The militants called for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute, and some 50 gunmen managed to enter the city of Marawi. Martial law allows Duterte to harness the armed forces to carry out arrests, searches and detentions more rapidly.

Venezuela

Massive demonstrations, violence and a rising death toll marked 50 consecutive days of anti-government protests in Venezuela. Hundreds marched on Saturday along Caracas’s Francisco Fajardo highway, one of city’s major routes. Protests turned violent in Caracas later on Saturday when demonstrators and police clashed surrounded by a mix of tear gas and exploding Molotov cocktails. More than 950 have been injured in Venezuela since the protests began, the country’s attorney general’s office said Saturday. Anti-government protesters want new elections and have called for President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation. The government has repeatedly blocked any attempts to oust Maduro from power by a referendum vote. It has also delayed local and state elections. Since March 29, opposition leaders have faced off with Maduro and his supporters, accusing him of imposing a dictatorship.

Nigeria

The 82 Nigerian schoolgirls recently released after more than three years in Boko Haram captivity reunited with their families Saturday as anxious parents looked for signs of how deeply the extremists had changed their daughters’ lives. This month’s release was the largest liberation of hostages since 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted from their boarding school in 2014. Five commanders from the extremist group were exchanged for the girls’ freedom, and Nigeria’s government has said it would make further exchanges to bring the 113 remaining schoolgirls home.

Environment

Sea-level rise recently “accelerated significantly,” said study lead author Sönke Dangendorf of the University of Siegen in Germany. Before 1990, the Earth’s oceans were rising less than a half-inch per decade. But from 1993 through 2012, the seas rose about 1.22 inches per decade, the research found. Sea level has risen nearly 8 inches worldwide since 1880 but, unlike water in a bathtub, it doesn’t rise evenly. In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities because of ocean currents and naturally sinking land. “Ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic store some hundred times more water than glaciers,” Dangendorf said. “As a result, further melting of the ice sheets poses a particular risk for low coastal areas.”

A massive landslide buried a section of California’s iconic Highway 1 in Big Sur, according to authorities. More than one million tons of rock and dirt buried a quarter-mile stretch of Highway 1 under forty-feet of debris. The highway snakes around the California coastline and is a major tourist destination. Officials called the landslide “one of a kind,” and said authorities aren’t sure when the highway will reopen. The slide went from bad to worse over the weekend and it will be a major undertaking to open the road again, the sheriff’s office said.

Weather

The Sierra Nevada snowpack will rapidly melt this week as very warm temperatures grip the region, raising the risk of major flooding near a couple of Nevada towns. Snowpack in the Sierra from this past winter was still well above average to begin May. The SNOTEL network estimated water content of the snowpack in the Sierra was almost three times the early-May average. With well-above-average temperatures in place to start this week, melting of that snowpack will be accelerated. Rapidly increasing flows are likely on rivers and streams in the region. Flows on some waterways could be two to three times greater than normal. The Walker River in western Nevada poses the greatest risk of property damage, as it is forecast to experience major to record flooding by late week near the towns of Mason and Yerington.

Damaging storms hammered Austin County, Texas Tuesday afternoon, where trees and power lines were downed and a major interstate was closed for hours. At least a dozen small planes were damaged in Texas after an overnight storm brought winds of almost 50 mph through the area. Nearly a dozen reports of tornadoes came in across the South Tuesday evening. Parts of Highway 90 were shut down Tuesday in south Georgia, and at least 10 structures in the Peach State were damaged due to storms. At least one person was injured near Salemburg, North Carolina, after a mobile home was overturned. The local volunteer fire department building in Autryville was destroyed by a reported tornado.

For the second time in as many days, residents cleaned up damage across the South as severe storms hit the region Wednesday. Tornadoes were reported in Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday during another round of severe weather. At least four homes were damaged in South Carolina. A radar-confirmed tornado destroyed an elementary school gym in North Carolina. There were also reports of several flipped vehicles.

Signs of the Times (5/6/17)

May 6, 2017

AHCA Defunds Planned Parenthood and Covers Pre-Existing Conditions

Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, stated: “We applaud this historic vote by the House of Representatives as a first step in defunding Planned Parenthood, which is the largest abortion provider in the world. Every day, Planned Parenthood takes the lives of almost 900 innocent children and over 320,000 every year. We will not rest until abortion ends up on the scrap heap of history like slavery and segregation.” Town Hall PM, published by Human Events, notes that “Insurers are required to sell plans to all comers, including those with pre-existing conditions. This is known as “guaranteed issue,” and it’s mandated in the AHCA. No exceptions, no waivers. Anyone who is insured and remains continuously insured cannot be dropped from their plan due to a pre-existing condition.”

Republican Health Care Bill Headed for Overhaul in Senate

While President Trump took a victory lap with House Republicans after their health care bill passed its first big test Thursday, the hard work is just beginning for the majority party whose mission these past seven years has been ObamaCare’s demise. Senate approval will be a much higher bar to clear: There’s no shortage of bipartisan criticism from the upper chamber right now, and the GOP holds a considerably smaller majority margin in the Senate. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said the Senate will write its own bill, stressing senators still need to see an official estimate on the updated plan’s impact for consumers and taxpayers – something the House did not have in hand when Republicans narrowly approved the American Health Care Act on a 217-213 vote Thursday. With 20 GOP defections on Thursday, the majority party was just two votes shy of another failure to pass the Obamacare repeal and replace bill. Republicans have a slim 52-48 majority, and it takes 60 votes to pass most legislation.

Hospitals, Doctors and Insurers Criticize Health Bill

It is a rare show of unity, hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are calling for significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday. The bill’s impact is wide-ranging, potentially affecting not only the millions who could lose coverage through deep cuts in Medicaid or no longer be able to afford to buy coverage in the state marketplaces, but the bill also allows states to seek waivers from providing certain benefits. Employers big and small could scale back what they pay for each year or re-impose lifetime limits on coverage. In particular, small businesses, some of which were strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, could be free to drop coverage with no penalty. The prospect of millions of people unable to afford coverage led to an outcry from the health care industry as well as consumer groups. They found an uncommon ally in some insurers, who rely heavily on Medicaid and Medicare as mainstays of their business and hope the Senate will be more receptive to their concerns.

Health Care in Other Developed Nations Also in Trouble

Health care issues are not just a U.S. concern:

  • The U.K.’s public health system is financed through tax and compulsory national insurance contributions, but faces serious financial problems. Care is free at the point of delivery across the U.K., but long waiting times and a limited choice of hospital or physician can be a problem. That’s why roughly 11% also have private insurance, often offered as a perk by employers. Hospital doctors went on strike last year, because the government decided to impose new employment contracts. The doctors say the new system is unfair and unsafe.
  • Germany has a multi-layered system financed by a system of mutual insurance funds. Every employee must belong to one of the insurance funds and contribute according to their income. The cost is split between the employee and employers. Patients only pay a small fee to see a doctor. Higher earners are allowed to opt out of the public system and pay for private insurance instead — an option chosen by roughly 10% of Germans. Figures from the OECD show Germans see their doctors more often, get more prescription medicines, have higher hospital admittance numbers, and longer hospital stays than people in other developed countries. A 2013 official review of 2 million hospital stays in Germany found “overtreatment” in 40% of them.
  • The generous French health system has been ranked highly by the WHO and Euro Health Consumer Index. Everyone is covered by mandatory health insurance, which is taxpayer funded. Patients are expected to pay for roughly 20% of the cost of their treatment. However, more than 90% of French people also hold private insurance, usually provided by employers, which covers the patients’ share of the cost. The French system suffers from a chronic deficit. The government is trying to respond by insisting on greater use of generic medicines. It has cut the deficit and wants to achieve a surplus by 2019. But the reforms, including cuts in what’s covered by public insurance and attempts to increase the level of patient payments, are proving to be very unpopular.
  • Canada has a government-run national health insurance, funded by tax receipts. It is organized on a regional basis, with each province adopting slightly different rules. It ranks highly for quality of care, with lower incidence of heart disease and stroke mortality, highly rated cancer care and above average life expectancy at birth. But waiting times, especially for elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, can be a problem. According to a 2015 survey by the Fraser Institute, Canadians have to wait 18 weeks on average before receiving specialist treatment. That’s one of the longest waits in the developed world. The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health systems, said in 2014 that Canada ranked behind Australia, the U.K., U.S., France and Sweden in terms of patient experience with waiting times.

Trump’s First Overseas Trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel & Vatican

President Donald Trump is making his first trip overseas to Saudi Arabia, to meet with Arab leaders to talk about fighting the so-called Islamic State. “It lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters Thursday, saying it would “change the conversation with regards to America’s relationship with the Islamic world.” After Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel and the Vatican-a tour meant to unite the world’s great religions against radicalism and to put a marker down for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, senior administration officials told reporters Thursday.

Refugee Admissions Tumble Under Trump

The number of refugees arriving in the United States has dropped sharply this year because of President Trump’s threats to bar their entry, even though his order for a total 120-day ban has been blocked twice by federal courts, a USA TODAY analysis of government figures shows. The U.S. accepted 2,070 refugees in March, the lowest monthly total since 2013, according to State Department data. April ended with 3,316 refugees admitted, the second-lowest total since 2013. Refugees are a special class of migrants who seek asylum because war, persecution or natural disasters have forced them to flee their home countries. Worldwide, there are more refugees than at any time since World War II as a result of so many regional conflicts, according to the United Nations. Faced with that crisis, President Barack Obama increased the number of refugees the U.S. accepts each year from 70,000 in fiscal year 2015, to 85,000 in 2016 and a proposed 110,000 in 2017. That compares to about 1 million Germany accepted in the past year. Trump, however, wants to lower that number to 50,000 because of concerns that terrorists might try to enter the U.S. posing as refugees.

State Department Announces Extreme Vetting Program

Following through on President Trump’s campaign promise to put immigrants to the U.S. through “extreme vetting,” the State Department announced new proposals Thursday to increase the screening of certain applicants. Under the proposals, such applicants would have to provide information including social media handles (i.e. pseudonyms IDs), phone numbers and emails for the last five years, prior passport numbers and additional information about their family, past travel and employment. However, consular officials would not be allowed to seek passwords or breach privacy controls on social media accounts. “Collecting additional information from visa applicants whose circumstances suggest a need for further scrutiny will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” a State Department official told Fox News. “We estimate these changes would affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide.”

DHS Catches Less Than 1% of Illegal Immigrant ‘Visa Overstays’

Homeland Security still can’t track when visitors to the U.S. leave the country — leaving deportation officers struggling to try to find millions of people who have managed to disappear into the shadows, according to a new watchdog report released Thursday. Officers have to use 27 different computer systems to try to figure out if someone actually left the country when they were supposed to, presenting a gargantuan task that often stymies their efforts to spot and kick out illegal immigrants, the Homeland Security inspector general reported. And the data the officers are using is so bad that they often get false negatives, meaning a target appears to have left the country even though they never did — allowing criminals to remain at large in the U.S. without anyone looking for them. “Such false departure information resulted in ERO officers closing visa overstay investigations of dangerous individuals, such as suspected criminals, who were actually still in the United States and could pose a threat to national security,” the investigators said in the report.

NSA Collected 151 Million Phone Records in 2016

The National Security Agency collected up more than 151 million records about Americans’ phone calls last year via a new system that Congress created to end the agency’s once-secret program that collected domestic calling records in bulk, according to a report published Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Although the number is large on its face, it nonetheless represents a massive reduction from the amount of information the agency gathered previously. Under the old system, it collected potentially “billions of records per day,” according to a 2014 study. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agency has analyzed large amounts of communications metadata — records showing who contacted whom, but not what they said — to hunt for associates of terrorism suspects. For years, it did so by collecting domestic call records in bulk. That program came to light via the 2013 leaks by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden. The National Security Agency took in the 151 million records despite obtaining court orders to use the system on only 42 terrorism suspects in 2016, along with a few left over from late 2015, the report said.

Ambushes of Police on the Rise

Ambush-style attacks on U.S. police officers soared 167 percent in 2016, hitting a 10-year high. So far this year, the disturbing cycle of attacks has not relented. Police were ambushed Tuesday night in Chicago and Sunday night in Detroit, following an ambush on Miami cops just a few weeks ago. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund, which tracks officer shootings, the number of cops shot in the line of duty spiked 56 percent in 2016, but the number of ambush-style attacks was even more troubling, up 167 percent, soaring from six in 2015 to 21 in 2016. And the trend has continued into 2017. Police in Chicago launched an all-out manhunt Wednesday for a suspect who shot two officers in a surprise attack as they sat in their patrol car. On Sunday night in Detroit, two officers responded to a domestic call. When they arrived to knock on the door, 46-year-old James Edward Ray, who reportedly had no connection to the domestic call, opened fire on them. Just over a month ago, on March 28, two officers in Miami-Dade County were shot in an unprovoked ambush outside an apartment complex while they were on routine surveillance.

Alarming Rise in Children Hospitalized with Suicidal Tendencies

The percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions in the United States doubled over nearly a decade, according to new research. A steady increase in admissions due to suicidal tendencies and serious self-harm occurred at 32 children’s hospitals across the nation from 2008 through 2015, the researchers found. The children studied were between the ages of 5 and 17, and although all age groups showed increases, the largest uptick was seen among teen girls. Females are more likely to attempt, but males in general are more likely to succeed, the study notes. Slightly more than half, 59,631 children, were between the ages 15 and 17, and nearly 37% were between 12 and 14. Children 5 through 11 — a total of 15,050 kids — represented nearly 13% of the total. Cyberbullying is seen as a major contributor for the increase. The study did not examine data for completed suicides.

Puerto Rico, the ‘Fifty-First’ State, Declares Bankruptcy

After years of economic distress, ballooning debt, bloated bureaucracy and tax hikes on the island, Puerto Rico’s oversight board on Wednesday asked a federal court for bankruptcy protection from its creditors. The oversight board appointed to lead the U.S. territory back to fiscal sustainability declared in a court filing that it was “unable to provide its citizens effective services,” crushed by $74 billion in debts and $49 billion in pension liabilities. A little-noticed provision in a bill signed into law in 2016 places the fate of Puerto Rico in the hands of the Supreme Court’s chief justice. The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability signed into law by President Obama gives Roberts the power to appoint a District Court judge to oversee the bankruptcy-like case involving a U.S. territory. Traditional municipal bankruptcies (e.g. Detroit) are overseen by bankruptcy judges. District Court judges, unlike bankruptcy judges, are political appointees. As other municipal bankruptcies have demonstrated, the judge in control of the case retains significant influence over the outcome.

  • Just as in Detroit, pension liabilities play a big roll and will continue to drag down more municipalities in the near future due to large, unfunded pension obligations

Economic News

America’s job market rebounded in April, adding a solid 211,000 jobs, far surpassing the disappointing 79,000 jobs gained in March, according to Labor Department figures released Friday. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.4%, its lowest level since May 2007. Unemployment was 10% when the recession ended in 2009. Many economists say the US is now at or near “full employment,” meaning the unemployment rate won’t go down significantly more and wage growth should start to speed up. Wages grew 2.5% in April compared to a year ago.

What housing recovery? Only about one-third of U.S. homes have topped their prerecession price peaks. The median U.S. home price was $196,500 in March, up from $151,900 at the market nadir in April 2012, Trulia figures show. And the vast majority of homes are worth more than what current owners paid for them. However, Trulia’s study concludes that just 34.2% of homes nationally have surpassed their previous highs. Some metro areas have fully recovered from the housing crash, particularly in the West and South. Many of these places have benefited from strong job, income or population growth, such as technology hubs Denver, San Francisco and Portland, each of which has seen more than 90% of homes exceed their prerecession records.

Middle East

President Donald Trump announced during his meeting with visiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that he is preparing to launch a fresh initiative aimed at resolving the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Trump said. “Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.” Trump addressed Abbas directly, telling him that he expected there to be an end to incitement against Jews and Israelis in Palestinian school curriculum and popular media. Abbas replied by assuring his host that there was already nothing but peace and co-existence taught to Palestinian schoolchildren, a claim belied by much evidence which has been published over the last two decades.

The Hamas Islamic militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group’s new political chief. Haniyeh succeeds Hamas’ longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal and the move comes shortly after Gaza’s rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation. Hamas is trying to rebrand itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt. It has also dropped explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

The Israeli leadership dismissed a resolution by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) executive board that rejects Israeli sovereignty and jurisdiction over Jerusalem. The resolution, passed on Tuesday, as Israel celebrated Independence Day, or Yom Ha’atzmaut, refers to the Jewish state as an occupying power in Jerusalem and declares all its legislative and administrative measures in the city as “null and void.” A majority of 22 states voted in favor, 10 voted against and 23 abstained. While the overall outcome was negative for Israel, the vote marked a shift from the near-unanimous approval seen in previous anti-Israel UNESCO votes on Jerusalem, with 23 member states abstaining and 10 – the US, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece, Paraguay, Ukraine, Togo and Germany – opposing.

Islamic State

A State Department official on Friday said that the Russian proposal calling to bar U.S. military aircrafts from flying over designated safe zones cannot “limit” the U.S.’s mission against ISIS in the country in any way. A deal hammered out by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in mostly opposition-held parts of Syria went into effect Saturday. The plan is the latest international attempt to reduce violence in the war-ravaged country, and is the first to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria. The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed on to the deal. “The coalition will continue to strike ISIS targets in Syria,” the official told The Wall Street Journal. “The campaign to defeat ISIS will continue at the same relentless pace as it is proceeding now.”

North Korea

North Korea on Friday accused U.S. and South Korean intelligence services of hatching a plot to assassinate dictator Kim Jong Un with a “biochemical substance.” According to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, “a hideous terrorists’ group” directed by CIA and South Korean spies “ideologically corrupted” a North Korean dissident identified as “Kim” and paid the man more than $20,000 to carry out the attack. The claim comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the reclusive regime’s nuclear weapons program and recent provocative ballistic missile tests. The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea, the latest attempt by U.S. officials to deter North Korea from carrying out a sixth nuclear test.

Afghanistan

Despite the recent deployment of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and other heightened efforts to eradicate terrorist groups, especially ISIS, Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, believes the U.S. is in league with ISIS. “The Daesh is a U.S. product,” he told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday in Kabul, using the Arabic word for the extremist Muslim group. “The Daesh — which is clearly foreign — emerged in 2015 during the U.S. presence.” Karzai, who was president from December 2004 to September 2014, said he routinely receives reports about unmarked helicopters dropping supplies to the terror faction on the Pakistan and Afghanistan border — something that the “U.S. must explain.” He also expressed great distress at the dropping of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) last month, convinced it was a joint U.S.-ISIS operation. “The Daesh had already emptied most of their (families and fighters) so this was coordinated. This group is just a U.S. tool.”

  • More likely, it’s the globalist elite who seek to establish a one-world government who are aiding ISIS. By creating more division and hostility in the world, the call for global leadership will increase, they believe.

Iran

Iran attempted to launch a cruise missile from a submarine in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday but the test failed, two U.S. officials told Fox News. An Iranian Yono-class “midget” submarine conducted the missile launch. North Korea and Iran are the only two countries in the world that operate this type of submarine. In February, Iran claimed to have successfully tested a submarine-launched missile. It was not immediately clear if Tuesday’s test was the first time Iran had attempted to launch a missile underwater from a submarine.

France

The campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron said it suffered a “massive and coordinated” hacking attack and document leak that it said was a bid to destabilize Sunday’s presidential runoff. Fears of hacking, fake news manipulation and Russian meddling clouded the French campaign but had largely gone unrealized — until late Friday’s admission by Macron’s campaign that it had suffered a coordinated online pirate attack. It was unclear who was behind the hack and the leak. His far-right rival Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that she believes she can pull off a surprise victory in the high-stakes vote that could change Europe’s direction. Security alerts in and around Paris have French officials worried as presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron face off this weekend.

Environment

A killer whale found dead on the Scottish island of Tiree had one of the highest levels of PCB pollution ever recorded, scientists say. Lulu, well known to researchers as one of the last surviving whales in the waters around Britain, died after becoming entangled in fishing rope in January 2016. The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and the University of Aberdeen conducted an in-depth investigation of Lulu’s corpse and were shocked by the findings. “Given what is known about the toxic effects of PCBs, we have to consider (the contamination) could have been affecting her health and reproductive fitness,” said veterinary pathologist Andrew Brownlow.

Weather

Powerful storms swept through the South Thursday night and Friday morning, and major damage was reported in at least one southeastern Georgia town. Authorities said at least five people were injured when a reported tornado damaged several buildings in the town of Garden City, located 5 miles northwest of Savannah. An Advance Auto Parts store was destroyed. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport also saw storms Thursday evening – one of which spawned a funnel cloud spotted near the hub. Minor damage was reported near one of the airport’s cargo facilities immediately following the storms, but no injuries were reported. The storms also left damage in South Carolina, west of Charleston. Severe weather damage was reported in the towns of Walterboro and Holly Hill Thursday night.

Signs of the Times (5/3/17)

May 3, 2017

Trump to Sign Order Protecting Opponents of Gay Marriage & Abortion

President Trump will sign an executive order on Thursday protecting the religious liberty of the Little Sisters of the Poor and ordinary Americans who don’t subscribe to gender ideology or believe in same-sex “marriage,” two “senior administration officials” have confirmed to Politico. This executive order would protect the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious institutions from being forced to participate in the provision of contraceptives and life-ending drugs and devices. The draft of the order mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services “take appropriate actions” to ensure that Americans aren’t forced to fund abortion when they purchase health insurance. Everyone must have “the ability to purchase health insurance that does not provide coverage for abortion and does not subsidize plans that do provide such coverage,” it says. It would also protect people who believe, speak, act, or decline to act based on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and “sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage.”

State Legislatures Tell Universities ‘Free Speech’ or Else

Some state legislators are getting tough on college campuses that take tax dollars but allow students to shout down conservative speech they don’t like. The ‘heckler’s veto’ has gotten the attention of lawmakers in Wisconsin, home to one of the more liberal state university systems, where Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says they are taking some proactive steps by introducing the Campus Free Speech Act. The bill mandates that the University of Wisconsin adopt a policy which highlights the importance of free speech, that the college must remain neutral on controversial issues, and that all sides have a right to express themselves. The bill also mandates consequences for students who block the free speech of others – including expulsion. Colorado has already adopted a similar bill, and five other states including Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia are currently considering versions.

Congress to Vote this Week on Compromise Spending Bill

Congress will vote this week on a bipartisan bill that provides more than $1 trillion to fund the federal government through September and averts a shutdown at the end of this week. The compromise, reached late Sunday and unveiled Monday, keeps spending within limits previously set by Congress with a twist — lawmakers increased a spending account set aside for combat operations that doesn’t count against those limits. The bill would boost defense spending by $25 billion for the full 2017 fiscal year. The House is expected to vote as early as Wednesday, with the Senate following quickly thereafter. The proposed budget includes an additional $1.2 billion in additional funding for border security, $2 billion in additional funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health, and $990 million in additional humanitarian aid to boost global famine-relief efforts. The bill does not include Trump’s request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as well as Trump’s request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill also does not defund Planned Parenthood. Democrats were surprised at how many concessions they extracted in the trillion-dollar deal, considering that Republicans have unified control of the government. However, President Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to argue that the country “needs a good shutdown” to fix Senate rules that require him to negotiate with Democrats.

Healthcare Bill Floundering Over Pre-Existing Conditions

Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s health-care system collided Tuesday with fierce resistance about how it would affect people with preexisting medical conditions, casting the proposal’s future into deeper uncertainty as GOP leaders scrambled to try to salvage it. On Capitol Hill, influential Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) came out against the plan, dealing a major blow to proponents trying to secure enough votes to pass it in the House. Upton, a former chairman and current member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he opposes the House GOP plan because it “torpedoes” safeguards for people with preexisting conditions. Republicans left their weekly conference meeting Tuesday with no health-care vote on the schedule. The House is slated to recess Thursday until May 16.

Illegal Immigration Declining Since 2007

The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has steadily declined over the past 10 years, amid a significant decrease in the share of Mexicans living in the country without legal status, a new report finds. The Pew Research Center estimates that 11 million undocumented immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million during the recession in 2007. Most notably, Pew reported that the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico has been shrinking. Pew said the number of Mexican immigrants without legal status who were living in the U.S. in 2016 fell to 5.6 million, down from a peak of 6.9 million in 2007. Pew said Mexicans represented an estimated 50% of the total undocumented immigrant population in 2016, marking the first time since 2005 that this group did not represent a majority.

Millions March in the People’s Climate March

Millions around the world are took to the streets Saturday for the People’s Climate March. The march comes a day after the EPA announced that its website devoted to climate science will be removed from the public after 20 years. Despite extreme heat that was expected to top 90 degrees, thousands of protesters descended on Washington, D.C., Saturday to participate in a climate change march. The People’s Climate March builds on an event that originated in New York City in September 2014. People in cities across the nation and around the world joined those in Washington to stand up for the planet to protest climate policies enacted by the Trump administration. The unusually high temperatures, which could be record-breaking in the nation’s capital, adds an ironic twist to the event, the Washington Post noted.

Facebook Adding 3,000 Reviewers to Combat Violent Videos

Facebook is planning to hire thousands of people to help review user content following multiple high-profile incidents of people sharing videos of suicide and murder. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and cofounder, said Wednesday the company will add 3,000 people to its global community operations team to help “review the millions of reports we get every week.” That’s in addition to the 4,500 people already on the team. The announcement comes weeks after Facebook faced an outcry over a Cleveland murder video that stayed up for hours on the social network before getting removed. Not long after, a man in Thailand posted videos to Facebook of himself killing his 11-month-old daughter, before killing himself. Two of those videos remained on the man’s Facebook page for about 24 hours.

Overfishing Depleting the Oceans

Overfishing is depleting oceans across the globe, with 90 percent of the world’s fisheries fully exploited or facing collapse, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. From Russian king crab fishermen in the west Bering Sea to Mexican ships that poach red snapper off the coast of Florida, unsustainable fishing practices threaten the well-being of millions of people in the developing world who depend on the sea for income and food, experts say. China, with its enormous population, growing wealth to buy seafood and the world’s largest fleet of deep-sea fishing vessels, is having the greatest impact on the globe’s oceans. Having depleted the seas close to home, Chinese fishermen are sailing farther to exploit the waters of other countries, their journeys often subsidized by a government more concerned with domestic unemployment and food security than the health of the world’s oceans and the countries that depend on them, reports the New York Times.

NAFTA Scorecard Reveals Job Losses, Minimal Gains for U.S.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal think tank, estimated in 2013 that NAFTA caused the direct loss of about 700,000 jobs because of manufacturers moving to Mexico, where wages are 30% of that of an American factory worker on average. Critics of NAFTA also said the flight of American companies to Mexico led to lower wages in the U.S. But that claim is disputed by a report last year from the U.S. International Trade Commission, which said NAFTA had “essentially no effect on real wages in the United States of either skilled or unskilled workers.” On balance, the Congressional Research office concluded that NAFTA’s overall impact on the U.S. economy has been “relatively modest” because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for less than 5% of the U.S. GDP.  “U.S. trade with Mexico and Canada was already growing prior to NAFTA and it likely would have continued to do so without an agreement,” the CRS said.

Detroit’s Big Three Suffer Sales Declines in April

GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler all posted sales declines in April. Retail sales fell 4% for GM. GM’s flagship Chevrolet brand endured a 10.4% sales decline in April, as consumers ditched cars in droves amid low gasoline prices that are making bigger vehicles more enticing. The Chevrolet Sonic subcompact plummeted 67.8%. GM’s Buick brand bucked the trend for the month with a 17% increase, fueled almost entirely by the small Encore crossover. Ford’s retail sales plunged 10.5%, while sales to fleet customers were flat. The company’s car sales fell 21.2% for the month, including sharp drops for the Fusion, Fiesta, Focus and Mustang. But sales of the F-series pickup truck, the most popular vehicle in the U.S., remained strong, falling only 0.2%. At Fiat Chrysler, retail sales fell 3%, while fleet sales tumbled 21%. Jeep sales, which represent one of Fiat Chrysler’s profit engines, declined 16.5% Tthe Fiat brand fell 18%, while the Ram truck brand enjoyed a 5.3% increase.

Economic News

In the first three months of 2017, U.S. companies grew profits at the fastest past since late 2011. The S&P 500 stock index ended the week on pace for earnings growth of 13.6% in the first quarter of 2017. That’s nearly double the 8% growth in the final quarter of 2016 and best since the third quarter of 2011, Reuters reports. But U.S. economic growth downshifted to 0.7%, its slowest quarterly growth rate in three years. What gives? How can companies grow their profits when the economy delivers a dud performance? Earnings and GDP don’t always move in tandem. Also, about 40% of profits for S&P 500 companies are generated abroad. In addition, oil prices have doubled since a year ago, powering the energy sector to quarterly profit growth of 653%. And tech is booming with 18% profit growth.

Nationwide, the median home price was $225,000 during the first quarter of 2017, up 13% from a year ago, reports Attom Data Solutions.  Homeowners who sold in the first three months of this year saw an average price gain of $44,000 from purchase, the highest gain since 2007. Homes in more expensive markets have seen the highest average price gains so far this year, the report found. Sellers in San Jose, California, saw an average price gain of $356,500, followed by those in San Francisco with a gain of $276,750.

American manufacturing is gaining momentum, reports CNNMoney. Job gains are up so far this year after being down last year. The ISM manufacturing index — a key measure of the industry’s health — showed manufacturing grew for the eighth straight month. The index hit 54.8% in April. Any reading above 50% means the sector grew and anything below that mark means it shrunk. There are currently about 12.4 million US manufacturing workers. That’s up from the low point of 11.4 million in early 2010. Despite the recent gains, manufacturing jobs have been on a decline for years and are well below the 17 million factory jobs held in 2000.

Infosys, one of the Indian companies that’s drawn unwanted attention for its business model of hiring Indian engineers on H-1B visas and outsourcing their lower cost labor to U.S firms, now wants to hire American. On Tuesday, Infosys announced the opening of a 2,000-employee tech center in Indianapolis, Ind., with another 8,000 jobs for American IT workers in coming years. The workers will mainly be computer scientists, engineers and programmers.

Islamic State

A U.S. service member died from wounds sustained in an explosion Saturday outside Mosul where coalition forces are trying to drive Islamic State militants out of their former stronghold, the U.S. military said. The push into Mosul began in October, with government forces moving into eastern districts in November. With ISIS forces virtually surrounded in the western districts, the campaign has turned into a grim, block-by-block fight, with militants using explosive devices, car bombs and rigged buildings to slow the advance of coalition forces. The U.S. service member died of wounds caused by an explosive device blast outside the city.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military convoy in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, killing at least eight Afghan civilians and wounding three U.S. service members, officials said. Another 25 Afghan civilians were wounded in the morning rush-hour attack near the U.S. Embassy, which destroyed several civilian vehicles. No one immediately claimed the attack, but the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive on Friday, and have repeatedly targeted Afghan and U.S. forces in the past. Afghan forces have struggled to contain the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO officially concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a support and counterterrorism role. The U.S. has more than 8,000 troops in the country.

Iran

Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic’s fighting force into an “offensive” juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill. Iranian officials announced late last month that Iran’s defense budget had increased by 145 percent under President Hassan Rouhani and that the military is moving forward with a massive restructuring effort. Iranian leaders have stated since the Iran deal was enacted that they are using the massive amounts of cash released under the nuclear agreement to fund the purchase of new military equipment and other armaments. Iran also has pursued multi-million dollar arms deals with Russia since economic sanctions were nixed as part of the deal.

North Korea

North Korea on Tuesday said the United States’ decision to fly two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers in the area in a training drill is a provocation and puts the two countries on the brink of a nuclear war. North Korea conducted another missile test on Saturday, its third launch in April alone, which reportedly failed soon after launch, and its Foreign Ministry said Monday the country will speed up measures to bolster its nuclear program “at the maximum pace.” President Trump said after North Korea’s latest failed rocket launch that communist leader Kim Jong-Un will eventually develop better missiles, and “we can’t allow it to happen.”

North Korea confirmed on Wednesday it has imprisoned an American accounting professor, bringing to three the number of Americans held in its prisons as international tensions escalate. State-controlled media now has confirmed that Kim Sang Dok, who also goes by the name Tony Kim, was nabbed at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22. The 58-year-old captive joins University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier and businessman Kim Dong Chul in the Hermit Kingdom’s infamous gulags as the world continues to pressure North Korea over its rogue nuclear weapons program. In the past, North Korea has generally quickly released any American citizens it detained – waiting at most for a U.S. official or statesman to come and to personally bail out detainees. But that appears to be changing, leaving officials wondering whether the captives are going to be used as bargaining chips or human shields.

China

The communists who took the reins in China in 1949 viewed religion as backward and superstitious. Authorities did their best to wipe out religious life. And by the end of the 1970s, they’d been very successful. “There were basically no functioning places of worship in the entire country. This is a place that had over 1 million temples and scores of churches and thousands of mosques,” says Ian Johnson, the author of the new book “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.” “They were all closed down or destroyed.” However, Johnson says religion has not only survived in modern China, it’s thriving. President Xi Jinping has called on China’s citizens to continue to be “unyielding Marxist atheists.” He insists that the country’s 85 million Communist Party members remain atheists. But increasingly, he’s loosening the restrictions on religious organizations. Chinese authorities even subsidize some religious practice under the guise of backing what the government calls “traditional culture.”

Venezuela

Venezuela’s increasingly embattled president called Monday for a new constitution as an intensifying protest movement entered a second month with daily clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators becoming routine. After hundreds of thousands took to the streets again to call for his ouster, President Nicolas Maduro announced that he was calling for a citizens assembly and a new constitution for the economically flailing South American nation. Opposition leaders immediately objected, charging that Maduro was seeking to further erode Venezuela’s constitutional order. Many people expect the socialist administration to give itself the power to pick a majority of delegates to a constitutional convention. Maduro could then use the writing of a new constitution as an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and presidential elections that were to be held in 2018.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey says a magnitude-6.3 aftershock has shaken the corner of British Columbia, near the boundary with Alaska, nearly two hours after a magnitude-6.2 earthquake hit the same area. Geophysicist Amy Vaughan says it’s not completely uncommon for an aftershock to be larger than the triggering quake, though normally the following quakes are smaller. She says there’s been a series of aftershocks ranging from magnitudes 2 to 5. The initial large quake hit around 4:30 a.m. Monday about 30 miles northwest of the tiny Alaska town of Mosquito Lake and about 83 miles southwest of Whitehorse, Canada. The large aftershock struck just a few miles away. The area is sparsely populated and there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Weather

After flooding smashed records that had stood for over 100 years, more heavy rain will fall in the Ozarks and mid-Mississippi Valley Wednesday, bringing a threat of additional flash flooding and adding to already swollen rivers and reservoirs. Flooding has forced Missouri transportation officials to close Interstate 55, along with other major routes Wednesday, effectively cutting off St. Louis from any roads to the south. Meanwhile, a levee failure in Pocahontas, Arkansas, Wednesday has prompted a flash flood emergency. Meanwhile, a levee failure in Pocahontas, Arkansas, Wednesday has prompted a flash flood emergency. Storms and heavy rains that began over the weekend led to flooding that has forced the closure of hundreds of roads in Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. At least 20 people have died from the weekend storms and subsequent flooding.

At least four tornadoes were confirmed Saturday in Texas, part of the same system that put millions under flash flood watches and warnings. Parts of southwestern Missouri and northern Arkansas have received up to 11 inches of rain. The tornadoes in East Texas killed four people. Five people died from flooding and winds in Arkansas. Two deaths were reported in Missouri, including a woman who drowned after rushing water swept away her car. One of two deaths in Mississippi included a 7-year-old who died of electric shock, and a 2-year-old girl died in Tennessee after being struck by a soccer goal post thrown by heavy winds. The storm system moved eastward and wreaked more havoc Monday afternoon and evening. Strong winds and hail battered portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania on Monday.

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.