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Signs of the Times (8/29/17)

August 29, 2017

Harvey Devastates Houston with Catastrophic Rain

Tropical Storm Harvey’s center has moved back over the Gulf of Mexico, but only will do so briefly. After virtually stalling out this past weekend, the center of Harvey is on the move again, and is just off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s still moving slower than your average tropical cyclone. More heavy rain remains possible for flood-ravaged southeast Texas. Torrential rain is falling over parts of Texas and Louisiana Tuesday morning. Harvey will finally move well inland later this week and begin to dissipate, eventually bringing an end to the widespread heavy rain threat in Texas and Louisiana, though patchy bands of locally heavy rain can’t be completely ruled out. The massive volume of water draining toward the Gulf of Mexico will leave mainstem rivers such as the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe above flood stage into the Labor Day weekend, possibly beyond. As of Tuesday afternoon, 30% of Harris County, which includes Houston, is underwater.

As Harvey spins offshore, the storm is expected to dump an additional 7 to 13 inches of rain through Friday over the upper Texas coast and into southwestern Louisiana, exacerbating the life-threatening, catastrophic flooding in the Houston area. Isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast, including the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area. In the past four days, the weather service forecast office in Houston has picked up more than 42 inches of rain. Brief tornadoes may also form anywhere from Galveston eastward to just south of New Orleans. An already-swollen reservoir west of downtown Houston overtopped its spillway Tuesday, sending an “uncontrolled release” of Harvey’s floodwaters into nearby neighborhoods, and putting the besieged city into “uncharted territory,” officials said. Officials in Brazoria County, located south of Houston, warned on Twitter that a levee at Columbia Lakes had been breached by floodwaters for the first time in history and urged any residents who had not already evacuated the area to leave immediately, writing “Get Out Now!!” Other levees may potentially fail as well.

Swollen rivers in east Texas aren’t expected to crest until later this week, but federal officials are already predicting Tropical Storm Harvey will drive 30,000 people into shelters and spur 450,000 victims to seek some sort of disaster assistance. The George R. Brown Convention Center, which has been transformed into an emergency shelter, for Harvey evacuees has already exceeded its estimated capacity of 5,000 people. The Houston area looks like an inland sea dotted by islands, said Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who also said that people needed to prepare for “a new and different normal for this entire region.”

Trump Pardons Arizona Sherriff Arpaio

President Donald Trump has pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his criminal contempt conviction, removing the only legal consequences the lawman faced stemming from a long-running racial-profiling suit. The White House announced the pardon Friday evening in a news release that recounted Arpaio’s lengthy career of “admirable service” in federal and local law enforcement and called him “a worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.” Reached moments after the announcement, Arpaio said he had not spoken to Trump, but “I’m very appreciative of the president issuing that pardon. It shows how he backs up law enforcement.” Arpaio, 85, was convicted of criminal contempt on July 31, and was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5. He faced up to six months in jail. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey supported the pardon, but U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the pardon is within the president’s authority, but “doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”

Berkley Protesters Skirmish, Antifa Members Arrested

More than a dozen people were arrested in Berkeley, California, after members of the left-wing Antifa movement allegedly attacked peaceful protesters over the weekend. Several thousand people converged in Berkeley Sunday for a “Rally Against Hate” in response to a planned right-wing protest that raised concerns of violence and triggered a massive police presence. Several people were arrested for violating rules against covering their faces or carrying items banned by authorities. Tense but brief skirmishes erupted when several dozen left-wing protesters surrounded and shouted at a handful of right-wing demonstrators. Three of those targeted sought safety by rushing toward officers and were escorted out of the park. They were put in a van that was kicked by yelling left-wing protesters as it drove away. The left-wing protesters far outnumbered those who showed up for the largely peaceful rally, which police tried to keep safe by setting up barricades around it and checking people who entered to make sure they did not have prohibited items like baseball bats, dogs, skateboards and scarves or bandanas they could use to cover their faces. However,

San Francisco Shuts Down Right-Wing Gathering

Protesters opposing a right-wing gathering in liberal San Francisco claimed victory Saturday when the event was cancelled after city officials walled off a city park — a move that the event’s organizer said was more about silencing his group’s message than preventing a violent clash. Civic leaders in San Francisco — a cradle of the free speech movement that prides itself on its tolerance — repeatedly voiced concerns that the event organized by Patriot Prayer would lead to a clash with counter-demonstrators. Joey Gibson, a Japanese American who leads Patriot Prayer, said his group disavows racism and hatred and wanted to promote dialogue with people who may not share its views. He cancelled a planned rally Saturday at a field under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge after he said his members received anonymous threats on social media and feared civic leaders and law enforcement would fail to protect them. Earlier in the week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee raised concerns that Patriot Prayer would attract hate speech and potential violence. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat who represents San Francisco, called the planned rally a “white supremacist” event.

Trump Lifts Obama Ban on Military Equipment to Local Police

Police and sheriffs’ groups across the country applauded President Donald Trump Monday for lifting a ban on delivering surplus military equipment to local and state police. The ban had been installed during President Barack Obama’s administration. “We applaud the president’s actions, and we are encouraged to see him acting on this important issue that we have vocally advocated for,” the association said in the statement. “Across the country we have seen how valuable this equipment has been to local law enforcement from San Bernardino to Orlando in fighting terrorism, but also by saving lives in floods in South Carolina and snow storms in North Dakota, just to name a few,” the association said.

Interior Secretary Recommends Shrinking Some National Monuments

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he’s urging President Trump to change the boundaries of a “handful” of national monuments. This represents the opening salvo in a largely unprecedented effort to roll back federal protections for some of America’s most popular public lands. Zinke said he wouldn’t recommend the elimination of any monuments, despite a push from some congressional Republicans to rescind Bears Ears in Utah, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, among other monuments established by previous presidents. Trump asked Zinke to review 22 land monuments in April, following years of criticism from conservative lawmakers about what they saw as President Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act. The 1906 law gives presidents the authority “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on lands already owned or controlled by the federal government.

Border Wall Working Near Yuma Arizona

President Donald Trump’s promise to build a border wall has earned him a lot of backlash, but a wall built near Yuma, Arizona, is proving that border walls work exceptionally well. Iillegal crossings dropped 94 percent, according to testimony from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Washington Examiner reported. The Daily Caller reported that a Department of Homeland Security official said the town has seen an 82 percent reduction in illegal crossings since 2007 after the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Border Walls Working in Europe

Building border walls has worked for six European countries, according to a NewsMax report. Greece built a 7-mile, 12-foot wall along its border with Turkey which dropped illegal immigration by 90%. Refugees pouring in across the border spurred Macedonia to build a 20-mile-long wall on its border with Greece in 2015 which also reduced illegal crossings by 90%. Bulgaria began building a 10-foot wall in 2014 along its Turkish border which stretches for 18 miles and has seen illegal crossings reduced seven-fold. In 2015, Hungary built a wall along its border with Serbia to stem the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa on their way to Germany and other Northern European nations. After the 110-mile-long, 13-foot high barrier was constructed, illegal immigration essentially ceased.

99% of U.S. Visa Scofflaws Never Arrested

Many immigrants come to the U.S. lawfully, but then overstay their visas. According to a recent Inspector General’s report, less than 1% of those who overstay their visas ever get arrested. The report estimates that in 2015, 527,000 individuals overstayed their visas. Only 3,402 were apprehended. Two of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. legally, but failed to leave after their visas had expired. Investigators place a lot of the blame for the la enforcement on antiquated and inefficient technology. Immigration officials have to consult up to 27 different computer systems before they can verify an individual’s visa status with any certainty, reports NewsMax.

South Carolina Governor Issues Order to Defund Abortion Businesses

The governor of South Carolina issued an executive order last week that blocks state agencies from using taxpayer dollars to fund the abortion industry. The order prevents the use of either state or local taxpayer funds to go to any doctor or Health Clinic that is an affiliate of an abortion business. McMaster’s administration is already putting the new order into effect and helping women find health care alternatives not run by an abortion agency. Three clinics run by the Planned Parenthood abortion company will no longer be reimbursed by Medicaid for abortions.

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey swamped gasoline production capacity in the Texas Gulf Coast, triggering spikes in fuel prices as the energy-rich region reels from ferocious flooding. Outages at gasoline refineries have temporarily shuttered more than 10% of the nation’s refining capacity. With rain continuing to pummel the Houston region, U.S. motorists are likely to experience an increase of up to 25 cents per gallon in some areas.

The average American saves less than 5% of his or her disposable income. Many financial advisers say that isn’t enough to ensure a comfortable retirement. The personal saving rate, calculated by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, has hovered around 5% for the past few years. By the end of June, the rate had dipped to 3.8%, the bureau reported. Financial advisors encourage clients to save 10% to 15% of their disposable income. Decades ago, Americans’ personal saving rate was closer to that target. From 1950 to 2000, it averaged about 9.8%. It peaked in May 1975, hitting 17% before beginning to slide. At its lowest, in July 2005, it was 1.9%.

The biggest chunk of the average American’s budget goes toward housing, which accounts for 37% of take-home pay. Many people spend even more. In some parts of the country (e.g. New York and the rest of the Northeast), the percentage spent on housing is even higher. The standard measure of housing affordability is 30% of pre-tax income. While many poorer renters have no choice, many middle-income people have bought homes beyond the recommended limit, which could become a problem if there is another economic downturn.

Investors are fleeing U.S. stocks in a way they haven’t since 2004. For 10 straight weeks a total of $30 billion has left U.S. stocks, marking the longest streak of outflows since 2004, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said. Investors turned instead to emerging markets and European and Japanese stocks, which saw $36 billion in inflows over the last 10 weeks, the report said. The 10-week outflow from U.S. stocks comes despite the S&P 500’s nearly 1 percent gain this quarter and a record high on Aug. 8.

Denmark, the world’s most taxed country said Tuesday that it is planning sweeping cuts to levies on cars and pensions that are designed to encourage people to work more. Denmark has the highest tax to GDP ratio of any developed nation, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The average Danish worker faced a net tax rate of 36% in 2016, far higher than the 25.5% average across the OECD. “It has to pay off to work,” the country’s finance ministry said in a statement. Reducing the tax burden is seen as one way to encourage more people to work. That, in turn, could help the country avoid a labor shortage and support an economy that grew by just 0.5% in the second quarter.

The cutting edge of drone delivery isn’t one of the usual technology hotspots, such as Singapore or the United States. Tate honor belongs to East Africa. A second East African nation announced Thursday it will launch a fully automated drone delivery program. While plenty of countries have dabbled in drone delivery, no program has matched the scale and impact of what’s unfolding in Rwanda and now, Tanzania. In early 2018, Tanzania’s government will begin using drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas. The government expects to save lives thanks to faster delivery of medical supplies. Rwanda has already completed 1,400 similar deliveries.

Middle East

Israel will not stand by while Iran advances in Syria and establishes itself militarily on Israel’s northern border, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated. Liberman explained that “Iran, through its Revolutionary Guard, is trying to create a new reality around us with Iranian air and naval bases in Syria, with Shi’ite militias which number thousands of mercenaries and by the production of accurate weaponry in Lebanon.” The Iranian forces are currently estimated to number 500 Iranian army soldiers, 5,000 Hezbollah terrorists and several thousand guerrillas from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The potential for a growing Iranian influence across the region is raising concern in predominantly Sunni Arab countries as well.

For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state. But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has changed, too. It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations, reports the New York Times. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

Faced with an ultimatum from the Palestinians to declare a two-state solution within 45 days, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. refuses to demonstrate “bias” by taking sides ahead of negotiations between the two sides. Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, arrived in the Middle East with a delegation to try and jumpstart the peace process. They met last Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will also hold talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab nations. President Donald Trump has agreed with Netanyahu that there should be no preconditions.

North Korea

North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan Monday and into waters short of Guam. North Korea has twice fired rockets that it said were carrying satellites over Japan — in 1998 and 2009 — but it is the first time it has fired a ballistic missile over the island nation. North Korea has threatened to fire missiles off the coast of Guam, a U.S. territory to the southeast. Earlier, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles toward the East Sea near Japan on Saturday morning, according to U.S. and South Korean military. Pacific Command spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham said two missiles flew about 155 miles. It said earlier that the third missile appears to have blown up immediately. The North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) determined the missiles “did not pose a threat to North America.” The incident happened amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which has been warned by President Trump about missile build-up and development of nuclear armaments. South Korea’s air force staged a live-fire drill Tuesday, simulating the destruction of North Korea’s leadership.

Pakistan

A glossy women’s magazine has hit virtual newsstands, its front cover splashed with the image of a woman, veiled from head to toe, walking off into a yellow-hued desert. But, unlike other fashion or beauty publications, this one has a niche audience in mind: would-be female jihadists. The English-language magazine was published by the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), earlier this month. The first edition of Sunnat E Khaula, which harks back to a seventh-century female Muslim warrior named Khaula, calls on “like-minded jihadi sisters” to organize “secret gatherings at home,” arrange “physical training classes” and “prepare for martyrdom operations.” “We want to provoke women of Islam to come forward and join the ranks of mujahideen [holy warriors] of Islam,” an opening editorial reads. The TTP’s women’s magazine takes a page out of the ISIS propaganda playbook to target women. And the timing of its release isn’t accidental. As ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate crumbles in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban has seized on an opportunity — offering an alternative for radicalized women willing to shift their loyalties.

Myanmar

Thousands of ethnic Rohingya are attempting to flee violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, braving hostile border guards, treacherous territory and high waters to cross into neighboring Bangladesh. Ethnic Rohingya militants in western Myanmar launched overnight attacks on more than two dozen police and border outposts, leaving 80 people dead, the government said Friday, in a significant escalation of their armed struggle. The militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, took responsibility for the overnight attacks on more than 25 locations, saying they were in defense of Muslim Rohingya communities that had been abused by government forces. The clashes were the worst since an attack by the militants on three border posts last October killed nine policemen, setting off months of brutal counterinsurgency operations by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya communities in Rakhine state. Human rights groups accused the army of carrying out massive human rights abuses including killing, rape and burning down more than 1,000 homes and other buildings.

South Sudan

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after 98% of the population voted to break away from Sudan. The world’s youngest country quickly fell into civil war that took on ethnic undertones. The United Nations estimates that the conflict has left 1.89 million people internally displaced, while another 1.97 million were refugees in neighboring countries. It categorized 6 million people as being “severely food insecure.”

Nigeria

Nigerian Islamist militants have used 83 children —  including a baby strapped to a girl — as “human bombs” since the beginning of this year, UNICEF said this week. This year witnessed a 400% increase in child bombers as compared to last year. “The use of children in this way is an atrocity. Children used as ‘human bombs’ are, above all, victims, not perpetrators,” UNICEF said in a statement. Boko Haram militants operating in northeast Nigeria held about 8,000 children since 2009 in areas under their influence.

Weather

Seasonal monsoon rains triggered devastating floods in South Asia, killing at least 950 people in recent weeks and impacting nearly 40 million across northern India, southern Nepal and northern Bangladesh, officials said Thursday. The widespread flooding has occurred in a broad arc across the Himalayan foothills in those countries. The heavy rain led to landslides, damaged crops, roads and electric towers and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. Army soldiers and volunteers have evacuated around 770,000 people from inundated areas.

Signs of the Times (8/18/17)

August 18, 2017

Iranian Youth Turning to Christ

The Christian Post reports that there has been a “massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ.” According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades. Now even leading Islamic seminary officials, such as Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, have pointed to “accurate reports indicating that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has also been raising alarm over the number of Iranian youths becoming Christians, and has blamed “foreign influence” for the conversions. Other ayatollahs, such as Wahid Khorasani, have slammed government officials “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity.”

Terrorism in Spain & Finland

A white van jumped up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district Thursday, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents. Barcelona police are calling it a terror attack, and an official says 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured. Two men were arrested by authorities. Hours later police fatally shot five men in a car which was hitting pedestrians in the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils. In the coordinated attack, the men were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts. Responsibility for the incidents, which mimicked events in Berlin, London, Stockholm and the French city of Nice over the past year, was claimed by the Islamic State. The news agency Amaq, which represents the Islamic State, said in a statement that the Barcelona attackers were soldiers of the extremist group. Police have not confirmed whether they have any evidence to support the claim. The perpetrators of the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils originally planned to use explosive devices to wreak greater devastation but were apparently thwarted because their materials detonated prematurely, police said Friday.

At least two people have been killed and six others hospitalized in a stabbing attack in the Finnish city of Turku on Friday, police said. Three people are now undergoing surgery, state broadcaster YLE reports. Police earlier shot and arrested a suspect after the stabbing in the southwestern city and said they were searching for other possible perpetrators. The attack occurred at two market places close to each other in the city center. Police earlier said that it was too early to tell whether the attack was terror-related.

North Korea Backs Down

North Korea says its plan to fire ICBMs into the waters around Guam is on hold while it waits to see what the “foolish Yankees” do next. North Korean state media said Tuesday that Kim Jong Un has reviewed the plan for “the enveloping fire at Guam,” discussed it with military officials, and decided to delay a decision, the BBC reports. The official KCNA news agency said Kim decided to see “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula” per Reuters. Pyongyang earlier called for the US to stop flying heavy B-1B bombers around South Korea. The last such flight involving the Pacific island-based bombers was on Aug. 7, the Guardian reports.

U.S. Missile Defense System is effective but Not Foolproof

If North Korea fires a missile toward Guam, as it has threatened, there is a good chance that the U.S. military or an ally will be able to shoot it down. The United States and allies in the Pacific have an effective, though not foolproof, defense against a North Korea missile launch in the region, analysts say. Missile defense systems are located in Guam, South Korea and aboard naval ships in the area. The defenses include the ability to counter the Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range missile that can travel about 2,800 miles, which was cited by North Korea in its threat to target Guam, which is about 2,100 miles away. A missile of that range would be easier to intercept than a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, which travels faster and spends much of its travel time outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

More Than 14,000 Clergy Members Condemn White Supremacy

More than 14,000 clergy members, all part of The Clergy Letter Project, have released a statement saying that while some language used by white supremacists may be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, it isn’t acceptable. The Clergy Letter Project is an effort from American Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist clergy in support of the teaching of evolution. Michael Zimmerman, founder and executive director for The Clergy Letter Project, said the project was created to “demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible.” “For the average geneticist, race simply does not exist,” he says. “Similarly, from a religious perspective, we know that all people, regardless of any demographic attribute, should be treated fairly. Therefore, simply put, the vile rhetoric being spewed by white supremacists is religiously and biologically bankrupt,” he added.

Confederate Monuments Prompt Protests Across USA

The violent fallout from a decision by city officials in Charlottesville to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park has energized efforts to eliminate Confederate symbols across the nation. There are more than 700 across at least 31 states. In Louisville, more than 150 people rallied Monday at a bronze statue of Confederate officer John B. Castleman, shouting “Mayor Fischer, take it down! Mayor Fischer, take it down!” Meanwhile, at a rally 75 miles to the east in Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray drew cheers for his decision to remove two Confederate statues from public grounds. And the Kentucky chapter of the NAACP said it wants a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis removed from the state Capitol Rotunda. In Nashville, protesters demanded that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate officer who later helped lead the KKK, be removed from the state Capitol. Protesters in North Carolina took a more direct approach Monday, toppling a statue of a Confederate soldier near the courthouse in downtown Durham. A college student was arrested Tuesday for toppling the nearly century-old statue in front of a cheering crowd. Statues dedicated to Confederate heroes were swiftly removed across Baltimore in the early morning hours Wednesday, just days after violence broke out over the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.

Solar Eclipse Monday Drawing Millions, Sparking Prophecies

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in totality within a band across the entire contiguous United States; it will only be visible in other countries as a partial eclipse. The band in the U.S. extends through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun’s, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness.

Millions of people are hitting the road to spend the weekend in towns along the path of totality for Monday’s total solar eclipse. Some highways and side streets were already filling up Thursday afternoon. In Oregon, a traffic jam extended 15 miles along Highway 26 leading to the town of Prineville. Authorities are expecting similar traffic problems elsewhere along the path of totality Friday and into the weekend as visitors spend the next few days enjoying whatever small town they chose to view the once-in-a-generation event.

Ominous prophesies are accompanying this rare event. Numerous religious commentators, including Anne Graham Lotz, are claiming that it’s a sign from God showing that the last days—prophesied in the Bible—are now upon on us. One of the main Bible prophecies that some of these commentators point to is Joel 2:31, which says, “The sun will be turned to darkness…before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations,” Anne notes. “While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”

Major Arrests of M-13 Gang Members

More than a dozen alleged members of the feared MS-13 street gang were arrested during early morning raids Tuesday in Ohio and Indiana, the Department of Justice said. Federal prosecutors said a grand jury had charged 10 gang members of the “Columbus Clique” with conspiracy to commit extortion and money laundering, as well as the use of firearms during a violent crime, in an indictment returned in late July. The indictment alleges the 10 “conspired to commit extortion through the use of threatened or actual force, violence or fear to intimidate their victims into paying money to the defendants and their co-conspirators.” Prosecutors said money was then sent “usually by wire transfer and often through intermediaries,” to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador and elsewhere to promote the group’s criminal activities. Besides the 10 members charged in the federal indictment, federal officials said an additional five people were arrested and charged with federal immigration offenses.

Trump Ends Obama’s Central American Youth Immigration Program

The Trump administration on Wednesday shut down yet another Obama-era program — this one created to give Central American minors fleeing poverty and gang violence in their homeland temporary legal status in the United States. The “CAM parole” program was established in 2014 in response to a surprise spike in the number of unaccompanied minors and families entering the country from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The program allowed minors who did not make the cut for “refugee status” to enter the U.S. on a two-year, renewable parole if they had a parent already legally in the country. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversaw the project, 1,465 minors have been granted entry under the parole program. Another 2,714 people had been conditionally approved to enter the U.S. but have now lost the opportunity. The program’s termination was announced in the federal register.

Arkansas Can Defund Planned Parenthood, Court Rules

A U.S. appeals court has reversed a ruling that prohibited the state of Arkansas from cutting funding to Medicaid, which in turn would have maintained funding for Planned Parenthood. In the earlier court decision, three women claimed the state violated their rights to choose their preferred healthcare provider, as federally mandated through Medicaid. However, the 8th Circuit Court has now ruled that the federal law does not unequivocally give patients this right; therefore, Arkansas can proceed with its plan to direct taxpayers’ dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Arkansas’ initial restriction of funds to Planned Parenthood came after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos in 2015, allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

Texas Bans Taxpayer Insurance Funding of Abortion

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill today to restrict state funding for abortion insurance. The new law will keep Texans from having to pay for elective abortions through their insurance plans. “As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Gov. Abbott said. “This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.” HB-214, which the House passed last week and the Senate approved Sunday, applies to “elective” abortions and specifically includes an exemption for cases of medical emergency to save the mother’s life.

U.K. Legislating Calories, Sugar & Salt

After cracking down on sugar and salt, Public Health England said Friday it now wanted companies to slash the calories in food to tackle an obesity epidemic among children. It plans to set calorie targets for fast food and other meals popular with kids by the start of 2018. The new targets would be voluntary to start, Lemon said. But if the program doesn’t work, the government would consider making the targets legally binding. The U.K. introduced a tax last year as part of an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 milliliters are affected by the levy with a higher rate ($0.30 per liter) for drinks with over 8 grams.

  • While obesity is a worthy target, the march toward socialism and technocracy, spurred by the sustainability requirements of the U.N.’s Agenda 2030, are leading toward government intrusion into virtually all aspects of life. Can the mark of the beast be closer to implementation if consumers don’t toe the line?

Economic News

Consumer confidence was better than expected in August, beating projections from economists surveyed by Reuters. The consumer sentiment index, a survey of consumers by The University of Michigan, rose to 97.6 in August. Economists estimated the index would climb to 94 from the 93.4 reading in July. Consumer confidence rose in the first half of August to its highest level since January due to a more positive outlook for the overall economy as well as more favorable personal financial prospects. The consumer sentiment index nearly returned to peak levels recorded earlier in 2017 before the last recession.

A slump in motor vehicle production pushed down U.S. factory output unexpectedly in July, Federal Reserve data showed Thursday. Factory output dropped 0.1%. Manufacturing output minus motor vehicles rose 0.2%, reflecting a pickup in non-durable goods production. Total industrial production, which also includes mines and utilities, increased 0.2%. Automobile production fell 3.6 percent in July, the fourth decline in the last five months.

U.S. homebuilders bounced back in August from a recent funk, as current sales and sales expectations leaped forward. New home sales in June were 9 percent higher compared with a year ago, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A monthly index of builder sentiment rose 4 points to the highest level since May. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index now stands at 68. Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment. The index was at 59 last August. Builders say over-regulation at the federal, state and local levels have hampered production and driven up the cost of new construction. Sentiment had dropped more recently due to rising material costs, especially lumber. The Trump administration imposed a tariff on Canadian lumber, causing the price to spike.

These days “gig workers” aren’t just Uber drivers or Task-Rabbits (a website for finding manual laborers). They also include freelancers, contractors, consultants and on-demand workers — basically anyone who is working on a temporary basis. The gig economy now makes up about 34% of the U.S. workforce, according to Intuit. That’s expected to grow to 43% — or 7.7 million people — by 2020. Some are turning to the gig economy out of necessity, while others are hoping to get a better work-life balance.

Persecution Watch

Many Christian organizations are fearful for their safety after CNN published a bogus “hate map” concocted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” CNN’s headline declared. The list included among others American Family Association, Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel and Pacific Justice Institute. American Family Association blasted the CNN story calling it a “sham news article that could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way.” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver demanded an immediate retraction – calling CNN’s report “false, defamatory and dangerous.” “Liberty Counsel is not a hate group,” he said. “The false ‘hate’ label is very damaging to our reputation and is a safety risk to our staff. Liberty Counsel is a Christian ministry, and hates no one.”

Middle East

The U.N. is allowing Hezbollah – an officially recognized terrorist group – to amass significant weapons on Israel’s border. Hezbollah jihadists are funded and directed by Iran. Hezbollah – Iran’s army in the region – is preparing for war against our ally Israel, and the U.N. is refusing to do anything about it, notes Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). “This continues a long line of U.N. betrayals of Israel. Israel could be wiped off the face of the map and the U.N. wouldn’t blink.” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is demanding action from the U.N. to stop this threat to Israel. Meanwhile, the ACLJ is preparing “critical legal action at the U.N. and the International Criminal Court if necessary to defend Israel.”

Islamic State/Al-Qaeda

While the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria is inching closer to victory, the worst may not be over. Al Qaeda-linked militants continue to make significant advances and maintain territorial control some 150 miles west of the de facto caliphate capital of Raqqa, sweeping through the war-shattered country’s province of Idlib. Late last month the extremist faction Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) waged war with more mainstream Ahrar al-Sham, successfully seizing control of most of Idlib and capturing a key border crossing into Turkey. The increasing HTS dominance could see the U.S. dragged further into the conflict, especially given the credible threat Al Qaeda still poses to the U.S. homeland. HTS was previously known as Syria’s Al Qaeda (AQ) branch al-Nusra Front, and later named Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. “The United States continues to target Al Qaeda in Idlib governorate and across Syria in order to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks,” Eric Pahon, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, told Fox News.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his country could abandon the nuclear deal it struck with six world powers in 2015 “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions. He said that once restarted; the program could quickly be brought to a much more advanced level than it was in 2015. However, he added that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the nuclear deal. Last month, the Senate voted to approve a new package of stiff financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The sanctions impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. President Trump signed the new sanctions into law earlier this month. Iran’s missile development is banned by the U.N. but not covered by the nuclear deal, which capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of previous international sanctions.

Iraq

Iraq has begun an aerial bombardment of Tal Afar, a town under Islamic State control west of Mosul, Baghdad-based al-Sumariya TV said on Tuesday. The ground attack to try to take the city will start when the air campaign is over. Tal Afar, 50 miles west of Mosul that was recently recaptured, is the next target in the war on the Islamist militant group that swept through swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Afghanistan

An American service member died in Afghanistan on Wednesday after being wounded in an operation against the Islamic State’s affiliate in the country, the military said. American and Afghan troops were also injured in the raid, which took place in eastern Afghanistan. American military spokesmen did not disclose how many were hurt or provide details about their mission. Even as the United States has sought to help Afghan forces push back the Taliban, it has been involved in a separate fight with the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, as the affiliate is known.

Volcanoes

Scientists have announced the discovery of 91 volcanoes underneath the West Antarctica ice sheet – a discovery that makes the area one of the largest volcanic regions in the world. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh conducted an expansive study of the West Antarctic Rift System and found 178 cone-shaped structures under the ice sheet. They determined that 138 were volcanoes, 91 of which were previously undiscovered. It’s likely that the West Antarctic Rift System will surpass east Africa’s volcanic ridge, home to Mount Kilimanjaro, as the location with the highest density of volcanoes in the world. “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes?” asked Robert Bingham, a glacier expert and one of the paper’s authors, in a report from the Guardian. “That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”

Wildfires

Forest fires trapped 2,000 people in a village in Portugal Wednesday as firefighters fought to control two massive blazes burning in the country. “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Mação because of the flames and the smoke,” Mação village mayor Vasco Estrela said. The wildfire first erupted Tuesday evening and surrounded the village by Thursday morning. About 133 people were evacuated beforehand from the village. The firefighters were also concerned about the forecast – hotter weather could re-ignite extinguished fires and trigger blazes in new locations. Portugal’s government declared a state of public calamity ahead of the expected temperature rise.

In the U.S., drought in the Northwest has caused numerous wildfires in Washington, Oregon, western Montana and northern California. At least 25 large wildfires are burning across this region, with 11 of them major Incident One fires, drawing firefighters from across the U.S. The rest are Incident Twos, tapping firefighting resources from across the region. Even more wildfires are being handled by local firefighters. The weather forecast remains warm and dry, making things even more difficult for the thousands of firefighters. More than 19,700 firefighters have been assigned to fires in the West, Alaska and Florida. In 2017 to date, wildfires have consumed 6,371,233 acres of land, well above the ten-year average of 4,653,087.

Weather

Flash flooding in Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday morning has sent water into homes and businesses, covered bridges and stranded vehicles. Arkansas with hit with rainfall rates of more than an inch per hour. Damascus picked up 7 inches of rain in just three hours early Tuesday. Water covered the roadway on Highway 41 north and south of Branch, Arkansas, and shut down several bridges outside of town. There were also reports of cars under water in Clarksville and Russellville.

Red Cross officials estimate that 500 people are still missing after heavy rains and flash flooding led to landslides in the west African nation of Sierra Leone on Monday. Local officials estimate that more than 400 people have died and say they expect the death toll to continue to rise. A hillside in the Regent area collapsed early on Monday following heavy rains leaving many houses completely covered in mud. Many people may were caught asleep when the mudslide occurred.

Signs of the Times (8/14/17)

August 14, 2017

Charlottesville Violence Kills 3 at White Supremacist Rally

Three people were killed and 35 injured in a day of violence surrounding a white supremacist rally in the usually quite college town of Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. Early in the day, clashes had broken out as the groups that planned the “Unite the Right” rally were met with counter protesters. After the rally, a car plowed into a crowd, killing one person and injuring 19 others. A 32-year-old woman was killed in the car crash. A 20-year-old Ohio man is accused of driving a car into a crowd. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, espoused Nazi ideals in high school, former teacher says. A state police helicopter that was monitoring the protests crashed outside the city, killing two officers who had been assisting police to monitor the protests. Sixteen people were injured in clashes between the two opposing groups of protesters. Twitter dispatches showed a violent scene with protesters wielding shields, sticks and flags in massive scuffles that left people bloodied. One of the main organizers was alt- right blogger Jason Kessler, who filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the removal of a Confederate statue. President Trump denounced groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name on Monday and announced that the Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the death of a counter-protester at a white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend as he sought to mitigate mounting criticism of his initial tepid response to the violence.

Charlottesville Has Become the Epicenter for White Supremacist Protests

The “Unite the Right” rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, marks the third time white nationalist groups gathered there this year. The protests began after the Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. A judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city, a progressive college town where over 80% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton, from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported. The city also voted to rename Lee and Jackson parks this spring. Statues of Confederate leaders nationwide have been removed in recent years as communities viewed them as symbols of slavery, but a USA TODAY analysis in May found that more than 700 Confederate monuments in 31 states still stand. Several dozen torch-wielding demonstrators, led by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, gathered by the Lee statue on May 13 to protest the vote for its removal.

Anger/Violence Rising Across the U.S.

Violent crime is on the rise this year in some of the country’s biggest cities, according to statistics, which find Chicago still leads as the deadliest city while homicide cases have spiked in Baltimore and New Orleans. Of the 62 police departments that reported data, 32 said the number of homicides has risen and 35 said there were more aggravated assaults. Chicago’s data showed it was about on the same pace as 2016 and still leads the country, with 328 people killed in the first six months of this year. Homicides in Baltimore were up 24 percent, with 170 killed from January to June. By Aug. 7, the number hit 211 homicides. Other cities reporting significant homicide increases this year include Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans; Philadelphia; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. “The uptick in murders is a continuation of the violent crime wave seen over the past several years,” said Justice Department spokesman Drew Hudson.

  • Anger has risen dramatically in the U.S. which has led to the uptick in violence, another end-time marker: Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11 NKJ) When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. (Revelation 6:3-4, NKJ)

U.S. Plans to Intercept North Korean Missiles at Guam

If North Korea follows through on its threat to fire ballistic missiles at Guam, the U.S. military plans to shoot them down, raising the stakes even further in a dangerous global standoff. North Korea said Thursday it was developing plans to launch four medium-range ballistic missiles that would land 19 to 25 miles from the western Pacific island. U.S. commanders would have little time to make a critical decision about whether any inbound missiles represented a threat to Guam, home to two large military bases and about 7,000 U.S. service members. A ballistic missile would take only about 14 minutes to reach Guam from North Korea, according to Guam’s Homeland Security office. U.S. surveillance, including spy satellites, also watch North Korea’s preparations before a missile launch, giving U.S. authorities a little additional time to assess the threat.

2016 Warmest Year on Record Says the NOAA

The federal government confirmed 2016 as the planet’s warmest year on record, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year led to last year’s all-time record heat, NOAA said. The report also noted other signs of a warming planet in 2016: Greenhouse gases were the highest on record; Sea-surface temperatures were the highest on record; Global upper ocean heat content near-record high; Global sea level was the highest on record; Antarctic had a record low sea ice extent. Known as the State of the Climate, the annual report is prepared by more than 450 scientists from more than 60 countries around the world and published in conjunction with the American Meteorological Society. It’s the most comprehensive annual summary of Earth’s climate.

  • The Bible prophesies extreme weather for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

State of Emergency over New Orleans Flooding Crisis

Louisiana’s governor has declared a state of emergency in New Orleans as officials and residents scrambled in the aftermath of last Saturday’s heavy storm that left hundreds of homes and businesses flooded. Within three to four hours on Saturday, as much as 8 to 10 inches of rain fell across New Orleans. With more rain in the forecast, New Orleans leaders rushed to deal with a series of malfunctions in the city’s drainage system — and to face criticism of local officials who waited days to reveal the full extent of system failures. The city has struggled with its unique drainage system for years. Century-old pumps are in constant need of repair, catch basins repeatedly clog, and potholes and sinkholes form seemingly everywhere. Because of New Orleans’ unusual topography — with many areas below sea level and protected by levees — pumps in every neighborhood must suck rainwater out of storm drains and canals and push it into a nearby lake or other water bodies.

Seas Rising on U.S. Southeast Atlantic Coast

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers with the University of Florida say the sea has risen more than six times faster in the Southeast Atlantic coast over the past few years than the average global sea level rise, about three-quarters of an inch per year from 2011 to 2015. The result of this rise has been recurring coastal street flooding and sea insurgencies, particularly at high tide, from the Carolinas to Miami. The scientists concluded that the “hot spot” of sea level rise that has affected areas from Cape Hatteras down the coast to Miami is due to a “one-two punch from naturally occurring climate variations,” according to a press release. The researchers say an interaction between El Niño and the North Atlantic Oscillation, which is a shift in atmospheric pressure over the ocean that can have large effects on the winds blowing toward the American coast, created a pile up of water off the shoreline. The hot spots, or bursts of accelerated sea rise like the one observed in the Southeast, can last from three to five years, according to the study.

President Trump Cuts Funding for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program

President Trump recently cut funding to a questionable teen pregnancy prevention program that has given millions of dollars to the abortion business Planned Parenthood, reports LiveNews.com. President Barack Obama created the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in 2010 to teach vulnerable populations of students about preventing pregnancy. Participants in the program recently learned that their grant funding will end next year, two years sooner than expected, according to the report. Trump’s administration notified the 81 grant recipients that funding for the program is being cut by about $200 million and their grants will end on June 30, 2018, the report states. Among the groups receiving grants to teach sex education are several Planned Parenthood affiliates. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Mark Vafiades told the New York Times that there is very little evidence that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is working. Democrats and abortion activists are upset by the cuts, and are sending letters to HHS Secretary Tom Price in protest. Many speculate that the cuts could mean Trump’s administration will support abstinence-based programs instead.

College Student Jailed for Registering Dead Voters

A Virginia college student was sentenced this week to 100 days incarceration for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms listing the names of dead people and other faulty information for a political organization connected to the Democratic Party. Andrew J. Spieles, 21, was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for knowingly submitting false Virginia voter registration forms during the 2016 election, according to the Justice Department. Spieles, a student at James Madison University, worked as a staffer for Harrisonburg Votes — a group affiliated with the Democratic Party — and was paid to register voters in the area during the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, reports Fox News.

Uncertainty Spurs Obamacare Insurers to Leave, Hike Premiums

Consumers will likely find fewer choices and higher premiums on their Obamacare exchanges next year, as insurers grapple with the Republicans’ quest to dismantle the law, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report has found. The number of carriers that filed to participate next year dropped to an average of less than five. That’s down from a high of nearly seven in 2015. Insurers that assumed the individual mandate would not be enforced added between 1.2% to 20% to their premium requests. The mandate — which requires nearly all Americans get coverage or pay a penalty — is key to encouraging younger and healthier consumers to enroll.

U.S. Life Expectancy Rate of Increase Dropping

While mortality rates from 2000 to 2009 generally improved each year by about 1%-2% for both males and females, according to the most recent report by the Society of Actuaries, throughout recent years that rate of improvement has declined. In the five-year period that ended in 2014, the rate of increase dropped to an average of 0.6% for males and 0.42% for females. In 2015, the average life expectancy was 78.8 years of age, a slight decrease from the year prior. The Society of Actuaries forecasts that the current trend could mean that companies owe as much as 2% less in retirement benefits than forecasts based on earlier life expectancy estimates.

Economic News

Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy. Household debt— everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans — reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter, surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effects of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show. U.S. consumer debt is more than the size of China’s entire economy and almost four times that of Germany’s. On the surface, liabilities at an all-time high aren’t alarming when the assets side of ledger is taken into account. Household net worth stands at a record $94.8 trillion, thanks to rebounding home values and soaring stock portfolios. But that increase has primarily benefited the nation’s wealthiest. For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living, which is not fueling the economy’s growth at levels seen during pervious economic recoveries.

The number of residential houses available to buy is at a 20-year low as the appeal of McMansions wanes and as Baby Boomers show a greater reluctance to sell, according to a report by Realtor.com. “The housing shortage forced many first-time homebuyers to consider smaller homes and condos as a way to literally get their foot in the door,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com. The report states that 85% of Baby Boomers say they have no plans to sell their home in the next year. Homeownership among Baby Boomers is at 78%, or about 33 million properties. That’s nearly twice as high as Millennials. Older age groups have historically moved less frequently than younger home buyers and the trend continues. And the market dynamics have shifted because there are more people in the older age groups than in past years. People age 55-74 made up 21% in 2015, compared to 16% in 1985.

The retail apocalypse continues unabated. Macy’s, Kohl’s and Dillard’s all reported drops in same store sales in their latest earnings reports Thursday. Same store sales are a key measure of health for retailers that look at how well locations open for at least one year are doing. Stocks for each retailer plunged on the news. It’s yet another sign that the rise of Amazon and resurgence of Walmart have taken a toll on many traditional retailers. All of these old-school retailers are grappling with how to get customers in the door. Many have resorted to big discounts and promotions — and that has hurt their profits.

U.S. crude oil prices dipped by as much as 1% on Friday after an International Energy Agency report showed that major oil producers are struggling to comply with an agreement to slash output. OPEC and other major producers including Russia agreed to reduce output in November, part of an attempt to eliminate a global oil glut and boost prices. But the strength of the agreement now appears to be fading. The IEA, which monitors energy market trends for the world’s richest countries, said that compliance by OPEC countries dropped to a new low of 75% in July. In total, the group produced 470,000 barrels a day more than agreed.

Islamic State

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS), in its three years in control of major cities in Iraq, plundered more than $800 million from Iraqi bank facilities and reserves, according to the country’s Central Bank. In a new report, the Central Bank of Iraq says that extremists linked to ISIS have taken $101 million and 856.5 billion Iraqi dinars ($727.6 million) from banks in the territory it controlled following the creation of its self-styled caliphate in July 2014, a total of almost $830 million. The number is a significant amount but analysts had believed the group to have stolen trillions of Iraqi dinars, so the actual amount appears lower than initially feared.

Iran

Iranian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to increase the country’s budget for its ballistic missile program and foreign operations by the Revolutionary Guards, a direct challenge to new United States sanctions against the Islamic republic. Some lawmakers shouted, “Death to America” after the outlines of the bill “to counter America’s terrorist and adventurist actions” were passed by an overwhelming number of votes in Parliament, state television reported. The increase in the military budget and other measures came in retaliation to legislation passed by Congress and reluctantly signed by President Trump this month to impose new sanctions on Iran over its missile program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to leave the nuclear agreement, which was struck by the United States, Iran and other world powers in 2016. That has led to rising frustration in Iran, where the agreement was hailed by ordinary citizens as a fresh start after years of sanctions. It was also seen as a counterweight to hardliner forces in the country.

Yemen

Quietly, the United States has managed to turn its war on Yemen from a “leading from behind with a lot of technical assistance” program to a “if you want something done right, do it yourself” system, reports the Washington Post. A contingent of U.S. troops is involved in a Yemeni operation to push al-Qaeda militants from one of their key strongholds in central Yemen, the Pentagon said Friday. The announcement comes a day after the United Arab Emirates said in a statement that its forces, along with U.S. troops, were supporting the Yemeni military in the Shabwa governorate in a bid to oust al-Qaeda fighters entrenched there. Since Feb. 28, the United States has conducted roughly 80 airstrikes against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen. While the U.S. continues to stress that it is not at war with the Houthi rebels, it has provided a massive amount of tactical support to the Saudis who are at war with the Houthis.

Somalia

The U.S. military says it conducted two drone strikes Thursday against Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab fighters in southern Somalia. The results of the strikes were still being assessed, a statement from the U.S. Africa Command said. The strikes took place near the Banadiir region of Somalia, an area that includes the capital, Mogadishu. President Trump authorized the military to conduct offensive operations against al-Qaeda’s third largest affiliate, which is seen as the most lethal terrorist group in Africa.

Wildfires

Firefighters struggled to battle numerous wildfires burning in Portugal and the French island of Corsica Sunday after hot and dry weather stoked the blazes. More than 250 fires are burning, prompted officials to reach out to other European Union nations for assistance. Currently, over 4,000 firefighters are trying to corral the flames. Portugal set an annual single-day record for new fires on Saturday, when 268 separate fires started. That surpassed the previous year-to-date high mark of 220 fires reached Friday. On Corsica, fires that have raged since Thursday forced the evacuation of 1,000 people.

A wildfire cut off the return route for dozens of people staying in Montana’s Glacier National Park backcountry chalet, leaving them the choice of remaining until rangers tell them it’s safe or hiking out along a longer and more difficult trail, park officials said Friday. Park rangers also planned to lead out 39 other hikers who were staying in backcountry campsites near fires that broke out after a passing lightning storm last Thursday.

Firefighters are battling a wildfire that has grown to 1,000 acres in Riverside, California. The wildfire near the University of California prompted an evacuation order. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire broke out near a city street Sunday afternoon and quickly burned uphill into Box Springs Mountains, which includes a reserve managed by the university. Authorities issued evacuation orders for a neighborhood east of the mountain in Moreno Valley. In Central California, a 300-acre wildfire burning near the town of Wawona has forced the closure of a popular trail in Yosemite National Park.

Weather

A record-shattering two-week heat wave in the Pacific Northwest came to an end this past weekend, thanks to an abrupt change in the jet-stream pattern. In the heat-fatigued Interstate 5 corridor of western Washington and western Oregon, 90s will be replaced by 70s in most areas by Sunday. The torrid heat wave has set several notable records for longevity. Salem, Oregon, topped its previous record streak of 90-degree-plus highs of 11 days set in 1967 and 1938. Spokane, Washington, broke its record 90-degree-plus high streak of 14 days that stood since 1894. The first nine days of August were the hottest such period on record in Seattle, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Oregon, and Yakima, Washington.

Homes and vehicles were heavily damaged last Wednesday in WaKeeney, Kansas, a town of about 1,800 located some 200 miles northwest of Wichita, when severe storms dumped huge hail on the area. In one part of the town, 90 percent of the vehicles in a parking lot were damaged by the hail, and nearby homes had roof, window and siding damage In Trego County, hailstones as large as softballs were seen in some areas. The storms also brought wind gusts in excess of 70 mph, toppling a tractor-trailer on Interstate 70.

Heavy monsoon rains have unleashed landslides and floods that have killed at least 160 people and displaced millions of others across northern India, southern Nepal and Bangladesh. The seasonal floodwaters damaged bridges, toppled power lines and washed away thousands of homes in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. People have been killed by drowning or being caught inside collapsing houses or beneath falling trees. In neighboring Nepal, police were searching for 85 people reported missing after rivers burst their banks and killed at least 75. Another 20 people died over the last few days in Bangladesh. About 700 people became stranded in Nepal Sunday after heavy rainfall triggered flooding and landslides.

At least 200 people are dead after heavy rains and flash flooding led to landslides in the west African nation of Sierra Leone on Monday. A hillside in the Regent area collapsed early on Monday following heavy rains leaving many houses completely covered in mud, the BBC reports. Many people had been caught asleep when the mudslide occurred. Relatives were frantically digging through the mud in search of their loved ones and a morgue in the nearby national capital of Freetown overflowed with bodies.

 

Signs of the Times (7/27/17)

July 27, 2017

Awesome Night of Faith—In Hollywood!

More than 400 media professionals and guests filled a CBS Studio Center soundstage on May 4 for Legacy: An Evening of Honor and Prayer. Mastermedia International and The Hollywood Prayer Network (HPN) co-hosted the event, honoring producer Martha Williamson (Touched by An Angel), producer Terry Botwick (Captive), studio exec Merlinda Balmas (Warner Bros.), writers/producers Steve Storm and Christina Lee Storm (DreamWorks Animation), and actors David and Jessica Olyelowo (Selma) as believers living out a legacy of faith and integrity while working in the Hollywood entertainment industries. Their heartfelt acceptance comments were very moving. Everyone on the sound stage prayed together for three issues unique to the journey of Christian media professionals—career, health, and marriage and family. Mastermedia CEO Dan Rupple closed with a stirring prayer to commission everyone present to use the gifts God has given them for positive influence in media.

Trump Bans Transgenders in Military Sparking GOP Backlash

President Trump’s announcement Wednesday that he will ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity, reversed an Obama administration decision to allow them to serve openly, but it caught the Pentagon and Capitol Hill off guard, reports the Washington Post. War hero John McCain, the preeminent Republican voice on national security, took a break from battling brain cancer to send this statement: “The President’s tweet … regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. … There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is up for reelection in one of the reddest and most socially conservative states in America, agreed. Many other GOP Senators also criticized Trump’s decision and the way it was announced. The Pentagon appeared to be caught off guard and said it would continue to permit transgender people to serve until the White House officially changes the guidelines. However, the American Family Association said they applaud President Trump “for his courageous decision to end the usage of our military for social engineering and political correctness. American families deserve a military that is focused solely on readiness and national defense.”

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and other facilities which correspond to their gender identity.

Senate Okays Debate, Then Fails to Pass Any Healthcare Bills

The Republicans’ moment of victory on health care didn’t last long. With cancer-stricken John McCain making a stirring speech and casting the decisive procedural vote on Tuesday, President Trump and Mitch McConnell were able to get the health bill out of intensive care and to the Senate floor. But in the vote hours later on the main repeal-and-replace bill—the one that the president and GOP leadership have been pushing so hard—nine Republican senators defected. Then the Republicans failed again Wednesday to pass a repeal-only bill, which Trump favored as a backup but which never had a chance. The U.S. Senate voted 55 to 45 to reject the repealing of Obamacare and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Republicans are now considering a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare in hopes of just keeping the repeal process alive. The “skinny repeal” plan would likely eliminate the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, and the employer mandate, which obligates larger companies to provide affordable coverage to their full-time workers. The plan would also get rid of the Obamacare tax on medical device makers. Without the individual mandate, premiums would likely rise — as would the amount the federal government has to shell out in subsidies to help people buy coverage, warns the American Academy of Actuaries.

Congress Strikes Deal on Russia Sanctions Despite Trump Objection

House and Senate negotiators brushed aside White House objections Saturday and reached agreement on a broad sanctions bill that will make it more difficult for President Trump to unilaterally ease or end punitive measures against Moscow. The package punishes Russia for meddling in the U.S. presidential elections and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. The House and Senate negotiators also addressed concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia’s energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow’s benefit. The bill raises the threshold for when U.S. firms would be prohibited from being part of energy projects that also included Russian businesses. The White House had objected to a key section of the bill that would mandate a congressional review if Trump attempted to ease or end the sanctions. Under the terms of the bill, Trump would be required to send Congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate a particular set of sanctions. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow the move or reject it. One day after the House passed legislation 419-3 to enact new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea — as well as tying President Donald Trump’s hands to remove Russia sanctions — Corker, the Senate foreign relations chairman, said he planned to strip out the North Korea-related portion of the bill.

Trump Reluctantly Recertifies Iran Nuclear Deal

President Trump agreed on Monday to certify again that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement that he has strongly criticized, but only after hours of arguing with his top national security advisers. Mr. Trump has repeatedly condemned the deal brokered by President Barack Obama as a dangerous capitulation to Iran, but six months into his presidency he has not abandoned it. The decision on Monday was the second time his administration certified Iran’s compliance, and aides said a frustrated Mr. Trump had told his security team that he would not keep doing so indefinitely. Administration officials announced the certification on Monday evening while emphasizing that they intended to toughen enforcement of the deal, apply new sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and other destabilizing activities, and negotiate with European partners to craft a broader strategy to increase pressure on Tehran. Aides said Mr. Trump had insisted on such actions before agreeing to the consensus recommendation of his national security team.

Border Crossers Down Again, Agents Praise Trump

In June, 21,659 people were arrested or turned away at U.S. ports of entry along the Mexican border, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. That’s slightly higher than May but less than half the number from June 2016. June marked the fifth consecutive month that the numbers were markedly lower than in 2016. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that decline reflected an overall reduced flow of illegal immigrants across the border. Kelly credited Trump’s executive orders such as those expanding the powers of federal immigration officials to arrest undocumented immigrants. The head of the union representing more than 16,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents says there is sky-high morale at the agency thanks to the Trump administration.

Although courts have turned aside some of Trump’s orders, Kelly said tightened border security has driven up the fees charged by human smugglers. Since November 2016, “coyotes” who lead immigrants across the border have more than doubled their prices in some areas: $8,000 from $3,500 in certain mountainous regions. be curbing immigration enthusiasm. At least nine people died after being crammed into the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, authorities said Sunday in what they described as an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

Judge Allows Collection of Voter Data

A federal judge in DC declined to block President Donald Trump’s voter integrity commission from collecting data on voters from 50 states in a ruling on Monday, handing a win to an administration inundated by lawsuits over the commission’s request. The commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach, sent a letter to all 50 states requesting a slew of voter roll data in late June. Kobach said he was only asking for what was publicly available under the laws of each state, but the request nevertheless triggered rapid-fire litigation in federal courts, including a suit by a privacy rights group in which claimed the commission had failed to comply with federal law and the request violated constitutionally-protected privacy rights. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly concluded Monday that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) did not have standing to sue on all of its claims under existing case law. The judge further concluded that the White House Information Technology office — now tasked with collecting the voter roll information on behalf of the commission — is not an independent “agency” for purposes of the federal statues EPIC sought to rely upon, and therefore, a federal court “cannot presently exert judicial review over the collection process.”

Fact Checkers Feud Over Number of Noncitizens Who Voted Illegally

A right-leaning fact-checker is fighting critics on the left who say its conclusion that a lot of noncitizens vote illegally is bunk, reports the Washington Times. The online battle of debunking and rebuttal is playing out as a much larger war has erupted between President Trump’s commission on election integrity and Democratic state leaders. They are refusing to provide the panel with public voter registration data. Left-wing groups are suing to stop the commission’s work, which could settle the noncitizen debate by collecting enough data. In the fact-check standoff, there is Just Facts, a small New Jersey firm of conservative and libertarian scholars who promote what they say is solid independent research. Just Facts President James D. Agresti issued a blockbuster report in June. Using previous research, polling data and Census Bureau figures, his team concluded that as few as 594,000 noncitizens or as many as 5.7 million voted in the 2008 presidential election. If accurate on the high side, it would vindicate Mr. Trump’s contention that a lot of illegal ballots were cast in his race for the White House last year with Democrat Hillary Clinton. Challenging Mr. Agresti are fact-checkers PolitiFact and Snopes.com and left-leaning news sites such as HuffPost.

  • com is reportedly on the verge of financial collapse since one if its founders has been accused of using company cash to fund his contentious divorce and to pay for fancy vacations with his new wife, a former escort and porn actress, reports WorldNetDaily.

Women Drawn to ISIS Husbands Abused Say Escapees

Foreign women who flocked to the “Islamic caliphate,” were drawn by the promise that they could start a new life with strong, devout men. They say what they found there was something entirely different — fighting in all female dorms, sex obsessed ISIS fighters, some being divorced and remarried as many as six times, reports CNN. In the scorching heat of the Syrian desert, dozens of runaway ISIS brides sit in a crowded concrete jail and wait with their children. The women are segregated from the rest of a sprawling refugee camp in Ain Issa, around 30 miles (50 km) north of ISIS’ de facto capital, Raqqa. All insist they were shocked and appalled when they learned what ISIS was really like. Now they are stuck between the militants’ crumbling stronghold and home countries that most likely don’t want them back.

A’s on the Rise for HS Seniors, But SATs Down

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen. In 1998, A averages represented 38.9% of all seniors. By last year, it had grown to 47%. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A’s on report cards do not represent increased learning. Examining the academic transcripts of high school graduates in the 18-year period from 1998 to 2016, they found that the average grade point average rose from 3.27 to 3.38, even as the average SAT score dropped.

  • Schools are being measured on performance, so now they juice the numbers

Youth Becoming Desensitized to Violence

The cellphone video taken by a group of teens while they watched a man drowning in a Cocoa pond in Melbourne, Florida — and not only did nothing to help him, but laughed at him — has shocked many around the world. The five teenagers who taunted the drowning man while recording his death may face criminal charges, the police chief said Friday. Vicki Panaccione, a Melbourne psychologist who works with children and families, said she has noticed a trend of people becoming “desensitized about what’s going on in the world because of everything they’re exposed to. It can almost be overwhelming. Kids are being bombarded with all kinds of violence and aggression.” That includes everything from violent video games and movies, to news media reports of mass shootings. “In general, we’re just getting too used to all of the horrible things that are happening in the world,” Panaccione said. “It just becomes a ho-hum experience.” There was also the recent court case of a girl who encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide by text, which the boy’s family discovered on his phone.

Contaminants in Water Pose Health risks, but are Legal

Contaminants detected in water samples throughout the country pose health risks but are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a new report released Wednesday finds. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) collected data from drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 at more than 48,000 water facilities throughout the U.S. and found 267 contaminants present in water supplies, many at levels above what scientific studies have found pose health risks. If you decide to drink tap water, — it’s surprisingly fine to do so in some cases — the EWG recommends using a filter. EWG’s findings: 93 of the contaminants were linked to an increased risk of cancer; 78 were associated with brain and nervous system damage; 63 were connected to developmental harm in children or fetuses; 38 were contaminants that could cause fertility issues; and 45 were endocrine disruptors. Details are available in an EWG database.

First U.S. Company Offers Microchip Implants to Employees

A Wisconsin company called Three Square Market is going to offer employees implantable chips to open doors, buy snacks, log in to computers, and use office equipment like copy machines. Participating employees will have the chips, which use near field communication (NFC) technology, implanted between their thumb and forefinger. It’s an extension of the long-running implantable RFID chip business, based on a partnership with Swedish company Biohax International. The vending kiosk company, also known as 32M, will “chip” employees at a party on August 1st. Around 50 people are supposedly getting the optional implants.

  • An early indicator of how the ‘mark of the beast’ is to be implemented in the near future (see Revelation 13:16-17 and 14:11)

U.S. Debt at Record Levels

Total government debt plus total personal debt in the United States has blown past the 41 trillion-dollar mark, reports 720Global.  When you break that down, it comes to $329,961.34 per household, and that figure represents 584 percent of median household income. In 1980, total government debt plus total personal debt in the United States was just over 3 trillion dollars.  That breaks down to $38,552 per household, which represented 79 percent of median household income at the time. These figures don’t even include corporate debt. They only include government debt on the federal, state and local levels, and all forms of personal debt.

  • The debt load is staggering, which will eventually bring about the world’s worst depression ever, as prophesied in Revelation 6:5-6

Economic News

The Federal Reserve held its key short-term interest rate steady Wednesday but signaled that it likely will begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion asset portfolio in September in an initiative that will nudge long-term rates higher. The central bank continues to grapple with both low 4.4% unemployment and persistently weak inflation — signs of an economy that has largely healed since the Great Recession but is still constrained by its aftereffects.

Orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods posted the biggest gain in nearly three years last month, pulled up by a surge in orders for civilian aircraft. The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods — which are meant to last at least three years — climbed 6.5% in June, reversing two straight monthly drops. But the bulk of the increase came from a 131.2% surge in orders for civilian aircraft, a volatile category. Excluding transportation equipment, orders were up just 0.2%.

U.S. home resales volumes fell more than expected in June as a dearth of properties pushed house prices to a record high. The National Association of Realtors said on Monday existing home sales dropped 1.8 percent from May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.52 million units last month. However, sales were up 0.7 percent from June 2016. An acute shortage of properties has hampered monthly sales. The shortage of properties has led to bidding wars, which have culminated in house price increases outpacing wage gains. Last month, the number of homes on the market slipped 0.5 percent to 1.96 million units. Supply was down 7.1 percent from a year ago.

Self-checkout machines were only the beginning of replacing human workers with machines at retail stores. The U.S. economy has lost about 71,000 retail jobs since the beginning of the year as routine tasks become automated and thousands of stores close because of competition from e-commerce companies like Amazon. Nearly 16 million people, or 11 percent of non-farm U.S. jobs, are in the retail industry, making it bigger than the factory sector, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The average price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline rose about a penny nationally over the past two weeks, to $2.32. The slight increase comes after 11 weeks of decline. The current price is about 10 cents above where it was a year ago. Gas in Reno, Nevada, was the most expensive in the contiguous United States at an average of $2.99 a gallon. The cheapest was in Jackson, Mississippi, at $1.97 a gallon. The U.S. average diesel price is $2.51, the same as it was two weeks ago.

Sales of organic food hit a record $43 billion last year, up 8.4% from the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association, much higher than the 0.6% growth rate in the overall food category. But organics still have a long way to go, representing just 5.3% of total retail food sales in the U.S.

North Korea

U.S. officials believe that North Korea will be able to launch a reliable nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by early 2018, a U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence assessment confirmed to CNN Wednesday. That would be an acceleration of two years from previous estimates that put Pyongyang three to five years from fully developing long-range missile capabilities. The official clarified to CNN that while North Korea can currently get a missile “off the ground,” there are still a lot of variables about guidance, re-entry and the ability to hit a specific target that North Korea still has to surmount. The Washington Post confirmed that the U.S. intelligence community’s latest assessment concludes Pyongyang will have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year.

Middle East

Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police clashed last Friday outside the Old City of Jerusalem amid tensions over Israeli authorities’ decision to bar male worshipers under 50 from entering the area for Friday prayers. The unrest erupted outside Herod’s Gate as Israeli police stopped younger men from entering the Old City of Jerusalem and Temple Mount, also known as the Noble Sanctuary, allowing only male worshipers aged 50 and over and women to go through. The restrictions were imposed after a fatal shooting last week. Israeli police forcefully pushed worshipers back and pointed their weapons at them. The officers then fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the worshipers and move them back. Also, two Israeli police officers were killed in a shooting by the Lions’ Gate in the Old City walls.

Following a tense morning, which saw thousands of Moslem residents gathering outside the entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City but refusing to enter through the metal detectors placed there following last Friday’s shooting attack that killed two Israel police officers, Moslem prayers were held in the streets and open spaces near the Mount. Shortly after they ended, violent riots erupted near Lions Gate and some neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, as some Islamic leaders urged their followers to revolt while others counseled patience. Violence continued over the weekend, including a terror attack in a Jewish community north of Jerusalem in which three Israelis were stabbed to death in their living room and clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police resulted in several casualties on both sides. On Monday morning, the violence spread to Amman, Jordan, where a security officer for the Israeli Embassy was stabbed by a Jordanian man who was there to do some manual work at the facility.

The Islamist terror militia Hamas declared itself outraged Wednesday following a decision by the EU Court of Justice to keep it on a terrorist blacklist, calling for a “day of rage” this coming Friday to protest against the “injustice” of the decision. A Hamas statement also pointed out the installation of cameras on the Temple Mount by Israeli security forces as an example of gratuitous “oppression” and called on Palestinians to rise up and demonstrate their unwillingness to be subjected to such demeaning oppression.

Islamic State

The Islamic State is struggling to mount an effective defense of the Syrian city of Raqqa, its headquarters, as local forces make rapid headway in ousting the militants, the U.S. military said.  The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they have captured 40% of the city since June 6, when a ground assault began. “We don’t see any significant counterattacks,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Dirk Smith, a deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition, “I’d characterize them in disarray.” Since this month’s recapture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State, Raqqa has become the main focus of the fight against the Islamic militants.

Iraq

The massive effort to drive the Islamic State from what had been Iraq’s second-largest city is now being matched by an enormous challenge to bring an ancient metropolis back to life from near total ruin. Much of the historic Old City in western Mosul has been reduced to rubble, with corpses rotting on the streets or buried under debris. Unexploded bombs and booby traps litter the terrain, as Islamic State guerrillas continue sniper attacks. And hundreds of thousands of former residents who fled remain in limbo.  Rebuilding after the nine-month offensive that ended in July will take years and billions of dollars, but the priority now is to make the city safe enough for residents to return. That means hunting down Islamic State stragglers, removing thousands of bodies and locating all the bombs that could still go off. Damage is far more extensive in western Mosul, where the prolonged fighting and airstrikes were more fierce. In contrast, reconstruction in Mosul’s eastern half across the Tigris River has been ongoing since January. A large proportion of buildings there remained intact.

Syria

Three of the leading international powers involved in Syria’s war—the U.S., Russia and Iran—are looking to expand and fortify their military presence in the country by building and upgrading foreign bases, with some already in the works. U.S. special operations forces have been involved in Syria for years, and the U.S. appears to be broadening the platforms from which it operates. Earlier this month, satellite imagery showed what appeared to be the construction of a new airstrip near Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Iraq, according to The Daily Beast. This base, along with other ‘temporary’ installations, reportedly could be used to both battle the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and bolster forces of the rebel Free Syrian Army in areas where fighters supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are poised to take over. Meanwhile, Assad allies Russia and Iran have announced plans to develop their own military presence in the country.

Iran

The Trump administration Wednesday continued its sharp criticism of Iran, labeling Tehran the world’s top government sponsor of terrorism. In a new report, the State Department said terrorist attacks and deaths from terrorism declined worldwide last year. The Islamic State militant group remained the most active “nonstate” perpetrator, the report said, despite having suffered a significant loss of territory. The document, formally titled Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, is issued annually under congressional mandate. A section on state sponsors of terrorism highlights Iran, its arming of the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon and anti-Israel groups like Hamas, plus its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. accuses of committing numerous atrocities against his citizenry.

Afganistan

A suicide bomber rammed his car packed with explosives into a bus carrying government employees in the Afghan capital early on Monday, killing 31 people and wounding 42 others, Kabul’s police chief spokesman said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. The attack took place in a western Kabul neighborhood where several prominent politicians reside and at rush hour, as residents were heading to work and students were on their way to a nearby private high school. The bus was completely destroyed, along with three other cars and several shops in the area. The minibus was carrying employees of the mines and petroleum ministry. It is the latest in a string of attacks in recent days by the Taliban, which said it had captured two districts in northern and central Afghanistan at the weekend.

A U.S. airstrike targeting Afghan militants Friday in restive Helmand province instead killed 16 Afghan police officers, U.S. and Afghan officials said. Two others were injured. The friendly fire incident, now under investigation, happened during a US-supported Afghan National Defense and Security Forces operation that aimed to go after militants in Gereshk district, US Forces-Afghanistan said.

Africa

Thousands in South Sudan are starving as the country faces a massive hunger crisis. The United Nations released estimates in February, saying that 100,000 South Sudanese were starving and that 5 million more people, or about 42 percent of the population, have limited access to food. The U.N. has declared parts of the country in famine and also said that Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen will also suffer mass death from water and food shortages without “prompt and sustained humanitarian intervention.” The hunger problems were caused by the wars in the countries and not by droughts or crop failures, according to a report from Vox. In Nigeria, for example, Boko Haram has forced millions from their homes, including farmers. Many of the country’s agricultural systems have been casualties of the fighting, and the U.N. now estimates that some 4.8 million people are in need of food assistance. In Somalia, more than 6 million people need food assistance, but the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab makes it hard for groups to bring in aid. In Yemen, about 7 million people need food help, but war between the government and the Houthi rebels has stopped food shipments.

Venezuela

Thousands of Venezuelans are rallying for a second day Thursday against President Nicolas Maduro’s regime as it prepares for a national vote next week. Hours after a national strike gripped Venezuela on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it is slapping sanctions against 13 Venezuelan government officials. “As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom and the rule of law,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. The sanctions come ahead of the planned July 30, 2017, election orchestrated by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of a National Constituent Assembly that will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions.

Mexico

Members of Mexican cartels are flocking to a new Mexican folk religion, and it puts a dark spin on Christianity. The religion involves devotion to La Santa Muerte, which translates to “Holy Death” or “Saint Death,” and can even include human sacrifice, reported Fox News. The popularity of the religion among drug traffickers and violent criminals in Central Texas has raised concern among authorities, prompting Texas officials and the Catholic Church to warn about the dangers of the dark creed. An FBI bulletin written by Robert J. Bunker, an academic and adviser to the government on security matters, noted the rise of the “criminalized and dark variant” of the Christian religion, pointing to many of its negative implications, which include “inspired and ritualistic killings.” The bulletin said those who worship La Santa Muerte, who is depicted as a robed skeleton carrying a scythe in one hand and a globe or scales in the other, can partake of various forms of sacrifice that include the “ritual murder and butchering of humans.”

Earthquakes

A massive 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck between Russia and Alaska Monday evening, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake occurred at 7:34 p.m. EDT approximately 124 miles east-southeast of Nikol’skoye, Russia, off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, at a depth of 7.3 miles. This quake was followed by several aftershocks, some of which were greater than 5.0 magnitude. A tsunami of 0.3 feet (3.6 inches) above the tide level was observed on Shemya Island, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. This is currently the second strongest earthquake of 2017. A 7.9 magnitude quake in Papua New Guinea on Jan. 22.

The 6.7 magnitude quake killed two and injured at least 358 people. The epicenter was 6.2 miles south-southeast of the city of Bodrum, and the temblor hit at a depth of roughly 6.2 miles. The two victims were tourists from Sweden and Turkey who were visiting the Greek island of Kos. Thirteen others were airlifted to hospitals in Athens, as well as Rhodes and Crete islands, because of serious injuries.

Wildfires

Authorities in a western Montana county have ordered residents to evacuate their homes as a wildfire approaches. about 60 homes and other structures in the Sunrise Creek and Quartz Flats areas are under siege from the Sunrise fire, which is burning 11 miles southeast of Superior in the Lolo National Park. The lightning-sparked blaze started July 16 and has grown to more than 4 square miles. Given some of the driest conditions in decades and with no forecasted moisture any time soon, containment of this fire won’t occur until around the end of fire season, forest officials say.

Wildfires tearing through a dry Mediterranean forest have prompted authorities to evacuate some 12,000 people from three popular tourist destinations in the Var region of the French Riviera. The fires started Monday in the La Londe-Les-Maures forest. Another fire started Tuesday night near Bormes-les-Mimosas and quickly grew to more than 3 square miles. More than 540 firefighters are battling this latest blaze. Nine have been injured. On Monday, smaller, scattered evacuations were ordered as other fires threatened parts of Saint-Tropez

Weather

For the first time in 11 years, Lake Tahoe is nearing capacity thanks to snow melt coming off of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The lake level peaked at 6,229 feet on July 9, coming extremely close to its full capacity level of 6,229.1, which hasn’t been reached in over a decade. Lake Tahoe was filled to the brim by melting snow pouring down from the Sierras, which filled the waterway with more than 12 billion gallons of water. During the winter, the area was buffeted with snow piled so high that ski resorts had to be shut down in January. More than 10 feet of snow fell in the Sierra over the course of a week.

Last week, heavy rain in the Upper Midwest overnight Friday triggered widespread flash flooding that has prompted evacuations and washed out roads and bridges. From Wisconsin to Iowa, rain that measured up to 10 inches in some areas led to more than 40 reports of flash flooding. Early Friday evening, a severe thunderstorm with destructive winds over 70 mph moved through Elk Grove Village, Illinois, uprooting large trees throughout the village adjacent to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Officials in a New York town declared a state of emergency after at least three tornadoes left behind damage Thursday. Severe thunderstorms struck parts of the Northeast Monday, causing damage to buildings and downing large trees and power lines, knocking out power to thousands in Syracuse. Large trees were downed across the area.

A massive storm wreaked havoc on New Zealand’s South Island, prompting states of emergency and the mobilization of troops to help those affected by the storms. a state of emergency was declared Saturday in the South Island cities of Christchurch, Otago, Timaru and Dunedin. The Guardian reports that those cities were only accessible by air afterwards. In Christchurch, the Heathcote River burst its banks and flooded parts of the city, prompting the New Zealand Defence Force to deploy troops to help with numerous evacuations. In addition to flooding, landslides have been reported.

At least 48 people  died over the past week after heavy monsoon rains lashed western India, including the desert state of Rajasthan, and officials said 24,000 villagers evacuated to higher ground.

Drought-stricken Nairobi, Kenya, has been rationing water since January, and officials fear supplies may run dry by September. Some 3.1 million residents are threatened by this lack of water, brought on by a combination of heat, arid conditions and meager rainy seasons. Currently, 60 percent of the city’s population is without reliable water.

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.