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Signs of the Times (5/25/17)

May 25, 2017

Trump Calls for End to Islamic Extremism & Peace in Israel

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

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

Manchester Concert Bombing Claims 22 Lives

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

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

Trump’s First Budget Proposal Goes to Congress

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

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

Demand Soars for Concealed Carry Permits

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

Abortion Conference Video Reveals Gruesome Details

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

Eight States Have Only One Abortion Clinic Open

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

Android Apps Track Users With Hidden ‘Beacons’

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

Iran

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

China

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

Philippines

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

Venezuela

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

Nigeria

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

Environment

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (5/6/17)

May 6, 2017

AHCA Defunds Planned Parenthood and Covers Pre-Existing Conditions

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

Republican Health Care Bill Headed for Overhaul in Senate

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

Hospitals, Doctors and Insurers Criticize Health Bill

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

Health Care in Other Developed Nations Also in Trouble

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

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

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

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

Refugee Admissions Tumble Under Trump

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

State Department Announces Extreme Vetting Program

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

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

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

NSA Collected 151 Million Phone Records in 2016

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

Ambushes of Police on the Rise

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

Alarming Rise in Children Hospitalized with Suicidal Tendencies

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

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

North Korea

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Iran

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

France

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

Environment

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

Weather

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

Signs of the Times (5/3/17)

May 3, 2017

Trump to Sign Order Protecting Opponents of Gay Marriage & Abortion

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

State Legislatures Tell Universities ‘Free Speech’ or Else

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

Congress to Vote this Week on Compromise Spending Bill

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

Healthcare Bill Floundering Over Pre-Existing Conditions

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

Illegal Immigration Declining Since 2007

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

Millions March in the People’s Climate March

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

Facebook Adding 3,000 Reviewers to Combat Violent Videos

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

Overfishing Depleting the Oceans

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

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

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

Detroit’s Big Three Suffer Sales Declines in April

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

Afghanistan

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

Iran

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

North Korea

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

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

China

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

Venezuela

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (4/5/17)

April 5, 2017

Cadbury Takes ‘Easter’ out of Annual Easter Egg Hunt

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

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

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

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

31,725 Illegals from Terror Hotbeds Have Disappeared

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

Border Patrol Urges Trump to Cut Obama’s Red Tape

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

Trump Administration Moves to Combat H-1B Visa Fraud

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

Democrats Stall Vote on Gorsuch to Supreme Court

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

Trump Signs Order to Repeal Internet Privacy Protections

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

DEA War Against Oxycodone Ends with a Whimper

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

Women Missing from Highest Paid Jobs

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

Syria

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

Russia

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

North Korea

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

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

Yemen

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

Iran

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (2/10/17)

February 10, 2017

Trump Experiences the Limits of Executive Power

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

Trump Right About Media Under-Reporting Islamic Terrorism

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

Foiled France Terrorists Appear to be ISIS-Inspired

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

Whistleblower Says Immigrant Vetting Process Severely Flawed

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

Venezuela Sold Visas to Terrorists

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

New Poll: Trump Trusted More Than Media

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

Military Sounds Alarm about ‘Insidious Decline’ in Readiness

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

Army Issues Permit to Continue Constructing Dakota Pipeline

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

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Price Estimates Increase

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

Trump Urged to Close Tax-Credit Loophole for Illegal Immigrants

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

Americans Renouncing Citizenship at Record High

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

Sessions Confirmed for AG after Contentious Senate Battle

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

Price Confirmed as Head of HHS, Aims to Dismantle Obamacare

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

Planned Parenthood Caught Offering Incentives for Abortion

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

Public School Children Now Rank in Bottom Half of World

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

NYC Curbs Stop & Frisk Even Though it’s Working

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

Whistleblower Says Obama Scientist Cooked Climate Change Data

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

Arctic Ice Set Record Lows

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

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

Economic News

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

China

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

Israel

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

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

Iran

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

Syria

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

Yemen

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

Afghanistan

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

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

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

East Africa

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

Environment

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

Weather

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

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

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

The Power of Prayer

November 9, 2016

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

Signs of the Times (10/14/16)

October 14, 2016

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

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

U.S. Relations with Russia Deteriorating Rapidly

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

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

New Child Bride Every 7 Seconds Worldwide

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

Youth Concussions on the Rise in U.S.

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

College Students Nationwide Flood Mental-Health Centers

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

Nobody Wants to Host the Olympic Games Anymore

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

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

Iraq

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

Syria

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

Nigeria

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

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

Egypt

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

Haiti

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

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

China

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (10/9/26)

October 9, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Brings Record River Flooding & Power Outages

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

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

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

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

White House Puts Thousands of Deportation Cases on Hold

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

Immigration Agents Caught Barely Half of Illegal Border Crossers Last Year

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

U.S. Admits Record Number of Muslim Immigrants

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

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

U.S. Officially Accuses Russia of Hacking Attacks

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

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

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

Persecution Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

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

Syria

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

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

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

Belgium

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

Germany

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

Turkey

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

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

Afghanistan

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

Russia

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

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

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

Columbia

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

Volcanoes

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (9/13/16)

September 13, 2016

Abortion Bullies Target Pregnancy Centers

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

Planned Parenthood Using Zika Scare to Encourage Abortions

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

ISIS Threat in Europe Grows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wells Fargo Fires 5,300 Employees for Creating Fake Accounts

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

Migrant Update

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

Zika Update

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

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

Iran

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

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

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

Turkey

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

Philippines

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

North Korea

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

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

Environment

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

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (8/25/16)

August 25, 2016

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

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

Gender Confusion in Schools

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

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

Major Study Undermines Gay Agenda

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

Kim Davis Wins the Fight for Religious Freedom

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

Twitter Suspends 235,000 Accounts for Extremism

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

U.S. Opioid Deaths Skyrocketing

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

Tanning Industry Blames 10,000 Salon Closings on ObamaCare

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

Obamacare Options Dwindling

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

Louisiana Flood Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Turkey

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

Iraq

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

Iran

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Nigeria

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

North Korea

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

Haiti

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

Colombia

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

Brazil

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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