Signs of the Times (10/4/17)

October 4, 2017

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

U.S. House Votes to Ban Late-Term Abortions

The U.S. House voted 237 to 189 Tuesday to ban most abortions after 20 weeks, when the pre-born baby can feel pain. The bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was sponsored by strongly pro-life Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ. Two Republicans voted against the bill. Three Democrats voted for it. Similar legislation passed the U.S. House in 2013 and 2015. It’s never passed the U.S. Senate. The bill contains rape and incest exceptions. For an abortion to take place, the abortionist must file a medical report with a state or federal agency saying an act of rape or incest conceived the child. At 20 weeks, mothers can feel their babies kicking. When they are operated on in the womb at this age, it’s standard medical practice to give the babies anesthesia. However, it’s still legal to dismember them in violent, painful abortions.

U.S. Lags World in Banning 20-Week Abortions

The United States lags behind developed nations in our protection of the unborn according to Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), among the co-sponsors of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” “The United States is one of the few remaining countries in the world that allows abortion after 20 weeks… It is time for America to join the ranks of most other developed nations around the world and restrict abortion at least at the point at which science tells us that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain.” There are just seven countries in the world that allow abortions after five months of pregnancy: The United States, North Korea, China, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), the Act’s sponsor, is calling for our nation to move in the right direction and protect the pre-born: “Throughout America’s history, the hearts of the American people have been moved with compassion when they discover a theretofore hidden class of victims, once they grasp both the humanity of the victims and the inhumanity of what is being done to them. America is on the cusp of another such realization.”

59 Dead, 527 Wounded in Las Vegas Shooting

At least 59 people are dead in Sunday night’s mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, which CNN reports would make it the deadliest such attack in U.S. history. Approximately 527 more were wounded when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival from 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino across the street. At least 23 weapons were found in the hotel room and 19 more at home. He’d purchased 33 guns in the past three months. Witnesses described fear and panic as what sounded like shots from an automatic weapon rang out during country star Jason Aldean’s performance. The outdoor concert had attracted about 22,000 people. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo says the gunman killed himself after being confronted by officers. Authorities have identified him as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada. Authorities said that Paddock was meticulously organized and had placed cameras in his room and the nearby hallway so he could see when police officers were closing in. Before retiring, Paddock worked as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, an IRS agent and a defense auditor. Neighbors in several states where Stephen Paddock owned homes in retirement communities described him as surly, unfriendly and standoffish.

No motive is known. “Right now, we believe it’s a sole actor, a lone wolf type actor,” says Lombardo. Police have determined that the suspect’s roommate, a woman named Marilou Danley, was not involved in the shooting. Danley was reported to have been in the Philippines at the time of the incident. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said Monday that Danley, 62, is in Tokyo now. Paddock wired $100,000 last week to the Philippines, the home country of his girlfriend, NBC News reported Tuesday. Danley was met at Los Angeles International Airport by FBI agents on Tuesday night after flying from Manila, multiple media outlets said. Danley’s sisters say Marilou knew nothing of the massacre and was “sent away” so she wouldn’t interfere with Paddock’s plans.

Las Vegas Shooter’s Father Was a Psychopathic Bank Robber

Paddock’s family said they “were completely dumbfounded” as to why Stephen would do such a terrible thing. However, Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock, revealed Monday that their father, Patrick Benjamin Paddock, was a bank robber who escaped prison and was on the FBI Most Wanted list. Paddock the elder was “diagnosed as psychopathic” and “reportedly had suicidal tendencies,” reports World Net Daily. The father of Stephen Paddock was a grifter, a con artist, a bank robber and a jail-breaker who spent years on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list, reports the New York Times. Eric Paddock told CBS that Stephen had no history of mental illness, but had a severe gambling addiction. Over the last 20 years, the perpetrators of nearly all the deadliest mass shooting in the United States have shared one of two traits: Besides killing innocents with firearms, they’ve either been radicalized by Islam or were using mind-altering psychiatric drugs during the time of their murder sprees, notes WND. Paddock was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug in June, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

  • ISIS, of course, claimed credit, but there are no apparent ties between Paddock and the Islamic State

Shooter Obtained Most of His Guns Legally

Law-enforcement agents completed an initial sweep of Paddock’s home Monday morning in which investigators found additional weapons and ammunition. Paddock passed every federal background check, every time he bought a gun. Gun owners in Nevada don’t need a permit to buy or possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun, according to the National Rifle Association. Nevadans can even purchase machine guns and silencers, banned in other states, as long as they’re within federal compliance. At least some of his arsenal was purchased legally at Guns & Guitars in Mesquite, Nevada. The rapid fire suggests that Paddock had automatic weapons, which require a special permit that requires fingerprinting and federal approval. But he could have also used widely available trigger cranks on a semiautomatic weapon that would have allowed him to fire nearly 700 rounds per minute.

  • The Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group, estimates that Americans own 42% of about 650 million civilian firearms worldwide. National gun ownership rates range from a high of 90 firearms per every 100 people in the U.S., to one firearm or less for every 100 residents in South Korea and Ghana. Yemen, the country with the second highest number of firearms per 100 people – 55 – is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries and is fighting a bloody civil war.

Australia’s Gun Laws Said to Reduce Violence

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is offering to share with the United States her country’s two decades of experience with gun law reform that dramatically lowered gun violence deaths. Australia credits stricter gun control laws enacted after a massacre in Port Arthur in 1996 for a dramatic fall in gun violence. Australia enacted national gun laws which banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons and included a national buy back scheme. Australia concluded a three-month national gun amnesty last month in which people turned over more than 26,000 unregistered, illegal or unwanted firearms to local authorities without facing a penalty or prosecution. Possession of an unregistered firearm carries a fine of up to $280,000 in Australian dollars ($220,000 in U.S. currency) and up to 14 years in jail. It’s now been 21 years since Port Arthur without a mass shooting.

Houston Now Beset with Post-Harvey Toxins

The Environmental Protection Agency has found traces of a dangerous chemical – at levels more than 2,300 times the level set to trigger a cleanup – near a Texas Superfund site in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The EPA says an unknown amount of dioxins may have washed downriver from a Houston-area Superfund site during the flooding from Harvey. Tests in waters near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits showed highly elevated levels of dioxin, a chemical linked to birth defects and cancer. Dioxins do not dissolve easily in water but can be carried away with any contaminated sediments and deposited over a wider area. The EPA has ordered the companies responsible for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site to immediately address the damage. International Paper and the Waste Management subsidiary McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corp., have made initial repairs to the underwater section of the protective cap of fabric and rock intended to keep sediments highly contaminated with dioxins from spreading any further.

U.S. to Expel 15 Cuban Diplomats over Mystery U.S. Embassy Illnesses

The State Department will expel the Cuban diplomats after slashing the U.S. mission in Cuba last week in response to months of unexplained illnesses of American personnel. The decision announced Tuesday is certain to deepen the rift between the two countries over what the State Department has called “specific attacks” on U.S. diplomats during the past 10 months. The United States has not blamed Cuba, which has denied any involvement and cooperated with FBI agents dispatched there. The expelled Cubans, a list of whom were presented to the Cuban ambassador Tuesday morning, will have seven days to leave the country. Neither the FBI nor a separate Cuba investigation has been able to determine what and who is causing the maladies that have befallen at least 22 Americans stationed at the embassy, with symptoms ranging from hearing loss to cognitive disorders. They are believed to have been “targeted” either in their residences within compounds owned by the Cuban government, or in hotels.

Breast Cancer Deaths Down 40%

The American Cancer Society says women face a one-in-eight chance of getting breast cancer and more than 40,600 will be killed this year in the U.S. by the disease. But improved treatments and early detection are producing promising results, because fatalities from the cancer have dropped almost 40 percent between 1989 and 2015. That saved some 322,600 lives. Advances in chemotherapy regimens that were developed in the 1980s, the introduction of new drugs like tamoxifen and Herceptin, and early detection through mammograms have reduced the likelihood of breast cancer patients dying from the disease, the report notes.

Technocrats See Engineered Crops as Only Path to Solve Global Hunger

The FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set 17 sustainable development goals and global objectives aimed at improving global conditions in a variety of areas like poverty, hunger, climate change and sustaining natural resources, reports Technocracy News. At the heart of these initiatives is agriculture. According to the FAO, in order to ensure a global food supply capable of sustaining a growing population (an estimated 8.5 billion by 2030), food production must increase by 50% globally, and 200% in developing countries. Globalist technocrats see bioengineering and genetically modified crops as the only way to achieve those objectives. Technocracy is the ‘science of social engineering’ where the only solution to any problem is science itself. Thus, Technocrats will eagerly – and permanently – modify the germline of major food crops in order to feed the world. How will testing be accomplished? Well, there will be no testing. Technocrats see little need for testing when they deem the science to be ‘settled,’ notes Technocracy News.

Economic News

Back in 1992, the bottom 90 percent of American income earners brought in more than 60 percent of the country’s income.  But last year that figure slipped to just 49.7 percent, reports CNNMoney.  The richest 1% of families controlled a record-high 39% of the country’s wealth in 2016, according to a Federal Reserve report published last Wednesday. The bottom 90% of families now hold just 22.8% of the wealth, down from about one-third in 1989 when the Fed started tracking this measure. The wealth of our society is increasingly being concentrated at the very top, and the middle class is steadily being eroded.  Surveys have found that somewhere around two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time, and so living on the edge has become a way of life for most Americans

  • Globalists want control over money and, therefore, the population so that they can fully enact their one-world-government without interference (Revelation 13)

Three former Oracle staffers have sued the company alleging that women software engineers at the tech giant are routinely paid less than men doing the same jobs. The suit comes as Silicon Valley continues to struggle with assertions that women, as well as African Americans and Hispanics, are systematically discriminated against and paid less than white men, in an era when tech is a major engine of both job and wealth creation. Other tech companies are facing similar suits. Google was sued on September 14 for gender pay discrimination.

Britain is rushing to help more than 100,000 travelers get back to the country after it suffered its largest ever airline collapse. “This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation,” British Transport Minister Chris Grayling said Monday, describing the measures following the sudden bankruptcy of Monarch Airlines as “the country’s biggest ever peacetime repatriation.” All Monarch flights to and from the U.K. have been canceled. That leaves roughly 110,000 Monarch customers — whom the airline was supposed to fly back to the U.K. over the next two weeks — stuck overseas, according to the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. Three European airlines have gone belly up since August. Air Berlin and struggling Italian national carrier Alitalia were the first two dominoes to fall. Europe’s aviation industry, which has been buffeted by fierce competition.

Terrorism Update

A police officer was stabbed and at least four people were injured by a speeding U-Haul truck in events that police in Edmonton, Canada, said were being investigated as acts of terror. One suspect was in custody, said Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht, adding that police believe the suspect acted alone. The chaos began outside Commonwealth Stadium, where a Canadian Football League game was being played. Police say a white Chevy Malibu rammed a traffic-control barricade and sent an officer flying. Knecht said the driver then got out and attacked the officer with a knife. A few hours later, a U-Haul van was stopped at an impaired driving check stop and the driver sped off with police in pursuit. Police say the U-Haul hit and injured four pedestrians before it rolled and the suspect was arrested. Police confirmed that an ISIS flag was discovered inside the van.

Two women were stabbed to death Sunday in a suspected terrorist attack at the Marseille train station in southern France. The assailant was shot dead by French security forces. Police sources told Sky News the attacker shouted “Allahu Akkbar” as he carried out the attack at Gare St. Charles. The attacker was believed to be a man in his late twenties and of North African background. The attack came two weeks after four young American women were attacked with acid at the same station. A lone female attacker with a history of mental health problems was arrested at the scene in that case, and at the time authorities said terrorism was not suspected.

Islamic State

The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State has slashed the militant group’s oil revenues by more than 90% over the past two years, all but cutting off its chief source of funds, coalition statistics show. Islamic State oil production in Iraq and Syria has been cut to less than $4 million a month from a peak of $50 million. Oil accounted for about half of the group’s revenue. The rest came from looting an estimated $500 million from banks and extorting money from residents trapped in cities occupied by the Islamic State. Those sources of money are drying up, too, as the militants have been expelled from most major cities and much of their stores of stolen cash has been spent or destroyed by coalition forces.

Iran

Iran has asked Oman to transmit to Washington a set of new proposals designed to prevent a showdown with the Trump administration over the controversial nuclear deal reached with six major powers, sources in Tehran confirmed Monday. Known as the Comprehensive Plan for Joint Action (CJPOA), the deal envisages the temporary lifting of some sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran freezing certain aspects of the their nuclear program. President Donald Trump claims that Iran has violated the spirit of the deal and is reportedly planning to refer the whole issue back to the U.S. Congress, effectively ending the periodic suspension of sanctions against Iran. Trump has three objections to the deal, all of which are expected to be addressed in the compromise proposal being forwarded to the U.S.

Puerto Rico

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that the death toll of Hurricane Maria has risen to 34. As of Saturday, the numbers tell the story of the ongoing struggle in Puerto Rico: only 5% have power; only 714 gasoline stations are open out of 1,110; only 224 supermarkets are open out of 456. Fuel and food supplies have been making it to the U.S. island territory, but much of it is undelivered due to a lack of truck drivers as well as washed out roads and debris. The situation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is worsening by the day and people are starting to die after surviving the initial assault of the Category 5 hurricane. President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico Tuesday drew thanks from victims of Hurricane Maria who said it would shine a light on their problems, but some faulted him for playing politics with their island’s disaster. President Trump raised the prospect of wiping out hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico’s crushing debt load.

Spain

The government of the autonomous Catalonia region of northeastern Spain was meeting Monday to discuss the next steps in its plan to declare independence from Spain following a disputed referendum that saw more than 800 people injured in clashes with Spanish police. Preliminary results showed that 90% of the people who went to the polls Sunday favored independence, according to Catalonia officials. Violence erupted shortly after polls opened, with video showing Spanish police firing rubber bullets, using batons and roughing up voters. Catalan leaders accused Spanish police of brutality and repression while the Spanish government praised the security forces for behaving firmly and proportionately.

Volcanoes

A flotilla of boats was headed to the Pacific island of Ambae, Vanuatu, on Sunday as efforts got underway to evacuate all 11,000 residents because of an erupting volcano. Globs of lava were seen flying as far as 300 feet every few seconds. The eruption has polluted water sources on the island, leaving thousands in need of safe drinking water. The Vanuatu government announced it wants all 11,000 islanders evacuated by Friday. While some islanders have flown out, thousands of others have gone to emergency shelters as they prepare for the total evacuation. The Manaro Voui volcano began rumbling in September.

Indonesian officials said more than 120,000 people have evacuated Bali as authorities warned a volcano could erupt in “a matter of hours.” They are scattered in more than 500 locations across the island famed for its beaches, lush green interior and elegant Hindu culture, taking shelter in temporary camps, sports centers and other public buildings. The volcano has been at its highest alert level since last Friday, sparking the massive exodus of villagers. Thousands of cows are also being evacuated. An exclusion zone around the mountain extends as far as 7.5 miles from the crater in places but officials say people farther from the volcano are leaving too. Agung, which dominates the landscape in the northeast of the island, last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,100 people. It remained active for about a year.

Weather

The first blizzard of the season has resulted in widespread power outages and downed trees in parts of Montana with snowfall of 30 inches in some locations. Treacherous travel conditions and additional power outages continued through Tuesday, as this early-season snowstorm swept through the Rockies. Interstate 70 was closed in Colorado between Vail and Copper Mountain for a time Monday morning due to accidents and vehicles sliding off the icy road. Shelters were opened to take in stranded travelers in the area.

Parts of the Northeast will enjoy Indian summer this week as a surge of above-average warmth engulfs the region. Some areas of the interior Northeast experienced their first frost or first freeze of the season over the weekend, and temperatures are now expected to reach the 70s and lower 80s the next several days, generally 10 to 20 degrees above early-October averages.

Slow-moving thunderstorms triggered flash flooding Saturday morning in parts of the Boston metro area, closing roads, trapping vehicles, and swamping basements. Rain rates of almost 2 inches in 40 minutes flooded numerous streets in the city of Lynn. In Boston, multiple basements were flooded on Ashley and Bennington Streets, with up to 4 feet of water seen in some backyards. Flooding also closed Pope Street in Salem, Massachusetts, with several vehicles stranded. At least a half-foot of water was reported on Lynn Street in Peabody.

Signs of the Times (9/29/17)

September 29, 2017

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Students Around the World Gather for ‘See You at the Pole’

Students across world are gathered Wednesday at their school’s flagpole for the 25th annual “See You at the Pole” prayer event. The event is a simple time of prayer for countries, families, teachers, and schools. The prayer rallies are led by students who gather at flagpoles for a time of prayer before the school day begins. The Christian Post reported that at least one million students participated in the event. This year’s theme was “Fix Our Eyes,” taken from Hebrews 12:2: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “Only as we ‘Fix Our Eyes’ on Jesus will we find peace and have the opportunity to be a part of the solution instead of the problems in our country and world,” elaborated National Network of Youth Ministries field director Doug Clark.

Trump Releases New Tax Plan

The Trump administration released details of its new tax plan Wednesday, sending it on to Congress to work out the details. Working poor people could owe no income tax, filing a return could get much simpler, and there would even be a new credit for caring for elderly relatives under a proposed tax “framework.” The plan cuts the top corporate tax rate dramatically and creates a new top rate for small businesses that is lower than the top rate for individuals. It also eliminates two taxes paid entirely by the rich, while taking away a deduction for state and local taxes that is used most heavily in some of the most wealthy, and Democrat-dominated, states. Exactly how many other deductions and credits disappear to help pay for it all, and how much gets added to the deficit or must be offset with other budget cuts, will not be known for a while. As liberal groups decry the giveaway to those at the top of the income scale, Trump is selling the plan as a boost for working families.

Obamacare Repeal Shelved for Now

GOP senators were forced to acknowledge on Tuesday that their eleventh-hour push to repeal the Affordable Care Act had failed. For the second time in two months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly conceded that he could not find 50 senators who would support partisan legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, made all the more painful by the reality that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Unlike the last failed attempt to repeal Obamacare in July, senators are in agreement that it is time for Republicans to move on to other things. With 10 months of the legislative calendar behind them, Republicans acknowledge they’ve lost precious time and cannot afford to make the same errors on tax reform and survive the 2018 midterms unscathed.

248 U.S. Counties Have More Voters than Residents

Lowndes County, Alabama, has been accused of having 131 percent of its total eligible population on its list of registered voters. Another 247 counties have the same problem, prompting the Public Interest Legal Foundation to send letters to officials, warning them to clean up their voter rolls or face legal consequences. There are 11 more Alabama counties with the problem. Kentucky has 41 counties with more voters than residents, Michigan 32, Iowa 31, Illinois 22, Mississippi 19, Colorado 17, Texas 12, Alabama 12, South Dakota 12, Nebraska 9, Georgia 6, New York 6, West Virginia 6, New Mexico 5, North Carolina 5, California 2, Louisiana 2, Montana 2, Virginia 2, Arizona 1 and Florida 1. PILF President J. Christian Adams said that during the 2016 election, 24 states had “bloated voter rolls.” “Voter fraud begins with corrupted voter rolls. Our nation’s voter rolls have records that cannot be distinguished between living or dead; citizen or alien; resident or relocated. We hear about possible cyber-attacks, but we aren’t doing enough to fix voter rolls that are certainly corrupt,” he said.

Moore Wins Republican Senate Primary Despite GOP Opposition

A former state judge who believes that “God’s law” can invalidate federal court decisions won Alabama’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday night, sending a clear warning to President Trump and GOP leadership that conservative grass-roots anti-establishment anger will continue to roil the party into the 2018 midterm elections. Roy Moore, who was twice suspended from his job as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, defeated incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was backed by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Moore is now the front-runner to win the seat in the Dec. 12 general election. He will face Democratic candidate Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.

Domestic Terrorism Cases Equal to Jihadist Cases

The FBI has about 1,000 open domestic terrorism investigations — approximately the same number as more traditional jihadi terrorist cases — the bureau’s new director said Wednesday, as he sought to assure Congress that his agents take the domestic threat seriously. After last month’s clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, Democrats said they believe the Trump administration is too focused on radical Islam and isn’t paying enough attention to white supremacists and anti-government militants here at home. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said there have been nearly three times as many domestic terrorism incidents in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, as there have been foreign-inspired jihadi incidents. She said the combined death tolls are similar for both categories — 106 for domestic and 119 for Islamic extremists.

Detroit Again the Most Violent City in America

Detroit regained the title as the most violent big city in America in 2016, witnessing more murders last year than Los Angeles, which has four times as many people, according to new FBI crime figures released Monday. According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime report, 13,705 violent crimes — including murders, rapes, assaults and robberies — were reported in Detroit last year.  That’s a 15.7% increase from the year before, which saw 11,346 violent crimes in Detroit. The jump gave the Motor City the designation of No. 1 on the list of most violent cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 100,000.  Behind Detroit, rounding out the top five most violent big cities are St. Louis at No. 2, followed by Memphis, Baltimore and Rockford, Ill., according the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report.

Antifa Leader Arrested in Berkley

A well-known far-left organizer Yvonne Felarca, a teacher at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, was charged with battery and resisting arrest after leading a protest against a conservative group. Felarca is known as the leader of the far-left group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN. Short for “anti-fascists,” these black-clad, masked and sometimes heavily armed activists more often resemble their supposed enemies as they attack peaceful protesters and police and during the riots they have conducted all around the country. Street clashes between conservatives and Antifa are now common in America’s cities. Berkeley, California, has been the site of several “Battles of Berkeley” in which violence is taken for granted. The violence by the hooded, black-clad protesters has been so extreme even Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned Antifa and called for prosecutions.

Another Day, Another Cybersecurity Breach

Whole Foods Market — which was recently acquired by tech giant Amazon — said Thursday that hackers were able to gain access to credit card information for customers who made purchases at some of its in-store taprooms and restaurants. The company did not disclose details about the locations that were targeted or how many customers might have been effected. “When Whole Foods Market learned of this, the company launched an investigation, obtained the help of a leading cyber security forensics firm, contacted law enforcement, and is taking appropriate measures to address the issue,” the company said. Whole Foods says it plans to provide updates throughout the investigation.

Russia Used Web to Spread Disinformation & Division in U.S.

Twitter said Thursday that it had shut down 201 accounts that were tied to the same Russian operatives who posted thousands of political ads on Facebook, but the effort frustrated lawmakers who said the problem is far broader than the company appeared to know. The meetings between the company and congressional investigators were part of a widening government probe into how Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter, Google and other technology platforms to widen fissures in the United States and spread disinformation during the 2016 campaign. Those companies have come under increasing pressure from Capitol Hill to investigate Russian meddling and are facing the possibility of new regulations that could affect their massive advertising businesses.

U.S. Withdraws Diplomats from Cuba over Sonic Attacks

The U.S. State Department is pulling out all families of employees and nonessential personnel from Cuba, after a string of mysterious attacks against U.S. diplomats. Twenty-one U.S. diplomats and family members became ill after fifty sonic attacks. Hearing loss and mild brain damage were experienced as a result of the sonic attacks. The Cuban government has vociferously denied any involvement in the attacks. The American embassy will continue to operate with a 60% reduction in staff. The U.S. will stop issuing visas in Cuba effective immediately because of the staff reductions. The decision is not described as a retaliatory measure. Officials say there will still be consular officials in the embassy available to assist U.S. citizens in Cuba. The State Department is also issuing a travel warning, urging Americans not to travel to Cuba because they could also be at risk as some of the attacks against diplomats have taken place at hotels where Americans stay.

Australians Request Urgent Prayer for Traditional Marriage

Australia is in the middle of a government mandated postal survey to decide the future of marriage between a man and a woman. The polls are predicting a defeat for those who believe in the biblical definition of marriage. Australian Christians are asking for prayer from all over the world for a “miracle for marriage” in Australia. The ballots must be posted back by the end of October. The Catholic Church has called for a month of ‘Prayer and Fasting for Marriage and Families’ through the month of October 2017. James Condon, a Commissioner with the Salvation Army, and the head of Strategic Church Relations for the National Day of Prayer & Fasting said, “Support for this historic initiative by the Catholic Church is gathering momentum. Key Aboriginal Christian leaders are also supporting this call for prayer and fasting to protect marriage from redefinition, noting that “Marriage between a man and a woman is sacred in Indigenous culture.”

  • Mercatornet, an Australian media outlet, has published a shocking catalog of violence, hate speech, discrimination and attempts to silence those opposed to the redefinition of marriage, most of whom it says are Christians.

Economic News

The stock market, undaunted by monster hurricanes, political tension and North Korea threats, keeps climbing to new heights. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared another 5% during the third quarter, extending the Dow’s streak of winning quarters to eight in a row. It’s the longest winning streak since an 11-quarter boom that ended in September 1997. The current streak began during the final three months of 2015 and accelerated after last fall’s election. That’s five winning quarters on President Barack Obama’s watch and three under President Trump, who took office in January.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen conceded Tuesday that inflation may be weaker than Fed officials have anticipated, a development that could lead to a more gradual rise in interest rates. While several Fed policymakers have raised that possibility, Yellen’s remarks represent her most detailed and explicit acknowledgment that the Fed may have been too confident in its long-held view that inflation will soon pick up and move toward the Fed’s annual 2% target. The Federal Reserve’s measure of inflation fell to 1.4% in July from nearly 2% early this year. The Fed has raised its benchmark short-term interest rate three times since December to a range of 1% to1¼%. Last week, it maintained its forecast of three quarter-point rate hikes next year but cut its projection from three to two increases in 2019, lifting the rate to 2.9% by 2020.

The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index fell to 119.8 in September from 120.4 in August. Conference Board economist Lynn Franco says that confidence “decreased considerably” in hurricane-hit Florida and Texas. The reading still shows that U.S. consumers are in a mostly sunny mood, suggesting that “the economy will continue expanding at its current pace,” said Franco, the Conference Board’s director of economic indicators. The U.S. economy grew at a solid 3% annual rate from April through June, lifted by healthy consumer spending.

American households, including the middle-class, saw both their incomes and wealth rise significantly from 2013 to 2016 for the first time since the Great Recession, but the gap between rich and poor continued to widen. The richest 1% of families controlled a record-high 38.6% of the country’s wealth in 2016, according to a Federal Reserve report published on Wednesday. That’s nearly twice as much as the bottom 90%, which has seen its slice of the pie continue to shrink. The bottom 90% of families now hold just 22.8% of the wealth, down from about one-third in 1989 when the Fed started tracking this measure. The Fed acknowledged in the report that the distribution of wealth has “grown increasingly unequal in recent years.”

Orange juice drinkers may pay as much as $2.30 more for a gallon of orange juice as the result of the broad swatch that Irma cut through Florida’s citrus crop. Just how high OJ prices rise depends on whether Brazil can increase its exports to the U.S. to help cover the shortfall, according to experts in the futures markets. The Florida Department of Citrus estimates that 30% to 70% of the Sunshine State’s crop was destroyed. But the result price rises could be mitigated if consumers switch to other juices or juice blends.

Middle East

Israel suffered a diplomatic setback on Wednesday when the International Police Organization (Interpol) voted to accept the “state of Palestine” as a member, joining UNESCO and a number of world governments in granting statehood status to this entity. The proposal to accept “state of Palestine” as a member passed by a vote of 75 to 24, with 34 abstentions, at the annual Interpol convention currently in Beijing.

A Palestinian man killed three Israeli security officers Tuesday, and critically wounded a fourth, at the entrance to a settlement outside Jerusalem, in one of the deadliest attacks in a two-year spate of violence. The assailant, identified by police as Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal, 37, was shot dead by Israeli security forces at the scene. He had a valid permit to work in Israel and staged the attack by hiding among fellow Palestinian day laborers who were being checked by security forces. The attack came as Israeli security forces were on high alert due to the Jewish holidays. In the past, special observances such as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have marked a time of frequent terror attacks. The IDF has taken several measures against the family of Jamal. Tearing down terrorists’ homes is meant to serve as deterrence for potential terrorists plotting future attacks. The recent wave of Palestinian terror has claimed the lives of 55 victims in almost two years.

  • On its official Facebook page, the Nablus chapter of Fatah, the main party constituting the Palestinian Authority, called Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Jamal a “martyr.” This designation according to PA regulations means that Al-Jamal’s family will qualify for a 6,000 shekel ($1700) grant and monthly stipends up to 2,600 shekel ($737), reports the Palestinian Media Watch.

Islamic State

The Islamic State on Thursday released an apparent audio recording of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi amid speculation that he might be dead. The recording, which was not dated, is the first from al-Baghdadi in almost a year. In June, Russia’s military claimed it may have killed al-Baghdadi and other senior commanders in an airstrike in late May on the southern outskirts of Raqqa. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in July it had “confirmed information” that al-Baghdadi had been killed. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman told news agencies he died in Deir az Zor province, about 80 miles southeast of the Islamic State’s defacto Syrian capital of Raqqa. ISIS wants to counteract their shrinking caliphate by instilling belief in their loyalists that Baghdadi is alive and well and still in charge.

Syria

With the U.S. consumed with domestic crises and a standoff with North Korea, Russia has quietly moved to press its advantage on the battlefield in Syria. A series of increasingly brazen Russian and Syrian airstrikes on U.S.-backed forces in Syria in recent days is the first step in a larger plan to co-opt American proxy forces fighting Islamic State and improve the Kremlin’s leverage to shape the postwar landscape, analysts say. Russian-backed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday launched a heavy artillery attack in eastern Syria near positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the alliance of Kurdish and Arab paramilitary fighters battling Islamic State militants, coalition officials confirmed Thursday. Coalition officials maintain that Monday’s attack was a case of “accidental targeting,” but it was the third such strike against anti-Islamic State forces this month and was less than a week after Russian warplanes struck SDF units in the Islamic State-held territory of Deir el-Zour.

Afghanistan

The Taliban and the Islamic State both claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Kabul’s airport Wednesday while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited the Afghan capital. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that Mattis’ plane was the target of the attack. Missiles hit in and around the Hamid Karzai International Airport hours after Mattis arrived for talks with Stoltenberg and Afghan officials and to meet U.S. forces. Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said five people were injured when one of the rockets hit a house near the airport.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that women have the right to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom. In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the order on the right to drive said it will be effective immediately. But there are still many things women are banned from doing, including: women are not allowed to travel without the permission of a male guardian — usually their father or husband; they are not allowed to “dress for beauty” and must cover their hair and bodies in public under the law; a Saudi woman cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission; they cannot eat freely in public and must eat under their face veil; and they must limit physical closeness with other men and be segregated from the opposite sex in most offices, banks and universities.

Austria

Austria on Sunday becomes the fifth European country to ban wearing full face veils such as the burqa and niqab in public, a move prompted by the recent wave of migrants from Muslim countries seeking asylum. The prohibition will also apply to scarves, masks and clown paint that cover faces to avoid discriminating against Muslim dress. The Anti-Face-Veiling Act applies to anyone in public places and buildings, including schools, shopping malls and public transportation. Other measures aimed at refugees to promote integrating them into Austria include compulsory courses to learn German and the country’s values. The new law has angered Muslim groups. The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria calls it an infringement on privacy, religious freedom and freedom of opinion.

Spain

Europe faces another high-stakes secession vote in the Catalonia district of Spain this weekend. This is the third secession vote following Scotland’s failed referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in the 2014, and the U.K.’s vote last year to leave the European Union, probably by 2019. This time around, Spain is in the hot seat as its semi-autonomous region of Catalonia pushes ahead Sunday with an independence referendum that Madrid says is illegal and wants to block. Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions. It is situated in the country’s northeast, Barcelona is its lively and tourist-friendly capital, and it’s home to 7.5 million people who have their own language, Catalan. Catalonia’s drive for independence in modern times can be traced to the Spanish Civil War, when the country’s military dictator Francisco Franco abolished any hopes of full autonomy. He suppressed the region’s culture, language and many civil liberties.

Uganda

Many Ugandans believe that sacrificial rituals can bring quick wealth and good health. Among those rituals, human sacrifice, especially of children, occurs frequently despite the government’s efforts to stop it. Seven children and two adults were sacrificed last year, said Moses Binoga, a police officer who heads Uganda’s Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force. Seven children and six adults were sacrificed in 2015. Times are tough in Uganda, and people are looking to sacrifices to improve their fortunes. The worst drought in over half a century has hit parts of East Africa, leaving more than 11 million people in this nation facing food insecurity and 1.6 million on the brink of famine, according to the Ugandan government.

Puerto Rico

The largest airport in Puerto Rico is still crippled almost a week after Hurricane Maria stuck the island. Passengers hoping to escape the devastation have packed the main terminal, which has no air conditioning since it’s running on limited emergency power. Because of damage to radar and other equipment at the airport, only 10 commercial flights between San Juan and the mainland United States could take off and land on Monday. Only 10 more are scheduled for Tuesday, airport authorities told CNNMoney. Airlines have started flying larger than normal planes to handle as many passengers as possible on the few flights that can get in and out. Commercial airlines are also carrying tons of needed supplies, including bottled water and non-perishable food, medicine, blankets, cots, electrical generators and blood for the Red Cross. President Trump has waived the Jones Act in order to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the island faces a humanitarian crisis and he urged Congress to approve an aid package for the U.S. commonwealth, emphasizing that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Otherwise, he expects a mass exodus or residents to the mainland. About 97% of the island’s 3.4 million residents were still without power Wednesday and many are out of food. A mountain of food, water and other vital supplies has arrived in Puerto Rico’s main Port of San Juan. But a shortage of truckers and the island’s devastated infrastructure are making it tough to move aid to where it’s needed most. Only 20% of truck drivers have reported back to work since Hurricane Maria swept through.

St. Thomas

The airport in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands has yet to resume commercial flights. The tower there was damaged by Hurricane Irma, and the FAA brought in a mobile tower to help manage traffic. But it had to take that tower back to the mainland ahead of Hurricane Maria to protect it from damage. The FAA airlifted a mobile air traffic control tower back to St. Thomas over the weekend to support relief and recovery missions there. Finding housing in St. Thomas for airport staff is has also been a challenge. The controllers who staff the tower in St. Thomas are being shuttled back and forth to San Juan every day.

Weather

September 2017, with Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria and Category 4 Hurricane Jose, has been the most active month of any Atlantic hurricane season on record. Meteorologists use a parameter called the ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) index, calculated by adding each tropical storm or hurricane’s wind speed through its life cycle. September had generated more ACE than any other calendar month on record. The ACE value for the month stands at 155.4, surpassing the previous record of 155.0 from September 2004. Included in this month’s ACE are Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria. All of those except Katia were long-lived hurricanes, and Lee and Katia were the only ones to not reach Category 4 or Category 5 intensity at their peaks.

Florida is dealing with an explosion of the mosquito population following Hurricane Maria flooding which left the state ripe for increased insect reproduction. Officials throughout the region had to hold off on any kind of insecticide spraying in the days immediately following the storm because they didn’t want pesticides floating into people’s homes with so many open windows (no power, no air conditioning in the hot humid state). Meanwhile, the flooding in Texas left behind by Hurricane Irma has caused numerous bacterial infections, with one person dead from necrotizing faciitis (more commonly known as a flesh-eating bacteria) and another from sepsis, an immune-system response to bacterial infection that causes widespread inflammation.

A massive iceberg calved off Antarctica on Saturday, the latest piece of ice to leave the continent. The U.S. National Ice Center measured the iceberg at 71.5 square miles, about three times the size of Manhattan. The iceberg shows signs of fracturing, meaning smaller pieces of ice may break off. Calving events have become more frequent, causing further ice losses to Antarctica and possible rising sea levels as a result. The break comes two months after a 2,200 square-mile piece of ice detached from Antarctica in July. At nearly the size of Delaware, the iceberg was one of the largest ever recorded. In 2014, a 255-square-mile iceberg also calved from Antarctica.

Signs of the Times (9/25/17)

September 25, 2017

Preamble: Events may seem like they are careening out of control, but God is still on His throne with events conforming to His many end-time prophesies. The extreme weather (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11); earthquakes (Matthew 24:7); war and rumors of war (Matthew 24:6); moral degradation (2Timothy 3:1-5) all have been foreordained so that sin might come to its fullness (Daniel 8:4). Jesus then will come again to eradicate sin and usher in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1). Beforehand, however, war must occur leading to a peace pact with many nations (Daniel 9:27) giving rise to the anti-Christ (first beast in Revelation 13) who will overcome the saints (allowed by God – Revelation 13:7). But be of good cheer, because Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33) and blessed are we who are persecuted in His name (Matthew 5:10-11). This light affliction is trivial compared to the eternal glory that awaits us (2Corinthians 4:17). No matter what happens, we can rejoice because God loves us (1John 4:16) and we are hid within Jesus (Colossians 3:3). Fear not, because God is looking after us (Isaiah 41:10) and Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Half-a-Million People Gather in Ukraine to Celebrate Reformation

The streets of Kiev filled with songs of praise and thanks as 500,000 evangelical, Ukrainian Christians gathered to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The gathering came after Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko signed an order recognizing the anniversary of the reformation. “Many traveled from all four provinces there just to be a part of that celebration, to thank God for the freedom to worship, to thank God for the freedom to preach the Gospel in their country, and to celebrate God’s faithfulness,” Sergey Rakhuba with Mission Eurasia told Mission Network News. The gathering came even as the Ukraine is still in the midst of war. Eastern Ukraine and territories are still occupied by Russian or pro-Russian separatists.

Conservative Catholics Accuse Pope of Spreading Heresy

More than 60 Roman Catholic theologians, priests and academics have formally accused Pope Francis of spreading heresy after the pontiff opened the door last year to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. In a 25-page letter delivered to Francis last month and provided Saturday to The Associated Press, the 62 signatories issued a “filial correction” to the pope — a measure they said hadn’t been employed since the 14th century. The letter accused Francis of propagating seven heretical positions concerning marriage, moral life and the sacraments with his 2016 document “The Joy of Love” and subsequent “acts, words and omissions.” When it was released in April 2016, “The Joy of Love” immediately sparked controversy. Church teaching holds that unless divorced and civilly remarried Catholics obtain an annulment — a church decree that their first marriage was invalid — they cannot receive the sacraments, since they are seen as committing adultery. The initiative follows another formal act by four tradition-minded cardinals who wrote Francis last year asking him to clarify a series of questions, or “dubbia,” they had about his 2016 text. Neither the Pope nor the Vatican responded to inquiries seeking a comment about the initiatives.

Violent Crime Increases for Second Straight Year

Violent crime in the U.S. ticked up in 2016 for the second consecutive year – the first time a two-year increase was recorded in more than a decade, according to the FBI. Overall violent crime was up 4.1% last year, while murder increased by 8.6%, according to statistics on national crime released by the agency on Monday. Last year, the FBI reported violent crime rose by 3.9% in 2015, while murder jumped by 10.8%. The surges appeared to be driven by increases in murders in Chicago, Baltimore and some other large cities. “We cannot accept this as the new normal,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, referring to the new crime numbers. “I have said before; my best judgement was that the 2015 numbers were not a blip. This is a frightening trend that threatens to erode so much progress that had made our neighborhoods and communities safer – over 30 years declines in crime are being replaced by increases.”

Trump Administration Expands Travel Ban to 8 Countries

The Trump administration announced new restrictions Sunday on visitors from eight countries — an expansion of an existing travel ban that has spurred fierce legal debates over security, immigration and discrimination. The move comes on the day the key portion of President Trump’s travel ban, one that bars the issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries, was due to expire. Trump’s original travel ban, signed as an executive order in the first days of his presidency, was always meant to be a temporary measure while his administration crafted more permanent rules. A senior administration official cautioned that the new restrictions are not meant to last forever, but are “necessary and conditions-based, not time-based.’’ Three nations were added to the list of countries whose citizens will face the restrictions: Chad, North Korea and Venezuela — although the restrictions on Venezuela are narrowly crafted, targeting only the country’s leaders and their family members. One country, Sudan, fell off the travel ban list issued at the beginning of the year. The new restrictions will be phased in over time, officials said, and the restrictions will not affect anyone who already holds a U.S. visa.

The Supreme Court on Monday canceled arguments on President Trump’s travel ban that had been scheduled for Oct. 10. The court asked lawyers in the case to submit briefs by Oct. 5 discussing the effect of Mr. Trump’s new proclamation, issued Sunday, replacing his revised travel ban, which had been issued in March. The justices asked the parties to address “whether, or to what extent, the proclamation” may render the case moot.

Education Secretary Devos Rescinds Obama-era Campus Sexual-assault Policy

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Friday the Obama administration’s Title IX letter on campus sexual assault, sparking outrage from her foes but relief from those who have lambasted the policy for eroding due process by favoring the accuser over the accused. Ms. DeVos also issued an interim guidance for schools on “how to investigate and adjudicate allegations of campus sexual misconduct under federal law” while the department proceeds with its rulemaking to replace the 2011 policy. “This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” said Ms. DeVos in a statement. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.” Her decision drew strong support from civil-liberties organizations that had fought the 2011 policy which put pressure on universities to crack down on sexual assault by using a lower standard of proof for findings of guilt. The result was more than 180 lawsuits filed by students disciplined, suspended or expelled for sexual assault who claimed that they were railroaded by universities fearful of incurring an investigation or risking their federal funding by running afoul of the department.

Trump Announces New North Korea Sanctions

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had signed an executive order that would allow the United States to ramp up sanctions on North Korean firms in an effort to dissuade Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear missile program. “Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind,” he told reporters ahead of a luncheon meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. He said North Korea’s textiles, fishing, information technology, and manufacturing industries were among those the United States will target.

North Korea Plans to Detonate Hydrogen Bomb Over the Pacific

North Korea threatened early Friday to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in what the nation called the “highest level of hardline countermeasure in history.” The threat followed news that President Trump’s administration would impose further sanctions on Pyongyang for its missile and nuclear weapons program. North Korea has never tested a nuclear device beyond its own borders. Were it to do so in the Pacific Ocean it would represent a dramatic and worrying new stage in its showdown with Washington over its attempts to become a nuclear-armed state.

Iran Unveils New Ballistic Missile

Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile Friday as its president stepped up pressure on the United States by defending its right to strengthen military defenses. Called the Khorramshahr missile, the weapon appeared at a military parade in Tehran. It has a range of 2,000 kilometers (nearly 1,250 miles) and can carry multiple warheads, Tasnim, a semiofficial news agency, reported Friday. With such a range, the missile would be easily capable of reaching Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would press ahead with strengthening its missile capabilities and military defenses.

  • Some reports indicate that North Korea and Iran are collaborating over ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology

Trump’s War Strategy Hailed by Afghan President

President Trump received glowing praise Thursday from Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani for the new war strategy, which is being credited with turning around the 16-year war against Taliban militants and other radical Islamic terrorists. “It is a difference of day and night,” Mr. Ghani said at a meeting with Mr. Trump. “The cloud of uncertainty has been lifted, but equally important is your commitment to a political solution at the end of this process.” Trump announced the new strategy a month ago. It included setting long-term goals for the war effort, sending more U.S. troops to train and assist the Afghan military and revisions rules of engagement. Before Trump took office, President Obama had begun a drawdown of U.S. troops and then halted the pullout as conditions deteriorated.

Latest GOP Effort to Dismantle Obamacare on Brink of Failure

The latest Republican effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act stood on the brink of failure Friday after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced his opposition to the proposal and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was leaning against it. The intensifying resistance dealt a potentially decisive blow to the renewed attempt to fulfill a seven-year-old GOP promise. McCain joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in formally opposing the plan, leaving party leaders one senator away from defeat. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday showed that more than half of Americans, 56 percent, prefer the ACA to the latest GOP plan. Only 33 percent prefer the bill that Senate Republicans put on the table this month.

DACA Denial Rate Doubles Under Trump

The Homeland Security Department has doubled the rate of denials of Dreamers’ amnesty applications, according to numbers released Wednesday that suggest the administration had been taking a harder line even before President Trump’s announcement this month that he would phase out the DACA program altogether. Some 32 percent applications for DACA status that were decided from April to June were rejected. That is twice the 16 percent rate of the last months of the Obama administration and far more than the 1 percent denial rate in the early days of the program. Analysts said the increase is evidence that Mr. Trump’s get-tough approach is having an effect at all levels of Homeland Security, including the officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who rule on applications for legal immigration benefits such as green cards, citizenship and DACA, the Obama-era deportation amnesty.

Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-For-All Proposal Gaining Momentum

A leading ObamaCare architect is the latest Democratic figure to get behind the push for single-payer health care, as Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled his “Medicare for all” bill this week – kicking off a campaign sure to put immense pressure on senior Democrats and 2020 presidential hopefuls to support the costly proposal. The push for government-funded health care once was relegated to the fringes of the Democratic Party but has made its way into the mainstream. Sanders introduced his bill on Wednesday, along with “Senate co-sponsors Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and California Sen. Kamala Harris. Harris is considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate and her early endorsement of Sanders’ plan indicates how the legislation could emerge as a litmus test for other 2020 candidates – demonstrating their alignment with the liberal wing of the party. Under this European-style health care system, the government is solely responsible for covering health care expenses. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, the single-payer system would cost the federal government $32 trillion over the first decade, requiring an average annual tax increase of $24,000 per household.

No FEMA Trailers for Harvey/Irma Victims

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the worst disaster-created housing crisis since Hurricane Katrina is playing out in Texas and Florida. But unlike Katrina, government-issued trailers or mobile homes are not being provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to shelter residents displaced by the two hurricanes. “We don’t have enough FEMA trailers for all the homes that were destroyed,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said last week. After Katrina struck in 2005, lawsuits accused FEMA of recklessly providing scores of storm victims with shoddily constructed trailers that exposed occupants to toxic fumes. FEMA, which stopped using the cramped travel trailers, has touted the safety features of its latest generation of mobile homes. However, there aren’t enough to them to fill the need. FEMA is instead working with the two states to find ways to get people back in their flood-damaged homes more quickly, without using manufactured housing.

Not Enough Workers to Build Replacement Houston Homes

After Hurricane Harvey deluged parts of Houston, the flood-prone city is still trying to rebuild, which has been made more difficult due to a shortage of contractors. “We were already busy before, and now we’re just crazy,” Greymark Construction president Leslie King told CNBC. “You have homeowners begging to have you come out to their house. You have to tell them it will likely be a couple years.” Harvey flooded an estimated 136,000 structures in the Houston area – roughly 10 percent of the registered structures in the Harris County Appraisal District. Already, the city had been experiencing a labor shortage due to so many construction workers having left during the housing crash in the last recession. In a release, the National Association of Home Builders made a plea for lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform due to the shortage of residential construction workers. However, Texas does not require contractors to have licenses, which makes desperate homeowners vulnerable to being ripped off.

Texas & Florida Grapple with Post-Hurricane Garbage

Three weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Texans who first endured storm-force winds followed by historic flooding now have another mountainous problem on their hands: millions of tons of garbage. According to the latest estimates, nearly a half-billion dollars will be spent hauling away the trash – twisted, shattered and waterlogged remains of families’ former lives – to landfills. Local, county and state officials in Texas quickly have mobilized procedures for debris removal, aiming to make President Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott’s pledges of revival a reality and not follow the example of New Orleans, where the slow-moving Hurricane Katrina response has resulted in blight that continues to this day. Florida and other Gulf states, too, are now tasked with cleaning up massive piles of debris and garbage. Officials in the Florida Keys, where up to 15,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, have been working to get power, water and communications restored before any major debris removal can even start.

Economic News

The so-called retail apocalypse that supposedly would drastically shrink the number of brick-and-mortar stores in the United States does not match what’s actually happening, reports the USA Today. Some chains and stores are indeed shutting down, but in 2017, U.S. retailers have opened, or plan to open, 1,326 more locations than they will be closing, according to the IHL Group. Add in restaurants, and the increase jumps to 4,080 new openings in 2017 with another 5,050 planned in 2018. Between chain stores and restaurants, 10,123 will close in 2017, but 14,239 will open. To compile the study, IHL looked at over 1,800 retailers and restaurant chains with more than 50 U.S. locations across 10 retail vertical segments. It found that for every chain with a net closing of stores, 2.7 brick-and-mortar retailers would be posting a net gain in locations. The research firm also noted that if you add in retail chains smaller than 50 locations (including restaurants) the number of new openings in 2017 climbs to over 10,000.

San Francisco and Oakland filed lawsuits this week demanding that ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell pay billions to cover the costs of sea walls and other protections against rising sea levels. The aggressive strategy from the Bay Area makes San Francisco and Oakland the first major U.S. cities to attempt to shift the costs of climate change from the public to fossil fuel companies. “These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement announcing the lawsuits. In San Francisco, which is surrounded by water on three sides, at least $10 billion of public property and $39 billion of private property is at risk from rising sea levels, the lawsuit estimates. Oakland warns that rising sea levels will “disproportionately impact and endanger” low-income people and minorities, as well as the city’s airport.

North Korea

North Korea learned this week Chinese banks will no longer do business with the Hermit Kingdom, in the strongest sign yet pressure from the Trump administration to choke off funding to the rogue nation is working. Chinese banks received a document Monday stating they should halt financial services and loans to new and existing North Korean customers as a result of strict U.N. sanctions passed earlier this month, a source told Reuters on Thursday. “Our bank is fulfilling our international obligations and implementing United Nations sanctions against North Korea. As such, we refuse to handle any individual loans connected to North Korea,” the document reportedly said. The move comes after repeated calls from the Trump administration for China to help cut the flow of money to Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship in an effort to cripple the regime’s missile and nuclear programs.

Middle East

During the September meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the Israeli delegation to the committee presented projects that Israel is promoting in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip for the benefit of all residents, with an emphasis on the Palestinians. The main objective of these projects is to maintain regional stability and to generate economic development. The AHLC is a 15-member international committee that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinians. Members of the Israeli delegation presented proposals on how the international community can contribute and assist in several of these important projects, which will significantly improve Palestinian quality of life and boost economic growth.

Meanwhile, Attacks on Israel’s legitimacy were in full flow at the UN General Assembly session in New York City, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the 1917 Balfour Declaration — in which Britain announced its support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” — as a “crime against our people,” while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the Jewish state as “the rogue Zionist regime,” in language harking back to the “Zionism-is-racism” days at the world body during the 1970s. In an angry speech in which he repeatedly accused Israel of violating international law and abandoning the two-state solution, Abbas slammed the United Kingdom for having launched the process which led to the creation of the State of Israel in the first place.

Libya

The US military conducted airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Libya on Friday, the first time it has struck targets in the North African country since Donald Trump became President. ‘In coordination with Libya’s Government of National Accord and aligned forces, U.S. forces conducted six precision airstrikes in Libya against an ISIS desert camp on Friday,’ US Africa Command which oversees US troops in the region, told CNN in a statement. The strikes killed 17 ISIS militants and destroyed three vehicles at the camp, located about 150 miles southeast of Sirte, the statement added.

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel has outlasted two U.S. presidents, three French leaders, six Italian prime ministers and three British ones. Once again, German voters decided the woman they call “Mutti” (mother knows best. Merkel’s victory Sunday in national parliamentary elections means Germany’s first female chancellor and daughter of a Lutheran pastor who grew up under Communism in East Germany, secures a fourth term. Merkel, 63, extends her 12-year tenure as Europe’s longest-serving democratically elected leader. Final results released Monday showed Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) bloc won 33% of the vote, enough to remain the largest party in parliament, but down from 41.5% four years ago.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey says a new earthquake to strike Saturday Mexico had a magnitude of 6.2 and was centered in the southern state of Oaxaca, killing at least two people. Another 4.5 magnitude quake hit Oaxaca at 7:06 p.m. ET. That temblor occurred at a depth of 8.9 kilometers, according to initial readings by USGS. That’s the region most shaken by a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit on Sept. 7. It also swayed buildings in Mexico City, which is trying to recover from a magnitude 7.1 temblor that struck on Thursday, killing at least 295 people. The quakes ate the fourth to strike this month in Mexico, with the death toll from all four topping more than 400.

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Japan last Wednesday, just hours after a 7.1-magnitude event struck central Mexico. The tremors erupted at 2:37 a.m. Tokyo time, and the epicenter was approximately 175 miles east of Kamaishi, not far from the 2011 quake that later sent tsunami waves racing toward Japan. Japan is understandably on edge over undersea earthquakes, after 2011’s 9.0-magnitude event caused massive damage at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Ultimately nearly 20,000 people were killed or went missing during that earthquake, which was the fourth-largest in world since measurements began in 1900.

Volcanoes

Authorities said nearly 50,000 people have fled the Indonesian tourist Island of Bali Sunday, fearing a looming volcano. The authorities said Mount Agung has seen signs of magma rising in the recent days, forcing officials to create a 7.5-mile buffer zone around the mountain where the volcano is located. The highest level alert was issued on Friday. Popular tourist areas and flights in Bali remain unaffected, despite Indonesia’s national volcanology center saying on Sunday night that the mountain’s “seismic energy is increasing and has the potential to erupt,” the BBC reported.

Weather

Hurricane Maria, while not a landfall threat, will still brush parts of the North Carolina coast and Virginia Tidewater with coastal flooding, winds and rain, as large swells pound the coast with high surf and rip currents as far north as southeast New England. Authorities said at least 38 people were killed in the Caribbean by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rican emergency officials said 100 percent of the island is without power. Thousands of people were rescued from severe flooding. While moving away from Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria is so large it continude dumping rain on the island, with an extra 4 to 8 inches likely through Saturday. In some parts of the island, the total rainfall from the storm is expected to be up to 40 inches.

Authorities in Puerto Rico fear a dam in the northwestern part of the U.S. territory may fail at any moment, which has prompted a flash flood emergency and the frantic evacuation of tens of thousands of people. Tens of thousands are without power in the Dominican Republic in the wake of the hurricane. Damage is massive and more than a dozen people died on the island of Dominica, the prime minister announced.

A significant change in the jet stream is ahead to close out September, including a change in the tropics. After Hurricane Maria, it appears a break in tropical activity is in store.

One man died after snowy conditions in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains led to a 16-car pileup on Interstate 80 Thursday morning. Officials closed westbound lanes of the interstate while an accident investigation was conducted. The snow became steadier in the hours after the crash and social media photos from people stuck in the backup showed near whiteout conditions.

Signs of the End-Times (9/21/17)

September 21, 2017

Signs of the End Times

As the Signs of the Times newsletter has evolved and been made available through multiple platforms (email, blog, Twitter, Facebook and website), it is being used for multiple purposes. Initially developed for prayer groups, it is also now trusted as a news source. Therefore, I have limited my personal commentary and will offer my observations from time to time in this new, adjunct report which is exclusively focused on the end times.

End-Time Update

When I was meditating about recent events, it came to me that the world is going to the pits! That got me to thinking about what that expression meant:

  • The dictionary says the pits are “any place of pain and turmoil.” That certainly described a lot of what is going on in the world today

Then the Lord told me that this is an anacronym for what lies ahead

  • P = Prepare – We are currently in a window of time giving us time to prepare. But prepare for what?
    • Not just to survive, but to help and save people
    • Preparing spiritually is more important than anything else, but also physical/emotional/mental
    • We have to conquer fear, hate, anger, depression, etc. or they will bring us down (Prov. 24:10)
  • I = Intensification – As the end-days evolve, everything will intensify
    • g. weather, earthquakes, war, hostility, persecution, murder, etc.
  • T = Tribulation – It’s not here yet, but it’s coming
    • But first, there will be a major war, followed by a peace pact with many signers (Daniel 9:27) ushering in the “man of lawlessness” (2Thess 2:3) and the one-world government (Rev. 13)
  • S = Salvation – i.e. the rapture, but not before we go through a lot of tribulation

So, where are we now?  We are in the time period Jesus called ‘the beginning of sorrows’ (Matthew 24:8)

  • The recent solar eclipse over the United States was a sign – one which drew a line across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina
    • Genesis 1:14: And, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years”
  • But even more so is the next eclipse to come in 7 years. Usually, there are many more years between eclipses in which a total black out of the sun occurs across the U.S.
    • Seven is an important Biblical number indicating divine completion
    • The next eclipse will draw another line across the U.S. from Texas to Maine. The crossing point of the two eclipse paths is St. Louis
  • In essence, the two lines form an X over the U.S. So, what does this mean?
    • I believe it means that America has 7 more years to get right with God or else it is finished as a world power
    • So, let’s get praying as never before!

Where is the USA Seen in Scripture?

It is quite revealing that Scripture says nothing about the world’s greatest superpower – unless it is the Babylon in Revelation. Short of that, it seems as though the USA is set to play a limited role in the end times.

  • However, there is one Scripture to consider. Most end-time prophecy is symbolic in nature. The U.S. came out of England whose crest symbol is that of a lion. The symbol for the USA has been the eagle. We see these two symbols in Daniel 7:4
    • The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.
    • This would indicate that the USA will have its wings plucked off and become an inconsequential player in the end-time scenario

Latest Signs

  • Extreme Weather (Harvey/Irma/Maria)
    • Extreme end-time weather is prophesied in Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)
  • The “Deep State” – run in U.S. by Obama – under the New World Order
    • Bureaucrats and judges have been put in place to tear down Christianity and build up a secular humanistic one-world government (Revelation 13)
  • Wars & Rumors of Wars – there have always been wars and rumors of wars, but never involving so many nations with nuclear weapons (U.S., Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea and soon Iran)
    • The volatile situation with North Korea or a confrontation with Iran could easily trigger a world war
  • Political/military alignment of Russia with Iran (Persia) – as was prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39 prior to a worldwide war against Israel
  • LGBTQ Agenda – Throughout much of the western world, so-called ‘progressives’ have successfully been undermining God’s ordained family structure or one man and one woman
  • Agenda 21/30 – The cause of sustainability and climate change (global warming) are being used as the foundation to form the one-world government of Revelation 13
  • Technocracy – Science over Religion – Technology has become the means by which the New World Order will be established, but technology will give the technocrats control over our lives
    • Internet of Things (e.g. appliances, heat, etc.) – Smart Cities – Smart Meters – Smart Homes – sounds good until they are employed against us
  • Increased Persecution of all things Christian – With little fanfare in the media, an average of 900,000 Christians have been killed per year for their faith over the past decade
  • Digitizing money – The technocrats want to do away with cash – India has been their trial horse where all large denominations have been outlawed
    • With our money simply being blips in a computer somewhere, it will be very easy to erase all the funds of Christians who refuse to take the mark of the beast
  • Computer Chips are being put into people now– employees, medical data, animals – RFID chips
    • These chips (or something similar) will be the mark of the beast without which people will not be able to buy or sell – Taking the mark of the beast will forfeit your salvation (Rev. 13:17, 14:11)
  • Tolerance of everything but Christianity
  • Calling good evil and evil good – Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20)
  • Itching Ears – For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. (2Timothy 4:3)
  • Self-Centered, Self-Indulgent, Self-Righteous – But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Signs of the Times (9/20/18)

September 20, 2017

Attacks on Religious Liberty Up 133% in 5 Years

Attacks on religious liberty have jumped by 133 percent in the last five years, according to a new report by the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group. Its annual report, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America,” asserts that in the last year, there has been a 15 percent increase in attacks on religious liberty in the U.S. with more than 1,400 religious liberty incidents. In 2011, the group reported that there were 600 cases of attacks on religious liberty. “It’s school cases, it’s military cases, it’s open public places cases, employment cases. Unfortunately, it is not one particular area, it’s across the board. So really it is just the tip of the iceberg because what’s published is really a fraction of what is actually happening,” First Liberty CEO and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said. The First Liberty report comes after the conservative advocacy group Family Research Council released a report earlier this year that said there had been a 76 percent increase in religious freedom violations over the past three years.

U.S. Aid to Palestinian Authority Funding Terrorists

While the Palestinian Authority teaches extreme hatred toward the Jews and incentivizes acts of terror, the U.S. sends hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year in “aid” money that is placed in the hands of terrorists and their families, reports Liberty Counsel. Sen. Ted Cruz says the Palestinians give over $300 million to terrorists and their families each year out of the $700 millions of direct and indirect aid to the Palestinians. “Our tax dollars are footing the bill to reward terrorists who kill American and Israeli citizens!” notes Liberty Counsel. The Trump administration has announced its “strong support” for the Taylor Force Act, a bill that restricts U.S. economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza until the Palestinian Authority stops paying terrorists who are guilty of violence against Israelis and Americans. The Palestinian Authority has devoted almost half of its U.S. foreign “aid” money to rewarding acts of terror against Israelis and innocent bystanders, as was the case in the death of American war hero Taylor Force, for whom the bill is named. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taylor Force Act and sent it to the full Senate who have yet to vote on it.

Another Missile Launch by North Korea

North Korea launched another missile Friday, the rogue nation’s first missile launch since its massive nuclear test more than a week ago, prompting U.S. officials to issue a sharp round of condemnation. The missile was launched eastward early Friday from Sunan, the site of Pyongyang’s international airport. It flew over northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean, according to U.S. Pacific Command. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the missile a reckless act by the North Koreans, adding that the missile “was fired over Japan and put millions of Japanese in duck and cover.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council “represent the floor, not the ceiling” of actions that need to be taken against North Korea. North Korea’s military is clandestinely building a nuclear-powered submarine, according to a Japanese newspaper report, the latest provocation by Pyongyang in an escalating clash with the U.S. and its allies in a region already on edge.

In his President Trump’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its Asian allies. He denounced Pyongyang’s “reckless” pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and taunted North Korea leader Kim Jong Un with a campaign-style nickname. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” he said. The morning after his aggressive speech to the United Nations, President Trump on Wednesday blamed his predecessors – and previous political rival Hillary Clinton – for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “After allowing North Korea to research and build Nukes while Secretary of State (Bill C also), Crooked Hillary now criticizes,” Trump tweeted.

Terror Attack in London

An apparent terrorist-planted explosive set off a small fire on a train at a London subway station during the busy morning rush hour Friday, resulting in 22 non-serious injuries from the fire as well as from people being trampled by panicked commuters fleeing the scene, police said Friday. Police say the bomb did not fully detonate. The incident happened shortly after 8 a.m. local time, when London’s Underground system is crowded with commuters and children going to school. Most of the injuries were flash burns. It was Britain’s fifth terrorist attack this year. The Islamic State claimed credit for that attack through an affiliated unit. British police said Saturday that they had made a “significant” arrest by taking an eighteen-year-old man into custody in the port city of Dover. A 21-year-old man was arrested late Saturday night in Hounslow in west London under the Terrorism Act, authorities said.

Judge Rules DOJ Can’t Withhold Grants from Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge issued a ruling Friday that blocks the Justice Department from requiring cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for federal law enforcement grants. The ruling blocks nationwide enforcement of two of the three new conditions the Justice Department sought to impose on jurisdictions seeking funds through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which doles out nearly $400 million to state and local agencies each year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new stipulations in July as a means to ensure that local jurisdictions were cooperating with federal immigration agents and not working to shield illegal immigrants from deportation. But Chicago officials sued, arguing that the attorney general had no authority to add the new eligibility conditions to the grant.

Trump Signs Charlottesville Congressional Resolution With a Signing Statement

In sending the president a joint resolution condemning “racist violence” in Charlottesville, Congress gave President Trump a choice: sign the resolution and reject white supremacists, or veto it and align with the far right. Trump chose a third option: Sign it — but with a signing statement attached. In it, Trump said that Americans “oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms. No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We are nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal.” He also continued to blame “both sides” for the violence, holding the left-wing “Antifa” protesters equally responsible.

U.S. Rushes Hurricane Irma Aid to Caribbean Islands, Not Cuba

The U.S. government is providing humanitarian aid to a string of Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, but Cuba — just 90 miles off the coast of Florida — is not among them. The guidelines for U.S. assistance include a requirement that a host country must request help. Cuba — a proud adversary in a decades long battle with its superpower neighbor — is not inclined to do so. The Category 5 hurricane, the worst to hit the communist island since 1932, spent 24 hours grinding away over northern parts of Cuba, damaging more than 4,000 homes, inundating downtown Havana with knee-high floods and destroying thousands of acres of cane sugar. More than 3.1 million people — a quarter of the island’s population — lost water service. Small beach towns also were destroyed on the northern coast, causing millions of dollars in losses and leaving thousands homeless. At least 10 people were killed.

Trump Urges U.N. to Cut Waste and Mismanagement

In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump said Monday that the U.N. must cut its wasteful spending and end mismanagement. “The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals,” Mr. Trump told diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York. “Yet in recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement.” Trump said the U.N. budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, but “we are not seeing the results in line with this investment. The president praised U.N. Secretary General António Guterres for undertaking reforms of the world body “to better serve the people it represents.” “I know that under the secretary general, that’s changing, and it’s changing fast,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he supports the push “to focus more on people and less on bureaucracy.”

New Health-Care Plan Stumbles Under Opposition from Governors

Senate Republicans and the White House pressed ahead Tuesday with their suddenly resurgent effort to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, even as their attempt was dealt a setback when a bipartisan group of governors and several influential interest groups came out against the proposal. Powerful health-care groups continued to rail against the bill, including AARP and the American Hospital Association, both of which urged a no vote. The measure marks the last gasp of Republican attempts to dramatically gut Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In a letter to Senate leaders, a group of 10 bipartisan governors argued against the Graham-Cassidy bill and wrote that they prefer the bipartisan push to stabilize the insurance marketplaces that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had been negotiating before talks stalled Tuesday evening.

Insurers Help Fuel the Opioid Crisis

At a time when the United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications, reports the New York Times. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive. Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people in the second quarter of this year. Only one-third of the people covered, for example, had any access to Butrans, a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid, buprenorphine. And every drug plan that covered lidocaine patches, which are not addictive but cost more than other generic pain drugs, required that patients get prior approval for them. In contrast, almost every plan covered common opioids and very few required any prior approval.

80 Arrested in St. Louis Protests Over Police Officer’s Acquittal

St. Louis Riot police arrested dozens Sunday night following the latest round of clashes with demonstrators protesting the acquittal of a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man. At least 80 arrests were made in what was the third night of violence in the city, with hundreds of people protesting Friday’s court decision. Both Friday and Saturday, the protesters got agitated and confronted the police officers. The violent agitators reportedly damaged property and sprayed unknown substance on police officers. One cop suffered a leg injury and was taken to the hospital. After ignoring the call to disperse, arrests were made before midnight by officers wearing riot gear. Mayor Lyda Krewson told reporters at a late-night news conference that “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” and the violence was perpetrated by “a group of agitators,” Reuters reported.

Teens Not Grasping Adulthood

Today’s teens are on a slow road to adulthood, putting off risky behaviors from drinking to sex, but also delaying jobs, driving, dating and other steps towards independence, according to a new study based on 40 years of survey data. Compared to teens from the 70s, 80s and 90s, today’s teens “are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and the responsibilities of adulthood,” said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study published Tuesday in the journal Child Development. “The whole developmental pathway has slowed down,” she said, with today’s 18-year-olds living more like 15-year-olds once did. Only 29% of 9th graders had sex, down from 38%. About 29% of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56%. Just 32% of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63%.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is going on the financial equivalent of a diet. The central bank announced that it will begin selling off some of its $4.5 trillion in assets, a sign of its leaders’ confidence in the economy. The move begins the process of gradually unwinding the massive and unprecedented stimulus program instituted after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed will sell off $10 billion in assets in October and slowly raise the rate of sales in the months to come.

Unfunded pension liabilities hit $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2016 in U.S. states, a $56 billion or 4.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, Moody’s Investors Service reported. The credit rating agency attributed the higher adjusted net pension liability for the 50 states to underperforming investment returns, low interest rates and insufficient contributions to retirement systems for government workers. It projected the liability will grow again in fiscal 2017 to $1.7 trillion. Overall, fiscal 2016’s $1.3 trillion unfunded liability equaled 122 percent of state revenue.

Motorists and homeowners throughout Texas and Florida as well as those who live anywhere from Alabama to Wyoming could see their premiums rise, as insurance companies pay out billions of dollars to customers whose properties were destroyed or damaged. The estimated U.S. insured losses, excluding any National Flood Insurance Program claims, are $20 billion to $25 billion from Harvey and $40 billion to $60 billion from Irma. Insurers are looking to stay flush as they cover their reinsurance policies while trying to prepare for any extreme future weather that could harm their customers.

While the U.S. homeownership rate has climbed slightly since reaching a 50-year low in 2016, it remains near a generational low at just 63.7%. Simply put, more people are choosing to rent than buy their homes in recent years than at any point since the 1960s. Seventy percent of Americans surveyed believe that people these days will need to rent well into their 30s to be able to save enough money to buy a home. Thirty-five percent of Americans say that they would prefer renting a home over ownership to maintain a flexible lifestyle, since the average person changes jobs about 12 times during his or her career. Americans are increasingly valuing experience over ownership, and this is particularly evident in the younger Millennial generation — the 18-to-35 age group. While previous generations have valued ownership more, millennials seem to be willing to sacrifice homeownership if it means they can afford to spend more money on experiences (e.g. travel).

Universities known for being hotbeds of campus protest and liberal activism are struggling with declining enrollments and budget shortfalls, and higher education analysts say that’s no coincidence. According to a document leaked to The Oberlin Review, the school’s student newspaper, the small liberal arts college famous for social justice hoaxes has had trouble attracting and retaining students, missing this year’s enrollment mark by 80 and racking up a $5 million budget deficit in the process. Similar shortfalls are being experienced at other universities known for liberal social activism.

Puerto Rico is years into an economic crisis. Now it’s facing a natural disaster with the landfall Wednesday of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico’s government owes $74 billion to bondholders, and an additional $50 billion in pension obligations to teachers and almost all other government employees. In May, it filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Many residents are moving from the island for the mainland United States, leaving it with few skilled workers to handle the rebuilding and development process. Without workers and funds, Puerto Rico will have a very difficult time recovering from this latest disaster.

40 Million Slaves in the World

More than 40 million people were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016 — and one in four of those were children. Those are the findings of a new report produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency focusing on labor rights, and the Walk Free Foundation, an international NGO working to end modern slavery. The report estimates that last year, 25 million people were in forced labor — made to work under threat or coercion — and 15 million people were in forced marriage. According to the report, women and girls accounted for 71 percent of slavery victims, including 99 percent of those in the commercial sex industry and 84 percent of victims of forced marriages. Children made up around 37 percent of those forced to marry, as well as 18 percent of forced labor victims and 21 percent of victims of sexual exploitation.

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar

The United Nations’ top human rights official called Myanmar’s (Burma’s) ongoing military campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in that country’s Rakhine state “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Using a pretext of rooting out Islamist insurgents, Burma’s military, together with Buddhist villagers, are terrorizing the Rohingya, emptying and razing their villages, and attempting to hound them out of the country. Of a total of 1.1 million Rohingya that remained in Burma despite repeated waves of violence since the late 1970s, more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in just the past month.

Israel Claims UN Ignored Intel on Secret Iran Nuke Sites

Israeli officials have reportedly accused the U.N. organization tasked with ensuring Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal of ignoring information it received detailing forbidden nuclear military research and development being carried out at several sites across Iran. The officials said that “a Western entity” told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of sites that Iran failed to disclose under the deal – which offered Iran relief from punishing sanctions in exchange for having it roll back its nuclear program – but the body failed to investigate or carry our inspections at the locations, Haaretz reported Sunday.

Trump Calls for End to Iranian Nuclear Deal

President Trump on Tuesday signaled he is close to ditching the Iran nuclear agreement struck by former President Barack Obama, by saying the deal is an “embarrassment to the United States” in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly. “We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said. Making his debut appearance at the annual United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Iran of exporting “violence, bloodshed and chaos” and of seeking to project its influence in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in a region rife with sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Trump in his U.N. address sand aid he seeks to “address together the terrible nuclear deal” with Iran.

Iran is Arming Houthis in Yemen

The top American admiral in the Middle East said on Monday that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling Iranian-backed rebels to fire missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching. Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen, in which rebels from the country’s north, the Houthis, ousted the government from the capital of Sana in 2014. The officer, Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, said that Iran is sustaining the Houthis with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border.”

Earthquakes

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Mexico City Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, killing at least 225 people and leaving multiple people reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings. Nearly 100 people were confirmed dead in Mexico City alone, where dozens of buildings were brought down by the temblor Officials confirmed at least 71 fatalities in Morelos state after the quake struck about 70 miles southeast of Mexico City. The tremor, which was about 31 miles deep, hit near the small town of San Juan Raboso. The earthquake toppled buildings, sent rescue workers digging through rubble for survivors and knocked out power to millions.

Wildfires

As wildfires continue to blacken parts of the West, the Forest Service has already spent more than $2 billion this year battling the blazes, a record in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons. Wildfires ravaged the West this summer. As of last Thursday, 64 large blazes were burning across 10 states, including 21 fires in Montana and 18 in Oregon. In all, 48,607 wildfires have burned nearly 13,000 square miles. The fires have stretched firefighting resources, destroyed more than 500 homes and triggered health alerts as choking smoke drifted into major Western cities. As of Saturday, 8,378,990 acres have burned nationwide so far this year, up from 4,776,167 acres last year. The emphasis on firefighting means that money for prescribed burns, insect control and other prevention efforts is diverted to putting out fires in a self-defeating cycle. The end result is that small trees and vegetation remain in the forest for future fires to feed on.

Weather

Hurricane Maria slammed into the small Caribbean island of Dominica Monday night with “mind-boggling” devastation, according to the country’s prime minister, leaving at least nine dead and two missing. There is still little word from the small island of Dominica as of Wednesday morning due to power and communication outages. Maria has made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico Wednesday morning as the strongest landfall on that island in 85 years, with sustained winds of 145 mph and life-threatening gusts nearing 200 mph. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.

Maria is expected to continue on a northwest track, moving along the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday before skirting the southern Bahamas early on Friday. It is then predicted to swing to the north into the open Atlantic and move between the American East Coast and Bermuda.

Jose, a Category 1 hurricane in the western Atlantic, will continue to produce dangerous high surf and rip currents as it moves parallel to the Eastern Seaboard in the upcoming week. Rain and tropical storm-force winds could also brush portions of the East Coast.

The already-catastrophic 2017 hurricane season shows no signs of letting up. And we still have more than two months to go. The hurricanes that have formed this year — seven so far — are about double the average to date, as is the energy generated by the storms. For the first year in recorded hurricane history, which dates to 1851, two Category-4 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) slammed into the United States the same year.

Barbuda has been left completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. An estimated 95% of Barbuda’s structures are damaged, and the entire island of around 1,800 people has been evacuated. Evacuees from Barbuda were sent to Antigua, which did not suffer the same level of damage from Irma. Though Barbudan evacuees are safe, people are living in cramped quarters in government facilities and nursing homes, including some 500 school-aged children. Now that school is back in session, Antigua must find room for these students.

At least four people have been killed and 10 more were injured by Typhoon Doksuri as it made landfall in Vietnam last Friday. The provinces of Ha Tinh and Quang Binh were hardest-hit, with upwards of 100,000 homes sustaining damage. Nearly 300,000 residents fled their homes in Vietnam ahead of Doksuri.

Signs of the Times (9/14/17)

September 14, 2017

Irma Aftermath at End under Weather

Important Religious Freedom Case Goes to Supreme Court

Potentially “huge ramifications” for religious liberty – that’s what is at stake, says the American Family Association, as a Colorado cake shop case is to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. In 2012, cake shop owner Jack Phillips declined to provide a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his faith and lost before Colorado courts. Attorney General Sessions’ Department of Justice has submitted a 34-page “friend of the court” brief to the nation’s top court encouraging a ruling in favor of Phillips. “We’ve seen over a dozen examples specifically of Christian business owners who are being driven out of business by various commissions and bureaucrats because of their religious beliefs,” AFA spokesman Walker Wildmon said. “And this case could be a turning point at the Supreme Court for religious liberty and frankly for the First Amendment rights of people of faith.”

U.N. Agrees to Toughest-Ever Sanctions Against North Korea

The U.N. Security Council on Monday agreed on its toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea that passed unanimously after the United States softened its initial demands to win support from China and Russia. The sanctions set limits on North Korea’s oil imports and banned its textile exports in an effort to deprive the reclusive nation of the income it needs to maintain its nuclear and ballistic missile program and increase the pressure to negotiate their way out of punishing sanctions. “Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The new sanctions come on top of previous ones that cut into North Korea’s exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. Haley said that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s reported exports are now fully banned by sanctions. President Trump called for a complete U.N. blockade of North Korea to stop all imports and exports.

President Trump Renews 9/11 Emergency Proclamation

President Trump has become the third president to renew a post-9/11 emergency proclamation, stretching what was supposed to be a temporary state of national emergency after the 2001 terror attacks into its 17th year. But the ongoing effects of that perpetual emergency aren’t immediately clear, because the executive branch has ignored a law requiring it to report to Congress every six months on how much the president has spent under those extraordinary powers, USA TODAY reports. Exactly 16 years ago Thursday, President Bush signed Proclamation 7463, giving himself sweeping powers to mobilize the military in the days following terrorist attacks that crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It allowed him to call up National Guard and Reserve troops, hire and fire military officers, and bypass limits on the numbers of generals that could serve. Presidents Bush and Obama renewed that emergency each year. And on Wednesday, Trump published a now-routine notice in the Federal Register extending the emergency for the 16th time, explaining simply that “the terrorist threat continues.” But as Trump extends the emergency into a third presidential administration, legal experts say a review of those powers is long overdue.

Supreme Court: No Expansion of Travel Ban’s Refugee Exemptions

The Supreme Court handed President Trump a temporary victory Tuesday, blocking a lower court decision that would have greatly expanded the number of refugees exempted from his controversial travel ban. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments next month in the broader constitutional challenge to the travel ban from states and immigrant rights groups. The current dispute is over which immigrants and refugees can enter in the meantime. Trump administration lawyers asked the court on Monday to set aside last week’s federal appeals court ruling that would allow more refugees into the United States while the case is pending. That ruling was due to take effect Tuesday because the lower court had said thousands of refugees were “gravely imperiled.” The administration argued that by granting entry to any refugees who had been matched up with a resettlement agency in the U.S., the lower court went far beyond the type of personal relationship Trump required.

Trump’s Debt Deal with Democrats Stuns GOP

President Trump has stunned Republican lawmakers with his abrupt decision to strike a deal with Democrats for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling tied to Hurricane Harvey relief money. The president made the deal during a White House meeting Wednesday with the top congressional leaders of both parties. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had wanted a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling that would also cover hurricane relief funding. Instead, Trump sided with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in agreeing to a three-month deal that would both fund the government and raise the debt ceiling through mid-December. The deal averts the threat of a shutdown or even default for now, but virtually guarantees a congressional showdown before the end of the year. It appeared to some observers that Trump grew weary of the ongoing back-and-forth negotiations and decided to strike an agreement to end it. Fox News reported that Trump wanted to come out of that meeting with the decks cleared so he could get Congress to focus on tax reform – his big legislative agenda item this fall.

Trump Also Working with Democrats about DACA

President Donald Trump is moving closer to a deal with Democrats that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and put off funding for his marquee campaign promise of a border wall along the US-Mexico border, reports CNN. The bombshell developments, which were first announced in a statement Wednesday night by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi and reiterated by Trump himself Thursday morning, were met with immediate outrage from conservatives and put pressure on the President’s Republican allies in Congress. The two Democratic leaders announced that following a dinner at the White House, they had “agreed to enshrine the protections of (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” Trump insisted on Twitter Thursday morning that “no deal was made” on DACA, and Schumer and Pelosi later issued a statement clarifying that what was agreed upon was Trump supporting congressional actions to put DACA protections into law. The wall will come later, he said.

Russian Meddling Documented in 27 Countries Since 2004

Russia has meddled in the affairs of at least 27 European and North American countries since 2004 with interference that ranges from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns, according to an analysis by a surveillance organization. The alleged Russian interference was compiled by the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund, a nonprofit organization that fosters closer bonds between the United States and Europe. The meddling started in former Soviet republics allied with the West and spread to Western Europe. More recently, Canada and the United States were targeted. The U.S. Congress and an independent prosecutor are investigating possible Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, Facebook said an internal investigation uncovered $100,000 in advertising spending by hundreds of fake accounts and pages, likely operated out of Russia, which sought to sow political division during the U.S. presidential election. The ads were traced to a Russian “troll farm,” a Facebook official said.

Equifax: 143M U.S. Consumers Affected by Criminal Cybersecurity Breach

Credit reporting company Equifax announced Thursday that a cybersecurity data breach could have impacted about 143 million U.S. consumers. The company said in a statement the unauthorized entry occurred mid-May through July 2017, as criminals exploited a website “vulnerability” to access files ranging from social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. Hackers also accessed the credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers in the U.S. and other documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people in the U.S. Equifax said it discovered the breach on July 29, 2017 but did not publicly disclose the information until Sept. 7, 2017. Three Equifax executives sold stock prior to the announcement. The company has set up a website for consumers Opens a New Window. that will help them identify if their information was affected. It will also send notices directly in the mail to consumers that have had credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information compromised. “The Equifax data compromise was due to (Equifax’s) failure to install the security updates provided in a timely manner,” said the Apache Foundation, noting that the exploited flaw was found, reported and fixed two months prior to the hack. Several class-action lawsuits have been filed.

Hackers Can ‘Whisper’ Commands to Alexa, Siri, Google Now

Your digital assistant of choice, be it Alexa, Siri, or Google Now, should only carry out the voice commands you issue. But it turns out these assistants are not as loyal as we thought, and all a hacker has to do is whisper to them, reports PC Magazine. A research team at Zhejiang University in China figured out how to issue commands to the digital assistants provided by Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei that nobody else can hear. That includes Alexa, Cortana, Google Now, Huawei HiVoice, Samsung S Voice, and Siri They named the technique DolphinAttack, and it’s possible due to a security flaw in the way these assistants work. The DolphinAttack takes advantage of the 20kHz and above frequencies that humans can’t hear. A voice command is recorded and then translated it to an ultrasonic frequency version. Microphones still pick up the ultrasound just like a normal voice command and therefore treat it as such. Issuing commands to make a call, open a web address, even to unlock a door will all work with the appropriate silent command. Modifying a smartphone to issue such commands costs around $3, the researchers say.

U.S. Bans Russia’s Kapersky Security Software

The U.S. government on Wednesday moved to ban the use of a Russian brand of security software by federal agencies amid concerns the company has ties to state-sponsored cyberespionage activities. In a binding directive, acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke ordered that federal civilian agencies identify Kaspersky Lab software on their networks. After 90 days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk. “The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems, directly implicates U.S. national security.”

White Christians Swing from Majority to Minority in U.S.

Those Americans who identify as white Christians are now considered to be a minority of the country’s population, according to a new survey. The number has dipped below 50 percent for the first time, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, said a report released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). While Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent, white Christians – once a mainstay of the country’s religious life — now comprise only 43 percent of the population. About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago. The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarters identify as white Christians. By comparison, in the Democratic Party, white Christians have become a minority shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent currently.

International Planned Parenthood Surpasses 1 Million Abortions in 2016

One of the world’s most extensive and prolific abortion networks has passed a tragic milestone. In 2016, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), for the first time reported in its history, aborted more than one million unborn baby boys and girls in a single year. IPPF, a London-based international pro-abortion organization, maintains a vast network of affiliates (Member Associations) across the globe that actively perform and/or advocate for abortion. IPPF maintains 142 Member Associations worldwide and is currently active in 171 countries. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is IPPF’s Member Association in the United States. IPPF claims that its network has contributed to over 950 legislative or policy changes worldwide since 2005. IPPF claims the organization contributed to more legislative and policy changes in 2016 than at any other point in its history. In 2016, IPPF also significantly increased its reach among the youth in the domain of sex education. According to the Financial Statements 2016, over 28.1 million adolescents and young adults were given “comprehensive sex education” programming through one of IPPF’s Member Associations

Economic News

U.S. median income hit $59,039 in 2016, the highest ever reported by Census Bureau. Middle-class household income set an all-time record last year, besting the previous high set in 1999, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Median income is a key measure of the economic health of the U.S. middle class, which struggled during the slow economic growth of the early 2000s and was devastated by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent in 2016, with 40.6 million people living in poverty, 2.5 million fewer than in 2015, the agency reported. The poverty rate hit its post-recession peak in 2010 at 15.1 percent and is now slightly above where it was in 2007.

The U.S. dollar is cooling off after a red-hot surge. Though it rose in the weeks following President Trump’s election victory last November, the greenback has steadily fallen this year. It’s now down to its lowest level since January 2015. Since January 1, 2017, the dollar is down 11%. Financial analysts point to disappointment with the progress of President Trump’s agenda, as well as Europe’s economy picking up steam as the primary causes. Also, investors are disappointed over the diminishing prospects of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve this year.

A study released last summer by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, claimed the Red Cross had spent $124 million — or a quarter of the money donors gave after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti — on internal expenses. Since 2014, National Public Radio and ProPublica have teamed up for investigations into Red Cross spending. Those reports argue that the agency, whose main role is as a blood broker, spends just a small fraction of its money on its high-publicity disaster relief programs and has made “dubious claims of success.” The reports specifically slammed the agency’s response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in 2012. And last year, the Red Cross came under more fire for its response to flooding in Louisiana with numerous complaints from relief workers and organizers who often were left without promised assistance.

Hurricane Harvey packed such a powerful punch that more than a dozen Gulf Coast oil refineries are still hurting two weeks after the storm struck Texas. Five oil refineries remain shuttered as of Monday. Refinery comeback efforts have been disrupted by flooding, damage, power outages and challenges created by the sudden nature of some shutdowns. All told, about 2.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity in Texas is offline because of Harvey. At one point, about 4 million barrels of refining capacity was shut down. Gasoline prices spiked around the United States. The good news, however, is that gas prices have stopped spiking. The average price has held steady for five days at $2.67 a gallon, up from $2.36 a month ago, according to AAA.

Christianity is Dying in Germany, Islam Rising

There are about 47 million Catholics and Protestants combined in Germany, representing roughly 60 percent of the German population, but that number is falling by 500,000 a year, according to the Gatestone Institute. All across Germany, churches now sit mostly empty on Sunday mornings, and it’s a problem for Catholics and Protestants alike. In 2016 alone, the German Catholic Church lost 162,093 faithful attendees and closed 537 parishes, according to data from the German Bishops’ Conference. One-quarter of all German Catholic communities that existed in 1996 have now closed. Similarly, in 2016, 340,000 German Protestants died while 190,000 people left the church. Only 25,000 people joined the church. While Christianity is dying in Germany, Islam is on the rise. Historian Walter Laqueur wrote that Germany had about 700 “little mosques and prayer rooms” in the 1980s but “more than 2,500 at the present time” – and that was in 2009. Today, Turkey controls 900 mosques or religious communities in Germany. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is committed to building more mosques in European capitals, just as he has built 17,000 Islamic prayer sites in Turkey since taking power.

Iran Sanctions Up for Renewal

President Trump must decide by Thursday whether to once again waive economic sanctions on Iran, a task imposed on him by a deal he holds in contempt and appears to be preparing to ditch, reports the Washington Post. But despite his concern that Iran is an international threat, Trump is expected to waive sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors for the second time since taking office. If not, the United States will be in breach of the landmark 2015 deal that is a legacy of the Obama administration. Even if Trump waives sanctions, as he must by law reassess every 120 days, it comes as Iran and the agreement it negotiated with six world powers are coming under increasing attack. In a series of public critiques of the deal and Iran’s behavior, administration officials appear to be laying the groundwork to kill the existing agreement, possibly by finding a way to reopen it for modifications. The next and most consequential decision on the horizon is Oct. 15, when Trump must decide whether Iran is fully complying with its commitments under the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The president is required to revisit the issue every 90 days, and in July he reportedly was angry that his advisers offered no options except to certify it. More than 80 nuclear nonproliferation specialists issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the agreement “has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

Earthquakes

At least 90 people died after a massive earthquake hit off the southwestern coast of Mexico late Thursday. The magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Mexico’s Chiapas state. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake’s epicenter was 54 miles southwest of Pijijiapan, Mexico, not far from Guatemala. It had a depth of more than 40 miles. Some people continued to sleep outside, fearful of more collapses, as strong aftershocks continued to rattle the town, including a magnitude 5.2 jolt early Sunday. Local officials said they had counted nearly 800 aftershocks of all sizes since late Thursday’s big quake, and the U.S. Geological Survey counted nearly 60 with a magnitude of 4.5 or greater. The powerful quake caused buildings to sway violently and people to flee into the streets in panic as far away as the Mexico City. Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco said the quake was the strongest on record in state history, topping a magnitude 7.9 quake in 1902; and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

Wildfires

Several fires believed to have been caused by lightning continue to burn across Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, prompting mandatory evacuations and the closure of a lake. Officials shut down Lake Frances in Pondera County Tuesday so fire crews can use the water to battle the blazes. “The western fires are not stopping,” incident commander trainee James Casaus, who is working with the team managing three fires on the Front, told the Great Falls Tribune. “They’re just getting bigger.” Twenty-one large (over 100 acre) wildfires are burning in western Montana, having already consumed 413,000 acres (645 square miles), more than half the size of Rhode Island. In addition, 25 large wildfires are burning in Oregon and Washington, with a total of 766,000 acres torched, as the northwest drought continues.

Weather

Irma has finally disappeared from the map after a nearly two-week onslaught of destruction, death and terror. Now, millions of people from the wiped-out Caribbean island of Barbuda to the devastated Florida Keys try to piece their lives back together. The storm is responsible for the deaths of least 68 people, with 32 of those in battered Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. More than 2.6 million customers were still without power in Florida as of Thursday morning. Florida fruit growers and farmers fear the damage Irma wrought on the state’s citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops will be significant. FEMA estimates that 25% percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed. Another 65 percent suffered major damage. At least 99 percent of structures were at least partly damaged in hard-hit Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos. The situation remains dire in parts of the Caribbean with some residents running out of food and water as power outages linger. The Dutch Red Cross said more than 200 people were still listed as missing on St. Maarten, the Dutch side of St. Martin. Looting has become rampant.

With Texas and Florida still digging out from Harvey and Irma, Hurricane Jose inched closer to the U.S. mainland Thursday, but forecasters said the storm would likely shift northward in the next few days and skirt the Mid-Atlantic on its way up the coast. While a U.S. landfall was not totally out of the picture yet, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas, tracking models show Jose likely remaining well offshore. On Thursday morning, Jose was located about 510 miles south-southwest of Bermuda moving west at 3 mph. It was packing sustained winds of 75 mph.

Signs of the Times (9/6/17)

September 6, 2017

For Irma Information see Weather at End of Newsletter

North Korea Claims It Detonated a Hydrogen Bomb

North Korea claimed Sunday to have detonated a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on a missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. The claim, although unverified, will sharply increase tensions between the Pyongyang regime and the rest of the world. The bomb was a two-stage weapon with a yield that analysts said could make it a “city buster.” South Korea and Japan confirmed that North Korea had conducted its sixth nuclear test Sunday, with the explosion so powerful it was felt in northeastern China. Tensions have already been running high, with Kim repeatedly defying international condemnation and continuing to launch ballistic missiles, while President Trump issuing increasingly blunt and threatening warnings. South Korea strengthened the deployment of a controversial U.S.-made missile defense system and launched a huge show of military might on Monday. North Korea has made rapid advances in its nuclear weapons program, but the rogue nation probably can’t yet reach U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles, analysts say.

The blast that shook the ground at North Korea’s test site Sunday instantly erased lingering skepticism about Pyongyang’s technical capabilities and brought the prospect of nuclear-tipped North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of devastating a major city one step closer to reality, U.S. analysts and weapons experts said. South Korea’s defense minister on Monday said it was worth reviewing the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula to guard against the North, a step that analysts warn would sharply increase the risk of an accidental conflict. U.S. officials are urging governments to cut off all fuel supplies to North Korea, which is “begging for war.”

What Does North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Want?

Analysts say that it would take five concessions in order for North Korea to back down from their threats of war against South Korea, Japan and the U.S., according to the USA Today. First, he would need a guarantee of no overthrow attempts; second, that North Korea be allowed to keep their nuclear weapons; third, all sanctions against North Korea would have to be completely lifted; fourth, the U.S. would have to remove all troops from South Korea; and fifth, a formal peace treaty ending the 1950-1953 Korean War. A formal peace treaty would provide a huge economic and political boost for North Korea. Without negotiations, the Trump administration warned Sunday of a “massive military response” against North Korea and President Trump threatened to halt trade with China after Pyongyang conducted the alarmingly powerful nuclear test.

Trump May Withdraw from South Korean Trade Pact

The Trump administration could give notice to South Korea as early as this week that it plans to withdraw from a bilateral trade agreement that has been in effect since 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. President Donald Trump has long slammed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS FTA, and the ensuing rise of the nation’s trade deficit since it was implemented, the Journal reported. Negotiations this summer have been tense — and American officials say that Seoul remains unwilling to make significant changes to the agreement. The question remains of whether the White House is seriously considering withdrawing from the agreement. U.S. business groups have called on its members to reach out to legislators to stop any withdrawal, the Journal reported.

DOJ Concludes No Evidence of Obama Wiretapping

The Justice Department confirmed in a court filing there is no evidence that Trump Tower was targeted for surveillance by the Obama administration — contradicting President Trump’s controversial claim first made in March. A “Motion for Summary Judgment” filed Friday evening in D.C. district court says neither the FBI nor the Justice Department’s National Security Division have records confirming wiretaps that Trump accused the Obama administration of ordering. The document was submitted in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Trump Fades Out DACA, but Gives Congress Opportunity to Save It

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and has formally rescinded the Obama administration policy. The Justice Department also announced a plan to continue renewing permits for anyone whose status expires in the next six months, giving Congress time to act before any currently protected individuals lose their ability to work, study and live without fear in the U.S. Trump called on Congress to replace the policy with legislation before it fully expires on March 5, 2018. In the five years since DACA was enacted, the nearly 800,000 individuals who have received the protections have started families, pursued careers and studied in schools and universities across the United States. The business community and education community at large has joined Democrats and many moderate Republicans in supporting the program, citing the contributions to society from the population and the sympathetic fact that many Dreamers have never known another home than the U.S.

Houston Faces Ongoing Threat of Mold, Fumes & Toxic Water

Residents of Harris County, Texas, returning to an estimated 156,000 homes flooded by Harvey face dangers from mold, electrical hazards and deadly fumes and toxins in the receding water. Thirteen of the 41 toxic Superfund sites in Texas were flooded and “experiencing possible damage” as a result of Hurricane Harvey, federal environmental officials confirmed Saturday. The death toll has risen to at least 42, with a house-by-house search for survivors continuing. An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County — more than 10% of all structures — were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district. More than 457,000 people have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance by Friday. More than 121,000 survivors have already been approved for more than $83.4 million in assistance from FEMA. The Red Cross and its partners sheltered 42,399 people in Texas, and another 1,487 in Louisiana, according to FEMA.

Small Towns Still Struggling in Harvey’s Wake

While the Houston urban area has understandably captured the country’s attention post-Harvey, small communities in Texas have waged their own struggles dealing with the storm’s aftermath. Colorado River water levels crested Thursday at 50.5 feet, inundating much of Wharton in waist-deep water. The town as a whole has less than a 1-foot difference in elevation. Officials estimated that more than 60% of Wharton’s 9,000 residents had floodwater in their homes or on their properties. “At one point, we were boxed in on all of our exits due to waters, or due to the neighboring cities having a mandatory evacuation. Our emergency medical services couldn’t get to a hospital,” said Wharton’s city spokeswoman, Paula Favors, human resources director and city secretary.

Economic News

North Korea’s biggest ever nuclear test has sent a fresh wave of nervousness through global markets. Stocks in nearby countries like South Korea and Japan slid as investors moved money into assets considered safer bets, such as gold. Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’ jumped 34% and the Dow Jones Industrial stock average dropped 240 points Tuesday.

The elderly American population in this country is set to explode, given the retirement of baby boomers and an improvement in medical care, medicines, and medical care access. Right now, there are approximately 48 million people aged 65 and up, but by 2035 that figure is expected to climb to 79 million. That’s a 65% increase in 18 years, and it’s going to be a major strain on the Social Security program. As the number Social Security recipients increases, the number of workers providing that all-important payroll-tax revenue won’t be growing by nearly enough to offset the baby boomer exodus from the workforce. Between 2017 and 2035, the SSA is estimating that the worker-to-beneficiary ratio, which currently sits at 2.8-to-1, could fall by 21% to 2.2-to-1. Raising payroll taxes on the wealthy, or all workers, are solutions currently under consideration.

Europe Overrun with Jihadists

EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimates more than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe. “Three years ago, it was easy to identify someone who has become radicalized,” de Kerchove told El Mundo. “Now, most fanatics disguise their convictions. We do not have exact figures, but it is not difficult to do approximate calculations. United Kingdom… has 20,000. France, 17,000. Spain much less, but more than 5,000, I suppose. In Belgium, almost 500 have gone to Syria and there are about 2,000 radicals or more. I would not venture to a specific figure, but tens of thousands, more than 50,000.” In a separate interview with a Belgian publication, de Kerchove said Europol, the European police office, has identified at least 30,000 active jihadist websites.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, has previously warned that Islamic terrorists are using the refugee crisis to slide into Europe undetected and plan attacks across the continent. In total, about 130,000 migrants arrived in Europe during the first eight months of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 10,000 of those arrived in Spain by water, and thousands more entered Spain by land. Meanwhile, authorities detained 2,474 people trying to cross the Romanian border illegally during the first six months of this year, according to Balkan Insight.

German law-enforcement officials are busy tracking down dozens of members of Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most brutal jihadist groups in Syria. The jihadists are suspected of slaughtering hundreds of Syrian soldiers and civilians. Police have identified roughly 25 of them and apprehended a few, but dozens more are thought to be hiding in towns and cities across Germany, according to the Gatestone Institute. The suspected terrorists entered Germany posing as refugees. More than 400 migrants who came to Germany as asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 are now under investigation for being members of Middle Eastern Islamic jihadist groups, according to the Federal Criminal Police.

Islamic State

Islamic State fighters in Libya shot and beheaded groups of captive Ethiopian Christians, a video purportedly from the extremists showed Sunday. The attack widens the circle of nations affected by the group’s atrocities while showing its growth beyond a self-declared ‘caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq. The release of the 29-minute video comes a day after Afghanistan’s president blamed the extremists for a suicide attack in his country that killed at least 35 people — and underscores the chaos gripping Libya after its 2011 civil war and the killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Syria

Syrian government forces and their allies reached the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, ending a nearly 3-year-old ISIS siege on government-held land near the Iraqi border, Syrian state TV reported. State TV said troops advancing from the west reached the outskirts of the city and broke the siege after ISIS defenses “collapsed.” Breaking the siege marks another victory for President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been advancing on several fronts against ISIS and other insurgent groups over the past year. Syrian troops and allied militiamen, backed by Russia’s air force, have for months been advancing toward Deir el-Zour, the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of the same name. The breach is expected to end a nightmare siege for tens of thousands of people trapped in a handful of neighborhoods.

Myanmar

Tens of thousands of refugees are trapped on the border into Bangladesh without basic food and medicine amid operations by the Myanmar military, which have already killed hundreds. Satellite photos released by Human Rights Watch Saturday showed what they are desperate to escape — entire villages torched to the ground in clashes between Myanmar’s armed forces and local militants. More than 73,000 Rohingyas have now fled across the border since August 25, the United Nations said Sunday. But in northern Rakhine State there are reports of at least another 30,000 Rohingyas trapped in hilly terrain without basic supplies of food, water or medicine. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are considered some of the most persecuted people in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma, considers them Bangladeshi and Bangladesh says they’re Burmese.

Earthquakes

One of the strongest earthquake to hit Idaho in years struck the southeastern region of the state Saturday night, followed by more than 40 smaller quakes throughout the night. According to the Idaho State Journal, residents in Caribou County were startled by the 5.3-magnitude earthquake that hit shortly before 6 p.m. local time Saturday. No structural damage or injuries were reported. The United States Geological Survey said the initial quake was relatively shallow at a depth of 6.2 miles and was located about 10 miles east of Soda Springs, Idaho. The quakes were also felt in cities in northern Utah and throughout southeast Idaho. Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said he hasn’t experienced anything like the quakes in his 40 years of service in Idaho.

Wildfires

Dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states have sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver — prompting health warnings and cancellations of outdoor activities for children by many school districts. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, said 80 large fires were burning on 2,200 square miles (5,700 square kilometers) in nine Western states. A growing Oregon wildfire, the Eagle Creek fire, covered parts of Portland’s metropolitan area Tuesday with ash and forced the shutdown of a lengthy stretch of highway through the state’s scenic Columbia River Gorge. The 16-square mile (41-square kilometers) fire east of Portland forced hundreds of home evacuations. Embers from the fire drifted in the air across the Columbia River — sparking blazes in neighboring Washington state. The wildfire grew rapidly late Monday and overnight, giving authorities just minutes to warn residents on the Oregon side of the river to leave their homes. Authorities say they believe the blaze, which started Saturday, was caused by a 15-year-old boy and friends using fireworks. A 30-mile (48-kilometer) section of Interstate 84 was closed in both directions because of thick smoke and falling ash and because flames reached the roadway in some spots.

A fast-moving wildfire in northern Utah swept down a canyon Tuesday — destroying structures, forcing evacuations and closing highways. At least five homes burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as high winds fed the flames in the canyon north of Salt Lake City. Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways as firefighters struggled to fight the blaze fueled by winds gusting up to 40 mph. Outside California’s Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire made its way deeper into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees on Labor Day. Officials said the fire had gone through about half the grove but had not killed any trees. Elsewhere in Northern California, a fire destroyed 72 homes and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people from their houses. The fire burned 14 square miles in the community of Helena about 150 miles south of Oregon. A wildfire burning near Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state grew to more than 29 square miles and heavy smoke blanketed many cities in Washington state. The air quality in Spokane, Washington, was rated as hazardous.

A wildfire in northern Los Angeles was the largest wildfire in the city’s history, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Saturday. At least 700 homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale were evacuated as the La Tuna Canyon wildfire threatened structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. At least three buildings have been destroyed. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions. “Our biggest concern is the wind and weather,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said. Officials canceled evacuation orders Monday citing progress against the fire.

Weather

Hurricane Irma slammed into islands in the northeast Caribbean with devastating force early Wednesday, damaging buildings and sending debris flying with winds estimated at 185mph. The National Weather Service says the eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm and the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, passed over the island of Barbuda at 1:47am, the AP reports. The storm ripped the roofs off of buildings, including the island’s police station, and damage was also reported on the neighboring island of Antigua. Many residents on both islands have fled to shelters, fearing the storm will destroy their homes. The storm tore off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy. Other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis, are under hurricane warnings, as are Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic, reports Reuters. The National Hurricane Center has warned of “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards” for places in Irma’s path. The center predicts that Irma will hit the other Leeward Islands on Wednesday morning before passing over the Virgin Islands and close to northern Puerto Rico later in the day. Cruise ships bound for Caribbean destinations are being diverted.

As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials have declared disasters and ordered evacuations throughout the Sunshine State. About 420,000 people living in Miami Evacuation Zones A and B along the coast have been told to flee. The last time a similar evacuation was ordered was for Hurricane Wilma in 2005. A state of emergency has been declared for all counties in Florida, and residents across the region are trying to stock up on food, water and other essentials. The order frees up funding for emergency protective measures such as shoring up beach dunes, preparing for evacuations and building emergency beams. The U.S. military ordered the evacuation of over 5,000 personnel and their families from a Naval Air Station in Key West. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights for Wednesday and more for Thursday and Friday.

High temperatures set all-time records in California this past weekend. San Jose set a new record high for September on Friday when the thermometer reached 108 degrees, as did the Oakland International Airport with a high of 101 degrees. Most impressive is the new all-time record high set on Sept. 1 in San Francisco when the mercury soared to 106 degrees, breaking the previous record of 103 degrees set in June 2000. To put this in perspective, the average high on Sept. 1 is 70 degrees. San Francisco’s high temperature topped out at 102 degrees Saturday, making it only the third time since 1874 that the city has seen back to back days with highs over 100 degrees.

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

Signs of the Times (9/2/17)

September 2, 2017

President Trump Calls for National Day of Prayer

President Trump has declared Sunday as “A National Day of Prayer”— joining with Texas Governor Greg Abbott who has called on Texans to pray for recovery efforts and those suffering from Hurricane Harvey. “As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much-needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture’s promise that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,’” the proclamation states. The President said it is appropriate “during times of great need to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance.” President Trump signed the declaration Friday after meeting with faith leaders in the Oval Office. “We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are suffering from this great crisis,” the President said in his remarks.

Trump Pledges $1 Million to Harvey Relief Efforts

With the recovery process just beginning in some parts of Texas on Thursday, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump pledged $1 million of his own money to aid relief efforts, which got little notice from the mainstream media, and not even one mention from NBC. “President Trump today pledged $1 million of his own money to disaster relief. The White House has asked for suggestions as to where that money should go,” reported Co-Anchor Margaret Brennan in a news brief on CBS Evening News. Brennan then touted Vice President Pence’s efforts saying: “Today, Vice President Mike Pence comforted victims in Rockport, Texas. Then he got to work, rolled up his sleeves in 90-degree heat and helped clear debris in the city.”

Fake Photos Plaguing the Internet

As a captivated nation watched a historic storm ravage the Texas coast, people around the country shared extraordinary images of Harvey and its aftermath. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t real. The shark ostensibly swimming along a flooded freeway in Houston is a doctored image has been online for years, but still managed to fool a Fox News reporter). The airplanes presumably submerged on the tarmac in Houston actually shows New York’s LaGuardia Airport. And the one showing President Obama serving food to people evacuated from the Houston floods actually was shot at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., where Obama and his family served Thanksgiving dinner in 2015. Doctored photos aren’t reserved for natural disasters. After President Trump held a rally in Phoenix last week, his supporters shared an image of what was purportedly a massive crowd in the streets ahead of his speech, but the photo is actually an aerial shot from the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade.

Humanitarian Efforts Help to Minimize Harvey’s Misery

From good Samaritan Cajuns to pet lovers in Austin with pickup trucks and motorized canoes, humanitarian efforts are underway in Houston and beyond to minimize the misery of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez this week called upon anyone with a “high-water, safe boat or vehicle” to pitch in — and like clockwork the boats arrived. Hundreds of boats from around the region, as well as others from the “Cajun Navy,” have been traversing the flooded streets of Houston for days. Aid groups, accustomed to widespread disaster declarations, expected the Harvey relief effort to be among their biggest ever. The Salvation Army of Georgia said its Harvey intervention would be the “largest and longest emergency response” in the history of the organization. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief said it began sending teams to Texas before Harvey made landfall on Friday and will likely be in Houston “for months to come.”

In the midst of deadly Tropical Storm Harvey’s assault on Texas, people stepped up to help those trapped by rising floodwaters and shut out from basic necessities, with heroes forming human chains, delivering pizzas on kayaks and engaging in dramatic rescues. However, others tried to profit from the tragedy through scams, price gouging and fraud. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it received about 600 complaints as of Tuesday, adding the “number is rising,” according to the San Antonio Express. Officials warned about fake fundraisers being shared and urged people to only donate to established organizations. Looters were also posing as helpers.

Flooded Texas Chemical Plant Explodes Three Times

Multiple explosions were reported at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early Thursday morning just a day after the company’s CEO warned of an unpreventable, imminent explosion. One deputy was rushed to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine others hospitalized themselves after the explosion, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office said.  Because of the volatile chemicals – organic peroxides commonly used by the plastics and rubber industries – stored at the plant, the company and local authorities agreed that “the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” the Houston Chronicle reported. All residents within 1.5 miles of the chemical plant in Crosby were already told to evacuate Tuesday because of the rising risk of an explosion. All workers at the plant were evacuated Tuesday over the threat. The plant has been heavily flooded by more than 40 inches of rain, causing its refrigeration system and backup power generators to fail. Officials yet again watched in helpless horror Friday evening as a chemical plant exploded and caught fire in Crosby, Texas, for a third time.

FEMA: Emergency Housing for Hurricane Harvey a Long Difficult Process

After search-and-rescue efforts wind down for survivors of Harvey, federal officials warned Texas that housing for thousands of displaced residents could be a long-term problem that in prior storms was fraught with unhealthy trailers and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted. “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Monday. “It’s a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations.” For displaced survivors, FEMA’s goal is to move them out of shelters and into temporary housing near where they work, and then a return to a permanent residence, Long said. Anyone in a shelter or without financial means to replace their housing in 18 counties qualifying for individual disaster assistance can receive aid for a motel or to rent an apartment. Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast in August 2005. FEMA did not end its temporary housing mission for Katrina until February 2012.

National Flood Insurance Program in Dire Straits

The National Flood Insurance Program has faced criticism for years that it provided lousy customer service while compiling $25 billion in debts that federal managers concede policyholders will never be able to repay. Now Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall in Texas will funnel as many as 100,000 more claims into a system that is set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress — unable to agree for years on a long-term fix — can reach a compromise to keep it afloat. Past storm victims who filed flood insurance claims complained of being shortchanged and made to feel like criminals. But former federal officials said not having coverage is even worse because regular homeowner insurance doesn’t cover floods, and disaster aid is capped and means-tested. Early estimates say only about 1 in 5 homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, which could lead uninsured families wiped out by Harvey to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts.

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Immigration Bill

A federal judge in Texas late Wednesday temporarily blocked key provisions of an impending state law that banned sanctuary jurisdictions in the state. The law was slated to go into effect on Friday. The SB4 bill established civil penalties for local government and law enforcement officials who didn’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests. Additionally, under the law, government entities would be fined $25,500 for every day the law was violated. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill in May, said the judge’s preliminary injunction would be appealed “immediately,” and he is confident that the law will be upheld as constitutional. But critics of the bill have come out in support of the preliminary injunction, claiming that Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.

David Daleiden Fined $200,000 for Releasing Undercover Abortion Videos

A federal judge hit pro-life undercover investigator David Daleiden and two of his lawyers with a heavy fine this week after they released undercover footage of a National Abortion Federation conference. Townhall reports U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who has ties to the abortion industry, ordered Daleiden and attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira to pay $195,359.04 in fines on Monday. In July, Orrick held Daleiden and the two lawyers in contempt for releasing the videos in violation of a court order. Orrick quickly forced the videos to be taken down after they were released in May. In June, Daleiden’s lawyers asked that Orrick recuse himself from the case, arguing that he has had a long relationship with a group that partners with Planned Parenthood, and his wife has publicly supported abortion online.

Colleges that Blocked Free Speech Facing Fallout

Both the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College have been rocked by left-wing demonstrations, some of which administrators in both schools allowed. Now both have had to deal with falling enrollment and a decline in funds – and there are fears the situation could spread to other schools. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit that advocates for a variety of higher education issues, told Fox News, “When they look to what college to pick, parents and students are thinking of the largest investment their family is likely to make beyond the purchase of a home.” There is increasing concern, she said, “about a lack of openness to having a full conversation” amid a growing intolerance of views that are different or considered offensive.

  • These ‘offensive’ viewpoints are mostly Conservative and Christian

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey is now the second most destructive storm in U.S. history, behind only Hurricane Katrina. The devastation is massive: 46 dead and an estimated $80 billion in damage — so far. Harvey could end up being the most expensive of all. It depends on what happens in the coming weeks. The longer homes stay flooded and businesses remain closed, especially the major oil refineries that supply a substantial amount of the country’s gasoline, the bigger the hit to Texas and the entire U.S. economy. Gas prices are at the highest level in two years after Harvey shut down 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Americans across the country are seeing a hit to their wallets from the added costs, and the country might not be able to export oil for a while.

Harvey may have ruined up to one million vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to automotive data firm Black Book. Black Book says more than 500 dealerships in the Houston area were affected. In the Houston area, about one in seven cars may have been destroyed, according to analysts from Evercore ISI, an investment banking advisory and research firm. Sandy is believed to have destroyed about 250,000 vehicles, while Katrina ruined about 200,000, according to Cox Automotive.

Estimates indicate that only about one-in-five homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, a scenario that will likely drive hundreds of thousands of people and business owners to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts, not to mention heightened pleas from local governments for more federal subsidies. The Consumer Federation of America estimates only about 20% of homeowners with flood damage in the region have insurance protection.

Flooding in the southeast Texas city of Port Arthur prompted officials to begin shutting down the nation’s largest oil refinery. Motiva told media outlets it began shutting its Port Arthur refinery around 5 a.m. Wednesday “in response to increasing local flood conditions” and will remain closed until flood waters recede. Motiva refinery is owned by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco. Motiva joins 12 other refineries that have shut down as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Gas prices spiked overnight Thursday and are up about 17 cents a gallon since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas. Meanwhile, a pair of oil companies announced Friday that two more spills occurred in Texas because of Harvey’s flooding.

Hurricane Harvey took direct aim at the country’s Gulf Coast energy production facilities. But the blow is being softened by huge supplies of shale. The shale revolution didn’t exist when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pummeled the Gulf a decade ago and sent gas prices soaring. This time, hotbeds of shale in places like North Dakota, far from the reach of the storm, should limit the damage at the pump. The shale boom has transformed the energy landscape and vaulted the United States to the upper echelon of global oil producers, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration has tapped an emergency stockpile of crude oil in response to the major refinery outages in the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he authorized 500,000 barrels of crude oil to be drawn down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is made up of a complex of tanks and deeper underground storage caverns. The move is aimed at shielding Americans from gasoline prices, which have begun to rise sharply due to a shortage of gasoline caused by refinery shutdowns. Port closures have also left refineries still operating with less access to crude oil shipments.

The U.S. economy picked up steam during the second quarter, notching the fastest pace of growth in two years. During the first full quarter with President Trump in charge, economic growth hit 3%, according to revised estimates released by the government on Wednesday. It’s more than double the pace of the first three months of 2017. The economic momentum was driven by stronger consumer spending and healthier business investment. Trump promised 4% growth on the campaign trail, but his administration has since set a goal of 3%.

However, the U.S. economy added just 156,000 jobs in August as unemployment ticked up slightly to 4.4 percent, federal economists reported Friday. The growth missed expectations of job growth continuing over 200,000 a month. Average hourly wages rose 3 cents last month to $26.39, up 2.5 percent from a year ago. The data shows the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and mining industries all grew. sThe report does not include any effects from Hurricane Harvey, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.

Persecution Watch

Israel’s religious establishment is taking its persecution of Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus to a new level. A rabbinic court, or Sanhedrin, has ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country. All marriages in Israel are controlled by religious authorities, whether Jewish, Islamic, Christian or Druze, according to laws first handed down under the Ottoman Empire. These laws were retained by the British Mandate and continued after the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The judges wrote that if the couple “declares before the court they have completely given up their Christian beliefs, including their belonging to a Messianic Jewish community and missionary activities, the court will discuss their matter anew.”

Israel

Ambassador Danny Danon announced a “victory for Israel in the Security Council” regarding the adoption of a new resolution forcing the UN peacekeeping mission to act against Hezbollah’s buildup. According to the decision made upon the annual renewal of this mandate, UNIFIL, the UN’s peacekeeping mission, is now required to expand its reports to the Security Council and take deliberate action against Hezbollah’s violations. UNIFIL’s presence on the ground will increase significantly, and troops will be required to tour the Hezbollah-controlled areas of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL must also report all instances of Hezbollah’s violations and attempts to deny access immediately. “This is a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation in southern Lebanon and expose the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah set up on the border with Israel,” Danon stated.

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) secured a massive federal court victory this week in the most significant U.S. federal court case in defense of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state ever undertaken. Just over a year ago a group of Palestinian activists, led by the head of a family of notorious terrorists, Bassem al-Tamimi, filed a $34.5 billion dollar lawsuit in federal court against numerous organizations that support the State of Israel. This lawsuit was meant to accomplish in court what the terrorists could never do themselves – eliminate the Jewish State, or at the very least weaken and frighten her supporters into submission. The ACLJ sent a senior team of lawyers to defend these claims. Working with the other law firms representing other clients, they filed numerous responses including a motion to dismiss the case. Friday, the federal court issued an opinion that dismissed the case. The court noted that it lacks jurisdiction to hear this case, including the fact that the lawsuit is “replete with non-justiciable political questions.”

North Korea

U.S., Japanese and South Korean warplanes carried out a show of force against North Korea. Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets from the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, joined four South Korean jets and two Japanese warplanes for the exercises Wednesday. During the 10-hour mission, the U.S. and Japanese warplanes flew over waters near Kyushu in western Japan before the American and South Korean aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced their attack capabilities with live-fire in a training area.

Russia

The Trump administration has ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia, the State Department said Thursday. Last month, Russia demanded that the U.S. diplomatic presence there be reduced by hundreds of people. In retaliation, the State Department has ordered the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures must be complete by Saturday. The diplomatic reprisals underscore the continued deterioration of relations between the nuclear-armed nations, with more acts of payback likely to come. And they appear to place President Trump’s hopes for closer ties with Russia further out of reach, notes the Washington Post.

Germany

The U.S. and U.K. blanketed Germany with at least 1.3 million tons of bombs during World War II, and as much as 10% of that never exploded. The Smithsonian reported in 2016 that more than 2,000 tons of unexploded munitions are found in the country annually. That would make the discovery of an unexploded bomb in Frankfurt this week relatively unsurprising—if not for its sheer size. The 2-ton bomb is an HC 4000 and has the ability to impact buildings more than half a mile away. Its discovery has spurred what Deutsche Welle reports is the biggest evacuation since the end of WWII: Some 70,000 people, or roughly 10% of the city’s population, will need to leave their Frankfurt homes on Sunday.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have seized the strategically important town of Tal Afar from ISIS, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday. An operation to retake the northwestern town, captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, began 10 days ago. Tal Afar was the last town still under the control of ISIS militants in Iraq’s Nineveh province following the liberation of Mosul, about 45 miles to the east. Al-Abadi also issued a warning to any fighters for ISIS, also known as Daesh, who remain in Iraq. “We say to the criminals of Daesh: Wherever you are, we are coming for liberation, and you have no choice but to die or surrender.”

India

India’s economy is having a difficult year. The South Asian nation’s gross domestic product grew 5.7% in the quarter ended June, the government said Thursday. That’s a big drop from the quarter before and much slower than the 7.1% growth it recorded in the same period last year. It’s the weakest rate of growth in three years. The slowdown has ended India’s claim to be the world’s fastest-growing major economy and is being blamed on big reforms introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including last year’s sudden ban on 86% of the country’s cash, and the recent introduction of a national goods and services tax.

Kenya

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned the result of last month’s presidential election and ordered a new vote within 60 days. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, which the court said came about due to an unfair vote, was declared null and void. It is the first time a presidential election result in East Africa’s economic hub has ever been nullified. Members of the opposition danced and cheered with joy in the streets after the ruling. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, said they felt vindicated. The six-judge bench at the country’s top court ruled 4-2 in favor of a petition by Odinga, who claimed that electronic voting results were hacked in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga’s lawyer said a scrutiny of the forms used to tally the votes had anomalies affecting nearly 5 million votes.

Wildfires

Numerous wildfires continue to plague drought-stricken eastern Montana, Washington and Oregon. Thirty-one large (over 100 acres) wildfires are currently burning in Montana, having already consumed over 363,000 acres. Twenty-three large fires are burning in Washington and Oregon, with over 372,000 acres already torched. The weather forecast is for mostly dry conditions, making the task for thousands of firefighters much more difficult.

Wildfires ravaging parts of California have triggered evacuations in the southern part of the state, while fires further north prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an emergency declaration. At least 200 homes remain under evacuation orders Saturday as a large wildfire threatened to destroy structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by dry, windy conditions. As of early Saturday, the fire burned through about 1,500 acres and is now 10 percent contained. Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday in Trinity County north of San Francisco due to the Helena Fire, which has burned 8 square miles and is 0 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

Weather

Nearly all waterways in and around Houston have crested and water is starting to recede, the Harris County Flood Control District said Wednesday. The piece of good news for flood-battered Houston came hours after Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall just west of Cameron, La. Harvey dropped substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri. Tropical Storm Harvey has broken the all-time contiguous U.S. rainfall record from a tropical storm or hurricane, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. East of Highlands, the Cedar Bayou gauge has picked up 51.88 inches of rain from Harvey, the weather service said. This broke the record of 48 inches set in Medina, Texas, from Amelia in 1978. It’s just under the all-time U.S. rainfall record from a tropical cyclone, which was 52 inches in Hawaii from Hurricane Hiki in 1950.

Tuesday night into Wednesday, torrential rainfall triggered massive flooding in the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, with reports of water in homes. Jack Brooks Regional Airport, near Port Arthur, picked up a staggering 26.03 inches of rain Tuesday alone, more than doubling their previous calendar-day rainfall record from September 1963. Their total since Saturday is an incredible 43.27 inches of rain. The Neches River at Beaumont is expected to reach record flood levels by late in the week, topping the Oct. 22, 1994 record crest, flooding numerous homes in northeast Beaumont and Rose City. Beaumont, Texas, has lost its water supply, city officials say, due to flooding on the Neches River. Residents in Beaumont, Texas, waited in lines that stretched for more than a mile Friday for bottled water after flooding on the Neches River knocked out the city’s water utility system. The Houston Independent School District announced Wednesday all students will eat all school meals for free during the 2017-2018 school year thanks to the USDA waiving eligibility rules. The storm impacted more than 1 million students in 244 public and charter school districts statewide, the Texas Education Agency said. At least 16 hospitals in Texas are closed due to flooding as of Wednesday.

Thursday, significant flash flooding was reported in parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Nashville metro area, from Harvey’s remnants. Numerous roads were closed and county schools were closed Friday in Simpson County, Kentucky. Harvey’s long-lived odyssey of rain is in its final chapter, spreading heavy rain into the Ohio Valley Friday, potentially triggering additional flash flooding. Although rain has come to an end in flood-ravaged southeast Texas, rivers will remain high for days to come as recovery efforts continue. A confirmed tornado caused minor injuries and left behind damage Thursday in Alabama as flooding prompted officials in Tennessee and Kentucky to urge some residents to evacuate.

Tropical Storm Lidia has resulted in four deaths in Mexico and it continues to bring the threat of flooding rain, strong winds and some storm-surge flooding. Lidia made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula west of La Paz Friday morning and will continue to impact the region into this weekend. The remnants of Lidia may also bring a few showers and thunderstorms in the Desert Southwest and coastal areas of California later this weekend.

Signs of the Times (8/29/17)

August 29, 2017

Harvey Devastates Houston with Catastrophic Rain

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

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

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

Trump Pardons Arizona Sherriff Arpaio

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

Berkley Protesters Skirmish, Antifa Members Arrested

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

San Francisco Shuts Down Right-Wing Gathering

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

Trump Lifts Obama Ban on Military Equipment to Local Police

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

Interior Secretary Recommends Shrinking Some National Monuments

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

Border Wall Working Near Yuma Arizona

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

Border Walls Working in Europe

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

99% of U.S. Visa Scofflaws Never Arrested

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

South Carolina Governor Issues Order to Defund Abortion Businesses

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

North Korea

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

Pakistan

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

Myanmar

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

South Sudan

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

Nigeria

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

Weather

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

Signs of the Times (8/24/17)

August 24, 2017

Earthquake Hits Yellowstone During Solar Eclipse, Eruption Feared

As tens of thousands of people gathered in Yellowstone National Park Monday morning to witness the once-in-a-century solar eclipse, the area was hit by a 3.2 magnitude earthquake. This recent tremor, though not large, is part of an ongoing series of quakes that began June 12. Experts believed the unusually large swarm of earthquakes would gradually die down but by the beginning of August, over 1,400 minor tremors had been recorded at the site.  Monday’s tremor, following a 2.5 magnitude quake at 7:23 PM Sunday night, indicates that the earthshaking problem is unlikely to simply go away. Should the super-volcano erupt, the threat to the Earth, said NASA scientist Brian Wilcox, “is substantially greater than an asteroid or comet threat.” As a result, scientists are investigating how to cool off the seismic hotspot in order to prevent a catastrophic super-eruption. NASA announced this week that it is working on plans to drill six miles down into the volcanically active region and pump water into the magma at high pressures. The water would return to the surface at 662 degrees Fahrenheit, bringing some of the volcano’s heat with it. The project is massive, estimated to cost $3.46 billion, and admittedly risky, possibly setting off a massive eruption.

Kindergarten Teacher Holds Transgender Transition Celebration

A number of angry parents are considering legal action after a charter school kindergarten teacher staged what one critic calls a transgender “transition ceremony” in class for a five-year-old boy without informing parents beforehand. Parents only found out what happened from their kids, says Jonathan Keller of the California Family Council, a Focus on the Family-founded group that’s advising the parents. But Rocklin Academy Schools has countered that it didn’t have to tell parents about the transgenderism lesson that has left a number of five-year-olds shaken and disturbed. Because gender identity isn’t sex education, the administration said, it’s not subject to California’s parental consent and opt-out laws, reported Fox40News. Moreover, the school said that gender identity and gender expression are prohibited grounds for discrimination in the state. Not to accept a five-year-old “trans girl” could leave the Sacramento-area charter school board open to lawsuits.

‘Free Speech’ Rally Fizzles as Thousands of Counter-Protesters Swarm Boston

By their sheer numbers, thousands of anti-racist protesters marching through downtown Boston on Saturday effectively prevented conservative activists from mounting a “Free Speech Rally” in the aftermath of deadly clashes last week in Virginia. Only a handful of rally-goers, some wearing red “Make America Great Again” Trump caps, appeared to navigate their way through waves of marchers pouring into the Boston Common area, where the “Boston Free Speech” event was planned. During a post-rally press conference, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans thanked the mostly peaceful protesters and police officers. “I’m just fortunate that none of the officers got hurt, none of the public got hurt,” said Evans, speaking with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh behind him. “Overall it was a good day for our city in that we won’t tolerate hatred and bigotry. People came out to say Boston is united.” President Donald Trump went clearly conciliatory towards the counter-protestors on Twitter, a sharp contrast to previous comments following the Virginia protests last weekend. “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!” Trump wrote.

Rise of Antifa Alarms Free-Speech Advocates

Even those who despise neo-Nazis are worried about the rise of the “antifa,” the masked protesters whose stock rose after they took on white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reports the Washington Times. The antifa, which stands for “anti-fascists,” may be the sworn enemies of Nazism and racism, but the radical left-wing protesters also aren’t fans of the First Amendment, having shut down scheduled speeches by conservatives Milo Yiannapoulos and Ann Coulter earlier this year in Berkeley, California. The guiding principle behind the movement, which has its roots in prewar Europe, is to defeat “fascists” before they can gain a foothold in government and society in order to avoid another Nazi Germany. If that means using threats, intimidation and even violence to muzzle so-called “fascists,” then so be it, said Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” which is scheduled for release Sept. 12. “Antifa are anarchists and communists and socialists who are revolutionaries and don’t have any inherent regard for the law,” said Mr. Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth College.

Protesters at Trump’s Phoenix Rally Used Gas Canisters, Rocks to Assault Police

A group of anti-Trump demonstrators used gas canisters, rocks and bottles to assault police Tuesday night and create havoc at what officials said was mostly a peaceful protest in Phoenix. Video captured by a local reporter also shows a smoking object being thrown at police while hundreds of officers attempted to keep order at a rally after President Trump’s speech at the Phoenix Convention Center had ended. “A very small number of individuals chose criminal conduct,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told reporters late Tuesday. The individuals broke down fencing and “at one point, dispersed gas into and at the police officers,” Williams said. The violence resembled the mayhem perpetrated by Antifa groups, militant far-left “anti-fascist” groups that have protested Trump at other venues.

Federal Judge Again Throws Out Texas Voter ID Law

A federal judge Wednesday rejected Texas’ revised voter identification requirements, handing another court defeat to the state’s Republicans over voting rights. Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court earlier found racial gerrymandering in Texas’ congressional maps and ordered two of the state’s 36 voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a watered-down version of the voter ID law that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. The judge’s new ruling came three years after she struck down the earlier version of the law. The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which once opposed the law but has reversed its position since President Donald Trump took office. Judge Ramos said Texas didn’t go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won’t cast a ballot.

DOJ Ends Obama’s Choke Point Program

The Trump Justice Department is ending an Obama-era program that had attempted to cut off credit to shady businesses but came under fire from Republicans for unfairly targeting gun dealers and other legitimate operations. Just days after top House Republicans had pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shutter Operation Choke Point, the department confirmed in a response letter that the program is dead. “All of the Department’s bank investigations conducted as part of Operation Chokepoint are now over, the initiative is no longer in effect, and it will not be undertaken again,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in the Aug. 16-dated letter, calling it a “misguided initiative” from the prior administration.

Spanish Police Kill Suspected Terrorist Van Driver

All terror suspects identified as part of the 12-person extremist cell responsible for coordinating the deadly Spain attacks last week, including a former imam, are either dead or under arrest, authorities said Monday. The man thought to be the driver in the Barcelona van attack was shot dead by Spanish police Monday after authorities announced he also was suspected of killing the owner of a hijacked getaway car. The fugitive was wearing a bomb belt, authorities said. Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot when officers confronted him in Subirats, a rural area known for its vineyards about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Barcelona. Abouyaaqoub, 22, had been the target of an international manhunt that had raised fears throughout the region since last Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona. Authorities said Monday they now have evidence that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that plowed down the city’s famed Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring more than 120 others. They said Abouyaaqoub, who was born in Morocco and has Spanish residency, also is suspected of carjacking a man and stabbing him to death as he made his getaway, raising the death toll between the Barcelona attack and a related attack hours later to 15. Another vehicle attack occurred early Friday by other members of what Catalonia regional police have described as a 12-member extremist cell killed one person and wounded several others in the coastal town of Cambrils. That ended in a shootout with police, who killed five attackers.

6 Police Officers Shot in Florida and Pennsylvania

Six police officers were shot overnight during separate incidents Friday in Florida and Pennsylvania. Officer Matthew Baxter was shot and killed while responding to a suspicious activity call Friday evening in Kissimmee, Florida. Officer Sam Howard was shot during the same incident and died Saturday afternoon. Two other officers were shot with a high-powered rifle while responding to reports of an attempted suicide late Friday night about 200 miles away in Jacksonville. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, two state troopers were shot Friday evening outside a store in Fairchance, a borough of around 2,000 about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. Both officers survived but the suspect did not. A total of 135 police officers died while on the job last year, according to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. More than 900 civilians were shot and killed by police during that same span, according to The Washington Post.

Blacks & Hispanics More Under-Represented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis. The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans. More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened. Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions. Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Persecution Watch

Pakistan is one of the most pernicious persecutors of Christians ever, reports the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). Pakistani Christians are tortured, raped, and burned alive. Some are falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to execution by hanging because of their faith. Others face mob violence and governmental abuse and injustice. “Despite the increasing extremism, the Pakistani government persistently fails to protect Christians from violence or bring its perpetrators to justice. Even worse the government of Pakistan itself is one of the world’s worst jihadist persecutors of Christians. Yet it receives the most U.S. foreign aid of any nation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “fake hate” threat against Liberty Counsel and all pro-faith, pro-family Americans is escalating by the day. Apple’s announcement of a $1 million gift to the SPLC has further proliferated the SPLC’s attack campaign. J.P. Morgan — the nation’s largest bank — just announced it was donating $500,000 to SPLC, and yesterday, George Clooney through his foundation is donating $1 million. Apple has also enabled direct donations through its iTunes store, funneling potentially millions more to SPLC for its attacks. “These “endorsements” are further cementing the SPLC as the clearinghouse of the radical Left’s purge campaign that includes marginalizing people of faith and pro-family groups,” notes Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

Last week, CNN listed the American Family Association as a “hate group” which could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way. After much outcry from AFA supporters and other pro-family organizations, CNN has since issued a correction and removed AFA from its website. However, CNN continues to link to the Southern Poverty Law Center website which still falsely lists AFA as a “hate group.” “While AFA wants CNN to fully retract the story, it is a positive sign that our voices are being heard.”

Economic News

Americans retreated from buying homes in July as sales sank 1.3% to their lowest level of the year. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes slipped 1.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million. Despite the second straight monthly drop, sales are 2.1% higher than a year ago. But purchases are starting to slow as fewer properties are coming onto the market. The number of existing homes listed for sale has plunged 9 percent over the past 12 months to 1.92 million properties. This steep drop in inventory has led to prices consistently climbing faster than wages.

The delivery economy is growing so fast that government statistics seem unable to keep up. Food delivery, once largely limited to pizza and Chinese takeout, has exploded. The idea that virtually the entire world of retail and dining is available to consumers at home with a few taps of their smartphone keys has given rise to armies of delivery people, with announcements about new delivery options coming weekly. DoorDash, which started four years ago with only a few drivers, now has 100,000 “dashers.”  Postmates started in 2011 with only a few hundred delivery people and now has more than 65,000, reports USA Today. Pizza Hut announced it would hire 14,000 delivery drivers. Walmart is working with Uber to create a delivery service. Mobile delivery and take out accounted for 60% of all restaurant traffic in 2016.

Sears Holdings said Thursday that it would close another 28 Kmart locations as it continues its cost-cutting campaign amid a precipitous decline in the department-store sector. The Kmart closures add to a list of 330 Sears or Kmart locations shuttered or set to be closed later this year as the retailer seeks stability. Kohl’s said Tuesday that it is cutting floor space in “nearly half” of its stores as the department-store sector reels in competition with Amazon and nimble fast-fashion retailers. Unlike competitors Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Kohl’s has avoided major rounds of closures in recent years despite struggles for department stores.

Islamic State

A week after a terrorist van attack in Barcelona, Spain, left 15 people dead and more than 100 injured, the Islamic State released a video warning more attacks were imminent in the Iberian Peninsula. In the video, two ISIS fighters are heard speaking in Spanish proclaiming that Al Andalus, a region in central and southern Spain once controlled for more than five centuries by Muslims, would once against become “part of the caliphate.” “If you can’t make the hegira [journey] to the Islamic State, carry out jihad where you are; jihad doesn’t have borders,” one of the men says. “Spanish Christians: Don’t forget the Muslim blood spilled during the Spanish Inquisition,” Muhammad Ahram said in the video. “We will take revenge for your massacre, the one you are carrying out now against the Islamic State.”

At least 11 people have been beheaded in southern Libya following an attack apparently carried out by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Nine fighters loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), the force aligned with Libya’s eastern government, and two civilians were executed following an assault on a checkpoint 300 miles south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in Jufra. The onslaught against the LNA forces, under the command of Gaddafi-era General Khalifa Haftar, comes as Libyan military sources warn ISIS is regrouping following catastrophic defeats in December 2016. The Times of London reported there were now believed to be 1,000 ISIS fighters in Libya.

Although Islamic State is losing fighters and territory in Iraq and Syria, it remained the world’s deadliest militant organization last year and the number of its attacks actually increased, according to a report from the University of Maryland. Islamic State operatives carried out more than 1,400 attacks last year and killed more than 7,000 people, representing a roughly 20% increase over 2015, according to the university’s Global Terrorism Database. The increase occurred even as overall militant attacks worldwide and resulting deaths fell about 10% in 2016.

North Korea

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on 16 mainly Chinese and Russian companies and people for assisting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and helping the North make money to support those programs. The Treasury Department says the penalties are intended to further isolate North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests. The 16 do business with previously sanctioned companies and people, work with the North Korean energy sector, help it place workers abroad or evade international financial curbs. The measures block any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from transactions with them.

Afghanistan

America’s longest war is going to get longer after President Trump late Monday outlined a strategy for the U.S. military in Afghanistan that gives the Pentagon the authority to increase troop levels and “fight to win” the nearly 16-year-old conflict. In a televised address, Trump admitted his initial instinct was to withdraw U.S. forces from the country. Instead, he unveiled a “path forward” mostly at odds with what he had been saying about Afghanistan for years. In his address Monday night, he conceded that troop withdrawal could lead to a security vacuum filled by terrorist groups including the Islamic State. The President is giving the Pentagon authority to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan by several thousand, but said they would not divulge actual troop numbers. The president’s decision, several officials said, was less a change of heart than a weary acceptance of the case made by military leaders during months of debate. “This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, the aim being to get them to the negotiating table.

Yemen

After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years. Yemen has long been the Arab world’s poorest country and suffered from frequent local armed conflicts. The most recent trouble started in 2014, when the Houthis, rebels from the north, allied with parts of the Yemeni military and stormed the capital, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations launched a military campaign aimed at pushing back the Houthis and restoring the government. The campaign has so far failed to do so, and the country remains split between Houthi-controlled territory in the west and land controlled by the government and its Arab backers in the south and east. Many coalition airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians, including strikes on Wednesday around the capital. The bombings have also heavily damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, including a crucial seaport and important bridges as well as hospitals, sewage facilities and civilian factories.

Brazil

Brazil has opened a massive swath of the Amazon to mining. The government has abolished a reserve that straddles the northern states of Pará and Amapá, a move that opens the vast area to mineral exploration and commercial mining. The reserve, which was established in 1984, covers 18,000 square miles, an area twice the size of New Jersey. The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history. Brazil said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands. An official report from 2010 said that up to two-thirds of the reserve is subject to such protections.

Earthquakes

Two people were killed and at least 39 were injured when a 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian island of Ischia Monday night. Firefighters worked overnight and into Tuesday morning to rescue three young brothers trapped under the rubble of a collapsed structure, and all three were removed from the building alive. The temblor was recorded at a depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The resort island is located just off Naples.

Wildfires

Hundreds of people in Oregon near the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse were ordered to evacuate Friday as a raging wildfire closed in. The late afternoon order threatened to create more tie-ups on rural and narrow roads already expected to be burdened with up to 200,000 visitors coming to the area from all over the world to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse. About 1 million people are expected in Oregon, where the moon’s shadow first makes landfall in the continental U.S. About 600 residents were told to leave the tourist town of Sisters, Oregon, and authorities said Saturday another 1,000 people had been told to be ready to leave if necessary. No structures had been lost and no injuries have been reported since the fire began last week.

In California, authorities issued an evacuation order for the small town of Wawona as a week-old fire in Yosemite National Park grew and air quality reached a hazardous level. The U.S. Forest Service said the fire grew to more than 4 square miles overnight due to winds from thunderstorms. Authorities ordered people to leave as air quality was expected to worsen. The fire has closed campgrounds and trails in the national park since it began a week ago.

Weather

The Trump administration disbanded a 15-person advisory committee that helped communicate scientific climate change findings to businesses and government officials. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acting chief Ben Friedman notified the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment that its charter would not be extended after its expiration on Sunday. Members of the committee lambasted the Trump Administration’s decision to dissolve the advisory committee. The move by the Trump administration was the latest roll-back of Obama-era climate change protection and adaptation policies. Last week, the Trump administration revoked an executive order that required strict building standards for all federal building projects to better prepare for sea level rise flooding. Earlier this year, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and cancel payments to the Green Climate Fund.

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages. But to the scientists from Woods Hole Research Center who have come to Alaska to study the effects of climate change, the most urgent is the fate of permafrost, the always-frozen ground that underlies much of the state. The permafrost is no longer permanent. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, the premafrost contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

A “quickly strengthening” Tropical Storm Harvey is now forecast to become a “major hurricane” before making landfall on the Texas coast and bring “life-threatening flooding” to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are now 65 mph, but is forecast to grow into a “major hurricane” when it approaches the middle Texas coast on Friday, according to the NHC. Harvey is forecast to make landfall late Friday night or early Saturday morning along the south-central Texas coast, possibly as a Category 3 storm with winds upwards of 115 mph.

Typhoon Hato killed at least 16 people in Macau and southern China. Another 153 were injured amid extensive flooding and power outages. Flooding and injuries were also reported in Hong Kong, which lies across the water 40 miles from Macau, but there were no reports of deaths. Hato’s fierce gales blew out windows on skyscrapers in the Asian financial capital, raining shattered glass onto the eerily quiet streets below. Hong Kong’s weather authorities had raised the hurricane signal to the highest level for the first time in five years.