Signs of the Times (8/2/17)

August 3, 2017

Transgenders Suicide Attempts Approach 50%, Called Unfit for Military

Suicide attempts among transgenders from 18-24 years-of-age is 45%, according to a joint report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute. Some military officials believe these statistics make them unfit for military service. With suicide rates already increasing in U.S. military ranks, banning transgenders from the military would actually save many lives, they believe. Regardless, the gay rights movement and liberal media erupted in protest of the President Trump’s proposed ban on transgenders in the military, and some activists are counting on Pentagon leaders to buck their commander-in-chief and keep the status quo.

However, more than a dozen retired generals and admirals have signed a letter to President Trump thanking him for his announced policy to ban transgender people from the armed forces. “We write today to express our gratitude to you for making the extremely courageous decision to reverse President Obama’s transgender social experiment,” the conservative retired flag officers wrote. “There may be an enormous amount of vitriol directed at you for making this policy correction, but please know that overturning this policy may have done more in the long-term to save the culture and war-fighting capacity of the U.S. military than perhaps any other military policy you will adopt as president.”

A decision on whether to allow transgender recruits is pending after Defense Secretary Mattis pushed a July 1 deadline to the end of the year. He ordered the services to study the current effect of transgender troops on readiness. The ban could save American taxpayers nearly $2 billion according to a July report produced by the conservative D.C. think tank Family Research Council. Only 12 percent of military members support transgenders serving, according to the Military Times.

Princeton Asks Students to Pick from Six ‘Genders’

Princeton University is giving its students the option of picking a gender or several genders. The Ivy League’s student services interface, known as TigerHub, allows — but does not require — students to select one or more of the following: “Cisgender,” “Genderqueer/gender non-conform[ing],” “Trans/transgender,” “Man,” “Woman,” and “Other”. “Students use TigerHub to provide the University with personal information on a confidential basis,” a university spokesman told Fox News.  “This information includes emergency contacts, their preferred name, and, if they wish, the gender with which they identify.” Princeton students can presumably choose to be both male and female. “You may select multiple gender identities,” the form reads. “Your gender identity is confidential and is not generally available.” Princeton is not alone. More than 50 colleges or universities allow students to choose their genders without documentation of medical intervention, the Washington Post said. Some schools, such as the University of Michigan, offer students the option of creating their own designated pronouns. In response to that option — and as a protest against it — one undergraduate chose “His Majesty.” Reportedly, some of His Majesty’s professors now address this student with this self-proclaimed title

  • The lunatics have taken over the asylum

President Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Bill, Calls it “Seriously Flawed”

President Trump on Wednesday signed a bill that imposes new sanctions on Russia, ending immediate hopes that he might be able to reset U.S. relations with the Kremlin as Congress overruled his opposition to the provisions’ curb on his executive power. Trump’s reluctant signing of the legislation came nearly a week after it was approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the Senate and after a similarly large majority in the House. The president issued two statements outlining his concerns with the bill, which he called “seriously flawed,” primarily because it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval. “By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.

Senate Rejects Measure to Partly Repeal Affordable Care Act

Senate Republicans suffered a dramatic failure early Friday in their bid to advance a scaled-back plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, throwing into question whether they can actually repeal the 2010 health law. Their latest effort to redraw the ACA failed after Sen. John McCain’s decision to side with two other Republicans against President Trump and GOP leaders. The Arizona Republican, diagnosed with brain cancer last week, returned to Washington on Tuesday and delivered a stirring address calling for a bipartisan approach to overhauling the ACA, while criticizing the process that produced the current legislation. The vote was 49 to 51 — all 48 members of the Democratic caucus joined with McCain and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to approve the new, narrower rewrite of the health law at some point Friday, after facing dozens of amendments from Democrats. But the GOP defections left McConnell without a clear path forward.

North Korean Missiles Can Now Reach U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lashed out at Russia and China early Saturday, following North Korea’s second test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – and reports that Kim Jong Un’s regime was now capable of striking cities on the U.S. mainland. Kim expressed “great satisfaction” following the ICBM test. The missile traveled 620 miles until landing in waters near Japan. Analysts now believe Pyongyang’s weapons can hit U.S. cities such as Los Angeles or Chicago. Tillerson labeled Russian and China as the “principal economic enablers” of North Korea’s weapons programs, and called on them to ramp up efforts to curb the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang. “All nations should take a strong public stance against North Korea by maintaining and strengthening U.N. sanctions to ensure North Korea will face consequences for its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them,” Tillerson said. The U.S. military on Sunday conducted a successful test of its THAAD anti-ballistic missile system, two days after North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he and President Donald Trump agreed to take further action against North Korea following its latest missile launch. National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster on Saturday agreed to a request from his counterpart in South Korea to start negotiations allowing South Korea to build up its missile capabilities to help counteract North Korea’s growing missile tests and technology, the office of South Korea President Moon Jae-in reports.

Trump Ousts Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump drove out his chief of staff on Friday, replacing Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in an explosive move that ends a turbulent six-month tenure. The announcement came a day after his feud with Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House. With his agenda stalled, President Trump became convinced that Reince Priebus was a “weak” leader and had been lobbied intensely by rival advisers to remove the establishment-aligned Republican, who has long had friction with Trump loyalists, according to White House officials. Priebus this week became President Donald Trump’s sixth senior-level official to leave the administration in the last six months.

“I’m always going to be a Trump fan,” Priebus said afterwards. “I’m on Team Trump and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.” Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general who grew up in Boston, was tapped as the new White House chief of staff on Friday in a stunning announcement by President Trump. Kelly, an Irish Catholic, had a brief stint as secretary of Homeland Security. Before he headed DHS, he had recently ended a long and distinguished career in the military. His last post was as head of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Latin America and the Caribbean. Kelly’s first order of business was to fire the embattled Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director because he “lacked discipline.”

With Fifth Judge Confirmed, Trump Outpaces Obama and Bush

President Trump may be facing a roadblock on the rest of his nominees — but he’s outpacing his predecessors when it comes to getting federal judges confirmed, with his fifth court pick approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Alabama lawyer Kevin Christopher Newsom was confirmed to a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 66-31 vote, with 16 Democrats joining the GOP. He’s the third circuit judge approved so far, and combined with one district judge and Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, puts the president and the GOP-led Senate well ahead of past Presidential judicial appointments. By comparison, President Obama had zero judges confirmed in his first six months and it took him until November of 2009 to get three circuit court nominees cleared through the Senate. President George W. Bush had one circuit judge and two district judges confirmed by August of his first term.

Professional Hackers Breached Dozens of Voting Machines Within Minutes

Professional hackers were invited to break into dozens of voting machines and election software at this year’s annual DEFCON cybersecurity conference. They successfully hacked every single one of the 30 machines acquired by the conference, Politico reported. Carten Schurman, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, was able to break into one voting machine in just a few minutes. With access to the voting machine, Schurman had the the power not only to see all the votes cast on the machine, but also to manipulate the results. DEFCON’s hacking exercise came as the U.S. grapples with the fallout from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which included attempts to tamper with voting systems. Bloomberg reported in June that election systems in as many as 39 states could have been attacked by Russian state actors, though voting tallies are not believed to have been altered or manipulated in any way.

First Human Embryo Editing in U.S. Fixes Gene for Heart Condition

Scientists have successfully edited the DNA of human embryos to erase a heritable heart condition that is known for causing sudden death in young competitive athletes, cracking open the doors to a controversial new era in medicine. This is the first time gene editing on human embryos has been conducted in the United States. The embryos were allowed to grow for only a few days, and there was never any intention to implant them to create a pregnancy. But they also acknowledged that they will continue to move forward with the science, with the ultimate goal of being able to “correct” disease-causing genes in embryos that will develop into babies. The experiment is the latest example of how the laboratory tool known as CRISPR (or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a type of “molecular scissors.” It is pushing the boundaries of our ability to manipulate life, and has been received with both excitement and horror. The most recent work is particularly sensitive because it involves changes to the germ line — that is, genes that could be passed on to future generations.

Researchers Shut Down AI that Invented its Own Language

An artificial intelligence (AI) system being developed at Facebook has created its own language. It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English, reports the Digital Journal. The observations made at Facebook are the latest in a long line of similar cases. In each instance, an AI being monitored by humans has diverged from its training in English to develop its own language. Facebook’s researchers recently noticed its new AI had given up on English. The advanced system is capable of negotiating with other AI agents so it can come to conclusions on how to proceed. The agents began to communicate using phrases that were unintelligible to the researchers. The AI apparently realized that the rich expression of English phrases wasn’t required for it to communicate with other AIs.

Economic News

Oil rose above $50 a barrel early Monday before retreating a bit. While the milestone was brief, it marked the first time since May 25 that oil traded above $50. The development came after crude spiked nearly 9% last week, its biggest weekly rally in nearly a year. Just five weeks ago crude plunged into a bear market, sinking to as low as $42.05 a barrel. It’s now up almost 16% since then. Most of the rebound has been driven by easing fears about the supply glut, but in recent days, oil bulls have also seized on the deepening chaos in Venezuela. Anything that knocks out more oil production in Venezuela, which has the most oil reserves in the world, could lift crude prices.

The Dow climbed above the 22,000 mark for the first time on Wednesday, buoyed by Apple’s healthy quarterly iPhone sales. Apple jumped 4.73 percent to a record high after the world’s largest publicly listed company reported strong results. It is up 36 percent this year. The iPhone maker’s rise helped push the Dow to a record closing high, although tech heavyweights Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet all lost ground following recent strong gains that have made the sector the strongest performer in 2017.

In July, the Dow rose nearly 550 points, or 2.6%, finishing at record highs in four straight sessions. Stocks overall have gotten a lift from strong earnings across Corporate America. Also helping: rebounds in U.S. job growth and second-quarter economic expansion after a sluggish start to the year. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index are collectively on track for profit growth of 10.8%, putting the index on pace for its first back-to-back quarters of 10%-plus earnings growth in six years.

Persecution Watch

A Christian bridal shop in Pennsylvania has closed after feeling threatened by the LGBT community because they declined to provide a wedding dress for a lesbian wedding. The Christian Post reports that the owners of W. W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg refused to provide a wedding dress for Julie Ann Samanas who was marrying her fiance, Shannon Kennedy. The lesbian couple posted about their experience at the bridal shop in a Facebook post in which they tagged the bridal shop. The bridal shop owners received death threats. They have decided to close their doors to further business except in cases of appointments. “We simply ask that we be given the ability to live our lives according to our convictions,” the owners said.

Terrorism Update

A 26-year-old Middle Eastern man wielding a machete killed a man and wounded six other shoppers in a crowded supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, Friday. The jihadist was reported by multiple witnesses to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” before running into the Edeka shop where he stabbed one person and slashed half a dozen others, then tried to run away. But two men who were walking by the store chased after him and wrestled him to the ground, then called the police, who later arrested him.

Australian airports have increased security after police arrested four men on Sunday in connection with a plot to bring down an airplane. Authorities with the counter terrorism force said the plot was “Islamist-inspired,” and because of the sophistication of the plan, it’s believed they may have had help from outside the country. Police raided five homes in the suburbs of Sydney. Dozens of officers in gas masks participated in the raids, and inside at least one home they found likely bomb-making material. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a kitchen mincer was among the items taken by police, and they believe the men intended to smuggle it onto a plane to use as an improvised explosive device.

Middle East

More than 1,000 Jews braved a searing heat wave Tuesday morning to visit the Temple Mount on Tisha b’Av, the saddest date on the Hebrew calendar, while thousands more sat on the floor – a traditional Jewish sign of mourning – at the Western Wall Plaza to commemorate the destruction of ancient Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in the year 70 AD. Four people were arrested when a fight broke out adjacent to the Chain Gate between three Jews and an Arab man as the group left the Mount. Throughout the morning, hundreds of people stood in line adjacent to the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims, to visit the site. There are 11 entrances for Muslims only.

Israel banned Muslim men under the age of 50 from the Temple Mount last Friday on a day that usually draws tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers for Friday prayers. Israeli Police said the ban was introduced after some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the holy site — which is known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews — overnight so they could join protests later. Rosenfeld said the would-be protesters were removed. Clashes erupted Thursday between police and Muslim worshipers shortly after the site in the Old City reopened following an 11-day prayer boycott over metal detectors and other security measures Israel installed at the site, which is administered by Jordan. Israel placed the metal detectors at the entry gates to the Esplanade of the Mosques last week after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli police guards near the shrine on July 14. The detectors sparked mass prayer protests by Muslims outside the Old City and protests by Palestinians elsewhere.

Various polls indicate that 60 to 78 percent of Arabs in East Jerusalem share the same opinion – they prefer to live under an Israeli government. Under Israeli governance the adult illiteracy rate had plummeted to 14 percent. More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, and many more worked in the 2,000 industrial plants that Israel built in the West Bank. Mortality rates fell significantly and life expectancy rose from 48 to 72 years by 2000. Childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated. Since 1995 the Palestinian people have been ruled by the Palestinian Authority government. Whereas Israel had spent millions of dollars dramatically improving public services like electricity, water, roads, universities, and clinics, Palestinian leaders are lining their own pockets with donations from many nations designated to help the Palestinian people. When Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he was worth some $1 billion. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be worth around $100 million, reports IsraelAnswers.com

Russia

Russia seized two American diplomatic properties Friday and ordered the United States Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, the government’s first retaliatory steps against new American sanctions. The move, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a law expanding economic sanctions against Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. The law, mirroring one passed by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, now goes to President Trump for his signature. The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff throughout Russia to 755 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.

Five Russians accused of being hackers have been arrested in a series of American-led raids over the last nine months – all of them grabbed while on vacation across Europe. The arrests come at a moment when relations between Moscow and Washington are tense — at best — and where politicians are grappling with the allegations that Kremlin hackers intervened in the U.S. election in an effort to help President Trump. According to Axios, the arrests also come as Russian security services struck a deal with the country’s cybercriminals that allow them to work as long as they also conduct state-ordered missions.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office over accusations of corruption, delivering a historic ruling that is likely to shift the country’s tumultuous political balance and deal a serious blow to the legacy of a man who helped define the past generation of Pakistani politics. The removal of Mr. Sharif, who was serving his third term in office, comes roughly a year before his term was to end. The verdict means the governing political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, must choose an interim prime minister to replace Mr. Sharif until the next general election, which is scheduled for mid-2018.

Afghanistan

A Shiite mosque in western Afghanistan was stormed during evening prayers Tuesday, torn asunder by grenades and a suicide bomber’s detonated vest, law enforcement officials say. By the time the scene had settled at the place of worship, at least 29 people were killed and dozens more were injured. And local officials say the death toll could still rise. ‘Two attackers entered the mosque and started shooting and throwing grenades at people,’ worshipper Mohammad Adi, who was hospitalized for his wounds after the assault, tells Reuters.

A suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday, causing casualties, the U.S. military said. A military spokesman, would not say how many casualties there were, or provide their nationalities. The NATO mission, known as Resolute Support, “can confirm that a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack did cause casualties,” he said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Somalia

A car bomb blast near a police station in Somalia’s capital has killed at least five people and wounded at least 13 others. The explosion near Waberi police station along the busy Maka Almukarramah road may have been caused by a suicide bomber, police say. Most of the victims were civilians. The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab often carries out similar, deadly bombings in Mogadishu.

Venezuela

The U.S. slammed the elections in Venezuela on whether to grant the country’s ruling party unlimited power Sunday, vowing “strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism.” Venezuelan electoral authorities said on Sunday that more than 8 million people voted to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling socialist party with virtually unlimited powers. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million. Venezuela has an estimated 2.6 million government employees, “suggesting that a large fraction of the votes could have not been voluntary.” U.S. State Department released a statement calling it a flawed election. “The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy,” the State Department said in a statement. The Treasury Department on Monday slapped sanctions on President Maduro, sending a clear signal of the Trump administration’s opposition to his regime.

Wildfires

Montana has become the state most ablaze due to their lingering drought. Five major, Incident 1 (the highest classification) are currently burning across Montana. Over 81% of Montana is officially in drought, with 38% in severe to extreme drought. In total, 15 large (more than 100 acres) wildfires have scorched over 332,000 acres and destroyed 41 structures. Overall in the U.S. there have been fewer wildfires (39,000) to date than the 10-year average of 41,881. However, these fires have burned 5.5 million acres of land, up 45% over the 10-year average of 3.8 million acres.

Weather

A scientific study released Monday said that the Earth’s atmosphere will warm by at least another 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) — regardless of what we do in the future to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The study shows a mere 1% chance that warming could be at or below 1.5 Celsius, which was the target set by the landmark 2016 Paris Agreement. “Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen,” said study lead author Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington. The Paris Agreement of 2016 was signed by 195 countries including the United States to keep global temperature rise less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact earlier this year. A second study, which used different methodology to reach its conclusion, focused on how much warming is already baked in. It said that even if humans could instantly turn off all emissions of greenhouse gases — which will of course not happen — Earth would continue to heat up about 1.3 degrees C by 2100. The second study was also published in Nature Climate Change and was led by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado.

  • Global warming and extreme weather are prophesied in the Bible for the latter days (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

A blistering heat wave will sear the West Coast this week, threatening some all-time record highs in parts of Oregon and Washington, pushing Seattle toward a rare triple-digit high. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued excessive heat warnings and heat advisories from parts of western and southern Washington to interior portions of southwest California and western Nevada. The peak of the heat wave will likely be Wednesday and Thursday, with highs in the 100s commonplace from California’s Central Valley and western Nevada into Oregon and much of Washington’s lower elevations away from the immediate Pacific coast. Some of the hottest interior locations may even flirt with 110-degree highs.

Heavy rain triggered flooding in several states across the South and mid-Atlantic on Saturday. Water rescues were reported, creeks overflowed onto streets, and some roads were closed. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for parts of northern West Virginia, including Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties. The governor’s office said emergency officials are evacuating some areas and the West Virginia National Guard has been mobilized to help. Ohio County authorities recovered a body that washed up on the Ohio River. In Pennsylvania, the area south of Pittsburgh saw a lot of flood-related activity Friday evening into Saturday morning, with trees and wires down and cars floating in some places along numerous Allegheny County roadways.

Signs of the Times (7/27/17)

July 27, 2017

Awesome Night of Faith—In Hollywood!

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

Trump Bans Transgenders in Military Sparking GOP Backlash

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

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

Senate Okays Debate, Then Fails to Pass Any Healthcare Bills

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

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

Congress Strikes Deal on Russia Sanctions Despite Trump Objection

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

Trump Reluctantly Recertifies Iran Nuclear Deal

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

Border Crossers Down Again, Agents Praise Trump

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

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

Judge Allows Collection of Voter Data

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

Fact Checkers Feud Over Number of Noncitizens Who Voted Illegally

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

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

Women Drawn to ISIS Husbands Abused Say Escapees

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

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

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

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

Youth Becoming Desensitized to Violence

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

Contaminants in Water Pose Health risks, but are Legal

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

First U.S. Company Offers Microchip Implants to Employees

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

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

U.S. Debt at Record Levels

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

Iraq

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

Syria

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

Iran

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

Afganistan

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

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

Africa

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

Venezuela

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

Mexico

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (7/17/17)

July 17, 2017

Christians Overtake Muslims As Largest Group of Refugees Entering U.S.

Christians made up the majority of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the first five full months of the Trump administration, reversing a trend that saw Muslims entering the country at higher numbers under President Obama, a new Pew Research report shows. Out of all the refugees who arrived between President Trump’s inauguration and June 30, about half were Christians and 38 percent were Muslims. The monthly data show a steady decline in Muslim refugees, from about 50 percent of total refugees in February to 31 percent in June. In the wake of Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to the U.S. from seven — and under the revised travel ban, six — Muslim-majority countries, the report said, “the religious affiliation of refugees has come under scrutiny.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Brands Some Faith Organizations as Hate Groups

The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center has come under fire for its labeling of a Christian nonprofit organization — dedicated to defending “religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family” — as a hate group. But the Alliance Defending Freedom isn’t the only conservative, traditional-value organization the SPLC smears as a hate group. Fox News found at least six other groups that are conservative and explicitly nonviolent but branded as hate organizations by the SPLC. The SPLC – based in Montgomery, Ala. – is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation, dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.” The SPLC labels these socially conservative organizations as hate groups because of their views on LGBT issues. On June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech to members of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious freedom group, prompting some media outlets, like ABC and NBC News, to also label the ADF a “hate group” following SPLC’s lead.

United Nations Says Educated People Threaten Sustainability

Senior leaders of the United Nations gathered recently to continue plotting the future of globalized pseudo-education, which they said must be imposed on every child on the planet to advance the UN’s radical plan for humanity known as Agenda 2030, reports Technocracy News. The UN’s controversial agenda, also dubbed the “Sustainable Development Goals” or SDGs, is basically a recipe for global government, technocracy, and socialism. The whole program, and especially the education component, is being justified under the guise of imposing “sustainable development” on the world.Tthe UN has made clear that more education is actually a threat to sustainability. “Generally, more highly educated people, who have higher incomes, consume more resources than poorly educated people, who tend to have lower incomes,” explains a UN “toolkit” for global, sustainable education, posted online at UNESCO’s website. “In this case, more education increases the threat to sustainability,” notes the toolkit.

  • The dumbing-down of education continues on its end-time path toward a one-world government overseen by the anti-Christ (Revelation 13)

White House Prayer Meeting Trashed by Media

Tuesday’s release of photos which shows leading evangelicals laying hands on and praying for the President Trump in the Oval Office touched off an angry backlash on Twitter and in the mainstream media. CNN immediately tied the meeting to reports the administration has become unhinged following the latest allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Those in attendance at the Oval Office meeting on Monday, however, reported the president was confident, collected, and in total control of his administration’s agenda. Others suggested that the image symbolized a dangerous erosion in the separation of church and state. The faith-leaders were in the White House for an all-day meeting on policy that did not involve the president. “The president got wind that we were there and insisted that we come say hi,” explained Johnnie Moore, author and evangelical leader.

Republicans Release Their Revised Healthcare Bill

Senate Republicans Thursday released a revised version of their plan to replace Obamacare — dumping some tax cuts for the wealthy, allowing for more insurance policies with limited coverage and increasing funding to fight the opioid addiction epidemic. But on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky announced Saturday that he was delaying consideration of health care legislation in light of Sen. John McCain’s absence due to recent surgery. Surgeons in Phoenix removed a blood clot from above McCain’s left eye on Friday. The 80-year-old Senate veteran was advised by doctors to remain in Arizona next week, his office said. Without McCain’s support, the bill most likely would not be passed. All the Democrats and the two Independents oppose the measure.

Under the revised plan, consumers could buy more bare-bones health insurance for less money under an amendment to the latest version Senate health plan, but insurers warn the change could cause premiums for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions to skyrocket.  It’s unclear whether the changes are enough to win over moderates concerned that the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and private insurance subsidies will leave millions without care, or whether conservatives are satisfied the bill would repeal enough of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and regulations. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to scrap a planned Senate vote at the end of June because he could not round up the 50 Republican votes he needs to advance the legislation. The nation’s governors, gathered for their annual summer meeting, came out strongly on Friday against the new Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, turning up the pressure on Republican leaders struggling to round up the votes to pass the bill next week.

Federal Judge in Hawaii Expands Family Ties in Trump Travel Ban

A federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday expanded the list of “bona fide” family relationships needed by people seeking new visas from six majority Muslim countries to avoid President Trump’s travel ban. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ordered the U.S. not to enforce the travel ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the U.S. “Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson said in his ruling. The travel ban affects those trying to enter the U.S. from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen. Last month, the Supreme Court exempted visa applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bona fide” relationship with a U.S. citizen or entity. The White House had previously said the ban would not apply to citizens of six countries with a parent, spouse, fiancé, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling already in the U.S. The Trump administration late Friday appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court saying that it, “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just ‘close’ family members.”

Trump Ramps Up Military Operations in Reversal of Campaign Rhetoric

In the first six months of President Donald Trump’s tenure, the US has ramped up military operations in trouble spots across the globe and is preparing to do more. The intensified military engagement stretches from Europe through Africa and the Middle East to South Asia, and marks a striking contrast to the vision of “America First” retrenchment that Trump presented as a candidate. Some of these increases were initiated under President Barack Obama, but Trump has continued and in many cases boosted them. The U.S. has established a more robust and active military presence in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and is poised to become more engaged in Libya. It has sent more troops to Europe and aims to boost military spending there. In Asia, Trump is considering responses to North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities that include military options.

Republicans Urge Trump to Eliminate 9 National Monuments, Shrink 14 Others

Congressional Republicans are urging President Trump to eliminate nine national monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah, and to shrink 14 others — even as hundreds of thousands of public commenters call for him to keep those monuments in place. Seventeen House Republicans called for those changes in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Among the monuments targeted for elimination are Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. There’s also Bears Ears, which comprises 1.35 million acres of sacred tribal land that President Barack Obama protected a few weeks before leaving office, infuriating Utah’s congressional delegation. “No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods,” the 17 House Republicans wrote in their letter to Zinke. The 23 land and marine monuments were all designated by Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton.

Trump’s Poll Numbers Declining

President Trump’s standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. Overall, 48 percent say they “disapprove strongly” of Trump’s performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling. Almost half of all Americans (48 percent) see the country’s leadership in the world as weaker since Trump was inaugurated, compared with 27 percent who say it is stronger. Just over one-third of all Americans say they trust the president either “a great deal” or “a good amount” in foreign negotiations. Asked specifically about Trump-Putin negotiations, almost 2 in 3 say they do not trust the president much, including 48 percent who say they do not trust the president “at all.”

Alarming Spike in Middle School Suicide Rate in U.S.

The suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds in the U.S. doubled between 2007 and 2014, for the first time surpassing the death rate in that age group from car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014 alone, 425 middle schoolers nationwide took their own lives. “It’s alarming. We’re even getting cases involving 8- and 9-year olds,” said Clark Flatt, who started the Jason Foundation in Tennessee 20 years ago to help educate teachers about teen suicide after his 16-year-old son took his own life. Researchers, educators and psychologists say increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism and bullying on social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young. The use of social media is a particular worry because it has amped up bullying among a vulnerable age group. Young students in prior generations left school each afternoon and avoided someone who bullied them until the next day or week. Now, social media allows for bullying 24/7.

Economic News

Middle-class Americans are enjoying a steady job market but are reluctant to spend freely due to economic uncertainty and are hoarding money in banks. Total bank deposits rose 6.6% last year to $10.7 trillion, extending steady growth seen in recent years, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Deposits measured as a percentage of bank assets are 77.6% in the first quarter of 2017, the highest since 2006. And Americans love liquidity. They hold about $2 trillion in checking accounts now. The average U.S. checking account deposit is about $3,600, climbing from $1,000 in 2007.

Americans curtailed their shopping in June, with less spending at restaurants, department stores and gasoline stations. The spending pullback came despite a healthy job market and suggests that economic growth could remain sluggish. Retail sales fell 0.2 percent after declining 0.1 percent in May, the Commerce Department said Friday. The decline reflects in part a transformative shift by consumers toward Amazon and other online retailers. Sales at department stores, once the anchors of shopping malls, have dwindled. The rise of online shopping has left more retailers competing on price or striving to offer deeper discounts — factors that can limit overall sales figures. Even former sources of strength in retail, like restaurants and auto dealers, have faced weakening sales in recent months.

Rent prices have spiked. Cheap housing has been demolished. The national rental vacancy rate is at its lowest point in three decades. And Americans are being evicted in near-record numbers. More than one-third of American rental households spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing, a mark widely considered the standard for affordability. A national shortfall of 7.4 million affordable rental units has forced the country’s lowest-income renters to live month to month, always one medical problem or layoff away from losing another home.  In 1996, Arizona’s Maricopa County Courts ordered 5,542 evictions. Those same courts processed 22,231 evictions in 2016, pulling people from their homes and plunging them into a rental market with few options.

Millions of Americans who rely on Social Security can expect to receive their biggest payment increase in years this January, according to projections released Thursday by the trustees who oversee the program. The increase is projected to be just 2.2%, or about $28 a month for the average recipient. Social Security recipients have gone years with tiny increases in benefits. This year they received an increase of 0.3%, after getting nothing last year. More than 61 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,253.

Chinese firms have spent $91 billion over the past decade purchasing nearly 300 foreign companies involved in agriculture, chemicals and food, according to Dealogic. Experts say the purchases are part of China’s plan to improve its ability to supply food to its population of nearly 1.4 billion. As Chinese living standards improve and citizens demand more meat products, the country needs a growing supply of animal feed. But China is contending with major challenges: An aging agricultural workforce, pollution, climate change and high levels of soil depletion. The country’s farms also suffer from low yields due to outdated farming practices.

Israel

Two officers were killed in an attack by three Palestinian assailants at the Temple Mount, Friday. The police officers died of wounds sustained in the attack. Three Arab citizens of Israel opened fire on police near a gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. The assailants were later killed in a gunfight at a mosque near Luba Samri. The attackers were armed with 2 Carl Gustav machine guns and a pistol. The holy compound is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. It is the holiest site to Jews and the third holiest in Islam. Since September 2015, Palestinian attackers have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist. In that time, Israeli forces have killed more than 254 Palestinians, most of them said by Israel to be attackers.

Tensions remained high in and around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday following last Friday’s shooting attack which killed two Israeli police officers and left the three terrorists who initiated the violence dead as well. The area was re-opened on Sunday with metal detectors at the entrances, which Islamic authorities in Jerusalem called a totally unnecessary and insulting measure, advising their followers to avoid entering the site. Other voices in the Islamic world called for a general Palestinian uprising to protest the security measures.

Egypt

Two German female tourists were stabbed to death while four other foreigners were wounded in an attack Friday at a hotel in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Hurghada. The assault came just hours after a shooting near some of Egypt’s most famous pyramids outside of Cairo killed five policemen. TFriday’s attacks are likely to further impact Egypt’s deeply struggling tourism industry — a pillar of the country’s economy that employs millions of people. The industry has suffered from political instability and a fragile security situation since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.he attacker at the Red Sea resort was arrested immediately. A security official said the attacker, a man in his 20s dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, wielded a knife and intentionally sought to attack foreigners. “Stay away, I don’t want Egyptians,” the assailant had said in Arabic during the attack, according to the official. Without taking any blame for what appears to be a major security breach, the Interior Ministry said the attacker had sneaked into the hotel by swimming from a nearby beach. In the killings of the five policemen outside of Cairo, no group claimed responsibility for the attack but it bore the hallmarks of a smaller Islamic terrorist group known as Hasm that has been behind similar shootings in recent months.

Afghanistan

The Pentagon said Friday that US forces have killed Abu Sayed, the leader of ISIS-Khorasan, the terror group’s Afghanistan affiliate. The “Emir” of ISIS-K was killed “in a strike on the group’s headquarters in Kunar Province, July 11,” the Pentagon said. Sayed was killed in an airstrike by a US drone. Gen. John Nicholson, Commander, US Forces Afghanistan said in a statement, “This operation is another success in our campaign to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017. Abu Sayed is the third ISIS-K emir we have killed in the last year and we will continue until they are annihilated. There is no safe haven for ISIS-K in Afghanistan.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on Friday that the death of  a leader like Sayed “sets them back for a day a week, a month.”

Qatar

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas. Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

London

Five men were attacked with acid in London on Thursday night with one man suffering life-changing facial injuries in what police are treating as linked assaults. The five attacks, which were reported to police over a 70-minute period, are the latest in a spike of incidents using corrosive liquids as weapons in robberies and gang-related violence in the British capital. Police said at least four of the five attacks involved two males on a moped, and in at least two cases the attackers stole mopeds belonging to their victims. Another incident involved a robbery. A 16-year-old boy has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and robbery, and is currently in custody at an east London police station. Acid attacks are on the rise in London. In 2014, there were 166 filed incidents, rising to 261 in 2015, and 454 in 2016. Acid attacks in London are largely concentrated in the city’s east. London’s police chief Cressida Dick explained that it was not happening across all boroughs.

Environment

One of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, British scientists announced Wednesday. The 1 trillion-ton iceberg, which is twice of the volume of Lake Erie, broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf between Monday and Wednesday, according to Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf. At 2,200 square miles, the chunk of floating ice is nearly the size of Delaware. Over the past several months, an ever-lengthening and widening crack in the Larsen C ice shelf gradually lengthened until the 120-mile crack, first spotted in 2011, finally made its way back to the sea, “calving” off the massive iceberg. The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict, experts say. It may remain in one piece, but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.

Two homes were destroyed Friday and another is directly in the path of a rapidly expanding sinkhole about 20 miles north of Tampa. Crews have evacuated 10 additional homes in the area of the 50-foot-deep hole in a suburb dotted with lakes and ponds. Areas around Tampa and much of Florida are known for their porous limestone underground that can collapse abruptly, creating sinkholes. Authorities received a call about what they called a depression the size of a small swimming pool at around 7:20 a.m. ET Friday. By 3:30 p.m., the sinkhole had grown to 250 feet wide with no signs of stopping. Florida is one of seven states — also including Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania — where sinkholes are most likely to occur, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wildfires

A video of the Wall fire north of Bangor, Calif., features a “firenado,” a whirlwind of flames that burns at extreme temperatures. A remotely operated camera at Oroville Dam captured the vortex, which can become large enough to rip trees from the ground and pull roofs off houses. The Wall wildfire, which began at around 3 p.m. PT Friday in the Sierra foothills about 60 miles north of Sacramento, has destroyed more than 40 homes, damaged three other homes, and destroyed or damaged almost 60 other structures. Even though it’s about 60% contained, more than 600 structures remain threatened.

Weather

Storms producing heavy rainfall triggered flash flooding throughout the Midwest and Northeast last week, closing roads and Interstate Highways at times, damaging homes and toppling trees in many areas.

A drought impacting parts of the High Plains has reduced fields normally plentiful with crops to waste, along with pastures that typically would be home to grazing cattle. Some longtime farmers and ranchers say it’s the worst conditions they’ve seen in decades — possibly their lifetimes — and simple survival has become their goal as a dry summer drags on without a rain cloud in sight.

Several U.S. cities are seeing their hottest summer to date, from June 1-July 12. This includes Phoenix, which has seen an average temperature of 95.8 degrees during this period, and Las Vegas, which tied its all-time record high of 117 degrees June 20. Salt Lake City is also experiencing its hottest summer on record and interestingly, 2015 and 2016 hold the second and third hottest spots to date. Other cities currently on pace to set a new record for hottest summer are Reno, Nevada, Tucson, Arizona, and Bakersfield, California. Medford, Oregon, has seen its second warmest summer-to-date on record and Yakima, Washington, has seen its third warmest.

Flooding and landslides in India have killed at least 28 people since mid-June. Around 500,000 people have fled their homes in 800 villages across nearly half of Assam’s 27 districts.

Rare snowfall in Santiago, Chile, left at least one person dead and caused widespread power outages Sunday, affecting 337,000 people. An early winter cold front brought cold temperatures to the southern and central parts of Chile. Snow accumulated up to nearly two inches, the first measurable snow since 2007.

  • 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 (7/11/17)

July 11, 2017

61 Refugees in U.S. Engaged in Terrorist Activities

At least 61 people who came to the United States as “refugees” engaged in terrorist activities between 2002 and 2016, according to a new report authored by the Heritage Foundation. The report identified scores of refugees, including many who came prior to 2002, as having taken part in activities ranging from lying to investigators about terror plots, to actually taking part in them.

  • Somali refugee Dahir Ahmed Adan, stabbed and wounded 10 shoppers at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Sept. 17, 2016.
  • Afghan refugee Ahmad Rahimi, wounded 29 in a pipe bomb attack on the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on Sept. 17, 2016.
  • Somali refugee Abdul Ali Artan, wounded 11 fellow students in a car and knife attack at Ohio State University on Nov. 28 last year.
  • Uzbek refugee Fazliddin Kurbanov, resettled in Boise, Idaho, and was convicted in 2015 of plotting to recruit and train American Muslims to blow up American military installations.
  • Six members of Minnesota’s Somali refugee community were arrested and convicted of trying to trying to leave the country to join ISIS in Syria.
  • A college student and Somali refugee, who later applied for and received U.S. citizenship, attempted to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The report’s total of 61 terror-related refugees does not include the more than 40 Somali refugees who have simply vanished from the U.S. and the FBI confirms they have successfully traveled to the Middle East to participate in jihadist operations with ISIS, al-Shabab and other terrorist organizations.

60% of Voters Support Trump Travel Ban

Sixty percent of registered voters favor President Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries, while 28% oppose it, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals. 84% of Republican voters back the restrictions, while only 9 percent oppose them. 41% of Democrats favor the guidelines, compared to 46% who do not. 56% of independents support the ban, while 30% are against it. Eighty percent of voters think travelers from those six countries should be admitted to the U.S. if they have a parent living in America, and 78 percent think they should be admitted to join a spouse or child in the country; all three are permitted under the revised directive.

Canadian Baby is First Child Not to be Assigned a Gender at Birth

A child born in the Canadian province of British Columbia is reportedly the first baby not to be identified as male or female at birth. Instead, the baby, named Searyl Atli Doty, was identified as “U” on their health card, which reportedly stands for “Unknown” or “Unspecified.” The baby’s parent, Kori Doty, identifies as a non-binary transgender and hopes that, by foregoing a genital inspection and identification for the child, the child can more easily discover their true identity later in life–something which Doty says was a personal struggle. “When I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed my identification throughout my life,” Doty said. Although Doty has reportedly faced difficulty in obtaining a birth certificate for Searyl, the health card will allow the child to be eligible for healthcare services. Eight complainants, including Doty, are arguing before British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal that gender identification at birth should be abolished.

  • End-time idiocy is being taken to absurd levels

Young Men Playing Video Games Instead of Working

According to a report that was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday, American men from the ages of 21 to 30 are working a lot less these days.  In fact, on average men in this age group worked 203 fewer hours per year in 2015 than they did in 2000.  Men ages 21 to 30 years old worked 12 percent fewer hours in 2015 than they did in 2000, the economists found. Around 15 percent of young men worked zero weeks in 2015, a rate nearly double that of 2000. So, what did they do with all of that extra time?  According to the study, a large portion of the time that young men used to spend working is now being spent playing video games. Younger men increased their recreational computer use and video gaming by nearly 50 percent from eight years ago. This phenomenon is known as “extended adolescence”, and it is becoming a major societal problem.

Trump Isolated at G20 Meeting, Presses Putin on Hacking, Syria

For years the United States was the dominant force and set the agenda at the annual gathering of the leaders of the world’s largest economies. But on Friday, when President Trump met with 19 other leaders at the Group of 20 conference, he found the United States isolated on everything from trade to climate change. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the host of the meeting, opened it by acknowledging the differences between the United States and the rest of the countries. While “compromise can only be found if we accommodate each other’s views,” she said, “we can also say, we differ.” Ms. Merkel also pointed out that most of the countries supported the Paris accord on climate change, while Mr. Trump has abandoned it. Trump seemed to relish his isolation. For him, the critical moment was his long meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, which served to reset the relations with Russia. He pressed Putin on election hacking (which Putin denied) in a “robust and lengthy exchange,” and pressured Putin into agreeing to a cease fire in the war raging in Syria (see Syria below).

World Leaders Move Forward on Climate Change, Without U.S.

World leaders struck a compromise on Saturday to move forward collectively on climate change without the United States, declaring the Paris accord “irreversible” while acknowledging President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. In a final communiqué at the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, the nations took “note” of Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the pact and “immediately cease” efforts to enact former President Barack Obama’s pledge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. But the other 19 members of the group broke explicitly with Mr. Trump in their embrace of the international deal, signing off on a detailed policy blueprint outlining how their countries could meet their goals in the pact. Differences between the United States and other nations on climate, trade and migration made for a tricky summit meeting

Trump, in Poland, Vows the West Will Never be Broken

President Trump delivered a staunch defense of Western values during a rousing speech Thursday to thousands of Poles in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square, rallying allies against what he described as “dire threats” to civilization and vowing, “the West will never, ever be broken.” Trump said nations must have the will to protect borders and preserve civilization from those who would destroy it. In his speech, Trump saluted Polish sacrifice and underscored the United States’ commitment to NATO, Poland and Western values. Trump arrived in Warsaw late Wednesday for a 16-hour visit before leaving for the G-20 summit in Germany.

Protesters Disrupt G-20 Meeting

German police are trying to prevent small groups of mostly anti-capitalist protesters from disrupting the G20 summit in Hamburg, as world leaders including US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet for talks. Officers dressed in riot gear intervened as protest groups tried to enter the red zone — the blocked-off area close to the summit venue — while other small groups staged sit-ins across the city. At one of the sit-ins, a little over a mile from the summit security zone, water cannon were deployed against protesters. At one point, protesters blocked Melania Trump from leaving her guest house. Anti-globalization activists rioted for a second night, setting up street barricades, looting supermarkets, setting cars on fire and attacking police with slingshots and petrol bombs.

U.S. Missile Shield Not Ready for North Korea Nuclear Attack

As North Korea continues testing missiles it says can reach the United States, while simultaneously working to build nuclear warheads small enough to mount atop them, America’s plan to shoot down the ICBMs is nowhere near a sure bet, Politico reports. The U.S. plan includes various sensors, radars, and interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California. But testing has been far from 100 percent. In fact, three of five tests have failed. And the two that succeeded were “heavily scripted,” Politico quoted military leaders. The Pentagon defended its Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and maintained that it can take down missiles flying through the atmosphere, but that optimistic view is not widely shared. “If the North Koreans fired everything they had at us, and we fired at all of the missiles, we’d probably get most of them,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Politico. “But is ‘probably get most’ a good day or a bad day?”

Few Americans Emigrating to Canada

Many Americans said they wanted to move to Canada after Donald Trump became president, but few actually followed through, The National Post reports. New data released by Canada’s immigration office indicates only a slight year-over-year uptick in applications for Canadian citizenship in 2017. In the first four months of 2016, an average of 264 people filed applications each month. This year, the number rose to 400 in that period — that’s more than a 50% jump from 2016 but just half of the average from 2012. The data actually suggests a trend of declining applications overall. Becoming a Canadian citizen is an expensive, time-consuming process. Applicants must pony up more than $500 just to apply, and those who get accepted must have a sponsor, such as an employer or spouse, to vouch that the immigrant will be able to live comfortably. Full citizenship will come roughly six years later.

Uninsured Numbers Increase as Obamacare Erodes

The number of U.S. adults without health insurance has grown by some 2 million this year, according to a major new survey that finds recent coverage gains beginning to erode. The new numbers highlight what’s at stake as Congress returns to an unresolved debate over Republican proposals to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, published Monday, found that the uninsured rate among U.S. adults was 11.7 percent in the second three months of this year, compared with a record low of 10.9 percent at the end of last year. While “Obamacare” has remained politically divisive, it had helped drive the uninsured rate to historic lows as some 20 million people gained coverage. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that at least 22 million more people would become uninsured under proposed Republican legislation.

More than 100 Wounded, 14 Killed in Chicago over July 4th Weekend

More than 100 people were shot in Chicago over the long Independence Day weekend as a deadly wave of violence once again rocked the massive city besieged by unrelenting gun crime. At least 14 of the gunshot victims died, police said Wednesday. Most of violence took place in a 6-hour period Monday night and early Tuesday, predominantly on the South and West sides of the city. The Trump administration announced Friday it was dispatching an additional 20 ATF agents to the city to stem gun violence that has left more than 1,000 dead over the past 18 months. The vast majority of the murders and shooting incidents in Chicago occur in a few predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the city’s West and South Sides, and are driven by gang-related feuds and drug wars. Over the following weekend, two people were murdered and 32 others were wounded in shootings across the Chicagoland area.

Police Officer Deaths Have Up 18% in 2017

The ambush shooting that killed a New York City police officer in the Bronx marked the latest in a growing number of officer deaths in 2017, up 18 percent from this time last year. A total of 67 officers have died so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In addition, gun-related deaths have risen by 9 percent, from 22 to 24 for 2017, the researchers say. The figures continue a grim trend; 2016 was the deadliest year for police in 5 years. A total of 135 officers died last year. Approximately 50,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in some manner, some causing disabling injuries. “People now are more willing to engage the police in combat,” said Randy Sutton, national spokesman for Blue Lives Matter and a retired Las Vegas police lieutenant.

Food Stamp Rolls Plummet in States that Restore Work Requirements

After the food stamp rolls swelled for years under the Obama administration, fresh figures show a dramatic reduction in states that recently have moved to restore work requirements. States were allowed to waive those rules for able-bodied adults thanks to Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan. Food stamp enrollment soared to record levels – peaking at nearly 48 million nationwide in 2013. Some states have moved aggressively to push recipients who can work back into the job market and, in due time, off the program. Alabama began 2017 by requiring able-bodied adults without children in 13 counties to either find a job or participate in work training as a condition for continuing to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The number of recipients declined from 5,538 to 831 between Jan. 1 and the beginning of May – an 85 percent drop. Similar changes were implemented in select counties in Georgia and by the end of the first three months, the number of adults receiving benefits in three participating counties dropped 58 percent

Illinois to Become First State with Junk Credit Rating

Illinois may still get slapped with a “junk” credit rating despite nearing a breakthrough that would end the state’s two-year budget nightmare. Moody’s warned on Wednesday that it may downgrade Illinois’s credit rating because the proposed budget and accompanying tax increases don’t fix the root causes of the state’s epic financial mess. A downgrade would make Illinois America’s first state with a junk credit rating and could make its recovery efforts even harder by causing borrowing costs to rise. The budget compromise, which includes a 32% tax hike, lacks “broad bipartisan support” and that may “signal shortcomings” in its effectiveness, Moody’s warned. Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner on Wednesday slammed the tax hike as a “phony” solution that will be a “disaster,” a day after he vetoed the budget legislation. The state Senate voted on Tuesday to override the veto and the House is expected to follow suit later this week. Not only has the two-year budget standoff caused Illinois to rack up $15 billion in unpaid bills, but Moody’s estimates it has a staggering $251 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 222,000 net new jobs in June, beating expectations for 179,000 jobs. The unemployment rate ticked slightly higher to 4.4% from 4.3%, just above its lowest level since 2001. June was the 81st consecutive month of job gains. The labor force participation rate edged up to 62.8% from 62.7% during the month. Wages grew 2.5% in June compared with a year ago. That’s slightly better than in prior years but well below the goal of 3.5% set by the Federal Reserve. Wages are one of the last indicators to really pick up momentum since the recession ended in 2009.

Every week, it seems a new retailer is shuttering stores. According to an estimate from Credit Suisse, U.S. retailers are on track for more than 8,000 store closings this year, even more than in 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis. Some have called it a retail apocalypse, as the forces of e-commerce and bloated debt burdens are forcing a number of retailers to declare bankruptcy or downsize.  Urban Outfitters’ CEO declared that after years of overexpansion, “the retail bubble has burst.”

Two years after an international bailout that was supposed to lead to an economic revival, conditions here have only worsened. The economy is stagnant, unemployment hovers around 25% and is twice as high for young adults, taxes are rising, and wages are falling. Half of Greek homeowners can’t make their mortgage payments and another quarter can’t afford their property taxes, rendering many homeless, according to the Bank of Greece.

Persecution Watch

Turkey’s president and his government continue to target Christians. In his latest effort to subjugate Turkey’s Christian population to the government, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seized control of 50 Syriac churches. Erdogan’s government is intentionally targeting Christian churches in their quest to bring Sharia Law to Turkey. The most recent confiscation of churches took place via the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). Among the churches taken over by the government is the 1,600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery, This is not the first time Erdogan has seized control of churches in Turkey. In 2016, he took over six churches, one of which was another ancient place of worship.one of the world’s oldest places of worship.

Operation Rescue has discovered that Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure to a page containing important facts about abortion on the OperationRescue.org website. The fact page Abortions in America, was – until six weeks ago – OperationRescue.org’s most visited page. It previously appeared on Google in top five hits on the search “Abortions in US,” and was a top referrer to OperationRescue.org. It has since been buried off the first results page and well down the list. The page was also dropped off the first page of results for the search “Abortion Statistics,” which had been one of Operation Rescue.org’s top search referrals.

Israel

A vote was held last week at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare Israel and “occupying power” in Jerusalem and harshly criticizing archeological excavations there. “Nothing is more disgraceful than UNESCO declaring the world’s only Jewish state the ‘occupier’ of the Western Wall and Jerusalem’s Old City,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read Genesis 23:16-19 from the Bible during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting as a refutation of Friday’s resolution passed by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee designating the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Hebron a Palestinian heritage site. “The connection between the Jewish People and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history, he declared. Netanyahu explained that in wake of this resolution, he has decided to cut an additional $1 million from Israel’s UN membership dues and transfer the funds to the establishment of “The Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron.”

Syria

An open-ended cease-fire in southern Syria brokered by the United States, Russia, and Jordan came into effect on Sunday at noon. The agreement, announced Thursday after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria. It followed weeks of secretive talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to address the buildup of Iranian-backed forces, in support of the Syrian government, near the Jordanian and Israeli borders. The three brokering nations did not specify mechanisms to monitor or enforce the truce. The truce covers the Quneitra, Daraa, and Sweida provinces, where the government and the rebels are also fighting Islamic State militants, who are not included in the truce. No cease-fire has lasted long in the six-year-old Syrian war.

Islamic State

The loss of the Islamic State’s two largest cities (Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq) will not spell a final defeat for ISIS according to analysts and American and Middle Eastern officials. The group has already shifted back to its roots as an insurgent force, but one that now has an international reach and an ideology that continues to motivate attackers around the world, reports the New York Times. “These are obviously major blows to ISIS because its state-building project is over, there is no more caliphate, and that will diminish support and recruits,” said Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington and a co-author of a book on the group. “But ISIS today is an international organization. Its leadership and its ability to grow are still there.”

Iran

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo, red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran. The ships’ radio-signal tracking systems were often not in use and occasionally indicated the ships had sailed from countries other than Iran, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. The U.S. government is analyzing movements of ships in the Persian Gulf for any attempts to circumvent bans on funding Iran’s weapons programs or clearing payments for Iranian oil through the U.S. financial system.

Turkey

Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have marched an arduous 250 miles over three weeks for a protest in Istanbul on Sunday, to demand their government loosen its stranglehold on the country’s democracy. The “March for Justice” has grown from a modest one-man protest by opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who vowed to walk from the capital, Ankara, to Istanbul after the imprisonment of one of his party’s elected representative. Kilicdaroglu has been joined by throngs of disaffected citizens along the way and expects a huge crowd to attend the rally Sunday evening. “Turkey has stopped being a democratic country. It has become beholden to one man,” Kilicdaroglu told CNN. “This we cannot accept.” The rally comes almost a year after a failed military coup radically changed the country’s direction. Following the coup attempt, Erdogan and his government have clamped down on civil liberties across the country, gutted public institutions and universities, heavily restricted the media and ordered mass arrests of activists, journalists and the political opposition.

North Korea

North Korea’s test-launch of a missile capable of reaching the United States drew a swift reaction from the U.S. Army and South Korean military, which in turn launched at least two surface-to-surface missiles as a demonstration of their attack capability. The North Korean launch and retaliatory U.S.-South Korea actions come as U.S. officials use increasingly strong language to condemn and warn North Korea. “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said in a statement. North Korean state media sharply criticized the U.S. on Sunday for a recent practice bombing run on the Korean peninsula, calling it a dangerous move raising the risk of nuclear war.

Kenya

Islamist Al-Shabab extremists from neighboring Somalia beheaded nine civilians in an early-morning attack on a village in southeast Kenyan, officials said Saturday, as concerns grew that the group had taken up a bloody new strategy. Beheadings by al-Shabab have been rare in Kenya, where the extremist group has carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years. The East African country has seen an increase in attacks claimed by al-Shabab in recent weeks, posing a security threat ahead of next month’s presidential election. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops in 2011 to Somalia to fight the group, which last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Volcanoes

An Alaskan volcano that has erupted several times since last year spewed an ash cloud up to 30,000 feet, leading to an aviation warning. The Bogoslof volcano erupted Saturday, sending ash over the Aleutians Islands, the Alaska Volcano Observatory said. It “remains at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition, and additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time,” the observatory said. The volcano sits under the flight path of many flights from Asia to North America.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit a mountainous area of western Montana overnight Thursday, producing minor damage near the epicenter. The quake, reportedly the strongest to hit the state in 12 years, was felt as far away as eastern Washington, southern Canada and Idaho. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 12:30 a.m. MDT quake was centered about 7 miles south-southeast of Lincoln, Montana. Power outages were reported in the town and at least one social media photo indicated damage there. Shaking was reported in the state capital, Helena, just 34 miles southeast of the epicenter. At least one gas leak was reported.

At least 10 people were injured in a collapsed building, trapping an unspecified number of others, when a strong, shallow earthquake shook the central Philippines on Thursday. Power was knocked out in some areas and sent villagers fleeing from their homes. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 6.5 and struck at a depth of 4 miles near Masarayao town in Leyte province. Shallow earthquakes generally cause more damage on the Earth’s surface. The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.

Wildfires

In California, two major wildfires forced nearly 8,000 people out of their homes over last weekend. The Wall fire has burned nearly 9 square miles, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 17 structures, but that number is expected to rise, fire officials said Monday. About 4,000 people evacuated and another 7,400 were told to prepare to leave their homes as fire swept through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles north of Sacramento. In Southern California, at least 3,500 people evacuated as two fires raged at separate ends of Santa Barbara County. The largest has charred more than 45 square miles of dry brush and is threatening more than 130 rural homes. It’s only 15 percent contained. About 50 miles to the south, a 17-square-mile blaze shut down State Route 154 and sent weekend campers scrambling for safety. It’s just 5 percent contained.

Nine large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Arizona which have consumed about 148,000 acres, not including the Goodwin fire which has been completely contained after torching 28,516 acres and destroying 33 structures. Five of these current blazes are major Incident One fires. The Brooklyn fire started July 7, 25 miles NW of Cave Creek. It was caused by lightning, and has burned 32,778 acres and is 0% contained as of Tuesday morning. Two lightning caused fires within relative proximity to the Brooklyn Fire have been incorporated into the management area on the Tonto National Forest. They are the Bull Fire (S/SE of the Brooklyn Fire) and Cedar Fire (E/SE of the Brooklyn Fire). These 2 fires are not a threat to structures at this time and are in remote areas with difficult access.

For the first time in 15 years, Canada’s British Columbia has declared a province-wide state of emergency as scores of wildfires burn out of control. evacuations were ordered for an entire town, at least one airport, two hospitals and hundreds of homes after 142 new fires broke out throughout the province on Friday, bringing the total number of fires burning to 182. By Monday, irefighters were contending with more than 200 wildfires that have destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars. The three biggest fires, which have grown in size to range from 9 to 19 square miles, had forced thousands of people to flee. Some 7,000 people have been evacuated throughout the province. Sparked by lightning and fueled by gusty winds, the blazes are being reported “faster than can be written down.”

Weather – Domestic

A heat wave from the northern Plains to parts of the northern Rockies and Great Basin shows little sign of relenting over the next week or more, and that’s likely to exacerbate the nation’s most rapidly worsening drought in parts of the Dakotas and Montana. This northern Plains drought developed quickly by late May over a sizable swath of eastern Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. A drought emergency was declared in eastern Montana by Gov. Steve Bullock in late June. Local ranchers and farmers told KRTV-TV this is the worst drought in northeast Montana since 1988. Fifteen North Dakota counties were designated as agricultural disaster areas at the end of June. Highs well into the 90s or low 100s are likely to persist in the northern High Plains drought area, as well as lower elevations of the northern Rockies and Great Basin

Flooding in Texas left at least one person dead Sunday ahead of a round of severe thunderstorms that are expected to continue flaring up over parts of the northern Plains and Northeast. Scores of tornadoes broke out over the weekend in the Plains, especially in Indiana and Illinois. An 18-inch diameter tree was downed by strong thunderstorm winds on the Ohio State University Campus in Columbus, Ohio, Monday. Just north of the city, Interstate 71 had to be shut down at 5th Avenue due to flooding on the highway.

Weather – International

At least 56 people have been killed and an additional 22 have been reported missing as torrential rains triggered massive flooding in southern China. More than 60 rivers in China were close to overflowing their of banks Wednesday. Entire towns have been flooded, halting traffic and resulting in power outages, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said Tuesday. Nearly 20 inches of rain fell on a number of cities dating back to Thursday, including the scenic resort city of Guilin in the Guangxi region. More than 11 million people in 11 southern provinces were affected by floods, landslides and hailstorms. Water levels in major rivers and lakes in the southern province of Hunan have surged to alarming levels, and that the collapse of levees forced large-scale evacuations. Dozens of flights at several airports serving major cities in the region including Chengdu, Changsha, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen were canceled or delayed, stranding thousands of travelers.

Heavy rains since the start of India’s monsoon season have triggered floods and landslides in parts of the remote northeastern region, causing at least 20 deaths, authorities said Wednesday. Nearly 400,000 people have left their flooded homes in 750 villages across nearly half of Assam’s 27 districts. Nearly 30,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps run by the state government. Most others were living with their relatives or on nearby river embankments or higher ground.

Widespread flooding triggered by torrential rainfall has killed at least fifteen and forced the evacuation of nearly 500,000 people in southwest Japan. At least 11 people are missing as several areas in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures on the island of Kyushu were hit by flooding and landslides. The chaos comes after heavy rain caused two locations in Kyushu to rack up their heaviest 24-hour rainfall totals since records began in 1976. Police say a house where two people live was washed away and thousands of homes are without power, while a group of children and teachers were stranded by floodwaters.

  • 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 (7/4/17)

July 4, 2017

Seven Planned Parenthood Facilities Permanently Closed June 30

Seven Planned Parenthood facilities, six of which conducted medication abortions, are set to permanently close today in three states (California, New Jersey and Iowa). Planned Parenthood officials noted that the closures were primarily an attempt to remain solvent amid fears that Medicaid reimbursements would be halted by Congress. “It isn’t very often we see seven Planned Parenthood facilities close in one day. This may have set some kind of record. It is great news for women and their babies who will no longer be preyed upon for profit by Planned Parenthood in these communities,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “Many Planned Parenthood facilities survive only on on government funding. There are so many other reputable providers of legitimate healthcare for women out there. Even if every Planned Parenthood was shut down, no one would have to do without proper medical care. We should not be funding Planned Parenthood with our tax dollars.”

Top Vatican Official Charged with Sexual Abuse in Australia.

A top Vatican official denied allegations of sexual offenses on Thursday after being charged by Australian police, saying he would take a leave of absence as one of Pope Francis’ chief advisers to defend himself. Speaking to reporters in the Vatican, Cardinal George Pell denounced “relentless character assassination” in the media and confirmed he would return to his native Australia to face the charges. Australian police earlier Thursday announced that Pell faces multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” that nation’s term for charges related to past conduct. Pell — Australia’s senior-most Catholic prelate — has for years faced questions in his role in the staggering scale of sexual abuse by the Australian church. But he has never before been directly charged. The controversy is a challenge to Pope Francis’ attempts to address the church’s long-running abuse scandal, particularly since much of the abuse in the Australian church was well-known at the time the pontiff appointed him to his current role.

Man Runs Down Newly Installed Ten Commandments Monument

The man accused of ramming a car into the newly erected Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol Wednesday posted a video to Facebook shortly before the incident, saying he was doing it because it was a violation of the separation of church and state. Michael Tate Reed, 32, then streamed to Facebook Live the moment he drove his 2016 Dodge Dart over the statehouse lawn and crashed into the monument. The 6-foot tall stone monument was knocked off of its base and broke into at least three sections, with some of the pieces crumbling. Reed, 32, was immediately arrested by Capitol police. He faces charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal mischief in the first degree and criminal trespass. Reed was arrested after a similar event in 2014 where he allegedly ran over another Ten Commandments statue on capitol grounds.

Obama-Appointed Judges Continue Blocking Trump’s Immigration Crackdown

President Trump may have won a partial victory at the Supreme Court this week, but other federal judges remain major stumbling blocks to his aggressive immigration plans, with courts from California to Michigan and Atlanta limiting his crackdown on sanctuary cities and stopping him from deporting illegal immigrants he has targeted for removal. The judges in those deportation cases have rejected Mr. Trump’s argument that he has wide latitude to decide who gets kicked out, without having to worry about district courts second-guessing him on facts of the case, reports the Washington Times. Instead, the judges said, they get to decide their jurisdiction, and that extends to reviewing Mr. Trump’s immigration policy. One judge in Michigan ordered the Homeland Security Department to freeze all deportation plans for about 200 Chaldean Christians arrested over the past two months and scheduled to be sent back to Iraq. Nearly every one of them has a criminal record.

At Least 25 States Resist Voting Commission’s Request for Data

Last week, President Trump’s voting commission issued a sweeping request for nationwide voter data that drew sharp condemnation from election experts and resistance from more than two dozen states that said they cannot or will not hand over all of the data. The immediate backlash marked the first significant attention to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity since Trump started it last month and followed through on a vow to pursue his claims that voter fraud is rampant and cost him the popular vote in the presidential election. The White House has said the commission will embark upon a “thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections.” Critics fear that the commission will be used to restrict voting. While the Trump administration says it is just requesting public information, the letters met with swift — and sometimes defiant — rejection. By Friday, 25 states were partially or entirely refusing to provide the requested information; some said state laws prohibit releasing certain details about voters, while others refused to provide any information because of the commission’s makeup and backstory.

U.S. Hits Refugee Limit Set by President Trump

The United States is set to reach a contentious milestone this week when it accepts its 50,000th refugee for the fiscal year ending September 30, hitting a ceiling set by President Trump in his quest to sharply curtail immigration into the country. The 50,000 figure is 41% lower than the 85,000 refugees accepted during President Barack Obama’s final year in office, and would be the lowest total in a decade. The White House said the reduction is necessary to give intelligence agencies time to review vetting procedures used to screen refugees to ensure terrorists don’t infiltrate the U.S. posing as refugees. Refugee groups counter that it is “morally wrong” for America to turn its back on those escaping war and other horrors when the world is facing its greatest migrant crisis. The door for refugees will remain partly open, however, due to the June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed a portion of Trump’s travel ban to take effect.

Federal Housing Aid Promotes Segregation

A review of federal data by The New York Times found that in the United States’ biggest metropolitan areas, low-income housing projects that use federal tax credits — the nation’s biggest source of funding for affordable housing — are disproportionately built in majority nonwhite communities. What this means, fair-housing advocates say, is that the government is essentially helping to maintain entrenched racial divides, even though federal law requires government agencies to promote integration. The nearly $8-billion-a-year tax credit program allows private developers to apply for credits they can use to help finance new housing or the rehabilitation of existing units. The program offers developers larger credits for building in poorer communities, which tend to need affordable housing the most but also have large minority populations. Efforts to place low-income housing projects in wealthier, white communities are generally voted down by town councils and local housing authorities.

Residents of Northern California Feel Subjugated to Urban Tyranny

The residents of northern California argue that their political voice is drowned out in a system that has only one state senator for every million residents. This sentiment resonates in other traditionally conservative parts of California, including large swaths of the Central Valley. California’s Great Red North, a bloc of 13 counties that voted for President Trump in November, make up more than a fifth of the state’s land mass but only 3 percent of its population, reports the New York Times. Urban California is a multiethnic dominated culture where the percentage of whites has fallen to 38 percent. California’s Great Red North is the opposite, a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.

In May, a loose coalition of northern activists and residents, including an Indian tribe and the small northern city of Fort Jones, joined forces to file a federal lawsuit arguing that California’s legislative system is unconstitutional because the Legislature has not expanded with the population. California has only one state representative per 1 million people. By contrast, each member of the New York State Assembly represents on average 130,000 people; in New Hampshire, it’s 3,330 people for each representative. Mark Baird, one of the plaintiffs, says residents of California’s far north feel as though they are being governed by an urbanized elite. “It’s tyranny by the majority,” he said. “The majority should never be able to deprive the minority of their inalienable rights.”

  • America’s red-blue divide, liberal vs. conservative, rural vs. urban, will become even more prominent as the end-times move forward toward the Great Tribulation. Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, NKJV)

Global Hacks Might be Using Stolen NSA Cyberweapons

Twice in the past month, National Security Agency cyberweapons stolen from its arsenal have been turned against two very different partners of the United States — Britain and Ukraine. The N.S.A. has kept quiet, not acknowledging its role in developing the weapons, reports the New York Times. White House officials have deflected many questions, and responded to others by arguing that the focus should be on the attackers themselves, not the manufacturer of their weapons. The series of escalating attacks using N.S.A. cyberweapons have hit hospitals, a nuclear site and American businesses. Now there is growing concern that United States intelligence agencies have rushed to create digital weapons that they cannot keep safe from adversaries or disable once they fall into the wrong hands.

  • When will we ever learn? For many decades, we’ve experienced our own weapons turned against us by shifting alliances with various countries, rebel groups and militias. So, it’s no surprise that now we can’t hold onto our cyberweapons.

‘Obamaphone’ Program Stashes $9 Billion in Private Bank Accounts

The controversial “Obamaphone” program, which pays for cellphones for the poor, is rife with fraud, according to a new government report released Thursday that found more than a third of enrollees may not even be qualified. Known officially as the Lifeline Program, the phone giveaway has become a symbol of government waste. A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the program has stashed some $9 billion of assets in private bank accounts rather than with the federal treasury, further increasing risks and depriving taxpayers of the full benefit of that money. “A complete lack of oversight is causing this program to fail the American taxpayer — everything that could go wrong is going wrong,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, ranking Democrat on the Senate’s chief oversight committee and who is a former state auditor in Missouri. “We’re currently letting phone companies cash a government check every month with little more than the honor system to hold them accountable, and that simply can’t continue,” she said. The program, run by the Federal Communications Commission, predates President Obama, but it gained attention during his administration when recipients began to associate the free phone with other benefits he doled out to the poor.

73% Of World’s Renewable Energy Is Made by Burning Wood & Dung

The hysteria over solar and wind power as the only feasible source of future ‘renewable’ energy flies in the face of the facts. Wood and animal feces are both renewable, and account for almost 73% of the world’s renewable energy, but you never hear about planting more trees. “Of course, the Technocrats cannot control wood or feces as energy, so it is completely ignored,” notes Technocracy News. There’s no doubt that wind and solar energy capacity has grown rapidly over the last three decades. Wind power generation has grown by an average of 24.3% per year since 1990, while solar’s growth was 46.2% per year over the same period. However, despite thirty years of government subsidies and hundreds of billions in direct investments in green technologies, wind power still meets just 0.46% of the earth’s energy demands. Given current technology (and assuming 20% efficiency), we’d need to cover an area the size of Spain in solar panels to generate enough electricity to meet our global electricity demands by 2030. In fact, even if we mined all of the silver on earth’s crust, there still wouldn’t be enough to make the transition to 100% solar power. In addition, solar energy produces 300 times more toxic waste than does nuclear power. While a total of 13.6% of world energy comes from renewable sources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro), the vast majority—72.8%—is just people in developing countries burning wood, charcoal, and dung for energy.

Persecution Watch

Although for many Muslims Ramadan is a time of self-denial and fasting, for others it is a time of jihad. In fact, it was during the month of Ramadan that Muhammed and the first Islamic army conquered Mecca in 630AD and this has led some jihadi groups, such as the Taliban, to declare jihad obligatory during Ramadan. More than 1,620 people (both Muslims and Christians) were killed during this year’s Ramadan. “It is sobering to note that behind this lies the historical teaching of sharia on jihad and apostasy – those deemed to be non-Muslims, particularly if they are viewed as having have left Islam, can be legitimately killed,” notes the Barnabas Fund.

The Christian cake-shop owner who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony says he and his family are receiving death threats. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, was thrown into the center of a heated controversy when he refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration. Phillips cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal. The Colorado Human Rights Commission, as well as the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Phillips, but just this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear his case this fall. While Phillips awaits a final verdict from the nation’s highest court, he says he and his family have received many death threats. One man called to say he knew exactly where the bakery was located and he knew that Phillips’ daughter worked there. He said he would murder Phillips and his family.

  • The alt-left is becoming increasingly violent

Economic News

The economy grew at an annual pace of 1.4% in the first three months of the year, according to the final reading Thursday from the Commerce Department. That’s similar to the first quarters of the last few years under President Barack Obama, when growth was also anemic. The reading for January through March was better than the original estimate of 0.7%. Factors like weak consumer spending and slow business investment were not as bad as first thought. Trump has promised he will get economic growth to 3%, but economists say that will be difficult. The Federal Reserve estimates growth will stay at about 2% for the next few years.

Minimum wage hikes took effect Saturday, July 1, in cities, counties and states across the country. The minimum wage goes up to $14 an hour in San Francisco on Saturday, on the way to $15 next year. In Los Angeles, it rises to between $10.50 and $12, depending on the size of the business. It will hit $15 for all businesses in 2021. Other parts of the country have approved more modest bumps. Maryland will raise the minimum wage from $8.75 to $9.25 this weekend, then up to $10.10 next year. Other locations with minimum wage increases include: Chicago: $11 an hour; Flagstaff, Arizona: $10.50 an hour; Oregon: $10.25 an hour; Washington, D.C.: $12.50 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Congress hasn’t raised it in 10 years.

Despite all the political drama in Washington, D.C., the stock market did quite well the first half of the year. The Dow and S&P 500 have gained more than 8%. The Nasdaq has soared 14%. The rally has been broad too. 23 of the Dow 30 stocks are higher and 70% of the companies in the S&P 500 are up. However, volatility has recently returned — with a vengeance. Stocks plunged Tuesday and Thursday but surged Wednesday, ending Friday with modest gains.

Global debt levels have surged to a record $217 trillion in the first quarter of the year. This is 327 percent of the world’s annual economic output (GDP), reports the Institute of International Finance. The surging debt was driven by emerging economies, which have increased borrowing by $3 trillion to $56 trillion. This amounts to 218 percent of their combined economic output, five percentage points greater year on year. Never before in human history has our world been so saturated with debt. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and poor grows by leaps and bounds. Eight men now own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam to mark the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos.

Islamic State

Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared an end to the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in the Middle East as forces pushed deeper into the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa. Iraqi forces began a bush deeper into Mosul’s Old City, where ISIS militants were making their last stand and by afternoon they had reached an al-Nuri Mosque – the site where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his lone public appearance in July 2014, declaring a “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi and coalition officials said Islamic State fighters destroyed the mosque and denied the militants’ assertion that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes had destroyed it. Some 300 ISIS fighters remain holed up inside the last Mosul districts the militants hold, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. Even after Mosul is retaken, however, Islamic State still controls significant pockets of territory in Iraq that Iraqi forces say will require many more months of fighting to liberate. The Islamic State group is striking back as Iraqi forces are on the cusp of full victory in Mosul, sending women suicide bombers to target soldiers as the battle for the country’s second-largest city nears its end. At least 15 people were killed in the latest assaults by two women suicide bombers Monday.

ISIS has seen its income drop by 80 percent in two years as it loses territory and the oil and tax revenue that comes with it, according to a study of its finances. The self-declared caliphate has seen average monthly income plunge from $81 million in the second quarter of 2015 to just $16 million in the same period this year, according to IHS Markit, a global data monitoring company. Shrinking territory is a big problem for the militant extremist group. Unlike other terror networks such as al Qaeda, ISIS regards itself as a state, running sharia courts, schools and even its own currency. It has been meeting the high cost of this apparatus by seizing assets such as oil refineries and imposing taxes and fines in the areas it controls. The findings echo a similar report published in February by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College, London, which said ISIS’ income had dropped by more than more than half from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2014 to $870 million last year.

Syria

A series of car bomb explosions, including a suicide attacker who blew himself up after being surrounded by security forces, rocked the Syrian capital on Sunday, killing at least eight people and wounding a dozen more. State media said security forces intercepted the two other car bombs, suggesting they were controlled explosions. Footage from Tahreer Square in central Damascus showed the facade of one building badly damaged, and mangled vehicles parked in the small roundabout. State TV said security forces detected two car bombs at an entrance to the city, and foiled a plot to target crowded areas on first day of work after the long Muslim holiday that follows Ramadan. Such attacks have been relatively rare in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar Assad.

Nork Korea

North Korea claimed it successfully test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday, contradicting South Korean and U.S. officials who earlier said it was an intermediate-range ballistic missile. “The success of the ICBM launch at its first trial is the final gateway to completing our nuclear force. It marked a phenomenal event in our history as we are pursuing the dual-track policy of nuclear and economic development,” a statement from the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said. Japan’s government said the missile was believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan but no damage to ships or aircraft in the area has been reported. The U.S. Pacific Command confirmed it detected a ballistic missile near the Panghyon Airfield and tracked it for 37 minutes before it landed in the Sea of Japan. President Trump said it was time for China to take decisive action against North Korea after Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile launch, urging Beijing to “end this nonsense once and for all”.

Germany

German lawmakers approved a bill on Friday aimed at cracking down on hate speech on social networks, which critics say could have drastic consequences for free speech online. The measure approved is designed to enforce the country’s existing limits on speech, including the long-standing ban on Holocaust denial. Among other things, it would fine social networking sites up to 50 million euros ($56 million) if they persistently fail to remove illegal content within a week, including defamatory “fake news.” “Freedom of speech ends where the criminal law begins,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who was the driving force behind the bill. Maas said official figures showed the number of hate crimes in Germany increased by over 300 percent in the last two years. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for angry debates about Germany’s recent influx of more than 1 million refugees, with authorities struggling to keep up with the flood of criminal complaints.

The German parliament voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, joining many other western European nations. The move could spur other European countries where same-sex marriage is not recognized to follow suit. Lawmakers voted 393 for same-sex marriage and 226 against it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure. “For me marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman,” she said. But she paved the way for the vote after saying on Monday that lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” freeing members of her ruling Christian Democratic Party to vote in favor. There are several central and eastern European countries – including Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy – where only civil partnerships are open to gay couples, rather than marriage.

Volcanoes

An aid helicopter crashed into a mountain while conducting evacuations after an Indonesia volcano erupted. The crash killed all eight on board the helicopter. The sudden eruption of the Sileri volcano occurred Sunday while about 17 visitors were around the crater. Ten people were injured and were treated at a hospital. Sileri is the most active and dangerous among some 10 craters at Dieng Plateau. Its most recent eruption was in 2009, when it unleashed volcanic materials up to 200 meters (656 feet) high and triggered the creation of three new craters. Some 142 people were reportedly asphyxiated in 1979 when the volcano spewed gases.

Wildfires

The western wildfire season is in full swing with dozens of fires blazing in Utah, Arizona and California. 2017 is turning out to be more active than last year at this point in the season. More than 4,200 square miles have burned so far this year, which is 30 percent more than 2016’s year-to-date total. The largest fire in the U.S., the Brian Head fire in southern Utah, has destroyed 13 homes, damaged two and forced more than 1,500 people to evacuate, Inciweb reports. The fire has burned more than 91 square miles and remains 15 percent contained. Wednesday Arizona.  As of Tuesday morning, 7/4, 25 large fires (over 100 acres) have burned more than 226,000 acres in nine states. New large fires were reported in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington. Firefighters made excellent progress toward management goals over the weekend and contained 19 large fires.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Yavapai County in response to the Goodwin fire. The fire has burned more than 43 square miles of land in the Prescott National Forest and destroyed 22 structures. Officials ordered the evacuation of 1,400 residents in the central Arizona town of Mayer last Tuesday afternoon. The fire was 75% contained as of 7/3 and residents have begun returning home. The Frye fire in southeastern Arizona has burned over 70 square miles, but only one structure was destroyed. It is 45% contained. Communities on Mount Lemmon, outside Tucson, are being evacuated because of the Burro Fire, which has grown to 14,000 acres. The Brianhead fire in Utah has consumed 65,377 acres (102 sq. miles) and destroyed 26 structures. It is now 65% contained.

Weather

Four tornadoes touched down in western Maine Saturday, damaging homes and boats and downing trees in a rare severe weather day in the Pine Tree State. On average, only two tornadoes touch down in Maine each year. One pontoon boat was flipped and others were reported to have their covers or tops shredded at Sebago Lake. A number of homes were damaged and trees blown down in the Moose Pond area, west of Bridgton, Maine. The NWS rated this an EF1 tornado, with winds up to 100 mph. Over the southeast portion of Highland Lake, a tornado moved onshore, snapping and uprooting several large trees, some of which fell onto structures and vehicles, and hitting campground hard.

There were 26 reports of tornadoes last Wednesday in four states as severe weather struck the Midwest. The storms caused at least two injuries and damage to dozens of homes and farm buildings. Trees were uprooted and snapped and several homes sustained roof damage. A camper was rolled into a pond and a trailer was flipped. In Prairieburg, Iowa, a confirmed EF2 tornado knocked out power for much of the town. It also heavily damaged a grain elevator, knocked down power lines and damaged several farm buildings.

Signs of the Times (6/28/17)

June 28, 2017

Supreme Court Partially Upholds Trump Travel Ban

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

Supreme Court Reopens Same-Sex Marriage Issues

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

Supreme Court Rules for Missouri Church in Religious Discrimination Case

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

Senate Cancels Vote on New Health Care Bill

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

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

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

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

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

CNN Producer Caught Admitting Russian Probe is Fake News

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

Border Patrol Rescuing Immigrants from Southwest Heat Wave

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

Three Men ‘Marry’ in Columbia

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

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

Another Worldwide Ransomware Attack

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

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

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

Citing LGBT Discrimination, California Bans Travel to 3 States

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

Seattle’s Minimum Wage Hike Hurting Low-Level Workers

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Israel

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

United Kingdom

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

Venezuela

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

China

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

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

Earthquakes

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

Wildfires

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

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

June 21, 2017

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

Russian officials on Monday threatened that their country would treat U.S.-led coalition planes in some parts of Syria as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Russia’s defense ministry said planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, would be considered targets. The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in nearly 20 years the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat. The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement. The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7. The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. The operation “targeted Takfiri forces in the Deir Ezzor region in Eastern Syria.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard uses the term Takfiri to describe ISIS. A U.S. aircraft shot down an armed Iranian drone advancing on coalition forces in southern Syria on Tuesday. This is the second the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month.

  • Iran and Russia have become end-time allies just as prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. But don’t lose heart – Jesus wins in the end.

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

The man suspected of mowing down a crowd exiting Ramadan prayers at a London mosque early Monday was captured on video blowing a kiss at bystanders as he was hauled off to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. At least one person was killed and 10 others were injured in the assault, which authorities were treating as a terrorist attack. The 48-year-old man was arrested in the collision with pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, Metropolitan police said. The attacker reportedly shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims.” The incident occurred outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight after Ramadan prayers. Police said all of the injured were members of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders decried the collision as a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.

Terror in Brussels

The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces foiled a “terror attack” by shooting a suspect following a small but fiery blast, the country’s top prosecutor said. A small explosion went off at Central Station, sparking panic and evacuations, before the attacker was killed by police. Fortunately, investigators believe the powerful explosive failed to detonate because of poor preparation, which Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office believes was made at the suspect’s home. The terrorist has been identified as a Moroccan national in his 30s. Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack. Brussels has been on high alert since March 2016 when three coordinated suicide bombings at the city’s airport in Zavendem and at the Maalbeek Metro station left 32 dead. It’s the third terror attack in Europe in two weeks.

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has cut back the injunction he issued against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban order, Politico is reporting. Watson’s move comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his injunction, but noted portions that blocked the administration from reviewing vetting procedures were too broad. The judge narrowed the injunction clearing the way for the administration to conduct internal reviews of other nation’s vetting procedures for visa applicants while the case is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has called the move a “big win,” but others were more cautious. “Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Michigan Officer Stabbed at Flint Airport in “Act of Terrorism”

The stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport Wednesday by a Canadian citizen who yelled “Allahu Akbar” and referenced people being killed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, officials said. Amor Ftouhi, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, entered Bishop International Airport in Flint around 9:45 a.m. and went to a restroom before dropping both of his bags, coming out with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before stabbing Officer Jeff Neville in the neck. The Canadian citizen was motivated to come to the airport and conduct this act of violence out of a “hated of the United States,” according to the FBI. He legally entered the U.S. at Lake Champlain in New York on June 16, and then made his way to Flint.

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

According to a recent Gallup poll, fears of potential terror attacks are driving more Americans to avoid crowds. Gallup found that 38% of Americans – a record-high percentage since the research organization began asking the question after 9/11 – are less willing to attend large events due to the threat of terrorism. The percentage was 32% right after 9/11. The rising percentage of Americans unwilling to attend large events or be in crowded spaces comes as a potential terror attack at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday is under investigation. Another occurred in France outside of Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago and a string of attacks in the U.K. were carried out in the past month, including the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the June 3 attack on the crowded London bridge. Americans are also less willing to travel overseas, fly, or go into skyscrapers due to terrorism concerns, Gallup found.

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. “We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News. The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

A California university’s decision to put a limit on the number of American citizens it enrolls — while placing no such restrictions on illegal immigrants who want to attend the school — is drawing sharp criticism from education activists. “The UC system, like many others around the country, is routinely giving preferential treatment to illegal aliens at the expense of American students, many of whom are attending at great sacrifice of their parents,” Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group, told Fox News. “Ultimately, and ironically, the California government is actually penalizing Californians by not counting illegals as out-of-state students and thus allowing them to, in effect, take seats away from in-state students,” he said. Officials for the University of California say that the school system is simply being consistent with state law.

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a state law banning abortions after 20 weeks. Life News reports that the ACLU challenged the fetal pain abortion bill in 2012, preventing the law from being enforced. After the court’s decision, it will now be illegal for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks; violating the law will be a felony. The fetal abortion pain bill was so-named because science has proven unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. Georgia Life Alliance executive director Camila Zolfaghari said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

The Army has begun mandatory transgender sensitivity training for soldiers. The training covers everything from “transfemale” soldiers to transgender shower etiquette to dealing with a transgender male soldier who becomes pregnant. The matter of male soldiers with child is tucked away inside the Army’s “Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module, Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders.” “This training is mandatory for all uniformed members, as well as Department of the Army civilians,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told USA Today. The Army guidelines mandate facilities will not be designed, modified or constructed to make transgender-only areas. “Accommodations cannot isolate or stigmatize the TG soldier,” the guidelines state. The Army’s response to a transgender male pregnancy? “Transgender Soldiers with a medical condition, including pregnancy, will be treated the same as any other Soldier with that condition,” the policy states. “Millions of dollars and training hours have been consumed with lectures on how to deploy transgender personnel in a war zone that has laws against that behavior,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “Military commanders should be focused on fighting wars, not on how to deal with transgender personnel.”

Strong Cultural Divide in America

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy? Who deserves the most help in society? President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans, the report notes.

Economic News

Rising housing costs are putting a major squeeze on Americans. Nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Experts generally advise budgeting about 30% of monthly income for rent or mortgage costs. But millions of Americans are far exceeding that guideline. One-third of households in 2015 were “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million are paying more than 50% of their income to cover their housing needs.

Consumer confidence fell in June to its lowest point since November, according to the University of Michigan’s closely followed index and survey. The confidence index is now at 94.5. Before the election, it was 87.2. By January, when he was inaugurated, it had shot up to 98.5, the highest level in more than a decade. That was largely because of hopes that Trump would cut taxes, spend big on infrastructure and shed government regulations. Those hopes are now dimming a bit.

Various indicators show U.S. companies, particularly small firms, have been taking out fewer loans in recent months, a sign they’re spending less on new equipment and structures. And that can crimp economic growth and hiring. Economists cite a variety of reasons, including uncertainty over Trump’s agenda getting through Congress amid probes into his ties with Russia, as well as recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Islamic State

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat. ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.

U.S.-backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq’s second largest city. ISIS captured Mosul when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraq launched a massive operation to retake the city last October, and has driven the militants from all but a handful of neighborhoods. The extremists are expected to make their last stand in the Old City, a densely populated quarter with narrow, winding alleys.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte begged forgiveness Tuesday for declaring martial law in Mindanao island and vowed to rebuild Marawi, the battle-scarred city at the heart of nearly four weeks of fighting between Philippines forces and ISIS-affiliated militants. “I will rebuild Marawi,” he promised. The battle has resulted in numerous deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the Philippines government, more than 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The majority have found shelter with friends and family, but more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are crowded into evacuation centers, where government agencies are trying to provide basic necessities.

Britain

One week after a massive high-rise apartment fire killed 79 people, supporters of the victims and now-homeless residents marched to Parliament on Wednesday to express anger over what some are calling Britain’s Hurricane Katrina moment. The demonstration also included anti-government protesters calling for British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign because of the government’s slow response. The demonstration was planned to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech for the official opening of Parliament, when the government spells out its lawmaking priorities for the next two years. After the queen’s speech, the prime minister addressed Parliament and acknowledged that government support for the victims after the fire was “not good enough.” Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the June 14 blaze at the 24-story Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in London’s wealthy North Kensington neighborhood. In the following days, the horror and frustration over Britain’s worst disaster in years have turned into public outrage.

North Korea

North Korea is continuing to mass resources at a known weapons testing site inside the country, a defense source told Fox News on Wednesday, prompting worries Pyongyang could be plotting to greenlight another provocative nuclear bomb test amid heightened tensions following the death this week of an American student who had been imprisoned by Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. North Korea is relentlessly pursuing its goal of building a nuclear bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already conducted five nuclear tests and recently launched an advanced missile that suggests a functioning ICBM may be within reach.

The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans – and three Americans — regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts. Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine. There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said.

Wildfires

Forest fires in Portugal have killed dozens of people and injured many others this weekend about 100 miles northeast of Lisbon. At least 62 people were killed, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road through the forest between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including four firefighters. A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area. Authorities said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.

Earthquakes

Four people remain missing on the western coast of Greenland after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the village of Nuugaatsiaq. The surge of water struck the village late Saturday night and destroyed at least 11 homes. Officials believe the tremor triggered a landslide into the water, which started the tsunami. Four missing people were inside their home when it was swept into the sea by the tsunami. After the tsunami, 39 people were evacuated from Nuugaatsiaq.

Weather

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday as Tropical Storm Cindy turned deadly and roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast, slashing the region with heavy rains and flooding. A 10-year-old boy died in Alabama, parts of Louisiana had five inches of rain by early afternoon, and Pensacola was slammed by more than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. And more was on the way. Cindy, armed with sustained winds of 50 mph, was expected to generate up to 15 inches of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night, and a few tornadoes also were possible through Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could produce “life-threatening flash floods along the central Gulf Coast,” the agency said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Cindy was about 135 miles south of Lake Charles, La., and about 125 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. Cindy was expected to move inland toward southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Dangerously hot temperatures have been gripping the Southwest this week, threatening the all-time record-high temperature in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere has developed over the Southwest. Beneath the dome, sinking air is causing temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in many areas. At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday. Needles, California, tied its all-time record high Tuesday when it reached 125 degrees. Las Vegas also tied its all-time record high by reaching 117 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Daily record highs were set Tuesday in Phoenix (119 degrees), Tucson, Arizona (116 degrees), Yuma, Arizona (120 degrees), and Palm Springs, California (122 degrees – tie).

Signs of the Times (6/16/17)

June 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Congressional Democrats Suing President Trump over Foreign Payments

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

AG Sessions Rips Congress over Loony Russian Probe

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

Trump Announced Revisions to Obama’s Cuba Policy

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

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

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

Social Media Could Be Held Liable for Terrorism

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

Obamacare Enrollments Down in 2017

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

Trump Administration Will Continue Obama Dreamer Program

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

Target’s Transgender Bathroom Policy Claims Another Victim

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

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

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

The Rich Stopped Smoking, the Poor Didn’t

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

North Korea

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

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

Qatar

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

Somalia

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (6/12/17)

June 12, 2017

Harvard Law Journal Article Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Protection

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

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

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

Second Appeals Court Rules Against Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

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

Former FBI Director Comey’s Testimony Disappoints

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

Comey Raises Questions about Past/Present Attorneys General

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

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

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

Trump Commits to NATO Common Defense

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

More London Terror

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

Austria Bans Islamic Dresses for Women, Forces Integration

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

Rallies Against Islamic Law Draw Counter-Protests

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

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

Hawaii First State to Pass Law Committing to Paris Climate Accord

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

More Insurers Drop Obamacare

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

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

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

Zika Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Israel

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

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

Great Britain

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

North Korea

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

South Korea

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

Philippines

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

Afghanistan

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

Somalia

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

Qatar

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (6/7/17)

June 8, 2017

More Terror in London

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

Known Wolves Attacking Britain

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

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

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

Imams Refuse to Perform Funeral Rites for Attackers

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

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

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

Anti-Trump Leaker of Classified NSA Info Revealed

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

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

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from Marine over Religious Liberty

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

DOJ Ends Obama ‘Slush Fund’ Settlement Payments

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

U.S./Mexico Reach Trade Deal over Sugar

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

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

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

Uber/Lyft Killing Taxi Jobs in Chicago

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

Iran

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

North Korea

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

Qatar

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

Afghanistan

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

Venezuela

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

Weather

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

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

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