Posts Tagged ‘debt’

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 (4/26/17)

April 26, 2017

American Aid Workers Credit Trump for Release from Prison in Egypt

An American woman and her Egyptian husband who were aid workers in Egypt and were imprisoned over allegations of child abuse and trafficking have been released and have arrived back in the U.S. The Washington Examiner reports that Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein had been imprisoned in Egypt for three years. President Trump has reportedly been influential in securing the couple’s release. Hijazi and Hassanein waited in prison while the Obama administration carried out unsuccessful negotiations for their release. A family member of the couple even credited Trump with “personally” stepping in to secure the couple’s safe return to the U.S. Trump hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sissi at the White House on Sunday, and the release of the American couple was reportedly part of that talk.

Congress Faces Looming Government Shutdown by This Weekend

The Senate returned Monday night, and the House returned Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving just three days when both chambers will be in session to wrangle out a funding agreement. President Trump began to edge away Monday evening from demanding that funding for his promised border wall be included in a must-pass spending bill, reducing the chances of a government shutdown at the end of the week by making clear he’s flexible on that timeline. His earlier demand that it be included represented a significant impasse in budget talks, and the latest comments potentially could pave the way for a bipartisan deal just days ahead of the government shutdown deadline. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed to “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning that the wall does not need to be funded this week, but she said it remains a “very important priority.” Congress is under pressure to pass a $1 trillion spending bill that would pay for government agencies; if the bill fails to pass by midnight Friday, it will trigger a partial government shutdown.

Judge Blocks Trump’s Order to Cut Funding for Sanctuary Cities

President Trump on Wednesday accused political opponents of “judge shopping” in their bid to block some of his signature executive orders and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court – after a federal judge blocked his attempt to cut off sanctuary city funding. That ruling, and another suspending his ban on travel from certain majority-Muslim countries, both involved federal judges in California. The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February upheld a Hawaii judge’s ruling against the travel ban. A District Court judge also based in northern California said Tuesday the Trump administration couldn’t threaten to take away funding from cities that have policies favorable to illegal immigrants. Trump vowed to take the cases to the Supreme Court which has reversed 79 percent of the Ninth Circuit’s cases from 2010-2015, the third highest rate of any circuit court, according to Politifact.

Trump Proposes Corporate Tax Cut, Increase in Standard Deduction

President Trump on Wednesday called for a significant increase in the standard deduction people can claim on their tax returns, potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans, according to two people briefed on the plan. The change is one of several major revisions to the federal tax code that the White House will propose when it provides an outline of the tax-overhaul pitch Trump will make to Congress and the American people as he nears his 100th day in office, reports the Washington Post. Trump will also call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 15 percent, as well as lowering the tax rate for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code. These companies, often referred to as “pass throughs” or S corporations, would become subject to the 15 percent rate proposed for corporations. White House officials think these changes will give Americans and companies more money to spend, expand the economy and create more jobs. Critics, however, say that this ‘trickle down’ economic theory has not worked in the past and will put the government further into debt.

Unprecedented Spike in Homegrown Terrorism

John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, said Tuesday the FBI has open investigations into terrorists in all 50 states. In his first wide-ranging address on the terrorist threat since taking office, Kelly also said there have been at least 37 “ISIS-linked plots to attack our country” since 2013. Kelly said there have been 36 homegrown terrorist cases in 18 states in the past year alone. “We’ve seen an unprecedented spike in homegrown terrorism,” he divulged. “These are the cases we know about – homegrown terrorism is notoriously difficult to predict and control.” Terrorists inside the U.S. are plotting attacks “every single day,” according to the secretary. Those who enter the country undetected pose the biggest threat to the country. “We don’t get to vet them,” Kelly noted. “We don’t know their intentions. We don’t know they’re here. They slip into our country unnoticed, living among us, and we are completely blind as to what they are capable of.”

The New U.S. Housing Crisis

A decade after the Great Recession, there is a new American housing crisis: a flood of people entering the rental market, a trend of nationwide rent prices rising faster than incomes, and a breakdown of the government program designed to bridge the gap. The federal government spends $20 billion each year on that program, distributing Section 8 vouchers that allow people to find housing and have the government pay most of the rent. However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported to Congress that 7.7 million poor American households have severe housing needs. For every 100 low-income households, there are only 39 affordable places to live. Housing authorities across the country have filtered people into lottery systems and waiting lists to handle the demand for Section 8 vouchers, with little way to know how long the wait will be. Some Arizona families wait as long as six years.

New Trump Executive Order Could Undermine National Monuments

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday calling into question the future of dozens of national monuments proclaimed by the last three presidents to set aside millions of acres from development. In asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for an unprecedented review of national monuments, Trump may force a question never before tested in the 111-year history of the Antiquities Act: Whether one president can nullify a previous president’s proclamation establishing a national monument. Trump’s executive order takes aim at 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996. That time frame encompasses the “bookends” of two of the most controversial national monument designations in recent history: President Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 to President Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. Both are in Utah, and faced opposition from the congressional delegation and state officials. Zinke was careful Tuesday to say there’s no predetermined outcome to his review.

Pollsters Fail to Mention Trump Would Still Beat Clinton

President Trump took a few more shots Monday at his old nemesis – the pollsters who confidently predicted his loss last year – after new surveys were released playing up the president’s low approval ratings at the end of his first 100 days. But the same polling also buried some more positive news for the president: he’d still beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, according to one survey. The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 43 percent said they would support Trump if the election were held today, compared with 40 percent for the former Democratic nominee, Clinton.

Fracking Does Not Contaminate Groundwater Says Duke Study

A major anti-fracking argument by environmentalists may not have the facts to back it up, a new study conducted by Duke University found. Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, according to the study.  “Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” explained Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. While the study concluded that fracking didn’t directly contaminate groundwater, the researchers did say accidental spills of fracking wastewater could be dangerous to surface water in the area. To complete the research, water samples from 112 drinking wells in northwestern West Virginia were evaluated during a three-year period.

Persecution Watch

A lesbian high-school math teacher in Florida just banned Christian ninth-grade students from wearing cross necklaces in class. The teacher called the Christian crosses “gang symbols” and forced the ninth grader to remove her cross necklace during class, telling the young girl the cross was “disrespectful.” Liberty Counsel says, “Sadly, this is the nature of our battle against the radical LGBT agenda. Their goal is simple. They want to intimidate us and bully us into silence. And they will attack anyone who stands in their way to push their agenda.” Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the school district demanding the administration to stop this teacher’s attacks on student religious expression and to prohibit this teacher from pushing her personal LGBT agenda on students.

The Christian Action Network says that the U.S. Department of Education is funding an Islamic education program in the public schools that crosses the line from academics to indoctrination. The curriculum includes 10 lesson plans on the “Five Pillars of Islam” and “Prayer in Muslim Life” and “Ramadan Observance. Teachers are to quiz students on such questions as, “What does a Muslim prayer sound like?” and “What are some of the things that Muslims say while they are praying?” Students are expected to construct a poster on the “Five Pillars of Islam.” These are then posted in the classroom and in the halls. You can only imagine the reaction of the ACLU and other civil libertarians if students were asked to make a poster of the Ten Commandments and then put those posters up in their room or in the school hallways.

Economic News

Consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a 16-year high amid solid job and income growth. An index of Americans’ outlook fell to 120.3 from a downwardly revised 124.9 in March, the Conference Board said Tuesday. That’s still near the all-time high of 128.6 reached in December 2000. Consumer confidence is closely watched because it can indicate future consumption, which makes up about 70% of economic activity. In recent months, however, both consumers and businesses have voiced high levels of optimism in surveys that has not yet translated into stronger spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average shot up more than 200 points early Tuesday, powered by strong earnings from key companies in the blue-chip stock-market gauge, including Caterpillar and McDonald’s. Technology stocks also rallied, pushing the Nasdaq composite above 6,000 for the first time. The Dow’s strong move builds on Monday’s 216-point gain driven by market-friendly results in the first round of France’s presidential election. The 30-stock average is on track for its first back-to-back gains of more than 100 points since Jan. 24-25, when it topped 20,000 for the first time.

The wealth of the top 0.1% has vastly improved in recent decades, and the top 10% have also done quite well. But the median household’s wealth has declined by close to 40% in real terms (adjusted by inflation) from its peak in 2007, reports NewsMax Finance. Median household increases in wealth are also tenuous because the main component of household wealth is pension fund assets which have been seriously underfunded. The top 0.1% of U.S. households own more than the lower 90% of households. It’s this ever-growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the average citizen—and its overall impact on the economy—that is most troublesome.

Male physicians are getting paid a lot more than their female colleagues. Among all physicians, females earn an average of 74 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to a new report from Doximity, a social network for healthcare professionals. That translates to female physicians earning roughly $91,000 less a year than their male counterparts. Even when broken down by medical specialty, there is no area where women earn as much as men. The report was based on 36,000 responses from full-time, licensed U.S. physicians who practice at least 40 hours a week.

Israel

Israel’s National Authority for Cyber Defense announced on Wednesday that it had, in recent days, fought off a cyberattack against 120 Israeli organizations including several private companies, government ministries, public institutions and universities. A private analytical firm assessed that the cyber-attack was similar to past attacks linked to Iran’s government. Also on Wednesday, an attempted terrorist stabbing attack by a knife-wielding Palestinian man on Israeli security forces stationed near Huwara in the West Bank was prevented when the attacker was shot and wounded before being arrested. The terrorist was treated at the scene while no one else was hurt in the incident.

Islamic State

Iraq’s military has turned the tables on the Islamic State’s drone tactics by improvising its own unmanned aircraft to drop grenades and other small munitions on the militants in the key battle for Mosul, U.S. officials say. The development comes as the threat from Islamic State drones has been effectively neutralized with the help of U.S. and coalition forces, which rushed counter-drone technology to the battle for the city. Earlier this year Mosul became a proving ground for the emerging threat of cheap drones used by terror groups. The militants were using the small unmanned aircraft for both attacks and surveillance.

Turkey

Basking in his referendum win this month, which altered the constitution to give him sweeping new powers, Erdogan appears intent on testing the limits of his opponents, and some of his allies, too. Turkey carried out airstrikes against U.S. allies in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. A day later, it was revealed that his government had detained another 1,000 “opposition” figures, in an ongoing purge that has outraged Europe. The airstrikes in Syria and Iraq mark an escalation by Turkey and put it in direct conflict with the US-led coalition’s mission against ISIS there. Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the America’s main ally the fight against ISIS in Syria, said more than 20 of their fighters together were killed in the airstrikes Tuesday. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is considered a terrorist group by Turkey’s government, while it is armed and supported by the United States.

Afghanistan

U.S. military officials said they have seen an increasing number of small arms provided by the Russian government, including machine guns and antiaircraft weapons, in the hands of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan over the past 18 months. U.S. officials have complained that the Kremlin has interfered on the Afghan battlefield on the Taliban’s side, but Monday’s comments marked the most serious U.S. charges yet. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit on Monday, said it would be a violation of international law for Russia to provide the Taliban with weapons.

France

Police detained 29 people in Paris on Sunday after “anti-fascist” demonstrators became violent – hurling glass bottles and firecrackers and setting cars ablaze. Six officers and three demonstrators were injured during the protests at the Place de la Bastille. Several businesses sustained damage. Many of the left-wing protesters said they were angry at the first-round results of the presidential election in which centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen emerged as the two top vote getters. Macron and Le Pen will both square off in a runoff scheduled for May 7. Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam National Front party, has accused her rival of being “weak” in the fight against Islamic terrorism. She has pledged to “put back France in order.” A senior French Muslim leader has called on the country’s nearly 5 million Muslims to “vote massively” to make Macron president.

North Korea

A former Korean-American professor reportedly has been arrested in North Korea, raising to three the number of U.S. citizens now detained by Kim Jong Un’s regime. The Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported that the U.S. citizen, identified by his surname Kim, was arrested Friday at Pyongyang International Airport as he was attempting to leave the country. Yonhap described Kim as a former professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, Jilin, China. Yonhap said Kim, in his late 50s, had been involved in aid programs in North Korea and had most recently been there for about a month. The reason for his arrest was not immediately available.

North Korea on Tuesday reportedly conducted a huge live-fire drill that involved up to 400 artillery pieces, which may have been supervised by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as the U.S. added a nuclear-powered submarine to its fleet of vessels powering toward the region. Meanwhile, the entire U.S. Senate has been invited to the White House for a briefing on Wednesday about the North Korea situation.

Iran

A U.S. Navy destroyer had another close encounter with an Iranian Revolutionary Guard “fast attack craft” in the Persian Gulf Monday. The Iranian ship, with its weapons manned, came within 1,000 yards of the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan. Officials said the Mahan altered course to avoid the Iranian warship, sounded the danger signal, fired flares and manned its own weapons. The Iranian ship did not come closer than 1,000 yards and no warning shots were fired. “Coming inbound at a high rate of speed like that and manning weapons, despite clear warnings from the ship, is obviously provocative behavior,” said one American official in describing the Iranian actions.

Despite U.S. government conclusions to the contrary, Iran is cheating on the 2015 nuclear deal and is actively weaponizing nukes, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. NCRI unveiled intelligence and satellite imagery in recent days that is says it proof of Iranian actions that violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It also alleges that the activity is taking place in areas and facilities that are off limits to regular inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Venezuela

Protesters sprawled in lawn chairs, worked on math homework and played cards on main roads and highways around Venezuela Monday as part of a sit-in against the government. In Caracas, thousands of protesters shut down the capital city’s main highway to express their disgust with the increasingly embattled socialist administration of President Nicolas Maduro. They turned the road into a kind of public plaza, with protesters laying out picnics, reading books and reclining under umbrellas they brought to protect them from the blazing Caribbean sun. Protesters dragged concrete slabs, garbage and even a bathtub into the road. Protesters in least a dozen other cities also staged sit-ins Monday, with some constructing barricades to stop traffic. The protest movement is entering its fourth week, and has become increasingly deadly. On Sunday, a 21st death was linked to the unrest that began almost a month ago over the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the opposition-controlled congress of its powers. Food shortages and high inflation have plagued oil-rich but cash-starved Venezuela for months.

Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose controversial war on drugs has left more than 8,000 dead in just nine months, is encountering increased opposition from one of the country’s most powerful institutions: the Roman Catholic Church. Priests and bishops in this heavily Catholic nation were initially quiet after Duterte assumed office last summer and began a violent crackdown on suspected drug dealers that included vigilante death squads. But this year, the powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter that condemned Duterte’s war on drugs as a “reign of terror.” Despite the church’s condemnations, his war on drugs has not slowed down. Duterte condemned the Catholic Church, using provocative language. He called Pope Francis “a son of a bitch,” and last month called the church one of the “oligarchs of this country.”

Environment

For the first time since the 1880s, the United Kingdom was fully powered without the use of coal for an entire day. On April 21, Britain’s energy demands were met for 24 hours with no need for coal generation. The country was powered with a mix of 50 percent gas, 21 percent nuclear, 12 percent wind, 8 percent imports, roughly 6 percent biomass and about 4 percent solar power. The coal generation was born in 1882 when public coal-powered electric supply first began in the U.K. “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition,” Greenpeace U.K. head of energy Hannah Martin told the Guardian. “A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.”

Earthquakes

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of Chile Monday evening, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The tremor shook the South American country at 6:38 p.m. local time. The epicenter was located about 25 miles west of Valparaiso, Chile, at a depth of 15.5 miles. Buildings swayed in the Chilean capital city of Santiago, some 70 miles to the east. Chile is no stranger to massive earthquakes. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. An 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 triggered a large tsunami; the seismic event was one of the largest ever recorded and was responsible for at least 500 deaths.

Wildfires

A large Arizona wildfire grew to more than 20.000 acres (31 square miles) overnight as winds continue to fan the flames. In the small town of Sonoita, residents of more than 80 properties were ordered to evacuate as the so-called Sawmill fire burns in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona. Nearly 90 other homes have been voluntarily evacuated. A 15-mile stretch of State Route 83, which cuts through the mountains from Sonoita north toward Tucson, has been closed. The fire that began on Sunday is “human caused” and under investigation. Conditions in the region have been exceedingly dry. Green Valley has seen just 0.43 inches of precipitation since Feb. 1 – about 25 percent of their average for that period. “It only takes a cigarette flicked out of a moving vehicle,” he said. “Or maybe even a hot vehicle pulling off the side of the road into this dense underbrush that can create a fire,” said a Green Valley Fire Department spokesperson.

Scattered rainfall in Florida gave firefighters some relief in the fight against wildfires that have consumed homes and caused thousands to evacuate. However, the threat of the blazes remains and the rain will not be enough to end the drought. The Florida Forest Service said that more than 115 wildfires were burning in the Sunshine State over the weekend and almost 30,000 acres had been torched. In Collier County, all evacuation orders related to a fire in the area were lifted Sunday, according to the Collier County Sheriff. The blaze known as the 30th Avenue Fire had grown rapidly since it broke out on Thursday and several homes were destroyed. Another 2,000 homes had been evacuated on Friday and 5,000 homes had been placed under a voluntary evacuation order. As of Monday, 11 square miles have been consumed by the blaze which was 65 percent contained.

Weather

Heavy rainfall in parts of Florida triggered flooding that left behind damage and caused power outages Sunday. The deluge is part of a slow-moving weather system forecasted to bring the risk of a few severe storms and flooding rainfall to the Southeast states into the evening. Localized areas of South Florida picked up more than 6 inches of rain Sunday. Heavy rain, combined with high tide, triggered significant flooding of multiple streets in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, early Monday morning. Sunday and Sunday night, parts of the southern Appalachians were hardest hit. Roads were flooded and closed in Surry and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. Torrential rain triggered widespread flash flooding in the Raleigh, North Carolina, metro area early Tuesday morning, swamping homes, businesses, closing roads and stranding vehicles. Crabtree Creek north of downtown Raleigh, rose over 17 feet since Monday morning at Old Wake Forest Road, topping levels at which water enters businesses and homes in the area.

Portions of the Northeast will enjoy a taste of summer late this week into the weekend and some cities, including Washington D.C., could record their first 90-degree day of the year. The jet stream will bulge northward into eastern Canada to allow a warm, southerly wind flow to develop across the East, which will send temperatures to the warmest readings of the year so far in parts of the region. Temperatures will be 15 to 30 degrees above average for the final week of April. However, severe thunderstorms, including a threat for tornadoes, will be a threat for the next several days through at least the weekend in parts of the South and Midwest. In the Rockies and High Plains, a snowstorm is likely to mark the end of April.

Signs of the Times (3/16/17)

March 16, 2017

Millennials Lack Biblical Worldview

Only four percent of America’s more than 75 million Millennials have a biblical worldview, according to the latest poll by George Barna, executive director of the American Culture & Faith Institute. The longtime Christian pollster describes Millennials (those reaching young adulthood around the year 2000 and later) as “one of the most spiritually challenging generations to reach adulthood in the past century.” They are “raising a new set of challenges to Christianity and to a nation whose morals and values have long reflected biblical principles,” he adds. When given a 20-question survey with questions like: Do you believe all people are essentially good? … Is the Bible the word of God, without error? … and Can you get to heaven by being good? – only one in 25 Millennials came up with answers that put them in the “biblical worldview” category. “By and large they are not inclined to move toward Christianity,” Barna tells OneNewsNow. “They’re less likely to describe themselves as Christians, they’re less likely to embrace Christ as their Savior, [and] they’re more likely to say that they have no kind of faith connection whatsoever.”

Federal Judge in Hawaii Halts Trump Travel Ban

President Trump’s revised travel ban was put on hold Wednesday by a federal judge in Hawaii just hours before it was set to take effect after hearing arguments that the executive order discriminates on the basis of nationality. Trump addressed the judge’s move during a rally in Nashville, Tennessee calling it “unprecedented judicial overreach” and vowed to fight. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson prevents the executive order from going into effect, at least for now. Hawaii had requested a temporary restraining order. “Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this Court,” Watson wrote in his ruling. In a statement released late Wednesday night the Department of Justice said they strongly disagreed with the ruling and called the move “flawed both in reasoning and scope.” The ruling came as opponents renewed their legal challenges across the country, asking judges in three states to block the executive order that targets people from six predominantly Muslim countries.

Trump Budget Boosts Military & Wall, Cuts Funding Everywhere

President Trump on Thursday morning released a $1.15 trillion budget proposal that seeks a major increase in military and other security spending while slashing spending for a wide range of other agencies including the EPA and State Department. “We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said in a statement, calling for $54 billion in “reductions to non-Defense programs” to offset the additional defense spending. The $54 billion, 10 percent boost for the military is the largest since President Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon buildup in the 1980s, promising immediate money for troop readiness, the fight against Islamic State militants and procurement of new ships, fighter jets and other weapons. The proposal also makes a hefty down payment on Trump’s sought-after southern border wall, seeking an immediate $1.4 billion infusion in the ongoing fiscal year, with another $2.6 billion planned for the 2018 budget year starting Oct. 1.

On the other side, the budget goes after frequent targets of the party’s staunchest conservatives, eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, legal aid and heating assistance for low-income Americans, and the AmeriCorps national service program established by former President Bill Clinton. While law enforcement agencies like the FBI would be spared in the budget plan, 12 of the government’s 15 Cabinet agencies would absorb cuts under the president’s proposal. The biggest losers are Agriculture, Labor, State, and the Cabinet-level EPA. Lawmakers will have the final say on Trump’s proposal in the arduous budget process, and many of the cuts will be deemed dead on arrival. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the proposed cuts “devastating to the middle class.” The Trump proposal covers only a quarter of the roughly $4 trillion federal budget – representing the “discretionary” portion that Congress passes each year. It doesn’t address taxes, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Trump has vowed not to cut Social Security and Medicare and is dead set against raising taxes.

GOP Health Care Act Increases Uninsured but Cuts Deficit

The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 24 million by 2026, while slicing $337 billion off federal budget deficits over that time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The American Health Care Act, as Republicans call their bill, was already facing widespread criticism from health care providers, some conservatives and a united Democratic Party, reports the New York Times. The Trump administration immediately denounced the budget office’s conclusions. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, suggested the report offered an incomplete picture because it did not take into account regulatory steps he intends to take, as well as other legislation that Republicans plan as part of their multistep strategy to repeal and replace the health law.

Many Seniors Are Against New Healthcare Plan

The Republicans’ health-care proposal is running into a new political problem: opposition from older people. After House GOP leaders unveiled their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the advocacy group for Americans over 50 years of age, came out in opposition to the new plan. Independent analysts have predicted that the House plan would significantly boost costs for low- and middle-income seniors. Democrats, sensing an opening, are targeting their criticism on how the GOP health bill would affect older people, particularly those between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office analysis, released Monday, found that a 64-year-old could see his premium on the individual market climb by as much as 25% under the GOP’s America’s Health Care Act. That could be a problem for Republicans, who tend to draw more support from older voters.

Attorney General Sessions Asks Remaining 46 U.S. Attorneys to Resign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked the remaining 46 U.S. attorneys who served under the Obama administration to resign, the Justice Department announced Friday, describing the move as part of an effort to ensure a “uniform transition.” The department said some U.S. attorneys, as in prior transitions, already had left the department. Now, the Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations. It is customary, though not automatic, for the country’s 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office. Incoming administrations over the past several decades typically have replaced most U.S. attorneys during the first year or two. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, known as the ‘sheriff of Wall Street,’ refused to resign and was subsequently fired.

Religious Symbols can be Banned by Employers, EU Court Rules

Employers across Europe can now ban workers from wearing visible religious symbols including the Islamic headscarf, the European Union’s top court ruled on Tuesday, finding it would not constitute “direct discrimination.” The ruling, seen as a victory for many in the political right wing, was the first of its kind amid a series of legal disputes surrounding women’s rights to wear a hijab at work. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that companies with legitimate reasons to project a neutral image could establish internal rules banning political, philosophical or religious symbols.

Two Russian Spies Indicted in Yahoo Hack

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that four people — including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) — have been indicted in connection to a massive hack of Yahoo information. The hack, which the DOJ said was initiated in January 2014, affected at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. Some of the stolen information was used to “obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, US and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies,” the DOJ said in a statement. Hackers stole data that included names, email addresses and passwords — but not financial information, according to Yahoo’s announcement regarding the breaches. The two hackers were identified as officers of the FSB — Russia’s successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

World Faces Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945, UN Says

Twenty million people in four countries face starvation and famine in what has been called the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the United Nations was founded in 1945, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Friday. U.N. and food organizations define famine as when more than 30 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day. The U.N. urged unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria “to avert a catastrophe,” The U.N. said donations of $4.4 billion by July are necessary to meet the needs of starving people in these four countries. The largest humanitarian crisis is in war-torn Yemen where two-thirds of the population – 18.8 million people – need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from. That’s three million more people more than in January.

Economic News

For the second time in three months, the Federal Reserve increased its benchmark interest rate a quarter point amid rising confidence that the economy is poised for more robust growth. The move, widely anticipated by financial markets, takes the overnight funds rate to a target range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent and sets the Fed on a likely path of regular hikes ahead. Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike.

The number of Americans who have stopped paying their car loans appears to be increasing — a development that has the potential to send ripple effects through the U.S. economy. Losses on subprime auto loans have spiked in the last few months, jumping to 9.1% in January, up from 7.9% in January 2016.

The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday.

According to the International Monetary Fund, global debt has grown to a staggering grand total of 152 trillion dollars.  Other estimates put that figure closer to 200 trillion dollars. If you take 152 trillion dollars and divide it by the seven billion people living on the planet, you get $21,714, which would be the share of that debt for every man, woman and child in the world if it was divided up equally. So if you have a family of four, your family’s share of the global debt load would be $86,856.

Some 1.2 billion barrels of oil have been discovered in Alaska, marking the biggest onshore discovery in the U.S. in three decades. The massive find of conventional oil on state land could bring relief to budget pains in Alaska brought on by slumping production in the state and the crash in oil prices. Production could begin as soon as 2021 and lead to as much as 120,000 barrels of output per day.

Middle East

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Mahmoud Abbas.  “The president noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other,” the statement continued. According to a PA spokesperson, the call was “cordial” and included Abbas giving his assurances that he believes “in peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.” President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House for consultations during a phone call between the two on Friday. According to a White House readout of the call, Trump told Abbas that “Peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal.” The readout also included a statement that “The U.S. will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal.”

Israeli warplanes hit two targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to the Islamist terror militia Hamas on Thursday morning in retaliation for a rocket fired into Israeli territory from the Strip a few hours earlier. The flare-up on the Gaza border came hours after a Palestinian terrorist attempted to ram her vehicle into a group of Israelis waiting for a bus at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem. The attack was thwarted by concrete barriers and the terrorist was shot and wounded by nearby security personell. Medical units treated her at the scene for her wounds and transported her to a nearby hospital. There have been several incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem of varying degrees of intensity over the past few days.

Syria

Suicide bombings on Wednesday struck a courthouse and restaurant in the capital of Damascus, killing more than two dozen people and injuring others, Syrian state news said. At least 25 people were killed at the Palace of Justice, the main courthouse in the city center of Damascus A number of people were also wounded in the attack, which occurred during busy work hours. The Syrian prosecutor general said the strike was timed to inflict many casualties. Police tried to prevent the attacker from entering, but he was able to force his way in and blow himself up. The violence unfolded as the Syrian conflict, which started in March 2011, enters its seventh year with no end in sight. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war, which the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, reports the Washington Post. The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces. Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State.

North Korea

After a week in which Pyongyang successfully launched four intermediate-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, U.S. officials are no longer seeing North Korea’s weapons tests as amateurish, attention-grabbing provocations. Instead, they are viewed as evidence of a rapidly growing threat — and one that increasingly defies solution. Over the past year, technological advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have dramatically raised the stakes in the years-long standoff between the United States and the reclusive communist regime. Pyongyang’s growing arsenal has rattled key U.S. allies and spurred efforts by all sides to develop new first-strike capabilities, increasing the risk that a simple mistake could trigger a devastating regional war, the analysts said. Longtime observers say the risk of conflict is higher than it has been in years, and it is likely to rise further as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks to fulfill his pledge to field long-range missiles capable of striking U.S. cities.

Somalia

Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. The Aris 13 on Monday reported being approached by two skiffs. Over two dozen men boarded the ship off Somalia’s northern coast. The ship was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital.

Weather

Winter Storm Stella was a blockbuster storm that brought 3 to almost 5 feet of snow to parts of New York state, Pennsylvania and Vermont, along with wind gusts over hurricane force to coastal New England. The Bolton Valley Ski Area, located in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont east of Burlington, reported a storm total of 58 inches of snow early on the morning of March 16. Stella also became the heaviest snowstorm on record in Binghamton, New York, surpassing Winter Storm Argos in November. From March 14-15, 35.3 inches of snow had been measured at Binghamton Regional Airport, pushing this winter to the snowiest on record in this south-central New York city with 131.7 inches. Stella was the second-heaviest snowstorm in 117 years of records in Burlington, Vermont, and a record for the month of March, with 30.4 inches of snow. At Bradley International Airport near Windsor Locks, Connecticut, Stella’s 15.8 inches of snow on March 14 was the snowiest calendar day in any spring month (March through May) in records dating to 1905. It was also the third-heaviest March snowstorm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At least one location in 16 states has seen a foot of snow from Stella in the Midwest and Northeast. Chicago O’Hare International Airport had officially picked up 7.7 inches of snow through 7 p.m. CDT March 14 from Stella and the lake-effect snow. Chicago went through January and February without so much as an inch of snow on the ground for the first time in recorded history.

The number of blizzards in the U.S. have increased by almost a factor of four since the mid-20th century, a recent study has found. From 1959 through 2014, 713 blizzards in the Lower 48 states were documented by the study published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climate. The study found the number of blizzards each season in the U.S. rose from about 6 at the beginning of the study to 21 to 22 by the 2013-2014 season. These include winds over 35 mph, coupled with falling or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile for at least three hours. Over the 55-year period, the average number of blizzards in the Lower 48 states was 13, but varied from a low of 1 in 1980-1981 to 32 in 2007-2008.

  • 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 (1/27/17)

January 27, 2017

Massive Attendance Expected at March for Life

After a week of debate over crowd sizes at various events in the nation’s capital, organizers anticipate a huge crowd at the March for Life Friday. The 43rd annual pro-life gathering will get a boost from notable speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, key adviser to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and unlike last year’s event, weather will not deter participants. “Each of our speakers exemplifies this year’s theme, ‘the power of one’, in a beautiful way,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. “Their words are sure to motivate the marchers, as well as the millions of pro-life Americans who will be watching, who dedicate themselves to restoring a culture of life in the United States.”

Trump Calls Out Media for Failing to Report on March for Life

During a Wednesday night interview with ABC, President Trump called out the media for covering a pro-abortion march but ignoring the March for Life. ABC’s David Muir asked Trump if he “could hear the voices from the women’s march here in Washington?” “I couldn’t hear them, but the crowds were large,” Trump responded. “You’re gonna have a large crowd on Friday, too, which is mostly pro-life people. You’re gonna have a lot of people coming on Friday… Pro-life people. And they say the press doesn’t cover them.” Friday’s March for Life is the 44th annual gathering demanding human rights for the pre-born. It is the largest annual American civil rights demonstration. A recent study by Katie Yoder of NewsBusters revealed that the networks covered the 2017 pro-abortion women’s march 129 times more than the 2016 March for Life.

Study: Hillary Received 800,000 Votes from Noncitizens

The Washington Times reports that Hillary Clinton garnered more than 800,000 votes from noncitizens on Nov. 8, an approximation far short of President Trump’s estimate of up to 5 million illegal voters but supportive of his charges of fraud. Based on national polling by a consortium of universities, the study says that 6.4 percent of the estimated 20 million adult noncitizens in the U.S. voted in November. Political scientist Jesse Richman of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, worked with university colleagues to produce the groundbreaking research on noncitizen voting, and this week posted the results in his blog.

Trump Changed the Presidency in Just 7 Days

Forget the first 100 days. It’s only been a week and Donald Trump is reinventing the presidency, notes CNN. “Amid a torrent of action, disruption and protest, the new President’s moves on trade, immigration and foreign policy have honored his campaign promises — and dramatically reshaped Washington’s role in national and global affairs.” It is now clear that Trump won’t have an epiphany and suddenly embrace political conventions. His staff is learning how to work together as they jockey for power. And amid it all, Trump still manages to surprise: Lawmakers and business leaders say the larger than life president listens more than he talks, CNN reports.

Democrats Plan a Scorched-Earth Approach to Fighting Trump

For the past two months, Democratic leaders have been reportedly discussing ways to approach the presidency of Donald Trump and have largely landed on a conclusion: fight him at every turn in a ‘not-now-not-ever’ opposition, reports Fox News. It apparently did not take very long for these politicans to determine that a working relationship with Trump was not possible. Of course, there are drawbacks about being the opposition party and some interviewed have concerns that 10 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018 who work in states that Trump won.

Trump Initiates Border Wall War

President Trump signed an executive action that calls for work to begin immediately on the wall he pledged to build as a candidate. Trump hasn’t even been president for a week and already the U.S.-Mexico battle over a border wall is turning red hot. Not giving an inch, Trump bluntly said Thursday that it would be better to cancel his scheduled meeting later this month with the Mexican president if he continues to refuse to pay for a wall on the border. Trump’s pushback came after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said reiterated on Wednesday that his country “will not pay for any wall,” The country’s largest source of cash comes from Mexicans living in the United States. That is now under the microscope after Trump issued an executive order Wednesday to start building a wall on the border. Trump threatened to halt or tax cash transfers — known as remittances — from the U.S. to Mexico if the country refused to pay for the wall. Nieto on Thursday canceled his planned visit. Trump also fired Mark Morgan, the Border Patrol chief who backed former President Barack Obama’s plans to safeguard some illegal immigrants from deportation, NewxMax reports.

At least 1,300 miles long, 40 feet high, and containing 19 million tons of concrete. Donald Trump’s much heralded wall along the Mexican border would be a massive undertaking. Trump has cited a $10 billion cost estimate that was given to him during the campaign by the National Precast Concrete Association. That comes to about $7.4 million per mile. By comparison it only costs about $3 million to build a mile of a typical two-lane road. But other estimates suggest there are enough uncertainties to drive the cost up to $15 billion, and possibly as much as $25 billion. None of these estimates includes the cost of acquiring the land where the wall will be built, which could also be considerable.

Trump to Order Military to Hit ISIS Harder

The White House is drafting a presidential directive that calls on Defense Secretary James N. Mattis to devise plans to more aggressively strike the Islamic State, which could include American artillery on the ground in Syria and Army attack helicopters to support an assault on the group’s capital, Raqqa, officials said. President Trump, who is to make his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief on Friday, will demand that the new options be presented to him within 30 days, the officials said. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly said that he had a secret plan to defeat the Islamic State, but he also said that he would give his commanders a month to come up with new options. President Donald Trump also said waterboarding “works” and torture is sometimes appropriate for Islamic State soldiers who persecute and kill Christians, his words have drawn criticism from many quarters, Christians included.

Trump Freezes Obama’s Last-Minute Cash Gift to Palestinians

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, in his waning hours, quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority, which Congress had been blocking. The Trump administration announced it is freezing the move. The State Department is reviewing the last-minute decision. Former Secretary of State John Kerry formally notified Congress that State would release the money Friday morning, just hours before President Donald Trump took the oath of office. When asked about the transfer by a reporter during Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “[Trump is] going to make sure that every deal, every dollar that is spent by the government is done in a way that respects the American taxpayer.”

Trump Preparing to Reduce U.S. Role in UN

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders to drastically reduce the U.S. role in the United Nations and other international organizations, The New York Times reported Wednesday. According to the Times, the draft order establishes criteria that would trigger the U.S.-defunding of UN organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity circumventing sanctions against Iran or North Korea. The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization “controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or conducts persecutions or violates human rights.

House Votes to Ban Taxpayer Funding of Abortion

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of permanently banning taxpayer funding of abortion by a vote of 238 to 183. The No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act (HR 7), introduced makes permanent the so-called Hyde Amendment. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted in 1976. The bill would also ensure that taxpayers do not have to fund abortion via their healthcare. According to a 2017 Marist poll, the majority of Americans (61 percent) do not support tax dollars going to fund abortion.

Planned Parenthood Touts but Refuses Prenatal Care

Offering prenatal care is a benefit that Planned Parenthood has long promoted as one of the many services they offer women beyond pregnancy termination. Yet an undercover video investigation released this week from the pro-life activist group Live Action appears to show employees at multiple Planned Parenthood clinics actually turning away clients who ask for prenatal care. According to the Live Action video, only five of the 97 Planned Parenthood clinics contacted in the nationwide investigation were able to offer any level of prenatal care. One worker was caught on tape admitting, “Planned Parenthood offers abortions, so they don’t offer prenatal care.” Another admits that its name is “deceptive.”

State Department’s Entire Senior Administrative Team Resigned

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era. Tillerson was actually inside the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, looking to replace the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed Kennedy out the door. All were career foreign service officers who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

ACLU Preparing for Massive Campaign Against Religious Liberty

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has launched what may be the largest, most aggressive anti-faith, anti-family legal assault in our nation’s history, reports the Liberty Counsel. The ACLU announced a “7-Point Plan Of Action” organized around a radical anti-life, anti-marriage and anti-family agenda. And the ACLU has amassed a massive financial war chests for this plan, with $47 MILLION already raised since the election. The ACLU’s executive director said, “We need to go on offense from the very beginning, and we will litigate everything that we possibly can.” And the ACLU is backing up the words with action, having already filed its first lawsuit against the Trump administration and announcing plans to add 100 staff members in anticipation of the flood of ACLU lawsuits to come.

California Stops Effort to Provide ObamaCare to Illegal Aliens

Lawmakers in California have halted a first-in-the-nation effort to expand access to its health care exchange to undocumented immigrants living in the state. At the behest of the state legislature, Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange, withdrew its request to sell unsubsidized health plans to people who are here illegally. Under the Affordable Care Act, people who cannot prove they are in the country legally are barred from purchasing coverage on the exchange. Immigrants in this situation had pinned their hopes on the state’s request for an exemption from that rule, submitted last fall to the federal government. Had it been approved, undocumented Californians would have been allowed to buy Covered California plans.

Cancer Down 20% Nationwide

Cancer deaths in the United States dropped over 20% between 1980 and 2014, but a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that some places are being left behind. Researchers examined death records from the National Center for Health, and pinpointed cancer clusters where deaths have not come down. In fact, some places have gotten worse. The ten counties with the cancer highest mortality rates were in Kentucky (6), South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas (1 each). The ten counties with the lowest cancer rates were in Colorado (6), Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Alaska (1 each). Of the 19.5 million cancer deaths on record during the 24-year period, nearly half came from three cancers: Cancer of the lungs and airways took the lion’s share, followed by colorectal and breast cancers. Liver cancer increased by almost 88% nationwide over the 24 years, from 3.6 to 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The authors pointed out clusters along Texas’ border with Mexico and in several counties in states with large Native American populations: New Mexico, Alaska and South Dakota.

Scientists Create Part-Human, Part-Pig Embryo

For the first time, scientists have grown an embryo that is part-pig, part-human, raising the possibility of interspecies organ transplants. The experiment, described Thursday in the journal Cell, involves injecting human stem cells into the embryo of a pig, then implanting the embryo in the uterus of a sow and allowing it to grow. After four weeks, the stem cells had developed into the precursors of various tissue types, including heart, liver and neurons, and a small fraction of the developing pig was made up of human cells. The human-pig hybrid — dubbed a “chimera” for the mythical creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail — was “highly inefficient,” the researchers cautioned. But it’s the most successful human-animal chimera and a significant step toward the development of animal embryos with functioning human organs.

Lab-Made DNA Used to Breed New Life Forms

Lab-made DNA has been used to breed a new life form for the first time by expanding the genetic code with the help of common E. coli microbes. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California modified common E. coli microbes to carry expanded genetic material which they believe will eventually allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave. Researchers said they believe their work will lead to new kind of protein that can be harvested and turned into drugs to treat a range of diseases along with new kinds of materials, reported The Guardian. Their work was published Monday online on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

  • These experiments are scary because in a fallen world beset with evildoers, the likelihood of corrupt applications and unintended consequences as humanity plays god is quite high

Economic News

After weeks of close calls, the Dow Jones Industrial average made history on Wednesday by blowing past 20,000 the first time ever. The Dow climbed 156 points to 20,069 and was joined in record territory by the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. The historic milestone leaves the Dow up more than 1,700 points since President Donald Trump’s victory in November. The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and has served as a broad measure of the market’s health since 1896. During the current bull market, the second longest in history, the Dow has more than tripled since March 2009.

The U.S. national debt is right on the verge of hitting 20 trillion dollars. There has been a very close correlation between the national debt and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a long time. Since 1981, the Dow is up by a factor of 20, while national debit is up by 22. Our prosperity has been fueled by the greatest debt binge in the history of the world.

However, America had another year of sluggish growth. The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.6% in 2016, the Commerce Department reported Friday. It’s the slowest pace of growth since 2011. Weak economic growth was a key reason behind President Trump’s election. He promises to get growth up to 4% a year, something that hasn’t happened since the late 1990s. The Federal Reserve forecasts U.S. growth to hover around 2% for the next few years, though its leaders admit that could change with time. A major problem plaguing the economy is productivity. It’s growing at a slower pace than it used to, and that holds down wages and overall growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000 for the week ended Jan. 21, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market, for 99 consecutive weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 2,000 to 245,500 last week, the lowest since November 1973.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have liberated the eastern half of Mosul from ISIS’ grip, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reported Tuesday on state television. Mosul is divided by the Tigris River, with both sides making up about half of Iraq’s second-largest city. The U.S. praised Iraqi efforts to keep civilians safe as it fended off mortar, sniper and drone attacks, while ISIS used human — including child shields — and stored weapons in hospitals, mosques and schools. The battle to wrest control of the west side could drag on into March. Losing its last major Iraqi stronghold would be a huge blow to ISIS, which has already lost Ramadi, Falluja, Hit, Qayyara and Sharqat.

Syria

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed Tuesday to the outlines of a plan to reinforce a cease-fire in Syria, establishing the three most significant allies of the protagonists in the conflict as guarantors to a peace process. The deal concluded two days of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, that drew Iran into a burgeoning alliance with Russia and Turkey over ways to secure a settlement. It set broad but vague parameters for a cease-fire enforcement mechanism and committed the three countries to jointly fight the Islamic State and Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate. It will also provide a test of Russia’s new role as the lead power broker in efforts to secure a sustainable, long-term solution to the war. The United States, which is not a party to the emerging peace process, said it welcomed any “actions that sustainably de-escalate violence and reduce suffering in Syria,” according to a statement issued by the State Department in Washington.

A powerful jihadist group has crushed a Free Syrian Army rebel faction in northwestern Syria, in an attack that threatens to deal a critical blow to the more moderate wing of the Syrian rebellion and derail new Russian-backed peace talks. The Jabhat Fateh al-Sham jihadist group, formerly known as the Nusra Front, launched an attack on a number of FSA groups in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, accusing them of conspiring against it at peace talks in Kazakhstan this week. The fighting has engulfed the rebels’ last major territorial stronghold in northwestern Syria, prompting a major Islamist insurgent faction to warn on Wednesday that the attacks could allow President Bashar al-Assad and his allies to capture the area.

Wildfires

Dry conditions and strong winds spurred multiple fires in central Oklahoma Tuesday. The biggest of the fires, a grass fire in Logan County, destroyed two homes and damaged several other buildings. A separate fire in Oklahoma City destroyed a third house. Wildfires were also reported near Tuttle in Grady County and Shawnee in Pottawatomie County. A combination of winds gusting occasionally above 30 mph and low humidity helped these fires grow. Temperatures were also 25 degrees above average.

Weather

Winter Storm Leo pushed into the Plains and Midwest midweek after several days of rain and snow in the West, and its combined impacts were blamed for at least five deaths. The potent winter storm dumped as much as three feet of snow in northern Arizona before moving east; in parts of the Plains, travel was shut down as up to 22 inches of heavy snow fell. Some cities declared snow emergencies and closed schools as a response to the winter storm.

Significant lake-effect snow will likely continue right through the weekend over all the Great Lakes snowbelts, with the heaviest bands expected to set up in the Chautauqua Ridge east of Lake Erie and the Tug Hill Plateau east of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Wind gusts over 30 mph are expected, and blowing and drifting snow may lead to whiteouts, especially in the most intense snow bands. This will be a multi-day event that won’t end until Sunday evening, so snowfall will continue to pile up, with impressive totals expected in localized spots.

Signs of the Times (1/24/17)

January 24, 2017

President Trump Signs Executive Order to Defund International Planned Parenthood

President Donald Trump today signed an executive order Monday to defund International Planned Parenthood. Most pro-life Americans are anxiously awaiting Congress to pass a bill to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business. While that defunding legislation concerns the domestic-based Planned Parenthood abortion corporation, President Trump has the ability to put in place an executive order that would revoke funding for its International affiliate. When pro-abortion former President Barack Obama took office, Obama overturned a policy that prevented funding of groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. Over $400 million in federal funds flowed to foreign abortion businesses including International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.

Trump Freezes Hiring of Federal Workers

President Trump instituted a government-wide hiring freeze Monday, signing an executive order that he said would affect all employees ““except for the military.” Trump had pledged to halt government hiring as part of his campaign’s “Contract with the American Voter,” which he framed as part of a larger effort to “clean up corruption and special interest in Washington D.C.” That campaign plan, however, also included exemptions for public safety and public health. During the final weeks of the Obama administration, top officials at several government agencies went on a hiring spree in an effort to staff up before the expected hiring freeze hit.

Trump Abandons TPP and Seeks to Renegotiate NAFTA

After meeting with business executives at the White House to discuss the U.S. manufacturing industry, the president signed an executive order formally ending U.S. participation in the TransPacific Partnership. President Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday, pulling away from Asia and scrapping his predecessor’s most significant trade deal. Trump sharply criticized the partnership agreement during last year’s campaign, calling it a bad deal for American workers. Although the deal had not been approved by Congress, the decision to withdraw the American signature at the start of Mr. Trump’s administration is a signal that he plans to follow through on promises to take a more aggressive stance against foreign competitors. The president’s withdrawal from the Asian-Pacific trade pact amounted to a drastic reversal of decades of economic policy in which presidents of both parties have lowered trade barriers and expanded ties around the world.

President Trump also gave notice that he hopes to get a better deal for American workers by renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The President put a bug in the ear of business executives, warning in a meeting they would face huge tariffs if they send manufacturing abroad. And he huddled with union leaders, promising a torrent of new jobs and factories. Tuesday, the President will meet with the heads of the Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler. Trump’s vow to kill or renegotiate multilateral trade deals was an important factor in his narrow November election victories in industrialized states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which upended the political map based on the votes of many workers — including Democrats — who feel left behind by economic globalization.

Trump Signs Orders Reviving Pipeline Projects

President Trump signed executive orders on Tuesday effectively reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects, which had been stalled by the Obama administration under pressure from environmental and other groups. The president said both projects would be subject to a renegotiation of the terms.  The president signed a total of five orders related to pipeline construction, including others expediting the permitting process for related projects and directing the Commerce Department to maximize the use of U.S. steel. While the Canada-to-Texas Keystone project was at the center of a heated debate for years until the Obama administration rejected a key permit in November 2015, the Dakota pipeline more recently became the subject of fierce protests until the Army Corps of Engineers in December blocked construction of a controversial segment. The moves are likely to spark a new fight with environmentalists.

Women March Around the World

Marches for women’s rights in the United States and around the world protested against Donald Trump on his first full day in office. More than a million Americans took to the streets of the United States, not including the many thousands of people who took part in the main event — The Women’s March on Washington — for which there was no official crowd estimate. It was not immediately clear what political impact the marches would have on the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress. One central hurdle for protesters was their effort to draw attention to so many different political priorities. Even the signs they carried reflected the diversity of their agendas. Meanwhile, the Democratic mantra so prevalent in the final weeks of the campaign — “when they go low, we go high” — was largely absent. Actress Ashley Judd, for instance, read a poem that said Trump bathes in “Cheeto dust.” Madonna delivered remarks laden with expletives. The march has evolved organically from a post-election call to action on Facebook to an organized effort that included a roster of high-wattage activists and attendees including feminist Gloria Steinem, singer Katy Perry, actors America Ferrera, and Scarlett Johansson.

Thousands of marchers gathered in more than 600 cities across the globe in protest, including Antarctica where 30 people gathered aboard a ship in the international waters of Antarctica. The organizers said the participants include eco-minded tourists and non-government scientists, who are raising signs that read slogans including “penguins for peace” and “seals for science.” On Saturday, thousands demonstrated in London, marching from the US embassy on Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square, to send a message to the incoming administration that “women’s rights are human rights,” according to organizers. Speakers said that at least 100,000 people had turned out, but London’s Metropolitan Police did not provide official crowd estimates.

Trump’s Day Two: Mends Fences with the CIA, Attacks the Media

President Donald Trump moved fast to mend his relationship with the CIA on just his second day in office, then ignited a feud with the media over the size of his inauguration crowd. Trump offered new evidence that he will be as disdainful of convention and protocol as President as he was in the campaign trail. His broadside against the media, which he believes is unfairly representing the size of the crowd on Friday, and the sight of huge anti-Trump crowds in US cities and around the world also made another thing clear: the political acrimony that rattled the nation for the past 18 months is not going away. The visit to the CIA was an important moment for Trump, who raised doubts about his relationship with US intelligence agencies by initially casting doubt on their assessment that Russia intervened in the election by hacking Democratic email accounts. “This is my first stop officially, there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump, there is nobody,” he said.  His comments were warmly received by CIA employees who came in on a Saturday to see their new president.

Ethics Group Sues Trump Over Foreign Business Interests

An ethics group sued President Trump on Monday, charging that he is violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments through his business empire. The lawsuit by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cites the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal office holders from accepting any “present, emolument, office or title” from a foreign state. The suit argues that the clause prohibits Trump’s business empire from accepting anything of value from a foreign government, including payments at his Washington hotel, without congressional consent. At a press conference earlier this month, Trump promised to turn hotel profits from foreign governments over to the United States Treasury. But the suit says that step in no way solves the constitutional violation. Even if there were an exception, the plan would be insufficient because it has no enforcement mechanism and because it proposes to turn over only profits, not all money from foreign governments, the suit says.

Trump has Resigned from More Than 400 Businesses

President Trump says he has resigned from positions in hundreds of business entities, according to a document provided to CNN by the Trump Organization. The text of the 19-page letter reads: “I, Donald J. Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold” in more than 400 entities listed on the following pages. The letter is signed by Trump and dated January 19, the day before he was sworn in. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are “fully in charge of the company.” A lawyer for Trump, Sheri Dillon, said on January 11 that the chief compliance officer would ensure that the Trump businesses do not take “any actions that could be perceived as exploiting the office of the presidency. She said the ethics adviser would analyze Trump Organization deals for potential conflicts of interest.

Obama Quietly Sent $221M to Palestinians in Obama’s Last Hours

Officials said Monday that the Obama administration– in its waning hours– defied Republican opposition and quietly released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority that GOP members of Congress had been blocking. A State Department official and several congressional aides told The Associated Press that the outgoing administration formally notified Congress it would spend the money Friday morning. In addition to the $221 million for the Palestinians, the Obama administration also told Congress on Friday it was going ahead with the release of another $6 million in foreign affairs spending, including $4 million for climate change programs and $1.25 million for U.N. organizations, the congressional aides said. Congress had initially approved the Palestinian funding in budget years 2015 and 2016, but Congress put a hold on 2017 funding. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding.

Migrant Update

The U.S. has already been taking somewhere in between 70,000 and 110,000 legal refugees per year from various countries, which include up to 10,000 Somalian refugees and 12,000 Syrian refugees per year, WorldNetDaily reports. According to Reuters, Africans, as well as immigrants from Central America, have also been looking to make their way to the U.S. via Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Because Mexico has few diplomatic ties with African nations, it’s difficult for authorities to deport illegal immigrants from Africa back to their homelands. As a result, the Mexican government, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, chose to deal with the situation by giving them temporary transit permits, which gives them 20 days to leave Mexico, according to Reuters. In practice, this allows the immigrants almost three weeks to make their way north to the U.S. border without being detained by Mexican immigration authorities.

Economic News

Foreigners are dumping U.S. debt at a faster rate than we have ever seen before, and U.S. Treasury yields have been rising. This is potentially a massive problem, because our entire debt-fueled standard of living is dependent on foreigners lending us gigantic mountains of money at ultra-low interest rates. If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt just got back to 5%, which would still be below the long-term average, we would be paying out about a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt. If foreigners keep dumping our debt and if Treasury yields keep climbing, a major financial implosion is a distinct possibility

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday that the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank has been approved. The vast majority of the new units will be built in established settlement blocs such as Ariel and Gush Etzion. “We are returning to normative life in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman declared. His office added that plans are also proceeding for the construction of an industrial zone near the Palestinian village of Tarqumyia, to provide jobs for residents there. The announcement signals a new approach by Israel in response to the election of President Trump. The administration of former president Barack Obama opposed the expansion of settlements.

Islamic State

U.S.-led coalition warplanes successfully targeted a flotilla of 90 Islamic State boats being used by the militants to cross the Tigris River in a desperate effort to escape fighting in eastern Mosul, the U.S. military announced Saturday. The airstrikes occurred as coalition-backed security forces seized the eastern portion of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and began preparations for clearing the western side of the city. The city is divided by the Tigris River. The strikes targeted 90 boats and three barges between Wednesday and Friday, the coalition said in a statement. Most were being used by the Islamic State to escape from the eastern part of the city, which has been secured by Iraqi forces in recent days. Since the Mosul operation began in October, the coalition has hit 112 watercraft on the Tigris River in Mosul.

Syria

Syria peace talks in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, got off to an explosive start Monday as rebel groups announced they would not talk face to face with the regime and the chief Syrian delegate slammed the armed opposition as “terrorists.” The talks were aimed at consolidating a shaky ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey, and could potentially open the path to discussing a political solution to end the brutal civil war, which has raged for almost six years. But rebel groups refused to talk directly with the regime, as both sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire in the Wadi Barada area outside the capital Damascus and of controlling the water supply to the capital as a weapon of war.

Yemen

Yemeni security and tribal officials say suspected U.S. drone strikes have killed three alleged al-Qaida operatives in the country’s southwestern Bayda province. They say the two Saturday strikes killed Abu Anis al-Abi, an area field commander, and two others. Saturday’s strikes were the first to be reported since Donald Trump assumed office as Barack Obama’s successor. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said as many as 117 civilians had been killed in drone and other counterterror attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere during Obama’s presidency.

Mexico

Protesters took control of vehicle lanes at one of the busiest crossings on the U.S. border Sunday to oppose Mexican gasoline price hikes, waving through motorists into Mexico after Mexican authorities abandoned their posts. Motorists headed to Mexico zipped by about 50 demonstrators at the Otay Mesa port of entry connecting San Diego and Tijuana, many of them honking to show support. Other protests closed southbound traffic for hours at the San Diego-Tijuana San Ysidro port of entry, the busiest crossing along the 2,000-mile border, and halted southbound traffic at one of two crossings in Nogales, Arizona. The demonstrations, which are unrelated to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, have disrupted Mexican border crossings for weeks. Earlier this month, police in the Mexican state of Sonora fought a pitched three-hour battle to free a border rail crossing at Nogales that had been blocked by people protesting the 20 percent nationwide hike in gasoline prices that took effect on New Year’s Day.

Chile

Fast-spreading blazes in south-central Chile have destroyed around 300,000 acres of forest; many are still burning, and more are expected to flare up. Residents in the town of Pumanque, located in the hard-hit south-central region of O’Higgins, have lost most of their belongings and their very livelihood to some of the worst wildfires ever seen in Chile. Chile’s Public Works Ministry said Monday that heavy machinery will be sent to the area to bury the hundreds of animals that died in the wave of fires, which have been stoked by a prolonged drought and temperatures topping 100 Fahrenheit. “Chile is living the greatest forest disaster in our history,” President Michelle Bachelet said.

Earthquakes

A major 7.9-magnitude earthquake severely shook Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Sunday afternoon local time. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the deep quake, which had a depth of over 84 miles, and was centered on Bougainville Island, an island of approximately 175,000 people in the Solomon Islands chain. Despite its depth, very strong to severe shaking was likely felt near the epicenter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

An enormous storm system that kicked up tornadoes, shredded homes and left other destruction scattered around the Southeast has claimed at least 20 lives after a two-day assault on the region, with dozens injured. The day’s deadliest toll came before daybreak Sunday when an apparent tornado blew through a mobile home park in south Georgia — about 60 miles southeast of Albany — shearing away siding, upending homes and killing seven people. About half of the 40 homes were “leveled.” In Albany, Georgia, a city of roughly 77,000 in the southwestern part of the state, Doughtery County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas described the area as looking like a nuclear bomb went off. From the morning of January 21 through January 22, 41 reports of tornadoes were received by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in five southern states from Louisiana to South Carolina.

A mix of snow, freezing rain, and sleet brought on by a nor’easter has closed numerous schools and made for difficult driving in northern New England and Upstate New York on Tuesday morning. A powerful nor’easter started Monday in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where it toppled trees, slowed travel and knocked out power. One person was killed. Some snow fell across the region, but the big challenge on the roads Tuesday morning was ice and strong winds. Several crashes have been reported Tuesday on Interstate 87 and Interstate 95 in New York. Docked boats were smacking into one another in Rye Harbor, New Hampshire. There were some scattered power outages; utilities prepared for the possibility of more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for 50 California counties that have been drenched by series of storms, including ongoing Winter Storm Leo, which have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. In this latest round of storms to pound the state, at least four people died, three were missing and many others were rescued from raging floodwaters. The governor’s proclamations are designed to provide state assistance to local governments coping with flooding, mudslides and erosion and to help obtain federal emergency funding to fix damaged roads and highways. Brown’s proclamations said the damage has created “conditions of extreme peril” to people and property.

Signs of the Times (11/25/16)

November 25, 2016

Town Renames Good Friday to be Culturally Sensitive

“Whenever you hear a liberal talking about cultural diversity and sensitivity it normally means something insensitive is about to happen to Christians,” writes Todd Starnes of Fox News. The latest case in point: Bloomington, Indiana – the home of Indiana University. Mayor John Hamilton recently announced that are renaming two paid holidays for city workers — in an effort to respect “differing cultures.” Columbus Day will henceforth be known as “Fall Holiday” and Good Friday will be known as “Spring Holiday.” Mayor John Hamilton told Fox 59 the name change will “better reflect cultural sensitivity in the workplace.” “It was not necessary and just stands to divide rather than unite when it comes to Good Friday,” the Herald Times noted in a staff editorial.

Electors Revolting & Threatened as Demands for a Recount Rise

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is now nearing 2 million votes, with many calling for a recount in several states. As of Wednesday afternoon, Clinton leads Trump by 1.82 million votes, 63,964,956 to 62,139,188 (a difference of 1%).  Clinton lost the Electoral College solidly, and the climbing popular vote spread doesn’t change anything about who will hold power in Washington. Green Party nominee Jill Stein launched a bid Wednesday to seek a vote recount in three key Rust Belt states as pressure builds among liberals to challenge election results. The Stein campaign said it needed to raise over $2 million by Friday to pay for recounts. That goal was reached by early Thursday morning, and the campaign has now increased the target to $4.5 million.

The New York Daily News is reporting that six electors, from states in which Donald Trump won the majority of the vote, have pledged to cast their votes against Trump.  Some of these same electors are trying to encourage their counterparts to do the same. However, the chances that something like this could ‘unseat’ Trump are still slim. With 270 electoral votes needed to win, Donald Trump’s 290 electoral votes gave him a good margin of victory.  And the state of Michigan has not yet awarded their 16 electoral votes, and still remains too close to call, although Trump is in the lead. If Trump fails to win Michigan — an unlikely outcome, as he leads Clinton by more than 11,000 votes — Clinton would still need at least 22 electors to disregard their states’ popular vote and pick her over Trump. Alternatively, Trump could be prevented from winning the Electoral College if he — in addition to losing Michigan — saw at least 21 electors abstain from voting altogether.

Texas electors are not bound by law to vote for Trump. They’ve signed an affidavit with their Party saying they would vote the way the state’s people voted, but legally, they’re allowed to vote however they want. Texas doesn’t have a law against faithless electors, because they’ve never had a problem with electors not voting with the will of the people. Some Democrats are desperately trying to get electors to vote for Hillary. Electoral College members have been deluged with death threats from embittered Democrats who want electors to break ranks, reports Constitution.com. One Texas elector is receiving a myriad of messages threatening death or physical harm if he doesn’t vote the “right” way. “At first everyone was kind of enchanted by it. Now all the electors are starting to get beaten down. There are some electors who have been threatened with harm or with death,” elector Alex Kim told NBC5.

U.S. Jews Persecuted More than Muslims

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports: Hate Crime Statistics, 2014, there were 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes in the U.S. in 2014. Of the 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 57 percent of the victims were Jewish. That amounts to approximately 648 instances where Jewish individuals, businesses or institutions were targeted. About 16% of the crimes showed anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias, amounting to approximately 184 instances where Muslim individuals, businesses or institutions were targeted. The results in 2015 were much the same as in 2014. In 2015 the number of anti-religious hate crimes rose from 1,140 in 2014 to 1,402 and 52% of the hate crimes were committed against Jews, with 22% showing anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias with 13% anti-Christian. The anti-Muslim proportion was higher, but still well less than half of the anti-Jewish hate crimes.

Nick Cannon: Abortion and Planned Parenthood Inflict “Genocide” on Black Americans

Nick Cannon – rap artist, comedian, and host of America’s Got Talent – is a name familiar to many pro-life people. His 2005 video told about the amazing story of how he was almost aborted before birth, but then his teenage mother chose life at the last moment. Now Cannon says the Planned Parenthood abortion business is perpetrating a genocide against black people because it targets black communities with abortion clinics. Cannon raised concerns recently about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s ties to Planned Parenthood, calling their work a “real genocide” on the black community. Iit’s real genocide, and it’s been like that for years,” Cannon said during an interview with New York City’s “The Breakfast Club”. “I come from a long line of community leaders and I’ve always thought that to who much is given, you’re responsible for that, much is required,” he said, referring to Luke 12:48. “So I use my platform to tell the truth at the end of the day.”

Trump Denounces Alt-Right

President-elect Donald Trump denied Tuesday that he did anything to “energize” the alt-right movement through his presidential campaign and sought to distance himself from it, even though many of the movement’s leaders have sought to tether their political views to Trump’s rise. “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump told a group of New York Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters in New York. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” he added. Trump denounced the alt-right, a far-right political movement that is rife with white nationalist, anti-Semitic and racist ideologies.

Trump Softens Stance on Climate Change

President-elect Donald Trump conceded Tuesday there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity. The statement marks a softening in Trump’s position on U.S. involvement in efforts to fight climate change, although he did not commit to specific action in any direction. During the campaign, he vowed to “cancel” the US’s participation in the Paris climate agreement and stop all US payments to UN programs aimed at fighting climate change. “I think there is some connectivity… It depends on how much,” Trump said Tuesday in a meeting with New York Times reporters, columnists and editors. He has previously called climate change a “hoax” invented by the Chinese.

  • Whether caused by human activity or not, climate change is an end-time phenomenon (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Trump Appoints Two Pro-Life Women

President-elect Donald Trump has named another pro-life advocate to a key position involving pro-life policies. After selecting pro-life Senator Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, Trump has named pro-life Governor Nikki Haley as his United Nations ambassador. Haley has a long record of supporting pro-life legislation and signing it as governor of the state of South Carolina. The United Nations appointment is important as pro-abortion nations are pushing the United Nations to make abortion a so-called human right. Previously, the Obama administration had joined those other nations to push abortion on an international level. As UN Ambassador, Governor Haley could help stop that effort and work to ensure that unborn children are respected in that International body. President-elect Donald Trump also named another pro-life advocate to his cabinet. He has chosen Michigan school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his education secretary. DeVos was the chair of the Michigan Republican Party and finance chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation are strong supporters of pro-life organizations like Michigan’s Foundation for Traditional Values and Right to Life of Michigan. Meanwhile, presidential candidate Ben Carson is mulling over an offer from Trump to be Secretary of HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).

Trump Foundation Admits Violating Ban on ‘Self-Dealing’

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the Internal Revenue Service that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families, reports the Washington Post. The admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. In one section of the form, the IRS asked whether the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person, in this context, might be Trump — the foundation’s president — or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business. The foundation checked yes. Another line on the form asked whether the Trump Foundation had engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years. The Trump Foundation checked yes again. Such violations can carry penalties including excise taxes, and the charity leaders can be required to repay money that the charity spent on their behalf. During the presidential campaign, The Post reported on several instances in which Trump appeared to use the Trump Foundation’s money to buy items for himself or to help one of his for-profit businesses.

U.S. Issues Europe Travel Alert

The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Monday urging U.S. nationals to exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets in Europe in the coming weeks, a day after French security services thwarted an ISIS-linked plot. French authorities arrested seven people after anti-terror raids in Strasbourg and Marseilles on Sunday. The eight-month-long investigation foiled a “new terrorist attack that had been planned for a long time on our soil,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said during a news conference in Paris. Strasbourg is home to one of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe, with 2 million people expected to visit after it opens Friday. French media reported the market was a potential target of the cell. In 2000, the Strasbourg Christmas market was the target of a thwarted plot by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

Federal Judge Issues Injunction Against Obama Labor Regulation

The Obama administration received a crushing blow on Tuesday after a Texas federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against one of the president’s top regulatory initiatives enacted by the Labor Department. Texas U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, an Obama appointee, ruled that implementation of the controversial overtime regulation is to be postponed immediately, despite rapidly approaching deadlines. The regulation – which sought to expand mandated overtime requirements for salaried employees earning less than $47,476 annually, up from $23,660 – was set to begin on December 1. A preliminary injunction preserves the status quo while the Court determines the department’s authority to make the Final Rule as well as the Final Rule’s validity. Twenty-one state attorney generals and dozens of business groups fought the overtime rule, contending the act itself was illegal with cost increases that would hurt employers. Judge Mazzant further noted that he’s not the first judge to file an injunction against an Obama administration executive initiative, citing a Fort Worth, Texas judge’s decision to block an Education Department rule back in August.

Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent

A New York woman seriously hurt protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline faces multiple surgeries and could lose an arm. Protesters and law enforcement gave conflicting accounts about what might have caused the explosion that injured her. Sophia Wilansky, 21, was listed in serious condition and was undergoing surgery at a Minneapolis hospital. Wilansky’s father said his daughter was hurt when law enforcement threw a grenade. The Morton County Sheriff’s Office maintains authorities did not use concussion grenades or any devices that produce a flash or bang during a clash late Sunday and early Monday near the camp along the pipeline route in southern North Dakota where protesters have gathered for months. The sheriff’s office suggested in a statement Monday that an explosion heard during the skirmish might have been caused by small propane tanks that authorities said protesters had rigged to explode.

Economic News

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says in a new report that the poor — who were hit hard by the financial crisis — have been left behind in the global recovery. The group found that the bottom 10% of earners in developed countries saw their real incomes fall by 16.2% between 2007 and 2010. The incomes of the top 10% fell by only 4.6% over the same period. The recovery has also produced unequal results. Between 2010 and 2014, the incomes of the bottom 10% have risen by only 1.6% compared to the 5.2% growth rate enjoyed by the highest earners. The end result is more income inequality. The wages earned by the top 10% had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, while the poorest earned 14% less than they did before the crisis.

Mortgage rates have pushed past 4% for the first time this year. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.03%., from 3.94% last week. Rates have been moving higher since Donald Trump was elected president. The interest rate on the U.S. government’s 10-year Treasury note has climbed to 2.38% on Wednesday from 1.85% on Election Day. Treasury notes serve as a benchmark for various types of credit, including mortgages. The Federal Reserve is scheduled to meet in December and is expected to increase the federal funds rate, which is the short-term interest rate it uses to lend money to financial institutions.

Europe

Donald Trump’s surprising election victory in the U.S. should have come as no surprise to Europe. Across the continent, parties of the center-left that have dominated politics for decades — and that have given Europe its reputation for generous social welfare systems — now find themselves beaten, divided and directionless. Hillary Clinton and U.S. Democrats are just the latest members of a beleaguered club. In Germany and Britain, once-mighty center-left parties have been badly diminished, locked out of their nations’ top jobs for the foreseeable future. In Spain and Greece, they have been usurped by newer, more radical alternatives. And in France and Italy, they’re still governing — but their days in power may be numbered. The rout of the center-left has even extended deep into Scandinavia, perhaps the world’s premier bastion of social democracy. Overall, the total vote share for the continent’s traditional center-left parties is now at its lowest level since at least World War II.

Russia

The flood of so-called “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation. Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia, reported the Washington Post (itself strongly biased against Trump).

France

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins says that five men arrested recently in two French cities were planning a terror attack in France as early as next week, and that they were receiving their orders from an Islamic State group member based in Iraq or Syria. Molins spoke to reporters Friday, the day after anti-terrorism authorities took the unusual step of holding the men in custody without charge beyond the normal maximum period, relying on a recent anti-terrorism measure. The five were arrested in Strasbourg and Marseille.

Israel

Dry weather and heavy winds are fueling the spread of a large wildfire in northern Israel that has forced thousands to evacuate. At least eight neighborhoods in the city of Haifa had been evacuated by early Thursday afternoon. Over 60,000 people have been evacuated, the Jerusalem Post reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested assistance from Greece, Croatia and Russia in battling a rash of wildfires across the country which started earlier this week and have rapidly spread. Fire officials suspect that many of the fires were deliberately set (terrorism), while others appeared to be accidental. Several homes and businesses had been destroyed and thousands of residents remained evacuated Thursday as weather forecasts called for more winds and little hope of rain to assist the firefighters. A wildfire roared through parts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as the country’s leaders raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blaze. By Friday, 12 people had been detained in connection to the fires. “Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such. Anyone who tries to burn parts of the State of Israel will be severely punished,” Netanyahu stated.

Islamic State

When the Islamic State seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians, as “People of the Book”, four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed. The vast majority fled – an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and even crucifixion, according to testimonies collected from Iraqi refugees in Jordan by the religious freedom charity ADF International. While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with U.S. and U.K. air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from ISIS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatized by their experiences to countenance returning. Some say they feel betrayed by neighbors who supported ISIS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia.

Uganda

Uganda’s High Court has described the Bridge International Academies (BIA) — which is funded by the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda’s national standards and put the “life and safety” of its 12,000 young students on the line. The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved. “The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said. The low-cost education provider, which has 63 campuses across Uganda, is allowed to remain open until December 8 to allow students to sit for exams and finish third term. BIA — which runs more than 400 nursery and primary schools across Africa — has continuously denied the allegations that have been made by the government. BIA suggested that the opposition against BIA was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools.

Mexico

Investigators have found 32 bodies and nine human heads in clandestine graves in a municipality in southern Mexico where rival drug gangs have been engaged in a wave of extortion, kidnappings and turf battles, authorities said Thursday. Soldiers and police found the graves on Tuesday at an outlaw camp in Guerrero state after receiving a tip that people were being held at the site located near a mountain in the municipality of Zitlala. They said they rescued a kidnap victim and discovered 12 bodies and human remains in coolers. On Thursday, officials announced that further excavations of the site had found the additional human remains. Residents of the community of Tixtla, Guerrero found nine decapitated bodies on Monday along a highway. Guerrero has seen an upsurge in gang-related violence.

Earthquakes

Residents living in and around Usulutá, El Salvador were shaken by a major earthquake in the afternoon hours on Thursday. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck approximately 6.4 miles below ground at 12:45 p.m. local time. The earthquake struck approximately 100 miles from Usulutá – a city in El Salvador with a population of roughly 72,000. Civil Protection authorities in El Salvador tweeted at 1:10 p.m. local time that no damage had been reported as a result of the earthquake.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan on Tuesday, injuring several while also generating 4.6-foot tsunami waves that hit the coast. The temblor struck at 5:59 a.m. local time Tuesday morning (3:59 p.m. EST) 23 miles east-southeast of Namie, Japan, at a depth of 7 miles. Several strong aftershocks, including at least three with a magnitude greater than 5 were reported in the wake of the 6.9 quake. At least 14 people were injured by the quake, some with broken bones, the Associated Press reported, but otherwise widespread damage was averted. The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which leaked radiation after the 2011 Japanese quake, reported no issues or damage.

Weather

Central America may have mostly dodged a Thanksgiving day bullet, as Hurricane Otto, now a tropical storm again, passed over Nicaragua and Coast Rica with minimal damage and is now headed out into the Pacific. Nearly 15,000 people were evacuated from Nicaragua and Costa Rica ahead of the hurricane. Tropical Storm Otto is now in the eastern Pacific Ocean pulling away from Nicaragua and Costa Rica after a historically late-in-season hurricane landfall on Thanksgiving Day near the town of San Juan de Nicaragua in southern Nicaragua. Maximum sustained winds were 110 mph at landfall, making Otto a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Otto was the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record this late in the year. Otto’s landfall in Nicaragua was the latest in a calendar year that a hurricane has made landfall in that country. It’s also the farthest south a hurricane has made landfall on record in Central America. Otto is now over 100 miles west of the Costa Rica Pacific coast, as of Friday morning. Earlier, three deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Otto in Panama as the storm moved toward Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Civil defense officials in Panama said Tuesday that two people died in landslides and a child was killed when a tree collapsed on top of a car outside a school in Panama City. The landslide occurred just west of Panama City and trapped nine people. Seven people were rescued. Costa Rica ordered the evacuation of 4,000 people from its Caribbean coast ahead of the storm.

 

Signs of the Times

November 18, 2016

U.S. Foreign Policy has Devastated Christian Populations in Middle East

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Christians made up around 15% of the population of the Middle East. A century later the figure was 4%, reports Barnabas Aid. At least 80% of Iraq’s Christian population, estimated to have been 1.5 million in 1990, have now fled the country. During the 1970s, western politicians tended to view Islam as a gentle, peaceful, primarily eastern religion, a naïve view that ignored the periodic massacres of Christians that had been happening in the Middle East over the previous 150 years, Barnabas Aid asserts. During the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. supplied vast amounts of arms to radical Islamist groups fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, notably the Taliban. When the so-called Arab Spring occurred, the West repeated its mistakes, maintaining that the rebel groups want only “freedom and democracy”. In Africa, U.S. policy has also had devastating consequences for Christians in northern Nigeria where, right up until November 2013, the US State Department continued to insist that the Islamist-inspired violence was due to “socio-economic” differences between Christians and Muslims, implying that Christians were equally to blame.

The U.S. and its allies are in fact reported to be supporting Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, which was part of an Islamist coalition, including the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front that attacked the historic Christian town of Maloula where, as we reported, Christians were told to either convert to Islam or face beheading. It was the Pakistan Taliban who later carried out attacks on Christians with those same weapons.  “This view still informs the policies of the Obama administration who even now flatly deny that there is any link between Islamic ideology and violence against non-Muslims. Consequently, when it talks about being committed to seeing a “whole, unified, pluralistic, nonsectarian Syria”, it unwittingly embraces jihadist groups who routinely target Christians. “If current trends continue, the Christian community in Iraq and Syria, which has existed since the dawn of Christianity, could be wiped out within the next decade,” Barnabas Aid concludes.

Global Terrorism Deaths Fall, But Rise 650 Percent in OECD Countries

Deaths from terrorism in OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) increased by 650 percent last year despite a marked fall globally as Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram militants suffered military defeats at home but committed more attacks abroad, a report said on Wednesday. The Global Terrorism Index said worldwide there had been 29,376 deaths caused by terrorism in 2015, a drop of 10 percent and the first fall in four years, as action against Islamist militants in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria cut the numbers killed there by a third. However, the report said the groups had spread their actions to neighboring states and regions, causing a huge increase in fatalities among OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries such as the United States and European nations.

Up to 50,000 Iraqi Christians to Pray for Peace

As many as 50,000 Christians are expected to gather in Erbil, Iraq on Friday to pray for the church in Iraq and for peace to prevail. Iraqi forces have been in the process of liberating many Iraqi towns from control by Islamic State. While most of ISIS’ strongholds have fallen, Iraqis have a long road ahead of them to restore their homeland. The prayer event is being organized by Agape Love, a ministry that partners with local churches. Between 25,000 to 50,000 Christians who have been persecuted by Islamic State or displaced from their homes are expected to participate in the six-hour long event which will also be broadcast across the Middle East by Christian satellite network SAT-7. In addition to prayer, the event will include stories and testimony from those who come from the recently-liberated towns near Mosul, Iraq.

Trump Says Same-Sex Marriage Already Settled by Supreme Court

President-Elect Donald Trump said that the issue of same-sex marriage has already been decided by the Supreme Court and he is “fine” with that. “It’s law,” Trump said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. “It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.” Although during the primaries Trump said, if elected, he would consider appointing Supreme Court justices who would overrule the Obergefell decision which legalized gay marriage and even stated that the gay marriage decision should have been left up to the states, he has since tempered his stance, notes ChristianHeadlines.com. On the issue of abortion, however, Trump said he remains committed to appointing pro-life Supreme Court justices who may overturn Roe v. Wade. In the interview with 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl, Trump was asked about his $400,000 presidential salary. The President-elect stated that he wouldn’t be taking it. He said he’ll only take a dollar a year. In addition to not taking the usual $400,000 salary, President-elect Trump has also pledged not to take long vacations. “There’s just so much to be done,” Trump told Stahl. “So I don’t think we’ll be very big on vacations, no.”

Japan’s Prime Minister Says He Trusts Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday he had a “very candid discussion” with President-elect Donald Trump, during a brief press availability following their in-person meeting. Abe declined to explain in detail what he discussed with Trump because the visit was “unofficial” as Trump has not yet assumed the presidency, but he stressed that he emerged feeling that the US and Japan will be able to maintain “a relationship of trust” with Trump as president. The meeting was Trump’s first in-person meeting with a foreign head of state since he clinched the presidency last week and comes after Trump has repeatedly suggested Japan should shoulder a bigger financial burden of the US’s military forces in the region. Abe declined to say if the two men hashed out the defense issue or discussed their disagreement over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but stressed that he emerged “convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence.”

Trump’s Team Taking Shape

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his nominee for the next attorney general, an official close to the transition process told CNN Friday. Sessions, 69, is currently serving his fourth Senate term and was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump. During Trump’s campaign, he served as a key validator from within the Republican establishment at critical times and urged Republicans to coalesce around Trump. United by their hardline stance against illegal immigration, Sessions helped Trump craft his campaign’s national security policy. The former US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and Alabama attorney had been mentioned as a potential running mate for Trump and advised him on his selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now helming Trump’s transition effort.

President-elect Donald Trump has offered retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn the role of national security advisor, a transition official told CNN Thursday. Flynn’s appointment won’t require Senate confirmation, which is potentially helpful for Trump, as Flynn has a long history of controversial remarks and was fired as President Barack Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn wrote in his 2016 book, “The Field of Fight,” that he was booted from Obama’s administration by “censors” who were unhappy he’d told a congressional committee “that we were not as safe as we had been a few years back. Trump has also asked Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas to be his CIA director, sources told CNN Friday. Pompeo was an early supporter of Trump in the House and was one of a handful of conservatives who argued House Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy did not go far enough in his report on Clinton earlier this year. The selection of Pompeo rounds out Trump’s trio of national security picks.

Poll Finds Tempered Optimism but Doubts about Trump Mandate

Americans emerged from President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory in last week’s election with passionate and polarized reactions, overall expressing tempered optimism about his presidency but unconvinced that he has a mandate to enact a sweeping new policy agenda, according to a Washington Post-Schar School national poll. The poll finds Americans still reeling from Trump’s long battle against Hillary Clinton, with more than 7 in 10 saying the campaign made them angry and more than half feeling stressed out by campaign news. Trump’s supporters are largely ebullient when asked how they feel about the result, while Clinton backers range from disappointed to fearful to apoplectic. Nationally, just 3 in 10 Americans — 29 percent — say he has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the campaign. That 29 percent figure is sharply lower than the 50 percent who said the same for President Obama after his first election in 2008 and the 41 percent for former president George W. Bush after the 2000 election and the contentious recount that followed. Over 6 in 10 Americans expect to see major changes in Washington during his presidency. Almost as many say they are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve on his watch, while 52 percent say they think living standards will increase.

Sanctuary City Mayors Prepare for Clash with Trump Administration

Democratic mayors in so-called “sanctuary cities” are poised for a major clash with President-elect Donald Trump as city officials from Los Angeles to Washington vow not to cooperate with his administration on deportation orders for illegal immigrants. Trump’s election has spurred mayors and police chiefs in nearly a dozen major cities to re-affirm their “sanctuary” status, putting them in direct conflict with Trump’s immigration enforcement push — and effectively daring him to slash sanctuary-city funding as he promised during the campaign. In sanctuary cities, local law enforcement officials aren’t required to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the immigration status of people they come in contact with. That can mean, for example, that they don’t notify the feds when an undocumented immigrant is about to be released from custody.

College Students Desecrate U.S. Flags on Veterans Day in Anti-Trump Protests

Students at Brown University and American University, as well as protesters around the country, burned, ripped, and stomped on American flags on Veterans Day. According to MSN.com, students at Brown University set up flags as part of a Veterans Day display. Soon after, they found that many of the flags had been taken down. Other students had tore them in half, stomped on them, and threw them in the trash. Additionally, at American University, some students set American flags on fire. Many students said they participated in desecrated the flags to protest Donald Trump’s election and the inequality in the country. Debate over the current state of the country also raged over social media. Some students condemned the protests and vandalism, while others maintained that minorities had reason to be fearful.

FBI: Hate Crimes Spike, Mostly Against Muslims

The latest FBI annual hate crime report shows a sharp spike in the number of hate crimes nationwide, with attacks against Muslims increasing the most sharply. In one year, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 67%, from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 in 2015, according to the latest numbers released in the bureau’s Hate Crime Statistics report on Monday. In sheer numbers, anti-Jewish incidents (664) were higher in 2015, but the percentage increase was much higher for incidents involving Muslim victims. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” The bureau’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program data showed 5,850 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2015, a 6.8% increase from the 5,479 incidents reported in 2014. Of those, 59.2% were motivated by a racial, ethnic and/or ancestry bias; 19.7% by a religious bias; 17.7% by a sexual orientation bias; and 3.3% by a gender identity, disability or gender bias. Anti-Jewish hate crimes rose 9%, anti-black hate crimes went up by almost 8%, and anti-LGBT hate crimes increased by nearly 5%, while anti-Latino hate crimes remained steady.

Dementia Now England’s Leading Cause of Death for Women

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales, a news report says. Statistics show that dementia outpaced heart disease to take the top place in killer ailments for women, BBC News says. Dementia accounted for 15.2 percent of all female deaths, up from 13.4 percent in 2014. The Office of National Statistics cited an aging population and a decline in other deaths – especially heart disease – as the reasons. Also, doctors have gotten better at diagnosing dementia and so the condition is now given more weight on death certificates, the article adds. Heart disease continues to be the biggest killer of men in those countries, the article says. Statistics also show dementia killed twice the number of women compared to men – 41,283, to 20,403. There are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, the statistics report says.

Dakota Pipeline Project Delayed

The companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project are asking a federal court to allow them to complete the pipeline, following the announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers that construction was delayed for further talks with the Native American tribe opposed to the project. Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners filed two actions in federal court in Washington late Monday, seeking “a judgment declaring that Dakota Access Pipeline has the legal right-of-way to build.” Tuesday, the Corps announced it had delayed construction work on the controversial pipeline to hold further “discussion and analysis” with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Protests have simmered for months, spawning bitter clashes over the 1,172-mile oil pipeline currently under construction that would span North Dakota to Illinois. Tuesday, thousands of people took the streets in many parts of the country, calling on officials to ditch the plan altogether.

Economic News

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index soared 13 points last week to turn positive for the first time since March 2015 in the wake of Donald Trump’s White House victory. The index moved from a slightly negative evaluation (-10) to a slightly positive one (+3). The index had been consistently negative throughout the year leading up to the election. The index is the average of two components: how Americans rate current economic conditions and whether they feel the economy is improving or getting worse. The index has a theoretical maximum of +100 if all Americans were to say the economy is doing well and improving, and a theoretical minimum of -100 if all Americans were to say the economy is doing poorly and getting worse.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in prepared remarks Thursday that the Fed could raise interest rates “relatively soon.” The Fed last raised its key interest rate in December 2015 for the first time in a nearly decade. “The case for an increase in the target range has continued to strengthen,” Yellen said. President-elect Trump has lambasted Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed of herself.” He claims Yellen is creating a “false economy” by keeping interest rates very low.

Some ominous economic data: Nearly 7 out of every 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Credit card delinquencies have hit the highest level since 2012. Approximately 35 percent of all Americans have a debt that is at least 180 days past due. The rate of homeownership has fallen for eight years in a row and is now hovering near a 50-year low. At 63.5 percent, it is down from its high of 69.2 percent at the height of the last housing boom, according to the U.S. Census. The total number of government employees now outnumbers the total number of manufacturing employees in this country by almost 10 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics released in September.

The largest source of shale oil the U.S. Geological Survey has ever assessed has been discovered in West Texas in a geologic formation known as the Wolfcamp Shale. The vast field could yield 20 billion barrels of oil, agency officials said, along with an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, the agency said in a release. The discovery is nearly three times larger than the shale oil found in 2013 in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in the Dakotas and Montana. The advent of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other advancements allows for the removal of shale oil at a volume that will make the Permian Basin viable.

Islamic State

Iraqi paramilitary forces have recaptured a strategic airbase outside the northern city of Tal Afar, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces said. Ahmed al Assadi acknowledged that militia forces have yet to extinguish some pockets of ISIS resistance inside the airbase, with mopping up operations expected to last for a day or two. The base will serve as a staging area for Iraqi Security Forces in their battle with ISIS west of Mosul, authorities said.

Iraqi security forces have discovered two mass graves near the city of Mosul containing around 250 bodies, police said Thursday. The graves were found near the town of Hammam al-Alil and were created by ISIS militants, Iraqi Federal Police Commander Brig. Gen. Faris Radhi Abbas told CNN. Their discovery follows the uncovering of 100 decapitated bodies in another mass grave near the same town on November 7. Hammam al-Alil is on the Tigris River around 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Mosul. It was liberated by Iraqi Federal Police about 10 days ago. Iraqi forces entered Mosul on November 3 in an operation to free the city from more than two years of ISIS rule. “Islamic State militants probably killed more than 300 Iraqi former police three weeks ago and buried them in a mass grave near the town of Hammam al-Alil south of Mosul,” Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Police in Kosovo say they have arrested 19 people and thwarted simultaneous Islamic State attacks in Kosovo and neighboring Albania, including a planned assault on the Israeli national soccer team during a match. The suspects, who were planning “synchronized terror attacks,” were rounded up over the past 10 days in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, police said in a statement Wednesday. The suspects were receiving orders from Islamic State member Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq,” police said. The statement said officers searching the suspects’ homes and premises found explosive devices, weapons and electronic equipment, including “religious material and literature from well-known authors recognized for their extremist ideology.”

Syria

At least 21 people were killed and dozens injured as airstrikes and barrel bombs pounded eastern Aleppo for the third consecutive day, the Syrian Civil Defense volunteer group said Thursday. Warplanes carried out heavy airstrikes on neighborhoods in rebel-held east Aleppo for the first time in weeks Tuesday, as Syrian government forces launched a renewed assault to take the city. The blitz had been threatened in mass text messages sent to residents by the government Sunday, instructing them to leave within 24 hours. According to Syrian state television, the army is making a ground push in several areas to tighten their siege of rebel-held neighborhoods, and has cut off supply lines from the rebel-held province of Idlib in the north. Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov began combat operations against “terrorist” targets in the provinces of Idlib and Homs Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced. The resumption of the heavy bombardment of Aleppo Tuesday came after a nearly three-week lull in airstrikes on the area by Syrian and Russian aircraft, following a moratorium announced by the Russian Defense Ministry. Fierce clashes have continued on the front lines of the battle for Aleppo, however, with artillery shelling causing casualties in both the rebel-held and government-held parts of the divided city.

Iran

The United States and Iran on Thursday clashed openly at the U.N. atomic watchdog for the first time since they signed a landmark nuclear deal last year, differing over Tehran’s repeated testing of one of the deal’s less strictly defined limits. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is policing the deal, said Iran’s overstepping of the limit on its stock of a sensitive material for the second time this year risked undermining countries’ support for the agreement. “Iran must strictly adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration,” U.S. ambassador to the IAEA Laura Holgate said in a statement to the agency’s quarterly Board of Governors meeting. “We note with concern Iran’s accumulation of heavy water in excess of the limit set forth in the JCPOA of 130 metric tons,” Holgate said, using the abbreviation for the deal’s full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran said the issue was not that clear-cut. “Where is (the) limit?” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, asked reporters. “The JCPOA is very clear,” he added. “It says that the needs of Iran are estimated (to be) 130 tons. Who is the native English speaker to tell me what estimated means?”

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for legislation to extend American sanctions on Iran for 10 years, a move that proponents called critical economic leverage to ensure Iranian compliance with an international nuclear agreement. The legislation, known as the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, needs Senate approval and President Obama’s signature before the end of the year, when American sanctions are set to expire. Under the nuclear agreement, which took effect in January, between Iran and six world powers including the United States, many economic sanctions were suspended or relaxed in exchange for Iran’s verifiable pledges of peaceful nuclear work. But the deal also contained a “snapback” provision that would allow for the re-imposition of sanctions if Iran were found to have violated the terms. The legislation approved by the House on Tuesday would also extend longstanding American sanctions against Iran that predate the dispute over that country’s nuclear activities.

Environment

Coconuts around the world are under threat from disease, rising sea levels and lack of rain, with supplies getting tight. Coconuts have become a hot commodity in today’s health conscious world. Demand has grown upwards of 500 percent in the last decade, WorldAtlas reports, partly due to skyrocketing popularity of products such as soaps, virgin coconut oil, health products and coconut water. But even as demand rises, coconut producers around the globe are battling fresh outbreaks of insect-borne diseases such as lethal yellowing and Bogia coconut syndrome. In the Caribbean, lethal yellowing disease has wiped out entire farms. Overall, Caribbean plantations have shrunk by about 17 percent since 1994, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization

Earthquakes

As aftershocks continue to rattle New Zealand, flooding and up to 100,000 landslides are hampering rescue efforts following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck near Christchurch on Monday. According to GeoNet, New Zealand’s official source of geological hazard information, there have been somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 landslides since the quake, with many roads closed indefinitely. The coastal town of Kaikoura has been completely cut off from the rest of the country by landslides, prompting a mass evacuation that began Tuesday. At least six fault lines were ruptured in the New Zealand earthquake, which uplifted parts of the coast by almost 10 feet.

Wildfires

Dozens of wildfires continue to burn in the Southeast, prompting evacuations and sending hundreds in Tennessee to the hospital for respiratory issues, killing one person. Air quality alerts have been issued across the region, with residents as far south as Atlanta facing a red alert Wednesday, meaning air quality is unhealthy for all individuals. Fueled by prolonged drought conditions in the Southeast, the fires have burned more than 128,000 acres in five states and have prompted officials to declare states of emergency in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky. More than a thousand North Carolina residents were evacuated. More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires. Many of the fires are the result of arson, officials say, and three people have been arrested thus far.

Weather

The snow cover in the lower 48 states has shattered mid-November record lows, according to a government analysis. Less than one-half of one percent of the land area of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground on the morning of Nov. 14, according to NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center’s National Snow Analysis, mainly in the highest peaks of the Rockies and Cascades. There was none in northern New England, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Even the few places in the mountain West reporting snow on the ground had only minor amounts. This dearth of early-season snow can be attributed to recent record warmth.

Signs of the Times (9/28/16)

September 28, 2016

FBI Director Warns of Upcoming Massive “Terrorist Diaspora”

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that even though he is convinced that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will be destroyed soon, that will not be the end of it. Comey, in testimony before Congress, said the U.S. remains extremely concerned that violent extremists will eventually flow out of Syria and Iraq and into other countries in hopes of committing terrorist attacks. “There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen before,” Comey said. Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that in addition to ISIS militants, U.S. government officials are concerned about the capabilities and ambitions of al-Qaida and its affiliates. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said terrorist threats have evolved, moving from terrorist-directed attacks “to a world that also includes the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks” in which individuals who live in the U.S. are “self-radicalized” to attack their own country. Johnson says that by their nature, terrorist-inspired attacks and terrorist-enabled attacks are difficult to detect by intelligence and law enforcement communities, and can occur with little or no notice.

Transcripts Show ISIS Influence On Orlando Gunman

The Wall Street Journal reports that Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter, told a hostage negotiator that he was angry about the death of a top Islamic State operative, according to recently released transcripts of their phone conversations during Mateen’s massacre earlier this year. The new details of the conversations, released by Orlando Police last week, show Mateen had more than a passing interest in Islamic State, counterterrorism experts said.  He specifically singled out the death of Abu Wahib, one of the more visible leaders of the terror group, as one of the main motivations for his attack. Abu Wahib was killed in an airstrike in Iraq just weeks before Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in June in an attack that killed 49 people and wounded 53. Mateen died in a shootout with police.

Homeland Security Says They’re Unable to Fully Vet Refugees

Refugee fraud is “easy to commit” and much tougher to detect, Homeland Security officials acknowledged in an internal memo made public by members of Congress. The U.S. has relaxed requirements for refugees to prove they are who they say they are, and at times may rely solely on testimony. That makes it easier for bogus applicants to conspire to get approved, according to the department memo, which was obtained by the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. “Refugee fraud is easy to commit, yet not easy to investigate,” the undated memo says. The memo says that there have been clear instances where “bad actors … have exploited this program,” gaining a foothold in the U.S. through bogus refugee claims.

Children from Central America Flood U.S. Border Again

The number of Central American children fleeing to United States is booming once again, as security and economic troubles continue to grip El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The rush of minors across the southwest border became a political firestorm in the summer of 2014, prompting the Obama administration to enact emergency measures to stem the flow. Last year, the efforts seemed to work as the number of unaccompanied minors from those three countries entering the U.S. dropped from nearly 70,000 in 2014 to 39,970. Now the exodus to the USA is back on the rise. In the first 11 months of the 2016 fiscal year, which ends in September, 54,052 children made the journey. In El Salvador, people are fleeing a staggering level of violence that has made the country the murder capital of the world. In Guatemala, pockets of intense violence are driving some to the U.S. But Guatemalan officials said at the United Nations last week that their migrants are leaving mostly for economic reasons and should not be considered refugees.

Senate Overwhelmingly Overrides Obama’s 9/11 Veto

The Senate on Wednesday voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill letting the victims of the 9/11 attacks sue Saudi Arabia, striking a blow to the president on foreign policy. The 97-1 vote marks the first time the Senate has mustered enough votes to overrule Obama’s veto pen. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was the sole vote to sustain Obama’s veto. Not a single Democrat came to the Senate floor before the vote to argue in favor of Obama’s position. Lawmakers don’t want to be seen as soft on punishing terrorist sponsors a few weeks before the election, at a time when voters are increasingly worried about radical Islamic terrorism in the wake of recent attacks in Manhattan, Minnesota and Orlando, Fla., reports MinutemenNews.com.

Charlotte Protesters Disrupt Council Meeting

Protesters overwhelmed an emotionally charged Charlotte City Council meeting Monday night, chanting “No justice, no peace” and demanding the resignations of Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Police Chief Kerr Putney. More than 50 people stepped to the podium, including a few children, to express anger over the fatal police shooting of African American Keith Lamont Scott and the city’s response to days of sometimes angry and violent demonstrations that followed. The packed audience held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and the names of residents killed by police officers. The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance, with many in the crowd refusing to stand. Police Chief Kerr Putney acknowledged there “is no definitive, visual evidence” that Scott had a gun in his hand. “You see something in the hand and that he pointed it at an officer,” Putney said before the videos were released. The department has said officers perceived Scott’s movements as posing an imminent threat.

Violent Crime Up Nearly 4% in 2015

Overall violent crime in the U.S., increased by nearly 4 percent last year, a new FBI report concluded Monday, as several major cities struggled to deal with rising gun violence. The FBI’s annual crime report found that murder was up 12.8 percent in cities, driving the overall increase. Property-related crime, however, dropped by 2.6 percent. While the one-year violent crime increase was significant, the 2015 total was nearly 1 percent lower than in 2011 and 16.5 percent below the level a decade ago, according to FBI records. Facing increasing questions about police departments’ use of deadly force, the Justice Department is attempting to create a database to track deadly encounters between police and the public.

Mississippi Forces Welfare Users to Work for Food Stamps

A new Mississippi policy requiring that food stamp recipients find work or volunteer to maintain their benefits went into effect recently. Mississippi Gulf Coast news station WLOX reported that the policy requires that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work or volunteer 20 hours per week. One volunteer at an organization that provides food for the homeless said, “It’s more of a job opportunity to help you get out into the job world, and being up here helps you out a lot.” Fox News notes that, “More and more states are moving to require able-bodied adults to work in exchange for food stamps.” However, more than 40 states still do not require welfare recipients to work.

Migrant Update

French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to the port of Calais Monday that the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp would be “definitively dismantled” under a plan to relocate the migrants to centers around the country. The French government has tried to close “The Jungle” in Calais multiple times. But so far, each attempt has failed.

A total of 204 bodies have been recovered from the migrant boat that capsized off the coast of Egypt last week. The vessel had set off from Egypt carrying around 450 people and was heading for Italy when it overturned last Wednesday. Most of those on board were from Egypt, Eritrea and Somalia. On the same day the boat capsized near Rashid, the coast guard foiled an illegal immigration attempt, rescuing 294 on board a boat off the shore of Egypt.

Economic News

U.S. consumer confidence rose in September to the highest level in nine years. The Conference Board says that its consumer confidence index rose to 104.1, up from 101.8 in August. It was the strongest reading since the index stood at 105.6 in August 2007, four months before the beginning of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The September gain was primarily propelled by an improvement of consumers’ views about the labor market.

About 3.5 million Americans were able to raise their chins above the poverty line last year, according to census data released earlier this month. More than seven years after the recession ended, employers are finally being compelled to reach deeper into the pools of untapped labor, reports the New York Times. Employers are creating more jobs, especially among retailers, restaurants and hotels. They are also paying higher wages to attract workers and meet new minimum wage requirements. Poverty declined among every group. But African-Americans and Hispanics — who account for more than 45 percent of those below the poverty line of $24,300 for a family of four in most states — experienced the largest improvement.

When Barack Obama entered the White House, the U.S. government was 10.6 trillion dollars in debt.  Today, the U.S. government is 19.5 trillion dollars in debt and will increase to over $20 million by the end of his term. The rate at which we are adding to the national debt is actually increasing.  During the fiscal year that is just ending, the U.S. government has added another 1.36 trillion dollars to the national debt. It isn’t just the federal government that is on a massive debt binge.  Total U.S. corporate debt has nearly doubled since the end of 2007. Default rates on U.S. corporate debt are the highest that they have been since the last financial crisis.

U.S. home prices rose again in July, pulled up by strong gains in Portland, Seattle and Denver. The Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, rose 5% in July from a year earlier. The latest report is further evidence that prices are being pushed higher by the limited inventory of homes on the market. That is hurting sales of both new and existing homes, despite buyer enthusiasm and historically low mortgage rates. The Commerce Department reported Monday that new home sales fell 7.6% in August. And the National Association of Realtors said last week that sales of existing homes slipped 0.9% in August. Inventory collapsed 10.1% from a year ago to 2.04 million homes.

Despite the improvements in home prices, MarketWatch.com reports that there are at least 9 cities where more than 20% of homes are underwater, meaning that their mortgages cost more than the homes are worth. Cleveland is highest at 27.5% with Las Vegas next at 25.7%. Nationally, only about 12% of homes are underwater. During the month of August, commercial bankruptcy filings were up 29 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Corporate profits have fallen for five quarters in a row, and it is being projected that it will be six in a row once the final numbers for the third quarter come in.

Two former Wells Fargo employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the bank seeking $2.6 billion or more for California workers who were fired or demoted after refusing to open fake accounts. The suit accuses Wells Fargo of orchestrating a “fraudulent scheme” to boost its stock price that forced employees to “choose between keeping their jobs and opening unauthorized accounts.” It’s the latest legal headache facing Wells Fargo, which earlier this month was fined $185 million for inflating sales metrics by opening more than two million fake bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo also faces a hearing in the House, an investigation from the Department of Justice and is still reeling from a grilling by the Senate banking committee last week.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants are ‘dead set’ on using chemical arms and are likely to try them again as Iraqi forces advance on Mosul, a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday, a week after a rocket with a possible chemical agent landed near U.S. troops. The rocket fired Tuesday landed in an unpopulated area near Qayyara West base, several hundred yards from where hundreds of U.S. troops are working to prepare an airfield for an Iraqi offensive to recapture the city of Mosul. No one was hurt in the attack.

Syria

There’s been more violence in Syria as diplomacy to establish a ceasefire seems to have failed once again. Air raids are worse than before the ceasefire went into effect, the opposition says. About 200 airstrikes have pummeled neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo since Friday morning, said Ammar al-Selmo, the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. Rescue teams are still working to extract people from the rubble. More than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured within Aleppo neighborhoods by the airstrikes, said al-Selmo. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the Syrian offensive’s airstrikes, incendiary weapons and bunker-buster bombs in densely populated places may amount to war crimes. The secretary-general urged the international community to unite and say it will not tolerate the indiscriminate use of power weapons against civilians. As many as 20 churches have reportedly been destroyed in the renewed bombing attacks in Aleppo, Syria, reports Christian Headlines Daily.

As deadly airstrikes pounded Aleppo, Syria over the weekend, a major foreign ground force was also converging on the region. As many as 3,000 Iranian-backed fighters have arrived in Aleppo supporting the Syrian regime in its fight to crush the rebellion, two U.S. officials confirm to Fox News. There are an estimated 250,000 Syrian civilians trapped in Aleppo facing an onslaught of Russian and Syrian bombs, according to reports. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias include fighters from neighboring Iraq as well as Afghanistan, officials say.

Iraq

An explosion Sunday evening in central Baghdad marked the third attack of the day in the Iraqi capital, where a total of eight people were killed and at least 25 wounded in the three blasts. ISIS claimed responsibility for the day’s deadliest attack, a suicide bombing that killed at least six people. Separately, at least one person was killed and two wounded when a bomb exploded on a bus in central Baghdad, the Baghdad Operations Center told CNN.

Iran

Iran is not ready to compromise on the issues of intelligence sharing, sanctions and definitions of terrorist groups in order to join an international task force against terror financing, a minister said today. Iran, along with North Korea, is blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and aims to be removed from “high risk and non-cooperative” status, even if it does not obtain full membership. Economy Minister Ali Tayebnia said Iran is not obliged to accept all the conditions put forward by the task force.  But it will implement some of the recommendations in an Action Plan developed with the FATF in order to be upgraded to either a fully cooperating or partially cooperating country, he added.

A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Tuesday that Iran is in possession of missiles that can hit Israel. Iran’s Press TV quoted Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh as telling reporters that “we do not need missiles with a range of over 2,000 kilometers. The longest range required for [Iran’s] missiles is the [Israeli] occupied lands.” The commander warned that “the Zionist regime is our biggest target.”

Germany

Security has been stepped up in the German city of Dresden, following two bomb attacks on a mosque and a conference center Monday evening. No one was injured in the attacks, which included two homemade devices, according to police. The bombings come ahead of next weekend’s German Unity Day celebrations, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to attend. The celebrations mark the 26th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany. The explosions — first at the mosque and then at the International Congress Center — happened within minutes of each other, leading police to believe they’re related. Part of Dresden’s Unity Day celebrations were set to be held at the center. All Muslim institutions in the city are now under increased surveillance, It is unclear at this point who is behind the attacks.

Ukraine

The New York Times reports that a Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists. The report, by a team of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, was significant for applying standards of evidence admissible in court while still building a case directly implicating Russia, and it is likely to open a long diplomatic and legal struggle. With meticulous detail, working with cellphone records, social media, witness accounts and other evidence, the prosecutors traced Russia’s role in deploying the missile system into Ukraine and its attempts to cover its tracks afterward.

Mexico

Tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City on Saturday in opposition to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s push to legalize same-sex marriage. Organizers of the National Front for the Family estimated at least 215,000 people participated, and while that number could not be immediately confirmed, it was clearly one of the largest protest marches in Mexico in recent years. On the other side of a police barricade separating the two sides at Mexico’s Independence Monument, a far smaller crowd of same-sex marriage supporters — perhaps a couple hundred — listened to music and speeches. Many saw the massive march as the Roman Catholic church flexing its political muscle in a country where about 80 percent of people identify as nominally Catholic. In May, Pena Nieto proposed legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Columbia

A conflict that lasted over five decades. An estimated 220,000 people killed. Five million displaced. These staggering figures are now consigned to history as the Colombian government buries the hatchet with its longtime nemesis, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group. In a symbolic gesture, the pens used to sign the historic peace deal, years in the making, have been made from recycled bullets once used in the fifty-two year conflict. An inscription on the side of the pens reads: “Bullets wrote our past. Education, our future.” The two sides, joined by leaders from the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Uruguay, Cuba and the United Nations, came together on Monday in the coastal colonial city of Cartagena to sign the accord.

Earthquakes

Nearly 200 small earthquakes — including three of a magnitude greater than 4 — struck the Salton Sea area in Southern California over the past few days. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the swarm of quakes started early Monday morning and continued into the evening. Quakes measuring 4.3 and 4.2 magnitude occurred Monday night.  Nine of the quakes measure greater than 3.0. The sea sits atop a very thin crust that is being constantly stretched as the North American and Pacific plates grind against each other. The area is also veined by dozens of faults — most notably the San Andreas — that run parallel to and crisscross one another. The quakes continued Tuesday but the size of the temblors were decreasing.

Volcanoes

Indonesian authorities are searching for several hundred tourists after Mount Barujari on Lombok island spewed a massive column of ash into the atmosphere and have evacuated more than 1,100 others, the country’s disaster agency says. The volcano, also known as the Child of Rinjani because it sits within the Mount Rinjani caldera, erupted without warning on Tuesday afternoon, delaying flights from airports on the islands of Lombok and Bali, the AP reports. The ash column reached more than a mile into the air. A Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman says that nearly 400 foreign and local tourists had been registered since Sunday to climb the mountain, leaving from a monitoring post about 7 miles from the volcano’s crater.

Wildfires

A fast-moving brush fire on top of Loma Prieta in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains has led to mandatory evacuations. The Loma fire is threatening homes and has grown to least 2,250 acres, according to Cal Fire, and is 10 percent contained. Evacuations have been ordered for 300 structures near the fire. Several roads are closed. The fire broke out at 2:45 p.m. Monday and began as a structure fire.

Weather

Thousands of Iowans are taking no chances in advance of what could be one of the worst floods in the state’s history. For days, the rising waters of rivers and creeks in eastern Iowa have forced more than 10,000 residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city, out of their homes and businesses. Volunteers filled sandbags and moved objects to higher ground over the weekend in preparation for the flooding. The recommended evacuation was not mandatory, but fire officials requested names of the next of kin from those who didn’t leave their homes. A curfew has been ordered in the evacuation zone between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to local officials. Swollen by floodwaters, the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has crested at nearly 22 feet Tuesday, 6 feet above flood stage and was flowing at 85,000 cubic feet per second, much faster than the typical 24,000 cfs.

Torrential rainfall led to flooding that closed roads and even some schools in the San Antonio area Monday morning. Rainfall rates up to 3 inches per hour fell on parts of Bexar County prior to the morning commute, and before the event was over, up to 7 inches of total rainfall had been reported. KENS-TV said the heavy rainfall led to water rescues in multiple places around the city, and some streets had to be closed after they became inundated with flood water. Among those road closures were parts of interstates 35 and 10.

After Taiwan suffered a direct blow from Typhoon Megi, which has killed at least five people and injured hundreds, China’s Fujian province was swamped by heavy rains that left widespread flooding. The storm was also responsible for several collapsed structures in the Chinese town of Quanzhou, where one person was killed. Megi prompted school closures and dozens of flight cancellations in Quanzhou Wednesday. More than 120,000 fishermen were evacuated in Fujian province alone. More than 600 people were injured – many of which were caused by flying debris – during the storm, the AP reported. In the wake of the typhoon, more than 2.9 million Taiwanese homes and businesses lost power.

Signs of the Times (9/7/16)

September 7, 2016

Intelligence Agencies Investigating Covert Russian Influence in U.S.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are probing what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said. The officials cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” the official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.” U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs. The Russian government hack of the Democratic National Committee, disclosed by the DNC in June but not yet officially ascribed by the U.S. government to Russia, and the subsequent release of 20,000 hacked DNC emails by WikiLeaks, shocked officials. Cyber-analysts traced its digital markings to known Russian government hacking groups.

U.S., China Formally Join Global Climate Pact

President Obama on Saturday said cooperation was “the single best chance that we have” to save the planet as he stood with China’s President Xi Jinping to formally enter their two nations into last year’s Paris climate change agreement. At a ceremony on the sidelines of a global economic summit, Obama and Xi, representing the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, delivered documents to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The papers certified the U.S. and China have taken the necessary steps to join the Paris accord that set nation-by-nation targets for cutting carbon emissions. The announcement means the accord could take force by the end of the year, a faster than anticipated timeline. Xi, speaking through a translator, said he hoped the announcement would spur more countries to take action.

  • The pace of globalization continues to quicken with the one-world government of Revelation 13 taking shape, although it still has years to go before the anti-Christ rises to his throne

‘Gaps of Trust’ Preventing Syria Cease-Fire

During a 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to make a breakthrough in negotiating a cease-fire agreement for Syria. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” Obama said during a news conference in Hangzhou. The two leaders agreed to keep looking for a path to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in the war-torn state. They also discussed Ukraine and U.S. concerns over cyber-security.

Oil Pipeline Protest Turns Violent over Destruction of Indian Burial Site

A protest of a four-state, $3.8 billion oil pipeline turned violent Saturday after tribal officials say construction crews destroyed American Indian burial and cultural sites on private land in southern North Dakota. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured after several hundred protesters confronted construction crews at the site just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Tribe spokesman Steve Sitting Bear said protesters reported that six people had been bitten by security dogs, including a young child. At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed, he said. The Sheriff’s office said law enforcement authorities had no reports of protesters being injured. There were no law enforcement personnel at the site when the incident occurred. The crowd disbursed when officers arrived and no one was arrested. Over the past few weeks, thousands of Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country have traveled to this central North Dakota reservation to camp in a nearby meadow and show solidarity with a tribe they think is once again receiving a raw deal at the hands of commercial interests and the U.S. government.

Senate Deadlocked on Zika & Government Funding

The top Republican and Democratic Senate leaders returned from their seven-week summer recess Tuesday and picked up where they left off in July — harshly blaming the other’s party for inaction on critical bills to battle Zika and fund the government. In a pair of votes, Democrats blocked taking up GOP bills to pay for a public health response to the virus and to fund the Pentagon next year leaving in doubt Congress’ ability to pass either bill. Each failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance. If an agreement is not reached, the government could shut down on September 30, just a few weeks before the presidential and congressional elections. The Zika vote came as the mosquito-borne virus, which can also be transmitted sexually, spreads widely in the Puerto Rico and some US states. Democrats blocked the bill because they say it included a provision to prevent funding for Planned Parenthood.

Migrant Update

Europe is “close to limit” on accepting refugees, EU President Donald Tusk said Sunday, as he urged the international community to do more to step up resettlement of those seeking refuge. G20 leaders are meeting in Hangzhou, about one hour outside of Shanghai, through Monday to tackle issues including trade, terrorism and climate change. Tusk urged fellow G20 member countries to do more to support the world refugee population. “In light of an unprecedented number of 65 million displaced people all over the world, the G20 community needs to scale up its share of responsibility,” Tusk said.

An anti-immigration party made a strong showing at the expense of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in her home district Sunday, a repudiation of her open-door policy for migrants. Official results showed the far-right Alternative for Germany came in second with 20.8% of the vote, ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democrats at 19%, the party’s worst showing since German reunification a quarter-century ago. The center-left Social Democrats came out on top with 30.6% of the vote. Alternative for Germany had made as its main campaign issue Merkel’s decision to allow more than 1 million war refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to settle in Germany in the past year.

Nearly 50 million children worldwide have been uprooted from their homes due to violence, poverty and other factors out of their control, according to a new report released by the U.N. children’s agency. Of that total, 28 million are child refugees who fled conflict, states the UNICEF report. An additional 20 million are child migrants who left their homes in search of better lives. Although a migrant can be a refugee, the term refugee is specifically used to note people fleeing persecution.

Economic News

Americans are borrowing more than ever for new and used vehicles, and 30- and 60-day delinquency rates rose in the second quarter, according to the automotive arm of one of the nation’s largest credit bureaus. The total balance of all outstanding auto loans reached $1.027 trillion between April 1 and June 30. More consumers also are turning to leases, which accounted for 31.44% of all new car and truck transactions in the second quarter, up from 26.9% a year earlier. The average new car loan was $29,880, up 4.8% from the second quarter of 2015, and about $4,000 less than the average new vehicle selling price. The average monthly payment on those loans was $499, up from $483 a year earlier. A growing portion of those loans are for a longer term, sometimes as long seven years. Last month, Fitch Ratings issued a report that found that among subprime and deep subprime borrowers, the percentage that are 60 days or more behind on payments reached 4.59% in July, a 17% increase from a year earlier.

A weak reading for the services segment of the economy was reported Monday. The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index slumped to 51.4, the lowest since February 2010, from 55.5 in July.  A reading over 50 indicates expansion, so this is the latest economic measure that suggests the rate of growth of the U.S. economy is slowing down.

Global leaders ended a major economic summit in eastern China on Monday with a forceful endorsement of free trade. In a joint statement on the summit, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the leaders of Britain, Japan, Russia and other Group of 20 economies pledged to boost sluggish global growth by promoting innovation and to strengthen the global financial system.

Islamic State

The sophisticated ISIS network that plots foreign strikes had planned for the carnage in the November 2015 Paris attacks to be far worse, to occur in other European countries as well and, investigators believe, had planned to follow them up with strikes in several locations, CNN has learned. “ISIS is increasing its international attack planning,” said Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst. “It’s increasingly sophisticated in the way it does this. It’s set up an intricate, logistical support system for these terrorists … to launch these terrorist attacks.” A CNN team spent months going through 90,000 pages of documents, most of them in French, that included a trove of interrogations, investigative findings and data pulled from cell phones offering insight into the external operations wing of ISIS known as the Amn al-Kharji.

A senior European counter-terrorism official who spoke to CNN said that according to investigations into the network that carried out the Paris attacks, they were a slimmed-down version of an even more ambitious plan to hit Europe. European investigators now believe that ISIS initially planned for the operatives it sent last year to also attack the Netherlands, as well as other targets in France including shopping areas and possibly a supermarket in Paris. These plans were compromised when authorities captured two men who intended to travel to France alongside the two suicide bombers who eventually blew themselves up outside a Paris stadium.

Terrorist group ISIS has reportedly named Pope Francis its number one enemy. According to a recent publication by the terror group, Francis is hated for being a “non-believer” and defending homosexual people. Pope Francis has also sought to open communication and understanding between Christians and Muslims, which ISIS has denounced. The group wrote, “Recent popes – and especially Pope Francis – have attempted to paint a picture of heartwarming friendship, seeking to steer Muslim masses away from the obligation of waging jihad against disbelief.”

Syria

Turkey’s military launched a second incursion into Syria Saturday against an Islamic State-held border town, in a move that U.S. officials view as a necessary step to flushing out the jihadist group from the war-torn country. A Turkish armored unit supported by artillery strikes moved across the border into Al-Rai, a Syrian city that Syrian rebels lost to the Islamic State earlier in May and which is located roughly halfway along the line of control between the Turkish-Syrian border. A statement from the Turkish military said that Syrian rebels, fighting with the support of Turkish armored units and artillery, had regained control of the Syrian town.

A string of bombings, including a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State group, struck in and around several Syrian cities on Monday, killing at least 43 people, mainly in government-controlled areas. The SANA news agency reported blasts around the coastal city of Tartus, the central city of Homs, the suburbs of the capital Damascus, and the northeastern city of Hasakeh. Areas controlled by President Bashar Assad’s forces have seen several bombings and other attacks during the country’s five-year civil war, with many claimed by Al Qaeda-linked militant groups.

A suspected chlorine attack by Syrian government forces was blamed Wednesday for one death and respiratory injuries suffered by scores of civilians near rebel-held Aleppo. Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of forensics in the war-torn city, told the Associated Press one man died overnight of heart failure and acute respiratory distress caused by inhaling toxic gas. The BBC said at least 100 people (including dozens of children) were treated with respiratory issues following the alleged barrel-bomb attack Tuesday in the Sukkari area south of the Aleppo. A United Nations report issued last month accused the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad of carrying out at least two toxic gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

Iran

The U.S. transferred a total of $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in order to settle a long-running dispute over a failed 1979 arms deal, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ said late Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration sent $400 million in cash to Iran in January, with two more subsequent shipments of similar amounts, totaling another $1.3 billion, according to congressional officials briefed by the U.S. State, Treasury and Justice departments. “The cash payments — made in Swiss francs, euros and other currencies— settled a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal dating back to 1979,” the WSJ reported. It said that U.S. officials acknowledged that the payment of the first $400 million “coincided with Iran’s release of American prisoners and was used as leverage to ensure they were flown out of Tehran’s Mehrabad on the morning of January 17.”

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” following a deadly ‘terrorist’ explosion at an open-air market in southern Davao City that killed at least 14 people and injured at least 70 others during a presidential visit to his hometown on Friday. Duterte added that the “state of lawlessness” did not constitute martial law, though it does authorize security forces to conduct searches throughout the country. The region was under a heightened security alert because of a military offensive against Abu Sayyaf militants. The explosion erupted near one of the top hotels in the city, which is frequented by Duterte. Earlier Friday, the president dismissed rumors of a plot to assassinate him. Duterte was dubbed “the Punisher” after taking a hard stance against the drug trade during his 22 years as mayor of Davao City. Now, President, Duterte has been cracking down hard on drug dealers, even encouraging vigilante justice.

North Korea

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Monday, as China hosted leaders from across the world for the G-20 summit, according to reports from the South Korean News Service and the Associated Press. Earlier on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye criticized the neighbor to the north for what she described as provocations that are hurting Seoul-Beijing relations. The U.S. condemned the tests, saying they violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to aircraft and commercial ships in the region. The U.N. Security Council in late August strongly condemned four North Korean ballistic missile launches in July and August, calling them “grave violations” of a ban on all ballistic missile activity.

Laos

President Obama on Tuesday said the United States would spend $90 million over the next three years on clearing unexploded bombs that it dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Obama made the announcement during remarks delivered at the Lao National Cultural Hall in the capital Vientiane. The pledge doubles the current U.S. funding for the effort. Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian country. “The spirit of reconciliation is what brings me here today. Given our history here, the U.S. has a moral obligation to help Laos heal,” Obama said. Obama said he wanted to make the two nations “whole again.”

Earthquakes

Oklahoma was hit by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake Saturday morning. It tied for the strongest ever recorded in the state. The quake struck at a depth of about 41 miles below the surface, about 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma, and about 75 miles north of Oklahoma City, according to the United States Geological Survey. Officials with the Pawnee County Emergency Management say at least one building has collapsed there as the result of the quake. Governor Fallin said six buildings on the Pawnee Nation reservation were left “uninhabitable” and emergency responders found a “variety of damage.” The police received lots of reports of buildings with bricks that came off and broken windows. The quake was felt as far away as Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri; Houston and Dallas, Texas; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Omaha, Nebraska.

Five months before Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude temblor in central Oklahoma, government scientists warned that oil and natural gas drilling had made a wide swath of the country more susceptible to earthquakes. Saturday’s earthquake spurred state regulators in Oklahoma to order 37 disposal wells, which are used by frackers, to shut down over a 725-square mile area. Fracking is used by oil and gas producers to extract oil from the ground — and it’s behind the massive boom in U.S. oil production. Fracking is a far more efficient drilling technique, but it’s also controversial because it contaminates local water supplies and forcibly breaks apart underground shale formations.

Wildfires

Several fires raging around Spain’s eastern Costa Blanca resorts on Sunday and Monday forced more than 1,400 residents and tourists to flee and have prompted a search for the arsonist responsible for the blazes. The fires, which authorities said were brought under control on Monday, destroyed at least 20 homes, scorched more than 2,000 acres. On Monday afternoon, police reportedly found several empty containers of gasoline they believe were used by the arsonist to light the fires. “This is environmental terrorism, it goes beyond putting at risk our natural heritage, it directly attacks people,” Ximo Puig, the head of the regional government of Valencia, told reporters. Meanwhile, a separate fire broke out near Bolulla that continues to rage out of control. The fire forced the evacuation of at least 100 people and reportedly destroyed at least 40 buildings.

Weather

Three people have reportedly died from Hurricane Newton which made landfall Tuesday on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula near the Cabo San Lucas resort area. Newton pounded Baja California Sur with hurricane-force winds of 90 mph and heavy rains. At least 14,000 tourists were stranded in Los Cabos. All flights had been canceled late Monday ahead of the storm. With storm surge expected to impact low-lying coastal areas, ports in the area were closed and shelters capable of providing sanctuary for at least 16,000 were opened. Before the storm system became a tropical storm, at least 70 homes and schools were damaged in Acapulco in the state of Guerrero and 200 people were trapped in a housing complex. Newton turned to the northeast and emerged over the very warm waters of the Gulf of California late Tuesday, likely keeping it at hurricane strength into Wednesday.” After the storm makes its second landfall in northeast Mexico on Wednesday, it is expected to weaken to a tropical storm and even further to a tropical depression as it makes its way into Arizona delivering abundant rain to the southern regions of the state.

After clobbering the Gulf Coast of Florida, Hurricane Hermine has left at least one reportedly person missing as it tracked through the Southeast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Tens of thousands were without power Friday in southern Georgia as trees and power lines were downed by the storm’s strong winds. A possible tornado associated with the storm also damaged several structures in the Savannah area. At least eight counties across Georgia reported damage associated with the storm. The Red Cross opened five shelters in South Georgia so residents had a place to stay Thursday night. Hermine struck a major blow to the Labor Day weekend tourist trade along the coast of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Although Post-Tropical Cyclone Hermine remains far from shore off the Northeast coast as of Monday, officials were warning residents and visitors to heed warnings about deadly rip currents and possible coastal flooding.

Signs of the Times (8/25/16)

August 25, 2016

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama’s Transgender Directive

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

Gender Confusion in Schools

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

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

Major Study Undermines Gay Agenda

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

Kim Davis Wins the Fight for Religious Freedom

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

Twitter Suspends 235,000 Accounts for Extremism

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

U.S. Opioid Deaths Skyrocketing

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

Tanning Industry Blames 10,000 Salon Closings on ObamaCare

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

Obamacare Options Dwindling

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

Louisiana Flood Update

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Turkey

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

Iraq

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

Iran

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Nigeria

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

North Korea

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

Haiti

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

Colombia

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

Brazil

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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