Posts Tagged ‘debt’

Signs of the Times (12/14/17)

December 14, 2017

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

The World Sees Red at Christmas

“Red is the color of Christmas—not because Santa suits are red or because we wrap packages in red. Red is the color of Christmas because of the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed. We see a battle being played out in our culture today that is actually the battle of the gods. It is the God of the Bible, the true and living God, versus all contenders. The Incarnation was for the purpose of atonement. The purpose behind the birth of Jesus was the death of Jesus. This is New Testament Christianity. It’s the division between light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil, and right and wrong. So don’t be upset because there is a little conflict. Just hold your ground and keep praying. This division can result in people thinking about their souls, considering the claims of Christ, and then ultimately turning their lives over to the Lord.” (Greg Laurie, Harvest)

Inept Subway Bomber Charged with Terrorism

Akayed Ullah, the Bangladesh native accused of igniting a small bomb Monday in a New York transit hub, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting an act of terrorism and making terroristic threats, police said Tuesday. Ullah and three people near him were wounded in the blast. Ullah expected to die in the attack and believed that others would perish with him. Ullah, 27, was not on the radar of law enforcement prior to Monday’s blast. Ullah did not appear to have been struggling financially or facing any other particular pressures. Authorities have described Ullah as a lone wolf who was inspired by the Islamic State, a common theme in recent attacks. “I did it for the Islamic State,” he told authorities. The city’s morning commute was running smoothly Tuesday, and the pedestrian tunnel where Ullah detonated what was essentially a vest of explosives was open. Ullah detonated his improvised, low-tech explosive device in the crowded pedestrian tunnel Monday at about 7:20 a.m. Ullah told investigators he timed the assault to coincide with the Christmas season for the greatest possible impact

Tax Cut Bill Not What Trump Promised

The day after suffering a political blow in the Alabama special Senate election, congressional Republicans sped forward with the most sweeping tax rewrite in decades, announcing an agreement on a final bill that would cut taxes for businesses and individuals and signal the party’s first major legislative achievement since assuming political control this year. Party leaders in the House and Senate agreed in principle to bridge the yawning gaps between their competing versions of the $1.5 trillion tax bill, keeping Republicans on track for final votes next week with the aim of delivering a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas. The House and Senate versions of the tax bill started from the same core principles — sharply cutting taxes on businesses, while reducing rates and eliminating some breaks for individuals. The changes included a slightly higher corporate tax rate of 21 percent, rather than the 20 percent in the legislation that passed both chambers, and a lower top individual tax rate of 37 percent for the wealthiest Americans, who currently pay 39.6 percent. But the bill will still scale back some popular tax breaks, including the state and local tax deduction and the deductibility of mortgage interest.

The GOP tax plan on the cusp of becoming law diverges wildly from the promises President Trump and top advisers said they would deliver for the middle class — an evolution that shows how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump’s distinctive brand of economic populism as it moved through Washington. The bill was supposed to deliver benefits predominantly to average working families, not corporations. “The largest tax reductions are for the middle class, who have been forgotten,” Trump said in Gettysburg, Pa., on Oct. 22, 2016. But the final product is looking much different, the result of a partisan policymaking process that largely took place behind closed doors, faced intense pressure from corporate lobbyists and ultimately fell in line with GOP wish lists. As top lawmakers from the House and the Senate now rush to complete negotiations to push the tax plan into law, it amounts to a massive corporate tax cut, with uneven — and temporary — benefits for the middle class that could end up increasing taxes for many working families in future years.

FCC Repeals its Net Neutrality Rules

Federal regulators voted Thursday morning to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon. The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry would be a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it would be a sweeping victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan. Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members followed through on a promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. Internet service providers argue that there is no financial incentive to penalize specific apps or services, that giving some sites the option of faster service could in fact benefit consumers. The ISPs also said the 2015 rules discouraged providers from making broadband faster and more reliable.

India, China & Russia Refrain from Recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestinian Capital

Foreign ministers from India, Russia and China notably refrained from recognizing ‘East Jerusalem’ as the capital of Palestine at their annual meeting in New Delhi this week – seven days after the US recognized the holy city as the capital of Israel. The decision not to restate the position on Jerusalem long-held by all three countries was in marked contrast to their joint call at last year’s meeting in Moscow for a “sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” At this year’s 15th annual meeting, their statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stressed support for “an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” without mentioning the issue of Jerusalem.

Turkey’s President Quotes Hadith to Justify Killing Jews

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked a Muslim “hadith” commonly used by Hamas and other terrorist supporters to sanction the killing of Jews, during a party convention last Sunday. The full hadith says: “The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.” Erdogan invoked the passage during a Justice and Development Party (AKP) gathering on Sunday, just days after President Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and pledged to move the US embassy there. Erdogan also accused Israel of being a terrorist state. “Those who think they own Jerusalem better know that tomorrow they won’t be able to hide behind trees,” Erdogan said.

  • Hadith are a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad that, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran.

Texas Imam Calls for Israel’s Destruction

Following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a Texas-based Islamic cleric has posted a recorded prayer on his Facebook page calling for Israel’s destruction, along with “their allies, and those who assist them.” Sheikh Ramadan Elsabagh  is listed as the head of the Islamic Services Foundation Quran Institute in Garland, Texas, and is featured as a Quran reader on many Internet sites. His YouTube pages have tens of thousands of views. His recitations are also featured in Google Play and iTunes. The video drew several comments of “amen, amen,” according to a Facebook translation. One came from Said Abbasy, a New York-based Muslim Brotherhood supporter. Abbasy mourned the death of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman – considered the spiritual guide for the 1993 World Trade Center bombers who was convicted for a plot to attack other New York landmarks and assassinate high-profile targets, according to IPT.

  • While there are many peace-loving Muslims, Islam has the highest proportion of extremists than another religion – by far. That’s because the Quran calls for using violence, if necessary, to establish Islam as the one-world religion.

Russia, China Aggressively Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

A sobering new report warns of growing nuclear threats to U.S. national security posed by the deterioration of the nation’s own nuclear arsenal just as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are all upgrading their arsenals. Dr. Mark Schneider, author of the report for the Center for Security Policy and a longtime Pentagon official with expertise in strategic forces, reports a huge increase in the numbers and sophistication of the Russian and Chinese missile arsenals and compares this with the deterioration of America’s nuclear arsenal. Russia and China are now deploying new nuclear ICBMs, new nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, new nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles and new ballistic missile submarines. In contrast to Russia’s vastly upgraded position, most of the U.S. systems date back to the Reagan era, with some going as far back as the Eisenhower administration. Schneider’s report notes that the U.S. no longer has the capability to produce tritium, a vital nuclear weapons ingredient. He explains that the average age of a U.S. nuclear weapon – 35 years – represents a serious threat to the U.S. nuclear arsenal because the estimated life span of the nuclear fuel in these weapons is just 45 to 60 years.

U.S. Weapons Provided to Syrian Rebels Wound Up in ISIS

Sophisticated weapons the U.S. military secretly provided to Syrian rebels quickly fell into the hands of the Islamic State, a study released Thursday disclosed. The report said the Islamic State’s possession of these weapons remains a threat to the U.S.-led coalition still operating against the terror group in Iraq and Syria. The arms included anti-tank weapons that ended up in possession of the Islamic State within two months of leaving the factory, according to the study by Conflict Armament Research, an organization that tracks arms shipments. The study was funded by the European Union and German government. Efforts by the United States and other countries to supply weapons to rebel groups “have significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to (Islamic State) forces,” the report concluded.

  • We never seem io learn that weapons supplied to supposed allies often wind up being used against us

DOJ Opens Probe Into Planned Parenthood Fetal Tissue Sales

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the sale of fetal tissue involving Planned Parenthood and several biomedical research companies. In a letter obtained by Fox News, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd formally requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which compiled a December 2016 report in which GOP chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa asked for a probe. “The Department of Justice appreciates the offer of assistance in obtaining these materials, and would like to request the Committee provide unredacted copies of records contained in the report, in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available,” Boyd wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Judge Rules Transgender People Can Enlist in Military

A federal judge on Monday denied the Trump administration’s request to delay an order requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits starting Jan. 1, saying the argument for more time seemed based on “vague claims.” “The Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by” meeting the New Year’s Day deadline, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote. The ruling follows her earlier opinion blocking the president’s ban on military recruitment of transgender men and women that possibly would have forced the dismissal of current service members starting in March. A second federal judge in Baltimore also issued a preliminary injunction in November that goes further, preventing the administration from denying funding for sex-reassignment surgeries once the order takes effect.

Economic News

The U.S. central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point, moving it into a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. It’s the fifth increase since the bank cut the rate to nearly zero amid the 2008 financial crisis. Lower rates are aimed at stimulating economic growth, and in raising the rate, the Fed pointed to a strong economy, with steady growth, limited inflation and unemployment at its lowest level since 2000. Low interest rates make it cheaper to borrow money for homes, cars or major business investments, but if left too long they carry the risk of creating high inflation or investment bubbles. Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen will give her final news conference Wednesday afternoon before she steps down in early February. President Trump selected Jerome “Jay” Powell, a current Fed governor, to replace her.

The Dow hit a new record high and moved closer to 25,000 Wednesday following numerous reports that Congressional leaders reached a tax overhaul deal. The S&P 500 also hit an all-time high while the tech-heavy Nasdaq inched closer to a record, too. CNN said the House and Senate could vote on a reconciled deal as soon as next week. That would mean the bill, if passed, could be signed into law by President Trump before the end of the year.

According to the Treasury Department’s website, the interest on government debt is now $1.26 billion a day. Every day. That’s $458.5 billion a year. Just for interest to repay creditors. Total debt now has surpassed $20 trillion. This year, the total government deficit is estimated at $666 billion, an increase of $80 billion over last year, further adding to the interest burden. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that, if nothing changes from the status quo, interest payments would rise to 91% of the nation’s total economic output (gross domestic product).

The share of the nation’s total income that goes to the top 10% of the population is at the highest point in over a century. After peaking at just under 50% on the eve of the Great Depression, the figure then fell as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which introduced social safety nets for low-income individuals. Income inequality then began to climb again in the 1970s. It’s a trend that has continued ever since, breaching the 50% threshold in 2015, according to data from the World Wealth and Income Database. Extreme inequality can trigger political turmoil. We’re already seeing this with the growth of populism. Inequality can also lead to lower economic growth. Wealthy people spend less of their income than poor people.

The worst is yet to come for American shopping malls. As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis. When so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent. As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years — around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

Speculators aren’t the only ones cheering the runaway bitcoin boom — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may also be celebrating a windfall. In recent months, experts and officials say North Korea has been “mining” bitcoin, demanding it as ransom payment for hacked computer networks, and stealing the digital currency. North Korean hackers targeted four different exchanges that trade bitcoin and other digital currencies in South Korea in July and August. Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency that lives on computer servers. The virtual coins are “mined” by complex algorithms and recorded in a digital ledger. Experts say the attacks by North Korea and others are likely to continue as bitcoin’s price skyrockets. It started the year below $1,000 but has soared more than 1,500%, crossing $17,000 for the first time last week. Some are claiming that Bitcoin was developed by the NSA.

  • With several other cryptocurrencies on the rise, competition may cause Bitcoin to experience a precipitous drop in the near future.

Great Britain

The British parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an amendment that gives the legislative body the power to approve or reject any Brexit deal made by the government in a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s power. With a group of May’s Conservative lawmakers rebelling against her Brexit vision, parliament voted 309 to 305 in favor of amending the government’s EU Bill, a move which observers believe will undermine the government’s ability to negotiate a deal. Eighteen months after Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union, Brexit is having a growing negative impact on the United Kingdom. Britain has agreed to pay the EU $54 billion to honor existing budget commitments on everything from EU officials’ pensions to investments in European infrastructure. That is raising questions about whether a divorce is still worth it. A poll published in October by YouGov, an online research firm, showed 47% of Brits thought the country was wrong to vote to leave the EU, compared to 42% who said it was the right thing to do.

Middle East

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canons at protesters near the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon on Sunday during a demonstration against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, set fires in the street and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the U.S. Embassy in the Awkar area north of Beirut. Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist Party Hanna Gharib declared the United States “the enemy of Palestine” and the U.S. Embassy “a symbol of imperialist aggression” that must be closed. Thousands also participated in demonstrations in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday in response to Trump’s statement. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs protested Sunday along a major highway in the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel, damaging several vehicles and leaving three people wounded. In response to the protests, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of Arab businesses in that region. In Jerusalem, a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday was arrested after allegedly stabbing a security guard.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel on Tuesday, setting off sirens in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. The rocket fell in open space, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip. Recent days have seen a spike in rockets attacks from Gaza following President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A total of 10 rockets have been fired at Israel in the past week. While tensions are high on the border with Gaza, Israel estimates that Hamas is not seeking to escalate the situation and engage in a full-blown armed conflict with Israel, at this time.

North Korea

U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials told him it was important to prevent war but they did not commit to talks. Feltmen met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit to Pyongyang. It was the highest level U.N. visit to North Korea since 2011. “They listened seriously to our arguments … They did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point,” said Feltman, a former U.S. diplomat. “They agreed it was important to prevent war… How we do that was the topic of 15-plus hours of discussions.” Feltman said he requested North Korea consider “talks about talks” and possibly open up “technical channels of communication, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, to signal intentions, to prevent misunderstandings and manage any crisis.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea.

India

“Going on a witch hunt” is a custom many in India observe — and for those hunted it can be deadly. Nearly 2,000 people across India, mostly women, were killed for alleged witchcraft between 2005 and 2015, the most recent numbers available from India’s National Crime Records Bureau. So far, 13 victims of witch hunts have received compensation of $750 to $3,000 from the state government. But no one has been convicted in the 86 cases filed since the Prevention of Witch-hunting Act was passed two years ago, largely because of the slow pace of India’s courts. In three of those cases, the witch hunts ended with the killing of the women accused of witchcraft.

Wildfires

Increased Santa Ana winds forced firefighters to move out of the way as blazes continue to tear through Southern California on Friday. Nearly 500 buildings have been lost and hundreds of thousands are still evacuated as a result several major fires. The fire burning in Ventura County is the largest of five fires burning in Southern California and has burned more than 220 square miles and forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people. It was just 15 percent contained as of Monday morning. It is the largest fire to be sparked in December in state history. The massive, deadly wildfire still burning in Ventura County, California, is now one of the five largest in state history. Named the Thomas Fire, the blaze driven by Santa Ana winds has claimed more than 360 square miles – an area larger than the city of San Diego. More than 94,000 people have been forced to flee the largest December wildfire in state history, and more than 1,000 structures have been destroyed, with18,000 structures remaining threatened.

A wildfire that was growing in a South Dakota state park erupted and grew out of control overnight Tuesday, and officials said some nearby communities are threatened. The so-called Legion Lake Fire grew from 6 square miles to 55 square miles overnight after forcing the evacuation of five homes in Custer State Park. The blaze is just 7 percent contained. A lot of these firefighters say they haven’t seen anything like this fire in 10 to 20 years. No homes or park buildings have been destroyed and crews succeeded in burning downed trees and grass between the fire and the State Game Lodge to protect the popular site. But the communities of Fairburn and Buffalo Gap, east of the park, remain threatened and residents of about 200 area homes have been evacuated or warned to evacuate.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji moved into the Northeast Saturday after blanketing much of the Deep South with heavy snow, leaving over 185,000 still without power and three dead. Benji dumped heavy snow across the Deep South Friday into Saturday. The wintry menace also hindered travel and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands. Over 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia combined as of Saturday morning Thundersnow was reported in some parts of southern Texas and even in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the system brought bursts of snow that were heavy at times.

Farther east, heavy snow fell in cities like Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, and the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Metro Atlanta experienced another traffic nightmare Friday afternoon as many businesses and schools let out employees and students at virtually the same time citywide. It was a scene similar to that of a snow and ice event in January 2014, when drivers spent upwards of 12 hours stuck in traffic before abandoning their cars to walk or sleep overnight in stores or hotels. Extremely frigid air, straight from the Arctic, is poised to invade portions of the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days. Areas near the Great Lakes and in New England could see up to a foot. Winter Storm Chloe arrived in the Midwest on Wednesday, dumping inches of snow and closing schools in Detroit for a second day.

The number of storm deaths in Puerto Rico is much, much higher than that country has officially reported, according to The New York Times. A review by the Times of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau indicates that 1,052 more people than usual died across the island, as compared to the 64 deaths local officials have touted.

Signs of the Times (11/28/17)

November 28, 2017

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.  (Romans 1:26-27))

Amid Sex Scandals, Hollywood Releases Gay Romance that Normalizes Man-Boy Sex

“Call Me by Your Name,” which opened nationwide Thanksgiving weekend, is about an older man’s affair with a 17-year-old boy.  And while the movie is garnering rave reviews. While promoting pederasty, the film has received high praise from leftist establishments. “Call Me By Your Name Just Officially Became This Year’s Oscars Frontrunner,” trumpets a W Magazine headline.  Rolling Stone declares it “the most romantic movie of the year” and “an instant classic.”  The New Yorker calls it an “erotic triumph, emotionally acute and overwhelmingly sensual,” and it is hailed by Entertainment Weekly as “gorgeous and intoxicating.”

  • Yet another end-time marker as God’s morality is turned upside down. Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20)

ADF Fighting Gay Rights & Abortion With the First Amendment

The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Few groups have done more to advance this body of legal thinking than the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has more than 3,000 lawyers working on behalf of its causes around the world and brought in $51.5 million in revenue for the 2015-16 tax year, reports the New York Times. Among the alliance’s successes has been bringing cases involving relatively minor disputes to the Supreme Court — a law limiting the size of church signs, a church seeking funding for a playground — and winning rulings that establish major constitutional precedents. it hopes to carve out an even wider sphere of protected religious expression this term when the justices are to hear two more of its cases, one a challenge to a California law that requires “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are run by abortion opponents, to provide women with information on how to obtain an abortion, and another in which it represents a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

  • “We think that in a free society, people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman shouldn’t be coerced by the government to promote a different view of marriage,” said Jeremy Tedesco, a senior counsel and vice president of United States advocacy for the group, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We have to figure out how to live in a society with pluralistic and diverse views.”

SPLC Criminalizing Christianity

Christianity is under attack as never before in the U.S. It’s happening daily in the so-called mainstream media, in the public square, on university campuses, in schools, on social media, and even in some courtrooms. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) “Hate Map” is now being trumpeted as the definitive word on ‘hate groups’ such as the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law & Justice.  Their “Hate” moniker is criminalizing Christianity. The SPLC has now begun adding some churches to its “Hate Map.” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel says he is, “alarmed by the influence of the SPLC on so many channels of communication (Google, YouTube, Amazon, Twitter, Vimeo, Norton’s security software) and commerce (PayPal, Stripe, Discover Card, Prudential, Amazon). In short, the SPLC wants to destroy, punish, or silence anyone who shares our Judeo-Christian values. The SPLC and its allies want to shut down our right to speak, our right to exist, and our right to “buy and sell.” (Rev. 13:17).

Free Speech Win for Pro-life Students in California

A pro-life student group at Fresno State University won its fight this month against a professor who told a student she had no free speech rights on a college campus. Students for Life sued professor William Gregory Thatcher after he scrubbed out a pro-life message chalked on the sidewalk and told student leader Bernadette Tasy, “College campuses are not free speech areas.” Tasy, who heads Fresno State Students for Life, had gotten permission from school administrators in May to chalk pro-life messages near the school library. Shortly after she finished her work, a group of students began rubbing out the messages, telling her Thatcher encouraged them to do it. Rather than take the lawsuit to court, Thatcher settled last week, agreeing to pay Tasy and another student $1,000 each and take First Amendment training provided by Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). He also agreed to pay $15,000 in attorney’s fees.

States Prepare to Shut Down Children’s Health Programs if Congress Doesn’t Act

Officials in nearly a dozen states are preparing to notify families that a crucial health insurance program for low-income children is running out of money for the first time since its creation two decades ago, putting coverage for many at risk by the end of the year. Congress missed a Sept. 30 deadline to extend funding for CHIP, as the Children’s Health Insurance Program is known. Nearly 9 million youngsters and 370,000 pregnant women nationwide receive care because of it. Many states have enough money to keep their individual programs afloat for at least a few months, but five could run out in late December if lawmakers do not act. Others will start to exhaust resources the following month. Most CHIP families, who earn too much for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance, are not aware lawmakers’ inaction is endangering coverage. The program, which is credited with helping to bring the rate of uninsured children to a record low of 4.5 percent, has been reauthorized several times over the years. Congress has been unable to agree on how to pay for the $15 billion program moving forward, however. President Trump’s 2018 budget proposed to cut billions from CHIP over two years.

FBI Trimmed Gun Check ‘Fugitives’ List From 500K to 778

The FBI in February narrowed its definition of “fugitive from justice,” resulting in the purge of tens of thousands of people from the criminal background check database, The Washington Post reports. Only people who have crossed state lines are now considered fugitives from justice, meaning fugitives who were previously barred from buying firearms can now do so. Previously, 500,000 people were identified as fugitives from justice. Now, there are 788. The move comes after Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz in 2016 urged the Justice Department to sort out a disagreement between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives on whom was considered a fugitive from justice. The FBI said anyone with an outstanding warrant was banned from buying a gun, while the ATF contended a person was only considered a fugitive from justice if they had an outstanding warrant and had also traveled to another state. The Justice Department sided with ATF.

Uber Hid 2016 Breach, Paid Hackers to Delete Stolen Data

Uber disclosed Tuesday that hackers had stolen 57 million driver and rider accounts and that the company had kept the data breach secret for more than a year after paying a $100,000 ransom, reports the New York Times. The deal was arranged by the company’s chief security officer and under the watch of the former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, according to several current and former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were private. The security officer, Joe Sullivan, has been fired. Mr. Kalanick was forced out in June, although he remains on Uber’s board. The company tracked down the hackers and pushed them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to the people familiar with the matter. To further conceal the damage, Uber executives also made it appear as if the payout had been part of a “bug bounty” — a common practice among technology companies in which they pay hackers to attack their software to test for soft spots.

Internet Has Become ‘World’s Largest Surveillance Network’

World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said that the internet has fallen into the hands of large corporations and governments and become the “world’s largest surveillance network”. Berners-Lee explained in an interview with The New York Times that his invention has steadily come under the control of powerful interests. Berners-Lee met a group of internet activists this week, including Brewster Kahle, head of the Internet Archive, and fellow internet pioneer Vint Cerf, in San Francisco at the Decentralized Web Summit to discuss ways of “re-decentralising” the internet, giving more control to individuals and ensuring more privacy and security. “The temptation to grab control of the internet by the government or by a company is always going to be there. They will wait until we’re sleeping, because if you’re a government or a company and you can control something, you’ll want it,” he said.

Scientists Implant Human Brain Cells in Mice

Just four short years ago, scientists first learned how to coax human embryonic stem cells to grow into a mass of brain cells research with the organoids is exploding, and some of the studies involve implanting human brain cells into rodents. The clumps of cells are tiny, about the size of a lentil or an unborn baby at six weeks of gestation, but they pulse with the same kind of electrical energy that stimulates actual brains, they spawn new brain cells, and they develop the six layers of the cortex, the brain region that controls thought, speech, judgment, and other advanced functions, STAT News reported. Researchers hope doctors eventually will use the organoids to treat brain injury, stroke, schizophrenia, and autism. It is entirely new ground, and “the science is advancing so rapidly, the ethics can’t keep up,” said Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

  • While medical benefits might accrue from such research, the destruction of embryos and bioengineering new life forms is fraught with ethical dilemmas and a significant danger of unintended consequences.

New Suicide Machine Includes Detachable Coffin

A controversial new suicide machine has been released by Exit International, an organization that advocates for euthanasia. According to LifeNews.com, the new machine is called the Sarco capsule and comes with a detachable coffin, which supposedly streamlines the process of taking one’s own life. A potential user of the machine would need to access a code online to get into the capsule. The person then lies down in the capsule and pushes a button which releases liquid nitrogen. The oxygen level in the machine will rapidly drop, leading to a speedy death. According to ExitInternational.net, the main part of the machine can then be reused once the coffin is detached. The Sarco was created to meet the growing demand by the aging population for a better method of assisted-suicide, according to Dr. Philip Nitschke, who designed the machine.

Australia State Legalizes Assisted Suicide

The Australian state of Victoria is about to be the first in that country to legalize physician-assisted suicide and some euthanasia after its upper chamber of government voted to do so 22-18. The bill already passed the lower chamber 47-37 last month, meaning it’s all but officially become law. A final version will go back to the lower chamber for final approval. The bill originally would have allowed doctor-prescribed death for Victoria residents told they have 12 months or fewer to live. The newer version that ultimately passed only allows it for patients told they have six months to live. If a patient is unable to kill himself by personally taking the lethal dose of drugs, “a lethal injection may be administered,” The Guardian reported. “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the opposite of care and represent the abandonment of the sick and the suffering, of older and dying persons,” wrote Victoria’s Catholic bishops in a pastoral letter in April 2017.

  • The culture of death is moving forward rapidly. Beyond legalizing assisted-suicide, efforts to restrict seniors from life-extending medical procedures and to destroy babies in the womb because of DNA defects continues to gain momentum.

Bird Flu Rises in South Korea

Local governments in South Korea have called on operators of farms close to venues that are to be used in February’s Winter Olympic Games to slaughter around 6,000 ducks and chickens after avian influenza was discovered on a duck farm in North Jeolla Province. The H5 strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus – commonly known as “bird flu” – is common in bird populations but has also made the jump to humans. In July 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had confirmed 630 cases in humans in the previous decade, resulting in 375 deaths. The concern about avian influenza is only the latest problem to hit the Winter Olympics, which are being held in South Korea for the first time. Temperatures during the Games are expected to average minus 4.8 degrees. Ticket sales to the showcase event have also been disappointing, citing fears over the threat of a North Korea missile attack.

Persecution Watch

The Bible lessons and radio interviews posted on the personal channel of Carl Gallups, a popular pastor and author, were terminated over Thanksgiving weekend without explanation, even though there had been no “marks” against it and Gallups rigorously followed the rules. It’s not the first time a faith-focused or conservative-oriented channel has been censored by YouTube. At least three other major cases developed this year, against columnists Michelle Malkin, Michael Brown and Dennis Prager, all of whom have conservative views. Nor is it the only time there’s been a hint that the company is not fond of conservative thought. An undercover video by Project Veritas captured Earnest Pettie, the brand and diversity curation lead at YouTube, admitting he helped “push to the top” the videos of an editor for the left-leaning New York Times. Meanwhile, videos promoting ISIS and violent jihad can be found on YouTube. So can those of the KKK, communists and Antifa.

The Sportsman’s Shop, a small gun store in East Earl, Pennsylvania, had a Facebook ad for American flags taken down. The company said they cannot advertise flags or clothing on the social media because their page promotes the sale of firearms and firearms-related items, such as ammo. The store was able to use Facebook’s digital advertising tools to promote products for a while until one day the staff no longer saw an ad for American flags, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported. One of Facebook’s advertising policies says, “ads must not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives.” Although the flag ad did not promote the sale of firearms, their Facebook page did.

Economic News

The number of retail store closings in 2017 has already tripled the number from all of 2016. Last year, a total of 2,056 store locations were closed down, but this year more than 6,700 stores have been shut down so far. That breaks the record number of store closings of 6,163 during the Great Recession in 2008. So far this year, more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy.

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population. However, this new generation can’t hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape. These highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers are capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and who, experts say, could have a broad impact on the food system.

Mitsubishi Materials said Thursday that it had falsified data on multiple products — including components used in cars and airplanes — for more than a year, adding to Japan’s growing list of corporate scandals. Mitsubishi Cable Industries had been misrepresenting data on rubber sealants used in automobiles and aircraft, the company added. Data was falsified for around 270 million units sold between April 2015 and September 2017 to a total of 229 customers. Another subsidiary, Mitsubishi Shindoh, had been fudging details of some of its metal products for at least the past year, including brass and copper parts used in the automotive and electronics industries. At least 29 companies are believed to have bought the parts in question.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a 30-minute phone call Tuesday following Putin’s meeting a few hours earlier with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The meeting, Putin’s subsequent call with Netanyahu, and similar calls/meetings scheduled for Wednesday with US, Saudi, Egyptian, Turkish and Iranian leaders come as the multifaceted civil war in Syria appears to be almost over, with Putin emerging as the central player in the unfolding diplomatic, military and political drama. Putin hosted Assad in the resort city of Sochi Monday evening, ahead of a tri-lateral summit there scheduled for Wednesday with Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Israel has reportedly relayed a rare and sharp message to Assad’s regime in Syria, stating that it will not accept Iranian bases or forces on its border and will act against them – and against Assad himself – if need be. While Israel has mostly refrained from intervening in the six-year-long civil war in Syria, it will change its policy and act against Assad’s regime if it feels threatened. Iran is actively working to establish a military presence in Syria, augmented by Shiite militias, and chiefly the Hezbollah terror group. Furthermore, Iran is reportedly working to build precision missile factories in the country as well as air and sea ports.

The vast majority of Israel’s Arabs, (73%), feel a sense of belonging in the Jewish state and 60% are proud to be Israelis, according to a new poll commissioned by the Israel Hayom daily and conducted by the New Wave Research Institute. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, (65%), define themselves as not religious, while 35 percent say they are religious. Almost half, Forty-six percent, identify as Israeli Arabs and 42 percent identify as Palestinian Arabs, while only 3 percent identify as Israelis. A total of 60% of those surveyed say they are “very proud” or “fairly proud” to be Israeli, while 37 percent say they are “not proud” to be Israeli citizens.

Egypt

An Islamist suicide bomber along with several gunmen launched an assault on a mosque in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula during Friday prayers, marking one of the deadliest attacks on civilians during an insurgency against the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, state media reported. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Egyptian security forces have struggled for years to pacify a deadly insurgency by an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula that has taken the lives of hundreds of police and military. At least 300 were killed and over 100 more injured. Egyptian security forces have struggled for years against an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, military personnel and civilians. Islamist attacks have targeted Coptic Christian churches in the past, but strikes against mosques have been rare. Many Sunni Muslim militant factions consider Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, to be heretical.

Iran

A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday revived part of a $1.68 billion lawsuit against Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, by families of soldiers killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon. By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court judge erred in dismissing claims against Markazi; Banca UBAE SpA, an Italian bank accused of engaging in transactions for Iran; and Clearstream Banking SA, a Luxembourg bank accused of opening accounts for Markazi and UBAE. It upheld the dismissal of claims against JPMorgan Chase & Co. The plaintiffs sought to recoup bond proceeds allegedly owned by Markazi and held by Clearstream, to partially satisfy $3.8 billion of judgments they had won against Iran after a federal court deemed them victims of state-sponsored terrorism. They accused the banks of fraudulently processing billions of dollars of bond proceeds owed to Markazi, and targeted cash held in a Clearstream account at JPMorgan in New York. Iran is one of several countries and organizations ordered by U.S. courts to pay damages to terrorism victims. However, such orders are often difficult to enforce.

Somalia

The U.S. military said it killed more than 100 Islamist militants in Somalia on Tuesday when it launched an air strike against al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent group that wants to topple the U.N.-backed government. The military’s Africa Command said the strike was carried out on a camp 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu and that the United States would continue to target militants. The strike was done in coordination with Somalia’s federal government, the Pentagon said. U.S. air strikes killing such a large number of militants in Somalia are rare, but not unprecedented. In March 2016, a U.S. air strike killed more than 150 al Shabaab fighters in Somalia. Somalia’s state news agency SONNA reported late on Tuesday that “about 100 militants” were killed when U.S. planes and Somali commandos attacked al Shabaab bases in the Bur Elay area of Bay region. Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab denied the attack. “It is just…propaganda,” he told Reuters in Somalia.

Outer Space

An asteroid that sped through our solar system has drawn the attention of astronomers with its deep space origins and out of the norm characteristics. Named ‘Oumuamua, the asteroid is the first confirmed object that’s come from another star, according to a release from NASA. It was first discovered on Oct. 19 by a team of researchers at the University of Hawaii. . Its name, which is of Hawaiian origin, means “a messenger from afar arriving first.” The scientists realized it was different and from a solar system outside of ours due to its unusual motion. “This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen,” NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) scientist Davide Farnocchia said in the October release. “It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back.” the scientists discovered that it is up to one-quarter mile wide and very elongated, very rocky with a slightly reddish hue.

North Korea

North Korea launched a ballistic missile Tuesday after a two-month pause, according to South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff. The last North Korean missile launched before today’s report was fired over Japan on Sept. 15. That launch capped a bout of activity that had heralded a number of technological developments in North Korea’s weapons program, including the test of its most powerful nuclear bomb yet.

Earthquakes

Within the past two weeks, 134 earthquakes have hammered a three-mile stretch around Monterey County on the San Andreas fault. The San Andreas fault stretches for more than 700 miles along the California coast. Seventeen of those earthquakes were of magnitude 2.5 or greater, and six of them were stronger than 3.0, with more tremors expected in the coming weeks. Overall, there have been 698 earthquakes in California over the past thirty days, according to Earthquake Track. Many believe that these quakes could be a warning sign that a much bigger quake is imminent. “Any time there is significant seismic activity in the vicinity of the San Andreas fault, we seismologists get nervous,” Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Volcanoes

Mount Agung volcano spewed ash and stream on the Indonesian island of Bali on Tuesday, its first eruption since 1963. The minor explosion started around 5 p.m. and created a plume that rose roughly 2,300 feet from the volcano. Volcanologists say the eruption was caused by magma heating water, which is called a phreatic eruption, rather than a generally more dangerous eruption of magma itself. More than 140,000 people evacuated the region around the volcano when it was on high alert, though authorities urged some to return home who had left areas not in the official danger zone. Mount Agung erupted for a second time on Saturday, with an ash plume that rose to 4,900 feet.

Weather

Snow cover in the Lower 48 states have reached a low point not seen in late November in at least 14 years. On Nov. 26, only 3.5 percent of the contiguous United States had snow on the ground. Only late November 2006 had snow cover anywhere near as paltry as what we’re seeing currently. Among the typically snowy locations reporting no measurable snow cover as of Nov. 27 were Bangor, Maine; Marquette, Michigan; Syracuse, New York; and Grand Forks, North Dakota. Meanwhile, up to 20 inches of snow is forecast to fall over the next few days atop the highest volcanic peaks on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Dozens of daily record highs were set from the Desert Southwest to the Plains states during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and into the beginning of November’s final week, keeping some cities on track for setting a record for warmest November since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. Phoenix-area temperatures over the weekend challenged record highs that haven’t been touched for nearly 70 years. Sunday afternoon brought record-breaking heat to the area, with an 89-degree reading at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. On Monday, Tucson, Arizona reached 92 degrees (old record was 85 degrees in 1998); Casper, Wyoming had a high of 66 degrees (old record was 64 degrees in 1998); and Valentine, Nebraska saw a high of 84 degrees (old record was 75 degrees in 1998).

A powerful storm in the Bering Sea brought winds over 90 mph and huge surf to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands over the weekend. Another powerful storm will arrive late Monday into Tuesday. Hundreds were without power Sunday after high winds blew through parts of Nevada, downing power lines and overturning vehicles. A few locations saw gusts as high as 75 mph. Several semi-trucks and trailers were overturned by winds on U.S. Highway 395. The windy conditions also fed a brush fire that shut down Silver Lake Road and Moya Boulevard.

Signs of the Times (11/21/17)

November 21, 2017

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

Museum of the Bible Opened Friday Amid Controversy

Throughout history, the Bible has been the subject of controversy. Perhaps it’s appropriate that some controversy has accompanied the planning stages for the $500 million Museum of the Bible which opened Friday in the nation’s capital. Hobby Lobby, whose president Steve Green is chairman of the museum board, paid a $3 million fine in July for illegally smuggling Iraqi biblical artifacts. Thousands of tablets and bricks written in cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing, were among the 5,000 artifacts forfeited after prosecutors said they were shipped without proper documentation. Still, about 1,000 biblical artifacts are displayed on six floors of the 430,000-square-foot museum. “Our mission is to invite and get people to engage with the Bible,” said Steven Bickley, vice president of marketing finance for the museum. He emphasized the museum takes a non-sectarian approach because organizers want every visitor to feel comfortable and learn something about the Bible. Green said he even wants atheists to feel welcome at the museum.

NAACP Calls National Anthem Racist

The NAACP of California may be able to do what the British were not — destroy the Star-Spangled Banner, reports Todd Starnes of Fox News. State NAACP leaders are calling for Congress to change the national anthem – calling the Star Spangled Banner one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner, was a slave owner who opposed giving slaves freedom, the NAACP claims. The NAACP says they just want a national anthem that does not disenfranchise part of the American population. “It’s racist; it doesn’t represent our community, it’s anti-black,” state NAACP leader Alice Huffman told the CBS television station in Sacramento.

House Passes GOP Tax Reform Bill

The House passed its version of the Republican tax overhaul Thursday, notching a key win for President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). But obstacles remain in the Senate, which is refining its own version of the legislation amid objections from key GOP senators. The bill passed with 227 votes in favor and 205 against. 13 Republicans voted against the bill. No Democrats voted for it. The bill would cut taxes by as much as $1.5 trillion by the end of the year, but there are significant differences between the House and Senate bills that will have to be resolved.

Keystone Pipeline Leak Days Before Approval Decision

After an estimated 210,000 gallons (about 5,000 barrels) of oil spilled onto agricultural land in South Dakota Thursday, state officials say they don’t believe the leak contaminated any drinking water systems or surface bodies of water. Discovery of the leak comes just days before Nebraska regulators are scheduled to announce their decision Monday whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, an expansion that would boost the amount of oil TransCanada is now shipping through the existing line. The expansion has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups, American Indian tribes and some “Ultimately, the cleanup responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they’ll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations,” Walsh said.

On Monday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the alternative Keystone XL route that will run through the state, removing the last regulatory obstacle holding the $8 billion oil pipeline project back. However, the decision could still be challenged in court. The officials were forbidden by law from considering the recent oil spill on the existing Keystone pipeline while making their decision. The alternative route of nearly 1,200-miles would run farther north than the originally proposed route. Business groups and some unions support the project as a way to create jobs. President Donald Trump issued a federal permit allowing for the project in March, reversing President Barack Obama administration’s rejection of it.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Multiply in Statehouses Countrywide

– When Kirsten Anderson submitted a memo detailing her concerns about sexual harassment at the Iowa Capitol, she expected comments about women in the office – their sex lives, breast sizes and the length of skirts worn by teenage pages – to stop. Instead, Anderson was fired seven hours later from her job with the Iowa Republican Senate Caucus. After four years of litigation that ended in September, the state agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle her claim, leaving taxpayers footing the bill. Her case is among the first in a recent wave of high-profile sexual harassment cases that have roiled state legislatures around the nation, highlighting the moral and financial liability states faces as claims pile up. Since last year, at least 40 lawmakers – nearly all men – in 20 states have been publicly accused by more than 100 people of some form of sexual misconduct or harassment, a USA Today Network analysis found. Swift action has been taken against many high-profile men, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and others accused of sexual harassment. However, there have been varying degrees of punishment for lawmakers thus far.

  • For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
  • For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light. (Ephesians 5:12-13)

NSA Hacked Computer was Infested with Malware

Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab is again challenging allegations that it stole classified files from an NSA employee’s computer, pointing to new analysis that says the computer in question may have been infested with malware. The computer had 121 pieces of malware on the system, including backdoors, exploits, and Trojans, according to Kaspersky. “It is possible that the user could have [accidentally] leaked information to many hands,” the security firm said. The data comes as Kaspersky Lab battles accusations that its security software helped the Russian government to commit cyber espionage. Russian government hackers reportedly detected the classified files on the NSA employee’s computer by using Kaspersky antivirus software, which was installed on the system. The NSA computer became infected after the NSA employee disabled antivirus software to install a pirated version Microsoft Office 2013, the security firm claims. “The malware consisted of a full-blown backdoor which could have allowed other third-parties to access the user’s machine,” the company said.

Facebook, Google, Twitter Unveil Trust Indicators

The biggest online platforms have unveiled their latest attempt to fight fake news. Facebook, Google and Twitter said Thursday they have committed to using new “trust indicators” to help users better vet the reliability of the publications and journalists behind articles that appear in news feeds. The indicators were developed by the Trust Project, a non-partisan effort operating out of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, to boost transparency and media literacy at a time when misinformation is rampant. Facebook, which has faced particularly strong criticism about spreading fake news, began testing the indicators on Thursday. Select publishers will have the option to upload additional information about their fact-checking policies, ownership structures, author histories and more. When you see an article from Vox, for example, Facebook may show an icon you can tap to learn more, including what Vox’s ethics policy is and who funds it.

59,000 Haitians Ordered to Return Home

The Trump administration announced Monday it will end immigration protections for about 59,000 Haitians living in the United States in July 2019, concluding that conditions on the ground in the poverty-stricken Caribbean country have improved enough since a massive earthquake in 2010 for residents to return. The Obama administration first granted “temporary protected status” to Haitians after the nation was ravaged by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The protections have allowed Haitians to legally remain in the U.S. and have been extended each year as Haiti struggles to recover. Elaine Duke, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, made the decision that extraordinary temporary conditions on which the special protections were issued “no longer exist.” DHS officials also said the 18 months is intended to give Haitians with temporary status enough time to arrange for their departure or “to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible.”

White House Warns 29 Sanctuary Cities to Comply or Lose Aid

The Trump administration warned 29 “sanctuary cities” this week that they must prove they are cooperating with federal immigration law by Dec. 8 to receive federal aid. “Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release Friday. Justice Department officials, however, declined to say what action would be taken against communities that did not show compliance by the Dec. 8 deadline. In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Justice to deny certain federal grants to communities that did not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Internet Neutrality Rules Will Be Repealed

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it planned to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites. The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration that prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. The move sets the stage for a crucial vote next month at the Federal Communications Commission that could reshape the entire digital ecosystem.

Economic News

The average American household carries $137,063 in debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest numbers. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median household income was just $59,039 last year, suggesting that many Americans are living beyond their means. This debt level is unlikely to shrink anytime soon, according to NerdWallet. That’s because the cost of living in the U.S. rose 30% over the past 13 years, yet household incomes only grew 28%. As a result, more Americans are using credit cards to cover basic needs like food and clothing. Medical expenses have grown 57% since 2003, while food and housing costs climbed 36% and 32%, respectively. Education costs rose 26% during that period, slightly less than income growth.

The share of older Millennials living with relatives is still rising, underscoring the lingering obstacles faced by Americans who entered the workforce during and after the Great Recession. About 20% of adults age 26 to 34 are living with parents or other family members, a figure that has climbed steadily over the past decade, according to census data. A much larger portion of younger Millennials age 18 to 25 (59.8%) live with relatives, but that figure generally has fallen the past few years after peaking at 61.1% in 2012.

Israel

In an unprecedented move, Israel on Tuesday co-sponsored a draft resolution against Syria that was submitted by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The resolution, which was also backed by the U.S., France and Germany, passed with an overwhelming majority of 108 countries voting in favor, 17 voting against and 58 abstaining. Although Israel has previously supported resolutions submitted by Saudi Arabia at the UN, it has never signed on as a co-sponsor. “The Assad regime, with full support from Iran, has been slaughtering its people mercilessly and with incomprehensible cruelty for years,” Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon declared. “Israel, which for years has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians hurt by these atrocities, stands together with the international community against this murderous regime.”

IDF units on the northern border were on high alert Monday following a weekend which saw warning shots fired by an Israeli tank at Assad regime troops inside Syria who were attempting to fortify positions in a buffer zone, violating previous cease-fire agreements. Two such incidents occurred, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, while Israeli officials appeared to confirm that they are actively cooperating with Saudi Arabia to confront Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and throughout the region.

Islamic State

With the Islamic State group almost completely defeated on the ground in Iraq and Syria and its territorial hold dramatically reduced, the terror group and its sympathizers continue to demonstrate their ability to weaponize the internet in an effort to radicalize, recruit and inspire acts of terrorism in the region and around the world. Experts charge that the terror group’s ability to produce and distribute new propaganda has been significantly diminished, particularly after it recently lost the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital and media headquarters. But they warn that the circulation of its old media content and easy access to it on social media platforms indicates that the virtual caliphate will live on in cyberspace for some time, even as ISIS’s physical control ends.

North Korea

President Trump on Monday announced that his administration has re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration removed the rogue nation from the list.” The president cited assassinations by dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out on foreign soil, as well as the treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in June days after he was released in a coma by the North after spending 17 months in captivity. Iran, Sudan and Syria also are on the list, which is administered by the State Department. According to that agency, sanctions for those nations on the list include “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”

China

China’s proposal for the United States to offer concessions to North Korea in return for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program probably won’t halt the North’s already advanced program but it might be the best way to lessen tensions, analysts say. China said Thursday it is standing by its proposal, which calls for the U.S. to suspend its large military exercises with South Korea in the region in return for an agreement by North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons program. North Korea already has an arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles that can reach U.S. allies throughout the region. A day earlier President Trump claimed China had abandoned the proposal and, instead, agreed with the U.S. position that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear program before getting any American concessions.

Germany

The breakdown of talks to form a government in Germany — Europe’s most powerful nation — means that the continent’s pillar of economic and political stability is not so stable at the moment. Chancellor Angela Merkel faced the biggest crisis in her 12-year tenure Monday when the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) walked out of talks aimed at forming a governing coalition. Merkel is now entering into uncharted territory following an election in late September that saw her Christian Democrats (CDU) fall short of a majority in parliament, requiring her to seek an agreement with smaller parties to rule. Complicating her task, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-immigration party, entered the German Bundestag for the first time, with 13% of the vote, but none of the other parties want to include it in a governing coalition.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s ruling party fired 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe on Sunday, ending his 37-year reign as the African country’s leader after being placed under house arrest days ago, a party official said. Recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was appointed as the new leader of the ZANU-PF party and is expected to lead a new government. Party members said Mugabe must resign by 12 p.m. Monday or will “definitely” face impeachment. First lady Grace Mugabe was also recalled as head of the women’s league. Mugabe remained under house arrest with his wife and resisted calls to step aside. Vast throngs of demonstrators turned Zimbabwe’s capital into a carnival ground on Saturday in a peaceful outpouring of disdain for their longtime leader and calls for him to quit immediately. Mugabe ignored the deadline and refused to step down Monday. The speaker of Zimbabwe’s parliament announced Tuesday that President Robert Mugabe has finally resigned “with immediate effect,” ending an extraordinary standoff that culminated in the end of 37 years in power.

  • Three-quarters of the population of Zimbabwe live below the poverty line. Four-fifths subsist on the food they grow themselves. All have endured decades of repressive rule, and recurrent drought. The Church in Zimbabwe plays a major role in society, and has therefore been one of the targets of government harassment and persecution. Many courageous pastors and ministers have taken a stand for justice and righteousness, risking arrest, imprisonment or worse.

Nigeria

At least 50 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the eastern Nigerian state of Adamawa, police say. A bomber struck inside a mosque packed with worshippers during morning prayers in the town of Mubi. No-one has said they were behind the bombing, but the Islamist militants Boko Haram typically target crowded places in northern Nigeria. Some 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency. The BBC reports that Boko Haram militants have recently stepped up suicide bombings in Nigeria’s north-east after the government’s military recaptured territories previously controlled by the group. At least 45 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the same state last December. In that attack two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives in a busy market.

Turkey

Turkey’s capital clamped down further on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life on Sunday in a move likely to deepen concern among rights advocates. All LGBT events, including cinema, theater, discussion panels and interviews, were forbidden until further notice, Ankara’s gubernatorial office said, to avert “public hatred and hostility” likely to emerge “within certain segments” of society. Once hugely popular gay pride parades have already been banned for several years in the Turkish capital and the country’s largest city of Istanbul. Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since its modern republic was created in 1923, and LGBTI individuals often complain of harassment amid conservatism propagated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK party.

Earthquakes

A 5.4 magnitude earthquake that was South Korea’s second-strongest in decades damaged infrastructure, injured dozens of people and left about 1,500 homeless, officials said Thursday. No deaths have been reported since the quake rattled the southeastern coastal region around the port city of Pohang on Wednesday afternoon. More than 1,000 houses and dozens of other buildings and cars were damaged or destroyed, and cracks and other damage were found in military facilities, bridges, port facilities and water supply facilities.

An earthquake swarm that struck Monterey County, California, has added fuel to the growing concerns over the next “Big One” to hit the Golden State. The first quake hit the area with a magnitude of 4.6 Monday at 11:31 a.m. about 13 miles northeast of the city of Gonzales, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). No injuries or deaths were reported as a result of the temblor, which originated near the San Andreas Fault and had a depth of about four miles. It was felt as far away as San Francisco, more than 90 miles to the north, SFGate.com reported. It produced nine aftershocks, the strongest of which measured magnitude 2.8. There have been 51 small quakes in the same general vicinity within the last decade, including a 4.6 magnitude tremor in 2011. Annemarie Baltay, a seismologist at the Menlo Park office of the USGS, told SFGate that the quake was not a sign of a larger temblor to come. “This is really typical behavior,” said Baltay.

Weather

Temperatures will split the country in half this Thanksgiving week as parts of the West make a run at record highs while the East shivers in the cold. Wednesday and Thursday have the highest probability of record-high temperatures in the West. High temperatures 10 to 25 degrees warmer than average will stretch from the West Coast into the Rockies by Wednesday. These warm conditions will expand into much of the Plains on Thursday, where some areas could see highs up to 30 degrees above average. Enhanced fire weather conditions are also possible midweek in Southern California due to the setup of warm offshore winds. The Midwest and Northeast will generally remain chilly into this weekend as a couple of cold fronts sweep through the regions. A second blast of colder-than-average temperatures will then spread across the Midwest and into portions of the East this weekend into early next week.

More than 20 sites in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have their highest mid-November snowpack on record. Many other northern tier sites rank in the top five snowiest mid-November snowpack, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Parts of the Northwest, including Washington and Montana, have already had an extreme winter, and snowfall continues to fall as storms continue to barrel into the region. In parts of Washington and Oregon, ski resorts are preparing to open, possibly a couple weeks ahead of schedule in some spots.

More than two months after Harvey, Port Aransas, Texas, continues to struggle after the powerful storm left it in ruins. Just a few miles down the Texas coast from where Harvey made landfall, Port Aransas – or Port A, as the locals call it – was walloped by the storm as it came ashore at Category 4 strength. Harvey’s top wind gust of 132 mph was reported in the town, and sustained winds of 110 mph left widespread Virtually all of the residents were impacted by Harvey, and many remain living in hotels or other homes while they rebuild their lives. Some residents have left the town and will never return. In the first phase of the cleanup, the city was removing 6,000 cubic yards of debris every day. Along the Texas coast, residents are expected to purchase Texas windstorm insurance, which is expensive. However, filling out and processing all the paperwork has been tedious. “The biggest thing would be if the insurance companies would actually pay what they owe without a million hoops and hurdles,” said one frustrated resident.

Signs of the Times (11/15/17)

November 15, 2017

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Australians Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

Australians have said they support gay marriage in a postal survey that ensures the Parliament considers a bill to legalize same-sex weddings this year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday 62% of registered adults who responded had voted for the reform in an unprecedented two-month survey. The conservative government had promised to allow the Parliament to consider a bill to create marriage equality in Australia in its final two-week session that is due to end on Dec. 7. While gay marriage could be a reality in Australia by Christmas, some government lawmakers have vowed to vote down gay marriage regardless of the survey’s outcome. Ireland is the only other country in the world to put the divisive issue to a popular vote, with 62% of those who voted supporting a change in the constitution to allow gay marriage.

FBI Begins Investigation of Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Parts

The FBI is seeking documents from Congress after it held hearings on the Planned Parenthood abortion business selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit — potentially breaking both federal and state laws in so doing. As a first sign of a criminal probe, the FBI recently requested un-redacted documents from the Senate regarding Planned Parenthood in response to a 2015 undercover investigation by the Center for Medical Progress that exposed the abortion industry for harvesting, trafficking and selling the body parts of babies victimized by abortions. The request was made in recent days, the sources said, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), last December referred Planned Parenthood and several other abortion providers to the FBI for investigation after a lengthy probe into the transfers of fetal tissue. “Today’s move by the FBI gives us hope that justice will be served for the millions of Americans who have fallen victim to the deceptive and exploitive practices of the abortion industry,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life.

Global Emissions Up 2% Despite U.S. Drop

The Paris climate pact is off to a rocky start due to a huge increase in Chinese pollution this year, researchers said Monday in a report that finds U.S. emissions are still dropping despite President Trump’s decision to pull the nation from the global agreement. Several studies released by the Global Carbon Project and presented Monday at a United Nations climate conference in Germany say that worldwide carbon emissions are projected to rise about 2 percent in 2017 after they’d been flat for three years, according to preliminary estimates of this year’s data. The culprit, the data show, is China, which had kept its emissions in check in recent years but now is seeing a massive uptick in pollution. Under the Paris pact, China agreed to cap its emissions by 2030, meaning it’s free to ramp up pollution between now and then. More broadly, researchers say the data show the Paris agreement so far is not working as intended. “Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions ­­Climate Research.

Digital Pills Raise Fears About Big Brother

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill — a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization, reports the New York Times. Insurers might eventually give patients incentives to use them. Another controversial use might be requiring digital medicine as a condition for parole or releasing patients committed to psychiatric facilities. “It’s like a biomedical Big Brother,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

NSA Shaken to Its Core By Security Breach

America’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency was deeply infiltrated some fifteen months ago, and the fallout has shaken the N.S.A. to its core, reports the New York Times. The Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group had somehow obtained many of the hacking tools the United States used to spy on other countries. Current and former agency officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which began in August 2016, have been catastrophic for the N.S.A., calling into question its ability to protect potent cyberweapons and its very value to national security. The agency regarded as the world’s leader in breaking into adversaries’ computer networks failed to protect its own. Fifteen months into a wide-ranging investigation by the agency’s counterintelligence arm, known as Q Group, and the F.B.I., officials still do not know whether the N.S.A. is the victim of a brilliantly executed hack, with Russia as the most likely perpetrator, an insider’s leak, or both. Three employees have been arrested since 2015 for taking classified files, but there is fear that one or more leakers may still be in place. And there is broad agreement that the damage from the Shadow Brokers already far exceeds the harm to American intelligence done by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who fled with four laptops of classified material in 2013.

YouTube Blocks Jihadist Videos in ‘Watershed’ Moment

YouTube has removed thousands of propaganda videos from late al-Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki amid mounting pressure from governments and counterterrorism advocates. For years, hundreds of hours of the jihadist cleric’s talks and lectures were easily accessible on the site. As of this autumn, a search for “Anwar al-Awlaki” on YouTube gave more than 70,000 videos ranging from his years as a mainstream American imam to his time with Al Qaeda in Yemen, the New York Times reported. The same search on Sunday (12 November), however, yielded just 18,600 videos, most of which were news reports, documentaries and scholarly material about his life and death. The Counter Extremism Project called it a ‘watershed’ moment in the response of a social network to the threat of terrorism.

Somalian Charged in Bloody Stabbing at Mall of America

For the second time in just over a year, a Somalian “refugee” has stabbed shoppers with a knife at a Minnesota mall. The first case, on Sept. 17, 2016, was a clear act of jihad when Dahir Adan injured 10 people in the Macy’s at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud after asking his victims, chosen at random, if they were Muslim. But on Sunday night a man identified as Mahad Abdiaziz Abdirahman, 20, of Minneapolis stabbed two men at the Mall of America after they tried to stop him from stealing clothes inside the dressing room at Macy’s. Minnesota has the largest population of Somali refugees in the U.S., with numbers approaching 100,000, and Gov. Mark Dayton has told residents of the state that if they are not comfortable living among the refugees they “should find another state.”

FEMA Denies Texas Churches Hurricane Damage Benefits

Several churches in Texas were denied hurricane damage benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – sometimes even as they were working with the government to provide benefits to others, according to a lawyer involved in a lawsuit over the issue. “The court has set the clock ticking on FEMA’s irrational religious discrimination policy,” said Daniel Blomberg, a lawyer for Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm representing three churches. U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison ruled against FEMA’s request to delay the case until the end of the month. The churches, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God, all were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in August. Their facilities were flooded, even while they were providing benefits to community members, but the government said they would not be allowed to participate in standard recovery aid programs. “Discriminating against houses of worship – which are often on the front lines of disaster relief—is not just wrongheaded, it strikes at our nation’s most fundamental values,” Becket said.

Geoengineering the Weather Appears to be Backfiring

Artificially cooling Earth to counter global warming is a ‘risky strategy’, new research has shown, reports Technocracy News. Scientists have previously suggested that imitating volcanic eruptions bing fire aerosols into the atmosphere would help to cool the planet down. The aerosols, one of many ‘geoengineering’ techniques proposed as a way to deal with climate change, would cool Earth by block incoming solar radiation. But this could have a devastating effect on global regions prone to violent storms or prolonged dry spells, new research has shown. If aerosols are injected into the northern hemisphere, they could cause severe droughts in Africa, while if they are injected in the southern hemisphere, they could trigger a wave of tropical cyclones in northern regions of the globe. In response, the researchers, from the University of Exeter, have called on policymakers worldwide to strictly regulate any large-scale geoengineering programs in the future.

Human Fertility Declining Due to Pesticides

Human fertility is declining, and recent studies suggest conventional food may be a significant contributor to this disturbing trend, seen in both men and women. Pesticides have repeatedly been implicated in worsening fertility, and one of the most recent studies adds further support to this hypothesis. The study,1,2 published in JAMA Internal Medicine, evaluated the influence of factors known to affect reproduction on the reproductive success of 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 (mean age 35), who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF). Compared to women with the lowest pesticide exposure, women with the highest exposure had an 18 percent lower IVF success rate. They were also 26 percent less likely to have a live birth if they did become pregnant. Analysis suggests exchanging a single serving of high-pesticide produce per day for one with low pesticide load may increase the odds of pregnancy by 79 percent, and the odds of having a live birth by 88 percent

Vehicle Recalls Increasing, Many Remain Unrepaired

The steady stream of recalls masks the fact that about 30% of recalled vehicles remain unrepaired on America’s roads, according to federal statistics. Last year was a record for U.S. vehicle recalls — more than 53 million in 927 separate recalls — but those numbers are only the latest, with the total number of recalls increasing in each a back to 2011 when the number stood at 13.6 million, according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are numerous reasons recalled vehicles go unrepaired even though getting them fixed does not cost the vehicle owner. These range from perceptions about the severity of the recall to a lack of available parts, but most often vehicle owners simply do not know that their vehicle is under recall. “The greatest challenge is making contact with the current owner of the vehicle. Vehicles may change hands many times over their lifecycle,” said Mark Chernoby, chief technical compliance officer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion in Aid Relief

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked Congress for a $94.4 billion relief package for the beleaguered U.S. territory in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. During a Monday news conference, Rosselló told reporters he is seeking $46 billion to restore housing through the Community Development Block Grant Program, $30 billion through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild critical infrastructure and $17.9 billion through other federal grant programs for long-term recovery. Congress has already approved nearly $5 billion in aid to the territory that lost more than 472,000 homes to the Category 5 hurricane that made landfall Sept. 20. Nearly two months after the storm, almost 60 percent of the island remains without electricity, FEMA reported. Rosselló also asked Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from a proposed excise tax of 20 percent for merchandise manufactured abroad, asserting that products made in Puerto Rico and imported into the U.S. should be considered domestic products.

Economic News

Americans’ debt rose to a new record high in the second quarter on the back of an increase in every form of debt: from mortgage, to auto, student and credit card debt. Aggregate household debt increased for the 13th consecutive quarter, rising by $116 billion (0.9%) to a new all-time high. As of September 30, 2017, total household indebtedness was $12.96 trillion, an increase of $605 billion from a year ago and equivalent to 66% of US GDP, versus a high of around 87% in early 2009. After years of deleveraging in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, household debt has risen more than 16.2% since the trough hit in the spring of 2013.Tthe New Your Fed explicitly warned that credit card and auto loan “flows into delinquency” have increased over the past year. The fed is concerned about the sharp rise in delinquency for auto loans made to subprime borrowers by auto-finance companies, usually through auto makers or dealers.

Venezuela defaulted on its debt, according to a statement issued Monday night by S&P Global Ratings. The agency said the 30-day grace period had expired for a payment that was due in October. The debt default risks setting off a dangerous series of events that could exacerbate Venezuela’s food and medical shortages. Wall Street and other major financial centers around the globe could potentially be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and the ripple effects could be felt for years to come. Venezuela already has another 420 million dollars of debt payments that are overdue. S&P warns that Venezuela could embark on a coercive debt restructuring. in 2012, Greece imposed a coercive debt restructuring on private sector investors, and Argentina has restructured its dollar-denominated debt twice this century. Investors could take substantial losses, and there would no doubt be lawsuits lasting for years.

  • The biggest winners from distressed debt restructurings are always lawyers.

More than half of Americans have not gotten a bump in salary over the past 12 months, a new survey finds, despite a tight labor market that’s making it harder for employers to find workers. Fifty-two percent of those polled didn’t see their paychecks budge the past year, but employees with more education and higher incomes are more likely to get a raise, the Bankrate.com survey shows. Thirty percent got a raise at their current job, 10% landed a better paying job and 8% scored both within the 12-month period.

With more women working and having fewer babies, there comes a point when there are not enough worker bees to support the growing number of elderly who retire every year in countries like Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain. Economists agree that any nation with a fertility rate of less than 2.1 children per woman will not replace its aging population and ultimately fall into decline All of these countries have dismal fertility rates of between 1.3 and 1.5 children per woman of child-bearing age. Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. are not much better at 1.8 children per woman. Only the rise in immigration is making up for the birth dearth, reports WorldNetDaily.

Israel

Mexico has reportedly announced that it will change its voting strategy at the United Nations (UN) and other international bodies by stopping to vote in favor of the Palestinians. According to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Figari contacted Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Pelad and told him of the shift in strategy for all upcoming voting procedures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In mid-September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first-ever official visit to Mexico. During his historic visit to Latin America, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City and signed several agreements that bolster the ties and cooperation between the two countries. During the same month, Israel provided humanitarian aid to the country following a powerful earthquake there.

Islamic State

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement on Saturday vowing to continue the fight against ISIS in Syria until the militants are completely defeated, Reuters reported, citing the Kremlin. The statement was released after the two leaders chatted briefly during the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. It was also reported that Washington and Moscow were nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country’s civil war once ISIS is defeated. The U.S.-Russian agreement that was being discussed focused on three elements, officials told The Associated Press: “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks.

Syria

The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a firm warning to the U.S. and other foreign forces in Syria, telling them their presence was a violation of international law and accusing them of making matters worse for the war-torn country that days ago declared victory against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The ministry issued the statement in direct response to remarks by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who suggested a day earlier that U.S. forces would not be leaving anytime soon. Unlike allies Russia and Iran, which intervened against Syrian insurgents and jihadis at the request of Assad, the U.S. entered the conflict without President Bashar al-Assad’s permission and has actively supported insurgents seeking for his removal. With ISIS essentially defeated, the ministry urged Washington and its allies to exit immediately. “The presence of U.S. forces or any foreign military presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government constitutes an act of aggression and an attack on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a gross violation of the charter and principles of the United Nations,” the ministry quoted an official source as saying.”

A Syrian war monitoring group says the death toll from airstrikes on a market in northern Syria Monday has climbed to 61. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there were six women, five children, and three police officers among those killed in the three strikes on Monday on the market in the opposition-held town of Atareb. The Observatory said it couldn’t determine whether Russia or the Syrian government was behind the attack. The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’ chief military backer.

Europe

A cloud of radioactive pollution spread over Europe after a possible “accident” at a nuclear facility in Russia or Kazakhstan, French nuclear safety officials confirmed last Friday. France’s nuclear safety institute, IRSN, picked up faint traces of ruthenium 106, a radioactive nuclide that is produced when atoms are split in a nuclear reactor and which does not occur naturally, in three of its 40 monitoring stations late September. Faint traces were also detected in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. There has been no impact on human health or the environment in Europe, a French official stressed, but he added that detection of such a cloud was “absolutely not normal”. IRSN, the technical arm of the French nuclear regulator, said in a statement it could not pinpoint the location of the release of radioactive material but that based on weather patterns, the most plausible zone lay south of the Ural mountains, between the Urals and the Volga river. This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan, it said. At the source of the leak, the quantity of ruthenium 106 released was “major”, between 100 and 300 terabecquerels, it said, adding that if an accident of this magnitude had happened in France it would have required the evacuation or sheltering of people in a radius of “a few kilometers around the accident site”.

Poland

An estimated sixty-thousand nationalist protester disrupted Poland’s Independence Day events Saturday, waving flags and burning flares as they marched down the streets of Warsaw. Demonstrators carried banners that read “White Europe, Europe must be white,” and “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust.” Some wore masks and waved red and white Polish flags, chanting “Death to enemies of the homeland,” and “Catholic Poland, not secular.” Some wore masks and waved red and white Polish flags, chanting “Death to enemies of the homeland,” and “Catholic Poland, not secular.” While the vast majority were Poles, other protesters came from all over Europe. One of the lead organizations behind the nationalists’ march is the National Radical Camp, which has previously taken to the streets to protest against Muslim immigration, gay rights, the EU and anything it considers undermines Polish Catholic values.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s military said early Wednesday that it had taken custody of President Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, in what increasingly appeared to be a military takeover in the southern African nation. After apparently seizing the state broadcaster, ZBC, two uniformed officers said in a short predawn announcement that “the situation in our country has moved to another level.” While denying that the military had seized power, they said that Mr. Mugabe and his family “are safe and sound, and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” said the main speaker, who was identified as Maj. Gen. S. B. Moyo, the army’s chief of staff.

Environment

Eight states in the central U.S. are dealing with the beginnings of a water crisis. For decades, water levels in the Ogallala aquifer have been in decline. Irrigators are to blame, experts say, pumping out the groundwater faster than the rain can refill it. Over the past six years, water levels have declined twice as fast as the previous 60, according to the Denver Post, which analyzed federal data to create their report. The drawdown has become so severe that streams are drying at a rate of 6 miles per year and some highly resilient fish are disappearing. In rural areas, farmers and ranchers worry they will no longer have enough water for their livestock and crops as the aquifer is depleted. Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles, including parts of Colorado, Wyoming Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

Low-lying Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to rising seas, and its coastal people face daily uncertainty as the water and erosion snatch away their land. Some 26,000 families in Bangladesh lose their homes and way of life to climate-driven erosion every year, according to Deutsche Welle. Small islets, known as “chars,” are particularly hard-hit, as are the more than 4 million people who live on them. Erosion from rising seas and storm surge continually changes the landscape, with islets becoming submerged every year and new ones forming, forcing thousands to flee to new chars as theirs disappear.

New Delhi officials will lobby Monday for a plan to ration the use of private cars amid a grimy cloud of pollution so foul that United Airlines has halted flights to India’s capital, while many residents wore masks for their Sunday strolls. Many schools have been closed since the toxic air mass descended on the region almost a week ago. The government has banned most construction and industrial activity. Most trucks and heavy vehicles have been parked. Residents were urged to stay inside and wear masks outside. “It comes inside the house, even if you close your windows,” Shyami Sodhi, a Delhi resident, told Sky News. “It’s difficult to breathe.”

Earthquakes

A powerful magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck the Iraq-Iran border region Sunday, killing at least 530 people across both countries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was 19 miles outside the Iraqi city of Halabja. The semi-official Iranian ILNA news agency reported at least 14 provinces were impacted by the quake. Around 7,500 people were injured. Many survivors in Iran were still awaiting badly needed aid on Wednesday, three days after the quake struck Sunday. Desperate, some families tried to set up temporary shelters, using straw collected from nearby farms. The delay in getting help to the needy came as public order broke down in many instances where aid was being delivered in the Iranian Kurdish region. It was the deadliest earthquake in the world this year, surpassing a 7.1 magnitude tremor in Mexico that killed more than 350 people on Sept. 19.

Weather

Many cities in the Midwest and Northeast experienced the coldest temperatures so far this season over the weekend. Dozens of daily record lows have been tied or set, from Atlantic City, New Jersey (21 degrees) to New York City’s Central Park (24 degrees) to Buffalo, New York (19 degrees). Temperatures in the single digits were reported as far south as southwest Pennsylvania Saturday. Thanks to fresh snow cover, clear skies and light winds, International Falls, Minnesota, plunged to a low of 14 degrees below zero Friday morning. This was the earliest-in-season the “Nation’s Icebox” had ever been that cold, beating the previous record from Nov. 12, 1966, when they were 15 degrees below zero. The upper Mississippi Valley, northern Rockies and Northwest have already seen extreme winter weather conditions. Duluth averages 86.1 inches of snow throughout the entire winter, according to 30-year average data (1981-2010) from the National Weather Service. Through Nov. 13, the city had already measured 20.5 inches. Havre, Montana, had picked up 17.5 inches of snow as of Nov. 13.

At least 14 people were killed in flash floods that flooded homes and washed out a section of a major highway in an area along the edge of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday. The flooding occurred because of a powerful storm that struck overnight and dumped heavy rain on the area. Vehicles were washed down flooded roadways and deposited in piles, destroyed from the impact. Walls collapsed, creating more debris in the muddy streets. Officials feared the death toll could continue to rise as search crews look for missing people in homes and streets that were inundated on the western outskirts of Athens.

Texas faces a six-fold risk of hurricane flooding similar to that experienced during Hurricane Harvey in the next 25 years, a new study says. Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel found that extreme weather events with 20 inches or more of rain could become far more common over Houston and other parts of Texas in the decades to come. According to Emanuel, the chances of “biblical” amounts of rain totaling 20 inches or more falling over Texas from 1981 to 2000 were only 1 in 100 or less. Today, the probability is 6 in 100.

  • Extreme weather is an end-time phenomena (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (10/31/17)

October 31, 2017

Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (1Corinthians 4:5)

Investigations of Russian Meddling Makes Both Dems & GOP Nervous

Amid the escalating criminal investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election, every corner of the city finds itself preparing for the unexpected. Democrats fret that President Trump might try to shut down the inquiry. The only person with any significant control over events, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, offered no hints Monday on his next move beyond the day’s bombshells — legal filings that included the indictment of two former Trump campaign officials and the guilty plea of a third. Hours after the first indictments landed, a leading Democratic lobbyist, Tony Podesta, announced that he would leave his firm after its apparent role in a Ukrainian lobbying campaign was described in court papers. “We are in a real testing time for democracy,” said Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. “You really have to go back to Watergate to find anything of this scope and dimension.” Supporters of the president say the only charges filed so far have nothing to do with the original purpose of Mueller’s probe. Former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova says the charges only involve activities from 2006-2015, before Paul Manafort got anywhere near the Trump campaign.

Christian Film “Let There Be Light” #2 in Per-Screen Average

The independent Christian Film, “Let There Be Light”, ranked No. 2 in per-screen average in movie theatres across the nation during its debut weekend. It garnered $5,071 per screen on some 373 screens Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The only film beating it out was “Jigsaw,” which earned $5,525 per screen, though with a far larger initial distribution of 2,941 screens. The film’s creators expect distribution to expand to far more theaters this week. “This is about a deep hunger on the part of the forgotten American people. They still crave entertainment that enriches and offers hope, and are tired of Hollywood’s typically negative, violence-glorifying, and sexually graphic fare,” star and co-writer Kevin Sorbo said, particularly after recent revelations about several Hollywood actors and producers being sexual predators.

Gay Icon Little Richard Renounces Homosexuality

Iconic musician Little Richard is renouncing his past life of sexual immorality, saying he believes same-sex relationships are “unnatural affections.” In an extensive interview with Three Angels Broadcasting Network, Little Richard says he has repented and turned to Jesus Christ for salvation. “God made men, men and women, women. You’ve got to live the way God wants you to live … He can save you,” the 84-year-old singer told the Christian broadcaster. The singer admits he fell to the temptations of the entertainment industry. “So much of people just doing everything and don’t think about God. Don’t want no parts of Him… But we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The only holy, righteous person is Jesus and He wants us to be just like Him because, in order to go to Heaven, we’ve got to look like Him,” Richard continued.

British Christians Think Four of the Ten Commandments Not Relevant

According to a poll by YouGov, only six of the ten are important to British Christians, with most saying the other four are not “important principles to live by” in the 21st century. The four commandments which many Christians feel are less relevant today are the first four in the Decalogue, specifically those that deal with mankind’s relationship with God. The first of the Ten Commandments –I am the Lord thy God, You shall have no other God before me – is one of the least important, with 64% of Christians saying it is irrelevant in the modern world; 57% consider worshipping idols no longer an important prohibition; 62% think taking the Lord’s name in vain is okay now; and keeping the Sabbath holy is the least relevant say 69% of Christians.

Federal Judge in D.C. Blocks Trump’s Transgender Military Ban

A federal judge in Washington blocked the Trump Administration’s proposed transgender military ban, writing in a strongly worded opinion that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued the preliminary injunction Monday, finding that a group of transgender service members would have a strong chance of prevailing in their lawsuit to have the ban declared unconstitutional. The injunction remains in place until the lawsuit is resolved or a judge lifts it. A presidential directive was set to take effect in March that would have blocked military recruitment of transgender people and would have forced the dismissal of current transgender service members.

Up to 200 Killed at North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site

Up to 200 workers could have been killed after a tunnel collapsed at North Korea’s nuclear test site. Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi said around 100 people were trapped when the unfinished tunnel caved in at the Punggye-ri site, which lies south of the Mantapsan mountain, 50 miles from the border with China. Another 100 people could have died in a second collapse as they attempted to rescue their trapped colleagues, TV Asahi reported. North Korea said it tested a hydrogen bomb at Punggye-ri on Sept. 3 — its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. A day later, a Chinese nuclear scientist warned that future tests at the facility could blow the top off the mountain and leak radioactive waste, the South China Morning Post reported.

Hurricane Death Total in Puerto Rico Disputed, Thousands Fleeing

Questions are swirling over Puerto Rico’s official death toll after government officials confirmed over the weekend that more than 900 cremations have been carried out in the U.S. territory since Maria made landfall on Sept. 20. After two weeks of investigation, Buzzfeed reported Friday that numerous funeral home and crematorium directors said they had been given permission to cremate the bodies of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria without autopsies being performed. According to the report, the directors of the funeral homes and crematoriums told the media outlet that they don’t have a specific designation for people who die as a result of natural disasters like hurricanes, so they report the victims as having died of natural causes. However, Héctor M. Pesquera, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety reiterated that the death toll stands at 51.

Puerto Ricans still without electricity more than five weeks after a massive hurricane devastated the island are fleeing to the U.S. mainland by the thousands. A massive wave of nearly 75,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida since Hurricane Maria slammed the U.S. territory on Sept. 20. Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, nearly 20 years after the Spanish-American War, which ended with the U.S. taking possession of the island, converting it into a U.S. territory. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are free to move at will to the U.S. mainland. Between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Ricans are expected to leave the island due to Hurricane Maria, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.

Opponents Outnumber White Nationalists at Tennessee shout Fests

Opponents outnumbered white nationalists Saturday in peaceful “White Lives Matter” rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee, that were punctuated by taunts and chants from both sides. In Shelbyville, the site of the first rally, some 200 white nationalists — met by nearly twice as many counter protesters — carried a Confederate flag and chanted for closed borders and deportations at a mid-morning gathering. At one point, counter protesters’ shouts of “Black Lives Matter” were met by white nationalist chants of “blood and soil.” The two sides, however, were kept well apart as law enforcement officers funneled them onto sidewalks on opposite sides of a four-lane road. The rallies had raised fears in the community of a repeat of the Charlottesville, Va., rally in August that turned deadly. In Murfreesboro, a town of 130,000 people, wary business owners had boarded up windows downtown and residents held a prayer vigil Friday night near the rally site. Organizers of the rallies had said they aimed at protesting refugee resettlement and immigration to Middle Tennessee, specifically noting the presence of Somali and Sudanese people in the region.

Skyrocketing Premiums, Slim Choices Await Obamacare Customers

Obamacare customers will see higher premiums and fewer choices when they begin enrolling Wednesday for coverage next year, according to a series of studies that found the health care law’s struggles are growing. Obamacare customers will see higher premiums and fewer choices when they begin enrolling Wednesday for coverage next year, according to a series of studies that found the health care law’s struggles are growing. But there are bargains to be had, the government said. In a quirk of pricing and government controls, top-level gold plans may be cheaper than silver plans in some states, the HHS report said. According to CNN, premiums for silver Obamacare plans will increase by an average of 37 percent next year.

Google Provides New Home for Jihadists Driven From YouTube

Google has taken steps to remove terrorist propaganda from its YouTube video-sharing site after investigations exposed the extent of the material and advertisers withdrew millions of dollars of business. However, experts have warned that the tech and publishing giant is failing to police its Google Drive file-storage and sharing service, which has become a key repository for terrorist propaganda, including calls for attacks in the West. The Counter Extremism Project wrote to Google three weeks ago warning that Drive’s terms of service, which state that ‘we do not necessarily review content”’ were enabling the spread of terrorst propaganda.

Economic News

The U.S. economy unexpectedly maintained a brisk pace of growth in the third quarter as an increase in inventory investment and a smaller trade deficit offset a hurricane-related slowdown in consumer spending and a decline in construction. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.0 percent annual rate in the July-September period after expanding at a 3.1 percent pace in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said on Friday.

Consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, climbed in October to 125.9 — the best level of the recovery from the Great Recession. Confidence hasn’t been this high since December 2000. Confidence among households in the $125,000 and over income group increased sharply, but optimism among low-income consumers was mostly lower. Wages and salaries, which account for 70 percent of employment costs, rose 0.7 percent in the third quarter. They increased 0.5 percent in the second quarter. Wages and salaries were up 2.5 percent in the 12 months through September.

Unfunded pension liabilities in the fifty U.S. states reached a record $13 trillion, Moody’s Investors Service reported. Pension liabilities jumped 4.5% between 2015-2016. The report projects that state pension debt will jump to $1.7 trillion by the end of 2017. Illinois is in the worst shape, with its unfunded liabilities amounting to 487% of its annual revenue. Alaska is second worst at 443% of income. The best state is North Carolina, with its unfunded liabilities just 24% of revenue. A Bloomberg analysis in June showed that pension problems are getting worse in 43 states.

The federal government is now 20.4 trillion dollars in debt according to the latest data. Over the past decade, the national debt has been growing at a rate of more than 100 million dollars an hour. Each American citizen’s share of the debt is more than $60,000, so if you have a family of five your share is more than $300,000. Debt cannot grow much faster than the nation’s Gross Domestic Product indefinitely. At some point the bubble will burst.

Rents have increased rapidly across U.S. housing markets as the share of renting households has risen faster than the number of new units. A survey published Thursday by Apartment List, suggests escalating housing costs may be straining renters’ resources. Eighteen percent of respondents couldn’t pay the full rent due in at least one of the past three months, according to the poll of 40,000 renters. Of those who have registered for the listing site this year, 3.3 percent said they had been evicted in the past, up from 2.8 percent in 2015.

Americans are saving at the lowest pace in nearly 10 years. The savings rate in September fell to 3.1%, according to Commerce Department data released Monday. That’s the weakest level since December 2007, just as the U.S. economy was entering the worst of the financial crisis amid the Great Recession. Savings hit its peak of 11% in December 2012 and has been tailing lower since. The savings drop came amid a 0.4% increase in personal income for Septembers.

Thanks to the ongoing retirement of the baby boomer generation and ever-increasing life expectancies, the ratio of workers to Social Security recipients is expected to decline in the coming years. Starting in 2022, the expected result is that the Social Security program will begin to run a deficit, which is expected to continue and get worse as time goes on. In 2034, the trillions of dollars in Social Security’s reserves will have been completely depleted unless changes are made to the program or payroll taxes are increased. Otherwise, incoming revenue will only be enough to cover 77% of Social Security benefits.

Israel

A recently proposed bill that would permit the Israeli government to annex communities in Judea and Samaria into a Jerusalem-based district has apparently run into opposition from the Trump administration. This development runs counter to reports from the State Department last week that the US would not oppose the legislation, which is not the first time that Trump officials and State have failed to see eye-to-eye on issues related to Israel. The legislation, entitled the Greater Jerusalem Law, would have brought close to 20 communities in areas captured during the 1967 Six Day War under the jurisdiction of the Israeli capital. The Greater Jerusalem Law envisioned bringing together around 150,000 Israelis into the Jerusalem district, in addition to transforming Arab villages outside the security barrier into an independent municipality within Greater Jerusalem

Islamic State

When it came to recruiting foreigners to flee the comforts of home for the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, ISIS succeeded like no other — encouraging more than 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries to travel to the fighting fray both before and after the declaration of the ‘caliphate’ in June 2014. Subsequently, authorities have warned about the threat of returning jihadists to their homeland and since the falls of Mosul, Raqqa and the rapidly receding footprint of ISIS, such fears have come to the forefront. According to a new report, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” released this week by the Soufan Center — a Washington-based security intelligence consultancy — there are now at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State should prepare to maintain a presence in the region to train and support ground forces even after the imminent collapse of the militant group’s so-called caliphate, the top coalition commander said Friday. Any decision about a long-term commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq would come from the White House, which has not yet publicly discussed its future plans. Commanders want to avoid a repeat of 2011 when the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq led to the Islamic State’s invasion of Iraq three years later.

Somalia

Islamist extremists attacked a Mogadishu hotel Saturday with a car bomb, a suicide vest, grenades and firearms, killing at least 23 people, including a baby, wounding more than 30 and trapping dozens of people on the building’s upper floors. The attack on the Nasa-Hablod hotel, near the presidential palace, appeared to have devolved into an ongoing battle between militants and government security forces Saturday night. Al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. Two of the five attackers were killed on the first floor, Hussein said. The others hurled grenades and cut off the building’s electricity as night fell. Al-Shabab has been involved in 987 of 1,827 attacks by militant Islamist groups in Africa this year, according to the Africa Center for Security Studies in Washington, D.C. The Somali group has had a long affiliation with al-Qaeda but now appears to be cooperating with ISIS.

Yemen

Despite international efforts to deter Houthi militias in Yemen since their takeover of Sanaa in March 2015, Iran has been repeatedly accused of continuing to back the group. And with pro-government forces reclaiming two-thirds of Yemen, Iran’s involvement in arming and training Houthi militias has been reported by regional and Western sources. Coalition leaders stated that Hezbollah members are supervising the training of the rebels. Iran’s support has come in the midst of the rising defeat of the Houthis on battlefronts and their recent strong disagreements with ousted President Saleh. This caused Iran to supply the militias with more long-range ballistic missiles that were smuggled into the country, according to Gulf observers.

Spain

The Spanish Senate gave the central government in Madrid unprecedented powers over Catalonia on Friday just minutes after the breakaway region declared independence, sharply escalating a constitutional crisis in the center of western Europe. The central government easily won permission to take over control of Catalonia. On Saturday, Spain began to assert control over Catalonia, sacking the region’s president, his ministers, diplomats, police chiefs and transferring all authority to the central government in Madrid. Catalonia’s secessionist president did not appear in public, but issued a prerecorded call for citizens to mount “a democratic opposition” to the takeover. The widening impasse has left little middle ground in Spain for possible compromises and has spilled over to the European Union, whose leaders fear another internal crisis after major upheavals such as Britain’s exit from the bloc and the financial meltdown in Greece.

North Korea

The North Korean dictatorship boasted that they have tested a hydrogen bomb underground in September. Such a hydrogen bomb has the power to destroy Manhattan, killing 8.5 million New York City residents in a couple of seconds. But, there is a prospect potentially even more deadly and terrifying, writes Congressman Trent Franks in TownHall.com. “A hydrogen bomb, exploded within Earth’s atmosphere over a central location like Kansas could potentially mean ‘lights out’ for the entire contiguous U.S.A.  The electromagnetic pulse emitted from such an explosion in the atmosphere could destroy electronic devices for thousands of miles. This could include all the devices we regularly depend upon that require electronics to function – vehicles, our water and plumbing systems, heating and air conditioning, refrigeration… just to name a few.

So, what can we do? Franks says, first, we need to strengthen and harden our national electric grid. To do so is not as expensive as the risk. We must simultaneously ratchet up our missile defense capability and technology at flank speed. A space-based missile defense layer would provide us with the ultimate high ground and ensure we could shoot down an enemy missile as it ascends — when it is most vulnerable. This “boost-phase defense” is a capability we currently do not have. Furthermore, we must increase our Ground-Based Interceptor inventory to 100. These GBIs are currently the first and last line of defense against any nuclear missile attack directed toward the American Homeland.”

Environment

Global carbon dioxide levels are higher than they’ve been in millions of years. Released Monday, the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin concluded global carbon dioxide concentrations reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, an increase from 400.0 ppm a year earlier. It’s a 145-percent rise in carbon dioxide concentrations since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750. It has been some 3 to 5 million years since carbon dioxide levels were this high on Earth; the last time it happened, sea levels were 30 to 60 feet higher than they are now, and global temperatures were several degrees Celsius warmer, the study also said.

Warm weather and strong winds are keeping thousands of Monarch butterflies from migrating south this year, scientists say. The butterflies are usually in Texas by this time of year on their autumn migratory path from Canada to Mexico. Journey North, a website devoted to tracking the butterflies, noted that as of Saturday, the leading migratory edge remains 400 miles to the north of where they should be. It also noted that this is the latest migration they have ever recorded.

Weather

More than a million people in the Northeast were in the dark Monday morning after a powerful coastal storm packing winds up to 80 mph hit the region overnight. The region was hit particularly hard, with 50-plus-mph gusts recorded from Massachusetts to Maine. The storms also forced dozens of school districts to cancel classes Monday. In Campton, New Hampshire, some residents were ordered to evacuate overnight as the water level quickly rose at the Campton Dam. The downed trees and power lines caused issued beyond power outages. Long Island Railroad services were interrupted between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma in New York. In Connecticut, several state parks announced closures Monday because of the storm. Along the coast and some inland waterways, flooding was caused by either the heavy rainfall, waves piled up along the shore, or both.

A strong low-pressure system combined with an early season blast of Canadian arctic air provided the first snowfall of the season for much of the Upper Midwest on Friday. As much as 8 inches of snow had accumulated in the area by 10 a.m. Saturday. Four people have been killed in accidents. A truck driver was killed when his semi skidded off a snow-covered bridge into a river in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the State Patrol reported multiple traffic incidents in and around Duluth, as well as more than 100 crashes and 125 spinouts statewide by noon, including another fatal accident near Brainerd in central Minnesota.

Officials in the central Argentina province of Cordoba said a fierce hailstorm struck several towns Thursday afternoon, dumping as much as five feet of hail in just 15 minutes. According to La Nacion, roads were closed in La Cruz following the severe storm, and crews worked for hours to free vehicles from the deep hail. No injuries were reported. The storm, which dumped hail as big as tennis balls, reportedly damaged homes and cars and forced some families to evacuate, according to Los Andes.

A powerful storm packing high winds and torrential rainfall tore through Central Europe Sunday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and killing at least five. Storm Herwart left massive power outages in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic as winds with gusts of up to 110 mph tore down trees and power lines. Several injuries resulting from the storm have also been reported in Germany. The storm also shut down several train connections in Germany. Flooding from the Elbe River in northern Germany inundated Hamburg’s famous fish market, along with a parking garage and several streets.

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.