Posts Tagged ‘debt’

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.

Signs of the Times (11/25/16)

November 25, 2016

Town Renames Good Friday to be Culturally Sensitive

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

Electors Revolting & Threatened as Demands for a Recount Rise

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

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

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

U.S. Jews Persecuted More than Muslims

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

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

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

Trump Denounces Alt-Right

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

Trump Softens Stance on Climate Change

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

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

Trump Appoints Two Pro-Life Women

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

Trump Foundation Admits Violating Ban on ‘Self-Dealing’

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

U.S. Issues Europe Travel Alert

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

Federal Judge Issues Injunction Against Obama Labor Regulation

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

Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent

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

Economic News

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

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

Europe

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

Russia

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

France

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Uganda

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

Mexico

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Weather

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

 

Signs of the Times

November 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Up to 50,000 Iraqi Christians to Pray for Peace

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

Trump Says Same-Sex Marriage Already Settled by Supreme Court

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

Japan’s Prime Minister Says He Trusts Trump

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

Trump’s Team Taking Shape

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

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

Poll Finds Tempered Optimism but Doubts about Trump Mandate

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

Sanctuary City Mayors Prepare for Clash with Trump Administration

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

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

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

FBI: Hate Crimes Spike, Mostly Against Muslims

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

Dementia Now England’s Leading Cause of Death for Women

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

Dakota Pipeline Project Delayed

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

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

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

Syria

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

Iran

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

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

Environment

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

Earthquakes

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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