Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Signs of the Times (12/14/17)

December 14, 2017

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

The World Sees Red at Christmas

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

Inept Subway Bomber Charged with Terrorism

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

Tax Cut Bill Not What Trump Promised

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

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

FCC Repeals its Net Neutrality Rules

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

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

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

Turkey’s President Quotes Hadith to Justify Killing Jews

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

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

Texas Imam Calls for Israel’s Destruction

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

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

Russia, China Aggressively Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

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

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

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

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

DOJ Opens Probe Into Planned Parenthood Fetal Tissue Sales

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

Judge Rules Transgender People Can Enlist in Military

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Britain

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

Middle East

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

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

North Korea

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

India

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (12/8/17)

December 8, 2017

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:5-7)

Trump Officially Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

Speaking from the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House Wednesday, President Trump officially declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process…This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.” In his remarks, Trump said, “Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world,” Trump said. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.” The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued that failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.”

“Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. President Trump, thank you for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jewish people, and the Jewish State will be forever grateful,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following President Trump’s Announcement. “We’re profoundly grateful for the President for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the US embassy here. This decision reflects the President’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”

  • Jerusalem was first the capital of Israel nearly 3,000 years ago, long before Islam and Palestinians existed. During its long history, Jerusalem was destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times, according to Wikipedia. It was a Roman colony when Jesus was born. Muslims captured it in 637 A.D. and the Crusaders retook it in 1099. In 1948, following World War II, Israel was reestablished with Jerusalem as its capital. However, this displaced thousands of so-called Palestinians who now lived there. Jerusalem is now divided into four quadrants, one each for the Jews, Muslims (East Jerusalem), Christians and Armenians. The dispute over Jerusalem will ultimately lead to a war that brings the anti-Christ to power (the first beast of Revelation 13), which will mark the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation (Daniel 9:27)

Hamas Calls for New ‘Intifada’ and Clashes Erupt in West Bank

The leader of the terrorist group Hamas called for a new “intifada” or uprising against Israel Thursday after President Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said the United States would begin the lengthy process of moving the Embassy to the city. The exhortation to revolt came as clashes between hundreds of Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops erupted across the West Bank Thursday. Demonstrators in Gaza burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as U.S. and Israeli flags, as part of “three days of rage” that began Wednesday. Protesters in cities and towns threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Smoke was seen rising over Bethlehem. At least 2 Palestinians were killed and 17 injured, one seriously, in Thursday’s clashes, but Friday, the Muslim holy day, could be a bigger test when Palestinians gather for mass prayers. Trump’s controversial decision upended decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and countered long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the ancient city, claimed by Israelis and Palestinians, would be determined in negotiations.

Supreme Court Allows Trump Travel Ban to Take Full Effect

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that President Trump’s immigration travel ban against six majority-Muslim countries can take full effect while legal challenges against the latest version are still tied up in courts. The high court’s identical orders in two challenges to the ban mean that most travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad cannot enter the United States while the cases proceed. Lower courts had exempted more travelers who they said had “bona fide” connections to the United States, such as the grandparents and in-laws of citizens. By allowing the full travel ban to take effect for now, the justices may be signaling that they are likely to uphold it on the merits at a later date — an interpretation the American Civil Liberties Union disputed. “It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims,” said Omar Jadwat, who directs the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project.

Congress Averts Shutdown with 2-Week Stopgap Bill

Congress passed a short-term spending deal Thursday, sending to President Trump a bill to avert a partial government shutdown and setting up a heated budget fight later this month. Trump has indicated that he will sign the deal, preventing a government stoppage that had been set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The deal does not resolve numerous debates over domestic spending, immigration and funding for the military that brought the government to the brink of partial closure, leaving party leaders with a new Dec. 22 deadline to keep the government open. Democrats are pushing for the next government funding bill to include increased domestic spending, legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and other party priorities. Some Republicans are pushing for increased defense spending, while others have made shrinking the government their top objective. Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, but they cannot pass spending bills alone. In the Senate, a 60-vote supermajority is required to pass most major legislation, and Republicans control just 52 seats.

Arrests Along Mexico Border Drop Sharply Under Trump

The number people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration. During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971. The figures show a sharp drop in arrests immediately following President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers. Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States surged under Trump. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers made 110,568 arrests between Trump’s inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year. But the number of people expelled from the United States declined about six percent during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, in part because the drop in illegal border crossings left the agency with fewer people to deport.

FBI Attempting to Retrieve Guns from Those Who Should Have Been Denied

A USA TODAY review found that federal authorities sought to retrieve guns from thousands of people who should have been blocked by background checks from buying the weapons. These are people with criminal records, mental health issues or other problems that would block them from buying weapons. Or someone like Devin Kelley, who had a domestic violence record but still purchased a rifle used in the Texas church massacre in November that killed 26 people. More than 4,000 requests were made last year by the FBI to retrieve weapons, the largest number of such requests in 10 years. But the government has a mixed record in retrieving these guns, notes the paper.

  • Another example of why you can’t trust government agencies to do the job right in the first place. More laws won’t matter if enforcement has so many holes.

More Than 100 Powerful Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Since the allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced on Oct. 5, women have been stepping forward to publicly share their stories of sexual misconduct. Although many of the accusations originally focused on Hollywood, more than 100 high-profile men across industries — including tech, business, politics and media — have since faced claims ranging from sexual harassment to rape. Many have resigned or been fired from high-level positions. Also coming into focus are the many others who knew about the sexual misconduct and did nothing about it or actually condoned it.

  • 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, for whatever makes manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:12-13)

Cocaine Kills as Many Blacks as Opioids Kill Whites

The American opioid crisis is only part of an overall drug abuse emergency in the U.S. Cocaine-related overdose deaths among non-Hispanic blacks are on par with overdose deaths caused by heroin and prescription opioids among whites, according to a study published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years,” said Meredith Shiels, a co-author of the study and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute. Death rates are “rising most rapidly among white Americans,” she said. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16,849 Americans died due to an overdose in 1999, and in 2015, the number of overdose fatalities reached 52,404. Overall, rates of overdose deaths increased by 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2015. Most of that increase has been attributed to opioid-related deaths among white persons. Cocaine was the largest contributor to overdose deaths among black men and women.

New Initiative Fighting Online Christian Censorship

Censorship of Christian and conservative speech online by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple is the target of an initiative called Internet Freedom Watch, launched Thursday by the National Religious Broadcasters. The initiative has established a website, InternetFreedomWatch.org, to document cases of censorship of Christian content. NRB, has published a chart with more than 30 instances of Internet censorship. Last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai accused Twitter and other tech companies of being disingenuous by arguing for a free and open Internet while they “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” Pai, appointed by President Trump to head the agency, called out Twitter for appearing to have a “double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users.”

Americans Give More to Charity than Any Other Country

According to Giving USA, American giving rose to $390 billion last year, a 3% increase over the prior year. Americans give about 3% of their collective income to charity, more than the citizens of any other country. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the vast majority of U.S. citizens donate to charity, and 91% of high net-worth do so. The average household contributes $2,520 a year. The U.S. gives $40 billion to more than 100 countries, Altogether, the U.S. is the most giving nation on earth.

Bitcoin Frenzy Driving Price Up, Up, Up

2017 has become the year bitcoin went big. It started the year worth less than $1,000 but has soared above $16,000. Back in 2011, it was worth less than a dollar. It is being bought and sold by investors in a frenzy, driving the price higher and higher. Some leading economists and financiers are calling bitcoin a bubble and a fraud, but industry insiders say they think it’s only going to get bigger as it gains more widespread acceptance. Unlike the U.S. dollar or Japanese yen, digital currencies such as bitcoin aren’t issued by central banks like the Federal Reserve. Instead, they are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms. Payments in bitcoin can be made without traditional middlemen such as banks and without the need to give your name. That made bitcoin popular with criminals and others who wanted to move money anonymously. It’s also been adopted by businesses around the world as a way to pay for everyday things like groceries, train tickets and haircuts. Its price has taken off this year as mainstream investors have become more interested.

Economic News

U.S. employers added 228,000 jobs in November as unemployment stayed the same at 4.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. The growth slightly outpaced Wall Street analysts’ expectations as the labor market continued to expand after being hampered by hurricanes earlier this fall. The unemployment rate, a measure of the number of people actively looking for a job but who have not yet found one, has not dipped below 4 percent since December 2000. Workers’ average hourly earnings, meanwhile, grew by 5 cents, up 2.5 percent from this time last year. Productivity growth remains low, he said, inching up at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent over the last eight years, compared to its historic rate of 2.1 percent from 1974 to 2017.

Americans’ assessments of the economy remain relatively strong, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup said its U.S. Economic Confidence Index was at +9 for the week ending Dec. 3. This score is similar to the previous week’s +11 and slightly above the average weekly level of economic confidence during the year so far (+6). “During this period, there have been a number of signs indicating that the economy is strong — including the lowest unemployment rate in nearly two decades, a stock market that continues to flirt with new highs and stronger-than-expected GDP growth. Given these inputs, it is not surprising that many Americans report being optimistic about the economy, particularly current conditions,” Gallup explained. “The tax bill per se is not widely popular with Americans, but its relationship to a rising stock market is an indirect effect that most likely does register positively with the public,” Gallup said.

About one in five small businesses are majority female-owned, and the number of such firms grew by 22% between 2007 and 2015, according to a recent report published by the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Kansas City. More than 970,000 small firms now have majority female ownership. The Fed defines a small business as a company with 500 or fewer employees. That’s far fewer than the 3 million male-run firms, a number that grew by about 6% over the same period.

A last-minute deal was made early Friday in the faltering talks between Britain and the European Union over Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union. The deadlocked talks faced a Friday deadline or risked being derailed ahead of a summit in Brussels next week that will seek to lock-in the terms of Britain’s EU withdrawal fee, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit. The agreement paves the way for negotiations on the trade deal between Britain and the bloc after the divorce.

Middle East

The Israeli Defense Forces struck two terror targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire from the northern Gaza Strip that landed in Israeli territory and to an earlier launch that landed within the Gaza Strip,” an IDF spokesman said. “The IDF sees the terror organization Hamas as responsible for events in the Gaza Strip.” The IDF said the strikes on Gaza had been carried out with tank fire and from an aerial vehicle.

Iran

France and Germany agree that Iran must reverse its ballistic missile program and end its “hegemonic temptations” across the Middle east, the French foreign minister said on Monday. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman earlier on Monday said Paris should know that Iran’s missile program is not an issue that can be negotiated. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said the two countries would continue to defend the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency announced Tuesday that a series of joint U.S.-Afghan operations had killed a top leader of the extremist al-Qaeda network along with scores of other members. Omar bin Khatab was the second most important leader of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the most senior leader to have been ever killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war that ousted the former Taliban rulers in late 2001, said an official with the Afghan National Directorate of Security. Bin Khatab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was killed in the Gilan district of Ghazni province southwest of the capital.

Congo

At least 14 United Nations peacekeepers were killed in eastern Congo in one of the deadliest attacks on the international forces in years, U.N. officials reported Friday. U.N. officials said 53 peacekeepers also were wounded in the attack, and at least five members of Congo’s military were killed. Heavily armed rebel fighters attacked a forward operating base in a remote part of North Kivu province Thursday night, firing rocket-propelled grenades and destroying at least one armored personnel carrier, U.N. officials said. The firefight went on for at least three hours, and the majority of those killed and injured were from Tanzania. The death toll is the highest for U.N. peacekeepers in a single incident since 1993, when 23 “blue helmets” were slain in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Wildfires

Several large wildfires continue to burn across Southern California, fanned by Santa Ana winds. At least 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes because of the fires. At least 150 structures have been destroyed and 116,000 acres torched. The body of a woman was discovered Wednesday night in a burn zone near the town of Ojai. Authorities ordered evacuations for several neighborhoods in Bel-Air and closed both directions of the 405 Freeway as a new wildfire began to char land Wednesday morning in Southern California. Earlier, a fire was reported Tuesday morning in the Kagel Canyon area, east of Ventura and north of Los Angeles. The largest of the fires, named the Thomas Fire, was sparked first and has since burned more than 101 square miles just north of Santa Paula. The Lilac fire in San Diego County has burned at least two people, destroyed 22 structures and consumed 2.000 acres, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations.

Thursday a text alert about the dangerous fire conditions was sent to 12 million residents in the southern part of the Golden State It was the widest alert the state Office of Emergency Services has ever issued.  “The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told the Associated Press. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people and protect structures.” Officials say the state is in for the worst Santa Ana wind conditions they’ve ever seen, posing a potential risk to the city of Los Angeles.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji has already delivered a rare snow event to parts of south and coastal Texas, and will blanket a 2,000-mile-long swath from the Deep South and Northeast into this weekend with the season’s first snow, for many. Already over 100,000 customers have lost power in the storm and schools have been shut down in the South. The southern extent of the snow swath right now is something not often seen, extending from Deep South and coastal Texas into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, north Georgia, and the southern Appalachians. Much of the Houston metro area picked up 1 to 2 inches of snow.

The weather in the world’s most northerly town of Longyearbyen is much tame than it should be. Residents and experts fear this tight-knit community of 2,000 — where polar bears outnumber people — is at risk of disappearing because temperatures are rising at an accelerated pace compared to the rest of the world. “Every single consecutive month has been above average,” said Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. “We have tremendous increase in the wintertime temperatures, almost 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) increase over the past 30 years or so.” The snow melts earlier in the spring, and the glaciers are diminishing by about 2 feet per year in thickness. Melting permafrost and higher temperatures have caused havoc here in recent years, triggering sometimes deadly avalanches on the steep mountains that flank the town. Houses have been destroyed, while roads and some areas have been closed or declared unsafe to live because of the risk.

Signs of the Times (11/28/17)

November 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

ADF Fighting Gay Rights & Abortion With the First Amendment

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

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

SPLC Criminalizing Christianity

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

Free Speech Win for Pro-life Students in California

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

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

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

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

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

Uber Hid 2016 Breach, Paid Hackers to Delete Stolen Data

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

Internet Has Become ‘World’s Largest Surveillance Network’

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

Scientists Implant Human Brain Cells in Mice

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

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

New Suicide Machine Includes Detachable Coffin

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

Australia State Legalizes Assisted Suicide

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

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

Bird Flu Rises in South Korea

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Egypt

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

Iran

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

Somalia

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

Outer Space

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

North Korea

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

Earthquakes

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

Volcanoes

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (11/21/17)

November 21, 2017

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

Museum of the Bible Opened Friday Amid Controversy

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

NAACP Calls National Anthem Racist

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

House Passes GOP Tax Reform Bill

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

Keystone Pipeline Leak Days Before Approval Decision

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

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

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Multiply in Statehouses Countrywide

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

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

NSA Hacked Computer was Infested with Malware

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

Facebook, Google, Twitter Unveil Trust Indicators

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

59,000 Haitians Ordered to Return Home

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

White House Warns 29 Sanctuary Cities to Comply or Lose Aid

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

Internet Neutrality Rules Will Be Repealed

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

Economic News

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

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

Israel

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

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

Islamic State

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

North Korea

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

China

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

Germany

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

Zimbabwe

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

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

Nigeria

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

Turkey

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (11/15/17)

November 15, 2017

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

Australians Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

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

FBI Begins Investigation of Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Parts

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

Global Emissions Up 2% Despite U.S. Drop

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

Digital Pills Raise Fears About Big Brother

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

NSA Shaken to Its Core By Security Breach

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

YouTube Blocks Jihadist Videos in ‘Watershed’ Moment

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

Somalian Charged in Bloody Stabbing at Mall of America

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

FEMA Denies Texas Churches Hurricane Damage Benefits

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

Geoengineering the Weather Appears to be Backfiring

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

Human Fertility Declining Due to Pesticides

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

Vehicle Recalls Increasing, Many Remain Unrepaired

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

Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion in Aid Relief

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Syria

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

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

Europe

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

Poland

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

Zimbabwe

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

Environment

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

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

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (11/10/11)

November 10, 2017

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

President Trump is Filling Federal Courts with Scalia-Like Conservative Judges

President Donald Trump is filling federal bench seats with strict constitutionalists, Paul Strand said in a column in CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News. “President Obama picked left-leaning jurists and George W. Bush safe, non-controversial nominees,” Strand said. “But Trump has been nominating judges in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, who gave first priority to the U.S. Constitution and to the law as it’s written, rather than coming up with his own interpretations.” There are more than 100 judge vacancies and once chosen, their influence could “last 40,50 years and will have an enormous impact on the future of our country,” said Leonard Leo, of the Federalist Society and adviser to the president. “This president has an opportunity to potentially fill as many as 40 percent of the seats on the federal bench,” Leo said. “And that will just be transformative.” Most of Trump’s picks will sit on lower courts, where about 99 percent of federal cases are dealt with. Meanwhile, Democrats are fighting back. “The Democrats insisted on 30 hours of debate on (Idaho nominee) David Nye even though at the end of the day he was confirmed a hundred to nothing,” said John Malcolm, of the Heritage Foundation.

Planned Parenthood’s Tactics Exposed

Last month, a video featuring former Planned Parenthood employees was released by And Then There Were None, an organization dedicated to helping people in the abortion industry quit their jobs. As revealed by PPH’s former employees, the abortion giant is engaging in money-motivated campaigns of deception and employing manipulative tactics on their clients. As reported by LifeSite News, the video features two former Planned Parenthood managers, Sue Thayer and Shelly Guillory, who give a first-hand account of Planned Parenthood’s deceptive and manipulative practices. Guillory said that following a pregnancy test “If that pregnancy test was positive, the following morning she was scheduled to come in for counseling. We didn’t tell her we were scheduling her in to come and get an abortion, but when she came in that morning, she was scheduled for an abortion.” ‘The abortion industry has goals for numbers of, well, every procedure and product that they sell,’ said Thayer, a manager in Iowa for 17 years. ‘In all my years there, not in any of 17 centers all across Iowa did we have one adoption. Not once.”

Air Force Failure Enabled Texas Gunman to Obtain Firearms

The Air Force said it failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about Devin P. Kelley’s violent past, allowing him to purchase firearms before the shooting rampage that killed at least 26 churchgoers in Sutherland Springs, Tex. The former service member should have been barred from purchasing firearms and body armor because of his domestic violence conviction in 2014 while serving at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Kelley was sentenced to a year in prison and kicked out of the military with a bad conduct discharge following two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child, according to the Air Force. Kelley also escaped from a psychiatric hospital while he was in the Air Force, after making death threats against his superiors and trying to smuggle weapons onto the base where he was stationed, a 2012 police report shows.

Kelley fired 450 shots inside the church, leaving such destruction that the building may be beyond repair. Stricter gun controls could have resulted in more deaths during the Texas church shooting massacre because a neighbor might not have been able to shoot the gunman, President Trump said Tuesday. Trump went on to say that Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation, and “Chicago is a disaster,” citing the historic number of shootings there over the past few years.

AR-15 the Weapon of Choice in Mass Shootings

AR-15 style rifles have become the weapon of choice in recent mass shootings, including the Texas church shooting Sunday, the Orlando nightclub last year and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The National Rifle Association has called the AR-15 the “most popular rifle in America” and estimates Americans own more than 8 million of them. The NRA says, “the AR-15 has soared in popularity” because it’s “customizable, adaptable, reliable and accurate.” It is also versatile and can be used for “sport shooting, hunting and self-defense situations,” the NRA said, adding the ability to “personalize” so many of the rifle’s components “is one of the things that makes it so unique.” The site TacticalGear.com says the AR-15 (a civilian model of the military’s M-16) shoots farther effectively, fires more rounds per minute, is lighter and its service life is longer if properly maintained. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence also cited the AR-15’s versatility as the reason for its popularity.

Domestic Violence Trait Shared by Majority of Mass Shooters

Domestic violence is a trait often shared by U.S. mass shooters, whose rage can evolve into public manifestations like the horrific scene inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Nationwide, about 57% of mass shooters killed family members between 2009 and 2015 — and about 15% of those shooters were previously accused of domestic violence, according to a study cited by the Texas Commission on Family Violence. Devin Patrick Kelley’s history of domestic violence is a recognized precursor of lethal eruption as batterers fight to maintain control, experts say. What may start as verbal abuse can turn to physical abuse, threats or introducing weapons in private. For some, when that is no longer effective, it reaches a crescendo ending in homicide — sometimes to include those not directly involved.

GOP Loses Elections, Control of Congress in Jeopardy

After a year of doubts, recriminations and special election misfires, Democrats finally got the big victories Tuesday they’d so desperately craved in the year since Donald Trump won the presidency. Across the map, in mayoral contests, state legislative races and ballot measures, everything broke Democrats’ way. All of a sudden, full control of Congress might be in serious jeopardy. Trump’s low approval ratings look toxic. And it could be much harder to convince incumbents to run — and to recruit candidates into open-seat races — in such a difficult environment. Democrats won races large and small Tuesday, starting with the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races. The party won hotly contested mayoral races in Charlotte, North Carolina, and St. Petersburg, Florida. In Maine, voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Trump Asks Congress for More Defense Budget

President Trump asked Congress for another $5.9 billion for the military on Monday, as he continued an Asia trip aimed at countering what he called the “North Korean menace.” The addition to the administration’s 2018 budget request came just as Trump was leaving Japan for South Korea, where the U.S. has begun installing an anti-missile defense system known as THAAD. The request includes $4 billion for a missile defense and detection system on the Korean peninsula, $1.2 billion for 3,500 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and $700 million to repair two Navy ships. The request comes as China and South Korea have resolved their dispute over the installation of THAAD batteries in South Korea, which China said threatened its national security. But South Korea has still been reluctant to add additional THAAD installations on the peninsula.

Trump Calls Out Japan for Defensive Passivity

President Trump pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to purchase more military hardware from the United States and take a more active role in its defense against North Korea. Trump had privately questioned why Japan didn’t shoot down the North Korean missiles launched over the northern island of Hokkaido in August and September, according to a report Saturday by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency. The report, citing diplomatic sources, said Trump wondered why a nation of “samurai warriors” wouldn’t take action. At a news conference in Tokyo with Abe, Trump addressed the question, saying: “(Abe) will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.” While Trump’s comment might have been taken as part of his trademark bluster, the question of Japan’s military role remains a crucial issue both in Japan and around the region, especially with provocations from North Korea and China’s increasing assertiveness.

Trump Complaints About Global Trade Policies to Vietnam

President Trump arrived in Vietnam and told delegates of an Asia-Pacific economic summit Friday that countries have treated the U.S. unfairly with their trade policies. Claiming that trading partners are not playing by the rules — but not citing any by name — Trump pledged at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to crack down on closed markets, currency manipulation and intellectual property theft. As he did in China, Trump said he did not blame other countries for taking advantage of the United States — he blamed previous administrations. “I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it,” Trump said. “They did not, but I will… I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first,” Trump told APEC. “In the end,” he said, “unfair trade undermines us all.”

DHS Ends Protected Status for Nicaraguans, Hondurans Get Extension

The Trump administration has given 2,500 Nicaraguans with provisional residency 14 months to leave the United States, announcing Monday that it will not renew the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation that has allowed them to remain in the country for nearly two decades. But officials deferred a decision for the much larger group of 57,000 Hondurans who have been living in the United States with the same designation, saying the Department of Homeland Security needed more time to consider their fate. The decision was likely to displease immigration hard-liners who have urged the administration to end the TPS program on the grounds that it was never intended to bestow long-term residency to those who may have entered the country illegally. The two groups were shielded from deportation after Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998, and their TPS protections have been routinely renewed ever since.

Trump Cracks Down on U.S. Travel to Cuba

President Trump cracked down on the ability of U.S. citizens to travel and do business with Cuba on Wednesday, a major step toward rolling back another Obama-era policy. Under new regulations that take effect Thursday, the Trump administration is banning Americans from doing business with dozens of entities with links to Cuba’s military. The move affects stores, hotels, tourist agencies and even two rum makers. President Obama’s administration ended more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation with its Cold War foe, reestablishing embassies in Havana and Washington and making it easier for Americans to visit their long-isolated Caribbean neighbors. Trump claimed during a speech in Miami in June that the U.S. gave away too much in exchange for too little. The White House has also blamed Cuba for a series of unexplained attacks against U.S. diplomats on the island, prompting the U.S. to cut back its staff in Havana and halt the processing of visas for Cubans trying to reach the United States.

FEMA to Transport Hurricane Victims in Puerto Rico to U.S.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will help transport hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico to the continental United States, with priority given to approximately 3,000 people who are living in shelters, the agency said. Hurricane survivors who want to temporarily relocate to the mainland, could end up in Florida or New York, as FEMA is working to establish agreements with both states. The two states were selected by Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello, according to FEMA. Both Florida and New York have sizable Puerto Rican communities. Florida has already seen tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans coming to its state after Hurricane Maria struck the island that is still struggling more than a month after the storm. About 60% of the US territory, which is home to approximately 3.4 million US citizens, is still without power.

Largest U.S. Insurers Band Together to Fight Addiction

The nation’s largest insurers signaled a new approach to the opioid crisis that has ravaged families across the country, declaring Wednesday that addiction deserves the same urgency and respect as cancer or diabetes, and should be treated as a chronic disease requiring long-term treatment and monitoring.  Adopting eight “principles of care,” 16 health insurers covering 248 million people said in a statement they would use their purchasing power to reward proven, evidence-based treatments, a step that could improve the quality of care available.  The goal is to “make sure future patients aren’t forced to cycle in and out of treatment, wondering why they don’t work,” said Gary Mendell, a former hotel executive who founded the non-profit Shatterproof after his son died from addiction. Shatterproof hosted the conference call announcement with executives from Cigna and Horizon. Shatterproof convened a national task force earlier this year that included experts and insurance executives.

Homelessness ‘Exploding’ on West Coast

Mainstream news outlets are reporting that homelessness is “exploding” out on the west coast. Over the past two years, at least 10 cities or municipal regions in California, Oregon and Washington have declared a state of emergency because homelessness has gotten so far out of control. Housing prices are soaring in Seattle thanks to the tech industry, but the boom comes with a consequence: a surge in homelessness marked by 400 unauthorized tent camps in parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. San Diego now scrubs its sidewalks with bleach to counter a deadly hepatitis A outbreak. In Anaheim, 400 people sleep along a bike path in the shadow of Angel Stadium. Organizers in Portland lit incense at an outdoor food festival to cover up the stench of urine in a parking lot where vendors set up shop. With each passing day, more Americans fall out of the middle class, and the homeless populations in major cities all over the nation continue to grow.

Economic News

OPEC says growth in global oil demand will steadily lessen, but fossil fuels will remain the main energy source decades from now. The organization’s annual World Oil Outlook published Tuesday says renewables are projected to record the fastest growth, but their share of total energy supply is still anticipated to remain below 5.5% by 2040. The report by the 14-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries says that the use of fossil fuels — 81% of the global energy mix in 2015 — will decline by 2040. But the cartel says they will still account then for 74% of all energy used.

More store closings have already been announced in 2017 than any other year on record. Since January 1, retailers have announced plans to shutter more than 6,700 stores in the U.S., according to Fung Global Retail & Technology, a retail think tank. That beats the previous all-time high of 6,163 store closings, which hit in 2008 amid the financial meltdown, according to Credit Suisse.

Americans’ confidence in the U.S. economy tilted slightly positive in October, with Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index at +3 for the month. Though the index’s current reading is on the low end of what Gallup has measured for 2017 so far, it remains well above the mostly negative ratings recorded from 2008 to 2016. Meanwhile, the stock market remains on a tear, with the Dow Jones industrial average up more than 5,000 points from where it was one year ago, up nearly 25%.

The three richest billionaires in the U.S., as measured by the annual Forbes 400 ranking, now own more wealth than the bottom half of the nation’s population combined, according to the report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a research organization focused on inequality issues. The fortunate three are Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and financier and investor Warren Buffett. Their $264.1 billion in holdings outstrips the combined net worth of an estimated 160 million people, or 53 million U.S. households.

Israel

The U.N. has just created an anti-Israel lawfare slush fund, reports ACLJ (American Center for Law & Justice). It’s sending $18 million to the terrorist-led Palestinian Authority, specifically to fund a legal war on Israel. “U.N. agencies have called for Israel’s destruction. Hezbollah and Hamas are preparing for war. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is pursuing new, false war crimes charges against Israel (not the terrorists),” writes Jay Sekulow. “At the ACLJ, we’re launching our largest legal effort in defense of Israel. We’ve defeated legal attacks at the ICC before, and we’re preparing to do so again. Now, we’re preparing to directly take on the U.N.’s anti-Israel lawfare slush fund.”

Islamic State

Coalition airstrikes have declined by more than 50% as U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria have largely destroyed the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate and surviving militants have been killed or fled. The number of coalition bombs and other weapons dropped to about in 850 in October, down from an average of 1,800-2,600 in previous months. The Islamic State has been pushed out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and more recently Raqqa, the terrorist group’s de facto capital in Syria. The coalition ramped up airstrikes dramatically earlier this year as U.S.-backed forces went to battle against militants in both cities. As ISIS lost its grip on strongholds, the militants scattered, presenting fewer targets for coalition pilots.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia on Monday called the attempted missile attack on Riyadh’s main airport this weekend an “act of war” by Iran and vowed to retaliate. Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been fighting Saudi-backed forces there for several years, claimed responsibility for firing the ballistic missile on Saturday. The missile traveled more than 500 miles before Saudi Arabia intercepted and destroyed it. The official Saudi Press Agency charged that debris from the missile proved that it was made in Iran and smuggled into Yemen. American officials have previously charged that Iran has armed the Houthi rebels. The UN’s humanitarian chief has sent a chilling warning that Yemen is facing the world’s worst famine in decades in which millions could die, if Saudi Arabia continues to block aid flowing into the war-torn nation. Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on Yemen after Houthi rebels, who have taken over the national government and its assets, fired the ballistic missile last week.

Somalia

A U.S. drone strike killed “several militants” with al-Shabab in Somalia, the military said, as the Trump administration increasingly targets what has become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. A U.S. drone strike killed “several militants” with al-Shabab in Somalia, the military said, as the Trump administration increasingly targets what has become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. The U.S. military says it has carried out 22 airstrikes this year against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, as well as against the smaller Islamic State group presence in Somalia after the Trump administration approved expanded military efforts.

North Korea

North Korea’s nuclear test site is turning the area into a “wasteland” where “deformed babies” are being born and 80 percent of vegetation dies off due to nuclear radiation, nearly two dozen defectors told a South Korean newspaper Monday. Residents fear radiation contamination because of the high mortality rate for any form of life, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported. The defectors said drinking water in the town streamed down from Mount Montap, where the nuclear tests were reportedly conducted underground. They added authorities left residents in the area to fend for themselves and provided no warning prior to the detonations or protections thereafter. “I personally saw corpses floating down the river with their limbs severed,” one defector said, adding that local residents were also ordered to dig “deep holes for those tests.”

China

American and Chinese companies signed more than a dozen deals worth $9 billion as President Trump arrived in China on Wednesday for a visit likely to be dominated by tough trade talks and tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program. No details of the 19 agreements signed at a ceremony in Beijing attended by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and China’s vice-premier Wang Yang were immediately released, but such business contracts are a common fixture of visits by foreign leaders to China. Before arriving in Beijing, Trump used a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly to call on China to stop supporting North Korea, China’s largest trading partner. He said, “all responsible nations” needed to isolate Pyongyang.

China announced plans to institute Social Credit System that will be mandatory for all its citizens by 2020. It’s like a credit score system, but instead of just financial information, this one will also pull together a person’s political leanings, purchase history and even their social interactions to calculate their “trust score.” Chinese officials say it’s a way to influence their citizens’ behavior to benefit society and move their country forward, but others think it’s just the latest step in the country’s long history of state surveillance. The benefits of a high trust score include being fast-tracked to visas, to getting discounts on hotels, or car rentals, or insurance policies. If your trust score goes below a certain level, it could impact everything from where your children go to school, to what jobs you can apply for, and the type of mortgage that you can get.

Environment

Thousands of schools were closed in India and Pakistan and a public health emergency was declared as thick smog continues to make life miserable for hundreds of millions who live in the region. Air pollution has soared to four times above the World Health Organization’s limits in Pakistan’s major cities. Some of the worst air quality readings were in Delhi state, home to some 20 million people in northern India. In New Delhi, India’s capital city, air quality readings earlier this week revealed the dangerous air particles soared above 700 micrograms per cubic meter, well above recommended limits. Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles (such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke) that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. Schools will remain closed through at least the end of the week, and most trucks were prevented from entering New Delhi in recent days. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, at least 10 people have died and another 25 have been injured since Monday in car accidents blamed on poor visibility due to the dense smog.

Just under the frozen wasteland of Antarctica, the world’s coldest continent, are some seriously hot rocks, 1,800 degrees, which are helping to melt its ice sheet and create lakes and rivers, a recent study found. The heat produced by the scorching hot rocks — officially known as a mantle plume — was measured at 150 milliwatts per square meter. That’s not far from the heat produced under Yellowstone National Park, which is measured at about 200 milliwatts per square meter. Study lead author Helene Seroussi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory thought it was “crazy” that it would be there: “I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it,” she said. Although the heat source isn’t a new or increasing threat to the West Antarctic ice sheet, it could help explain why the ice sheet collapsed rapidly some 11,000 years ago and why it’s so unstable today, Seroussi said.

  • So, it’s not just global warming contributing to the melting of the ice sheets

Weather

An arctic blast will slide across parts of the Midwest and Northeast into this weekend. Many cities in the Midwest and Northeast will see their coldest temperatures so far this season. Daily record lows could be threatened in some cities. The blast of winterlike temperatures first descended into the northern Plains Wednesday. That cold air will sweep through the Great Lakes and into the Northeast by Friday, where highs may hold in the 20s and 30s in some areas. Parts of the interior Northeast saw their first snow of the season Tuesday, including Maine, which had yet to see a snowflake this season. Caribou, Maine, picked up its first trace of snow Tuesday, nearly a month later than the average date of Oct. 12th.

La Niña, the cooler sibling of El Niño, is back. The La Niña climate pattern — a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean — is one of the main drivers of weather in the U.S. and around the world, especially during the late fall, winter and early spring. Federal government forecasters announced La Niña’s formation Thursday. The Climate Prediction Center says this year’s La Niña (translated from Spanish as “little girl”) is on the weak side, but it should still continue through the winter. A typical La Niña winter in the U.S. brings cold and snow to the Northwest and unusually dry conditions to most of the southern tier of the U.S. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic also tend to see warmer-than-average temperatures during a La Niña winter.

The death toll continued to rise in Vietnam after Typhoon Damrey dealt a severe blow to the country’s south-central region, where at least 69 people were killed and 30 remain missing. At least 116,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the powerful typhoon’s flooding, the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said in a statement. Damrey has since dissipated, and water levels were dropping in some areas, but in others, problems persisted. This includes Hoi An, an ancient city that was a scheduled stop for of an upcoming economic summit that’ll be attended by President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other world leaders later this week.

Signs of the Times (11/6/17)

November 6, 2017

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-12a)

Christians Are the Most Persecuted Group in the World

According to the evangelical group Open Doors, one hundred million Christians face interrogation, arrest, torture, and/or death because of their religious convictions. Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary documents that one hundred thousand Christians, eleven per hour, have been killed on average every year of the past decade. While 30 percent of the world’s population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination around the world are directed at Christians. One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed on the basis of their religious beliefs are Christians. Persecution against Christians is especially prevalent in the Muslim world. According to Newsweek, “In recent years the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations stretching from West Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Oceania. In some countries it is governments and their agents that have burned churches and imprisoned parishioners. In others, rebel groups and vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands, murdering Christians and driving them from regions where their roots go back centuries.” Newsweek notes: “A fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.”

26 Killed in Texas Church Shooting

At least 26 people were killed and many more were injured in a deadly shooting at a Texas church on Sunday, November 5. Twenty wounded people are still in the hospital. The massacre killed about 4% of the small town’s population. The gunman entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas about 11:20 a.m. local time and opened fire on those gathered for Sunday worship. The victims included many children as well as elderly members of the congregation. The church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, lost his 14-year-old daughter. Police have identified the suspect as 26-year-old Devin Kelley. Kelley reportedly fled the church after a local resident attempted to fight back. He was found dead in his vehicle after crashing it near the county line. He suffered a gunshot wound, but it is unclear whether this wound was self-inflicted or incurred while in a chase with police. Kelley’s in-laws had previously attended services at the church but were not there during the deadly rampage. Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and their child, receiving a bad conduct discharge and 12 months of confinement. Kelley tried to get a license to carry a gun in Texas but was denied by the state. He had made threatening texts, and appeared motivated by his domestic situation, said his mother-in-law and a member of that church.

U.S. Leads World in Gun Violence

The U.S. saw on average 8,592 gun homicides each year — 2.7 gun homicides for every 100,000 people — between 2010 and 2015, according to the latest data from the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research initiative that tracks guns. That’s more than five times the rate of Greece and neighboring Canada, tied for second place with 0.5 per 100,000 people. It’s more than 10 times the gun homicide rate of the Netherlands and France, with 0.2 per 100,000 people. Germany and Spain have an even lower rate, with 0.1 per 100,000 people.

Terror Attack in New York City – Update

Eight people were killed and 11 injured after a man drove a rented pickup truck onto a busy bicycle path leading to the 9/11 memorial in Lower Manhattan on last week. The male driver careened a rented pickup truck onto a pedestrian walkway and bike path north of the World Trade Center memorial in Lower Manhattan and then sped south, running over pedestrians and bikers. Officials identified the suspect as Sayfullo Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan who came to the U.S. in 2010. Authorities said that Saipov, 29, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great” in Arabic — after jumping out of the truck. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said Saipov was “associated with ISIS and he was radicalized domestically.” CNN reported that police found a note from the driver in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The attack is similar to terror attacks around the world in which terrorists used vehicles to inflict multiple casualties in Barcelona, London, Germany and Nice.

Saipov had been planning his attack for weeks, officials said, following interviews of Saipov in the hospital during which he bragged about the assault and said he was “proud” of the attack. He also left a note at the scene of the attack. Written in Arabic, it pledged allegiance to ISIS. Saipov came to the United States seven years ago from Uzbekistan under the Diversity Visa Program. The suspect had been on the radar of federal authorities, and those close to him had feared he was heading toward extremism, reports the New York Times. Saipov and his wife, Odilova, also an Uzbek, were married in Summit County, Ohio, on April 12, 2013. Saipov obtained a driver’s license in Tampa, Fla., in 2015. He listed his occupation as a truck driver. Saipov, who moved in recent months into an apartment in Paterson, N.J., also worked recently for Uber. He and his family — he reportedly has young children — attended the next-door Omar Mosque, one of several in New Jersey that the NYPD targeted as part of surveillance started in 2005 intended to identify “budding terrorist conspiracies.” The targeting program was criticized for profiling citizens based on religion and ethnicity. President Trump called on Congress to end the diversity lottery program.

U.S. Vulnerable to Lone Wolf Attacks, Experts Say

The terror attack that left eight dead in Manhattan on Tuesday could be a frightening indication of things to come in the war on terror in the U.S., experts cautioned. The simplicity of planning and carrying out similar attacks, in which a man drove a pick-up truck onto a bike path near the World Trade Center and plowed into cyclists, makes them difficult to guard against and prevent. “We’re vulnerable. Democratic societies are open and they can be penetrated,” said Charles Strozier, director of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “These sorts of things are brewing in basements around the country right now,” said John Shane, a professor of law and police science at John Jay. Bruce Hoffman of the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said the Big Apple remains a prime target for terrorists. “If they can pierce New York’s defenses, it sends a very strong psychological blow by terrorists.” Runners planning to participate in Sunday’s New York City Marathon say the terror attack on Tuesday in lower Manhattan will not deter them from the race.

Antifa Rallies Fail to Attract Numbers Expected

A series of anti-government, leftist rallies were held in major cities nationwide last Saturday, but the turnout was far less than Antifa expected. Despite full page ads and free press attention, the turnout was low at many of Refuse Fascism’s rallies. The exception appears to have been L.A, where local news reported that close to 2,000 protesters gathered. The left-wing “Refuse Fascism” group used Nov. 4 as its kickoff for protests it says will continue “day after day and night after night ─ not stopping ─ until our DEMAND is met.” The “DEMAND” is the removal of President Trump and Vice President Pence. Tapping into movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Women’s March, Refuse Fascism said it hopes to protest non-stop, 24/7 “until this regime is driven from power.” The anarchist group, whose name comes from term “anti-fascist,” made news earlier this week for allegedly harassing a female reporter at Columbia University and for seven arrests at California State University, Fullerton, amid reports of head-punching and pepper-spraying.

UN Human Rights Committee Excludes Unborn Child from ‘Right to Life’

Despite pleas from more than one hundred governments and pro-life organizations, including the United States and Poland, the UN Human Rights Committee has excluded unborn children from the right to life in international law last week in Geneva. Despite pleas from more than one hundred governments and pro-life organizations, including the United States and Poland, the UN Human Rights Committee has excluded unborn children from the right to life in international law this week in Geneva. Not one of the members expressed any concern for babies in the womb capable of feeling pain, or brought up the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which expressly requires states to protect children “before birth.” The only snag for the committee was not from sovereign States but another part of the UN bureaucracy. The UN committee on disabilities asked that the draft be changed to avoid expressions that demean the disabled.

126 Million Facebook Users Saw Russian Fake News

As many as 126 million people — or one-third the U.S. population — may have seen material posted by a Russian troll farm under fake Facebook identities between 2015 and 2017, according to testimony presented by Facebook’s general counsel at a hearing before the Senate on Tuesday. The figure is the largest yet of the possible reach Russian operatives had on the giant social platform in the run-up to last year’s presidential election and afterwards. Facebook’s new disclosures indicate that a Kremlin-linked misinformation agency fed original content to users’ feeds, as well as in paid ads. Previously Facebook said 10 million people saw Russia-linked advertising that sought to sway U.S. voters. Social media companies are under pressure to respond to demands by lawmakers that they follow the same regulations on political ads as advertisers in newspapers and on radio and television currently do, including disclosures about who paid for the ads and bans on foreign entities running election-related ads.

Millennials Prefer Socialism over Capitalism

A majority of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist, communist or fascist nation rather than a capitalistic one, according to a new poll. In the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s “Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism” 44% of the up and coming generation of millennials opt for socialism versus just 42% who said they were in favor of capitalism. Communism and fascism received 7 percent support each. Communism and fascism received 7 percent support each. “This troubling turn highlights widespread historical illiteracy in American society regarding socialism and the systemic failure of our education system to teach students about the genocide, destruction, and misery caused by communism since the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago,” Mr. Smith said in a statement.

Opioid Commission Calls for Wide-Ranging Changes to Anti-Drug Policies

President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis called Wednesday for a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain, part of a wide-ranging menu of improvements it said are needed to curb the opioid epidemic. The commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), called for expanding drug courts — an alternative system that tries to channel substance abusers accused of crimes into treatment — into all 93 federal court jurisdictions. Currently they are in less than half. The 56 recommendations in the draft report also include requiring doctors and others who prescribe opioids to show they have received training in safe provision of those drugs before they can renew their licenses to handle controlled substances with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The panel also wants to mandate that providers check prescription drug monitoring databases to ensure that users aren’t “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs. The commission specifically declined to endorse the use of marijuana for pain, despite some studies suggesting that access to marijuana may decrease opioid deaths. Christie said that research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse “found that marijuana use led to a 2½ times greater chance that the marijuana user would become an opioid user and abuser.”

GOP Releases Tax Plan, Cutting Corporate and Middle-Class Taxes

Republican lawmakers unveiled the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades, outlining a $1.51 trillion plan to cut taxes for corporations, reduce them for some middle-class families. The House plan is far from final and will ignite a legislative and lobbying fight as Democrats, business groups and other special interests tear into it. Representative Kevin Brady, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the bill is estimated to cost $1.51 trillion over a decade. The plan establishes three tax brackets, 12, 25 and 35 percent, and also keeps a top rate of 39.6 percent for the highest-earners, collapsing the total number of brackets from seven. The plan would also cap the mortgage interest deduction by limiting it to loans up to $500,000. Despite internal discussions, the proposal as presented makes no changes to 401(k) retirement plans.

Disaster Relief Costing U.S. $200 Million Per Day

The United States is spending more than $200 million every day on disaster relief following a trio of hurricanes and a deadly wildfire event that struck over the past two months, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. On Tuesday, FEMA Administrator Brock Long told a Senate oversight committee that the agency has never seen a challenge of this magnitude in its history. Long thanked the legislators for the $52 billion in emergency relief allocated so far, but said recovering from the recent spate of disasters will be tremendously expensive, requiring much more funding. Long said he also needs additional legal authority from Congress to build the power grid in Puerto Rico back better than it was before.

Federal Flood Insurance Program Broke

This hurricane season, as tens of thousands of Americans seek compensation for storm-inflicted water damage, they face a problem: The flood insurance program is broke and broken, reports The New York Times. The program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been in the red since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005. It still has more than a thousand disputed claims left over from Sandy. And in October, it exhausted its $30 billion borrowing capacity and had to get a bailout just to keep paying current claims. Congress must decide by Dec. 8 whether to keep the program going.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 261,000 jobs in October, a rebound after job losses in September due to the major hurricanes. Roughly 100,000 hospitality employees missed paychecks in September. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.1 percent — the lowest level since 2000. Year-over-year wage growth declined to 2.4 percent, according to Friday’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Puerto Rico statistics are not included in the Labor Department’s monthly report.

China’s richest sovereign wealth fund is teaming up with Goldman Sachs to invest at least $5 billion in mostly U.S. manufacturing. China Investment Corp., better known as CIC, asked Goldman Sachs to partner with it on the private-equity fund, which will deploy money into manufacturing, industrial, consumer, healthcare and other U.S. businesses. News of the partnership comes as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other American business leaders join Trump this week in China and other Asian nations.

Gasoline prices have spiked for most of the U.S. — and especially the Midwest — during a period in which motorists are usually experiencing relief at the pump. Amid rising oil prices and ongoing refinery maintenance due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, fuel prices have jumped over the last week. The average national price of $2.52 per gallon on Friday morning was up 30 cents from a year ago and up 5 cents from a week ago, according to AAA. Pipeline and refinery problems caused the Great Lakes region to experience the biggest increases, Average gas prices in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio on Friday morning were $2.76, $2.75, $2.72 and $2.65.

Emblematic of the struggle facing U.S. department stores, Sears Holdings has already closed more than 350 Sears and Kmart stores this year. An additional 45 Kmart stores and 18 Sears stores will be closing in late January 2018, the company said Thursday. The 63 stores will remain open during the holiday season and employees at the closing stores will get severance pay and an opportunity to apply for other jobs within the retail chains. “Liquidation sales will begin as early as November 9 at these closing stores,” the company said.

North Korea

The only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons sites “with complete certainty” is through an invasion of ground forces, and in the event of conflict, Pyongyang could use biological and chemical weapons, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a new, blunt assessment of what war on the Korean Peninsula might look like. Pentagon leaders “assess that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons” and that the country “has a long-standing chemical weapons program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents.” The Pentagon repeated that a detailed discussion of how the United States would respond to the threat could not be discussed in public.

Saudi Arabia

In an extraordinary purge, Saudi Arabia’s newly formed anti-corruption committee has arrested at least 17 princes and top officials. The list includes Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world. The billionaire businessman owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which holds large stakes in global companies such as Citigroup, Twitter, Apple and News Corp. In addition, three ministers were removed from their positions, and tens of former ministers were detained as part of the new anti-corruption campaign initiated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, according to Saudi-backed broadcaster Al-Arabiya. King Salman ordered the new anti-corruption initiative as part of an “active reform agenda aimed at tackling a persistent problem that has hindered development efforts in the Kingdom in recent decades,” a press release from the Saudi Ministry of Communications said. Critics say that the 32-year-old newly-crowned king was also eliminating potential opponents, including two sons of the former king.

Yemen

Yemeni rebels on Saturday targeted an airport in Saudi Arabia’s capital with a ballistic missile. But the missile was intercepted over northeast Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said in a statement carried on government-backed Al-Arabiya television. Airstrikes later in the day targeted Yemen’s capital Sanaa, shaking homes and breaking windows. Yemen’s Defense Ministry said the missile attack “shook the Saudi capital” and the operation was successful. The attack was conducted using a Yemeni-made, long-range missile called the Burqan 2H. Saudi airstrikes later in the day targeted Yemen’s capital Sanaa, shaking homes and breaking windows. Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of states against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who toppled Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015.

Spain

Brussels prosecutors said Sunday that ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four ex-regional ministers were taken into custody to start the process of their possible extradition to Spain. Puigdemont and the four members of his disbanded Cabinet will be heard by an investigative judge later in the day. The Belgian judge will have to decide within 24 hours what comes next for the five separatist politicians wanted in Spain on suspicion of rebellion for pushing through a declaration of independence for the northeastern Catalonia in violation of Spain’s Constitution. If they are arrested, they will then be sent to jail as the extradition process continues. Dejemeppe said that the entire process from arrest to extradition, could take more than 60 days.

Weather

Diplomats and activists have gathered in Germany for two-week talks on implementing the Paris agreement to fight climate change. The 23rd conference of the parties, or COP23, will be opened Monday by Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama. The Pacific island nation is already suffering the impacts of global warming. Up to 25,000 people are expected to attend the talks. Participants will include diplomats from 195 nations, as well as scientists, lobbyists and environmentalists. The United States, which has announced its intention to pull out of the landmark Paris climate accord, will be represented by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.

With the planet the warmest it’s been in the history of modern civilization, the federal government said Friday that “it’s extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence,” the report concluded. The document serves as Vol. 1 of the National Climate Assessment, a federally mandated report prepared by the nation’s top scientists every four years for the president, the Congress and the public. This assessment is the fourth such report.

As the climate continues to change, the seasons are seeing a shift as well, with winters coming later and leaving earlier than ever recorded. More than a century of data collected from weather stations across the U.S. shows that the first freeze of the year has been arriving further into the calendar. Researchers say this is is another sign of the warming climate, and that it has both good and bad consequences. For example, there may be more fruits and vegetables available, but there could also be an uptick in allergies and pests. The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow hotter and more extreme, and there’s nothing humanity can do about it (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 (10/26/17)

October 26, 2017

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Millennials Turning to Witchcraft in Place of Religion

Research and studies are showing that more Americans are interested in spirituality, but are less interested in organized religion. This trend is especially true for millennials. According to a report from MarketWatch.com, interest in spirituality, astrology, and witchcraft is soaring among millennials. One study has even shown that over half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. The psychic services industry, which involves things such as tarot card reading, palm reading, mediums, and astrology has also grown to be a $2 billion industry. Melissa Jayne, the owner of Catland, a “metaphysical boutique” in Brooklyn, New York, said she has seen interest in these types of spirituality increase recently, particularly among millennials. “Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said. Danielle Ayoka, another spiritist whose business profits from the trend in witchcraft, astrology, and similar interests, adds that these things have become increasingly mainstream: “When I started my journey in 2010, I was the weirdo. Now it is becoming more and more normalized, and I believe it is because more people are looking to heal. Millennials are much more open-minded,” she said.

Vice-President Pence Vows U.S. Aid for Persecuted Christians

In an address Wednesday night, Vice President Pence said, that “President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding the ineffective relief efforts of the United Nations and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID,” bringing a message of solidarity and hope for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. “The Bible tells us that all who desire to live a godly life through Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Pence said. “Sadly, today, Christianity is under unprecedented assault in the ancient land where it first grew. Tonight, I came to tell you, help is on the way. President Trump and I and our entire administration are working tirelessly to protect these ancient communities.” Christians and religious minorities have endured ongoing torture in the Middle East, actions the Trump administration calls by name: genocide. “They are crimes against humanity and we will call them what they are,” Pence said.

HHS Says Life Begins at Conception in Draft of 2018-2022 Strategic Plan

The Department of Health and Human Services defines life as beginning at conception in a draft of its new strategic plan, which would run from 2018 to 2022. “HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception,” the department says in the introduction of its draft plan recently released. The Obama administration had similar language in its HHS strategic plan, but did not include the “beginning at conception” phrase, the Hill reported. The change is a sign of the Trump administration’s pro-life stance. “While we may refer to the people we serve as beneficiaries, enrollees, patients, or consumers, our ultimate goal is to improve health care outcomes for all people, including the unborn, across health care settings,” the strategic plan states.

ACLU Succeeds in Killing Teen’s Unborn Baby

The pro-abortion America Civil Liberties Union Wednesday confirmed that an illegal alien teenager who was being cared for in a shelter in Texas has had the taxpayer-funded elective abortion that she was demanding. The action, authorized just one day earlier by six Democrat-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was blasted by a variety of organizations across the nation for creating a new “right” to abortion at taxpayer expense even for those who have broken U.S. laws to enter the country. Pro-life organizations pleaded with the government to appeal immediately, but the ACLU had already arranged with an abortionist to do the procedure right away. WorldNetDaily reported that six Democrat-appointed judges on an appeals court set the stunning precedent of an abortion “right”, while three Republican appointees on the court opposed the abortion demand.

IRS Admits It Targeted Conservative Groups

After a years-long lawsuit by the ACLJ (American Center for Law & Justice) against the IRS, the agency admitted in federal court to wrongfully targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups for their political beliefs and has issued an apology. In the proposed Consent Order filed late Wednesday night, the IRS not only acknowledges the Obama Administration‘s wrongdoing, it consented to a court order barring it from ever taking such discriminatory action against conservative groups again. It took five years for the ACLJ to achieve that victory in court. Jay Sekulow, ACLJ Chief Counsel, said, “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this victory. It sends a powerful message to the deep state bureaucracy. We will defeat the lawlessness.”

Most Americans Now Favor Renegotiating the Iranian Nuclear Deal

A strong majority of voters – including most Democrats – said the U.S. should renegotiate the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, according to a recent poll. Furthermore, there is broad support for any new deal to be ratified by Congress, rather than implemented as an executive agreement, as former President Obama did in 2015. According to the latest Harvard-Harris survey, 70 percent of respondents said the 2015 Iran deal should be renegotiated and verified by Congress, including 85 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 57 percent of Democrats. Overall, 60 percent of polled voters said the deal is a bad one for the U.S., with two-thirds of voters saying Iran has not complied with the terms of the agreement. Half of Democrats agreed that Iran has not held up its side of the bargain.

U.S. House Passes Bills Targeting Iran’s Missiles, Hezbollah Activity

The House of Representatives passed four bills on Wednesday that would sanction Iran’s ballistic missile activity and Hezbollah’s terrorist practices. The bill targeting Iran’s missile work – which has earned bipartisan support – would require the president to report to Congress details of Tehran’s missile supply chain, and determine whether its program violates international law. The U.S. would further sanction Iranian individuals and agencies involved in the missile work, as well as “foreign entities that supply material” to the program. If passed into law, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps will likely bear the brunt of the sanctions, given its role in Tehran’s ballistic missile development. The bill follows up on previous sanctions legislation targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reasserts that U.S. policy is “to prevent Iran from undertaking any activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles,” referencing the ability of ICBMs to carry nuclear payloads.

  • Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir addressed a conference in London on Tuesday, saying among other things that “(Iran’s behavior) is not acceptable, and there will be consequences to the Iranians. This is what President Trump has said, and we are very supportive of that…the international community needs to support those (sanctions) in order to send a very strong message to Iran that your behavior, your nefarious activities, have consequences.”

House Passes Budget Paving the Way for Trump’s Tax Reform Plan

The House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly approved a $4 trillion budget that paves the way for Republicans on Capitol Hill to begin focusing on tax reform. The vote was 216-212, with 20 Republicans, including conservatives unhappy about deficits and debt, opposing it. The Senate passed the measure last week and the House endorsed it without changes. The tax bill is the top item on the GOP agenda and would be Trump’s first major win in Congress. The goal is a full rewrite of the inefficient, loophole-laden tax code in hopes of lower rates for corporations and other businesses to spark economic growth. Key decisions about tax brackets, including a new bracket for high-income earners, remain up in the air. Trump says he opposes curbing 401(k) donations, however, which tossed a monkey wrench into the process.

Trump Signs Order Resuming Refugee Admissions with Extreme Vetting

President Trump resumed refugee admissions into the United States on Tuesday, signing an executive order that lifted his previous seven-month moratorium and replacing it with what he has called “extreme vetting.” The move came as the previous moratorium — originally expected to last 120 days but extended by President Trump in June — was set to expire on Tuesday. The executive order allows immigration officials to restart the Refugee Admissions Program, but with “special measures” to screen refugees “whose entry continues to pose potential threats to the security and welfare of the United States.” Those measures include more in-depth interviews of families seeking refugee status and biometric information to be checked against a various federal watch lists and databases. But 11 countries are deemed to have too high-risk to have its citizens be treated as normal refugees, and will be admitted on a limited case-by-case basis while the administration conducts another 90-day review.

The 11 countries were identified by refugee agencies as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In all but two of the countries on the list — North Korea and South Sudan — Islam is the dominant religion. This more restrictive, scaled-down version would have banned half of the refugees admitted to the U.S. last year. The new program bars refugees coming from 11 countries that made up 44% of the 53,716 refugees admitted to the U.S. in the 2017 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to a USA TODAY analysis of State Department data.  President Obama raised the annual cap on refugees to 110,000 in his final year in office as countries around the world struggled to respond to the ongoing global migration crisis. But Trump lowered that to 55,000 in 2017 and has set a cap of 45,000 for 2018, the lowest cap since Congress passed the Refuge Act in 1980.

Congressional Inquiries About Russian Collusion Stall

All three committees looking into Russian interference — one in the House, two in the Senate — have run into problems, from insufficient staffing to fights over when the committees should wrap up their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry has barely started, delayed in part by negotiations over the scope of the investigation. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while maintaining bipartisan cooperation, have sought to tamp down expectations about what they might find. Nine months into the Trump administration, hopes are dwindling that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy, notes the New York Times.

Congress Approves $36.5 Billion Disaster-Relief Package

Congress gave final approval Tuesday to a $36.5 billion emergency spending plan to pay for ongoing relief from recent natural disasters. The spending deal includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to natural disasters stretching from the storm-scarred beaches of Puerto Rico to the scorched vineyards of Northern California. The bill also forgives about $16 billion of the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt, freeing up money under its borrowing limit for additional loans; $576.5 million to address wildfires in the West; and $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance programs that will provide low-income Puerto Rico residents relief after Hurricane Maria slammed the island. Aid for Puerto Rico dominated the latest round of emergency funding. More than 80 percent of the island still is without power more than a month after the storm, and concerns are growing that a failure to restore electricity and provide basic services to residents could cause a mass exodus to the mainland United States.

  • Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló expressed his gratitude for all the Trump administration has done for Puerto Rico. “The truth of the matter is, the president has responded,” he said in an MSNBC interview. “He has responded to all of our petitions. I’ve had enormous access to the president and to his staff and they have done so quickly. We are very grateful for that and I wanted to answer truthfully.”

Senate Repeals Rule Allowing Class-Action Suits Against Banks

U.S. consumers are on the verge of losing the right to sue their banks and credit card companies through class-action lawsuits. Vice President Pence broke a 50-50 Senate tie Wednesday night, narrowly approving the repeal of the rule that blocked financial companies from requiring consumers to resolve disputes via individual arbitration proceedings. The Senate vote followed earlier House approval and now goes to President Trump for expected signing. The action hands Wall Street and the financial industry a victory while dealing a defeat to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog that approved the rule in July. Created as a new safeguard after the national financial crisis, the watchdog agency had moved to ban most mandatory arbitration clauses found in the fine print of agreements that consumers typically agree to automatically and often unwittingly when they open a checking account or get a credit card.

President Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a National Health Emergency

President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis to be a national emergency, and said that the government will be taking new steps to stem the crisis, including research into new types of painkillers, raising awareness of the issue, removing a certain painkiller from the market, and by encouraging people to not start taking drugs at all. Trump said the opioid epidemic has now become deadlier than car accidents and gun violence in this country. In order to reduce opioid addiction and deaths, Trump said that the border wall will be constructed, since 90 percent of heroin in the country comes from south of the border. Additionally, the NIH will begin research on a non-addictive painkiller and into new techniques for treating opioid addiction. On the issue of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opiate that comes mostly from China, Trump said that he will speak about the issue with Chinese President Xi, and will embolden the post office to inspect packages to look for the drug.

Americans Are Retiring Later, Dying Sooner and Getting Sicker In-Between

Data released last week suggest Americans’ health is declining and millions of middle-age workers face the prospect of shorter, and less active, retirements than their parents enjoyed. The U.S. age-adjusted mortality rate rose 1.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the Society of Actuaries. That’s the first year-over-year increase since 2005, and only the second rise greater than 1 percent since 1980. Americans in their late 50s already have more serious health problems than people at the same ages did 10 to 15 years ago, according to the journal Health Affairs. At the same time that Americans’ life expectancy is stalling, millions of U.S. workers are waiting longer to call it quits. The age at which people can claim their full Social Security benefits is gradually moving up, from 65 for those retiring in 2002 to 67 in 2027. Almost one in three Americans age 65 to 69 is still working, along with almost one in five in their early 70s.

Most Baby Foods and Formulas Tested Positive for Arsenic

An alarming study released Wednesday found many baby food products test positive for arsenic, including 80% of infant formulas. And, that’s not the only dangerous contaminate found. An alarming study released Wednesday found many baby food products test positive for arsenic, including 80% of infant formulas. And, that’s not the only dangerous contaminate found. About 530 baby food products were tested. researchers found 65% of products tested positive for arsenic, 36% for lead, 58% for cadmium and 10% for acrylamide. All of these chemicals pose potential dangers to developing infants, especially affecting fine motor skills and cognition. Mainstream brands including Gerber, Enfamil, Plum Organics and Sprout were among the worst offenders. Plus, 60% of products claiming to be “BPA free” tested positive for the industrial chemical bisphenol A.

U.S. Infrastructure in Bad Shape

An estimated 17% of American dams — 15,500 in total — are categorized as high hazard potential, meaning their failure would almost certainly result in loss of life. Meanwhile, 11.2% of roads are in poor condition, which ultimately lead to vehicle damage and traffic delays. Perhaps most troubling is the state of disrepair of bridges across the country as tens of thousands are classified as structurally deficient by the federal government. The estimated cost of repairing roads, bridges, and dams in the United States is projected to top $2.4 trillion by 2025. Other necessary infrastructure repairs, including railways, airports, and wastewater infrastructure would cost an additional $2.2 trillion. Infrastructure repair is one rare issue that often garners bipartisan support in Washington. While President Donald Trump previously proposed spending $1 trillion on fixing the country’s infrastructure, he recently abandoned his plans to form a Council on Infrastructure. The states with the worst infrastructure are (according to a USA Today analysis), Hawaii, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and California. The states with the best infrastructure are, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Georgia and Wyoming.

Economic News

Existing home sales rose modestly in September, but the pace was still 1.5% below the year-ago level, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. The chief culprit in the decline is a national housing supply that remains at a 20-year low of 4.2 months — the time it would take to run out of homes for sale if no new units were added – down from 4.5 months a year ago. A six-month inventory is considered balanced. Economists expect supplies to stay low at least for the next year, making house-hunting more challenging for buyers and further pushing up prices. Home building has been hindered by shortages of construction workers and available lots.

Sales of new U.S. homes jumped last month to the highest level since October 2007, a sign that Americans — unable to find existing homes — are turning to new construction. New home sales leapt 18.9% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 667,000, the most in a decade, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Sales rose in all regions including the South, where they increased nearly 26%. The measure of new home sales is based on contract signings, so the number was likely lifted by those looking to replace homes destroyed or damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

A slew of American blue chips reported strong earnings and outlooks Tuesday, including Dow components Caterpillar, 3M and United Technologies as well as GM, tool maker Stanley Black & Decker and Big Pharma titan Eli Lilly. The good news helped push the Dow up nearly 200 points to a new all-time high. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit record highs once again as well. The Dow is now up more than 18% this year, while the Nasdaq has gained more than 22.5%. The solid results also come on the heels of healthy earnings from big banks JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America earlier this month. Most American companies are still doing quite well. Consumers are continuing to spend on new cars and phones and take out loans for mortgages.

More Than 75% of Europe Bound Migrant Youth Face Exploitation

Many migrant children and youth have been subjected to forced labor and prostitution in Europe. UN officials have called on the European Union to create “protection corridors” for children migrants fleeing to Europe. More than three in four migrants between the ages of 14 and 24 report being subjected to forced labor, sexual abuse, child marriage and other forms of exploitation, the UN’s children and migration agencies said in a study published Tuesday. Children from sub-Saharan Africa are most at risk of exploitation, with 83 percent of those attempting to reach Europe via Libya having experienced some form of abuse. The agencies said racism likely played a major part in the significant difference between the groups of children and young adults. “If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat,” the report quoted Aimamo, a 16-year-old unaccompanied minor from Gambia, as saying. “We were just like slaves.” It is largely the guards and security workers at the refugee accommodation centers that are the exploiters, the report says, particularly in Berlin.

North Korea

Aside from threatening nuclear war against the United States, North Korea is also suspected of secretly developing a vast biological-weapons program that could unleash fear and death in crowded cities, a Harvard University study warns. “North Korea is likely to use biological weapons before or at the beginning of a conflict to disrupt society and create panic, incapacitate societies, and/or cause a significant military diversion,” says the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It is theoretically possible that North Korean sleeper agents disguised as cleaning and disinfection personnel could disperse BW agents with backpack sprayers,” the Harvard report said. North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un is believed to be developing biological agents such as anthrax, cholera and smallpox, London’s Daily Mail reported.

Syria

US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces say they have captured Syria’s largest oil field from ISIS, the latest in a series of recent setbacks for the jihadists in the east of the country. In 2014, ISIS seized control of the al-Omar oil field, the country’s largest and most important oil facility, which once had the capacity to produce 75,000 barrels of oil per day. The Syrian Democratic Forces, said that the group had “liberated” the oil field in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, driving ISIS fighters “out of the fields with little damage” on Sunday. ISIS’ oil production has been “reduced from a peak of approximately $50 million per month to currently less than $4 million per month.”

Niger

U.S. officials revealed that nearly 1,000 US troops are on the ground in Niger, a massive force for the tiny country, but that this is now the “hub” for U.S. military operations in Western Africa. This only became public knowledge after four U.S. special forces were killed in an ambush by Islamic militants. Niger has hosted a US drone base for years, and about 100 troops were reported deployed in 2012. Somewhere between then and now, this increased ten-fold, and those troops started engaging in patrols. African Command says there are no armed U.S. warplanes in West Africa at present, but that they rely on French warplanes. Details on what exactly being a ‘hub’ means are scant, since these operations were meant to be kept secret.

Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his ruling coalition retained a two-thirds majority in Sunday’s national elections, an outcome he said shows support for a stronger military and a hard line on North Korea.  Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the ruling coalition won 312 seats in the 465-seat lower house of parliament, exceeding a two-thirds majority at 310, and other parties had 143 seats. A two-thirds supermajority gives Abe and his allies the ability to push through changes to Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow a more robust, conventional military. Abe made his strong military stance a key point in the campaign, calling the threat from North Korea one of the two crises facing Japan, along with its rapidly aging population.

Indonesia

An explosion and raging fire at a firecracker factory Thursday near Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, left at least 47 people dead and dozens injured, police said. The death toll could rise as many of the people who escaped the factory suffered extensive burns. The fire broke out at the factory in a warehouse complex in Tangerang, a city in Banten province on the western outskirts of Jakarta. A police report said the fire spread after an explosion and that the factory’s roof collapsed.

Wildfires

Fires fed by winds and hot and dry conditions in Southern California shut down highways and sent firefighters scrambling to contain them Tuesday. In Rancho Cucamonga, officials shut down the 210 Freeway in both directions and northbound 15 Freeway due to a brush fire that erupted near the intersection of the two roadways. Firefighters in Jurupa Valley battled a blaze that was sparked in a lumber yard and spread across several acres. The so-called Clay Fire shut down a major highway and forced a county animal shelter to evacuate. Red flag warnings remain in effect through Wednesday in parts of Southern California. Very hot, dry air combined with wind gusts of 45 to 55 mph will lead to ripe conditions for rapid development and spreading of wildfires.

Weather

Israel’s water crisis is intensifying. The prolonged drought in Israel has led to a water shortage so critical that even Israel’s world-leading waste treatment and desalinization infrastructure is not adequate to address the ongoing crisis. “No one imagined we would face a sequence of arid years like this, because it never happened before,” said Uri Schor, spokesman for Israel’s Water Authority.

Game 1 of the 2017 World Series in Los Angeles on Tuesday was the hottest World Series game on record. The first-pitch temperature was 103 degrees at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday at 5 pm. The high temperature in downtown L.A. was 104 degrees earlier in the afternoon, crushing the previous record-latest-in-season 104-degree high by 8 days (Oct. 16, 1958). The previous hottest-known World Series game was another game 1, this time on Oct. 27, 2001, in Phoenix, when the first-pitch temperature was 94 degrees.

Severe storms hammered the Carolinas and Virginia Monday evening, and there were nine confirmed tornadoes. More than 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power Tuesday morning. Eight minor injuries were reported, but no deaths. There were at least four reports of possible tornadoes in South Carolina.

Severe storms with damaging winds and heavy rainfall struck Hawaii early Tuesday morning. The Maui Police Department tweeted early Tuesday that there was an island-wide power outage from the storms and that Maui Electric was working to restore power. Maui has a population of about 150,000.

Typhoon Lan made landfall early Monday morning, Oct. 23, in southeastern Japan, where a combination of flooding rain, high winds and pounding surf battered the country, lashing the country’s main island of Honshu with winds up to 105 mph, killing two people. Shingu, in Wakayama Prefecture in southern Japan, recorded more than two feet of rainfall from Friday morning into early Monday morning.

  • 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 (10/21/17)

October 21, 2017

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Senate Approves Budget as Basis for Tax Reform

The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax reform. The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax cuts. “Tonight, we completed the first step toward replacing our broken tax code . . . We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to replace a failing tax code that holds Americans back with one that actually works for them,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said following the 51-49 vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who believes the budget ought to reduce the deficit, was the only Republican to vote against it. Critics say the ‘reform’ includes tax cuts that will increase the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The Senate approved an amendment Thursday night paved the way for the House to adopt its version of the budget. This could eliminate the need for a conference committee, which might expedite consideration of tax reform by several weeks.

Abortion Rate Drops 25% Over Last 6 Years

From 2008 to 2014, the abortion rate dropped a full 25 percent, according to a new report in the American Journal of Public Health. Looking at data from the federal government and the Guttmacher Institute, the researchers found that abortions dropped from 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15 to 44) in 2008 to 14.6 per 1,000 in 2014. Researchers said the biggest decline was in the 15 to 19 age group, at 46 percent. The abortion rate also dropped for the first time in 20 years for the poorest women in America – the demographic with the highest abortion rate. Co-authors Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman, who work for the research division of Guttmacher, suggested that the main factor driving the decline in abortions was improvements in contraceptive use. However, researchers with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute also admitted earlier this year that state pro-life laws and other pro-life efforts also are making a difference.

Pro-Abortion Feminists Attack Cathedrals in Argentina

A mob of thousands of feminists attacked the cathedral church of the northern Argentinean city of Resistencia on Saturday and Sunday night, attempting to set it on fire and pelting the building with paint, reddened tampons, and rocks, reports LifeSiteNews. The women, dubbed “ultra-feminists” and “femi-nazis” by the Argentinean press, burned the door of the cathedral with a pile of burning trash and reportedly damaged a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of the building. Many wore masks in the style of “Antifa” and were topless, with slogans written across their chests. The women also assaulted other buildings and monuments in the city, including schools, businesses, and a statue of a local historical figure, leaving spray-painted graffiti with slogans such as “Kill your father, your boyfriend, and your brother,” “Burn the pope,” “Abuser priests,” “Abort males,” “Death to males,” and “Kill your rapist.” The events were the latest in a series of attacks on Catholic churches that have become an annual ritual of hatred by Argentine feminists, many of whom despise the Catholic faith and embrace abortion, homosexuality, legalized prostitution, and other behaviors rejected by Christianity.

  • The level of hatred and violence continues to escalate in the run-up to the end-times

Federal Appeals Court Delays Abortion for Undocumented, Incarcerated Teen

A Washington D.C. appeals court panel has declined to order the federal government to immediately allow an abortion for an undocumented teenager it is detaining in Texas, instead giving the Department of Health and Human Services 11 days to find a sponsor to take custody of the girl. The court’s 2-1 decision allows the Trump administration to maintain its policy of not facilitating abortions for the undocumented minors in its custody. It also further delays the 17-year-old’s quest to end her pregnancy, and increases the risk that she will run out of time to have the procedure. The teenager, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bars most abortions after 20 weeks. Lawyers for the teenager said in court Friday morning that it would be difficult to find a government-approved sponsor to take custody of their client, a Central American immigrant being held in a special detention facility in Texas for minors caught entering the United States illegally. If the government does not find a sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States who can care for the girl, the case would revert to a lower court judge who ruled Wednesday that the government should facilitate an abortion for the teenager “without delay.”

California Legally Recognizes a Third Gender

The state of California will now legally recognize non-binary as a third gender on official state identification documents. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB179 on Sunday night. The bill, dubbed the Gender Recognition Act, will allow a third gender choice on driver’s licenses, state identification cards, and make it easier for people to change their gender and name on state identification papers. Non-binary, is a catch-all term for people who do not identify as exclusively male or female, and has been slowly acknowledged by some states as a gender option. In June, the District of Columbia followed Oregon’s lead and began offering the gender-neutral choice of “X” on driver licenses and identification cards, and similar legislation is currently pending in New York.

Record Number of LGBT-Friendly Municipal Policies

A record 68 cities earned perfect scores for advancing LGBT inclusive policies and practices this year, according to a report released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute, two LGBT advocacy groups. The report, which ranks advances at the city level, “demonstrates an encouraging steady trend toward full municipal LGBTQ equality,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC.  Twenty-five cities revised city employee health care plans in 2017 to cover transgender related health services, such as hormone replacement therapy or gender confirmation surgery. Now, 111 cities nationwide offer such health services, up from 86 in 2016 and just five in 2012. The report lands in a year that saw activists fending off legislation in statehouses as more than 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in 29 states. The transgender community was targeted with about 39 of those bills: from banning transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity to preventing them from obtaining ‘accurate’ documents like driver’s licenses.

  • Gender confusion is a growing epidemic that defines the times, moving society further and further away from God’s ordained family structure. It is the result of both an increasingly defective gene pool (Exodus 20:5) as well as submission to the lusts of the flesh (1John 2:16)

Judge Rules Against Bladensburg Cross

A federal appeals court ruled this week that a cross on public land is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The 40-foot-tall Bladensburg Cross – which stands on a highway median right outside Washington, DC – has stood since 1925 as a memorial to the fallen U.S. soldiers of WWI. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said that the cross “equates to government sponsorship of a particular religion.” The problem with this ruling is that “government sponsorship” of a cross does not and cannot possibly be a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution as given to us by the Founders, notes OneNewsNow. The First Amendment doesn’t forbid government “sponsorship” of religion but only the “establishment” of religion. The word “Establishment” at the time of the Founding had a precise meaning. To “establish” a “religion” meant specifically to select one specific Christian denomination, pass a law designating it as the official church of the United States, and compel Americans to support it with their own money.

FBI Documents Reveal Russian Meddling Starting in 2009

Recently released documents and interviews have shown that, during the Obama administration, the FBI uncovered a Russian bribery plot before then-President Obama approved the controversial nuclear deal with Moscow in 2010. As early as 2009, the FBI discovered that the Russian government had compromised an American uranium trucking company with bribes and kickbacks. Additionally, the FBI found evidence linking the Clinton Foundation to these nefarious actions by Russian nuclear officials. The Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from Moscow during this time, all while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a crucial role in the decision to give Russia control over a significant portion of American uranium, reports the Media Research Center.

  • This story has gotten very little coverage by the mainstream media as they continue to pound the Trump administration about Russian collusion. The Russians have been very busy trying to undermine the U.S. for quite some time.

Terrorism Now Driven by Social Media

Warfare today is increasingly unconventional, and the need to ensure online security against a modern host of threats is paramount, reports the Counter Extremism Project. But more than ever, those threats are testing Europe’s ability to maintain a safe and secure virtual space. In Western Europe, a new wave of terrorism is being driven by extremist propaganda and plots coordinated through social media. To the East, Russian provocation has shifted online to undermine democratic elections and instigate conflict in the hopes of destabilizing a disjointed Europe. These attacks and propaganda do not respect national boundaries and can infiltrate communities nearly undetected. They are all the more challenging to tackle as they create a virtual battleground, capitalizing on an open Internet and interconnected society.

Senators Demand Online Ad Disclosures as Tech Firms Resist

Senator John McCain and two Democratic senators moved on Thursday to force Facebook, Google and other internet companies Senator John McCain and two Democratic senators will move on Thursday to force Facebook, Google and other internet companies But the tech industry, which has worked to thwart previous efforts to mandate such disclosure, is mobilizing an army of lobbyists and lawyers — including a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign – to resist government intrusion. Since 2006, most online political activity has been exempt from the rigorous regulations to which paid television, radio and print political advertising has been subject for years. The Federal Election Commission justified the so-called internet exemption rule by declaring the internet “a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach.” But that attitude is changing after revelations that, in the run-up to the 2016 election, Facebook sold more than $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian company linked to the Kremlin, while Google sold at least $4,700 worth of ads to accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government. It is suspected that the real totals are much higher.

World Hunger Increases for First Time in 15 Years

Around the globe, about 815 million people — 11% of the world’s population — went hungry in 2016, according to the latest data from the United Nations. This was the first increase in more than 15 years. Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of undernourished people in the world was cut in half. As evidenced by increasing floods, fires, refugees and violence, disasters make it harder for people in poor, marginalized and war-torn regions to access adequate food. The new U.N. report shows that to reduce and ultimately eliminate hunger, simply making agriculture more productive will not be enough. It also is essential to increase the access options available to rural populations in an uncertain world.

Federal Deficit Increases in 2017 Fiscal Year

The federal deficit for fiscal year 2017, which ended last month, hit $666 billion, according to new numbers released Friday by the Treasury Department and White House budget office. That’s $80 billion higher than 2016. The 2017 deficit is equivalent to 3.5% of the size of the economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product. In 2016, the deficit was 3.2% of GDP. The deficit reflects the gap between how much the government brings in and what it spends. Tax receipts rose by $48 billion — or 1.5% — to $3.315 trillion. As always, individual income taxes made up the biggest piece of the total revenue pie. They rose by $41 billion to $1.587 trillion. Corporate income taxes, meanwhile, fell by $2.5 billion year over year to $297 billion.

Spending also rose but faster than tax receipts. It went up by $129 billion — or 3.3% — to $3.98 trillion. Despite that, it too fell as a share of GDP to 20.7%, down from 20.9%. Payments for interest on the debt climbed 6.3% to $457 billion. Outlays, meanwhile, for the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, fell by more than 7% to $8.73 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney attributed the fact that spending growth outpaced revenue growth to “historically subpar” growth in the economy. And they interpreted the budget results as proof of the need for the Trump administration’s push to reform the tax code and reduce regulations.

Economic News

Construction of new homes fell 4.7% in September, the biggest decline in six months, reflecting weakness in both single-family activity and apartment building. It was the sharpest decline since a 7.7% fall in March. Application for new building permits, a sign of future activity, dropped 4.5% in September to an annual rate of 1.22 million units. Homebuilding has been sliding this year, but economists remain optimistic that the low level of unemployment will soon spark a rebound in sales and construction. Even though construction activity has fallen in recent months, home building is 6.1% higher than a year ago.

The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since Richard Nixon was president. The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid dropped by 22,000 to 222,000, fewest since March 1973. The overall number of Americans collecting unemployment checks dropped to 1.89 million, lowest since December 1973 and down nearly 9% from a year ago. The unemployment rate last month hit a 16-year low 4.2%.

Stubbornly low inflation is the most puzzling problem in the U.S. economy today. Normally in a healthy economy, as unemployment goes down, workers earn more in their paychecks and prices for goods go up — ideally more than 2% annually, says the Federal Reserve. But that’s not happening, despite a very low, 4.2% unemployment rate. “We don’t know what’s going on with inflation,” Stanley Fischer, who retired from his No. 2 post at the Federal Reserve last week, told CNBC. On Sunday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said her “best guess” is that stubbornly low inflation won’t persist much longer. In September, she called it “more of a mystery” than anything else. Some worry that it is a harbinger for deflation, when prices and wages go down as they have in Japan.

Since President Trump’s election, the Dow has spiked more than 4,600 points, or about 25%. The S&P 500 has added $2 trillion in value. Yet the spoils of the stock market run are slanted heavily in favor of the wealthy. Barely one-third of families in the bottom 50% of earners own stocks, according to the Fed. On the other hand, nearly 94% of the top income group owned stocks in 2016. Lower-income Americans don’t have extra money to put into stocks, and a third of workers don’t have access to a 401(k) or another retirement plan, according to Pew. In all, just 54% of Americans invest in the market, either through individual stocks, mutual funds, pensions or retirement plans like a 401(k), according to Gallup. That’s down 11% since the Great Recession.

Middle East

Reports surfaced in Arab media outlets Wednesday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has given assurances to Israeli officials that Moscow will prevent Iranian and/or Hezbollah forces from approaching Israel’s northern borders, setting up a so-called “buffer zone” extending from 10-15 km, less than what Israel had requested but more than what Russia initially indicated it would offer.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Western-backed government entered into a coalition government deal with Hezbollah this week. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday that he “only thinks of the good of Lebanon, of finding the formulas and making the agreements that allow us to handle the problems of the country.”

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, in a roundtable discussion with youth in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, slammed the Trump administration’s demand that it renounce terror and recognize the Jewish state. Rather than considering peace negotiations, “the discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel,” he declared, according to the Hamas-linked news agency Shehab.

Iraq

Driving out the last remnants of the Islamic State from their de-facto capital, Raqqa, marked a symbolic end to the self-proclaimed caliphate. The Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who ousted the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city, raised their yellow banners in the central al-Naim square where the militant extremist group’s black flag once flew. They danced on the spot where ISIS held its grisly public executions. But the remaining residents of the city are not celebrating as they cope with the widespread destruction of their hometown. “I’m so happy that we got rid of ISIS, but the cost was high. My city is now ruined and burned down. I would have preferred if it was liberated in another way,” Mohammad Othman said. “I see that SDF are ISIS dressed in yellow,” he said. Othman’s view, shared by many Raqqa natives, is indicative of the challenges ahead for the alliance now holding the city: Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by the U.S., have to rule over a Sunni Arab city that they destroyed, and a population that views them with suspicion. Who will pay for and perform a reconstruction?

Iran

Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said on Thursday its ballistic missile program would accelerate despite U.S. and European Union pressure to suspend it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. In a significant U.S. policy shift on Oct. 13, President Donald Trump disavowed Iran’s compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and unveiled a more aggressive approach to the Islamic Republic over its missile development activity. “Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization (the Guards),” the IRGC said in a statement published by Tasnim.

European Union

As the 28-nation European Union convenes a major summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, it faces a growing political chasm along geographic lines that resembles the sharp red state-blue state divide in the United States. In the case of the EU, it’s East vs. West. In Eastern Europe, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are lurching to the right. In Western Europe, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (which will soon depart the alliance) are in the center or edging left. More than two years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed more than 1 million asylum seekers from conflict zones in predominantly Muslim countries to seek shelter in Europe’s largest economy, what to do about refugees has produced one of the deepest divides. The flow of migrants to Europe has slowed since the EU blocked their arrival in Greece and Italy under a deal with Turkey to retain them there and in North Africa, but the debate over their fate is still raging. France, Germany and Italy have repeatedly called for EU countries to accept a plan that equitably distributes refugees across the entire bloc. Eastern European countries, where opposition to admitting refugees is strong, are refusing to implement it.

Spain

Spain’s central government announced Thursday it would quickly move to take control of the autonomous Catalonia and restore “constitutional order” after the region’s president refused to back away from a push for independence. Facing a deadline imposed by Spain’s central government to answer the question whether Catalonia was declaring independence or not, Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont answered Spain’s demand for clarity by sending a second letter to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, stating that Catalonia’s suspension of its declaration of independence remains in force. But Puigdemont then added a threat of his own: if Madrid did not agree to talks, and continued its “repression” of the region, then the Catalan parliament would meet to vote on a formal declaration of independence. Spain’s prime minister said Saturday that the Spanish government would invoke unprecedented constitutional authority to “restore order” in Catalonia, suspend the regional government and call for fresh elections to thwart its leaders attempt to declare independence. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the government will invoke Article 155 of the 39-year-old Spanish constitution to revoke Catalonia’s autonomous rule and rule the region directly from Madrid.

Environment

As bad as air pollution is in China, its cities do not rank in the top eight worldwide. The worst city for air pollution in 2016 was Zabol, Iran. The World Health Organization ranks the world’s cities for annual air pollution, and the worst Chinese city, Xingtai, only ranks ninth in the 2016 list. The most-polluted city in 2015, New Delhi, India, slid to number 11 in 2016 thanks a crackdown that included bans on the most polluting cars and trucks and fines for burning trash. The worst U.S. city didn’t crack WHO’s top 1,000. Visalia, Calif., checked in at 1,080.

Flying insect populations dropped by more than 75% during the last three decades in dozens of protected areas across Germany, researchers have found. It’s not just one species, it seems there’s a kind of wholesale collapse of wild insects. Insects may often seem a nuisance to humans, but they’re vital pollinators and food sources for species higher on the food chain. An estimated 80% of wild plants species are pollinated by insects, and more than half of birds rely on insects as a food sources, according to the study. The study did not pinpoint a reason for the precipitous drop, but researchers noted that many nature preserves are surrounded by agricultural lands. “If we were to lose the insects, we would lose most of our crops, we would lose all the flowers from the countryside, and we’d lose most of the bird life, the mammal life,” Dave Goulson, a co-author of a study, said.

Wildfires

Dozens were evacuated and five firefighters were injured Tuesday as several new wildfires burned in California, including one that threatened a mountaintop observatory. But none of the firefighters were hurt seriously. Officials ordered about 150 people to evacuate in the Boulder Creek area of Santa Cruz County as the Bear fire grew Tuesday. At least a dozen people were forced to flee Tuesday as the Wilson fire threatened a historic observatory which houses the 100-inch Hooker Telescope northeast of downtown Los Angeles. In Marin County, a pair of brush fires forced authorities to evacuate homes and shut down several lanes of U.S. 101 Tuesday afternoon.

Preliminary estimates of the losses caused by California’s recent barrage of wildfires have exceeded $1 billion and are expected to rise, the state’s insurance commissioner announced Thursday afternoon. Commissioner Dave Jones said the estimate comes from the eight largest insurers in the areas affected by the blazes and did not include uninsured property. Authorities say nearly 7,000 homes and structures have been destroyed in the wildfires. That number is also expected to rise. While light rain and cooler temperatures offered some relief to affected areas Thursday, incoming conditions may prove hazardous. Dangerous fire weather conditions may return to much of California next week, with record or near-record warmth and gusty winds possible, meteorologists say.

Weather

An atmospheric river is poised to funnel gigantic amounts of rain and snow to the Northwest over the next few days. As much as 15 inches of rain is forecast in the mountains along with several inches in coastal areas, including Portland and Seattle. It could be Seattle’s wettest weather since February, the National Weather Service said. There is also a risk of flash flooding in western Washington and northwestern Oregon on Thursday as a result of the heavy rainfall, the weather service warned.