Posts Tagged ‘guns’

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 (11/10/11)

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 (10/9/17)

October 9, 2017

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:25-31)

Former Satanist Shocked Christians Celebrate Halloween

A former Satanist has issued a warning to Christians on the dangers of celebrating Halloween. In an article for CharismaNews.com, John Ramirez, who used to be a high-ranking priest within the Satanic Temple before miraculously having his heart opened to the Gospel, writes, “As devil worshippers, Halloween was very special to us, and we looked forward to celebrating it because we knew the implications and the dark power behind the night. It is very different from every other night in the witchcraft world. It would be like me saying to believers today, ‘How important to you are Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday?’ Halloween has that much weight and importance to those who dwell on the dark side.” He warns Christians that it is impossible to separate the dark origins of Halloween from the seemingly harmless practices of today.

Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer Reported in China

Abortion is widespread in China, due to the country’s One Child Policy, and now the updated Two Child Policy. Reports have emerged of Chinese women being forced to undergo abortions or face harsh consequences, but to make matters worse, a study has now been released that shows a link between abortions and breast cancer in women, according to LifeNews.com. Dr. Joel Brind, professor of biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of New York and co-founder of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, notes that abortion has escalated in China and South Asia over the last few decades. Dr. Brind cites a study conducted by Dr. Yubei Huang which documented a 44 percent increase in breast cancer risk among women who had one or more abortions. If a woman had three abortions, the risk for breast cancer was increased up to 89 percent.

Attorney General Issues New Directive on Religious Freedoms

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated. The guidance effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held. Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override many anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government. “This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The American Center for Law & Justice said that the “Trump Administration has just delivered the final blow to President Obama’s abortion-pill mandate. The pro-abortion HHS Mandate forced Christian business owners, pro-life charities, and even Catholic nuns to pay for abortion pills. Now, the new Administration’s rules provide a permanent opt-out for Christian and pro-life businesses and charities – effectively gutting the abortion-pill mandate.”

Just Revealed: ISIS Plot Against NYC Foiled Last Year

A jihadist plot to attack New York City including Times Square and the subway system was foiled with the help of an undercover FBI agent, officials say. One man in the US and two others in Pakistan and the Philippines are under arrest and face charges of plotting the attacks which they hoped to carry out in the name of the Islamic State group. One of the suspects allegedly said he wanted to create ‘the next 9/11’. The trio allegedly used chat apps to plan their attack. It was prevented last year with the help of an undercover FBI agent – posing as an IS supporter – who communicated with the three plotters. Details of the alleged plot were released on Friday as prosecutors revealed the charges.

Las Vegas Shooter Led Secret Life, Had Help, Made Many Trips Abroad

The Las Vegas gunman behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history spent decades stockpiling guns and living a “secret life” that investigators may never be able to fully understand, said Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Joseph Lombardo. “What we know is Stephen Paddock is a man who spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life, much of which will never be fully understood,” the sheriff said, noting that he most likely had ‘help.’. Analysis of Paddock’s computer, cellphone and other electronic devices, found no obvious ideological motive, no clear connection to extremists or activist groups or outward display of mental illness, the Associated Press reported. Paddock was a retired, multimillionaire real estate investor with two homes and his own plane, Authorities also revealed that the weekend before the shooting, Paddock had rented a high-rise condo in a building that overlooked the Life is Beautiful alternative music festival in Chicago. Sheriff Joseph Lombardo also speculated that Paddock may have been “radicalized,” lending credibility to ISIS’ claim of responsibility. Paddock did indeed leave a note in his hotel room, but authorities say it wasn’t a suicide note or anything that provides an obvious clue about a motive for his shooting spree. Instead, they say it was a list of calculations for aiming his weapons to kill as many people as possible. An Australian man who was staying in the room next to the shooter in the Mandalay Bay has confirmed he witnessed multiple gunmen involved in the Las Vegas attack, reports Australia’s Courier-Mail.

Paddock’s Prior Life Details in 2013 Court Deposition

Details about Paddock’s life are contained in a 97-page court deposition obtained exclusively by CNN. Paddock was deposed October 29, 2013 as part of a civil lawsuit against the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where he slipped and fell on a walkway in 2011. Based on his own testimony, Paddock was a nocturnal creature who gambled all night and slept all day. He took Valium at times for anxiousness, and had the doctor who prescribed it to him on retainer. He wagered up to a million dollars a night, but wandered around glitzy Las Vegas casinos in sweatpants and flip-flops, and carried his own drink into the high rollers’ area because he didn’t want to tip the waitresses too much. However, Paddock’s testimony offers little insight into what could have prompted last week’s attack. He said that he had no mental health issues, no history of addiction and no criminal record. Paddock described himself as something of a rolling stone who split his time among California, Nevada, Texas and Florida, traveling at one point “maybe upwards of three weeks out of a month.” His de facto home was often one of the casinos, where he stayed in rooms that were provided for free “95% of the time.” Hotels often provide free rooms and amenities to big gamblers to entice them back to their casinos. In addition to his frequent forays into casinos and gun shops, Paddock took 20 cruises, many of them in Europe and the Middle East, reports Fox News and the Blaze, opening up the possibility of an ISIS connection.

White House & NRA Open to Regulations Against Bump Stocks

The White House and the National Rifle Association signaled Thursday that they are open to the idea of regulating the use of “bump stocks,” the rifle attachments that the Las Vegas shooter used to rapidly fire bullets on a crowd of concertgoers Sunday night. “Devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the NRA said in a statement. Some lawmakers have proposed congressional legislation for bump stocks, while the NRA and others said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms should issue new regulations. “Clearly that’s something we need to look into,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., the second ranking Republican in the Senate, has said he would support hearings on bump stocks.

Border-Wall Funding Passes First Hurdle

The House Homeland Security Committee cleared the Border Security for America Act of 2017 on Wednesday. This bill  would authorize $10 billion for “tactical infrastructure” spending for a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border. The bill also substantially beefs up border security with an array of attachments aimed at halting a future wave of illegal immigration. The Border Security for America Act of 2017 would also: Add 5,000 new Border Patrol agents to safeguard the border; Add 5,000 new Customs and Border Protections officers to patrol the ports of entry; Mandate that government complete the biometric entry-exit system that was created two decades ago; and authorize governors to deploy their National Guard to help patrol the border.

Trump Administration Scrapping Obama-Era Coal Regulations

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday that the Trump administration is moving to scrap the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature regulatory program to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants. He said that on Tuesday, he will sign a proposed rule to formally withdraw from the plan. The decision comes after President Trump in late March ordered a review of the controversial program, which was put on hold more than a year ago by the Supreme Court amid legal challenges from, among others, Pruitt himself. The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants by having states meet certain targets. Supporters see the plan as a critical plank in efforts to curb global warming, but critics contend it would kill thousands of jobs and take direct aim at the struggling U.S. coal industry. Pruitt can now expect a new wave of litigation from the other side of the debate, as environmentalist groups and allied Democrats are sure to challenge the rollback.

Trump Administration Releases Immigration Demands for DACA Bill

The Trump administration released a list of hard-line immigration demands late Sunday that threaten to derail a deal in Congress to allow hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally. The White House submitted a 70-point enforcement plan to Congress proposing the stiffest reforms ever offered by an administration — including a massive rewrite of the law in order to eliminate loopholes illegal immigrants have exploited to gain a foothold in the U.S. The plans, seen by The Washington Times, include President Trump’s calls for a border wall, more deportation agents, a crackdown on sanctuary cities and stricter limits to chain migration — all issues the White House says need to be part of any bill Congress passes to legalize illegal immigrant “Dreamers” currently protected by the Obama-era deportation amnesty known as DACA.  Trump announced plans last month to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that had provided two-year work permits to the dreamers that Trump called “unconstitutional.” About 690,000 immigrants are enrolled in DACA, but their work permits are set to begin expiring in March.

The Resistance Rises with Influx of Cash

It started as a scrappy grass-roots protest movement against President Trump, but now the so-called Resistance is attracting six- and seven-figure checks from major liberal donors. The movement foreshadows a once-in-a-generation reorganization of the American left that could dictate the tactics and ideology of the Democratic Party for years to come, notes the New York Times. If the newcomers prevail, they could pull the party further to the left, leading it to embrace policy positions like those advocated by Bernie Sanders, including single-payer health care and free tuition at public colleges. The upending of the left comes amid a broader realignment in American politics, with the Republican Party establishment also contending with a rising rebellion, driven by pro-Trump populists. Just as the new forces on the right are threatening challenges to establishment Republicans in upcoming primaries, some groups on the left have also begun talking about targeting Democratic incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections.

  • End-time divisiveness with continue to grow, not only in politics but in all spheres of society

Antifa Plotting a Mass Uprising

The far-left group known as “Antifa” (Anti-Fascists) has dramatically amplified its presence in the American political landscape since President Trump took office. Its violent tactics have been labeled terrorism by many, and there even exists a White House petition calling for the president to formally recognize the group as a terrorist organization. Now, the group and their cohorts may be planning a revolution, reports the Association of Mature American Citizens (a conservative alternative to AARP).  The Antifa-affiliated group “Refuse Fascism” is calling for demonstrators to gather on November 4, demanding the “Trump/Pence regime” must go. The group claims the Trump administration is fascist and therefore must be resisted. “This nightmare must end”, the Refuse Fascism website states in its call to action, “We will gather in the streets and public squares of cities and towns across this country… this whole regime is illegitimate and that we will not stop until our single demand is met (i.e. that the Trump Administration must step down or be forced out).

Nobel Peace Prize to Anti-Nuclear Group

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to an international watchdog that campaigns to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” the Nobel committee said in a statement. It comes as the United States and North Korea are engaged in a tense standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, and as speculation intensifies that President Trump could be preparing to abandon a two-year-old nuclear deal with Iran. ICAN is an umbrella group comprised of hundreds of non-governmental organizations in more than 100 countries that push for global nuclear disarmament. It was founded in Melbourne, Australia, 10 years ago, but is now based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Economic News

The U.S. economy lost 33,000 jobs in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last month, the first decline since September 2010. However, the unemployment rate declined slightly to 4.2 percent. Average hourly wages rose 12 cents last month to $26.55, up 2.9 percent from a year ago. The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits hit a two-year high in the first week of September (298,000). Before the two hurricanes, economists had estimated the nation would add about 75,000 jobs last month. Now they expect the job numbers to rebound in coming months. It’s the first decline in jobs in seven years.

A trickle of companies fleeing the restive Spanish region of Catalonia threatened to turn into a flood as a second major bank and two more firms said they would move their head offices to other parts of the country. CaixaBank, energy supplier Gas Natural Fenosa and Dogi International Fabrics said Friday they were moving their legal bases from Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona. Catalonia’s government was planning to make a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain early next week following a disputed referendum last Sunday in which two million Catalans voted to break away from Spain. These companies aren’t waiting to see how the politics play out.

Persecution Watch

The Islamic State is determined to completely eradicate all Christians from their ‘holy land.’ This underreported genocide continues even as ISIS loses its grip on its ‘caliphate.’ Iraq’s Christian population has dwindled from 1.5 million in 2003 to just 250,000 today. Christians are not the only victims. The Yezidi community shared many of the same fears of extinction. Today, 3,000 of their women and girls remain in ISIS captivity. Moreover, their land is “contested territory” by Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Multiple militias control it and few families have been able to return. The United Nations’ Security Council has at last agreed to formally investigate crimes against humanity committed by Islamic State in Iraq “motivated by religious or ethnic grounds.” While the resolution – which was unanimously passed by the Security Council on Thursday 21 September – does not specifically name any ethnic religious group, it has been widely recognized that Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims have been specifically targeted.

Eleven months ago, Bangladeshi police in riot gear marched into the desperately poor community of Christian Santal people in Gaibandah District.  Firing rubber bullets as they went, the police evicted the Christians, and then, helped by local Muslims, set fire to the wooden shacks in which the Christians lived. Leaving their meagre possessions behind, the Christians fled. Their houses burned on into the night. Three Christians died in the attack. Since those events on the night of 6 November 2016, thousands of Santal Christians have lived in makeshift tents. Their land has been seized to cultivate sugar cane. There is a government-owned sugar factory nearby. There has been a Christian presence amongst the Santal ethnic minority group since at least 1867 when the first Santal church was built. For years they have suffered exploitation and injustice from the Muslim-majority Bengalis.

Puerto Rico

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria toppled Puerto Rico’s communications towers, wrecked its electrical grid and knocked out power to water systems, medical officials said the island’s health system is “on life support.” Maria left the island’s medical system deeply damaged: Patients are dying because of complications related to the primitive conditions and difficult transportation issues; A lack of transportation in small towns makes it difficult to transfer patients to larger hospitals; Severe lack of communications on the island has resulted in less triage and coordination between hospitals; a greater number of patients than usual are arriving at large medical centers, which has stretched capacity; Doctors are afraid to discharge patients after surgery to places with unsanitary conditions. The 1,000-bed U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Comfort docked in San Juan, and will be used to help deal with the medical crisis facing this island of 3.4 million residents.

Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector was decimated by Hurricane Maria. Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of agriculture, said the area near the southern port city of Ponce, is known for plantains, bananas, papayas, coffee and citrus crops. “All of that has been wiped out,” Flores Ortega said. Ortega estimated the island lost 80% of its crops. The poultry sector lost 90% of its production and more than 2 million of its 2.6 million birds, along with numerous chicken coops and processing equipment. All the plantations have been destroyed. Flooding covered 51,000 acres of coastal area. Cows and other livestock floated away in the swollen rivers. Irrigation systems were lost, and ornamental and hydroponic facilities were damaged.

Russia

Google has reportedly uncovered proof Russian agents bought ads on YouTube and other platforms to spread disinformation during the 2016 presidential election. The company discovered thousands of dollars were spent on advertising on Google search, Gmail and its ad network DoubleClick, according to The Washington Post. Google, Facebook and Twitter are facing increased scrutiny from lawmakers trying to determine how propaganda and fake news from Russia was spread to U.S. voters. Last week, Facebook said 10 million users saw advertising linked to Russia aimed at spreading false information during the presidential election. Last month, Twitter told lawmakers it removed about 200 accounts tied to Russian groups purchasing ads on Facebook.

Spain

Spain faces a week of deep political uncertainty as the secessionist leader of Catalonia considered whether to make a unilateral declaration of independence, against the backdrop of a bitter standoff with the central government in Madrid. The French government said on Monday that it would not recognize an independent Catalonia, and that independence would result in automatic expulsion from the European Union. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was determined to prevent a breakaway by the northeastern province, which is the powerhouse of the Spanish economy, in the wake of a banned referendum on October 1st that overwhelmingly supported the secession.

Niger

Three U.S. Army special operations commandos and several soldiers from Niger were killed Wednesday when they came under “hostile fire” in the west African country, the U.S. military said. The Green Berets were likely attacked by militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — the North African branch of the extremist group — in southwestern Niger, near the border with Mali, the AP reported. Two U.S. commandos who were wounded in the attack were taken to the capital of Niamey and were in stable condition. U.S. Africa Command said the forces were on a joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol when they were attacked. U.S. forces are in the country to provide training and security assistance to Niger’s military in their fight against extremists.

Wildfires

Mass evacuations were ordered Monday, including at least two hospitals, as wind-driven wildfires threatened California’s Napa Valley. Evacuations were taking place north of Santa Rosa, in Mendocino County, including a Kaiser Permanente Hospital on Bicentennial Drive and Sutter Hospital. The Tubbs fire, exploded from 200 acres to 20,000 acres overnight. The fire crossed Highway 101 in Santa Rosa and ignited structures west of the highway. The fire has reportedly burned structures at the Signorello Estate winery, north of Napa. Authorities have yet to confirm the total number of structures damaged by fires.

Weather

At least 22 people were killed Thursday after Tropical Storm Nate moved over Central America with clusters of heavy rain and gusty winds. Nicaragua had already been dealing with two weeks of persistent rainfall before the storm, which left rivers at high levels and the soil saturated. Costa Rican authorities said Thursday that there have been seven deaths in the country and 15 are missing.

Hurricane Nate gained strength on Saturday and made landfall in southeast Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, as a Category 1 storm. The governors of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency ahead of the storm, and counties along the coast issued curfews and ordered evacuations. Tens of thousands lost power along the Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Nate made landfall. Major flooding was seen overnight in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama. No injuries or deaths have been reported in the U.S. Nate has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, but is still producing dangerous surge of 5 to 6 feet as well as flooding, winds, and torrential rain. Nate produced a swath of heavy rain from the Appalachians to parts of the Northeast through Monday.

Indian summer has settled in over the northeast following a cold spell. Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains, saw a low of 26 degrees last Sunday morning and reached a high in the 70s on Wednesday, with 70-degree-plus temperatures possible again this weekend and early next week. Bradford, Pennsylvania, dropped to 27 degrees Sunday morning and is expected to see highs in the 70s several days into early next week. 80s are even possible on Saturday for the northeast region.

A storm bearing hurricane-strength gusts of wind knocked down trees and killed at least seven Thursday in northern Germany. Gusts of up to 75 mph were reported in Berlin by the storm dubbed ‘Xavier,’ prompting the halt of numerous flights at the city’s two airports. Public transportation was also temporarily shut down in the city, and in Wilhelmshaven, a 1,102-pound crane was toppled by the high winds. Berliner Zeitung reports that more than 2,100 emergency calls were received by the Berlin Fire Brigade as a result of the storm.

Signs of the Times (3/7/17)

March 7, 2017

New Travel Ban Issued by Trump Administration

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday blocking citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, the most significant hardening of immigration policy in generations, even with changes intended to blunt legal and political opposition, reports the New York Times. The order was revised to circumvent blockage of Trump’s first immigration directive on Jan. 27 by a federal appeals court. The new order continued to impose a 90-day ban on travelers, but it removed Iraq, a redaction requested by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who feared it would hamper coordination to defeat the Islamic State, according to administration officials. It also exempts permanent residents and current visa holders, and drops language offering preferential status to persecuted religious minorities, a provision widely interpreted as favoring other religious groups over Muslims. In addition, it reversed an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, replacing it with a 120-day freeze that requires review and renewal. But the heart of the sweeping executive action is still intact, reflecting Mr. Trump’s “America first” pledge to safeguard against what he has portrayed as a hidden influx of terrorists and criminals until an “extreme vetting” process can be established. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that apart from the six countries listed on Monday’s travel ban, there are “13 or 14” other countries that also have questionable vetting procedures, but acknowledged that he doesn’t expect the list of countries subject to the travel ban will grow.

House Republicans Release ObamaCare Replacement Bill

House Republicans on Monday evening released the text of their long-awaited ObamaCare replacement bill, proposing to eliminate the various taxes and penalties tied to the original legislation while still preserving certain patient protections.   It also would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, replacing them with tax credits for consumers. The system of tax credits is aimed at enticing Americans to purchase insurance on the open market. The bill would continue Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to additional low-earning Americans until 2020. After that, states adding Medicaid recipients would no longer receive the additional federal funds the statute has provided. More significantly, Republicans would overhaul the federal-state Medicaid program, changing its open-ended federal financing to a limit based on enrollment and costs in each state. Asked about some conservatives’ concerns that GOP leaders are merely pushing ‘ObamaCare Lite,’ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, countered, “It is ObamaCare gone.” Republicans want to restore power to the states and control costs in Medicaid and elsewhere. The White House signaled its approval of the plan. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the proposal “would cut and cap Medicaid, defund Planned Parenthood, and force Americans, particularly older Americans, to pay more out of pocket for their medical care all so insurance companies can pad their bottom line.”

Supreme Court Sends Transgender Case Back to Lower Court

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a dispute over a Virginia transgender student’s bathroom access back to a lower court, without reaching a decision. The court vacated the current dispute after the Trump administration withdrew support for an Obama administration order supporting transgender students. The case had been scheduled for argument in late March. Instead, the lower court in Virginia must now evaluate the federal law known as Title IX and the extent to which it applies to transgender students. The law bars sex discrimination in schools. The case came from a federal appeals court and was brought by Virginia’s Gloucester County school board, which wanted to prevent a transgender girl from using the boys’ bathrooms. The school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.

  • With Scalia’s seat still empty, the Supreme Court has been avoiding controversial cases until the Court has a full complement once again.

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of CIA Programs & Documents

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released what it said is the full hacking capacity of the CIA in a stunning 8,000-plus page disclosure the anti-secrecy website contends is “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” The 8,761 documents and files — released as “Vault 7 Part 1” and titled “Year Zero” — were obtained from an “isolated, high-security network” at the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va., a press release from the website said. The trove had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors,” one of whom “recently” gave the archive to WikiLeaks. The collection of purported intelligence documents includes information on CIA-developed malware — bearing names such as “Assassin” and “Medusa” — intended to target iPhones, Android phones, smart TVs and Microsoft, Mac and Linux operating systems, among others. An entire unit in the CIA is devoted to inventing programs to hack data from Apple products, according to WikiLeaks. Some of the remote hacking programs can allegedly turn numerous electronic devices into recording and transmitting stations to spy on their targets, with the information then sent back to secret CIA servers. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News.

Trump Calls for Congressional Probe of Wiretapping His Campaign

The White House on Sunday called for congressional investigations into its claims the Obama administration meddled in the 2016 election cycle in an attempt to gather information on then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. “Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” The statement follows an explosive allegation Saturday by Trump that former President Barack Obama ordered phones wiretapped at Trump Tower. The former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration denies there was a secret court order for surveillance at Trump Tower. He also said he hasn’t seen any evidence suggesting President Donald Trump colluded with the Russians to get elected.

Trump Puts Russia Deal on Hold, Citing Recent Provocations

President Trump is reportedly telling advisers he might temporarily shelve a plan to pursue a deal with Russia on how to handle the Islamic State as well as other national security matters. Administration officials and Western diplomats told the Associated Press on Saturday that Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations, including deploying a cruise-missile which violates a Cold War-era arms control treaty. Trump has been pressured by members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and European allies to not give concessions to Russia. In his first meeting with the National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia – as well as China – as a country that wants to upend the current world order, an administration official told AP.

Missile Defense System Stokes U.S. Tensions with Beijing, Moscow

The U.S. decision to send equipment needed to set up a controversial missile defense system in South Korea is likely to add to tensions with Beijing and Moscow, countries that have spoken out in the past about deploying the system. China said Tuesday it would take measures against the U.S. missile system deployed in South Korea, and that the U.S. and Seoul would bear the consequences. Washington and Seoul says the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, is not meant to be a threat to China or Russia. The U.S. military said in a statement that THAAD can intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles during the last part of their flights. But China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

Trump Makes Proposal to Planned Parenthood

President Trump has offered to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood if the group stops providing abortions. Its president has spurned the proposal and noted that federal money already is not allowed to be used for abortion. Trump confirmed to The New York Times about the ‘informal proposal’. In a statement to the newspaper, Trump says “there is an opportunity for organizations to continue the important work they do in support of women’s health, while not providing abortion services.” White House officials mentioned that there could even be an increase in federal funds if Planned Parenthood stopped work related to abortions. In a response to the report of the proposal, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards says the group “will always stand for women’s ability to make decisions about their health and lives, without interference from politicians.”

Alzheimer’s Could Bankrupt Medicare, Experts Say

Every 66 seconds this year, an American will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association annual report, released Tuesday. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double to one every 33 seconds. That means, says the report, that by the middle of the century, over half of all Americans 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s. Those startling statistics are mirrored worldwide. In 2016, the World Alzheimer’s Report estimated that 47 million people around the globe had dementia — more than the current population of Spain. The global number of people diagnosed is expected to triple by 2050. Nine of 10 people with dementia in low- and middle-income countries and half of those in high-income countries are not diagnosed. “What is driving these numbers is that there is no disease modifying treatment, no prevention and no cure,” said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “And while U.S. deaths from Alzheimer’s have doubled in the last 15 years, deaths from other major diseases have been declining.” The issue is mainly funding, agreed Rudy Tanzi, a Harvard professor of neurology who also heads up MassGeneral’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit. “We are a knowledge-rich yet budget-constrained field. We have many clues about how to stop Alzheimer’s, especially from recent genetic studies, but insufficient funds to explore how.”

Economic News

About one-third of malls in the U.S. will shut their doors in the coming years, retail analyst Jan Kniffen told CNBC Thursday. Macy’s and its fellow retailers in American malls are challenged by an oversupply of retail space as customers migrate toward online shopping, as well as fast fashion retailers like H&M and off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx. As a result, about 400 of the country’s 1,100 enclosed malls will fail in the upcoming years. Of those that remain, he predicts that about 250 will thrive and the rest will continue to struggle.

February continued the recent downturn in gun sales following Trump replacing Obama as President. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 2,234,817 checks in February, according to FBI documents. That’s a retreat of nearly 400,000 checks from last February. The slowing but still historically high sales levels come on the heels of the highest year in history for gun sales. The FBI processed more than 27.5 million NICS checks in 2016. That’s millions more than the previous record set in 2015.

General Motors has reached a deal to sell its money-losing European operations to the French maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars. The agreement announced early Monday will create a new European automobile giant, bringing the Opel and Vauxhall brands under the control of France’s PSA. GM is also selling its European financial arm to PSA and French bank BNP Paribas. The combined value of the deals is about $2.3 billion. The agreement removes a financial headache for GM — Germany’s Opel and Britain’s Vauxhall have lost $22.4 billion over the past 17 years. It will also make PSA Europe’s second biggest carmaker after Volkswagen.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest country is still crawling through its worst recession in its history. Brazil’s economy shrank 3.6% in 2016. That’s just a slight improvement from 2015, when it contracted 3.8%, but still far from good. It’s the country’s longest recession with eight consecutive quarters of contraction. Unemployment hit 12.6% in January. A year ago, it was 9.5%. By comparison, at the height of the U.S. recession in 2009, unemployment peaked at 10%. Nearly 13 million Brazilians are out of work. An investigation into a massive government bribery ring helped spark the downturn as Brazil prepared to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. These days, Olympic facilities like Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium have become “ghost stadiums” with stolen seats, parched soccer fields and vandalized equipment.

Migrant Update

Migration is the “Trojan wooden horse” of terrorism and the current lull in the migrant flow is only temporary, Hungary’s prime minister said Tuesday. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an early supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, has ordered the reinforcement of fences on Hungary’s southern borders to keep out migrants. Orban says the migrants, many of whom are Muslims. Orban said the migration issue would remain as long as its causes in the countries of origin were not dealt with and its potential risks were not recognized. “The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own — at European standards of living. We are still, at this moment, under siege,” Orban said.

Islamic State

Iraqi troops encountered the “heaviest” clashes yet with Islamic State group fighters Sunday in western Mosul since the start of the new push more than two weeks ago. ISIS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. The militants, he said, are moving from house to house and deploying snipers. ISIS fighters have “some mortar (teams) and snipers positioned inside homes,” said Iraqi special forces Maj. Ali Talib, explaining that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have helped destroy some of the IS defenses, but clashes are still ongoing.

A Pentagon plan for the coming assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria, calls for significant U.S. military participation, including increased Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, and arms supplies to the main Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting force on the ground, reports the Washington Post. This is the military’s favored option among several variations currently under White House review. The proposal would ease a number of restrictions on U.S. activities imposed during the Obama administration. Officials involved in the planning have proposed lifting a cap on the size of the U.S. military contingent in Syria, currently numbering about 500 Special Operations trainers and advisers to the combined Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. While the Americans would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to work closer to the front line and would delegate more decision-making authority down the military line from Washington.

Syria

Ignoring a United Nations report that decried the use in Syria of chemical weapons, targeted air attacks on civilians and forced deportations, Russian and Assad regime air forces are steadily continuing the same illegal tactics while U.N.-sponsored peace talks founder in Geneva, reports Fox News. The regime forces also seem to be refining new forms of their illegal chemical weapons. Syria researchers in London have pointed to the strong possibility that pro-regime forces have put warheads containing chlorine gas on short-range, ground-to-ground rockets as a supplement to poison-filled gas canisters and bombs dropped out of helicopters and other aircraft.

Iran

Continuing a pattern of provocative actions, Iran last weekend test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles and sent fast-attack vessels close to a U.S. Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. officials confirmed to Fox News. One of Iran’s ballistic missile tests were successful, destroying a floating barge approximately 155 miles away, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch said. The launches of the Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles were the first tests of the missile in two years, one official said. It was not immediately clear if this was the first successful test at sea — raising concerns for the U.S. Navy, which operates warships in the area, one of which had an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. boats on Saturday. The IRGC boats approached to within 600 yard of the tracking ship USNS Invincible and then stopped, officials confirmed. The Invincible was accompanied by three ships from the British Royal Navy and all four ships were forced to change course, Reuters reported.

North Korea

North Korea fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew 620 miles into the ocean off its eastern coast, South Korean officials said Monday, in an apparent reaction to huge military drills by Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal. It was not immediately clear the exact type of missile fired; Pyongyang has staged a series of missile test-launches of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February. The ramped-up tests come as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for a nuclear and missile program that can deter what he calls U.S. and South Korean hostility toward the North. Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.

American cyberwarriors are trying to sabotage North Korea’s missile program — but analysts argue over whether the effort has had real results, a New York Times investigation found. Soon after ex-President Obama ordered the secret program three years ago, North Korean missiles began exploding, veering off course or crashing into the sea, the newspaper reported Saturday. By most accounts, the North Korean missile failures were possibly caused by US sabotage, the Times says. But it’s also likely many of the missile failures resulted from North Korean incompetence. Obama reportedly ordered the cyber sabotage in early 2014 after deciding that 60 years of U.S. efforts to figure out how to shoot down incoming missiles had not yielded a system that would reliably defend against a missile attack.

Somalia

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Yemen

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee was among those killed in recent U.S. airstrikes on terror targets in Yemen, the Pentagon said Monday. Yasir al-Silmi, who was held at Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2009, was killed in airstrikes on March 2nd. The Pentagon confirmed that al-Silmi was counted among those who had returned to terrorism. As the Obama administration wound down, officials stepped up efforts to shrink the prison population at Guantanamo Bay, though Obama was never able to realize his campaign pledge of closing the U.S. detention facility. While Obama assured the U.S. in December that only “low-level” terrorist operatives had been released from Guantanamo Bay, the emergence of former detainees taking on high-level roles in terror groups has undermined that message. One of them, Ibrahim al Qosi, became the face of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Wildfires

A brush fire in Miami-Dade County, Florida, erupted to 670 acres and emitted smoke and ashes that shut down a roadway Sunday. Crews shut down Southwest Eighth Street between 137th Avenue and Krome Avenue due to the fire Sunday. The Trail Fire began near a canal and a heavily wooded area. The fire reportedly jumped Krome Avenue and threatened structures. Winds were gusting over 30 mph frequently in the Miami area Sunday morning into early afternoon, fanning the blaze. Flammable shrubs and trees known as Melaleuca are fueling the fire.

Weather

Almost five dozen tornadoes and just over 1,000 total reports of severe weather tore through parts of the Midwest, South and East from February 28 through March 1, 2017, in what was the largest severe weather outbreak since the late spring 2011. National Weather Service surveys have confirmed at least 59 tornadoes occurred in 11 states from Kansas and Iowa to Michigan to Tennessee during the outbreak. One EF4 tornado tore a roughly 50-mile path through southeast Missouri and southern Illinois, the first violent (EF4 or stronger) tornado of 2017. Peak winds were estimated by an NWS-Paducah damage survey of 180 mph.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more severe (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

More than a dozen people were injured and dozens of homes damaged Monday night, March 6, after at least two tornadoes reportedly touched down in Missouri. According to the National Weather Service, there were 29 reports of unconfirmed tornadoes in four states: Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. A tornado damaged about 20 homes in Oak Grove, east of Kansas City. A reported 10 to 15 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries. North of Kansas City, in Smithville, 20 to 25 homes were damaged. The Kansas City Star also reports damage to planes and hangars at the Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe, Kansas. About 40,000 customers in the Kansas City area remained without power early Tuesday, down from more than 100,000 Monday night.

Floods in Zimbabwe have killed 246 people, injured 128 and left nearly 2,000 homeless since December, according to government officials. Those who have survived the floods say they have lost their possessions. Many survivors are now housed at a camp where they are crammed in tents and plastic shelters and survive on charity. For weeks, heavy rains have been pouring in Zimbabwe, especially southern parts of the country, ending a years’ long drought. This southern African country last week appealed to international donors for $100 million to help those affected by the floods, which have washed away bridges and roads and cut off some communities.

Over the course of 48 hours, 110 people have died from hunger in Somalia, the country’s prime minister announced Saturday. About 363,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia “need urgent treatment and nutrition support, including 71,000 who are severely malnourished,” the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned. Somalia was just one of four regions singled out by the U.N. secretary-general last month in a $4.4 billion aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine, along with northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. All are connected by a thread of violent conflict, the U.N. chief said Thousands have been streaming into Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food aid, overwhelming local and international aid agencies. Over 7,000 internally displaced people checked into one feeding center recently.

Signs of the Times (12/20/16)

December 20, 2016

Electoral College Declares Trump President

Donald Trump surpassed the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College on Monday, taking the next step in the official process to become President. Trump received 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227. Six “faithless” electors voted for other candidates, costing Trump two votes and Clinton four. The results mean Trump — who lost the popular vote by more than 2 percentage points to Clinton — easily staved off a long-shot bid by opponents to turn Republican electors against him. The Electoral College results will be officially certified January 6 during a joint session of Congress.

Attorney General Says Russian Hacking Not Significant

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was little evidence the Russians had violated the integrity of the U.S. election system. “The Department of Homeland Security was actively engaged in reaching out to every state to make sure that they had access to every resource they needed to protect the state electoral system,” she explained, adding “we didn’t see the sort of tactical interference that I know people had concerns about.” Lynch spoke at an event hosted by Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman Thursday morning. However, Sen. John McCain said Russian election-related hacks threaten to “destroy democracy” and faulted the American response as “totally paralyzed.”

Trump’s Pick for Israel Ambassador Roils the Status Quo

Donald Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel signals a potential shift in long-standing US policy that has implications for Washington’s relationships in the region, with Europe and even the American Jewish community. The President-elect tapped New York-based attorney David Friedman Thursday to represent the United States. Friedman, who maintains a residence in Jerusalem, is known for hardline views that depart from decades of established American policy and in some cases, are to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman argues that Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian areas shouldn’t be illegal and has called the effort to find a two-state solution an “illusion.” In Trump’s announcement, the bankruptcy lawyer and Orthodox Jew welcomed moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem” — settling in one phrase a fraught issue that has been designated for final peace talks, as Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital as well. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat warned that the implementation of Trump’s pledge would destroy any prospects for peace with Israel.

  • Finally, an administration that is a defender of Biblical Israel and Jerusalem

Obama Grants Clemency to Historic Number of Federal Inmates

President Obama pardoned 78 people and also granted commutations to 153 nonviolent drug offenders who he says were sentenced under harsh and outdated laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In total, Obama has pardoned 148 people and granted 1,176 commutations for federal inmates under the clemency initiative that he and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. launched two years ago. Obama plans to issue more commutations before he leaves office, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said.

Plan to Increase Number of Abortion Facilities Fails

Operation Rescue’s annual survey of abortion facilities found that after all the dust had settled on a very active year of reorganization within the Abortion Cartel, closures of abortion facilities compensated for the new openings. This has left the number of abortion facilities in America essentially the same as 2015 – despite the best efforts of the Abortion Cartel to expand abortion services in a year characterized by conditions that favored it. A total of 31 abortion facilities permanently closed in 18 states in 2016. “The political pendulum has swung our way, and we plan to work very hard to take advantage of this opportunity to immediately call for enforcement of laws that will shut down abortion facilities and save lives,” the report states.

Muslim Chaplain Says It’s Okay to Beat Wives

Dr. Iqbal Al-Navdi is the Muslim Chaplain of the Canadian Army and an important Muslim leader here in North America. In fact, he is one of the very few in North America who have the authority to give a fatwah and is very well respected as professor of Shariah Law and jurisprudence. In February of 2015, Dr. Navdi delivered a speech on the importance of the family in society and in Islam. Dr. Navdi spent some time covering one issue that is quite controversial in the West (though not so controversial in the Muslim world): wife beating. Dr. Navdi explained that the Quran most certainly allows husbands to beat their wives, but because their relationship is so important, the beating should only happen as part of an attempt to resolve conflict between the two and that the beatings should always happen in private.

Facebook’s ‘Fake News’ Labels Under Fire

As Facebook introduces “fake news” warning labels, the social network faces a fundamental problem: Some of its users don’t trust the fact-checkers. There was an immediate uproar, led by right-wing web sites, when Facebook announced the labeling plan on Thursday. The overarching fear expressed by some of the writers is that what begins as reasonable flagging of hoaxes could devolve into damaging cover-ups of conservative political opinions. Facebook says it is moving carefully and taking steps to ensure that the warning labels are not misused. But even before the labels started to show up on the social network, The Drudge Report’s banner headline about the Facebook plan was “RISE OF TRUTH POLICE!” Infowars predicted that Facebook would probably “use the new feature to blacklist information that runs contrary to any mainstream media narratives.”

U.S. Mobile Internet Slow vs. World Standards

Some of the world’s richest countries are very poorly served with mobile Internet. The U.S., U.K., and Germany are still lagging behind developing nations when it comes to 4G access and download speeds. A report by consultancy OpenSignal found that American users have to put up with an average speed of just 13 Megabytes per second. That’s the 69th slowest in the world, and way behind countries such as Ecuador (25 Mbps), China and Kazakhstan (both 22 Mbps). World leader Singapore boasts 46 Mbps. And the global average stands at 17.4. While the U.S. ranks poorly in speed, it’s doing much better in terms of access. A typical user in the U.S. can get onto a 4G network 81% of the time. That puts the U.S. in 10th spot in the global ranking. The U.K., by contrast, ranks just 54th in the world in terms of 4G availability. A typical user in Britain can only access 4G 58% of the time, behind Albania, Panama and Peru.

Navajo Nation Slow to Build Homes

If the Navajo Reservation were a state, it would be the 41st largest in size, the least populated and the poorest in the nation, with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment. Its housing needs are also more acute than anywhere else, too. Almost 20 years ago, a study estimated nearly 21,000 families on the Navajo Reservation needed new homes. More than a decade later, despite hundreds of millions of tax dollars allocated, that number grew to more than 34,000. An Arizona Republic review of housing records from the Navajo Housing Authority showed why the numbers weren’t getting better. Amid years of mismanagement, failed projects and wasted tax dollars, the NHA only sporadically has built homes on tribal trust lands that cover nearly all of the sprawling reservation. For several years, they built none at all. Most of the land is too rugged, or without roads, infrastructure, nearby jobs or shopping. Even where dwellings might be built, legal permission can be nearly impossible to secure. More than 90 percent of the reservation technically belongs to the U.S. government, managed under a trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Less than 1 percent is owned by individuals who can freely sell their land or build on it. Environmental, archaeological and other permits also are needed.

  • There’s nothing like government bureaucracy to make accomplishing worthy goals nearly impossible

California Worst State for Driving

California is the worst state for drivers, according to a new study, with Iowa ranking first. That’s according to a Bankrate.com study that looked at six criteria, including fuel expenses, insurance costs, car thefts and auto-related fatalities. To arrive at an overall ranking, Bankrate.com translated each of six criteria into numerical zero-to-ten scores then averaged all the scores. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000.

Bill Gates Heads Clean Energy Investment Group

Bill Gates has been chosen to lead a $1 billion investment fund in clean energy. The Microsoft founder is joined by some of the world’s richest people in supporting a 20-year fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Investors include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma. Gates will serve as the chairman of the fund, which is the venture arm of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group founded last year to accelerate research and investment in clean energy. The fund will invest in companies and technologies that have “the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton,” according to the website. It will specifically target innovations in electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and architecture.

Economic News – Domestic

The volatile housing starts numbers took another dive, down 18.7% in November, following an 11% decline in October, according to the Census Bureau New Residential Construction report for November 2016. Meanwhile, mortgage rates have risen 104 basis points (1.04 percentage points) since July 8. This may well keep the Federal Reserve from moving ahead as fast as they want on raising interest rates in 2017.

General Motors is cutting almost half the jobs at its only plant inside Detroit city limits. In another sign of slowing auto sales, the Detroit-Hamtramck plant will eliminate its second shift and about 1,300 of its 3,000 jobs. The layoffs will take place in March. GM said it will try to find jobs for the employees at other plants. The Detroit facility is the third GM plant to eliminate the second shift. Plants in Lansing, Michigan, and Lordstown, Ohio, announced layoffs in November, the first permanent cuts by GM at its U.S. plants since 2010. In all, GM will cut about 3,300 jobs at the three plants.

Economic News – International

Mired in a cash crisis of its own making, the Indian government has announced plans to hand out $50 million to encourage people to use digital money. As many as two million Indians could benefit from a new temporary lottery that will be based on ID numbers attached to government e-payment systems. The lottery — billed by the government as a Christmas gift to the nation — will begin on Dec. 25 and run until April 14, 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly scrapped India’s two biggest bank notes on Nov. 8, saying he wanted to tackle corruption and tax evasion. But the decision made 86% of India’s cash effectively worthless overnight, plunging the economy into turmoil. The country runs on cash, but the distribution of the new notes has been bungled, leaving people struggling to make daily purchases. “At present, only 5% of personal consumption expenditure in India is digital,” said Amitabh Kant, who runs the government-run think tank that came up with the policy. “Our objective is to make digital payments a huge mass movement in this country,” he added.

Terrorism Update

Russia has warned it will not make “concessions to terrorists” a day after its ambassador was gunned down in the Turkish capital Ankara. The man who opened fire on the ambassador was identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the attack intended to “harm our relations and destroy all the achievements we have made together recently.” He welcomed the investigative team from Russia, insisting the two countries would work together to “uncover who is behind this vile and treacherous terror attack.” On Monday night, Altintas, a Turkish police officer, fired several shots at Karlov shouting “Allahu akbar (God is greatest). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

A man detained by police after a large truck was rammed into a Berlin Christmas market may not have been the driver, German authorities said, leading to fears that the attacker could still be at large. Berlin Police President Klaus Kandt said that officials could not be certain that the detainee, who was picked up about a mile away from where 12 people were killed and 48 others injured on Monday evening, was responsible for the attack. German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said that the detainee was an asylum seeker who was “probably from Pakistan”. German authorities are investigating the incident as a terror attack.

A gunman walked into an Islamic center in central Zurich and shot three men, police in the Swiss city said Monday. The man, decked out in dark clothing, opened fire on a group of worshipers standing inside a prayer room at about 5:30 p.m., police said, citing eyewitnesses. The shots injured the men, some seriously. The gunman fled and police blocked off the area, not far from the central train station. Witnesses said the shooter, who is still being sought, appeared to be about 30 years of age.

Syria

Evacuations of thousands of civilians and rebels from Syria’s eastern Aleppo were set to resume Sunday after faltering, having left many to sleep on the streets in subzero temperatures and in bombed-out buildings for two nights. A new deal was struck Saturday after almost two days of negotiations to give safe passage to those remaining in the last pocket of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The deal is essentially a people swap between four cities that will see those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime evacuated from areas held or besieged by rebels. In exchange, civilians, rebels and others loyal to the opposition will be given safe passage from eastern Aleppo, now almost entirely government controlled. But the plan was temporarily put on hold Sunday after a number of buses were set on fire. Hours later, the first “limited evacuations” began.

Jordan

Four policemen and a Canadian woman were killed in an ongoing shootout in southern Jordan on Sunday, as unknown gunmen fired at security patrols and police stations. Gunmen fired at police in three different locations, the deadliest at an ancient castle in the city of Karak. The site is now cordoned off by security officers who are still engaged with the gunmen.

Yemen

A suicide attack in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday killed at least 41 soldiers and injured others. Emergency trucks flooded the area of the attack and streets were closed down by military forces. The injured soldiers were taken to four hospitals in the city. The suicide bomber attacked Al Solban military base as soldiers were lining up to receive their salaries. The officials told CNN the attacker was able to enter the base dressed as a soldier. On December 10, at least 48 soldiers were killed in an ISIS attack on the same camp, targeting soldiers queuing up to get their salaries, according to the official news agency Saba. Aden is the de-facto capital of the UN-recognized and Saudi-backed government of Yemen. The actual capital, Sanaa, has been under the control of Houthi rebels since last year.

Poland

A bitter political crisis in Poland worsened over the weekend with heated protests both in and outside the nation’s parliament and a swirl of allegations of attempted coups and threats to democracy. In Poland’s lower house of parliament, opposition lawmakers formed a phalanx around the podium, effectively halting proceedings in the chamber in protest over an alleged government attack on press freedoms. Outside, in freezing temperatures, angry anti-government demonstrators besieged the parliament, preventing politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party from leaving, before police dragged them off the roads. The spark for the unrest was a government plan to limit media access to the Polish Parliament. Since the country’s return to democracy 27 years ago, journalists have had almost unrestricted access to the corridors of power.

Environment

For months during 2016, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s emerald waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a fetid blanket of guacamole-green goop that killed off fish, suffocated oyster beds and triggered a ferocious outcry from coastal residents. From NBC’s “Today Show” to The Daily Telegraph of London, news outlets chronicled the closing of beaches, the declaration of a state of emergency and the desperate, heart-breaking efforts of people using garden hoses to save manatees, affectionately known as sea cows, caked in toxic slime and struggling to breathe. But the reports didn’t explain the most tragic part of the story – that this calamity is man-made. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. Despite talk of spending $10.5 billion over the next two decades to fix the problem, a cloud of political uncertainty leaves it unclear when, how – or even if – the harmful algae blooms will be stopped, reports Weather.com.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Colima Volcano erupted three times within the span of a few hours Sunday, spewing ash and vapor more than a mile into the air. The biggest of the eruptions sent columns of ash reaching 1.25 miles in height. Colima is Mexico’s most active volcano and has erupted several times over the past 10 days. Also known as the “Volcan de Fuego” or Volcano of Fire, the 12,533-foot volcano is 430 miles west of Mexico City. Mexico has more than 3,000 volcanoes, with 14 of them considered active.

Earthquakes

According to the Los Angeles Times, a swarm of small earthquakes rattled parts of central California during the early hours of Wednesday. The largest struck in Sonoma County and registered 5.0 on the Richter scale. A magnitude 3.9 quake struck the Mammoth Lakes area and was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

Weather

Blasts of cold air mixed with freezing rain created treacherous road conditions throughout the United States over the weekend, causing multiple-car pileups and fatalities. At least six people died in Virginia, Maryland and Oklahoma because of the dangerous road conditions, authorities said. Bismarck, North Dakota, posted a new record low for the date of Dec. 17 with 31 degrees below zero on Saturday. Colorado residents were digging out after up to 16 inches of snow fell across the state on Saturday. Temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees and lower across much of the northern Plains overnight Sunday, as a fresh surge of bitter arctic air reached into the Midwest.

Signs of the Times (12/17/16)

December 17, 2016

Churches Win vs. LGBT in Liberal Massachusetts

The state of Massachusetts has responded to a lawsuit by recognizing that churches are free to operate based on the tenets of their faith. The Bay State caught the attention of churches in July after the commonwealth passed an anti-discrimination law. Part of that law is “public accommodation” for homosexuals, lesbians, and the transgendered, and a state commission announced rules in September stating that churches, too, must abide by the same requirements. In October, Massachusetts churches sued for the right to not be forced to abide by the liberal state’s pro-LGBT policies. The state Human Rights Commission realized that it had no legal grounds to fight the lawsuit and win, and so it backed down, said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christiana Holcomb. In filings with the court, the state acknowledged that churches are permitted to exercise religious freedom without interference from the state.

Texas Judge Orders ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Display Restored

A Texas judge has ordered a school district to restore a decoration that included a biblical verse recited by Linus in the 1960s TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Officials in the Killeen school district north of Austin ordered a nurse’s aide, Dedra Shannon, to remove a handmade decoration featuring a Bible verse from the special, fearing it violated prohibitions on religion in classrooms. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to get it restored, arguing the state’s 2013 so-called Merry Christmas law means schools can’t “silence a biblical reference to Christmas.” Paxton welcomed the decision from Judge Jack Jones saying “religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups. I am glad to see that the court broke through the left’s rhetorical fog and recognized that a commitment to diversity means protecting everyone’s individual religious expression.” Judge Jones ruled Thursday the display should be put back up with an added line calling it “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message.”

Obama Refuses to Sign Iran Sanctions Renewal

In an unexpected reversal, President Barack Obama declined to sign a renewal of sanctions against Iran but let it become law anyway. Although the White House had said that Obama was expected to sign the 10-year-renewal, the midnight deadline came and went Thursday with no approval from the president. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama had decided to let it become law without his signature. It marked a symbolic attempt to demonstrate disapproval for lawmakers’ actions. Under the Constitution, the president has 10 days after Congress passes a bill to sign it, veto it or let it become law with no signature if Congress is still in session. Iran’s president had vowed to respond if the sanctions were renewed, arguing they violate the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration stressed that Iran would be unaffected by the renewal, as long as it continues honoring the nuclear deal.

Obama Approves Rule Prohibiting States from Defunding Planned Parenthood

President Barack Obama has finalized a new rule that would essentially prohibit states from defunding the Planned Parenthood abortion business. The finalized rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prevents states from blocking Title X funding (federal dollars for family planning services) to abortion companies like Planned Parenthood. The rule undermines state laws, stipulating that it “precludes project recipients [states] from using criteria in their selection of sub-recipients that are unrelated to the ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” Responding to the rule, pro-life Rep. Diane Black told LifeNews.com, “President Obama knows that hope is rising for the innocent victims of Planned Parenthood’s brutality and the big abortion industry’s days of taxpayer-funded windfalls are numbered. We should not be surprised that his administration would lash out with this eleventh-hour power grab on the way out the door, but I am certain this rule will not stand for long.”

Wikileaks Founder Assange Denies Getting Hacked Info from Russia

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange denied Thursday that hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta were stolen and passed to his organization by Russian state actors. “Our source is not the Russian government,” Assange said on the The Sean Hannity Show. Assange’s assertion contradicts the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which concluded in October that “the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” In addition to the hacked emails from the DNC and Podesta, Assange admitted that Wikileaks received “received about three pages of information to do with the [Republican National Committee] and Trump [during the campaign], but it was already public somewhere else.” However, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are now in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday.

Obama Vows Retaliation, Russia Demands Proof

As the Obama administration stepped up its rhetoric against Russia for allegedly hacking its way into American politics, Russian officials demanded President Barack Obama either “stop talking” or “produce some proof.” Obama said Thursday that the United States will retaliate against Russia for interfering in the election by hacking political organizations. On Friday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the Obama administration has yet to back up its accusations with any evidence.

Appeals Court Upholds 10-Day Waiting Period for Gun Buys

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a California law requiring a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, the Washington Examiner reported. The decision reverses a lower court’s verdict that the waiting period was unconstitutional. “Applying intermediate scrutiny analysis, we hold that the law does not violate the Second Amendment rights of these plaintiffs, because the 10-day wait is a reasonable precaution for the purchase of a second or third weapon, as well as for a first purchase,” wrote Judge Mary Schroeder.

Juveniles Face Life in Prison for Gatlinburg Fires

The toll of the wildfires that ravaged Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in recent weeks is staggering: 14 people dead, another 175 injured, and more than 2,400 houses, businesses and other structures destroyed. As the full extent of the catastrophic damage reveals itself, authorities — who early on suspected arson – now say the blaze was definitely man-made. Or, more aptly, juvenile-made. Two Tennessee youths are sitting in a Sevier County detention center, charged with starting the fire. If convicted of aggravated arson, they could go to prison for 60 years. If more serious charges, including first-degree murder, are levied against them and they are convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Yahoo Says Data Stolen from 1 Billion Accounts

Yahoo disclosed a new security breach on Wednesday that may have affected more than one billion accounts. The breach dates back to 2013. Yahoo now believes an “unauthorized third party” stole user data from more than one billion accounts in August 2013. That data may have included names, email addresses and passwords, but not financial information. The company will notify users who may be affected and has begun requiring users to change their passwords. The security incident, likely one of the largest cybersecurity breaches ever, comes after Yahoo admitted that data from at least 500 million accounts had been stolen this past September. “Yahoo has now won the gold medal and the silver medal for the worst hacks in history,” said Hemu Nigam, CEO of online security consultancy SSP Blue.

Patients Now Asked to Pay Up Front for Services

Approximately three-quarters of health care and hospital systems now ask for payment at the time services are provided, a practice known as “point-of-service collections,” estimated Richard Gundling, a senior vice president at the Healthcare Financial Management Association, an industry group. He could not say how many were doing so for more highly priced services or for patients with high-deductible plans — situations that would likely result in out-of-pocket outlays of hundreds or thousands of dollars. But there’s a big difference between handing over a credit card to cover a $20 co-payment versus suddenly being confronted with a $2,000 charge to cover a deductible, an amount that might take months to pay off or exceed a patient’s credit limit. Doctors may refuse to dispense needed care before the payment is made, even as a patient’s health hangs in the balance. The primary reason? While more than two-thirds of patients with a deductible of less than $1,000 were likely to pay at least some portion of what they owe, just 36% of those with deductibles of more than $5,000 did so, a recent analysis found.

Uber Ordered to Shutdown Self-Driving Cars in San Francisco

California regulators are trying to put the brakes on Uber’s self-driving efforts after the company failed to obtain proper permits before testing its cars on San Francisco streets. Uber had announced on Wednesday that two dozen self-driving Volvo SUVs would begin to drive passengers around the city. In response, the California Department of Motor Vehicles told Uber in a letter that it must cease self-driving operations on public roads and begin the process to obtain proper permits, or it will be forced to take legal action against the company. Uber’s San Francisco launch has already proven messy. Video footage shows an autonomous Uber running a red light on its first day of operations. The company blamed it on “human error.”

Economic News – Domestic

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday for the first time in a year and signaled that rates could continue to rise next year more quickly than officials had expected. The increase was unanimous and modest, raising the Fed’s key interest rate by a quarter point, from a range of 0.25 to 0.5 percent to a range of 0.5 to 0.75 percent. It reflects Fed officials’ confidence in the strengthening of the U.S. economy and what officials see as budding signs of higher inflation. Fed officials do not appear to be anticipating a massive growth boost next year from economic policies implemented by President-elect Donald Trump, but they appear set to raise rates faster if those policies were to cause an overheating in the economy, reports the Washington Post.

Repealing Obamacare would be a big tax boon for wealthy Americans. That’s because it would eliminate two surcharges on the rich that are being levied to help pay for Obamacare provisions, such as the federal subsidies for low- and moderate-income enrollees. Since 2013, single taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 annually have had to pay an additional 0.9% Medicare payroll tax on the amount they earn above these thresholds. Ending Obamacare would mean that nearly everyone in the Top 1%, who earn more than $774,000 a year, would enjoy a hefty tax cut, averaging $33,000, according to a new report by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Those in the Top 0.1% would get an average tax cut of about $197,000.

Economic News – International

The U.S. dollar has been powering higher since Donald Trump won the presidential election and the euro has been weakening, putting the two currencies on a collision course. The dollar’s 9% move since Election Day means it’s now worth €0.96. That’s its highest level since 2003. The major shift in these currencies is making European products and travel cheaper for Americans. European exporters, including German auto manufacturers, are expected to benefit. Germany ships over $125 billion worth of goods to the U.S. annually, making it one of America’s biggest trading partners.

China has lost its crown as the United States’ biggest overseas creditor. That title now belongs to Japan. China has been dumping U.S. government debt to prop up its currency. China uses the dollars it gets from selling U.S. Treasuries to buy the yuan, which has sunk to an 8-year low as the world’s second largest economy slows. China’s huge holdings of U.S. debt fell to $1.12 trillion at the end of October, their lowest level in more than six years, according to U.S. Treasury Department data. Japan held $1.13 trillion. Both countries offloaded Treasuries during the month, but China dumped far more: its holdings dropped by $41.3 billion, while Japan’s fell by just $4.5 billion.

Fierce protests erupted in 15 Brazilian cities Tuesday as the country’s Senate approved a controversial 20-year austerity plan. Known as PEC 55, the constitutional amendment imposes a cap on public spending that will limit federal investment in social programs for the next 20 years. Brazil’s Senate approved the spending bill 53 to 16, and it became law Thursday. The government hopes that the spending cap, combined with a proposed pension reform, will lure investors back to Brazil, bringing an end to the worst recession in decades. “It will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians the hardest, will increase inequality levels in an already very unequal society, and definitively signals that social rights are a very low priority for Brazil for the next 20 years,” said Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Persecution Watch

Fifty statues of Christ and other Christian figures have been defaced and smashed apart in a crime wave sweeping parts of Germany. Statues in the Münster region in the west of Germany have been targeted over a series of months – including one of Jesus which had its head lopped off, and many more missing limbs or other fragments. Police in the area say they suspect a “religious background” to the crimes, but have yet to name any suspects. Police were investigating six men with alleged links to Islamic extremists, but gave up after three left for Syria, one died and the other two dropped off the radar.

Syria

The evacuation of thousands of refugees out of the besieged city of Aleppo has been halted and the status of the operation thrown into doubt, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Friday. “The evacuation was suspended by the regime and the Syrian regime now is shooting at the entrance point using heavy machine guns,” Middle East spokesman for the ICRC, Ralph El Hage said. Evacuations had begun for hundreds of civilians on Thursday, but for many, fleeing their homes meant leaving one warzone for another. Most of the civilians who escaped will be taken to rebel-controlled area in the neighboring province of Idlib, one of the few remaining footholds rebel groups still have in the country — and most likely the regime’s next target for recapture. While the world’s attention has been focused on Aleppo, Idlib has been pounded with airstrikes from President Assad’s regime forces, with dozens of deaths reported in recent weeks.

Iraq

ISIS killed and tortured Iraqis who did not subscribe to their extreme brand of Islam. Thousands of others fled their homes to escape the militant group’s brutality. Now, some of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities teeter on extinction. Hopes for a better future blossomed as Iraqi forces launched an offensive October 17 to oust ISIS from Nineveh province and Mosul. But now, what few minorities remain, wonder whether Baghdad’s Shia-dominated government, accused by many of stoking religious and ethnic differences, will lead the way forward to peace? Or will Iraq erupt in an outright civil war leading, to a splintered nation? As the war to oust ISIS unfolds on the streets of Mosul, Iraq’s immediate future hangs in the balance.

Turkey

A car bomb exploded near a public bus in Turkey on Saturday, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 55 people, according to Turkish officials. Of the injured, six people are in critical condition. A vehicle rigged with a bomb exploded next to the bus — which was transporting off-duty soldiers. The attack came exactly a week after a pair of bombings in Istanbul killed 44 people, including 37 police officers, and injured 155 others. A Kurdish militant group called the Kurdish Freedom Hawks claimed responsibility for last week’s bombings.

China

China “unlawfully seized” an underwater research drone after a Chinese warship took the device from waters near a U.S. oceanographic vessel. In the latest encounter in international waters in the South China Sea region, the USNS Bowditch was sailing about 100 miles off the Philippine port at Subic Bay when the incident occurred. Bowditch had stopped in the water to pick up two underwater drones. At that point a Chinese naval ship that had been shadowing the Bowditch put a small boat into the water. That small boat came up alongside and the Chinese crew took one of the drones. U.S. oceanographic research vessels are often followed in the water under the assumption they are spying. In this case, however, the drone was simply measuring ocean conditions, the official said. The Pentagon on Saturday said that Beijing had agreed to return the drone.

Earthquakes

Dangerous waves could be headed to some South Pacific coasts after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the sea off Papua New Guinea on Saturday night, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a preliminary alert. The quake struck in the ocean about 45 kilometers east of Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland island, also known as Latangai, at about 8:51 p.m. (5:51 a.m. ET), the US Geological Survey said. Papua New Guinea is along the “Ring of Fire,” a zone of seismic activity and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vast area where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur, according to the USGS.

Weather

Heavy lake-effect snow pummeled several cities across several states Wednesday, including Cleveland and Buffalo, overwhelming drivers as visibilities were reduced to nearly zero. The lake-effect snow is hitting one week after up to 3 feet of snow buried some of the same Great Lakes snowbelts from central New York to Upper Michigan last week. Bone-chilling winds will persist Friday across the United States as temperatures continue to plunge into a sub-freezing stretch of some of the coldest air this season. The brutal blast of frigid air sweeping across the United States wreaked havoc on roads in Virginia and Maryland, leaving at least three dead in multi-vehicle wrecks Saturday. A 55-vehicle crash on a icy stretch of I-95 in Baltimore left at least two people dead and motorists stranded for hours about 5 a.m. Saturday. In northern Virginia, authorities responded to more than 40 traffic accidents. Nearly 50% of the country will see temperatures dip below freezing Saturday and Sunday. Wind chill temperatures could reach 35 below zero in the Midwest and Northeast on Saturday.

Flash flooding was reported in more than a dozen California towns, while mudslides were reported in at least five others. Near Gasquet, a large boulder crashed down onto Highway 199. Due to rockslides, a 36-mile stretch of Highway 1 on California’s Central Coast remained closed until 2 p.m. Friday as officials worked to clear debris. Wet weather also created dangerous conditions in parts of Southern California. A mudslide impacted 18 homes in the town of Duarte, located east of Los Angeles. Firefighters had to rescue two people from vehicles caught in the mudslide.

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world — triggering a “massive decline in sea ice and snow,” according to a new federal report. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 11th annual Arctic Report Card, which compiles data from 61 scientists in 11 countries. The study shows that the increase in average air temperature between October 2015 and September 2016 was the largest since 1995 at 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 degrees Celsius) above those recorded in 1900 — the highest average on record.

There’s a new record for the largest wave ever measured by a buoy, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Scientists say a 62.3-foot wave was observed in the North Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4, 2013 when a strong cold front produced 50 mph winds, churning up the sea, NBC News reported. Somewhere between Iceland and the United Kingdom, a buoy measured the huge wave. A wave in the North Atlantic in 2002 measured 95 feet in height, as spotted from a ship, according to BBC.com. Hawaiian Garret McNamara holds the record for largest wave ever surfed, a 78-footer in Portugal in 2011, CNN.com said.

Signs of the Times (11/29/16)

November 29, 2016

Jesus Named King of Poland

Jesus was named King of Poland at a ceremony Saturday attended by Poland’s president Andrzej Duda. The ceremony took place at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow. The ceremony coincided with the end of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy and the 1050th anniversary of Polish Christianity. “In our hearts, rule us, Christ! In our families, rule us, Christ! … In our schools and universities, rule us, Christ,” the ceremony’s prayer said. “Through the Polish nation, rule us, Christ! … We pledge to defend your holy worship and preach Thy royal glory, Christ our King, we promise. We entrust the Polish people and Polish leaders to you. Make them exercise their power fairly and in accordance with your laws. … rule us, Christ! Reign in our homeland and reign in every nation – for the greater glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the salvation of mankind.”

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls to Lowest in Decades

The abortion rate has decreased to its lowest level in decades according to a new report issued earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It included data from 47 states through 2013, the last year for which statistics were available. The CDC data is incomplete because the government does not require states to report abortion numbers. The report did not include information from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. In 1971, two years prior to the ruling in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion, the CDC reported a low abortion rate, but that rate went up dramatically by 1980 when there were 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In 2013, however, the abortion rate dropped to half of what it was in 1980. Only 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 were recorded in 2013, totaling 664,435 abortions. The data also showed a 5% drop from 2012 and a 20% drop since 2004. But the good news does not extend to the African-American Community. Constituting just 13% of the U.S. population, 35% of the babies killed in abortions are black babies.

Islamist Ohio State Attacker Wounds Ten

Abdul Razak Artan was identified as he man who plowed a car into a crowd at Ohio State University before stabbing several pedestrians with a butcher knife on Monday. Artan is said to have referred to American-born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a “hero” on his social media accounts. Law enforcement sources told Fox News on Tuesday that the reference of al-Awlaki on social media accounts is “deeply concerning” because it could suggest he was self-radicalized before launching the attack. The Islamic State group has urged sympathizers online to carry out lone-wolf attacks in their home countries with whatever weapons are available to them. The Somali-born student had only recently transferred to the university. Numerous calls for greater gun control resounded before it became clear that only a car and knife were employed.

Post-Election Nation Deeply Divided

After a bruising presidential election featuring the two least liked major-party candidates in recent history, more than 8-in-10 Americans say the country is more deeply divided on major issues this year than in the past several years, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. And more than half say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S. Almost 8-in-10 also say the Republicans should make an effort to include Democratic policies in any legislation they pass rather than sticking to a GOP-driven agenda. And most say they would like to see President-elect Donald Trump, who won with an Electoral College majority despite trailing in the popular vote nationwide, pursue policies that could draw in new supporters rather than appeal solely to those who backed him during the campaign. Less than half, 40%, say that Trump’s win means he has a mandate to pursue the agenda his supporters favor.

  • Frequently, politicians, and many ordinary Americans, refer to the United States as a democracy. It is not and never has been. In a democracy, citizens vote directly on laws. In the United States, elected representatives do that and, therefore, the U.S. is a republic.

Green Party Files for Wisconsin Recount

Green Party officials filed Friday for a recount in Wisconsin, following reports of voting discrepancies, and were seeking a deeper investigation into the election results, which handed the state to Donald Trump two weeks ago. Wisconsin Green Party co-chairman George Martin said that they were seeking a “reconciliation of paper records” — a request that would go one step further than a simple recount, spurring, he said, an investigation into the integrity of the state’s voting system. The announcement came as Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s Thanksgiving fundraising blitz passed $5 million. The money is well beyond the $2 million mark the Green Party initially set, and Wisconsin party officials said that any additional money not used for the recount would be used to train Green Party candidates for local office. Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join the effort in Wisconsin and the pursuit of a new count in two other states, the New York Times reported Sunday. Clinton officials have moved to explore “any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally” in key battlegrounds, reports the Washington Post.

Trump’s Businesses and Politics Could Become Intertwined

Donald Trump’s election may usher in a world in which his stature as the U.S. president, the status of his private ventures across the globe and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined, the Washington Post opined Saturday. In that world, Trump could personally profit if his election gives a boost to his brand and results in its expansion overseas. His political rise could also enrich his overseas business partners — and, perhaps more significantly, enhance their statuses in their home countries and alter long-standing diplomatic traditions by establishing them as new conduits for public business. Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency, the Post asserts. Several stalled overseas Trump Towers suddenly sparked to life in Georgia (a former Soviet republic) and Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, foreign government leaders seeking to speak with Trump have reached out to the president-elect through his overseas network of business partners.

Six Mosques Receive Letters Calling for Genocide

An anonymous group calling itself “Americans for a Better Way” has sent a letter to at least five California mosques, according to the Council for Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group. A sixth letter was sent to a mosque in Savannah, according to the group. The anonymous author addressed the letter “to the children of Satan” and called Muslims “a vile and filthy people.” “There’s a new sheriff in town,” the letter said, “President Donald Trump. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the jews,” the letter said. “You muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”

  • Trump has disavowed such groups but their venom continues to spread

Dakota Pipeline Protesters Ordered Out by Dec. 5

A new confrontation is brewing over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters fighting pipeline construction must vacate property near the Cannonball River in North Dakota — the location of a large campsite for demonstrators — by December 5 or face arrest, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions,” Col. John Henderson of the Corps said in a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leader. Tribal Chairman Cave Archambault II issued a statement blasting the Corps, but didn’t say exactly how the tribe would respond. Protesters said they will not follow a government directive to leave the federal land where hundreds have camped for months, organizers said Saturday.

Millions Opt for Penalties Over Obamacare

While millions of people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 28 million Americans remain uninsured. Preliminary data shows that about 5.6 million paid a tax penalty rather than buy health insurance in 2015, according to The New York Times. Last tax season, Steve Lopez paid a mandatory penalty of nearly $1,000 for his family. That’s because the IT professional found it preferable to the $400 to $500 monthly cost of an Obamacare health plan. “I’m paying $6,000 to have the privilege of then paying another $5,000 [in deductibles],” said Lopez, who lives in Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. “It’s baloney — not worth it.”

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew 3.2% in the third quarter, according to new estimates published by the Commerce Department, the best quarter of growth in two years. The solid numbers were driven by a major, one-time increase in exports and solid consumer spending, which makes up the majority of the economy’s activity. However, one red flag in the economy is that businesses aren’t investing in new buildings, equipment or projects. Spending on these, long-term assets has declined for four straight quarters.

Digital marketplaces were shoppers’ best friends as online sales surged nearly 14% from a year ago on Thanksgiving Day, according to Adobe Digital Insights. Consumers have been feeling especially cheerful this holiday-shopping season after a contentious election cycle came to a close earlier this month. What’s more, a key gauge of consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan out on Wednesday jumped in November, indicating optimism. It was that optimistic feeling that helped fuel more than $1 billion in online sales Thanksgiving Day, Adobe’s data show. While the majority of those sales were made from desktop computers, 40 percent were made from mobile devices.

Shoppers flocked to gun stores on Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for gun sales. The Black Friday weapon sales are not driven by the Christmas spirit since gun laws in many states prohibit buying guns for someone else. The sales are driven by sharp discounts. This turnout was in spite of the fact that Hillary Clinton — the gun industry’s biggest boogieman with her gun control policies — failed to win the White House.

Israel

Israel’s prime minister said a rash of fires that has raged for five days is under control but “not yet over” and that the focus has moved on to recovery efforts. Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet Sunday in Haifa, the hardest-hit city, where major blazes forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. He vowed to fast track bureaucracy and start rebuilding and reimbursing victims immediately. Though no deaths were reported, dozens were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and hundreds of homes were damaged. Approximately 7,500 acres of forests and 2,700 acres of urban areas have been destroyed in several communities The blazes began five days ago near Jerusalem and backed by dry, windy weather they later spread elsewhere around the country. All major fires have been extinguished. Initial investigations point to the majority of the fires being caused by arson. Netanyahu has accused Arab attackers of being the culprits. Israeli police have detained 23 people on suspicion of arson in connection with the wildfires.

Israeli aircraft struck a machine gun-mounted vehicle inside Syria Sunday, killing four Islamic State-affiliated militants inside after they had opened fire on a military patrol on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military said. Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering only sporadic incidents of spillover fire over the frontier that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors of the Assad regime. But Sunday’s event, in the southern part of the Golan Heights, appears to be a rare case of an intentional shooting ambush by Islamic militants targeting Israeli troops.

Syria

Syrian regime forces have entered eastern Aleppo and retaken parts of its largest district, launching a long-threatened ground assault to wrest control of the area from rebels. The troops’ gains in the key neighborhood of Masaken Hanano were backed by regime airstrikes and mark the first time that government forces have taken a significant part of eastern Aleppo since rebels seized the area more than four years ago. Government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a bloody push toward eastern Aleppo on November 15 as warplanes decimated much of the zone with airstrikes following a three-week lull. The state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency reported that forces were now in “full control” of the area, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an activist group on the ground said only parts were in the hands of the regime.

Up to 16,000 people have fled the violence in Syria’s war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, with food stocks “practically finished” and every hospital bombed beyond use, the UN’s humanitarian chief said Tuesday. But nearly 200,000 people are believed to be still in eastern Aleppo, as the Syrian regime pounds it with airstrikes and troops storm through it in an operation to retake the enclave after more than four years of rebel control. “There are no modes of transportation and no vehicles in the streets, so civilians are fleeing and walking close to 8 or 9 kilometers on foot, carrying what they can and their children, and fleeing towards the western parts of Aleppo,” an activist told CNN.

Yemen

The Iranian-backed Houthi movement has formed a new government in the capital of Yemen, in a surprise move that is expected to hinder efforts to end a 20-month-old civil war in the impoverished country. The minority Shia group has been in control of Sanaa over the past two years, after driving out the internationally-recognized government and forcing its president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia. The so-called National Salvation Government, formed on Monday, will be headed by Abdul Aziz Habtoor, a politician who had defected from Hadi’s government and joined the Houthi coalition last year, according to the movement’s news agency Saba. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed al Bukhaiti said that the new government was formed with a number of allied groups. “It includes parties from all the political spectrum,” he told CNN over the phone from Sanaa, while adding that it excluded politicians supportive of Hadi’s exiled government.

Philippines

Nine members of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team have been injured after their convoy was hit by an explosive device. One person is in a critical condition after the blast in Marawi, in the southern island of Mindanao. President Duterte was not with the convoy. The team were part of a 50-person advance convoy preparing for Duterte’s planned visit to Marawi on Wednesday. Duterte’s visit will go ahead, a spokesman told CNN. It is believed that the incident may be a diversionary tactic by the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao currently facing a military offensive after it laid siege to Butig in Lanao Del Sur last week. The group has been linked to a bombing in Duterte’s hometown of Davao in September that left 14 people dead.

Cuba

Fidel Castro, died Nov. 25. He was 90. Castro led a Cuban revolution that made his Caribbean island a potent symbol of the 20th-century ideological and economic divisions, and whose alliance with communism and the former Soviet Union put the world at peril of nuclear war. His death was announced on Cuban state TV by his younger brother, Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel 10 years ago as the country’s leader. The son of a prosperous sugar planter, Mr. Castro took power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959, promising to share his nation’s wealth with its poorest citizens, who had suffered under the corrupt quarter-century dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Castro became a romantic figure in olive-drab fatigues and combat boots, chomping monstrous cigars through a bushy black beard. He became a spiritual beacon for the world’s political far left. In Miami, hundreds of Cuban refugees flooded the streets to celebrate Castro’s death.

Environment

Coral across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered its most devastating die-off on record, a new report says. In just nine months, bleaching caused by warmer water has killed around 67% of the coral in a previously pristine part of the reef, one of the natural wonders of the world. “We’ve seen three bleaching events (in the reef) and each time it can be explained by where the warm water was,” the report’s author Terry Hughes says. “In the north, the summer temperatures got up to two degrees above the normal maximum and that caused severe bleaching,” he said. Extensive aerial surveys and teams of divers were used to map the bleaching, which covered a length of 700 kilometers (about 420 miles). Hughes said it could take up to 15 years for coral to grow back to previous levels.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano surprised observers with a startling sight Friday: a massive column of ash billowing in the air. An explosion sent steam, gas and ash 5 km (3.1 miles) above the volcano’s crater, officials said. Authorities warned people to stay away from the volcano, particularly its crater. Already, ash has fallen in two municipalities in Puebla state. The volcano last erupted in April, spewing smoke, ash and lava. The volcano, which is located about 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City, had been dormant for decades until its eruption in 1994. Since then, its rumblings have become a party of daily life for are residents. Popocatépetl is one of an estimated 1,500 potentially active volcanoes in the world.

Wildfires

The Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are reeling Tuesday morning after mass evacuations were ordered as several wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains quickly advanced on the area, burning dozens of homes and businesses. More than 100 homes and a 16-story hotel were destroyed in the Cobbly Nob area of Gatlinburg and at least 14,000 were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone overnight. Roads became packed as residents of Gatlinburg began to flee the town. Authorities asked evacuees to avoid using their cell phones to avoid taxing communication systems. Social media was replete Monday night with videos of harrowing escapes from the flames as residents attempted to flee the fire. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told WBIR that 29 backcountry hikers were from wildfires in Sevier County overnight. Cash, who’s fought fires from the east coast to the west, said he’s never seen anything to compare with this fire.

Weather

The death toll in Australia has risen to six from a rare condition known as thunderstorm asthma that afflicted thousands on Monday, officials said Sunday. Five others remain on life support in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city. Another 8,500 received hospital treatment after thousands developed respiratory distress following the thunderstorm that struck the city that is home to 4.5 million. The storm caused rain-sodden ryegrass pollen grains to be swept up into the storm from which they exploded and dispersed over the city, with tiny pollen particles penetrating deep into lungs. Around a third of patients who suffered asthma attacks on Monday reported never having asthma before, reports the AP.

The death toll from Hurricane Otto has risen to 12 after Costa Rican authorities announced nine deaths after the storm cut through Central America. Earlier in the week, civil defense officials in Panama reported that three people died as a result of the hurricane. Nearly 15,000 people were evacuated from Nicaragua and Costa Rica ahead of the hurricane which made landfall last Thursday.

Winter Storm Blanche continued its march across the northern plains Tuesday after leaving behind an estimated 4 feet of snow in mountain areas of Wyoming and treacherous travel conditions across several states. Earlier Sunday evening, Blanche dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The winter storm pushed east on Monday and began hammering the northern Plains with its snow and wind. The highest total from Blanche thus far was estimated at 56 inches in upper elevations near Elk Mountain, Wyoming.

Severe storms marched across the Midwest and South Monday afternoon and evening, knocking down trees and power lines while spawning more than a half-dozen reported tornadoes in Iowa. The dangerous storms pushed east, hammering Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi with severe weather, including damaging winds. Most of the wind damage reports were in Mississippi, where more than 23,000 homes and businesses lost power Monday evening. The system also brought a serious threat to Iowa, where several reported tornadoes were reported, some of which caused minor structural damage. No injuries have been reported so far. Multiple reports of damage were also seen in the Memphis area, where strong winds moved through Monday afternoon.

Signs of the Times (11/5/16)

November 5, 2016

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Nov. 6

This Sunday, November 6, marks the 20th International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). Christians around the world are facing increasing persecution for sharing their faith, handing out Bibles, and meeting together to worship. From Christians who have been arrested and banned from meeting together in China to Christians in the Middle East who have suffered under ISIS’ control to Christians in Pakistan who suffer under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, Christians around the world are in great need of prayer. “According to statistics, persecution is the daily reality of at least 100 million Christians around the world,” says Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance and the Religious Liberty Commission, according to BibleGateway.com. “These Christians, who face routine harassment and difficulties, often suffer in silence and isolation. Over the years, the IDOP has served as a platform to highlight their stories and advocate their plight. Moreover, in so doing, the IDOP has also been a source of solidarity and encouragement to persecuted Christians by reminding them that they are part of a larger, global family of believers.”

Federal Judge Rebukes President Obama Over Lack of Christian Refugees

A federal judge called out the Obama administration over the lack of Christian refugees being allowed into the United States from war-torn Syria. “It is well‐documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war‐torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one‐half of 1 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote. In 2016 alone, some 11,000 Syrian refugees have entered the United States, only 56 were Christians, according to data produced by the Refugee Processing Center. So far, between 500,000 and 1 million Christians have fled the violence or were murdered. Manion took aim at Obama’s policy in a 7th U.S. Court of Appeals opinion on a lawsuit filed by the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. The group advocates for immigrants and those fleeing violence from their home countries.

FBI Warns of Possible Pre-Election Day Terror Attacks

Al-Qaeda may be planning pre-Election Day attacks on Monday in New York, Texas and Virginia, says the FBI. U.S. intelligence officials have alerted joint terrorism task forces of the threat, whose credibility was still being assessed, sources told The New York Post. Specific sites that may be targeted in the three states were not mentioned in the threat. “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a senior FBI official told CBS News. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday he had learned of the threat several days ago during classified briefings. “We are still very much assessing the credibility. It is not at all clear how credible this is,” Blasio said.

Voters Disgusted with U.S. Politics

An overwhelming majority of voters are disgusted by the state of American politics, and many harbor doubts that either major-party nominee can unite the country after a historically ugly presidential campaign, according to the final pre-election New York Times/CBS News Poll. With more than eight in 10 voters saying the campaign has left them repulsed rather than excited, the rising toxicity threatens the ultimate victor. Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidate, and Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, are seen as dishonest and viewed unfavorably by a majority of voters. More than a quarter of Trump’s supporters say they will probably not accept the outcome if Mrs. Clinton is declared the winner, and nearly 40 percent of them say they have little or no confidence that Americans’ votes will be counted properly.

Intelligence Agencies Expect Russia to Continue Meddling in U.S. Politics

U.S. intelligence agencies do not see Russia as capable of using cyberespionage to alter the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, but they have warned that Moscow may continue meddling after the voting has ended to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the result, U.S. officials said. The assessment reflects widespread concern among U.S. spy agencies that a months-long campaign by Russia to rattle the mechanisms of American democracy will probably continue after polls close on one of the most polarizing races in recent history, extending and amplifying the political turbulence, reports the Washington Post. In recent weeks, officials at the Department of Homeland Security have collected evidence of apparent Russian “scanning” of state-run databases and computer voting systems. The decentralized nature of U.S. polling would make it extraordinarily difficult to subvert a nationwide race. Instead, U.S. officials said it is more likely that Russia would use hacking tools to expose or fabricate signs of vote-rigging, aiming to delegitimize the election outcome.

Voter issues

A federal judge in North Carolina granted a preliminary injunction to the NAACP on Friday, holding that residents whose voter registrations were canceled in recent months because of a so-called “individual challenge law” must have their registration restored. The ruling could affect thousands of voters. “The court concludes that the balance of the equities and public interest factors weigh decidedly in favor of protecting eligible voters who are being removed from the voter rolls,” wrote Loretta Biggs of the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Kim Westbrook Strach, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying her office “is working quickly to establish the procedures necessary to comply with the court order between now and Election Day.” Civil Rights groups praised the ruling that comes in a key swing state just four days before Election Day. Strach says that the challenges at issue were not initiated by the counties, but by private individuals.

Jerry Mosna was gardening outside his San Pedro, Calif., home Saturday when he noticed something odd: Two stacks of 2016 ballots on his mailbox. The 83 ballots, each unused, were addressed to different people, all supposedly living in his elderly neighbor’s two-bedroom apartment. “I think this is spooky,” Mosna said. “All the different names, none we recognize, all at one address.” His wife, Madalena Mosna, noted their 89-year-old neighbor lives by herself, and, “Eighty people can’t fit in that apartment.” They took the ballots to the Los Angeles Police Department, but were directed to the post office. They felt little comfort there would be an investigation, and called another neighbor, John Cracchiolo – who contacted the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office. A spokeswoman for the Registrar said the office will investigate. Both Cracchiolo and Jerry Mosna told FoxNews.com they think they stumbled upon a case of fraud.

Pre-Election Gun Sales on the Rise

The FBI’s background check system for gun sales processed more than 2.3 million checks in October, setting an all-time record. There were 2,333,539 gun-related checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, last month, according to FBI documents posted on Monday. That represents an increase of more than 350,000 checks over the previous October, itself a record. It’s also the 18th month in a row to set a record for the month.

  • Next week’s election has clearly made many people nervous.

Suicide Rate Doubles for U.S. Children

Since 2007, the rate of suicide deaths among children between the ages of 10 and 14 has doubled, according to new government data released Thursday. The death rate data, published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, measured children’s deaths between the years 1999 and 2014. The child suicide rate fluctuated from 1999 to 2007, but rose sharply after 2007. The lowest rate of suicide fatalities was 0.9 deaths per 100,000 kids in 2007, but that number doubled to 2.1, or 425 deaths, in 2014. Dr. Lisa Boesky, a private clinical psychologist and author who studies adolescent suicide, says younger kids will often take their own lives impulsively. Young kids may attempt to harm themselves for different reasons than teens. Most of the time, bad relationships between family and friends provoke kids to hurt themselves, Boesky says. The younger children are much more likely to suffer from (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), Boesky says.

America’s Undocumented Immigrant Workforce has Stopped Growing

In the years that followed the Great Recession, the number of undocumented workers joining America’s workforce came to a standstill. According to a report released Thursday from Pew Research Center, an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants were either working or looking for work in the U.S. in 2014, down from the 8.1 million that were in the U.S. workforce in 2009. Overall, this group made up about 5% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, Pew reported. The declining growth rate in the number of undocumented workers is a sharp contrast to the decade prior to the recession. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. workforce more than doubled from 3.6 million to 7.3 million, Pew reported. Mexico’s stablizing economy has helped stem the flow of undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S.

Economic News – Domestic

Wall Street is on edge ahead of next week’s election. The S&P 500 dropped for the ninth straight day on Friday. That’s the longest losing streak for the index since December 1980. Over the nine-day period, the S&P 500 has fallen by 3.1%. Compared with that, the S&P 500 fell a lot more in December 1980 — 9.4% — over the course of nine days. The slow downward momentum is due to election uncertainty, analysts say.

The economy added 161,000 jobs in October, a solid gain, suggesting it is maintaining its healthy and steady pace. Jobs added during the previous month were also revised up from 156,000 to 191,000 by the Labor Department. Unemployment fell a tick to 4.9%. That’s down by half since 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10%. Wage growth — one of the last metrics to move in the right direction post-recession — continued to show signs of accelerating. Wages grew 2.8% in October compared to a year ago, the fastest growth since June 2009.

A more-realistic unemployment rate is probably closer to 10 percent and a wide swatch of the American public remains out of work, reports NewsMax. Millions of Americans are working part time but would prefer full-time work. The alternative gauge of joblessness, the U-6 rate, that counts not only the officially unemployed but also the part-timers who’d prefer full-time work and people who have stopped looking for jobs, fell to 9.5 percent. That’s the lowest point since 2008. Still, it is higher than is typical in a healthy economy. Meanwhile, CNS News reports that “94,609,000 Americans aren’t in the labor force, 425,000 more than last month’s 94,184,000, and the second highest number on record.”

America has gained 10.9 million new jobs since President Obama took office. But as CNNMoney points out, the total job gains under Obama are far fewer than under Presidents Reagan and Clinton. The question is, how good are those jobs? Overall, manufacturing jobs have declined 122,000 since February 2009. But some blue-collar jobs are growing, such as construction. Almost all of the job gains under President Obama have been in so-called service jobs, including the low-end jobs of toiling in stores and restaurants, concludes CNNMoney.

America’s greenback recently hit its highest point since early March, rallying on the rising hopes that the Federal Reserve will finally raise interest rates in December. Last week, the Fed hinted that it plans to raise rates “relatively soon,” a comment that added to the dollar’s rally. It’s up 3% against a basket of currencies since late September, surpassing the level seen after the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. A rate increase in the U.S. would be the first in a year and a reflection of a healthy economy.

Crude oil got crushed this week due to new signs the oil glut isn’t going away just yet. Oil prices have dropped from over $50 per barrel of crude to under $44 after a government report revealed that stockpiles of crude unexpectedly skyrocketed. The Energy Information Administration said crude inventories surged by 14.4 million barrels last week. It’s the biggest increase on records that go back to 1982. Analysts had anticipated an increase of just 1 million barrels.

The FBI’s background check system for gun sales processed more than 2.3 million checks in October, setting an all-time record. There were 2,333,539 gun-related checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, last month, according to FBI documents posted on Monday. That represents an increase of more than 350,000 checks over the previous October, itself a record. It’s also the 18th month in a row to set a record for the month.

  • Next week’s election has clearly made many people nervous.

Economic News – International

A senior British court on Thursday dealt a severe blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to begin the process of exiting the European Union early next year, ruling she must get Parliament’s approval before she acts. The decision greatly complicates May’s stated plan to trigger Article 50 — the never-before-used mechanism for a country to leave the European Union — by the end of March at the latest. Most members of Parliament opposed Brexit in the lead-up to Britain’s June referendum, when voters opted for an exit by a 52-to-48 margin. But it risks setting off an angry backlash from voters who favor leaving the E.U. and believe the issue was completely settled.

Migrant Update

French authorities Wednesday finished moving the last of the 1,616 unaccompanied minors housed at the country’s “Jungle” migrant camp, as British officials prepared to assess them for settlement in the UK. The children had been living in shelters made from converted shipping containers at the camp in the port town of Calais as the tents and shacks around them, which once housed thousands of other migrants, were demolished over the past week. Last week, France evacuated at least 6,000 migrants and bussed them to other regions to begin the process of resettlement.

During the first six months of 2016, migrants in Germany committed 142,500 crimes, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office. Germany has been hit by a spate of horrendous violent crime including rapes, sexual and physical assaults, stabbings, home invasions, robberies, burglaries and drug trafficking. Adding to the country’s woes is the fact that thousands of people have gone missing, reports Technocracy News. Germany took in more than 1.1million migrants in the past year and parts of the country are crippled with a lack of infrastructure. According to Freddi Lohse of the German Police Union in Hamburg, many migrant offenders view the leniency of the German justice system as a green light to continue delinquent behavior, says the report.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces entered ISIS-held Mosul on Thursday for the first time in more than two years, and are in a head-to-head battle with ISIS militants on the front line, defense officials said. Penetrating the eastern border has been the most significant breakthrough in the offensive launched two weeks ago to free Mosul from the militant group’s brutal rule. Officials warned that entering the city would likely trigger the fiercest fighting yet, and that the battle is expected to be fought “street to street,” or even “house to house.” The Defense Ministry says there is now a safe passage for civilians to flee the front line and hundreds of civilians have poured out of Mosul. Many of them waved white flags to show they were civilians.

As the attention of Western media focuses on the besieged rebel-held eastern enclave of Aleppo, Christians in the government controlled areas are fighting a daily struggle to survive. In the Christian quarter, there are 3,221 Christians over the age of 80 who have no one to turn to, as their families have left the country to escape the war. “The poor and the poorest are those who remain,” reports Barnabas Aid. “One [US] dollar used to be 50 Syrian pounds but now it is 500 – 600. Food and medicine are available, but very expensive. The cost of a kilogram of milk used to be 260 Syrian pounds before the war, but now it is 2,600.

Turkey

A car bomb attack in the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region killed eight people Friday, hours after authorities detained at least 12 pro-Kurdish legislators for questioning in terror-related probes. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said two police officers, a technician and five civilians died in the attack near a building used by the riot police. Up to 100 people were hurt in the blast but only seven of them remain in hospital, he said. The Diyarbakir governor’s office said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out with a minibus laden with a ton of explosives. The blast caused a large crater near the police building and damaged several buildings and businesses nearby.

Afghanistan

Two U.S. service members were killed Thursday during a joint raid by U.S. special operations forces and Afghan troops targeting senior Taliban commanders — rare combat deaths for Western forces who handed over the task of securing Afghanistan to local troops some two years ago. Four U.S. service members suffered injuries. More than 30 Afghan civilians were killed in the fighting as well, according to local reports. The American service members “came under fire” alongside Afghan troops while attempting to “clear a Taliban position” in Kunduz province, military officials said. At least five Americans have been killed in action in Afghanistan since early October.

Jordan

Three U.S. service-members were killed in a shootout Friday at the gates of an air base in southern Jordan, the military said, a U.S. official told Fox News. The shots were fired as a car carrying the trainers tried to enter the al-Jafr base near the southern Jordanian town of Mann, said the military. A Jordanian officer was also wounded. Jordan is grappling with homegrown extremism, with hundreds of Jordanians fighting alongside ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, with several thousand more supporting the extremist group from within the Jordanian kingdom. Last November, a Jordanian police captain opened fire in an international police training facility, killing two Americans and three others.

Nigeria

Women and girls who survived Boko Haram violence were raped by government officials at camps in northern Nigeria where they sought safety, according to a new rights group report. Dozens of victims who stayed at camps for the displaced in Borno State’s capital Maiduguri told Human Rights Watch they were sexually abused or coerced into sex by camp leaders, vigilante group members, policemen and soldiers. Many of the women were abandoned after becoming pregnant. “It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them,” said Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at HRW.

Earthquakes

The 6.6-magnitude earthquake that rocked the Umbria region of Italy on Sunday was the strongest earthquake to strike the country in 30 years and caused serious damage to houses and other structures as far away as Rome. In addition, there was a huge displacement of the ground across an area of 50 square miles, from several inches to up to more than two feet. The greatest displacement occurred around the mountain village of Castelluccio, where the ground heaved over 28 inches. The result of the massive shift caused devastating destruction to the city’s structures. The quake, which was very shallow, destroyed the entire village of Arquata del Tronto, including the historic Basilica of Saint Benedict in Norcia.

Weather

Warm weather was persistent and smashed many records in October. It was the hottest October on record in such locations as Huntsville, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Perhaps the most eye-popping October warmth, however, was in Alaska. America’s northernmost town, Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, about 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, had a monthly temperature departure of 12.9 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Overall, there were 5,824 record highs in cities and towns across the U.S. while only 501 low-temperature records were set.

Parts of the Deep South haven’t seen measurable rain since September, setting new all-time dry-streak records and quickly worsening the Southeast’s drought this fall. No measurable rain (at least .01 inches) has been tallied in Alabama at Birmingham’s Shuttlesworth International Airport since Sept. 18, over a month and a half’s time, a record-long dry streak for the city dating back to 1930. They’re not alone. Anniston, Alabama, Meridian, Mississippi, and Rome, Georgia, each have 39-day dry streaks through Friday. Surprising dry streaks of over a month-long have also occurred along the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, each at 38 straight days through Nov. 4. As a result, numerous wildfires are burning from Alabama northward into Tennessee and Kentucky.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is drying up and shrinkingThe lake’s decline has been caused by a combination of factors, both natural and man-made. The Beehive State continues to be impacted by a long-term drought that has persisted for five years. But the problems have been growing for more than 150 years, when humans began removing more water from the lake and its watershed than was being replenished. Some 40 percent of the river water that should flow into and refill the lake is being diverted by farming and other industries, as well as for human consumption.

Signs of the Times (7/5/16)

July 5, 2016

NJ Governor Vetoes Bill to Send $7.4 Million to Planned Parenthood

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill last Friday that the New Jersey legislature approved which would have sent $7.5 million to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion business. Christie has repeatedly cut funding for the Planned Parenthood abortion business, slashing millions in taxpayer funds. Christie, who is pro-life, vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times before he ran for re-election in a state that is not known as a bastion of conservatism. Now he’s vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood a 6th time. The state defunded the abortion giant after it was found engaging in fraudulent Medicaid activity in New Jersey. The U.S. Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services uncovered a consistent problem with New Jersey-based family planning clinics run by the Planned Parenthood abortion business. A government audit found that they were improperly billing Medicaid for services that did not qualify as family planning.

St. Louis Planned Parenthood Sends 60th Patient to Emergency Room

Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified certain abortion safety laws, a medical emergency at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in St. Louis, MO, has illustrated how women have been left in jeopardy by the nation’s High Court, reports Operation Rescue. It happened on Saturday, July 2, 2016, a heavy abortion day. Paramedics were photographed by pro-life activists as they removed a Planned Parenthood patient from the abortion facility and loaded her into an awaiting ambulance. Abortion workers and an armed security guard attempted to conceal the incident by holding up large brown tarps. This medical emergency represented the 60th time since 2009 that ambulances have been dispatched to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood to render aid to patients that Planned Parenthood was not equipped to provide.

FBI Recommends that No Charges should be Filed against Hillary Clinton

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that he would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state but that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” handling classified information. “Although we did not find clear evidence” of intentional misconduct, he said, “There is evidence that they were extremely careless of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said neither the Department of Justice nor the White House knew what he was going to announce Tuesday. The decision helps remove what was arguably the biggest threat to her presidential campaign going forward – a criminal referral that could have led to an indictment – just weeks before her party’s national convention in Philadelphia where she is set to seal her nomination as the Democrat standard bearer. In the wake of the report, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump stepped up his criticism of her email actions and said she belongs in “jail.”

White House Reveals Civilian Death Count from Drone Strikes

President Barack Obama’s administration estimated Friday that between 64 and 116 civilians have died during the years 2009-2015 from U.S. drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the same time span, the administration said between 2,372 and 2,581 militants had been taken out by drones. The information was released as part of an effort by Obama to introduce more transparency into a controversial military tactic that he has defended as necessary to fight terror. Human rights groups, however, were unsatisfied by the government’s disclosed figures, which came in far lower than independent estimates of civilian causalities. The numbers released Friday included deaths outside established war zones. The administration didn’t specify which countries were included, though the military and CIA are believed to have carried out strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and various countries in Africa.

California Governor Signs Six Stringent Gun Bills

Gov. Jerry Brown signed six stringent gun-control measures Friday that will require people to turn in high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks for ammunition sales, as California Democrats seek to strengthen gun laws that are already among the strictest in the nation. The state’s move to tighten them further comes amid years of gridlock at the federal level, which spawned a tense clash in Washington last week as Democrats camped out on the floor of the U.S. House and shouted down Republicans. The bills angered Republicans and gun-rights advocates who say Democrats are trampling on 2nd Amendment rights, creating new restrictions that won’t cut off the flow of guns to people intent on using them for nefarious purposes.

Bangladesh Terrorist Attack by Islamic State

The deadly hostage takeover of a bakery in the heart of Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka on Friday is the latest in a series of grisly attacks linked to Islamic extremists since 2013. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault on Holey Artisan Bakery in the city’s upscale diplomatic zone that left at least 22 civilians dead and dozens held hostage. 20 people who were unable to quote from the Quran were pulled aside and hacked or knifed to death. Police officials later stormed the cafe in an intense standoff Saturday morning, killing six assailants and rescuing 13 captives. Earlier Friday, the group said one of its operatives hacked to death a Buddhist and a Hindu temple worker, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremist activity. The deaths are the latest in a series of dozens of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked murders, often by hacking or stabbing but sometimes by shooting, mostly targeting writers, activists, foreigners and religious minorities in the majority Muslim country.

Deaths from Heart Disease, Cancer Down in U.S.

According to the CDC, heart disease is still the number one cause of death among people in the U.S., followed by cancer. However, the adult death rates were down 1% in 2014. Over the years, the data has shown a significant decrease in deaths from heart problems and cancer. Fewer people smoke, and medications have improved. The statistics also showed life expectancy increased for black men, Hispanic people and non-Hispanic black men. However, life expectancy declined for non-Hispanic white women.

New Panama Canal a Big Boost for LNG Exporters

Exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas stand to benefit substantially from the $5.4 billion expansion of the Panama Canal which opened last week. The expansion will lead to much shorter travel time and much lower costs for shipments from the Gulf Coast to big markets in Asia and South America. Wider and deeper navigation channels and larger locks mean the canal can accommodate 90% of the world’s LNG tankers, including vessels that hold as much as 3.9 billion cubic feet of the fuel, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Before the expansion, the canal could handle only much smaller ships, representing only 6% of the LNG fleet.

Economic News

America now has more untapped oil than any other country on the planet. That’s according to a new report from Rystad Energy that estimates the U.S. is sitting on an incredible 264 billion barrels of oil reserves. Thanks to the shale oil boom, the U.S. is now sitting on more oil reserves than Russia, which Rystad estimates as having 256 billion barrels of untapped oil. The next-richest countries in terms of oil after that are: Saudi Arabia (212 billion), Canada (167 billion), Iran (143 billion) and Brazil (120 billion). More than half of America’s untapped oil is shale oil, according to Rystad. Shale oil is the previously-unreachable crude that, thanks to fracking and new technology, has reshaped the global energy landscape and vaulted the U.S. into the upper echelon of global oil producers. The findings suggest the U.S. could shoulder even more of the weight of global oil production in the future, especially as prices recover.

An unusual flurry of minimum wage increases took effect Friday in Maryland and Oregon, as well as in 13 cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC and Louisville, Ky. The initiatives will boost minimum pay to as much as $13 to $14.82 an hour in parts of California. The pay for low-wage workers is now rising far more rapidly than their higher-earning counterparts. Meanwhile, employer advocates are taking an increasingly aggressive stance against the raises, running ads to argue they’re hurting businesses and jeopardizing summer job opportunities for teens.

The British pound slumped again Tuesday amid renewed concerns about the ramifications of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. The pound was down 1.3% to $1.3139 in intraday trading, the weakest in 31 years. The declines were related to fears over how Brexit will affect U.K. property prices. A weaker pound makes the U.K. a relatively more attractive destination for American tourists arriving with dollars to spend but makes it more expensive for U.S. companies and employees based there.

Murray Energy Corp., the largest privately held coal miner in the U.S., has warned that it may soon undertake one of the biggest layoffs in the sector during this time of low energy prices. In a notice sent to workers this week, Murray said it could lay off as many as 4,400 employees, or about 80% of its workforce, because of weak coal markets. The company said it anticipates “massive workforce reductions in September.” The law requires a 60-day waiting period before large layoffs occur. The American coal industry, especially in Appalachia, has languished as cheap natural gas replaces coal as fuel for power plants. World-wide demand for coal has also slumped, and new environmental regulations are making many coal mines unprofitable to operate.

Israel

Israel’s Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan slammed Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg for what he said was their partial responsibility for the wave of Palestinian terror attacks which is fanned by incitement posted on Facebook and other social media outlets. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday, Erdan said that “part of the blood of the murdered is on Facebook’s hands,” and demanded that the social media network take action to combat the terrorism incited its website. “Facebook has become a monster,” the Israeli minister charged. “The discourse of the younger [Palestinian] generation on the web, all the incitement and lies, it all occurs on this platform.”

The Israeli military struck a series of militant sites in Gaza early Saturday in response to a rocket attack that hit a kindergarten in the Israeli border town of Sderot. No injuries were reported on either side but damage was caused to buildings. The exchange comes amid an escalation of violence in the West Bank following a pair of fatal attacks against Jewish settlers that has sparked Israel’s largest military surge in two years. The military said its airstrikes targeted four training sites belonging to Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Late Friday, a rocket from Gaza struck an empty kindergarten, marking a rare successful hit of a civilian target in Israel. Rocket attacks have been sporadic since Israel and Hamas waged a deadly 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

The deputy commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard declared Friday that there are tens of thousands of missiles in Lebanon ready to strike Israel. “Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles that are ready to hit Israel to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories if the Zionist regime repeats its past mistakes,” Gen. Hossein Salami was quoted as saying, according to the Reuters news service. “Today, the grounds for the annihilation and collapse of the Zionist regime are (present) more than ever,” he said..

Islamic State

The terrorist attack in Bangladesh Friday highlights the resiliency of the Islamic State and its ability to pull off high-profile assaults around the world, despite losing territory in Iraq and Syria. The terror attacks like the one in Bangladesh and earlier this week in Istanbul show that the group has established cells around the world — and is still capable of deadly attacks. “ISIS has tens of thousands of individuals that are scattered not just in the Middle East but also to West Africa, to Southeast Asia, and beyond,” CIA Director John Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations last week. The Islamic State has established a presence in Bangladesh, a predominately Muslim country, as it has in other parts of the world, said Patrick Johnston, a terrorism analyst at Rand Corp. The group has been able to build its presence in places like Bangladesh by exploiting local grievances and weak governments, Johnston said.

Two ISIS senior military commanders died last week in a U.S. airstrike, including the man that the United States says oversaw the terror group’s 2014 offensive to capture the all-important Iraqi city of Mosul, the Pentagon said Friday. The June 25 airstrike near Mosul killed ISIS’ deputy minister of war, Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, and Hatim Talib al-Hamduni, a military commander in the area. “These deaths are the latest in coalition efforts to systemically eliminate ISIL’s cabinet wherever they hide, disrupting their ability to plot external terror attacks and hold onto the territory they use to claim legitimacy. The international coalition fighting ISIL, working with local, capable, and motivated forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, continues to make sustained progress in our campaign to deal ISIL a lasting defeat.”

Iraq

At least 149 people were killed Sunday in a suicide bombing in central Baghdad claimed by the Islamic State, the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital this year, officials said. Among those killed were at least 15 children, 10 women and six policemen when a bomber’s pickup truck laden with explosives went off outside a crowded shopping center, wounding 192 other people. The bombing was the first major Islamic State terror attack in Baghdad since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Fallujah, a city about 35 miles west of the capital, in a major defeat a week ago for the terror organization.

Saudi Arabia

Three suicide attacks in 24 hours — that’s how Saudis will remember the end of Ramadan, a month that has seen the wider region plunged into a wave of terror-related violence. The attacks — including one in Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam — follow massive jihadi assaults from Turkey to Iraq that have been been tied to ISIS. Analysts believe events in Saudi Arabia could also be the work of the terror group. Two of the attacks failed but four people were killed in the third, all of which appear to be coordinated — targeting both Saudi security forces and Western interests. The deadliest attack occurred in Medina, where four people were killed and another person was wounded. The city is a major spot in Islam because that’s where the Prophet Mohammed is buried.

A suspected suicide bomber carried out an unsuccessful attack early Monday near the U.S. consulate in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. The attacker died and two security men were wounded with minor injuries, according to the interior ministry. The attacker detonated his suicide vest when security guards approached him near the parking lot of a hospital. The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia confirmed to the Associated Press that there were no casualties or injuries among the consular staff. The U.S. consulate was the scene of an attack in 2004, when five employees and four gunmen were killed. The Saudi wing of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack.

Taiwan

A Taiwan warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile toward China Friday, hitting a fishing boat and killing the boat’s captain in an incident China called “a serious matter.” A spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense apologized on behalf of the military. The ministry has also asked the Navy to provide assistance and compensation to the family of the victims. The missile, the “Hsiung Feng III,” ripped through the fishing boat but did not explode. Relations between Taiwan — officially the Republic of China — and the People’s Republic of China have been increasingly tense since the landslide election of Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has traditionally leaned in favor of formal independence from China.

Brazil

The Olympic Games are just 31 days away — and Rio de Janeiro is in crisis. Violence is on the rise and police officers are at loggerheads with the government after claiming they’ve not been paid for months. The state’s police officers vented their anger last week with a sign saying “Welcome to Hell” outside Rio airport. “Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe,” the sign said. Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes told CNN that the state was doing a “terrible” job in regard to security in the lead up to the Olympic Games.

A group of Brazilian scientists have detected a drug-resistant bacteria growing off of some of Rio de Janeiro’s most stunning beaches, one month before the city is due to host the 2016 Olympic Games. According to lead researcher Renata Picao, the “super bacteria” entered the city’s waterways when sewage coming from local hospitals got channeled into the bay. The news comes as Rio prepares to host hundreds of thousands of athletes and tourists during next month’s Summer Olympics. Among the beaches flagged were Flamengo and Botafogo, which border the bay where Olympic sailors are scheduled to compete. German Paralympic sailor Heiko Kroger believes the super bacteria may have caused a severe skin infection in one of his teammates during recent training.

Wildfires

A wildfire in northern California has prompted the evacuation of 1,650 people and threatens 2,600 structures in the Sierra foothills. The blaze, dubbed the Trailhead Fire, started Tuesday afternoon and grew to more than five square miles Saturday as it rapidly swept through inaccessible terrain and climbed out of a steep canyon along the middle fork of the American River. The blaze now covers 3,218 acres and is located in El Dorado and Placer counties, about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento. It threatens hundreds of homes, businesses, and other structures. Although mandatory evacuations were lifted in Placer County Friday night, residents in adjacent El Dorado county continue to be evacuated.

Firefighters on Sunday battled a wildfire burning in steep, inaccessible terrain in central California, threatening at least 300 homes in or near a gated community, one day after a fast-moving brush fire in San Bernardino burned five homes and injured at least three people. The central California fire has grown to 2.8 square miles since it began Friday afternoon, Phil Neufeld, a spokesman for the Kern County Fire Department said Saturday. It is 20 percent contained. The blaze is among 12 wildfires burning in California.

Wildlife

Dry weather in New England has heightened the risk of black bear encounters, prompting wildlife officials to issue precautions. Black bears have been spotted from Maine to Maryland rummaging through garbage cans and backyard grills, and even plundering through birdfeeders for a bite to eat. The recent dry weather has caused a scarcity of the berries and other plants they generally feed on in the woods. More than 200 complaints have been received by the Warden Service in Maine, which has the largest black bear population in the eastern U.S.

Weather

Heavy rain has caused flooding in parts of the Plains and Midwest over the weekend, with Missouri and Kansas both reporting high water. In addition to flooding in Wichita, flash floods were also confirmed in the Kansas cities of Hesston, Newton, McPherson and Moundridge. 2 to 6 inches of rain fell along parts of the I-70 corridor in eastern Kansas and Missouri as of Sunday morning.

The dearth of named tropical cyclones in the tropical northern Pacific Ocean in 2016 has now set a pair of records immediately following one of the most hyperactive years in 2015. There hasn’t been a single named storm of at least tropical storm intensity in the North Pacific Basin since Hurricane Pali became a January oddball just north of the equator and well southwest of Hawaii. Most impressive is the lack of a single tropical storm, much less a typhoon (the term for a hurricane in the western North Pacific Basin), west of the international date line since mid-December 2015, in the world’s typically busiest tropical cyclone corridor. This has now set a new record for the longest stretch without at least a single tropical storm in the western North Pacific basin in 66 years of record-keeping. By the end of June 2015, there had already been nine tropical cyclones in the northwest Pacific basin, including three super typhoons of Category 5 equivalent intensity.

Catastrophic floods have taken over 200 lives in China and Pakistan this weekend after days of heavy rain. In China, 186 have been killed and another 45 people have been reported missing by the nation’s flood and drought relief headquarters. Nearly 1.5 million people have been evacuated or are in need of aid in Hubei. Almost 9,000 houses have collapsed or are seriously damaged and more than 710,000 hectares of crops have been affected, causing direct economic losses of 50.6 billion yuan ($7.6 billion), the provincial civil affairs department said. In Pakistan, heavy monsoon rains and flash floods have claimed at least 30 lives and washed away a mosque and several houses in Ursoon.