Posts Tagged ‘guns’

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.

Signs of the Times (7/1/16)

July 1, 2016

Revival Sweeping Nepal, 200,000 Buddhists Saved

More than 200,000 Tibetans have accepted Jesus into their lives, Breaking Christian News reported Friday. Asian Access’ Joel Handley says he believes much of the faith sweeping the region stems from Christian response to the devastating Nepalese earthquake more than a year ago.  “They haven’t seen Buddhists, Hindus or other religious groups helping in the midst of the rubble. Rather, week after week, it is the followers of Jesus who have proved the test of time, sacrificed their own lives to serve and been the hands and feet of Jesus,” Handley says.

Christianity on the Rise in Cuba

Cuban Christianity has “grown in the shadows of culture for many years,” according to the Deseret News. With help from Christian organizations, such as The Luis Palau Bible Institute and the International Bible Society, that growth is continuing. Those groups are distributing bibles and holding gospel-training sessions to help Cubans gain biblical knowledge. Many of the churches and church leaders were born in the trenches and underground,” said Dr. Carlos Barbieri, director of the Luis Palau Bible Institute. “They are bold and persistent. They are undoubtedly a living example for others, committed to the scriptures and passionate about the Lord,” “Most important of all is that Cuban Christians feel more free to engage in these events and participate in these training courses without fear,” Barbieri said.

Russian Government Introduces Draconian Restrictions on Religious Freedom

A series of amendments to anti-terrorist legislation in Russia requires individuals to gain prior state authorization before even discussing their faith with someone else. The Duma adopted the amendments Wednesday despite major protests by churches. The bill was passed by the Council of the Russian Federation and is now on its way to President Putin for his expected signature. The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorization from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present.

Judge blocks Mississippi Religious Objections Law

A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs in denying or delaying services to same-sex couples. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves filed orders in two lawsuits blocking the law just moments before it was to take effect Friday. State attorneys are expected to appeal. The law would allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies. Judge Reeves wrote that the law violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. More than 100 similar bills have been filed in more than 20 state legislatures across the nation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling nearly a year ago that legalized same-sex marriage.

Concealed Carrier Prevents Mass Shooting at SC Nightclub

A man with a concealed carry license stopped a shooter after the latter opened fire on a crowd of people at a nightclub in South Carolina early Sunday morning, according to WISTV.com. After getting into a fight with another person, the 32-year-old suspect pulled out a gun and began to fire at a crowd of people gathered outside of the club, hitting and injuring four, WISTV reports. One of the victims, who holds a concealed-carry permit, shot back in self-defense, hitting the suspect in the leg. The suspect has been charged with four counts of attempted murder. He was also charged for unlawfully carrying a weapon and for carrying one while committing a violent crime.

  • Of course, the mainstream media has failed to report this story even as it continues to belabor the Orlando shooting as a call to gun control

13-Year Old Boy Fends off Burglars with Mother’s Gun

A 13-year-old boy in Ladson, South Carolina, fended off two would-be burglars by using his mother’s gun to protect himself while home alone Tuesday, reports the local newspaper, Post and Courier. He killed one of them in an exchange of gunfire, and the second suspect was later arrested, according to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. The boy was not injured in the shootout. The attempted burglary unfolded just before 1:30 p.m. at the Woodside neighborhood residence, where the boy said he became suspicious after seeing a vehicle pull up behind the house. The boy saw a man try to break into the back of the home, “at which time he feared for his safety” and grabbed his mother’s pistol, the arrest affidavit states. After the boy opened fire, the two suspects fled, and as they drove away, the boy continued shooting at them, according to the affidavit.

  • The liberal mainstream media fails to report these kinds of stories because they undermine their case for increased gun control

House Releases Final Benghazi Report

A damning report authored by the Republican-led House committee probing the Benghazi terror attacks faulted the Obama administration for a range of missteps before, during and after the fatal 2012 attacks – saying top administration officials huddled to craft their public response while military assets waited hours to deploy to Libya. The report released Tuesday pointedly blamed a “rusty bureaucratic process” for the slow-moving response the night of the attack. The report said despite orders from President Obama and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to deploy, the first military force did not do so until more than 13 hours after the attack started. The report said one anti-terrorism security team known as the FAST unit sat waiting for three hours in Rota, Spain awaiting orders While various officials debated how to proceed, U.S. personnel were under attack at two sites in Benghazi. In the end, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attacks. The report also said, “Security deficiencies plagued the Benghazi Mission compound in the lead-up to September 2012.” The claim that the fatal 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks were sparked by an anti-Muslim video was crafted in Washington by Obama administration appointees and reflected neither eyewitness nor real-time reports from the Americans under siege, according to the final report

Exploding UK Immigration Behind ‘Brexit’ Vote

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union last week appears to have been driven largely by a historical surge of immigrants in recent years that has transformed the island nation. Annual legal immigration into the U.K. is now 10 times what it was in 1993, and experts believe this cultural dynamic fed fears of globalization and job losses which, in turn, drove last Thursday’s vote to exit the EU. The migration influx has been so dramatic in recent years that currently one in 20 people living in the U.K. — 3 million people — were citizens of another EU country just two years ago, according to the British Office of National Statistics.

Before 2004, when the EU expanded to include 10 new member states such as Latvia, Poland and other eastern European nations, net EU immigration to the U.K. averaged around 10,000 per year, according to the national statistics office. Last year, 270,000 citizens from EU countries immigrated to the U.K., the statistics office estimates. A full third of those who voted in favor of Britain leaving the EU said immigration concerns were the reason. Fifty-three percent said they were motivated by the U.K.’s inability to make its own laws without interference from EU bureaucrats based in Brussels.

Unnamed U.S. Government Agency Hit with 1,370 Cyberattacks in 2014

In 2014, a single U.S. government agency was hit with a blizzard of more than 1,370 external attacks on its most vital computer systems, with three out of every eight incidents resulting in a loss of data, according to a new report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, suggesting hackers have been far more successful at getting at sensitive government information than previously disclosed. The highly besieged agency was not named in the report, which was given to government officials in May and made public last week. The eye-opening number of data leaks that resulted from the attacks — 516 “incidents” in all — is barely mentioned in the 94-page GAO report, notes Fox News. It is mostly buried in the fine print of an information diagram on page 24 of the wordy and technical document. The fact that the data losses all came from one agency is mentioned only in a footnote to the diagram, and the extraordinary success rate of the attacks has to be calculated from figures speckled on the previous page.

U.S. & China to Participate in Massive Pacific War Games

Warships from a record 26 nations — including the United States and China — are converging on waters near Hawaii this week for a five-week-long series of exercises designed to promote international security, good will and cooperation on the high seas. The massive “Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, war games will take place amid increasing tension and competition in waters of the Asia-Pacific region and will include warships from at least seven nations with competing claims or interests in the region. China will take part in the RIMPAC exercise, held every two years, for just the second time. Some members of Congress and the U.S. defense community have called for the invitation to be withdrawn because of China’s assertive territorial claims and island-building program in the South China Sea. China has claimed sole ownership over virtually all of that key waterway, through which passes an estimated $5 trillion in annual trade. In just the past two years, China has built at least seven landfill islands in the South China Sea, including some with military-grade runways, deep-water ports and extensive land facilities.

Tesla Driver on Autopilot Killed by Tractor Trailer

The U.S. announced Thursday the first fatality of a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode. Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, was the owner of a technology company and had praised Tesla’s sophisticated “Autopilot” system just one month earlier for preventing a collision on an interstate. The government said it is investigating the design and performance of the system aboard the Tesla Model S sedan. Brown died in the accident Williston, Florida, when the car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to government records obtained Thursday.

Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

Newsmax reports that medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., based on data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the National Center for Healthcare Statistics. Over 250,000 lives were lost due to errors such surgical procedures on the wrong body parts, improperly filled prescriptions, inadequately sterilized instruments, and the wrong medicines given to the wrong patients. One in ten of all U.S. deaths are caused by medical errors, ranking only behind heart disease and cancer as the nation’s leading cause of death.

Blue Cross, Health Net Drop Affordable Care Act Marketplace Plans

Two major health insurance companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona and Health Net, will drop Affordable Care Act plans next year in Maricopa and Pinal counties, forcing tens of thousands of consumers to switch plans next year. Stung by financial losses on marketplace plans in 2014 and 2015, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona has filed documents with the Arizona Department of Insurance to discontinue such plans in Maricopa and Pinal counties. About 44,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield customers will need to find new sources of health coverage for 2017. Similarly, state filings show Health Net will drop Affordable Care Act plans in Maricopa and Pinal counties next year, eliminating coverage for about 14,000 current Health Net customers.

Economic News

Single-family home prices notched at least a 5% annual rise for the sixth consecutive month in April, but the growth is slowing slowly. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index showed home prices increased 5% in April compared to a year ago, down from a revised 5.1% rise in March. That marks the third straight slowdown in annual price appreciation, which topped out at 5.4% in January.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that consumer spending increased 0.4% in May on top of a 1.1% surge in April. Spending on durable goods such as autos and appliances grew 0.6%, down from a 2.6% jump in April. Spending on nondurable goods, such as food and clothing, grew 0.5%. And spending on services grew just 0.1%. The overall numbers underscore that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity, picked up in the spring after getting off to a slow start in 2016. But, Americans’ incomes grew just 0.2% in May, down from 0.5% in April.

Apartment rents are still surging but some relief is in sight. Average U.S. rent rose 0.4% in May, according to consumer price index data released this month, the 67th consecutive month of increases. Renting an average market-priced apartment now costs $1,282 a month. Rent has been climbing sharply since early last year, driven by strong demand as employment grew steadily in cities such as New York Atlanta, Phoenix and Tampa. Wage growth, meanwhile, hasn’t kept up with rising rents, making it tougher for apartment dwellers to save for a down payment. Many Millennials are moving out of their parents’ basements but still don’t have the savings to afford a home or can’t qualify for a mortgage.

In what is being called a ground-breaking agreement, Volkswagen will pay $14.7 billion not only to compensate owners for its polluting “clean” diesel-powered cars, but for environmental mitigation and to set up a fund to promote zero-emissions technology, the government announced Tuesday. Owners of the 475,000 Volkswagen vehicles with 2-liter diesels covered under the settlement will receive payments ranging from $5,100 to $10,000. In addition, Volkswagen will either repair their cars to bring them into compliance with emissions laws or buy them back in order to scrap them. VW has admitted to inserting software in VW and Audi cars with 2-lliter engines going back to 2009 that allows them to beat emissions tests.

Puerto Rico isn’t planning to make any of the $800 million payment to its bondholders due on July 1. Governor Alejandro García Padilla says it is in a “dire” financial position with only about $350 million in cash on hand right now. He argued that paying teachers, emergency personnel and other critical needs must come first. The deeply indebted island defaulted Friday on debt that is supposed to be guaranteed by the Puerto Rican constitution. In other words, Puerto Rico was supposed to pay creditors who hold general obligation bonds before paying anyone else. Puerto Rico’s default marks the first time that a state or state-like entity (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory) has failed to pay general obligation bonds since the Great Depression.

Brexit cost the U.K. its perfect AAA credit rating. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.K. by two notches to AA on Monday, the latest fallout from last week’s shocking U.K. referendum to leave the European Union. S&P warned that Brexit will “weaken the predictability, stability and effectiveness” of British policymaking and deter foreign investment in the U.K. The ratings firm said Brexit may also lead to a “deterioration” of the British economy — especially its vitally-important banking industry — and could even trigger a “constitutional crisis” if there is another referendum on Scottish independence.

Worst Countries for Human Trafficking

Myanmar, Sudan and Haiti are currently among the worst offenders for human trafficking, according to a new report published today by the U.S. State Department. The three nations were among 27 to be downgraded in this year’s annual Trafficking in Persons — or TIP — report. Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Turkmenistan also slipped to the bottom of the pile in this year’s report. After two years, Thailand moved off the bottom rung due to the government’s “significant efforts” to eliminate trafficking. However, the report says there’s still “widespread forced labor” in the country’s seafood sector. The only other country upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch list was Kuwait, while 10 nations were upgraded from the Watch List to Tier 2, including Namibia, Lebanon, Egypt and Cambodia. The upward move for Cambodia marks a major improvement for a country that’s long been embroiled in a battle against the sex trade and child sex tourism. Seven countries made the leap from Tier 2 to Tier 1, including Colombia, Cyprus, Lithuania and the Philippines, where human trafficking has historically been a critical issue.

Middle East

A Palestinian assailant broke into a home in a West Bank settlement early Thursday and stabbed a 13-year-old Jewish girl to death as she slept in bed, the latest in a nine-month wave of violence that had recently shown signs of tapering off. She was a cousin of Uri Ariel, a Cabinet minister from the Jewish Home, a party affiliated with the West Bank settler movement. The minister later said Israel would make “every effort” to build up settlements in the West Bank. The attacker, identified as a 17-year-old high school dropout, was fatally shot by security guards. The Israeli military sealed off the entrances to a nearby village, the home of the attacker, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on both the Palestinian leadership and the international community to condemn the brutal assault. “The horrifying murder of a young girl in her bed underscores the bloodlust and inhumanity of the incitement-driven terrorists that we are facing,” Netanyahu said after an emergency meeting with his defense minister.

Israeli security agencies were on high alert Friday following the thwarting of yet another attempted terrorist attack, this time a Palestinian woman who tried to stab an Israel Border Police officer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The terrorist was shot by the officer and later died of her wounds. Earlier, an Israeli father of 10 was killed in front of his children and three others were wounded in a shooting attack by a Palestinian terrorist near Hebron. The fatality has been identified as 40-year-old Michael “Micki” Marc from the nearby town of Otniel, who was traveling in his car with his family when it was targeted. His wife Chavi was seriously wounded in the attack, and was evacuated to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital with multiple gunshot wounds to her upper body. Two other family members were also wounded in the attack. According to initial reports, a “Kia” model car overtook the family as they drove along Route 60 and opened fire, striking both parents and causing the car to overturn. As many as 20 shots were fired at the car.

Palestinian leadership continues to incite violence against Israelis, as a senior Palestinian official called to end Israeli lives in a most violent fashion. “Wherever you see an Israeli, slit their throat,” declared Sultan Abu Alainin, member of Fatah’s Central Committee and aide to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in an interview with the Palestinian Donia Al-Watan newspaper on Monday.

Islamic State

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State rocked the extremist group near the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Wednesday, killing at least 250 suspected militants and destroying at least 40 vehicles. The reported strikes occurred south of the city, and are the latest setback for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which continues to suffer devastating defeats just two years after capturing large swaths of Iraq. An unnamed U.S. defense official told FOX News that a convoy of ISIL fighters was hit as they tried to leave a neighborhood on the outskirts of Fallujah. The Islamic State has lost about 45% of the territory it controlled at its peak last year in Iraq and about 20% of what it once occupied in Syria, the Pentagon says. “ISIL fighters are panicking on the battlefield, foreign recruits are now looking to return home, and leaders are struggling to maintain discipline, even despite the threat of execution for disobedience,” Brett McGurk, a special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.

Turkey

The death toll has climbed to 31 after three suicide bombers blew themselves up at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. The three men arrived at the airport in a taxi. They opened fire on passengers before blowing themselves up. Security footage captures one of the suicide bombers collapsing to the ground after being shot in the airport. He is seen squirming for several seconds before he sets off the bomb. Tuesday’s attack left 239 people wounded but 109 have been treated and discharged. The three suicide bombers were nationals from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a senior Turkish official said Thursday. Counter-terrorism teams launched 16 simultaneous raids in Istanbul, and Turkish police said they have detained 13 people, including three foreign nationals in connection with the attack. Turkish officials have strong evidence that the Istanbul airport attackers came to the country from the Syrian ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and that the group’s leadership was involved in the planning of the attack, a senior Turkish government source told CNN Thursday.

Iraq

The United States has extended a $2.7-billion line of credit to Iraq for the purchase of military equipment amid the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Wednesday that the deal gives Iraq a one-year grace period and eight and a half years total to pay for its purchases of ammunition and maintenance of its F-16s and M1A1 tanks. Like other oil-reliant countries, Iraq’s economy has been severely hit by plummeting crude prices since 2014, plunging the nation into an acute financial crisis. The OPEC member is struggling to feed a cash-strapped economy amid an expensive fight against IS militants, who still control key areas in the country’s north and west.

Afghanistan

A Taliban suicide attack struck a police convoy outside the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 30 people and wounding 50. The convoy of buses carried new officers from a graduation ceremony and was struck by two bombs, the BBC reported. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a suicide bomber on foot targeted a bus carrying trainee policemen and their instructors before a car bomber attacked 20 minutes later when police arrived to help. “The Taliban have once again shown their total disregard for human life. Their increased use of improvised explosive devises is taking a very heavy toll on the Afghan people,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Nigeria

The Nigerian Army reported on June 26th that it raided 15 villages in the remote north-east of the country as part of its continuing operation to defeat Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In the process, the army freed 5,000 people held hostage by the insurgents. For the past seven years, Boko Haram has fought to establish an Islamic State in the region. Their main targets are Christians, Western-style educational establishments (i.e. not Islamic), and security forces. More than 15,000 people have been killed, thousands more taken hostage, and 2 million displaced in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon during Boko Haram’s insurgency. In the last year, Nigeria’s armed forces, sometimes supported by troops from neighboring countries, have recaptured most of the territory that the Islamists had claimed.

Venezuela

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive. What has been a crisis developing in slow-motion appears to be careening into a new, more dangerous phase. The long economic decline of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves now shows signs of morphing into a humanitarian emergency, with government mismanagement and low petroleum prices leading to widespread shortages and inflation that could surpass 700 percent this year.

Brazil

The headache for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games organizers shows no signs of subsiding. Six weeks before the Games are set to begin, Francisco Dornelles, the acting governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that the state has not yet received recently-approved federal funds to beef up security and transportation for the quadrennial competition. The budget shortfall adds to the “perfect storm” Brazil is facing leading up to the Games, due to kick off on August 5. Organizers are dealing with concerns regarding the Zika virus, a doping scandal in which Brazil’s only testing lab was suspended, high crime and political upheaval involving the country’s highest figures. With just 36 days to go before the Rio Olympics kick off, the situation in the host city just went from bad to worse.

Hong Kong

Thousands of citizen in Hong Kong took to the streets for the southern Chinese city’s annual pro-democracy protest march Friday, as tensions persisted over the high-profile case of a bookseller secretly detained in the mainland. Protesters waved placards calling for Hong Kong’s independence from China and signs with photos of the bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, whose revelations last month about his ordeal rekindled concerns about Beijing’s tightening grip on the semiautonomous city. Lam is one of five booksellers who went missing for months only to turn up later in police custody in mainland China. Their disappearance sparked international concern that Beijing was eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Environment

The ozone hole over Antarctica is healing according to a study published in the journal Science. For decades, a large hole has opened in the ozone layer over Antarctica each year. The gap forms in late August or early September – spring in the Southern Hemisphere – and expands until it reaches its largest annual size in October. But a study published Thursday found that the ozone hole is healing, based on studies performed on the hole each September since 2000. It could be fully repaired by the middle or end of this century. Researcher Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at MIT, proved in 1986 that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) weakened the ozone layer over Antarctica. Made of chlorine and bromine, CFCs were found in many household objects until they were banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. As a result, the hole is shrinking.

Officials in five states have issued health advisories for dozens of beaches just days before thousands hit the road for the 4th of July holiday. Texas leads the way with 15 beaches with either high or medium levels of bacteria; Louisiana has a dozen beaches under advisory, and Mississippi and Alabama have one apiece. More than half of the Texas advisories are centered around Galveston, where the Galveston County Health District is assuring people that the advisories in the area are not related to the Vibrio bacteria, commonly referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria,” which killed at least 10 people last year in Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott added two more counties on Thursday to the state of emergency declared over a “guacamole-thick” algae bloom affecting a stretch of beaches promoted as the state’s “Treasure Coast.” At Central Marine boat docks in Stuart on Thursday, pea-green and brown algae coated the water and smelled strongly like cow manure. Blooms that started last week in the St. Lucie River continue to spread, threatening Atlantic beaches expecting crowds of families for the holiday weekend. Manatees have been seen struggling to get through the thick algae.

Water Woes

Eighteen million Americans live in communities where the water systems are in violation of the law. Moreover, the federal agency in charge of making sure those systems are safe not only knows the issues exist, but it’s done very little to stop them, according to a new report and information provided to CNN by multiple sources and water experts. States are the first line of enforcement, but when they fail — as they did recently in Flint, Michigan — the EPA is supposed to step in. But in many cases, the agency hasn’t. More than 5,300 water systems in America are in violation of the EPA’s lead and copper rule, a federal regulation in place to safeguard America’s drinking water from its aging infrastructure. Violations include failure to properly test water for lead, failure to report contamination to residents, and failure to treat water properly to avoid lead contamination. Yet, states took action in just 817 cases; the EPA took action in only 88 cases, according to NRDC’s report.

California’s Central Valley has three times more freshwater in underground aquifers than previously thought, drinking water that could help the state weather future drought and fortify itself against a changing climate, according to a new Stanford University study. But tapping that water, locked thousands of feet beneath the ground, will be expensive and comes with an enormous risk — it could cause the valley floor to sink, according to the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sinking land in the Central Valley is already threatening roads, homes and other infrastructure, and reduces the amount of water some aquifers can hold. To stave off losses during its four-year drought, California has relied on groundwater to irrigate its farm fields. So much groundwater is being used that the water table has fallen by 50 feet in some places in the Central Valley, and the valley floor is sinking, or subsiding, as aquifers are depleted.

Beijing residents have put up with choking smog, trash-filled rivers and toxic running tracks. Now they have another concern — sinking. An international study led by Beijing-based researchers has discovered that the city is dropping by as much as 11 centimeters (4 inches) in some districts per year. The thirsty city has depleted its groundwater, which the study identified as the cause of the sinking. Beijing is ranked as the fifth most water-stressed city in the world, the study notes, and as China continues to urbanize, the stress on subterranean aquifers is only set to worsen.

Wildfires

Residents east of Interstate 17 in Cordes Lakes who were evacuated Tuesday because of a fast-moving wildfire that burned more than 1,000 acres in a single afternoon were allowed to return to their homes late that night after fire managers said they had the blaze 50 percent contained. Smoke and flames from the Bug Creek Fire that skirted the interstate had choked northbound traffic for much of the day on the main route connecting Phoenix to popular destinations including Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Motorists reported hours-long delays. When conditions allowed, state transportation and public safety officials opened one northbound lane to let traffic pass. Otherwise, drivers were forced to turn around at Sunset Point, about 50 miles north of Phoenix.

People living in a rural subdivision 50 miles northeast of Sacramento were evacuated Tuesday as firefighters braved triple-digit temperatures to battle a wildfire that climbed out of a steep canyon along the middle fork of the American River. Homes near Todd Valley between the cities of Foresthill and Auburn were evacuated as a 20-acre fire quickly grew to 300 acres. The fire was approaching a subdivision with large lots and a scattered population. The fire began Tuesday afternoon in El Dorado County before jumping the river and climbing out of the canyon and into neighboring Placer County.

Weather

Severe storms slammed the Las Vegas area with hail and “unprecedented” heavy rain that led to flash flooding Thursday, causing water rescues and leaving thousands without power. Strong to severe thunderstorms developed northwest of Las Vegas and slowly dropped toward the southeast into southern Nevada bringing 1-2″ hail and high rainfall rates to Las Vegas. The hilly and urban terrain promoted flash flooding. An early monsoon and near record high atmospheric moisture helped these storms saturate the area. Erin Neff, spokeswoman for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District, characterized the rain in some parts of the area as “unprecedented.”

More heavy rainfall arrived in soggy West Virginia on Monday and Tuesday, bringing additional precipitation and flooding to a region that’s dealing with tragedy and a prolonged cleanup. The widespread flooding killed 23, left thousands homeless and prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a federal disaster. According to the National Weather Service, “extremely rare amounts of rainfall” swamped entire areas of the state, washing out roadways, flooding and destroying structures and cutting off power to thousands – a one in a thousand -year event.

Signs of the Times (5/9/16)

May 9, 2016

National Day of Prayer Speakers Decry Moral Decline

Speakers at this year’s National Day of Prayer observance decried what they saw as America’s moral decline, in particular the acceptance of same-sex marriage. Dallas pastor and broadcaster Tony Evans and other speakers on Capitol Hill Thursday (May 5) took particular aim at last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, encouraging the faithful to actively promote their own views. “Everybody else is coming out of the closet, we might as well come out too,” Evans said. “Was it not shocking to the nation when on June 26, 2015, the very definition and meaning of marriage that has endured for 5,000 years in every civilization on Earth was redefined, weakened and undermined?” asked Shirley Dobson, outgoing chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Evans said the “chaos” facing the country is the result of a disregard for God. “What we are experiencing today is the passive wrath of God,” he said.

Boycott Taking a Toll on Target over Transgender Bathroom Policy

The boycott of Target in response to its transgender bathroom policy is hitting the retail chain hard financially. Several pro-family groups stated that the Target policy places women and children at risk by allowing men to enter the women’s restroom. The American Family Association began a petition to boycott Target until the policy is changed, which has garnered over 1.1 million signatures in less than two weeks. Wall Street took notice. Target’s stock has fallen nearly 7 percent since the new policy was announced, from $83.98 on April 19 to $78.13 as of May 5. That represents about a $3.5 billion drop in the retail giant’s overall stock value. The company’s brand perception has taken a hit as well. USA Today reported that the percentage of people stating they would shop at Target has dropped from 42 percent to 38 percent since April 19. Todd Starnes with Fox News reports that the retailer now plans to meet with American Family Association, the sponsor of the boycott petition. The AFA has offered that one solution to the problem would be for Target to add unisex restrooms to its store locations, while maintaining separate ones for males and females.

Obama Says LGBT Rights Supersede Religious Freedom

On Sunday night, at a Democratic National Committee-sponsored event in New York City billed as an “LGBT gala,” Obama took to the podium and warned Christians across the country that their religious freedom means nothing in the face of gay rights, reports the Conservative Tribune. “We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions,” the POTUS said. “But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.” Obama patronized Christians and Christian groups about their “genuine concerns,” but ultimately suggested that the issue was being pushed by Republicans who were simply using the concerns to acquire more votes. He called for the LGBT community to remain vigilant and assured them he would continue to fight for “progress.”

  • All of which means Obama is fine with pedophiles and rapists using the transgender bathroom policy to legally pursue their victims

North Carolina Sues U.S. Government Over Bathroom Law

North Carolina filed a lawsuit Monday against the federal government in a fight for a state law that limits protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration filed the lawsuit seeking to keep in place the law that mandates people use the bathroom of their gender at birth rather than the one they identify with. The U.S. Justice Department said last week the law violated the civil rights of transgender people. The Justice Department had set a deadline of Monday for McCrory to report whether he would enforce the law that took effect March 24. The governor said the Justice Department denied him enough time for a reasonable response. It’s the federal government being a bully,” McCrory said on Fox News Sunday. McCrory’s defiance could risk funding for the state’s university system and lead to a protracted legal battle.

Alabama Chief Justice Faces Removal over Fight to Block Gay Marriage

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — ousted from office more than a decade ago over a Ten Commandments display — now faces removal from the bench over his effort to block gay marriage from coming to that state after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission on Friday filed ethics charged against Moore, saying that the state chief justice abused the power of his office and displayed disrespect for the judiciary. The charges largely stem from a Jan. 6 administrative order Moore sent to probate judges telling them an Alabama order and law banning same-sex marriages remained in effect. The Court of the Judiciary will decide whether Moore is guilty of violating judicial ethics. If found guilty, he could face removal from office.

Atheists Sue U.S. House Chaplain, Demand to be Guest Chaplain

Last week, the president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain, who denied a request for an atheist invocation,” reports LawNewz.com. “The current House Chaplain, Father Patrick Conroy, has imposed requirements for guest chaplains that discriminate against the nonreligious and minority religions, and has explicitly refused to allow Plaintiff Dan Barker, who actually met the requirements, to serve as guest chaplain because Barker is nonreligious,” the lawsuit, filed in D.C. District Court, states. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is an organization that pushes for separation of church and state. Barker, ironically a former Christian pastor, claims via the lawsuit that he’d met with Conroy’s assistants so he could be a guest chaplain, and do an invocation. He apparently met all the requirements, even getting sponsored by Congressman Mark PocanBut after Conroy allegedly voiced doubts about Barker, and months passed without confirmation, the Chaplain’s office told Barker they didn’t think his requests were ‘genuine.’ The lawsuit said the formal denial came in December, after an 18-month process.

Obama’s Executive Order 16303 May Lead to Martial Law

President Obama recently signed Executive Order 16303 and many people are outraged because this little-known executive order could be the trigger that leads to more government control… and possibly even martial law, reports Minutemen News Alerts. Here’s what the Washington Post warned: “Executive Order 16303 (National Defense Resources Preparedness) states that, in case of a war or national emergency, the federal government has the authority to take over almost every aspect of American society. Food, livestock, farming equipment, manufacturing, industry, energy, transportation, hospitals, health care facilities, water resources, defense and construction – all of it could fall under the full control of Mr. Obama. The order empowers the president to dispense these vast resources as he sees fit during a national crisis.” The worst part? Obama can choose when and where to use this new power… it’s not restricted by Congress in any way… so he could decide to use it whenever he so decides.

 FBI Reports that No One was Murdered in Sandy Hook

Recently released FBI crime statistics curiously show that no murders occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, despite earlier reports that numerous schoolchildren and faculty members were murdered during a school shooting rampage in December of that year, reports RedFlagNews.com. On December 14, 2012, the world watched in horror as the corporate media reported the deaths of 20 students and 6 staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown at the hands of a deranged 20-year-old. Internet sleuths immediately took to the web to stitch together clues indicating the shooting could be a carefully-scripted false flag event to galvanize future support for gun control legislation. Two years later, and scores of politicians and gun control groups have cited the Sandy Hook incident as a pretext to curtail Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

London Elects First Muslim Mayor

The Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan won the election Friday, becoming London’s first Muslim mayor. Khan received 44.2% of first preference votes to Conservative Party candidate Zac Goldsmith’s 35.6%. Second preference votes have now been counted with Khan passing the crucial 50% mark to secure victory, according to the BBC. The 45-year old son of Pakistani immigrants becomes the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital city. Khan, a human rights lawyer before entering politics, says he wants to make London “fairer and more equal.” Khan has said he never hid the fact that he dealt with “some pretty unsavory characters” during his work as a human rights lawyer and during three years as the chairman of the human rights organization Liberty.

Austin Voters Reject Uber, Lyft Plan for Self-Regulation

Despite an $8-million-dollar campaign by ride-hailing companies, Austin-area voters on Saturday rejected a proposal by Uber and Lyft to self-regulate their drivers and mandated stricter rules on the companies, including fingerprint background checks and emblems on cars. Uber and Lyft had threatened to pull their operations from Austin should their proposal fail. The election was being closely watched across the USA as other cities, including Los Angeles and Miami, grapple with how best to regulate the ride-hailing companies. Results showed 56% of voters opposed the initiative favored by the companies, and 44% were for it. Saturday’s vote culminates a two-year battle here between the companies and city leaders. Lyft officials released a statement Saturday night restating their intent to shut down operations in the Texas capital by Monday. Uber said it would stop operations in Austin by 8 a.m. Monday.

Zika Update

Zika virus concerns have forced the Pirates-Marlins series out of Puerto Rico, with the two games instead shifted to Miami this month. Major League Baseball and the players’ union made the announcement Friday. Pittsburgh and Miami will meet May 30-31 at Marlins Park. The union had asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to relocate the games after several players expressed fears about getting and possibly transmitting the Zika virus.

Economic News

About 42 million borrowers have about $1.3 trillion in student debt, up from roughly $826.5 billion in 2010, which includes federal loans and private loans from the six biggest lenders, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. The average debt for a college graduate in 2015 was about $35,000. About a quarter of students graduate with excessive debt, but those who hurt the most are low-income students and students who take out loans but don’t graduate. As a general rule, if a student’s annual income is more than their student debt total, they shouldn’t have trouble paying the loans back in 10 years or less. The rising cost of tuition and fees is partly because of a decrease in state funding for higher education, experts say.

China’s exports shrank 1.8% in April compared to the same month a year ago, an indication that the nation’s economic slump continues. Imports into China didn’t fare any better in April, down 10.9% to $127.2 billion. They were down 13.8% in March. China’s Communist Party leaders have been trying to foster more domestic consumption to keep the economy growing at a healthy rate, decreasing the dependence on exports. Even though China’s overall economic growth is at a seven-year low, it still is growing at a rate that would be the envy of many nations: 6.7% in the first quarter. And it managed to rack up a $45.5 billion trade surplus in April, including $18.1 billion with the U.S.

Islamic State

After months of un­expectedly swift advances, the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State is running into hurdles on and off the battlefield that call into question whether the pace of recent gains can be sustained, reports the Washington Post. Chaos in Baghdad, the fraying of the cease-fire in Syria and political turmoil in Turkey are among some of the potential obstacles that have emerged in recent weeks to complicate the prospects for progress. Others include small setbacks for U.S.-allied forces on front lines in northern Iraq and Syria, which have come as a reminder that a strategy heavily reliant on local armed groups of varying proficiency who are often at odds with one another won’t always work. The fight is now entering what Pentagon officials have called a new and potentially harder phase, one that will entail a deeper level of U.S. involvement but also tougher targets. In an attempt to ramp up the tempo of the war, the U.S. military is escalating its engagement, dispatching an additional 450 Special Operations forces and other troops to Syria and Iraq, deploying hundreds of Marines close to the front lines in Iraq and bringing Apache attack helicopters and B-52s into service for the air campaign. The extra resources are an acknowledgment, U.S. officials say, that the war can’t be won without a greater level of American involvement.

A top U.N. envoy in Iraq said Friday more than 50 mass graves have been found in Iraq territory that was once held by the Islamic State. The most recently discovered graves found in Ramadi in April might contain the remains of up to 40 people. The Iraqi military re-captured parts of Ramadi from the Islamic State in December 2015. It had been held by the extremist group since May of last year. Mass graves have also been found near Sinjar, Anbar and Tikrit.

Iraq

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been holding demonstrations and sit-ins for months to demand an overhaul of the political system put in place by the U.S. following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. On Saturday, hundreds of his supporters stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and broke into the parliament building. So far, a majority of Iraqi political blocs have rejected replacing the cabinet created on the basis of party affiliation or ethnic or sectarian with a cabinet of technocrats sought by al-Sadr and protesters who argue this is the only way “to enact genuine reforms, get rid of a powerful patronage system and achieve success in fighting corruption.”

Iran

Iran said on Monday that its latest ballistic missile test showed the weapon displayed pinpoint accuracy at a range of 1,250 miles, a distance that puts it in range of Israel and several other Middle East nations. Iran has asserted the missiles are for defense only. Two months ago, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles, one of them with the phrase “Israel should be wiped off the Earth” written on it in Hebrew. Iranian officials say the phrase was added by workers on the ground and was not a decision made by higher-level officials. Iran has rejected claims that missile tests violate the nuclear agreement it reached with the U.S. and other nations or a United Nations resolution, describing its missiles as conventional armaments for “legitimate defense” and not designed for carrying nuclear warheads. The nuclear deal, which took effect in January, does not directly address missile restrictions. The U.N. Security Council lifted its ban on such testing when the deal was struck, but passed a resolution that “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles … including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

Afghanistan

Two members of the international Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan were killed Saturday in an attack on a base in southern Afghanistan, NATO announced. Two Afghans wearing the uniforms of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) opened fire Saturday morning at an ANDSF compound. Other Resolute Support members returned fire and killed the shooters. After international forces wrapped up their combat mission at the end of 2014, Resolute Support was created with a coalition of international troops serving in a training and advisory role.

Kenya

Kenya announced that it will close all refugee camps, a move that would displace more than 600,000 people living there, the government announced Friday. The decision includes Dadaab, the largest such camp in the world. It’s home to more than 300,000 people on the Kenya-Somalia border. The government is shutting down the camps because of “very heavy” economic, security and environmental burdens. Kenya announced the closure of refugee camps last year for the same reasons but backed down in the face of international pressure. Government officials are not clear where they expect the refugees to go, other than somewhere into Somalia and out of Kenya. Most of the residents in Dadaab come from Somalia, which has been torn by civil war.

North Korea

North Korea will not deploy nuclear weapons unless the communist nation’s enemies use them first and will attempt to normalize relations with countries viewed as its enemies, leader Kim Jong Un said Sunday. “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes,” Kim said at the Workers’ Party of Korea congress in Pyongyang. Kim added that the North “will faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for the global denuclearization.” Kim opened the first formal gathering of his party in more than three decades on Friday by celebrating the “great success” of his nuclear weapons program. The congress is viewed as Kim’s formal coronation as leader of the nation of 25 million people, most of whom live in poverty. The congress has also served as a launch vehicle for his five-year plan to improve the battered economy by emphasizing increased agricultural and manufacturing production and involvement in the global economy.

Philippines

At least 10 people died across the Philippines in election day violence on Monday, May 9, as gunmen attacked polling stations, ambushed vehicles and stole vote-counting machines, police said. However, authorities described the violence as isolated incidents and that the overall conduct of the elections – which saw tens of millions of people cast their votes for president and 18,000 other positions – was peaceful. In the worst attack, 7 people were shot dead in an ambush before dawn in Rosario, a town just outside of Manila known for political violence. In Guindulungan, Maguindanao, where warlord-politicians have their own private armies, a voter was shot dead inside a polling station. A bystander was also killed when a grenade was launched at a market in Cotabato as people were casting their votes. In the nearby town of Sultan Kudarat, a stronghold of the nation’s biggest Muslim rebel group, 20 men forced their way into a voting center and carted away the voting machines. In the northern province of Abra, infamous for politicians killing each other, armed supporters of rival mayoral candidates shot at each other, leaving one person dead and two wounded.

Earthquakes

Multiple small earthquakes in the past two months beneath the surface of Mount Saint Helens suggest it may be recharging magma. These tiny quakes that started March 14 have been happening at depths of one to four miles beneath the surface of Mt. St. Helens, which last erupted on May 18, 1980. In the past eight weeks, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network has recorded more than 130 earthquakes, with many more too small to be pinpointed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the federal agency that monitors volcano activity. The magma chamber is likely stressing the crust around and above it as the system slowly recharges, the agency said. The pressure drives fluids through cracks, producing the small quakes.

Wildfires

The massive wildfire that forced almost 90,000 people to evacuate in Alberta is growing and approaching the neighboring province of Saskatchewan, Canadian officials said. Dry and extremely windy conditions are fueling the blaze, which has scorched more than 602 square miles and ravaged the city of Fort McMurray, destroying over 1,600 structures. Alberta is “tinder dry,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. Fort McMurray has been devastated. Besides the fire damage to structures, the power grid has been damaged, and the water is currently undrinkable. The smoke from the fire has reached all the way down into Iowa. The Alberta government said the massive blaze in the province will cover more than 494,211 acres by Sunday and will continue to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds. Fire officials expect to fight the Canada inferno for months to come. Containment remains at 0% Monday morning. Several bits of good news are on the horizon: The weather is starting to cooperate. The blaze is headed to sparsely populated areas. And firefighters from across Canada are suiting up to join the battle.

A wildfire that started Thursday afternoon has shrouded Lake Hattie Township, Minnesota, and some surrounding areas with smoke, causing an air quality rating of “unhealthy” to be issued for the locality. Spurred by fire-friendly conditions, the fire continued to impact the area into Saturday morning. Temperatures rocketed into the 90s in northern Minnesota, including the earliest 90s on record in Duluth. The fire has burned about 450 acres about five miles northwest of Lake George in the Paul Bunyan State Forest. Thursday’s wildfire was the second of a trio of blazes ignited in the North Star state.

Weather

Severe weather impacted the Plains states on Sunday just a day after five tornadoes were confirmed to have hit Colorado on Saturday. One twister touched down north of Wray, Colorado, Saturday evening, leaving five people with minor injuries and causing damage to some buildings and other structures. Residents and travelers were urged to not travel north on Highway 385, which had to be closed down due to downed fences and loose livestock. Earlier Saturday, a tornado caused some minor injuries and left about a dozen motorhomes damaged in nearby Morgan County.

At least two brief tornadoes were reported in northwest Kansas Sunday afternoon. There are no reports of significant damage at this time. Sunday evening, NWS confirmed a large and extremely dangerous tornado was spotted 5 miles southeast of Codell. Golf ball-sized hail was also reported. A brief tornado was reported near Marlow early Sunday evening. Street flooding was reported in the city of Lawton. Large hail and strong winds impacted the Abilene, Texas, area Sunday afternoon. Wind gusts up to 60 mph were reported near Abilene. Hail as large as baseballs were reported in Hawley.

Signs of the Times (4/14/16)

April 14, 2016

Court Dismisses Lawsuit Attempting to Force Catholic Hospital to Do Abortions

In December, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Catholic health system in an attempt to force its staff to perform abortions, despite their religious and personal pro-life convictions. On March 23, the court examined the evidence to determine whether to dismiss the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trinity Health Corporation. Monday, the federal court threw out the ACLU lawsuit that sought to force the hospital and its staff to commit abortions regardless of their religious and pro-life objections. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys told LifeNews, “No American should be forced to commit an abortion—least of all faith-based medical workers who went into the profession to follow their faith and save lives, not take them.”

50 New Scripture Translations Completed Last Year

Last year, the Bible Societies translated the Bible into 50 different languages. According to BreakingChristianNews.com, those languages account for nearly 160 million people. Along with the translations, 11 communities received their very first full Bible and six received the New Testament. At the end of 2015, in total, the full Bible was available in 563 languages spoken by nearly 5.1 billion people. It is estimated that there are 281 million people with only some parts of the Bible and another nearly 500 million with no Bible translation whatsoever. For example, there are more than 400 unique sign languages in the world, but only the New Testament is available in American Sign Language. There has also been work done on providing the Bible in Braille. In the digital age, the United Bible Societies has also worked to make the Bible available digitally. At the end of 2015, the Digital Bible Library contained about 1,200 Bibles, testaments and portions in about 950 languages.

Citizenship Test Cites Freedom of Religion

Since 2008, government-issued citizenship tests required applicants to circle “freedom of worship” to correctly answer a question about what rights Americans have under the First Amendment. Last year, a senator disputed the wording of that answer, noting Americans actually have “freedom of religion”—a discrepancy the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed this week should be fixed. “At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “The ‘freedom of religion’ language reflects our right to live a life of faith at all times, while the ‘freedom of worship’ reflects a right simply confined to a particular space and location.” The First Amendment protects the rights of freedom of expression, speech, assembly, and religion, as well as the right to petition the government. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an office under the DHS, changed “religion” to “worship” eight years ago to be more “inclusive” on its naturalization test study materials. “We are in the process of revising our study materials and web content to reflect the change,” said USCIS director Leon Rodriguez.

Cohabitation Rates Rising, Even among Christian Couples

More Christian couples are choosing to cohabit before marriage, according to a Gallup poll. According to WorldMag.com, nearly seven in 10 teens, and almost half of teens with a religious background, support living with their significant other before marriage. Christian couples that live together say they can live together without sex and often choose to live together because of finances and convenience. But others testify that this just doesn’t work out. Mike Mobley, a Dallas church staffer who tried cohabitation, says, “I’ll be the first to tell you from personal experience, [our] excuses do not justify the actions.” He encourages people to find a church because church attendance means couples are four times less likely to cohabit.

ISIS Already in 26 U.S. States

According to a recent in-depth report from George Washington University, ISIS In America, ISIS suspects and recruits are in at least 26 states in America. As of Fall, 2015, there were roughly 250 Americans who were documented to have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria/Iraq to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There are currently 900 active investigations against ISIS sympathizers in all 50 states. Since March, 2014: 71 people have been charged for ISIS-related activities; 56 were arrested in 2015 alone; 27 percent were involved in plots to carry out attacks on U.S. soil, 51 percent traveled or attempted to travel abroad to hook up with ISIS.

Many Arab Countries Beginning to See Israel as Their Ally

Since the Arab Spring and over the course of the past half-decade, Arab countries’ stance towards relations with Israel has shifted dramatically, with a growing number of Arab policy makers publicly supporting open and full relations with the Jewish State, reports Breaking Christian News. In January, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director-General Dore Gold revealed that Israel maintains covert ties with almost all Arab countries. Gold said there is “the willingness in the Arab world for ties with Israel under the table,” terming at as a “dramatic change.” In February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added that Israel is experiencing a dramatic and positive shift in its ties with many countries, primarily with the Arab world in the Middle East. “Major Arab countries are changing their view of Israel… they don’t see Israel anymore as their enemy, but they see Israel as their ally, especially in the battle against militant Islam,” Netanyahu said. In a true sign of change in the Arab world, Kuwaiti media personality Yousuf ‘Abd Al-Karim Al-Zinkawi called on all Arab and Muslim states to recognize Israel, openly and without delay.

FCC Kept ‘ObamaPhone’ Fraud Under Wraps Until After Vote to Expand Program

Federal regulators were instructed to keep a massive fraud investigation – concerning the “Obamaphone” program, meant to help get low-income families cellphone access – under wraps until a day after a controversial vote to expand the program, one of those regulators claims. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday announced that it would seek $51 million in damages from a cellphone company that allegedly defrauded the federal Lifeline program of nearly $10 million. The commission’s five members unanimously backed the Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), but Republican commissioner Ajit Pai parted from his colleagues in a partial dissent. According to Pai, he and other commissioners were told not to reveal the details of its investigation until April 1, a day after the FCC voted to expand the Lifeline program.

  • Politics as usual

Authorities Raid Panama Papers Law Firm

Authorities on Tuesday raided the law firm connected to the Panama Papers global corruption scandal. The Associated Press reported that organized crime prosecutors raided the Panama City headquarters of the Mossack Fonseca law firm that is at the center of the scandal. Police officers guarded the perimeter of the offices while prosecutors worked inside. The attorney general’s office told The Associated Press in a statement that investigators aimed to “to obtain documentation linked to the information published in news articles that establish the use of the firm in illicit activities.” Documents leaked from the firm’s offices appear to show a series of tax havens created for the wealthy.

Top 50 U.S. Companies Hold $1.4 Trillion in Cash Offshore

America’s biggest companies are holding about $1.4 trillion in cash offshore to avoid paying billions in U.S. taxes, according to a new report by Oxfam America. Companies are supposed to pay federal taxes on their global profits, but the tax on money made overseas is only due when it’s brought back to the U.S. This policy has encouraged some firms — including Apple (AAPL, Tech30), Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) and Google (GOOGL, Tech30) — to hold huge amounts of cash overseas. Even though large companies have faced public outrage for stashing cash outside their home country, the practice is legitimate and the companies say it would be detrimental to repatriate the money. The U.S. government levies a 35% tax rate on repatriated cash. That’s a much higher rate than many companies currently pay, according to Oxfam. It said Apple’s effective corporate tax rate was 25.9% between 2008 and 2014. Apple holds the most money offshore of any major U.S. company, at $181 billion.

Toxic Oil Loans Creating Problems for Big Banks

The Wall Street firms that bankrolled America’s oil boom continue to suffer losses linked to loans that look increasingly shaky given the crash in crude prices. And big banks are bracing for more oil loans to implode. Bank of America on Thursday announced it set aside $997 million to protect from loan losses, mainly in the bank’s $22 billion energy portfolio. Wells Fargo warned of “significant stress” and “deterioration” in their oil and gas loan portfolio. The problems forced Wells Fargo to add $200 million in loan-loss reserves, its first increase to this rainy-day fund since 2009. And JPMorgan Chase increased its provisions for credit losses by 88%, mostly due to the oil, natural gas and pipeline business. It was enough to cause JPMorgan’s first drop in profits since late 2014.

Economic News – Domestic

U.S. retail sales fell last month as Americans cut back on their car purchases, the latest sign that consumers are reluctant to spend freely. The Commerce Department says sales at retail stores and restaurants fell by a seasonally adjusted 0.3% in March, following a flat reading in February and a drop in January. Americans have been more cautious about spending this year than most economists expected, despite steady job gains and lower gas prices. March’s decline was largely driven by a sharp drop in auto sales, which plunged 2.1%. That was the steepest fall in more than a year. Sales at restaurants and clothing stores also retreated.

The Labor Department says U.S. consumer prices rose a modest 0.1% in March as a drop in grocery prices offset higher energy costs. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, core consumer inflation also increased 0.1%, the smallest gain since August. Over the past year, overall consumer prices are up 0.9% and core inflation 2.2%. Grocery prices fell 0.5% in March for a typical shopping basket while energy prices climbed 0.9%, the most since May. Gasoline prices surged 2.2%.

The nation’s biggest coal company, Peabody Energy (BTU), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday as the coal industry grapples with the fallout of low natural gas prices, costly regulations and legacy costs. Peabody said that “sustained depressed” coal prices had placed it on the edge of insolvency. Low natural gas prices, the sluggish Chinese economy and U.S. environmental regulatory pressure have compounded the financial pressures facing coal companies, which include costs such as pensions and retiree health care obligations. Peabody has posted four consecutive yearly losses, including a $2 billion loss in 2015 as revenue fell 17% to $5.6 billion.

Federal regulators said Wednesday that five of the country’s largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, still don’t have credible plans for winding down their operations without taxpayer help if they start to fail. These so-called “living wills” are a critical requirement of the 2010 financial reform package, Dodd-Frank, aimed at preventing a repeat of the taxpayer bailouts that took place during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The rejection comes as the banking sector is expected to report weaker financial results for the first quarter of the year. The banking industry sought to soften the findings, arguing that Wall Street today is stronger than it was before the last financial crisis.

The Justice Department announced a $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs over the sale of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The deal announced Monday resolves state and federal probes into the sale of shoddy mortgages before the housing bubble and economic meltdown. It requires the bank to pay a $2.4 billion civil penalty and an additional $1.8 billion in relief to underwater homeowners and distressed borrowers, along with $875 million in other claims. The agreement is the latest multi-billion-dollar civil settlement reached with a major bank. Other banks that settled in the last two years include Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Nearly 20% of large U.S. corporations that reported a profit on their financial statements in 2012 ended up paying exactly nothing in U.S. corporate income taxes. That’s according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. How can profitable companies end up with a $0 corporate income tax bill? There are a few reasons, according to the GAO. Among them, they may get a lot of tax deductions for losses they had in previous years but carried forward. Or it may be due to write-offs for depreciating assets.

Economic News – International

Oil prices reached a new 2016 high after rumors that Saudi Arabia and Russia have reached a deal to freeze oil output. U.S. crude oil prices jumped 4.5% to $42.17 a barrel, after Russian news agency Interfax reported the deal. The report came ahead of a crucial meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC countries in Doha on Sunday. Investors are hoping the world’s top oil producers will reach a broader deal to control the global oil supply. Prices have tumbled over the last two years because of a major oil glut, where the world has far more oil than it can consume.

Painting a dim picture of the world economy, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday trimmed its global growth forecast and called for “immediate” action to reduce the increasing risk of recession. The fund largely attributed the weaker outlook to China’s slowdown, the effect of falling oil and other commodity prices on emerging markets, and weak productivity growth and aging labor forces in advanced economies such as the U.S. “Growth has been too slow for too long,” IMF Economic Counsellor Maurice Obstfeld said.

Direct investment by China in the U.S. is on track to hit a record $30 billion in 2016, according to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, which works to promote closer ties between the countries. That’s double last year’s record $15 billion investment. The report estimates that more than 1,900 Chinese-affiliated firms are now established in the U.S., employing roughly 90,000 full-time workers. Tens of thousands more workers are indirectly employed through Chinese firms.

China’s rapid economic rise has turned peasants into billionaires. Many wealthy Chinese are increasingly eager to stow their families, and their riches, in the West, where rule of law, clean air and good schools offer peace of mind, especially for those looking to escape scrutiny from the Communist Party and an anti-corruption campaign that has sent hundreds of the rich and powerful to jail. With its weak currency and welcoming immigration policies, Canada has become a top destination for China’s 1 percenters. According to government figures, from 2005 to 2012, at least 37,000 Chinese millionaires took advantage of a now-defunct immigrant investor program to become permanent residents of British Columbia, the province that includes Vancouver.

Zika Update

The CDC announced Monday that the Zika virus may be ‘scarier than we initially thought,’ saying the mosquito-borne virus could be linked to more birth defects than previously believed.  The Zika virus has now been linked to a second type of autoimmune disorder, according to a small study released Monday. Doctors have known that Zika is associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing paralysis. Now, scientists have linked Zika to a condition similar to multiple sclerosis, called acute disseminated encephalomyeltis, or ADEM, a swelling of the brain and spinal cord that affects the myelin, the coating around nerve fibers. The study followed people who were hospitalized in Recife, Brazil because of symptoms that could be caused by Zika, dengue or chikungunya — which are all spread by the same species of mosquito. All of the people had fever followed by a rash. Some also had severe itching, muscle and joint pain and red eyes. Six of those people develop neurological problems that were consistent with autoimmune diseases. Four developed Guillain-Barre syndrome. The other two developed ADEM, according to the paper presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Vancouver.

Islamic State

American airstrikes have killed 25,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria and incinerated millions of dollars plundered by the militants, according to Pentagon officials. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have taken back 40 percent of the militant group’s land in Iraq, the officials say, and forces backed by the West have seized a sizable amount of territory in Syria that had been controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But the battlefield successes enjoyed by Western-backed forces in the Islamic State’s heartland have done little to stop the expansion of the militants to Europe, North Africa and Afghanistan. The attacks this year in Brussels, Istanbul and other cities only reinforced the sense of a terrorist group on the march, and among American officials and military experts, there is renewed caution in predicting progress in a fight that they say is likely to go on for years.

ISIS claimed victory Wednesday over the Obama administration’s summer shift in allowing hostage negotiations with terrorists, posting an article in the radical Islamist group’s online magazine declaring, “it’s clear that violence is the only message they will respond to.” The article, in the new issue of the Islamic State’s “Dabiq” magazine released Wednesday. It’s illustrated with a picture of an ISIS executioner slitting a hostage’s throat and President Obama smiling in a golf cart. Before killing Foley, ISIS demanded a ransom from his family. U.S. government officials, however, threatened Foley’s family with prosecution if they raised the money to pay the terror group, Foley’s parents, John and Diane, told Fox News in September 2014. But in June, after Foley’s beheading, the Obama administration signaled a minor modification in policy. While the U.S. government wouldn’t pay any outright ransom to terrorists, officials would be allowed to negotiate with terrorists. The government would also cease threatening families with prosecution for trying to pay a ransom.

Syria

The prospects for Syrian peace talks set to resume Wednesday in Geneva are complicated by a recent spike in fighting between government troops and rebel factions around the strategic city of Aleppo. Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, have been attacking U.S.-backed rebel groups around Aleppo, as well as al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, the Nusra Front, also in the area. U.S. negotiators plan to use the peace talks to push the parties to adhere to the cease-fire agreement, which allows attacks on the Nusra Front and the Islamic State, but not on “legitimate” opposition groups. United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who will conduct the talks, said the talks will focus on political transition, governance and constitutional principles.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s top defense official has warned that al Qaeda — the reason the United States first invaded Afghanistan — is “very active” and a “big threat” in the country. A senior U.S. official said they were concerned about al Qaeda leaders in remote areas of the country and there may be many more core operatives in Afghanistan than previously thought. The warnings of al Qaeda’s resurgence come as Afghanistan faces perhaps the most significant summer fighting season in decades, with government security forces facing huge internal challenges, the Taliban gaining ground and ISIS increasing its footprint in the country.

Cameroon

The terrorist group Boko Haram is turning young, kidnapped girls into suicide bombers. One escaped girl explained to CNN that, “They would ask, ‘Who wants to be a suicide bomber?’ The girls would shout, ‘me, me, me.’ They were fighting to do the suicide bombings.” The young girls fought to strap on a bomb, not because they were brainwashed by their captors’ violent indoctrination methods but because the relentless hunger and sexual abuse — coupled with the constant shelling — became too much to bear. They wanted a way out, she says. They wanted an escape from their horrific existence. “There were so many kidnapped girls there, I couldn’t count,” she says. Advocates say that there has been a massive increase in the estimated number of children used as suicide bombers in the four countries where Boko Haram operates, from 4 in 2014 to 44 last year.

Somalia

The U.S. government has conducted two “self-defense” airstrikes in southern Somalia because of an “imminent threat” against American troops in the East African country, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday. The airstrikes happened late Monday evening and early Tuesday morning against an Al-Shabaab camp north of the town of Kismayo in southern Somalia. The U.S. military has been helping Somali government and African Union forces battle Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group that has been waging an insurgency in Somalia for about 10 years with the aim of turning the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state. The Islamist extremist group hasn’t confined its terror or ambitions to Somalia, as evidenced by other horrific attacks like last year’s massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University College and a 2013 siege of Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall.

Environment

More than 100,000 people living and working near the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, California, have been exposed to harmful levels of lead and arsenic that leaked into the soil of over 500 homes, state authorities say. Between Feb. 29 and March 9, 12 county teams tested about 50 homes daily. All but eight of the 500 homes had levels of lead requiring cleanup, while 45 of the homes had soil lead levels that qualified as hazardous waste. Another 170 homes had lead levels exceeding the federal residential action level, the Los Angeles Times reports. Public health officials analyzed data from nearly 12,000 young children and found that the blood lead levels of kids under the age of six living near the now-closed facility are higher than those living farther from it. These findings add to previous samples collected which showed more than 200 homes near the Exide plant with lead-tainted soil in need of removal, according to Reuters. The agency estimates that deposits of lead dust from the plant extend into neighborhoods within 1.7 miles of the facility.

Earthquakes

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck southern Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu Island at 9:26 p.m. local time Thursday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Local media said the violent shaking sparked fires and destroyed some homes, possibly trapping people inside. The tremor occurred at a depth of 6.2 miles, the USGS also reported. The quake’s epicenter was 4.3 miles southwest of Ueki, and 385 miles south-southeast of Seoul, South Korea. In the hour following the main quake, there were three aftershocks – two measuring 4.8 magnitude and the other a 5.4. Japan’s Meteorological Agency told the Associated Press there was no threat of a tsunami. Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital said it has admitted or treated 45 people, including five with serious injuries.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Asian nation of Myanmar Wednesday night, but officials were cautiously optimistic that the powerful shaking didn’t result in any deaths. The tremor was a deep 83.7 miles below the surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, with an epicenter located 46 miles southeast of Mawlaik and 246 miles north of the capital, Naypyidaw. Because the quake occurred in the sparsely populated jungle, casualties and damage were minimized. Nobody in the area was seriously injured, but nine pagodas were damaged.

Wildfires

Arizona could face the most dangerous fire season in years, according to Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s chief forester. And it’s already started. “Last year we burned less than 500 acres’ by this time last year, said Jeff Whitney. “So far this year we’ve burned over 2,100 acres.’ Above-average rainfall earlier in the year has resulted in widespread growth of vegetation which is now drying out. Conditions now are very similar to 2002 and 2011. In 2002 the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire burned about 468,000 acres. And the 2011 Wallow Fire consumed more than 538,000 acres.

Weather

For the second time in as many days, Texans were running for cover as large hail fell on the Lone Star State Tuesday night. This time, it was the San Antonio area in line for the damaging storm. Storm reports from the National Weather Service revealed hail as large as 3.5 inches in diameter – bigger than the size of baseballs – fell on the north side of San Antonio Tuesday night. Some residents also said the large hailstones knocked out their windows. The storms also brought heavy rain and strong winds to South Texas Tuesday night with winds gusting as high as 62 mph.

Signs of the Times (4/8/16)

April 8, 2016

Mississippi Passes Religious Freedom Law

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a controversial religious freedom bill Tuesday, a piece of legislation that gay rights groups and the state’s businesses have decried as discriminatory. Protesters had urged the governor not to sign it, saying it enables discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. But Bryant said he signed the bill into law “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government. “The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived,” he said. The law says it protects from discrimination claims anyone who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are reserved solely for marriage, and that the terms male and female pertain only to a person’s genetics and anatomy at birth.

Hackers Have Infected U.S. Energy Grid

Hackers have stolen sensitive information from American energy companies — and have planted malware in the energy grid with the intent to turn off the lights in the future. They even managed to infect at least three energy companies with Cryptolocker ransomware, a particularly nasty computer virus that locks digital files and demands a ransom payment. Newly released documents from the Department of Homeland Security are finally shedding some light on what exactly hackers are doing when they sneak into the American electrical grid. Some of the attacks described in the reports are potentially serious. Aggressive foreign government hackers broke into American companies 17 times between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014, according to DHS. They hack “primarily to conduct cyber espionage … to conduct a damaging or disruptive attack in the event of hostilities with the United States,” DHS stated in a recent internal “intelligence assessment.”

2030 Agenda Calls For Redistribution Of Wealth And Income

In the context of Participants discussed tackling inequality as a moral imperative and goal of the 2030 Agenda, and policy priorities to address inequality at national, regional and global levels. the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) organized a Special Meeting on Inequality to consider key drivers of inequality, and propose policy solutions. ECOSOC President Oh Joon noted that inequality is more than an issue of income and wealth disparities; these challenges are compounded by unequal access to basic human needs such as food, healthcare, education, drinking water and sanitation. Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, noted that inequality features prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Couched in lofty goals, Sustainable Development and Agenda 2030 are the primary strategies for the secular-humanists to attain their one-world-government objectives, which Revelation 13 reveals is orchestrated behind the curtain by that wizard of old, Satan.

Dramatic Rise in Number of Global Executions

Beheading, hanging, lethal injection, shooting — the number of people executed by countries in 2015 hit a 25-year high, according to new figures published Wednesday by Amnesty International, the British human rights group. At least 1,634 civilians were executed by governments last year using various methods, an increase of 50% compared to the year before. However, 90% of those killings took place in just three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The numbers exclude China, where these data remain a state secret, although Amnesty said thousands were almost certainly killed there in 2015 by the government. Iran killed 977 people, mostly for drug-related offenses. Executions in Saudi Arabia jumped 76% to at least 158 people. Most of them were beheaded but firing squads were also used. Amnesty said the U.S. carried out 28 executions, the lowest number since 1991. The numbers don’t include the Islamic State since it is not a recognized national government.

Panama Papers Trigger Resignations/Charges

Iceland’s prime minister became the first high-profile casualty over the leaked Panama Papers, stepping aside Tuesday following the disclosure of offshore assets that he and his wife held. That posed a conflict of interest for him, because Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, 41, had negotiated a deal for Iceland’s bankrupt banks at a time when he was a claimant in those banks. Gunnlaugsson had been expected to face a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Thursday, Icelandic news site Vísir reported. Gunnlaugsson on Monday denied any wrongdoing, but thousands protested outside the parliament building in Reykjavik over the disclosure that he owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands.

The Panama Papers claimed its first banking chief executive victim on Thursday with the resignation of Michael Grahammer, the CEO of Austrian lender Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg. Vorarlberg was one of the institutions named in the 11.5 million leaked documents published this week. Grahammer said in a brief statement he was “100% convinced that the bank broke no laws or violated sanctions” agreements, but that he was stepping down because of the media’s inaccurate portrayal of the case. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority said Thursday it has asked 20 banks and other financial firms to disclose their dealings with Mossack Fonseca, after reports that some of them allegedly helped clients hide money from tax authorities.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has been linked to two offshore companies identified in the Panama Papers leak, will appear before a judge Friday to address his role in the businesses. Macri, a wealthy conservative who promised to crack down on corruption, has also said he intends to set up a blind trust to manage his accounts without his input for the rest of his time in office. Even as Macri tries to stave off the potential political fallout, a federal prosecutor has asked a judge for permission to investigate whether the president failed to disclose his role in the companies in his tax filings.

Panama Papers Also Reveal Corporate Shell Companies

A USA TODAY analysis of more than 1,000 American-based companies registered by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak, casts the United States openly into an uncomfortable role secretive tax havens. The analysis found that both Nevada and Wyoming have become secretive havens much like Bermuda and Switzerland have long been. And at least 150 companies set up by Mossack Fonseca in those states have ties to major corruption scandals in Brazil and Argentina. The corporate records of 1,000-plus Nevada business entities linked to the Panamanian law firm reveal layers of secretive ownership, with few having human names behind them, and most tracing back to a tiny number of overseas addresses. The financial records show more than 600 of the companies’ corporate officers are listed at one of just two addresses in the world, one in Panama and the other Seychelles, a small Indian Ocean archipelago. The addresses, in both countries, are the same as Mossack Fonseca’s headquarters.

Gun Background Checks on Record Pace

FBI background checks for gun purchases have surged by more than a third this year, compared to the first quarter of 2015. This puts 2016 is on track to surpass last year’s record of 23 million background checks. Background checks, also known as NICS, for National Instant Criminal Background Check System, totaled 7,682,141 in the first quarter this year. Gun sales are still being propelled by last year’s mass terrorist shootings in France and California, according to Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst with Wunderlich Securities. Political rhetoric from the presidential campaign is also spurring gun sales as Hillary Clinton pushes for stronger gun control.

VA Bosses in 7 States Falsified Vets’ Wait Times

Supervisors instructed employees to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs’ medical facilities in at least seven states, according to a USA TODAY analysis of more than 70 investigation reports released in recent weeks. Overall, those reports — released after multiple inquiries and a Freedom of Information Act request — reveal for the first time specifics of widespread scheduling manipulation. Employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times, the analysis shows. In some cases, investigators found manipulation had been going on for as long as a decade. The manipulation masked growing demand as new waves of veterans returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as Vietnam veterans aged and needed more health care. The newly released findings show that supervisors instructed schedulers to manipulate wait times in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont, giving the false impression facilities there were meeting VA performance measures for shorter wait times.

Economic News

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have said repeatedly that America’s unemployment rate is higher than 5%. Now a Wall Street bank agrees with them. The real rate is “more like 6%+,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a research report Tuesday. Bank of America believes that over 10 million people want a job and can’t get one. But by the Obama administration’s count, only 8 million people are among those seeking employment. It means the job market hasn’t fully healed, argues Bank of America.

The American oil boom is proving far harder to kill than OPEC expected. Even though OPEC has been drowning the world in oil, the U.S. pumped a near-record 9.18 million barrels per day in January, according to recent stats released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s down a miniscule 0.6% from the end of 2015. Many, including OPEC, expected U.S. production would crumble as oil prices declined sharply. America’s incredibly resilient oil boom has not tapped on the brakes hard enough yet to fix that epic global supply glut that has caused crude to crash as much as 75% over the past two years.

More than 40% of Americans who borrowed from the government’s main student-loan program aren’t making payments or are behind on more than $200 billion owed, raising worries that millions of them may never repay, reports the Wall Street Journal. The new figures represent the fallout of a decade-long borrowing boom as record numbers of students enrolled in trade schools, universities and graduate programs.

China has stopped bleeding cash — at least, for now. The country’s foreign exchange reserves rose by roughly $10 billion in March to $3.21 trillion, the first monthly increase since October, according to central bank data. The modest upward tick indicates that money is no longer flooding out of China at the torrid pace seen in late 2015 and early 2016. Investors had been sending huge sums out of China amid worries over a slowing economy, stock market turmoil and a weakening yuan. Now, it appears that investor concerns have eased.

Migrant Update

The European Union’s border agency admitted Tuesday it cannot fully track the flood of refugees pouring in, and said a “staggering number” of Europeans have joined terror groups only to return to the continent amid the migrant wave. Europe reported a record 1.82 million illegal border crossings last year, according to Frontex, but the group conceded that the true number of illegal crossings is probably much higher because so many refugees have entered Europe undetected. “The Paris attacks in November 2015 clearly demonstrated that irregular migratory flows could be used by terrorists to enter the EU,” the report said. “There is no EU system capable of tracing people’s movements following an illegal border-crossing.”

The EU Commission announced Wednesday it wants to change the standard that forces the first nation where a migrant arrives to process his or her asylum request. “The current system is not sustainable,” EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. The Commission on Wednesday proposed activating a “distribution key” to spread asylum applicants around the EU. That means each EU nation would have to take a set number of asylum-seekers, according to a quota devised by the bloc. However, a mandatory distribution of some asylum-seekers already in Europe has caused serious frictions among many EU nations.

Greece deported a second group of migrants Friday to Turkey as part of a European Union deal aimed at reducing the number of displaced people traveling to the continent. The 45 people sent back on a ferry from Lesbos to the Turkish port Dikili followed a four-day pause. The resumption of expulsions came amid protests in Greece by activists who say thousands of migrants are being held there in poor and overcrowded conditions. Delays have also been hampered by overburdened Greek authorities processing asylum claims. The deal between the EU and Turkey went into effect Monday, when 202 migrants were sent back. Under the terms of the deal, for each Syrian migrant that Greece returns to Turkey the EU will take in a Syrian refugee who meets asylum criteria.

Persecution Watch

After 10 months of urban conflict in Turkey’s war-torn southeast, the government has expropriated huge sections of property, apparently to rebuild and restore the historical center of the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir. But to the dismay of the city’s handful of Christian congregations, this includes all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. Unlike the state-funded mosques, Turkey’s ancient church buildings – some of which pre-date Islam – have been managed, historically, by church foundations, reports ChristianHeadlines.com. The new decision has effectively made the Diyarbakir churches – one 1,700 years old, another built only in 2003 – state property of Turkey, an Islamic country of 75 million.

The Nepali government has removed Christmas as a national holiday, which has prompted protests from the country’s Christian population. Christian Today reports that Nepal first recognized Christmas as a national holiday eight years ago when the country became a secular state. Now, however, Nepal has removed Christmas Day as a national holiday because the Nepali calendar is already too filled with the holidays of other religions. The government told Christians that those who work for the government will still be given Christmas Day off as a holiday. Nepali Christians say that this doesn’t take into account all the Christians who work in the private sector, however.

Videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts have been taken by government agents from the home of undercover journalist David Daleiden. FoxNews.com reports that agents from the California Department of Justice raided Daleiden’s home and confiscated the undercover videos Daleiden had taken of Planned Parenthood employees which show the employees casually discussing the sale of fetal body parts. Daleiden said that the agents had, however, not taken documents which he says implicate Planned Parenthood in illegal behavior. Matt Heffron, a legal advisor to Daleiden and former federal prosecutor, said that the government agents’ raid of Daleiden’s home was “outrageously out of proportion for the type of crime alleged. It’s a discredit to law enforcement [and] an oppressive abuse of government power.”

Islamic State

The Islamic State’s presence in Libya has doubled over the past year, but the political chaos in the country has prevented the United States and its allies from building a local ground force needed to confront the militants, U.S. officials said. The number of Islamic State fighters in Libya has grown to 6,000 fighters, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Thursday. The Pentagon stands ready to support a Libyan national military if current efforts to build a central government succeed and if the new government asks for help. Last week’s arrival of a prime minister to head a new U.N.-backed unity government is providing hope that Libyans will form a legitimate central government in a country that spiraled into chaos after the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.

Danish police seized weapons and ammunition in connection with the arrests of four people suspected of being radicalized by ISIS, Copenhagen police said Thursday. The arrests and seizures mark the latest efforts by European authorities to crack down on terror in the wake of attacks Brussels and Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility for both those attacks as it spreads terror from its epicenter in Iraq and Syria.

India

India’s demographics are mind-boggling: By 2020, it will have 900 million people of working age, and the average age of its citizens will fall to 29. Two years later, it should pass China to become the world’s most populous country. But unless India makes big improvements in how it educates and trains students, this demographic boom will saddle the country with another generation of unskilled workers destined to languish in low-paying jobs. The need to train workers quickly is paramount. Currently only 2% of India’s workers have received formal skills training, according to Ernst & Young. That compares with 68% in the U.K., 75% in Germany and 96% in South Korea.

Environment

A massive methane leak in Southern California was expected to have lasting impacts, but a new announcement by energy officials suggests prolonged blackouts – as long as 14 days – could also be coming as temperatures soar this summer. At the same time, state regulators continue to investigate what caused the blowout that led to the largest-known release of methane, a greenhouse gas, in U.S. history. For four months, the well leaked uncontrollably, sickening nearby residents and forcing more than 6,000 from their homes. Officials concluded that they “will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of gas shortages this summer that are large enough to cause electricity interruptions for the region’s residents and businesses.”

Earthquakes

A series of small earthquakes swarmed the state’s northwest corner after an initial magnitude 2.3 earthquake on the Arizona strip March 29, officials said Tuesday. The earthquake that struck near Littlefield, Ariz., a community about 20 miles southwest of St. George, Utah, was the first of 18 small-magnitude tremors that lasted through Sunday, according to the Arizona Geological Survey. The largest event was a 2.6 magnitude quake at about 8:36 a.m. Sunday. The area is “tectonically active,” but this was the first time a swarm has been recorded in the northwest corner of the state, bordering Utah and Nevada. The tremors were large enough to register with the seismometers installed in the area but small enough to go unnoticed.

Wildfires

Large grass fires have yet again ignited in Oklahoma and Kansas, forcing at least 300 people from their homes while destroying an unknown number of structures. The flames have been fanned by strong winds r, leaving local crews scrambling to put out the flames. Residents were asked to evacuate in the town of Freedom, some 170 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. “Strong winds across the Plains are creating dangerous conditions for the rapid spread of wildfires particularly from portions of New Mexico and west Texas, western Oklahoma, and Kansas,” reported weather.com. The 350 Complex fire has burned nearly 56,000 acres of land in Oklahoma as of Thursday morning and has forced hundreds to evacuate. It was caused by arcing power lines.

A wildfire driven by gusty winds erupted in western Arizona on Wednesday and jumped the Colorado River into California, devouring more than 2 square miles of brush and prompting the evacuation of a resort and RV parks before the flames began to ease, authorities said. The fire that began before dawn in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, which spans both states, threw huge waves of smoke into the air along the border before the 15- to 20-mph winds began easing in late afternoon. The fire, which burned more than 1,400 acres of salt cedars, mesquite and river-bottom vegetation, was only 5 percent contained by nightfall Wednesday.

Weather

Multiple rounds of April snow blanketed parts of the Midwest and Northeast this week. With a southward dip in the jet stream dominating eastern North America, waves of cold air from Canada will continue to surge into the eastern states. The air has been cold enough to deposit snow in the Midwest and Northeast. As much as 12.3 inches was reported near Negaunee, Michigan as of Thursday morning. Just under 9 inches of snow had piled up in Marquette, Michigan on Wednesday. Disturbances rotating through the southward dip in the jet stream across the East will have just enough moisture to produce additional bouts of snow into this weekend. Gusty winds will accompany these fast-moving systems, as well. The prolonged siege of Arctic air has shattered daily records in the Northeast and Great Lakes, with more record cold expected this weekend.

Tropical Cyclone Zena is passing south of Fiji just days after torrential rain triggered major flooding, and just six weeks after parts of the archipelago were slammed by Tropical Cyclone Winston, their strongest tropical cyclone on record. Zena peaked in intensity as a Category 2 cyclone Wednesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds estimated by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center of 105 mph. Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office urged residents living in flood-prone areas to move to higher ground in advance of Zena.