Posts Tagged ‘Islamic State’

Signs of the Times (11/15/17)

November 15, 2017

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

Australians Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

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

FBI Begins Investigation of Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Parts

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

Global Emissions Up 2% Despite U.S. Drop

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

Digital Pills Raise Fears About Big Brother

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

NSA Shaken to Its Core By Security Breach

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

YouTube Blocks Jihadist Videos in ‘Watershed’ Moment

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

Somalian Charged in Bloody Stabbing at Mall of America

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

FEMA Denies Texas Churches Hurricane Damage Benefits

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

Geoengineering the Weather Appears to be Backfiring

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

Human Fertility Declining Due to Pesticides

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

Vehicle Recalls Increasing, Many Remain Unrepaired

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

Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion in Aid Relief

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Syria

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

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

Europe

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

Poland

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

Zimbabwe

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

Environment

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

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

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (11/6/17)

November 6, 2017

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

Christians Are the Most Persecuted Group in the World

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

26 Killed in Texas Church Shooting

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

U.S. Leads World in Gun Violence

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

Terror Attack in New York City – Update

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

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

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

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

Antifa Rallies Fail to Attract Numbers Expected

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

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

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

126 Million Facebook Users Saw Russian Fake News

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

Millennials Prefer Socialism over Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Flood Insurance Program Broke

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

Saudi Arabia

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

Yemen

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

Spain

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

Weather

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

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

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

  • End-time weather will continue to grow hotter and more extreme, and there’s nothing humanity can do about it (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (10/31/17)

October 31, 2017

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

Investigations of Russian Meddling Makes Both Dems & GOP Nervous

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

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

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

Gay Icon Little Richard Renounces Homosexuality

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

British Christians Think Four of the Ten Commandments Not Relevant

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Death Total in Puerto Rico Disputed, Thousands Fleeing

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

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

Opponents Outnumber White Nationalists at Tennessee shout Fests

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

Skyrocketing Premiums, Slim Choices Await Obamacare Customers

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

Google Provides New Home for Jihadists Driven From YouTube

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

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

Somalia

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

Yemen

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

Spain

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

North Korea

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

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

Environment

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (10/26/17)

October 26, 2017

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

Millennials Turning to Witchcraft in Place of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

ACLU Succeeds in Killing Teen’s Unborn Baby

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

IRS Admits It Targeted Conservative Groups

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

Most Americans Now Favor Renegotiating the Iranian Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Signs Order Resuming Refugee Admissions with Extreme Vetting

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

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

Congressional Inquiries About Russian Collusion Stall

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

Congress Approves $36.5 Billion Disaster-Relief Package

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

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

Senate Repeals Rule Allowing Class-Action Suits Against Banks

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

President Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a National Health Emergency

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

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

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

Most Baby Foods and Formulas Tested Positive for Arsenic

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

U.S. Infrastructure in Bad Shape

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

Economic News

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

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

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

More Than 75% of Europe Bound Migrant Youth Face Exploitation

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

North Korea

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

Syria

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

Niger

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

Japan

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

Indonesia

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (10/21/17)

October 21, 2017

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

Senate Approves Budget as Basis for Tax Reform

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

Abortion Rate Drops 25% Over Last 6 Years

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

Pro-Abortion Feminists Attack Cathedrals in Argentina

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

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

Federal Appeals Court Delays Abortion for Undocumented, Incarcerated Teen

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

California Legally Recognizes a Third Gender

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

Record Number of LGBT-Friendly Municipal Policies

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

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

Judge Rules Against Bladensburg Cross

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

FBI Documents Reveal Russian Meddling Starting in 2009

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

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

Terrorism Now Driven by Social Media

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

Senators Demand Online Ad Disclosures as Tech Firms Resist

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

World Hunger Increases for First Time in 15 Years

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

Federal Deficit Increases in 2017 Fiscal Year

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Iraq

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

Iran

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

European Union

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

Spain

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

Environment

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

Signs of the Times (10/17/17)

October 17, 2017

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2Thessalonians 2:1-4)

ISIS Uses Las Vegas Shooting as Blueprint for Lone Wolves in U.S.

The Islamic State, also called ISIS, may or may not have had anything to do with the Las Vegas attack that killed 58 innocent Americans and injured 500 on Oct. 1. However, by claiming credit for Paddock’s attack at the same time the FBI has been silent on the shooter’s motive, ISIS is exploiting it for a propaganda coup, according to national-security experts. This past weekend, ISIS used the Vegas attack in a chilling appeal for “lone wolves” to take sniper shots at American motorists traveling down highways and to lay small bombs in rural roadways, as reported by WorldNetDaily. ISIS drew from the Las Vegas attack and its carefully planned carnage to suggest new operations for lone wolves, reports Site Intelligence Group, a respected chronicler of what it calls “extremist” activity around the world whether right wing, left wing or Islamic. In its Knights of Lone Jihad, series, ISIS declares, “May Allah facilitate more attacks like this to our brothers who are preparing to hit in their own lands the nations that fight the Muslims. You can carry many attacks on groups [of] kuffars similar to the one that our brother carries out in Las Vegas.”

Michelle Obama’s Library Uses Demonic Drag Queen to Read LGBTQ Books to Children

The Michelle Obama public library in Long Beach, California, has presented to children who are part of its young readers program a huge array of diversity and “inclusion” agendas. However, they went over the top when a demonically costumed drag queen, Xochi Mochi, read to children for LGBTQ History Month. It happened at the Obama library for the “Drag Queen Story Hour,” a part of a collaboration between the LBPL, the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network and the LGBTQ nonprofit Imperial Court of Long Beach, according to the Long Beach Public Library’s calendar. The event description reads: “Join us for a celebration of LGBTQ History Month! All ages welcome! Celebration will include: Drag Queen Story Hour featuring Xochi Mochi at 12pm, a community art hour at 1pm and an LGBTQ History Timeline Workshop starting at 2pm. Brought to you by a collaboration between the Long Beach Public Library, The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, the GSA Network and The Imperial Court of Long Beach.”

Former Transgender: It’s Insane to Ignore Underlying Mental Illness

Alarmed that an overwhelming number of transgender youth are harming themselves, a former transgender says they need help, not affirmation. Research from the University of Cambridge reports that 96 percent of transgender youth harm themselves, including cutting and suicide attempts. Approximately 400 Scottish students were surveyed for the study, which showed that 40 percent of trans youth have attempted suicide. That number mirrors figures cited by the trans community in the United States. The alarming numbers are not new, says Walt Heyer, who transitioned from male to female in his 40s before reverting back. Heyer now speaks and writes about the transgender issue at age 74 after living as “Laura” for eight years. Heyer has stated his struggles began at the age of five when his grandmother began dressing him in female clothes and a relative began sexually abusing him shortly thereafter.  Heyer says the medical community is rushing transgenders into a life-altering surgery without treating the underlying causes. “Sixty to seventy percent of them,” he says of transgenders, “are suffering from undiagnosed and untreated comorbid disorders such as bipolar disorder, dissociative disorder, body dismorphic disorder, even schizophrenia.”

Boy Scouts to Allow Girls to Join

The Boy Scouts will soon include girls, and not everyone’s happy about it. The 107-year-old organization announced Wednesday that younger girls will be allowed to join Cub Scouts and that older girls will be eligible to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout. “The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls,” Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. BSA said the expansion is also aimed at helping busy families consolidate programs for their children. BSA membership has been declining for years. In 2016, the organization reported 2.3 million youth members, a huge decrease from the peak in 1972 of 6.5 million members. The announcement drew praise from scouting leaders, mixed reactions from women’s groups and criticism from Girl Scouts USA. “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today — and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success,” Girl Scouts USA said.

Federal Judge Blocks Third Version of Trump’s Travel Ban

A federal judge on Tuesday largely blocked the Trump administration from implementing the latest version of the president’s controversial travel ban, setting up yet another legal showdown on the extent of the executive branch’s powers when it comes to setting immigration policy. The decision from Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii is sure to be appealed, but for now, it means that the administration cannot restrict the entry of travelers from six of the eight countries that officials said were either unable or unwilling to provide information that the United States wanted to vet their citizens. The latest ban was set to fully go into effect in the early morning hours of Wednesday, barring various types of travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. Watson’s order stops it, at least temporarily, with respect to all the countries except North Korea and Venezuela.

California Governor Stands Up for Religious Freedom

In a decision surprising to many, the governor of far-left California has supported the right of religious institutions to exercise their faith in hiring decisions. California recently became a “sanctuary state” that ignores federal immigration laws, has led the fight against traditional marriage and, among many other legislative measures, restricted the right of Christian counselors to help overcome same-sex attraction. But now Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed AB 569, a bill that would restrict the freedom of religious institutions to make hiring decisions consistent with their beliefs. Brown returned the bill without his signature, explaining to the legislature that it conflicts with the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which has an exception for religious institutions.

California Declares Emergency to Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency to combat a hepatitis A outbreak that has claimed 18 lives in San Diego. Brown said the federally-funded supply of vaccines is inadequate. His proclamation allows the state to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers and distribute them. He said the state would place an order Monday or Tuesday and supplies would reach the state soon after. California has distributed 81,000 federally-funded vaccine doses since the outbreak began and local jurisdictions have acquired more but the supply is insufficient, said Dr. Gil Chavez, epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health. California is experiencing the largest hepatitis A outbreak in the United States transmitted from person to person — instead of by contaminated food — since the vaccine became available in 1996. The state says the majority affected are homeless, drug users, or both.

Puerto Rico Still Struggling

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged this island, more than 35% of the island’s residents — American citizens — remain without safe drinking water. Some residents are turning to potentially risky sources to get by, including water flowing from a hazardous waste site. Only 14 percent of the island has seen its power restored and only 53 percent of the island has cell service. The death toll was raised to 48 Saturday after a review of medical records.

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Largest in World

Nitrogen fertilizers and sewage sludge runoff from factory farms are responsible for creating an enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. As fertilizer runs off farms in agricultural states like Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and others, it enters the Mississippi River, leading to an overabundance of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, in the water. This leads to the development of algal blooms, which alter the food chain and deplete oxygen, resulting in dead zones. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest recorded dead zone in the world,1 beginning at the Mississippi River delta and spanning more than 8,700 square miles — about the size of New Jersey. The fishing industry is taking a big hit, each year getting worse. Nancy Rabalais, professor of oceanography at Louisiana State University and an expert on dead zones, has measured oxygen levels in the Gulf since 1985. She blames agricultural runoff entering the Mississippi River for this growing environmental disaster. Recent measurements reveal the area has only half the oxygen levels required to sustain basic life forms. A study published last year revealed nitrogen builds up far below the soil surface, where it can continue to leach into groundwater for 35 years. This means environmental concerns would persist for decades even if farmers were to stop using nitrogen fertilizers altogether.

With or Without Obamacare, Insurers are Thriving

President Trump is continuing his push to try and put an end to the Obamacare — with or without Congress. But the big five health insurers have been doing just fine since the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, took effect more than seven years ago. So have three other smaller insurers. All eight have outperformed the broader market. The S&P 500 is up about 220% since the law went into effect – insurers even more. The gains come despite the fact that it has been a tumultuous seven years for the industry. Most health insurers have thrived in spite of the uncertainty because of growth in other areas of the health insurance market, such as employer-based plans and Medicare and Medicaid coverage. President Trump boasted Friday that his recent executive orders to dismantle Obamacare had driven down the stocks of insurers.

Drug Industry Derails DEA’s War on Opioids

In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets. By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.

Digital Currencies Shaking Up World Economies

It’s time for the world’s central banks and regulators to get serious about digital currencies, according to the head of the International Monetary Fund. Global financial institutions are taking risks by not watching and understanding emerging digital currencies that are already starting to shake up the financial services and global payments system, according to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. “I think that we are about to see massive disruptions,” Lagarde told CNBC in a Facebook Live interview on the sidelines of the IMF Annual Meetings in Washington D.C. The digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin no longer stands alone as many more are being introduced on a regular basis. Lagarde didn’t rule out that the IMF could at some point develop its own cryptocurrency. She pointed to the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR), a currency the IMF created to serve as an international reserve asset, that could incorporate technology similar to cryptocurrencies. Intelligence sources say Russia’s President Putin has ordered the country to develop its own digital cryptocurrency.

  • The global elite are intent on minimizing if not eliminating the use of cash. When most of our savings and transactions are digital, it will be very easy to flip a switch and take control of our money – e.g. to enforce the ‘mark of the beast’

Central Banks Now Control Over 99% of World’s Money Supply

Today, less than 0.1% of the population of the world lives in a country that does not have a central bank. A central bank manages a nation’s currency, money supply, and interest rates. Central banks also oversee the commercial banking system of their respective countries. In contrast to a commercial bank, a central bank possesses a monopoly on increasing the monetary base in the country, and usually also prints the national currency. Central Banks have been behind the enormous increase in world debt which has officially hit the 217 trillion-dollar mark according to the Institute of International Finance, although other estimates put this number far higher. This is 327% of the world’s annual economic output (GDP), meaning that debt exceeds income by more than three times. Never before in human history has our world been so saturated with debt. But it’s only the people at the top of the pyramid who benefit from the debt which is why the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. It has gotten to the point that eight men have as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on this planet combined.

  • This is how the global elitists are enslaving the masses to bring about the one world government prophesied in Revelation 13.

Economic News

The U.S. government will dole out nearly 2 million work permits this year to immigrants who for the most part came to the country illegally or have some other tentative status, but who have been granted a foothold thanks to a loose immigration policy, according to statistics released last week. Almost all of those permits are discretionary, meaning the government could deny them if officials choose to do so. The statistics were released as part of President Trump’s commitment to more transparency in the immigration system, under the terms of his April “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, and are giving researchers new insights into how the legal immigration system affects the job market. Meanwhile, the country’s main technology guest-worker program has essentially become a pipeline for Indians to gain a foothold in the U.S. job market, according to the statistics, which show that people from India filed nearly 75 percent of all applications this year for H-1B worker petitions, the main high-skilled guest-worker program.

What percentage of the U.S. budget goes toward foreign aid? Your answer might be 10% or even 25%. It’s much less. Foreign aid is only 1% of our annual federal budget and includes both economic aid and security assistance. Another question people have been asking is what proportion of that aid goes to Israel – the answer is just 6% of the 1%. Israel is not the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. Afghanistan costs American tax payers $4.7 billion per year from both the economic and security assistance budgets. The $3.1 billion in security assistance to Israel is far less than what the United States spends on other countries like Korea, Japan and Germany if you also take into account the larger Department of Defense budget for things like overseas military bases. While the United States and Israel closely cooperate on multiple levels, the only U.S. service personnel on the ground in Israel are a few dozen stationed at an Israeli facility housing a U.S. military radar installation.

Israeli Aircraft Strike Assad Regime Missile Battery

Israeli aircraft were fired upon by an anti-aircraft missile battery manned by troops loyal to Syria’s Assad regime Monday morning. They returned fire and destroyed the battery, which was stationed approximately 50 kilometers east of Damascus. IDF Spokesman Brig.Gen. Ronen Manelis declared “we see the Syrian regime as responsible and see these missiles as a clear Syrian provocation, and it will not be accepted.”

North Korea

North Korea says it might be willing to engage in diplomacy with the United States over its missile program – but only after it has an ICBM capable of reaching “all the way to the East Coast of the mainland U.S.” The comments, made Monday, followed shortly after word that a congressional subcommittee on homeland security heard from two experts who have been studying America’s vulnerability to an existential threat – a real-life “doomsday scenario.” They testified that if just one of the nuclear weapons North Korea is now known to possess could be directed toward the heartland of the U.S. and detonated in the upper atmosphere, it could fry the electrical grid with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), paralyze communications and transportation nationwide, instantly plunge the country back into a 19th century-style existence and cause 90 percent of Americans to starve to death in one year. On Monday, CNN quoted a North Korean official affirming Pyongyang’s dedication to acquiring a long-range ICBM.

Amid all the attention on Pyongyang’s progress in developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental United States, the North Koreans have also quietly developed a cyberprogram that is stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and proving capable of unleashing global havoc, notes the New York Times. Unlike its weapons tests, which have led to international sanctions, the North’s cyberstrikes have faced almost no pushback or punishment, even as the regime is already using its hacking capabilities for actual attacks against its adversaries in the West. And just as Western analysts once scoffed at the potential of the North’s nuclear program, so did experts dismiss its cyberpotential — only to now acknowledge that hacking is an almost perfect weapon for a country that is isolated and adept at secrecy.

Islamic State

The Islamic State’s capital in Syria fell to U.S.-backed forces Tuesday, the most significant defeat for the militant group since it burst onto the world stage three years ago as a seemingly invincible force. The defeat of the Islamic State in Raqqa after a four-month battle with U.S.- backed forces leaves only remnants of the group along the Euphrates River Valley stretching between Iraq and Syria. ISIS fighters have been pushed out of most of their major strongholds in both countries, bringing to a crashing end the group’s ambitious vow to create a powerful “caliphate” it would rule across the Middle East. What was supposed to be a cataclysmic battle ended relatively quickly as exhausted militants in the northern Syrian city surrendered, attempted to flee or were killed by coalition airstrikes and ground attacks. The defeat in Raqqa doesn’t spell the end of the group, which has transformed itself from an occupying army to a global terror network as it has been ousted from Iraqi and Syrian strongholds.

Philippines

The Philippines city of Marawi has been liberated from ISIS-affiliated militants following a five-month standoff, President Rodrigo Duterte announced Tuesday. Around 20 to 30 militants remain in the city, holding about 20 hostages. Fighting continues in Marawi, despite Duterte’s declaration of liberation. General Eduardo Ano, Chief of Staff for the AFP, told reporters in Marawi that since such a small number of militants remain in a small area of the city, it can be considered a law enforcement matter and mopping-up operations against those militants are now underway.

Iraq

The United States has made an urgent call for calm in northern Iraq as Kurdish fighters and Iraqi forces — two of Washington’s key allies in the region — clash over disputed territory. Iraqi forces seized the coveted oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday after three years under Kurdish control. The Kurds took control of the city after it was abandoned by Iraqi government forces during ISIS’ lightning offensive in 2014. But Iraqi Prime Minsiter Haider al-Abadi ordered the operation to “secure” it on Sunday, weeks after the Kurds held an independence referendum claiming the disputed city as their own. At least 16 Kurdish fighters were killed in the operation, Kurdish Peshmerga commanders said, claiming Iraqi forces used US-supplied weapons against them. President Trump insisted Washington would not take sides in the dispute.

Afghanistan

The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers in the country’s south, east and west, and killing at least 74 people, officials said. Among those killed in one of the attacks was a provincial police chief. Scores were also wounded, both policemen and civilians. In southern Paktia province, 41 people — 21 policemen and 20 civilians — were killed when the Taliban targeted a police compound in the provincial capital of Gardez with two suicide car bombs. Among the wounded were 48 policemen and 110 civilians. The Ministry of Interior said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that after the two cars blew up in Gardez, five attackers with suicide belts tried to storm the compound but that Afghan security forces killed all five terrorists.

Somalia

The death toll from twin bombing attacks in the heart of Somalia’s capital rose to over 300 as of Monday as emergency crews pulled more bodies from cars and buildings demolished by the Saturday blasts, which officials called one of the deadliest attacks to hit Mogadishu since an Islamist insurgency began in 2007. President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo declared three days of national mourning and called for donations of blood and funds to help the victims. The truck explosions left at least 300 others wounded, and the toll was expected to rise. The Somali government blames on the Islamist al-Shabab extremist group, which vowed to step up attacks after the U.S. and Somalia’s new president announced new military action against it earlier this year. “This is the deadliest incident I ever remember” since the 1990s, when the government collapsed, a shaken Senator Abshir Ahmed said in a Facebook posting.

Wildfires

Rising winds fanned the Northern California wildfires again over the past weekend, forcing hundreds more people to flee from their homes in the state’s fabled wine country and destroying more buildings. With 40 confirmed deaths in Northern California, this has been the deadliest week of wildfires in state history. Officials say roughly 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed and about 150 people are still missing. At least 10,000 firefighters are working to control these blazes. There’s an estimated $1.2 billion in damage in Santa Rosa alone. A new fire in California’s wine country prompted more evacuations early Saturday in Santa Rosa as wildfires continued to rage. “We’ve lost almost 5 percent of the housing stock in Santa Rosa,” Mayor Chris Coursey said. Containment on some of the massive wildfires blazing in Northern California has slowly increased amid the unprecedented crisis. The 55-square mile Tubbs fire is one of the largest of 17 wildfires burning through California. As of Saturday morning, it was 44 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. About 25,000 of the approximately 100,000 residents under mandatory evacuation orders have been allowed to return to their homes on Monday.

As of Monday morning, at least 41 people have died and dozens more were injured in Spain and Portugal due to a series of wildfires. Unseasonably warm weather was to blame for the deadly fires in northern and central Portugal, according to Civil Protection Agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar. They spread quickly in densely forested areas, and because of the warmth, the fire situation remains “critical,” Gaspar also said. In Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the country’s fires were started by arsonists. Firefighters might get more favorable conditions in the coming days, with cooler, wetter weather in the forecast.

Weather

Thousands were evacuated and flights canceled Sunday after Tropical Storm Khanun began to lash Southern China with heavy rain and strong winds. The typhoon prompted the evacuation of 4,041 coastal residents in Fujian Province and more than 17,000 ships carrying nearly 28,700 crew members returned to port. As of Sunday afternoon, more than 260 arriving and departing flights at the Meilan International Airport in Haikou have been canceled.

Tropical Cyclone Ophelia hammered portions of Ireland and the western United Kingdom with damaging winds on Monday, downing trees, knocking out power to thousands and killing at least three people. Some roofs have been blown off. Wind gusts topped 70 mph in several locations, including one gust to 119 mph on Fastnet Island off the southern coast of Ireland. Wildfire smoke from Portugal and Spain, as well as Saharan dust, was drawn northward by Ophelia into the U.K. and France. Ophelia has gone the farthest east a Category 3 hurricane has ever travelled in the Atlantic Basin in recorded history.

Signs of the Times (10/13/17)

October 13, 2017

Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25, 32-34)

Thousands of Christians Gathered in D.C. for Prayer and Worship Event

Thousands of Christians from all over the country gathered this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to worship and pray for a “spiritual shift” in America. The event, called America’s Tent of Meeting, brought together some 30,000 at the National Mall. The ATM event was sponsored by Awaken the Dawn. Speakers at the event included Mike Bickle, of the International House of Prayer and Francis Chan, of We Are Church. Attendees prayed in shifts for 24 hours a day until the event ended Monday morning. There were 58 prayer tents— one for each state and eight more regional tents. “I see Awaken the Dawn as part of a bigger story that God is telling,” said Michael Beardslee of Phoenix, Arizona, in an interview with The Christian Post. “With our country and the mess that it’s in and the disunity, I thought ‘Lord Jesus, thank you that somebody got a vision of unity and of what that would look like.'”

Trump Pledges Fealty to Religious Freedom, Traditional Values

President Donald Trump assured a high-profile gathering of Christian conservatives on Friday that his administration will defend religious organizations, promising a return to traditional American values. Trump pledged to turn back the clock in what he described as a nation that has drifted away from its religious roots. He bemoaned the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” as a secular seasonal greeting and vowed to return “Merry Christmas” to the national discourse. He noted, as Christian conservatives often do, that there are four references to the “creator” in the Declaration of Independence, saying that “religious liberty is enshrined” in the nation’s founding documents. “I pledged that in a Trump administration, our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before,” Trump said. “Above all else in America, we don’t worship government. We worship God.” President Donald Trump defended his pro-life views and actions as president, saying, “To protect the unborn I reinstated a policy first put in place by President Reagan, the Mexico City Policy.” He added, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life. We are all made by the same God in heaven.”

AG Sessions: Respect Christian Business Owners’ Rights

While people debate whether a religious business owner should be forced to conduct business in a way he or she does not agree with, the attorney general of the United States believes that Americans too often ignore what the United States Constitution actually says about the issue. During an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Faith Nation, host David Brody asked whether a Christian cake baker has the right not to sell a cake to someone if they’re having a “gay” wedding. “The matter is in litigation, but I would just say to you that too often we have ignored what the Constitution actually says,” Sessions responded to CBN’s Brody. “It says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. So, the question is, the cake baker has more than just a personal view here. He has a religious view and he feels that he is not being able to freely exercise his religion by being required to participate in a ceremony in some fashion that he does not believe in.”

Gay Coffeeshop Owner Kicks Out Christian Group

A pro-life Christian group was told they had to leave a Seattle coffeeshop by the business’s gay owner. The Washington Times reports that members of the pro-life group Abolish Human Abortion came into Seattle’s Bedlam Coffee to order drinks following their time distributing pro-life pamphlets around the community. Once Bedlam’s owner found out that a pro-life Christian group had entered his business, he told them to leave. “I’m gay. You have to leave,” Ben Borgman says in the video of the encounter, posted to Facebook by Abolish Human Abortion. Many who watched the video called out the hypocrisy in our society today between those who approve of this gay coffeeshop owner having the right to kick this pro-life group out of his business and many of the same people who accuse Christian business owners such as bakery owner Jack Phillips of discriminating against gay people when he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

  • Tolerance only seems to work in one direction both in society and in the courts where it’s okay to be biased against Christianity but not anything else

Judge Upholds Congressional Prayer Despite Atheist Challenge

Congress will continue opening sessions in prayer after a challenge to the tradition by an atheist. A federal court ruled against the lawsuit brought by Daniel Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Barker argued he was denied the opportunity to give an opening invocation in Congress while other guest chaplains were allowed to do so. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said in her decision that House rules didn’t allow Barker to lead the prayer because he had left his faith. Collyer also pointed out opening prayer has been a part of Congress for more than two centuries and it doesn’t conflict with the establishment clause according to the United States Supreme Court. House Speaker Paul Ryan was quick to applaud the decision. “Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated. The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer,” Ryan said.

Trump Refused to Re-Certify Iran Nuclear Agreement

President Trump, who has called the Iran nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever,” has found a way to distance himself from it symbolically without causing an immediate rupture with Iran or U.S. allies who want to keep the accord in place. Trump announced Friday his refusal to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement, which prevents Iran from trying to develop nuclear weapons for at least a decade in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. But Trump will not ask Congress to re-impose sanctions right away, a move that could prompt Iran to back out of the deal and resume its nuclear development program —much to the dismay of other world powers who signed onto the deal along with the U.S. Congress requires the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement every three months. Despite Trump’s refusal to do so this time, there are many reasons why Congress may be unwilling to take punitive action against Iran on its own. For one thing, U.N. inspectors say Iran is in compliance, and there may be little appetite for a new crisis involving nuclear weapons on top of the mounting tensions with North Korea’ over its nuclear program. In addition, the deal has strong support among businesses eager to sign deals with oil-rich Iran. Boeing has a $3 billion contract to provide commercial aircraft.

Iran’s Nuclear Program Not Halted Says New Report

President Donald Trump is expected this week to “decertify” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known simply as the Iran deal, declaring that the agreement reached in 2015 by the U.S. and five other international powers is not in America’s national interest. The matter will then be tossed back to Congress, which will have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose hefty pre-2015 sanctions. While the President’s likely move has generated wide condemnation from foreign policy leaders — who reiterate that the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has maintained Iran is in compliance — a new 52-page investigative report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), entitled: “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” asserts that the country’s nuclear weapons program has far from halted. “It has been known for years that Iran has two nuclear programs — one is civilian and the other, the military, has the goal of giving Iran its first nuclear bomb,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the NCRI. “The civilian sector of the nuclear program has systematically provided a plausible logistical cover for the military sector, and acts as a conduit for it. The military aspect of the program has been and remains at the heart of Iran’s nuclear activities.”

German intelligence agencies have warned German companies that Iran is still trying to circumvent restrictions on the sale of dual-use items for its rocket and missile technology program, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The BfV domestic intelligence agency reminded German firms in the document that sales of certain technologies remained illegal despite sanctions relief triggered by the landmark Iran nuclear deal of 2015. “It is important to note that Iran continues to pursue an ambitious rocket and missile technology program which is not affected by the sanctions relief,” the document said.

Trump Issues Executive Order on Health Care

The White House announced Thursday that President Trump has taken executive action on health care as Congress stalls on efforts to overhaul ObamaCare, calling for a plan that could let employers band together and offer coverage across state lines. The executive order aims to offer “alternatives” to ObamaCare plans and increase competition in order to bring down costs. According to officials, Trump will direct the secretary of labor to consider expanding access to Association Health Plans, which could allow employers to form groups across state lines offering coverage. The order also calls on other federal agencies to consider expanding coverage in less-regulated, low-cost, short-term insurance plans not subject to ObamaCare rules. The move comes after congressional Republicans repeatedly have been unable to pass legislation repealing or reforming the Affordable Care Act, which critics say has led to rising premiums and diminishing coverage options – in some cases forcing consumers to lose their previous plans and doctors. Trump’s executive order could clear the way for cheaper, more bare-bones insurance policies. The president, though, used the overnight decision to up pressure on Democrats to negotiate a “fix” to the “imploding” health care law.

Trump Plans to Immediately Halt Payment of Subsidies to Insurers

President Trump announced plans Friday to halt essential payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act “immediately,” in a major blow to ObamaCare that is likely to draw a legal challenge. The White House said in a statement that the Department of Health and Human Services has determined there is no appropriation for so-called cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers under the ObamaCare law. Trump’s decision was expected to rattle already-unsteady insurance marketplaces. The president has previously threatened to end the payments, which help reduce health insurance copays and deductibles for people with modest incomes, but remain under a legal cloud. The Justice Department took swift action, notifying a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., in connection with a related lawsuit that an upcoming Oct. 18 payment “will not occur.” The decision is the latest effort in the president’s bid to ultimately “repeal and replace” what’s considered the signature legislation of his White House predecessor.

DOJ Issues ‘Last Chance’ Warning to Sanctuary Cities

The Justice Department on Thursday delivered a “last chance” warning to cities suspected of having “sanctuary” policies to drop their resistance to federal immigration officials. The DOJ announced that five jurisdictions “have preliminarily been found to have laws, policies, or practices that may violate” a key federal statute concerning cooperation with federal immigration officials. They are: Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Cook County, Ill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written statement that sanctuary cities “adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law.” Sessions earlier this year said any cities and counties out of compliance could lose certain federal grant money. However, a federal judge in September blocked Sessions from withholding those grants for now, while a Chicago lawsuit against the department plays out in the courts.

U.S. to Pull Out of UNESCO

The Trump administration said Thursday it is pulling out of UNESCO, citing concerns over financial issues and an “anti-Israel bias” among other problems at the cultural organization. The withdrawal will take place at the end of next year, according to a State Department statement. “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” according to the statement. The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011. UNESCO’s World Heritage program protects cultural sites and traditions around the world, according to the AP. The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, to promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and to defend media freedom, among other activities, the AP said.

Puerto Rico Still Struggling After 3 Weeks

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, more than 80 percent of the island is still without power. Just 63 percent of the island’s residents have access to clean drinking water, and only 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are operating, according to FEMA. Organizations and charities on the U.S. mainland trying to send supplies to the island are facing a series of bottlenecks that are keeping help from reaching those most in need. The barriers range from a lack of communication to blocked roads to a shortage of vehicles and drivers to make deliveries. Tangled power lines across roads, washed out bridges and highways and knocked out cellphone towers and radio antennas across the island add to the difficulty. The backlog is impeding the delivery goods and equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, such as food and bottled water, bucket trucks, front-end loaders and 275,000 gallons of diesel and 75,000 gallons of gasoline.

Unanswered Questions in Las Vegas Massacre

Jesus Campos, the Mandalay Bay security guard shot by Stephen Paddock in the moments leading up to the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, was set to break his silence Thursday night with five television interviews. But, when the cameras were about to roll, and media gathered in the building to talk to him, Campos reportedly bolted, and, as of early Friday morning, it wasn’t immediately clear where he was. New discrepancies about the timeline of the attack — for which Las Vegas Police and MGM Resorts have given conflicting accounts – doesn’t dispute Campos is still a hero for saving a maintenance worker and possibly stopping additional shots. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Paddock fired about 200 bullets from his room at the resort starting at 9:59 p.m. on Oct. 1 — the volley in which Campos was hit — and then began opening fire on the music festival crowd six minutes later. Police had earlier said the opposite – that Campos was struck after Paddock started firing out the window.

Economic News

The International Monetary Fund upgraded its estimate for the pace of global economic growth in 2017 and next year, citing stronger growth in the first half of the year in the eurozone, Japan, and some emerging markets. Globally, the IMF upped its growth forecast to 3.6% in 2017 and 3.7% in 2018, which were both 0.1% higher than projections back in July. Global growth in 2016 was 3.2%. In July, the IMF lowered its forecast for U.S. growth to 2.1% for 2017 and 2018, down from earlier projections of 2.3% and 2.5%.

The United States in 2015 collected $14,794 per capita in tax revenue, according to data from the OECD, which is a group of 34 democracies with market economies. That’s well below what many other OECD members collected. Luxembourg took the top spot, with $42,655 collected per person. Norway came in second, collecting $30,140. As a share of the economy, the U.S. collected 26.4% of its gross domestic product in total revenue, well below the 34.3% OECD average. By that measure, Denmark takes the top spot at 46.6%. However, the top U.S. corporate rate is 35%. When combined with state and local business taxes, it’s just over 39% on average. That’s higher than the average rates of countries in the OECD. It’s also higher than that of the 15 largest economies in the world, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Social Security recipients will get a 2% increase in benefits in 2018, which is slightly lower than projected this summer but up sharply from the past two years. The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) covers more than 61 million Social Security beneficiaries and more than 8 million recipients of Supplemental Security Income benefits. Some people get both. The average person will get about $25 more per month. The rate of the increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index. The Social Security Board of Trustees had projected in July that this year’s increase would be 2.2%. While it fell short of that amount, it came after an increase of 0.3% for 2017 and no change in 2016.

Middle East

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced a deal Thursday that could end a decade long rift. The agreement between moderate Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, also could help relieve mass suffering in Gaza and reduce chances of another war with Israel, officials say. Under the terms of the agreement, announced in Cairo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could resume governing Gaza a decade after Hamas overran the territory. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist group. Egyptian-led talks between Fatah and Hamas have been taking place since September. The two Palestinian parties — the secular, internationally-recognized Fatah and the Islamist, militant Hamas — have been at odds since Hamas swept the 2006 Gaza elections and engaged in violent street battles, ultimately ousting Palestinian Authority officials from the enclave.

Islamic State

Islamic State suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said.  A large number of people were also injured by the three car bombs set off by the attackers, the source said. The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir al-Zor and Hasaka provinces, said a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The U.S. military is ramping up operations and bombing raids against the Islamic State in Libya, where the terrorist group’s fighters have increasingly found refuge as their territorial base shrinks in Syria and Iraq. U.S.-backed militias largely crushed the Islamic State’s Libya operation in late 2015, but signs that the group is gaining a new foothold in the North African nation began emerging last month. Images of Islamic State fighters moving through the vast deserts around their former stronghold in Libya’s northern coastal city of Sirte circulated through the terrorist group’s social media and online propaganda sites in mid-September. Libya is seen as a promising base for the terrorist group because a deep factional split has prevented the creation of a functioning national government in Tripoli since the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. While the Trump administration has publicly resisted a major U.S. military role in Libya, the Pentagon wasted little time responding to the flurry of Islamic State activity there. On Sept. 22, military officials announced that American fighter jets had been dispatched to pound an Islamic State encampment roughly 150 miles south of Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown.

Afghanistan

An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three children who were kidnapped by a Taliban-affiliated group in Afghanistan five years ago have been freed, U.S. and Pakistani authorities said Thursday. The Pakistani army said its soldiers recovered the family in an operation based on U.S. intelligence. Caitlan Coleman and her husband Joshua Boyle were abducted in 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan and were held captive by the Haqqani network. Coleman, 32, from Stewartstown, Pa., was seven months pregnant when she was captured after travelling to Afghanistan via Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Fox News reported. The couple had three children while in captivity. It is believed the family’s captors are holding two other American hostages: Kevin King, an university professor who taught in Kabul and was captured in August 2016, and Paul Overby, a Massachusetts writer, who vanished in May 2014. The news of the release comes a month after President Trump announced a new strategy to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the Taliban and other militant groups would no longer find safe haven in Pakistan.

Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suspended his controversial war on drugs this week, ending a bloody campaign that claimed thousands of lives and brought international condemnation. “This is better for the bleeding hearts and the media,” Duterte said in a speech Thursday. Duterte ordered the country’s police to disband anti-drug units and cease Operation Double Barrel, a campaign that targeted high-level dealers and street pushers. The crackdown resulted in almost 3,900 deaths, according to official police figures. However, rights groups and critics claim that thousands more have been killed in vigilante campaigns and extra-judicial killings. The moves comes amid a public outcry over the brutal police killings of three teenagers. It comes also a few weeks before the Philippines will face international scrutiny as the Southeast Asian country hosts the regional ASEAN economic summit Nov. 10-11. A delegation of European lawmakers held a press conference in Manila on Monday to condemn the drug killings. Duterte threatened to expel European ambassadors who have been critical of his drugs war tactics.

Volcanoes

Scientists working in and around Yellowstone National Park say that the supervolcano sitting under the tourist attraction may blow sooner than thought, an eruption that could potentially wipe out all life on the planet. Until now, the magazine reported, geologists had thought it would take centuries for the supervolcano to make the transition back to a more active state since its last eruption. According to National Geographic, researchers, from Arizona State University The discovery, which was presented at a recent volcanology conference, comes on top of a 2011 study that found that ground above the magma reservoir in Yellowstone had bulged by about 10 inches in seven years. analyzed minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent mega-eruption and found changes in temperature and composition that had only taken a few decades. About 630,000 years ago, National Geographic reported, a powerful eruption shook the region and created the Yellowstone caldera, a bowl 40-miles wide that forms much of the park. A previous eruption occurred 1.3 million years ago, — meaning that the system might be ready for another explosion. The researchers have determined that the supervolcano has the ability to spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash — 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980 — an event that could blanket most of the United States in ash and possibly plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter.

Wildfires

More than 140,000 acres are burning in large, wildland fires throughout California. The wildfires exploded Wednesday, fueled by the return of strong winds, as authorities issued new evacuation orders and the death toll rose to 31 – a number officials believe is bound to grow. The series of 22 fires is already the worst in California history, and authorities say the situation is going to continue to get worse before it gets better. Firefighters will be struggling with windy conditions through the weekend. The fires have destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses. The blazes have left at least 180 people injured with nearly 400 still missing. More than 4,400 people are staying in shelters. At least six wineries have been destroyed. In just the past two days, fires in California’s wine country have produced as much small particulate air pollution as all the vehicles in the state produce in a year. The wildfires are also burning up marijuana farms in the so-called Emerald Triangle right before legal recreational sales were slated to begin in California.

Weather

Summerlike warmth is expected to continue in parts of the Midwest, South and East over the next one to two weeks, making many residents of these regions wonder if it’s October or August. The weather pattern that has persisted to some extent since mid-September is forecast to remain in place through at least mid-October, possibly into the end of the month. This consists of a large bulge in the jet stream, or upper-level ridge of high pressure, across the eastern U.S., allowing warmth to build and persist.

Hurricane Ophelia may strengthen into Friday and remains no threat to the United States, but could potentially brush parts of the Azores this weekend. From there, Ophelia may head for the Irish Coast. Ophelia is the 10th consecutive Atlantic named storm to become a hurricane in 2017. This ties the record for the most consecutive Atlantic named storms reaching hurricane strength.

Signs of the Times (10/9/17)

October 9, 2017

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

Former Satanist Shocked Christians Celebrate Halloween

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

Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer Reported in China

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

Attorney General Issues New Directive on Religious Freedoms

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

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

Just Revealed: ISIS Plot Against NYC Foiled Last Year

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

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

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

Paddock’s Prior Life Details in 2013 Court Deposition

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

White House & NRA Open to Regulations Against Bump Stocks

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

Border-Wall Funding Passes First Hurdle

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

Trump Administration Scrapping Obama-Era Coal Regulations

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

Trump Administration Releases Immigration Demands for DACA Bill

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

The Resistance Rises with Influx of Cash

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

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

Antifa Plotting a Mass Uprising

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

Nobel Peace Prize to Anti-Nuclear Group

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

Economic News

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

Puerto Rico

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

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

Russia

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

Spain

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

Niger

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (9/29/17)

September 29, 2017

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Students Around the World Gather for ‘See You at the Pole’

Students across world are gathered Wednesday at their school’s flagpole for the 25th annual “See You at the Pole” prayer event. The event is a simple time of prayer for countries, families, teachers, and schools. The prayer rallies are led by students who gather at flagpoles for a time of prayer before the school day begins. The Christian Post reported that at least one million students participated in the event. This year’s theme was “Fix Our Eyes,” taken from Hebrews 12:2: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” “Only as we ‘Fix Our Eyes’ on Jesus will we find peace and have the opportunity to be a part of the solution instead of the problems in our country and world,” elaborated National Network of Youth Ministries field director Doug Clark.

Trump Releases New Tax Plan

The Trump administration released details of its new tax plan Wednesday, sending it on to Congress to work out the details. Working poor people could owe no income tax, filing a return could get much simpler, and there would even be a new credit for caring for elderly relatives under a proposed tax “framework.” The plan cuts the top corporate tax rate dramatically and creates a new top rate for small businesses that is lower than the top rate for individuals. It also eliminates two taxes paid entirely by the rich, while taking away a deduction for state and local taxes that is used most heavily in some of the most wealthy, and Democrat-dominated, states. Exactly how many other deductions and credits disappear to help pay for it all, and how much gets added to the deficit or must be offset with other budget cuts, will not be known for a while. As liberal groups decry the giveaway to those at the top of the income scale, Trump is selling the plan as a boost for working families.

Obamacare Repeal Shelved for Now

GOP senators were forced to acknowledge on Tuesday that their eleventh-hour push to repeal the Affordable Care Act had failed. For the second time in two months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly conceded that he could not find 50 senators who would support partisan legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, made all the more painful by the reality that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Unlike the last failed attempt to repeal Obamacare in July, senators are in agreement that it is time for Republicans to move on to other things. With 10 months of the legislative calendar behind them, Republicans acknowledge they’ve lost precious time and cannot afford to make the same errors on tax reform and survive the 2018 midterms unscathed.

248 U.S. Counties Have More Voters than Residents

Lowndes County, Alabama, has been accused of having 131 percent of its total eligible population on its list of registered voters. Another 247 counties have the same problem, prompting the Public Interest Legal Foundation to send letters to officials, warning them to clean up their voter rolls or face legal consequences. There are 11 more Alabama counties with the problem. Kentucky has 41 counties with more voters than residents, Michigan 32, Iowa 31, Illinois 22, Mississippi 19, Colorado 17, Texas 12, Alabama 12, South Dakota 12, Nebraska 9, Georgia 6, New York 6, West Virginia 6, New Mexico 5, North Carolina 5, California 2, Louisiana 2, Montana 2, Virginia 2, Arizona 1 and Florida 1. PILF President J. Christian Adams said that during the 2016 election, 24 states had “bloated voter rolls.” “Voter fraud begins with corrupted voter rolls. Our nation’s voter rolls have records that cannot be distinguished between living or dead; citizen or alien; resident or relocated. We hear about possible cyber-attacks, but we aren’t doing enough to fix voter rolls that are certainly corrupt,” he said.

Moore Wins Republican Senate Primary Despite GOP Opposition

A former state judge who believes that “God’s law” can invalidate federal court decisions won Alabama’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday night, sending a clear warning to President Trump and GOP leadership that conservative grass-roots anti-establishment anger will continue to roil the party into the 2018 midterm elections. Roy Moore, who was twice suspended from his job as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, defeated incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was backed by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Moore is now the front-runner to win the seat in the Dec. 12 general election. He will face Democratic candidate Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.

Domestic Terrorism Cases Equal to Jihadist Cases

The FBI has about 1,000 open domestic terrorism investigations — approximately the same number as more traditional jihadi terrorist cases — the bureau’s new director said Wednesday, as he sought to assure Congress that his agents take the domestic threat seriously. After last month’s clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, Democrats said they believe the Trump administration is too focused on radical Islam and isn’t paying enough attention to white supremacists and anti-government militants here at home. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said there have been nearly three times as many domestic terrorism incidents in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, as there have been foreign-inspired jihadi incidents. She said the combined death tolls are similar for both categories — 106 for domestic and 119 for Islamic extremists.

Detroit Again the Most Violent City in America

Detroit regained the title as the most violent big city in America in 2016, witnessing more murders last year than Los Angeles, which has four times as many people, according to new FBI crime figures released Monday. According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime report, 13,705 violent crimes — including murders, rapes, assaults and robberies — were reported in Detroit last year.  That’s a 15.7% increase from the year before, which saw 11,346 violent crimes in Detroit. The jump gave the Motor City the designation of No. 1 on the list of most violent cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 100,000.  Behind Detroit, rounding out the top five most violent big cities are St. Louis at No. 2, followed by Memphis, Baltimore and Rockford, Ill., according the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report.

Antifa Leader Arrested in Berkley

A well-known far-left organizer Yvonne Felarca, a teacher at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, was charged with battery and resisting arrest after leading a protest against a conservative group. Felarca is known as the leader of the far-left group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN. Short for “anti-fascists,” these black-clad, masked and sometimes heavily armed activists more often resemble their supposed enemies as they attack peaceful protesters and police and during the riots they have conducted all around the country. Street clashes between conservatives and Antifa are now common in America’s cities. Berkeley, California, has been the site of several “Battles of Berkeley” in which violence is taken for granted. The violence by the hooded, black-clad protesters has been so extreme even Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned Antifa and called for prosecutions.

Another Day, Another Cybersecurity Breach

Whole Foods Market — which was recently acquired by tech giant Amazon — said Thursday that hackers were able to gain access to credit card information for customers who made purchases at some of its in-store taprooms and restaurants. The company did not disclose details about the locations that were targeted or how many customers might have been effected. “When Whole Foods Market learned of this, the company launched an investigation, obtained the help of a leading cyber security forensics firm, contacted law enforcement, and is taking appropriate measures to address the issue,” the company said. Whole Foods says it plans to provide updates throughout the investigation.

Russia Used Web to Spread Disinformation & Division in U.S.

Twitter said Thursday that it had shut down 201 accounts that were tied to the same Russian operatives who posted thousands of political ads on Facebook, but the effort frustrated lawmakers who said the problem is far broader than the company appeared to know. The meetings between the company and congressional investigators were part of a widening government probe into how Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter, Google and other technology platforms to widen fissures in the United States and spread disinformation during the 2016 campaign. Those companies have come under increasing pressure from Capitol Hill to investigate Russian meddling and are facing the possibility of new regulations that could affect their massive advertising businesses.

U.S. Withdraws Diplomats from Cuba over Sonic Attacks

The U.S. State Department is pulling out all families of employees and nonessential personnel from Cuba, after a string of mysterious attacks against U.S. diplomats. Twenty-one U.S. diplomats and family members became ill after fifty sonic attacks. Hearing loss and mild brain damage were experienced as a result of the sonic attacks. The Cuban government has vociferously denied any involvement in the attacks. The American embassy will continue to operate with a 60% reduction in staff. The U.S. will stop issuing visas in Cuba effective immediately because of the staff reductions. The decision is not described as a retaliatory measure. Officials say there will still be consular officials in the embassy available to assist U.S. citizens in Cuba. The State Department is also issuing a travel warning, urging Americans not to travel to Cuba because they could also be at risk as some of the attacks against diplomats have taken place at hotels where Americans stay.

Australians Request Urgent Prayer for Traditional Marriage

Australia is in the middle of a government mandated postal survey to decide the future of marriage between a man and a woman. The polls are predicting a defeat for those who believe in the biblical definition of marriage. Australian Christians are asking for prayer from all over the world for a “miracle for marriage” in Australia. The ballots must be posted back by the end of October. The Catholic Church has called for a month of ‘Prayer and Fasting for Marriage and Families’ through the month of October 2017. James Condon, a Commissioner with the Salvation Army, and the head of Strategic Church Relations for the National Day of Prayer & Fasting said, “Support for this historic initiative by the Catholic Church is gathering momentum. Key Aboriginal Christian leaders are also supporting this call for prayer and fasting to protect marriage from redefinition, noting that “Marriage between a man and a woman is sacred in Indigenous culture.”

  • Mercatornet, an Australian media outlet, has published a shocking catalog of violence, hate speech, discrimination and attempts to silence those opposed to the redefinition of marriage, most of whom it says are Christians.

Economic News

The stock market, undaunted by monster hurricanes, political tension and North Korea threats, keeps climbing to new heights. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared another 5% during the third quarter, extending the Dow’s streak of winning quarters to eight in a row. It’s the longest winning streak since an 11-quarter boom that ended in September 1997. The current streak began during the final three months of 2015 and accelerated after last fall’s election. That’s five winning quarters on President Barack Obama’s watch and three under President Trump, who took office in January.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen conceded Tuesday that inflation may be weaker than Fed officials have anticipated, a development that could lead to a more gradual rise in interest rates. While several Fed policymakers have raised that possibility, Yellen’s remarks represent her most detailed and explicit acknowledgment that the Fed may have been too confident in its long-held view that inflation will soon pick up and move toward the Fed’s annual 2% target. The Federal Reserve’s measure of inflation fell to 1.4% in July from nearly 2% early this year. The Fed has raised its benchmark short-term interest rate three times since December to a range of 1% to1¼%. Last week, it maintained its forecast of three quarter-point rate hikes next year but cut its projection from three to two increases in 2019, lifting the rate to 2.9% by 2020.

The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index fell to 119.8 in September from 120.4 in August. Conference Board economist Lynn Franco says that confidence “decreased considerably” in hurricane-hit Florida and Texas. The reading still shows that U.S. consumers are in a mostly sunny mood, suggesting that “the economy will continue expanding at its current pace,” said Franco, the Conference Board’s director of economic indicators. The U.S. economy grew at a solid 3% annual rate from April through June, lifted by healthy consumer spending.

American households, including the middle-class, saw both their incomes and wealth rise significantly from 2013 to 2016 for the first time since the Great Recession, but the gap between rich and poor continued to widen. The richest 1% of families controlled a record-high 38.6% of the country’s wealth in 2016, according to a Federal Reserve report published on Wednesday. That’s nearly twice as much as the bottom 90%, which has seen its slice of the pie continue to shrink. The bottom 90% of families now hold just 22.8% of the wealth, down from about one-third in 1989 when the Fed started tracking this measure. The Fed acknowledged in the report that the distribution of wealth has “grown increasingly unequal in recent years.”

Orange juice drinkers may pay as much as $2.30 more for a gallon of orange juice as the result of the broad swatch that Irma cut through Florida’s citrus crop. Just how high OJ prices rise depends on whether Brazil can increase its exports to the U.S. to help cover the shortfall, according to experts in the futures markets. The Florida Department of Citrus estimates that 30% to 70% of the Sunshine State’s crop was destroyed. But the result price rises could be mitigated if consumers switch to other juices or juice blends.

Middle East

Israel suffered a diplomatic setback on Wednesday when the International Police Organization (Interpol) voted to accept the “state of Palestine” as a member, joining UNESCO and a number of world governments in granting statehood status to this entity. The proposal to accept “state of Palestine” as a member passed by a vote of 75 to 24, with 34 abstentions, at the annual Interpol convention currently in Beijing.

A Palestinian man killed three Israeli security officers Tuesday, and critically wounded a fourth, at the entrance to a settlement outside Jerusalem, in one of the deadliest attacks in a two-year spate of violence. The assailant, identified by police as Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal, 37, was shot dead by Israeli security forces at the scene. He had a valid permit to work in Israel and staged the attack by hiding among fellow Palestinian day laborers who were being checked by security forces. The attack came as Israeli security forces were on high alert due to the Jewish holidays. In the past, special observances such as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have marked a time of frequent terror attacks. The IDF has taken several measures against the family of Jamal. Tearing down terrorists’ homes is meant to serve as deterrence for potential terrorists plotting future attacks. The recent wave of Palestinian terror has claimed the lives of 55 victims in almost two years.

  • On its official Facebook page, the Nablus chapter of Fatah, the main party constituting the Palestinian Authority, called Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Jamal a “martyr.” This designation according to PA regulations means that Al-Jamal’s family will qualify for a 6,000 shekel ($1700) grant and monthly stipends up to 2,600 shekel ($737), reports the Palestinian Media Watch.

Islamic State

The Islamic State on Thursday released an apparent audio recording of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi amid speculation that he might be dead. The recording, which was not dated, is the first from al-Baghdadi in almost a year. In June, Russia’s military claimed it may have killed al-Baghdadi and other senior commanders in an airstrike in late May on the southern outskirts of Raqqa. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in July it had “confirmed information” that al-Baghdadi had been killed. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman told news agencies he died in Deir az Zor province, about 80 miles southeast of the Islamic State’s defacto Syrian capital of Raqqa. ISIS wants to counteract their shrinking caliphate by instilling belief in their loyalists that Baghdadi is alive and well and still in charge.

Syria

With the U.S. consumed with domestic crises and a standoff with North Korea, Russia has quietly moved to press its advantage on the battlefield in Syria. A series of increasingly brazen Russian and Syrian airstrikes on U.S.-backed forces in Syria in recent days is the first step in a larger plan to co-opt American proxy forces fighting Islamic State and improve the Kremlin’s leverage to shape the postwar landscape, analysts say. Russian-backed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday launched a heavy artillery attack in eastern Syria near positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the alliance of Kurdish and Arab paramilitary fighters battling Islamic State militants, coalition officials confirmed Thursday. Coalition officials maintain that Monday’s attack was a case of “accidental targeting,” but it was the third such strike against anti-Islamic State forces this month and was less than a week after Russian warplanes struck SDF units in the Islamic State-held territory of Deir el-Zour.

Afghanistan

The Taliban and the Islamic State both claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Kabul’s airport Wednesday while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited the Afghan capital. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that Mattis’ plane was the target of the attack. Missiles hit in and around the Hamid Karzai International Airport hours after Mattis arrived for talks with Stoltenberg and Afghan officials and to meet U.S. forces. Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said five people were injured when one of the rockets hit a house near the airport.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that women have the right to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom. In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the order on the right to drive said it will be effective immediately. But there are still many things women are banned from doing, including: women are not allowed to travel without the permission of a male guardian — usually their father or husband; they are not allowed to “dress for beauty” and must cover their hair and bodies in public under the law; a Saudi woman cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission; they cannot eat freely in public and must eat under their face veil; and they must limit physical closeness with other men and be segregated from the opposite sex in most offices, banks and universities.

Austria

Austria on Sunday becomes the fifth European country to ban wearing full face veils such as the burqa and niqab in public, a move prompted by the recent wave of migrants from Muslim countries seeking asylum. The prohibition will also apply to scarves, masks and clown paint that cover faces to avoid discriminating against Muslim dress. The Anti-Face-Veiling Act applies to anyone in public places and buildings, including schools, shopping malls and public transportation. Other measures aimed at refugees to promote integrating them into Austria include compulsory courses to learn German and the country’s values. The new law has angered Muslim groups. The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria calls it an infringement on privacy, religious freedom and freedom of opinion.

Spain

Europe faces another high-stakes secession vote in the Catalonia district of Spain this weekend. This is the third secession vote following Scotland’s failed referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in the 2014, and the U.K.’s vote last year to leave the European Union, probably by 2019. This time around, Spain is in the hot seat as its semi-autonomous region of Catalonia pushes ahead Sunday with an independence referendum that Madrid says is illegal and wants to block. Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions. It is situated in the country’s northeast, Barcelona is its lively and tourist-friendly capital, and it’s home to 7.5 million people who have their own language, Catalan. Catalonia’s drive for independence in modern times can be traced to the Spanish Civil War, when the country’s military dictator Francisco Franco abolished any hopes of full autonomy. He suppressed the region’s culture, language and many civil liberties.

Uganda

Many Ugandans believe that sacrificial rituals can bring quick wealth and good health. Among those rituals, human sacrifice, especially of children, occurs frequently despite the government’s efforts to stop it. Seven children and two adults were sacrificed last year, said Moses Binoga, a police officer who heads Uganda’s Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force. Seven children and six adults were sacrificed in 2015. Times are tough in Uganda, and people are looking to sacrifices to improve their fortunes. The worst drought in over half a century has hit parts of East Africa, leaving more than 11 million people in this nation facing food insecurity and 1.6 million on the brink of famine, according to the Ugandan government.

Puerto Rico

The largest airport in Puerto Rico is still crippled almost a week after Hurricane Maria stuck the island. Passengers hoping to escape the devastation have packed the main terminal, which has no air conditioning since it’s running on limited emergency power. Because of damage to radar and other equipment at the airport, only 10 commercial flights between San Juan and the mainland United States could take off and land on Monday. Only 10 more are scheduled for Tuesday, airport authorities told CNNMoney. Airlines have started flying larger than normal planes to handle as many passengers as possible on the few flights that can get in and out. Commercial airlines are also carrying tons of needed supplies, including bottled water and non-perishable food, medicine, blankets, cots, electrical generators and blood for the Red Cross. President Trump has waived the Jones Act in order to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the island faces a humanitarian crisis and he urged Congress to approve an aid package for the U.S. commonwealth, emphasizing that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Otherwise, he expects a mass exodus or residents to the mainland. About 97% of the island’s 3.4 million residents were still without power Wednesday and many are out of food. A mountain of food, water and other vital supplies has arrived in Puerto Rico’s main Port of San Juan. But a shortage of truckers and the island’s devastated infrastructure are making it tough to move aid to where it’s needed most. Only 20% of truck drivers have reported back to work since Hurricane Maria swept through.

St. Thomas

The airport in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands has yet to resume commercial flights. The tower there was damaged by Hurricane Irma, and the FAA brought in a mobile tower to help manage traffic. But it had to take that tower back to the mainland ahead of Hurricane Maria to protect it from damage. The FAA airlifted a mobile air traffic control tower back to St. Thomas over the weekend to support relief and recovery missions there. Finding housing in St. Thomas for airport staff is has also been a challenge. The controllers who staff the tower in St. Thomas are being shuttled back and forth to San Juan every day.

Weather

September 2017, with Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria and Category 4 Hurricane Jose, has been the most active month of any Atlantic hurricane season on record. Meteorologists use a parameter called the ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) index, calculated by adding each tropical storm or hurricane’s wind speed through its life cycle. September had generated more ACE than any other calendar month on record. The ACE value for the month stands at 155.4, surpassing the previous record of 155.0 from September 2004. Included in this month’s ACE are Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria. All of those except Katia were long-lived hurricanes, and Lee and Katia were the only ones to not reach Category 4 or Category 5 intensity at their peaks.

Florida is dealing with an explosion of the mosquito population following Hurricane Maria flooding which left the state ripe for increased insect reproduction. Officials throughout the region had to hold off on any kind of insecticide spraying in the days immediately following the storm because they didn’t want pesticides floating into people’s homes with so many open windows (no power, no air conditioning in the hot humid state). Meanwhile, the flooding in Texas left behind by Hurricane Irma has caused numerous bacterial infections, with one person dead from necrotizing faciitis (more commonly known as a flesh-eating bacteria) and another from sepsis, an immune-system response to bacterial infection that causes widespread inflammation.

A massive iceberg calved off Antarctica on Saturday, the latest piece of ice to leave the continent. The U.S. National Ice Center measured the iceberg at 71.5 square miles, about three times the size of Manhattan. The iceberg shows signs of fracturing, meaning smaller pieces of ice may break off. Calving events have become more frequent, causing further ice losses to Antarctica and possible rising sea levels as a result. The break comes two months after a 2,200 square-mile piece of ice detached from Antarctica in July. At nearly the size of Delaware, the iceberg was one of the largest ever recorded. In 2014, a 255-square-mile iceberg also calved from Antarctica.

Signs of the Times (9/20/18)

September 20, 2017

Attacks on Religious Liberty Up 133% in 5 Years

Attacks on religious liberty have jumped by 133 percent in the last five years, according to a new report by the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group. Its annual report, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America,” asserts that in the last year, there has been a 15 percent increase in attacks on religious liberty in the U.S. with more than 1,400 religious liberty incidents. In 2011, the group reported that there were 600 cases of attacks on religious liberty. “It’s school cases, it’s military cases, it’s open public places cases, employment cases. Unfortunately, it is not one particular area, it’s across the board. So really it is just the tip of the iceberg because what’s published is really a fraction of what is actually happening,” First Liberty CEO and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said. The First Liberty report comes after the conservative advocacy group Family Research Council released a report earlier this year that said there had been a 76 percent increase in religious freedom violations over the past three years.

U.S. Aid to Palestinian Authority Funding Terrorists

While the Palestinian Authority teaches extreme hatred toward the Jews and incentivizes acts of terror, the U.S. sends hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year in “aid” money that is placed in the hands of terrorists and their families, reports Liberty Counsel. Sen. Ted Cruz says the Palestinians give over $300 million to terrorists and their families each year out of the $700 millions of direct and indirect aid to the Palestinians. “Our tax dollars are footing the bill to reward terrorists who kill American and Israeli citizens!” notes Liberty Counsel. The Trump administration has announced its “strong support” for the Taylor Force Act, a bill that restricts U.S. economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza until the Palestinian Authority stops paying terrorists who are guilty of violence against Israelis and Americans. The Palestinian Authority has devoted almost half of its U.S. foreign “aid” money to rewarding acts of terror against Israelis and innocent bystanders, as was the case in the death of American war hero Taylor Force, for whom the bill is named. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taylor Force Act and sent it to the full Senate who have yet to vote on it.

Another Missile Launch by North Korea

North Korea launched another missile Friday, the rogue nation’s first missile launch since its massive nuclear test more than a week ago, prompting U.S. officials to issue a sharp round of condemnation. The missile was launched eastward early Friday from Sunan, the site of Pyongyang’s international airport. It flew over northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean, according to U.S. Pacific Command. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the missile a reckless act by the North Koreans, adding that the missile “was fired over Japan and put millions of Japanese in duck and cover.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council “represent the floor, not the ceiling” of actions that need to be taken against North Korea. North Korea’s military is clandestinely building a nuclear-powered submarine, according to a Japanese newspaper report, the latest provocation by Pyongyang in an escalating clash with the U.S. and its allies in a region already on edge.

In his President Trump’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its Asian allies. He denounced Pyongyang’s “reckless” pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and taunted North Korea leader Kim Jong Un with a campaign-style nickname. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” he said. The morning after his aggressive speech to the United Nations, President Trump on Wednesday blamed his predecessors – and previous political rival Hillary Clinton – for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. “After allowing North Korea to research and build Nukes while Secretary of State (Bill C also), Crooked Hillary now criticizes,” Trump tweeted.

Terror Attack in London

An apparent terrorist-planted explosive set off a small fire on a train at a London subway station during the busy morning rush hour Friday, resulting in 22 non-serious injuries from the fire as well as from people being trampled by panicked commuters fleeing the scene, police said Friday. Police say the bomb did not fully detonate. The incident happened shortly after 8 a.m. local time, when London’s Underground system is crowded with commuters and children going to school. Most of the injuries were flash burns. It was Britain’s fifth terrorist attack this year. The Islamic State claimed credit for that attack through an affiliated unit. British police said Saturday that they had made a “significant” arrest by taking an eighteen-year-old man into custody in the port city of Dover. A 21-year-old man was arrested late Saturday night in Hounslow in west London under the Terrorism Act, authorities said.

Judge Rules DOJ Can’t Withhold Grants from Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge issued a ruling Friday that blocks the Justice Department from requiring cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for federal law enforcement grants. The ruling blocks nationwide enforcement of two of the three new conditions the Justice Department sought to impose on jurisdictions seeking funds through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which doles out nearly $400 million to state and local agencies each year. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new stipulations in July as a means to ensure that local jurisdictions were cooperating with federal immigration agents and not working to shield illegal immigrants from deportation. But Chicago officials sued, arguing that the attorney general had no authority to add the new eligibility conditions to the grant.

Trump Signs Charlottesville Congressional Resolution With a Signing Statement

In sending the president a joint resolution condemning “racist violence” in Charlottesville, Congress gave President Trump a choice: sign the resolution and reject white supremacists, or veto it and align with the far right. Trump chose a third option: Sign it — but with a signing statement attached. In it, Trump said that Americans “oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms. No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We are nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal.” He also continued to blame “both sides” for the violence, holding the left-wing “Antifa” protesters equally responsible.

U.S. Rushes Hurricane Irma Aid to Caribbean Islands, Not Cuba

The U.S. government is providing humanitarian aid to a string of Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, but Cuba — just 90 miles off the coast of Florida — is not among them. The guidelines for U.S. assistance include a requirement that a host country must request help. Cuba — a proud adversary in a decades long battle with its superpower neighbor — is not inclined to do so. The Category 5 hurricane, the worst to hit the communist island since 1932, spent 24 hours grinding away over northern parts of Cuba, damaging more than 4,000 homes, inundating downtown Havana with knee-high floods and destroying thousands of acres of cane sugar. More than 3.1 million people — a quarter of the island’s population — lost water service. Small beach towns also were destroyed on the northern coast, causing millions of dollars in losses and leaving thousands homeless. At least 10 people were killed.

Trump Urges U.N. to Cut Waste and Mismanagement

In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump said Monday that the U.N. must cut its wasteful spending and end mismanagement. “The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals,” Mr. Trump told diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York. “Yet in recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement.” Trump said the U.N. budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, but “we are not seeing the results in line with this investment. The president praised U.N. Secretary General António Guterres for undertaking reforms of the world body “to better serve the people it represents.” “I know that under the secretary general, that’s changing, and it’s changing fast,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he supports the push “to focus more on people and less on bureaucracy.”

New Health-Care Plan Stumbles Under Opposition from Governors

Senate Republicans and the White House pressed ahead Tuesday with their suddenly resurgent effort to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, even as their attempt was dealt a setback when a bipartisan group of governors and several influential interest groups came out against the proposal. Powerful health-care groups continued to rail against the bill, including AARP and the American Hospital Association, both of which urged a no vote. The measure marks the last gasp of Republican attempts to dramatically gut Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In a letter to Senate leaders, a group of 10 bipartisan governors argued against the Graham-Cassidy bill and wrote that they prefer the bipartisan push to stabilize the insurance marketplaces that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had been negotiating before talks stalled Tuesday evening.

Insurers Help Fuel the Opioid Crisis

At a time when the United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications, reports the New York Times. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive. Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people in the second quarter of this year. Only one-third of the people covered, for example, had any access to Butrans, a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid, buprenorphine. And every drug plan that covered lidocaine patches, which are not addictive but cost more than other generic pain drugs, required that patients get prior approval for them. In contrast, almost every plan covered common opioids and very few required any prior approval.

80 Arrested in St. Louis Protests Over Police Officer’s Acquittal

St. Louis Riot police arrested dozens Sunday night following the latest round of clashes with demonstrators protesting the acquittal of a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man. At least 80 arrests were made in what was the third night of violence in the city, with hundreds of people protesting Friday’s court decision. Both Friday and Saturday, the protesters got agitated and confronted the police officers. The violent agitators reportedly damaged property and sprayed unknown substance on police officers. One cop suffered a leg injury and was taken to the hospital. After ignoring the call to disperse, arrests were made before midnight by officers wearing riot gear. Mayor Lyda Krewson told reporters at a late-night news conference that “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” and the violence was perpetrated by “a group of agitators,” Reuters reported.

Teens Not Grasping Adulthood

Today’s teens are on a slow road to adulthood, putting off risky behaviors from drinking to sex, but also delaying jobs, driving, dating and other steps towards independence, according to a new study based on 40 years of survey data. Compared to teens from the 70s, 80s and 90s, today’s teens “are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and the responsibilities of adulthood,” said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study published Tuesday in the journal Child Development. “The whole developmental pathway has slowed down,” she said, with today’s 18-year-olds living more like 15-year-olds once did. Only 29% of 9th graders had sex, down from 38%. About 29% of 8th graders drank alcohol, down from 56%. Just 32% of 8th graders had worked for pay, down from 63%.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is going on the financial equivalent of a diet. The central bank announced that it will begin selling off some of its $4.5 trillion in assets, a sign of its leaders’ confidence in the economy. The move begins the process of gradually unwinding the massive and unprecedented stimulus program instituted after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed will sell off $10 billion in assets in October and slowly raise the rate of sales in the months to come.

Unfunded pension liabilities hit $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2016 in U.S. states, a $56 billion or 4.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, Moody’s Investors Service reported. The credit rating agency attributed the higher adjusted net pension liability for the 50 states to underperforming investment returns, low interest rates and insufficient contributions to retirement systems for government workers. It projected the liability will grow again in fiscal 2017 to $1.7 trillion. Overall, fiscal 2016’s $1.3 trillion unfunded liability equaled 122 percent of state revenue.

Motorists and homeowners throughout Texas and Florida as well as those who live anywhere from Alabama to Wyoming could see their premiums rise, as insurance companies pay out billions of dollars to customers whose properties were destroyed or damaged. The estimated U.S. insured losses, excluding any National Flood Insurance Program claims, are $20 billion to $25 billion from Harvey and $40 billion to $60 billion from Irma. Insurers are looking to stay flush as they cover their reinsurance policies while trying to prepare for any extreme future weather that could harm their customers.

While the U.S. homeownership rate has climbed slightly since reaching a 50-year low in 2016, it remains near a generational low at just 63.7%. Simply put, more people are choosing to rent than buy their homes in recent years than at any point since the 1960s. Seventy percent of Americans surveyed believe that people these days will need to rent well into their 30s to be able to save enough money to buy a home. Thirty-five percent of Americans say that they would prefer renting a home over ownership to maintain a flexible lifestyle, since the average person changes jobs about 12 times during his or her career. Americans are increasingly valuing experience over ownership, and this is particularly evident in the younger Millennial generation — the 18-to-35 age group. While previous generations have valued ownership more, millennials seem to be willing to sacrifice homeownership if it means they can afford to spend more money on experiences (e.g. travel).

Universities known for being hotbeds of campus protest and liberal activism are struggling with declining enrollments and budget shortfalls, and higher education analysts say that’s no coincidence. According to a document leaked to The Oberlin Review, the school’s student newspaper, the small liberal arts college famous for social justice hoaxes has had trouble attracting and retaining students, missing this year’s enrollment mark by 80 and racking up a $5 million budget deficit in the process. Similar shortfalls are being experienced at other universities known for liberal social activism.

Puerto Rico is years into an economic crisis. Now it’s facing a natural disaster with the landfall Wednesday of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico’s government owes $74 billion to bondholders, and an additional $50 billion in pension obligations to teachers and almost all other government employees. In May, it filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Many residents are moving from the island for the mainland United States, leaving it with few skilled workers to handle the rebuilding and development process. Without workers and funds, Puerto Rico will have a very difficult time recovering from this latest disaster.

40 Million Slaves in the World

More than 40 million people were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016 — and one in four of those were children. Those are the findings of a new report produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency focusing on labor rights, and the Walk Free Foundation, an international NGO working to end modern slavery. The report estimates that last year, 25 million people were in forced labor — made to work under threat or coercion — and 15 million people were in forced marriage. According to the report, women and girls accounted for 71 percent of slavery victims, including 99 percent of those in the commercial sex industry and 84 percent of victims of forced marriages. Children made up around 37 percent of those forced to marry, as well as 18 percent of forced labor victims and 21 percent of victims of sexual exploitation.

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar

The United Nations’ top human rights official called Myanmar’s (Burma’s) ongoing military campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in that country’s Rakhine state “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Using a pretext of rooting out Islamist insurgents, Burma’s military, together with Buddhist villagers, are terrorizing the Rohingya, emptying and razing their villages, and attempting to hound them out of the country. Of a total of 1.1 million Rohingya that remained in Burma despite repeated waves of violence since the late 1970s, more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in just the past month.

Israel Claims UN Ignored Intel on Secret Iran Nuke Sites

Israeli officials have reportedly accused the U.N. organization tasked with ensuring Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal of ignoring information it received detailing forbidden nuclear military research and development being carried out at several sites across Iran. The officials said that “a Western entity” told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of sites that Iran failed to disclose under the deal – which offered Iran relief from punishing sanctions in exchange for having it roll back its nuclear program – but the body failed to investigate or carry our inspections at the locations, Haaretz reported Sunday.

Trump Calls for End to Iranian Nuclear Deal

President Trump on Tuesday signaled he is close to ditching the Iran nuclear agreement struck by former President Barack Obama, by saying the deal is an “embarrassment to the United States” in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly. “We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said. Making his debut appearance at the annual United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Iran of exporting “violence, bloodshed and chaos” and of seeking to project its influence in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in a region rife with sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Trump in his U.N. address sand aid he seeks to “address together the terrible nuclear deal” with Iran.

Iran is Arming Houthis in Yemen

The top American admiral in the Middle East said on Monday that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling Iranian-backed rebels to fire missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching. Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen, in which rebels from the country’s north, the Houthis, ousted the government from the capital of Sana in 2014. The officer, Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, said that Iran is sustaining the Houthis with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border.”

Earthquakes

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Mexico City Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, killing at least 225 people and leaving multiple people reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings. Nearly 100 people were confirmed dead in Mexico City alone, where dozens of buildings were brought down by the temblor Officials confirmed at least 71 fatalities in Morelos state after the quake struck about 70 miles southeast of Mexico City. The tremor, which was about 31 miles deep, hit near the small town of San Juan Raboso. The earthquake toppled buildings, sent rescue workers digging through rubble for survivors and knocked out power to millions.

Wildfires

As wildfires continue to blacken parts of the West, the Forest Service has already spent more than $2 billion this year battling the blazes, a record in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons. Wildfires ravaged the West this summer. As of last Thursday, 64 large blazes were burning across 10 states, including 21 fires in Montana and 18 in Oregon. In all, 48,607 wildfires have burned nearly 13,000 square miles. The fires have stretched firefighting resources, destroyed more than 500 homes and triggered health alerts as choking smoke drifted into major Western cities. As of Saturday, 8,378,990 acres have burned nationwide so far this year, up from 4,776,167 acres last year. The emphasis on firefighting means that money for prescribed burns, insect control and other prevention efforts is diverted to putting out fires in a self-defeating cycle. The end result is that small trees and vegetation remain in the forest for future fires to feed on.

Weather

Hurricane Maria slammed into the small Caribbean island of Dominica Monday night with “mind-boggling” devastation, according to the country’s prime minister, leaving at least nine dead and two missing. There is still little word from the small island of Dominica as of Wednesday morning due to power and communication outages. Maria has made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico Wednesday morning as the strongest landfall on that island in 85 years, with sustained winds of 145 mph and life-threatening gusts nearing 200 mph. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.

Maria is expected to continue on a northwest track, moving along the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday before skirting the southern Bahamas early on Friday. It is then predicted to swing to the north into the open Atlantic and move between the American East Coast and Bermuda.

Jose, a Category 1 hurricane in the western Atlantic, will continue to produce dangerous high surf and rip currents as it moves parallel to the Eastern Seaboard in the upcoming week. Rain and tropical storm-force winds could also brush portions of the East Coast.

The already-catastrophic 2017 hurricane season shows no signs of letting up. And we still have more than two months to go. The hurricanes that have formed this year — seven so far — are about double the average to date, as is the energy generated by the storms. For the first year in recorded hurricane history, which dates to 1851, two Category-4 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) slammed into the United States the same year.

Barbuda has been left completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. An estimated 95% of Barbuda’s structures are damaged, and the entire island of around 1,800 people has been evacuated. Evacuees from Barbuda were sent to Antigua, which did not suffer the same level of damage from Irma. Though Barbudan evacuees are safe, people are living in cramped quarters in government facilities and nursing homes, including some 500 school-aged children. Now that school is back in session, Antigua must find room for these students.

At least four people have been killed and 10 more were injured by Typhoon Doksuri as it made landfall in Vietnam last Friday. The provinces of Ha Tinh and Quang Binh were hardest-hit, with upwards of 100,000 homes sustaining damage. Nearly 300,000 residents fled their homes in Vietnam ahead of Doksuri.