Posts Tagged ‘Islamic State’

Signs of the Times (7/17/17)

July 17, 2017

Christians Overtake Muslims As Largest Group of Refugees Entering U.S.

Christians made up the majority of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the first five full months of the Trump administration, reversing a trend that saw Muslims entering the country at higher numbers under President Obama, a new Pew Research report shows. Out of all the refugees who arrived between President Trump’s inauguration and June 30, about half were Christians and 38 percent were Muslims. The monthly data show a steady decline in Muslim refugees, from about 50 percent of total refugees in February to 31 percent in June. In the wake of Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to the U.S. from seven — and under the revised travel ban, six — Muslim-majority countries, the report said, “the religious affiliation of refugees has come under scrutiny.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Brands Some Faith Organizations as Hate Groups

The left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center has come under fire for its labeling of a Christian nonprofit organization — dedicated to defending “religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family” — as a hate group. But the Alliance Defending Freedom isn’t the only conservative, traditional-value organization the SPLC smears as a hate group. Fox News found at least six other groups that are conservative and explicitly nonviolent but branded as hate organizations by the SPLC. The SPLC – based in Montgomery, Ala. – is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation, dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.” The SPLC labels these socially conservative organizations as hate groups because of their views on LGBT issues. On June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech to members of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious freedom group, prompting some media outlets, like ABC and NBC News, to also label the ADF a “hate group” following SPLC’s lead.

United Nations Says Educated People Threaten Sustainability

Senior leaders of the United Nations gathered recently to continue plotting the future of globalized pseudo-education, which they said must be imposed on every child on the planet to advance the UN’s radical plan for humanity known as Agenda 2030, reports Technocracy News. The UN’s controversial agenda, also dubbed the “Sustainable Development Goals” or SDGs, is basically a recipe for global government, technocracy, and socialism. The whole program, and especially the education component, is being justified under the guise of imposing “sustainable development” on the world.Tthe UN has made clear that more education is actually a threat to sustainability. “Generally, more highly educated people, who have higher incomes, consume more resources than poorly educated people, who tend to have lower incomes,” explains a UN “toolkit” for global, sustainable education, posted online at UNESCO’s website. “In this case, more education increases the threat to sustainability,” notes the toolkit.

  • The dumbing-down of education continues on its end-time path toward a one-world government overseen by the anti-Christ (Revelation 13)

White House Prayer Meeting Trashed by Media

Tuesday’s release of photos which shows leading evangelicals laying hands on and praying for the President Trump in the Oval Office touched off an angry backlash on Twitter and in the mainstream media. CNN immediately tied the meeting to reports the administration has become unhinged following the latest allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Those in attendance at the Oval Office meeting on Monday, however, reported the president was confident, collected, and in total control of his administration’s agenda. Others suggested that the image symbolized a dangerous erosion in the separation of church and state. The faith-leaders were in the White House for an all-day meeting on policy that did not involve the president. “The president got wind that we were there and insisted that we come say hi,” explained Johnnie Moore, author and evangelical leader.

Republicans Release Their Revised Healthcare Bill

Senate Republicans Thursday released a revised version of their plan to replace Obamacare — dumping some tax cuts for the wealthy, allowing for more insurance policies with limited coverage and increasing funding to fight the opioid addiction epidemic. But on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky announced Saturday that he was delaying consideration of health care legislation in light of Sen. John McCain’s absence due to recent surgery. Surgeons in Phoenix removed a blood clot from above McCain’s left eye on Friday. The 80-year-old Senate veteran was advised by doctors to remain in Arizona next week, his office said. Without McCain’s support, the bill most likely would not be passed. All the Democrats and the two Independents oppose the measure.

Under the revised plan, consumers could buy more bare-bones health insurance for less money under an amendment to the latest version Senate health plan, but insurers warn the change could cause premiums for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions to skyrocket.  It’s unclear whether the changes are enough to win over moderates concerned that the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and private insurance subsidies will leave millions without care, or whether conservatives are satisfied the bill would repeal enough of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and regulations. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to scrap a planned Senate vote at the end of June because he could not round up the 50 Republican votes he needs to advance the legislation. The nation’s governors, gathered for their annual summer meeting, came out strongly on Friday against the new Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, turning up the pressure on Republican leaders struggling to round up the votes to pass the bill next week.

Federal Judge in Hawaii Expands Family Ties in Trump Travel Ban

A federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday expanded the list of “bona fide” family relationships needed by people seeking new visas from six majority Muslim countries to avoid President Trump’s travel ban. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ordered the U.S. not to enforce the travel ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the U.S. “Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson said in his ruling. The travel ban affects those trying to enter the U.S. from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen. Last month, the Supreme Court exempted visa applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bona fide” relationship with a U.S. citizen or entity. The White House had previously said the ban would not apply to citizens of six countries with a parent, spouse, fiancé, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling already in the U.S. The Trump administration late Friday appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court saying that it, “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just ‘close’ family members.”

Trump Ramps Up Military Operations in Reversal of Campaign Rhetoric

In the first six months of President Donald Trump’s tenure, the US has ramped up military operations in trouble spots across the globe and is preparing to do more. The intensified military engagement stretches from Europe through Africa and the Middle East to South Asia, and marks a striking contrast to the vision of “America First” retrenchment that Trump presented as a candidate. Some of these increases were initiated under President Barack Obama, but Trump has continued and in many cases boosted them. The U.S. has established a more robust and active military presence in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and is poised to become more engaged in Libya. It has sent more troops to Europe and aims to boost military spending there. In Asia, Trump is considering responses to North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities that include military options.

Republicans Urge Trump to Eliminate 9 National Monuments, Shrink 14 Others

Congressional Republicans are urging President Trump to eliminate nine national monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah, and to shrink 14 others — even as hundreds of thousands of public commenters call for him to keep those monuments in place. Seventeen House Republicans called for those changes in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Among the monuments targeted for elimination are Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. There’s also Bears Ears, which comprises 1.35 million acres of sacred tribal land that President Barack Obama protected a few weeks before leaving office, infuriating Utah’s congressional delegation. “No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods,” the 17 House Republicans wrote in their letter to Zinke. The 23 land and marine monuments were all designated by Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton.

Trump’s Poll Numbers Declining

President Trump’s standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. Overall, 48 percent say they “disapprove strongly” of Trump’s performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling. Almost half of all Americans (48 percent) see the country’s leadership in the world as weaker since Trump was inaugurated, compared with 27 percent who say it is stronger. Just over one-third of all Americans say they trust the president either “a great deal” or “a good amount” in foreign negotiations. Asked specifically about Trump-Putin negotiations, almost 2 in 3 say they do not trust the president much, including 48 percent who say they do not trust the president “at all.”

Alarming Spike in Middle School Suicide Rate in U.S.

The suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds in the U.S. doubled between 2007 and 2014, for the first time surpassing the death rate in that age group from car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014 alone, 425 middle schoolers nationwide took their own lives. “It’s alarming. We’re even getting cases involving 8- and 9-year olds,” said Clark Flatt, who started the Jason Foundation in Tennessee 20 years ago to help educate teachers about teen suicide after his 16-year-old son took his own life. Researchers, educators and psychologists say increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism and bullying on social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young. The use of social media is a particular worry because it has amped up bullying among a vulnerable age group. Young students in prior generations left school each afternoon and avoided someone who bullied them until the next day or week. Now, social media allows for bullying 24/7.

Economic News

Middle-class Americans are enjoying a steady job market but are reluctant to spend freely due to economic uncertainty and are hoarding money in banks. Total bank deposits rose 6.6% last year to $10.7 trillion, extending steady growth seen in recent years, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Deposits measured as a percentage of bank assets are 77.6% in the first quarter of 2017, the highest since 2006. And Americans love liquidity. They hold about $2 trillion in checking accounts now. The average U.S. checking account deposit is about $3,600, climbing from $1,000 in 2007.

Americans curtailed their shopping in June, with less spending at restaurants, department stores and gasoline stations. The spending pullback came despite a healthy job market and suggests that economic growth could remain sluggish. Retail sales fell 0.2 percent after declining 0.1 percent in May, the Commerce Department said Friday. The decline reflects in part a transformative shift by consumers toward Amazon and other online retailers. Sales at department stores, once the anchors of shopping malls, have dwindled. The rise of online shopping has left more retailers competing on price or striving to offer deeper discounts — factors that can limit overall sales figures. Even former sources of strength in retail, like restaurants and auto dealers, have faced weakening sales in recent months.

Rent prices have spiked. Cheap housing has been demolished. The national rental vacancy rate is at its lowest point in three decades. And Americans are being evicted in near-record numbers. More than one-third of American rental households spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing, a mark widely considered the standard for affordability. A national shortfall of 7.4 million affordable rental units has forced the country’s lowest-income renters to live month to month, always one medical problem or layoff away from losing another home.  In 1996, Arizona’s Maricopa County Courts ordered 5,542 evictions. Those same courts processed 22,231 evictions in 2016, pulling people from their homes and plunging them into a rental market with few options.

Millions of Americans who rely on Social Security can expect to receive their biggest payment increase in years this January, according to projections released Thursday by the trustees who oversee the program. The increase is projected to be just 2.2%, or about $28 a month for the average recipient. Social Security recipients have gone years with tiny increases in benefits. This year they received an increase of 0.3%, after getting nothing last year. More than 61 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,253.

Chinese firms have spent $91 billion over the past decade purchasing nearly 300 foreign companies involved in agriculture, chemicals and food, according to Dealogic. Experts say the purchases are part of China’s plan to improve its ability to supply food to its population of nearly 1.4 billion. As Chinese living standards improve and citizens demand more meat products, the country needs a growing supply of animal feed. But China is contending with major challenges: An aging agricultural workforce, pollution, climate change and high levels of soil depletion. The country’s farms also suffer from low yields due to outdated farming practices.

Israel

Two officers were killed in an attack by three Palestinian assailants at the Temple Mount, Friday. The police officers died of wounds sustained in the attack. Three Arab citizens of Israel opened fire on police near a gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. The assailants were later killed in a gunfight at a mosque near Luba Samri. The attackers were armed with 2 Carl Gustav machine guns and a pistol. The holy compound is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. It is the holiest site to Jews and the third holiest in Islam. Since September 2015, Palestinian attackers have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist. In that time, Israeli forces have killed more than 254 Palestinians, most of them said by Israel to be attackers.

Tensions remained high in and around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday following last Friday’s shooting attack which killed two Israeli police officers and left the three terrorists who initiated the violence dead as well. The area was re-opened on Sunday with metal detectors at the entrances, which Islamic authorities in Jerusalem called a totally unnecessary and insulting measure, advising their followers to avoid entering the site. Other voices in the Islamic world called for a general Palestinian uprising to protest the security measures.

Egypt

Two German female tourists were stabbed to death while four other foreigners were wounded in an attack Friday at a hotel in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Hurghada. The assault came just hours after a shooting near some of Egypt’s most famous pyramids outside of Cairo killed five policemen. TFriday’s attacks are likely to further impact Egypt’s deeply struggling tourism industry — a pillar of the country’s economy that employs millions of people. The industry has suffered from political instability and a fragile security situation since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.he attacker at the Red Sea resort was arrested immediately. A security official said the attacker, a man in his 20s dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, wielded a knife and intentionally sought to attack foreigners. “Stay away, I don’t want Egyptians,” the assailant had said in Arabic during the attack, according to the official. Without taking any blame for what appears to be a major security breach, the Interior Ministry said the attacker had sneaked into the hotel by swimming from a nearby beach. In the killings of the five policemen outside of Cairo, no group claimed responsibility for the attack but it bore the hallmarks of a smaller Islamic terrorist group known as Hasm that has been behind similar shootings in recent months.

Afghanistan

The Pentagon said Friday that US forces have killed Abu Sayed, the leader of ISIS-Khorasan, the terror group’s Afghanistan affiliate. The “Emir” of ISIS-K was killed “in a strike on the group’s headquarters in Kunar Province, July 11,” the Pentagon said. Sayed was killed in an airstrike by a US drone. Gen. John Nicholson, Commander, US Forces Afghanistan said in a statement, “This operation is another success in our campaign to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017. Abu Sayed is the third ISIS-K emir we have killed in the last year and we will continue until they are annihilated. There is no safe haven for ISIS-K in Afghanistan.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on Friday that the death of  a leader like Sayed “sets them back for a day a week, a month.”

Qatar

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas. Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

London

Five men were attacked with acid in London on Thursday night with one man suffering life-changing facial injuries in what police are treating as linked assaults. The five attacks, which were reported to police over a 70-minute period, are the latest in a spike of incidents using corrosive liquids as weapons in robberies and gang-related violence in the British capital. Police said at least four of the five attacks involved two males on a moped, and in at least two cases the attackers stole mopeds belonging to their victims. Another incident involved a robbery. A 16-year-old boy has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and robbery, and is currently in custody at an east London police station. Acid attacks are on the rise in London. In 2014, there were 166 filed incidents, rising to 261 in 2015, and 454 in 2016. Acid attacks in London are largely concentrated in the city’s east. London’s police chief Cressida Dick explained that it was not happening across all boroughs.

Environment

One of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, British scientists announced Wednesday. The 1 trillion-ton iceberg, which is twice of the volume of Lake Erie, broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf between Monday and Wednesday, according to Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf. At 2,200 square miles, the chunk of floating ice is nearly the size of Delaware. Over the past several months, an ever-lengthening and widening crack in the Larsen C ice shelf gradually lengthened until the 120-mile crack, first spotted in 2011, finally made its way back to the sea, “calving” off the massive iceberg. The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict, experts say. It may remain in one piece, but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.

Two homes were destroyed Friday and another is directly in the path of a rapidly expanding sinkhole about 20 miles north of Tampa. Crews have evacuated 10 additional homes in the area of the 50-foot-deep hole in a suburb dotted with lakes and ponds. Areas around Tampa and much of Florida are known for their porous limestone underground that can collapse abruptly, creating sinkholes. Authorities received a call about what they called a depression the size of a small swimming pool at around 7:20 a.m. ET Friday. By 3:30 p.m., the sinkhole had grown to 250 feet wide with no signs of stopping. Florida is one of seven states — also including Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania — where sinkholes are most likely to occur, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wildfires

A video of the Wall fire north of Bangor, Calif., features a “firenado,” a whirlwind of flames that burns at extreme temperatures. A remotely operated camera at Oroville Dam captured the vortex, which can become large enough to rip trees from the ground and pull roofs off houses. The Wall wildfire, which began at around 3 p.m. PT Friday in the Sierra foothills about 60 miles north of Sacramento, has destroyed more than 40 homes, damaged three other homes, and destroyed or damaged almost 60 other structures. Even though it’s about 60% contained, more than 600 structures remain threatened.

Weather

Storms producing heavy rainfall triggered flash flooding throughout the Midwest and Northeast last week, closing roads and Interstate Highways at times, damaging homes and toppling trees in many areas.

A drought impacting parts of the High Plains has reduced fields normally plentiful with crops to waste, along with pastures that typically would be home to grazing cattle. Some longtime farmers and ranchers say it’s the worst conditions they’ve seen in decades — possibly their lifetimes — and simple survival has become their goal as a dry summer drags on without a rain cloud in sight.

Several U.S. cities are seeing their hottest summer to date, from June 1-July 12. This includes Phoenix, which has seen an average temperature of 95.8 degrees during this period, and Las Vegas, which tied its all-time record high of 117 degrees June 20. Salt Lake City is also experiencing its hottest summer on record and interestingly, 2015 and 2016 hold the second and third hottest spots to date. Other cities currently on pace to set a new record for hottest summer are Reno, Nevada, Tucson, Arizona, and Bakersfield, California. Medford, Oregon, has seen its second warmest summer-to-date on record and Yakima, Washington, has seen its third warmest.

Flooding and landslides in India have killed at least 28 people since mid-June. Around 500,000 people have fled their homes in 800 villages across nearly half of Assam’s 27 districts.

Rare snowfall in Santiago, Chile, left at least one person dead and caused widespread power outages Sunday, affecting 337,000 people. An early winter cold front brought cold temperatures to the southern and central parts of Chile. Snow accumulated up to nearly two inches, the first measurable snow since 2007.

  • 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 (7/11/17)

July 11, 2017

61 Refugees in U.S. Engaged in Terrorist Activities

At least 61 people who came to the United States as “refugees” engaged in terrorist activities between 2002 and 2016, according to a new report authored by the Heritage Foundation. The report identified scores of refugees, including many who came prior to 2002, as having taken part in activities ranging from lying to investigators about terror plots, to actually taking part in them.

  • Somali refugee Dahir Ahmed Adan, stabbed and wounded 10 shoppers at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Sept. 17, 2016.
  • Afghan refugee Ahmad Rahimi, wounded 29 in a pipe bomb attack on the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on Sept. 17, 2016.
  • Somali refugee Abdul Ali Artan, wounded 11 fellow students in a car and knife attack at Ohio State University on Nov. 28 last year.
  • Uzbek refugee Fazliddin Kurbanov, resettled in Boise, Idaho, and was convicted in 2015 of plotting to recruit and train American Muslims to blow up American military installations.
  • Six members of Minnesota’s Somali refugee community were arrested and convicted of trying to trying to leave the country to join ISIS in Syria.
  • A college student and Somali refugee, who later applied for and received U.S. citizenship, attempted to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The report’s total of 61 terror-related refugees does not include the more than 40 Somali refugees who have simply vanished from the U.S. and the FBI confirms they have successfully traveled to the Middle East to participate in jihadist operations with ISIS, al-Shabab and other terrorist organizations.

60% of Voters Support Trump Travel Ban

Sixty percent of registered voters favor President Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries, while 28% oppose it, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals. 84% of Republican voters back the restrictions, while only 9 percent oppose them. 41% of Democrats favor the guidelines, compared to 46% who do not. 56% of independents support the ban, while 30% are against it. Eighty percent of voters think travelers from those six countries should be admitted to the U.S. if they have a parent living in America, and 78 percent think they should be admitted to join a spouse or child in the country; all three are permitted under the revised directive.

Canadian Baby is First Child Not to be Assigned a Gender at Birth

A child born in the Canadian province of British Columbia is reportedly the first baby not to be identified as male or female at birth. Instead, the baby, named Searyl Atli Doty, was identified as “U” on their health card, which reportedly stands for “Unknown” or “Unspecified.” The baby’s parent, Kori Doty, identifies as a non-binary transgender and hopes that, by foregoing a genital inspection and identification for the child, the child can more easily discover their true identity later in life–something which Doty says was a personal struggle. “When I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed my identification throughout my life,” Doty said. Although Doty has reportedly faced difficulty in obtaining a birth certificate for Searyl, the health card will allow the child to be eligible for healthcare services. Eight complainants, including Doty, are arguing before British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal that gender identification at birth should be abolished.

  • End-time idiocy is being taken to absurd levels

Young Men Playing Video Games Instead of Working

According to a report that was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday, American men from the ages of 21 to 30 are working a lot less these days.  In fact, on average men in this age group worked 203 fewer hours per year in 2015 than they did in 2000.  Men ages 21 to 30 years old worked 12 percent fewer hours in 2015 than they did in 2000, the economists found. Around 15 percent of young men worked zero weeks in 2015, a rate nearly double that of 2000. So, what did they do with all of that extra time?  According to the study, a large portion of the time that young men used to spend working is now being spent playing video games. Younger men increased their recreational computer use and video gaming by nearly 50 percent from eight years ago. This phenomenon is known as “extended adolescence”, and it is becoming a major societal problem.

Trump Isolated at G20 Meeting, Presses Putin on Hacking, Syria

For years the United States was the dominant force and set the agenda at the annual gathering of the leaders of the world’s largest economies. But on Friday, when President Trump met with 19 other leaders at the Group of 20 conference, he found the United States isolated on everything from trade to climate change. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the host of the meeting, opened it by acknowledging the differences between the United States and the rest of the countries. While “compromise can only be found if we accommodate each other’s views,” she said, “we can also say, we differ.” Ms. Merkel also pointed out that most of the countries supported the Paris accord on climate change, while Mr. Trump has abandoned it. Trump seemed to relish his isolation. For him, the critical moment was his long meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, which served to reset the relations with Russia. He pressed Putin on election hacking (which Putin denied) in a “robust and lengthy exchange,” and pressured Putin into agreeing to a cease fire in the war raging in Syria (see Syria below).

World Leaders Move Forward on Climate Change, Without U.S.

World leaders struck a compromise on Saturday to move forward collectively on climate change without the United States, declaring the Paris accord “irreversible” while acknowledging President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. In a final communiqué at the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, the nations took “note” of Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the pact and “immediately cease” efforts to enact former President Barack Obama’s pledge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. But the other 19 members of the group broke explicitly with Mr. Trump in their embrace of the international deal, signing off on a detailed policy blueprint outlining how their countries could meet their goals in the pact. Differences between the United States and other nations on climate, trade and migration made for a tricky summit meeting

Trump, in Poland, Vows the West Will Never be Broken

President Trump delivered a staunch defense of Western values during a rousing speech Thursday to thousands of Poles in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square, rallying allies against what he described as “dire threats” to civilization and vowing, “the West will never, ever be broken.” Trump said nations must have the will to protect borders and preserve civilization from those who would destroy it. In his speech, Trump saluted Polish sacrifice and underscored the United States’ commitment to NATO, Poland and Western values. Trump arrived in Warsaw late Wednesday for a 16-hour visit before leaving for the G-20 summit in Germany.

Protesters Disrupt G-20 Meeting

German police are trying to prevent small groups of mostly anti-capitalist protesters from disrupting the G20 summit in Hamburg, as world leaders including US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet for talks. Officers dressed in riot gear intervened as protest groups tried to enter the red zone — the blocked-off area close to the summit venue — while other small groups staged sit-ins across the city. At one of the sit-ins, a little over a mile from the summit security zone, water cannon were deployed against protesters. At one point, protesters blocked Melania Trump from leaving her guest house. Anti-globalization activists rioted for a second night, setting up street barricades, looting supermarkets, setting cars on fire and attacking police with slingshots and petrol bombs.

U.S. Missile Shield Not Ready for North Korea Nuclear Attack

As North Korea continues testing missiles it says can reach the United States, while simultaneously working to build nuclear warheads small enough to mount atop them, America’s plan to shoot down the ICBMs is nowhere near a sure bet, Politico reports. The U.S. plan includes various sensors, radars, and interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California. But testing has been far from 100 percent. In fact, three of five tests have failed. And the two that succeeded were “heavily scripted,” Politico quoted military leaders. The Pentagon defended its Ground-based Midcourse Defense system and maintained that it can take down missiles flying through the atmosphere, but that optimistic view is not widely shared. “If the North Koreans fired everything they had at us, and we fired at all of the missiles, we’d probably get most of them,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Politico. “But is ‘probably get most’ a good day or a bad day?”

Few Americans Emigrating to Canada

Many Americans said they wanted to move to Canada after Donald Trump became president, but few actually followed through, The National Post reports. New data released by Canada’s immigration office indicates only a slight year-over-year uptick in applications for Canadian citizenship in 2017. In the first four months of 2016, an average of 264 people filed applications each month. This year, the number rose to 400 in that period — that’s more than a 50% jump from 2016 but just half of the average from 2012. The data actually suggests a trend of declining applications overall. Becoming a Canadian citizen is an expensive, time-consuming process. Applicants must pony up more than $500 just to apply, and those who get accepted must have a sponsor, such as an employer or spouse, to vouch that the immigrant will be able to live comfortably. Full citizenship will come roughly six years later.

Uninsured Numbers Increase as Obamacare Erodes

The number of U.S. adults without health insurance has grown by some 2 million this year, according to a major new survey that finds recent coverage gains beginning to erode. The new numbers highlight what’s at stake as Congress returns to an unresolved debate over Republican proposals to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, published Monday, found that the uninsured rate among U.S. adults was 11.7 percent in the second three months of this year, compared with a record low of 10.9 percent at the end of last year. While “Obamacare” has remained politically divisive, it had helped drive the uninsured rate to historic lows as some 20 million people gained coverage. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that at least 22 million more people would become uninsured under proposed Republican legislation.

More than 100 Wounded, 14 Killed in Chicago over July 4th Weekend

More than 100 people were shot in Chicago over the long Independence Day weekend as a deadly wave of violence once again rocked the massive city besieged by unrelenting gun crime. At least 14 of the gunshot victims died, police said Wednesday. Most of violence took place in a 6-hour period Monday night and early Tuesday, predominantly on the South and West sides of the city. The Trump administration announced Friday it was dispatching an additional 20 ATF agents to the city to stem gun violence that has left more than 1,000 dead over the past 18 months. The vast majority of the murders and shooting incidents in Chicago occur in a few predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the city’s West and South Sides, and are driven by gang-related feuds and drug wars. Over the following weekend, two people were murdered and 32 others were wounded in shootings across the Chicagoland area.

Police Officer Deaths Have Up 18% in 2017

The ambush shooting that killed a New York City police officer in the Bronx marked the latest in a growing number of officer deaths in 2017, up 18 percent from this time last year. A total of 67 officers have died so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In addition, gun-related deaths have risen by 9 percent, from 22 to 24 for 2017, the researchers say. The figures continue a grim trend; 2016 was the deadliest year for police in 5 years. A total of 135 officers died last year. Approximately 50,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in some manner, some causing disabling injuries. “People now are more willing to engage the police in combat,” said Randy Sutton, national spokesman for Blue Lives Matter and a retired Las Vegas police lieutenant.

Food Stamp Rolls Plummet in States that Restore Work Requirements

After the food stamp rolls swelled for years under the Obama administration, fresh figures show a dramatic reduction in states that recently have moved to restore work requirements. States were allowed to waive those rules for able-bodied adults thanks to Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan. Food stamp enrollment soared to record levels – peaking at nearly 48 million nationwide in 2013. Some states have moved aggressively to push recipients who can work back into the job market and, in due time, off the program. Alabama began 2017 by requiring able-bodied adults without children in 13 counties to either find a job or participate in work training as a condition for continuing to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The number of recipients declined from 5,538 to 831 between Jan. 1 and the beginning of May – an 85 percent drop. Similar changes were implemented in select counties in Georgia and by the end of the first three months, the number of adults receiving benefits in three participating counties dropped 58 percent

Illinois to Become First State with Junk Credit Rating

Illinois may still get slapped with a “junk” credit rating despite nearing a breakthrough that would end the state’s two-year budget nightmare. Moody’s warned on Wednesday that it may downgrade Illinois’s credit rating because the proposed budget and accompanying tax increases don’t fix the root causes of the state’s epic financial mess. A downgrade would make Illinois America’s first state with a junk credit rating and could make its recovery efforts even harder by causing borrowing costs to rise. The budget compromise, which includes a 32% tax hike, lacks “broad bipartisan support” and that may “signal shortcomings” in its effectiveness, Moody’s warned. Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner on Wednesday slammed the tax hike as a “phony” solution that will be a “disaster,” a day after he vetoed the budget legislation. The state Senate voted on Tuesday to override the veto and the House is expected to follow suit later this week. Not only has the two-year budget standoff caused Illinois to rack up $15 billion in unpaid bills, but Moody’s estimates it has a staggering $251 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 222,000 net new jobs in June, beating expectations for 179,000 jobs. The unemployment rate ticked slightly higher to 4.4% from 4.3%, just above its lowest level since 2001. June was the 81st consecutive month of job gains. The labor force participation rate edged up to 62.8% from 62.7% during the month. Wages grew 2.5% in June compared with a year ago. That’s slightly better than in prior years but well below the goal of 3.5% set by the Federal Reserve. Wages are one of the last indicators to really pick up momentum since the recession ended in 2009.

Every week, it seems a new retailer is shuttering stores. According to an estimate from Credit Suisse, U.S. retailers are on track for more than 8,000 store closings this year, even more than in 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis. Some have called it a retail apocalypse, as the forces of e-commerce and bloated debt burdens are forcing a number of retailers to declare bankruptcy or downsize.  Urban Outfitters’ CEO declared that after years of overexpansion, “the retail bubble has burst.”

Two years after an international bailout that was supposed to lead to an economic revival, conditions here have only worsened. The economy is stagnant, unemployment hovers around 25% and is twice as high for young adults, taxes are rising, and wages are falling. Half of Greek homeowners can’t make their mortgage payments and another quarter can’t afford their property taxes, rendering many homeless, according to the Bank of Greece.

Persecution Watch

Turkey’s president and his government continue to target Christians. In his latest effort to subjugate Turkey’s Christian population to the government, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seized control of 50 Syriac churches. Erdogan’s government is intentionally targeting Christian churches in their quest to bring Sharia Law to Turkey. The most recent confiscation of churches took place via the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). Among the churches taken over by the government is the 1,600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery, This is not the first time Erdogan has seized control of churches in Turkey. In 2016, he took over six churches, one of which was another ancient place of worship.one of the world’s oldest places of worship.

Operation Rescue has discovered that Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure to a page containing important facts about abortion on the OperationRescue.org website. The fact page Abortions in America, was – until six weeks ago – OperationRescue.org’s most visited page. It previously appeared on Google in top five hits on the search “Abortions in US,” and was a top referrer to OperationRescue.org. It has since been buried off the first results page and well down the list. The page was also dropped off the first page of results for the search “Abortion Statistics,” which had been one of Operation Rescue.org’s top search referrals.

Israel

A vote was held last week at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare Israel and “occupying power” in Jerusalem and harshly criticizing archeological excavations there. “Nothing is more disgraceful than UNESCO declaring the world’s only Jewish state the ‘occupier’ of the Western Wall and Jerusalem’s Old City,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read Genesis 23:16-19 from the Bible during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting as a refutation of Friday’s resolution passed by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee designating the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Hebron a Palestinian heritage site. “The connection between the Jewish People and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history, he declared. Netanyahu explained that in wake of this resolution, he has decided to cut an additional $1 million from Israel’s UN membership dues and transfer the funds to the establishment of “The Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron.”

Syria

An open-ended cease-fire in southern Syria brokered by the United States, Russia, and Jordan came into effect on Sunday at noon. The agreement, announced Thursday after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria. It followed weeks of secretive talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to address the buildup of Iranian-backed forces, in support of the Syrian government, near the Jordanian and Israeli borders. The three brokering nations did not specify mechanisms to monitor or enforce the truce. The truce covers the Quneitra, Daraa, and Sweida provinces, where the government and the rebels are also fighting Islamic State militants, who are not included in the truce. No cease-fire has lasted long in the six-year-old Syrian war.

Islamic State

The loss of the Islamic State’s two largest cities (Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq) will not spell a final defeat for ISIS according to analysts and American and Middle Eastern officials. The group has already shifted back to its roots as an insurgent force, but one that now has an international reach and an ideology that continues to motivate attackers around the world, reports the New York Times. “These are obviously major blows to ISIS because its state-building project is over, there is no more caliphate, and that will diminish support and recruits,” said Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington and a co-author of a book on the group. “But ISIS today is an international organization. Its leadership and its ability to grow are still there.”

Iran

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo, red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran. The ships’ radio-signal tracking systems were often not in use and occasionally indicated the ships had sailed from countries other than Iran, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. The U.S. government is analyzing movements of ships in the Persian Gulf for any attempts to circumvent bans on funding Iran’s weapons programs or clearing payments for Iranian oil through the U.S. financial system.

Turkey

Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have marched an arduous 250 miles over three weeks for a protest in Istanbul on Sunday, to demand their government loosen its stranglehold on the country’s democracy. The “March for Justice” has grown from a modest one-man protest by opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who vowed to walk from the capital, Ankara, to Istanbul after the imprisonment of one of his party’s elected representative. Kilicdaroglu has been joined by throngs of disaffected citizens along the way and expects a huge crowd to attend the rally Sunday evening. “Turkey has stopped being a democratic country. It has become beholden to one man,” Kilicdaroglu told CNN. “This we cannot accept.” The rally comes almost a year after a failed military coup radically changed the country’s direction. Following the coup attempt, Erdogan and his government have clamped down on civil liberties across the country, gutted public institutions and universities, heavily restricted the media and ordered mass arrests of activists, journalists and the political opposition.

North Korea

North Korea’s test-launch of a missile capable of reaching the United States drew a swift reaction from the U.S. Army and South Korean military, which in turn launched at least two surface-to-surface missiles as a demonstration of their attack capability. The North Korean launch and retaliatory U.S.-South Korea actions come as U.S. officials use increasingly strong language to condemn and warn North Korea. “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea,” chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said in a statement. North Korean state media sharply criticized the U.S. on Sunday for a recent practice bombing run on the Korean peninsula, calling it a dangerous move raising the risk of nuclear war.

Kenya

Islamist Al-Shabab extremists from neighboring Somalia beheaded nine civilians in an early-morning attack on a village in southeast Kenyan, officials said Saturday, as concerns grew that the group had taken up a bloody new strategy. Beheadings by al-Shabab have been rare in Kenya, where the extremist group has carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years. The East African country has seen an increase in attacks claimed by al-Shabab in recent weeks, posing a security threat ahead of next month’s presidential election. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops in 2011 to Somalia to fight the group, which last year became the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Volcanoes

An Alaskan volcano that has erupted several times since last year spewed an ash cloud up to 30,000 feet, leading to an aviation warning. The Bogoslof volcano erupted Saturday, sending ash over the Aleutians Islands, the Alaska Volcano Observatory said. It “remains at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition, and additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time,” the observatory said. The volcano sits under the flight path of many flights from Asia to North America.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit a mountainous area of western Montana overnight Thursday, producing minor damage near the epicenter. The quake, reportedly the strongest to hit the state in 12 years, was felt as far away as eastern Washington, southern Canada and Idaho. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 12:30 a.m. MDT quake was centered about 7 miles south-southeast of Lincoln, Montana. Power outages were reported in the town and at least one social media photo indicated damage there. Shaking was reported in the state capital, Helena, just 34 miles southeast of the epicenter. At least one gas leak was reported.

At least 10 people were injured in a collapsed building, trapping an unspecified number of others, when a strong, shallow earthquake shook the central Philippines on Thursday. Power was knocked out in some areas and sent villagers fleeing from their homes. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 6.5 and struck at a depth of 4 miles near Masarayao town in Leyte province. Shallow earthquakes generally cause more damage on the Earth’s surface. The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.

Wildfires

In California, two major wildfires forced nearly 8,000 people out of their homes over last weekend. The Wall fire has burned nearly 9 square miles, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 17 structures, but that number is expected to rise, fire officials said Monday. About 4,000 people evacuated and another 7,400 were told to prepare to leave their homes as fire swept through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles north of Sacramento. In Southern California, at least 3,500 people evacuated as two fires raged at separate ends of Santa Barbara County. The largest has charred more than 45 square miles of dry brush and is threatening more than 130 rural homes. It’s only 15 percent contained. About 50 miles to the south, a 17-square-mile blaze shut down State Route 154 and sent weekend campers scrambling for safety. It’s just 5 percent contained.

Nine large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Arizona which have consumed about 148,000 acres, not including the Goodwin fire which has been completely contained after torching 28,516 acres and destroying 33 structures. Five of these current blazes are major Incident One fires. The Brooklyn fire started July 7, 25 miles NW of Cave Creek. It was caused by lightning, and has burned 32,778 acres and is 0% contained as of Tuesday morning. Two lightning caused fires within relative proximity to the Brooklyn Fire have been incorporated into the management area on the Tonto National Forest. They are the Bull Fire (S/SE of the Brooklyn Fire) and Cedar Fire (E/SE of the Brooklyn Fire). These 2 fires are not a threat to structures at this time and are in remote areas with difficult access.

For the first time in 15 years, Canada’s British Columbia has declared a province-wide state of emergency as scores of wildfires burn out of control. evacuations were ordered for an entire town, at least one airport, two hospitals and hundreds of homes after 142 new fires broke out throughout the province on Friday, bringing the total number of fires burning to 182. By Monday, irefighters were contending with more than 200 wildfires that have destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars. The three biggest fires, which have grown in size to range from 9 to 19 square miles, had forced thousands of people to flee. Some 7,000 people have been evacuated throughout the province. Sparked by lightning and fueled by gusty winds, the blazes are being reported “faster than can be written down.”

Weather – Domestic

A heat wave from the northern Plains to parts of the northern Rockies and Great Basin shows little sign of relenting over the next week or more, and that’s likely to exacerbate the nation’s most rapidly worsening drought in parts of the Dakotas and Montana. This northern Plains drought developed quickly by late May over a sizable swath of eastern Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. A drought emergency was declared in eastern Montana by Gov. Steve Bullock in late June. Local ranchers and farmers told KRTV-TV this is the worst drought in northeast Montana since 1988. Fifteen North Dakota counties were designated as agricultural disaster areas at the end of June. Highs well into the 90s or low 100s are likely to persist in the northern High Plains drought area, as well as lower elevations of the northern Rockies and Great Basin

Flooding in Texas left at least one person dead Sunday ahead of a round of severe thunderstorms that are expected to continue flaring up over parts of the northern Plains and Northeast. Scores of tornadoes broke out over the weekend in the Plains, especially in Indiana and Illinois. An 18-inch diameter tree was downed by strong thunderstorm winds on the Ohio State University Campus in Columbus, Ohio, Monday. Just north of the city, Interstate 71 had to be shut down at 5th Avenue due to flooding on the highway.

Weather – International

At least 56 people have been killed and an additional 22 have been reported missing as torrential rains triggered massive flooding in southern China. More than 60 rivers in China were close to overflowing their of banks Wednesday. Entire towns have been flooded, halting traffic and resulting in power outages, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said Tuesday. Nearly 20 inches of rain fell on a number of cities dating back to Thursday, including the scenic resort city of Guilin in the Guangxi region. More than 11 million people in 11 southern provinces were affected by floods, landslides and hailstorms. Water levels in major rivers and lakes in the southern province of Hunan have surged to alarming levels, and that the collapse of levees forced large-scale evacuations. Dozens of flights at several airports serving major cities in the region including Chengdu, Changsha, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen were canceled or delayed, stranding thousands of travelers.

Heavy rains since the start of India’s monsoon season have triggered floods and landslides in parts of the remote northeastern region, causing at least 20 deaths, authorities said Wednesday. Nearly 400,000 people have left their flooded homes in 750 villages across nearly half of Assam’s 27 districts. Nearly 30,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps run by the state government. Most others were living with their relatives or on nearby river embankments or higher ground.

Widespread flooding triggered by torrential rainfall has killed at least fifteen and forced the evacuation of nearly 500,000 people in southwest Japan. At least 11 people are missing as several areas in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures on the island of Kyushu were hit by flooding and landslides. The chaos comes after heavy rain caused two locations in Kyushu to rack up their heaviest 24-hour rainfall totals since records began in 1976. Police say a house where two people live was washed away and thousands of homes are without power, while a group of children and teachers were stranded by floodwaters.

  • 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 (7/4/17)

July 4, 2017

Seven Planned Parenthood Facilities Permanently Closed June 30

Seven Planned Parenthood facilities, six of which conducted medication abortions, are set to permanently close today in three states (California, New Jersey and Iowa). Planned Parenthood officials noted that the closures were primarily an attempt to remain solvent amid fears that Medicaid reimbursements would be halted by Congress. “It isn’t very often we see seven Planned Parenthood facilities close in one day. This may have set some kind of record. It is great news for women and their babies who will no longer be preyed upon for profit by Planned Parenthood in these communities,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “Many Planned Parenthood facilities survive only on on government funding. There are so many other reputable providers of legitimate healthcare for women out there. Even if every Planned Parenthood was shut down, no one would have to do without proper medical care. We should not be funding Planned Parenthood with our tax dollars.”

Top Vatican Official Charged with Sexual Abuse in Australia.

A top Vatican official denied allegations of sexual offenses on Thursday after being charged by Australian police, saying he would take a leave of absence as one of Pope Francis’ chief advisers to defend himself. Speaking to reporters in the Vatican, Cardinal George Pell denounced “relentless character assassination” in the media and confirmed he would return to his native Australia to face the charges. Australian police earlier Thursday announced that Pell faces multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offenses,” that nation’s term for charges related to past conduct. Pell — Australia’s senior-most Catholic prelate — has for years faced questions in his role in the staggering scale of sexual abuse by the Australian church. But he has never before been directly charged. The controversy is a challenge to Pope Francis’ attempts to address the church’s long-running abuse scandal, particularly since much of the abuse in the Australian church was well-known at the time the pontiff appointed him to his current role.

Man Runs Down Newly Installed Ten Commandments Monument

The man accused of ramming a car into the newly erected Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas state Capitol Wednesday posted a video to Facebook shortly before the incident, saying he was doing it because it was a violation of the separation of church and state. Michael Tate Reed, 32, then streamed to Facebook Live the moment he drove his 2016 Dodge Dart over the statehouse lawn and crashed into the monument. The 6-foot tall stone monument was knocked off of its base and broke into at least three sections, with some of the pieces crumbling. Reed, 32, was immediately arrested by Capitol police. He faces charges of defacing an object of public interest, criminal mischief in the first degree and criminal trespass. Reed was arrested after a similar event in 2014 where he allegedly ran over another Ten Commandments statue on capitol grounds.

Obama-Appointed Judges Continue Blocking Trump’s Immigration Crackdown

President Trump may have won a partial victory at the Supreme Court this week, but other federal judges remain major stumbling blocks to his aggressive immigration plans, with courts from California to Michigan and Atlanta limiting his crackdown on sanctuary cities and stopping him from deporting illegal immigrants he has targeted for removal. The judges in those deportation cases have rejected Mr. Trump’s argument that he has wide latitude to decide who gets kicked out, without having to worry about district courts second-guessing him on facts of the case, reports the Washington Times. Instead, the judges said, they get to decide their jurisdiction, and that extends to reviewing Mr. Trump’s immigration policy. One judge in Michigan ordered the Homeland Security Department to freeze all deportation plans for about 200 Chaldean Christians arrested over the past two months and scheduled to be sent back to Iraq. Nearly every one of them has a criminal record.

At Least 25 States Resist Voting Commission’s Request for Data

Last week, President Trump’s voting commission issued a sweeping request for nationwide voter data that drew sharp condemnation from election experts and resistance from more than two dozen states that said they cannot or will not hand over all of the data. The immediate backlash marked the first significant attention to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity since Trump started it last month and followed through on a vow to pursue his claims that voter fraud is rampant and cost him the popular vote in the presidential election. The White House has said the commission will embark upon a “thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections.” Critics fear that the commission will be used to restrict voting. While the Trump administration says it is just requesting public information, the letters met with swift — and sometimes defiant — rejection. By Friday, 25 states were partially or entirely refusing to provide the requested information; some said state laws prohibit releasing certain details about voters, while others refused to provide any information because of the commission’s makeup and backstory.

U.S. Hits Refugee Limit Set by President Trump

The United States is set to reach a contentious milestone this week when it accepts its 50,000th refugee for the fiscal year ending September 30, hitting a ceiling set by President Trump in his quest to sharply curtail immigration into the country. The 50,000 figure is 41% lower than the 85,000 refugees accepted during President Barack Obama’s final year in office, and would be the lowest total in a decade. The White House said the reduction is necessary to give intelligence agencies time to review vetting procedures used to screen refugees to ensure terrorists don’t infiltrate the U.S. posing as refugees. Refugee groups counter that it is “morally wrong” for America to turn its back on those escaping war and other horrors when the world is facing its greatest migrant crisis. The door for refugees will remain partly open, however, due to the June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that allowed a portion of Trump’s travel ban to take effect.

Federal Housing Aid Promotes Segregation

A review of federal data by The New York Times found that in the United States’ biggest metropolitan areas, low-income housing projects that use federal tax credits — the nation’s biggest source of funding for affordable housing — are disproportionately built in majority nonwhite communities. What this means, fair-housing advocates say, is that the government is essentially helping to maintain entrenched racial divides, even though federal law requires government agencies to promote integration. The nearly $8-billion-a-year tax credit program allows private developers to apply for credits they can use to help finance new housing or the rehabilitation of existing units. The program offers developers larger credits for building in poorer communities, which tend to need affordable housing the most but also have large minority populations. Efforts to place low-income housing projects in wealthier, white communities are generally voted down by town councils and local housing authorities.

Residents of Northern California Feel Subjugated to Urban Tyranny

The residents of northern California argue that their political voice is drowned out in a system that has only one state senator for every million residents. This sentiment resonates in other traditionally conservative parts of California, including large swaths of the Central Valley. California’s Great Red North, a bloc of 13 counties that voted for President Trump in November, make up more than a fifth of the state’s land mass but only 3 percent of its population, reports the New York Times. Urban California is a multiethnic dominated culture where the percentage of whites has fallen to 38 percent. California’s Great Red North is the opposite, a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.

In May, a loose coalition of northern activists and residents, including an Indian tribe and the small northern city of Fort Jones, joined forces to file a federal lawsuit arguing that California’s legislative system is unconstitutional because the Legislature has not expanded with the population. California has only one state representative per 1 million people. By contrast, each member of the New York State Assembly represents on average 130,000 people; in New Hampshire, it’s 3,330 people for each representative. Mark Baird, one of the plaintiffs, says residents of California’s far north feel as though they are being governed by an urbanized elite. “It’s tyranny by the majority,” he said. “The majority should never be able to deprive the minority of their inalienable rights.”

  • America’s red-blue divide, liberal vs. conservative, rural vs. urban, will become even more prominent as the end-times move forward toward the Great Tribulation. Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, NKJV)

Global Hacks Might be Using Stolen NSA Cyberweapons

Twice in the past month, National Security Agency cyberweapons stolen from its arsenal have been turned against two very different partners of the United States — Britain and Ukraine. The N.S.A. has kept quiet, not acknowledging its role in developing the weapons, reports the New York Times. White House officials have deflected many questions, and responded to others by arguing that the focus should be on the attackers themselves, not the manufacturer of their weapons. The series of escalating attacks using N.S.A. cyberweapons have hit hospitals, a nuclear site and American businesses. Now there is growing concern that United States intelligence agencies have rushed to create digital weapons that they cannot keep safe from adversaries or disable once they fall into the wrong hands.

  • When will we ever learn? For many decades, we’ve experienced our own weapons turned against us by shifting alliances with various countries, rebel groups and militias. So, it’s no surprise that now we can’t hold onto our cyberweapons.

‘Obamaphone’ Program Stashes $9 Billion in Private Bank Accounts

The controversial “Obamaphone” program, which pays for cellphones for the poor, is rife with fraud, according to a new government report released Thursday that found more than a third of enrollees may not even be qualified. Known officially as the Lifeline Program, the phone giveaway has become a symbol of government waste. A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the program has stashed some $9 billion of assets in private bank accounts rather than with the federal treasury, further increasing risks and depriving taxpayers of the full benefit of that money. “A complete lack of oversight is causing this program to fail the American taxpayer — everything that could go wrong is going wrong,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, ranking Democrat on the Senate’s chief oversight committee and who is a former state auditor in Missouri. “We’re currently letting phone companies cash a government check every month with little more than the honor system to hold them accountable, and that simply can’t continue,” she said. The program, run by the Federal Communications Commission, predates President Obama, but it gained attention during his administration when recipients began to associate the free phone with other benefits he doled out to the poor.

73% Of World’s Renewable Energy Is Made by Burning Wood & Dung

The hysteria over solar and wind power as the only feasible source of future ‘renewable’ energy flies in the face of the facts. Wood and animal feces are both renewable, and account for almost 73% of the world’s renewable energy, but you never hear about planting more trees. “Of course, the Technocrats cannot control wood or feces as energy, so it is completely ignored,” notes Technocracy News. There’s no doubt that wind and solar energy capacity has grown rapidly over the last three decades. Wind power generation has grown by an average of 24.3% per year since 1990, while solar’s growth was 46.2% per year over the same period. However, despite thirty years of government subsidies and hundreds of billions in direct investments in green technologies, wind power still meets just 0.46% of the earth’s energy demands. Given current technology (and assuming 20% efficiency), we’d need to cover an area the size of Spain in solar panels to generate enough electricity to meet our global electricity demands by 2030. In fact, even if we mined all of the silver on earth’s crust, there still wouldn’t be enough to make the transition to 100% solar power. In addition, solar energy produces 300 times more toxic waste than does nuclear power. While a total of 13.6% of world energy comes from renewable sources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro), the vast majority—72.8%—is just people in developing countries burning wood, charcoal, and dung for energy.

Persecution Watch

Although for many Muslims Ramadan is a time of self-denial and fasting, for others it is a time of jihad. In fact, it was during the month of Ramadan that Muhammed and the first Islamic army conquered Mecca in 630AD and this has led some jihadi groups, such as the Taliban, to declare jihad obligatory during Ramadan. More than 1,620 people (both Muslims and Christians) were killed during this year’s Ramadan. “It is sobering to note that behind this lies the historical teaching of sharia on jihad and apostasy – those deemed to be non-Muslims, particularly if they are viewed as having have left Islam, can be legitimately killed,” notes the Barnabas Fund.

The Christian cake-shop owner who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony says he and his family are receiving death threats. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, was thrown into the center of a heated controversy when he refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration. Phillips cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal. The Colorado Human Rights Commission, as well as the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Phillips, but just this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear his case this fall. While Phillips awaits a final verdict from the nation’s highest court, he says he and his family have received many death threats. One man called to say he knew exactly where the bakery was located and he knew that Phillips’ daughter worked there. He said he would murder Phillips and his family.

  • The alt-left is becoming increasingly violent

Economic News

The economy grew at an annual pace of 1.4% in the first three months of the year, according to the final reading Thursday from the Commerce Department. That’s similar to the first quarters of the last few years under President Barack Obama, when growth was also anemic. The reading for January through March was better than the original estimate of 0.7%. Factors like weak consumer spending and slow business investment were not as bad as first thought. Trump has promised he will get economic growth to 3%, but economists say that will be difficult. The Federal Reserve estimates growth will stay at about 2% for the next few years.

Minimum wage hikes took effect Saturday, July 1, in cities, counties and states across the country. The minimum wage goes up to $14 an hour in San Francisco on Saturday, on the way to $15 next year. In Los Angeles, it rises to between $10.50 and $12, depending on the size of the business. It will hit $15 for all businesses in 2021. Other parts of the country have approved more modest bumps. Maryland will raise the minimum wage from $8.75 to $9.25 this weekend, then up to $10.10 next year. Other locations with minimum wage increases include: Chicago: $11 an hour; Flagstaff, Arizona: $10.50 an hour; Oregon: $10.25 an hour; Washington, D.C.: $12.50 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Congress hasn’t raised it in 10 years.

Despite all the political drama in Washington, D.C., the stock market did quite well the first half of the year. The Dow and S&P 500 have gained more than 8%. The Nasdaq has soared 14%. The rally has been broad too. 23 of the Dow 30 stocks are higher and 70% of the companies in the S&P 500 are up. However, volatility has recently returned — with a vengeance. Stocks plunged Tuesday and Thursday but surged Wednesday, ending Friday with modest gains.

Global debt levels have surged to a record $217 trillion in the first quarter of the year. This is 327 percent of the world’s annual economic output (GDP), reports the Institute of International Finance. The surging debt was driven by emerging economies, which have increased borrowing by $3 trillion to $56 trillion. This amounts to 218 percent of their combined economic output, five percentage points greater year on year. Never before in human history has our world been so saturated with debt. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and poor grows by leaps and bounds. Eight men now own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam to mark the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos.

Islamic State

Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared an end to the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in the Middle East as forces pushed deeper into the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa. Iraqi forces began a bush deeper into Mosul’s Old City, where ISIS militants were making their last stand and by afternoon they had reached an al-Nuri Mosque – the site where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his lone public appearance in July 2014, declaring a “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi and coalition officials said Islamic State fighters destroyed the mosque and denied the militants’ assertion that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes had destroyed it. Some 300 ISIS fighters remain holed up inside the last Mosul districts the militants hold, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. Even after Mosul is retaken, however, Islamic State still controls significant pockets of territory in Iraq that Iraqi forces say will require many more months of fighting to liberate. The Islamic State group is striking back as Iraqi forces are on the cusp of full victory in Mosul, sending women suicide bombers to target soldiers as the battle for the country’s second-largest city nears its end. At least 15 people were killed in the latest assaults by two women suicide bombers Monday.

ISIS has seen its income drop by 80 percent in two years as it loses territory and the oil and tax revenue that comes with it, according to a study of its finances. The self-declared caliphate has seen average monthly income plunge from $81 million in the second quarter of 2015 to just $16 million in the same period this year, according to IHS Markit, a global data monitoring company. Shrinking territory is a big problem for the militant extremist group. Unlike other terror networks such as al Qaeda, ISIS regards itself as a state, running sharia courts, schools and even its own currency. It has been meeting the high cost of this apparatus by seizing assets such as oil refineries and imposing taxes and fines in the areas it controls. The findings echo a similar report published in February by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College, London, which said ISIS’ income had dropped by more than more than half from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2014 to $870 million last year.

Syria

A series of car bomb explosions, including a suicide attacker who blew himself up after being surrounded by security forces, rocked the Syrian capital on Sunday, killing at least eight people and wounding a dozen more. State media said security forces intercepted the two other car bombs, suggesting they were controlled explosions. Footage from Tahreer Square in central Damascus showed the facade of one building badly damaged, and mangled vehicles parked in the small roundabout. State TV said security forces detected two car bombs at an entrance to the city, and foiled a plot to target crowded areas on first day of work after the long Muslim holiday that follows Ramadan. Such attacks have been relatively rare in Damascus, the seat of power for President Bashar Assad.

Nork Korea

North Korea claimed it successfully test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday, contradicting South Korean and U.S. officials who earlier said it was an intermediate-range ballistic missile. “The success of the ICBM launch at its first trial is the final gateway to completing our nuclear force. It marked a phenomenal event in our history as we are pursuing the dual-track policy of nuclear and economic development,” a statement from the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said. Japan’s government said the missile was believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan but no damage to ships or aircraft in the area has been reported. The U.S. Pacific Command confirmed it detected a ballistic missile near the Panghyon Airfield and tracked it for 37 minutes before it landed in the Sea of Japan. President Trump said it was time for China to take decisive action against North Korea after Pyongyang’s latest ballistic missile launch, urging Beijing to “end this nonsense once and for all”.

Germany

German lawmakers approved a bill on Friday aimed at cracking down on hate speech on social networks, which critics say could have drastic consequences for free speech online. The measure approved is designed to enforce the country’s existing limits on speech, including the long-standing ban on Holocaust denial. Among other things, it would fine social networking sites up to 50 million euros ($56 million) if they persistently fail to remove illegal content within a week, including defamatory “fake news.” “Freedom of speech ends where the criminal law begins,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who was the driving force behind the bill. Maas said official figures showed the number of hate crimes in Germany increased by over 300 percent in the last two years. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for angry debates about Germany’s recent influx of more than 1 million refugees, with authorities struggling to keep up with the flood of criminal complaints.

The German parliament voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, joining many other western European nations. The move could spur other European countries where same-sex marriage is not recognized to follow suit. Lawmakers voted 393 for same-sex marriage and 226 against it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure. “For me marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman,” she said. But she paved the way for the vote after saying on Monday that lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” freeing members of her ruling Christian Democratic Party to vote in favor. There are several central and eastern European countries – including Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy – where only civil partnerships are open to gay couples, rather than marriage.

Volcanoes

An aid helicopter crashed into a mountain while conducting evacuations after an Indonesia volcano erupted. The crash killed all eight on board the helicopter. The sudden eruption of the Sileri volcano occurred Sunday while about 17 visitors were around the crater. Ten people were injured and were treated at a hospital. Sileri is the most active and dangerous among some 10 craters at Dieng Plateau. Its most recent eruption was in 2009, when it unleashed volcanic materials up to 200 meters (656 feet) high and triggered the creation of three new craters. Some 142 people were reportedly asphyxiated in 1979 when the volcano spewed gases.

Wildfires

The western wildfire season is in full swing with dozens of fires blazing in Utah, Arizona and California. 2017 is turning out to be more active than last year at this point in the season. More than 4,200 square miles have burned so far this year, which is 30 percent more than 2016’s year-to-date total. The largest fire in the U.S., the Brian Head fire in southern Utah, has destroyed 13 homes, damaged two and forced more than 1,500 people to evacuate, Inciweb reports. The fire has burned more than 91 square miles and remains 15 percent contained. Wednesday Arizona.  As of Tuesday morning, 7/4, 25 large fires (over 100 acres) have burned more than 226,000 acres in nine states. New large fires were reported in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, and Washington. Firefighters made excellent progress toward management goals over the weekend and contained 19 large fires.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Yavapai County in response to the Goodwin fire. The fire has burned more than 43 square miles of land in the Prescott National Forest and destroyed 22 structures. Officials ordered the evacuation of 1,400 residents in the central Arizona town of Mayer last Tuesday afternoon. The fire was 75% contained as of 7/3 and residents have begun returning home. The Frye fire in southeastern Arizona has burned over 70 square miles, but only one structure was destroyed. It is 45% contained. Communities on Mount Lemmon, outside Tucson, are being evacuated because of the Burro Fire, which has grown to 14,000 acres. The Brianhead fire in Utah has consumed 65,377 acres (102 sq. miles) and destroyed 26 structures. It is now 65% contained.

Weather

Four tornadoes touched down in western Maine Saturday, damaging homes and boats and downing trees in a rare severe weather day in the Pine Tree State. On average, only two tornadoes touch down in Maine each year. One pontoon boat was flipped and others were reported to have their covers or tops shredded at Sebago Lake. A number of homes were damaged and trees blown down in the Moose Pond area, west of Bridgton, Maine. The NWS rated this an EF1 tornado, with winds up to 100 mph. Over the southeast portion of Highland Lake, a tornado moved onshore, snapping and uprooting several large trees, some of which fell onto structures and vehicles, and hitting campground hard.

There were 26 reports of tornadoes last Wednesday in four states as severe weather struck the Midwest. The storms caused at least two injuries and damage to dozens of homes and farm buildings. Trees were uprooted and snapped and several homes sustained roof damage. A camper was rolled into a pond and a trailer was flipped. In Prairieburg, Iowa, a confirmed EF2 tornado knocked out power for much of the town. It also heavily damaged a grain elevator, knocked down power lines and damaged several farm buildings.

Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

June 21, 2017

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

Russian officials on Monday threatened that their country would treat U.S.-led coalition planes in some parts of Syria as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Russia’s defense ministry said planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, would be considered targets. The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in nearly 20 years the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat. The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement. The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7. The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. The operation “targeted Takfiri forces in the Deir Ezzor region in Eastern Syria.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard uses the term Takfiri to describe ISIS. A U.S. aircraft shot down an armed Iranian drone advancing on coalition forces in southern Syria on Tuesday. This is the second the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month.

  • Iran and Russia have become end-time allies just as prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. But don’t lose heart – Jesus wins in the end.

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

The man suspected of mowing down a crowd exiting Ramadan prayers at a London mosque early Monday was captured on video blowing a kiss at bystanders as he was hauled off to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. At least one person was killed and 10 others were injured in the assault, which authorities were treating as a terrorist attack. The 48-year-old man was arrested in the collision with pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, Metropolitan police said. The attacker reportedly shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims.” The incident occurred outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight after Ramadan prayers. Police said all of the injured were members of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders decried the collision as a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.

Terror in Brussels

The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces foiled a “terror attack” by shooting a suspect following a small but fiery blast, the country’s top prosecutor said. A small explosion went off at Central Station, sparking panic and evacuations, before the attacker was killed by police. Fortunately, investigators believe the powerful explosive failed to detonate because of poor preparation, which Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office believes was made at the suspect’s home. The terrorist has been identified as a Moroccan national in his 30s. Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack. Brussels has been on high alert since March 2016 when three coordinated suicide bombings at the city’s airport in Zavendem and at the Maalbeek Metro station left 32 dead. It’s the third terror attack in Europe in two weeks.

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has cut back the injunction he issued against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban order, Politico is reporting. Watson’s move comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his injunction, but noted portions that blocked the administration from reviewing vetting procedures were too broad. The judge narrowed the injunction clearing the way for the administration to conduct internal reviews of other nation’s vetting procedures for visa applicants while the case is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has called the move a “big win,” but others were more cautious. “Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Michigan Officer Stabbed at Flint Airport in “Act of Terrorism”

The stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport Wednesday by a Canadian citizen who yelled “Allahu Akbar” and referenced people being killed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, officials said. Amor Ftouhi, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, entered Bishop International Airport in Flint around 9:45 a.m. and went to a restroom before dropping both of his bags, coming out with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before stabbing Officer Jeff Neville in the neck. The Canadian citizen was motivated to come to the airport and conduct this act of violence out of a “hated of the United States,” according to the FBI. He legally entered the U.S. at Lake Champlain in New York on June 16, and then made his way to Flint.

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

According to a recent Gallup poll, fears of potential terror attacks are driving more Americans to avoid crowds. Gallup found that 38% of Americans – a record-high percentage since the research organization began asking the question after 9/11 – are less willing to attend large events due to the threat of terrorism. The percentage was 32% right after 9/11. The rising percentage of Americans unwilling to attend large events or be in crowded spaces comes as a potential terror attack at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday is under investigation. Another occurred in France outside of Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago and a string of attacks in the U.K. were carried out in the past month, including the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the June 3 attack on the crowded London bridge. Americans are also less willing to travel overseas, fly, or go into skyscrapers due to terrorism concerns, Gallup found.

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. “We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News. The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

A California university’s decision to put a limit on the number of American citizens it enrolls — while placing no such restrictions on illegal immigrants who want to attend the school — is drawing sharp criticism from education activists. “The UC system, like many others around the country, is routinely giving preferential treatment to illegal aliens at the expense of American students, many of whom are attending at great sacrifice of their parents,” Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group, told Fox News. “Ultimately, and ironically, the California government is actually penalizing Californians by not counting illegals as out-of-state students and thus allowing them to, in effect, take seats away from in-state students,” he said. Officials for the University of California say that the school system is simply being consistent with state law.

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a state law banning abortions after 20 weeks. Life News reports that the ACLU challenged the fetal pain abortion bill in 2012, preventing the law from being enforced. After the court’s decision, it will now be illegal for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks; violating the law will be a felony. The fetal abortion pain bill was so-named because science has proven unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. Georgia Life Alliance executive director Camila Zolfaghari said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

The Army has begun mandatory transgender sensitivity training for soldiers. The training covers everything from “transfemale” soldiers to transgender shower etiquette to dealing with a transgender male soldier who becomes pregnant. The matter of male soldiers with child is tucked away inside the Army’s “Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module, Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders.” “This training is mandatory for all uniformed members, as well as Department of the Army civilians,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told USA Today. The Army guidelines mandate facilities will not be designed, modified or constructed to make transgender-only areas. “Accommodations cannot isolate or stigmatize the TG soldier,” the guidelines state. The Army’s response to a transgender male pregnancy? “Transgender Soldiers with a medical condition, including pregnancy, will be treated the same as any other Soldier with that condition,” the policy states. “Millions of dollars and training hours have been consumed with lectures on how to deploy transgender personnel in a war zone that has laws against that behavior,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “Military commanders should be focused on fighting wars, not on how to deal with transgender personnel.”

Strong Cultural Divide in America

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy? Who deserves the most help in society? President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans, the report notes.

Economic News

Rising housing costs are putting a major squeeze on Americans. Nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Experts generally advise budgeting about 30% of monthly income for rent or mortgage costs. But millions of Americans are far exceeding that guideline. One-third of households in 2015 were “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million are paying more than 50% of their income to cover their housing needs.

Consumer confidence fell in June to its lowest point since November, according to the University of Michigan’s closely followed index and survey. The confidence index is now at 94.5. Before the election, it was 87.2. By January, when he was inaugurated, it had shot up to 98.5, the highest level in more than a decade. That was largely because of hopes that Trump would cut taxes, spend big on infrastructure and shed government regulations. Those hopes are now dimming a bit.

Various indicators show U.S. companies, particularly small firms, have been taking out fewer loans in recent months, a sign they’re spending less on new equipment and structures. And that can crimp economic growth and hiring. Economists cite a variety of reasons, including uncertainty over Trump’s agenda getting through Congress amid probes into his ties with Russia, as well as recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Islamic State

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat. ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.

U.S.-backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq’s second largest city. ISIS captured Mosul when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraq launched a massive operation to retake the city last October, and has driven the militants from all but a handful of neighborhoods. The extremists are expected to make their last stand in the Old City, a densely populated quarter with narrow, winding alleys.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte begged forgiveness Tuesday for declaring martial law in Mindanao island and vowed to rebuild Marawi, the battle-scarred city at the heart of nearly four weeks of fighting between Philippines forces and ISIS-affiliated militants. “I will rebuild Marawi,” he promised. The battle has resulted in numerous deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the Philippines government, more than 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The majority have found shelter with friends and family, but more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are crowded into evacuation centers, where government agencies are trying to provide basic necessities.

Britain

One week after a massive high-rise apartment fire killed 79 people, supporters of the victims and now-homeless residents marched to Parliament on Wednesday to express anger over what some are calling Britain’s Hurricane Katrina moment. The demonstration also included anti-government protesters calling for British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign because of the government’s slow response. The demonstration was planned to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech for the official opening of Parliament, when the government spells out its lawmaking priorities for the next two years. After the queen’s speech, the prime minister addressed Parliament and acknowledged that government support for the victims after the fire was “not good enough.” Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the June 14 blaze at the 24-story Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in London’s wealthy North Kensington neighborhood. In the following days, the horror and frustration over Britain’s worst disaster in years have turned into public outrage.

North Korea

North Korea is continuing to mass resources at a known weapons testing site inside the country, a defense source told Fox News on Wednesday, prompting worries Pyongyang could be plotting to greenlight another provocative nuclear bomb test amid heightened tensions following the death this week of an American student who had been imprisoned by Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. North Korea is relentlessly pursuing its goal of building a nuclear bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already conducted five nuclear tests and recently launched an advanced missile that suggests a functioning ICBM may be within reach.

The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans – and three Americans — regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts. Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine. There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said.

Wildfires

Forest fires in Portugal have killed dozens of people and injured many others this weekend about 100 miles northeast of Lisbon. At least 62 people were killed, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road through the forest between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including four firefighters. A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area. Authorities said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.

Earthquakes

Four people remain missing on the western coast of Greenland after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the village of Nuugaatsiaq. The surge of water struck the village late Saturday night and destroyed at least 11 homes. Officials believe the tremor triggered a landslide into the water, which started the tsunami. Four missing people were inside their home when it was swept into the sea by the tsunami. After the tsunami, 39 people were evacuated from Nuugaatsiaq.

Weather

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday as Tropical Storm Cindy turned deadly and roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast, slashing the region with heavy rains and flooding. A 10-year-old boy died in Alabama, parts of Louisiana had five inches of rain by early afternoon, and Pensacola was slammed by more than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. And more was on the way. Cindy, armed with sustained winds of 50 mph, was expected to generate up to 15 inches of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night, and a few tornadoes also were possible through Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could produce “life-threatening flash floods along the central Gulf Coast,” the agency said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Cindy was about 135 miles south of Lake Charles, La., and about 125 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. Cindy was expected to move inland toward southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Dangerously hot temperatures have been gripping the Southwest this week, threatening the all-time record-high temperature in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere has developed over the Southwest. Beneath the dome, sinking air is causing temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in many areas. At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday. Needles, California, tied its all-time record high Tuesday when it reached 125 degrees. Las Vegas also tied its all-time record high by reaching 117 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Daily record highs were set Tuesday in Phoenix (119 degrees), Tucson, Arizona (116 degrees), Yuma, Arizona (120 degrees), and Palm Springs, California (122 degrees – tie).

Signs of the Times (6/2/17)

June 2, 2017

Trump Backs Out of Climate Deal, But Emissions Still Decreasing

President Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate accord is a blow to environmental activists, but the nation’s steady, years-long reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming won’t suddenly stop. Utility companies have announced plans to fully or partially close more than a half dozen coal-fired power plants since Trump took office fewer than five months ago, taking some of the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitters off-line. Since 2010, more than 250 coal-fired power plants have closed in the U.S. And large businesses are moving away from fossil fuels due to market conditions, further contributing to increased use of cleaner energy sources. “The United States is making progress,” said John Coequyt, Global Climate Policy Director for the Sierra Club. “We’re moving forward. We believe the rest of the world will do the same.” U.S. stocks advanced on Thursday, with each of the major U.S. indexes notching record highs following Trump’s announcement.

Trump had already taken unilateral steps to roll back regulations that were designed to implement the Paris agreement, including reversing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan rule that sought to lower greenhouse emissions. Trump said during the Rose Garden announcement that, “The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other counties of the world.” The international agreement, which was signed in 2015 and went into effect seven months ago, is considered a major part the environmental legacy of the Obama administration. Michael A. Needham, chief executive officer of the conservative Heritage Action for America, applauded the president’s move. “Withdrawal from the agreement marks a critical step in unraveling former President Obama’s destructive legacy,” Needham said. “Not only did Obama make this agreement without approval from Congress, but in doing so he handed more control of America’s energy to foreign officials.”

World Leaders Slam Trump Climate Deal Decision

World leaders on Thursday condemned President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Although the president said he is willing to work for a better deal, France, Italy and Germany said in a joint statement that the accord cannot be re-negotiated. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged allies to “speed up” efforts to fight against climate change and said they would do more to help poorer countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s decision, saying his country is “deeply disappointed.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the decision “irresponsible.” The European Union’s top climate change official echoed Rasmussen’s sentiments, calling it “a sad day for the global community.” Former Mexican president Vincente Fox unleashed a tweetstorm, saying Trump has “surrendered the hopes and future of a nation.”

State Governors, Businesses Pledge to Honor Paris Climate Accord

Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord. New York Gov. Cuomo, California Gov. Brown and Washington Gov. Inslee said they were forming a coalition of states determined to stick to the Paris targets. The three states account for a fifth of the U.S. economy. In a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s announcement in the rose garden of the White House, Cuomo unveiled a plan for New York to invest $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency, the largest ever procurement of renewable energy by an American state. California’s senate voted Wednesday to make utilities use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 and 60 percent by 2030. The current standard in both California and New York is for utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, more than two dozen big companies — including Apple, Morgan Stanley, and Royal Dutch Shell — also pledged to do their part. Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, and Robert Iger, chief executive of Disney, both resigned from the president’s advisory council after Trump’s withdrawal.

Billionaires Pledge to Give Away Half Their Wealth

Fourteen more billionaires have signed on to the Giving Pledge – the initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 to “help address society’s most pressing problems” by shifting “the social norms of philanthropy toward giving more, giving sooner and giving smarter.” The new signatories plan to use their wealth to support causes focused on poverty alleviation, education, healthcare research, climate change and the environment. More than 168 billionaires have now signed the pledge and they represent 21 countries and range in age from 31 to 93. “We all have a moral obligation as the more affluent in society to give back as best we know how,” MeTL Group CEO Mohammed Dewji of Tanzania said in a statement.

U.S. Intercepts a Long-Range Missile for the First Time

The U.S. military on Tuesday successfully intercepted an intercontinental-range missile for the first time, a key test of its missile-defense system amid heightening tensions with North Korea. The interceptor was launched from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and hit the test missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, the Missile Defense Agency said. The test was a major challenge because an intercontinental ballistic missile flies faster than a shorter-range missile. Prior to Tuesday, the U.S. military had conducted 17 tests of its missile-defense system and nine were successful, all against short-range missiles. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have injected a new sense of urgency to building an effective defense against the country and actions of its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un, who is trying to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the U.S. mainland.

U.S. 114th in World Ranking of Peacefulness

America is far from the most peaceful spot on earth according to the 11th annual “Global Peace Index,” which bases its conclusions on a complex gauge of social, economic and political factors, including rates of homicide and terrorism activities. The U.S. is now at No. 114, falling 11 places in the last year, the analysis says. Armenia and Rwanda are just in front of America on the list, El Salvador and China follow. “Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark. There was also very little change at the bottom of the index. Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen,” the report said. Most U.S. allies are in the top-20 of the index, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Germany. The United Kingdom is at No. 41, however. “The U.S. deterioration is primarily driven by the growing intensity of internal conflict within the country, which was partly seen in the divisive 2016 Presidential election, as well as increases in the perceptions of criminality across American society,” the analysis said, also citing the impact of “rising homicide rates in several major American cities” and several terrorist attacks on American soil.

49 Shot in Chicago over Memorial Day Weekend – Less than 2016

The grim tally of 49 shot over Memorial Day weekend, historically one of the most violent times of the year here, is oddly the latest sign the city may be turning a corner in the fight against gun violence. Five people were killed and 44 wounded in shootings between Friday evening and Monday night, an improvement over last year’s total of 7 killed and 61 injured. The decrease highlights the slow progress police say they’ve made in the first five months of the year to reduce Chicago’s stubbornly high murder rate through technology that helps commanders better deploy street cops. As of Tuesday morning, Chicago has recorded 235 murders so far this year, compared to 244 for the same time period in 2016. Shooting incidents have dropped more significantly to 1,047 compared to 1,222 last year, according to police department data.

Planned Parenthood Killed 328,348 Babies in 2015

The abortion chain Planned Parenthood released its annual report this week, about four months later than it usually does. The report shows increases in abortion numbers and taxpayer funding in 2015, alongside decreases in contraception, breast exams and overall patient numbers. Planned Parenthood continued to maintain its status as the largest abortion provider in the United States. The abortion group performed 328,348 abortions on unborn babies, 4,349 more than the previous year. At the same time, it saw 2.4 million patients, about 100,000 fewer than the previous year and about 500,000 fewer than five years ago. Contraception services, which the abortion chain touts as its primary service, also dropped from 2.94 million to 2.8 million during the past two years. Meanwhile, the abortion chain received more taxpayer funding. The report shows Planned Parenthood receiving $554.6 million, up from $553.7 million the previous year.

Teen Births Hit Historic Low

Teen births continue to decline in the United States, with health officials reporting a 9 percent drop from 2013 to 2014. Births to 15- to 19-year-olds fell to a historic low of 24 births per 1,000 women in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. At the same time, the proportion of births to women 30 and older increased. Mothers 30 and older accounted for 30 percent of births in 2014 — up from 24 percent in 2000, the researchers found.

Erotic Drag Show at School District Talent Show

Parents are furious after children as young as 5-years-old were exposed to an erotic drag show performance at what was supposed to be a school district talent show in New York City. The May 25th performance shocked and enraged parents who could not believe the school district would allow a grown man to spread his legs and display his crotch to wide-eyed children. The New York Daily News described the lewd performance as “complete with gyrations, tongue gymnastics and a flashed G-string.” The talent show was emceed by District 4 Superintendent Alexandra Estrella. And the individual who performed in drag was identified as the president of the Public School 96 Parent Association.

  • The lack of moral boundaries opens the cesspool of human depravity (Romans 1:24-25)

Persecution Watch

A Catholic farmer in Michigan is suing the city of East Lansing after he was barred from a municipal farmers market over his views on same-sex marriage. Stephen Tennes filed a lawsuit at a federal court on Wednesday (May 31), seeking his reinstatement. Tennes says he was prohibited from selling his products after his business, Country Mill Farms, refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding at its orchard in Charlotte, 22 miles outside the city and he stated on Facebook “his Catholic belief that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman.” Country Mill Farms had sold fruit and produce at the market for six years, but after city officials learned about the Facebook post, they “strongly and immediately pressured us not to return to the farmers market,” Tennes told a news conference at the state Capitol. According to the lawsuit, Country Mill is the only business to have been prohibited under the market’s anti-discrimination policy.

A Christian geologist-turned-creationist, who claimed Grand Canyon National Park denied his request to obtain rocks from the Park based on his religious beliefs, is suing on grounds of alleged religious discrimination. Andrew A. Snelling, a geologist with a doctorate in the field from the University of Sydney, named the Grand Canyon National Park and the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service in his lawsuit. Dr. Snelling, in November 2013, requested permission to remove 60 half-pound rocks from various areas of the Colorado River within the canyon, from park administrators – a request that was denied last July. His beliefs were not mentioned in his permit request, but, according to the New York Times, Dr. Snelling was “no strange to park officials, as he had guided many Biblical-themed rafting trips through the canyon and done research there.” “It’s one thing to debate the science,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian nonprofit representing Dr. Snelling. “But to deny access to the data not based on the quality of a proposal or the nature of the inquiry, but on what you might do with it is an abuse of government power.”

Economic News

Hiring slowed substantially in May as employers added just 138,000 jobs but the disappointing showing likely won’t stop the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates this month. Also discouraging is that job gains for March and April were revised down by 66,000. March’s job report was revised to 50,000 from 79,000, and April’s to 174,000 from 211,000. The labor market was largely expected to return to form (over 200,000 jobs) last month after volatile weather made for sharp gyrations the first five months of the year.

The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell from 4.4% to 4.3%, lowest since May 2003, the Labor Department said Friday. Average hourly wages rose 4 cents to $26.22, holding annual gains steady at 2.5%. Although earnings have picked up the past year or two from a tepid 2% pace, the annual increases have moderated in recent months, down from nearly 3%.

In a recent GoBankingRates study, 69% of adults admitted to having less than $1,000 in the bank, while 34% said they actually don’t have any savings at all. Only 37% of seniors 65 and older claimed to have $1,000 or more in the bank. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found not so long ago that almost half of Americans die nearly broke. Of the general population, 46% of retirees die with savings of $10,000 or less. But that number climbs to 57% among retirees who are single. Also, 57% of single-adult households and 50% of widowed households had no housing equity when they died.

Despite enormous question marks swirling around the fate of President Trump’s economic agenda and his political future, American financial markets have remained unusually calm. During the first 100 trading days of 2017, the S&P 500 averaged a tiny move of just 0.56% between the day’s high point and its low point. That marks the least volatile start to a year since intraday records began in 1970. Trump has failed to get any landmark legislation through Congress so far. The tax reform that investors were really banking on doesn’t appear to be anywhere near happening. The timing and scale of tax reform continues to get dialed back, with some predicting temporary tax cuts are more likely than the sweeping reform once envisioned.

Some analysts are concerned about several economic ‘bubbles’ that are about to burst. Global debt as a percent of global Gross Domestic Product is 30 to 40 percent higher than it was in 2007. Technology stocks are at record highs, reminiscent of the dot-com boom and bust 17 years ago. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s east money policies have been very successful in boosting asset prices, but wages haven’t followed, especially hurting the Millennial generation, which is why auto sales are down, with many of them putting off purchasing their first home due to high real estate prices. Jobless claims just shot up to a five-week high of 248,000. The number of job cuts in May was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016. U.S. manufacturing PMI fell to an 8 month low in May which also saw the third worst drop in U.S. construction spending in the last six years.

Egypt

Twenty-nine Egyptian Coptic Christians, who were slaughtered by ISIS last week refused to renounce their faith. At least 10 masked Islamic State followers forced the Coptic believers to leave the bus one by one. WorldWatchMonitor.org reports that as each person left the bus they were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them refused. Each Christian was then killed with a gunshot to the head or throat, including children.

Israel

President Trump renewed a waiver Thursday that keeps the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as he had promised during the presidential campaign. “While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House said Thursday in a statement. “President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the statement continued. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, before such a peace agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians would be highly controversial because the status of Jerusalem is disputed. Israel claims rights to Jerusalem dating back to biblical times, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state.

Islamic State

Cruise missiles launched by the Russian Navy hit a number of ISIS targets in Palmyra, Syria, Wednesday, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. The strikes reportedly targeted militant ISIS “shelters” east of the ancient city, which housed heavy equipment and militant troops transferred from ISIS’ de facto capital Raqqa. The Admiral Essen frigate and Krasnodar submarine of the Russian Navy fired four Kalibr cruise missiles and all four struck their targets, the Ministry said. The noted that the U.S., Turkey, and Israel were informed of the strikes at the “appropriate time.”

Afghanistan

At least 80 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked a diplomatic area near the presidential palace in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. An estimated 350 people were injured in the bombing, which happened near Zambaq Square during rush hour in the center of Kabul. Most of the wounded were civilians, including women and children. The bomb, which went off near the entrance to the German embassy, was hidden in a sewage tanker. The attack, which blew doors off their hinges hundreds of yards away and shattered windows, came days after the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Iran

A day after winning re-election last month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed a campaign pledge: that he’ll find a way to free his country from sanctions that hobble its economy. That’s a vow President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are making harder than ever to keep. Trump used his first overseas trip last week to portray Shiite-led Iran as the embodiment of evil, the common enemy that could bring America’s Sunni-led Gulf allies together with Israel to achieve Middle East peace. In Washington, Republicans in Congress are also doubling down, pressing for legislation to add more sanctions, not lift those that remain after the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Philippines

A Philippine bomber plane accidentally killed 11 soldiers and injured seven others, security officials said Thursday, as troops struggled to end a bloody siege by 500 Islamic State group-aligned extremists in a southern city, one of the boldest militant attacks in Southeast Asia in years. The plane was making a bombing run over militant positions in Marawi city on Wednesday when one bomb accidentally hit army troops locked in close battle with extremists who had taken cover in buildings and houses. Precision-guided bombs were used earlier in airstrikes in Marawi’s urban areas, but the military ran out of the high-tech munitions and used conventional ones in Wednesday’s bombing run. About 500 militants, including foreign fighters, joined the siege of Marawi, a mosque-studded city that is the heartland of the Islamic faith in the southern Philippines.

At least 36 people huddling in a hotel room died of suffocation Friday after a lone gunman set gaming tables on fire at a Philippines casino resort in what authorities said was a botched robbery and not terrorism, say local authorities. An official from Resorts World Manila, a complex of hotels, restaurants and stores, said the dead included 22 guests. Another guest died of an apparent heart attack in fleeing the melee. The victims died “due to suffocation at the second-floor gaming area, which had been set on fire by the perpetrator” before the gunman committed suicide on the fifth floor of the resort’s Maxim Hotel. Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said all evidence pointed to a criminal act by an “apparently emotionally disturbed individual.”

Brazil

Political chaos, record high unemployment and weak growth after a historic recession are just some of Brazil’s extensive list of problems in 2017. Over 14 million Brazilians are out of work and the unemployment rate hit a new record of 13.6%, according to figures published this week. Before the economic crisis, it was half that at 6.5%. Brazil’s job outlook is worsening as President Michel Temer is embroiled in new corruption allegations that he paid hush money to a former congressional leader now in jail. Temer denies the claims. Temer’s corruption allegations come one year after Brazil’s Congress launched the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff on charges she manipulated the nation’s budget. Rousseff was forced out in August. Brazilian firm JBS, the world’s largest meat packing company, agreed to pay a record high fine of $3.2 billion for its role in the country’s widespread corruption scandals. JBS’s fine exceeds that of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht’s, which got hit with the previous world record for a corruption fine. In April, a U.S. judge ruled Odebrecht must pay authorities $2.6 billion this year.

Environment

A Swiss company has launched the world’s first chemical facility to commercially remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and turn it into a useful product. Climeworks, which launched its new facility near Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday, compresses CO2 it captures and uses it as fertilizer to grow crops in greenhouses. The company wants to dramatically scale its technology over the next decade, and its long-term goal is to capture 1 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. Along with cutting fossil fuel use to zero, removing carbon dioxide from the air is increasingly seen as one way to stop the long-term buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Climeworks plant represents the beginning of an industry that is attempting to perfect the technology. Other companies, such as British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering, are also working on direct-air capture plants that will commercially suck carbon dioxide from the air.

Weather

Heavy rainfall caused flash flooding in the north-central Texas town of Throckmorton on Friday, which prompted an emergency and evacuations. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the town after up to 9 inches of rain fell and the storms continued in the afternoon hours. A dozen homes and one business were flooded by the rising waters. In addition to the evacuations, all roads in and out of Throckmorton were closed, the report added. No injuries have been reported.

Tropical Storm Beatriz made landfall Thursday evening in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, bringing heavy rains that triggered mudslides, which resulted in two deaths. Two other people there are reported missing. Beatriz was downgraded to a tropical depression soon after making landfall around 7 p.m. local time Thursday between Puerto Angel and Zipolite Beaches. On Friday, the storm was further downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. Schools were closed Friday throughout Oaxaca and flights have been canceled or delayed in the region. Heavy rain has soaked parts of Mexico’s coastal Oaxaca state. Puerto Angel reported more than 9 inches of rain had fallen from the tropical cyclone through Thursday.

Signs of the Times (5/30/17)

May 30, 2017

Gender Accommodation Causes Turmoil in PA High School

Officials in the Boyertown Area School District in Pennsylvania, who have been sued for instituting what amounts to coed showers in their locker rooms, suddenly now are concerned about “student privacy,” reports WorldNetDaily.com. Several students, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Independence Law Center, brought a case against Supt. Richard Faidley and others for allowing both boys and girls to change and shower in the same room under the guise of accommodating “gender orientation.” The lawsuit charges that without any notice to students or their parents, school officials “secretly opened” their sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex. ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek argued “laws and customs have long recognized that we shouldn’t have to undress in front of persons of the opposite sex.” Now the school district has released a statement to WND revealing that its board met recently and “unanimously approved a proposal by an area architectural firm to study how to possibly enhance student privacy in the high school’s locker and restrooms.

No Terror Problems in Countries that Ban Muslim Refugees

As the debate continues to rage in the U.S. over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, in Japan, there is no such debate about refugees nor is there any terrorism. That’s because the Asian nation has a permanent ban on refugees from Muslim countries. Terrorism is not happening in Poland, either. Nor is it happening in Slovenia or Hungary. All of these countries keep Islamic migrants out, and Hungary recently punctuated its policy by erecting a razor-wire fence along its southern border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has scolded Japan repeatedly over the years, trying to get the country to accept refugees, mostly Muslim, from various countries. The Japanese have steadfastly refused. Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, has also refused the constant pressure from the European Union for her country to accept its “quota” Muslim refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Referencing the Islamic suicide bombing that killed 22, mainly children, and injured dozens more at a pop concert in Manchester this week, the Catholic prime minister called out the EU’s political elites on their “folly.”

Appeals Court Refuses to Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

Describing President Trump’s revised travel ban as intolerant and discriminatory, a federal appeals court last Thursday rejected government efforts to limit travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim nations. The White House derided the court decision as a danger to the nation’s security, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision was the first from a federal appeals court on the revised travel ban issued March 6, which was an effort to make good on a campaign centerpiece of the president’s national security agenda. It echoed earlier skepticism by lower federal courts about the legal underpinnings for Mr. Trump’s executive order, which sought to halt travelers for up to 90 days while the government imposed stricter vetting processes.

Brits Fuming Over U.S. Leaks of Manchester Info

President Trump arrived at NATO headquarters here Thursday under a cloud of suspicion about the security of foreign intelligence shared with the United States, a controversy he tried to head off by vowing to end leaks of secret information. British Prime Minister Theresa May was incensed and confronted Trump over intelligence leaks about the Manchester suicide attack. Shortly after he arrived at NATO, Trump released a written statement denouncing unsanctioned disclosures. “The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” the statement said. “These leaks have been going on for a long time and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” In particular, Trump singled out the New York Times for reporting information they could have only gotten from unauthorized sources. “The leaks just went from undermining our President, to deadly,” notes the American Center for Law and Justice. “The deep state shadow government is putting the lives of millions of Americans in danger. The leaks have caused our closest ally to stop sharing critical counterterrorism intelligence with the U.S.”

Trump Chastises Europe for Not Paying Fair Share in NATO

President Trump shamed European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defenses and lectured them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for “not paying what they should be paying.” He used a ceremony to dedicate the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform from which to exhort leaders to “focus on terrorism and immigration” to ensure their security. And he held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most dearly wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of NATO’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them. Instead, European leaders gazed unsmilingly at Trump while he said that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,” and that they owe “massive amounts” from past years.

Trump Chides Nations Over Unfair Trade Practices at G-7 Summit

Wrapping up his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief, President Trump left the G-7 summit Saturday in Italy amid ongoing international deadlocks over trade and climate change. While the American president and G-7 allies agreed to increase efforts to fight terrorism, Trump aides and other world leaders acknowledged ongoing disputes over trade rules and whether the United States should remain a part of the new Paris climate change agreement, which calls for nations to restrict heat-generating carbon emissions. Climate talks in particular were “very unsatisfactory,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. Trump, who receives conflicting advice on climate change from aides, tweeted after the G-7 meetings that “I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” He has pushed back previous plans to make that announcement. In addition to protesting Trump’s views on climate change, Germany and other G-7 members pushed back on Trump’s claims that other countries engage in unfair trade practices against the United States. The back-and-forth discussions ended what European Union President Donald Tusk called “the most challenging G-7 summit in years.” As the Group of Seven summit wrapped up Saturday, thousands demonstrated in the streets, rallying around dozens of issues from immigration to capitalism and everything in between.

Foreign Leaders Distance Themselves from Trump

President Trump received a largely cordial welcome on the first overseas trip of his presidency. But now that he’s returned to Washington, the foreign leaders he met with are increasingly blunt in their reviews of the American president. In separate remarks intended mostly for domestic consumption, leaders of Germany, France and Israel all sought to distance themselves from Trump, just days after meeting with the president during his nine-day foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Brussels and Italy. Among the sources of friction: Trump’s reluctance to unreservedly commit to the North Atlantic alliance, his skepticism of a climate change accord signed on to by his predecessor, and the outreach to Palestinians in pursuit of a Middle East peace agreement. The dynamic is partly one of Trump’s brash style and confrontational manner.

House Health Care Bill Reduces Premiums, Covers Less

House Republicans boast that their health care bill would reduce average premiums, but that’s because the insurance policies will generally cover less. That might be fine for those who never see the doctor, but it would mean those who actually use the coverage will pay more to get treatment. Obamacare put in place an array of protections that pushed up premiums, but shielded Americans from big health care bills. Also, the law capped how much consumers have to pay out-of-pocket each year for the essential health benefits — $7,150 in 2017 — and it prevented insurers from settling annual or lifetime limits on these benefits. However, as insurers losses mounted, many have either raised prices significantly or pulled out of Obamacare leaving some states with only one provider.

Native Americans Worried About Trump’s Budget Cuts

Native Americans have, by far, the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country. The sweeping cuts included in the Trump budget proposal have sent shivers through the Native American community. Trump’s plan would slash the budget for the Interior Department — which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that provides services for nearly 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives — by 12%, to $11.6 billion. The cuts could be devastating, according to Mason Big Crow, the Oglala Sioux tribe treasurer. The tribe could lose at least half the money it receives from federal sources, Big Crow said.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s Up 55% in U.S.

The rate of people dying from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States rose by 55% over a 15-year period, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. The number of those patients dying at home from the neurodegenerative condition also rose, from 14% to 25% over the same time period studied, 2009-2014. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, causing symptoms including memory loss, impaired language, difficulties in concentrating and decision making, confusion, or disorientation. The disease mainly affects people over the age of 65 and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. That number is predicted to rise to 16 million by 2050.

Economic News

Nearly a tenth of homes with a mortgage in the United States were considered “seriously underwater” at the end of the first quarter of 2017, according to statistics from ATTOM Data Solutions. And nearly a third of all homes nationwide valued at less than $100,000 are seriously underwater. A property is seriously underwater if the amount owed on the loan secured against it is at least 25% higher than the value of the property. The good news is that the number of seriously underwater homes is down slightly from a year ago. While negative equity continued to trend steadily downward in the first quarter, it remains stubbornly high in often-overlooked pockets of the housing market. These pockets exist in several Rust Belt cities, Las Vegas and central Florida.

Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage in 10 years. Democrats on Capitol Hill decided to mark the occasion by introducing a bill that probably won’t pass, reports CNNMoney. They introduced legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2024. The bill isn’t likely to go anywhere in Congress. Republicans run the House, Senate and the White House, and no members of the GOP have given their endorsement. Meanwhile, many states have been enacting their own changes amid inaction at the federal level. Nineteen states began 2017 with higher minimum wages, from Arkansas to Michigan to Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York, California and Washington D.C. all passed laws in 2016 that put them on track for $15 an hour.

OPEC, Russia and other major oil producers agreed this week to continue their reduced production volume for another nine months. These coordinated production cuts are aimed at mopping up the massive supply glut that sent crude crashing to unthinkably-low prices last year. While OPEC’s ability to cobble together an agreement has managed to keep a lid on prices this year, oil stockpiles in the U.S. and other major economies remain stubbornly-high — and that’s spooking impatient investors. Oil stockpiles in developed countries in the OECD jumped by 24 million barrels during the first quarter to a new record of 1.2 billion, according to the International Energy Agency.

Persecution Watch

Human rights activists told Capitol Hill lawmakers that Christians in North Korea are facing persecution that is likely “on par” with the level of persecution that the Early Christian Church endured under Roman emperor Nero. The activists, convened by International Christian Concern, told lawmakers about the human rights abuses that Christians face. For the past 15 years, North Korea has ranked as the top persecutor of Christians by Open Doors USA. Any Christian worship, or religious worship, is illegal and can be punished be arrest, torture or execution. Organizations such as Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the Korean Institution for National Unification [have] interviewed thousands of defectors who brought testimony of extremely severe religious persecution.

United Kingdom

Police arrested two more suspects Saturday over the deadly Manchester concert bombing, as Britons began a sunny holiday long weekend under heightened security. Greater Manchester Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were detained early Saturday in the northwest England city on suspicion of terrorism offenses. Police used an explosive device to get into a property to make the arrests. Police say they are now holding 11 men, aged between 18 and 44, in custody and have made major progress in their investigation. Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism police officer, said authorities have dismantled a “large part” of the network around bomber Salman Abedi. But he said there were still “gaps in our understanding” of the plot, as investigators probed Abedi’s potential links to jihadis in Britain, Europe, Libya and the Middle East.

Islamic State

The Islamic State lured the U.S.-led forces into conducting an airstrike in March that killed over 100 civilians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a top American military official said Thursday. An investigation into the March bombing found that the terror groups rigged a house with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, put civilians in the basement, and employed two ISIS snipers on the roof to bait the U.S.-led coalition to attack. The bomb used by the American jet, a GBU-38 (500-lb bomb), would not have caused the type of damage associated with the destruction of the building. The probe found that the U.S. bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted in the lower floors of the concrete building.

Egypt

Masked gunmen opened fire Friday on a caravan of Coptic Christian pilgrims heading to a monastery south of Cairo, killing at least 29 men, women and children, Egyptian security and health officials said. ISIS claimed credit. Christians of the Muslim majority Arab nation have been increasingly targeted by Islamic militants. The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed — following the pope’s visit — to escalate attacks against Christian. The gunmen, riding in three 4 x 4 vehicles, ambushed a minibus and two cars of pilgrims heading along a desert road to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the Minya governorate, about 130 miles south of the Egyptian capital.

Egyptian fighter jets struck militant bases in eastern Libya late Friday in retaliation for the attack by masked gunmen on a caravan of Coptic Christians that left 28 people dead. In a televised address, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his forces were hitting what he called “training bases” for the militants who carried out the killings. Senior officials said the warplanes targeted the headquarters of the Shura Council in the city of Darna, where local militias are known to be linked to al-Qaeda, not the Islamic State.

Iraq

The death toll of a deadly nighttime bombing outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad has risen to 31 as ISIS militants claimed responsibility. Iraqi officials said families with children were enjoying a late-night snack after breaking their fast for Ramadan when the explosions went off. The attacks come as ISIS militants are steadily losing more territory to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. The Sunni extremists are increasingly turning to insurgency-style terror attacks to detract from their losses.

Afghanistan

At least 18 people were killed when a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of provincial security forces in eastern Afghanistan. The target was a group of guards providing security for U.S. forces in Khost province but most of the victims in Saturday’s attack were civilians. The convoy of Khost provincial forces was targeted near the province’s main bus station. The attack comes on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The Taliban had warned about their new spring offensive.

Philippines

The black flag of ISIS has been raised in the Philippines. At least 103 people have died in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao in less than a week as fighters affiliated with the Islamic State engaged in violent clashes with government forces, and martial law was declared over the entire island. Hundreds of hostages were taken, most of them Christians. The militants entered the predominantly Muslim city of some 200,000 suddenly, on the afternoon of May 24, wearing masks and carrying assault rifles. Black ISIS flags emblazoned in white with the words “There is no god but God” were flying from every corner in the city. Photos showed long queues of cars piled with people and belongings leaving Marawi, as tanks and armored troop vehicles headed toward the beleaguered city. Clashes between government forces and militants had claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 11 military and four policemen, as of Sunday afternoon, with at least 61 militants also killed.

North Korea

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. It landed in Japan’s exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast. Because Monday’s test — the North’s ninth ballistic missile launch this year — was apparently of a short-range variety of which Pyongyang has a surplus of reliable missiles, it may have been meant more as a political and military message to outsiders than as a crucial test of not-yet-perfected technology.

Volcanoes

The Bogoslof Volcano in the Aleutian Islands erupted again on Sunday, sending a cloud of ash at least 35,000 feet into the air and prompting an aviation red alert. Ash can harm and stop jet engines. Ash from southwest Alaska volcanos is a threat airliners operating between North America and Asia when a cloud rises above 20,000 feet. The Bogoslof volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest in an unpredictable condition. Additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time. Bogoslof, one of the United State’s most active volcanoes, has erupted at least 36 times in the past four months.  Bogoslof Island, located in the Bering Sea north of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, has nearly tripled in size due to pyroclastic fall and flow deposits.

Weather

One of the year’s most severe outbreak of thunderstorms struck the U.S. Saturday. Almost 500 reports of severe weather were received by National Weather Service offices Saturday and Saturday night, from southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico to Virginia and North Carolina. Trees have been downed by straight-line winds across central Missouri. Many powerlines were snapped. An 80-mph wind gust was recorded in Salem, Missouri late Saturday afternoon as a squall line intensified. Early Saturday afternoon softball size hail was reported near Adrian and Ballard, Missouri. Supercell thunderstorms struck during the evening hours in Oklahoma, with hail as large as tennis balls. Wind gusts up to 69 mph blew a satellite dish off the roof of the Memphis’ emergency management office and overturned a semi on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Richmond, Virginia received hail as large as eggs, and much of central Virginia saw severe storms including damaging hail up to golf ball sized. At least a dozen people have been hurt and more than a dozen mobile homes were ‘flipped’ after storms struck in eastern North Carolina Monday.

Heavy rainfall in Sri Lanka triggered flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 200 people and left at least 100 others missing Friday. Tens of thousands have been displaced. The dangerous conditions could worsen, and citizens who live close to areas prone to flooding and mudslides have been urged to evacuate by the government. Heavy rains have lashed several parts of the country for a week, inundating roads and houses. Much of Sri Lanka has been heavily deforested for export crops such as tea and rubber, leaving the countryside exposed.

At least 16 people have been killed after strong thunderstorms and high winds buffeted Moscow and surrounding areas on Monday. Winds up to 70 mph were reported, and officials said most of the deaths were caused by falling trees. 60,000 people in Russia’s Stavropol region are being evacuated due to the threat of flooding. More than 200 houses lost roofs, more than 2,000 cars were damaged and around 14,000 trees were downed.

Signs of the Times (5/20/17)

May 20, 2017

Miracle Harvest of Souls Among ISIS Refugees

Reports from several Christian organizations on the ground in ISIS-torn regions say that the flood of Muslims coming to Christ shows no end in sight. The challenge we face is that the need already is greater than our resources can provide. “This is an unprecedented, miracle harvest of souls resulting from the despicable terror acts of ISIS marauders and the murderous civil war in Syria. Refugees are running for their lives from ISIS evil and are running directly to our partnering camps where Christian workers are ministering to these refugees’ physical needs and sharing the Good News. The miracle harvest is so great that one of our partner’s churches that is operating a camp for Syrian refugees is reporting that more than TWO-THIRDS of their workers are former refugees who have come to faith in Christ and are now ministering God’s love to other refugees.,” reports Liberty Relief. They are in desperate need of at least 10,000 Bibles. You can contribute to this harvest at:

Christianity Growing in North Korea Despite Persecution

North Korea is the number one country for most severe persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, but despite the extreme persecution Christians there face, the church is growing, reports a North Korean defector. The Christian Post reports that Kim Chung-seong was able to escape North Korea right before he was to be killed. He now lives in South Korea and is involved in missions work. “The one thing that the North Korean regime fears the most, and is afraid of, is the spreading of the Gospel,” he said Friday while attending the first annual World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. He said that Christians in North Korea are forced to hide their faith from the government and sometimes even from their own families in order to avoid persecution. But despite these obstacles, there are an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea.

Planned Parenthood Closing Multiple Abortion Clinics in Iowa

The abortion chain Planned Parenthood announced plans Thursday to close four Iowa clinics as a result of a new state law that defunds it. Reports lifennews.com. At the end of June, Planned Parenthood facilities in Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City, Iowa will close; and a fourth in Quad City will close when the building is sold, Iowa Public Radio reports. Three of the facilities did abortions. The tax money that used to go to Planned Parenthoods in Iowa now will be given to community health clinics that offer comprehensive health care but not abortions. In contrast to the 12 (soon to be eight) Planned Parenthood facilities in Iowa, there are 221 community health clinics in Iowa, according to local news reports. These facilities will be able to expand services to low-income, minority and other patients with the funding increase.

Court Grants Christian T-shirt Printer the Right to Decline Pro-LGBT Orders

In a surprise decision, the owner of a Christian t-shirt printing business recently won an appeals case after he objected to printing a pro-LGBT message on an order of t-shirts, representing one of very few cases resolved in favor of religious freedom. Owner Blaine Adamson says he and his staff never refuse to do business with someone based on their personal beliefs, but he did feel compelled in 2012 to decline to print a message for a gay pride event because it went against his convictions. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization promoting the event then filed a discrimination lawsuit against Adamson and his company. Hands On Originals’ case was taken up by Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF attorneys appealed the case to the Fayette Circuit Court, which overruled the original ruling against Adamson which was handed down by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission in 2014. “’It is also a victory for all Americans because it reassures us all that, no matter what you believe, the law can’t force you to express a message in conflict with your deepest convictions,” ADF’s lead attorney said.

Trump Travels to Middle East as Bombshells Multiply in Washington

President Trump began an ambitious five-city, nine-day foreign trip in Saudi Arabia on Saturday with the goal of uniting the Muslim world against terror — even as his presidency is embroiled in a quickly escalating controversy over his ties to the Russian government. In Riyadh, there’s a clear sense of national pride that Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign destination as president. Bright electronic billboards line King Salman Road the airport to downtown, showing side-by-side photos of President Trump and the Saudi king under the banner “Together we Prevail.” President Trump on Saturday signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal to help the Persian Gulf ally with its military-defense system. From Saudi Arabia, Trump will travel Monday to Jerusalem for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an issue that has confounded every modern president even under the best of circumstances. Trump comes to Israel amid revelations he divulged top secret Israeli intelligence to Russia, and after a diplomatic flare-up over the U.S. refusal to recognize Jerusalem as wholly within Israeli territory.

Defense Secretary Mattis says Trump’s Orders Will Annihilate ISIS

New approaches approved by President Trump to defeat Islamic State militants have begun to bear fruit, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Friday. Commanders in the field have been given greater authority to press the fight without approval from Washington, and a tactical shift to “annihilation” from a war of attrition has thrown fighters from the Islamic State, or ISIS, on “their back foot,” Mattis said. Trump’s order, Mattis said, has shifted the focus from surrounding ISIS fighters in their strongholds and waiting them out to attacking them and choking off their lines of retreat. Mattis declined to put a timeline on defeat for the terror organization, calling it a “transnational, long-term threat.”

Furor Over Trump Leaks to Russians

During an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials, a current and a former U.S. official said, President Trump described highly classified material about a new ISIS plot. The details had not even been shared with American allies, and the disclosure could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship, notes the New York Times. However, President Trump on Tuesday defended conversations he had with Russian officials, saying he shared “facts” about terrorism and had “the absolute right to do” so. Under U.S. law, the President has the right to declassify sensitive material. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all strongly pushed back Monday evening following The Washington Post report that Trump disclosed to Russian officials the foreign city where an ISIS plot was hatched – a development that could potentially lead the Russians to discover U.S. intelligence sources and methods. In addition, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denied Saturday that the dismissal of FBI director James Comey was discussed during his meeting last week with President Trump in the Oval Office.

Israeli Intelligence Angry Over Leak

Reports that Israel was the source of highly classified information that President Trump shared with Russian officials last week left a chill among current and former intelligence officials here. Israeli intelligence officers are taking the matter seriously, a military intelligence officer said Tuesday. The officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Israel was warned months ago to be careful about sharing information with Trump’s staff, and now that warning has been realized, reports the USA Today. Last week’s incident will likely lead to some adjustments in the quality of intelligence shared in the future by Israel and other countries, said Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general and former intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces.

Putin Offers to Hand Over Records of Trump-Lavrov Meeting

Vladimir Putin offered Wednesday to help settle the controversy over claims President Trump shared classified intel with his diplomats. Railing against “dangerous” U.S. politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment,” the Russian president dismissed the claim that Trump disclosed such information to Kremlin officials and offered to hand over records of the Oval Office meeting to Congress. Speaking during a joint news conference with the Italian prime minister, Putin said those attacking Trump for allegedly being too cozy with Russian politicians were guilty of “political schizophrenia.” If Trump did disclose classified intel, Putin said he would have to reprimand Lavrov since the alleged intelligence was never passed along to him. “He hasn’t shared those secrets with us,” Putin concluded. Turning to Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Putin said he initially found the claim “funny” but said Moscow is now “concerned because it’s hard to imagine what the people who produce such nonsense can come up with next.”

White House Disputes Report that Trump Asked Comey to End Flynn Probe

The White House grappled late Tuesday with the political ghost of James Comey, as an explosive new report said a memo written by the ousted FBI chief claimed President Trump once asked him to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House sharply disputed the report, as Democrats seized on it as potential proof of “obstruction” of justice. According to The New York Times the memo quoted Trump as saying he hoped Comey could “let this go” with regard to Flynn. The Times said Comey wrote the memo shortly after an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn resigned from the Trump administration. The paper acknowledged it had not seen a copy of the memo. “The President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” an official said.

  • President Trump has insisted that his press coverage has been historically negative, and a newly released Harvard journalism study backs him up. A major study released Thursday by the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that the coverage of Mr. Trump during his first 100 days was “unsparing,” with negative reports outnumbering positive ones by 80 to 20 percent. “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity,” the report states.

Special Council to Investigate Alleged Russian Campaign Collusion

On Wednesday, former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed to be a special counsel to oversee the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign. Robert S. Mueller III, is a former FBI who has spent most of his life in public service. Mueller, 72, was named to head the FBI one week before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks – and spent the next 12 years at the helm of the agency, a tenure second in length only to J. Edgar Hoover. Now, he has a new challenge: Overseeing the FBI’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump election campaign associates and Russia. President Trump denied the collusion charges and called the probe the “greatest witch hunt” in U.S. history.

Ransomware Hack Linked to North Korea

Clues point to a link between a hacking group connected to North Korea and the ransomware attacks that have crippled computer systems worldwide, according to two cyber-security firms. Experts at the global cyber-security firm Symantec found that earlier versions of the ransomware known as WannaCry were found on computers that also bore evidence of the cyber tools used against Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as banks in Poland and Bangladesh’s central bank— attacks that all were linked to North Korea. Also, a researcher at Google singled out an identical code used both in the ransomware and used by the Lazarus Group, a team of hackers tied to North Korea. Microsoft, whose older Windows operating system was the target of the ransomware that a quarter-million computers in 150 countries, has blamed the National Security Agency for stockpiling cyberweapons that were then stolen and used to form the attack, a scenario echoed by cybersecurity firms. In the WannaCry attack, which started Friday, the attackers have demanded $300 per computer in payments to unlock infected computers, a scheme that paralyzed computers at U.K. hospitals, a Spanish telephone company, and European car factories. But payouts so far have yet to top $100,000, according to firms tracking the attackers’ bitcoin accounts.

Factory Wages Too Low to Generate Rust Belt Renaissance

President Trump made boosting manufacturing the centerpiece of his economic agenda, vowing to revitalize blue-collar America, but factories just aren’t what they used to be, and the notion of “good-paying” manufacturing jobs that connect high school graduates to the middle class is quickly becoming a myth, reports the Washington Times. Instead, rank-and-file production workers now lag behind much of the rest of the economy in terms of paychecks, forcing economists to wonder whether the push for more factories is desirable in the first place, notes the conservative newspaper. Even the service industry, long dismissed as second-tier employment, averages higher wages than factory laborers, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service. In 2000, the average factory worker earned 5.1 percent more on an hourly basis than workers in the services sector. By last year, factory workers earned 4.3 percent less.

Robots to Slash Retail Jobs

Robots have already cost millions of factory jobs across the nation. Next up could be jobs at your local stores. Between 6 million to 7.5 million existing jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation, according to a new study this week from by financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group. That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers. Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study. “Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy,” said the report. And these job losses will hit women particularly hard, since about 73% of cashiers are women.

Economic News

U.S. household debt has topped the record level reached in 2008, a milestone for the recovery that shows consumers are borrowing again. But while the debt doesn’t pose the risks that toppled the financial system nine years ago, there are still some signs of potential trouble, notably high student loan debt and delinquency rates. Debt balances for American households increased $149 billion, or 1.2%, in the first quarter to $12.73 trillion, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Wednesday. That’s modestly above the $12.68 trillion peak in 2008 and 14.1% higher than the bottom in 2013. But the makeup of that debt is starkly different from what it was at the brink of the 2008 financial crisis. While mortgages still comprise the majority of the obligations, they represent a far lower share and the rebound has been led by student and auto debt. Household debt represented nearly 100% of household income in 2008, compared with 80% today, presenting a far lower risk to individual solvency and the broader economy

President Trump’s election and his promise to implement an “America First” agenda propelled the U.S. dollar to 13-year highs. But the Trump bump has proved fleeting for the greenback, which has lost virtually all of its post-election gains. Currency analysts are concerned about weak U.S. economic growth to kick off this year and concern that Trump’s political troubles will doom his economic agenda. However, the tech-heavy NASDAQ composite stock index posted a new record-high Tuesday. But on Wednesday, the stock market took a steep nosedive after allegations surfaced that President Trump revealed classified information about ISIS to Russian diplomats.

Ford Motor Co. plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried jobs in North America and Asia Pacific this year in an effort to boost profits. The company says it will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to its workers. It expects 1,400 positions to be affected by the end of September. Ford says its European and South American operations have already cut workers and won’t be affected. Ford’s stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent over the last three years as investors worry that U.S. sales are peaking. Ford is also spending heavily on future technology, like self-driving and fully electric cars.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s experiment with socialism has undermined what was once the most prosperous country in South America. The result? Daily riots and protests that have resulted in at least 40 deaths in recent weeks at the hands of government security forces. Inflation estimated at 720 percent. Shortages of basic foods and medicines. Newborn babies deposited in dresser drawers because hospitals have no beds. Zoo animals hunted down and butchered for food by the ravenous population. Finally, this week, and only at the urging of the United States, the United Nations is considering how to address this desperate situation. President Nicholas Maduro, who assumed power after the death of the charismatic but egomaniacal Hugo Chavez, was forced earlier this year to ask the U.N. for emergency aid, an admission of his inability to keep his people fed and secure.

Russia

Russia is buying up more of America’s debt. In March, the country bought $13.5 billion of U.S. government bonds — better known as “Treasury securities.” Russia’s total holdings of U.S. debt have now increased to nearly $100 billion, according to recently released Treasury Department data. It’s the third straight month of buying from Russia. A key reason is that Russia is restocking its foreign reserves, which declined dramatically when oil prices crashed last year to their lowers level since 2003. Foreign reserves are the cushion a country builds up to weather a rainy day. The Russian ruble hit an all-time low in early 2016 when oil prices fell to around $26 a barrel. The ruble’s crash could have been worse had the Russian government not spent lots of its US dollar holdings to keep the currency afloat.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces have dislodged Islamic State from all but 12 square km of Mosul, a military spokesman said on Tuesday, after planes dropped leaflets into the city telling civilians the battle was nearly won. Seven months into the U.S.-backed campaign, the militants now control only a few districts in the western half of Mosul including the Old City, where Islamic State is expected to make its last stand.

Under siege in other parts of Syria, Islamic State forces staged a surprise attack Thursday on two government-held villages in central Syria’s Hama province that killed more than 50 people, according to media reports and sources in the region. Fierce clashes between IS fighters and pro-Syrian government forces in the villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh left at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-regime troops dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has monitors in the area. IS suffered 15 casualties, the observatory said.

Syria

The U.S. military launched fresh air strikes against pro-Assad troops in Syria after the troops ignored repeated warnings from both coalition and Russian forces, officials told Fox News Thursday. The Syrian forces, in several vehicles including at least one tank, were near the Jordanian border and deemed a threat to coalition partners on the ground, a Pentagon official said. The coalition commander assessed the threat and after shows of force didn’t stop the regime forces and those forces refused to move out of the deconfliction zone, the commander on the ground called for the air strike as a matter of force protection. Another military source told The Associated Press it appeared the Syrian forces were poised to attack an area that included U.S. advisers. “They were building a fighting position” about 55 kilometers from a U.S.-coalition base close to At Tanf, where advisers train members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition.

Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer says NATO should be prepared to move fast to deploy additional forces if President Trump and other heads of states agree to bolster the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan, where government forces are locked in a stalemate with the Taliban. “What I asked my counterparts to do today is be prepared to act quickly,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday after a meeting with NATO’s military leaders. “If the political decision is to do more, let’s do more as fast as we can.” The decision is urgent because Afghanistan is entering the so-called fighting season, when snow is melting and mountains are becoming passable once again, allowing the Taliban to increase their attacks. Wednesday’s meeting will help set the stage for next week’s gathering of NATO leaders, including President Trump, in Brussels. The White House has said the president will make a decision on whether to increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan after that meeting.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose more moderate policies included greater internal freedoms and a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. that brought about some sanctions relief, won a resounding victory for a second four-year term, Iranian State TV said Saturday. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told a news conference that the 68-year-old cleric won 57% of the vote against three other contenders to avoid a runoff. Voting hours were extended several times because of the high turnout — 41.2 million voters, or 73% of the electorate. In 2013, Rouhani won his first term with nearly 51% of the vote. Iran’s president is the second-most powerful figure in the country’s political system. He is subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

South Sudan

Violence in South Sudan over the past three weeks has prompted a massive flight of refugees into neighboring countries, according to the United Nations. More than 60,000 people, most of whom are women and children, have fled the country since fighting began at the end of June, the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR reported on Tuesday. Armed groups “are looting villages, murdering civilians, and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks,” UNHCR Spokesman Melissa Fleming said. Despite a peace deal brokered on July 11, clashes between forces loyal to the country’s President Salva Kiir and those allied with former Vice President Riek Machar are ongoing.

Volcanoes

An eruption at Bogoslof volcano – one of two to erupt in the Aleutian Islands Tuesday – is its first after more than two months of inactivity, causing ash to fall in a nearby community before drifting south over the Pacific Ocean. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said Tuesday night’s eruption at the volcano about 60 miles west of Unalaska, which began just after 10:30 p.m. and lasted for 73 minutes, sent a plume to an altitude of 34,000 feet. Overall, 39 volcanoes around the world are either erupting right now or have recently erupted according to Volcano Discovery. Most of those active volcanoes are along the Ring of Fire. Fortunately, the U.S. portion of the Ring of Fire has been less active than other areas in recent years.  But experts say this will eventually change because seismic tension continues to build.  One example of this is what is happening at Mount St. Helens right now. Since mid-April, small earthquakes have been cropping up deep beneath Mount St Helens at ‘relatively high rates,’ bringing roughly one tremor every few hours. In the last 30 days, scientists have located 55 seismic events in the vicinity, and say there may be well over 100 earthquakes linked to the swarm so far.

Environment

Cicadas are emerging from the ground four years ahead of schedule in the Mid-Atlantic states. Cicadas last emerged by the billions in 2004, were expected to remain underground for the typical 17 years and emerge again in 2021. Scientists believe the premature emergence could be due to climate change and protracted warming in the area. The connection is far from proven, but some experts suggest longer growing seasons could shorten life cycles of the 17-year broods and allow them to grow big enough in just 13 years to rise from the soil early, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Warmer temperatures and deviations in rainfall patterns appears to be the reasons why tree populations in the eastern U.S. are shifting north and, more surprisingly, west, according to new research. Overall, the changing climate has pushed trees an average of 20 miles north and 25 miles west over the past 30 years. While individual trees don’t move, of course, where they sprout can change. Saplings can expand into a new region while older growth dies in another. While the northern shift was expected due to warming temperatures, researchers think the more surprising westward movement could be the result of a change in rainfall patterns. The eastern U.S. has gotten warmer over the past few decades, and the Southeast has been trending drier. Deciduous trees like oak and maple are primarily moving west, and evergreens are moving north.

Weather

For a sixth straight day, severe thunderstorms, not to mention flash flooding, pelted parts of the Plains and Midwest on Friday, including many of the same areas of the Plains states that were hit by tornadoes and severe storms Tuesday and Thursday. A serious flash flood event is now ongoing in Middle Tennessee. The heaviest rain has now shifted north into Kentucky and southern West Virginia, where additional local flash flooding is possible. Winds gusted to 68 mph at St. Louis Lambert International Airport just after 5 a.m.

Winter Storm Valerie was an unusually strong late-spring snowstorm that dumped more than three feet of snow on the Rockies, caused tree damage and power outages, and also forced road closures over the past few days. Winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories remain in effect throughout Wyoming and the mountains of Colorado Friday. The top snowfall amount so far is 38.2 inches near Ward, Colorado, 8.4 inches of which fell in just under three hours Thursday afternoon. The snow has forced a stretch of Interstate 80 to be closed in Wyoming between Laramie and Cheyenne. The Front Range of Colorado will see its most significant snow through Friday morning. The greatest impacts, including power outages and tree damage, are expected west of Interstate 25.

A dramatic weather pattern change is occurring along the Eastern Seaboard this week allowing temperatures to soar toward near-record levels after a relatively cool start to May. The first half of May featured a southward dip in the jet stream across the Great Lakes and East, resulting in cooler-than-average temperatures overall. Higher-terrain locations in New England even saw snow from a nor’easter over last weekend. This week, the jet stream is reconfiguring itself with a northward bulge – or upper-level ridge – along the East Coast, resulting in temperatures 10 to 25 degrees above average. This will be a true taste of summer with daily record highs threatened in some locations, while others may see their first 90s of the season.

  • 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 (5/15/17)

May 15, 2017

China Projected to Have World’s Largest Christian Population by 2030

According to a report from The Christian Post, China is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030, despite the increased persecution Chinese Christians have been experiencing. The report projects 200 million Chinese believers by 2030. China’s current government under President Xi Jinping is increasingly hostile toward Christians and Christianity. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, their cross symbols removed, and Christians have been imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for their faith. Despite the persecution and lack of religious freedom, however, many Chinese Christians echo the words of Yu Jie, a Christian democracy activist: “Neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism, nor capitalism, nor democracy, nor any earthly thing will determine the fate of my land.”

Only 17% of ‘Christians’ Have biblical Worldview

A vast majority of Americans who call themselves Christians do not hold a biblical worldview, a new study by the Barna Group finds. Only 17 percent do, the survey showed. The research “found strong agreement with ideas unique to nonbiblical worldviews among practicing Christians.” Elements rooted in new age spirituality were supported by 61 percent. Fifty-four percent identified with postmodern beliefs, 36 percent with Marxism and 29 percent with secularism. “For instance, almost three in 10 … practicing Christians strongly agree that ‘all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being,’” Barna reported. A large number of Christians also embrace secularism in their worldviews. One of its component beliefs, materialism, holds that the material world is all that exists. Those respondents told Barna that the purpose of life is “’to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life.’” That attitude was shared by 20 percent of so-called Christians.

  • The ‘falling away’ prophesied in the Bible (2Thessalonians 2:3) is underway in earnest

Rebellion Grows Against Muslim Indoctrination in Public Schools

From coast to coast, parents are rebelling against what they describe as Islamic indoctrination of their children in public schools. In Florida, for example, parents are protesting a newly approved textbook they say whitewashes Islam’s violent history of conquest and subjugation. Last week, a Groesbeck, Texas, couple moved their sixth-grade daughter to a new school after they discovered her history homework assignment on Islam. In one assignment, students were asked to list the five tenets of Islam required for salvation. In late March, a middle school in Chatham, New Jersey, was using a cartoon video to teach the Five Pillars of Islam to seventh-grade students. Meanwhile, in an initiative to “combat Islamophobia and the bullying of Muslims students,” the San Diego Unified School District, as WND reported, has formed a partnership with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). In a late April school board meeting, the Blaze reported, parent Christopher Wyrick confronted the San Diego school board about the Islamic instruction attached to the program and its relationship with the Islamic group. CAIR has sued the authors of a WND Books exposé, “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” which documented the group’s radical ties. A trial in the case is expected to commence this fall.

  • Not a whiff of Christianity is allowed in our public schools, so why is the teaching of Islam allowed? Anti-bullying and anti-persecution teaching can be accomplished without teaching the tenets of Islam.

Christians in Syria Boiled, Burned, Beheaded

The American Center for Law & Justice reports that Christians face unthinkable barbarity in Syria from ISIS operatives. Many are boiled, burned alive, and beheaded. Two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have been murdered or displaced. Up to 87% of Iraq’s Christians have been decimated. ISIS bombed two churches on Palm Sunday, and is threatening all “Christian gatherings” in Egypt. It’s crucifying children. There are mass graves of Christians. Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. “It is safe to say that over 100,000 a year are killed because of their faith in Christ. In the last 10 years that would be close to a million people. It’s the equivalent of a Christian genocide,” Graham told the World Summit in Defense of Christians.

Tennessee Passes Strict Anti-Abortion Law

Tennessee’s governor signed a strict new abortion measure into law Friday, drawing praise and sharp criticism. The measure will further limit the few abortions already performed in Tennessee past the point of fetal viability — and potentially send doctors to jail if they fail to prove in court that an abortion of a viable fetus was necessary to save a woman’s life or prevent substantial or irreversible harm to a “major bodily function of a pregnant woman.” On July 1, Tennessee will become one of at least 21 states that explicitly ban abortions beyond viability. But the measure, called the Tennessee Infants Protection Act, goes further than most other bans and could become the subject of a lengthy court challenge.

Massive Cyberattack Hits as Many as 74 Countries

As many as 200,000 computers in 150 countries (not North America) were hit by a huge, fast-moving and global ransomware attack that locks computers and demands the digital equivalent of $300 ransom per computer, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian-based cybersecurity company, said Friday. The infections crippled more than a dozen hospitals in the United Kingdom, Spain’s largest telecom company and universities in Italy as well as some FedEx computers. Ransomware encrypts the files on a computer or network demanding that payment be made in Bitcoin or another untraceable digital currency before the criminals will unlock the files. Infected computers showed a screen giving the user three days to pay the ransom. After that, the price would be doubled. After seven days, the files would be deleted, it threatened. In Spain, the largest telecommunications company reportedly would have had to pay close to $550,000 to unlock all the encrypted computers hit on its network. “We have never seen such a fast spreading, well-coordinated attack with as many victims,” said Csaba Krasznay, director of the Cyber Security Academy at Hungary’s National University of Public Service. The National Health Service in the U.K. was repeatedly warned about its out-of-date and vulnerable systems before it suffered a devastating cyberattack on Friday, reports the New York Times.

Cyberattack Employed NSA Tools

The ransomware code is named WanaCrypt and has been in use by criminals since at least February. It is available in at least 28 languages, including Bulgarian and Vietnamese, according to Avast, a Czech security company that is following the fast-moving attack. A new variant dubbed WannaCry was created that makes use of a vulnerability in the Windows operating system that was patched by Microsoft on March 14. Computers that have not installed the patch are potentially vulnerable to the malicious code, according to a Kaspersky Lab blog post on Friday. The attack began with a simple phishing email, similar to the one Russian hackers used in the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other targets last year. The virus then quickly spread through victims’ systems using a hacking method that the N.S.A. is believed to have developed as part of its arsenal of cyberweapons. The connection to the N.S.A. was particularly chilling. Starting last summer, a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” began to post software tools that came from the United States government’s stockpile of hacking weapons, the first time a cyberweapon developed by the N.S.A., funded by American taxpayers and stolen by an adversary had been unleashed by cybercriminals.

Ban on Laptops, Tablets on Trans-Atlantic Flights Appears Inevitable

A U.S. ban on laptops and tablets in cabins of trans-Atlantic flights to the United States appeared all but inevitable Friday after Department of Homeland Security officials briefed European governments on a proposal that would affect millions of passengers. The move, which would impact routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights, would expand a ban already in place for planes flying out of eight Middle East and African countries. The restriction was introduced in March over fears that bombs or explosive materials could be concealed on electronic devices brought onboard. Cellphones would still be allowed in cabins but virtually every other electronic device would not be permitted and would need to be stowed in checked bags. One issue that has become a focus for security officials is how to make sure that lithium batteries used in laptops aren’t turned into bombs that can be detonated mid-air even if stored in luggage holds. Two airline officials briefed on the discussions said DHS gave no timetable for an announcement, but they were resigned to its inevitability.

Trump Appoints Voter-ID Champion to Panel Probing Fraud

Fulfilling yet another campaign promise, President Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity headed by Vice President Mike Pence that will review and report on “systems and practices” that could be used for “fraudulent voting.” Significantly, Trump has appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has led the implementation of some of the nation’s strictest voting laws, as vice chairman of the panel. Kobach championed his state’s controversial proof of citizenship law, which requires voters to provide a birth certificate or passport to register. The issue of voter fraud long has divided the nation, with Democrats insisting it doesn’t exist on a scale that would impact election outcomes. Democrats, at the same time, have opposed voter ID laws and other preventative measures, asserting they discriminate against minority voters. The problem is that amid many individual reports of voter fraud, there are no reliable figures as yet to prove it exists on a meaningful scale.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Reinstate NC Voter ID Law

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” The justices left in place the lower court ruling striking down the law’s photo ID requirement and reduction in early voting. The situation was complicated when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein tried to withdraw the appeal, which was first filed when Republican Pat McCrory was governor. The dispute is similar to the court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, also struck down as racially discriminatory. Voters, civil rights groups and the Obama administration quickly filed lawsuits challenging the new laws. The Trump administration already has dropped its objections to the Texas law. Shortly before Trump took office in January, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the North Carolina appeal.

ICE Arrests 1300 in Anti-Gang Operation

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced its largest anti-gang operation ever on Thursday, a six-week program that netted more than 1,300 arrests nationwide. Though the effort was led by ICE, the focus was not exclusively on immigrants. Of the arrests, 933 were US citizens and 445 were foreign nationals, with 384 in the country illegally. Of the 1,378 total arrests, 1,095 were confirmed to be gang members or affiliates of a gang, ICE said, including mostly Bloods, followed by Sureños, MS-13 and the Crips. MS-13 has been an increasing focus of the Trump administration as part of its border security and immigration enforcement efforts. The arrests mostly took place in the Houston, New York, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, areas.

Enraged Californians Rebel Against Tax Hike on Cars and Gas

In California, a state known for its love of driving, high-priced gasoline and history of tax revolts, a rebellion is brewing against Gov. Jerry Brown’s massive gas-and-car tax increase. In the two weeks since the Democrat signed Senate Bill 1, opponents have launched an initiative drive to repeal the $52.4 billion transportation package. Gas is already expensive in California — the state vies with Hawaii for the nation’s highest per-gallon prices — and SB1 will make it more so by dinging motorists with a 12-cent-per-gallon excise tax hike on gasoline, a 20-cent increase on diesel and higher vehicle registration fees in order to fill potholes, repair roads and bridges, and expand mass transit. “The voters are enraged,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, the Orange County Republican behind the repeal initiative. What has Mr. Allen fuming is that lawmakers pushed through the largest fuel tax hike in state history without bringing it before the voters.

Union’s Paywatch Report Ignores High Salaries of Union Bosses

A powerful labor union’s new report slams the pay gap between CEOs and rank-and-file workers, but critics say it conveniently ignores the sky-high salaries union bosses pull down. The group’s annual Executive Paywatch report unveiled this week, found that last year the average S&P 500 CEO earned a total of $13.1 million in compensation, while the average U.S. worker made only $37,632, a pay ratio of 347:1. But not included in any of the figures are the total compensations of nearly 192 union presidents who earned more than the average executive’s income. An audit of past Paywatch reports by the American Enterprise Institute found that the AFL-CIO’s conclusion of the disparaging CEO-to-worker pay ratio is faulty and misleading, saying that the actual average U.S. chief executive earns $194,350. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are actually 246,240 ‘chief executives’ in the U.S. who earned an average annual salary of $180,700 in 2014.

More Price Hikes Likely for Obamacare Insurance Markets

Early moves by insurers suggest that another round of price hikes and limited choices will greet insurance shoppers around the country when they start searching for next year’s coverage on the public markets established by the Affordable Care Act, reports Newsmax. Regulators in Virginia and Maryland have reported early price hike requests ranging from just under 10 percent to more than 50 percent. Increases like that will probably will be seen in other states, too. Prices for this type of insurance are already being affected by evaporating competition. With the latest departures, more than 40 percent of U.S. counties would have only one insurer selling coverage on their marketplaces for next year, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Competition for customers was supposed to keep prices low. But insurers faced big losses in some markets, and they got less financial support from the government than they expected. They’ve been raising prices and pulling out of some markets altogether in response.

Economic News

With the low unemployment rate giving workers more leverage than they’ve had in years, a surprisingly large number are either job hopping or on the lookout for new opportunities. About 27% of employees switched jobs in the 12 months ending in the first quarter. Three years ago, about 23% of workers left one job for another during the prior year. Nearly half of all leisure and hospitality workers and one-third of those in professional and business services changed jobs the past year. Not surprisingly, job hoppers are snaring bigger pay increases than their more loyal colleagues. In the first quarter, switchers who worked full-time realized average annual earnings gains of 5.2%, compared with 4.3% for full-time job holders.

For years, the nation’s solid job growth and tumbling unemployment have been tainted by the shadow of millions of underemployed (i.e. part-time) Americans not counted in the official jobless rate. However, the number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs fell by 281,000 last month to 5.3 million, down from a peak of 9.2 million in 2010 and the lowest number in nine years, according to the Labor Department. Altogether, the broadest measure of U.S. joblessness that includes part-timers, discouraged workers who have stopped looking as well as unemployed people is now at 8.6%, compared with 9.7% a year ago and a high of 16.9% in 2010. It’s slightly above the pre-recession mark of 8.4%.

The United States and China have agreed to take action by mid-July to increase access for U.S. financial firms and expand trade in beef and chicken among other steps as part of Washington’s drive to cut its trade deficit with Beijing, Reuters reported. The deals are the first results of 100 days of trade talks that began last month, when a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping proved far more friendly than had been expected after last year’s U.S. presidential campaign. “China trade, huge. Because the president has basically changed his campaign position,” the Newsmax Finance Insider said. The United States ran a trade deficit of $347 billion with China last year, U.S. Treasury figures show.

North Korea

North Korea’s latest launch of a ballistic missile Sunday drew strong criticism from the United States and other nations. This time, the missile landed closer to Russia than to Japan. The White House issued a statement late Saturday saying that North Korea has been “a flagrant menace for too long,” and that the latest “provocation” should serve as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against the North. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, called the situation on the Korean peninsula “complex and sensitive” and that countries “should not do things that further escalate tensions in the region.” South Korean President Moon called the launch a “clear” violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a “serious challenge” to international peace and security. U.S. officials are closely “monitoring” the aftermath of the latest North Korean missile test after the rogue regime claimed that its newest rocket was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead – and that its arsenal could reach American shores. North Korea’s Hwasong-12 missile reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (1,312 miles) and flew 787 kilometers (489 miles), according to state news agency KCNA. Analysts estimated its ranged as 4,500 kilometers which would put the US territory of Guam within its reach.

Russia

A Russian military jet “came within approximately 20 feet” of a US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane while it was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea earlier last week. A U.S. defense official told CNN that the Russian aircraft was armed with six air-to-air missiles and that the pilot took photos of the U.S. plane during the encounter. Russia has conducted several flights off the US coast in recent months. Last week, two Russian bombers, flanked by a pair of fighter jets, were intercepted by stealth U.S. F-22 aircraft off the coast of Alaska. And during a stretch in April, Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska four times in as many days. The fact that Tuesday’s encounter took place near Crimea adds an additional level of significance, as the two countries’ opposing views on the conflict in Ukraine have become a hot-button issue between the sides. The US, meanwhile, has positioned military assets across Europe in an effort to reassure its European and NATO allies in the wake of Russia’s movements in Ukraine.

Syria

Monitors say Kurdish-led Syrian forces, backed by a U.S.-led air coalition, are battling Islamic State extremists on the northern outskirts of Raqqa, the IS de facto capital seized by the militant group three years ago. The activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced within four kilometers of Raqqa as fighting raged at several points north and east of the besieged city. An SDF spokesman, speaking Friday, said an anti-jihadist assault on the fortified northern city would most likely begin in the next several months.

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has fired Health Minister Antonieta Caporale days after the government’s first release of health data in two years showed soaring infant and maternal mortality rates. The firing came after the health ministry recently released new data showing infant and maternal deaths and cases of malaria are skyrocketing in the country already grappling with severe medical shortages. Caporale had been on the job since January. The data from her office showed that confirmed malaria cases in 2016 stood at 240,000, a 76% increase over the previous year. Maternal — or pregnancy-related — deaths rose 66%, to 756. Last year, 11,466 infants died, a 30% increase. The new health minister, Luis Lopez, has been the deputy minister of hospitals for the national government and secretary of health for the Venezuelan state of Aragua.

France

Politicians, journalists and her own daughter have stepped forward in defense of Brigitte Trogneux, wife of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron, in response to a series of sexist and misogynistic slurs against her. Many of the unwelcome comments have focused on the fact that Trogneux — age 64 with seven grandchildren — is 24 years her husband’s senior. She famously went from being Macron’s teacher to his partner, and eventually his wife. Now she is France’s first lady. U.S. President Donald Trump is 24 years older than Melania Trump, but few people are making a fuss about their age gap.

Earthquakes

Last week, within the span of 24 hours, 45 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater struck Alaska. Twenyt-five of them were of magnitude 4.0 or greater. The worst one had a magnitude of 6.2, but none of the earthquakes did much damage because none of them hit heavily populated areas. But the reason why all this shaking is causing so much concern is because the “Ring of Fire” runs right along the southern Alaska coastline, and all of the earthquakes except for one were along the southern coast. After running along the southern Alaska coastline, the Ring of Fire goes south along the west coast of Canada, the United States and Mexico. What affects one part of a fault network will often trigger something along another portion of the same fault network, and so many living on the West coast are watching the shaking in Alaska with deep concern. For a long time scientists have acknowledged that a major Cascadia subduction zone earthquake is way overdue, and when one finally strikes the devastation that we could see in the Pacific Northwest is likely to be off the charts. In fact, some scientists believe that the coming Cascadia subduction zone earthquake could potentially be as high as magnitude 9.0, reports Charisma News.

Weather

A confirmed EF1 tornado was reported in the Sherwood Forrest area near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday morning, which tossed cars into the air like toys and injured at least one person. The National Weather Service said the tornado that remained on the ground for a half-mile packed winds as high as 90 mph and was 30 yards wide. One person was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after the truck in which they were driving was flipped by the strong winds. Several other vehicles were tossed about, some structures may have been damaged and nearly 2,600 residents in the area were without power. A man was killed and several people injured in Passaic, New Jersey, on Sunday when strong, fast-moving thunderstorms rolled through the New York metropolitan area.

An active week is ahead as multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes, threaten the central states. Some of the storms may also produce heavy rain, leading to localized areas of flash flooding. The severe weather setup this week involves a strong jet stream dip – or upper-level trough – over the Rockies, with two separate disturbances riding along that trough and punching into the Plains states. At least two rounds of severe storms are anticipated. Snow will blanket much of the mountain West the next several days, adding to a still-impressive mid-May snowpack from a winter that was the wettest on record for some areas.

Signs of the Times (5/11/17)

May 11, 2017

Molecular Genetics says Just Two Genders

After extensive study of the human genome, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered there are no less than 6,500 genes “that are expressed…. differently in the two sexes.” Since there are about 30,000 genes in the entire human genome, this means more than 20 percent of it codes for traits that are gender specific. The Weizmann Institute of Science is a public research university in Rehovot, Israel, south of Tel Aviv established in 1934. The scientists at Weizman used something called the GTEx project, a comprehensive study of human gene expression in the organs and tissues of 550 adult donors. For the first time ever, they were able to develop a comprehensive map of the sex-differential in genetic architecture between the two sexes.

  • There are so many genetic differences between male and female, that efforts to change gender can only be minimally effective, leaving the so-called transgender in genetic confusion. It is a corrupted gene pool in this fallen world that has caused many to question their gender.

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

The search for a new permanent FBI director will move full-steam ahead Wednesday after President Trump stunned the political world by firing James Comey, abruptly ending a tenure marked by political controversies.  Basing the decision on a recommendation by the Justice Department, who excoriated Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State, Trump’s decision calls into question the future of the investigation into Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election. Democrats were quick to slam Trump’s move as a blatant attempt to short-circuit the Russia investigation, with many calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. As calls for an independent prosecutor intensify on both sides of the aisle, President Trump and aides argued Wednesday that, “The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired,” Trump tweeted.

Investigation into Trump’s Russian Ties Intensifies

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to hear the testimony of acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other national security officials on Thursday as part of its ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. James Comey, ousted from his role as FBI director by President Trump, had been scheduled to testify, and Democrats said Comey should still appear so he can answer questions about the status of the FBI’s probe and its potential connection to his dismissal. Late Wednesday, the committee subpoenaed former national security adviser Michael Flynn for information about communications with Russian officials that might be relevant to its investigation.

Texas Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton already has filed suit against local jurisdictions that had been accused of not cooperating with federal immigration agents, in a preemptive bid to uphold a newly signed anti-sanctuary city law and head off numerous legal challenges. Paxton filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, as Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed the SB4 crackdown law which bars sanctuary policies and gives local law enforcement officers the right to ask the immigration status of anyone they stop. Under the law, local officers who won’t cooperate with federal immigration agents could face jail time and fines up to $25,000 per day. Texas isn’t the first state to ban sanctuary cities. More than 80 bills related to sanctuary policies are pending across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Thousands Fleeing Chicago Due to Increased Violence

An estimated 89,000 more people moved from the Chicago area to other portions of the country in the past year than those who moved in, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. In particular, wealthy people are living the city in droves.  It has been reported that 3,000 millionaires left the city of Chicago in 2015 alone. High taxes are one reason given, but gang violence has also been a major factor. In 2016, the number of murders in the city jumped nearly 60 percent to over 760, more than New York and Los Angeles combined. There were more than 4,300 shooting victims in the city last year, according to police. Decades of open borders and unrestrained illegal immigration have contributed to rapid growth in gang membership, now numbering over 150,000 in the metropolitan area, according to the Chicago Crime Commission. There are currently 12,244 police officers in Chicago. That means that the police are outnumbered by at least a 12 to 1 margin. The Chicago Police Department warned its officers Monday about gangs armed with high-powered weapons, after three people were shot to death over the weekend and two cops were targeted in an ambush last week. Prosecutors said Monday that a reputed gang member sprayed a police van with more than two dozen rounds from an assault rifle after mistaking the vehicle and plainclothes officers inside for rival gang members.

Kentucky on Its Way to Becoming First Abortion-Free State

Kentucky is on its way to becoming the first state with no abortion clinics. There is only one abortion clinic left in the state and officials say that the clinic has not complied with basic safety standards. LifeNews.com reports that the administration of Kentucky’s conservative Christian Gov. Matt Bevin is working to end access to abortion in the state. Administration officials argue that EMW Women’s Clinic–the last clinic open for business–is in violation of regulations that mandate the clinic obtain ambulance and hospital admittance privileges from a local hospital. The clinic maintains that it is not in violation of these regulations and, along with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, filed a lawsuit against the state. Gov. Bevin said, “This administration will have no tolerance for the type of brazen disregard that Planned Parenthood has shown for both the safety of women and the rule of law. We will hold Planned Parenthood accountable for knowingly endangering their patients by providing illegal abortions at a facility that was not properly licensed nor prepared to handle an emergency.”

Americans Dissatisfied with Colleges

American adults are deeply divided about the U.S. higher education system and are increasingly frustrated with the costs, a new report released on Thursday finds. The survey, conducted by left-leaning think tank New America, found that only one in four adults believe that the higher education system is functioning as it should. Dissatisfaction is especially keen among Millennials, who have experienced rising dropout rates and dealt with debilitating school debt. Community colleges were one of the few bright spots in the study which surprised researchers, who found that many Americans see them as more promising and cost-effective than either their public or private four-year counterparts.

Life Expectancy Varies Widely by County in U.S.

Life expectancy at birth differs by as much as 20 years between the lowest and highest United States counties, according to new research published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Overall life expectancy at birth in the U.S. increased by 5.3 years for both men and women — from 73.8 years to 79.1 years — between 1980 and 2014. During that time period, men gained 6.7 years, from 70 years on average to 76.7 years, while women gained four years, from 77.5 years to 81.5 years. The counties with lowest life expectancy are located in South and North Dakota, while counties along the lower half of Mississippi, in eastern Kentucky, and southwestern West Virginia also showed lower life expectancies compared to the rest of the nation. The North and South Dakota counties include Native American reservations. At the other extreme, residents of counties in central Colorado can expect to live longest. Summit County, Colorado, ranked as the county with highest life expectancy in 2014 at 86.8 years, is home to several ski resort towns. The study shows that “60% of the differences in life expectancy across counties can be explained by socioeconomic factors alone” yet that leaves a “substantial amount of unexplained differences.” “Behaviors like smoking and physical activity, along with risk factors like obesity and diabetes, are also very important,” the report said.

Aetna Says Good-Bye to Obamacare

Aetna is saying goodbye to Obamacare. The insurance giant announced Wednesday that it would not offer policies in Nebraska or Delaware next year, completing its exit from the exchanges. Earlier this year, Aetna said it would pull out of Iowa and Virginia in 2018. The company said it expects to lose more than $200 million in its individual business line this year, on top of nearly $700 million in losses between 2014 and 2016. Aetna withdrew from 11 of its 15 markets for 2017. It has 255,000 Obamacare policyholders this year, down from 964,000 at the end of last year. These customers, however, continue to be costlier than the company expected, Aetna said. Aetna’s exit leaves Medica as the only insurer on the Nebraska exchange and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield as the sole carrier on the Delaware exchange. Aetna’s withdrawal is the latest in a series of insurers leaving Obamacare. The exodus began last year, when several carriers announced they were exiting or downsizing in 2017 after suffering large losses. Humana already announced it is completely abandoning the individual market in 2018. UnitedHealthcare pulled out of Virginia, and Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield said it would stop selling individual policies in Iowa in 2018.

Retail Woes Continue

The tale of woe for traditional retailers continues. Macy’s, Kohl’s and Dillard’s all reported lower sales for the last three months and missed Wall Street’s forecasts. Department store chains have been struggling lately due to intense competition from Amazon, a resurgent Walmart and newer retailers like Uniqlo, H&M and Zara. These three retail icons aren’t the only ones that have been hit hard by a rapid change in how consumers shop. Sears continues to struggle. And JCPenney, which will report its latest results Friday morning, has been unable to find a way to get sales growing either. Target has been hit hard as well. And former teen fashion king Abercrombie & Fitch is now looking for someone to buy it. American Apparel, Wet Seal, The Sports Authority and Aeropostale have all filed for bankruptcy. RadioShack has gone bankrupt — twice. All of this turmoil has led to tens of thousands of layoffs in the retail sector as well.

Economic News

Drivers are getting a break at the pump, thanks to the recent slide in crude oil prices. Gas prices have fallen virtually every day for the last three weeks, pushed down by the sudden drop in crude oil prices. The national average is now $2.34 a gallon for regular, according to AAA, about 8 cents cheaper than it was on April 20. Crude oil prices have fallen about 11% since early April. Typically this is a time of the year when gas prices are going up, not down, as refiners switch over to making the more expensive form of gasoline used during the summer months.

America has 5.7 million openings, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. That’s close to the record number of job openings since Labor started tracking them in 2000. The U.S. had an all-time high of 5.9 million openings last July. Employers are hiring and workers are starting to feel more confident about leaving a job for another one. Experts say that such a high number of job openings is due partially to a gap between the job skills employers demand and the skills job seekers have.

The number one reason a large number of Americans wind up in financial trouble and have to file for bankruptcy has nothing to do with self-indulgence. Rather, it’s because of medical debt. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than a quarter of U.S. adults struggle to pay their medical bills. This includes folks who have insurance, whether independently or through an employer. In fact, medical debt is the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S., and in 2014, an estimated 40% of Americans racked up debt resulting from a medical issue.

The euro notched up its highest level in six months after centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election on Sunday, neutralizing the biggest political challenge to the currency in its 18-year history. His far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, had threatened to scrap the euro and reintroduce France’s old money — the franc. Losing its second biggest economy could have spelled the end of the euro.

Persecution Watch

An Indonesian court has sentenced Jakarta’s governor, who is a Christian, to two years in prison on a charge of blasphemy. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, was charged for using a Quranic verse in his re-election campaign in September. Opponents of Ahok had used the same verse to argue that Muslims should not choose a non-Muslim to lead them. Ahok said his opponents had used the verse to trick people into voting against him. According to ChristianToday.com, his speech that included the verse was posted online and soon went viral. Protests were started, including one that drew about half a million people. Ahok lost the election in April and his term ends in October. Now he’s headed to jail. Said Judge Dwiarso Budi Santiaro of the sentencing: “As part of a religious society, the defendant should be careful to not use words with negative connotations regarding the symbols of religions, including the religion of the defendant himself.”

Mexico

Mexico was the second deadliest country in the world last year. Although Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan dominated the news, Mexico’s drug wars claimed 23,000 lives during 2016 — second only to Syria, where 50,000 people died as a result of the civil war. “This is all the more surprising, considering that the conflict deaths [in Mexico] are nearly all attributable to small arms,” said John Chipman, chief executive and director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which issued its annual survey of armed conflict on Tuesday. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community,” said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey.

France

The European political establishment breathed a heavy sigh of relief Sunday, as French voters easily elected pragmatic centrist Emmanuel Macron as president over right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen, who threatened to upend Europe’s existing order. Macron won with 66% of the vote against 34% for Le Pen, with 99% of the votes counted. Le Pen, of the National Front party, had threatened to curb immigration, particularly for Muslims, pull France out of the European Union and return the country to the French franc — moves that would have caused political and economic upheaval in Europe and around the world. Macron’s victory, coming on the heels of defeats for right-wing populist candidates in Austria and the Netherlands, appears to blunt the anti-establishment fervor sweeping Europe amid a backlash against economic stagnation, a flood of migrants pouring into their countries and a string of nerve-rattling terror attacks. Macron, 39, is a former investment banker and economy minister who strongly supports the European Union. He will become France’s youngest president, despite never having held any elected office before.

Middle East

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Israel and urged Muslims to flood Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Speaking in Istanbul to the International Forum on Al-Quds Waqfs, a conference aimed at promoting Palestinian economic development, Erdogan said that about 26,000 Turks visited Jerusalem last year — the highest number among Muslim countries. In contrast, he said about 600,000 Americans, 400,000 Russians and 300,000 French citizens visited Jerusalem in 2015. “We, as Muslims, should be visiting Al-Quds more often,” he said, referring to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, calling those visits “the greatest support to our brothers there.”

Erdogan criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians as “racist” and “discriminatory.” “Here is the only solution: the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 1967,” he said. The Israel Foreign Ministry responded to Erdogan’s comments with a strongly-worded statement: “Whoever systematically violates human rights in their own country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region. Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite the baseless smears launched against it.”

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump had authorized arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), green-lighting a US policy that had sat on the backburner for years to avoid confrontation with Turkey, a key NATO ally. It said that the provision of supplies and weapons was aimed at aiding the only group it sees fit enough to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the ISIS group’s de facto capital. Turkey lashed out at Washington’s plan to send arms to Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS in Syria, calling for an end to the U.S. strategy that has long rattled Ankara. The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of rebel fighters that Washington considers its main ally in the country. But Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization threatening Turkish sovereignty.

North Korea

An American teacher was detained in North Korea over the weekend, raising to four the number of U.S. citizens now being held by the communist nation’s authoritarian regime. Kim Hak-song had worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the same school where American Tony Kim had worked prior to being arrested at Pyongyang International Airport two weeks ago. Other Americans being held in North Korea include Ohio native Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was arrested in January 2016 while he was on a tour of North Korea, and Kim Dong Chul, who was arrested in October 2015 while in North Korea on business. Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have grown more strained in recent months as Pyongyang conducts nuclear and ballistic missile tests in defiance of international bans.

South Korea

Moon Jae-in won South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded, possibly opening a rift with the United States over relations with North Korea. The election result was driven largely by domestic concerns over corruption and a slowing economy, but Moon, a liberal, has signaled a softer approach toward neighboring North Korea than his predecessor, the hawkish Park Geun-hye. Park, the nation’s first female president, was impeached over corruption charges in March, triggering the election. Moon, 64, has questioned the effectiveness of the strict sanctions against North Korea and left the door open for greater diplomatic and economic ties with the reclusive communist country.

Nigeria

Boko Haran, an extremist group allied with the Islamic State, released 82 young women it had held captive for more than three years, government officials said late Saturday. The terrorist group is still holding an estimated 100 young women hostage. They were kidnapped from a school in the town of Chibok in April 2014. President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said in a statement that the girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon. Government officials said the women were released in exchange for an unspecified number of imprisoned Boko Haram members. The girls were undergoing medical checks before being airlifted to Maiduguri, a city in Nigeria’s northeast.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s air force has pounded Islamic State targets in an eastern province where an Afghan and U.S. military raid last month killed the militant group’s top commander, the government said on Monday. The Interior Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 34 Islamic State fighters over the past 24 hours and destroyed an insurgent-controlled radio station in Nangarhar province. The ministry also said that the strikes targeted ISIS hideouts in Nazyan and Achin districts. The government statement came after Pentagon announced on Sunday night that a military raid last month killed Abdul Haseeb Logari, the ISIS chief in Nangarhar.

Venezuela

Infant and maternal deaths and cases of malaria are skyrocketing in Venezuela, which is grappling with severe medical shortages during the country’s economic meltdown and political chaos. Confirmed malaria cases in 2016 stood at 240,000, a 76% increase over 2015. Maternal deaths rose 66% to 756. Last year, 11,466 infants died, a 30% increase, according to new records recently released by Venezuela’s health ministry. The staggering increases illustrate how badly Venezuela lacks basic medicine, equipment and supplies to treat even the simplest of injuries. According to statistics released by the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation, by June 2016, the country was already facing a shortage of more than 80% of the medicines doctors need. More than 13,000 doctors — about 20% of the country’s medical workforce — have left the country in recent years due to the collapse of the health sector.

Wildfires

Evacuations in the St. George area of Georgia have led to the closure of Charlton County schools for both students and staff, according to a statement from the district. Firefighters are using St. George Elementary School as a staging area for firefighters. The West Mims fire has scorched about 208 square miles in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and is 12 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Conditions have not been ideal for firefighters attempting to control the blaze. Temperatures are warm, the air is dry and winds have been gusting. The area, on the Georgia-Florida line, is also under a dense smoke advisory that is expected to impact visibility in the towns of St. George, Callahan, Ratliff and northern Duval County near the Jacksonville International airport. Some road closures were in effect and the main entrance to the refuge was closed.

It has been a long, costly spring for Flordia, where dozens of fires continue to burn. Gov. Rock Scott declared a state of emergency in April. More than 2,000 wildfires have been reported statewide this year, and those blazes have claimed at least 230 square miles of land. Currently, there are more than 125 wildfires actively burning across the state. “Florida is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam told CBS Miami. Nationally, 20,482 wildfires have consumed 1,998, 139 acres of land through May 5, significantly more than the ten-year average of 841,462 acres, although the number of wildfires is down from 20,779. That means the average acreage burned per wildfire is way up, from 40.5 acres per fire to 97.6, more than double.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms rolled through Colorado Monday afternoon, dumping hail as big as baseballs in some areas and blanketing downtown Denver in a thick layer of the frozen precipitation. In most areas, the hailstones did not exceed the size of golf balls, but that was enough to punch out car windshields and the windows of some businesses. In Wheat Ridge, just northwest of downtown Denver, baseball-sized hail was observed, the National Weather Service said.

Drought coverage in the Lower 48 is at its lowest level in 17 years of records, according to last week’s update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, providing a stunning contrast to the opposite extreme experienced a few years ago. About 5 percent of the contiguous United States was in drought as of May 2. The largest drought coverage ever analyzed by the Drought Monitor occurred on Sept. 25, 2012 when 65 percent of the U.S. – particularly the Plains, Midwest and West – was experiencing drought, much of it severe, especially California.

Tropical Storm Adrian kicked off a record early start to the 2017 eastern Pacific hurricane season Tuesday several hundred miles off the southern Mexican coast, but appears destined for a long-lived stall off the coast into at least next week. Adrian was the earliest tropical cyclone to form in the northeast Pacific in the satellite era. This record was previously held by Hurricane Alma in 1990. Tropical Storm Adrian is centered about 460 miles south-southeast of Salina Cruz, Mexico, and is moving slowly toward the northwest. It weakened into a tropical depression Thursday.

Nations around the world have adopted more than 1,200 laws to curb climate change, up from about 60 two decades ago, which is a sign of widening efforts to limit rising temperatures, a study showed on Tuesday. The study, by the London School of Economics (LSE), reviewed laws and executive policies in 164 nations, ranging from national cuts in greenhouse gases to curbs in emissions in sectors such as transport, power generation or industry. Forty-seven laws had been added since world leaders adopted a Paris Agreement to combat climate change in late 2015, a slowdown from a previous peak of about 100 a year from 2009-2013.

  • End-time climate change is prophesied in the Bible (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11). Human efforts to counter it will fail.

Signs of the Times (4/29/17)

April 29, 2017

5 Pro-life Victories in Trump’s First 100 Days

On Friday, President Trump reached the milestone of his first 100 days in office. During those 100 days, he and his administration have succeeded in implementing four significant pro-life measures. The first pro-life measure was nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant position on the Supreme Court. One of Trump’s main campaign promises was that he would appoint a conservative, pro-life justice to the court, and conservatives were widely pleased with Gorsuch’s nomination. Second: President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which bans taxpayer money from being used to fund abortion overseas. Third: Trump’s administration announced that they were defunding the United Nations Population Fund. Fourth: President Trump signed a resolution overturning the Obama administration’s regulation that banned states from defunding Planned Parenthood. Fifth: Trump has named Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, to a top post at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees and implements policies related to abortion. She replaces a staunch abortion advocate who is now a vice president at the Planned Parenthood.

Study Finds Educated Christians More Likely to Attend Church

A new study by the Pew Research Center has revealed that, contrary to popular opinion, it is Christians with more education who are more likely to attend church and actually practice their faith. Christian Today reports that the study found that Christians who graduated with a college degree are more likely to attend church services than those who do not have a college degree (68 percent to 55 percent). The study also found that educated Christians are more likely to pray daily (83 percent to 77 percent) and to believe in God with absolute certainty (90 percent to 87 percent). Christians who have even more education (graduate degrees) are even more likely to be regular church attenders and to actively practice their faith.

Every Senator Signs Letter to UN to End Anti-Israel Bias

All 100 members of the US senate signed a letter to the United Nations secretary-general, demanding an end to the UN’s ongoing anti-Israel bias. “Although, as Democrats and Republicans, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel and to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms,” the letter to UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres stated. The letter, authored on Thursday and released the next day, was authored by Marco Rubio (R-FLA). “Too often, the UN is exploited as a vehicle for targeting Israel,” the letter states, adding that the anti-Israel “actions have at times reinforced the broader scourge of anti-Semitism and distracted certain UN entities from their original missions.” Among the suggestions made to change direction was a stop to the denial by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the Christian and Jewish ties to Jerusalem. “UNESCO member states must be made to realize that these actions only undermine the credibility of the organization.”

Largest Prayer Meeting in African History Attracts Nearly 2 Million

The biggest prayer gathering in African history was recently held, with close to two million people gathered from all parts of South Africa to pray. The event was held on a farm just north of Bloemfontein which is centrally located in South Africa. Some 1.7 million people registered on-line to attend this historic occasion and thousands more arrived on the day. The multi-racial crowd spread over more than a kilometer relayed onto multiple large screens and many kilometers of cabling for the sound system. Popular South African farmer/evangelist, and subject of the book and film, “Faith Like Potatoes”, Angus Buchan called for a nation-wide prayer meeting in light of the current spiritual and socio-political decline evident in the nation. Buchan said, “We are tired of people taking the law into their own hands. We are going to call upon the Lord to bring justice, peace and hope to our beloved South Africa.” Prayer meetings, for those who couldn’t get to Bloemfontein were held in churches, rented halls and homes around South Africa. Farmers in the area opened their farms to hundreds of thousands of campers at no cost.

House Passes Short-Term Budget Agreement to Avoid Shutdown

Congress passed a short-term spending agreement Friday to keep the federal government open for another week. House and Senate negotiators are set to work through the weekend to finalize a longer-term deal that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, October 1st. Top staff and leaders on the appropriations committees worked late into the night on Thursday to reach an agreement but were unable to resolve differences on several unrelated policy measures that have plagued the process since the beginning. A late push to act on new health-care legislation had threatened the bipartisan spending deal and for now that debate remains in flux. The failure to revive the health-care bill was yet another blow to President Trump as he reached the 100-day mark on Friday.

U.S., Canada & Mexico Agree to Renegotiate NAFTA

President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Canada agreed Wednesday to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the White House said – though Trump warned Thursday he’d be willing to “terminate” the pact if they can’t strike a “fair deal.”  “It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation,” Trump said in a statement late Wednesday. “It is an honor to deal with both President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better.” The White House added that Trump “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time” and that all three leaders “”agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation” of the trade deal to “the benefit of all three countries.”

Trump’s Proposed 15% Corporate Tax Would be Lowest in World

President Trump’s proposal to slash tax on businesses to 15% would give the United States the lowest corporate tax rate of any major economy in the world. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, America’s corporate tax rate of 35% is currently the highest rate levied by any of its 35 member countries. That rate rises to nearly 39% if taxes levied at state level are included. Comparable rates for Mexico and Canada are 30% and 26% respectively. But most American companies pay nothing like those rates for two key reasons: they can take advantage of a host of tax breaks, and profits earned overseas remain untaxed as long as the cash isn’t brought home. The CBO report showed that the effective rate of corporate tax in America was just under 19%, similar to the amount paid by British companies and slightly lower than firms in Argentina and Japan.

Trump Executive Order May Open Up Coastal Areas for Drilling

President Trump signed an executive order Friday that could eventually open up millions of coastal acres to offshore oil and gas drilling. The directive, known as the America First Offshore Energy Strategy, directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the current five-year development plan on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore oil and gas exploration as well as review the regulations and permitting process for development and seismic research. The order also prevents Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross from designating any new marine monuments and sanctuaries or expanding existing ones. Ross also is directed to review all designations and expansions of marine monuments or sanctuaries designated under the Antiquities Act within the last 10 years. “This order will cement our nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security for the benefit of American people without removing any of the stringent environmental safeguards that are currently in place,” Zinke told reporters.

Majority Favor Attack Military Attack Against North Korea

A majority of U.S. voters believe that it will take military force to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program– and they tend to favor the U.S. taking that action. That’s according to the latest national Fox News Poll of registered voters. By a 53-39 percent margin, voters favor the U.S. using military force to keep North Korea from making further advancements on nukes. Fifty-one percent say that U.S. military action will be required to keep the rouge nation from continuing its nuclear weapons program, while 36 percent think diplomacy alone can stop it. North Korea is seen as the greatest immediate threat to the United States.  Some 38 percent feel that way, while 25 percent think ISIS is the biggest threat and 18 percent say Russia.;

Two-thirds of voters approve of the missile strikes President Trump ordered on Syria in response to its suspected use of chemical weapons against its people.  But a plurality thinks the United States should not get any more involved in Syria. Meanwhile, 42 percent of voters oppose the Iran nuclear agreement, 35 percent support it and 23 percent are unable to give an opinion.  The agreement eases U.S. sanctions for 10 years in exchange for Iran stopping its nuclear program over that time period.  In September 2015, when the deal was first made, 56 percent opposed it.

Islamic State and al Qaeda Talk Merger

The Islamic State group and al Qaeda, long rivals for supremacy in the jihadi struggle, are feeling more pressure to combine as the Islamic State loses its territorial base in Syria and Iraq and the still-potent terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden prepares to welcome legions of foreign fighters fleeing the advancing U.S.-backed coalition, analysts and officials in the region say. “The discussion has started now,” Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi warned this month in an interview with the Reuters news agency. Born out of al Qaeda’s Iraqi faction that battled U.S. and coalition forces during the bloody years of the American combat mission, the jihadis famously broke with the Pakistani-based terrorist group in 2012 to form the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reports the Washington Times.

‘Drugged driving’ Deaths Surpass Drunken Driving Deaths

Driving while on drugs was associated with more deaths in 2015 than driving with alcohol in one’s system, a new report found. Positive drug tests were more common than the presence of alcohol among the fatally injured drivers who were tested in 2015, according to the report (PDF) “Drug-impaired Driving,” released Wednesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers. Of those tested, 43% of motorists who died had drugs in their system, the report said. This number surpassed the 37% of motorists who died who tested positive for alcohol in the same year. Driving while impaired is illegal in all 50 states. However, laws and interpretations vary about the definition of drug impairment. Testing practices can also vary amongst states, and there are no uniform laws to determine how often testing is used and what drugs are screened for.

Trump May Take Arizona’s School Tax Credit National

Arizona has offered tax breaks in exchange for donations to private-school scholarships for two decades. Seventeen states have followed in the Grand Canyon State’s footsteps. The federal government could be next. President Donald Trump has proposed investing $250 million into a private-school-choice program, though he has offered no details on what it would involve. Education experts have indicated it could be a voucher program similar to the program Arizona just expanded, but say it’s more likely to be a tax credit similar to Arizona’s School Tuition Organization program. Arizona’s private-school tax-credit program consists of four separate tax credits, two for individuals and two for corporations. Donations are made to qualifying school tuition organizations, which then allocate scholarships for students at private schools. Individual taxpayers this year can get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,086 for donations.

Economic News

Economic growth slowed in the first quarter to its slowest pace in three years as sluggish consumer spending and business stockpiling offset solid business investment. The nation’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. — increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7%, the Commerce Department said Friday, below the tepid 2.1% pace clocked both in the fourth quarter and as an average throughout the nearly eight-year-old recovery. Growth in the first three months of the year has averaged just 1% since 2000, less than half the average for the other three quarters, according to Wells Fargo. Most analysts believe the economy’s latest setback is temporary.

The S&P 500 has rallied 11.6% between Trump’s election victory and Friday, the final day before the 100-day mark. That’s the second-best performance for that period, since an 18% surge under President Kennedy in 1961, according to CFRA Research. The S&P 500 soared 12.3% through the same point under President George H. W. Bush in 1989. Anticipation of a pro-growth policy — massive tax cuts, infrastructure spending and deregulation — fired Wall Street up immediately after the election.

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, more than 270 separate companies applied for TAA benefits on behalf of more than 10,000 workers whose jobs are moving to another country. CNNMoney’s analysis shows that more than 4,000 of these jobs have moved out of the country since Trump took office. And nearly 2,000 additional jobs are due to be moved in the coming weeks and months. While Trump focuses most of his complaints about Mexico and China, the most recent TAA filings show more jobs heading to India than any other country — at least 2,500 positions. Mexico is the next largest destination for U.S. jobs, with about 2,000 jobs crossing the border, followed by the Philippines, where about 1,000 jobs are headed. About 700 jobs are identified as moving to Canada, while 600 jobs are headed to China. These filings are just a snapshot. But they show the challenges Trump faces in pushing back against existing economic forces.

The latest Merrill Lynch Finances in Retirement Survey, released in March 2017, revealed that the average cost of retirement has risen to $738,400. Of that number, $260,000 will go to healthcare costs alone, according to Fidelity’s Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate. But $738,400 is just an average — retirees accustomed to high incomes may need even more than this to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Most retirees can expect to see their expenses drop when they retire, hence the standard recommendation that retirees will need 70% to 80% of their pre-retirement income.

Persecution Watch

Easter festivities were muted in the Gaza strip this year because of the attacks on two churches in Egypt that killed dozens. “The situation is very difficult. Easter celebrations did not go well. There is a lot of fear among Christians because of the attacks in Egypt,” explains one church leader. The tiny Christian community in the Gaza Strip – thought to number around 1,000 believers among more than 1.7 million Muslims – is in a perilous position. Hamas, the Sunni Islamist group which has ruled Gaza since it won elections in 2007, has imposed restrictions on women’s dress and attempted to introduce elements of sharia. Living as an embattled minority, many believers see little choice but to leave. “There are fewer and fewer [Christians]. Those who manage to get out do not come back. They seek peace elsewhere … the church is increasingly empty.”

Middle East

Syria is blaming Israel for alleged missile strikes Thursday near Damascus International Airport. Israel won’t confirm nor deny responsibility for the explosion. But an Israeli government minister said, “the incident in Syria” fits Israel’s policy of trying to stop weapons from being shipped from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The blast was so severe “a thud could be heard in Damascus city and surrounding areas,” said Rami Abdulrahman, founder of the UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing a military source, said a military position southwest of the airport “was exposed to an Israeli aggression with several missiles fired from inside the occupied territories [i.e. the West Bank] at dawn.” SANA did not say whether anyone was killed or hurt in the blast. Reports early Friday indicated that an Israeli Patriot air defense battery had shot down a reconnaissance drone sent over the border by the Assad regime amidst heightened tensions along Israel’s border with Syria. The incident occurred hours after Moscow issued a statement condemning alleged Israeli airstrikes on an Iranian weapons depot near Damascus International Airport as a “gross violation of Syrian sovereignty.”

North Korea

A North Korean ballistic missile test failed on takeoff early Saturday, the second straight failure this month, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. The test came amid heightened global tensions over the reclusive nation’s nuclear weapons program, which President Trump has vowed to stop through military means if diplomatic efforts and economic pressure fail. The missile apparently exploded seconds after liftoff, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.

China has threatened North Korea with sanctions if the rogue government continues to disregard calls to stop conducting nuclear tests. The tests are seen as a provocation to its regional neighbors and the U.S, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. President Trump warned a “major, major conflict” with North Korea could result from the ongoing standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but he said he hoped diplomacy would prevail. Trump also said South Korea should pay for the $1 billion U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system in place to protect it from an attack from the north.

Afghanistan

The Defense Department says two U.S. servicemembers died in action in eastern Afghanistan Wednesday, and a third was wounded in action when they came under attack during a raid against insurgents in Nangahar Province. The servicemembers were conducting a partnered operation with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. “The fight against ISIS-Khorasan is important for the world, but sadly, it is not without sacrifice,” Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in the statement.

The Taliban in Afghanistan announced plans to ramp up military attacks on both Afghan and coalition security forces as part of a new spring offensive. News of the planned tactics, released in an email statement by a Taliban spokesman, followed a Taliban attack on forces at an army base on April 21 that killed at least 140 soldiers. Now, the group is promising more of the same, sparking concern that violence and unrest in the country could worsen.

Germany

The German Parliament has approved a government proposal that would ban the wearing of full-face veils for public servants while they are at work. The bill was proposed last year by security officials from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc. They argued that wearing the burqa or other face-covering veils in public schools, courts and other situations compromised public servants’ neutrality, and that in many cases it is important for their identity to be known. The law also applies to soldiers. The law passed the lower house of Parliament late Thursday and still needs upper house approval. Those against the measure have criticized it as merely symbolic, saying there are next to no public servants who wear such veils.

Venezuela

Venezuela will withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), according to its foreign minister, who announced the decision on national television. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told VTV state television Wednesday that the beleaguered country, which is facing huge civil unrest, would take the unprecedented step of leaving the pan-American organization over what it sees as attempts by foreign governments to interfere in its affairs by siding with the opposition in the latest wave of protests in the country. She added that the process will take two years to complete. Protests, which have been ongoing for months, escalated in April and have resulted in dozens of deaths. The unrest stems from dissatisfaction with the government, which has been accused of economic mismanagement resulting in huge shortages of daily essentials like food and medicine.

Wildfires

Officials announced the cause of a large wildfire that has burned all week in southern Arizona – an off-duty Tucson Sector Border Patrol agent who was shooting recreationally and sparked the inferno. the agent immediately reported the fire, but dry, windy conditions fanned the flames quickly. The so-called Sawmill fire is now 40 percent contained and has burned more than 63 square miles – an area larger than Manhattan – as of Thursday morning. Dozens of residents were evacuated earlier in the week, and some of them have been allowed to return to their homes, the AP also said. Because winds are expected to be problematic again Friday, pre-evacuation orders will remain in place for hundreds of homes in desert areas near Interstate 10.

Overall wildfire activity in the U.S. so far in 2017 has yielded about the same number of fires but a lot more damage. There have been 18,396 wildfires, slightly up from the ten-year average of 18370. However, those fires have burned 1,937,911 acres compared to the ten-year average of 800,561 acres.

Weather

A Florida woman, who went around a barricade on a flooded North Carolina road, was found dead Thursday in her car as flooding triggered by torrential rain continued to plague the state. Meanwhile, a state of emergency was declared in Edgecombe County on Wednesday. A shelter was opened for those forced to flee their homes because of the flooding. As floodwaters began to recede in the capital, the Neuse and Tar river levels rose further downstream and are in major flood stages in some areas. They will continue to do so into the weekend.