Posts Tagged ‘Islamic State’

Signs of the Times (9/20/18)

September 20, 2017

Attacks on Religious Liberty Up 133% in 5 Years

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

U.S. Aid to Palestinian Authority Funding Terrorists

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

Another Missile Launch by North Korea

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

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

Terror Attack in London

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

Judge Rules DOJ Can’t Withhold Grants from Sanctuary Cities

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

Trump Signs Charlottesville Congressional Resolution With a Signing Statement

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

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

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

Trump Urges U.N. to Cut Waste and Mismanagement

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

New Health-Care Plan Stumbles Under Opposition from Governors

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

Insurers Help Fuel the Opioid Crisis

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

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

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

Teens Not Grasping Adulthood

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 Million Slaves in the World

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

The Ethnic Cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar

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

Israel Claims UN Ignored Intel on Secret Iran Nuke Sites

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

Trump Calls for End to Iranian Nuclear Deal

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

Iran is Arming Houthis in Yemen

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

Earthquakes

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (9/14/17)

September 14, 2017

Irma Aftermath at End under Weather

Important Religious Freedom Case Goes to Supreme Court

Potentially “huge ramifications” for religious liberty – that’s what is at stake, says the American Family Association, as a Colorado cake shop case is to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. In 2012, cake shop owner Jack Phillips declined to provide a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his faith and lost before Colorado courts. Attorney General Sessions’ Department of Justice has submitted a 34-page “friend of the court” brief to the nation’s top court encouraging a ruling in favor of Phillips. “We’ve seen over a dozen examples specifically of Christian business owners who are being driven out of business by various commissions and bureaucrats because of their religious beliefs,” AFA spokesman Walker Wildmon said. “And this case could be a turning point at the Supreme Court for religious liberty and frankly for the First Amendment rights of people of faith.”

U.N. Agrees to Toughest-Ever Sanctions Against North Korea

The U.N. Security Council on Monday agreed on its toughest-ever sanctions against North Korea that passed unanimously after the United States softened its initial demands to win support from China and Russia. The sanctions set limits on North Korea’s oil imports and banned its textile exports in an effort to deprive the reclusive nation of the income it needs to maintain its nuclear and ballistic missile program and increase the pressure to negotiate their way out of punishing sanctions. “Today, we are attempting to take the future of the North Korean nuclear program out of the hands of its outlaw regime,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The new sanctions come on top of previous ones that cut into North Korea’s exports of coal, iron ore and seafood. Haley said that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s reported exports are now fully banned by sanctions. President Trump called for a complete U.N. blockade of North Korea to stop all imports and exports.

President Trump Renews 9/11 Emergency Proclamation

President Trump has become the third president to renew a post-9/11 emergency proclamation, stretching what was supposed to be a temporary state of national emergency after the 2001 terror attacks into its 17th year. But the ongoing effects of that perpetual emergency aren’t immediately clear, because the executive branch has ignored a law requiring it to report to Congress every six months on how much the president has spent under those extraordinary powers, USA TODAY reports. Exactly 16 years ago Thursday, President Bush signed Proclamation 7463, giving himself sweeping powers to mobilize the military in the days following terrorist attacks that crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It allowed him to call up National Guard and Reserve troops, hire and fire military officers, and bypass limits on the numbers of generals that could serve. Presidents Bush and Obama renewed that emergency each year. And on Wednesday, Trump published a now-routine notice in the Federal Register extending the emergency for the 16th time, explaining simply that “the terrorist threat continues.” But as Trump extends the emergency into a third presidential administration, legal experts say a review of those powers is long overdue.

Supreme Court: No Expansion of Travel Ban’s Refugee Exemptions

The Supreme Court handed President Trump a temporary victory Tuesday, blocking a lower court decision that would have greatly expanded the number of refugees exempted from his controversial travel ban. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments next month in the broader constitutional challenge to the travel ban from states and immigrant rights groups. The current dispute is over which immigrants and refugees can enter in the meantime. Trump administration lawyers asked the court on Monday to set aside last week’s federal appeals court ruling that would allow more refugees into the United States while the case is pending. That ruling was due to take effect Tuesday because the lower court had said thousands of refugees were “gravely imperiled.” The administration argued that by granting entry to any refugees who had been matched up with a resettlement agency in the U.S., the lower court went far beyond the type of personal relationship Trump required.

Trump’s Debt Deal with Democrats Stuns GOP

President Trump has stunned Republican lawmakers with his abrupt decision to strike a deal with Democrats for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling tied to Hurricane Harvey relief money. The president made the deal during a White House meeting Wednesday with the top congressional leaders of both parties. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had wanted a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling that would also cover hurricane relief funding. Instead, Trump sided with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in agreeing to a three-month deal that would both fund the government and raise the debt ceiling through mid-December. The deal averts the threat of a shutdown or even default for now, but virtually guarantees a congressional showdown before the end of the year. It appeared to some observers that Trump grew weary of the ongoing back-and-forth negotiations and decided to strike an agreement to end it. Fox News reported that Trump wanted to come out of that meeting with the decks cleared so he could get Congress to focus on tax reform – his big legislative agenda item this fall.

Trump Also Working with Democrats about DACA

President Donald Trump is moving closer to a deal with Democrats that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and put off funding for his marquee campaign promise of a border wall along the US-Mexico border, reports CNN. The bombshell developments, which were first announced in a statement Wednesday night by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi and reiterated by Trump himself Thursday morning, were met with immediate outrage from conservatives and put pressure on the President’s Republican allies in Congress. The two Democratic leaders announced that following a dinner at the White House, they had “agreed to enshrine the protections of (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” Trump insisted on Twitter Thursday morning that “no deal was made” on DACA, and Schumer and Pelosi later issued a statement clarifying that what was agreed upon was Trump supporting congressional actions to put DACA protections into law. The wall will come later, he said.

Russian Meddling Documented in 27 Countries Since 2004

Russia has meddled in the affairs of at least 27 European and North American countries since 2004 with interference that ranges from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns, according to an analysis by a surveillance organization. The alleged Russian interference was compiled by the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund, a nonprofit organization that fosters closer bonds between the United States and Europe. The meddling started in former Soviet republics allied with the West and spread to Western Europe. More recently, Canada and the United States were targeted. The U.S. Congress and an independent prosecutor are investigating possible Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, Facebook said an internal investigation uncovered $100,000 in advertising spending by hundreds of fake accounts and pages, likely operated out of Russia, which sought to sow political division during the U.S. presidential election. The ads were traced to a Russian “troll farm,” a Facebook official said.

Equifax: 143M U.S. Consumers Affected by Criminal Cybersecurity Breach

Credit reporting company Equifax announced Thursday that a cybersecurity data breach could have impacted about 143 million U.S. consumers. The company said in a statement the unauthorized entry occurred mid-May through July 2017, as criminals exploited a website “vulnerability” to access files ranging from social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. Hackers also accessed the credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers in the U.S. and other documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people in the U.S. Equifax said it discovered the breach on July 29, 2017 but did not publicly disclose the information until Sept. 7, 2017. Three Equifax executives sold stock prior to the announcement. The company has set up a website for consumers Opens a New Window. that will help them identify if their information was affected. It will also send notices directly in the mail to consumers that have had credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information compromised. “The Equifax data compromise was due to (Equifax’s) failure to install the security updates provided in a timely manner,” said the Apache Foundation, noting that the exploited flaw was found, reported and fixed two months prior to the hack. Several class-action lawsuits have been filed.

Hackers Can ‘Whisper’ Commands to Alexa, Siri, Google Now

Your digital assistant of choice, be it Alexa, Siri, or Google Now, should only carry out the voice commands you issue. But it turns out these assistants are not as loyal as we thought, and all a hacker has to do is whisper to them, reports PC Magazine. A research team at Zhejiang University in China figured out how to issue commands to the digital assistants provided by Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei that nobody else can hear. That includes Alexa, Cortana, Google Now, Huawei HiVoice, Samsung S Voice, and Siri They named the technique DolphinAttack, and it’s possible due to a security flaw in the way these assistants work. The DolphinAttack takes advantage of the 20kHz and above frequencies that humans can’t hear. A voice command is recorded and then translated it to an ultrasonic frequency version. Microphones still pick up the ultrasound just like a normal voice command and therefore treat it as such. Issuing commands to make a call, open a web address, even to unlock a door will all work with the appropriate silent command. Modifying a smartphone to issue such commands costs around $3, the researchers say.

U.S. Bans Russia’s Kapersky Security Software

The U.S. government on Wednesday moved to ban the use of a Russian brand of security software by federal agencies amid concerns the company has ties to state-sponsored cyberespionage activities. In a binding directive, acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke ordered that federal civilian agencies identify Kaspersky Lab software on their networks. After 90 days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk. “The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems, directly implicates U.S. national security.”

White Christians Swing from Majority to Minority in U.S.

Those Americans who identify as white Christians are now considered to be a minority of the country’s population, according to a new survey. The number has dipped below 50 percent for the first time, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, said a report released Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). While Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent, white Christians – once a mainstay of the country’s religious life — now comprise only 43 percent of the population. About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago. The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarters identify as white Christians. By comparison, in the Democratic Party, white Christians have become a minority shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent currently.

International Planned Parenthood Surpasses 1 Million Abortions in 2016

One of the world’s most extensive and prolific abortion networks has passed a tragic milestone. In 2016, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), for the first time reported in its history, aborted more than one million unborn baby boys and girls in a single year. IPPF, a London-based international pro-abortion organization, maintains a vast network of affiliates (Member Associations) across the globe that actively perform and/or advocate for abortion. IPPF maintains 142 Member Associations worldwide and is currently active in 171 countries. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is IPPF’s Member Association in the United States. IPPF claims that its network has contributed to over 950 legislative or policy changes worldwide since 2005. IPPF claims the organization contributed to more legislative and policy changes in 2016 than at any other point in its history. In 2016, IPPF also significantly increased its reach among the youth in the domain of sex education. According to the Financial Statements 2016, over 28.1 million adolescents and young adults were given “comprehensive sex education” programming through one of IPPF’s Member Associations

Economic News

U.S. median income hit $59,039 in 2016, the highest ever reported by Census Bureau. Middle-class household income set an all-time record last year, besting the previous high set in 1999, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Median income is a key measure of the economic health of the U.S. middle class, which struggled during the slow economic growth of the early 2000s and was devastated by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. The nation’s poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent in 2016, with 40.6 million people living in poverty, 2.5 million fewer than in 2015, the agency reported. The poverty rate hit its post-recession peak in 2010 at 15.1 percent and is now slightly above where it was in 2007.

The U.S. dollar is cooling off after a red-hot surge. Though it rose in the weeks following President Trump’s election victory last November, the greenback has steadily fallen this year. It’s now down to its lowest level since January 2015. Since January 1, 2017, the dollar is down 11%. Financial analysts point to disappointment with the progress of President Trump’s agenda, as well as Europe’s economy picking up steam as the primary causes. Also, investors are disappointed over the diminishing prospects of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve this year.

A study released last summer by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, claimed the Red Cross had spent $124 million — or a quarter of the money donors gave after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti — on internal expenses. Since 2014, National Public Radio and ProPublica have teamed up for investigations into Red Cross spending. Those reports argue that the agency, whose main role is as a blood broker, spends just a small fraction of its money on its high-publicity disaster relief programs and has made “dubious claims of success.” The reports specifically slammed the agency’s response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in 2012. And last year, the Red Cross came under more fire for its response to flooding in Louisiana with numerous complaints from relief workers and organizers who often were left without promised assistance.

Hurricane Harvey packed such a powerful punch that more than a dozen Gulf Coast oil refineries are still hurting two weeks after the storm struck Texas. Five oil refineries remain shuttered as of Monday. Refinery comeback efforts have been disrupted by flooding, damage, power outages and challenges created by the sudden nature of some shutdowns. All told, about 2.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity in Texas is offline because of Harvey. At one point, about 4 million barrels of refining capacity was shut down. Gasoline prices spiked around the United States. The good news, however, is that gas prices have stopped spiking. The average price has held steady for five days at $2.67 a gallon, up from $2.36 a month ago, according to AAA.

Christianity is Dying in Germany, Islam Rising

There are about 47 million Catholics and Protestants combined in Germany, representing roughly 60 percent of the German population, but that number is falling by 500,000 a year, according to the Gatestone Institute. All across Germany, churches now sit mostly empty on Sunday mornings, and it’s a problem for Catholics and Protestants alike. In 2016 alone, the German Catholic Church lost 162,093 faithful attendees and closed 537 parishes, according to data from the German Bishops’ Conference. One-quarter of all German Catholic communities that existed in 1996 have now closed. Similarly, in 2016, 340,000 German Protestants died while 190,000 people left the church. Only 25,000 people joined the church. While Christianity is dying in Germany, Islam is on the rise. Historian Walter Laqueur wrote that Germany had about 700 “little mosques and prayer rooms” in the 1980s but “more than 2,500 at the present time” – and that was in 2009. Today, Turkey controls 900 mosques or religious communities in Germany. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is committed to building more mosques in European capitals, just as he has built 17,000 Islamic prayer sites in Turkey since taking power.

Iran Sanctions Up for Renewal

President Trump must decide by Thursday whether to once again waive economic sanctions on Iran, a task imposed on him by a deal he holds in contempt and appears to be preparing to ditch, reports the Washington Post. But despite his concern that Iran is an international threat, Trump is expected to waive sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors for the second time since taking office. If not, the United States will be in breach of the landmark 2015 deal that is a legacy of the Obama administration. Even if Trump waives sanctions, as he must by law reassess every 120 days, it comes as Iran and the agreement it negotiated with six world powers are coming under increasing attack. In a series of public critiques of the deal and Iran’s behavior, administration officials appear to be laying the groundwork to kill the existing agreement, possibly by finding a way to reopen it for modifications. The next and most consequential decision on the horizon is Oct. 15, when Trump must decide whether Iran is fully complying with its commitments under the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The president is required to revisit the issue every 90 days, and in July he reportedly was angry that his advisers offered no options except to certify it. More than 80 nuclear nonproliferation specialists issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the agreement “has proven to be an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

Earthquakes

At least 90 people died after a massive earthquake hit off the southwestern coast of Mexico late Thursday. The magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Mexico’s Chiapas state. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake’s epicenter was 54 miles southwest of Pijijiapan, Mexico, not far from Guatemala. It had a depth of more than 40 miles. Some people continued to sleep outside, fearful of more collapses, as strong aftershocks continued to rattle the town, including a magnitude 5.2 jolt early Sunday. Local officials said they had counted nearly 800 aftershocks of all sizes since late Thursday’s big quake, and the U.S. Geological Survey counted nearly 60 with a magnitude of 4.5 or greater. The powerful quake caused buildings to sway violently and people to flee into the streets in panic as far away as the Mexico City. Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco said the quake was the strongest on record in state history, topping a magnitude 7.9 quake in 1902; and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

Wildfires

Several fires believed to have been caused by lightning continue to burn across Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, prompting mandatory evacuations and the closure of a lake. Officials shut down Lake Frances in Pondera County Tuesday so fire crews can use the water to battle the blazes. “The western fires are not stopping,” incident commander trainee James Casaus, who is working with the team managing three fires on the Front, told the Great Falls Tribune. “They’re just getting bigger.” Twenty-one large (over 100 acre) wildfires are burning in western Montana, having already consumed 413,000 acres (645 square miles), more than half the size of Rhode Island. In addition, 25 large wildfires are burning in Oregon and Washington, with a total of 766,000 acres torched, as the northwest drought continues.

Weather

Irma has finally disappeared from the map after a nearly two-week onslaught of destruction, death and terror. Now, millions of people from the wiped-out Caribbean island of Barbuda to the devastated Florida Keys try to piece their lives back together. The storm is responsible for the deaths of least 68 people, with 32 of those in battered Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. More than 2.6 million customers were still without power in Florida as of Thursday morning. Florida fruit growers and farmers fear the damage Irma wrought on the state’s citrus, sugar cane and vegetable crops will be significant. FEMA estimates that 25% percent of the homes in the Keys were destroyed. Another 65 percent suffered major damage. At least 99 percent of structures were at least partly damaged in hard-hit Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos. The situation remains dire in parts of the Caribbean with some residents running out of food and water as power outages linger. The Dutch Red Cross said more than 200 people were still listed as missing on St. Maarten, the Dutch side of St. Martin. Looting has become rampant.

With Texas and Florida still digging out from Harvey and Irma, Hurricane Jose inched closer to the U.S. mainland Thursday, but forecasters said the storm would likely shift northward in the next few days and skirt the Mid-Atlantic on its way up the coast. While a U.S. landfall was not totally out of the picture yet, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas, tracking models show Jose likely remaining well offshore. On Thursday morning, Jose was located about 510 miles south-southwest of Bermuda moving west at 3 mph. It was packing sustained winds of 75 mph.

Signs of the Times (9/6/17)

September 6, 2017

For Irma Information see Weather at End of Newsletter

North Korea Claims It Detonated a Hydrogen Bomb

North Korea claimed Sunday to have detonated a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on a missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. The claim, although unverified, will sharply increase tensions between the Pyongyang regime and the rest of the world. The bomb was a two-stage weapon with a yield that analysts said could make it a “city buster.” South Korea and Japan confirmed that North Korea had conducted its sixth nuclear test Sunday, with the explosion so powerful it was felt in northeastern China. Tensions have already been running high, with Kim repeatedly defying international condemnation and continuing to launch ballistic missiles, while President Trump issuing increasingly blunt and threatening warnings. South Korea strengthened the deployment of a controversial U.S.-made missile defense system and launched a huge show of military might on Monday. North Korea has made rapid advances in its nuclear weapons program, but the rogue nation probably can’t yet reach U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles, analysts say.

The blast that shook the ground at North Korea’s test site Sunday instantly erased lingering skepticism about Pyongyang’s technical capabilities and brought the prospect of nuclear-tipped North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of devastating a major city one step closer to reality, U.S. analysts and weapons experts said. South Korea’s defense minister on Monday said it was worth reviewing the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula to guard against the North, a step that analysts warn would sharply increase the risk of an accidental conflict. U.S. officials are urging governments to cut off all fuel supplies to North Korea, which is “begging for war.”

What Does North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Want?

Analysts say that it would take five concessions in order for North Korea to back down from their threats of war against South Korea, Japan and the U.S., according to the USA Today. First, he would need a guarantee of no overthrow attempts; second, that North Korea be allowed to keep their nuclear weapons; third, all sanctions against North Korea would have to be completely lifted; fourth, the U.S. would have to remove all troops from South Korea; and fifth, a formal peace treaty ending the 1950-1953 Korean War. A formal peace treaty would provide a huge economic and political boost for North Korea. Without negotiations, the Trump administration warned Sunday of a “massive military response” against North Korea and President Trump threatened to halt trade with China after Pyongyang conducted the alarmingly powerful nuclear test.

Trump May Withdraw from South Korean Trade Pact

The Trump administration could give notice to South Korea as early as this week that it plans to withdraw from a bilateral trade agreement that has been in effect since 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. President Donald Trump has long slammed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS FTA, and the ensuing rise of the nation’s trade deficit since it was implemented, the Journal reported. Negotiations this summer have been tense — and American officials say that Seoul remains unwilling to make significant changes to the agreement. The question remains of whether the White House is seriously considering withdrawing from the agreement. U.S. business groups have called on its members to reach out to legislators to stop any withdrawal, the Journal reported.

DOJ Concludes No Evidence of Obama Wiretapping

The Justice Department confirmed in a court filing there is no evidence that Trump Tower was targeted for surveillance by the Obama administration — contradicting President Trump’s controversial claim first made in March. A “Motion for Summary Judgment” filed Friday evening in D.C. district court says neither the FBI nor the Justice Department’s National Security Division have records confirming wiretaps that Trump accused the Obama administration of ordering. The document was submitted in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Trump Fades Out DACA, but Gives Congress Opportunity to Save It

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and has formally rescinded the Obama administration policy. The Justice Department also announced a plan to continue renewing permits for anyone whose status expires in the next six months, giving Congress time to act before any currently protected individuals lose their ability to work, study and live without fear in the U.S. Trump called on Congress to replace the policy with legislation before it fully expires on March 5, 2018. In the five years since DACA was enacted, the nearly 800,000 individuals who have received the protections have started families, pursued careers and studied in schools and universities across the United States. The business community and education community at large has joined Democrats and many moderate Republicans in supporting the program, citing the contributions to society from the population and the sympathetic fact that many Dreamers have never known another home than the U.S.

Houston Faces Ongoing Threat of Mold, Fumes & Toxic Water

Residents of Harris County, Texas, returning to an estimated 156,000 homes flooded by Harvey face dangers from mold, electrical hazards and deadly fumes and toxins in the receding water. Thirteen of the 41 toxic Superfund sites in Texas were flooded and “experiencing possible damage” as a result of Hurricane Harvey, federal environmental officials confirmed Saturday. The death toll has risen to at least 42, with a house-by-house search for survivors continuing. An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County — more than 10% of all structures — were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district. More than 457,000 people have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance by Friday. More than 121,000 survivors have already been approved for more than $83.4 million in assistance from FEMA. The Red Cross and its partners sheltered 42,399 people in Texas, and another 1,487 in Louisiana, according to FEMA.

Small Towns Still Struggling in Harvey’s Wake

While the Houston urban area has understandably captured the country’s attention post-Harvey, small communities in Texas have waged their own struggles dealing with the storm’s aftermath. Colorado River water levels crested Thursday at 50.5 feet, inundating much of Wharton in waist-deep water. The town as a whole has less than a 1-foot difference in elevation. Officials estimated that more than 60% of Wharton’s 9,000 residents had floodwater in their homes or on their properties. “At one point, we were boxed in on all of our exits due to waters, or due to the neighboring cities having a mandatory evacuation. Our emergency medical services couldn’t get to a hospital,” said Wharton’s city spokeswoman, Paula Favors, human resources director and city secretary.

Economic News

North Korea’s biggest ever nuclear test has sent a fresh wave of nervousness through global markets. Stocks in nearby countries like South Korea and Japan slid as investors moved money into assets considered safer bets, such as gold. Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’ jumped 34% and the Dow Jones Industrial stock average dropped 240 points Tuesday.

The elderly American population in this country is set to explode, given the retirement of baby boomers and an improvement in medical care, medicines, and medical care access. Right now, there are approximately 48 million people aged 65 and up, but by 2035 that figure is expected to climb to 79 million. That’s a 65% increase in 18 years, and it’s going to be a major strain on the Social Security program. As the number Social Security recipients increases, the number of workers providing that all-important payroll-tax revenue won’t be growing by nearly enough to offset the baby boomer exodus from the workforce. Between 2017 and 2035, the SSA is estimating that the worker-to-beneficiary ratio, which currently sits at 2.8-to-1, could fall by 21% to 2.2-to-1. Raising payroll taxes on the wealthy, or all workers, are solutions currently under consideration.

Europe Overrun with Jihadists

EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove estimates more than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe. “Three years ago, it was easy to identify someone who has become radicalized,” de Kerchove told El Mundo. “Now, most fanatics disguise their convictions. We do not have exact figures, but it is not difficult to do approximate calculations. United Kingdom… has 20,000. France, 17,000. Spain much less, but more than 5,000, I suppose. In Belgium, almost 500 have gone to Syria and there are about 2,000 radicals or more. I would not venture to a specific figure, but tens of thousands, more than 50,000.” In a separate interview with a Belgian publication, de Kerchove said Europol, the European police office, has identified at least 30,000 active jihadist websites.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, has previously warned that Islamic terrorists are using the refugee crisis to slide into Europe undetected and plan attacks across the continent. In total, about 130,000 migrants arrived in Europe during the first eight months of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 10,000 of those arrived in Spain by water, and thousands more entered Spain by land. Meanwhile, authorities detained 2,474 people trying to cross the Romanian border illegally during the first six months of this year, according to Balkan Insight.

German law-enforcement officials are busy tracking down dozens of members of Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most brutal jihadist groups in Syria. The jihadists are suspected of slaughtering hundreds of Syrian soldiers and civilians. Police have identified roughly 25 of them and apprehended a few, but dozens more are thought to be hiding in towns and cities across Germany, according to the Gatestone Institute. The suspected terrorists entered Germany posing as refugees. More than 400 migrants who came to Germany as asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 are now under investigation for being members of Middle Eastern Islamic jihadist groups, according to the Federal Criminal Police.

Islamic State

Islamic State fighters in Libya shot and beheaded groups of captive Ethiopian Christians, a video purportedly from the extremists showed Sunday. The attack widens the circle of nations affected by the group’s atrocities while showing its growth beyond a self-declared ‘caliphate’ in Syria and Iraq. The release of the 29-minute video comes a day after Afghanistan’s president blamed the extremists for a suicide attack in his country that killed at least 35 people — and underscores the chaos gripping Libya after its 2011 civil war and the killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Syria

Syrian government forces and their allies reached the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, ending a nearly 3-year-old ISIS siege on government-held land near the Iraqi border, Syrian state TV reported. State TV said troops advancing from the west reached the outskirts of the city and broke the siege after ISIS defenses “collapsed.” Breaking the siege marks another victory for President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been advancing on several fronts against ISIS and other insurgent groups over the past year. Syrian troops and allied militiamen, backed by Russia’s air force, have for months been advancing toward Deir el-Zour, the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of the same name. The breach is expected to end a nightmare siege for tens of thousands of people trapped in a handful of neighborhoods.

Myanmar

Tens of thousands of refugees are trapped on the border into Bangladesh without basic food and medicine amid operations by the Myanmar military, which have already killed hundreds. Satellite photos released by Human Rights Watch Saturday showed what they are desperate to escape — entire villages torched to the ground in clashes between Myanmar’s armed forces and local militants. More than 73,000 Rohingyas have now fled across the border since August 25, the United Nations said Sunday. But in northern Rakhine State there are reports of at least another 30,000 Rohingyas trapped in hilly terrain without basic supplies of food, water or medicine. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are considered some of the most persecuted people in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma, considers them Bangladeshi and Bangladesh says they’re Burmese.

Earthquakes

One of the strongest earthquake to hit Idaho in years struck the southeastern region of the state Saturday night, followed by more than 40 smaller quakes throughout the night. According to the Idaho State Journal, residents in Caribou County were startled by the 5.3-magnitude earthquake that hit shortly before 6 p.m. local time Saturday. No structural damage or injuries were reported. The United States Geological Survey said the initial quake was relatively shallow at a depth of 6.2 miles and was located about 10 miles east of Soda Springs, Idaho. The quakes were also felt in cities in northern Utah and throughout southeast Idaho. Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said he hasn’t experienced anything like the quakes in his 40 years of service in Idaho.

Wildfires

Dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states have sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver — prompting health warnings and cancellations of outdoor activities for children by many school districts. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, said 80 large fires were burning on 2,200 square miles (5,700 square kilometers) in nine Western states. A growing Oregon wildfire, the Eagle Creek fire, covered parts of Portland’s metropolitan area Tuesday with ash and forced the shutdown of a lengthy stretch of highway through the state’s scenic Columbia River Gorge. The 16-square mile (41-square kilometers) fire east of Portland forced hundreds of home evacuations. Embers from the fire drifted in the air across the Columbia River — sparking blazes in neighboring Washington state. The wildfire grew rapidly late Monday and overnight, giving authorities just minutes to warn residents on the Oregon side of the river to leave their homes. Authorities say they believe the blaze, which started Saturday, was caused by a 15-year-old boy and friends using fireworks. A 30-mile (48-kilometer) section of Interstate 84 was closed in both directions because of thick smoke and falling ash and because flames reached the roadway in some spots.

A fast-moving wildfire in northern Utah swept down a canyon Tuesday — destroying structures, forcing evacuations and closing highways. At least five homes burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as high winds fed the flames in the canyon north of Salt Lake City. Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways as firefighters struggled to fight the blaze fueled by winds gusting up to 40 mph. Outside California’s Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire made its way deeper into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees on Labor Day. Officials said the fire had gone through about half the grove but had not killed any trees. Elsewhere in Northern California, a fire destroyed 72 homes and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people from their houses. The fire burned 14 square miles in the community of Helena about 150 miles south of Oregon. A wildfire burning near Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state grew to more than 29 square miles and heavy smoke blanketed many cities in Washington state. The air quality in Spokane, Washington, was rated as hazardous.

A wildfire in northern Los Angeles was the largest wildfire in the city’s history, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Saturday. At least 700 homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale were evacuated as the La Tuna Canyon wildfire threatened structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. At least three buildings have been destroyed. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions. “Our biggest concern is the wind and weather,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said. Officials canceled evacuation orders Monday citing progress against the fire.

Weather

Hurricane Irma slammed into islands in the northeast Caribbean with devastating force early Wednesday, damaging buildings and sending debris flying with winds estimated at 185mph. The National Weather Service says the eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm and the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, passed over the island of Barbuda at 1:47am, the AP reports. The storm ripped the roofs off of buildings, including the island’s police station, and damage was also reported on the neighboring island of Antigua. Many residents on both islands have fled to shelters, fearing the storm will destroy their homes. The storm tore off rooftops and knocked out all electricity on the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy. Other Leeward Islands, including Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis, are under hurricane warnings, as are Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic, reports Reuters. The National Hurricane Center has warned of “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards” for places in Irma’s path. The center predicts that Irma will hit the other Leeward Islands on Wednesday morning before passing over the Virgin Islands and close to northern Puerto Rico later in the day. Cruise ships bound for Caribbean destinations are being diverted.

As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials have declared disasters and ordered evacuations throughout the Sunshine State. About 420,000 people living in Miami Evacuation Zones A and B along the coast have been told to flee. The last time a similar evacuation was ordered was for Hurricane Wilma in 2005. A state of emergency has been declared for all counties in Florida, and residents across the region are trying to stock up on food, water and other essentials. The order frees up funding for emergency protective measures such as shoring up beach dunes, preparing for evacuations and building emergency beams. The U.S. military ordered the evacuation of over 5,000 personnel and their families from a Naval Air Station in Key West. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights for Wednesday and more for Thursday and Friday.

High temperatures set all-time records in California this past weekend. San Jose set a new record high for September on Friday when the thermometer reached 108 degrees, as did the Oakland International Airport with a high of 101 degrees. Most impressive is the new all-time record high set on Sept. 1 in San Francisco when the mercury soared to 106 degrees, breaking the previous record of 103 degrees set in June 2000. To put this in perspective, the average high on Sept. 1 is 70 degrees. San Francisco’s high temperature topped out at 102 degrees Saturday, making it only the third time since 1874 that the city has seen back to back days with highs over 100 degrees.

  • 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 (9/2/17)

September 2, 2017

President Trump Calls for National Day of Prayer

President Trump has declared Sunday as “A National Day of Prayer”— joining with Texas Governor Greg Abbott who has called on Texans to pray for recovery efforts and those suffering from Hurricane Harvey. “As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much-needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture’s promise that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,’” the proclamation states. The President said it is appropriate “during times of great need to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance.” President Trump signed the declaration Friday after meeting with faith leaders in the Oval Office. “We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are suffering from this great crisis,” the President said in his remarks.

Trump Pledges $1 Million to Harvey Relief Efforts

With the recovery process just beginning in some parts of Texas on Thursday, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump pledged $1 million of his own money to aid relief efforts, which got little notice from the mainstream media, and not even one mention from NBC. “President Trump today pledged $1 million of his own money to disaster relief. The White House has asked for suggestions as to where that money should go,” reported Co-Anchor Margaret Brennan in a news brief on CBS Evening News. Brennan then touted Vice President Pence’s efforts saying: “Today, Vice President Mike Pence comforted victims in Rockport, Texas. Then he got to work, rolled up his sleeves in 90-degree heat and helped clear debris in the city.”

Fake Photos Plaguing the Internet

As a captivated nation watched a historic storm ravage the Texas coast, people around the country shared extraordinary images of Harvey and its aftermath. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t real. The shark ostensibly swimming along a flooded freeway in Houston is a doctored image has been online for years, but still managed to fool a Fox News reporter). The airplanes presumably submerged on the tarmac in Houston actually shows New York’s LaGuardia Airport. And the one showing President Obama serving food to people evacuated from the Houston floods actually was shot at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., where Obama and his family served Thanksgiving dinner in 2015. Doctored photos aren’t reserved for natural disasters. After President Trump held a rally in Phoenix last week, his supporters shared an image of what was purportedly a massive crowd in the streets ahead of his speech, but the photo is actually an aerial shot from the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade.

Humanitarian Efforts Help to Minimize Harvey’s Misery

From good Samaritan Cajuns to pet lovers in Austin with pickup trucks and motorized canoes, humanitarian efforts are underway in Houston and beyond to minimize the misery of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez this week called upon anyone with a “high-water, safe boat or vehicle” to pitch in — and like clockwork the boats arrived. Hundreds of boats from around the region, as well as others from the “Cajun Navy,” have been traversing the flooded streets of Houston for days. Aid groups, accustomed to widespread disaster declarations, expected the Harvey relief effort to be among their biggest ever. The Salvation Army of Georgia said its Harvey intervention would be the “largest and longest emergency response” in the history of the organization. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief said it began sending teams to Texas before Harvey made landfall on Friday and will likely be in Houston “for months to come.”

In the midst of deadly Tropical Storm Harvey’s assault on Texas, people stepped up to help those trapped by rising floodwaters and shut out from basic necessities, with heroes forming human chains, delivering pizzas on kayaks and engaging in dramatic rescues. However, others tried to profit from the tragedy through scams, price gouging and fraud. The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it received about 600 complaints as of Tuesday, adding the “number is rising,” according to the San Antonio Express. Officials warned about fake fundraisers being shared and urged people to only donate to established organizations. Looters were also posing as helpers.

Flooded Texas Chemical Plant Explodes Three Times

Multiple explosions were reported at the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early Thursday morning just a day after the company’s CEO warned of an unpreventable, imminent explosion. One deputy was rushed to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine others hospitalized themselves after the explosion, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office said.  Because of the volatile chemicals – organic peroxides commonly used by the plastics and rubber industries – stored at the plant, the company and local authorities agreed that “the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” the Houston Chronicle reported. All residents within 1.5 miles of the chemical plant in Crosby were already told to evacuate Tuesday because of the rising risk of an explosion. All workers at the plant were evacuated Tuesday over the threat. The plant has been heavily flooded by more than 40 inches of rain, causing its refrigeration system and backup power generators to fail. Officials yet again watched in helpless horror Friday evening as a chemical plant exploded and caught fire in Crosby, Texas, for a third time.

FEMA: Emergency Housing for Hurricane Harvey a Long Difficult Process

After search-and-rescue efforts wind down for survivors of Harvey, federal officials warned Texas that housing for thousands of displaced residents could be a long-term problem that in prior storms was fraught with unhealthy trailers and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted. “The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Monday. “It’s a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations.” For displaced survivors, FEMA’s goal is to move them out of shelters and into temporary housing near where they work, and then a return to a permanent residence, Long said. Anyone in a shelter or without financial means to replace their housing in 18 counties qualifying for individual disaster assistance can receive aid for a motel or to rent an apartment. Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast in August 2005. FEMA did not end its temporary housing mission for Katrina until February 2012.

National Flood Insurance Program in Dire Straits

The National Flood Insurance Program has faced criticism for years that it provided lousy customer service while compiling $25 billion in debts that federal managers concede policyholders will never be able to repay. Now Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall in Texas will funnel as many as 100,000 more claims into a system that is set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress — unable to agree for years on a long-term fix — can reach a compromise to keep it afloat. Past storm victims who filed flood insurance claims complained of being shortchanged and made to feel like criminals. But former federal officials said not having coverage is even worse because regular homeowner insurance doesn’t cover floods, and disaster aid is capped and means-tested. Early estimates say only about 1 in 5 homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, which could lead uninsured families wiped out by Harvey to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts.

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas Immigration Bill

A federal judge in Texas late Wednesday temporarily blocked key provisions of an impending state law that banned sanctuary jurisdictions in the state. The law was slated to go into effect on Friday. The SB4 bill established civil penalties for local government and law enforcement officials who didn’t comply with immigration laws and detention requests. Additionally, under the law, government entities would be fined $25,500 for every day the law was violated. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill in May, said the judge’s preliminary injunction would be appealed “immediately,” and he is confident that the law will be upheld as constitutional. But critics of the bill have come out in support of the preliminary injunction, claiming that Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.

David Daleiden Fined $200,000 for Releasing Undercover Abortion Videos

A federal judge hit pro-life undercover investigator David Daleiden and two of his lawyers with a heavy fine this week after they released undercover footage of a National Abortion Federation conference. Townhall reports U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who has ties to the abortion industry, ordered Daleiden and attorneys Steve Cooley and Brentford Ferreira to pay $195,359.04 in fines on Monday. In July, Orrick held Daleiden and the two lawyers in contempt for releasing the videos in violation of a court order. Orrick quickly forced the videos to be taken down after they were released in May. In June, Daleiden’s lawyers asked that Orrick recuse himself from the case, arguing that he has had a long relationship with a group that partners with Planned Parenthood, and his wife has publicly supported abortion online.

Colleges that Blocked Free Speech Facing Fallout

Both the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College have been rocked by left-wing demonstrations, some of which administrators in both schools allowed. Now both have had to deal with falling enrollment and a decline in funds – and there are fears the situation could spread to other schools. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit that advocates for a variety of higher education issues, told Fox News, “When they look to what college to pick, parents and students are thinking of the largest investment their family is likely to make beyond the purchase of a home.” There is increasing concern, she said, “about a lack of openness to having a full conversation” amid a growing intolerance of views that are different or considered offensive.

  • These ‘offensive’ viewpoints are mostly Conservative and Christian

Economic News

Hurricane Harvey is now the second most destructive storm in U.S. history, behind only Hurricane Katrina. The devastation is massive: 46 dead and an estimated $80 billion in damage — so far. Harvey could end up being the most expensive of all. It depends on what happens in the coming weeks. The longer homes stay flooded and businesses remain closed, especially the major oil refineries that supply a substantial amount of the country’s gasoline, the bigger the hit to Texas and the entire U.S. economy. Gas prices are at the highest level in two years after Harvey shut down 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Americans across the country are seeing a hit to their wallets from the added costs, and the country might not be able to export oil for a while.

Harvey may have ruined up to one million vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to automotive data firm Black Book. Black Book says more than 500 dealerships in the Houston area were affected. In the Houston area, about one in seven cars may have been destroyed, according to analysts from Evercore ISI, an investment banking advisory and research firm. Sandy is believed to have destroyed about 250,000 vehicles, while Katrina ruined about 200,000, according to Cox Automotive.

Estimates indicate that only about one-in-five homes in the greater Houston area are covered by flood insurance, a scenario that will likely drive hundreds of thousands of people and business owners to abandon their properties or take on heavy debts, not to mention heightened pleas from local governments for more federal subsidies. The Consumer Federation of America estimates only about 20% of homeowners with flood damage in the region have insurance protection.

Flooding in the southeast Texas city of Port Arthur prompted officials to begin shutting down the nation’s largest oil refinery. Motiva told media outlets it began shutting its Port Arthur refinery around 5 a.m. Wednesday “in response to increasing local flood conditions” and will remain closed until flood waters recede. Motiva refinery is owned by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, Saudi Aramco. Motiva joins 12 other refineries that have shut down as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. Gas prices spiked overnight Thursday and are up about 17 cents a gallon since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas. Meanwhile, a pair of oil companies announced Friday that two more spills occurred in Texas because of Harvey’s flooding.

Hurricane Harvey took direct aim at the country’s Gulf Coast energy production facilities. But the blow is being softened by huge supplies of shale. The shale revolution didn’t exist when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pummeled the Gulf a decade ago and sent gas prices soaring. This time, hotbeds of shale in places like North Dakota, far from the reach of the storm, should limit the damage at the pump. The shale boom has transformed the energy landscape and vaulted the United States to the upper echelon of global oil producers, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration has tapped an emergency stockpile of crude oil in response to the major refinery outages in the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Harvey. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he authorized 500,000 barrels of crude oil to be drawn down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is made up of a complex of tanks and deeper underground storage caverns. The move is aimed at shielding Americans from gasoline prices, which have begun to rise sharply due to a shortage of gasoline caused by refinery shutdowns. Port closures have also left refineries still operating with less access to crude oil shipments.

The U.S. economy picked up steam during the second quarter, notching the fastest pace of growth in two years. During the first full quarter with President Trump in charge, economic growth hit 3%, according to revised estimates released by the government on Wednesday. It’s more than double the pace of the first three months of 2017. The economic momentum was driven by stronger consumer spending and healthier business investment. Trump promised 4% growth on the campaign trail, but his administration has since set a goal of 3%.

However, the U.S. economy added just 156,000 jobs in August as unemployment ticked up slightly to 4.4 percent, federal economists reported Friday. The growth missed expectations of job growth continuing over 200,000 a month. Average hourly wages rose 3 cents last month to $26.39, up 2.5 percent from a year ago. The data shows the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and mining industries all grew. sThe report does not include any effects from Hurricane Harvey, as the collection of the data used for the report was completed before the storm struck.

Persecution Watch

Israel’s religious establishment is taking its persecution of Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus to a new level. A rabbinic court, or Sanhedrin, has ruled that a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is no longer considered a Jew for purposes of marriage in Israel. This makes it impossible for two Messianic Jews to get married inside the country. All marriages in Israel are controlled by religious authorities, whether Jewish, Islamic, Christian or Druze, according to laws first handed down under the Ottoman Empire. These laws were retained by the British Mandate and continued after the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The judges wrote that if the couple “declares before the court they have completely given up their Christian beliefs, including their belonging to a Messianic Jewish community and missionary activities, the court will discuss their matter anew.”

Israel

Ambassador Danny Danon announced a “victory for Israel in the Security Council” regarding the adoption of a new resolution forcing the UN peacekeeping mission to act against Hezbollah’s buildup. According to the decision made upon the annual renewal of this mandate, UNIFIL, the UN’s peacekeeping mission, is now required to expand its reports to the Security Council and take deliberate action against Hezbollah’s violations. UNIFIL’s presence on the ground will increase significantly, and troops will be required to tour the Hezbollah-controlled areas of southern Lebanon. UNIFIL must also report all instances of Hezbollah’s violations and attempts to deny access immediately. “This is a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation in southern Lebanon and expose the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah set up on the border with Israel,” Danon stated.

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) secured a massive federal court victory this week in the most significant U.S. federal court case in defense of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state ever undertaken. Just over a year ago a group of Palestinian activists, led by the head of a family of notorious terrorists, Bassem al-Tamimi, filed a $34.5 billion dollar lawsuit in federal court against numerous organizations that support the State of Israel. This lawsuit was meant to accomplish in court what the terrorists could never do themselves – eliminate the Jewish State, or at the very least weaken and frighten her supporters into submission. The ACLJ sent a senior team of lawyers to defend these claims. Working with the other law firms representing other clients, they filed numerous responses including a motion to dismiss the case. Friday, the federal court issued an opinion that dismissed the case. The court noted that it lacks jurisdiction to hear this case, including the fact that the lawsuit is “replete with non-justiciable political questions.”

North Korea

U.S., Japanese and South Korean warplanes carried out a show of force against North Korea. Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets from the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, joined four South Korean jets and two Japanese warplanes for the exercises Wednesday. During the 10-hour mission, the U.S. and Japanese warplanes flew over waters near Kyushu in western Japan before the American and South Korean aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced their attack capabilities with live-fire in a training area.

Russia

The Trump administration has ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia, the State Department said Thursday. Last month, Russia demanded that the U.S. diplomatic presence there be reduced by hundreds of people. In retaliation, the State Department has ordered the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures must be complete by Saturday. The diplomatic reprisals underscore the continued deterioration of relations between the nuclear-armed nations, with more acts of payback likely to come. And they appear to place President Trump’s hopes for closer ties with Russia further out of reach, notes the Washington Post.

Germany

The U.S. and U.K. blanketed Germany with at least 1.3 million tons of bombs during World War II, and as much as 10% of that never exploded. The Smithsonian reported in 2016 that more than 2,000 tons of unexploded munitions are found in the country annually. That would make the discovery of an unexploded bomb in Frankfurt this week relatively unsurprising—if not for its sheer size. The 2-ton bomb is an HC 4000 and has the ability to impact buildings more than half a mile away. Its discovery has spurred what Deutsche Welle reports is the biggest evacuation since the end of WWII: Some 70,000 people, or roughly 10% of the city’s population, will need to leave their Frankfurt homes on Sunday.

Iraq

Iraqi forces have seized the strategically important town of Tal Afar from ISIS, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday. An operation to retake the northwestern town, captured by the extremists on June 16, 2014, began 10 days ago. Tal Afar was the last town still under the control of ISIS militants in Iraq’s Nineveh province following the liberation of Mosul, about 45 miles to the east. Al-Abadi also issued a warning to any fighters for ISIS, also known as Daesh, who remain in Iraq. “We say to the criminals of Daesh: Wherever you are, we are coming for liberation, and you have no choice but to die or surrender.”

India

India’s economy is having a difficult year. The South Asian nation’s gross domestic product grew 5.7% in the quarter ended June, the government said Thursday. That’s a big drop from the quarter before and much slower than the 7.1% growth it recorded in the same period last year. It’s the weakest rate of growth in three years. The slowdown has ended India’s claim to be the world’s fastest-growing major economy and is being blamed on big reforms introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including last year’s sudden ban on 86% of the country’s cash, and the recent introduction of a national goods and services tax.

Kenya

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned the result of last month’s presidential election and ordered a new vote within 60 days. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, which the court said came about due to an unfair vote, was declared null and void. It is the first time a presidential election result in East Africa’s economic hub has ever been nullified. Members of the opposition danced and cheered with joy in the streets after the ruling. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, said they felt vindicated. The six-judge bench at the country’s top court ruled 4-2 in favor of a petition by Odinga, who claimed that electronic voting results were hacked in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga’s lawyer said a scrutiny of the forms used to tally the votes had anomalies affecting nearly 5 million votes.

Wildfires

Numerous wildfires continue to plague drought-stricken eastern Montana, Washington and Oregon. Thirty-one large (over 100 acres) wildfires are currently burning in Montana, having already consumed over 363,000 acres. Twenty-three large fires are burning in Washington and Oregon, with over 372,000 acres already torched. The weather forecast is for mostly dry conditions, making the task for thousands of firefighters much more difficult.

Wildfires ravaging parts of California have triggered evacuations in the southern part of the state, while fires further north prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an emergency declaration. At least 200 homes remain under evacuation orders Saturday as a large wildfire threatened to destroy structures in the Sunland-Tujunga area of northern Los Angeles. Flames jumped over highways Friday night as firefighters worked to corral the blaze, which was fueled by dry, windy conditions. As of early Saturday, the fire burned through about 1,500 acres and is now 10 percent contained. Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday in Trinity County north of San Francisco due to the Helena Fire, which has burned 8 square miles and is 0 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

Weather

Nearly all waterways in and around Houston have crested and water is starting to recede, the Harris County Flood Control District said Wednesday. The piece of good news for flood-battered Houston came hours after Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall just west of Cameron, La. Harvey dropped substantial amounts of rain on Louisiana before moving on to Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri. Tropical Storm Harvey has broken the all-time contiguous U.S. rainfall record from a tropical storm or hurricane, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. East of Highlands, the Cedar Bayou gauge has picked up 51.88 inches of rain from Harvey, the weather service said. This broke the record of 48 inches set in Medina, Texas, from Amelia in 1978. It’s just under the all-time U.S. rainfall record from a tropical cyclone, which was 52 inches in Hawaii from Hurricane Hiki in 1950.

Tuesday night into Wednesday, torrential rainfall triggered massive flooding in the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, with reports of water in homes. Jack Brooks Regional Airport, near Port Arthur, picked up a staggering 26.03 inches of rain Tuesday alone, more than doubling their previous calendar-day rainfall record from September 1963. Their total since Saturday is an incredible 43.27 inches of rain. The Neches River at Beaumont is expected to reach record flood levels by late in the week, topping the Oct. 22, 1994 record crest, flooding numerous homes in northeast Beaumont and Rose City. Beaumont, Texas, has lost its water supply, city officials say, due to flooding on the Neches River. Residents in Beaumont, Texas, waited in lines that stretched for more than a mile Friday for bottled water after flooding on the Neches River knocked out the city’s water utility system. The Houston Independent School District announced Wednesday all students will eat all school meals for free during the 2017-2018 school year thanks to the USDA waiving eligibility rules. The storm impacted more than 1 million students in 244 public and charter school districts statewide, the Texas Education Agency said. At least 16 hospitals in Texas are closed due to flooding as of Wednesday.

Thursday, significant flash flooding was reported in parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Nashville metro area, from Harvey’s remnants. Numerous roads were closed and county schools were closed Friday in Simpson County, Kentucky. Harvey’s long-lived odyssey of rain is in its final chapter, spreading heavy rain into the Ohio Valley Friday, potentially triggering additional flash flooding. Although rain has come to an end in flood-ravaged southeast Texas, rivers will remain high for days to come as recovery efforts continue. A confirmed tornado caused minor injuries and left behind damage Thursday in Alabama as flooding prompted officials in Tennessee and Kentucky to urge some residents to evacuate.

Tropical Storm Lidia has resulted in four deaths in Mexico and it continues to bring the threat of flooding rain, strong winds and some storm-surge flooding. Lidia made landfall on the Baja California Peninsula west of La Paz Friday morning and will continue to impact the region into this weekend. The remnants of Lidia may also bring a few showers and thunderstorms in the Desert Southwest and coastal areas of California later this weekend.

Signs of the Times (8/24/17)

August 24, 2017

Earthquake Hits Yellowstone During Solar Eclipse, Eruption Feared

As tens of thousands of people gathered in Yellowstone National Park Monday morning to witness the once-in-a-century solar eclipse, the area was hit by a 3.2 magnitude earthquake. This recent tremor, though not large, is part of an ongoing series of quakes that began June 12. Experts believed the unusually large swarm of earthquakes would gradually die down but by the beginning of August, over 1,400 minor tremors had been recorded at the site.  Monday’s tremor, following a 2.5 magnitude quake at 7:23 PM Sunday night, indicates that the earthshaking problem is unlikely to simply go away. Should the super-volcano erupt, the threat to the Earth, said NASA scientist Brian Wilcox, “is substantially greater than an asteroid or comet threat.” As a result, scientists are investigating how to cool off the seismic hotspot in order to prevent a catastrophic super-eruption. NASA announced this week that it is working on plans to drill six miles down into the volcanically active region and pump water into the magma at high pressures. The water would return to the surface at 662 degrees Fahrenheit, bringing some of the volcano’s heat with it. The project is massive, estimated to cost $3.46 billion, and admittedly risky, possibly setting off a massive eruption.

Kindergarten Teacher Holds Transgender Transition Celebration

A number of angry parents are considering legal action after a charter school kindergarten teacher staged what one critic calls a transgender “transition ceremony” in class for a five-year-old boy without informing parents beforehand. Parents only found out what happened from their kids, says Jonathan Keller of the California Family Council, a Focus on the Family-founded group that’s advising the parents. But Rocklin Academy Schools has countered that it didn’t have to tell parents about the transgenderism lesson that has left a number of five-year-olds shaken and disturbed. Because gender identity isn’t sex education, the administration said, it’s not subject to California’s parental consent and opt-out laws, reported Fox40News. Moreover, the school said that gender identity and gender expression are prohibited grounds for discrimination in the state. Not to accept a five-year-old “trans girl” could leave the Sacramento-area charter school board open to lawsuits.

‘Free Speech’ Rally Fizzles as Thousands of Counter-Protesters Swarm Boston

By their sheer numbers, thousands of anti-racist protesters marching through downtown Boston on Saturday effectively prevented conservative activists from mounting a “Free Speech Rally” in the aftermath of deadly clashes last week in Virginia. Only a handful of rally-goers, some wearing red “Make America Great Again” Trump caps, appeared to navigate their way through waves of marchers pouring into the Boston Common area, where the “Boston Free Speech” event was planned. During a post-rally press conference, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans thanked the mostly peaceful protesters and police officers. “I’m just fortunate that none of the officers got hurt, none of the public got hurt,” said Evans, speaking with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh behind him. “Overall it was a good day for our city in that we won’t tolerate hatred and bigotry. People came out to say Boston is united.” President Donald Trump went clearly conciliatory towards the counter-protestors on Twitter, a sharp contrast to previous comments following the Virginia protests last weekend. “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!” Trump wrote.

Rise of Antifa Alarms Free-Speech Advocates

Even those who despise neo-Nazis are worried about the rise of the “antifa,” the masked protesters whose stock rose after they took on white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, reports the Washington Times. The antifa, which stands for “anti-fascists,” may be the sworn enemies of Nazism and racism, but the radical left-wing protesters also aren’t fans of the First Amendment, having shut down scheduled speeches by conservatives Milo Yiannapoulos and Ann Coulter earlier this year in Berkeley, California. The guiding principle behind the movement, which has its roots in prewar Europe, is to defeat “fascists” before they can gain a foothold in government and society in order to avoid another Nazi Germany. If that means using threats, intimidation and even violence to muzzle so-called “fascists,” then so be it, said Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” which is scheduled for release Sept. 12. “Antifa are anarchists and communists and socialists who are revolutionaries and don’t have any inherent regard for the law,” said Mr. Bray, a visiting scholar at the Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth College.

Protesters at Trump’s Phoenix Rally Used Gas Canisters, Rocks to Assault Police

A group of anti-Trump demonstrators used gas canisters, rocks and bottles to assault police Tuesday night and create havoc at what officials said was mostly a peaceful protest in Phoenix. Video captured by a local reporter also shows a smoking object being thrown at police while hundreds of officers attempted to keep order at a rally after President Trump’s speech at the Phoenix Convention Center had ended. “A very small number of individuals chose criminal conduct,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told reporters late Tuesday. The individuals broke down fencing and “at one point, dispersed gas into and at the police officers,” Williams said. The violence resembled the mayhem perpetrated by Antifa groups, militant far-left “anti-fascist” groups that have protested Trump at other venues.

Federal Judge Again Throws Out Texas Voter ID Law

A federal judge Wednesday rejected Texas’ revised voter identification requirements, handing another court defeat to the state’s Republicans over voting rights. Texas has spent years fighting to preserve both the voter ID law — which was among the strictest in the U.S. — and voting maps that were both passed by GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011. Earlier this month, a separate federal court earlier found racial gerrymandering in Texas’ congressional maps and ordered two of the state’s 36 voting districts to be partially redrawn before the 2018 elections. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos rejected a watered-down version of the voter ID law that was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. The judge’s new ruling came three years after she struck down the earlier version of the law. The new version was supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which once opposed the law but has reversed its position since President Donald Trump took office. Judge Ramos said Texas didn’t go far enough with its changes and said that criminal penalties Texas attached to lying on the affidavit could have a chilling effect on voters who, fearful of making an innocent mistake on the form, simply won’t cast a ballot.

DOJ Ends Obama’s Choke Point Program

The Trump Justice Department is ending an Obama-era program that had attempted to cut off credit to shady businesses but came under fire from Republicans for unfairly targeting gun dealers and other legitimate operations. Just days after top House Republicans had pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shutter Operation Choke Point, the department confirmed in a response letter that the program is dead. “All of the Department’s bank investigations conducted as part of Operation Chokepoint are now over, the initiative is no longer in effect, and it will not be undertaken again,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in the Aug. 16-dated letter, calling it a “misguided initiative” from the prior administration.

Spanish Police Kill Suspected Terrorist Van Driver

All terror suspects identified as part of the 12-person extremist cell responsible for coordinating the deadly Spain attacks last week, including a former imam, are either dead or under arrest, authorities said Monday. The man thought to be the driver in the Barcelona van attack was shot dead by Spanish police Monday after authorities announced he also was suspected of killing the owner of a hijacked getaway car. The fugitive was wearing a bomb belt, authorities said. Younes Abouyaaqoub was shot when officers confronted him in Subirats, a rural area known for its vineyards about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Barcelona. Abouyaaqoub, 22, had been the target of an international manhunt that had raised fears throughout the region since last Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona. Authorities said Monday they now have evidence that Abouyaaqoub drove the van that plowed down the city’s famed Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13 pedestrians and injuring more than 120 others. They said Abouyaaqoub, who was born in Morocco and has Spanish residency, also is suspected of carjacking a man and stabbing him to death as he made his getaway, raising the death toll between the Barcelona attack and a related attack hours later to 15. Another vehicle attack occurred early Friday by other members of what Catalonia regional police have described as a 12-member extremist cell killed one person and wounded several others in the coastal town of Cambrils. That ended in a shootout with police, who killed five attackers.

6 Police Officers Shot in Florida and Pennsylvania

Six police officers were shot overnight during separate incidents Friday in Florida and Pennsylvania. Officer Matthew Baxter was shot and killed while responding to a suspicious activity call Friday evening in Kissimmee, Florida. Officer Sam Howard was shot during the same incident and died Saturday afternoon. Two other officers were shot with a high-powered rifle while responding to reports of an attempted suicide late Friday night about 200 miles away in Jacksonville. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, two state troopers were shot Friday evening outside a store in Fairchance, a borough of around 2,000 about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. Both officers survived but the suspect did not. A total of 135 police officers died while on the job last year, according to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. More than 900 civilians were shot and killed by police during that same span, according to The Washington Post.

Blacks & Hispanics More Under-Represented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis. The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans. More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened. Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions. Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Persecution Watch

Pakistan is one of the most pernicious persecutors of Christians ever, reports the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). Pakistani Christians are tortured, raped, and burned alive. Some are falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to execution by hanging because of their faith. Others face mob violence and governmental abuse and injustice. “Despite the increasing extremism, the Pakistani government persistently fails to protect Christians from violence or bring its perpetrators to justice. Even worse the government of Pakistan itself is one of the world’s worst jihadist persecutors of Christians. Yet it receives the most U.S. foreign aid of any nation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “fake hate” threat against Liberty Counsel and all pro-faith, pro-family Americans is escalating by the day. Apple’s announcement of a $1 million gift to the SPLC has further proliferated the SPLC’s attack campaign. J.P. Morgan — the nation’s largest bank — just announced it was donating $500,000 to SPLC, and yesterday, George Clooney through his foundation is donating $1 million. Apple has also enabled direct donations through its iTunes store, funneling potentially millions more to SPLC for its attacks. “These “endorsements” are further cementing the SPLC as the clearinghouse of the radical Left’s purge campaign that includes marginalizing people of faith and pro-family groups,” notes Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

Last week, CNN listed the American Family Association as a “hate group” which could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way. After much outcry from AFA supporters and other pro-family organizations, CNN has since issued a correction and removed AFA from its website. However, CNN continues to link to the Southern Poverty Law Center website which still falsely lists AFA as a “hate group.” “While AFA wants CNN to fully retract the story, it is a positive sign that our voices are being heard.”

Economic News

Americans retreated from buying homes in July as sales sank 1.3% to their lowest level of the year. The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes slipped 1.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million. Despite the second straight monthly drop, sales are 2.1% higher than a year ago. But purchases are starting to slow as fewer properties are coming onto the market. The number of existing homes listed for sale has plunged 9 percent over the past 12 months to 1.92 million properties. This steep drop in inventory has led to prices consistently climbing faster than wages.

The delivery economy is growing so fast that government statistics seem unable to keep up. Food delivery, once largely limited to pizza and Chinese takeout, has exploded. The idea that virtually the entire world of retail and dining is available to consumers at home with a few taps of their smartphone keys has given rise to armies of delivery people, with announcements about new delivery options coming weekly. DoorDash, which started four years ago with only a few drivers, now has 100,000 “dashers.”  Postmates started in 2011 with only a few hundred delivery people and now has more than 65,000, reports USA Today. Pizza Hut announced it would hire 14,000 delivery drivers. Walmart is working with Uber to create a delivery service. Mobile delivery and take out accounted for 60% of all restaurant traffic in 2016.

Sears Holdings said Thursday that it would close another 28 Kmart locations as it continues its cost-cutting campaign amid a precipitous decline in the department-store sector. The Kmart closures add to a list of 330 Sears or Kmart locations shuttered or set to be closed later this year as the retailer seeks stability. Kohl’s said Tuesday that it is cutting floor space in “nearly half” of its stores as the department-store sector reels in competition with Amazon and nimble fast-fashion retailers. Unlike competitors Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Kohl’s has avoided major rounds of closures in recent years despite struggles for department stores.

Islamic State

A week after a terrorist van attack in Barcelona, Spain, left 15 people dead and more than 100 injured, the Islamic State released a video warning more attacks were imminent in the Iberian Peninsula. In the video, two ISIS fighters are heard speaking in Spanish proclaiming that Al Andalus, a region in central and southern Spain once controlled for more than five centuries by Muslims, would once against become “part of the caliphate.” “If you can’t make the hegira [journey] to the Islamic State, carry out jihad where you are; jihad doesn’t have borders,” one of the men says. “Spanish Christians: Don’t forget the Muslim blood spilled during the Spanish Inquisition,” Muhammad Ahram said in the video. “We will take revenge for your massacre, the one you are carrying out now against the Islamic State.”

At least 11 people have been beheaded in southern Libya following an attack apparently carried out by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Nine fighters loyal to the Libyan National Army (LNA), the force aligned with Libya’s eastern government, and two civilians were executed following an assault on a checkpoint 300 miles south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in Jufra. The onslaught against the LNA forces, under the command of Gaddafi-era General Khalifa Haftar, comes as Libyan military sources warn ISIS is regrouping following catastrophic defeats in December 2016. The Times of London reported there were now believed to be 1,000 ISIS fighters in Libya.

Although Islamic State is losing fighters and territory in Iraq and Syria, it remained the world’s deadliest militant organization last year and the number of its attacks actually increased, according to a report from the University of Maryland. Islamic State operatives carried out more than 1,400 attacks last year and killed more than 7,000 people, representing a roughly 20% increase over 2015, according to the university’s Global Terrorism Database. The increase occurred even as overall militant attacks worldwide and resulting deaths fell about 10% in 2016.

North Korea

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on 16 mainly Chinese and Russian companies and people for assisting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and helping the North make money to support those programs. The Treasury Department says the penalties are intended to further isolate North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests. The 16 do business with previously sanctioned companies and people, work with the North Korean energy sector, help it place workers abroad or evade international financial curbs. The measures block any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from transactions with them.

Afghanistan

America’s longest war is going to get longer after President Trump late Monday outlined a strategy for the U.S. military in Afghanistan that gives the Pentagon the authority to increase troop levels and “fight to win” the nearly 16-year-old conflict. In a televised address, Trump admitted his initial instinct was to withdraw U.S. forces from the country. Instead, he unveiled a “path forward” mostly at odds with what he had been saying about Afghanistan for years. In his address Monday night, he conceded that troop withdrawal could lead to a security vacuum filled by terrorist groups including the Islamic State. The President is giving the Pentagon authority to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan by several thousand, but said they would not divulge actual troop numbers. The president’s decision, several officials said, was less a change of heart than a weary acceptance of the case made by military leaders during months of debate. “This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, the aim being to get them to the negotiating table.

Yemen

After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years. Yemen has long been the Arab world’s poorest country and suffered from frequent local armed conflicts. The most recent trouble started in 2014, when the Houthis, rebels from the north, allied with parts of the Yemeni military and stormed the capital, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations launched a military campaign aimed at pushing back the Houthis and restoring the government. The campaign has so far failed to do so, and the country remains split between Houthi-controlled territory in the west and land controlled by the government and its Arab backers in the south and east. Many coalition airstrikes have killed and wounded civilians, including strikes on Wednesday around the capital. The bombings have also heavily damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, including a crucial seaport and important bridges as well as hospitals, sewage facilities and civilian factories.

Brazil

Brazil has opened a massive swath of the Amazon to mining. The government has abolished a reserve that straddles the northern states of Pará and Amapá, a move that opens the vast area to mineral exploration and commercial mining. The reserve, which was established in 1984, covers 18,000 square miles, an area twice the size of New Jersey. The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history. Brazil said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands. An official report from 2010 said that up to two-thirds of the reserve is subject to such protections.

Earthquakes

Two people were killed and at least 39 were injured when a 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian island of Ischia Monday night. Firefighters worked overnight and into Tuesday morning to rescue three young brothers trapped under the rubble of a collapsed structure, and all three were removed from the building alive. The temblor was recorded at a depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The resort island is located just off Naples.

Wildfires

Hundreds of people in Oregon near the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse were ordered to evacuate Friday as a raging wildfire closed in. The late afternoon order threatened to create more tie-ups on rural and narrow roads already expected to be burdened with up to 200,000 visitors coming to the area from all over the world to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse. About 1 million people are expected in Oregon, where the moon’s shadow first makes landfall in the continental U.S. About 600 residents were told to leave the tourist town of Sisters, Oregon, and authorities said Saturday another 1,000 people had been told to be ready to leave if necessary. No structures had been lost and no injuries have been reported since the fire began last week.

In California, authorities issued an evacuation order for the small town of Wawona as a week-old fire in Yosemite National Park grew and air quality reached a hazardous level. The U.S. Forest Service said the fire grew to more than 4 square miles overnight due to winds from thunderstorms. Authorities ordered people to leave as air quality was expected to worsen. The fire has closed campgrounds and trails in the national park since it began a week ago.

Weather

The Trump administration disbanded a 15-person advisory committee that helped communicate scientific climate change findings to businesses and government officials. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acting chief Ben Friedman notified the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment that its charter would not be extended after its expiration on Sunday. Members of the committee lambasted the Trump Administration’s decision to dissolve the advisory committee. The move by the Trump administration was the latest roll-back of Obama-era climate change protection and adaptation policies. Last week, the Trump administration revoked an executive order that required strict building standards for all federal building projects to better prepare for sea level rise flooding. Earlier this year, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord and cancel payments to the Green Climate Fund.

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages. But to the scientists from Woods Hole Research Center who have come to Alaska to study the effects of climate change, the most urgent is the fate of permafrost, the always-frozen ground that underlies much of the state. The permafrost is no longer permanent. Temperatures three feet down into the frozen ground are less than half a degree below freezing. Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, the premafrost contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

A “quickly strengthening” Tropical Storm Harvey is now forecast to become a “major hurricane” before making landfall on the Texas coast and bring “life-threatening flooding” to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are now 65 mph, but is forecast to grow into a “major hurricane” when it approaches the middle Texas coast on Friday, according to the NHC. Harvey is forecast to make landfall late Friday night or early Saturday morning along the south-central Texas coast, possibly as a Category 3 storm with winds upwards of 115 mph.

Typhoon Hato killed at least 16 people in Macau and southern China. Another 153 were injured amid extensive flooding and power outages. Flooding and injuries were also reported in Hong Kong, which lies across the water 40 miles from Macau, but there were no reports of deaths. Hato’s fierce gales blew out windows on skyscrapers in the Asian financial capital, raining shattered glass onto the eerily quiet streets below. Hong Kong’s weather authorities had raised the hurricane signal to the highest level for the first time in five years.

Signs of the Times (8/2/17)

August 3, 2017

Transgenders Suicide Attempts Approach 50%, Called Unfit for Military

Suicide attempts among transgenders from 18-24 years-of-age is 45%, according to a joint report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute. Some military officials believe these statistics make them unfit for military service. With suicide rates already increasing in U.S. military ranks, banning transgenders from the military would actually save many lives, they believe. Regardless, the gay rights movement and liberal media erupted in protest of the President Trump’s proposed ban on transgenders in the military, and some activists are counting on Pentagon leaders to buck their commander-in-chief and keep the status quo.

However, more than a dozen retired generals and admirals have signed a letter to President Trump thanking him for his announced policy to ban transgender people from the armed forces. “We write today to express our gratitude to you for making the extremely courageous decision to reverse President Obama’s transgender social experiment,” the conservative retired flag officers wrote. “There may be an enormous amount of vitriol directed at you for making this policy correction, but please know that overturning this policy may have done more in the long-term to save the culture and war-fighting capacity of the U.S. military than perhaps any other military policy you will adopt as president.”

A decision on whether to allow transgender recruits is pending after Defense Secretary Mattis pushed a July 1 deadline to the end of the year. He ordered the services to study the current effect of transgender troops on readiness. The ban could save American taxpayers nearly $2 billion according to a July report produced by the conservative D.C. think tank Family Research Council. Only 12 percent of military members support transgenders serving, according to the Military Times.

Princeton Asks Students to Pick from Six ‘Genders’

Princeton University is giving its students the option of picking a gender or several genders. The Ivy League’s student services interface, known as TigerHub, allows — but does not require — students to select one or more of the following: “Cisgender,” “Genderqueer/gender non-conform[ing],” “Trans/transgender,” “Man,” “Woman,” and “Other”. “Students use TigerHub to provide the University with personal information on a confidential basis,” a university spokesman told Fox News.  “This information includes emergency contacts, their preferred name, and, if they wish, the gender with which they identify.” Princeton students can presumably choose to be both male and female. “You may select multiple gender identities,” the form reads. “Your gender identity is confidential and is not generally available.” Princeton is not alone. More than 50 colleges or universities allow students to choose their genders without documentation of medical intervention, the Washington Post said. Some schools, such as the University of Michigan, offer students the option of creating their own designated pronouns. In response to that option — and as a protest against it — one undergraduate chose “His Majesty.” Reportedly, some of His Majesty’s professors now address this student with this self-proclaimed title

  • The lunatics have taken over the asylum

President Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Bill, Calls it “Seriously Flawed”

President Trump on Wednesday signed a bill that imposes new sanctions on Russia, ending immediate hopes that he might be able to reset U.S. relations with the Kremlin as Congress overruled his opposition to the provisions’ curb on his executive power. Trump’s reluctant signing of the legislation came nearly a week after it was approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the Senate and after a similarly large majority in the House. The president issued two statements outlining his concerns with the bill, which he called “seriously flawed,” primarily because it limits his ability to negotiate sanctions without congressional approval. “By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President.

Senate Rejects Measure to Partly Repeal Affordable Care Act

Senate Republicans suffered a dramatic failure early Friday in their bid to advance a scaled-back plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, throwing into question whether they can actually repeal the 2010 health law. Their latest effort to redraw the ACA failed after Sen. John McCain’s decision to side with two other Republicans against President Trump and GOP leaders. The Arizona Republican, diagnosed with brain cancer last week, returned to Washington on Tuesday and delivered a stirring address calling for a bipartisan approach to overhauling the ACA, while criticizing the process that produced the current legislation. The vote was 49 to 51 — all 48 members of the Democratic caucus joined with McCain and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to approve the new, narrower rewrite of the health law at some point Friday, after facing dozens of amendments from Democrats. But the GOP defections left McConnell without a clear path forward.

North Korean Missiles Can Now Reach U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lashed out at Russia and China early Saturday, following North Korea’s second test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – and reports that Kim Jong Un’s regime was now capable of striking cities on the U.S. mainland. Kim expressed “great satisfaction” following the ICBM test. The missile traveled 620 miles until landing in waters near Japan. Analysts now believe Pyongyang’s weapons can hit U.S. cities such as Los Angeles or Chicago. Tillerson labeled Russian and China as the “principal economic enablers” of North Korea’s weapons programs, and called on them to ramp up efforts to curb the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang. “All nations should take a strong public stance against North Korea by maintaining and strengthening U.N. sanctions to ensure North Korea will face consequences for its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them,” Tillerson said. The U.S. military on Sunday conducted a successful test of its THAAD anti-ballistic missile system, two days after North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he and President Donald Trump agreed to take further action against North Korea following its latest missile launch. National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster on Saturday agreed to a request from his counterpart in South Korea to start negotiations allowing South Korea to build up its missile capabilities to help counteract North Korea’s growing missile tests and technology, the office of South Korea President Moon Jae-in reports.

Trump Ousts Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump drove out his chief of staff on Friday, replacing Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in an explosive move that ends a turbulent six-month tenure. The announcement came a day after his feud with Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House. With his agenda stalled, President Trump became convinced that Reince Priebus was a “weak” leader and had been lobbied intensely by rival advisers to remove the establishment-aligned Republican, who has long had friction with Trump loyalists, according to White House officials. Priebus this week became President Donald Trump’s sixth senior-level official to leave the administration in the last six months.

“I’m always going to be a Trump fan,” Priebus said afterwards. “I’m on Team Trump and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.” Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general who grew up in Boston, was tapped as the new White House chief of staff on Friday in a stunning announcement by President Trump. Kelly, an Irish Catholic, had a brief stint as secretary of Homeland Security. Before he headed DHS, he had recently ended a long and distinguished career in the military. His last post was as head of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Latin America and the Caribbean. Kelly’s first order of business was to fire the embattled Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director because he “lacked discipline.”

With Fifth Judge Confirmed, Trump Outpaces Obama and Bush

President Trump may be facing a roadblock on the rest of his nominees — but he’s outpacing his predecessors when it comes to getting federal judges confirmed, with his fifth court pick approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Alabama lawyer Kevin Christopher Newsom was confirmed to a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 66-31 vote, with 16 Democrats joining the GOP. He’s the third circuit judge approved so far, and combined with one district judge and Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, puts the president and the GOP-led Senate well ahead of past Presidential judicial appointments. By comparison, President Obama had zero judges confirmed in his first six months and it took him until November of 2009 to get three circuit court nominees cleared through the Senate. President George W. Bush had one circuit judge and two district judges confirmed by August of his first term.

Professional Hackers Breached Dozens of Voting Machines Within Minutes

Professional hackers were invited to break into dozens of voting machines and election software at this year’s annual DEFCON cybersecurity conference. They successfully hacked every single one of the 30 machines acquired by the conference, Politico reported. Carten Schurman, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, was able to break into one voting machine in just a few minutes. With access to the voting machine, Schurman had the the power not only to see all the votes cast on the machine, but also to manipulate the results. DEFCON’s hacking exercise came as the U.S. grapples with the fallout from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which included attempts to tamper with voting systems. Bloomberg reported in June that election systems in as many as 39 states could have been attacked by Russian state actors, though voting tallies are not believed to have been altered or manipulated in any way.

First Human Embryo Editing in U.S. Fixes Gene for Heart Condition

Scientists have successfully edited the DNA of human embryos to erase a heritable heart condition that is known for causing sudden death in young competitive athletes, cracking open the doors to a controversial new era in medicine. This is the first time gene editing on human embryos has been conducted in the United States. The embryos were allowed to grow for only a few days, and there was never any intention to implant them to create a pregnancy. But they also acknowledged that they will continue to move forward with the science, with the ultimate goal of being able to “correct” disease-causing genes in embryos that will develop into babies. The experiment is the latest example of how the laboratory tool known as CRISPR (or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a type of “molecular scissors.” It is pushing the boundaries of our ability to manipulate life, and has been received with both excitement and horror. The most recent work is particularly sensitive because it involves changes to the germ line — that is, genes that could be passed on to future generations.

Researchers Shut Down AI that Invented its Own Language

An artificial intelligence (AI) system being developed at Facebook has created its own language. It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English, reports the Digital Journal. The observations made at Facebook are the latest in a long line of similar cases. In each instance, an AI being monitored by humans has diverged from its training in English to develop its own language. Facebook’s researchers recently noticed its new AI had given up on English. The advanced system is capable of negotiating with other AI agents so it can come to conclusions on how to proceed. The agents began to communicate using phrases that were unintelligible to the researchers. The AI apparently realized that the rich expression of English phrases wasn’t required for it to communicate with other AIs.

Economic News

Oil rose above $50 a barrel early Monday before retreating a bit. While the milestone was brief, it marked the first time since May 25 that oil traded above $50. The development came after crude spiked nearly 9% last week, its biggest weekly rally in nearly a year. Just five weeks ago crude plunged into a bear market, sinking to as low as $42.05 a barrel. It’s now up almost 16% since then. Most of the rebound has been driven by easing fears about the supply glut, but in recent days, oil bulls have also seized on the deepening chaos in Venezuela. Anything that knocks out more oil production in Venezuela, which has the most oil reserves in the world, could lift crude prices.

The Dow climbed above the 22,000 mark for the first time on Wednesday, buoyed by Apple’s healthy quarterly iPhone sales. Apple jumped 4.73 percent to a record high after the world’s largest publicly listed company reported strong results. It is up 36 percent this year. The iPhone maker’s rise helped push the Dow to a record closing high, although tech heavyweights Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet all lost ground following recent strong gains that have made the sector the strongest performer in 2017.

In July, the Dow rose nearly 550 points, or 2.6%, finishing at record highs in four straight sessions. Stocks overall have gotten a lift from strong earnings across Corporate America. Also helping: rebounds in U.S. job growth and second-quarter economic expansion after a sluggish start to the year. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index are collectively on track for profit growth of 10.8%, putting the index on pace for its first back-to-back quarters of 10%-plus earnings growth in six years.

Persecution Watch

A Christian bridal shop in Pennsylvania has closed after feeling threatened by the LGBT community because they declined to provide a wedding dress for a lesbian wedding. The Christian Post reports that the owners of W. W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg refused to provide a wedding dress for Julie Ann Samanas who was marrying her fiance, Shannon Kennedy. The lesbian couple posted about their experience at the bridal shop in a Facebook post in which they tagged the bridal shop. The bridal shop owners received death threats. They have decided to close their doors to further business except in cases of appointments. “We simply ask that we be given the ability to live our lives according to our convictions,” the owners said.

Terrorism Update

A 26-year-old Middle Eastern man wielding a machete killed a man and wounded six other shoppers in a crowded supermarket in Hamburg, Germany, Friday. The jihadist was reported by multiple witnesses to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” before running into the Edeka shop where he stabbed one person and slashed half a dozen others, then tried to run away. But two men who were walking by the store chased after him and wrestled him to the ground, then called the police, who later arrested him.

Australian airports have increased security after police arrested four men on Sunday in connection with a plot to bring down an airplane. Authorities with the counter terrorism force said the plot was “Islamist-inspired,” and because of the sophistication of the plan, it’s believed they may have had help from outside the country. Police raided five homes in the suburbs of Sydney. Dozens of officers in gas masks participated in the raids, and inside at least one home they found likely bomb-making material. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a kitchen mincer was among the items taken by police, and they believe the men intended to smuggle it onto a plane to use as an improvised explosive device.

Middle East

More than 1,000 Jews braved a searing heat wave Tuesday morning to visit the Temple Mount on Tisha b’Av, the saddest date on the Hebrew calendar, while thousands more sat on the floor – a traditional Jewish sign of mourning – at the Western Wall Plaza to commemorate the destruction of ancient Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in the year 70 AD. Four people were arrested when a fight broke out adjacent to the Chain Gate between three Jews and an Arab man as the group left the Mount. Throughout the morning, hundreds of people stood in line adjacent to the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims, to visit the site. There are 11 entrances for Muslims only.

Israel banned Muslim men under the age of 50 from the Temple Mount last Friday on a day that usually draws tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers for Friday prayers. Israeli Police said the ban was introduced after some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the holy site — which is known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews — overnight so they could join protests later. Rosenfeld said the would-be protesters were removed. Clashes erupted Thursday between police and Muslim worshipers shortly after the site in the Old City reopened following an 11-day prayer boycott over metal detectors and other security measures Israel installed at the site, which is administered by Jordan. Israel placed the metal detectors at the entry gates to the Esplanade of the Mosques last week after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli police guards near the shrine on July 14. The detectors sparked mass prayer protests by Muslims outside the Old City and protests by Palestinians elsewhere.

Various polls indicate that 60 to 78 percent of Arabs in East Jerusalem share the same opinion – they prefer to live under an Israeli government. Under Israeli governance the adult illiteracy rate had plummeted to 14 percent. More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, and many more worked in the 2,000 industrial plants that Israel built in the West Bank. Mortality rates fell significantly and life expectancy rose from 48 to 72 years by 2000. Childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated. Since 1995 the Palestinian people have been ruled by the Palestinian Authority government. Whereas Israel had spent millions of dollars dramatically improving public services like electricity, water, roads, universities, and clinics, Palestinian leaders are lining their own pockets with donations from many nations designated to help the Palestinian people. When Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he was worth some $1 billion. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be worth around $100 million, reports IsraelAnswers.com

Russia

Russia seized two American diplomatic properties Friday and ordered the United States Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, the government’s first retaliatory steps against new American sanctions. The move, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a law expanding economic sanctions against Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. The law, mirroring one passed by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, now goes to President Trump for his signature. The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff throughout Russia to 755 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.

Five Russians accused of being hackers have been arrested in a series of American-led raids over the last nine months – all of them grabbed while on vacation across Europe. The arrests come at a moment when relations between Moscow and Washington are tense — at best — and where politicians are grappling with the allegations that Kremlin hackers intervened in the U.S. election in an effort to help President Trump. According to Axios, the arrests also come as Russian security services struck a deal with the country’s cybercriminals that allow them to work as long as they also conduct state-ordered missions.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office over accusations of corruption, delivering a historic ruling that is likely to shift the country’s tumultuous political balance and deal a serious blow to the legacy of a man who helped define the past generation of Pakistani politics. The removal of Mr. Sharif, who was serving his third term in office, comes roughly a year before his term was to end. The verdict means the governing political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, must choose an interim prime minister to replace Mr. Sharif until the next general election, which is scheduled for mid-2018.

Afghanistan

A Shiite mosque in western Afghanistan was stormed during evening prayers Tuesday, torn asunder by grenades and a suicide bomber’s detonated vest, law enforcement officials say. By the time the scene had settled at the place of worship, at least 29 people were killed and dozens more were injured. And local officials say the death toll could still rise. ‘Two attackers entered the mosque and started shooting and throwing grenades at people,’ worshipper Mohammad Adi, who was hospitalized for his wounds after the assault, tells Reuters.

A suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday, causing casualties, the U.S. military said. A military spokesman, would not say how many casualties there were, or provide their nationalities. The NATO mission, known as Resolute Support, “can confirm that a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack did cause casualties,” he said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Somalia

A car bomb blast near a police station in Somalia’s capital has killed at least five people and wounded at least 13 others. The explosion near Waberi police station along the busy Maka Almukarramah road may have been caused by a suicide bomber, police say. Most of the victims were civilians. The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab often carries out similar, deadly bombings in Mogadishu.

Venezuela

The U.S. slammed the elections in Venezuela on whether to grant the country’s ruling party unlimited power Sunday, vowing “strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism.” Venezuelan electoral authorities said on Sunday that more than 8 million people voted to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling socialist party with virtually unlimited powers. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million. Venezuela has an estimated 2.6 million government employees, “suggesting that a large fraction of the votes could have not been voluntary.” U.S. State Department released a statement calling it a flawed election. “The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy,” the State Department said in a statement. The Treasury Department on Monday slapped sanctions on President Maduro, sending a clear signal of the Trump administration’s opposition to his regime.

Wildfires

Montana has become the state most ablaze due to their lingering drought. Five major, Incident 1 (the highest classification) are currently burning across Montana. Over 81% of Montana is officially in drought, with 38% in severe to extreme drought. In total, 15 large (more than 100 acres) wildfires have scorched over 332,000 acres and destroyed 41 structures. Overall in the U.S. there have been fewer wildfires (39,000) to date than the 10-year average of 41,881. However, these fires have burned 5.5 million acres of land, up 45% over the 10-year average of 3.8 million acres.

Weather

A scientific study released Monday said that the Earth’s atmosphere will warm by at least another 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) — regardless of what we do in the future to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The study shows a mere 1% chance that warming could be at or below 1.5 Celsius, which was the target set by the landmark 2016 Paris Agreement. “Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen,” said study lead author Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington. The Paris Agreement of 2016 was signed by 195 countries including the United States to keep global temperature rise less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact earlier this year. A second study, which used different methodology to reach its conclusion, focused on how much warming is already baked in. It said that even if humans could instantly turn off all emissions of greenhouse gases — which will of course not happen — Earth would continue to heat up about 1.3 degrees C by 2100. The second study was also published in Nature Climate Change and was led by Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado.

  • Global warming and extreme weather are prophesied in the Bible for the latter days (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

A blistering heat wave will sear the West Coast this week, threatening some all-time record highs in parts of Oregon and Washington, pushing Seattle toward a rare triple-digit high. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued excessive heat warnings and heat advisories from parts of western and southern Washington to interior portions of southwest California and western Nevada. The peak of the heat wave will likely be Wednesday and Thursday, with highs in the 100s commonplace from California’s Central Valley and western Nevada into Oregon and much of Washington’s lower elevations away from the immediate Pacific coast. Some of the hottest interior locations may even flirt with 110-degree highs.

Heavy rain triggered flooding in several states across the South and mid-Atlantic on Saturday. Water rescues were reported, creeks overflowed onto streets, and some roads were closed. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for parts of northern West Virginia, including Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties. The governor’s office said emergency officials are evacuating some areas and the West Virginia National Guard has been mobilized to help. Ohio County authorities recovered a body that washed up on the Ohio River. In Pennsylvania, the area south of Pittsburgh saw a lot of flood-related activity Friday evening into Saturday morning, with trees and wires down and cars floating in some places along numerous Allegheny County roadways.

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).