Posts Tagged ‘signs of the times’

Signs of the Times (10/17/17)

October 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy Scouts to Allow Girls to Join

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

Federal Judge Blocks Third Version of Trump’s Travel Ban

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

California Governor Stands Up for Religious Freedom

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

California Declares Emergency to Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak

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

Puerto Rico Still Struggling

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

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Largest in World

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

With or Without Obamacare, Insurers are Thriving

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

Drug Industry Derails DEA’s War on Opioids

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

Digital Currencies Shaking Up World Economies

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

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

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

Israeli Aircraft Strike Assad Regime Missile Battery

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

North Korea

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

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

Islamic State

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

Philippines

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

Iraq

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

Afghanistan

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

Somalia

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (10/13/17)

October 13, 2017

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

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

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

Trump Pledges Fealty to Religious Freedom, Traditional Values

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

AG Sessions: Respect Christian Business Owners’ Rights

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

Gay Coffeeshop Owner Kicks Out Christian Group

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

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

Judge Upholds Congressional Prayer Despite Atheist Challenge

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

Trump Refused to Re-Certify Iran Nuclear Agreement

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

Iran’s Nuclear Program Not Halted Says New Report

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

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

Trump Issues Executive Order on Health Care

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

Trump Plans to Immediately Halt Payment of Subsidies to Insurers

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

DOJ Issues ‘Last Chance’ Warning to Sanctuary Cities

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

U.S. to Pull Out of UNESCO

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

Puerto Rico Still Struggling After 3 Weeks

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

Unanswered Questions in Las Vegas Massacre

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Middle East

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

Islamic State

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

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

Afghanistan

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

Philippines

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

Volcanoes

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (10/9/17)

October 9, 2017

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

Former Satanist Shocked Christians Celebrate Halloween

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

Link Between Abortion and Breast Cancer Reported in China

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

Attorney General Issues New Directive on Religious Freedoms

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

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

Just Revealed: ISIS Plot Against NYC Foiled Last Year

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

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

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

Paddock’s Prior Life Details in 2013 Court Deposition

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

White House & NRA Open to Regulations Against Bump Stocks

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

Border-Wall Funding Passes First Hurdle

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

Trump Administration Scrapping Obama-Era Coal Regulations

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

Trump Administration Releases Immigration Demands for DACA Bill

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

The Resistance Rises with Influx of Cash

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

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

Antifa Plotting a Mass Uprising

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

Nobel Peace Prize to Anti-Nuclear Group

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

Economic News

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

Puerto Rico

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

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

Russia

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

Spain

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

Niger

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

Wildfires

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (9/29/17)

September 29, 2017

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

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

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

Trump Releases New Tax Plan

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

Obamacare Repeal Shelved for Now

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

248 U.S. Counties Have More Voters than Residents

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

Moore Wins Republican Senate Primary Despite GOP Opposition

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

Domestic Terrorism Cases Equal to Jihadist Cases

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

Detroit Again the Most Violent City in America

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

Antifa Leader Arrested in Berkley

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

Another Day, Another Cybersecurity Breach

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

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

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

U.S. Withdraws Diplomats from Cuba over Sonic Attacks

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

Australians Request Urgent Prayer for Traditional Marriage

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

Syria

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

Afghanistan

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

Saudi Arabia

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

Austria

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

Spain

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

Uganda

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

Puerto Rico

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

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

St. Thomas

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (9/14/17)

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 (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 (8/9/17)

August 10, 2017

U.N. Security Council Imposes Strong Sanctions Against North Korea

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday imposed sharply increased economic sanctions on North Korea worth one-third of North Korea’s annual $3 billion exports in an effort to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile program. China, which holds enormous financial leverage against North Korea, joined the other members of the council in the 15-0 vote. Nikki Haley, ambassador to the U.N. for the United States, which drafted the resolution, said the vote “put the North Korean dictator on notice” and represented a “strong, united step holding North Korea accountable for its behavior.” The sanctions, which target North Korea’s foreign currency earnings, ban its exports of coal, coal ore, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. It also prohibits countries from increasing the number of North Koreans working abroad and bans new joint ventures with the North as well as any new investment in current joint ventures.

North Korea Vows Revenge & Guam Strike

North Korea vowed Monday to strike the U.S. with “thousands-fold” revenge due to the new sanctions. On Wednesday, North Korea threatened to strike Guam with a missle. The remote island paradise of Guam — a 210-square-mile blot of land in the Pacific — is an unlikely place for a ballistic missile crisis. But the island, considered a vacationer’s dream with crystal-clear waters, fabulous sunsets, white beaches, and near-perfect temperatures, has long been an important strategic U.S. military outpost. And that’s likely why North Korea, located roughly 2,100 miles away to the northwest, has selected it as the focal point of a high-stakes war of words with the United States. North Korea’s military said Wednesday that it is considering operational measures to strike near the U.S. strategic military installations in Guam with its intermediate range ballistic missiles, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is threatening “fire and fury” on North Korea. The President has the authority as Commander-in-Chief to defend the country from threats, and the Executive Branch has used that authority in the past for a range of military actions.

U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Potent but Aging

The U.S. nuclear arsenal of 6,800 warheads is very strong, but aging. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on Wednesday, said, “While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth,” Mattis said in a statement. “The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates. The Congressional Budget Office in February put the price tag of nuclear modernization at $400 billion from now until 2026. The so-called nuclear triad consists of aircraft, missiles and submarines capable delivering nuclear weapons. It underpins U.S. strategy, deterring adversaries from attacking because they would be assured of obliteration. The CBO noted that the Pentagon has not built new nuclear systems since the end of the Cold War, and that the weapons and means to deliver them are nearing the end of their expected life spans. Almost all of them will have to be refurbished or replaced over the next 20 years.

Letting Illegal Immigrants Stay Costs Six Times Deportation

Critics often say it would be far too expensive for the United States to deport all illegal immigrants. But the cost of letting them stay in the country would be much, much higher, according to a new analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies. In fact, it would cost roughly six times as much to allow all current illegal immigrants to live in the U.S. for life than it would to deport them all, the study found. CIS used data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which reported the average cost of a deportation was $10,854 in fiscal year 2016. This figure includes the cost of apprehension, detention and processing. Meanwhile, the average lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) for each illegal immigrant is $65,292. This figure was based on fiscal estimates of immigrants by education level from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Deportation Orders Up 31 Percent under President Trump

Deportation orders have jumped 31 percent this year compared to last year, according to numbers released by the Justice Department. The numbers, released Tuesday, are an indication President Trump is carrying out his pledge to get tough on illegal immigrants. From February 1 to the end of July, there were 57,069 illegal immigrants who were either deported or left voluntarily. That’s a 31 percent increase from the same time period last year, when there were 43,595 deportations or self-deportations. At the same time, those allowed to stay in the U.S. declined by 21 percent. The Justice Department also touted that under Trump, the notoriously backlogged immigration court system has improved.

Trump Endorses Merit-Based System to Cut Legal Immigration by Half

President Trump threw his support Wednesday behind a Senate bill that would cut legal immigration in half and impose a merit-based system, giving preference to English-speaking immigrants who demonstrate job skills and curtailing the traditional pipeline that rewarded extended family ties. Meeting at the White House with Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the bill’s sponsors, the president said the legislation would be the biggest change to immigration policy in 50 years. His aides signaled that they expect it to be a major part of the national debate heading into midterm elections next year. Democrats vowed to resist the changes, and immigrant rights groups said Mr. Trump was catering to “white nationalists” with the proposal, which would slash legal immigration over the next decade from about 1.1 million green cards a year to 500,000.

LA County Admits Registered Voters 144% of Resident Citizens of Voting Age

The Election Integrity Project California provides a list of 11 California counties that have more registered voters than voting-age citizens, reports Judicial Watch. In addition, Los Angeles County officials informed the project that the number of registered voters now stands at a number that is a whopping 144% of the total number of resident citizens of voting age. The Election Integrity Project California, Inc. has joined Judicial Watch, Inc., a non-partisan organization in Washington, D.C., in sending a National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) Section 8 notice of violation letter to California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.

Federal Court Forces Pregnancy Center to Pay for Abortions

In a major defeat for pro-life organizations, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court ruled that a secular pregnancy center must be forced to comply with the Obamacare mandate that forces organizations to pay for drugs that cause abortions. The Supreme Court decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases held that a religious oriented company or organization does not have to comply with the Obamacare mandate and be forced to pay for abortion-causing drugs in their employee health care plans. However, those decisions were limited in scope and did not apply to every kind of pro-life organization or company. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that pro-life organizations that are secular in nature are not entitled to the religious exemption from the mandate even though their consciences compel them to oppose abortion and being forced to pay for abortions.

California Pregnancy Centers Forced to Offer Abortion

Liberty Counsel reports that three California faith-based Crisis Pregnancy Centers are being forced by a new state law to advertise an offer of “immediate free or low-cost… abortion” to their clients. This malicious law, accurately nicknamed the “Bully Bill,” forces them to share a message profoundly at odds with their religious beliefs. The intention of this California law is clearly to promote abortion. But these organizations believe that unborn children are human beings who are sensitive to pain, and deserve life and the opportunity to pursue happiness. “It is an egregious and dangerous overreach of government to demand someone promote the opposite of what they believe. Essentially, the state of California is obligating our clients to participate in the murder of innocents, which should shake every freedom-loving American to the core,” states Liberty Counsel, which is representing these pregnancy centers at no cost. You can contribute to this cause here.

Suicidal Military Members Not Getting Needed Help

Pentagon health care providers failed to perform critical follow-up for many troops diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome who also were at high risk for suicide, according to a new study released Monday by the RAND Corp. Just 30% of troops with depression and 54% with PTSD received appropriate care after they were deemed at risk of harming themselves. The report, commissioned by the Pentagon, looked at the cases of 39,000 troops who had been diagnosed in 2013 with depression, PTSD or both conditions. From 2001 to 2014, about 2.6 million troops have deployed to combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Estimates on how many have been affected by post-traumatic stress vary widely — from 4% to 20%, according to the report. The rate of suicide doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to the Pentagon. It has stabilized but has not diminished. There has been some improvement in mental health care for troops with depression, but more is needed.

Marijuana Use Increases Blood Pressure Death Risk Three-Fold

People who smoke marijuana have a three times greater risk of dying from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug, scientists said on Wednesday. The risk grows with every year of use, says the report from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University in the U.S. The results showed marijuana users had a 3.42-times higher risk of death from hypertension than non-users, and a 1.04 greater risk for each year of use. The findings, from a study of some 1,200 people, could have implications in the United States among other countries. Several states have legalized marijuana and others are moving toward it. It is decriminalized in a number of other countries.

Economic News

The Freedom Foundation sued Seattle Wednesday over its controversial new income tax on the rich, which critics call “an assault” on the law that sets a dangerous precedent.  The tax, passed by the Seattle City Council last month, targets high-income earners as part of what local lawmakers describe as “a new formula for fairness.” The tax measure requires residents to pay a 2.25 percent additional Its passage prompted a court challenge from the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that considers the tax a slippery slope that could open the door to more taxes in the future.tax if they are a single filer and make more than $250,000 annually or file jointly and make more than $500,000. New York City is also considering a “millionaire’s tax” to pay for upgrades to their crumbling subway system.

The U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs last month, continuing a steady pace of job growth this year. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.3 percent, compared with 4.4 percent in June, and wages rose by 2.5 percent from the year before. Average monthly jobs gains this year, which are now at 184,000, are basically in line with the average monthly gains of 187,000 in 2016. After accounting for shifts in population, the level of employment has returned to what it was at in November 2007, before the recession decimated the job market.

The U.S. dollar on Wednesday hit its lowest level against the euro in more than 2-1/2 years on uncertainty over the path of interest rate hikes for the Federal Reserve this year and expectations for European Central Bank hawkishness, Reuters reported. Tepid U.S. inflation along with political turmoil in Washington has lessened the possibility of another Federal Reserve rate hike this year. Improving data in other major economies has also served to push the greenback down nearly 11 percent from January highs, conversely benefiting commodities and emerging markets. President Donald Trump is continuing to proclaim his dislike of a strong dollar, breaking with the traditional practice of presidents not commenting on the American currency. “I like a dollar that’s not too strong,” he said, according to a Wall Street Journal interview transcript.

Toyota and Mazda have announced plans to build a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in the United States that will create as many as 4,000 jobs. The Japanese automakers said in a statement Friday that the facility would be operational by 2021, but did not specify where it would be built. Mazda plans to build new crossover vehicles for the U.S. market at the plant, while Toyota will produce its Corolla model there. The move is likely to be seen as a win for President Trump, who attacked Toyota earlier this year over its plans to build a new factory in Guanajuato, Mexico. He threatened to slap a “big border tax” on Toyota cars if the plant isn’t built in the U.S.

Terrorism Update

The suspected driver who rammed a vehicle into a crowd of soldiers, injuring six of them, in a Paris suburb was arrested Wednesday after he was wounded during a brief standoff with policeThe condition of the man, who was not immediately identified, is unknown at this time. He was arrested hours after a driver rammed a car into a crowd of soldiers, leaving at least three of the six with serious injuries — though they are believed to be non-life threatening.

Twin terror plots, one involving the bombing of a passenger plane and the other a potential poison gas attack, have been described by police as the “most sophisticated” ever attempted on Australian soil. A senior ISIS commander sent parts — including weapons-grade explosives — by air cargo from Turkey with the express aim of constructing an improvised explosive device. The other scheme involved a plan to release a toxic gas in public.

In a weekend attack in Minneapolis, an explosive shattered windows and damaged a room of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in suburban Minneapolis as worshippers prepared for morning prayers. No one was hurt in the blast, which happened around 5 a.m. Saturday. Windows of the imam’s office were shattered, either by the blast or by an object thrown through them. “This is an act of terrorism. This is against the law in America,” Gov. Mark Dayton said at a news conference afterward.

Middle East

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) pounded Gaza overnight Wednesday in response to a rocket attack aimed at the southern city of Ashkelon. The rocket from Gaza landed in an open area in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. There were no injuries. No group has yet claimed responsibility. However, Israel holds Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible for any missiles of other attacks emanating from the Strip. Reports indicate there were at least three injuries caused by the IAF strike, in which recently acquired F-35 stealth fighter jets were reportedly used, according to the Jerusalem Post.

North Korea

Hyeon-soo Lim, the Korean Canadian church leader sentenced to life in prison with hard labor, was freed, Aug. 9, “on sick bail,” says a North Korean state news agency. Convicted in Dec. 2015 by the country’s Supreme Court of numerous charges, including an attempt to overthrow the government, he had been detained in North Korea since February 2015. His release comes weeks after 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier died at home, a week after he had been belatedly freed after his 15-month detention for stealing a small flag from his Pyongyang hotel. This still leaves three Korean-Americans detained in North Korea, two of whom taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Another was involved with work in orphanages.

Afghanistan

As the United States winds down the Afghan war — the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides — regional adversaries are muscling in, reports the New York Times. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain the dominant players. But Iran is also making a bold gambit to shape Afghanistan in its favor. Over the past decade and a half, the United States has taken out Iran’s chief enemies on two of its borders, the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iran has used that to its advantage, working quietly and relentlessly to spread its influence. “In Iraq, it has exploited a chaotic civil war and the American withdrawal to create a virtual satellite state. In Afghanistan, Iran aims to make sure that foreign forces leave eventually, and that any government that prevails will at least not threaten its interests, and at best be friendly or aligned with them.”

Two U.S. service members were wounded Thursday night in a suicide attack that left one Georgian soldier dead and three Georgians and an Afghan interpreter wounded in Qarabagh District, in Kabul Province. In addition, two Afghan civilians were killed and seven were wounded in the attack. It was the second deadly attack last week against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. On Wednesday an attack in Kandahar killed two U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. Four other U.S. Army soldiers were wounded in the same blast.

Yemen

Peter Mauer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) returned from a trip across war-torn Yemen last month, telling Fox News he is “profoundly concerned for the plight of its people.” “This outbreak is manmade. It is a direct consequence of more than two years of warfare. People are dying from easily treatable chronic diseases,” he said. “Key services like garbage disposal have ceased to function.” Maurer also stressed that thousands of people have been detained by parties to the conflict, languishing in prison unable to contact their loved ones. “The suffering of its people only grows in intensity. I’ve met families forced to make impossible choices about whether to buy bread, water or medicine for their children.”

Venezuela

Venezuela remained a powder keg on Sunday as authorities said they had quelled an anti-government paramilitary attack at a military base that led to the deaths of two people. Sunday’s incident came amid daily anxiety in the South American nation, where the economic hardship and bloody political turmoil that had roiled the country for months came to a head last week when the Constituent Assembly was voted into office, taking the place of the opposition-led National Assembly. Authorities said the early-morning rebellion, which took place at a military base in Valencia, about 95 miles west of Caracas, was swiftly contained. The Trump administration recently hit Venezuela with sanctions and threatened more if Maduro goes through with rewriting the constitution.

Venezuela’s newly elected constitutional assembly convened Friday. Critics say it will be used by President Nicolas Maduro to impose authoritarian rule. Maduro, who faces a worsening economic crisis despite Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves (largest in the world), sought the new assembly as a friendly body that would bypass the opposition-controlled Congress and rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. The Assembly held its first session Saturday. In its first order of business, the assembly unanimously fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz. Her removal from office happened after she said she would open an investigation into fraud allegations surrounding last Sunday’s election. But Ortega, speaking Sunday at Caracas’ Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, sloughed off the exercise. “I will continue being the attorney general of this country,” she told reporters.

Earthquakes

A powerful 6.5 magnitude earthquake killed at least 19 people and injured 247 in central China. The tremor struck one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions – a national park in a mountainous region. Crews continued to dig through rubble with their hands and detectors to search for remaining survivors, but the task was made more difficult by power outages and phone networks knocked offline by the Tuesday night quake. Many of the deaths and injuries were in Zhangzha township, not far from Jiuzhai Valley National Park, known for towering waterfalls and karst formations attractive to both visitors from China and elsewhere. President Xi Jinping called for rapid efforts to respond to the disaster, which struck a quake-prone region bordered by Sichuan and Gansu provinces. The area is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Wildfires

Just two weeks ago, the Mount Jefferson area was expected to be among Oregon’s most popular places to view the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.  But with the Whitewater Fire continuing to expand, U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday closed a large swath of land surrounding Oregon’s second tallest mountain through eclipse day. The closure includes almost 185 square miles of roads, trails and mountains in and around the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Tens of thousands of backpackers were expected to visit the Jefferson and Detroit Lake areas because they are smack in the middle of the eclipse’s path of totality. The Whitewater Fire was at almost 9 square miles Tuesday and is expected to continue growing, perhaps to the north or southwest, officials said. None of it has been contained.

Weather

Tropical Storm Franklin gained strength Wednesday to become a Category 1 hurricane — with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The first Atlantic hurricane of the season, Franklin is expected to make landfall Wednesday night in the Mexican state of Veracruz, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was in the Bay of Campeche, in the far southern Gulf of Mexico, when it was classified as a hurricane Wednesday afternoon. Earlier, when it was still a tropical storm, Franklin made landfall on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The storm battered Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula with heavy rain and strong winds.

Parts of New Orleans saw widespread flooding over the weekend after heavy rainfall overwhelmed the city’s pump stations. City officials said Sunday that some neighborhoods saw between 8 and 10 inches of rain over a few hours Saturday. With more heavy rain predicted for Monday afternoon, the city’s pumping capacity could be overwhelmed again.

A relentless heat wave that has been dubbed “Lucifer” has gripped parts of Europe this week, killing at least 2 people in Romania. Temperatures soared to record highs for several days. Unprecedented heat in parts of France, Italy, Spain and the Balkans has sparked dozens of wildfires and damaged crops. Authorities issued traffic restrictions in some areas and banned outdoor work during the hottest part of the day as temperatures soared to over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Red alerts, which are issued when conditions are considered “very dangerous,” were issued for parts of Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Poland. Orange alerts were issued for Spain, southern France, Greece and much of the Mediterranean.

Rescuers in Vietnam have recovered 16 more bodies over the past three days, bringing the death toll from floods in four northern provinces to 23. According to the Central Natural Disasters Committee Sunday, floods have destroyed 228 houses, damaged roads, crops and irrigation system. Nearly 5,000 soldiers, police and residents have been mobilized to search for the missing. Vietnam is prone to floods and storms, which kill hundreds of people each year.

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)