Posts Tagged ‘signs of the times’

Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

June 21, 2017

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

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

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

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

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

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

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

Terror in Brussels

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

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

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

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

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

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

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

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

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

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

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

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

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

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

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

Strong Cultural Divide in America

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Islamic State

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

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

Philippines

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

Britain

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

North Korea

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

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

Wildfires

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (6/2/17)

June 2, 2017

Trump Backs Out of Climate Deal, But Emissions Still Decreasing

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

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

World Leaders Slam Trump Climate Deal Decision

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

State Governors, Businesses Pledge to Honor Paris Climate Accord

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

Billionaires Pledge to Give Away Half Their Wealth

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

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

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

U.S. 114th in World Ranking of Peacefulness

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

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

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

Planned Parenthood Killed 328,348 Babies in 2015

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

Teen Births Hit Historic Low

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

Erotic Drag Show at School District Talent Show

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt

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

Israel

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

Islamic State

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

Afghanistan

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

Iran

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

Philippines

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

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

Brazil

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

Environment

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (5/30/17)

May 30, 2017

Gender Accommodation Causes Turmoil in PA High School

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

No Terror Problems in Countries that Ban Muslim Refugees

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

Appeals Court Refuses to Reinstate Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

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

Brits Fuming Over U.S. Leaks of Manchester Info

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

Trump Chastises Europe for Not Paying Fair Share in NATO

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

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

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

Foreign Leaders Distance Themselves from Trump

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

House Health Care Bill Reduces Premiums, Covers Less

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

Native Americans Worried About Trump’s Budget Cuts

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

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

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

United Kingdom

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

Islamic State

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

Egypt

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

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

Iraq

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

Afghanistan

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

Philippines

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

North Korea

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

Volcanoes

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

Weather

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (5/20/17)

May 20, 2017

Miracle Harvest of Souls Among ISIS Refugees

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

Christianity Growing in North Korea Despite Persecution

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

Planned Parenthood Closing Multiple Abortion Clinics in Iowa

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

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

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

Trump Travels to Middle East as Bombshells Multiply in Washington

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

Defense Secretary Mattis says Trump’s Orders Will Annihilate ISIS

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

Furor Over Trump Leaks to Russians

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

Israeli Intelligence Angry Over Leak

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

Putin Offers to Hand Over Records of Trump-Lavrov Meeting

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

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

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

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

Special Council to Investigate Alleged Russian Campaign Collusion

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

Ransomware Hack Linked to North Korea

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

Factory Wages Too Low to Generate Rust Belt Renaissance

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

Robots to Slash Retail Jobs

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

Economic News

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

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

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

Venezuela

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

Russia

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

Islamic State

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

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

Syria

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

Afghanistan

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

Iran

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

South Sudan

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

Volcanoes

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

Environment

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (5/15/17)

May 15, 2017

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

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

Only 17% of ‘Christians’ Have biblical Worldview

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

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

Rebellion Grows Against Muslim Indoctrination in Public Schools

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

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

Christians in Syria Boiled, Burned, Beheaded

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

Tennessee Passes Strict Anti-Abortion Law

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

Massive Cyberattack Hits as Many as 74 Countries

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

Cyberattack Employed NSA Tools

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

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

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

Trump Appoints Voter-ID Champion to Panel Probing Fraud

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

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Reinstate NC Voter ID Law

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

ICE Arrests 1300 in Anti-Gang Operation

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

Enraged Californians Rebel Against Tax Hike on Cars and Gas

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

Union’s Paywatch Report Ignores High Salaries of Union Bosses

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

More Price Hikes Likely for Obamacare Insurance Markets

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

Economic News

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

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

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

North Korea

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

Russia

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

Syria

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

Venezuela

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

France

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

Earthquakes

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

Weather

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

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

Signs of the Times (5/11/17)

May 11, 2017

Molecular Genetics says Just Two Genders

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

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

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

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

Investigation into Trump’s Russian Ties Intensifies

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

Texas Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

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

Thousands Fleeing Chicago Due to Increased Violence

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

Kentucky on Its Way to Becoming First Abortion-Free State

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

Americans Dissatisfied with Colleges

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

Life Expectancy Varies Widely by County in U.S.

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

Aetna Says Good-Bye to Obamacare

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

Retail Woes Continue

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

Mexico

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

France

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

Middle East

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

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

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

North Korea

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

South Korea

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

Nigeria

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

Afghanistan

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

Venezuela

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times (4/29/17)

April 29, 2017

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

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

Study Finds Educated Christians More Likely to Attend Church

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

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

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

Largest Prayer Meeting in African History Attracts Nearly 2 Million

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

House Passes Short-Term Budget Agreement to Avoid Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Executive Order May Open Up Coastal Areas for Drilling

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

Majority Favor Attack Military Attack Against North Korea

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

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

Islamic State and al Qaeda Talk Merger

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

‘Drugged driving’ Deaths Surpass Drunken Driving Deaths

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

Trump May Take Arizona’s School Tax Credit National

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

Middle East

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

North Korea

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

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Germany

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

Venezuela

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

Wildfires

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

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

Weather

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

Signs of the Times (4/26/17)

April 26, 2017

American Aid Workers Credit Trump for Release from Prison in Egypt

An American woman and her Egyptian husband who were aid workers in Egypt and were imprisoned over allegations of child abuse and trafficking have been released and have arrived back in the U.S. The Washington Examiner reports that Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein had been imprisoned in Egypt for three years. President Trump has reportedly been influential in securing the couple’s release. Hijazi and Hassanein waited in prison while the Obama administration carried out unsuccessful negotiations for their release. A family member of the couple even credited Trump with “personally” stepping in to secure the couple’s safe return to the U.S. Trump hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sissi at the White House on Sunday, and the release of the American couple was reportedly part of that talk.

Congress Faces Looming Government Shutdown by This Weekend

The Senate returned Monday night, and the House returned Tuesday from a two-week recess, leaving just three days when both chambers will be in session to wrangle out a funding agreement. President Trump began to edge away Monday evening from demanding that funding for his promised border wall be included in a must-pass spending bill, reducing the chances of a government shutdown at the end of the week by making clear he’s flexible on that timeline. His earlier demand that it be included represented a significant impasse in budget talks, and the latest comments potentially could pave the way for a bipartisan deal just days ahead of the government shutdown deadline. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed to “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning that the wall does not need to be funded this week, but she said it remains a “very important priority.” Congress is under pressure to pass a $1 trillion spending bill that would pay for government agencies; if the bill fails to pass by midnight Friday, it will trigger a partial government shutdown.

Judge Blocks Trump’s Order to Cut Funding for Sanctuary Cities

President Trump on Wednesday accused political opponents of “judge shopping” in their bid to block some of his signature executive orders and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court – after a federal judge blocked his attempt to cut off sanctuary city funding. That ruling, and another suspending his ban on travel from certain majority-Muslim countries, both involved federal judges in California. The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February upheld a Hawaii judge’s ruling against the travel ban. A District Court judge also based in northern California said Tuesday the Trump administration couldn’t threaten to take away funding from cities that have policies favorable to illegal immigrants. Trump vowed to take the cases to the Supreme Court which has reversed 79 percent of the Ninth Circuit’s cases from 2010-2015, the third highest rate of any circuit court, according to Politifact.

Trump Proposes Corporate Tax Cut, Increase in Standard Deduction

President Trump on Wednesday called for a significant increase in the standard deduction people can claim on their tax returns, potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans, according to two people briefed on the plan. The change is one of several major revisions to the federal tax code that the White House will propose when it provides an outline of the tax-overhaul pitch Trump will make to Congress and the American people as he nears his 100th day in office, reports the Washington Post. Trump will also call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 15 percent, as well as lowering the tax rate for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code. These companies, often referred to as “pass throughs” or S corporations, would become subject to the 15 percent rate proposed for corporations. White House officials think these changes will give Americans and companies more money to spend, expand the economy and create more jobs. Critics, however, say that this ‘trickle down’ economic theory has not worked in the past and will put the government further into debt.

Unprecedented Spike in Homegrown Terrorism

John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, said Tuesday the FBI has open investigations into terrorists in all 50 states. In his first wide-ranging address on the terrorist threat since taking office, Kelly also said there have been at least 37 “ISIS-linked plots to attack our country” since 2013. Kelly said there have been 36 homegrown terrorist cases in 18 states in the past year alone. “We’ve seen an unprecedented spike in homegrown terrorism,” he divulged. “These are the cases we know about – homegrown terrorism is notoriously difficult to predict and control.” Terrorists inside the U.S. are plotting attacks “every single day,” according to the secretary. Those who enter the country undetected pose the biggest threat to the country. “We don’t get to vet them,” Kelly noted. “We don’t know their intentions. We don’t know they’re here. They slip into our country unnoticed, living among us, and we are completely blind as to what they are capable of.”

The New U.S. Housing Crisis

A decade after the Great Recession, there is a new American housing crisis: a flood of people entering the rental market, a trend of nationwide rent prices rising faster than incomes, and a breakdown of the government program designed to bridge the gap. The federal government spends $20 billion each year on that program, distributing Section 8 vouchers that allow people to find housing and have the government pay most of the rent. However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported to Congress that 7.7 million poor American households have severe housing needs. For every 100 low-income households, there are only 39 affordable places to live. Housing authorities across the country have filtered people into lottery systems and waiting lists to handle the demand for Section 8 vouchers, with little way to know how long the wait will be. Some Arizona families wait as long as six years.

New Trump Executive Order Could Undermine National Monuments

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday calling into question the future of dozens of national monuments proclaimed by the last three presidents to set aside millions of acres from development. In asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for an unprecedented review of national monuments, Trump may force a question never before tested in the 111-year history of the Antiquities Act: Whether one president can nullify a previous president’s proclamation establishing a national monument. Trump’s executive order takes aim at 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996. That time frame encompasses the “bookends” of two of the most controversial national monument designations in recent history: President Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 to President Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. Both are in Utah, and faced opposition from the congressional delegation and state officials. Zinke was careful Tuesday to say there’s no predetermined outcome to his review.

Pollsters Fail to Mention Trump Would Still Beat Clinton

President Trump took a few more shots Monday at his old nemesis – the pollsters who confidently predicted his loss last year – after new surveys were released playing up the president’s low approval ratings at the end of his first 100 days. But the same polling also buried some more positive news for the president: he’d still beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, according to one survey. The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 43 percent said they would support Trump if the election were held today, compared with 40 percent for the former Democratic nominee, Clinton.

Fracking Does Not Contaminate Groundwater Says Duke Study

A major anti-fracking argument by environmentalists may not have the facts to back it up, a new study conducted by Duke University found. Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, according to the study.  “Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” explained Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. While the study concluded that fracking didn’t directly contaminate groundwater, the researchers did say accidental spills of fracking wastewater could be dangerous to surface water in the area. To complete the research, water samples from 112 drinking wells in northwestern West Virginia were evaluated during a three-year period.

Persecution Watch

A lesbian high-school math teacher in Florida just banned Christian ninth-grade students from wearing cross necklaces in class. The teacher called the Christian crosses “gang symbols” and forced the ninth grader to remove her cross necklace during class, telling the young girl the cross was “disrespectful.” Liberty Counsel says, “Sadly, this is the nature of our battle against the radical LGBT agenda. Their goal is simple. They want to intimidate us and bully us into silence. And they will attack anyone who stands in their way to push their agenda.” Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the school district demanding the administration to stop this teacher’s attacks on student religious expression and to prohibit this teacher from pushing her personal LGBT agenda on students.

The Christian Action Network says that the U.S. Department of Education is funding an Islamic education program in the public schools that crosses the line from academics to indoctrination. The curriculum includes 10 lesson plans on the “Five Pillars of Islam” and “Prayer in Muslim Life” and “Ramadan Observance. Teachers are to quiz students on such questions as, “What does a Muslim prayer sound like?” and “What are some of the things that Muslims say while they are praying?” Students are expected to construct a poster on the “Five Pillars of Islam.” These are then posted in the classroom and in the halls. You can only imagine the reaction of the ACLU and other civil libertarians if students were asked to make a poster of the Ten Commandments and then put those posters up in their room or in the school hallways.

Economic News

Consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a 16-year high amid solid job and income growth. An index of Americans’ outlook fell to 120.3 from a downwardly revised 124.9 in March, the Conference Board said Tuesday. That’s still near the all-time high of 128.6 reached in December 2000. Consumer confidence is closely watched because it can indicate future consumption, which makes up about 70% of economic activity. In recent months, however, both consumers and businesses have voiced high levels of optimism in surveys that has not yet translated into stronger spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average shot up more than 200 points early Tuesday, powered by strong earnings from key companies in the blue-chip stock-market gauge, including Caterpillar and McDonald’s. Technology stocks also rallied, pushing the Nasdaq composite above 6,000 for the first time. The Dow’s strong move builds on Monday’s 216-point gain driven by market-friendly results in the first round of France’s presidential election. The 30-stock average is on track for its first back-to-back gains of more than 100 points since Jan. 24-25, when it topped 20,000 for the first time.

The wealth of the top 0.1% has vastly improved in recent decades, and the top 10% have also done quite well. But the median household’s wealth has declined by close to 40% in real terms (adjusted by inflation) from its peak in 2007, reports NewsMax Finance. Median household increases in wealth are also tenuous because the main component of household wealth is pension fund assets which have been seriously underfunded. The top 0.1% of U.S. households own more than the lower 90% of households. It’s this ever-growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the average citizen—and its overall impact on the economy—that is most troublesome.

Male physicians are getting paid a lot more than their female colleagues. Among all physicians, females earn an average of 74 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to a new report from Doximity, a social network for healthcare professionals. That translates to female physicians earning roughly $91,000 less a year than their male counterparts. Even when broken down by medical specialty, there is no area where women earn as much as men. The report was based on 36,000 responses from full-time, licensed U.S. physicians who practice at least 40 hours a week.

Israel

Israel’s National Authority for Cyber Defense announced on Wednesday that it had, in recent days, fought off a cyberattack against 120 Israeli organizations including several private companies, government ministries, public institutions and universities. A private analytical firm assessed that the cyber-attack was similar to past attacks linked to Iran’s government. Also on Wednesday, an attempted terrorist stabbing attack by a knife-wielding Palestinian man on Israeli security forces stationed near Huwara in the West Bank was prevented when the attacker was shot and wounded before being arrested. The terrorist was treated at the scene while no one else was hurt in the incident.

Islamic State

Iraq’s military has turned the tables on the Islamic State’s drone tactics by improvising its own unmanned aircraft to drop grenades and other small munitions on the militants in the key battle for Mosul, U.S. officials say. The development comes as the threat from Islamic State drones has been effectively neutralized with the help of U.S. and coalition forces, which rushed counter-drone technology to the battle for the city. Earlier this year Mosul became a proving ground for the emerging threat of cheap drones used by terror groups. The militants were using the small unmanned aircraft for both attacks and surveillance.

Turkey

Basking in his referendum win this month, which altered the constitution to give him sweeping new powers, Erdogan appears intent on testing the limits of his opponents, and some of his allies, too. Turkey carried out airstrikes against U.S. allies in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday. A day later, it was revealed that his government had detained another 1,000 “opposition” figures, in an ongoing purge that has outraged Europe. The airstrikes in Syria and Iraq mark an escalation by Turkey and put it in direct conflict with the US-led coalition’s mission against ISIS there. Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the America’s main ally the fight against ISIS in Syria, said more than 20 of their fighters together were killed in the airstrikes Tuesday. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is considered a terrorist group by Turkey’s government, while it is armed and supported by the United States.

Afghanistan

U.S. military officials said they have seen an increasing number of small arms provided by the Russian government, including machine guns and antiaircraft weapons, in the hands of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan over the past 18 months. U.S. officials have complained that the Kremlin has interfered on the Afghan battlefield on the Taliban’s side, but Monday’s comments marked the most serious U.S. charges yet. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit on Monday, said it would be a violation of international law for Russia to provide the Taliban with weapons.

France

Police detained 29 people in Paris on Sunday after “anti-fascist” demonstrators became violent – hurling glass bottles and firecrackers and setting cars ablaze. Six officers and three demonstrators were injured during the protests at the Place de la Bastille. Several businesses sustained damage. Many of the left-wing protesters said they were angry at the first-round results of the presidential election in which centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen emerged as the two top vote getters. Macron and Le Pen will both square off in a runoff scheduled for May 7. Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam National Front party, has accused her rival of being “weak” in the fight against Islamic terrorism. She has pledged to “put back France in order.” A senior French Muslim leader has called on the country’s nearly 5 million Muslims to “vote massively” to make Macron president.

North Korea

A former Korean-American professor reportedly has been arrested in North Korea, raising to three the number of U.S. citizens now detained by Kim Jong Un’s regime. The Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported that the U.S. citizen, identified by his surname Kim, was arrested Friday at Pyongyang International Airport as he was attempting to leave the country. Yonhap described Kim as a former professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, Jilin, China. Yonhap said Kim, in his late 50s, had been involved in aid programs in North Korea and had most recently been there for about a month. The reason for his arrest was not immediately available.

North Korea on Tuesday reportedly conducted a huge live-fire drill that involved up to 400 artillery pieces, which may have been supervised by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as the U.S. added a nuclear-powered submarine to its fleet of vessels powering toward the region. Meanwhile, the entire U.S. Senate has been invited to the White House for a briefing on Wednesday about the North Korea situation.

Iran

A U.S. Navy destroyer had another close encounter with an Iranian Revolutionary Guard “fast attack craft” in the Persian Gulf Monday. The Iranian ship, with its weapons manned, came within 1,000 yards of the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan. Officials said the Mahan altered course to avoid the Iranian warship, sounded the danger signal, fired flares and manned its own weapons. The Iranian ship did not come closer than 1,000 yards and no warning shots were fired. “Coming inbound at a high rate of speed like that and manning weapons, despite clear warnings from the ship, is obviously provocative behavior,” said one American official in describing the Iranian actions.

Despite U.S. government conclusions to the contrary, Iran is cheating on the 2015 nuclear deal and is actively weaponizing nukes, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran. NCRI unveiled intelligence and satellite imagery in recent days that is says it proof of Iranian actions that violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It also alleges that the activity is taking place in areas and facilities that are off limits to regular inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Venezuela

Protesters sprawled in lawn chairs, worked on math homework and played cards on main roads and highways around Venezuela Monday as part of a sit-in against the government. In Caracas, thousands of protesters shut down the capital city’s main highway to express their disgust with the increasingly embattled socialist administration of President Nicolas Maduro. They turned the road into a kind of public plaza, with protesters laying out picnics, reading books and reclining under umbrellas they brought to protect them from the blazing Caribbean sun. Protesters dragged concrete slabs, garbage and even a bathtub into the road. Protesters in least a dozen other cities also staged sit-ins Monday, with some constructing barricades to stop traffic. The protest movement is entering its fourth week, and has become increasingly deadly. On Sunday, a 21st death was linked to the unrest that began almost a month ago over the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the opposition-controlled congress of its powers. Food shortages and high inflation have plagued oil-rich but cash-starved Venezuela for months.

Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose controversial war on drugs has left more than 8,000 dead in just nine months, is encountering increased opposition from one of the country’s most powerful institutions: the Roman Catholic Church. Priests and bishops in this heavily Catholic nation were initially quiet after Duterte assumed office last summer and began a violent crackdown on suspected drug dealers that included vigilante death squads. But this year, the powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter that condemned Duterte’s war on drugs as a “reign of terror.” Despite the church’s condemnations, his war on drugs has not slowed down. Duterte condemned the Catholic Church, using provocative language. He called Pope Francis “a son of a bitch,” and last month called the church one of the “oligarchs of this country.”

Environment

For the first time since the 1880s, the United Kingdom was fully powered without the use of coal for an entire day. On April 21, Britain’s energy demands were met for 24 hours with no need for coal generation. The country was powered with a mix of 50 percent gas, 21 percent nuclear, 12 percent wind, 8 percent imports, roughly 6 percent biomass and about 4 percent solar power. The coal generation was born in 1882 when public coal-powered electric supply first began in the U.K. “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition,” Greenpeace U.K. head of energy Hannah Martin told the Guardian. “A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.”

Earthquakes

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of Chile Monday evening, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The tremor shook the South American country at 6:38 p.m. local time. The epicenter was located about 25 miles west of Valparaiso, Chile, at a depth of 15.5 miles. Buildings swayed in the Chilean capital city of Santiago, some 70 miles to the east. Chile is no stranger to massive earthquakes. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. An 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 triggered a large tsunami; the seismic event was one of the largest ever recorded and was responsible for at least 500 deaths.

Wildfires

A large Arizona wildfire grew to more than 20.000 acres (31 square miles) overnight as winds continue to fan the flames. In the small town of Sonoita, residents of more than 80 properties were ordered to evacuate as the so-called Sawmill fire burns in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona. Nearly 90 other homes have been voluntarily evacuated. A 15-mile stretch of State Route 83, which cuts through the mountains from Sonoita north toward Tucson, has been closed. The fire that began on Sunday is “human caused” and under investigation. Conditions in the region have been exceedingly dry. Green Valley has seen just 0.43 inches of precipitation since Feb. 1 – about 25 percent of their average for that period. “It only takes a cigarette flicked out of a moving vehicle,” he said. “Or maybe even a hot vehicle pulling off the side of the road into this dense underbrush that can create a fire,” said a Green Valley Fire Department spokesperson.

Scattered rainfall in Florida gave firefighters some relief in the fight against wildfires that have consumed homes and caused thousands to evacuate. However, the threat of the blazes remains and the rain will not be enough to end the drought. The Florida Forest Service said that more than 115 wildfires were burning in the Sunshine State over the weekend and almost 30,000 acres had been torched. In Collier County, all evacuation orders related to a fire in the area were lifted Sunday, according to the Collier County Sheriff. The blaze known as the 30th Avenue Fire had grown rapidly since it broke out on Thursday and several homes were destroyed. Another 2,000 homes had been evacuated on Friday and 5,000 homes had been placed under a voluntary evacuation order. As of Monday, 11 square miles have been consumed by the blaze which was 65 percent contained.

Weather

Heavy rainfall in parts of Florida triggered flooding that left behind damage and caused power outages Sunday. The deluge is part of a slow-moving weather system forecasted to bring the risk of a few severe storms and flooding rainfall to the Southeast states into the evening. Localized areas of South Florida picked up more than 6 inches of rain Sunday. Heavy rain, combined with high tide, triggered significant flooding of multiple streets in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, early Monday morning. Sunday and Sunday night, parts of the southern Appalachians were hardest hit. Roads were flooded and closed in Surry and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. Torrential rain triggered widespread flash flooding in the Raleigh, North Carolina, metro area early Tuesday morning, swamping homes, businesses, closing roads and stranding vehicles. Crabtree Creek north of downtown Raleigh, rose over 17 feet since Monday morning at Old Wake Forest Road, topping levels at which water enters businesses and homes in the area.

Portions of the Northeast will enjoy a taste of summer late this week into the weekend and some cities, including Washington D.C., could record their first 90-degree day of the year. The jet stream will bulge northward into eastern Canada to allow a warm, southerly wind flow to develop across the East, which will send temperatures to the warmest readings of the year so far in parts of the region. Temperatures will be 15 to 30 degrees above average for the final week of April. However, severe thunderstorms, including a threat for tornadoes, will be a threat for the next several days through at least the weekend in parts of the South and Midwest. In the Rockies and High Plains, a snowstorm is likely to mark the end of April.

Signs of the Times (4/18/17)

April 18, 2017

900,000 Christians Martyred in One Decade

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year. Open Doors also documented a total of 1,329 churches attacked worldwide for faith-related reasons between Nov. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2016. The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000. The top 10 countries for extreme persecution of Christians are, in order: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Transgender Confusion Shaking up Women’s Sports

USA Volleyball, the national governing body for volleyball in the USA and recognized by the United States Olympic Committee, formed a Gender Committee to consider a transgender application. After a 32-year-old biological male provided medical documentation demonstrating a lower testosterone level for three years, the committee gave him approval to play on the women’s team in an event in Hawaii. This particular biological male is a large person who’s going to have a decided advantage in women’s volleyball from size alone, not to mention his superior muscle strength.

The latest girls’ 100- and 200-meter dash winner from Cromwell High School in Connecticut has broad shoulders, manly biceps, and a mustache. The 15-year old biological male who has not taken drugs nor undergone surgery to mimic femininity was allowed to compete against other girls and, to no one’s surprise, he won – quite handily.

In Texas, a 17-year-old girl who identifies as a boy is taking testosterone supplements as she begins to “transition” to being male. She is in the news because she wrestles on the girls’ team and just won a tournament when her opponent in the finals forfeited because the other girl’s parents protested the match. She is effectively taking a performance enhancing drug, and in a physically-taxing sport like wrestling, the differences are quite tangible. That’s why the lawsuit brought by the parents of another female wrestler urged the governing body to suspend her because of the use of the steroid that is banned in most sports.

A New Zealand weightlifter absolutely smoked the competition, beating her nearest competitor, a Samoan woman, by nearly 20 kilograms. The only problem is that Laurel is a biological male, born Gavin, which is why a number of the competitors felt the competition was unfair. “Imagine training for this your whole life, as a woman, only to have a known leader in men’s weightlifting take your title,” one observer complained.

  • Many more examples are increasingly showing up in women’s sporting events around the world

Evangelical Churches Growing in Brazil’s Poorest Communities

Evangelical churches are thriving in Brazil, particularly in the country’s poorest communities. Brazil is a traditionally Catholic country, but evangelical churches are providing what many poor Brazilians need, materially and spiritually. According to Christian Today, many poor Brazilians are drawn to evangelical churches because the churches are the one thing in their communities that are caring for them and providing for their physical needs, as well as their spiritual ones. Churches are a stable presence in these poor communities, providing education, security, and economic development, as well as spiritual help. About 20 percent of people who live in Brazil’s major cities live in poor communities called favelas, so there is a great need for these churches to help.

Trump’s Immigration Order Could Swamp Backlogged Immigration Courts

Coast to coast, immigration judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are straining to decipher how the federal immigration rules released in February by the Trump administration will impact the system — amid an already burgeoning backlog of existing cases. The new guidelines, part of President Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, give enforcement agents greater rein to deport immigrants without hearings and detain those who entered the country without permission. But that ambitious policy shift faces a tough hurdle: an immigration court system already juggling more than 500,000 cases and ill-equipped to take on thousands more. Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney who works with juveniles, noted that “There isn’t an empty courtroom. We don’t have enough judges. You can say you’re going to prosecute more people, but from a practical perspective, how do you make that happen?”

Trump Signs “Buy American, Hire American” Order

President Trump signed a double-barreled, “Buy American, Hire American” executive order Tuesday, during a visit to Snap-On Tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The “Buy American” portion of the order will require federal agencies to buy more goods and services from U.S. companies and workers. It also includes language requiring transportation projects to use steel “melted and poured” in the U.S. The “Hire American” side of the order will clamp down on guest worker visas, specifically the H-1B visa program, which allows 85,000 foreign workers into the U.S. each year to take specific high-skilled jobs with U.S. companies. By combining aspects of immigration policy with federal procurement regulations, Trump is using executive action to advance his philosophy of economic nationalism without waiting for action from Congress.

Trump’s Reelection Campaign Already Raised $13.2 Million

President Trump’s reelection campaign has already raised $13.2 million this year, according to federal records filed Friday night and obtained by Politico. Roughly 80 percent of the money was raised through small, online donations, with about $4.7 million spent on hats, T-shirts, mugs and stickers. Trump’s three campaign committees have a total of about $16 million in the bank after expenses. The Republican National Committee confirmed earlier this month that it had raised $41.3 million over the same period.

Trump Supporters, Protesters Clash in Berkeley, California

At least 21 people were arrested as Trump supporters and opponents clashed Saturday at a park in Berkeley, California. Eleven people were injured, with seven transported to the hospital. “A large number of fights have occurred and numerous fireworks have been thrown in the crowds,” Berkeley police said in a statement. “There have also been numerous reports of pepper spray being used in the crowd.” CNN affiliate KPIX reported that Trump supporters planned a “Patriot Day” rally at noon and counter-protesters showed up a few hours earlier. Hundreds of people had gathered in Civic Center Park. Police set up a barrier of orange mesh fence to separate the two sides but it quickly fell down as protesters started fighting. Peaceful protests were held in dozens of cities across the United States on Saturday for the anti-Trump “Tax Day.” President Trump says he is unimpressed with the tax protests —  and indicated he has no plans to release his tax returns anytime soon.

Diabetes Rising in America’s Youth

The rate at which America’s children are diagnosed with diabetes is climbing and researchers don’t know why. A first-ever study of new diabetes diagnoses of U.S. youth under age 20 found both Types 1 and 2 diabetes surged from 2002-2012. The diagnosis of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity, increased about 5% each year from 2002 to 2012, nearly 50% over the ten-year period. New cases of Type 1, the most common form for young people, went up about 2% every year, nearly one out of every four youth over the ten years studied.

The study, published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed higher rates of diabetes diagnoses among minorities. Type 2 diabetes, which the CDC stated makes up about 90% to 95% of diagnosed diabetes cases, rose by 8.5% a year in Asian Americans ages 10-19. Blacks in the same age group saw a 6.3% annual increase, followed by a 3.1% bump in Hispanics with whites at fewer than a 1% increase per year. Hispanics saw the biggest rate increase of Type 1 diabetes with a 4.2% annual increase, followed by blacks at 2.2% and whites at 1.2%.

In terms of gender, girls and women 10-19 saw a 6.2% annual increase in Type 2 diabetes, while men and boys of the same age experienced a 3.7% increase. Across all age groups, Type 1 diabetes increased 2.2% a year in males and 1.4% in females. CDC epidemiologist Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore said those who develop diabetes at a young age are at risk of developing complications from the disease earlier, lowering their quality of life, shortening life expectancy and increasing health care costs.

  • Poor diet is most likely the primary cause of this increase in diabetes

Economic News

American homeowners paid property taxes totaling nearly $278 billion in 2016, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, the nation’s largest property. That means that each of the country’s 84 million single-family homeowners paid an average of $3,296 in property taxes, which amounts to an average 1.15% effective tax rate. According to the report, there were nine counties in the country with a population of at least 100,000 that had average annual property taxes of more than $10,000: Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties in New York; Essex, Bergen, Union and Morris counties in New Jersey; Marin County, California; and Fairfield County, Connecticut. The lowest effective tax rate is 0.32% in Hawaii, with the highest is 2.31% in New Jersey.

While the United States is still at the top in total investment in research and development — spending $500 billion in 2015 —  a new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study to be released Monday has made a startling finding: A couple of years ago, China quietly surpassed the U.S. in spending on the later stage of R&D that turns discoveries into commercial products. And at its current rate of spending, China will invest up to twice as much as the U.S., or $658 billion, by 2018 on this critical late-stage research. The U.S. Is doing the hard work of inventing new technologies, and China, among other countries, is reaping the benefits by taking those ideas and turning them into commercial products before we do.

Uber’s gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. But that rapid growth came at a high cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016. Uber’s CEO had previously said it had been losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing last August. Uber is currently conducting an “urgent” investigation in response to a former employee who made public allegations of sexism and harassment at the company.

The International Monetary Fund has issued a warning to political leaders: Don’t raise trade barriers. The IMF upgraded its forecast for the global economic growth by 0.1 percentage points on Tuesday to 3.5%. But it said that “inward-looking policies” could derail economic improvements. The warning appears to be aimed at President Trump’s “America First” agenda and other protectionist policies. Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of one vast trade deal in the Pacific. He’s also promised to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico, and threatened to slap tariffs or taxes on imports. The U.S. Federal Reserve agrees, arguing that American businesses that export to Mexico would be hurt if the Trump administration scraps NAFTA.

Great Britain

British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned her nation and its European partners Tuesday with a call for an early national election on June 8, seeking to cement her political backing as Britain moves ahead with difficult negotiations on its break from the European Union. The surprise announcement — made outside her office at 10 Downing Street — comes amid internal political strains over Britain’s exit, known as Brexit, and fresh moves by Scotland to potentially carve its own independent path to remain in the European Union. On the wider European stage, the election cannot undo Britain’s break from the E.U. But it will help set the tone for Britain’s contentious talks to split from the bloc, whose 27 remaining leaders have taken a hard line against any major concessions on key issues such as trade. If May emerges strengthened from the election — as opinion polls currently suggest — she will have greater clout to mute domestic dissent as she buckles down for talks. But if anti-Brexit voices do well in the polls, May could be forced to soften her demands from Europe.

Syria

A car bomb exploded near buses carrying Syrians evacuated from towns besieged by rebels in northern Syria. At least 100 people have been killed, according to Syrian state TV. The explosion Saturday hit an evacuation point south of Aleppo city where dozens of buses have been parked for over 30 hours as a much-criticized population transfer deal stalled. A senior rebel official said 20 rebels who guarded the buses were killed as well as dozens of passengers. The buses carrying nearly 5,000 pro-government evacuees have been stuck in an area on the edge of Aleppo. But as the government and rebels disagreed over the number of gunmen to be evacuated, the buses were left stuck at two separate but adjacent parts of the city.

Afghanistan

The number of militants killed in an attack by the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military has risen to 94, an Afghan official said Saturday. “Fortunately, there is no report of civilians being killed in the attack,” said Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor in Nangarhar. The U.S. attack on a tunnel complex in remote eastern Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border killed at least four IS group leaders, Khogyani said. He said a clearance operation to assess the site of the attack was continuing. The U.S. estimates 600-800 IS fighters are in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar. The U.S. has concentrated on fighting them while also supporting Afghan forces against the Taliban. The U.S. has more than 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

North Korea

A failed test of a medium-range ballistic missile that blew up almost immediately Sunday did not provoke a U.S. military response. Even so, North Korea has made progress with its nuclear weapons and missile programs and tensions between the two countries remain dangerously high for the indefinite future. President Trump has vowed that he will not allow North Korea to develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States, and Kim has vowed to pursue that very goal to prevent a pre-emptive U.S. strike.

In a show of military strength and defiance, tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers goose-stepped and new missiles and other military hardware were wheeled out in display during a celebratory parade Saturday in the capital of Pyongyang. But there were no nuclear weapons or missile tests that President Trump had warned the isolated regime to avoid or face unspecified consequences. The parade marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, a date celebrated as the “Day of the Sun” in North Korea. He is the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-Un, who was on hand to witness the spectacle. North Korea has warned that it was prepared to strike back against the United States and South Korea as tensions rise on the Korean Peninsula. Last weekend, the U.S. sent aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to nearby waters as heated words ratcheted up. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned both the United States and North Korea on Friday that, “If war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, multiple parties will lose and no one will win.”

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a “historic” victory Sunday in a tightly contested national referendum that would radically change his country’s system of government and give the president vast, new powers. With 99% of the ballots counted, Erdogan’s referendum had 51.4% “yes” votes, while 48.6% opposed the changes, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. But multiple opposition parties alleged voting irregularities and sought a recount. The United States views the referendum as a turn away from Turkey’s secular democracy and toward a religious-based, authoritarian regime in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of about 80 million people. Turkey is a NATO member and crucial partner in the international effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Wildfires

As of April 14, wildfires in the U.S. have burned over 2.1 million acres, over four times the average for the last ten years. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida have borne the brunt of wildfire carnage. Dozens of wildfires have burned at least 126,000 acres across Florida since January, exceeding the five-year average of acreage that is typically burned in an entire year. Experts warn that the fire risk may increase over the coming weeks as Florida enters its dry season. Smoke from some fires has forced Florida Highway Patrol troopers to close major highways for hours at a time. Health officials have recommended that people with asthma or chronic lung or heart conditions should stay indoors with windows closed to avoid smoke from blazes near them.

Weather

Significant flooding in northeast Washington state washed out roads and knocked one home partially into a river. The Ferry County Sheriff’s Office is preparing for an unprecedented flooding disaster, with 6 feet of snow still in the mountains and 6 feet of frost underground. “The Sanpoil Valley is currently experiencing the worst flooding in decades,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. Residents have been put on alert for rock and mud slides, and are being asked to have sufficient food, water and medication on hand in case roads are rendered impassable by flooding.

A long-lived supercell thunderstorm in the Texas panhandle Friday evening spawned multiple tornadoes, including an EF3 that was a mile wide and caused damage just outside the town of Dimmitt. The persistent supercell thunderstorm developed just after 4 p.m. CDT on Friday, pushing east through the Texas panhandle for about nine hours. The storm first brought large hail as it sluggishly moved eastward. Hail larger than a baseball was reported near Bovina and Friona, Texas, shattering windshields of at least two cars, including one police car. By 6 p.m, the supercell thunderstorm began to produce tornadoes as it entered Castro County, Texas. The most significant tornado was on the ground for about 20 minutes in Castro County west of Dimmitt and had a damage path up to 1.1 miles wide. A metal building was completely destroyed and displaced hundreds of feet northwest of its original location. Winds were estimated as high as 140 mph in the area that saw the worst damage.

Heavy rain triggered flash flooding in northwest Iran Saturday, leaving at least 30 dead and seven missing. State television says another five people were injured in the flooding. Iranian Red Crescent Society’s Search and Rescue Department provided assistance to as many as 1150 people in 33 cities and villages in northwest Iran.

Signs of the Times (4/14/17)

April 14, 2017

Downward Trend in Religious Restrictions Reversed in 2015

The number of countries with “high levels” of restrictions on religion due to government policies or actions of people increased in 2015, reversing a downward trend, according to a new study. A total of 40 percent of surveyed countries registered “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions, according to Pew Research Center’s annual study on global restrictions on religion released April 11. That’s up from 34 percent in 2014, according to the data. The percentage had declined during the previous two years, tumbling from 43 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2013. Of the 198 countries Pew surveyed, 25 percent reported “high” or “very high” levels of government restriction, up just slightly from 24 percent in 2014. And 27 percent reported “high” or “very high” numbers of acts of religious hostility by individuals, organizations or groups, a jump from 23 percent in 2014. That happened in a year when European countries welcomed an increasing number of refugees, religion-related terror attacks rocked France and people with albinism were targeted for rituals by witch doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said. It’s too soon to tell if the increase is a blip or a trend, Pew says.

14% of U.S. Christians Left Their Churches after Trump was Elected

Research from The Washington Post found that about 14 percent of Christians left their churches after Donald Trump was elected president. The survey followed up with 957 people before and after the presidential election. According to the results, by mid-November, 14 percent of those surveyed had left their particular church. While Trump secured 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, the research shows that Trump seems to have “relatively low support” among evangelicals right now. The change results from American politics becoming divisive within the church (about 15 percent said that’s what’s dividing the church). The report said that people who are leaving the church did so because division in the church had spurred acrimonious debate. The people who are leaving their churches self-identified and responded as 10 percent evangelicals, 18 percent mainline Protestants and 11 percent Catholics.

Trump Signs Law Allowing States to Defund Planned Parenthood

President Trump signed a law this week overturning a last-minute Obama-era regulation forcing states to fund Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion business. The regulation forced states to give Title X money to organizations that commit abortions. Now, states – if they wish – will be able to withhold Title X money from abortion-committing organizations, instead prioritizing non-abortion businesses. Federal Title X dollars fund “family planning services,” but technically not abortion. However, government money Planned Parenthood receives, helps the abortion-centered organization overall. “This week the pro-life movement had two huge victories: first, the swearing-in of Justice Gorsuch and now, President Trump will undo former President Obama’s parting gift to the abortion industry,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List.

U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on Islamic State in Afghanistan

The U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb — a massive 21,000-pound munition nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs” — on an Islamic State tunnel complex in Afghanistan on Thursday. Afghanistan officials said 36 Islamic State militants were killed. It marked the first time it has been used in combat and reflected the growing flexibility of the Pentagon to wage war. The target was in a remote area where the risk of civilian casualties would be low. Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the decision to drop the bomb was made because it was the best fit for the target. Trump was told about the bomb’s use but his approval was not required, a point Trump noted, as well. “We have given them total authorization,” Trump said. “This was another very, very successful mission.” Trump had criticized Obama’s management of the war against the Islamic State, pledging to ramp up pressure on the terror group and give the military more flexibility to combat them. The Pentagon spokesman said the bomb had been brought to Afghanistan some time ago for potential use. The bomb explodes in the air, creating air pressure that can make tunnels and other structures collapse.

Russia Vetoes UN Measures Condemning Syrian Chemical Warfare

The UN Security Council (UNSC) failed yet again on Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning last week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria. Permanent member Russia vetoed the resolution which sought to condemn the killings and call on the Assad regime to cooperate with an international investigation into the attack. Wednesday’s veto was the eighth time Russia has used its veto — often along with China — to torpedo a UN draft resolution on Syria since its civil war began in 2011. The latest resolution to fail at the hands of Russia’s veto power came in the wake of the gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The draft resolution condemned the attacks and called for an international investigation into the perpetrators. This time China abstained.

‘Catch & Release’ Replaced with Focus on Repeat Offenders

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared “a new era” in immigration enforcement on Tuesday, saying his prosecutors will try to bring stiffer criminal charges against repeat illegal immigrants and smugglers as part of President Trump’s crackdown. Sessions said his enforcement priorities will end the “catch and release” practices of the Obama administration and give the Justice Department a more active role in stemming illegal immigration. Prosecutors should prioritize cases against smugglers and should bring felony charges against illegal immigrants who have been removed before and have sneaked back into the U.S. or have other criminal convictions on their records, according to the guidance issued by the attorney general. As part of a broader plan to reduce backlogs in immigration courts and to speed up the deportation process, the Justice Department will hire 125 more immigration judges over the next two years, the attorney general said.

Famine Threatens Most People Since World War II

The world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants. When one region is suffering severe hunger, global humanitarian institutions, though often cash-strapped, are theoretically capable of transporting food and averting catastrophe. But this year, South Sudan slipped into famine, and Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are each on the verge of their own. Famine now threatens 20 million people — more than at any time since World War II, reports the Washington Post. As defined by the United Nations, famine occurs when a region’s daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people. Each of these four countries is in a protracted conflict. While humanitarian assistance can save lives in the immediate term, none of the food crises can be solved in the long term without a semblance of peace. The threat of violence can limit or prohibit aid workers’ access to affected regions, and in some cases, starvation may be a deliberate war tactic. Children are always the most affected, as even those who survive may be mentally and physically stunted for life. Ongoing conflicts in Congo, the Central African Republic, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have also left millions hungry in those places, too.

Terrorism Suspected in Bombing of German Soccer Team Bus

German authorities suspect “terrorist involvement” in a bomb attack on the bus of the Borussia Dortmund soccer team and are investigating a possible radical Islamist link, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office said Wednesday. The investigation is focused on two suspects from the “Islamist spectrum,” spokeswoman Frauke Koehler said. Their homes have been searched and one has been temporarily detained, she said. Three explosive devices shattered windows and injured a player on the Borussia Dortmund team bus Tuesday evening local time as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League match against AS Monaco. The devices, which were hidden behind a bush, contained metal fragments and had a reach of 100 meters (109 yards), the prosecutor’s office said.

Swedes Questioning Open-Door Policy

Sweden has taken in the most migrants per capita of any European country: In 2015, more than 160,000 applied for asylum in this country of 10 million, according to government figures. Most came from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Swedes are known for their tolerant society, but last week’s deadly truck rampage by a frustrated asylum-seeker left many questioning whether the country’s open-door policy for refugees swung open too far. On Friday, a man from Uzbekistan who had been denied asylum plowed through a crowded street of shoppers in a stolen beer truck before crashing into a department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15. Now, supporters of the liberal government are considering switching sides to the far right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party in next year’s parliamentary elections, reports the USA Today.

Government Jobs Unfilled Despite Trump’s Lift of Hiring Freeze

Many federal government jobs will remain unfilled despite President Trump’s lifting the hiring freeze Wednesday, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. Trump signed a memorandum in January freezing large portions of federal government hiring, barring the military and positions deemed necessary for national security and public safety. As part of the memorandum, Trump gave the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to come up with a long-term plan to reduce the federal government’s size. While the guidance issued Wednesday does not contain agency-specific hiring goals or limits, Mulvaney said that agencies targeted with significant budget cuts in Trump’s first budget proposal, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, would be expected to make significant cuts to their workforces. Agencies that Trump wants to spend more on, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, would be expected to see their payrolls rise. Under the guidance, agencies will have until June to submit drafts for overhauling their workforces.

Economic News – Domestic

Retail sales in the U.S. fell for a second straight month in March on weaker gasoline and auto sales but a core measure that excludes those and other volatile items rose solidly. Sales overall fell 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Friday. Excluding volatile categories — autos, gasoline, food services and building materials — sales jumped 0.5%. February’s sluggish 0.1% increase was revised to a 0.3% drop. Analysts said snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast could have kept shoppers at home. U.S. households generally are benefiting from solid job and income growth, cheap gasoline, lofty stock and home prices and reduced debt. Consumer spending makes up about 70% of economic activity is expected to drive economic growth this year.

Consumer prices fell in March by the largest amount in more than two years, pushed lower by another sharp decline in the price of gasoline and other energy products. Consumer prices dropped 0.3% in March following a tiny 0.1% rise in February, the Labor Department reported Friday. It was the first monthly decline in 13 months and the biggest drop since prices fell 0.6% in January 2015. In addition to a big 6.2% fall in gasoline prices, the cost of cell phone plans, new and used cars and clothing were all lower last month. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, dropped 0.1% last month. Over the past 12 months, inflation is up a moderate 2.4% while core prices have risen 2%.

The luxury electric-car company Tesla has yet to turn a profit, losing hundreds of millions of dollars last year alone. But on Monday, the darling of Silicon Valley became the most valuable American car company, surpassing General Motors. Shares of Tesla, run by high-profile chief executive Elon Musk, put the company’s value at $51.5 billion, above GM’s $50.2 billion. Tesla blew by Ford ($44.6 billion) last week. Musk’s company produced just 84,000 cars last year, with starting prices of $68,000. Tesla’s reputation goes beyond being just a car company. It recently absorbed Musk’s Solar City company for $5 billion which has captured the imagination of California’s technology pack and, apparently, investors. The company has also been developing batteries that could store power from rooftop solar panels, expanding its mission into a renewable-energy enterprise.

General Motors is significantly increasing the number of people working on its self-driving car projects. Its new research and development facility in California is hiring 1,100 people. The new employees will be working at the Cruise Automation unit, a tech start-up GM paid $581 million for in March 2016. The self-driving car unit had already grown to about 150 engineers, according to GM, up from the 40 at the time of its purchase.

Economic News – International

Youth unemployment in the Eurozone has been stuck between 19% to 25% for the past eight years. In Spain and Greece, it’s more than 40%. Youth unemployment in the U.S. is just below 10%. The bleak numbers underscore the uphill battle many young Europeans face in finding jobs that match their aspirations and education. Many are still living at home, while others have left their families and moved to new countries in search of work. The trend is thought to be factor in rising populism in Europe, which now threatens to upend the political establishment. One major test will come later this month when France votes in the first round of a pivotal national election.

Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft might end up owning Citgo, a US energy company based in Houston, Texas. This isn’t a direct takeover. Instead, it hinges on the ability of Venezuela’s state-run oil company to pay back its Russian loan. The Venezuelan company owns Citgo, which was used as collateral for the loan. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are highly alarmed. In hotly worded letters to the Trump Administration in recent days, members of Congress and senators warned that it could be a big problem for US national security if Russia gets a hold of Citgo.

Beijing-based LeEco has pulled the plug on a plan to buy U.S. electronics maker Vizio for $2 billion. In a statement, the companies blamed “regulatory headwinds” for the deal’s collapse. It’s a sharp turnaround from July, when LeEco touted the acquisition of the U.S. smart TV maker as “an important step” in its efforts to grow in North America. The Chinese government has begun restricting overseas investments and acquisitions in recent months in order to rein in the huge sums of money flowing out of its economy. That appears to have sunk other high-profile deals, including one by China’s richest man to buy the producer of the Golden Globes.

Israel

Reports surfaced this week that a strike by a UAV (drone) in the city of Rafah, in the Egyptian Sinai, killed one person just a few hours after a Grad rocket strike destroyed an agricultural structure in Israel’s Eshkol region, near the Egyptian border. The rocket strike was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror militia, which also claimed a bomb attack on two Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta during Palm Sunday services on Sunday which killed dozens of Christian worshipers.

A British woman has been stabbed to death by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The student, in her early 20s, was traveling on the Jerusalem Light Rail near Old City when she was attacked. Israel’s Shin Bet security agency identified the assailant as a 57-year-old Palestinian and said he suffered with mental health problems who had previously tried to take his own life. In a statement, Shin Bet said: “This is one of many instances where a Palestinian suffering personal strife… chooses to carry out an attack in order to find release for his problem.”

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad said an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 86 people last week was a “fabrication” to justify a U.S. military strike. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Moscow Wednesday that the U.S. is confident of its conclusion that Syrian government forces were behind the attack. U.S. military and intelligence intercepts before the attack captured military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin gas attack in Idlib last week, CNN reported Thursday, citing an unnamed U.S. official. The conversations were discovered after the U.S. military ordered a review of intercepted information to figure out what happened following the incident. The Syrian government was supposed to have had its chemical weapons destroyed in 2014. Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, a general who said he defected from Assad’s army, told CNN in 2013 that Assad would not give up the chemical weapon stockpile.

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria mistakenly killed 18 soldiers from a U.S.-backed rebel force battling the Islamic State, the military said Thursday. “The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.” The coalition airstrike occurred Tuesday near Tabqah, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a key battle against the Islamic State over a strategically important dam. Those troops are the main U.S.-backed force battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a stern ultimatum to Russia Tuesday: side with America and its allies on Syria, or stand alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah. Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.” A meeting of “likeminded” countries was arranged on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 7 industrialized economies days after the U.S. launched airstrikes against Assad’s forces, and hours before Tillerson flew to Moscow to pressure Russia’s leaders to end their support for Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov began his meeting with Tillerson, his U.S. counterpart, with a warning — do not strike the Syrian regime again. They announced several initiatives to build trust and improve U.S.-Russian relations, which both top diplomats said is in bad shape. Tillerson said he and Putin agreed that in Syria, “we want to deny a safe haven for terrorists who want to attack both our countries,” but they disagree on tactics.

North Korea

President Trump on Tuesday said North Korea “is looking for trouble” and vowed to get the murderous regime of dictator Kim Jong-Un under control with or without China’s help. Trump sent the warning in a pair of tweets just days after he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China traditionally has acted as a counterweight on North Korea, helping to moderate some actions of the isolated country. Trump indicated a favorable trade deal could await China if they stepped up pressure on North Korea. However, Trump also appeared ready to reign in the provocative nation on his own. “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” he tweeted. North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States if provoked by a U.S. Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft that was steaming towards the western Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump in a phone call Wednesday that Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but wants to do so through peaceful means. Despite Beijing’s public efforts to rein in North Korea’s provocative behavior, Chinese companies continue to act as enablers, providing the isolated communist regime with technology and hardware that allow its missiles to take flight, according to current and former U.S. and U.N. officials and independent weapons experts.

South Sudan

On April 4, government militias loyal to the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, entered the town of Pajok and began killing and raping men, women and children. Opposition forces led by the vice president, James Wani Igga, estimate that more than 200 innocent civilians were killed in Pajok. “At the onset of the massacre, the tribal army burned down several buildings in the town and indiscriminately shot at the innocent civilians including kids and women who were trying to run for their lives,” a security officer in South Sudan told Fox News. “Primary school pupils were forced to lay on the ground in a straight line and were run over by tanks, and crushing them flat.” South Sudan military’s ongoing rape and killing of citizens who are not part of the dominant Dinka tribe is largely being ignored in the world’s poorest country. Non-Dinkas have been left with no help and no future.

Somalia

The U.S. is sending “dozens” of additional troops to Somalia to train and equip the Somali National Army and the forces participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia there. A US military official told CNN that the new contingent would consist of about 40 soldiers. The U.S. troops will join the small number of US special operations forces already there providing counterterrorism support to local forces battling the local al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabaab. That advisory mission has been underway for several years. President Donald Trump last month granted additional authority to US Africa Command to conduct counterterrorism airstrikes against the terror group.

Turkey

Turkey has experienced upheaval and chaos caused by the government’s vast purge of Turkish institutions since the failed coup in July — the backdrop for a referendum on Sunday to expand the president’s powers. For example, roughly 40,000 teachers were purged from Turkey’s education system after last year’s attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Most of them have not been replaced, forcing schools to combine classes. Mr. Erdogan’s government has sought to root out any remaining dissent by targeting nearly every segment of society. The government has fired or suspended about 130,000 people suspected of being dissidents from the public and private sectors. Most are accused of affiliations with the Gulen movement, the Islamic followers of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric accused of orchestrating the attempted coup. More than 8,000 army officers, 8,000 police officers, 5,000 academics and 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been forced out, reports the New York Times. Watchdogs say that around 1,200 schools, 50 hospitals and 15 universities have been closed.

Wildfires

More than 100 wildfires continue to burn in Florida, causing Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. A fire known has the Cowbell Fire was burning in the Big Cypress National Reserve and has scorched nearly 26 square miles. The blaze that began March 30 is 11 percent contained as of Thursday morning. Another fire in the preserve, called the Parliament Fire, is the largest active blaze and has burned more than 41 square miles. It is 95 percent contained. That fire started March 18. Since February, over 70,000 acres have been scorched across the state. Nineteen homes have been lost. Most of the fires have started between Lake Okeechobee to the south and the Ocala National Forest to the north. Polk, Collier, Marion, Nassau, Broward, Hernando and Glades counties have been hard hit.

Weather

Pest populations are expected to boom this spring and summer in several regions of the country, and warmer-than-average winter months are at least partially to blame. Ticks, mosquitoes and other insects could emerge in unusually large numbers as temperatures rise, experts say. A boom in ticks is expected in the Northeast, and that could lead to an increase in Lyme disease cases.  Experts also say that, as the world gets warmer, blooming seasons might become longer as well, bringing about more pollen that causes seasonal allergies.