Murder rates surge while American’s stress over pandemic

Mark 13:12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.”

Important Takeaways:

  • ‘Stress, Anxiety, Lot of Anger:’ Pandemic and Other Factors Fueling America’s Surging Murder Rate
  • Experts say the spike in homicides began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • “Pent up stress, anxiety, a lot of anger. People started losing their jobs. People are drinking more,” Criminologist Dr. Alex Piquero
  • “All of these things put together have occurred in every city in the United States,” said Piquero.
  • In 2021, Chicago, a city long plagued by deadly gun violence, saw its deadliest year in 25 years with 797 murders.
  • Los Angeles counted nearly 400 deaths in 2021 and 134 in Oakland. Both California municipalities’ murder rates reached 15-year highs.
  • Austin, Texas, recorded an unprecedented number of murders last year.

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Pandemic opens the door for AI

Daniel 12:4 “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Troubling Trend: Great Resignation Versus AI, Robotics And Automation
  • Across the country, it’s quitting time. Hiring continues to sputter, with payrolls rising by only 199,000 across the United States
  • December Jobs Report shows that unemployment fell to just 3.9%
  • A record number of people quit their jobs in 2021 – over 40 million
  • Jay Jacobs, Senior VP for the fund. “We think we’re going to be in the golden era of robotics adoption for the United States”
  • Dataquest predicts the following trends for robotics in 2022, in an article outlining the “robot revolution”:
    • The Advancement of “Cobots” – according to Dataquest, these robots are designed to work alongside people in a safe and effective manner.
    • AI (Artificial Intelligence) Creating Contact-free Experiences
    • Smart Factories – manned by robots, featuring low-cost sensors and an unstoppable immunity to COVID, Dataquest says “previously impossible things may become extremely realistic.”
    • The Rise of RPA (robot-process-automation): “In the healthcare industry, for example, RPA is utilized to automate many activities like as billing, inventory management, and appointment scheduling.

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During Covid Freedom is Suppressed

Rev 6:7, 8 NCV When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill people by war, by starvation, by disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Important Takeaways:

  • How These Western Countries Suppressed Freedom During COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Dennis Prager “Looking at the government overreach and abuses of power in virtually every other Western nation, one can only conclude that America truly is the last free man standing.”
  • Canada – Canada is one of the only countries in the world that bans the unvaccinated from all public transportation—airplanes, trains, and buses. And no Canadian home can entertain more than three non-household visitors—a ban that prevented families and friends from getting together for Christmas.
  • Europe – most European countries introduced the so-called health pass or “European COVID-19 Pass.”
  • Netherlands – anti-lockdown protest was banned by the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, because people would “not be adhering to social distancing rules.” Thousands of people nevertheless showed up. They were met with drones, water cannons, and huge numbers of police. Footage capturing a police dog biting down on a peaceful protester’s arm has gone viral.
  • France – Starting next week, working from home will become compulsory for those who can. So, too, wearing a mask is compulsory throughout the country for everyone aged 11 and over in enclosed spaces and on public transport, on pain of a fine.
  • Australia – Australia placed most of its citizens under house arrest for much of 2021. Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city, described by the Voice of America on Oct. 21 as “officially the world’s most locked down city,” was locked down 260 days.  Residents were prohibited from traveling more than 5 kilometers from their homes. Schools were, and remain, closed, and international travel was, and remains, prohibited. Needless to say, all shops, bars, and restaurants were closed.

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Megachurch closes permanently due to pandemic

Rev 6:6 NAS And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Denver’s Potter’s House Closes and Sells Megachurch Site, Goes Permanently Virtual Due to Pandemic
  • The church’s pastor, Touré Roberts, announced “COVID-19 forced every church in America to rethink how to best serve their parishioners and the broader community,” Roberts told the newspaper. “Due to the inability to gather and the economic instability of the pandemic, our church, like many other churches in the nation, experienced declining donations.”
  • “We decided that the best way forward would be to sell the property, continue our online offering that had proven a successful alternative and maintain our hands-on community outreach operations, which includes our food bank that feeds thousands of families per year,” the pastor told the Post.
  • As CBN News reported in November, more than 4,000 churches closed in the U.S. in 2020 alone. Over that same time period, over 20,000 pastors left the ministry and 50 percent of current pastors say they would leave the ministry if they had another way of making a living, according to The Barna Group

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U.S. offers $1.5 billion to help provide school meals during supply chain crunch

By Christopher Walljasper

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Agriculture Department is providing up to $1.5 billion to help school meal programs weather the supply chain crunch, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday.

Procuring large amounts of food has become difficult because of delays in shipments, a lack of certain products, high food costs and labor shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

USDA is tapping the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for funding, providing $1 billion for schools to purchase food for their meal programs and another $500 million for the purchase of local foods to be distributed to schools, Vilsack said.

“This will result in a 5% increase in what school districts normally have available,” Vilsack said at Gourmet Gorilla, a food service company that prepares 40,000 meals to schools in the Chicago area.

The 1930s-era CCC has generally been tapped to provide subsidies for farmers, and gives USDA broad authority to make direct payments to growers when crop prices are low.

The number of Americans without enough food to eat remains higher than before the pandemic, and the Biden administration has sought to ramp up funding for food stamps and school meal programs.

The funds should be available starting in January.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Mark Porter)

Omicron delivers another uncertain holiday season to pandemic-weary Americans

By Joseph Ax and Julia Harte

(Reuters) – Americans face an uncertain and anxiety-filled holiday season for the second consecutive year, as the highly contagious Omicron variant threatens to intensify an already alarming surge of COVID-19 cases.

Public health officials have voiced deepening concerns about the rising number of infections, warning that hospitals – still fighting the effects of the Delta variant – could find themselves stretched beyond their limits if the two variants combine to create a fresh wave.

Maine set a record for the number of hospitalized COVID patients on Wednesday, a day after Michigan hit a new high. New Jersey recorded its highest number of cases on Thursday since mid-January, at the peak of last winter’s surge.

Over the past month, new cases have risen nearly 40% to a seven-day average of 121,000 new infections per day, according to a Reuters tally. That represents more than half of the level at this point in 2020, days after the first coronavirus vaccine was approved for emergency use.

Deaths have risen 18% since mid-November to an average of 1,300 lives lost a day. COVID hospitalizations have risen about 45% over the last month.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said on Thursday that the Omicron variant would soon dominate infections.

“We’ve seen that in South Africa, we’re seeing it in the UK, and I’m absolutely certain that’s what we’re going to be seeing here relatively soon,” said Fauci, who will meet with President Joe Biden Thursday afternoon to discuss the government’s response.

In South Africa, the United Kingdom and Denmark, the number of new Omicron infections has been doubling every two days.

Britain recorded nearly 80,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest single-day total since the pandemic began, and officials there have warned that hospital admissions could soon hit record levels because of Omicron’s transmissibility.

Preliminary data suggests Omicron may be more contagious than Delta but less likely to cause severe illness, though much remains unknown. Research also indicates that the two-dose vaccine regimens have vastly reduced protection against Omicron but that a third booster dose restores much of the vaccine’s efficacy.

In New York City, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 doubled in three days, according to Dr. Jay Varma, a senior public health adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Um, we’ve never seen this before in #NYC,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that the only explanation is Omicron’s ability to evade both natural and vaccine-induced immunity.

The surge has prompted worried Americans to reconsider holiday travel plans for the second consecutive year. Experts have said vaccinated individuals can travel safely as long as they wear masks and avoid unnecessary risks such as large crowds and indoor gatherings.

After months of planning a trip to Florida to see his parents for Christmas and his mother’s birthday, Kalaya’an Mendoza of Queens, New York, told Reuters he was forced to cancel it when he learned that several people at an event he attended on Monday had tested positive.

“I’m a little bit wrecked,” Mendoza, 43, said in an interview on Thursday. “It feels like 2020 all over again. I had to weigh my very intense Filipino need to be with family with their care and safety.”

Mendoza, who has not seen his parents since December 2019, said he was angry at how little progress the U.S. government had made on fighting the pandemic while spending billions of dollars this year on other items, such as the military.

“I remember watching my neighbors get carted away in body bags at the start of this pandemic, and two years in, we shouldn’t be here,” he said.

The increasing caseload has wreaked havoc on efforts by companies to return to normalcy, including postponing plans to bring workers back to the office. Citigroup Inc has told New York-based employees that they can work from home through the holidays, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The United States leads the world in daily infections, accounting for one in every five cases reported globally. The country has seen more than 800,000 deaths and 50 million infections since the pandemic began.

At least 36 states have reported confirmed Omicron cases, CDC officials said on Wednesday.

The National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association have canceled several games this week after COVID-19 outbreaks hit several teams.

The National Football League has not yet announced any postponements after nearly 100 players were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, including more than a dozen Cleveland Browns, who are scheduled to play the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Tyler Clifford and Matt Scuffham in New York; Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Health costs pushed or worsened poverty for over 500 million

By Manas Mishra

(Reuters) – More than half a billion people globally were pushed or sent further into extreme poverty last year as they paid for health costs out of their own pockets, with the COVID-19 pandemic expected to make things worse, the World Health Organization and the World Bank said on Sunday.

The pandemic disrupted health services globally and triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, making it even more difficult for people to pay for healthcare, according to a joint statement from both the organizations.

“All governments must immediately resume and accelerate efforts to ensure every one of their citizens can access health services without fear of the financial consequences,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Tedros urged governments to increase their focus on health care systems and stay on course towards universal health coverage, which the WHO defines as everyone getting access to health services they need without financial hardship.

Healthcare is a major political issue in the United States, one of the few industrialized countries that does not have universal cover for its citizens.

Globally, the pandemic made things worse and immunization coverage dropped for the first time in ten years, with deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increasing.

“Within a constrained fiscal space, governments will have to make tough choices to protect and increase health budgets,” Juan Pablo Uribe, global director for health, nutrition and population at World Bank, said.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

Where’s the paper, ink, lightbulbs? U.S. offices struggle with supply shortages

By Elizabeth Dilts Marshall and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK(Reuters) – While news of the Omicron coronavirus variant threatens to derail U.S. companies’ return-to-office-plans, employers trying to get workers back into offices said they are encountering a different, unforeseen challenge: keeping the lights on.

The disruptions to the global supply chain caused by factory shutdowns in Asia, congestion at U.S. ports and a nationwide labor shortage have led to widely publicized microchip and building materials shortages. Now these issues are causing shortages in everyday office supplies, everything from printer ink and toner to paper to lightbulbs.

When anthropology professor Sara Becker returned to her office at the University of California, Riverside, in early November, she noticed several bulbs had burned out over the eight months she’d worked remotely. An assistant in her department contacted the facilities unit for replacements, and Becker was asked what percentage of lightbulbs in her office were out.

“I’m an anthropologist not a mathematician!” Becker joked on Twitter. Becker said in an email interview that, instead of counting bulbs, she sent photos of her darkened office to the facilities department, which, university spokesman John Warren said, is short on lighting materials and lamps.

For offices and workers, these supply issues – which can trickle down to cause workplace headaches – are only adding to the obstacles companies face in getting people back to the office.

Variants of the coronavirus, such as Delta, have already forced companies to push back the dates when they hoped most employees would begin to return to offices. It is possible the Omicron variant, first detected in the United States on Wednesday, will delay openings further.

Now, just securing general lighting supplies is taking eight to 13 weeks longer than normal, said Cheryl Carron, whose duties include heading facilities management for global commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle.

“It’s a significant challenge as we look at how we bring people back to work,” Carron said in an interview. “It’s a real critical need and one we take for granted.”

Companies across the globe have sounded the alarm on supply issues, which have boosted prices on raw materials from chemicals to steel. The concern dominated the last earnings season, with mentions of the issue by chief executives jumping 412%.

U.S. Customs data showed imports of glass bulbs for use in incandescent lamps fell 25% from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the first quarter this year, a period when the supply-chain issues first hit supplies. Imports have since rebounded but are still below pre-pandemic levels. The United States gets most of its incandescent bulbs from Taiwan.

In addition to lightbulbs, a source at one of the big retail banks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said replacement parts for heating and air-conditioning units across its branch network were in short supply.

In a recent earnings call, ODP Corp Chief Executive Gerry Smith, whose company owns the Office Depot and OfficeMax superstore chains, said the company anticipates a shortage in printer ink and toner until early next year. And one Midwestern law firm asked staff in an email last month to cut back on printing because they are short on paper, according to a copy of the email seen by Reuters. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Peter Lorenz, director of facilities and office operations at law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, said they also experienced paper shortages and delays in obtaining lightbulbs at the firm’s New York City office, a 360,000-square-foot (33,445-square-meter) space that used to be occupied by about 500 employees before the pandemic.

Supplies have been ramping back up since mid-October, Lorenz said, as employees began returning to the office as part of a hybrid work model, in which they split time between that workplace and working remotely.

“I think a lot of the suppliers have sort of bulked up so that they have a pretty good inventory of what we need,” he said in a phone interview.

If there is a silver lining to be found in this facilities management headache, Jones Lang LaSalle’s Carron said, it is in the lessons that building managers learned from last year’s pandemic-triggered shortages.

“They’ve got toilet paper,” she joked.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts Marshall and Maria Caspani; additional reporting by Herb Lash; editing by Megan Davies and Jonathan Oatis)

 

Inflation worries, pandemic curb U.S. consumer confidence; house prices cooling

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer confidence dropped to a nine-month low in November amid worries about the rising cost of living and pandemic fatigue, but that probably does not change expectations for stronger economic growth this quarter.

The survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday showed consumers less enthusiastic about buying a home and big-ticket items such as motor vehicles and major household appliances over the next six months. But consumers held strong views of the labor market, with the gap between those saying jobs are plentiful versus hard to get widening to a record high.

“This isn’t a cause for concern as the relationship between spending and sentiment is loose, particularly in the short-run,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The good news is that consumers’ assessment of the labor market improved in November, pointing toward further acceleration in job growth.”

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to a reading of 109.5 this month, the lowest reading since February, from 111.6 in October. The survey was conducted before the discovery of Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant, that was announced last week by South African scientists.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index falling to 111.0. The measure, which places more emphasis on the labor market, has dropped from a peak of 128.9 in June. The fall was less than that of the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment, which dropped to a decade low this month.

Data this month have suggested that the economy was accelerating in the fourth quarter, with consumer spending surging in October. But the outlook for next year has been clouded by the Omicron variant, which has since been detected in several countries outside the southern African region.

Not much is known about how contagious or vaccine resistant the Omicron variant is. The Conference Board’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, jumped to a reading of 46.9 this month, the highest on record, from 43.8 in October.

This measure closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report.

Combined with declining new claims for unemployment benefits, it raises hopes that job growth accelerated further this month, though a shortage of workers remains a challenge. There were 10.4 million job openings at the end of September.

INFLATION FEARS MOUNT

Consumers’ inflation expectations over the next 12 months surged to 7.6% in November from 7.1% last month. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on Tuesday that the higher prices were generally related to the pandemic, and warned that the risk of higher inflation had increased.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower on Powell’s inflation comments. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

Rising inflation is starting to influence consumers’ spending decisions, the Conference Board survey suggested.

Buying intentions for motor vehicles fell as did plans to purchase household appliances, television sets and refrigerators over the next six months. But intentions to buy washing machines and clothes dryers rose.

The survey also showed consumers less inclined to buy a house over the next six months. Slowing demand could help to further cool house price inflation.

A second report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller’s 20 metropolitan area home price index rose 19.1% on a year-on-year basis in September after advancing 19.6 %in August.

Signs that house price growth was moderating were evident in a third report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency that showed house prices rose 17.7% in the 12 months through September after powering ahead 18.5% in August.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Germany’s Scholz supports mandatory vaccines by end Feb – sources

BERLIN (Reuters) – Olaf Scholz, who is set to take over as German chancellor next week, supports making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory and backs barring the unvaccinated from non-essential stores, sources said on Tuesday.

Scholz and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting regional leaders on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to soaring infections in a fourth wave of the pandemic.

According to sources with information about the discussion, Scholz told the meeting he was in favor of a cross-party initiative to make vaccines mandatory, with the hope that it could be put into practice by the end of February.

Neighboring Austria, which like Germany has a relatively low rate of vaccination compared with the rest of western Europe, earlier this month announced plans to make vaccines compulsory as of February.

Scholz is also in favor of making non-essential stores require customers to show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, the sources said.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported that 452.2 people per 100,000 were infected in the last week, down slightly from 452.4 on Monday. It was the first decline since early November.

Despite this, the number of new daily cases rose slightly on Tuesday compared to last week to 45,753, and another 388 deaths were recorded – the highest daily figure since early March. That bought the overall death toll to 101,344.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Miranda Murray and Alison Williams)