Signs of the Times

April 19, 2019

­Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Nearly 2000 Churches in France have been Desecrated

While French authorities believe the blaze that destroyed the roof of the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral was accidental, it has brought attention to the surge of attacks on Christian symbols in Europe. Nearly 2,000 Christian houses of worship in France have been desecrated in the past two years, according to police. In Germany, there were four such incidents in March. Some French politicians have attributed the church desecrations — averaging more than two a day — to “militant secularism.” But in virtually every attack across Europe, writes Raymond Ibrahim for the Gatestone Institute, “authorities and media obfuscate the identity of the vandals.” “In those rare instances when the Muslim (or “migrant”) identity of the destroyers is leaked, the desecraters are then presented as suffering from mental health issues,” he writes. The German website PI News noted that, “Hardly anyone writes and speaks about the increasing attacks on Christian symbols. There is an eloquent silence in both France and Germany about the scandal of the desecrations and the origin of the perpetrators.” Authorities avoid at all costs blaming migrants, the website said, many of them Muslim.

Discrimination Against Christians/Jews Up, Muslims/Gays Down

Discrimination against Jews and Christians has surged in the United States in the last few years, even as reported attacks against Muslims and gays has gone down slightly, according to a new survey by Pew Research. The share of Americans saying Jews face discrimination in the U.S. has increased substantially since late 2016,” the report said. “Today, 64 percent of Americans say Jews face at least some discrimination – a 20-percentage-point increase from 2016; the share saying Jews face ‘a lot’ of discrimination has nearly doubled, from 13 percent to 24 percent. The report also said 50 percent of Americans believe evangelical Christians face some discrimination, up from 42 percent just a few years ago. Among Muslims, 56 percent say they face a lot of discrimination, down from 57 percent. Among gays and lesbians, 42 percent say they face a lot of discrimination, down from 43 percent.

Banks Shutting Down Accounts of Christian Organizations/Churches

Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona said Monday on YouTube that Bank of America shut down all the bank accounts of his church. “They’re supposedly going to send us a cashier’s check in like two weeks for all the money that was in our church bank account but in the meantime, they just took all our money away,” Anderson said. Anderson has attracted controversy over the years due to his fundamentalist preaching on homosexuality. Enrique Tarrio, who is the Chairman of the Proud Boys fraternal organization, had his personal Chase bank account shut down abruptly as well. The Proud Boys, despite simply being a fraternal organization that believes in Western culture, have been smeared as a white-nationalist hate group, despite Tarrio being black. Conservative commentator Martina Markota had her business account closed by Chase Bank as did conservative activist Joe Biggs, although that decision was later reversed after widespread outrage.

  • Hold on to your faith, folks, because homegrown persecution of all things Christian is just ramping up.

Since “Unplanned” Movie Released, 94 Abortion Clinic Workers to Quit

Abby Johnson’s powerful conversion story is moving hearts inside the abortion industry. Chuck Konzelman, who is a co-writer/co-director of “Unplanned,” the new film detailing Johnson’s life, said 94 abortion workers have reached out to them in the past few weeks because they are thinking about quitting. Johnson quit her job at Planned Parenthood a decade ago after watching an ultrasound-guided abortion and seeing the unborn baby fight for its life. Now, she runs a ministry called And Then There Were None, which provides support for abortion industry workers who want to quit.

NC Gov. Vetoes Care for Babies Born Alive after Failed Abortion

North Carolina Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Thursday morning that would require abortionists to provide basic medical care to newborns who survive failed abortions, just days after the measure cleared the state legislature. The North Carolina Senate approved Senate Bill 359 on Monday and the state House approved it on Tuesday. It requires infants born alive after attempted abortions to be guaranteed the “same claim to the protection of the law that would arise for any newborn, or for any person who comes to a hospital, clinic, or other facility.” Violators would be guilty of a Class D felony and face a fine of up to $250,000. “Laws already protect newborn babies, and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients,” Cooper claimed. “This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other health care providers for a practice that simply does not exist.”

Teen Girls Stage School Walkout Over Transgenders Boys in Bathroom

Students in Council Bluffs, Iowa, staged a walkout at Abraham Lincoln High School over bathroom privacy, with the protest being sparked by a girl who stated that her privacy was violated by a biological male who “recently began to identify as a girl” using the female bathroom. She was joined by about twenty other high school girls who left the school at 10:30 AM and began “chanting for privacy in restrooms, saying they don’t want boys transitioning into being girls to be in the restroom with them.” The 20 girls demanding privacy were confronted by nearly 40 students of mixed gender chanting in favor of state law, which requires schools to allow students to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable with.

More Than 10,000 Illegals in U.S. from Terrorist Countries

More than 10,000 illegal aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism are living in the United States, according to federal data. The countries of origin include Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan, said the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). The illegal aliens either have been ordered deported or have pending deportation orders, despite remaining in the U.S. Of the 10,000 from terror-sponsoring countries, about 6,000 are from Iran. California, a “sanctuary” state that shields illegal aliens from federal immigration authorities, has the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran. A total of more than 1.7 million illegal aliens remain in the U.S. despite having been ordered deported or having pending deportation orders. IRLI Executive Director Dale Wilcox said many of these could be part of terrorist sleeper cells, “We saw on 9/11 the damage that only 19 sleeper-cell terrorists could cause.”

Minneapolis’ Somali Community the Terrorist Recruitment Capital in U.S.

More men and boys from a Somali American community in Minneapolis have joined – or attempted to join – a foreign terrorist organization over the last 12 years than any other jurisdiction in the country. FBI stats show 45 Somalis left to join the ranks of either the Somalia-based Islamic insurgency al-Shabab, or the Iraq- and Syria-based ISIS combined. And as of 2018, a dozen more had been arrested with the intention of leaving to support ISIS. Both numbers are far higher than those of alleged terrorist wannabes who left or attempted to leave the country from other areas of the country where Muslim refugees have been resettled. In the case of the Somalis, it’s no longer just the men. Early last year, a female was apprehended by authorities on charges of supporting providing material support to Al Qaeda and arson.

Court Rejects White House Bid to Block California ‘Sanctuary’ Laws

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Thursday that most of three California sanctuary laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities can continue to be enforced, rejecting the bulk of a suit brought by the Trump administration. The judges upheld the most contentious law, Senate Bill 54, which prohibits police and sheriff’s officials from notifying immigration authorities when immigrant inmates are released from prison. In the opinion, Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote: “We have no doubt that makes the jobs of federal immigration authorities more difficult.” However, he added that the law “does not directly conflict with any obligations” placed on state or local governments by federal law “because federal law does not mandate any state action.” The court also upheld a California law, Assembly Bill 450, mandating that employers alert employees of any upcoming federal immigration inspection share the inspection results with employees who may not be authorized to work in the U.S. Judge Smith, who was nominated to the federal bench by George W. Bush, ruled that the state law “imposes no additional or contrary obligations that undermine or disrupt the activities of federal immigration authorities.”

Trump Administration Settles Lawsuit to Reunite Children

The Trump administration settled a federal lawsuit on Friday that could pave the way for thousands of Central American families to reunite with their families in the U.S., according to federal court documents. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, challenged the ending of the Central American Minors program, which helped minors from  El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras gain entry into the U.S. for refugee resettlement. The program, which was started in 2014, was ended under President Donald Trump in 2017. The program’s ending left 2,714 children in limbo as they had already been approved for the program but had not yet gained entry into the U.S. The settlement allows the government to continue processing these minors and, if approved, would allow them to reunite with family in the U.S. The settlement still needs to be approved by a judge.

Visa Overstays a Bigger Immigration Crisis Than Mexico Border

Visa overstays have a more significant impact on immigration than illegal border crossings, The Atlantic reports. Robert Warren, the former director of the statistics division of Immigration and Naturalization Service, and currently a senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, found that visa overstays outnumber border crossings by a 2 to 1 margin. visa overstays have outnumbered illegal border crossings every year for the past seven years. The Center for Migration Studies found in a report that about 515,000 people arrived in this country illegally in 2016, and that about three-fifths of those, 320,000, overstayed their visas, while the rest entered by illegally crossing the border. The Atlantic notes that this number is a small fraction of the over 50 million people who legally enter the U.S. with valid visas.

Migrant Update

Yuma, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, declared a state of emergency Tuesday, saying it cannot handle the crush of illegal immigrants the government is being forced to release onto its streets. Mayor Douglas Nicholls said the migrants are being released by the Border Patrol into his community faster than they can leave, and local shelters are already at capacity. He warned of mobs of people “roaming the streets looking to satisfy basic human needs,” clashing with citizens looking to protect their own property. The move was designed to draw the attention of the country to what locals said was an untenable situation and to beg for solutions from the federal government, which has been at a political stalemate over what to do.

At least 13% of the federal prison population and nearly 30% of those in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service are illegal immigrants, according to new 2018 numbers released by the Justice Department Wednesday. All told, nearly 60,000 people in Justice Department custody were known or suspected to be aliens. Of those, about 38,000 were held in prison, accounting for about 21% of the overall population. Nearly two-thirds were confirmed to be illegal immigrants and most of the rest are still under investigation for their status. Only a tiny fraction of the aliens had legal status.

Some illegal immigrants who are about to be deported must be held without bond as their deportation cases play out, Attorney General William Barr has ruled. Barr concluded that illegals who fit certain criteria after applying for asylum will not be eligible for release during the deportation process. The decision reverses a ruling dating back to 2005 that allowed bond to be instituted if the deportation subjects could demonstrate a legitimate fear of either persecution or danger should they leave the United States. In most cases, those migrants are released into the U.S. as they await an asylum hearing — a process that generally takes years.

The Trump administration wants to open two new tent facilities to temporarily detain up to 1,000 parents and children near the southern border, as advocates sharply criticize the conditions inside the tents already used to hold migrants. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a notice to potential contractors that it wants to house 500 people in each camp in El Paso, Texas, and in the South Texas city of Donna, which has a border crossing with Mexico. Each facility would consist of one large tent that could be divided into sections by gender and between families and children traveling alone, according to the notice. Detainees would sleep on mats. There would also be laundry facilities, showers, and an “additional fenced-in area” for “outside exercise/recreation.” The notice says the facilities could open in the next two weeks and operate through year end, with a cost that could reach $37 million.

A militia group near the U.S.-Mexico border detained hundreds of people this week, New Mexico’s attorney general said. “My office has been informed that this week, an armed group has detained nearly 300 people at gunpoint near Sunland Park, New Mexico,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a written statement. “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.” Migrants were held by the United Constitutional Patriots group and then handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol. The New York Times reported that a spokesman for the militia group said their actions were legal, “comparing the detention of the migrants to ‘a verbal citizen’s arrest.'”

Measles Accelerates to Second-Highest Level in U.S. in 25 Years

The number of measles cases in the United States made its biggest jump of the year, with 90 new cases reported in just one week, according to numbers released Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With 555 total cases, 2019 now has the second-highest number of measles cases in the United States in 25 years — and the year isn’t even half over. Measles isn’t just rising in the United States. The World Health Organization reported Monday there were more than 110,000 measles cases worldwide in the first three months of 2019 — an increase of nearly 300% from the same period last year. The actual number of measles cases is likely higher, as WHO estimates that less than 1 in 10 cases globally are reported to the agency. About 1 out of every 1,000 children who gets measles will develop encephalitis or swelling of the brain, according to the CDC. This can lead to convulsions and leave a child deaf or with an intellectual disability.

‘Red Flag’ Gun Laws Sparking Controversy

Colorado became the 15th state on Friday to adopt a “red flag” gun law, allowing firearms to be seized from people determined to pose a danger — just weeks after dozens of county sheriffs had vowed not to enforce the law, with some local leaders establishing what they called Second Amendment “sanctuary counties.” The law didn’t receive a single Republican vote in the state legislature, and has led to renewed efforts from gun-rights activists to recall Democrats who supported the measure. In a fiery and lengthy statement on Facebook on Friday, Eagle County, Colo., Sheriff James van Beek slammed the law as a well-intentioned but “ludicrous.” Van Beek charged that the law treats accused gun owners like “criminals,” discourages individuals from seeking mental health treatment, and ignores the reality that “a disturbed mind will not be deterred by the removal of their guns.”

The Number Of Children Per Household Is Shrinking

The Royal Bank of Canada notes that almost all countries are set to experience a decline in the number of children per household in the 2000 – 2030 period. More specifically, looking from 2015 out to 2030, Euromonitor expects developed markets to have a ~20% decline in the number of children per household and developing markets a ~15% decline. In fact, as the Canadian bank points out, it was as recently as 2012 when the number of couples without children globally surpassed the number of those with children.

Economic News

The “retail apocalypse” seemingly is only getting worse with store closures this year reportedly already exceeding the total for 2018. Coresight Research, which tracks store openings and closings, said Friday retailers have announced 5,994 store closures and 2,641 store openings as of early April. That compares to 5,864 closures and 3,239 openings for the full year 2018. The number of closures indicates that traditional retailers are struggling to respond to shoppers’ increasing shift online even as they’re working hard to reinvent their businesses.

Under President Trump’s new tax law, 60 of America’s biggest corporations paid $0 in federal taxes in 2018, despite earning billions of dollars in profits, reports Fox Business. Amazon Opens a New Window. , Netflix Opens a New Window. , General Motors Opens a New Window. , Chevron, JetBlue, IBM and U.S. Steel were all among the companies that avoided taxes last year using a diverse array of loopholes and tax breaks, according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think-tank. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act kept intact most of the tax breaks that allow profitable companies to zero out what they owe.

One of the central features of President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a drop in the corporate income tax rate, from 35% to 21%. Even though plenty of companies never paid that full rate because of various exemptions, the decrease still took a big bite out of corporate tax collections. They plunged from a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of $264 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017 to $149 billion in 2018, when the new rules went into effect, and they haven’t bounced back. As a share of the U.S. economy, corporate taxes fell from 1.33% in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 0.77% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Those were both down from about 2% in 2000. As a result of both the business and personal income tax cuts, households making between $500,000 and $1 million will see their after-tax income rise by an average of 5.2%. Households making less than $50,000 (the median income is $61,372 in the U.S.) see only a 0.6% increase.

Middle East

ImageSat International (ISI) released a series of images on Sunday showing extensive damage to a Syrian military base that Syria’s official state news agency SANA attributed to an Israeli airstrike on Friday evening. ISI’s photos show several destroyed structures, including a hangar and a number of other buildings, near Masyaf in the Hama province. This area has been identified in the past as a breeding ground for Iranian troops and the Lebanon-based terror proxy, Hezbollah. Following the strike, the buildings were identified as missile production facilities. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a report announcing that a number of Iranian fighters and pro-Iranian troops were killed in the attack. In addition, 17 people were also reported injured. Iran has attempted to establish a military stronghold on Israel’s doorstep. The Jewish state has identified Iranian entrenchment in Syria as a red line it will not tolerate, and has backed up the position with hundreds of strikes in Syrian territory over the past two years, many of which have targeted Iranian forces.

Islamic State

The number of suspected foreign ISIS fighters being detained by U.S.-backed forces in Syria has now surpassed 2,000, with a small number claiming to be US citizens, three U.S. officials told CNN. The foreigners are among the more than 9,000 ISIS fighters being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, with the majority of those being Syrian and Iraqi nationals. An additional 60,000 of what the US government refers to as ISIS “affiliates” are staying in make-shift camps where the SDF has a security presence. “These are women and children who have chosen to stay, or were coerced to stay as part of the ISIS caliphate that remained,” a senior US defense official told CNN.

ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Afghanistan, noted for their brutality in a brutal land, pose the top threat for spectacular attacks in the United States, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. The group known as ISIS-K, like al-Qaeda, which plotted the 9/11 terror attacks from Afghanistan, also has designs on striking targets in Western nations. ISIS-K has hundreds of fighters and has shown increasing effectiveness in its tactics and recruiting in Afghanistan, said Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee who recently visited Afghanistan. Inspiring, financing and directing attacks abroad is a key goal. A chief worry: a terrorist recruit, for example, driving a truck through a crowd in the United States, the intelligence official said, citing the type of assault the group aspires to. About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, half of them assigned to counter-terrorism missions, including combating ISIS-K militants.

North Korea

President Donald Trump said relations with Kim Jong Un remain “very good” and he opened the door Saturday for a third summit, hours after the North Korean leader said he’s willing to meet as long as the U.S. offers acceptable terms for a deal by year end. Kim said he wouldn’t welcome a repeat of the Hanoi summit in February, when Trump walked out without securing a nuclear disarmament deal. While Kim hailed his relationship with Trump, he also said the U.S. has been making unilateral demands and should abandon that approach. “They want to see the U.S. make the next move — that the steps that they took, such as returning war remains and shutting down missile sites, are even more grounds to demand the U.S. to relieve sanctions,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korean National Diplomatic Academy. Kim also asked that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be pulled from negotiations. The Kremlin announced Kim will visit Russia this month, offering President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to emerge as a broker in the long-running nuclear standoff.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected and directed a “new tactical guided weapons firing test” Wednesday, according to a report from the country’s state media. The report, from news agency KCNA, did not state exactly what kind of weapon was tested, nor its potential range. No missile launch was detected by US Northern Command and Strategic Command, according to US Department of Defense officials. “The development and completion of this weapons system will be a great historic event in strengthening the combat capability of the People’s Army,” Kim said, according to KCNA. However, U.S. intelligence officials do not believe North Korea successfully launched a fully operational new weapon. Their initial that assessment is North Korea tested components for an anti-tank weapon, rather than a fully operational new weapon.

Yemen

President Trump formally vetoed a measure that would force his administration to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The veto, the second of Trump’s presidency, overrode a bipartisan measure earlier this month that would have stopped the U.S. from providing logistical, intelligence and targeting assistance to Saudi Arabia in the conflict with Yemen. The resolution served as a rebuke to Trump and Saudi leaders and highlighted a growing unease with America’s role in the grisly conflict, which has left thousands of civilians dead and millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation. Currently, the U.S. provides billions of dollars of arms, but no troops, to the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. The war in Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the two regimes battle for influence in the region.

Northern Ireland

The dissident republican group the New IRA was most likely responsible for the fatal shooting of a journalist during overnight rioting in the city of Londonderry, police in Northern Ireland said Friday. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said 29-year-old journalist and author Lyra McKee died after she was shot during rioting in the Creggan area. A gunman also fired a number of shots at police during the unrest Thursday evening. “We believe this to be a terrorist act,” Hamilton said. “We believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans.” A murder investigation has been launched but there have been no arrests. There has been an increase in tensions in Northern Ireland in recent months with sporadic violence, much of it focused in Londonderry. The New IRA is a small group of republicans who reject the 1998 Good Friday agreement that marked the Irish Republican Army’s embrace of a political solution to the long-running violence known as “The Troubles” that claimed more than 3,700 lives. I

Venezuela

Underpaid, underfed and humiliated by the autocratic turn their country had taken, the armed forces were the linchpin of the Trump administration’s strategy to get the ruling government to step aside. Some U.S. officials predicted they would flip en masse within days. That hasn’t happened. Venezuela’s military, despite U.S. expectations, has not turned on President Maduro, which has enabled him to stay in power despite the poor economy, high inflation and drop in oil revenue. Even as thousands of people can’t find basic necessities, and many risk their lives to leave the country, Maduro tenaciously clings to power.

Cocaine trafficking from Venezuela to the United States is soaring, even as the country collapses. And U.S. and other regional officials say it’s Venezuela’s own military and political elite who are facilitating the passage of drugs in and out of the country on hundreds of tiny, unmarked planes. The number of suspected drug flights from Venezuela has risen from about two flights per week in 2017 to nearly seven in 2018, according to one U.S. official. This year, the same official has seen as many as five nighttime flights in the sky at once. Officials involved in combating the deadly trade describe a tremendously profitable courier system for the Venezuelan government.

Earthquakes

Between 2008 and 2017, Southern California was hit by 1.8 million earthquakes, 10 times more than previously thought, said a new study. Seismologists at the California Institute of Technology found approximately 180,000 earthquakes had been recorded during that time. Data showed the region experiences 495 quakes a day, or roughly one every three minutes. However, the reason these quakes are just being discovered is they’re too small to notice. Researchers say the temblors are tough to find because seismic data also includes background noise such as building construction and shaking from traffic. Researchers used an array of powerful computers to scan the earthquake catalog and verify the new earthquakes.

Weather

At least three people died Thursday as severe thunderstorms that marched across the southern U.S. spawned tornadoes, knocked trees into homes, blew over cars and caused roads to flood. The line of severe weather damaged homes, made travel difficult and left tens of thousands of customers without power as it moved from Texas and Louisiana into Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. There were reports of nine tornadoes in Mississippi. By Friday morning, the storms were moving through Tennessee, Georgia and Florida on a trek east. There is a strong risk of damaging winds from the storms that will sweep through Virginia and the Carolinas later Friday. Nearly 100,000 homes and businesses across five states were without power early Friday.

More than 100 people are dead in India and Pakistan after powerful storms unleashed dust, lightning, hail, rain and high winds. The Times of India reported that at least 64 people had died during severe thunderstorms in India. Most of those died from lightning strikes or electrocution. Homes were damaged, trees uprooted and power lines knocked down in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states. There was also reported damage to crops by heavy rains and hail. In Pakistan, at least 39 people were killed and 135 injured in torrential rainfalls. At least 80 houses were damaged, and there were several reports of roofs and walls collapsing, with the worst of the impacts in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Signs of the Times

April 12, 2019

­Surely, He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. (Psalm 91:3-6)

Antimicrobial Resistance a Growing Threat

Global leaders met at the United Nationals General Assembly in New York Wednesday to address what experts are calling one of the biggest threats to global health: antimicrobial resistance, AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites become resistant to the drugs typically used to treat people infected by them. There are now many infections that cannot be treated at all, the panel said. Superbugs are killing about 33,000 people in Europe every year. Drug-resistant bacteria are expected to kill 10 million people a year by 2050 if nothing is done to solve the problem. These superbugs developed because antimicrobials are overprescribed and people buy them over the counter in certain countries. In addition, people don’t finish courses of treatment and the antibiotics are overused in veterinary practices. Another large-scale use of antimicrobials — mostly antibiotics — has been in farming, to promote animal growth. Antimicrobials are overprescribed and people buy them over the counter in certain countries. Drugs are shared, people don’t finish courses of treatment and antibiotics are overused in veterinary practices. Another large-scale use of antimicrobials — mostly antibiotics — has been in farming, to promote animal growth.

Pope Benedict Criticizes Vatican Handling of Abuse

An open letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict that blames the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis on homosexuality and the sexual revolution of the 1960s is drawing deep criticism from Catholic theologians in the U.S. who call it divisive and “embarrassingly wrong.” “Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms,” Benedict writes in a lengthy treatise released Wednesday in his native Germany. “Pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.” James Bretzke, a theology professor at Marquette University, calls the pedophilia claim puzzling, saying pedophilia has never been accepted by “anyone anywhere close to the cultural mainstream.” Benedict says expanded access to pornography helped fuel the crisis. At about the same time period, Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that left the church ill-equipped to combat the trend, he added. “In various seminaries, homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries,” writes Benedict, who ceded his reign to Pope Francis six years ago.

Ohio Passes Heartbeat Abortion Bill

Ohio lawmakers just passed a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, part of a nationwide crusade to undo the U.S. Supreme Court’s protection of abortion rights. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine promptly signed the abortion ban, which is one of the nation’s strictest. The so-called “heartbeat bill,” which prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, has been endorsed by Vice President Mike Pence and is seen as a credible threat to the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, which opened the floodgates to abortion on demand. Arkansas, North Dakota, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia have passed versions of the heartbeat bill, and the legislation is pending in 11 other states.

Federal Appeals Court Upholds KY ‘Ultrasound’ Abortion Law

Pro-lifers in Kentucky won a victory Thursday when a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s law requiring abortionists to give women the opportunity to view ultrasound images of their children before abortion. Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said, “We applaud the decision by the Sixth Circuit, which affirms the commonsense notion that patients should be well equipped with relevant information before making important medical decisions.” Enacted in 2017, Kentucky’s Ultrasound Informed Consent Act requires abortionists to perform ultrasounds prior to committing abortions, display and explain the images, play the audio of any fetal heartbeat, and offer women the opportunity to view the images. It does not force women to view them.

North Dakota Bans ‘Dismemberment’ Abortions

North Dakota’s governor signed a bill Wednesday outlawing a grisly abortion procedure in which an unborn baby is dismembered, limb by limb, until the uterus is empty. The signature by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum made North Dakota the 11th state to ban a procedure medically known as dilation and evacuation, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. Most similar laws, though, have been blocked in court. The law includes an exception for a medical emergency. It goes into effect when a court allows its enforcement or when the U.S. Supreme Court “restores to the states authority to prohibit abortion.”

Pennsylvania School Board Okays “In God We Trust” in Schools

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board in Greencastle, PA has voted unanimously to allow the national motto “In God We Trust” and other documents from U.S. history to be displayed in foyers and other public areas of the district’s primary, elementary, middle and high schools. Teachers can also place the motto in their classrooms, as well, along with copies of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. The board also said it decided to display the motto and documents because they serve patriotic, historical, educational and solemnizing purposes.

“Unplanned” in Top Ten Again

The pro-life movie “Unplanned” finished in the top 10 at the box office for the second weekend in a row, overcoming an “R” rating and what the film’s supporters have called a media blackout. So far, it’s earned more than $12 million, doubling the $6 million production budget. “Unplanned” is centered on the life of former Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson who later became pro-life. “It’s a little surreal, if I’m honest, to watch someone play out the worst version of yourself in a film. But it’s also just a good reminder that God can literally use anything from our past and use it for His glory and use it for His Kingdom,” she said.

FDA Mounts Aggressive Push to Regulate Stem-Cell Clinics

The Food and Drug Administration has launched a nationwide crackdown on stem-cell clinics, issuing letters of warning and threatening civil actions that could shut them down if they refuse to comply with FDA regulations. On Wednesday, the FDA sent correspondence to 20 clinics around the country, putting them on notice that they must seek FDA review and approval for their procedures. The regulatory crackdown is a paradigm change for more than 700 stem-cell clinics nationwide that have largely gone unregulated by federal authorities for over a decade. The FDA has filed civil actions against two clinics, one in Florida and another in California, in a bid to force them to comply with FDA regulatory regimes applied to major drug manufacturers. That would likely be unsustainable for small practices. Advocates for regenerative stem-cell medicine charge that Big Pharma’s influence is behind the crackdown, suggesting the FDA is being used to clear out potential competitors. They describe stem-cell therapy as a minimally invasive procedure best regulated by local medical boards.

Pentagon’s Transgender Policy Takes Effect Friday

A Pentagon policy set to go into effect Friday bars from service anyone requiring treatment for dissatisfaction with their gender identity. Implementation of the policy concerning the medical condition known as gender dysphoria was pushed by President Donald Trump and blasted by Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said the policy “had no place in our country.” It had been delayed by court challenges. Currently serving troops who have been treated will be allowed to continue serving. Transgender troops must serve in their sex at birth, and must file for waivers for use of showers, bathrooms, physical fitness and other standards, according to the policy.

Mainstream Media Changes Their Tune on Border Crisis

Months after repeatedly dismissing and mocking President Trump’s claim of a national emergency at the Southern U.S. border, the mainstream media are grappling with reality, with no less than The New York Times declaring the border crisis at “breaking point.” The Washington Post’s editorial board said “there is no crisis” at the border and called Trump’s national emergency declaration “untethered from truth and reality” and a “make-believe emergency.” Fast forward, the same media outlets are now scrambling to accurately portray the border crisis, no longer fearing to quote top officials and their data, and declare that the southern border is at a “breaking point” amid a surge in the number of illegal immigrant crossings. The Times story claims that a “breaking point” has been reached in America’s immigration system, which is no longer able to cope with the unprecedented levels of illegal immigration. “The country is now unable to provide either the necessary humanitarian relief for desperate migrants or even basic controls on the number and nature of who is entering the United States,” the story notes. The Post also ran  article titled “U.S. has hit ‘breaking point’ at border amid immigration surge, Customs and Border Protection chief says.”

Judge blocks Trump’s Wait-in-Mexico Asylum Policy

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop its new policy of sending asylum-seekers who jumped the border back to Mexico to wait while their cases proceed, ruling Monday that the plan was likely illegal. Known informally as the “wait-in-Mexico policy,” and officially as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the plan was a major part of the administration’s moves to try to stem the flow of immigrants crossing into the U.S. illegally. Judge Richard Seeborg, an Obama appointee to the bench, said not only does the policy violate immigration law, but Mexico is so dangerous that making asylum-seekers wait there — even if they’re not from Mexico — is untenable. He gave the government until Friday to appeal, and then his ruling will take effect. Any appeal would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the court President Trump regularly bashes, arguing it is biased against him.

Border Update

A caravan-size influx of migrants is flooding across the border each week in just a single sector, a top Border Patrol official told lawmakers Tuesday — the latest indicator of the growing migration crisis on the southern border. Karisch said his sector has apprehended people from 50 different countries, including China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt and Romania. “People are traveling across hemispheres to attempt to illegally enter the U.S., using the same pathways as the Central Americans,” he said. Karisch noted that Border Patrol has apprehended more families illegally crossing the border in the first five months of fiscal 2019 than during all of fiscal 2018. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended more than 76,000 migrants across the border in February and said it was on track to apprehend more than 100,000 in March.

President Trump said on Wednesday he would have to mobilize more of the military at the U.S. border with Mexico after listening to stories about migrants crossing the border. The president said some of the people crossing the border were ending up dead from the journey on Americans’ ranches. “Also, they come in and raid their houses, and it’s very dangerous,” Trump said, referring to locals affected by the influx of migrants. There are currently about 5,000 active-duty and National Guard troops near the border. In February, Trump deployed an additional 3,750 U.S. troops to the country’s southwestern border to support Customs and Border Protection agents. Later that month, Democratic governors of states including Wisconsin, New Mexico and California withdrew their National Guard troops, saying there was not enough evidence of a security crisis to justify keeping them there.

Aging Population & Declining Birthrate Creating Shrinking Workforce

The Congressional Budget Office foresees the American labor force rising by only 0.5 percent a year over the coming decade, about one-third as fast as from 1950 to 2007. That is a crucial reason that economic growth is forecast to remain well below its late 20th-century levels. There are now 2.8 workers for every recipient of Social Security benefits, a rate on track to fall to 2.2 by 2035, according to the program’s trustees. In 1940, the ratio was 159.4 workers per recipient, shrinking to 5.1 in 1960, and 3.4 in 2000. Population growth in the United States has now hit its lowest level since 1937, partly because of a record-low fertility rate “I believe our biggest threat is our declining labor force,” said Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican, in his annual budget address this year. “It’s the root of every problem we face.

Congress Approves Colorado River Drought Plan

A plan to address a shrinking supply of water on a river that serves 40 million people in the U.S. West was approved by the U.S. House and Senate Monday. Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming spent years negotiating the Colorado River drought contingency plan. They aim to keep two key reservoirs from falling so low they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower. Mexico has promised to store water in Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border if the U.S. legislation is approved by April 22. Arizona and Nevada would keep water in Lake Mead when it falls to certain levels. The cuts eventually would loop in California if Lake Mead’s level drops far enough. State water managers and federal officials have cited a prolonged drought, climate change and increasing demand for the river’s flows as reasons to cut back on water usage. The agreement runs through 2026.

Number of Suicidal Children’s Visits to ER Doubles

The number of children and teens in the United States who visited emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to a new analysis. Researchers used publicly available data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnoses increased from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.12 million in 2015. The findings come as no surprise to child psychiatrists. One reason for the increase in depression and suicidal behaviors is more stress and pressure on kids, said Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Parents and caregivers are also more stressed, Beresin said, adding that rates of suicides have increased in all age groups over the past 20 years and that the stress is passed down to children and teens.

U.S. Leads In Healthcare Costs, But Not Healthiness

Health care costs are growing faster than the rest of the global economy, according to the World Health Care Organization (WHO). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 34 predominantly rich countries, leads the world in healthcare expenditures, and the U.S. spends the most per capita of these wealthy countries. A third of the  OECD countries spend more than $2,000 per person each year on health care. The 12 countries with the highest health care costs, spend about twice that amount. The differences between countries is staggering, ranging from $8,047 per person in the U.S. to just $541 in the OECD country with the lowest health care expenses per capita (Turkey). Despite spending the most, the U.S. ranks 37th out of 185 countries in overall health, according to WHO.

Middle Class Shrinking Worldwide

Middle-income households are disappearing in developed countries around the world, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD warned that this could have serious consequences for nations’ economic growth and social fabric. The middle class has been under stress for years, helping fuel the rise of progressive Democrats in the United States, who are seeking to increase taxes on the rich to provide a stronger safety net — including universal health care. But while many presidential candidates point to Europe as a model, the OECD report shows that problems exist there too. The share of people in middle-income households in developed countries fell from 64% in the mid-1980s to 61% by the mid-2010s. However, the declines were larger in several countries, including the United States, Israel, Germany, Canada, Finland and Sweden. In the United States, just over 50% of the population is middle class, much smaller than most other developed countries. The report considers households earning between 75% and 200% of the median national income as middle class. Costs are going up faster than inflation in the world’s richest economies — making it harder for the middle class to keep up. Home prices, in particular, have been growing more than a third faster than median household income in recent decades. The middle class spent 32% of their budgets on housing in 2015, compared to 25% in 1985.

Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Conversations

Amazon employs a global team that transcribes the voice commands and feeds them back into the software to help improve Alexa’s grasp of human speech so it can respond more efficiently in the future, Bloomberg reports. Amazon reportedly employs thousands of full-time workers and contractors in several countries, including the United States, Costa Rica and Romania, to listen to as many as 1,000 audio clips in shifts that last up to nine hours. The audio clips they listen to were described as “mundane” and even sometimes “possibly criminal,” including listening to a potential sexual assault. In response to the story, Amazon confirmed to CNN Business that it hires people to listen to what customers say to Alexa. But Amazon said it takes “security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously” and only uses “requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.”

  • A judge has ordered Amazon to turn over Echo smart speaker recordings from a home where police say two women were murdered, according to HLN (a national news network that airs news by day and mysteries and investigations by night).

Persecution Watch

Authorities arrested a suspect Wednesday in Louisiana believed to be responsible for the fires that destroyed three predominately black churches in 10 days in St. Landry Parish, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s deputy, is in custody in connection with the fires which occurred at three black Baptist churches in the same parish.

Economic News

In another sign that the economy is cooling off, employers posted fewer job openings in February, after a year of mounting demand for workers. The number of postings declined by 538,000, the Labor Department reported Tuesday, down from 7.1 million in January. However, the job openings rate is still higher than it was at this time last year. The biggest drops came in the hospitality and food services sector, potentially an indication that leisure spending is weakening.

Consumer prices for U.S. shoppers increased by 0.4% in March, the biggest increase in more than a year, according to a new report from the Labor Department. This was more than expected, but core CPI up just 0.1%, below forecasts. The increase was boosted by increases in the costs of food, gasoline and rents. In the 12 months through March, the CPI increased 1.9 percent, relatively tame, supporting the Federal Reserve’s decision to stop raising interest rates.

U.S. gas prices are rising and could reach more than $4 a gallon in some states due in part to the recent flooding in the Midwest. As of Tuesday, the national gas price average reached $2.74 this week, up more than 28 cents compared to a month ago. West Coast states are seeing the fastest increases, with California leading the pack. A gallon of gas there averages $3.81. Ethanol, the biofuel added to gas to reduce emissions, is made with Midwest corn. Widespread flooding last month knocked out nearly 13 percent of the country’s ethanol production capacity.

California has the highest tax rates in the U.S. but legislators are looking for new sources of revenue. As Californians grapple with that 13.3 percent income tax,  lawmakers in Sacramento are looking at a range of other revenue sources such as levies on water, soda and tires. Members of the legislature’s Democratic supermajority argue that these new taxes are vital to shore up the state coffers and to provide crucial services such as repairing crumbling infrastructure, cleaning up toxic wells and fighting obesity. Overall, the California Tax Foundation has added up more than $6.2 billion worth of tax increase proposals pending in the state legislature. But the state’s minority Republican leaders bemoan these new proposals, arguing that the new charges would only worsen the state’s mounting affordability and housing challenges.

  • Socialism is running amok in California and Californians are leaving the state in droves. Soon, there won’t be enough workers to fund the taxation black hole.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the United States would impose tariffs on $11 billion of products from the European Union, a day after the U.S. Trade Representative proposed a list of targeted products as retaliation for European aircraft subsidies. While the size of the tariffs is small compared with the hundreds of billions the U.S. and China are taxing in their trade war, it suggests a breakdown in talks with the European Union over trade at a time when the economy is already slowing sharply. The U.S. and EU have been negotiating since last year about how to avoid tariffs that President Donald Trump has wanted to impose to reduce a trade deficit with countries like Germany.

Britain

After marathon, late-night talks, European Union leaders agreed to delay Britain’s departure from the EU, known as Brexit, by six months. The last-minute extension until Oct. 31 was announced early Thursday in Brussels following an emergency summit. Britain was due to leave the EU on Friday. The delay is intended to give British Prime Minister Theresa May more time to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. It has been rejected three times already.  It also prevents, for now, Britain leaving the bloc without a formal exit deal.

Israel

Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will retain his seat for an unprecedented 5th term as his Likud party won 35 seats in the 21st Knesset and parties winning sufficient seats to form a majority government pledged to support his continued premiership. The Blue and White party led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz also won 35 seats, but has insufficient support from smaller parties to form a majority. However, Netanyahu’s victory comes amid mounting corruption accusations over the past year which are still under investigation.

Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, will not be allowed into the United States. The American government denied Barghouti’s entry on Wednesday at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. While BDS’ stated goal is to “isolate” Israel culturally and economically, the movement and its adherents frequently face accusations of anti-Semitism based on their rhetoric and their single-minded focus on the world’s only Jewish state for condemnation, ignoring the host of nations with far worse human rights records, including several that have large Palestinian populations, like Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Barghouti is a staunch critic of economic normalization between Israeli and Palestinian businesses, and supports the “armed struggle against Israel” according to the Meir Amit Center.

Islamic State

The U.S.-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is not over, despite a declaration of victory against the group’s last remaining stronghold in eastern Syria last month. In the week following the March 23 victory declaration by Syrian and Kurdish partner forces, the coalition conducted 52 strikes in Iraq and Syria, “While the completion of territorial liberation is a major milestone, we will continue to work by, with, and through our partners in Iraq and Syria to deny ISIS the opportunity to re-emerge,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson told ABC News. The Islamic State has amassed a war chest of as much as $300 million and continues to exploit a string of revenue streams that are likely to enable the group to finance a covert network in Iraq, Syria and further afield despite the complete physical collapse of its so-called caliphate.

Iran

President Trump announced Monday the U.S. will formally designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The designation will be the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as a foreign terrorist organization.” This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” Trump said in a statement that described the IRGC as “the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.” Iran warned last weekend that if the U.S. went ahead with the designation, Tehran would retaliate by designating the US military as a terrorist organization in return.

Libya

Clashes between rival Libyan forces for control of Tripoli escalated on Monday as the death toll from days of fighting rose to at least 51, including both combatants and civilians, and the city’s only functioning airport said it was hit by an airstrike. The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Hifter who last week launched the push on Tripoli, acknowledged striking the Mitiga airport, barely five miles east of the city center. Hifter’s forces have clashed with rival militias which support the U.N.-backed government that controls Tripoli and the western part of the country. The escalation has threatened to plunge the fractured North African nation deeper into chaos and ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The U.N. said the latest fighting has displaced some 3,400 people and blocked emergency services from reaching casualties and civilians.

Sudan

Sudan’s military arrested President Omar al-Bashir, ousting him from power in the wake of escalating protests against his 30-year rule, the defense minister announced Thursday. He said the military will rule the country for the next two years with an emergency clampdown. Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup, leading an alliance of the military and Islamist hard-liners. He was condemned by the international war crimes tribunal for atrocities in Darfur. Tens of thousands of Sudanese converged throughout the day at the protest movement’s main sit-in outside the military’s General Command Headquarters, cheering, singing and dancing after word emerged in the morning that al-Bashir would be removed. But the announcement that finally came appeared to confirm the fears of many protesters that the military would shrug off demands for a civilian transition. Defense Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf announced that the military also suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, closed the country’s borders and airspace and imposed a night curfew for one month.

Afghanistan

The Taliban announced Friday the start of their spring offensive despite talking peace with the United States and ahead of a significant gathering of Afghans meant to discuss resolutions to the protracted war and an eventual withdrawal of American troops from the country. Insurgents carry out daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces and NATO troops, inflicting many casualties, including civilians. Most recently, a Taliban attack near the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan killed three Marines on Monday. At least 16 people were killed and 30 injured when a bomb ripped through a vegetable market in Quetta in southwestern Pakistan early Friday. Eight of the dead were Hazaras, a Shiite Muslim minority group that has repeatedly been the target of Sunni extremists. The Taliban now hold sway over half the country after a relentless 17-year war, America’s longest. The U.N.’s annual report earlier this year said civilian deaths hit a record high last year. Still, preparations are underway for Afghan-to-Afghan talks starting next week in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday passed sweeping gun laws that outlaw military style weapons, less than a month after mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch left 50 people dead and dozens wounded. A bill outlawing most automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banning components that modify existing weapons was passed by a vote of 119 to 1 in the House of Representatives after an accelerated process of debate and public submission. The bill needs only the approval of New Zealand’s governor general, a formality, before becoming law on Friday.

Earthquakes

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island Friday evening. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the powerful quake struck around Friday 6:40 p.m. local time at a depth of 10.5 miles. The epicenter of the quake is located beneath the sea about 149 miles from Kandari City. No cities have been impacted, according to reports.

Weather

Winter Storm Wesley continued to wreak havoc on Minnesota and the Dakotas Friday morning, closing schools and government offices, knocking out power to thousands and prompting a state of emergency in Minnesota. For a third straight day, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed government offices Friday in most of the state’s 66 counties. About 30,000 people remained without power across South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa as of 7 a.m. Friday. Jackson County in Minnesota reported more than 100 power poles had been knocked down by high winds. Blizzard warnings continued Friday morning in parts of South Dakota but were expected to expire by 1 p.m. local time.

At least 10 people have died in Rio de Janeiro after a torrential downpour caused flooding. Torrents of water gushed down streets, sweeping up cars and uprooting trees after rains that began around rush hour Monday evening. Schools were closed Tuesday and people urged to avoid non-essential travel. City officials said 6 inches of rain fell in just four hours Monday night, more than the average for the whole month of April. The botanical garden neighborhood, a tourist destination, was one of the most badly hit areas, receiving 9 inches in a 24-hour period. Firefighters in that neighborhood wadws through knee-deep water pulling a small boatload of children evacuated from a school bus on a flooded street.

Global warming’s ripple effects are creating never-before-seen changes in the Arctic’s biophysical system and beyond, according to a new study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program. The results showed transformations in the growing seasons for plant life, an increase in precipitation, accelerated ice melt and glacier shrinking, among other far-reaching changes. Warmer temperatures are causing plants to bloom at different times, confusing bees and affecting pollination. The study found that average temperatures in the Arctic had increased about 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1971. Another new study by the University of Zurich shows that our planet’s glaciers are melting away at a pace of 390 billion tons of ice and snow per year. The world’s seas have risen about an inch in the past 50 years just due to glacier melt alone.

  • Extreme changes in the weather are prophesied in the Bible for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

 

Signs of the Times

April 6, 2019

­They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers. Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to [a]escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them.” (Jeremiah 11:10-11)

‘Unplanned’ Another Christian Hit Move that Surprises Hollywood

“Unplanned,” a faith-based film from PureFlix, finished in the top five movies last weekend with an impressive $6.1 million from only 1,059 theaters. The feature film, which takes a stand against abortion, doubled its projected earnings, well above industry predictions from $2 million to $3 million for its opening weekend. The film tells the true story of Abby Johnson, who worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years before becoming a pro-life activist. The independent production did well despite a temporary Twitter ban on the film’s social media presence, limited release on the nation’s movie screens and very little coverage from the mainstream media. Major cable networks refused to air promotional ads for “Unplanned,” including Lifetime, Hallmark, HGTV and others, according to a Hollywood Reporter tally. The movie also was given a surprise R-rated by MPAA last month. The film earned a rare A-plus rating from CinemaScore.

  • Reverences to Bible verse Jeremiah 11:11 were repeatedly inserted into the film, which first appears on a homeless man’s sign. Many 11:11 references follow, but nowhere is the actual verse quoted (see above for the New King James version).

Pro-Lifers Protest Against Twitter at Its DC Office

Pro-life and free speech activists protested in front of Twitter Washington, DC corporate office last Tuesday. The protest is in response to Twitter’s censorship and blatant violation of their corporate values toward the film “Unplanned.” Here are two examples: Twitter suspended the Unplanned movie account on the evening of the film’s nationwide opening. Twitter said it was because the “Unplanned” account was linked to some other account which is simply not true. “Unplanned” has only one account so any linking had to be done by Twitter personnel. The Unplanned  movie” account went from over 100,000 followers to just 151 Monday. People looking to follow “Unplanned” were immediately dropped from the system. The event is being sponsored by the Washington, DC based Christian Defense Coalition, which is a faith based human rights and free speech organization committed to sharing the principles of justice in the public square.

Georgia Passes the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, South Carolina Follows Suit

Last week, lawmakers in Georgia passed H.B. 481—one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country—despite threats from Hollywood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The bill bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which is typically around the 6th week of pregnancy. This week, Governor Kemp signed it into law. The bill passed 92 to 78, according to CNN. Women were previously allowed to abort up until 20 weeks of their pregnancy. “I can’t govern because I’m worried about what someone in Hollywood thinks about me,” Kemp said. South Carolina followed Georgia’s lead, when the House Judiciary Committee passed its own Heartbeat Bill in a 15-7 vote.

Pope Appoints Pro-LGBT Wilton Gregory to Archdiocese of Washington

The Vatican announced Thursday that Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta will be the successor of embattled Cardinal Donald Wuerl to lead the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., one of the most prominent in the United States. Numerous faithful Catholic laity are outraged over the appointment of Gregory. The Archbishop has a history of showing support for homosexuality, contrary to Catholic teaching, along with other unorthodox positions. As head of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Gregory has displayed an uncritical willingness to accept LGBT ideology. His actions include personally inviting pro-gay Vatican adviser Fr. James Martin to give a speech titled “Showing Welcome and Respect in Our Parishes to LGBT Catholics” at both St. Thomas More Parish and at Atlanta’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Gregory also Permited the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Atlanta, GA) to act as a center for LGBT events, including LGBT potluck socials and participating in the city’s Pride Parade.

Mormons OK Gay Parent Baptisms

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is repealing rules unveiled in 2015 that banned baptisms for children of gay parents and made gay marriage a sin worthy of expulsion. The surprise announcement Thursday reverses rules that triggered widespread condemnations from LGBTQ members and their allies. The church in a statement says it isn’t changing its doctrinal opposition to gay marriage and still considers same-sex relationships to be a “serious transgression.” But people in same-sex relationships will no longer be considered “apostates” who must be kicked out of the religion. The change marks the biggest move yet by church President Russell M. Nelson, who has made a flurry of changes since taking over the faith in January 2018.

Ohio 4-H Program Promotes LGBT Ideology

Liberty Counsel, a Christian nonprofit organization, is accusing Ohio State University’s 4-H program of promoting “LGBT ideology.” Liberty Counsel says, “Homosexuality and ‘transgenderism’ are inappropriate subjects for impressionable children and have nothing to do with 4-H. OSU “is intent on silencing or driving away parents, employees or volunteers who believe that there are only two sexes, male and female.” Liberty Counsel said all Ohio participants in 4-H attend camps and events where they must share showers or sleep in the same rooms as others who identify as another sex. They also said the college’s program promotes the use of the pronouns, ‘Zie, Zir and Zirs,’ which are gender-neutral pronouns.

Yale Discriminates Against Christians

In the latest reminder that traditional Christian values are increasingly unwelcome in modern academia, Yale Law School has reportedly excluded students who work at organizations that stand by Biblical teachings on homosexuality from several financial support programs, reports LifeSiteNews. Aaron Haviland, a Yale Law student and Marine Corps veteran, reports that the school recently announced an expansion of its “nondiscrimination” policy to include summer public interest fellowships, post-graduate public interest fellowships, and loan forgiveness for careers in public interest. Specifically, these resources would no longer be made available to students and graduates who joined organizations that supposedly “discriminate” on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The move came a month after the campus LGBT group Outlaws raised objections to the Yale Federalist Society inviting an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney to discuss the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Outlaws called on the school to both “clarify” its admissions policies for students who agreed with ADF and deny financial support to students who take summer jobs or fellowships with such groups.

Leading Muslim Cleric Says Islamophobia a Result of Islamic Extremism

The senior member of the world’s biggest Muslim organization has insisted that Islamophobia is not rooted in racism and that the distrust of Muslims in many countries is a result of Islamist extremism and terrorism throughout the world. Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary-general of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which claims to have more than 90 million adherents, wrote an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph saying that the traditional Muslim mindset needed to change. He called for a rejection of Islamic orthodoxy, condemning it as “obsolete and problematic” and “fueling violence on both sides…The truth, we recognize, is that jihadist doctrine, goals and strategy can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam and its historic practice. This includes those portions of sharia that promote Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity towards non-Muslims and require the establishment of a caliphate. It is these elements – still taught by most Sunni and Shiite institutions – that constitute a summons to perpetual conflict.”

House of Representatives Sues to Overturn Border Emergency Order

The Democratic-led House of Representatives filed a federal lawsuit on Friday aiming to prevent President Donald Trump from going around Congress to fund his wall along the southern border. The lawsuit argues Trump overstepped his constitutional powers when he authorized spending more money than Congress has approved to erect barriers along the southwestern border by taking cash from other agencies. Attorneys general from 20 states, plus environmental and progressive groups, have filed similar lawsuits aimed at blocking the transfers. The complaint, filed against the Treasury, Homeland Security, Defense, Interior departments and each department’s leader. The president had requested about $5.7 billion from Congress to fund for his border wall, but Congress approved just under $1.4 billion for work on border barricades. Trump has asserted he can use his powers as chief executive to transfer another $6.7 billion from other departments to use for wall construction.

Border Update

Along the Texas border with Mexico – from El Paso to Eagle Pass to the Rio Grande Valley – masses of migrants have been crossing the border in unprecedented numbers, overwhelming federal holding facilities and sending local leaders and volunteers scrambling to deal with the relentless waves of people. “It’s staggering,” McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez said. “Really, we’ve never seen anything like this before.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday during a visit to El Paso that the border has hit its “breaking point” and urged Congress to come up with legislative solutions to the problem. The Trump administration will speed up the deployment of hundreds of officers on the southern border of the United States and will dramatically expand a policy of returning migrants seeking asylum to Mexico, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Monday. Days after threatening to close the U.S. border with Mexico, President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that his administration would slap tariffs on autos long before it considered sealing the nation off from its southern neighbor. President Trump said Friday that the U.S. is “full” and cannot accept any more illegal immigrants or even asylum-seekers.

Trump Administration Moves to Cut Aid to 3 Migrant Countries

The State Department said Saturday it would seek to suspend 2017 and 2018 payments to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where thousands of citizens have joined migrant caravans, prompting complaints that funding cuts would only make the problem worse. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended Sunday the administration’s move to cut off aid to a trio of Central America countries, saying they need to “do more” to stop the migrant caravans sending thousands to the U.S. border. Mulvaney said the problem is getting worse even with U.S. aid to Mexico and Central America. “We could prevent a lot of what’s happening on the southern border by preventing people from moving into Mexico in the first place.”

Judge Strikes Down Trump’s Reversal of Offshore Drilling Bans

A U.S. federal judge ruled that President Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed bans on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean. The ruling restored the Obama-era restrictions. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason, in a decision late Friday, said that presidents have the power under federal law to remove certain lands from development but cannot revoke those removals. “The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress,” said Gleason, who was nominated to the bench by Obama.

Judge Blocks NY Emergency Order Against Unvaccinated Kids

A judge on Friday halted Rockland County’s emergency declaration banning children who are unvaccinated against measles from schools, places of worship and other public areas. Acting state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen’s injunction stated that the 166 cases cited by the county since the measles outbreak began last October did not rise to the level of an epidemic or constitute a disaster. Thorsen agreed with the families who sued to the county over the state of emergency when they said their children would continue to miss school, and the parents would continue to incur monetary expenses as a result of the order. The families asserted that the children posed no threat to other children at a school where there had been no reported cases of the measles.

20% of Deaths Worldwide Due to Poor Diet

Millions of people are dying around the world from poor diets, often packed with sodium and lacking in whole grains and fruits, according to a study published Wednesday. The peer-reviewed Global Burden of Disease analysis published in The Lancet suggests one in five deaths (about 11 million) are linked to unhealthy eating habits. People didn’t consume enough nuts, seeds, milk and whole grains, according to data from 2017. Instead, they consumed too much processed meat, sodium and sugary drinks. “Poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world,” study author Dr. Christopher Murray of the University of Washington said in a statement. The deaths included about 10 million from cardiovascular disease, 913,000 from cancer and almost 339,000 from type 2 diabetes. The United States ranked 43rd on a list of deaths related to poor diet, with 171 deaths linked to diet per 100,000. The countries with the lowest rates of diet-related deaths were Israel, France, Spain and Japan. The highest rates were found in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the Marshall Islands.

Mysterious Drug-Resistant Infection Spanning the Globe

The New York Times reports that a mysterious fungus called Candida auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa. Recently C. auris reached New York, New Jersey and Illinois, leading the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add it to a list of germs deemed “urgent threats.” C. auris is so tenacious, in part, because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world’s most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections. Fungi, just like bacteria, are evolving defenses to survive modern medicines.

  • Biblical prophecies say pestilence will be a major end-time sign: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. (Matthew 24:7)

No Disaster Aid for Midwest Farmers’ Stored Crops

Farmers throughout Iowa and Nebraska are reeling after being told that federal disaster aid won’t cover all of their losses, specifically any due to crops that were already harvested before the flood and now sit in swamped grain bins, silos or other storage areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has several programs to help farmers after natural disasters, including assistance in the case of livestock losses or damaged fields, but none specifically to reimburse farmers for lost commodities that are being stored. U.S. farmers have a larger surplus of certain crops this year is due to years of oversupplied markets, low prices and lost sales from the U.S. trade war with China. As the scope of damage to crops and livestock across Nebraska and Iowa begins to sink in, some farmers say this could be the end of their family businesses.

47,000 Bridges in the U.S. are Structurally Deficient

More than 47,000 bridges across the U.S. are structurally deficient and fixing them could take decades, according to a new report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. 1,775 of the bridges are on the Interstate Highway System, the backbone of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. “At the current pace, it would take more than 80 years to replace or repair the nation’s structurally deficient bridges,” ARTBA said in a statement. Some of the most prominent bridges on the list are New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C., the San Mateo-Hayward bridge over San Francisco Bay, the Robert S. Maestri Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Florida. The states with the largest number of structurally deficient bridges are Iowa, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, California, New York, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Automobile Congestion Toll Planned for NYC

New York City is set to become the first American metropolis that seeks to ease traffic congestion, cut pollution and boost mass transit by charging motorists a hefty toll for the privilege of driving into its most crammed areas. London, Singapore and Stockholm have all reported that “congestion pricing” systems similar to the one now being planned for Manhattan led to reductions in traffic and improvements in air quality, while creating a steady stream of revenue to support public transit and other infrastructure. New York plans to use a network of license plate readers to bill vehicles for using surface roads anywhere in Manhattan south of Central Park. The toll is likely to be more than $10 per incident.

Brexit to Be Delayed?

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to delay the UK’s exit from the European Union until June 30 to avoid a crash-out in one week’s time, though a key European Union leader suggested a pause of up to a year. In a Friday letter to EU President Donald Tusk, May seeks an extension until June 30 and agrees to make contingency plans to take part in European Parliament elections in late May if necessary. Tusk urged the 27 remaining EU nations to offer the UK a flexible extension of up to a year to make sure the nation doesn’t leave the bloc in a chaotic and costly way. Tusk hopes to get it approved at next Wednesday’s EU summit. Such a move would require the UK to take part in the May 23 to May 26 European elections, something which May has long argued would not be in either side’s interest.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 196,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department reported Friday, a strong rebound from anemic job growth in February. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.8 percent. Payroll growth was feeble in February, with just 33,000 additions, but that was largely blamed on weather as construction and leisure and hospitality had especially poor performances. Employers added a robust average of 223,000 jobs a month in 2018, but analysts expect employment growth to throttle back this year amid the slowing economy and worker shortages.

The median asking price for a U.S. home hit $300,000 for the first time ever in March, according to housing data from Realtor.com. The number of houses priced above $750,000 jumped 11% from last year, while the supply of entry-level homes sunk by 9%.Overall, there were 56,000 more homes for sale in March versus last year, up 4%. The inventory growth largely occurred in the 50 largest U.S. markets mostly on the pricey West Coast West, including San Jose (up 114%), Seattle (up 77%) and San Francisco (up 44%).

More than 41,000 people have lost their jobs in the retail industry so far this year — a 92 percent spike in layoffs since the same time last year, according to a new report from global outplacementfirm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.. The shortest month of the year saw the highest number of job cuts in over three-and-a-half years, as U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut 76,835 positions from their payrolls in February. That is 45 percent higher than the 52,988 cuts announced in January, according to the report released Thursday

Health care costs in the United States are generally measured as the highest in the world. Last year, many Americans could not afford their health care costs and so borrowed $88 billion to pay for that portion they could not afford. Even though more than 90 percent of all Americans have some form of health coverage, health insurance deductibles have gotten much larger.” In addition, even if you have surpassed your deductible, there is still no guarantee that your health insurance company will cover your medical bills.  If you do not jump through every single little hoop they want you to jump through, in many instances they will leave you high and dry,” notes Michael Snyder on the Economic Collapse website.

The past decade of ultra-low interest rates has spawned the rise of “zombie” companies. These debt-laden firms don’t make enough to even cover their interest payments. The number of zombie companies in advanced economies last year stood at 536, or 13% of the total, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That’s a surprising figure given that the global economy was strong in 2018. In fact, the number of zombie companies isn’t far from the peak of 626 seen during the depths of the Great Recession, BofA said. Economists blame the era of extremely low interest rates. Easy money allows companies to borrow cheaply. And low rates encourage investors to gamble on riskier companies.

The price of an average gallon of regular gasoline is surging nationwide, driven mostly by rising oil prices. Over the past month, the average is up almost 12 percent to $2.69. In four states, the price has increased to over $3 a gallon. This is just four months since American prices hit an 18 month low. The average price of a gallon of regular is $3.61 in California, $3.38 in Hawaii, $3.14 in Washington and $3.04 in Oregon. Crude oil was just below $48 a barrel three months ago. Monday it was at $61 a barrel, an increase of 27%.

Israel

Israel’s Ministry of Housing published on Thursday new tenders for the construction of hundreds of housing units in communities across Judea and Samaria, the Israeli daily, Ma’ariv reports. Several Samarian communities are also slated for new construction. Prime Minister Netanyahu had announced the Ariel housing units last month, just a day after the double terror attack at the Ariel Junction that claimed the lives of First Sgt. Gal Qeidan and Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger. “These terrorists will not uproot us from here – the exact opposite will happen,” he vowed. A record number of 3,788 housing tenders have been announced since the start of 2018, a marked increase over the number of 3,154 in 2017.

A massive billboard was unveiled this week outside the offices of The New York Times that criticizes the paper, its editors and staff of fomenting anti-Israel sentiment through its news coverage. At the center of the billboard is an evocative image of a Molotov cocktail whose wick is lit by a flaming New York Times article with the headline: “Israel Bulldozes Democracy.” Around the incendiary device, which is a favorite weapon of Hamas rioters, it says: “While Hamas firebombs Israel … ‘The New York Times’ inflames with biased coverage.” Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, which created the massive 35-foot billboard, says the Times took almost two weeks to report about Hamas’s recent violent crackdown on their own people, which saw 70 Palestinian journalists targeted, according to reports on the ground. Hamas’s consistent pattern of human-rights abuse has led observers to question why mainstream media outlets like the Times fail to report regularly on Hamas’s oppression of its own citizens.

Middle East

A fragile calm had returned to the Gaza border region of southern Israel Monday morning following a weekend which saw smaller than expected riots to mark the one-year anniversary of the so-called “March of Return” by Palestinian residents of the Hamas-ruled territory. Rocket alerts were also heard in some Gaza-border communities but the rockets ended up landing in empty fields or inside Gaza territory with no reports of damage or casualties. Hamas issued a statement Sunday saying it was waiting to hear from Egyptian officials before making a decision about a long-term truce with Israel.

Islamic State

Despite its military defeat, the so-called Islamic State remains a threat and is possibly reorganizing its ranks again, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, said on Monday. “ISIS does not control any territory anymore, and that is, of course, very much because of the efforts of the global coalition and that’s a huge achievement, a significant achievement,” Stoltenberg said. “But that doesn’t mean that the fight against terrorism is over or that we can be complacent,” he added. “We know that they still try to mobilize support for their twisted ideology.” The terror organization continues to launch sporadic attacks via its sleeper cells in both countries. Last week, an Islamic State car bomb killed a member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Syrian province of Deir al-Zor.

As one extremist Islamic state falls, another one endures. Over the past few years, a group that was formerly part of al-Qaeda has cemented its power in northern Syria and now rules over some 3 million people. After forcing out rival rebel groups in Idlib earlier this year, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has moved to impose its control over all institutions in the province. A university with more than 6,000 students has become the latest battleground in its quest for dominance. “They came when we were in the middle of exams and said they would be taking over,” says Ahmad, a student at Free Aleppo University, which was shut down last week by the HTS-controlled administration in Idlib. “They arrested many professors at our university to put us under pressure to leave,” says Ahmed, who would give only his first name because he fears retribution for speaking out.”

Yemen

The House voted Thursday to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war, denouncing the Saudi-led bombing campaign there as worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis and sending the measure to President Trump for his expected veto. The vote was 247 to 175 and fell largely along party lines. It reflected the division between Democrats and Republicans over how to address Saudi Arabia’s efforts to defeat Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, and their inability to find consensus on confronting Trump’s embrace of Saudi leaders after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The resolution passed in the Senate last month with the support of seven Republicans.

Afghanistan

A large attack by the Taliban in western Afghanistan on Thursday killed at least 30 soldiers and police officers, Afghan officials said, in a sign of intensifying spring fighting across the country despite American efforts to reach a peace deal. Hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed the center of Bala Murghab District in Badghis Province in the predawn hours. The district has come under intense insurgent pressure in recent weeks, with officials warning that it could fall unless reinforcements are sent in. The Taliban attacks are intensifying at a time when Zalmay Khalilzad, the American special envoy, is visiting Afghanistan to build a national consensus on the peace talks with the insurgents.

Mozambique

The number of cholera cases in Mozambique, which was devastated by Tropical Cyclone Idai, has risen to more than 500, and the country has confirmed the first death caused by the disease on Monday. Doctors Without Borders has said it is seeing about 200 likely cholera cases a day in Beira. At least 815 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been reported killed by the cyclone or flooding it caused which struck on March 14.

Australia

The Parliament of Australia passed legislation regulating social media companies in the wake of the New Zealand shootings. The bill, which won broad support, would penalize failures to promptly remove violent content online and requires authorities to be notified when said content is found. “Australia’s pioneering legislation – disregarding the tech industry’s incessant lobbying efforts – should serve as a model for other lawmakers across the world. It’s evident that tech’s desire for self-regulation is failing, and governments must step in to ensure that the proper measures are in place to protect its citizens from the ongoing misuse of Internet sites and platforms,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace.

Wildfires

A forest fire fueled by wind in southern New Jersey that has burned thousands of acres has sent billowing smoke far north enough that residents in New York are able to smell it. The blaze was located in Burlington County just west of the Ocean County line. The Forest Fire Service, as well as many local fire departments, are fighting the blaze. In Washington Township, the fire closed Route 72 in Barnegat between Routes 532 and 539 until further notice because of smoke. The fire was burning through the Penn State Forest, undeveloped wilderness that attracts picnickers and hikers. The forest is part of the Pine Barrens, which contains several areas of pine and oak forest with few structures. The Spring Hill Wildfire grew to 11,600 acres before it was fully contained Monday.

Thirty-one people have died while fighting a fire in the mountains of China’s Sichuan province, the government said Monday. The dead included 27 firefighters and four local residents recruited to help battle the blaze in a rugged area about 12,500 feet up the mountain. China has been battling forest fires in recent weeks in various parts of the vast country, including on the outskirts of Beijing, fed by dry weather and high winds across many northern areas.

A wildfire thought to be one of the largest on record tore through a northern South Korea province Thursday evening, prompting a national emergency and forcing thousands to flee. Two people are dead and at least 11 injured as a result of the fire that broke out around 7 p.m. local time Thursday in the resort town of Goseong in the northeastern province of Gangwon, about 100 miles northeast of Seoul. Fueled by winds and dry conditions, the fire quickly spread to nearby mountains and other smaller towns. The fire still burns in some areas but was brought under control Friday afternoon by more than 16,500 soldiers that were called in to help firefighters battle the blaze.

Weather

In the fertile river bottoms of northwest Missouri, the floods keep coming. And this year, as some residents were finally paying off debts from past repairs, the water ripped through at record levels, blasting new openings in the levees that are supposed to protect homes and farms. The flooding of the last month has exposed the vulnerabilities in a levee system that is now so full of holes many here ruefully describe it as “Swiss cheese.” With dozens of costly breaks across Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and nearby states, the floods have left large areas of the Midwest without much, if any, flood protection. And with the fear of more floods in the coming years — and perhaps even the coming weeks — many people said living and farming near the water might not be viable much longer without major changes. Communities along the Missouri River continued to have trouble restoring drinking water service weeks after flooding left towns and cities inundated. Residents in affected Nebraska and Iowa towns have to boil water before drinking it or rely on bottled water while officials work to repair the damage. Bright red notices adorn the doors of more than 580 homes in two Omaha suburbs. The tags mark the homes as uninhabitable, and provide a snapshot of the destruction wrought by last month’s record flooding across the Midwest and Great Plains.

At least 32 people have died and 12 others are missing after flash flooding struck northern and western provinces of Afghanistan over a two-day span. More than 700 houses were destroyed or severely damaged. Aid groups said tens of thousands of people may have been affected by the flooding, some of whom are farmers impacted by a years-long drought.

Rescuers struggled Monday to reach remote areas of southern Nepal where a violent rainstorm killed at least 28 people over the weekend. Survivors in devastated villages desperately searched for food and shelter. High winds during the storm Sunday night flipped cars and blew a bus carrying at least 40 people off a highway, killing some of the passengers. Flying objects, falling huts and trees caused most of the deaths and injuries.

Signs of the Times

March 29, 2019

­For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17)

Evidence of Intelligent Design’ Says Non-Christian Geophysicist

Stephen C. Meyer is a geophysicist and author of New York Times bestseller, “Darwin’s Doubt.” Despite not being a Christian himself, Meyer explained that, after years of scientific study, he had come to the conclusion that there simply must be an intelligent designer behind our creation. “It is possible to formulate a case for intelligent design in a strictly scientific manner,” Meyer said. “When we think about the origin of information, it always arises from an intelligent source.” Whether it is a “hieroglyphic inscription, a paragraph in a book, or information embedded in a radio signal, whenever you find information, you trace it back to its source, you always come to a mind not a process,” Meyer explained. He believes that the scientific study of the origins of the universe has a great number of things in common with the central tenets of theistic beliefs.

Trump Expands Order Defunding International Planned Parenthood

During his first week in office, President Trump issued an executive order known as the Mexico City Policy or the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Act that revoked taxpayer funding to the International Planned Parenthood abortion business. The policy prohibits taxpayer funding to international groups that promote and/or provide abortions overseas, the biggest of which is IPPF. Trump’s decision applied to nearly nine billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds to foreign non-governmental organizations. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump Administration announced new enforcement mechanism designed to expand this executive order to the broadest extent possible. Pompeo announced that the U.S. State Department will refuse to work with any foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged in the abortion business. The State Department will also refuse to fund foreign NGOs that give money to other foreign NGOs engaged in the international abortion industry.

Elderly Man Assaulted/Robbed While Praying Outside Abortion Facility

An elderly pro-life activist is awaiting justice after he was literally kicked on the ground by a man who stole a pro-life banner and walked away, as recorded by a bystander. LifeNews reports the assault victim, known as Ron, was participating in a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco. According to video of the incident, the thief was getting on a bicycle with the stolen banner when Ron stuck a flag pole in the bike spokes, stopping the thief. But the thief used the bike to push Ron to the ground, then kicked the pro-lifer when they fought over the banner. The thief became not just a thief but an assaulter as he kicked the man three times before the footage stops.

Mosque Attack Averted in California

A frightening and dangerous incident over the weekend at a California mosque could have turned tragic. Seven people were inside the Islamic Center of Escondido early Sunday when, shortly after 3am, the lone person not snoozing noticed flames and woke the others, Escondido Police Lt. Chris Lick says, per the Los Angeles Times. Together they were able to put out the fire using a fire extinguisher, Lick adds, per CBS News. But police soon noted the fire was no accident, blaming accelerant-aided arson instead, and they say a note found in the mosque’s driveway referred to the mosque shootings that left 50 dead in Christchurch, New Zealand. Police say the mosque’s exterior was damaged, and that in addition to arson, they’re investigating the fire as a possible hate crime, as spray-painted graffiti on the scene also referenced the New Zealand shooting

Green New Deal Voted Down in Senate

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal died in the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans delivered a decisive low to liberal activists’ plan to reshape American society. Not a single senator backed the freshman congresswoman’s legislation, which was defeated in a 57-0 filibuster. Forty-three Democrats refused to take a stand and voted “present.” The bill called for an upheaval in American energy, an overhaul of the construction sector and history’s largest expansion of the social safety net. The vote left Democrats scrambling for footing. They called Mr. McConnell’s move to force a vote a “sham,” complained that they had been ambushed and said they never considered Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to be a viable option.

Pentagon Transfers $1B for Border Wall

The Pentagon authorized the transfer of $1 billion to build 57 miles of border wall on Monday. The transfer is the first under the emergency declared last month by President Trump. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan authorized the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and implementing up to $1 billion to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol in building the border wall. In a letter to Homeland Security, Shanahan said the money will help block “up to 11 drug-smuggling corridors along the border.” Democratic senators sent a letter to Shanahan objecting to both the “substance of the transfer” and the decision to make it without “seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees.”

92% of Illegal Immigrant Families Ignore Deportation Orders

Nearly every illegal immigrant family slated for deportation over the last six months has ignored those orders, according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A staggering 92 percent of family members failed to appear at their deportation hearings in the months since September, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. He said he obtained those numbers from Ron Vitiello, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The system is broken and overwhelmed,” Mr. Graham tweeted. “It is a national emergency!” President Trump  said Friday he would close the U.S. border with Mexico next week, or at least large sections of the frontier, if Mexico “doesn’t immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the United States” from the region.

Border Patrol Struggles with Hiring/Training New Agents

As President Donald Trump’s attention is focused on building a border wall to keep out unwanted migrants, the Border Patrol’s “human wall” is in a serious state of disrepair, according to a USA TODAY review of government documents, congressional testimony and interviews with agents. The Border Patrol, a component of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, faces a crisis in hiring, training and retaining agents as well as keeping track of what exactly its 19,555 agents are doing at any given time. As the Border Patrol struggles to maintain current workforce levels, its greatest challenge will be President Trump’s executive order from two years ago calling for the hiring of an additional 5,000 agents to seal off the southern border. Since that Jan. 25, 2017, order, the agency added just 118 Border Patrol agents, with only three stationed along the southern border. That shortfall is part of the reason Trump has deployed thousands of National Guardsmen and active-duty military troops to the southern border. Even if the agency succeeds in recruiting and hiring thousands of agents, it wouldn’t be able to train them properly, said acting Inspector General John Kelly of the Department of Homeland Security.

Border Patrol Forced to Restart ‘Catch-and-Release’ Policy

The Border Patrol will have to re-start a policy of catch-and-release at the border, the top border officer said Wednesday, saying there’s not enough bed space to hold them and, under the law, they can’t be immediately sent back. Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said things have gotten so bad that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants will be nabbed at the border in March alone. Those are levels that haven’t been seen in more than a decade, and the current situation is worse because the migrants are exploiting loopholes that make it almost impossible to oust them. That means the Border Patrol will, for the first time since the Bush administration, directly release illegal immigrants into local communities. McAleenan said the surge of illegal immigrants is so big, and they are seeing so many sick people, that in some areas 40 percent of Border Patrol agents’ time is being spent driving illegal immigrants to and from processing centers, taking them to clinics or babysitting them while they undergo care.

Justice Department Escalates Fight Against Obamacare

The Trump administration told a federal appeals court Monday it thinks all of Obamacare is unconstitutional, marking an escalation in its fight against the 2010 law. Justice Department lawyers previously had argued that if the courts found Obamacare’s “individual mandate” is no longer constitutional, then a narrow slice of the program — consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions — could not stand, either. A federal judge in Texas went much further in a December ruling, agreeing with plaintiff states who said the whole law should be invalidated. On Monday, administration lawyers said, “The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed.”

Trump’s Health Care Plans Struck Down in Court

A federal judge has struck down a small-business health insurance plan widely touted by President Donald Trump, marking the second setback in a week for the administration’s health care initiatives. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wrote in his opinion late Thursday that so-called “association health plans” were “clearly an end-run” around consumer protections required by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. The plans at issue in Bates’ ruling Thursday allow groups of small businesses and sole proprietors to band together to offer lower-cost coverage that doesn’t have to include all the benefits required by the ACA, often called “Obamacare.” On Wednesday, another federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s Medicaid work requirements for low-income people.

Western States Sign Colorado River Drought Deal

Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal. The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s chronic overallocation, which has been compounded by years of drought. The first cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada could begin as soon as next year under the terms of the deal.

Renewable Energy Increasing, But Carbon Still King

Wind and solar costs have plunged so rapidly that 74% of the U.S. coal fleet could be phased out for renewable energy — and still save customers money, according to a report released on Monday by Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan think tank. That figure of at-risk coal plants in the United States will rise to 86% by 2025 as solar and wind costs continue to plunge, the report predicts. The research indicates that it’s increasingly more expensive to operate existing coal plants than build clean energy alternatives.

However, a report from the International Energy Agency found that not only are carbon dioxide emissions still increasing, but that the world’s growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before. Energy demand across the globe grew by 2.3 percent over the past year. To meet that demand, largely fueled by a booming economy and growing heating and cooling needs in some regions, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which met nearly 70 percent of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency.

Marijuana Leading to Increased Hospitalizations in Colorado

Hospital visits related to cannabis drastically increased after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a new study shows. University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers reviewed health records of 9,973 patients at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital from 2012 to 2016, and found a more than three-fold increase in cannabis-associated emergency department visits. The state legalized cannabis completely in 2012 and allowed sales in 2014. Symptoms included: Uncontrollable vomiting, acute psychosis, intoxication and heart problems. In addition, automobile crashes rose 6 percent from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana during that period – Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon – a greater rate than in four comparable states that didn’t, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Some doctors have also warned of a link between marijuana and psychosis.

Economic News

If the bond market is correct, the U.S. economy is definitely heading into a recession.  Over the past 50 years, there have been six previous occasions when the yield on three-month Treasury bonds has risen above the yield on ten-year Treasury bonds, and in each of those instances a recession has followed. Short-term government fixed income yields are now ahead of the longer part of the yield curve, called an inversion, for the first time since 2007.

When economic conditions initially begin to slow down, businesses continue to order goods like they normally would but those goods don’t sell as quickly as they previously did.  As a result, inventory levels begin to rise, and that is precisely what is happening right now.  In fact, the U.S. inventory to sales ratio has risen sharply for five months in a row.  This is mirroring the pattern that we witnessed just prior to the financial crisis of 2008.

Housing Starts tumbled 8.7% MoM (Month over Month) in March and the February 18.7% gain was revised down to +11.7% MoM. Building Permits slid 1.6% MoM in March and February’s modest 1.4% gain was revised to a 0.7% drop. Single-Family Starts tumbled over 10% YoY (Year over Year) and 17% MoM (the biggest drop in four years) to the lowest since May 2017.

The best job market in half a century has been a boon for older women going back to work, typically after raising kids for nearly 20 years, and for those staying in the workforce at more advanced ages. It’s a demographic that has gotten less attention than other groups reaping the benefits of worker shortages that are forcing employers to hire Americans on the margins, such as the disabled and less educated. The 3.8 percent unemployment rate is near a 50-year low and there were a near-record 7.6 million job openings in January, Labor Department figures show.

Retailers and restaurants say eliminating cash at their stores makes them more efficient. But opponents argue that cashless stores exclude millions of Americans without bank accounts. Americans use cash in 30% of all transactions, according to a 2017 survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. People dish out cash for most purchases under $10. And cash is also still the most common form of payment for people making less than $25,000 a year. Now, cities and states are starting to take action against cash-free stores. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a law last week banning cashless stores. Philadelphia also enacted legislation prohibiting cashless stores earlier this month, and officials in New York City, Washington and San Francisco are considering similar legislation.

New cars sold in Europe from 2022 will have to be fitted with systems to limit their speed. Under new safety rules agreed by the European Union, all new vehicles are required to have “intelligent speed assistance” systems as standard equipment. Intelligent speed assistance systems don’t automatically apply the brakes when a car is going too fast. Instead, they limit engine power to keep vehicles to the speed limit unless overridden by the driver. Some carmakers have already developed ways of using GPS or cameras to detect posted speed limits and make sure vehicles adhere to them. The rules, which also mandate crash data recorders and reversing cameras, were hailed by safety advocates. But others raised concerns over the risk of drivers becoming complacent and less focused on the road conditions. Critics point out that road signs are not standardized across Europe, making speed limits difficult to detect, and digital maps lack speed limit information for many roads, and the data is not always current.

Britain

British lawmakers on Friday rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union divorce deal for a third time, a defeat that adds further uncertainty and confusion over the country’s the efforts to leave the bloc. Britain now has until April 12 to announce a new plan, or leave the bloc without a deal and risk a disorderly exit that could substantially damage Britain’s economy. May said the “implications are grave” and EU leaders immediately announced an emergency summit for April 10. Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, Brexit has brought the country’s political system to a standstill. The vote came on the day that Britain was originally scheduled to leave the EU and the result raises the possibility that the nation may need to hold a second national referendum on Brexit or call a general election to solve the impasse.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his trip to Washington, D.C. and returned to the Jewish state later Monday after a Gaza rocket attack struck a home in central Israel, wounding seven people. Netanyahu, who was in the U.S. capital to meet President Trump and give a since-scuttled speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, called the Monday morning rocket launch in the agricultural community of Mishmeret a “criminal attack” and vowed to strike back hard. “It’s a miracle that nobody got killed,” said Assi Dvilanski, a Magen David Adom paramedic who was one of the first responders at the scene. Israeli forces on Monday struck targets across the Gaza Strip, including the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, in response to a surprise rocket attack from the Palestinian territory, as the military bolstered its troops and rocket-defense systems in anticipation of a new round of heavy fighting with the Islamic militant group. A senior Hamas official reportedly has implicated Iran as the force behind the rocket attack into central Israel.

Friday marks exactly one year since Hamas began its weekly Gaza border riots and attacks, the so-called “March of Return.” On Wednesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a million-person march on Israel’s border and the IDF is now on high alert, streaming heavy re-enforcements to the border, including an armored division and artillery, preparing for what could be a violent few days. Since the organized cross-border violence began last March,  some 2,200 terror-related incidents have been recorded, including 1,233 rocket and mortar attacks. The violence also included 18 incidents of gunfire from the Gaza Strip and 94 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) incidents and 600 Molotov cocktail attacks. Beyond the attacks on the border fence, arson balloons and kites launched from the Gaza Strip have also caused some 2,000 fires, at times as many as 30 in a single day. Gazans claim that more than 250 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands wounded during the last year of border violence. The IDF has proved — and the Hamas leadership has admitted — that the majority of those who have been killed on the border have been terrorists.

Islamic State

The final defeat of the Islamic State extremist group’s self-declared caliphate marked an important battlefield victory in the fight against the terrorist network, but it also signaled a shift to a more difficult fight to come, U.S. military officials and experts said. For U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the focus will move from years of armed conflict as the group held parts of Iraq and Syria to confrontation with a more dispersed and furtive insurgency, officials and analysts said. It also will mean devising ways to undercut its recruitment efforts and its appeal to opportunity-starved regions. “There will still be an insurgent element out there that has intentionally gone into hiding and will try to reemerge,” said a U.S. military official.

Despite the fall of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large, having for years evaded a massive manhunt by America’s military and intelligence agencies. The 47-year-old jihadist, whose call to arms drew thousands of Muslims from around the world to battlefields in Syria and Iraq, is believed to be hiding in a remote stretch of desert that straddles the border between the two countries, according to Iraqi security officials. To elude capture, Mr. Baghdadi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head, has gone low tech, Iraqi officials say, shunning trackable communications devices, moving in a single vehicle to avoid attention and trusting only a small circle of close aides.

New Zealand

In a column on lifesitenews.com, New Zealand resident Michelle Kaufman said, “It seems like we’re living in a different world all of a sudden. It seems that showing our great respect for those who were killed has somehow been manipulated into showing affirmation of the Islamic religion. New Zealand is now putty in the Islamists’ hands. The shooting on Friday was terrible. But what has now unfolded is something else entirely and may just be the beginning of something very terrible for New Zealand. Certainly, on a spiritual level, our crisis has become even deeper. Please keep New Zealand in your prayers.”

New Zealanders are debating the limits of free speech after their chief censor banned the 74-page manifesto written and released by the man accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The ban, issued Saturday, means anybody caught with the document on their computer could face up to 10 years in prison, while anyone caught sending it could face 14 years. Chief Censor David Shanks said the manifesto contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty like killing children and encourages acts of terrorism, even outlining specific places to target and methods to carry out attacks. Shanks had earlier placed a similar ban on the 17-minute livestream video the alleged killer filmed from a camera mounted on his helmet during the shootings. He said researchers and journalists could apply for exemptions from both bans. Some say the ban goes too far and risks lending both the document and the gunman mystique. While free speech advocates haven’t questioned banning the graphic video, they said banning the manifesto is a step too far.

Mozambique

Nearly two weeks after Mozambique was devastated by Tropical Cyclone Idai, the southern African country is facing a new threat from cholera and other water-borne diseases, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday. Already, at least five case of cholera were confirmed Wednesday in one of the poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods of Beira. The storm wiped out sanitation systems throughout the country, leaving 1.8 million residents at risk from water-borne diseases. At least 600,000 people have been displaced. To combat the spread of cholera, the WHO sent 900,000 cholera vaccines to the country. The hardest hit city, Beira, is below sea level, and the city is situated along a coastline that’s considered one of the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of rising waters.

Environment

A rapidly spreading fungus is threatening frogs everywhere, causing mass amphibian die-offs, according to a new study. The study published online Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science calls the loss from chytridiomycosis “catastrophic,” saying the disease has “caused death and species extinction at a global scale.” At least 501 amphibian species have died over the past 50 years, including 90 that are presumed extinct. Chytridiomycosis is caused by two fungal species that likely originated in Asia, When contracted, the disease can eat away at skin. It’s been known to kill frogs for decades now, but recently its spread has caused global alarm. Study authors say the outbreak is contributing to “the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.” Deaths have been most extreme in wet climates of the Americas and Australia. Just 12 percent of the declined species are showing signs of recovery, the study notes, as 39 percent continue to decline.

A record 1,100 dead dolphins have landed on France’s Atlantic coast beaches since January. The mass deaths, widely blamed on industrial fishing, have alarmed animal welfare groups and prompted France’s ecology minister to launch a national plan to protect them. 90% of the fatalities resulted from the dolphins being accidentally captured in industrial fishing nets. Autopsies carried out on the dolphins this year by La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research show extreme levels of mutilation. Activists say it’s common for fishermen to cut body parts off the suffocated dolphins after they are pulled up on the nets, to save the nets. Stepping up the use of acoustic repellent devices on trawlers doesn’t work because the trawlers don’t activate them, fearing they will scare off other fish in addition to the dolphins.

Wildfires

With drought conditions having vastly improved since the beginning of the year, wildfires in the U.S. have also been far less frequent. Through March 22, there have been 3,623 wildfires greater than 100 acres in size compared with a ten-year average of 9,943 over the same time period. These wildfires have burned 94,789 acres of land which is way down from the ten-year average of 428,606 acres.

Weather

Homes, cars and a church were damaged by hail when thunderstorms moved across North Texas on Sunday night. The largest hailstones pelted areas just north of Dallas on Sunday evening as a supercell thunderstorm moved through. Supercells have a reputation for producing large hail, and this one was no different. Hailstones the size of tennis balls were reported. Hail covered the ground in Collins County, with Allen, McKinney and Frisco among the hardest hit areas.

Snowmelt flooding has prompted the evacuation of dozens of homes along the Yellowstone River in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. The flooding also forced the closure of Highway 200. According to Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, there “may be as many as a million calves lost in Nebraska” due to the catastrophic flooding that has hit the state.  That’s just one of the midwestern states affected by severe flooding. Beef prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months.

Hail as large as golf balls pelted a large swath of central Florida Wednesday morning as heavy storms battered the region. Numerous cars were damaged as piles of ice up to two inches high covered the ground in some areas along the Space Coast in Brevard County. Wind gusts up to 47 mph were recorded later in the day at Port Canaveral as the blustery weather continued, bringing with it rough seas and waves of 7 to 9 feet.

At least 17 people are dead and 74 injured after flash floods swept through Southern Iran. The sudden flooding was triggered by heavy rains outside the city of Shiraz. Most of those killed had gone outside to take video on their phones of the rushing water. Over 56,000 people have been affected in various cities and rural areas in the two provinces as a result of heavy rainfall that hit on March 19 and 20.

Signs of the Times

March 22, 2019

­Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.(Romans 8:35-37)

Persecution Watch

The death toll in the attack at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques rose to 50 people; victims range in age from 2 to over 60. Thirty-nine people remain in the hospital and 11 are in intensive care in critical condition. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced sweeping changes to the country’s gun laws Thursday, including a ban on military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles like the one used in last week’s Christchurch mosque shootings. Ardern says there will be a gun buyback scheme and those who already own such weapons will have to turn them in, but they will be offered “reasonable compensation ‘. There are believed to be up to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand, which has a population of around 5 million. Officials estimate there are 13,500 semi-automatic weapons in circulation, but they can’t say how many assault rifles might be out there.

The latest Open Doors World Watch List indicate that some 11 Christians are martyred for their faith every single day. “Today, in the 21st century, we are living in a time when persecution against Christian believers is the highest in modern history,” the persecution watchdog noted. Currently, the top five most dangerous countries in which to live as a Christian are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. As is the case in all of these countries, Christians remain in grave danger for simply choosing to believe in Christ.

The news out of Nigeria is getting progressively worse as it is being reported that more than 300 people were killed in at least seven predominantly Christian villages across Nigeria in February and March this year, according to Barnabas Fund sources. In one early morning attack on the village of Karamai on Feb. 14, sources said 41 people died after 300 gunmen swarmed the village shouting “Allahu Akbar!” as they fired their weapons and ransacked people’s homes. It was reported almost all of those killed were women and children along with a few senior residents who were unable to run away. Another 71 people were killed and 28 injured in an attack on the Dogon Noma village by an Islamic group known as the Fulani militia on March 11.

A rebel group with ties to a militant Islamic group has killed six Christians – including a 9-year-old – during a nighttime attack in a mostly Christian province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to field sources for Open Doors USA, rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces – pretending to be security agents – opened fire after approaching the village of Kalau, killing three women. Nearly 500 residents fled the assault, heading to the nearby city of Beni in the Congo’s North Kivu province. Two more villagers—among hundreds fleeing the gunfire—were killed. Observers anticipate that the attack is likely to be followed by more violence at the hands of ADF, who are escalating from kidnapping to murder and seizing territory.

Omar Abu Laila, the terrorist who killed two Israelis in a shooting attack near Ariel on March 17, including the father of 12, was shot dead by Israeli special forces during a gunfire exchange when the forces came to arrest him. The Fatah movement immediately glorified the dead murderer and will give an honorarium to his family. While the Palestinian Authority’s policy of furnishing financial rewards to terrorists is well-documented, a recent report by Palestinian Media Watch reveals that these stipends can exceed the salaries earned by doctors and judges in Palestinian society. Fatah used Facebook as the means to disseminate its support for the murder of Israelis and to broadcast its message of support for terror to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Facebook users. Fatah’s official page alone has more than 170,000 followers. In February, the PMW sent Facebook a 40-page report documenting the repeated terror support by Fatah on its Facebook page throughout 2018, but still the abhorrent calls for Israel’s annihilation are allowed to continue.

Iran’s military activities and clear public threats to annihilate Israel continue to grow in frequency and intensity. With such dire promises of conflict, it would be expected that the international news media and politicians throughout the world would have something to say about this situation. Instead, Iran’s continued abusive behavior continues to be cozied up to at worst, or at best, ignored, notes United With Israel. One of the core pillars and revolutionary ideals of Iran’s Islamic Republic is destroying the Jewish state. It is also one of the religious prophecies of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Israel will be eventually erased from the face of the earth.

A few weeks before the horrific New Zealand mosque massacre were live-streamed on Facebook, the company’s top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, were touting the company’s efforts to improve its safety and security processes in a public relations campaign. In a profile piece with Fortune, published the day before the terrorist attack, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer bragged about the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) and its supposed ability to identify harmful content within “hundredths of milliseconds, billions of times a day.” His proof was a demonstration showing that the system could differentiate between a picture of marijuana and a picture of broccoli at an overall accuracy rate of approximately 90 percent. Facebook’s AI algorithms did not stop the live-streamed attack from being uploaded more than one million times. And, more than 24 hours after the attack took place, it had failed to remove approximately 300,000 different uploads of the livestream.

New Mexico Defeats Radical Bill to Legalize Abortions Up to Birth

The New Mexico Senate rejected a radical pro-abortion bill Thursday that would have kept abortions legal for any reason up to birth in the state. The AP reports that 16 Republicans and eight Democrats voted against the bill. It was a tough fight for pro-life advocates after the bill passed the House in February and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who claims to be Catholic, said she would support it. Pro-life advocates celebrated the victory and praised the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who helped to defeat the bill. “We are so thankful to the senators who stood up for women, unborn children, and their constituents tonight to vote against HB-51,” New Mexico Alliance for Life said in a statement.

Mississippi Governor Signs ‘Heartbeat’ Anti-Abortion Bill

The Republican governor of Mississippi signed a bill Thursday that will make his state one of the strongest protectors of the unborn. Governor Phil Bryant says he will sign Senate Bill 2116 – often described as a “heartbeat bill.” The measure bans most abortions once a baby’s heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights says it plans to sue the state to block the bill from taking effect July 1. SB 2116 passed the State Senate on Tuesday on a 34-15 vote, which was largely along party lines. It passed the State House earlier this month on a 78-37 vote.

Library’s Drag Queen Reading to Kids is Sex Offender

A  public library in Houston invited a drag queen who is a convicted child-sex offender to read books to children. Houston Public Library officials didn’t apologize for hosting Drag Queen Storytime, which is part of a national program. But they did “deeply regret” failing to conduct a background check. The activist group Houston MassResistance did it for them and discovered that Alberto Garza, a 32-year-old drag queen who goes by the name Tatiana Mala Nina, was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old child. The library said children are never left alone with the drag queens. And it argued it hasn’t received any complaints of inappropriate behavior. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, however, wrote in his Washington Update that the library’s assurances are of “little comfort to community members, who were stunned that anyone would be so lax about kids’ safety.”

Pentagon Identifies $6.8B of Spending Cuts for Trump Border Wall

The Pentagon has a list of $6.8 billion worth of construction projects it could choose to take money from in order to build President Trump’s border wall, according to a list provided to Congress on Monday. The Pentagon also said Congress can make sure none of the projects suffer by passing an increase in military construction money for 2020, allowing the government to go back and replenish the accounts Trump wants to drain for his border wall. The list gave Democrats on Capitol Hill targets to fire at, arguing those defense projects are more important to national security than the border wall.

Courts to Decide Legality of Trump’s Border Emergency Declaration

Congress wasn’t able to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration at the Mexican border, but the courts will have the final word. Following the president’s veto Friday of a congressional resolution rescinding his action, three little-known federal district judges have the best chance to block the emergency declaration. At the same time, this will test Trump’s theory that the judiciary is prejudiced against him. One judge is a 25-year veteran of the federal court system who was born near the Mexican border and chosen by President Bill Clinton. Another was the last judge named by President Barack Obama to the federal district court in northern California five years ago. A third is a former police officer who donated to Trump’s 2016 campaign and was named to the federal bench the following year. They run the political gamut from left to right. What’s clear is that not all the lawsuits challenging Trump’s emergency declaration will be heard by liberal judges, although Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court maintains that there is no such thing as an Obama judge or a Trump judge.

Homeland Security Says Border Situation Worse Than an Emergency

The government is on track to catch nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants at the border this month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday, renewing the administration’s plea for Congress to do something. That number would be the worst in more than a decade, and it’s more troubling than the worst years because a higher proportion of the migrants are children and families who are almost impossible to deport. According to the latest numbers, 98 percent of those caught at the border in 2017 are still in the U.S. today, underscoring how difficult it is to remove them in the current framework. “The situation at our Southern Border has gone from a crisis, to a national emergency, to a near systemwide meltdown,” Ms. Nielsen said. Ms. Nielsen said the border wall is part of the solution, but also said Congress must change the laws to allow for detention and faster deportations of illegal immigrant children and families.

More Than 1000 Illegals Cut Lose Every Day

Deportation officers are cutting loose more than 1,000 illegal immigrant family members a day, setting them free into border states as the surge of migrations overwhelms the government’s ability to handle them. Some are released with ankle monitoring devices or check-in schedules with the often vain hope that they will show up for their court hearings and deportation. In Phoenix, churches and volunteers are overwhelmed by the numbers of immigrants dropped off at the bus station. According to recent ICE statistics, officials released 14,500 migrants in the Phoenix area between Dec. 21 and early March. During that same period, they released 37,500 in communities in south Texas, 24,000 in El Paso and 8,500 in San Diego.

Citing Climate Change, Judge Blocks Drilling in Wyoming

A judge blocked oil and gas drilling across almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the U.S. government must consider climate change impacts more broadly as it leases huge swaths of public land for energy exploration. The order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade — including one last month in Montana — that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctions public lands for oil and gas leasing, officials must consider emissions from past, present and foreseeable future oil and gas leases nationwide. The ruling coincides with an aggressive push by President Trump’s administration to open more public lands to energy development.

Trump Issues Executive Order Protecting Free Speech at Colleges

President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order to promote free speech on college campuses by threatening colleges with the loss of federal research funding if they do not protect those rights. “We’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values,” Trump said, surrounded by conservative student activists at the signing ceremony. “They’ve been under siege. Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today,” he said. A senior administration official said the order directs 12 grant-making agencies to use their authority in coordination with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure institutions that receive federal research or education grants promote free speech and free inquiry. White House officials have said it will apply to more than $35 billion in grants.

Tech Industry Liberal Bias a Threat to Liberty

A group of high-powered conservative media leaders gathered on Wednesday night to strategize ways to combat liberal bias in the tech industry, which Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell called “the most powerful force in history” when it comes to the far left’s attempt at “remaking civilization.” “Conservatives are coming together, across a broad spectrum, of enterprises and joining forces to fight what some of us believe to be, potentially, the greatest threat to liberty in history,” Bozell said, noting that tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are the primary targets. The meeting was the second gathering of the group, and more are being planned. The group plans to meet with Capitol Hill leaders at an upcoming gathering in order to finalize its strategy. Everything from legal action, anti-trust measures, competing platforms, and government regulations are on the table.

Outlook Improves for Colorado River Reservoirs

Winter storms have covered the Rocky Mountains with snow from Wyoming to northern New Mexico, leaving a bounty of runoff that should boost the levels of the Colorado River’s depleted reservoirs this spring and summer. The snow that fell during the past month has pushed the accumulated snowpack across the Upper Colorado River Basin to nearly 140 percent of average. Federal officials now estimate there could be enough snow to narrowly avert a declaration of a shortage at Lake Mead next year, which would hold off water cutbacks in the Southwest for another year. Even with the above-average snowpack, federal water officials and representatives of Western states are looking to finish drought contingency plans, which are designed to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows during the next several years. Water officials in Arizona, California and Nevada have been discussing the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan since 2015. Under the agreement, each of the states would take less water from Lake Mead under a shortage.

Puerto Rico Power Finally Restored

Eighteen months after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, customers on an island off the coast of the U.S. territory finally had their power fully restored Wednesday. However, the electrical grid is still fragile, with two major outages on the main island this week alone. Officials said a cat was responsible for the first outage, which left thousands of people without power in the capital of San Juan on Saturday. Another outage, on Tuesday, was blamed on an iguana that made contact with a 115,000-volt bar, leaving some 100,000 people without power. The power company acknowledged to The Associated Press that the current system, which serves 1.5 million customers, is a patch-up job following the Sept. 20, 2017, hurricane, and that it still needs further repairs and updates.

Smoking Strong Pot Daily Raises Risk of Psychosis

Smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rates. The research, from King’s College London, adds to previous studies that have found links between marijuana and mental health problems, but still does not definitively pinpoint marijuana as the cause. Psychotic disorders – in which people lose touch with reality – are typically triggered by factors including genetics and the environment. But experts say the new study’s findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.

Firearm Deaths of U.S. Children at ‘Epidemic’ Levels

Calling it an “epidemic,” researchers reported Thursday an alarming increase in the number of firearm deaths of school-age children in the United States:  38,942 children from 5 to 18 years old killed over the time period of 1999 to 2017. “It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active-duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms,” said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., the study lead author from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine. He called the epidemic a major clinical, public health and policy challenge, noting that the rate of death in the U.S. is about six to nine times higher than other developed nations. The causes of death in school-age children were 61 percent from assault; 32 percent suicide; 5 percent accidental; and 2 percent undetermined, the study showed.

EU Grants Britain a Delay for Brexit

European Union leaders on Thursday granted the United Kingdom an extension to its departure from the bloc, which had been scheduled for March 29. Britain will be allowed to postpone Brexit until May 22 if Prime Minister Theresa May is able to get British lawmakers to approve her unpopular exit deal with the EU. If she can’t, a shorter delay will be given, until April 12, to “indicate a way forward.” Still, Britain’s Parliament has twice rejected May’s EU deal, and polls show the British public, not just lawmakers, remain deeply divided over leaving the EU.

Economic News

Citing a more modest outlook for the economy, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday held interest rates steady and signaled it did not plan to raise rates at all this year and would bump them up just once in 2020, providing a road map for a sustained period of easy-money policy. “The U.S. economy is in a good place,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference, adding policymakers foresee “a modest slowdown, with overall conditions remaining favorable.”

After a prolonged period during which gasoline prices stayed at relatively low levels, they have started to surge as the calendar moves into spring and toward Memorial Day. The current price of an average gallon of regular gas nationwide is up 35 cents in the past six weeks. The average price of a gallon of regular gas in the U.S. has reached $2.58, which is the highest price since November.

The European Union has hit Google with another big antitrust fine, the third in a series of billion-dollar penalties the US tech giant has incurred for hindering competition. The European Commission on Wednesday ordered Google to pay $1.7 billion for abusing its dominant position in online search advertising. The Commission ordered the company to pay $4.9 billion in July 2018 for unfairly pushing its apps on smartphone users and thwarting competitors. That followed a $2.7 billion fine on Google for using its search engine to steer consumers to its own shopping platform. In contrast, Google profits were nearly $31 billion in 2018.

Middle East

President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing “it is time” for the U.S. to “fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty” over the region. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed the territory in 1981. But that annexation has not been recognized by the international community, which has regarded the Golan Heights as occupied territory and Israeli settlements there as illegal under international law. The announcement hands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory, less than three weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether he should remain in power. The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the U.S. to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that two Palestinians who threw explosive devices at soldiers in Samaria drew fatal fire from troops. The IDF explained that several explosive devices were hurled at troops securing Jewish worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), not far from the city of Ariel. Joseph’s Tomb remains a popular pilgrimage site for Jews, who require security details to pray at the site and are often attacked by local Arabs, who have killed Israelis there and committed major arson attacks.

Afghanistan

Two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan on Friday, the U.S. and NATO forces said, providing no other details on the combat deaths. The fatalities, which bring to four the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulties in bringing peace to the war-wrecked country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America’s longest. There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts – facing a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also an Islamic State affiliate, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed “caliphate” has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State

A series of airstrikes late Thursday slammed into two pockets of Islamic State fighters trying to cling to the last scraps of land to be part of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate. The strikes followed nearly two days of clearing operations in the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, where hundreds of IS fighters surrendered earlier this week to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are searching tunnels a day after seizing most of the last pocket of land held by Islamic State militants.

North Korea

President Trump has found North Korea to be an unwilling partner on a denuclearization pact, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton. “The North Koreans were unfortunately not willing to do what they needed to do,” Bolton told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y. With the negotiations stalled after two summits, the last of which President Trump had walked away from, the United States is not giving up on its goal to denuclearization the Korean Peninsula. “President Trump wants this threat resolved through negotiations,” Bolton said. “He wants North Korea to be free of nuclear weapons, that’s for sure.” North Korea is withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with South Korea, officials announced Friday. The move comes after the US slapped two Chinese firms with sanctions for doing business with Pyongyang, the first action taken by Washington against North Korea since the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi ended early with no agreement.

Mexico

A government watchdog has released a white paper urging President Trump to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. “Undoubtedly, Mexican drug cartels meet the U.S. government’s criteria for FTO designation,” said a report from report from Judicial Watch, “which requires organizations to be foreign, engage in terrorism or terrorist activity or possess the capability and intent to do so and pose a threat to U.S. nationals or U.S. national security.” “Mexico, unfortunately, has lost control of the cartels,” President Trump said. “They’ve totally lost control of the cartels. Mexico last year had 42,000 deaths — murders — 42,000. It’s considered one of the most unsafe countries in the world.” Trump is considering whether to designate the cartels as terrorist groups

Netherlands

Three people died and five were hurt in a brazen shooting on a tram in a bustling residential neighborhood in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, an assault authorities said was likely terrorism. Authorities launched a sweeping manhunt for the shooter and heavily armed police descended on the city of 350,000 in the central Netherlands known for its canals, Christian monuments and old-town charm. Police released a photo of a 37-year-old Turkey-born man who they called a person “associated with the incident.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the country was deeply shaken by the assault. “There is a mix of disbelief and disgust.”

Somalia

There is credible evidence that U.S. military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties. U.S. Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible. The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.

Weather

Roads and bridges were washed out, fresh water systems were swamped, and rescue operations were in full swing Monday as rivers across a swath of the Midwest rose to record levels following days of heavy rains and snow melt. Rivers have reached historic levels in 41 locations across the Midwest, creating devastating flooding that has killed at least three people, forced thousands of evacuations, breached dams and levees, damaged hundreds of homes and flooded a military base. The death toll from the flooding rose to three when an unidentified man died after refusing to leave his home. Seventy-four cities, 65 counties and four tribal areas in Nebraska declared states of emergency Tuesday. About 200 miles of levees were compromised in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. Midwestern farmers contended with freezing floodwaters and dead livestock in the region’s latest crisis. Officials say flooding could last all spring. Water damage in Nebraska alone is estimated to cost at least $1.3 billion. When factoring in damage to surrounding states, the cost is “inevitably to hit multiple billions,” according to local officials.

More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique a week after Cyclone Idai slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters. Mozambique is a long, narrow country with a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) coastline along the Indian Ocean. Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the southeast African country of 30 million people. The Red Cross said 90% of Beira was damaged or destroyed. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road. The massive flood is described as an “inland ocean” up to 30 miles wide in places.

Signs of the Times

March 15, 2019

­He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. (Genesis 5:2)

America’s First ‘Non-Binary’ Person Switches Back

A man who lived as a transgender woman and then became America’s first legally recognized “non-binary” person now says it all was a sham and that he wants to live as a man again. Jamie Shupe, an Army veteran who made worldwide headlines due to his non-binary status in 2016, writes in a Daily Signal column that he convinced himself he was a woman during a mental health crisis in 2013. The medical profession affirmed his status, and then did so again when he wanted to become non-binary – that is, neither male nor female. In 2016, an Oregon judge granted his request to recognize him as non-binary. But in his Daily Signal column, Shupe says he didn’t need affirmation from the medical community, he needed help. In retrospect, Shupe writes, it was too easy to become transgender. The medical profession simply went along with his desires. “Despite having taken or been injected with every hormone and antiandrogen concoction in the VA’s medical arsenal, I didn’t look anything like a female,” he writes. “People on the street agreed. Their harsh stares reflected the reality behind my fraudulent existence as a woman. Biological sex is immutable.”

Washington State Tells Churches: Pay for Abortions or Break the Law

A church filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the state of Washington over a new law that forces it to cover abortions in its health care plans. The law, SB 6219, passed the Democratic-controlled Washington legislature last year and was signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who recently announced he is running for president. The law requires insurance plans to cover abortion if they also cover maternity care. It has no religious exemptions. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the suit on behalf of Cedar Park Assembly of God, a Kirkland, Wash., congregation. The suit claims the law violates the congregation’s constitutionally protected freedom of religion and displays hostility toward religious groups that oppose abortion. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington helped draft the bill before it was signed, according to the suit. “Washington’s attack on people of faith is intentional. It represents the kind of deliberate religious persecution that our country was founded to prevent,” the suit says.

Court Rules that Ohio Can Defund Planned Parenthood

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a major victory to Ohio taxpayers Tuesday when it ruled that the state may defund the abortion giant Planned Parenthood. Ohio lawmakers tried to cut off the abortion group’s taxpayer funding after it was caught in multiple states allegedly selling aborted baby body parts. Then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the pro-life bill into law in 2016, but Planned Parenthood challenged it in court. The Sixth Circuit ruling, written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush-appointee, argued that Planned Parenthood does “not have a Fourteenth Amendment right to perform abortions.” The justices also agreed that the government does not have an “obligation to pay for a woman’s abortion. Case after case establishes that a government may refuse to subsidize abortion services.” While the Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to an abortion, it has not said that abortionists have a right to perform them, the court wrote.

Cardinal Pell Sentenced to Six Years in Jail for Sex Abuse

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison for the “callous” assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s. Pell, 77, was the former senior adviser to Pope Francis. Pell’s legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June. Pell has spent the past two weeks in custody. After his conviction, the Vatican launched its own investigation into Pell, which could lead to the cardinal losing his clerical status or being “defrocked,” a severe punishment imposed by the Pope and not subject to appeal.

House Democrats Block Bill to Stop Infanticide For 17th Time

On Wednesday, two weeks after Senate Democrats voted to block a bill to stop infanticide, House Democrats blocked a request by Republicans to vote on a similar bill to require medical care and treatment for babies who survive abortions. This is the 19th time Congressional Democrats thwarted an attempt by Republicans to vote on a bill that would provide medical care and treatment for babies who provide survived failed abortions — 17 times in the House and twice in the Senate. After Democrats blocked the vote, Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) said, “As a doctor, I strongly believe that every patient, especially these infants born alive, should be given appropriate medical care. This should not even be a question. It’s our duty, as Members of Congress, to defend the God-given right to life for every baby in this situation. And it’s our duty as compassionate human beings to ensure that these uniquely vulnerable babies receive the care that they deserve.”

49 Killed in New Zealand Mosques by White Supremacists

The death toll in Friday’s mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has now hit 49, making it the country’s deadliest outbreak of violence since a WWII POW camp riot. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who described Friday as one of New Zealand’s “darkest days,” has raised the country’s terror alert to its second-highest level for the first time in New Zealand history. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a well-planned terrorist attack,” she said, denouncing the “extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.” Police say three men and a woman, including an Australian citizen, were taken into custody after the attacks and one was later charged with murder. A suspect who livestreamed horrifying video of the attack on one mosque identified himself as Brenton Tarrant and left a manifesto in which he described himself as an Australian and a white supremacist. Authorities say none of the suspects were on watch lists.

Mass shooting events are rare in New Zealand. Friday’s attack is the deadliest shooting in New Zealand since 1990, when David Gray killed 13 people before being shot and killed by police in the town of Aramoana. In 2017, the New Zealand police reported a total of 35 murders in the country, most didn’t involve a gun. That year in the U.S. there were over 17,200 murders in the U.S. in 2017. Guns are not uncommon in New Zealand though, as Swiss nonprofit Small Arms Survey reports 1.2 million registered firearms in the country in 2017. New Zealand’s weapons legislation is considered more relaxed than most Western countries outside of the USA. Gun owners do need a license but they aren’t required to register their guns — unlike in neighboring Australia.

Trump Vetoes Legislation Striking Down Border Emergency Declaration

President Trump on Friday vetoed legislation attempting to strike down his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. t will be the first time in his two years in office that Trump has used his presidential veto power to block legislation and comes after a dozen Senate Republicans joined Democrats to rebuke Trump’s use of his national emergency power to bypass Congress and fund construction of a border wall. “I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspires Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country,” Trump tweeted shortly after the Senate passed the resolution condemning Trump’s unilateral action. Trump’s veto sends the resolution back to the US House of Representatives, which is expected to pick it up after the week-long congressional recess. The House is not expected to have the two-thirds of the chamber’s support needed to override the President’s veto.

Senate Votes to End Aid to Saudi Arabian War in Yemen

The Senate on Wednesday again rebuked President Trump for his continued defense of Saudi Arabia after the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, voting for a second time to end American military assistance for the kingdom’s war in Yemen and to curtail presidential war powers. Seven Republican senators broke ranks to join the resolution. The 54-to-46 vote, condemning a nearly four-year conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and inflicted a devastating famine, sets the foundation for what could become Mr. Trump’s second presidential veto, with the House expected to overwhelmingly pass the measure, possibly this month. The resolution is a rare use of the 1973 War Powers Act, which gave Congress the ability to compel the removal of military forces absent a formal declaration of war.

House Votes in Favor of Illegal Immigrant Voting

House Democrats voted Friday to defend localities that allow illegal immigrants to vote in their elections, turning back a GOP attempt to discourage the practice. The vote marks a stunning reversal from just six months ago, when the chamber — then under GOP control — voted to discourage illegal immigrant voting. “We are prepared to open up the political process and let all of the people come in,” Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia said. The 228-197 vote came as part of a broader debate on Democrats’ major legislative priority this year, HR 1, the “For the People Act,” which includes historic expansions of voter registration and access, as well as a major rewrite of campaign finance laws. Illegal immigrants — and noncitizens as a whole — have not been legally able to participate in federal elections.

Judge Expands Migrant Class-Action Lawsuit

A federal judge ruled that thousands of additional migrant families that were separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy should be part of an ongoing ACLU class-action lawsuit, and may force the administration to reunite them as well. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw had already ordered the administration to reunite more than 2,800 migrant children who were separated from their parents as of June 26, 2018, the date he issued his order. But in recent months, media reports and an inspector general report revealed that the administration had an undisclosed family separation pilot program in place starting in July of 2017, which may have led to thousands of additional separations. So, he ruled that families separated during those 11 months are part of the class-action lawsuit. He scheduled a hearing for March 27 to decide whether the government will be required to identify all of the additional families, and to reunite them as well.

FDA Allows Genetically Modified Salmon to Be Imported Into U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday lifted an import alert that stopped genetically engineered salmon — called “Frankenfish” by some critics — from entering the United States, the agency announced in a recent news release. The move comes despite a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s original approval of the fish. In 2015, AquaBounty Technologies’ AquAdvantage Salmon became the first genetically modified animal approved by the FDA for human consumption. However, Congress blocked the FDA from allowing the fish to be sold in the United States until guidelines for disclosing that a food had been genetically modified were implemented. The FDA said that when the Agriculture Department issued regulations in late 2018 requiring food containing genetically engineer salmon to have labels indicating that it is bioengineered, the congressional requirement was met.

NY Judge Bars Unvaccinated Students from School

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied a request for a temporary injunction that would have allowed 44 unvaccinated children to go back to class, citing an “unprecedented measles outbreak.” The federal lawsuit filed by 24 plaintiffs states that throughout the measles outbreak that started last fall, no cases have been reported among any of the Chestnut Ridge school’s excluded children, their families or in the Fellowship Community that surrounds it. The lawsuit states that Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert’s order barring unvaccinated children from attending Chestnut Ridge school in Rockland County violates the families’ religious objections to vaccinations and is unnecessary because the cases have been largely confined to insular Hasidic Jewish communities.

FBI Charges Dozens, Including Celebrities, in College-Entrance Fraud Scheme

The Justice Department charged at least 50 people — including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — for allegedly scheming to bribe and cheat to get wealthy youths into schools such as Georgetown, Yale and Stanford. The mastermind of a college admissions cheating scandal that involved scores of wealthy parents admitted full responsibility in federal court Tuesday and pleaded guilty to charges that could send him to prison for up to 65 years. William Rick Singer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, described how he created a “side door” to get the offspring of the rich into elite colleges. Making large donations to institutions was the “back door” but  his way of bribing coaches and cheating on exams was a reliable “side door.” Singer, 58, said he had been a cooperating witness for the FBI and had helped bring down his own enterprise by wearing a wire.

Death Rate from Dementia Has Doubled Since 2000

Dementia is now one of the leading killers in the United States, with the rate of deaths linked to the disease more than doubling over the past two decades. “Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017,” say a team of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In sheer numbers, the new analysis of death certificate data shows that dementia was noted as the primary cause for nearly 262,000 deaths in 2017, with 46 percent of those deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease. America’s aging population is fueling this increase in dementia-related deaths, said lead researcher Ellen Kramarow, a CDC health statistician. “It’s a huge increase from 2000 to 2017,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s a big problem, and it’s getting bigger.”

Fentanyl Now Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths in U.S.

In a series of missed opportunities, oversights and half-measures, federal officials failed to grasp how quickly fentanyl created a new opioid epidemic, reports the Washington Post. Federal officials saw fentanyl as an appendage to the overall opioid crisis rather than a unique threat that required its own targeted strategy. In the span of a few short years, fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroin, became the drug scourge of our time. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses — exceeding the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. In 2017, fentanyl became the leading cause of overdose deaths in America for the first time.

Nations Ground Boeing 737 Max 8s after Two Crashes

China’s civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes Monday after one of the aircraft crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157. That followed a similar crash of that airplane in Indonesia last October. Many nations immediately grounded their fleets of the 737 Max 8, with the U.S. becoming the last major nation to do so. On Wednesday—shortly before the Boeing grounded the entire global fleet, Boeing says it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max,” but it will ground all 371 of the aircraft in operation “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety” while Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash is investigated The groundings will hold until the flight data and voice recorders that were recovered from the site of the Ethiopia crash are analyzed. The crash in Ethiopia could raise safety questions about the newest version of Boeing’s popular 737 airliner since the plane was new and the weather was clear at the time. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders from doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 arrived in Paris on Thursday where French aviation authorities were tasked with probing the black boxes for clues to the tragedy.

  • Semi-autonomous (driverless) vehicles and planes are already causing deaths – can’t wait until they’re completely autonomous

Economic News

The global economy’s sharp loss of speed through 2018 has left the pace of expansion the weakest since the global financial crisis a decade ago, according to Bloomberg Economics. Its new GDP tracker puts world growth at 2.1 percent on a quarter-on-quarter annualized basis, down from about 4 percent in the middle of last year. While there’s a chance that the global economy may find a foothold and arrest the slowdown, “the risk is that downward momentum will be self-sustaining,” say economists Dan Hanson and Tom Orlik.

About $1.46 trillion in student loan debt has many millennials, as well as others, hiding their wallets and putting big ticket commitments on the back burner. “This is really a pervasive trend and it will not be reversed any time soon,” said Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. In the past decade, younger consumers have viewed buying conditions for homes, cars and other large household items far less favorably, the U-M survey noted. One reason many young consumers are holding back their spending is that they’re worried about taking on new debt because their student loan debt in total is intimidating, eating up a large portion of their income.

The United States will surpass Saudi Arabia later this year in exports of oil, natural gas liquids and petroleum products, like gasoline. That milestone, driven by the transformative shale boom, would make the United States the world’s leading exporter of oil and liquids. That hasn’t happened since Saudi Arabia began selling oil overseas in the 1950s. Drilling innovations have opened up huge swaths of oil and natural gas resources that had been trapped in shale oilfields in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere.

The British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal, diminishing the chance of withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 as planned. Three years after Britain voted to leave the E.U., lawmakers have failed to agree on how to do it. Last-minute negotiations with the European Union were not enough to secure the support of hardliners in the prime minister’s own Conservative Party. British lawmakers voted Wednesday to rule out leaving the European Union without a formal exit deal when Britain leaves the bloc in less than three weeks.

Middle East

Israeli warplanes on Friday struck some 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after terrorists in Gaza launched rockets on Tel Aviv and Israeli communities in the south. After striking over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the Israeli army announced its targets had included a Gaza City building used to plan and command Hamas terror activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development. The Israeli strikes were part of a retaliatory operation after terrorists in Gaza launched a late-night rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marking a dramatic escalation in hostilities. Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at Tel Aviv and nine rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border, with Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting seven of these rockets and the others falling in areas away from civilians. No Israelis were injured in the attacks. It was the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group. Following the Israeli airstrike, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel.

Israeli police closed the entrances to Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site after Palestinians threw a firebomb at a police station on Tuesday. The move drew angry reactions across the Muslim world. Police later announced that the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims the Noble Sanctuary, would reopen to worshipers and visitors Wednesday morning. There were no injuries reported from the Temple Mount firebombing. But police quickly deployed across the hilltop compound, scuffling with Palestinians in the area, as they searched for the assailants. The incident further heightened tensions at the flashpoint site, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and gold-topped Dome of the Rock. After the incident, Israeli police sealed off entrances to the compound. Police also restricted entrance to the Old City, home to Jerusalem’s most important religious sites, allowing only residents to pass through certain entrances to the Muslim and Christian quarters.

Islamic State

Islamic State fighters launched new counterattacks against U.S.-backed forces Wednesday, as the militants clung to the terror group’s last scrap of territory in northeastern Syria. ISIA carried out two counterattacks with heavy weapons, snipers, VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices] and suicide bombers. ISIS had tried using a group of suicide bombers to blunt the SDF’s advance into the IS-held enclave, but failed. Prior to the latest ISIS counterattacks, Syrian Democratic Force officials had been voicing optimism in recent days that the battle against ISIS was nearing an end. The ISIS militants have been taking cover from airstrikes and artillery fire in a complex system of caves and tunnels below ground. Around 3,000 Islamic State members have surrendered from the group’s last holdout in Syria, Kurdish-led forces said Tuesday, as air raids and shelling resumed after a brief lull.

An audio recording purportedly from the Islamic State group is calling on supporters across the world to stage attacks in defense of die-hard militants besieged by U.S.-backed forces in their last foothold in a village in eastern Syria. The brief, minute-and-a half recording, released by IS supporters on social media and reported by the SITE Intelligence Group late on Monday says men, women and children in the village of Baghouz are being subjected to a “holocaust.” In the audio, an unidentified IS militant calls on Muslim “brothers, in Europe and in the whole world” to “rise against the Crusaders and … take revenge for your religion.”

France

Many anti-Semitic attacks that have blighted France in recent months. Home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, France has seen a 74% rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year. French President Emmanuel Macron has gone as far as to say that anti-Semitism is at its worst levels in France and in other parts of Europe since World War II. Why now? Some have questioned the Yellow Vest protest movement and whether its radical fringe is partly to blame for the sudden uptick. “Gilets Jaunes, Colere Noir” is a popular slogan among the leaderless movement, meaning “Yellow Vests, Black Rage.” For almost four months, this rage that has poured out along the Champs Elysees, shattering shop windows and wounding police officers.

Venezuela

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States is withdrawing the last of its staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation as Venezuela struggled to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis. The US has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election. Pompeo lashed out at Cuba and Russia on Monday for continuing to support Maduro, saying they were contributing to the country’s economic crisis.

Environment

More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss.

Researchers in Canada have discovered that levels of phytoplankton have dropped by about 40 percent since 1950. The tiny organisms gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world’s oxygen output—equaling that of trees and plants on land. Without phytoplankton, our oceans would quickly become giant “dead zones”, and at the pace we are going we don’t have too long before that will happen.

Wildfires

California’s wildfires burned more than 2,849 square miles and destroyed more than 17,000 homes in 2018, marking the worst wildfire season in the state’s history. Of 25,790 structures destroyed in the U.S. by wildfires last year, 23,647 were in California. Of those, 17,133 were residences. Overall, the state saw more than 8,000 wildfires that killed over 100 people. The National Interagency Coordination Center’s annual report says 2018 was below normal with 58,083 wildfires reported nationally, down from 71,499 in 2017. However, more acreage than normal was burned: Nearly 14,000 square miles, or 8,767,492 acres, were consumed. That’s an area larger than the state of Maryland.

Weather

An intense storm that triggered a powerful “bomb cyclone” in Colorado brought blizzard conditions to the northern Plains and Minnesota on Thursday and spread the threat of damaging winds along a corridor from western Ohio to northern Alabama. The Colorado National Guard braved 90-plus mph wind gusts and whiteout conditions in vehicles with tank-like tracks to rescue hundreds of motorists stranded on paralyzed roadways across the state. In all, the so-called Bomb Cyclone Ulmer forced the closure of interstates in six states, stranded hundreds of vehicles and led to two deaths. The more than 1,100 motorists in blizzard conditions on highways in Colorado became stranded on Wednesday. A tornado damaged at least 70 homes and businesses in a central Michigan town Thursday evening as a line of severe storms brought damaging winds, flooding rains and tornadoes to the Upper Midwest, the Ohio Valley and the South.

Winter Storm Ulmer pushed into the Rockies Wednesday with heavy snow, high winds and limited visibility, creating travel woes for the Denver area. Schools throughout the region, including Denver area schools, were closed Wednesday and more than 1000 flights in and out of Denver International Airport were canceled as blizzard conditions take aim at the Front Range. On Tuesday, blizzard warnings and the threat of flooding prompted Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to declare a state of emergency. Flooding in parts of the Midwest has left one man dead and threatens a Nebraska dam and nuclear power plant as heavy rains mixed with a melting snowpack swell waterways to historic levels.

A line of powerful thunderstorms packing high winds and spawning two tornadoes tore through Arkansas and Texas Saturday morning, taking down trees, power lines and several structures. A was blown off Interstate 40 near Monroe. Damage was reported early Saturday in Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas, from 70 to 80 mph straight-line winds. Possible tornadoes caused damage early Saturday in both Houston and Carterville, Louisiana. And in Mississippi. The powerful storms in Texas brought damaging winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands, toppled mobile homes and ripped off roofs Tuesday. A tornado in Dexter, New Mexico, injured five people on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, a woman was injured after wind knocked over a mobile home onto her vehicle near Cleburne, Texas. More than 150,000 customers in Texas remained without power early Wednesday.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times

March 8, 2019

­See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1Thessalonians 5:15:18)

Church Burns but Not Bibles or Cross

When firefighters arrived at Freedom Ministries Church in Grandview, West Virginia they were left stunned by what they saw. A devastating fire — so hot that firefighters had to back out at one point — was ravaging through the building. But as they went through the charred wreckage, they noticed something extraordinary. “In your mind, everything should be burned, ashes. Not a single bible was burned and not a single cross was harmed!!” the fire department wrote in a Facebook post. “Though the odds were against us, God was not,” the firefighters added. No firefighters were injured in the operation. The cause of the fire is still unclear.

Colorado Drops Lawsuit Against Christian Baker

On Tuesday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Christian baker Jack Phillips have agreed to end all litigation going forward. The commission lost a key First Amendment case before the Supreme Court last year after prosecuting Phillips for refusing to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, but it had begun the process of prosecuting him again, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, but have now dropped that lawsuit. “When I set out to build my dream of opening my own cake shop, combining my love for art and baking in a family business, I never imagined this chapter would be part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop story,” Phillips said in a statement. “I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs.”

Court Grants Unborn Baby Legal Rights

An aborted baby for the first time in the United States has been recognized to have legal rights. An Alabama man is suing a clinic for providing an abortion to a woman he says was pregnant with his baby. Ryan Magers petitioned a probate judge to allow him to represent the unborn child’s estate. Probate Judge Frank Barger signed off on the petition by Magers, who claims to be the father of “Baby Roe.” Brent Helms, the attorney for Magers and Baby Roe, said Barger’s decision marks the first time an aborted fetus has been recognized to have legal rights.

40 Days for Life’s Lent Prayer Campaign Expands to 377 Cities

As Lent began, so does the pro-life initiative 40 Days for Life. This year there will be pro-life vigils organized by 40 Days in 377 participating cities across 31 countries, with now over 150 cities outside of North America. In the United Kingdom alone there will be 10 campaigns running. This will be 40 Days for Life’s largest ever Lent campaign. The campaign and mission is the same every year: praying to end abortion, organizing prayer vigils outside of abortion centers for 12 hours a day during Lent and conducting community outreach. A baby was saved from abortion–during the vigil’s first hour in Birmingham, England where an abortion-bound mother was convinced to choose life.

Universal Studios Hosts Florida’s Biggest Christian Music Festival

Only months after its concert series in September 2019, the Christian music outreach “Rock the Universe” returned in February to Universal Studios in Orlando for its new season. “’Rock the Universe’ offers Christian families a weekend filled with faith and worship at Universal Studios Florida. Despite being held only five months before, the February event was “bigger than ever.” The acts featured live performances from Grammy award-winning artist, Lecrae, Grammy-nominated Christian rock band, Skillet, and the top-chart artists of Bethel Music, Matt Maher, Crowder, Matthew West, Big Daddy Weave, Francesca Battistelli, and more. “Rock the Universe” has been hosted by Universal Studios since 1998, competing with Walt Disney World Resort’s own Christian rock concert series, “Night of Joy.” However, Walt Disney World canceled “Night of Joy” in May of 2018 after 34 years. The next “Rock the Universe” will be held Jan. 24-25, 2020, with Universal Orlando now offering special rates for youth groups.

DHS: Migrant Crisis is Spiraling Out of Control

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a dire assessment Wednesday of the migration crisis on the southern border, telling a House committee that illegal immigration is “spiraling out of control” and predicting that crisis will “get even worse” in the coming months. More than 76,000 people were apprehended as they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in February, more than doubling the number of border apprehensions during February 2018. It is also the highest number of any February in the past 12 years, according to officials. The system is “well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters on Tuesday. Officials said that 76,103 people — an increase of 31% over January — were apprehended. Of those, 7,249 were unaccompanied children, and 40,385 were family units — totaling 60% of apprehensions. Historically, 70 to 90% of apprehensions at the border included Mexican nationals, but now 70% of those arrested for attempting entry without proper documentation are from the “Northern Triangle of Central America,” which includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Cartels Make $2.5 Billion off Migrants

As smuggling prices rise, the cartels that control the migrant traffic through Mexico stand to make as much as $2.5 billion this year, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan told Congress on Wednesday. Homeland Security Spokesperson Katie Waldman said that the Mexican cartels make that much per year by smuggling people into America at a rate of about $5,000 per person. Waldman said, “We have an entire southwest border that is controlled by Mexican cartels. You can’t gain access to the U.S. illegally without paying a smuggler $5,000 or $6,000 per head. It’s a $2.5 billion a year industry to these cartels. Waldman credited news media attention of the traveling caravan as showing Americans what Customs and Border Protection deals with on a daily basis.

House Passes Resolution Banning Congressional Hate Speech

After debates and delays over the wording of the text, the House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution that broadly condemned hate speech. The resolution was crafted after freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim from Minnesota., made several comments critical of Israel that critics said played to anti-Semitic tropes. The resolution passed by a vote of 407 to 23. All the House Democrats voted in favor of the resolution, including Omar. The 23 votes against the resolution were all Republicans. The resolution was broadened from its original version, which focused solely on denouncing anti-Semitism, to condemning other forms of bigotry against minorities.

Only Six Countries Have Full Gender Equality

Only six countries currently give women and men equal rights, a major report from the World Bank has found. That’s an increase — from zero — compared to a decade ago, when the organization started measuring countries by how effectively they guarantee legal and economic equality between the genders. Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden scored full marks of 100 in the bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2019” report. Of those nations, France saw the biggest improvement over the past decade for implementing a domestic violence law, providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment and introducing paid parental leave. Countries in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa averaged a score of 47.37, meaning the typical nation in those regions gives women under half the legal rights of men in the areas measured by the group. Overall, the global average came in at 74.71 — an increase of more than four and a half points compared to a decade ago. The United States scored 83.75, placing it outside the global top 50. The United Kingdom achieved a score of 97.5, Germany measured at 91.88, and Australia scored 96.88.

U.S. Deaths from Alcohol, Drugs and Suicide at Record High

The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits. The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6% increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday. That was actually a slower increase than in the previous two years. Deaths from suicides rose from 13.9 to 14.5 deaths per 100,000, a 4% increase. Suicide by suffocation increased 42% from 2008 to 2017. Suicide by firearm increased 22% in that time. Deaths from synthetic opioids, including the narcotic pain reliever fentanyl, rose 45%. Such deaths have increased tenfold in the last five years. From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased 35%. Deaths among women rose 85%. While teen deaths from drinking were down about 16% during the same period, deaths among people aged 45 to 64 rose by nearly 25%.

Coal Ash Contaminating Groundwater Nationwide

Waste ash from hundreds of coal-fired power plants has contaminated groundwater in 39 states with toxic substances like arsenic, lithium and mercury, according to a report by two environmental groups that was based on data the plants reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The report, released Monday by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, highlights more than a dozen instances in which those substances have reached drinking water supplies. The full extent of the effect on drinking water supplies is not known because private sources of drinking water are not tested, the report said. The ponds and landfills used to store coal ash are frequently unlined, allowing toxins to leach into groundwater. “Virtually all coal plants are poisoning our water,” said author Abel Russ, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

Is the Drive to Legalize Marijuana Ignoring Major Risks?

In less than 25 years, marijuana has gone from illegal everywhere in the United States to legal for at least some uses in all but four states. Advocates say the drug can help patients who are suffering from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis-triggered muscle spasms and the grueling side effects of chemotherapy. But as cultural acceptance of cannabis grows, opponents are warning of potential downsides. These critics – doctors, police and auto safety officials – point to stories and studies that link the drug to suicide, schizophrenia and car crashes. Marijuana might be safer than alcohol or tobacco, they say. But that doesn’t make marijuana safe. Car crashes rose 6% from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana – Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon – more than four comparable states that didn’t, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Some medical experts warn of possible links between marijuana and psychosis, but they say more study is needed.

Huge Study Shows No Risk of Autism from Vaccines

A new decade-long study of more than half a million people found that the measles vaccine does not increase the risk of autism. Researchers from Denmark looked at a Danish population registry of 657,461 children, some that were vaccinated with the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and some who were not. After over a decade of follow-up, 6,517 were diagnosed with autism, but there was no increased risk of autism in children who had the MMR vaccine versus those who didn’t. The study contributes to past studies that have found the same. People choosing not to vaccinate have become a global health threat in 2019, the World Health Organization reported. Critics say such studies are funded by Big Pharma and manipulated to show that vaccines are safe.

Fertility Rates Continue to Drop, Especially Among Hispanics

As fertility rates across the United States continue to decline — 2017 had the country’s lowest rate since the government started keeping records — some of the largest drops have been among Hispanics. The birthrate for Hispanic women fell by 31% from 2007 to 2017, a steep decline that demographers say has been driven in part by generational differences between Hispanic immigrants and their American-born daughters and granddaughters. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States today are born in this country. Young American-born Hispanic women are less likely to be poor and more likely to be educated than their immigrant mothers and grandmothers, according to the Pew Research Center, and many are delaying childbearing to finish school and start careers, just like other American-born women. Child Trends found that 2016 was the first year in which American women ages 25 to 29 did not have the highest birthrate. Instead, the rate was highest among women in their early 30s. The United States population grew by just 0.6% last year, the smallest increase in 80 years.

Millennials/Gen Z – Most Connected, Loneliest

Nearly half of the 20,000 adults surveyed nationwide by the global health service company Cigna last year reported sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. Generation Z (ages 18-22) and millennials (ages 23-37) rated themselves highest on feelings associated with loneliness. Loneliness, with its well-documented ill effects on health, has been called an epidemic and a public health threat, especially among the elderly. But analysts are now learning that the always connected social media mavens in the country’s younger generations are also dealing with it. “Younger people are genuinely surprised to ever feel lonely and are really overwhelmed by it,” said University of Delaware professor Dawn Fallik. “The question that remains is, is this just a developmental stage, or is there something different about this younger generation that hasn’t been true of younger adults in previous generations?”

Economic News

Hiring slowed sharply in February as employers added just 20,000 jobs amid harsh winter weather and a weakening U.S. and global economy. Economists had expected the economy to add 180,000 jobs The unemployment rate fell to 3.8% from 4%, the Labor Department said Friday. U.S. economic growth is expected to slow this year after federal tax cuts and spending increases juiced growth in 2018. At the same time, the low unemployment rate is making it harder for employers to find qualified workers. A separate report shows U.S. employers cut more jobs last month than they have in the past 3.5 years. U.S. employers announced plans to cut 76,835 jobs last month a 117% year-over-year increase, and a 45% increase over January’s numbers.

The U.S. trade deficit ballooned in 2018 despite moves by the Trump administration over the past year to keep it down and renegotiate trade agreements. The trade deficit for goods and merchandise set a new record of $891 billion. The report also showed the largest-ever gap with China at $419 billion. A significant factor in the historically large deficit are tariffs against numerous foreign-made products such as solar panels, washing machines and raw building materials like steel and aluminum. China has offered to buy $1.2 trillion in additional U.S. products over the next six years in exchange for removing tariffs on both sides.

The ‘retail apocalypse’ is alive and well with major chains such as Gap, JCPenney, Family Dollar, Victoria’s Secret and Foot Locker all announcing massive closures, totaling the death of more than 855 stores. Those closings bring the grand total for 2019 to a whopping 4,699 store closures announced already this year. Target, on the other hand, had its best year since 2005. Kohl’s, Walmart and Best Buy also did well in 2018. Charlotte Russe announced Thursday that it will close all 512 of its stores over the next two months.

China is slashing business taxes as it tries to stop its economy from slowing down too sharply. Chinese growth has lost momentum following government efforts to crack down on risky lending, which starved many companies of the funds they needed to expand. Exports plunged 21% in February from a year earlier, a slump that economists attributed to weaker global demand for Chinese goods and the country’s trade war with the United States.

The Canadian government shocked the professional financial and economic media with their latest fourth quarter GDP release showing the economy has essentially come to a grinding halt at 0.1% growth. German’s economy just escaped entering recession territory last month, with GDP growth at just 0% following a 0.4% contraction in the previous three-month period. Germany is supposed to have the strongest economy in the entire region, but they are also right on the brink of recession.

Israel

The majority of Americans remain partial toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 59 percent saying they sympathize more with the Israelis whereas 21 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians, according to a Gallup poll. However, while support for Israel is still widespread, sympathy toward Israel is down from 64 percent in 2018 and marks the lowest percentage favoring Israel since 2009, says Gallup. Meanwhile, the 21 percent sympathizing more with the Palestinians, statistically unchanged from a year ago, is the highest by one point in Gallup’s trend since 2001. The percentage of Republicans saying they sympathize more with Israel in the conflict fell from an all-time high of 87 percent in 2018 to 76 percent. The percentage of Democrats siding more with Israel fell less sharply (49% to 43%), approaching the lowest level of Democratic partiality toward Israel since 2005.

Middle East

Gaza-based Terrorists on Wednesday launched two explosive charges tied to balloons towards the Eshkol Region near the border with the Strip. The charges exploded in midair above an Israeli community but caused no injuries or damage. Residents of communities along the Israeli border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip were alerted to incoming rocket and mortar fire Wednesday night. The projectiles landed in a vacant areas, while security services reported that several IED’s were also launched into Israel from the Strip. A Palestinian youth was also shot dead by IDF troops as he participated in riots along the border Wednesday evening. IDF aircraft struck Hamas targets in the Strip in response. Also this week, clashes have erupted in and around Jerusalem’s Old City over disputes between Israel and the Moslem Wafq authorities regarding the Temple Mount.

The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the US Embassy to Israel. For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over US diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

Islamic State

The top US general overseeing military operations in the Middle East warned Thursday that despite the terror group’s territorial losses the fight against ISIS is “far from over,” cautioning that the remnants of the group are positioning themselves for a potential resurgence. ISIS militants have remained organized and ruthless to their last breath. Keeping institutions functioning in their last shred of territory in Syria, they are continuing benefits like food and money to supporters while their religious police and fighters still impose their rule of fear and brutality. Refusing to surrender, the militants have tried to squeeze out any last possible gain. The militants — many of them foreigners, including Iraqis and Central Asians, along with some Syrian fighters — are now fighting their final battle, holed up in tunnels and caves inside Baghouz, the last village they control.

North Korea

North Korea has been rapidly rebuilding a rocket launch site it promised to dismantle last year, analysts say. Experts at the Beyond Parallel group say images from Saturday show that activity at the Sohae site, which has been used for satellite launches and missile engine testing, is “consistent with preparations for a test,” NBC News reports. The group believes Pyongyang may be trying to “demonstrate resolve” after the collapse of the President Trump-Kim Jong Un summit last week. South Korean intelligence officials, however, suspect the rebuilding may have started weeks ago, possibly so that North Korea could have something dramatic to dismantle if the summit went well, or the ability to resume testing quickly if talks failed, the New York Times reports. “I would be very disappointed if that is happening,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, cautioning that it was “a very early report.”

Kashmir

Violent clashes between India and Pakistan have left at least six civilians and two soldiers dead in the disputed mountainous region of Kashmir, officials said last Saturday. Fighting reportedly resumed late on Friday night as Pakistani troops reportedly launched mortar shells along border towns in Kashmir, killing a mother and two siblings and critically wounding their father. Pakistani military says two of their soldiers were killed during an exchange with India in Kashmir on Friday, and that Indian fire killed a young boy and wounded three other people, destroying several houses in the process. Kashmir is split by the Line of Control (LoC) which divides it between India and Pakistan, though both countries claim the region in its entirety for themselves.

Sweden

The international delivery company UPS will no long deliver packages in a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Malmo, Sweden, for security reasons. PostNord Sverige, the Swedish postal company, does not deliver packages to another area in Malmo, Seved. A UPS employee said home delivery in Rosengard was stopped two months ago after drivers were attacked. Daily reports of attacks, often with knives or vehicles, have been reported in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. But such attacks are almost never seen in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have barred Muslim immigration.

Philippines

A deadly measles epidemic has infected almost 15,000 people in the Philippines. There have been at least 238 deaths reported as of Feb. 28, but the “number of cases is still rising, said local officials. Infections have spiked by more than 1,000% in January compared to infections last year. The outbreak is blamed, in part, on public distrust of the government’s immunization program, which was tarnished in 2017 over an anti-dengue vaccine that was linked to the deaths of at least three children.

Venezuela

Venezuela plunged into darkness Thursday evening following one of the largest power outages in years, spreading chaos in an already disrupted country facing political turmoil. The blackout began as most commuters were leaving work for home, hitting 22 out of 23 Venezuelan states, including the capital Caracas that until now managed to avoid the consequences of collapsing infrastructure and frequent outages. Thousands of commuters had to scramble to find a way back home as subway service stopped operating, while roads came to a standstill due to confusion over blackened stoplights. The blackout forced hospital nurses to monitor patients, including premature babies in incubators, while holding candles. Venezuela’s disputed president Nicolas Maduro, meanwhile, blamed the blackout as an “electrical war” perpetrated by the United States without providing any proof.

Environment

Fish in the Northeast Atlantic – including cod, the prime ingredient in fish-and-chips – saw a dramatic drop of 34% in the past several decades as the Earth warmed. And it’s not only cod: many other species of fish are declining. Warming oceans have shrunk the populations of many fish species around the world, according to the study released Thursday. Overfishing and poor fisheries management have only intensified the problem. Some of the biggest drops were In the seas near China and Japan, where fish populations dropped by as much as 35% from 1930 to 2010. Globally, the drop is 4.1% for many species of fish and shellfish according to the study from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Weather

A new round of heavy rain soaking California on Wednesday prompted evacuation orders for thousands of residents in wildfire burn areas amid concerns of mudslides and debris flows. At least 3,000 residents were ordered to leave Santa Barbara hillside neighborhoods scarred by the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa wildfires.

Several winter storms roared across the nation starting last weekend. On Saturday, Colorado and Wyoming were among areas hit hardest; 32 inches of snow fell in Mount Zirkel, Colorado. Interstates and other highways were closed at times on Saturday and Sunday in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. A lengthy stretch of Highway 91 in Colorado remained closed Friday, a day after an avalanche buried several cars south of Copper Mountain in what’s become a historically dangerous season for avalanches in the state. Early Thursday, a 13-mile section of Interstate 70 between Vail and Copper Mountain was closed in both directions after an avalanche ruptured a natural gas pipeline. An earlier avalanche on Thursday temporarily closed I-70.

At least a dozen tornadoes touched down in Alabama and Georgia last Sunday afternoon, killing at least twenty-three, with seven still missing. The National Weather Service in Birmingham said the initial tornado to hit Lee County was “at least” an  EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 mph cutting a .87-mile-wide path.

Signs of the Times

March 1, 2019

­But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Timothy 3:1-5 ESV)

‘The Send’ Heralds Start of New Jesus Movement

Over 40,000 Christians packed the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida and live-streamed the event in thousands of churches across the United States as part of a “new Jesus movement.” “The Send,” a 12-hour event Saturday that was a collaboration of national ministries aimed at activating Christians to fulfill their God-given call, was launched by evangelist Lou Engle, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and other ministries. They seek to raise up a new generation of Christian missionaries following Rev. Billy Graham’s death. “We believe this day, something will transfer and bring us into, I believe, worldwide transition into the greatest Jesus movement we have ever seen,” Engle said. Pastors Bill Johnson and Benny Hinn and along with worship teams Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and Bethel Music encouraged attendees to commit to serving the Lord. More than 17,000 committed to doing a “Jesus fast,” thousands signed up for each specific calling to reach high schoolers, college-aged kids, and different nations.

Poll Shows Dramatic Shift Toward Pro-Life Views in U.S.

The latest Marist Poll has found Americans are equally likely to identify as pro-life as pro-choice, a double-digit shift from just last month. The poll also found most Americans, 80 percent, think abortion should be restricted to the first three months of a pregnancy. Both New York and Virginia passed measures on abortion in recent weeks that allow abortions up to birth, which Marist Poll director Barbara Carvalho credits with changing Americans’ attitudes on abortion. “The recent legal changes to late-term abortion and the debate which followed have not gone unnoticed by the general public,” Carvalho said in a press release. The most significant shift, according to Carvalho, was found among young Democrats.

Pope Vows to Confront Clergy Sex Abusers with ‘Wrath of God’

Pope Francis vowed on Sunday to confront sex abusers with the “wrath of God” at the conclusion of a major Catholic Church summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, saying victims of the “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil” must be prioritized. Francis made his remarks at the end of Mass before 190 Catholic bishops and religious leaders who were summoned to Rome amid the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse in the clergy and its impact on church leadership. Meanwhile, a German cardinal claimed at the summit that the Catholic Church “destroyed” records of sexual abuse. No clear guidelines came out of the summit. Meanwhile, Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic charged with child sex abuse and Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and the Vatican’s economy minister, was convicted of sex abuse in Australia and faces a potential sentence of a 50-year prison term.

United Methodist Church Affirms Opposition to Gay Marriage and Gay Clergy

Many U.S. ministers in the United Methodist Church already perform gay marriages and approve of the ordination of LGBT people as clergy, although the Protestant church’s rules officially forbid these marriages and ordinations. Many Methodists hoped the church would amend those rules this week. Instead, a group of more than 800 clergy and lay leaders from around the world voted to affirm the church’s traditional view of sexuality — and in fact to punish disobedient clergy more harshly than before. The decision was cheered by conservatives in the global church, especially in Africa, but was disappointing to those who had hoped the church would change.

New Rule a Step Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

Following through on a promise made to the American people, the Trump administration posted a final rule last Friday that says no Title X funding can go to family planning centers that perform or refer for abortions. “It’s a small step in the right direction. It does not, unfortunately, fully defund Planned Parenthood, but it will defund it of about $60 million of taxpayer funds every year,” says Alison Centofante of Live Action. The Susan B. Anthony List noted that “not one dime of funding for family planning is cut.” The new rule will take effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Democrats Block Senate GOP Bill Against Infanticide

Senate Democrats on Monday blocked a Republican bill that would have threatened prison for doctors who don’t try saving the life of infants born alive during abortions. The vote on S.311 (Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act) was largely along party lines. Senators voted 53-44 in favor of the bill, but that was seven votes short of the 60 needed to end Democratic delaying tactics aimed at derailing the measure. All 44 “no” votes came from Democrats. Three of their number crossed over to vote with the Republicans. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who heads up the House Pro-Life Caucus, told CBN News it’s unconscionable that abortionists are being allowed to leave babies to die when an abortion fails. Opponents, noting the rarity of such births and citing laws already making it a crime to kill newborn babies, said the bill was unnecessary.

North Korean Summit Collapses

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” President Trump said Thursday after his second summit with Kim Jong Un abruptly collapsed. A working lunch and the signing of a joint agreement were scrapped after talks fell apart on the summit’s second day. “They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that.” Trump said Kim had been willing to dismantle some of the country’s nuclear infrastructure in return for sanctions being lifted, but wanted to leave other parts of the program intact. North Korea is disputing President Donald Trump’s account of why the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed. North Korea’s foreign minister said the North made a “realistic proposal” and demanded only partial sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering its main nuclear complex. The discussions collapsed after the U.S. demanded further disarmament steps, he insisted.

House Votes to Block Trump’s National Emergency

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution to overturn President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the US southern border. The vote was 245-182. Thirteen Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the measure. The votes in favor of the resolution fell short of the two-thirds of the chamber needed to override a presidential veto. Trump has issued a veto threat on the measure. The resolution now moves over to the Senate, where it must be brought to the floor for a vote within the next 18 days.

House Approves Expanded Background Checks for Gun Sales

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would expand background checks for gun sales to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet, a measure likely to face Senate and White House opposition. The background check bill, which was approved by a 240-190 vote, is the first gun control measure taken up by Democrats since they regained control of the House in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto the legislation because it would apply “burdensome requirements” that are “incompatible with the Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to keep arms.”

Study Concludes Voter ID Laws Do Not Depress Voter Turnout

Strict voter ID laws do not suppress turnout, a new study finds, regardless of sex, race, Hispanic identity, or party affiliation. In total, 10 states, ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin, require voters to show ID in order to vote. Seven of those states require a photo ID, and three do not. An additional 25 states “request” that voters display ID, but may still permit them to vote on a provision ballot if they cannot. The remaining states “use other methods to verify the identity of voters,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The new research, from a researcher at the Harvard Business School, indicates that “strict” voting laws of the type implemented in those ten states do not have a statistically significant effect on voter turnout. “Strict ID laws have no significant negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any subgroup defined by age, gender, race, or party affiliation.” Most importantly, strict ID laws “do not decrease the participation of ethnic minorities relative to whites. The laws’ overall effects remain close to zero and non-significant whether the election is a midterm or presidential election, and whether the laws are the more restrictive type that stipulate photo IDs.”

All-Male Military Draft Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Texas has declared that an all-male military draft is unconstitutional, ruling that “the time has passed” for a debate on whether women belong in the military. In 1941, the Supreme Court upheld the male-only draft registration process because women were ineligible for combat roles. But U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled last Friday that men and women are now equally able to fight, because in 2015 the Pentagon lifted all restrictions for women in military service. Currently, men who fail to register with the Selective Service System at their 18th birthday can be denied public benefits such as federal employment and student loans. Women cannot register for Selective Service.

Congress Adds 1.3 Million Acres of Public Land

Congress approved a sweeping bill Tuesday that will add 1.3 million acres of public land, create five new national monuments, expand multiple existing national parks and bring back a popular conservation program. Passed by a 363-62 vote in the House of Representatives, the bill has been sent to the White House to be signed by President Donald Trump. It’s the largest public lands bill to be approved by Congress in more than 10 years. Combining more than 100 separate bills, the measure promises to create nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas; remove 370,000 acres of Montana and Washington land from mineral development; and designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic. The bill would permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.

Weed Killer Found in Most Wines and Beers

A new report by the public-interest advocacy group U.S. PIRG reveals that tests of five wines and 15 beers, including organic ones, found traces of the controversial weed killer glyphosate in 19 out of the 20. They include brands like Coors Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Guinness, Stella Artois and Samuel Adams. “The levels of glyphosate we found are not necessarily dangerous, but are still concerning given the potential health risks,” U.S. PIRG said. Glyphosate, best known as an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization.

Economic News

The nation’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services produced in the economy – increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.6 percent in the October- December period, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That followed an average 3.7 percent advance the prior two quarters which amounted to the economy’s best six-month stretch since 2014. For the year, the economy grew 2.9 percent, matching its best performance since 2015, which was a post-recession high. Federal tax cuts and spending increases juiced growth in 2018 but those effects are expected to fade later this year. That, combined with a sluggish global economy and lingering U.S. trade tensions with China, are likely to spell slower U.S. growth.

The average price of vehicles hit an all-time high of more than $36,000 in 2018, according to Kelley Blue Book — and with interest rates rising, car shoppers are now borrowing more than ever and extending their loans to record lengths. New-car buyers agreed to pay an average of $551 per month for 69 months in January, according to car-buying advice site Edmunds. That’s nearly 10 percent more per month than three years earlier. Car debt has risen 75 percent since the Great Recession in 2009, reaching an all-time high of $1.2 trillion. Average annual interest rates jumped from 4.68 percent in January 2017 to a 10-year high of 6.19 percent in January 2019. Easy credit and longer repayment terms have coaxed many consumers into buying more car than they can really afford, industry experts say.

President Trump announced Sunday on Twitter that he would be delaying an increase in tariffs against China and plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to settle on a final trade agreement. Trump said ongoing trade negotiations with China have been “very productive” and he would delay the tariffs, which were set to go into effect on March 1, ahead of a meeting with President Xi at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday bowed to overwhelming pressure to reduce the risk of a disorderly departure from the European Union, accepting that Parliament should have the chance to delay Britain’s exit if it rejects her withdrawal plans next month. Mrs. May’s concession, in the face of an internal rebellion, was the latest in a long line of retreats as she has struggled to cajole her fractious party into supporting a revised version of the deal on withdrawal, or Brexit, that lawmakers threw out by a massive margin last month.

Persecution Watch

At least 40 Christians were killed in two recent attacks in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria by Muslim Fulani herdsmen. On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in an early morning assault on villages in and around Maro, in Kajuru County of Kaduna state, Morning Star News reported. On Feb. 10, an attack by herdsmen on Angwan Barde, in the same county, killed 10 Catholic Christians along with an unborn child. The mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen have clashed with indigenous tribes and local, mainly Christian, farmers over grazing land for centuries. But the clashes intensified around the time of the 2011 and 2015 elections, and again earlier this year, the Christian group Open Doors reports.

A black street pastor, believed to be a Nigerian man, was arrested in London on 23 February apparently for an alleged “breach of the peace” as he preached the Gospel outside Southgate Underground Station. He was later “de-arrested”, according to a Metropolitan Police spokesman. The preacher pleaded peacefully with two white police officers not to take away his Bible. In a humiliating arrest, they placed his arms behind his back in handcuffs and took the Bible from him and one officer can be heard replying, “You should have thought about that before being racist.” The preacher responded, “I will not go away because I need to tell them the truth. Jesus is the only way, truth and life.” An eyewitness told Barnabas Fund that, before the police arrived, the preacher was being confronted aggressively by a young man, apparently Muslim and in his 20s, wearing a hooded top. The man was loudly abusive about the Bible and God with his face close to the preacher’s. The young man also threatened the preacher, brandishing a closed fist holding prayer beads.

Middle East

Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) showed off its newest missile facilities on Iranian television Sunday, claiming that their supply of rockets for use against Israel is more accurate and has better range than ever before. “Our rocket force and missile units will surprise the enemy following any foolish act it may do in the future,” a masked PIJ spokesman says in the documentary. This seemed to be a reference to the IDF’s defensive response to the violent mass rioting that has gone on for some 11 months at the Gaza border. The group boasted that with the aid of Iran, its engineers have managed to do better than merely replacing the missiles that Israel had destroyed in airstrikes and previous rounds of fighting. Now the terror group has the ability to strike Tel Aviv, Netanya “and even further,” with precision missiles, it threatened.

Kashmir

Pakistan’s military says it has two Indian pilots in custody, captured after the Pakistani air force shot down their aircraft Wednesday on its side of the disputed region of Kashmir. The dramatic escalation came after Pakistan said that mortar shells fired by Indian troops from across the frontier dividing Kashmir’s two sectors – known as the “line of control” – killed six civilians and wounded several others. Earlier, Pakistan says Indian aircraft crossed into its territory and dropped bombs on Tuesday without causing casualties in the latest escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals since a deadly attack on Indian troops in the disputed Kashmir region sent tensions soaring. India says it conducted the airstrikes against an alleged terrorist training camp. The incursion could have been in retaliation for a deadly Feb. 14 suicide bombing in India’s half of Kashmir that killed at least 40 troops. Pakistan’s government on Friday brought a pilot to a border crossing with India to hand him over to India as a goodwill gesture which de-escalated tensions.

Somalia

A gun battle raged in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, into Friday morning as soldiers battled to dislodge Islamist militants holed up in a building next to a hotel that they had bombed the previous evening. At least 29 people have been killed. The militants, from the Shabab extremist group, set off two blasts outside the Hotel Makkah al-Mukarammah on a busy street lined with shops and restaurants on Thursday, before retreating to an adjacent building from where they fired on soldiers who tried to enter. The attack was the latest in a series of high-profile assaults in East Africa by the Shabab, and it came after American forces in Somalia stepped up airstrikes against the Islamist group.

Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela cut off diplomatic ties with neighbor Colombia on Saturday after that nation was used as a staging ground for a U.S.-backed aid effort that he has vowed to block. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by President Trump as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, was in Colombia for a fund-raising event hosted by Richard Branson. Colombia’s Foreign Ministry responded in a statement that the nation “does not recognize the legitimacy of the usurper Maduro” and instead backs Guaidó. “Colombia has always acted in a humanitarian and peaceful way and will continue to do so in order to help create the conditions that will give rise to democracy and freedom in Venezuela once again,” the statement reads. Maduro is refusing food and medical supplies based on his belief that it will be used by the United States as a means to curry favor with troops and overthrow him. Earlier, 4 people were shot dead, and 24 injured after militias open fire in Venezuela at border protests, nonprofit Foro Penal said

Environment

A plague of locusts not seen since the days of the Bible is spreading like wildfire through Africa, along the Red Sea coast and towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The incredible swarm of crop-devouring grasshoppers arrived after a period of heavy rain in October 2018 fueled the bugs’ breeding seasons. In the Bible’s Book of Exodus, a plague of locusts was one the 10 punishments, which fell upon the lands of Egypt as punishment for enslaving the Jewish people. If the plague does continue to spread across the Middle East, some believe it will be a prophetic sign of the approaching end times.

  • The locusts of the end-times come deep into the 7-year tribulation which hasn’t yet begun, and they attack unbelievers, not plants and trees: They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:4)

Earthquakes

A major earthquake struck Peru at 3:50 a.m. Friday, just one week after another strong quake hit in neighboring Ecuador. The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 hit southern Peru. The temblor’s epicenter was 16 miles north-northeast of Azangaro and had a depth of around 160 miles. The USGS said the earthquake hit just before 4 a.m. and could be felt as far away as La Paz, Bolivia, about 200 miles to the southeast. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

The raging Russian River, swollen to near its highest level in a quarter-century, flooded 2,000 homes, killing one person and turning parts of two northern California towns into “islands,” forcing residents to use kayaks and canoes instead of cars. After reaching its crest of 45.3 feet late Wednesday – about 15 feet above flood stage – the river slowly receded Thursday. Located about 80 miles west of Sacramento, the towns of Guerneville and neighboring Monte Rio were the two hardest-hit communities. In the towns, where water stood as high as eight feet in some spots, the National Guard had to bring in kayaks. At one point, Guerneville was “officially an island,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Flooding continued to swamp parts of the South Thursday and is expected to do so for weeks to come. The Ohio River is predicted to crest this weekend at Cairo, Illinois, at the third-highest level ever. Further downstream, it will be some time before the flooding ends. The Mississippi River is not expected to crest in Vicksburg, Mississippi, until the middle of March. On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which is located about 12 miles upriver from New Orleans. The opening helps to divert some of the river’s water into Lake Pontchartrain to keep New Orleans levees from being further stressed. This was the first time in the 88 years of the spillway’s existence that it needed to be opened in consecutive years.

Signs of the Times

February 22, 2019

­Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)

Arizona’s Radical Abortion Bill Stopped in its Tracks

Over 600 Arizonans, not willing to follow New York’s lead in passing extreme abortion laws, packed house hearing rooms in protest of HB 2696. Protesters made it clear to lawmakers behind the ruthless bill that they stood alone if they repealed protections for babies born alive during an abortion. Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted down HB 2696, with no one voting for it in the end. Sponsored by 17 house members, HB 2696 originally would have repealed a 44-year old law requiring abortion providers to use all available means and medical skill to save babies born alive during an abortion. “With no legislators voting for the bill in the end, it is apparent just how out of touch sponsors are with the values and priorities of the people they represent,” notes Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy.

Saturday is “Day of Mourning” for Abortion Infanticide

A grassroots movement of Americans outraged by New York’s recent abortion law is turning their disgust into action. A nationwide event called “Day of Mourning” is planned for Saturday, February 23rd. Organizers say it will be a solemn time of prayer and repentance for the millions of babies aborted in America. The primary event will be a rally in Albany, New York where an extreme pro-abortion law was signed last month. Liberal New York lawmakers shocked the nation when they celebrated with cheers after passing a law that allows late-term abortions, even up till the moment of birth. Events are also scheduled in cities like Dallas, Texas; Nashville, TN; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; and more than 20 others. “We’re asking the nation to wear black. To not shop. To close down their businesses and to mourn and repent with us on the 23rd—this Saturday.”

Planned Parenthood CEO: We Do Abortions Because ‘It’s Being Pro-Life’

Planned Parenthood CEO Leana Wen sat down with presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton for a piece published in Interview Magazine this week, casting the abortion giant as an imperiled defender of women and claiming those who end preborn lives are the ones truly deserving the “life” label. “I also want us to consider our choice of language when we define these movements. The pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy is problematic to me,” Wen said. “Our nurses and our clinicians are all here because we believe in life,” Wen claimed. “Being pro-choice is being pro-women. It’s being pro-family. It’s being pro-community. It’s being pro-life.”

  • Killing unborn children is pro-life?? Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)

Pope at Sex Abuse Summit: ‘Listen to Cry of Little Ones’

“Simple and predictable condemnations” aren’t what’s needed to fight sex abuse within the Catholic Church; “concrete and efficient measures” are, said Pope Francis, who kicked off on Thursday a four-day global summit on the matter in Rome in front of nearly 200 bishops, cardinals, and other clergy. The pontiff’s time at the podium was filled with promises to come down hard on the “evil” of abuse.” Also included in the proceedings were survivor video testimonials and an emotional speech by Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, who noted victims had been dismissed much as Jesus was before His crucifixion. One victim called the scandal a “time bomb.” “If [we] want to save the Church, we need to get our act together.” A senior Vatican official noted that the church’s entire credibility was “strongly at stake.” Cardinals attending the summit called Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests.

Pope Francis Defrocks U.S. Cardinal

Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confessions as well as sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. Defrocking means McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year, won’t be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments. The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, was announced five days before Francis is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened his papacy.

Vatican Admits to Secret Rules for Children of Priests

The Vatican has revealed that it maintains secret guidelines for priests who father children despite their vows of celibacy. “I can confirm that guidelines exist; it is a document for internal use,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement to CNN, adding that the document was not intended for publication. Officially, Catholic priests are required to maintain a life of celibacy, refraining from any form of sexual activity. A growing tide of sexual abuse scandals involving priests around the world has shown these vows are often broken. Vatican spokesman Gisotti told CNN that the fundamental principle of the internal guidelines were the “protection of the child.” He added that, under the secret rules, a priest who fathered children was requested to leave the priesthood and “assume his responsibility as a parent, dedicating himself exclusively to the child.”

Border Update:

California and 15 other states sued President Donald Trump on Monday over his decision to declare a national emergency to free up funding for his controversial border wall, calling the move “unlawful and unconstitutional.” The states allege in their lawsuit that Trump’s emergency declaration exceeds the power of the president and unconstitutionally redirects federal money that Congress had set aside for other purposes. Trump made the declaration on Friday after lawmakers sent him a government funding bill that included $1.375 billion for the wall, far short of the $5.7 billion he initially requested.  White House officials said they believe they can unlock an additional $6.6 billion through the emergency declaration and other budget maneuvers. The White House believes the money would allow the administration to build at least 234 miles of the border wall, which was a central promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Since the Trump administration announced it would end its practice of separating families apprehended at the southern border last June under its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, at least 245 children have been separated from their parents, according to a new court filing. The administration said the basis for the separation in the majority of cases was “criminality, prosecution, gang affiliation or other law enforcement purpose.” The court document is a status report in an ongoing family separation lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction last June blocking most family separations at the US-Mexico border and ordering that those already separated be reunited.

Supreme Court Curbs State Power to Levy Fines, Seize Property

The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the power of cities and states to levy fines and seize property, siding with a man trying to keep his Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to selling drugs. The unanimous ruling marks the first time the court has said that states and cities are bound by the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines, part of the Eighth Amendment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been away from the court for almost two months after undergoing lung cancer surgery, wrote the opinion and read a summary of it from the bench. “The protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history,” she wrote. “Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.” The ruling puts new limits on what critics say is an increasingly common and abusive government practice of using fines and forfeitures to raise revenue.

U.S. & UK ISIS Brides Want to Come Home

An American woman and a British teenager who fled to Syria to marry Islamic State group fighters are pleading to be allowed to return home. Hoda Muthana, 24, left Alabama four years ago for ISIS-held territory in Syria. She was recently found living with her 18-month-old son in the same refugee camp in northern Syria where Shamima Begum, 19, from London, gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend, according to British media reports and Begum’s lawyer. Muthana who once tweeted that Americans should kill themselves, told The Guardian newspaper she regrets joining the terrorist group and that she and other recruits like her did so because they were “ignorant” and “brainwashed.” “I look back now and I think I was very arrogant,” said Muthana, who was married three times in Syria. Her first two husbands died fighting for ISIS.

Muthana claims she has had no contact with U.S authorities. Her current legal status is not clear. She is not allowed to leave the camp and has armed guards. Begum, who left Britain as a 15-year-old, also wants to be allowed to travel home but her story has become the subject of intense debate in Britain because she has expressed little remorse for ISIS’ brutality, including its beheadings, in Syria Shamima Begum has had her British citizenship stripped by the U.K. Tuesday. Muthana will not be allowed back into the U.S., President Trump said Wednesday in a tweet. The father of Muthana filed suit against the Trump administration Thursday in an effort to allow her return to the US

White American Supremacist Wanted to Kill Democrats

A lieutenant stationed at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC, planned to carry out terrorist attacks on Democratic politicians and journalists and use violence to “establish a white homeland,” prosecutors say. Investigators found 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in the home of self-proclaimed white nationalist Christopher Paul Hasson, who was arrested Friday. In a court filing arguing that Hasson, 49, should remain in jail while he awaits trial, prosecutors said he intended “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” The filing quoted Hasson, a Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran, as saying, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.” Hasson used his computer at Coast Guard headquarters to study mass shooters, according to investigators. An internal program, they said, picked up his suspicious computer activity.

Chinese and Iranian Hackers Attack U.S. Companies

Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been motivated by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China, reports the New York Times. Recent Iranian attacks on American banks, businesses and government agencies have been more extensive than previously reported. Dozens of corporations and multiple United States agencies have been hit recently. The Iranian attacks coincide with a renewed Chinese offensive geared toward stealing trade and military secrets from American military contractors and technology companies. Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts.

Economic News

Industrial production sank 0.6% in January, the first drop in eight months, the Federal Reserve reported last Friday. Despite the decline, production remains 3.8% higher in January than it was a year earlier. In January, all categories except mining and utility production declined. Manufacturing alone dropped 0.9%, led by slump in the volatile motor-vehicle sector. Autos fell 8.8% in January. Mining output edged up 0.1% in January. The output of utilities increased 0.4%.The manufacturing sector faces headwinds from slowing global growth, trade tensions and the strong dollar.

In late 2014, farm milk prices started to plummet. The downturn, fueled by overproduction and failing export markets, has lasted more than four years and has wiped out dairy farms from Maine to California. The price farmers receive for their milk has fallen nearly 40 percent. Wisconsin lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018, an unprecedented rate of nearly two a day. Most were small operations unable to survive farm milk prices that, adjusted for inflation, were among the lowest in a half-century. As of Feb. 1, Wisconsin had 8,046 dairy herds, down 40 percent from 10 years earlier.

The retail apocalypse continues. Payless Shoe Source confirmed Friday that it will close its 2,100 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and start liquidation sales Sunday. The company is also shuttering its e-commerce operations. The closings nearly double the number of retail stores set to close in 2019. “We expect all stores to remain open until at least the end of March and the majority will remain open until May,” the company said in a statement. The Topeka, Kansas-based discount shoe retailer had previously filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017 and closed 673 stores. Much of this has to do with the rise of online shopping, which stood at 9.8% of all retail sales in the third quarter of last year, up from 3.6% a decade earlier.

Profits for online retail behemoth Amazon soared in 2018, but it paid no federal income tax for the second consecutive year. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says the company is subject to a 21 percent tax rate on its U.S. income. However, through various tax breaks and credits, the company will receive a tax rebate of $129 million, despite the company nearly doubling its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018, up from $5.6 billion the previous year. The U.S. tax code allows companies that lose money to reduce their future taxable income. That has worked in Amazon’s favor because its past has been marked with billions of dollars in losses. In addition, some of its profits come from global sources not subject to the U.S. tax code.

Your smart TV is watching you. And making money off you as well. That’s why the prices of TVs have fallen so dramatically over the last five years, reports the USA Today. More ads are coming at you via prominent branded movie and TV channels on smart TVs. These channels share ad revenues with set manufacturers like Vizio, Samsung, LG, an avenue that didn’t exist in the pre-streaming era. They also profit by selling data of your viewing histories to programmers and marketers. The manufacturers have been tracking viewers on smart TVs for several years.

Israel

The Israeli government’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it was implementing a law passed last year allowing the Jewish state to withhold funds that the Palestinian Authority (PA) uses to pay stipends to attackers and their families from taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf. The PA uses the payments to financially incentivize the murder and maiming of Israeli civilians. Palestinian leaders, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have refused to discontinue the practice, despite laws in Israel and the U.S. that penalize the PA to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year for continuing the practice. Palestinians face major budget cuts made last year after the United States slashed funding for the Palestinians’ U.N. agency. However, Abbas announced last year he intends to use the PA’s “last penny” to continue the pay-for-slay policy, which is built on a sliding scale that rewards more heinous crimes with greater remuneration. Abbas also announced that his regime will refuse all tax revenues Israel transfers to the PA if Israel deducts the amount the PA uses to reward terrorists.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s first lunar lander – “Beresheet” (“In the Beginning”) –  on a mission that makes the Jewish State only the fourth country to ever land a spacecraft on the moon’s surface. Only China, Russia, and the United States have landed a spacecraft on the moon. It is the first such space capsule to land on the moon using a rocket from a private company rather than a government-funded enterprise.

Middle East

“The chances of war with Israel are great,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday at the Munich Peace and Security Conference on the Middle East. “There are those looking for war – Israel,” Javad said. “We’re in Syria to fight terror, the violation of Lebanon’s airspace and attacks in Syria are a violation of international law and no one criticizes Israel but rather us; the danger of war increases when no one refers to Israel.” Iran is feeling the diplomatic heat as a gathering of over 60 nations in Warsaw at a Mideast security conference last week put the finger squarely on Iran as the greatest threat to Mideast peace. Zarif’s remarks may have been an attempt to redirect attention back to the Arab states traditional target – Israel. Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, said, “We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue. But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic, from Iran.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday released a video of a closed meeting in which senior Gulf Arab officials supported Israel’s right to defend itself, played down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and described Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace. The video provided a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes ties the Israeli leader has built with the Arab world, but which are rarely seen in public. The video was recorded on a mobile device and it was not clear who took it. It was removed from Netanyahu’s social media accounts not long after it was posted.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking during his state-of-the-nation address Wednesday, warned that Russia will aim new hypersonic missiles at the U.S. should it deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Russia’s new Zircon missiles, which Putin claimed fly at nine times of the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles, are part of its ongoing effort to upgrade its defensive capabilities against what it regards as an increasingly hostile U.S. The announcement follows the U.S.’ recent withdrawal from a 32-year-old nuclear arms control treaty. During his address, Putin rejected the U.S.’ claim that its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty was prompted by Russian violations of the pact. He charged that the U.S. made false accusations against Russia to justify its decision to opt out of the pact.

North Korea

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet one-on-one at the start of their summit next week in Hanoi. The initial session will be followed by a meal and expanded talks with each country’s delegation. Trump is hoping to advance four priorities in his summit meeting with Kim next week in Hanoi: transforming relations between the U.S. and North Korea; establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula; the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; and the return of killed-in-action and missing-in-action Americans from the Korean War. Senior U.S. officials are in Hanoi now negotiating with a North Korean delegation ahead of the summit.

Iran

Iran is providing high-level al Qaeda operatives with a clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money and weapons across the Middle East, according to Trump administration officials who warn that the long-elusive, complex relationship between two avowed enemies of America has evolved into an unacceptable global security threat. Skeptics have long doubted that Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, could find common cause with a radical Sunni Islamist group such as al Qaeda. But U.S. officials argue that a confluence of interests — and a common enemy in the U.S. and its allies — has brought a level of covert cooperation and coordination that has reached new heights. The unlikely alliance between Iran and al Qaeda may provide a legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.

Syria

European nations have refused to remain in Syria unless President Trump reverses at least part of his troop withdrawal order. This is now one of several factors that U.S. military officials, lawmakers and senior administration officials have said should make Trump think again about moving forward with a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. The White House said on Thursday that it planned to leave about 200 American troops in Syria, signaling a partial retreat from President Trump’s announcement in December that he would withdraw all 2,000 forces after what he described as a victory over the Islamic State. The move was a concession to allies and Pentagon officials who have argued that a complete American withdrawal risks returning key areas in Syria to the Islamic State. It came Thursday after a phone call between Mr. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, during which the two leaders agreed to continue working together to try to create a “safe zone,” the White House said.

In the most comprehensive report to date, a Berlin-based research center has found that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in at least 336 instances as part of a strategy of collective punishment during Syria’s nearly eight-year civil war. In 2012, President Barack Obama described the use of such weapons as a “red line” that would entail “enormous consequences” if crossed, but no action was taken.

France

Police fired tear gas and brought in water cannons and a horse brigade to disperse several thousand yellow vest protesters Saturday massed near a Paris landmark at the end of a march through the French capital, the 14th straight weekend of demonstrations. Acrid clouds of tear gas filled the esplanade of Les Invalides monument, obscuring the gold dome that crowns the monument housing Napoleon’s tomb. Tension also marked demonstrations in other cities. In Rouen, in Normandy, a car blocked by demonstrators pushed through the crowd, slightly injuring four people. Police used tear gas and water cannon in Bordeaux, a stronghold of the yellow vest movement. Violence has marked most of the protests that started against fuel taxes and grew into a mass movement against Macron and his pro-business policies. However, the increasingly divided movement is having trouble maintaining momentum amid charges of anti-Semitism.

China

Facing a future demographic crisis and aging society, China’s leaders are desperately seeking to persuade couples to have more children. In 1980 the notorious “one-child policy” came into effect, mandating often brutal punishments for violators ranging from forced abortions and sterilizations to fines and demotions. Fast-forward 35 years, and a radical change of course was ordered after leaders realized an aging population and declining workforce threatened to hamstring the country’s future development. In 2016, the one-child policy was officially replaced with a two-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply—within limits. But the bump in the birthrate was fleeting. Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion—a growth rate of 0.4% and the lowest increase since 1961, resulting in 2 million fewer births than in 2017.

Venezuela

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil company have accelerated the unprecedented collapse of its oil output and set off a domino effect in the global energy market. The sanctions, which were announced on January 28 in a bid to drive socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s out of office, have sent U.S. Gulf Coast refineries scrambling to find alternate sources for the heavy crude they once relied on from Venezuela. And Venezuela, which as of last fall was the No. 4 crude importer to the United States behind only Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, has been forced to find new customers and new ways to dilute its very heavy crude to ready it for export. President Trump urged Venezuela’s military leaders to turn on leader Nicolas Maduro, casting the struggle in the troubled South American nation as a major test of whether the world can rid itself of a socialist stumbling block.

  • Venezuela’s economic crisis has set off a staggering exodus, with millions of people leaving the country in recent years — largely on foot.
  • One person was killed, and 12 were injured after Venezuelan soldiers opened fire in a clash over an humanitarian aid delivery at the Brazilian border. The soldiers fired at civilians who were attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil as part of a massive opposition operation meant to deliver international relief into this devastated South American country.
  • The U.S. and Venezuela averted a showdown over U.S. Embassy personnel in Caracas by extending the deadline for the diplomats to stay.

Environment

Americans’ desire for soft toilet paper — and lots of it — is destroying ancient Canadian forests, two environmental groups said this week. In a report titled The Issue with Tissue, the Natural Resources Defense Council says the average American uses three rolls of toilet paper a week. The report also says Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific use no recycled content in their at-home toilet paper. The bulk of the wood pulp for their tissue comes from boreal forests in Canada. “Most Americans probably do not know that the toilet paper they flush away comes from ancient forests, but clear-cutting those forests is costing the planet a great deal.” Leading United States brands like Charmin, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft got “F” grades because they use no recycled content. Brands using recycled paper content, including 365, Seventh Generation and Natural Value, were among those awarded “A” grades.

Earthquakes

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador early Friday morning, according to the United States Geological Survey. The quake’s epicenter was located about 70 miles east-southeast of Palora, Ecuador, at a depth of 82 miles. About 25 minutes later, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in western Ecuador, near Guayaquil. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno tweeted that “preliminary reports of the quakes near Macas (the provincial capital of Morona Santiago) don’t show major damage.”

Weather

Winter Storm Quiana continued to dump heavy snow on parts of Arizona Friday, prompting emergency declarations, closing schools across the region, shutting down interstates and bringing record snow to the Flagstaff area. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport remained closed Friday morning after more than 38 inches of snow fell at the airport Wednesday into Friday. With more than 35 inches of snow on Thursday alone, it was the snowiest single day on record for the city of Flagstaff. The famed Las Vegas Strip resembled a scene out of the Arctic on Thursday after a rare snowstorm turned the area into a winter wonderland with up to 5 inches of snow.

Winter Storm Petra pushed east Wednesday, creating a treacherous morning commute for millions from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic. In Washington D.C., where heavy snow fell Wednesday morning at Reagan National airport, government offices and schools were closed because of the storm. From Kansas City to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Philadelphia to Baltimore and Atlantic City, schools and some government offices were closed. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, which took effect 5 a.m. Wednesday. Pennsylvania enacted a travel ban for commercial vehicles and a 45-mph speed restriction for all vehicles for Interstate 70 in Fulton County from the Maryland state line to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and on I-99 from I-80 to the Turnpike.

Days of heavy rain in the Deep South flooded roads and triggered landslides and evacuations as residents prepare for what might be the worst day of flooding yet on Friday. Residents living along the Cumberland River in Cheatham County, Tennessee, began evacuating their homes Thursday as the flooding risk intensified. Numerous schools throughout the state canceled classes Friday amid flooding concerns, as rivers and tributaries continued to rise. Early Thursday, a large landslide took out both lanes of Tennessee’s Highway 70N in Hawkins County, killing one person.

Some parts of the South Lake Tahoe region saw more than 9 feet of snow. The California Highway Patrol implored skiers to stay off the roads. Towns along the routes to the mountains were inundated with stuck travelers. Businesses couldn’t handle the crowds and fights broke out in the street. “They have nowhere to go to the bathroom, and there’s not enough restaurants,” reported one resident. “They’re inundating the town. Double parking, triple parking onto the streets.” With 31.5 inches of snow as of Wednesday, this is now the snowiest February on record in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The 9 inches of snow the city received Wednesday pushed it past the previous record of 26.5 inches, set back in 1962.

Temperatures soared to near the freezing mark late last week at the nation’s northernmost town of Utquagvik, formerly known as Barrow, Alaska. Temperatures held for several days in the 20s and 30s, which is between 30 and 40 degrees above average. Temperatures in Utqiagvik have been running well above average since the beginning of the year. Most of Alaska has had a warm start to 2019. These warmer temperatures combined with increased storminess during the last couple of weeks have caused more sea ice to melt.

  • Ent-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times

February 15, 2019

­And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;  men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

Pope Francis Signs Agreement with Top Imam

Pope Francis just signed a document with Al Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (once named “the most influential Muslim in the world”), titled “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” The document has been described as a dream come true for mankind, and an “historical breakthrough.” On the surface, it sounds great – if you’re an atheist or secularist. Down inside the document, it says, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.”

  • This is a significant step toward the one-world religion prophesied in Revelation 13:7-8 (It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the anti-Christ], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.)

In New York It’s Okay to Kill Unborn Babies

A New Yorker from Queens, Anthony Hobson killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Irigoyen, also stabbing her in the stomach because and killing the baby he fathered (some news stories say she was 14 weeks pregnant and others put the figure at 20 weeks). He was immediately charged with two murders, but the charge for killing the baby was subsequently dropped: it was noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new abortion law provides no penalties for the killing of unborn children; abortion was removed from the criminal code and inserted into the public health law. LifeNews is calling on the New York State legislature to draft legislation that makes it a crime to murder the baby of a pregnant woman.

Growing List of Scientists Are Rejecting Darwinism

Earlier this month, an online petition voicing scientific opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution reached more than 1,000 signatures, pointing to an increased level of rejection among the scientific community. In order to sign the document, one must obtain a “PhD in a scientific field such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or one of the other natural sciences; or they must hold an MD and serve as a professor of medicine.” A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short statement that reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” The statement, released by the Discovery Institute in 2001 by those who question Neo-Darwinism, has been signed by scientists from “the US National Academy of Sciences, Russian, Hungarian and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others.”

Court Rules Christian Student Group Cannot be Removed from University

The University of Iowa cannot remove a Christian student group’s registered status after the group prohibited a gay student from a leadership role, a federal court has ruled. U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose approved a permanent injunction that forces the University of Iowa to reverse its decision and recognize Business Leaders in Christ as a registered student organization. She said in her opinion that the school applies its human rights policy “unevenly.” “The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” she said. “Particularly when free speech is involved.” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the group representing the student organization, released a statement after the court ruling, saying “universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

Nearly Half of Millennial Christians Believe Evangelism is Wrong

The Barna Group released new findings last week which show that 47 percent of millennial Christians believe it is inappropriate to share their Christian faith with people of a different religion in hopes that they will eventually convert to Christianity. Nevertheless, Millennials still believe they are “good evangelists and still see themselves as representatives for their faith. The survey also found that born-again millennials were the age group most likely to share their faith. According to the new Barna survey, however, that number is on the decline. David Kinnaman, the Barna president, says that he believes the decline in evangelism is due to the rise in the “cultural expectation against judging personal choices.”

Government Shutdown Averted, Trump Declares National Emergency

President Trump declared a national emergency Friday morning after signing the budget deal to avert another government shutdown. The budget bill provides $1.375 billion for border fencing – far less than the $5.7 billion the president had demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The emergency declaration is designed to secure funding for a border wall—but he has been warned that the move is likely to encounter a wall of lawsuits from Democrats, immigration advocates, and environmentalists, among others. the Justice Department has told Trump that the declaration of a national emergency is extremely likely to be blocked by the courts before it can come into effect. Analysts say legal challenges could delay the project for years, though White House officials say they expect to eventually win on appeal to the Supreme Court. Trump noted that national declarations have been signed by other presidents, “for far less important things in many cases.” Trump will tap funds from the Pentagon, Treasury and other sources to build the wall.

Federal Appeals Court Rules In Favor of Border Wall

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Trump administration has the power to waive environmental laws in order to speed up border wall construction, dealing a blow to the president’s opponents. The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which President Trump regularly likes to chide as too liberal, sided with him this time. The judges said federal law gives the administration broad powers to waive any laws in order to get the wall built. Homeland Security has constructed new fencing across the southwest border, replacing vehicle barriers and upgrading old, substandard fence. And last week the government began to build the first new barriers on the border that was previously unprotected by any barriers. In each of those cases, the Homeland Security Department has also issued waivers which cover some of the country’s most iconic protections, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Eagle Protection Act.

Migrant Update

Three months later, most of the Central American caravan of The remaining migrants chose to stay in Mexico, return home, or travel to other areas of the border, where they either attempted to enter the U.S. illegally or asked for asylum at other ports of entry, according to initial estimates from the Mexican government. 6,000 migrants are gone. Nearly half chose to wait in line for a chance to ask for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry, despite the long waits. Most have already seen a U.S. immigration officer. With wait times to claim asylum stretching up to six weeks, it’s unclear how many caravan members chose to cross the border illegally. The Mexican government estimated about 1,000 had made the attempt and were caught. San Diego Sector Border Patrol apprehended 5,812 in the month of December. Total apprehensions that month is nearly 1,300 more than November, when the caravan arrived.

Hours after President Trump appeared in El Paso Monday at a rally to demand border wall money, a large group of illegal immigrants breached the border a few miles away. Border Patrol agents say 311 migrants walked into the U.S., where they were arrested just before midnight. Almost all of them were families or unaccompanied alien children from Central America. This was the 28th group of 100 or more migrants to be apprehended in the El Paso sector since the beginning of October. A group of 325 Central Americans surrendered to Border Patrol agents at the Ajo Station in southwest Arizona after illegally entering the country on Thursday. The group included about 150 minors, 32 of whom were unaccompanied. The group entered through an area that only had a vehicle barrier and surrendered west of Lukeville.

Homeland Security Expedites a Secondary Border Wall

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a waiver allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to expedite construction of a “secondary wall” on the U.S-Mexico border. The secondary wall will be built in the eastern portion of Border Field State Park in San Diego, extend for 12.5 miles and should be 18 feet tall. The DHS said in a statement that Congress has granted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with “a number of authorities necessary to carry out the DHS’s border security mission.” One of these authorities is to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical walls and roads near the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States.” According to the department, the San Diego Sector already has apprehended 18,500 undocumented immigrants in this fiscal year, an increase of over 69 percent from the same period of time in the last fiscal year.

Gun Seizures Spike Nationally

Courts are issuing an unprecedented number of orders to seize firearms from people they deem to be mentally ill or threats to others, following a rash of state-level legislation aimed at curbing mass shootings across the country. More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California, where newly-installed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved swiftly to curtail gun rights. Even as conservatives sound the alarm about potential Second Amendment violations, supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the country. Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to fourteen states.

Senate Passes Sweeping Conservation Package

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a sweeping conservation bill that protects 1.3 million acres of wilderness, creates or expands 10 national parks (including Joshua Tree and Death Valley), pulls hundreds of thousands of acres of land from mining, protects hundreds of miles of rivers, and sets up four new national monuments. It’s being called the most wide-ranging public-lands package in 10 years, with the “win” part coming in not only because of its conservation victories, but also due to its across-the-aisle support. The measure, which passed Tuesday 92-8, merges nearly 100 separate bills to offer “something for nearly everyone” in every state, and chances look good that both the House and President Trump will sign off on it as well.

Economic News

The federal debt ticked past $22 trillion this week, a record that comes despite continued economic growth, but neither political party appears to be making a priority of debt reduction. Larry Kudlow, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, said on Thursday that the president was “concerned” about the rise of the debt, and that the administration would propose some reductions in federal spending in its next budget. But he said the scale of the debt was not “a problem.” During the first two years of the Trump administration, the debt increased by more than $2 trillion, in part because of the $1.5 trillion tax cut and large spending increases the president has signed into law.

A delayed report outlining retail sales in December was released Thursday, and it showed sales around the holiday season tumbled 1.2 percent — its largest decline in almost a decade. The report had been delayed because of the 35-day federal shutdown. The Census Bureau report said the drop was comparable to September 2009, a few months into the Great Recession. The figures indicate retailers faced a stock market decline, the start of the partial government shutdown and poor weather conditions. The report said total sales for 2018 were up 5 percent and sales from October through December increased 3.7 percent, year-to-year.

The number of job openings reached 7.3 million at the end of 2018, the highest level since the Labor Department started measuring them in 2000. Job openings have outpaced hiring since December of 2017, which shows that employers are having a difficult time finding enough workers to fill all the positions they have available. There have been more open jobs than unemployed people since March 2018.

A study of bankruptcy filings in the United States showed that 66.5% were due, at least in part, to medical expenses. The study, led by Dr. David Himmelstein, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, indicates that about 530,000 families each year are financially ruined by medical bills and sicknesses. It’s the first research of its kind to link medical expenses and bankruptcy since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The authors of the study discovered that the percentage of bankruptcies caused by medical bills actually went up by 2 percent after Obamacare went into effect.

Texas, the epicenter of the shale boom, is gushing with oil. Production in the Lone Star State soared by 22% to 1.54 billion barrels in 2018. That shatters the previous Texas record of 1.28 billion barrels set in 1973. The spike in Texas’ oil production has been driven by the Permian Basin, the shale hotbed located in West Texas and New Mexico. Rapid technological improvements in drilling have morphed the Permian into one of the world’s largest and most important oilfields. The oil and gas industry supported a total of 352,371 direct jobs in Texas last year, up by 26,706 from 2017. And these jobs pay extremely well, with an average annual wage of $130,706 — more than double the state’s average private-sector salary.

Persecution Watch

Calendars sent to Christians in Tajikistan were seized and later burned by the authorities because they contained verses from the Bible. The consignment of 5,000 calendars arrived on 18 December 2018 for distribution to registered evangelical churches in Tajikistan. Customs officials impounded the calendars when they saw the Bible verses and referred the issue to the Central Committee on Religion that controls religious affairs in the country. Authorities gave the order for the destruction of the literature.

An elderly Iranian Christian woman has endured ten days of intensive interrogation by intelligence officers and been forced to go to an Islamic religious leader to be “instructed”. Ruhsari Kamberi, 65, was one of five women converts from Islam arrested from different church groups in Karaj, close to Tehran. The whereabouts of the other four are not known. According to a local source, “Ruhsari was interrogated from morning until evening for ten consecutive days.” The wife and mother was finally released when bail of 30 million Toman (around £5,500) was paid.

The prime suspect in the brutal rape and death of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher was arraigned in a Jerusalem court on Monday and charged with murder. Palestinian Arafat Irfayia, 29, showed no signs of remorse and appeared to be smirking during the proceedings. Strong DNA evidence linked him to the killing. The knife that was believed to be used in the attack was found at the time of his arrest. Authorities have labeled it a “nationalistic crime” given Irfayia’s family openly identifies with Hamas and the fact that Irfayia has distributed material for the terror group.

Middle East

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the White House’s aggressive anti-Iran message to a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Poland on peace and security in the Middle East that concluded Thursday. Pence used his address to the conference in Poland’s capital Warsaw to demand that European countries withdraw from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that President Donald Trump’s administration has already abandoned. He urged U.S. allies to back Washington’s sanctions on Iran, re-imposed after Trump exited the 2015 accord last year. Long-standing U.S. allies in Europe favor staying in the deal and have sought ways to keep open trade and financial dealings with Iran. Disagreement over the issue is what partly led to Germany, France and other major U.S. allies not sending their top diplomats to the summit in Poland.  Pompeo said on Thursday that there cannot be Middle East peace without combating Iran.

Islamic State

The top US commander in the war against ISIS said that there are “tens of thousands” of ISIS fighters spread across Syria and Iraq. ISIS chiefs have stashed away millions to fund a new wave of attacks against Britain and the West – as the terror group faces being stamped out once and for all. U.N. experts believe the group has around $300 million stored in “bulk” – with one report warning it will be used to fund “larger-scale attacks once the opportunity arises.” The warning comes as ISIS face being finally routed in Syria. U.S.-backed Syrian forces are clearing two villages in eastern Syria of remaining Islamic State militants who are hiding among the local population, and detaining others attempting to flee with the civilians, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday. The clearance operations are taking place, near the border with Iraq, a coalition statement said, hours after scores of militants from the Islamic State group — including many foreign fighters — surrendered to U.S.-backed fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday night. The developments brought the Kurdish-led force closer to taking full control of the last remaining area controlled by the extremists.

Kashmir

The death toll from a car bombing on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir has climbed to 41, becoming the single deadliest attack in the divided region’s volatile history, security officials said Friday. A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into the convoy along a key highway Thursday. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers. The attack is ratcheting up already hostile tensions between India and Pakistan, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely. India and Pakistan accused each other for the attack. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989, but the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi’s rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

South Korea

Officials signed a short-term agreement on Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after President Trump’s call for the South to pay more. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War. The new deal would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018. Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months. The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

Australia

In Australia, the heat was so intense it caused bats to fall from trees and snakes to seek refuge in people’s toilets. Overall, it was the hottest January in Australia ever recorded. One remarkable record was set in Port Augusta, Australia, which soared to 121 degrees. That’s the hottest temperature ever recorded at a coastal location in the Southern Hemisphere. Late in the month, folks in Wanaaring endured Australia’s all-time hottest night, when the overnight temperature only dropped to a sweltering 97.9 degrees. Across the Pacific, at the far southern tip South America, the tiny town of Porvenir, Chile, soared to 90.5 degrees earlier this week. This may have been the Earth’s most southerly 90-degree temperature on record. “Heat this high on the southern tip of South America is unprecedented,” wrote Guy Walton, an Atlanta meteorologist who tracks weather records.

Up to 500,000 cattle are feared dead after floods left parts of eastern Australian under water, swallowing up livestock and farm buildings as the levels rose. Dramatic overhead scenes taken from helicopters flying over Queensland show large numbers of cattle lying dead in groups having succumbed to the heavy rains.       Ironically, many farmers in Australia have been struggling to keep cattle alive after years of drought only for them to lose them now to floods.

Greenland

In a strangely positive twist to climate change, a new study finds that Greenland could become a major exporter of sand as its glaciers disappear into the sea. As global temperatures rise, the island’s vast ice sheet is rapidly melting away, and large amounts of sediments are being washed into the oceans. Greenland’s population of 56,000 could see significant economic boosts from mining the sand and gravel and exporting it to the rest of the world. The amount of sand delivered to the country’s coast annually is estimated to be worth more than half Greenland’s GDP, which is about $2.22 billion, and that worth is now expected to double within the next quarter-century.

Environment

A decline in insect populations happening across the planet has Earth’s ecosystems and humankind facing catastrophic consequences. That sobering message has emerged from a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports on insect population declines which found the rate of extinction is eight times faster than vertebrates such as mammals, birds and reptiles. More than a third of the world’s insects are threatened with extinction in the next few decades, the researchers say. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades” They found evidence for decline in all insect groups reviewed, but said it was most pronounced for butterflies and moths, native bees, beetles and aquatic insects such as dragonflies.

An invasion of about 50 polar bears has caused an “emergency situation” in the small Russian settlement of Belushya Guba. The town is located on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. “The people are scared,” said Alexander Minayev, the deputy head of Novaya Zemlya. “They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken,” Minayev said in a statement. The bears arrived in December and have acted aggressively since then, attacking people and entering residences and businesses. Melting Arctic sea ice has forced polar bears to spend more time on land, where they compete for food.

Weather

After months of promises, infamous climate agitator El Niño finally formed this week, climate scientists announced Thursday. El Niño is a periodic natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific. It is among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world. It typically brings unusually wet weather across the USA’s southern tier.

A deadly winter storm battered Hawaii last weekend, bringing dangerous surf conditions, heavy snow and damaging winds. Waves near Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu surpassed 60 feet Sunday afternoon. A monstrous 191-mph wind gust was recorded on the peak of Mauna Kea on the Big Island Sunday. Winds soared to 53 mph in Oahu, which knocked down trees and caused power outages throughout the islands, Shigesato said. Almost 27,000 customers throughout the state were without power late Sunday. Several inches of snow fell on Maui. Debris on Sunday closed roads in downtown Honolulu and in the Waikiki area

Winter Storm Nadia slammed the Pacific Northwest and Northern California with heavy snow and rain Wednesday, causing multiple crashes and road closures, leaving tens of thousands without power and stranding some 250 motorists on a Washington mountain pass. The California city of Redding, which sees snow about once every other year, received more than a foot of new snow from Nadia, effectively shutting down the city of nearly 100,000. Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass was closed in both directions Wednesday because of high avalanche danger after nearly 4 feet of snow fell within a 48-hour period. More than 24,000 customers in Washington and another 70,000 in California were without power Wednesday morning. Nadia moved into the Plains on Friday. Numerous schools were closed Friday in Kansas and Missouri. Interstate 80 from Colfax to the Nevada line remained closed Friday because of white out conditions at the summit.

An “atmospheric river” triggered torrential rains across much of California Thursday and could lead to dangerous mudslides in areas swollen from days of rain and still recovering from devastating wildfires. In Northern California, homes tumbled down the hillsides as the downpour caused mudslides that swallowed up cars. There have been at least 78 reports of debris flows or flooding in California since the storm began on Tuesday. Early Thursday, a woman was rescued from one of two homes that slid down a hillside in Sausalito. In Southern California, mandatory “must go now” evacuations were ordered at the burn site of the Holy Fire in Riverside County, including hundreds of Lake Elsinore residents. Voluntary evacuations were also ordered near the Cranston Fire burn site in Riverside County. Heavy rains that killed at least two people in California this week eased on Friday but authorities are warning that the danger of mudslides continues.