Archive for December, 2016

Signs of the Times (12/31/16)

December 31, 2016

Kerry Defends U.N. Resolution Against Israel

Secretary of State John Kerry’s much-anticipated Middle East speech brought together four giant personalities representing two radically divergent worldviews in one momentous clash, reports the New York Times. On one side was Mr. Kerry, venting years of frustration on behalf of President Obama and himself at what they consider Israeli intransigence. On the other were Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump, firing back at what they deemed a hypocritical betrayal of America’s closest friend in the Middle East. The departing administration intended for the speech to lay out a path to peace that they had tried to take, hoping to salvage some scrap of a legacy on the issue. The incoming administration and its Israeli ally were busy counting the days until the old team will be swept from the stage and a new Israeli-American alignment redefines the politics of the region. Amid the harsh exchanges was the increasing sense that the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict favored by much of the world no longer seems plausible, at least for now.

  • The two-state solution which would divide Jerusalem and the West Bank would hand the keys to enemies who continue to call for the complete annihilation of Israel

Obama Rushing to Cement Legacy Before Trump Takes Over

With the finish line in view, President Barack Obama has scaled up his executive power moves in a bid to solidify some of his legacy items before Donald Trump takes office. Many of his actions won’t be easily reversed. Obama vowed to respond to Moscow for its cyber-meddling in the U.S. election, and 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country, and two Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions. Those efforts could include new sanctions against six Russian individuals and five Russian entities as well. In addition, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced last week it was dismantling a Bush-era program that was used to track mostly Muslim and Arab men in the United States. Dormant since 2011, the program, known as NSEERS, could have provided the basis for a Muslim registry that Trump has promised. He could still set one up, but the existing framework is no longer in place. The President has also advised lawmakers of plans to transfer almost one-third of the remaining population at Guantanamo Bay to other countries before he leaves. Of the 59 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, 22 are currently eligible for transfer.

Obama Designates Two New National Monuments, Outrage Ensues

President Obama designated two national monuments in Utah and Nevada Wednesday as part of the outgoing president’s efforts to secure and expand his environmental legacy. The White House announced that The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will cover 1.35 million acres in the Four Corners region. The move is a victory for Native American tribes and conservationists for whom the land is considered sacred, but sparked intense opposition from Republicans. “This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., tweeted. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office is planning a lawsuit over the issue, saying the declaration undid years of work toward a more balanced solution. The president also announced a 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument outside Las Vegas that will protect an ecologically fragile area that includes rock art, artifacts and fossils. Obama’s latest environmental move is the latest in a series of actions to nail down his legacy before Trump is inaugurated. Trump has pledged to remove many environmental regulations to drilling and other energy mining, and has promised to undo much of Obama’s environmental agenda.

Russia Won’t Respond in Kind to Diplomatic Expulsions

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow will not expel American diplomats in response to U.S. sanctions against Russia for alleged hacking. Putin said he would not pursue “irresponsible diplomacy” and would instead attempt to rebuild relations with Washington after the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump. “Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policies carried out by the administration of President Trump,” a Kremlin statement said. However, Putin said that Russia reserved the right to respond to the new U.S. sanctions, depending on how things go with the new administration.

Russia Allegedly Hacks Vermont Electric Utility

Programming code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by Homeland Security has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials. While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. Officials in government and the utility industry regularly monitor the grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the country’s medical and emergency services. Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected the malware code that was used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems.

U.S. Appeals Court Revives Clinton Email Suit

In a new legal development on the controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, an appeals court on Tuesday reversed a lower court ruling and said two U.S. government agencies should have done more to recover the emails. The ruling from Judge Stephen Williams, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, revives one of a number of legal challenges involving Clinton’s handling of government emails when she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. She handed over 55,000 emails to U.S. officials probing that system, but did not release about 30,000 she said were personal and not work related. While the State Department and National Archives took steps to recover the emails from Clinton’s tenure, they did not ask the U.S. attorney general to take enforcement action. Two conservative groups filed lawsuits to force their hand. A district judge in January ruled the suits brought by Judicial Watch and Cause of Action moot, saying State and the National Archives made a “sustained effort” to recover and preserve Clinton’s records. But Williams said the two agencies should have done more. Since the agencies neither asked the attorney general for help nor showed such enforcement action could not uncover new emails, the case was not moot.

Immigration News

A Mexican man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl on a Greyhound bus that traveled through Kansas had been deported 10 times and voluntarily removed from the U.S. another nine times since 2003, records obtained by The Associated Press show. Three U.S. Republican senators — including Kansas’ Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts — demanded this month that the Department of Homeland Security provide immigration records for 38-year-old Tomas Martinez-Maldonado. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, from Iowa and chairman of the judiciary committee, co-signed a Dec. 9 letter with Moran and Roberts to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, calling it “an extremely disturbing case” and questioning how Martinez-Maldonado was able to re-enter and remain in the country.

  • Just one example of many that shows how porous our border with Mexico is and how poorly our justice system deals with criminal immigrants

Economic News

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index climbed to 113.7 in December, up from 109.4 in November. It’s the highest level since the confidence index reached 114 in August 2001. The index measures consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their expectations for the future. Director of economic indicators at the Conference Board Lynn Franco said the “post-election surge in optimism” was strongest among Americans who were older. The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual pace from July to September, fastest in two years. Unemployment is at a nine-year low of 4.6 percent. Employers have added 180,000 jobs a month this year, down from an average 229,000 in 2015 but still solid.

The number of food stamps recipients went up by 10.7 million people, a 32 percent jump, since President Obama took office in 2009, according to data released by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2009, 33,490,000 people received food stamp benefits. As of October 2016, the last month reported for FY 2016, 44,219,123 people received food stamp benefits, an increase of about 10,728,877. The U.S. population as of October 1, 2016, was 324,607,826, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.  Therefore, the 44,219,123 people on food stamps represented 13.6 percent of the population. The cost of food stamps to taxpayers also increased over the time Obama was in office.  As of 2009, all food stamp recipients received up to $50.3 billion in benefits.  As of 2016, that number has increased to $66.6 billion, an increase of $16.3 billion or 32.4%.

Contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes fell in November to their lowest level in nearly a year, a sign rising interest rates could be weighing on the housing market, the National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday. The group said its pending home sales index, based on contracts signed in November, dropped 2.5 percent. “The brisk upswing in mortgage rates and not enough inventory dispirited some would-be buyers,” the NAR said in a statement accompanying the figures.

President-elect Donald Trump is claiming another victory jobs victory: Sprint will bring back 5,000 jobs to the U.S. “They’re taking them from other countries. They’re bringing them back to the United States,” Trump said Wednesday. Sprint confirmed the news in a statement saying it would “create or bring back to America” 5,000 jobs, mostly in customer care and sales.

From crashing oil prices that fueled Wall Street’s worst-ever start to a year, to unpredictable political events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the year in stocks wasn’t for the faint of heart. Those who held on were rewarded handsomely: The resilient Dow closed 2016 more than 4,300 points above its January low of 15,451. A post-election surge, built around Trump’s stimulus promises, has carried the Dow almost to 20,000 for the first time.

2016 has been a roller coaster financial year, and currency markets are no exception. A few countries have fared well, but others have seen the value of their currencies fall dramatically against the U.S. dollar. The Egyptian pound has dropped 59%; Nigeria’s naira is down 37%; Turkey’s lira is off 18%; the British pound, Mexican peso and Argentinian peso are down 17%.

Islamic State

In a historic setback for the Islamic State in Mosul, a coalition airstrike reportedly cut off the city’s last functioning bridge — a span that ISIS showed off in a propaganda video this month. Some of the civilian men and women who remain trapped in Mosul told The Associated Press the strike that took out the bridge unfolded at dawn Monday. The strike took out the last crossing ISIS fighters could use to transport weapons in and out of the eastern part of the city, where the fighting has peaked.

Syria

A nationwide Syrian cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that went into effect at midnight Thursday, was holding Friday despite minor violations, marking a potential breakthrough in a conflict that has shredded high-level peace initiatives for over five years. The Syrian government and opposition rebels agreed to terms for a ceasefire in the country’s long-running civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday. The two sides also agreed to enter peace talks to end the conflict that has raged for nearly six years. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Russia and Turkey would be guarantors to the agreement. A successful nationwide ceasefire hinges on many fighting factions laying down arms — groups from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are also fighting. Turkey and Russia have effectively sidelined the United States, which has led an international coalition to fight ISIS in Syria and has vehemently opposed any attempt to keep Assad in power.

Iraq

A pair of bomb blasts targeting a market in central Baghdad Saturday killed at least 28 people and wounded at least 54. The attacks took place early Saturday morning in al-Sinak, a busy market selling car accessories, food and clothes as well as agricultural seeds and machinery. Police concluded that the carnage was the work of a pair of suicide bombers. The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency.

Myanmar

The Rohingyas are a persecuted, stateless people who, rights group say, are being systematically eliminated by the Myanmar military. The allegations are horrifying: Troops set entire villages on fire, use helicopter gunships to rain down bullets and rape women and children on a mass scale. The Buddhist-majority Myanmar denies the ethnic cleansing, even as its state-run media calls the Rohingyas, who are Muslims, “detestable human fleas” who have “to be removed.” All of this is happening under Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch. Suu Kyi is the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent her life fighting for an end to military rule in Myanmar. Now, she’s the nation’s defacto head but, like the military leaders before her, she has remained conspicuously silent on the atrocities.

Philippines

Philippines authorities have made the biggest drug seizure in the country’s history, confiscating 2,000 pounds (890 kilograms) of methamphetamine worth $120 million in a series of raids this month. Another 290 gallons (1,110 liters) of the drug in its liquid form were confiscated. The operation was the result of a four-month probe by the country’s National Bureau of Investigation after receiving a tip about a Chinese organization manufacturing and distributing illegal drugs. Three Chinese nationals and seven Filipinos were arrested in the raids.

North Korea

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests in 2016, one in January and another, its most powerful ever, in September. Add that to a string of missile tests, both land- and sea-launched, and the world has plenty of reason for worry. “Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong Un is a recipe for disaster,” Adm. Harry Harris, the head of the US military’s Pacific Command, said in a December speech. Political uncertainty in the United States and in South Korea could give North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “an apt time” to develop nuclear weapons “at all costs by the end of 2017,” a high-profile North Korean diplomat who recently defected to South Korea said Tuesday. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has killed hundreds of government officials since taking office five years ago, Korean media reported Thursday. In all, he has killed 340 North Korean officials while defending his control over the reclusive nation.

Environment

The carcasses of thousands of sea creatures have mysteriously washed up on the western coast of Nova Scotia. As many as 20,000 fish, lobsters, starfish, scallops, crabs and other animals have turned up dead at Savory Park, Canadian authorities said. And they have no idea why. Environmental officials are testing the water for pesticides and oxygen levels for possible clues. Most fish kills are attributed to low concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As a precaution, they’re warning local consumers to only buy seafood from authorized vendors.

Volcanoes

A volcano on a remote island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain has erupted for the fifth time in three weeks prompting another aviation alert. The Alaska Volcano Observatory issued its highest alert level for aircraft after the Bogoslof volcano sent an ash plume about 20,000 feet in the air. During an eruption of the volcano last week, the Federal Aviation Administration said flights were rerouted around the plume which reached 30,000 feet. The week before, the volcano erupted three times, with one ash cloud reaching up to 35,000 feet.

Earthquakes

Two earthquakes struck early Wednesday near Lake Tahoe, and their rumblings were felt across areas of two states. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage. The U.S. Geological Surveys says the two magnitude 5.7 temblors were both centered in a remote area of Nevada near the California line, about 70 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. The moderate quakes, which struck at 12:18 a.m. PST and then four minutes later, were followed by a series of smaller aftershocks. The quakes apparently triggered burglar alarms at two businesses, and caused a rock slide near a highway.

Weather

Thousands of people in the Northeast woke up without power Friday morning, after a deadly sinter Storm delivered strong winds and over two feet of snow to portions of the Northeast. Very heavy snow and strong winds struck Thursday night into Friday, with snowfall rates of 4 to 6 inches per hour in portions of Maine. Thunder-snow was also reported in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. At least one death is being blamed on the storm. In Vermont, a vehicle slid off a road and into a tree, killing the driver.

Globally, 2016 is expected to be the hottest on record — breaking the record set in 2015, which broke the record from the year before that. Nowhere are the consequences more apparent than in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. In mid-November, temperatures across the far north were up to 35 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, shocking scientists. On December 22, the North Pole was a stunning 50 degrees above average. In August, a 560-person village voted to relocate because their barrier island is melting. The permafrost is thawing out from beneath homes, and huge chunks of the coast are crumbling.

2016 was the year when — for the first time — climate change forced Americans to move elsewhere. It’s first “climate refugees” are residents of the tiny Louisiana island of Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost 98% of its land since 1955. The marsh off Louisiana’s fragile coast is disappearing at the rate of a football field of land per hour. The Mississippi River has been strangled with so many dams and levees that it doesn’t deliver the soil that’s needed to rebuild the island’s marshes. Oil and gas canals and pipelines, meanwhile, have carved up what’s left of the marsh, making it more vulnerable to collapse. Global warming delivers the knockout punch, because as the marsh crumbles, the seas rise from melting ice sheets, reports CNN.

  • The end-times are prophesied to have extreme weather including ‘scorching’ heat (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (12/27/16)

December 27, 2016

Fewer Americans Practicing Organized Religion

Americans have less faith in organized religion than they did nearly a decade ago, a new study shows. About 21 percent of those surveyed said they don’t practice a “formal religion” — up from the 15 percent who said that in 2008, according to Gallup. The number of true believers has dropped dramatically since the 1940s and 1950s, when less than 3 percent said they practiced no formal religion. “Religion is losing influence in society. This may be a short-term phenomenon or an indication of a more lasting pattern.” Overall, 74 percent of Americans identified as Christian and 2.1 percent said they were Jewish; 1.8 percent said they were Mormon and 0.8 percent identified as Muslim, according to the pollsters. Everyone else either claimed to be “none/ atheist / agnostic” or gave no response at all, researchers said.

  • But know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2Timothy 3:1-4)

Fewer Millennials Marrying and Attending Church

For the first time in U.S. history, singles outnumber those who are married. Millennials are setting two new trends: fewer are getting married and fewer are attending church. Christian Breaking News reports that these new trends suggest millennials are hesitant to commit to marriage due to the pain many have experienced seeing their parents or other adults go through a divorce. In addition to their hesitancy regarding marriage, many millennials also have rejected church. About 72 percent of millennials reportedly do not attend church. In contrast, 51 percent of older generation Americans attend church. Marriage and church are the two traditional institutions that the non-traditional millennials most often dismiss.

Obama Deserts Israel with Cowardly UN Abstention

A dramatic vote Friday at the United Nations Security Council likely marked the final chapter in President Barack Obama’s troubled relationship with Israel and Prime Miinister Benjamin Netanyahu. But more importantly, the vote — in which the United States allowed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction to pass — offered a glimpse of how President-elect Trump and Netanyahu are poised to soon overhaul the relationship between their two countries. In days of tense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the vote, the Israelis enlisted Trump in a bid to thwart the measure, a striking attempt to pressure the outgoing administration. Trump’s response — a tweet, a statement calling for a U.S. veto and a call with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, whose government originally drew up the resolution — previewed where he will steer US-Israeli policy. The vote was a blow for Israel as the world effectively lined up to censure its settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which many nations see as an obstacle to stalled peace talks and the ever more elusive notion of a Palestinian state.

  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces. (Psalm 122:6-7)
  • Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed. (Numbers 24:9b)

Calls for Defunding the UN Rise after U.S. Abandonment

Sen. Lindsey Graham will propose a measure to pull U.S. funding for the United Nations unless the UN Security Council repeals the resolution it passed condemning Israeli settlements. “I will do everything in my power, working with the new administration and Congress, to leave no doubt about where America stands when it comes to the peace process and where we stand with the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel,” Graham added. He told CNN’s Dana Bash that US funding accounts for 22% of the UN’s budget. Trump soon after tweeted, “things will be different after Jan. 20th.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he looks forward to working with the new Donald Trump administration. Israel has accused Obama of colluding with the Palestinians against the Jewish state. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put the United Nations on notice Saturday evening, when he tweeted, “No US $ for UN until reversed.”

More Arrests for Berlin Attack

The nephew of Anis Amri, the man suspected of being responsible for the attack on a Berlin Christmas market, has been arrested in Tunisia, the country’s Interior Ministry said Saturday. He is one of three men being held in prison on “suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization and connections with terrorist offenses,” according to the ministry. A statement from the ministry said Amri and his nephew had communicated with each other via the Telegram app, an encrypted messaging service. Amri asked the nephew to pledge allegiance to ISIS, the ministry said, citing a confession from the nephew.

Trump to Inherit 103 Court Vacancies

President-elect Trump is set to inherit an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving the president-elect a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office. The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that President Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency. Confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Obama White House officials blame Senate Republicans for what they characterize as an unprecedented level of obstruction in blocking the Democratic president’s court picks. The result is a multitude of openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts that will allow the new Republican president to quickly make a wide array of lifetime appointments.

Trump Family Shutting Down Their Foundations

Realizing that his presidency could face potentially crippling questions over conflicts of interest, Donald J. Trump and his family are rushing to resolve potential controversies, like shuttering foundations and terminating development deals. In recent days, the president-elect and his aides have said that he intends to distribute the assets of his personal charity and then close it down, has examined a plan to hire an outside monitor to oversee the Trump Organization and has terminated some international business projects, reports the New York Times. “This is a process that my father and my family are taking incredibly seriously,” said Eric Trump, who will help oversee the Trump Organization, and who announced last week that he was terminating fund-raising for his own charity, the Eric Trump Foundation. Even with these steps, Mr. Trump will enter the White House with a maze of financial holdings unlike those of any other president in American history. Some ethics experts still say the only way Mr. Trump can eliminate his most serious conflicts is to liquidate his company, and then put the money into a blind trust — a move Mr. Trump has so far rejected as impractical and unreasonable.

Inequality in America is Getting Worse

The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is widening, according to the latest data out last week Today, the top mega wealthy — the top 1% — earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It’s more than three times as much as the 1980s, notes CNNMoney. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn’t changed in over three decades. Millennials, born in the 1980s, only have a 50% likelihood — a coin toss chance — of earning more money than their parents did, according to new research released this month from the Equality of Opportunity Project.

  • This is the goal of the New World Order elitists who want to eliminate the middle class and turn the masses into welfare recipients dependent upon increasingly socialistic global government.

Phase II of Globalization Coming Soon

“What comes next in globalization? Be very afraid,” says economist Richard Baldwin, who just published “The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization.” The 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs lost since 2000 due to globalization and technology was Phase 1 of globalization. Phase II will see robots and low-cost workers abroad replacing service sector jobs too. “We could have hotel rooms in New York cleaned by people sitting in Guatemala driving robots,” Baldwin says. Phase II could have an even bigger impact on jobs given that the U.S. created about 12 million service sector jobs under President Obama alone. That’s been the soft foundation of the recent economic recovery. With looming losses in the service sector, the U.S. economy could see another recession over the next few years.

TSA to Deny 9 State Drivers’ Licenses as Valid ID

Most Americans use a driver’s license to get through security at the airport. Starting January 22, the rules on what makes that license a valid form of federal ID are changing. In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act. It sets stricter and more secure requirements for state driver’s licenses and identification cards. It requires a full legal name, birth date, gender, address, signature, a license or ID number, digital photograph, security features and machine-readable technology, like a barcode. The problem is some states are issuing IDs that don’t comply with the new rules. Those states are Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington. By Oct. 1, 2020, all licenses used to get on a plane or in a federal building must be Real ID compliant.

U.S. Executions Fall to Record Low

The American death penalty is falling out of favor, with sentences and executions hitting record lows. The Death Penalty Information Center found that executions in 2016 had fallen to their lowest level since 1991. The decline in state-sanctioned deaths has come at a time when less than half of Americans support the death penalty for people convicted of murder, according to the Pew Research Center. In recent years, more than a half-dozen states including Louisiana and Oklahoma have stalled executions due to shortages of drugs used in lethal injections, legal challenges and changing injection protocols. Despite growing opposition, voters in three states — Nebraska, California and Oklahoma — this year defeated ballot measures seeking to abolish the death penalty.

Fights Break Out in Mall Across U.S.

Disturbances that included gunfire, massive brawls and food-court fights played out at more than a dozen malls across the country in what proved to be a chaotic day after Christmas. The disturbances, some of which were captured on social media, prevented some shoppers from clearing off clearance racks and returning Christmas gifts as they intended. The mall incidents, which ranged from minor melees to mass evacuations, occurred nationwide from Colorado to Tennessee, Texas to New Jersey. Teens were responsible for most of the chaos. In some instances, calls for fights were posted on social media. Up to 100 gathered in Aurora, Colorado before the brawl began. In Fayetteville, NC, teens gathered and fought. The Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, TX, was put on lockdown after shots were fired. Police officers stopped by each store to let people leave while the lockdown remained in effect.

Deadly Christmas Weekend in Chicago

Chicago’s citywide crime wave didn’t slow down during over Christmas weekend. City police investigated 27 shooting incidents, 12 of which were fatal. “The violence primarily occurred in areas with historical gang conflicts on the South and West sides of the City,” Johnson said. “We now know that the majority of these shootings and homicides were targeted attacks by gangs against potential rival gang members and groups who were at holiday gatherings.” Shootings continue to escalate in the nation’s most dangerous city. Chicago police said there have been 753 homicides and 3,495 shooting incidents in the city from January 1 to December 25. During the same time frame in 2015, there were 478 homicides and 2,393 shooting incidents.

Economic News

Millions of the lowest-wage workers across the country will get a raise on January 1st. Some of those raises will be very minor — a cost of living adjustment amounting to an extra nickel or dime an hour. But in several places the jump will be between $1 and $2 an hour. All told, the minimum wage is set to rise in 21 states, at least 22 cities, four counties and one region. The biggest minimum wage raises, percentage wise, will be in Arizona (up 24% to $10), Maine (up 20% to $9) and three Silicon Valley cities (up 20% to $12). In the absence of action from Congress in terms of raising the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 since 2009, states and localities have taken matters into their own hands. The Employment Policies Institute, a research group backed by the restaurant industry, has been a critic of the push for higher wages. The group points to many small businesses that close or cut staff as a result of a higher state or local minimum wage.

Deutsche Bank has struck a deal worth $7.2 billion with the U.S. government to settle claims that it packaged and sold toxic mortgages between 2005 and 2007. Under the preliminary deal announced late Thursday, Germany’s biggest lender said it would pay a fine of $3.1 billion and put another $4.1 billion towards consumer relief programs in the U.S. This comes at the same time as Swiss bank Credit Suisse announced a similar settlement over mortgage-backed securities. Under its $5.3 billion deal with the U.S. Department of Justice, the bank will pay a $2.5 billion fine and put $2.8 billion towards financial help for consumers. Other big Wall Street banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, reached similar deals totaling about $45 billion in recent years in relation to their pre-crisis mortgage activities.

Israel

Undeterred by a defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not “turn the other cheek.” Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city intends to approve 600 housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes. The defiant posture reflected a bristling anger among Israel’s pro-settlement political leaders, who not only blamed the United States for failing to block the Council resolution, but also claimed to have secret intelligence showing that President Obama’s team had orchestrated it. Israeli officials are fearful that outgoing US President Barack Obama will utilize his last days in office to deal Israel another diplomatic blow, and that the US abstention on Friday at the United Nations Security Council was not his last move against the Jewish State. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also lashed out at Security Council countries by curbing diplomatic contacts, recalling envoys, cutting off aid and summoning the American ambassador for a scolding.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has already been forced to tighten its belt due to the oil glut and low prices for crude. Now it’s preparing for four more years of austerity. Slammed by lower oil revenues, the kingdom’s budget deficit swelled to 366 billion riyals ($98 billion) in 2015, and 297 billion riyals this year. It was forced to borrow money from international investors for the first time ever, raising $17.5 billion in October. In response, the government has slashed energy subsidies and cut wages for officials. But now it’s forced to raise gas prices again. The government is expecting to save 209 billion riyals per year by 2020 by gradually phasing out subsidies. In addition, starting in 2017, it will introduce a levy on expat workers and their dependents. The tax will start at 100 riyals per month and rise to as much as 800 riyals ($213) per month in 2020. Meanwhile, the extensive royal family lives in sheer luxury in their palaces and yachts.

Afghanistan

Around 45 unhappy Afghans arrived at Frankfurt’s airport under guard and were put on a charter flight back to Afghanistan earlier this month. It was the first of many such flights that are expected to return thousands of Afghan asylum seekers from Germany under a European Union agreement with President Ashraf Ghani. Across Western Europe, as many as 80,000 Afghans eventually may be repatriated after their asylum applications are rejected, under the agreement signed by Ghani and E.U. officials in October. To German officials, these were the easiest foreigners to legally remove amid a chaotic surge of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries that has overwhelmed many nations and generated an angry backlash across Europe. All the Afghans had arrived illegally, some had committed crimes in Germany, and none were found to qualify for political asylum.

China

China’s first aircraft carrier and five other warships passed by Taiwan and sailed into the contested South China Sea on Monday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said. The ships, led by the Liaoning, sailed past the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands, a Taiwan-controlled atoll in the northern part of the South China Sea, according to the ministry. China’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that the Liaoning had set off for a routine open-sea exercise in the Western Pacific as part of its annual training. But its entering into the politically sensitive South China Sea follows rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei over the status of a self-ruled island. Beijing claims the self-governing island as its own territory. Tensions have also increased in the South China Sea as the U.S. and China accuse each other of engaging in a dangerous military buildup.

Earthquakes

A major earthquake rocked the coast of Southern Chile Sunday morning, registering 7.6 on the Richter scale, according to the United States Geological Survey. The large quake was recorded about 24 miles southwest of Puerto Quellon and struck at a depth of 21.5 miles. There were no reports of major damage, but at least one bridge was closed near the epicenter and some 21,000 homes lost power. About 5,000 people were evacuated for fear of a possible tsunami following the quake, but the alert was eased about 90 minutes after the temblor.

Weather

For many in the West, it was a white Christmas. However, as winter Storm Europa continued its Christmas day trek across the United States Sunday, it made travel plans a nightmare for many travelers. By Sunday morning, more than eight inches of snow blanketed parts of northern Utah and southeastern Idaho.  Interstate 84 was closed from Baker City to Pendleton as conditions worsened. The storm pushed farther east on Saturday into Sunday. Parts of Interstate 40 and other highways in northern Arizona’s high country were closed Saturday afternoon due to weather, with multiple crashes reported. I-40 was closed in both directions on a 49-mile stretch between Ash Fork and Flagstaff. Hundreds of miles of interstates were closed across the Dakotas and Wyoming Sunday, and a snow emergency has been declared in Bismarck, North Dakota, where over a foot of snow fell. Freezing rain and winter weather advisories are in effect Monday from parts of Pennsylvania and northwest New Jersey to Maine as Europa spreads its reach into the interior Northeast.

Super typhoon Nock-ten made landfall in the Philippines on Christmas Day after authorities worked to evacuate thousands of residents from low-lying areas of the Southeast Asian country’s eastern provinces. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) reported that Nock-ten had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and gusts of up to 190 mph. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported 11,476 passengers, more than 1,000 cargo ships and over a dozen other vessels were stranded in various ports in the region. The death toll so far is seven. Nock-ten made history as the strongest typhoon to make landfall in the Philippines this late in the year since records began in 1945. More than 380,000 people spent Christmas in shelters after being evacuated in the Bicol region of Philippines.

Signs of the Times (12/23/16)

December 23, 2016

Muslim Refugees in UK are Having Visions and Dreams of Jesus

Many Muslims who came to the UK as refugees are converting to Christianity after having visions and dreams of Christ. According to ChristianToday.com, a Christian church in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent in the UK has been instrumental in ministering to these refugees and leading them to Christ. Rev. Sally Smith is the vicar of St. Mark’s–the church. She says the church was a rather stagnant community until the UK’s Home Office began resettling dozens of refugees nearby. The church now has a ministry welcoming Muslims who are new to the area and their community is thriving. Although those who minister to the refugees do not try to proselytize, many Muslims have accepted Christ due to the warm welcome and the kindness they are shown. Many also have testified that they have had visions and dreams of Jesus. Recently, St. Mark’s hosted a live nativity scene. The particularly incredible thing about this nativity was that all but one participant was a Muslim convert to Christianity.

Thousands of Christians Excluded from Refugee Camps

Barnabas Fund reports that thousands of Syrian and Iraqi Christians are being excluded from the normal refugee camps, either through fear – with a long history of massacres of Christians in the region – or through prejudice. Some time ago Barnabas Aid asked Christian leaders in the Middle East if they knew of any Christians in refugee camps. One told us, “we did once have a couple who tried to live there, we had to get them out in the middle of the night when we heard people were planning to kill them.” Barnabas notes that, “the genocide in Syria specifically targets Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim minorities such as Yazidis and Shi’a. Yet, the extraordinary thing is that the refugee policies of Western countries such as the USA and UK admit only a tiny handful of Christians. This number vastly under-represents the proportion of Christians in Syria’s pre-war population.

  • The anti-Christ spirit is growing stronger as the end-times ramp up

Repeal of North Carolina LGBT Law Fails

A deal to undo the North Carolina law known as the “bathroom bill” fell apart Wednesday night when legislators couldn’t agree on a plan to repeal the measure, a sign of the bitter political divide within the state. The North Carolina General Assembly was called into a special session about nine months after they passed the law, which tarnished the state’s national image as major corporations decided to pull up stakes, entertainers canceled concerts and the NCAA and ACC moved sporting events away. The wide-ranging law’s best-known provision required transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. Opponents of the law called it discriminatory. Republicans have defended the bathroom provisions as providing privacy and safety by keeping men out of women’s restrooms.

Man Kills Transgender Girl-Friend

In the first case of its kind, a Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime Wednesday for murdering his ex-girlfriend because she was transgender. Joshua Vallum, 29, knew Mercedes Williamson was a transgender teenage girl when they began dating, the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. Vallum said he killed her because she was transgender, making him eligible for prosecution under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for two of the country’s most infamous hate crimes. The federal law criminalizes violence based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Vallum’s prosecution is the first to involve a victim targeted for being transgender, the Justice Department said.

  • Christians are called upon to love everyone no matter how much we might disagree with them, even our enemies (Matthew 22:37-40).

Texas Defunds Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has officially been cut off from government funding through Texas’ Medicaid program. Misconduct and violations of acceptable medical standards were among the causes cited in the final legal notice delivered to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) this week informing the abortion giant of the state’s intent to cease its Medicaid funding. Stuart Bowen, inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), said in the letter that the undercover videos from the Center of Medical Progress (CMP) showed “that Planned Parenthood violated state and federal law.” “Your misconduct is directly related to whether you are qualified to provide medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” Bowen stated. “Your actions violate generally accepted medical standards, as reflected in state and federal law, and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination.”

Police Kill Tunisian Migrant Responsible for German Truck Attack

Video has emerged of the Berlin Christmas market attack suspect Anis Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS. The footage appeared hours after he was killed in an early-morning shootout in Milan on Friday morning. The Tunisian man, who had been the subject of a Europe-wide manhunt since Monday’s market truck attack in which 12 people were killed and 48 injured, was stopped in Sesto San Giovanni — a district in the northeastern part of Milan — just after 3am local time, Italian police said on Twitter. When the man was asked for his papers by Italian police, he pulled a .22 calibre gun out of his backpack and fired at them. The video released Friday on ISIS-affiliated website, Amaq, shows Amri pledging allegiance to the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Amri repeatedly slipped through the fingers of German authorities. He was reportedly on the U.S. no-fly list months before Monday’s deadly attack, reports Fox News. A fingerprint in the cab of the truck used in Monday’s attack was found on Thursday to belong to Amri. He piqued the interest of U.S. officials after it was discovered he had researched the construction of explosive devices and communicated with ISIS leaders on at least one occasion via the group’s Telegram Messenger, officials told The New York Times. But while the U.S quickly moved to keep Amri out of the country, Germany couldn’t get him to leave. There were red flags galore surrounding the Tunisian-born Amri. Germany had hoped to deport Amri after learning he was plotting a “serious act of violent subversion,” an official told The Washington Post. Amri was reportedly arrested in Germany on at least three occasions after his asylum rejection. However, he was released each time.

Trump’s Latest Tweets Shake the World

President-elect Donald Trump long ago earned a reputation for being unpredictable in his statements, but he outdid himself on Thursday. In the span of just a few hours, Trump shook international relations by undercutting the Obama administration over a UN resolution on Israeli settlements, indicated he would ramp up nuclear competition with Russia and then jolted a major defense contractor — and its shareholders — by suggesting he would ask Boeing to replace a fighter jet being made by Lockheed Martin. Trump pressured the Obama administration to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, an unprecedented move by a President-elect who has not yet moved into the White House. Egypt delayed the potential vote at the Security Council, putting off a potential standoff between the US and Israel. An Israeli official later tells CNN his country reached out to Trump for help in pressuring the Obama administration.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted. Hours earlier in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a defense speech in Moscow that Russia needs to “enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems.” The exchange appeared to raise the prospect of a new arms race between the US and Russia, which between them boast more than 14,000 nuclear warheads, the still deadly legacy of their four-decades long Cold War standoff. Trump cost millions in market value to Lockheed Martin and caused thousands of people to now worry they may lose their jobs after tweeting that the Pentagon’s costly new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be replaced with a modified version of a less expensive plane, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Ebola Vaccine Proven Effective

Final test results confirm an experimental Ebola vaccine is highly effective, a major milestone that could help prevent the spread of outbreaks like the one that killed thousands in West Africa. Scientists have struggled to develop an Ebola vaccine over the years, and this is the first one proven to work. Efforts were ramped up after the infectious disease caused a major outbreak, beginning in 2013 in Guinea and spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone. About 11,300 people died. The vaccine was developed by the Canadian government and is now licensed to the U.S.-based Merck & Co. which is expected to seek regulatory approval in the U.S. and Europe sometime next year.

Obamacare Enrollment Jumps, Even as G.O.P. Pledges Repeal

About 6.4 million people have signed up for health insurance next year under the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday, as people rushed to purchase plans before Republican promises to repeal the act can be achieved. The new sign-ups represent an increase of 400,000 over the same point last year. Hundreds of thousands of other people who took no action will be automatically re-enrolled by the federal government in the same or similar plans, officials said. Consumers still have until the end of January to enroll.

Healthcare.gov Approves Fake GAO Applicants

Healthcare.gov and its state marketplaces approved health care coverage and subsidies for nine fake applicants in another Government Accountability Office sting, according to a report from the GAO. The investigative agency created 12 fake identities and sought to obtain coverage for them during the special enrollment period. “For all our fictitious applicant scenarios, we sought to act as an ordinary consumer would in attempting to make a successful application,” the investigative agency said. The Affordable Care Act requires that the Marketplace validate application information to determine eligibility by checking Social Security numbers, citizenship or immigration status, and household income. The 12 applications included fictitious copies of Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, and proof of income.

Obama Bans Drilling in Much of Arctic

The bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean are indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, according to President Barack Obama. Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.” The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review. The White House said it’s confident the president’s order will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to undo permanent withdrawals.

Trump’s Plan to Save U.S. Jobs

On Wednesday, President-Elect Trump announced he is forming a new White House National Trade Council that has one goal: To stop the “exodus of jobs” to China, Mexico and other countries. The council is expected to “make American manufacturing great again.” It’s a tall order. The U.S. has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. But Trump campaigned as a businessman who knows how to make global deals. Already, his tweets have pressured CEOs of companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin to respond. Trump is tapping economist Peter Navarro to head up the new trade council. Like Trump, Navarro believes the Chinese do not play fairly on trade. “It’s not trade that’s the problem, it’s the bad trade deals,” Navarro said. Navarro produced a documentary titled “Death by China” about how America lost its manufacturing base to the Chinese.

Economic News

America’s economy grew faster last quarter than first projected. The U.S. economy grew 3.5% in the third quarter — July to September — compared to the same time a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. It’s the best quarter of growth in two years. The first estimate, published in October, had the economy growing at 2.9% in the third quarter. Despite the improved reading in the quarter, it won’t change much for all of 2016. The U.S. economy grew at a sluggish pace in the first half of the year, averaging 1.1%, and many economists still forecast around 2% growth for the entire year.

In October, there were 322,000 job openings in manufacturing — about the same level as in 2007. It has tripled since hitting a low of 99,000 during the recession in 2009. Earlier this year, openings rose as high as 400,000 in April, one of highest marks since the Labor Department first started counting the figure in 2000. Hiring has picked up a little but it hasn’t kept pace with openings in recent years. Economists caution that the rise in job openings doesn’t compensate for the millions of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000, reports CNNMoney.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of Americans in the 18 to 34-year-old age bracket that are currently living with their parents hasn’t been this high in 75 years.  At this point, nearly 40 percent of our young adults in that age range are living at home. In the U.S., more than 60 million people now live in multi-generational households. Normally when a recession ends, the percentage of young adults living with their parents starts to go back down.  But this has not happened this time around.  Instead, the percentage of young adults that live at home has just continued to rise. The result is that there is far less demand for housing than would be expected for the millennial generation, now the largest in U.S. history. The number of adults under age 30 has increased by 5 million over the last decade, but the number of households for that age group grew by just 200,000 over the same period, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Since the global financial crisis, the world’s largest banks have agreed to pay close to $60 billion in fines just to the U.S. Department of Justice for creating and selling toxic mortgage-backed investments. That doesn’t include the tens of billions that the banks have also paid in connection with lawsuits from investors or other federal agencies. The web of complex mortgage-based financial products they created were largely to blame for creating the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, which ultimately led to the Great Recession.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the U.S. Wednesday to use its veto power to block a United Nations resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement activities in Palestinian territory. The resolution declares that all existing settlements “have no legal validity” and are “a flagrant violation” of international law. The draft resolution, circulated by Egypt, also stresses that “the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution” which would see Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace. The U.S. vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, but it was not immediately clear how U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power would vote Thursday. Egypt later postponed the vote.

Syria

Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end Syria’s nearly six-year war, leaving the United States on the sidelines as the countries sought to drive the conflict in ways that serve their interests. Secretary of State John Kerry was not invited. Nor was the United Nations consulted. With pro-government forces having made critical gains on the ground, the new alignment and the absence of any Western powers at the table all but guarantee that President Bashar al-Assad will continue to rule Syria under any resulting agreement, despite President Obama’s declaration more than five years ago that Mr. Assad had lost legitimacy and had to be removed… At the meeting, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to “the Moscow Declaration,” a framework for ending the Syrian conflict… Iran’s presence is significant, as well. The Syrian city of Aleppo returned to complete government control Thursday after the last remaining opposition fighters and civilians evacuated, ending a four-year rebel hold over parts of the country.

Iranian officials have boasted about their fighters’ role in Aleppo and that of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which helped besiege eastern Aleppo before the evacuation deal. “As Russia has allied with Iran in the region, it is the coalition of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah that has caused Aleppo’s liberation, and very soon Mosul will also be liberated,” Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said last week. “It shows that this coalition has an upper hand and the U.S.’s president-elect has to face its weight.” Outrage over the carnage in Aleppo has so far been directed at Moscow and Damascus, but activists on the ground say Iran has a top general on the scene and has established secret camps where Iraqi mercenaries are trained to root out rebels in the Syrian city.

Libya

Two hijackers who diverted a Libyan plane to Malta and threatened to blow up the aircraft have surrendered themselves to authorities after releasing everyone on board and leaving the plane. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the hijackers had been taken in custody, bringing the dramatic incident to an end. The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320, on a domestic service in Libya, was carrying 111 passengers, Muscat said. While it is unclear who exactly the hijackers are, Libya has become a center for political tribal violence. Deadly clashes still erupt there between tribes loyal to Gadhafi and anti-Gaddafi groups. Gadhafi, who was a member of the Gaddadfa tribe, was ousted from power and assassinated by rebels in 2011 in the Arab Spring uprising. Libya has struggled to install a stable government since then, and the leadership vacuum has allowed militant groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda to flourish there.

Volcanoes

A supervolcano under the Italian city of Naples appears to be waking up and may pose a threat to some 500,000 people, according to a new study. Italian and French scientists say data from the Campi Flegrei supervolcano indicates the situation may be reaching a critical point. Campi Flegrei is a collapsed volcano, meaning it does not have a singular vent or a central peak typical of most volcanoes. Instead, there is a huge magma chamber deep underground known as a caldera, according to geology.com. The Yellowstone caldera is an example of another supervolcano. Lying mostly underwater, the Campi Flegrei caldera is comprised of 24 known craters and volcanic vents. The last time the mega-volcano underwent an uplifting was in 1983-1984, when swarms of more than 10,000 earthquakes were recorded and the caldera rose by about 6 feet over the two years of activity, after which the volcano quieted down.

Wildfires

Homes were threatened by a wildfire that was burning in the Wood Ranch area of Simi Valley, California, Tuesday afternoon. No residents were ordered to evacuate, but some were told to shelter in place while crews fought the fire from the ground and the air. The wildfire burned about 60 acres, the Los Angeles Times reported. Firefighters stopped forward spread of the fire by Wednesday.

A restaurant fire whipped by high winds spread to at least 140 buildings Thursday in a small Japanese city on the Japan Sea coast. The blaze started in the morning at a ramen shop in Itoigawa city, Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Fanned by winds gusting to 56 kilometers (35 miles) per hour, it had reached about 140 houses and other buildings by mid-afternoon. Authorities issued an evacuation advisory for about 300 households.

Weather

An ill-timed storm system hit the West, including Southern California, at a time when hundreds of thousands of residents were attempting to travel into or out of the region’s biggest cities. Hundreds of collisions were reported on wet Los Angeles roads Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Those problems continued on Thursday as holiday travelers packed the already busy roads. Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International Airport, hundreds of flights were cancelled. Despite the headaches, the rain was definitely welcomed in Southern California. Much of the area remains in the grip of a nasty drought that has lasted for five years. In Arizona, flooding escalated quickly in some areas. More than an inch of rain fell in Phoenix between Wednesday night and noon on Thursday, which swamped some roads and filled desert washes.

Winter Storm Europa will dump heavy snow in the West, then become a dangerous blizzard in the Plains over Christmas weekend. If that wasn’t enough, a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain could also slicken roads in parts of the upper Midwest and northern New England. The National Weather Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, issued a blizzard watch Wednesday afternoon 3 to 4 days ahead of the potential impact in their forecast area. Winter storm watches and warnings have also been posted in a sizable swath of the West from the Plains of Montana to the Sierra of California and Great Basin, including the Salt Lake Valley.

Signs of the Times (12/20/16)

December 20, 2016

Electoral College Declares Trump President

Donald Trump surpassed the necessary 270 votes in the Electoral College on Monday, taking the next step in the official process to become President. Trump received 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227. Six “faithless” electors voted for other candidates, costing Trump two votes and Clinton four. The results mean Trump — who lost the popular vote by more than 2 percentage points to Clinton — easily staved off a long-shot bid by opponents to turn Republican electors against him. The Electoral College results will be officially certified January 6 during a joint session of Congress.

Attorney General Says Russian Hacking Not Significant

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was little evidence the Russians had violated the integrity of the U.S. election system. “The Department of Homeland Security was actively engaged in reaching out to every state to make sure that they had access to every resource they needed to protect the state electoral system,” she explained, adding “we didn’t see the sort of tactical interference that I know people had concerns about.” Lynch spoke at an event hosted by Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman Thursday morning. However, Sen. John McCain said Russian election-related hacks threaten to “destroy democracy” and faulted the American response as “totally paralyzed.”

Trump’s Pick for Israel Ambassador Roils the Status Quo

Donald Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel signals a potential shift in long-standing US policy that has implications for Washington’s relationships in the region, with Europe and even the American Jewish community. The President-elect tapped New York-based attorney David Friedman Thursday to represent the United States. Friedman, who maintains a residence in Jerusalem, is known for hardline views that depart from decades of established American policy and in some cases, are to the right of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman argues that Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian areas shouldn’t be illegal and has called the effort to find a two-state solution an “illusion.” In Trump’s announcement, the bankruptcy lawyer and Orthodox Jew welcomed moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem” — settling in one phrase a fraught issue that has been designated for final peace talks, as Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital as well. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat warned that the implementation of Trump’s pledge would destroy any prospects for peace with Israel.

  • Finally, an administration that is a defender of Biblical Israel and Jerusalem

Obama Grants Clemency to Historic Number of Federal Inmates

President Obama pardoned 78 people and also granted commutations to 153 nonviolent drug offenders who he says were sentenced under harsh and outdated laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In total, Obama has pardoned 148 people and granted 1,176 commutations for federal inmates under the clemency initiative that he and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. launched two years ago. Obama plans to issue more commutations before he leaves office, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said.

Plan to Increase Number of Abortion Facilities Fails

Operation Rescue’s annual survey of abortion facilities found that after all the dust had settled on a very active year of reorganization within the Abortion Cartel, closures of abortion facilities compensated for the new openings. This has left the number of abortion facilities in America essentially the same as 2015 – despite the best efforts of the Abortion Cartel to expand abortion services in a year characterized by conditions that favored it. A total of 31 abortion facilities permanently closed in 18 states in 2016. “The political pendulum has swung our way, and we plan to work very hard to take advantage of this opportunity to immediately call for enforcement of laws that will shut down abortion facilities and save lives,” the report states.

Muslim Chaplain Says It’s Okay to Beat Wives

Dr. Iqbal Al-Navdi is the Muslim Chaplain of the Canadian Army and an important Muslim leader here in North America. In fact, he is one of the very few in North America who have the authority to give a fatwah and is very well respected as professor of Shariah Law and jurisprudence. In February of 2015, Dr. Navdi delivered a speech on the importance of the family in society and in Islam. Dr. Navdi spent some time covering one issue that is quite controversial in the West (though not so controversial in the Muslim world): wife beating. Dr. Navdi explained that the Quran most certainly allows husbands to beat their wives, but because their relationship is so important, the beating should only happen as part of an attempt to resolve conflict between the two and that the beatings should always happen in private.

Facebook’s ‘Fake News’ Labels Under Fire

As Facebook introduces “fake news” warning labels, the social network faces a fundamental problem: Some of its users don’t trust the fact-checkers. There was an immediate uproar, led by right-wing web sites, when Facebook announced the labeling plan on Thursday. The overarching fear expressed by some of the writers is that what begins as reasonable flagging of hoaxes could devolve into damaging cover-ups of conservative political opinions. Facebook says it is moving carefully and taking steps to ensure that the warning labels are not misused. But even before the labels started to show up on the social network, The Drudge Report’s banner headline about the Facebook plan was “RISE OF TRUTH POLICE!” Infowars predicted that Facebook would probably “use the new feature to blacklist information that runs contrary to any mainstream media narratives.”

U.S. Mobile Internet Slow vs. World Standards

Some of the world’s richest countries are very poorly served with mobile Internet. The U.S., U.K., and Germany are still lagging behind developing nations when it comes to 4G access and download speeds. A report by consultancy OpenSignal found that American users have to put up with an average speed of just 13 Megabytes per second. That’s the 69th slowest in the world, and way behind countries such as Ecuador (25 Mbps), China and Kazakhstan (both 22 Mbps). World leader Singapore boasts 46 Mbps. And the global average stands at 17.4. While the U.S. ranks poorly in speed, it’s doing much better in terms of access. A typical user in the U.S. can get onto a 4G network 81% of the time. That puts the U.S. in 10th spot in the global ranking. The U.K., by contrast, ranks just 54th in the world in terms of 4G availability. A typical user in Britain can only access 4G 58% of the time, behind Albania, Panama and Peru.

Navajo Nation Slow to Build Homes

If the Navajo Reservation were a state, it would be the 41st largest in size, the least populated and the poorest in the nation, with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment. Its housing needs are also more acute than anywhere else, too. Almost 20 years ago, a study estimated nearly 21,000 families on the Navajo Reservation needed new homes. More than a decade later, despite hundreds of millions of tax dollars allocated, that number grew to more than 34,000. An Arizona Republic review of housing records from the Navajo Housing Authority showed why the numbers weren’t getting better. Amid years of mismanagement, failed projects and wasted tax dollars, the NHA only sporadically has built homes on tribal trust lands that cover nearly all of the sprawling reservation. For several years, they built none at all. Most of the land is too rugged, or without roads, infrastructure, nearby jobs or shopping. Even where dwellings might be built, legal permission can be nearly impossible to secure. More than 90 percent of the reservation technically belongs to the U.S. government, managed under a trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Less than 1 percent is owned by individuals who can freely sell their land or build on it. Environmental, archaeological and other permits also are needed.

  • There’s nothing like government bureaucracy to make accomplishing worthy goals nearly impossible

California Worst State for Driving

California is the worst state for drivers, according to a new study, with Iowa ranking first. That’s according to a Bankrate.com study that looked at six criteria, including fuel expenses, insurance costs, car thefts and auto-related fatalities. To arrive at an overall ranking, Bankrate.com translated each of six criteria into numerical zero-to-ten scores then averaged all the scores. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000. California has the nation’s highest auto theft rate, with 437 cars stolen for every 100,000 residents. In Iowa, only 139 vehicles were stolen per 100,000 population, while Vermont had the lowest theft rate with just 28.4 vehicles stolen per 100,000.

Bill Gates Heads Clean Energy Investment Group

Bill Gates has been chosen to lead a $1 billion investment fund in clean energy. The Microsoft founder is joined by some of the world’s richest people in supporting a 20-year fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Investors include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma. Gates will serve as the chairman of the fund, which is the venture arm of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group founded last year to accelerate research and investment in clean energy. The fund will invest in companies and technologies that have “the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton,” according to the website. It will specifically target innovations in electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and architecture.

Economic News – Domestic

The volatile housing starts numbers took another dive, down 18.7% in November, following an 11% decline in October, according to the Census Bureau New Residential Construction report for November 2016. Meanwhile, mortgage rates have risen 104 basis points (1.04 percentage points) since July 8. This may well keep the Federal Reserve from moving ahead as fast as they want on raising interest rates in 2017.

General Motors is cutting almost half the jobs at its only plant inside Detroit city limits. In another sign of slowing auto sales, the Detroit-Hamtramck plant will eliminate its second shift and about 1,300 of its 3,000 jobs. The layoffs will take place in March. GM said it will try to find jobs for the employees at other plants. The Detroit facility is the third GM plant to eliminate the second shift. Plants in Lansing, Michigan, and Lordstown, Ohio, announced layoffs in November, the first permanent cuts by GM at its U.S. plants since 2010. In all, GM will cut about 3,300 jobs at the three plants.

Economic News – International

Mired in a cash crisis of its own making, the Indian government has announced plans to hand out $50 million to encourage people to use digital money. As many as two million Indians could benefit from a new temporary lottery that will be based on ID numbers attached to government e-payment systems. The lottery — billed by the government as a Christmas gift to the nation — will begin on Dec. 25 and run until April 14, 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly scrapped India’s two biggest bank notes on Nov. 8, saying he wanted to tackle corruption and tax evasion. But the decision made 86% of India’s cash effectively worthless overnight, plunging the economy into turmoil. The country runs on cash, but the distribution of the new notes has been bungled, leaving people struggling to make daily purchases. “At present, only 5% of personal consumption expenditure in India is digital,” said Amitabh Kant, who runs the government-run think tank that came up with the policy. “Our objective is to make digital payments a huge mass movement in this country,” he added.

Terrorism Update

Russia has warned it will not make “concessions to terrorists” a day after its ambassador was gunned down in the Turkish capital Ankara. The man who opened fire on the ambassador was identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the attack intended to “harm our relations and destroy all the achievements we have made together recently.” He welcomed the investigative team from Russia, insisting the two countries would work together to “uncover who is behind this vile and treacherous terror attack.” On Monday night, Altintas, a Turkish police officer, fired several shots at Karlov shouting “Allahu akbar (God is greatest). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

A man detained by police after a large truck was rammed into a Berlin Christmas market may not have been the driver, German authorities said, leading to fears that the attacker could still be at large. Berlin Police President Klaus Kandt said that officials could not be certain that the detainee, who was picked up about a mile away from where 12 people were killed and 48 others injured on Monday evening, was responsible for the attack. German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said that the detainee was an asylum seeker who was “probably from Pakistan”. German authorities are investigating the incident as a terror attack.

A gunman walked into an Islamic center in central Zurich and shot three men, police in the Swiss city said Monday. The man, decked out in dark clothing, opened fire on a group of worshipers standing inside a prayer room at about 5:30 p.m., police said, citing eyewitnesses. The shots injured the men, some seriously. The gunman fled and police blocked off the area, not far from the central train station. Witnesses said the shooter, who is still being sought, appeared to be about 30 years of age.

Syria

Evacuations of thousands of civilians and rebels from Syria’s eastern Aleppo were set to resume Sunday after faltering, having left many to sleep on the streets in subzero temperatures and in bombed-out buildings for two nights. A new deal was struck Saturday after almost two days of negotiations to give safe passage to those remaining in the last pocket of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The deal is essentially a people swap between four cities that will see those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime evacuated from areas held or besieged by rebels. In exchange, civilians, rebels and others loyal to the opposition will be given safe passage from eastern Aleppo, now almost entirely government controlled. But the plan was temporarily put on hold Sunday after a number of buses were set on fire. Hours later, the first “limited evacuations” began.

Jordan

Four policemen and a Canadian woman were killed in an ongoing shootout in southern Jordan on Sunday, as unknown gunmen fired at security patrols and police stations. Gunmen fired at police in three different locations, the deadliest at an ancient castle in the city of Karak. The site is now cordoned off by security officers who are still engaged with the gunmen.

Yemen

A suicide attack in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday killed at least 41 soldiers and injured others. Emergency trucks flooded the area of the attack and streets were closed down by military forces. The injured soldiers were taken to four hospitals in the city. The suicide bomber attacked Al Solban military base as soldiers were lining up to receive their salaries. The officials told CNN the attacker was able to enter the base dressed as a soldier. On December 10, at least 48 soldiers were killed in an ISIS attack on the same camp, targeting soldiers queuing up to get their salaries, according to the official news agency Saba. Aden is the de-facto capital of the UN-recognized and Saudi-backed government of Yemen. The actual capital, Sanaa, has been under the control of Houthi rebels since last year.

Poland

A bitter political crisis in Poland worsened over the weekend with heated protests both in and outside the nation’s parliament and a swirl of allegations of attempted coups and threats to democracy. In Poland’s lower house of parliament, opposition lawmakers formed a phalanx around the podium, effectively halting proceedings in the chamber in protest over an alleged government attack on press freedoms. Outside, in freezing temperatures, angry anti-government demonstrators besieged the parliament, preventing politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party from leaving, before police dragged them off the roads. The spark for the unrest was a government plan to limit media access to the Polish Parliament. Since the country’s return to democracy 27 years ago, journalists have had almost unrestricted access to the corridors of power.

Environment

For months during 2016, plumes of toxic algae turned South Florida’s emerald waters the color of coffee and smothered its inlets under a fetid blanket of guacamole-green goop that killed off fish, suffocated oyster beds and triggered a ferocious outcry from coastal residents. From NBC’s “Today Show” to The Daily Telegraph of London, news outlets chronicled the closing of beaches, the declaration of a state of emergency and the desperate, heart-breaking efforts of people using garden hoses to save manatees, affectionately known as sea cows, caked in toxic slime and struggling to breathe. But the reports didn’t explain the most tragic part of the story – that this calamity is man-made. It’s the culmination of 135 years of engineering missteps, hubris and a determination to turn Everglades sawgrass into cash crops. Despite talk of spending $10.5 billion over the next two decades to fix the problem, a cloud of political uncertainty leaves it unclear when, how – or even if – the harmful algae blooms will be stopped, reports Weather.com.

Volcanoes

Mexico’s Colima Volcano erupted three times within the span of a few hours Sunday, spewing ash and vapor more than a mile into the air. The biggest of the eruptions sent columns of ash reaching 1.25 miles in height. Colima is Mexico’s most active volcano and has erupted several times over the past 10 days. Also known as the “Volcan de Fuego” or Volcano of Fire, the 12,533-foot volcano is 430 miles west of Mexico City. Mexico has more than 3,000 volcanoes, with 14 of them considered active.

Earthquakes

According to the Los Angeles Times, a swarm of small earthquakes rattled parts of central California during the early hours of Wednesday. The largest struck in Sonoma County and registered 5.0 on the Richter scale. A magnitude 3.9 quake struck the Mammoth Lakes area and was followed by a series of smaller aftershocks.

Weather

Blasts of cold air mixed with freezing rain created treacherous road conditions throughout the United States over the weekend, causing multiple-car pileups and fatalities. At least six people died in Virginia, Maryland and Oklahoma because of the dangerous road conditions, authorities said. Bismarck, North Dakota, posted a new record low for the date of Dec. 17 with 31 degrees below zero on Saturday. Colorado residents were digging out after up to 16 inches of snow fell across the state on Saturday. Temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees and lower across much of the northern Plains overnight Sunday, as a fresh surge of bitter arctic air reached into the Midwest.

Signs of the Times (12/17/16)

December 17, 2016

Churches Win vs. LGBT in Liberal Massachusetts

The state of Massachusetts has responded to a lawsuit by recognizing that churches are free to operate based on the tenets of their faith. The Bay State caught the attention of churches in July after the commonwealth passed an anti-discrimination law. Part of that law is “public accommodation” for homosexuals, lesbians, and the transgendered, and a state commission announced rules in September stating that churches, too, must abide by the same requirements. In October, Massachusetts churches sued for the right to not be forced to abide by the liberal state’s pro-LGBT policies. The state Human Rights Commission realized that it had no legal grounds to fight the lawsuit and win, and so it backed down, said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christiana Holcomb. In filings with the court, the state acknowledged that churches are permitted to exercise religious freedom without interference from the state.

Texas Judge Orders ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Display Restored

A Texas judge has ordered a school district to restore a decoration that included a biblical verse recited by Linus in the 1960s TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Officials in the Killeen school district north of Austin ordered a nurse’s aide, Dedra Shannon, to remove a handmade decoration featuring a Bible verse from the special, fearing it violated prohibitions on religion in classrooms. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to get it restored, arguing the state’s 2013 so-called Merry Christmas law means schools can’t “silence a biblical reference to Christmas.” Paxton welcomed the decision from Judge Jack Jones saying “religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups. I am glad to see that the court broke through the left’s rhetorical fog and recognized that a commitment to diversity means protecting everyone’s individual religious expression.” Judge Jones ruled Thursday the display should be put back up with an added line calling it “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message.”

Obama Refuses to Sign Iran Sanctions Renewal

In an unexpected reversal, President Barack Obama declined to sign a renewal of sanctions against Iran but let it become law anyway. Although the White House had said that Obama was expected to sign the 10-year-renewal, the midnight deadline came and went Thursday with no approval from the president. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama had decided to let it become law without his signature. It marked a symbolic attempt to demonstrate disapproval for lawmakers’ actions. Under the Constitution, the president has 10 days after Congress passes a bill to sign it, veto it or let it become law with no signature if Congress is still in session. Iran’s president had vowed to respond if the sanctions were renewed, arguing they violate the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration stressed that Iran would be unaffected by the renewal, as long as it continues honoring the nuclear deal.

Obama Approves Rule Prohibiting States from Defunding Planned Parenthood

President Barack Obama has finalized a new rule that would essentially prohibit states from defunding the Planned Parenthood abortion business. The finalized rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prevents states from blocking Title X funding (federal dollars for family planning services) to abortion companies like Planned Parenthood. The rule undermines state laws, stipulating that it “precludes project recipients [states] from using criteria in their selection of sub-recipients that are unrelated to the ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” Responding to the rule, pro-life Rep. Diane Black told LifeNews.com, “President Obama knows that hope is rising for the innocent victims of Planned Parenthood’s brutality and the big abortion industry’s days of taxpayer-funded windfalls are numbered. We should not be surprised that his administration would lash out with this eleventh-hour power grab on the way out the door, but I am certain this rule will not stand for long.”

Wikileaks Founder Assange Denies Getting Hacked Info from Russia

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange denied Thursday that hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta were stolen and passed to his organization by Russian state actors. “Our source is not the Russian government,” Assange said on the The Sean Hannity Show. Assange’s assertion contradicts the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which concluded in October that “the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” In addition to the hacked emails from the DNC and Podesta, Assange admitted that Wikileaks received “received about three pages of information to do with the [Republican National Committee] and Trump [during the campaign], but it was already public somewhere else.” However, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are now in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday.

Obama Vows Retaliation, Russia Demands Proof

As the Obama administration stepped up its rhetoric against Russia for allegedly hacking its way into American politics, Russian officials demanded President Barack Obama either “stop talking” or “produce some proof.” Obama said Thursday that the United States will retaliate against Russia for interfering in the election by hacking political organizations. On Friday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the Obama administration has yet to back up its accusations with any evidence.

Appeals Court Upholds 10-Day Waiting Period for Gun Buys

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a California law requiring a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, the Washington Examiner reported. The decision reverses a lower court’s verdict that the waiting period was unconstitutional. “Applying intermediate scrutiny analysis, we hold that the law does not violate the Second Amendment rights of these plaintiffs, because the 10-day wait is a reasonable precaution for the purchase of a second or third weapon, as well as for a first purchase,” wrote Judge Mary Schroeder.

Juveniles Face Life in Prison for Gatlinburg Fires

The toll of the wildfires that ravaged Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in recent weeks is staggering: 14 people dead, another 175 injured, and more than 2,400 houses, businesses and other structures destroyed. As the full extent of the catastrophic damage reveals itself, authorities — who early on suspected arson – now say the blaze was definitely man-made. Or, more aptly, juvenile-made. Two Tennessee youths are sitting in a Sevier County detention center, charged with starting the fire. If convicted of aggravated arson, they could go to prison for 60 years. If more serious charges, including first-degree murder, are levied against them and they are convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Yahoo Says Data Stolen from 1 Billion Accounts

Yahoo disclosed a new security breach on Wednesday that may have affected more than one billion accounts. The breach dates back to 2013. Yahoo now believes an “unauthorized third party” stole user data from more than one billion accounts in August 2013. That data may have included names, email addresses and passwords, but not financial information. The company will notify users who may be affected and has begun requiring users to change their passwords. The security incident, likely one of the largest cybersecurity breaches ever, comes after Yahoo admitted that data from at least 500 million accounts had been stolen this past September. “Yahoo has now won the gold medal and the silver medal for the worst hacks in history,” said Hemu Nigam, CEO of online security consultancy SSP Blue.

Patients Now Asked to Pay Up Front for Services

Approximately three-quarters of health care and hospital systems now ask for payment at the time services are provided, a practice known as “point-of-service collections,” estimated Richard Gundling, a senior vice president at the Healthcare Financial Management Association, an industry group. He could not say how many were doing so for more highly priced services or for patients with high-deductible plans — situations that would likely result in out-of-pocket outlays of hundreds or thousands of dollars. But there’s a big difference between handing over a credit card to cover a $20 co-payment versus suddenly being confronted with a $2,000 charge to cover a deductible, an amount that might take months to pay off or exceed a patient’s credit limit. Doctors may refuse to dispense needed care before the payment is made, even as a patient’s health hangs in the balance. The primary reason? While more than two-thirds of patients with a deductible of less than $1,000 were likely to pay at least some portion of what they owe, just 36% of those with deductibles of more than $5,000 did so, a recent analysis found.

Uber Ordered to Shutdown Self-Driving Cars in San Francisco

California regulators are trying to put the brakes on Uber’s self-driving efforts after the company failed to obtain proper permits before testing its cars on San Francisco streets. Uber had announced on Wednesday that two dozen self-driving Volvo SUVs would begin to drive passengers around the city. In response, the California Department of Motor Vehicles told Uber in a letter that it must cease self-driving operations on public roads and begin the process to obtain proper permits, or it will be forced to take legal action against the company. Uber’s San Francisco launch has already proven messy. Video footage shows an autonomous Uber running a red light on its first day of operations. The company blamed it on “human error.”

Economic News – Domestic

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday for the first time in a year and signaled that rates could continue to rise next year more quickly than officials had expected. The increase was unanimous and modest, raising the Fed’s key interest rate by a quarter point, from a range of 0.25 to 0.5 percent to a range of 0.5 to 0.75 percent. It reflects Fed officials’ confidence in the strengthening of the U.S. economy and what officials see as budding signs of higher inflation. Fed officials do not appear to be anticipating a massive growth boost next year from economic policies implemented by President-elect Donald Trump, but they appear set to raise rates faster if those policies were to cause an overheating in the economy, reports the Washington Post.

Repealing Obamacare would be a big tax boon for wealthy Americans. That’s because it would eliminate two surcharges on the rich that are being levied to help pay for Obamacare provisions, such as the federal subsidies for low- and moderate-income enrollees. Since 2013, single taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 annually have had to pay an additional 0.9% Medicare payroll tax on the amount they earn above these thresholds. Ending Obamacare would mean that nearly everyone in the Top 1%, who earn more than $774,000 a year, would enjoy a hefty tax cut, averaging $33,000, according to a new report by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Those in the Top 0.1% would get an average tax cut of about $197,000.

Economic News – International

The U.S. dollar has been powering higher since Donald Trump won the presidential election and the euro has been weakening, putting the two currencies on a collision course. The dollar’s 9% move since Election Day means it’s now worth €0.96. That’s its highest level since 2003. The major shift in these currencies is making European products and travel cheaper for Americans. European exporters, including German auto manufacturers, are expected to benefit. Germany ships over $125 billion worth of goods to the U.S. annually, making it one of America’s biggest trading partners.

China has lost its crown as the United States’ biggest overseas creditor. That title now belongs to Japan. China has been dumping U.S. government debt to prop up its currency. China uses the dollars it gets from selling U.S. Treasuries to buy the yuan, which has sunk to an 8-year low as the world’s second largest economy slows. China’s huge holdings of U.S. debt fell to $1.12 trillion at the end of October, their lowest level in more than six years, according to U.S. Treasury Department data. Japan held $1.13 trillion. Both countries offloaded Treasuries during the month, but China dumped far more: its holdings dropped by $41.3 billion, while Japan’s fell by just $4.5 billion.

Fierce protests erupted in 15 Brazilian cities Tuesday as the country’s Senate approved a controversial 20-year austerity plan. Known as PEC 55, the constitutional amendment imposes a cap on public spending that will limit federal investment in social programs for the next 20 years. Brazil’s Senate approved the spending bill 53 to 16, and it became law Thursday. The government hopes that the spending cap, combined with a proposed pension reform, will lure investors back to Brazil, bringing an end to the worst recession in decades. “It will hit the poorest and most vulnerable Brazilians the hardest, will increase inequality levels in an already very unequal society, and definitively signals that social rights are a very low priority for Brazil for the next 20 years,” said Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Persecution Watch

Fifty statues of Christ and other Christian figures have been defaced and smashed apart in a crime wave sweeping parts of Germany. Statues in the Münster region in the west of Germany have been targeted over a series of months – including one of Jesus which had its head lopped off, and many more missing limbs or other fragments. Police in the area say they suspect a “religious background” to the crimes, but have yet to name any suspects. Police were investigating six men with alleged links to Islamic extremists, but gave up after three left for Syria, one died and the other two dropped off the radar.

Syria

The evacuation of thousands of refugees out of the besieged city of Aleppo has been halted and the status of the operation thrown into doubt, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Friday. “The evacuation was suspended by the regime and the Syrian regime now is shooting at the entrance point using heavy machine guns,” Middle East spokesman for the ICRC, Ralph El Hage said. Evacuations had begun for hundreds of civilians on Thursday, but for many, fleeing their homes meant leaving one warzone for another. Most of the civilians who escaped will be taken to rebel-controlled area in the neighboring province of Idlib, one of the few remaining footholds rebel groups still have in the country — and most likely the regime’s next target for recapture. While the world’s attention has been focused on Aleppo, Idlib has been pounded with airstrikes from President Assad’s regime forces, with dozens of deaths reported in recent weeks.

Iraq

ISIS killed and tortured Iraqis who did not subscribe to their extreme brand of Islam. Thousands of others fled their homes to escape the militant group’s brutality. Now, some of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities teeter on extinction. Hopes for a better future blossomed as Iraqi forces launched an offensive October 17 to oust ISIS from Nineveh province and Mosul. But now, what few minorities remain, wonder whether Baghdad’s Shia-dominated government, accused by many of stoking religious and ethnic differences, will lead the way forward to peace? Or will Iraq erupt in an outright civil war leading, to a splintered nation? As the war to oust ISIS unfolds on the streets of Mosul, Iraq’s immediate future hangs in the balance.

Turkey

A car bomb exploded near a public bus in Turkey on Saturday, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 55 people, according to Turkish officials. Of the injured, six people are in critical condition. A vehicle rigged with a bomb exploded next to the bus — which was transporting off-duty soldiers. The attack came exactly a week after a pair of bombings in Istanbul killed 44 people, including 37 police officers, and injured 155 others. A Kurdish militant group called the Kurdish Freedom Hawks claimed responsibility for last week’s bombings.

China

China “unlawfully seized” an underwater research drone after a Chinese warship took the device from waters near a U.S. oceanographic vessel. In the latest encounter in international waters in the South China Sea region, the USNS Bowditch was sailing about 100 miles off the Philippine port at Subic Bay when the incident occurred. Bowditch had stopped in the water to pick up two underwater drones. At that point a Chinese naval ship that had been shadowing the Bowditch put a small boat into the water. That small boat came up alongside and the Chinese crew took one of the drones. U.S. oceanographic research vessels are often followed in the water under the assumption they are spying. In this case, however, the drone was simply measuring ocean conditions, the official said. The Pentagon on Saturday said that Beijing had agreed to return the drone.

Earthquakes

Dangerous waves could be headed to some South Pacific coasts after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the sea off Papua New Guinea on Saturday night, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a preliminary alert. The quake struck in the ocean about 45 kilometers east of Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland island, also known as Latangai, at about 8:51 p.m. (5:51 a.m. ET), the US Geological Survey said. Papua New Guinea is along the “Ring of Fire,” a zone of seismic activity and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vast area where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur, according to the USGS.

Weather

Heavy lake-effect snow pummeled several cities across several states Wednesday, including Cleveland and Buffalo, overwhelming drivers as visibilities were reduced to nearly zero. The lake-effect snow is hitting one week after up to 3 feet of snow buried some of the same Great Lakes snowbelts from central New York to Upper Michigan last week. Bone-chilling winds will persist Friday across the United States as temperatures continue to plunge into a sub-freezing stretch of some of the coldest air this season. The brutal blast of frigid air sweeping across the United States wreaked havoc on roads in Virginia and Maryland, leaving at least three dead in multi-vehicle wrecks Saturday. A 55-vehicle crash on a icy stretch of I-95 in Baltimore left at least two people dead and motorists stranded for hours about 5 a.m. Saturday. In northern Virginia, authorities responded to more than 40 traffic accidents. Nearly 50% of the country will see temperatures dip below freezing Saturday and Sunday. Wind chill temperatures could reach 35 below zero in the Midwest and Northeast on Saturday.

Flash flooding was reported in more than a dozen California towns, while mudslides were reported in at least five others. Near Gasquet, a large boulder crashed down onto Highway 199. Due to rockslides, a 36-mile stretch of Highway 1 on California’s Central Coast remained closed until 2 p.m. Friday as officials worked to clear debris. Wet weather also created dangerous conditions in parts of Southern California. A mudslide impacted 18 homes in the town of Duarte, located east of Los Angeles. Firefighters had to rescue two people from vehicles caught in the mudslide.

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world — triggering a “massive decline in sea ice and snow,” according to a new federal report. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 11th annual Arctic Report Card, which compiles data from 61 scientists in 11 countries. The study shows that the increase in average air temperature between October 2015 and September 2016 was the largest since 1995 at 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 degrees Celsius) above those recorded in 1900 — the highest average on record.

There’s a new record for the largest wave ever measured by a buoy, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Scientists say a 62.3-foot wave was observed in the North Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4, 2013 when a strong cold front produced 50 mph winds, churning up the sea, NBC News reported. Somewhere between Iceland and the United Kingdom, a buoy measured the huge wave. A wave in the North Atlantic in 2002 measured 95 feet in height, as spotted from a ship, according to BBC.com. Hawaiian Garret McNamara holds the record for largest wave ever surfed, a 78-footer in Portugal in 2011, CNN.com said.

Signs of the Times (12/14/16)

December 14, 2016

Ohio Governor Signs One Abortion Bill, But Vetoes Another

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a measure that would have outlawed abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected while approving a law that prevents them after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The vetoed proposal, commonly referred to as the “heartbeat bill,” would have been the nation’s strictest time-based legislation, banning abortions around six weeks. But abortion rights advocates said the 20-week ban is troubling while pro-life advocates welcomed the decision as a step closer to challenging Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide.

Senate Committee Refers Planned Parenthood to FBI for Criminal Investigation

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, announced today he is referring several Planned Parenthood affiliates and companies involved in fetal tissue transfers, as well as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to the FBI and the Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution. The recommendation is one of the fruits of a massive report on human fetal tissue research the Senate Judiciary Committee just released, reports LifeSiteNews.com. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation discovered Planned Parenthood’s and fetal tissue companies’ various violations of laws against selling human body parts. “I don’t take lightly making a criminal referral,” said Grassley. “But, the seeming disregard for the law by these entities has been fueled by decades of utter failure by the Justice Department to enforce it.”

Federal Judge Blocks Motion to Unbind Electoral Delegates’ Vote

A federal judge in Colorado Monday denied a motion filed by two electors seeking to remove the state law that requires them to vote for the presidential candidate who won the state’s popular vote. “It would undermine the electoral process,” Judge Wiley Daniel said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Denver. “Part of me thinks this is really a political stunt to prevent Mr. Trump from being president.” The two Democrat electors, Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich, argued that it was unconstitutional for the state to require that they cast their votes for the candidate chosen by voters. Wiley recommended they should seek to change the state law if they are unhappy with the outcome.

Judge Denies Pennsylvania Recount

Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein’s request to recount paper ballots in Pennsylvania’s presidential election was rejected Monday morning by a federal judge. The rejection by U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond is the latest in a series of setbacks for Stein’s recount efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Judge Diamond rejected the lawsuit in part because Stein presented no evidence of hacking in Pennsylvania’s election. Suspicion of a hacked Pennsylvania election “borders on the irrational,” Diamond said in his decision. Judge Diamond also ruled that Stein had no legal standing to sue for the recount. Green Party nominee Jill Stein spent nearly $1 million of the funds she raised for recount efforts in three battleground states on consultants, staff, and administrative costs, according to figures on the group’s website. Filing fees in the three states cost $4,488,939, the group says.

CIA Claims that Russian Hacking Gave the Election to Trump Refuted

The nation’s top intelligence office is not on the same page as the CIA regarding its assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections in a bid to help Donald Trump, a U.S. government source confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday. Reuters reports that while the ODNI does not dispute the CIA’s general analysis on Russia hacking, the office is not convinced of the evidence that Moscow sought specifically to help Trump defeat Democratic opponent Clinton. One official also told Reuters that the CIA’s judgment was based on the fact that only Democratic information was leaked. The official called this a “thin reed upon which to base an analytical judgment.” The FBI, also isn’t buying the “fuzzy and ambiguous” assertions from the CIA that Russia “quite” clearly meddled in the U.S. elections on behalf of the Trump campaign. The FBI did not corroborate the CIA’s claim in a meeting with lawmakers last week. Apparently, the FBI “wants facts and tangible evidence to prove something” while the CIA is “more comfortable drawing inferences,” notes the Washington Post.

On Sunday, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said he has met the person who gave the DNC emails and it was not the Russians. “I know who leaked them,” Murray told The Guardian. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things. Murray, who is a close associate of Wikileaks head Julian Assange, explained it further on his website. “As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians… And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.”

Nomination for Secretary of State Ignites a Firestorm

President-elect Trump won’t get Rex Tillerson as secretary of state without a fight. The President-elect is leaning towards entrusting the ExxonMobil tycoon with the stewardship of US diplomacy, a move that could ignite the first showdown between the pugilistic President-elect and senators in his own party. The nomination would be provocative, given Tillerson’s personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin amid an uproar over CIA assessments that Russia likely intervened in the presidential election to help Trump. The potential selection of another millionaire oil titan also offers insights into Trump’s vision of diplomacy as akin to the wheeler-dealer world of big business. A Tillerson nomination would also exacerbate concerns about the low level of formal foreign policy experience in Trump’s outsider administration. Trump’s critics say that populating an administration with people of enormous wealth and myriad financial interests is not “draining the swamp” as Trump had promised, but simply bringing in another species of reptile.

Trump Selects Former Texas Governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has selected former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be his nominee for energy secretary, which would make him head of an agency he once sought to eliminate. Perry, twice an aspirant for the White House, will inherit a department that has focused on promoting clean energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, but has also seen domestic production of oil explode. And his selection is a nod to the traditional GOP emphasis on energy sources like coal and oil. A hallmark of Obama’s Energy Department has been the grants and loans it issues for research. These loans have also been a source of controversy. In 2011, Obama administration had to defend its loan to Silicon Valley energy startup Solyndra when it filed for bankruptcy and taxpayers had to foot a $535 million bill.

Six Georgia Police Officers Shot in Six Days

The past week has not been a kind one to Georgia’s small-town police officers. Six days. Six officers shot. Two deaths. The shootings, which happened in three unrelated incidents, highlight a particularly brutal stretch in a year where at least 64 law enforcement officers have died across the United States, putting 2016 well ahead of last year’s 12-month total for police fatalities. The three incidents involved a domestic dispute, a drug raid gone wrong, and a stolen car that the police pulled over into a parking lot.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise its key interest rate on Wednesday. It would be only its second rate hike since 2006. The first was in December 2015. The Fed put rates at zero in December 2008 to revive the collapsed housing market during the Great Recession. Now, America is no longer in crisis mode and the economy appears able to bear higher rates.

Oil has soared above $54 a barrel to its highest level in nearly a year and a half. U.S. crude futures jumped more than 5% on Monday after Russia and a bunch of other big producers agreed over the weekend to join OPEC members in cutting their output next month. The group of non-OPEC nations — which includes Mexico, Kazakhstan and Oman — will aim to reduce their production by 558,000 barrels a day, according to a statement. That follows OPEC’s deal last month to cut its overall production by 1.2 million barrels a day. The production cut will reduce bloated inventories and help boost crude prices, which have now more than doubled from a low of near $26 per barrel in February.

China is set to nearly double its military spending this decade as an arms race heats up in Asia. China’s defense spending will balloon to $233 billion in 2020, up from $123 billion in 2010, according to a new report by IHS Jane’s. Regional power India is also on a spending spree. This year, $4 billion in additional defense funding pushed it ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia to rank among the top five global defense spenders for the first time. Military spending across the Asia-Pacific region has boomed in recent years as regional economies have grown. Rising tensions around the South China Sea could be a catalyst to spend even more funds. “A key trend in [Asia-Pacific] is the shift from a traditional focus on territorial defense towards power projection,” said Craig Caffrey, a principal analyst at IHS Jane’s. “This is new for the region and is likely to increase military-to-military contact between states.”

Boeing has finalized its agreement to sell 80 airplanes to Iran Air, despite staunch opposition from many lawmakers, including President-elect Donald Trump. Iran Air will be getting 50 737 airplanes and 30 777s, the first of which will be delivered in 2018. The total value of the deal is $16.6 billion — by far the biggest between U.S. and Iranian businesses since the 1979 revolution, which shut off normalized relations between the countries. The sale was made possible by the Obama administration’s lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in September.

Islamic State

At least 75% of ISIS fighters have been killed during the campaign of U.S.-led airstrikes, according to U.S. officials. The campaign has winnowed ISIS’ ranks to between 12,000 and 15,000 “battle ready” fighters, a top US official said on Tuesday. The figures mean the US and its coalition partners have taken out vastly more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria than currently remain on the battlefield, two years since the bombing campaign began. Speaking at the White House Tuesday, Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the terror group is no longer able to replenish its ranks, predicting the number of fighters would continue to dwindle.

ISIS forces have retaken the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, according to Syrian government media, the ISIS media wing and a human rights monitor. Syrian news agency SANA reported that over 4,000 militants swarmed the city from “various directions,” despite having suffered heavy losses from bombardments by the Syrian air force. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed that Palmyra had fallen to ISIS on Sunday after Syrian armed forces pulled out from the desert city. ISIS first seized control of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in May 2015. Syrian government forces recaptured it in March this year.

Syria

A ceasefire brokered by Turkey with Russia for eastern Aleppo has collapsed less than a day after it was implemented, as Turkey and activists on the ground accused the regime and other forces of heavy shelling and bombardment. Deaths were reported on both sides Wednesday, while some 50,000 civilians were believed to still be inside the small pocket of eastern Aleppo that remains under rebel control. The ceasefire was aimed at evacuating both rebels and civilians, but they have not taken place. The Syrian regime entered war-ravaged Aleppo on November 27 and in just over two weeks have seized control of most of it. Forces loyal to the Syrian regime have been entering homes in the last pockets of Aleppo held by rebels and shooting people on the spot, the United Nations has said. Eighty-two civilians, including women and children, were shot in their homes or on the streets on Monday. Around 100 children are trapped in a building under heavy attack, UNICEF says, citing a doctor there. The grim reports came as government forces continued their advance on the last of the rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial and cultural heart.

Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he believes US President-elect Donald Trump will be a good friend to Israel, adding his hope that dismantling the Iran nuclear deal will be at the top of the agenda. Netanyahu’s remarks were in response to critics who have accused Trump of tolerating anti-Semitism among some of his supporters. While the two countries are close allies, relations were sometimes tense between Netanyahu and outgoing President Barack Obama because of their vastly different world views on the Iran deal, among other issues, reports United With Israel. The Israeli prime minister has been one of the fiercest critics of the nuclear deal. During the 2016 US election campaign, Trump also harshly condemned it. “Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That has not changed and will not change,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday ordered the country’s scientists to start work on nuclear-powered ships in response to the expected renewal of sanctions by the United States. In letters read out on state television, Rouhani criticized the US move as a breach of last year’s nuclear accord and told Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to start work on “planning the design and production of nuclear fuel and reactors for maritime transport.”

Egypt

An explosion near a key Coptic cathedral in the Egyptian capital has left at least 25 people dead and 31 others injured. The blast occurred in Cairo’s Abbassyia district early Sunday morning. The explosion took place in the small church of St. Peter and St. Paul attached to the St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. The attack targeted one of the most symbolic religious sites for Copts, an ethno-religious group centered in Egypt. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million residents President Abdel Fattah El Sisi condemned the attack and declared a three-day period of national mourning. Copts have faced persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Dozens have been killed in sectarian clashes. There is also little Christian representation in Egypt’s government. Sunday’s explosion came just two days after two bombs killed six police officers and a civilian in Giza’s Haram district, on the street leading to the city’s famed pyramids.

Pakistan

Thirty-eight people, mostly police officers, were killed and 155 wounded in Saturday’s twin bombings in Istanbul. The explosions, one large blast followed by a smaller one, occurred about 11 p.m. local time after a heavily attended football game at Besiktas Vodafone Arena. A remote control detonated a car bomb for the explosion. Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber caused a second explosion at Macka Park. The two locations are less than a mile apart. No group has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings but ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have staged attacks in Turkey over the past year. Thirteen people have have been arrested in connection with the blasts.

Somalia

At least 20 people have died, while 15 have sustained injuries, after a car bomb exploded in Somalia on Sunday morning. An attacker rammed a vehicle filled with explosives into the main entrance of a port in Mogadishu, the nation’s largest city and capital. The attacker targeted police officers in the port’s customs and tax office. However, most of the victims ended up being port employees and pedestrians. Al Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant group with ties to al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nigeria

Metal girders and the roof of a crowded church collapsed onto worshippers in southern Nigeria, killing at least 160 people with the toll likely to rise, a hospital director said Sunday. The Reigners Bible Church International was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday’s ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop. Hundreds of people, including Akwa Ibom state Gov. Udom Emmanuel, were inside when metal girders crashed onto worshippers and the corrugated iron roof caved in. Emmanuel and Weeks, who preaches that God will make his followers rich, escaped unhurt.

Philippines

There have been 5,927 deaths linked to the “war on drugs” in the Philippines since July 1 according to statistics released by the national police on Monday. President Rodrigo Duterte was elected to office in May on a platform of cracking down on crime, particularly illegal drugs. Since taking office in early June, his police force has waged a bloody war on drug dealers and users, resulting in the deaths of thousands of suspects at the hands of police and vigilantes. Of the total, 2,086 were killed in police operations and 3,841 in extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings. More than 40,000 suspects have been arrested. President Duterte has admitted personally killing suspected criminals during his time as mayor of Davao City. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo told Reuters Monday there were a growing number of opposition voices within government. She said that those in opposition weren’t against the war on drugs and agreed the problem had to be dealt with but they felt “doing it this way will only make the problem more complex.”

Venezuela

President Nicolas Maduro announced Monday night that he’s closing the country’s border with Colombia for 72 hours as Venezuelans rush to exchange bills before they become invalid later this week. He accused “mafias” of moving Venezuelan money into Colombia. It’s the latest twist in a crisis that symbolizes Venezuela’s severe economic depression, which is having a brutal impact on its citizens’ lives. Some Venezuelans are going to border towns in Colombia to exchange their currency, the bolivar, for U.S. dollars or to spend their money — while they still can — in Colombia where food, toiletries and other basics are plentiful. The biggest bill in Venezuela is the 100-bolivar note. On the official, government rate, it’s worth about 15 U.S. cents. On the more popular, unofficial exchange rate, the 100-bolivar bill is worth a mere 2 cents. Venezuelans have been weighing stacks of cash to pay for basic items instead of counting individual bills. Maduro’s administration announced it will withdraw all 100 bolivar notes and replace them with coins of the same face value. To make life a little easier, Maduro’s government also announced it will start printing six new bills worth between 500 and 20,000 bolivars. Still, the biggest bill on the unofficial rate is still only worth $5. On Sunday,

Environment

Seaborne radiation originating from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan has now been detected on the west coast of the United States for the first time. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported that seawater samples taken from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon were found to be contaminated with cesium-134, which could have only come from Fukushima. While the water is contaminated, researchers don’t believe it will pose a direct human threat. Since the 2011 disaster, more than 800,000 tons of radioactive water have been pumped out, treated and stored in tanks that now occupy virtually every corner of the Fukushima plant.

Weather

Record-breaking wintry temperatures are gripping the eastern two-thirds of the country, signaling that this could be one of the coldest seasons in years. Across the United States, 76 locations have shattered their daily record cold high temperatures for December since the beginning of the month. Some locations saw their coldest December day ever. The bad news is that it’s going to get even colder for the rest of the week. This storm pattern is reminiscent of the 2014 Arctic outbreak that started a social media trend called the “polar vortex.” The polar vortex always exists near the north pole. An upper-level meteorology pattern called the polar jet stream locks in the cold air to the Arctic. Occasionally this northern jet stream meanders south and pushes in the polar air southward into the northern U.S.

Winter Storm Decima – pronounced DEH-si-mah – is poised to deliver another cross-country mess of snow, strong winds and some ice impacting a large swath of the nation into the upcoming weekend, forecasts weather.com. Decima follows on the heels of Winter Storm Caly, which blanketed the U.S. with wintry weather from coast-to-coast last Thursday into this Monday. Winter storm watches are already posted for a sizable swath of the West, from Oregon and California’s Sierra to parts of Montana and Wyoming. Winter Storm Caly left a path of travel headaches and one person dead as it marched across the northern United States on its way to the Northeast. On Sunday, about 1,400 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports as the deadly storm dumped heavy snow on the city. The lake-effect snow machine was in full blast in early December thanks to an arctic air mass that invaded the Lower-48. Some areas around the Great Lakes saw total accumulations of a foot or more, with snowfall rates exceeding an inch per hour at times. Some locations saw as much as three feet of snow

Signs of the Times (12/10/16)

December 10, 2016

Trump Slams CIA Over Report that Russia Helped Him Win the Election

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team slammed the CIA Friday, following reports the agency has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win. In response to widening claims of a Russian espionage operation targeting the presidential race, Trump’s camp risked an early feud with the Intelligence community on which he will rely for top secret assessments of the greatest threats facing the United States. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition team said in a terse, unsigned statement. The CIA concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to the Washington Post. Intelligence agencies identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials.

Government Shutdown Averted, Budget Approved

The Senate late Friday cleared a bill to fund the government through the end of April, narrowly averting a shutdown. The 63-36 vote came just before a midnight deadline when the government could have run out of money. The vote took nearly an hour and was tense and uncertain to the end as senators weighed political and parochial interests in deciding which way to vote, CNN reported. Party leaders and whips, trying to save the must-pass bill, worked their members furiously. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law early Saturday. The late-night action came after a day of back-channel negotiations aimed at alleviating concerns from coal-state Democrats who wanted a longer extension of expiring health benefits for retired coal miners. Democrats failed to secure enough votes to pass that extension.

Michigan Recount Halted

A federal judge has ordered Michigan’s Board of Elections to stop the state’s electoral recount. U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith issued the order late Wednesday — dissolving a previous temporary restraining order against the Board of Elections that allowed the recount to continue. Goldsmith’s latest opinion effectively denies Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s request to block the Board of Elections from halting the recount. Stein on Thursday morning called the decision “disheartening.” Goldsmith agreed that the issues Stein raised — fraud and mistakes — were “serious,” but said there was no evidence of such violations.

Trump Picks EPA Foe as Head of Agency

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator. The move elevates a fierce EPA critic — Pruitt had sued the agency over its regulations of power plants — to the position of EPA administrator. In a statement Thursday morning from the Trump transition team making the nomination official, Pruitt was quoted as saying, “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

Trump’s SBA nominee Gave $7M to His Election Campaign

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration gave millions to support his presidential campaign — including a newly disclosed $1 million donation just weeks before the election. Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, made the $1 million donation to a super PAC funded by the Ricketts family and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson in early October, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission late Thursday. The super PAC, Future 45, was revitalized as a pro-Trump committee in early fall by the Ricketts, who earlier in the election support anti-Trump efforts, and by Adelson, who sat out the Republican primary. One of the Ricketts siblings, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, has been named by Trump as deputy commerce secretary. McMahon’s most recent donation brings her total contributions to pro-Trump super PACs this election to $7 million, making her one of the largest contributors in support of Trump. She had previously given $6 million in August and September to Rebuilding America Now, another super PAC that supported Trump’s campaign.

Trump Picks Fast-Food Executive as Labor Secretary

President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday chose Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, to be secretary of labor. “Andy Puzder has created and boosted the careers of thousands of Americans, and his extensive record fighting for workers makes him the ideal candidate to lead the Department of Labor,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. Mr. Puzder, 66, fits the profile of some of Mr. Trump’s other domestic cabinet appointments. He is a wealthy businessman and political donor and has a long record of promoting a conservative agenda that takes aim at President Obama’s legacy. And more than the other appointments, he resembles Mr. Trump in style, notes the New York Times

U.S. Life Expectancy Declines for the First Time since 1993

For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year — a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States, reports the Washington Post. Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in the report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data. Over the past five years, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. “I think we should be very concerned,” said Princeton economist Anne Case, who called for thorough research on the increase in deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States.

  • Obesity has been on the rise over the same time-span. Might this be the primary cause of the decline?

Opioid Epidemic Getting Worse, Says CDC

More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, the most ever. The number of deaths from overdoses of illicit opioids rose sharply again in 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. Overdose deaths (9,580) from synthetic opioids, most of them fentanyl related, skyrocketed by 73%. Deaths that involved prescription opioids (17,536) rose just 4%. Deaths attributed to heroin (12,990) went up 23%. A total of 33,091 Americans died from opioid overdose last year. Some of the deaths involved a combination of drugs, officials noted. “The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”

Immigration Update

The Islamic State has sent at least 1,500 jihadi terrorists back to Europe from Middle East warzones with instructions to “carry out attacks”, according to a new European Union report delivered Friday. While 1 in 5 have been killed between 30 and 35 per cent have been ordered to return to Europe to carry out “specific missions.”

The illegal immigrant wanted for allegedly killing two people in a hit-and-run case in Kentucky had been deported eight times, the Department of Justice confirmed. Miguel Angel Villasenor-Saucedo, 40, is wanted for the Oct. 22 drunken car crash that killed two women in Louisville. He was most recently deported in 2013. The statement said the DOJ learned soon after the accident that Villasenor-Saucedo was an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Federal court records show four instances when he was caught by border patrol agents in Texas. In June and September 2011, he told border agents he had crossed the Rio Grande near Brownsville, and also rafted across the river near Hidalgo. In November, 2012 he was twice stopped by border agents and told them he crossed the river near Hidalgo two times within six days, according to the Courier-Journal.

Economic News

The explosive post-election rally continues. The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit record highs again Thursday. Nearly three-quarters of the stocks in the S&P 500 are up since November 8. What’s more, about half of those winners have gained at least 10%. Financial stocks in particular have been on fire. All of the big banking stocks have been skyrocketing. Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are up about 20% since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Morgan Stanley has gained more than 25%. So has troubled Wells Fargo, despite the lingering fallout from its fake account scandal. Bank of America is up more than 30%. And so is Goldman Sachs — the former employer of both Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame. A CNBC article pointed out that the cyclically-adjusted price to earnings ratio has only been higher than it is today at three points in our history. “The cyclically adjusted P/E, a valuation measure created by economist Robert Shiller, now stands over 27 and has been exceeded only in the 1929 mania, the 2000 tech mania and the 2007 housing and stock bubble.”

  • Is the bubble about to burst? Some analysts think so and see the banks pocketing money beforehand.

Walmart’s subsidiary announced Wednesday night it’s going to add 10,000 jobs in Mexico over the next three years. The subsidiary, Walmart de Mexico, said it would invest $1.3 billion in Mexico, adding that the investment stems from profits made in the country. They note that Walmart is not moving jobs to Mexico from America. Its subsidiary is adding jobs. Some Spanish media saw the Walmart announcement as a snub toward Trump. He has threatened to slap a 35% tariff on any U.S. company that sends jobs to Mexico — even though current U.S. trade laws don’t allow that.

Europe’s economy is not strong enough to be taken off life support. That’s the view of the European Central Bank, which announced Thursday that it will extend its bond buying program until at least December 2017. But the pace of purchases — currently at €80 billion ($86 billion) a month — will slow to €60 billion ($64 billion) a month starting in April. The ECB’s stimulus expansion comes just before next week’s key meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed is widely expected to raise its key interest rate, a sign that the central bank thinks the U.S. economy is improving.

Wealthy Russians are looking to spend big on U.S. real estate in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. The number of Russians who have expressed interest in buying luxury properties in the U.S. has spiked by 35% over the previous year following the billionaire’s win, according to global real estate consultancy Knight Frank. Russians are interested in vacation homes as well as investment properties. Nearly all are looking to spend between $500,000 and $5 million on a residential property, while 10% are hoping to buy commercial real estate. The two most popular destinations are New York City and Miami.

Terrorism Update

Two bombs killed six police officers and a civilian on Friday, according to Egyptian state media. One bomb went off in Giza’s Haram district on the street leading to the pyramids, killing the officers and wounding three others. A second bomb in Kafr El-Sheikh killed one civilian motorist and wounded three police officers. That bomb apparently targeted a police vehicle. Egypt has seen escalating attacks by Islamist militants, though most of those attacks have taken place in the Sinai Peninsula.

Twin bombings killed at least 31 people at a market in Madagali, Nigeria, on Friday in an apparent suicide attack carried out by two females, a military spokesman said. The “female bombers detonated an IED (improvised explosive device) inside a local market,” according to a tweet from the National Emergency Management Agency in Nigeria. Madagali is located on the border with Borno state, the birthplace of the militant group Boko Haram, and has incurred many attacks and abductions since the military retook the area from the militants in 2015.

Israel

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made a startling announcement Thursday morning, telling the Knesset Affairs and Defense Committee that reports of Israel launching military strikes on the Mezzeh military air field near Damascus the previous day were true. He added that the strike had been carried out to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. “Israel has no interest in intervening in the civil war in Syria, our policies and our positions are very clear and are based on three red lines: we will not allow any harm to come to Israeli citizens, we will not allow any harm to the sovereignty of the State of Israel and we will not allow the smuggling of sophisticated weapons or chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon for Hezbollah,” Liberman said.

Islamic State

As many as 50,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the war against the terror group began, a senior US military official told CNN. The official called that figure a conservative estimate. ISIS recruitment also has fallen off. It recruited only several hundred foreign fighters this year, compared with a couple thousand a month last year. In addition, the official also revealed Thursday that in May 2015, US special operations forces came “tantalizingly close” to capturing or killing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in Raqqa, but failed to do so because classified information was leaked to the news media. The official noted that after the May 2015 raid in Syria that killed ISIS operative Abu Sayyaf and led to the capture of his wife, the US got valuable information on Baghdadi from the wife after two days of interrogation. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Saturday the US would send up to 200 additional US troops to Syria to help train and assist US-backed local forces that are driving towards ISIS’ self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria.

Syria

As the Syrian army continues to fight its way through the old city of Aleppo, the tide of those fleeing for their lives has become a raging flood. Rebel forces controlled the Agheour area for at least 3½ years before it was retaken by Syrian government forces Tuesday. The number of people coming out of eastern Aleppo has gone up exponentially. On Wednesday, a Syrian commander told CNN that more than 2,000 people had passed through the Maysaloon crossing point since Tuesday night. More and more people are continuing to make their way over the difficult crossing, some dragging their belongings, others holding small children. Many of them are feeling weak and frail. There are some who look wounded. One man who was brought out said he had been shot. Everyone looked traumatized reported a CNN crew on site. The U.N. voiced fears for the fate of some 100,000 civilians still trapped in the east.

One Assyrian Christian bishop is being praised as a hero for his role in saving over 200 Assyrian Christians from the Islamic State. Bishop Mar Afram Athneil took it upon himself to raise enough money for the ransom of over 200 Assyrian Christians who had been captured by the terrorist group. ChristianToday.com reports that the 226 Christians were taken hostage after the Islamic State attacked their village in the Khabur River valley on February 23, 2015. After kidnapping the Christians, the Islamic State sent a ransom note to Bishop Athneil. The message demanded the Assyrian community to pay nearly $11 million for the release of the Christians. Athneil decided he needed to do whatever it took to save the captives, so he began a campaign to raise the funds. Athneil appealed to Christians around the world to help, and they responded.

Iran

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is racing to sign as many oil deals with Western companies as he can before hard-liners at home and President-elect Donald J. Trump have a chance to return the Mideast country to cultural and economic isolation, reports the New York Times. At the same time, Iran is in a battle with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers to reclaim its position as one of the world’s leading oil exporters, a spot it lost during the years of international sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran’s oil industry, the lifeblood of its economy, was devastated by the cumulative impact of the nuclear sanctions, which halved petroleum exports and left the country ostracized economically. . But Mr. Trump has warned that he may dismantle the deal, a threat that has injected new urgency into Iran’s push to build up its oil industry before Mr. Trump takes power next month.

Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won parliamentary approval Friday for ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the 12-nation trade pact. Ratification of needed regulatory revisions by the Cabinet is expected soon. The measures required by the trade pact requiring more open markets are seen as a way for Abe to push through difficult reforms in the agricultural and health sectors. So far, Abe has made scant progress on a slew of changes he has proposed to help improve Japan’s lagging productivity and competitiveness. A U.S. withdrawal would kill the trade pact unless its terms are revised. The agreement between the dozen members requires both the U.S. and Japan to join to attain the required 85 percent of the group’s total GDP since the U.S. economy accounts for 60 percent of that total, and Japan less than 20 percent.

India

India’s decision to ban most of its cash is a disaster that has shattered people’s trust in the government. That’s the view of former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, a fierce political opponent of his successor Narendra Modi, who announced the shock move to scrap all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes early last month. Modi says the cash ban was supposed to deal a blow to India’s widespread corruption and tax evasion, while removing counterfeit money from the system. With desperate Indians still lining up in their thousands to deposit old notes a month later, the disruption to daily life has left many wondering whether it has all been worth it. Singh, who led the country from 2004 to 2014, said over 90% of Indians’ earnings are paid in cash, and the ban has turned the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people upside down. He claimed that only a tiny fraction of untaxed income is held in cash.

South Korea

Lawmakers in South Korea’s National Assembly voted overwhelmingly Friday to impeach President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal. The vote was 234-56, with six abstentions. Under the South Korean Constitution, impeachment requires a two-thirds majority of the 300-member legislature to pass. The country’s Constitutional Court will now deliberate the impeachment motion, a process that could take up to 180 days. Park apologized on national TV following the vote, saying she was careless and had caused a “big national chaos” — an apparent reference to her sharing classified information with a confidante lacking security clearance. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will be acting President for the duration of the court’s deliberation. He vowed to “run state affairs in a correct and transparent manner.”

Russia

More than 1,000 Russian athletes across 30 sports benefited from state-sponsored doping, according to the latest findings of a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The report alleges “an institutional conspiracy” among officials within the Russian Ministry of Sport. “Systematic and centralized cover up” was found in the run up to the London 2012 Summer Olympics which continued until 2015 when first discovered. The report says that the London 2012 games corrupted “on an unprecedented scale.” The WADA investigation was spurred by claims made by former Russian anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov last year to the New York Times that he was ordered to cover up the drug use of at least 15 Sochi 2014 medal winners.

Netherlands

A Dutch court convicted populist lawmaker Geert Wilders — who is running to be prime minister — of hate speech Friday, at the end of a trial he branded a politically motivated “charade” that endangered freedom of speech. Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court would not impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected lawmaker. Prosecutors say that Wilders, who in 2011 was acquitted at another hate speech trial for his outspoken criticism of Islam, overstepped the limits of free speech by specifically targeting Moroccans. In a tweet, Wilders called the verdicts “madness” and said that he had been convicted by three judges who hated his Party for Freedom. Wilders’ party is currently narrowly leading a nationwide poll of polls and has risen in popularity during the trial.

Environment

The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say. Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it “vulnerable.” In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While everyone worries about elephants, the earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes. Shrinking living space is the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its “Red List” of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.

Earthquakes

A strong, 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern California Thursday morning local time. There were no reports of damage, and no tsunami warning was issued. The U.S. Geological Survey said that the quake hit about 100 miles off the coast of Eureka, California, more than 250 miles north of San Francisco, at around 6:50 a.m. local time. Northern California coastal communities like Eureka and Ferndale reported shaking, the agency said. Some people said they felt the quake as far south as San Francisco. The region is a historical hotbed for earthquakes. A few lower magnitude earthquakes struck in the same region off the coast in the last two days.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Solomon Islands Friday morning local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Solomon Islands is an archipelago that consists of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific. The nation has a population of about 560,000. The epicenter was located about 42 miles west-southwest of Kirakira, and some 120 miles southeast of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. The temblor didn’t cause any major damage or injuries, the Associated Press reported. Some power outages were reported in the Solomon Islands. This earthquake ties three other 7.8 magnitude tremors as the strongest reported on Earth in 2016.

Rescuers continue to comb through the rubble for survivors after an earthquake Wednesday morning in Indonesia’s Aceh province. At least 102 people were killed, including young children, and 136 seriously injured, according to Indonesia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Agency. The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake damaged homes, shops and mosques in the district of Pidie Jaya, completely destroying hundreds of structures. Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered immediate assistance to be sent to Aceh in the wake of the earthquake.

Wildfires

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced in a press conference Wednesday that two juveniles have been charged with starting the deadly wildfires in and around Gatlinburg. Due to the age of the juveniles, officials have released little more information regarding the investigation, but they were charged with aggravated arson. Wednesday was the first day that residents were allowed to return to their homes full-time after the massive wildfire left the town deserted for more than a week. Authorities identified several of the fire’s victims on Monday, bringing the death toll to 14. There were at least 134 injuries and more than 1,700 structures damaged or destroyed as a result of the fire. Several other residents are still listed as missing.

Weather

Bitter cold is taking hold of the US weather pattern for the next week. Over the next seven days, 80% of the country will at some point see temperatures below freezing. More than half the continental United States will have below-average temperatures Friday. Temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees below average in locations stretching from the Montana to South Texas. Dangerous wind chills could yield temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero in the Northern Plains on Friday. Winter Storm Caly kicked into gear in the Pacific Northwest Thursday, and is beginning to lay down a 2,600-mile swath of snow through the Rockies, Plains, Midwest and Northeast that will last into early next week.  While Caly won’t be a crippling snow event, moderate to locally heavy snow totals over 6 inches are possible.

Earlier, snow contributed to a 30-car pileup on Interstate 96 in Fowlerville, Michigan, on Thursday. Police reported two deaths. Heavy lake-effect snowfall also made travel dangerous along Interstate 90 near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border Thursday, causing a pair of pileups 50 miles apart that left more than a dozen injured. Lake-effect snow will continue to hammer the Great Lakes region through Saturday due to an arctic air mass that has invaded the Lower-48 states. Some areas will see total accumulations of a foot or more, with snowfall rates exceeding an inch per hour at times.

Recent showers and storms across much of the South have eased the severe drought in the region, but experts say it wasn’t enough to make up for months of dry conditions before the rain finally fell. The rain has helped in the short term, though, and it also helped firefighters to rein in some the large wildfires burning in several southern states. Abnormally dry conditions began showing up in March in parts of the South, and became more severe later in the spring, all through the summer and fall.

Signs of the Times (12/7/16)

December 7, 2016

U.S. Facing Biggest Islamic Terror Threat Since 9/11

The United States faces its highest threat from Islamist terrorists since 9/11 and much of that stems from those radicalized at home, says the House Homeland Security Committee’s December Terror Threat Snapshot released Tuesday. What’s more, the report said, the threat to the United States and Europe will persist in 2017. Throughout 2016, ISIS conducted 62 attacks worldwide, injuring 732 people and killing 215 in several countries, including the United States, France, and Belgium. According to the report, ISIS’ shift in messaging from joining the jihad in Syria and Iraq to carrying out attacks in fighters’ home countries is likely to accelerate the trend of at-home radicalization. At the same time, terrorists are also relying on refugee programs, porous borders, and well-known migration routes to gain access to various countries throughout the West. “Make no mistake: we face a deadlier threat than ever before not only because our enemies have gotten savvier, but because we took the pressure off them,” House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement on the report. “For eight years, the Obama Administration reluctantly played global whack-a-mole with terrorists rather than leaning into the fight with decisive leadership.”

Fewer Hotels Allowing Bibles in Rooms

A recent survey from STR, a hospitality analytics company, found that the percentage of hotels that offer religious books in rooms has fallen over the past 10 years. In 2006, 95 percent of hotels carried such books, and this year, it’s estimated that only 48 percent of hotels carried religious materials. An accurate count is difficult because most major hotel franchises allow individual hotel owners to make their own decisions about whether to stock the Bibles or Book of Mormon. There has been increased pressure from non-religious groups to stop carrying the religious material. Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes separation of church and state, asked 15 major hotel companies to keep Bibles out of hotel rooms. “We are trying to educate the hotel industry that a quarter [25%] of our population is not religious,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group.

  • In a democracy, should 25% of the population rule? In the U.S. (which actually is a representational republic) it seems like those who complain the loudest get their way. Lately, it’s the LGBT community.

‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Bill Passed in Ohio

Ohio lawmakers have passed a controversial “Heartbeat Bill” that would ban abortions in that state from the moment the heartbeat of a fetus can be detected — which usually occurs about six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill, which would prohibit such abortions even in cases of rape or incest, now depends on Republican Gov. John Kasich. He has 10 days to decide whether to veto the legislation. A veto would stop the bill unless three-fifths of the state House and Senate vote for an override. If Kasich signs the bill, or if he does nothing within 10 days, the measure would become law early next year and Ohio would have one of the toughest restrictions on abortions in the country. Should the bill become law, a court battle likely would ensue. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio already has said it would press a legal challenge.

Abortion Rate in NYC is 60 Percent of Birth Rate

New York City’s abortion rate is the highest abortion rate in the country, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report shows that in 2013, New York City reported 69,840 abortions and 116,777 registered births, which means that the city’s abortion rate is 60 percent of its birth rate. This Abortion Surveillance Report, while analyzing 2013 data, follows a report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Office, which said that in 2014, more black babies were aborted in New York City than were born in the city. “New York City also had 1752 late term abortions (21 weeks or later gestation) in 2013, more than the states of New Jersey and Georgia combined,” said Dr. James Studnicki, chair of health services research at the University of North Carolina

House Panel Finds Planned Parenthood Guilty

The House Select Panel on Infant Lives has released a list of nine criminal and regulatory referrals against abortion providers and fetal tissue procurement companies. According to LifeNews.com, the release of the list comes after an investigation into the alleged practice of selling aborted baby parts at a profit. The Select Panel started its investigation in October 2015 after undercover videos surfaced from the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood officials working to get the best price for aborted baby organs and tissue to be sold to an organ procurement business. David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress said, “The Select Panel findings confirm the criminal activity at Planned Parenthood that CMP’s videos documented and show that the wrongdoing goes even deeper than anyone first suspected,” he said. “The Panel has also criminally referred Planned Parenthood’s closest business partners in the sale of aborted baby parts to various state and local law enforcement. Law enforcement and elected representatives at all levels must now act quickly to bring Planned Parenthood to justice under the law and prevent any more taxpayer subsidies from flowing to Planned Parenthood’s barbaric criminal enterprise.”

Bill Gates: Humanity ‘Badly Needs One World Government’

Billionaire Bill Gates called for “a kind of global government” this week, arguing that the creation of a one world government would be needed to combat major issues such as “climate change.” Speaking with Germany’s “Süddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper, the Microsoft founder said that the United Nations doesnt have enough power and must be granted full governmental control “for the good of humanity.” Gates went on to stress his position further, stating that a global government was “badly needed” in order to combat an array of issues ailing the planet. The billionaire made headlines recently after introducing a plan to implement a cashless system in multiple third-world countries – already being rolled out in India – despite criticism that the program would undoubtedly give financial elites total control over monetary systems, reports Infowars.

  • The one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13 is slowly taking shape, backed by the financial elites who think they know how to run the world better. However, Scripture says it is Satan who is manipulating things from behind the curtain.

Pentagon Buried Study Exposing $125 Billion in Waste

Senior defense officials suppressed a study documenting $125 billion worth of administrative waste at the Pentagon out of fears that Congress would use its findings to cut the defense budget, the Washington Post reported late Monday. The report, which was issued in January 2015 by the advisory Defense Business Board (DBB), called for a series of reforms that would have saved the department $125 billion over the next five years. Among its other findings, the report showed that the Defense Department was paying just over 1 million contractors, civilian employees and uniformed personnel to fill back-office jobs. That number nearly matches the amount of active duty troops — 1.3 million, the lowest since 1940. The Post reported that some Pentagon leaders feared the study’s findings would undermine their claims that years of budget sequestration had left the military short of money. In response, they imposed security restrictions on information used in the study and even pulled a summary report from a Pentagon website. “They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money,” former DBB chairman Robert Stein told the Post. “We proposed a way to save a ton of money.”

Tech Giants Collaborate to Fight Terrorist Content

Four of the world’s biggest tech companies are collaborating to crack down on terrorist content on their platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google’s YouTube say they will set up a shared database to help them track and remove “violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos.” The database will contain the digital “fingerprints” of the images and videos, allowing the tech firms to identify potential terrorist content more efficiently, the companies said in a statement Monday. The internet giants have been battling the spread across the internet of content linked to terrorist organizations. Supporters of the Islamic militant group ISIS have proved particularly adept at using social media for propaganda and recruitment. The tech firms have the challenge of balancing freedom of expression with preventing illegal activity and respecting users’ privacy. They also face the potentially contentious task of determining what constitutes terrorist content.

Texas Elector Won’t Cast his Vote for Donald Trump

A Texas elector said Monday that he will not cast his vote for President-elect Donald Trump as part of the Electoral College process on December 19. Christopher Suprun, a paramedic from Texas who served as a firefighter during the Sept. 11 attacks, wrote in an editorial published in The New York Times that even though he is a Republican elector, he will not vote for Trump as required. Suprun ended the editorial by saying that the electors still have a chance to unify behind a Republican alternative such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Along with Suprun, 36 other electors planning to vote for Trump would have to abandon their vote for him — which is almost beyond the realm of possibility, notes CNNPolitics.

Trump Taps Ben Carson for HUD Secretary

Dr. Ben Carson will be nominated as the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Trump transition team announced Monday. “I am thrilled to nominate Dr. Ben Carson as our next Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development,” President-elect Donald Trump said in a statement. “Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.” During their primary fight, Trump had derided Carson as “super low energy” and delivered a number of sharp attacks on Twitter, questioning Carson’s temperament and qualifications for office. Carson endorsed Trump shortly after he dropped out of the contest, becoming only the second former Republican candidate to do so after Gov. Chris Christie. When Carson — a famed neurosurgeon — became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins at age 33, he became the youngest person to head a major division in the hospital’s history.

Trump’s Emerging Cabinet Looking More Conventional Than Expected

Just two weeks ago, President-elect Donald Trump appeared poised to assemble a Cabinet as unconventional as he is, drawing heavily from a band of quirky loyalists that included several from the fringes of the Republican Party. But as he moves rapidly toward assembling his roster of top advisers, Trump instead is pulling together a more orthodox GOP team than many expected, including a defense secretary nominee, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who has received solid marks from the party establishment, reports the Washington Post. The emerging Cabinet has gone a long way toward mollifying some of Trump’s Republican critics, and several of the picks — including the wife of the Senate majority leader as transportation secretary — are tailor-made to encourage cooperation between the administration and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. The incoming team is preparing not only to implement longtime Republican goals — such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting taxes — but also to push for Trump’s iconoclastic and controversial campaign promises on issues such as a border wall and trade.

Trump Gains Votes in Wisconsin Recount

Statewide recounts in key 2016 battlegrounds are proceeding in fits and starts — but doing little to change the math behind Donald Trump’s victory., reports Fox News. In Wisconsin, one of three states where Green Party candidate Jill Stein has sought a fresh tabulation, the president-elect has gained votes against Hillary Clinton. The push for a recount in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is awaiting a federal court’s OK, and a similar effort in Michigan has run into new judicial turbulence. But while Trump narrowly defeated Clinton in all three states, the numbers trickling in look unlikely to call into question the Nov. 8 results. By Wednesday morning, Trump had widened his victory margin over Clinton in Wisconsin by 146 votes, with 23 of the state’s 72 counties having finished their recounts.

Trump Sold All His Stocks to Avoid Conflict

President-elect Donald Trump says he sold all of his personal stock holdings because he was worried about a conflict of interest. Calling in to NBC’s “Today” show after he was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, Trump said he got out of the market in June “because I felt I was very much going to be winning.” He said he therefore “would have a tremendous … conflict of interest owning all of these different companies… I don’t think for me to be owning stocks when I’m making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively — I just felt it was a conflict,” he said.

Dakota Pipeline Protest Successful

After weeks of protesting in snow and frigid temperatures, protesters at the at the Oceti Sakowin encampment in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, have claimed a victory with the announcement Sunday that the Army Corp of Engineers has denied Dakota Access the right to extend its pipeline beneath a Missouri River reservoir. According to the Associated Press, hundreds of people cheered and chanted “mni wichoni,” which means “water is life” in Lakota Sioux, as a celebration broke out at the protest camp that has become home to thousands over the past weeks following the announcement. As NBCNews points out, however, the victory may prove to be a short-lived since President-elect Donald Trump has said he supports the project and could reverse the decision after he is in office. The Army Corp of Engineers announced it will look for an alternate route for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

Shootings of Police Officers Up, Shootings by Police Officers Down

Following more than two years of increasingly hostile anti-police rhetoric and nationwide allegations of police brutality, shooting deaths of on-duty police officers are already up 54 percent from last year’s total, when 39 officers died from non-accidental gunfire. A total of 60 officers have been killed by deliberate gunfire so far in 2016. A total of 12 police officers were shot to death in November, which tied July for the deadliest month for police officers in 2016 for shooting deaths. That month, five police officers were shot during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. The increasing number of police officers being shot to death in the line of duty comes as police shootings are on the decline. According to the Washington Post’s database, 20 fewer civilians have been shot to death so far this year than at the same point in 2015. The Post reports that as of 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, a total of 884 individuals had been shot to death by police officers in the United States this year.

Persecution Watch

Christians meeting in “house churches” in China are amongst thousands of Chinese people “considered expendable” by the Chinese government and being used in the “harvesting” of organs, according to China watcher Ethan Gutmann. Gutmann, who has written two books about China and published several reports, said as many as 100,000 organ transplants may be taking place annually in the country, despite the Chinese government’s claims it administers only 10,000. And the source for the “majority” of these, Gutmann said, are Falun Gong adherents, but also other “expendable” citizens such as Tibetans, Uighurs and Christians.

Economic News

In a series of tweets Sunday morning, President-elect Trump pledged to lower corporate taxes across the board. But he also said he would charge a hefty 35% tax for “any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, [or] builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and … sell[s] its product back into the U.S.” Trump argued that those companies deserve “retribution.” He said businesses that want to offshore jobs have been “forewarned.” Trump also announced Monday a $50 billion investment by Japanese company SoftBank that he and the company’s founder and CEO Masayoshi Son claim will create 50,000 jobs in the U.S.

The U.S. ranks low on the worldwide scale of minimum wage. Currently at $7.25 nationally (some states have voted to increase their minimums), other nations with a higher minimum wage included Australia ($14.98 equivalent U.S. dollars), France ($12.64), Belgium ($11.90), the United Kingdom ($10.47) and Canada ($9.40).

Sales of arms by American defense companies have declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, while European firms saw their sales jump. Despite the drop, U.S. companies are still dominating the global arms market, selling $209.7 billion worth of arms in 2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That’s 3% lower than in 2014, but still 56% of arms sales globally. Russian arms sales grew 6.2% in 2015, after skyrocketing over 48% in 2014 and 20% in 2013. Russia is investing heavily in upgrades to its military capabilities. President Vladimir Putin plans to spend more than 20 trillion rubles ($700 billion) bringing equipment up to date by 2025. It now accounts for 8.1% of sales globally.

European Union

Elections in Austria and Italy gave the European Union one victory and one defeat. European leaders first hailed pro-EU candidate Alexander Van der Bellen’s trouncing of nationalist Norbert Hofer in Austria’s Presidential election as a victory over nationalism. Their relief over the Austrian vote was short lived. The resignation of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in the early hours of Monday following his referendum defeat to anti-EU forces signaled what so many had feared, that his referendum on political reforms inside Italy would reverberate across all of Europe. Renzi’s referendum defeat hands Italy’s EU opponents a stronger mandate and possibly enough clout in Parliament or the polls to push their agenda. The message for Brussels is clear; if anti-EU sentiment can bring down the Prime Minister of Italy, then it might surely pluck Italy from the dwindling group of 27 nations.

Syria

Russia and China on Monday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Syrian city of Aleppo to allow desperately needed aid into the war-ravaged zone. The United States and Russia verbally dueled before the vote, which called for a seven-day truce. Venezuela also rejected the resolution. The vote came as the Syrian regime continues to blitz Aleppo’s east in support of its troops there, as part of an operation to seize control of the area held by rebels for more than four years. Dozens have been killed daily in the strikes. A government siege on eastern Aleppo is tighter than ever, and food stocks, clean water supplies and medicine are running dry. The United Nations has repeatedly called for safe passage for its humanitarian staff, but it said the Syrian government and its most powerful ally, Russia, have failed to guarantee that.

Three years after the CIA began secretly shipping weapons to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, battlefield losses and fears that a Donald Trump administration will abandon them have left tens of thousands of opposition fighters weighing their alternatives, reports the Washington Post. Just over a year ago, the opposition held significant territory inside Syria. Since then, in the absence of effective international pushback, Russian and Syrian airstrikes have relentlessly bombarded their positions and the civilians alongside them. On the ground, Syrian government troops — bolstered by Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militia forces from Iraq — have retaken much of that ground. In brutal attacks over the past three weeks, they have been driven out of much of the eastern Aleppo stronghold that they have occupied since 2012.

Germany

German chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a ban on full-face veils in the country, during a speech at her party’s conference on Tuesday. “The full veil is not appropriate here, it should be forbidden wherever that is legally possible. It does not belong to us,” she said at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) gathering. Her comments were met with sustained applause by the audience. It’s not the first time party leaders have proposed banning the Islamic dress, with Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also calling for the veil to barred from public places in August. “It does not fit into our society for us, for our communication, for our cohesion in the society…. This is why we demand you show your face,” he said at the time.

Japan

The US military this month will return to Japan’s government 9,852 acres of land on the island of Okinawa which it has held since World War II, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday. The land is part of a territory officially referred to as the Northern Training Area, in a large US military base complex on the Pacific island more than 960 miles southwest of Tokyo. The US had turned most of Okinawa over to Japan in 1972 after controlling it from the end of World War II in 1945. This is the largest return of US-occupied land since then. To facilitate the return, the Japanese government agreed to build six helicopter landing zones as well as some access roads to allow US troops to train in the area. The US military is expected to continue to administer the area, which was used for jungle warfare training, a US official said.

Sudan

Sudan’s ecosystems and natural resources are deteriorating dangerously. Temperatures are rising, water supplies are scarce, soil fertility is low and severe droughts are common. After years of desertification, its rich biodiversity is under threat and drought has hindered the fight against hunger. This burden is affecting not only the country’s food security and sustainable development, but also the homes of many Sudanese families. Dust storms — known locally as “Haboobs” have also increased in this region. Moving like a gigantic thick wall, it carries sand and dust — burying homes, increasing evaporation to a region that’s already struggling to preserve water supplies, as well as eroding valuable fertile soil. Experts say that without quick intervention, parts of the African country — already one of the most vulnerable in the world — could become uninhabitable.

Earthquakes

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia Wednesday morning, killing 97, seriously injuring at least 600 and causing multiple buildings to collapse. The quake that struck six miles north of Reuleut in the northern region of Aceh Province occurred at a depth of 5.1 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The death toll in Wednesday’s earthquake is likely to rise as rescuers pull more bodies from the rubble. The national disaster agency told ABCNews some 245 buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed, including 14 mosques, mostly in Pidie Jaya.

Weather

Dangerous wind chill factors will continue to plague residents in the Northern Plains Wednesday after a blizzard shut down a nearly 300-mile stretch of Interstate 90 Tuesday in North Dakota.  Both lanes of I-94 were closed from Dickinson to Fargo; northbound and southbound Interstate 29 was also closed between Fargo and the Canadian border due to zero visibility and blowing and drifting snow. In addition, an approximately 60-mile stretch of Highway 2 from Lakota to the Grand Folks Airport was shut down due to strong winds and zero visibility. Strong winds will persist Wednesday in parts of the Dakotas and northwest Minnesota.

At least two people were dead Monday after torrential rain in parts of Spain led to severe flash flooding over the weekend. “Unprecedented” levels of rain have left parts of the Costa del Sol in a “red alert” disaster zone, the highest possible alert. Local police told the Olive Press the rainfall is the worst since 1989.

Heavy flooding in Thailand has killed 14 people and has inundated southern holiday islands ahead of the December-January high season for tourism. Severe storms have battered the popular tourist destinations since the beginning of the month. The flooding has affected 582,000 residents in 11 southern provinces. 676 roads and 33 local bridges were also damaged by the floods. More than 12 inches of rain was measured in the southeastern part of Nakhon Si Thammarat Province at Hua Sai at the end of last week.

Signs of the Times (12/3/16)

December 3, 2016

French Government Votes to Ban Pro-Life Websites

The socialist government of France passed a bill after one day’s debate that criminalizes websites that might dissuade women from abortion, reports LifeSiteNews.com. The “digital interference” bill is aimed at cracking down on French websites that would, in the words of the bill, “deliberately mislead, intimidate and/or exert psychological or moral pressure to discourage recourse to abortion.” Convicted website owners could face two years in prison and fines up to 30,000 euros ($31,799 USD). The majority left voted in a block for the bill while the minority right formed a block against it. Bruno Retailleau, who heads the Republicans party group in the Senate, told French radio Thursday that the bill “is totally against freedom of expression.” Christian Democratic Party member Jean-Frederic Poisson also blasted the bill  on Twitter for what he saw as the government’s double standard in banning sites that propose “alternatives” to abortion but not “jihadist websites.”

Criminal Charges Filed Against Priest for Praying Outside Planned Parenthood

Father James Linton was arrested last month outside the San Bernardino Planned Parenthood for offering to pray with women entering the abortion facility. Police held him for six hours and later charged him with criminal trespass. If convicted, Father Linton could be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine, reports LifeNews.com. When he was arrested, Father Linton, an Anglican pastor, was standing on a public easement offering incoming mothers and fathers alternatives to abortion and praying for them to change their minds. “The arrest of Father Linton is an outrageous violation of his First Amendment rights,” stated Allison Aranda, Senior Staff Counsel for the Life Legal Defense Foundation. Father Linton was doing nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to speak freely on the public sidewalk and rights of way in their community. They are not violating the law. “In fact, the code section under which Father Linton was charged specifically exempts from criminal liability those who are engaging in activities protected by the California and United States Constitutions,” Ms. Aranda noted.

Immigration Violations Constitute the Majority of Federal Cases

For the first time, immigration violations now make up more than half of all federal prosecutions, easily outpacing drugs, fraud, organized crime, weapons charges and other crimes. In the last fiscal year, 52 percent of all federal prosecutions – 69,636 cases – involved an immigration violation, compared to 63,405 prosecutions for all other federal crimes, according to a new study by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse, which sued the Justice Department to obtain the information. The two most common charges pursued by prosecutors relate to illegal entry or re-entry to the U.S. The penalty for a conviction on either charge can range from a few months to typically two years in federal prison for a person who re-enters the U.S. after being deported. However, a more serious outcome from a conviction isn’t jail, but a 10-year prohibition from entering the U.S. “Imagine the other crimes that are not being prosecuted because immigration is such a priority,” study co-author Susan Long told Fox News.

2/3 Of Aliens Admitted Under Obama’s ‘Minor’ Program Are Adults

Recent government data shows that more than two-thirds of the aliens brought into the United States under the Obama’s Central American Minors (CAM) program weren’t actually minors at all, reports MRCTV.com. To date, more than 10,600 Central Americans from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have applied for refugee status or humanitarian parole under the CAM program, the State Department said Wednesday. The controversial initiative was launched in December 2014 as part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigrant, and was touted as a way to bring illegal alien children from certain Central American countries into the United States to be reunited with their families, who are often here illegally themselves. The move was allegedly designed to keep underage children from relying on dangerous human smugglers to bring them across the U.S. –Mexico border illegally. Unfortunately, the program struggled to convince potential applicants that its long, extensive application process was more appealing than simply paying a smuggler to transport them across the border. To help bolster the floundering program, the administration expanded CAM in August to include adult relatives of “qualifying” children, effectively nullifying the original point of the program.

Obama Strikes ‘Classified’ Deal to Accept 2,500 Refugees Australia Rejected

Nearly 2,500 refugees from terrorism hotspots around the world are bound for the U.S. after being rejected by Australia, but not even top lawmakers can get answers about who they are, reports Fox News. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. State Department has classified details on refugees to be resettled in America via a secret deal made with Australia. The bi-lateral agreement, which Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a “one-off,” involves 2,465 people currently being held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru who will now be transferred onto U.S. soil. “This is a backroom deal, wheeling and dealing with another country’s refugee problem,” Center for Immigration Studies fellow Don Barnett told FoxNews.com. “I don’t believe for a moment it’s a one-time deal. That’s for public consumption.”

Philippines President Duterte says Trump Wished his Drug Crackdown ‘Success’

President Rodrigo Duterte said Saturday Donald Trump wished his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs would succeed during a telephone call, and he assured the U.S. president-elect the Philippines would maintain its ties with America — a departure from Duterte’s hostility toward the Obama administration. Duterte called to congratulate Trump late Friday in their first talk that was described by an aide of the Philippine president as “very engaging, animated conversation” in which both leaders invited each other to visit his country. In a video released by Duterte’s close aide, Bong Go, the Philippine leader is seen smiling while talking to Trump and saying: “We will maintain … and enhance the bilateral ties between our two countries.” The other parts of the conversation were not aired in the video but in a statement released by his aides, Duterte said “he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.” Duterte’s crackdown has encouraged violence against drug dealers which much of the international community has condemned.

China Lodges Complaint over Trump-Taiwan Call

China’s foreign ministry said Saturday it has lodged a complaint with the United States over a controversial phone call between President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President that has overturned decades of diplomatic protocol. China views Taiwan as a renegade province and, since 1979, the US has acknowledged Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China, with US-China relations governed by a set of protocols known as the ‘one China’ policy. This means there are no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan — so Trump’s decision to take Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s call could risk a major upset. Trump’s transition team said Friday that the President-elect had chatted with Tsai, who passed along her congratulations. The chat marks the first publicly reported call between a US President or President-elect and the leader of Taiwan since Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. Trump on Friday night emphasized that Taipei initiated the call. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” tweeted the President-elect.

  • Trump promised to shake things up and he is doing so. Whether it turns out well remains to be seen.

Wisconsin Recount Underway, Much Ado About Nothing

The first results in Thursday evening from the recount in Wisconsin were from Menominee County. Trump lost two votes compared to the initial count and Democrat Hillary Clinton lost one, according to The Journal Times. Stein gained 17 votes and Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up 12 — a discrepancy the state Elections Commission reported was due to “human error” in which their vote totals from certain wards were omitted from the initial tally. They have until December 13th to finish the recount of nearly 3 million votes, so they’re likely to find more discrepancies like this. But Trump won the state by 22,000 votes, so a few missed votes here and there aren’t likely to change anything.

Trump Vows to Cut All Business Ties

Donald Trump promised Wednesday to ‘remove’ himself from his businesses and said he will announce details in two weeks about how he’ll avoid conflicts of interest when he is president. Trump used his favorite method of communicating with the public — Twitter — to announce plans for a “major news conference” on Dec. 15 to discuss plans to leave the Trump Organization. His adult children, whom he has said he will put in charge of the company, will be a part of the news conference. Trump owns or has a position in more than 500 companies, according to a CNN analysis. That includes about 150 that have done business in at least 25 foreign countries, including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There have been growing questions about the potential conflicts of interest posed by Trump’s continued business interests and his role as president.

Trump’s Health Secretary Would Replace Obamacare

Tax credits to buy insurance on the individual market. Incentives to sock money away in Health Savings Accounts. Limits on employer-sponsored plans. High-risk pools to cover the sick. These are some of the ways Tom Price, Donald Trump’s choice as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, would replace Obamacare. An orthopedic surgeon who chairs the House Budget Committee, Price has long been an opponent of Obamacare. The Georgia Republican says the health reform law has hiked premiums and limited access to doctors.

Trump Treasury Secretary Promises Huge Tax Overhaul

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection for Treasury secretary says tax reform will be his top priority and promises the largest tax overhaul since the Reagan administration. Steven Mnuchin, a former Wall Street insider who ran an eclectic series of businesses before becoming a Hollywood producer, confirmed that he was Trump’s pick for the Treasury job, which has vast responsibility for regulating the financial industry and oversees the IRS. Mnuchin told CNBC he expects interest rates to stay relatively low for the next two years. He also said Janet Yellen has done a “good job” as Federal Reserve chair.

‘King of Debt’ Hires ‘King of Bankruptcy’ as Commerce Secretary

The self-proclaimed King of Debt has chosen someone that Wall Street has dubbed the King of Bankruptcy to be his Commerce Secretary. Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who is known for buying up distressed and failing companies, is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the job, reports CNN Money. That news, combined with the nomination of former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood executive Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, shows that Trump wants businessmen — and not career politicians — in key financial posts.

Trump Nominate Retired Marine Gen. Mattis as Secretary of Defense

President-elect Donald Trump kicked off his post-election “Thank You” tour Thursday by announcing that he would nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense. At a rally in Cincinnati, Trump described Mattis as “one of our great, great generals” and added, “They say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have,” Trump told the crowd. Mattis’ record in combat and his credentials as a senior commander are widely admired. The 66-year-old Mattis, known by his nickname, “Mad Dog,” retired from the military in 2013 after serving as the commander of the U.S. Central Command. General Mattis’ tour of duty was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran. His appointment to run the Pentagon would require a waiver from Congress, since federal law requires military personnel to be retired for seven years before taking a civilian position in the in the Department of Defense.

Persecution Update

November was a tragically painful month for Christians living in Nigeria. The month was filled with anti-Christian violence, but not necessarily from the fearsome terrorists at Boko Haram, reports Liberty Alliance. Two separate November attacks saw about 50 Christian men, women (including pregnant women), and children slaughtered not by organized Muslim terrorists but by Muslim herdsmen. Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked two Christian villages in what Christian leaders call a campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing. The herdsmen also burned down both Protestant and Catholic churches in the region.

Economic News – Domestic

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, and the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.6% from 4.9% in October, defying forecasts of an economic downturn if Trump got elected. November was the 74th consecutive month America added jobs. However, the total size of the labor force — which includes both employed and unemployed people — decreased. “Our best answer here is that more people stopped looking for work,” says Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager at Federated Investors. “The headline numbers here are okay but the underlying numbers are less rosy.”

Air conditioning company Carrier said Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with President-elect Donald Trump that would keep 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis. Carrier had announced in February that it would lay off workers and move those jobs to Mexico. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Indiana’s outgoing governor, traveled to the state Thursday to unveil the agreement alongside company officials. “Companies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences,” Trump said Thursday at the Indiana plant where the company makes furnaces. Trump said that those consequences would include paying higher tariffs on imports.

More manufacturing jobs are coming soon to America, courtesy of China. In October, Chinese garment manufacturer Tianyuan Garments Co. sealed a deal to acquire a defunct 100,000-square foot metal fabrications plant in Little Rock, Arkansas. The $20 million investment would make Tianyuan — which produces clothes for brands like Adidas, Reebok and Armani — the first Chinese manufacturer to make clothing in the U.S. The Chinese firm expects to hire 400 American workers to run the refurbished factory, slated to open in late 2017. Tianyuan Garment is the second Chinese company in a span of six months to announce it was expanding production to the U.S. In April, Chinese paper products maker Sun Paper Industry said it was opening its first North America factory in South Arkansas, investing more than $1 billion to construct a new bio-products mill that would create 250 local jobs.

Economic News – International

After a painful two-year price war against U.S. shale, the Saudi Arabia-led cartel finally blinked this week by agreeing to stop flooding the world with excess supply. OPEC’s first production cut since 2008 reflects a recognition that hopes of drowning U.S. producers with cheap oil has failed to kill the American oil boom. In fact, the price collapse crushed the budgets of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers, creating financial stress that was unthinkable just years ago. Moreover, U.S. frackers have emerged from the oil crash stronger and leaner than before. Now they’re positioned to ramp up output at prices that were once too low to survive on. As a result, the price of crude oil spiked 14% in just the past three days, ending Friday at a 17-month high of $51.68 a barrel.

India’s gross domestic product grew by 7.3% in the quarter ended September, a slight increase from the previous quarter and much stronger than China’s 6.7%. That means India is still the fastest growing major economy in the world. The boom could come to an abrupt halt, however, because a bombshell announcement on Nov. 8 scrapping the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes has drained billions of dollars’ worth of cash from the economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise move was aimed at tackling corruption and tax evasion. But it rendered about 86% of Indian banknotes effectively worthless overnight. Millions continue to line up at banks and ATMs, which are rapidly running out of cash as the government scrambles to print and circulate new 500 rupee and 2,000 rupee notes.

Known for the punishing hours demanded by its ‘salaryman’ culture, Japan has struggled to tackle the impact of overwork on employees’ health. A recent government study found that one in five workers are at risk of working themselves to death. It’s such a big problem that Japan even has its own word for it: karoshi (death by overwork). Calls for tougher measures to deal with the issue intensified recently following the death of a 24-year-old employee at Dentsu, a major advertising agency. Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from a company dormitory in late December 2015. Last month, Tokyo officials recognized her suicide as the result of karoshi, which is defined as employees working so hard that they die from stress-related disease — or become so depressed that they kill themselves.

Children as young as eight are working at plantations that supply palm oil to some of the world’s biggest brands, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Amnesty’s investigation into plantations in Indonesia also found workers performing dangerous tasks without adequate protection. Others were paid less than the legal minimum wage or exposed to dangerous chemicals. Amnesty said some plantation workers were earning as little as $2.50 a day. The group also uncovered examples of people working unlawfully long hours without a pension, health insurance or job security.

Syria

Rebel groups in Syria’s war-ravaged Aleppo put up a united front on Thursday in a final effort to prevent regime forces from seizing the whole city. Rebels in eastern Aleppo have held ground in the Sheikh Saeed neighborhood as they continue to clash with regime troops, in an attempt to protect the southern parts of the enclave south after Syrian forces made sweeping territorial gains in the north. Syrian troops backed by militia gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad entered eastern Aleppo on Saturday and have seized the entire northeast. They are now in control of more than 20% of eastern Aleppo. At least 40 people were killed in shelling on Thursday as they were trying to flee rebel-held areas, the Aleppo Media Center said. The death toll has reached more than 600 since Saturday, according to various activist groups.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just announced that the only reason Turkish military forces have entered northern Syria is to “end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad”.  By publicly proclaiming that Turkey intends to use military force to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan has essentially declared war on the Syrian government.  This puts a member of NATO in direct military conflict with Russia, since Russia is working very hard to prop up the Assad regime. If all-out war broke out between Turkey and Russia, could that be the spark that causes wide-scale war to erupt in the Middle East? If so, would NATO and the U.S. be drawn into the conflict, igniting World War III?

  • Russia (Rosh, NKJV) has already aligned itself with Iran (Persia) as Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies, perhaps setting the stage for the Middle East conflagration that would usher in the anti-Christ who engineers the “covenant with many” as prophesied in Daniel 9:27

Iran

The Senate moved decisively Thursday to renew a decades-old sanctions law that lawmakers said gives the United States the clout to punish Iran should it fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal. Senators passed the bill unanimously, 99-0, two weeks after the House also approved the legislation by an overwhelming margin of 419-1. The bill to grant a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act will be sent to President Barack Obama, who planned to sign it. The White House deemed the bill unnecessary but said it didn’t violate the international accord meant to slow Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms. Seeking to address Iran’s concerns, White House officials emphasized that the administration can and will waive all the nuclear-related sanctions included in the renewal.

Indonesia

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians took to the streets Friday to protest Jakarta’s embattled Christian governor. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, has faced demonstrations calling for his ouster amid allegations of blaspheming the Quran. An ethnic Chinese Christian, Ahok is currently under investigation by Indonesian police over a speech he gave in which hardline Islamists claim he insulted the Quran. Ahok quoted a verse from the Muslim holy book and said that people had been “lied to” by those saying they would go to hell for voting for him. Police estimate around 200,000 people converged on Jakarta’s main square Friday for noon prayers. Islamist groups, NGOs, students and ordinary citizens came from Jakarta and other cities and towns outside the capital. Supporters of Ahok gathered Friday outside his headquarters to pray for him, according to a statement from the campaign team.

Wildfires

Wildfires in the Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have killed at least 12 people and scorched more than 15,000 acres. Several people remain missing. On Wednesday, local authorities asked residents to conserve water as much as possible as firefighting activities and the loss of water from burned structures has placed a significant burden on water resources in Gatlinburg. On Wednesday, local authorities asked residents to conserve water as much as possible as firefighting activities and the loss of water from burned structures has placed a significant burden on water resources in Gatlinburg.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes from Louisiana to the Carolinas over a two-day period wrapping up November 2016. So far, 23 tornadoes have been confirmed. This is the most number of tornadoes in any U.S. outbreak since August 24, when two dozen tornadoes were confirmed in Indiana and Ohio. Five people were killed as the storms ripped through the South early Wednesday. Three people were killed in Alabama, all in a mobile home. Another person in the home was critically injured. In addition to the reported fatalities, four children were critically injured after a 24-hour daycare center was flattened. Two others were killed in Tennessee.

Fall 2016 was the warmest on record for dozens of U.S. cities from southern New England to the Great Lakes, Southeast, central and southern Plains and Desert Southwest. At least 73 locations tied or broke their previous warmest September through November period in 2016. Among the cities setting records, Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and even Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, crushed their previous fall records from 1931 – a Dust Bowl year. Fall 2016 was “runner-up” warm in the fall record books of another 87 cities, from Caribou, Maine, to Minot, North Dakota, to Salem, Oregon, to Houston. Salt Lake City set a record warm fall for the second year in a row. Despite colder weather in November, America’s northernmost town, Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), about 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, also had their record warmest fall. One of America’s southernmost cities, Brownsville, Texas, also easily soared past their previous record warmest fall from 2004.

  • The Bible prophesies scorching heat, large hail and floods for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)