Signs of the Times (12/27/16)

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.

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