Signs of the Times (1/3/17)

Troubling Trends for Christian Persecution

According to Mission Network News, the last few years have presented troubling trends for Christian persecution worldwide. The year 2016 was the third year in a row in which persecution continued to rise significantly. The International Business Times reported that Nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in the past year, which is the equivalent of one Christian being martyred every six minutes. In addition to the astounding number of Christians killed for their faith, millions of others were prevented from freely practicing their religion. Open Doors revealed that North Korea will again top their World Watch List in 2017, the country’s 15th year as the worst country for Christian persecution.

Uproar Over Sex Change Book for Young Children

A controversial new book on gender is set to be introduced as a resource in some British primary schools later this month, and it’s already causing an uproar. It’s called “Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?” Written by CJ Atkinson, a self-described “trans advocate,” the book aims to teach children as young as seven about gender identity and is told from the point of view of a child unhappy with their gender. The book challenges children to think about—and even challenge—their biology. The book’s subject, a 12-year-old “transitioning” from female to male, uses puberty blocking drugs to undergo a sex change. Jessica Kingsley Publishers says that the book is the first to “explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above.” The book is set to be distributed by the government-funded organization, Educate and Celebrate, for use in schools.

  • In our fallen world, God’s initial design for humanity continues to be corrupted by genetic abnormalities that some wish to set as the norm.

Bible Museum to Open in Washington, D.C.

The Bible, the world’s most popular and famous book, is getting its own museum in Washington, D.C. The Museum of the Bible is set to open later this year as envisioned by Steve Green, the billionaire evangelical president of Hobby Lobby. The eight-story, 430,000-square-foot, high-tech museum is expected to cost about $1 billion to build and include over 40,000 biblical texts and artifacts. The museum’s exhibits range from fragments of the Gutenberg Bible to first editions of the King James Bible. Visitors will see the world’s oldest Jewish prayer book and its largest collection of Torah scrolls. The Museum will also house the Green Collection, which includes the second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scrolls in the world, collected by Steve Green.

Legalized Pot Affecting Newborns

After Colorado legalized marijuana, St. Mary-Corwin hospital in Pueblo reports that 1 in 10 babies have tested positive for the psychoactive constituent of cannabis, known as THC. And nearly a third of babies tested from January 2015 to September 2016 had THC in their systems. Steve Simerville, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary-Corwin medical Center told WebmD that, “We’ve known for years, since the 70s, that babies exposed to marijuana have diminished school performance, are more likely to drop out, and more likely to experiment later in life.” A study published in a Scandinavian medical journal says heavy marijuana usage in teens is associated with lower IQ scores. But the impact on newborns remains unknown, but worrisome, reports Newsmax.

220 Illegal Alien Kids Released Per Day into U.S.

During the month of November alone, the Obama administration sent enough border-crossing illegal alien children to live in American communities to fill up 12 Washington, D.C. middle schools, reports mrctv.org. Over the entire 30-day period, the Obama administration processed and turned loose 6,623 illegal alien kids who’d recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully. The administration released about 600 more kids in November than they did during the month of October, when 6,051 children were sent to live with sponsors in the U.S. pending their day in immigration court. FY2016 data reveals the vast majority of these children are teens claiming to be between 15 and 17 years of age. Data from the federal immigration court system shows that more than a third of these children won’t show up for their court date, including about 90 percent of those children who are ordered removed from the country. Additionally, recently released information from the Department of Health and Human Services shows the administration only conducts home studies for about six percent of the illegal alien children released, failing to follow up on the vast majority who are left to disappear into communities across the country, possibly into gangs.

How Terrorists Get into U.S.

Newsmax reports that the most common way terrorists get into the U.S. is actually legal via the Green Card, which serves as proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and take employment in the United States. Of the 154 foreign-born terrorists who entered America to commit terrorist, 54 were Green Card residents. Among the rest, 34 had tourist visas, 20 were refugees, 19 had student visas, 10 were illegal immigrants, 4 were asylum seekers, 3 were under the Visa Waiver Program and one had received a Fiancé Waiver. The status of nine others couldn’t be determined.

Even Democrats Blast Kerry’s Two-State Solution Speech

Democratic lawmakers criticized Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech Wednesday deploring Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria and defending the US abstention from last week’s anti-Israel UN resolution. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) said his former Senate colleague “seems to have forgotten the history of settlements in Gaza,” referring to Israel’s withdrawal from the area in 2005 and evacuation of close to 9,000 Jewish residents of thriving agricultural communities. The result was a Hamas takeopver of the Strip, continuous rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and two full-scale wars. He also warned that Kerry’s speech may have “emboldened extremists on both sides.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) said Kerry reaffirmed America’s commitment to Israel, but she opposed the Obama administration’s decision to abstain at the resolution, thus enabling the UN Security Council to condemn Israel. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D – MD) also criticized Kerry’s address and said the UNSC resolution “will not bring peace closer.” Kerry’s speech “inevitably disadvantaged Israel in any negotiation,” he said.

Trump Rebukes House GOP for Gutting Ethics Panel

Donald Trump called out House Republicans Tuesday for proposing a measure that would gut an independent ethics panel, although the President-elect suggested the ethics panel was “unfair.” “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS,” Trump said over two consecutive tweets. House Republicans later reversed course and withdrew a plan to eliminate the ethics office, after intense criticism from Donald Trump and others. On Monday night, House Republicans voted to gut Congress’ independent watchdog by 119-74 in opposition to GOP leadership. It would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those very lawmakers, a move that outraged Democrats, GOP leadership and Trump.

WikiLeaks Assange Says Russians Not the Source of DNC Hacking

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in an exclusive interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, said the Russian government was not the source of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign that his organization released during the 2016 presidential race. Despite the Obama administration’s claims that Russia was behind cyber-intrusions meant to interfere with the U.S. election – and punitive measures taken against Moscow last week – Assange said nobody associated with the Russian government gave his group the files. “We can say, we have said, repeatedly that over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party,” Assange told Fox News. In addition, the Washing Post reports that federal officials investigating suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, now say the incident is not linked to the Russian government, as initially reported.

Leaked Audio: Kerry/Obama Wanted ISIS to Grow

As President Obama reflects on his legacy, a recording of Secretary of State John Kerry conversing with leaders of Syrian opposition groups is casting more light on his approach to ISIS, indicating his administration believed that allowing the Islamic State to grow would serve the White House’s objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad. The recording was leaked to the New York Times and reported Sept. 30, but the Conservative Tree House blog this week featured portions of Kerry’s statements that were virtually ignored at the time. Regime change was Obama’s only objective in Syria, Kerry indicates, and the administration not only hoped ISIS would carry out the task, it gave arms to the jihadist army and its allies, reports WorldNetDaily.com. Kerry also admits the U.S. didn’t calculate that Assad would turn to Russia for help.

Obama Leaves U.S. with No Carrier at Sea

For the first time since World War II, there is no U.S. aircraft carrier at sea to respond to threats, according to Fox News. In a nearly unprecedented move, there will likely be a nearly one-month gap between the docking of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which docked last Friday, and the deployment of the USS George H.W. Bush, the ship meant to replace it. According to Defense News, the Bush is not scheduled to leave the port of Norfolk until at least the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump, and it could possibly leave later. The Bush, Fox News reported, has been delayed in the shipyards for over six months. A carrier at port could be “surged” in order to meet any threat that emerges, the Navy said. However, at a time of geopolitical instability, it is notable that President Obama has taken our most important defense option out of service.

States Already Moving to Reform Healthcare

While Washington has been gridlocked over healthcare, the nation’s states haven’t been idle. In 2016, legislatures in 46 states passed more than 200 laws to fix problems in their healthcare systems, Newsmax reports. The pace of such changes is expected to accelerate when President-elect Trump takes office. Several states are considering free market reforms that make it easier for consumers and providers to adjust to supply and demand as well as other market factors. The goal is to inform consumers why services are so expensive and to facilitate cost comparisons among healthcare providers such as hospitals, imaging centers or clinics.

Trump Threatens Chicago Over Murder Rate

President-elect Donald Trump said Monday that if Mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t turn the tide on Chicago’s soaring murder rate, Washington may need to step in. Trump, who frequently cited Chicago’s violence during the presidential campaign, tweeted about The Windy City a day after the Chicago Police Department released year-end crime stats showing homicide numbers that dwarfed those of New York and Los Angeles combined. “Chicago murder rate is record setting – 4,331 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016. If Mayor can’t do it he must ask for Federal help!” Trump tweeted. Most of the Chicago statistics were grim, showing the nation’s third-largest city recorded 1,100 more shooting incidents than in 2015 and had homicides spike by 278 – the largest increase in 60 years.

Economic News

President-elect Donald Trump sent a threat Tuesday to General Motors: Make the Chevrolet Cruze in the United States or face a heavy tax. “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border,” Trump tweeted. “Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!” “GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S.,” the company said. In its statement, GM stressed that it makes the sedan model of the Cruze at its plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM said it employs about 100,000 people in the U.S. and 15,000 in Mexico.

Ford is canceling plans to build a new plant in Mexico. It will invest $700 million in Michigan instead, creating 700 new U.S. jobs. Ford CEO Mark Fields said the investment is a “vote of confidence” in the pro-business environment being created by Donald Trump. However, he stressed Ford did not do any sort of special deal with the president-elect. The $700 million investment will go to the Flat Rock, Michigan plant to produce more electric and self-driving cars. Ford believes electric vehicles will outsell gas-powered vehicles within the next 15 years.

The Labor Department reported that some 600,000 out-of-work Americans have been out of work for two or more years. Overall, almost 1 out of every 10 workers has been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, Employment experts say that these people have exhausted their unemployment benefits and are often deeply in debt. They also find that their job skills have deteriorated and many employers are reluctant to accept them back into the workforce.

Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, amounting to 560 euros ($587), in a unique social experiment which is hoped to cut government red tape, reduce poverty and boost employment. The two-year trial kicked off January 1st, with the 2,000 randomly picked citizens who receive unemployment benefits. Those chosen will receive $587 every month, with no reporting requirements on how they spend it. The amount will be deducted from any benefits they already receive.

Bitcoin kicked off 2017 with a bang. The value of the digital currency topped $1,000 on Monday, its best level in at least three years. Bitcoin has spiked in recent months following a series of unexpected global events kicked off by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the sudden ban of large rupee notes in India. The rise of populism globally means that “walls are going up rather than coming down,” and people are seeing higher risks of trade wars and other fallout from the ratcheting up of tensions. All this has led Bitcoin’s value to more than double in the past year to $1,023, from around $430. Just since Trump’s election, it has spiked 40%.

Islamic State

The Islamic State starts the new year with a drastically depleted bank account, counterterrorism officials say, following months of intensified efforts to deprive the Islamists of oil profits and other revenue used to finance military operations and terrorist attacks abroad. Coalition aircraft in the past 15 months have destroyed more than 1,200 tanker trucks — including 168 vehicles struck in a single air raid in Syria in early December — while also using new weapons and tactics to inflict lasting damage on the terrorists’ remaining oil fields. The military strikes are being paired with new measures intended to shut down financial networks used by the Islamic State to procure supplies and pay its fighters, the officials say. Two weeks ago, the U.S. and Iraqi governments announced the first coordinated effort to punish Iraqi and Syrian financial services companies used by the terrorists to conduct business.

Iraq

A suicide attack on a busy commercial street in Baghdad has left at least 28 people dead and scores wounded. Two suicide bombers carried out the attack in the center of the city Saturday, the Baghdad Operations Command. At least 53 were wounded in the twin explosions in al Sinag street, a historic thoroughfare in central Baghdad. So far, no claims of responsibility have been made for the attack.

Turkey

A New Year’s bash in an upscale club in Istanbul’s Besiktas municipality turned into yet another bloodbath, with at least 39 revelers killed and almost 70 people hospitalized after an unknown attacker entered the club and started shooting. The victims were from 14 different countries. Some people jumped into the Bosporus strait, he said, a testament to the panic that engulfed the nightspot. Temperatures were near freezing in Istanbul and yet people were willing to leap into the frigid waters to escape. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the attacker is a lone assailant and that the authorities “are trying hard” to identify and apprehend the person in order to investigate any ties to terror groups. The owner of the Istanbul nightclub targeted early Sunday by the Santa Claus-clad killer reportedly said his establishment had increased security in the past week after warnings from “American intelligence.” On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Eight people have been detained by police and are being questioned in connection with the attack.

Nigeria

Two young female Boko Haram suicide bombers wearing bomb vests planned a suicide bomb attack in a crowd in Maiduguri, Nigeria. One vest detonated but there are no report as to casualties yet. The other bomber’s vest failed to detonate. She was chased down by a mob of her would-be victims and was beaten to death. The suicide bombers, thought to be a member of Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, attacked a cattle market.

Spain/Morocco

More than 50 Moroccan and Spanish border guards were injured repelling around 1,100 African migrants who attempted to storm a border fence and enter Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta, Spanish authorities said Sunday. About 50 Moroccan and five Spanish border guards were injured early on Sunday when the large group of migrants tried to enter Spain. A spokesman said two migrants managed to reach Spanish soil. Both were injured in scaling the six-meter (20-foot) -high border fence and were taken to a hospital by Spanish police. A further 100 migrants climbed the fence, but Spanish agents sent them directly back to Morocco.

Environment

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that nearly 10,000 metric tons of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year. The roughly 22 million pounds of plastic a year entering the lakes comes from both the U.S. and Canada. Lake Michigan is the most polluted in terms of plastic concentration, with 5,000 metric tons per year. Second place goes to Lake Erie with 2,500 metric tons and Lake Ontario with 1,400. However, what sets the plastic pollution in the Great Lakes apart from the infamous garbage patches that collect in the ocean is that plastic debris in the Great Lakes ultimately makes its way to shore where it is washed up on beaches.  The contamination of Lake Michigan – which is the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. –  could also be detrimental to local fishing economies.

Four children died after someone at their home sprayed water on a previously applied pesticide, causing a reaction that produced toxic phosphine gas, officials in Amarillo, Texas, said. At least five other people were hospitalized in Monday’s incident. A family member had used water in an attempt to wash away the pesticide — aluminum phosphide — which had been applied under the home. There were 10 people inside the mobile home at the time. First responders also went to the hospital for treatment for possible exposure to the gas. Aluminum phosphide is listed in the Toxicity Category I by the Environmental Protection Agency — the highest and most toxic category. The substance is used to kill insects and burrowing rodents, especially in grain stores. When mixed with water it produces toxic phosphine gas.

Earthquakes

Dozens of earthquakes helped bring in the New Year around Brawley, California, but they are more of a curiosity than a concern, experts say. Earthquake “swarms” aren’t unexpected around Brawley — there also was a swarm in 2012 — because the fault-riddled region called the Brawley Seismic Zone lies between the large San Andreas Fault and the Imperial Fault. More than 100 earthquakes hit the region this past weekend, but most were too weak, under 2.5 magnitude, to be noticed by people

Wildfires

There were fewer wildfires and less acreage burned in 2016 than in 2015 and also less the 10-year average. In 2016, 62,864 wildfires burned 5.4 million acres, way down from the 9.9 million acres in 2015 and the 10-year average of 7.0 million acres.

Weather

Five people were killed Monday night as a powerful storm system swept across the Southern states, leaving a trail of destruction. The line of severe thunderstorms spawned several possible tornadoes. Four people were killed when a tree fell on a home as a tornado swept through a rural Alabama community on Monday evening. Seven people were inside the home when the storm hit in the unincorporated community of Rehobeth.

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