Signs of the Times (10/21/17)

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Senate Approves Budget as Basis for Tax Reform

The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax reform. The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax cuts. “Tonight, we completed the first step toward replacing our broken tax code . . . We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to replace a failing tax code that holds Americans back with one that actually works for them,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said following the 51-49 vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who believes the budget ought to reduce the deficit, was the only Republican to vote against it. Critics say the ‘reform’ includes tax cuts that will increase the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The Senate approved an amendment Thursday night paved the way for the House to adopt its version of the budget. This could eliminate the need for a conference committee, which might expedite consideration of tax reform by several weeks.

Abortion Rate Drops 25% Over Last 6 Years

From 2008 to 2014, the abortion rate dropped a full 25 percent, according to a new report in the American Journal of Public Health. Looking at data from the federal government and the Guttmacher Institute, the researchers found that abortions dropped from 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15 to 44) in 2008 to 14.6 per 1,000 in 2014. Researchers said the biggest decline was in the 15 to 19 age group, at 46 percent. The abortion rate also dropped for the first time in 20 years for the poorest women in America – the demographic with the highest abortion rate. Co-authors Rachel K. Jones and Jenna Jerman, who work for the research division of Guttmacher, suggested that the main factor driving the decline in abortions was improvements in contraceptive use. However, researchers with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute also admitted earlier this year that state pro-life laws and other pro-life efforts also are making a difference.

Pro-Abortion Feminists Attack Cathedrals in Argentina

A mob of thousands of feminists attacked the cathedral church of the northern Argentinean city of Resistencia on Saturday and Sunday night, attempting to set it on fire and pelting the building with paint, reddened tampons, and rocks, reports LifeSiteNews. The women, dubbed “ultra-feminists” and “femi-nazis” by the Argentinean press, burned the door of the cathedral with a pile of burning trash and reportedly damaged a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of the building. Many wore masks in the style of “Antifa” and were topless, with slogans written across their chests. The women also assaulted other buildings and monuments in the city, including schools, businesses, and a statue of a local historical figure, leaving spray-painted graffiti with slogans such as “Kill your father, your boyfriend, and your brother,” “Burn the pope,” “Abuser priests,” “Abort males,” “Death to males,” and “Kill your rapist.” The events were the latest in a series of attacks on Catholic churches that have become an annual ritual of hatred by Argentine feminists, many of whom despise the Catholic faith and embrace abortion, homosexuality, legalized prostitution, and other behaviors rejected by Christianity.

  • The level of hatred and violence continues to escalate in the run-up to the end-times

Federal Appeals Court Delays Abortion for Undocumented, Incarcerated Teen

A Washington D.C. appeals court panel has declined to order the federal government to immediately allow an abortion for an undocumented teenager it is detaining in Texas, instead giving the Department of Health and Human Services 11 days to find a sponsor to take custody of the girl. The court’s 2-1 decision allows the Trump administration to maintain its policy of not facilitating abortions for the undocumented minors in its custody. It also further delays the 17-year-old’s quest to end her pregnancy, and increases the risk that she will run out of time to have the procedure. The teenager, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bars most abortions after 20 weeks. Lawyers for the teenager said in court Friday morning that it would be difficult to find a government-approved sponsor to take custody of their client, a Central American immigrant being held in a special detention facility in Texas for minors caught entering the United States illegally. If the government does not find a sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States who can care for the girl, the case would revert to a lower court judge who ruled Wednesday that the government should facilitate an abortion for the teenager “without delay.”

California Legally Recognizes a Third Gender

The state of California will now legally recognize non-binary as a third gender on official state identification documents. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB179 on Sunday night. The bill, dubbed the Gender Recognition Act, will allow a third gender choice on driver’s licenses, state identification cards, and make it easier for people to change their gender and name on state identification papers. Non-binary, is a catch-all term for people who do not identify as exclusively male or female, and has been slowly acknowledged by some states as a gender option. In June, the District of Columbia followed Oregon’s lead and began offering the gender-neutral choice of “X” on driver licenses and identification cards, and similar legislation is currently pending in New York.

Record Number of LGBT-Friendly Municipal Policies

A record 68 cities earned perfect scores for advancing LGBT inclusive policies and practices this year, according to a report released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute, two LGBT advocacy groups. The report, which ranks advances at the city level, “demonstrates an encouraging steady trend toward full municipal LGBTQ equality,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC.  Twenty-five cities revised city employee health care plans in 2017 to cover transgender related health services, such as hormone replacement therapy or gender confirmation surgery. Now, 111 cities nationwide offer such health services, up from 86 in 2016 and just five in 2012. The report lands in a year that saw activists fending off legislation in statehouses as more than 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in 29 states. The transgender community was targeted with about 39 of those bills: from banning transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity to preventing them from obtaining ‘accurate’ documents like driver’s licenses.

  • Gender confusion is a growing epidemic that defines the times, moving society further and further away from God’s ordained family structure. It is the result of both an increasingly defective gene pool (Exodus 20:5) as well as submission to the lusts of the flesh (1John 2:16)

Judge Rules Against Bladensburg Cross

A federal appeals court ruled this week that a cross on public land is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The 40-foot-tall Bladensburg Cross – which stands on a highway median right outside Washington, DC – has stood since 1925 as a memorial to the fallen U.S. soldiers of WWI. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said that the cross “equates to government sponsorship of a particular religion.” The problem with this ruling is that “government sponsorship” of a cross does not and cannot possibly be a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution as given to us by the Founders, notes OneNewsNow. The First Amendment doesn’t forbid government “sponsorship” of religion but only the “establishment” of religion. The word “Establishment” at the time of the Founding had a precise meaning. To “establish” a “religion” meant specifically to select one specific Christian denomination, pass a law designating it as the official church of the United States, and compel Americans to support it with their own money.

FBI Documents Reveal Russian Meddling Starting in 2009

Recently released documents and interviews have shown that, during the Obama administration, the FBI uncovered a Russian bribery plot before then-President Obama approved the controversial nuclear deal with Moscow in 2010. As early as 2009, the FBI discovered that the Russian government had compromised an American uranium trucking company with bribes and kickbacks. Additionally, the FBI found evidence linking the Clinton Foundation to these nefarious actions by Russian nuclear officials. The Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from Moscow during this time, all while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a crucial role in the decision to give Russia control over a significant portion of American uranium, reports the Media Research Center.

  • This story has gotten very little coverage by the mainstream media as they continue to pound the Trump administration about Russian collusion. The Russians have been very busy trying to undermine the U.S. for quite some time.

Terrorism Now Driven by Social Media

Warfare today is increasingly unconventional, and the need to ensure online security against a modern host of threats is paramount, reports the Counter Extremism Project. But more than ever, those threats are testing Europe’s ability to maintain a safe and secure virtual space. In Western Europe, a new wave of terrorism is being driven by extremist propaganda and plots coordinated through social media. To the East, Russian provocation has shifted online to undermine democratic elections and instigate conflict in the hopes of destabilizing a disjointed Europe. These attacks and propaganda do not respect national boundaries and can infiltrate communities nearly undetected. They are all the more challenging to tackle as they create a virtual battleground, capitalizing on an open Internet and interconnected society.

Senators Demand Online Ad Disclosures as Tech Firms Resist

Senator John McCain and two Democratic senators moved on Thursday to force Facebook, Google and other internet companies Senator John McCain and two Democratic senators will move on Thursday to force Facebook, Google and other internet companies But the tech industry, which has worked to thwart previous efforts to mandate such disclosure, is mobilizing an army of lobbyists and lawyers — including a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign – to resist government intrusion. Since 2006, most online political activity has been exempt from the rigorous regulations to which paid television, radio and print political advertising has been subject for years. The Federal Election Commission justified the so-called internet exemption rule by declaring the internet “a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach.” But that attitude is changing after revelations that, in the run-up to the 2016 election, Facebook sold more than $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian company linked to the Kremlin, while Google sold at least $4,700 worth of ads to accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government. It is suspected that the real totals are much higher.

World Hunger Increases for First Time in 15 Years

Around the globe, about 815 million people — 11% of the world’s population — went hungry in 2016, according to the latest data from the United Nations. This was the first increase in more than 15 years. Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of undernourished people in the world was cut in half. As evidenced by increasing floods, fires, refugees and violence, disasters make it harder for people in poor, marginalized and war-torn regions to access adequate food. The new U.N. report shows that to reduce and ultimately eliminate hunger, simply making agriculture more productive will not be enough. It also is essential to increase the access options available to rural populations in an uncertain world.

Federal Deficit Increases in 2017 Fiscal Year

The federal deficit for fiscal year 2017, which ended last month, hit $666 billion, according to new numbers released Friday by the Treasury Department and White House budget office. That’s $80 billion higher than 2016. The 2017 deficit is equivalent to 3.5% of the size of the economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product. In 2016, the deficit was 3.2% of GDP. The deficit reflects the gap between how much the government brings in and what it spends. Tax receipts rose by $48 billion — or 1.5% — to $3.315 trillion. As always, individual income taxes made up the biggest piece of the total revenue pie. They rose by $41 billion to $1.587 trillion. Corporate income taxes, meanwhile, fell by $2.5 billion year over year to $297 billion.

Spending also rose but faster than tax receipts. It went up by $129 billion — or 3.3% — to $3.98 trillion. Despite that, it too fell as a share of GDP to 20.7%, down from 20.9%. Payments for interest on the debt climbed 6.3% to $457 billion. Outlays, meanwhile, for the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, fell by more than 7% to $8.73 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney attributed the fact that spending growth outpaced revenue growth to “historically subpar” growth in the economy. And they interpreted the budget results as proof of the need for the Trump administration’s push to reform the tax code and reduce regulations.

Economic News

Construction of new homes fell 4.7% in September, the biggest decline in six months, reflecting weakness in both single-family activity and apartment building. It was the sharpest decline since a 7.7% fall in March. Application for new building permits, a sign of future activity, dropped 4.5% in September to an annual rate of 1.22 million units. Homebuilding has been sliding this year, but economists remain optimistic that the low level of unemployment will soon spark a rebound in sales and construction. Even though construction activity has fallen in recent months, home building is 6.1% higher than a year ago.

The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since Richard Nixon was president. The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid dropped by 22,000 to 222,000, fewest since March 1973. The overall number of Americans collecting unemployment checks dropped to 1.89 million, lowest since December 1973 and down nearly 9% from a year ago. The unemployment rate last month hit a 16-year low 4.2%.

Stubbornly low inflation is the most puzzling problem in the U.S. economy today. Normally in a healthy economy, as unemployment goes down, workers earn more in their paychecks and prices for goods go up — ideally more than 2% annually, says the Federal Reserve. But that’s not happening, despite a very low, 4.2% unemployment rate. “We don’t know what’s going on with inflation,” Stanley Fischer, who retired from his No. 2 post at the Federal Reserve last week, told CNBC. On Sunday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said her “best guess” is that stubbornly low inflation won’t persist much longer. In September, she called it “more of a mystery” than anything else. Some worry that it is a harbinger for deflation, when prices and wages go down as they have in Japan.

Since President Trump’s election, the Dow has spiked more than 4,600 points, or about 25%. The S&P 500 has added $2 trillion in value. Yet the spoils of the stock market run are slanted heavily in favor of the wealthy. Barely one-third of families in the bottom 50% of earners own stocks, according to the Fed. On the other hand, nearly 94% of the top income group owned stocks in 2016. Lower-income Americans don’t have extra money to put into stocks, and a third of workers don’t have access to a 401(k) or another retirement plan, according to Pew. In all, just 54% of Americans invest in the market, either through individual stocks, mutual funds, pensions or retirement plans like a 401(k), according to Gallup. That’s down 11% since the Great Recession.

Middle East

Reports surfaced in Arab media outlets Wednesday that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has given assurances to Israeli officials that Moscow will prevent Iranian and/or Hezbollah forces from approaching Israel’s northern borders, setting up a so-called “buffer zone” extending from 10-15 km, less than what Israel had requested but more than what Russia initially indicated it would offer.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Western-backed government entered into a coalition government deal with Hezbollah this week. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday that he “only thinks of the good of Lebanon, of finding the formulas and making the agreements that allow us to handle the problems of the country.”

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, in a roundtable discussion with youth in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, slammed the Trump administration’s demand that it renounce terror and recognize the Jewish state. Rather than considering peace negotiations, “the discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel,” he declared, according to the Hamas-linked news agency Shehab.

Iraq

Driving out the last remnants of the Islamic State from their de-facto capital, Raqqa, marked a symbolic end to the self-proclaimed caliphate. The Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who ousted the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city, raised their yellow banners in the central al-Naim square where the militant extremist group’s black flag once flew. They danced on the spot where ISIS held its grisly public executions. But the remaining residents of the city are not celebrating as they cope with the widespread destruction of their hometown. “I’m so happy that we got rid of ISIS, but the cost was high. My city is now ruined and burned down. I would have preferred if it was liberated in another way,” Mohammad Othman said. “I see that SDF are ISIS dressed in yellow,” he said. Othman’s view, shared by many Raqqa natives, is indicative of the challenges ahead for the alliance now holding the city: Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by the U.S., have to rule over a Sunni Arab city that they destroyed, and a population that views them with suspicion. Who will pay for and perform a reconstruction?

Iran

Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said on Thursday its ballistic missile program would accelerate despite U.S. and European Union pressure to suspend it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. In a significant U.S. policy shift on Oct. 13, President Donald Trump disavowed Iran’s compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and unveiled a more aggressive approach to the Islamic Republic over its missile development activity. “Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization (the Guards),” the IRGC said in a statement published by Tasnim.

European Union

As the 28-nation European Union convenes a major summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, it faces a growing political chasm along geographic lines that resembles the sharp red state-blue state divide in the United States. In the case of the EU, it’s East vs. West. In Eastern Europe, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are lurching to the right. In Western Europe, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (which will soon depart the alliance) are in the center or edging left. More than two years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed more than 1 million asylum seekers from conflict zones in predominantly Muslim countries to seek shelter in Europe’s largest economy, what to do about refugees has produced one of the deepest divides. The flow of migrants to Europe has slowed since the EU blocked their arrival in Greece and Italy under a deal with Turkey to retain them there and in North Africa, but the debate over their fate is still raging. France, Germany and Italy have repeatedly called for EU countries to accept a plan that equitably distributes refugees across the entire bloc. Eastern European countries, where opposition to admitting refugees is strong, are refusing to implement it.

Spain

Spain’s central government announced Thursday it would quickly move to take control of the autonomous Catalonia and restore “constitutional order” after the region’s president refused to back away from a push for independence. Facing a deadline imposed by Spain’s central government to answer the question whether Catalonia was declaring independence or not, Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont answered Spain’s demand for clarity by sending a second letter to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, stating that Catalonia’s suspension of its declaration of independence remains in force. But Puigdemont then added a threat of his own: if Madrid did not agree to talks, and continued its “repression” of the region, then the Catalan parliament would meet to vote on a formal declaration of independence. Spain’s prime minister said Saturday that the Spanish government would invoke unprecedented constitutional authority to “restore order” in Catalonia, suspend the regional government and call for fresh elections to thwart its leaders attempt to declare independence. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the government will invoke Article 155 of the 39-year-old Spanish constitution to revoke Catalonia’s autonomous rule and rule the region directly from Madrid.

Environment

As bad as air pollution is in China, its cities do not rank in the top eight worldwide. The worst city for air pollution in 2016 was Zabol, Iran. The World Health Organization ranks the world’s cities for annual air pollution, and the worst Chinese city, Xingtai, only ranks ninth in the 2016 list. The most-polluted city in 2015, New Delhi, India, slid to number 11 in 2016 thanks a crackdown that included bans on the most polluting cars and trucks and fines for burning trash. The worst U.S. city didn’t crack WHO’s top 1,000. Visalia, Calif., checked in at 1,080.

Flying insect populations dropped by more than 75% during the last three decades in dozens of protected areas across Germany, researchers have found. It’s not just one species, it seems there’s a kind of wholesale collapse of wild insects. Insects may often seem a nuisance to humans, but they’re vital pollinators and food sources for species higher on the food chain. An estimated 80% of wild plants species are pollinated by insects, and more than half of birds rely on insects as a food sources, according to the study. The study did not pinpoint a reason for the precipitous drop, but researchers noted that many nature preserves are surrounded by agricultural lands. “If we were to lose the insects, we would lose most of our crops, we would lose all the flowers from the countryside, and we’d lose most of the bird life, the mammal life,” Dave Goulson, a co-author of a study, said.

Wildfires

Dozens were evacuated and five firefighters were injured Tuesday as several new wildfires burned in California, including one that threatened a mountaintop observatory. But none of the firefighters were hurt seriously. Officials ordered about 150 people to evacuate in the Boulder Creek area of Santa Cruz County as the Bear fire grew Tuesday. At least a dozen people were forced to flee Tuesday as the Wilson fire threatened a historic observatory which houses the 100-inch Hooker Telescope northeast of downtown Los Angeles. In Marin County, a pair of brush fires forced authorities to evacuate homes and shut down several lanes of U.S. 101 Tuesday afternoon.

Preliminary estimates of the losses caused by California’s recent barrage of wildfires have exceeded $1 billion and are expected to rise, the state’s insurance commissioner announced Thursday afternoon. Commissioner Dave Jones said the estimate comes from the eight largest insurers in the areas affected by the blazes and did not include uninsured property. Authorities say nearly 7,000 homes and structures have been destroyed in the wildfires. That number is also expected to rise. While light rain and cooler temperatures offered some relief to affected areas Thursday, incoming conditions may prove hazardous. Dangerous fire weather conditions may return to much of California next week, with record or near-record warmth and gusty winds possible, meteorologists say.

Weather

An atmospheric river is poised to funnel gigantic amounts of rain and snow to the Northwest over the next few days. As much as 15 inches of rain is forecast in the mountains along with several inches in coastal areas, including Portland and Seattle. It could be Seattle’s wettest weather since February, the National Weather Service said. There is also a risk of flash flooding in western Washington and northwestern Oregon on Thursday as a result of the heavy rainfall, the weather service warned.

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