Archive for December, 2017

Signs of the Times (12/30/17)

December 30, 2017

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. (Psalm 33:10-12))

Patriotism Looks Different to Christians & Conservatives

New nationwide research conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute reveals that Americans’ ideas about patriotism are greatly influenced by factors such as their religious faith, age, political ideology, and race. Six out of every ten Americans (59%) characterize themselves as either “extremely” (23%) or “very” (36%) patriotic.  About one out of four adults took the middle ground, claiming to be “somewhat” patriotic (28%), while the rest of the public were either less patriotic or not sure. Conservatives (78%) and Republicans (81%) were more likely than their political counterparts to describe themselves as either “extremely” or “very” patriotic. Far lower on the continuum, but similar to each other, were Moderates (52%) and liberals (51%), with independents (57%) slightly more likely than Democrats (52%) to define themselves as at least “very patriotic.” People associated with the Christian faith rated themselves higher in terms of personal patriotism (64% extremely or very patriotic) than did those associated with non-Christian faiths (38%) or with no faith (40%). Within the Christian universe, Protestant Christians rated themselves more highly on the patriotism scale than did Catholics. While two-thirds of whites (65%) said they were either extremely or very patriotic, the same designations were embraced by about half of Hispanics (53%) and a minority of blacks (44%). Overall, just one out of every eight adults (13%) claims patriotism is on the rise while half of the nation believes it is waning.

U.S. Slashes UN Budget By $285 Million After Jerusalem Vote

The United States announced a $285 million cut in the United Nations’ “bloated” budget for next year, announced by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. A statement by the United States Mission to the United Nations reads: Today, the United Nations agreed on a budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. ‎Among a host of other successes, the United States negotiated a reduction of over $285 million off the 2016-2017 final budget. In addition to these significant cost savings, “we reduced the UN’s bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key U.S. priorities throughout the world, and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the UN system.” The move follows a contentious week at the U.N., after 128 nations voted in a “stunning rebuke” of President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Prior to the vote, Trump threatened to cut foreign financial aid to any countries who opposed the move.

China Caught ‘Red-Handed’ Supplying Oil to North Korea

President Donald Trump attacked China on Thursday following reports that Chinese ships transferred oil to North Korean vessels at sea in violation of U.N. sanctions over the North’s nuclear weapons program. On Tuesday, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo cited unidentified South Korean government officials as saying U.S. reconnaissance satellites have spotted Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels some 30 times since October in seas off China. Trump said on Twitter that China had been “Caught RED HANDED,” adding he was “very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea.” China accounts for the vast majority of North Korea’s external trade and oil supplies. China’s foreign ministry has defended its enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea. Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their vessels.

U.S. Has ‘Poor Relationship’ with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US and Russia have a “poor relationship,” a declaration made in a year-end New York Times op-ed he wrote assessing the State Department during his 2017 tenure. “On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with,” Tillerson said. “The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others.” He said in the piece, as he did earlier in December, that the U.S. will not have “business as usual” with Russia until the conflict ends in Ukraine. A State Department official told CNN last week that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with lethal anti-tank weapons.

Russia Slams U.S. Plan to Sell Anti-Missile System to Japan

Russia has accused the United States of violating an arms control treaty by agreeing to supply anti-missile systems to Japan. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed this was a breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an arms control agreement between Moscow and Washington that has been in force for 30 years. Zakharova also said the deal with Japan was part of a bigger plan by the U.S. for a “global anti-missile system.” Japan’s cabinet approved a plan last week to buy two US-built Aegis Ashore missile defense systems as the country faces increasing hostility from neighboring North Korea. Russia is concerned about several U.S.-built defense systems, claiming they also have the ability to launch missiles.

44% of Americans Believe Media Makes Up Anti-Trump Stories

Nearly half of all Americans believe the media fabricate negative stories about President Trump, according to a new survey. Forty-four percent of respondents in the 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey say the media invent “fake news” to make the president look bad. Seventy-seven percent of this cohort are Trump supporters, and 74 percent are Republicans. The survey found that a substantial minority of Americans, 31 percent, believe the media are the “enemy of the people,” a moniker Mr. Trump assigned to the national press in February. Among Trump supporters, that number is 63 percent. Twenty-five percent of Americans — and 42 percent of Trump supporters — say the government should “be able to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.” Seventy-four percent of Democratic or Democrat-leaning respondents express “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the news media. Republican confidence in the media, meanwhile, has continued its decades-long decline and currently sits at 19 percent. Overall, 49 percent of all Americans express “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the press, compared to 50 percent who say they have “only some” or “hardly any” trust in the media.

New Research Shows Increased Risks of Same-sex Parenting

Contrary to the narrative pushed by academia and the mainstream media, there is increasing evidence that same-sex parenting has negative effects on children. An article published last month by Catholic University of America sociology professor Paul Sullins found children with same-sex parents suffer emotional problems two to three times as often as children raised by opposite-sex parents. Sullins’ research and that of University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus, show that children raised by same-sex parents have increased risks of emotional problems, depression, and sexual abuse. Despite this, the American Psychological Association has dogmatically endorsed a “no difference” theory—namely, that there is no difference between children raised by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents. That conclusion was derived from data from the National Health Interview Survey, which is administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the CDC has admitted to flaws in the data where up to 40% of couples designated as same-sex were opposite-sex. And yet, the faulty conclusion predominates.

Biotech Firm Caught Selling Heads of Unborn Babies

A grisly case out of the state of Michigan is once again putting the spotlight on the sale of aborted baby parts, reports LiveNews.com. A biotech firm has been caught selling the heads of unborn babies. There is no information on whether the babies died in miscarriages or were victims of abortions. But undercover agents on behalf of the Reuters news agency engaged in transactions to purchase the heads of those babies. Once officials were alerted, the biotech firm’s warehouse was raided. There, officials found the intact bodies of four additional unborn children. The firm is known as Restore Life and its website indicates that it works very closely with universities to provide them with cadavers for research. But the investigation by Reuters makes it clear that the biotech firm moved beyond cadavers to engage in the sale of parts from unborn children who may have been purposely killed in abortions.

40% of Births in U.S. Occur Out of Wedlock

A report from the Senate showed that about 40 percent of births in the United States happen out of wedlock. The Senate report, “Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage: The Rise in Unwed Childbearing,” was released this month. It was prepared by the vice chairman’s staff of the Joint Economic Committee at the request of Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah). The report found that “shotgun” marriages have fallen. In the early 1960s, 43% of unwed pregnancies led to “shotgun” marriages. Today, that number is 9%. The report also said that falling abortion rates has contributed to the uptick in births outside of marriage. The hike in non-marital births is likely a result of “moral, behavioral, and social changes” since the “Sexual Revolution overhauled the American landscape,” said Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor at the National Review.

Flu Widespread in 36 States, CDC Reports

Outbreaks of influenza are getting an early start this year in part because of cold weather gripping much of the USA and low efficacy associated with this year’s flu vaccine. It’s still too early to say whether this winter will be a bad season for the flu, but epidemiologists in 36 states already have reported widespread influenza activity to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in data released Friday. Twenty-one of those states show a high number of cases. Arizona has reported a nearly nine-fold increase in the number of cases compared with the same period last year. “This strain of flu is only somewhat covered by the vaccine that was given this year,” said Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. “They’re seeing that it’s anywhere from 10% to 33% effective.” Peak flu activity in the U.S. usually occurs around February. Vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year though recent studies show that a flu shot typically reduces the risk of illness by 40% to 60% among the overall population.

New Wave of GMOs Won’t Be Regulated

GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will quickly dominate the global food chain under a new mantra that gene editing is merely “accelerated breeding technology,” reports Technocracy News. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that GMO plants are not “regulated articles” because they don’t contain foreign pathogens from bacteria. Thus, the new breed of gene editors will not be regulated, monitored or required to conduct detailed testing, and yet they will contaminate the gene pool of the world’s food supply. “This is a horribly dangerous combination of greed and a Technocrat mindset that the ‘science is already settled,’” notes Technocracy News. To many scientists, the potential of gene editing seems nearly limitless, offering a new way to rapidly create plants that are drought-resistant, immune to disease, or improved in flavor. To GMO opponents, the new, unregulated plants are a source of alarm. For years, they have argued that GMOs should be opposed because they might be unsafe. What if they cause allergies or poison butterflies?

Economic News

Americans are ending 2017 feeling very good about the economy. Consumer confidence hit 122.1 in December, slightly below the 17-year high set in November of 128.6, according to the Conference Board’s index released Wednesday. Any reading over 100 indicates confidence in the economy. Confidence has been fueled by a few factors: The job market, the stock market rally and Republicans’ fiscal reforms. The U.S. job market is very strong. Unemployment in America is at 4.1%, the lowest level since 2000. Job openings are abundant too. The U.S. economy has gained jobs for 86 consecutive months, the longest streak in history, according to Labor Department figures going back to 1939. The stock market’s surge has also been another reflection of consumer confidence. The Dow is just under 25,000. It ended 2016 just below 20,000 points, showing a gain of about 25% for the year. The passage of tax cuts has also fueled consumer optimism. More consumers plan to make big-ticket purchases in the next six months, the survey reveals.

In 2017, the U.S. stock market posted its biggest annual gain in four years and extended a bull market that began in 2009 and is now the second-longest in history. Three of the four major U.S. stock indexes posted their best gains in four years in 2017. The Nasdaq composite, which benefited from large rises in well-known technology stocks like Facebook, Apple and Google-parent Alphabet, was the biggest winner with a gain of 28.2%. The Dow Jones industrial average, an index of 30 blue-chip stocks, rose 25.1%. And the large-company Standard & Poor’s 500 increased 19.4%.

Oil prices closed at their highest level in two and a half years on the final trading day of 2017. The late spike was driven in part by a pipeline explosion in Libya earlier in the week. U.S. crude oil prices spiked 1% Friday to more than $60 a barrel, the highest close since June of 2015. Last month, oil prices jumped after the Keystone pipeline shut down following an oil spill. Still, prices remain low compared with $100-a-barrel prices three years ago. Oil crashed in 2014 and 2015 and reached a low of $26 a barrel in 2016.

Middle East

An Israeli news report indicates that the U.S. and Israel have signed a secret accord to counter the growing threats from the Islamic Republic. The secret agreement was reportedly signed on December 12 at the White House following talks led by Israel’s National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabat and US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. It was preceded by in-depth discussions between senior defense and intelligence officials and experts from both sides. According to the report, the agreement is based on positions stated by President Donald Trump on October 13, when he announced that he decertified the Iran nuclear deal. Iran is the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Trump said, noting that “the regime’s two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’”

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system blocked two missiles fired into Israel shortly before noon on Friday. A third landed in a community bordering Gaza. No injuries were reported, but a building was damaged. Israeli intelligence believes the rockets fired in recent weeks were launched by terror groups other than Hamas. However, Israel holds Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, responsible and retaliated in the early afternoon with a series of strikes targeting Hamas in northern Gaza.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani pledged all of Iran’s “capabilities and potential” to the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas, the group’s leader said on a pro-Iranian television station, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday. Quoting Soleimani, Hamas leader Yahye Sinwar said that the general assured him, “All our of capabilities and potential are at your disposal in the battle for the defense of Jerusalem.” Soleimani, according to Sinwar, added, “Iran, the Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force stand with all they have with our people in order to defend Jerusalem so that Jerusalem will endure as the capital of the state of Palestine.”

Afghanistan

At least 41 people were killed and 84 wounded on Thursday morning in a complex bomb attack that hit both a Shiite cultural center and the Afghan Voice Agency news organization in Kabul. The Islamic State, which has launched a number of attacks on Shiites across Afghanistan, claimed responsibility. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said scores of people had gathered in the basement to mark the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in December 1979. Shiite leader Abdul Hussain Ramazandada said according to witnesses, at least one suicide bomber sneaked into the event and sat with attendees before detonating his device. The other explosions occurred as people fled, he said.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Wednesday’s explosion at a supermarket in the country’s second-largest city was a terrorist attack. At least 13 people were injured Wednesday evening after an improvised explosive device went off at a storage area for customers’ bags at the supermarket in St. Petersburg. Investigators say it was rigged with shrapnel to cause more damage. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Egypt

A gunman on a motorcycle opened fire Friday outside a church in a working-class Cairo suburb and a nearby store, sparking a shootout that killed at least nine people, including eight Coptic Christians in the latest attack targeting the country’s embattled Christian minority, the health ministry said. The attack comes just one week before the Coptic Christian community celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 — a date based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. The Interior Ministry identified the assailant as Ibrahim Ismail Mostafa, who, the agency said, was involved in several previous militant attacks. The assailant had earlier opened fire at a nearby store owned by a Christian. Egypt’s Christian minority has been targeted by Islamic militants in a series of attacks since December 2016 that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded.

North Korea

The reported discovery of anthrax antibodies in a North Korean defector is renewing fears that the regime of Kim Jong Un is developing lethal biological weapons in violation of international law. A South Korean intelligence officer told that nation’s Channel A television that one of at least four soldiers who defected from the North this year had the antibodies in his system. Senior defense analyst Shin Jong Woo said the anthrax vaccine is probably given to North Korean soldiers working on biological weapons projects. Although rare in the United States, people can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Contact with anthrax can cause severe illness and death if not treated, according to the CDC, which noted that anthrax is not contagious.

Iran

Iranians protesting the country’s strained economy gathered in Tehran and another major city on Friday, for the second day of spontaneous, unsanctioned demonstrations placing pressure on President Hassan Rouhani’s government. The semi-official Fars news agency reported that officials said around 300 protesters gathered in the western city of Kermanshah, the scene of a devastating earthquake in November that killed over 600 residents. In Tehran, fewer than 50 people protested at a public square. Protesters in Kermanshah chanted anti-government slogans such as “never mind Palestine, think about us,” “death or freedom” and “political prisoners should be freed.” They damaged some public property before police dispersed them. Police also arrested a small number of demonstrators in Tehran protesting price hikes and the president’s economic policy.

Astronomy

Stargazers are in for a quadruple treat in January: two supermoons, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse will adorn the night sky. The first full supermoon of January, dubbed the Wolf Moon, will occur on New Year’s Day night into Jan. 2. It is the second supermoon in a trilogy that began in early December, according to NASA. A supermoon appears up to 30 percent brighter and up to 14 percent larger than normal as it makes its closest pass to Earth. The second supermoon, known as a blue moon because it is the second full moon in the calendar month, will occur in the U.S. on Jan.31. As a special treat, a total lunar eclipse, which occurs when the shadow of Earth passes over the surface of the moon, will occur that same night. Residents of the western United States will have the best chance to see the full lunar eclipse.

Earthquakes

A pair of shallow earthquakes occurred last Tuesday night in the San Jose area, rattling homes and the residents inside. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the first temblor, measuring 3.1 magnitude, occurred at 7:19 p.m. local time near the town of San Martin. It struck at a depth of about 4 1/2 miles. The second quake, a 3.9, occurred three hours later at 10:32 p.m. PST and was 5 1/2 miles deep near Alum Rock. Neither earthquake was responsible for injuries or notable damage. The earthquakes occurred along the Calaveras Fault. The USGS estimates a 7.4 percent chance of a 6.7 magnitude or greater earthquake in the next 30 years.

Wildfires

Fire officials in California say the largest wildfire in state history is almost fully contained, and on Wednesday morning, they delivered more good news: forward progress of the blaze is likely finished. The Thomas Fire burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed more than 440 square miles but has reached 89 percent containment. On Wednesday, fire officials said that “no forward progress of the fire is expected at this point. Visitors are encouraged to make plans to enjoy Santa Barbara, Ventura and surrounding areas.

Weather

Arctic air will keep the Midwest, East and South shivering into the start of 2018 with temperatures approaching record cold levels at times. Flint, Michigan, set an all-time December record low temperature of 17 degrees below zero on Thursday morning. Watertown, New York, fell to minus 32 Thursday morning, which shattered its daily record for Dec. 28 of minus 23. Daily record  lows for Dec. 28 were also tied Thursday morning in Toledo, Ohio (minus 8), and Paducah, Kentucky (10 degrees). Wednesday morning, International Falls, Minnesota, set a new daily record low when temperatures plummeted to minus 36; the previous record was minus 32. It was even colder in Embarrass, Minnesota, and Cotton, Minnesota, where morning lows were 40 below zero and minus 41, respectively. The long-lived Arctic cold outbreak will be reinforced this New Year’s weekend in the Plains, Midwest, South and East, shattering more daily records into the first days of 2018.

After over 5 feet of snow earlier this week, Erie, Pennsylvania, has more heavy snowfall in its forecast. Erie could receive more than a foot of new snowfall into this weekend as the lake-effect machine kicks into gear once again. Winter Storm Frankie hammered the northern Rockies and Northwest Friday with over a foot of snow, bitterly cold wind chills, even damaging ice in at least one location. A band of snowfall from Frankie is now extending into parts of the Northeast Saturday.

A prolonged dry spell, courtesy of a northward bulge in the jet stream over the Southwest, has been steering any storm systems north into the Rockies and Plains while the Southwest stays dry. It has been more than 80 days since the last measurable – 0.01 inches or greater – precipitation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A measly 0.02 inches of rainfall was recorded in Albuquerque on Oct. 5, with no measurable rain or snow in the city since then. Some locations in Arizona haven’t seen any measurable precipitation in over 3 months.

Signs of the Times (12/22/17)

December 22, 2017

“He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the Lord. “Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!” (Zechariah 2:8-12)

U.N. Votes to Condemn U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem

Despite President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. funding to countries that oppose his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the vast majority of U.N. countries voted in favor of such a resolution on Thursday. A total of 128 nations voted to support the resolution that condemned the U.S. for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its decision to eventually move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Nine nations, including the United States and Israel, voted against the resolution; 35 nations abstained from voting; and 21 delegations were absent. The nine countries voting “no” were the U.S., Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the notable abstentions were Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico. It is also noteworthy that 21 of the 193 U.N. member states were absent for the vote including Kenya, Georgia and Ukraine which have close U.S. ties. Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. aid raised the stakes in Thursday’s U.N. vote and sparked criticism at his tactics, which one Muslim group called bullying or blackmail.

U.N. Imposes Tough New Sanctions on North Korea

The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Friday that significantly choke off new fuel supplies and order North Koreans working overseas to return home within two years, in what may prove the last test of whether any amount of economic pressure can force it to reverse course on its nuclear program, reports the New York Times. The sanctions, adopted by a vote of 15 to 0, were the third imposed this year in an escalating effort to force the North into negotiations. China and Russia joined in the resolution, though American officials have charged that in recent months the Russians have secretly been opening new links to the North, including new internet connections that give the country an alternative to communicating primarily through China. The vote came just four days after the United States charged that Korea was responsible for the “Wannacry” cyber-attack that crippled computers around the world in May, and weeks after the country launched a new intercontinental missile that appears capable of reaching any city in the United States.

With Tax Bill, Republicans Attained 3 Objectives

President Trump signed the tax reform bill Friday. In one bill, Republicans said they were checking off three major parts of their agenda: The massive tax overhaul is coupled with a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate and authority to drill for oil in a remote Alaska refuge. The bill doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare but does chip away at one of the Affordable Care Act’s foundations. The bill they zeroes out the tax, or fine, levied against people who do not secure health insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Republicans in Congress celebrated the passage of the biggest rewrite of the U.S. tax code in decades Wednesday, with President Trump calling it a “Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.” Workers will see the first glimpse of a tax cut in February at the earliest, but it won’t be until 2019 — when people file their taxes for next year — that most will know whether they will pay more or less to the federal government. In the meantime, tax attorneys, accountants and corporate payroll departments are scrambling to adjust to changes that won’t be official until Trump signs the bill in January. The bill also cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. Corporations not only applauded receiving a reduced tax rate, many of them wasted no time announcing plans to use some of their steep tax savings to boost their workers pay. Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp said they plan to hike their company-wide minimum wages to $15 an hour. Other firms including Comcast and AT&T promised $1,000 bonuses.

  • Religious institutions may fall victim to this tax reform bill. According to a recent study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, giving to religious organizations is likely to fall by nearly $4.8 billion in 2018. The itemized charitable tax deduction contributes up to 4.0% of individual giving, and with the standard deduction nearly doubled, there will be few itemizing in 2018.

Congress Votes to Avert Shutdown, Fund CHIP Program

Congress has once again forestalled a government shutdown — with a short-term funding measure through mid-January — and temporarily extended funding for health insurance for children from low-income families. The House voted 231-188 Thursday to approve a short-term spending bill that would fund most government programs at current levels through Jan. 19. The Senate quickly followed suit, passing the bill on a 66-32 vote. Congress was forced to act because the government was scheduled to run out of money at midnight Friday, raising the possibility of a partial shutdown heading into Christmas. Temporary funding is needed because Congress has been unable to agree on long-term government spending levels since the 2017 fiscal year ended last September. Instead, the government has been operating on a series of short-term extensions of last year’s budget. The temporary spending measure provides $2.85 billion in funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, through the end of March. In a separate vote, the House also advanced an $81 billion package of disaster assistance funding for states and U.S. territories ravaged by recent hurricanes and forest fires. The Senate, however, won’t take up the measure until next year.

Judge Dismisses Emoluments Clause Lawsuit Against Trump

A federal judge in New York dismissed one of the lawsuits against President Trump’s business dealings, ruling Thursday that a watchdog group didn’t have standing to challenge whether the president’s continued connection to his hotel chain violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had sued, saying that the president was benefiting from foreign government cash when employees of those governments held events or stayed at Trump hotels. The emoluments clause prevents the president from accepting a gift from another government without the consent of Congress. But Judge George B. Daniels said the group wasn’t able to bring the action. “Plaintiffs have failed to properly allege that defendant’s actions caused plaintiffs competitive injury and that such an injury is redressable by this court,” he wrote. The New York challenge is one of several that have been brought against Mr. Trump over his refusal to completely disassociate himself from his business empire. He has removed himself from day-to-day operations, leaving his sons in charge, but still earns money from the hotels, golf courses and other properties.

Trump Administration Secures Release of Several Detained Citizens

Amid all the debate over issues like the travel ban, the border wall and health care, senior officials in the White House and State Department have quietly worked behind the scenes to resolve a major concern of the president: securing the release of American citizens detained by foreign governments and terror groups. “Immediately after President Trump took office, he told Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson to prioritize bringing home Americans who’ve been wrongfully detained or held hostage in foreign countries,” said the White House spokesperson. “We are proud that we’ve been able to secure the release of several Americans as a result of U.S. diplomatic efforts.” While the administration has been successful in securing the release of numerous Americans held abroad, officials noted there are at least ten other U.S. citizens who are being wrongly detained.

Number of Abortion Facilities Shrinking in U.S.

Closures of abortion facilities far outpaced newly-opened facilities in 2017, reports Operation Rescue. In all, 49 abortion facilities – 35 surgical and 14 medication-only clinics – closed or halted abortion services. Only eight new surgical abortion facilities were opened, along with eleven new medication abortion facilities. Forty-five percent of all states had at least one abortion facility that closed or halted all abortion services this year. In 2017, there are 704 abortion facilities remaining in the U.S. Of these, 490 offer surgical abortions, often along with medication abortions. There are 214 facilities that offer only medication abortions. “We rejoice that the abortion cartel is imploding and closing down. We are making progress. But they are not going down without a fight,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “We continue to work and pray that we will soon see an end to abortion in our nation.”

  • Just as the sacrificing of children through fire to Molech brought judgment upon Israel (Jeremiah 19:4-6), so too is the U.S. experiencing judgment because of the children sacrificed on the altar of abortion.

8.8 Million Sign Up for Obamacare

About 8.8 million people have signed up for 2018 coverage on the federal exchange during an open enrollment season that was half the length of prior years and far less promoted, the Trump administration said Thursday. That’s only 400,000 fewer than signed up on healthcare.gov during open enrollment a year ago. Nearly 2.4 million consumers were new to the exchanges, while more than 6.4 million continued their coverage during the sign-up period, which ran from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. More than 4.1 million people selected plans in the last six days, including those who were automatically renewed. Unlike in prior years, the Trump administration didn’t extend the enrollment deadline, though it did give people who couldn’t get through to the call center a little more time to sign up.

Military Issues New Rules for Transgenders

The US military has issued new guidance on how transgender individuals will be admitted to the armed services in the new year. The Pentagon is proceeding with plans to accept transgender applicants to the military on January 1 after a federal judge declined earlier this month to put the deadline on hold, the Justice Department has appealed that ruling. For any applicant who has undergone sex reassignment surgery or a medical treatment plan, the recruit will need to have been “stable” in their new gender for 18 months prior to entering the military. The memorandum defines “stable” as “medical and surgical interventions for gender transitions are complete with the exception of continued use of stable cross-sex hormone protocol, if applicable, no functional limitations of complications persist, and the individual is not experiencing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

LGBQ Teens Have High Suicide Risk

LGBQ teens are more vulnerable to planning or attempting suicide, according to a research letter published Tuesday in the journal JAMA. Looking at answers in the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey in the US, researchers found that 40% of high school students who are considered sexual minorities — who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual or questioning, meaning they are unsure of their orientation — were seriously considering suicide. Transgender teens were not included in the US government’s survey, but research has shown that transgender youth may face a similarly high, if not higher, suicide risk. Of the sexual minorities in the study, 34.9% were planning suicide and 24.9% had attempted suicide in the previous year. Compared with heterosexual teens, those numbers are exceptionally high: Of the straight teens in the study, 14.8% had seriously considered suicide, 11.9% had been planning suicide, and 6.3% had made an attempt in the past year, according to CDC data.

Life Expectancy Down for 2nd Straight Year in U.S.

Health researchers had some grim news for Americans this week: We are dying younger, and life expectancy is now down for the second straight year — something not seen in more than half a century. The primary culprit is the opioid epidemic, which is cutting down young adults at alarming and increasing rates, the researchers say. A baby born in the United States in 2016 could expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of more than a month from 2015 and more than two months from 2014. That’s the first two-year decline since 1962 and 1963 when spikes in flu deaths were to blame. Before 2015, the last one-year decline was in 1993 and was attributed partly to the AIDS epidemic. The rest of the world is improving, seeing large declines in mortality and large improvements in life expectancy. Newborns in 29 countries, including Japan, Australia and Spain, had life expectancies above 80 years in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. The average global life expectancy was 71.4 and rising, according to that agency’s most recent report.

Economic News

The Tax Foundation analyzed the details of the final bill and said it is a pro-growth plan that will increase revenues by roughly $600 billion from expected economic growth, reducing the cost of the bill, the Free Beacon reported. The final Republican tax bill set for a House vote reportedly will boost gross domestic product by 1.7 percent, lift wages by 1.5 percent, and add 339,000 full-time jobs to the economy, according to the business-oriented foundation. However, the bill also would add $448 billion to federal deficits over 10 years with economic growth factored in, Bloomberg reported.

Corporate America caught fire in 2017, hauling in fatter profits than ever before. The lucrative year for big business, fueled by resurgent economic growth at home and abroad, helped spark a powerful stock market boom on Wall Street. Global companies that generate most of their sales outside the U.S. grew earnings twice as fast as those focused domestically, according to FactSet. Clearly, companies cashed in on newfound economic strength in Europe and Latin America as well as relative stability in China. For the first time in years, virtually all major global economies are growing at the same time.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes rose last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.81 million units. Home sales haven’t been this strong since December 2006, when properties sold at an annual pace of 6.42 million. However, the strong demand is depleting inventories of available home. In November, there were 1.67 million properties for sale, a 9.7% decline from a year ago. There is only 3.4 months’ supply of homes on the market, the lowest level ever tracked by the Realtors. The limited inventory has caused home values to rise faster than wages. The median home sales price increased 5.8% from a year ago to $248,000 in November. That price increase is more than double the rise in average hourly earnings, meaning that some Americans are being priced out of home ownership.

On or about Jan. 1, 18 states and 20 cities, including many in California, will hike their minimum wage because of laws or ballot initiatives that mandate gradual raises over several years or automatic cost-of-living increases. Later in the year, another three states and 18 cities and counties will boost their pay floors, according to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Twelve of the states and many cities are set for relatively large increases as part of a multiyear phase-in, while nine states are rolling out smaller cost-of-living bumps. New York and more than a dozen cities are moving toward a $15 wage by 2022.

Bitcoin and several other major cryptocurrencies plunged Thursday evening New York time as the end of an exponential year of growth neared. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to a low of $12,504 according to CoinDesk, down more than $3,000 from $15,820 less than 12 hours ago. Despite the sharp drop, the decline took bitcoin only to roughly two-week lows. The digital currency is still up more than 1,300 percent this year.

Korea

South Korea’s leader is urging the United States to postpone joint military drills if North Korea pauses its nuclear and missile tests before the 2018 Winter Olympics start in February in South Korea’s Taebaek Mountains. “If North Korea stops its provocations leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, it will greatly help in holding a safe Olympics,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said. South Korean officials stressed Wednesday that postponing the drills would be aimed at the South hosting a peaceful Winter Olympics, and not at ending the North Korean missile crisis. North Korea has fired 23 missiles since February, sparking international condemnation and sanctions. On Nov. 29, Pyongyang launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile it said was capable of striking the U.S. mainland, claiming to have achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state.

Yemen

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has said it intercepted a ballistic missile south of Riyadh on Tuesday, according to Saudi state television station Al Ekhbariya. The missile did not cause any damage. The missile was heading to a residential area in the Saudi capital, before it was intercepted, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported. A Houthi rebel spokesperson Mohammed AbdulSalam said on his Twitter account that the rebels fired the Burkan 2H ballistic missile, targeting the prestigious Yamama Palace hotel in the Saudi capital. The Burkan missile is an Iranian-modified scud missile. Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Ministry said it intercepted a Houthi missile over an international airport in the Saudi capital.

West Africa

Barely two years after West African nations defeated a deadly Ebola scourge, they are confronting a new epidemic – corruption. The International Red Cross has admitted that its officials, local bankers, volunteers and others had embezzled more than $6 million in aid funds in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In an internal audit, the Switzerland-based Red Cross said it discovered inflated purchase orders, payments to non-existent workers and padded expense accounts. Between March 2014 and January 2016, the Ebola virus killed more than 11,000 people in the three West African nations. Many of the approximately 17,000 Ebola survivors in the three countries are facing health complications from the sickness.

Indonesia

The Java Sea is rising and weather in Jakarta is becoming more extreme. Earlier this month another freakish storm briefly turned Jakarta’s streets into rivers and brought this vast area of nearly 30 million residents to a virtual halt. The primary problem though is not the weather. Instead, the capital of Indonesia itself is sinking. Jakarta is sinking faster than any other big city on the planet, so surreally fast that rivers sometimes flow upstream, ordinary rains regularly swamp neighborhoods and buildings slowly disappear underground, swallowed by the earth. The main cause: Jakartans are digging illegal wells, drip by drip draining the underground aquifers on which the city rests — like deflating a giant cushion underneath it. About 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level.

Wildfires

Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday in Santa Barbara County, California, as firefighters continued to get a handle on the massive Thomas wildfire, that that prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to request a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump. The Thomas Fire has claimed more than 425 square miles of land since it was sparked on the evening of Dec. 4, according to Cal Fire. The blaze is 65 percent contained as of Thursday night. The cost of fighting the massive fire has reached at least $110 million. Five of the state’s 20 largest wildfires have occurred since October.

Weather

Winter Storm Dylan moved into the Northwest and High Plains on Wednesday, causing hazardous travel conditions as it dumped heavy snow on several states. High winds knocked down trees and power lines in Bend, Oregon. Nearly 2,000 homes and businesses lost power in the area, as trees collapsed onto power lines, vehicles and buildings. Dylan dumped up to 40 inches of snow in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Dozens of locations in northern Montana, northern Idaho and northern Washington state have reported at least a foot of snow. Dylan is now spreading its wintry reach into the Great Lakes and is poised to produce a mix of snow and ice in parts of the Northeast starting Friday just in time for pre-Christmas holiday travel through Saturday. Several school districts in central and northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire opted to keep students home on Friday.

However, parts of the Midwest are nearing a record-long wait for the season’s first snow. Des Moines, Iowa, hasn’t seen measurable snow – at least 0.1 inch – since March 21, the day after spring officially arrived. In 134 years of records in Iowa’s capital city, the only time the first snow came later in the season was Dec. 26, 1939. A number of other locations from southern South Dakota into Iowa, western Illinois, Missouri and Kansas were also awaiting their first accumulating snow as of Dec. 20. That’s quite a contrast with a swath of the South from South Texas to the Florida Panhandle to North Georgia and the Carolinas that already picked up significant snow from Winter Storm Benji almost two weeks ago.

Signs of the Times (12/18/17)

December 18, 2017

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6))

UK Church Goes Overboard with Inclusion

Residents in England are in an uproar over a flyer they received from the Church of England. In an apparent attempt to please everybody — what postmodernism would deem “inclusion” — the flyer announced that the church would host a joint birthday party for Jesus Christ and the prophet Muhammad. As reported by World Net Daily, “The ‘Milad, Advent and Christmas Celebration’ took place Sunday, Dec. 3, at All Saints Church in Kingston upon Thames and was organized with the Kingston Inter-Faith Forum and the South London Inter-Faith Group.” Many Christians took umbrage over what they say implies equality between the Son of God and Mohammed. “Every time a church accords Muhammad the epithet ‘Prophet,’ they are rejecting the crucifixion, denying the resurrection of Christ, and refuting that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, for Muhammad denied all of these foundational tenets of the Christian faith,” said Adrian Hilton, publisher of Archbishop Cranmer.

Trump Sets New National Security Strategy

President Trump framed a new national security strategy Monday that cast his election as a pivot from failed economic policies and shortsighted negotiating strategies. The congressionally mandated National Security Strategy presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States. “Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition,” Trump said. Trump used the rollout to reiterate his commitment to an “America First” doctrine and a focus on fighting terrorism and protecting U.S. borders. He listed what he called successes, including withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the “very expensive and unfair Paris climate accord.” Trump administration officials said the strategy, a kind of mission statement that guides policymaking, prioritizes the economic implications of global engagement. For example, the document says that under Trump, national security decision-making will take greater account of economic factors and homeland security in establishing policy, administration officials said.

GOP Unveils Final $1.5T Tax Reform Bill

Congressional Republicans unveiled the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code in three decades Friday evening with an eye toward final passage next week. The House is expected to vote on the final bill Tuesday, with a Senate vote to follow later in the week. The White House said Trump “looks forward to fulfilling the promise he made to the American people to give them a tax cut by the end of the year.” The final version of the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act keeps seven tax brackets, but reduces rates for five of them. The new rates start at 10 percent and rise to 12, 22, 24, 32, 35 and 37 percent. The corporate tax rate is reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent and the bill provides sweeping tax deductions to other businesses, lowering their top effective tax rate to about 30 percent instead of 39.6 percent. The standard deduction — used by around two-thirds of households — would be nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. But deductions for state and local taxes are scaled back, allowing families to deduct only up to a total of $10,000 in property and income taxes. That deduction is especially important to residents of high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California. The final package would also double the basic per-child tax credit for families making up to $400,000 a year from $1,000 to $2,000. Democrats argue that the legislation would mostly help wealthy Americans and big business at the expense of the poor and middle class and add to the nation’s defict by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Republicans are counting on the bill generating economic stimulus to make up the difference.

Trump Administration Cracks Down on Visa Waiver Program

The Trump administration on Friday announced it will more closely scrutinize countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreigners to travel to the U.S. without first securing a visa. The U.S. has agreements with 38 countries — all close allies, and mostly from Europe — whose citizens are vetted by U.S. officials and then allowed to travel to America for up to 90 days without a visa. The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it will now require those countries to keep closer track of travelers within their own borders to improve their internal monitoring of terrorists, and to reduce the number of their citizens who travel to the U.S. and overstay their visas. Failure to comply with any of those provisions could prompt the U.S. to remove a country from the Visa Waiver Program, or to implement a variety of sanctions that would limit the ability of their citizens to travel to the U.S. Homeland Security officials, however, said they would prefer to work with the countries to fix the problems and maintain their status in the program.

Net Neutrality Repeal Creates Firestorm of Protests

The FCC decision to repeal internet neutrality rules as caused a huge outcry from internet users and several high-tech companies. Advocates of the Obama-era net neutrality rules — including large Internet companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Netflix —  are already planning strategies to combat the regulations in Congress and the courts. The repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules Thursday wipes from the books regulations that prevented Internet service providers from blocking or slowing some websites, and charging more for others to run faster. The new regulations, passed by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission’s 3-2 vote, instead require companies like Verizon and Comcast to disclose if they block sites or give priority to their own content more than others. The onus shifts to the public to flag any signs these Internet gatekeepers are playing favorites including with their own properties — and report them to the Federal Trade Commission. The big Internet and cable providers, who lobbied hard for repeal, say they won’t stop or slow any legal content. But the change does open the door for ISPs to charge more to some big broadband users, say Netflix or YouTube, which could pass those increased costs to their subscribers. In theory, ISPs could charge subscribers more, too.

Threatened FCC Chair Defends Net Neutrality Decision

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Friday defended the vote to end net neutrality, saying critics are getting “everything wrong” about the decision when they say it will ruin the internet. Thursday’s vote, he continued, means the end of the government’s micromanagement of the internet. “For 20 years before 2015, starting with President Bill Clinton, we decided we wanted to have a free-market approach, in which innovators could innovate and consumers could benefit, and the results speak for themselves,” Pai said. “Hysteria” over the move is “misplaced,” said Pai, because moving forward, getting the regulatory system right means better, faster, and cheaper internet access for all Americans. Pai and his family have received numerous threats after the vote.

Religious Broadcasters Applaud FCC Decision

National Religious Broadcasters applauded the Federal Communications Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” vote today rolling back the agency’s assumption of heavy-handed new powers over the internet in 2015. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, said, “I congratulate the FCC for resisting alarmism and moving to reverse the agency’s unilateral assumption of power in 2015. I particularly applaud Chairman Ajit Pai for his fairness, transparency and firm commitment to an online environment that honors freedom and welcomes innovation. While others have yielded to the intimidation games of the radical left, Chairman Pai has stood courageously as a statesman.”

Putin Thanks Trump for CIA Intel that Foiled a Terrorist Attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned President Trump to thank him for information from the CIA that foiled a terrorist attack being planned in St. Petersburg. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the president and Putin spoke on the phone Sunday. The information helped “find and detain a group of terrorists who were planning explosions” at Kazan Cathedral as well as other centrally located and crowded places in Russia’s second-largest city. Putin asked Trump to pass along his gratitude to the CIA, and said that “if Russian special services obtain any information on terrorist threats against the United States and its citizens, they will definitely and immediately pass it to American counterparts through partner channels.”

Illegal Immigration on the Rise Once Again

Illegal immigration across the Southwest border has surged back to Obama-era levels, according to the latest data released Friday that suggests the gains President Trump made early in his tenure have worn off. Nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed attempting to sneak in at the border in November, which was up about 12 percent compared to October, and more than twice the monthly numbers from March and April. Even more worrisome for immigration officials is the rise in the number of families traveling together (which surged 45 percent last month), as well as the increase in unaccompanied minors traveling without parents, which rose 26 percent in November.

India Creates Largest Biometric Database In The World

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing Indians to link their digital IDs to a host of services such as credit cards and cellphones. Almost 1 billion people had signed up for the program before a landmark privacy ruling in August strengthened the case against making the Aadhaar ID mandatory. The court will now decide on the validity of the government’s order to meet specified deadlines. Last month, it told banks and utilities to stop scaring customers after people complained about a barrage of emails and text messages warning of frozen accounts and invalidated sim cards if they failed to comply with the government’s push. While officials say Aadhaar is saving the government billions of dollars by better targeting beneficiaries of subsidized food and cash transfers, critics point to unfair exclusions and data leaks. Aadhaar is a unique 12-digit number assigned to Indian residents, backed by their fingerprints, iris scans and certain demographic details. Some lawyers and activists, such as Shyam Divan, say that once linked to various services it will offer the government a web of information about each individual that will violate the person’s privacy.

  • India has been the test market for the New World Order folks to first push citizens to a digital money base and is now following it up with universal ID system that can be used to monitor and control all facets of Indian life. China is next, already beginning to implement some of these measures. It’s only a matter of time before these efforts are unleashed in the U.S.

Persecution Watch

The most intense wave of anti-Semitism to hit Europe since World War II spurred by the mass Muslim immigration into France is forcing French-Jewish families to flee from their Paris suburb homes. The changing demographics in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb – which is now more than 40 percent Muslim – on the outskirts of Paris is making it nearly impossible for French Jews to live without fearing for their lives – as Muslims continue to take over neighborhoods and spread anti-Semitism, reports One News Now. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe condemned the “well-rooted” open hostility shown toward French Jews. “This ‘internal exodus’ is difficult to quantify, but it is clear that many synagogues of Seine-Saint-Denis have closed, for lack of people,” the Paris commuter newspaper 20 Minutes reported.

Economic News

Surveys that query respondents about their political affiliation have generally shown that consumer confidence among Republicans has soared since the U.S. elections in November 2016. What’s surprising is that it’s the counties that voted Democratic which have seen the greater increases in confidence, according to a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Friday. And, it’s the Republican counties that have recently become more pessimistic over the last few months. Overall, Americans’ confidence in the economy remains strong heading into the final weeks of the year, according to the latest Gallup survey, which showed an increase of +7 last week.

If the benchmark S&P 500 is able to eke out a gain for December, it will make history. This would be the first time ever that the blue-chip index had a gain for all 12 months of a calendar year. The market has had 12-month winning streaks before. But they have never been for an entire calendar year. The S&P 500 is up nearly 20% so far this year. Stocks surged Friday on growing hopes about the Republican tax plan. Stocks surged Monday after Wall Street got its early Christmas present — a bill that would cut taxes for many businesses and that could be signed by President Trump before the holiday.

Middle East

Clashes broke out amid a fresh wave of violence across the West Bank and along Gaza’s border on Friday as the fallout continued over President Trump’s announcement last week recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Two Palestinians were killed and dozens of other protesters wounded as well as one Israeli officer. Another 82 Palestinians were injured in clashes in several locations along Gaza’s border with Israel, at least five of whom were seriously wounded. Protests in response to the Trump’s announcement, which departed from decades of U.S. policy that the fate of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations, have yet to relent across various Arab and Muslim countries in the region. Following Friday prayers, Palestinians in the West Bank and along the Gaza border set fire to tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and live fire. Friday’s deaths put to six the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza since Trump’s declaration on Dec. 6.

Syria

Syria’s state-run news agency says at least six people were killed and 21 were wounded in a suicide bombing that hit a government-held town in the southern province of Quneitra. SANA says Friday’s bombing targeted the outskirts of the town of Hadar near the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. Opposition activists reported that a suicide car bomb targeted a position of Syrian soldiers in that area amid clashes between government forces and rebels there. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven and said 23 people were wounded. It also reported heavy clashes between the two sides in the area.

Pakistan

Two suicide bombers attacked a church in Pakistan where hundreds of worshippers were attending service ahead of Christmas, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens of others, officials said. One of the suicide bombers was shot dead outside Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, but the other assailant made it to the church’s entrance hall as Sunday services opened. The gunman — who didn’t gain access to the main building — opened fire at the churchgoers before detonating his explosive vest. There were nearly 400 people inside the church. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack. Authorities were hunting for two suspected accomplices who escaped the scene.

Nigeria

At least 50 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in northeast Nigeria last week. A teenage bomber detonated his explosives just as worshipers gathered for morning prayers. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing in Mubi town in Adamawa state, suspicion immediately fell on the Boko Haram terror group. The Islamist extremists, based in neighboring Borno state, has been blamed for scores of similar attacks over the years, and has increasingly sent out bombers who are teenagers and young women — many of whom had been abducted.

China

Human rights groups and academics estimate that thousands of Chinese citizens have been spirited away without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang. The detentions are primarily of the Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism. Cutting-edge digital surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say, using facial recognition systems that can identify more than a million people in under two seconds.

Earthquakes

A large 6.5 magnitude earthquake was reported along the coast of the Indonesian island of Java late Friday night, causing damage and at least two deaths, both of whom were killed in building collapses. The tremor struck at a depth of about 57 miles. More than 40 houses collapsed and about 65 suffered severe damage. A hospital in the town of Banyumas was damaged and patients had to be evacuated. Panicking people ran out of buildings in many areas and Indonesian television showed heavy traffic on roads as people fled coastal areas.

Wildfires

Downtown Santa Barbara turned into “a ghost town” Saturday as surging winds reinvigorated what is now the third-largest wildfire in California history. After a brief respite Friday, firefighters faced increased danger as Santa Ana winds picked up. New evacuations were ordered as wind-driven flames moved towards Santa Barbara, the nearby wealthy enclave of Montecito and other communities. The evacuation zone stretches 17 miles long and up to 5 miles wide from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean, an area that is home to numerous celebrities. Driven by Santa Ana winds, the Thomas Fire burning in Ventura, California, has claimed more than 422 square miles – an area larger than the city of San Diego – since it was sparked last Monday evening, according to Cal Fire. The inferno is responsible for two deaths and has destroyed nearly 1,000 structures, including 700 homes. A firefighter battling the massive Thomas Fire died Thursday. Fire officials said Monday that they’re hopeful improving conditions and lighter winds will allow them to establish containment by the end of the month. It is now 45% contained.

Weather

According to the National Weather Service, the areas with the most snow in the U.S. New York’s Oswego and Lewis counties — which get clobbered each year with snow drifting across the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. The tiny town of Redfield in Oswego County is leading the state with 82.6 inches of snow as of Friday. At this rate, Redfield is on pace for its second straight record snowfall after getting 350.5 inches of snow last year, which equals more than 29 feet.

More than 30 people in the Philippines have been killed and many others are missing after Tropical Storm Kai-Tak drenched the country with heavy rainfall that caused flooding and landslides. Eastern portions of Visayas, including Samar, have received more than 40 inches of rainfall since Dec. 13. The storm forced more than 89,000 people to flee to emergency shelters. Thousands of Christmas holiday travelers were stranded due to canceled inter-island ferries and flights.

Signs of the Times (12/14/17)

December 14, 2017

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

The World Sees Red at Christmas

“Red is the color of Christmas—not because Santa suits are red or because we wrap packages in red. Red is the color of Christmas because of the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed. We see a battle being played out in our culture today that is actually the battle of the gods. It is the God of the Bible, the true and living God, versus all contenders. The Incarnation was for the purpose of atonement. The purpose behind the birth of Jesus was the death of Jesus. This is New Testament Christianity. It’s the division between light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil, and right and wrong. So don’t be upset because there is a little conflict. Just hold your ground and keep praying. This division can result in people thinking about their souls, considering the claims of Christ, and then ultimately turning their lives over to the Lord.” (Greg Laurie, Harvest)

Inept Subway Bomber Charged with Terrorism

Akayed Ullah, the Bangladesh native accused of igniting a small bomb Monday in a New York transit hub, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting an act of terrorism and making terroristic threats, police said Tuesday. Ullah and three people near him were wounded in the blast. Ullah expected to die in the attack and believed that others would perish with him. Ullah, 27, was not on the radar of law enforcement prior to Monday’s blast. Ullah did not appear to have been struggling financially or facing any other particular pressures. Authorities have described Ullah as a lone wolf who was inspired by the Islamic State, a common theme in recent attacks. “I did it for the Islamic State,” he told authorities. The city’s morning commute was running smoothly Tuesday, and the pedestrian tunnel where Ullah detonated what was essentially a vest of explosives was open. Ullah detonated his improvised, low-tech explosive device in the crowded pedestrian tunnel Monday at about 7:20 a.m. Ullah told investigators he timed the assault to coincide with the Christmas season for the greatest possible impact

Tax Cut Bill Not What Trump Promised

The day after suffering a political blow in the Alabama special Senate election, congressional Republicans sped forward with the most sweeping tax rewrite in decades, announcing an agreement on a final bill that would cut taxes for businesses and individuals and signal the party’s first major legislative achievement since assuming political control this year. Party leaders in the House and Senate agreed in principle to bridge the yawning gaps between their competing versions of the $1.5 trillion tax bill, keeping Republicans on track for final votes next week with the aim of delivering a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas. The House and Senate versions of the tax bill started from the same core principles — sharply cutting taxes on businesses, while reducing rates and eliminating some breaks for individuals. The changes included a slightly higher corporate tax rate of 21 percent, rather than the 20 percent in the legislation that passed both chambers, and a lower top individual tax rate of 37 percent for the wealthiest Americans, who currently pay 39.6 percent. But the bill will still scale back some popular tax breaks, including the state and local tax deduction and the deductibility of mortgage interest.

The GOP tax plan on the cusp of becoming law diverges wildly from the promises President Trump and top advisers said they would deliver for the middle class — an evolution that shows how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump’s distinctive brand of economic populism as it moved through Washington. The bill was supposed to deliver benefits predominantly to average working families, not corporations. “The largest tax reductions are for the middle class, who have been forgotten,” Trump said in Gettysburg, Pa., on Oct. 22, 2016. But the final product is looking much different, the result of a partisan policymaking process that largely took place behind closed doors, faced intense pressure from corporate lobbyists and ultimately fell in line with GOP wish lists. As top lawmakers from the House and the Senate now rush to complete negotiations to push the tax plan into law, it amounts to a massive corporate tax cut, with uneven — and temporary — benefits for the middle class that could end up increasing taxes for many working families in future years.

FCC Repeals its Net Neutrality Rules

Federal regulators voted Thursday morning to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon. The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry would be a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it would be a sweeping victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan. Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members followed through on a promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. Internet service providers argue that there is no financial incentive to penalize specific apps or services, that giving some sites the option of faster service could in fact benefit consumers. The ISPs also said the 2015 rules discouraged providers from making broadband faster and more reliable.

India, China & Russia Refrain from Recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestinian Capital

Foreign ministers from India, Russia and China notably refrained from recognizing ‘East Jerusalem’ as the capital of Palestine at their annual meeting in New Delhi this week – seven days after the US recognized the holy city as the capital of Israel. The decision not to restate the position on Jerusalem long-held by all three countries was in marked contrast to their joint call at last year’s meeting in Moscow for a “sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” At this year’s 15th annual meeting, their statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stressed support for “an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” without mentioning the issue of Jerusalem.

Turkey’s President Quotes Hadith to Justify Killing Jews

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked a Muslim “hadith” commonly used by Hamas and other terrorist supporters to sanction the killing of Jews, during a party convention last Sunday. The full hadith says: “The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.” Erdogan invoked the passage during a Justice and Development Party (AKP) gathering on Sunday, just days after President Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and pledged to move the US embassy there. Erdogan also accused Israel of being a terrorist state. “Those who think they own Jerusalem better know that tomorrow they won’t be able to hide behind trees,” Erdogan said.

  • Hadith are a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad that, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran.

Texas Imam Calls for Israel’s Destruction

Following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a Texas-based Islamic cleric has posted a recorded prayer on his Facebook page calling for Israel’s destruction, along with “their allies, and those who assist them.” Sheikh Ramadan Elsabagh  is listed as the head of the Islamic Services Foundation Quran Institute in Garland, Texas, and is featured as a Quran reader on many Internet sites. His YouTube pages have tens of thousands of views. His recitations are also featured in Google Play and iTunes. The video drew several comments of “amen, amen,” according to a Facebook translation. One came from Said Abbasy, a New York-based Muslim Brotherhood supporter. Abbasy mourned the death of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman – considered the spiritual guide for the 1993 World Trade Center bombers who was convicted for a plot to attack other New York landmarks and assassinate high-profile targets, according to IPT.

  • While there are many peace-loving Muslims, Islam has the highest proportion of extremists than another religion – by far. That’s because the Quran calls for using violence, if necessary, to establish Islam as the one-world religion.

Russia, China Aggressively Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

A sobering new report warns of growing nuclear threats to U.S. national security posed by the deterioration of the nation’s own nuclear arsenal just as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are all upgrading their arsenals. Dr. Mark Schneider, author of the report for the Center for Security Policy and a longtime Pentagon official with expertise in strategic forces, reports a huge increase in the numbers and sophistication of the Russian and Chinese missile arsenals and compares this with the deterioration of America’s nuclear arsenal. Russia and China are now deploying new nuclear ICBMs, new nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, new nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles and new ballistic missile submarines. In contrast to Russia’s vastly upgraded position, most of the U.S. systems date back to the Reagan era, with some going as far back as the Eisenhower administration. Schneider’s report notes that the U.S. no longer has the capability to produce tritium, a vital nuclear weapons ingredient. He explains that the average age of a U.S. nuclear weapon – 35 years – represents a serious threat to the U.S. nuclear arsenal because the estimated life span of the nuclear fuel in these weapons is just 45 to 60 years.

U.S. Weapons Provided to Syrian Rebels Wound Up in ISIS

Sophisticated weapons the U.S. military secretly provided to Syrian rebels quickly fell into the hands of the Islamic State, a study released Thursday disclosed. The report said the Islamic State’s possession of these weapons remains a threat to the U.S.-led coalition still operating against the terror group in Iraq and Syria. The arms included anti-tank weapons that ended up in possession of the Islamic State within two months of leaving the factory, according to the study by Conflict Armament Research, an organization that tracks arms shipments. The study was funded by the European Union and German government. Efforts by the United States and other countries to supply weapons to rebel groups “have significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to (Islamic State) forces,” the report concluded.

  • We never seem io learn that weapons supplied to supposed allies often wind up being used against us

DOJ Opens Probe Into Planned Parenthood Fetal Tissue Sales

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the sale of fetal tissue involving Planned Parenthood and several biomedical research companies. In a letter obtained by Fox News, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd formally requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which compiled a December 2016 report in which GOP chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa asked for a probe. “The Department of Justice appreciates the offer of assistance in obtaining these materials, and would like to request the Committee provide unredacted copies of records contained in the report, in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available,” Boyd wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Judge Rules Transgender People Can Enlist in Military

A federal judge on Monday denied the Trump administration’s request to delay an order requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits starting Jan. 1, saying the argument for more time seemed based on “vague claims.” “The Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by” meeting the New Year’s Day deadline, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote. The ruling follows her earlier opinion blocking the president’s ban on military recruitment of transgender men and women that possibly would have forced the dismissal of current service members starting in March. A second federal judge in Baltimore also issued a preliminary injunction in November that goes further, preventing the administration from denying funding for sex-reassignment surgeries once the order takes effect.

Economic News

The U.S. central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point, moving it into a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. It’s the fifth increase since the bank cut the rate to nearly zero amid the 2008 financial crisis. Lower rates are aimed at stimulating economic growth, and in raising the rate, the Fed pointed to a strong economy, with steady growth, limited inflation and unemployment at its lowest level since 2000. Low interest rates make it cheaper to borrow money for homes, cars or major business investments, but if left too long they carry the risk of creating high inflation or investment bubbles. Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen will give her final news conference Wednesday afternoon before she steps down in early February. President Trump selected Jerome “Jay” Powell, a current Fed governor, to replace her.

The Dow hit a new record high and moved closer to 25,000 Wednesday following numerous reports that Congressional leaders reached a tax overhaul deal. The S&P 500 also hit an all-time high while the tech-heavy Nasdaq inched closer to a record, too. CNN said the House and Senate could vote on a reconciled deal as soon as next week. That would mean the bill, if passed, could be signed into law by President Trump before the end of the year.

According to the Treasury Department’s website, the interest on government debt is now $1.26 billion a day. Every day. That’s $458.5 billion a year. Just for interest to repay creditors. Total debt now has surpassed $20 trillion. This year, the total government deficit is estimated at $666 billion, an increase of $80 billion over last year, further adding to the interest burden. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that, if nothing changes from the status quo, interest payments would rise to 91% of the nation’s total economic output (gross domestic product).

The share of the nation’s total income that goes to the top 10% of the population is at the highest point in over a century. After peaking at just under 50% on the eve of the Great Depression, the figure then fell as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which introduced social safety nets for low-income individuals. Income inequality then began to climb again in the 1970s. It’s a trend that has continued ever since, breaching the 50% threshold in 2015, according to data from the World Wealth and Income Database. Extreme inequality can trigger political turmoil. We’re already seeing this with the growth of populism. Inequality can also lead to lower economic growth. Wealthy people spend less of their income than poor people.

The worst is yet to come for American shopping malls. As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis. When so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent. As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years — around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

Speculators aren’t the only ones cheering the runaway bitcoin boom — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may also be celebrating a windfall. In recent months, experts and officials say North Korea has been “mining” bitcoin, demanding it as ransom payment for hacked computer networks, and stealing the digital currency. North Korean hackers targeted four different exchanges that trade bitcoin and other digital currencies in South Korea in July and August. Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency that lives on computer servers. The virtual coins are “mined” by complex algorithms and recorded in a digital ledger. Experts say the attacks by North Korea and others are likely to continue as bitcoin’s price skyrockets. It started the year below $1,000 but has soared more than 1,500%, crossing $17,000 for the first time last week. Some are claiming that Bitcoin was developed by the NSA.

  • With several other cryptocurrencies on the rise, competition may cause Bitcoin to experience a precipitous drop in the near future.

Great Britain

The British parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an amendment that gives the legislative body the power to approve or reject any Brexit deal made by the government in a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s power. With a group of May’s Conservative lawmakers rebelling against her Brexit vision, parliament voted 309 to 305 in favor of amending the government’s EU Bill, a move which observers believe will undermine the government’s ability to negotiate a deal. Eighteen months after Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union, Brexit is having a growing negative impact on the United Kingdom. Britain has agreed to pay the EU $54 billion to honor existing budget commitments on everything from EU officials’ pensions to investments in European infrastructure. That is raising questions about whether a divorce is still worth it. A poll published in October by YouGov, an online research firm, showed 47% of Brits thought the country was wrong to vote to leave the EU, compared to 42% who said it was the right thing to do.

Middle East

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canons at protesters near the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon on Sunday during a demonstration against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, set fires in the street and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the U.S. Embassy in the Awkar area north of Beirut. Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist Party Hanna Gharib declared the United States “the enemy of Palestine” and the U.S. Embassy “a symbol of imperialist aggression” that must be closed. Thousands also participated in demonstrations in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday in response to Trump’s statement. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs protested Sunday along a major highway in the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel, damaging several vehicles and leaving three people wounded. In response to the protests, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of Arab businesses in that region. In Jerusalem, a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday was arrested after allegedly stabbing a security guard.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel on Tuesday, setting off sirens in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. The rocket fell in open space, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip. Recent days have seen a spike in rockets attacks from Gaza following President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A total of 10 rockets have been fired at Israel in the past week. While tensions are high on the border with Gaza, Israel estimates that Hamas is not seeking to escalate the situation and engage in a full-blown armed conflict with Israel, at this time.

North Korea

U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials told him it was important to prevent war but they did not commit to talks. Feltmen met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit to Pyongyang. It was the highest level U.N. visit to North Korea since 2011. “They listened seriously to our arguments … They did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point,” said Feltman, a former U.S. diplomat. “They agreed it was important to prevent war… How we do that was the topic of 15-plus hours of discussions.” Feltman said he requested North Korea consider “talks about talks” and possibly open up “technical channels of communication, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, to signal intentions, to prevent misunderstandings and manage any crisis.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea.

India

“Going on a witch hunt” is a custom many in India observe — and for those hunted it can be deadly. Nearly 2,000 people across India, mostly women, were killed for alleged witchcraft between 2005 and 2015, the most recent numbers available from India’s National Crime Records Bureau. So far, 13 victims of witch hunts have received compensation of $750 to $3,000 from the state government. But no one has been convicted in the 86 cases filed since the Prevention of Witch-hunting Act was passed two years ago, largely because of the slow pace of India’s courts. In three of those cases, the witch hunts ended with the killing of the women accused of witchcraft.

Wildfires

Increased Santa Ana winds forced firefighters to move out of the way as blazes continue to tear through Southern California on Friday. Nearly 500 buildings have been lost and hundreds of thousands are still evacuated as a result several major fires. The fire burning in Ventura County is the largest of five fires burning in Southern California and has burned more than 220 square miles and forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people. It was just 15 percent contained as of Monday morning. It is the largest fire to be sparked in December in state history. The massive, deadly wildfire still burning in Ventura County, California, is now one of the five largest in state history. Named the Thomas Fire, the blaze driven by Santa Ana winds has claimed more than 360 square miles – an area larger than the city of San Diego. More than 94,000 people have been forced to flee the largest December wildfire in state history, and more than 1,000 structures have been destroyed, with18,000 structures remaining threatened.

A wildfire that was growing in a South Dakota state park erupted and grew out of control overnight Tuesday, and officials said some nearby communities are threatened. The so-called Legion Lake Fire grew from 6 square miles to 55 square miles overnight after forcing the evacuation of five homes in Custer State Park. The blaze is just 7 percent contained. A lot of these firefighters say they haven’t seen anything like this fire in 10 to 20 years. No homes or park buildings have been destroyed and crews succeeded in burning downed trees and grass between the fire and the State Game Lodge to protect the popular site. But the communities of Fairburn and Buffalo Gap, east of the park, remain threatened and residents of about 200 area homes have been evacuated or warned to evacuate.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji moved into the Northeast Saturday after blanketing much of the Deep South with heavy snow, leaving over 185,000 still without power and three dead. Benji dumped heavy snow across the Deep South Friday into Saturday. The wintry menace also hindered travel and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands. Over 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia combined as of Saturday morning Thundersnow was reported in some parts of southern Texas and even in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the system brought bursts of snow that were heavy at times.

Farther east, heavy snow fell in cities like Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, and the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Metro Atlanta experienced another traffic nightmare Friday afternoon as many businesses and schools let out employees and students at virtually the same time citywide. It was a scene similar to that of a snow and ice event in January 2014, when drivers spent upwards of 12 hours stuck in traffic before abandoning their cars to walk or sleep overnight in stores or hotels. Extremely frigid air, straight from the Arctic, is poised to invade portions of the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days. Areas near the Great Lakes and in New England could see up to a foot. Winter Storm Chloe arrived in the Midwest on Wednesday, dumping inches of snow and closing schools in Detroit for a second day.

The number of storm deaths in Puerto Rico is much, much higher than that country has officially reported, according to The New York Times. A review by the Times of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau indicates that 1,052 more people than usual died across the island, as compared to the 64 deaths local officials have touted.

Signs of the Times (12/8/17)

December 8, 2017

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:5-7)

Trump Officially Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

Speaking from the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House Wednesday, President Trump officially declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process…This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.” In his remarks, Trump said, “Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world,” Trump said. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.” The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued that failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.”

“Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. President Trump, thank you for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jewish people, and the Jewish State will be forever grateful,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following President Trump’s Announcement. “We’re profoundly grateful for the President for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the US embassy here. This decision reflects the President’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”

  • Jerusalem was first the capital of Israel nearly 3,000 years ago, long before Islam and Palestinians existed. During its long history, Jerusalem was destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times, according to Wikipedia. It was a Roman colony when Jesus was born. Muslims captured it in 637 A.D. and the Crusaders retook it in 1099. In 1948, following World War II, Israel was reestablished with Jerusalem as its capital. However, this displaced thousands of so-called Palestinians who now lived there. Jerusalem is now divided into four quadrants, one each for the Jews, Muslims (East Jerusalem), Christians and Armenians. The dispute over Jerusalem will ultimately lead to a war that brings the anti-Christ to power (the first beast of Revelation 13), which will mark the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation (Daniel 9:27)

Hamas Calls for New ‘Intifada’ and Clashes Erupt in West Bank

The leader of the terrorist group Hamas called for a new “intifada” or uprising against Israel Thursday after President Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said the United States would begin the lengthy process of moving the Embassy to the city. The exhortation to revolt came as clashes between hundreds of Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops erupted across the West Bank Thursday. Demonstrators in Gaza burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as U.S. and Israeli flags, as part of “three days of rage” that began Wednesday. Protesters in cities and towns threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Smoke was seen rising over Bethlehem. At least 2 Palestinians were killed and 17 injured, one seriously, in Thursday’s clashes, but Friday, the Muslim holy day, could be a bigger test when Palestinians gather for mass prayers. Trump’s controversial decision upended decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and countered long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the ancient city, claimed by Israelis and Palestinians, would be determined in negotiations.

Supreme Court Allows Trump Travel Ban to Take Full Effect

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that President Trump’s immigration travel ban against six majority-Muslim countries can take full effect while legal challenges against the latest version are still tied up in courts. The high court’s identical orders in two challenges to the ban mean that most travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad cannot enter the United States while the cases proceed. Lower courts had exempted more travelers who they said had “bona fide” connections to the United States, such as the grandparents and in-laws of citizens. By allowing the full travel ban to take effect for now, the justices may be signaling that they are likely to uphold it on the merits at a later date — an interpretation the American Civil Liberties Union disputed. “It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims,” said Omar Jadwat, who directs the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project.

Congress Averts Shutdown with 2-Week Stopgap Bill

Congress passed a short-term spending deal Thursday, sending to President Trump a bill to avert a partial government shutdown and setting up a heated budget fight later this month. Trump has indicated that he will sign the deal, preventing a government stoppage that had been set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The deal does not resolve numerous debates over domestic spending, immigration and funding for the military that brought the government to the brink of partial closure, leaving party leaders with a new Dec. 22 deadline to keep the government open. Democrats are pushing for the next government funding bill to include increased domestic spending, legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and other party priorities. Some Republicans are pushing for increased defense spending, while others have made shrinking the government their top objective. Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, but they cannot pass spending bills alone. In the Senate, a 60-vote supermajority is required to pass most major legislation, and Republicans control just 52 seats.

Arrests Along Mexico Border Drop Sharply Under Trump

The number people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration. During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971. The figures show a sharp drop in arrests immediately following President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers. Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States surged under Trump. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers made 110,568 arrests between Trump’s inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year. But the number of people expelled from the United States declined about six percent during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, in part because the drop in illegal border crossings left the agency with fewer people to deport.

FBI Attempting to Retrieve Guns from Those Who Should Have Been Denied

A USA TODAY review found that federal authorities sought to retrieve guns from thousands of people who should have been blocked by background checks from buying the weapons. These are people with criminal records, mental health issues or other problems that would block them from buying weapons. Or someone like Devin Kelley, who had a domestic violence record but still purchased a rifle used in the Texas church massacre in November that killed 26 people. More than 4,000 requests were made last year by the FBI to retrieve weapons, the largest number of such requests in 10 years. But the government has a mixed record in retrieving these guns, notes the paper.

  • Another example of why you can’t trust government agencies to do the job right in the first place. More laws won’t matter if enforcement has so many holes.

More Than 100 Powerful Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Since the allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced on Oct. 5, women have been stepping forward to publicly share their stories of sexual misconduct. Although many of the accusations originally focused on Hollywood, more than 100 high-profile men across industries — including tech, business, politics and media — have since faced claims ranging from sexual harassment to rape. Many have resigned or been fired from high-level positions. Also coming into focus are the many others who knew about the sexual misconduct and did nothing about it or actually condoned it.

  • For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
  • For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:12-13)

Cocaine Kills as Many Blacks as Opioids Kill Whites

The American opioid crisis is only part of an overall drug abuse emergency in the U.S. Cocaine-related overdose deaths among non-Hispanic blacks are on par with overdose deaths caused by heroin and prescription opioids among whites, according to a study published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years,” said Meredith Shiels, a co-author of the study and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute. Death rates are “rising most rapidly among white Americans,” she said. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16,849 Americans died due to an overdose in 1999, and in 2015, the number of overdose fatalities reached 52,404. Overall, rates of overdose deaths increased by 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2015. Most of that increase has been attributed to opioid-related deaths among white persons. Cocaine was the largest contributor to overdose deaths among black men and women.

New Initiative Fighting Online Christian Censorship

Censorship of Christian and conservative speech online by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple is the target of an initiative called Internet Freedom Watch, launched Thursday by the National Religious Broadcasters. The initiative has established a website, InternetFreedomWatch.org, to document cases of censorship of Christian content. NRB, has published a chart with more than 30 instances of Internet censorship. Last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai accused Twitter and other tech companies of being disingenuous by arguing for a free and open Internet while they “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” Pai, appointed by President Trump to head the agency, called out Twitter for appearing to have a “double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users.”

Americans Give More to Charity than Any Other Country

According to Giving USA, American giving rose to $390 billion last year, a 3% increase over the prior year. Americans give about 3% of their collective income to charity, more than the citizens of any other country. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the vast majority of U.S. citizens donate to charity, and 91% of high net-worth do so. The average household contributes $2,520 a year. The U.S. gives $40 billion to more than 100 countries, Altogether, the U.S. is the most giving nation on earth.

Bitcoin Frenzy Driving Price Up, Up, Up

2017 has become the year bitcoin went big. It started the year worth less than $1,000 but has soared above $16,000. Back in 2011, it was worth less than a dollar. It is being bought and sold by investors in a frenzy, driving the price higher and higher. Some leading economists and financiers are calling bitcoin a bubble and a fraud, but industry insiders say they think it’s only going to get bigger as it gains more widespread acceptance. Unlike the U.S. dollar or Japanese yen, digital currencies such as bitcoin aren’t issued by central banks like the Federal Reserve. Instead, they are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms. Payments in bitcoin can be made without traditional middlemen such as banks and without the need to give your name. That made bitcoin popular with criminals and others who wanted to move money anonymously. It’s also been adopted by businesses around the world as a way to pay for everyday things like groceries, train tickets and haircuts. Its price has taken off this year as mainstream investors have become more interested.

Economic News

U.S. employers added 228,000 jobs in November as unemployment stayed the same at 4.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. The growth slightly outpaced Wall Street analysts’ expectations as the labor market continued to expand after being hampered by hurricanes earlier this fall. The unemployment rate, a measure of the number of people actively looking for a job but who have not yet found one, has not dipped below 4 percent since December 2000. Workers’ average hourly earnings, meanwhile, grew by 5 cents, up 2.5 percent from this time last year. Productivity growth remains low, he said, inching up at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent over the last eight years, compared to its historic rate of 2.1 percent from 1974 to 2017.

Americans’ assessments of the economy remain relatively strong, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup said its U.S. Economic Confidence Index was at +9 for the week ending Dec. 3. This score is similar to the previous week’s +11 and slightly above the average weekly level of economic confidence during the year so far (+6). “During this period, there have been a number of signs indicating that the economy is strong — including the lowest unemployment rate in nearly two decades, a stock market that continues to flirt with new highs and stronger-than-expected GDP growth. Given these inputs, it is not surprising that many Americans report being optimistic about the economy, particularly current conditions,” Gallup explained. “The tax bill per se is not widely popular with Americans, but its relationship to a rising stock market is an indirect effect that most likely does register positively with the public,” Gallup said.

About one in five small businesses are majority female-owned, and the number of such firms grew by 22% between 2007 and 2015, according to a recent report published by the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Kansas City. More than 970,000 small firms now have majority female ownership. The Fed defines a small business as a company with 500 or fewer employees. That’s far fewer than the 3 million male-run firms, a number that grew by about 6% over the same period.

A last-minute deal was made early Friday in the faltering talks between Britain and the European Union over Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union. The deadlocked talks faced a Friday deadline or risked being derailed ahead of a summit in Brussels next week that will seek to lock-in the terms of Britain’s EU withdrawal fee, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit. The agreement paves the way for negotiations on the trade deal between Britain and the bloc after the divorce.

Middle East

The Israeli Defense Forces struck two terror targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire from the northern Gaza Strip that landed in Israeli territory and to an earlier launch that landed within the Gaza Strip,” an IDF spokesman said. “The IDF sees the terror organization Hamas as responsible for events in the Gaza Strip.” The IDF said the strikes on Gaza had been carried out with tank fire and from an aerial vehicle.

Iran

France and Germany agree that Iran must reverse its ballistic missile program and end its “hegemonic temptations” across the Middle east, the French foreign minister said on Monday. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman earlier on Monday said Paris should know that Iran’s missile program is not an issue that can be negotiated. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said the two countries would continue to defend the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency announced Tuesday that a series of joint U.S.-Afghan operations had killed a top leader of the extremist al-Qaeda network along with scores of other members. Omar bin Khatab was the second most important leader of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the most senior leader to have been ever killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war that ousted the former Taliban rulers in late 2001, said an official with the Afghan National Directorate of Security. Bin Khatab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was killed in the Gilan district of Ghazni province southwest of the capital.

Congo

At least 14 United Nations peacekeepers were killed in eastern Congo in one of the deadliest attacks on the international forces in years, U.N. officials reported Friday. U.N. officials said 53 peacekeepers also were wounded in the attack, and at least five members of Congo’s military were killed. Heavily armed rebel fighters attacked a forward operating base in a remote part of North Kivu province Thursday night, firing rocket-propelled grenades and destroying at least one armored personnel carrier, U.N. officials said. The firefight went on for at least three hours, and the majority of those killed and injured were from Tanzania. The death toll is the highest for U.N. peacekeepers in a single incident since 1993, when 23 “blue helmets” were slain in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Wildfires

Several large wildfires continue to burn across Southern California, fanned by Santa Ana winds. At least 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes because of the fires. At least 150 structures have been destroyed and 116,000 acres torched. The body of a woman was discovered Wednesday night in a burn zone near the town of Ojai. Authorities ordered evacuations for several neighborhoods in Bel-Air and closed both directions of the 405 Freeway as a new wildfire began to char land Wednesday morning in Southern California. Earlier, a fire was reported Tuesday morning in the Kagel Canyon area, east of Ventura and north of Los Angeles. The largest of the fires, named the Thomas Fire, was sparked first and has since burned more than 101 square miles just north of Santa Paula. The Lilac fire in San Diego County has burned at least two people, destroyed 22 structures and consumed 2.000 acres, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations.

Thursday a text alert about the dangerous fire conditions was sent to 12 million residents in the southern part of the Golden State It was the widest alert the state Office of Emergency Services has ever issued.  “The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told the Associated Press. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people and protect structures.” Officials say the state is in for the worst Santa Ana wind conditions they’ve ever seen, posing a potential risk to the city of Los Angeles.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji has already delivered a rare snow event to parts of south and coastal Texas, and will blanket a 2,000-mile-long swath from the Deep South and Northeast into this weekend with the season’s first snow, for many. Already over 100,000 customers have lost power in the storm and schools have been shut down in the South. The southern extent of the snow swath right now is something not often seen, extending from Deep South and coastal Texas into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, north Georgia, and the southern Appalachians. Much of the Houston metro area picked up 1 to 2 inches of snow.

The weather in the world’s most northerly town of Longyearbyen is much tame than it should be. Residents and experts fear this tight-knit community of 2,000 — where polar bears outnumber people — is at risk of disappearing because temperatures are rising at an accelerated pace compared to the rest of the world. “Every single consecutive month has been above average,” said Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. “We have tremendous increase in the wintertime temperatures, almost 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) increase over the past 30 years or so.” The snow melts earlier in the spring, and the glaciers are diminishing by about 2 feet per year in thickness. Melting permafrost and higher temperatures have caused havoc here in recent years, triggering sometimes deadly avalanches on the steep mountains that flank the town. Houses have been destroyed, while roads and some areas have been closed or declared unsafe to live because of the risk.

Signs of the Times (12/4/17)

December 4, 2017

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:6)

North Korea’s Latest Missile Capable of Reaching the U.S.

North Korea declared Wednesday it achieved its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the “whole mainland of the U.S.” Yet some analysts called that boast premature. The isolated regime run by Kim Jong Un based its claim on a successful test Monday of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that appeared capable of reaching 8,100 miles, the longest distance the North has achieved during years of development. That puts Washington D.C., about 6,800 miles away, well within range. North Korea claims to have achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state with the launch of the missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan. However, experts say the missile would require many more tests to become accurate and reliable. Plus, they doubted North Korea had mastered the complex technology required to arm a long-range missile with a nuclear warhead. The South Korean government estimated that Pyongyang is a year away from that accomplishment. President Trump promised new ‘major sanctions’ on North Korea after latest missile launch.

The world has been increasingly concerned in recent months about North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, which indicate dictator Kim Jong Un could be capable of attacking just about anywhere in the world within months, but it’s not the only one posed by North Korea’s missiles. The other is its export of weaponry to other rogue nations, as well as terror groups. The threat was highlighted by a Gatestone Institute report on North Korea’s export of chemical weapons to Syria. The report said that the recently detected shipments of chemical weapons to Syria also had been accompanied by shipments of conventional weapons. The delivery of chemical weapons was confirmed by the United Nations Security Council, which said such weapons had been intercepted in just the last six months. The report said Syria also could obtain nuclear weapons from North Korea in the near future.

U.S. & South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercise Near North Korea

Hundreds of American and South Korean military aircraft began a massive drill Monday, days after North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile it says is capable of striking the “whole” U.S. mainland. Two dozen stealth jets from the U.S. Seventh Air Force were among the aircraft taking part in the five-day Vigilant Ace, an annual exercise in the Korean Peninsula. The exercise, which was scheduled before North Korea launched its new Hwasong-15 missile Wednesday, involves 230 aircraft and about 12,000 service members. North Korea’s state media said the drill pushes the Korean Peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war” and that it will “seriously consider” countermeasures. It said the U.S. and South Korea will “pay dearly for their provocations,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday.  Pyongyang believes the drills are preparation for invasion.

G.O.P. Pushes to Avoid Government Shutdown

Republicans are moving toward passing a two-week stopgap measure to avoid a looming government shutdown, but the path in the coming weeks is treacherous, with obstacles on both sides of the aisle as lawmakers push their own priorities, some unrelated to government spending, notes the New York Times. With government funding set to expire at the end of Friday, Republicans are aiming to buy more time so they can negotiate a long-term spending package. The task is complicated by a feud between President Trump and Democrats, whose votes Republicans need to secure passage. Other obstacles include measures on the politically fraught issues of immigration as well as the Affordable Care Act. The possibility of a shutdown looms just after Senate Republicans succeeded in passing their sweeping tax overhaul, a moment of triumph for a party that has struggled to produce big achievements despite controlling Congress and the White House. But promises made to secure passage of the tax bill could further complicate negotiations on government funding, and any failure at the fundamental task of keeping the government running would swiftly undercut Republicans’ display of progress.

U.S. Senate Passes Historic Tax Reform Package, 51-49

After a marathon evening of debating and considering amendments, the U.S. Senate has approved the GOP’s tax reform bill by a 51-49 margin. The bill will now head to a conference committee, where it will be reconciled with the House-passed bill. Republicans say the proposed bill will deliver an enormous rebate for the masses through a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when the rich get relief, the benefits flow down to the less fortunate. Critics say much of the middle class will be left behind, even as the bill reshapes major areas of American life, from education to health care. The tax bill would also increase the national debt by more than $1 trillion over the next ten years, according to a nonpartisan congressional analysis released on Thursday. The joint committee’s analysis estimated that the GOP bill would increase the nation’s gross domestic product by about .8 percent, increasing revenues by about $458 billion over ten years. But the bill would cost the treasury $1.5 trillion over ten years, so the new revenue would fall far short of covering that tab.

How Every Income Group is Affected by Tax Cut Bill

The following numbers show the average change in annual taxes for each income group (according to the Washington Post, a liberal-leaning newspaper):

$0-$25,400                     -$50                $25,400-$49,600             -$330

$49,600-$87,400          -$850                $87,400 -$150,100       -$1,430

$150,100-$217,800     -$2,230             $217,800-$308,200       -$3,130

$308,200-$746,000     -$11,610            Over $746,000              -$34,130

All Taxpayers             -$1,260

New York State Cries Foul Over Tax Cut Bill

New York officials expressed outrage over the limitations on state and local taxes which will hit high-tax states like New York hard. The House version disallowed all such deductions, while the Senate version limits deductions for property taxes to $10,000, with all other state and local taxes not deductible. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said their state gives $40 billion more in tax revenue to Washington than it receives in return. “They’re using [New York] as a piggy bank to finance the tax cuts in other states in the Midwest and in the South. That’s exactly what they’re doing,” Cuomo said. Like the House bill, the Senate plan would nearly double the standard deduction and expand the child-tax credit. It would let tax filers deduct mortgage interest up to $1 million, while the House bill would cap it at $500,000. The Senate bill would also repeal the individual mandate to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act — a move that would impact New York’s robust health exchange that enrolls more than 4 million people each year.

Obamacare Premiums Up, But so Are Subsidies

President Trump says that premiums for Obamacare are “going up, up, up.” He is partly correct and partly incorrect, according to a New York Times analysis of new data provided by the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform. The median rise in premiums for bronze plans was 18% from 2017 to 2018, according to McKinsey. In many places, the cost of a bronze plan, which generally has high deductibles but low premiums, is at least $50 more a month than last year for a 40-year-old earning $30,000. However, about half of Americans who buy their own health insurance qualify for subsidies that insulate them from the price increases. The subsidies are designed to increase if premiums rise. For those customers, the cost of the lowest-price silver plan may actually go down compared with this year in a majority of counties.

Flynn Pleads Guilty, Implicates Trump Administration in Russian Contacts

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to FBI agents while he worked in the Trump administration. Flynn briefly served as President Trump’s national security adviser. He resigned from his position in February, amid revelations that he had misled Vice President Pence and others about conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions before Trump took office. According to the allegations, Flynn falsely told FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to delay a vote on a pending United Nations Security Council resolution. In court on Friday, prosecutors said at least some of Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials had been coordinated with a “senior official of the presidential transition.” Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate, Rick Gates, were indicted in October for working on behalf of pro-Russia factions in Ukraine without registering with the Justice Department as foreign agents — a legal requirement — and laundering millions of dollars in profits to evade taxes. Additionally, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his communications with people who represented themselves as tied to the Russian government.

U.S. Quits UN Global Compact on Migration

The United States notified the United Nations that it will no longer take part in the global compact on migration, saying it undermines the nation’s sovereignty. The U.S. had been a part of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants since it was formed last year. The declaration aims to ensure the rights of migrants, help them resettle and provide them with access to education and jobs. It calls for the negotiation of a global compact on migration, which is expected to be adopted next year. In explaining its withdrawal Saturday, U.S. officials said the pact contains provisions that are inconsistent with the nation’s immigration policies. While the US is proud of its leadership on migration and refugee issues, the global approach is not compatible with the nation’s sovereignty, according to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. Top of Form

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Haley said President Trump made the decision, and emphasized that Americans should determine their own policies on immigration.

Hush Money Kept the Lid on Sexual Harassment for Decades

The floodgates have opened on sexual harassment claims against immensely powerful men. But high-profile dismissals, including the firing of NBC host Matt Lauer and media mogul Harvey Weinstein, remain the exception, not the rule, for companies facing harassment issues. For many firms, paying fines for sexual harassment has been treated as a cost of doing business. In the past seven years alone, U.S. companies have paid out more than $295 million in public penalties over sexual harassment claims, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission records. And that sum does not count all the private settlements that typically are granted in exchange for alleged victims signing non-disclosure agreements. So far, the recent avalanche of sexual harassment accusations has hit men across an array of industries, including entertainment, tech, media and finance. “For decades, women found that this (harassing) behavior often was the price of coming to work, it was entrenched, with high performers getting a free pass,” says Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates

Pence Rule Once Mocked Now Seen as Sensible

Vice President Mike Pence was roundly ridiculed when it was revealed that he makes an effort never to be alone with a woman who is not his wife, but the policy is looking less prudish and more sensible as accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men proliferate. The “Pence rule” is a variation of the personal conduct policy popularized by the Rev. Billy Graham, who refused to travel, meet or dine alone with a woman. In addition, the vice president does not attend parties where alcohol is served without his wife by his side. Accusations first surfaced last month against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and have since reverberated through Hollywood, the media and government at every level. You don’t have to establish the rules that Mike Pence has established in order to behave appropriately at all times,” said Joseph Backholm, president of the Family Policy Institute. “But the world would be a much better place and much less complicated if everybody conducted themselves like Mike Pence does.”

Marijuana Becomes Legal in California on Jan. 1

Proposition 64 designated January 1st as the official opening of the recreational marijuana market in California. Anyone can buy pot as long as they’re over 21 and the dispensary has a temporary license from the state. The state of California says it’s on track to dole out temporary licenses to dispensaries seeking to sell recreational marijuana even before regulations go live on the first of the year. The Bureau of Cannabis Control’s online application system will open in early December and then the BCC will begin emailing temporary licenses to retailers before the new year. Recreational customers won’t be able to buy pot at the stroke of midnight. They’ll have to wait six hours because state rules limit pot sales to the hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

57% of U.S. Kids Will be Obese by Age 35

A whopping 57% of the nation’s children and teens will be obese by age 35 if current trends continue, according to a sobering new study out Wednesday. The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, goes beyond previous studies suggesting unhealthy childhood weights often lead to adult obesity. It suggests that while heavy children face the highest risk, even those who make it to age 20 in good shape face substantial peril in a world where obesity could soon be the new normal.  The current adult obesity rate, recently updated by U.S. government researchers, stands at a record 39.8%. The rate in children and teens is 18.5%.  Adult obesity is linked with health problems including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Persecution Watch

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the agency responsible for the city’s metro system, for rejecting a Christmas ad. The Archdiocese is asking a federal court for injunctive relief that will allow them to run their ad on metro buses. The ad says “Jesus is the perfect gift” and lists Mass times, Advent and Christmas traditions, and ways to give gifts to the less fortunate through Catholic Charities. WMATA’s censors rejected the ad campaign because depictions of sheep, shepherds, and stars constitute a ‘religious scene’ in violation of Metro policy, said Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal adviser with The Catholic Association.

Economic News

The U.S. economy picked up more momentum last summer than originally thought. It grew 3.3% on an annual basis between July and September, according to revised numbers published Wednesday by the Commerce Department. The initial reading on third quarter growth was 3.0%. That marks the best quarter of growth since in 2014 when the economy grew 5.2% during the same period. An increase in exports, as well as a pickup in business and consumer spending, contributed to the improved growth. President Trump promises to get U.S. economic growth for an entire year up above 3%, something that hasn’t happened since 2005. For the first nine months of this year, the U.S. is averaging 2.5% growth.

Barely a month after hitting 23,000, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 24,000 Thursday, the latest landmark in its historic climb. t’s yet more evidence of excitement among investors about the strengthening economy, record corporate profits and progress in Congress on tax cuts for businesses. The Dow has spiked nearly 6,000 points since President Trump’s election last year, notching 79 daily record highs since then. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are also near all-time highs. The latter is up a whopping 30% since the election. On Monday morning, the Dow surged over 200 points to reach 24,463 based on optimism over the tax cut legislation.

Middling U.S. auto sales in November likely sealed the industry’s fate: 2017 will almost surely mark the first full-year sales decline since the Great Recession. But sales still remain near 2016’s record, and automakers are selling a bevy of profitable sport-utility vehicles, crossovers and pickups. Although passenger cars continued to suffer in November, automakers are rapidly adjusting to the new normal, offering more crossover and SUV models.

The days of shoppers lining up around buildings in the twilight hours following their Thanksgiving feasts on Black Friday may finally be coming to an end. According to Business Insider, retail stores around the country are ditching the typical one-day-a-year sales event for a month-long stretch — effectively paving the way for a “Black November.” Business Insider further reports that Target offered Black Friday deals to its credit card holders two days before such deals typically take place.  Data aggregated by Adobe Analytics shows that online sales reached $30.4 billion from November 1-22 in 2017, representing an 18 percent jump from the year earlier. Thanksgiving-day sales soared 29 percent, showing that consumers are leaving behind the practice of waiting until the day after.

Middle East

Foreign news agencies reported over the weekend that Israeli aircraft had struck an Iranian military base near the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly comment on the reports, but issued a public statement that his government “will not allow (the Iranian) regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.” The statement came as part of a video address he gave to the Saban Policy Forum meeting in Washington DC on Sunday. There were conflicting reports, accusations and denials by all parties involved in the weekend’s events. Iran claimed that twelve members of its Revolutionary Guard were killed in the Israeli airstrike, according to Arabic media. SANA, Syria’s state-run news agency said Israel had fired several missiles at a military base that Iran is building close to the country’s capital, Damascus, on Saturday.

Israeli tanks and aircraft fired on the positions of terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip Thursday afternoon in retaliation for a barrage of mortar fire from those positions into Israeli territory earlier in the day. Although Israel holds the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Strip, responsible for all such attacks, early indications are that the mortars were actually fired by the Islamic Jihad terror militia.

Germany

Attacks against German police have skyrocketed since the country welcomed more than 1 million migrants in 2015. Another 500,000 or so Third-Worlders rushed into the country in 2016 and 2017. The Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) reported 36,755 attacks against German police in 2016 — or an average of 100 per day, and the preliminary numbers for 2017 are expected to further increase. Freddi Lohse, vice chairman of the DPolG German Police Union in Hamburg, said many migrant offenders view the leniency of the German justice system as a green light to continue delinquent behavior: “They are used to tougher consequences in their home countries. They have no respect for us.”

Afghanistan

The U.S. military has sharply expanded its air campaign against the Taliban in the first major test of President Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, a stalemated war now in its 17th year. The first strikes targeted Taliban drug labs, but those initial attacks are only part of an ambitious effort to use air power to help destroy the Taliban’s finances and militant networks. Over the past several years, the U.S. has curtailed air support as it turned over fighting to the Afghan security forces. Under Trump’s plan, Afghan security forces will still be in the lead, but they will be supported by a major U.S. strategic bombing campaign. The drug business was a natural place to start. The Pentagon estimates that half the Taliban’s revenues came from the drug trade, allowing the militants to pay fighters and buy weapons.

Environment

Florida’s Everglades National Park remains the most endangered natural world heritage site in the United States, a new report says. According to a World Heritage Outlook released last month by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the outlook for the Everglades is “critical” and is the only site of 11 sites assessed in the United States to be designated as such. The Switzerland-based nonprofit assesses 241 natural wonders around the world from the Great Barrier Reef off Australia to California’s Redwood National Forest. Of those assessed this year, 17 were rated critical. The assessment notes that the Everglades are threatened by a reduction of water flows caused by the system of dams and canals built over the years to reroute water for development and farming. Other factors contributing to its decline include water pollution and a shifting habitat that is affecting the health, amount and quality of the habitat.

Earthquakes

A rare 4.1 earthquake was reported in Delaware Thursday evening, causing rumblings that were widely felt across the East Coast from Washington, D.C. to New York City. Seismologists remarked that the event wasn’t just a surprise to residents – even the experts didn’t see it coming. The quake occurred in an area where there’s no known fault lines, the Washington Post reported. It was the largest earthquake to hit the region since a 4.6 magnitude tremor in Pennsylvania in 1994, and the strongest East Coast quake since a 5.8 magnitude temblor in Virginia in 2011 that damaged structures from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia. The tremor was the strongest to hit Delaware in at least 146 years, an NBC Philadelphia report said.

Wildfires

Days of critical fire weather conditions are in the forecast for Southern California for this week due to predicted dry and gusty Santa Ana winds. Forecasters say it could be the strongest and longest Santa Ana wind event so far this season. Meteorologists say relative humidity levels will plunge into the single digits and teens. Peak gusts are expected to range from 40 to 70 mph in wind-prone areas. Isolated gusts could hit 80 mph in the mountains.

More than a dozen wildland fires are burning in Oklahoma and Arkansas due to protracted dry windy conditions, while eastern Tennessee and Kentucky have nine wildfires currently burning. The largest is the Blow-Up fire in Oklahoma which consumed over two thousand acres, but full containment is expected soon. The Grey fire, also in Oklahoma, has burned 1,200 acres, but is 98% contained as of Monday morning.

Weather

A potent low-pressure system will track eastward to begin this week, spreading rain, thunderstorms, snow and strong winds through the central and eastern states. Blizzard conditions could even accompany this storm in parts of the northern Plains. In addition to the chance for precipitation, a big temperature change will be ushered in behind the cold front associated with this system. This weather system has already pushed into the West and will emerge into the Plains by Monday. The low-pressure system will continue to slide eastward and is expected to push off the East Coast midweek.

As mild temperatures encompassed a large swath of the contiguous United States last week, parts of Siberia are experiencing temperatures colder than minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A low temperature of minus 69 degrees was recorded early Tuesday in Delyankir, Russia. The daytime high in Delyankir Tuesday failed to rise above -60 degrees. Oymyakon, Russia, plummeted to minus 66 degrees. This region is generally regarded as the coldest inhabited place on the Earth. The mercury has dipped into the minus 50s or colder eight days in a row in Oymyakon through Wednesday. Temperatures this extreme are par for the course in this area during the heart of winter, but it’s significantly colder than the average November low of close to minus 40.

November 2017 was officially the warmest November on record for Phoenix and there is a pretty good chance that 2017 will go down as the hottest the city has seen since records were kept starting in 1895. The city is also deep into a dry spell that just reached 100 days. There has been no measurable rain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport since Aug. 23. The average high for November was 82.9 degrees, the warmest ever and 7.4 degrees above normal. The average low temperature was 59.5 degrees, also the warmest ever and 6.8 degrees above normal. December started off hot as well with a record-breaking temperature of 84 on Dec.2.