Signs of the Times (12/18/17)

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’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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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