Signs of the Times (12/30/17)

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 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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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