Signs of the Times (1/11/18)

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

New Photos of Babies in Womb at 3 Weeks Reveal Life

The notion that life begins at conception has long been debated between pro-life and pro-abortion advocates. While Planned Parenthood and other leftist organizations have tried to convince women that their babies are merely a cluster of cells, more and more research has continued to attest to the opposite. A recent photoshoot posted to Flickr by Lunar Caustic offers a breathtaking high-resolution look into life inside the womb as early as 3 weeks. That’s before many women even know that they’re pregnant. The stunning photos captured by this talented photographer were shared by Live Action earlier this year, and have since created waves of support for the pro-life community across the web. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood/s largest abortion provider in Ohio has been putting up a series of billboard messages, including: Abortion is a blessing; Abortion is sacred; Abortion is a family value; Abortion is hope; Abortion is a second chance; Abortion is liberty; Abortion is health care; and Abortion is good medicine.

Supreme Court Refuses to Alter Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Law

The high court on Monday refused to intervene in a legal fight over Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which took effect on October 10, 2017. That decision leaves in place the decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed the law to take effect. The law protects freedom of conscience concerning three primary issues: (1) that sex is defined at birth and is immutable, (2) that marriage is the exclusive lifelong union of one man and one woman, and (3) that the biblical view of human sexuality is absolute. Those who maintain those three primary beliefs will be protected against government discrimination in the state of Mississippi.

U.S. Intelligence Underestimated North Korea Nuclear Development

At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, American intelligence agencies told the new administration that while North Korea had built the bomb, there was still ample time — upward of four years — to slow or stop its development of a missile capable of hitting an American city with a nuclear warhead. Within months, those comforting assessments looked wildly out of date, reports the New York Times. At a speed that caught American intelligence officials off guard, Chairman Kim Jong-un rolled out new missile technology — based on a decades-old Soviet engine design, apparently developed in a parallel program — and in quick succession demonstrated ranges that could reach Guam, then the West Coast, then Washington, D.C. And on the first Sunday in September, he detonated a sixth nuclear bomb. After early hesitation among analysts, a consensus has now emerged that it was the North’s first successful test of a hydrogen weapon, with explosive force some 15 times greater than the atom bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Yet the inability of the C.I.A. and other American intelligence services to foresee the North’s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among America’s most significant intelligence failures, current and former officials said in recent interviews.

First North-South Korea Talks in 2 Years Yield Breakthrough

The Winter Olympics has brought a thaw in relations between the Koreas: After talks in the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, a South Korean official announced that North Korea will be sending a delegation including officials, athletes, and a cheer squad next month to the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, reports Reuters. South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung says negotiators also discussed allowing the reunification of families separated by the Korean War in time for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. The South has also proposed having athletes from the two Koreas march together at the opening ceremony under the same flag for the first time since 2006, the BBC reports. The International Olympic Committee says it has “kept the door open” for the North to take part in the Games, which begin Feb. 9. The Panmunjom negotiations are the first high-level talks between the Koreas in more than two years. Analysts, however, say that before North Korea agrees to moves like family reunifications or military talks with the South, it is likely to demand that Seoul halt or at least scale back joint military drills with the U.S., the AP reports.

Trump Administration Says Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave

Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade must leave the country, government officials announced Monday. It is the Trump administration’s latest reversal of years of immigration policies and one of the most consequential to date. Homeland security officials said that they were ending a humanitarian program, known as Temporary Protected Status, for Salvadorans who have been allowed to live and work legally in the United States since a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001. Salvadorans were by far the largest group of foreigners benefiting from temporary protected status, which shielded them from deportation if they had arrived in the United States illegally. The decision came just weeks after more than 45,000 Haitians, the second largest group, lost protections granted after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and it suggested that others in the program, namely Hondurans, may soon lose them as well. Nicaraguans lost their protections last year. The Trump administration has been committed to reining in both legal and illegal immigration, most notably by ending protections for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, beginning in March unless Congress grants them legal status before then.

Federal Judge Gives Respite to ‘Dreamers’

A federal judge’s decision Tuesday to block Trump administration plans to phase out protections for so-called undocumented “dreamers” brought sharp backlash Wednesday from the White House, calling the injunction “outrageous.” The order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued Tuesday says safeguards against deportation must remain in place for the nearly 690,000 immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while a legal challenge to ending the Obama-era program proceeds. It remained unclear Wednesday when the DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers” could resume applying for renewals of their work permits as a result of the California ruling, which Alsup said should apply nationwide. Advocates said it would depend on the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program. The Trump administration has vowed to challenge Alsup’s ruling. Judge Alsup referred to a Trump tweet in explaining his decision. Trump had expressed support for DACA on Twitter in September. “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” the president tweeted.

Trump Reverses Obama’s Regulatory Increases

The final bill for Obama’s new regulations in the last two weeks of his presidency topped$ 5.8 billion, reports Obama came to office claiming that he would cut regulations. On the other hand, that regulatory burden took a dramatic move in the opposite direction once Donald Trump took office. According to the Washington Examiner, Obama’s first 100 days in office cost America 141 times more than Trump’s. The regulations proposed by the Trump administration totaled in at $28 million compared to Obama’s $4 billion. Since then, Trump has eliminated many of Obama’s new regulations.

Trump-Appointed Regulators Reject Plan to Rescue Coal and Nuclear Plants

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have propped up nuclear and coal power plants struggling in competitive electricity markets. The independent five-member commission includes four people appointed by President Trump, three of them Republicans. Its decision is binding. At the same time, the commission said it shared Perry’s stated goal of strengthening the “resilience” of the electricity grid and directed regional transmission operators to provide information to help the commission examine the matter “holistically.” The operators have 60 days to submit materials. At that time, the agency can issue another order.

House Votes to Renew Surveillance Law Despite Privacy Objections

The House voted Thursday to renew for six years a controversial surveillance program that collects the content of Americans’ email, text messages, photos and other electronic communication without a warrant. The vote was 256-164 to extend the program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Section 702 program was originally approved by Congress in 2008 to increase the government’s ability to track and thwart foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It was designed to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and specifically bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S. But critics say the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals, even when those foreigners aren’t suspected of terrorist activity. The Senate still must vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to filibuster the legislation passed by the House, but the Senate is ultimately expected to approve the bill.

Trump Administration Advises States to Impose Work Requirements for Medicaid

The Trump administration issued guidance to states early Thursday that will allow them to compel people to work or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid. It would be the first time in the half-century history Medicaid if such a requirement were implemented. The letter to state Medicaid directors opens the door for states to cut off Medicaid benefits to Americans unless they have a job, are in school, are a caregiver, volunteer or participate in other approved forms of “community engagement” — an idea that some states had broached over the past several years but that the Obama administration had consistently rebuffed. The new policy comes as ten states are already lined up, waiting for federal permission to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults in the program. Three other states are contemplating them. Health officials could approve the first waiver — probably for Kentucky — as soon as Friday

2017 Costliest U.S. Disaster Year Ever Recorded

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria combined with devastating western wildfires and other natural disasters to make 2017 the most expensive year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday. The disasters caused $306 billion in total damage in 2017, during with 16 separate events caused more than $1 billion in damage each. Hurricane Harvey, which included extreme flooding in Houston and the surrounding area in August and September, caused $125 billion in damage, the year’s most expensive disaster. Hurricane Maria, which in September set off a fatal and ongoing humanitarian crisis in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and elsewhere, caused $90 billion in damages. Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September and caused $50 billion in total damages, NOAA reports. Western wildfires cost $ 18 billion and caused 54 deaths, the report found. Other large costs came from tornadoes, droughts, severe weather events, flooding and other causes.

Economic News

Americans’ outstanding credit card debt hit a new record in November, highlighting a more confident U.S. consumer but also flashing a warning signal of potential trouble down the road. Revolving credit, mostly credit cards, increased by $11.2 billion to $1.023 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Monday. That nudged the figure past the $1.021 trillion highwater mark reached in April 2008, just before the housing and credit bubbles burst. Over the past year, revolving credit has surged by $55.1 billion, or 5.7%.

Credit scores increase by generation, according to data computed by Experian. Generation Z (age 18-20) is the lowest at 634, but they’re just getting started and have an average debt of just $2,047. Millennials (21-34) score 638, but have accumulated debts averaging $222,000 of which $198,303 is mortgage debt, the rest being student and credit card debt. Generation X (35-69) scores 658, with total average mortgage debt of $231,774. This group also has a high rate of late debt payments at 0.54% and the most average nonmortgage debt at $30,304. Baby Boomers (50-50) score 730 and still have substantial mortgage debt at an average $188,828. They’re also in pretty good financial shape, with a low late payments rate of just 0.3%. The so-called Silent Generation (70+) have the highest average credit score of 729. Their average mortgage debt is surprisingly high for their age at $156,705 but other debts are low, as is their late payment frequency of just 0.12%.

After a successful holiday sales season, department stores are showing signs that they have figured out how to fight back against online giant Amazon — or at least hold their own. With their traditional business models threatened, retailers got creative. They formed new, interesting partnerships; tried to make shopping in person more entertaining and cranked up their own e-commerce efforts. And it paid off. Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom reported stronger than expected holiday sales that contributed to an industry-wide sales bump of 4.9%. That was the biggest increase since 2011.

Walmart is raising its starting wage from $9 per hour to $11 an hour because of the new tax law. Walmart also said they would expand parental leave and promised bonuses for some workers. The country’s largest employer, which has more than 1 million hourly workers, says the changes would take place beginning in February. “Tax reform gives us the opportunity to be more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.,” Doug McMillon, president and chief executive of Walmart, said in a statement. Walmart said the pay increase will apply to all of its hourly workers in the United States, including those at its Sam’s Club stores. The decision could pressure other employers to follow suit and comes after rival Target raised its hourly starting wage to $11 recently.

Persecution Watch

Online censorship of Christian and conservative organizations has been rapidly increasing. The West Virginia-based ministry Warriors for Christ repeatedly has had its Facebook pages removed by Facebook, according to the Christian Post. Its main page, which has more than 225,000 followers, was removed again last week, allegedly for “hateful, threatening or obscene” content. The biggest issue seems to be the ministry’s stance on homosexuality, Pastor Rich Penkoski said. However, they also stand strong for unborn babies’ rights and sexual purity, he said. “We talk about abortion. We talk about adultery. We talk about fornication. Nobody ever talks about that stuff,” he said. One Twitter employee said in a Project Veritas video that such censorship is often done without the person or organization knowing, through a ‘shadow ban.’ “They don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So, they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it,” he said.

North Korea claims the No. 1 spot on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List—an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. With more than 50,000 people in prison or labor camps, such a ranking is little surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life in the country and forces worship of the Kim family. But the new report reveals an alarming trend as countries driven by Islamic extremism, such as Afghanistan (No. 2), reach persecution levels rivaling those in North Korea. Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, 30 saw an increase in persecution during the reporting period. Within the countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme persecution. Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender. Every day six women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith.

Middle East

The Palestinians’ head negotiator, Saeb Erekat, announced on Tuesday that any peace talks sponsored by the United States would be rejected until the Americans revoke their December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Erekat also reiterated the oft-cited PA position that any future deal must include Jerusalem, declaring, “There is no value to a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.” Erekat’s comments are consistent with previous statements issued by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who declared that the U.S. had effectively resigned from its historical role as the primary peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas has also maintained that he refuses to meet with American officials.

Britain’s chief diplomat Boris Johnson told the Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Malki on Monday that Jerusalem will ultimately be shared by Israel and a future Palestinian state, according to a statement from the British foreign office. “I reiterated the UK’s commitment to supporting the Palestinian people and the two-state solution, the urgent need for renewed peace negotiations, and the UK’s clear and longstanding position on the status of Jerusalem,” Johnson stated. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted last month in favor of a nonbinding resolution condemning U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution also represents a rejection of the US intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The UNGA voted 128-9 with 35 abstentions to declare Trump’s declaration as “null and void.” The UK was among those that voted in favor of the resolution.

The U.S. froze a $125 million grant to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Israel’s Channel 10 News and the American Axios news site reported last Friday. The grant was due to be delivered on January 1 and that the amount frozen is one-third of the US annual funding to UNRWA. For now, the money has been frozen while the US reassesses the situation. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced earlier in the week that the Trump administration will halt aid to the Palestinians unless they agree to come to the negotiating table and participate in peace talks with the Israelis.

The Israeli military was on high alert in the West Bank Wednesday following a shooting attack on a car travelling down Route 60 the previous evening, which left an Israeli man dead. The victim, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, the father of six children, was severely wounded in the drive-by shooting attack and later succumbed to his wounds. Hamas issued a statement saying, “We bless the heroic Nablus operation which comes as a result of the Zionist occupation’s violations and crimes at the expense of our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem.” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman criticized the Palestinians for the terror attack, saying, “look no further to why there is no peace.”


At least 17 civilians in the Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta were killed and dozens more injured in a day of government and Russian airstrikes, a rescue group and war monitor said. The White Helmets volunteer rescue group reported dozens of airstrikes in the area on Saturday, adding that four children were among the dead and 40 more people were injured. It said government airstrikes, backed by Russian air power, had begun nine days ago. The latest strikes come as the government steps up its offensive against the country’s last rebel-held areas.


A spokesman for the atomic energy agency in Iran issued a fiery statement Wednesday that if the US re-imposes any kind of economic or political sanctions on Iran, for any reason, it would be considered a violation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord and the US would quickly be punished. He added that Iran has the capacity to quickly increase its uranium enrichment activities, although some analysts cast doubt on this assertion.


Jordan said on Monday it had foiled an ISIS plot that included plans for a series of attacks on security installations, shopping malls and moderate religious figures, state media reported. State news agency Petra said the country’s intelligence department had arrested 17 members of the cell and confiscated weapons and explosives that the militant group had planned to use in the operation. The statement said the cell had waged a series of bank robberies and car thefts to get financing, and manufactured homemade explosives from material bought from local markets. King Abdullah, a Middle East ally of Western powers against Islamist militancy who has also safeguarded Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, has been among the most vocal leaders in the region in warning of threats posed by radical groups.


Researchers suggest a generation of sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef were born mostly female because they were nested in warmer areas, raising concerns global warming might threaten the species. The study, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, found 99.8% of green sea turtles near adulthood and originating from the northern — and warmer —  part of the Great Barrier Reef were born female. A slightly younger group of juvenile turtles was found to be 99.1% female. The study analyzed more than 400 turtles and was conducted by researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in Australia. The lopsided gender split, the authors point out, could cause the population to collapse, or the species to go extinct, unless efforts are made to lower nesting temperatures.


A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean Sea Tuesday night, and although the U.S. Tsunami Warning Center issued advisories for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, overnight impacts were minimal. The tremor struck at 9:51 p.m. EST just over 25 miles from the coast of Great Swan Island, Honduras, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It had a depth of 6.2 miles. In Central America, the quake caused no injuries or notable damage. The region closest to the earthquake’s epicenter – especially the Swan Islands – is largely unpopulated.


The heaviest rain California’s L.A. Basin has seen since last February, has triggered mudslides, rockslides, and debris flows over areas recently charred by destructive wildfires. Parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, near the Thomas fire burn area were particularly hit hard Tuesday morning, especially the town of Montecito. At least 17 deaths have been attributed to flooding and mudslides after the heavy rainfall. Hundreds of rescuers continue to search through the waist-deep for any remaining survivors as friends and family members awaited news. The worst impacts were seen in Montecito and Carpinteria, where 65 homes were destroyed and nearly 450 were damaged. Thousands of people in Southern California were placed under evacuation orders before the storms arrived, including Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. But officials said only a small percentage of those ordered to evacuate actually left their homes.

Roads were snow-covered and dangerous across the heartland Thursday morning as Winter Storm Hunter continued its journey east. In North Dakota, a stretch of Interstate 29 from north of Fargo to the Canadian border was closed Thursday morning due to hazardous travel conditions. Hunter forced school districts to cancel or delay classes Thursday in Omaha, Des Moines, southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

Record lows and dangerously cold wind chills gripped the Northeast Sunday, capping off a major Arctic outbreak that began in late December. Wind chills way below zero were widespread across the Northeast. Frenchville, Maine, saw its wind chill fall to minus 40 degrees. Several daily record low temperatures were broken or tied in the Northeast including Hartford, CT and Worcester, MA at minus 9 degrees. In New Hampshire, the summit of the White Mountains registered minus 36 Saturday morning, with a wind chill of minus 94, tying for the second coldest place in the world. The frigid cold temperatures have been wreaking havoc in North Carolina communities, breaking water pipes and leaving some without water, prompting a boil-water advisory.

Airlifts continued Wednesday for tourists trapped by heavy snow and an elevated avalanche threat in the Swiss alpine town of Zermatt. An estimated 13,000 tourists were cut off by the snow and avalanche threat. On Tuesday, some 300 to 400 tourists wanting to leave were airlifted out of the town, according to a Zermatt tourism official. Meanwhile, controlled avalanches were underway to reduce the threat from more than 39 inches of snow that fell within a 24-hour period over the weekend, adding to the already 10 to 13 feet of snowpack that has already accumulated on the mountains above Zermatt this season.

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