Signs of the Times (1/16/18)

Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.  with long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation. (Psalm 91:14-16)

Government Shutdown Looming Friday

Congress has until Friday to reach an agreement on a number of thorny issues, and the talks don’t appear to be going very smoothly right now. That means President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hurtling toward a government shutdown, with funding set to run out at midnight on Jan. 19. Lawmakers are currently faced with tight budget caps, agreed to in 2011, that limit how much they can spend for the rest of fiscal year 2018 and beyond. Both Republicans and Democrats want to lift those caps — GOP leaders want a big boost for defense; Democrats say any defense increase should be paired with an equal hike for domestic programs. In addition, the partisan debate over how to deal with the Dreamers — the 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — grew more acrimonious last week. That leaves the two sides seriously divided with an agreement appearing unlikely. There are also sharp disagreements over a disaster aid package for Texas, Florida and other places devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

DHS Restarts Obama DACA Amnesty after Judge’s Ruling

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is back up and running, Homeland Security announced this weekend, saying President Trump’s attempt to phase out the Obama-era deportation amnesty is on hold while they fight a court case that ordered them to begin accepting applications again. Only those among the 800,000 or so previously approved can submit applications for renewal, under the judge’s order. And those covered by DACA will no longer be granted advance parole, which had become a shortcut pathway to citizenship in the Obama administration. The move could lessen the pressure on Congress, which is facing a Democratic-led shutdown showdown later this week over the issue. Democrats had insisted that the new spending bill, due by Friday, must also grant full legal status to illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” many of whom have been protected by the DACA program.

Trump Administration Releases Report on Foreign-Born Terrorists

The Trump administration on Tuesday released a terrorism report aimed at bolstering its push for stricter limits on legal immigration to the United States. The report found that of 549 terrorism-related convictions in U.S. federal courts since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 402 of the defendants (73%) were foreign-born. The report also found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents deported 1,716 individuals with “national security concerns” between 2001 and 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the findings prove that the U.S. must end “chain migration” — the long-standing ability of U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their relatives abroad to enter the U.S. — and the diversity visa lottery. “This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

Trump Transforming Federal Judiciary

2017 was one of the most transformative years in the federal judiciary. The White House, after winning confirmation for Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat held by the late conservative icon Antonin Scalia, has moved with record speed to fill vacancies on the lower federal courts. As of mid-December, nineteen of Trump’s sixty-six total nominees this year have been confirmed by the Senate. By comparison, then-President Barack Obama had made only 26 choices – including Justice Sonia Sotomayor – half of whom were confirmed by the end of 2009. The impact under Trump is especially being felt on the appellate level. the part of the judicial system that is responsible for hearing and reviewing appeals from legal cases that have already been heard in a trial-level or other lower court. This is where Trump and conservatives have been losing cases for many years after the appellate courts became ultra-liberal under Obama.

Flu in U.S. Now an Epidemic, Kills 20 Children

Cases of influenza have reached epidemic proportions, touching nearly all parts of the United States and killing more than 100 and at least 20 children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The flu is now widespread in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. At least 60,000 cases of the flu have been reported. California has been particularly hard hit, with at least 27 deaths of people under 65 attributed to the flu. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency Friday because of the flu. Schools in Alabama, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have closed because of outbreaks. The influenza season started earlier and seems to be peaking now, about a month earlier than normal. The CDC notes that this year’s vaccine is only expected to be about 32 percent effective.

Hawaiian Alert About Incoming Missile Sent in Error

An early-morning emergency alert mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday, setting off widespread panic in a state that was already on edge because of escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea. The alert, sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, was revoked 38 minutes after it was issued, prompting confusion over why it was released — and why it took so long to rescind. Officials said the alert was the result of human error and not the work of hackers or a foreign government. The mistake occurred during a shift-change drill that takes place three times a day at the emergency command post. A flaw in the alert system delayed sending out a cellphone correction. As a result, a “cancellation template” would be created to make it easier to fix mistaken alerts. A new procedure was instituted Saturday requiring two people to sign off before any such alert is sent. The false alert prompted calls for major improvements to America’s disaster notification systems.

Kentucky First State to Require Some to Work for Medicaid

Kentucky received the green light Friday to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive coverage. The Bluegrass State thus becomes the first state to act on the Trump administration’s unprecedented change that could affect millions of low-income people receiving benefits. Under the new rule, adults age 19 to 64 must complete 80 hours of “community engagement” per month to keep their care. That includes working a job, going to school, taking a job-training course or volunteering. Kentuckians also will be required to pay up to $15 a month for their insurance, with basic dental and vision being eliminated entirely. However, those benefits can be earned back through a rewards program, such as getting an annual physical, completing a diabetes or weight management course or participating in an anti-smoking program. “There is dignity associated with earning the value of something that you receive,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said.

Christian Conservatives Being Marginalized by Prejudice

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s radically pro-abortion prime minister, blasted pro-life advocates Wednesday amid a nation-wide outrage about barring pro-life groups from a federal grant program. Trudeau referenced recent changes to the Summer Jobs program that requires applicants adhere to Canadian rights — including access to abortions, and protections for LGBT Canadians. The program funds summer job placements for not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses, the Canadian Press reported. In the past, both pro-life and pro-abortion organizations have received grants to offer jobs to young adults. However, pro-abortion political leaders recently cut off grants to groups that will not bow to the altar of abortion on demand.

PragerU is a conservative educational non-profit that reaches millions of young people on the internet every day, but YouTube is censoring their videos. PragerU recently filed a lawsuit against video giant YouTube for its systematic censorship of our videos. YouTube has chosen repeatedly to restrict and/or demonetize 50 PragerU videos for violating their “Community Guidelines.” Those guidelines are meant to protect users against viewing sexual content, violent or graphic content, and hate speech. If you’ve seen any PragerU videos, you know that they contain nothing even remotely close to any of these categories. “YouTube has restricted videos on topics ranging from religion to the history of the Korean War to free speech on college campuses,” notes PragerU. Think about the millions of actually inappropriate videos on YouTube and then ask yourself, “Why are PragerU’s educational videos restricted?”

A conservative Christian actor has been banned from a Comicon convention due to his political leanings. The Daily Caller reports that the founder and promoter of East Coast Comicon, Cliff Galbraith, announced that he will not be inviting actor Kevin Sorbo to the convention. Galbraith explained his reasoning for not inviting Sorbo: “I turned down Kevin Sorbo for East Coast Comicon. He’s pals with Sean Hannity. I just can’t do it.” Some who saw Galbraith’s post and also have liberal leanings urged him to also ban other actors such as Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, James Wood, Jon Voight, and Chuck Norris who are known to have conservative viewpoints. Sorbo would have been a candidate for East Coast Comicon due to his role as Hercules in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and as the main character is the sci-fi series Andromeda. Sorbo has also starred in faith films such as Soul Surfer and God’s Not Dead.

  • These are just a few of many recent examples of liberal organizations banning people because of prejudice, and yet they’re the same ones who accuse Christians of being hateful and prejudicial.

Paradox: Economy Up, Food Bank Clients Up Too

Food banks in cities that have seen strong job growth and soaring home prices are seeing increased demand from locals struggling to make ends meet and relying on assistance to feed their families. “There’s this hunger paradox: You would think the wealth would rise all boats, but it hasn’t, and it’s created a major crisis and we are seeing families live on their last legs,” said Cat Cvengros, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California. n 2008, when the economic crisis was heating up, the Ballard Food Bank in Seattle had almost 26,000 families visit. In 2016, that number jumped to nearly 40,000 — a nearly 50% increase. Second Harvest is serving more people than ever, averaging more than 257,000 people every month from 2016-2017, up from 176,731 people per month from 2007-2008. That’s 46% increase over 10 years.

Many of the people using food banks have jobs — often more than one. At Second Harvest, the majority of the families with children have working parents. Flourishing job markets in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Denver have brought in a surge of new residents competing for a limited supply of housing. That’s pushing up real estate prices dramatically. Rents have nearly doubled in some places. Another reason is that the jobs available since the recovery are lower-paying jobs than those lost during the recession.

Economic News

The U.S. dollar has already lost nearly 2% of its value against other currencies in 2018 and is trading at its lowest level in more than three years. This follows a 10% decline for the dollar in 2017. Signs of life in Europe’s economy, particularly Germany and France, are causing some investors to flock to the euro instead of the dollar. Some analysts suggest that political dysfunction in the United States is also pushing the dollar down. President Trump said on several occasions in 2017 that he thought the dollar was too strong and wouldn’t mind if it lost some of its value

Retail sales were up 5.5% during the November and December holiday shopping season compared to the previous year. Retail sales advanced 4.2% in 2017 compared to 3.2% in 2016. An 11.5% gain in online shopping was a big driver of that increase. But online still only accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer purchases. Sales at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers rose a healthy 4.1% to push the industry to its best gain in seven years. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 2.2% annualized rate in the third quarter 0f 2017. Overall, the economy grew at a 3.2% pace in the third quarter.

A growing number of companies benefiting from tax cuts are showing their employees the money. One-time cash bonuses are the most popular way companies are sharing the windfall they expect from paying less in taxes. Many employers are boosting hourly pay. And a small number say they will increase matching contributions to workers’ 401(k) plans. The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform has compiled a list that shows that more than 125 U.S. employers, both big and small, have announced plans for bonuses and pay increases after the corporate tax rate was cut to 21% from 35%. According to ATR’s latest tally, at least 2 million American workers will “receive special bonuses” in the wake of tax reform.

Persecution Watch

On January 9, Chinese authorities demolished the $2.6 million building of a 50,000-member evangelical congregation in the country’s northern Shanxi province. It’s the second large church building to be demolished in the province in the past month. People’s Armed Police forces used excavators and dynamite to destroy the building in Linfen, which had been financed by the congregation. The church is among the nation’s unregistered congregations, meaning it is not within the government-controlled system and therefore is deemed illegal by the communist regime. China guarantees “freedom of religion” in its law but not in practice, as authorities use technicalities such land or building violations to destroy churches. The state-run Global Times newspaper cited an unidentified local official claiming the church did not hold the necessary permits.

The past week has seen renewed conflict across Syria, reports Barnabas Aid. In a Christian area of Damascus near Bab Sharqi (East Gate), a shell fell on a church compound killing seven Christians and wounding others. Aleppo, which has had peace for a year, is now seeing fighting again and there is a major battle in Idlib. The Christian community in Homs mourns a new death every week or so; there was particular sorrow when a group of young Christian women, university students, died all together as their bus was targeted just before Christmas. The remaining Christian community in Syria is under great pressure and desperately needs your prayers.

Iran

They are risking their lives to bring freedom to Iran, and vow to continue their protests. “These uprisings have just begun. People are not at all willing to give up,” one activist told Fox News from the streets of Iran. The defiance comes as President Trump announced Friday that he is waving sanctions against Iran under the controversial 2015 nuclear deal one last time, and gave the European allies four months to change the terms of the agreement or he may seek to scrap it. The protesters demand even harsher sanctions. “They should impose major sanctions on the regime,” one protester demanded. Another added there “should be sanctions for human rights violations.” The protesters are members of the long-banned opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The group is calling for Iran’s oil exports to also be subject to sanctions, the ability of the Tehran regime to access the international banking system to be cut off, as well as other punitive measures.

Iran said Saturday that the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other key world powers “cannot be renegotiated in any way,” rejecting President Trump’s threat to pull out of the agreement if the other parties do not fix its “disastrous flaws.” Trump, after months of railing against the agreement, signed a waiver on Friday keeping the deal in place for at least 90 days but called for changes, particularly removal of so-called “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced nuclear activities in the next decade.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants fleeing strongholds in Syria are leaving behind a treasure trove of records detailing everything from the terror group’s finances to personnel documents on individual fighters. ISIS kept meticulous records, including directives and orders marked with official stamps. Over the past three years, the coalition and local forces have seized “hundreds of terabytes” of data from ISIS computers and storage devices in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed forces are operating, according to the coalition headquarters. Each terabyte can hold more than 80 million pages of Microsoft Word documents. “We did learn a lot about their organizational structure, how they communicated, how they facilitated personnel and finances,” Major General James Jarrard said.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) planned to attack the Statue of Liberty in New York City with pressure cooker bombs, it was revealed Tuesday. Munther Omar Saleh, 21, and Fareed Mumuni, 22, both from New York, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to support ISIS and plotting a bomb blast in the city in February 2017, but new details of their plot have come to light. Court filings released ahead of the sentencing of Saleh and Mumuni next month show that they had received instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb from an English ISIS operative, and that the pair’s targets included the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. A key figure in the plot was Australian jihadi Neil Prakash, one of the country’s most dangerous militants, who remains in Turkish custody.

Iraq

A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up in central Baghdad early Monday, killing 27 people and injuring scores more in the first major attack in the capital since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State in December. The attack breached one of Baghdad’s most secure areas, underscoring the urgency of what Iraqi and American officials have said is a crucial transition from combat to traditional counterterrorism. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which came as electoral coalitions began taking shape this week ahead of expected national elections in May. Previous elections have been marred by spasms of terrorism, and Monday’s violence raised concerns that despite the military victory over the Islamic State, this campaign season would be no different.

The future of Iraq remains complicated and challenged by the power of Shiite militias beholden to Iran. The Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH)—the three most powerful militias—are part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a government sanctioned umbrella group composed of predominantly Shiite fighters funded by and allied with Iran. Several of the groups fought extensively on behalf of Iran in Syria. One of the factors behind the most recent violence in Iraq is the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims in that country, which has customarily made Iraq and Iran enemies.

France

The U.S. government has issued a warning for American travelers to ‘exercise extreme caution’ in France because of the threat of extremist attacks, after French security services revealed they had foiled as many as 20 plots in 2017. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Le Progres newspaper that France is no longer safe from the threat of extremism. ‘We have to be vigilant everywhere,’ he said. ‘Today no part of the territory is free of risk.’ A day later, the State Department issued an advisory on its website that told tourists to be extra careful in the country for fear of a spontaneous extremist attack or the execution of a well-planned plot.

Volcanoes

A burst of lava that spurted like a fountain and flowed down the side of the Philippines’ most active volcano sent more villagers scrambling for safety Tuesday, as officials warned tourists from entering the danger zone. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the lava flowed as much as 1.2 miles from the cloud-shrouded crater of Mount Mayon, while ash fell on several villages in northeastern Albay province. At least 34,000 people have been displaced by Mayon’s eruption from two cities and six towns. Many of the people took shelter in schools turned into evacuation centers. The Institute has recorded at least nine tremors in the area, four of which accompanied lava fountains from the volcano, according to Reuters. The activity could mean a possible hazardous eruption is coming within a few days.

Earthquakes

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the coast of Peru early Sunday, leaving at least one person dead and causing damages and power outages. More than 20 have been injured. Officials are working to confirm reports of 17 missing miners, The epicenter was 26 miles south-southwest of the small town Acari in the Arequipa district, with the earthquake hitting at 4:18 a.m. EST at a depth of about 7.5 miles.

Weather

For the fourth time this season, a winter storm is impacting the South with snow and ice that has shut down roads, schools and air travel for millions. Winter Storm Inga is bringing snow and ice to the South on Tuesday and will also spread accumulating snow to the East Coast through Wednesday. This won’t be a particularly heavy snow and ice event in much of the South and Northeast, but it will be enough to cause travel problems in those regions. A long band of light to locally moderate snow is ongoing from the interior Northeast southwestward into Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana and Texas.

Thousands were without power last Saturday as Winter Storm Hunter clobbered the Northeast and New England with up to 16 inches of snow in some areas of New York. According to poweroutage.us, more than 10,000 residents were without power in New Jersey Saturday morning, while nearly 7,000 remained without power in Massachusetts. A group of 10 hikers was rescued overnight after becoming trapped by two swollen creeks in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. On Friday, a large pileup closed Interstate 40 in western Tennessee. Residents in the Vermont town of Swanton were forced from their homes overnight by flooding from Winter Storm Hunter.

Days after a series of Southern California mudslides killed at least 20 in Montecito, officials issued new mandatory evacuations Thursday for parts of the city, so crews could focus on rescue and cleanup efforts. No residents will be allowed to return to their homes, and the order might be in place for one or two weeks. Friday morning, officials said at least 4 were missing, but the number could continue to fluctuate as they investigate all missing-person reports. A major coastal highway remained closed in Southern California. Known locally as the Ventura Freeway, California Highway 101 connects Los Angeles with points north, including Santa Barbara, and is closed for “ongoing rescue/recovery & extensive clean-up/repairs,” the California Department of Transportation said in a tweet Saturday.

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