Signs of the Times (1/20/18)

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Government Shut Down Midnight Friday

The federal government ran out of funding at midnight, but you may not have noticed. In fact, it could be several days before the full impact of the shutdown is felt by the public. Government agencies began the process of shutting down after Congress failed to pass a spending bill to keep them operating. But not every government employee was sent home. Federal workers deemed “essential” are still on the job, and key government functions — such as national security operations and law enforcement work — remain up and running. Other agencies have residual funds that will keep them operating for several days. But if the shutdown drags on, they, too, could run out of money and have to close their doors. Meanwhile, The mail is still being delivered, Social Security checks are still being processed, the Medicare and Medicaid programs are still running, and veterans’ hospitals are still operating. Airports are still operating, and air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officials are still on the job. During the last shutdown, in 2013, the Obama administration closed park entrances and put up barriers around national monuments. That policy sparked a public outrage when veterans were turned away from the World War II Memorial in Washington. This time, is national monuments and parts of most national parks will remain open during the shutdown.

Shutdown Politics: Dems & GOP Blame Each Other

President Trump on Saturday morning continued to blame Democrats for forcing a government shutdown overnight, arguing his opponents are “far more” concerned with illegal immigration than the U.S. military and protecting the country’s southern border. He calls it “shutdown politics”. Democrats in Washington were quick to assign blame to Trump. “There’s no one more to blame for the position we find ourselves than President Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor early Saturday. “Instead of bringing us all together, he’s pulled us apart.” Schumer called it the “Trump Shutdown”.

  • Too bad we can’t get rid of the politicians altogether who generally are only interested in casting aspersions on the other party and, most importantly, getting reelected.

U.S. House Passes Major Pro-Life Bill

In a major pro-life victory, the U.S. House passed a bill today protecting babies born alive during botched abortions. The vote took place on the same day that hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers witnessed to life in the nation’s Capital during the annual March for Life. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 4712) aims to protect babies who have managed to survive an abortion. The bill states that if a baby survives an abortion, that baby is entitled to the same level of care that any other newly-born baby would receive. The bill requires that living babies be transported to a hospital for care, instead of being left to the devices of the abortionist. The bill also establishes penalties if health professionals do not provide this level of care. It also allows the mother to sue if her living baby is killed by intent or neglect. The vote was 241-183, including 6 Democrats.

Trump Becomes First President to Address March for Life

In the first-ever live streamed address of a sitting president to the March for Life, Republican President Donald Trump vowed his administration will work to uphold the sanctity of life. “Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” the president told cheering crowds of hundreds of thousands that packed Washington Mall Friday. This year’s March for Life, which organizers say is the “largest annual human rights demonstration in the world,” marks 45 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade ruling on January 22, 1973, struck down abortion laws. Since that time, an estimated 60 million children in the womb have been legally killed in the United States. The United States is “one of only seven countries to allow elective late term abortions along with China, North Korea and others,” Trump said. “It is wrong, it has to change.”

Second Women’s March Underway Saturday

On the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March that swelled the streets of Washington and cities worldwide, activists reconvened Saturday in the nation’s capital and around the country with new determination to flex their power in the voting booth and on the ballot. The gathering also comes on the anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, whose election in many ways gave the movement its first impetus. Hundreds of gatherings are planned Saturday and Sunday across the country, as well as in Beijing, Buenos Aires, Nairobi and Rome, under the banner the #WeekendofWomen on social media. In Washington, the rally was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET with musicians and civil rights activists meeting at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial for speeches, followed by a march to the White House at 1 p.m. ET. Even organizers are not expecting the huge crowds that swarmed the capital, and other cities, in 2017 in the wake of Trump’s election. The protests this year go beyond just fighting for women’s rights in general, though that is still a primary focus. Indeed, according to the Women’s March website, the organization’s platform has expanded to include immigrant, worker and disability rights, and environmental justice, among other things.

White House Announces Religious Freedom Day

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump publicly proclaimed January 16 as the national day of religious freedom. Each year, the president will declare January 16 as Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786, written by former President Thomas Jefferson. He called on Americans to celebrate the day, so as to “remind us of our shared heritage of religious liberty.” The president’s announcement addressed both religious freedom internationally and within the United States. In his speech, President Trump first emphasized the United States’ unique role in encouraging and maintaining religious liberties. He also reminded the public of his commitment to early American principles, which will assist our “fundamental freedom underlying our democracy.”  The proclamation also promised continued condemnation of extremism, terrorism, and violence against people of faith as we “strive for the day when people of all faiths can follow their hearts and worship according to their consciences.”

Healthcare Workers Get More Protection for Religious Exemptions

Federal officials announced Thursday that a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights will protect doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who have moral or religious objections to providing certain services. The move, which accompanies a broad policy aimed at abortions and treatment for transgender patients, is being applauded by conservative groups and criticized by women’s, LGBT rights and physician groups. It advances an executive order that President Trump signed in May directing agencies to expand religious liberty under federal law.

Trump’s Approval Rating Lower than Expected – Gallup

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating is well below what would be expected at a time when Americans’ views are improving about the economy and the future of the country, Gallup reported Tuesday. The recent
Gallup poll shows Trump’s latest job approval is 38 percent — but should be between 47-54 percent based on the dual measures of voters’ views of the economy and direction the nation is taking. “Despite improved consumer attitudes about the economy in 2017, Trump’s average first-year job approval rating was historically low,” Gallup said. Gallup says the low number is due to subpar character ratings and lower-than-predicted job approval.

9 of 12 National Park Service Advisory Board Members Quit

Nine of the 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned in protest this week, saying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ignored pleas for a meeting and has “set aside” protection of the nation’s natural treasures. Board chairman Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said in a resignation letter to Zinke that the group has been waiting for a year to meet and “continue the partnership” between the board and Interior officials. The board’s tasks included advising Zinke and the National Park Service on the designation of national historic and natural landmarks. The board also provides input on a wide range of issues from climate change to the administration of the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act. Last spring, Zinke suspended the work of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and subcommittees pending a review. Some returned to duty, others have been altered or dropped and still others remain dormant.

North and South Korea Agree to Form First Unified Olympic Team

North and South Korea agreed Wednesday to field a joint women’s hockey team at next month’s Winter Olympics and the two countries will march in to the opening ceremony under a single flag, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. The agreement came during a third round of talks between the rival Koreas at the border village of Panmunjom, located in the demilitarized zone that separates the peninsula. It is the most striking breakthrough yet in a wave of sports diplomacy that began last week when the two countries sat down for the first time in over two years to discuss the North’s participation in the Winter Games. The North will send a large delegation to the Games, including a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team. A 140-member orchestra from the North will also join the delegation, with performances scheduled for Seoul and Gangneung.

Veteran Affairs Office Moves to Help Whistleblowers

Since President Trump created a whistleblower-protection office at the Veterans Affairs by executive order in April, the office has stepped in to help more than 70 VA employees by delaying discipline against them until further investigation can be conducted. It’s unclear what the end results will be. The director of the office, Peter O’Rourke, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview that 41 of those cases remain open and a “very small number” of the others were decided in favor of the employees. The office, which has operated largely in secret until now, had a rocky start and still faces staffing challenges and deep skepticism among some whistleblowers that it will succeed in the long run. But the early moves to help them are nonetheless drawing praise from longtime advocates who say they are unprecedented.

U.N. Fails to Stem Rapes by Peacekeepers in Africa

The United Nations became embroiled in one of its worst scandals in 2014 when shocking allegations surfaced that U.N. peacekeepers were raping women and children in the impoverished, war-battered Central African Republic. Today, blue-helmeted soldiers and U.N. staff still rape with impunity despite pledges by U.N. leaders to end the abuses, victims allege. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged the exploitation and pledged when he took office a year ago to crack down. In August, he appointed a victims’ rights advocate. U.N. officials vowed to improve funding and staffing for sex abuse cases. Atul Khare, under-secretary general, said those efforts have led to a 50% drop in assaults on children by peacekeepers across the globe during the first 11 months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. “We believe our new strategy is bearing some initial fruit,” said Khare, who conceded that “even one allegation is one too many.”

More Online Discrimination

Social media giant Facebook is once again under scrutiny for attempting to silence a conservative Christian agenda. Alveda King, MLK’s niece and pro-life activist, recently discovered that efforts to advertise her documentary had been removed by Facebook. The film, Roe vs. Wade, brings awareness to the “real untold story” of abortion in America. January 22 is the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to allow abortion. The Christian Post reported that after the decision was protested, Facebook lifted its ban, and in an emailed statement said, “the pro-life ad was originally disapproved in error and was correctly approved upon appeal.” Hollywood actors Jon Voight and Nick Loeb will star in the first-ever movie to, as Loeb told LifeNews, tell “the untold story of how [abortion activists] lied and manipulated Jane Roe, the media, and the courts into the decision to allow abortion in 1973.”

Economic News

Consumer sentiment unexpectedly declined in January to a six-month low as American households viewed the economy less favorably, a University of Michigan report showed Friday. The consumer sentiment index dropped to 94.4 from 95.9 in December. The current conditions gauge, which measures Americans’ perceptions of their finances, decreased to 109.2, the lowest since November 2016, down from 113.8. in December. The decline in sentiment included a decrease in a measure of buying conditions for big-ticket goods, indicating consumer spending may slow early this year after a solid holiday-shopping season.

Apple Inc. moved hundreds of billions of offshore cash back into the U.S. as a result of the recent tax cut bill which reduced the tax rate on such foreign profits. The iPhone maker announced Wednesday that it would make the move, paying about $38 billion in taxes on the money. Apple also indicated that they would be spending tens of billions on domestic jobs, manufacturing and data centers in the coming years. Apple, which has come under major criticism for building much of its popular products in China, announced Thursday that they would be opening another corporate campus and create another 20,000 jobs.

The surge of Brent crude prices over the last few weeks to $70 may be rattling OPEC, raising questions about the longevity of the collective production cuts. OPEC officials didn’t think they would have to consider the group’s production cuts until its June meeting. But with Brent at $70, the market is watching for clues about OPEC’s resolve — and some tiny cracks appear to be forming.

U.S. oil production is booming and is forecast to surge beyond the output from heavyweight Saudi Arabia and rival Russia this year, a global energy agency said Friday. U.S. oil production, which has already risen to its highest level in nearly 50 years, will push past 10 million barrels a day in 2018 as higher prices entice more producers to start pumping, particularly in shale oil, which requires higher prices in order to break even.

China’s economy gained steam in 2017, expanding at a 6.9% pace in 2017 in its first annual increase in seven years, according to data released Thursday that exceeded economists’ forecasts as well as the government’s target rate. Buoyant consumer spending and robust exports helped drive the faster expansion.

Middle East

The Trump administration has settled on a location for the new US embassy in Jerusalem and plans to move into the facility by 2019. Rather than design and build a new embassy compound, which officials say could take several years and cost as much as a billion dollars, the State Department has decided to retrofit an existing US consular facility in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, which sits near the Green Line, the de facto border of Israel before the 1967 war. Trump’s recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to relocate the embassy there inflamed tensions in the region and sparked outrage across the world. Both Israelis and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their historic capitals.

  • Israel’s claim goes back more than 3,000 years, while Islam’s claim is about 1,300 years ago

Iranian President Hassan Rohani issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the U.S. plan to build a 30,000 member “border security force” in the predominantly Kurdish region of northeast Syria, joining his voice to that of Russia and Turkey who had previously made similar statements. Also on Tuesday, German police raided several Iranian institutions it accuses of being fronts for Iran’s spy agencies to monitor Jewish and Israeli organizations in Germany. Media reports indicated that the raids occurred in the states of Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Berlin, but resulted in no arrests.

Iran

Iran’s rulers have inflicted death by torture and gunfire on citizen protesters in a crackdown since the Dec. 28 street uprising erupted, the main opposition group said Tuesday. The Europe-based National Council of Resistance of Iran says the Islamic republic’s ubiquitous security apparatus has arrested more than 8,000 citizens and killed at least 50. The council attributes at least five deaths to torture. President Trump has spoken out in support of the protesters. The opposition group said protests have spread to 130 cities. The protesters complain of dismal economic conditions, of military adventures in Iraq and Syria, and of being ruled by clerical Shiite Muslim hard-liners led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

India

India has successfully test-fired a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the country’s Defense Ministry said Thursday. The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India’s most advanced ICBM. It was fired Thursday morning India time from Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha. The ministry called the test a “major boost” to the country’s defense capabilities. India is believed to have around 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists, compared to several thousand for the U.S.

Earthquakes

Not only did Winter Storm Inga dump several inches of snow in parts of Tennessee and Missouri, a magnitude 3.6 earthquake rattled the region Tuesday. According to the United States Geographical Survey, the earthquake struckThe quake occurred in the New Madrid fault zone, which is the most seismically active zone east of the Rockies, according to USGS. just before 11 a.m. near Caruthersburg, Missouri, located on the Mississippi River about 100 miles north of Memphis. No injuries or damage was reported.

Reno’s southern neighborhoods have been shaking, ever so gently, for seven days now. Earthquake-detecting instruments in the area have picked up almost 250 small temblors since late Jan. 11. The largest in the swarm so far, which hit Tuesday afternoon, measured a 2.7 on the Richter scale, a magnitude that University of Nevada, Reno seismologist Ken Smith described as pretty small. “You’d have to be right above it to really feel anything,” he said, noting they’ve gotten a few dozen reports from people who have felt the jolts. The magnitude would have to increase to a 4.0 or more for many people to feel it. Swarms of small earthquakes can sometimes act as warning systems for larger events to come. Nevada is the third-most seismically active state in the nation.

A bright light and what sounded like thunder in the sky across the Detroit metropolitan area Tuesday night was a meteor, the National Weather Service has confirmed. According to the United States Geological Service, the meteor caused a magnitude 2.0 earthquake around 8:10 pm. The American Meteor Society says the strike, captured in a dashcam video, was visible in six states and in Canada, ABC reports. The USGS says the quake was 5 miles west-southwest of the Michigan town of New Haven, around 40 miles north of Detroit.

Landslides

Officials have issued evacuation orders in preparation for the inevitable collapse of a ridge in a fertile farming region in Washington State. The slow-moving landslide threatens to spill onto a few dozen homes and a vital highway that sit below the ridge. Experts say the slide could happen as soon as late January or early February above Union Gap, a small agricultural town in the rolling brown foothills of the Cascade Range. A chunk of one ridge about the size of 24 football fields is expected to break off, spilling an estimated 4 million cubic yards of rocks and dirt. Washington residents have become particularly wary of landslides after dozens were killed in a 2014 slide that crashed through a tiny community and traversed a state road just north of Seattle.

Weather

Winter Storm Inga became the fourth winter storm to impact the South this season, and travel once again became hazardous Wednesday on icy, snowy roads across the region. Up to 6 inches of snow fell on some areas in the region on Tuesday. From Texas to the Carolinas – and even in parts of the Florida Panhandle – reports of ice-covered bridges and roadways were widespread Tuesday and Wednesday, and authorities urged residents to stay home. Millions of children across the South enjoyed snow days, and hundreds of flights were canceled at airports not used to dealing with wintry conditions. States of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina because of the storm. At least ten people have died from the storm’s impacts, and four more deaths were believed to be the result of the brutal cold that followed. Winter Storm Jaxon is now moving in the west and will sweep across the nation over the weekend into early next week.

Frozen pipes have caused an unprecedented amount of water loss on Galveston Island, Texas, city officials said Thursday. More than 3,000 reported water leaks due to frozen pipes. As a result, water reserves dropped to below 60 percent of capacity from the leaks, forcing the city to enact water restrictions.

A powerful storm system swept across Europe Thursday, bringing strong winds that were responsible for at least eleven deaths and a widespread travel shutdown. The storm system caused problems from England to Romania as it raked much of the continent, and several injuries were also reported. Two men were killed in separate incidents of falling trees or branches in the Netherlands and a third death was reported south of Brussels, Belgium. In Germany, a death was confirmed at a campsite near the Dutch-German border when a camper was crushed by a falling tree. Millions of travelers experienced widespread delays and flight cancellations.

There’s cold, then there’s Siberia cold. Oymyakon, Russia — already considered the world’s coldest permanently inhabited town — sank to a mind-numbing 88 degrees below zero on Tuesday. Amazingly, 88 below isn’t even the record low temperature in this remote, diamond-rich Russian region of Yakutia, a part of Siberia. But it wasn’t far from the record of 89.9 degrees below, the coldest-ever officially recorded for a permanently inhabited settlement anywhere in the world Although students routinely go to school when it’s 40 below, school was canceled throughout the region this week.

2017 was once again one of the hottest years on record, ranked as the second-warmest by NASA and third-warmest by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Temperature records for the planet, monitored independently by both agencies, go back to 1880. The hottest year on record remains 2016. The six hottest years have all occurred since 2010 and 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. Sea ice continued its declining trend, both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

  • End-time weather will be more extreme, not just warmer (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

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