Signs of the Times (4/9/18)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

Faith-Based Movies are ‘Exploding’ in Hollywood

In an article in Yahoo News (3/29/18), called “Movie theaters cash in as Hollywood turns to God,” Frankie Taggart notes that, “Religion is reclaiming cinema for sacred purposes at a rate never seen in history, with faith-based movies exploding from an obscure cottage industry last century into a multi-billion-dollar business.” Taggart also observes, “The box office totals may not sound huge, but they add up to a genre of filmmaking that has amassed almost $2 billion” since 2000. The most important thing is that these films are changing lives. Currently there are three new Christian movies in theaters nationwide: God’s Not Dead3“Paul; The Apostle of Christ” (with Jim Caviezel); and “I Can Only Imagine,” a surprise hit which was number three in the box office one weekend. David A. R. White, who helped produce and has acted in all three of the “God’s Not Dead” series, says, “Faith is not dead in the United States. I think that hunger is there for spiritual content. People want answers. They want to learn about their faith, and they also want to be entertained, of course, because it’s in a movie theatre. But at the same token, they’re yearning for that spiritual content.”

Supreme Court Refuses to Overturn Gag Order of Planned Parenthood Videos

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request by attorneys from the Thomas More Society and their co-counsel that it decide the case of David Daleiden, the undercover journalist who exposed Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the commercial trafficking of aborted babies’ body parts. In David Daleiden et al v. National Abortion Federation, the nation’s highest court had been asked to overturn a lower court’s injunction that barred Mr. Daleiden from releasing more videos. These videos would be both politically embarrassing and potentially incriminating for Planned Parenthood and other NAF abortionists, maintains Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel, Thomas More Society. “Justice is not only blind, but it remains gagged for the time being,” Brejcha remarked. “We are confident David Daleiden’s First Amendment rights will be upheld ultimately,” he added.

Target Bathroom Policy: Another Innocent Child Victim

While Target remains steadfast in allowing men to enter women’s dressing and restrooms, the number of child victims of sexual crimes occurring in its stores continues to rise, reports the American Family Association. Last week, in a Chicago area Target store, a man forced himself into a bathroom stall being occupied by a young child and sexually exposed his private parts to her. The man ran away before police could arrive. No Target employee questioned the man or attempted to stop him from entering the women’s restroom because Target’s official policy allows men free and unrestricted access. This policy has resulted in over a dozen crimes being committed by sexual predators taking advantage of it, the AFA reports. “Predators and voyeurs, or anyone with evil intentions,” can take advantage of the Target bathroom policy to harm women and children, warns the AFA.

Trump Sends National Guard to Protect Border

President Trump signed a proclamation Wednesday night to send the National Guard to the southern border immediately, in response to what the administration described as an “unacceptable” flow of drugs, criminal activity and illegal immigrants. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at the White House press briefing that the signing would be done in conjunction with governors and that the administration hoped the deployment would begin immediately. Arizona and Texas announced Friday that they would send 400 National Guard members to the U.S.-Mexico border by this week in response to President Donald Trump’s call for troops to fight drug trafficking and illegal immigration. “Despite a number of steps this administration has taken…we continue to see unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity transnational criminal organizations and illegal immigration flow across our border,” Kirstjen said. “More than 1,000 people a day, 300,000 a year [are] violating our sovereignty as a nation.” President Trump on Thursday said that a caravan of more than 1,000 Central Americans traveling through Mexico had been “largely broken up” by Mexican authorities — adding that it had avoided “a giant scene” at the U.S. border.

Federal Judge Upholds Massachusetts Ban on AR-15

A federal district court judge in Boston has upheld the state’s ban on assault weapons – AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines – finding that the issue is not a constitutional matter but one for each state to determine on its own politically. “The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to ‘bear arms,’” U.S. District Judge William Young, a Reagan appointee, wrote in a decision Thursday in Boston, dismissing a lawsuit over the state law. In his ruling in Boston, Young quoted from the writings of the late Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia, a conservative and an “originalist,” who believed the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with its original meaning at the time it was written.

EPA Announces Rollback of Obama Fuel Standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt laid out plans on Tuesday to roll back Obama-era fuel standards in a move seen as a win for automakers, but one that is likely to ignite a major political and legal battle with the nation’s most populous state. “These standards that were set were inappropriate and need to be revised,” Pruitt said during a speech at the EPA in Washington D.C., adding that the rules are too expensive and hurt car buyers by making vehicles costlier. Pruitt’s decision to rewrite the nation’s first carbon limits on automobiles, which requires cars and light trucks sold in the United States to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, reflects the Trump administration’s determination to jump start the auto industry.

Lawyer is First Person Sentenced in Russian Election Interference

A Dutch attorney who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and a former Russian intelligence agent was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a $20,000 fine Tuesday. Alex Van Der Zwaan acknowledged making false statements about communications with Gates and the unidentified agent who prosecutors referred to as “Person A” as part of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Van Der Zwaan is the first person to be sentenced in the wide-ranging inquiry managed by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson rejected the defense request that he be permitted to pay a fine and return home to London. He faced a maximum punishment of six months in prison. “We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” Judge Jackson told Van Der Zwaan.

Students in Colorado & Florida in Pro-Second Amendment Rallies

Students in Colorado who support the Second Amendment staged their own walkout Wednesday, in an effort to counter the pro-gun control rallies taking place across the nation following the deadly shooting at a Florida high school in February. Students walked onto the school’s track carrying the American flag and holding signs that read “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “I support the right to bear arms.” The rally comes days after students in Central Florida organized a similar protest in support of the Second Amendment after they felt silenced when the movement to honor the Parkland shooting victims turned political.

Zuckerberg Apologizes for Facebook Scandals

The Facebook CEO and founder apologized for allowing third-party apps to grab the data of its users without their permission and for being “too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference” during the U.S. election, according to his prepared remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Zuckerberg is set to appear before that panel Wednesday, but he will also face questions from senators Tuesday in the wake of a privacy scandal that has severely damaged Facebook’s reputation and share price. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg wrote. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Pulse Nightclub Attack Survivors Sue Google, Facebook, Twitter

Survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., perpetrated by a supporter of the Islamic State terror group, are suing Google, Facebook, and Twitter, alleging that the tech firms allowed the group to proliferate and spread propaganda. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Orlando’s federal courthouse, 16 victims of the June 12, 2016 shooting — the second deadliest in American history — claim that the three tech giants were responsible for letting ISIS disseminate propaganda on their platforms, thus providing “material support” to the terror group, in violation of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Such support, the suit alleges, let gunman Omar Mateen carry out his attack, which left 49 people dead and another 58 injured, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Mateen was killed in a shootout with responding police officers. The survivors of the attack also argue that the tech giants profited from content created by ISIS and that the terror group may have received money from Google-owned YouTube in the form of ad revenue.

  • The widow of Mateen, Noor Salman, was found not guilty Friday of obstruction and aiding and abetting by attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. She was acquitted of the charges despite reportedly admitting after the rampage that she knew about her husband “acquiring weapons, watching Islamic State videos and discussing possible locations in apparent preparation” for the attack. The acquittal happened in large part — according to the jury’s foreman — due to the bureau’s failure to record Salman’s interview statements.

Seattle Besieged by Homeless Encampments

Seattle has been under siege by an exploding homeless population since at least 2015, when ex-Mayor Ed Murray declared a “state of emergency” over the crisis. The city has struggled to play catch-up and is now beset with shelters at capacity and illegal encampments, such as the Space Needle “mansion.” Residents of the mega tent “mansion” homeless encampment near Seattle’s famed Space Needle are bragging about the practicality of their new digs, taunting local politicians: “If you can live on the street and not pay rent, then why would you pay rent?” Mental health teams are also working with Seattle officials to figure out if there’s any way to convince the people living in the camp to go somewhere else. Spokesman Will Lemke added the city has no immediate plans to remove the camp, but that may change in the future if there is a problem or safety concern.

Economic News

The federal deficit will hit $804 billion in fiscal 2018, a 21 percent increase from 2017’s deficit of $665 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The new tax law is projected to cut government revenue by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years, while adding nearly $300 billion in military and domestic spending over the next two years. The current national debt totals more than $20 trillion.

Employers added a disappointing 103,000 jobs in March as colder weather appeared to crimp hiring after solid employment gains the first two months of the year. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, was unchanged at 4.1%, the Labor Department said Friday. In February, unseasonably warm weather pulled forward hiring in industries such as construction and retail, leading to blockbuster job gains that topped 300,000. As a result, the weak showing is being viewed as a blip rather than a sign of a weakening labor market.

China has wasted no time in firing back after President Donald Trump’s salvo against its high-tech products. The world’s second-biggest economy has retaliated with its own package of tariffs on around $50 billion of U.S. imports. China will levy 25 percent tariffs on imports of 106 U.S. products, with U.S. farmers, airplane and automobile manufacturers likely to bear the brunt of the impact. That’s in response to 1,300 Chinese products that might be subjected to 25 percent tariffs from the U.S. President Trump upped the ante Thursday in the high-stakes trade dispute with China, proposing $100 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese goods. U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Friday as Wall Street reacted to the latest escalation in the trade fight between the U.S. and China. Stocks were on the upswing Monday.

Major automakers last Tuesday reported higher new vehicles sales for March on the back of a strong U.S. economy and big consumer discounts. General Motors posted a 16 percent jump in new vehicle sales from the previous March, led by a 14 percent increase in higher-margin retail sales to consumers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a 14 percent increase and said it saw a 45 percent spike in sales of its popular Jeep models, giving the brand its best sales month on record. Ford reported a 3.4 percent increase in overall sales for March, led by an 8.7 percent rise in fleet sales. Retail sales were up just 0.8 percent in the month, but Ford said sales of its best-selling F-Series pickup trucks were the best since 2000. Last year, U.S. auto sales fell 2 percent after hitting a record high of 17.55 million units in 2016. Sales are expected to fall later in 2018 as interest rates rise and push up monthly car payments.

A third of home buyers exceeded the upper limit of what they planned to spend, topping that cap by an average $16,510, according to a survey of 1,214 Americans who purchased a house within the last four years. The survey was conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 8. The main reason? Price. In January, home prices nationally were up an average 6.2% from a year earlier. Prices have risen nearly 50% from their 2012 bottom. Supply shortages, combined with a healthy job market that’s fueling demand, are blamed for the recent price run-up.

Middle East

Russia on Monday said the Israel Air Force was responsible for a missile attack on an air base in central Syria that activists say killed at least 14 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), reported that “Syrian and non-Syrian nationalities” were killed in the strike. The “non-Syrians” likely refers to Iranians. Russia’s claim came hours after the Pentagon denied Syrian media reports that the U.S. conducted the air strikes in Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack that killed some 200 civilians on Saturday. Israel refused to comment on the allegations. Dozens of Syrians choked to death after a suspected chemical attack struck the rebel-held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus, with aid groups on Sunday blaming President Bashar al-Assad’s government for the assault. Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli fighter jets launched eight guided missiles at the T4 air base from Lebanon’s air space early Monday. The Russian ministry said the Syrian air force destroyed five missiles, and three reached the western part of the airfield. The U.S. has not ruled out launching airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to the weekend’s suspected chemical gas attack on civilians, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday.

Thousands of Palestinian rioters burned tires, threw Molotov cocktails and carry out terror attacks while attempting to infiltrate Israel on Friday as part of the latest round of protests and clashes on the Gaza-Israel border. “Rioters have attempted to damage & cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks & hurl of explosive devices & firebombs,” the IDF Spokesperson Unit said on Twitter late Friday afternoon. According to the IDF, which has declared the immediate area a closed military zone, Hamas has been attempting to create a “war zone” in the region with protests in five locations along the Gaza-Israel border. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, three Palestinian men have been killed and 200 injured as of Friday afternoon.

The Israeli Shin Bet security services announced Wednesday that 10 Islamic Jihad terrorists from Gaza were arrested last month as they were preparing an attack on a naval ship. The Shin Bet statement said, “This is another link in a chain of terror attacks planned and initiated by Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in recent months, including a cross-border attack tunnel that was neutralized on October 30, 2017, the firing of mortar shells at Israel on November 30, 2017 and December 28, 2017, and more.” A break in the case came on March 12, when an Israeli naval vessel on a routine patrol stopped a Palestinian fishing boat outside the permitted fishing zone and arrested those on board.


President Donald Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting this week to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed later Wednesday that the U.S. mission in Syria is coming to a “rapid end.” Trump wants to ensure Islamic State militants are defeated but wants other countries in the region and the United Nations to step up and help provide stability in Syria, an official told Reuters. His advisers have been pressing him to maintain at least a small force in Syria to ensure the militants are defeated and prevent Iran from gaining an important foothold.

North Korea

North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States about potential denuclearization, administration officials said Sunday, a signal that the two sides have opened communications ahead of a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month. The message from Pyongyang offers the first reassurance that Kim is committed to meeting Trump. The U.S. president accepted an offer made in March on Kim’s behalf by South Korean emissaries during a meeting at the White House, but Pyongyang had not publicly commented. U.S. officials cautioned that Pyongyang offered no details about its negotiating position and noted that North Korea has violated past agreements, during the George W. Bush administration, to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.


The Trump administration is unleashing additional sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin along with 12 companies they own or control. The measures announced by the Treasury Department on Friday were also aimed at 17 senior Russian government officials and the state-owned Russian weapons trading company, Rosoboronexport, which has long-standing ties to Syria and its subsidiary, Russian Financial Corporation Bank. The punitive actions are the latest escalating step by the US to punish Putin’s inner circle for interfering in the 2016 election and other ongoing aggressions across the globe in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria. A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing the sanctions were “in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world.”


A driver of a delivery truck plowed into a crowd of pedestrians Saturday in the German city of Muenster, killing at least two people and injuring 20 before fatally shooting himself, German officials said. Six of the injured are in severe condition. The driver of the van was a German citizen. The investigation is at an early stage but “nothing speaks for there being any Islamist background,” officials say. The Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper identified the driver as a 49-year-old German with a history of psychological problems.


If all goes as expected, Cuba will name a new president in two weeks — the first time in nearly 60 years that the communist country’s leader won’t be a Castro. Outgoing President Raúl Castro will still loom large in retirement, much like his older brother Fidel Castro, who hovered over the nation’s affairs in the years leading up to his death in 2016. But when the Cuban National Assembly meets April 19 to name the new president, it will mark a major shift in the history of the Caribbean island that has antagonized and tantalized Americans for decades. Castro’s successor likely will be a man largely unknown outside Cuba: Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, who has risen steadily through the ranks of the Communist Party of Cuba. His selection would represent a symbolic change for a regime mostly led by the bearded guerrillas who fought alongside the Castros during the 1959 revolution that overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista. Díaz-Canel’s ascension to the presidency is not a guarantee, however. It has become more difficult to assess the political situation in Cuba after the U.S. pulled most of its diplomats off the island. President Trump ordered a drawdown at the U.S. Embassy in Havana after a series of mysterious “health attacks” against employees there.


A magnitude-5.3 earthquake rattled southern California on Thursday, shaking buildings in the Los Angeles area. The quake was centered in the Pacific Ocean, some 35 miles southeast of Channel Islands Beach, Calif., the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was the largest earthquake to strike the Channel Islands region since a 6.0 temblor in 1981. There were no reports of injuries with some minor damage. The quake struck around 12:30 p.m. and lasted about 10 seconds. The Los Angeles area experiences quakes of this magnitude on average about once a year. The Los Angeles area experiences quakes of this magnitude on average about once a year. Thursday’s earthquake is one of the biggest to hit southern California since a magnitude-5.2 quake in Borrego Springs in June 2016. The biggest quake in California in the past several years was a 6.0 that hit the Napa area in August 2014. That quake killed one person and injured 200.


Residents of a Pennsylvania apartment complex will be displaced for weeks and a roadway will be shut down for months after a landslide struck early Saturday. Officials say recent rains triggered the slide on Route 30, causing debris to plummet down a roughly 40-foot steep hill in the borough of East Pittsburgh.  Thirty-one people were evacuated from 29 apartment units. One building in the apartment complex collapsed, but no injuries were reported. Remaining buildings of the complex were evacuated along with a home and a business. Route 30 will be closed in both directions for at least two months as crews figure out how to repair it.


Residents in southwestern Grand Junction, Colorado, were ordered to leave their homes Monday night as the Rosevale wildfire, fanned by strong winds, crept closer to their homes. Electricity was cut to the entire evacuation area as the inferno advanced. The fire burned an unknown number of structures, but no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire, which was first reported before 7:30 p.m. Monday night, is under investigation. Grand Junction, about 35 miles from the Utah state line, has a population of about 60,000.


Yet another snowmaker is blanketing the snow-fatigued Midwest and Plains, and some light snow could even reach the interior Northeast and central Appalachians Monday. Winter weather advisories have been issued by the National Weather Service from parts of the Dakotas to western and southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Monday, some light snow may linger in portions of the upper Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes, as well as in the central Appalachians. Up to 5 inches of snow is possible from portions of the Dakotas to southwestern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

A batch of severe storms caused damage and outages last Friday evening into early Saturday as it tore through Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. At least five possible tornadoes were reported. As of Saturday morning, more than 42,000 customers were without power in those three states. Golf ball-sized hail was spotted in north Texas.

Heavy rainfall from an atmospheric river that pummeled northern California Friday shut down Yosemite National Park and put authorities on edge. Roads inside of the valley took on up to 4 feet of water and electrical systems were affected. Officials reopened Yosemite National Park Sunday. San Francisco received record rainfall Friday from the “Pineapple Express” storm, which forced the cancelation of more than 150 flights at San Francisco International Airport and the first cancelation of a San Francisco Giants game in more than a decade. There were a number of road closures and minor car crashes reported Friday in Sonoma County.

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