Signs of the Times

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. (Psalm 46:1-2)

Multitude of Egyptians Coming to Christ Despite Persecution by Radical Muslims

Despite continued persecution from Muslim extremists, Christians in Egypt remain unwavering in their faith, leading a “multitude” to come to Christ, church leaders said. The Rev. Sameh Hanna, associate pastor at the Evangelical Church in Cairo, said, “We see the multitude coming to the knowledge of Christ from every background, so this brings joy to us.” The Rev. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt, said that believers in the country put their faith in God alone, as further attacks by the Islamic State terror group or other extremists are a very real possibility—even in church. You can expect at any moment that someone will come with a bomb and create a massacre. So, every day we trust God and we go,” he said

Over 350 Groups of Students Walk-Out from School to Protest Abortion

Across the United States Wednesday, pro-life high school and college students from more than 250 schools and more than 350 student groups walked out of class to protest abortion. At 10:00 a.m. for each school’s local time, students left class to gather for seventeen minutes of silent witness for the ten children aborted by Planned Parenthood in that time period, and the more than 60 million babies killed since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. The National Pro-Life Walkout was devised by Rocklin High School student Brandon Gillespie of California, with organizational support provided by Students for Life of America. Students for Life covered the walkout with live video at several schools, including Rocklin, Moriarty High School in New Mexico, Los Alamitos High School in California, and Frederick East Classical High School in Maryland.

Pro-Life Groups Censored on Facebook Despite Zuckerberg’s Denial

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress yesterday and said that Facebook shouldn’t censor pro-life views. However, the social media giant is censoring them anyway, reports LifeSite News, “which has seen repeated attempts to censor our pro-life message or the pro-life messages of other organizations. We have had problems with certain posts being blocked on Facebook, and Facebook has denied LifeNews the ability to promote certain posts with content that it deems unacceptable.” Senator Ted Cruz read a long list of Facebook’s censorship of conservative sites and then questioned whether Zuckerberg was aware of this bias. Zuckerberg said that Facebook should not be censoring pro-life use even though abortion issues are controversial. Zuckerberg said that the platform was developing artificial intelligence tools to flag hate speech. He said he was “optimistic that over a five to ten-year period we will have AI tools that can get into some of the nuances, the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate in flagging things for our systems.”

  • Censorship of conservative posts and organization is not an AI problem. There are many Facebook employees who review posts, with some exercising personal bias.

Indiana Adopts Law That Counts Unborn Children as Persons

The state of Indiana has adopted a new law that essentially grants personhood to unborn children. Relevant Magazine reports that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed a bill into law that allows suspects to be charged with murder if they harm a pregnant woman who then loses her unborn child. Pro-life supporters are championing this bill, since it acknowledges the personhood of unborn children.

“God Enriches” Motto to be Displayed in Arizona Schools

On March 5, 2018, a hearing was held on SB1289 promoting the display of “In God we Trust” along with other historical documents.  Last Week, the bill was signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey after passing both the House and the Senate. A teacher or administrator in any school in this state may read or post in any school building copies or excerpts of the following materials: The national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”; The national anthem; The pledge of allegiance; The declaration of independence; Writings, speeches, documents and proclamations of the founding fathers and the presidents of the United States; and the Arizona state motto “Ditat Deus”, which means “God Enriches”.

U.S. & Allies Strike Syrian Chemical Facilities with 105 Missiles

The Pentagon said Saturday that the U.S.-led allied missile strikes in Syria successfully hit all three mission targets and have “significantly crippled” Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ability to make more chemical weapons. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I think we dealt them a severe blow. We’ve attacked the heart of the Syrians’ chemical weapons program.” McKenzie identified the targets as Barzah Research and Development, the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site and the Him Shinshar Bunker Facility. He said 105 missiles were launched by air and sea. There have been no reports of civilian casualties. President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished. A perfectly executed strike.” The strike was in response to Syria’s chemical attack on Douma a week ago. Biological samples from the area of the chemical attack in Syria have tested positive for chlorine and a sarin-like nerve agent, according to a U.S. official. The strikes are not expected to impact the overall status of the war in Syria between the government and numerous rebel forces. But now, Russia will pay an economic price for backing Assad in the form of more economic sanctions, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday.

2,000% Increase in Russian Trolls after Syria Strikes

The Pentagon claimed a 2,000% increase in Russian troll activity on social media following the U.S.-led missile strikes against Syria Friday night. Spokeswoman Dana White said in Saturday’s Pentagon briefing that, “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun.” Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says her organization’s Hamilton 68 dashboard has tracked “a concerted campaign to present alternative narratives to sow doubt about the evidence that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.” A Russian troll army deployed by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency has been accused of hijacking social media conversations to sow political division on social media, particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Pentagon has classified such efforts as a modern form of state-sponsored warfare, the ‘weaponization’ of information.

CIA Director Says Previous Syrian Strike Killed Hundreds of Russian Mercenaries

CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed Thursday that U.S. forces killed “a couple hundred” Russian mercenary troops in Syria in a strike earlier this year that he said sent a distinct signal to Moscow. Mr. Pompeo was testifying to the Senate as he seeks to win the top post at the State Department, after President Trump nominated him to replace outgoing Secretary Rex Tillerson. Being prodded on U.S. policy toward Russia and what Democrats said appeared to be a weak approach to Moscow, Mr. Pompeo said lawmakers need to look beyond sanctions to understand the full array of conflict and pressure. As one example he pointed to the February skirmish. Press reports say Russian mercenaries that appear to be backed by the Kremlin, and who are aligned with Syria’s government in its battle against U.S.-backed insurgents, tried to gain ground in an area where U.S. forces were. An American-led counterattack repulsed the offensive.

Thousands of National Guard Troops Deploying on Mexican Border

National Guard troops have begun deploying along the Mexican border, answering a call from President Trump to combat the “lawlessness that continues at our southern border.” “The goal is to have at least 4,000 (from all participating states) deployed in a month or two,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in San Antonio. “We should be adding 300 a week until we get staffed up.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced 225 guard members from his state deployed Monday, with more than 100 additional troops sent Tuesday. In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office told the Associated Press that more than 80 state National Guard troops would be deployed this week. About 250 troops from her state will ultimately be deployed. Even South Carolina has chimed in, with Gov. Henry McMaster offering to send troops to the Texas border. A major holdout thus far, however, has been California.

Arizona Supreme Court Strikes Down In-State Tuition for ‘Dreamers’

Arizona colleges can’t give in-state tuition to young immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. The justices unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals’ ruling that said existing federal and state laws don’t allow the Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition rates for DACA recipients.

More California Cities Vote to Opt Out of State’s Sanctuary Law

The Newport Beach city council voted unanimously earlier this week to challenge California’s sanctuary law, joining a dozen other California cities that are not interested in complying with the sanctuary policies. It’s the third city this week to take such action, joining about a dozen others in recent weeks.

Navajo Nation Sues Opioid Makers for Overdose Deaths, Addiction

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday filed a sweeping federal lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies for their role in an epidemic blamed for a surge in overdose deaths and addiction. The tribe’s lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in New Mexico, said that that prescription and illicit opioids led to 7,309 overdose deaths from 2014 through 2016 in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the three states that include parts of Navajo Nation. The Navajos lawsuit joins a growing list of states and cities that have sued opioid manufacturers and distributors for an epidemic that led to more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For generations, Native Americans have disproportionately suffered during health crises, and the opioid crisis is no different,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. “We aren’t going to sit back and let our community be torn apart while our children are suffering.”

Affordable Housing Crisis Causes Evictions to Soar

A nationwide affordable-housing crisis deepened across the U.S. last year, as rising rents and shrinking options led to yet another spike in rental evictions. Evictions — and the life-altering chaos they can create — have recently become a trending topic among housing advocates as tenant-protection laws sputter through statehouses and city councils. The Eviction Lab’s early numbers, which don’t yet include the entire United States, show over 900,000 evictions were ordered in 2016. By almost every available metric, Phoenix is one of the worst cities in America for low-income renters. The average rental price has climbed more than $150 a month since early 2016, and the apartment vacancy rate hovers below 5 percent. Whole city blocks have been swallowed by luxury apartments, in some cases clearing out what was once moderately priced housing. Wait lists for government programs like Section 8 or public housing can stretch on for years. For every 100 extremely low-income renters, households that earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last month, the Phoenix area offers just 20 affordable and available rental units. Nationwide, that figure is 35.

State Pension Funding Gap Rose to $1.4 Trillion in 2016

The funding deficit for U.S. state public pension systems rose to a record-high $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2016, a nearly $300 billion increase from fiscal 2015, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released on Thursday. The public worker retirement funds reported only $2.6 trillion in assets to cover total pension liabilities of $4 trillion. “Many state retirement systems are on an unsustainable course, coming up short on their investment targets and having failed to set aside enough money to fund the pension promises made to public employees,” the report said. Retirement systems in New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin were at least 90 percent funded in 2016, while pension funds in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey were less than 50 percent funded, according to Pew.

Economic News

U.S. retail sales rebounded in March after three straight monthly declines as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and other big-ticket items, suggesting consumer spending was heading into the second quarter with momentum. The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales increased 0.6 percent last month after an unrevised 0.1 percent dip in February. January data was revised to show sales falling 0.2 percent instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent drop. Consumer sentiment slipped in early April as households worried about the potential impact of the Trump administration’s trade policies on the economy.

After U.S. corporations got a big tax cut in December, a flurry of announcements touting bonuses and pay raises for hourly employees raised hopes that the cash windfall would keep flowing down to American workers. But the number of companies letting workers know they are getting a bonus, raise or other form of financial compensation has slowed to a trickle. Most of the extra cash from tax savings is going into the pockets of stock shareholders through dividend increases and companies buying back their own stock in hopes of boosting its price. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis found that fewer than 45 of the 500 big companies that make up the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index have paid out cash bonuses to their workers in the four months since the new tax law took effect.

The White House said Tuesday that China’s president just blinked in the trade feud between Washington and Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said his government would “significantly lower” tariffs on vehicle imports this year as part of efforts to further open its giant economy to the world. The pledge addresses one of the gripes of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose new tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese goods in a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Experts cautioned, though, that Xi’s comments may not do much to resolve the conflict, which has rocked markets in recent weeks.

Moody’s said in a report on Tuesday that retail sector defaults hit a record high during the first three months of 2018 as the rise of e-commerce and decline of malls continues to eat away at profits. Four retailers defaulted during February and another four defaulted in March — tied for the most in a single month since December 1998. And that’s on top of the 13 retail defaults in 2017, including one by bankrupt Toys “R” US. Struggling Sears and bankrupt Claire’s are among the nine retailers that defaulted on their debt during the first quarter despite the healthy overall economy. Last year, retailers announced a record 7,000 store closures.

Summer driving will be more expensive this year. Prices at the pump are likely to be 14% higher than last summer, the US government estimated on Tuesday. Although gas is well below the $4 a gallon prices of 2008, it has risen because of the recovery in the oil markets. The average gallon of gasoline fetched $2.66 on Thursday, according to AAA. That’s up from $2.39 last year, just as summer driving season was beginning. Drivers in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington State, Hawaii and Alaska already pay more than $3 per gallon, according to AAA. California’s average gas price has jumped to $3.52, compared with $2.99 a year ago. After crashing to just $26 a barrel in early 2016, crude oil has more than doubled in price. Supply in the United States is very strong. Production of crude recently hit record high because of the shale oil boom. But foreign oil supply is down, largely because of OPEC’s efforts to boost prices by curbing production. Saudi Arabia-led OPEC and Russia reached an agreement in late 2016 to pump less oil which has raised crude oil prices to over $66/gallon.

Middle East

Following an air strike on the Syrian Tiyas Military Airbase on Monday, subsequently attributed to the Israeli military, Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati issued several threats targeting Israel. Velayati, who serves as a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that that seven members of its military died in the attack. Velayati told IRNA “Defenders of the holy shrines are still standing by the Syrian people and government and will continue their fight against the enemies of the Islamic Ummah, particularly the Zionist regime and its masters. The crimes will not remain unanswered.”

Israeli Defense Forces on Saturday exposed and destroyed a terror tunnel running from Jabalia, in northern Gaza, into southern Israel near the community of Nahal Oz. The tunnel was exposed in what the IDF described as an “engineering operation” inside Israeli territory. An IDF spokesman said the tunnel was dug by the Hamas terror group and was connected to an intricate network of other tunnels running through Gaza. This is the fifth tunnel exposed and demolished by Israel on the border with Gaza in recent months. In this case, the IDF sealed, rather than bombed, the underground structure.

Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip remained the site of unruly demonstrations Friday by Palestinians, directed by the Hamas terrorist organization that has ruled the coastal enclave for the past decade. According to the IDF, Palestinians attempted to breach Israel’s border fence using explosives and Molotov cocktails. “The IDF will not allow damage to the security and fence infrastructures that protect Israeli citizens and will act against violent rioters and terrorists involved,” said the IDF statement. While the rioting has been portrayed as a peaceful “Great March of Return,” a large number of the protesters that have been killed have been identified by Hamas itself as military operatives and members of the terrorist organization. Israel’s response on the ground since the riots began in March has remained consistent, warning rioters who approach the fence that attempts to breach the barrier will not be tolerated.

Iran

The United States on Tuesday welcomed a push by some European Union states to impose new sanctions on Iran. The U.S. and EU also warned firms considering doing business with the Islamic Republic that they could be funding militant groups and promoting regional instability. President Donald Trump has set European allies a May 12 deadline to revamp an international deal agreed with Tehran in 2015 that lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Last month, France, Britain and Germany sought EU support for approval of new sanctions but have struggled to persuade other member states to back them.

Afghanistan

A new coalition air campaign aimed at crippling Taliban funding has destroyed 73 drug labs and cost the organization $42 million in lost revenue during the first six months of the operation, according to coalition statistics. The air campaign was launched in November after President Trump expanded the U.S. military’s authority to target insurgents in Afghanistan and represents the most robust effort yet to strike at the country’s $1.6 billion drug trade. “It’s the first time we’ve used air power to … strike and put pressure on Taliban revenue in the 17 years of the war,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who heads the air operation targeting insurgent revenues. The air campaign won’t eliminate the massive drug trade in Afghanistan but is designed to have an impact on Taliban operations as they gear up for another Spring fighting season.

Nigeria

Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram abducted over 1,000 children over the past five years, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday. The militants’ aim is to spread fear and show power, the agency said. Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” has staged frequent raids on schools since launching an Islamist insurgency in the country’s northeast in 2009. Its violent campaign to carve out an Islamic state there has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people. UNICEF said it had verified at least 1,000 kidnapping cases but warned the actual figure could be much higher. It added that the group had also killed at least 2,295 teachers and destroyed more than 1,400 schools.

Venezuela

A massive wave of Venezuelans are turning their backs on their homeland and its beleaguered socialist government. Countries across Central and South America are struggling to deal with the massive outflow. Regional analysts say the out-migration threatens to destabilize Venezuela’s neighbors and prove a massive drain on South American resources and economic development. The Venezuelan refugees in Argentina, driven from their homes by massive shortages, political upheaval and raging violent crime, have traveled 3,000 miles to find welcoming immigration laws and a thriving expatriate community. But not every country is dealing with the influx so smoothly. The handling of the crisis by Venezuela’s beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, figures to be a prime topic of conversation when regional leaders gather at the end of the week in Peru for the Summit of the Americas, which Vice President Pence will be attending.

Wildfires

Wildfires exploded across Oklahoma as drought and wind caused fires to spread rapidly. Two people are dead and hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed by wildfires that continue to ravage Oklahoma. The state of emergency declared by Gov. Mary Fallin will remain in effect until at least Tuesday for 52 counties. A wildfire in southwestern Oklahoma that began in Texas continues to burn after destroying over 40 square miles of land. Oklahoma Forestry Services says a blaze in northwestern Oklahoma has burned more than 375 square miles of land. The largest group of fires, named the 34 Complex Fire, has burned more than 100 square miles, destroyed several homes in northwestern Oklahoma’s Woodward County and forced evacuations. Overall, the wildfires have scorched more than 450 square miles as of Sunday evening.

A human-caused wildfire burning in eastern Arizona grew rapidly to about 2,644 acres late Saturday, and a portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests was closed off to the public, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Rattlesnake Fire was burning about 25 miles southwest of Alpine in the national forest and on the adjacent Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Continued high winds on Friday contributed to the fire’s fast growth, which had been at 400 acres by late Thursday. The fire spread smoke and worry over the region over nearby residents. No communities were immediately threatened by the fire. Firefighters late Sunday had contained about 3 percent of the fire burning near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Three other fires are burning in New Mexico having already consumed about 9,400 acres near the northern border between the two southwest states.

Weather

Winter Storm Xanto is beginning to finally wind down Monday after dumping record snow for the month of April on parts of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes over the weekend. Xanto officially brought 14.9 inches of snow to Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it the heaviest April snowstorm on record there. Green Bay, Wisconsin, picked up an astonishing 23.5 inches of snow from Xanto, ranking not only as the city’s heaviest April storm but also the second-heaviest snowstorm of all-time. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received 13.7 inches of snow from Xanto on Saturday, making it the heaviest one-day April snow total on record in the city. The highest snowfall total so far is 33 inches near Amherst, Wisconsin. Drifts 5 to 6 feet high were also reported in that location.

Tornadoes left widespread damage as part of a round of weekend severe weather that claimed at least two lives in the South. Extensive damage was reported in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the height of the outages, more than 75,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas. A possible tornado hit Sunday near Lynchburg, Virginia. Several buildings were damaged in Campbell County, while trees were snapped and cars were flipped. Following the storms, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, and a local emergency was declared in Greensboro. Sunday afternoon, a waterspout was reported near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Hillsborough County, Florida. A 2-year-old girl was killed Friday at a mobile home park in Haughton, Louisiana, when a tree fell on the RV where she was sleeping. Five people were hospitalized in Reidsville, North Carolina, on Sunday evening after a tree was blown onto a home on Highway 158. Strong winds destroyed barns and took down trees in Huntersville, some 15 miles from Charlotte, on Sunday.

Researchers in China are attempting to address the country’s water issues by building a massive rain-making network high in the Tibetan mountains. The system would consist of tens of thousands of chambers that burn fuel to make silver iodide, a particle that enters clouds and creates rain and snow, the South China Morning Post reports. The machines will be strategically placed in the mountains and cover an area of roughly 620,000 square miles, or three times as large as Spain. Winds would carry the silver iodide produced by the chambers into the sky, where it can seed the clouds. The researchers chose the Tibetan plateau because climate models suggest it will undergo severe drought triggered by the warming planet and a decrease in regional rain. This development will affect weather worldwide, some for the better, but some for the worse.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

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