Archive for December, 2018

Signs of the Times

December 31, 2018

­You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

Persecution Watch

Christians in China may be discouraged in the face of a government crackdown on their faith, but they’re not backing down. “We will not forfeit our faith because of suppression by the authorities,” Gu Baoluo, a Christian whose church was shut down in early December, told The New York Times. Gu’s congregation, Early Rain Covenant Church, was closed by Chinese officials as part of an effort to limit the impact of the country’s unregistered churches, which serve an estimated 30 million Christians. Chinese police took Bibles, closed the church’s school and seminary, and charged the pastor, Wang Yi, with “inciting subversion,” the newspaper reported. He could spend five years in prison.  One goal of the crackdown is to increase allegiance to the ruling Communist Party. President Xi Jinping and other Communists believe Christianity “promotes Western values and ideals like human rights” that “conflict with the aims of China’s authoritarian government” and Xi’s “embrace of traditional Chinese culture and Confucian teachings that emphasize obedience and order.”

Apple has removed a Christian ministry’s app from its store after LGBT supporters said the app was “dangerous” and “bigoted.” Living Hope Ministries created the app about three years ago. The gay rights group, Truth Wins Out, however, filed a petition at Change.org saying the app was “hateful.” “The app falsely portrays being gay as an ‘addiction’, ‘sickness’, and ‘sin,'” the petition said. Ricky Chalette, executive director of Living Hope Ministries, says the ministry is “saddened” about the decision to remove the app. “We are a ministry that for nearly 30 years has helped individuals resolve their feelings they deem incongruent with their faith,” he said. “We help people deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ through Bible study and accountability. We walk with them to align their lives with the teachings of Jesus Christ. From chaos and confusion, they often find peace, hope, and a deeper sense of personal wholeness. Our ministry is free and strictly voluntary.”

Ohio’s ‘Heartbeat Bill” Shot Down

Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” which would have prohibited killing unborn children with a detectable heartbeat, went down in flames on Thursday after the Senate failed by one vote to override Gov. Kasich’s veto of the bill, reported Breaking Christian News last Friday. The bill passed both chambers earlier this month — the House by a comfortable majority and the Senate 18-13 — but Kasich followed through on his promise to veto the bill. In Ohio, a three-fifths majority is required to override a veto, which meant that two additional votes were needed in the Senate. The Ohio House voted to override Kasich’s veto 61-28, but the measure came up one vote short in the Senate, which voted 19-13 against the override. GOP Sen. Bill Beagle, who voted for the heartbeat bill, inexplicably defected, crossing the aisle to side with Democrats, Kasich, and Planned Parenthood, all of whom had campaigned vigorously against protecting the lives of unborn children.

Increasing Number of Churches Protect Immigrants from Deportation

A growing number of migrants have sought and received the protecting hand of the religious community. The Church World Service said 49 migrants have been protected within the sanctuary at a church through 12/15. The numbers soared after President Trump took office last year. The church sanctuary movement is similar to the sanctuary city movement, which has likewise surged under Mr. Trump. Hundreds of communities have enacted laws and ordinances to cut off cooperation with federal authorities. But while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government’s deportation agency, has fought the state and local governments that have enacted sanctuary policies, it has taken a hands-off approach to churches. Indeed, houses of worship are named “sensitive locations” under a long-standing ICE policy that pointedly discourages deportation officers from collaring people at those places. In addition to churches, synagogues and mosques, the list includes schools, hospitals, and public marches or rallies. The policy was updated most recently under President Barack Obama in 2011. Despite a get-tough approach in many other areas of immigration enforcement, ICE has maintained the Obama policy in the Trump administration.

California Policeman Killed by Illegal Immigrant

Authorities said Friday they’d taken two more people into custody in connection with this week’s shooting death of a California police officer, bringing the total number of suspects arrested to eight. Authorities said they’d arrested the illegal immigrant fugitive whom they believe gunned down Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh early Wednesday. Authorities announced the arrests of Arriaga’s girlfriend, Ana Leyde Cervantes, 30, of Newman, CA, and Arriaga’s brother, Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, of Chowchilla. Before the fatal shooting Wednesday, Corporal Singh had pulled over Arriaga’s vehicle for a DUI investigation. Soon a gunfight broke out. The suspect then fled when backup officers arrived to assist Singh, who died at a hospital from gunshot wounds.

FBI Says Record Number Of Illegals Tried To Purchase Guns

The FBI is reporting that a record number of illegal aliens tried to purchase firearms this year. Over seven million illegals tried to purchase guns. Those who were adjudicated for mental health were the runners up in the prohibited category, with over 5.6 million rejected by NICS checks, reports the Washington Examiner. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System said that it rejected 7,836,600 planned purchases from “illegal/unlawful alien” through the end of November, already a record for any year. With the typical surge in requests to buy guns for Christmas, the total will approach nine million for the year.

Migrant Children Deaths No Surprise

The deaths of two migrant children prompted a widespread outcry last week. As a result, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced “a series of extraordinary protective measures,” adding health screenings and more medical professionals for migrant children. But concerns about migrant children becoming sick — and the lack of medical care for them in ill-equipped Border Patrol stations — were far from new. Allegations from families apprehended by Border Patrol agents were included in a raft of legal filings in August 2018. Children in Border Patrol holding facilities “would vomit on their clothing” and had no soap to clean up. One child “had diarrhea, had dry lips, he had a fever,” but border agents declined to seek medical care and closed the cell door. Children were told they could drink water from a sink, but “are not given any cups” nor soap to wash their hands. Federal officials did not comment on the filings directly, but in an interview with The Arizona Republic, defended their handling of migrants and said border agents were not expected to be medical professionals.

Thousands of Migrants Released into Southwest Cities

As the high-stakes immigration debates rage nationally over walls, U.S. border troops, caravans and a federal government shutdown, hundreds of migrant asylum-seekers were released into southwestern cities after federal detention centers hit full capacity as more and more people squeeze into ill-equipped border stations. El Paso’s Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter that coordinates local migrant assistance efforts, is spending about $150,000 a month to rent all the rooms at four local motels to house migrants. The “migrant hospitality center” network has expanded to 15 sites in El Paso and five in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Shelters vary in capacity from 15 to 100 people. Shelters recently have been taking in about 2,200 to 2,300 migrants a week. U.S. authorities released more than 1,500 migrants this week in El Paso, including 522 on Wednesday, the largest single-day release. Similar releases occurred in San Antonio and Phoenix, with some dropped at local bus stations with nowhere to go. Advocates expressed concern that immigration authorities were rushing migrants through the asylum process following the deaths of the two Guatemalan children.

Judges Rule Trump Tweets are ‘Speculation’ not ‘Pure Fact’

“Speculation.” “Unofficial information.” “Political statements rather than assertions of pure fact.” Those are words federal judges have used to describe President Donald Trump’s tweets while guarding the secrecy of ongoing investigations that have shadowed his presidency. Trump’s voluminous tweeting and other public statements offer regular insight into his thinking – and his disregard for the secrecy that traditionally surrounds national security issues. But his administration has repeatedly, and successfully, urged federal judges to find that his comments are not reason enough to force the government to give up documents that would confirm whether what he is saying is true. Because the President’s tweets amount to speculation, they do not require agencies to acknowledge whether documents exist, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in a case concerning whether Trump was under investigation. Despite Trump’s affinity for weighing in on sensitive matters, judges in several cases have repeatedly sided with the department and the FBI in refusing to acknowledge whether documents even exist

Data Breaches & Cyberattacks Way Up in 2018

Billions of people were affected by data breaches and cyberattacks in 2018 – 765 million in the months of April, May and June alone – with losses surpassing tens of millions of dollars, according to global digital security firm Positive Technologies. Cyberattacks increased 32 percent in the first three months of the year and 47 percent during the April-June period, compared to the same periods in 2017. There wasn’t a breach “quite as significant” as the Equifax data breach from September 2017 in which an estimated 143 million Americans faced potential lifelong threat of identity theft, said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports. “But the sheer volume of breaches of major companies was stunning,” she said. Breaches and cyberattacks continue to escalate “and it’s not like it’s slowing down,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist for McAfee, the California-based maker of antivirus and computer security software.

Facebook’s Rulebook Reveals Inconsistencies, Gaps & Biases

Facebook is attempting to tackle misinformation and hate that its platform has enabled with a massive, byzantine and secret document of rules packed with spreadsheets and power point slides that gets updated regularly for its global content moderators. According to a New York Times report, the rules show the social network to be “a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.” The Times discovered a range of gaps, biases and outright errors — including instances where Facebook allowed extremism to spread in some counties while censoring mainstream speech in others. The rulebook’s details were revealed Thursday night thanks to a Facebook employee who leaked over 1,400 pages of the speech policing rulebook to the Times because he “feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight — and making too many mistakes.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s company is trying to monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages while parsing out the subtle nuances and complicated context of language, images and even emojis. The group of Facebook employees who meet every other Tuesday to update the rules, according to the Times, are trying to boil down highly complex issues into strict yes-or-no rules.

  • Exercising authority over free speech in a fallen world is an impossible task

Climatologist Says Sea Level Rise Not Abnormal

For years, climate prognosticators have warned that human-caused global warming is fueling catastrophic sea-level rise, but now climatologist Judith Curry disagrees. In her latest paper, Ms. Curry found that the current rising sea levels are not abnormal, nor can they be pinned on human-caused climate change, arguing that the oceans have been on a “slow creep” for the last 150 years — before the post-1950 climb in carbon-dioxide emissions. Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “There are numerous reasons to think that projections of 21st-century sea level rise from human-caused global warming are too high, and some of the worst-case scenarios strain credulity,” her 80-page report found. Her report also found that sea levels were actually higher in some regions during the Holocene Climate Optimum — about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Opioids Are Killing Children Too

Almost 9,000 children and teenagers died from opioid poisoning from 1999 to 2016, and annual deaths increased threefold over those 18 years, a team of researchers at Yale University reported last Friday. The finding suggests the opioid epidemic will likely continue, the team said, unless legislators, public health officials, doctors and parents do more to keep the drugs out of the hands of young people. More than 80 percent of the deaths to children and teens were unintentional, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Five percent were from suicide and about 2 percent from homicide. Between 2014 and 2016, synthetic opioids led to the deaths of nearly a third of all prescription and illegal opioid deaths among older teens. Dr. Marc Fishman, an addiction psychiatrist and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says, the results are alarming because deaths to children and teens are increasing the same way as they are for adults – they start with pills, turn to heroin and die from the synthetic opioid painkiller fentanyl. Young people also seek treatment far less often that adults, Fishman says, which makes it harder to track youth opioid use.

Utah Establishes the Strictest DUI Law in U.S.

Starting in the new year, Utah will lower its blood alcohol content limit to 0.05, the strictest DUI standard in the nation. The new law states that anyone who “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” and has a “blood alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater” will have committed a criminal homicide, a felony. All the other49  states continue to hold a 0.08 limit for noncommercial drivers over the age of 21. Utah has recorded an average of 30 DUI arrests every day for the past five years, or more than 54,400 arrests in total. With the lower standard, authorities except those numbers to increase dramatically. “Despite decades of public campaigns and other efforts to discourage driving after drinking, survey and observational data show many people continue to do so,” Utah’s Department of Public Safety said.

Women’s March Canceled – Too White

Organizers of a Women’s March rally slated for Northern California next month have canceled the event, saying they were concerned that participants would have been “overwhelmingly white.” In a news release, organizers for the march in Eureka – about 270 miles north of San Francisco – said Friday the “decision was made after many conversations between local social-change organizers and supporters of the march.” “Up to this point, the participants have been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community,” the news release continued. Not all that surprising, since Humboldt County, where Eureka is the county seat, is 74 percent non-Hispanic white, according to Census Bureau data. “I was appalled to be honest,” Amy Sawyer Long told the Washington Times. “I understand wanting a diverse group. However, we live in a predominantly white area… How is it beneficial to cancel? No matter the race people still want their voices heard.”

IRS Unable to Recoup Nearly $1 billion in Obamacare Subsidies

The IRS overpaid nearly $4 billion to Obamacare customers through tax credits last year, and because of the way the law is written it can’t even try to collect on a quarter of that, the Treasury Department’s inspector general reported this week. All told, the Treasury Department paid out roughly $27 billion in Obamacare subsidies in the 2018 tax-filing season, with overages accounting for $3.7 billion of that. Only $2.7 billion was recaptured. Overpayments were built into Obamacare, with most people who buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges collecting subsidies through the IRS to help them afford their plan premiums. The amount they get during the year is based on their expected earnings. At the end of the year they’re supposed to square what they expected to earn with what they actually got. In 2017 the government paid $5.8 billion in overages and had to leave $3.5 billion on the table.

Trump Touts ‘Big Progress’ with China’s Xi on Trade Deal

President Donald Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday amid an ongoing trade dispute that has roiled markets. “Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China,” Trump posted on Twitter. “Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!” Trump and Xi walked away from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina earlier this month touting the outlines of an agreement to suspend U.S. tariffs that had been scheduled to begin in January. Trump had already levied tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. But investors grew skittish about the deal days later, setting off uncertainty in the markets which tanked to new lows before leveling off late last week.

Dollar Stores Trap the Poor in Poverty and Ill Health

Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these “small-box” retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they’re now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together — and they’re still growing at a breakneck pace. The Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, says that is bad news. “While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the authors of the brief write. “They’re a cause of it.” Dollar stores advertise hard-to-beat low prices but offer little in terms of fresh produce and nutritious items—further trapping residents in a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial stock index gave up early gains Friday to finish with a moderate loss, ending a wild week punctuated by big price swings and a post-Christmas rebound rally that enabled the blue chip stock average to dodge a bear market and notch its first weekly gain since the last week of November.  Wall Street pros said stocks were due for a bounce after the Dow fell more than 4,000 points in just 14 trading days through Christmas Eve, a violent decline that drove valuations down to multi-year lows. Trading on Wall Street has become volatile in recent weeks, as investors navigate a slew of headwinds, ranging from fears of rising interest rates causing a recession, political discord in Washington, D.C. that has led to a government shutdown and persistent fears about slowing growth around the globe exacerbated by the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

Global stocks have closed out a dreadful year with a whimper, signaling more potential declines in 2019. Markets around the world have been battered by the trade conflict between the United States and China, fears over rising interest rates and geopolitical snafus like Brexit. As the year draws to a close, few issues have been resolved. The FTSE All-World index, which tracks thousands of stocks across a range of markets, plummeted 12% this year. It’s the index’s worst performance since the global financial crisis, and a sharp reversal from a gain of nearly 25% in 2017.

The forces that pushed oil sharply lower at the end of 2018 aren’t going away with the advent of a new year. U.S. crude prices have crashed 40% since hitting four-year highs above $76 a barrel in October. Brent crude, the global benchmark, slumped this week to its lowest level since August 2017. Sustained downward pressure on oil prices reflects concerns about surging U.S. production and a weaker global economy. Not even output cuts by OPEC and its partner states have been able to reverse the trend. International Monetary Fund economists expect global growth to slow to 2.5% next year from 2.9% in 2018. Reduced economic activity means less demand for energy products.

A major 11-country agreement goes into effect Sunday, reshaping trade rules among economic powerhouses like Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia — but the United States isn’t part of it. That means that Welch’s grape juice, Tyson’s pork and California almonds will remain subject to tariffs in Japan, for example, while competitors’ products from countries participating in the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership will eventually be duty-free, reports CNN. It’s the opposite of what the Obama administration planned when it negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as TPP. The proposed deal, which never passed Congress, formed the backbone of the U.S. strategy to counter Chinese economic influence, but it was one of the first things President Trump nixed when he took office in January of 2017.

President Trump issued an executive order Friday freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019, following through on a proposal he announced earlier in the year. The move, which nixes a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect in January, comes as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are expecting to begin the new year furloughed or working without pay because of the partial government shutdown. Trump told lawmakers he planned to scrap the 2019 pay bump for federal workers in August, saying the federal budget couldn’t support it.

Middle East

The Trump administration on Friday said it backs Israel after overnight IDF airstrikes in Syria targeting Iranian arms transfers to the Hezbollah militant group. “The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian regional actions that endanger Israeli national security and the safety of the Israeli people,” Robert Palladino, deputy State Department spokesman, said. “Iranian support of and supply to terrorist groups in Syria and across the region that have the clear intent and capability to strike Israel are unacceptable.” Russia slammed the attack, accusing the six Israeli F-16 jets of launching a “provocative” raid as two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a “direct threat” to the aircraft.

An American-Palestinian dual national reportedly was sentenced Monday to life in prison with “hard labor” for trying to sell land to Israelis – extending an incarceration that has already drawn the ire of the U.S. ambassador. A Palestinian court convicted Issam Akel, who has been held since Oct. 10, of “attempting to sever parts of Palestinian land and annex it to a foreign state,” Reuters reported, citing a judiciary spokesperson. Akel was accused of trying to sell a property in East Jerusalem without telling his business partners or Palestinian officials. Under Palestinian law, potential sellers must get the Palestinian Authority to sign off on any land sales in that area before proceeding. Palestinians are concerned about land sales in the so-called occupied territories due to alleged fears Israelis will purchase property to further efforts to solidify control of the region.

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday during a meeting with Jewish leaders in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s not a question of if, just a question of when,’” according to a press release issued by the prime minister’s office. When Brazil moves its embassy, it will join the United States and Guatemala. In addition to these embassy moves, a number of other nations have recognized Jerusalem, or portions thereof, as Israel’s capital, including Russia and Australia, among others.

Syria

Syria’s military said Friday it had entered the key Kurdish-held town of Manbij in an apparent deal with the Kurds, who are looking for new allies and protection against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. troops prepare to leave Syria. Turkey and American troops patrolling the town denied there was any change of forces in the contested area, contradicting the Syrians and highlighting the potential for chaos in the wake of last week’s surprise pronouncement by the United States that it was withdrawing its troops. Since the U.S. announcement, forces have been building up around Manbij and further east, ushering in new alliances and raising the chances for friction. The Kurds’ invitation to Syrian troops shows they’d rather let Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government fill the void left by the Americans, than face the prospect of being overwhelmed by their top rival Turkey.

Russia

Improving U.S.-Russian relations in 2019 will be vital to ensuring “international security,” Vladimir Putin told President Trump over the weekend in a holiday message that stressed openness and cooperation amid growing tension between the two nuclear powers. “Vladimir Putin stressed that Russia-US relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security, and reaffirmed that Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda,” the Kremlin said.

Russia’s domestic security agency says it has arrested a U.S. citizen on espionage charges. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the top KGB successor agency, said that the American man was detained in Moscow on Friday. The agency didn’t elaborate beyond saying he was caught “during an espionage operation,” which the New York Times says implies that “he had been caught red-handed.” The state Tass news agency identified the detained man as Paul Whelan.

Great Britain

British officials say six Iranian men have been found on a beach in southeastern England as the number of migrants making risky crossings of the English Channel continues to mount. The Home Office said Sunday the men have been given medical checks and turned over to immigration officials for processing. There has been an increase in recent weeks in the number of migrants traveling from France to England in small boats. The crossing is risky because of rough seas and a high volume of commercial and ferry traffic.

France

Yellow vest protesters marched on the headquarters of leading French broadcasters Saturday, as small groups turned out in Paris and around France despite waning momentum for their movement. Hundreds of demonstrators – some chanting “Journalists – Collaborationists!” – gathered at the central offices of television network BFM and state-run France Televisions. Some protesters hurled stones and other objects during scattered skirmishes with riot police firing tear gas. Some members of the broad-based yellow vest movement accuse French leading news media of favoring President Emmanuel Macron’s government and big business and minimizing the protests – even though the demonstrations have been the leading news story in France since they kicked off Nov. 17.

Earthquakes

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern Philippines Saturday morning local time. No casualties or damage have been reported. A tsunami warning was issued but has since been lifted. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the quake was detected at a depth of 30 miles and a magnitude of 7.1 about 100 miles off Davao Oriental province. A major tsunami was unlikely given the depth of the quake.

Weather

Dozens of people were killed this weekend as Tropical Depression Usman swept over the central Philippines, triggering landslides and flooding. At least 61 people have been killed and another 18 remain missing as of Monday. Thousands of others were stranded at seaports, airports and bus terminals after dozens of inter-island trips were canceled because of the storm. Tens of thousands of people left their homes ahead of the storm.

A record-shattering heat wave continued to scorch Australia last week as temperatures soared above 120 degrees in some spots. The extreme heat prompted health warnings, air quality alerts and fire bans across the nation. Though heat isn’t unusual in Australia this time of year, the level and duration of the heat wave are extreme. High temperature records have already been set in four states. A blistering high temperature of 120 degrees reported Thursday in Marble Bar, Western Australia, was only 3 degrees below the continent’s all-time record high temperature of 123 degrees, set in 1960 in Oodnadatta.

Signs of the Times

December 27, 2018

­In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1:6-9)

Most Americans Still Think Religion Is Important, But Percentages Down

With the Christmas season here, most Americans say religion is an important part of their lives, according to a Gallup poll taken between Dec. 3-12 and released on Christmas Eve. Among 1,025 American adults: 72 percent said religion is important, with 51 percent saying religion is very important. Gallup said the poll shows the long-term decline in the importance of religion in people’s lives, noting a 1952 poll showing 75 percent saying religion is very important. Since then, the numbers have only been higher than 61 percent twice: 64 percent in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and 65 percent one year later.

Pope Tells Sex-Abuse Priests: ‘Turn Yourselves In’

Pope Francis vowed Friday that the Catholic Church will “never again” cover up clergy sex abuse and demanded that priests who have raped and molested children turn themselves in. He also urged victims to come forward, thanked the media for giving them a voice and issued a stark warning to abusers: “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.” Francis dedicated his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican bureaucracy to abuse, evidence that a year of devastating revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up has shaken his papacy and caused a crisis of confidence in the Catholic hierarchy. Francis acknowledged that the church in the past had failed to treat the problem seriously, blaming leaders who out of inexperience or short-sightedness acted “irresponsibly” by refusing to believe victims. But he vowed that going forward the church would never cover up or dismiss cases again.

Ohio Governor Signs Bill Banning Common Abortion Methods

A bill that would ban the most common abortion method used in the second trimester of pregnancy was signed into law Friday by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Though there are no exceptions in the law for cases of rape or incest, but there is one if the mother’s life is at risk. Any abortion provider who defies this law could face fourth-degree felony charges, including prison time and fines. The Republican governor’s decision to sign off on this legislation sparked immediate backlash from abortion rights advocates. Kasich has signed more than 20 laws restricting abortion access in his eight years in office.

Planned Parenthood Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees

The abortion giant Planned Parenthood has been accused of mistreating pregnant employees, according to a New York Times report. According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, Planned Parenthood has been accused of “sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees.” The alleged discrimination would violate federal or state laws. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work. At Planned Parenthood, the Times reported, managers in some clinics declined to hire pregnant job candidates. Along with refusing requests by expecting mothers to take breaks, some were pushed out of their jobs after they gave birth, the paper said. Planned Parenthood’s clinics and regional offices brought in about $1.5 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2016. Half came from private donations and half from the government to reimburse treatment provided to Medicaid patients.

Supreme Court Upholds Block on Trump’s Asylum Restrictions

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal judge’s order blocking the Trump administration’s new asylum restrictions. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-4 ruling. The administration’s policy, signed on November 9, would temporarily bar migrants who illegally cross into the US through the southern border from seeking asylum outside of official ports of entry. A federal judge in California quickly blocked the order, and the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford said the department would continue fighting the blocking order. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said they would have granted the administration’s request to lift the hold on the ban. This is the first high-profile vote in which Kavanaugh broke from Roberts. Earlier this year, he and Roberts joined with liberals to rebuff efforts by states seeking to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

Second Child Immigrant Death Spurs CBD Medical Checkups

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has ordered medical exams for all children it holds in custody following the Christmas Eve death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, the second immigrant child to die in federal detention this month. The updated policy marks a change in the handling of young children who are detained after entering the United States without required documentation. The change comes amid what CBP and Department of Homeland Security officials on Wednesday characterized as a recent increase in the number of families or unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended or detained at the nation’s borders. CBP is considering options from other federal agencies to help provide increased medical assistance for young immigrants at the border. Along with support from the U.S. Coast Guard, the assistance ultimately could add services from the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Caravan Organizer Blasted by Migrants over Risky Journey

Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), a group of activists escorting the migrant caravan of thousands of Central Americans traveling to the U.S., is being blamed by many — including the migrants themselves — for encouraging such a risky trek. Former allies and some migrants have said the group downplayed the risks involved, particularly for those with families and small children. The organizers also were accused of misleading caravan migrants about how long they would have to wait on the Mexican side of the border to apply for asylum. Adelaida Gonzalez, a member of the migrant caravan who traveled with her son and neighbor from Guatemala City, said she wished she’d accepted Mexico’s offer to stay and work in the southern state of Chiapas. “We were never told along the way that it would be this hard,” Gonzalez, 37, said after she saw the border wall topped with razor wire and the long waiting list for asylum seekers.

ISIS Terrorists Behead Two Scandinavian Hikers in Morocco

Two ISIS terrorists who killed two Scandinavian women in Morocco condemned the tourists as “enemies of Allah” as they videoed themselves decapitating one of the women. Danish intelligence services connected the murders to ISIS after Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, were found dead Monday in the country’s High Atlas mountains, the Daily Mail of London reported. The men are heard shouting “it’s Allah’s will” and apparently mention Syria, a reference to Western bombing missions. Three suspects have been arrested and a fourth was held due to suspicions he is allied with ISIS. The Daily Mail said an anti-terrorism rally is planned for Saturday in Morocco’s capital, Marrakesh.

Defense Secretary Resigns Over Syria Decision, Others Follow

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, which shocked Washington’s national security establishment and rattled America’s allies, was precipitated by President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, alarming Pentagon officials who see America’s role in the region as crucial. For Mattis, the president’s order was the final straw. Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the global anti-Islamic State coalition, submitted his resignation letter on Friday, also because of Trump’s sudden decision against defense officials advice. Trump has stood by his Syria decision, telling detractors that the pullout should come as “no surprise” given his 2016 campaign promises and arguing that America’s role as “Policeman of the Middle East” is not worth the sacrifice.

Trump & Melania Visit Troops in Iraq

On Christmas, the mainstream media ran a series of articles criticizing President Trump for being the first president since 2002 to fail to visit troops at Christmastime. They criticized him for staying at home instead of supporting those who keep America free. However, on Wednesday, exciting news broke that proved the media wrong. Not only did President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit troops, but they also went all the way to Iraq to do it. FLOTUS and POTUS met with military personnel on Wednesday at Al Asad Air Base. This was President Trump’s first visit to a war zone since becoming president.

Mass Shooters Use Credit Cards to Stockpile Weapons

The New York Times reviewed hundreds of documents including police reports, bank records and investigator notes from a decade of mass shootings. Many of the killers built their stockpiles of high-powered weapons with the convenience of credit while no one was watching. “Mass shootings routinely set off a national debate on guns, usually focused on regulating firearms and on troubled youths. Little attention is paid to the financial industry that has become an instrumental, if unwitting, enabler of carnage.” There have been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade, and in at least eight of them, the killers financed their attacks using credit cards. Those eight shootings killed 217 people. There were plenty of red flags, if only someone were able to look for them, law enforcement experts say. Banks and credit-card networks say it is not their responsibility create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns.

New Border Fencing Being Installed Using Budgeted Funds

The new year will bring the first new U.S.-Mexico border barriers to be built under President Donald Trump’s administration. The administration has so far announced eight projects to build new fence or replace existing barriers. Three of the projects have been completed; two are underway. Three others will begin during 2019’s first half, including areas of south Texas that previously had no barriers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has received more than $1.6 billion in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for border infrastructure. That money is paying for the eight scheduled projects, and a few more that have not been announced yet. The federal government is still in a partial shutdown as Trump and Democrats spar over border wall funding. The president wants $5 billion for the wall, but Democrats have refused to give him the money.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average just posted its biggest single day point gain ever.  On Wednesday, the Dow shot up 1,086 points, which shattered the old record by a staggering 150 points.  However, the previous record was on October 13th, 2008, just before the Great Recession. On that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 936 points, and at the time it was the biggest daily point increase that Wall Street had ever seen by a very wide margin. Subsequently, the Dow kept on falling until it finally bottomed out in early 2009.

Last week, the Dow industrial stock market index posted its worst week since 2008. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the Dow are on track for their worst Decembers since 1931, during the Great Depression.
Technology stocks dragged the Nasdaq into ‘bear’ market territory, which is a 20 percent drop from its high. Alarmed investors sent the Dow plunging more than 650 points in a shortened trading session on Monday. Markets plunged after the Trump administration sent out confusing signals about markets and the economy.

Holiday sales grew 5.1 percent this year to more than $850 million, making it the best season in the last six years, according to data Mastercard released Wednesday. In addition, online sales jumped 19.1 percent compared to last year. The apparel and home improvement categories saw the most growth, up 8% and 9% respectively. In contrast, electronics and appliances dropped 0.7 percent. Department stores experienced a 1.3 percent decrease from last year, partly due to stores closing.  However, their online sales were up 10.2%.

Cash is still king, for now. Cash continues to be the most frequently used payment instrument, representing 30 percent of all transactions and 55 percent of transactions under $10,”according to a Federal Reserve report in November. The amount of cash in circulation has risen for 17 consecutive years. The 41.6 billion bills in circulation at year-end 2017 were worth $1.6 trillion, also a record that has climbed as more paper money has gone into circulation this year. Yet the mix of currency has shifted a bit. There are now more $100 notes out there than $1 bills with $20 bills next most common, followed in order by $5s, $10s, $50s and $2 bills.

Sprint has agreed to pay a $330 million settlement after the company skirted New York tax law for nearly a decade, New York’s attorney general announced Friday. The cellular provider failed to collect and remit over $100 million in state and local taxes on flat-rate calling plans. The $330 million settlement is the largest recovery by a single state in a false claims lawsuit. By failing to comply with the state’s tax law, Sprint harmed not just the state, but local municipalities where sales tax is the largest source of revenue, according to the attorney general.

Religious Persecution

U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono have raised questions regarding the suitability of Brian C. Buescher to be seated as a federal district judge. Buescher belongs to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Like most practicing Catholics, he is pro-life. According to Harris and Hirono, those two characteristics are troubling, and could be disqualifying. Senators Harris and Hirono are playing a game: they are engaged in selective religious profiling and sexism. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not considered a problem with these senators, yet she is Catholic. But she is also reliably pro-abortion. “Senator Hirono is troubled that the Knights of Columbus supported California’s Proposition 8 (designed to limit the institution of marriage to a man and a woman). She calls this position “extreme.” Is she calling all of those who supported Proposition 8 “extreme”? That would include millions of traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and Muslims—all of whom came together to win in one of the nation’s most liberal states,” notes LifeNews.com.

China is cracking down on churches, but that has not deterred many Christians from finding other places to worship, The New York Times reported. This year, the Chinese government has: banned online sales of the Bible; burned crosses; demolished churches; and forced at least six places of worship to close. Renee Xia, of the China Human Rights Defenders, said the Chinese government is targeting the “heart of the underground Christian resistance.” The government is concentrating on unofficial Christian churches that promote social justice or have been critical of the Communist Party’s grip on society, according to the Times. And the crackdown worsened in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as police closed two churches, which had attracted thousands. But even as the government mandates religious groups to register, people are still worshiping in unofficial churches, often referred to as underground or house churches, the Times reported.

Middle East

The Israeli military on Wednesday destroyed another cross-border tunnel it says was built by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, sending a loud explosion throughout the volatile area. Israel this month announced the discovery of the tunnels, which it says were part of a Hezbollah plot to sneak across the border and carry out attacks in Israel. Israel has so far uncovered five tunnels in an open-ended operation to destroy the entire network. At least two tunnels have been destroyed.

Newsweek reported on Tuesday that a number of Hezbollah leaders were targeted in an Israeli airstrike as they were boarding a plane to Iran in Syria’s capital of Damascus. The magazine also reported that several “Iranian ammunition supply points” were bombed, which contained the most sophisticated, precision-guided ammunition available to Iran’s army and Hezbollah. On Tuesday evening, an Israeli Army spokesman said Israeli air defenses were activated against a missile fired from Syria. No damage or casualties on Israel’s side were reported. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) released a video showing missiles fired by Syrian air defenses from the area around Damascus. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed later Tuesday that Israel’s attacks in Syria put two civilian flights in danger.

Behind closed doors, Israeli officials were reportedly critical of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. One senior minister called it a “horrifying moral and a bad diplomatic step.” “The move does not serve Israel’s interests, harms the Kurds, strengthens [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and will give Iran additional routes through which to send weapons to Syria,” said the minister. The Russian forces currently in Syria will take action to restrain Hezbollah and Iranian activity there, according to understandings reached by Israel, the United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Jordanian official confirmed to Israel Hayom. The understandings are the product of behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks that were underway prior to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he welcomed the departure of U.S. troops and said Turkish forces are still planning to invade northeast Syria in the coming months and “cleanse” the region of both Kurdish militias and Islamic State forces.

Lebanon

Hundreds of Lebanese protested Sunday against deteriorating economic conditions as public anger mounts against politicians deadlocked over forming a new government since May. The protesters marched to the government building in central Beirut, carrying placards that called for an end to the deadlock and corruption. Some protesters sported the yellow vests worn by anti-government protesters in France. The call for the protests began on social media, with some using the symbol of a yellow vest with a cedar tree, a national symbol that appears on the country’s flag. The protests grew rowdy as angry protesters pelted security forces with water bottles. Security forces deployed, setting up barricades separating them from the protesters in a standoff that locked down the city center. By mid-afternoon, the demonstration began to fizzle but scores of protesters marched to a commercial district in Beirut, chanting “revolution” and urging others to join them. Protests have spread across the country in recent weeks as rival politicians have failed to form a new government following parliamentary elections in May.

Afghanistan

Militants stormed Afghan government offices in Kabul on Monday after setting off a car bomb, and officials said at least 43 people were killed. The attack lasted at least five hours and shattered a period of relative calm in the Afghan capital, which over the years has been subjected to deadly and audacious assaults by militants opposed to the American-backed government. It also came less than a week after President Trump reportedly instructed the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of about half the American military contingent deployed in Afghanistan, an abrupt shift in policy that caught Afghan officials by surprise.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday his army would deploy a new hypersonic nuclear-capable missile system next year, upping the ante in a high-tech arms race with the U.S. “Starting from next year, in 2019, a new intercontinental strategic system Avangard will enter service in the Russian army and the first regiment in the Strategic Missile Troops will be deployed,” President Putin said. The Avangard is a strategic intercontinental ballistic missile system equipped with a gliding hypersonic maneuvering warhead. Hypersonic warheads travel faster than traditional ballistic missiles. They reach speeds of Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound, about one mile per second.

North Korea

A U.S. judge ordered North Korea to pay $500 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained there. A federal court judge in the Washington, D.C. issued the order holding North Korea liable for the death of the University of the Virginia student. Warmbier was detained in North Korea in 2016 while visiting as a tourist on his way to a study-abroad program and was imprisoned after a sham trial for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster.

Yemen

American fingerprints are all over the air war in Yemen, where errant strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed more than 4,600 civilians, according to a monitoring group. When a Saudi F-15 warplane takes off from King Khalid air base in southern Saudi Arabia for a bombing run over Yemen, it is not just the plane and the bombs that are American. American mechanics service the jet and carry out repairs on the ground. American technicians upgrade the targeting software and other classified technology, which Saudis are not allowed to touch. The pilot has likely been trained by the United States Air Force. In Washington, the civilian death toll has stoked impassioned debate about the pitfalls of America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who relies on American support to keep his warplanes in the air. Saudi Arabia entered the war in 2015, allying with the United Arab Emirates and a smattering of Yemeni factions with the goal of ousting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels from northern Yemen. Three years on, they have made little progress. At least 60,000 Yemenis have died in the war, and the country stands on the brink of a calamitous famine.

Japan

Japan suffered its biggest natural population decline ever this year, government statistics show. The fast-graying nation also posted a record-low birthrate, as the estimated number of babies born in 2018 dipped to 921,000 — the lowest since records began in 1899. The number of newborns is estimated to have shrunk by 25,000 from 2017, and the figure remains under the 1 million mark for the third year in a row. Deaths in 2018 also hit a postwar record high of 1.369 million, with a natural population decline of 448,000 — the highest ever. more than 20% of its population is older than 65. The country’s total population stands at 124 million this year — but by 2065 it is expected to have dropped to about 88 million. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to prevent the population from dropping below 100 million. In 2017, the government announced a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) spending package to encourage more births. The program will expand free preschool for children aged 3 to 5 — and for children aged 2 and under from low-income families — and cut waiting times at day care centers.

Environment

For the fourth consecutive year, Costa Rica has generated more than 98 percent of its electricity using only renewable sources. For 300 days, Costa Rica used no fossil fuels to create electricity, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity announced this week. Hydroelectric plants generated nearly 74 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity this year, followed by wind at more than 15 percent, geothermal at just over 8 percent, and biomass and solar both at less than 1 percent. Those five sources were responsible for 98.56 percent of the country’s electricity this year, according to the electricity institute. While fossil fuels have all but been eliminated from the electric grid, Costa Rica still relies heavily on gas and oil for heating and vehicles.

Volcanoes/Tsunami

At least 400 Indonesians were killed and more than 1400 injured by a tsunami that struck west of Jakarta Saturday. The tsunami may have been a result of an undersea landslide near the Anak Krakatau Volcano. At least 28 others were missing, but the toll could continue to rise because some areas had not yet been reached. Nine hotels, 430 homes and 10 vessels were heavily damaged by the tsunami that came with no warning. The early warning system — designed to detect changes in wave height in coastal areas near an active volcano — hasn’t worked since 2012, government officials said. The Anak Krakatau volcano lies in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands, linking the Indian Ocean and Java Sea. It erupted about 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said. The tsunami was only 1 meter (3.3 feet), but a lot of structures were built close to the shoreline. Authorities warned residents to avoid the coast over fears that weather ongoing volcanic activity could trigger a new tsunami.

A quake triggered by Mount Etna’s ongoing eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, slightly injuring 10 people and prompting frightened Italian villagers to flee their homes. Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19am, was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna’s volcanic eruption this week. Italy’s national seismology institute said the quake registered a magnitude of 4.8 and occurred at a relatively shallow depth, 0.6 miles under the mountain’s surface. Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July. In recent days, its latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke, and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash. A new fracture has opened near Etna’s southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.

Weather

Blizzard warnings were in effect for parts of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota as of late Thursday. Some areas braced for up to 18 inches snow. Sustained winds of 15-30 mph with gusts 35 to 50 mph were anticipated in parts of the region. Travel will be hazardous with slick snow-covered roads, especially in areas where blizzard warnings are in effect. Temperatures are forecast to plunge as the storm moves across the area into the 20s, teens and single digits in some areas. Because of the wind, the temperatures will feel like below zero.

Almost 30 million people were under flood watches in the Southeast Thursday. Severe thunderstorms that could spawn tornadoes were forecast in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and western Tennessee on Thursday. Storms were also possible for parts of Iowa, western Illinois and northern Missouri. “The full spectrum of severe weather is anticipated with these storms,” AccuWeather reported. “Everything from frequent lightning strikes to flooding downpours, hail, strong wind gusts and isolated tornadoes may occur with this setup into Thursday night.”

Signs of the Times

December 20, 2018

­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)

Iranian Refugees Disillusioned with Islam are Converting to Christianity

Iranian refugees in Turkey are converting from Islam to Christianity in such numbers that churches can’t keep up with the demand. Sebnem Koser Akcapar, a sociology professor at Istanbul’s Koç University, told National Public Radio, that the numbers of Iranian converts to Christianity has “grown tremendously over the years. A small church consisting of 20 to 30 families has become a much bigger congregation housing 80 to 100 people on a regular Sunday.” One of those converts is 37-year-old Farzana, who didn’t give her last name for fear of her safety. Converts from Islam to Christianity in Iran can face the death penalty. She walked away from Islam because of the way Iran treats women. She had divorced her abusive husband, but a court gave him custody of the children. “Mostly because of this I became disillusioned with Islam,” she said. “It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana told NPR of her new faith.

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Overhaul of Criminal Justice System

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system, after a remarkable political shift from Republicans who voted in large numbers to save money by reducing prison sentences, handing a rare bipartisan victory to President Trump. The First Step Act passed on a vote of 87 to 12, with dozens of Republicans, including longtime holdout Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), joining all 49 members of the Democratic caucus to approve legislation that even some GOP supporters fear could leave them vulnerable to charges of being soft on crime. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to allay those concerns shortly before the final vote, stressing that Trump “wants to be tough on crime, but fair on crime.” The bill would revise several sentencing laws, such as reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also overhauls the federal prison system to help inmates earn reduced sentences and lower recidivism rates. A different version passed the House this year, but the House is expected to pass the latest draft before sending it to Trump for his signature.

President Trump Declares Victory Over ISIS, Orders Troops Out of Syria

President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS in a tweet and called Wednesday for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria over the apparent objections of military advisers and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The withdrawal of the more than 2,000 troops is based on Trump’s decision that the mission against ISIS is complete, a U.S. official said. Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in recent weeks and months have spoken of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of the country to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., derided Trump’s decision to withdraw, likening it to those made by former President Barack Obama to announce ahead of time plans to reduce forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the move was a “major blunder” and against the Pentagon’s advice. Kurds living under the protection of U.S forces and the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said this action would be a disaster for them, “It’s a historic mistake. We wanted to be part of America. We are surrounded by enemies, and ISIS isn’t even finished yet.” . In Russia, President Vladimir Putin applauded Trump’s decision, saying it could help create “a real prospect for a political solution” in Syria, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Islamic State militants had executed nearly 700 prisoners over the past two months in eastern Syria.

  • Withdrawal from Syria represents failure on many fronts. Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, remains in power despite U.S. demands for his ouster. Syria’s deadly civil war remains unresolved, with a mounting death toll and millions of refugees displaced. Russia and Iran’s influence in Syria has grown, while U.S. leverage has diminished. And while ISIS may not have a patch of land to call its own, the terrorist group remains a menacing threat in the region. Or course Russia applauds this decision, giving them the upper hand in the region.

ICE Deported 256,086 Illegal Aliens in FY2018

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) reports that in Fiscal Year 2018, they arrested 158,581 aliens, 90% of whom had criminal convictions (66%), pending criminal charges (21%), or previously issued removal orders (3%). The overall arrest figure represents an 11% increase over FY2017.Also, 396,448 people were initially booked into an ICE detention facility, an increase of 22.5% over FY2017. ICE removed 256,086 illegal aliens, reflecting an increase of 13% over FY2017. The majority of removals (57%) were convicted criminals. Additionally, 5,914 of the removed illegal aliens were classified as either known or suspected gang members or terrorists, which is a 9% increase over FY2017. Nearly 6,000 known or suspected gang members were removed in FY2018

Federal Judge Orders Deported Asylum Seekers Returned to U.S. for Hearing

A federal judge on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of ordering that asylum seekers who sued after their deportation be returned to the U.S. to have their claims heard anew, ruling against the Trump administration’s revised asylum policies. In his sweeping ruling Wednesday against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Sullivan said recent changes violated federal law. “The Court holds that it has jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs’ challenges to the credible fear policies, that it has the authority to order the injunctive relief, and that, with the exception of two policies, the new credible fear policies are arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the immigration laws,” Sullivan concluded. Sullivan went a big step further by ordering that “the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.” In addition, Sullivan blocked the Trump administration policies from being further applied. In response to the decision, the Justice Department said it was reviewing its options.

U.S. & Mexico Agree to Force Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico

The Trump administration reached a deal with Mexico that will force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as cases are processed, the Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday. The plan announced by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, which has been under negotiation with Mexico’s leftist government for several weeks, represents a major break with current screening procedures that generally allow those who have a credible fear of persecution to remain in the United States until a hearing with an immigration judge. Under the new rules, they’ll be required to wait in Mexico.

U.S. & Mexico Plan to Stem Migration from Central America

The United States and Mexico will be cooperating closely to convince thousands of potential Central American migrants to not risk the perilous journey to the U.S. border by investing money into some of the region’s poorest areas. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said up to $10.6 billion in existing U.S. funding would fund “institutional reform” and “good government” initiatives in Central America, along with regional development in southern Mexico — where new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to pull the region out of poverty through projects ranging from railways to refineries to planting thousands of hectares of trees “Both countries recognize the strong links between economic growth in southern Mexico and successfully promoting prosperity, good government and security in Central America,” Ebrard told reporters Tuesday.

Thousands of Migrant Kids Set for Release by Christmas

The Trump administration said Tuesday it’s eliminating some of the checks it makes before releasing illegal-immigrant children to homes in the U.S., clearing the way for thousands of the kids to be released by Christmas. “The children should be home with their parents. The government makes lousy parents,” Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families, told NPR in an interview announcing the change. She said 2,000 children are ready to be released this week.

Trump to Arm More Adults in Schools, End Obama’s Light Discipline

The Trump administration issued proposals Tuesday to prevent school shootings, a plan that includes arming more school personnel, taking guns away from highly dangerous people and revoking Obama-administration rules that were criticized for easing discipline of minority students. The president’s commission on school safety, which was formed after the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, made nearly 100 policy recommendations, mainly for state and local governments to consider. The commission said there is no “one size fits all” solution to prevent school shootings, and no new federal spending is being proposed. “Local problems need local solutions,” Commission Chairwoman Betsy DeVos told reporters. The option of arming more trained adults must rest with state and local governments, senior administration officials said. But they said it should be an option, especially in rural jurisdictions where the response time of local law-enforcement officials to a shooting could be longer than in other communities.

Gun-Related Deaths Reach Record High in U.S.

Gun-related deaths in the U.S. last year reached their highest point in 40 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database. In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were killed from gun-related incidents in the U.S., according to the data. By contrast, gun-related incidents accounted for less than 29,000 deaths in 1999. Of the 40,000 recorded gun-related deaths in 2017, more than a third were homicides and more than half were suicides. At 14 deaths per 100,000 people, white men accounted for the highest percentage of suicide deaths by firearm. Black men accounted for the most firearm homicide deaths. Nearly 500 gun deaths were unintentional.

2018 Deadliest Year Ever for Journalists

2018 was the worst year on record for deadly violence and abuse toward journalists, according to a report published Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders. For the first time the United States joined the ranks of places where the business of doing journalism carries real hazards. At least 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison and 60 are being held hostage, the report found. After falling for three years in a row, the number of journalists killed in connection with their work increased 8 percent since 2017. Conflict-zone Afghanistan was perhaps predictably the world’s deadliest country for journalists in 2018, with 15 killed. It was followed by Syria (11 killed) and Mexico (9 killed), the deadliest country for journalists outside a conflict zone. However, for the first time the U.S. was included among world’s most dangerous places for journalists because of the fatal shooting of five employees of the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Two other U.S. journalists, a local TV anchor and cameraman, were killed by a falling tree while covering Subtropical Storm Alberto’s extreme weather in North Carolina in May.

DNA, Genetic Genealogy Solve 27 Cold Cases

Law enforcement’s new partnership with genetic genealogy made 2018 a year of profound impact in how years-old cold case murders and rapes are investigated and solved. Detectives across the country said they were able to locate suspects in 27 cold cases this year after uploading crime scene DNA to GEDmatch.com, a public genealogy website, obtaining a match and then letting a genealogist create family trees through painstaking research that ultimately led to a suspect. Parabon NanoLabs said it has used crime scene DNA and GEDmatch to identify suspects and persons of interests in 24 cold cases and one fresh case and turned the names over to law enforcement agencies who paid for the research. “The power of this new partnership between genetic genealogy and law enforcement has unlocked one of the biggest, if not the biggest, crime-fighting breakthroughs in decades,” Parabon genealogist CeCe Moore said. “And, it isn’t just for cold cases. Applying genetic genealogy to active cases is where the real potential of this collaboration will be unleashed.”

Facebook Gave Tech Companies Intrusive Access to Private Data

Facebook gave other big tech companies “intrusive access” to the personal data of its 2.2. billion users — in some instances to private messages, usernames and contact information — raising questions about whether the company ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. These arrangements are detailed in a blockbuster New York Times report based on over 270 pages of internal Facebook documents and interviews with about 50 former company employees. The secretive arrangements were ostensibly meant to benefit Facebook’s never-ending push for growth and enable the companies it works with to add features to their products to improve them. However, the findings underscore just how much power the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company wields over the data of its users. According to the Times, Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of almost all Facebook users’ friends without consent and gave Netflix and Spotify access to Facebook users’ private messages. Facebook also allowed Amazon to get users’ names and contact information through their friends and permitted Yahoo to view streams of friends’ posts.

More Teens Vaping, But Drinking & Opioid Use Down

The percentage of high school seniors who say they vaped nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled this year, a dramatic increase that federal officials want to curb with new rules and restrictions. Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped a nicotine product within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent a year ago – the largest one-year increase of any substance use in the survey’s 43-year history. Students are drinking less, with lower rates of binge drinking or being drunk. Misuse of prescription opioids also decreased while the rate for other illicit drugs was either flat or down. Federal officials called the rise in vaping alarming. Officials and anti-smoking activists have called for more education about the potential harms of nicotine addiction and more oversight of the way the burgeoning e-cigarette industry markets e-cigarettes. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has described teen vaping an “epidemic.”

Boycotts of Chick-Fil-A Backfire

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food restaurant with the famed cattle urging “Eat Mor Chikin,” recently was banned from Rider University’s campus because the company’s owners support traditional marriage. The chain also faces a boycott in Toronto, and Pittsburgh officials tried to rid their city of the restaurant. The New Yorker magazine said it did not want another franchise in the Big Apple. There’s a web page called “These are the Best Reasons to Hate Chick-fil-A.” And on Facebook is a page called “Boycott Chick-fil-A.” But on Tuesday, the New York Post report that Chick-fil-A was on track to become the No. 3 fast-food chain in the U.S, surpassing Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy’s. Its stores grew nearly 8 percent to more than 2,100, and its sales were up as much as 15 percent to $10 billion. That’s on top of 14.2 percent growth last year, all the more impressive since its eateries are closed on Sundays.

Trump Administration to Tighten Work Requirements for Food Stamps

The Trump administration announced a plan Thursday to tighten work requirements for work-eligible Americans on food stamps — a move the Department of Agriculture says will nudge those on welfare toward self-sufficiency. The USDA announced that the rule, which will apply to able-bodied adults without dependents, will restrict the ability of states to exempt recipients from having to hold a job to receive the benefits. Currently, able-bodied recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) must work 20 hours a week or enroll in job training to maintain benefits, after their first three months in the program. But states can waive the requirement if their unemployment rates are above 10 percent or they show a demonstrable lack of jobs. States can also grant extensions of benefits for 15 percent of work-eligible adults without a waiver, and if they don’t use that waiver, they can bank the exemptions for later.

Economic News

Republicans backed down in their border security fight Wednesday and settled instead for a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government running through early February, avoiding a government shutdown and leaving the big fights for the new Congress. However, President Trump on Thursday reiterated that he will not sign a stopgap spending bill unless it includes money for a border wall. If no bill is passed by end-of-day Friday, many government departments will shut down, although some deemed necessary, such as air traffic controller, will remain in operation. Trump also announced that all federal employees can take Christmas Eve off.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates Wednesday for the fourth time this year, but signaled a more patient approach raising rates next year amid signs that the economy is starting to weaken. Central bankers unanimously agreed under Chairman Jerome Powell to lift the federal funds rate, which controls the cost of mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing to a range of 2.25% and 2.5%.The Fed chairman said there were a number of “cross-currents emerging” that prompted most officials to “modestly” lower their growth forecasts next year. He added that officials “now think it is more likely the economy will grow in a way that calls for two rate increases next year” — fewer than initially expected. The Dow tumbled to the lowest level of the year on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled a more aggressive stance than investors had hoped for.

Fears of an economic slowdown — or even recession — have turned a spotlight on the debt that businesses piled up during the past decade, when borrowing costs were historically low. Forty-six percent of global fund managers surveyed think corporate balance sheets are overleveraged, Bank of America said. That’s a record high for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey. Fifty-three percent of investors surveyed by Bank of America expect global growth to weaken over the next 12 months, the worst outlook since October 2008. U.S. nonfinancial companies rated by Moody’s were sitting on $5.7 trillion of debt as of the end of June. A severe slowdown, let alone an outright contraction, would make paying down debt difficult.

U.S. oil prices tumbled more than 2% to almost $46 a barrel on Tuesday. — the weakest price since September 2017. The deepening downturn in the oil patch is yet more evidence of investors fleeing risky assets as they brace for an economic slowdown. The same growth jitters that are rocking Wall Street — the Dow and S&P 500 are on track for their worst December since 1931 — are infecting commodities as well. “Weaker” economic growth, especially in emerging markets, will likely hurt demand for crude, the International Energy Agency said in a report last week. The price of crude oil has plummeted about 37% since hitting a four-year high of $76.90 a barrel in October. Prior to the last recession, oil prices had climbed over $100 per barrel.

Nearly one in five U.S. fuel stations were charging less than $2 per gallon of gasoline Tuesday, as falling oil prices deliver holiday savings for American motorists. Nationally, the average was $2.37 – 5 cents cheaper than a week ago, 26 cents cheaper than a month ago and 6 cents cheaper than a year ago. More than half of the stations in the country were below $2.25, according to the Oil Price Information Service. About 1 in 10 stations are still charging over $3 per gallon. Many of those are in California, where the national average was $3.40 on Monday, according to AAA. The highest-ever national average was $4.11 on July 17, 2008. A sharp decline in oil prices over the last few months has sparked the decline in gas prices.

According to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA), 62% of current retirees lean on the program for at least half of their income, with just over a third reliant on Social Security for virtually all (90%-plus) of their income. Just 1 in 10 aren’t reliant on their Social Security income in any way. Surveys conducted by Gallup show that more than 4 out of 5 non-retirees expect to lean on their retirement benefit as a major (30%) or minor (54%) income source. Historically, a majority of Americans claim benefits prior to reaching their full retirement ages. About 60% of retired workers in 2013 took their benefits between ages 62 and 64, with another 30% claiming at ages 65 or 66 (age 66 was the full retirement age in 2013). Comparatively, just 1 in 10 retirees took their benefits after their full retirement age. Preliminary data for 2017 shows that 57% were claiming prior to their full retirement age, with 34.3% signing up at age 62.

Companies with big footprints in Obamacare’s expanded markets saw their shares drop Monday, the first trading day after a federal judge ruled the 2010 health care law as unconstitutional. They face a new era of uncertainty, with hospitals contemplating the loss of billions of dollars for the increased costs of treating uninsured patients and insurers trying to figure out what their customer base could look like should the ruling be upheld on appeal. The judge put his decision on hold pending the results of appeals.

Persecution Watch

One hundred Christians have been detained in China, raising concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on religion. Among those detained is a prominent Chinese pastor and legal scholar, who was reportedly arrested on allegations of “inciting subversion of state power.” Christians haven’t been the only ones to experience serious pressure under China’s government: China has also been accused of carrying out a systematic campaign of human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Alliance Defending Freedom says a Catholic assisted living complex in Washington state has wrongly banned residents from saying “Merry Christmas” or displaying holiday decorations out of fear it will violate a federal law. Providence Place in Chehalis, Wash., is an assisting living apartment for senior citizens and receives government funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The building manager, Katrina Newman, told residents they are forbidden from celebrating Christmas. “As Christmas approached, Ms. Newman informed the residents that the Fair Housing Act prohibited residents from saying Merry Christmas, singing Christmas carols that reference Christ, or displaying any decorations referencing the Christian religion during the holiday season,” a letter from ADF to Providence Place states. But Newman did permit a Menorah in the public space because “it was cultural expression,” the letter says. ADF is asking the facility to restore the religious rights of its residents.

Middle East

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last Saturday that his country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It is the right of every country to determine its national capital,” he added. Unlike the earlier US recognition of Jerusalem, Morrison announced that Australia’s will not include moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. “We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status determination,” he said, linking such a move to the peace process. Morrison added, however, “The international community must move beyond ritual denunciations of Israel to urge a return to negotiations of a two state solution.”

China

The Trump administration and more than a dozen international allies called out Beijing on Thursday for what they say are China’s persistent efforts to steal other countries’ trade secrets and advanced technologies and to compromise sensitive government and corporate computers, according to Western officials. The unprecedented mass condemnation marks a significant effort to hold China to account for its alleged malign acts. It represents a growing consensus that Beijing is flouting international norms of fair play to become the world’s predominant economic and technological power. The action comes as the U.S. Justice Department is expected to unveil criminal charges against hackers affiliated with China’s main intelligence service who allegedly took part in a long-running cyberspying campaign targeting U.S. and other countries’ networks. Sanctions related to the cyber economic espionage effort also were announced.

North Korea

North Korea has warned that new U.S. sanctions on three of its top officials could “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever” and could result in a return to “exchanges of fire.” The warning came days after the Treasury Department imposed the fresh sanctions on the three – who include Choe Ryong Hae, seen as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s right hand-man – citing continuing human rights abuses, censorship and the death last year of American prisoner Otto Warmbier. The statement, issued on Sunday by North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave credit to President Donald Trump, saying he “avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve DPRK-U.S. relations.” However, it accused the State Department of being “bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

Somalia

The U.S. military says it has carried out six airstrikes in the Gandarshe area of Somalia which killed a total of 62 al-Shabab extremist rebels. In a statement issued Monday, the U.S. military’s Africa Command said it carried out four strikes on Dec. 15 in which 34 people were killed and two more on Dec. 16 which killed 28. All the air attacks were in the Gandarshe coastal area south of the capital, Mogadishu. All six strikes were carried out in close coordination with Somalia’s government, officials said. The airstrikes were “conducted to prevent al-Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks,” said a statement issued Monday by the U.S. military’s Africa Command. No civilians were injured or killed in the attacks, it said.

Congo

One of the deadliest Ebola outbreaks in history continues to worsen in the Democratic Republic of Congo with as many as 319 people now dead. The Ministry of Health said Tuesday that 542 Ebola cases had been recorded in the province of North Kivu. The Congo outbreak is the second-deadliest ever, behind only in West Africa in 2014, when the virus killed more than 11,000 people. It is Congo’s 10th epidemic since 1976, and second this year. On average, Ebola — which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases hemorrhaging — kills about half of those infected. The World Health Organization (WHO) said efforts to contain the outbreak have been hampered due to “non-engagement” from local communities and armed conflict in the region. The public health agency estimates that more than a million refugees and internally displaced people are traveling through and out of North Kivu and Ituri, which could hasten the spread of the virus.

Hungary

Ongoing protests in Hungary’s capital city of Budapest took a violent turn on Sunday. Thousands gathered to protest new legislation they call a “slave law,” because it would ask workers to take on up to 400 hours of overtime a year. The law was passed by Hungary’s parliament last week. The government says the law would allow people to work and earn more, but critics say the policy, while voluntary, invites exploitation. There’s been a lot of concern over recent political dealings in Hungary, namely over the ruling populist party’s perceived crackdown on democratic institutions. Earlier this year, the European Parliament took the unprecedented step of launching Article 7 — a disciplinary process — against Hungary, a rare development designed to prevent members from breaching the EU’s “core values.”

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s second-biggest airport has been closed for over 16 hours after drones were flown near the airfield in what police described as a “deliberate act.” On Thursday, police were hunting for the drone operators who have brought London’s Gatwick Airport to a standstill, causing travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers just days before Christmas. “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw said. Flights have been diverted or grounded since two drones were spotted near the airfield at around 9 p.m. Wednesday night.

Environment

After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord. But to the frustration of environmental activists and some countries who were urging more ambitious climate goals, negotiators delayed decisions on two key issues until next year in an effort to get a deal on them. The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year.

Overall, the U.S. role was somewhat schizophrenic, pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard for strong transparency rules. When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, “the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it’s largely succeeded,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank.

Weather

Washington D.C. is one of over a half-dozen U.S. cities for which 2018 is their wettest year on record, with roughly half of December still left to go. Saturday morning, Reagan National Airport’s year-to-date precipitation total eclipsed the previous record wet year which had stood for 129 years. Baltimore’s BWI Airport also topped their previous record wet year – 62.66 inches in 2003 – in mid-November, and has now picked up over two feet more precipitation than their yearly average of 41.85 inches. Wilmington, North Carolina reached 100 inches of yearly precipitation for the first time in records dating to 1871. For the first time, over 60 inches of precipitation was measured in a year on the Penn State University campus. Other yearly precipitation records were set in Charleston, West Virginia (old record: 61.01 inches in 2003), Lexington, Kentucky (old record: 66.35 inches in 2011), and Mason City, Iowa (old record: 47.75 inches in 2016).

At least 50 buildings were damaged in the town of Port Orchard, Washington, by a tornado that struck the town Tuesday afternoon. Local authorities said no serious injuries were reported in the tornado that sent debris some 6,000 feet into the air. If confirmed to be at least EF2, it would be the first F2/EF2 or stronger tornado confirmed in the state of Washington since May 13, 1986, according to the Tornado History Project. In Kitsap County, where Port Orchard is the county seat, only one other tornado has been confirmed since 1954 – an F0 twister that struck on April 9, 1991.

Signs of the Times

December 15, 2018

­The LORD is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

“Shout Your Abortion” Campaign Promotes Bragging About Abortions

A campaign where women brag about aborting their unborn babies is gaining momentum with publicity surrounding its new book, “Shout Your Abortion.” The pro-abortion campaign has been promoted by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Amy Brenneman and Martha Plimpton, women’s magazines, and national news outlets. Their goal is “humanizing, normalizing and de-stigmatizing” abortion. The book has almost 100 stories of people from age 19 to 85 who have had abortions. Abortion activists claim they want to give a voice to women through the campaign, but the “Shout Your Abortion” ignores women who deeply regret aborting their unborn babies. The Silent No More Awareness campaign has thousands of such stories of women and men who reveal deep pain, grief, suffering and regret that they did not choose life for their child. Many were lied to and manipulated by the abortion industry, some even were pressured into abortions, while others chose to abort their unborn babies thinking they knew what was best. Later, these individuals painfully discovered that they made the biggest mistake of their life by destroying the life of their own child.

Christian Organizations Back LGBT Legislation

In the last few months, two major Christian organizations endorsed principles that would make sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) protected classes under federal anti-discrimination laws. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) both passed motions affirming the need for SOGI legislation and argued that this is the only way to ensure the preservation of religious liberty. They argue that “No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that while the goals of the motions are laudable, they are mistakes. His main issue with the motions concerns the meaning of “unjust discrimination” which can be interpreted to force Christian bakers, florists and other businesses to compromise their faith, the antithesis of religious freedom.

  • Christians should never resort to violence and harassment. In fact, Jesus says we are to love everyone, even our enemies. However, the Bible also says Christians should “speak the truth in love” and the truth is that LGBT practices are sinful (as is adultery, lust, lying, cheating, etc.) which should never be endorsed.

Texas Judge Rules Obamacare is Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Texas threw a dagger into the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, ruling that the entire health-care law is unconstitutional because of a recent change in federal tax law. The opinion by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor overturns all of the sprawling law nationwide. The ruling came on the eve of the deadline Saturday for Americans to sign up for coverage in the federal insurance exchange created under the law. If the ruling stands, it would create widespread disruption across the U.S. health-care system — from no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to the expansion of Medicaid in most states, to the shape of the Indian Health Service — in all, hundreds of provisions in the law that was a prized domestic achievement of President Barack Obama. However, the White House issued a statement on the ruling, saying: “We expect this ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.”

Central American Caravan Poses Serious Public Health Threat

The caravan of Central Americans marching towards the United States poses a serious public health threat and could bring dangerous diseases into the country, a prominent physician in a key border state warns. “It’s insane to bring in migrants from any country without proper health screening,” said Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. At her Tucson, Arizona practice, Dr. Orient, a graduate of the prestigious Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, specializes in internal medicine. In an interview with Judicial Watch she said that extremely drug resistant strands of tuberculosis are among the infectious diseases the Central American migrants are likely to bring in. Others include mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya that are widespread in the region.

  • A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was detained by Customs and Border Protection agents after illegally crossing the southern border into the United States last week died after suffering from a high fever and seizures, federal immigration authorities said. Critics were quick to blame the border patrol for the death, but it is far more likely that she contracted a disease on the long march through Central America and Mexico.

Migrant Caravan Update

The government snared more than 3,000 illegal immigrants in just one day last week, the administration’s top border official told Congress on Tuesday, saying the situation qualifies as a full-blown “crisis.” Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said more than 1,100 of those caught either jumping the border or trying to come through a border crossing without permission were children, either traveling alone or with parents, and forced on the treacherous journey. He said the 3,029 people caught on Dec. 3 was the highest total in years, at that rate, the numbers of families and children captured could be double the record rate recorded last year. is testimony came as Congress is debating President Trump’s request for billions of dollars in new money for border security — chiefly for his planned border wall.

Two groups of Central American migrants made separate marches on the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana Tuesday, demanding that they be processed through the asylum system more quickly and in greater numbers, that deportations be halted and that President Trump either let them into the country or pay them $50,000 each to go home. On the one-month anniversary of their arrival into Tijuana, caravan members are pressing the United States to take action but they are dwindling in numbers since more than 6,000 first arrived to the city’s shelters. Approximately 700 have voluntarily returned to their country of origin, 300 have been deported, and 2,500 have applied for humanitarian visas in Mexico, according to Xochtil Castillo, a caravan leader who met with Mexican officials Tuesday. The group of unaccounted migrants, about 3,500 are presumed to have either crossed illegally into the United States, moved to other Mexican border cities, or simply fallen through the cracks.

Judge Backs Trump’s Decision to End Obama Migrant Program

The Trump administration provided adequate justification for its decision to end a program that reunited hundreds of immigrants from Central America with family members in the U.S., a federal judge ruled last week. The program allowed parents legally in the U.S. to apply to bring children or other family members living in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador to the U.S. One of the goals was to discourage children from making the dangerous journey from those countries to the U.S. to be with family. More than 1,300 people came to the U.S. under the program between 2014 and the end of 2016, according to figures cited in the decision.

Deportations Up, But backlog of ICE Fugitives Grows

The U.S. deported more than 256,000 people in fiscal year 2018, Homeland Security announced Friday, as the Trump administration’s tougher policies took full effect. But more than 560,000 other illegal immigrants are fugitives, at large in communities though they’ve been ordered deported, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a report detailing its enforcement for the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. acting ICE Chief Ronald D. Vitiello warned they might have to release more people from detention because the agency’s finances are being stretched so far due to the migrant caravan surge at the border. Of the 256,000 total deportations, 145,262 were convicted criminals, and 22,796 had criminal charges pending.

Education Dept. Cancels $150 Million in Student Debt

The Department of Education said Thursday that it would wipe away student debt for 15,000 borrowers, implementing an Obama-era rule that Secretary Betsy DeVos has fought to block for more than a year. The debt cancellations will total about $150 million. The rule, known as Borrower Defense to Repayment, was designed to help students cheated by for-profit colleges get relief on their education debt. The announcement comes about two months after a federal judge ordered immediate implementation of the rule. The judge had sided with attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia who sued DeVos for delaying the rule while she worked on rewriting it. Those students who will immediately see their loans canceled were at schools that closed while they were enrolled. About half of the debt was owed by borrowers who attended one of the now defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

Judge Rules Americans Can Secretly Record Public Officials

A federal judge ruled last week that Americans have a right to secretly record their public officials, including police, when they are engaged in their government duties. U.S. District Chief Judge Patti B. Saris said a Massachusetts law banning secret recordings violates the First Amendment when it comes to government employees, rejecting the state’s claims that officials need some space to be able to operate without having to worry about being monitored. “This is not to say that police and government officials have no privacy interests,” she wrote. “However, the diminished privacy interests of government officials performing their duties in public must be balanced by the First Amendment interest in newsgathering and information-dissemination.”

Hate Crimes Increasing in U.S.

In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, hate crime reports rose by about 17% from 2016. That estimate may well be a low estimate, because reporting of hate crimes to the FBI is notoriously low. Over the course of four days last week, five reports of hate-related incidents recently made national headlines. On Friday, December 7, an arson fire destroyed a Jehovah’s Witnesses house of worship. It was the fifth attack this year targeting the religious group in Washington state. The next day, a black man was assaulted at a bar in Lynnwood, Washington, by eight self-professed members of a neo-Nazi skinhead group. On Sunday, Pittsburgh officials said that anti-Semitic pamphlets were being spread throughout the city, including in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the site of a mass shooting that targeted Jews in October. The same day, Nazi-themed posters were found in various locations around the State University of New York’s Purchase College. On Monday, a 21-year-old man was arrested for allegedly plotting to kill worshipers in a Jewish synagogue in Toledo

Misperceptions Abound Worldwide

The 2018 Perils of Misperception study published this month by Paris-headquartered Ipsos, a consultancy and market research firm, highlights various ways in which people across 37 countries are misinformed about key issues and features about their country. People in every country surveyed significantly underestimate levels of sexual harassment. The largest gaps between perception and reality on this topic are in Denmark, the Netherlands, France and the United States. In every country surveyed, men guessed lower than women for the level of sexual harassment women have experienced. Swedish men were the most wrong about that. Every country vastly overestimated the proportion of unemployed people looking for a job. The average guess across the study was 34 percent, a number 5 times greater than the actual figure of 7 percent. Mexicans and Brazilians were particularly liable to guess incorrectly.

The majority of countries hugely overestimate levels of immigration. The average guess across 37 countries is that 28 percent are immigrants when the actual figure is less than half that at 12 percent. In the U.S., people guess that 29 out of 100 people were immigrants (defined as not born in the U.S.). The actual number was 15. Thailand and Mexico are the two countries where people are the least accurate in their perceptions while those in Hong Kong and New Zealand are consistently the most accurate. The U.S. dropped seven places from its position in the survey last year to finish 23rd in 2018 in terms of overall accuracy.

U.S. Lagging Behind in New Space Race

The United States is starting to fall behind in the new space race, says Glenn Gaffney, former head of the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate. Gaffney said decades of spending reductions regarding the space program have taken its toll. “China and Russia have continued to build and to invest in their capabilities in this area as well as other areas,” he said. “And in many ways, the U.S. has some catch-up to do.” He was encouraged by the Trump administration’s proposal for a new Space Force branch of the military. Space Force would draw troops from across the military, including the National Guard and Reserves, and be responsible for overseeing the acquisition of all space technologies and weapons.

Fentanyl Now America’s Deadliest Drug

Fentanyl is now the deadliest drug in America, federal health officials announced last Wednesday, with over 18,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, up from just 4 percent in 2011. After fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine were the deadliest drugs in 2016. For the previous four years (2012 to 2015), heroin topped the list. On average, in each year from 2013 to 2016, the rate of overdose deaths from Fentanyl increased by about 113 percent per year. Overall, more than 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, an average of 174 deaths per day. The study also said that many people who die due to overdoses have multiple drugs in their system.

Depression Increasing Among the Young in U.S.

Major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population. The authors of a 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics found that rates of major depression among children aged 12 to 17 jumped to 11.3 percent in 2014, up from 8.7 percent in 2005. Major depression among young adults also increased, but at a slower rate. “There is some evidence that cyber bullying puts children and adolescents at increased risk of depression,” said Ramin Mojtabai, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor who conducted the study. San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge sees a direct link between how much time teens spend on smartphones and troubling signs of mental health distress. In her 2017 book iGen, she cited national health surveys and other statistics to postulate that teens who spend the most time on their screens are more likely to be unhappy.

Persecution Watch

City officials in Kitchener, Ontario, are being criticized after they ordered the microphone shut off at a Christmas festival when a grandmother began reciting the Christmas story from Matthew. The grandmother was from Trinity Bible Chapel, a congregation that was invited by the city last year and was invited back this year to take part in the Christkindl Market festival in front of City Hall. Christkindl is German for ‘Christ Child.’ The church’s worship team sang several songs. But when the grandmother began reading Matthew 1:18-25, organizers turned off her microphone. It is ironic, the church said, that “about 15 feet from the main stage was a nativity scene set up by the City of Kitchener … pointing to the birth of Christ.” The city had not set parameters on what could be said, the church added.

When a shopping mall in Scotland refused to host a nativity scene last week, two friends decided to make themselves into one. John Mallon, 27, of Glasgow and Elena Feick, 30, of Paisley dressed up as Joseph and Mary with the Child Jesus after news reports appeared that the Thistles Center shopping mall in Stirling, a city 40 minutes north of Edinburgh, would not permit a traditional manger scene to become part of its Christmas display. Mallon and Feick introduced themselves to shoppers as the Holy Family and explained that they were there because the mall would not permit the traditional “crib.”

Young elementary school students are being forced to participate in Buddhist-based meditation in public schools. Some students are required to participate in as many as three meditation sessions each school day. If they refuse, kids are forced to sit outside the classroom as punishment. The schools are using curriculums including Inner Explorer, Mind Up, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy. An audio is played telling young students: “We’re all connected through nature. And we’re all connected through the universe.” It tells them how to clear their minds, watch their memories and emotions float away on clouds, and connect with the universe. Indoctrinating young kids in public schools with Buddhist meditation is outright unconstitutional, reports the American Center for Law & Justice.

  • If Christianity is banned, so too should Buddhist, Islamic and New Age practices.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted another 496 points on Friday as panicked investors continue to pull billions of dollars out of the stock market. During the fourth quarter of 2018, the S&P 500 stock index has fallen 11 percent, the worst quarter in 7 years. Jittery investors yanked a record $39 billion from global equities in the latest week, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report released Friday. That included $28 billion that exited U.S. stocks, the second-highest on record. And a record $8.4 billion was pulled from investment grade bonds. Markets were dinged by a batch of negative corporate and economic developments, especially weak growth numbers out of China and Europe.

The storm clouds of the next global financial crisis are gathering despite the world financial system being unprepared for another downturn, the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, said that “crisis prevention is incomplete” more than a decade on from the last meltdown in the global banking system. Lipton said individual nation states alone would lack the firepower to combat the next recession, while calling on governments to work together to tackle the issues that could spark another crash. Against a backdrop of President Trump engaging in a bitter trade dispute with Beijing, he said China needed to lower trade barriers, while also impose tougher rules to protect intellectual property – a key Trump complaint. Global growth is forecast to slow as a result of the trade war. In addition, after a decade of low interest rates, the total value of global debt, both public and private, has risen by 60% to hit a record high of $182 trillion, so if central banks continue to raise interest rates, that would create difficulties for businesses and governments.

China said Friday it will temporarily reduce tariffs on imports of American-made cars as it tries to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. Citing the meeting earlier this month between US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the Chinese Finance Ministry said in a statement that it will remove the additional 25% tariffs on car imports from the United States for three months starting January 1. That will bring China’s tariffs on American-made cars to 15%, in line with those for cars made in other countries. China also said it would suspend its 5% tariff on 67 other auto parts. China imposed the additional tariffs on US cars in July and on some auto parts in September as part of its retaliation in the trade war between the two countries.

Facebook could be facing a multi-billion dollar fine after a European regulator announced Friday that it is launching an investigation into the company over failure to protect user privacy. The EU has launched a “statutory inquiry” into Facebook after receiving multiple reports of data breaches affecting the company. News of the inquiry came just as Facebook announced that it had exposed photos from up to 6.8 million users. That incident comes after the company announced in September the biggest security breach in its history, in which hackers accessed the personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users.

Fast-food chains closed more stores than they opened in 2018. As sales decline, fast-food chains are being forced to rethink menus, refocus expansion strategies, and in some cases close down units completely. One major factor contributing to restaurant chains’ sales decline is the evolution of consumer tastes and a growing interest – especially among millennials – in healthier food options than chains typically provide. Food safety scares (like the E. Coli outbreaks that have plagued Chipotle) and supply chain issues have also undermined customer confidence in fast food.

The detention of a top Huawei executive is prompting some Chinese companies and business groups to call for workers to boycott products from U.S. companies like Apple iPhones, prompting fears of a wider backlash. “The US aims to contain China’s rise … I believe we Chinese people should stand united and support our national products,” the Nanchong Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said in a statement this week, warning any members who bought Apple products would be “banned.” The crisis began after news emerged that Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, was detained in Vancouver on December 1 in Canada awaiting extradition to the U.S. to face charges of selling technology to Iran.

Middle East

The Arab League sent a letter to Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro warning him that moving Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would strain relations with Arab countries. Bolsonaro announced in November that he intends to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Bolsonaro for his announcement, calling it “a historic, correct and exciting step!” Brazil would become the second major country after the U.S. to do so.

A shooting attack took place on Route 60 in the Binyamin region of Samaria last Thursday. Two Israeli soldiers in their 20s were killed and two others injured. The shooter opened fire at people standing at a hitch-hiking station off Route 60 near the Givat Assaf junction. Maariv reports that a suspect jumped out of a vehicle, fired shots, and the vehicle took off. The IDF started a search for the terrorists and discovered the abandoned car near Ramallah. The IDF then imposed a curfew on the city. The shooting took place only one-and-a-half miles from another drive-by shooting which occurred only five days ago on Dec. 9. Seven people were injured in that attack, including a pregnant mother who lost her seven-and-a-half month old child as a result. Friday night, Israel security forces killed one of the terrorists responsible for that attack, Saleh Barghouti, son of senior Hamas leader Omar Barghouti, and arrested another suspect.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters captured the last town held by the Islamic State group on Friday, after days of intense battles in the militants’ single remaining enclave in eastern Syria, activists said. The fall of Hajin is a severe blow to the extremists. The town was their main stronghold in the last pocket of land they control in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border. ISIS still holds some villages nearby. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been fighting to take Hajin and the surrounding villages in Deir el-Zour province for over three months. In the past weeks, the offensive intensified with the arrival of reinforcements from northern Syria.

France

Faced with violent protests and calls for his resignation, President Emmanuel Macron of France said Monday that he had heard the anger of the many whose economic suffering has burst into the open in recent weeks and that he would take immediate steps to relieve their hardship. Mr. Macron’s mea culpa on national television signaled a remarkable step back from his ambitions to reshape France’s economy and become the European Union’s foremost leader. For now, his chief goal is shoring up his own political support in France. He announced tax cuts and income increases for the struggling middle class and working poor, vowing to raise the pay of workers earning the minimum wage. The speech followed a month of turmoil in which a movement known as the Yellow Vests rampaged through Paris and other French cities. The movement, which began as a revolt against a fuel tax increase, has morphed into an angry rebuke of Mr. Macron and his government’s failure to focus on what his critics call France’s forgotten middle class. Despite the olive branch, “Yellow vest” protesters took to the streets again Saturday, for the fifth week of protests that have brought Paris and other cities to a standstill.

The man suspected of killing at least three people and wounding 13 others at Strasbourg’s famed Christmas market has been killed by French police, following a shoot-out not far from the scene of Tuesday’s attack. Officials say the 29-year-old suspect was wounded in a gunfight with soldiers after the Strasbourg attack but escaped. The suspect has a long criminal record and is believed to have been radicalized into an Islamic terrorist in prison. He allegedly shouted, “Allahu Akbar” as he fired his weapon. More than 350 French police officers and soldiers are searching for Chekatt but it’s not clear whether he is still in the country: According to French media, he escaped from the scene in a taxi and fled to a district near the border with Germany. Authorities say Chekatt has served time in prisons in both France and Germany and was expelled to France from the latter country in 2017.

North Korea

The United States imposed new sanctions on three top North Korean officials – including Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man – over the country’s continuing human rights abuses, brutal censorship and the death last year of American prisoner Otto Warmbier. The U.S. Treasury said last week that it will freeze any U.S. assets of the three officials and that any transactions with them would be prohibited. “These sanctions demonstrate the United States’ ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Russia

The Russian government has been mum on how long two nuclear-capable strategic bombers will stay in Venezuela as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried the collaboration between “two corrupt governments.” Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday announced that a pair of Tu-160 bombers landed at an airport outside Caracas. The ministry didn’t reveal whether the bombers– which flew over 6,000 miles to reach the socialist country– carried any weapons. The Tu-160 bombers were deployed in Russia’s campaign in Syria where they employed conventionally-armed Kh-101 cruise missiles. But the bombers are also capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of 3,410 miles.

United Kingdom

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of confidence in her leadership of her party Wednesday, but not until after a bruising challenge in which she reportedly promised she would step down before the next general election. A leadership vote had been triggered after 48 Conservative Party MPs had written letters expressing no confidence in her leadership — 15 percent of the party’s members in the Commons. But the vote of confidence of the broader bloc of Tory MPs went in her favor — with 200 MPs backing her leadership and 117 voting against her. The victory means not only that May holds onto power, but also that now she cannot be formally challenged by her own party for a year. However, it also means that a third of her party voted against her, a factor that may only increase calls for her to step down in the coming months. The prime minister added that her government’s “renewed mission” was “delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone.”

Water Shortages

California’s water regulators have approved a plan that will cut water supplies to dozens of communities, from the Central Valley to San Francisco. The vote Wednesday by the State Water Resources Control Board will reallocate water from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries from farms and cities to help protect fish species, like salmon and steelhead. The Bay Delta Plan will require tributary rivers within the San Joaquin watershed to maintain an average water level of 40 percent of “unimpeded flow” — that is, the flow that would exist without human activity — during the spring season. Now, as little as 20 percent of the water stays in the rivers. The three major tributaries are the the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers. Households in the Bay Area may have to reduce water use by 20 percent or more under the plan. And during long dry spells, customers could be forced to reduce water use by 40 percent.

Earthquakes

An early morning earthquake in east Tennessee Wednesday was widely felt over the Southeast U.S. The magnitude 4.4 quake struck around 4:14 a.m. EST, centered about 7 miles north-northeast of Decatur, Tennessee, in Meigs County, about 55 miles west-southwest of Knoxville. It was followed about 12 minutes later by a magnitude 3.3 aftershock. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The quake occurred along the Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone, a southwest-to-northeast belt extending from Alabama to far southwest Virginia that is the second-most active quake zone in the central and eastern U.S. behind the more notorious New Madrid zone in the west.

Weather

Heavy snow in West Texas led to numerous crashes Thursday, prompting officials to close several major roadways. The snow prompted numerous school districts in the region to close or delay classes on Friday. Nolan, Texas, received the most snow from the system, with 8 inches.

El Niños will be stronger and more frequent in the decades ahead  because of global warming, causing “more extreme events” in the United States and around the world, a study said Wednesday. A natural phenomenon marked by warmer-than-average seawater in the tropical Pacific Ocean, El Niño is Earth’s most influential climate pattern. Rather than once every 15 years, powerful El Niños will occur roughly once every 10 years, said study lead author Wenju Cai, a scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. Strong El Niños can lead to floods in the western United States, Ecuador and northeast Peru and to droughts in nations that border the western Pacific Ocean, the study finds.

The Arctic is experiencing a multi-year stretch of unparalleled warmth “that is unlike any period on record,” according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card, a peer-reviewed report released Tuesday morning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency within the United States Department of Commerce. The report states that climate change is transforming the Arctic, both physically through the reduction of sea ice, and biologically through reductions in wildlife populations and introduction of marine toxins and algae. The report is yet another study from part of the US government indicating that climate change is real and having a profound impact, despite denials from the President and senior members of his Administration.

  • Extreme weather, including scorching heat, is prophesied for the end-times, whether human-caused or not (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times

December 10, 2018

­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; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. (Psalm 46;1-3)

Praise Reports

President Donald Trump nominated pro-life, conservative lawyer William Barr to the position of attorney general Friday. Barr, who also served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, would succeed former AG Jeff Sessions. His confirmation seems likely in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, though Democrats almost certainly will attack Barr’s opposition to Roe v. Wade. Barr said he did not agree with the infamous abortion case during his Senate confirmation hearing in 1991. He said he thought Roe was wrongly decided, and abortion laws should be left up to the states, the LA Times reported at the time. Barr also said he does not think the right to privacy “extends to abortion.”

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert shared the moment he turned away from atheism and back to Christianity with America Media recently. According to CBN News, Colbert was brought up Catholic, but at some point, he turned away from religion, believing that the God he was raised to believe in was not real. That mindset would be flipped on its head, however, by a gift from a kind stranger one cold day in Chicago. Colbert shared that when he was 22 years old, he was standing on a street corner in Chicago, when a man noticed him and gave him a small, green Gideons New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. Colbert said that he cracked open the frozen pocket bible to the glossary and turned to the first verse on dealing with anxiety. It was Matthew, chapter 5, it was the Sermon, ‘And so I say to you, do not worry, for who among you by worrying can change a single hair on his head or add a cubit to the span of his life?’ And I was absolutely, immediately lightened,” Colbert recalled. Colbert said he stood on the street corner on that cold Chicago day until he read Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount. “My life has never been the same,” Colbert stated.

Disneyland lit up over the weekend as Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt gave an impassioned delivery of the Gospel of Luke during the park’s annual Candlelight Processional. In Chris Pratt style, he also added in a few of his own thoughts on the love of God.  The exclusive processional is part of a tradition that has been going strong for decades, dating all the way back to the park’s opening in 1955. The event features a processional of local choirs, a variety of Christmas songs performed by a live orchestra, candle lighting, a bell choir, and a retelling of the original Christmas story, this year told by Christian actor, Chris Pratt. Pratt took time in between songs to quote Scripture and shared a few personal experiences with the audience. He spoke of his own journey in fatherhood and compared it to God’s immense love for His children.

The European Union unanimously adoption of a statement on combating anti-Semitism across the continent. The measure passed by the council’s 28-member states calls on its member states to “adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of anti-Semitism.” It also expresses EU determination to “ensure a future for Jewish people to live with the same sense of security and freedom as all other citizens in the European Union,” while urging E.U. member states that have not yet adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism to endorse it.

A coalition of medical, legal and policy organizations representing more than 30,000 health professionals nationwide praised the Trump administration for its efforts to officially uphold the scientific definition of sex on the federal level. Citing controversial Obama-era impositions of gender ideology into federal policy, the group stated, “Not only is an expanded definition of sex unscientific, but it has also proven harmful.” The American College of Pediatricians, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and the Catholic Medical Association sent the letter, which was also endorsed by 32 legal organizations, policy groups and individuals, including physicians, therapists, academics and bioethicists.

A footnote has been added to a trade agreement being negotiated with Mexico and Canada. In the original agreement, America promised to create laws establishing a protected employment class for those confused about their gender or orientation. Now the footnote states that current U.S. laws fulfill this promise.

Persecution Watch

In Virginia, a high school teacher was fired last week for telling administrators he wouldn’t call a girl a boy. Peter Vlaming, the popular French teacher at West Point High, didn’t set out to become the newest face in the war on religious liberty. But then, he probably never dreamed using the correct pronoun would cost him his teaching career either. “I’m totally happy to use [her] new name,” he said. When it came to other references, he would try “to avoid female pronouns… because I’m not here to provoke…” But he was clear, “I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith.” That wasn’t good enough for the students’ parents — or West Point High’s leadership, who suspended Vlaming in October — and then last night, ended his tenure for good.

Facebook censored an image of Santa Claus kneeling before the Baby Jesus that it had deemed “violent or graphic content.” Facebook had obscured the picture, explaining that the “photo was automatically covered so you can decide if you want to see it.” However, after a report on LifeSiteNews about the matter went viral, Facebook is no longer censoring the image. It remains unclear why the image of Baby Jesus and Santa was deemed by Facebook to be “violent and graphic content.”

There have been some 15 cases where Christian wedding businesses have been taken to court for refusing to serve same-sex couples. The cases were noted in Family Research Council’s new report, “Religious Liberty and the ‘Wedding Vendor’ Cases.” “People of faith increasingly find themselves facing lawsuits (along with censure and hostility) when they refuse to renounce their religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality in living out their faith,” says Alexandra McPhee, director of Religious Freedom Advocacy at Family Research Council. “One need look no further than the wedding industry, where small business owners are being forced to make the choice between violating their faith and freely running their businesses.” In many of the cases, the court has awarded damages to complainants.

A Florida teacher objected when he was told his job would include watching a female middle school student strip and shower inside the boys’ locker room. Shockingly, the school lawyer threatened him saying, “This might cost you your job.” The school requires that he and other P.E. teachers monitor the locker rooms, including those open showers. He let the principal know, “I’m a Christian, and this policy doesn’t work for me in a lot of areas.” Robert has worked for this school district for 24 years without any negative reviews. The school administration tried to make an example of him. They planned to put him on administrative leave until Liberty Counsel took up the case. “At this point, this system’s rogue school board flatly refuses to inform parents of the lack of a privacy forced upon their sons and daughters unprotected,” noted Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

Dozens of Irish doctors walked out of an emergency meeting about abortion Sunday after they said their concerns about conscience protections are being ignored. About 300 doctors attended the meeting by the Irish College of General Practitioners EGM in Dublin to discuss the government’s plans to legalize abortions starting Jan. 1, 2019, NewsTalk reports. Dozens walked out after complaining that leaders have been ramming through the pro-abortion legislation without consulting the medical community or giving it ample time to prepare. Many doctors also fear being forced to help abort unborn babies against their consciences.

Most Transgender Kids Will Change Back When Older, Studies Show

Experts in the field are urging caution for parents of transgender children and teens, citing studies that show minors often change their minds about transitioning when they’re adults. The phenomenon of kids and teens changing their minds about their transgender status once they grow older is called “desistance,” according to KQED, a public radio station in San Francisco. This happens — for example — when a child who is born male identifies as a girl during the child or teens years but then changes back to a male identity when an adult. Studies show that anywhere from 63 to 94 percent of self-identified transgender children and teens change their minds, KQED reported. In 2013, Amsterdam researcher Thomas Steensma released a study showing that 63 percent of transgender teens he studied had desisted by the ages of 15-16. “Problem is, nobody can tell the difference between the kids who will continue to have gender dysphoria and those who will not,” Dr. Jack Drescher, a Columbia University professor, told KQED.

Supreme Court Refused to Consider Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider efforts by Republican-led states to defund Planned Parenthood. Despite its new, more conservative tilt, the court let stand federal appeals court rulings that allowed the reproductive health organization’s patients to contest laws in Louisiana and Kansas that stripped its Medicaid funds. The court’s refusal to hear the case represents a setback for conservative interest groups in many states that have sought aggressive action against Planned Parenthood and abortion providers in general. Three of the court’s conservatives – Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – dissented and said the court should have taken up the issue. Notably, Chief Justice John Roberts and new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not join the dissent.

Terrorism Deaths Down in 2017, But Far-Right Terrorism Rising

Deaths from terrorism declined in 2017 for the third straight year, but far-right extremism was on the rise, according to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index, which found that deaths resulting from terrorism decreased 27% worldwide last year. Ninety-six of the 163 countries tracked by the index saw an improvement; 46 had declines. Sixty-seven countries had at least one death from terrorism in 2017 — a drop from 2016’s record high rate of 79 countries, according to the report. The report was produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace, a nonpartisan think tank that develops metrics to study peace and its economic impact. It defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation” and pulls its data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. There was a sharp decrease (52%) in deaths from terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS. Syria and Iraq which saw the most dramatic declines in numbers of deaths due to terrorism. Iraq saw 5,000 fewer deaths and Syria saw 1,000 fewer.

Migrant Caravan Update

A Honduran woman is believed to be the first member of the migrant caravan to have a child in the United States after scaling the border wall with her family and giving birth within 24 hours. After somehow climbing the border wall, Serrano-Hernandez and her family were met by three border patrol agents who demanded they return to Tijuana. The family refused and asked for asylum. They were taken to the Imperial Beach Station in San Diego County for processing. The move is likely to reignite the debate surrounding “anchor babies” and birthright citizenship. President Trump threatened in October to end birthright citizenship with an executive order, although others believe it would require a constitutional amendment. U.S. inspectors at the main border crossing in San Diego are processing up to about 100 asylum claims every day. Some desperate migrants are crossing the border illegally, avoiding the long processing wait.

Global Carbon Emissions Reach Record High

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing. Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent. That would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. The increase is being driven by nearly 5 percent emissions growth in China and more than 6 percent in India. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5 percent, while emissions by the European Union declined by just under 1 percent.

U.S. & Others Challenge Climate Change Language

The United States joined a controversial proposal by Saudi Arabia and Russia this weekend to weaken a reference to a key report on the severity of global warming, sharpening battle lines at the global climate summit in Poland aimed at gaining consensus over how to combat rising temperatures. Arguments erupted Saturday night before a United Nations working group focused on science and technology, where the United States teamed with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to challenge language that would have welcomed the findings of the landmark report, which said that the world has barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions by nearly half to avoid catastrophic warming. In 2015, as countries of the world negotiated the Paris climate agreement, they asked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a report in 2018 “on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.” It’s this report that has now become a flash point at the talks.

EPA Rolls Back Coal Rule Despite Climate Change Warnings

The Trump administration will reverse an Obama-era coal emissions rule as part of its effort to loosen restrictions on the coal industry, just days after a U.S. government report warned that aggressive action is needed to curb greenhouse gases and ease the impact of global warming. “We are rescinding unfair burdens on America’s energy providers and leveling the playing field so that new energy technologies can be part of America’s future,” Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a former coal industry lobbyist, said Thursday. The rule change would lift restrictions on coal emissions that effectively limited the construction of new plants. The reversal won’t lead to the immediate construction of new coal-fired power plants, but it does send an immediate political signal that the Trump administration is intent on shoring up the coal industry and other energy interests.

  • Extreme weather (including warming) is prophesied in the Bible for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11), so it’s going to happen regardless of what governments do or not do to combat the elements.

Many Receiving Obamacare’s Medicaid are Ineligible

Louisiana’s legislative auditor wanted to know how the state’s expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was doing, so he picked 100 people who were deemed eligible under the rules. He found that 82 of them made so much money that they shouldn’t have qualified for the benefits they received, reports the Washington Times. Auditor Daryl G. Purpera, who issued his findings last month to little fanfare outside of Louisiana, figured if those statistics hold true for the rest of the expanded Medicaid population in his state, then the losses to ineligible beneficiaries could be as high as $85 million. A federal inspector general’s report this year found 38 out of a sample of 150 Medicaid beneficiaries in California were potentially ineligible – that’s 25%. Taken statewide, that would mean more than 350,000 questionable recipients.

Thousands of Rape Kits Destroyed Inappropriately

The Washington attorney general said Tuesday he will notify every law enforcement agency in his state and direct them to ensure that rape kits are not being inappropriately destroyed. His action comes in response to a CNN investigation into the destruction of rape kits nationwide and on the heels of a Missouri police chief’s apology to victims. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the destruction of kits by a police department in his state “disturbing” and directed state police to contact the agency and ensure it is “complying with state law regarding the handling of rape kits.” The CNN investigation was published last week and revealed that 25 law enforcement agencies in 14 states destroyed rape kits in 400 cases before the statutes of limitations expired or when there was no time limit to prosecute. The number is likely much higher. There are an estimated 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country; CNN surveyed 207. The 400 cases represent and average of 1.93 per agency. If that average holds across all agencies, that would mean 32,850 rape kits have been destroyed.

Ceasefire in Tariff War Between China & U.S. Holding

China’s government said Thursday it will promptly carry out a tariff cease-fire with Washington and is confident they can reach a trade agreement, suggesting Beijing wants to avoid disruptions due to the arrest of a tech executive. Talks during the 90 day period during which President Donald Trump has agreed to suspend U.S. tariff hikes will start by focusing on farm goods, energy and automobiles, said a Ministry of Commerce spokesman, Gao Feng. Asked to confirm whether Beijing promised to buy American goods immediately, Gao said China will “immediately implement the consensus reached by the two sides on farm products, cars and energy.”

That optimistic tone contrasted with Chinese criticism of Canada’s arrest of an executive of technology giant Huawei who a Toronto newspaper said is accused by the United States of trying to violate trade curbs on Iran. Influential state media linked to China’s ruling Communist Party on Friday described Washington as a “despicable rogue” attempting to “stifle” China’s global rise by arranging for the arrest of a top executive at one of its major technology firms. Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies – China’s largest telecommunications equipment maker – was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 as she changed planes. Canada’s Justice Department said Meng, 46, who is the daughter of the company’s founder, was detained due to a United States extradition request. It provided no reason for why Meng was taken into custody but Canadian media reported she was arrested on suspicion of evading U.S. sanctions by selling American-made components to Iran.

Three U.S. Businessmen Arrested for Sales to Iran & Afghanistan

Three Virginia businessmen were charged with attempting to defraud the United States Military by engaging in illegal commerce in Iran and laundering money internationally in an attempt at winning contracts in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Justice, bidders were required to certify that they abide by the Iran Sanctions Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens and companies from engaging in commercial activity in Iran. The company allegedly violated the sanctions by shipping warehouse materials to Iran and then, eventually, Afghanistan. Abul Huda Farouki, 75; his brother Mazen Farouki, 73; and Salah Maarouf, 71, were each charged in an indictment filed in the District of Columbia with two counts of major fraud, one count of conspiracy to violate the restrictions on doing business with Iran, four counts of substantive violations of those restrictions, and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering.

Neo-Nazi Convicted for Murder in Charlottesville for Car Assault

A man with neo-Nazi beliefs who brazenly assaulted counter-protesters at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder. James Alex Fields, Jr. plowed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into the crowd, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer. A jury in Charlottesville deliberated for seven hours before convicting Fields, 21, a Nazi sympathizer from Maumee, Ohio. The jury also found Fields guilty of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three of malicious wounding, and one hit-and-run count. In all, 35 other people were wounded in the Aug. 12, 2017 assault. White nationalist Richard Spencer called the verdict a “miscarriage of justice” and said Fields “was treated as a terrorist from the get-go.” Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a fringe movement loosely mixing white nationalism, anti-Semitism and other far-right extremist views.

UK Claims Facebook Offered Advertisers Special Access to User Data

A key British lawmaker alleged Wednesday that Facebook maintained “whitelisting agreements” that gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data, echoing a key claim from an app developer that has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the social network in a California court. Damian Collins, chairman of a British parliamentary committee that has led a wide-ranging investigation into Facebook and its dealings with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica released documents that long have been sealed in a California court. The committee’s summary says, “Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data. It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.”

UK Postpones Brexit Vote Doomed to Fail

Facing almost certain defeat, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday delayed a vote in Parliament to approve her controversial Brexit deal — a move met with immediate scorn in the chamber. It was cast as the act of a “shambolic government” in “complete disarray.” May’s Conservative government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties — as well as dozens of Conservative lawmakers — say they will not back the Brexit deal May and EU leaders agreed upon last month. The vote had been set for Tuesday. It is not clear when it will be rescheduled. Britain voted in 2016 to leave the 28-nation bloc, and invoked Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, triggering a two-year exit process.

Economic News

U.S. employers added a disappointing 155,000 jobs in November as hiring slowed amid worker shortages, the country’s trade fight with China and wild stock market swings. However, tShe number of open jobs rose in October to the second-highest on record, evidence that U.S. employers remain determined to hire despite ongoing trade disputes and rocky financial markets. The unemployment rate was unchanged at a near half-century low of 3.7 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. Monthly job increases have been surprisingly strong this year, averaging more than 200,000, despite a historically low unemployment rate that’s leading to widespread worker shortages. The 10% tariff the Trump administration slapped on $250 billion in Chinese imports has dinged business confidence, analysts say.

America turned into a net oil exporter last week, breaking 75 years of continued dependence on foreign oil. The shift to net exports is the dramatic result of an unprecedented boom in American oil production, with thousands of wells pumping from the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico to the Bakken in North Dakota to the Marcellus in Pennsylvania. Last week’s dramatic shift came as data showed a sharp drop in imports and a jump in exports to a record high. Given the volatility in weekly data, the U.S. will likely remain a small net importer most of the time.

The U.S. Treasury yield curve briefly inverted for the first time in more than a decade last week. The difference between three- and five-year Treasury yields dropped below zero, marking the first portion of the curve to invert in this cycle, a key indicator of an economic slowdown. An inverted yield curve is an interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the same credit quality. It’s important to keep in mind the timeline between inversion and economic slowdowns — it’s not instantaneous. The  yield curve inverted for the first time since August 2005, some 28 months before the recession began. Nevertheless, investors were spooked causing a 799 point drop in the Dow last Tuesday and another 559 Friday.

Americans continued to abandon passenger cars in November, transitioning rapidly into crossovers, SUVs and pickups as automakers increasingly strived to shift their products to the changing driver preferences. Automakers sold slightly fewer vehicles overall in November, compared with last year. Part of the decline may be due to rising interest rates, which are making car payments more expensive. But much of the fall is due to the plunging popularity of passenger cars. Sales of compacts fell 18.4 percent in November and sales of midsize cars declined 15 percent, according to Cox Automotive. But sales of compact SUVs and crossovers rose 11.6 percent and sales of midsize SUVs and crossovers increased 11.7 percent.

A Chinese court has banned the sale and import of most iPhone models in a stunning decision sure to escalate the nasty trade war between the United States and China. The court granted a pair of preliminary injunctions requested by Qualcomm, an American microchip maker. Qualcomm claims that Apple violates two of its patents. The ruling was announced publicly Monday but put into effect last week. Apple accused Qualcomm of playing dirty tricks, by recognizing a patent that had already been invalidated by international courts. Apple said it will pursue a legal response in court.

In December 2017, bitcoin prices hit a record high of just under $20,000. Flash forward to December 2018 and bitcoin is now trading a little below $3,400. That’s a more than 80% plunge. Bitcoin is at a 15-month low. Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency getting hit either. Ripple/XRP, ethereum, stellar, litecoin and numerous other cryptocurrencies have plunged in the past week.

Middle East

A U.S.-sponsored draft resolution that condemned the Palestinian Islamic terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist, garnered unprecedented support at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, while ultimately falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The U.S. attempted to condemn Hamas for firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians and using airborne incendiary devices to commit millions of dollars of damage in arson terror. Before the vote on the resolution, the 193-member world body had narrowly voted to require a two-thirds majority for approval as sought by Arab nations, rather than the simple majority urged by the United States. In the end, the vote on the resolution to condemn Hamas was 87 in favor against 57 opposed, with 33 abstentions — a plurality but below the two-thirds requirement to adopt it. The vote to require a two-thirds majority was much closer, 75-72, with 26 abstentions and several countries changing their votes to “yes” at the last minute.

In the first major flare-up since Operation Northern Shield began last week, the IDF fired on three suspected Hezbollah terrorists who approached the border with Lebanon. The operation on the northern border is intended to destroy cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah that Israel believes were intended to facilitate a full-scale attack on the Galilee region. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said IDF soldiers “shot toward the figures according to orders to open fire. The three escaped. The work continues as planned.” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council demanding that they condemn the Hezbollah terrorist tunnels “in the strongest terms possible” and hold the Lebanese government “responsible for the dangerous destabilization of the region.

Israel warned Lebanon that if Hezbollah doesn’t stop its efforts to produce precision missiles, Israel will strike the terrorist group’s targets within Lebanon, Israeli and American sources told The Wall Street Journal. Israeli sources told the paper that they fear that precision technology Hezbollah is obtaining from Iran will turn their missiles into a far more deadly arsenal. Although Hezbollah maintains an arsenal of between 120,000-130,000 missiles already, according to most estimates, they are not precision-guided. Should they obtain such technology, it would put key Israeli areas at risk.

A pregnant woman was among seven people injured last weekend in a shooting attack outside the community of Ofra, north of Jerusalem. Her condition is critical. The others are in light to moderate condition. “Shots were fired at Israeli civilians standing at a bus station from a passing Palestinian vehicle. IDF troops nearby responded by firing towards the vehicle, which successfully fled the area. The IDF Spokesman announced that in the wake of Sunday night’s shooting attack at the Ofra junction, IDF soldiers, the Border Police and security forces are combing the villages in Samaria and Binyamin in search of the terrorists. Authorities said the mother’s condition will stabilize, but both she and the baby have a long way to go before they are out of danger.

Iran

Diplomats from European countries on Tuesday blasted a recent Iranian missile test as “inconsistent” with a key U.N. Security Council resolution, as they struggle to keep the Iran deal intact amid U.S. pressure to get tough on the Islamic regime. Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile on December 1st, which the U.S. said had the capability to strike parts of Europe and the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile was capable of carrying multiple warheads and was in violation of Security Council Resolution 2231 — which calls on Iran to refrain from “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Resolution 2231 was the Security Council’s enshrinement of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from last May. The other signatories were Germany, U.K., France, China and Russia.

Iran’s capital of Tehran, a city of 13 million people, is sinking – fast. That’s the assessment of geo-scientists Mahdi Motagh and Mahmud Haghshenas Haghighi of the German Research Centre in Potsdam who used satellite data images to monitor subsidence across the region between 20013 and 1017. Their analysis shows that the land is sinking radically due to depletion of groundwater aquifers, as reported in Nature.com. But, given the radical Shiite regime’s regular threats against Israel, some rabbis see the possibility of divine retribution – reminding them of the biblical challenge to Moses in Numbers 16 by Korah, who was swallowed up by the earth along with his followers. The collapse has spread to encompass the city’s airport which is sinking up to 10 inches a year.

France

After more than two weeks of protests that have led to blocked roads, torched cars, looting and chaos in some of Paris’ wealthiest neighborhoods, France’s prime minister suspended Tuesday a fuel-tax hike that triggered the demonstrations. Edouard Philippe temporarily called off plans to increase a diesel tax. Philippe said the suspension of a new tax on fuel would last for six months and that planned increases to gas and electricity costs would also be temporary halted. The move, announced live on TV, is aimed at easing tensions after more than 100 people were injured and 400 arrested in Paris over the weekend. At least three people have died since the unrest started on Nov. 17 and the Arc de Triomphe, one of France’s most revered landmarks, was damaged last weekend. Despite the capitulation, protests have continued. Crowds of yellow-vested protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron and France’s high taxes, tried to converge on the presidential palace Saturday. Some protesters scuffled with police who fired tear gas, amid exceptional security measures aimed at preventing a repeat of last week’s rioting. Blue armored vehicles beneath the Arc de Triomphe and rows of helmeted, thickly protected riot police blocked the demonstrators’ passage down the Champs-Elysees avenue toward the heart of presidential power. The violent protests are a sign of the growing disconnect between the country’s citizens and its elites.

Russia

Russia is “in material breach” of a landmark arms control treaty and the United States will withdraw from the pact in 60 days unless Russia comes back into compliance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday. Pompeo announced the 60-day window at a NATO meeting in Brussels, calling Russia’s actions part of a “larger pattern of lawlessness.” The INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, bars the U.S. and Russia from deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 and 3,400 miles. The U.S. has long accused Russia of violating the pact – stretching back to the Obama administration. Russia has denied it’s violating the treaty.  European countries warned that the U.S. withdrawal would spark a new arms race and leave them vulnerable to Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of an arms race if the U.S. follows through on its threat to back out of the INF treaty.

China

Millions of Chinese nationals have been blocked from booking flights or trains as Beijing seeks to implement its controversial “social credit” system, which allows the government to closely monitor and judge each of its 1.3 billion citizens based on their behavior and activity. The system will be used to reward or punish people and organizations for “trustworthiness” across a range of measures. Scheduled for full implementation by 2020, the social credit system has already blacklisted more than 15 million Chinese residents from travel. This system of surveillance and governance uses a social scoring system based on the state’s perceived trustworthiness of the individual. Not only are social media and financial accounts tied into a person’s “score” – much like a credit score number – but also friends and associates are compelled to distance themselves from an offending person, otherwise, their score can be dropped too.

Jamaica

In the wake of a Free Press investigation that found sexual assaults of tourists are a long-standing and unchecked problem in Jamaica, where an estimated one American is raped a month according to State Department statistics. Multiple victims have come forward with stories about cover-ups, confidentiality agreements and payoffs by resorts looking to protect their reputations and revenue. Over the last several years, Jamaican resorts have silenced multiple sexual assault victims, discouraging them from calling the police or pressing charges, downplaying their fears and offering free hotel stays or cash refunds in exchange for a promise not to sue or tell anyone what happened.

Weather

The melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheet has now accelerated, scientists announced Wednesday, and shows no signs of slowing down, according to a new study. “Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has gone into overdrive,” said Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University and lead author of the study. “Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three and a half centuries, if not thousands of years,” he said. Ice loss from Greenland is the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise, which is predicted to lead to inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities around the world over the next several decades and centuries. At the moment, conservative estimates of global sea level rise predict an additional half a meter or more by the end of the century.

Heavy rain in California last Thursday killed at least one person, trapped people in their cars in San Diego and triggered several mudslides that forced the closure of numerous roadways. In Orange County, residents in Trabuco Canyon were under mandatory evacuations Thursday because of a high mudslide risk at the Holy Fire burn scar. In Riverside County, residents in several zones were ordered to evacuate near Lake Elsinore because of burn scars left behind by the same wildfire. A Southwest Airlines plane skidded off a wet runway Thursday morning at Hollywood Burbank Airport north of Los Angeles. No injuries were reported. Heavy snow in the higher elevations forced the closure of a major highway, I-5.

Wide swaths of the Carolinas and parts of Georgia woke up to power outages Sunday morning as Winter Storm Diego continued to dump snow and ice across the Southeast. More than 148,000 customers had no electricity in North Carolina, nearly 78,000 were in the dark in South Carolina, 26,000 in northeast Georgia, and almost 18,000 in Tennessee. More than 1,400 flights were canceled on Sunday. More than 250,000 customers remained without power Monday after On Sunday, the storm killed at least two people in North Carolina and stranded drivers for hours on a Virginia interstate. Authorities are urging residents to remain home on Monday as the storm continues to dump paralyzing snow, sleet or freezing rain across North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The warmer side of Diego brought heavy rainfall, strong winds and thunderstorms to many parts of the Southeast over the weekend. In Florida, an EF1 tornado caused minor damage in Pasco County on Sunday morning. Heavy rainfall caused street flooding in Mobile, Alabama.

Signs of the Times

December 3, 2018

­Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Praise Reports

A Christian couple from Idaho was handed a major victory after a four-year battle that came as a result of religious discrimination. A jury in northern Idaho recently awarded the couple—Jeremy and Kristy Morris of Hayden—$75,000 in their lawsuit against West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association, ruling the HOA illegally discriminated against the pair on religious grounds. Every year, the Morrises are known for erecting elaborate Christmas decorations, complete with twinkling lights, live music and a nativity scene with actors portraying the holy family. The controversy first arose when they decided to move to a new home in 2015. The Christian couple had been transparent about their plans to continue their annual Christmas display, which they called a “ministry,” but were greeted with a letter from the HOA board, explaining why they could no longer set up their holiday decor. The family made an extra effort to ensure they were not in any way violating the HOA’s rules, even making special arrangements for parking for those who come to see the display every year. One of the reasons included in the HOA’s letter, though, was the Morrises’ Christian faith. In response to the victory, Jeremy Morris said, “Our family will live wherever we want to live to spread the message of Jesus Christ and the birth of our savior. We’re looking forward. We’re positive. We’re excited.”

Veteran rap artist Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus Jr., announced that he was a born-again Christian as he released his first ever gospel album. The 17-time Grammy nominated rapper and R&B artist released his album Bible of Love in March of this year which features big names in the gospel music industry including Fred Hammons, the Clark Sisters, Marvin Sapp and Pastor John P. Kee. Snoop noted that he was working on a “gangster album” before he started his gospel project, but he felt rushed by the process. When he fell into the gospel album, however, he said he felt a sense of calm. When talking about the album’s release with Hollywood Today, the musician noted that his mother was an evangelical Christian, and she had been waiting for a long time for Snoop to answer God’s call to make worship music.

Migrant Caravan Issues Continue to Worsen

The Mexican federal immigration agency is preparing to open a second emergency shelter Thursday for thousands of Central American migrants who traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum in the United States. Mexico had opened up Unidad Deportiva Benito Juarez, an open-air sports complex less than a mile from the border, to house the migrants, as U.S. immigration officials process around 40 asylum applicants a day. But some migrants have complained of a lack of food and water at the complex, as well as being exposed to rain, mud and other elements. There are currently around 6,000 migrants there, 4,000 of which are men. The rest are about split evenly between women and children. Migrants who came with the caravan are suffering from respiratory infections, tuberculosis, chickenpox and other serious health issues, Tijuana’s Health Department warned on Thursday morning. Out of 6,000 migrants currently residing in the city, over a third of them (2,267) are being treated for health-related issues. Heavy rainfall made tough living conditions even rougher for the migrants at a makeshift outdoor shelter near the U.S.-Mexico border, as plans to open up a second, roofed shelter languished for most of Thursday. Violence against Border Patrol agents continued to spiral this week with authorities reporting one agent held at gunpoint by an illegal immigrant in California, and two agents in Arizona facing attacks by hand.

  • Border Patrol agents arrested an admitted MS-13 gang member and a newly released convicted murder last weekend. Both traveled to the border with the migrant caravan. Agents discovered that 46-year-old Miguel Angel Ramirez was released from a prison in Honduras four months earlier and had been held there on a murder conviction.
  • In one of his first acts in office, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has signed an agreement with his counterparts from three Central American countries to establish a development plan to stem the flow of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.

Court Nixes Trump Push to Cut ‘Sanctuary City’ Funds

A federal judge says the Trump administration can’t withhold over $29 million from six states and New York City in a clash over their immigration policies as so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Friday’s decision involves Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington state, and the state and city of New York. Other federal courts have issued similar rulings. The government imposed new conditions last year on a public safety grant. The new requirements included telling federal agents when immigrants in the country illegally are getting out of custody. U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos says the conditions are unconstitutional.

Trump Signs North American Trade Pact, but Must be Ratified by Congress

President Trump celebrated a major political win Friday, joining the leaders of the Mexican and Canadian governments in signing a new North American trade deal that overhauls the rules governing more than $1.2 trillion in regional commerce and closes the door on a quarter-century of unbridled globalization. But the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement faces uncertain prospects in Congress next year, where Democrats will control the House of Representatives and may be reluctant to help the president fulfill a 2016 campaign promise as he gears up to run for reelection. In the Senate, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who backs expanded trade, says he will oppose the deal unless changes are made to investor protection provisions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a likely Democratic presidential candidate, said Thursday that she would oppose the trade pact as inadequate for American workers, foreshadowing a possible 2020 campaign plank. Major U.S. industries and agricultural interests are unhappy that the president has not removed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada, as administration officials promised during the final stages of the three-way negotiations.

North American Trade Agreement Promotes LGBT Agenda

Canada’s Prime Minister is seeking to change U.S. “Civil Rights” law by advancing a pro-LGBT initiative housed in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), reports Liberty Counsel. The pro-LGBT language would establish special rights for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as the supreme law of the land via the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. It’s clear that Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the driving force behind the pro-LGBT language. In an interview, the PM asserted, “Canada will always try to engage, be very direct about always and consistently standing up for human rights and at the same time try and create a relationship that allows us to perhaps advance, nudge, move forward in a way that will be better for their citizens as well as ours.”

Canada Promoting Euthanasia in Hospital Waiting Rooms

An advertisement being run on TVs in the emergency waiting rooms of a health system in Canada, where those who are hurting, injured, depressed and suffering wait for help, is promoting … euthanasia. “Campaigners have hit out at the adverts saying they normalize deliberate killing, and present euthanasia as a ‘reasonable and even preferred method of alleviating suffering,” reported the Christian Institute in the United Kingdom. The institute quoted Wesley Smith, of the Discovery Institute, who said those who are in those waiting rooms are the “vulnerable,” who “may be afraid, in pain or depressed.” He said: “The ad makes no mention of palliative care or other means to reduce or eliminate suffering without killing. It does not describe that counseling can help people regain the desire to live. There is no hint that suicide prevention services might be available. And it obscures the fact that MAiD is a euphemism for homicide by lethal injection,” he said.

Trump to Let States Divert Obamacare Funds to Non-ACA Plans

The Trump administration plans to allow states to direct billions of dollars of Obamacare subsidies to health plans that don’t meet the law’s requirements. The change is intended to make insurance more affordable and expand consumer choice. Premiums for Affordable Care Act health plans have increased in recent years, straining the budgets of many middle-class people who don’t qualify for the law’s subsidies. But critics say the new policy could undermine the ACA by driving costs up for people who want more comprehensive coverage. The policy would allow states to restructure how the premium subsidies in the ACA market are targeted and decide what type of plans can receive them. Under the law, premium subsidies can be used only to purchase health plans that meet the law’s standards, known as qualified health plans. The ACA’s pre-existing condition protections cannot and would not be waived, said Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Thousands of U.S. Seniors Victims of Abuse and Self-Neglect

Last year, state adult protective services (APS) intervened in more than 142,000 cases to protect seniors at risk from what is termed “self-neglect” – seniors who have become too physically or mentally incapacitated to care for themselves and have no other care providers. State-based APS agencies completed more than 713,000 investigations in fiscal year 2017 and identified nearly 235,000 victims of abuse, including the self-neglect cases. The elder abuse data is not complete. It’s correct in terms of what’s reported, but there are so many cases that aren’t reported. Elder abuse can range from physical or sexual assault against vulnerable seniors to financial scams to abandonment or neglect by caregivers. But the most common threat is self-neglect: an elderly person unable to provide for their own clothing, shelter, food, medication or other basic needs, and having no one to provide care for them. And it is a problem that is growing as the population ages.

Drug Traffickers Bribed Postal Workers to Deliver Cocaine

Sixteen US Postal Service workers got sentences of between three to nine years in federal prison for accepting bribes to deliver cocaine on their routes in Atlanta. Drug traffickers bribed the postal workers, sometimes with amounts as low as $250, to deliver drugs to designated addresses, the US Attorney’s Office said in a statement last week. Federal agents learned about the operation in 2015, while working to take down a drug trafficking organization in Atlanta. To help pinpoint corrupt workers, federal agents used a confidential source who posed as a trafficker looking for postal employees to deliver cocaine and marijuana. “The defendants agreed to deliver the packages and negotiated the amount of the bribes they would charge, while law enforcement agents watched from a distance and recorded the interactions,” the US Attorney’s Office said.

HIV Cases At All-Time High in Europe

The HIV epidemic in Europe is still growing at an alarming rate, particularly in Eastern Europe, according to a new report. The number of new HIV diagnoses in the region continued to rise in 2017, but the pace of the increase is slowing, according to the report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Still, nearly 160,000 people were newly diagnosed with the infection in the region in 2017. More than 130,000 of those diagnoses were in Europe’s eastern region, the most ever reported there. Rates were highest in Russia, where 71 new cases were diagnosed per 100,000 people in 2017, followed by Ukraine and Belarus. “The significance in this report is that we can see a sharp difference between Eastern Europe and the European Union where the number of HIV infection numbers is dropping,” said Dr. Masoud Dara, coordinator of communicable diseases and HIV team lead at WHO Europe.

  • God’s plan of monogamous sex between husband and wife is the surest way to avoid HIV

U.S. Life Expectancy Drops for Third Straight Year

In 1918, the double whammy of World War I and the worldwide flu pandemic drove down American life expectancy for a third year in a row. A century later, another triple-year decline has been recorded—and this time, suicide and drug overdoses are major causes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual report, US life expectancy dropped to 78 years and 7 months in 2017, down around a month from the year before, the AP reports. Men could expect to live 76.1 years, and women 81.1. Public health experts called the statistics alarming, noting that early deaths among middle-aged people did the most to bring life expectancy down. After 22 years of steady rises, life expectancy dropped in 2015 and again in 2016, though it will need to drop a lot more to reach the level of 1918, when life expectancy was 39. Another CDC report found that the number of drug overdose deaths rose almost 6,600 in 2017 to 70,237, CNN reports. The suicide rate rose to its highest in at least 50 years, with rates much higher in rural counties than in urban ones.

Economic News

Experts were expecting that new home sales in the U.S. would rise in October, but instead they plunged 8.9 percent, a two-and-a-half-year low reported the Commerce Department last Wednesday.  That number is far worse than anyone was projecting. New home sales have now missed expectations for seven months in a row, and the similarities to 2008 are starting to become undeniable. One survey found that the percentage of Americans that plan to buy a home over the next 12 months has fallen by about half during the past year.  Mortgage rates have steadily risen as the Federal Reserve has been hiking interest rates, pricing any Americans out of the market.

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell said that interest rates are just slightly below what he considers a “neutral” level. That’s a sharp change from his position last month, when he said the central bank still had a “long way” to go before it reached that equilibrium. As a result, markets surged upward. The Dow Jones industrial average also surged Monday with a big boost on the news that President Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, will let the trade war cool for 90 days as they try to negotiate an agreement. After meeting Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 conference, President Trump agreed to hold off on raising existing tariffs on $200 billion of goods for 90 days, pending new talks. Trump says China has agreed to cut tariffs on cars it imports from the United States.

The tiny Arab nation of Qatar announced Monday it will withdraw from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, in January, mixing its aspirations to increase production outside of the cartel’s constraints. The surprise announcement from Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs, Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, again throws into question the role of the cartel. It would also mark the first time a Mideast nation has left the cartel since its founding in 1960. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, wants to raise its oil production and plans to increase its gas exports from 77 million tons per year to 110 million tons.

In an effort to cut costs and hassles, a small but growing crop of retailers have stopped accepting cash. Some restaurants in large cities began shunning the greenback a couple of years ago, but an increasing number of nonfood chains are going cashless at some or all of their locations . They include clothing retailers such as Bonobos, Indochino, Everlane and Reformation; Amazon bookstores; Casper Mattress; Drybar hair styling; The Bar Method fitness studios; and United and Delta airlines (both at ticket counters and for in-flight food and drinks). The trend is partly rooted in the growth of credit- and debit-card transactions and the spread of digital wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. Cash isn’t dead, but it’s no longer king.

  • The danger in the cashless economy favored by the one-world government folks is that with the flick of a digital switch, all your money (savings, checking, investments, etc.) can be taken from you or made unavailable for whatever reasons governmental authorities choose (e.g. religious beliefs labeled as ‘hate crimes’).

Persecution Watch

Jennifer Christie used her traumatic experience to spread a powerful message about choosing life but has recently found herself the victim of numerous attacks by abortion activists. After being raped while on a business trip in 2014, she soon learned that she was pregnant and gave birth to a son nine months later. Despite the distressing situation she faced, Christie made the decision to appear in a pro-life video and speak for rape victims who become pregnant and make the choice to keep their babies. The Christian Institute reports that since she appeared in the pro-life video, Christie has become the target of abortion activists who sent her horrific videos showing the rape and mutilation of women. Another video depicted strobe lighting was sent to Christie in an effort to provoke her photosensitive epilepsy.

A Texas court has barred a father from teaching his 6-year-old son that he is a boy or from dressing him like a boy – even though the child chooses to be a boy around the dad. The boy, named James, is stuck in a custody case between the father and the mother, who insists the boy is a transgender girl, The Federalist reported. A gender transition therapist diagnosed James with gender dysphoria, and the boy’s teachers at school treat him like a girl, calling him “Luna.” He uses the girl’s restroom. But when the child is around his father, he refuses to be acknowledged as a girl. The mother wants to terminate the father’s parental rights.

  • Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

Faced with the “daily threat of murder” in the Middle East, Christians are on the verge of “imminent extinction,” according to the archbishop of Canterbury. “In the birthplace of our faith, the community faces extinction,” Archbishop Justin Welby wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. Archbishop Welby added Christians are facing “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century.” The call comes after the report in the UK’s Express that just 11 of the 4,832 Syrians who were resettled in the UK in 2017 were Christian. “Christians are being subjected to horrendous persecution in Syria,” Bright Blue senior researcher, James Dobson, told the Express. The threat has the most senior clergyman in the Church of England calling for taking in of more Christian refugees from the Middle East.

Middle East

The Palestinian Authority is demanding an urgent meeting of the Arab League to address the increasingly public and cordial relations between Israel and Arab/Moslem countries. “What we see in recent weeks – from [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and the visit of the president of Chad to Israel, and now we talk about Bahrain, Sudan and about ties with Saudi Arabia. It raises question marks! Therefore, the Arab and Islamic position needs to be clarified,” PA official Nabil Shaath told Haaretz. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed optimism about the prospects of peace in the Middle East and underscored Israel’s evolving and rising status in the region. “Our relations with the countries of the world are flourishing in an unprecedented manner. Our relations with the moderate countries in the Arab and Muslim world are being forged openly,” he said.

In response to President Trump’s “deal of the century” for Middle East peace, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani gave a fiery address to the Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran on Monday, saying among other things that “They have called it the ‘deal of the century’ to achieve a number of major goals. Their first goal is to increase the power of Israel in the region… The other goal is to end the story of Palestine by telling Palestinian refugees to stay in other countries and not to return to their homeland. We will stand against the Israeli regime and will not let the deal take place in this region.”

The United Nations on Friday launched its latest attack on Israel as part of its ongoing attempt to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish state. The international body passed six anti-Israel resolutions in just one day, attacking everything from the Jewish people’s role in ensuring religious freedom in Jerusalem to Israel’s right to control territory it captured in the Golan Heights after Syria attacked the Jewish state in 1967. With regard to the Jerusalem motion, the resolution denies the fact that under Israeli administration of the city, members of all faiths have access to holy sites. Conversely, under Jordanian rule prior to 1967, Jews faced severe discrimination with regard to access to holy sites, with a number of these sites destroyed. The other resolutions passed on Friday were designed to promote pro-Palestinian bias in initiatives addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among the nations that either voted against the resolutions or abstained were the United States, Australia, Guatemala, and Hungary.

Afghanistan

Gunmen attacked a British security contractors’ compound in Kabul, killing at least 10 people and wounding 19 hours after the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, outlined plans for peace in the country. The Taliban claimed responsibility for last Wednesday’s attack, which began when a car bomb exploded outside a G4S facility on the main road leading eastwards out of the Afghan capital. “A number of gunmen entered the G4S compound right after the car bomb,” said Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry. The attack on a well-protected site underlines how insecure Kabul remains despite efforts by the US and the Afghan government to open peace talks with the Taliban to end more than 17 years of war.

Honduras

As the migrant caravan that originated in Honduras treks north, the brother of that country’s president—a former lawmaker in the Central American nation—has been arrested and indicted in the U.S. on drug and weapons charges, reports Judicial Watch. Juan Antonio Hernandez is the younger brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has blamed leftist interests for manipulating migrants to destabilize the country. The younger Hernandez is a former member of the National Congress of Honduras and the U.S. officials say he’s a bigtime drug trafficker who has moved tons of cocaine through the region in the last decade with the help of Honduran politicians and law enforcement officials. The former Honduran legislator and his criminal associates teamed up with some of the world’s deadliest transitional criminal networks in Mexico and Colombia, according to federal authorities, to flood American streets with illicit drugs. This case illustrates the dire security issues created by crime infestation and rampant drug trafficking in Central America at a time when thousands of migrants from that region are demanding asylum in the U.S. Judicial Watch traveled to the Guatemalan-Honduran border to cover the caravan when it first left the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. They found that the caravan included gang members and mobs of young angry men, as well as Africans, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Indians.

France

Furious French protesters clashed with police for a third weekend over rising taxes and French President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, prompting the arrest of at least 107 demonstrators. The authorities rounded up dozens of protesters, some wearing black hoodies, after they built barricades in the middle of streets in central Paris near the Arc de Triomphe, threw rocks at police officers and lit debris on fire. In an effort to push back the protesters from the area, police used tear gas and water cannons. Other demonstrators meanwhile gathered near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he was “shocked” by the violent clashes and condemned the protesters who painted a graffiti on the monument. The authorities say they counted about 5,000 protesters. Amidst the violence, several hundred peaceful protesters, dubbed “yellow vests” for their fluorescent vests, marched towards the Champs-Elysees with a banner reading “Macron, stop taking us for stupid people.” Protesters are particularly angry about Macron’s gas tax hike earlier this year in a bid to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The new tax will increase the price of fuel by about 30 cents per gallon, making it one of the most expensive in Europe.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s president has announced a call-up of reservists amid tensions with Russia. Relations between the two neighbors have strained further following the Nov. 25 incident in which Russia fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by introducing martial law for 30 days in much of Ukraine. Poroshenko said Monday that reservists will be summoned for training as part of martial law. He also said that some military units will be redeployed to strengthen the nation’s defenses. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the naval incident that further escalated the tug-of-war that began in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Earthquakes

More than small 1400 aftershocks have hit parts of Alaska since Friday, when a 7.0-magnitude tremor knocked out power, ripped open roads and splintered buildings near Anchorage. While the majority of the aftershocks were measured at magnitude 2.5 or less, about 350 small earthquakes were higher than 2.5 and around a dozen registered higher than magnitude 4.5. The original quake’s epicenter was about eight miles north of downtown Anchorage and caused structural damage to buildings and buckled roadways. Fortunately, no deaths or injuries were caused by the quake. Anchorage is Alaska’s most populous city with about 300,000 residents, more than 40 percent of the state’s total population.” There is major infrastructure damage across Anchorage,” said the Anchorage Police Department. “Many homes and buildings are damaged. Many roads and bridges are closed.” Alaska records an average of 40,000 quakes every year, including more large tremors than the other 49 states combined. Alaska experienced the second-largest earthquake to ever hit the US — a 9.2-magnitude in 1964. The state is located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire” which joins the Pacific and North American plates.

A report released last month evaluated the seismic vulnerability of San Francisco’s tallest buildings and revealed that 68 of the city’s high-rises all share a similarity that could make them particularly vulnerable during the next major earthquake. The Tall Buildings Safety Strategy written by the Applied Technology Council, a California-based research organization, studied the vulnerability of 156 buildings that exceed 240 feet. The report revealed that 68 of the buildings — all built between 1964 and 1989 — have steel skeletons that were welded together using a technique that has been found susceptible to breaking during an earthquake. The report says that bringing these buildings up to current building codes could take two to six months, assuming the owners were willing to do it. There’s a 72 percent chance a magnitude 6.7 earthquake will strike the San Francisco Bay area before 2043, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The nearby San Andreas fault has a possible maximum earthquake magnitude of 8.0, the USGS stated in a separate report.

Wildfires

More than 138 wildfires broke out in northeast Australia Wednesday, forcing thousands to flee. High winds, dry air and severe heatwave conditions were combining to make the fire danger extreme. The fire danger was rated catastrophic in areas of central Queensland, the first time the highest danger rating had been applied to the state, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. She said 34 schools had been closed in the most threatened regions. She warned families not to go out, to keep together and prepare to leave if needed. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said at least ten homes had been destroyed since Saturday in areas where the fire danger remained too high for teams to enter and assess damage.

Weather

A storm system that tore from the Plains into the Southeast this weekend produced more than two dozen tornadoes and left behind a trail of destruction in several states. Five people were injured in southeast Georgia, including four at a nearby Naval base, when a tornado struck Camden County Sunday around 4 p.m. The same system had spawned a tornado Saturday that left more than 100 homes damaged and 25 people injured in Taylorville, Illinois. The storm system also was responsible for at least four tornadoes that caused extensive damage in Oklahoma and killed one person in a southwestern Missouri.

Just weeks after California’s Camp Fire wiped the town of Paradise off the map, heavy rainfall triggered debris flows, causing road closures and yet another round of evacuations in burn areas. As many as 100 vehicles were stuck on Honey Run Road in Butte County and were unable to flee Butte Creek Canyon. About 50 people were trapped in their homes above one of the flows. South of Chico, Highway 99 was closed in both directions. Thursday afternoon, Orange County authorities ordered the evacuation of Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains, where a wildfire burned earlier this year. A mudslide trapped vehicles and prompted the California Highway Patrol to close Highway 38 between Valley of the Falls Drive and Sugar Pine Circle in San Bernardino County.

Flash flooding from the heaviest November rain day in decades killed at least two people in Sydney, Australia. Heavy rain from a string of thunderstorms fell November 21st in the capital of New South Wales, triggering power outages, knocking down trees and creating traffic chaos, the BBC reports. At one point the city received its average monthly rainfall total in a period of two hours. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were also recorded. The flash flooding occurred during rush hour, forcing authorities to shut down public transportation, which only added to the traffic chaos. Air, ferry and train services were also halted because of the storms.