Archive for February, 2019

Signs of the Times

February 22, 2019

­Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)

Arizona’s Radical Abortion Bill Stopped in its Tracks

Over 600 Arizonans, not willing to follow New York’s lead in passing extreme abortion laws, packed house hearing rooms in protest of HB 2696. Protesters made it clear to lawmakers behind the ruthless bill that they stood alone if they repealed protections for babies born alive during an abortion. Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted down HB 2696, with no one voting for it in the end. Sponsored by 17 house members, HB 2696 originally would have repealed a 44-year old law requiring abortion providers to use all available means and medical skill to save babies born alive during an abortion. “With no legislators voting for the bill in the end, it is apparent just how out of touch sponsors are with the values and priorities of the people they represent,” notes Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy.

Saturday is “Day of Mourning” for Abortion Infanticide

A grassroots movement of Americans outraged by New York’s recent abortion law is turning their disgust into action. A nationwide event called “Day of Mourning” is planned for Saturday, February 23rd. Organizers say it will be a solemn time of prayer and repentance for the millions of babies aborted in America. The primary event will be a rally in Albany, New York where an extreme pro-abortion law was signed last month. Liberal New York lawmakers shocked the nation when they celebrated with cheers after passing a law that allows late-term abortions, even up till the moment of birth. Events are also scheduled in cities like Dallas, Texas; Nashville, TN; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; and more than 20 others. “We’re asking the nation to wear black. To not shop. To close down their businesses and to mourn and repent with us on the 23rd—this Saturday.”

Planned Parenthood CEO: We Do Abortions Because ‘It’s Being Pro-Life’

Planned Parenthood CEO Leana Wen sat down with presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton for a piece published in Interview Magazine this week, casting the abortion giant as an imperiled defender of women and claiming those who end preborn lives are the ones truly deserving the “life” label. “I also want us to consider our choice of language when we define these movements. The pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy is problematic to me,” Wen said. “Our nurses and our clinicians are all here because we believe in life,” Wen claimed. “Being pro-choice is being pro-women. It’s being pro-family. It’s being pro-community. It’s being pro-life.”

  • Killing unborn children is pro-life?? Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)

Pope at Sex Abuse Summit: ‘Listen to Cry of Little Ones’

“Simple and predictable condemnations” aren’t what’s needed to fight sex abuse within the Catholic Church; “concrete and efficient measures” are, said Pope Francis, who kicked off on Thursday a four-day global summit on the matter in Rome in front of nearly 200 bishops, cardinals, and other clergy. The pontiff’s time at the podium was filled with promises to come down hard on the “evil” of abuse.” Also included in the proceedings were survivor video testimonials and an emotional speech by Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, who noted victims had been dismissed much as Jesus was before His crucifixion. One victim called the scandal a “time bomb.” “If [we] want to save the Church, we need to get our act together.” A senior Vatican official noted that the church’s entire credibility was “strongly at stake.” Cardinals attending the summit called Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests.

Pope Francis Defrocks U.S. Cardinal

Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing confessions as well as sexual crimes against minors and adults, the Holy See said Saturday. Defrocking means McCarrick, 88, who now lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year, won’t be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments. The punishment for the once-powerful prelate, who had served as the archbishop of Washington, was announced five days before Francis is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world to help the church grapple with the crisis of sex abuse by clergy and systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy. The decades-long scandals have shaken the faith of many Catholics and threatened his papacy.

Vatican Admits to Secret Rules for Children of Priests

The Vatican has revealed that it maintains secret guidelines for priests who father children despite their vows of celibacy. “I can confirm that guidelines exist; it is a document for internal use,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement to CNN, adding that the document was not intended for publication. Officially, Catholic priests are required to maintain a life of celibacy, refraining from any form of sexual activity. A growing tide of sexual abuse scandals involving priests around the world has shown these vows are often broken. Vatican spokesman Gisotti told CNN that the fundamental principle of the internal guidelines were the “protection of the child.” He added that, under the secret rules, a priest who fathered children was requested to leave the priesthood and “assume his responsibility as a parent, dedicating himself exclusively to the child.”

Border Update:

California and 15 other states sued President Donald Trump on Monday over his decision to declare a national emergency to free up funding for his controversial border wall, calling the move “unlawful and unconstitutional.” The states allege in their lawsuit that Trump’s emergency declaration exceeds the power of the president and unconstitutionally redirects federal money that Congress had set aside for other purposes. Trump made the declaration on Friday after lawmakers sent him a government funding bill that included $1.375 billion for the wall, far short of the $5.7 billion he initially requested.  White House officials said they believe they can unlock an additional $6.6 billion through the emergency declaration and other budget maneuvers. The White House believes the money would allow the administration to build at least 234 miles of the border wall, which was a central promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Since the Trump administration announced it would end its practice of separating families apprehended at the southern border last June under its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, at least 245 children have been separated from their parents, according to a new court filing. The administration said the basis for the separation in the majority of cases was “criminality, prosecution, gang affiliation or other law enforcement purpose.” The court document is a status report in an ongoing family separation lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction last June blocking most family separations at the US-Mexico border and ordering that those already separated be reunited.

Supreme Court Curbs State Power to Levy Fines, Seize Property

The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the power of cities and states to levy fines and seize property, siding with a man trying to keep his Land Rover after he pleaded guilty to selling drugs. The unanimous ruling marks the first time the court has said that states and cities are bound by the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines, part of the Eighth Amendment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been away from the court for almost two months after undergoing lung cancer surgery, wrote the opinion and read a summary of it from the bench. “The protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history,” she wrote. “Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.” The ruling puts new limits on what critics say is an increasingly common and abusive government practice of using fines and forfeitures to raise revenue.

U.S. & UK ISIS Brides Want to Come Home

An American woman and a British teenager who fled to Syria to marry Islamic State group fighters are pleading to be allowed to return home. Hoda Muthana, 24, left Alabama four years ago for ISIS-held territory in Syria. She was recently found living with her 18-month-old son in the same refugee camp in northern Syria where Shamima Begum, 19, from London, gave birth to a baby boy over the weekend, according to British media reports and Begum’s lawyer. Muthana who once tweeted that Americans should kill themselves, told The Guardian newspaper she regrets joining the terrorist group and that she and other recruits like her did so because they were “ignorant” and “brainwashed.” “I look back now and I think I was very arrogant,” said Muthana, who was married three times in Syria. Her first two husbands died fighting for ISIS.

Muthana claims she has had no contact with U.S authorities. Her current legal status is not clear. She is not allowed to leave the camp and has armed guards. Begum, who left Britain as a 15-year-old, also wants to be allowed to travel home but her story has become the subject of intense debate in Britain because she has expressed little remorse for ISIS’ brutality, including its beheadings, in Syria Shamima Begum has had her British citizenship stripped by the U.K. Tuesday. Muthana will not be allowed back into the U.S., President Trump said Wednesday in a tweet. The father of Muthana filed suit against the Trump administration Thursday in an effort to allow her return to the US

White American Supremacist Wanted to Kill Democrats

A lieutenant stationed at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC, planned to carry out terrorist attacks on Democratic politicians and journalists and use violence to “establish a white homeland,” prosecutors say. Investigators found 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in the home of self-proclaimed white nationalist Christopher Paul Hasson, who was arrested Friday. In a court filing arguing that Hasson, 49, should remain in jail while he awaits trial, prosecutors said he intended “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” The filing quoted Hasson, a Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran, as saying, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.” Hasson used his computer at Coast Guard headquarters to study mass shooters, according to investigators. An internal program, they said, picked up his suspicious computer activity.

Chinese and Iranian Hackers Attack U.S. Companies

Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been motivated by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China, reports the New York Times. Recent Iranian attacks on American banks, businesses and government agencies have been more extensive than previously reported. Dozens of corporations and multiple United States agencies have been hit recently. The Iranian attacks coincide with a renewed Chinese offensive geared toward stealing trade and military secrets from American military contractors and technology companies. Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts.

Economic News

Industrial production sank 0.6% in January, the first drop in eight months, the Federal Reserve reported last Friday. Despite the decline, production remains 3.8% higher in January than it was a year earlier. In January, all categories except mining and utility production declined. Manufacturing alone dropped 0.9%, led by slump in the volatile motor-vehicle sector. Autos fell 8.8% in January. Mining output edged up 0.1% in January. The output of utilities increased 0.4%.The manufacturing sector faces headwinds from slowing global growth, trade tensions and the strong dollar.

In late 2014, farm milk prices started to plummet. The downturn, fueled by overproduction and failing export markets, has lasted more than four years and has wiped out dairy farms from Maine to California. The price farmers receive for their milk has fallen nearly 40 percent. Wisconsin lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018, an unprecedented rate of nearly two a day. Most were small operations unable to survive farm milk prices that, adjusted for inflation, were among the lowest in a half-century. As of Feb. 1, Wisconsin had 8,046 dairy herds, down 40 percent from 10 years earlier.

The retail apocalypse continues. Payless Shoe Source confirmed Friday that it will close its 2,100 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and start liquidation sales Sunday. The company is also shuttering its e-commerce operations. The closings nearly double the number of retail stores set to close in 2019. “We expect all stores to remain open until at least the end of March and the majority will remain open until May,” the company said in a statement. The Topeka, Kansas-based discount shoe retailer had previously filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017 and closed 673 stores. Much of this has to do with the rise of online shopping, which stood at 9.8% of all retail sales in the third quarter of last year, up from 3.6% a decade earlier.

Profits for online retail behemoth Amazon soared in 2018, but it paid no federal income tax for the second consecutive year. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says the company is subject to a 21 percent tax rate on its U.S. income. However, through various tax breaks and credits, the company will receive a tax rebate of $129 million, despite the company nearly doubling its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018, up from $5.6 billion the previous year. The U.S. tax code allows companies that lose money to reduce their future taxable income. That has worked in Amazon’s favor because its past has been marked with billions of dollars in losses. In addition, some of its profits come from global sources not subject to the U.S. tax code.

Your smart TV is watching you. And making money off you as well. That’s why the prices of TVs have fallen so dramatically over the last five years, reports the USA Today. More ads are coming at you via prominent branded movie and TV channels on smart TVs. These channels share ad revenues with set manufacturers like Vizio, Samsung, LG, an avenue that didn’t exist in the pre-streaming era. They also profit by selling data of your viewing histories to programmers and marketers. The manufacturers have been tracking viewers on smart TVs for several years.

Israel

The Israeli government’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it was implementing a law passed last year allowing the Jewish state to withhold funds that the Palestinian Authority (PA) uses to pay stipends to attackers and their families from taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf. The PA uses the payments to financially incentivize the murder and maiming of Israeli civilians. Palestinian leaders, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have refused to discontinue the practice, despite laws in Israel and the U.S. that penalize the PA to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year for continuing the practice. Palestinians face major budget cuts made last year after the United States slashed funding for the Palestinians’ U.N. agency. However, Abbas announced last year he intends to use the PA’s “last penny” to continue the pay-for-slay policy, which is built on a sliding scale that rewards more heinous crimes with greater remuneration. Abbas also announced that his regime will refuse all tax revenues Israel transfers to the PA if Israel deducts the amount the PA uses to reward terrorists.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s first lunar lander – “Beresheet” (“In the Beginning”) –  on a mission that makes the Jewish State only the fourth country to ever land a spacecraft on the moon’s surface. Only China, Russia, and the United States have landed a spacecraft on the moon. It is the first such space capsule to land on the moon using a rocket from a private company rather than a government-funded enterprise.

Middle East

“The chances of war with Israel are great,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday at the Munich Peace and Security Conference on the Middle East. “There are those looking for war – Israel,” Javad said. “We’re in Syria to fight terror, the violation of Lebanon’s airspace and attacks in Syria are a violation of international law and no one criticizes Israel but rather us; the danger of war increases when no one refers to Israel.” Iran is feeling the diplomatic heat as a gathering of over 60 nations in Warsaw at a Mideast security conference last week put the finger squarely on Iran as the greatest threat to Mideast peace. Zarif’s remarks may have been an attempt to redirect attention back to the Arab states traditional target – Israel. Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, said, “We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue. But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic, from Iran.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday released a video of a closed meeting in which senior Gulf Arab officials supported Israel’s right to defend itself, played down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and described Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace. The video provided a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes ties the Israeli leader has built with the Arab world, but which are rarely seen in public. The video was recorded on a mobile device and it was not clear who took it. It was removed from Netanyahu’s social media accounts not long after it was posted.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking during his state-of-the-nation address Wednesday, warned that Russia will aim new hypersonic missiles at the U.S. should it deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Russia’s new Zircon missiles, which Putin claimed fly at nine times of the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles, are part of its ongoing effort to upgrade its defensive capabilities against what it regards as an increasingly hostile U.S. The announcement follows the U.S.’ recent withdrawal from a 32-year-old nuclear arms control treaty. During his address, Putin rejected the U.S.’ claim that its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty was prompted by Russian violations of the pact. He charged that the U.S. made false accusations against Russia to justify its decision to opt out of the pact.

North Korea

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet one-on-one at the start of their summit next week in Hanoi. The initial session will be followed by a meal and expanded talks with each country’s delegation. Trump is hoping to advance four priorities in his summit meeting with Kim next week in Hanoi: transforming relations between the U.S. and North Korea; establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula; the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; and the return of killed-in-action and missing-in-action Americans from the Korean War. Senior U.S. officials are in Hanoi now negotiating with a North Korean delegation ahead of the summit.

Iran

Iran is providing high-level al Qaeda operatives with a clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money and weapons across the Middle East, according to Trump administration officials who warn that the long-elusive, complex relationship between two avowed enemies of America has evolved into an unacceptable global security threat. Skeptics have long doubted that Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, could find common cause with a radical Sunni Islamist group such as al Qaeda. But U.S. officials argue that a confluence of interests — and a common enemy in the U.S. and its allies — has brought a level of covert cooperation and coordination that has reached new heights. The unlikely alliance between Iran and al Qaeda may provide a legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.

Syria

European nations have refused to remain in Syria unless President Trump reverses at least part of his troop withdrawal order. This is now one of several factors that U.S. military officials, lawmakers and senior administration officials have said should make Trump think again about moving forward with a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. The White House said on Thursday that it planned to leave about 200 American troops in Syria, signaling a partial retreat from President Trump’s announcement in December that he would withdraw all 2,000 forces after what he described as a victory over the Islamic State. The move was a concession to allies and Pentagon officials who have argued that a complete American withdrawal risks returning key areas in Syria to the Islamic State. It came Thursday after a phone call between Mr. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, during which the two leaders agreed to continue working together to try to create a “safe zone,” the White House said.

In the most comprehensive report to date, a Berlin-based research center has found that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in at least 336 instances as part of a strategy of collective punishment during Syria’s nearly eight-year civil war. In 2012, President Barack Obama described the use of such weapons as a “red line” that would entail “enormous consequences” if crossed, but no action was taken.

France

Police fired tear gas and brought in water cannons and a horse brigade to disperse several thousand yellow vest protesters Saturday massed near a Paris landmark at the end of a march through the French capital, the 14th straight weekend of demonstrations. Acrid clouds of tear gas filled the esplanade of Les Invalides monument, obscuring the gold dome that crowns the monument housing Napoleon’s tomb. Tension also marked demonstrations in other cities. In Rouen, in Normandy, a car blocked by demonstrators pushed through the crowd, slightly injuring four people. Police used tear gas and water cannon in Bordeaux, a stronghold of the yellow vest movement. Violence has marked most of the protests that started against fuel taxes and grew into a mass movement against Macron and his pro-business policies. However, the increasingly divided movement is having trouble maintaining momentum amid charges of anti-Semitism.

China

Facing a future demographic crisis and aging society, China’s leaders are desperately seeking to persuade couples to have more children. In 1980 the notorious “one-child policy” came into effect, mandating often brutal punishments for violators ranging from forced abortions and sterilizations to fines and demotions. Fast-forward 35 years, and a radical change of course was ordered after leaders realized an aging population and declining workforce threatened to hamstring the country’s future development. In 2016, the one-child policy was officially replaced with a two-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply—within limits. But the bump in the birthrate was fleeting. Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion—a growth rate of 0.4% and the lowest increase since 1961, resulting in 2 million fewer births than in 2017.

Venezuela

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil company have accelerated the unprecedented collapse of its oil output and set off a domino effect in the global energy market. The sanctions, which were announced on January 28 in a bid to drive socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s out of office, have sent U.S. Gulf Coast refineries scrambling to find alternate sources for the heavy crude they once relied on from Venezuela. And Venezuela, which as of last fall was the No. 4 crude importer to the United States behind only Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, has been forced to find new customers and new ways to dilute its very heavy crude to ready it for export. President Trump urged Venezuela’s military leaders to turn on leader Nicolas Maduro, casting the struggle in the troubled South American nation as a major test of whether the world can rid itself of a socialist stumbling block.

  • Venezuela’s economic crisis has set off a staggering exodus, with millions of people leaving the country in recent years — largely on foot.
  • One person was killed, and 12 were injured after Venezuelan soldiers opened fire in a clash over an humanitarian aid delivery at the Brazilian border. The soldiers fired at civilians who were attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil as part of a massive opposition operation meant to deliver international relief into this devastated South American country.
  • The U.S. and Venezuela averted a showdown over U.S. Embassy personnel in Caracas by extending the deadline for the diplomats to stay.

Environment

Americans’ desire for soft toilet paper — and lots of it — is destroying ancient Canadian forests, two environmental groups said this week. In a report titled The Issue with Tissue, the Natural Resources Defense Council says the average American uses three rolls of toilet paper a week. The report also says Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific use no recycled content in their at-home toilet paper. The bulk of the wood pulp for their tissue comes from boreal forests in Canada. “Most Americans probably do not know that the toilet paper they flush away comes from ancient forests, but clear-cutting those forests is costing the planet a great deal.” Leading United States brands like Charmin, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft got “F” grades because they use no recycled content. Brands using recycled paper content, including 365, Seventh Generation and Natural Value, were among those awarded “A” grades.

Earthquakes

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador early Friday morning, according to the United States Geological Survey. The quake’s epicenter was located about 70 miles east-southeast of Palora, Ecuador, at a depth of 82 miles. About 25 minutes later, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in western Ecuador, near Guayaquil. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno tweeted that “preliminary reports of the quakes near Macas (the provincial capital of Morona Santiago) don’t show major damage.”

Weather

Winter Storm Quiana continued to dump heavy snow on parts of Arizona Friday, prompting emergency declarations, closing schools across the region, shutting down interstates and bringing record snow to the Flagstaff area. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport remained closed Friday morning after more than 38 inches of snow fell at the airport Wednesday into Friday. With more than 35 inches of snow on Thursday alone, it was the snowiest single day on record for the city of Flagstaff. The famed Las Vegas Strip resembled a scene out of the Arctic on Thursday after a rare snowstorm turned the area into a winter wonderland with up to 5 inches of snow.

Winter Storm Petra pushed east Wednesday, creating a treacherous morning commute for millions from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic. In Washington D.C., where heavy snow fell Wednesday morning at Reagan National airport, government offices and schools were closed because of the storm. From Kansas City to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Philadelphia to Baltimore and Atlantic City, schools and some government offices were closed. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, which took effect 5 a.m. Wednesday. Pennsylvania enacted a travel ban for commercial vehicles and a 45-mph speed restriction for all vehicles for Interstate 70 in Fulton County from the Maryland state line to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and on I-99 from I-80 to the Turnpike.

Days of heavy rain in the Deep South flooded roads and triggered landslides and evacuations as residents prepare for what might be the worst day of flooding yet on Friday. Residents living along the Cumberland River in Cheatham County, Tennessee, began evacuating their homes Thursday as the flooding risk intensified. Numerous schools throughout the state canceled classes Friday amid flooding concerns, as rivers and tributaries continued to rise. Early Thursday, a large landslide took out both lanes of Tennessee’s Highway 70N in Hawkins County, killing one person.

Some parts of the South Lake Tahoe region saw more than 9 feet of snow. The California Highway Patrol implored skiers to stay off the roads. Towns along the routes to the mountains were inundated with stuck travelers. Businesses couldn’t handle the crowds and fights broke out in the street. “They have nowhere to go to the bathroom, and there’s not enough restaurants,” reported one resident. “They’re inundating the town. Double parking, triple parking onto the streets.” With 31.5 inches of snow as of Wednesday, this is now the snowiest February on record in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The 9 inches of snow the city received Wednesday pushed it past the previous record of 26.5 inches, set back in 1962.

Temperatures soared to near the freezing mark late last week at the nation’s northernmost town of Utquagvik, formerly known as Barrow, Alaska. Temperatures held for several days in the 20s and 30s, which is between 30 and 40 degrees above average. Temperatures in Utqiagvik have been running well above average since the beginning of the year. Most of Alaska has had a warm start to 2019. These warmer temperatures combined with increased storminess during the last couple of weeks have caused more sea ice to melt.

  • Ent-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times

February 15, 2019

­And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;  men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

Pope Francis Signs Agreement with Top Imam

Pope Francis just signed a document with Al Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (once named “the most influential Muslim in the world”), titled “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” The document has been described as a dream come true for mankind, and an “historical breakthrough.” On the surface, it sounds great – if you’re an atheist or secularist. Down inside the document, it says, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.”

  • This is a significant step toward the one-world religion prophesied in Revelation 13:7-8 (It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the anti-Christ], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.)

In New York It’s Okay to Kill Unborn Babies

A New Yorker from Queens, Anthony Hobson killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Irigoyen, also stabbing her in the stomach because and killing the baby he fathered (some news stories say she was 14 weeks pregnant and others put the figure at 20 weeks). He was immediately charged with two murders, but the charge for killing the baby was subsequently dropped: it was noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new abortion law provides no penalties for the killing of unborn children; abortion was removed from the criminal code and inserted into the public health law. LifeNews is calling on the New York State legislature to draft legislation that makes it a crime to murder the baby of a pregnant woman.

Growing List of Scientists Are Rejecting Darwinism

Earlier this month, an online petition voicing scientific opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution reached more than 1,000 signatures, pointing to an increased level of rejection among the scientific community. In order to sign the document, one must obtain a “PhD in a scientific field such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or one of the other natural sciences; or they must hold an MD and serve as a professor of medicine.” A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short statement that reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” The statement, released by the Discovery Institute in 2001 by those who question Neo-Darwinism, has been signed by scientists from “the US National Academy of Sciences, Russian, Hungarian and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others.”

Court Rules Christian Student Group Cannot be Removed from University

The University of Iowa cannot remove a Christian student group’s registered status after the group prohibited a gay student from a leadership role, a federal court has ruled. U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose approved a permanent injunction that forces the University of Iowa to reverse its decision and recognize Business Leaders in Christ as a registered student organization. She said in her opinion that the school applies its human rights policy “unevenly.” “The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” she said. “Particularly when free speech is involved.” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the group representing the student organization, released a statement after the court ruling, saying “universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

Nearly Half of Millennial Christians Believe Evangelism is Wrong

The Barna Group released new findings last week which show that 47 percent of millennial Christians believe it is inappropriate to share their Christian faith with people of a different religion in hopes that they will eventually convert to Christianity. Nevertheless, Millennials still believe they are “good evangelists and still see themselves as representatives for their faith. The survey also found that born-again millennials were the age group most likely to share their faith. According to the new Barna survey, however, that number is on the decline. David Kinnaman, the Barna president, says that he believes the decline in evangelism is due to the rise in the “cultural expectation against judging personal choices.”

Government Shutdown Averted, Trump Declares National Emergency

President Trump declared a national emergency Friday morning after signing the budget deal to avert another government shutdown. The budget bill provides $1.375 billion for border fencing – far less than the $5.7 billion the president had demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The emergency declaration is designed to secure funding for a border wall—but he has been warned that the move is likely to encounter a wall of lawsuits from Democrats, immigration advocates, and environmentalists, among others. the Justice Department has told Trump that the declaration of a national emergency is extremely likely to be blocked by the courts before it can come into effect. Analysts say legal challenges could delay the project for years, though White House officials say they expect to eventually win on appeal to the Supreme Court. Trump noted that national declarations have been signed by other presidents, “for far less important things in many cases.” Trump will tap funds from the Pentagon, Treasury and other sources to build the wall.

Federal Appeals Court Rules In Favor of Border Wall

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Trump administration has the power to waive environmental laws in order to speed up border wall construction, dealing a blow to the president’s opponents. The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which President Trump regularly likes to chide as too liberal, sided with him this time. The judges said federal law gives the administration broad powers to waive any laws in order to get the wall built. Homeland Security has constructed new fencing across the southwest border, replacing vehicle barriers and upgrading old, substandard fence. And last week the government began to build the first new barriers on the border that was previously unprotected by any barriers. In each of those cases, the Homeland Security Department has also issued waivers which cover some of the country’s most iconic protections, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Eagle Protection Act.

Migrant Update

Three months later, most of the Central American caravan of The remaining migrants chose to stay in Mexico, return home, or travel to other areas of the border, where they either attempted to enter the U.S. illegally or asked for asylum at other ports of entry, according to initial estimates from the Mexican government. 6,000 migrants are gone. Nearly half chose to wait in line for a chance to ask for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry, despite the long waits. Most have already seen a U.S. immigration officer. With wait times to claim asylum stretching up to six weeks, it’s unclear how many caravan members chose to cross the border illegally. The Mexican government estimated about 1,000 had made the attempt and were caught. San Diego Sector Border Patrol apprehended 5,812 in the month of December. Total apprehensions that month is nearly 1,300 more than November, when the caravan arrived.

Hours after President Trump appeared in El Paso Monday at a rally to demand border wall money, a large group of illegal immigrants breached the border a few miles away. Border Patrol agents say 311 migrants walked into the U.S., where they were arrested just before midnight. Almost all of them were families or unaccompanied alien children from Central America. This was the 28th group of 100 or more migrants to be apprehended in the El Paso sector since the beginning of October. A group of 325 Central Americans surrendered to Border Patrol agents at the Ajo Station in southwest Arizona after illegally entering the country on Thursday. The group included about 150 minors, 32 of whom were unaccompanied. The group entered through an area that only had a vehicle barrier and surrendered west of Lukeville.

Homeland Security Expedites a Secondary Border Wall

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a waiver allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to expedite construction of a “secondary wall” on the U.S-Mexico border. The secondary wall will be built in the eastern portion of Border Field State Park in San Diego, extend for 12.5 miles and should be 18 feet tall. The DHS said in a statement that Congress has granted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with “a number of authorities necessary to carry out the DHS’s border security mission.” One of these authorities is to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical walls and roads near the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States.” According to the department, the San Diego Sector already has apprehended 18,500 undocumented immigrants in this fiscal year, an increase of over 69 percent from the same period of time in the last fiscal year.

Gun Seizures Spike Nationally

Courts are issuing an unprecedented number of orders to seize firearms from people they deem to be mentally ill or threats to others, following a rash of state-level legislation aimed at curbing mass shootings across the country. More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California, where newly-installed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved swiftly to curtail gun rights. Even as conservatives sound the alarm about potential Second Amendment violations, supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the country. Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to fourteen states.

Senate Passes Sweeping Conservation Package

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a sweeping conservation bill that protects 1.3 million acres of wilderness, creates or expands 10 national parks (including Joshua Tree and Death Valley), pulls hundreds of thousands of acres of land from mining, protects hundreds of miles of rivers, and sets up four new national monuments. It’s being called the most wide-ranging public-lands package in 10 years, with the “win” part coming in not only because of its conservation victories, but also due to its across-the-aisle support. The measure, which passed Tuesday 92-8, merges nearly 100 separate bills to offer “something for nearly everyone” in every state, and chances look good that both the House and President Trump will sign off on it as well.

Economic News

The federal debt ticked past $22 trillion this week, a record that comes despite continued economic growth, but neither political party appears to be making a priority of debt reduction. Larry Kudlow, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, said on Thursday that the president was “concerned” about the rise of the debt, and that the administration would propose some reductions in federal spending in its next budget. But he said the scale of the debt was not “a problem.” During the first two years of the Trump administration, the debt increased by more than $2 trillion, in part because of the $1.5 trillion tax cut and large spending increases the president has signed into law.

A delayed report outlining retail sales in December was released Thursday, and it showed sales around the holiday season tumbled 1.2 percent — its largest decline in almost a decade. The report had been delayed because of the 35-day federal shutdown. The Census Bureau report said the drop was comparable to September 2009, a few months into the Great Recession. The figures indicate retailers faced a stock market decline, the start of the partial government shutdown and poor weather conditions. The report said total sales for 2018 were up 5 percent and sales from October through December increased 3.7 percent, year-to-year.

The number of job openings reached 7.3 million at the end of 2018, the highest level since the Labor Department started measuring them in 2000. Job openings have outpaced hiring since December of 2017, which shows that employers are having a difficult time finding enough workers to fill all the positions they have available. There have been more open jobs than unemployed people since March 2018.

A study of bankruptcy filings in the United States showed that 66.5% were due, at least in part, to medical expenses. The study, led by Dr. David Himmelstein, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, indicates that about 530,000 families each year are financially ruined by medical bills and sicknesses. It’s the first research of its kind to link medical expenses and bankruptcy since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The authors of the study discovered that the percentage of bankruptcies caused by medical bills actually went up by 2 percent after Obamacare went into effect.

Texas, the epicenter of the shale boom, is gushing with oil. Production in the Lone Star State soared by 22% to 1.54 billion barrels in 2018. That shatters the previous Texas record of 1.28 billion barrels set in 1973. The spike in Texas’ oil production has been driven by the Permian Basin, the shale hotbed located in West Texas and New Mexico. Rapid technological improvements in drilling have morphed the Permian into one of the world’s largest and most important oilfields. The oil and gas industry supported a total of 352,371 direct jobs in Texas last year, up by 26,706 from 2017. And these jobs pay extremely well, with an average annual wage of $130,706 — more than double the state’s average private-sector salary.

Persecution Watch

Calendars sent to Christians in Tajikistan were seized and later burned by the authorities because they contained verses from the Bible. The consignment of 5,000 calendars arrived on 18 December 2018 for distribution to registered evangelical churches in Tajikistan. Customs officials impounded the calendars when they saw the Bible verses and referred the issue to the Central Committee on Religion that controls religious affairs in the country. Authorities gave the order for the destruction of the literature.

An elderly Iranian Christian woman has endured ten days of intensive interrogation by intelligence officers and been forced to go to an Islamic religious leader to be “instructed”. Ruhsari Kamberi, 65, was one of five women converts from Islam arrested from different church groups in Karaj, close to Tehran. The whereabouts of the other four are not known. According to a local source, “Ruhsari was interrogated from morning until evening for ten consecutive days.” The wife and mother was finally released when bail of 30 million Toman (around £5,500) was paid.

The prime suspect in the brutal rape and death of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher was arraigned in a Jerusalem court on Monday and charged with murder. Palestinian Arafat Irfayia, 29, showed no signs of remorse and appeared to be smirking during the proceedings. Strong DNA evidence linked him to the killing. The knife that was believed to be used in the attack was found at the time of his arrest. Authorities have labeled it a “nationalistic crime” given Irfayia’s family openly identifies with Hamas and the fact that Irfayia has distributed material for the terror group.

Middle East

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the White House’s aggressive anti-Iran message to a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Poland on peace and security in the Middle East that concluded Thursday. Pence used his address to the conference in Poland’s capital Warsaw to demand that European countries withdraw from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that President Donald Trump’s administration has already abandoned. He urged U.S. allies to back Washington’s sanctions on Iran, re-imposed after Trump exited the 2015 accord last year. Long-standing U.S. allies in Europe favor staying in the deal and have sought ways to keep open trade and financial dealings with Iran. Disagreement over the issue is what partly led to Germany, France and other major U.S. allies not sending their top diplomats to the summit in Poland.  Pompeo said on Thursday that there cannot be Middle East peace without combating Iran.

Islamic State

The top US commander in the war against ISIS said that there are “tens of thousands” of ISIS fighters spread across Syria and Iraq. ISIS chiefs have stashed away millions to fund a new wave of attacks against Britain and the West – as the terror group faces being stamped out once and for all. U.N. experts believe the group has around $300 million stored in “bulk” – with one report warning it will be used to fund “larger-scale attacks once the opportunity arises.” The warning comes as ISIS face being finally routed in Syria. U.S.-backed Syrian forces are clearing two villages in eastern Syria of remaining Islamic State militants who are hiding among the local population, and detaining others attempting to flee with the civilians, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday. The clearance operations are taking place, near the border with Iraq, a coalition statement said, hours after scores of militants from the Islamic State group — including many foreign fighters — surrendered to U.S.-backed fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday night. The developments brought the Kurdish-led force closer to taking full control of the last remaining area controlled by the extremists.

Kashmir

The death toll from a car bombing on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir has climbed to 41, becoming the single deadliest attack in the divided region’s volatile history, security officials said Friday. A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into the convoy along a key highway Thursday. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers. The attack is ratcheting up already hostile tensions between India and Pakistan, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely. India and Pakistan accused each other for the attack. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989, but the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi’s rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

South Korea

Officials signed a short-term agreement on Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after President Trump’s call for the South to pay more. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War. The new deal would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018. Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months. The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

Australia

In Australia, the heat was so intense it caused bats to fall from trees and snakes to seek refuge in people’s toilets. Overall, it was the hottest January in Australia ever recorded. One remarkable record was set in Port Augusta, Australia, which soared to 121 degrees. That’s the hottest temperature ever recorded at a coastal location in the Southern Hemisphere. Late in the month, folks in Wanaaring endured Australia’s all-time hottest night, when the overnight temperature only dropped to a sweltering 97.9 degrees. Across the Pacific, at the far southern tip South America, the tiny town of Porvenir, Chile, soared to 90.5 degrees earlier this week. This may have been the Earth’s most southerly 90-degree temperature on record. “Heat this high on the southern tip of South America is unprecedented,” wrote Guy Walton, an Atlanta meteorologist who tracks weather records.

Up to 500,000 cattle are feared dead after floods left parts of eastern Australian under water, swallowing up livestock and farm buildings as the levels rose. Dramatic overhead scenes taken from helicopters flying over Queensland show large numbers of cattle lying dead in groups having succumbed to the heavy rains.       Ironically, many farmers in Australia have been struggling to keep cattle alive after years of drought only for them to lose them now to floods.

Greenland

In a strangely positive twist to climate change, a new study finds that Greenland could become a major exporter of sand as its glaciers disappear into the sea. As global temperatures rise, the island’s vast ice sheet is rapidly melting away, and large amounts of sediments are being washed into the oceans. Greenland’s population of 56,000 could see significant economic boosts from mining the sand and gravel and exporting it to the rest of the world. The amount of sand delivered to the country’s coast annually is estimated to be worth more than half Greenland’s GDP, which is about $2.22 billion, and that worth is now expected to double within the next quarter-century.

Environment

A decline in insect populations happening across the planet has Earth’s ecosystems and humankind facing catastrophic consequences. That sobering message has emerged from a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports on insect population declines which found the rate of extinction is eight times faster than vertebrates such as mammals, birds and reptiles. More than a third of the world’s insects are threatened with extinction in the next few decades, the researchers say. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades” They found evidence for decline in all insect groups reviewed, but said it was most pronounced for butterflies and moths, native bees, beetles and aquatic insects such as dragonflies.

An invasion of about 50 polar bears has caused an “emergency situation” in the small Russian settlement of Belushya Guba. The town is located on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. “The people are scared,” said Alexander Minayev, the deputy head of Novaya Zemlya. “They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken,” Minayev said in a statement. The bears arrived in December and have acted aggressively since then, attacking people and entering residences and businesses. Melting Arctic sea ice has forced polar bears to spend more time on land, where they compete for food.

Weather

After months of promises, infamous climate agitator El Niño finally formed this week, climate scientists announced Thursday. El Niño is a periodic natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific. It is among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world. It typically brings unusually wet weather across the USA’s southern tier.

A deadly winter storm battered Hawaii last weekend, bringing dangerous surf conditions, heavy snow and damaging winds. Waves near Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu surpassed 60 feet Sunday afternoon. A monstrous 191-mph wind gust was recorded on the peak of Mauna Kea on the Big Island Sunday. Winds soared to 53 mph in Oahu, which knocked down trees and caused power outages throughout the islands, Shigesato said. Almost 27,000 customers throughout the state were without power late Sunday. Several inches of snow fell on Maui. Debris on Sunday closed roads in downtown Honolulu and in the Waikiki area

Winter Storm Nadia slammed the Pacific Northwest and Northern California with heavy snow and rain Wednesday, causing multiple crashes and road closures, leaving tens of thousands without power and stranding some 250 motorists on a Washington mountain pass. The California city of Redding, which sees snow about once every other year, received more than a foot of new snow from Nadia, effectively shutting down the city of nearly 100,000. Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass was closed in both directions Wednesday because of high avalanche danger after nearly 4 feet of snow fell within a 48-hour period. More than 24,000 customers in Washington and another 70,000 in California were without power Wednesday morning. Nadia moved into the Plains on Friday. Numerous schools were closed Friday in Kansas and Missouri. Interstate 80 from Colfax to the Nevada line remained closed Friday because of white out conditions at the summit.

An “atmospheric river” triggered torrential rains across much of California Thursday and could lead to dangerous mudslides in areas swollen from days of rain and still recovering from devastating wildfires. In Northern California, homes tumbled down the hillsides as the downpour caused mudslides that swallowed up cars. There have been at least 78 reports of debris flows or flooding in California since the storm began on Tuesday. Early Thursday, a woman was rescued from one of two homes that slid down a hillside in Sausalito. In Southern California, mandatory “must go now” evacuations were ordered at the burn site of the Holy Fire in Riverside County, including hundreds of Lake Elsinore residents. Voluntary evacuations were also ordered near the Cranston Fire burn site in Riverside County. Heavy rains that killed at least two people in California this week eased on Friday but authorities are warning that the danger of mudslides continues.

Signs of the Times

February 8, 2019

­After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Unprecedented Gathering of 130,000 Christians in Islamic UAE

An event held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on 5 February was attended by over 130,000 Christians; a startling occurrence in a region where Christian worship is tightly restricted and Christian converts from Islam risk imprisonment for apostasy. The UAE has one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world, mainly due to the inward migration of Christian workers. The country has recently gained a new cathedral, 16 new churches and has around 700 Christian congregations. The 48-hour papal visit to the UAE this month is unprecedented for the Arabian Peninsula and may signal a softening of the government towards the Christian community, estimated to number over one million. Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths may worship in private in the UAE, but face restrictions on practicing their religion in public. Proselytizing to Muslims or preaching “against Islam” is prohibited by law and carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Most of the Christians in the Arabian Peninsula are resident non-citizens who came to the region as migrant workers.

Almost 4,600 Accept Jesus during ‘Amazing Love’ Fest in Thailand

On Sunday, the final night of the two-day Amazing Love Festival in Bangkok, Franklin Graham explained to 23,000-plus souls that no one can have peace with God until their sins have been forgiven. “There are many of you here tonight who are in danger of losing your soul,” Franklin said, aware that 95 percent of the country does not claim Jesus as Lord. Speaking from Luke 19, he shared about Jesus’ invitation to all people, including Zacchaeus, a corrupt public official who overcame obstacles to see Christ. “Jesus is the only one in history to take all our sins. No [other] person or religion has ever done that,” Franklin said. “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.” “Come quickly to Jesus tonight,” Franklin said as the floor flooded with masses of people responding to the Gospel. “Be set free.” Ultimately, over 4,6000 people accepted Christ as their Savior.

Pope Francis Confirms Catholic Clergy Members Abused Nuns

Pope Francis has acknowledged that members of the Catholic clergy abused nuns, adding to a string of recent allegations about widespread sexual abuse by priests and coverups by the church hierarchy. “It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have,” Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane on Tuesday. Francis is due to host a gathering of bishops and cardinals in two weeks to address the broader global issue of clergy sexual abuse — including, largely for the first time, adult victims and accountability for those at the top of the church who mismanage and cover it up. “The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Francis wrote in a letter to U.S. bishops last month.

  • The unbiblical prohibition against marriage underlies much of this Catholic problem

Pope Francis Became First Pontiff to Visit the Arabian Peninsula

Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, became the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula when he landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday to take part in an inter-faith dialogue event hosted by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Several Jewish rabbis also participated in the event, which received a great deal of positive coverage in Arab and international media outlets. Francis avoided making any overtly political statements during his visit, aside from an appeal for an end to the suffering in Yemen, Libya and Syria and a demand that religious leaders refrain from endorsing armed conflict for any reason. He also called for “the full recognition” of the rights of all people across the region, a comment some analysts said was a veiled reference to the Palestinians.

Trump Pledges to Defend Life and Religious Freedom

President Trump delivered remarks to the annual National Prayer Breakfast in the nation’s capital Thursday morning, reiterating his administration’s commitment to defending life and religious liberty at home, and fighting religious persecution abroad. “I will never let you down,” Trump promised as he took the podium. “All children are made in the holy image of God. Every life is sacred and every soul is a precious gift from heaven,” he said.  “Since the founding of our nation many of our greatest strides, from gaining our independence to abolition [to] civil rights, to extending the vote to women, have been led by people of faith and started in prayer. When we open our hearts to faith, we fill our hearts with love,” he said. “As president I will always cherish, honor, and protect the believers who uplift our communities and sustain our nation,” he promised.

Poll: 76% Approve of Trump’s SOTU Speech

Just over three-quarters of those who watched President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech approved of what he said, a new CBS News poll reveals. Only 24 percent disapproved. In addition, 56 percent of those polled said the speech will do more to unite the county; 8 percent said it will do more to divide the nation and 36 percent said it will not change things. Also, 72 percent said they favored the ideas on immigration Trump outlined in his speech, while 28 percent opposed them. The poll, conducted by CBS directly after Trump’s speech, surveyed 1,472 people. The margin of error is 3 percent.

Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law

The Supreme Court has blocked a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana—but only temporarily. Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted to uphold an almost identical law in Texas in 2016, joined the court’s four liberal justices in voting to block the law, which would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Critics said the law would leave the state with just one doctor qualified to perform abortions, meaning all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics would be forced to close. The 5-4 decision, made just hours before the law was due to come into effect, granted a temporary stay, but the court is expected to return to the case in October. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberal faction of the court while Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a dissent, arguing that there is a dispute over how many doctors would be qualified to perform abortions under the law, and denying the stay would settle the question without “causing harm to the parties or the affected women,”

House Democrats Again Block Vote to Stop Infanticide

For the second time in two days, House Democrats blocked a request by Republicans to vote on a bill that would stop infanticide. This is the second time Congressional Democrats thwarted an attempt by Republicans to vote on a bill that would provide medical care and treatment for babies who provide survived failed abortions — twice in the House and once in the Senate. “Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi took the President of the nation’s largest abortion business to the State of the Union address and today she’s blocking legislation that makes it illegal to leave a newborn baby to die. This is morally repugnant. Passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act shouldn’t be hard – there are only two sides to this debate: you’re defending babies or you’re defending infanticide,” Senator Sasse told LifeNews after yesterday’s denial.

U.S. Researchers are Fusing Aborted Baby Parts Onto Rodents

Aborted babies are being used in macabre experiments in the U.S. that involve grafting dead fetus parts onto mice which are then used to test drugs, reports the UK’s Sun news outlet. Documents seen by Sun Online outline procedures that involve cutting out glands and livers of unborn children and then fusing them onto lab rodents. The use of aborted baby body parts and stems cells has sparked anger among anti-abortion groups in the United States and it has been dubbed “Frankenstein” science. Clinics are supposed to ask if they would like to donate tissue but it is unclear whether the parents are aware their dead children’s bodies are being used in this way. But what is known is that abortion clinics are supplying the fetal body parts, although they are not allowed to sell them. Phelim McAleer, who has produced the film Gosnell, about a rogue abortionist, told Fox News: “Aborted babies bodies are a very valuable commodity in today’s America. Research institutions, elite universities, medical centers pay a lot of money for baby parts.”

Millennial Marriage Rate Way Down

In 1962, 50% of all 21-year-olds were married. In 2018, only 8.8% of 21-year-olds were married, an enormous difference. Today an unprecedented portion of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40, a recent Urban Institute report predicted. The marriage rate might drop to 70 percent — a figure well below rates for boomers (91 percent), late boomers (87 percent) and Gen Xers (82 percent).

Magnetic North Pole On the Move

Earth’s north magnetic pole has been drifting so fast in the last few decades that scientists say that past estimates are no longer accurate enough for precise navigation. On Monday, they released an update of where magnetic north really was, nearly a year ahead of schedule. The magnetic north pole is wandering about 34 miles a year. It crossed the international date line in 2017, and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia. Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1,400 miles (2300 kilometers) toward Siberia. The constant shift is a problem for compasses in smartphones and some consumer electronics. Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation. The military depends on where magnetic north is for navigation and parachute drops, while NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration also use it. In general Earth’s magnetic field is getting weaker, leading scientists to say that it will eventually flip, where north and south pole changes polarity, like a bar magnet flipping over. It has happened numerous times in Earth’s past, but not in the last 780,000 years. That could bother some birds that use magnetic fields to navigate. And an overall weakening of the magnetic field isn’t good for people and especially satellites and astronauts. The magnetic field shields Earth from some dangerous radiation.

Economic News

The U.S. national debt has just crossed the $22 trillion mark. Over the last 10 years, we have added more than 11 trillion dollars to the national debt, and that means that it has been growing at a pace of more than a trillion dollars a year. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the national debt and interest on that debt will both explode at an exponential rate in future years if we stay on the path that we are currently on.  According to the CBO, the federal government spent 371 billion dollars on net interest during the most recent fiscal year. In contrast, the entire Defense Department budget is $599 billion. The 371 billion dollars that we spent on interest could have been spent on roads, schools, airports, strengthening our military or helping the homeless.

  • Unfortunately, the accumulation of debt is not slowing down under President Trump

A strong economy helped encourage many Americans to buy new vehicles despite the wintry weather and a government shutdown in January. Analysts estimated that January auto sales rose slightly, compared with a year earlier, despite the polar vortex that froze the Midwest and the shutdown that left many federal workers without paychecks for the month. The average price of a new vehicle continues to rise, in part because of the SUV boom.

The European Union has told British Prime Minister Theresa May, again, that it will not reopen talks on the Brexit agreement as she arrived in Brussels to persuade EU leaders to agree to key changes as demanded by the UK Parliament. British lawmakers voted last month to send May back to Brussels to renegotiate the terms of the Brexit deal, specifically over concerns regarding the Irish backstop. The backstop — an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member — has been a particularly thorny issue in May’s deal, with British politicians firm that they will not back her deal without changes.

Middle East

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (MSA) released a report reveals how Hamas and the PFLP are utilizing a network of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) promoting boycotts against Israel as an additional tactic in their ultimate goal of dismantling the State of Israel. These organizations have successfully placed over 30 of their members, 20 of which have served time, including for murder, in senior positions within boycott-promoting NGOs (BDS stands for Boycott of, Divestment from, and Sanctions against Israel). Some U.S. companies and church organizations have joined the BDS movement.

The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel. The final tally was 77-23. The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Defense Forces and civil defense organizations stationed near the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip were on high alert Wednesday morning following an overnight barrage of 45 rockets fired at Israeli communities from inside the Strip. Three of the rockets landed inside the Strip, seven were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and three landed in border communities, causing damage to buildings and vehicles but no casualties. The IDF launched strikes on Hamas targets in response

The U.S. Army announced on Wednesday that it has agreed to purchase Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The agreement is historic, marking the first time Israel has sold a standalone weapons system to the U.S., which typically fields weapons that are superior to other countries. “The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats,” U.S. Army Col. Patrick Seiber said in a statement.

The U.S. and Israel were set to kick of the Juniper Falco 2019 joint training exercises next week, with thousands of soldiers from both countries participating. Military observers from dozens of allied nations will also be on hand to benefit from the exercise, which will include tests of equipment, tactics and training. Although the IDF spokesperson’s office stressed that the exercise was merely the latest in a series of long-planned and routine drills not aimed at any specific threat, observers noted the timing of the wars games following several weeks of escalating tensions on Israel’s northern border.

Iran’s clerical regime celebrated the 40th anniversary of the violent coup which brought it to power over the weekend by, among other things, unveiling a new cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload 1,350 km which defense officials claimed had recently undergone a successful test. On Saturday, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Salami told an official media outlet that “If the Europeans, or anyone else, want to conspire to disarm Iran of missiles, we will be forced to make a strategic leap.” He added that in his opinion the world should “come to terms with the new reality of Iran’s missile might.

Russia

Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday. U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s deployment of banned cruise missiles that could target Western Europe. Moscow has strongly denied any breaches and accused Washington of making false accusations in order to justify its pullout. The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Venezuela

The government of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blocked aid deliveries amid rising tensions over opposition plans to bring humanitarian aid into the country. Two U.S. trucks carrying food and medical supplies arrived at Cucuta on Venezuela’s border Thursday, but it is not clear when or whether the aid will reach people inside the country.  Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-declared president, Juan Guaido, last week named Cucuta as one of three collection points for the delivery of international aid. His move ramped up tensions with Maduro’s government even as many in Venezuela remain in desperate need of such supplies. Maduro has rejected the international aid, saying: “We are not beggars.”

Cameroon

The battle lines of the conflict in this Central African country are drawn by language. Around 80 percent of the country speaks French; the rest speaks English. For decades, Francophones and Anglophones lived in relative harmony. But over the past two years, violence spurred by this linguistic split has brought Cameroon to the brink of civil war. Hundreds have died, close to 500,000 have been displaced, and activists have been rounded up and jailed. The government claims armed English-speaking separatists who want to create a new nation called Ambazonia have terrorized civilians and attacked government forces, prompting the military to retaliate against them. But in more than a dozen interviews, English speakers displaced by military raids on their villages recounted how Cameroonian troops opened fire on unarmed civilians and burned down their homes.

Somalia

A car bomb exploded at a crowded shopping mall in Mogadishu, the Somali capital on Monday morning, killing at least ten people and wounding dozens of others. The explosion tore through a Mogadishu mall in the capital’s business district. The death toll may rise as rescuers search for survivors and some of the wounded are in critical condition. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group was also responsible for three car bombings last November that that killed at least 52 people with about 100 more injured. Since 2006, the group has carried out several attacks in Mogadishu killing international aid workers, journalists, civil It wants to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.ian leaders, and peacekeepers, as well as Somalia’s government and military targets.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck Mexico’s southern Pacific coast last Friday morning. The U.S. Geological Survey reported the magnitude 6.6 quake struck about 10:15 a.m. local time and was centered some 10 miles south of Tapachula in the southern state of Chiapas. It struck at a depth of 40 miles. There were no deaths from the earthquake, but there was some damage in the city of Suchiate.

Weather

Normally mild Seattle is bracing for its second snowstorm this week Friday and Saturday. And with yet another snowstorm forecast for early next week, Seattle-area meteorologist Cliff Mass said the storms could be “one of greatest snow events in decades.” A winter storm warning has been issued for the Seattle area. Up to half a foot of snow is possible from the Friday-Saturday storm throughout the region. The first snowstorm, earlier this week, officially dropped 2.7 inches on Seattle. The city averages only 0.7 inch of snow each February.

Winter Storm Lucian created hazardous driving conditions Tuesday from the Pacific Coast into the Midwest and it led to the closing of all roads in Yosemite National Park because of heavy snow and fallen trees. A rockslide dumped large boulders onto Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, early Tuesday. A rockslide also had traffic backed up in each direction on U.S. 60 near Miami, Arizona. Icy drizzle was blamed for numerous crashes and rollovers on highways in Wichita, Kansas. Interstate 80 was closed from Applegate, California, to the Nevada state line most of Monday. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz mobilized the National Guard to rescue stranded drivers in Renville County.

Heavy rain, thunderstorms and deadly flooding on the warm side of Winter Storm Lucian were causing trouble from Arkansas and southern Missouri and southern Illinois into Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky Heavy rain triggered major flash flooding across Middle Tennessee Wednesday night, killing one person. Numerous water rescues also occurred overnight in the Nashville area. An estimated 3 to 6 inches of rain fell in Middle Tennessee Wednesday night when a band of heavy rain stalled over the region. Nashville International Airport picked up 4 inches of rain Wednesday, topping their average rainfall for the entire month of February.

Over 200 people had to be rescued from their cars on Italy’s Autostrada A22 highway last Saturday after heavy snow blocked the roadway, causing a nearly 10-mile-long traffic jam in freezing temperatures. One stretch of the highway in northern Italy was closed for hours when cars and trucks without mandatory chains were unable to navigate the highway when the snowstorm hit. A second stretch that leads to the Brenner Pass into Austria was shut down after an avalanche blocked the highway a few miles south of the Italy-Austria border.

Signs of the Times

February 1, 2019

­The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things, have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1Peter 4:7-8)

Virginia Bill to Allow Third-Term Abortions Causes Controversy

Efforts in the Virginia General Assembly to allow abortions up until birth have been turned away – at least for now. A Democratic co-sponsor of a controversial Virginia bill that would repeal restrictions on third-trimester abortions is apologizing to her constituents for supporting the legislation, saying she didn’t read the bill or know how far it went. The backpedal comes as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is defending himself amid fierce criticism that he suggested a child could be killed after birth in remarks a day earlier about the same legislation. The bill would have removed a number of restrictions currently in place regarding late-term abortions, including doing away with the requirement that three physicians certify a third-trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health. The third trimester lasts until 40 weeks. The chaos follows New York’s historic passage of an abortion-up-to-birth bill, last week.

  • A Gallup poll from last May found that 91% of Americans think third-term abortions should be illegal, with only 13% saying it should be legalized.

U.S. Freezes, Australia Burns Hot

At least 17 deaths have been attributed to the cold snap in the Midwest, as it began invading the northeast on Thursday. The polar vortex swung down into the Midwest Wednesday with the coldest Arctic air in a generation, forcing widespread school and government office closures, leaving tens of thousands without power, and in a rarity, prompting the U.S. Postal Service to suspend delivery to a widespread swath of the region. The polar vortex brought a wind chill of -66 degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota overnight and wind chills of -58 degrees Fahrenheit in Wisconsin and Iowa. Temperatures dipped to -23 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare, with a wind chill of 49 degrees below zero. The cold also prompted several major Midwest universities to close. The U.S. Postal Service decided to suspend mail delivery on Wednesday to parts or all of several Midwest states, including North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Temperatures in Norris Camp, Minn., dropped to minus-48 degrees Wednesday morning, making the city the coldest reporting location in the Lower 48 states.

  • Extreme cold causes bizarre things to happen, and that was certainly the case Wednesday in Chicago when a series of loud booms were reported. The temperature in Chicago had dropped to 23 below zero early Wednesday, one of the coldest readings ever recorded in the city. What Chicago residents heard were likely “frost quakes,” also known by the dull geological term “cryoseisms.” They occur when a rapid drop in temperature leads to a quick freeze, which causes the rock or soil to burst rather than just slowly expand. The rapid bursting sounds like noisy quake, along with some light shaking.
  • In Illinois, temperatures could rise by 80 degrees within days. In Michigan, melting snow and rain and a 17-mile ice jam could lead to flooding. Across the Midwest, the sudden warmth was sure to bring more broken roads and busted water mains, per the AP.

Even as severe cold grips the midwestern and northwestern U.S., scorching heat has caused numerous wildfires to burn in Australia. Australia is currently experiencing all-time record temperatures – exceeding 115 degrees – and extended heat waves. Australia’s scorching start to 2019 has been confirmed as the country’s hottest month on record. Dozens of wildfires raged on Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia. It’s so hot there that snakes are seeking refuge in people’s toilets. More than 500 firefighters are battling nearly 1,500 kilometers of fire fronts across Tasmania but the main fire fight is in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. Extreme heat in Victoria, Australia combined with strong winds and low humidity caused a bushfire 10 km (6 miles) north of Timbarra to grow from 300 hectares (740 acres) to approximately 10,522 hectares (26,000 acres). Lighting ignited the fire on January 16 while hundreds of additional lightning strikes ignited additional fires.

  • Weather will continue to grow more extreme as we progress further and further into the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Shutdown Update:

The three-week spending deal reached with congressional leaders, passed by the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives without opposition and signed by President Trump, has paved the way for tough talks with lawmakers about how to address security along the U.S.-Mexican border. Trump vowed that the shutdown would resume on Feb. 15 if he is dissatisfied with the results of a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee’s border security negotiations, or he would declare a national emergency in order to get the wall money without congressional approval. Both chambers of Congress passed legislation to guarantee back pay for affected federal workers, and Trump signed it last week. But it will likely be at least several days before employees get paid. Backlogs and deadlines await federal workers after the shutdown’s end. A return to normal could take weeks or even months.

The reopening of federal offices belies the continued suffering and long-term financial damage on the legions of federal contractors whose lost wages may never be reimbursed. For the 75 employees of the small contracting firm Unispec Enterprises, health insurance remains in limbo, and the next full paycheck may still be four weeks away. “It feels like we are still hostages,” said Unispec employee Janice Morgan. The tight margins of federal work meant that one firm was unable to pay its health insurance premium, leading to a lapse in coverage for employees who also lost five weeks of pay.

The U.S. economy lost at least $6 billion during the partial shutdown of the federal government due to lost productivity from furloughed workers and economic activity lost to outside business, S&P Global Ratings said. “Although this shutdown has ended, little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments,” S&P said in a news release. “Although this shutdown has ended, little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments,” S&P said in a news release.

Immigration Update:

A group of women whose husbands patrol America’s southern border along the banks of the Rio Grande are inviting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to come to Texas so she can see first-hand why a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico is desperately needed. Jill Demanski said, “I felt it’s really important to have our leaders come here and see what’s happening first. It’s important to meet with the people who are here on a daily basis, that are witnessing it – the effects of it, that it has on our country.” A 17-person bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers is expected to negotiate border spending. It’s unclear if Democrats will budge in their opposition to funding a border wall, while Trump said Sunday that he doubted he could accept any agreement struck by congressional negotiators that gives him less than his requested $5.7 billion for the construction of a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Trump administration on Tuesday quietly launched an effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts. The U.S. returned one asylum seeker to Mexico — a Honduran man — on the first day of what would be one of the most dramatic changes to the U.S. immigration system of Donald Trump’s presidency, if the policy survives an anticipated legal challenge. Mexican officials sent mixed signals on whether Mexico would impose limits on accepting families. Tonatiuh Guillen, commissioner of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said Mexico would only accept people 18 to 60 years old, which rules out families with young children.

Customs officers stationed at the commercial border crossing in Nogales made the largest fentanyl seizure ever recorded at any port of entry in the United States. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a canine officer alerted other officers to the presence of 254 pounds of fentanyl hidden inside an 18-wheeler carrying cucumbers, during a secondary inspection at the Mariposa port of entry just past noon last Saturday. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Drug. Just a small dose can kill you. In addition to the fentanyl, officers also seized 395 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside the compartment in the 18-wheeler.

Three more Central American migrant caravans are heading toward the U.S. border. The First caravan, which has shrunk from 7,000 to 4,000 participants, reached Juchitan, Mexico, Tuesday, more than 700 miles southeast of Mexico City. A smaller second caravan entered Tapachula, Mexico, and camped out in the town’s main plaza. A third group from El Salvador crossed the bridge connecting Guatemala and Mexico and legally entered Ciudad Hidalgo. In response, the Pentagon announced it would send 5,200 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump Has Employed Many Undocumented Immigrants

Victorina Morales, a cleaner who spent years working at one of President Donald Trump’s golf clubs, risked deportation by outing herself as an undocumented worker to the New York Times in December — but now she’s asking Congress for protection. Along with three other former Trump National Golf Club workers, Morales arrived in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers, who they hope will launch an investigation into Trump Organization hiring practices and shield them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security. sThe Washington Post reported this past weekend that a dozen undocumented workers had been fired from the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York. The decision Tuesday by Trump businesses to use the E-Verify program is the first acknowledgment that President Trump’s private companies have failed to fully check the work status of all its employees, despite his claims otherwise during the 2016 campaign.

Trump’s Tough Talk Helps NATO

President Donald Trump “is committed to NATO” and deserves credit in obtaining $100 billion more in defense spending for the alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said Sunday. Trump has also been criticized for his aggressive approach in insisting America’s “delinquent” allies pay a greater share toward the collective defense agreement. At the summit in July, he demanded the other members “immediately” increase their contributions. Stoltenberg said the tough approach paid off. “By the end of next year, NATO allies will add $100 billion extra toward defense,” he said. “So, we see some real money and some real results. And we see that the clear message from President Donald Trump is having an impact.” Stoltenberg’s comment stands in contrast to Democrats who fear Trump wants to pull out of NATO, and some who have expressed concern he could be undermining the military alliance because it benefits Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump on ISIS, North Korea, Border

Although the Trump administration often touts the progress being made in denuclearization talks with North Korea, U.S. intelligence chiefs told senators Tuesday that Kim Jong Un’s regime is “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.” The top intelligence officials – including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats – presented that conclusion to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report to Congress. The security officials also contradicted President Donald Trump with their conclusions that the Islamic State remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The report did not include immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border in the list of global threats facing the U.S., which also contrasts with the president’s description of the situation as a “crisis.” The president pushed back against congressional testimony by intelligence officials, tweeting, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Terror in the Philippines

Two bombs minutes apart tore through a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 20 people and wounding 111 others during a Sunday Mass. The first blast inside the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital sent churchgoers, some of them wounded, to stampede out of the main door. Army troops and police posted outside were rushing in when the second bomb went off about one minute later near the main entrance, causing more deaths and injuries. The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Police said at least 20 people died and 111 were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility.

Three Men Sentenced for Attempt to Bomb Muslim Apartment in Kansas

Three men were sentenced Friday to at least 25 years in federal prison for attempting to blow up an apartment complex in western Kansas where Somali Muslims lived, a plot that unnerved that refugee community. They chose the apartment complex in Garden City, a city of 26,000, partly because it contained a mosque. The Somalis — who settled in Garden City because of employment in the meatpacking industry — appreciate the support they’ve received in the town and do not intend to harm anyone, according to one woman who spoke after the sentences were handed down. “Please, we need peace and love,” said Ifrah Farah, a member of the Somali community, according to CNN affiliate KWCH in Wichita. “Because we came here for better lives. We are refugees. We live here. We are not bad people. We love everybody.”

Texas Finds 95,000 Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Friday that the state has discovered 95,000 non-citizens on the voter rolls going back to 1996, 58,000 of whom have voted in at least one Texas election. Texas has some of the toughest voter ID laws in the nation and has been one of the main battlegrounds in the Republican-led fight against alleged voter fraud. The Attorney General’s office said that 33 people were prosecuted for voter fraud last year, and 97 were prosecuted between 2005-17. There are 16 million people in Texas registered to vote. The New York Times reported that the findings were a result of an 11-month investigation into records at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Gov. Greg Abbott praised the findings and hinted at future legislation to crack down on voter fraud.

California Farmers in a Tight Squeeze

California farmers anchors a $50 billion industry that represents that 13% of the nation’s agricultural value and are a critical source of America’s produce and milk. However, they are now facing an unprecedented squeeze on their livelihoods that could have repercussions in households from coast to coast. Farmers have begun turning to more automation because farm workers are both in short supply and increasingly costly. Farm workers who once crossed the Mexican border routinely for seasonal work in el norte now express deep fears about making the trip, effectively cutting off the supply of labor south of the border. Beyond a decade-in-the-making labor shortage, spurred in part by a lack of replacements for an aging work force, California’s newly enacted overtime pay law and the Trump administration’s tense rhetoric over immigration have ratcheted up concern among both farmers and those they rely on to work the land.

Venezuela: A Lesson on Socialism

Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America, but in recent years millions have fled the country amid mass starvation and violence after socialist policies were enacted and government seized private industries. Now, as Venezuelans struggle against the country’s current dictator, some Venezuelan exiles in the U.S. are desperately warning Americans to avoid going down a similar path. Despite the situation in Venezuela, polls show Americans warming to the term “socialism” in recent years. Dictator Hugo Chavez succeeded in re-writing the Constitution, which came with new rights to things like free government-provided health care, college, and “social justice”. The constitution passed a popular vote easily, with 72% of the vote. Thousands of private businesses were nationalized – including media outlets, oil and power companies, mines, farms, banks, factories, and grocery stores. As a result, inflation skyrocketed to over 12,000% last year and shortages of even basic supplies have caused many to flee from starvation and bankruptcy.

Economic News

Hiring began 2019 on a strong note as employers added 304,000 jobs in January, marking a 100th straight month of payroll growth and defying the 35-day government shutdown, the U.S. trade war with China and a slowing global economy. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a separate survey of households, rose from 3.9% to 4 percent, largely because of the government shutdown, the Labor Department said Friday.

The Federal Reserve opted to leave interest rates unchanged — at a range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent — and the central bank signaled it was unlikely to hike them soon. “In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the [Federal Reserve] will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate.”

The number of people filing first-time unemployment insurance claims soared to its highest level since September 30, 2017. The probable culprit: The five-week government shutdown, which ended last Friday. Initial jobless claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 253,000, up from a 49-year low of 200,000 the prior week. That’s well above the four-week moving average of 215,000 unemployment claims.

Middle East

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) held a large-scale training exercise this week to simulate a war with the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. “The next war will be different than it was in the past,” one officer who participated in the exercise told the Jerusalem Post. “The enemy has gotten better, and has more advanced weapons and more experience. Both sides have advanced, and we know our enemy. But, at the same time I am sure they know us, too.”

Iran continues to become more entrenched in Syria. The regimes in Teheran and Damascus continued to consolidate their alliance last Tuesday with the launch of a new banking and financial agreement. The deal, one of many signed by officials of the Assad regime and visiting Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri this week, will also give Iranian companies, many of which are controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) an advantage in winning contracts for the reconstruction of Syria’s infrastructure and military.

Iran

The governments of Germany, France, and Britain announced this week that they will soon put into effect a mechanism to allow companies based in their countries to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. The so-called special-purpose vehicle (SPV) will use various channels including bartering and is expected to be put into effect by Friday, despite recent declarations by various European governments and the EU that Iran’s support for terrorism in their countries and its ballistic missile program were “areas of concern.”

Syria

At least 29 Syrian refugee children and newborns have died from hypothermia at, or traveling to, the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, according the World Health Organization (WHO). In the last two months, the camp has seen an influx of 23,000 people —more than tripling the population — many of which had to travel in open trucks over the course of several days in frigid winter temperatures. Even after arriving at the camp, thousands have been forced to sleep outside without tents, blankets or heating. Out of the 7 million men, women, boys and girls who are estimated to be internally displaced, many have left without adequate clothing and have to stay in makeshift shelters, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to rain, snow and freezing temperatures. Despite temperatures hitting triple digits in the summers, Syrian winters can see extended stretches of snow and subfreezing temperatures,

Russia

The Trump administration will end U.S. compliance with a Cold-war nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, citing Moscow’s “brazen” violations of the pact. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests, and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it,” Pompeo said. The U.S. will suspend compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as INF, on Feb. 2 and begin a six-month formal withdrawal process, Pompeo said. That gives Moscow additional time to reverse course – even as the Trump administration begins to look at developing and deploying new intermediate range missiles.

China

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon to try to seal a comprehensive trade deal as Trump and his top trade negotiator both cited substantial progress in two days of high-level talks. No specific plans for a meeting with Xi were announced, but Trump said there could be more than one meeting. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were invited to bring a U.S. negotiating team to Beijing around mid-February, with dates still pending.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Chinese technology company Huawei with fraud Monday, ratcheting up U.S.-China tensions. The case against the world’s largest communications equipment maker and one of its senior executives comes as Washington and Beijing seek to end a months-long trade war. U.S. prosecutors charge that Huawei lied to bank executives about its relationship with a company in Iran called Skycom, falsely asserting that it was not an affiliate of the larger company, in violation of sanctions against Iran. Beijing fired back on Tuesday calling the charges politically motivated and urging the U.S. to stop “unreasonable bashing” of Chinese companies.

Venezuela

The United States and Venezuela announced a temporary reprieve from their standoff earlier this week as the countries agreed to work on migration and bilateral issues. If no deal is reached at the end of the 30-day period, the Venezuelans said, the U.S. diplomats remaining in Caracas would need to be repatriated within 72 hours. The resolution came after a morning of heated clashes at the United Nations between the U.S. and Russia — a longtime Venezuelan ally — over the Trump administration’s call for Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro to step down. European nations threatened to join Washington and leave the socialist leader increasingly isolated. The Trump administration announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Monday to try to force President Maduro to step down. The order will affect Citgo, the Venezuelan-owned, Houston-based oil company, and Valero, the American oil refiner that is the largest in the United States. Both import substantial amounts of low-quality crude oil from Venezuela, and can continue to do so as long as the payments do not go to Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Venezuela’s Supreme Court barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country Tuesday and froze his bank accounts. President Nicolas Maduro told Russia’s RIA news agency that he was ready to talk with the opposition headed by Juan Guaido with the participation of international mediators, saying that “several governments and organizations” have demonstrated their concern and called for dialogue

Afghanistan

The Taliban and the U.S. agreed in principle to a peace framework, the U.S. negotiator said, in a step toward ending the war in Afghanistan. After nine years of halting efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, the draft framework, though preliminary, is the biggest tangible step toward ending a two-decade war that has cost tens of thousands of lives and profoundly changed American foreign policy.

Environment

At least 58 people are dead and hundreds of others missing after a Vale SA mining dam collapsed in southeastern Brazil on Friday, sending a torrent of potentially hazardous debris downstream that caused widespread destruction in a nearby village. The collapse occurred at the Corrego de Feijao mine near Brumadinho — about 215 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. About 300 employees were working when the dam collapsed. About 100 had been accounted for. The dam held 1 million cubic meters of mining waste byproduct, much less than the 50 million cubic meters that rushed out of a deadly mining dam collapse in Minas Gerais in 2015. That collapse, at a dam also operated by Vale SA, killed 19 people and also polluted waterways with toxic waste. The United Nations found that waste from the 2015 disaster “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.” The 2015 collapse left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish, so it is expected that the effects of this collapse will be even greater.

Weather

Winter Storm Jayden tore into the South and East Tuesday, closing schools and government offices, forcing the cancelation of more than 1,300 flights and triggering states of emergency in several states. On Monday, the storm forced the cancelation of more than 2,500 flights. Atlanta’s airports came to a standstill. As a polar vortex invades the eastern U.S., Health officials in Baltimore declared a “Code Blue” emergency from Tuesday night through Friday morning, the Baltimore Sun reported. Under such a declaration, agencies offer meals to elderly residents and urge homeless people to enter shelters. The city’s public works department expects water main breaks and encouraged residents to protect outdoor or exposed pipes from the cold. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Monday night. Hundreds of schools were canceled Tuesday. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency Monday, extending through the end of the work week. Schools were also closed throughout the state as temperatures plummeted. The Chicago Zoological Society announced that the Brookfield Zoo will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday because of the frigid weather.

At least three people have been killed and more than 170 were injured by a powerful tornado that struck eastern Havana, Cuba, Sunday night. The storm damaged buildings in several neighborhoods in the Cuban capital. Cars were crushed by debris and streets were flooded. Many neighborhoods lost power.

Rounds of severe weather in southern Turkey brought damaging storms and tornadoes that have killed at least two and injured dozens. On Saturday, a twister injured at least 12 people waiting on a bus to board an airplane at Antalya International Airport. The tornado toppled multiple buses and damaged at least two airplanes.