Archive for March, 2019

Signs of the Times

March 29, 2019

­For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17)

Evidence of Intelligent Design’ Says Non-Christian Geophysicist

Stephen C. Meyer is a geophysicist and author of New York Times bestseller, “Darwin’s Doubt.” Despite not being a Christian himself, Meyer explained that, after years of scientific study, he had come to the conclusion that there simply must be an intelligent designer behind our creation. “It is possible to formulate a case for intelligent design in a strictly scientific manner,” Meyer said. “When we think about the origin of information, it always arises from an intelligent source.” Whether it is a “hieroglyphic inscription, a paragraph in a book, or information embedded in a radio signal, whenever you find information, you trace it back to its source, you always come to a mind not a process,” Meyer explained. He believes that the scientific study of the origins of the universe has a great number of things in common with the central tenets of theistic beliefs.

Trump Expands Order Defunding International Planned Parenthood

During his first week in office, President Trump issued an executive order known as the Mexico City Policy or the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Act that revoked taxpayer funding to the International Planned Parenthood abortion business. The policy prohibits taxpayer funding to international groups that promote and/or provide abortions overseas, the biggest of which is IPPF. Trump’s decision applied to nearly nine billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds to foreign non-governmental organizations. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump Administration announced new enforcement mechanism designed to expand this executive order to the broadest extent possible. Pompeo announced that the U.S. State Department will refuse to work with any foreign non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged in the abortion business. The State Department will also refuse to fund foreign NGOs that give money to other foreign NGOs engaged in the international abortion industry.

Elderly Man Assaulted/Robbed While Praying Outside Abortion Facility

An elderly pro-life activist is awaiting justice after he was literally kicked on the ground by a man who stole a pro-life banner and walked away, as recorded by a bystander. LifeNews reports the assault victim, known as Ron, was participating in a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco. According to video of the incident, the thief was getting on a bicycle with the stolen banner when Ron stuck a flag pole in the bike spokes, stopping the thief. But the thief used the bike to push Ron to the ground, then kicked the pro-lifer when they fought over the banner. The thief became not just a thief but an assaulter as he kicked the man three times before the footage stops.

Mosque Attack Averted in California

A frightening and dangerous incident over the weekend at a California mosque could have turned tragic. Seven people were inside the Islamic Center of Escondido early Sunday when, shortly after 3am, the lone person not snoozing noticed flames and woke the others, Escondido Police Lt. Chris Lick says, per the Los Angeles Times. Together they were able to put out the fire using a fire extinguisher, Lick adds, per CBS News. But police soon noted the fire was no accident, blaming accelerant-aided arson instead, and they say a note found in the mosque’s driveway referred to the mosque shootings that left 50 dead in Christchurch, New Zealand. Police say the mosque’s exterior was damaged, and that in addition to arson, they’re investigating the fire as a possible hate crime, as spray-painted graffiti on the scene also referenced the New Zealand shooting

Green New Deal Voted Down in Senate

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal died in the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans delivered a decisive low to liberal activists’ plan to reshape American society. Not a single senator backed the freshman congresswoman’s legislation, which was defeated in a 57-0 filibuster. Forty-three Democrats refused to take a stand and voted “present.” The bill called for an upheaval in American energy, an overhaul of the construction sector and history’s largest expansion of the social safety net. The vote left Democrats scrambling for footing. They called Mr. McConnell’s move to force a vote a “sham,” complained that they had been ambushed and said they never considered Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to be a viable option.

Pentagon Transfers $1B for Border Wall

The Pentagon authorized the transfer of $1 billion to build 57 miles of border wall on Monday. The transfer is the first under the emergency declared last month by President Trump. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan authorized the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and implementing up to $1 billion to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol in building the border wall. In a letter to Homeland Security, Shanahan said the money will help block “up to 11 drug-smuggling corridors along the border.” Democratic senators sent a letter to Shanahan objecting to both the “substance of the transfer” and the decision to make it without “seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees.”

92% of Illegal Immigrant Families Ignore Deportation Orders

Nearly every illegal immigrant family slated for deportation over the last six months has ignored those orders, according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A staggering 92 percent of family members failed to appear at their deportation hearings in the months since September, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. He said he obtained those numbers from Ron Vitiello, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The system is broken and overwhelmed,” Mr. Graham tweeted. “It is a national emergency!” President Trump  said Friday he would close the U.S. border with Mexico next week, or at least large sections of the frontier, if Mexico “doesn’t immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the United States” from the region.

Border Patrol Struggles with Hiring/Training New Agents

As President Donald Trump’s attention is focused on building a border wall to keep out unwanted migrants, the Border Patrol’s “human wall” is in a serious state of disrepair, according to a USA TODAY review of government documents, congressional testimony and interviews with agents. The Border Patrol, a component of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, faces a crisis in hiring, training and retaining agents as well as keeping track of what exactly its 19,555 agents are doing at any given time. As the Border Patrol struggles to maintain current workforce levels, its greatest challenge will be President Trump’s executive order from two years ago calling for the hiring of an additional 5,000 agents to seal off the southern border. Since that Jan. 25, 2017, order, the agency added just 118 Border Patrol agents, with only three stationed along the southern border. That shortfall is part of the reason Trump has deployed thousands of National Guardsmen and active-duty military troops to the southern border. Even if the agency succeeds in recruiting and hiring thousands of agents, it wouldn’t be able to train them properly, said acting Inspector General John Kelly of the Department of Homeland Security.

Border Patrol Forced to Restart ‘Catch-and-Release’ Policy

The Border Patrol will have to re-start a policy of catch-and-release at the border, the top border officer said Wednesday, saying there’s not enough bed space to hold them and, under the law, they can’t be immediately sent back. Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said things have gotten so bad that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants will be nabbed at the border in March alone. Those are levels that haven’t been seen in more than a decade, and the current situation is worse because the migrants are exploiting loopholes that make it almost impossible to oust them. That means the Border Patrol will, for the first time since the Bush administration, directly release illegal immigrants into local communities. McAleenan said the surge of illegal immigrants is so big, and they are seeing so many sick people, that in some areas 40 percent of Border Patrol agents’ time is being spent driving illegal immigrants to and from processing centers, taking them to clinics or babysitting them while they undergo care.

Justice Department Escalates Fight Against Obamacare

The Trump administration told a federal appeals court Monday it thinks all of Obamacare is unconstitutional, marking an escalation in its fight against the 2010 law. Justice Department lawyers previously had argued that if the courts found Obamacare’s “individual mandate” is no longer constitutional, then a narrow slice of the program — consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions — could not stand, either. A federal judge in Texas went much further in a December ruling, agreeing with plaintiff states who said the whole law should be invalidated. On Monday, administration lawyers said, “The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed.”

Trump’s Health Care Plans Struck Down in Court

A federal judge has struck down a small-business health insurance plan widely touted by President Donald Trump, marking the second setback in a week for the administration’s health care initiatives. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wrote in his opinion late Thursday that so-called “association health plans” were “clearly an end-run” around consumer protections required by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. The plans at issue in Bates’ ruling Thursday allow groups of small businesses and sole proprietors to band together to offer lower-cost coverage that doesn’t have to include all the benefits required by the ACA, often called “Obamacare.” On Wednesday, another federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s Medicaid work requirements for low-income people.

Western States Sign Colorado River Drought Deal

Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal. The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s chronic overallocation, which has been compounded by years of drought. The first cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada could begin as soon as next year under the terms of the deal.

Renewable Energy Increasing, But Carbon Still King

Wind and solar costs have plunged so rapidly that 74% of the U.S. coal fleet could be phased out for renewable energy — and still save customers money, according to a report released on Monday by Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan think tank. That figure of at-risk coal plants in the United States will rise to 86% by 2025 as solar and wind costs continue to plunge, the report predicts. The research indicates that it’s increasingly more expensive to operate existing coal plants than build clean energy alternatives.

However, a report from the International Energy Agency found that not only are carbon dioxide emissions still increasing, but that the world’s growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before. Energy demand across the globe grew by 2.3 percent over the past year. To meet that demand, largely fueled by a booming economy and growing heating and cooling needs in some regions, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which met nearly 70 percent of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency.

Marijuana Leading to Increased Hospitalizations in Colorado

Hospital visits related to cannabis drastically increased after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a new study shows. University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers reviewed health records of 9,973 patients at UC Health University of Colorado Hospital from 2012 to 2016, and found a more than three-fold increase in cannabis-associated emergency department visits. The state legalized cannabis completely in 2012 and allowed sales in 2014. Symptoms included: Uncontrollable vomiting, acute psychosis, intoxication and heart problems. In addition, automobile crashes rose 6 percent from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana during that period – Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon – a greater rate than in four comparable states that didn’t, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Some doctors have also warned of a link between marijuana and psychosis.

Economic News

If the bond market is correct, the U.S. economy is definitely heading into a recession.  Over the past 50 years, there have been six previous occasions when the yield on three-month Treasury bonds has risen above the yield on ten-year Treasury bonds, and in each of those instances a recession has followed. Short-term government fixed income yields are now ahead of the longer part of the yield curve, called an inversion, for the first time since 2007.

When economic conditions initially begin to slow down, businesses continue to order goods like they normally would but those goods don’t sell as quickly as they previously did.  As a result, inventory levels begin to rise, and that is precisely what is happening right now.  In fact, the U.S. inventory to sales ratio has risen sharply for five months in a row.  This is mirroring the pattern that we witnessed just prior to the financial crisis of 2008.

Housing Starts tumbled 8.7% MoM (Month over Month) in March and the February 18.7% gain was revised down to +11.7% MoM. Building Permits slid 1.6% MoM in March and February’s modest 1.4% gain was revised to a 0.7% drop. Single-Family Starts tumbled over 10% YoY (Year over Year) and 17% MoM (the biggest drop in four years) to the lowest since May 2017.

The best job market in half a century has been a boon for older women going back to work, typically after raising kids for nearly 20 years, and for those staying in the workforce at more advanced ages. It’s a demographic that has gotten less attention than other groups reaping the benefits of worker shortages that are forcing employers to hire Americans on the margins, such as the disabled and less educated. The 3.8 percent unemployment rate is near a 50-year low and there were a near-record 7.6 million job openings in January, Labor Department figures show.

Retailers and restaurants say eliminating cash at their stores makes them more efficient. But opponents argue that cashless stores exclude millions of Americans without bank accounts. Americans use cash in 30% of all transactions, according to a 2017 survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. People dish out cash for most purchases under $10. And cash is also still the most common form of payment for people making less than $25,000 a year. Now, cities and states are starting to take action against cash-free stores. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a law last week banning cashless stores. Philadelphia also enacted legislation prohibiting cashless stores earlier this month, and officials in New York City, Washington and San Francisco are considering similar legislation.

New cars sold in Europe from 2022 will have to be fitted with systems to limit their speed. Under new safety rules agreed by the European Union, all new vehicles are required to have “intelligent speed assistance” systems as standard equipment. Intelligent speed assistance systems don’t automatically apply the brakes when a car is going too fast. Instead, they limit engine power to keep vehicles to the speed limit unless overridden by the driver. Some carmakers have already developed ways of using GPS or cameras to detect posted speed limits and make sure vehicles adhere to them. The rules, which also mandate crash data recorders and reversing cameras, were hailed by safety advocates. But others raised concerns over the risk of drivers becoming complacent and less focused on the road conditions. Critics point out that road signs are not standardized across Europe, making speed limits difficult to detect, and digital maps lack speed limit information for many roads, and the data is not always current.

Britain

British lawmakers on Friday rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union divorce deal for a third time, a defeat that adds further uncertainty and confusion over the country’s the efforts to leave the bloc. Britain now has until April 12 to announce a new plan, or leave the bloc without a deal and risk a disorderly exit that could substantially damage Britain’s economy. May said the “implications are grave” and EU leaders immediately announced an emergency summit for April 10. Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, Brexit has brought the country’s political system to a standstill. The vote came on the day that Britain was originally scheduled to leave the EU and the result raises the possibility that the nation may need to hold a second national referendum on Brexit or call a general election to solve the impasse.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his trip to Washington, D.C. and returned to the Jewish state later Monday after a Gaza rocket attack struck a home in central Israel, wounding seven people. Netanyahu, who was in the U.S. capital to meet President Trump and give a since-scuttled speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, called the Monday morning rocket launch in the agricultural community of Mishmeret a “criminal attack” and vowed to strike back hard. “It’s a miracle that nobody got killed,” said Assi Dvilanski, a Magen David Adom paramedic who was one of the first responders at the scene. Israeli forces on Monday struck targets across the Gaza Strip, including the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, in response to a surprise rocket attack from the Palestinian territory, as the military bolstered its troops and rocket-defense systems in anticipation of a new round of heavy fighting with the Islamic militant group. A senior Hamas official reportedly has implicated Iran as the force behind the rocket attack into central Israel.

Friday marks exactly one year since Hamas began its weekly Gaza border riots and attacks, the so-called “March of Return.” On Wednesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a million-person march on Israel’s border and the IDF is now on high alert, streaming heavy re-enforcements to the border, including an armored division and artillery, preparing for what could be a violent few days. Since the organized cross-border violence began last March,  some 2,200 terror-related incidents have been recorded, including 1,233 rocket and mortar attacks. The violence also included 18 incidents of gunfire from the Gaza Strip and 94 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) incidents and 600 Molotov cocktail attacks. Beyond the attacks on the border fence, arson balloons and kites launched from the Gaza Strip have also caused some 2,000 fires, at times as many as 30 in a single day. Gazans claim that more than 250 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands wounded during the last year of border violence. The IDF has proved — and the Hamas leadership has admitted — that the majority of those who have been killed on the border have been terrorists.

Islamic State

The final defeat of the Islamic State extremist group’s self-declared caliphate marked an important battlefield victory in the fight against the terrorist network, but it also signaled a shift to a more difficult fight to come, U.S. military officials and experts said. For U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the focus will move from years of armed conflict as the group held parts of Iraq and Syria to confrontation with a more dispersed and furtive insurgency, officials and analysts said. It also will mean devising ways to undercut its recruitment efforts and its appeal to opportunity-starved regions. “There will still be an insurgent element out there that has intentionally gone into hiding and will try to reemerge,” said a U.S. military official.

Despite the fall of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large, having for years evaded a massive manhunt by America’s military and intelligence agencies. The 47-year-old jihadist, whose call to arms drew thousands of Muslims from around the world to battlefields in Syria and Iraq, is believed to be hiding in a remote stretch of desert that straddles the border between the two countries, according to Iraqi security officials. To elude capture, Mr. Baghdadi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head, has gone low tech, Iraqi officials say, shunning trackable communications devices, moving in a single vehicle to avoid attention and trusting only a small circle of close aides.

New Zealand

In a column on lifesitenews.com, New Zealand resident Michelle Kaufman said, “It seems like we’re living in a different world all of a sudden. It seems that showing our great respect for those who were killed has somehow been manipulated into showing affirmation of the Islamic religion. New Zealand is now putty in the Islamists’ hands. The shooting on Friday was terrible. But what has now unfolded is something else entirely and may just be the beginning of something very terrible for New Zealand. Certainly, on a spiritual level, our crisis has become even deeper. Please keep New Zealand in your prayers.”

New Zealanders are debating the limits of free speech after their chief censor banned the 74-page manifesto written and released by the man accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. The ban, issued Saturday, means anybody caught with the document on their computer could face up to 10 years in prison, while anyone caught sending it could face 14 years. Chief Censor David Shanks said the manifesto contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty like killing children and encourages acts of terrorism, even outlining specific places to target and methods to carry out attacks. Shanks had earlier placed a similar ban on the 17-minute livestream video the alleged killer filmed from a camera mounted on his helmet during the shootings. He said researchers and journalists could apply for exemptions from both bans. Some say the ban goes too far and risks lending both the document and the gunman mystique. While free speech advocates haven’t questioned banning the graphic video, they said banning the manifesto is a step too far.

Mozambique

Nearly two weeks after Mozambique was devastated by Tropical Cyclone Idai, the southern African country is facing a new threat from cholera and other water-borne diseases, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday. Already, at least five case of cholera were confirmed Wednesday in one of the poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods of Beira. The storm wiped out sanitation systems throughout the country, leaving 1.8 million residents at risk from water-borne diseases. At least 600,000 people have been displaced. To combat the spread of cholera, the WHO sent 900,000 cholera vaccines to the country. The hardest hit city, Beira, is below sea level, and the city is situated along a coastline that’s considered one of the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of rising waters.

Environment

A rapidly spreading fungus is threatening frogs everywhere, causing mass amphibian die-offs, according to a new study. The study published online Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science calls the loss from chytridiomycosis “catastrophic,” saying the disease has “caused death and species extinction at a global scale.” At least 501 amphibian species have died over the past 50 years, including 90 that are presumed extinct. Chytridiomycosis is caused by two fungal species that likely originated in Asia, When contracted, the disease can eat away at skin. It’s been known to kill frogs for decades now, but recently its spread has caused global alarm. Study authors say the outbreak is contributing to “the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.” Deaths have been most extreme in wet climates of the Americas and Australia. Just 12 percent of the declined species are showing signs of recovery, the study notes, as 39 percent continue to decline.

A record 1,100 dead dolphins have landed on France’s Atlantic coast beaches since January. The mass deaths, widely blamed on industrial fishing, have alarmed animal welfare groups and prompted France’s ecology minister to launch a national plan to protect them. 90% of the fatalities resulted from the dolphins being accidentally captured in industrial fishing nets. Autopsies carried out on the dolphins this year by La Rochelle University’s National Center for Scientific Research show extreme levels of mutilation. Activists say it’s common for fishermen to cut body parts off the suffocated dolphins after they are pulled up on the nets, to save the nets. Stepping up the use of acoustic repellent devices on trawlers doesn’t work because the trawlers don’t activate them, fearing they will scare off other fish in addition to the dolphins.

Wildfires

With drought conditions having vastly improved since the beginning of the year, wildfires in the U.S. have also been far less frequent. Through March 22, there have been 3,623 wildfires greater than 100 acres in size compared with a ten-year average of 9,943 over the same time period. These wildfires have burned 94,789 acres of land which is way down from the ten-year average of 428,606 acres.

Weather

Homes, cars and a church were damaged by hail when thunderstorms moved across North Texas on Sunday night. The largest hailstones pelted areas just north of Dallas on Sunday evening as a supercell thunderstorm moved through. Supercells have a reputation for producing large hail, and this one was no different. Hailstones the size of tennis balls were reported. Hail covered the ground in Collins County, with Allen, McKinney and Frisco among the hardest hit areas.

Snowmelt flooding has prompted the evacuation of dozens of homes along the Yellowstone River in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. The flooding also forced the closure of Highway 200. According to Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, there “may be as many as a million calves lost in Nebraska” due to the catastrophic flooding that has hit the state.  That’s just one of the midwestern states affected by severe flooding. Beef prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months.

Hail as large as golf balls pelted a large swath of central Florida Wednesday morning as heavy storms battered the region. Numerous cars were damaged as piles of ice up to two inches high covered the ground in some areas along the Space Coast in Brevard County. Wind gusts up to 47 mph were recorded later in the day at Port Canaveral as the blustery weather continued, bringing with it rough seas and waves of 7 to 9 feet.

At least 17 people are dead and 74 injured after flash floods swept through Southern Iran. The sudden flooding was triggered by heavy rains outside the city of Shiraz. Most of those killed had gone outside to take video on their phones of the rushing water. Over 56,000 people have been affected in various cities and rural areas in the two provinces as a result of heavy rainfall that hit on March 19 and 20.

Signs of the Times

March 22, 2019

­Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.(Romans 8:35-37)

Persecution Watch

The death toll in the attack at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques rose to 50 people; victims range in age from 2 to over 60. Thirty-nine people remain in the hospital and 11 are in intensive care in critical condition. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced sweeping changes to the country’s gun laws Thursday, including a ban on military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles like the one used in last week’s Christchurch mosque shootings. Ardern says there will be a gun buyback scheme and those who already own such weapons will have to turn them in, but they will be offered “reasonable compensation ‘. There are believed to be up to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand, which has a population of around 5 million. Officials estimate there are 13,500 semi-automatic weapons in circulation, but they can’t say how many assault rifles might be out there.

The latest Open Doors World Watch List indicate that some 11 Christians are martyred for their faith every single day. “Today, in the 21st century, we are living in a time when persecution against Christian believers is the highest in modern history,” the persecution watchdog noted. Currently, the top five most dangerous countries in which to live as a Christian are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. As is the case in all of these countries, Christians remain in grave danger for simply choosing to believe in Christ.

The news out of Nigeria is getting progressively worse as it is being reported that more than 300 people were killed in at least seven predominantly Christian villages across Nigeria in February and March this year, according to Barnabas Fund sources. In one early morning attack on the village of Karamai on Feb. 14, sources said 41 people died after 300 gunmen swarmed the village shouting “Allahu Akbar!” as they fired their weapons and ransacked people’s homes. It was reported almost all of those killed were women and children along with a few senior residents who were unable to run away. Another 71 people were killed and 28 injured in an attack on the Dogon Noma village by an Islamic group known as the Fulani militia on March 11.

A rebel group with ties to a militant Islamic group has killed six Christians – including a 9-year-old – during a nighttime attack in a mostly Christian province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to field sources for Open Doors USA, rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces – pretending to be security agents – opened fire after approaching the village of Kalau, killing three women. Nearly 500 residents fled the assault, heading to the nearby city of Beni in the Congo’s North Kivu province. Two more villagers—among hundreds fleeing the gunfire—were killed. Observers anticipate that the attack is likely to be followed by more violence at the hands of ADF, who are escalating from kidnapping to murder and seizing territory.

Omar Abu Laila, the terrorist who killed two Israelis in a shooting attack near Ariel on March 17, including the father of 12, was shot dead by Israeli special forces during a gunfire exchange when the forces came to arrest him. The Fatah movement immediately glorified the dead murderer and will give an honorarium to his family. While the Palestinian Authority’s policy of furnishing financial rewards to terrorists is well-documented, a recent report by Palestinian Media Watch reveals that these stipends can exceed the salaries earned by doctors and judges in Palestinian society. Fatah used Facebook as the means to disseminate its support for the murder of Israelis and to broadcast its message of support for terror to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Facebook users. Fatah’s official page alone has more than 170,000 followers. In February, the PMW sent Facebook a 40-page report documenting the repeated terror support by Fatah on its Facebook page throughout 2018, but still the abhorrent calls for Israel’s annihilation are allowed to continue.

Iran’s military activities and clear public threats to annihilate Israel continue to grow in frequency and intensity. With such dire promises of conflict, it would be expected that the international news media and politicians throughout the world would have something to say about this situation. Instead, Iran’s continued abusive behavior continues to be cozied up to at worst, or at best, ignored, notes United With Israel. One of the core pillars and revolutionary ideals of Iran’s Islamic Republic is destroying the Jewish state. It is also one of the religious prophecies of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Israel will be eventually erased from the face of the earth.

A few weeks before the horrific New Zealand mosque massacre were live-streamed on Facebook, the company’s top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, were touting the company’s efforts to improve its safety and security processes in a public relations campaign. In a profile piece with Fortune, published the day before the terrorist attack, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer bragged about the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) and its supposed ability to identify harmful content within “hundredths of milliseconds, billions of times a day.” His proof was a demonstration showing that the system could differentiate between a picture of marijuana and a picture of broccoli at an overall accuracy rate of approximately 90 percent. Facebook’s AI algorithms did not stop the live-streamed attack from being uploaded more than one million times. And, more than 24 hours after the attack took place, it had failed to remove approximately 300,000 different uploads of the livestream.

New Mexico Defeats Radical Bill to Legalize Abortions Up to Birth

The New Mexico Senate rejected a radical pro-abortion bill Thursday that would have kept abortions legal for any reason up to birth in the state. The AP reports that 16 Republicans and eight Democrats voted against the bill. It was a tough fight for pro-life advocates after the bill passed the House in February and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who claims to be Catholic, said she would support it. Pro-life advocates celebrated the victory and praised the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who helped to defeat the bill. “We are so thankful to the senators who stood up for women, unborn children, and their constituents tonight to vote against HB-51,” New Mexico Alliance for Life said in a statement.

Mississippi Governor Signs ‘Heartbeat’ Anti-Abortion Bill

The Republican governor of Mississippi signed a bill Thursday that will make his state one of the strongest protectors of the unborn. Governor Phil Bryant says he will sign Senate Bill 2116 – often described as a “heartbeat bill.” The measure bans most abortions once a baby’s heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights says it plans to sue the state to block the bill from taking effect July 1. SB 2116 passed the State Senate on Tuesday on a 34-15 vote, which was largely along party lines. It passed the State House earlier this month on a 78-37 vote.

Library’s Drag Queen Reading to Kids is Sex Offender

A  public library in Houston invited a drag queen who is a convicted child-sex offender to read books to children. Houston Public Library officials didn’t apologize for hosting Drag Queen Storytime, which is part of a national program. But they did “deeply regret” failing to conduct a background check. The activist group Houston MassResistance did it for them and discovered that Alberto Garza, a 32-year-old drag queen who goes by the name Tatiana Mala Nina, was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old child. The library said children are never left alone with the drag queens. And it argued it hasn’t received any complaints of inappropriate behavior. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, however, wrote in his Washington Update that the library’s assurances are of “little comfort to community members, who were stunned that anyone would be so lax about kids’ safety.”

Pentagon Identifies $6.8B of Spending Cuts for Trump Border Wall

The Pentagon has a list of $6.8 billion worth of construction projects it could choose to take money from in order to build President Trump’s border wall, according to a list provided to Congress on Monday. The Pentagon also said Congress can make sure none of the projects suffer by passing an increase in military construction money for 2020, allowing the government to go back and replenish the accounts Trump wants to drain for his border wall. The list gave Democrats on Capitol Hill targets to fire at, arguing those defense projects are more important to national security than the border wall.

Courts to Decide Legality of Trump’s Border Emergency Declaration

Congress wasn’t able to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration at the Mexican border, but the courts will have the final word. Following the president’s veto Friday of a congressional resolution rescinding his action, three little-known federal district judges have the best chance to block the emergency declaration. At the same time, this will test Trump’s theory that the judiciary is prejudiced against him. One judge is a 25-year veteran of the federal court system who was born near the Mexican border and chosen by President Bill Clinton. Another was the last judge named by President Barack Obama to the federal district court in northern California five years ago. A third is a former police officer who donated to Trump’s 2016 campaign and was named to the federal bench the following year. They run the political gamut from left to right. What’s clear is that not all the lawsuits challenging Trump’s emergency declaration will be heard by liberal judges, although Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court maintains that there is no such thing as an Obama judge or a Trump judge.

Homeland Security Says Border Situation Worse Than an Emergency

The government is on track to catch nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants at the border this month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday, renewing the administration’s plea for Congress to do something. That number would be the worst in more than a decade, and it’s more troubling than the worst years because a higher proportion of the migrants are children and families who are almost impossible to deport. According to the latest numbers, 98 percent of those caught at the border in 2017 are still in the U.S. today, underscoring how difficult it is to remove them in the current framework. “The situation at our Southern Border has gone from a crisis, to a national emergency, to a near systemwide meltdown,” Ms. Nielsen said. Ms. Nielsen said the border wall is part of the solution, but also said Congress must change the laws to allow for detention and faster deportations of illegal immigrant children and families.

More Than 1000 Illegals Cut Lose Every Day

Deportation officers are cutting loose more than 1,000 illegal immigrant family members a day, setting them free into border states as the surge of migrations overwhelms the government’s ability to handle them. Some are released with ankle monitoring devices or check-in schedules with the often vain hope that they will show up for their court hearings and deportation. In Phoenix, churches and volunteers are overwhelmed by the numbers of immigrants dropped off at the bus station. According to recent ICE statistics, officials released 14,500 migrants in the Phoenix area between Dec. 21 and early March. During that same period, they released 37,500 in communities in south Texas, 24,000 in El Paso and 8,500 in San Diego.

Citing Climate Change, Judge Blocks Drilling in Wyoming

A judge blocked oil and gas drilling across almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the U.S. government must consider climate change impacts more broadly as it leases huge swaths of public land for energy exploration. The order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade — including one last month in Montana — that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctions public lands for oil and gas leasing, officials must consider emissions from past, present and foreseeable future oil and gas leases nationwide. The ruling coincides with an aggressive push by President Trump’s administration to open more public lands to energy development.

Trump Issues Executive Order Protecting Free Speech at Colleges

President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order to promote free speech on college campuses by threatening colleges with the loss of federal research funding if they do not protect those rights. “We’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values,” Trump said, surrounded by conservative student activists at the signing ceremony. “They’ve been under siege. Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today,” he said. A senior administration official said the order directs 12 grant-making agencies to use their authority in coordination with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure institutions that receive federal research or education grants promote free speech and free inquiry. White House officials have said it will apply to more than $35 billion in grants.

Tech Industry Liberal Bias a Threat to Liberty

A group of high-powered conservative media leaders gathered on Wednesday night to strategize ways to combat liberal bias in the tech industry, which Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell called “the most powerful force in history” when it comes to the far left’s attempt at “remaking civilization.” “Conservatives are coming together, across a broad spectrum, of enterprises and joining forces to fight what some of us believe to be, potentially, the greatest threat to liberty in history,” Bozell said, noting that tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are the primary targets. The meeting was the second gathering of the group, and more are being planned. The group plans to meet with Capitol Hill leaders at an upcoming gathering in order to finalize its strategy. Everything from legal action, anti-trust measures, competing platforms, and government regulations are on the table.

Outlook Improves for Colorado River Reservoirs

Winter storms have covered the Rocky Mountains with snow from Wyoming to northern New Mexico, leaving a bounty of runoff that should boost the levels of the Colorado River’s depleted reservoirs this spring and summer. The snow that fell during the past month has pushed the accumulated snowpack across the Upper Colorado River Basin to nearly 140 percent of average. Federal officials now estimate there could be enough snow to narrowly avert a declaration of a shortage at Lake Mead next year, which would hold off water cutbacks in the Southwest for another year. Even with the above-average snowpack, federal water officials and representatives of Western states are looking to finish drought contingency plans, which are designed to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows during the next several years. Water officials in Arizona, California and Nevada have been discussing the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan since 2015. Under the agreement, each of the states would take less water from Lake Mead under a shortage.

Puerto Rico Power Finally Restored

Eighteen months after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, customers on an island off the coast of the U.S. territory finally had their power fully restored Wednesday. However, the electrical grid is still fragile, with two major outages on the main island this week alone. Officials said a cat was responsible for the first outage, which left thousands of people without power in the capital of San Juan on Saturday. Another outage, on Tuesday, was blamed on an iguana that made contact with a 115,000-volt bar, leaving some 100,000 people without power. The power company acknowledged to The Associated Press that the current system, which serves 1.5 million customers, is a patch-up job following the Sept. 20, 2017, hurricane, and that it still needs further repairs and updates.

Smoking Strong Pot Daily Raises Risk of Psychosis

Smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rates. The research, from King’s College London, adds to previous studies that have found links between marijuana and mental health problems, but still does not definitively pinpoint marijuana as the cause. Psychotic disorders – in which people lose touch with reality – are typically triggered by factors including genetics and the environment. But experts say the new study’s findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.

Firearm Deaths of U.S. Children at ‘Epidemic’ Levels

Calling it an “epidemic,” researchers reported Thursday an alarming increase in the number of firearm deaths of school-age children in the United States:  38,942 children from 5 to 18 years old killed over the time period of 1999 to 2017. “It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active-duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms,” said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., the study lead author from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine. He called the epidemic a major clinical, public health and policy challenge, noting that the rate of death in the U.S. is about six to nine times higher than other developed nations. The causes of death in school-age children were 61 percent from assault; 32 percent suicide; 5 percent accidental; and 2 percent undetermined, the study showed.

EU Grants Britain a Delay for Brexit

European Union leaders on Thursday granted the United Kingdom an extension to its departure from the bloc, which had been scheduled for March 29. Britain will be allowed to postpone Brexit until May 22 if Prime Minister Theresa May is able to get British lawmakers to approve her unpopular exit deal with the EU. If she can’t, a shorter delay will be given, until April 12, to “indicate a way forward.” Still, Britain’s Parliament has twice rejected May’s EU deal, and polls show the British public, not just lawmakers, remain deeply divided over leaving the EU.

Economic News

Citing a more modest outlook for the economy, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday held interest rates steady and signaled it did not plan to raise rates at all this year and would bump them up just once in 2020, providing a road map for a sustained period of easy-money policy. “The U.S. economy is in a good place,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference, adding policymakers foresee “a modest slowdown, with overall conditions remaining favorable.”

After a prolonged period during which gasoline prices stayed at relatively low levels, they have started to surge as the calendar moves into spring and toward Memorial Day. The current price of an average gallon of regular gas nationwide is up 35 cents in the past six weeks. The average price of a gallon of regular gas in the U.S. has reached $2.58, which is the highest price since November.

The European Union has hit Google with another big antitrust fine, the third in a series of billion-dollar penalties the US tech giant has incurred for hindering competition. The European Commission on Wednesday ordered Google to pay $1.7 billion for abusing its dominant position in online search advertising. The Commission ordered the company to pay $4.9 billion in July 2018 for unfairly pushing its apps on smartphone users and thwarting competitors. That followed a $2.7 billion fine on Google for using its search engine to steer consumers to its own shopping platform. In contrast, Google profits were nearly $31 billion in 2018.

Middle East

President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing “it is time” for the U.S. to “fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty” over the region. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed the territory in 1981. But that annexation has not been recognized by the international community, which has regarded the Golan Heights as occupied territory and Israeli settlements there as illegal under international law. The announcement hands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory, less than three weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether he should remain in power. The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the U.S. to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that two Palestinians who threw explosive devices at soldiers in Samaria drew fatal fire from troops. The IDF explained that several explosive devices were hurled at troops securing Jewish worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), not far from the city of Ariel. Joseph’s Tomb remains a popular pilgrimage site for Jews, who require security details to pray at the site and are often attacked by local Arabs, who have killed Israelis there and committed major arson attacks.

Afghanistan

Two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan on Friday, the U.S. and NATO forces said, providing no other details on the combat deaths. The fatalities, which bring to four the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulties in bringing peace to the war-wrecked country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America’s longest. There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts – facing a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also an Islamic State affiliate, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed “caliphate” has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State

A series of airstrikes late Thursday slammed into two pockets of Islamic State fighters trying to cling to the last scraps of land to be part of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate. The strikes followed nearly two days of clearing operations in the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, where hundreds of IS fighters surrendered earlier this week to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are searching tunnels a day after seizing most of the last pocket of land held by Islamic State militants.

North Korea

President Trump has found North Korea to be an unwilling partner on a denuclearization pact, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton. “The North Koreans were unfortunately not willing to do what they needed to do,” Bolton told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y. With the negotiations stalled after two summits, the last of which President Trump had walked away from, the United States is not giving up on its goal to denuclearization the Korean Peninsula. “President Trump wants this threat resolved through negotiations,” Bolton said. “He wants North Korea to be free of nuclear weapons, that’s for sure.” North Korea is withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with South Korea, officials announced Friday. The move comes after the US slapped two Chinese firms with sanctions for doing business with Pyongyang, the first action taken by Washington against North Korea since the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi ended early with no agreement.

Mexico

A government watchdog has released a white paper urging President Trump to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. “Undoubtedly, Mexican drug cartels meet the U.S. government’s criteria for FTO designation,” said a report from report from Judicial Watch, “which requires organizations to be foreign, engage in terrorism or terrorist activity or possess the capability and intent to do so and pose a threat to U.S. nationals or U.S. national security.” “Mexico, unfortunately, has lost control of the cartels,” President Trump said. “They’ve totally lost control of the cartels. Mexico last year had 42,000 deaths — murders — 42,000. It’s considered one of the most unsafe countries in the world.” Trump is considering whether to designate the cartels as terrorist groups

Netherlands

Three people died and five were hurt in a brazen shooting on a tram in a bustling residential neighborhood in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, an assault authorities said was likely terrorism. Authorities launched a sweeping manhunt for the shooter and heavily armed police descended on the city of 350,000 in the central Netherlands known for its canals, Christian monuments and old-town charm. Police released a photo of a 37-year-old Turkey-born man who they called a person “associated with the incident.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the country was deeply shaken by the assault. “There is a mix of disbelief and disgust.”

Somalia

There is credible evidence that U.S. military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties. U.S. Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible. The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.

Weather

Roads and bridges were washed out, fresh water systems were swamped, and rescue operations were in full swing Monday as rivers across a swath of the Midwest rose to record levels following days of heavy rains and snow melt. Rivers have reached historic levels in 41 locations across the Midwest, creating devastating flooding that has killed at least three people, forced thousands of evacuations, breached dams and levees, damaged hundreds of homes and flooded a military base. The death toll from the flooding rose to three when an unidentified man died after refusing to leave his home. Seventy-four cities, 65 counties and four tribal areas in Nebraska declared states of emergency Tuesday. About 200 miles of levees were compromised in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. Midwestern farmers contended with freezing floodwaters and dead livestock in the region’s latest crisis. Officials say flooding could last all spring. Water damage in Nebraska alone is estimated to cost at least $1.3 billion. When factoring in damage to surrounding states, the cost is “inevitably to hit multiple billions,” according to local officials.

More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique a week after Cyclone Idai slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters. Mozambique is a long, narrow country with a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) coastline along the Indian Ocean. Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the southeast African country of 30 million people. The Red Cross said 90% of Beira was damaged or destroyed. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road. The massive flood is described as an “inland ocean” up to 30 miles wide in places.

Signs of the Times

March 15, 2019

­He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. (Genesis 5:2)

America’s First ‘Non-Binary’ Person Switches Back

A man who lived as a transgender woman and then became America’s first legally recognized “non-binary” person now says it all was a sham and that he wants to live as a man again. Jamie Shupe, an Army veteran who made worldwide headlines due to his non-binary status in 2016, writes in a Daily Signal column that he convinced himself he was a woman during a mental health crisis in 2013. The medical profession affirmed his status, and then did so again when he wanted to become non-binary – that is, neither male nor female. In 2016, an Oregon judge granted his request to recognize him as non-binary. But in his Daily Signal column, Shupe says he didn’t need affirmation from the medical community, he needed help. In retrospect, Shupe writes, it was too easy to become transgender. The medical profession simply went along with his desires. “Despite having taken or been injected with every hormone and antiandrogen concoction in the VA’s medical arsenal, I didn’t look anything like a female,” he writes. “People on the street agreed. Their harsh stares reflected the reality behind my fraudulent existence as a woman. Biological sex is immutable.”

Washington State Tells Churches: Pay for Abortions or Break the Law

A church filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the state of Washington over a new law that forces it to cover abortions in its health care plans. The law, SB 6219, passed the Democratic-controlled Washington legislature last year and was signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who recently announced he is running for president. The law requires insurance plans to cover abortion if they also cover maternity care. It has no religious exemptions. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the suit on behalf of Cedar Park Assembly of God, a Kirkland, Wash., congregation. The suit claims the law violates the congregation’s constitutionally protected freedom of religion and displays hostility toward religious groups that oppose abortion. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington helped draft the bill before it was signed, according to the suit. “Washington’s attack on people of faith is intentional. It represents the kind of deliberate religious persecution that our country was founded to prevent,” the suit says.

Court Rules that Ohio Can Defund Planned Parenthood

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a major victory to Ohio taxpayers Tuesday when it ruled that the state may defund the abortion giant Planned Parenthood. Ohio lawmakers tried to cut off the abortion group’s taxpayer funding after it was caught in multiple states allegedly selling aborted baby body parts. Then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the pro-life bill into law in 2016, but Planned Parenthood challenged it in court. The Sixth Circuit ruling, written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush-appointee, argued that Planned Parenthood does “not have a Fourteenth Amendment right to perform abortions.” The justices also agreed that the government does not have an “obligation to pay for a woman’s abortion. Case after case establishes that a government may refuse to subsidize abortion services.” While the Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to an abortion, it has not said that abortionists have a right to perform them, the court wrote.

Cardinal Pell Sentenced to Six Years in Jail for Sex Abuse

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison for the “callous” assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s. Pell, 77, was the former senior adviser to Pope Francis. Pell’s legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June. Pell has spent the past two weeks in custody. After his conviction, the Vatican launched its own investigation into Pell, which could lead to the cardinal losing his clerical status or being “defrocked,” a severe punishment imposed by the Pope and not subject to appeal.

House Democrats Block Bill to Stop Infanticide For 17th Time

On Wednesday, two weeks after Senate Democrats voted to block a bill to stop infanticide, House Democrats blocked a request by Republicans to vote on a similar bill to require medical care and treatment for babies who survive abortions. This is the 19th 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 — 17 times in the House and twice in the Senate. After Democrats blocked the vote, Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) said, “As a doctor, I strongly believe that every patient, especially these infants born alive, should be given appropriate medical care. This should not even be a question. It’s our duty, as Members of Congress, to defend the God-given right to life for every baby in this situation. And it’s our duty as compassionate human beings to ensure that these uniquely vulnerable babies receive the care that they deserve.”

49 Killed in New Zealand Mosques by White Supremacists

The death toll in Friday’s mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has now hit 49, making it the country’s deadliest outbreak of violence since a WWII POW camp riot. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who described Friday as one of New Zealand’s “darkest days,” has raised the country’s terror alert to its second-highest level for the first time in New Zealand history. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a well-planned terrorist attack,” she said, denouncing the “extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.” Police say three men and a woman, including an Australian citizen, were taken into custody after the attacks and one was later charged with murder. A suspect who livestreamed horrifying video of the attack on one mosque identified himself as Brenton Tarrant and left a manifesto in which he described himself as an Australian and a white supremacist. Authorities say none of the suspects were on watch lists.

Mass shooting events are rare in New Zealand. Friday’s attack is the deadliest shooting in New Zealand since 1990, when David Gray killed 13 people before being shot and killed by police in the town of Aramoana. In 2017, the New Zealand police reported a total of 35 murders in the country, most didn’t involve a gun. That year in the U.S. there were over 17,200 murders in the U.S. in 2017. Guns are not uncommon in New Zealand though, as Swiss nonprofit Small Arms Survey reports 1.2 million registered firearms in the country in 2017. New Zealand’s weapons legislation is considered more relaxed than most Western countries outside of the USA. Gun owners do need a license but they aren’t required to register their guns — unlike in neighboring Australia.

Trump Vetoes Legislation Striking Down Border Emergency Declaration

President Trump on Friday vetoed legislation attempting to strike down his declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. t will be the first time in his two years in office that Trump has used his presidential veto power to block legislation and comes after a dozen Senate Republicans joined Democrats to rebuke Trump’s use of his national emergency power to bypass Congress and fund construction of a border wall. “I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspires Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country,” Trump tweeted shortly after the Senate passed the resolution condemning Trump’s unilateral action. Trump’s veto sends the resolution back to the US House of Representatives, which is expected to pick it up after the week-long congressional recess. The House is not expected to have the two-thirds of the chamber’s support needed to override the President’s veto.

Senate Votes to End Aid to Saudi Arabian War in Yemen

The Senate on Wednesday again rebuked President Trump for his continued defense of Saudi Arabia after the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, voting for a second time to end American military assistance for the kingdom’s war in Yemen and to curtail presidential war powers. Seven Republican senators broke ranks to join the resolution. The 54-to-46 vote, condemning a nearly four-year conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and inflicted a devastating famine, sets the foundation for what could become Mr. Trump’s second presidential veto, with the House expected to overwhelmingly pass the measure, possibly this month. The resolution is a rare use of the 1973 War Powers Act, which gave Congress the ability to compel the removal of military forces absent a formal declaration of war.

House Votes in Favor of Illegal Immigrant Voting

House Democrats voted Friday to defend localities that allow illegal immigrants to vote in their elections, turning back a GOP attempt to discourage the practice. The vote marks a stunning reversal from just six months ago, when the chamber — then under GOP control — voted to discourage illegal immigrant voting. “We are prepared to open up the political process and let all of the people come in,” Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia said. The 228-197 vote came as part of a broader debate on Democrats’ major legislative priority this year, HR 1, the “For the People Act,” which includes historic expansions of voter registration and access, as well as a major rewrite of campaign finance laws. Illegal immigrants — and noncitizens as a whole — have not been legally able to participate in federal elections.

Judge Expands Migrant Class-Action Lawsuit

A federal judge ruled that thousands of additional migrant families that were separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy should be part of an ongoing ACLU class-action lawsuit, and may force the administration to reunite them as well. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw had already ordered the administration to reunite more than 2,800 migrant children who were separated from their parents as of June 26, 2018, the date he issued his order. But in recent months, media reports and an inspector general report revealed that the administration had an undisclosed family separation pilot program in place starting in July of 2017, which may have led to thousands of additional separations. So, he ruled that families separated during those 11 months are part of the class-action lawsuit. He scheduled a hearing for March 27 to decide whether the government will be required to identify all of the additional families, and to reunite them as well.

FDA Allows Genetically Modified Salmon to Be Imported Into U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday lifted an import alert that stopped genetically engineered salmon — called “Frankenfish” by some critics — from entering the United States, the agency announced in a recent news release. The move comes despite a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s original approval of the fish. In 2015, AquaBounty Technologies’ AquAdvantage Salmon became the first genetically modified animal approved by the FDA for human consumption. However, Congress blocked the FDA from allowing the fish to be sold in the United States until guidelines for disclosing that a food had been genetically modified were implemented. The FDA said that when the Agriculture Department issued regulations in late 2018 requiring food containing genetically engineer salmon to have labels indicating that it is bioengineered, the congressional requirement was met.

NY Judge Bars Unvaccinated Students from School

A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied a request for a temporary injunction that would have allowed 44 unvaccinated children to go back to class, citing an “unprecedented measles outbreak.” The federal lawsuit filed by 24 plaintiffs states that throughout the measles outbreak that started last fall, no cases have been reported among any of the Chestnut Ridge school’s excluded children, their families or in the Fellowship Community that surrounds it. The lawsuit states that Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert’s order barring unvaccinated children from attending Chestnut Ridge school in Rockland County violates the families’ religious objections to vaccinations and is unnecessary because the cases have been largely confined to insular Hasidic Jewish communities.

FBI Charges Dozens, Including Celebrities, in College-Entrance Fraud Scheme

The Justice Department charged at least 50 people — including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — for allegedly scheming to bribe and cheat to get wealthy youths into schools such as Georgetown, Yale and Stanford. The mastermind of a college admissions cheating scandal that involved scores of wealthy parents admitted full responsibility in federal court Tuesday and pleaded guilty to charges that could send him to prison for up to 65 years. William Rick Singer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, described how he created a “side door” to get the offspring of the rich into elite colleges. Making large donations to institutions was the “back door” but  his way of bribing coaches and cheating on exams was a reliable “side door.” Singer, 58, said he had been a cooperating witness for the FBI and had helped bring down his own enterprise by wearing a wire.

Death Rate from Dementia Has Doubled Since 2000

Dementia is now one of the leading killers in the United States, with the rate of deaths linked to the disease more than doubling over the past two decades. “Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017,” say a team of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In sheer numbers, the new analysis of death certificate data shows that dementia was noted as the primary cause for nearly 262,000 deaths in 2017, with 46 percent of those deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease. America’s aging population is fueling this increase in dementia-related deaths, said lead researcher Ellen Kramarow, a CDC health statistician. “It’s a huge increase from 2000 to 2017,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s a big problem, and it’s getting bigger.”

Fentanyl Now Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths in U.S.

In a series of missed opportunities, oversights and half-measures, federal officials failed to grasp how quickly fentanyl created a new opioid epidemic, reports the Washington Post. Federal officials saw fentanyl as an appendage to the overall opioid crisis rather than a unique threat that required its own targeted strategy. In the span of a few short years, fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroin, became the drug scourge of our time. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses — exceeding the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. In 2017, fentanyl became the leading cause of overdose deaths in America for the first time.

Nations Ground Boeing 737 Max 8s after Two Crashes

China’s civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes Monday after one of the aircraft crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157. That followed a similar crash of that airplane in Indonesia last October. Many nations immediately grounded their fleets of the 737 Max 8, with the U.S. becoming the last major nation to do so. On Wednesday—shortly before the Boeing grounded the entire global fleet, Boeing says it “continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 Max,” but it will ground all 371 of the aircraft in operation “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety” while Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash is investigated The groundings will hold until the flight data and voice recorders that were recovered from the site of the Ethiopia crash are analyzed. The crash in Ethiopia could raise safety questions about the newest version of Boeing’s popular 737 airliner since the plane was new and the weather was clear at the time. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders from doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 arrived in Paris on Thursday where French aviation authorities were tasked with probing the black boxes for clues to the tragedy.

  • Semi-autonomous (driverless) vehicles and planes are already causing deaths – can’t wait until they’re completely autonomous

Economic News

The global economy’s sharp loss of speed through 2018 has left the pace of expansion the weakest since the global financial crisis a decade ago, according to Bloomberg Economics. Its new GDP tracker puts world growth at 2.1 percent on a quarter-on-quarter annualized basis, down from about 4 percent in the middle of last year. While there’s a chance that the global economy may find a foothold and arrest the slowdown, “the risk is that downward momentum will be self-sustaining,” say economists Dan Hanson and Tom Orlik.

About $1.46 trillion in student loan debt has many millennials, as well as others, hiding their wallets and putting big ticket commitments on the back burner. “This is really a pervasive trend and it will not be reversed any time soon,” said Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. In the past decade, younger consumers have viewed buying conditions for homes, cars and other large household items far less favorably, the U-M survey noted. One reason many young consumers are holding back their spending is that they’re worried about taking on new debt because their student loan debt in total is intimidating, eating up a large portion of their income.

The United States will surpass Saudi Arabia later this year in exports of oil, natural gas liquids and petroleum products, like gasoline. That milestone, driven by the transformative shale boom, would make the United States the world’s leading exporter of oil and liquids. That hasn’t happened since Saudi Arabia began selling oil overseas in the 1950s. Drilling innovations have opened up huge swaths of oil and natural gas resources that had been trapped in shale oilfields in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere.

The British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal, diminishing the chance of withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 as planned. Three years after Britain voted to leave the E.U., lawmakers have failed to agree on how to do it. Last-minute negotiations with the European Union were not enough to secure the support of hardliners in the prime minister’s own Conservative Party. British lawmakers voted Wednesday to rule out leaving the European Union without a formal exit deal when Britain leaves the bloc in less than three weeks.

Middle East

Israeli warplanes on Friday struck some 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after terrorists in Gaza launched rockets on Tel Aviv and Israeli communities in the south. After striking over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the Israeli army announced its targets had included a Gaza City building used to plan and command Hamas terror activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development. The Israeli strikes were part of a retaliatory operation after terrorists in Gaza launched a late-night rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marking a dramatic escalation in hostilities. Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at Tel Aviv and nine rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border, with Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting seven of these rockets and the others falling in areas away from civilians. No Israelis were injured in the attacks. It was the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group. Following the Israeli airstrike, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel.

Israeli police closed the entrances to Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site after Palestinians threw a firebomb at a police station on Tuesday. The move drew angry reactions across the Muslim world. Police later announced that the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims the Noble Sanctuary, would reopen to worshipers and visitors Wednesday morning. There were no injuries reported from the Temple Mount firebombing. But police quickly deployed across the hilltop compound, scuffling with Palestinians in the area, as they searched for the assailants. The incident further heightened tensions at the flashpoint site, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and gold-topped Dome of the Rock. After the incident, Israeli police sealed off entrances to the compound. Police also restricted entrance to the Old City, home to Jerusalem’s most important religious sites, allowing only residents to pass through certain entrances to the Muslim and Christian quarters.

Islamic State

Islamic State fighters launched new counterattacks against U.S.-backed forces Wednesday, as the militants clung to the terror group’s last scrap of territory in northeastern Syria. ISIA carried out two counterattacks with heavy weapons, snipers, VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices] and suicide bombers. ISIS had tried using a group of suicide bombers to blunt the SDF’s advance into the IS-held enclave, but failed. Prior to the latest ISIS counterattacks, Syrian Democratic Force officials had been voicing optimism in recent days that the battle against ISIS was nearing an end. The ISIS militants have been taking cover from airstrikes and artillery fire in a complex system of caves and tunnels below ground. Around 3,000 Islamic State members have surrendered from the group’s last holdout in Syria, Kurdish-led forces said Tuesday, as air raids and shelling resumed after a brief lull.

An audio recording purportedly from the Islamic State group is calling on supporters across the world to stage attacks in defense of die-hard militants besieged by U.S.-backed forces in their last foothold in a village in eastern Syria. The brief, minute-and-a half recording, released by IS supporters on social media and reported by the SITE Intelligence Group late on Monday says men, women and children in the village of Baghouz are being subjected to a “holocaust.” In the audio, an unidentified IS militant calls on Muslim “brothers, in Europe and in the whole world” to “rise against the Crusaders and … take revenge for your religion.”

France

Many anti-Semitic attacks that have blighted France in recent months. Home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, France has seen a 74% rise in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year. French President Emmanuel Macron has gone as far as to say that anti-Semitism is at its worst levels in France and in other parts of Europe since World War II. Why now? Some have questioned the Yellow Vest protest movement and whether its radical fringe is partly to blame for the sudden uptick. “Gilets Jaunes, Colere Noir” is a popular slogan among the leaderless movement, meaning “Yellow Vests, Black Rage.” For almost four months, this rage that has poured out along the Champs Elysees, shattering shop windows and wounding police officers.

Venezuela

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States is withdrawing the last of its staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation as Venezuela struggled to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis. The US has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election. Pompeo lashed out at Cuba and Russia on Monday for continuing to support Maduro, saying they were contributing to the country’s economic crisis.

Environment

More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss.

Researchers in Canada have discovered that levels of phytoplankton have dropped by about 40 percent since 1950. The tiny organisms gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world’s oxygen output—equaling that of trees and plants on land. Without phytoplankton, our oceans would quickly become giant “dead zones”, and at the pace we are going we don’t have too long before that will happen.

Wildfires

California’s wildfires burned more than 2,849 square miles and destroyed more than 17,000 homes in 2018, marking the worst wildfire season in the state’s history. Of 25,790 structures destroyed in the U.S. by wildfires last year, 23,647 were in California. Of those, 17,133 were residences. Overall, the state saw more than 8,000 wildfires that killed over 100 people. The National Interagency Coordination Center’s annual report says 2018 was below normal with 58,083 wildfires reported nationally, down from 71,499 in 2017. However, more acreage than normal was burned: Nearly 14,000 square miles, or 8,767,492 acres, were consumed. That’s an area larger than the state of Maryland.

Weather

An intense storm that triggered a powerful “bomb cyclone” in Colorado brought blizzard conditions to the northern Plains and Minnesota on Thursday and spread the threat of damaging winds along a corridor from western Ohio to northern Alabama. The Colorado National Guard braved 90-plus mph wind gusts and whiteout conditions in vehicles with tank-like tracks to rescue hundreds of motorists stranded on paralyzed roadways across the state. In all, the so-called Bomb Cyclone Ulmer forced the closure of interstates in six states, stranded hundreds of vehicles and led to two deaths. The more than 1,100 motorists in blizzard conditions on highways in Colorado became stranded on Wednesday. A tornado damaged at least 70 homes and businesses in a central Michigan town Thursday evening as a line of severe storms brought damaging winds, flooding rains and tornadoes to the Upper Midwest, the Ohio Valley and the South.

Winter Storm Ulmer pushed into the Rockies Wednesday with heavy snow, high winds and limited visibility, creating travel woes for the Denver area. Schools throughout the region, including Denver area schools, were closed Wednesday and more than 1000 flights in and out of Denver International Airport were canceled as blizzard conditions take aim at the Front Range. On Tuesday, blizzard warnings and the threat of flooding prompted Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to declare a state of emergency. Flooding in parts of the Midwest has left one man dead and threatens a Nebraska dam and nuclear power plant as heavy rains mixed with a melting snowpack swell waterways to historic levels.

A line of powerful thunderstorms packing high winds and spawning two tornadoes tore through Arkansas and Texas Saturday morning, taking down trees, power lines and several structures. A was blown off Interstate 40 near Monroe. Damage was reported early Saturday in Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas, from 70 to 80 mph straight-line winds. Possible tornadoes caused damage early Saturday in both Houston and Carterville, Louisiana. And in Mississippi. The powerful storms in Texas brought damaging winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands, toppled mobile homes and ripped off roofs Tuesday. A tornado in Dexter, New Mexico, injured five people on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, a woman was injured after wind knocked over a mobile home onto her vehicle near Cleburne, Texas. More than 150,000 customers in Texas remained without power early Wednesday.

  • End-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

March 8, 2019

­See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1Thessalonians 5:15:18)

Church Burns but Not Bibles or Cross

When firefighters arrived at Freedom Ministries Church in Grandview, West Virginia they were left stunned by what they saw. A devastating fire — so hot that firefighters had to back out at one point — was ravaging through the building. But as they went through the charred wreckage, they noticed something extraordinary. “In your mind, everything should be burned, ashes. Not a single bible was burned and not a single cross was harmed!!” the fire department wrote in a Facebook post. “Though the odds were against us, God was not,” the firefighters added. No firefighters were injured in the operation. The cause of the fire is still unclear.

Colorado Drops Lawsuit Against Christian Baker

On Tuesday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Christian baker Jack Phillips have agreed to end all litigation going forward. The commission lost a key First Amendment case before the Supreme Court last year after prosecuting Phillips for refusing to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, but it had begun the process of prosecuting him again, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, but have now dropped that lawsuit. “When I set out to build my dream of opening my own cake shop, combining my love for art and baking in a family business, I never imagined this chapter would be part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop story,” Phillips said in a statement. “I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop; I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs.”

Court Grants Unborn Baby Legal Rights

An aborted baby for the first time in the United States has been recognized to have legal rights. An Alabama man is suing a clinic for providing an abortion to a woman he says was pregnant with his baby. Ryan Magers petitioned a probate judge to allow him to represent the unborn child’s estate. Probate Judge Frank Barger signed off on the petition by Magers, who claims to be the father of “Baby Roe.” Brent Helms, the attorney for Magers and Baby Roe, said Barger’s decision marks the first time an aborted fetus has been recognized to have legal rights.

40 Days for Life’s Lent Prayer Campaign Expands to 377 Cities

As Lent began, so does the pro-life initiative 40 Days for Life. This year there will be pro-life vigils organized by 40 Days in 377 participating cities across 31 countries, with now over 150 cities outside of North America. In the United Kingdom alone there will be 10 campaigns running. This will be 40 Days for Life’s largest ever Lent campaign. The campaign and mission is the same every year: praying to end abortion, organizing prayer vigils outside of abortion centers for 12 hours a day during Lent and conducting community outreach. A baby was saved from abortion–during the vigil’s first hour in Birmingham, England where an abortion-bound mother was convinced to choose life.

Universal Studios Hosts Florida’s Biggest Christian Music Festival

Only months after its concert series in September 2019, the Christian music outreach “Rock the Universe” returned in February to Universal Studios in Orlando for its new season. “’Rock the Universe’ offers Christian families a weekend filled with faith and worship at Universal Studios Florida. Despite being held only five months before, the February event was “bigger than ever.” The acts featured live performances from Grammy award-winning artist, Lecrae, Grammy-nominated Christian rock band, Skillet, and the top-chart artists of Bethel Music, Matt Maher, Crowder, Matthew West, Big Daddy Weave, Francesca Battistelli, and more. “Rock the Universe” has been hosted by Universal Studios since 1998, competing with Walt Disney World Resort’s own Christian rock concert series, “Night of Joy.” However, Walt Disney World canceled “Night of Joy” in May of 2018 after 34 years. The next “Rock the Universe” will be held Jan. 24-25, 2020, with Universal Orlando now offering special rates for youth groups.

DHS: Migrant Crisis is Spiraling Out of Control

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a dire assessment Wednesday of the migration crisis on the southern border, telling a House committee that illegal immigration is “spiraling out of control” and predicting that crisis will “get even worse” in the coming months. More than 76,000 people were apprehended as they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in February, more than doubling the number of border apprehensions during February 2018. It is also the highest number of any February in the past 12 years, according to officials. The system is “well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters on Tuesday. Officials said that 76,103 people — an increase of 31% over January — were apprehended. Of those, 7,249 were unaccompanied children, and 40,385 were family units — totaling 60% of apprehensions. Historically, 70 to 90% of apprehensions at the border included Mexican nationals, but now 70% of those arrested for attempting entry without proper documentation are from the “Northern Triangle of Central America,” which includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Cartels Make $2.5 Billion off Migrants

As smuggling prices rise, the cartels that control the migrant traffic through Mexico stand to make as much as $2.5 billion this year, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan told Congress on Wednesday. Homeland Security Spokesperson Katie Waldman said that the Mexican cartels make that much per year by smuggling people into America at a rate of about $5,000 per person. Waldman said, “We have an entire southwest border that is controlled by Mexican cartels. You can’t gain access to the U.S. illegally without paying a smuggler $5,000 or $6,000 per head. It’s a $2.5 billion a year industry to these cartels. Waldman credited news media attention of the traveling caravan as showing Americans what Customs and Border Protection deals with on a daily basis.

House Passes Resolution Banning Congressional Hate Speech

After debates and delays over the wording of the text, the House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution that broadly condemned hate speech. The resolution was crafted after freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim from Minnesota., made several comments critical of Israel that critics said played to anti-Semitic tropes. The resolution passed by a vote of 407 to 23. All the House Democrats voted in favor of the resolution, including Omar. The 23 votes against the resolution were all Republicans. The resolution was broadened from its original version, which focused solely on denouncing anti-Semitism, to condemning other forms of bigotry against minorities.

Only Six Countries Have Full Gender Equality

Only six countries currently give women and men equal rights, a major report from the World Bank has found. That’s an increase — from zero — compared to a decade ago, when the organization started measuring countries by how effectively they guarantee legal and economic equality between the genders. Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden scored full marks of 100 in the bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2019” report. Of those nations, France saw the biggest improvement over the past decade for implementing a domestic violence law, providing criminal penalties for workplace sexual harassment and introducing paid parental leave. Countries in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa averaged a score of 47.37, meaning the typical nation in those regions gives women under half the legal rights of men in the areas measured by the group. Overall, the global average came in at 74.71 — an increase of more than four and a half points compared to a decade ago. The United States scored 83.75, placing it outside the global top 50. The United Kingdom achieved a score of 97.5, Germany measured at 91.88, and Australia scored 96.88.

U.S. Deaths from Alcohol, Drugs and Suicide at Record High

The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits. The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6% increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday. That was actually a slower increase than in the previous two years. Deaths from suicides rose from 13.9 to 14.5 deaths per 100,000, a 4% increase. Suicide by suffocation increased 42% from 2008 to 2017. Suicide by firearm increased 22% in that time. Deaths from synthetic opioids, including the narcotic pain reliever fentanyl, rose 45%. Such deaths have increased tenfold in the last five years. From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased 35%. Deaths among women rose 85%. While teen deaths from drinking were down about 16% during the same period, deaths among people aged 45 to 64 rose by nearly 25%.

Coal Ash Contaminating Groundwater Nationwide

Waste ash from hundreds of coal-fired power plants has contaminated groundwater in 39 states with toxic substances like arsenic, lithium and mercury, according to a report by two environmental groups that was based on data the plants reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The report, released Monday by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, highlights more than a dozen instances in which those substances have reached drinking water supplies. The full extent of the effect on drinking water supplies is not known because private sources of drinking water are not tested, the report said. The ponds and landfills used to store coal ash are frequently unlined, allowing toxins to leach into groundwater. “Virtually all coal plants are poisoning our water,” said author Abel Russ, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

Is the Drive to Legalize Marijuana Ignoring Major Risks?

In less than 25 years, marijuana has gone from illegal everywhere in the United States to legal for at least some uses in all but four states. Advocates say the drug can help patients who are suffering from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis-triggered muscle spasms and the grueling side effects of chemotherapy. But as cultural acceptance of cannabis grows, opponents are warning of potential downsides. These critics – doctors, police and auto safety officials – point to stories and studies that link the drug to suicide, schizophrenia and car crashes. Marijuana might be safer than alcohol or tobacco, they say. But that doesn’t make marijuana safe. Car crashes rose 6% from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana – Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon – more than four comparable states that didn’t, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Some medical experts warn of possible links between marijuana and psychosis, but they say more study is needed.

Huge Study Shows No Risk of Autism from Vaccines

A new decade-long study of more than half a million people found that the measles vaccine does not increase the risk of autism. Researchers from Denmark looked at a Danish population registry of 657,461 children, some that were vaccinated with the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and some who were not. After over a decade of follow-up, 6,517 were diagnosed with autism, but there was no increased risk of autism in children who had the MMR vaccine versus those who didn’t. The study contributes to past studies that have found the same. People choosing not to vaccinate have become a global health threat in 2019, the World Health Organization reported. Critics say such studies are funded by Big Pharma and manipulated to show that vaccines are safe.

Fertility Rates Continue to Drop, Especially Among Hispanics

As fertility rates across the United States continue to decline — 2017 had the country’s lowest rate since the government started keeping records — some of the largest drops have been among Hispanics. The birthrate for Hispanic women fell by 31% from 2007 to 2017, a steep decline that demographers say has been driven in part by generational differences between Hispanic immigrants and their American-born daughters and granddaughters. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States today are born in this country. Young American-born Hispanic women are less likely to be poor and more likely to be educated than their immigrant mothers and grandmothers, according to the Pew Research Center, and many are delaying childbearing to finish school and start careers, just like other American-born women. Child Trends found that 2016 was the first year in which American women ages 25 to 29 did not have the highest birthrate. Instead, the rate was highest among women in their early 30s. The United States population grew by just 0.6% last year, the smallest increase in 80 years.

Millennials/Gen Z – Most Connected, Loneliest

Nearly half of the 20,000 adults surveyed nationwide by the global health service company Cigna last year reported sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. Generation Z (ages 18-22) and millennials (ages 23-37) rated themselves highest on feelings associated with loneliness. Loneliness, with its well-documented ill effects on health, has been called an epidemic and a public health threat, especially among the elderly. But analysts are now learning that the always connected social media mavens in the country’s younger generations are also dealing with it. “Younger people are genuinely surprised to ever feel lonely and are really overwhelmed by it,” said University of Delaware professor Dawn Fallik. “The question that remains is, is this just a developmental stage, or is there something different about this younger generation that hasn’t been true of younger adults in previous generations?”

Economic News

Hiring slowed sharply in February as employers added just 20,000 jobs amid harsh winter weather and a weakening U.S. and global economy. Economists had expected the economy to add 180,000 jobs The unemployment rate fell to 3.8% from 4%, the Labor Department said Friday. U.S. economic growth is expected to slow this year after federal tax cuts and spending increases juiced growth in 2018. At the same time, the low unemployment rate is making it harder for employers to find qualified workers. A separate report shows U.S. employers cut more jobs last month than they have in the past 3.5 years. U.S. employers announced plans to cut 76,835 jobs last month a 117% year-over-year increase, and a 45% increase over January’s numbers.

The U.S. trade deficit ballooned in 2018 despite moves by the Trump administration over the past year to keep it down and renegotiate trade agreements. The trade deficit for goods and merchandise set a new record of $891 billion. The report also showed the largest-ever gap with China at $419 billion. A significant factor in the historically large deficit are tariffs against numerous foreign-made products such as solar panels, washing machines and raw building materials like steel and aluminum. China has offered to buy $1.2 trillion in additional U.S. products over the next six years in exchange for removing tariffs on both sides.

The ‘retail apocalypse’ is alive and well with major chains such as Gap, JCPenney, Family Dollar, Victoria’s Secret and Foot Locker all announcing massive closures, totaling the death of more than 855 stores. Those closings bring the grand total for 2019 to a whopping 4,699 store closures announced already this year. Target, on the other hand, had its best year since 2005. Kohl’s, Walmart and Best Buy also did well in 2018. Charlotte Russe announced Thursday that it will close all 512 of its stores over the next two months.

China is slashing business taxes as it tries to stop its economy from slowing down too sharply. Chinese growth has lost momentum following government efforts to crack down on risky lending, which starved many companies of the funds they needed to expand. Exports plunged 21% in February from a year earlier, a slump that economists attributed to weaker global demand for Chinese goods and the country’s trade war with the United States.

The Canadian government shocked the professional financial and economic media with their latest fourth quarter GDP release showing the economy has essentially come to a grinding halt at 0.1% growth. German’s economy just escaped entering recession territory last month, with GDP growth at just 0% following a 0.4% contraction in the previous three-month period. Germany is supposed to have the strongest economy in the entire region, but they are also right on the brink of recession.

Israel

The majority of Americans remain partial toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 59 percent saying they sympathize more with the Israelis whereas 21 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians, according to a Gallup poll. However, while support for Israel is still widespread, sympathy toward Israel is down from 64 percent in 2018 and marks the lowest percentage favoring Israel since 2009, says Gallup. Meanwhile, the 21 percent sympathizing more with the Palestinians, statistically unchanged from a year ago, is the highest by one point in Gallup’s trend since 2001. The percentage of Republicans saying they sympathize more with Israel in the conflict fell from an all-time high of 87 percent in 2018 to 76 percent. The percentage of Democrats siding more with Israel fell less sharply (49% to 43%), approaching the lowest level of Democratic partiality toward Israel since 2005.

Middle East

Gaza-based Terrorists on Wednesday launched two explosive charges tied to balloons towards the Eshkol Region near the border with the Strip. The charges exploded in midair above an Israeli community but caused no injuries or damage. Residents of communities along the Israeli border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip were alerted to incoming rocket and mortar fire Wednesday night. The projectiles landed in a vacant areas, while security services reported that several IED’s were also launched into Israel from the Strip. A Palestinian youth was also shot dead by IDF troops as he participated in riots along the border Wednesday evening. IDF aircraft struck Hamas targets in the Strip in response. Also this week, clashes have erupted in and around Jerusalem’s Old City over disputes between Israel and the Moslem Wafq authorities regarding the Temple Mount.

The United States has officially shuttered its consulate in Jerusalem, downgrading the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by folding it into the US Embassy to Israel. For decades, the consulate functioned as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Now, that outreach will be handled by a Palestinian affairs unit, under the command of the embassy. The symbolic shift hands authority over US diplomatic channels with the West Bank and Gaza to Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settler movement and fierce critic of the Palestinian leadership.

Islamic State

The top US general overseeing military operations in the Middle East warned Thursday that despite the terror group’s territorial losses the fight against ISIS is “far from over,” cautioning that the remnants of the group are positioning themselves for a potential resurgence. ISIS militants have remained organized and ruthless to their last breath. Keeping institutions functioning in their last shred of territory in Syria, they are continuing benefits like food and money to supporters while their religious police and fighters still impose their rule of fear and brutality. Refusing to surrender, the militants have tried to squeeze out any last possible gain. The militants — many of them foreigners, including Iraqis and Central Asians, along with some Syrian fighters — are now fighting their final battle, holed up in tunnels and caves inside Baghouz, the last village they control.

North Korea

North Korea has been rapidly rebuilding a rocket launch site it promised to dismantle last year, analysts say. Experts at the Beyond Parallel group say images from Saturday show that activity at the Sohae site, which has been used for satellite launches and missile engine testing, is “consistent with preparations for a test,” NBC News reports. The group believes Pyongyang may be trying to “demonstrate resolve” after the collapse of the President Trump-Kim Jong Un summit last week. South Korean intelligence officials, however, suspect the rebuilding may have started weeks ago, possibly so that North Korea could have something dramatic to dismantle if the summit went well, or the ability to resume testing quickly if talks failed, the New York Times reports. “I would be very disappointed if that is happening,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, cautioning that it was “a very early report.”

Kashmir

Violent clashes between India and Pakistan have left at least six civilians and two soldiers dead in the disputed mountainous region of Kashmir, officials said last Saturday. Fighting reportedly resumed late on Friday night as Pakistani troops reportedly launched mortar shells along border towns in Kashmir, killing a mother and two siblings and critically wounding their father. Pakistani military says two of their soldiers were killed during an exchange with India in Kashmir on Friday, and that Indian fire killed a young boy and wounded three other people, destroying several houses in the process. Kashmir is split by the Line of Control (LoC) which divides it between India and Pakistan, though both countries claim the region in its entirety for themselves.

Sweden

The international delivery company UPS will no long deliver packages in a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Malmo, Sweden, for security reasons. PostNord Sverige, the Swedish postal company, does not deliver packages to another area in Malmo, Seved. A UPS employee said home delivery in Rosengard was stopped two months ago after drivers were attacked. Daily reports of attacks, often with knives or vehicles, have been reported in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. But such attacks are almost never seen in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have barred Muslim immigration.

Philippines

A deadly measles epidemic has infected almost 15,000 people in the Philippines. There have been at least 238 deaths reported as of Feb. 28, but the “number of cases is still rising, said local officials. Infections have spiked by more than 1,000% in January compared to infections last year. The outbreak is blamed, in part, on public distrust of the government’s immunization program, which was tarnished in 2017 over an anti-dengue vaccine that was linked to the deaths of at least three children.

Venezuela

Venezuela plunged into darkness Thursday evening following one of the largest power outages in years, spreading chaos in an already disrupted country facing political turmoil. The blackout began as most commuters were leaving work for home, hitting 22 out of 23 Venezuelan states, including the capital Caracas that until now managed to avoid the consequences of collapsing infrastructure and frequent outages. Thousands of commuters had to scramble to find a way back home as subway service stopped operating, while roads came to a standstill due to confusion over blackened stoplights. The blackout forced hospital nurses to monitor patients, including premature babies in incubators, while holding candles. Venezuela’s disputed president Nicolas Maduro, meanwhile, blamed the blackout as an “electrical war” perpetrated by the United States without providing any proof.

Environment

Fish in the Northeast Atlantic – including cod, the prime ingredient in fish-and-chips – saw a dramatic drop of 34% in the past several decades as the Earth warmed. And it’s not only cod: many other species of fish are declining. Warming oceans have shrunk the populations of many fish species around the world, according to the study released Thursday. Overfishing and poor fisheries management have only intensified the problem. Some of the biggest drops were In the seas near China and Japan, where fish populations dropped by as much as 35% from 1930 to 2010. Globally, the drop is 4.1% for many species of fish and shellfish according to the study from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Weather

A new round of heavy rain soaking California on Wednesday prompted evacuation orders for thousands of residents in wildfire burn areas amid concerns of mudslides and debris flows. At least 3,000 residents were ordered to leave Santa Barbara hillside neighborhoods scarred by the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa wildfires.

Several winter storms roared across the nation starting last weekend. On Saturday, Colorado and Wyoming were among areas hit hardest; 32 inches of snow fell in Mount Zirkel, Colorado. Interstates and other highways were closed at times on Saturday and Sunday in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. A lengthy stretch of Highway 91 in Colorado remained closed Friday, a day after an avalanche buried several cars south of Copper Mountain in what’s become a historically dangerous season for avalanches in the state. Early Thursday, a 13-mile section of Interstate 70 between Vail and Copper Mountain was closed in both directions after an avalanche ruptured a natural gas pipeline. An earlier avalanche on Thursday temporarily closed I-70.

At least a dozen tornadoes touched down in Alabama and Georgia last Sunday afternoon, killing at least twenty-three, with seven still missing. The National Weather Service in Birmingham said the initial tornado to hit Lee County was “at least” an  EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 mph cutting a .87-mile-wide path.

Signs of the Times

March 1, 2019

­But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Timothy 3:1-5 ESV)

‘The Send’ Heralds Start of New Jesus Movement

Over 40,000 Christians packed the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida and live-streamed the event in thousands of churches across the United States as part of a “new Jesus movement.” “The Send,” a 12-hour event Saturday that was a collaboration of national ministries aimed at activating Christians to fulfill their God-given call, was launched by evangelist Lou Engle, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and other ministries. They seek to raise up a new generation of Christian missionaries following Rev. Billy Graham’s death. “We believe this day, something will transfer and bring us into, I believe, worldwide transition into the greatest Jesus movement we have ever seen,” Engle said. Pastors Bill Johnson and Benny Hinn and along with worship teams Tasha Cobbs-Leonard and Bethel Music encouraged attendees to commit to serving the Lord. More than 17,000 committed to doing a “Jesus fast,” thousands signed up for each specific calling to reach high schoolers, college-aged kids, and different nations.

Poll Shows Dramatic Shift Toward Pro-Life Views in U.S.

The latest Marist Poll has found Americans are equally likely to identify as pro-life as pro-choice, a double-digit shift from just last month. The poll also found most Americans, 80 percent, think abortion should be restricted to the first three months of a pregnancy. Both New York and Virginia passed measures on abortion in recent weeks that allow abortions up to birth, which Marist Poll director Barbara Carvalho credits with changing Americans’ attitudes on abortion. “The recent legal changes to late-term abortion and the debate which followed have not gone unnoticed by the general public,” Carvalho said in a press release. The most significant shift, according to Carvalho, was found among young Democrats.

Pope Vows to Confront Clergy Sex Abusers with ‘Wrath of God’

Pope Francis vowed on Sunday to confront sex abusers with the “wrath of God” at the conclusion of a major Catholic Church summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, saying victims of the “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil” must be prioritized. Francis made his remarks at the end of Mass before 190 Catholic bishops and religious leaders who were summoned to Rome amid the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse in the clergy and its impact on church leadership. Meanwhile, a German cardinal claimed at the summit that the Catholic Church “destroyed” records of sexual abuse. No clear guidelines came out of the summit. Meanwhile, Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic charged with child sex abuse and Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and the Vatican’s economy minister, was convicted of sex abuse in Australia and faces a potential sentence of a 50-year prison term.

United Methodist Church Affirms Opposition to Gay Marriage and Gay Clergy

Many U.S. ministers in the United Methodist Church already perform gay marriages and approve of the ordination of LGBT people as clergy, although the Protestant church’s rules officially forbid these marriages and ordinations. Many Methodists hoped the church would amend those rules this week. Instead, a group of more than 800 clergy and lay leaders from around the world voted to affirm the church’s traditional view of sexuality — and in fact to punish disobedient clergy more harshly than before. The decision was cheered by conservatives in the global church, especially in Africa, but was disappointing to those who had hoped the church would change.

New Rule a Step Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

Following through on a promise made to the American people, the Trump administration posted a final rule last Friday that says no Title X funding can go to family planning centers that perform or refer for abortions. “It’s a small step in the right direction. It does not, unfortunately, fully defund Planned Parenthood, but it will defund it of about $60 million of taxpayer funds every year,” says Alison Centofante of Live Action. The Susan B. Anthony List noted that “not one dime of funding for family planning is cut.” The new rule will take effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Democrats Block Senate GOP Bill Against Infanticide

Senate Democrats on Monday blocked a Republican bill that would have threatened prison for doctors who don’t try saving the life of infants born alive during abortions. The vote on S.311 (Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act) was largely along party lines. Senators voted 53-44 in favor of the bill, but that was seven votes short of the 60 needed to end Democratic delaying tactics aimed at derailing the measure. All 44 “no” votes came from Democrats. Three of their number crossed over to vote with the Republicans. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who heads up the House Pro-Life Caucus, told CBN News it’s unconscionable that abortionists are being allowed to leave babies to die when an abortion fails. Opponents, noting the rarity of such births and citing laws already making it a crime to kill newborn babies, said the bill was unnecessary.

North Korean Summit Collapses

“Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” President Trump said Thursday after his second summit with Kim Jong Un abruptly collapsed. A working lunch and the signing of a joint agreement were scrapped after talks fell apart on the summit’s second day. “They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that.” Trump said Kim had been willing to dismantle some of the country’s nuclear infrastructure in return for sanctions being lifted, but wanted to leave other parts of the program intact. North Korea is disputing President Donald Trump’s account of why the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed. North Korea’s foreign minister said the North made a “realistic proposal” and demanded only partial sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering its main nuclear complex. The discussions collapsed after the U.S. demanded further disarmament steps, he insisted.

House Votes to Block Trump’s National Emergency

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution to overturn President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the US southern border. The vote was 245-182. Thirteen Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the measure. The votes in favor of the resolution fell short of the two-thirds of the chamber needed to override a presidential veto. Trump has issued a veto threat on the measure. The resolution now moves over to the Senate, where it must be brought to the floor for a vote within the next 18 days.

House Approves Expanded Background Checks for Gun Sales

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would expand background checks for gun sales to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet, a measure likely to face Senate and White House opposition. The background check bill, which was approved by a 240-190 vote, is the first gun control measure taken up by Democrats since they regained control of the House in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto the legislation because it would apply “burdensome requirements” that are “incompatible with the Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to keep arms.”

Study Concludes Voter ID Laws Do Not Depress Voter Turnout

Strict voter ID laws do not suppress turnout, a new study finds, regardless of sex, race, Hispanic identity, or party affiliation. In total, 10 states, ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin, require voters to show ID in order to vote. Seven of those states require a photo ID, and three do not. An additional 25 states “request” that voters display ID, but may still permit them to vote on a provision ballot if they cannot. The remaining states “use other methods to verify the identity of voters,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The new research, from a researcher at the Harvard Business School, indicates that “strict” voting laws of the type implemented in those ten states do not have a statistically significant effect on voter turnout. “Strict ID laws have no significant negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any subgroup defined by age, gender, race, or party affiliation.” Most importantly, strict ID laws “do not decrease the participation of ethnic minorities relative to whites. The laws’ overall effects remain close to zero and non-significant whether the election is a midterm or presidential election, and whether the laws are the more restrictive type that stipulate photo IDs.”

All-Male Military Draft Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Texas has declared that an all-male military draft is unconstitutional, ruling that “the time has passed” for a debate on whether women belong in the military. In 1941, the Supreme Court upheld the male-only draft registration process because women were ineligible for combat roles. But U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled last Friday that men and women are now equally able to fight, because in 2015 the Pentagon lifted all restrictions for women in military service. Currently, men who fail to register with the Selective Service System at their 18th birthday can be denied public benefits such as federal employment and student loans. Women cannot register for Selective Service.

Congress Adds 1.3 Million Acres of Public Land

Congress approved a sweeping bill Tuesday that will add 1.3 million acres of public land, create five new national monuments, expand multiple existing national parks and bring back a popular conservation program. Passed by a 363-62 vote in the House of Representatives, the bill has been sent to the White House to be signed by President Donald Trump. It’s the largest public lands bill to be approved by Congress in more than 10 years. Combining more than 100 separate bills, the measure promises to create nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas; remove 370,000 acres of Montana and Washington land from mineral development; and designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic. The bill would permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.

Weed Killer Found in Most Wines and Beers

A new report by the public-interest advocacy group U.S. PIRG reveals that tests of five wines and 15 beers, including organic ones, found traces of the controversial weed killer glyphosate in 19 out of the 20. They include brands like Coors Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Guinness, Stella Artois and Samuel Adams. “The levels of glyphosate we found are not necessarily dangerous, but are still concerning given the potential health risks,” U.S. PIRG said. Glyphosate, best known as an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization.

Economic News

The nation’s gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services produced in the economy – increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.6 percent in the October- December period, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That followed an average 3.7 percent advance the prior two quarters which amounted to the economy’s best six-month stretch since 2014. For the year, the economy grew 2.9 percent, matching its best performance since 2015, which was a post-recession high. Federal tax cuts and spending increases juiced growth in 2018 but those effects are expected to fade later this year. That, combined with a sluggish global economy and lingering U.S. trade tensions with China, are likely to spell slower U.S. growth.

The average price of vehicles hit an all-time high of more than $36,000 in 2018, according to Kelley Blue Book — and with interest rates rising, car shoppers are now borrowing more than ever and extending their loans to record lengths. New-car buyers agreed to pay an average of $551 per month for 69 months in January, according to car-buying advice site Edmunds. That’s nearly 10 percent more per month than three years earlier. Car debt has risen 75 percent since the Great Recession in 2009, reaching an all-time high of $1.2 trillion. Average annual interest rates jumped from 4.68 percent in January 2017 to a 10-year high of 6.19 percent in January 2019. Easy credit and longer repayment terms have coaxed many consumers into buying more car than they can really afford, industry experts say.

President Trump announced Sunday on Twitter that he would be delaying an increase in tariffs against China and plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to settle on a final trade agreement. Trump said ongoing trade negotiations with China have been “very productive” and he would delay the tariffs, which were set to go into effect on March 1, ahead of a meeting with President Xi at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday bowed to overwhelming pressure to reduce the risk of a disorderly departure from the European Union, accepting that Parliament should have the chance to delay Britain’s exit if it rejects her withdrawal plans next month. Mrs. May’s concession, in the face of an internal rebellion, was the latest in a long line of retreats as she has struggled to cajole her fractious party into supporting a revised version of the deal on withdrawal, or Brexit, that lawmakers threw out by a massive margin last month.

Persecution Watch

At least 40 Christians were killed in two recent attacks in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria by Muslim Fulani herdsmen. On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in an early morning assault on villages in and around Maro, in Kajuru County of Kaduna state, Morning Star News reported. On Feb. 10, an attack by herdsmen on Angwan Barde, in the same county, killed 10 Catholic Christians along with an unborn child. The mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen have clashed with indigenous tribes and local, mainly Christian, farmers over grazing land for centuries. But the clashes intensified around the time of the 2011 and 2015 elections, and again earlier this year, the Christian group Open Doors reports.

A black street pastor, believed to be a Nigerian man, was arrested in London on 23 February apparently for an alleged “breach of the peace” as he preached the Gospel outside Southgate Underground Station. He was later “de-arrested”, according to a Metropolitan Police spokesman. The preacher pleaded peacefully with two white police officers not to take away his Bible. In a humiliating arrest, they placed his arms behind his back in handcuffs and took the Bible from him and one officer can be heard replying, “You should have thought about that before being racist.” The preacher responded, “I will not go away because I need to tell them the truth. Jesus is the only way, truth and life.” An eyewitness told Barnabas Fund that, before the police arrived, the preacher was being confronted aggressively by a young man, apparently Muslim and in his 20s, wearing a hooded top. The man was loudly abusive about the Bible and God with his face close to the preacher’s. The young man also threatened the preacher, brandishing a closed fist holding prayer beads.

Middle East

Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) showed off its newest missile facilities on Iranian television Sunday, claiming that their supply of rockets for use against Israel is more accurate and has better range than ever before. “Our rocket force and missile units will surprise the enemy following any foolish act it may do in the future,” a masked PIJ spokesman says in the documentary. This seemed to be a reference to the IDF’s defensive response to the violent mass rioting that has gone on for some 11 months at the Gaza border. The group boasted that with the aid of Iran, its engineers have managed to do better than merely replacing the missiles that Israel had destroyed in airstrikes and previous rounds of fighting. Now the terror group has the ability to strike Tel Aviv, Netanya “and even further,” with precision missiles, it threatened.

Kashmir

Pakistan’s military says it has two Indian pilots in custody, captured after the Pakistani air force shot down their aircraft Wednesday on its side of the disputed region of Kashmir. The dramatic escalation came after Pakistan said that mortar shells fired by Indian troops from across the frontier dividing Kashmir’s two sectors – known as the “line of control” – killed six civilians and wounded several others. Earlier, Pakistan says Indian aircraft crossed into its territory and dropped bombs on Tuesday without causing casualties in the latest escalation between the nuclear-armed rivals since a deadly attack on Indian troops in the disputed Kashmir region sent tensions soaring. India says it conducted the airstrikes against an alleged terrorist training camp. The incursion could have been in retaliation for a deadly Feb. 14 suicide bombing in India’s half of Kashmir that killed at least 40 troops. Pakistan’s government on Friday brought a pilot to a border crossing with India to hand him over to India as a goodwill gesture which de-escalated tensions.

Somalia

A gun battle raged in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, into Friday morning as soldiers battled to dislodge Islamist militants holed up in a building next to a hotel that they had bombed the previous evening. At least 29 people have been killed. The militants, from the Shabab extremist group, set off two blasts outside the Hotel Makkah al-Mukarammah on a busy street lined with shops and restaurants on Thursday, before retreating to an adjacent building from where they fired on soldiers who tried to enter. The attack was the latest in a series of high-profile assaults in East Africa by the Shabab, and it came after American forces in Somalia stepped up airstrikes against the Islamist group.

Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela cut off diplomatic ties with neighbor Colombia on Saturday after that nation was used as a staging ground for a U.S.-backed aid effort that he has vowed to block. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by President Trump as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, was in Colombia for a fund-raising event hosted by Richard Branson. Colombia’s Foreign Ministry responded in a statement that the nation “does not recognize the legitimacy of the usurper Maduro” and instead backs Guaidó. “Colombia has always acted in a humanitarian and peaceful way and will continue to do so in order to help create the conditions that will give rise to democracy and freedom in Venezuela once again,” the statement reads. Maduro is refusing food and medical supplies based on his belief that it will be used by the United States as a means to curry favor with troops and overthrow him. Earlier, 4 people were shot dead, and 24 injured after militias open fire in Venezuela at border protests, nonprofit Foro Penal said

Environment

A plague of locusts not seen since the days of the Bible is spreading like wildfire through Africa, along the Red Sea coast and towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The incredible swarm of crop-devouring grasshoppers arrived after a period of heavy rain in October 2018 fueled the bugs’ breeding seasons. In the Bible’s Book of Exodus, a plague of locusts was one the 10 punishments, which fell upon the lands of Egypt as punishment for enslaving the Jewish people. If the plague does continue to spread across the Middle East, some believe it will be a prophetic sign of the approaching end times.

  • The locusts of the end-times come deep into the 7-year tribulation which hasn’t yet begun, and they attack unbelievers, not plants and trees: They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:4)

Earthquakes

A major earthquake struck Peru at 3:50 a.m. Friday, just one week after another strong quake hit in neighboring Ecuador. The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 hit southern Peru. The temblor’s epicenter was 16 miles north-northeast of Azangaro and had a depth of around 160 miles. The USGS said the earthquake hit just before 4 a.m. and could be felt as far away as La Paz, Bolivia, about 200 miles to the southeast. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Weather

The raging Russian River, swollen to near its highest level in a quarter-century, flooded 2,000 homes, killing one person and turning parts of two northern California towns into “islands,” forcing residents to use kayaks and canoes instead of cars. After reaching its crest of 45.3 feet late Wednesday – about 15 feet above flood stage – the river slowly receded Thursday. Located about 80 miles west of Sacramento, the towns of Guerneville and neighboring Monte Rio were the two hardest-hit communities. In the towns, where water stood as high as eight feet in some spots, the National Guard had to bring in kayaks. At one point, Guerneville was “officially an island,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Flooding continued to swamp parts of the South Thursday and is expected to do so for weeks to come. The Ohio River is predicted to crest this weekend at Cairo, Illinois, at the third-highest level ever. Further downstream, it will be some time before the flooding ends. The Mississippi River is not expected to crest in Vicksburg, Mississippi, until the middle of March. On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which is located about 12 miles upriver from New Orleans. The opening helps to divert some of the river’s water into Lake Pontchartrain to keep New Orleans levees from being further stressed. This was the first time in the 88 years of the spillway’s existence that it needed to be opened in consecutive years.