Archive for December, 2019

Signs of the Times

December 26, 2019

Apocalypse Soon? Podcasts Available at gofg.org

But the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and teachings of demons. (1Timothy 4:1)

Pope Says Don’t Evangelize, Bible Says Otherwise

Speaking to high-school students in Rome, Pope Francis said Catholics shouldn’t seek to convert Jews and Muslims to Christianity. “I went to public school, and we always had companions from other religions. We were educated to coexistence,” he said. “This taught me a lot, that we are all the same, all children of God and this purifies your gaze, it humanizes it,” he said. “You must be consistent with your faith,” he said. “It never occurred to me — and nor should it — to say to a boy or a girl: ‘You are Jewish, you are Muslim: come, be converted!’ You be consistent with your faith, and that consistency is what will make you mature. We are not living in the times of the crusades.” He also said the “the last thing I should do is speak.”

  • Perhaps the Pope is unfamiliar with Bible verses such as, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19); and, Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.(Romans 10:17)

200 Evangelical Leaders Slam Christianity Today over Impeachment Support

About 200 evangelical leaders across the country came together and penned a letter to Dr. Timothy Dairymple, the president of Christianity Today, for the outlet’s recent editorial calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment. The group also slammed editor in chief, Mark Galli for making previous statements about evangelicals who voted for Trump, saying they are uneducated and have blue-collar jobs, as if a hard day’s work is something to snub. Those who signed the letter made it clear they are not “far-right” but rather “Bible-believing Christians” who are also “patriotic Americans.” They value policies the Trump administration has implemented like protecting the unborn, promoting religious freedom, reforming our criminal justice system, contributing to strong working families through paid family leave, protecting the freedom of conscience, prioritizing parental rights and ensuring that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including support of Israel.

President Trump is Ending the Liberal Domination of the Courts

With 2019 drawing to a close, MSNBC took some time to reflect on the greatest achievement of President Trump, namely the confirmation of scores of conservative federal judges. The liberal cable channel was certainly not celebrating the news, with anchors fearing how the appointments “will affect the laws of the land for years to come.” “The Trump administration has done more to shape the courts in just one term than any other president in recent history,” MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi recently announced. Since taking office, President Trump has nominated a whopping 234 federal judges, 174 of whom have been confirmed. President Trump has named a total of 50 judges to appeal courts, compared to 24 by President Obama at this same point in his presidency. “Keep in mind, these judges serve lifetime appointments, so their tenure could last decades. And even if President Trump is removed from office or defeated by a Democrat in 2020, his judicial appointees will still hold the power to push a conservative agenda,” Velshi fretted.

  • Long considered the most liberal court in America, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is far closer to be fair and balanced than ever, Politico reported. When President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, Democrat-appointed judges held a 20-9 edge in the 9th Circuit, which made it a go-to court for Democrat challenges with a jurisdiction of 60 million Americans. After the two most recent Trump confirmations this month, the Democrat-advantage is down to just three 16-13.

Trump Signs Budget Package that Avoids a Shutdown

President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package last Friday that will put off the possibility of a government shutdown until next fall, earmark money for gun violence research and raise the age for buying tobacco to 21. The bipartisan legislation, which will keep the government funded through next September, not only avoids a shutdown that had been scheduled for Friday but also represents a remarkable moment of cooperation just days after House Democrats impeached Trump. Trump secured $1.4 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, the same amount lawmakers approved last year. The amount far less than the $8.6 billion Trump had requested, a demand that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history earlier this year.

  • The spending measure will give members of the military their largest pay increase in 10 years.

Climate Change Predictions in 2000 Close, But Underestimated

When it comes to climate change, did scientists accurately predict in 2000 what would be happening now? “Overall, we’re running quite close to the projections made in 2000 for carbon dioxide concentration, global temperature and sea level,” Weather Underground meteorologist Robert Henson said. Since the early 1990s, the carbon dioxide level in the Earth’s atmosphere has jumped from about 358 parts per million to nearly 412 ppm. That’s a 15% rise in 27 years. Since 1992, the global sea level has risen on average 2.9 millimeters a year. That’s a total of 78.3 millimeters, or 3.1 inches.

  • Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann says that “we underestimated the rate of ice sheet collapse.” The Greenland ice sheet lost 5.2 trillion tons of ice from 1993 to 2018. The Antarctic ice sheet lost 3 trillion tons of ice from 1992 to 2017.
  • There have been an average of 7.8 weather disasters per year since 1993, compared with 3.2 per year from 1980 to 1992, according to NOAA.
    • 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)

China and India Have Most of World’s Worst Polluted Cities

To identify the world’s most polluted cities, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the World Health Organization on the average annual concentration of harmful air particles in more than 2,600 cities around the globe. Of the 30 most polluted cities on earth, India leads with 14 on the list with China second with 9. No other county comes close with Bangladesh and Pakistan have 2 each, while Mongolia, Uganda and Cameroon have one each. The seven worst cities are all in Inda: Kanpur, Faridibad, Gaya, Varanasi, Patna, Delhi and Lucknow.

Demand for Coal Increased Despite Paris Climate Accord

Global demand for coal increased after the world’s largest countries entered into the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to an International Energy Agency report published Tuesday. Demand for coal jumped 1.1% in 2018, continuing an increase that began two years after the United States and other world powers forged an agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the IEA noted in its 2019 coal report. Asia consumed roughly 73% of the 8.5 billion tons of coal consumed worldwide in 2018. World consumption was about 7 billion tons in 2015. China, India and other Asian countries are largely responsible for the uptick, even as coal production dipped in the U.S. and Europe.

Economic News

U.S. shoppers spent more online during this year’s holiday shopping season, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high. E-commerce sales this year made up 14.6% of total retail and rose 18.8% from 2018. Overall holiday retail sales, excluding autos, rose 3.4%.Retailers have invested heavily to provide same-day delivery, lockers for store pick-up and improve their online presence as they battle against retail giant Amazon.com Inc for market share.

This week marks the second anniversary of President Trump’s tax cuts. Despite warnings of economic disaster, average wages have risen by 3 percent a year (or more) for the last 16 straight months — roughly 50 percent faster than the Obama-era average. Real disposable personal income per household has risen by $6,000 since the tax cuts passed, shattering expectations. Wage growth has been especially strong for less-skilled employees, growing by 7 percent over the last year for the bottom 10 percent of workers and 9 percent for those without a high-school diploma. The tax cuts have dramatically spurred hiring. The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent, with the rates for young, black and Hispanic workers hovering near record lows.

The number of cities and counties with at least a $15 minimum wage is set to double next year to 32, as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and South San Francisco, along with about a dozen other California cities, adopt the benchmark. They’ll join cities such as New York, Seattle and San Francisco that are already members of the $15 club. In all, 24 states and 48 cities and counties will raise their minimum wages in 2020 – a record 72 jurisdictions. The federal minimum has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In July, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation to raise it to $15 by 2025 but the Republican majority Senate has refused to debate the bill.

Millennials, or people born between 1981 to 1996, are trailing in accumulating wealth compared with older generations at the same age, according to a new Federal Reserve of St. Louis study. In 2016, millennials with degrees had about 6% less wealth than expected based on the typical wealth held at the same age by older generations. But millennials who lacked degrees had 44% less wealth than older generations at the same age. Many entered the workforce during the recession, just as wages plunged for high school grads. Even though the typical pay for high school grads has increased in the last few years, it still remains below its peak in the early 2000s, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Persecution Watch

School officials in Edmond, Oklahoma, canceled the live Nativity to be staged by third-graders at a public elementary school after receiving a letter from the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The letter accused the school district of an unspecified “constitutional violation.” In a December 11 letter, Liberty Counsel attorney Richard L. Mast reassured Edmond district superintendent Bret Towne that “a live Nativity scene as part of a balanced Christmas program is not an automatic Establishment Clause violation.” Mast quoted Reagan-appointed Federal Appeals Judge Frank H. Easterbrook about the meaning of the clause in the Constitution forbidding the establishment of a state religion: “It is not sound, as a matter of history or constitutional text, to say that a unit of state or local government “establishes” a religion through an artistic performance that favorably depicts one or more aspects of that religion’s theology or iconography.”

  • More than half of U.S. state capitols have Nativity displays this Christmas season, according to the Thomas Moore Society, which works with the American Nativity Scene Project to keep privately funded displays in the public square.

Chloe Bressack, a math and science teacher sent a “Welcome to my class” letter home to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.” It said in part, “… my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural, but students catch on pretty quickly.” The letter also asked that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms. The letter alarmed the parents. Canopy Oaks Principal Paul Lambert said he and the school are in full support of Bressack.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a serious threat to his grip on power as members of his ruling Likud party voted Thursday in an internal ballot to decide who will lead them in an unprecedented third Israeli election in quick succession in March. Despite battling three damning corruption indictments, the 70-year-old incumbent prime minister is widely predicted to win the leadership vote. Netanyahu has dominated the famously loyal rightwing party for most of the past two decades. Much of the focus is instead on how much of a dent his former protege turned rival, Gideon Saar, could make in Netanyahu’s previously watertight Likud party support.

The U.S. Senate passed a $1.37 trillion spending bill on Thursday that included the annual $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel. It also addressed other Jewish and Israel-related priorities. The final tally, also the last one of the year, was 81-11. A whopping $500 million was allocated towards U.S.-Israel missile-defense cooperation. The bill also extended the U.S. Defense Department’s authority to stockpile weapons in Israel for two years. It also indicated backing for use of the Strategic Defense Acquisition Fund “to transfer precision guided munitions and related defense articles and services to reserve stocks for Israel.” The legislation allows the president to withhold 5 percent of U.S. assistance towards any U.N. agency that acts against the interests of the United States or a U.S. ally, including Israel. No U.S. funding will go to the Palestinian Authority. Since the United States cut aid to the P.A. in March 2018 and under the Taylor Force Act, the P.A.’s program of rewarding terrorists and their families is not being supported.

Middle East

Rocket sirens ended an Ashkelon campaign event for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night, with the IDF subsequently announcing that the Iron Dome defense system shot down the sole rocket that set off red alerts in the area.

Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett announced that the government will seize the bank accounts of Arab-Israeli terrorists who receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority for committing heinous crimes. So far the Israeli government action was limited to the bank accounts of a limited number of terrorists. But with new information available to Israeli authorities, additional seizure of terror reward money from Israeli Arab terrorists can be expected.

Afghanistan

An American service member was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, according to military officials, bringing to 20 the number of troops who have died during combat operations this year. The service member’s death is a grim reminder that more Americans have died fighting the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups in 2019 than in any other year since 2014, when the Pentagon euphemistically announced the “end of combat operations” in the country. Thirteen troops were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the service member was killed in Kunduz Province, when the insurgents targeted American and Afghan forces with explosives.

North Korea

While North Korea engages in a series of increasingly threatening actions, President Donald Trump and his top advisers say they are still committed to pursuing negotiations with Kim – hoping he will come around on the U.S. offer for sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for complete North Korean denuclearization. Two of Trump’s top foreign policy appointees have recently emphasized the administration’s willingness to be flexible in how, and how fast, to reach that end goal. Officials urged North Korean leaders to revive the moribund negotiations, which have been essentially dead since February. Amid the stalemate, North Korea has bolstered its arsenal of missiles and its stockpile of bomb-ready nuclear material, while announcing a “Christmas gift” of more missile tests.

New Zealand

New Zealand authorities said Saturday their country will be a safer place after owners handed in more than 50,000 guns during a buyback program following a ban on assault weapons. But critics say the process was flawed and many owners have illegally stashed their firearms. The government banned the most lethal types of semi-automatic weapons less than a month after a lone gunman in March killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques. The police then launched a six-month program to buy the newly banned weapons from owners. Provisional figures indicate 33,000 people handed in 51,000 guns, and another 5,000 guns as part of a parallel amnesty in which owners could hand over any type of firearm without any questions being asked but without getting compensated.

Weather

Record rainfall closed roads, shutdown train service and caused power outages in Oregon and Washington state Friday and into early Saturday morning. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recorded 3.25 inches of rain on Friday, making it the fifth wettest day there ever, according to the National Weather Service. One area near Pluvius, in southwestern Washington, received nearly a foot of rain. More than 3.4 inches of rain fell in Astoria, Oregon, on the coast north of Portland, breaking a daily record set in 1906.

Drenching overnight rains flooded roads and neighborhoods across the Southeast and forced a major airport to close. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shut down operations at 4 a.m. Monday because of flash flooding that washed over roads and made parts of the airport inaccessible. More than 7 inches of rain fell at the airport. Meanwhile, the heavy rains coincided with high tide in Charleston, South Carolina, leading to dozens of road closures. In Georgia, more than 6,500 people in the Atlanta metro area and north Georgia lost power.

Back to back winter storms left at least nine people dead as the storms battered Portugal, Spain and France with high winds and torrential rain. The second storm, Fabien, roared into Portugal, northern Spain and western France last Saturday with winds up to 150 mph and torrential rain.

The powerful Typhoon Phanfone moved into the South China Sea on Thursday after battering the Philippines on Christmas. The storm killed at least 20 people. Most of the deaths reported by officials were caused by drowning, falling trees and accidental electrocution. The typhoon made landfall in Eastern Samar province on Christmas Eve and then roared across the nation’s central region on Christmas, slamming into seven coastal towns and island provinces. The coast guard said Thursday that nearly 4,000 people remained stuck in Southern Tagalog and Western Visayas. An airport at Kalibo town in Aklan that serves Boracay also was badly damaged.

Signs of the Times

December 20, 2019

Apocalypse Soon? Podcasts Available at gofg.org

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

House Church Movement in Iran Growing Fast

One of the fastest growing churches in the world is in Iran, not Christian Breaking News (CBN). Despite Christianity being outlawed in the Islamic Republic, Iran has the fastest-growing house church movements in the world, reports Believers Portal. “Right now you can see the results of the Holy Spirit,” Raizal, one of the believers, told CBN News in Turkey where he was interviewed. “From 1994, there were about 100,000 believers. Right now, there are over 3 million.” Raizal explained that since churches are banned in Iran, believers use the Internet to connect to churches in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Malaysia via Skype. He said many of the new believers embraced Jesus Christ after having a dream or vision of Him.

Planned Parenthood Opening 50 Clinics in L.A. Schools

Planned Parenthood has finally reached an agreement to open up 50 so-called “reproductive health centers” in high schools in Los Angeles with $10 million in taxpayer funding. As The Washington Post reports, “Planned Parenthood is pioneering a new model of reproductive health services for Los Angeles County teens by opening 50 clinics at area high schools.” This “new model” that Planned Parenthood is “pioneering” is nothing more than a direct pipeline of new “customers” they can groom for their abortion business, notes Kristan Hawkins
President, Students for Life.

U.S. Has World’s Highest Rate of Children Living with Single Parent

For decades, the share of U.S. children living with a single parent has been rising, accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage. A new Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%), more than three times the share of children around the world who do so (7%).

Christianity Today Denounced ‘Grossly Immoral’ Trump

In a troubling sign for President Trump, leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today denounced him as a “leader of grossly immoral character” Thursday and called for him to be removed from office. Impeachment appears to have been the final straw for editor-in-chief Mark Galli, who writes that although the process was flawed, it was “profoundly immoral” for Trump to attempt to “use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.” That Trump “should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments,” writes Galli. The magazine, which was founded by Billy Graham, saw its website crash Thursday night from increased traffic.

  • President Trump lashed out at the publication, calling it a “far left magazine” on Twitter. Evangelist Franklin Graham told Fox News his father “dissociated himself from the magazine years ago… My father knew Donald Trump, believed in Donald Trump, and in this last election, he voted for Donald Trump.”

Push to Reform FISA Gains Momentum

A Republican push to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has gained fresh momentum on Capitol Hill amid the fallout of the long-awaited findings of Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice’s inspector general who illuminated an array of abuses and misdeeds pertaining to government surveillance tools during the Russia investigation. Horowitz’s report noted “17 significant errors or omissions” in the application process for FISA warrants for Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The report also identified “many additional errors,” including how the FBI informed the FISA court that its primary source outlining possible collusion with Russia, Christopher Steele, was credible without verifying his assertions. Horowitz also found that investigators withheld crucial details from the FISA tribunal that may have cast doubt on the credibility of Steele’s dossier of claims about Trump.

FISA Court Condemns FBI’s Faulty Affidavits

In a rare order, the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) condemned the FBI on Tuesday for misleading the court in its application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, saying the sheer number of problems with the petition raises questions about other filings by the law enforcement agency. “The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable,” Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wrote. “The FISC expects the government to provide complete and accurate information in every filing with the court. Without it, the FISC cannot properly ensure that the government conducts electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes only when there is sufficient factual basis,” she continued.

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down ObamaCare Rule

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a key aspect of the ObamaCare law is unconstitutional — setting up another likely Supreme Court showdown in a presidential election year. The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a 2-1 vote concluded the original law’s key funding mechanism known as the individual mandate — requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty — was rendered unconstitutional when, in 2017, Congress eliminated a tax penalty on people without insurance. The appeals court concluded because the individual mandate was unconstitutional, the law’s funding mechanism could not be enforced in the current version of the Affordable Care Act. Other parts of the law may survive, but the appeals court deferred to the lower court to decide whether the entire law must be struck down or what parts of the law could still exist.

Mexico Objects to Provisions in New Trade Agreement

The House overwhelmingly approved the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Thursday, the result of an unusual partnership between Robert Lighthizer, President Trump’s top trade negotiator, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, Mexico has objected to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress as part of an eventual ratification of the deal. Jesús Seade, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department’s undersecretary and chief trade negotiator for North America, said that the legislation also “adds the designation of up to five U.S. labor attaches in Mexico tasked with monitoring the implementation of the labor reform that is under way in our country.” Seade said that was not part of the agreement signed Dec. 10 in Mexico City by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada to replace NAFTA. Seade says Mexico resists the idea of having foreign inspectors on its soil out of sovereignty principles, and that the agreement provided for panels to resolve disputes on labor and other areas.

Explosive Growth of Private Prisons for Immigrants

The use of private prisons to detain immigrants has exploded under President Trump. At least 24 immigration detention centers and more than 17,000 beds were added in the past three years to the sprawling detention system run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A USA TODAY Network investigation found that the companies operating those centers have generated record-setting revenue since 2016 while making record-setting political donations – primarily to Republicans, including President Trump – as political figures moved freely between government policy roles and jobs in the private immigration industry. The booming business spends $3 billion a year housing a record high of roughly 50,000 people.

Marathon Climate Talks End with No Deal on Carbon Markets

An extra two days of international climate talks failed to produce agreement on carbon markets or any enhancements to countries’ promises to cut greenhouse gases next year. After the scheduled 12 days of talks at the 2019 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid extended into Saturday and Sunday, negotiators postponed a decision on global carbon markets that allow countries to trade carbon credits. Instead, delegates from 200 nations endorsed a declaration to help poor countries that are suffering the effects of climate change, but they didn’t come up with any money to pay for that help. The final declaration from the conference, known as COP25, said there is an “urgent need” to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate change accord – so, essentially, nothing was accomplished.

  • Whether greenhouse gases are causing global warming/climate change or not, 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)

California’s Miseries Continue to Increase

For decades, California was the postcard for better living – social equality, upward mobility, natural beauty. However, homelessness is soaring; 25% of the nation’s 600,000 homeless live in California. In San Francisco alone, apps have sprouted up to track human waste on sidewalks, people with mental illnesses have attacked other residents, and some companies, most recently Oracle, have canceled downtown convention plans. Housing costs are driving away the middle class; the median home price in California is $550,000, twice the national average, according to Zillow. More than 28,190 people departed California in the second quarter of 2019, almost double 2017’s rate, according to Redfin. California has also become the nation’s epicenter for wildfires. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Pacific Gas & Electric power grid shutdowns for days in order to prevent wildfires, which wreaked havoc particularly on seniors and the poor.

First Vaccine to Prevent Ebola Approved

For the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine for the prevention of Ebola, the highly contagious virus disease that has killed thousands of people in Africa since the 1970s. The approval for Ervebo was granted to Merck & Co., the American pharmaceutical company that manufactures the vaccine. It won European Commission approval in November. The vaccine was designed at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and is administered as a single-dose injection. From 2014 to 2016, an outbreak in three West African countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone —  caused more than 11,000 deaths out of 28,000 cases, the FDA said. More than 2,200 people have died from the Zaire strain of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2018 in the world’s second largest outbreak of the virus, which can spread rapidly. Since the 1970s, outbreaks of the virus have primarily been in sub-Saharan Africa, stemming from human contact with infected wild animals.

Teen Pot and Vaping Usage Increasing

The good news is that teen alcohol, cigarette, and hard-drug usage is down. But the flip side of the coin is that marijuana and nicotine vaping are sharply up. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s annual Monitoring the Future reports that the jump in marijuana vaping was “most troubling to public health experts”: Though nicotine vaping remains more prevalent (35% of 12th graders said they did so in the previous 12 months), marijuana vaping is growing more quickly. Some 14% of 12th graders reported having vaped pot in the past month; in 2018, the figure was 7.5%. That’s the second-biggest jump any drug has registered in the survey’s history. Expand the timeline to a year, and 20.8% of 12th graders reported vaping pot, way up from 7.7% a year prior. Tenth graders were right behind them, with 19.4% reporting usage over the past year; 8th graders hit 7%.

Marijuana Linked to Psychosis, Schizophrenia

A number of physicians are pushing back against the long held assertion of users and advocates that marijuana is a safe, benign and even beneficial drug. Those sounding the alarm include the nation’s “mental health czar” as well as doctors in states including Colorado, California and Massachusetts where marijuana is legal for recreational use. They say the facts are irrefutable: excessive use of today’s high-THC pot and concentrated oil is linked to psychotic episodes that in some cases develop into full-blown schizophrenia. A Ostudyne from the British medical journal the Lancet released in March showed a two to five times higher risk of psychotic disorders for daily consumers of high-THC marijuana compared to people who never used.

BPA Levels in Humans Underestimated

Levels of the widely used chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in people’s bodies are much higher than once thought, according to scientists who say they’ve created a more accurate way to measure them.       BPA is used in many plastic products, including food and drink containers, and animal studies have shown that it can interfere with hormones. Exposure to BPA in the womb has been linked to growth, metabolism, behavior and fertility problems, as well an increased risk of cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, contends human exposure to BPA is at very low, and therefore, safe levels. The new method developed by researchers and outlined in their study suggests that the measurements used by the FDA and other regulatory agencies underestimate BPA exposure by as much as 44 times, said study co-author Patricia Hunt, a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University. Co-author Roy Gerona, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he hoped the findings would prompt other experts and labs to take a closer look and independently assess what is happening.

Auto Safety Systems Lead to Distracted Driving

Multiple systems that are designed to make driving safer and easier are placing drivers in danger, according to a new AAA study. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping-assist technologies lull drivers into letting their guard down, which puts them at greater risk of crashing. When used correctly, the technologies can make people safer. But many drivers place too much trust in the systems. The results underscore the depths of the safety challenges faced by the auto industry as it continues its slow transition from traditional vehicles to self-driving cars. Evidence increasingly suggests that drivers often don’t properly use or understand partially automated systems.

Economic News

For the first time ever, the U.S. economy started and ended an entire decade without a recession — the longest expansion in our history, researchers say. The economy has expanded for a record 126 consecutive months. “It is unusual that this has been such a persistent recovery,” Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Prior expansions have lasted an average of 58.4 months from 1945 to 2009, compared to 35 months from 1919 to 1945.

As 2019 winds down, the economy is getting its best rating in almost 20 years. Overall, 76% of those polled rate the economy very or somewhat good, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. That’s up nine points from last year and the highest percentage since February 2001.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed 28,332.74 on Monday, meaning it has rallied 10,000 points, or more than 54 percent, since Trump’s election victory on November 8, 2016. As of Friday morning, the Dow was up even further to 28,496. The benchmark S&P 500 has gained more than 46 percent. The rally has been driven by pro-growth measures, de-escalation of trade tensions, and huge liquidity injections by central banks, said Mohamed El-Arian, chief economic adviser at Allianz.

Persecution Watch

A nonprofit recently released a report estimating that over 1,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed this year in attacks led by Fulani extremists. “Islamist Fulani militia continue to engage in an aggressive and strategic land grabbing policy in Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Southern Kaduna and parts of Bauchi state,” reports HART, a UK-based nonprofit that tracks persecutions. HART estimates that over 6,000 Christians have been killed since 2015 while 12,000 have been displaced. Fulani are largely Muslim nomadic people who live across West and Central Africa.

Britain

British lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal Friday, marking a moment of triumph days after winning a commanding parliamentary majority. Members of Parliament voted 358 to 234 to send Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the next phase of more scrutiny and possible amendments before the House of Lords approves it. Johnson wib last week’s general election on a promise to end more than three years of political gridlock and lead Britain out of the European Union on Jan. 31. The U.K.’s departure will open a new phase of Brexit, as Britain and the EU race to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.

Middle East

The U.N. General Assembly voted Wednesday in favor of a resolution supporting Palestinian self-determination and condemning anti-terror measures in Israel. The resolution has been broadly criticized by the Jewish community as unfairly anti-Israel in nature. Canada was one of the 167 countries to support the North Korean-sponsored resolution. “This vote reflects poorly on Canada’s record as a defender of democracy and justice. It stains Canada’s reputation,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “B’nai Brith rejects the contention that settlements are the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In our view, the core issue remains the rejection by Palestinian leaders and their supporters of Israel’s right to exist – and of the Jewish people’s legal right to sovereignty in their ancient homeland,” the group said in a statement.

Israeli security forces said on Wednesday that they have captured a massive terrorist squad of some 50 members suspected in connection with a deadly attack in August at a freshwater spring in Samaria. Investigators also found that the terror cell was involved in two shooting attacks near the Israeli community of Beit El, north of Jerusalem, a year and a half ago. They reportedly have acted under the umbrella of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) terrorist organization. “The squad was apprehended as part of a wide-scale operation in the Ramallah and Qalqilya districts” in Palestinian Authority territory, said the Israeli statement.

Overnight Wednesday, a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory, the IDF reported. In response, IDF fighter jets struck a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF says it holds the Hamas terror organization responsible for events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it. “Hamas will bear the consequences for actions against Israeli civilians,” it said in a statement. Israel’s southern residents have endured ongoing rocket attacks from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. They have demanded that the Israeli government take stronger action to stop the onslaught.

Iran

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said his country’s nuclear experts are testing a new type of advanced centrifuges, remarks likely meant to rally support for the Iranian leader as his nation struggles under crushing U.S. sanctions. Rouhani spoke during a meeting Wednesday with Iranian expatriates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he also used an Islamic conference on Thursday as a platform to decry American sanctions against Iran.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval commander Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said the Persian Gulf belongs to Iran. “We have the right to question any vessels entering the Straits of Hormuz and Iranian territorial waters.” The statement is the latest in a series of Iranian threats to neighboring countries of the Persian Gulf after six months of tensions in which Iran downed a U.S. drone and attacked six ships and seized one UK-flagged ship in the sensitive waterway.

At least 304 people have been killed in Iran during anti-government unrest that broke out last month, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. Thousands have been arrested including children as young as 15 in a crackdown that followed the protests. More than a month after the start of the latest round of anti-government protests in Iran, security forces are still arresting people in various cities. Although arrests continue, there is still no official figure about the number of those detained during and after the protests that started on November following a sudden three-fold rise in the price of gasoline.

Afghanistan

A roadside bomb killed 10 members of one family, including three women and two children, in southeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. Some 18 civilians were wounded in a similar incident in northern Balkh province. Although there is a winter lull in fighting due to heavy snowfall in the mountains, roadside bombs continue to be deployed across parts of the country. At least 23 Afghan soldiers were killed while they were sleeping last Saturday in an insider attack in eastern Afghanistan, officials said, the latest episode of enemy infiltration that has raised concerns about a new local military force billed as the hope for holding territory recaptured from the Taliban. U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad renewed talks with the Taliban this month on steps that could lead to a ceasefire and a settlement of the 18-year-long war.

India

Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the northeast on Monday to protest a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighboring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organizers said were not students set three buses on fire and police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using the students as pawns.

Environment

Scientists are working urgently to discover the cause of a massive freshwater mussel die-off in at least five U.S. rivers and another in Spain. Freshwater mussels range from about the size of a large button to the size of a billfold, but the work they do for ecosystems is enormous. They can filter around 8-10 gallons of river water each day, cleaning it of algae, silt and even heavy metals and making the whole river a better environment for fish, amphibians, plants and bugs. Mussels also benefit the people who use their rivers as a source of drinking water. Over the past century, mussel populations everywhere have declined steeply due to pollution, habitat loss and climate change, yet the current decline looks to be something different. Scientists suspect an infectious disease.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is liable for damage to hundreds of homes and businesses that were flooded in one part of Houston during Hurricane Harvey, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. The properties are upstream from the Corps-owned Addicks and Barker reservoirs. Attorneys for the property owners said the Corps knew for decades that the reservoirs’ capacity could spill over from the federal property and inundate nearby homes and businesses. That’s exactly what happened during Hurricane Harvey. “The government had made a calculated decision to allow for flooding these lands years before Harvey, when it designed, modified and maintained the dams in such a way that would flood private properties during severe storms,” Judge Charles Lettow wrote

Earthquakes

Authorities in the southern Philippines are searching for victims trapped when a three-story building collapsed during a magnitude 6.8 magnitude earthquake Sunday. The building, which housed a grocery store, collapsed in Padada town in Davao del Sur province when the quake struck at 2:11 p.m. local time 3.7 miles northwest of the town. In the nearby town of Matanao, a 6-year-old girl was killed when a wall of her house fell and hit her in the head. The Davao region has been hit by several earthquakes in recent months, causing some deaths and scores of injuries and badly damaging houses, hotels, malls and hospitals.

Wildfires

With more than 100 bushfires blazing, temperatures soaring to record highs and smoke choking the city of Sydney, the Australian state of New South Wales declared a state of emergency on Thursday. It was the second time a state of emergency has been declared this fire season. More than 11,560 square miles of land has burned across Australia over the past few months. Six people have been killed and more than 800 homes destroyed. Wildfires are also burning in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Conditions are expected to worsen in New South Wales this weekend.

  • The Bureau of Meteorology said Tuesday was the hottest day on record in Australia with an average of 105.6 degrees nationwide. That record lasted one day. The average temperature across the country on Wednesday was 107.4.

Weather

More than two dozen Kansas City area school districts canceled Monday classes after the metro area received 4 to 7 inches of snow. The winter storm closed schools across Missouri as well. At least twelve people died in storm-related crashes Sunday through Tuesday. In Nebraska, a part of westbound Interstate 80 was closed for more than four hours after a multi-car crash near Greenwood. Freezing rain was causing accidents and other issues along the south coast of Massachusetts. Two teens were critically injured in a crash on an icy road in Bourne, Massachusetts Tuesday morning. Heavy snow, low visibility, gusty winds and slippery roads caused a deadly 30-vehicle pile-up on Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania Wednesday that killed two and also left at least 44 people injured.

Severe thunderstorms and at least two tornadoes damaged buildings and downed trees in parts of Central and North Florida last Saturday morning. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado with peak winds of 110 mph had moved across the county for about 26 minutes, in a path nearly 20 miles long. Homes were damaged in Palm Coast. And buildings were also damaged in Putnam County. The severe weather outbreak has killed at least 4 people. At least 18 tornadoes have been confirmed by the National Weather Service in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida..

Signs of the Times

December 13, 2019

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:1-4)

23,000 Cambodians Hear the Gospel, 1,396 Receive Jesus Christ

More than 23,000 heard the Gospel and 1,396 made the decision to give their live to Christ during a two-day Franklin Graham Festival over the weekend in Cambodia, a nation that is 98 percent Buddhist. The “Love Phnom Penh Festival with Franklin Graham” was held Dec. 7-8 in the same country where Christianity was nearly eliminated during the Khmer Rouge in a genocide of the 1970s. An estimated 2 million people died, and only about 200 Christians survived the atrocities. Local Christian leaders say the Festival had a major impact. “The Holy Spirit has touched our city and entire land. We are thankful that people heard the Gospel that Jesus is the Truth, Way and Life,” said Sin Somnang, pastor of Fellowship Church of Pochentong and the Festival’s general chairman. “This will be a blessing for our country and our spiritual legacy to be remembered for the next generation through the Festival.”

One-Third of Independent Abortion Clinics Have Closed in Past 5 Years

A new report from the pro-abortion Abortion Care Network found that almost one third of all independent abortion facilities have closed since 2012. The network is made up of independent abortionists that are not part of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion chain in America. Independent abortion businesses perform more than 50 percent of all abortions. Between 2014 and 2019, 136 independent abortion businesses closed across the country. States that saw the highest number of closures were California at 15, Texas at 15, Florida at 11 and Michigan at 11, according to the report. Meanwhile, very few new abortion facilities are opening. The pro-abortion group blamed pro-life laws as the main reason for the closures.

  • The pro-life group, The Hosea Initiative, presented the President Trump with its Bernard N. Nathanson, MD “Courageous Witness for Life” Award in recognition of his leadership and advocacy of pro-life initiatives.

SCOTUS Upholds Law Requiring Ultrasounds Prior to Abortions

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a Kentucky law requiring doctors to describe ultrasound images and play fetal heartbeat sound to abortion seekers. The law had been upheld by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, but that ruling was on hold pending the Supreme Court appeal. Kentucky argued the law is “simple and straightforward,” calling it part of an” informed-consent process.”  Challengers, including an abortion clinic, argued that the law forced patients to see the images even if she didn’t want to, and that it violated doctors’ First Amendment rights. The court rejected the case without comment or noted dissent by any of the justices.

House Panel Passes Two Trump Impeachment Charges

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump. The charges — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress —passed 23-17 along party-line votes. They now go to the full House for a historic impeachment vote expected next week. The article of impeachment for abuse of power stems from allegations that Mr. Trump leveraged a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military aid to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, as well as Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election. The second article, obstruction of Congress, is rooted in the administration’s refusal to cooperate with Democrats’ subpoenas of witnesses and documents in the impeachment inquiry. The Republicans noted that Ukraine ultimately received U.S. military aid temporarily withheld the Trump administration and pointed out potential causes to investigate Hunter Biden.

  • Ultimately, all the angst will come to naught when the Republican Senate refuses to convict Trump

United States, Mexico and Canada Approve Historic Trade Deal

The new United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA), overhauls the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA. USMCA is expected to create “north of 176,000 new jobs” and inject $34 billion into the U.S. auto industry, requiring 75 percent of automobile components be manufactured in the United States, Canada and Mexico in order to avoid tariffs, and that 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. The deal was endorsed by the AFL-CIO labor union. USMCA “will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA,” President Trump tweeted Tuesday. There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a press conference announcing her caucus’s support of the agreement.

Sanctuary Cities Harboring Violent M-13 Gang Members

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, on Thursday accused sanctuary cities of harboring violent MS-13 gang members. Cuccinelli took particular umbrage with cities and localities that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), making it more difficult to arrest and deport illegal aliens accused of heinous crimes. “A few years back, I was Virginia’s attorney general, and I would say then, and today, the biggest violent crime threat in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and attorneys general all around the country could have said the same thing, was MS-13,” Cuccinelli said. “It’s one of the points of intersection that we have a problem with sanctuary cities who are harboring so many of these violent, vicious criminals — literally harboring from ICE and the opportunity to deport them and get them out of these communities and our country,” Cuccinelli continued.

Birthright Citizenship of Immigrants Increasing

Foreign tourists to the U.S. give birth to 33,000 babies a year — each of them immediately becoming a citizen — according to a new report being released Thursday that puts numbers on the extent to which immigrants make use of America’s birthright citizenship policy. That means they came to the U.S. while pregnant on short-term visas for the express purpose of giving birth and earning their child immediate citizenship. In addition, 39,000 other foreigner women here on temporary student or guest-worker visas also give birth. And that’s all in addition to nearly 300,000 births each year to illegal immigrants, each of which is also immediately a citizen, a status that provides to the parents a potential pathway to remain legally in the U.S. as well. The report comes amid intense interest on the part of President Trump to curtail birthright citizenship.

N.Y. is 13th State to Give Illegal Immigrants Driver’s Licenses

This month New York will become the 13th state in the U.S. to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses. Officials in counties throughout the Empire State warn they are not equipped to handle the predicted onslaught. One state lawmaker is offering free care for the children of illegal aliens who attend a workshop to help them navigate the process of obtaining a license. More than half a million undocumented immigrants are expected to qualify and all they need is an expired passport, consulate identification or license from their country of citizenship, reports Judicial Watch.

Judge Blocks Trump’s Plan to Build Border Wall with Military Funds

A federal judge in Texas ruled that the administration lacks the authority to divert money appropriated by Congress for a different purpose. The Trump administration wanted to use $3.6 billion in Pentagon money to build 175 miles of steel barriers. The court’s permanent injunction casts new doubt on President Trump’s ability to fulfill his pledge to erect 450 linear miles of fencing by the end of next year.

House Passes Military Budget Including Space Agency and Parental Leave

The military will get a new branch and federal workers will get up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave under a massive $738 billion military bill policy passed by the House Wednesday. The Hill reports that the National Defense Authorization Act passed 377-48. The bill funds the Space Force that Trump established last year, as Democrats pushed for paid parental leave in return for the Space Force,

Most Recycled Items Now Ending up in Landfills

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. But now much of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash. For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China to be made into goods such as shoes and bags and new plastic products. But in 2018, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away. Most are choosing the latter due to cost.

Flu Season Starting Early This Year

Flu activity has been higher than normal for the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and continues to rise. As of Nov. 30, 3.5% of visits to health care providers were due to influenza-like illnesses, considerably higher than average for this time of year. This flu season is off to the earliest this decade. There have been about 910 deaths, 16,000 hospitalizations, 800,000 doctors’ visits and 1.7 million cases of the flu already in the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the CDC. The South is particularly afflicted by the flu this year, while mid-Atlantic and Northeast states are not as afflicted.

Corporations Pension Plans are Fading Away

The practice of companies sending monthly retirement checks to their former workers is headed for extinction, and remaining pension funds are in tough financial shape. Nearly two-thirds of pension funds are considering dropping guaranteed benefits to new workers within the next five years, according to a study by human resources consulting firm Mercer. Despite gains in the stock market this year, U.S. pension plans are near their worst financial state. Most U.S. companies no longer offer defined-benefit pensions, which typically provided guaranteed monthly payments to workers when they retired. But pension funds that still operate must gain in value to ensure they have enough to meet their obligations. By late 2019, the average pension fund had just 85% of the funds necessary to meet its obligations.

Insulin Prices Double

In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t make insulin. Those with the condition require several doses of insulin a day and spent $5,705 per person on it in 2016, an increase of $2,841, or 99%, per person since 2012, according to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute. Costs continue to rise, so much so that almost half of people with diabetes have temporarily skipped taking their insulin, according to a 2018 survey by UpWell Health. “Insulin prices doubled in a four-year period,” said Cathy Paessun, the director of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association. “They continue to go up, and the infuriating thing is that there is no change in the process for creating the product.”

  • Capitalism works great, except for greed. Socialism sounds great but doesn’t work.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits suddenly jumped last week to the highest level in more than two years. The number of initial claims rose to 252,000 in the week ending December 7, an increase of 49,000 from the number of claims filed the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the highest level since the week ending September 30, 2017.

The U.S. and China reached a partial trade agreement that further deescalates the 21-month-long trade war between the world’s two economic superpowers. The deal includes promises from the Chinese to buy $50 billion of U.S. agriculture, stronger intellectual-property protections and language to end China’s currency manipulation. In return, the U.S. will not place 15 percent tariffs on $160 billion of Chinese goods on Sunday.

The Federal Reserve has erased nearly half of all the rate increases of the past two years since July — but now the central bank has halted any further cuts even as President Trump continues to push for more. The reason: It’s still not clear where the global economy may be heading next year, and any additional rate cuts now will only leave policymakers with fewer tools to help cushion the U.S. if things turn sour. The central bank’s decision comes amid recent strength in the labor market but also with continued signs that economic growth has slowed over the past year.

Investor sentiment on the economy for the next 12 months dropped 14 points from a year ago to -7, its lowest level since 2006, according to Fidelity Investments’ annual Millionaire Outlook Confidence Index. The latest data signals that some wealthy investors are skittish about the longevity of the 10-year economic expansion, even as job creation remains robust and stocks touch record highs. Some money managers said they scaled back exposure to risky assets such as stocks after prices increased to all-time highs in recent months.

Persecution Watch

The shooting that unfolded at a kosher market in Jersey City, N.J., was a “targeted” attack according to officials who say at least one of the suspects had published anti-Semitic and anti-police posts online before opening fire Tuesday. The incident is now being treated as domestic terrorism. Authorities found 300 rounds of ammunition and three pipe bombs in the U-Haul van the shooters were driving.

  • Former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, posted online chilling footage captured in the hours after the attack.In one of the clips, a young man asks a Jewish first responder, “Four [Jews] are dead, right?… that’s great.”Another person can be heard yelling, “Get the Jews out of Jersey City.”Another bystander comments, “I blame the Jews! We never had a shooting like this until they came here.”

Seven people were killed and 21 children and young adults were kidnapped in yet another spree of devastating Boko Haram attacks on mainly-Christian villages in Far North Cameroon in December. Several villages were attacked and looted over the first week of December. A Barnabas contact said that the Cameroon army has a very difficult task in combatting Boko Haram because the area is so vast and dotted with small, isolated villages linked by poor roads. The militants strike and then escape swiftly via the well-maintained main roads back to their base in Nigeria.

A New York school district will permit students to start Gay Pride clubs but they won’t allow students to start Christian clubs. Daniela Barca reached out to school leaders inquiring about forming a club where Christian students could gather to pray, participate in food drives and charities like Operation Christmas Child. Weeks went by without any communication from the school. Then, school leaders said they lost her application. Several weeks later, they found the application and it was eventually rejected. School officials told Danelia that her club was too religious and too exclusive. First Liberty Institute is demanding the school approve Daniela’s Christian club – or else they will sue the district

A holiday tradition an Oklahoma public school won’t be happening this year in response to legal threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Chisholm Elementary blinked in a showdown with the Wisconsin-based nonprofit group, which claimed in October that nativity portions of its play are “illegal.” The nativity scenes have been pulled for the kids’ 2019 show.

Thirteen-year-old Brooklyn Benzel, is a student at South Sutter Charter School in Placerville, California. She wanted to play “Joy to the World” as part of a student piano performance for a nearby retirement home. However, she was told that the Christmas standard was too religious – it was recommended that she play “Jingle Bells” instead. Pacific Justice Institute stepped in and pointed out that the piano version would not include the lyrics. “We said the courts have made it very clear that the government cannot censor student speech like this simply because of its religious content,” reports Brad Dacus, president of PJI. “That amounts to state hostility of religion and a violation of her free speech and free exercise rights.” The school finally relented.

Britain

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a large majority of seats in Britain’s Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month. With 648 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 363 seats and the main opposition Labour Party 203. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in. Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a radical socialist who moved his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015.

  • Corbyn also permitted anti-Semitism to spread like wildfire within the party, refusing to apologize repeatedly and downplaying the extent to which Jew-hatred plagues the part.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump for his executive order to combat anti-Semitism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits federal funding to programs or activities which discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin. Under the new ruling, Judaism will be defined as a national origin, rather than as a religion. Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu students have previously been protected under the Act, citing shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics. “Free speech is not carte blanche for anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish People and the State of Israel,” Netanyahu stated. Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, an NGO funding legal action aimed at “protecting the civil and human rights of the Jewish people worldwide,” called the move “groundbreaking” by “acknowledging Judaism as a nationality.”

Iraq

Rockets struck Baghdad’s international airport compound Thursday, as the country tries to contain anti-government protests which have shaken the foundation of the Iraqi government. The attack appears to be the latest in what a senior U.S. military official described as a dangerously escalating campaign by Iran-backed militias. The protests, which have swept cities from Baghdad to Basra over the last two-and-a-half months, have laid bare the Iraqi government’s limited ability to control Iran-backed paramilitary forces that are now part of the country’s official security forces.

Iran

The U.S. on Wednesday blacklisted a series of companies it accused of helping Iran transport weaponry to regional militia groups, including missile parts to Houthi rebels in Yemen. The sanctions followed the seizure of a small boat last week by the U.S. Navy that was carrying Iranian missile parts bound for Yemen, the Treasury Department said, the latest such U.S. action in the region’s waters. The move also comes amid rising concerns among some national security officials that Tehran might escalate attacks against the U.S. and its allies as the Trump administration’s sanctions take a deepening toll on the country’s economy.

Syria

Air strikes by Syrian government and Russian forces killed at least 20 people in rebel-held northwestern Syria last Saturday, activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The attacks hit five villages in the Idlib region of the northwest, part of the last major territorial foothold of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. Russian jets killed at least nine people in an attack that hit a market in the village of Balyoun and another four people in a strike on the village of al-Bara, the Observatory said. Five more people were killed in a barrel bomb attack by Syrian government helicopters on the village of Abdita, the Observatory said. Barrel bombs killed two more people in the villages of Jebghas and Tel Minis, it added.

Niger

Islamist militants killed 71 soldiers in an attack on a remote military camp in Niger near the border with Mali, an army spokesman said on Wednesday, in the deadliest raid against the Nigerien military in living memory. Jihadists with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda have mounted increasingly lethal attacks across West Africa’s Sahel region this year despite the commitment of thousands of regional and foreign troops to counter them. The violence has hit Mali and Burkina Faso the hardest, rendering large swathes of those countries ungovernable, but it has also spilled into Niger, which shares long and porous borders with its two neighbors.

Somalia

Somali security forces shot dead five Al Shabaab gunmen, who had killed three civilians and two soldiers during an attack on a hotel near the presidential residence in Mogadishu on Tuesday night, police said early on Wednesday. Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda linked Islamist militant group, frequently launches bombing and gun raids in Mogadishu in a bid to topple Somalia’s U.N.-backed government. The group confirmed last night it had attacked the Syl hotel, a popular gathering place for officials and lawmakers.

Afghanistan

The United States and the Taliban have resumed peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, a Taliban spokesman tweeted on Saturday. The announcement comes more than a week after President Donald Trump made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to US troops in Afghanistan and said talks had restarted. He told troops at the time that “the Taliban wants to make a deal. We’ll see if they want to make a deal. It’s got to be a real deal, but we’ll see.” During the trip Trump also held a bilateral meeting with the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. Following that meeting, Ghani tweeted that “both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a ceasefire.”

  • The Washington Post reports that U.S. officials have lied to the public repeatedly since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, “making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” The newspaper obtained access to government interviews with key players in the conflict that were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, after a three-year legal fight under the Freedom of Information Act.

Two civilians were killed and more than 70 people were wounded in a suicide bombing for which the Taliban claimed responsibility Wednesday, targeting an under-construction medical facility near Bagram Air Base, the main American base north of the Afghan capital, the U.S. military said. The attack, which struck the facility being built to help Afghan people living in the area, was isolated to the clinical building and “the defensive perimeter was never breached or compromised,” a spokesperson said. All terrorist insurgents were killed and Taliban fighters who remained after the attack were later killed in a series of airstrikes. No U.S. troops were hurt but some service members were evaluated for minor injuries.

Pakistan

Pakistan on Thursday leveled “treason” charges against 250 lawyers who were part of a mob that stormed a hospital in the eastern city of Lahore the previous day, kicking and punching doctors and staff and trashing equipment and property, police said. Three patients at the hospital died when physicians and medical staff who fled the mob left them unattended for several hours, officials said. The mob of about 500 lawyers were apparently angered over alleged misbehavior by some of the hospital doctors toward one of their colleagues the month before. They also smashed windows, doors, and medical equipment at the only government-run heart hospital in the province of Punjab. Police say they had to use tear gas to disperse the mob.

North Korea

North Korea said Sunday that it carried out a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it at the start of denuclearization talks with the United States last year. The announcement comes amid dimming prospects for a resumption of negotiations, with the North threatening to seek “a new way” if it fails to get major U.S. concessions by year’s end. Some U.S. experts said that North Korea was restoring the facilities, raising doubts about whether it was committed to denuclearization.

Hong Kong

Hundreds of thousands of protesters, basking in a recent election victory by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, poured onto the city’s streets on Sunday in one of the largest marches in weeks to pressure the government to meet demands for greater civil liberties. Tensions in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory, had eased somewhat in recent days, after pro-democracy advocates won a stunning victory in local elections two weeks ago. Demonstrators returned in force Sunday, packing city streets to denounce Mr. Xi’s government, rail against police brutality and reiterate demands for greater civil liberties, including universal suffrage. As many as 800,000 people attended the march stretching out over several miles.

India

Troops have been deployed to India’s ethnically diverse northeastern states of Assam and Tripura, amid violent protests against the passing of a controversial and far-reaching law that offers a path to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries. Police clashed with the protesters, using batons and firing tear gas. About 1,800 people have been detained in Tripura since Wednesday. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was passed by the country’s parliament on Wednesday, has been described by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government as a means of protecting vulnerable groups from persecution. Critics, however, say the bill marginalizes Muslims and undermines the country’s secular constitution. Others say it risks bringing an unwanted influx of immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan into India’s northern states.

Russia

Russia is banned from international sporting events for the next four years, a span that includes the 2020 summer Olympics in Japan, the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2022 soccer World Cup. The World Anti-Doping Agency imposed the ban Monday after evidence emerged that Russia dopes its athletes in systematic fashion. Moscow denies the allegations and is expected to appeal. Russian athletes can still compete, though they must wear neutral uniforms and won’t hear their national anthem if they win. Only athletes who have not been implicated in the scandal are eligible.

Environment

The Greenland ice sheet’s total losses nearly doubled each decade, from 33 billion tons per year in the 1990s to an average now of 254 billion tons annually, scientists said. Over the past three decades, nearly 4 trillion tons of Greenland ice have entered the ocean, an increase that puts another 6 million people at risk of seasonal, annual floods, the new analysis found. The new study by 89 scientists, published Tuesday in the journal Nature, suggests global sea-level rise by 2100 may be higher than previously thought.

Water levels at the world’s largest man-made reservoir have fallen to their lowest point in more than two decades, threatening the electricity supply for two African nations. The Kariba Reservoir, which sits on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is just 10% full. That’s the lowest since 1996. The reservoir was 55% full this same time last year and 38% the year before. The lack of water flow has forced both countries to implement blackouts lasting as long as 18 hours a day.

Wildfires

Wildfires to the north engulfed the Australian city of Sydney on Tuesday in haze so thick in some places it was 11 times worse than the level considered “hazardous,” and was apt to trigger fire alarms. The city canceled ferries and some offices in the downtown area were evacuated. Local health officials advised people to stay indoors as much as possible and those with heart and lung problems were told to avoid all outdoor activity. Winds were expected that could clear the air but also fan the brush fires, Wildfire season started early this year after an unusually dry and warm winter.

Volcanoes

A volcanic island in New Zealand erupted Monday in a tower of ash and steam while 47 tourists were exploring the moon-like surface, killing fourteen people and leaving two still missing. Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among the dead, missing, or injured, including two American teens. Most of those who survived were injured and suffered severe burns. Already people are questioning why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity. White Island sits about 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand. Despite worries of another eruption, members of the New Zealand military returned to White Island on Friday and recovered six more bodies. Two others remain missing and are presumed dead.

Weather

Nearly 1,000 tourists were stranded in the small New Zealand town of Franz Josef after stormy weekend weather triggered landslides and flooding along the town’s main highway. Authorities said road access to the town likely won’t be restored until Friday. Some of the tourists were choosing to leave by helicopter or small plane while others were waiting until the highway reopened. Some tourists wanted to stay with their vehicles while others were trying to get confirmation their travel insurance would cover the extra costs of flying out.

At least two people are dead and three others missing after Cyclone Belna hit northwestern Madagascar Monday with high winds and torrential rain. Some 1,400 people in the coastal town of Soalala were left homeless by the storm, which damaged 80% of the town’s homes and government offices. A hospital was flooded when a protective dike cracked.

A winter storm caused a rockslide and flooding last Saturday that closed highways across Northern California and damaged several homes. Two people were hurt when a tree fell on them on a sidewalk in San Francisco. Thigh-high water washed into homes in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood. Northbound Highway 101 was closed by floodwaters for hours Saturday evening. Flooding in stations forced Muni light rail service to be halted between West Portal and Embarcadero.

Snow along the East Coast on Wednesday morning disrupted morning commutes and caused some school delays and closures as subzero temperatures struck the Midwest and Northern Plains. The winter weather whiplash came on the heels of temperatures that soared as high as 60 degrees Tuesday for some. Minneapolis-St. Paul dipped below zero Wednesday for the third straight day in December and saw wind chills of minus 30 degrees.

Signs of the Times

December 6, 2019

­­I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18)

Poll: Americans Fed Up With Divisiveness

The divisive national debate over just about everything has convinced many that the country is heading in the wrong direction even as their own lives are going well, the inaugural Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll finds. By overwhelming margins, those surveyed said national leaders, social media and the news media have exacerbated and exaggerated those divisions, sometimes for their own benefit and to the detriment of ordinary people. Both Republicans and Democrats estimated that just over half of those in the other party were “so extreme you can’t imagine finding common ground with them.” More than nine of 10 respondents said it’s important for the United States to try to reduce that divisiveness.

  • It’s unlikely to be resolved from the top down, so individuals must contribute to a climate of peace in the sphere of their own lives and in the voting booth: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

U.S. Army Orders Group to Stop Stamping Bible Verses on Military Apparel

The United States Army has ordered a faith-based organization to stop emblazoning Christian messages on official military apparel. Despite Shields of Strength spending the past 20 years printing Bible verses on military dog tags without any issue whatsoever, one complaint now threatens to derail their entire business. The issue arose when the company was reported to the Department of Defense by Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Weinstein claimed that engraving religious messages on an item that displays the official military emblem is fundamentally wrong and “poisons the constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State.” Shortly after this, military branches started contacting Shields of Strength and informed them that they would be pulling the licenses issued to the group.

  • The “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution but rather is in a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association.

Pensacola Naval Station Shooter was Saudi Aviation Student

The gunman who opened fire Friday morning at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, fatally shooting three people, has been identified as an aviation student from Saudi Arabia as investigators are looking into whether the attack is terrorism-related. The gunman was confronted and taken out by a pair of responding officers. Two people were killed at the scene while a third victim died after being rushed to a local hospital. Seven others suffered injuries and are undergoing treatment, including the two responding officers, whose injuries were not life-threatening. NAS Pensacola is home to the Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity’s International Training Center, which the Navy says was “established in 1988 to meet the aviation-specific training needs of international officers and enlisted students from allied nations.”

London Attacker Was a Released Islamic Terrorist

The killing of two people by a convicted terrorist Usman Khan on early release from prison has highlighted a growing challenge for security services in the U.K. and across Europe: the return into the community of people who have served time in jail for terrorism offenses. The attack in the London Bridge area on Friday—by a knife-wielding man who was convicted in 2012 for being part of a group that was plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange—has thrust the sentencing of terrorists to center stage in the campaigning in the Dec. 12 general election. The question of how to monitor convicted terrorists returning into society is a growing issue for counterterrorism police and security agencies in the U.K. and across Europe who are stretched thin for resources — as well as a parallel challenge from jihadists returning from the Syrian conflict. Khan was released early from prison in December 2018 under a set of conditions that included an internet ban, a curfew and limitations on his movements and meetings.

U.S. House Approves Two-State Resolution of Palestinian Conflict

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to approve a resolution affirming a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution states, “The United States has long sought a just and stable future for Palestinians, and an end to the occupation, including opposing settlement activity and moves toward unilateral annexation in Palestinian territory.” The resolution had 192 co-sponsors, all Democratic. The Zionist Organization of America rejected the proposed resolution saying, “The Palestinian Arabs have rejected any peace talks with Israel and refuse to discuss peace with the United State.” “After two inconclusive Israeli elections and the prospects growing for a third, it is completely inappropriate for the U.S. House of Representatives to try to interfere with Israeli policy as Israel tries to form a new government,” the organization argued. However, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) supports the resolution, reflecting the current political stalemate in Israel over how to achieve peace.

  • The key anti-Israel code word in the resolution is calling Israel’s settlements an “occupation”

Violent Illegal Immigrants Being Released by Sanctuary Cities/Counties

Under a local-federal partnership known as 287(g), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supposed to be notified of jail inmates in the country illegally so that they can be deported after serving time for state crimes. Unfortunately, a growing number of local law enforcement agencies are instead releasing the illegal aliens—many with serious convictions such as child sex offenses, rape and murder—rather than turn them over to federal authorities for removal, reports Judicial Watch. Now ICE is trying to strike preemptively by publicly disclosing the criminals, complete with mug shots, before they are actually let go by police in municipalities that offer illegal aliens sanctuary. This month ICE targeted six offenders incarcerated in two Maryland counties notorious for shielding illegal immigrants from the feds. Most are incarcerated for sexual crimes involving children, including rape and serious physical abuse that resulted in death. A couple of the offenders are in jail for murder and assault and ICE wants them all transferred to its custody, so the illegal aliens don’t reoffend.

President Trump to Expand Trade War to Brazil and Argentina

President Trump said on Monday that he would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina, widening a global trade war as well as hitting an ally, Brazil’s conservative president. Trump, in a message on Twitter, said what he called currency manipulation by Brazil and Argentina was hurting American farmers. “Therefore, effective immediately, I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the U.S. from those countries.” The U.S. initially exempted Brazil and Argentina from the president’s sweeping metal tariffs in 2018, saying it would continue negotiations with those countries on a trade deal.

Number of Children with Vision Problems Increasing

A trend that eye specialists have been watching with some alarm over the past decade is a steep increase in the number of children who require corrective lenses. When Gen Xers were young in the ’70s, about 20% of children in the United States needed glasses. Now that number has inched closer to 40%. The primary culprit? Screen time, the amount of time children spend focusing on closeup device screens. But experts suspect that is only part of the explanation. Exposure to sunlight may also play a role. More time spent outdoors appears to ward off the need for glasses.

Cellphone-Related Injuries on the Rise

Cell phones are a literal pain in the neck, as well as the face, eyes, nose, ears and head. A new study analyzing national emergency room data shows injuries to those areas of our bodies have risen “steeply” over the last 20 years. Cell phones are a literal pain in the neck — and face, eyes, nose, ears and head. Cuts to the face and head were the most common injuries, followed by contusions — bruising of the brain — abrasions and internal organ injuries. Prior studies have shown that just the use of a cell phone can damage necks and upper backs. That’s because for every inch that you tilt your head forward from a neutral position, the pressure on your spine doubles. So if you’re looking at a smartphone in your lap, your neck could experience 20 or 30 pounds of pressure.

U.S. Gets Eighth-Most Robocalls

Americans received 7% more spam calls in 2019 compared to the year before, said Truecaller, a Swedish company that tracks spam calls. Truecaller found robocalls in the U.S. increased by 35% in the last year, despite the four major service providers offering tools to block unwanted calls and identify potential scams. Robocalls have gotten more sophisticated, said data analytics company Transaction Network Services, with some using the “spoofing” technique to make a call seem like it’s coming from a local number. Surprisingly, the U.S. is only the eighth-most spammed country in the world, according to Truecaller. Ethiopians get the most spam calls/texts, with an average of 119 per month.

Uber Reports Over 5,981 Allegations of Sexual Assaults

Uber released data on the number of passengers and drivers alleging they’ve been sexually assaulted in an effort to deflect rising concerns over the safety of the popular ride-hailing service. According to the 84-page review of 2017 and 2018, Uber received 5,981 allegations of serious sexual assault in the U.S. over the course of 2017 and 2018 and 3,045 last year alone. Of those sexual assaults complaints, 235 were reports of rape in 2018, up from 229 in 2017 and 280 were reports of attempted rape in 2018, down from 307 in 2017. Drivers reported nearly as many claims of sexual assault as passengers These numbers count only those victims who came forward to make a complaint. Since sexual assault is an under-reported crime, the totals are even higher.

New Rule to Push 755,000 Off Food Stamps

The Department of Agriculture gave final approval on Wednesday to a new rule that would remove nearly 755,000 people from the federal food-stamp program. The rule, which was proposed in February, makes it more difficult for states to allow able-bodied adults without children to receive food assistance for more than three months out of a 36-month period without working. The department said that the granting of state waivers needed to be stricter because the economy had improved under the Trump administration and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults was no longer necessary in a strong job market. “Government dependency has never been the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary said. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Economic News

U.S. hiring surged in November, as the economy added 266,000 jobs and unemployment returned to a half-century low. The labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.2 percent. Average hourly earnings, meanwhile, rose by 3.1 percent over the past year to $28.29. Revisions, meanwhile, added 41,000 jobs for the prior two months, bringing the three-month average to 205,000, a 10-month high.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in October as imports fell faster than exports. The politically sensitive trade gap with China dropped. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the gap between what America sells and what it buys abroad dropped 7.6% to $47.2 billion in October. Imports tumbled 1.7% to $254.3 billion on reduced purchases of foreign oil, cars and auto parts and pharmaceuticals. Exports dipped 0.2% to $207.1 billion on a drop in sales of soybeans and aircraft engines. The deficit in the trade of goods with China narrowed by 1.1% to $31.3 billion in October and is down 14.6% so far this year.

  • These results indicate that the U.S. is winning the trade war with China so far.

Americans spent more money Black Friday shopping in 2019 than ever before — $7.4 billion online on Black Friday and $4.2 billion on Thanksgiving Day. Shopping in brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday dropped 6.2% compared to 2018 as more customers make their purchases online. Spending via mobile wallets was up 82%. Holiday deals are now starting earlier than ever, more stores are opening on Thanksgiving and promotions are extending to Cyber Monday and into December, reducing Black Friday’s numbers.

Persecution Watch

Five boys were among the 14 Christians, shot dead in an Islamist extremist attack on a church in Komondjari Province, south-east Burkina Faso, during Sunday morning worship on 1 December. Several others were reported to have been left wounded in the devastating attack which has left only one male survivor in the church’s entire congregation.

Christian leaders in Sudan and South Sudan contacted Barnabas to request prayers for the precarious political situation and challenges facing the Church in both countries. South Sudan became independent in 2011, but the five-year civil war has resulted in the deaths of 400,000 people and the displacement of two million, many of them Christians. In Sudan, Christians are caught up in the Nuba Mountain conflict and are suffering food shortages and bombings.

Israel Captures ISIS Terrorists Planning Attack in Jerusalem

A Special Forces undercover unit led the operation to arrest two Islamic State (ISIS) operatives who planned to carry out a terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day, Israel revealed Wednesday. An indictment published by the Jerusalem District Attorney charges that the defendants acted together and separately to join ISIS and support it in various ways. In September 2019, the defendants discussed the possibility of committing a terrorist attack at various locations in Jerusalem or at a military base in the Jordan Valley area, with the aim of killing “as many Jews as possible in ISIS’ name.” The defendants discussed the possibility of acquiring weapons to carry out a shooting attack during a mass event in Jerusalem at the Safra Square in front of the Town Hall or at the Sultan Pool during the Independence Day celebrations.

U.S. and Israel Working on New Defense Treaty

Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Lisbon this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that progress is being made towards a U.S.-Israel defense treaty. Netanyahu noted that such a pact would help Israel in case of a military confrontation with Iran. The prime minister also said that he spoke with Pompeo about the annexation of the Jordan Valley. However, Netanyahu admitted that both the defense pact and the annexation will be difficult to pursue because a new government has not yet been formed in Israel, and the U.S. is preparing for the 2020 presidential election.

Iran Stockpiling Missiles in Iraq to Use Against Israel

Iran has used the continuing chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, part of a widening effort to try to intimidate the Middle East and assert its power, according to American intelligence and military officials, reports the New York Times. The Iranian buildup “comes as the United States has rebuilt its military presence in the Middle East to counter emerging threats to American interests, including attacks on oil tankers and facilities that intelligence officials have blamed on Iran,” reports The Times. Since May, the Trump administration has sent roughly 14,000 additional troops to the region, primarily to staff Navy ships and missile defense systems. However, new intelligence shows that Iran has continued to stockpile missiles in Iraq to be used against Israel.

Over 1,000 Iranian Protesters Killed in Government Suppression

The U.S.’s special representative for Iran Brian Hook has said that more than 1,000 Iranian citizens may have been killed in recent protests. On Thursday, Hook told reporters that the U.S. assessment was based on crowd sourcing and intelligence reports. Nationwide demonstrations broke out on Nov. 15 in response to a 50 percent hike in gas prices in an economy already reeling from economic sanctions imposed by the U.S and Europe. U.S. officials cite new intelligence suggesting Tehran’s finances are more dire than previously thought and are bringing it closer to a financial crisis. Tehran’s sophisticated sanction-evasion efforts have offset some of the losses from plummeting oil exports due to global U.S. sanctions pressure. But according to the new intelligence, the government is scraping the barrel on foreign-exchange reserves, a critical indicator of the country’s ability to control economic forces and to import equipment and supplies.

Europe Accuses Iran Of Missile Violations

In a rare rebuke of Iran after more than a year of trying to bridge the divisions between Washington and Tehran, three European powers accused Iran of testing ballistic missiles intended to avoid missile defenses in violation of United Nations resolutions that urge Iran not to develop “nuclear capable” systems, reports the New York Times. Tehran’s testing of much larger missiles, capable of reaching Israel and perhaps the edge of Western Europe, resulted in a three-page letter that could be a turning point in relations between the West and Iran.

Austria Cracks Down On Mosques & Imams

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz promised a crackdown on radical Islam, and on Friday, he announced that his government would shut down seven mosques and could expel dozens of foreign-funded imams from the country. At least one of the mosques the government will close is said to be linked to Turkish nationalists, and the six others are run by a group called the Arab Religious Community. “This is just the beginning,” Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said at a news conference Friday. The move invokes a 2015 law banning religious groups from getting foreign funding, and the government suspects that as many as 60 imams may need to leave the country. More than 600,000 Muslims live in Austria, which is home to almost 9 million people. The current conservative coalition government in Austria gained control as a result of the many refugees and migrants that poured into Europe in recent years.

China Retaliates Over U.S. Legislation Supporting Hong Kong Protests

China said Monday it will suspend U.S. Navy visits to Hong Kong and sanction several American pro-democracy organizations in retaliation for the signing into law of legislation supporting human rights in the semi-autonomous territory. The law, signed last Wednesday by President Trump, mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong. While the nature of the U.S. and Chinese sanctions remain unclear, the steps are in response to America’s “unreasonable behavior,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. He added that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “seriously interfered” in China’s internal affairs. A potential trade deal between U.S. and China is now “stalled because of the “Hong Kong legislation,”

China Increases Facial Recognition Requirements

Facial recognition checks are about to become even more ubiquitous in China, as new rules come into force requiring anyone registering a new mobile phone number to submit to facial scans. While the government says the implementation of biometric data protects citizens’ legitimate rights and interests in cyberspace and helps fight fraud, the move brings with it considerable privacy and security concerns in one of the most tightly controlled online environments in the world. The country already enforces “real-name registration” policies which require people to link online accounts with their official government ID. But the latest move, which was formally adopted Sunday, further removes any sense of anonymity in using the Chinese internet. More than 850 million people across China — about 65% of the population — use their mobile devices to access the internet, according to the government, far more than those who use desktop services.

Migrants Protest Treatment in Bosnian Camp

Several hundred migrants refused food and water on Tuesday to protest the horrible conditions in the makeshift camp in which they are living in northwestern Bosnia. The Vucjak camp houses about 600 migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and according to Reuters, the camp lacks running water and electricity and is located on a former landfill near a mine field leftover from the war in the early 1990s. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic is urging the immediate closure of Vucjak as the region experiences freezing weather and the first snowfall of the season. Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia have closed their borders to undocumented immigration, leaving Bosnia with an upsurge in immigrants attempting to cross into the EU, while Bosnian authorities struggle to find a place for them. A new facility near Sarajevo won’t be ready to accommodate people for another 20 days.

  • Many countries have far more restrictive immigration policies than the U.S.

Cartel Assault Thwarted, But 20 Mexicans Were Killed

Mexican security forces on Sunday killed seven more members of a presumed cartel assault force that rolled into a town near the Texas border and staged an hour-long attack, officials said, putting the overall death toll at 20. The Coahuila state governor said the armed group—at least some in military style garb—stormed the town of 3,000 residents Saturday in a convoy of trucks, attacking local government offices and prompting state and federal forces to intervene. Authorities determined that the casualty count from the gun battles stood at 14 attackers dead and four police officers killed. Two civilians were slain by gunmen after being abducted. The reason for the cartel assault is unclear, but it is speculated that they were protecting a smuggling route.

Earthquakes

After a spurt of seismic activity this weekend, Mount Rainier National Park was shaken by a 3.6 magnitude earthquake Sunday afternoon. The quake hit at 12:31 p.m. and was felt as far as Kent, nearly 80 miles away, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The relatively shallow quake was centered roughly a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Mt. Rainier has been hit by “more than a dozen” earthquakes since Thanksgiving day. People living near Mount Rainier should prepare for what might happen in the event of an eruption, said Wes Thelen, a research seismologist at the Cascade Volcano Observatory.

A swarm of at least 15 earthquakes reaching up to 2.1 magnitude rattled Ridgely, Tennessee — a small town near the Mississippi River — over a two-day period, the U.S. Geological Survey reports. It’s part of the New Madrid Seismic Zone — which the Missouri Department of Natural Resources refers to as “the most active seismic area in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Weather

Winter Storm Ezekiel began its march as a ‘bomb cyclone’ across the nation before Thanksgiving when it slammed across southern Oregon and northwestern California with 100-mph wind gusts along the coast and multiple feet of snow in the mountains. Bomb cyclones hitting the West Coast are rare. Duluth, Minnesota received nearly 22 inches of snow fell in the Thanksgiving weekend blizzard that left streets impassable and shut down Interstate 35 south of town. The storm then swept west over the next four days, driving heavy snow and strong winds to a vast portion of the Upper Midwest and the Plains. The storm began pummeling the Northeast as snow, freezing rain and sleet on Sunday.

A broken levee shut down U.S. Highway 101 in Northern California on Wednesday and forced about 30 students and teachers to spend the night in their school’s gym. Also, a nursing home in a neighboring county evacuated its residents because of flooding. The levee near the school in Chualar was partially breached about 2 p.m., as an atmospheric river storm drenched the state. The mud flow and the intense downpour resulted in the road closures, as well as the flooding to residents in the community of Chualar.

Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rainfall have killed at least 250 people in recent months in East Africa, adding to a weather-fueled crisis that has impacted some 2.5 million people in the region. Flash flooding has hit the small but strategic East African nation of Djibouti, where the government and United Nations said the equivalent of two years’ rain fell in a single day. Several regional countries including Kenya are struggling after such downpours, with more to come. Rainfall from October to mid-November was up to 300% above average in the greater Horn of Africa region.