Archive for February, 2020

Signs of the Times

February 28, 2020

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. (Psalm 91:1-3)

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Trump Administration’s Protect Life Rule

In a 7-4 decision, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted injunctions that blocked the Trump Administration’s Title X rule change. Dubbed The Protect Life Rule, it requires that abortion businesses separate their abortion services from their family planning/birth control services both physically and fiscally in order to qualify for Title X family planning federal funding. The Ninth Circuit rejected arguments that the rule forces doctors to violate medical ethics by withholding information from patients or that it violates other federal laws that require doctors inform patients of all medical treatment options. Writing for the majority, US Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta, a George W. Bush appointee, found that the rule is a “reasonable interpretation” of Section 1008 of Title X, which forbids using Title X funds “in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Senate Bills Banning Infanticide Fail, Despite Majority Support

A majority of the United States Senate voted again Tuesday to ban late-term abortions and mandate medical care for infants delivered alive after failed abortions, though Senate filibuster rules once again prevented either measure from passing the chamber. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, would prohibit most abortions starting at 20 weeks (or five months) into pregnancy, by which point science indicates preborn babies are capable of feeling pain. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would require abortionists to transfer infants who survive abortions to hospitals, where they would be given the same degree of care as any wanted newborn. The Senate voted 53-44 for the 20-week abortion ban, and 56-41 for the anti-infanticide measure. Both needed 60 votes in order to end the filibuster.

California Teachers Association Pushing Transgender Agenda

“In California, you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, 16 to drive a car, 21 to buy a gun, alcohol, or pot. But if you want to change your gender? Well, then, you just have to be 12. And your public school will be more than happy to help. Need an abortion? Tell your teacher. Want to refill your birth control? Go to the school clinic. Thinking about starting hormone treatments? Your parents will never find out. At least, not under the policy the California Teachers Association (CTA) is pushing. That’s the amazing revelation from last month’s union meeting. On January 26th, the CTA decided to go big on the LGBT agenda — adding “transgender and binary youth” to the students who can leave class for medical reasons without their parents’ permission,” writes Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

  • New data released by the Swedish government reveals that since 2008, the number of teen girls in the country diagnosed with gender dysphoria has risen 1,500 percent.

Coronavirus Update

The CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease on Tuesday warned of an imminent coronavirus pandemic and said parents need to prepare for school closures and “significant disruption” in their lives. The coronavirus epidemic is now truly global, with infections or suspected infections on every continent except Antarctica.

  • The 60th case of COVID-19 detected in the U.S. is different from the other 59 in a way that worries public health officials. The CDC says the patient, diagnosed at UC Davis Medical Center in California, had not traveled to a country hit by the outbreak or been exposed to any other known cases, meaning this could be the first US case of community spread,
  • Fifty-three nations now have confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 83,000 people globally and killed over 2,800. Researchers found that 81% of Chinese cases were considered “mild.”
    • In contrast, there have been at least 29 million flu illnesses and 16,000 deaths from flu so far this season, according to the CDC
  • A woman in Japan tested positive for the coronavirus for the second time on Wednesday, after being released from the hospital after supposedly recovering. It’s a first known case of a second positive test.
  • The Trump administration requested $2.5 billion in emergency funding late Monday to deal with the global coronavirus outbreak, but congressional Democrats quickly slammed the request as “woefully insufficient” to address the epidemic. Democrats counter with a $8.5 billion proposal.
  • With quarantine measures keeping people at home, demand for online services is booming. Robots (i.e. self-driving vehicles) are delivering goods in places like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. When school resumed last week after the semester break, 50 million kids in China started taking their lessons through a computer screen.

Possible Parkinson’s ‘Pandemic’ Looms

The number of people living with Parkinson’s disease worldwide could double in the next two decades, experts project. In a report warning of a possible Parkinson’s “pandemic,” researchers say the stage is set for cases to surge to 12 million or more by 2040. Older age is a major risk factor for Parkinson’s, and with life expectancy rising worldwide, more people will develop the disease. At the same time, Parkinson’s patients are surviving longer, which drives up the number of people living with the disease at any given time. Then there’s a less expected factor: Declining smoking rates. While the habit has many devastating effects, research suggests it protects against Parkinson’s.

Illegal Immigrant Population Shrinking

Despite the surge of illegal migrants from Central America, the actual unauthorized population in the U.S. has dropped over the last decade, according to a new analysis Wednesday that found hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have surrendered their foothold and self-deported back home. The border is also no longer the key to illegal immigration, with the Center for Migration Studies of New York calculating that two-thirds of the new unauthorized migrants between 2010 and 2018 came on legal visas but never returned home. Only one-third jump the border. Over that period, the total illegal immigrant population fell from 11.8 million to 10.6 million, CMS says. In 2010, there were 6.6 million illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. By 2018 that had dropped to 5.1 million.

Court Backs Trump in Sanctuary Cities Grant Fight

The Trump administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants to force states to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement, a federal appeals court in New York ruled Wednesday in a decision that conflicted with three other federal appeals courts. The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court’s decision ordering the administration to release funding to New York City and seven states — New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island. The states and city sued the U.S. government after the Justice Department announced in 2017 that it would withhold grant money from cities and states until they gave federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

Federal Court Blocks Trump Administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program

In a setback for President Trump’s immigration crackdown, a federal appeals court has temporarily halted the administration’s policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases move through U.S. immigration courts. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday by a 2-1 vote to put the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy on hold until other legal challenges are decided. Nearly 60,000 people have been sent back since the policy took effect in January 2019.

10% of Eligible Voters are Immigrants, a Record High

More than 23 million U.S. immigrants will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, making up roughly 10% of the nation’s overall electorate – both record highs, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on Census Bureau data. The number of immigrant eligible voters has increased steadily over the past 20 years, up 93% since 2000.

‘Winner-Take-All’ Electoral System Constitutional, Court Rules

The winner-take-all systems used in Texas and 47 other states awarding electoral college votes to one presidential candidate is legal, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. A Hispanic advocacy group had argued at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month that states treating elections as winner-take-all is an affront to the concept of one person, one vote. The League of United Latin American Citizens has also filed lawsuits across the country in an attempt to force changes to the electoral college system. But the three-judge panel in a unanimous opinion Wednesday said the group’s argument is “flawed.” “Democratic elections necessarily result in winners and losers. The frustration of losing, however, does not violate the Constitution,” wrote Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee.

Arizona’s Most Populous County Becomes Gun ‘Sanctuary’

On Wednesday, Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populated, joined a growing national movement in which areas are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and proclaiming support for gun ownership rights. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted in Phoenix to declare one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties a “Second Amendment Preservation County,” following dozens of counties nationwide and four others in Arizona that have approved similar symbolic resolutions meant to stave off gun-control policies that could be seen as unconstitutional. The resolution in Maricopa County, which has about 4.4 million residents, simply says the board supports the right to own guns.

Social Media, Smartphone Use Affect Mental Health of Teens

Social media and smartphone use significantly affect the mental health of teenagers, according to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Researchers pored over dozens of studies that implicated smartphone and social media use in the increase of “mental distress, self-injurious behavior and suicidality among youth.” Another review of 20 studies found that the use of social media was associated with “body image concerns and disordered eating,” the research team reported. A study conducted in Germany found that kids who spent more time on Facebook were more prone to negative emotions such as envy and insecurity about their status.

Economic News

U.S. stocks tumbled once again on Friday, as coronavirus fears continue to mount. Equities are on track for their worst week since the Great Recession. The index dropped 3,226 points in the first four days of the week, including its worst one-day point drop in history on Thursday. All three stock benchmarks are on track for their worst week since October 2008. Economists and investors are concerned about the outbreak’s impact on economic growth and corporate earnings. Various American multinational companies, including Apple and Microsoft have warned that they won’t meet their earnings guidance because of disruptions from the virus. The travel industry may not recover for years.

Subprime credit card delinquencies have spiked to a record high, surpassing the peak from the previous financial crisis. A similarly disturbing trend is going on with auto loans. Seriously delinquent auto loans jumped to 4.94% of total auto loans and leases outstanding. This is higher than the delinquency rate in Q3 2010 amid the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Prime-rated loans had historically low delinquency rates; but a shocking 23% of all subprime loans were 90+ days delinquent.

The share of U.S. homeowners who are single hit a record 38.4% in 2018, the latest data available, up from 18% in 1960. The trend largely reflects rapid growth in the portion of Americans who are single. It also highlights an improving economy and job market and the willingness of buyers to set up households in untraditional ways to overcome sharply rising housing costs. The shift, if it persists, could shake up the housing market as builders put up more affordable homes tailored to singles and first-time buyers.

Persecution Watch

Eleven Christians were killed in an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Mutwanga district, north-east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 18 February. Earlier the same day, ADF militants murdered at least 30 people in a series of raids on four villages in Beni territory, Nord Kivu province. ADF militants repeatedly carry out abductions and target Christian property. A local Christian leader contacted Barnabas Aid to confirm that the ADF deliberately targeted Christians in the attack. The ADF Islamist militant group has subjected the majority-Christian country with violence for more than 20 years, killing many Christians.

Middle East

Imad at-Tawil, a senior Hezbollah operative, was killed on Thursday in an Israeli drone strike in Syria, according to Arab media reports. The Jordan-based Al-Hadath news outlet reported that Tawil was in charge of creating an Iranian-backed terrorist network on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, presumably in order to make that area a theater of operations against Israel. Hezbollah has been involved in the Syrian civil war for the past several years. Israel has warned Hezbollah it will not let the Shi’ite terrorist group build bases and networks in Syria that could be used as a staging ground for attacks against Israel.

Schools in Israeli communities near Gaza remain closed on Tuesday following reports of a shaky truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group after two days of intense fighting. The ceasefire went into effect at 11:30 p.m. on Monday, just hours after a previous truce unraveled. While the ceasefire appears to be holding, Israeli authorities remain wary and are prepared to respond to any attacks. The truce comes after PIJ launched more than 80 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilians Sunday and Monday. The Israel Defense Forces said the Iron Dome Missile Defense system intercepted 90 percent of the rockets aimed towards populated areas. However, one rocket hit a playground in Sderot and some buildings were damaged by shrapnel. The other rockets landed in open areas. No Israelis were seriously injured.

The Palestinian Authority has recently seized a Hasmonean-era fortress in Samaria and has converted it into “a Palestinian tourist site” as part of its campaign to seize Jewish heritage sites and transform them into “Palestinian sites” while systematically demolishing archaeological findings, reports United With Israel. The Shomrim Al Hanetzach‎ (Guarding Eternity) organization discovered Sunday that the PA has installed a new massive flag mast and lighting at the fortress of Arama, an ancient Hasmonean archeological site which dominates the ancient road from Shechem (Nablus) to the Jordan Valley.

Syria

Turkey says a Syrian government airstrike on its forces in northwestern Syria Thursday night killed 33 of its troops, the highest number of Turkish soldiers killed in a single day since Ankara first intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2016. The deaths were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces. The attack also sharply raises the risk of direct military confrontation between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia.

Saudi Arabia

Nearly 17 years after U.S. troops largely pulled up stakes from the kingdom, the U.S. is now back in Saudi Arabia in a base of tents in the desert about 60 miles southeast of Riyadh. About 2,500 U.S. military personnel are launching F-15 fighter jets and manning Patriot missile batteries. The return of the U.S. troops-after maintaining a much smaller footprint for nearly two decades-reflects the alarm of Saudi and American leaders at the current threat posed by Iran.

Iran

Iran’s conservatives won a landslide in the country’s parliamentary elections, strengthening hard-liners opposed to diplomacy with the West. But a record-low turnout dealt a public rebuke to the establishment’s call for unity in the face of escalating tensions with the U.S.

West Africa

Groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, at war with each other in the Middle East, are working together to take control of territory across a vast stretch of West Africa, U.S. and local officials say, sparking fears the regional threat could grow into a global crisis. Fighters appear to be coordinating attacks and carving out mutually agreed-upon areas of influence in the Sahel, the strip of land beneath the Sahara desert. The rural territory at risk is so large it could “fit multiple Afghanistans and Iraqs,” said Brig. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, head of the U.S. military’s Special Operations arm in Africa. “What we’ve seen is not just random acts of violence under a terrorist banner but a deliberate campaign that is trying to bring these various groups under a common cause,” he said.

India

At least 20 people in New Delhi, including one police officer, have been killed in three days of clashes between Hindus and Muslims coinciding with President Trump’s visit to India. Authorities say nearly 200 people have been injured and the death toll is expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded. In the worst intercommunal riots in the Indian capital in decades, violence erupted between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam. Relatives of Muslim victims accused police of standing by as the Hindu mobs torched buildings and beat people. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of creating an environment of hatred and its leaders of inciting violence with provocative speeches that sought to paint protesters against the citizenship law as anti-nationalist, Pakistan-funded Muslims.

Hong Kong

In a desperate effort to “do something” about the economic collapse that the region is suffering, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is set to unveil a relief deal which includes giving every Hong Kong permanent resident over the age of 18 a cash handout of HK$10,000 (around U.S. $1,300) to, reportedly, ease the burden on individuals and companies. Hong Kong is suffering an unprecedented slump in consumption, with retail sales having collapsed following months of government protests and now the coronavirus scare.

Haiti

Haitian police officers exchanged gunfire for hours Sunday with soldiers of the newly reconstituted army outside the national palace, in a dangerous escalation of protests over police pay and working conditions. At least three police officers were wounded. Haiti’s raucous three-day Carnival celebration was to have started Sunday afternoon in Port-au-Prince and other major cities, but the government announced Sunday night that Carnival was canceled in the capital “to avoid a bloodbath.” Police protesters and their backers had burned dozens of Carnival floats and stands at recent protests, saying they did not believe the country should be celebrating during a crisis. Police protests began this month after a half-dozen officers were fired over their attempt to unionize.

Earthquakes

At least nine people were killed and dozens more were injured after a strong earthquake rattled the border region between western Iran and eastern Turkey on Sunday morning. The 5.7 magnitude earthquake was centered in a mountainous area of western Iran, but it also caused significant damage across the border in the Turkish province of Van. Four villages were affected by the earthquake in Van, where search and rescue crews are looking for more victims. There have been 37 confirmed injuries in eastern Turkey and at least 75 injuries have been reported in western Iran.

Federal regulators have ordered California officials to drain a reservoir because its dam could collapse during a major earthquake and flood towns and cities from San Francisco Bay to Monterey Bay. The 240-foot earthen dam on the Anderson Reservoir in Santa Clara County poses too great of a risk, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has decided, and the lake must be drained by Oct. 1. If the dam failed when the reservoir was full, a 35-foot wall of water would slam into downtown Morgan Hill within 14 minutes. Within three hours, an 8-foot wave would reach San Jose.

Weather

Indonesians wade through flood water on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday. Overnight rains caused rivers to burst their banks in greater Jakarta sending muddy water into residential and commercial areas, inundating thousands of homes and paralyzing parts of the city’s transport networks, officials said. Dozens of Jakarta neighborhoods were flooded after torrential rains pounded Indonesia’s capital, less than two months after nearly 70 people were killed in some of the megacity’s worst flooding in years.

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Signs of the Times

February 21, 2020

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly “shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

Christians Sacrificing Own Safety to Help Resident of Wuhan, China

“Immensely courageous Christians in Wuhan, at the very center of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, are putting the care of their neighbors above their own safety, as they seek to help everyone in need,” reports Barnabas Aid. ” Brave believers are risking their own health to hand out protective masks, gloves and hygiene supplies to panicked and desperate people on the streets of the quarantined city.” Protective face masks have become the most valuable commodity in Wuhan. Supplies are gone from every shelf in every store. Christians are now choosing to go without themselves to give masks to others in need.

Religious Freedom Win in Kentucky

The Kentucky state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of a Christian business owner who declined to serve an LGBT pride festival, and who was punished by a local government for discrimination. “Today’s decision makes clear that this case never should have happened,” said Jim Campbell, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case of print shop owner Blaine Adamson before the Kentucky Supreme Court. “The First Amendment protects Blaine’s right to continue serving all people while declining to print messages that violate his faith,” Campbell said.

Court Rejects Atheist Suit Over 79-Year-Old Public Cross

An historic 34-foot World War II-era cross can remain standing in a Pensacola, Fla., park thanks to a federal appeals court ruling that pointed to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The 3-0 decision Wednesday by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its 2018 ruling, which was handed down prior to a landmark opinion by the Supreme Court in 2019 that let stand a World War I memorial. That Supreme Court decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association was considered a major victory for supporters of religious-themed monuments, and it had a major impact on the Pensacola case. “Having reconsidered the case in light of American Legion, we conclude, as the Supreme Court did there, that ‘the Cross does not offend the Constitution,’” Judge Kevin Newsom wrote.

Madison Wisconsin Deceives Parents about Their Transgender Children

“Imagine dropping your son off at school, never knowing that he lives a completely different existence as a girl for eight hours a day — and everyone knows it but you. And not only do teachers know it, but they go to great lengths to hide it. That’s the reality in Madison, Wisconsin, where moms and dads have been furious to find out that not only is the district keeping their children’s gender expression a secret, but there’s an elaborate scheme in place to keep parents from ever finding out!” reports Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. A policy passed in April 2018 is a systemic, district-wide campaign to lie to parents and exploit their children. Under the district’s official policy, a girl or boy — of any age — can “transition to a different gender identity at school” completely confidentially. Madison’s policy orders teachers keep up appearances by using the kids’ given names and pronouns whenever their parents are around, but in school they use the trans names and pronouns.

  • Big Brother wants not only to educate our children but to indoctrinate them as well.

Nearly Half of All Abortions by Women in Poverty

According to current data about abortion, nearly half of women who have an abortion live below the federal poverty level. Many abortion-minded women feel they simply can’t afford to take unpaid time off from work. Paid family leave could help alleviate this situation. This year, paid family leave has become a bit of a priority on various political agendas on both sides of the Congressional aisle. During his State of the Union address last week, President Trump threw his support behind the “Advancing Support for Working Families Act,” which was introduced late last year by Arizona Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy. The bipartisan bill favored by the President would allow couples, who become new parents by birth or adoption, to collect a portion of their future child tax credits early and receive a smaller credit for the next 10 to 15 years. As the New York Times describes, parents would be “borrowing from themselves.”

Trump Administration to Deploy Border Patrol to Sanctuary Cities

The Trump administration is deploying border patrol agents to sanctuary jurisdictions across the U.S. to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) track down and detain illegal immigrants freed by sanctuary cities and states. The New York Times reported Friday the administration is sending 100 specially trained officers to work with ICE from February to May. Among the agents are members of an elite unit known as BORTAC — which the Times describes as the SWAT team of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Such agents have gear like stun grenades and typically conduct high-risk operations targeting individuals known to be violent and those with significant criminal records.

375,000 Illegal Immigrants Released into U.S. in 2019

More than 375,000 of the 473,682 illegal immigrants who were captured going across the U.S.-Mexican border with a family member in fiscal 2019 were released into other parts of the United States, the Washington Examiner reported on Monday. Those who were released were permitted to go anywhere in the United States that they chose and are awaiting court hearings, along with some three million others, to determine if they will be allowed to remain in the country. The Border Patrol last March started letting people go directly from its custody instead of the usual procedure of turning them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement because the number of those caught at the time was so high that there was not enough bed space to accommodate them. In addition, a 2015 court ruling prevented the authorities from holding families for more than 20 days.

DHS Warns Critical System Operators of Cyberattacks

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday urged companies operating critical systems to review their cybersecurity security measures following a ransomware attack on a natural gas compression facility that caused management to lose access and visibility to certain data and operations. “Although they considered a range of physical emergency scenarios, the victim’s emergency response plan did not specifically consider the risk posed by cyberattacks. noted the alert from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The cyberthreat actor used a spear-phishing link to obtain initial access to the organization’s IT network, then deployed commodity ransomware to encrypt data for impact on both networks.

Coronavirus Update:

health officials around the world battle to contain the virus, named COVID-19, which has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide and caused 2,130 deaths, mostly in mainland China. In the U.S., 15 cases have been confirmed, and one American has died in China.

  • The coronavirus has turned a thriving South Korean city into a ghost town. Daegu, a city in southeastern South Korea, recorded dozens of new cases in recent days, prompting its 2.5 million residents to clear out of normally busy streets and shopping malls.
  • A Washington state man who was the nation’s first confirmed case of the new, deadly coronavirus has made a full recovery and is no longer quarantined, health officials announced Wednesday.
  • Two elderly passengers taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship because they were infected with the coronavirus have become the first fatalities from the virus-stricken vessel, Japan’s Health Ministry said Thursday. Japan now has three deaths linked to the COVID-19 illness.
  • One of the 11 Israelis who were flown home after being quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the first case to be reported inside Israel.

Alcohol Deaths Among Youth in U.S. Increasing

Doctors are seeing more patients in their 20s and 30s with symptoms of acute liver disease related to alcohol consumption. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published a study in January that found that from 1999 to 2017 the number of alcohol-related deaths per year doubled, rising from 35,914 to 72,558. Similarly, a study in the British Medical Journal published in 2018 also noted a dramatic increase in deaths in the United States from cirrhosis from 1999 to 2016. In that time period, people ages 25 to 34 saw the highest increase. “There is an epidemic of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder that I think is hiding behind the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Naga Chalasani, head of hepatology at Indiana University Health.

Boy Scouts of American Declares Bankruptcy

The Boy Scouts of America, fighting for survival amid a flood of sexual abuse lawsuits, has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Chapter 11 filing early Tuesday marks the start of what is expected to be one of the most complex bankruptcies in US history. Changes in statute-of-limitation laws in several states have led to thousands more lawsuits from men who say they were sexually abused as Scouts. The bankruptcy filing will put those lawsuits on hold. The organization said in a statement that Scouting programs “will continue throughout this process and for many years to come,” though they may have to sell off some of its properties, including campground and hiking trails. The organization says it plans to set up a fund to compensate all victims equally. It is expected to set a deadline for claims to be filed.

Most Recycled Plastics Wind Up in Landfills

Recycling plants in the United States don’t process many types of plastics, meaning that items placed into recycling bins by well-meaning consumers instead go to landfills or incinerators, according to a new report from Greenpeace. Researchers surveyed 367 recycling facilities across the nation for the report, and found that most of them only accept two of the seven types of plastics labeled for recycling in the U.S. Plastic jugs and bottles fall into those two categories. Items considered “mixed plastics,” such as food tubs, cups, lids, plates and trays, do not. The report found that 14% of the facilities surveyed accepted plastic clamshell food containers, 11% accepted plastic cups and 4% accepted plastic bags. Plastic recycling became more difficult in 2018, when China imposed a ban on the import of plastic waste from the U.S. and other countries.

Global Food Production Falling Fast

Global food production is being hit from seemingly every side. Thanks to crazy weather patterns, giant locust armies in Africa and the Middle East, and an unprecedented outbreak of African Swine Fever in China, a lot less food is being produced around the world than originally anticipated. On top of that, Australia’s hottest and driest year on record has slashed crop production, with summer output expected to fall to the lowest levels on record, according to official projections released Tuesday. The country’s agriculture department said it expects production of crops like sorghum, cotton and rice to fall 66 percent. The continent of Australia was considered to be one of the breadbaskets of the world. Now, instead of helping to feed the rest of the world, Australia is now relying on the rest of us to help feed them.

More Women Work But Still Do the Most Chores

Women now hold more jobs than men. But they also still perform the majority of household duties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 109,000 more women in the workforce than men. However, a Gallup poll reports that women are still more likely to do laundry, clean the house, do grocery shopping, prepare meals, wash dishes and make decisions about furniture and decorations – even among younger generations who are reportedly more egalitarian than ever.

Economic News

Earners at the top of the income ladder received the largest increase in their paychecks, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. Wages at the 95th percentile grew by 4.5% last year, while the median increase was just 1%.The median hourly wage climbed about 15% between 1979 and 2019, but pay for workers in the 95th percentile grew more than 63% over the past 40 years. Wage growth for low- and middle-wage workers continues to be slower than would be expected in an economy with relatively low unemployment,” said EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould.

In an increasingly precarious time for the nation’s farmers and ranchers, some who live in the nation’s wind belt have a new commodity to sell — access to their wind. Wind turbine leases, generally 30 to 40-years long, provide the landowners with yearly income that helps make up for economic dips brought by drought, floods, tariffs and the ever-fluctuating price of the crops and livestock they produce.

Japan’s economy is flirting with recession, and the novel coronavirus could push it over the edge. The world’s third-largest economy shrank 1.6% in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to a government estimate released Monday. The drop was even more severe — a 6.3% plunge — when measured against a year ago. “A recession now looks all but inevitable,” said Robert Carnell, chief economist and head of research for Asia Pacific at ING.

HSBC, one of the world’s biggest banks, said it would cut around 35,000 jobs and dramatically overhaul its business after its profit plunged by a third in 2019. The UK bank plans to reduce its global headcount by roughly 15% to 200,000 over the next three years. HSBC will also ditch $100 billion in assets, shrink its investment bank and close a third of its US branches as it shifts resources to the Middle East and Asia, where it already makes most of its profits.

Persecution Watch

Palestinian New York University professor Amin Husain leads an anarchist group called “Decolonize This Place,” which spearheaded a “rampage through the subways” at the end of January, wrecking turnstiles, spray-painting anti-cop messages and stranding commuters who could not return home, the New York Post reported. The incident resulted in 13 arrests and $100,000 in damage. Husain claims to be from “Palestine,” according to the Post, and reportedly bragged about “attacking Israeli soldiers as a teenager.” NYU removed the teacher’s contact information from its website, but Husain apparently taught a class in “militant activism,” according to the school’s site.

Islamist extremist gunmen stormed a Sunday morning worship service in a church in Burkina Faso, killing ten Christians and abducting the pastor, on Sunday February 16. After the church attack in Pansi village, Yagha province, the death toll rose to 24 when the militants later murdered 14 more people, including the abducted pastor. A number of Christians were reported injured and others were abducted in the attacks. Children are thought to be among the injured and missing.

A ruling from high court judges in Pakistan has allowed a Muslim to force a 14-year-old girl to marry him. And since the girl was Christian, the ruling also is allowing the Muslim to force the girl’s “conversion” to Islam. Huma Younus taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10. Her parents were away at the time. The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2013 declares marrying a person under 18 years-old in an offense punishable by three years in jail, but it is rarely enforced. Morning Star News reports that the ruling from the court left behind “heightened fears that it will encourage others to commit such crimes.”

Israel

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday announced several large-scale building projects in Jerusalem, including in the Givat Hamatos area which the Obama administration had opposed. Ethiopian and Russian immigrants have been living in Givat Hamatos since 1991, which is situated on a main route used by thousands of Israeli motorists daily in Jerusalem. Having “removed all of the impediments,” Netanyahu vowed to construct 4,000 new residential units of which 1,000 are to be built in the nearby Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa. “The Arab residents have a housing problem for which we are providing a solution,” Netanyahu said, additionally confirming another 3,000 units for Jewish residents.

Afghanistan

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday announced U.S. negotiators and the Taliban have reached an “understanding” to decrease violence in Afghanistan, in a move that brings both sides closer to an agreement to end America’s longest war. both sides are preparing to sign a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement on Feb. 29, “upon a successful implementation of this understanding.” There are about 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan whose mission is split between training Afghan security forces and conducting counterterrorism missions. The American military presence there dates to 2001 when U.S. troops helped topple the hardline Taliban government that had sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Iraq

On Sunday, at least four rockets hit near the sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and an Iraqi base hosting American troops inside the Green Zone early Sunday, but caused no casualties and only minor damage, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Iraqi security officials said two of the rockets fell inside the U.S. Embassy compound, while another hit near the coalition base. The attack was the latest in a recent series of rocket and mortar strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

Iran

Iranians began voting for a new parliament Friday, with turnout seen as a key measure of support for Iran’s leadership as sanctions weigh on the economy and isolate the country diplomatically. Iran’s leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and state media urged voter participation, with some framing it as a religious duty. Iranians have dealt with various types of economic hardship since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers and imposed sanctions.

Germany

A gunman believed to have been a far-right extremist was found dead after a shooting rampage in the German city of Hanau Wednesday night. Authorities say that after a seven-hour manhunt, the body of the suspect was found in his apartment, along with the body of his mother, the BBC reports. The man, identified by German authorities as Tobias R., is believed to have killed at least eight people in shootings at two hookah bars in the Frankfurt suburb before killing his mother and taking his own life.

Mexico

Hundreds of women took to the streets of Mexico City to protest the grisly murder and mutilation of a young woman, spray painting “we won’t be silenced” on the capital’s National Palace and facing off with riot police. Hours later hundreds marched to the offices of a media outlet that published images of the crime scene, and a newspaper truck outside was  set ablaze. The killing last weekend of Ingrid Escamilla, of Mexico City, comes as Mexico is grappling with a rise in gender-related attacks. Her boyfriend, who was been arrested, purportedly confessed to killing the 25-year-old.

Environment

Kenya is battling its worst desert locust outbreak in 70 years, and the infestation has spread through much of the eastern part of the continent and the Horn of Africa, destroying pasture and croplands in Somalia and Ethiopia and sweeping into South Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania. The locusts can travel over 80 miles a day. Their swarms, which can contain as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometer, eat as much as 35,000 people. In addition to the 12 million people already experiencing acute food shortages in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, the locusts now pose a potential threat to the food security of over 20 million others, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a U.N. agency.

More than 200 million gallons of toxic sewage – enough to fill 320 Olympic-sized swimming pools – spilled into Fort Lauderdale’s waterways over the past three months due to breaks in the city’s aging pipe system, according to a report Monday. After the ninth and most recent break in the water main system since December, residents in the southern Florida coastal city last week were advised to boil water used for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth for about nine days, the Miami Herald reported. “Considering the extent of this pollution, we should be more than eligible for state and federal assistance,” Mayor Dean Trantalis told the Sun-Sentinel. “We cannot suffer this burden alone.”

Weather

The first two months of winter – December and January – were the warmest on record (back to the 1880s) across the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says. Dozens of cities east of the Mississippi River were reporting one of their warmest winters to date from Dec. 1 through Feb. 17, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. And all of the big cities of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from Boston to Washington, D.C., have seen less snow than normal. An unusually strong polar vortex kept the arctic air locked over the polar regions rather than plunging southward into the U.S.

Following days of heavy rain, the Governor of Mississippi declared a state of emergency last Saturday due to flooding from the Pearl River in Jackson and surrounding areas. The river was that’s nearly 8 feet above flood stage and forecast to go even higher with additional rainfall. Dozens of homes were damaged and roads were closed in 14 Mississippi counties on Sunday. A landslide sent two large homes plummeting into the rain-swollen Tennessee River over the weekend. Some sections of Mississippi and Alabama have received over 12 inches of rain so far this month.

  • Dozens of school districts were closed or started late Friday and hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed as a winter storm moved across parts of North Carolina and Virginia. Officials warned drivers of hazardous black-ice roads in some areas. More than 13,000 customers were without power in North Carolina as of 8 a.m. Friday.

A powerful winter storm system — possibly rivaling the strongest ever in the North Atlantic — was pushing toward the Irish coast Saturday as Storm Dennis began to merge with another off Iceland, taking aim at the United Kingdom and the European mainland with likely wind gusts up to 85 mph and 100-foot waves. Rivers across Britain burst their banks on Monday as Storm Dennis brought a second day of flooding, killing one person. British authorities issued six severe flood warnings, meaning there is a “danger to life.” In Germany, where the storm is named Victoria, at least 10 people have been injured in weather-related accidents after winds reached as high at 107 mph.

Gospel of Grace website and podcasts available at www.gofg.org

 

Signs of the Times

February 14, 2020

A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:7-11)

High School Girls File Lawsuit over Transgender Athletes

Three female high school athletes in Connecticut, along with their families, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to prevent transgender athletes from competing in girls track and field meets, arguing that biologically male athletes have an unfair physical advantage. “Our dream is not to come in second or third place, but to win, fair and square,” Chelsea Mitchell said. “All we’re asking for is a fair chance.” The three are arguing that competing against biologically male athletes has denied them the chance to win medals and achieve scholarship opportunities.

Senate Initiates Two Pro-Life Measures

Republican leadership began the process today of initiating a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most late-term abortions past five months of pregnancy, and the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, which would require basic medical care for newborns born during failed abortions. If 60 senators vote to end debate on the bill, the Senate will vote on the bill itself. But Senate rules make it impossible to vote on a bill unless 60 senators agree that the vote should take place. The Senate is in recess next week and will vote on the bills upon returning.

  • A former abortion nurse testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that some babies are born alive during failed abortions and left to die, something that would be remedied if an anti-infanticide bill becomes law. Referring to a fellow nurse at the same hospital, she told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee how a live aborted baby had been thrown in the garbage.
  • Further testimony was given that only eight states require reporting when a child survives a botched abortion. Within this small fraction of our nation, more than 170 children were reported as having been born, alive. If all 50 states had similar results, that would be over 1,000 aborted babies who were born alive and then terminated.
  • A legislative committee in Colorado headed by Democrats voted down two bills this week that would have prohibited late-term abortions and punished doctors for neglecting to care for babies born alive following an abortion procedure.

Government Funding of Planned Parenthood Increased Last Year

In 2018, Planned Parenthood saw voluntary donations drop by a staggering $39 million compared to the year before. However, Congress made American taxpayers not only make up for that shortfall but threw in an extra $34 million to increase taxpayer funded abortion by a $73 million, reports Liberty Counsel.           Last year, Planned Parenthood not only received more money than ever before — $1.2 billion to be exact. And, they also performed more abortions than ever before — 345,672 lives cut short by abortion. Now, this year they want even more of your money, even as President Trump’s budget proposal seeks to reduce those funds.

Married People Live Longer

Married folks not only live longer than singles, but the longevity gap between the two groups is growing, U.S. government health statisticians report. The death rate is the annual number of deaths for every 100,000 people. Married men in 2017 had an age-adjusted death rate of 943 per 100,000, compared to 2,239 for widowers. The death rate was 1,735 per 100,000 for lifelong bachelors and 1,773 for divorced men. Married women had a death rate of 569 per 100,000, two-and-a-half times lower than the 1,482 rate for widows. The death rate was 1,096 for divorcees and 1,166 for never-married women.

Majority of Florida Hispanics Support Mandatory E-Verify

A majority of Hispanics in Florida support mandatory E-Verify for all companies in the Sunshine State, according to a new poll by St. Pete Polls. E-Verify is an internet-based federal system that checks an employee’s information on the I-9 Form against records at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. It’s a fast and accurate way to determine whether an employee has a legal right to work in the United States. The new poll finds that 6-in-10 Florida voters back mandatory E-Verify, as do a majority of Hispanics, just over 56 percent.

75% of Illegal Immigrants Skip Deportation Hearings

More than 7 out of 10 illegal immigrant families ordered to be deported have skipped their court dates and remain in the United States, according to federal statistics. In just 10 courts, some 36,115 illegal immigrant families ordered out from September 2018 to January 2020 never complied with a requirement to attend their hearings and instead are hiding out in the country, according to a Justice Department report from the Executive Office for Immigration Review Adjudication Statistics. The statistics are the latest in a long string of reports that have detailed how illegal immigrants disappear into the U.S. once they enter, notes the Washington Examiner.

Senate Defies Trump and Passes Iran War Powers Act

The Senate passed an Iran War Powers resolution on Thursday, a rare measure that was approved with bipartisan support despite the fact that it has been opposed by President Donald Trump and aims to rein in his ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. The vote was 55-45. Eight Republicans voted in favor of it. The President warned the Senate not to green-light the measure on Wednesday, tweeting that “it is very important for our country’s security that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” and adding, “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.”

Four Prosecutors Quit Over DOJ/Trump Interference

In an extraordinary move, all four federal prosecutors who took the case against longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone to trial withdrew Tuesday after top Justice Department officials undercut them and disavowed the government’s recommended sentence against Stone. The mass withdrawal of the career prosecutors on the case was a stunning response to the controversial and politically charged decision by Attorney General William Barr and other top Justice Department officials to reduce prosecutors’ recommended sentence of up to nine years. That decision came just hours after Trump publicly criticized the sentencing recommendation on Twitter.

  • Attorney General Bill Barr told ABC News on Thursday that President Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job,” in an unusual swipe at the president, although he emphasized that Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president.”

White House Extends National Emergency on Mexican Border

President Donald Trump will extend his national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border for another year, according to a notice submitted to the Federal Register on Thursday. The notice comes nearly a year after Trump declared a national emergency in order to secure funding to build his signature wall. The move paved the way for Trump to unlock billions of dollars in federal funds to construct additional barriers on the southern border, bypassing Congress after lawmakers refused to meet his multi-billion-dollar fund request. The extension allows the administration to continue dipping into Pentagon funds, which the administration is continuing to rely upon to complete hundreds of miles of wall. The White House is planning to shift at least $7.2 billion this year, and possibly more, from Defense Department funds, according to administration officials.

NY Governor Cuomo Concedes to Trump on Global Entry Dispute

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo conceded in a meeting with President Trump Thursday that the state will give federal authorities access to the DMV database specifically for those applying for the Trusted Traveler Program. The decision comes after the administration announced last week that New York state residents can no longer participate in certain Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry, due to provisions in the state’s new “Green Light Law” supporting undocumented immigrants. The law, which went into effect in December, allows undocumented immigrants to apply for New York driver’s licenses while protecting applicants’ information from immigration enforcement agencies.

Coronavirus Update:

A Chinese university says scientists identified the heavily trafficked pangolin as a possible intermediary host of the new coronavirus. The coronavirus from China is believed to have originated in bats and then transferred to humans through some other animal, health officials say. The pangolin may be that key link, researchers at South China Agricultural University said Friday. Pangolins, the world’s only scaly mammal, have long been valued for their meat. They are also viewed as a delicacy in some Asian countries, with their scales used for traditional medicine.

  • China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours. The authorities said a total of 63,851 people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 have died. 1,716 medical workers in China have contracted the virus and six of them have died. There have now been 15 cases in the U.S.
  • North Korea, which shares a border with China claims it does not have a single illness. Health officials believe they are lying and that thousands if not millions of poor North Koreans are at risk.
  • Hundreds of cruise ship passengers long stranded at sea by virus fears cheered as they finally disembarked Friday and were welcomed to Cambodia by the nation’s authoritarian leader, who handed them flowers. Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to let the Westerdam dock at the port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam had barred the ship earlier.
  • The rapidly-spreading coronavirus in China poses the biggest demand threat to the oil market since the 2008 financial crisis. The coronavirus has clobbered oil prices because it is destroying demand in China, the world’s largest oil importer.

109 Troops Suffered Brain Damage from Iran Missile Strike

More than 100 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury from last month’s Iranian missile attack on a base in Iraq, the Pentagon announced Monday. The number of troops wounded by the explosions at the Ain al-Assad base has risen dramatically since the Jan. 8 ballistic missile attacks. As of Monday, 109 troops have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, and 76 of them have returned to duty. The symptoms of traumatic brain injury are not always readily evident. Headaches, dizziness, memory loss and fatigue may manifest themselves days or weeks after the event. Explosions generate changes in air pressure that can damage the brain, and the closer troops are to a blast, the more vulnerable they are.

Attorney General Announces Additional Sanctions Against Sanctuary Cities

Charging that so-called “sanctuary” cities that protect illegal immigrants are jeopardizing domestic security, Attorney General Bill Barr announced a slew of additional sanctions that he called a “significant escalation” against left-wing local and state governments that obstruct the “lawful functioning of our nation’s immigration system.” Sanctuary cities, Barr said, are defined as those with policies that allow “criminal aliens to escape” federal law enforcement — and some jurisdictions are becoming “more aggressive” in undermining immigration authorities, with some local politicians developing “schemes” to circumvent immigration officials. Barr emphasized that there is no way to determine how many “criminal aliens” are in the U.S., in part because of “local policies,” although recent estimates under the Obama administration put the number as high as 2 million.

Trump’s Budget Abandons Pledge to Pay Off the National Debt in 10 Years

President Trump sent his fourth annual budget for fiscal year 2021 to Congress this week, which doesn’t have the kind of debt reduction that he’d initially promised. The national debt surpassed more than $23 trillion for the first time last October, a milestone that experts warned is further proof the country is on an unsustainable financial path. To put that amount into perspective: The median U.S. household income was $61,372 in 2017, according to the Census Bureau. If every American man, woman and child earned that median wage and gave every penny of it to the government, the total still wouldn’t pay off the national debt. The deficit grew to $984 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That was a 26 percent increase from the previous year and a 50 percent jump since Trump has been in office.

  • The budget proposes a modest 1% pay increase and less generous retirement benefits for federal workers. The proposal, included in Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget blueprint, is reigniting a longstanding debate over whether federal employees earn too much, or too little, compared to their private-sector counterparts. The president’s budget cites a 2017 Congressional Budget Office study that found federal workers’ total compensation on average is 17% higher than private-sector workers in similar jobs, chiefly because of their benefits.
  • The budget calls for cuts to the Social Security Disability which provides benefits to about 8.5 million disabled workers. The budget does not affect retirement benefits. But Social Security isn’t only for retirees: About 4.2 million children in the U.S. receive payments from the program because one or more of their parents died, became disabled or retired.

61% of Americans Better Off that 3 Years Ago

A Gallup poll has encouraging news for President Donald Trump as his battle for reelection heats up: More than 6 in 10 Americans say they are better off than they were three years ago when he took office, and about the same number credit him for the improvement. A strong majority of Americans (62%) say Trump should get credit for improving the economy. No other incumbent president in the past three decades has enjoyed such a high percentage of people saying they feel better about their situation. In 2012, when President Barack Obama was in the White House, 45% of Americans told Gallup they were better off than they were three years ago. In 2004, 1996 and 1992, the number was 50%.

Economic News

Politicians, left and right, love to spend our money, so the inexorable mountain of federal debt continues to increase to untenable levels. The  interest on the federal debt this fiscal year amounts to $479 billion, over 10% of the total budget, up from 6.2% in 2016.

Auto loan and lease balances have surged to a new record of $1.33 trillion. Delinquencies of auto loans to borrowers with prime credit rates hover near historic lows. But subprime loans (borrowers with a credit score below 620) are exploding and they’re driving up the overall delinquency rates to crisis levels. Prime and subprime auto-loan delinquencies that are 90 days or more past due – “serious” delinquencies –surged by 15.5% in the fourth quarter of 2019 to an historic high of $66 billion, according to data from the New York Fed released Thursday.

Hiring picked up in January as employers added 225,000 jobs, up from 145,000 in December. The unemployment rate rose to 3.6% from a 50-year low of 3.5%, the Labor Department said last Friday.

The country’s outstanding credit-card and other types of revolving debt have jumped almost 20% from a decade ago, reaching an all-time high of about $1.1 trillion. The average balance on a credit card is now almost $6,200, and the typical American holds four credit cards. Credit-card issuers are also giving Americans more room to run up debt, boosting the typical credit limit by 20% over the last decade to $31,000.

Millennials tend to get a bad rap as a generation that neglects to save money. But a new report from Bank of America reveals that 73% of millennials are, in fact, saving money in some capacity. But that’s not all. Among those who are saving, 59% have more than $15,000 in savings. And an impressive 24% of those with savings have $100,000 or more.

Uber reported losing $1.1 billion in the final three months of 2019 and $8.5 billion overall in 2019. Uber has lost $1 billion or more in each quarter since it went public last May, including a massive loss of $5.2 billion — its biggest ever — in the second quarter of 2019. “We recognize that the era of growth at all costs is over,” Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, said.

Persecution Watch

Open Doors’ annual World Watch List reports that 9,488 churches and Christian buildings were attacked in 51 countries in 2019, more than a 1000 percent increase since 2018. The report also notes that: 2,983 Christians were killed for their faith; 8,537 Christians were raped or sexually harassed for their faith; 3,711 Christians were unjustly arrested or imprisoned; 1,052 Christians were abducted for faith-related reasons, and 3,315 Christian homes were attacked, burned or destroyed.

Government officials within China have confiscated Bibles from churches in recent months and threatened fines up to $1400 as part of an intensified crackdown on Christianity and an effort to eradicate “illegal publications,” according to a new report. The campaign has targeted illegal underground churches as well as legal Three-Self churches, which are registered with the government.

Middle East

Three Syrian terrorists and four Iranian members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were killed on Thursday night in an air attack against a military compound near the international airport in Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. In a rare response to the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that maybe another country did it. Attacks on Iranian strongholds in Syria have been a common occurrence throughout the years. On Feb. 6, alleged Israeli airstrikes killed 23 pro-Iranian militants at the Mazzeh military airbase near Damascus. Israel has been very determined to stop Iran from gaining a foothold on its northern border.

Israel

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Thursday to protest his reluctance to apply swift sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan criticized Netanyahu for bowing to U.S. pressure to hold off on immediate annexation. Yesha Council head and Jordan Valley Regional Council David Elhayani said that failure to act now will damage Netanyahu’s chances of winning the upcoming election.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have condemned the blacklist issued by U.N. Human Rights Council of 112 companies with ties to Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria released on Wednesday. “These are companies that provide jobs to both Israelis and Palestinians, helping them to work together, which should be commended not reprimanded,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “This blacklist does not advance peace negotiations, and in fact, retracts from the overarching goal of achieving long-term stability in the region.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “We are concerned that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s announcement is not in furtherance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Iran

A U.S. Navy warship seized weapons believed to be of Iranian “design and manufacture,” including 150 anti-tank guided missiles and three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, the American military said on Thursday. In a statement, the military said the guided-missile cruiser Normandy boarded a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel, in the Arabian Sea on Sunday. “The weapons seized include 150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs,” the statement said.

Afghanistan

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and six wounded in a so-called insider attack in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province late Saturday when an Afghan dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire, the U.S. military said. the shooter was an Afghan soldier who had argued with the U.S. forces before opening fire. The gunman was killed before he could shoot any others. There have been numerous attacks by Afghan national army soldiers on their allied partners during 18 years of America’s protracted war in Afghanistan. Six U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2020, including Saturday’s casualties. Last year, 22 U.S. service personnel died in combat there.

Syria

U.S. troops returned fire in self-defense Wednesday after coming under attack by unknown individuals at a Syrian checkpoint near a village in northeast Syria.  The coalition forces were conducting a patrol near Qamishli when they encountered the occupied checkpoint.  After issuing a series of warnings to de-escalate the situation, they “came under small arms fire from unknown individuals.” U.S. officials said no coalition service members were killed, but did not immediately say whether there were any injuries. One attacker was killed.

Thailand

A soldier with a grudge gunned down 26 people and wounded 57 in Thailand’s worst shooting spree before he was fatally shot inside a mall in the country’s northeast on Sunday. Officials said the soldier was angry over a financial dispute, first killing two people on a military base and then went on a far bloodier rampage Saturday, shooting as he drove to the mall where shoppers fled in terror. Most of the deaths took place at Terminal 21 Korat, an airport-themed mall filled with colorful Lego sculptures, a merry-go-round and huge replicas of landmarks from around the world. It took police sharpshooters 16 hours to end the crisis.

Environment

An iceberg twice the size of Washington, D.C., has broken off the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica, scientists reported this week. The Pine Island glacier “is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica,” according to NASA. The glacier and the nearby Thwaites glacier together contain “enough vulnerable ice to raise global sea level by 1.2 meters (4 feet),” NASA said. The glacier has been losing large chunks of ice over the past three decades.

  • Ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean is currently the highest it has been since 2010 with support from the strongest polar vortex on record. Ice covers 5.4 million square miles of the Arctic – roughly the size of the United States, Mexico and India combined. This coverage is still below the long-term climate average, but the uptick is at least a temporary stall in sea ice decline.

A train pulling 96 cars loaded with ethanol was burning Thursday morning after being derailed by a rain-induced rockslide in Kentucky. The train derailed in Draffin, Kentucky, about 125 miles southeast of Lexington. The rockslide derailed two locomotives and an unknown number of rail cars into the Big Sandy River. Some diesel fuel made it into the river. Two crew members were initially trapped in the derailed locomotive, but they climbed out and waited for firefighters to rescue them by boat.

Tens of thousands of aging wind turbine blades have reached the end of their lifespan and are coming down from steel towers around the world.  Most have nowhere to go but landfills. Some are as long as a football field and can only be transported one at a time. In the U.S. alone, about 8,000 will be removed in each of the next four years. Europe, which has been dealing with the problem longer, has about 3,800 coming down annually through at least 2022. It’s going to get worse: Most were built more than a decade ago, when installations were less than a fifth of what they are now.

  • This doesn’t seem to be sustainable nor cost-effective.

Weather

A balmy temperature of nearly 65 degrees was recorded in Antarctica last Thursday, an all-time record high for the normally bitterly cold continent. The temperature was recorded at an Argentine research base on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the World Meteorological Organization said. It beat the previous record of 63.5 set on March 24, 2015. The average high temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula during their summer season is usually in the 30s.

At least five people were killed in four states as severe storms, damaging tornadoes and flooding swept across the Southeast last Thursday. More than 300,000 customers were without electricity from Florida to Pennsylvania as of 8 a.m. Friday. Heavy rain across parts of the South caused serious concerns in several states, including Mississippi, where a levee breached Monday night. Much of North Alabama was under a flash flood warning. In Morgan County, Alabama, U.S. Highway 231 was closed indefinitely Thursday morning after it was damaged by downpours this week.

Damaging winds and massive waves hit parts of northwestern Europe last weekend as a powerhouse North Atlantic jet stream of over 200 mph drove an intense storm toward Ireland and the United Kingdom. The storm had winds up to 90 mph. In England, a severe flood “danger to life” warning was issued for River Nidd in North Yorkshire. Heathrow Airport cancelled hundreds of flights. France, Belgium and the Netherlands also saw rain and high winds and issued severe weather alerts.         Seven people were killed.

Gospel of Grace website and podcasts available at www.gofg.org

Signs of the Times

February 6, 2020

Gospel of Grace website and podcasts available at www.gofg.org

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. (Psalm 91:3-6)

Six of Eight NFL Playoff QBs are Professing Christians

Six of the eight starting quarterbacks who made it into the divisional championship round are professing Christians. Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes attends Bible study every Friday with his teammates and attends chapel every Saturday. In addition:

  • Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill also says, “”I spend time with God before I get to the stadium, and then when I lace up my cleats I thank God for the opportunity to go out there and attempt to glorify Him.”
  • “First and foremost, before I go further along in my speech, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” said the Ravens Lamar Jackson said after a game. “Without Him, none of us would be here right now.”
  • During a trip to Israel, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans was immersed in a place thought to be where John baptized Jesus. “It is simply overwhelming to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River,” he said. Watson has “Glory to God” tattooed on his right throwing arm.
  • Said the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson, who frequently tweets Bible verses, “I’ve found peace and hope and love and joy in Jesus, and He’s the way and the only way.”
  • “I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart on my 17th birthday,” said the Saints’ Drew Brees.
  • Tweeted Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles after a loss this season, “Praise HIM in victory & defeat, the hills and the valleys, the good and the bad. God 1st.”
  • 2017 Super Bowl champion Nick Foles said, “When I hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the reason I’m smiling, my faith was in Christ,” said Foles. “In that moment, I realized I didn’t need that trophy to define who I was because it was already in Christ.”

President Trump Calls on Congress to Ban Late-Term Abortions

During his State of the Union address this evening, President Donald Trump called on Congress to ban late-term abortions ending the lives of thousands of unborn babies every single year. “I am also calling upon numbers of Congress tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies,” the president said. “Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or independent, surely we must all agree that every human life is a sacred gift from God.” Thousands of late-term unborn babies still are legally aborted in the U.S. each year, as many as 9,000 of the 926,200 aborted in 2014, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.

Impeachment Fiasco Yields Highest Approval Rating for Trump

As predicted months ago, the Democratic-majority House impeached President Trump only to have the Republican-majority Senate find him not guilty. What a waste of tax-dollars and time. The only tangible result is that President Trump’s approval rating hit a record high in the most recent Gallop poll. Trump scored his highest job approval rating yet at 49%. The poll also indicated that most Americans favored acquitting him in his impeachment trial. Gallup notes that if Trump’s ratings spike is due to a backlash against impeachment, then these numbers could fall now that the trial has ended, as happened with former President Bill Clinton a few months after his acquittal in 1999.

Millennials Support Socialism, Ignore History

Seventy percent of millennials – and 64 percent of Gen Z – answered that they’d be somewhat or extremely likely to vote for a socialist candidate, according to a poll conducted by data and research firm YouGov. “The historical amnesia about the dangers of communism and socialism is on full display in this year’s report,” Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, said in a statement. Morgan Zegers, the 22-year-old founder of Young Americans Against Socialism, said her nonprofit aimed to expose the failures of socialism and promote capitalism. “Look at Venezuela today, or Cuba,” Zegers, the daughter of an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, told Fox News. Both socialistic countries are an economic disaster.

  • Hours-long waits for gas and food, crumbling buildings and oppressive government surveillance marked the experience of four Americans who captured their trip to communist Cuba on video. The members of the student activist group Turning Point USA note that images of Cuba on the internet and in media reports typically do not portray the harsh reality. “The effects of socialism are everywhere — crumbling infrastructure and disgusting living conditions,” says TPUSA’s Benny Johnson.
  • In Denmark, often referenced as socialism’s shining star, those who make more than the equivalent of $80,000 actually forfeit most of their income. And everyone pays a 25 percent sales tax on all goods.

International Religious Freedom Alliance Forms

Leaders from the United States and seventeen other countries gathered in Washington D.C. this week for the first meeting of the new International Religious Freedom Alliance. The alliance falls under the leadership of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. “We will be looking at things we can work collectively on and [how] we can push for religious freedom efforts around the world. We are excited about the countries and their enthusiasm,” Said Brownback. Requirements for membership are high, according to Brownback. The alliance welcomes countries who have shown a strong commitment to religious freedom in their history. As part of the initiative, Brownback traveled to Rome earlier this year to meet with the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, which is a coalition of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders.

Coronavirus Update: Already Bigger than SARS

The death toll in mainland China, where the outbreak began, jumped by 73 to 563 on Thursday, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases. The impact of the deadly coronavirus is already bigger than the SARS outbreak of a decade ago, surpassing the 349 people who died in China from the SARS outbreak.

  • More than 5,300 people are being quarantined on two cruise ships off Hong Kong and Japan amid concerns passengers and crew were inadvertently exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus by infected passengers. Ten people have come down with the coronavirus as of Thursday with the rest under “cabin arrest.”
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified Congress on Sunday that it might need to transfer up to $136 million to help combat the fast-moving coronavirus epidemic, a new sign of how the White House has ramped up its response in recent days. The notification came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quickly burning through $105 million that was set aside for emergency public-health responses to things like the coronavirus.
  • Last December, China detained eight doctors after they reported observing several patients in Wuhan coming down with what they thought might have been Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, but was actually the coronavirus, The Daily Beast reports. The group of doctors and medical technicians attended medical school together and communicated over WeChat, a Chinese social media network. Chinese police announced on Jan. 1, 2020 that the group had been detained for “misinforming” the public, saying that Chinese authorities have “taken legal measures” against those who “spread rumors.” Dr. Li Wenliang — the Chinese whistleblower doctor who warned the public of a potential “SARS-like” disease in December 2019 —died of coronavirus in Wuhan Wednesday.
  • Faced with shuttered stores and empty streets, big consumer brands and fashion houses are getting nervous about the impact of the coronavirus on their businesses. Nike, Adidas and Capri Holdings, which owns Versace, Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors, are among the companies this week that have warned investors that sales could take a hit as the virus spreads across China. Roughly 150 of Capri’s stores in mainland China are closed, according to the company. Nike said it has shuttered about half of the stores it owns in China, while Adidas said the company and its franchisees had shut a “significant” number of shops.
  • For decades, China was the promised land for American, European and Japanese carmakers. Now, the coronavirus outbreak threatens to prolong a slump in vehicle sales, derail production in the country and snarl global auto supply chains. Volkswagen, Daimler, General Motors, Renault, Honda and Hyundai are among the global carmakers who have invested heavily in China, forming partnerships with local companies and building vast factories. China makes more cars than any other country, and is also the world’s biggest market.
  • China announced on Thursday that it will halve additional tariffs on $75 billion worth of US imports, as the world’s two largest economies continue to step back from a years-long trade war that has hurt both countries and dented global growth. The move comes as China is grappling with the escalating coronavirus outbreak.

Three Other Plaques Running Rampant

Besides the coronavirus, three other plagues have also been marching across Asia. African Swine Fever was devastating pork farms from one end of China to the other, with about two-thirds of China’s swine herd lost to the disease for which there is no cure. Fortunately, African Swine Fever does not affect humans. Meanwhile, there has also been a very alarming resurgence of the H5N1 bird flu in China. According to the Daily Mail, more than 17,000 chickens have been culled in an effort to keep this new outbreak from spreading further. Authorities in an eastern Indian state started culling chickens and destroying eggs in order to contain the bird flu virus. In addition, the H1N1 swine flu is starting to spread once again.  In fact, more than 100,000 people in Taiwan “sought medical treatment for flu-like symptoms at hospitals across the country over the past week” and there have been 13 confirmed deaths. This swine flu variant can indeed infect humans and was the cause of worldwide concern not that long ago.

Trump Expands Terror Travel Ban to Six New Countries

President Trump signed an order Friday expanding his travel ban to six new countries, targeting nations the government says pose a threat because they don’t issue electronic passports or don’t do enough to share information with American authorities to vet their citizens looking to travel. The six countries are Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. They join seven countries who are still part of the president’s previous travel ban: Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. “It is fundamental to national security, and the height of common sense, that if a foreign nation wishes to receive the benefits of immigration and travel to the United States, it must satisfy basic security conditions outlined by America’s law-enforcement and intelligence professionals,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

DHS Removes NY from Trusted Traveler Program

Homeland Security fired a stunning warning shot across the bow of sanctuary cities and states on Thursday, saying New York is being cut out of the department’s trusted traveler programs, meaning hundreds of thousands of residents will see longer lines at airports and border crossings. The move was in response to New York’s new law that grants driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and also bars Homeland Security from accessing state motor vehicle databases. New York’s goal was to shield illegal immigrants, but federal officials said it means they can no longer verify the identities of citizens applying for the travel programs, so they’ll have to suspend new sign-ups from New York.

Trump Eases Obama-Era Restrictions on Land Mines

In an era of great power competition with near-peer rivals like China and Russia, the Trump Administration says Obama-era policies like the ban on landmines needlessly hinders the ability of U.S. military troops to carry out their missions. On Friday, the administration formally canceled the presidential policy on landmines in favor of one administered and managed by the Department of Defense. Landmines will now be on the table for military commanders in the future, Pentagon officials said. “These systems help protect defending forces from both enemy armor and dismounted threats and ensure units are not outflanked or overrun when under attack,” according to the Defense Department memo released Friday.

Al-Qaeda Leader Arrested in Arizona

A man the Iraqi government says is an Al Qaeda leader has been arrested in Arizona, prosecutors said. Authorities in Iraq have accused Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, 42, of killing two police officers in Fallujah in 2006 with other members of the terror group founded by Usama Bin Laden. Al-Nouri was arrested in Phoenix and appeared before a federal magistrate last Friday. The FBI and U.S. marshals arrested him after Iraq requested his extradition. “According to the information provided by the Government of Iraq in support of its extradition request, Ahmed served as the leader of a group of Al-Qaeda terrorists in Al-Fallujah, Iraq, which planned operations targeting Iraqi police,” Arizona federal prosecutors said in a news release.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit fell for the first time in six years in 2019 as the White House’s trade war with China curbed the import bill, keeping the economy on a moderate growth path despite a slowdown in consumer spending and weak business investment. The trade deficit dropped 1.7% to $616.8 billion last year, declining for the first time since 2013. That represented 2.9% of GDP, down from 3.0% in 2018. Goods imports plunged 1.7% last year, also the first decrease in three years. The United States imported 2.4 billion barrels of crude oil, the fewest since 1992, as the country significantly reduced its dependence of foreign oil amid a surge in production and exploration.

Data from the Institute of Supply Management shows the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in January after contracting for prior five straight months. The ISM’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index climbed to 50.9. Any reading over 50 denotes growth. With a partial trade deal in place, companies seem more likely to get back on track with their plans, lifting orders and output and thereby ending the mini downturn, analysts say.

Domestic inflation remains well below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. That’s according to the most recent Personal Consumption Expenditures update. The core data rose 1.6%, in line with expectations and the previous reading. That’s why the Fed is more likely to lower interest rates again rather than raise them. Whether that’s good or bad in the long term remains to be seen.

There was a surge in farm bankruptcies last year, up 20% over 2018 despite more federal aid. The Trump administration allocated $28 billion in aid for farmers affected by his trade war with China in the past two years, but bankruptcies were recorded at the highest level since 2011, according to an American Farm Bureau study. The bureau said there were 595 Chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies last year. In addition to retaliatory tariffs from Beijing that hurt soybean exports, U.S. farms were also impacted by President Donald Trump’s trade negotiations with Mexico and China.

Macy’s will close roughly 125 more stores, a fifth of its locations, and is cutting about 2,000 jobs over the next three years. The retailer said Tuesday that it will be eliminating 9% of its corporate and support positions. Traditional chains are looking increasingly frail less than a month into 2020, with vacancies piling up and few near-term prospects for a turnaround. National chains, including J.C. Penney, Papyrus, Express and Pier 1 Imports, as well as other retailers, have collectively announced 1,218 store closures this year.

Persecution Watch

Jihadists, claiming to be killing “in the name of Allah”, returned to the scene of a previous atrocity in Burkina Faso on January 25 and murdered at least ten Christian men in a village marketplace; some estimates have put the death toll as high as 50.

Nineteen Nigerian Christians are now known to have died in an attack by Fulani militants on the village of Kwatas, in Plateau State, on Sunday January 26.

Five Christians were killed in a Boko Haram night-time attack on a Christian village in Far North Cameroon on January 17; the same community the Islamist terrorists had struck less than two weeks before.

Two more churches were ordered to be sealed by courts in Muslim-majority Algeria in January under the country’s controversial licensing regulations, which have led to the closure of at least eleven churches since the beginning of 2018.

Middle East

The official Saudi position on the Mideast peace plan presented last week by U.S. President Donald Trump was one of qualified support. A Saudi Foreign Ministry reaction to the plan’s release stated, inter alia, that “the Kingdom appreciates the efforts made by President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, and it encourages the start of direct peace negotiations between the sides under U.S. sponsorship, in which any dispute regarding details of the plan will be settled. This is in order to advance the peace process and arrive at an agreement that will actualize the brother Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.” Saudi officials stressed that the Palestinians should not reject the plan outright, but use it as a platform to negotiate. Saudi journalist Ahmad ‘Adnan wrote, “The Palestinians have in decades past specialized in missing golden opportunities because of [their] mistaken assessment of their capabilities and of the crisis.”

  • According to reports in the Israeli media, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell failed to convince all 27 European members of the Foreign Affairs Council to issue a “shared resolution” blasting the White House’s recently released peace plan. Borrell was reportedly thwarted by Austria, Italy, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, in addition to “at least two other unnamed nations,” Times of Israel These countries effectively blocked the anti-Israel resolution, which required agreement by all 27 member nations.
  • Russia has issued its first official pronouncement on the Trump administration’s deal of the century. On Sunday, Dmitri Peskov, Kremlin press secretary, said, “The plan doesn’t stand in line with the decision of the United Nations and earlier agreements.”On Saturday, the Arab League in Cairo held an emergency meeting in a show of opposition to the Trump plan. Those in attendance said they wouldn’t cooperate with the U.S. to implement the plan.

Leaders of the councils representing Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley rallied in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on Tuesday, in protest over the prime minister’s reluctance to apply swift sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a Likud rally in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night, saying that his earlier statements in favor of annexing the settlement communities in the West Bank were still in effect but implementation of any plan would need to wait, at least, until after the elections scheduled for 2 March. “When we win, we will continue making history,” Netanyahu said. “When we win, we will extend sovereignty over all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Uganda this week is bearing diplomatic fruit, including a public pledge by Sudan’s leader, Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to work towards the normalization of relations. The announcement was made following a meeting between the two leaders in Entebbe, Uganda, under the auspices of Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. The move comes less than a year after Sudan’s military overthrew longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, under whose leadership Sudan had maintained close ties to Israel’s arch-enemy, Iran.

An IDF combat soldier was severely injured in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem early on Thursday morning, the Israeli military said in a statement. Another 11 soldiers were lightly hurt. During the incident, a terrorist sped his car toward IDF soldiers who marched adjacent to the First Station in Jerusalem as part of a military activity. Security forces “are currently pursuing the terrorist who escaped the scene.”

Islamic State

The Islamic State claimed responsibility Monday for a terror attack on a London street that left three people injured and the knife-wielding attacker shot dead by police. Sudesh Amman, 20, had a fake bomb strapped to his chest when he stabbed two people Sunday in the south London neighborhood of Streatham, police said.  Amman had been released from prison days earlier after serving about half of a three-year sentence for promoting terrorism. Counterterrorism officers who had been monitoring Amman’s activities shot him dead. ISIS claimed Amman was inspired by the group’s cause, saying the incident was “in response to calls to attack the citizens of coalition countries” combating ISIS across Syria and Iraq.

An ISIS spokesman recently released a new audio message, which included a call for jihadist factions in the Sinai Peninsula and in Syria to step up attacks against Israel. ISIS also claimed credit for blowing up a section of an Israeli-Egyptian natural-gas pipeline in the Sinai.

Yemen

The United States conducted an airstrike against the leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is likely to have resulted in his death, according to people familiar with the matter. The leader, Qassim al-Rimi, has been described as a possible heir to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to terrorism experts. His death would deal a significant blow to the terrorist organization, eliminating one of its most prominent members. Over the years, U.S. officials have said the Yemen branch was especially dangerous because of its ability to produce sophisticated bombs and its ambition to launch attacks against targets in the United States and Europe.

Afghanistan

An American contractor, Mark R. Frerichs of Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped last Friday in Khost, a province located in the southeastern part of the country that borders the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an underdeveloped region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, U.S. officials believe the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network orchestrated the operation. Efforts to locate and recover him include a joint effort by Departments of State and Defense, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Spain

The US Embassy in Madrid has issued a warning to American citizens after what it says has been “a steady increase in the number of sexual assaults nationally over the past five years.” The embassy says this includes a rise in sexual assault “against young US citizen visitors and students throughout Spain” and visiting Americans should take precautions. The embassy warns that American victims of sexual assault “can find it very difficult to navigate the local criminal justice system, which differs significantly from the US system.” The warning follows the alleged rape of three sisters from Ohio in the city of Murcia on New Year’s Eve.

Environment

Scientists have discovered warm water underneath the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, which could speed up the melting of the Florida-sized block of ice, potentially affecting sea-level rise around the world. At 74,000 square miles, the glacier is roughly the same size as Florida and is particularly susceptible to climate and ocean changes. The hunk of ice earned its ominous “doomsday” nickname because it’s one of Antarctica’s fastest melting glaciers.

Earthquakes

An earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale was reported by the Israeli Energy Ministry Thursday morning. The report put the epicenter of the tremor approximately nine kilometers southwest of the Carmel region. “The whole building moved,” a Haifa resident told Walla. “All the residents evacuated the building. It was scary. It doesn’t matter how much they tell you it might happen, it catches you by surprise when it does.” No serious damage or injuries were reported at press time.

Wildfires

A state of emergency was declared last weekend in Australia’s capital city of Canberra and surrounding areas as raging wildfires burn to the south, fueled by temperatures forecast to be well over 100 degrees. The Emergency Services Agency for the Australian Capital Territory warned residents to be prepared to protect their homes or evacuate. The emergency declaration comes in the wake of historic wildfires that have laid waste to vast areas of southeastern Australia since September. Dozens of blazes have killed at least 33 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and burned more than 26 million acres of land. Australia’s relentless bushfires destroyed dozens of homes south of Canberra overnight Sunday.

Weather

A winter storm closed 160 miles of Interstate 25 in Wyoming and a stretch of I-15 in Montana and Idaho on Monday. A number of other highways in the state were also closed because of the storm. On Tuesday, the storm brought snow to Colorado, where most Denver schools delayed opening, and all major school districts in the Colorado Springs area were closed. Officials in Oklahoma warned of hazardous travel conditions as a winter storm marched eastward Wednesday across the Southern Plains and Midwest, prompting schools closures and causing power outages.

Severe storms moving across the South killed one person Wednesday in Alabama. Parts of five Southern states were under tornado watches, up to 5 inches of rain was falling in parts of the East, and a sheet of ice and up to 2 feet of snow threatened New England on Thursday as a gnarly winter storm rolled east.

Two avalanches in Eastern Turkey have killed at least 40 people and injured more than 50, including several rescue workers who were searching for people buried under the first slide. The first avalanche happened late Tuesday and buried a minibus as well as a snow-clearing vehicle. Officials have been alerted to the possibility of a third avalanche in the area.