Archive for December, 2020

Signs of the Times (12/31/20)

December 31, 2020

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Muted Celebrations Around the World to Greet 2021

Many people want to put 2020 firmly behind them. But governments around the world have pleaded with people not to gather together to welcome in 2021 with traditional New Year’s Eve parties and street celebrations for fear of accelerating the spread of coronavirus. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, India and Australia are among the many nations where this year’s New Year festivities will be a muted affair. Exactly a year has passed since mysterious cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, were first reported to the World Health Organization. Today millions of people are under lockdowns and tough restrictions on everyday activities as governments battle to keep health care systems afloat until newly approved vaccines can be rolled out.

  • Stay home, be safe and turn your focus on Jesus Christ in order to put off the old self, not just the old year, and put on the new self, created by God for you in “true righteousness and holiness.’ (Eph. 4:22-24)

California Churches Lost Last-Ditch Effort for Christmas Services

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected late Thursday a San Diego-area church’s request to lift a state ban on indoor worship for Christmas, extinguishing the last hope of California churches hours before the Friday celebration. Another three-judge panel on Wednesday effectively nixed Christmas Day services for a different California church, Harvest Rock Church, by scheduling a hearing on the emergency motion for Dec. 28. Attorneys for the churches had pointed out that the Supreme Court earlier this month vacated orders against the California churches after ruling in favor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn in its lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s public health restrictions. A ruling in favor of removing the restrictions for South Bay or Harvest Rock would have presumably applied to all California churches.

First Woman Appointed as U.S. House of Representatives Chaplain

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she is appointing Presbyterian minister Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben as the new House chaplain — the first female chaplain ever for either chamber of Congress. “Kibben brings decades of decorated experience in the military and the ministry, as a retired Rear Admiral who served as the U.S. Navy’s Chief Chaplain and the chaplain of the Marine Corps,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Her integrity, experience and patriotism will serve the Congress and the Country well, as she ministers to the needs of Members.”

NYT Promotes a Pro-LGBT Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ with Jesus as a Muslim Woman

A gender-inclusive, polytheistic, multi-cultural rendition of Handel’s Messiah is gaining praise from those on the Left for its LGBT imagery and its reimagining of Jesus as a Muslim woman. The New York Times posted a complimentary story about the rendition, called Messiah: Complex, which was conducted in collaboration between the Against the Grain Theater and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The singers change much of the lyrics, which originally were written by Charles Jennens (1700-1773), a friend of George Frideric Handel. Jennens based the text on Scripture.

Trump Signs Stimulus Deal After Week’s Delay

After a delay of nearly a week, President Trump on Sunday night backed down, as many had begged him to do, and signed the COVID relief bill. That avoided a government shutdown. It also means Americans will get their relief checks—the $600 figure that Trump was not happy about. Trump was also not happy with what he called “pork” in the $1.4 trillion government funding bill that was passed alongside the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. “I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” says Trump’s statement. “I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.” Congress does not need to abide by that request and didn’t.

House Passes Bill to Send $2,000 Stimulus Checks, But Senate Balks

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Monday passed a standalone bill that would raise the direct payment amounts distributed to American households under new COVID-19 relief legislation to $2,000, from $600. The measure – surprisingly supported by both President Trump and the Democrats – was sent to the Senate for approval their required approval. However, it has become increasingly likely that the Senate will not even vote on the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that congressional Democrats are pursuing “socialism for rich people” by pushing for direct payments of $2,000 to millions of Americans, since even people with high incomes would still get checks.

Excess Deaths Near 400,000 for 2020 over 2019 Suggesting an Undercount of Covid-19 Deaths

The number of people who have died in 2020 is nearly 400,000 more than in 2019 according to an analysis of CDC data. With the total number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 at 341,000 on 12/29, this suggests that the number of Covid-19 deaths may actually be an undercount. The U.S. logged its highest ever daily death toll from the coronavirus Wednesday when more than 3,900 people died of Covid-19. Hospitalizations exceeded 125,000 for the first time on Wednesday. And experts believe the worst is yet to come, as U.S. healthcare workers brace for a surge in cases after major holiday gatherings.

Virus Cases Declining, But Deaths and Hospitalizations Set Records

On Tuesday, the U.S. recorded more than 3,700 new deaths linked to the virus, a new high. The U.S. also reported the most Covid-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, with more than 124,600 patients nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The United States also on Tuesday reported a record 3,725 deaths – that’s more than double the deaths reported a day earlier. Cases are going down in 34 states as of Thursday morning. However, deaths are increasing in 8 states.

  • Arizona’s seven-day new-case average ranks second-highest in the nation, and public health experts expect the virus to spread further because of personal contact over the holidays. Only California had a higher rate over the past week. The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 across Arizona again reached a new record as the state reported more than 5,200 new cases of the virus and 78 new known deaths on Wednesday with hospitals at 93% of capacity.

Recent Covid-19 Death Rates 4 Times More than for Flu

According to USA Today, study authors Drs. David Asch and Rachel Werner of the University of Pennsylvania, found that 11.8% of adults hospitalized with COVID-19 died within 30 days. “That is nearly four times higher than your likelihood of dying if you’re hospitalized with influenza, which is closer to 3%,” said the researchers. The study found that when communities had large numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitals were more apt to be stressed and overburdened, causing mortality rates for hospitalized patients to rise.

New UK Coronavirus Variant Detected in Colorado and California

The first U.S. case of and highly infectious coronavirus variant was detected in Colorado and subsequently in California. It now accounts for 60% of new cases in the United Kingdom. The variant was first found in a man with no travel history. Scientists in the UK believe the variant strain to be more contagious than previously identified strains but not more severe. It’s possible those infected with the variant will need different care. Some experts say vaccines may need to be adjusted regularly in order to stay effective

U.S. Requires Incoming UK Airline Passengers to Test Negative

The United States will require airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Thursday. The US is the latest country to announce new travel restrictions because of a new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading in Britain and elsewhere. The CDD said because of travel restrictions in place since March, air travel to the US from the UK is already down by 90%.

  • Japan will ban foreign nationals from entering the country starting last Monday through the end of January after several cases of the Covid-19 variant were recorded in the country. Japanese citizens and foreign residents can still enter, but they’re required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

California Surge in Cases/Deaths Comes Despite Lockdowns

There is a surge in COVID-19 cases in California despite unprecedented lockdowns and restrictions aimed at curbing the spreading of the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the virus in California, the county Department of Public Health on Thursday said around 14,000 residents were testing positive for COVID-19 each day and hospitals were admitting 1,000 new coronavirus patients daily. State leaders have reached out to Australia and Taiwan to fill 3,000 temporary healthcare work positions as hospital remain overwhelmed. 

Pediatric Coronavirus Cases Also Surging

A surge in pediatric coronavirus cases over the last several weeks has seen the number of illnesses in kids surpass 2 million, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children now represent approximately 12.4% of all cases in the U.S., according to the data, and as of Dec. 17, at least 172 children had died due to the illness. About 1.8% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations involve children, but it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children.

U.S. Not Meeting Goals in Getting People Vaccinated, Lagging Other Countries

Operation Warp Speed is on track to fall well short of the estimated 20 million vaccinations by the end of 2020. One count, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows about 9.5 million doses have been distributed as of last Saturday morning and about 1.9 million people have been vaccinated. The overall goal of Operation Warp Speed is to have 80% of the U.S. population vaccinated against COVID-19 by late June. The rate necessary to meet that goal is 3 million people getting the shot per day, but to date, just 2 million Americans in total have done so as of Dec. 29.

  • The United States is lagging behind several other countries in its Covid-19 vaccination efforts. The U.S. has averaged 151,939 shots per day, or a daily rate of 46 shots per 100,000 people in the country. That is significantly lower than the daily vaccination rates for Israel, the UK, and Bahrain. The daily rate per 100,000 in Israel is 608, for Bahrain it’s 263, and for the UK it’s 60. The U.S. is vaccinating quicker than Canada, where the daily rate is 10 doses per 100,000 people.

Surgeon General Says Delays in Vaccinations Due to Lack of States Resources

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says logistical issues resulting from a lack of state and local resources may be one reason why millions of COVID-19 vaccines distributed to states across the country have yet to be given to patients. Adams said the federal government is “on track” to have 20 million doses of the vaccine “on the ground by the end of next week,” a tempering of President Trump’s initial goal. The federal government has looked to shift blame to the states, with Trump tweeting Wednesday for state officials to “get moving.”

More Vaccine Candidates in the Pipeline

Maryland-based biotech company Novavax announced final, Phase 3 testing of its vaccine candidate will begin in the United States and Mexico. Novavax said Phase ½ studies demonstrated “a robust immune response.” Two vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, have won FDA emergency authorization and two others, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are already conducting Phase 3 trials in the U.S.

  • Regulators in the United Kingdom have given the green light to a second vaccine there, this one from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. This vaccine is especially meaningful because it doesn’t cost as much to make and it can be stored for at least six months at normal refrigeration temperatures, not the subzero temps required by the Pfizer and Moderna versions.

Employee Dumps 500 Doses of Moderna Vaccine

Aurora Medical Center-Grafton in Wisconsin was forced to discard 500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine after the vials were “inadvertently removed from a pharmacy refrigerator overnight,” Advocate Aurora Health said Monday. Each vial contained 10 doses. Subsequent investigation revealed that the doses were deliberately destroyed by a disgruntled employee who has been fired and referred the criminal matter to authorities.

ER Nurse Gets Covid-19 6 Days After Getting Vaccinated

Six days after an ER nurse in San Diego was vaccinated for COVID-19, he became ill and tested positive for the coronavirus. But, though the story may sound alarming, health authorities say cases like this are to be expected and are no cause for panic. The 45-year-old got the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses spaced three weeks apart, Dec. 18 and started feeling sick Christmas Eve. There’s more than one possible explanation, ABC News reports: He may have already been infected when he got vaccinated, since the incubation period can be up to two weeks long, or he could have been infected after getting the shot.

Up to 50% Protection 14 Days After First Vaccine Dose

We know from the vaccine clinical trials that it’s going to take about 10 to 14 days to start developing coronavirus protection from the vaccine. That protection is thought to reach about nearly 50%—it could get up as high as 95% after the second dose, also with a delay of up to a couple of weeks before it fully kicks in. This is information that’s not being highlighted and it’s quite likely that many people will become infected despite the initial vaccination since they will feel 100% protected and behave accordingly.

Long Lines of Seniors in Florida to Get Vaccine Before Healthcare Workers

In Estero, Florida, senior citizens spent a chilly night Monday outside in a line that stretched for blocks as they waited to get into a park and rec center where COVID-19 vaccinations were offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that ignored Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for COVID-19 vaccine priority and allowed people 65 and older to jump ahead of essential workers, even as many health care employees in Florida wait for their shot. “We are not going to put young healthy workers ahead of our elderly,” said DeSantis, whose state has seen more than 21,000 deaths from the virus.

  • Some states will ignore federal vaccine recommendations and prioritize the elderly over essential workers. Texas and Florida, the second- and third-most-populous states, will depart from the framework set forth by a CDC advisory panel. Ohio will also prioritize people 65 and older, along with school staffers.

Jails Being Shut Down, Prisoners Relocated Due to Staff Infections

Battered by a wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, local jails and state prison systems around the nation have resorted to a drastic strategy to keep the virus at bay: Shutting down completely and transferring their inmates elsewhere. From California to Missouri to Pennsylvania, state and local officials say that so many guards have fallen ill with the virus and are unable to work that abruptly closing some correctional facilities is the only way to maintain community security and prisoner safety. The jails and prisons that stay open will probably become even more crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden, and the transfers are likely to help the virus proliferate both inside and outside the walls.

CDC Took 46 Days to Rollout Test Kits Due to Initial Complexity & Contamination

The CDC took 46 days to roll out a coronavirus test while other countries did so in just a few days. The agency squandered weeks as it pursued a test design far more complicated than what ultimately was employed. In addition, contamination in one CDC lab further delayed the rollout.

Russia and China Admit to More Cases that First Reported

Russia has admitted its coronavirus death toll is more than three times higher than previously reported. This means that Russia has the third-highest number of fatalities, moving ahead of India and sitting behind only the US and Brazil. Russia has reported more than 3 million infections since the beginning of the pandemic, but its comparatively low fatality rate had raised eyebrows. On Monday, government statistics agency Rosstat said the number of deaths from all causes between January and November had risen by 229,700 compared to the same period in the previous year.

  • As many as 500,000 residents of Wuhan may have been infected with the coronavirus, about 10 times more than the number of confirmed cases initially recorded, according to a study released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The Hill reported. The study in the Chinese city where the pandemic apparently originated surveyed more than 34,000 people in April and found that 4.4 percent of those tested were carrying the antibodies that fight off the virus causing COVID-19.  With a population of 11 million, that means well over 500,000 have been infected.

Spain to Create Vaccination Registry

People in Spain who decline to be vaccinated against coronavirus will be listed in a new register that will be shared with other European Union nations. Covid-19 vaccinations would not be made compulsory, however, and the information would not be made public. Whether the registry will be used to infringe on liberties remains to be seen.

House Overrides Trump’s National Defense Authorization Act Veto

The House of Representatives voted Monday evening to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act — the first override of Trump’s tenure as president. The House voted 322 – 87, a remarkable bipartisan collaboration in a politically divided Washington. An override needs the support of two-thirds of the chamber to succeed. The measure will now head to the Senate, where the chamber could take up the override this week. The NDAA, a $741 billion national security package, will raise troops’ pay, direct the purchase of weapons and set military policies. It passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming support by both parties. Trump took issue largely with two components of the legislation: the stripping of names, symbols, displays, monuments and other paraphernalia that honors the Confederacy; and establishing a commission develop a plan for renaming bases such as the Army’s Forts Benning, Bragg, Hood and others.

GOP Congress Members Will Refuse to Certify Electoral College Vote

Roughly a dozen Trump supporters in the House – led by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama – have said they will challenge the slate of electors from six battleground states where Biden narrowly edged Trump in last month’s election. But the challenge of at least one senator was needed for both houses of Congress to debate the objections. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Wednesday became the first Republican senator to publicly say he will object to the certification of the presidential election results when a joint session of Congress meets next week to formally certify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory over President Trump. Hawley, a conservative lawmaker and Trump supporter, said in a release issued Wednesday that in his objection he’ll highlight what he said was the failure of some states – most notably Pennsylvania – to follow their own election laws.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Find More Votes than Voters

State lawmakers in Pennsylvania say they have discovered a serious problem with the 2020 presidential election. There were more votes than voters. In a report posted online, the lawmakers explain how they did extensive analysis of election data. What they found were “troubling discrepancies between the numbers of total votes counted and the total number of voters who voted in the 2020 general election,” a “difference” of 202,377 “more votes cast than voters voting,” They now are questioning “how the results of the presidential election could possibly have been certified by Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Bockvar and Governor Tom Wolf.”

Violence Escalating Across the Country, Fulfilling Revelation 6:4

Violence is rising in all the big U.S. cities. In New York City, the number of murders has risen 41 percent compared to 2019. The number of shootings in Portland is up 116 percent compared to last year. Chicago and Philadelphia are also poised to break all-time murder records. And in south Florida, the number of murders in Miami-Dade County has already broken the old record by a good margin.

  • A 15-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with the wild Tuesday attack of a BMW driver whose posh car was vandalized by a bicycle gang in broad daylight in Manhattan. The sources said approximately 25 bikers were involved, six of which damaged Torgovnick’s car. Torgovnick said he and his mother, who is in her 70s, had just dropped off a donation at a nonprofit organization and were heading to his father’s neurology office. Video of the harrowing attack led to identifying several of the youths.
  • This is all a fulfillment of Revelation 6:4 which says, “And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”

Louisville Police Move to Fire 2 More in Breonna Taylor Shooting

The Louisville Metro Police Department moved to fire two officers connected to the shooting of Breonna Taylor – one who sought the no-knock search warrant for her apartment and a second who fired the fatal bullet. More officers involved in the raid and a connected narcotics investigation could face additional discipline. Chief Yvette Gentry said in  the notice to Detective Joshua Jayne that he committed “extreme violations of our policies, which endangered others.” The hearings for the two detectives facing dismissal have been delayed until next week.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 last week but remain elevated at 787,000 as a resurgent coronavirus continues to affect the U.S. economy. While at the lowest level in four weeks, the new figures released Thursday by the Labor Department are nearly four times higher than a year ago before the coronavirus struck. Employers continue to cut jobs as rising coronavirus infections keep many people at home while state and local governments re-impose restrictions.

Recent data from Moody’s Analytics indicates that approximately 12 million U.S. renters are now “at least $5,850 behind in rent and utilities payments”.  Landlords all over the nation are in financial distress because of unpaid rent, and we could potentially see a tsunami of evictions if and when the eviction moratoriums are finally lifted in 2021.

Twenty states and 32 cities and counties – including many in California – are set to raise their minimum wages on or about New Year’s Day. About half of those localities will reach the $15 threshold championed by striking fast-food workers and deemed a pipe dream just a few years ago.

U.S. retail sales rose 3.0% during this year’s expanded holiday shopping season from Oct. 11 to Dec. 24, a report by Mastercard Inc said on Saturday, powered by a pandemic-driven shift toward online shopping, with U.S. ecommerce sales increasing 49%.

According to a recent CoStar report, more than 40 major retailers have declared bankruptcy and more than 11,000 stores have been announced for closure in 2020. More store closures are on the horizon, with 1,444 already expected in 2021, according to Coresight Research.

U.S. home prices jumped in October by the most in more than six years as a pandemic-fueled buying rush drives the number of available properties for sale to record lows. That combination of strong demand and limited supply pushed home prices up 7.9% in October compared with 12 months ago. The coronavirus outbreak has forced millions of Americans to work from home and it’s curtailed other activities like eating out, going to movies or visiting gyms. That’s leading more people to seek out homes with more room for a home office, a bigger kitchen, or space to work out.

Since March, Black and Latina moms have stopped working, either voluntarily or due to layoffs, at higher rates than white moms. Many are single moms who need childcare but can’t access it during the pandemic, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black moms have been more likely than Latina moms and white moms to quit their jobs. Meanwhile, Latina moms were more likely to be laid off than white and Black moms because Latinas were more likely to work in face-to-face service positions, such as in restaurants and hotels. 

Christmas Eve followed six straight days of U.S. air travel numbers near or more than a million passengers. On Wednesday, 1,191,123 travelers set a record for the pandemic. The 846,520 people who flew on Christmas Eve is a third of the same day a year ago when more than 2.5 million people flew. Nearly 1.3 million people went through U.S. airports on Sunday, the highest level of air travel in more than nine months, despite public health warnings that travel would prompt another surge in cases of COVID-19.

British Parliament Approves Brexit EU Trade Deal

Britain’s Parliament voted resoundingly on Wednesday to approve a trade deal with the European Union, paving the way for an orderly break with the bloc that will finally complete the UK’s long and divisive Brexit journey, With just a day to spare, lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 521-73 in favor of the agreement sealed between the UK government and the EU last week. The UK left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc’s economic embrace during a transition period that ends at midnight Dec. 31.

Israeli Strike Destroyed Secret Hamas Rocket Plant

Early Saturday morning, Israeli Defense Forces struck one of the terrorist organization Hamas’ most important secret rocket plant, a senior Hamas source told Israel Hayom Sunday. The plant in Gaza, which was hit  along with other military targets, produced advanced rockets with improved accuracy and range over its old rocket arsenal. The airstrike caused a huge explosion at the site that shook nearby Gaza City. A Ynet report said that secondary explosions from the contents of the plant caused some damage to several buildings in the area, including factories, a children’s hospital and an institution for those with special needs.

Hezbollah Doubled Its Precision-Guided Missiles In A Year

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said Sunday his group now has twice as many precision-guided missiles as it had a year ago, saying Israel’s efforts to prevent it from acquiring them has failed. Hassan Nasrallah, in an end-of-year interview with the Beirut-based Arabic Al-Mayadeen TV, said his group has the capability to strike anywhere in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories. Nasrallah said that when Israel threatened through a U.S. official to target a Hezbollah facility in the eastern Bekaa region, his group warned it would retaliate to any such attack.

Christian Chinese Journalist Jailed for Reporting on COVID-19 in Wuhan

Zhang Zhan, a devout Christian citizen-journalist was sentenced to four years in jail for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak in the central city of Wuhan earlier this year. The 37-year-old former lawyer traveled to Wuhan to tell of the virus’ devastation in overcrowded hospitals with first-hand reports. According to Faithwire, Zhan believed God called her to the city. The United Nations has demanded Zhan’s release and called the sentence “an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to COVID-19.” Chinese leaders have consistently threatened doctors and whistle-blowers to maintain the narrative that President Xi Jinping successfully curbed the virus’ growth.

Argentine Senate Approves Bill Legalizing Abortion

Argentina’s Senate passed a law legalizing abortion early Wednesday after a marathon 12-hour session, a ‘victory’ for the women’s movement that has been fighting for the right for decades. The measure was passed with 38 votes in favor, 29 against. The vote means that abortion will be legalized in Pope Francis’ homeland up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and also will be legal after that time in cases of rape or danger to the mother’s life. This will also have repercussions across a continent where the procedure is largely illegal.

Boko Haram Kills at least Seven in Christmas Eve Attack

At least seven people were killed in a Boko Haram attack on the majority-Christian village of Pemi in Nigeria’s Borno state on Christmas Eve. The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram attacked Pemi village, killed seven people and abducted another seven, including a pastor. They also burned down a church, a dispensary and several houses. An international Christian youth organization had been holding a parade in Pemi village to celebrate Christmas when the attack took place.

Houthi Terrorist Attack in Yemen Targets Cabinet Members

The members of the Yemeni government’s newly formed Cabinet, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, were greeted with a loud explosion soon after its plane landed Wednesday in the city of Aden, in what an official is calling a “cowardly terrorist attack carried out by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.” Those onboard the plane were quickly whisked away from the airport. At least 16 people were killed in the explosion and 60 were wounded. The government of Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is at war with Iran-allied Houthi rebels, who control most of northern Yemen as well as the country’s capital, Sanaa. 

Landslide in Norway Destroys Numerous Homes

An entire hillside collapsed overnight Wednesday in Ask, Norway, in the municipality of Gjerdrum, 15 miles northeast of the capital Oslo. Homes were crushed and buried in dense, dark clay that was still too unstable on Thursday for rescuers to access on foot. Rescuers were using helicopters, drones and dogs on Thursday to scan the unstable ground where many more homes hung precariously near the edge. At least 10 people were still unaccounted for and 10 others injured. Temperatures below freezing and snowfall made efforts to shore up remaining structures and find the missing even more challenging.

Earthquake in Croatia Kills 7, Destroys Numerous Buildings

A strong, deadly earthquake has hit central Croatia and caused significant damage and injuries. The 6.4-magnitude quake hit near Petrinja, Croatia, around 30 miles south of the country’s capital of Zagreb, and was felt in the neighboring countries of Serbia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Petrinja mayor Darinko Dumbović, said, “My town has been completely destroyed, we have dead children,” Dumbovic said. “This is like Hiroshima – half of the city no longer exists.” Seven people have died. A second powerful quake occurred Tuesday during the Petrinia Mayor’s press conference, further damaging the city.

Weather

A forceful winter storm plowed through the Midwestern U.S. on Tuesday, canceling hundreds of flights, shuttering coronavirus testing sites and creating impossible conditions for drivers. The storm dumped more than 7 inches of snow in Nebraska by Tuesday afternoon. Iowans also experienced heavy snowfall, with totals up to more than a foot, while Wisconsin saw up to 8 inches. Chicago’s Midway Airport got more than 3 inches of snow,

A dangerous winter storm brought high winds and widespread flooding to much of the United Kingdom Sunday. Wind gusts over 100 mph were recorded, including a gust of 106 mph on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. Tens of thousands of homes were left without electricity by the storm. Flood warnings were issued in more than 100 locations across southern England.

Signs of the Times (12/24/20)

December 24, 2020

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.(Isaiah 9:6-7)

Jesus’ everlasting kingdom and government will not happen until He establishes the New Earth and the New Jerusalem, which is coming soon after much more turmoil: Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.(Revelation 21:1-5, 22-24)

Vatican Says Vaccines from Aborted Baby Cells Morally Acceptable

The new vaccines for the coronavirus are “morally acceptable” even if they were developed with cells from aborted babies, the Vatican said Monday. The statement comes amid a growing controversy among Christians and pro-lifers about the new COVID-19 vaccines because all of the currently available ones have connections – some remote, some more directly – to aborted babies. Because so many have died in the pandemic and infections are growing, “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the document states.

School District to Pay $187,000 to Atheist Group over Graduation Ceremony

In South Carolina, a school district just settled a lawsuit with the American Humanist Association over allowing hymns and prayers during a graduation ceremony, The Christian Post reports. A court ruled that the school district must pay the group $456,000, but, in a settlement, the district agreed to pay $187,000. The agreed-upon settlement, however, states that students can make their own religious statements and as long as the schools distinguish that the religious statements are not endorsed by them, they can keep them. Further, one major win for free speech in the settlement was that teachers cannot force students to stop having prayer groups and also cannot stifle religious expressions during training sessions.

New Stimulus Package Cobbled Together But Trump Wants $2,000 Checks, Stalling the Deal

Lawmakers approved a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal Sunday that includes another round of stimulus checks and badly needed jobless benefits for struggling Americans. After months of impasse, negotiations came down to the wire as 12 million people are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. The deal includes restarting a $300 boost to the federal unemployment insurance benefit, extending eviction moratoriums for renters for an unspecified amount of time and a $600 direct payment to most Americans, starting next week. The measure will be tied to a $1.4 trillion must-pass spending bill that will fund federal agencies and programs through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Even though lawmakers reached a deal, some jobless Americans could see their unemployment benefits lapse since it may take weeks for aid to reach them due to outdated state systems.

  • President Trump has a complaint—and some of his fiercest critics are on his side this time. In video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, the POTUS called the $600 figure arrived at by Congress for round two of coronavirus stimulus money “ridiculously low,” calling on lawmakers to bump it up to $2,000. He also insisted that “wasteful and unnecessary” items be cut from the year-end spending package that was attached to the pandemic aid. Trump suggested he would not sign the legislation without changes. Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders were on board with that idea. Pelosi said “Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent… if the Senate GOP agrees to stand down.”
  • The House of Representatives on Thursday failed to advance a measure that would increase direct payments to Americans under a certain income level to $2,000 — up from the $600 level passed earlier this week — bringing lawmakers back to square one as they search for a way to appease President Donald Trump’s demands. House Democrats tried to quickly pass the bill by a unanimous consent request Thursday morning, but Republicans rejected the move, leaving the future of the $900 billion stimulus package — and whether any changes will be added to it — in doubt.. No further action is expected until next week. A government shutdown deadline looms Tuesday because of the expiration of the temporary funding bill attached to the stimulus deal.

The Fine Print of the Massive Stimulus Bill Contains a Few Unwelcome Surprises

The 5,593 page bill was passed in such a rush that Congress members had no time to read it all. Turns out that it has a few surprises that are only now being discovered:

  • According to Michelle Hackman of the Wall Street Journal, family members of unauthorized immigrants are now eligible to get stimulus checks under the $900 billion deal. That eligibility is retroactive, so adults excluded last time could get up to $1800 now.
  • The new law includes an extension of the airline industry’s Payroll Support Program, which sets aside $15 billion in assistance to bring back more than 32,000 United and American Airlines employees who were furloughed in September. The companies say the additional funds are enough to pay those workers through March 31.
  • There is also billions to foreign countries, military weapons purchases which go above and beyond current defense budgets, $40 million for the Kennedy Center, and nearly $200 million so that federal HIV/AIDS workers overseas can buy cars and car insurance, among other things.
  • Among the handouts in the $900 billion stimulus bill that ostensibly is to help American survive the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns is $10 million devoted to “gender programs.” And that’s for Pakistan, not for American citizens. Pakistan will get another $15 million for “democracy programs.”
  • At the same time, corporations will get a tax break enabling them to write off the cost of business meals from their tax bills. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the move “unconscionable” at a time when a record number of Americans are worried about paying rent and food banks are being overwhelmed.

U.S. & Europe Cases Surge, But Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Hong Kong Have Almost None

A New York Times analysis of coronavirus cases per capita shows the U.S. as one of the worst nations in the world, with 5.389 total cases per 100,000 people. In contrast, New Zealand has had 43 cases per 100,000 people; South Korea 89, Hong Kogn 111 and Australia 113 per 100,000 residents. Each of these countries instituted more severe lockdowns and restrictions against foreign travelers. Each has had only a handful of recent cases.

Israeli Government Orders 25-day National Lockdown Starting Sunday

Israel’s government on Wednesday ordered a third national lockdown as coronavirus infections continued to surge and hospital wards filled with patients. The closure will start this coming Sunday at 5:00 p.m. and continue for at least 25 days, said a joint statement by the Prime Minister’s office and the Health Ministry. Retails stores and businesses will be shuttered. Businesses that don’t cater to the public will operate at 50% capacity. Public transportation will operate at 50% capacity. Schools will be partly open. People are to stay within one kilometer of their homes except for obtaining food and medicines.

 U.S. Case Counts Plateau, But Deaths Continue to Increase

Case numbers for the coronavirus remain about as high as they have ever been, with a 7-day average of 213,472 cases per day. But the country is no longer seeing explosive growth, and many states are improving. Deaths, however, continued to increase to a 7-da7 average of 2,710/day as they lag cases by about two weeks. California’s worsening outbreak has canceled out progress in other parts of the country, with the Upper Midwest improving and 25 states showing declining cases. Arizona’s 7-day average of new cases/day has declined from a peak of almost 8,000/day to about 6,200, still much higher than previous peaks.

  • Hospitalization are at record levels with 115,902 people hospitalized as of Wednesday, compared to the summer peak of 59,428 and the spring peak of 58,347.

The Latest COVID Mutation in UK 70% More Infectious

Britain is taking drastic measures in southern England and many EU nations and Canada are banning travel from the UK in an effort to slow the spread of a new COVID mutation. The variant was only recently identified and may be contributing to faster spread of the coronavirus in the UK which set a new daily record for coronavirus cases Sunday: 35,928, nearly twice the number recorded just a week prior. Officials are stressing that there is no evidence so far that the new variant is any deadlier or that it will not respond as expected to vaccines. It may, however, be up to 70% more transmissible. Medical experts say COVID-19 vaccines likely will be just as effective against the new strain of the coronavirus in the U.K. as vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account.

New COVID Strain Is Already in the U.S.

The COVID-19 variant causing “mayhem” in the UK “is already in the US,” former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned Monday on CNBC. More than 40 countries have enacted bans on travel to and from the UK for some length of time, but at this point, Gottlieb doesn’t think it would make much difference if the US followed suit. “We’re going to have an epidemic that continues to build over the course of the next three or four weeks, we’ll reach a peak, and then we’ll start to see infection rates decline as we see vaccinations get rolled out,” he said of the mutated strain. Dr. Anthony Fauci made similar comments Monday, telling PBS, “You have to make that assumption” that the variant is already here. The UK estimates that the variant is 56% more transmissible, but so far there’s no evidence it is any deadlier, nor that it would respond differently to vaccines. Both Pfizer and Moderna are testing their vaccines against it.

Fewer Americans Getting Vaccinated that Previously Projected

The U.S. government wanted to vaccinate 20 million Americans against COVID-19 by year’s end. That’s probably not going to happen, Politico reports. The CDC announced Wednesday that more than one million Americans have gotten COVID shots so far, which it touted as an impressive figure over the span of just 10 days, while at the same time acknowledging that limited vaccine supplies mean that there’s a “challenging path ahead.” But, CDC Director Robert Redfield said, supply will be increasing “in the weeks and months to come.” Politico notes states were “blindsided” by vaccine allocations that were lower than expected last week.

U.S. & Pfizer Reach Deal for More Vaccine Doses Next Year

Pfizer and BioNTech will supply the US with an additional 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under a new agreement. The drug makers said Wednesday that they expect to deliver all the doses by July 31. Pfizer already has a contract to supply the government with 100 million doses of its vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration and initial shipments went to states last week. It has now been joined by a vaccine from Moderna, which was developed in closer cooperation with scientists from the National Institutes of Health.

Seven Health Care Workers Have Severe Allergic Reactions to Vaccine

A health care worker in New York City suffered what officials are calling a “serious adverse event” after receiving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The worker, who was not identified, is stable after being treated for a significant allergic reaction. At least six more reactions have occurred, prompting the CDC to issue new guidance. “If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends that you should not get that specific vaccine,” the health agency stated.

More Americans Say They Will Get Vaccinated

Two months ago, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll showed a wariness among Americans toward the coronavirus vaccine, with only 26% willing to roll their sleeves up for the shot as soon as it became available to them. Now, just days after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine rollouts began for health care workers and nursing home residents, and politicians started getting inoculated in public to raise Americans’ confidence, a new survey shows 46% of Americans are ready to get the shot ASAP when it’s their turn in the queue, while 32% say they’ll go for their vaccinations only after waiting a bit for others to get it first. One-fifth of respondents say they won’t be getting the shot at all.

Federal Spending Bill Rejects ‘Defund the Police’ with Full Funding

The spending bill Congress approved this week rejects calls to “defund police,” and instead keeps full funding flowing to federal law enforcement agencies. While the Black Lives Matter-infused effort to cut police forces has notched some successes in city halls, Republicans on Capitol Hill rejected such cuts — and brought Democrats along with them. “We aren’t defunding the police or abolishing ICE around here. Not on our watch,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. McConnell said agencies from the Border Patrol to the U.S. Marshals Service are getting the money they need to meet their law enforcement goals.

AG Barr: No Reason’ for Special Counsel on Election

Outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr said he saw “no reason” to appoint a special counsel on potential election fraud. Barr told The Associated Press that he had seen no evidence of widespread voting fraud, despite President Donald Trump’s claims to the contrary. Trump has been weighing whether to push the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, which would make it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to shut down the investigation. But it’s not clear how he would do it without buy-in from Justice officials. AG Barr resigned last week after Trump disparaged him for not pursuing election fraud.

Protesters Clash with Police at Oregon State Capitol in Salem

A special session of the state Legislature was disrupted Monday by protesters  opposed to policies designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Protesters broke glass doors at the largely empty Capitol building, tore tarps from the marble reliefs on the front steps and engaged in a brief standoff with Oregon State Police and Salem Police Department officers. Police made at least four arrests during the six-hour rally that included more than 100 protesters, including members of the far-right Patriot Prayer group. “We’re standing up for our constitutional rights to be here for this legislative hearing and for our rights to reopen the state of Oregon,” protester Crystal Wagner said.

Detroit Sues Black Lives Matter Over Protest Destruction

The city of Detroit is trying a new tack during a year in which it, like many other U.S. cities, saw violent protests and destruction in the streets. Detroit has filed a lawsuit against Black Lives Matter activists, alleging a “civil conspiracy” and claiming the protests in the city “have repeatedly turned violent, endangering the lives of police and the public,” according to reports. The city claims the activists participated in the conspiracy, “defamed” the mayor and police, and contends that the city should be awarded damages, The city cites four protests that occurred in the city this year, and alleges that injuries to police officers included “cracked vertebrae, lacerations, and concussions.”

Trump Policies Chased Immigrants Off Welfare

Immigrants have seen a “dramatic” drop in their use of welfare programs over the first three years of the Trump administration, according to a new report Tuesday that said the president’s crackdown on migrants who become dependent on social services is having an effect. The Migration Policy Institute looked at Census Bureau data from 2016 to 2019 and found that participation in food stamps and welfare payments fell 36% among noncitizens. Citizen participation also declined, but only by about half that rate. MPI researchers traced the drop directly to the new “public charge” rule, issued by Homeland Security, which warned immigrants their use of welfare programs could be a negative factor if they eventually apply for an upgrade in their legal status.

DHS Deportations Plunge Amid Pandemic

Homeland Security’s deportations plunged nearly 30% over the past year, officials said Wednesday, blaming the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic for sapping them of the ability to find and oust illegal immigrants. The 185,884 removals recorded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was the lowest since 2002, and leaves President Trump far below the pace set by President Obama. ICE also announced its officers made 103,603 arrests in fiscal year 2020, the lowest level in years, down from about 143,000 arrests made in 2019. ICE said, it’s been focused on trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. That included obeying court orders demanding that it reduce its detention populations to try to stop spread of the disease. ICE also used some of its charter flight capacity to pick up U.S. persons stranded in other countries amid a worldwide travel slowdown at the beginning of the pandemic.

President Trump Grants Slew of High-Profile Pardons

President Trump issued full pardons to 15 individuals and commuted part or all of the sentences of an additional five people, the White House announced Tuesday. Included in the list are Duncan Hunter, a former GOP congressman from California, Chris Collins, a former GOP representative from New York and Trump campaign advisor George Papadapoulous who was convicted of lying to the FBI. Hunter, a Trump ally, was sentenced to 11 months in prison and three years of supervised probation after he plead guilty to a corruption charge. Collins in January was sentenced to 26 months in jail for securities fraud. 

  • On Wednesday, President Trump granted pardons to 26 more people including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and many other Trump allies. Trump also pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, who is the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor. Charles Kushner was convicted of preparing false tax returns, witness retaliation, and making false statements to the FEC. 

Judge Blocks Trump Executive Order Banning Diversity Training

A federal judge has blocked Donald Trump’s executive order restricting the federal government and its contractors from offering diversity training that the president labeled “divisive” and “un-American.” U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman granted a preliminary nationwide injunction in the lawsuit filed by LGBT rights groups in November in the Northern District of California, saying the groups were likely to prevail on their First Amendment claims. The incoming Joe Biden administration is widely expected to scrap it entirely.

New York Leads Nation in Population Decline. Could Lose 2 House Seats

New York’s population continued to decline more than any state in the nation, new figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau show. The Empire State’s population fell by 126,355 people between July 2019 and July 2020, to 19.3 million. Population decline continues to be a problem for New York, and it could play out in 2022 during federal reapportionment. At this rate, New York could lose as many as two U.S. House seats; it will certainly lose one, dropping it from 27 to 26 seats and impacting its clout in Washington. The latest drop in New York was part of an overall decline of 153,065 people in the Northeast between July 2019 and July 2020, the most of any region in the nation. Florida surpassed New York in 2014 as the third largest state in the nation, and the gap has widened since then.

Economic News

Another 803,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis. That was a drop off from the week before but still nearly four times the claims during the same period in 2019, and yet another sign that the US job recovery has run into serious trouble. On top of that, 397,511 workers filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to groups that aren’t usually eligible for jobless benefits, such as the self-employed.

Millions of workers in the U.S. filed a claim for unemployment insurance benefits and never received a payment or even a reply since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank that tracks the payments, estimates that between 3 million and 7 million people who qualify for unemployment never received a rejection letter or payment. Around 50 million people have applied for the benefits since the start of the pandemic.

Without federal intervention, as many as 40 million people could be displaced on February 1st when the CDC moratorium on evictions ends on January 31st. “We’re facing potentially the worst housing and homelessness crisis in our country’s history,” said Diane Yentel, CEO and president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C.

A report from the Commerce Department showed that personal income fell in November for the second straight month and that consumer spending fell for the first time since April. Personal income fell 1.1 percent in November and is down 3.6 percent since July, as waning federal assistance more than offset rising income from wages and salaries. Consumer spending, which helped drive the initial recovery after lockdowns lifted last spring, also faltered, falling 0.4 percent as the weather cooled and virus cases rose.

Nine months into the pandemic, 42% of Americans say their household income is still below what it was before the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a new survey from Bankrate.com. And that same survey found that 85 percent of Americans are worried about how their incomes will be affected by this pandemic moving forward.

Grocery shopping in the U.S. jumped 110% in daily online sales in April, just after the pandemic hit, and only a pandemic could have spurred such a rapid adoption of e-commerce in the grocery category, experts say. Researcher Incisiv predicts that digital sales will make up more than half, or 54%, of all  restaurant sales by 2025.

Compared with the previous recession when 157 banks that failed in 2010, just four have gone under so far in 2020, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported. And while the FDIC cited 884 “problem” banks a decade ago, that number currently stands at 56.

UK, EU Announce Post-Brexit Trade Deal Days Before Deadline

The European Union and United Kingdom have reached a post-Brexit free trade deal, officials announced Thursday – just days before the U.K. is scheduled to finalize its departure from the bloc at the end of the year. The deal should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day with fears of lines at ports and tariffs between the two sides if no deal was achieved. Britain formally left the bloc last January, leading to a transition period until the end of 2020.

Israel’s Government Collapses, National Elections Set for March

Israel’s national unity government finally collapsed Wednesday when the Knesset failed to approve a national budget as required by law, forcing a national election in three months’ time. It will be the fourth time in two years that Israelis will head to the polls. The previous elections in March of 2020 were the third in a row with inconclusive results in which no political party could muster a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Iran Attacks U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with Rockets

President Trump issued a stern warning to Iran Wednesday after a rocket attack earlier this week on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and said if one American is killed, he will hold Tehran responsible and retaliate with force. U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the Dec. 20 attack on the Green Zone—which included 21 rockets– was likely from an “Iranian-backed Rogue Militia Group.” January 3rd is the anniversary of the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, one of Iran’s top military figures.

Iraq Declares Christmas an Annual Holiday

Despite the waning number of Christians in the country, Iraq’s parliament unanimously passed a law to make Christmas “a national holiday, with annual frequency,” according to Christianity Today. In 2008, parliament agreed Christmas could be a “one-time holiday”; ten years later, the government allowed Christmas for all citizens. But the leaders never renewed the law annually. “Today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis,” said Basilio Yaldo, bishop at the Chaldean Catholic Church of Baghdad. Experts estimate only 250,000 Christians remain in the fractious country. Prior to the ISIS insurgency, nearly 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq.

11 Armenian POWs Killed & 70 Soldiers Captured in Azerbaijani Ceasefire Violations

Eleven Armenian prisoners of war have been killed by their Azerbaijani captors, and more than 70 Armenian soldiers taken captive following Azerbaijan’s violation of the ceasefire that had halted the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10. Azerbaijani forces have also taken control of four Armenian villages in addition to territory gained during the fighting that took place from September to November this year. These incidents come amid allegations of Azerbaijani war crimes committed during that fighting, including the beheading of two elderly men and an attack on Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in the town of Shushi. Azerbaijani soldiers have also been accused of atrocities such as defiling corpses and desecrating graves during their advance. Although nominally within the borders of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, the region is populated by Armenian Christians.

Kidnapping Of 80 More Students In Nigeria Shows Worsening Insecurities

Nigeria security on Sunday rescued 80 more students kidnapped by gunmen in northwest Katsina state. The kidnapping and rescue came just days after gunmen released more than 300 schoolboys from a week in captivity and underscores serious concerns about security in the region. The Islamiyya school students, mostly girls were ambushed in the Dandume local government area of Northwestern Katsina state Saturday during a school procession to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. The military said it rescued all the students including four others held by the bandits last Sunday.

UN Probe In Mali Sees War Crimes Against Humanity

“United Nations investigators into violence in Mali have told the Security Council of evidence that security forces committed war crimes, and fighters and other armed groups perpetrated crimes against humanity. The allegations were made in a 338-page report by the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali, a three-member panel which investigated violence that unfolded over six years from 2012-2018. The probe recommends setting up a court that specializes in prosecuting international crimes.

Earthquakes

According to the University of Chile, there have been over 30,000 earthquakes in Antarctica since the end of August, and this is extremely unusual. Scientists with the university’s National Seismological Center said the small quakes – including one stronger shake of magnitude 6 – were detected in the Bransfield Strait, a 60-mile wide ocean channel between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. This worries scientists because under the continent of Antarctica, there is a mantle plume producing almost as much heat as Yellowstone supervolcano, and this has been melting ice plates from underneath at a staggering pace.  If that superheated rock were to move even closer to the surface, that would potentially accelerate the melting of Antarctic ice, and the consequences for the entire planet would be quite dramatic.  If all Antarctic ice were to melt, the entire eastern seaboard of the United States would vanish.

Volcanoes

The U.S. Geological Survey says the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has erupted following a series of earthquakes in the area. The biggest quake was magnitude 4.4 on the Richter Scale, preceded by seven others in the 2.5 to 2.7 magnitude range. The final and largest quake struck an hour prior to the late Sunday eruption within the Halema’uma’u crater. Residents were told to stay indoors by the County of Hawaii Civil Defense Agency, though the National Weather Service in Honolulu  noted that no ashfall had been seen, and that it’s possible the eruption was “primarily comprised of steam. Lava from the eruption boiled off the water in the summit’s water lake and formed a new lava lake. A second eruption expanded the lava lake to 33 acres.

Wildfires

A fast-moving wildfire burning on and around Camp Pendleton military base in Southern California forced thousands of people to flee in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. The Creek Fire, broke out just after 11 p.m. Wednesday local time. By 1 a.m. Thursday it had forced evacuations of housing areas on Camp Pendleton, a sprawling, 195-square-mile U.S. Marine Corps base between San Diego and Los Angeles. By 3 a.m., authorities with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department were forced to expand evacuation orders to include at least 7,000 people, most on the western side of Fallbrook, California, just outside of the military base. The fire has been fueled by Santa Ana winds, including gusts up to 35 mph, and has now grown to at least 1.2 square miles. It was about 35% contained as of 6 a.m. Thursday.

Weather

Numerous crashes, multi-vehicle pileups and road closures were reported across South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota Wednesday as a winter storm brought in blowing snow, slippery roads and treacherous driving conditions across the region. More 10,000 homes and businesses in Minnesota were without electricty  Air traffic was also snarled, just two days before Christmas and on what was expected to be one of the busier flying days since the coronavirus pandemic started. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport listed 298 flights as canceled and 46 delayed as of late Wednesday afternoon. Winter storm warnings have been issued across the Midwest as the mid-Atlantic and Northeast brace for flooding and potential power outages on Christmas Eve.

Several weather records were set in 2020: The Atlantic Basin produced 30 named storms for the first time on record, with 13 of those becoming hurricanes. That topped 2005, which previously had the most storms in a season – 28. A record-breaking 12 named storms made a U.S. landfall – the previous record was 9 in 1916. Phoenix logged 145 days of 100-degree heat in a 174-day period from late April to mid-October. That broke the previous record of 143 days set in 1989. Caribou Main also had its hottest summer on record. Denver hit 101 degrees on Sept. 5, the latest in the year that the Mile High City has hit the century mark since records began. Just three days later on Sept. 8, Denver tied its record earliest first freeze, previously set on that day in 1962. Las Vegas did not observe measurable rain (0.01 inches or greater) for 240 consecutive days this year. That easily beats the previous record streak of 150 days set in 1959. On the plus side, just 10 tornado watches were issued in the Great Plains in May, the fewest in 50 years.

Virus-free. www.avg.com

Signs of the Times (12/18/20)

December 18, 2020

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.  (John 10:27-29)

President Trump’s Christmas Address Praises God and Jesus

President Donald Trump offered several observations about the meaning of Jesus Christ’s life during a recent Christmas address from the White House with first lady Melania Trump at his side. “As Christians everywhere know, the birth of our Lord and Savior changed history forever,” Trump said. “At Christmas, we give thanks to God, and that God sent his only son to die for us and to offer everlasting peace to all humanity… More than two millennia after the birth of Jesus Christ, his teachings continue to inspire and uplift billions and billions of people all over the globe… His divine words still fills our hearts with hope and faith… And Christians everywhere still strive to live by Jesus’s timeless commandment to his disciples: love one another. Above all during this sacred season, our souls are full of thanks and praise for Almighty God for sending us Christ, his son, to redeem the world.”

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Colorado Church Services

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a Colorado church challenging COVID-19 restrictions on capacity limits for services. High Plains Harvest Church brought the legal battle to the high court, asking for an injunction to halt the state’s requirement of 50 people or less for services while not enforcing the same capacity limits on secular businesses. The court filing noted protests with massive amounts of people were permitted under the First Amendment, but the state is not providing the same constitutional right for churches. This precedent-setting decision then resulted in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Nevada churches, noting that the Supreme Court case represented a “seismic shift” that compelled their result.

Michigan Judge Rules Businesses Can Refuse to Serve Gay Customers on Religious Grounds

Judge Christopher Murray ruled Monday that discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity was unlawful, but he concurrently ruled that a refusal, on religious freedom grounds, to serve customers based on their sexual orientation was permissible. The lawsuits came after two companies barred serving a same-sex couple and a transgender individual “on religious grounds,” the opinion states. One of the two businesses is an event center, while the other is a business specializing in permanent hair removal for women. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she will appeal a Michigan Claims Court judge’s ruling.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Inoculations Underway Since Monday

Since Monday, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being administered to health care workers first and to residents and staff of long-term care facilities. President Trump called it a “medical miracle.” He also said, “We have delivered a safe and effective vaccine in just nine months. This is one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in history. It will save millions of lives and soon end the pandemic once and for all.” The president said the vaccine will be “free for all Americans.” Vice President Pence received a coronavirus vaccine on live television in an effort to vouch for its safety. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was administered by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center staff at the White House complex Thursday.

  • The vials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are supposed to contain five doses each—but, in a pleasant surprise, hospitals have discovered that there’s actually enough in each vial for six or even seven doses. However, the FDA advised that remainders from multiple vials should not be combined to make a full dose due to the risk of cross-contamination.
  • The U.S. government has paid $1.95 million to Pfizer for 100 million doses of the vaccine. Wall Street analysts are projecting Pfizer and Moderna will generate $32 billion in Covid-19 vaccine revenue next year.

Distribution of Pfizer Vaccine Hitting Turbulence

Officials in several states said they were alerted late Wednesday that their second shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine next week had been reduced, sparking widespread confusion. The vaccine maker’s CEO said it had millions more doses than were being distributed. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is negotiating with Pfizer to secure more vaccines by spring, federal health officials said, after last week’s news that additional doses wouldn’t be on the way until June or July. This move comes after Pfizer’s report that other nations have rushed to buy its 2021 second quarter supply after the federal government turned down its opportunity to double its purchase of 100 million doses. Wealthier countries are gobbling up all the vaccine leaving poorer countries to wait perhaps for months before receiving any.

FDA Advisory Panel Recommends Emergency Authorization of Moderna Vaccine

An FDA advisory panel voted overwhelmingly today to recommend emergency use authorization (EUA) of Moderna’s mRNA 1273 COVID-19 vaccine, with 20 members in favor, and none officially opposing the opinion that the vaccine’s benefits “outweigh its risks for use in individuals 18 years of age and older.”  The Moderna vaccine, like the Pfizer vaccine, requires two shots, and is also reported to share similar side effects. The Moderna vaccine has caused pain at the injection site in more than 9 in 10 participants, fatigue in almost 7 in 10, and headaches or muscle pain in about 6 in 10, according to the FDA. “More than 44 percent of people who received the vaccine reported experiencing joint pain and over 43 percent reported chills,” reported CNBC.

Aborted Fetal Tissue Used to Develop Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines?

The Moderna vaccine shares much in common with the Pfizer vaccine, including the use of fetal tissue in its testing. Human Embryonic Kidney (HEK) 293 aborted fetal cells were used to produce a Spike protein contained in the Moderna vaccine, according to Debi Vinnedge, executive director of Children of God for Life, an organization that fights to end the use of aborted fetal material in vaccines and medicines. The Spike protein is involved in the Moderna vaccine’s mRNA technology, which is also used by the Pfizer vaccine. The mRNA, a type of RNA “that carries genetic information to make proteins in a cell,” causes our cells to manufacture their own viral particles that will trigger our immune defense response.

  • The use of aborted fetal tissue raises ethical concerns that have been ignored in the rush to market, although some say fetal tissue wasn’t used by Pfizer and Moderna, so the jury is still out on that one. But it remains to be seen whether mRNA has any long-term impact on our DNA genome, regardless of its source.

FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Covid-19 Test Kit

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the nation’s first home COVID-19 test that doesn’t need a lab or medical provider’s prescription. The test, made by Australia-based Ellume, can deliver results in about 15 minutes and will cost about $30. Advocates have called for authorization of home tests to alleviate the nation’s testing crunch, which has stressed labs and delayed results for consumers and medical providers. The FDA has previously authorized tests allowing consumers to collect and send samples to a lab. Another home test, Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow, must be administered by a doctor or other provider. The FDA authorized the Ellume tests for people age 2 and up, with or without symptoms. Ellume’s rapid antigen test includes a nasal swab for users to collect a sample and place into a cartridge. A smartphone app instructs consumers how to use the test and displays results. It allows results to be shared with a health provider.

New Stimulus Package Close to Approval in Congress

It looks like Congress is on track to reach a deal on a COVID stimulus package before the end of the week, one that would include relief checks for Americans, though at a smaller amount than the first ones of $1,200. Most Americans are expected to get checks of $600. The unemployed would get an additional $300 per week in benefits as part of the $900 billion measure. Democrats and Republicans continue to wrangle over the aid amounts, however, and might blow past the Friday midnight shutdown deadline.

Supreme Court Rejects Texas Lawsuit Over Election Fraud.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected by a vote of 7-2 a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas against four battleground states that it says disenfranchised voters across the country by improperly changing its election rules. The Texas lawsuit asked the Supreme Court to delay the December 14 Electoral College vote and block the four states from casting their votes in the Electoral College for pro-abortion candidate Joe Biden. Some 18 states and 106 members of congress joined Texas in its bid to have the Supreme Court overturn Joe Biden’s election “victory” by throwing out the voting results from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The majority of Supreme Court justices in a brief order said Texas did not have legal standing to bring the claim. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented — saying SCOTUS should have accepted the case. President Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany accused the court of hiding behind procedure.

Forensic Audit of Dominion Voting Systems Reveal Fraud

The company that conducted an independent audit of 22 Dominion Voting Systems in a small Michigan county released a report Monday concluding the machines are “intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors. The system intentionally generates an enormously high number of ballot errors.” The report, written by Russell Ramsland, a former Republican candidate in Texas. Consequently, Allied Security Operations Group advised in its report, President Trump should invoke his 2018 executive order to ensure national security in the event of foreign interference in an election. The county was in the news after the election when it was discovered that 6,000 votes had been flipped from President Trump to Joe Biden. The Michigan secretary of state and the Antrim County clerk both blamed “human error.”

Proud Boys and Antifa Battle in D.C. With Four Stabbings

A crowd waving American flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats gathered Saturday in Freedom Plaza in support of President Donald Trump and his allegations of voter fraud in the presidential election. Later in the evening, the scene became unruly with four people were taken to a hospital with stab wounds, and 23 people were arrested. Videos posted to social media showed confrontations between Trump supporters and opponents. In one incident, a bystander pulled out a knife after arguing with Trump supporters. In another, police pepper-sprayed people involved in a scuffle. Witnesses say the fighting was primarily between the Proud Boys and Antifa.

Number of New U.S. Cases of Coronavirus Infections May Have Plateaued

The 7-day average of new coronavirus cases per day had plateaued in the U.S. over the past week at about 212,000/day, way higher than the July peak of about 67,000/day. Cases are going down in 12 states. Deaths, however, are still on the increase with a 7-day average of about 2,600/day, higher than the April peak of 2,232/day.

  • It took three months for the U.S. to record its first million cases. But took just four days between the 15th and 16th million case milestones. As of Friday morning, more than 17,256,100 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 310,900 have died.

Increasing Hospitalizations Filling Up Hospitals to Dangerous Levels

About 1 in 8 U.S. hospitals had few or no intensive care unit beds available last week, according to new federal data. Experts say the number of hospitals struggling to accommodate the nation’s sickest patients likely will increase following another week of record COVID-19 cases. A 12-county region in California had 100% of its intensive care unit beds filled Saturday. Hospitals are filling up so fast in California that officials are rolling out mobile field facilities and scrambling to hire more doctors and nurses to prepare for an expected surge in coronavirus patients. Meanwhile California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 deaths.

  • A record number of Arizonans are now hospitalized for COVID-19 as the state attains the dubious distinction of the fastest spread of the virus in the country.

Many Homeless in Hotels to be Evicted January 1st

For nearly a year, San Francisco, like many cities across the U.S., has been housing people experiencing homelessness in motel and hotels  with money official received from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Now, with the federal deadline to spend the CARES Act money set to expire by Dec. 31 and amid growing complaints over the costly hotel shelter programs, many city officials are considering putting homeless people back on the streets or in crowded shelters, just as the pandemic is hitting new deadly records. Nearly half of them—around 40 percent—are Black and already at higher risk of dying from the coronavirus.

Germany, South Korea and London Locking Down Again

Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world, is heading into a national lockdown that could send it into another recession. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that Germany will go into a “hard” lockdown starting this week and continuing through the Christmas period. Non-essential shops and schools will be shut starting on Wednesday, and Christmas gatherings will be reduced from 10 people to only five from two different households. But Germany isn’t the only country grappling with a spiraling health situation. South Korea has also sounded the alarm about rising cases and could announce new social distancing measures. And London’s mayor is asking the government to close schools for the holidays earlier than planned given a surge in infections in the city.

Virtual Education Failing with Millions of Students Floundering

Millions of students attending school virtually this year are floundering academically, socially and emotionally. And as the pandemic heaves into a winter surge, a slew of new reports show alarming numbers of kids falling behind, failing classes or not showing up at all. About half of U.S. students are attending virtual-only schools. The consequences are most dire for low-income and minority children, who are more likely to be learning remotely and less likely to have appropriate technology and home environments for independent study, compared with their wealthier peers.

Senate Passes 2021 Defense Bill with Veto-Proof Majority Against Trump

The GOP-led Senate overwhelmingly approved a $740 billion major national defense bill on Friday, defying President Trump’s veto threats. The final vote was 84-13 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), well beyond the two-thirds requirement to override a potential veto if Trump carried through on his threat to sink the legislation. The House already approved the legislation with a veto-proof majority on Tuesday with a 335-to-78 vote as many Republicans broke with Trump who has vowed to veto the bill unless lawmakers impose limits on social media companies he claims were biased against him during the election.

Illegal Immigration from Asia Up, Mexico Down

Illegal immigration from Asia has surged over the last decade, partially making up for an even bigger drop in the illegal immigrant population from Mexico, the Migration Policy Institute said Thursday. Illegal immigrants from Mexico fell from 7.6 million to 5.5 million, while unauthorized Asian migrants nearly doubled from 866,000 to 1.5 million. Central American illegal immigrants rose some 300,000, to reach 1.8 million. Those without legal status represented 23% of the total immigration population in 2018. MPI said the illegal immigrant population peaked at about 12.3 million in 2007, fell to about 10.5 in 2017, but rebounded slightly to 11 million by 2018.

628 Parents of Separated Children are Still Missing

Three years after the Trump administration began separating migrant families at the southern border, immigrant advocates are still trying to track down 628 missing parents, according to a Dec. 2 status report filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union and Trump administration lawyers. Of the missing parents, 333 were deported from the U.S. — the majority of them to Guatemala, but also to Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. Their children remain in the U.S. and are living with relatives or other sponsors scattered all over the country. The remaining 295 parents that haven’t been located are believed still to be in the United States, At least 60 of the separated children whose parents remain missing were under the age of 5 when they were separated. The main goal of immigrant advocates is to determine whether the parents are still in contact with their children in the U.S.

Government Agencies Hacked, Russia Suspected

The U.S. government is reeling from multiple data breaches at top federal agencies, the result of a worldwide hacking campaign with possible ties to Russia. Called the worst hacking attack in history, investigators are still trying to figure out how much of the government may have been affected and how badly it may have been compromised. At least three U.S. agencies have publicly confirmed they were compromised: The Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security and the Agriculture Department. Sophisticated hackers gained access through third-party software SolarWinds, server software than many corporations and agencies. As many as 18,000 SolarWinds customers — out of a total of 300,000 — may have been running software containing the vulnerability that allowed the hackers to penetrate numerous agencies. The bulletin from DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said, “this threat poses a grave risk to the federal government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.”

  • Sources told Politico that the agencies that maintain America’s nuclear weapons stockpile were compromised in the attack. Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes confirmed that the department had been hit by the attack. “At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only, and has not impacted the mission essential national security functions of the department, including the National Nuclear Security Administration,” Hynes said in a statement. Hynes said that when vulnerable software was identified, “immediate action was taken to mitigate the risk.”

Black Children Six Times More Likely to be Shot by Police than Whites

Black children were six times more likely to be shot to death by the police than their White peers over a 16-year period, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Hispanic children were three times more likely to be shot to death than White children, the study found. During this same period, 6,512 adults were fatally shot by police, and Black and Hispanic adults had the highest mortality rates compared with White adults, according to Children’s National.

Trump Administration cuts $200M to California over Abortion Regulations

The Trump administration said Wednesday it was cutting $200 million in federal health care funding to California because the state requires insurance providers to cover abortions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it will withhold the funding from Medicaid in the new fiscal quarter starting in January and “if the state does not come into compliance” the department will cut an additional $200 million per fiscal quarter. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement that California had violated federal conscience laws and refused to take corrective action.

38 States File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google

A group of 38 states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google on Thursday, alleging that the search giant has an illegal monopoly over the online search market that hurts consumers and advertisers. The lawsuit, announced by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by states represented by bipartisan attorneys general. “Consumers are denied the benefits of competition, including the possibility of higher quality services and better privacy protections. Advertisers are harmed through lower quality and higher prices that are, in turn, passed along to consumers,” Weiser said in press release.

Economic News

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased to 885,000 from 862,000 the previous week. It showed that nine months after the viral pandemic paralyzed the economy, many employers are still slashing jobs as the pandemic forces more business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home. Before the coronavirus, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000 per week.

Though many workers who were temporarily laid off in the spring have returned to work, a growing subset has been unable to find new jobs despite actively looking. Among Americans who are still in the labor force but are unemployed, the share who have been out of work for more than six months has been increasing since April from 20% to 37% of the unemployed.

The number of jobless people who are collecting aid from one of the two federal extended-benefit programs – the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers coverage to gig workers and others who don´t qualify for traditional benefits – surged to 9.2 million from 8.6 million by the end of November.

Nearly 8 million more Americans have joined the ranks of the poor since June, according to researchers from the University of Chicago and University of Notre Dame. The poverty rate jumped to 11.7% in November, up from 9.3% in June. The decline in poverty over the first six months of the year was due to the one-time stimulus checks distributed in the spring and the historic expansion of unemployment benefits, the researchers found in an earlier study.

About 27.4 million adults, or 12.7%, were in households where there was sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days, the Census survey found. Among households with children, 17.5% sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past weeks, according to the most recent Census data. Nearly 13 million adults, or 9.1%, are not current on their rent or mortgage.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it will continue its bond-buying stimulus “until substantial further progress has been made” toward its goals of full employment and 2% inflation, laying out a roadmap that could keep the pump-priming strategy going at least through 2022.

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, landlords are suffering. An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost income during the pandemic are behind on rent. A national ban on evictions, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the spread of the virus, has meant many landlords must continue to pay to maintain and finance their properties with less rent coming in and no recourse to remove non-paying tenants. If the CDC order is allowed to expire on January 31st, as many as 14 million renter households would be at risk of eviction.

A weekly survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association released Monday shows that the proportion of mortgage borrowers seeking forbearance relief in the first week of December rose to the highest level since August. At the same time, call volume at the companies that collect payments rose to the highest level since mid-April.

Retail sales dropped last month by 1.1%, signaling that the consumer recovery is stalling out. Clothing stores, restaurants, electronics stores and gas stations led the sales decline while spending at grocery stores and online retailers ticked up. Overall, retail sales are up 4.1% from last year. Spending at online retailers is up 29.2% from the same time last year.

According to a brand new U.S. Chamber-MetLife poll of small businesses, 62% of small-business owners fear that the worst is still to come with COVID-19’s economic impact. Only 40% said they believe their small businesses can operate indefinitely during the current business environment.

U.S. household wealth grew to a record-shattering $123.52 trillion in the third quarter, a sign that affluent Americans are doing well even as millions of workers remain unemployed.

Between April and September, one of the most tumultuous economic stretches in modern history, 45 of the 50 most valuable publicly traded U.S. companies turned a profit, a Washington Post analysis found. At least 27 of the 50 largest firms laid off employees this year, cutting more than 100,000 workers. Meanwhile, the top 50 firms collectively distributed more than $240 billion to shareholders during that time.

Israel Bemoans Muslim Gatherings on the Temple Mount

Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash has said the Jewish state cannot enforce coronavirus restrictions on the Temple Mount. There have been widespread social distancing violations at Al Aqsa Mosque, where Friday prayers last week drew a staggering 18,000 worshippers tightly packed together. Large weddings, parties, and other social events are taking place in violation of the health guidelines, Ash said. “There is no solution, and we can’t do anything about it,” Ash told Brigadier General Ben-Zvi Eliassy, ​​commander of the East Jerusalem Home Front Command. “The only one who can stop it is the Palestinian Authority,” said Eliassy. Ash also mentioned his concern over rising morbidity rates in Palestinian areas, where residents, who may be infected with the virus, regularly commute to work in Israel.

  • The Temple Mount has long been a flashpoint site in Israel, venerated as holy by both Jews and Muslims. The compound, officially controlled by the Jordan Waqf, includes the holiest site in Judaism, the grounds of the former biblical temples. It contains the third holiest shrine in Islam, Al Aqsa Mosque.

Iran Builds At Underground Nuclear Facility Despite U.S. Tensions & Sanctions

Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the U.S. over its atomic program, as seen in satellite photos obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Iran has not publicly acknowledged any new construction at Fordo, whose discovery by the West in 2009 came in an earlier round of brinkmanship before world powers struck the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. While the purpose of the building remains unclear, any work at Fordo likely will trigger new concern in the waning days of the Trump administration and prior to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

U.S. Blacklists Chinese, UAE-Based Companies Over Sale Of Iranian Petrochemicals

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on companies based in China and the United Arab Emirates, accusing them of supporting the sale of Iranian petrochemicals as Washington increases pressure on Tehran in the closing days of President Donald Trump’s term. The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement it had blacklisted the four entities for facilitating the export of Iranian petrochemical products by Triliance Petrochemical Co. Ltd, which was hit with sanctions by Washington earlier this year.

Most of the 344 Students Abducted in Nigeria Have Been Released

More than 300 schoolboys abducted last week by armed men in northwest Nigeria have been released, a government official said Thursday. Katsina State Gov. Aminu Bello Masari said the 344 boarding school students were turned over to security officials and are being brought to the state capital, where they will get physical examinations before being reunited with their families. “I think we can say … we have recovered most of the boys, if not all of them,” Masari said. He did not disclose if the government paid any ransom. The jihadist terrorist group Boko Haram said they carried out the attack because it believes Western education is un-Islamic.

Russia Successfully Tests New Space Warfare Weapons

Russia test-fired an anti-satellite missile in its pursuit to turn space into a “warfighting domain,” the newly-formed U.S. Space Command announced Wednesday. The direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile test took place Tuesday. To date, Russia has demonstrated two types of space weapons, the agency says.   “Russia has made space a warfighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of Space Command. “We stand ready and committed to deter aggression and defend our Nation and our allies from hostile acts in space,” he said. 

Weather

At least five people were killed in car crashes, tens of thousands of homes and businsses lost power and a sports dome collapsed as Winter Storm Gail dumped record amounts of snow in the Northeast Wednesday into Thursday. Hundreds of crashes were reported during the snowy weather, including a deadly Pennsylvania pileup that involved at least 66 cars. In Binghamton, New York, a sports dome billed as the largest of its kind in the U.S. collapsed under the weight of the snow. A record 40 inches of snow fell on Binghamton.

The U.S. Northeast isn’t the only place digging out after a massive snowfall. In Japan, more than 1,000 people have been stranded on a highway, some of them for more than 40 hours, by a heavy snowstorm that began late Wednesday. Authorities say that at one point, the frozen traffic jam on the Kanetsu highway, which connects Tokyo to the northern Honshu city of Niigata, stretched for more than 10 miles. The military has distributed food, gas, and blankets to stranded drivers and vehicles are being dug out one by one, but at least 1,000 vehicles were still stranded at noon Friday local time. The snowfall, which is expected to continue until Saturday, has also knocked out power to at least 10,000 homes.

Signs of the Times (12/11/20)

December 11, 2020

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

U.S.  to Approve Pfizer Vaccine Friday, Begin Inoculations Monday

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Friday’s “Good Morning America” that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will grant emergency use authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech. Mass vaccinations could begin within days for hundreds of thousands of frontline heath care workers and nursing home residents, a potential turning point in the country’s bitter battle against the virus.” We could see people getting vaccinated Monday, Tuesday of next week,” Azar said. The news comes a day after an independent committee voted in an eight-hour public hearing Thursday to recommend authorization.

UK Got First Shipment of Pfizer Vaccine, Israel, Bahrain and Canada Next

About 70 hospitals in the United Kingdom will receive the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine created by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Vaccinations were administered starting Tuesday in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK will be rolling out 800,000 doses over the next several weeks. Health and care staff and people over 80 are receiving the first doses, to be followed by a second dose after three weeks. The U.K. became the first country to authorize Pfizer’s candidate vaccine for emergency use last week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to evaluate Pfizer’s vaccine Dec. 10, and distribution is expected to start within 24 hours of authorization.

  • Pfizer and its development partner BioNTech announced Wednesday that the Canadian government granted emergency approval for their vaccine, beating the U.S. to start implementing the vaccine. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that the country could receive up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine be fore the end of the year and that the country is preparing to administer the shots as early as next week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein met the first planeload of Pfizer vaccines that landed in Israel Wednesday morning, promising to be the first to get inoculated against the coronavirus.

Pfizer Rollout Cut by Half Due to Supply Chain Issues

Pfizer Inc. expects to ship half of the Covid-19 vaccines it originally planned for this year because of supply-chain problems, but still expects to roll out more than a billion doses in 2021. Pfizer and Germany-based partner BioNTech SE had hoped to roll out 100 million vaccines world-wide by the end of this year, a plan that has now been reduced to 50 million.

Two Britons Have Severe Allergic Reaction to Vaccine

UK regulators are warning people with a history of “significant” allergic reactions to avoid taking the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine after two people experienced symptoms of “anaphylactoid reaction.” Two National Health Service staff members who received a dose on Tuesday suffered the reaction, which is generally serious and potentially life threatening. Both individuals—who have a history of such reactions and carry an adrenaline auto injector or EpiPen—are said to be recovering after the appropriate treatment.

  • People with a “significant history” of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, British health officials said Wednesday.

Some Side Effects of Vaccine Considered ‘Normal’

Americans will likely experience at least one side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors say that’s normal and you should still get vaccinated. In Moderna’s Phase 3 trials, the company said the most common side effects were fatigue, muscle soreness and aches, joint pain and headache, plus pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. More than half of Moderna’s study participants had side effects from the vaccine in Phase 1 trials. In Pfizer/BioNTech Phase 3 trials, the probability of fatigue or headaches was 3.8% and 2%, respectively. Physicians emphasize that the side effects are not just normal but also a sign that the body is reacting properly to the vaccine.

Australia Abandons Promising Vaccine for HIV Complications

For the first time, one of the dozens of potential COVID vaccines in development around the world has been abandoned. Australia announced Friday that a vaccine project has been terminated because volunteers in clinical trials received false positives in HIV tests. The $750 million project, a collaboration between the University of Queensland and the biotech company CSL, used fragments of a protein found in HIV. Australian authorities said the vaccine appears to be safe and effective—with zero chance of actually infecting anybody with HIV—but with other vaccines now available, they did not want to risk undermining public trust in the vaccination program. Fixing the error that caused the false positives could set development back up to a year.

  • There’s also been a delay in the vaccine being developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline. The companies said that study results found older patients failed to demonstrate a sufficient immune response against the virus. 

American’s Mental Health Declines 9% Says New Gallop Poll

According to a new Gallup poll, America’s mental health has deteriorated to the worst point it has been in two decades. Only 34% of U.S. adults say their mental health is excellent, down from 43% last year. Experts said that while our mental health has suffered this year likely due to the coronavirus, our physical health hasn’t changed substantially, according to the latest numbers. Women, Republicans, independents, and those who do not attend regular religious services had the largest drop in positive ratings, along with white adults, singles, older adults, and lower-income Americans. Democrats and frequent churchgoers had the least change in mental wellness, according to the poll.

Biden Says He Will Establish a 100-Day Mask Mandate

Former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to force Americans to wear a mask for 100 days should he assume office in January, calling it a “patriotic act.” Biden announced, “It will start with my signing an order on day one to require masks, where I can under the law, like federal buildings, interstate travel on planes, trains, and buses. I’ll also be working with the governors and mayors to do the same in their states and their cities.” Biden equated mask-wearing to being a symbol of patriotic duty. “It’s not a political statement, it’s a patriotic act.”

Covid-19 Now the Third Leading Cause of Death

COVID-19 has replaced accidents as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. with more than 277,000 deaths as of last week. According to the CDC, heart disease caused more than 650,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018 followed by cancer, which caused nearly 600,000 deaths. The third leading cause of death in the U.S. for that year were accidents or unintentional injuries, which killed about 167,000 people in 2018. For those who equate the impacts of coronavirus to the flu, only about 60,000 people died from influenza and pneumonia in 2018.

Covid-19 Cases & Deaths Rising to Record Levels

Thursday saw the 7-day average of new Covid-19 cases/day rise to a record 211,127, far above the summer peak of 66,046. The 7-day average number of deaths/day rose to 2,339, slightly above the spring peak of 2,232. A record 3,157 people died Thursday. And 106,688 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus , also a record for the country.

  • As of Friday, nine states are experiencing a declining number of Covid-19 cases/day (South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and New Mexico. However, all states are experiencing increases in deaths. Arizona’s 7-day average cases/day soared to about 6,000, 50% higher than the summer peak of about 4,000. Deaths, though, are still lower (7-day average of 50/day) versus the summer peak of about 75/day, indicating that this mutation is more infectious but less deadly.

International Covid News

  • On Friday, Argentina’s Senate passed a new levy that will tax the country’s richest people in order to pay for relief measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-off tax will affect approximately 12,000 people who possess assets worth more than 200 million pesos ($2.5 million).
  • The Greek government said Monday that it would extend core lockdown restrictions through Christmas after a month of new virus restrictions did not bring down levels of COVID-19 as much as government officials had hoped. Schools, courts and restaurants will remain closed through Jan. 7. Non-essential travel between Greece’s administrative regions will also be banned.
  • In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has announced local restrictions that close restaurants and bars and switch students from the 5th grade and older to distance learning. The new measures come after a “worrying” increase in infections in recent weeks, Frederiksen said.

Hospitals Becoming Overloaded with Covid-19 Pat

The U.S. reported 104,600 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project. More than one-third of Americans live in an area where hospitals are running out of intensive care beds. Some California counties on Tuesday saw intensive care units hit full capacity. ICU beds come with specially trained healthcare professionals and high-tech equipment that can mean the difference between life and death for very sick patients. Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, has was forced to use its parking deck as an “Alternate Care Site” in an effort to serve Covid-19 patients after their ICU beds were all in use. Since opening up last month, the site has already served more than 200 patients.

California Back Under Stay-at-Home Orders

Most of California has entered a new stay-at-home lockdown that will last through the Christmas holiday. Indoor and outdoor dining is banned, people cannot gather with anyone outside their households, and hair salons, barber shops and movie theaters must shut down. After a record number of new coronavirus cases in one week, more than two-thirds of California residents received a text asking them to stay home.

  • Days after vowing to target coronavirus super spreader events, the Los Angeles County sheriff announced 158 arrests tied to an underground party in Palmdale, where officers recovered guns, drugs and a juvenile sex trafficking victim.

New York City Reopens Schools

Some of New York City’s public school students are returning to the classroom Monday after a short-lived shutdown sent them home for virtual learning amid rising COVID-19 infection rates. Mayor Bill De Blasio has vowed to try to keep New York City’s public schools open moving forward, using new testing protocols instead of relying on local infection rates to determine whether classroom should shutter.

Los Angeles Restaurants Win Court Battle Over Closures

Los Angeles County’s health director acted “arbitrarily” and didn’t prove the danger to the public when she banned outdoor dining at restaurants as coronavirus cases surged last month, a judge ruled Tuesday in a case other businesses may use to try to overturn closures and restrictions. The county failed to show that health benefits outweigh the negative economic effects before issuing the ban, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote. He also said the county did not offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus. Chalfant said the Department of Public Health must conduct a risk-benefit analysis before trying to extend the ban beyond Dec. 16.Eighteen States Sue to Block Votes in Four Battleground States

18 States Sue to Block Voting Results in 4 Battleground States

President Trump appears to have pinned his hopes of overturning his election loss on a lawsuit filed this week by Texas Attorney General Bill Paxton. Some 17 other Republican state attorneys general supported the lawsuit in a brief filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday, The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court to block Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, four closely contested battleground states which Trump lost, from casting Electoral College votes on Monday. Attorneys general from the four affected states went to battle at the Supreme Court on Thursday opposing President Donald Trump’s bid to pull off an unprecedented legal victory that would bring the election to a screeching halt. By late afternoon, the court’s docket was bursting with briefs reacting to a long-shot lawsuit seeking to invalidate millions of votes and President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. A decision come momentarily.

Supreme Court Declines to Overturn Pennsylvania Election Results

The Supreme Court denied a request from GOP allies of President Trump to overturn Pennsylvania’s election results on Tuesday. The high court left intact a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which tossed a lawsuit from Rep. Mike Kelly challenging a 2019 law to expand mail-in voting.

  • The chief investigator from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office filed a sworn statement in federal court claiming that video presented last week at a state Senate meeting does not show voter fraud, as was alleged by President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani. “Our investigation and review of the entire security footage revealed that there were no mystery ballots that were brought in from an unknown location and hidden under tables as has been reported by some,” Watson said in an affidavit.

Federal Judge Tosses Michigan Lawsuit

A federal judge tossed a lawsuit in Michigan on Monday, which argued the November election results were corrupt due to Dominion Voting Systems and voter fraud. The lawsuit filed by pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell had asked the Eastern District of Michigan to halt the certification of the state’s results and to allow an audit of the machines.

Georgia Certifies Biden Victory After Second Recount

A second recount of the votes in Georgia confirmed that President-elect Joe Biden won the state, the top elections official said Monday. The second recount involved putting ballots back through scanners. The more than 5 million ballots cast in the state on Nov. 3 had already been re-tallied by hand, in an audit intended to verify the accuracy of the machines.

Progressives Dissatisfied with Biden’s Appointments

Progressives have mobilized against Biden as their uneasy alliance unravels. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont griped that liberals aren’t sufficiently represented in the Cabinet thus far and Rep. “The progressive movement deserves a number of seats — important seats — in the Biden administration. Have I seen that at this point? I have not,” Mr. Sanders told Axios this week. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanded a more “cohesive vision” from the appointments. “I think one of the things I’m looking for when I see all of these picks put together is: What is the agenda? What is the overall vision going to be?”

Idaho Mask Meeting Shutdown by Protesters

Idaho public health officials meeting to vote on a proposed four-county mask mandate  abruptly shut down the proceedings Tuesday amid concerns that raucous protests outside the health department building and the homes of some health officials were threatening public safety. The meeting ended minutes after one health board member tearfully said she had to rush home because her 12-year-old son was home alone and protesters were banging outside the door.

Portland Protesters Establish ‘Red House Autonomous Zone’

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Tuesday said he has authorized police to use “all lawful means” in ending an illegal occupation at a home in the city. Protesters have rallied at the private North Portland residence for months to demonstrate against the eviction of a Black and Indigenous family, according to reports. At least 100 demonstrators gathered outside the home on Tuesday evening and proclaimed it the “Red House Autonomous Zone.” The protesters created makeshift barricades to prevent the ouster of the family who owned the home for decades. Police have made at least seven arrests. The protesters reportedly have a stockpile of weapons. “They’ve got armed guards. They’ve got a kitchen ready,” local radio host Jason Rantz said, “So they’re there for the long haul as the Portland police department are trying to figure out what exactly they’re going to do.’

Anne Frank Memorial Defaced by Neo-Nazis

The only Anne Frank memorial in the U.S. was defaced this week with stickers bearing swastikas and the words “We are everywhere.” The vandals also targeted a photo of Bill Wassmuth, a former Catholic priest who confronted neo-Nazis in northern Idaho. The site, which was dedicated in 2002, was also targeted in 2017, when vandals who left anti-Semitic graffiti caused $20,000 in damages.

Minneapolis Votes to Cut $8 Million from Police Budget

  • After hours of public debate, council members voted unanimously early Thursday to shift nearly $8 million from next year’s police budget to other city services. The effort to transform public safety in the city comes months after the death of George Floyd there sparked nationwide protests for police reform.

Researchers Alarmed after Agents Raid Home of Former Florida COVID-19 Data Scientist

Images of state agents drawing guns as they raided the home of the fired Florida Department of Healthdata scientist Rebekah Jones Monday were met with alarm by fellow researchers and academics across the United States. Armed Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents executed a warrant on Jones’ Tallahassee home on Monday morning seizing her computer, phone and several hard drives. An affidavit for the warrant claims that an unauthorized message sent from a state emergency management account on Nov. 10 was traced to an IP address associated with Jones. She denied being behind the message, which called on DOH employees to speak out. Jones was fired by the Florida DOH in May for what state officials said was “insubordination” after being reprimanded several times. She claimed she was removed for refusing to doctor public COVID-19 data to suit Governor Ron DeSantis’ re-opening agenda.

Trump Administration Suspends Student Loan Payments Through January

The Trump administration on Friday suspended all federal student loan payments through the end of January and kept interest rates at 0%, extending a moratorium that started early in the pandemic but was set to expire at the end of this month. By extending payments by one month, the administration is effectively leaving it to the Biden administration or Congress to decide whether to provide longer-term relief to millions of student borrowers. “The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVossaid in a statement. “The Congress, not the Executive Branch, is in charge of student loan policy.”

Trump Replaces Pentagon Advisory Board With Campaign Managers

President Donald Trump has purged a Pentagon business advisory board and replaced its members with his former campaign manager and deputy campaign manager, neither of whom have served in the military or have any apparent experience with the defense industry. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced Friday that Trump loyalists Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie would be appointed to the Defense Business Board to partly replace nine members who were ousted earlier. Trump has jettisoned much of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership in recent weeks, replacing officials with a slew of political loyalists.

Federal Court Restores DACA Immigrant Program

Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children are again able to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — better known as DACA — a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled Friday evening. Approximately 640,000 immigrants are currently enrolled in the DACA program. U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis fully restored the Obama-era program, after the Trump administration sought to end it. While the challenge wound through the legal system, DHS had been able to refuse new DACA applicants. The administration might now petition a federal appeals court or go to the Supreme Court for temporary relief from enforcement of the judge’s order.

Appeals Court OKs Trump Using Military Money for Border Wall

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a lower court was wrong to bar the Trump administration from taking $3.6 billion from military construction projects for a border wall. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that El Paso County and the nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights did not have the standing to challenge President Donald Trump’s redirecting funds from more than 100 military construction projects, including a $20 million road project at a base located in the city. The appeals court found that neither the county nor the Border Network proved it was directly harmed by Trump’s move.

The Rich Get Richer While the Poor Get Poorer

During the last economic expansion, from 2009 to 2019, average yearly wages for the bottom 90% of workers rose 8.7% after adjusting for inflation, according to an analysis of Social Security Administration data by the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Meanwhile, pay for most of the top 10% rose 13.2% – while earnings for the top 1% jumped 20.4%.The disparity in wage growth largely continued last year, with the bottom 90% seeing gains of 1.7% while most of the top 10% notched a 3.1% advance. In 2019, salaries averaged $38,923 for the bottom 90%; $320,096 for the top 5%; $758,434 for the top 1%; and $2,858,981 for the top 0.1%.

Covid Exacerbating Looming Pension Crisis

Nearly every state is facing a pension shortfall. States have a combined $4.2 trillion in pension liabilities, but less than $3 trillion in assets set aside to pay for those pensions. The typical state has enough money to pay just over 70% of the pensions it owes. With such a large funding shortfall – and an estimated 10,000 people hitting the retirement age of 65 each day – states are headed for a pension crisis. Only one state has fully funded pensions, based on 2018 data, the most recent year of available data. Six other states have over 90% of all pensions funded, yet four states do not have the money to meet even half of their pensions obligations. The funding gap is anywhere from $1.1 billion to $184 billion.  With Covid-19 restrictions, tax revenue is down making the situation worse.

Economic News

Another 853,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the largest number of claims since mid-September. Not adjusting for seasonality, initial claims stood at nearly 950,000.It’s the third increase in the past four weeks. Continued jobless claims, which count workers who have filed for unemployment benefits for at least two weeks in a row, rose to 5.8 million.

An emerging $900 billion COVID-19 aid package from a bipartisan group of lawmakers has all but collapsed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican senators won’t support $160 billion in state and local funds as part of a potential trade-off in the deal. The GOP leader criticized “controversial state bailouts” during a speech in the Senate. He insisted on a more targeted aid package.

More than two-thirds of Americans experienced financial setbacks in 2020 due to job loss, declining household income or a drawdown of emergency savings, according to a new Fidelity study. Of those, 23% lost a job or household income; 20% had an unexpected non-health emergency; 18% had to provide unexpected financial aid to family or friends; and 16% had a health emergency in their family. 

U.S. consumers took out more auto and student loans in October, but cut back on credit card borrowing, a sign that they remain cautious about spending amid a spike in virus cases. The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer borrowing rose 2.1% in October to $4.16 trillion, pushed higher by a 4.8% jump in a category mostly made up of student and auto loans. Credit card borrowing fell 6.7%.

About 17% of America’s restaurants have already permanently closed this year, with thousands more on the brink according to a new report. The National Restaurant Association said Monday that 10,000 restaurants could close in the next three weeks, in addition to the 110,000 that have already shuttered in 2020. The group released results from a survey of 6,000 restaurant operators, revealing that 87% of full-service restaurants reported an average 36% drop in revenue and 83% expects sales to be “even worse” over the next three months as the virus continues to lash the United States. Restaurant reservations were down 70% during the pandemic. They recovered in September, but have fallen once again since.

According to a recent Alignable survey, 48 percent of U.S. small business owners fear that they could be forced to “shut down permanently” before year’s end, up from 42% just two months ago.

Americans purchased 185 million less gallons of gas the week of Thanksgiving than they did the week prior. 2020 marked the lowest Thanksgiving week for gas consumption since 1997, according to a recent IHS Markit Oil Price Information Service survey.

Reeling from the pandemic, mass transit agencies are grappling with drastic reductions in ridership and pleading for help from Washington. In Boston, transit officials warned of ending weekend service on the commuter rail and shutting down the city’s ferries. In Washington, weekend and late-night metro service would be eliminated and 19 of the system’s 91 stations would close. In Atlanta, 70 of the city’s 110 bus routes have already been suspended, a move that could become permanent. And in New York City, home to the largest mass transportation system in North America, transit officials have unveiled a plan that could slash subway service by 40 percent and cut commuter rail service in half.

China’s Economy Only One Expected to Grow This Year

Driven by demand for electronics and medical equipment, China’s exports jumped at the fastest pace in almost three years in November. The country’s trade surplus is now at a record high. This reveals that demand for goods has remained robust during a wave of fresh coronavirus restrictions in Europe and the United States, investment analysts say. China’s imports also grew for the third month in a row, indicating a healthy level of domestic consumption. The country is the only major economy expected to grow this year. And analysts expect the global economy to roar back to life by the middle of 2021.

European Central Bank Issues More Stimulus to European Economy

The European Central Bank is expanding its huge money-printing program by hundreds of billions of euros, an attempt to prop up the economy as another wave of coronavirus rips through the region and threatens to derail its fragile recovery. The central bank said in a statement on Thursday that it would increase its asset purchases by €500 billion ($605 billion), bringing the total stimulus program to €1.85 trillion ($2.24 trillion). It also plans to extend purchases to at least the end of March 2022 and grant more subsidized loans to banks to stimulate lending.

Morocco Normalizes Relations With Israel, Fourth Arab Nation to Do So

Israel and Morocco have agreed to normalize relations, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday, marking the fourth Arab-Israel agreement in four months. As part of the deal, the U.S. will recognize Morocco’s claim over the Western Sahara region, the former Spanish North African territory that has been a long-running dispute. Trump said Israel and Morocco would restore diplomatic and other relations, including the immediate reopening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv and the eventual opening of embassies. U.S. officials said it would also include joint overflight rights for airlines.

Gethsemane Church in Jerusalem Is Set Ablaze by Arsonist

According to Christian Today, a 49-year-old Israeli man was arrested by Israeli police in connection with Friday’s arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. Patriarch Theophilos III, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, said that the attack was “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land.” “I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land,” Theophilos stressed.

30 Congolese Christians Murdered, 10 Raped in String of Jihadi Attacks

At least 30 Christians were killed, and ten young women and girls raped, in a string of attacks on five villages in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by jihadi terrorists. Fourteen Christians were hospitalized in critical condition. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an extremist rebel group, raided the villages in North Kivu province, northeastern DRC, between November 20 and December 3. Local reports described scenes of terrified Christians flooding into the streets as the jihadists surrounded churches in each of the five villages armed with guns, machetes, clubs, swords and axes.

Majority of U.S. Troops Leaving Somalia but Airstrikes Continue

Pentagon officials announced Friday that the “majority” of U.S. troops stationed in Somalia will be removed from the Horn of Africa early next year. The nearly 700 U.S. soldiers stationed in the East African country, will not necessarily be coming home, but rather posted in neighboring countries or other regions. The withdrawal of troops from Somalia — who fought to counter Islamic extremists, like al-Shabaab — comes just two weeks after President Trump announced the U.S. would be removing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving a 2,500 U.S. military personnel stronghold in each country. The U.S. military killed eight al-Shabab fighters and wounded two others in airstrikes Thursday, which the Pentagon said would continue despite the drawdown of troops.

Weather

A winter storm will impact the Midwest and Great Lakes through Saturday. Moderate to heavy snow will bring 3- to 6-inch totals with locally higher amounts, especially for northern Michigan where they could reach up to a foot. Meanwhile, the cold front associated with this system will bring heavy rain and possibly severe storms to the central Plains and into the Mississippi Valley.

Heavy rain will potentially cause flash flooding from Northern California to Oregon. Some areas could easily get 4 inches of rain and more than two feet of snow for the higher elevations. This system originating in the West will then move into the Rockies and the Plains, bringing rain and snow to wrap up the weekend. The Northeast could see its first major snowstorm of the season on Wednesday and Thursday.

Signs of the Times (12/4/20)

December 4, 2020

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:11-14)

Good News! End-Time Turmoil Will Increase Making Christ’s Return Sooner than Later

As we progress deeper and deeper into the end-times, increasing turmoil will become the norm. Election turmoil is not going away anytime soon. Emergency lockdown orders will be contested in courts and in the streets. Vaccination compliance will be enforced in many ways which will also be hotly contested. Abortion will become increasingly contentious. More and more pestilence (disease) is coming. Climate change will become a battleground as carbon-taxation and fuel restrictions upend economic foundations. Turmoil in the Middle East will continue to be stirred up by Iran. The Four Horsemen have been loosed and things will only get worse. But that’s the Good News because it means Jesus will be returning sooner than later to rule and reign on the new earth which will be rid of evil and restored to how it was supposed to be.

Planets to Align Causing Rare ‘Christmas Star’ to Appear on December 21

On December 21, Saturn and Jupiter will align into a beautiful bright star. This will be the first time they align like this since the Middle Ages (the 5th to the late 15th century). The two planets will look like a “double planet” and provide an extraordinary amount of light. The last time these two planets aligned like this was on March 4, 1226. The spectacular sighting will be viewable from anywhere on earth. “The planets will appear low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset as viewed from the northern hemisphere, and though they’ll be closest on December 21, you can look each evening that week.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down CA’s Lockdown Ban on Church Worship Services

Churches in California received a major victory today when the Supreme Court struck down California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on indoor worship services. The unsigned decision followed quickly on the heels of a major ruling at Thanksgiving striking down a New York ordinance severely limiting church attendance to as low as 10 people. The ruling had no dissents as the nation’s highest court overturned an order from the federal district judge Central District of California which had upheld Newsom’s restrictions.

U.S. Department of Defense to Issue Vaccination Cards

As COVID-19 vaccines prepare to be rolled out, the Department of Defense has released an image of a wallet-sized vaccination record card, which will be given to everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Releasing the image on the Department of Defense (DOD) website, the description says that they “will be sent out as part of vaccination kits from Operation Warp Speed.” The kit will further include “a card, a needle and syringe, alcohol wipes and a mask.” Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of the Immunization Action Coalition, which is involved in distributing the vaccine, said “Everyone will be issued a written card that they can put in their wallet that will tell them what they had and when their next dose is due.”

UK Approves Pfizer Vaccine, Will Begin Vaccinations in Days

British officials authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous testing and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic. The go-ahead for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech comes as the virus surges again in the U.S. and Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and morgues in some places and forcing new rounds of restrictions that have devastated economies. But the vaccine remains experimental while final testing is done. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in total. Nursing home residents, people over 80, and frontline health and social care workers will be first to receive the shot beginning next week.

Moderna Files for FA Approval for Emergency Use of Vaccine

Moderna Inc. formally requested Monday that U.S. and European regulators allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new test results confirm the shots offer strong protection against the coronavirus. Moderna is just behind Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in seeking to begin vaccinations in the U.S. in December. Across the Atlantic, British regulators also are assessing another vaccine from AstraZeneca. Moderna got final needed results over the weekend that suggest the vaccine is more than 94% effective.

Covid-19 Hospitalizations and Deaths at Record Levels, Fauci Says Thanksgiving Surge 2-3 Weeks Away

The nation’s one-day toll of coronavirus deaths surpassed 3,000 for the first time Wednesday, a number perhaps inflated by fatalities reported days late due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The death toll of 3,157 came as hospitalizations surpassed 100,000 for the first time, more than a 60% increase from the spring and summer peaks. The U.S. recorded 217,664 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday — the most infections in the country in a single day since the pandemic began. Another coronavirus surge is likely to hit the U.S. in the two- to three-week period following Thanksgiving, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has agreed to serve as his chief medical adviser for President-Elect Biden.

New CDC Guidelines Issued, Shorter Quarantine, Masks at Home.

New CDC guidelines recommend the length of quarantine be revised to 7 to 10 days after exposure, down from the 14 days currently recommended. Individuals can end their quarantine after 7 days if they receive a negative test, or 10 days without getting tested. For the first time, CDC urges universal use of face masks indoors when not at home. The CDC also recommended mask use at home when a member of the household has been infected or potentially exposed to the virus.

CA to Issue Stay-at-Home Orders, LA Sheriff Won’t Enforce

With coronavirus cases surging at a record pace, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stay-at-home order Thursday and said if people don’t comply the state’s hospitals will be overwhelmed with infected patients. The order divides the state into five regions and links business closures and travel restrictions to hospital ICU capacity. When a region has fewer than 15% of its ICU beds available, the new restrictions are imposed. Four regions—all but the San Francisco Bay area—could meet that threshold “within a day or two.” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva will not instruct his deputies to enforce a new statewide stay-at-home order.

LA Offering Stipend to Hospitality & Food Service Workers

Los Angeles is offering a stipend to local hospitality and food service workers as the restaurant industry continues to starve for business amid the country’s second wave of the coronavirus. Local restaurant workers in Los Angeles whose jobs were impacted during the pandemic are currently eligible for an $800 stipend, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday during a coronavirus briefing.

Biden to Enact 100-Day Mask Mandate, Former Presidents Volunteer for Vaccination

President-elect Joe Biden plans to ask Americans to wear a face mask for 100 days after he is inaugurated to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and he pledged to publicly take a vaccine when it’s available to encourage the public to get vaccinated, as do the three other former Presidents (Obama, Bush, Clinton).

Native American Nations Experiencing Severe Covid Outbreaks

The Navajo Nation requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government. Health officials serving the Navajo Nation have warned of shortages in supplies and hospital beds. The White Mountain Apache Tribe ordered a 72-hour lockdown over the upcoming weekend as the tribe’s number of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday reached its highest level since July. 

America’s 911 System at Breaking Point Due to Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed America’s 911 system and emergency responders to a “breaking point,” with ambulance workers and their services financially strained. Ambulance providers from New York to Iowa to Georgia say the situation is increasingly dire. Desperate for a financial infusion to keep such operations afloat, the American Ambulance Association recently begged the Department of Health and Human Services for $2.6 billion in emergency funding.

Europe’s Second Wave Surges Beyond First Wave, Belgium Worst in World

By early June, Europe was emerging from the depths of its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Strict lockdowns in most countries reduced new cases to almost nothing and allowed health care systems to recover. The weather was warming up, the European Union was encouraging borders to reopen and Europeans were desperate for a break. But then a devastating second wave has forced reluctant governments back into lockdowns or restrictions and inflicted new scars on European economies. The optimism of the summer is gone, replaced with the realization that loosening precautions led to thousands of deaths just months before vaccines may arrive, notes the New York Times.

  • With Belgium having more coronavirus-related deaths per capita than any nation in the world, Christmas there is not just a celebration but an issue. The nation is under a four-person limit for gatherings and they must be held outdoors. Only one person at the party may go inside to use the bathroom. No one else can go indoors for any reason. “So if you really have to go to the toilet, there will be nothing else to do but return home,” a government spokesperson said.

Coronavirus Present in Blood Samples from Last September to December

Evidence that the coronavirus was infecting people in the U.S. last year comes from samples collected during Red Cross blood drives and analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a study published on Monday. Researchers tested 39 blood samples from California, Washington and Oregon that were collected between Dec. 13 and Dec. 16, 2019 and they all were positive for the coronavirus. The CDC has also found dozens of other positive samples from blood tests taken beginning at the end of December in other parts of the country. Researchers tested 39 blood samples from California, Washington and Oregon that were collected between Dec. 13 and Dec. 16, 2019.

  • These results challenge the current narrative of where and when the virus was developed and how it spread.

Will Preschoolers Ever Catch Up After School Shutdowns?

Countless American preschoolers are falling behind with social and emotional skills after months of shutdowns. Experts say the result could be devastating for the long-term success of many kids given that preschool years are arguably among the most formative of a child’s life. A student who starts kindergarten without preschool is more likely to repeat a grade, require special-education services or drop out, statistics show.

Attorney General Barr Says Hasn’t Seen Sufficient Fraud to Overturn Election

Attorney General William P. Barr said Tuesday that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” undercutting claims that President Trump and his allies have made of widespread and significant voting irregularities. His comments to the Associated Press, while caveated, make Barr the highest-ranking Trump administration official to break with the president on his allegation that the election was stolen. Trump himself, though, has shown no sign of backing down, and some of his Capitol Hill allies were critical of Barr’s assertions. Trump’s relationship with his attorney general was already deteriorating, with the president frustrated that Barr was unwilling to launch aggressive measures to support his fraud claims.

Georgia Governor Calls for Signature Audit After Surveillance Video Surfaces

Gov. Brian Kemp, the Georgia Republican who has been fiercely criticized by President Trump over his approach to allegations of voter fraud in his state, said Thursday that new testimony has raised additional questions and a signature audit should be performed. Kemp was referring to surveillance video that allegedly showed poll watchers being led out of a room at State Farm Arena, the state’s largest vote-counting center, after being told that the vote count was complete for the night. Once they left, a woman could be seen pulling out suitcases from underneath a table that allegedly contained ballots. The votes were allegedly counted for hours, with no election supervisors present.

USPS Whistleblowers: Hundreds of Thousands of Ballots Disappeared/Backdated

Phill Kline, director of Thomas More Society’s Amistad Project and former Kansas attorney general, said he received evidence that somewhere between “130,000 to 280,000 completed ballots for the 2020 general election had been shipped from Bethpage, New York, before the ballots and the trailer in which they were shipped disappeared” on Oct. 21. The former district attorney was referring to statements by Jesse Morgan, a USPS subcontractor who said ballots he transported to Pennsylvania disappeared. Another USPS subcontractor, Ethan Pease of Madison, Wisconsin, alleged that more than 100,000 ballots were backdated on the day after the election in order to be counted in the state. Pease, who did not vote for President Trump or Joe Biden, said he “couldn’t go to the grave knowing what I knew and just keeping that to myself knowing that something went wrong in this election.”

Black Lives Matter Organization Imploding Over Internal Power Struggle

Black Lives Matter is facing a rebellion within its own ranks as regional affiliates seek greater control over the movement and demand answers about where millions of dollars in donations have gone, reports the Washington Times. After years of tensions between the national organization and local outlets, the rift went public this week with the release of a statement by 10 BLM chapters accusing the top brass at the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation of failing to open their books or share the wealth with the rank and file. “To the best of our knowledge, most chapters have received little to no financial support from BLMGN since the launch in 2013,” the statement reads.

Long-Term Outlook for Commercial Office Space is Grim

When Silicon Valley icon Pinterest opted to pay nearly $90 million to get out of its lease on 490,000 square feet of unbuilt office space in San Francisco in August, it sent shock waves through commercial real estate markets. When Silicon Valley search engine Pinterest opted to pay nearly $90 million to get out of its lease on 490,000 square feet of unbuilt office space in San Francisco in August, it sent shock waves through commercial real estate markets. Suddenly, there is no need for companies to lease as much space. What will happen to the owners of all that office space and to the lenders who provided them with the capital to build and buy it? Fortunately, most such office space is covered by long-term leases, but this slow-motion car wreck looms on the horizon

Economic News

U.S. employers added a disappointing 245,000 jobs in November amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and more state business constraints as well as the looming halt of extended jobless benefits and other federal lifelines for millions of Americans. Job gains have slowed for five straight months since peaking at 4.8 million in June and the downshift was particularly sharp last month following 610,000 payroll additions in October.

The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell from 6.9% to 6.7% as the number of people working or looking for jobs fell by 400,000, the Labor Department said Friday. More than half those knocked out of a job early in the pandemic have been rehired, but there are still roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were in February.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week from 787,999 to a still-high 712,000, the latest sign that the U.S. economy and job market remain under stress from the intensified viral outbreak. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a still-high 712,000, the latest sign that the U.S. economy and job market remain under stress from the intensified viral outbreak.

Even with a month of sales dubbed “Black Friday,” online sales still broke records Friday. According to Adobe Analytics, consumers spent $9 billion online, a nearly 22% increase over the $7.4 billion in 2019 online Black Friday sales. The digital sales boost came as fewer shoppers ventured out to stores this year amid the coronavirus pandemic with preliminary data showing in-store Black Friday traffic dropped by 52.1%.

Debenhams, Britain’s biggest department store chain, is permanently closing its UK operations. The announcement came less than 24 hours after Topshop owner Arcadia filed for bankruptcy protection. Together, the business failures put 25,000 UK jobs at risk.

Iran Threatens Israel Over Chief Nuclear Scientist’s Assassination

Israel’s National Security Council issued a special statement Thursday, warning that Iran is threatening to attack Israeli targets around the world to avenge the assassination of its top nuclear scientist. Last week Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in a targeted assassination for which the Iranians are blaming Israel, but under a long-standing policy Israel has not formally commented on the incident. Iran vowed to take revenge against Israel, “Possible arenas for such activity are countries near Iran – such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the Kurdish region of Iraq as well as the Middle East and the African continent,” the statement said.

Iran to Step Up Enrichment Following Scientist’s Assassination

Less than a week after the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Iran on Wednesday passed a law requiring the government to increase the enrichment of uranium far beyond the maximum level established under a 2015 nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration. Scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, linked to Iran’s disbanded military nuclear program, was killed Friday as he traveled in a car east of Tehran. Iran has alleged that Israel is behind the assassination. Israel, however, has remained silent. Under the new law, Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency must immediately start once again enriching uranium to a level of 20%, which would allow Iran to achieve weapons-grade levels within six months.

Bahrain Refuses Special Labels for Judea and Samaria Goods

Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed R. Alzayani told members of the media on Thursday that Bahrain would not distinguish between goods made in Judea and Samaria or the Golan Heights and other Israeli products. All products of Israel will be treated the same, he specified, rejecting a policy adopted by other countries of treating goods and services from Israel differently depending on their precise origin. This is a blow to the BDS movement, which in addition to seeking wholesale boycotts of the Jewish state sees flagging the sale of goods from Judea and Samaria as a positive step. Labeling them is viewed as a step toward banning them completely.

Islamic State Increases Attacks In Iraq’s Sunni Areas

The Islamic State has in recent days claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Siniya oil refinery in Iraq’s northern Salahuddin province and for the killing of soldiers, policemen, local officials and others in neighboring Anbar. In Shirqat, also in northern Salahuddin province, the bodies of two villagers were found beheaded. Though far from holding any major territory, the transnational group — which Iraq announced the defeat of within its borders three years ago — continues to operate in areas that insurgents have used as hideouts for decades, such as the Hamrin Mountains and desert areas.

Islamist Militants Brutally Murder Four Christians in Remote Indonesian Village

Four Christians were killed, one beheaded, in a brutal attack by Islamist militants on a church and homes in a remote Christian community and Salvation Army post on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In the raid on Lemban Tongoa, in Central Sulawesi, a gang of around 10 militants armed with guns and knives beheaded one victim, slit the throat of a second and broke the neck of a third. A fourth victim was burned to death. All four of the adult victims were church members and belonged to the same extended family. The terrorists also razed the church building and set six village homes on fire. A number of local residents, some injured, fled into the forest to escape the attackers. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Boko Haram Killed 110 Farmers In Nigeria Attack, UN Says

An attack by Boko Haram Islamist insurgents on rice farmers in Nigeria’s northeast left at least 110 of them dead, a United Nations official said. “I am outraged and horrified by the gruesome attack against civilians,” Edward Kallon, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria said in an emailed statement. “At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack.” Governor of the Borno state, Babagana Zulum, where the attack occurred, said 43 victims were buried Sunday at the Koshobe village in the Jere district. Insurgents ambushed farmers who were bringing in their rice harvest Saturday.

Tanzania, Mozambique Join Forces To Fight Growing Islamist Insurgency

Last week, Tanzania and Mozambique announced they would begin conducting joint operations against Islamist militants along their shared border. The cooperation was spurred by attacks by ISIS-affiliated militants from Mozambique on Tanzanian villages in October. Though the militants are based in Mozambique, authorities believe many of the recruits come from Tanzania. The agreement reached by both governments includes a commitment to extradite more than 500 suspected terrorists from Tanzania to Mozambique. In recent months, attacks carried out by the ISIS-affiliated Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah along the Tanzania-Mozambique border have claimed dozens of lives.

Extreme Famine in Madagascar, No Rain, Lots of Covid-19

Southern Madagascar has not had a rainy season for the last two years. People in some parts are eating ashes flavored with tamarind, just to put something in their stomachs. Covid-19 is rife, and since there is almost no water, people cannot wash to protect themselves from the virus. Every day people are perishing from starvation in this poorest region of a country reckoned to be one of the five poorest countries in the world.

Sri Lanka Coronavirus Prison Riot Leaves 8 Dead, Over 50 Wounded

At least eight prisoners were killed and more than 50 injured in clashes with guards at a Sri Lankan prison, officials said on Monday, as authorities tried to quell a protest over rising coronavirus infections in the country’s crowded jails. Sri Lanka has witnessed an upsurge in coronavirus cases in the past month and over-congested prisons across the country have reported thousands of fresh infections. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks demanding an increase in coronavirus testing and new isolation facilities for infected prisoners.

Environment

A report, released Wednesday by the United Nations and several other research groups, says the world isn’t doing nearly enough to rein in fossil fuel production to the level that’s needed to halt “catastrophic” levels of global warming. In fact, countries around the world are poised to pump out over 120% more greenhouse gases than required to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals. The report said that to meet those goals, countries would need to wind down fossil fuel production by 6% annually over the coming decade.

Volcanoes

A volcano in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province erupted on Sunday, spewing ash and smoke as high as 2.5 miles into the sky and forcing more than 2,700 residents to seek refuge, the country’s disaster mitigation agency said. About 2,780 people from 26 villages had sought refuge, although no casualties have so far been reported. Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country.

Wildfires

Driven by fierce Santa Ana winds, a house fire in California’s Orange County that spread to nearby brush left two firefighters injured as it exploded to more than 11.25 square miles as of Friday morning. More than 500 personnel from 30 different agencies were attacking the fire both from the ground and the air, Several homes had been burned but further details weren’t yet available. The fire was 0% contained.

Southern California utilities cut the power to tens of thousands of customers to avoid the threat of wildfires as the region found itself whipped by Santa Ana winds that could turn sparks into catastrophes. Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger were in place Thursday throughout much of the region because of low humidity, bone-dry brush and the winds, which sweep down from the interior with sustained winds of up to 35 mph but gusts of 50 mph to 70 mph at times.

Weather

Juneau, Alaska, smashed its all-time 24-hour rainfall record Tuesday and Wednesday, triggering destructive flooding and mudslides from an atmospheric river. Juneau picked up 5.08 inches of rain in 24 hours ending 3 a.m. Wednesday. Two other towns, Pelican (9.75 inches) and Skagway (5.37 inches), also set new all-time calendar-day rainfall records. This torrential rain triggered flooding and mudslides in parts of the city, particularly in the neighborhoods northwest of downtown near the Mendenhall Valley and Juneau International Airport.

A winter storm forced schools to close, shut down roads and left tens of thousands without power from the Great Lakes to the Eastern Seaboard. Nearly 63,000 homes and businesses in Ohio had no power as of Tuesday afternoon and more than 50,000 customers in Maine were still without electricity Tuesday afternoon, down from twice that many Tuesday morning. The system dumped more than a foot of snow in Geauga County, Ohio, in the past 12 hours. Cuyahoga County saw 10 inches of snow.

Hopi tribal lands in northeastern Arizona, like much of the Southwest, have been desiccated by one of the most extreme droughts in recorded history. For the Hopi people, corn is much more than a staple crop. It’s central to their culture, religion and way of life. Members of the Hopi Tribe rely on rain to nourish their corn with no access to bodies of water. But this year, hardly any summer monsoon rains came. The Hopi Reservation baked in one of the hottest summers on record. As higher temperatures intensify evaporation, the changing climate is taking away more of the precious moisture the Hopi depend on.