Archive for January, 2021

Signs of the Times (1/29/21)

January 29, 2021

“The propitious smiles of heaven cannot be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right that heaven itself has ordained,” George Washington told the nation in his first inaugural address 232 years ago.

Biden Signed a Record 40 Executive Orders in First 9 Days, Ignoring Congress

President Biden, by the end of his ninth day at the White House, had signed 40 executive orders, actions, and presidential memorandum — a record. Biden has taken heat from critics over his early reliance on executive action, with Republicans saying it betrays his vow to work with Congress on to build a consensus on issues. Biden officials said that the moves are previews of the agenda items the president will push in Congress as Republicans rail against the record-making flurry of orders. “As recently as October, now-President Biden said ‘you can’t [legislate] by executive action unless you’re a dictator,’” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Trump Impeachment Trial Hits a Roadblock

Former President Trump’s impeachment trial begins Feb. 9, but a vote Tuesday in the Senate revealed a mostly partisan split over the validity of having the trial in the first place. It was a win for the Democrats, only in that they, and five Republicans who joined them, quashed an objection by Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who insisted impeaching an ex-president would violate the Constitution. The vote that killed Paul’s objection was 55-45, but it’s a vote count the Washington Post says signals a “likely acquittal” of Trump, as 67 senators would need to agree to convict him.

Biden’s Progressive Agenda Likely to be Stalled by Filibuster

The retention of the Senate filibuster – a congressional tactic that essentially requires 60 Senate votes to get bills passed  – means the new president might have to rein in some of his most progressive ideas because the moderates in both parties he’ll need to pass legislation won’t go for them. A raise in the federal minimum wage to $15, a curb on oil and gas development, and efforts to reverse decades of systemic racial discrimination will be much harder to pass with the Senate filibuster in play.

Biden’s Stimulus Deal May Need to be Pared Down

President Biden is continuing to chase a bipartisan deal over his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal, but White House officials privately acknowledge the bill will need to be pared down to secure Republican support after GOP lawmakers balked at the price tag. Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats are increasingly skeptical a bipartisan deal can be reached.

Asians and Pacific Islanders Upset Over Lack of Representation

When Biden ran for President, he said his cabinet would “look like America.” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders did not make the cut. So when Biden – whose Cabinet is shaping up to be the most diverse in U.S. history – failed to name a single Cabinet secretary of AAPI descent, the backlash was bitter and compounded by a longstanding sense of feeling left out of federal decision-making. Every presidential Cabinet since 2000 has included an Asian American until now.

Texas Judge Blocks Biden’s Order for Cessation of Deportations

The Biden administration’s attempt to put a 100-day pause on deportations hit a wall when a federal court granted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas. U.S. District Court Judge Drew B. Tipton stated in a Tuesday order that the directive from acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske that halted removing those who already had final orders of removal against them appeared to run afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies conduct rulemaking. The same law was used to block a number of Trump administration actions as well.

Supreme Court Dismisses Cases Challenging Trump Profits While President

The Supreme Court batted aside a pair of cases Monday that raised questions about former President Donald Trump’s business ties, finding the concerns over whether he violated the Constitution’s anti-corruption clauses moot. The cases involved questions about whether Trump violated the emoluments clauses of the Constitution by benefiting from his properties – notably, a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. – where foreign and other entities with business before the federal government often stayed. The justices on Monday sent the cases back to lower courts and ordered that they be dismissed.

Biden Lifts Ban on Transgenders Serving in the Military, Rabbis Object

President Biden signed an executive order Monday, fulfilling a campaign promise to overturn the ban on transgender people serving in the military. At his confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he supported the move (Austin is the first black Defense Secretary). Former President Trump had enacted the ban in 2017. The Coalition for Jewish Values, representing over 1500 traditional, Orthodox rabbis in matters of public policy, today expressed grave concern regarding President Joe Biden’s Executive Order that requires federally funded schools to allow biological male students who identify as female to use women’s bathrooms and compete on women’s sports teams.

  • Facebook has censored any criticism of Biden’s Executive Order on transgenderism by suspending accounts who do so for violating “Community Standards on violence and incitement.”

Biden Re-Opens Obamacare Due to the Pandemic

President Joe Biden on Thursday expanded health insurance coverage during the pandemic and reversed some of the Trump administration’s restrictions on family planning services. Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services to allow people to sign up for Obamacare plans from Feb. 15 through May 15. Open enrollment for plans available through HealthCare.gov ended in December. Nearly 9 million uninsured Americans could get free or subsidized health insurance through the special enrollment period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health research organization. The president also revoked the Mexico City Policy, which blocks foreign assistance to groups that include abortion services or information in their family planning programs.

Drug-Resistant Infections on the Rise During Covid-19 Pandemic

Drug-resistant bacteria and fungi have used the chaos of the pandemic to grow opportunistically in health care settings around the globe, reports the New York Times. These bacteria and fungi, like Covid-19, prey on older people, the infirm and those with compromised immune systems. They can cling tenaciously to clothing and medical equipment, which is why nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic were increasingly focused on cleaning rooms and changing gowns to prevent their spread. That emphasis all but slipped away amid an all-consuming focus on the coronavirus. In fact, experts warn, the changes in hygiene and other practices caused by the Covid-19 fight are likely to have contributed to the increasing spread of these drug-resistant germs.

Federal Government Misused Vaccine Research Funds Since 2010

Many public health programs and projects rely on federal funding. But since 2010, millions set aside to develop drugs and vaccines for a public health crisis were misused by Health and Human Services Department staff. A whistleblower complaint triggered a federal investigation into the HHS office that oversees vaccine research. Investigators found that funds were improperly spent on salaries, administrative expenses and office redecoration.

Life Expectancy in U.S. Drops Due to Covid

Life expectancy in America dropped by more than a year due to excessive COVID-19 deaths in 2020. The new average life expectancy is now estimated to be 77.48 years. The life expectancy in 2019 was estimated to be 78.85 years. The 2020 figures represent the lowest life expectancy in the country since 2003, and the largest decline in 40 years, according to Science Daily. The researchers found that the decline in life expectancy at birth was even starker for minority populations. They projected that Blacks would suffer a 2.19-year shorter lifespan and Latinos’ lives would be reduced by 3.05 years. For whites, the reduction is smaller — 0.68 years — bringing their average life expectancy to 77.84 years.

Biden Creates Pandemic Testing Board to Coordinate Covid-19 Testing

President Joe Biden seeks to reset the nation’s inconsistent coronavirus testing efforts with a $50 billion plan and more federal oversight. Biden’s plan calls for a newly-created Pandemic Testing Board to coordinate a “clear, unified approach,” to testing for COVID-19, a marked difference from the Trump administration’s policy of states establishing their own plans with federal support. Laboratories have ramped up production to more than 2 million tests each day, but stubborn problems persist. Some labs still struggle to complete timely tests – particularly when demand surges – due to shortages of critical supplies. Public health labs largely are not equipped to detect new coronavirus variants such as ones first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa. And there’s still debate among testing experts on whether wider use of cheaper but less sensitive rapid tests will be the smartest path out of the pandemic.

Biden Reinstates Covid-19 Travel Restrictions

President Joe Biden on Monday reinstated COVID-19 travel restrictions that Trump had lifted shortly before the end of his term. The restrictions, which were in place for most of 2020, apply to non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom and much of Europe. “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” the new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. “We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director said.

California Lifts Stay-at-Home Order for Most Regions

According to a release by the California Department of Public Health on Monday, “nearly all” of the regions that were previously under a stay-at-home order will return to the state’s tier system for coronavirus restrictions in the most severe “purple” tier. In that tier, “most indoor businesses are closed,” but places of worship and many outdoor businesses may open with modifications.

Chicago Teachers Balk at Return to In-Person Education

Thousands of Chicago’s educators refused to head back into schools Monday as originally planned, following a weekend vote from its teachers union to defy a district order asking them to return to the classroom in preparation for resuming in-person learning. Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest district, wanted roughly 10,000 kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers and other staffers to return to school this morning to prepare for welcoming back approximately 70,000 students for part-time in-school classes starting Feb. 1. On Wednesday, Chicago halted in-person learning for about 3,200 pre-K and special education students who have been in classrooms for two weeks amid the impasse in negotiations between City Hall and the Teachers Union. The union was pushing Friday for its members to be vaccinated before being required to return to classrooms, one of the key sticking points in its ongoing labor dispute with the city’s public schools over a planned Feb. 1 reopening date for K-8 students.

Child Suicides Cause Nevada School District to Consider Reopening

A substantial uptick in student suicides has prompted the nation’s fifth-largest school district to start bringing children back to the classroom as soon as possible, despite high numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, a report says. The Clark County School District – which serves Las Vegas and other cities in Nevada – is now formulating a plan to allow some elementary grade and struggling youth to return to classrooms following 18 suicides amongst its student body between March and the end of December last year,

CDC Says It’s Safe to Re-Open Schools

The CDC says schools can reopen safely. With more and more students going back to school this week, evidence from the U.S. and other countries indicates schools can operate safely with precautions and they should open for in-person instruction as soon as possible, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. In an article published Tuesday in JAMA Network, the researchers wrote that wearing masks and maintaining social distance have proved effective at limiting transmission of the coronavirus in schools, but activities such as indoor sporting events can promote spread and should be diminished.

School Safety Being Undermined by Non-Compliance

A KHN analysis of federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration data found more than 780 COVID-19-related complaints covering more than 2,000 public and private K-12 schools. But those pleas for help likely represent only a small portion of the problems, because a federal loophole prevents public school employees from lodging them in 24 states without their own OSHA agencies or federally approved programs for local and state employees. Still, the complaints provide a window into the safety lapses: employees reported sick children coming to school, maskless students and teachers less than 6 feet apart, and administrators minimizing the dangers of the virus and punishing teachers who spoke out.

New Vaccine Contenders Not as Effective as Pfizer and Moderna

Two new vaccines coming into play did not perform as well as the two vaccines already in use in the U.S. under emergency authorization. Novavax Inc. said Thursday that its COVID-19 vaccine appears 89% effective based on early findings from a British study and that it also seems to work—though not as well—against new mutated versions of the virus circulating in that country and South Africa. Novavax said it needs some additional data before it can seek British authorization for the vaccine’s use, sometime in the next month or so. Novavax said it’s not clear if the FDA will need additional data from a study in the U.S. and Mexico that is ramping up before deciding whether to allow US use.

  • The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be 66% effective overall, and 85% effective against severe Covid-19. However, it didn’t work as well against the South African variant. Because of its single dose regimen, the J&J vaccine has been described as a “game-changer” in the campaign against the coronavirus pandemic. And the vaccine doesn’t need to be kept frozen, allowing it to be distributed through normal vaccine supply chains without the need for new, expensive equipment.
  • Merck, one of the world’s largest drug companies has abandoned its COVID-19 vaccine development effort, citing “inferior” immune responses. Merck said it will concentrate on COVID-19 treatments`.

Moderna Vaccine Good UK Variants, Less So for South African Variant

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine protects against two variants of the coronavirus that have emerged from Britain and South Africa, according to a company study. Moderna said the vaccine triggered an immune response to “all key emerging variants,” including B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, which were first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, respectively. However, Moderna’s existing vaccine produces fewer protective antibodies against the variant found in South Africa, so the company plans to test an alternate version.

Slow Pace of Vaccinations Delaying Second Shot

The Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines need two shots to achieve the 95% effectiveness against COVID-19 noted in their clinical trials. However, the plodding pace of vaccine distribution due to product shortages and fragmented healthcare systems might delay the timing of the second shot. But it is important to get the second dose of the vaccine within six weeks of the initial vaccination. While the first dose offers some protection, it is the second dose that can prevent more than 9 out of 10 cases of COVID-19, according to clinical trials.

Only About Half of Vaccine Doses Shipped Have Been Administered

Of 47.2 million doses shipped to states and nursing homes, 24.6 million have been administered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. As of Wednesday, 16 states had used less than half of vaccine doses shipped to them. The federal government will ship 10 million doses per week to states over the next three weeks.

Rate of Vaccination Less for Blacks & Latinos than Whites

Black and Latino Americans are receiving the Covid-19 vaccine at significantly lower rates than White people – a disparity that health advocates blame on the federal government and hospitals not prioritizing equitable access. A CNN analysis of data from 14 states found vaccine coverage is twice as high among White people on average than it is among Black and Latino people. The analysis found that on average, more than 4% of the White population has received a Covid-19 vaccine, about 2.3 times higher than the Black population (1.9% covered) and 2.6 times higher than the Hispanic population (1.8% covered).

Covid-19 Vaccine as Safe as Expected, Though Higher Than Other Vaccines

Early safety data from the first month of COVID-19 vaccination finds the shots are as safe as the studies suggested they’d be. Although the rate of severe allergic reactions is higher than in the general population, everyone with an allergic response been treated successfully, and no other serious problems have turned up among the first 22 million people vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although no vaccine is completely safe, data from these tracking systems suggest the coronavirus vaccines are not causing large numbers of unusual or dangerous results.

  • An angry red rash being called “COVID arm” is a harmless but annoying response in some people who get the Moderna vaccine. Aside from sometimes being itchy, it doesn’t appear to be dangerous and people who get it should not hesitate to get their second dose of the vaccine, doctors say.

Covid-19 Cases & Hospitalizations Down, Deaths Still High

The number of new U.S cases of the coronavirus has fallen 35% from their Jan. 11 peak. The average number of daily cases has fallen to about 162,000, from 249,000. The COVID Tracking Project said Wednesday that “the number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is decreasing in every major U.S. region.” About 107,000 Americans were hospitalized because of the virus Tuesday, down from a peak of more than 130,000 three weeks ago. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that the improvement in numbers appears to be the result of “natural peaking and then plateauing” after a holiday surge rather than an effect of the rollout of vaccines that began in mid-December. The daily death toll remains close to the record highs set earlier this month: The United States is still averaging about 23,000 deaths per week. Recorded deaths lag the infection rate by up to two weeks.

Overall Deaths Increase in Arizona by 25% Due to Covid-19

Overall deaths in Arizona increased by 25% in 2020, underscoring the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary new state data shows. Arizona recorded 60,161 deaths in 2019 and 75,133 deaths in 2020 , according to the preliminary data from the Arizona Department of Health Services. That’s a difference of nearly 15,000 deaths. Only 13,000 Covid-related deaths have been reported, suggesting an undercount of perhaps 2,000. Year-over-year increases in total deaths in Arizona have typically ranged between 1% and 4% in recent years.

New York Underreported Nursing Home Deaths by 56%

A damning attorney general’s report that showed Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials downplayed the deadly impact of COVID-19 on New York’s nursing homes. That report said data from 62 nursing homes showed the death toll of residents was 56 percent higher than publicly acknowledged by by the Department of Health. The report says, “Government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk.” More than 6,300 “COVID-positive residents” were admitted to nursing homes before Governor Cuomo rescinded the policy in May.

First Known Cases of South African Variant in South Carolina

First U.S. cases of coronavirus variant that emerged in South Africa have been reported in South Carolina where two people in South Carolina have been infected. This variant, has mutations that scientists say could allow the virus to elude some treatments and threaten the effectiveness of vaccines. Neither infected person had a recent history of travel, suggesting the variant is already spreading in the community.

CDC Says New Variants May Be Causing Rare Complication in Children

The CDC said Wednesday it does not know if the new Covid-19 variants are causing more cases of a rare complication in children called multisystem inflammatory syndrome. a troubling complication of Covid-19 infection that can cause heart damage and typically shows up about three weeks after a child has been infected. The CDC says that as of the end of December, it had reports of 1,659 cases of MIS-C. Many MIS-C cases follow a Covid-19 infection that had no symptoms. While children are much less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from Covid-19, children are as just as likely as adults to become infected. About 2.68 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus as of January 21, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the rate of infections has increased recently.

Severe Covid-19 Patients Less Likely to be Reinfected

Those who have had a severe illness with Covid-19 have less risk of re-infection according to a new study, because they produce more T-cells. Researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology, The University of Liverpool, and the University of Southampton found that the harder hit by the virus, the more people’s immune systems reacted to the pathogen by sending out T cells that provided long lasting protection

139 Officers Were Injured in Capitol Riot

139 police officers were injured when a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, including 81 officers from the U.S. Capitol Police and 58 Washington Metropolitan Police officers. The union representing U.S. Capitol Police officers rebuked the department’s top brass Wednesday, arguing that leadership failed to relay key information to officers in advance of the Jan. 6 riot that left cops with severe brain injuries, and one who is going to lose an eye. During her testimony Tuesday, Chief Yogananda D. Pittman admitted that intelligence available as early as Jan. 4 indicated that the event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 “would not be like any of the previous protests held in 2020,” admitting that the department was aware “militia and white supremacist organizations would be attending,” some of these participants “were intending to bring firearms and other weapons” to the event, and “there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”

Capitol Rioter Faces Criminal Charges Over Death Threats to AOC

A Texas man is facing multiple criminal charges after allegedly participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and posting death threats against Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and a U.S. Capitol police officer. Using the initials widely used to refer to the New York Democrat, Garret Miller tweeted “assassinate AOC” hours after he posted pictures of himself storming the Capitol. That tweet was in response to one in which Ocasio-Cortez called for President Donald Trump to be impeached. On Jan. 10, Miller is alleged to have threatened the Capitol Police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt during the riot, saying on Instagram he was going to “hug his neck with a nice rope.” Six days later, he said the officer deserved to die and that it was “huntin season.” 

Plea Deal Reveals Plot to Kidnap Michigan Governor

In a rare filing in federal court, prosecutors disclosed the details of a plea deal in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hours before the defendant is set to stand in front of a judge and admit his guilt. The plea agreement shows that Ty Garbin, an airline mechanic of Wixom, Michigan, has cut a deal under which he admits to conspiring to kidnap the governor and agrees to “fully cooperate” with the FBI and testify against others in the case in exchange for leniency.

13,000 National Guard Troops Still in D.C.

A group of House Republicans are asking the Defense Department to brief them on why it is necessary for the National Guard to remain on Capitol Hill, amid plans to keep them there into March. “As we continue to work to meet the final post-inauguration requirements, the National Guard has been requested to continue supporting federal law enforcement agencies with 7,000 members and will draw down to 5,000 through mid-March,” National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall told Fox News. “We are providing assistance such as security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics, and safety support to state, district and federal agencies.” Roughly 13,000 guardsmen still remain in D.C. supporting federal agencies with security efforts. Their presence is giving DC a police-state appearance.

  • Homeland Security issued a new terror alert bulletin Wednesday warning of possible attacks by domestic violent extremists spanning the ideological spectrum, but emboldened by the pro-Trump mob’s assault on the Capitol earlier this month.

Judge Says Virginia Scheme Allowing Ballots Without Postmark Was Illegal

The Virginia Board of Elections rule allowing officials to count ballots that arrived without a postmark up to three days after the election was illegal, a state judge ruled. Virginia Circuit Court Judge William Eldridge ruled the state’s late mail-in ballot law violated state statute and permanently banned the law in future Virginia elections. The decision represents a permanent ban on accepting ballots without postmarks after Election Day.

Trump Establishes ‘Office of the Former President’ Organization

Donald Trump’s post-presidential life began taking shape Monday as he established “The Office of the Former President,” reports the Hill. Its stated goal will be to manage Trump’s public appearances, correspondence, public statements, and official activities. While former presidents typically open such offices, Trump is the first to claim the generic title rather than use his own name. The office will be in Florida’s Palm Beach County, home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether the office will actually be there.

Trump Not Supportive of New Patriot Party, Spokesman Says

The “Patriot Party” is now officially registered with the Federal Election Commission, and its leaders say they’re collecting funds for “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” But they’re doing it without the blessing of the former president, according to Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump’s still-active campaign.

Trump Censorship Continues

YouTube was the last major social-media platform to suspend the former president, six days after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, The site extended that ban last week, saying it would reassess the situation within a few days. Now, a second extension has been announced, and this one hasn’t been given a reevaluation date. “In light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, the Donald J Trump channel will remain suspended,” YouTube announced Monday.

Janet Yellen First Female Treasury Secretary

Janet Yellen became the first woman to head the U.S. Treasury Department on Monday after gaining approval of her nomination from the Senate. She was also the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve during her tenure from 2014 to 2018. As Treasury secretary, who is fifth in the presidential line of succession, Yellen will oversee everything from tax collection to public-debt management to the implementation of international sanctions. Near term, however, the most pressing component of the job will be oversight and management of the economic recovery.

Study Says Increasing Minimum Wage Reduces Number of Jobs

President Biden’s push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of a broader coronavirus relief package could be a “death knell” for businesses still reeling from the pandemic, according to a new study published this week. The report, authored by researchers at the University of Kentucky, Indiana University and Washington University in St. Louis, found that hiking the minimum wage hurts new entrants into the labor market, based on data from six states that increased their minimum rate. When the minimum wage increased in those states, businesses — particularly those in the manufacturing sector — reduced the number of new workers they were hiring, the study found.

Economic News

Another 847,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from the 914,000 claims the week before. On top of that, 426,856 workers filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program designed to provide aid to those not eligible for regular state benefits, such as gig workers. Together, first-time claims stood at 1.3 million, down from the peak of over 6 million last spring. Continued jobless claims, which count workers who have applied for benefits at least two weeks in a row, fell slightly to 4.8 million. A year ago, jobless claims hovered around 200,000 each week.

The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, the worst year since the Second World War. However, the nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S., increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4% in the October-December period, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

The pandemic has inflicted the greatest labor crisis since the Great Depression, Guy Ryder, the head of the United Nations International Labor Organization, said on Monday. Four times as many jobs were lost globally last year due to the coronavirus pandemic than during the worst part of the global financial crisis in 2009, the U.N. report said. The restrictions on businesses and public life destroyed 8.8% of all work hours around the world last year. That is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs – quadruple the impact of the financial crisis over a decade ago.

U.S. billionaires have collectively become $1.1 trillion — nearly 40% — richer since mid-March, according to a report published Tuesday by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness. Not only have the uber-wealthy recovered their losses from the spring, but many are faring much better than before. That’s in large part because of the sizzling stock market. Elon Musk alone is about $155 billion richer, boosted by Tesla’s skyrocketing market valuation.

The nation’s personal savings rate jumped to near 13% late last year – about twice the recent multiyear averages – while credit scores rose to record-high levels and bankruptcies fell to three-decade lows. Some of these improvements reflect unusual monetary assistance from the federal government, from stimulus payments to enhanced unemployment benefits. Also, many consumers really did tighten their belts, as often happens amid tough economic times. But much of the savings improvement reflected an inability to spend money as freely as before, with lavish vacations discouraged, restaurants restricting service and live entertainment severely curbed.

Home prices rose 9% in 2020 from the year before, with the annual median price of an existing home climbing to $296,500 according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. That is the highest price on record. Shrinking inventory, especially among lower priced homes, was one of the biggest drivers of those rising prices. The year ended with the lowest number of homes ever available.

The RV industry continues to see gains amid the pandemic-influenced road trip boom. While the travel industry has seen vacation hotspots closed or restricted, rentals and sales for recreational vehicles and camper vans have revved up. The online RV rental and outdoor travel marketplace saw a record year of sales in 2020 after it emerged as a favorable form of travel, where consumers can safely hit the road in a self-contained, safe mode of transport.

Belk, the North Carolina-based department store chain which has catered to generations of shoppers for nearly 190 years, announced Tuesday it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The chain’s owner, private equity firm Sycamore Partners, said in a news release that Belk will continue with “normal operations” as it goes through bankruptcy. Belk has more than 20,000 employees at its nearly 300 stores in 16 Southeastern states.

U.S. Nominee for UN Ambassador Pledges to Fight Anti-Israel Bias

U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations pledged on Wednesday to combat the anti-Israel bias. “I look forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions proposed against Israel unfairly,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield at her nomination hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She also expressed opposition to the BDS economic movement against Israel, saying that it is “unacceptable” and “verges on anti-Semitic,” Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year diplomat, expressed hope that those countries that have normalized ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco—“will also see some opportunities to be more cooperative at the U.N. and more supportive of Israel’s presence there.”

Palestinian Authority Welcomes Biden’s Return to the Two-State Solution

The Palestinian Authority (PA) reacted with relief Tuesday to the Biden administration’s return to the old two-state approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict as outlined by the U.S. acting ambassador to the UN earlier in the day. “For the first time, President Biden’s administration has officially expressed its position toward the peace process and the two-state solution,” said PA Minister of Social Development Ahmed Majdalani. He also noted that the new American administration had quietly told the PA that it rejected former president Trump’s peace plan, which had been hailed in Israel as a workable basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, but which the PA had vetoed out of hand.

Biden Administration Temporarily Pauses Several Foreign Arms Deals

The Biden administration has put a temporary hold on several major foreign arms sales initiated by former President Donald Trump. Officials say that among the deals being paused is a massive $23 billion transfer of stealth F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates. That sale and several other massive purchases of U.S. weaponry by Gulf Arab countries had been harshly criticized by Democrats in Congress. The new administration is reviewing the sales but has not made any determination about whether they will actually go through, the State Department says.

Russia Arrests Hundreds of Protesters Demanding Release of Opposition Leader

Russian police on Saturday arrested hundreds of protesters who took to the streets in temperatures as low as minus-50 C (minus-58 F) to demand the release of Alexei Navalny, the country’s top opposition figure. Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and durable foe, was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a criminal conviction in a case that Navalny says was illegitimate. He is to appear in court in early February to determine if he will serve the 3 1/2-year sentence in prison. Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of the detained Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, has been detained in Moscow.

In Multiple Messages, Biden Warns Beijing Over Expansionism

One week into the job, President Joe Biden has sent a sharp warning to Beijing against any expansionist intentions in East and Southeast Asia. In multiple calls and statements, he and his top security officials have underscored support for allies Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, signaling Washington’s rejection of China’s disputed territorial claims in those areas. On Wednesday, Biden told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that his administration is committed to defending Japan, including the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed both by Japan and China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands. Meanwhile, the State Department warned China about menacing Taiwan after it repeatedly sent more than a dozen military fighters and bombers through the island’s air defense zone.

China Issues Warning to U.S. About Looming ‘Cold War’

The U.S. effort to rally the world against China risks sparking a “new Cold War,” Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Monday in his most striking comments to date on the increasingly bitter power struggle unfolding between Washington and Beijing. In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Xi seemed to take direct aim at President Biden, who has made headlines by expressing a desire to convene an international summit of democracies during his first year in office to nurture a unified front against authoritarian regimes such as that in China. Xi addressed world leaders via video, and warned that such efforts will lead to economic division and could pave the way for armed conflict — stark remarks amid uncertainty over how the Biden administration plans to proceed with the tough U.S. policy toward China that defined the Trump era.

Iran Pushes Biden to Drop Sanctions Before Reviving Nuclear Deal

Iran’s foreign minister is reportedly urging President Biden to make the first move toward reviving a 2015 nuclear deal “by removing all sanctions imposed since [former President Donald] Trump assumed office” — despite ongoing concerns about the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of atomic weapons. Biden “can begin by removing all sanctions imposed since Trump assumed office and seek to re-enter and abide by the 2015 nuclear deal without altering its painstakingly negotiated terms,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said. Tehran will not accept U.S. demands that it reverse an acceleration of its nuclear program before Washington lifts sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday.

French Forces Kill 100 Jihadists

Malian and French forces killed about 100 jihadists and took another 20 captive in a joint operation in central Mali. The campaign lasted from January 2 to 20 and targeted areas bordering Burkina Faso, where militant groups with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State control large tracts of the remote desert and regularly carry out raids on the army and civilians. “The purpose of this operation was to force the enemy out of its areas of refuge,” the army said on Tuesday. France has more than 5100 military personnel based in the West African Sahel region to help counter the militants, an involvement that is facing increased opposition at home and from some quarters in Mali.

Ugandan Airstrikes In Somalia Kill 189 Al-Shabab Fighters

Somali officials and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces killed 189 al-Shabab fighters last Friday and Saturday in an operation in southern Somalia. Lower Shabelle Governor Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Siidi said Ugandan soldiers under the African Union Mission in Somalia, used attack helicopter gunships to kill nearly 200 al-Shabab militants. Siidi said the strikes, along with ground assaults by the joint troops, occurred at militant hideouts in a string of villages between the Qoryoley and Janaale districts in the southern Somali region of Lower Shabelle.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake has struck Argentina’s west-central province of San Juan on Monday night, according to a preliminary report from the United States Geological Survey. A series of aftershocks around the country followed, three in the 4.8-5.0 range. No injuries were reported. The quake opened a series of cracks in the famous Route 40 in Argentina.

Environment

President Biden ordered a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters. The move includes postponing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge which the Trump administration put up for bidding shortly before Biden’s inauguration.

Europeans got more of their electricity from renewable sources than fossil fuels for the first time last year. The annual report from Ember and Agora Energiewende found that renewables delivered 38% of electricity last year, compared to 37% delivered by fossil fuels. Nuclear and other power sources generated the remaining 25%. The shift comes as other sources, such as wind and solar power, have risen in the European Union. Coal power declined 20% last year, making up only 13% of electricity generated in Europe.

Weather

Within hours of taking office, the president signed an executive order that will once again make the U.S. a party to the Paris climate agreement, which Trump withdrew from three years ago.

Global ice loss has increased rapidly over the past two decades according to new research from the Cryosphere Journal. From the thin ice shield covering most of the Arctic Ocean to the mile-thick mantle of the polar ice sheets, ice losses have soared from about 760 billion tons per year in the 1990s to more than 1.2 trillion tons per year in the 2010s. A second, NASA-backed study on the Greenland ice sheet finds that 74 major glaciers that terminate in deep, warming ocean waters are being severely undercut and weakened.

A winter storm dumped up to two feet of snow Monday through Tuesday and made travel difficult in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Arizona Department of Transportation announced several highways were closed because of extreme winter conditions. They were State Route 260, between Star Valley and Heber; State Route 87 north of Payson; and State Route 89A, between Sedona and Interstate 17. Southbound Interstate 15 was closed at at the Nevada-California state line in Primm, Nevada. East of Los Angeles, 10 inches of snow fell in Mount Baldy and up to 18 inches was recorded at the Mountain High ski resort in Wrightwood.

Historic rain and mountain snow fell across the West this week with rain totals of 7 to 10 inches along the coast of Central California.   Even though this is going to help the drought, flash flooding and mudslides will be the biggest imminent concern, especially across the burn areas. Residents in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in California were under evacuation orders Wednesday due to a threat of potentially deadly mudslides in areas previously burned by a massive wildfire. About two dozen homes were damaged and one person injured in mudslides Wednesday in Monterey County, California. Earlier, more than 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity after powerful winds ushered in rain and snow. The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations Thursday for the Carmel River Lagoon area where water began flowing into homes near the lagoon after a natural sand levee was breached.

One person is dead and seventeen injured after a tornado tore through an Alabama city north of Birmingham on Monday night, leaving the area with crumpled buildings and downed trees. A young man trapped in the basement of his home was pronounced dead at the scene around 3am Tuesday after a tree fell onto the victim’s home. Several other family members were critically injured. Another tornado struck the south side of Tallahassee, Florida, damaging Tallahassee International Airport on Wednesday.

Signs of the Times (1/22/21)

January 22, 2021

“The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights… The time is come to hear about responsibilities… America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.”  (Former Senate Chaplain Reverend Peter Marshall in 1947)

Trump Declared Friday 1/22 as Sanctity of Life Day, The 48-Year Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On Friday, the majority of Americans who are pro-life mourned 48 years of legalized abortion under Roe v Wade. Before leaving office, President Trump declared January 22nd as National Sanctity of Human Life Day, proclaiming, “Every human life is a gift to the world.  Whether born or unborn, young or old, healthy or sick, every person is made in the holy image of God.  The Almighty Creator gives unique talents, beautiful dreams, and a great purpose to every person.  On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we celebrate the wonder of human existence and renew our resolve to build a culture of life where every person of every age is protected, valued, and cherished.”

  • Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court decision that legalized the killing of children in the womb in all fifty states. Since then, the number of abortions has skyrocketed. It has already killed 61,628,584 babies as of 2019 according to the analysis released by National Right to Life News using the data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Guttmacher Institute.

Dr. Fauci Tells WHO That Biden Administration Committed to Abortion

In comments made to the World Health Organization (WHO) Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the Biden regime’s commitment to the promotion of abortion, as well as a new relationship between the United States and the WHO. Fauci has been named as Chief Medical Adviser to Joe Biden and became Biden’s de facto spokesman to the WHO at the 148th session of the Executive Board of the organization which is currently taking place. Fauci touted Biden’s commitment to the promotion of “sexual and reproductive health,” and “reproductive rights,” both of which are common euphemisms for abortion and contraception.

Biden Inaugural Prayer Service ‘Most LGBTQ Inclusive’ Ever

The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is calling Thursday’s Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service the “most LGBTQ inclusive” inaugural prayer service in history for its inclusion of two transgender faith leaders and three other “trailblazing LGBTQ faith leaders.” The service was hosted by the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., although much of the program was virtual. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watched the service remotely from the White House. Patti LaBelle and Josh Groban sang, and several well-known faith leaders, including Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, spoke. Paula Stone Williams, pastor of the Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colo. read Isaiah 58:6-12 and Barbara Satin, faith work director for the National LGBTQ Task Force in Minneapolis said a brief prayer for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

Biden Calls for End to ‘Uncivil War’ in America

President Biden vowed Wednesday to put his entire “soul” into the job of president of the United States and called for an end to an “uncivil war” of political division so the country can combat a multitude of crises. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We can do this — if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” Biden said it was time to “stop the shouting” and “lower the temperature.” “I will be a president for all Americans,” he said, vowing to fight as hard for people who supported him as those who did not. “To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden said. “If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America — the right to dissent peaceably.”

Biden’s Opening Approval Lower than Trump’s in Rasmussen Poll

Joe Biden is beginning his presidential term with an approval rating lower than Donald Trump’s at the start of his term, according to a Rasmussen Poll (it should be noted that Rasmussen has been accused of being right-leaning). The first Rasmussen daily tracking poll for Biden found 48% of likely U.S. voters approve of his performance while 45% disapprove. Trump opened with a 56% approval rating while 44% disapproved. President Obama opened with 67% approval and 32% disapproval.

  • The net of it is that the U.S. is still strongly divided and entrenched in their positions.

Trump’s Impeachment Trial in Limbo

The impeachment article for President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial will head to the Senate Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced on the Senate floor Friday morning. Schumer said it was still unclear how long the trial will last and when it will begin in earnest, issues he is still discussing with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. There have also been discussions about how to ensure that the trial can move ahead quickly but not overwhelm President Biden’s agenda. The GOP has proposed delaying the trial till February.

  • Though Democrats technically took the reins of the chamber this week (50 Senators each, but VP Harris can cast a deciding vote), they have been unable to reach a power-sharing deal with Republicans, leaving the Senate partially frozen.

Biden’s Day One Blitz of Executive Orders Rolls Back Trump’s Initiatives

In the first few hours following his inauguration on Wednesday, President Joe Biden kept several campaign promises by signing 15 executive orders and two agency actions. It was the most executive orders ever signed by a president on his first day in office. Biden moved swiftly to dismantle former President Trump’s legacy by signing executive actions that reversed course on immigration, climate change, racial equity, and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. With the stroke of a pen hours after taking the oath of office, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization, and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office—and each signed just one. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one requiring masks and physical distancing on federal property and by federal employees. Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden says these initial orders will be followed by dozens more over the next ten days.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki brushed off criticism of President Biden and his family being spotted without face masks at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, saying the new administration has “bigger issues to worry about.”

Biden Administration Plans to Vaccinate 100 Million in 100 Days

The Biden administration is aiming to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, but the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it won’t necessarily mean calling up the local pharmacy to schedule your COVID-19 shot in the coming weeks, as was once predicted by Trump’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said, “I don’t think late February we’re going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.” However, despite challenges with distributing and administering Covid-19 vaccines, the U.S. “can and should” vaccinate 70-85% of adults by the end of summer, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says. That could bring a semblance of normalcy by the fall, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. About 4 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of January 21.

Biden Says He Will Invoke Defense Production Act to Speed Up Vaccine Production

On his second day in office, President Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up COVID-19 vaccine production. Whether that can rapidly increase output is an open question, experts say. The administration’s 198-page COVID-19 strategy plan says it will use the production act to strengthen the supply chain for the raw materials needed to make vaccines and support expanding capacity to make lipid nanoparticles, a crucial and complex part of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Ensuring manufacturing plants have enough raw materials to make the vaccines is something the Defense Production Act could help with, experts say. If the issue is a lack of production capacity requiring building new plants or re-tooling existing ones to fix, it will take time.

Biden’s Plan for Pandemic Involves More Federal Intervention

The new president national strategy for the pandemic involves more: more tests, more vaccines, more equipment and treatments, and more federal government involvement. That’s the gist from the White House’s 21 pages of highlights released Thursday, ahead of an additional 198-page pandemic plan to be published later. President Biden’s strategy will not be a total federal takeover of the pandemic response, but much greater involvement. Key parts of the plan are to require Congress to supply more funding to states. Among those requests: the White House will ask Congress to cover the cost of vaccinating low-income residents on Medicaid. One executive orders mandates that interstate travelers wear masks at airports and on buses, planes and trains.

  • President Biden has also empowered FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to open 100 federally supported centers for mass vaccinations. The draft plan suggests the largest site could do 6,000/day. Some worry about having the federal government get directly involved in performing vaccinations.

President Biden Halts ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy

Hope among asylum seekers bloomed in Mexican border cities Thursday after President Joe Biden’s administration halted the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program and said it would review asylum policies. During Biden’s first hours in office Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement suspending new enrollments in the program also known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Some 70,000 migrants were caught in the net of the Migrant Protection Protocols from its inception in early 2019 and turned back to Mexico. Many have been hunkered down in shelters for months, even years.” All current MPP participants should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials,” DHS said in the statement. 

Trump Issued 143 Pardons and Commutations Before Leaving Office

President Trump’s final list of 73 pardons and 70 commutations was issued Wednesday morning. The most notable name on the list of people being granted clemency in some form: Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist charged with fundraising fraud. Not on the list: Trump himself, members of his family, or Rudy Giuliani; there had been speculation he might issue preemptive pardons in those cases. Others on the list include: Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, who are jailed on weapons charges; Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for the Trump campaign who pleaded guilty in a corruption and bribery case; conservative political operative Paul Erickson, the ex-boyfriend of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges; Israeli air force officer Aviem Sella, whom the U.S. accused of spying; and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, convicted of racketeering, extortion, corruption, and other charges and several others convicted of various crimes.

  • President Donald Trump’s earlier batch of 95 pardons and commutations isn’t the highest of his recent predecessors. But his record of clemency could very well be the most controversial. Unlike past presidents, Trump showed little interest in using the Justice Department’s Pardon Attorney system for assessing requests for executive clemency. Instead, petitioners are approaching the White House directly, calling or emailing senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows or White House counsel Pat Cipollone — when they can’t get a hold of Trump himself. Many of the people Trump pardoned earlier include Roger Stone and Michael Flynn who remained loyal to him through their legal troubles; Jared Kushner’s father Charles; celebrities or people connected to celebrities, such as Rod Blagojevich; and those whose cause was taken up by conservative media, such as Blackwater security guards who killed Iraqi civilians.

Trump Hints at Political Comeback in Farewell Address

With a possible eye towards a potential comeback in four years, outgoing President Trump told supporters that “we will be back in some form.” Trump, speaking Wednesday morning before boarding Air Force One for the last time as president on a flight to his home in Florida, told a crowd of family, friends, aides and supporters that “I will always fight for you” and that “we will see you soon.” Sixteen hours earlier, in his final video as president, Trump emphasized that “I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning” and he added that “the best is yet to come.” Trump has repeatedly vowed to play an influential role in the party going forward, threatening to back primary challenges to Republicans up for reelection in 2022 who didn’t support his unsuccessful push to upend his election defeat to Biden.

  • According to a report Tuesday evening in the Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the matter,” Mr. Trump has discussed creating a third political party, called the  “Patriot Party.”
  • President Joe Biden said Wednesday that former President Donald Trump left him a “very generous letter” before departing the White House. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.”

Just Small Protests at Heavily Fortified Statehouses in U.S. Last Weekend

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol. As darkness fell Sunday, there were no reports of any clashes. Security was stepped up after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

  • Twelve National Guard members have been removed from duties related to the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., two of them for expressing anti-government sentiments, Defense Department officials said on Tuesday. Two of the members were removed over texts and social media posts that made threatening comments toward political officials, Pentagon officials said. They declined to specify the exact nature of the threats.
  • A Florida deputy was arrested Tuesday for threatening to kill federal officials following the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, officials said. Deputy Peter Heneen, 29, was charged with making written threats to kill, conduct a mass shooting, or commit an act of terrorism.

Protests Across Nation Target Trump, Biden, ICE

Police declared an unlawful assembly Wednesday night in Portland, Ore., after about 150 rioters caused damage to a federal immigration facility in the city. Eight were arrested. The unrest near the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) building was declared after rioters started throwing rocks and eggs, and vandalizing the building. Individuals were seen carrying pepper ball guns, electronic control weapons (similar to stun guns) — shields, fireworks, and rocks. Other cities saw some tension on Inauguration Day. Seattle witnessed property damage and objects hurled at cars, with four arrested. Reporters said demonstrators were protesting against President Biden and law enforcement, and carried a sign reading, “Abolish ICE.” In Denver, protesters burned an American flag in separate demonstrations that reportedly involved members of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as others who chanted anti-Trump and anti-Biden slogans.

  • Authorities said Thursday that the protests in Portland saw Antifa protesters clash with police as they gathered to voice dissatisfaction with President Biden, forcing officers to retreat and taking at least one police bicycle and damaging Democratic headquarters. The so-called J20 protest was a demonstration against Biden and law enforcement that also attracted BLM members. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took to Twitter Thursday night to call on President Biden to condemn the Inauguration Day protests that turned into violent riots in Portland and Seattle.
  • Anarchists don’t care who is President, they just want to tear down the U.S. Meanwhile, Progressives believe Biden is too centrist and will not implement their agenda, such as AOC’s Green New Deal.

Justice Department Charges Oath Keepers Leader with Coordinating Capital Breach

Prosecutors have levied the first significant conspiracy charge against an apparent leader in the extremist Oath Keepers movement, alleging the Virginia man was involved in “planning and coordinating” the breach of the Capitol earlier this month, according to court documents. The Justice Department charged Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old from Virginia with a leadership role in the paramilitary right-wing group, with four counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense, obstruction of an official proceeding and “Violent entry or disorderly conduct.” Oath Keepers are part of the resurgent militia movement, which believes the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.

  • At least five alleged rioters with ties to self-styled militias have been documented in criminal complaints released in recent days. Members of militant groups that stormed the Capitol have quickly become a top focus of federal law enforcement investigating the January 6 incident. Prosecutors say these groups moved in “organized and practiced” maneuvers in breaching the Capitol. One of the service members removed for expressing support for President Trump in addition to making menacing comments.
  • A leader of the Proud Boys, an extremist group that took part in the US Capitol insurrection, was taken into custody and is facing charges, federal officials said. Joseph Randall Biggs, 37, of Florida was arrested Wednesday and is facing three counts — obstruction of a proceeding, entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct — for his part in the siege of the Capitol on January 6.
  • Federal agents recovered a sniper rifle and more than a dozen high-powered weapons from the home of Eric Munchel, a Nashville man charged in connection with this month’s U.S. Capitol riot and storming in Washington D.C. They also found a tactical vest covered in patches and a set of plastic restraints that match those that caught the attention of social media users in the aftermath of the riot and led to the nickname “zip tie guy.” The items, discovered when federal agents searched his home, are among several reasons why federal prosecutors argue Munchel should remain in custody as his case proceeds

Conservative Social Media Platform Parler Gets Back Online

Apple, along with Amazon and Google, effectively kicked conservative social media platform Parler off the internet in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot. But Sunday, Parler was back online, indicating it found a hosting service, although it’s not clear which host that might be. “Hello world, is this thing on?” reads a message from CEO John Matze, who said last week his family has gone into hiding due to death threats. “Now seems like the right time to remind you all—both lovers and haters—why we started this platform. We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media,” his post says. “Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both. We will resolve any challenge before us and plan to welcome all of you back soon. We will not let civil discourse perish!”

Qanon Followers Censored by Twitter

Twitter has been suspending accounts left and right as it cracks down on the QAnon conspiracy theory, and one pretty big name is included in the 70,000 suspensions so far: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Georgia congresswoman has endorsed QAnon, and has also tweeted claims of widespread election fraud. In fact, one of her latest tweets before the suspension, along with a series of other tweets posted Sunday morning, were slapped with Twitter warnings for misinformation. Greene’s account remains viewable to the public, but she was locked out of it Sunday and will not be able to access it for 12 hours. In response, she called on Congress to “protect free speech in America.”

Backlash Against Companies & Congress Members that Supported Trump

Many companies have announced they will no longer support politicians who voted against certifying the election. The 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election this month have lost the support of 20 of their largest corporate backers, as companies continue to grapple with the recent political turmoil. In addition, retail chains are banning items made by companies and/or CEOs of companies who supported Trump in social media, such as MyPillow. J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Macy’s now list MyPillow merchandise as ‘out of stock’. And consumers are posting negative reviews for such companies as well.

Christian Organization Calls on Franklin Graham to Resign

Last Friday, Faithful America, a Christian organization, created a petition calling for the firing or resignation of Evangelist Franklin Graham from his roles as President and CEO of both humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The petition, which currently has over 20,000 signatures, criticized Graham in his defense of President Trump, such as “tending” to believe Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen. “On January 14, Graham literally compared Trump to Jesus, accusing Republicans who voted for impeachment of accepting ‘thirty pieces of silver’ to betray him,” the Faithful America petition asserted. They continued their criticism by noting Graham’s reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in reference to 10 House Republicans for voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment last week.

  • The ‘Cancel Culture’ has all of Christianity in its sights now.

Covid-19 Daily Cases and Deaths Declining, But New Variants Could Cause Reversal

Reports of new infections have started declining in recent days. But public health experts, alarmed by the spread of new variants, and fear that this recent progress could prove fleeting. New Covid-19 cases have been going down in 41 states. However, deaths are still going up in 17 states. Overall in the U.S., the 7-day average of new cases/day has gone down from a peak of 237,635 on 1/1 to 188,110 on 1/21. The 7-day average of Covid-related deaths per day has also gone down from a peak of 3,347 on 1/13 to 3,078 on 1/21.

  • Arizona’s 7-day average of new daily cases had gone down from about 10,000/day reported on 1/10 to about 7,100 on 1/19, but the past two days have seen 9,398 on 1/21 and 8,099 reported on 1/22.
  • At least four new variants of the coronavirus are worrying scientists. One that was first identified in southeast England, has now shown up in at least 50 countries and appears to be spreading more efficiently than older variations of the virus. Others, identified in South Africa and Brazil, haven’t traveled as far and wide but show a constellation of mutations that have grabbed the attention of geneticists. And then there is a new variation that’s shown up in California that may or may not be driving renewed spread there.

China Fighting Renewed Outbreak of Coronavirus

China is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak in months, which has seen hundreds of cases reported and tens of millions of people placed under lockdown in its northern provinces. It also demonstrated the extent and speed of contact tracing and screening by Chinese health authorities, which have played a crucial role in taming local outbreaks. A Covid-19 “superspreader” who traveled around northeastern China has been linked to 102 confirmed infections, according to Chinese officials. The individual, who worked as a salesman promoting health products to the elderly, bringing the virus with him.

1 in 8 Recovered COVID-19 Patients in UK Die Within 5 Months, 29% Re-Hospitalized

Almost one-third of patients who recovered from COVID-19 were readmitted to the hospital within five months and one in eight died, according to a report by Leicester University and the Office for National Statistics in the U.K. Statistics showed that out of 47,780 people who were discharged from the hospital during the first wave of COVID-19, 29.4% returned to the hospital and 12.3% died from COVID-19 related problems. Many survivors of COVID-19 go on to develop serious health issues such as heart problems, diabetes, and chronic kidney and liver disease.

Covid-19 Recoverees Say Symptoms Last from 6-10 Months

COVID-19 recoverees say their ongoing symptoms – lingering anywhere from six to 10 months after becoming stricken with the disease – have made it difficult to resume their careers. They typically continue to experience symptoms for several weeks to multiple months after their initial infection, even though they test negative for the virus, according to University of California, Davis Health. 

Locked-Down California vs. Open Florida Yield Similar Covid-19 Results

Nearly a year since COVID-19 first touched the United States, locked-down California, and open Florida have virtually the same number of cases per capita. Florida, which has been more open and less restricted than its west coast counterpart, has recorded just above 1.5 million cases. Yet California, despite being among the strictest in the nation when it comes to COVID lockdowns, has recorded nearly twice that figure since the start of the pandemic. Florida has a smaller population than California, so both states have roughly the same number of cases per 100,000 residents. Deaths in Florida though – at 110 per 100,000 residents – have surpassed those in California, at 81 per 100,000, according to the CDC. The higher numbers, however, reflect Florida’s older population, so that probably comes out close to even as well. However, California’s hospitalization rates have surpassed Florida, at 56 per 100,000 residents, compared with Florida at around 36 per 100,000 residents.

  • Given the nearly identical Covid-19 results, Florida can expect a much less severe economic impact going forward as a result of fewer restrictions on businesses.

New Coronavirus Variant in UK Might be More Deadly, But Vaccine Still Good

The new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK may be more lethal than previous strains, according to the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We’ve been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly… there is some evidence that the new variant… may be more associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said at a news conference on Friday. “Both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant,” he added.

Vaccines Produce More Antibodies than in Covid-19 Recoverees

The level of antibodies that the Pfizer-developed Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine produces is higher than what’s found in those who contracted the virus with their bodies producing the antibodies naturally, the Israeli Health Ministry has found. Dr. Roy Singer, Deputy Director of the Department of Epidemiology at the Israeli Ministry of Health, said that he does not know if there is another such virus in which “the vaccine will protect better than infection with the disease itself.”

Concerns Raised that Covid-19 Vaccines Could Cause Miscarriages

Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine include a mRNA sequence that will hijack your body’s production system to create a spike protein. Your body will then fight against what it just created with antibodies that should also recognize and overpower the COVID virus. One of the concerns with this is that this spike protein shares an amino acid sequence with syncytin-1, a rare protein found inside a pregnant woman’s placenta. This has led multiple doctors to voice concerns that the antibody response to this vaccine could train a woman’s body when she conceives to also reject and attack her placenta and cause a miscarriage. Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute, told CNBC that the development and testing of a vaccine can take more than 10 years. The truncated testing done so far leading to ‘emergency authorization’ only determined efficacy (ability to destroy the virus) and immediate side effects. Long-term issues will evolve over years with the U.S. public serving as the Guinea pigs.

California Says One Moderna Vaccine Lot Causing Allergic Reactions

Health officials in California are telling medical providers across the state not to administer doses from one lot of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine while they investigate possible severe allergic reactions last week in a number of people who got shots at a community vaccination clinic. More than 330,000 doses from the lot were distributed to 287 providers across the state from January 5-12. Tens of thousands of doses may have already been administered.

Some Moderna Vaccine Lots Arriving Out of Temperature Range

Gel packs used for maintaining COVID-19 vaccine temperatures during transport are again in question amid potentially ruined lots. As states clamor for more supply, shipments of the Moderna vaccine have arrived at sites at out-of-range temperatures, affecting 4,400 doses in Maine and another 11,900 doses in Michigan earlier this week. Both instances involve the same distributor — McKesson — and Moderna and federal officials are working on a full analysis on implications for viability of the vaccines.

Fire at World’s Biggest Vaccine Maker Kills Five

A fire that broke out at a facility of the world’s biggest vaccine maker that killed five people would not affect vaccine production, the head of the company said Thursday. The blaze at the Serum Institute of India (SII) in the western city of Pune was brought under control on Thursday though the cause is still under investigation. SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, is in partnership with Oxford University and AstraZeneca to produce the Covishield vaccine. In December, the company said it was producing 50 to 60 million doses of Covishield per month, with production to be scaled up to 100 million doses in January or February. A family business started 50 years ago to bring cheaper vaccines to the masses, the SII is aiming to produce hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccines for not only India, but also other developing countries in multiple production buildings that had been kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies.

Scientists: No Way To Control Super-Intelligent AI

Some scientists are now concerned that a day will come with super-intelligent Artificial Intelligence programs will take on an autonomous life of their own. Already there are AI programs that perform learned tasks without the programmers understanding how it arrived at that state. Now, a new study concludes there may be no way to stop the rise of machines. An international team says humans would not be able to prevent super artificial intelligence from doing whatever it wanted to. Scientists from the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute say it appears to be virtually impossible to keep a super-intelligent AI in line.

Processed, Sugary, and Fried Foods Age the Brain Faster

Eating processed, sugary, or fried foods is the number one habit that can lead to premature brain aging and cognitive decline increasing your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, reports a new study published Jan. 7 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers tracked over 5,000 people for 20 years and found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish while eschewing red meat, processed and fried food foods, had brains that were 5.8 years younger than the folks who strayed off the diet track.

Economic News

President Biden will ask the Department of Agriculture on Friday to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals programs for low-income students started in the pandemic, according to Biden officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, Biden officials said.

Another 900,000 filed for jobless claims last week, down slightly from the previous week, but still a historically high level as Biden inherits worst job market of any modern president. Normally, only about 250,000 initial claims are filed weekly. The rise in claims this year also reflects an uptick in filings delayed over the December holidays, as well as the new $300 in supplemental weekly jobless benefits drawing some of those out of work who had given up filing claims.

Prior to 2020, the all-time record for new unemployment claims in a single week was just 695,000, and that old record was set all the way back in 1982. The number of new claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic has been above 695,000 for 44 weeks in a row. Fed officials estimate that the unemployment rate for low wage workers “is above 20%”.

Approximately 12 million U.S. renters are “at least $5,850 behind in rent and utilities payments”, the Aspen Institute reported. They estimate that up to 40 million people could be facing eviction when the rent and mortgage moratoriums finally end.

STR, Inc, a hotel industry market data firm, reports that the U.S. hotel occupancy rate was 44% for the 2020, down from 66% in 2019. This was the lowest occupancy rate on record. In an earlier report, STR said the industry had one billion unsold room nights for the first time, surpassing the record of 786 million during the recession in 2009.

The number of “seated diners,” (a daily measure which OpenTable uses to track walk-ins and diners with reservations) in the week through January 20 in the U.S. was down on average by 57% from the same period last year.

The housing market had its hottest year in over a decade in 2020 fueled by record-low mortgage rates and historically thin inventory, even as the economy was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales of existing homes were 5.64 million in 2020, the best in 14 years, rising 5.6% from 2019.

Ford has ordered a month-long production halt at one of its plants in Germany, the latest sign that a global shortage of computer chips is putting carmakers under increasing pressure and threatening their recovery from the pandemic. Leading semiconductor manufacturers reassigned capacity from automakers last year after the pandemic slashed car sales, instead shipping chips to companies that produce smartphones, gaming systems and other tech gadgets that remained in high demand.

Trump Departure Jeopardizes Future Arab-Israel Peace Deals, Says Outgoing U.S. Envoy

Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, outgoing U.S. special envoy for economic normalization in the Middle East, voiced optimism about the region while acknowledging that a changing U.S. administration has led to uncertainty about future peace deals in an interview with Kan News on Wednesday. The Trump administration has successfully brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Lightstone said he has been involved in talks with “over a dozen more” countries. When asked whether the lack of a second term for the Trump administration had damaged developing peace negotiations between Arab nations and Israel, Lightstone said, “I don’t want to say ‘damaged,’ but certainly has given pause.”

Israel Gears Up for Clash With Biden Over Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli government officials are gearing up for a possible clash with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden over his promise to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. A senior Israeli security official didn’t mince words, telling Channel 12 News, “If Biden adopts Obama’s plan, we will have nothing to talk about with him.” On the campaign trail, Biden stated he intends to reverse Trump’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal from the deal and re-enter the agreement. Israel isn’t the only regional actor concerned about Biden’s plans. Saudi Arabia recently warned Biden that the kingdom, along with the other Gulf nations, must be consulted if he plans to re-enter the deal. After former President Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018, Iran has repeatedly violated the terms of the deal.

Russia Welcomes President Biden’s Proposal to Extend Nuclear Arms Treaty

The Kremlin on Friday welcomed President Biden’s proposal to extend the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries, which is set to expire in less than two weeks. The White House said Thursday that Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia stands for extending the pact and is waiting to see the details of the US proposal.

Iran, Pressured By Blackouts And Pollution, Blames Bitcoin

Iran’s capital and major cities plunged into darkness in recent weeks as rolling outages left millions without electricity for hours. Traffic lights died. Offices went dark. Online classes stopped. With toxic smog blanketing Tehran skies and the country buckling under the pandemic and other mounting crises, social media has been rife with speculation. Soon, fingers pointed at an unlikely culprit: Bitcoin. Within days, as frustration spread among residents, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Bitcoin processing centers, which require immense amounts of electricity to power their specialized computers and to keep them cool — a burden on Iran’s power grid.

Fourth American Imprisoned By Iranian Regime

Just days prior to the U.S. presidential inauguration ceremonies, a Tehran court sentenced Iranian-American businessman Emad Sharghi without trial to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage and gathering military information. Sharghi’s arrest and imprisonment makes him the fourth U.S. citizen held hostage presently by the regime, joining Siamak and Baquer Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz. The sentence against Sharghi follows an earlier seven-month term in 2018 at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where he faced abusive treatment and was subject to repeated interrogations by Iranian authorities.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Deadly Baghdad Bombings

Twin suicide bombings ripped through a crowded marketplace in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding at least 75 others in the first such attack in Iraq’s capital in more than two years. The explosions shattered a period of relative calm after the Islamic State lost the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria in 2019. The blasts highlight the security challenges facing Iraq after the U.S. withdrew much of its military presence from the country in the last days of the Trump administration. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a communiqué issued on Thursday.

Migrant Caravans Deterred in Guatemala

Guatemalan security forces have cleared a road occupied by hundreds of U.S.-bound migrants who crossed into the country from Honduras last week. Some members of the migrant caravan agreed to take buses back to the Honduran border Monday after several nights stuck at a roadblock on a rural highway in Vado Hondo, about 35 miles north of the Honduras and El Salvador borders. A small number of migrants were forcefully sent back after a scuffle with Guatemalan police and soldiers, while others scattered into the mountains. Another group of about 800 migrants was 25 miles farther north where security forces blocked their advancement.

Earthquakes

A massive search-and-rescue operation is underway in Indonesia after a powerful earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, toppling homes and buildings as people slept. The death toll reached 90 Tuesday and thousands more people have been  displaced. The 6.2-magnitude earthquake caused significant damage to hundreds of homes, a mall, hospital, hotels and government buildings and has been followed by more than 39 aftershocks.

An earthquake initially measured at magnitude 4.5 rattled Northern California last Saturday night. The quake was felt throughout much of the San Francisco Bay Area. The epicenter of the quake was near Aromas, about 30 miles northeast of Monterey. Social media users in San Francisco reported being rattled by the quake, which struck around 8 p.m. local time. No injuries or damage was initially reported.

Volcanoes

Explosions from Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, sent lava rocks flying into the air and left orange streams oozing down the slopes Tuesday night in a spectacular display. Mount Etna sent glowing orange lava flowing towards the Valle del Bove after the sudden activity. Two powerful lava arms emerged from the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, the Ingv of Catania reported.

Wildfires

Several small wildfires that erupted around California’s Santa Cruz Mountains on Tuesday were likely started by wind that fanned embers which have been smoldering underground for months after a huge fire outbreak in the same region last year. A thick layer of soil called “duff,” made up of decaying plant material, covers much of the area. In some cases in the mountains, the duff is  3-4 feet deep and can actually catch fire from smoldering embers beneath the surface.

Firefighters gained the upper hand on several wildfires fueled by powerful winds that toppled trees and knocked out power across parts of California. The Wolf Fire near Bakersfield grew to slightly more than 1 square mile before it was 80% contained Tuesday night. More than 180,000 homes and businesses were without power as of 2:00 a.m. Wednesday PST.

Weather

The drought in the southwestern U.S. intensified over the past few weeks, although welcome moisture has begun falling this week. As of Tuesday, 65% of the western third of the nation was in severe drought or worse (47% in extreme drought).New Mexico has the worst drought with 99.5% of the state in severe to extreme drought. Arizona and Utah are not far behind with 98% in severe or extreme drought. Colorado and Nevada are at 91% with California at 78%.

Powerful winds toppled trees and knocked out power late Monday and early Tuesday across the San Francisco Bay Area and much of central California. The gusts also made it difficult for firefighters to control several small brush and vegetation fires. More than 125,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity as of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday PST. A dust storm tore through Colorado and was so big Monday that it could be seen from space. The dust storm caused several crashes due to high winds and low visibility on Jan. 17, with one fatality reported.

The Sahara sand dunes were blanketed in snow on Sunday for only the fourth time in recorded history. Snow started falling on the Algerian town of Ain Sefra in the early hours of Sunday morning, giving children an opportunity to race each other down the slopes. Rising temperatures melted later in the day.

Signs of the Times (1/15/21)

January 15, 2021

Masks? Vaccine? Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4)

Sanctity of Life Sunday is January 17, 2021

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation designating the Sunday closest to January 22—the day the Supreme Court issued its infamous Roe v. Wade decision—as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Unfortunately, not every President since Reagan has followed the practice of such proclamation. However, Christians continue to recognize the date as a significant reminder that we must continue to celebrate the sanctity of life. Faithtalk360.com has created a special web page with on-air features and life-giving tools from Focus on the Family.

Justices Say Women Must Obtain Abortion Pill in Person, Not by Mail

The Supreme Court ordered Tuesday that women must visit a doctor’s office, hospital or clinic in person to obtain an abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic, though similar rules for other drugs have been suspended during the public health emergency. The justices granted a Trump administration appeal to be able to enforce a longstanding rule on getting the abortion pill, mifepristone. The court split 6-3, with the liberal justices in dissent. A federal judge had suspended the rule since July because of the coronavirus, in response to a lawsuit from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups. The new administration could put the in-person requirement on hold after Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

President Trump Impeached by House for Second Time, Senate Stalls Till After Inauguration

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time, a move that drew support from a handful of Republicans who agreed that Trump incited violence at the Capitol last week. Trump was impeached on an insurrection charge after 232 members of Congress voted for it and 197 voted against. Though some Republicans split with their party, the majority opposed impeachment, and many argued that removing Trump from office would further splinter an already divided country. The House’s vote to impeach Trump is just the first step on the road to removing him from office, which would require a Senate vote to convict Trump of the charge of insurrection. The Senate likely will not convene for a trial until Trump has left office and Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.

  • Trump, who will be the first president to face an impeachment after leaving office, could be banned from holding political office by a simple majority vote if he is convicted, the BBC reports. There have also been suggestions that Trump could be stripped of his presidential pension and travel allowance.
  • A Senate impeachment trial will interfere with President-Elect Biden’s plan to move forward rapidly with implanting his agenda including a massive Covid economic relief package and the confirmation of his Cabinet nominees.

Big Tech Censorship Also Employed Against Legitimate Conservative Organizations

Big Tech’s censoring and de-platforming of conservative voices is getting more out of control by the day. It seems it’s only a matter of time before our pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom, message will get us completely banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In the last week, Twitter has permanently suspended President Trump’s account; shut down more than 70,000 accounts identified as spreading QAnon conspiracy theories; and raised the specter of politically motivated censorship as prominent Republicans and conservatives report dramatic decreases in their number of followers. LifeNews.com says they have “already lost over 24,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook is actively throttling our content and we only reach 25% of our pro-life readers there, Pinterest has just admitted it has been censoring conservative hashtags, and Apple and Google have already banned Parler from their stores.”

  • Project Veritas released Thursday a stunning undercover video of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey talking about how the platform plans to concentrate on more than President Trump’s account, which was shuttered on Jan. 8, two days after the U.S. Capitol riots. “We are focused on one account [@realDonaldTrump] right now, but this is going to be much bigger than just one account, and it’s going to go on for much longer than just this day, this week, and the next few weeks, and it’s going to go on beyond the inauguration,” Mr. Dorsey said.
  • After Uganda blocked Twitter from being an internet provider for its nation over Twitter’s censorship of thousands of Ugandan accounts, Dorsey admitted that his actions “fragment the public conversation… divide us” and set a “dangerous” precedent, referring to “the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global conversation.” Censorship “will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet.” Lesson learned? Probably not.

Global Leaders Condemn Big Tech’s Censorship of Trump

Global leaders are slamming decisions by American social media giants to ban President Trump from their platforms, in many cases separating their personal opinions of the president from their unease over the sweeping power that American Big Tech firms such as Twitter and Facebook now wield. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Mr. Trump’s fiercest critics in Western Europe, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were among the first to sound the alarm about what one critic called the “digital oligarchy.” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, “I don’t like anyone to be censored.” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire condemned what he called Mr. Trump’s “lies” but said Twitter and other companies had overstepped.

Bipartisan Push to Break Up Big Tech Amid Conservative Crackdown

Momentum is building in Washington to break up Big Tech, including from Democrats, following the social media crackdown on President Trump and conservative voices. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat set to take charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, is intent on lowering the threshold necessary to prove antitrust abuses. Sarah Miller, executive director of the liberal American Economic Liberties Project, is working with the Biden team and leading the charge to dismantle the tech behemoths and other corporate powerhouses. The censorship of conservative users of Twitter and Facebook have created an opening that antitrust enthusiasts on the left are looking to use, reports the Washington Times.

Washington D.C. and State Capitols Prepare for Violence Now till Inauguration

The Department of Homeland Security implemented a lockdown in downtown Washington, D.C., nearly a week ahead of schedule following threats of more violence leading up to Inauguration Day. The National Mall will be closed on Inauguration Day over security concerns. Around the U.S., state Capitols are preparing for the potential of violent demonstrations this weekend by ramping up the presence of law enforcement officers and National Guard members, among other security measures. Law enforcement offices and National Guard members have been briefed about the potential for explosive devices at protests this weekend through the presidential inauguration

  • Leaders of far-right, extremist factions are telling their followers to stay away from protests planned across the country this weekend and on Inauguration Day. However, the FBI is tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter,” including calls for armed protests leading up to next week’s presidential inauguration, Director Chris Wray said Thursday.
  • President Trump on Monday declared an emergency for the District of Columbia through Jan. 24, arising from the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden. Over last weekend, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to Trump asking for the declaration, in hopes of freeing up more funding for the inauguration’s security.

President Trump Calls for No Violence, Lawbreaking or Vandalism at Inauguration

The White House released a one-paragraph statement from President Trump ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and a week after a pro-Trump mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”

Legal Experts Call for Enforcing Laws Against Armed Militia Groups

As armed supporters of President Donald Trump prepare to converge on state capitals and Washington, D.C., this weekend and Inauguration Day, some legal experts are calling on authorities to enforce longstanding laws outlawing organized groups that act as citizen-run, unauthorized militias. Federal law, constitutions in every state, and criminal statutes in 29 states outlaw groups that engage in activities reserved for state agencies, including acting as law enforcement, training and drilling together, engaging in crowd control and making shows of force as armed groups at public gatherings. Yet hundreds of armed groups, organized under the insignia of the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and others, do exactly that. Over the last four years, most have pledged their allegiance to Trump. And some of these groups are planning to come out in force in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

Former Capitol Police Chief Says Congress Officials Denied Request for National Guard

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund says he requested that the National Guard be placed on standby in the days before the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol but that House and Senate security officials turned him down. Sund, who resigned his post the day after the riot, said House and Senate sergeants at arms told him they were not comfortable with the “optics” of declaring an emergency days before the protest and suggested Sund should informally ask Guard officials to be on alert. Both have since resigned. Sund said he pleaded for help five more times as the riot unfolded. Sund and others say Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army Staff, balked at recommending that his boss, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, approve the request. Again, optics were cited.

  • The response for the largely white crowd of Trump supporters was quite different than when the National Guard was deployed beforehand for a Black Lives Matter protest.

Pentagon Took Hours to OK National Guard for Capitol Riots

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday it took nearly two hours for the Pentagon to give authorization for his state to send its National Guard into Washington to help protect the U.S. Capitol as it came under attack from a violent pro-Trump mob. The Republican governor said he and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had been in contact as the violence erupted on Wednesday and she asked for assistance. “Our guard mobilized and was ready, but we couldn’t actually cross over the border into D.C. without the OK, and that was quite some time. We kept running it up the flagpole –our generals talking to the National Guard generals,” Hogan said.

FBI Warned of DC Violence Day Before the Riot

A day before rioters stormed Congress, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit internal warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war,” according to an internal document reviewed by The Washington Post that contradicts a senior official’s declaration the bureau had no intelligence indicating anyone at last week’s pro-Trump protest planned to do harm. A situational information report approved for release the day before the U.S. Capitol riot painted a dire portrait of dangerous plans, including individuals sharing a map of the complex’s tunnels, and possible rally points for would-be conspirators to meet up.

Dozens on FBI’s Terrorist Watch List Came to D.C.

Dozens of people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list came to D.C. the day of the Capitol riot. Most are suspected white supremacists. The presence of so many watch-listed people in one place — without more robust security measures to protect the public — is another example of the intelligence failures preceding last week’s deadly assault, some current and former law enforcement officials said. The past conduct of the suspected white supremacists so alarmed investigators that their names had been previously entered into the national Terrorist Screening Database, a massive collection of individuals flagged as potential security risks.

FBI Charged Over 70 So Far in Capitol Riot, More to Come

The FBI and Department of Justice said on Tuesday that more than 70 people have been charged in connection with last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, but the investigation has only just gotten momentum. The FBI’s appeal to the public to help identify suspects in photos has yielded more than 100,000 pieces of digital evidence that the agency is scouring through. Acting U.S. attorney for the District of Washington, Michael Sherwin, called having the U.S. Capitol as the center of a crime scene “unprecedented” in American history. He said he foresaw thousands of potential witnesses and hundreds of criminal cases.

  • Federal prosecutors in a document filed Thursday said that they have “strong evidence” that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol aimed to “capture and assassinate” elected officials

“Kill Him With His Own Gun” Capitol Rioters Said after Assaulting Officer

As DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone lay on the ground at the US Capitol building, stunned and injured, he knew a group of rioters were stripping him of his gear. They grabbed spare ammunition, ripped the police radio off his chest and even stole his badge. Then, Fanone, who had just been Tasered several times in the back of the neck, heard something chilling that made him go into survival mode. “Some guys started getting a hold of my gun and they were screaming out, ‘Kill him with his own gun,'” said Fanone, who’s been a police officer for almost two decades. Nearly 60 D.C. police officers and an unknown number of Capitol Police officers were attacked with bear spray, pipes and their own batons during the riot.

Rioters Arrested for Assault and had Molotov Cocktails, Firearms

An Alabama man parked a truck filled with Molotov cocktails and a cache of firearms blocks from the U.S. Capitol with handwritten notes indicating the targets were a federal judge and a Muslim lawmaker. Lonnie Coffman was formally indicted on 17 separate weapons charges after his Jan. 6 arrest. A man seen on video beating a police officer with an American flag. Peter Stager, 41, was arrested at his attorney’s office Thursday night. Stager was part of a mob that grabbed a Washington, DC, officer who was protecting a Capitol entrance, dragged him down stairs, and beating him with objects including the flagpole. A retired Pennsylvania firefighter faces three federal felony charges including assaulting a police officer after he was caught on video throwing a fire extinguisher at the Capitol Police.

Radical Anarchists Also Participated in Capitol Riot

Radical anarchist and BLM activist John Sullivan has been charged with participating in and urging the Capitol riots. He’s a leftist who founded a group called Insurgence USA. Sullivan, 26, told FBI agents last week that he was at the Capitol when the breach happened. He said he entered through a window that had been broken out. He also said he was present when Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, was shot dead. Another anarchist, Jake Angeli, stormed the U.S. Capitol in a fur hat with horns and carrying a spear goaded rioters to ignore police commands and continue to press on into the U.S. Senate chamber, where he left a threatening note for Vice President Mike Pence, prosecutors say.

Sheltered Congress Members Contracting Covid After Riot

A second lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering with colleagues during the Capitol riot. Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, says she tested positive late Monday. Like New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who tested positive earlier Monday, Jayapal blamed colleagues who refused to wear masks in close confinement. Jayapal, who received her first of two vaccinations on Jan. 4, predicted such an outcome. “I’m quarantining now because I am convinced that where we ended up, in the secured room where there were over 100 people,” with many not wearing masks, a “super-spreader” event. She said the unmasked members “cruelly mocked” those who were masked.

  • A fourth Congress member has tested positive for the coronavirus after sheltering in the cramped room, where some of them refused to wear masks.

New Coronavirus Cases/Deaths/Hospitalization Decline Over Past Few Days

The 7-day average number of new daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. has declined for the past six days from a record-high of 259,564/day to 240,199/day. The daily Covid-related deaths reached a record high on Tuesday of 4,406, bringing the 7-day average up to 3,352/day which has declined slightly over the past two days to 3,327/day. The number of hospitalized Covid cases rose to a record 131,326 on Tuesday, but has since declined slightly to 130,340. It is too soon to tell whether this decline is a trend that will continue due to inconsistencies in reporting.

  • The rolling average of new infections-per-capita in the U.S. is more than twice that of Europe and Russia, more than triple the rate in South America, and exponentially larger than the rates across much of Asia and Africa (although reporting from some of the third-world countries is problematic).
  • Arizona’s seven-day new-case average per capita again ranked first among all states on Thursday. Arizona’s rate of new positive cases over the last seven days was 131.6 cases per 100,000 people. The U.S. average for new cases was 73.8 cases per 100,000 people. Arizona’s average daily COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people over the last seven days also led the nation as of Thursday.
  • More than 2 million people have now died from the coronavirus worldwide as of Thursday.

Covid-19 Caused Significant Jump in U.S. Death Rate

Covid-19 caused a significant jump in the US death rate in the second quarter of 2020, according to estimates released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. The age-adjusted all-cause mortality rate was 769 per 100,000 in the first quarter of 2020 and rose to 840 in the second quarter of the year. Comparatively, the death rate for the second quarter of 2019 was 702 per 100,000. It is expected that the death rate continued to increase substantially in the third and fourth quarters of 2020.

  • More than 38,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 in the first two weeks of the new year. Another 92,000 are projected to die from the virus over roughly the next three weeks, according to the CDC.

U.S Requires Negative Coronavirus Test to Fly into U.S.

Anyone flying into the United States from abroad will soon have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced Tuesday. The policy, which is estimated to affect about 100,000 travelers each day, mirrors similar requirements in more than 100 other countries.

Coronavirus Immunity Lasts for Five Months Says New UK Study

Most people who’ve contracted COVID-19 will be immune from the virus for at least five months and have a low risk of catching it again, according to new research. Public Health England, which analyzed the results of coronavirus and antibody tests taken by nearly 21,000 healthcare workers from June to November, found past infection resulted in an 83% lower risk of contracting COVID-19 compared with those who had no coronavirus antibodies, suggesting they were never infected. Two “probable” infections and 42 “possible” infections appeared among 6,614 workers with antibodies during the study period, while 318 likely cases appeared among remaining workers without antibodies. If reinfected, “it is highly unlikely you will develop severe infections,” study author Susan Hopkins tells the BBC. However, there is still a risk of passing the virus to others.

Wuhan Patients Exhibit Symptoms Nine Months After Infection

Most Wuhan patients who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 still suffered a variety of symptoms — including fatigue and sleep difficulties — six months after infection, a Chinese study has found. The study of more than 1,700 patients treated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic, shows 76% suffered at least one symptom months after they were discharged from hospital. The disease could also have long-lasting psychological complications, with anxiety or depression reported among 23% of the patients, the study found.

Ireland’s Initial Success Against Covid-19 Lost Over Holidays

When Ireland came out of a strict six-week lockdown in December it had one of the lowest levels of Covid-19 cases in Europe. Since then, the situation has dramatically unraveled. The country recorded the highest infection rate in the world last week. The seasonality of the virus, the presence of the more transmissible UK variant, and households mixing over the holidays all contributed to the surge, experts say.

Coronavirus Variants Increasing but Seem Less Deadly

The U.S. has its own home-grown variant of the novel coronavirus, which researchers now speculate could be associated with higher transmissibility and milder illness. In a new study from Southern Illinois University, researchers predicted that this variant, known as 20C-US, already accounts for over half the cases in the country and seems to have originated in the southern U.S. in late May of last year.

  • However, the rapid spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom heightens the urgency of getting people vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. In every scenario explored by the CDC, the U.K. strain will account for most U.S. cases by some point in March.

Vaccine Distribution to Widen and Include People 65 and Older. But Create Bottlenecks

The Trump administration, in a bid to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, is asking states to widen distribution to include people ages 65 and older, and others who are at high risk for severe illness by releasing second doses that were previously being reserved for those who already had the first shot. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that the administration is confident enough in vaccine production to ensure second doses are available when people need them. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only two to receive emergency use authorization in the U.S., require two doses of vaccine spaced several weeks apart. Previously, the directive had been to first administer the vaccine to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities before moving onto the next phase of distribution, but states nationwide have been plagued by hiccups and lagging vaccination rates.

  • The shift in guidance comes after Azar said it was determined that the government had distributed more vaccine than necessary for health care workers and people in nursing homes and that the next level of distribution must also include pharmacies and community health centers in order to speed along the process.
  • The expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, long lines, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.
  • As of Monday, the U.S. had distributed over 25.4 million doses of vaccine, but only administered 8.9 million.

Vaccine Reserve Already Exhausted Claims New Report

Vaccine reserves were already exhausted when the Trump administration vowed to release it, dashing hopes of expanded access, claims a report Friday. States were anticipating a windfall after federal officials said they would stop holding back second doses. But the policy had already changed, and no stockpile exists, according to state and federal officials briefed on distribution plans as reported by the Washington Post.

Seasonal Flu Way Down As Covid-19 Surges

As COVID-19 raged across the U.S. last year, the seasonal flu all but vanished, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. During the 2019 flu season from Sept. 29 to Dec. 28, the CDC reported more than 65,000 cases of influenza nationwide. During the same period last year, the agency reported only 1,016 cases. Health experts say that high vaccination rates against the flu, combined with social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing employed to stop the spread of the coronavirus played a huge role in preventing influenza transmission.

Military Battling a Hidden Enemy: White Supremacy

Extremism, white supremacy and white nationalism in the U.S. military have been on the rise over the past year and radical groups are actively encouraging military members to join their ranks, Pentagon officials said Thursday. A senior Department of Defense official said some extremists in the ranks are part of underground far-right militia groups, while others are motivated by anti-government or anti-authority political beliefs. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller has ordered a complete review of the Department of Defense’s policy on dealing with extremists. It is expected to be completed in the next two months, officials said.

Biden Proposes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 Relief Package with $1,400 Checks

President-elect Joe Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion spending package Thursday that aims to speed distribution of the coronavirus vaccines and provide economic relief caused by the pandemic. The proposal includes investing $20 billion in a national vaccination program, $1,400 stimulus checks and expanding unemployment insurance supplements to $400 per week. Biden noted that this was the first of a two-part plan on the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden said that he would introduce another recovery plan next month during his address to a joint session of Congress. Biden’s proposed relief package comes several weeks after Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package in December, which the president-elect said at the time was a “down payment.”

  • Republicans were joined by Progressives in criticizing the proposed relief package. The GOP says it doesn’t do enough to help business and Progressives say the $1400 should be $2000 as Biden promised if Dems won Georgia (which they did).

Economic News

The national debt spiked by $7 trillion during Trump’s tenure — and it’s about to soar much higher under his successor. Armed with a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, President-elect Joe Biden $2 trillion fiscal package to relief package would be on top of the $900 billion relief package launched last month, adding to America’s $27 trillion mountain of debt.

US retail sales dropped last month, the Commerce Department said Friday, marking the third straight month without any growth. Retail sales fell 0.7% in December from November, which had seen a 1.4% drop. Not even e-commerce was spared from the December dip, falling 5.8% from the prior month. Compared with the same period a year ago, however, online sales are still up more than 19%.

The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and evidence that the resurgent virus has caused a spike in layoffs. Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000. The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads.

Nearly 4 million Americans have been out of work for at least six months, and constitute more than 37% of all the jobless. And once being unemployed this long, it’s often harder for them to re-enter the labor force. “They’re stuck and they start to face discrimination,” said William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and chief economist at the AFL-CIO. “Employers believe they are damaged goods.”

To be eligible for rental assistance from the latest stimulus package, you need at least one person in your household who qualifies for unemployment benefits or has proof of income loss due to the pandemic. Similarly, if you can prove that your household incurred a substantial uptick in expenses due to the pandemic, you can qualify. You’ll also need to prove that you’re at risk of becoming homeless in the absence of aid by providing copies of past due rent statements or notices from your landlord. Plus, your 2020 income can’t exceed 80% of your area’s median income to qualify.

The job market in Las Vegas has been the hardest-hit among large U.S. metro areas during the pandemic. The region is heavily reliant upon travel, discretionary spending, business conferences and large gatherings, In April 2020, shutdowns resulted in a 34% unemployment rate in Las Vegas, although it’s improved since then to 11.6%. New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York and Houston are the next highest, all in the 9-10% range.

The pandemic has further expanded the divide between people who are thriving financially and those who are barely hanging on. The stock market continues to soar, enriching wealthy investors, while millions of other Americans are out of work and must rely on unemployment and other benefits. Home prices across the board have risen as demand has soared. Homeowners with mortgages gained an average of $17,000 in equity in the third quarter of 2020 over the year before, the biggest equity gain since 2014. The median home price in the U.S. rose to $310,800, 14.6% higher than a year ago.

Israeli Airstrikes in Syria Kills Dozens

Israeli warplanes carried out intense airstrikes on eastern Syria early Wednesday, apparently targeting positions and arms depots of Iran-backed fighters. Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded, according to an opposition war monitor which reported at least 18 strikes in Deir el-Zour as well as along the border with Iraq. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 people were killed, including seven Syrians, and the rest were Iran-backed fighters. It said 28 were also wounded.

Suicide Drones Deployed in Yemen by Iran Threaten Israel

The Houthi movement that controls almost all of northern Yemen has received so-called “suicide drones” from Iran that could hit Israel, Newsweek reported Wednesday. The extremist Shiite group, officially called Ansar Allah, has as its slogan, “Allah is Greater, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.” Its years-long attempt to take over Yemen has been steadily supported by Iran while being opposed by a Saudi-led coalition. The Houthis have also used Iranian-made UAVs to attack Saudi Arabia over recent years.

Trump Orders Israel to be Included in U.S. Middle East Military Command

In one of his final acts as his term in office comes to an end, President Trump ordered that Israel be included in CENTCOM, the major U.S. military command for the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The expansion of the U.S. Central Command to include Israel is a last-minute reorganization that pro-Israel advocates have been pushing for in order to encourage strategic cooperation against Iran. Opposition to the move changed when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed peace agreements with Israel, followed by Sudan and Morocco. CENTCOM maintains major U.S. military bases in both the UAE and Bahrain.

China Building ‘Greatest Expansion of a Nuclear Arsenal’ Since Cold War

China has rapidly expanded its nuclear and conventional missile forces over the past decade, nearly tripling its ballistic missile production capability and deploying a wide array of nuclear and conventional missile systems, according to an intelligence assessment released by the State Department Thursday. The department also notified Congress on Thursday that it believes Beijing is close to violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by refusing to join the United States in nuclear arms reduction talks underway with Russia. “In the case of China, we are witnessing the single greatest expansion of a nuclear arsenal since the dawn of the Cold War,” said Marshall Billingslea, special presidential envoy for arms control.

North Korea’s Military Parade Touts Nuclear Weapons Program

North Korea displayed new submarine-launched ballistic missiles under development and other military hardware in a parade that underlined leader Kim Jong Un’s defiant calls to expand the country’s nuclear weapons program. State media said Kim took center stage in Thursday night’s parade celebrating a major ruling party meeting in which he vowed maximum efforts to bolster the nuclear and missile program that threatens Asian rivals and the American homeland to counter what he described as U.S. hostility. The new type of submarine-launched missiles is larger than the ones North Korea has previously tested. The North also displayed a variety of solid-fuel weapons designed to be fired from mobile land launchers, which potentially expand its capability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there.

Forty-Six Civilians Feared Killed In Eastern Congo Attack

Forty-six civilians are reported to have been killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior provincial official said on Thursday. The Islamist terrorist group, Allied Democratic Forces, were said to be behind the raid. The group is believed to have carried out a string of massacres in eastern Congo, killing more than 1,000 civilians since the start of 2019, according to U.N. figures. Congo’s eastern borderlands with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are home to a constellation of over 100 different militias, many remnants of its brutal civil wars that officially ended in 2003. On Sunday, unidentified attackers killed at least six rangers in an ambush in eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas.

At Least 13 People Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack in Cameroon

At least 13 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in predominantly-Christian Mozogo, Mayo Tsanaga department, in the Far North region of Cameroon, after armed militants raided the community. The attack is thought to be perpetrated by Boko Haram on Friday, January 8. As panicked villagers fled, a young female suicide bomber detonated her explosive device, killing men, women and children.

Four U.N. Peacekeepers Killed, Six Wounded In Mali Attack

Three United Nations peacekeepers were killed and six wounded in central Mali on Wednesday after a convoy struck an explosive device and came under fire, the U.N. said in a statement. It was not clear who carried out the attack about 12 miles north of the town of Bambara-Maoudé in the Timbuktu region. Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate in the region and have made much of the West African country ungovernable. About 230 fatalities have been recorded, making it the deadliest of the U.N.’s more than dozen peacekeeping missions.”

Pestilence

A raging disease is squeezing Florida’s orange industry to historically low production levels at the same time demand surged for the fruit’s vitamin-packed juice. Orange production in the Sunshine State is expected to be down 20% this season from the last. There’s only been one year since 1947 that produced fewer oranges – 2017-18, after Hurricane Irma battered the state.

Earthquakes

Rescuers are combing through the debris of homes and other buildings that were crushed by the violent shaking of a deadly earthquake Friday on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island. At least 42 people are dead and more than 600 injured. The earthquake destroyed a hospital, collapsed homes and triggered landslides. Roads and at least one bridge were also damaged, and power and phone lines were down. Officials fear the death toll will climb as rescuers search the rubble.

Wildfires

A community in California’s San Jacinto Mountains was evacuated in darkness after a wildfire broke out in dry, windy conditions early Friday morning. By 3:20 a.m., the fire had grown to about 200 acres and residents in Mountain Center were told to leave their homes immediately. An evacuation center was set up in the nearby town of Banning. A shelter for animals was opened in San Jacinto. Portions of at least three local roadways were closed.

Smoke from wildfires has made up as much as half of small particle air pollution in the western United States in recent years and as much as a quarter in other parts of the country, according to a new study. “The contribution of wildfire smoke to PM2.5 concentrations in the U.S. has grown substantially since the mid-2000s,” according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The increases are concentrated in the western U.S., but they can also be seen in other regions because smoke from large fires can be carried long distances.

Weather

Hurricane-force winds across Wyoming stopped Union Pacific trains on Wednesday. A wind record set in 2014 fell at Billings Logan International Airport in Montana. Powerful gusts projected to top 70 mph are in store from Colorado, Idaho and Montana to the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska and Utah, prompting wind warnings through Friday. High-wind warnings Friday extend southward over a wide swath of the Central and Southern Plains. Blizzard warnings are up in the Midwest for blowing snow and gusty winds sustained in excess of 35 mph which could cause whiteout conditions Friday. The weakened storm will move into the East Saturday. A second storm will form along the Mid-Atlantic and move into the Northeast on Saturday, bringing heavy rain and snow across the northeast, especially across the higher elevations.

More than a half-million homes and businesses lost power in the Pacific Northwest Tuesday night from a windstorm that was worsened by a stormy weather pattern that also brought heavy rainfall and triggered landslides. Washington had more than 540,000 outages and Oregon reported 110,000 customers without power as of about 5 a.m. PST Wednesday. A portion of Interstate 84 east of Portland, Oregon, was closed due to a landslide. Saturated soil conditions from multiple recent rounds of soaking rain across the region likely worsened the impact from strong winds by destabilizing trees. Seattle picked up 7.45 inches of rain Jan. 1-12. One woman died when a tree fell on her car.

The Pacific Northwest was still reeling Thursday morning from a deadly storm that triggered landslides, toppled hundreds of trees and caused widespread power outages. More than 150,000 homes and businesses in Washington and Oregon were still without electricity. Another 49,000 customers in Idaho and Montana were also in the dark. In Wallace, Idaho, miners at the Galena Mine Complex remained stuck underground because of a power outage. In Oregon, authorities are searching for a 50-year-old woman whose SUV was swept away by a landslide on Interstate 84 Wednesday morning in Dodson.

A winter storm moving across the Deep South left more than 150,000 homes and businesses without electricity Monday morning. More than 100,000 of those customers were in Texas, where Winter Storm Lana dumped half a foot or more of snow in some places. Another 47,600 outages were reported in Louisiana, Several state highways shut down because of icy conditions.

Signs of the Times (1/8/21)

January 8, 2021

It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling. (Proverbs 20:3)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

God Not Caught by Surprise in Elections nor the Capitol Riot

Recent events in the U.S. have not caught God napping. He certainly knew about them and decided to allow them to happen. How can this be? First of all, He calls us to pray, not to riot: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2Chronicles 7:14) Christians are called upon to pray, not to riot. Clearly, America is declining due to lack of prayer. Secondly, God’s Word prophesies that in the end-times we will wind up with an evil one-world government (Revelation 13) which means America is not going to retain its superpower status, instead becoming more socialistic and subservient to global entities.

Congress Certifies Biden as President-Elect Despite Disgraceful Attack on the Capitol

Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential election victory in the wee hours of Thursday, after the electoral vote count was interrupted Wednesday by a pro-Trump mob that breached the Capitol building. More than half of the lawmakers who originally planned to challenge Biden’s electoral wins in certain states ultimately reversed course after the riot. All the objections that were raised were voted down. Only six Republicans voted against certification. Vice President Pence defied the president and announced he did not have the constitutional power to accept or reject Electoral College vote in order to change the election outcome. Afterwards, President Trump promised an orderly transition but still maintains that fraud prevented his re-election.

  • The riot left 4 people dead, 70 arrested, and 14 police officers injured. Multiple IEDs, resembling pipe bombs, were found near the Capitol grounds on Wednesday and near Republican and Democrat headquarters. One of the four dead had been shot, the others suffered injuries and medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. The Capitol police officer who died from injuries will be prosecuted as a homicide.

FBI Seeks Help in Identifying Rioters, Posts Reward

The FBI and Washington, DC, police are trying to identify members of the mob that stormed the Capitol Wednesday—and they have plenty of photos, some of them taken by the rioters themselves and posted on social media. The FBI has released four posters showing dozens of people wanted for storming Capitol Hill. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for help in identifying people involved in leaving pipe bombs in Washington, DC, on Wednesday near the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters. The bombs were disarmed before they could explode.

RNC Communications Director Calls Capitol Violence ‘Domestic Terrorism’

The communications director of the Republican National Committee condemned as “domestic terrorism” the violence perpetrated by a pro-Trump mob at the Capitol on Wednesday. “What happened today was domestic terrorism… every decent American should be disgusted by it,” Former attorney general William Barr, once one of Trump’s strongest defenders, issued a scathing account of the president’s conduct, casting it as a “betrayal of his office.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler condemned the actions calling it “unleashed anarchy.” Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren echoed these sentiments writing, “Armed breaching of capitol security behind a confederate flag is anarchy, un-American, criminal treason and domestic terrorism.”

  • World leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also vigorously “condemned” the violence. “Disgraceful,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Terribly distressing,” was Australia leader Scott Morrison’s reaction. 

Trump Spoke to And Encouraged Protesters to March on the Capitol

Many of the rioters came directly from Trump’s “Save America Rally” that began hours earlier near the White House. Trump spoke to them for more than an hour, insisting, without evidence, that the election had been stolen and encouraged them to march to the U.S. Capitol as part of his pressure campaign on Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the proceedings. “We will never give up; we will never concede,” the president told thousands of supporters on the Mall at midday Wednesday.

Trump Officials Resign After Capitol Riot

Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s former acting chief of staff, announced Thursday he has resigned from his role as the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, the latest in a string of administration officials to leave after the president’s supporters stormed and vandalized the Capitol building. Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security adviser, also resigned in the wake of the unrest at the U.S. Capitol. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation Thursday, citing the president’s role in the riot on Capitol Hill. Stephanie Grisham, First Lady Melania Trump’s chief of staff and a former press secretary to the president, also resigned Wednesday. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will also resign, the first to leave Trump’s Cabinet after the riot. Chao is the wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Pence Encouraged to Invoke 25th Amendment to Remove Trump from Office

Rep. Adam Kinzinger,  R-Ill., called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked to remove Donald Trump as president. One of President Donald Trump’s major business supporters is also calling on Vice President Mike Pence to consider launching a constitutional process that could result in the president’s removal from office. National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said Pence should “seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy.” “This is not law and order. This is chaos. It is mob rule. It is dangerous. This is sedition and should be treated as such,” Timmons said in a statement. The 25th Amendment outlines procedures for ousting the president from office when the vice president and a majority of the president’s executive officers or another body designated by Congress can take steps to declare the commander-in-chief unfit to serve.

  • Trump’s former White House communications director Alyssa Farah said Friday that President Donald Trump lied to the American people about the 2020 presidential election results and said that he should “seriously consider” resigning from office after Wednesday’s deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Capitol Police Unprepared for Protest, Three Leaders Resign

Three top security officials at the Capitol have resigned following widespread criticism of the lack of preparedness blamed for Wednesday’s breach. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has resigned effective Jan. 16, meaning he will be gone before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Politico reports. Michael Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, has been forced out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Today I requested and received the resignation of Michael Stenger, the Senate Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper, effective immediately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving had also submitted his resignation. There was a stark difference in preparedness compared to the BLM  protest last year.

Coronavirus Surge Continues to Increase, Cases & Deaths at Record Levels

The United States recorded 4,085 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, marking the highest number seen since the outbreak began, contributing to the 365,346 total fatalities recorded since the beginning of last year. The U.S. also added over 274,703 cases on Thursday, with a testing positivity ratio of 13.60%. The 7-day average new cases in the U.S. reached 230,609 Thursday, the highest on record, greatly exceeding the summer peak of 66,406. New cases are declining in only two states, Idaho and Wyoming. The 7-day average number of daily deaths grew to 2,687, also much higher than the summer peak of 1,205. Expectations are that these numbers will continue to increase following holiday gatherings through Jan 1.

Arizona Leads Nation in Per-Capita New Cases

Arizona had the highest rate per capita of new COVID-19 cases, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of Tuesday. Arizona’s rate of new coronavirus cases over the previous seven days was 121.8 cases per 100,000 people, which was higher than any other state in the country. The next-highest state behind Arizona is California, with a rate of 97.1 new cases per 100,000 people.

L.A. Hospitals Instituting Triage as Funeral Homes Run Out of Capacity

With no hospital beds available, ambulance crews in Los Angeles county were given guidance not to transport patients with little chance of survival. And the patients who are transported often have to wait hours before a bed is available. “Hospitals are declaring internal disasters and having to open church gyms to serve as hospital units,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said.” Funeral homes in the Covid-10 hot spot of Southern California say they must turn away grieving families as they run out of space for the bodies piling up. The head of the state funeral directors association says mortuaries are being inundated. In order to keep up with the flood of bodies, some funeral homes have rented extra 50-foot refrigerators to store the bodies.

Anti-Mask Protests Increasing Across U.S.

Anti-mask protests and videos of altercations over face mask requirements at businesses across the country continue to go viral even as coronavirus cases surge.  On Saturday, “Burn the Mask” protesters blocked the entrance of a Fresno, California, Trader Joe’s, causing the grocer to close in the afternoon, the Fresno Bee reported. In Los Angeles County, where nearly 1 in 5 people are testing positive, a group of protesters stormed a Ralphs grocery store Sunday, argued with customers over masks with one protester calling a fellow shopper a “mask Nazi,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, outside a Houston café, protesters waved American flags over the weekend after some customers were upset over having to wear face masks.

  • Mask compliance has sparked debates throughout the pandemic after Americans received mixed messages from authorities early on over whether they should wear face coverings in public places. The CDC now says that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19.

England In Total Lockdown for Six Weeks

England on Tuesday entered a strict national lockdown aimed at stemming a steep rise in virus cases that a senior government minister warned could last into March. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a six-week lockdown for England’s 56 million people, including the closure of schools, after the surge in coronavirus cases brought warnings that hospitals could soon face collapse.

Vaccine Rollout Well Below Expectations

Only about 16% of vaccines distributed for use in nursing homes have been injected into residents and the staff who care for them, according to the CDC. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the pace of vaccination has been slowed by the need to get consent forms from residents or their family members, but he expects vaccination rates to speed up soon. While some states have been more successful overcoming the obstacles to vaccinate their residents with available doses, other states seem to be falling behind. As of Wednesday morning, these five states have vaccinated the fewest proportion of the vaccine they received: Kansas: 131,750 distributed, 20,110 administered (15.26%); Georgia: 483,650 distributed, 75,157 administered (15.54%); Arizona: 411,025 distributed, 66,059 administered (16.07%); Louisiana: 218,425 distributed, 49,589 administered (22.70%); Virginia: 468,950 distributed, 108,861 administered (23.21%).

Vaccination Takes Weeks to Boost Immunity

The CDC says people can still get infected by the coronavirus after getting the first injection. Building immunity after the first vaccine injection “typically takes a few weeks” and then a few weeks more after the second injection before reaching the 95% immunity achieved in testing trials.

Alarming Number of U.S. Healthcare Workers Refusing to Get Vaccinated

An ‘alarming number’ of U.S. Health Care Workers are Refusing COVID-19 Vaccine. Earlier this week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine disclosed that about 60 percent of the nursing home workers in his state have so far chosen not to get vaccinated. More than half of New York City’s EMS workers have shown skepticism of the vaccine and now California and Texas are experiencing a high rate of health care worker vaccination refusals. An estimated 50 percent of frontline workers in Riverside County in the Golden State opted against the drug, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Britain Using Third Vaccine from AstraZeneca

Britain on ramped up its immunization program by giving the first shots in the world from the vaccine created by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Since Dec. 8, Britain’s National Health Service has been using a vaccine made by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech to inoculate health care workers and nursing home residents and staff. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine boosts that arsenal and is cheaper and easier to use, as it doesn’t require the super-cold storage needed by the Pfizer vaccine.

Flu Vaccine Less Than 50% Effective Overall

This year’s vaccine doesn’t fully cover influenza B (just 58% of strains) or influenza A (34% of strains), Healthline reports: “Often with influenza the virus may genetically drift away from an exact match with the virus,” says an infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins University. But the CDC still advises anyone over 6 months to get a flu shot, which Healthline says will lower the severity and length of symptoms.

45 Abortion Facilities Shut Down in 2020

A total of 45 abortion facilities closed or halted abortions nationwide in 2020, leaving one state (Missouri) without an active abortion facility, according to a survey conducted by Operation Rescue, a national pro-life organization based in Wichita, Kansas. Since Operation Rescue began tracking the number of abortion facilities in 2009, surgical abortion facilities have decreased in number by 255 to 706. Since 1991, there has been a 79 percent drop in the number of surgical abortion facilities nationwide.

Pelosi Introduces House Rules That Eliminate Use of Gender Words

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern have introduced rules that would eliminate gendered language like “mother, father, son and daughter.” There will be no more chairmen or aunts or uncles. Brother-in-law, sister-in-law are also verboten. And no more nieces or nephews. The proposal will create the “Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth,” which would require Congress to “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral.”

Portland New Year’s Eve Rioters Firebomb Federal Courthouse

Portland city police declared a riot as a gathering estimated to be about 100 people targeted a federal courthouse on New Year’s Eve with firebombs. Participants threw multiple firebombs at officers and launched commercial grade fireworks at the Federal Courthouse and Justice Center. Rioters also smashed windows and set fires in the area. Police began using pepper spray or mace against the crowd, as well as what appeared to be rubber bullets or pepper balls. Thursday’s unrest came one day after nearly a dozen businesses and government agency headquarters were vandalized. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is promising to “push back harder” against anarchists and Antifa radicals, admitting that months-long efforts to stem the violence have failed.

Kenosha Will Not Charge Officer Who Shot Jacob Blake

The Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer who shot Jacob Blake in August will not be criminally charged, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday. Neither the officer who fired shots, Rusten Sheskey, nor any others will be charged, Graveley said during a Tuesday news conference. Gravely said his decision was based on evidence that could not be seen on cellphone video of the incident, which showed Sheskey shooting Blake, 29, as he got into a vehicle with his children inside. It is “incontrovertible” that Blake was armed with a knife when he was shot, Graveley said. He described it as a “razor blade-type knife” and said Blake admitted possessing it.

  • Protesters descended on the Kenosha County Administration Building in Wisconsin on Tuesday evening following the announcement. There were no reports of violence or vandalism as of 9 p.m. local time.

Seven Antifa Members Charged with Vandalism in Philadelphia

At least seven people have been charged in connection with pro-Antifa vandalism of federal buildings in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve, police said. Dozens of black-clad demonstrators swarmed a trio of federal buildings in the City of Brotherly Love that night. Graffiti messages included the acronym “ACAB,” which stands for “all cops are bastards,” which was sprayed on a sheriff’s vehicle. Police also recovered “numerous Molotov cocktails. Three of the seven were charged with attempted arson, risking catastrophe, conspiracy, and other offenses. The rest were charged with vandalism.

New State Laws for 2021 Focus on Police Reform, Public Health

Dozens of new laws took effect in states around the country on Friday, Jan 1. The states of Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota legalized marijuana for recreational use beginning in 2021. A total of 20 states are set to hike their minimum wage on Jan. 1, with other states set to implement increases later in the year. Several states, including California, Delaware, Iowa, New York, Oregon and Utah, passed legislation banning police from using chokeholds. New York will require all employers to offer paid sick leave, while nearby Connecticut expanded its paid family leave program. Oklahoma will make property owned by a church – as long as the institution provides instruction for children from pre-K through high school – tax exempt.

Trump Administration Auctions Off Drilling Leases in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge

The Trump administration is auctioning drilling leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, realizing the GOP’s 40-year goal of opening that huge territory to oil exploration. It is believed that there are vast oil deposits there. The sale marks one of the most significant environmental rollbacks President Trump has accomplished while in office. Many banks and energy companies have refused to finance oil and gas development in the iconic refuge, home to imperiled polar bears and hundreds of thousands of caribou and waterfowl.

Economic News

U.S. employers shed 140,000 jobs in December amid COVID-19 surges and new business constraints, closing out a dismal year with the first payroll losses since the pandemic upended the economy last spring. The economy has lost 9.8 million jobs since last February. Leisure and hospitality, including bars and restaurants, drove last month’s job losses, shedding 498,000 positions. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, held steady at 6.7%, the Labor Department said Friday.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell slightly to 787,000, a slight decline from the previous week but still over three times above the norm. The number of people who are receiving regular state unemployment aid fell 125,000 to 5.1 million. And fewer people were on extended unemployment benefit programs. Unemployed Americans gained some urgently needed help late last month when a $900 billion rescue aid package was signed into law. That measure provided a $300-a-week federal jobless benefit on top of an average state benefit of about $320. As many as half the states are now distributing the federal benefit. In states that take longer to pay out the $300 payments, any missed payments can be made retroactively.

U.S. private employers in December slashed jobs for the first time in six months, suggesting the labor market’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis has stalled amid a resurgence in cases nationwide, according to the ADP National Employment Report released Wednesday. The report showed that companies shed 123,000 jobs last month, missing by far the 88,000-job increase that economists surveyed by Refinitiv had predicted.

Mortgage rates fell to another record low last week. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.65%. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.16%. Current rates are nearly a full percentage point lower than a year ago. While the low rates have brought home buyers into the market, high demand and low inventory has increased prices.

Amazon is pledging to invest more than $2 billion over the next five years toward affordable housing in three cities where it has major operations – Seattle, Nashville and Arlington, Virginia. “This new $2 billion Housing Equity Fund will create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes in all three of our headquarters regions.”

Americans are back to buying vehicles at their pre-pandemic pace, according to General Motors. However, that doesn’t mean that auto sales are all the way back: Fleet sales, which typically make up about 20% of overall U.S. q q sales, are still way off, GM said. That’s especially true for sales to rental car companies, which account for roughly half of fleet sales.

The average price of a new vehicle has topped $40,000 for the first time ever  as Americans switch from passenger cars to more-expensive SUVs and pickups. At the same time, the average amount borrowed to finance a new vehicle was close to an all-time high.

A new government report says gas mileage for new vehicles dropped and pollution increased in model year 2019 for the first time in five years. The mileage increase comes as Americans continue to buy SUVs and trucks, and shift away from more efficient vehicles. The EPA report released Wednesday says gas mileage fell 0.2 miles per gallon for model year 2019, while greenhouse gas emissions rose by 3 grams per mile traveled, compared with 2018 figures.

Electric vehicles accounted for 54% of all cars sold in Norway last year, putting the country way out in front in efforts to kill off the internal combustion engine. Norway is using huge tax incentives to help ensure that every new passenger car and van sold in the country by the end of 2025 is a zero-emission vehicle. Petrol and diesel cars, which had a combined market share of 71% in 2015, now have just 17%.

Boeing reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department on Thursday to settle criminal charges that the company defrauded the Federal Aviation Administration when it first won approval for the flawed 737 Max jet. he settlement immediately came under fire from critics who said it amounted to a slap on the wrist. About 70% of the $2.5 billion figure represents payments Boeing had already agreed to make to its airline customers as compensation.

Sudan Officially Joins Abraham Accords with U.S. Signing

Sudan on Wednesday said it signed the “Abraham Accords” with the U.S., paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel. The U.S. and Sudan on Wednesday agreed to settle the African’s country’s debt to the World Bank, widely seen as a key step toward the nation’s economic recovery after the 2019 overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. The recent U.S.-negotiated deals between Arab countries and Israel have been a major foreign policy achievement by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Iran Plans up to 20% Uranium Enrichment, Almost Weapons-Grade

Iran plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, international inspectors said Saturday, pushing its program a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over its tattered atomic deal. Enriching to 20% constitutes about 90% of the necessary work to produce weapons-grade uranium. The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the waning days of the administration of President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018. That set in motion an escalating series of incidents capped by a U.S. drone strike killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, an anniversary last Sunday that had American officials worried about possible retaliation by Iran. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards also unveiled an underground missile base at an undisclosed Gulf location, Iranian state media reported on Friday.

South Korean Tanker Was Boarded By Armed Iran Guard Forces

Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran, the vessel’s owner said Tuesday, the latest maritime seizure by Tehran amid heightened tensions with the West over its nuclear program. The military raid on Monday on the MT Hankuk Chemi was at odds with Iranian explanations that they stopped the vessel for polluting the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Instead, it appeared the Islamic Republic sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks amid a U.S. pressure campaign targeting Iran.

Iraqis March Against U.S. on Anniversary of Drone Killing Iranian General

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Saturday night and demanded all U.S. troops exit their country, declaring that “America is the great Satan” and marking the one-year anniversary of an airstrike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The demonstrators in Baghdad were joined by others in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region, according to media reports. Iranian leaders tried to tap into that broad anti-American sentiment and pushed for a complete removal of U.S. forces from the Middle East. However, there have been no major reports of violence or any assaults on U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in the region.

Dozens Killed In Isis Bus Attack in Syria

At least 37 people in Syria have been killed in one of the biggest attacks carried out by Islamic State since the fall of the self-proclaimed caliphate last year. The assault on Wednesday reportedly targeted a convoy of Syrian regime soldiers and militiamen returning from leave to their posts in Deir ez-Zor province, a mainly desert area on the border with Iraq. The official state news agency, Sana, reported that a terrorist attack on a bus on the main highway killed 25 civilians and wounded 13.

Nigerian Christians Murdered in Terror Attacks on Christmas Eve

At least 24 people were killed, over 20 abducted, a church burned and a pastor kidnapped by Islamic jihadist militants during two attacks on Christmas Eve, in Borno and Adamawa states, Nigeria. Many of the villagers fled during the attacks, and some are still missing. The militants, thought to belong to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of Boko Haram, are reported to have traveled from their base in the nearby Sambisa forest. At least eight soldiers were also reported killed at outposts in the region at the time of the attacks.

At Least 22 Killed In Eastern Congo Village

At least 22 people were killed in an overnight raid on a village in a part of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo plagued by Islamist rebel attacks, local authorities said on Tuesday. The militants struck late on Monday, killing residents of Mwenda village with machetes and guns, its civil society leader Jeremi Mbweki said. He blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist group which has emerged as the most lethal militia in Congo’s eastern borderlands and is suspected of hacking to death at least 17 people in a nearby village last week.

U.S. Confirms that Russia Behind Massive Hacking Attack

Top national security agencies confirmed Tuesday that Russia was likely responsible for a massive hack of US government departments and corporations, rejecting President Trump’s claim that China might be to blame. The rare joint statement represented the U.S. government’s first formal attempt to assign responsibility for the breaches at multiple agencies. It said the hacks appeared to be intended for “intelligence gathering,” rather than an attempt to damage or disrupt U.S. government operations. The agencies made clear the Russian operation was “ongoing” and indicated the hunt for threats was not over.

Volcanoes

Two volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean are growing restless, leaving tens of thousands of islanders on edge. Warnings have been sent out for residents near the volcanoes to be on the alert.

Wildfires

A large bushfire raging north of Perth is forcing families from their homes in Western Australia as the country’s wildfire season enters its second month. The bushfire emergency warning was for coastal communities about 65 miles north of Perth. The fire began accidentally Saturday morning near Red Gully and was being driven by gusty winds. It has already consumed more than 35 square miles.

Weather

A record 22 weather and climate disasters costing over $1 billion each occurred in the U.S. in 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Friday. This shattered the annual record of 16 costly disasters in both 2011 and 2017. Making up this costly list are a record-setting seven tropical cyclone events and 13 severe storm events, along with a drought and a wildfire event.

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