Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Signs of the Times

February 15, 2019

­And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;  men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

Pope Francis Signs Agreement with Top Imam

Pope Francis just signed a document with Al Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (once named “the most influential Muslim in the world”), titled “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” The document has been described as a dream come true for mankind, and an “historical breakthrough.” On the surface, it sounds great – if you’re an atheist or secularist. Down inside the document, it says, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.”

  • This is a significant step toward the one-world religion prophesied in Revelation 13:7-8 (It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the anti-Christ], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.)

In New York It’s Okay to Kill Unborn Babies

A New Yorker from Queens, Anthony Hobson killed his girlfriend, Jennifer Irigoyen, also stabbing her in the stomach because and killing the baby he fathered (some news stories say she was 14 weeks pregnant and others put the figure at 20 weeks). He was immediately charged with two murders, but the charge for killing the baby was subsequently dropped: it was noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new abortion law provides no penalties for the killing of unborn children; abortion was removed from the criminal code and inserted into the public health law. LifeNews is calling on the New York State legislature to draft legislation that makes it a crime to murder the baby of a pregnant woman.

Growing List of Scientists Are Rejecting Darwinism

Earlier this month, an online petition voicing scientific opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution reached more than 1,000 signatures, pointing to an increased level of rejection among the scientific community. In order to sign the document, one must obtain a “PhD in a scientific field such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or one of the other natural sciences; or they must hold an MD and serve as a professor of medicine.” A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short statement that reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” The statement, released by the Discovery Institute in 2001 by those who question Neo-Darwinism, has been signed by scientists from “the US National Academy of Sciences, Russian, Hungarian and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others.”

Court Rules Christian Student Group Cannot be Removed from University

The University of Iowa cannot remove a Christian student group’s registered status after the group prohibited a gay student from a leadership role, a federal court has ruled. U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose approved a permanent injunction that forces the University of Iowa to reverse its decision and recognize Business Leaders in Christ as a registered student organization. She said in her opinion that the school applies its human rights policy “unevenly.” “The Constitution does not tolerate the way defendants chose to enforce the human rights policy,” she said. “Particularly when free speech is involved.” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the group representing the student organization, released a statement after the court ruling, saying “universities can’t target religious student groups for being religious.”

Nearly Half of Millennial Christians Believe Evangelism is Wrong

The Barna Group released new findings last week which show that 47 percent of millennial Christians believe it is inappropriate to share their Christian faith with people of a different religion in hopes that they will eventually convert to Christianity. Nevertheless, Millennials still believe they are “good evangelists and still see themselves as representatives for their faith. The survey also found that born-again millennials were the age group most likely to share their faith. According to the new Barna survey, however, that number is on the decline. David Kinnaman, the Barna president, says that he believes the decline in evangelism is due to the rise in the “cultural expectation against judging personal choices.”

Government Shutdown Averted, Trump Declares National Emergency

President Trump declared a national emergency Friday morning after signing the budget deal to avert another government shutdown. The budget bill provides $1.375 billion for border fencing – far less than the $5.7 billion the president had demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The emergency declaration is designed to secure funding for a border wall—but he has been warned that the move is likely to encounter a wall of lawsuits from Democrats, immigration advocates, and environmentalists, among others. the Justice Department has told Trump that the declaration of a national emergency is extremely likely to be blocked by the courts before it can come into effect. Analysts say legal challenges could delay the project for years, though White House officials say they expect to eventually win on appeal to the Supreme Court. Trump noted that national declarations have been signed by other presidents, “for far less important things in many cases.” Trump will tap funds from the Pentagon, Treasury and other sources to build the wall.

Federal Appeals Court Rules In Favor of Border Wall

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Trump administration has the power to waive environmental laws in order to speed up border wall construction, dealing a blow to the president’s opponents. The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which President Trump regularly likes to chide as too liberal, sided with him this time. The judges said federal law gives the administration broad powers to waive any laws in order to get the wall built. Homeland Security has constructed new fencing across the southwest border, replacing vehicle barriers and upgrading old, substandard fence. And last week the government began to build the first new barriers on the border that was previously unprotected by any barriers. In each of those cases, the Homeland Security Department has also issued waivers which cover some of the country’s most iconic protections, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Eagle Protection Act.

Migrant Update

Three months later, most of the Central American caravan of The remaining migrants chose to stay in Mexico, return home, or travel to other areas of the border, where they either attempted to enter the U.S. illegally or asked for asylum at other ports of entry, according to initial estimates from the Mexican government. 6,000 migrants are gone. Nearly half chose to wait in line for a chance to ask for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry, despite the long waits. Most have already seen a U.S. immigration officer. With wait times to claim asylum stretching up to six weeks, it’s unclear how many caravan members chose to cross the border illegally. The Mexican government estimated about 1,000 had made the attempt and were caught. San Diego Sector Border Patrol apprehended 5,812 in the month of December. Total apprehensions that month is nearly 1,300 more than November, when the caravan arrived.

Hours after President Trump appeared in El Paso Monday at a rally to demand border wall money, a large group of illegal immigrants breached the border a few miles away. Border Patrol agents say 311 migrants walked into the U.S., where they were arrested just before midnight. Almost all of them were families or unaccompanied alien children from Central America. This was the 28th group of 100 or more migrants to be apprehended in the El Paso sector since the beginning of October. A group of 325 Central Americans surrendered to Border Patrol agents at the Ajo Station in southwest Arizona after illegally entering the country on Thursday. The group included about 150 minors, 32 of whom were unaccompanied. The group entered through an area that only had a vehicle barrier and surrendered west of Lukeville.

Homeland Security Expedites a Secondary Border Wall

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a waiver allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to expedite construction of a “secondary wall” on the U.S-Mexico border. The secondary wall will be built in the eastern portion of Border Field State Park in San Diego, extend for 12.5 miles and should be 18 feet tall. The DHS said in a statement that Congress has granted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with “a number of authorities necessary to carry out the DHS’s border security mission.” One of these authorities is to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical walls and roads near the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States.” According to the department, the San Diego Sector already has apprehended 18,500 undocumented immigrants in this fiscal year, an increase of over 69 percent from the same period of time in the last fiscal year.

Gun Seizures Spike Nationally

Courts are issuing an unprecedented number of orders to seize firearms from people they deem to be mentally ill or threats to others, following a rash of state-level legislation aimed at curbing mass shootings across the country. More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California, where newly-installed Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved swiftly to curtail gun rights. Even as conservatives sound the alarm about potential Second Amendment violations, supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the country. Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to fourteen states.

Senate Passes Sweeping Conservation Package

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a sweeping conservation bill that protects 1.3 million acres of wilderness, creates or expands 10 national parks (including Joshua Tree and Death Valley), pulls hundreds of thousands of acres of land from mining, protects hundreds of miles of rivers, and sets up four new national monuments. It’s being called the most wide-ranging public-lands package in 10 years, with the “win” part coming in not only because of its conservation victories, but also due to its across-the-aisle support. The measure, which passed Tuesday 92-8, merges nearly 100 separate bills to offer “something for nearly everyone” in every state, and chances look good that both the House and President Trump will sign off on it as well.

Economic News

The federal debt ticked past $22 trillion this week, a record that comes despite continued economic growth, but neither political party appears to be making a priority of debt reduction. Larry Kudlow, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, said on Thursday that the president was “concerned” about the rise of the debt, and that the administration would propose some reductions in federal spending in its next budget. But he said the scale of the debt was not “a problem.” During the first two years of the Trump administration, the debt increased by more than $2 trillion, in part because of the $1.5 trillion tax cut and large spending increases the president has signed into law.

A delayed report outlining retail sales in December was released Thursday, and it showed sales around the holiday season tumbled 1.2 percent — its largest decline in almost a decade. The report had been delayed because of the 35-day federal shutdown. The Census Bureau report said the drop was comparable to September 2009, a few months into the Great Recession. The figures indicate retailers faced a stock market decline, the start of the partial government shutdown and poor weather conditions. The report said total sales for 2018 were up 5 percent and sales from October through December increased 3.7 percent, year-to-year.

The number of job openings reached 7.3 million at the end of 2018, the highest level since the Labor Department started measuring them in 2000. Job openings have outpaced hiring since December of 2017, which shows that employers are having a difficult time finding enough workers to fill all the positions they have available. There have been more open jobs than unemployed people since March 2018.

A study of bankruptcy filings in the United States showed that 66.5% were due, at least in part, to medical expenses. The study, led by Dr. David Himmelstein, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, indicates that about 530,000 families each year are financially ruined by medical bills and sicknesses. It’s the first research of its kind to link medical expenses and bankruptcy since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The authors of the study discovered that the percentage of bankruptcies caused by medical bills actually went up by 2 percent after Obamacare went into effect.

Texas, the epicenter of the shale boom, is gushing with oil. Production in the Lone Star State soared by 22% to 1.54 billion barrels in 2018. That shatters the previous Texas record of 1.28 billion barrels set in 1973. The spike in Texas’ oil production has been driven by the Permian Basin, the shale hotbed located in West Texas and New Mexico. Rapid technological improvements in drilling have morphed the Permian into one of the world’s largest and most important oilfields. The oil and gas industry supported a total of 352,371 direct jobs in Texas last year, up by 26,706 from 2017. And these jobs pay extremely well, with an average annual wage of $130,706 — more than double the state’s average private-sector salary.

Persecution Watch

Calendars sent to Christians in Tajikistan were seized and later burned by the authorities because they contained verses from the Bible. The consignment of 5,000 calendars arrived on 18 December 2018 for distribution to registered evangelical churches in Tajikistan. Customs officials impounded the calendars when they saw the Bible verses and referred the issue to the Central Committee on Religion that controls religious affairs in the country. Authorities gave the order for the destruction of the literature.

An elderly Iranian Christian woman has endured ten days of intensive interrogation by intelligence officers and been forced to go to an Islamic religious leader to be “instructed”. Ruhsari Kamberi, 65, was one of five women converts from Islam arrested from different church groups in Karaj, close to Tehran. The whereabouts of the other four are not known. According to a local source, “Ruhsari was interrogated from morning until evening for ten consecutive days.” The wife and mother was finally released when bail of 30 million Toman (around £5,500) was paid.

The prime suspect in the brutal rape and death of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher was arraigned in a Jerusalem court on Monday and charged with murder. Palestinian Arafat Irfayia, 29, showed no signs of remorse and appeared to be smirking during the proceedings. Strong DNA evidence linked him to the killing. The knife that was believed to be used in the attack was found at the time of his arrest. Authorities have labeled it a “nationalistic crime” given Irfayia’s family openly identifies with Hamas and the fact that Irfayia has distributed material for the terror group.

Middle East

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the White House’s aggressive anti-Iran message to a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Poland on peace and security in the Middle East that concluded Thursday. Pence used his address to the conference in Poland’s capital Warsaw to demand that European countries withdraw from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that President Donald Trump’s administration has already abandoned. He urged U.S. allies to back Washington’s sanctions on Iran, re-imposed after Trump exited the 2015 accord last year. Long-standing U.S. allies in Europe favor staying in the deal and have sought ways to keep open trade and financial dealings with Iran. Disagreement over the issue is what partly led to Germany, France and other major U.S. allies not sending their top diplomats to the summit in Poland.  Pompeo said on Thursday that there cannot be Middle East peace without combating Iran.

Islamic State

The top US commander in the war against ISIS said that there are “tens of thousands” of ISIS fighters spread across Syria and Iraq. ISIS chiefs have stashed away millions to fund a new wave of attacks against Britain and the West – as the terror group faces being stamped out once and for all. U.N. experts believe the group has around $300 million stored in “bulk” – with one report warning it will be used to fund “larger-scale attacks once the opportunity arises.” The warning comes as ISIS face being finally routed in Syria. U.S.-backed Syrian forces are clearing two villages in eastern Syria of remaining Islamic State militants who are hiding among the local population, and detaining others attempting to flee with the civilians, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday. The clearance operations are taking place, near the border with Iraq, a coalition statement said, hours after scores of militants from the Islamic State group — including many foreign fighters — surrendered to U.S.-backed fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday night. The developments brought the Kurdish-led force closer to taking full control of the last remaining area controlled by the extremists.

Kashmir

The death toll from a car bombing on a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir has climbed to 41, becoming the single deadliest attack in the divided region’s volatile history, security officials said Friday. A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into the convoy along a key highway Thursday. In addition to the dead, the attack wounded nearly two dozen other soldiers. The attack is ratcheting up already hostile tensions between India and Pakistan, who both administer parts of the disputed territory but each claim it entirely. India and Pakistan accused each other for the attack. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989, but the Muslim-majority region has experienced renewed attacks and repeated public protests in recent years as a new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has challenged New Delhi’s rule with a mixture of violence and social media.

South Korea

Officials signed a short-term agreement on Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after President Trump’s call for the South to pay more. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War. The new deal would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018. Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months. The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

Australia

In Australia, the heat was so intense it caused bats to fall from trees and snakes to seek refuge in people’s toilets. Overall, it was the hottest January in Australia ever recorded. One remarkable record was set in Port Augusta, Australia, which soared to 121 degrees. That’s the hottest temperature ever recorded at a coastal location in the Southern Hemisphere. Late in the month, folks in Wanaaring endured Australia’s all-time hottest night, when the overnight temperature only dropped to a sweltering 97.9 degrees. Across the Pacific, at the far southern tip South America, the tiny town of Porvenir, Chile, soared to 90.5 degrees earlier this week. This may have been the Earth’s most southerly 90-degree temperature on record. “Heat this high on the southern tip of South America is unprecedented,” wrote Guy Walton, an Atlanta meteorologist who tracks weather records.

Up to 500,000 cattle are feared dead after floods left parts of eastern Australian under water, swallowing up livestock and farm buildings as the levels rose. Dramatic overhead scenes taken from helicopters flying over Queensland show large numbers of cattle lying dead in groups having succumbed to the heavy rains.       Ironically, many farmers in Australia have been struggling to keep cattle alive after years of drought only for them to lose them now to floods.

Greenland

In a strangely positive twist to climate change, a new study finds that Greenland could become a major exporter of sand as its glaciers disappear into the sea. As global temperatures rise, the island’s vast ice sheet is rapidly melting away, and large amounts of sediments are being washed into the oceans. Greenland’s population of 56,000 could see significant economic boosts from mining the sand and gravel and exporting it to the rest of the world. The amount of sand delivered to the country’s coast annually is estimated to be worth more than half Greenland’s GDP, which is about $2.22 billion, and that worth is now expected to double within the next quarter-century.

Environment

A decline in insect populations happening across the planet has Earth’s ecosystems and humankind facing catastrophic consequences. That sobering message has emerged from a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports on insect population declines which found the rate of extinction is eight times faster than vertebrates such as mammals, birds and reptiles. More than a third of the world’s insects are threatened with extinction in the next few decades, the researchers say. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades” They found evidence for decline in all insect groups reviewed, but said it was most pronounced for butterflies and moths, native bees, beetles and aquatic insects such as dragonflies.

An invasion of about 50 polar bears has caused an “emergency situation” in the small Russian settlement of Belushya Guba. The town is located on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. “The people are scared,” said Alexander Minayev, the deputy head of Novaya Zemlya. “They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken,” Minayev said in a statement. The bears arrived in December and have acted aggressively since then, attacking people and entering residences and businesses. Melting Arctic sea ice has forced polar bears to spend more time on land, where they compete for food.

Weather

After months of promises, infamous climate agitator El Niño finally formed this week, climate scientists announced Thursday. El Niño is a periodic natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific. It is among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world. It typically brings unusually wet weather across the USA’s southern tier.

A deadly winter storm battered Hawaii last weekend, bringing dangerous surf conditions, heavy snow and damaging winds. Waves near Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu surpassed 60 feet Sunday afternoon. A monstrous 191-mph wind gust was recorded on the peak of Mauna Kea on the Big Island Sunday. Winds soared to 53 mph in Oahu, which knocked down trees and caused power outages throughout the islands, Shigesato said. Almost 27,000 customers throughout the state were without power late Sunday. Several inches of snow fell on Maui. Debris on Sunday closed roads in downtown Honolulu and in the Waikiki area

Winter Storm Nadia slammed the Pacific Northwest and Northern California with heavy snow and rain Wednesday, causing multiple crashes and road closures, leaving tens of thousands without power and stranding some 250 motorists on a Washington mountain pass. The California city of Redding, which sees snow about once every other year, received more than a foot of new snow from Nadia, effectively shutting down the city of nearly 100,000. Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass was closed in both directions Wednesday because of high avalanche danger after nearly 4 feet of snow fell within a 48-hour period. More than 24,000 customers in Washington and another 70,000 in California were without power Wednesday morning. Nadia moved into the Plains on Friday. Numerous schools were closed Friday in Kansas and Missouri. Interstate 80 from Colfax to the Nevada line remained closed Friday because of white out conditions at the summit.

An “atmospheric river” triggered torrential rains across much of California Thursday and could lead to dangerous mudslides in areas swollen from days of rain and still recovering from devastating wildfires. In Northern California, homes tumbled down the hillsides as the downpour caused mudslides that swallowed up cars. There have been at least 78 reports of debris flows or flooding in California since the storm began on Tuesday. Early Thursday, a woman was rescued from one of two homes that slid down a hillside in Sausalito. In Southern California, mandatory “must go now” evacuations were ordered at the burn site of the Holy Fire in Riverside County, including hundreds of Lake Elsinore residents. Voluntary evacuations were also ordered near the Cranston Fire burn site in Riverside County. Heavy rains that killed at least two people in California this week eased on Friday but authorities are warning that the danger of mudslides continues.

Signs of the Times

February 8, 2019

­After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Unprecedented Gathering of 130,000 Christians in Islamic UAE

An event held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on 5 February was attended by over 130,000 Christians; a startling occurrence in a region where Christian worship is tightly restricted and Christian converts from Islam risk imprisonment for apostasy. The UAE has one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world, mainly due to the inward migration of Christian workers. The country has recently gained a new cathedral, 16 new churches and has around 700 Christian congregations. The 48-hour papal visit to the UAE this month is unprecedented for the Arabian Peninsula and may signal a softening of the government towards the Christian community, estimated to number over one million. Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths may worship in private in the UAE, but face restrictions on practicing their religion in public. Proselytizing to Muslims or preaching “against Islam” is prohibited by law and carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Most of the Christians in the Arabian Peninsula are resident non-citizens who came to the region as migrant workers.

Almost 4,600 Accept Jesus during ‘Amazing Love’ Fest in Thailand

On Sunday, the final night of the two-day Amazing Love Festival in Bangkok, Franklin Graham explained to 23,000-plus souls that no one can have peace with God until their sins have been forgiven. “There are many of you here tonight who are in danger of losing your soul,” Franklin said, aware that 95 percent of the country does not claim Jesus as Lord. Speaking from Luke 19, he shared about Jesus’ invitation to all people, including Zacchaeus, a corrupt public official who overcame obstacles to see Christ. “Jesus is the only one in history to take all our sins. No [other] person or religion has ever done that,” Franklin said. “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.” “Come quickly to Jesus tonight,” Franklin said as the floor flooded with masses of people responding to the Gospel. “Be set free.” Ultimately, over 4,6000 people accepted Christ as their Savior.

Pope Francis Confirms Catholic Clergy Members Abused Nuns

Pope Francis has acknowledged that members of the Catholic clergy abused nuns, adding to a string of recent allegations about widespread sexual abuse by priests and coverups by the church hierarchy. “It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have,” Francis told reporters aboard the papal plane on Tuesday. Francis is due to host a gathering of bishops and cardinals in two weeks to address the broader global issue of clergy sexual abuse — including, largely for the first time, adult victims and accountability for those at the top of the church who mismanage and cover it up. “The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Francis wrote in a letter to U.S. bishops last month.

  • The unbiblical prohibition against marriage underlies much of this Catholic problem

Pope Francis Became First Pontiff to Visit the Arabian Peninsula

Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, became the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula when he landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday to take part in an inter-faith dialogue event hosted by Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Several Jewish rabbis also participated in the event, which received a great deal of positive coverage in Arab and international media outlets. Francis avoided making any overtly political statements during his visit, aside from an appeal for an end to the suffering in Yemen, Libya and Syria and a demand that religious leaders refrain from endorsing armed conflict for any reason. He also called for “the full recognition” of the rights of all people across the region, a comment some analysts said was a veiled reference to the Palestinians.

Trump Pledges to Defend Life and Religious Freedom

President Trump delivered remarks to the annual National Prayer Breakfast in the nation’s capital Thursday morning, reiterating his administration’s commitment to defending life and religious liberty at home, and fighting religious persecution abroad. “I will never let you down,” Trump promised as he took the podium. “All children are made in the holy image of God. Every life is sacred and every soul is a precious gift from heaven,” he said.  “Since the founding of our nation many of our greatest strides, from gaining our independence to abolition [to] civil rights, to extending the vote to women, have been led by people of faith and started in prayer. When we open our hearts to faith, we fill our hearts with love,” he said. “As president I will always cherish, honor, and protect the believers who uplift our communities and sustain our nation,” he promised.

Poll: 76% Approve of Trump’s SOTU Speech

Just over three-quarters of those who watched President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech approved of what he said, a new CBS News poll reveals. Only 24 percent disapproved. In addition, 56 percent of those polled said the speech will do more to unite the county; 8 percent said it will do more to divide the nation and 36 percent said it will not change things. Also, 72 percent said they favored the ideas on immigration Trump outlined in his speech, while 28 percent opposed them. The poll, conducted by CBS directly after Trump’s speech, surveyed 1,472 people. The margin of error is 3 percent.

Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law

The Supreme Court has blocked a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana—but only temporarily. Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted to uphold an almost identical law in Texas in 2016, joined the court’s four liberal justices in voting to block the law, which would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Critics said the law would leave the state with just one doctor qualified to perform abortions, meaning all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics would be forced to close. The 5-4 decision, made just hours before the law was due to come into effect, granted a temporary stay, but the court is expected to return to the case in October. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberal faction of the court while Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a dissent, arguing that there is a dispute over how many doctors would be qualified to perform abortions under the law, and denying the stay would settle the question without “causing harm to the parties or the affected women,”

House Democrats Again Block Vote to Stop Infanticide

For the second time in two days, House Democrats blocked a request by Republicans to vote on a bill that would stop infanticide. This is the second time Congressional Democrats thwarted an attempt by Republicans to vote on a bill that would provide medical care and treatment for babies who provide survived failed abortions — twice in the House and once in the Senate. “Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi took the President of the nation’s largest abortion business to the State of the Union address and today she’s blocking legislation that makes it illegal to leave a newborn baby to die. This is morally repugnant. Passing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act shouldn’t be hard – there are only two sides to this debate: you’re defending babies or you’re defending infanticide,” Senator Sasse told LifeNews after yesterday’s denial.

U.S. Researchers are Fusing Aborted Baby Parts Onto Rodents

Aborted babies are being used in macabre experiments in the U.S. that involve grafting dead fetus parts onto mice which are then used to test drugs, reports the UK’s Sun news outlet. Documents seen by Sun Online outline procedures that involve cutting out glands and livers of unborn children and then fusing them onto lab rodents. The use of aborted baby body parts and stems cells has sparked anger among anti-abortion groups in the United States and it has been dubbed “Frankenstein” science. Clinics are supposed to ask if they would like to donate tissue but it is unclear whether the parents are aware their dead children’s bodies are being used in this way. But what is known is that abortion clinics are supplying the fetal body parts, although they are not allowed to sell them. Phelim McAleer, who has produced the film Gosnell, about a rogue abortionist, told Fox News: “Aborted babies bodies are a very valuable commodity in today’s America. Research institutions, elite universities, medical centers pay a lot of money for baby parts.”

Millennial Marriage Rate Way Down

In 1962, 50% of all 21-year-olds were married. In 2018, only 8.8% of 21-year-olds were married, an enormous difference. Today an unprecedented portion of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40, a recent Urban Institute report predicted. The marriage rate might drop to 70 percent — a figure well below rates for boomers (91 percent), late boomers (87 percent) and Gen Xers (82 percent).

Magnetic North Pole On the Move

Earth’s north magnetic pole has been drifting so fast in the last few decades that scientists say that past estimates are no longer accurate enough for precise navigation. On Monday, they released an update of where magnetic north really was, nearly a year ahead of schedule. The magnetic north pole is wandering about 34 miles a year. It crossed the international date line in 2017, and is leaving the Canadian Arctic on its way to Siberia. Since 1831 when it was first measured in the Canadian Arctic it has moved about 1,400 miles (2300 kilometers) toward Siberia. The constant shift is a problem for compasses in smartphones and some consumer electronics. Airplanes and boats also rely on magnetic north, usually as backup navigation. The military depends on where magnetic north is for navigation and parachute drops, while NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration also use it. In general Earth’s magnetic field is getting weaker, leading scientists to say that it will eventually flip, where north and south pole changes polarity, like a bar magnet flipping over. It has happened numerous times in Earth’s past, but not in the last 780,000 years. That could bother some birds that use magnetic fields to navigate. And an overall weakening of the magnetic field isn’t good for people and especially satellites and astronauts. The magnetic field shields Earth from some dangerous radiation.

Economic News

The U.S. national debt has just crossed the $22 trillion mark. Over the last 10 years, we have added more than 11 trillion dollars to the national debt, and that means that it has been growing at a pace of more than a trillion dollars a year. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the national debt and interest on that debt will both explode at an exponential rate in future years if we stay on the path that we are currently on.  According to the CBO, the federal government spent 371 billion dollars on net interest during the most recent fiscal year. In contrast, the entire Defense Department budget is $599 billion. The 371 billion dollars that we spent on interest could have been spent on roads, schools, airports, strengthening our military or helping the homeless.

  • Unfortunately, the accumulation of debt is not slowing down under President Trump

A strong economy helped encourage many Americans to buy new vehicles despite the wintry weather and a government shutdown in January. Analysts estimated that January auto sales rose slightly, compared with a year earlier, despite the polar vortex that froze the Midwest and the shutdown that left many federal workers without paychecks for the month. The average price of a new vehicle continues to rise, in part because of the SUV boom.

The European Union has told British Prime Minister Theresa May, again, that it will not reopen talks on the Brexit agreement as she arrived in Brussels to persuade EU leaders to agree to key changes as demanded by the UK Parliament. British lawmakers voted last month to send May back to Brussels to renegotiate the terms of the Brexit deal, specifically over concerns regarding the Irish backstop. The backstop — an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member — has been a particularly thorny issue in May’s deal, with British politicians firm that they will not back her deal without changes.

Middle East

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (MSA) released a report reveals how Hamas and the PFLP are utilizing a network of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) promoting boycotts against Israel as an additional tactic in their ultimate goal of dismantling the State of Israel. These organizations have successfully placed over 30 of their members, 20 of which have served time, including for murder, in senior positions within boycott-promoting NGOs (BDS stands for Boycott of, Divestment from, and Sanctions against Israel). Some U.S. companies and church organizations have joined the BDS movement.

The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel. The final tally was 77-23. The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Israeli Defense Forces and civil defense organizations stationed near the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip were on high alert Wednesday morning following an overnight barrage of 45 rockets fired at Israeli communities from inside the Strip. Three of the rockets landed inside the Strip, seven were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and three landed in border communities, causing damage to buildings and vehicles but no casualties. The IDF launched strikes on Hamas targets in response

The U.S. Army announced on Wednesday that it has agreed to purchase Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The agreement is historic, marking the first time Israel has sold a standalone weapons system to the U.S., which typically fields weapons that are superior to other countries. “The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats,” U.S. Army Col. Patrick Seiber said in a statement.

The U.S. and Israel were set to kick of the Juniper Falco 2019 joint training exercises next week, with thousands of soldiers from both countries participating. Military observers from dozens of allied nations will also be on hand to benefit from the exercise, which will include tests of equipment, tactics and training. Although the IDF spokesperson’s office stressed that the exercise was merely the latest in a series of long-planned and routine drills not aimed at any specific threat, observers noted the timing of the wars games following several weeks of escalating tensions on Israel’s northern border.

Iran’s clerical regime celebrated the 40th anniversary of the violent coup which brought it to power over the weekend by, among other things, unveiling a new cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload 1,350 km which defense officials claimed had recently undergone a successful test. On Saturday, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Salami told an official media outlet that “If the Europeans, or anyone else, want to conspire to disarm Iran of missiles, we will be forced to make a strategic leap.” He added that in his opinion the world should “come to terms with the new reality of Iran’s missile might.

Russia

Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday. U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s deployment of banned cruise missiles that could target Western Europe. Moscow has strongly denied any breaches and accused Washington of making false accusations in order to justify its pullout. The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Venezuela

The government of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blocked aid deliveries amid rising tensions over opposition plans to bring humanitarian aid into the country. Two U.S. trucks carrying food and medical supplies arrived at Cucuta on Venezuela’s border Thursday, but it is not clear when or whether the aid will reach people inside the country.  Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-declared president, Juan Guaido, last week named Cucuta as one of three collection points for the delivery of international aid. His move ramped up tensions with Maduro’s government even as many in Venezuela remain in desperate need of such supplies. Maduro has rejected the international aid, saying: “We are not beggars.”

Cameroon

The battle lines of the conflict in this Central African country are drawn by language. Around 80 percent of the country speaks French; the rest speaks English. For decades, Francophones and Anglophones lived in relative harmony. But over the past two years, violence spurred by this linguistic split has brought Cameroon to the brink of civil war. Hundreds have died, close to 500,000 have been displaced, and activists have been rounded up and jailed. The government claims armed English-speaking separatists who want to create a new nation called Ambazonia have terrorized civilians and attacked government forces, prompting the military to retaliate against them. But in more than a dozen interviews, English speakers displaced by military raids on their villages recounted how Cameroonian troops opened fire on unarmed civilians and burned down their homes.

Somalia

A car bomb exploded at a crowded shopping mall in Mogadishu, the Somali capital on Monday morning, killing at least ten people and wounding dozens of others. The explosion tore through a Mogadishu mall in the capital’s business district. The death toll may rise as rescuers search for survivors and some of the wounded are in critical condition. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group was also responsible for three car bombings last November that that killed at least 52 people with about 100 more injured. Since 2006, the group has carried out several attacks in Mogadishu killing international aid workers, journalists, civil It wants to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.ian leaders, and peacekeepers, as well as Somalia’s government and military targets.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck Mexico’s southern Pacific coast last Friday morning. The U.S. Geological Survey reported the magnitude 6.6 quake struck about 10:15 a.m. local time and was centered some 10 miles south of Tapachula in the southern state of Chiapas. It struck at a depth of 40 miles. There were no deaths from the earthquake, but there was some damage in the city of Suchiate.

Weather

Normally mild Seattle is bracing for its second snowstorm this week Friday and Saturday. And with yet another snowstorm forecast for early next week, Seattle-area meteorologist Cliff Mass said the storms could be “one of greatest snow events in decades.” A winter storm warning has been issued for the Seattle area. Up to half a foot of snow is possible from the Friday-Saturday storm throughout the region. The first snowstorm, earlier this week, officially dropped 2.7 inches on Seattle. The city averages only 0.7 inch of snow each February.

Winter Storm Lucian created hazardous driving conditions Tuesday from the Pacific Coast into the Midwest and it led to the closing of all roads in Yosemite National Park because of heavy snow and fallen trees. A rockslide dumped large boulders onto Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, early Tuesday. A rockslide also had traffic backed up in each direction on U.S. 60 near Miami, Arizona. Icy drizzle was blamed for numerous crashes and rollovers on highways in Wichita, Kansas. Interstate 80 was closed from Applegate, California, to the Nevada state line most of Monday. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz mobilized the National Guard to rescue stranded drivers in Renville County.

Heavy rain, thunderstorms and deadly flooding on the warm side of Winter Storm Lucian were causing trouble from Arkansas and southern Missouri and southern Illinois into Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky Heavy rain triggered major flash flooding across Middle Tennessee Wednesday night, killing one person. Numerous water rescues also occurred overnight in the Nashville area. An estimated 3 to 6 inches of rain fell in Middle Tennessee Wednesday night when a band of heavy rain stalled over the region. Nashville International Airport picked up 4 inches of rain Wednesday, topping their average rainfall for the entire month of February.

Over 200 people had to be rescued from their cars on Italy’s Autostrada A22 highway last Saturday after heavy snow blocked the roadway, causing a nearly 10-mile-long traffic jam in freezing temperatures. One stretch of the highway in northern Italy was closed for hours when cars and trucks without mandatory chains were unable to navigate the highway when the snowstorm hit. A second stretch that leads to the Brenner Pass into Austria was shut down after an avalanche blocked the highway a few miles south of the Italy-Austria border.

Signs of the Times

February 1, 2019

­The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things, have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1Peter 4:7-8)

Virginia Bill to Allow Third-Term Abortions Causes Controversy

Efforts in the Virginia General Assembly to allow abortions up until birth have been turned away – at least for now. A Democratic co-sponsor of a controversial Virginia bill that would repeal restrictions on third-trimester abortions is apologizing to her constituents for supporting the legislation, saying she didn’t read the bill or know how far it went. The backpedal comes as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is defending himself amid fierce criticism that he suggested a child could be killed after birth in remarks a day earlier about the same legislation. The bill would have removed a number of restrictions currently in place regarding late-term abortions, including doing away with the requirement that three physicians certify a third-trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health. The third trimester lasts until 40 weeks. The chaos follows New York’s historic passage of an abortion-up-to-birth bill, last week.

  • A Gallup poll from last May found that 91% of Americans think third-term abortions should be illegal, with only 13% saying it should be legalized.

U.S. Freezes, Australia Burns Hot

At least 17 deaths have been attributed to the cold snap in the Midwest, as it began invading the northeast on Thursday. The polar vortex swung down into the Midwest Wednesday with the coldest Arctic air in a generation, forcing widespread school and government office closures, leaving tens of thousands without power, and in a rarity, prompting the U.S. Postal Service to suspend delivery to a widespread swath of the region. The polar vortex brought a wind chill of -66 degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota overnight and wind chills of -58 degrees Fahrenheit in Wisconsin and Iowa. Temperatures dipped to -23 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare, with a wind chill of 49 degrees below zero. The cold also prompted several major Midwest universities to close. The U.S. Postal Service decided to suspend mail delivery on Wednesday to parts or all of several Midwest states, including North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Temperatures in Norris Camp, Minn., dropped to minus-48 degrees Wednesday morning, making the city the coldest reporting location in the Lower 48 states.

  • Extreme cold causes bizarre things to happen, and that was certainly the case Wednesday in Chicago when a series of loud booms were reported. The temperature in Chicago had dropped to 23 below zero early Wednesday, one of the coldest readings ever recorded in the city. What Chicago residents heard were likely “frost quakes,” also known by the dull geological term “cryoseisms.” They occur when a rapid drop in temperature leads to a quick freeze, which causes the rock or soil to burst rather than just slowly expand. The rapid bursting sounds like noisy quake, along with some light shaking.
  • In Illinois, temperatures could rise by 80 degrees within days. In Michigan, melting snow and rain and a 17-mile ice jam could lead to flooding. Across the Midwest, the sudden warmth was sure to bring more broken roads and busted water mains, per the AP.

Even as severe cold grips the midwestern and northwestern U.S., scorching heat has caused numerous wildfires to burn in Australia. Australia is currently experiencing all-time record temperatures – exceeding 115 degrees – and extended heat waves. Australia’s scorching start to 2019 has been confirmed as the country’s hottest month on record. Dozens of wildfires raged on Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia. It’s so hot there that snakes are seeking refuge in people’s toilets. More than 500 firefighters are battling nearly 1,500 kilometers of fire fronts across Tasmania but the main fire fight is in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. Extreme heat in Victoria, Australia combined with strong winds and low humidity caused a bushfire 10 km (6 miles) north of Timbarra to grow from 300 hectares (740 acres) to approximately 10,522 hectares (26,000 acres). Lighting ignited the fire on January 16 while hundreds of additional lightning strikes ignited additional fires.

  • Weather will continue to grow more extreme as we progress further and further into the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Shutdown Update:

The three-week spending deal reached with congressional leaders, passed by the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives without opposition and signed by President Trump, has paved the way for tough talks with lawmakers about how to address security along the U.S.-Mexican border. Trump vowed that the shutdown would resume on Feb. 15 if he is dissatisfied with the results of a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee’s border security negotiations, or he would declare a national emergency in order to get the wall money without congressional approval. Both chambers of Congress passed legislation to guarantee back pay for affected federal workers, and Trump signed it last week. But it will likely be at least several days before employees get paid. Backlogs and deadlines await federal workers after the shutdown’s end. A return to normal could take weeks or even months.

The reopening of federal offices belies the continued suffering and long-term financial damage on the legions of federal contractors whose lost wages may never be reimbursed. For the 75 employees of the small contracting firm Unispec Enterprises, health insurance remains in limbo, and the next full paycheck may still be four weeks away. “It feels like we are still hostages,” said Unispec employee Janice Morgan. The tight margins of federal work meant that one firm was unable to pay its health insurance premium, leading to a lapse in coverage for employees who also lost five weeks of pay.

The U.S. economy lost at least $6 billion during the partial shutdown of the federal government due to lost productivity from furloughed workers and economic activity lost to outside business, S&P Global Ratings said. “Although this shutdown has ended, little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments,” S&P said in a news release. “Although this shutdown has ended, little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments,” S&P said in a news release.

Immigration Update:

A group of women whose husbands patrol America’s southern border along the banks of the Rio Grande are inviting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to come to Texas so she can see first-hand why a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico is desperately needed. Jill Demanski said, “I felt it’s really important to have our leaders come here and see what’s happening first. It’s important to meet with the people who are here on a daily basis, that are witnessing it – the effects of it, that it has on our country.” A 17-person bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers is expected to negotiate border spending. It’s unclear if Democrats will budge in their opposition to funding a border wall, while Trump said Sunday that he doubted he could accept any agreement struck by congressional negotiators that gives him less than his requested $5.7 billion for the construction of a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Trump administration on Tuesday quietly launched an effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts. The U.S. returned one asylum seeker to Mexico — a Honduran man — on the first day of what would be one of the most dramatic changes to the U.S. immigration system of Donald Trump’s presidency, if the policy survives an anticipated legal challenge. Mexican officials sent mixed signals on whether Mexico would impose limits on accepting families. Tonatiuh Guillen, commissioner of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said Mexico would only accept people 18 to 60 years old, which rules out families with young children.

Customs officers stationed at the commercial border crossing in Nogales made the largest fentanyl seizure ever recorded at any port of entry in the United States. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a canine officer alerted other officers to the presence of 254 pounds of fentanyl hidden inside an 18-wheeler carrying cucumbers, during a secondary inspection at the Mariposa port of entry just past noon last Saturday. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Drug. Just a small dose can kill you. In addition to the fentanyl, officers also seized 395 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside the compartment in the 18-wheeler.

Three more Central American migrant caravans are heading toward the U.S. border. The First caravan, which has shrunk from 7,000 to 4,000 participants, reached Juchitan, Mexico, Tuesday, more than 700 miles southeast of Mexico City. A smaller second caravan entered Tapachula, Mexico, and camped out in the town’s main plaza. A third group from El Salvador crossed the bridge connecting Guatemala and Mexico and legally entered Ciudad Hidalgo. In response, the Pentagon announced it would send 5,200 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump Has Employed Many Undocumented Immigrants

Victorina Morales, a cleaner who spent years working at one of President Donald Trump’s golf clubs, risked deportation by outing herself as an undocumented worker to the New York Times in December — but now she’s asking Congress for protection. Along with three other former Trump National Golf Club workers, Morales arrived in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers, who they hope will launch an investigation into Trump Organization hiring practices and shield them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security. sThe Washington Post reported this past weekend that a dozen undocumented workers had been fired from the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York. The decision Tuesday by Trump businesses to use the E-Verify program is the first acknowledgment that President Trump’s private companies have failed to fully check the work status of all its employees, despite his claims otherwise during the 2016 campaign.

Trump’s Tough Talk Helps NATO

President Donald Trump “is committed to NATO” and deserves credit in obtaining $100 billion more in defense spending for the alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said Sunday. Trump has also been criticized for his aggressive approach in insisting America’s “delinquent” allies pay a greater share toward the collective defense agreement. At the summit in July, he demanded the other members “immediately” increase their contributions. Stoltenberg said the tough approach paid off. “By the end of next year, NATO allies will add $100 billion extra toward defense,” he said. “So, we see some real money and some real results. And we see that the clear message from President Donald Trump is having an impact.” Stoltenberg’s comment stands in contrast to Democrats who fear Trump wants to pull out of NATO, and some who have expressed concern he could be undermining the military alliance because it benefits Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump on ISIS, North Korea, Border

Although the Trump administration often touts the progress being made in denuclearization talks with North Korea, U.S. intelligence chiefs told senators Tuesday that Kim Jong Un’s regime is “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.” The top intelligence officials – including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats – presented that conclusion to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report to Congress. The security officials also contradicted President Donald Trump with their conclusions that the Islamic State remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The report did not include immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border in the list of global threats facing the U.S., which also contrasts with the president’s description of the situation as a “crisis.” The president pushed back against congressional testimony by intelligence officials, tweeting, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Terror in the Philippines

Two bombs minutes apart tore through a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 20 people and wounding 111 others during a Sunday Mass. The first blast inside the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital sent churchgoers, some of them wounded, to stampede out of the main door. Army troops and police posted outside were rushing in when the second bomb went off about one minute later near the main entrance, causing more deaths and injuries. The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Police said at least 20 people died and 111 were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility.

Three Men Sentenced for Attempt to Bomb Muslim Apartment in Kansas

Three men were sentenced Friday to at least 25 years in federal prison for attempting to blow up an apartment complex in western Kansas where Somali Muslims lived, a plot that unnerved that refugee community. They chose the apartment complex in Garden City, a city of 26,000, partly because it contained a mosque. The Somalis — who settled in Garden City because of employment in the meatpacking industry — appreciate the support they’ve received in the town and do not intend to harm anyone, according to one woman who spoke after the sentences were handed down. “Please, we need peace and love,” said Ifrah Farah, a member of the Somali community, according to CNN affiliate KWCH in Wichita. “Because we came here for better lives. We are refugees. We live here. We are not bad people. We love everybody.”

Texas Finds 95,000 Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Friday that the state has discovered 95,000 non-citizens on the voter rolls going back to 1996, 58,000 of whom have voted in at least one Texas election. Texas has some of the toughest voter ID laws in the nation and has been one of the main battlegrounds in the Republican-led fight against alleged voter fraud. The Attorney General’s office said that 33 people were prosecuted for voter fraud last year, and 97 were prosecuted between 2005-17. There are 16 million people in Texas registered to vote. The New York Times reported that the findings were a result of an 11-month investigation into records at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Gov. Greg Abbott praised the findings and hinted at future legislation to crack down on voter fraud.

California Farmers in a Tight Squeeze

California farmers anchors a $50 billion industry that represents that 13% of the nation’s agricultural value and are a critical source of America’s produce and milk. However, they are now facing an unprecedented squeeze on their livelihoods that could have repercussions in households from coast to coast. Farmers have begun turning to more automation because farm workers are both in short supply and increasingly costly. Farm workers who once crossed the Mexican border routinely for seasonal work in el norte now express deep fears about making the trip, effectively cutting off the supply of labor south of the border. Beyond a decade-in-the-making labor shortage, spurred in part by a lack of replacements for an aging work force, California’s newly enacted overtime pay law and the Trump administration’s tense rhetoric over immigration have ratcheted up concern among both farmers and those they rely on to work the land.

Venezuela: A Lesson on Socialism

Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America, but in recent years millions have fled the country amid mass starvation and violence after socialist policies were enacted and government seized private industries. Now, as Venezuelans struggle against the country’s current dictator, some Venezuelan exiles in the U.S. are desperately warning Americans to avoid going down a similar path. Despite the situation in Venezuela, polls show Americans warming to the term “socialism” in recent years. Dictator Hugo Chavez succeeded in re-writing the Constitution, which came with new rights to things like free government-provided health care, college, and “social justice”. The constitution passed a popular vote easily, with 72% of the vote. Thousands of private businesses were nationalized – including media outlets, oil and power companies, mines, farms, banks, factories, and grocery stores. As a result, inflation skyrocketed to over 12,000% last year and shortages of even basic supplies have caused many to flee from starvation and bankruptcy.

Economic News

Hiring began 2019 on a strong note as employers added 304,000 jobs in January, marking a 100th straight month of payroll growth and defying the 35-day government shutdown, the U.S. trade war with China and a slowing global economy. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a separate survey of households, rose from 3.9% to 4 percent, largely because of the government shutdown, the Labor Department said Friday.

The Federal Reserve opted to leave interest rates unchanged — at a range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent — and the central bank signaled it was unlikely to hike them soon. “In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the [Federal Reserve] will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate.”

The number of people filing first-time unemployment insurance claims soared to its highest level since September 30, 2017. The probable culprit: The five-week government shutdown, which ended last Friday. Initial jobless claims rose to a seasonally adjusted 253,000, up from a 49-year low of 200,000 the prior week. That’s well above the four-week moving average of 215,000 unemployment claims.

Middle East

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) held a large-scale training exercise this week to simulate a war with the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. “The next war will be different than it was in the past,” one officer who participated in the exercise told the Jerusalem Post. “The enemy has gotten better, and has more advanced weapons and more experience. Both sides have advanced, and we know our enemy. But, at the same time I am sure they know us, too.”

Iran continues to become more entrenched in Syria. The regimes in Teheran and Damascus continued to consolidate their alliance last Tuesday with the launch of a new banking and financial agreement. The deal, one of many signed by officials of the Assad regime and visiting Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri this week, will also give Iranian companies, many of which are controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) an advantage in winning contracts for the reconstruction of Syria’s infrastructure and military.

Iran

The governments of Germany, France, and Britain announced this week that they will soon put into effect a mechanism to allow companies based in their countries to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. The so-called special-purpose vehicle (SPV) will use various channels including bartering and is expected to be put into effect by Friday, despite recent declarations by various European governments and the EU that Iran’s support for terrorism in their countries and its ballistic missile program were “areas of concern.”

Syria

At least 29 Syrian refugee children and newborns have died from hypothermia at, or traveling to, the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, according the World Health Organization (WHO). In the last two months, the camp has seen an influx of 23,000 people —more than tripling the population — many of which had to travel in open trucks over the course of several days in frigid winter temperatures. Even after arriving at the camp, thousands have been forced to sleep outside without tents, blankets or heating. Out of the 7 million men, women, boys and girls who are estimated to be internally displaced, many have left without adequate clothing and have to stay in makeshift shelters, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to rain, snow and freezing temperatures. Despite temperatures hitting triple digits in the summers, Syrian winters can see extended stretches of snow and subfreezing temperatures,

Russia

The Trump administration will end U.S. compliance with a Cold-war nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, citing Moscow’s “brazen” violations of the pact. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests, and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it,” Pompeo said. The U.S. will suspend compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as INF, on Feb. 2 and begin a six-month formal withdrawal process, Pompeo said. That gives Moscow additional time to reverse course – even as the Trump administration begins to look at developing and deploying new intermediate range missiles.

China

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon to try to seal a comprehensive trade deal as Trump and his top trade negotiator both cited substantial progress in two days of high-level talks. No specific plans for a meeting with Xi were announced, but Trump said there could be more than one meeting. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were invited to bring a U.S. negotiating team to Beijing around mid-February, with dates still pending.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Chinese technology company Huawei with fraud Monday, ratcheting up U.S.-China tensions. The case against the world’s largest communications equipment maker and one of its senior executives comes as Washington and Beijing seek to end a months-long trade war. U.S. prosecutors charge that Huawei lied to bank executives about its relationship with a company in Iran called Skycom, falsely asserting that it was not an affiliate of the larger company, in violation of sanctions against Iran. Beijing fired back on Tuesday calling the charges politically motivated and urging the U.S. to stop “unreasonable bashing” of Chinese companies.

Venezuela

The United States and Venezuela announced a temporary reprieve from their standoff earlier this week as the countries agreed to work on migration and bilateral issues. If no deal is reached at the end of the 30-day period, the Venezuelans said, the U.S. diplomats remaining in Caracas would need to be repatriated within 72 hours. The resolution came after a morning of heated clashes at the United Nations between the U.S. and Russia — a longtime Venezuelan ally — over the Trump administration’s call for Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro to step down. European nations threatened to join Washington and leave the socialist leader increasingly isolated. The Trump administration announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Monday to try to force President Maduro to step down. The order will affect Citgo, the Venezuelan-owned, Houston-based oil company, and Valero, the American oil refiner that is the largest in the United States. Both import substantial amounts of low-quality crude oil from Venezuela, and can continue to do so as long as the payments do not go to Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Venezuela’s Supreme Court barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country Tuesday and froze his bank accounts. President Nicolas Maduro told Russia’s RIA news agency that he was ready to talk with the opposition headed by Juan Guaido with the participation of international mediators, saying that “several governments and organizations” have demonstrated their concern and called for dialogue

Afghanistan

The Taliban and the U.S. agreed in principle to a peace framework, the U.S. negotiator said, in a step toward ending the war in Afghanistan. After nine years of halting efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, the draft framework, though preliminary, is the biggest tangible step toward ending a two-decade war that has cost tens of thousands of lives and profoundly changed American foreign policy.

Environment

At least 58 people are dead and hundreds of others missing after a Vale SA mining dam collapsed in southeastern Brazil on Friday, sending a torrent of potentially hazardous debris downstream that caused widespread destruction in a nearby village. The collapse occurred at the Corrego de Feijao mine near Brumadinho — about 215 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. About 300 employees were working when the dam collapsed. About 100 had been accounted for. The dam held 1 million cubic meters of mining waste byproduct, much less than the 50 million cubic meters that rushed out of a deadly mining dam collapse in Minas Gerais in 2015. That collapse, at a dam also operated by Vale SA, killed 19 people and also polluted waterways with toxic waste. The United Nations found that waste from the 2015 disaster “contained high levels of toxic heavy metals.” The 2015 collapse left 250,000 people without drinking water and killed thousands of fish, so it is expected that the effects of this collapse will be even greater.

Weather

Winter Storm Jayden tore into the South and East Tuesday, closing schools and government offices, forcing the cancelation of more than 1,300 flights and triggering states of emergency in several states. On Monday, the storm forced the cancelation of more than 2,500 flights. Atlanta’s airports came to a standstill. As a polar vortex invades the eastern U.S., Health officials in Baltimore declared a “Code Blue” emergency from Tuesday night through Friday morning, the Baltimore Sun reported. Under such a declaration, agencies offer meals to elderly residents and urge homeless people to enter shelters. The city’s public works department expects water main breaks and encouraged residents to protect outdoor or exposed pipes from the cold. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Monday night. Hundreds of schools were canceled Tuesday. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency Monday, extending through the end of the work week. Schools were also closed throughout the state as temperatures plummeted. The Chicago Zoological Society announced that the Brookfield Zoo will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday because of the frigid weather.

At least three people have been killed and more than 170 were injured by a powerful tornado that struck eastern Havana, Cuba, Sunday night. The storm damaged buildings in several neighborhoods in the Cuban capital. Cars were crushed by debris and streets were flooded. Many neighborhoods lost power.

Rounds of severe weather in southern Turkey brought damaging storms and tornadoes that have killed at least two and injured dozens. On Saturday, a twister injured at least 12 people waiting on a bus to board an airplane at Antalya International Airport. The tornado toppled multiple buses and damaged at least two airplanes.

Signs of the Times

January 25, 2019

­For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book, they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

New York Passes Bill Allowing Abortion Up to Birth

A new abortion law enacted by New York’s Democrat-led state legislature, signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for the first time permits abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, up to the very moment of birth, for almost any reason. Cuomo ordered that landmarks like the spire of One World Trade Center be illuminated in pink to celebrate the new law. Dr. James Dobson, Conservative Christian author, radio broadcaster and founder of Focus on the Family, is calling the law “pure barbarism on a scale rarely seen since the Middle Ages.” To celebrate the new law, Lila Rose, president of the national pro-life Live Action, which has done undercover video investigations revealing the misbehavior of abortion industry players, said, “This is no different than infanticide. New York’s law is barbaric and inhumane and rejects modern science and medical advancements that reveal the development and humanity of life in the womb.” Roman Catholic lay leaders on Thursday demanded that Cardinal Timothy Dolan excommunicate New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signing the state law that allows abortion until birth.

  • As LifeNews noted, ” You can’t give a lethal injection to murderers in New York, but you can give one to an unborn baby.”

Non-Profit Planned Parenthood Made $564 Million in Profits Last Year

“For once, Planned Parenthood is being honest about its number-one mission: abortion. And thanks to the organization’s latest annual report, Americans are seeing just how profitable that mission has been,” reports the Family Research Council. The same weekend that tens of thousands of Americans were marching in Washington to protest abortion, Planned Parenthood decided to tell everyone what a cash cow abortion has been for them. Planned Parenthood recorded a whopping $564 million in profits last year, up $20 million over 2017.  A large proportion of their funding comes from the federal government – that is, taxpayers. Planned Parenthood also announced that they killed 11,373 more babies than the previous years, totaling 332,757 abortions last year. Meanwhile, their other services declined: the provision of contraception decreased by 80,000, cancer screenings by 45,000, and other ‘women’s health services’ such as well-woman exams and prenatal services decreased by 13,000.

Remembering the Unborn Memorial Held at Supreme Court

In honor of the 60 million unborn children whose lives have been taken since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, Liberty Counsel partnered with the National Pro-Life Center to hold a “Remembering the Unborn Memorial.” The event kicked off in front of the US Supreme Court at noon Jan. 22, a date which former President Ronald Reagan designated as the National Sanctity of Human Life Day in a 1984 proclamation. Tuesday also marked the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. As part of Tuesday’s memorial ceremony, 3,000 flowers were placed along the sidewalk in front of the high court—a poignant gesture aimed at highlighting the innocent lives lost and the need for national repentance.

Worldwide Terrorism Decreased by 33% Last Year

Worldwide terror attacks decreased by one-third in 2018 compared to 2017, while resulting non-militant fatalities fell by more than one-quarter, according to the annual Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC) Global Attack Index, released Thursday. Over the course of 2018, JTIC recorded a worldwide total of 15,321 attacks by non-state armed groups, which resulted in a total of 13,483 non-militant fatalities. The figures represented the lowest annual attack total since 2011 and the lowest annual fatality figures since JTIC began collecting comprehensive event data in 2009. Islamic State attacks decreased by almost three-quarters and resultant fatalities by more than 50 percent, although the group remained the deadliest worldwide in terms of number of non-militant fatalities caused. In contrast to the overall downward trend, attacks in Ukraine increased by almost one-fifth as it rose to be the most violent country in terms of recorded attacks. Afghanistan became the deadliest country worldwide in terms of recorded non-militant fatalities, with attacks rising by almost one-third and a significant 80 percent increase in fatalities. Syria dropped to the second highest country in terms of recorded attacks, with attacks falling by almost two-thirds and resultant fatalities falling by almost half.

Shutdown Update

Congressional leaders and President Trump reached a tentative deal Friday to temporarily reopen government without wall funds. The pact would reopen the government for three weeks while leaving the issue of $5.7 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall to further talks. The House and Senate will vote on legislation later Friday to reopen the government until Feb. 15. During that period, lawmakers will discuss funds for border security and Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The Trump administration ordered more than 30,000 employees back to work unpaid to prepare for tax filing season, which is set to begin next week. But of the 26,000 workers called back to the Internal Revenue Service division, about 9,000 workers could not be reached and about 5,000 more claimed a hardship exemption. The percentage of TSA airport screeners missing work hit a record 10% due to financial hardship as the partial government shutdown stretched into its fifth week. Flights at three major airports were being delayed Friday because of an increase in air traffic control employees calling in sick as the government shutdown continued.

Immigration Update

U.S. officials at the southern border will begin sending some asylum applicants back to Mexico on Friday as the administration implements new measures to prevent migrants from waiting in the United States while their cases are processed. The plan, announced by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday night, follows high-level talks between the two governments late last year as U.S. border officials struggled to handle a surge of Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty. Immigrant rights groups have opposed it, saying it violates U.S. and international asylum laws and could face court challenges.

Supreme Court Allows Partial Ban on Transgenders in Military

The Supreme Court will allow President Trump’s partial ban on transgender people serving in the military to take effect while court challenges continue. Responding to Justice Department requests, the high court Tuesday cleared away lower court actions that blocked the controversial policy from being implemented for nearly a year. The order represents a victory for the Trump administration, although the justices stopped short of agreeing to hear the administration’s appeal in the military transgender case, which means lower court challenges can proceed. Four district court judges have blocked the policy, but a federal appeals court last week reversed one of those injunctions.

EPA Pollution Fines Drop 85% Under Trump Administration

Environmental Protection Agency fines for polluters dropped eighty-five percent under the Trump administration, which former officials say cripples its efforts to deter wrongdoing. For the past 20 years, Environmental Protection Agency civil penalties for polluters averaged more than $500 million a year. That number fell to $72 million last year, according to an analysis of EPA data.

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Spars with Atheist Group

Ken Ham, the creationist founder of the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky, is sparring with a national group over whether public schools are legally allowed to visit his religious attractions. Earlier this month the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which promotes the separation of church and state, sent letters to more than 1,000 public school districts in Kentucky and four other states saying that field trips to Ham’s Ark Encounter and Creation Museum are unconstitutional. The letters, sent Jan. 8, were prompted by Ham encouraging public schools to visit his theme park, which features a 510-foot-long model of Noah’s Ark. The same day those letters were sent, Ham fired back by offering free admission to any public schools that take students on official field trips to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, a Christian creationist ministry that runs the Ark Park in Williamstown and the Creation Museum in Petersburg.

Insect Colonies Collapsing

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished. “We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.” The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. Earth’s bugs are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon.”

Increasing Risky Phone Use while Driving is Killing Americans

Americans are using their phones in riskier ways while driving, according to a new report. Although overall cell phone use on the road is down, drivers were “observed manipulating their phones” 57 percent more often in 2018 than they were in 2014, according to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. IIHS experts were able to track the problem by positioning researchers on the side of the road at traffic lights, straight sections of roads and roundabouts. The researchers recorded what drivers were doing when they passed by. Using the most recently available figures, IIHS estimated that about 800 people were killed in crashes in 2017 due to drivers who were using their phones for something other than a call. The study adds credence to suspicions that the nation’s spike in deadly crashes over the last few years is due in part to smartphone use. Distracted driving can occur for other reasons, too, including the use of vehicle infotainment systems.

Economic News

The world’s total debt is hovering near a record at $244 trillion, which is more than three times the size of the global economy, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance. The global debt-to-GDP ratio exceeded 318 percent in the third quarter of last year, despite a stronger pace of economic growth, according to a report by the Washington-based IIF released on last week. Meanwhile, over 1.9 billion people, or 26.2 percent of the world’s population, were living on less than $3.20 per day in 2015. Close to 46 percent of the world’s population was living on less than $5.50 a day. Global income inequality continues to grow worse with each passing year, despite racking up such enormous debt.

Renewable energy, led by solar and wind, is projected to be the fastest-growing source of U.S. electricity generation, according to a report published Friday by the U.S. Energy Department. Boosted by swiftly falling prices, utility-scale solar power is expected to increase by 10% in 2019 and 17% in 2020. Wind power should grow 12% and 14% in those years, vaulting it ahead of hydropower for the first time. Coal, long the king of the power industry, continues to rapidly decline. The share of total power generation from coal-fired power plants tumbled to 28% last year, compared with 45% in 2010, according to the EIA. Coal’s market share is expected to decline to 24% by 2020.

China is expected to top the U.S. as the world’s largest retail market this year, a new report says, underscoring the Asian country’s growing middle class and shift to a consumer-driven economy. Retail sales in China are forecast to grow 7.5 percent to $5.6 trillion in 2019, according to eMarketer’s worldwide retail and e-commerce forecast. Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales are projected to increase 3.3 percent to $5.5 trillion. While growth is slowing for both countries, China is expected to outpace the U.S. through 2022, the report says.

Israel

In another defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, British diplomats attending the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland announced on Thursday that they had finalized their first post-Brexit deal free trade deal with the Jewish State. “I’m delighted that as Britain prepares to leave the European Union and to ensure continuity for our businesses in both directions, we’ve reached agreement in principle today with our colleagues in Israel,” Britain’s Secretary for International Trade Liam Fox as he stood next to Israel’s Economy Minister Eli Cohen.

The city of Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus Christ, was the epicenter of a powerful earthquake late Thursday evening which was felt all over the Galilee region and as far south as Jerusalem. Residents of Nazareth and surrounding communities reported hearing loud explosions during the tremors which lasted for several seconds. It was the latest seismic event in the north of Israel following a series of similar sized quakes in recent months.

Middle East

Israel and Iran are edging dangerously close to a state of all-out war.  On Sunday night, Israeli forces rained missiles down on Iranian forces based in the Damascus area Sunday through Monday. According to the IDF, this was a response to “dozens” of missiles that were fired by Iranian forces in Syria toward targets in Israel earlier that day.  The Israelis were able to intercept the Iranian missiles, but if any of them had gotten through they could have caused a tremendous amount of damage.  Some of the missiles that Israel fired at the Iranians were reportedly intercepted, but quite a few of them did hit their intended targets. The death toll from the airstrikes on military targets in Syria rose to 21, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Palestinian Authority (PA)  spent at least $137 million in payments to terrorist prisoners in 2018, according to a report issued by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israel-based NGO. PMW said that it carried out the research as Israel was preparing to implement a new law that imposes financial sanctions on the PA for its so-called “Pay for Slay” policy. The media monitor group said that it looked at the PA’s financial reports for 2018 which include its payments to the terrorists, both current and released prisoners.

Syria

A state-run TV station in Syria said an explosion occurred mid-afternoon on Tuesday in the city’s Al-Hammam Square, which is usually crowded with people. At least one person died and dozens were injured. Specialized units dismantled a second bomb before it detonated in the same location. The explosions shattered a sense of relative calm in government-controlled areas that had somewhat stabilized after major advances by troops against insurgents in different parts of the country with Russian and Iranian help. Latakia has been a government stronghold since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. The blast came two days after an explosion struck a neighborhood in the capital Damascus, in which state media said there were no casualties. Syria’s civil war has killed nearly half a million people and forced more than half its pre-war population from their homes.

Along two sharp curves of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, the Islamic State is fighting to hold on to the last speck of the vast territory it once controlled. At its height, the group enforced its brutal version of Islamic rule over more than 60,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq. It is now squeezed into two villages occupying six square miles. Its foot soldiers have been engaged in heavy clashes with the American-backed and Kurdish-led militia Syrian Democratic Forces who are battling to take back the turf. While some of the extremists are fighting to the end, local officials say the militants have been surrendering by the dozens, repeating a pattern observed in other cities shortly before the group was overrun. Even with the end of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq within view, Western officials caution that this is not the end of the violent threat posed by the group. It has continued carrying out devastating attacks as it reverts to its insurgent roots, including a suicide bombing that killed four Americans in Manbij last week.

North Korea

Researchers have discovered a secret ballistic missile base in North Korea, according to a report released on Monday by Beyond Parallel, a project sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies defense think tank. The discovery of the Sino-ri base comes after an announcement on Friday that President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un will hold a second summit next month. “The North Koreans are not going to negotiate over things they don’t disclose,” Victor Cha, one of the authors of the report, told NBC News. “It looks like they’re playing a game. They’re still going to have all this operational capability, even if they destroy their disclosed nuclear facilities.” The Beyond Parallel report estimated that Pyongyang has 20 undisclosed sites, where it continues to develop its ballistic missile program, with Sino-ri one of the oldest.

Russia

The Russian military on Wednesday rolled out its new missile and spelled out its specifications, seeking to dispel the U.S. claim that the weapon violates a key nuclear arms pact. The military insisted that the 9M729 land-based cruise missile conforms to the limits of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The U.S. has announced its intention to abandon the INF, charging that the new Russian missile violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,400 miles). Washington said it will suspend its treaty obligations if Russian does not come into compliance by Feb. 2. Lt. Gen. Mikhail Matveevsky, the chief of the Russian military’s missile and artillery forces, said at a meeting with foreign military attaches that the new missile has a maximum range of 480 kilometers (about 300 miles).

Afghanistan

Dozens were killed when the Taliban infiltrated an Afghan intelligence base, in one of the deadliest attacks against the agency. While the Afghan police and army have been dying in record numbers, the loss of elite intelligence forces — who are better trained and equipped — was another indication of the violence stretching the Afghan government’s defenses, even as the United States may be preparing to withdraw some of its troops. The attack, hours before the insurgents announced they had resumed peace talks with American officials, was a sign, analysts said, of how violence is likely to grow deadlier even as the sides of the long war have indicated a willingness to seek a negotiated settlement.

Venezuela

President Trump recognized Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, as the country’s interim president Wednesday, rejecting President Nicolas Maduro’s contested swearing-in two weeks ago to a second term. Canada also announced it was recognizing Guaido. who declared himself interim president before thousands of cheering supporters Wednesday and said he was “formally assuming the responsibility of the national executive.” Tens of thousands of Venezuelans, angry over spiraling inflation, a shortage of basic goods and a migration crisis, took to the streets to demand that Maduro step down. But Maduro is garnering support in other corners: Russia has announced it recognizes Maduro as president. Maduro also appears to be gearing up for a contentious fight and is not walking silently into the background. He gave U.S diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country. The Trump administration ordered all non-emergency U.S. diplomatic staff to leave Venezuela on Thursday amid that country’s growing political turmoil.

Mexico

Homicides in Mexico reached a record-level of 33,341 in 2018, up nearly 33 percent from the previous year, according to official statistics released Monday from the Interior Ministry, a result of the ongoing toll of the country’s drug war. The 33,341 homicides were the most since national record-keeping began in 1997, the government said. Murders in Mexico skyrocketed after the government controversially deployed its army to fight drug trafficking in 2006. More than 200,000 people have been murdered since. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December with a promise to curb the gruesome violence.

Environment

Plastics are threatening the health of the planet and its inhabitants, and they’re not going away because they take seemingly forever to decompose. Plastics are expected to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.  Marine life is choking on the debris: Microplastics are in our soil, our water, our air, getting into our bodies with potential consequences that we don’t fully understand yet. Massive amounts of plastic have piled up in landfills. Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars Petcare, Mondelēz International and others — some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies — are partnering on a potential solution to limit future waste. They’re working together on a project known as Loop, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. It offers consumers an alternative to recycling — a system that isn’t working well these days. Loop is a new way to shop, offering about 300 items — from Tide detergent to Pantene shampoo, Häagen-Dazs ice cream to Crest mouthwash — all in reusable packaging. After using the products, customers put the empty containers in a Loop tote on their doorstep. The containers are then picked up by a delivery service, cleaned and refilled, and shipped out to consumers again – the return of the milk man.

Weather

The death toll rose to 59 Friday, three days after torrential rainfall triggered landslides and overwhelmed a central Indonesia earthen dam, prompting officials to open floodgates that released a deluge of water on a Makassar neighborhood. More than half a foot of rain fell in the area within a 24-hour period ending Tuesday. Officials opened floodgates around 4 p.m. Tuesday when heavy rainfall overwhelmed the Bili Bili dam, an earthen embankment on the Jeneberang River about 20 miles east of Makassar in the Gowa district. The flash flood that resulted quickly rose to a height of more than 5 feet in the Makassar suburb of Katimbang, taking many of the residents by surprise.

Australia’s extreme heatwave is taking a devastating toll on animals. Temperatures reached more than 121 degrees in some places Thursday as at least 28 locations hit all-time highs. Horses and other feral animals are dying of thirst and hunger because many reliable water sources have dried up in the current heatwave. Thirst is suspected in the deaths of about 40 wild horses near Santa Teresa. Another 50 feral horses, or “brumbies,” had to be culled. Ranchers in the Goldfields region of Western Australia say thousands of camels are flocking from the Gibson Desert in search of water. Carmody said about 1,200 camels have been shot on his property since the day after Christmas. Ranchers say another 1,300 camels have been culled on other properties in the past month.

Signs of the Times

January 18, 2019

­Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. (Revelation 3:10-11)

Most Americans Want to Restrict Abortions

Three-quarters of Americans — including 60 percent of self-identified Democrats and 61 percent of those who identify as pro-choice — support restricting legal abortion to the first three months of pregnancy at most, according to a new poll released Tuesday. The study also found that 59 percent of Americans supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks except to save the mother’s life. The phone survey of 1,066 adults was funded and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and conducted by the Marist Poll. The two have teamed up every January since 2008 to gauge Americans’ attitudes toward abortion. The poll found that 55 percent of Americans identify as pro-choice, up four percentage points from the previous year’s survey. The same percentage of respondents said medical professionals with moral objections to abortion should be allowed to opt out of performing the procedure. The survey also found that if the Supreme Court revisits the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, 49 percent of Americans support upholding abortion restrictions legislated by the states while another 16 percent supported outlawing the procedure completely. Just 30 percent of respondents favored a Supreme Court ruling allowing unrestricted abortion.

Trump Administration Supports March for Life

Thousands of anti-abortion activists, including many young people bundled up against the cold weather gripping the nation’s capital, gathered at a stage on the National Mall Friday for their annual march in the long-contentious debate over abortion. Vice President Mike Pence will represent the Trump administration at the annual March for Life by delivering an address at the 37th annual Rose Dinner. Held this year in the grand ballroom of the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel, the Rose Dinner will follow the March for Life on the evening of January 18. “Throughout his extensive career, Vice President Pence has remained exemplary in his commitment to protecting the sanctity of unborn life and it is our utmost privilege to have a pro-life champion of his stature address this year’s Rose Dinner,” March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said.

Judge Forces Christian Groups to Fund Abortions

A group of charitable nuns will be forced pay for drugs that may cause abortions in their employee health plans as a result of a federal judge’s ruling last Sunday. The ruling by Judge Haywood Gilliam, a nominee of pro-abortion President Barack Obama, blocks the Trump administration from enforcing rules that provide wider religious exemptions to groups like Little Sisters of the Poor, the Washington Examiner reported. The Sunday ruling affects employers in the District of Columbia and 13 states, but Gilliam did not block the rules nation-wide as the pro-abortion attorneys general asked. Gilliam, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, also previously blocked another version of the exemptions. The Little Sisters won a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, but new lawsuits pushed them back into court.

Migrants from Terrorist Nations Enter U.S. Via Mexico at Record Rates

Federal agents along the southern border routinely encounter individuals from terrorist nations and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers them one of the top threats to the United States, according to a congressional report made public this month. Titled “Stopping Terrorist Travel Through Illicit Pathways to the Homeland,” the document outlines the findings of a lengthy investigation involving Special Interest Aliens (SIA) by the House Homeland Security Committee, reports Judicial Watch. SIA’s are individuals from countries outside the western hemisphere—mostly the Middle East, Asia and Africa—that pose a national security risk to the U.S. Congressional investigators found that the number of SIAs flowing north via Latin America has increased tremendously in the last few years thanks to established Transitional Criminal Organizations (TCO) that facilitate travel along drug and migrant smuggling routes. In Laredo, Texas alone there was an astounding 300% increase in immigrants from Bangladesh, a south Asian Islamic country well known as a recruiting ground for terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).

President Trump’s Approval Rating Up with Latinos

Surprisingly, President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Latinos shot up nearly 20 points from December to January in a new poll. Key results in the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll show that 50 percent of Latinos support the job Trump is doing, a significant jump from the 31 percent who had the same answer in the December poll. Trump’s support among whites dropped from 50 percent to 40 percent, while his support among African-Americans fell from 19 percent to 11 percent. Overall, Trump’s approval in the most recent poll is 39 percent, down from 42 percent in the previous poll.

More Migrant Children Separated from Parents than First Reported

The Trump administration likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the Southern border than was previously believed, according to a report by government inspectors released on Thursday. The federal government has reported that 2,737 children were forcibly separated from their parents under last year’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. But that number does not represent the full scope of family separations. Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the court, the report said. The report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general said the federal tracking system has been so poor that the precise number of migrant children separated from their parents is unclear.

Majority of Undocumented Immigrants Overstay Visas

Most undocumented immigrants arrive legally and overstay their visas. The Center for Migration Studies says that in 2016-2017, overstayers accounted for 62% of newly arrived undocumented immigrants, outnumbering illegal border crossers for at least the seventh year in a row. “This is not a blip, but a trend which has become the norm,” says CMS executive director Donald Kerwin. The undocumented population from Mexico dropped by 1.3 million from 2010 to 2017, with a 400,000 drop in 2017 alone. “We have made tremendous progress since the year 2000 in reducing undocumented immigration into this country,” study author Robert Warren said.

  • However, the recent phenomena of Central American migrant caravans has changed the narrative

Second Central American Caravan Underway

A new caravan of migrants headed for the United States has left San Pedro Sula, the same city in Honduras where a large caravan left in October and arrived at the United States’ southern border in November. The earlier caravan ballooned to more than 5,000 people before traveling through Guatemala and Mexico and then reaching Tijuana, prompting President Donald Trump to deploy thousands of military troops to the southern border. The latest caravan is part of a growing wave of Central Americans arriving at the southern U.S. border and requesting asylum. Around 1,000 Central American migrants marched freely through the Guatemala-Mexico border on Friday after the gates were left wide open, with Mexican authorities standing down from confronting the caravan. An organizer of the latest migrant caravan was arrested on rape charges in Honduras. Juan Carlos Molina, the subject of an arrest warrant since August 2015, skipped court dates and ultimately became a fugitive.

Third Drug Tunnel Discovered Along Arizona Border

Mexican authorities uncovered another tunnel in Nogales, Sonora – across the border from Nogales, Arizona – which they suspect was used to smuggle drugs and people across the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s the third time they have made such a discovery in less than a month. Police said the tunnel measured about 32 feet in length but offered few other details. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Arizona are also unable to provide information because they furloughed their communication staff due to the ongoing partial government shutdown. Critics routinely point to drug tunnels as a sign that walls don’t work. The vast majority of drugs, including heroin, are increasingly caught at the legal ports of entry, which would be unaffected by the construction of additional physical barriers along the border.

TSA Callouts Causing Long Airport Security Lines

Long lines and staffing issues have hit airports around the country as the partial government shutdown is in its fourth week. Callouts from TSA officers struggling to make ends meet without paychecks hit Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport, on Monday. Short staffing by the Transportation Security Administration caused lengthy security lines there. While other airports have so far been able to weather the shutdown, there are serious questions about how long the system can withstand TSA callouts. TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said Monday afternoon that Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, Miami International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and Washington Dulles International Airport in the DC area were all “exercising their contingency plans.”

Judge Strikes Down Citizenship Question for 2020 Census

A federal district judge Tuesday struck down the Trump administration’s plan to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census, ruling that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross exceeded his authority under federal law. The much-awaited decision by Judge Jesse Furman is likely to wind up at the Supreme Court, which next month is scheduled to consider a portion of the case – whether Ross can be required to give a deposition about the reasons for his decision. But Furman’s ruling temporarily makes that question moot. Ross announced the addition of the citizenship question last March, but it has been tied up in court. The government has not asked about individuals’ citizenship on the Census since 1950. Opponents, including California, New York, the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration rights groups, contend fears of deportation among undocumented immigrants will cause them to be undercounted.

Government Shutdown Hurting Economy

The partial government shutdown is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated, the White House acknowledged on Tuesday, as President Trump’s economists doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost each week the standoff with Democrats continues. The revised estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers show that the shutdown, now in its fourth week, is beginning to have real economic consequences. The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction. To blunt the shutdown’s effects, the administration on Tuesday called tens of thousands of employees back to work, without pay, to process tax returns, ensure flight safety and inspect food and drugs.

IRS Employees Ordered Back to Work Without Pay

The Internal Revenue Service is bringing back 36,000 more furloughed employees starting this week to create a bare bones staff to process tax returns and send out refunds as tax season gets underway. The additional employees, plus a 10,000-person skeleton staff retained after the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, represent about 57 percent of the normal IRS workforce. Because of the federal government shutdown, none of the IRS employees will be paid. Even with the extra workers on hand, IRS services will be severely restricted. The IRS warns taxpayers to expect heavier call volume than usual and longer wait time despite adding more people to answer phones. Walk-in assistance centers around the country will remain closed. The IRS also says it will not conduct audits during the shutdown period and that anyone who had an appointment to discuss an audit should assume the meeting has been canceled.

Tea Party Groups Finally Get Justice in IRS Case

The federal government has been cutting checks to 100 conservative groups as part of a settlement in the class-action lawsuit NorCal v. United States, ending a five-year legal battle. President Obama famously said there was not a “smidgen” of evidence that the IRS unfairly targeted tea party groups, but hundreds of such groups described long delays and intrusive scrutiny — proven to be illegal — such as demanding membership information and religious beliefs. A 2013 inspector general’s report found the IRS flagged tax-exempt filings based on a conservative-sounded name, such as “patriots” or “tea party,” and the applications sat untouched for months. Most of the tea party groups are receiving $14,000 each as part of the settlement.

Food Recalls in U.S. Increasing

Americans experience more food recalls today than they did five years ago, particularly when it comes to meat and poultry, a government watchdog analysis found. Over the five-year period, poultry posted the most recalls with 168 followed by beef (137) and pork (128). Meat and poultry recalls increased by two-thirds from 2013 to 2018 while food recalls overall edged up 10 percent, according to the report published Thursday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne disease each year in the United States. The analysis follows a year full of food safety scares. Two E. coli contaminations in romaine lettuce left five dead and more than 100 hospitalized. A salmonella outbreak in raw beef sickened 246 people and caused 12 million pounds of beef to be discarded.

Economic News

China’s huge export industry just suffered its worst month in two years but still managed to rack up a record trade surplus with the United States in 2018 despite new tariffs. The value of goods shipped from China to the rest of the world fell by more than 4% in December, compared to the same period a year ago. Despite last month’s decline, China racked up a record trade surplus with the United States in 2018, according to Chinese data. The $323 billion gap in value between how much China sells to the United States and how much it buys from it has been at the heart of the trade dispute.

The Chinese investment boom into America has almost completely vanished. Foreign direct investment from China into the United States plummeted by 83% in 2018, according to a report released Monday by law firm Baker McKenzie. Not only are Chinese firms drastically scaling back investments, but they’ve embarked on a record-setting wave of sales of real estate, hospitality and entertainment businesses. Net Chinese foreign direct investment into North America turned negative in 2018 to the tune of $5.5 billion. Another $12 billion of Chinese assets around the world are expected to be sold this year.

U.S. money market fund assets increased for a fifth straight week to their highest level since early 2010, as investors further raised their cash pile due to recent market volatility. During this five-week stretch, money fund assets have risen by $159.53 billion. Assets of money market funds, which are seen as nearly as safe as bank accounts, jumped $35.62 billion to $3.029 trillion. This marked the first time that money fund assets surpassed $3 trillion since the week ended March 9, 2010, following the Great Recession and its accompanying market crash.

The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline has dropped 12 cents a gallon over the past three weeks to a nationwide average of $2.31. The average gas price has dropped 66 cents over the past 3-1/2 months. Falling crude oil costs are the main reason for the decrease at the pump. The highest average price in the nation is $3.46 a gallon in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lowest average is $1.80 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Anti-Semitism

On Thursday, freshman Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar was appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a move that has drawn heavy criticism of her party’s leadership due to Omar’s positions on Israel. Omar, a Muslim woman from Somalia, has a history of posting anti-Israel messages on social media, some of which have resulted in accusations of overt anti-Semitism. In one 2012 tweet, Omar exclaimed, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Omar is part of a group of recently elected members of Congress touted as the new “progressive” face of the Democratic party. Opposition to Israel is a key policy position for these lawmakers.

The Women’s March, which was hailed as an international rebuke of President Trump in 2017 when throngs of activists took the streets the day after his inauguration, is steadily losing supporters amid an anti-Semitism scandal that won’t go away. The march will be held in D.C. again on Saturday at the National Mall, but the controversial ties of organizers have caused the campaign to lose steam. At the center of the controversy are leaders’ ties to and statements about radical Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Both Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian activist who has embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against investment in Israel, and co-President Tamika Mallory have ties to Farrakhan. “White folks are going down. And Satan is going down. And Farrakhan, by God’s grace, has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through,” Farrakhan said in a sermon attended by Mallory.

An Israeli student studying abroad in Australia was on the phone with her sister overseas when she was killed in an “absolutely horrendous, horrific attack,” police said Thursday. Aiia Maasarwe, a 21-year-old from Israel, was walking home after getting off a tram when she was attacked just after midnight Wednesday in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora. In 2017, The Economist ranks Melbourne as the world’s fifth-safest city. However, the country’s human rights commission said that Australia “has a disturbingly high rate of violence against women.”

United Nations

Hundreds of protesters marched outside the Millennium Hilton Hotel in New York City on Tuesday as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas took over the chairmanship of the largest bloc of member states at the United Nations. The Group of 77, or G77—a U.N. group that includes 134 developing countries—also elected Riyad Mansour, head of the Palestinian mission, to be its next leader of the G77. This move came after the U.N. General Assembly held a special vote last October to elevate the Palestinian mission, which was awarded observer status in 2012, and thus make it eligible to lead the bloc. The protest was organized by New York City Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Stuart Force, whose son Taylor Force, a U.S. army veteran, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016 while on a graduate-student trip to Israel with a group from Vanderbilt University. The terrorist’s family was rewarded by the Palestinian Authority as part of its “pay to slay” policy that gives money, including U.S. taxpayer funds, to terrorists and their families—a controversial system also mentioned at Tuesday’s protest.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday confirmed that Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, including a weapons facility in a weekend airstrike, as the military announced the discovery of a sixth and final tunnel dug by the Lebanese terror group for cross-border attacks. Netanyahu said, “In the past 48 hours, Israel attacked an Iranian weapons warehouse at the international airport in Damascus. This reflects our consistent policy and strong determination to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. If necessary, we will step up these attacks.” He added, “At the same time, the IDF has exposed a sixth tunnel – the largest of all – that crossed into Israeli territory. This brings Operation Northern Shield to a successful close. We will continue to monitor all activity by Hezbollah, and by Iran and its proxies. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure the security of Israel.”

Following violent street protests by hundreds of Arab Christians and several complaints by senior clergy against a display at the Haifa Museum of Art entitled “Sacred Goods” which includes the “McJesus” sculpture by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, the Ministry of Culture attempted to defund the Museum on Tuesday before being blocked from doing so by the Department of Justice. “It is forbidden to block funding to cultural institutions because of the content they exhibit,” Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote in a letter to Culture Minister Miri Regev Tuesday. The “McJesus” sculpture shows the Ronald McDonald clown crucified on a cross.

Iran

While Iran characterized its recent spacecraft launch as nothing more than an “innocent satellite,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified it as “the first stage of an intercontinental missile” Iran is developing in violation of international agreements. Iran admitted that while it had launched the Payem satellite, it never reached orbit. Netanyahu says the launch is part of the Iranian government’s lies, beginning with its denial of trying to develop a nuclear weapon and its flaunting of the nuclear accord reached with world powers. Earlier in January, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s plans for sending satellites into orbit demonstrate the country’s defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Britain

British lawmakers have soundly rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal, in the biggest defeat for any UK government in the modern parliamentary era. After 200 speeches across eight days of debate, members of the House of Commons ignored the Prime Minister’s final pleas to support her plan and threw it out by 432 votes to 202. The margin of defeat — greater than the previous record set in 1924 — means the Prime Minister now faces a deep political crisis with no clear way forward. The opposition Labour party immediately triggered a vote of no-confidence in May’s government, hoping to capitalize on a perilous moment to force a general election. However, May survived Wednesday’s vote by a 325-306 margin, and will remain in power for now. She has until Monday to devise a new Brexit plan acceptable to lawmakers. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, whether a deal is in place or not. “Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancor,” May said.

Syria

An explosion Wednesday in the northern Syria town of Manjib caused U.S. casualties, the U.S. military in Iraq said. Three U.S. service members were killed and another wounded by the explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today,” the military’s Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, said the cause of the explosion was a suicide bomb outside a restaurant. The group said the attack killed 7 people and wounded 10 others. Reuters ISIS claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Since 2016, only four U.S. troops had been killed in Syria before the latest attack, according to Pentagon records. Last month, President Donald Trump announced that the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn within months.

Kenya

Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for an attack at an upscale hotel complex in Kenya’s capital on Monday that sent people fleeing from the scene shortly after explosions and gunfire erupted and left a number of 14 people dead. A group of armed assailants stormed the complex in Nairobi’s Westlands neighborhood Tuesday and reigned terror as people rushed to safety or took shelter inside the buildings. Hours after the assault began, the extremist group said its fighters were still inside the complex. One of the fatalities was American, a business investment adviser and former Peace Corps member.

Columbia

The suspect in a car bombing that left 21 people dead on Thursday in Bogotá, the capital,was a member of the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group, the defense ministry said Friday. José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, the assailant who was also killed in the attack, was a member of the National Liberation Army, a Marxist rebel group known as the ELN. The group has stepped up attacks against the government since its rival, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, signed a peace deal with the government in 2016. Thursday’s attack was the first car bombing in Bogotá in years, a gruesome reminder of a time when drug lords and rebel groups ravaged the capital’s streets with car bombs, killing hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces. Since the signing of the peace accords, the Colombian government has said it turned the page on that violent era.

North Korea

A Pentagon report released Thursday described North Korea’s missile and nuclear program as an “extraordinary threat” to the United States, warning that the U.S. must “remain vigilant” despite ongoing diplomatic engagement with the North. The Missile Defense Review report, introduced by President Donald Trump during a speech at the Pentagon, was released just hours ahead of a top North Korean envoy’s arrival in Washington to discuss a potential second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.   The report emphasized that Pyongyang has invested considerable resources and undertaken extensive nuclear and missile testing “in order to realize the capability to threaten the U.S. homeland with missile attack.” The White House announced Friday that President Trump will have his second meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un at the end of February.

China

A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death Monday in a sudden retrial in a drug smuggling case that is likely to escalate tensions between the countries over the arrest in Canada of a top Chinese technology executive. The court announced that it had given Robert Lloyd Schellenberg the death penalty after rejecting his plea of innocence and convicting him of being an accessory to drug smuggling. It gave no indication whether the penalty could be commuted, but Schellenberg’s fate may become intertwined in diplomatic negotiations over China’s demand for their executive’s release. Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. But suddenly last month, an appeals court agreed with prosecutors who said the sentence was too lenient, and scheduled Monday’s retrial with just four days’ notice. The Chinese press began publicizing Schellenberg’s case in December after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States over charges of spying and circumventing sanctions on Iran.

The China National Space Administration released a photo Tuesday showing that cotton seeds brought to the far side of the moon by the country’s Chang’e 4 lander had germinated. Chinese authorities say the seeds, dormant during the 20-day journey to the moon, started growing after ground control activated the watering system in the probe’s “mini biosphere,” which contains air and soil. rapeseed and potato seeds have also sprouted, but cotton was first. The lander also brought rock cress, fruit fly eggs, and yeast to the moon, all chosen because they were small, hardy organisms that could thrive in a confined space. The sprouts suggest that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment.

Environment

The ice in Antarctica is melting six times faster than it did just 40 years ago, a new National Academy of Sciences study reports. Lead author Eric Rignot, an ice scientist at the University of California–Irvine, said the melting ice has caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch since 1979.  While that may not sound like much, the amount is certainly alarming to climate scientists, as it’s a preview of things to come: This isn’t the floating sea ice around Antarctica, which melts and refreezes with the seasons. Instead, this is freshwater ice on the gigantic ice sheets that cover most of the continent. Since 2009, almost 278 billion tons of ice has melted away from Antarctica per year, the new study found. In the 1980s, it was losing “only” 44 billion tons a year.

Air quality has worsened to dangerous levels in several Asian countries in recent days, becoming so unhealthy in Thailand that leaders have handed out face masks and are likely to turn to cloud seeding in hopes that rain will clear the air. The severe decline in air quality has been blamed on weather patterns, as well as construction dust, vehicle exhaust and other pollutants. In South Korea, unusually high pollution levels prompted emergency measures to reduce the health hazard. India’s cities are among the world’s smoggiest and it is just starting to tackle the problem. Key targets include reducing burning of field waste, firewood and charcoal, cleaning up thermal power and auto emissions and heavily polluting brick production and controlling dust from construction. Critics say the plan lacks details on enforcement and funding.

Weather

Californians began cleaning up Friday after a series of storms brought a deluge of heavy rain and mountain snow that killed at least six people, triggered a damaging tornado, numerous mudslides and prompted more than a dozen high water rescues. Thirteen people, some of which were homeless, were rescued Thursday from islands that formed on the flooded Santa Ana River in Riverside and San Bernardino counties east of Los Angeles. Numerous mudslides in the Santa Cruz Mountains forced the closure of Highway 35 and Highway 15 on Thursday. A mudslide Wednesday morning caused significant traffic delays on Highway 101 in Sausalito north of the Golden Gate Bridge. In Southern California, a large mudslide Thursday threatened homes on in the Nichols Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills. Water overtopped the Matilija Dam Thursday northwest of Los Angeles after nearly 6 inches of rain fell on the region. Numerous mud and rockslides made many canyon roads impassable, including Highway 27, which was closed in Topanga Canyon Thursday afternoon after a rockslide blocked the road.

More than 150,000 customers in North Carolina and Virginia woke up to no electricity Sunday as Winter Storm Gia shoved into the mid-Atlantic states. Dozens of roads in North Carolina were closed because of falling trees. In North Carolina, ice was the issue. In the nation’s capital, 3 to 6 inches of snow fell overnight and more was expected. At the three major airports serving the area, Reagan National, Dulles and Baltimore, 400 flights had been canceled by 10 a.m. Sunday. The storm, which left hundreds of motorists stranded on Missouri roads and caused scores of crashes, is blamed in the deaths of at least thirteen people, including an Illinois state trooper. More than 63,000 Missouri customers and almost 30,000 households in Kansas remained without power Sunday morning. The storm dumped up to 20 inches of snow on parts of Missouri.

A massive avalanche plowed into a hotel in southern Germany Sunday as heavy snowfall continued to pound Central Europe, killing 26 people in this month alone. While the hotel itself was damaged, no injuries to the hotel’s 100 guests were reported. About 1,100 snowed-in people in the nearby village of Balderschwang were unable to leave because of additional avalanche risks along the roads leading out.

Australia is in the midst of a scorching heat wave this week that has set all-time temperature records with four of its most sweltering days in history. Marble Bar in northwest Australia has experienced the hottest temperature since the weekend, topping out at 120.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Not far behind is Tarcoola in South Australia which hit 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the hottest temperature in its history dating to 1903. At least five other locations in southeast Australia set all-time record highs on Wednesday.

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

Signs of the Times

January 11, 2019

­Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

Biblical Arguments For & Against a Border Wall

A case can be made both for and against a border wall using Scripture:

  • Pro: God “fixed the borders of the peoples” (Deuteronomy 32:8) and delineated the borders of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:1-15; Ezekiel 47:13-23). We are to guard ourselves against those who would harm us (Luke 11:21; Proverbs 25:26; Nehemiah 4:17-18).
  • Con: Scripture teaches: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21; cf. Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:19-22; Ezekiel 47:21-23; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 25:35, 40; Hebrews 13:2).

There are no perfect solutions in this fallen world of good and evil – that is, until Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom of mercy and justice. In the meantime, however, as we try to balance these two Biblical principles, we must remember that Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love every human being, even our enemies (Matthew 22:34-40, 5:43-48).

Migrant Flu, Pneumonia & Tuberculosis Rampant at Border

Border authorities have been referring 50 people a day for urgent medical care, including tuberculosis, flu, pneumonia and even pregnant women about to give birth, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said. Most of those in need of care are children, and a staggering 28 percent are under age 5, having been dragged along for the trip by parents who in many cases are hoping to use the children as a shield against speedy deportation from the U.S. The numbers were released after a full review was done of all children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection in the wake of two illegal-immigrant children who died in U.S. hospitals in December. McAleenan said most of those needing help were ill when they arrived at the border, and some appear to have made the initial decision to leave even while ailing, adding that he’s never seen anything like this before.

What If the Government Shutdown Lasts for Months?

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers didn’t receive their paychecks for the first time in this shutdown. Senators passed a bill Thursday to ensure all federal employees, whether they are still working or were furloughed, will be paid in full when the partial government shutdown ends. Saturday will be the  22nd day of the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history. President Trump says he will keep the partial government shutdown going until he gets funding for the border wall. If so, NBC news says the following effects may be triggered: 38 million low-income Americans lose food stamps; 6 million face an uncertain timetable for collecting tax refunds; 2 million without rental assistance and facing possible eviction; 800,000 federal employees plunged into dire financial straits; Shuttered parks and museums while overstressed airports cause tourism to tank; Federal court system slows to a crawl; Disaster relief money doesn’t get to storm-ravaged areas.

  • Of course, this is a ‘doomsday’ scenario unlikely to fully manifest – Trump is more likely to declare a national emergency and use the Army Corps of Engineers to build the wall. White House officials also said Friday that they are considering diverting disaster relief funds toward building the wall.

New California Governor to Expand Health Coverage for Illegals

Newly sworn-in California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to provide “sanctuary to all who seek it.”  Newsome also proposed extending state health care coverage to more illegal immigrants living within the Golden State’s borders. Hours after assuming office, Mr. Newsom released sweeping health care proposals to raise the age limit for illegal aliens covered by Medi-Cal from 19 to 26, which would make California “the first state in the nation to cover young undocumented adults through a state Medicaid program,” according to a Monday release from the governor’s office. Mr. Newsom, who ran on a universal health care platform, also proposed expanding Obamacare subsidies to middle-class earners and reinstating the Obamacare individual mandate at the state level. “No state has more at stake on the issue of health care. California must lead,” said Mr. Newsom in a statement. “We will use our market power and our moral power to demand fairer prices for prescription drugs. And we will continue to move closer to ensuring health care for every Californian.”

Anti-Trafficking Bill Signed into Law by President Trump

President Donald Trump has signed into law the Frederick Douglass Act, a bill authorizing $430 million to combat human trafficking. The measure, which was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), is designed to boost government efforts to prevent sex and labor trafficking and protect victims both nationally and internationally. The legislation received bipartisan support, with Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California, co-sponsoring the bill. The legislation is named in honor of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass fought to abolish the institution. Serving as an American diplomat, he was the U.S. minister and consul general to Haiti for three years.

President Trump Halts FEMA Funds for California Wildfires

President Trump on Wednesday said he has ordered a halt to federal emergency funds for California to fight wildfires and manage its forests unless officials in the western U.S. state can “get their act together.” Trump accused the state of poor forest management. The state’s former top firefighter, Ken Pimlott, disagrees with Trump’s assessment. He said last month that California leads the nation in clearing away dead trees and thinning areas to remove fuel for fires. Insurance claims from the recent spate of California wildfires have topped $9 billion and are expected to grow, the state insurance commissioner reported last month.

Number of Abortion Facilities Continued to Decline in 2018

The number of abortion clinics in America continued to decline in 2018, following a trend that has seen an overall decrease of 159 abortion facilities since 2012, reports Operation Rescue. Overall, in 2018, 40 abortion facilities closed or no longer qualify as abortion clinics. Today, there are a total of 697 abortion centers left in America. That total includes 467 facilities that conduct surgical abortions – down dramatically from the high-water mark of 2,176 surgical facilities documented in 1991.  This represents a massive 79 percent decrease in the number of surgical abortion facilities over the past 27 years. Clinics that offered abortion drugs only, such as abortion pills or other chemical means, increased in number by 17 facilities to a total of 230.

Record Warming of Oceans is Accelerating

The world’s seas were the warmest on record in 2018, scientists announced Thursday. Also, ocean temperatures are rising faster than previously thought, a new paper said. Seas are warming as much as 40 percent faster than an estimate from a United Nations panel just five years ago. While 2018 was the 4th-warmest year on record in the atmosphere, it was the warmest year on record in the oceans, as was 2017 and 2016 before that. The unusual warmth in the seas is harming marine life and coral reefs. It’s also contributing to rising sea levels around the world as ice melts near Antarctica and Greenland.

  • End-time weather will continue to become more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11). “A third of the living creatures in the sea died.” (Revelation 8:9)

U.S. Cancer Death Rate has Declined for 25 Years

The rate of people dying from cancer in the United States has dropped steadily for 25 years, a new study says, but disparities remain between the rich and the poor. The overall nationwide cancer death rate fell continuously from 1991 to 2016 by a total of 27%, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. That translates to about 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths total than would have been expected if death rates stayed at their peak, which was seen in 1991. The data shows that the nationwide cancer death rate climbed during most of the  1900s, largely driven by jumps in lung cancer deaths due to smoking and tobacco use. The racial gap in cancer mortality is continuing to narrow – the cancer rate for blacks was 33% higher than whites in the mid-1990s, and the current data now indicate it’s just 14% higher. Between 2012 and 2016, the overall cancer death rate was about 20% higher among people living in the poorest counties in the United States compared with those in the most affluent counties. The socioeconomic inequalities in cancer mortality has widened over the past three decades overall. Meanwhile, on a global scale, the number of people around the world who have cancer appears to be growing, according to the World Health Organization.

USA Had World’s 3 Costliest Natural Disasters in 2018

The USA led the world in catastrophes last year. Racking up an overall damage cost of $16.5 billion, the devastating and deadly Camp Fire that ravaged California in November was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018. In second and third place last year were Hurricanes Michael ($16 billion) and Florence ($14 billion). Florence dumped heavy rain across the Carolinas in September, and Michael tore into the Florida Panhandle in October. Michael, which had a wind speed of 155 mph at landfall, was the fourth-strongest hurricane on record to hit the USA. It reduced the small town of Mexico Beach, Florida, to rubble. The disastrous Camp Fire, California’s deadliest on record with 86 fatalities, stood out for its ferocity: “Such massive wildfires appear to be occurring more frequently as a result of climate change,” said Torsten Jeworrek of insurance giant Munich Re. “Action is urgently needed on building codes and land use to help prevent losses.”

  • Extreme weather will continue to worsen as the end-times progress (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Economic News

The U.S. Postal Service lost $3.9 billion in 2018, attributing the losses to drops in mail volume and the costs of pensions and health care. It was the 12th year in a row the agency reported a loss despite growth in package shipping. Consequently, the Postal Service announced a 5-cent increase in the cost of the first-class forever stamps from 50 cents to 55 cents starting January 27th. The nickel increase is the largest percentage rise since 1991, when postage increased from 25 to 29 cents. Other mailing services will see price increases averaging about 2.5 percent.

It’s not just stocks: the global housing market is in for a rough patch, which has turned ugly for many homeowners and investors from Vancouver to London, with markets in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia already showing increased signs of softening. Macro factors have triggered a global economic slowdown that is unraveling luxury marketplaces worldwide, according to Bloomberg. As a result, a turning point has been reached, with home prices globally now under pressure, and rising mortgage rates leading to depressed consumer optimism, while also triggering a housing affordability crisis, S&P Global Ratings said in a December report. To make matters worse, a simultaneous drop in house prices globally could lead to “financial and macroeconomic instability,” the IMF warned.

Baby boomers were supposed to be retiring. Instead, they’re still driving U.S. job growth. Americans 55 and over made up about half of all employment gains in 2018 despite only representing a quarter of the total work force. Of the 2.9 million new jobs recorded by Labor’s survey of households last year, 1.4 million were taken by people 55 and over. And in December, 39.2 percent of Americans in that age group were working, the largest portion since 1961, according to the monthly employment report of the Labor Department.

According to a recent survey by Bankrate, nearly 40% of all Americans now have a side hustle. Of course, a side hustle can be almost anything, be it the full-time employee who drives for Lyft after work, or the stay-at-home mom who sells her art on Etsy, or the musician who teaches piano between gigs. But whatever the case, the advent of the gig economy means that these side hustles are not unusual. In fact, they are usually lucrative. According to Bankrate, the average side hustler earns about $8,000 a year.

The global market for smartphones is shrinking, and two of its biggest players are hurting badly. Apple and Samsung have both warned of slumping sales in the last quarter of 2018. Samsung’s South Korean competitor LG warned of an 80% drop in operating profit in the same period compared to the previous year. The industry declined around 1% in 2018, according to preliminary forecasts by tech consultancies Canalys and Counterpoint Research. That’s the first annual decline for the smartphone market ever. IDC, another research firm, has forecast that the drop will be as steep as 3%.The main drag has come from the world’s biggest smartphone market, China, where sales have been falling for almost two years. due to a slowing economy, a weaker currency and a long-drawn out trade battle with the United States.

Middle East

After years of advocacy work and 18 months of governmental research, Israel says it is ready to demand compensation for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced out of seven Arab countries and Iran following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. “The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms” in those countries, and “to restore to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property what is rightfully theirs,” said Israel’s Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the government’s handling of the issue. Israel is set to seek $250 billion in compensation from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and Iran. Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries fled or were expelled in 1948 and later, while violent riots left many Jews dead or injured.

During a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, the Israeli leader raised the issue of the United States’ recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Netanyahu said, “When you’re there, you’ll be able to understand perfectly why we’ll never leave the Golan Heights, and why it’s important that all countries recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Israel captured the area after Syria and three other Arab nations attacked the Jewish state in 1967’s Six Day War. Israel defeated the Arab forces and gained control of the Golan, in addition to all of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. The international community has been reticent to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the strategically crucial territory.

Israeli Air Force fighter jets and an attack helicopter struck a number of terror targets at a Hamas military camp in the north of the Gaza Strip last Sunday night. The air attack was in retaliation for a missile that was launched earlier that evening from Hamas territory toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon. The missile was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile system. The Hamas missile launch may have been in retaliation an attack by Israeli military choppers on two Hamas positions east of the city of Khan Younis earlier Sunday evening in response to an improvised explosive device (IED) tied to a cluster of balloons that terrorists launched from Gaza into Israel.

Syria

President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, rolled back on Sunday Trump’s decision to rapidly withdraw from Syria, laying out conditions for a pullout that could leave American forces there for months or even years. Bolton, making a visit to Israel, told reporters that American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic State were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the United States. He and other top White House advisers have led a behind-the-scenes effort to slow Mr. Trump’s order and reassure allies, including Israel. However, the first U.S. troops have begun to leave Syria, the New York Times reported Friday. The Pentagon is providing few details, except to say the U.S.-led coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal.”

Egypt

Christians in Egypt are celebrating the dedication of the Middle East’s largest church for Coptic Christians. The building is a gift to the Church from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He commissioned the cathedral in 2017 as part of a new capital being built outside of Cairo. He said the new church should be considered “a message of peace and love to the world.” Joel Rosenberg, who led a delegation of evangelicals to the dedication ceremony, said, “I really think it’s a game changer that a Sunni Arab Muslim President of the world’s largest Arab country has built a church, the largest in the Middle East and given it as a gift to the Christians of Egypt. We’ve never seen anything like it in history. And I think President Sisi is sending a message not just to his own people but to all Muslims that Muslims and Christians can live together in coexistence. That’s an extraordinary development.”

United Kingdom

More Britons want to remain a member of the European Union than leave, according to a survey published on Sunday which also showed voters want to make the final decision themselves. Britain is due leave the EU on March 29, but Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to get her exit deal approved by parliament, opening up huge uncertainty over whether a deal is possible, or even whether the country will leave at all. The survey by polling firm YouGov showed that if a referendum were held immediately, 46 percent would vote to remain, 39 percent would vote to leave, and the rest either did not know, would not vote, or refused to answer the question.

China

Two Huawei executives have been arrested in Poland on charges of spying for China. Poland’s counterintelligence service confirmed on Friday that a Chinese citizen suspected of spying had been arrested. Polish state media identified the suspect as Huawei’s sales director in the country. Huawei is one of China’s leading tech companies. It sells more smartphones than Apple and builds advanced telecommunications networks in countries around the world. Huawei is viewed by U.S. government officials as a national security risk which has been dodging the sanctions on Iran and embedding spyware into its telecommunications products. Other countries have concerns too: Huawei has been prevented from supplying next-generation 5G equipment to Australia and New Zealand. The company has attracted greater scrutiny following the arrest of its chief financial officer last month in Canada.

Congo

The Congo’s Catholic Church has rejected the results of the Central African nation’s presidential election, saying they don’t match the data collected by its observers. There was widespread surprise Thursday after the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s electoral commission announced that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi had won the presidency. The Catholic group known as the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, said it had deployed more than 40,000 observers to all polling centers across the country. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said the election results did not match what was witnessed during the vote count. The results came after nearly two weeks of speculation and reports of irregularities in the December 30 vote. If deemed legitimate, it would be the country’s first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Environment

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose an estimated 3.4 percent in 2018, according to new research — a jarring increase fueled by a booming economy still largely dependent on fossil fuels. Even with the closing of several coal plants, it’s the biggest increase in eight years, according to a preliminary estimates published Tuesday. The surge comes as scientists say the world needs to be aggressively cutting its emissions to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. The new research indicates that U.S. power-sector emissions rose by 1.9%. and that the transportation sector “held its title as the largest source of U.S. emissions for the third year running,” due to a growth in demand for diesel and jet fuel offsetting a modest decline in gasoline use.

Each year, monarchs in the western United States migrate from inland areas to California’s coastline to spend the winter The number of monarch butterflies turning up at California’s wintering sites has dropped by about 86% compared to only a year ago, according to the Xerces Society, which organizes a yearly count of the iconic creatures. That’s bad news for a species whose numbers have already declined an estimated 97 percent since the 1980s. The count so far shows that the number of monarchs at 97 sites has dropped from around 148,000 in 2017 to just over 20,400 this year. What’s causing the dramatic drop-off is a mystery.

Weather

A sprawling winter storm is spreading snow along a 1,500-mile path from Denver to New York City. It will crank up on Friday and should last until at least late Sunday before it peters out. Other big cities in the path of the storm include Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington and Baltimore. St. Louis should see the most snow from the storm, with as much as 8 inches likely. Snow should start there on Friday morning, potentially leading to commuting issues. For many areas, this will be a long-duration winter storm event that lasts more than 12 hours and perhaps as much as 48 hours in some cases, AccuWeather said.

The threat of avalanches kept communities in the northern Alps on edge after a series of storms pummeled Central, Eastern and Northern Europe with heavy snow, killing at least 16. The latest storm left several dead over the weekend and trapped hundreds of tourists in alpine villages. Travel in the region has been crippled by the heavy snowfall, with numerous train connections halted and hundreds of flights canceled. Many roadways, including major highways, are closed because of the treacherous conditions. Some ski resorts have reported up to 7 feet of snow in higher elevations, forcing some resorts to close. Several people were injured Thursday after an avalanche triggered by heavy snow accumulation struck a hotel in northeastern Switzerland.

The series of storms started with a powerhouse tempest sweeping in from the North Atlantic into Scandinavia and northern Europe as the new year arrived. Strong onshore winds drove water levels up to 6 feet above normal Germany. Water levels in some parts of Denmark were the highest in two decades. The system then took a sharp nosedive into eastern Europe, driving moist cold air into the higher elevations and pouring out prolific mountain snow over parts of the Alps and other mountain ranges of eastern and southern Europe. Several feet of snow buried parts of southern Poland. Residents of some Italian villages resorted to digging narrow alleys to get through city streets. Heavy snow also triggered travel headaches in Greece. Snow in Istanbul, Turkey, delayed flights Friday and Monday. Much heavier snow fell over mountain locations of central and eastern Turkey. Heavy snow stranded motorists in the higher elevations of Lebanon Sunday and Monday.

 

Signs of the Times

January 5, 2019

­Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Abortions Leading Cause of Death in the World

More people died from abortions in 2018 than any other cause of death in the world. According to LifeNews, data compiled by Worldometers reveal that approximately 42 million abortions occurred around the world last year, making it the leading cause of death. Deaths from abortion exceeded those from cancer, HIV/Aids, suicide, and car accidents. Those 42 million abortion deaths are not included in the total death count worldwide, which was 59 million. In the United States, abortion rates have been declining for several years but it is still one of the leading causes of death in the US. An estimated 1 million babies are aborted each year in the US.

First Bill Passed by New Congress Restores Funding to Planned Parenthood

In a vote late Thursday night, House Democrats passed a bill attempting to end the partial government shutdown that also funds the Planned Parenthood abortion giant. The vote on the bill came just hours after Democrats took over the House and installed abortion activist Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. Democrats want to restore the $100 million President Donald Trump took away from Planned Parenthood when he defunded its International arm during his first week in office. The Trump policy prohibits taxpayer funding to international groups that promote and/or provide abortions overseas. The House voted 241 to 190 for the bill with all Democrats voting for it and all but 7 Republicans voting against it.

Parents Pull Kids from Boy Scouts, Choose Faith-Based Organizations

More and more Christian parents are pulling their kids from the Boy Scouts of America in exchange for a faith-based organization, CBN News reports. Many Christian parents who do not agree with the new secular policies of BSA are pulling their kids out of the century-old scouting organization and opting for Trail Life USA, a faith-based alternative. Since the BSA policy change in 2015 that allowed gay adults to lead boy scout troops and the 2017 decision to allow girls and transgender boys to join troops, many Christian parents have moved away from the organization that once emphasized the importance of a nuclear family. According to World, Trail Life, which was founded in 2014, has seen significant growth since these decisions were made. The outlet reports that the organization now has over 27,000 members and around 800 troops across all 50 states, while CBS News says the Boy Scouts have lost 425,000 members.

1.5 Million Inactive Voters Still on California’s Rolls

Judicial Watch announced Wednesday that it has signed a settlement agreement with the State of California and County of Los Angeles under which they will begin the process of removing from their voter registration rolls as many as 1.5 million inactive registered names that may be invalid. These removals are required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA is a federal law requiring the removal of inactive registrations from the voter rolls after two general federal elections (encompassing from 2 to 4 years). Inactive voter registrations belong, for the most part, to voters who have moved to another county or state or have passed away. In its lawsuit, Judicial Watch alleged that Los Angeles County has more voter registrations on its voter rolls than it has citizens who are old enough to register and eleven of California’s 58 counties have registration rates exceeding 100 percent of the age-eligible citizenry.

Border Patrol Reports Rampant Migrant Illness

Hundreds of migrants and their children seeking to enter the U.S. from Mexico are arriving with illnesses, forcing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seek additional medical assistance and boost medical screenings, the agency disclosed Monday. Between Dec. 22 and Sunday, the agency reported 451 cases referred to doctors or other providers, including 259 children. Among the children, half of the cases involved kids under the age of 5. The ill migrants have been arriving with all kinds of ailments, many with flu or pneumonia that can be particularly pervasive and dangerous this time of year. Seventeen migrants have been hospitalized, including six children, according to the agency. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement last week that the Border Patrol has detailed 139,817 migrants on the Southwest border in the past two months. That compares to 74,946 for the same period last year. These include 68,510 family members and 13,981 unaccompanied children.

U.S. Fires Tear Gas at Migrants on Border

The new year brought continued tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana as U.S. authorities fired tear gas at a ‘violent mob’ of illegal immigrants from the Central American caravan who attempted to climb over and burrow under a section of border fence. Authorities fired tear gas into Mexico to keep roughly 150 migrants from breaching the border fence. The tear gas affected the migrants, including women and children, as well as members of the press. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that the gas was aimed at rock throwers on the Mexican side who prevented agents from helping children being passed over the concertina wire. The agency says 25 migrants were detained. Such clashes have been common as the migrants, who have put their names on a waiting list that is thousands of names long, have grown restless, with some opting to try and force their way across the border. A new caravan of migrants, estimated at up to 15,000 people, is set to depart from Honduras in mid-January a few months after the previous caravan, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Mexican President Proposes Plan to Reduce Migration to U.S.

In a bid to reduce migration to the U.S. and attract investment, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed the creation of economic “free zones” along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Tax Incentive Decree for the Northern Border Region, which Lopez Obrador announced Saturday, would create a free zone that would stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Coast and be more than 15 miles wide. Inside the zone, income taxes would be reduced by a third and Value Added Taxes on imported goods would be slashed in half, the minimum wage would increase 100 percent, and fuel prices would equal U.S. prices. “It’s going to be the biggest free zone in the world,” Obrador said. “It is a very important project for winning investment, creating jobs and taking advantage of the economic strength of the United States.” Proponents of the president’s “free zone” plan believe it would reduce the incentive for Mexicans to migrate to the U.S. and increase competition among local businesses.

Judges Back Trump on Transgenders in Military

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld President Trump’s order barring military service for people with gender dysphoria. The U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington overturned a lower court’s decision to block Trump’s partial ban on “transgenders” in the military. “In light of the substantial constitutional arguments and the apparent showing that the policy accommodates at least some of plaintiffs’ interests, we think that the public interest weighs in favor of dissolving the injunction,” the ruling said. “This is a victory for our servicemembers who are tasked with defending America because it allows our military to focus their mission on fighting and winning wars rather than social engineering,” said retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council. “The Constitution very clearly delegates to the commander-in-chief the job of running the military – not the courts,” he said.

Senate Approves 77 Trump Nominations in End-of-Congress Deal

The Senate approved 77 Trump nominations in an end-of-Congress deal Wednesday night, filling out the ranks of federal prosecutors, ambassadors, the White House science adviser and the post of anti-drug czar — but no new judges. The deal came on the final day of the 115th Congress, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, standing alone on the chamber floor, reading out the nomination numbers then confirming them by voice vote. The move caps what’s been an extraordinary two years of both unprecedented action and obstruction, and presages battles still to come over the next two years. First up will be a decision on some 300 or so nominations that still languish, including more than 85 judicial picks that never saw final action. Under normal rules, all of those expired at the end of the old Congress on Thursday, marking a victory for liberal activists who’d warned Democratic leaders against any en-masse approvals. Trump can re-nominate them in the new Congress, where many will again face Democratic delays.

Partial Government Shutdown Beginning to Cause Harm

In addition to the 420,000 federal workers furloughed without pay, the partial government shutdown has begun hurting other groups as well. The shutdown has begun to wreak havoc on U.S. agriculture and the rural economy as farmers wait on subsidy payments, loans and data they need now to make plans for the spring. Farmers say the timing could hardly be worse as they’ve already been hit with fallen commodity prices and the loss of foreign markets in President Donald Trump’s trade wars. Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans will face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy. The partial shutdown has cut off new funding to the Treasury Department and the USDA, leaving them largely unstaffed and crippling both departments’ ability to fulfill core functions. During the shutdown, the USDA office that administers food stamps has sent home 95 percent of its employees without pay.

Bad Behavior Inflicts Toll on National Parks During Shutdown

Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior in fragile areas were beginning to overwhelm some of the West’s iconic national parks, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with little staff on duty. The partial federal government shutdown has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees. This has left many parks without most of the rangers and others who staff campgrounds and otherwise keep parks running. Unlike shutdowns in some previous administrations, the Trump administration was leaving parks open to visitors despite the staff furloughs. At the superintendent’s discretion, parks may close grounds/areas with sensitive natural, cultural, historic, or archaeological resources vulnerable to destruction, looting, or other damage that cannot be adequately protected by the excepted law enforcement staff that remain on duty, the NPS said in a statement. Three people have already died in the National Parks this week.

Reckless Behavior of Big Pharma Drowning U.S. with Opioids

In just 10 months, the sixth-largest company in America shipped more than 3 million prescription opioids — nearly 10,000 pills a day on average — to a single pharmacy in a Southern West Virginia town with only 400 residents, according to a congressional report released Wednesday. McKesson Corp. supplied “massive quantities” of the painkiller hydrocodone to the now-shuttered Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit, even after an employee at the company’s Ohio drug warehouse flagged the suspect pill orders in 2007, the report found. That year, McKesson — ranked 6th in the Fortune 500 — reviewed its customers, including Sav-Rite, and reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration that the purchases were “reasonable,” according to the report. West Virginia is right now at the heart of the horrific opioid crisis that is sweeping the nation.

Meth, Cocaine Overdoses Rise as Cartels Sidestep Opioid Crackdown

A relatively new trend is the rise and availability of meth and cocaine across the U.S. The development is, in part, an outgrowth of the crackdown on opioids in the U.S., and the result of drug cartels finding other drugs to foist on Americans. The 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, released last fall, noted the rise of more potent forms of meth and cocaine in the United States. And the drugs are being smuggled into the country., the report noted, mainly by Mexicans, through the U.S.-Mexico border. Colombia is once again a major player as a source country for narcotics – particularly cocaine – in the U.S. A peace process between the Colombian government and rebels had the unintended result of spawning more land use for the production of coca leaf, as the previous president stopped aerial fumigation meant to destroy coca crops. Farmers then switched to coca in the hope of qualifying for a government offer to compensate those who were growing the crop. Particularly worrisome in recent years has been the mixture in many overdose cases of cocaine and illicit fentanyl, authorities say. The same is happening with meth.

ER’s Overwhelmed by Mentally Ill Patients

A “huge and largely unreported problem” is happening in hospital Emergency Rooms across the nation. The extent to which ERs are now flooded with patients with mental illness is unprecedented,” said Dr. David R. Rubinow, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine at University of North Carolina. A 2017 government report found that the overall number of emergency department visits increased nearly 15% from 2006 to 2014, yet ER visits by patients with mental or substance use disorders increased about 44% in the same period. Dr. Catherine A. Marco, from her vantage point as an emergency physician professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, said, “we commonly see depression, anxiety, substance-related conditions and suicidal behavior.” “There are very real spillover effects from this phenomenon, which affects not only our ability to care for these patients with psychiatric needs but all patients seeking care in the ER,” said Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, an attending physician at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. In addition to longer wait times for everyone, “spillover effects” include dissatisfied mental health patients and an increase in potential violence in the ER.

  • As America becomes more and more godless, mental illness will continue to increase because sanity depends upon living in truth, not in denial.

Hospitals’ Secret Price List a Secret No More

Hospitals across the country rang in the New Year with a federal mandate to reveal their once-secret master price lists, although it’s unclear whether the new requirement will assist many patients or contain ever-rising health care costs. Starting Jan. 1, hospitals must publish online the starting price tags for every service or procedure. These detailed lists, known as chargemasters, include thousands of entries. The 2010 Affordable Care Act required hospitals to make these lists available to the public, but until this week, hospitals were not required to publish them. The new mandate marks an effort by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to improve price transparency in health care. However, the prices are typically starting points for payment negotiations between hospitals and insurance companies and have little connection to what most patients actually pay.

Economic News

Easing fears of a recession, the labor market bounced back resoundingly in December as employers added 312,000 jobs amid stock market turmoil and increasing worker shortages. The unemployment rate rose from a 50-year low of 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent as an additional 419,000 Americans began working or looking for jobs, many of them drawn in to the labor force by a strong job market, the, the Labor Department said Friday. Also encouraging: job increases for October and November were revised up by a total 58,000. Average hourly earnings rose 11 cents, or 0.4 percent, in December after gaining 0.2 percent in November. That lifted the annual increase in wages to 3.2 percent, matching October’s gain, from 3.1 percent in November. “Despite recent stock market volatility, the underlying economy is strong and growing,” says Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of Glassdoor, the giant job-posting site.

2018 was the worst year for stocks in a decade. Not since the last financial crisis of 2008, have we had a year like this, and many believe that 2019 will be even worse. Some analysts say that stocks are still tremendously overvalued. December was the worst month for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500  since 1931, according to the Dow Jones Market Data Group. The S&P 500, the broadest measure of stocks, lost 9 percent and the Dow over 8.5 percent. American billionaires saw the biggest loss this year, collectively dropping $76 billion. Mark Zuckerberg saw the sharpest drop in 2018 as his Facebook Inc. veered from crisis to crisis. His net worth fell nearly $20 billion, leaving the 34-year-old with just a $53 billion fortune.

Most economists expect slower growth in 2019, but the big question is whether that will morph into a full-blown recession — or if the Federal Reserve can successfully guide the US economy into a “soft landing,” in which the economy slows but doesn’t shift into reverse. Home sales and residential investment have started to sag over the past couple of quarters. The rising federal deficits, about to crack $1 trillion for the first time, can result in higher interest rates, as the Treasury has to pay more to sell the bonds needed to fund the government. Rising corporate debt can have a similar impact on rates.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Friday the central bank “will be patient” as it weighs future interest rate hikes in light of low inflation, adding that policymakers will also take into account recent stock market volatility. Stocks soared further as Powell seemed to deliberately convey a more cautious approach to rate hikes this year than he did during a news conference last month after the Fed raised rates for a fourth time in 2018.

Months after unveiling two new iPhones in time for the holiday season, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a note to investors that the company had lowered its revenue guidance, saying Apple “did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deterioration” in markets including greater China. The warning adds to investor fears that the global economy is in the midst of a significant slowdown and may lead to more selling in the stock markets

United Kingdom

With the U.K. facing a fresh migrant crisis at its borders, the British government is questioning whether the asylum seekers making the trek across the English Channel are “genuine” — noting they are making the trip from France. The U.K. has been hit by a wave of migrants in small, inflatable boats making their way across the channel between France and the south of England. The U.K. Telegraph reported more than 100 migrants have either made it to the U.K., or have been intercepted at sea since Christmas Eve. The Home Office’s National Crime Agency said in a statement it anticipates further attempts in future weeks, and it is working with French authorities to crack down on those organizing the boats. On Wednesday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid expressed doubt to Sky News that those making the trips were genuine asylum seekers since they came from France — a safe country. Those in support of more open border policies argue countries have an obligation to give shelter to migrants fleeing persecution. But those who call for stricter policies argue that an asylum seeker is only such until they reach a safe country.

  • Similarly, the Central American caravan storming the U.S. border have already reached a ‘safe’ country away from the persecution they faced in their home country

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday he hopes to extend his high-stakes nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump into 2019, but also warns Washington not to test North Koreans’ patience with sanctions and pressure. During his televised New Year’s speech, Kim said he’s ready to meet with Trump at any time to produce an outcome “welcomed by the international community.” However, he said the North will be forced to take a different path if the United States “continues to break its promises and misjudges our patience by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure.” Kim also said the United States should continue to halt its joint military exercises with ally South Korea and not deploy strategic military assets to the South. He also made a nationalistic call urging for stronger inter-Korean cooperation.

Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Thursday against launching three spacecraft in the coming months, describing them as a cover for testing technology that is necessary to lob a warhead at the United States and other nations. His statement seemed intended to build a legal case for diplomatic, military or covert action against the Iranian missile program. It was surprising only because Iran has been launching modest space missions, mostly to deploy satellites, since 2005. The U.S. has also said that North Korea has provided technical assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile and space rocket program.

Germany

Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) has threatened to create its own street patrols to protect residents after the past week saw an outbreak of ethnic violence. Last Saturday, four Muslim asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran allegedly assaulted Germans in Amberg, a town the southern state of Bavaria. According to police, the four teenagers, under the influence of alcohol, harassed and beat 12 passers-by. The NPD claims police are not doing enough to stop crime. The NPD is a small, fringe group without representation in state parliaments or the Bundestag. It has been branded racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist by German intelligence. Germany’s 16 states have called for a ban on the NPD, but the country’s Constitutional Court rejected such a ban.

China

China’s burgeoning space program achieved a first on Thursday: a landing on the so-called dark side of the moon. Three nations – the United States, the former Soviet Union and more recently China – have sent spacecraft to the near side of the moon, which faces Earth, but this is the first-ever landing on the far side. The landing of the Chang 4 highlights China’s growing ambitions to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space, and more broadly, to cement the nation’s position as a regional and global power. In 2013, Chang 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. The United States is the only country that has successfully sent a person to the moon, though China is considering a crewed mission too. For now, it plans to send its Chang 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples – also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

India

Two women in India became the first to enter a Hindu temple after the country’s supreme court lifted a centuries-old ban. The two women, ages 42 and 44, entered the Sabarimala temple on Wednesday, one of the holiest sites in Hinduism, accompanied by police officers. Since the ruling, conservative demonstrators have protested near the temple, preventing women from entering. “We had issued standing orders to police to provide all possible protection to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. There were no reports of violence.

Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has reached a grim new milestone in the Ebola outbreak that began August 1, 2018. The total number of probable patients is 608 as of Wednesday, with 368 deaths, the Ministry of Health said. An additional 29 people who doctors suspect may be sick with Ebola are under investigation. The ministry also reported that 207 people have recovered from the life-threatening illness. The outbreak is the second-deadliest and second-largest in history, topped only by one in West Africa in 2014, when the disease killed more than 11,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Mexico

A local mayor in Mexico was gunned down on his first day of office on New Year’s Day in the southern state of Oaxaca. Tlaxiaco Mayor Alejandro Aparicio Santiago was walking to his first official meeting at city hall shortly after taking office, when a group of gunmen opened fire. Four others were wounded in the attack. Between September 2017 and August 2018, 175 politicians were killed in Mexico, NPR reported. Most such executions are committed by drug cartels against politicians who seek to limit their power.

Weather

The amount of sea ice around Antarctica has melted to a record low for January, scientists announced this week. As of January 1, there was 2.11 million square miles of sea ice around the continent, the smallest January area since records began in 1978. Specifically, the area of sea ice around Antarctica on Jan. 1 was 11,600 square miles below the previous record low for that date, set in 2017. It was 726,000 square miles below average – an area roughly twice the size of the state of Texas.

Over two dozen cities in the East and Midwest had their wettest year on record in 2018, stretching from North Carolina to South Dakota. Reagan National Airport’s year-to-date precipitation total eclipsed the previous record-wet year in the nation’s capital, which had stood for 129 years. Baltimore’s BWI Airport topped its previous record-wet year – 62.66 inches in 2003 – in mid-November and crushed that record by over 9 inches. Other yearly precipitation records were set in Pittsburgh (57.83 inches), Charleston, West Virginia (67.05 inches), Louisville, Kentucky (68.83 inches), and Columbus, Ohio (55.18 inches). Not surprisingly, the mid-Atlantic states saw a record number of flood events in 2018.

Winter Storm Fisher released its grip on the Southwest and Southern Plains late Thursday after causing hundreds of crashes, including a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma and wrecks that killed at least six people in New Mexico and Oklahoma. Road conditions remained difficult Friday morning. Before arriving in Oklahoma and Texas, the system brought snow to parts of the Arizona and New Mexico desert. Snow blanketed Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona (a rare occurrence) as well as the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

Tropical Storm Pabuk made a rare landfall in southern Thailand Friday, bringing heavy rain, storm surge flooding and winds to the Malay Peninsula’s tourist resorts and coastal villages. The storm made landfall just after midday Friday at Pak Phanang along the Gulf of Thailand coast of the Malay Peninsula about 370 miles south of country’s capital, Bangkok. Torrential downpours leading to flash flooding, waves from 10 to 16 feet along the Gulf of Thailand coast and damaging winds battered the Malay coast.

Signs of the Times

December 31, 2018

­You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

Persecution Watch

Christians in China may be discouraged in the face of a government crackdown on their faith, but they’re not backing down. “We will not forfeit our faith because of suppression by the authorities,” Gu Baoluo, a Christian whose church was shut down in early December, told The New York Times. Gu’s congregation, Early Rain Covenant Church, was closed by Chinese officials as part of an effort to limit the impact of the country’s unregistered churches, which serve an estimated 30 million Christians. Chinese police took Bibles, closed the church’s school and seminary, and charged the pastor, Wang Yi, with “inciting subversion,” the newspaper reported. He could spend five years in prison.  One goal of the crackdown is to increase allegiance to the ruling Communist Party. President Xi Jinping and other Communists believe Christianity “promotes Western values and ideals like human rights” that “conflict with the aims of China’s authoritarian government” and Xi’s “embrace of traditional Chinese culture and Confucian teachings that emphasize obedience and order.”

Apple has removed a Christian ministry’s app from its store after LGBT supporters said the app was “dangerous” and “bigoted.” Living Hope Ministries created the app about three years ago. The gay rights group, Truth Wins Out, however, filed a petition at Change.org saying the app was “hateful.” “The app falsely portrays being gay as an ‘addiction’, ‘sickness’, and ‘sin,'” the petition said. Ricky Chalette, executive director of Living Hope Ministries, says the ministry is “saddened” about the decision to remove the app. “We are a ministry that for nearly 30 years has helped individuals resolve their feelings they deem incongruent with their faith,” he said. “We help people deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ through Bible study and accountability. We walk with them to align their lives with the teachings of Jesus Christ. From chaos and confusion, they often find peace, hope, and a deeper sense of personal wholeness. Our ministry is free and strictly voluntary.”

Ohio’s ‘Heartbeat Bill” Shot Down

Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” which would have prohibited killing unborn children with a detectable heartbeat, went down in flames on Thursday after the Senate failed by one vote to override Gov. Kasich’s veto of the bill, reported Breaking Christian News last Friday. The bill passed both chambers earlier this month — the House by a comfortable majority and the Senate 18-13 — but Kasich followed through on his promise to veto the bill. In Ohio, a three-fifths majority is required to override a veto, which meant that two additional votes were needed in the Senate. The Ohio House voted to override Kasich’s veto 61-28, but the measure came up one vote short in the Senate, which voted 19-13 against the override. GOP Sen. Bill Beagle, who voted for the heartbeat bill, inexplicably defected, crossing the aisle to side with Democrats, Kasich, and Planned Parenthood, all of whom had campaigned vigorously against protecting the lives of unborn children.

Increasing Number of Churches Protect Immigrants from Deportation

A growing number of migrants have sought and received the protecting hand of the religious community. The Church World Service said 49 migrants have been protected within the sanctuary at a church through 12/15. The numbers soared after President Trump took office last year. The church sanctuary movement is similar to the sanctuary city movement, which has likewise surged under Mr. Trump. Hundreds of communities have enacted laws and ordinances to cut off cooperation with federal authorities. But while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government’s deportation agency, has fought the state and local governments that have enacted sanctuary policies, it has taken a hands-off approach to churches. Indeed, houses of worship are named “sensitive locations” under a long-standing ICE policy that pointedly discourages deportation officers from collaring people at those places. In addition to churches, synagogues and mosques, the list includes schools, hospitals, and public marches or rallies. The policy was updated most recently under President Barack Obama in 2011. Despite a get-tough approach in many other areas of immigration enforcement, ICE has maintained the Obama policy in the Trump administration.

California Policeman Killed by Illegal Immigrant

Authorities said Friday they’d taken two more people into custody in connection with this week’s shooting death of a California police officer, bringing the total number of suspects arrested to eight. Authorities said they’d arrested the illegal immigrant fugitive whom they believe gunned down Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh early Wednesday. Authorities announced the arrests of Arriaga’s girlfriend, Ana Leyde Cervantes, 30, of Newman, CA, and Arriaga’s brother, Conrado Virgen Mendoza, 34, of Chowchilla. Before the fatal shooting Wednesday, Corporal Singh had pulled over Arriaga’s vehicle for a DUI investigation. Soon a gunfight broke out. The suspect then fled when backup officers arrived to assist Singh, who died at a hospital from gunshot wounds.

FBI Says Record Number Of Illegals Tried To Purchase Guns

The FBI is reporting that a record number of illegal aliens tried to purchase firearms this year. Over seven million illegals tried to purchase guns. Those who were adjudicated for mental health were the runners up in the prohibited category, with over 5.6 million rejected by NICS checks, reports the Washington Examiner. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System said that it rejected 7,836,600 planned purchases from “illegal/unlawful alien” through the end of November, already a record for any year. With the typical surge in requests to buy guns for Christmas, the total will approach nine million for the year.

Migrant Children Deaths No Surprise

The deaths of two migrant children prompted a widespread outcry last week. As a result, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced “a series of extraordinary protective measures,” adding health screenings and more medical professionals for migrant children. But concerns about migrant children becoming sick — and the lack of medical care for them in ill-equipped Border Patrol stations — were far from new. Allegations from families apprehended by Border Patrol agents were included in a raft of legal filings in August 2018. Children in Border Patrol holding facilities “would vomit on their clothing” and had no soap to clean up. One child “had diarrhea, had dry lips, he had a fever,” but border agents declined to seek medical care and closed the cell door. Children were told they could drink water from a sink, but “are not given any cups” nor soap to wash their hands. Federal officials did not comment on the filings directly, but in an interview with The Arizona Republic, defended their handling of migrants and said border agents were not expected to be medical professionals.

Thousands of Migrants Released into Southwest Cities

As the high-stakes immigration debates rage nationally over walls, U.S. border troops, caravans and a federal government shutdown, hundreds of migrant asylum-seekers were released into southwestern cities after federal detention centers hit full capacity as more and more people squeeze into ill-equipped border stations. El Paso’s Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter that coordinates local migrant assistance efforts, is spending about $150,000 a month to rent all the rooms at four local motels to house migrants. The “migrant hospitality center” network has expanded to 15 sites in El Paso and five in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Shelters vary in capacity from 15 to 100 people. Shelters recently have been taking in about 2,200 to 2,300 migrants a week. U.S. authorities released more than 1,500 migrants this week in El Paso, including 522 on Wednesday, the largest single-day release. Similar releases occurred in San Antonio and Phoenix, with some dropped at local bus stations with nowhere to go. Advocates expressed concern that immigration authorities were rushing migrants through the asylum process following the deaths of the two Guatemalan children.

Judges Rule Trump Tweets are ‘Speculation’ not ‘Pure Fact’

“Speculation.” “Unofficial information.” “Political statements rather than assertions of pure fact.” Those are words federal judges have used to describe President Donald Trump’s tweets while guarding the secrecy of ongoing investigations that have shadowed his presidency. Trump’s voluminous tweeting and other public statements offer regular insight into his thinking – and his disregard for the secrecy that traditionally surrounds national security issues. But his administration has repeatedly, and successfully, urged federal judges to find that his comments are not reason enough to force the government to give up documents that would confirm whether what he is saying is true. Because the President’s tweets amount to speculation, they do not require agencies to acknowledge whether documents exist, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in a case concerning whether Trump was under investigation. Despite Trump’s affinity for weighing in on sensitive matters, judges in several cases have repeatedly sided with the department and the FBI in refusing to acknowledge whether documents even exist

Data Breaches & Cyberattacks Way Up in 2018

Billions of people were affected by data breaches and cyberattacks in 2018 – 765 million in the months of April, May and June alone – with losses surpassing tens of millions of dollars, according to global digital security firm Positive Technologies. Cyberattacks increased 32 percent in the first three months of the year and 47 percent during the April-June period, compared to the same periods in 2017. There wasn’t a breach “quite as significant” as the Equifax data breach from September 2017 in which an estimated 143 million Americans faced potential lifelong threat of identity theft, said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports. “But the sheer volume of breaches of major companies was stunning,” she said. Breaches and cyberattacks continue to escalate “and it’s not like it’s slowing down,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist for McAfee, the California-based maker of antivirus and computer security software.

Facebook’s Rulebook Reveals Inconsistencies, Gaps & Biases

Facebook is attempting to tackle misinformation and hate that its platform has enabled with a massive, byzantine and secret document of rules packed with spreadsheets and power point slides that gets updated regularly for its global content moderators. According to a New York Times report, the rules show the social network to be “a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.” The Times discovered a range of gaps, biases and outright errors — including instances where Facebook allowed extremism to spread in some counties while censoring mainstream speech in others. The rulebook’s details were revealed Thursday night thanks to a Facebook employee who leaked over 1,400 pages of the speech policing rulebook to the Times because he “feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight — and making too many mistakes.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s company is trying to monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages while parsing out the subtle nuances and complicated context of language, images and even emojis. The group of Facebook employees who meet every other Tuesday to update the rules, according to the Times, are trying to boil down highly complex issues into strict yes-or-no rules.

  • Exercising authority over free speech in a fallen world is an impossible task

Climatologist Says Sea Level Rise Not Abnormal

For years, climate prognosticators have warned that human-caused global warming is fueling catastrophic sea-level rise, but now climatologist Judith Curry disagrees. In her latest paper, Ms. Curry found that the current rising sea levels are not abnormal, nor can they be pinned on human-caused climate change, arguing that the oceans have been on a “slow creep” for the last 150 years — before the post-1950 climb in carbon-dioxide emissions. Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “There are numerous reasons to think that projections of 21st-century sea level rise from human-caused global warming are too high, and some of the worst-case scenarios strain credulity,” her 80-page report found. Her report also found that sea levels were actually higher in some regions during the Holocene Climate Optimum — about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Opioids Are Killing Children Too

Almost 9,000 children and teenagers died from opioid poisoning from 1999 to 2016, and annual deaths increased threefold over those 18 years, a team of researchers at Yale University reported last Friday. The finding suggests the opioid epidemic will likely continue, the team said, unless legislators, public health officials, doctors and parents do more to keep the drugs out of the hands of young people. More than 80 percent of the deaths to children and teens were unintentional, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Five percent were from suicide and about 2 percent from homicide. Between 2014 and 2016, synthetic opioids led to the deaths of nearly a third of all prescription and illegal opioid deaths among older teens. Dr. Marc Fishman, an addiction psychiatrist and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says, the results are alarming because deaths to children and teens are increasing the same way as they are for adults – they start with pills, turn to heroin and die from the synthetic opioid painkiller fentanyl. Young people also seek treatment far less often that adults, Fishman says, which makes it harder to track youth opioid use.

Utah Establishes the Strictest DUI Law in U.S.

Starting in the new year, Utah will lower its blood alcohol content limit to 0.05, the strictest DUI standard in the nation. The new law states that anyone who “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” and has a “blood alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater” will have committed a criminal homicide, a felony. All the other49  states continue to hold a 0.08 limit for noncommercial drivers over the age of 21. Utah has recorded an average of 30 DUI arrests every day for the past five years, or more than 54,400 arrests in total. With the lower standard, authorities except those numbers to increase dramatically. “Despite decades of public campaigns and other efforts to discourage driving after drinking, survey and observational data show many people continue to do so,” Utah’s Department of Public Safety said.

Women’s March Canceled – Too White

Organizers of a Women’s March rally slated for Northern California next month have canceled the event, saying they were concerned that participants would have been “overwhelmingly white.” In a news release, organizers for the march in Eureka – about 270 miles north of San Francisco – said Friday the “decision was made after many conversations between local social-change organizers and supporters of the march.” “Up to this point, the participants have been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community,” the news release continued. Not all that surprising, since Humboldt County, where Eureka is the county seat, is 74 percent non-Hispanic white, according to Census Bureau data. “I was appalled to be honest,” Amy Sawyer Long told the Washington Times. “I understand wanting a diverse group. However, we live in a predominantly white area… How is it beneficial to cancel? No matter the race people still want their voices heard.”

IRS Unable to Recoup Nearly $1 billion in Obamacare Subsidies

The IRS overpaid nearly $4 billion to Obamacare customers through tax credits last year, and because of the way the law is written it can’t even try to collect on a quarter of that, the Treasury Department’s inspector general reported this week. All told, the Treasury Department paid out roughly $27 billion in Obamacare subsidies in the 2018 tax-filing season, with overages accounting for $3.7 billion of that. Only $2.7 billion was recaptured. Overpayments were built into Obamacare, with most people who buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges collecting subsidies through the IRS to help them afford their plan premiums. The amount they get during the year is based on their expected earnings. At the end of the year they’re supposed to square what they expected to earn with what they actually got. In 2017 the government paid $5.8 billion in overages and had to leave $3.5 billion on the table.

Trump Touts ‘Big Progress’ with China’s Xi on Trade Deal

President Donald Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday amid an ongoing trade dispute that has roiled markets. “Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China,” Trump posted on Twitter. “Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!” Trump and Xi walked away from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina earlier this month touting the outlines of an agreement to suspend U.S. tariffs that had been scheduled to begin in January. Trump had already levied tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. But investors grew skittish about the deal days later, setting off uncertainty in the markets which tanked to new lows before leveling off late last week.

Dollar Stores Trap the Poor in Poverty and Ill Health

Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these “small-box” retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they’re now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together — and they’re still growing at a breakneck pace. The Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, says that is bad news. “While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the authors of the brief write. “They’re a cause of it.” Dollar stores advertise hard-to-beat low prices but offer little in terms of fresh produce and nutritious items—further trapping residents in a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial stock index gave up early gains Friday to finish with a moderate loss, ending a wild week punctuated by big price swings and a post-Christmas rebound rally that enabled the blue chip stock average to dodge a bear market and notch its first weekly gain since the last week of November.  Wall Street pros said stocks were due for a bounce after the Dow fell more than 4,000 points in just 14 trading days through Christmas Eve, a violent decline that drove valuations down to multi-year lows. Trading on Wall Street has become volatile in recent weeks, as investors navigate a slew of headwinds, ranging from fears of rising interest rates causing a recession, political discord in Washington, D.C. that has led to a government shutdown and persistent fears about slowing growth around the globe exacerbated by the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

Global stocks have closed out a dreadful year with a whimper, signaling more potential declines in 2019. Markets around the world have been battered by the trade conflict between the United States and China, fears over rising interest rates and geopolitical snafus like Brexit. As the year draws to a close, few issues have been resolved. The FTSE All-World index, which tracks thousands of stocks across a range of markets, plummeted 12% this year. It’s the index’s worst performance since the global financial crisis, and a sharp reversal from a gain of nearly 25% in 2017.

The forces that pushed oil sharply lower at the end of 2018 aren’t going away with the advent of a new year. U.S. crude prices have crashed 40% since hitting four-year highs above $76 a barrel in October. Brent crude, the global benchmark, slumped this week to its lowest level since August 2017. Sustained downward pressure on oil prices reflects concerns about surging U.S. production and a weaker global economy. Not even output cuts by OPEC and its partner states have been able to reverse the trend. International Monetary Fund economists expect global growth to slow to 2.5% next year from 2.9% in 2018. Reduced economic activity means less demand for energy products.

A major 11-country agreement goes into effect Sunday, reshaping trade rules among economic powerhouses like Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia — but the United States isn’t part of it. That means that Welch’s grape juice, Tyson’s pork and California almonds will remain subject to tariffs in Japan, for example, while competitors’ products from countries participating in the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership will eventually be duty-free, reports CNN. It’s the opposite of what the Obama administration planned when it negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as TPP. The proposed deal, which never passed Congress, formed the backbone of the U.S. strategy to counter Chinese economic influence, but it was one of the first things President Trump nixed when he took office in January of 2017.

President Trump issued an executive order Friday freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019, following through on a proposal he announced earlier in the year. The move, which nixes a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect in January, comes as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are expecting to begin the new year furloughed or working without pay because of the partial government shutdown. Trump told lawmakers he planned to scrap the 2019 pay bump for federal workers in August, saying the federal budget couldn’t support it.

Middle East

The Trump administration on Friday said it backs Israel after overnight IDF airstrikes in Syria targeting Iranian arms transfers to the Hezbollah militant group. “The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian regional actions that endanger Israeli national security and the safety of the Israeli people,” Robert Palladino, deputy State Department spokesman, said. “Iranian support of and supply to terrorist groups in Syria and across the region that have the clear intent and capability to strike Israel are unacceptable.” Russia slammed the attack, accusing the six Israeli F-16 jets of launching a “provocative” raid as two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a “direct threat” to the aircraft.

An American-Palestinian dual national reportedly was sentenced Monday to life in prison with “hard labor” for trying to sell land to Israelis – extending an incarceration that has already drawn the ire of the U.S. ambassador. A Palestinian court convicted Issam Akel, who has been held since Oct. 10, of “attempting to sever parts of Palestinian land and annex it to a foreign state,” Reuters reported, citing a judiciary spokesperson. Akel was accused of trying to sell a property in East Jerusalem without telling his business partners or Palestinian officials. Under Palestinian law, potential sellers must get the Palestinian Authority to sign off on any land sales in that area before proceeding. Palestinians are concerned about land sales in the so-called occupied territories due to alleged fears Israelis will purchase property to further efforts to solidify control of the region.

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday during a meeting with Jewish leaders in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s not a question of if, just a question of when,’” according to a press release issued by the prime minister’s office. When Brazil moves its embassy, it will join the United States and Guatemala. In addition to these embassy moves, a number of other nations have recognized Jerusalem, or portions thereof, as Israel’s capital, including Russia and Australia, among others.

Syria

Syria’s military said Friday it had entered the key Kurdish-held town of Manbij in an apparent deal with the Kurds, who are looking for new allies and protection against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. troops prepare to leave Syria. Turkey and American troops patrolling the town denied there was any change of forces in the contested area, contradicting the Syrians and highlighting the potential for chaos in the wake of last week’s surprise pronouncement by the United States that it was withdrawing its troops. Since the U.S. announcement, forces have been building up around Manbij and further east, ushering in new alliances and raising the chances for friction. The Kurds’ invitation to Syrian troops shows they’d rather let Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government fill the void left by the Americans, than face the prospect of being overwhelmed by their top rival Turkey.

Russia

Improving U.S.-Russian relations in 2019 will be vital to ensuring “international security,” Vladimir Putin told President Trump over the weekend in a holiday message that stressed openness and cooperation amid growing tension between the two nuclear powers. “Vladimir Putin stressed that Russia-US relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security, and reaffirmed that Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda,” the Kremlin said.

Russia’s domestic security agency says it has arrested a U.S. citizen on espionage charges. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the top KGB successor agency, said that the American man was detained in Moscow on Friday. The agency didn’t elaborate beyond saying he was caught “during an espionage operation,” which the New York Times says implies that “he had been caught red-handed.” The state Tass news agency identified the detained man as Paul Whelan.

Great Britain

British officials say six Iranian men have been found on a beach in southeastern England as the number of migrants making risky crossings of the English Channel continues to mount. The Home Office said Sunday the men have been given medical checks and turned over to immigration officials for processing. There has been an increase in recent weeks in the number of migrants traveling from France to England in small boats. The crossing is risky because of rough seas and a high volume of commercial and ferry traffic.

France

Yellow vest protesters marched on the headquarters of leading French broadcasters Saturday, as small groups turned out in Paris and around France despite waning momentum for their movement. Hundreds of demonstrators – some chanting “Journalists – Collaborationists!” – gathered at the central offices of television network BFM and state-run France Televisions. Some protesters hurled stones and other objects during scattered skirmishes with riot police firing tear gas. Some members of the broad-based yellow vest movement accuse French leading news media of favoring President Emmanuel Macron’s government and big business and minimizing the protests – even though the demonstrations have been the leading news story in France since they kicked off Nov. 17.

Earthquakes

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern Philippines Saturday morning local time. No casualties or damage have been reported. A tsunami warning was issued but has since been lifted. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the quake was detected at a depth of 30 miles and a magnitude of 7.1 about 100 miles off Davao Oriental province. A major tsunami was unlikely given the depth of the quake.

Weather

Dozens of people were killed this weekend as Tropical Depression Usman swept over the central Philippines, triggering landslides and flooding. At least 61 people have been killed and another 18 remain missing as of Monday. Thousands of others were stranded at seaports, airports and bus terminals after dozens of inter-island trips were canceled because of the storm. Tens of thousands of people left their homes ahead of the storm.

A record-shattering heat wave continued to scorch Australia last week as temperatures soared above 120 degrees in some spots. The extreme heat prompted health warnings, air quality alerts and fire bans across the nation. Though heat isn’t unusual in Australia this time of year, the level and duration of the heat wave are extreme. High temperature records have already been set in four states. A blistering high temperature of 120 degrees reported Thursday in Marble Bar, Western Australia, was only 3 degrees below the continent’s all-time record high temperature of 123 degrees, set in 1960 in Oodnadatta.

Signs of the Times

December 27, 2018

­In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1:6-9)

Most Americans Still Think Religion Is Important, But Percentages Down

With the Christmas season here, most Americans say religion is an important part of their lives, according to a Gallup poll taken between Dec. 3-12 and released on Christmas Eve. Among 1,025 American adults: 72 percent said religion is important, with 51 percent saying religion is very important. Gallup said the poll shows the long-term decline in the importance of religion in people’s lives, noting a 1952 poll showing 75 percent saying religion is very important. Since then, the numbers have only been higher than 61 percent twice: 64 percent in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and 65 percent one year later.

Pope Tells Sex-Abuse Priests: ‘Turn Yourselves In’

Pope Francis vowed Friday that the Catholic Church will “never again” cover up clergy sex abuse and demanded that priests who have raped and molested children turn themselves in. He also urged victims to come forward, thanked the media for giving them a voice and issued a stark warning to abusers: “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.” Francis dedicated his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican bureaucracy to abuse, evidence that a year of devastating revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up has shaken his papacy and caused a crisis of confidence in the Catholic hierarchy. Francis acknowledged that the church in the past had failed to treat the problem seriously, blaming leaders who out of inexperience or short-sightedness acted “irresponsibly” by refusing to believe victims. But he vowed that going forward the church would never cover up or dismiss cases again.

Ohio Governor Signs Bill Banning Common Abortion Methods

A bill that would ban the most common abortion method used in the second trimester of pregnancy was signed into law Friday by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Though there are no exceptions in the law for cases of rape or incest, but there is one if the mother’s life is at risk. Any abortion provider who defies this law could face fourth-degree felony charges, including prison time and fines. The Republican governor’s decision to sign off on this legislation sparked immediate backlash from abortion rights advocates. Kasich has signed more than 20 laws restricting abortion access in his eight years in office.

Planned Parenthood Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees

The abortion giant Planned Parenthood has been accused of mistreating pregnant employees, according to a New York Times report. According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, Planned Parenthood has been accused of “sidelining, ousting or otherwise handicapping pregnant employees.” The alleged discrimination would violate federal or state laws. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work. At Planned Parenthood, the Times reported, managers in some clinics declined to hire pregnant job candidates. Along with refusing requests by expecting mothers to take breaks, some were pushed out of their jobs after they gave birth, the paper said. Planned Parenthood’s clinics and regional offices brought in about $1.5 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2016. Half came from private donations and half from the government to reimburse treatment provided to Medicaid patients.

Supreme Court Upholds Block on Trump’s Asylum Restrictions

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal judge’s order blocking the Trump administration’s new asylum restrictions. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-4 ruling. The administration’s policy, signed on November 9, would temporarily bar migrants who illegally cross into the US through the southern border from seeking asylum outside of official ports of entry. A federal judge in California quickly blocked the order, and the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford said the department would continue fighting the blocking order. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said they would have granted the administration’s request to lift the hold on the ban. This is the first high-profile vote in which Kavanaugh broke from Roberts. Earlier this year, he and Roberts joined with liberals to rebuff efforts by states seeking to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

Second Child Immigrant Death Spurs CBD Medical Checkups

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has ordered medical exams for all children it holds in custody following the Christmas Eve death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, the second immigrant child to die in federal detention this month. The updated policy marks a change in the handling of young children who are detained after entering the United States without required documentation. The change comes amid what CBP and Department of Homeland Security officials on Wednesday characterized as a recent increase in the number of families or unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended or detained at the nation’s borders. CBP is considering options from other federal agencies to help provide increased medical assistance for young immigrants at the border. Along with support from the U.S. Coast Guard, the assistance ultimately could add services from the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Caravan Organizer Blasted by Migrants over Risky Journey

Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), a group of activists escorting the migrant caravan of thousands of Central Americans traveling to the U.S., is being blamed by many — including the migrants themselves — for encouraging such a risky trek. Former allies and some migrants have said the group downplayed the risks involved, particularly for those with families and small children. The organizers also were accused of misleading caravan migrants about how long they would have to wait on the Mexican side of the border to apply for asylum. Adelaida Gonzalez, a member of the migrant caravan who traveled with her son and neighbor from Guatemala City, said she wished she’d accepted Mexico’s offer to stay and work in the southern state of Chiapas. “We were never told along the way that it would be this hard,” Gonzalez, 37, said after she saw the border wall topped with razor wire and the long waiting list for asylum seekers.

ISIS Terrorists Behead Two Scandinavian Hikers in Morocco

Two ISIS terrorists who killed two Scandinavian women in Morocco condemned the tourists as “enemies of Allah” as they videoed themselves decapitating one of the women. Danish intelligence services connected the murders to ISIS after Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, were found dead Monday in the country’s High Atlas mountains, the Daily Mail of London reported. The men are heard shouting “it’s Allah’s will” and apparently mention Syria, a reference to Western bombing missions. Three suspects have been arrested and a fourth was held due to suspicions he is allied with ISIS. The Daily Mail said an anti-terrorism rally is planned for Saturday in Morocco’s capital, Marrakesh.

Defense Secretary Resigns Over Syria Decision, Others Follow

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, which shocked Washington’s national security establishment and rattled America’s allies, was precipitated by President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, alarming Pentagon officials who see America’s role in the region as crucial. For Mattis, the president’s order was the final straw. Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the global anti-Islamic State coalition, submitted his resignation letter on Friday, also because of Trump’s sudden decision against defense officials advice. Trump has stood by his Syria decision, telling detractors that the pullout should come as “no surprise” given his 2016 campaign promises and arguing that America’s role as “Policeman of the Middle East” is not worth the sacrifice.

Trump & Melania Visit Troops in Iraq

On Christmas, the mainstream media ran a series of articles criticizing President Trump for being the first president since 2002 to fail to visit troops at Christmastime. They criticized him for staying at home instead of supporting those who keep America free. However, on Wednesday, exciting news broke that proved the media wrong. Not only did President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit troops, but they also went all the way to Iraq to do it. FLOTUS and POTUS met with military personnel on Wednesday at Al Asad Air Base. This was President Trump’s first visit to a war zone since becoming president.

Mass Shooters Use Credit Cards to Stockpile Weapons

The New York Times reviewed hundreds of documents including police reports, bank records and investigator notes from a decade of mass shootings. Many of the killers built their stockpiles of high-powered weapons with the convenience of credit while no one was watching. “Mass shootings routinely set off a national debate on guns, usually focused on regulating firearms and on troubled youths. Little attention is paid to the financial industry that has become an instrumental, if unwitting, enabler of carnage.” There have been 13 shootings that killed 10 or more people in the last decade, and in at least eight of them, the killers financed their attacks using credit cards. Those eight shootings killed 217 people. There were plenty of red flags, if only someone were able to look for them, law enforcement experts say. Banks and credit-card networks say it is not their responsibility create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns.

New Border Fencing Being Installed Using Budgeted Funds

The new year will bring the first new U.S.-Mexico border barriers to be built under President Donald Trump’s administration. The administration has so far announced eight projects to build new fence or replace existing barriers. Three of the projects have been completed; two are underway. Three others will begin during 2019’s first half, including areas of south Texas that previously had no barriers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has received more than $1.6 billion in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for border infrastructure. That money is paying for the eight scheduled projects, and a few more that have not been announced yet. The federal government is still in a partial shutdown as Trump and Democrats spar over border wall funding. The president wants $5 billion for the wall, but Democrats have refused to give him the money.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average just posted its biggest single day point gain ever.  On Wednesday, the Dow shot up 1,086 points, which shattered the old record by a staggering 150 points.  However, the previous record was on October 13th, 2008, just before the Great Recession. On that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 936 points, and at the time it was the biggest daily point increase that Wall Street had ever seen by a very wide margin. Subsequently, the Dow kept on falling until it finally bottomed out in early 2009.

Last week, the Dow industrial stock market index posted its worst week since 2008. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the Dow are on track for their worst Decembers since 1931, during the Great Depression.
Technology stocks dragged the Nasdaq into ‘bear’ market territory, which is a 20 percent drop from its high. Alarmed investors sent the Dow plunging more than 650 points in a shortened trading session on Monday. Markets plunged after the Trump administration sent out confusing signals about markets and the economy.

Holiday sales grew 5.1 percent this year to more than $850 million, making it the best season in the last six years, according to data Mastercard released Wednesday. In addition, online sales jumped 19.1 percent compared to last year. The apparel and home improvement categories saw the most growth, up 8% and 9% respectively. In contrast, electronics and appliances dropped 0.7 percent. Department stores experienced a 1.3 percent decrease from last year, partly due to stores closing.  However, their online sales were up 10.2%.

Cash is still king, for now. Cash continues to be the most frequently used payment instrument, representing 30 percent of all transactions and 55 percent of transactions under $10,”according to a Federal Reserve report in November. The amount of cash in circulation has risen for 17 consecutive years. The 41.6 billion bills in circulation at year-end 2017 were worth $1.6 trillion, also a record that has climbed as more paper money has gone into circulation this year. Yet the mix of currency has shifted a bit. There are now more $100 notes out there than $1 bills with $20 bills next most common, followed in order by $5s, $10s, $50s and $2 bills.

Sprint has agreed to pay a $330 million settlement after the company skirted New York tax law for nearly a decade, New York’s attorney general announced Friday. The cellular provider failed to collect and remit over $100 million in state and local taxes on flat-rate calling plans. The $330 million settlement is the largest recovery by a single state in a false claims lawsuit. By failing to comply with the state’s tax law, Sprint harmed not just the state, but local municipalities where sales tax is the largest source of revenue, according to the attorney general.

Religious Persecution

U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono have raised questions regarding the suitability of Brian C. Buescher to be seated as a federal district judge. Buescher belongs to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Like most practicing Catholics, he is pro-life. According to Harris and Hirono, those two characteristics are troubling, and could be disqualifying. Senators Harris and Hirono are playing a game: they are engaged in selective religious profiling and sexism. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not considered a problem with these senators, yet she is Catholic. But she is also reliably pro-abortion. “Senator Hirono is troubled that the Knights of Columbus supported California’s Proposition 8 (designed to limit the institution of marriage to a man and a woman). She calls this position “extreme.” Is she calling all of those who supported Proposition 8 “extreme”? That would include millions of traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and Muslims—all of whom came together to win in one of the nation’s most liberal states,” notes LifeNews.com.

China is cracking down on churches, but that has not deterred many Christians from finding other places to worship, The New York Times reported. This year, the Chinese government has: banned online sales of the Bible; burned crosses; demolished churches; and forced at least six places of worship to close. Renee Xia, of the China Human Rights Defenders, said the Chinese government is targeting the “heart of the underground Christian resistance.” The government is concentrating on unofficial Christian churches that promote social justice or have been critical of the Communist Party’s grip on society, according to the Times. And the crackdown worsened in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as police closed two churches, which had attracted thousands. But even as the government mandates religious groups to register, people are still worshiping in unofficial churches, often referred to as underground or house churches, the Times reported.

Middle East

The Israeli military on Wednesday destroyed another cross-border tunnel it says was built by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, sending a loud explosion throughout the volatile area. Israel this month announced the discovery of the tunnels, which it says were part of a Hezbollah plot to sneak across the border and carry out attacks in Israel. Israel has so far uncovered five tunnels in an open-ended operation to destroy the entire network. At least two tunnels have been destroyed.

Newsweek reported on Tuesday that a number of Hezbollah leaders were targeted in an Israeli airstrike as they were boarding a plane to Iran in Syria’s capital of Damascus. The magazine also reported that several “Iranian ammunition supply points” were bombed, which contained the most sophisticated, precision-guided ammunition available to Iran’s army and Hezbollah. On Tuesday evening, an Israeli Army spokesman said Israeli air defenses were activated against a missile fired from Syria. No damage or casualties on Israel’s side were reported. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) released a video showing missiles fired by Syrian air defenses from the area around Damascus. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed later Tuesday that Israel’s attacks in Syria put two civilian flights in danger.

Behind closed doors, Israeli officials were reportedly critical of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. One senior minister called it a “horrifying moral and a bad diplomatic step.” “The move does not serve Israel’s interests, harms the Kurds, strengthens [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and will give Iran additional routes through which to send weapons to Syria,” said the minister. The Russian forces currently in Syria will take action to restrain Hezbollah and Iranian activity there, according to understandings reached by Israel, the United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Jordanian official confirmed to Israel Hayom. The understandings are the product of behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks that were underway prior to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he welcomed the departure of U.S. troops and said Turkish forces are still planning to invade northeast Syria in the coming months and “cleanse” the region of both Kurdish militias and Islamic State forces.

Lebanon

Hundreds of Lebanese protested Sunday against deteriorating economic conditions as public anger mounts against politicians deadlocked over forming a new government since May. The protesters marched to the government building in central Beirut, carrying placards that called for an end to the deadlock and corruption. Some protesters sported the yellow vests worn by anti-government protesters in France. The call for the protests began on social media, with some using the symbol of a yellow vest with a cedar tree, a national symbol that appears on the country’s flag. The protests grew rowdy as angry protesters pelted security forces with water bottles. Security forces deployed, setting up barricades separating them from the protesters in a standoff that locked down the city center. By mid-afternoon, the demonstration began to fizzle but scores of protesters marched to a commercial district in Beirut, chanting “revolution” and urging others to join them. Protests have spread across the country in recent weeks as rival politicians have failed to form a new government following parliamentary elections in May.

Afghanistan

Militants stormed Afghan government offices in Kabul on Monday after setting off a car bomb, and officials said at least 43 people were killed. The attack lasted at least five hours and shattered a period of relative calm in the Afghan capital, which over the years has been subjected to deadly and audacious assaults by militants opposed to the American-backed government. It also came less than a week after President Trump reportedly instructed the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of about half the American military contingent deployed in Afghanistan, an abrupt shift in policy that caught Afghan officials by surprise.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday his army would deploy a new hypersonic nuclear-capable missile system next year, upping the ante in a high-tech arms race with the U.S. “Starting from next year, in 2019, a new intercontinental strategic system Avangard will enter service in the Russian army and the first regiment in the Strategic Missile Troops will be deployed,” President Putin said. The Avangard is a strategic intercontinental ballistic missile system equipped with a gliding hypersonic maneuvering warhead. Hypersonic warheads travel faster than traditional ballistic missiles. They reach speeds of Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound, about one mile per second.

North Korea

A U.S. judge ordered North Korea to pay $500 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained there. A federal court judge in the Washington, D.C. issued the order holding North Korea liable for the death of the University of the Virginia student. Warmbier was detained in North Korea in 2016 while visiting as a tourist on his way to a study-abroad program and was imprisoned after a sham trial for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster.

Yemen

American fingerprints are all over the air war in Yemen, where errant strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed more than 4,600 civilians, according to a monitoring group. When a Saudi F-15 warplane takes off from King Khalid air base in southern Saudi Arabia for a bombing run over Yemen, it is not just the plane and the bombs that are American. American mechanics service the jet and carry out repairs on the ground. American technicians upgrade the targeting software and other classified technology, which Saudis are not allowed to touch. The pilot has likely been trained by the United States Air Force. In Washington, the civilian death toll has stoked impassioned debate about the pitfalls of America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who relies on American support to keep his warplanes in the air. Saudi Arabia entered the war in 2015, allying with the United Arab Emirates and a smattering of Yemeni factions with the goal of ousting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels from northern Yemen. Three years on, they have made little progress. At least 60,000 Yemenis have died in the war, and the country stands on the brink of a calamitous famine.

Japan

Japan suffered its biggest natural population decline ever this year, government statistics show. The fast-graying nation also posted a record-low birthrate, as the estimated number of babies born in 2018 dipped to 921,000 — the lowest since records began in 1899. The number of newborns is estimated to have shrunk by 25,000 from 2017, and the figure remains under the 1 million mark for the third year in a row. Deaths in 2018 also hit a postwar record high of 1.369 million, with a natural population decline of 448,000 — the highest ever. more than 20% of its population is older than 65. The country’s total population stands at 124 million this year — but by 2065 it is expected to have dropped to about 88 million. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to prevent the population from dropping below 100 million. In 2017, the government announced a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) spending package to encourage more births. The program will expand free preschool for children aged 3 to 5 — and for children aged 2 and under from low-income families — and cut waiting times at day care centers.

Environment

For the fourth consecutive year, Costa Rica has generated more than 98 percent of its electricity using only renewable sources. For 300 days, Costa Rica used no fossil fuels to create electricity, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity announced this week. Hydroelectric plants generated nearly 74 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity this year, followed by wind at more than 15 percent, geothermal at just over 8 percent, and biomass and solar both at less than 1 percent. Those five sources were responsible for 98.56 percent of the country’s electricity this year, according to the electricity institute. While fossil fuels have all but been eliminated from the electric grid, Costa Rica still relies heavily on gas and oil for heating and vehicles.

Volcanoes/Tsunami

At least 400 Indonesians were killed and more than 1400 injured by a tsunami that struck west of Jakarta Saturday. The tsunami may have been a result of an undersea landslide near the Anak Krakatau Volcano. At least 28 others were missing, but the toll could continue to rise because some areas had not yet been reached. Nine hotels, 430 homes and 10 vessels were heavily damaged by the tsunami that came with no warning. The early warning system — designed to detect changes in wave height in coastal areas near an active volcano — hasn’t worked since 2012, government officials said. The Anak Krakatau volcano lies in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands, linking the Indian Ocean and Java Sea. It erupted about 24 minutes before the tsunami, the geophysics agency said. The tsunami was only 1 meter (3.3 feet), but a lot of structures were built close to the shoreline. Authorities warned residents to avoid the coast over fears that weather ongoing volcanic activity could trigger a new tsunami.

A quake triggered by Mount Etna’s ongoing eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, slightly injuring 10 people and prompting frightened Italian villagers to flee their homes. Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19am, was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna’s volcanic eruption this week. Italy’s national seismology institute said the quake registered a magnitude of 4.8 and occurred at a relatively shallow depth, 0.6 miles under the mountain’s surface. Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July. In recent days, its latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke, and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash. A new fracture has opened near Etna’s southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.

Weather

Blizzard warnings were in effect for parts of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota as of late Thursday. Some areas braced for up to 18 inches snow. Sustained winds of 15-30 mph with gusts 35 to 50 mph were anticipated in parts of the region. Travel will be hazardous with slick snow-covered roads, especially in areas where blizzard warnings are in effect. Temperatures are forecast to plunge as the storm moves across the area into the 20s, teens and single digits in some areas. Because of the wind, the temperatures will feel like below zero.

Almost 30 million people were under flood watches in the Southeast Thursday. Severe thunderstorms that could spawn tornadoes were forecast in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and western Tennessee on Thursday. Storms were also possible for parts of Iowa, western Illinois and northern Missouri. “The full spectrum of severe weather is anticipated with these storms,” AccuWeather reported. “Everything from frequent lightning strikes to flooding downpours, hail, strong wind gusts and isolated tornadoes may occur with this setup into Thursday night.”

Signs of the Times

December 20, 2018

­For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Iranian Refugees Disillusioned with Islam are Converting to Christianity

Iranian refugees in Turkey are converting from Islam to Christianity in such numbers that churches can’t keep up with the demand. Sebnem Koser Akcapar, a sociology professor at Istanbul’s Koç University, told National Public Radio, that the numbers of Iranian converts to Christianity has “grown tremendously over the years. A small church consisting of 20 to 30 families has become a much bigger congregation housing 80 to 100 people on a regular Sunday.” One of those converts is 37-year-old Farzana, who didn’t give her last name for fear of her safety. Converts from Islam to Christianity in Iran can face the death penalty. She walked away from Islam because of the way Iran treats women. She had divorced her abusive husband, but a court gave him custody of the children. “Mostly because of this I became disillusioned with Islam,” she said. “It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana told NPR of her new faith.

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Overhaul of Criminal Justice System

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system, after a remarkable political shift from Republicans who voted in large numbers to save money by reducing prison sentences, handing a rare bipartisan victory to President Trump. The First Step Act passed on a vote of 87 to 12, with dozens of Republicans, including longtime holdout Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), joining all 49 members of the Democratic caucus to approve legislation that even some GOP supporters fear could leave them vulnerable to charges of being soft on crime. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to allay those concerns shortly before the final vote, stressing that Trump “wants to be tough on crime, but fair on crime.” The bill would revise several sentencing laws, such as reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also overhauls the federal prison system to help inmates earn reduced sentences and lower recidivism rates. A different version passed the House this year, but the House is expected to pass the latest draft before sending it to Trump for his signature.

President Trump Declares Victory Over ISIS, Orders Troops Out of Syria

President Donald Trump declared victory over ISIS in a tweet and called Wednesday for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria over the apparent objections of military advisers and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The withdrawal of the more than 2,000 troops is based on Trump’s decision that the mission against ISIS is complete, a U.S. official said. Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in recent weeks and months have spoken of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of the country to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., derided Trump’s decision to withdraw, likening it to those made by former President Barack Obama to announce ahead of time plans to reduce forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the move was a “major blunder” and against the Pentagon’s advice. Kurds living under the protection of U.S forces and the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said this action would be a disaster for them, “It’s a historic mistake. We wanted to be part of America. We are surrounded by enemies, and ISIS isn’t even finished yet.” . In Russia, President Vladimir Putin applauded Trump’s decision, saying it could help create “a real prospect for a political solution” in Syria, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Islamic State militants had executed nearly 700 prisoners over the past two months in eastern Syria.

  • Withdrawal from Syria represents failure on many fronts. Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, remains in power despite U.S. demands for his ouster. Syria’s deadly civil war remains unresolved, with a mounting death toll and millions of refugees displaced. Russia and Iran’s influence in Syria has grown, while U.S. leverage has diminished. And while ISIS may not have a patch of land to call its own, the terrorist group remains a menacing threat in the region. Or course Russia applauds this decision, giving them the upper hand in the region.

ICE Deported 256,086 Illegal Aliens in FY2018

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) reports that in Fiscal Year 2018, they arrested 158,581 aliens, 90% of whom had criminal convictions (66%), pending criminal charges (21%), or previously issued removal orders (3%). The overall arrest figure represents an 11% increase over FY2017.Also, 396,448 people were initially booked into an ICE detention facility, an increase of 22.5% over FY2017. ICE removed 256,086 illegal aliens, reflecting an increase of 13% over FY2017. The majority of removals (57%) were convicted criminals. Additionally, 5,914 of the removed illegal aliens were classified as either known or suspected gang members or terrorists, which is a 9% increase over FY2017. Nearly 6,000 known or suspected gang members were removed in FY2018

Federal Judge Orders Deported Asylum Seekers Returned to U.S. for Hearing

A federal judge on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of ordering that asylum seekers who sued after their deportation be returned to the U.S. to have their claims heard anew, ruling against the Trump administration’s revised asylum policies. In his sweeping ruling Wednesday against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Sullivan said recent changes violated federal law. “The Court holds that it has jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs’ challenges to the credible fear policies, that it has the authority to order the injunctive relief, and that, with the exception of two policies, the new credible fear policies are arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the immigration laws,” Sullivan concluded. Sullivan went a big step further by ordering that “the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.” In addition, Sullivan blocked the Trump administration policies from being further applied. In response to the decision, the Justice Department said it was reviewing its options.

U.S. & Mexico Agree to Force Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico

The Trump administration reached a deal with Mexico that will force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as cases are processed, the Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday. The plan announced by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, which has been under negotiation with Mexico’s leftist government for several weeks, represents a major break with current screening procedures that generally allow those who have a credible fear of persecution to remain in the United States until a hearing with an immigration judge. Under the new rules, they’ll be required to wait in Mexico.

U.S. & Mexico Plan to Stem Migration from Central America

The United States and Mexico will be cooperating closely to convince thousands of potential Central American migrants to not risk the perilous journey to the U.S. border by investing money into some of the region’s poorest areas. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said up to $10.6 billion in existing U.S. funding would fund “institutional reform” and “good government” initiatives in Central America, along with regional development in southern Mexico — where new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to pull the region out of poverty through projects ranging from railways to refineries to planting thousands of hectares of trees “Both countries recognize the strong links between economic growth in southern Mexico and successfully promoting prosperity, good government and security in Central America,” Ebrard told reporters Tuesday.

Thousands of Migrant Kids Set for Release by Christmas

The Trump administration said Tuesday it’s eliminating some of the checks it makes before releasing illegal-immigrant children to homes in the U.S., clearing the way for thousands of the kids to be released by Christmas. “The children should be home with their parents. The government makes lousy parents,” Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families, told NPR in an interview announcing the change. She said 2,000 children are ready to be released this week.

Trump to Arm More Adults in Schools, End Obama’s Light Discipline

The Trump administration issued proposals Tuesday to prevent school shootings, a plan that includes arming more school personnel, taking guns away from highly dangerous people and revoking Obama-administration rules that were criticized for easing discipline of minority students. The president’s commission on school safety, which was formed after the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, made nearly 100 policy recommendations, mainly for state and local governments to consider. The commission said there is no “one size fits all” solution to prevent school shootings, and no new federal spending is being proposed. “Local problems need local solutions,” Commission Chairwoman Betsy DeVos told reporters. The option of arming more trained adults must rest with state and local governments, senior administration officials said. But they said it should be an option, especially in rural jurisdictions where the response time of local law-enforcement officials to a shooting could be longer than in other communities.

Gun-Related Deaths Reach Record High in U.S.

Gun-related deaths in the U.S. last year reached their highest point in 40 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database. In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were killed from gun-related incidents in the U.S., according to the data. By contrast, gun-related incidents accounted for less than 29,000 deaths in 1999. Of the 40,000 recorded gun-related deaths in 2017, more than a third were homicides and more than half were suicides. At 14 deaths per 100,000 people, white men accounted for the highest percentage of suicide deaths by firearm. Black men accounted for the most firearm homicide deaths. Nearly 500 gun deaths were unintentional.

2018 Deadliest Year Ever for Journalists

2018 was the worst year on record for deadly violence and abuse toward journalists, according to a report published Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders. For the first time the United States joined the ranks of places where the business of doing journalism carries real hazards. At least 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison and 60 are being held hostage, the report found. After falling for three years in a row, the number of journalists killed in connection with their work increased 8 percent since 2017. Conflict-zone Afghanistan was perhaps predictably the world’s deadliest country for journalists in 2018, with 15 killed. It was followed by Syria (11 killed) and Mexico (9 killed), the deadliest country for journalists outside a conflict zone. However, for the first time the U.S. was included among world’s most dangerous places for journalists because of the fatal shooting of five employees of the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Two other U.S. journalists, a local TV anchor and cameraman, were killed by a falling tree while covering Subtropical Storm Alberto’s extreme weather in North Carolina in May.

DNA, Genetic Genealogy Solve 27 Cold Cases

Law enforcement’s new partnership with genetic genealogy made 2018 a year of profound impact in how years-old cold case murders and rapes are investigated and solved. Detectives across the country said they were able to locate suspects in 27 cold cases this year after uploading crime scene DNA to GEDmatch.com, a public genealogy website, obtaining a match and then letting a genealogist create family trees through painstaking research that ultimately led to a suspect. Parabon NanoLabs said it has used crime scene DNA and GEDmatch to identify suspects and persons of interests in 24 cold cases and one fresh case and turned the names over to law enforcement agencies who paid for the research. “The power of this new partnership between genetic genealogy and law enforcement has unlocked one of the biggest, if not the biggest, crime-fighting breakthroughs in decades,” Parabon genealogist CeCe Moore said. “And, it isn’t just for cold cases. Applying genetic genealogy to active cases is where the real potential of this collaboration will be unleashed.”

Facebook Gave Tech Companies Intrusive Access to Private Data

Facebook gave other big tech companies “intrusive access” to the personal data of its 2.2. billion users — in some instances to private messages, usernames and contact information — raising questions about whether the company ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. These arrangements are detailed in a blockbuster New York Times report based on over 270 pages of internal Facebook documents and interviews with about 50 former company employees. The secretive arrangements were ostensibly meant to benefit Facebook’s never-ending push for growth and enable the companies it works with to add features to their products to improve them. However, the findings underscore just how much power the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company wields over the data of its users. According to the Times, Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of almost all Facebook users’ friends without consent and gave Netflix and Spotify access to Facebook users’ private messages. Facebook also allowed Amazon to get users’ names and contact information through their friends and permitted Yahoo to view streams of friends’ posts.

More Teens Vaping, But Drinking & Opioid Use Down

The percentage of high school seniors who say they vaped nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled this year, a dramatic increase that federal officials want to curb with new rules and restrictions. Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped a nicotine product within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent a year ago – the largest one-year increase of any substance use in the survey’s 43-year history. Students are drinking less, with lower rates of binge drinking or being drunk. Misuse of prescription opioids also decreased while the rate for other illicit drugs was either flat or down. Federal officials called the rise in vaping alarming. Officials and anti-smoking activists have called for more education about the potential harms of nicotine addiction and more oversight of the way the burgeoning e-cigarette industry markets e-cigarettes. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has described teen vaping an “epidemic.”

Boycotts of Chick-Fil-A Backfire

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food restaurant with the famed cattle urging “Eat Mor Chikin,” recently was banned from Rider University’s campus because the company’s owners support traditional marriage. The chain also faces a boycott in Toronto, and Pittsburgh officials tried to rid their city of the restaurant. The New Yorker magazine said it did not want another franchise in the Big Apple. There’s a web page called “These are the Best Reasons to Hate Chick-fil-A.” And on Facebook is a page called “Boycott Chick-fil-A.” But on Tuesday, the New York Post report that Chick-fil-A was on track to become the No. 3 fast-food chain in the U.S, surpassing Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy’s. Its stores grew nearly 8 percent to more than 2,100, and its sales were up as much as 15 percent to $10 billion. That’s on top of 14.2 percent growth last year, all the more impressive since its eateries are closed on Sundays.

Trump Administration to Tighten Work Requirements for Food Stamps

The Trump administration announced a plan Thursday to tighten work requirements for work-eligible Americans on food stamps — a move the Department of Agriculture says will nudge those on welfare toward self-sufficiency. The USDA announced that the rule, which will apply to able-bodied adults without dependents, will restrict the ability of states to exempt recipients from having to hold a job to receive the benefits. Currently, able-bodied recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) must work 20 hours a week or enroll in job training to maintain benefits, after their first three months in the program. But states can waive the requirement if their unemployment rates are above 10 percent or they show a demonstrable lack of jobs. States can also grant extensions of benefits for 15 percent of work-eligible adults without a waiver, and if they don’t use that waiver, they can bank the exemptions for later.

Economic News

Republicans backed down in their border security fight Wednesday and settled instead for a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government running through early February, avoiding a government shutdown and leaving the big fights for the new Congress. However, President Trump on Thursday reiterated that he will not sign a stopgap spending bill unless it includes money for a border wall. If no bill is passed by end-of-day Friday, many government departments will shut down, although some deemed necessary, such as air traffic controller, will remain in operation. Trump also announced that all federal employees can take Christmas Eve off.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates Wednesday for the fourth time this year, but signaled a more patient approach raising rates next year amid signs that the economy is starting to weaken. Central bankers unanimously agreed under Chairman Jerome Powell to lift the federal funds rate, which controls the cost of mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing to a range of 2.25% and 2.5%.The Fed chairman said there were a number of “cross-currents emerging” that prompted most officials to “modestly” lower their growth forecasts next year. He added that officials “now think it is more likely the economy will grow in a way that calls for two rate increases next year” — fewer than initially expected. The Dow tumbled to the lowest level of the year on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled a more aggressive stance than investors had hoped for.

Fears of an economic slowdown — or even recession — have turned a spotlight on the debt that businesses piled up during the past decade, when borrowing costs were historically low. Forty-six percent of global fund managers surveyed think corporate balance sheets are overleveraged, Bank of America said. That’s a record high for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey. Fifty-three percent of investors surveyed by Bank of America expect global growth to weaken over the next 12 months, the worst outlook since October 2008. U.S. nonfinancial companies rated by Moody’s were sitting on $5.7 trillion of debt as of the end of June. A severe slowdown, let alone an outright contraction, would make paying down debt difficult.

U.S. oil prices tumbled more than 2% to almost $46 a barrel on Tuesday. — the weakest price since September 2017. The deepening downturn in the oil patch is yet more evidence of investors fleeing risky assets as they brace for an economic slowdown. The same growth jitters that are rocking Wall Street — the Dow and S&P 500 are on track for their worst December since 1931 — are infecting commodities as well. “Weaker” economic growth, especially in emerging markets, will likely hurt demand for crude, the International Energy Agency said in a report last week. The price of crude oil has plummeted about 37% since hitting a four-year high of $76.90 a barrel in October. Prior to the last recession, oil prices had climbed over $100 per barrel.

Nearly one in five U.S. fuel stations were charging less than $2 per gallon of gasoline Tuesday, as falling oil prices deliver holiday savings for American motorists. Nationally, the average was $2.37 – 5 cents cheaper than a week ago, 26 cents cheaper than a month ago and 6 cents cheaper than a year ago. More than half of the stations in the country were below $2.25, according to the Oil Price Information Service. About 1 in 10 stations are still charging over $3 per gallon. Many of those are in California, where the national average was $3.40 on Monday, according to AAA. The highest-ever national average was $4.11 on July 17, 2008. A sharp decline in oil prices over the last few months has sparked the decline in gas prices.

According to data from the Social Security Administration (SSA), 62% of current retirees lean on the program for at least half of their income, with just over a third reliant on Social Security for virtually all (90%-plus) of their income. Just 1 in 10 aren’t reliant on their Social Security income in any way. Surveys conducted by Gallup show that more than 4 out of 5 non-retirees expect to lean on their retirement benefit as a major (30%) or minor (54%) income source. Historically, a majority of Americans claim benefits prior to reaching their full retirement ages. About 60% of retired workers in 2013 took their benefits between ages 62 and 64, with another 30% claiming at ages 65 or 66 (age 66 was the full retirement age in 2013). Comparatively, just 1 in 10 retirees took their benefits after their full retirement age. Preliminary data for 2017 shows that 57% were claiming prior to their full retirement age, with 34.3% signing up at age 62.

Companies with big footprints in Obamacare’s expanded markets saw their shares drop Monday, the first trading day after a federal judge ruled the 2010 health care law as unconstitutional. They face a new era of uncertainty, with hospitals contemplating the loss of billions of dollars for the increased costs of treating uninsured patients and insurers trying to figure out what their customer base could look like should the ruling be upheld on appeal. The judge put his decision on hold pending the results of appeals.

Persecution Watch

One hundred Christians have been detained in China, raising concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on religion. Among those detained is a prominent Chinese pastor and legal scholar, who was reportedly arrested on allegations of “inciting subversion of state power.” Christians haven’t been the only ones to experience serious pressure under China’s government: China has also been accused of carrying out a systematic campaign of human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Alliance Defending Freedom says a Catholic assisted living complex in Washington state has wrongly banned residents from saying “Merry Christmas” or displaying holiday decorations out of fear it will violate a federal law. Providence Place in Chehalis, Wash., is an assisting living apartment for senior citizens and receives government funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The building manager, Katrina Newman, told residents they are forbidden from celebrating Christmas. “As Christmas approached, Ms. Newman informed the residents that the Fair Housing Act prohibited residents from saying Merry Christmas, singing Christmas carols that reference Christ, or displaying any decorations referencing the Christian religion during the holiday season,” a letter from ADF to Providence Place states. But Newman did permit a Menorah in the public space because “it was cultural expression,” the letter says. ADF is asking the facility to restore the religious rights of its residents.

Middle East

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last Saturday that his country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “It is the right of every country to determine its national capital,” he added. Unlike the earlier US recognition of Jerusalem, Morrison announced that Australia’s will not include moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. “We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status determination,” he said, linking such a move to the peace process. Morrison added, however, “The international community must move beyond ritual denunciations of Israel to urge a return to negotiations of a two state solution.”

China

The Trump administration and more than a dozen international allies called out Beijing on Thursday for what they say are China’s persistent efforts to steal other countries’ trade secrets and advanced technologies and to compromise sensitive government and corporate computers, according to Western officials. The unprecedented mass condemnation marks a significant effort to hold China to account for its alleged malign acts. It represents a growing consensus that Beijing is flouting international norms of fair play to become the world’s predominant economic and technological power. The action comes as the U.S. Justice Department is expected to unveil criminal charges against hackers affiliated with China’s main intelligence service who allegedly took part in a long-running cyberspying campaign targeting U.S. and other countries’ networks. Sanctions related to the cyber economic espionage effort also were announced.

North Korea

North Korea has warned that new U.S. sanctions on three of its top officials could “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever” and could result in a return to “exchanges of fire.” The warning came days after the Treasury Department imposed the fresh sanctions on the three – who include Choe Ryong Hae, seen as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s right hand-man – citing continuing human rights abuses, censorship and the death last year of American prisoner Otto Warmbier. The statement, issued on Sunday by North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave credit to President Donald Trump, saying he “avails himself of every possible occasion to state his willingness to improve DPRK-U.S. relations.” However, it accused the State Department of being “bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

Somalia

The U.S. military says it has carried out six airstrikes in the Gandarshe area of Somalia which killed a total of 62 al-Shabab extremist rebels. In a statement issued Monday, the U.S. military’s Africa Command said it carried out four strikes on Dec. 15 in which 34 people were killed and two more on Dec. 16 which killed 28. All the air attacks were in the Gandarshe coastal area south of the capital, Mogadishu. All six strikes were carried out in close coordination with Somalia’s government, officials said. The airstrikes were “conducted to prevent al-Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks,” said a statement issued Monday by the U.S. military’s Africa Command. No civilians were injured or killed in the attacks, it said.

Congo

One of the deadliest Ebola outbreaks in history continues to worsen in the Democratic Republic of Congo with as many as 319 people now dead. The Ministry of Health said Tuesday that 542 Ebola cases had been recorded in the province of North Kivu. The Congo outbreak is the second-deadliest ever, behind only in West Africa in 2014, when the virus killed more than 11,000 people. It is Congo’s 10th epidemic since 1976, and second this year. On average, Ebola — which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases hemorrhaging — kills about half of those infected. The World Health Organization (WHO) said efforts to contain the outbreak have been hampered due to “non-engagement” from local communities and armed conflict in the region. The public health agency estimates that more than a million refugees and internally displaced people are traveling through and out of North Kivu and Ituri, which could hasten the spread of the virus.

Hungary

Ongoing protests in Hungary’s capital city of Budapest took a violent turn on Sunday. Thousands gathered to protest new legislation they call a “slave law,” because it would ask workers to take on up to 400 hours of overtime a year. The law was passed by Hungary’s parliament last week. The government says the law would allow people to work and earn more, but critics say the policy, while voluntary, invites exploitation. There’s been a lot of concern over recent political dealings in Hungary, namely over the ruling populist party’s perceived crackdown on democratic institutions. Earlier this year, the European Parliament took the unprecedented step of launching Article 7 — a disciplinary process — against Hungary, a rare development designed to prevent members from breaching the EU’s “core values.”

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s second-biggest airport has been closed for over 16 hours after drones were flown near the airfield in what police described as a “deliberate act.” On Thursday, police were hunting for the drone operators who have brought London’s Gatwick Airport to a standstill, causing travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers just days before Christmas. “Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” Sussex Police Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw said. Flights have been diverted or grounded since two drones were spotted near the airfield at around 9 p.m. Wednesday night.

Environment

After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord. But to the frustration of environmental activists and some countries who were urging more ambitious climate goals, negotiators delayed decisions on two key issues until next year in an effort to get a deal on them. The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year.

Overall, the U.S. role was somewhat schizophrenic, pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard for strong transparency rules. When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, “the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it’s largely succeeded,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank.

Weather

Washington D.C. is one of over a half-dozen U.S. cities for which 2018 is their wettest year on record, with roughly half of December still left to go. Saturday morning, Reagan National Airport’s year-to-date precipitation total eclipsed the previous record wet year which had stood for 129 years. Baltimore’s BWI Airport also topped their previous record wet year – 62.66 inches in 2003 – in mid-November, and has now picked up over two feet more precipitation than their yearly average of 41.85 inches. Wilmington, North Carolina reached 100 inches of yearly precipitation for the first time in records dating to 1871. For the first time, over 60 inches of precipitation was measured in a year on the Penn State University campus. Other yearly precipitation records were set in Charleston, West Virginia (old record: 61.01 inches in 2003), Lexington, Kentucky (old record: 66.35 inches in 2011), and Mason City, Iowa (old record: 47.75 inches in 2016).

At least 50 buildings were damaged in the town of Port Orchard, Washington, by a tornado that struck the town Tuesday afternoon. Local authorities said no serious injuries were reported in the tornado that sent debris some 6,000 feet into the air. If confirmed to be at least EF2, it would be the first F2/EF2 or stronger tornado confirmed in the state of Washington since May 13, 1986, according to the Tornado History Project. In Kitsap County, where Port Orchard is the county seat, only one other tornado has been confirmed since 1954 – an F0 twister that struck on April 9, 1991.