Signs of the Times (1/24/18)

Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. (Proverbs 3:25-26)

Trump Declares ‘Sanctity of Human Life Day’

President Donald Trump proclaimed Monday, January 22, 2018, “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The proclamation comes on the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. throughout the entire nine months of a mother’s pregnancy. “Today, we focus our attention on the love and protection each person, born and unborn, deserves regardless of disability, gender, appearance, or ethnicity,” begins Trump’s proclamation. “Reverence for every human life, one of the values for which our Founding Fathers fought, defines the character of our Nation,” Trump continued in the proclamation. “Today, it moves us to promote the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children.” Trump emphasized that science is on the side of life in the proclamation, saying, “Medical technologies allow us to see images of the unborn children… Those images present us with irrefutable evidence that babies are growing within their mothers’ wombs — precious, unique lives, each deserving a future filled with promise and hope.”

Atheist Organization Targets White House Bible Study

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is suing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over a weekly White House cabinet-member bible study. The leader of the bible study is Capitol Ministries founder Ralph Drollinger, who has led the studies for years. Drollinger said all related Bible study expenses are paid by Capitol Ministries. Cabinet secretaries who attend the Capitol Ministries Bible Study include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. A press release says the FFRF wants to investigate how government resources are being used and if employees in the agency feel “coerced into organizing and even participating in the event.” The Bible study is for cabinet secretaries only. Employees do not attend the studies, according to CBN News. The FFRF and CREW filed suit when HUD refused to waive fees for the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. HUD provided responses to the requests but said the fees were needed because the records were “not in the public interest or related to HUD operations or activities.”

Congress Passes Funding Bill, Ends 3-Day Shutdown

Senate Democrats blinked and signed off on a three-week extension of government funding without first addressing the fate of young undocumented immigrants, notes the New York Times. Over the weekend it became clear that using the shutdown to insist on protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants was a serious miscalculation. By abandoning the strategy on its third day, Democrats believe they limited whatever damage there may be and gave the public time to forget about the disruption before the crucial November election. But by supporting the government’s reopening, they provoked a surge of outrage from the party’s left as progressive activists and lawmakers assailed the deal as a capitulation based on a mere promise by McConnell.

Schumer Rescinds Offer to Fund Border Wall

The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is taking back his offer to President Trump to fund the border wall. Schumer said he put Trump’s “signature campaign issue on the table in exchange” for legal protections DREAMers, young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The White House has given a different account of Friday’s meeting, saying Schumer offered legislative approval for the wall but not actual funding. President Trump fired back Tuesday night at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for offering, then rescinding, a deal to support border wall funding in return for an immigration package that protects illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. “If there is no Wall, there is no DACA,” the president tweeted around 11 p.m. So, now the prospects for a government funding bill in less that three weeks doesn’t look promising.

While ICE Cracks Down on M-13, ORR Lets More In

Even as the feds crack down on MS-13 by taking scores of members off U.S. streets, another government agency could be helping the infamous gang replenish its ranks, federal records show. The Office of Refugee Resettlement in the 2017 fiscal year placed more than 40,000 unaccompanied Central American teenagers around the country, and while most are likely not criminals, some most certainly are. Even youth who come with the best intentions can wind up targeted by the murderous street gang, say experts. “In their relentless effort to expand gang membership and gain traction within our communities, they aggressively target our children in school,” Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan said. Of 214 MS-13 members rounded up by law enforcement in the past few weeks, officials say at least a third of the suspects would have been classified as UACs (unaccompanied alien children). Meanwhile, the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services continues to place children, some with existing gang ties, some vulnerable to recruitment and still others to victimization, as was the case in an April quadruple homicide in Central Islip, New York, that has been tied to the gang.

M-13 Sending their Most Violent Members to U.S.

Frustrated MS-13 gang leaders feeling the pressure from the Trump administration’s crackdown are looking to send “younger, more violent offenders” to the United States to take over the role of being enforcers, officials say. The revelations were made Thursday during a House Committee on Homeland Security meeting on fighting international criminal organizations, where officials discussed the arrests and imprisonment of MS-13 members and leadership over the last year. Peter King, R-N.Y., the committee’s chairman, said his staff recently visited El Salvador and was told by law enforcement there that the gang — which mostly operates out of prisons in the Central American country — is “frustrated that MS-13 members in [the U.S.] are not violent enough.” Justice Department figures say the gang has 40,000 members worldwide, with around 10,000 in the U.S. carrying out crimes ranging from extortion to gun trafficking.

500 Criminal Ex-Dreamers Ordered Out Still at Large in U.S.

More than 500 Dreamers who lost their benefits due to criminal activity are still at large in the United State despite deportation orders, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) report. According to USCIS, 2,127 had their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status revoked since 2013 for criminal convictions or gang activity. “I assume that at least some of the 940 criminals who had DACA but who have not been removed are still in state or local custody serving time, but it is possible, even likely, that some were released by sanctuary jurisdictions, and ICE has not re-apprehended them,” Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) Policy Studies Director Vaughan said.

TSA Imposes Stricter Cargo Screening for 5 Middle East Countries

The Transportation Security Administration, citing terror concerns, is implementing a stricter screening program for air cargo arriving to the United States from five countries in the Middle East. The agency is requiring six carriers that depart with US-bound air cargo from seven airports in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to be subject to further scrutiny. The five countries were chosen because of a “demonstrated intent by terrorist groups to attack aviation from them,” according to TSA. The tougher screening procedures follow a foiled terror plot in Australia last summer, which revealed a senior ISIS commander had shipped partially assembled components of a bomb on a commercial cargo plane from Turkey to Australia.

Number of Foreign Science Students Drops in 2017

International student enrollment in graduate science and engineering programs in the U.S. dropped in 2017 after several years of increases. Science and engineering fields saw a 6% decrease in international graduate students from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017, and almost all of that decrease was concentrated in two fields: computer science and engineering. This follows steady increases from 2005 to 2015 and comes at a time when demand for tech workers outstrips supply. The biggest drop came from Indian students, whose numbers fell by 19% in 2017. The number of U.S.-born students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) graduate programs started declining in 2008, and international students have been important in keeping program numbers up

Google Was the Top Lobbyist in 2017

Google outspent all other companies in 2017 to influence Washington, highlighting both the sprawling reach of the country’s thriving tech industry and the rising concern by regulators and lawmakers about its ascendance. All told, the search giant broke its own record by allocating more than $18 million to lobby Congress, federal agencies and the White House. It also spent money to weigh in on an effort by lawmakers and regulators to regulate online advertising, which is at the core of Google’s business, according to disclosures filed to the Senate Office of Public Records. Google was not the only tech giant to ramp up spending in the nation’s capital. Facebook, Amazon and Apple broke their own company records by pouring money into lobbying operations. Combined, the four companies devoted about $50 million toward lobbying efforts during President Trump’s first year in office.

Senate Confirms Powell for Federal Reserve Chair

The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Jerome H. Powell as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, voting 84 to 13 to give President Trump’s nominee a four-year term as one of the most powerful stewards of the global economy. Powell, a current Fed governor and former financial-firm executive, will replace Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen, whose term ends in February. First appointed to the Fed board in 2012 by President Barack Obama, Powell is expected to largely continue Yellen’s policies — a contrast from other candidates Trump considered who had criticized the Fed under Yellen for its focus on low interest rates and economic stimulus. Powell also worked in President George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Department, as well as at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Largest East Coast Refinery Goes Bankrupt, Cites EPA Rules

The largest oil refinery along the U.S. East Coast filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday, blaming its downfall on “broken” environmental rules. Philadelphia Energy Solutions said it went bankrupt because of “skyrocketing costs” to comply with the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard. The rule, aimed at lowering pollution, requires refiners to either blend oil with renewable fuels or buy credits. The company has received a $260 million lifeline from lenders and investors. Existing shareholders led by private-equity giant Carlyle Group (CG) have agreed to inject $65 million into the company. That’s enough to keep its two refineries operational and its 1,100 employees paid.

IMF: Trump Tax Cuts Will Boost Global Economy

The International Monetary Fund said Monday that changes to the U.S. tax code will improve the global economy. The IMJ now expects global growth of 3.9% this year and in 2019, an increase of 0.2 percentage points over the rates it predicted in October. It would be the quickest expansion since 2011. The tax cuts approved in December were responsible for roughly half of the boost to growth. The IMF expects the U.S. economy to grow by 2.7% in 2018, significantly faster than its earlier prediction of 2.3%. But the fund cautioned that the positive effects of the U.S. tax changes, which include a lower rate for corporations, would be fleeting. It said that expiring tax provisions and larger fiscal deficits brought on by the tax cuts would drag growth lower, starting in 2022.

Economic New

The unemployment rate for African American workers has never been lower — another sign of the strength of the economy. Still, at 6.8%, black unemployment remains well above the rate for white people, at 3.7%. That disparity is deeply rooted and a continuing cause of concern for economists and advocates.

Economic optimism is at a 17-year high in The Washington Post-ABC News poll, but just 36 percent approve of the job President Donald Trump has done. The new survey finds that 58 percent of all Americans give positive ratings to the state of the economy; that is the highest in a Post-ABC survey in 17 years and seven points higher than on the eve of Trump’s inauguration. At the same time, Trump’s approval rating has remained at a historically low level, compared with past presidents. Today, 36 percent approve of the job Trump is doing, while 58 percent disapprove, little changed over the past few months.

Confidence levels at some of America’s largest corporations soared over the past year despite uncertainty created by President Trump’s election and the fractious geopolitical headlines his administration unleashed, according to a report published Monday. Professional services giant PwC’s annual CEO survey found U.S. business leaders’ optimism about global growth prospects and the worldwide economic environment for the next 12 months more than doubled to 59%. This time last year, it was 24%. PwC’s report attributes the boosted confidence to a U.S. economy that is growing at a respectful rate of 3%, increased consumer confidence, the new tax cut law, and jobless rates that have hit new lows.

Starbucks is dishing out pay increases and stock bonuses to employees, becoming the latest major employer to boost compensation after President Trump’s tax cut. The coffeeshop chain said it would spend $120 million on wage hikes that will vary in magnitude throughout the country. The company said it already pays more than minimum wage in all of its markets. The Seattle-based company will also give stock grants to everyone employed at the company’s stores, plants and support centers as of Jan. 1. The company credited “recent changes in the U.S. tax law,” saying they “accelerated” the decision.

The three richest Americans have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the U.S. population. And 82% of the global wealth generated last year went to just 1% of the world’s population. These are among the findings of a study released Sunday by Oxfam, a British campaigning group, as political and business leaders, including President Trump, prepared to gather in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. Income inequality will be a major topic at the conference, which runs from Tuesday through Friday. “A perfect storm is driving up the bargaining power of those at the top while driving down the bargaining power of those at the bottom. If such inequality remains unaddressed, it will trap people in poverty and further fracture our society.” There are now 2,043 billionaires worldwide, and collectively, their fortunes grew by $762 billion in 2017, while the poorest half of humanity saw no increase in their wealth at all.


Mexico saw a total of 25,339 murders last year, more than ever before. Authorities began collecting data in 1997, and the previous record high of 22,409 occurred in 2011. The homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants meanwhile climbed to 20.51, against 16.80 in 2016. Mexico is convulsing from a wave of violence linked to drug trafficking that has left almost 200,000 dead since December 2006, when former president Felipe Calderon’s government launched a controversial military anti-drug operation that, according to its critics, has only led to more murders and attacks. The figures do not detail how many of the murders are linked to organized crime but experts say it is probably a large majority since the bulk were recorded in states where drug cartels are deeply entrenched, such as southern Guerrero and eastern Veracruz. Within the last year, even states that were previously relatively peaceful, such as Baja California Sur, northwestern Colima and central Guanajuato, were shaken by violence.

Middle East

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas secured assurances from EU leaders in Brussels on Monday that they were in favor of the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem being the capital of a future Palestinian State. The statements came on the same day US Vice President Mike Pence was in Jerusalem, where he made a point of referring to the city as the “capital of Israel” and saying that the U.S. Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem by the end of the year. During his meetings in Brussels, Abbas also urged the assembled EU foreign ministers to recognize the “State of Palestine” immediately, but failed to garner any substantial support.

Islamic State

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS killed approximately 150 ISIS fighters in a Saturday airstrike, Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition, told CNN Tuesday. The target of the strike was an “ISIS headquarters and command and control center,” Dillon said, adding that the strike involved “over a week’s worth” of intelligence work involving multiple kinds of coalition intelligence as well as information from US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS on the ground. A statement from the coalition said that the location was “exclusively” occupied by ISIS fighters and was under constant surveillance, ruling out the possibility of civilian casualties. Dillon said the strike took place in the Syrian town of As Shafah, located in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, an area where remnants of ISIS continue to operate.

“The depletion of ISIS on the battlefield has not yet translated into the degradation of ISIS in the online space,” said Tara Maller, a former CIA military analyst and senior policy adviser for the Counter Extremism Project, a nonpartisan group that promotes policies to block extremist content online. “What we see is a continuing effort to engage online and an increased effort to inspire people to carry out lone-wolf attacks.”


European governments may have found a way to save — or at least sustain — the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that President Donald Trump has threatened to scuttle. With Trump vowing to back out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by May if progress isn’t made in toughening some of its terms, officials from France, Germany and the U.K. — working with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — are focusing on how to restrain Iran’s development of ballistic missiles.


Afghan authorities said 19 civilians, including 14 foreign nationals, died in a 12-hour siege of an international hotel that ended Sunday. The Taliban, the country’s largest insurgent group, claimed responsibility for the assault at the Inter-Continental Hotel, an assertion that couldn’t be independently confirmed. Afghan officials said all the attackers had been killed. The high death toll of foreigners is a sharp setback for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which is heavily reliant on foreign aid and has struggled to assure the safety of foreigners here amid an escalation of violence in Kabul and other Afghan cities. After Afghan authorities offered conflicting casualty tolls throughout the day, the Interior Ministry said late Sunday that in addition to five Afghans, nine Ukrainians, one Kazakh and one Greek had been killed in the raid and the military operation to regain control of the hotel.

North Korea

North Korean officials desperate to feed Kim Jong Un’s hungry army are ransacking the homes of drought-stricken farmers to collect every last grain of food inside, according to a report that highlights rising tensions between the regime and the public. The raids come weeks after news surfaced that soldiers in Kim’s army are being given months off at a time to scrounge around fields to find food. “Officials carried out home searches in Paekam County to determine how much food some families had,” a North Korean source told Daily NK. Despite drought conditions and a poor harvest last year in parts of North Korea, government officials are still demanding farmers fulfill a mandatory quota for military provisions.

South Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s push to improve relations with North Korea is producing a public backlash here over an agreement by both countries to show unity at the Winter Olympic Games next month. The accord calling for the athletes to march under a unified Korean flag and field a combined women’s hockey team is being panned by South Koreans as unfair to the South’s players who worked for years to make the team. A survey by SBS television station this month found 73% opposed a combined hockey team, including 82% disapproval among those in their 20s and 30s.


Venezuela’s government leadership is becoming more and more isolated from the world. The European Union sanctioned seven Venezuelan leaders on Monday, each of them accused of undermining democracy in one way or another. The EU already banned weapons sales to Venezuela in November. The financial assets of all seven leaders will be frozen in Europe, although it’s not clear that they have any. World leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro for shredding democracy in Venezuela. Severe shortages of food and medicine have gotten worse and hyperinflation has set in as the government slips further into default and crisis. Venezuela owes $141 billion to bondholders, other nations and a long list of companies. Venezuela has more crude oil than any other nation. But the crisis there is so bad that even oil companies are losing big money. The world’s largest oil service provider, Schlumberger, announced Friday that it wrote down $938 million of its holdings in Venezuela. It already took a $460 million loss last year because of unpaid bills from the Venezuelan government and its state-run oil company.


A magnitude 7.9 earthquake off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday prompted a tsunami warning for a large swath of coastal Alaska and British Columbia. That warning was later canceled by the National Tsunami Center, but a watch remained in place for parts of the state, the AP reports. The strong earthquake was located about 175 miles southeast of Kodiak Island. Warnings from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska warned: “Emergency Alert. Tsunami danger on the coast. Go to high ground or move inland.” Kodiak officials warned residents to evacuate if they lived in low-lying areas. People reported on social media that the quake was felt hundreds of miles away, in Anchorage.


At least one person died, and another 12 people were injured by flying rocks after a volcanic eruption in central Japan. Eight others were injured. Seven civilian skiers became trapped after the eruption but were later rescued. None sustained life-threatening injuries. The ski resort’s gondola was suspended after the eruption, trapping some 80 skiers atop the slopes. All were later rescued, with some airlifted to safety by military helicopter and others brought down the mountain by snowmobile. Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, about 125 miles northwest of Tokyo, last erupted in 1983.


Residents were ordered to evacuate areas west of Fort Worth, Texas, Monday afternoon as several wildfires were fanned by winds and advanced on homes. The largest grassfire burned in the Willow Park area of Parker County, about 20 miles west of downtown Fort Worth. At least 1,000 acres of land was torched by the so-called Farmers Road Fire, and some residents near Interstate 20 were under mandatory evacuation orders. Two schools in Aledo were also evacuated. All of the east and westbound lanes of I-20 and I-30 from I-820 were temporarily shut down due to wildfires Monday. Though the causes of the fires have not been determined, winds were strong on Monday, gusting up to 40 mph in the area.


At least three tornadoes damaged homes, buildings from northeast Texas to southwest Missouri Sunday. A few more severe storms are possible in the South again on Monday. This is due to a change in the jet stream, which will finally push cold air out of the Deep South. It’s been two months since the last significant flareup of severe thunderstorms in the U.S.

Winter Storm Jaxon caused travel problems on roads and at the airports all across the northern tier of the U.S. A stretch of Interstate 70 more than 200 miles long was closed Monday morning from areas east of Denver to WaKeeney, Kansas. Hazardous travel was also reported in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, where blizzard warnings were in effect Monday morning. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was forced to shut down all four of its runways late Monday. Drifts up to 2 feet were spotted in Chanhassen, Minnesota, where 11 inches of snowfall was measured. Maine received 8 inches while Iowa had 14 inches of snow.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued flood watches in portions of western New York, southeast Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine for the potential of ice jam flooding this week, caused by warmer weather and heavy rain. For more than a week, ice jams have plagued parts of the Northeast, most notably on the Housatonic River in Kent, Connecticut, where a long-lived ice jam prompted a state of emergency.

Waves reached up to 60 feet tall as they battered much of the coast in the Pacific Northwest over the weekend. The monster waves were being whipped up by a strong area of low pressure off British Columbia’s coast. The result was strong northwest winds driven toward the Washington and Oregon coasts. The power of the waves and wind even caused ground shaking that was picked up by seismic stations.

The River Seine has burst its banks in Paris after days of heavy rains, prompting the military to step in for possible evacuations. At least seven commuter train stations were closed in suburbs west of Paris, while roads along the Seine remain closed as water levels reached 11 feet above normal. Paris has received 7.2 inches of rain from Dec. 1 through Jan. 21, double the normal amount of rainfall for the period.

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