Posts Tagged ‘end-times’

Signs of the Times (2/21/18)

February 21, 2018

For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:1)

Florida Shooter Known by Police & FBI

In the aftermath of the attack, revelations about the teen’s alarming warning signs appeared to be repeatedly missed or ignored, despite numerous 911 calls, a report to the FBI based on a social media posting, his former classmates expressing fear of him and a documented history of mental health issues. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at his former Florida high school, had scores of run-ins with law enforcement dating back to 2010 — with one report saying sheriff’s deputies responded to his home more than 35 times in just six years. Broward County Sheriff’s deputies received at least 36 emergency 911 calls from 80th Terrace St., in Parkland – the suburban address where the teenager lived with his younger brother, Zachary, and their adoptive mother, Lynda, BuzzFeed reported. “Hi, I’m Nick,” he used to say, according to an acquaintance interviewed by CNN. “I’m a school shooter.” Cruz posed with guns and knives in photos posted on Instagram and made a chilling online comment about a mass shooting carried out in New York this summer. Despite the repeated calls to authorities, Cruz was never arrested – and was basically cleared as being “no threat to anyone or himself,” as one therapist said in a police report from Sept. 28, 2016. According to reports, Cruz and his brother both suffered from mental health issues, including ADHD and OCD, and took medication as treatment. Despite these issues, Cruz was able to legally purchase the AR-15 he used in the mass shooting.

  • This is not a unique scenario, but unfortunately the norm in our increasingly ‘tolerant’ and ‘inclusive’ society that doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings

School Shootings on the Rise

According to a Wikipedia article about school shootings as summarized in Charisma News, there were 28 school shootings in America in the 19th century, 226 shootings in the 20th century and 223 already in the 21st century. We are not even one-fifth through the 2000s, so this projects out to 1,239 shootings in the 21st century. During the 1950s, there were 17 school shootings; in the 1960s, 18; in the 1970s, 30; in the 1980s, 39; in the 1990s, 62; in the first decade of this century (2000-2009), 60 school shootings; from 2010-2018, 153. Of those 223 school shootings so far this century, 60 occurred from 2000-2009 and 153 from 2010-2018, so the trend continues upward at a rapidly accelerating pace.

  • As the end-time run-up to the Tribulation continues, God is gradually removing His restraining Spirit: For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. (2Thessalonians 2:7)

Dozens of School Attacks Prevented Last Week

When it comes to horrific school attacks and shootings, “See something, say something, do something” is apparently a policy that really does save innocent lives. Police, schools and parents are stopping school attacks across America by taking the threats seriously, reporting them and quickly arresting the students before there’s ever a massacre. Police in Foley, Alabama, arrested a 14-year-old male student who reportedly threatened to “shoot up the school” on Feb. 20. Police say the student told someone he was “going to shoot up the school by the end of the year.” A student in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was arrested Feb. 16 after the individual made a Snapchat post threatening to “shoot up the high school like they did in Florida.” A 13-year-old boy in Pixley, California, was arrested Feb. 16 after he threatened to “shoot up” the school in a post he made online. Asante Freeman, 18, was arrested Feb. 16 in Fresno, CA, after he reportedly threatened to bring an AR-15 rifle to school in Facebook posts. Police arrested Christopher Roman, 20, on Feb. 20 in Waterbury, CT, who threatened to “shoot up the school” in a Facetime post. Officers with the Daytona beach Police Department arrested a 20-year-old man on Feb. 15 who had threatened his classmates with violence and made “other disturbing general comments.” These are just a few of the dozens of arrests made in just one week.

  • Our youth are being overtaken by demonic anti-Christ spirits. Much prayer/warfare is required.

Trump Proposes Modest Gun-Control Measures

President Trump on Tuesday signaled an openness to modest gun-control measures following what he called an “evil massacre” at a South Florida high school last week that left 17 dead and prompted passionate calls from students for reform. Trump directed the Justice Department to draft a ban on devices known as “bump stocks,” molded pieces of plastic or metal that can attach to a legal semiautomatic gun and allow it to fire up to 100 rounds in seven seconds, similar to an illegal machine gun. He also indicated he favored raising the minimum age for buying semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21. Trump also signaled he was in favor of expanded background checks. Students at several Florida schools walked out Wednesday morning to press the government for more gun control.

Supreme Court Lets Stand CA Gun Waiting Period

The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to hear a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for gun purchases, the second longest in the nation. As the national debate over guns intensified following last week’s school shooting in Florida that killed 17 students and teachers, the high court continued to resist inserting itself in the debate— a path it has followed for several years. Justice Clarence Thomas issued an angry, 14-page dissent in which he complained that lower courts have failed to give the Second Amendment “the respect due an enumerated constitutional right.” But none of the court’s other conservatives joined him. Since its landmark rulings in 2008 and 2010 which upheld the right to keep and bear firearms for self-defense, the Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges from gun rights or gun control groups. That has left issues such as assault weapons bans, bump stocks, trigger locks and the right to carry guns in public up to the states.

Russia Exploits Florida School Shooting

One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate. The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. “This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically. One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.

13 Russian Nationals and 3 Russian Companies Indicted for Election Meddling

Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential elections. The case brought by Robert Mueller, special counsel for the Justice Department, details a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” against the U.S. The national security adviser to President Trump said Saturday that the new FBI indictments show indisputably that Russians meddled in U.S. elections. H.R. McMaster said “with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now incontrovertible” that Moscow meddled in the 2016 campaign. Executives from online social media companies, including those from Facebook and Twitter, testified just weeks ago on Capitol Hill that Russia indeed used social media to disrupt the 2016 White House race and sow discord among voters. However, the Justice Department made clear in its case that the indictment does not allege that any of the interference changed the outcome of the presidential race. The defendants are accused of spreading derogatory information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, denigrating Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — and ultimately supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and then-Republican candidate his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, this time against a lawyer who had worked with some of President Trump’s former campaign aides. Prosecutors charged that the lawyer, Alex Van Der Zwaan, lied to FBI agents about his conversations with former Trump aide Rick Gates, who was indicted last year on charges related to his work on behalf of pro-Russian factions in Ukraine. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was charged along with Gates.

Congressional Efforts on Immigration Fail

Congressional efforts to reach an immigration compromise collapsed in Washington this week. The Senate voted down four bills that could have provided long-term protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children amidst a contentious back-and-forth between Capitol Hill and the White House. Trump gave Congress a deadline of March 5 to pass a bill to protect DREAMers, a deadline that is fast approaching as Congress prepares to take a week off following Presidents Day. Federal courts have forced the Trump administration to continue processing renewals for DACA recipients, but that could only be a temporary reprieve if the Supreme Court decides to shut the program down once again.

94% of Women in Hollywood Say They’ve Been Sexually Harrassed

Ninety-four percent of women questioned in an exclusive survey by USA TODAY say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault during their careers in Hollywood. Such harassment includes unwanted sexual comments and groping. Propositioning women. Exposing themselves. Coercing women into having sex or doing something sexual. And, especially pertinent to showbiz, forcing women to disrobe and appear naked at an audition without prior warning. Working in partnership with The Creative Coalition, Women in Film and Television and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, USA TODAY surveyed 843 women who work in the entertainment industry in a variety of roles (producers, actors, writers, directors, editors and others) and asked them about their experiences with sexual misconduct.

  • Washington, D.C. may be a swamp, but Hollywood is a cesspool.

Economic News

U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose in February to the second-highest level since 2004 as tax cuts and a strong job market helped Americans shrug off stock-market volatility, a University of Michigan survey showed Friday. The rise in sentiment, which surpassed the forecasts of all analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, comes as Americans’ paychecks are getting bigger due to the implementation of tax cuts under legislation signed by President Donald Trump in December. The increase is also consistent with data on solid hiring and rising wages released by the Labor Department earlier this month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its best weekly gain since the 2016 presidential election last week, a rebound that followed its biggest downturn in two years. This signals that recent investor jitters over inflation have eased, but volatility still plagued the market this week.. This past week’s gain of 4.3% for the Dow Jones industrial average comes after a volatile period during which the popular stock gauge suffered its first official correction (a 10% drop) since February 2016. The Dow has now recouped about half of its losses suffered in the recent sell-off.

Groundbreakings on new homes jumped 9.7% last month to the highest level since October 2016, welcome news for a housing market struggling with a shortage of homes for sale. The Commerce Department said Friday that housing starts came in at an annual pace of 1.33 million in January, up from 1.21 million in December and 1.24 million in January 2017. Construction of single-family homes rose 3.7%. Construction of apartments and condominiums shot up 19.7%, the most since December 2016. Home construction soared 45.5% in the Northeast, rose 10.7% in the West and grew 9.3% in the South. But homebuilding dropped 10.2% in the Midwest.

Builders haven’t been putting up homes fast enough to meet demand. A shortage of houses on the market has driven up prices and blunted sales. Standard & Poor’s reported last month that U.S. home prices rose 6.2% in November from a year earlier, according to its CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index. And sales of existing homes fell 3.6% in December, though sales rose slightly for the full year 2017 from 2016, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Mortgage interest rates jumped again last week, causing mortgage application volume to fall 6.6% on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous week. Borrowers today may be more likely to take out a home equity line of credit than to refinance a mortgage and lose the low rate they already have. Home equity line volume has been rising steadily, although it is still not as high as it was during the last housing boom, when borrowers were using their homes like ATMs.

China is by far the largest holder of Treasuries, the debt that the United States sells in the form of bonds when it needs to borrow money. China’s holdings climbed 13% to $1.18 trillion last year. And the United States is about to sell even more debt. The Republican tax cuts and the federal budget deal will require even more borrowing. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the deficit could swell to $1 trillion next year. Now, President Trump is considering more tariffs that would punish China, but he needs China more than ever in the coming years to pay for the U.S. government, creating quite a quandary.

Persecution Watch

Thousands of Christians are being butchered in Nigeria and whole villages being destroyed. Fulani tribesmen are raping and killing villagers. Children being used as Islamic suicide bombers, resulting in scores of casualties, reports the American Family Association. But nothing is being reported about it in the mainstream media.  A headline on Jihad Watch this week said,: “Nigeria: Muslims wipe out 15 villages in mass slaughter of Christians, government does nothing. Despite several calls to the governor and his deputy, and other security apparatus, the government remained silent as the atrocities continued. The Fulani were able to carry out their deadly attack. They stayed for hours in the vicinity, moving at will, unchallenged. According to Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, “Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari clearly has no sympathy for the victims. He shares the world view of the jihadi attackers.”

Algerian authorities are citing health and safety regulations to shut down church buildings, in actions one Arab Christian organization has described as “a new wave of persecution”. A source reports that eight churches have been shut down by the government. A source in Algeria stated, “These recent days, there is a government commission that is going around to visit all the churches to look for little faults and give notifications for closure, reports Barnabas Aid.

Middle East

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) placed near the Gaza border fence by a Palestinian terror militia exploded on Saturday, wounding four IDF soldiers as they inspected it. In response, Israel launched air strikes on several Hamas targets inside the Strip, following up with a strike early Monday morning on underground tunnels being dug by terror groups under the border. The strike on the tunnels was also in response to rockets fired into Israel from the Strip Sunday evening. In total, the IDF attacked six targets belonging to Hamas.

Israeli energy company Delek Drilling has announced a $15 billion deal to supply natural gas to Egypt. Delek and its U.S. partner, Noble Energy, signed a deal Monday to sell a total of 64 billion cubic meters of gas over a 10-year period to Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings. “I welcome the historic agreement that was announced on the export of Israeli gas to Egypt. This will put billions into the state treasury to benefit the education, health and social welfare of Israel’s citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Yossi Abu, chief executive of Delek Drilling, said that the deal is the largest-ever export agreement for Israel’s nascent natural gas industry. He expects most of the gas to be used for Egypt’s domestic market, although he believes it could also help pave the way toward turning Egypt into an export hub for Israeli gas.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces killed at least 98 people, including 20 children, in one of the deadliest days of bombings in the opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta in three years, an activist group said Tuesday. Syrian Civil Defense, a civilian-led emergency response group known as White Helmets, said some people are still trapped under the rubble. It said hundreds have been wounded in a week-long bombardment. Since Sunday, 194 people — 52 children and 29 women — have been killed in regime bombings, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It marks one of the deadliest periods for civilian deaths since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Syria’s messy war is becoming even messier. On Tuesday, pro-regime militias reportedly moved into the embattled enclave of Afrin, which is under siege from Turkish forces who invaded Syria last month. The regime units appeared to be reinforcing Syrian Kurdish factions that have controlled the area near the Turkish border, much to the frustration of Ankara. The battles in Afrin risk a wider conflagration. The main Syrian Kurdish armed group, known as the YPG, is seen by Turkey as a direct proxy of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which operates inside Turkey and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. But the United States supports the YPG, depending on its fighters to help combat the jihadist Islamic State.

Iran

National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster made an appeal to NATO members and allies at the Munich Security Conference to look hard at who they’re doing business with overseas and cut off funding that indirectly funds Hezbollah and other proxy militias that bolster Iranian influence. “When you invest in Iran, you’re investing in the IRGC. You might as well cut the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a check and say, ‘please use this to commit more murder across the Middle East,'” McMaster said. “And when we look at the biggest trading partners with Iran, we of course see Russia, we see China. But we also see Japan, South Korea and Germany. It’s time to focus business intelligence efforts to figure out who we are really doing business with and cut off funding.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday that it was “time for the Security Council to act” following the release of a report by UN experts concluding that Iran had violated the arms embargo on Yemen. The report found that Tehran had failed to block supplies to Yemen’s Huthi rebels of ballistic missiles that were fired at Saudi Arabia. “This report highlights what we’ve been saying for months: Iran has been illegally transferring weapons in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions,” Haley said in a statement. The ambassador added that “the world cannot continue to allow these blatant violations to go unanswered” and that Tehran must face “consequences.”

North Korea

On Feb. 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office. The North Korean decision came after Pence had used his Asian/Olympics trip to denounce the nation’s nuclear ambitions and announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against the regime yet, while also taking steps to further solidify the U.S. alliance with both Japan and South Korea.

Myanmar

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to resettle as many as 6,000 Rohingyas who are trapped in “no man’s land” between the two countries. Bangladesh had argued that Myanmar should take them back as they hadn’t yet crossed the border after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. More than 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Rakhine State since August, when armed militants attacked security forces in the region. The Burmese army responded by carrying out so-called clearance operations targeting terrorists. Those who have fled have told gut-wrenching stories of systematic mass rape, murder and the burning down of entire villages. The UN and the US say they believe the violence constitutes ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies most of the allegations. Much of the border is secured to control migration and the journey by water is a perilous. Hundreds of Rohingya have died attempting to cross the Naf river to enter Bangladesh.

Environment

The Western Arctic caribou herd in Alaska is seeing a population increase after being on the decline for more than a decade. Aerial photographs taken of the Western Arctic herd counted 239,055 caribous, which raised the total estimated number of the caribou to 259,000, according to a release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (DFG). This is a leap of more than 50,000 caribous from the 201,000 counted just a year ago. There were fewer productive cows exiting the population and an increased number of calves joining the herd.

Earthquakes

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit near the Mexican coast Friday was so powerful that its impact was felt in Mexico City. Thirteen people are dead and 15 injured. The city is still dealing with the effects of a 7.1 magnitude quake in September of 2017that left hundreds dead. People were forced to flee swaying buildings and office towers in the country’s capital. The epicenter was roughly 23 miles northeast of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state, in a rural area near the Pacific coast and the border with Guerrero state. It had a depth of 15 miles.

Wildfires

An historical landmark is threatened, and residents have been forced from their homes in Bishop, California, as a more than 2,000-acre blaze burned in their community Monday. The so-called Pleasant Fire has consumed 2,250 acres and is only 15 percent contained as of Tuesday. Winds have been hampering efforts to put out the blaze as it moves toward structures. As many as 200 people have been evacuated.

Weather

Huge differences in temperature across the United States will be in place this week due to an amplified jet stream. This upper-level pattern will feature a southward dip in the jet stream over the western U.S. while the jet stream will then bulge northward over the East. Spring-like warmth will surge northward across the South and into parts of the Midwest and Northeast early to midweek. Meanwhile, artic chill will plunge down into the west.

Several homes were destroyed and at least two people were hospitalized after severe storms rolled through Johnson County, Texas, early Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service had not issued severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings, but the north Texas area was hit by three EF0 tornadoes.

Winter Storm Oliver’s snowy, icy impacts persisted into Wednesday, as poor travel conditions led to closures and slowdowns from the Pacific Northwest to Texas and into the Midwest. Schools were canceled or delayed Wednesday in several districts in Oregon and Washington after Oliver brought a second round of snow and ice to the region. Snow totals as high as 8 inches were reported in the Pacific Northwest, though most areas received only a couple of inches. Travel problems extended as far south as Texas, where many roads were ice-coated and dangerous. Oliver’s warm side melted snow and triggered flooding in parts of the South and Midwest, and at least one death has been blamed on the nasty weather.

Signs of the Times (2/15/18)

February 15, 2018

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

School Shooting in Florida Kills Seventeen

Another mass school shooting has once again inflamed the discussion of guns. Liberals want gun control, conservatives don’t. However, the problem in a fallen world of good and evil is that there is no perfect solution. In this world, we will always have evil, just as we will always have poor people and mentally-disturbed individuals. With gun control, there will still be guns, albeit fewer. Without gun control, more disturbed people will kill more often. The best we can do is to strike a balance to mitigate the worst-case scenarios. The perfect solution will not be available to us until Jesus returns to rule and reign over the new earth: Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1)

  • For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth… The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And, dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,” Says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:1,25)

Trump’s Budget Proposal to Include Border Wall & Defund Planned Parenthood

President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal will include $23 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, $21 billion for infrastructure, $17 billion to combat the opioid epidemic, and an increase of $200 million in aid to Israel. It would also defund Planned Parenthood. Those are among the highlights released by the White House in advance of the budget’s formal transmission to Congress on Monday. That’s the first step toward filling in the details of a two-year budget framework passed by Congress last week, which increased caps on both military and domestic spending. That compromise — specifically designed to win the support of Senate Democrats and avoid a filibuster — ended an 8-hour partial government shutdown Friday and signaled a budget truce for at least the next 19 months. The $23 billion for border security includes $18 billion toward the border wall along the Mexican border. $2.7 billion to detain up to 52,000 undocumented immigrants and $782 million to hire 2,750 more customs and immigration agents. The proposed budget calls for major spending reductions in Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs, reductions that have long been targeted by conservatives. But even with these reductions, which combine for more than $3 trillion in cuts over 10 years, it would not bring the budget into balance because of tax revenue lost to the recent tax cut and higher spending on other programs, particularly the military.

Trump’s Approval Rating Rising

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals that President Trump’s approval rating went up, with 47 percent now backing his job performance, compared to 47 percent who disapprove of it. This is a three-point increase from a Jan. 10 Politico/Morning Consult poll. That survey showed 44 percent approved of Trump’s job performance, compared to 51 percent who disapproved. In addition, the poll found that 43 percent trust Republicans in Congress to handle the economy, compared to 32 percent who are confident in the Democrats to do it. Similarly, 42 percent back Republicans’ ability to handle immigration, while 36 percent trust the Democrats. In addition, 41 percent trust Democrats to handle healthcare, compared to 37 percent who are confident in the Republicans to do it. Politico is generally thought to be a left-leaning organization that has been quite critical of Trump.

U.S. Intel Chief Says Risk of Global Conflict Highest Since Cold War

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned Tuesday that the current risk of a global conflict is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. “The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” Coats told lawmakers during a hearing on worldwide threats before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and from Saudi-Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry,” he said. “At the same time, the threat of state and non-state use of weapons of mass destruction will continue to grow.”  Coats also noted that U.S. adversaries and “malign actors,” including Russia and China will use several tactics, including cyber and information warfare to challenge U.S. influence around the world. According to Coats, the intelligence community remains unanimous in its assessment that Russia will target the 2018 US midterm elections.

State Department Receives Funds Transfer to Fight Foreign Meddling

The State Department is only now getting started to combat Russian meddling in U.S. politics, even as intelligence officials warn of threats to the 2018 midterm elections. An agreement to transfer $40 million from the Defense Department to State’s Global Engagement Center is expected to be approved this week to counter Russian influence that began before the 2016 presidential election. The center initially focused on countering terrorist propaganda, but Congress ordered it last August to add a new mission as well: election meddling by foreign governments. The center’s job is to focus on the issue of disinformation, whether it comes from Russia or China or any other country. A Democratic report on the Russian influence campaign abroad said the center’s efforts against Russia “have been stymied by the department’s hiring freeze and unnecessarily long delays” in transferring funds to support that mission.

One in Six Children Live in War Zones

More than 357 million children living in war and conflict zones, an increase of roughly 75% from the early 1990s, a report published Thursday by Save the Children says. Around half of those affected — 165 million children — live in “high-intensity” conflicts. Youngsters in the Middle East are most likely to live in an area classed as a war-zone, with two in five children living within 31 miles of a “conflict event.” Africa was ranked as second-most dangerous region. Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia topped the list of the most dangerous countries for children. Other hotspots include Myanmar, Bangladesh, Iraq and Yemen. There has also  been a marked increase in the killing and maiming of children. Since 2010, the number of U.N.-verified cases of has gone up by almost 300%.

  • Another end-time sign: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. (Matthew 24:7)

Refugees Cost U.S. Billions

Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR has released a new study that suggests refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. cost federal taxpayers a whopping $1.8 billion per year and $8.8 billion over a five-year span. The study also suggests that $867 million is tied up in welfare benefits that U.S. taxpayers pay. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, says resettling refugees in the United States and other western countries is only one means of protecting people. “In fact, it turns out to be the most expensive and least efficient way,” he claims. “I Not every situation that forces people out of their homes results in permanent exile, he says, and the U.S. should do a better job of recognizing there are limited resources to take care of those who are.t costs a lot of money to bring people to the United States, especially people who are fleeing their home countries who may not be coming here with marketable skills.”

Military Adds Names to Gun Ban List after Texas Massacre

Since an ex-US airman shot more than two dozen people in a Texas church in November, the US military has added more than 4,000 names to the nation’s list of dishonorably discharged military personnel banned from owning firearms — a sign of what has been a massive hole in the nation’s gun buying background check system. The gunman in the Sutherland Springs massacre had been kicked out of the military for assaulting his wife. By federal law, that should have prevented the shooter from purchasing his semiautomatic rifle, but the US Air Force later admitted it had not submitted his records to the FBI’s background check system. In the months since, the Department of Defense has scrambled to ensure all of its branches have properly updated the FBI’s system to track personnel kicked out of the military who are barred from owning firearms.

College Republicans’ Patriot Prayer Rally Disrupted by Leftist-Protesters

Five people were arrested as fights broke out and at least one American flag was burned Saturday after a college Republican rally in Seattle drew counter-protesters. College Republicans at the University of Washington had invited members of Patriot Prayer, a group in Vancouver, Wash., to speak in the university’s Red Square for a “freedom rally.” The goals were to bring conservatives together and promote free-speech rights. As the event got underway, supporters chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!,” and signs included one that read, “We died for liberty not socialism.” But more than 1,000 counter-protesters showed up to oppose the event. “We’re here to fight back against the far right and fascism on our campus,” one counter-protester said. After several skirmishes broke out, police responded with pepper spray. University of Washington police said those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct.

State Legislatures Tackling Free Speech on College Campuses

The pitched battle over campus free speech is expanding into state legislatures, with eight enacting laws on the issue, and more than a dozen others considering measures aimed at protecting First Amendment rights in colleges and universities. Florida, Nebraska and Texas are in the midst of acting on introduced bills on campus free speech, and measures are pending in roughly 10 other states. Republicans are the force behind the bills, which vary from one another in some aspects, but at their core seek to change policies and practices on college campuses that lawmakers and their supporters say disproportionately have been used to censor or curtail conservative speakers and student groups. A 2016 study showed there were 36 speakers disinvited from campuses across the country, and almost all were conservative. In some ways, this parallels the free speech campus movement of the 1960s, when it was the left fighting for freedom of speech at colleges.

Florida’s Citrus Crop Severely Impacted by Irma and Disease

Florida’s citrus industry is having its worst harvest in decades after Hurricane Irma and a persistent plant disease delivered a devastating blow to crops statewide. Irma impacted more than 421,000 acres of the Sunshine State’s citrus fruits and trees, resulting in $760 million in damage, according to a release from the Commissioner of Agriculture. The damage has caused the worst year for Florida’s oranges since 1945. A disease known as citrus greening, or yellow dragon disease, has also wreaked havoc on the state’s plants. It is spread by a tiny insect known as the Asian citrus psyllid, according to the USDA. The cureless virus has no health impact on people and animals, but it deforms fruits and makes them bitter. Irma also opened the door for canker, another harmful bacteria, to impact the trees.

Economic News

The Consumer Price Index rose at a faster than anticipated rate of 2.1% in January compared to a year ago, triggering fears of another rocky run on Wall Street. The Labor Department says overall consumer prices rose 0.5% in January, the most in four months. The monthly Labor Department report on the price of everything from gas to groceries caused investors to be suddenly very concerned about inflation. The stock market sell-off earlier this month that caused the Dow to fall over 1,000 points in a single day began after a Labor Department report showed wages grew at a more-than-expected pace in January. Now another key gauge of inflation — CPI — is showing a similar upward trend. Inflation around 2 percent is still very low, but Wall Street traders fear that this could be the beginning of a quick run up in wages and prices. Global markets have whipsawed for the past two weeks because of investors’ fears about inflation and faster interest rate hikes.

Long-term U.S. mortgage rates jumped this week to their highest level in nearly four years, a sign that the prospect of higher inflation is steadily increasing the cost of borrowing to buy a home. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages rose to 4.38% this week, up from 4.32% last week, the highest since April 2014. The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans rose to 3.84% from 3.77% last week. Recent wage gains and rising prices are stoking concerns about inflation picking up, which has caused investors to seek higher interest rates.

Americans cut back on purchases of cars, furniture and a variety of other products in January, pushing retail sales down by 0.3%, the biggest decline in 11 months. The January decline, following no change in December, was the largest setback since a 0.5% fall in February of last year, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The slowdown comes after a three-month stretch of sizzling consumer activity, from September through November, which had fueled the most robust holiday sales in a decade. Some of the weakness in January retail sales could be linked to the unusually high number of reported flu cases last month.

Nearly a third of Main Street businesses say it’s a good time to expand, the highest since the National Federation of Independent Business began asking in 1973. “Main Street is roaring,” said NFIB CEO Juanita Duggan. “The record level of enthusiasm for expansion follows a year of record-breaking optimism among small businesses.” Wages and prices are going up, too. About 31% of small businesses reported paying employees more, the highest since 2000. The share of owners raising prices rose to 11%, the highest in the NFIB survey in three and a half years. Overall, small business optimism rose in January to one of its highest readings ever. The NFIB attributed that to the passage of the Republican tax package in late December.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that the IDF had delivered “harsh blows” to Iranian and Syrian forces which had been responsible for launching a military drone into Israeli airspace on Saturday morning. In the ensuing clashes, an Israeli F-16I aircraft was lost to enemy fire, the first such incident in 35 years. “We will continue to harm anyone who attempts to harm us,” Netanyahu said. Meanwhile, reports indicated that the IDF was beefing up its forces in the north as a precaution pending further developments. Israel warned Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop letting his war-torn country be used by Iran as a launching pad for attacks.

Across Gaza, the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, daily life, long a struggle, is unraveling, reports the New York Times. At the heart of the crisis — and its most immediate cause — is a crushing financial squeeze, the result of a tense standoff between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the secular party entrenched on the West Bank. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority but was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007. The jails are filling with shopkeepers arrested for unpaid debts; the talk on the streets is of homes being burglarized. The boys who skip school to hawk fresh mint or wipe car windshields face brutal competition. At open-air markets, shelves remain mostly full, but vendors sit around reading the Quran. There are no buyers, the sellers say. There is no money. United Nations officials warn that Gaza is nearing total collapse, with medical supplies dwindling, clinics closing and 12-hour power failures threatening hospitals. The water is almost entirely undrinkable, and raw sewage is befouling beaches and fishing grounds.

Iran

Iran has unveiled a series of new homemade nuclear-capable ballistic missiles during military parades held this week. The parades come after a confrontation between an Iranian drone and Israeli forces in Syria on Saturday. The arsenal included a nuclear-capable medium-range missile that appears to share similarities with North Korean technology. Iran’s state-controlled media quoted military officials as saying that the missile “can be launched from mobile platforms or silos in different positions and can escape missile defense shields due to their radar-evading capability.”

Iranian police arrested around 100 money changers on Wednesday (Feb 14) as it scrambled to contain the decline of the rial, which has lost a quarter of its value in six months. Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which lifted many international sanctions, had raised hopes that the currency would regain its lost value. Instead, the currency has continued to plummet, particularly after the arrival in office of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose threats to tear up the nuclear deal have scared off many foreign investors and prevented international banks from re-engaging with Iran. Iran’s banks have offered sky-high rates in recent years – often over 20 per cent – as they compete for deposits against many individuals and businesses who prefer to keep their money in dollars or real estate.

North Korea

Just miles from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — where some observers continue to fawn over Kim Jong Un’s sister and North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” — a trio of Americans remain detained in the Hermit Kingdom. Concern has grown for the three Korean-Americans — Kim Hak Song, Kim Dong Chul and Tony Kim — since the death of American college student Otto Warmbier last June after the he spent 17 months locked away in North Korea. The three detained Americans, ranging in age from 55 to 64, are being held on a variety of vaguely described offenses. The State Department noted that Ambassador Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korean policy, met with the three Americans in North Korea in June, when Warmbier was released, but has not been seen since. The leaders of North Korea’s horrific prison camps encourage guards to beat prisoners to death and induce starvation, to the point prisoners appear as “walking skeletons,” “dwarfs” and “cripples” in rags, a U.S. State Department fact sheet revealed – especially for Christians, says one recent defector.

Russia

The British government says that Russia was behind a massive global cyberattack that hit major companies in June 2017. Foreign Office minister Tariq Ahmad said in a statement on Thursday that the Russian military was responsible for the attack, which initially targeted computers in Ukraine but quickly spread beyond its borderThe attack — called NotPetya — hit companies including British advertising group WPP, Oreo maker Mondelez, U.S. drugmaker Merck and global shipping company FedEx. “The destructive attack masqueraded as ransomware, but its purpose was principally to disrupt,” the U.K. government said in a statement. The Russian government said it “categorically denied the accusations.”

Venezuela

Poverty and hunger rates are soaring as Venezuela’s economic crisis leaves store shelves empty of food, medicine, diapers and baby formula. Some parents can no longer bear it. They are doing the unthinkable. Giving up their children, abandoning them or giving them to orphanages, reports the Washington Post. “People can’t find food,” social worker Magdelis Salazar said. “They can’t feed their children. They are giving them up not because they don’t love them but because they do.” There are no official statistics on how many children are abandoned or sent to orphanages and care homes by their parents for economic reasons. But interviews with officials at ten private and public organizations that manage children in crisis suggest that the cases number in the hundreds — or more — nationwide.

Mexico

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are pressuring the State Department to reform the way it handles deaths and injuries to U.S. citizens vacationing in Mexico. In a letter Monday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said the more than 140 recently reported cases of tourists blacking out and getting injured or raped — and in some cases dying — after drinking small or moderate amounts of alcohol show that the department needs to take a more “proactive, victim-centric” approach. At the urging of Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the Office of Inspector General opened an inquiry in December into how the department has been handling reports from U.S. citizens who were injured or whose loved ones died while on vacation in Mexico. More than 140 people report having terrifying, sometimes tragic, experiences while visiting Mexico, most often while staying at upscale, all-inclusive resorts.

Sinkholes

A massive sinkhole opened up in Rome on Wednesday, swallowing cars and prompting evacuations of nearby buildings. No injuries have been reported from the incident, which resulted in a more than 30-foot-deep chasm. At least six parked vehicles were pulled into the sinkhole, which ate a portion of a road in the Balduina area. Two buildings near the site were evacuated and other structures are being investigated for damage. Emergency crews have shut down a water pipeline damaged by the collapse of the road and water has been brought in to ensure there’s a supply for residents. Roughly 20 households were evacuated, and officials say if the families are unable to return home, they will be provided temporary shelter.

Polar Vortex

A split of the north polar vortex occurred this week due to warming in the stratosphere. The polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale, low pressure zone that rotates counter-clockwise at the North Pole (clockwise at the South Pole). There are now two smaller vortices: one over western Canada and another over Europe. The disruption of the polar vortex will lead to an outbreak of colder weather in both the eastern United States as well as Europe.

Weather

Midway through the winter, the Oswego County hamlet of Redfield, N.Y., remains the snowiest spot in all the Great Lakes. They broke 300 inches — that’s 25 feet — Thursday night. Last season, Redfield received a total of 350.5 inches of snow. As of Thursday, Houghton, Michigan was second with 227.2 inches. A neighboring Lake Superior town, Calumet, had 207.5 inches and Lacona in Oswego County had 186.3.

At least six deaths are being blamed on Winter Storm Mateo as it delivered a record ninth consecutive day of snowfall in Chicago, totaling 18.3 inches. Snow and freezing rain also fell in Michigan and Indiana Sunday. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport saw more than 200 flight cancellations due to the storm and Midway International Airport saw about 245. In Detroit, city road crews worked back-to-back 12-hour shifts since Friday morning clearing major roads. In Indiana, 26 counties were placed under travel restrictions. A Michigan pileup on I-94 in Kalamazoo County shut down the eastbound lanes and injured several people. At least 38 vehicles were involved over a stretch of three miles.

Tongan began its recovery Wednesday morning from the powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita, which lashed the South Pacific nation with damaging winds and flooding on Tuesday. No deaths have been confirmed from the storm, but at least 30 people were injured, three seriously. Damage was widespread, and the islands were reeling after a direct hit from one of the strongest storms to impact the nation in modern history. Countless homes have been damaged by the storm. Officials had not yet been able to restore power and water service to its citizens as of Wednesday morning.

Signs of the Times (1/31/18)

January 31, 2018

Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath and distress them in His deep displeasure. (Psalm 2:1-5)

President Trump Calls for Unity in SOTU Address, Dems Don’t Buy It

President Trump delivered the third-longest State of the Union address Tuesday night — and it was a pretty traditional presidential performance. He largely remained on script. The president on several occasions said he wants to lead a unified America and reached out to Democrats to join hands in cooperation. “Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.” Part of the problem for Democrats was that Trump’s speech was laced with arguments about controlling immigration, a policy that they flatly reject. Amid some jeers, he laid out a four-pillar immigration plan, one of the major debates that loomed over his first year in office. A CBS News poll released Wednesday found that 75 percent of Americans who watched President Donald Trump deliver his State of the Union address approved of the speech.

Here are some of the words Trump did not mention during his address: environment, climate, guns, women, diplomacy, and Canada. Trump mentioned Mexico only once and health care only once, noting that he is pushing to improve care for veterans. But Trump talked a lot about taxes, immigration and American strength. There was even an echo of Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” when Trump said, “we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.” Congress is facing another deadline to pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown — this time the money runs out Feb. 8 — and yet Republicans and Democrats are no closer to solving the key sticking point: what to do about the so called “DREAMers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Illegals Commit Crimes at Double the Rate of Natives

The crime rate among illegal immigrants in Arizona is twice that of other residents, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday, citing a new report based on conviction data. The report, from the Crime Prevention Research Center, used a previously untapped set of data from Arizona that detailed criminal convictions and found that illegal immigrants between 15 and 35 are less than 3 percent of the state’s population, but nearly 8 percent of its prison population. And the crimes they were convicted of were, on the whole, more serious, said John R. Lott Jr., the report’s author and president of the research center. His findings also challenge the general narrative that immigrants commit fewer crimes. Those past studies usually don’t look at legal versus illegal populations, Lott said. “The type of person who goes through the process to legally immigrate in the United States appears to be very law-abiding versus even the U.S.-born population. The reverse is true for undocumented immigrants — they are committing crimes, and more serious crimes.”

Three Dreamers Caught Smuggling Immigrants

A third person living in the United States under an Obama-era protection for illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors was arrested this week for allegedly trying to smuggle Mexican nationals into the U.S. Monday’s incident was at least the third human smuggling-related arrest this week in which agents nabbed a so-called “Dreamer.” Border Patrol officials said two Dreamers — one in the country legally under the DACA program and the other whose permission had expired — were arrested last week in separate smuggling incidents in California.

Border Wall Prototypes Virtually Impenetrable Test Show

Eight prototypes of President Trump’s border wall were recently constructed outside San Diego. The models recently underwent rigorous testing by special operation teams from El Paso and Florida. According to those familiar with the tests, the walls withstood cutting torches, jackhammers and concrete saws better than anything currently on the border, and were almost impossible to climb, thanks to anti-climbing and anti-perching features. The test results are secret and won’t be revealed for another two to three months, sources say. While Trump critics refer to the President’s wall as silly, stupid and useless, those who actually work on the border say fences are effective. “The evidence shows that barriers work,” says Pete Hermansen, a 22-year veteran of the Border Patrol and former director of the agency’s tactical and rescue teams. Before San Diego built a 46-mile fence in the late 1980s, border agents were overwhelmed by illegal traffic from Mexico. In 1986, the agency arrested 629,656 illegal immigrants, almost the population of Las Vegas. Today, the 60-mile sector is almost entirely fenced. Apprehensions last year fell to 26,086, a 95 percent drop.

Sweden Coping with Surge in Immigrant Violence

Sweden’s experiment with mass Islamic immigration is definitely bringing “diversity,” but it’s much more violent than liberals want to admit. The left-leaning European country “has been experiencing an unprecedented surge of gang shootings, bombings and sexual assaults,” reported the U.K. Times. “In Malmö, where a fifth of the 340,000 inhabitants are under 18, children as young as 14 roam the streets with Kalashnikov assault rifles and bulletproof vests,” the newspaper reported. “The average age of gang members is 22, the vast majority of them hailing from migrant families.” The situation is becoming so bad that Swedish officials are now admitting that they don’t have the resources to investigate rapes immediately, because violent gang crimes are so prevalent. “For a long time the Swedish establishment played down the decay of immigrant-dominated suburbs, but it can no longer ignore the explosion of violence,” reported The Times.

House Calls for Release of Memo Detailing FBI Surveillance Abuses

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Tuesday to “cleanse” the FBI as he openly backed the release of a controversial memo that purportedly details alleged surveillance abuses by the U.S. government. “Let it all out, get it all out there. Cleanse the organization,” Ryan, R-Wis., said.  He added: “I think we should disclose all this stuff. It’s the best disinfectant. Accountability, transparency — for the sake of the reputation of our institutions.” The committee vote on Monday was met with sharp objections from Democrats. The motion passed on a party-line basis. President Trump now has five days to decide whether he has any objections before the memo can be publicly released. Trump reportedly has said he will sign the release order. Last week, a top Justice Department official urged House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes not to release the memo, saying it would be “extraordinarily reckless” and could harm national security and ongoing investigations. Meanwhile, top FBI official Andrew McCabe has been “removed” from his post as deputy director, leaving the bureau after months of conflict-of-interest complaints from Republicans including President Trump.

Senate Fails to Pass 20-Week Abortion Ban

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill on Monday that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks. The bill, known as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, fell short of passing by a vote of 51-46. Although two Republicans, moderates Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), voted against the bill, three Democrats, Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN), voted for it. Nevertheless, the rest of the Senate Democrats opposed the bill. The bill was based on scientific evidence that unborn babies at 20 weeks or more gestation are capable of feeling pain. President Trump expressed said that it was “disappointing that despite support from a bipartisan majority of U.S. Senators, this bill was blocked from further consideration,” Sixty votes were required.

EPA Relaxes Rules for Major Polluters

The U.S. Environmental Agency has reversed a decades-old policy meant to reduce toxic air pollutant from “major sources” of air pollution. The agency’s “once in, always in” policy, part of the Clean Air Act, is being repealed, William Wehrum, head of the EPA’s air office, announced Thursday. The policy in place since 1995 mandated that a source of pollution deemed “major”, such as coal-fired power plants, would always remain so and be regulated as such. Wehrum said the policy was a misinterpretation of the Clean Air Act and didn’t take into account when such facilities no longer had the potential to emit pollutants that fell within prescribed criteria. The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” as a one that has the potential to emit 10 tons per year or more of a listed hazardous pollutant or 25 tons per year or more of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. The new interpretation allows facilities classified as “major sources” to be reclassified as “area sources” when emissions fall below major source thresholds. Once facilities are reclassified, they are subject to different regulatory standards.

Opioids Kill 175 People a Day in U.S.

On average, more than 175 Americans die each day of drug overdose, almost all of them opioid related. The daily death toll from drug overdoses is like a 737 crashing and killing all the passengers on board – every day. In 2016, more than 11 million Americans abused prescription opioids, nearly 1 million used heroin, and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder from prescription opioids or heroin. If this pattern continues unchecked, it could claim 1 million lives by 2020. Suggested solutions run the gamut, from gathering key players to utilizing the army of recovering drug addicts to fight the problem. President Donald Trump’s opioid commission asked him to declare a national emergency. Trump stopped short of that, announcing a public health emergency, but vowed to battle “the worst drug crisis in American history. … We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative says, “We have to prevent more people from becoming addicted. This requires much more cautious prescribing.” For the millions already addicted, “we have to ensure that effective outpatient treatment is easier to access than prescription opioids, heroin or fentanyl,” he said.

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase Tackle Health Care Costs

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are combining efforts to improve health care and lower its cost for their hundreds of thousands of U.S. employees. Collectively, the three companies have about 900,000 employees worldwide. An independent company, which “is free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” they say, will initially tackle technological solutions to deliver “simplified, high-quality and transparent” health care to employees at a economical prices. “Tackling the enormous challenges of healthcare and harnessing its full benefits are among the greatest issues facing society today,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder said in a statement. “By bringing together three of the world’s leading organizations into this new and innovative construct, the group hopes to draw on its combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach to these critical matters.” This new approach might then serve as a model for reinventing healthcare worldwide.

Chinese Scientists Clone Monkeys for First Time

For the first time, scientists say they created cloned primates using the complicated cloning technique that made Dolly the sheep in 1996. Shanghai scientists created two genetically identical long-tailed macaques. The monkeys are named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, a version of the Chinese adjective Zhonghua which means the “Chinese nation” or “people.” These two are not the first primates to be cloned. Scientists in 1999 created Tetra, a rhesus monkey, but used what researchers consider a simpler cloning method that produces a more limited number of offspring. In Tetra’s case, scientists split the embryos, much like what happens naturally when identical twins develop. In the case of Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong, researchers used modern technology developed only in the last couple of years to enhance the technique used to clone Dolly.

  • It’s only a matter of time before scientists attempt to clone human beings. The Chinese government doesn’t adhere to the same restrictive code of ethics that keep Western nations from doing so.

Persecution Watch

The Christian Post reports that Television producer, author, and speaker David Sams did an experiment in which he compared the answers of Alexa with those of Google Home. Sams reported that when he asked Google who Jesus Christ is, it responds, “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help” or “My apologies I don’t understand.” However, it was able to identify other religious figures such as Muhammad, Buddha, and Satan. “I even asked Google who is David Sams? Google knew who I was, but Google did not know who Jesus was, Google did not know who Jesus Christ was, and Google did not know who God was,” Sams said. “It’s kinda scary, it’s almost like Google has taken Jesus and God out of smart audio.”

54,259 U.S. Bridges Deemed Structurally Deficient

According to the 2018 American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s Deficit Bridge report, America’s bridges are aging and becoming more dangerous. Of the 612,677 bridges across the country, 54,259 are rated structurally deficient, including more than 1,800 interstate bridges that are crossed some 60 million times a day. The average age of a deficient bridge in the United States is 67 years, and one in three bridges (226,837) is in need of repair, including one-third (17,726) of interstate highway bridges. The data shows that cars, trucks and school buses cross the more than 54,000 identified bridges 175 million times every day. The analysis notes that a designation of deficient doesn’t necessarily mean the bridges are unsafe, just that they are in need of repair.

Economic News

Wall Street w The Dow climbed more than 200 points on Wednesday morning, signaling that the sell-off earlier this week may have been a blip instead of the start of a more serious downturn. The Dow’s two-day loss of 2% was its worst since September 2016. But the bounce also shows how the markets have suddenly become a bit more turbulent. The VIX (VIX) volatility index has spiked 30% this week to a five-month high. as rebounding Wednesday from the worst two-day tumble since President Trump’s election.

U.S. consumer spending rose solidly in December as demand for goods and services increased, but the increase came at the expense of savings, which dropped to a 10-year low in a troubling sign for future consumption and economic growth. The Commerce Department said on Monday consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.4 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.8 percent increase in November. Personal income rose 0.4 percent last month after advancing 0.3 percent in November. Wages increased 0.5 percent last month. Savings fell to $351.6 billion in December, the lowest level since December 2007, from $365.1 billion in the prior month.

Every major economy on earth is expanding at once, a synchronous wave of growth that is creating jobs, lifting fortunes and tempering fears of popular discontent, reports the New York Times. Europe has finally felt the effects of cheap money pumped out by its central bank. The United States has been propelled by government spending unleashed during the previous administration, plus a recent $1.5 trillion shot of tax cuts. Many economists are skeptical that the benefits of growth will reach beyond the educated, affluent, politically connected class that has captured most of the spoils in many countries and left behind working people whose wages have stagnated even as jobless rates have plunged.

The U.S. gross domestic product, a broad measure of the economy, increased by 2.3 percent in 2017. GDP growth slowed in the year’s fourth quarter to an annualized rate of 2.6, breaking a two-quarter streak of growth of more than 3 percent. The U.S. economy grew 1.5 percent in 2016 and 2.9 percent in 2015. It has grown every year since 2009, when it shrank 2.8 percent. The economy grew far faster in 2017 than during the year before, but the slower rate in the fourth quarter underscores the challenge the Trump administration will have in delivering the growth of over 3% that he has promised.

The Dow jumped more than 220 points on Friday to cap off another week with a fresh record high in the stock market. The Dow Jones industrial average continued its surge to kick off 2018, rallying nearly 545 points this week to extend its year-to-date gain to 7.7%. Also making fresh record highs Friday were the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and tech-dominated Nasdaq composite. Driving the gains on Wall Street — which some investors are calling a “melt-up” — is the continued optimism after the government’s big tax cut, a strong start to the quarterly profit-reporting season, and a massive influx of new investing cash into the market. A weakening dollar, which boosts sales and profits of big U.S. companies that do a lot of business abroad, and a strong global economy, is also powering stocks higher,

Home Depot is doling out bonuses of up to $1,000 to U.S. hourly workers, becoming the latest major national employer to hand out checks after President Trump’s corporate tax cut. Unlike national retailers Walmart and Starbucks, Home Depot did not announce plans to increase wages. Workers with at least 20 years of experience will get the full $1,000 bonus. All hourly workers will get at least $200.

Venezuela has lost half of its economy since 2013, and it’s getting worse. Unemployment will reach 30% and prices on all types of goods in the country will rise 13,000% this year, according to new figures published Thursday by the International Monetary Fund. This year will mark the third consecutive year of double-digit contractions in Venezuela’s gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity. The nation’s GDP declined 16% in 2016, 14% last year and it’s projected to fall 15% this year, according to the IMF.

Puerto Rico

More than four months since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, nearly half a million customers are still without power, the Army Corps of Engineers said this week. Roughly 4,000 power restoration personnel are now working to restore the electricity to more than 450,000 customers. That effort will grow in the next few weeks as an additional 1,000 workers, along with hundreds of bucket trucks and other equipment, are being brought in to “accelerate progress,” according to a statement released by the Corps. The Corps has said it expects that the entire island will have power again by May.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will end food and water aid for Puerto Rico Wednesday after more than four months of providing desperately needed supplies to the devastated island in the wake of Hurricane Maria. FEMA said the decision comes after it has provided more than 17 million gallons of bottled water and nearly 60 million meals at a total cost of $2 billion. FEMA public affairs director William Booher said, “The commercial supply chain for food and water is re-established and private suppliers are sufficiently available that FEMA provided commodities are no longer needed for emergency operations.” He added that the agency will continue to support the Puerto Rican government as needed.

Iran

With some Iranians still protesting over state spending on the poor economy and foreign military ventures, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has green-lighted the siphoning of $2.5 billion from a currency-reserve fund to boost military spending. The announcement follows by less than two weeks an official clampdown on street protests over rising prices and other economic grievances that spread to more than 90 cities. Public anger had been stoked in December by price hikes but also word of a draft government budget that earmarked major funding for the country’s armed forces. President Hassan Rohani was reelected last year in a race dominated by pledges to create jobs in a country where national unemployment was reportedly around 12 percent last year, but more like 30 percent among young people.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomber packed an ambulance with explosives and drove toward a hospital in central Kabul, detonating his load in a busy area. The Afghan Public Health Ministry said the attack left at least 63 people dead and 151 wounded. Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said targeted police guarding a road leading to the former Interior Ministry in an area densely populated with civilians.

Volcanoes

A volcano at the southeastern end of Luzon Island in the Philippines erupted Wednesday after days of smaller explosions that suggested something bigger was imminent. The Philippine government to order more than 81,000 residents to flee the area around Mount Mayon The Mayon Volcano first went off on last Wednesday, shooting ash more than 3 miles into the air. Lava shot nearly 2,000 feet into the air. Despite the clear danger from the exploding volcano, officials said they’re still getting reports that residents are sneaking back home. For that reason, they’ve considered cutting water and electric service to homes in the evacuation zone. Heavy rainfall in the Philippines has triggered dangerous mudslides just days after the volcano erupted.

Wildfires

Authorities were forced to evacuate several homes in Malibu early Monday morning as a wildfire quickly grew and threatened residents. The blaze was sparked just after 3 a.m. local time along Civic Center Way. It claimed 2.6 acres of land in about an hour, and officials were concerned it would advance on dwellings in the area. The National Weather Service warned of “critical fire danger” ahead of unusually warm temperatures and windy conditions. Santa Ana winds began over the weekend in Southern California, gusting 60-70 mph at times in the mountainous terrain.

Weather

Tokyo experienced its heaviest snowfall (9 inches) in four years on Monday, and other parts of Japan will see sea-effect snow pile up through this week. This weather pattern also allowed Tokyo to experience its coldest temperature in 48 years this week. Very cold temperatures infiltrated much of Japan behind this system, resulting in a low in central Tokyo of just under 25 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees below zero Celsius on Thursday morning. This is the coldest temperature recorded here since January 1970.

Signs of the Times (1/20/18)

January 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)

Government Shut Down Midnight Friday

The federal government ran out of funding at midnight, but you may not have noticed. In fact, it could be several days before the full impact of the shutdown is felt by the public. Government agencies began the process of shutting down after Congress failed to pass a spending bill to keep them operating. But not every government employee was sent home. Federal workers deemed “essential” are still on the job, and key government functions — such as national security operations and law enforcement work — remain up and running. Other agencies have residual funds that will keep them operating for several days. But if the shutdown drags on, they, too, could run out of money and have to close their doors. Meanwhile, The mail is still being delivered, Social Security checks are still being processed, the Medicare and Medicaid programs are still running, and veterans’ hospitals are still operating. Airports are still operating, and air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officials are still on the job. During the last shutdown, in 2013, the Obama administration closed park entrances and put up barriers around national monuments. That policy sparked a public outrage when veterans were turned away from the World War II Memorial in Washington. This time, is national monuments and parts of most national parks will remain open during the shutdown.

Shutdown Politics: Dems & GOP Blame Each Other

President Trump on Saturday morning continued to blame Democrats for forcing a government shutdown overnight, arguing his opponents are “far more” concerned with illegal immigration than the U.S. military and protecting the country’s southern border. He calls it “shutdown politics”. Democrats in Washington were quick to assign blame to Trump. “There’s no one more to blame for the position we find ourselves than President Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor early Saturday. “Instead of bringing us all together, he’s pulled us apart.” Schumer called it the “Trump Shutdown”.

  • Too bad we can’t get rid of the politicians altogether who generally are only interested in casting aspersions on the other party and, most importantly, getting reelected.

U.S. House Passes Major Pro-Life Bill

In a major pro-life victory, the U.S. House passed a bill today protecting babies born alive during botched abortions. The vote took place on the same day that hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers witnessed to life in the nation’s Capital during the annual March for Life. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 4712) aims to protect babies who have managed to survive an abortion. The bill states that if a baby survives an abortion, that baby is entitled to the same level of care that any other newly-born baby would receive. The bill requires that living babies be transported to a hospital for care, instead of being left to the devices of the abortionist. The bill also establishes penalties if health professionals do not provide this level of care. It also allows the mother to sue if her living baby is killed by intent or neglect. The vote was 241-183, including 6 Democrats.

Trump Becomes First President to Address March for Life

In the first-ever live streamed address of a sitting president to the March for Life, Republican President Donald Trump vowed his administration will work to uphold the sanctity of life. “Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” the president told cheering crowds of hundreds of thousands that packed Washington Mall Friday. This year’s March for Life, which organizers say is the “largest annual human rights demonstration in the world,” marks 45 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade ruling on January 22, 1973, struck down abortion laws. Since that time, an estimated 60 million children in the womb have been legally killed in the United States. The United States is “one of only seven countries to allow elective late term abortions along with China, North Korea and others,” Trump said. “It is wrong, it has to change.”

Second Women’s March Underway Saturday

On the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March that swelled the streets of Washington and cities worldwide, activists reconvened Saturday in the nation’s capital and around the country with new determination to flex their power in the voting booth and on the ballot. The gathering also comes on the anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, whose election in many ways gave the movement its first impetus. Hundreds of gatherings are planned Saturday and Sunday across the country, as well as in Beijing, Buenos Aires, Nairobi and Rome, under the banner the #WeekendofWomen on social media. In Washington, the rally was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET with musicians and civil rights activists meeting at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial for speeches, followed by a march to the White House at 1 p.m. ET. Even organizers are not expecting the huge crowds that swarmed the capital, and other cities, in 2017 in the wake of Trump’s election. The protests this year go beyond just fighting for women’s rights in general, though that is still a primary focus. Indeed, according to the Women’s March website, the organization’s platform has expanded to include immigrant, worker and disability rights, and environmental justice, among other things.

White House Announces Religious Freedom Day

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump publicly proclaimed January 16 as the national day of religious freedom. Each year, the president will declare January 16 as Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786, written by former President Thomas Jefferson. He called on Americans to celebrate the day, so as to “remind us of our shared heritage of religious liberty.” The president’s announcement addressed both religious freedom internationally and within the United States. In his speech, President Trump first emphasized the United States’ unique role in encouraging and maintaining religious liberties. He also reminded the public of his commitment to early American principles, which will assist our “fundamental freedom underlying our democracy.”  The proclamation also promised continued condemnation of extremism, terrorism, and violence against people of faith as we “strive for the day when people of all faiths can follow their hearts and worship according to their consciences.”

Healthcare Workers Get More Protection for Religious Exemptions

Federal officials announced Thursday that a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights will protect doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who have moral or religious objections to providing certain services. The move, which accompanies a broad policy aimed at abortions and treatment for transgender patients, is being applauded by conservative groups and criticized by women’s, LGBT rights and physician groups. It advances an executive order that President Trump signed in May directing agencies to expand religious liberty under federal law.

Trump’s Approval Rating Lower than Expected – Gallup

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating is well below what would be expected at a time when Americans’ views are improving about the economy and the future of the country, Gallup reported Tuesday. The recent
Gallup poll shows Trump’s latest job approval is 38 percent — but should be between 47-54 percent based on the dual measures of voters’ views of the economy and direction the nation is taking. “Despite improved consumer attitudes about the economy in 2017, Trump’s average first-year job approval rating was historically low,” Gallup said. Gallup says the low number is due to subpar character ratings and lower-than-predicted job approval.

9 of 12 National Park Service Advisory Board Members Quit

Nine of the 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board resigned in protest this week, saying Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ignored pleas for a meeting and has “set aside” protection of the nation’s natural treasures. Board chairman Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said in a resignation letter to Zinke that the group has been waiting for a year to meet and “continue the partnership” between the board and Interior officials. The board’s tasks included advising Zinke and the National Park Service on the designation of national historic and natural landmarks. The board also provides input on a wide range of issues from climate change to the administration of the Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act. Last spring, Zinke suspended the work of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and subcommittees pending a review. Some returned to duty, others have been altered or dropped and still others remain dormant.

North and South Korea Agree to Form First Unified Olympic Team

North and South Korea agreed Wednesday to field a joint women’s hockey team at next month’s Winter Olympics and the two countries will march in to the opening ceremony under a single flag, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. The agreement came during a third round of talks between the rival Koreas at the border village of Panmunjom, located in the demilitarized zone that separates the peninsula. It is the most striking breakthrough yet in a wave of sports diplomacy that began last week when the two countries sat down for the first time in over two years to discuss the North’s participation in the Winter Games. The North will send a large delegation to the Games, including a 230-member cheering squad and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team. A 140-member orchestra from the North will also join the delegation, with performances scheduled for Seoul and Gangneung.

Veteran Affairs Office Moves to Help Whistleblowers

Since President Trump created a whistleblower-protection office at the Veterans Affairs by executive order in April, the office has stepped in to help more than 70 VA employees by delaying discipline against them until further investigation can be conducted. It’s unclear what the end results will be. The director of the office, Peter O’Rourke, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview that 41 of those cases remain open and a “very small number” of the others were decided in favor of the employees. The office, which has operated largely in secret until now, had a rocky start and still faces staffing challenges and deep skepticism among some whistleblowers that it will succeed in the long run. But the early moves to help them are nonetheless drawing praise from longtime advocates who say they are unprecedented.

U.N. Fails to Stem Rapes by Peacekeepers in Africa

The United Nations became embroiled in one of its worst scandals in 2014 when shocking allegations surfaced that U.N. peacekeepers were raping women and children in the impoverished, war-battered Central African Republic. Today, blue-helmeted soldiers and U.N. staff still rape with impunity despite pledges by U.N. leaders to end the abuses, victims allege. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged the exploitation and pledged when he took office a year ago to crack down. In August, he appointed a victims’ rights advocate. U.N. officials vowed to improve funding and staffing for sex abuse cases. Atul Khare, under-secretary general, said those efforts have led to a 50% drop in assaults on children by peacekeepers across the globe during the first 11 months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. “We believe our new strategy is bearing some initial fruit,” said Khare, who conceded that “even one allegation is one too many.”

More Online Discrimination

Social media giant Facebook is once again under scrutiny for attempting to silence a conservative Christian agenda. Alveda King, MLK’s niece and pro-life activist, recently discovered that efforts to advertise her documentary had been removed by Facebook. The film, Roe vs. Wade, brings awareness to the “real untold story” of abortion in America. January 22 is the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to allow abortion. The Christian Post reported that after the decision was protested, Facebook lifted its ban, and in an emailed statement said, “the pro-life ad was originally disapproved in error and was correctly approved upon appeal.” Hollywood actors Jon Voight and Nick Loeb will star in the first-ever movie to, as Loeb told LifeNews, tell “the untold story of how [abortion activists] lied and manipulated Jane Roe, the media, and the courts into the decision to allow abortion in 1973.”

Economic News

Consumer sentiment unexpectedly declined in January to a six-month low as American households viewed the economy less favorably, a University of Michigan report showed Friday. The consumer sentiment index dropped to 94.4 from 95.9 in December. The current conditions gauge, which measures Americans’ perceptions of their finances, decreased to 109.2, the lowest since November 2016, down from 113.8. in December. The decline in sentiment included a decrease in a measure of buying conditions for big-ticket goods, indicating consumer spending may slow early this year after a solid holiday-shopping season.

Apple Inc. moved hundreds of billions of offshore cash back into the U.S. as a result of the recent tax cut bill which reduced the tax rate on such foreign profits. The iPhone maker announced Wednesday that it would make the move, paying about $38 billion in taxes on the money. Apple also indicated that they would be spending tens of billions on domestic jobs, manufacturing and data centers in the coming years. Apple, which has come under major criticism for building much of its popular products in China, announced Thursday that they would be opening another corporate campus and create another 20,000 jobs.

The surge of Brent crude prices over the last few weeks to $70 may be rattling OPEC, raising questions about the longevity of the collective production cuts. OPEC officials didn’t think they would have to consider the group’s production cuts until its June meeting. But with Brent at $70, the market is watching for clues about OPEC’s resolve — and some tiny cracks appear to be forming.

U.S. oil production is booming and is forecast to surge beyond the output from heavyweight Saudi Arabia and rival Russia this year, a global energy agency said Friday. U.S. oil production, which has already risen to its highest level in nearly 50 years, will push past 10 million barrels a day in 2018 as higher prices entice more producers to start pumping, particularly in shale oil, which requires higher prices in order to break even.

China’s economy gained steam in 2017, expanding at a 6.9% pace in 2017 in its first annual increase in seven years, according to data released Thursday that exceeded economists’ forecasts as well as the government’s target rate. Buoyant consumer spending and robust exports helped drive the faster expansion.

Middle East

The Trump administration has settled on a location for the new US embassy in Jerusalem and plans to move into the facility by 2019. Rather than design and build a new embassy compound, which officials say could take several years and cost as much as a billion dollars, the State Department has decided to retrofit an existing US consular facility in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, which sits near the Green Line, the de facto border of Israel before the 1967 war. Trump’s recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to relocate the embassy there inflamed tensions in the region and sparked outrage across the world. Both Israelis and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their historic capitals.

  • Israel’s claim goes back more than 3,000 years, while Islam’s claim is about 1,300 years ago

Iranian President Hassan Rohani issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the U.S. plan to build a 30,000 member “border security force” in the predominantly Kurdish region of northeast Syria, joining his voice to that of Russia and Turkey who had previously made similar statements. Also on Tuesday, German police raided several Iranian institutions it accuses of being fronts for Iran’s spy agencies to monitor Jewish and Israeli organizations in Germany. Media reports indicated that the raids occurred in the states of Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Berlin, but resulted in no arrests.

Iran

Iran’s rulers have inflicted death by torture and gunfire on citizen protesters in a crackdown since the Dec. 28 street uprising erupted, the main opposition group said Tuesday. The Europe-based National Council of Resistance of Iran says the Islamic republic’s ubiquitous security apparatus has arrested more than 8,000 citizens and killed at least 50. The council attributes at least five deaths to torture. President Trump has spoken out in support of the protesters. The opposition group said protests have spread to 130 cities. The protesters complain of dismal economic conditions, of military adventures in Iraq and Syria, and of being ruled by clerical Shiite Muslim hard-liners led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

India

India has successfully test-fired a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the country’s Defense Ministry said Thursday. The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India’s most advanced ICBM. It was fired Thursday morning India time from Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha. The ministry called the test a “major boost” to the country’s defense capabilities. India is believed to have around 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists, compared to several thousand for the U.S.

Earthquakes

Not only did Winter Storm Inga dump several inches of snow in parts of Tennessee and Missouri, a magnitude 3.6 earthquake rattled the region Tuesday. According to the United States Geographical Survey, the earthquake struckThe quake occurred in the New Madrid fault zone, which is the most seismically active zone east of the Rockies, according to USGS. just before 11 a.m. near Caruthersburg, Missouri, located on the Mississippi River about 100 miles north of Memphis. No injuries or damage was reported.

Reno’s southern neighborhoods have been shaking, ever so gently, for seven days now. Earthquake-detecting instruments in the area have picked up almost 250 small temblors since late Jan. 11. The largest in the swarm so far, which hit Tuesday afternoon, measured a 2.7 on the Richter scale, a magnitude that University of Nevada, Reno seismologist Ken Smith described as pretty small. “You’d have to be right above it to really feel anything,” he said, noting they’ve gotten a few dozen reports from people who have felt the jolts. The magnitude would have to increase to a 4.0 or more for many people to feel it. Swarms of small earthquakes can sometimes act as warning systems for larger events to come. Nevada is the third-most seismically active state in the nation.

A bright light and what sounded like thunder in the sky across the Detroit metropolitan area Tuesday night was a meteor, the National Weather Service has confirmed. According to the United States Geological Service, the meteor caused a magnitude 2.0 earthquake around 8:10 pm. The American Meteor Society says the strike, captured in a dashcam video, was visible in six states and in Canada, ABC reports. The USGS says the quake was 5 miles west-southwest of the Michigan town of New Haven, around 40 miles north of Detroit.

Landslides

Officials have issued evacuation orders in preparation for the inevitable collapse of a ridge in a fertile farming region in Washington State. The slow-moving landslide threatens to spill onto a few dozen homes and a vital highway that sit below the ridge. Experts say the slide could happen as soon as late January or early February above Union Gap, a small agricultural town in the rolling brown foothills of the Cascade Range. A chunk of one ridge about the size of 24 football fields is expected to break off, spilling an estimated 4 million cubic yards of rocks and dirt. Washington residents have become particularly wary of landslides after dozens were killed in a 2014 slide that crashed through a tiny community and traversed a state road just north of Seattle.

Weather

Winter Storm Inga became the fourth winter storm to impact the South this season, and travel once again became hazardous Wednesday on icy, snowy roads across the region. Up to 6 inches of snow fell on some areas in the region on Tuesday. From Texas to the Carolinas – and even in parts of the Florida Panhandle – reports of ice-covered bridges and roadways were widespread Tuesday and Wednesday, and authorities urged residents to stay home. Millions of children across the South enjoyed snow days, and hundreds of flights were canceled at airports not used to dealing with wintry conditions. States of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina because of the storm. At least ten people have died from the storm’s impacts, and four more deaths were believed to be the result of the brutal cold that followed. Winter Storm Jaxon is now moving in the west and will sweep across the nation over the weekend into early next week.

Frozen pipes have caused an unprecedented amount of water loss on Galveston Island, Texas, city officials said Thursday. More than 3,000 reported water leaks due to frozen pipes. As a result, water reserves dropped to below 60 percent of capacity from the leaks, forcing the city to enact water restrictions.

A powerful storm system swept across Europe Thursday, bringing strong winds that were responsible for at least eleven deaths and a widespread travel shutdown. The storm system caused problems from England to Romania as it raked much of the continent, and several injuries were also reported. Two men were killed in separate incidents of falling trees or branches in the Netherlands and a third death was reported south of Brussels, Belgium. In Germany, a death was confirmed at a campsite near the Dutch-German border when a camper was crushed by a falling tree. Millions of travelers experienced widespread delays and flight cancellations.

There’s cold, then there’s Siberia cold. Oymyakon, Russia — already considered the world’s coldest permanently inhabited town — sank to a mind-numbing 88 degrees below zero on Tuesday. Amazingly, 88 below isn’t even the record low temperature in this remote, diamond-rich Russian region of Yakutia, a part of Siberia. But it wasn’t far from the record of 89.9 degrees below, the coldest-ever officially recorded for a permanently inhabited settlement anywhere in the world Although students routinely go to school when it’s 40 below, school was canceled throughout the region this week.

2017 was once again one of the hottest years on record, ranked as the second-warmest by NASA and third-warmest by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Temperature records for the planet, monitored independently by both agencies, go back to 1880. The hottest year on record remains 2016. The six hottest years have all occurred since 2010 and 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. Sea ice continued its declining trend, both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

  • End-time weather will be more extreme, not just warmer (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (1/16/18)

January 16, 2018

Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.  with long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation. (Psalm 91:14-16)

Government Shutdown Looming Friday

Congress has until Friday to reach an agreement on a number of thorny issues, and the talks don’t appear to be going very smoothly right now. That means President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hurtling toward a government shutdown, with funding set to run out at midnight on Jan. 19. Lawmakers are currently faced with tight budget caps, agreed to in 2011, that limit how much they can spend for the rest of fiscal year 2018 and beyond. Both Republicans and Democrats want to lift those caps — GOP leaders want a big boost for defense; Democrats say any defense increase should be paired with an equal hike for domestic programs. In addition, the partisan debate over how to deal with the Dreamers — the 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — grew more acrimonious last week. That leaves the two sides seriously divided with an agreement appearing unlikely. There are also sharp disagreements over a disaster aid package for Texas, Florida and other places devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

DHS Restarts Obama DACA Amnesty after Judge’s Ruling

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is back up and running, Homeland Security announced this weekend, saying President Trump’s attempt to phase out the Obama-era deportation amnesty is on hold while they fight a court case that ordered them to begin accepting applications again. Only those among the 800,000 or so previously approved can submit applications for renewal, under the judge’s order. And those covered by DACA will no longer be granted advance parole, which had become a shortcut pathway to citizenship in the Obama administration. The move could lessen the pressure on Congress, which is facing a Democratic-led shutdown showdown later this week over the issue. Democrats had insisted that the new spending bill, due by Friday, must also grant full legal status to illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” many of whom have been protected by the DACA program.

Trump Administration Releases Report on Foreign-Born Terrorists

The Trump administration on Tuesday released a terrorism report aimed at bolstering its push for stricter limits on legal immigration to the United States. The report found that of 549 terrorism-related convictions in U.S. federal courts since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 402 of the defendants (73%) were foreign-born. The report also found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents deported 1,716 individuals with “national security concerns” between 2001 and 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the findings prove that the U.S. must end “chain migration” — the long-standing ability of U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their relatives abroad to enter the U.S. — and the diversity visa lottery. “This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

Trump Transforming Federal Judiciary

2017 was one of the most transformative years in the federal judiciary. The White House, after winning confirmation for Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat held by the late conservative icon Antonin Scalia, has moved with record speed to fill vacancies on the lower federal courts. As of mid-December, nineteen of Trump’s sixty-six total nominees this year have been confirmed by the Senate. By comparison, then-President Barack Obama had made only 26 choices – including Justice Sonia Sotomayor – half of whom were confirmed by the end of 2009. The impact under Trump is especially being felt on the appellate level. the part of the judicial system that is responsible for hearing and reviewing appeals from legal cases that have already been heard in a trial-level or other lower court. This is where Trump and conservatives have been losing cases for many years after the appellate courts became ultra-liberal under Obama.

Flu in U.S. Now an Epidemic, Kills 20 Children

Cases of influenza have reached epidemic proportions, touching nearly all parts of the United States and killing more than 100 and at least 20 children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The flu is now widespread in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. At least 60,000 cases of the flu have been reported. California has been particularly hard hit, with at least 27 deaths of people under 65 attributed to the flu. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency Friday because of the flu. Schools in Alabama, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have closed because of outbreaks. The influenza season started earlier and seems to be peaking now, about a month earlier than normal. The CDC notes that this year’s vaccine is only expected to be about 32 percent effective.

Hawaiian Alert About Incoming Missile Sent in Error

An early-morning emergency alert mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday, setting off widespread panic in a state that was already on edge because of escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea. The alert, sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, was revoked 38 minutes after it was issued, prompting confusion over why it was released — and why it took so long to rescind. Officials said the alert was the result of human error and not the work of hackers or a foreign government. The mistake occurred during a shift-change drill that takes place three times a day at the emergency command post. A flaw in the alert system delayed sending out a cellphone correction. As a result, a “cancellation template” would be created to make it easier to fix mistaken alerts. A new procedure was instituted Saturday requiring two people to sign off before any such alert is sent. The false alert prompted calls for major improvements to America’s disaster notification systems.

Kentucky First State to Require Some to Work for Medicaid

Kentucky received the green light Friday to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive coverage. The Bluegrass State thus becomes the first state to act on the Trump administration’s unprecedented change that could affect millions of low-income people receiving benefits. Under the new rule, adults age 19 to 64 must complete 80 hours of “community engagement” per month to keep their care. That includes working a job, going to school, taking a job-training course or volunteering. Kentuckians also will be required to pay up to $15 a month for their insurance, with basic dental and vision being eliminated entirely. However, those benefits can be earned back through a rewards program, such as getting an annual physical, completing a diabetes or weight management course or participating in an anti-smoking program. “There is dignity associated with earning the value of something that you receive,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said.

Christian Conservatives Being Marginalized by Prejudice

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s radically pro-abortion prime minister, blasted pro-life advocates Wednesday amid a nation-wide outrage about barring pro-life groups from a federal grant program. Trudeau referenced recent changes to the Summer Jobs program that requires applicants adhere to Canadian rights — including access to abortions, and protections for LGBT Canadians. The program funds summer job placements for not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses, the Canadian Press reported. In the past, both pro-life and pro-abortion organizations have received grants to offer jobs to young adults. However, pro-abortion political leaders recently cut off grants to groups that will not bow to the altar of abortion on demand.

PragerU is a conservative educational non-profit that reaches millions of young people on the internet every day, but YouTube is censoring their videos. PragerU recently filed a lawsuit against video giant YouTube for its systematic censorship of our videos. YouTube has chosen repeatedly to restrict and/or demonetize 50 PragerU videos for violating their “Community Guidelines.” Those guidelines are meant to protect users against viewing sexual content, violent or graphic content, and hate speech. If you’ve seen any PragerU videos, you know that they contain nothing even remotely close to any of these categories. “YouTube has restricted videos on topics ranging from religion to the history of the Korean War to free speech on college campuses,” notes PragerU. Think about the millions of actually inappropriate videos on YouTube and then ask yourself, “Why are PragerU’s educational videos restricted?”

A conservative Christian actor has been banned from a Comicon convention due to his political leanings. The Daily Caller reports that the founder and promoter of East Coast Comicon, Cliff Galbraith, announced that he will not be inviting actor Kevin Sorbo to the convention. Galbraith explained his reasoning for not inviting Sorbo: “I turned down Kevin Sorbo for East Coast Comicon. He’s pals with Sean Hannity. I just can’t do it.” Some who saw Galbraith’s post and also have liberal leanings urged him to also ban other actors such as Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, James Wood, Jon Voight, and Chuck Norris who are known to have conservative viewpoints. Sorbo would have been a candidate for East Coast Comicon due to his role as Hercules in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and as the main character is the sci-fi series Andromeda. Sorbo has also starred in faith films such as Soul Surfer and God’s Not Dead.

  • These are just a few of many recent examples of liberal organizations banning people because of prejudice, and yet they’re the same ones who accuse Christians of being hateful and prejudicial.

Paradox: Economy Up, Food Bank Clients Up Too

Food banks in cities that have seen strong job growth and soaring home prices are seeing increased demand from locals struggling to make ends meet and relying on assistance to feed their families. “There’s this hunger paradox: You would think the wealth would rise all boats, but it hasn’t, and it’s created a major crisis and we are seeing families live on their last legs,” said Cat Cvengros, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California. n 2008, when the economic crisis was heating up, the Ballard Food Bank in Seattle had almost 26,000 families visit. In 2016, that number jumped to nearly 40,000 — a nearly 50% increase. Second Harvest is serving more people than ever, averaging more than 257,000 people every month from 2016-2017, up from 176,731 people per month from 2007-2008. That’s 46% increase over 10 years.

Many of the people using food banks have jobs — often more than one. At Second Harvest, the majority of the families with children have working parents. Flourishing job markets in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Denver have brought in a surge of new residents competing for a limited supply of housing. That’s pushing up real estate prices dramatically. Rents have nearly doubled in some places. Another reason is that the jobs available since the recovery are lower-paying jobs than those lost during the recession.

Economic News

The U.S. dollar has already lost nearly 2% of its value against other currencies in 2018 and is trading at its lowest level in more than three years. This follows a 10% decline for the dollar in 2017. Signs of life in Europe’s economy, particularly Germany and France, are causing some investors to flock to the euro instead of the dollar. Some analysts suggest that political dysfunction in the United States is also pushing the dollar down. President Trump said on several occasions in 2017 that he thought the dollar was too strong and wouldn’t mind if it lost some of its value

Retail sales were up 5.5% during the November and December holiday shopping season compared to the previous year. Retail sales advanced 4.2% in 2017 compared to 3.2% in 2016. An 11.5% gain in online shopping was a big driver of that increase. But online still only accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer purchases. Sales at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers rose a healthy 4.1% to push the industry to its best gain in seven years. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 2.2% annualized rate in the third quarter 0f 2017. Overall, the economy grew at a 3.2% pace in the third quarter.

A growing number of companies benefiting from tax cuts are showing their employees the money. One-time cash bonuses are the most popular way companies are sharing the windfall they expect from paying less in taxes. Many employers are boosting hourly pay. And a small number say they will increase matching contributions to workers’ 401(k) plans. The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform has compiled a list that shows that more than 125 U.S. employers, both big and small, have announced plans for bonuses and pay increases after the corporate tax rate was cut to 21% from 35%. According to ATR’s latest tally, at least 2 million American workers will “receive special bonuses” in the wake of tax reform.

Persecution Watch

On January 9, Chinese authorities demolished the $2.6 million building of a 50,000-member evangelical congregation in the country’s northern Shanxi province. It’s the second large church building to be demolished in the province in the past month. People’s Armed Police forces used excavators and dynamite to destroy the building in Linfen, which had been financed by the congregation. The church is among the nation’s unregistered congregations, meaning it is not within the government-controlled system and therefore is deemed illegal by the communist regime. China guarantees “freedom of religion” in its law but not in practice, as authorities use technicalities such land or building violations to destroy churches. The state-run Global Times newspaper cited an unidentified local official claiming the church did not hold the necessary permits.

The past week has seen renewed conflict across Syria, reports Barnabas Aid. In a Christian area of Damascus near Bab Sharqi (East Gate), a shell fell on a church compound killing seven Christians and wounding others. Aleppo, which has had peace for a year, is now seeing fighting again and there is a major battle in Idlib. The Christian community in Homs mourns a new death every week or so; there was particular sorrow when a group of young Christian women, university students, died all together as their bus was targeted just before Christmas. The remaining Christian community in Syria is under great pressure and desperately needs your prayers.

Iran

They are risking their lives to bring freedom to Iran, and vow to continue their protests. “These uprisings have just begun. People are not at all willing to give up,” one activist told Fox News from the streets of Iran. The defiance comes as President Trump announced Friday that he is waving sanctions against Iran under the controversial 2015 nuclear deal one last time, and gave the European allies four months to change the terms of the agreement or he may seek to scrap it. The protesters demand even harsher sanctions. “They should impose major sanctions on the regime,” one protester demanded. Another added there “should be sanctions for human rights violations.” The protesters are members of the long-banned opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The group is calling for Iran’s oil exports to also be subject to sanctions, the ability of the Tehran regime to access the international banking system to be cut off, as well as other punitive measures.

Iran said Saturday that the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other key world powers “cannot be renegotiated in any way,” rejecting President Trump’s threat to pull out of the agreement if the other parties do not fix its “disastrous flaws.” Trump, after months of railing against the agreement, signed a waiver on Friday keeping the deal in place for at least 90 days but called for changes, particularly removal of so-called “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced nuclear activities in the next decade.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants fleeing strongholds in Syria are leaving behind a treasure trove of records detailing everything from the terror group’s finances to personnel documents on individual fighters. ISIS kept meticulous records, including directives and orders marked with official stamps. Over the past three years, the coalition and local forces have seized “hundreds of terabytes” of data from ISIS computers and storage devices in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed forces are operating, according to the coalition headquarters. Each terabyte can hold more than 80 million pages of Microsoft Word documents. “We did learn a lot about their organizational structure, how they communicated, how they facilitated personnel and finances,” Major General James Jarrard said.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) planned to attack the Statue of Liberty in New York City with pressure cooker bombs, it was revealed Tuesday. Munther Omar Saleh, 21, and Fareed Mumuni, 22, both from New York, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to support ISIS and plotting a bomb blast in the city in February 2017, but new details of their plot have come to light. Court filings released ahead of the sentencing of Saleh and Mumuni next month show that they had received instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb from an English ISIS operative, and that the pair’s targets included the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. A key figure in the plot was Australian jihadi Neil Prakash, one of the country’s most dangerous militants, who remains in Turkish custody.

Iraq

A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up in central Baghdad early Monday, killing 27 people and injuring scores more in the first major attack in the capital since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State in December. The attack breached one of Baghdad’s most secure areas, underscoring the urgency of what Iraqi and American officials have said is a crucial transition from combat to traditional counterterrorism. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, which came as electoral coalitions began taking shape this week ahead of expected national elections in May. Previous elections have been marred by spasms of terrorism, and Monday’s violence raised concerns that despite the military victory over the Islamic State, this campaign season would be no different.

The future of Iraq remains complicated and challenged by the power of Shiite militias beholden to Iran. The Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH)—the three most powerful militias—are part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a government sanctioned umbrella group composed of predominantly Shiite fighters funded by and allied with Iran. Several of the groups fought extensively on behalf of Iran in Syria. One of the factors behind the most recent violence in Iraq is the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims in that country, which has customarily made Iraq and Iran enemies.

France

The U.S. government has issued a warning for American travelers to ‘exercise extreme caution’ in France because of the threat of extremist attacks, after French security services revealed they had foiled as many as 20 plots in 2017. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Le Progres newspaper that France is no longer safe from the threat of extremism. ‘We have to be vigilant everywhere,’ he said. ‘Today no part of the territory is free of risk.’ A day later, the State Department issued an advisory on its website that told tourists to be extra careful in the country for fear of a spontaneous extremist attack or the execution of a well-planned plot.

Volcanoes

A burst of lava that spurted like a fountain and flowed down the side of the Philippines’ most active volcano sent more villagers scrambling for safety Tuesday, as officials warned tourists from entering the danger zone. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the lava flowed as much as 1.2 miles from the cloud-shrouded crater of Mount Mayon, while ash fell on several villages in northeastern Albay province. At least 34,000 people have been displaced by Mayon’s eruption from two cities and six towns. Many of the people took shelter in schools turned into evacuation centers. The Institute has recorded at least nine tremors in the area, four of which accompanied lava fountains from the volcano, according to Reuters. The activity could mean a possible hazardous eruption is coming within a few days.

Earthquakes

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near the coast of Peru early Sunday, leaving at least one person dead and causing damages and power outages. More than 20 have been injured. Officials are working to confirm reports of 17 missing miners, The epicenter was 26 miles south-southwest of the small town Acari in the Arequipa district, with the earthquake hitting at 4:18 a.m. EST at a depth of about 7.5 miles.

Weather

For the fourth time this season, a winter storm is impacting the South with snow and ice that has shut down roads, schools and air travel for millions. Winter Storm Inga is bringing snow and ice to the South on Tuesday and will also spread accumulating snow to the East Coast through Wednesday. This won’t be a particularly heavy snow and ice event in much of the South and Northeast, but it will be enough to cause travel problems in those regions. A long band of light to locally moderate snow is ongoing from the interior Northeast southwestward into Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana and Texas.

Thousands were without power last Saturday as Winter Storm Hunter clobbered the Northeast and New England with up to 16 inches of snow in some areas of New York. According to poweroutage.us, more than 10,000 residents were without power in New Jersey Saturday morning, while nearly 7,000 remained without power in Massachusetts. A group of 10 hikers was rescued overnight after becoming trapped by two swollen creeks in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. On Friday, a large pileup closed Interstate 40 in western Tennessee. Residents in the Vermont town of Swanton were forced from their homes overnight by flooding from Winter Storm Hunter.

Days after a series of Southern California mudslides killed at least 20 in Montecito, officials issued new mandatory evacuations Thursday for parts of the city, so crews could focus on rescue and cleanup efforts. No residents will be allowed to return to their homes, and the order might be in place for one or two weeks. Friday morning, officials said at least 4 were missing, but the number could continue to fluctuate as they investigate all missing-person reports. A major coastal highway remained closed in Southern California. Known locally as the Ventura Freeway, California Highway 101 connects Los Angeles with points north, including Santa Barbara, and is closed for “ongoing rescue/recovery & extensive clean-up/repairs,” the California Department of Transportation said in a tweet Saturday.

Signs of the Times (1/11/18)

January 11, 2018

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

New Photos of Babies in Womb at 3 Weeks Reveal Life

The notion that life begins at conception has long been debated between pro-life and pro-abortion advocates. While Planned Parenthood and other leftist organizations have tried to convince women that their babies are merely a cluster of cells, more and more research has continued to attest to the opposite. A recent photoshoot posted to Flickr by Lunar Caustic offers a breathtaking high-resolution look into life inside the womb as early as 3 weeks. That’s before many women even know that they’re pregnant. The stunning photos captured by this talented photographer were shared by Live Action earlier this year, and have since created waves of support for the pro-life community across the web. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood/s largest abortion provider in Ohio has been putting up a series of billboard messages, including: Abortion is a blessing; Abortion is sacred; Abortion is a family value; Abortion is hope; Abortion is a second chance; Abortion is liberty; Abortion is health care; and Abortion is good medicine.

Supreme Court Refuses to Alter Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Law

The high court on Monday refused to intervene in a legal fight over Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which took effect on October 10, 2017. That decision leaves in place the decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed the law to take effect. The law protects freedom of conscience concerning three primary issues: (1) that sex is defined at birth and is immutable, (2) that marriage is the exclusive lifelong union of one man and one woman, and (3) that the biblical view of human sexuality is absolute. Those who maintain those three primary beliefs will be protected against government discrimination in the state of Mississippi.

U.S. Intelligence Underestimated North Korea Nuclear Development

At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, American intelligence agencies told the new administration that while North Korea had built the bomb, there was still ample time — upward of four years — to slow or stop its development of a missile capable of hitting an American city with a nuclear warhead. Within months, those comforting assessments looked wildly out of date, reports the New York Times. At a speed that caught American intelligence officials off guard, Chairman Kim Jong-un rolled out new missile technology — based on a decades-old Soviet engine design, apparently developed in a parallel program — and in quick succession demonstrated ranges that could reach Guam, then the West Coast, then Washington, D.C. And on the first Sunday in September, he detonated a sixth nuclear bomb. After early hesitation among analysts, a consensus has now emerged that it was the North’s first successful test of a hydrogen weapon, with explosive force some 15 times greater than the atom bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Yet the inability of the C.I.A. and other American intelligence services to foresee the North’s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among America’s most significant intelligence failures, current and former officials said in recent interviews.

First North-South Korea Talks in 2 Years Yield Breakthrough

The Winter Olympics has brought a thaw in relations between the Koreas: After talks in the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, a South Korean official announced that North Korea will be sending a delegation including officials, athletes, and a cheer squad next month to the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, reports Reuters. South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung says negotiators also discussed allowing the reunification of families separated by the Korean War in time for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. The South has also proposed having athletes from the two Koreas march together at the opening ceremony under the same flag for the first time since 2006, the BBC reports. The International Olympic Committee says it has “kept the door open” for the North to take part in the Games, which begin Feb. 9. The Panmunjom negotiations are the first high-level talks between the Koreas in more than two years. Analysts, however, say that before North Korea agrees to moves like family reunifications or military talks with the South, it is likely to demand that Seoul halt or at least scale back joint military drills with the U.S., the AP reports.

Trump Administration Says Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave

Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade must leave the country, government officials announced Monday. It is the Trump administration’s latest reversal of years of immigration policies and one of the most consequential to date. Homeland security officials said that they were ending a humanitarian program, known as Temporary Protected Status, for Salvadorans who have been allowed to live and work legally in the United States since a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001. Salvadorans were by far the largest group of foreigners benefiting from temporary protected status, which shielded them from deportation if they had arrived in the United States illegally. The decision came just weeks after more than 45,000 Haitians, the second largest group, lost protections granted after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and it suggested that others in the program, namely Hondurans, may soon lose them as well. Nicaraguans lost their protections last year. The Trump administration has been committed to reining in both legal and illegal immigration, most notably by ending protections for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, beginning in March unless Congress grants them legal status before then.

Federal Judge Gives Respite to ‘Dreamers’

A federal judge’s decision Tuesday to block Trump administration plans to phase out protections for so-called undocumented “dreamers” brought sharp backlash Wednesday from the White House, calling the injunction “outrageous.” The order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued Tuesday says safeguards against deportation must remain in place for the nearly 690,000 immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while a legal challenge to ending the Obama-era program proceeds. It remained unclear Wednesday when the DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers” could resume applying for renewals of their work permits as a result of the California ruling, which Alsup said should apply nationwide. Advocates said it would depend on the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program. The Trump administration has vowed to challenge Alsup’s ruling. Judge Alsup referred to a Trump tweet in explaining his decision. Trump had expressed support for DACA on Twitter in September. “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” the president tweeted.

Trump Reverses Obama’s Regulatory Increases

The final bill for Obama’s new regulations in the last two weeks of his presidency topped$ 5.8 billion, reports Constitution.com. Obama came to office claiming that he would cut regulations. On the other hand, that regulatory burden took a dramatic move in the opposite direction once Donald Trump took office. According to the Washington Examiner, Obama’s first 100 days in office cost America 141 times more than Trump’s. The regulations proposed by the Trump administration totaled in at $28 million compared to Obama’s $4 billion. Since then, Trump has eliminated many of Obama’s new regulations.

Trump-Appointed Regulators Reject Plan to Rescue Coal and Nuclear Plants

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have propped up nuclear and coal power plants struggling in competitive electricity markets. The independent five-member commission includes four people appointed by President Trump, three of them Republicans. Its decision is binding. At the same time, the commission said it shared Perry’s stated goal of strengthening the “resilience” of the electricity grid and directed regional transmission operators to provide information to help the commission examine the matter “holistically.” The operators have 60 days to submit materials. At that time, the agency can issue another order.

House Votes to Renew Surveillance Law Despite Privacy Objections

The House voted Thursday to renew for six years a controversial surveillance program that collects the content of Americans’ email, text messages, photos and other electronic communication without a warrant. The vote was 256-164 to extend the program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Section 702 program was originally approved by Congress in 2008 to increase the government’s ability to track and thwart foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It was designed to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and specifically bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S. But critics say the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals, even when those foreigners aren’t suspected of terrorist activity. The Senate still must vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to filibuster the legislation passed by the House, but the Senate is ultimately expected to approve the bill.

Trump Administration Advises States to Impose Work Requirements for Medicaid

The Trump administration issued guidance to states early Thursday that will allow them to compel people to work or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid. It would be the first time in the half-century history Medicaid if such a requirement were implemented. The letter to state Medicaid directors opens the door for states to cut off Medicaid benefits to Americans unless they have a job, are in school, are a caregiver, volunteer or participate in other approved forms of “community engagement” — an idea that some states had broached over the past several years but that the Obama administration had consistently rebuffed. The new policy comes as ten states are already lined up, waiting for federal permission to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults in the program. Three other states are contemplating them. Health officials could approve the first waiver — probably for Kentucky — as soon as Friday

2017 Costliest U.S. Disaster Year Ever Recorded

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria combined with devastating western wildfires and other natural disasters to make 2017 the most expensive year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday. The disasters caused $306 billion in total damage in 2017, during with 16 separate events caused more than $1 billion in damage each. Hurricane Harvey, which included extreme flooding in Houston and the surrounding area in August and September, caused $125 billion in damage, the year’s most expensive disaster. Hurricane Maria, which in September set off a fatal and ongoing humanitarian crisis in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and elsewhere, caused $90 billion in damages. Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September and caused $50 billion in total damages, NOAA reports. Western wildfires cost $ 18 billion and caused 54 deaths, the report found. Other large costs came from tornadoes, droughts, severe weather events, flooding and other causes.

Economic News

Americans’ outstanding credit card debt hit a new record in November, highlighting a more confident U.S. consumer but also flashing a warning signal of potential trouble down the road. Revolving credit, mostly credit cards, increased by $11.2 billion to $1.023 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Monday. That nudged the figure past the $1.021 trillion highwater mark reached in April 2008, just before the housing and credit bubbles burst. Over the past year, revolving credit has surged by $55.1 billion, or 5.7%.

Credit scores increase by generation, according to data computed by Experian. Generation Z (age 18-20) is the lowest at 634, but they’re just getting started and have an average debt of just $2,047. Millennials (21-34) score 638, but have accumulated debts averaging $222,000 of which $198,303 is mortgage debt, the rest being student and credit card debt. Generation X (35-69) scores 658, with total average mortgage debt of $231,774. This group also has a high rate of late debt payments at 0.54% and the most average nonmortgage debt at $30,304. Baby Boomers (50-50) score 730 and still have substantial mortgage debt at an average $188,828. They’re also in pretty good financial shape, with a low late payments rate of just 0.3%. The so-called Silent Generation (70+) have the highest average credit score of 729. Their average mortgage debt is surprisingly high for their age at $156,705 but other debts are low, as is their late payment frequency of just 0.12%.

After a successful holiday sales season, department stores are showing signs that they have figured out how to fight back against online giant Amazon — or at least hold their own. With their traditional business models threatened, retailers got creative. They formed new, interesting partnerships; tried to make shopping in person more entertaining and cranked up their own e-commerce efforts. And it paid off. Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom reported stronger than expected holiday sales that contributed to an industry-wide sales bump of 4.9%. That was the biggest increase since 2011.

Walmart is raising its starting wage from $9 per hour to $11 an hour because of the new tax law. Walmart also said they would expand parental leave and promised bonuses for some workers. The country’s largest employer, which has more than 1 million hourly workers, says the changes would take place beginning in February. “Tax reform gives us the opportunity to be more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.,” Doug McMillon, president and chief executive of Walmart, said in a statement. Walmart said the pay increase will apply to all of its hourly workers in the United States, including those at its Sam’s Club stores. The decision could pressure other employers to follow suit and comes after rival Target raised its hourly starting wage to $11 recently.

Persecution Watch

Online censorship of Christian and conservative organizations has been rapidly increasing. The West Virginia-based ministry Warriors for Christ repeatedly has had its Facebook pages removed by Facebook, according to the Christian Post. Its main page, which has more than 225,000 followers, was removed again last week, allegedly for “hateful, threatening or obscene” content. The biggest issue seems to be the ministry’s stance on homosexuality, Pastor Rich Penkoski said. However, they also stand strong for unborn babies’ rights and sexual purity, he said. “We talk about abortion. We talk about adultery. We talk about fornication. Nobody ever talks about that stuff,” he said. One Twitter employee said in a Project Veritas video that such censorship is often done without the person or organization knowing, through a ‘shadow ban.’ “They don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So, they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it,” he said.

North Korea claims the No. 1 spot on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List—an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. With more than 50,000 people in prison or labor camps, such a ranking is little surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life in the country and forces worship of the Kim family. But the new report reveals an alarming trend as countries driven by Islamic extremism, such as Afghanistan (No. 2), reach persecution levels rivaling those in North Korea. Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, 30 saw an increase in persecution during the reporting period. Within the countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme persecution. Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender. Every day six women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith.

Middle East

The Palestinians’ head negotiator, Saeb Erekat, announced on Tuesday that any peace talks sponsored by the United States would be rejected until the Americans revoke their December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Erekat also reiterated the oft-cited PA position that any future deal must include Jerusalem, declaring, “There is no value to a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.” Erekat’s comments are consistent with previous statements issued by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who declared that the U.S. had effectively resigned from its historical role as the primary peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas has also maintained that he refuses to meet with American officials.

Britain’s chief diplomat Boris Johnson told the Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Malki on Monday that Jerusalem will ultimately be shared by Israel and a future Palestinian state, according to a statement from the British foreign office. “I reiterated the UK’s commitment to supporting the Palestinian people and the two-state solution, the urgent need for renewed peace negotiations, and the UK’s clear and longstanding position on the status of Jerusalem,” Johnson stated. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted last month in favor of a nonbinding resolution condemning U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution also represents a rejection of the US intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The UNGA voted 128-9 with 35 abstentions to declare Trump’s declaration as “null and void.” The UK was among those that voted in favor of the resolution.

The U.S. froze a $125 million grant to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Israel’s Channel 10 News and the American Axios news site reported last Friday. The grant was due to be delivered on January 1 and that the amount frozen is one-third of the US annual funding to UNRWA. For now, the money has been frozen while the US reassesses the situation. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced earlier in the week that the Trump administration will halt aid to the Palestinians unless they agree to come to the negotiating table and participate in peace talks with the Israelis.

The Israeli military was on high alert in the West Bank Wednesday following a shooting attack on a car travelling down Route 60 the previous evening, which left an Israeli man dead. The victim, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, the father of six children, was severely wounded in the drive-by shooting attack and later succumbed to his wounds. Hamas issued a statement saying, “We bless the heroic Nablus operation which comes as a result of the Zionist occupation’s violations and crimes at the expense of our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem.” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman criticized the Palestinians for the terror attack, saying, “look no further to why there is no peace.”

Syria

At least 17 civilians in the Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta were killed and dozens more injured in a day of government and Russian airstrikes, a rescue group and war monitor said. The White Helmets volunteer rescue group reported dozens of airstrikes in the area on Saturday, adding that four children were among the dead and 40 more people were injured. It said government airstrikes, backed by Russian air power, had begun nine days ago. The latest strikes come as the government steps up its offensive against the country’s last rebel-held areas.

Iran

A spokesman for the atomic energy agency in Iran issued a fiery statement Wednesday that if the US re-imposes any kind of economic or political sanctions on Iran, for any reason, it would be considered a violation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord and the US would quickly be punished. He added that Iran has the capacity to quickly increase its uranium enrichment activities, although some analysts cast doubt on this assertion.

Jordan

Jordan said on Monday it had foiled an ISIS plot that included plans for a series of attacks on security installations, shopping malls and moderate religious figures, state media reported. State news agency Petra said the country’s intelligence department had arrested 17 members of the cell and confiscated weapons and explosives that the militant group had planned to use in the operation. The statement said the cell had waged a series of bank robberies and car thefts to get financing, and manufactured homemade explosives from material bought from local markets. King Abdullah, a Middle East ally of Western powers against Islamist militancy who has also safeguarded Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, has been among the most vocal leaders in the region in warning of threats posed by radical groups.

Environment

Researchers suggest a generation of sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef were born mostly female because they were nested in warmer areas, raising concerns global warming might threaten the species. The study, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, found 99.8% of green sea turtles near adulthood and originating from the northern — and warmer —  part of the Great Barrier Reef were born female. A slightly younger group of juvenile turtles was found to be 99.1% female. The study analyzed more than 400 turtles and was conducted by researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in Australia. The lopsided gender split, the authors point out, could cause the population to collapse, or the species to go extinct, unless efforts are made to lower nesting temperatures.

Earthquakes

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean Sea Tuesday night, and although the U.S. Tsunami Warning Center issued advisories for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, overnight impacts were minimal. The tremor struck at 9:51 p.m. EST just over 25 miles from the coast of Great Swan Island, Honduras, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It had a depth of 6.2 miles. In Central America, the quake caused no injuries or notable damage. The region closest to the earthquake’s epicenter – especially the Swan Islands – is largely unpopulated.

Weather

The heaviest rain California’s L.A. Basin has seen since last February, has triggered mudslides, rockslides, and debris flows over areas recently charred by destructive wildfires. Parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, near the Thomas fire burn area were particularly hit hard Tuesday morning, especially the town of Montecito. At least 17 deaths have been attributed to flooding and mudslides after the heavy rainfall. Hundreds of rescuers continue to search through the waist-deep for any remaining survivors as friends and family members awaited news. The worst impacts were seen in Montecito and Carpinteria, where 65 homes were destroyed and nearly 450 were damaged. Thousands of people in Southern California were placed under evacuation orders before the storms arrived, including Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. But officials said only a small percentage of those ordered to evacuate actually left their homes.

Roads were snow-covered and dangerous across the heartland Thursday morning as Winter Storm Hunter continued its journey east. In North Dakota, a stretch of Interstate 29 from north of Fargo to the Canadian border was closed Thursday morning due to hazardous travel conditions. Hunter forced school districts to cancel or delay classes Thursday in Omaha, Des Moines, southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

Record lows and dangerously cold wind chills gripped the Northeast Sunday, capping off a major Arctic outbreak that began in late December. Wind chills way below zero were widespread across the Northeast. Frenchville, Maine, saw its wind chill fall to minus 40 degrees. Several daily record low temperatures were broken or tied in the Northeast including Hartford, CT and Worcester, MA at minus 9 degrees. In New Hampshire, the summit of the White Mountains registered minus 36 Saturday morning, with a wind chill of minus 94, tying for the second coldest place in the world. The frigid cold temperatures have been wreaking havoc in North Carolina communities, breaking water pipes and leaving some without water, prompting a boil-water advisory.

Airlifts continued Wednesday for tourists trapped by heavy snow and an elevated avalanche threat in the Swiss alpine town of Zermatt. An estimated 13,000 tourists were cut off by the snow and avalanche threat. On Tuesday, some 300 to 400 tourists wanting to leave were airlifted out of the town, according to a Zermatt tourism official. Meanwhile, controlled avalanches were underway to reduce the threat from more than 39 inches of snow that fell within a 24-hour period over the weekend, adding to the already 10 to 13 feet of snowpack that has already accumulated on the mountains above Zermatt this season.

Signs of the Times (1/6/18)

January 6, 2018

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)

Iranian Unrest Leading to Salvations

Iranian-American Pastor Reza Safa, a former radical Muslim and founder of the Farsi-language Christian network TBN Nejat Television, has issued an urgent request for Christians around the world to pray for Iran and its people as political unrest rages in the Muslim controlled nation. “Today in Iran the Gospel is going forward as never before … The message of salvation through Jesus is impacting literally every major population center across the nation—despite aggressive efforts by Iran’s government to stop it. Over the past several years, countless thousands of Iranians have come to faith in Christ, so that today the nation of Iran is poised for positive change.”

  • Even as Iran harshly cracks down on the protesters, the light of Christ is shining ever brighter in the deep darkness. Let us each add to the light with our fervent prayers for the persecuted Iranian people.

Christian Bakers Lose Appeal Case

The Oregon Court of Appeals maintained a ruling against Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the bakery Sweetcakes by Melissa, which ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple whose wedding cake the Kleins refused to make. The Kleins, represented by First Liberty Institute, may take the case to the Oregon Supreme Court next. According to First Liberty, “Aaron Klein explained that by making a wedding cake, they would be endorsing something that violated their beliefs, which is something they could not do.” The case was brought to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), which in 2015 ordered the Kleins to pay the women for “emotional damages.” The years long legal battle has taken a toll on the Melissa and Aaron, as well as their kids. The Kleins have received hate mail and threats, and due to the financial burden, they were forced to close down their bakery storefront. Melissa now sells bakery items exclusively online, and Aaron had to find work as a garbage collector to pay the bills.

Scientific Retraction a Major Blow to Evolution Theory

It was heralded as decisive proof of the theory of evolution. But Harvard biologist and Nobel Prize laureate Jack Szostak now has retracted a major paper that claimed to explain one of the most important questions about the origin of human life. In 2016, Szostak published a paper claiming he had found a way for ribonucleic acid (RNA) to replicate itself. Many proponents of evolutionary theory believe RNA was one of the first molecules to develop. However, RNA requires its own enzymes to replicate. Szostak and others were looking for evidence of “non-enzymatic replication of RNA,” which could supposedly assemble by irradiating materials that would have been present on Earth in an earlier time. If this could be created, it would show RNA could copy itself and could have evolved before DNA or proteins, bolstering the naturalistic explanation of life’s origins. However, Szostak recently retracted his paper after colleague Tivoli Olsen couldn’t replicate the findings. Szostak said the debacle was “definitely embarrassing.” He added, “In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings] … we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been.”

Louisiana Says Students Have Right to Pray, Read Bible in Public Schools

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., have released the Louisiana Students Rights Review, a 15-page guide that explains the religious freedom rights of teachers and students in public schools. The review says that public schools in the U.S. do not need to be “religion-free zones.” The document also says that just because schools have to stay neutral on religion, that shouldn’t keep students from practicing their faith on school property. However, the document did note that all religious activity has to be student-led and student-initiated. Faculty and teachers are allowed to organize bible studies and prayer groups outside of instructional time, according to the document. The document comes after a Louisiana mother sued the Webster Parish School District in December, claiming that the district was unconstitutionally promoting Christianity.

President Trump Receives ‘Pro-life Person of the Year Award’

President Trump has been given the 2017 Pro-Life Person of the Year Malachi Award by the pro-life group Operation Rescue, reports The Christian Post. “Operation Rescue is grateful Pres. Trump for having the courage to keep promises made during the campaign that provide greater protections for the pre-born and deny Federal funds from those who commit abortions,” said the group in a press release. “He has proven to be the most pro-life president we have had in modern history and has backed up his pro-life rhetoric with action like no other before him,” the statement continued. They then went on to list eight of Trump’s pro-life accomplishments, including appointing pro-life Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, denying public funding to abortions around the world, launching an investigation into Planned Parenthood, supporting the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and reversing the Obama-era mandate that states use to fund Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood’s Numbers Down, But Profit Up

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, quietly released its 2016-2017 annual report over the New Year’s holiday weekend. The report shows a decrease in the abortion giant’s number of patients from 2.5 million in 2015 to 2.4 million, a drop of almost 23% from the 3.1 million they reported ten years ago in 2006. Planned Parenthood performed 321,384 abortions over this past year, a very slight decrease from the 328,348 abortions in 2015. However, since 2006 the number of abortions Planned Parenthood performs annually has increased by nearly 11 percent. While the number of patients is decreasing, the organization’s excess revenue increased from $77.5 million in 2015 to $98.5 million this past year, a whopping 27% increase over the past year.

Refugee Admissions to U.S. Plummeted in 2017

President Trump had to battle the courts and intense opposition, but by the end of the year, he was able to slash refugee admissions into the United States to historic lows. From Inauguration Day to Dec. 31, his administration accepted 29,022 refugees, the lowest number since at least 2002, according to State Department data. The previous low (29,468) came in 2002, after the U.S. slowed down all avenues of legal immigration following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The decline will continue in 2018 because Trump established an annual cap of 45,000 refugees a year, the lowest cap since Congress created the Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980. Presidents have the authority to unilaterally set the annual refugee cap, which has been as high as 217,000 under President Reagan and hovered between 70,000 and 80,000 under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Majority of Refugees now Christian

Over the past year under the Trump administration, the majority of refugees admitted into the U.S. have been Christian. Under Obama, the majority of refugees were Muslim, but under Trump, 60 percent are Christian, reports the Washington Examiner. Additionally, only 13 percent of refugees admitted into the U.S. this past year have been Muslim, making the Christian to Muslim ratio roughly six to one. “The shift follows complaints by Christian groups that the Obama administration had overwhelmingly favored Muslims and ignored the plight of Christians, especially in Muslim nations,” said Nayla Rush, Center for Immigration Studies Senior Researcher.

Trump Asks Congress for $18 Billion for Border Wall

Trump’s administration asked Congress on Friday to set aside $18 billion over the next 10 years to build or extend the nearly 700-mile barrier that became a signature 2016 presidential campaign pledge. Another $15 billion $15 billion would cover technology, personnel and readiness. The estimate is the most detailed accounting yet of how much it will cost to make the border wall a reality. The proposal by Customs and Border Protection calls for 316 miles of additional barrier by September 2027, bringing total coverage to 970 miles, or nearly half the border. It also calls for 407 miles of replacement or secondary fencing. Trump’s border wall is perhaps the most complex of the president’s pending campaign promises, and it involves building and buying property in areas where construction would be difficult. However, Trump’s plan to coerce Mexico into paying for it appears dead. The White House said funding for the border wall and restrictions on so-called sanctuary cities must be included in any bill to grant legal status to illegal immigrant Dreamers.

Each day, 120 ‘Dreamers’ Lose Deportation Protection

Each day, about 120 of the young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” lose their temporary protection from deportation. When President Trump announced on Sept. 5 that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on March 5, his administration gave DACA recipients with permits set to expire before then only one month to apply for a 2-year renewal. A total of 21,790 DACA recipients failed to reapply. That comes to 120 DACA recipients on average losing deportation protections daily, along with the work permits that come with them. The number is frequently cited by dreamer advocates to illustrate why it is important for Congress not to wait until March 5 to address the DACA issue. Trump gave Congress until then to come up with a legislative fix that would allow dreamers to remain in the U.S. permanently rather than continuing their temporary deportation deferments without a way to legalize their immigration status.

U.S. Muslim Population Expanding as are Attacks on Jews

Pew Research Center estimates that 3.45 million Muslims were living legally in the U.S. in 2017. That represents only 1.1 percent of the U.S. population but it’s up, by Pew’s estimates, it’s up 4.2% from 3.31 million in 2016. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, says Pew’s estimates are way off, and that the true number is roughly double, in the 6 to 8 million range. Pew estimates that 5.3 million Jews live in the U.S., but unlike the Muslim population, Judaism is not growing in America, due largely to low birthrates. Statistics show that the higher a nation’s Muslim population, the more anti-Semitic attacks occur in that nation. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.K. have all seen increasing numbers of hate crimes against Jews and Jewish properties since they began importing mass numbers of Muslim migrants. It has gotten so bad in France and Germany that many Jews have been quietly migrating out of those countries in recent years.

Justice Department Cracks Down on Marijuana

The Justice Department sent a shiver of uncertainty through the now-thriving legal marijuana industry Thursday by rescinding Obama administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use pot for medical and recreational uses. Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized the dramatic policy shift as a “return to the rule of law” in a memo outlining the change. Senior Justice officials said the Obama administration’s position had provided a “de-facto safe haven” for a now thriving weed industry. Sessions has long signaled his disagreement with the previous administration’s stance on pot. But the spare, one-page document did not contain any new specific guidelines for how the policy change would be enforced.

Almost Half of Puerto Rico Still Without Power

After months of efforts to restore power to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, electricity provider AEE said Friday that 55% of households now had electricity. That means that some 660,000 customers out of a total 1.5 million are still without power. The town of Ciales, one of the island’s 78 municipalities, is still totally without electricity. AEE said that it had given priority to restoring power to shopping centers, hospitals and factories. Puerto Rico’s government also cautioned that a lot of work remained as crews were still uncovering unexpected damage after the Category 4 storm hit in September, blowing down power lines and crippling substations with winds of up to 154 mph. The island’s governor, Ricardo Rosello, appealed to U.S. utility companies Friday to send 1,500 workers to Puerto Rico to speed up electricity recovery efforts.

Trump Administration Opens Up Drilling in U.S. Continental Waters

The Trump administration unveiled a controversial proposal Thursday to permit drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic. Under the proposal, only one of 26 planning areas in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean would be off limits to oil and gas exploration, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He said the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management has identified 47 potential areas where industry companies can buy leases between 2019 and 2024, when the proposed period would begin and end. The Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program was embraced by oil and gas industry groups but is expected to face withering opposition from a wide range of state officials and conservationists. “Nothing is final,” Zinke said in remarks at a news conference. “This is a draft program. The states, local communities and congressional delegations will all have a say” before the proposal becomes final in the coming months.

Trump Slashes Number of Federal Employees

Nearly a year into his takeover of Washington, President Trump has made a significant down payment on his campaign pledge to shrink the federal bureaucracy, a shift long sought by conservatives that could eventually bring the workforce down to levels not seen in decades. By the end of September, all Cabinet departments except Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior had fewer permanent staff than when Trump took office in January — with most shedding many hundreds of employees, according to an analysis of federal personnel data by The Washington Post. The diminishing federal footprint reverses a boost in hiring under President Barack Obama. The falloff has been driven by an exodus of civil servants, a diminished corps of political appointees and an effective hiring freeze. The White House is now warning agencies to brace for even deeper cuts in the 2019 budget it will announce early next year, part of an effort to lower the federal deficit to pay for the new tax law.

Economic News

The economy added 148,000 jobs in December, down from November but wrapping up a year of steady hiring, the government employment report said Friday. The U.S. economy added 2 million jobs in 2017. The jobless rate stayed at 4.1 percent last month, the lowest point since 2001, while the country hit its 87th straight month of expansion, with health care and professional services driving much of 2017’s the gains. Wages continued their slow climb, rising by 9 cents. That’s a 2.5 percent rise since December 2016 (but still below pre-recession levels). Retail lost 20,000 jobs in December, according to the BLS estimate, capping a year of shrinkage in the sector. About 67,000 positions vanished from stores in 2017, compared to an increase of 203,000 jobs in 2016.

Blue collar jobs are booming. The government said Friday that the construction industry added 30,000 jobs last month, with a big chunk coming from the hiring of more specialty trade contractors, like plumbing and electrical work. Manufacturers added 25,000 jobs. Construction and manufacturing combined added 406,000 jobs for all of last year. Some construction and manufacturing firms have been unable to find as much skilled labor as they need.

The value of the entire U.S. housing stock increased by 6.5 percent — or $2 trillion — in 2017, according to a report from Zillow. All homes in the country are now worth a cumulative $31.8 trillion. The gain in home values was the biggest since 2013, when real estate was in the early stages of its recovery from the recession. A home might be a worse investment next year, as the new federal tax law reduces key benefits to ownership. That includes a lower limit on the amount of debt eligible for the mortgage-interest deduction and a cap on state and local tax deductions.

The U.S. dollar started 2018 on the wrong foot, hitting its lowest point since mid-September. It plummeted despite factors that typically drive up the dollar, like the passage of tax cuts and an overall healthy U.S. economy. Compared to the world’s most traded currencies, the dollar fell nearly 10% last year. It’s down 2% since December 15. Political turmoil stemming from the 2016 election and better global growth were the main culprits, experts say.

U.S. car sales fell 2017 for the first time since 2009. Annual sales fell 1.8% to 17.2 million vehicles according to final figures from Autodata. But the average car price is actually climbing, so total revenue collected for U.S. car sales actually edged slightly higher. Consumers are buying more expensive models, such as crossovers instead of traditional sedans, and are also upgrading with more expensive features, such as automatic braking and lane detection warnings. Buyers paid an average of $35,082 per car in 2017, a record that is up 2.3% from a year earlier. Relatively easy access to credit and more leasing options are helping to boost both sales and prices.

Retailers are bracing for a fresh wave of store closings in 2018 that is expected to eclipse the rash of closings that rocked the industry last year. 2017 was a record year for both store closings and retail bankruptcies. Dozens of retailers including Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney shuttered an estimated 9,000 stores — far exceeding recessionary levels — and 50 chains filed for bankruptcy. The number of store closings in the U.S. is expected to jump at least 33% to more than 12,000 in 2018, and another 25 major retailers could file for bankruptcy, according to estimates by the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. As if to underscore this dire forecast, Macy’s announced 5,000 more job cuts and the closing of 7 additional stores while more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores will close in March and April, Sears Holdings announced Thursday.

U.S. multinational companies are preparing to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in tax on profits they made overseas in the last 30 years. New American tax rules mean firms can no longer avoid paying tax on past international profits by keeping the money outside the United States. They must pay tax whether they bring this cash back to the U.S. or not. The new rules require U.S. companies to pay a tax of between 8% and 15.5% on overseas earnings made since 1987 if they remain offshore. After making this one-off payment, they’ll be able to bring the money back home without paying additional tax. Under the old law, they would have owed a top rate of 35% when bringing foreign profits back to the U.S. which made them reluctant to do so.

Israel

Energized by American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the country’s right-wing government has accelerated plans that imperil a two-state solution, solidifying Israel’s power and control over Jerusalem. In an all-night session, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, enacted a law early Tuesday making it much more difficult to negotiate Jerusalem as part of a peace process. The holy city is the most sensitive — and perhaps most important — issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with parts of the city claimed by both sides as their capital. The law was passed as an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law — the closest thing Israel has to a constitution — which gives it more political weight. The amendment stipulates that any attempt to transfer sovereign control of Jerusalem to a foreign entity needs to be approved by a super-majority of 80 Knesset members out of 120. Previously, the requirement was a majority of 61 members.

The IDF was on high alert in the south on Thursday, following a night of mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli communities bordering the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The Air Force reported launching strikes on Hamas infrastructure in the Strip in response to the attacks, with no casualties reported by either side. Meanwhile, clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli security forces near Ramallah in the West Bank resulted in an armed rioter being shot dead Wednesday afternoon.

With Israel in drought for the last five years – the worst in the land in the last 40 years – thousands gathered at the Western Wall last week to pray for rain – and it came. Last Thursday. thousands responded to Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel’s call for a special prayer session at the Western Wall. Over the weekend, the rains came. The rains fell in Israel’s Golan Heights and Upper Galilee regions, replenishing the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of water. In addition, about six inches of snow gathered on Mount Hermon’s upper slopes, and three inches fell on the mountain’s lower slopes.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un used his annual New Year’s Day speech on Monday to announce that he had a nuclear button on his desk, with the entire United States mainland within the range of his weapons. But the Naorth Korean leader said he would not use the weapons unless threatened. “This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment,” Kim said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held out a rare olive branch to the country’s southern neighbor Monday, offering talks over sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month. Kim struck an unusually conciliatory note in his annual New Year’s Day address, declaring his wish “for peaceful resolution with our southern border.” North Korea reopened a border hotline with South Korea on Wednesday, restoring a channel of direct dialogue and signaling a possible thaw in relations between the two Koreas after years of hair-trigger tensions. North Korea has accepted South Korea’s proposal for official talks, in what will be the first high-level contact to take place between the two countries in more than two years. At the request of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, President Trump agreed Thursday to delay regular joint military exercises during the Winter Games in South Korea next month.

Iran

At least 21 people in Iran have been killed amid anti-government protests, the country’s state TV said Tuesday. Hundreds of people have been arrested. Nationwide protests erupted Thursday in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad over economic issues and have since expanded to several cities. The demonstrations are the most serious political unrest in Iran since 2009 when millions took to the streets to protest alleged electoral fraud. Iran’s economy is in shambles, with an unemployment rate that Iran’s Interior Ministry estimates may be as high as 60 percent in some areas of the country. “Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state TV reported. Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani urged authorities to strongly confront rioters. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Iran’s “enemies” on Tuesday for stirring up unrest in the country. The Trump administration is lobbying countries around the world to support protesters in Iran as violent demonstrations intensify, The Wall Street Journal reported

Afghanistan

A U.S. servicemember was killed and four were wounded during combat on New Year’s Day in eastern Afghanistan. Two of the wounded servicemembers are hospitalized in stable condition and the other two were returned to duty. The U.S. military did not release additional details about the engagement, but U.S.-backed Afghan forces have been combating the Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. troops are not engaged in direct combat in Afghanistan, but the Trump administration has authorized an increased number of advisers and expanded airstrikes in support of Afghan forces.

Pakistan

The Trump administration will suspend most security assistance to Pakistan, the State Department said on Thursday, expanding its retribution over militant safe havens that U.S. officials blame for ongoing violence in Afghanistan. The administration will freeze the aid payments but not allocate the money elsewhere, in order to reassess the situation over the coming year. For years, U.S. officials have complained that Pakistan has allowed the Taliban and other extremists to operate within its borders. Taliban leaders are widely believed to reside in Pakistan, helping to direct insurgent operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan denies those allegations and says the United States has failed to acknowledge the efforts it has taken against militant groups.

Iceland

A new law in Iceland makes equal pay for equal work a must in the country — irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. Until now, women in Iceland have earned an average 19% less than their male colleagues. But those days are over. The new law, which went into effect New Year’s Day, covers about 150,000 workers in the country. The measure applies to 1,200 companies in Iceland that have at least 25 workers, and the firms will have to publish their wage scales.  There are courses to help the companies implement the new pay scales. Upon completion, the companies get a certificate that have to be renewed every three years. A statement from the Ministry of Welfare said the law was the world’s first equal pay law.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-4.4 earthquake struck the San Francisco area before dawn Thursday, rattling windows and silverware and waking many residents but causing little apparent damage. The quake, at 2:39 a.m. local time, was centered 1.9 miles from Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said. It struck in the Hayward Fault area, which lies along the foot of the East Bay hills. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Last week, two earthquakes more than three hours apart rattled the San Jose area, but no damage was reported. USGS said a magnitude-3.1 quake struck a few miles east of San Martin, then a 3.9. quake hit that was centered northeast of Alum Rock. The region, vulnerable for quakes, was last hit hard on Aug. 24, 2014. The South Napa earthquake, magnitude-6.0, killed one person, injured scores more and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Weather

The ferocious “bomb cyclone” that hammered the East Coast with snow, ice, and wind Thursday may be gone, but in its place a blast of intense, Arctic cold has arrived. Dangerously low wind chill temperatures will continue over the next couple of days. Winter Storm Grayson has left at least eleven dead in triggered what officials believe is Massachusetts’ highest high tide on record as of Thursday.  Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said flooding from the “historic high tide” prompted the deployment of National Guard high-water rescue vehicles to aid residents and stranded vehicles. Storm surge poured into the streets in towns like Scituate, Massachusetts, flooding the roads with partially frozen salt water. The flooding stretched down into Boston’s Seaport and all the way up to the Maine coast. Scenes similar to the Massachusetts coast were seen in Kennebunkport, Maine, where roads were under water and chunks of ice flowed from the ocean onto the shore.

Grayson dumped over a foot of snow in a swath from the Virginia Tidewater to Maine. The top snow total was an estimated 20 inches near the town of Winn, Maine. Islip, New York, picked up 16 inches of snow. Winds at JFK Airport gusted over 50 mph. Central Park wound up with 9.8 inches of snow while Queens received 13.6 inches, the highest of the five boroughs. Boston’s Logan Airport reported a rarely seen low visibility of one-sixteenth of a mile, tallying 13.4 inches of snow. In New Hampshire, Henniker had seen 15.5 inches of snow, 13 inches fell in Concord. Frozen sharks have been appearing on Cape Cod beaches.

Grayson brought rare snow to north Florida, the first measurable snow since 1989 in Tallahassee, and coastal Georgia Wednesday before raking the coast of North Carolina and Virginia overnight. As the storm rapidly intensified, known as bombogenesis, wind gusts greater than 70 MPH hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina. On Wednesday ice and snow contributed to nearly 100,000 homes and businesses losing power in north Florida and south Georgia combined. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 from Tallahassee eastward to Live Oak was closed Wednesday morning as slick conditions made travel on the roadway very risky. As cold temperatures continue to grip the South, water main breaks have been wreaking havoc in multiple cities. Frozen iguanas are falling out of Florida trees.

Wind chills 50 to 60 degrees below zero were recorded in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota last Saturday-Monday. The coldest wind chill observed was 58 degrees below zero in Hettinger, North Dakota, on Sunday morning. The coldest temperature in this Arctic outbreak so far is a reading of 45 degrees below zero in Embarrass, Minnesota, on Sunday morning. In parts of the Midwest and in New England, wind chills as cold as minus 45 degrees at times could lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes. At least nineteen people have died as a result of the bitter cold in the central and eastern United States. Numerous animals have frozen to death. School districts canceled classes in several regions because of the cold. At least one person was killed in Buffalo on Tuesday after a pileup involving up to 75 vehicles shut down the snow-covered eastbound lanes of the New York State Thruway.

  • The Bible says end-time weather will be extreme, not just warm (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

Signs of the Times (12/18/17)

December 18, 2017

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6))

UK Church Goes Overboard with Inclusion

Residents in England are in an uproar over a flyer they received from the Church of England. In an apparent attempt to please everybody — what postmodernism would deem “inclusion” — the flyer announced that the church would host a joint birthday party for Jesus Christ and the prophet Muhammad. As reported by World Net Daily, “The ‘Milad, Advent and Christmas Celebration’ took place Sunday, Dec. 3, at All Saints Church in Kingston upon Thames and was organized with the Kingston Inter-Faith Forum and the South London Inter-Faith Group.” Many Christians took umbrage over what they say implies equality between the Son of God and Mohammed. “Every time a church accords Muhammad the epithet ‘Prophet,’ they are rejecting the crucifixion, denying the resurrection of Christ, and refuting that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, for Muhammad denied all of these foundational tenets of the Christian faith,” said Adrian Hilton, publisher of Archbishop Cranmer.

Trump Sets New National Security Strategy

President Trump framed a new national security strategy Monday that cast his election as a pivot from failed economic policies and shortsighted negotiating strategies. The congressionally mandated National Security Strategy presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States. “Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition,” Trump said. Trump used the rollout to reiterate his commitment to an “America First” doctrine and a focus on fighting terrorism and protecting U.S. borders. He listed what he called successes, including withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the “very expensive and unfair Paris climate accord.” Trump administration officials said the strategy, a kind of mission statement that guides policymaking, prioritizes the economic implications of global engagement. For example, the document says that under Trump, national security decision-making will take greater account of economic factors and homeland security in establishing policy, administration officials said.

GOP Unveils Final $1.5T Tax Reform Bill

Congressional Republicans unveiled the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code in three decades Friday evening with an eye toward final passage next week. The House is expected to vote on the final bill Tuesday, with a Senate vote to follow later in the week. The White House said Trump “looks forward to fulfilling the promise he made to the American people to give them a tax cut by the end of the year.” The final version of the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act keeps seven tax brackets, but reduces rates for five of them. The new rates start at 10 percent and rise to 12, 22, 24, 32, 35 and 37 percent. The corporate tax rate is reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent and the bill provides sweeping tax deductions to other businesses, lowering their top effective tax rate to about 30 percent instead of 39.6 percent. The standard deduction — used by around two-thirds of households — would be nearly doubled to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. But deductions for state and local taxes are scaled back, allowing families to deduct only up to a total of $10,000 in property and income taxes. That deduction is especially important to residents of high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California. The final package would also double the basic per-child tax credit for families making up to $400,000 a year from $1,000 to $2,000. Democrats argue that the legislation would mostly help wealthy Americans and big business at the expense of the poor and middle class and add to the nation’s defict by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Republicans are counting on the bill generating economic stimulus to make up the difference.

Trump Administration Cracks Down on Visa Waiver Program

The Trump administration on Friday announced it will more closely scrutinize countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreigners to travel to the U.S. without first securing a visa. The U.S. has agreements with 38 countries — all close allies, and mostly from Europe — whose citizens are vetted by U.S. officials and then allowed to travel to America for up to 90 days without a visa. The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it will now require those countries to keep closer track of travelers within their own borders to improve their internal monitoring of terrorists, and to reduce the number of their citizens who travel to the U.S. and overstay their visas. Failure to comply with any of those provisions could prompt the U.S. to remove a country from the Visa Waiver Program, or to implement a variety of sanctions that would limit the ability of their citizens to travel to the U.S. Homeland Security officials, however, said they would prefer to work with the countries to fix the problems and maintain their status in the program.

Net Neutrality Repeal Creates Firestorm of Protests

The FCC decision to repeal internet neutrality rules as caused a huge outcry from internet users and several high-tech companies. Advocates of the Obama-era net neutrality rules — including large Internet companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Netflix —  are already planning strategies to combat the regulations in Congress and the courts. The repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules Thursday wipes from the books regulations that prevented Internet service providers from blocking or slowing some websites, and charging more for others to run faster. The new regulations, passed by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission’s 3-2 vote, instead require companies like Verizon and Comcast to disclose if they block sites or give priority to their own content more than others. The onus shifts to the public to flag any signs these Internet gatekeepers are playing favorites including with their own properties — and report them to the Federal Trade Commission. The big Internet and cable providers, who lobbied hard for repeal, say they won’t stop or slow any legal content. But the change does open the door for ISPs to charge more to some big broadband users, say Netflix or YouTube, which could pass those increased costs to their subscribers. In theory, ISPs could charge subscribers more, too.

Threatened FCC Chair Defends Net Neutrality Decision

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Friday defended the vote to end net neutrality, saying critics are getting “everything wrong” about the decision when they say it will ruin the internet. Thursday’s vote, he continued, means the end of the government’s micromanagement of the internet. “For 20 years before 2015, starting with President Bill Clinton, we decided we wanted to have a free-market approach, in which innovators could innovate and consumers could benefit, and the results speak for themselves,” Pai said. “Hysteria” over the move is “misplaced,” said Pai, because moving forward, getting the regulatory system right means better, faster, and cheaper internet access for all Americans. Pai and his family have received numerous threats after the vote.

Religious Broadcasters Applaud FCC Decision

National Religious Broadcasters applauded the Federal Communications Commission’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” vote today rolling back the agency’s assumption of heavy-handed new powers over the internet in 2015. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, said, “I congratulate the FCC for resisting alarmism and moving to reverse the agency’s unilateral assumption of power in 2015. I particularly applaud Chairman Ajit Pai for his fairness, transparency and firm commitment to an online environment that honors freedom and welcomes innovation. While others have yielded to the intimidation games of the radical left, Chairman Pai has stood courageously as a statesman.”

Putin Thanks Trump for CIA Intel that Foiled a Terrorist Attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned President Trump to thank him for information from the CIA that foiled a terrorist attack being planned in St. Petersburg. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the president and Putin spoke on the phone Sunday. The information helped “find and detain a group of terrorists who were planning explosions” at Kazan Cathedral as well as other centrally located and crowded places in Russia’s second-largest city. Putin asked Trump to pass along his gratitude to the CIA, and said that “if Russian special services obtain any information on terrorist threats against the United States and its citizens, they will definitely and immediately pass it to American counterparts through partner channels.”

Illegal Immigration on the Rise Once Again

Illegal immigration across the Southwest border has surged back to Obama-era levels, according to the latest data released Friday that suggests the gains President Trump made early in his tenure have worn off. Nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed attempting to sneak in at the border in November, which was up about 12 percent compared to October, and more than twice the monthly numbers from March and April. Even more worrisome for immigration officials is the rise in the number of families traveling together (which surged 45 percent last month), as well as the increase in unaccompanied minors traveling without parents, which rose 26 percent in November.

India Creates Largest Biometric Database In The World

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing Indians to link their digital IDs to a host of services such as credit cards and cellphones. Almost 1 billion people had signed up for the program before a landmark privacy ruling in August strengthened the case against making the Aadhaar ID mandatory. The court will now decide on the validity of the government’s order to meet specified deadlines. Last month, it told banks and utilities to stop scaring customers after people complained about a barrage of emails and text messages warning of frozen accounts and invalidated sim cards if they failed to comply with the government’s push. While officials say Aadhaar is saving the government billions of dollars by better targeting beneficiaries of subsidized food and cash transfers, critics point to unfair exclusions and data leaks. Aadhaar is a unique 12-digit number assigned to Indian residents, backed by their fingerprints, iris scans and certain demographic details. Some lawyers and activists, such as Shyam Divan, say that once linked to various services it will offer the government a web of information about each individual that will violate the person’s privacy.

  • India has been the test market for the New World Order folks to first push citizens to a digital money base and is now following it up with universal ID system that can be used to monitor and control all facets of Indian life. China is next, already beginning to implement some of these measures. It’s only a matter of time before these efforts are unleashed in the U.S.

Persecution Watch

The most intense wave of anti-Semitism to hit Europe since World War II spurred by the mass Muslim immigration into France is forcing French-Jewish families to flee from their Paris suburb homes. The changing demographics in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb – which is now more than 40 percent Muslim – on the outskirts of Paris is making it nearly impossible for French Jews to live without fearing for their lives – as Muslims continue to take over neighborhoods and spread anti-Semitism, reports One News Now. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe condemned the “well-rooted” open hostility shown toward French Jews. “This ‘internal exodus’ is difficult to quantify, but it is clear that many synagogues of Seine-Saint-Denis have closed, for lack of people,” the Paris commuter newspaper 20 Minutes reported.

Economic News

Surveys that query respondents about their political affiliation have generally shown that consumer confidence among Republicans has soared since the U.S. elections in November 2016. What’s surprising is that it’s the counties that voted Democratic which have seen the greater increases in confidence, according to a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Friday. And, it’s the Republican counties that have recently become more pessimistic over the last few months. Overall, Americans’ confidence in the economy remains strong heading into the final weeks of the year, according to the latest Gallup survey, which showed an increase of +7 last week.

If the benchmark S&P 500 is able to eke out a gain for December, it will make history. This would be the first time ever that the blue-chip index had a gain for all 12 months of a calendar year. The market has had 12-month winning streaks before. But they have never been for an entire calendar year. The S&P 500 is up nearly 20% so far this year. Stocks surged Friday on growing hopes about the Republican tax plan. Stocks surged Monday after Wall Street got its early Christmas present — a bill that would cut taxes for many businesses and that could be signed by President Trump before the holiday.

Middle East

Clashes broke out amid a fresh wave of violence across the West Bank and along Gaza’s border on Friday as the fallout continued over President Trump’s announcement last week recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Two Palestinians were killed and dozens of other protesters wounded as well as one Israeli officer. Another 82 Palestinians were injured in clashes in several locations along Gaza’s border with Israel, at least five of whom were seriously wounded. Protests in response to the Trump’s announcement, which departed from decades of U.S. policy that the fate of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations, have yet to relent across various Arab and Muslim countries in the region. Following Friday prayers, Palestinians in the West Bank and along the Gaza border set fire to tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and live fire. Friday’s deaths put to six the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza since Trump’s declaration on Dec. 6.

Syria

Syria’s state-run news agency says at least six people were killed and 21 were wounded in a suicide bombing that hit a government-held town in the southern province of Quneitra. SANA says Friday’s bombing targeted the outskirts of the town of Hadar near the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. Opposition activists reported that a suicide car bomb targeted a position of Syrian soldiers in that area amid clashes between government forces and rebels there. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven and said 23 people were wounded. It also reported heavy clashes between the two sides in the area.

Pakistan

Two suicide bombers attacked a church in Pakistan where hundreds of worshippers were attending service ahead of Christmas, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens of others, officials said. One of the suicide bombers was shot dead outside Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, but the other assailant made it to the church’s entrance hall as Sunday services opened. The gunman — who didn’t gain access to the main building — opened fire at the churchgoers before detonating his explosive vest. There were nearly 400 people inside the church. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack. Authorities were hunting for two suspected accomplices who escaped the scene.

Nigeria

At least 50 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in northeast Nigeria last week. A teenage bomber detonated his explosives just as worshipers gathered for morning prayers. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing in Mubi town in Adamawa state, suspicion immediately fell on the Boko Haram terror group. The Islamist extremists, based in neighboring Borno state, has been blamed for scores of similar attacks over the years, and has increasingly sent out bombers who are teenagers and young women — many of whom had been abducted.

China

Human rights groups and academics estimate that thousands of Chinese citizens have been spirited away without trial into secretive detention camps for alleged political crimes that range from having extremist thoughts to merely traveling or studying abroad. The mass disappearances, beginning the past year, are part of a sweeping effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to impose a digital police state in the region of Xinjiang. The detentions are primarily of the Uighurs, a 10-million strong, Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that China says has been influenced by Islamic extremism. Cutting-edge digital surveillance systems track where Uighurs go, what they read, who they talk to and what they say, using facial recognition systems that can identify more than a million people in under two seconds.

Earthquakes

A large 6.5 magnitude earthquake was reported along the coast of the Indonesian island of Java late Friday night, causing damage and at least two deaths, both of whom were killed in building collapses. The tremor struck at a depth of about 57 miles. More than 40 houses collapsed and about 65 suffered severe damage. A hospital in the town of Banyumas was damaged and patients had to be evacuated. Panicking people ran out of buildings in many areas and Indonesian television showed heavy traffic on roads as people fled coastal areas.

Wildfires

Downtown Santa Barbara turned into “a ghost town” Saturday as surging winds reinvigorated what is now the third-largest wildfire in California history. After a brief respite Friday, firefighters faced increased danger as Santa Ana winds picked up. New evacuations were ordered as wind-driven flames moved towards Santa Barbara, the nearby wealthy enclave of Montecito and other communities. The evacuation zone stretches 17 miles long and up to 5 miles wide from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean, an area that is home to numerous celebrities. Driven by Santa Ana winds, the Thomas Fire burning in Ventura, California, has claimed more than 422 square miles – an area larger than the city of San Diego – since it was sparked last Monday evening, according to Cal Fire. The inferno is responsible for two deaths and has destroyed nearly 1,000 structures, including 700 homes. A firefighter battling the massive Thomas Fire died Thursday. Fire officials said Monday that they’re hopeful improving conditions and lighter winds will allow them to establish containment by the end of the month. It is now 45% contained.

Weather

According to the National Weather Service, the areas with the most snow in the U.S. New York’s Oswego and Lewis counties — which get clobbered each year with snow drifting across the eastern edge of Lake Ontario. The tiny town of Redfield in Oswego County is leading the state with 82.6 inches of snow as of Friday. At this rate, Redfield is on pace for its second straight record snowfall after getting 350.5 inches of snow last year, which equals more than 29 feet.

More than 30 people in the Philippines have been killed and many others are missing after Tropical Storm Kai-Tak drenched the country with heavy rainfall that caused flooding and landslides. Eastern portions of Visayas, including Samar, have received more than 40 inches of rainfall since Dec. 13. The storm forced more than 89,000 people to flee to emergency shelters. Thousands of Christmas holiday travelers were stranded due to canceled inter-island ferries and flights.

Signs of the Times (12/14/17)

December 14, 2017

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

The World Sees Red at Christmas

“Red is the color of Christmas—not because Santa suits are red or because we wrap packages in red. Red is the color of Christmas because of the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed. We see a battle being played out in our culture today that is actually the battle of the gods. It is the God of the Bible, the true and living God, versus all contenders. The Incarnation was for the purpose of atonement. The purpose behind the birth of Jesus was the death of Jesus. This is New Testament Christianity. It’s the division between light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, good and evil, and right and wrong. So don’t be upset because there is a little conflict. Just hold your ground and keep praying. This division can result in people thinking about their souls, considering the claims of Christ, and then ultimately turning their lives over to the Lord.” (Greg Laurie, Harvest)

Inept Subway Bomber Charged with Terrorism

Akayed Ullah, the Bangladesh native accused of igniting a small bomb Monday in a New York transit hub, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, supporting an act of terrorism and making terroristic threats, police said Tuesday. Ullah and three people near him were wounded in the blast. Ullah expected to die in the attack and believed that others would perish with him. Ullah, 27, was not on the radar of law enforcement prior to Monday’s blast. Ullah did not appear to have been struggling financially or facing any other particular pressures. Authorities have described Ullah as a lone wolf who was inspired by the Islamic State, a common theme in recent attacks. “I did it for the Islamic State,” he told authorities. The city’s morning commute was running smoothly Tuesday, and the pedestrian tunnel where Ullah detonated what was essentially a vest of explosives was open. Ullah detonated his improvised, low-tech explosive device in the crowded pedestrian tunnel Monday at about 7:20 a.m. Ullah told investigators he timed the assault to coincide with the Christmas season for the greatest possible impact

Tax Cut Bill Not What Trump Promised

The day after suffering a political blow in the Alabama special Senate election, congressional Republicans sped forward with the most sweeping tax rewrite in decades, announcing an agreement on a final bill that would cut taxes for businesses and individuals and signal the party’s first major legislative achievement since assuming political control this year. Party leaders in the House and Senate agreed in principle to bridge the yawning gaps between their competing versions of the $1.5 trillion tax bill, keeping Republicans on track for final votes next week with the aim of delivering a bill to President Trump’s desk by Christmas. The House and Senate versions of the tax bill started from the same core principles — sharply cutting taxes on businesses, while reducing rates and eliminating some breaks for individuals. The changes included a slightly higher corporate tax rate of 21 percent, rather than the 20 percent in the legislation that passed both chambers, and a lower top individual tax rate of 37 percent for the wealthiest Americans, who currently pay 39.6 percent. But the bill will still scale back some popular tax breaks, including the state and local tax deduction and the deductibility of mortgage interest.

The GOP tax plan on the cusp of becoming law diverges wildly from the promises President Trump and top advisers said they would deliver for the middle class — an evolution that shows how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump’s distinctive brand of economic populism as it moved through Washington. The bill was supposed to deliver benefits predominantly to average working families, not corporations. “The largest tax reductions are for the middle class, who have been forgotten,” Trump said in Gettysburg, Pa., on Oct. 22, 2016. But the final product is looking much different, the result of a partisan policymaking process that largely took place behind closed doors, faced intense pressure from corporate lobbyists and ultimately fell in line with GOP wish lists. As top lawmakers from the House and the Senate now rush to complete negotiations to push the tax plan into law, it amounts to a massive corporate tax cut, with uneven — and temporary — benefits for the middle class that could end up increasing taxes for many working families in future years.

FCC Repeals its Net Neutrality Rules

Federal regulators voted Thursday morning to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark, Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon. The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry would be a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it would be a sweeping victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — opposed the plan. Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members followed through on a promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. Internet service providers argue that there is no financial incentive to penalize specific apps or services, that giving some sites the option of faster service could in fact benefit consumers. The ISPs also said the 2015 rules discouraged providers from making broadband faster and more reliable.

India, China & Russia Refrain from Recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestinian Capital

Foreign ministers from India, Russia and China notably refrained from recognizing ‘East Jerusalem’ as the capital of Palestine at their annual meeting in New Delhi this week – seven days after the US recognized the holy city as the capital of Israel. The decision not to restate the position on Jerusalem long-held by all three countries was in marked contrast to their joint call at last year’s meeting in Moscow for a “sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” At this year’s 15th annual meeting, their statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stressed support for “an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” without mentioning the issue of Jerusalem.

Turkey’s President Quotes Hadith to Justify Killing Jews

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked a Muslim “hadith” commonly used by Hamas and other terrorist supporters to sanction the killing of Jews, during a party convention last Sunday. The full hadith says: “The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.” Erdogan invoked the passage during a Justice and Development Party (AKP) gathering on Sunday, just days after President Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and pledged to move the US embassy there. Erdogan also accused Israel of being a terrorist state. “Those who think they own Jerusalem better know that tomorrow they won’t be able to hide behind trees,” Erdogan said.

  • Hadith are a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad that, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran.

Texas Imam Calls for Israel’s Destruction

Following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a Texas-based Islamic cleric has posted a recorded prayer on his Facebook page calling for Israel’s destruction, along with “their allies, and those who assist them.” Sheikh Ramadan Elsabagh  is listed as the head of the Islamic Services Foundation Quran Institute in Garland, Texas, and is featured as a Quran reader on many Internet sites. His YouTube pages have tens of thousands of views. His recitations are also featured in Google Play and iTunes. The video drew several comments of “amen, amen,” according to a Facebook translation. One came from Said Abbasy, a New York-based Muslim Brotherhood supporter. Abbasy mourned the death of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman – considered the spiritual guide for the 1993 World Trade Center bombers who was convicted for a plot to attack other New York landmarks and assassinate high-profile targets, according to IPT.

  • While there are many peace-loving Muslims, Islam has the highest proportion of extremists than another religion – by far. That’s because the Quran calls for using violence, if necessary, to establish Islam as the one-world religion.

Russia, China Aggressively Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

A sobering new report warns of growing nuclear threats to U.S. national security posed by the deterioration of the nation’s own nuclear arsenal just as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are all upgrading their arsenals. Dr. Mark Schneider, author of the report for the Center for Security Policy and a longtime Pentagon official with expertise in strategic forces, reports a huge increase in the numbers and sophistication of the Russian and Chinese missile arsenals and compares this with the deterioration of America’s nuclear arsenal. Russia and China are now deploying new nuclear ICBMs, new nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, new nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles and new ballistic missile submarines. In contrast to Russia’s vastly upgraded position, most of the U.S. systems date back to the Reagan era, with some going as far back as the Eisenhower administration. Schneider’s report notes that the U.S. no longer has the capability to produce tritium, a vital nuclear weapons ingredient. He explains that the average age of a U.S. nuclear weapon – 35 years – represents a serious threat to the U.S. nuclear arsenal because the estimated life span of the nuclear fuel in these weapons is just 45 to 60 years.

U.S. Weapons Provided to Syrian Rebels Wound Up in ISIS

Sophisticated weapons the U.S. military secretly provided to Syrian rebels quickly fell into the hands of the Islamic State, a study released Thursday disclosed. The report said the Islamic State’s possession of these weapons remains a threat to the U.S.-led coalition still operating against the terror group in Iraq and Syria. The arms included anti-tank weapons that ended up in possession of the Islamic State within two months of leaving the factory, according to the study by Conflict Armament Research, an organization that tracks arms shipments. The study was funded by the European Union and German government. Efforts by the United States and other countries to supply weapons to rebel groups “have significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to (Islamic State) forces,” the report concluded.

  • We never seem io learn that weapons supplied to supposed allies often wind up being used against us

DOJ Opens Probe Into Planned Parenthood Fetal Tissue Sales

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the sale of fetal tissue involving Planned Parenthood and several biomedical research companies. In a letter obtained by Fox News, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd formally requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which compiled a December 2016 report in which GOP chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa asked for a probe. “The Department of Justice appreciates the offer of assistance in obtaining these materials, and would like to request the Committee provide unredacted copies of records contained in the report, in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available,” Boyd wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Judge Rules Transgender People Can Enlist in Military

A federal judge on Monday denied the Trump administration’s request to delay an order requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits starting Jan. 1, saying the argument for more time seemed based on “vague claims.” “The Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by” meeting the New Year’s Day deadline, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote. The ruling follows her earlier opinion blocking the president’s ban on military recruitment of transgender men and women that possibly would have forced the dismissal of current service members starting in March. A second federal judge in Baltimore also issued a preliminary injunction in November that goes further, preventing the administration from denying funding for sex-reassignment surgeries once the order takes effect.

Economic News

The U.S. central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate by a quarter point, moving it into a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. It’s the fifth increase since the bank cut the rate to nearly zero amid the 2008 financial crisis. Lower rates are aimed at stimulating economic growth, and in raising the rate, the Fed pointed to a strong economy, with steady growth, limited inflation and unemployment at its lowest level since 2000. Low interest rates make it cheaper to borrow money for homes, cars or major business investments, but if left too long they carry the risk of creating high inflation or investment bubbles. Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen will give her final news conference Wednesday afternoon before she steps down in early February. President Trump selected Jerome “Jay” Powell, a current Fed governor, to replace her.

The Dow hit a new record high and moved closer to 25,000 Wednesday following numerous reports that Congressional leaders reached a tax overhaul deal. The S&P 500 also hit an all-time high while the tech-heavy Nasdaq inched closer to a record, too. CNN said the House and Senate could vote on a reconciled deal as soon as next week. That would mean the bill, if passed, could be signed into law by President Trump before the end of the year.

According to the Treasury Department’s website, the interest on government debt is now $1.26 billion a day. Every day. That’s $458.5 billion a year. Just for interest to repay creditors. Total debt now has surpassed $20 trillion. This year, the total government deficit is estimated at $666 billion, an increase of $80 billion over last year, further adding to the interest burden. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that, if nothing changes from the status quo, interest payments would rise to 91% of the nation’s total economic output (gross domestic product).

The share of the nation’s total income that goes to the top 10% of the population is at the highest point in over a century. After peaking at just under 50% on the eve of the Great Depression, the figure then fell as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which introduced social safety nets for low-income individuals. Income inequality then began to climb again in the 1970s. It’s a trend that has continued ever since, breaching the 50% threshold in 2015, according to data from the World Wealth and Income Database. Extreme inequality can trigger political turmoil. We’re already seeing this with the growth of populism. Inequality can also lead to lower economic growth. Wealthy people spend less of their income than poor people.

The worst is yet to come for American shopping malls. As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis. When so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent. As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years — around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

Speculators aren’t the only ones cheering the runaway bitcoin boom — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may also be celebrating a windfall. In recent months, experts and officials say North Korea has been “mining” bitcoin, demanding it as ransom payment for hacked computer networks, and stealing the digital currency. North Korean hackers targeted four different exchanges that trade bitcoin and other digital currencies in South Korea in July and August. Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency that lives on computer servers. The virtual coins are “mined” by complex algorithms and recorded in a digital ledger. Experts say the attacks by North Korea and others are likely to continue as bitcoin’s price skyrockets. It started the year below $1,000 but has soared more than 1,500%, crossing $17,000 for the first time last week. Some are claiming that Bitcoin was developed by the NSA.

  • With several other cryptocurrencies on the rise, competition may cause Bitcoin to experience a precipitous drop in the near future.

Great Britain

The British parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an amendment that gives the legislative body the power to approve or reject any Brexit deal made by the government in a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s power. With a group of May’s Conservative lawmakers rebelling against her Brexit vision, parliament voted 309 to 305 in favor of amending the government’s EU Bill, a move which observers believe will undermine the government’s ability to negotiate a deal. Eighteen months after Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union, Brexit is having a growing negative impact on the United Kingdom. Britain has agreed to pay the EU $54 billion to honor existing budget commitments on everything from EU officials’ pensions to investments in European infrastructure. That is raising questions about whether a divorce is still worth it. A poll published in October by YouGov, an online research firm, showed 47% of Brits thought the country was wrong to vote to leave the EU, compared to 42% who said it was the right thing to do.

Middle East

Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canons at protesters near the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon on Sunday during a demonstration against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, set fires in the street and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the U.S. Embassy in the Awkar area north of Beirut. Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist Party Hanna Gharib declared the United States “the enemy of Palestine” and the U.S. Embassy “a symbol of imperialist aggression” that must be closed. Thousands also participated in demonstrations in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday in response to Trump’s statement. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs protested Sunday along a major highway in the Wadi Ara area of northern Israel, damaging several vehicles and leaving three people wounded. In response to the protests, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of Arab businesses in that region. In Jerusalem, a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday was arrested after allegedly stabbing a security guard.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel on Tuesday, setting off sirens in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. The rocket fell in open space, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip. Recent days have seen a spike in rockets attacks from Gaza following President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A total of 10 rockets have been fired at Israel in the past week. While tensions are high on the border with Gaza, Israel estimates that Hamas is not seeking to escalate the situation and engage in a full-blown armed conflict with Israel, at this time.

North Korea

U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials told him it was important to prevent war but they did not commit to talks. Feltmen met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit to Pyongyang. It was the highest level U.N. visit to North Korea since 2011. “They listened seriously to our arguments … They did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point,” said Feltman, a former U.S. diplomat. “They agreed it was important to prevent war… How we do that was the topic of 15-plus hours of discussions.” Feltman said he requested North Korea consider “talks about talks” and possibly open up “technical channels of communication, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, to signal intentions, to prevent misunderstandings and manage any crisis.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea.

India

“Going on a witch hunt” is a custom many in India observe — and for those hunted it can be deadly. Nearly 2,000 people across India, mostly women, were killed for alleged witchcraft between 2005 and 2015, the most recent numbers available from India’s National Crime Records Bureau. So far, 13 victims of witch hunts have received compensation of $750 to $3,000 from the state government. But no one has been convicted in the 86 cases filed since the Prevention of Witch-hunting Act was passed two years ago, largely because of the slow pace of India’s courts. In three of those cases, the witch hunts ended with the killing of the women accused of witchcraft.

Wildfires

Increased Santa Ana winds forced firefighters to move out of the way as blazes continue to tear through Southern California on Friday. Nearly 500 buildings have been lost and hundreds of thousands are still evacuated as a result several major fires. The fire burning in Ventura County is the largest of five fires burning in Southern California and has burned more than 220 square miles and forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people. It was just 15 percent contained as of Monday morning. It is the largest fire to be sparked in December in state history. The massive, deadly wildfire still burning in Ventura County, California, is now one of the five largest in state history. Named the Thomas Fire, the blaze driven by Santa Ana winds has claimed more than 360 square miles – an area larger than the city of San Diego. More than 94,000 people have been forced to flee the largest December wildfire in state history, and more than 1,000 structures have been destroyed, with18,000 structures remaining threatened.

A wildfire that was growing in a South Dakota state park erupted and grew out of control overnight Tuesday, and officials said some nearby communities are threatened. The so-called Legion Lake Fire grew from 6 square miles to 55 square miles overnight after forcing the evacuation of five homes in Custer State Park. The blaze is just 7 percent contained. A lot of these firefighters say they haven’t seen anything like this fire in 10 to 20 years. No homes or park buildings have been destroyed and crews succeeded in burning downed trees and grass between the fire and the State Game Lodge to protect the popular site. But the communities of Fairburn and Buffalo Gap, east of the park, remain threatened and residents of about 200 area homes have been evacuated or warned to evacuate.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji moved into the Northeast Saturday after blanketing much of the Deep South with heavy snow, leaving over 185,000 still without power and three dead. Benji dumped heavy snow across the Deep South Friday into Saturday. The wintry menace also hindered travel and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands. Over 400,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia combined as of Saturday morning Thundersnow was reported in some parts of southern Texas and even in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the system brought bursts of snow that were heavy at times.

Farther east, heavy snow fell in cities like Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, and the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Metro Atlanta experienced another traffic nightmare Friday afternoon as many businesses and schools let out employees and students at virtually the same time citywide. It was a scene similar to that of a snow and ice event in January 2014, when drivers spent upwards of 12 hours stuck in traffic before abandoning their cars to walk or sleep overnight in stores or hotels. Extremely frigid air, straight from the Arctic, is poised to invade portions of the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days. Areas near the Great Lakes and in New England could see up to a foot. Winter Storm Chloe arrived in the Midwest on Wednesday, dumping inches of snow and closing schools in Detroit for a second day.

The number of storm deaths in Puerto Rico is much, much higher than that country has officially reported, according to The New York Times. A review by the Times of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau indicates that 1,052 more people than usual died across the island, as compared to the 64 deaths local officials have touted.

Signs of the Times (12/8/17)

December 8, 2017

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:5-7)

Trump Officially Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

Speaking from the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House Wednesday, President Trump officially declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process…This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.” In his remarks, Trump said, “Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world,” Trump said. “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.” The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued that failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.”

“Israel will always ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. President Trump, thank you for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jewish people, and the Jewish State will be forever grateful,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following President Trump’s Announcement. “We’re profoundly grateful for the President for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the US embassy here. This decision reflects the President’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”

  • Jerusalem was first the capital of Israel nearly 3,000 years ago, long before Islam and Palestinians existed. During its long history, Jerusalem was destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times, according to Wikipedia. It was a Roman colony when Jesus was born. Muslims captured it in 637 A.D. and the Crusaders retook it in 1099. In 1948, following World War II, Israel was reestablished with Jerusalem as its capital. However, this displaced thousands of so-called Palestinians who now lived there. Jerusalem is now divided into four quadrants, one each for the Jews, Muslims (East Jerusalem), Christians and Armenians. The dispute over Jerusalem will ultimately lead to a war that brings the anti-Christ to power (the first beast of Revelation 13), which will mark the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation (Daniel 9:27)

Hamas Calls for New ‘Intifada’ and Clashes Erupt in West Bank

The leader of the terrorist group Hamas called for a new “intifada” or uprising against Israel Thursday after President Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said the United States would begin the lengthy process of moving the Embassy to the city. The exhortation to revolt came as clashes between hundreds of Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops erupted across the West Bank Thursday. Demonstrators in Gaza burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as U.S. and Israeli flags, as part of “three days of rage” that began Wednesday. Protesters in cities and towns threw stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Smoke was seen rising over Bethlehem. At least 2 Palestinians were killed and 17 injured, one seriously, in Thursday’s clashes, but Friday, the Muslim holy day, could be a bigger test when Palestinians gather for mass prayers. Trump’s controversial decision upended decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem and countered long-standing international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the ancient city, claimed by Israelis and Palestinians, would be determined in negotiations.

Supreme Court Allows Trump Travel Ban to Take Full Effect

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that President Trump’s immigration travel ban against six majority-Muslim countries can take full effect while legal challenges against the latest version are still tied up in courts. The high court’s identical orders in two challenges to the ban mean that most travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad cannot enter the United States while the cases proceed. Lower courts had exempted more travelers who they said had “bona fide” connections to the United States, such as the grandparents and in-laws of citizens. By allowing the full travel ban to take effect for now, the justices may be signaling that they are likely to uphold it on the merits at a later date — an interpretation the American Civil Liberties Union disputed. “It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims,” said Omar Jadwat, who directs the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project.

Congress Averts Shutdown with 2-Week Stopgap Bill

Congress passed a short-term spending deal Thursday, sending to President Trump a bill to avert a partial government shutdown and setting up a heated budget fight later this month. Trump has indicated that he will sign the deal, preventing a government stoppage that had been set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The deal does not resolve numerous debates over domestic spending, immigration and funding for the military that brought the government to the brink of partial closure, leaving party leaders with a new Dec. 22 deadline to keep the government open. Democrats are pushing for the next government funding bill to include increased domestic spending, legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and other party priorities. Some Republicans are pushing for increased defense spending, while others have made shrinking the government their top objective. Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, but they cannot pass spending bills alone. In the Senate, a 60-vote supermajority is required to pass most major legislation, and Republicans control just 52 seats.

Arrests Along Mexico Border Drop Sharply Under Trump

The number people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration. During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971. The figures show a sharp drop in arrests immediately following President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers. Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States surged under Trump. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers made 110,568 arrests between Trump’s inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year. But the number of people expelled from the United States declined about six percent during the government’s 2017 fiscal year, in part because the drop in illegal border crossings left the agency with fewer people to deport.

FBI Attempting to Retrieve Guns from Those Who Should Have Been Denied

A USA TODAY review found that federal authorities sought to retrieve guns from thousands of people who should have been blocked by background checks from buying the weapons. These are people with criminal records, mental health issues or other problems that would block them from buying weapons. Or someone like Devin Kelley, who had a domestic violence record but still purchased a rifle used in the Texas church massacre in November that killed 26 people. More than 4,000 requests were made last year by the FBI to retrieve weapons, the largest number of such requests in 10 years. But the government has a mixed record in retrieving these guns, notes the paper.

  • Another example of why you can’t trust government agencies to do the job right in the first place. More laws won’t matter if enforcement has so many holes.

More Than 100 Powerful Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Since the allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced on Oct. 5, women have been stepping forward to publicly share their stories of sexual misconduct. Although many of the accusations originally focused on Hollywood, more than 100 high-profile men across industries — including tech, business, politics and media — have since faced claims ranging from sexual harassment to rape. Many have resigned or been fired from high-level positions. Also coming into focus are the many others who knew about the sexual misconduct and did nothing about it or actually condoned it.

  • For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
  • For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. (Ephesians 5:12-13)

Cocaine Kills as Many Blacks as Opioids Kill Whites

The American opioid crisis is only part of an overall drug abuse emergency in the U.S. Cocaine-related overdose deaths among non-Hispanic blacks are on par with overdose deaths caused by heroin and prescription opioids among whites, according to a study published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years,” said Meredith Shiels, a co-author of the study and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute. Death rates are “rising most rapidly among white Americans,” she said. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16,849 Americans died due to an overdose in 1999, and in 2015, the number of overdose fatalities reached 52,404. Overall, rates of overdose deaths increased by 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2015. Most of that increase has been attributed to opioid-related deaths among white persons. Cocaine was the largest contributor to overdose deaths among black men and women.

New Initiative Fighting Online Christian Censorship

Censorship of Christian and conservative speech online by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple is the target of an initiative called Internet Freedom Watch, launched Thursday by the National Religious Broadcasters. The initiative has established a website, InternetFreedomWatch.org, to document cases of censorship of Christian content. NRB, has published a chart with more than 30 instances of Internet censorship. Last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai accused Twitter and other tech companies of being disingenuous by arguing for a free and open Internet while they “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” Pai, appointed by President Trump to head the agency, called out Twitter for appearing to have a “double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users.”

Americans Give More to Charity than Any Other Country

According to Giving USA, American giving rose to $390 billion last year, a 3% increase over the prior year. Americans give about 3% of their collective income to charity, more than the citizens of any other country. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the vast majority of U.S. citizens donate to charity, and 91% of high net-worth do so. The average household contributes $2,520 a year. The U.S. gives $40 billion to more than 100 countries, Altogether, the U.S. is the most giving nation on earth.

Bitcoin Frenzy Driving Price Up, Up, Up

2017 has become the year bitcoin went big. It started the year worth less than $1,000 but has soared above $16,000. Back in 2011, it was worth less than a dollar. It is being bought and sold by investors in a frenzy, driving the price higher and higher. Some leading economists and financiers are calling bitcoin a bubble and a fraud, but industry insiders say they think it’s only going to get bigger as it gains more widespread acceptance. Unlike the U.S. dollar or Japanese yen, digital currencies such as bitcoin aren’t issued by central banks like the Federal Reserve. Instead, they are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms. Payments in bitcoin can be made without traditional middlemen such as banks and without the need to give your name. That made bitcoin popular with criminals and others who wanted to move money anonymously. It’s also been adopted by businesses around the world as a way to pay for everyday things like groceries, train tickets and haircuts. Its price has taken off this year as mainstream investors have become more interested.

Economic News

U.S. employers added 228,000 jobs in November as unemployment stayed the same at 4.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. The growth slightly outpaced Wall Street analysts’ expectations as the labor market continued to expand after being hampered by hurricanes earlier this fall. The unemployment rate, a measure of the number of people actively looking for a job but who have not yet found one, has not dipped below 4 percent since December 2000. Workers’ average hourly earnings, meanwhile, grew by 5 cents, up 2.5 percent from this time last year. Productivity growth remains low, he said, inching up at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent over the last eight years, compared to its historic rate of 2.1 percent from 1974 to 2017.

Americans’ assessments of the economy remain relatively strong, according to a new Gallup poll. Gallup said its U.S. Economic Confidence Index was at +9 for the week ending Dec. 3. This score is similar to the previous week’s +11 and slightly above the average weekly level of economic confidence during the year so far (+6). “During this period, there have been a number of signs indicating that the economy is strong — including the lowest unemployment rate in nearly two decades, a stock market that continues to flirt with new highs and stronger-than-expected GDP growth. Given these inputs, it is not surprising that many Americans report being optimistic about the economy, particularly current conditions,” Gallup explained. “The tax bill per se is not widely popular with Americans, but its relationship to a rising stock market is an indirect effect that most likely does register positively with the public,” Gallup said.

About one in five small businesses are majority female-owned, and the number of such firms grew by 22% between 2007 and 2015, according to a recent report published by the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Kansas City. More than 970,000 small firms now have majority female ownership. The Fed defines a small business as a company with 500 or fewer employees. That’s far fewer than the 3 million male-run firms, a number that grew by about 6% over the same period.

A last-minute deal was made early Friday in the faltering talks between Britain and the European Union over Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union. The deadlocked talks faced a Friday deadline or risked being derailed ahead of a summit in Brussels next week that will seek to lock-in the terms of Britain’s EU withdrawal fee, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit. The agreement paves the way for negotiations on the trade deal between Britain and the bloc after the divorce.

Middle East

The Israeli Defense Forces struck two terror targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire from the northern Gaza Strip that landed in Israeli territory and to an earlier launch that landed within the Gaza Strip,” an IDF spokesman said. “The IDF sees the terror organization Hamas as responsible for events in the Gaza Strip.” The IDF said the strikes on Gaza had been carried out with tank fire and from an aerial vehicle.

Iran

France and Germany agree that Iran must reverse its ballistic missile program and end its “hegemonic temptations” across the Middle east, the French foreign minister said on Monday. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman earlier on Monday said Paris should know that Iran’s missile program is not an issue that can be negotiated. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said the two countries would continue to defend the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency announced Tuesday that a series of joint U.S.-Afghan operations had killed a top leader of the extremist al-Qaeda network along with scores of other members. Omar bin Khatab was the second most important leader of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the most senior leader to have been ever killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war that ousted the former Taliban rulers in late 2001, said an official with the Afghan National Directorate of Security. Bin Khatab, also known as Omar Mansoor, was killed in the Gilan district of Ghazni province southwest of the capital.

Congo

At least 14 United Nations peacekeepers were killed in eastern Congo in one of the deadliest attacks on the international forces in years, U.N. officials reported Friday. U.N. officials said 53 peacekeepers also were wounded in the attack, and at least five members of Congo’s military were killed. Heavily armed rebel fighters attacked a forward operating base in a remote part of North Kivu province Thursday night, firing rocket-propelled grenades and destroying at least one armored personnel carrier, U.N. officials said. The firefight went on for at least three hours, and the majority of those killed and injured were from Tanzania. The death toll is the highest for U.N. peacekeepers in a single incident since 1993, when 23 “blue helmets” were slain in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Wildfires

Several large wildfires continue to burn across Southern California, fanned by Santa Ana winds. At least 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes because of the fires. At least 150 structures have been destroyed and 116,000 acres torched. The body of a woman was discovered Wednesday night in a burn zone near the town of Ojai. Authorities ordered evacuations for several neighborhoods in Bel-Air and closed both directions of the 405 Freeway as a new wildfire began to char land Wednesday morning in Southern California. Earlier, a fire was reported Tuesday morning in the Kagel Canyon area, east of Ventura and north of Los Angeles. The largest of the fires, named the Thomas Fire, was sparked first and has since burned more than 101 square miles just north of Santa Paula. The Lilac fire in San Diego County has burned at least two people, destroyed 22 structures and consumed 2.000 acres, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations.

Thursday a text alert about the dangerous fire conditions was sent to 12 million residents in the southern part of the Golden State It was the widest alert the state Office of Emergency Services has ever issued.  “The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told the Associated Press. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people and protect structures.” Officials say the state is in for the worst Santa Ana wind conditions they’ve ever seen, posing a potential risk to the city of Los Angeles.

Weather

Winter Storm Benji has already delivered a rare snow event to parts of south and coastal Texas, and will blanket a 2,000-mile-long swath from the Deep South and Northeast into this weekend with the season’s first snow, for many. Already over 100,000 customers have lost power in the storm and schools have been shut down in the South. The southern extent of the snow swath right now is something not often seen, extending from Deep South and coastal Texas into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, north Georgia, and the southern Appalachians. Much of the Houston metro area picked up 1 to 2 inches of snow.

The weather in the world’s most northerly town of Longyearbyen is much tame than it should be. Residents and experts fear this tight-knit community of 2,000 — where polar bears outnumber people — is at risk of disappearing because temperatures are rising at an accelerated pace compared to the rest of the world. “Every single consecutive month has been above average,” said Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. “We have tremendous increase in the wintertime temperatures, almost 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) increase over the past 30 years or so.” The snow melts earlier in the spring, and the glaciers are diminishing by about 2 feet per year in thickness. Melting permafrost and higher temperatures have caused havoc here in recent years, triggering sometimes deadly avalanches on the steep mountains that flank the town. Houses have been destroyed, while roads and some areas have been closed or declared unsafe to live because of the risk.