Posts Tagged ‘Healthcare’

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 (1/6/18)

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 (12/22/17)

December 22, 2017

“He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the Lord. “Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!” (Zechariah 2:8-12)

U.N. Votes to Condemn U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem

Despite President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. funding to countries that oppose his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the vast majority of U.N. countries voted in favor of such a resolution on Thursday. A total of 128 nations voted to support the resolution that condemned the U.S. for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its decision to eventually move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Nine nations, including the United States and Israel, voted against the resolution; 35 nations abstained from voting; and 21 delegations were absent. The nine countries voting “no” were the U.S., Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the notable abstentions were Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico. It is also noteworthy that 21 of the 193 U.N. member states were absent for the vote including Kenya, Georgia and Ukraine which have close U.S. ties. Trump’s threat to cut off U.S. aid raised the stakes in Thursday’s U.N. vote and sparked criticism at his tactics, which one Muslim group called bullying or blackmail.

U.N. Imposes Tough New Sanctions on North Korea

The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Friday that significantly choke off new fuel supplies and order North Koreans working overseas to return home within two years, in what may prove the last test of whether any amount of economic pressure can force it to reverse course on its nuclear program, reports the New York Times. The sanctions, adopted by a vote of 15 to 0, were the third imposed this year in an escalating effort to force the North into negotiations. China and Russia joined in the resolution, though American officials have charged that in recent months the Russians have secretly been opening new links to the North, including new internet connections that give the country an alternative to communicating primarily through China. The vote came just four days after the United States charged that Korea was responsible for the “Wannacry” cyber-attack that crippled computers around the world in May, and weeks after the country launched a new intercontinental missile that appears capable of reaching any city in the United States.

With Tax Bill, Republicans Attained 3 Objectives

President Trump signed the tax reform bill Friday. In one bill, Republicans said they were checking off three major parts of their agenda: The massive tax overhaul is coupled with a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate and authority to drill for oil in a remote Alaska refuge. The bill doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare but does chip away at one of the Affordable Care Act’s foundations. The bill they zeroes out the tax, or fine, levied against people who do not secure health insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Republicans in Congress celebrated the passage of the biggest rewrite of the U.S. tax code in decades Wednesday, with President Trump calling it a “Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.” Workers will see the first glimpse of a tax cut in February at the earliest, but it won’t be until 2019 — when people file their taxes for next year — that most will know whether they will pay more or less to the federal government. In the meantime, tax attorneys, accountants and corporate payroll departments are scrambling to adjust to changes that won’t be official until Trump signs the bill in January. The bill also cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. Corporations not only applauded receiving a reduced tax rate, many of them wasted no time announcing plans to use some of their steep tax savings to boost their workers pay. Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp said they plan to hike their company-wide minimum wages to $15 an hour. Other firms including Comcast and AT&T promised $1,000 bonuses.

  • Religious institutions may fall victim to this tax reform bill. According to a recent study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, giving to religious organizations is likely to fall by nearly $4.8 billion in 2018. The itemized charitable tax deduction contributes up to 4.0% of individual giving, and with the standard deduction nearly doubled, there will be few itemizing in 2018.

Congress Votes to Avert Shutdown, Fund CHIP Program

Congress has once again forestalled a government shutdown — with a short-term funding measure through mid-January — and temporarily extended funding for health insurance for children from low-income families. The House voted 231-188 Thursday to approve a short-term spending bill that would fund most government programs at current levels through Jan. 19. The Senate quickly followed suit, passing the bill on a 66-32 vote. Congress was forced to act because the government was scheduled to run out of money at midnight Friday, raising the possibility of a partial shutdown heading into Christmas. Temporary funding is needed because Congress has been unable to agree on long-term government spending levels since the 2017 fiscal year ended last September. Instead, the government has been operating on a series of short-term extensions of last year’s budget. The temporary spending measure provides $2.85 billion in funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, through the end of March. In a separate vote, the House also advanced an $81 billion package of disaster assistance funding for states and U.S. territories ravaged by recent hurricanes and forest fires. The Senate, however, won’t take up the measure until next year.

Judge Dismisses Emoluments Clause Lawsuit Against Trump

A federal judge in New York dismissed one of the lawsuits against President Trump’s business dealings, ruling Thursday that a watchdog group didn’t have standing to challenge whether the president’s continued connection to his hotel chain violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had sued, saying that the president was benefiting from foreign government cash when employees of those governments held events or stayed at Trump hotels. The emoluments clause prevents the president from accepting a gift from another government without the consent of Congress. But Judge George B. Daniels said the group wasn’t able to bring the action. “Plaintiffs have failed to properly allege that defendant’s actions caused plaintiffs competitive injury and that such an injury is redressable by this court,” he wrote. The New York challenge is one of several that have been brought against Mr. Trump over his refusal to completely disassociate himself from his business empire. He has removed himself from day-to-day operations, leaving his sons in charge, but still earns money from the hotels, golf courses and other properties.

Trump Administration Secures Release of Several Detained Citizens

Amid all the debate over issues like the travel ban, the border wall and health care, senior officials in the White House and State Department have quietly worked behind the scenes to resolve a major concern of the president: securing the release of American citizens detained by foreign governments and terror groups. “Immediately after President Trump took office, he told Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson to prioritize bringing home Americans who’ve been wrongfully detained or held hostage in foreign countries,” said the White House spokesperson. “We are proud that we’ve been able to secure the release of several Americans as a result of U.S. diplomatic efforts.” While the administration has been successful in securing the release of numerous Americans held abroad, officials noted there are at least ten other U.S. citizens who are being wrongly detained.

Number of Abortion Facilities Shrinking in U.S.

Closures of abortion facilities far outpaced newly-opened facilities in 2017, reports Operation Rescue. In all, 49 abortion facilities – 35 surgical and 14 medication-only clinics – closed or halted abortion services. Only eight new surgical abortion facilities were opened, along with eleven new medication abortion facilities. Forty-five percent of all states had at least one abortion facility that closed or halted all abortion services this year. In 2017, there are 704 abortion facilities remaining in the U.S. Of these, 490 offer surgical abortions, often along with medication abortions. There are 214 facilities that offer only medication abortions. “We rejoice that the abortion cartel is imploding and closing down. We are making progress. But they are not going down without a fight,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “We continue to work and pray that we will soon see an end to abortion in our nation.”

  • Just as the sacrificing of children through fire to Molech brought judgment upon Israel (Jeremiah 19:4-6), so too is the U.S. experiencing judgment because of the children sacrificed on the altar of abortion.

8.8 Million Sign Up for Obamacare

About 8.8 million people have signed up for 2018 coverage on the federal exchange during an open enrollment season that was half the length of prior years and far less promoted, the Trump administration said Thursday. That’s only 400,000 fewer than signed up on healthcare.gov during open enrollment a year ago. Nearly 2.4 million consumers were new to the exchanges, while more than 6.4 million continued their coverage during the sign-up period, which ran from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. More than 4.1 million people selected plans in the last six days, including those who were automatically renewed. Unlike in prior years, the Trump administration didn’t extend the enrollment deadline, though it did give people who couldn’t get through to the call center a little more time to sign up.

Military Issues New Rules for Transgenders

The US military has issued new guidance on how transgender individuals will be admitted to the armed services in the new year. The Pentagon is proceeding with plans to accept transgender applicants to the military on January 1 after a federal judge declined earlier this month to put the deadline on hold, the Justice Department has appealed that ruling. For any applicant who has undergone sex reassignment surgery or a medical treatment plan, the recruit will need to have been “stable” in their new gender for 18 months prior to entering the military. The memorandum defines “stable” as “medical and surgical interventions for gender transitions are complete with the exception of continued use of stable cross-sex hormone protocol, if applicable, no functional limitations of complications persist, and the individual is not experiencing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

LGBQ Teens Have High Suicide Risk

LGBQ teens are more vulnerable to planning or attempting suicide, according to a research letter published Tuesday in the journal JAMA. Looking at answers in the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey in the US, researchers found that 40% of high school students who are considered sexual minorities — who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual or questioning, meaning they are unsure of their orientation — were seriously considering suicide. Transgender teens were not included in the US government’s survey, but research has shown that transgender youth may face a similarly high, if not higher, suicide risk. Of the sexual minorities in the study, 34.9% were planning suicide and 24.9% had attempted suicide in the previous year. Compared with heterosexual teens, those numbers are exceptionally high: Of the straight teens in the study, 14.8% had seriously considered suicide, 11.9% had been planning suicide, and 6.3% had made an attempt in the past year, according to CDC data.

Life Expectancy Down for 2nd Straight Year in U.S.

Health researchers had some grim news for Americans this week: We are dying younger, and life expectancy is now down for the second straight year — something not seen in more than half a century. The primary culprit is the opioid epidemic, which is cutting down young adults at alarming and increasing rates, the researchers say. A baby born in the United States in 2016 could expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of more than a month from 2015 and more than two months from 2014. That’s the first two-year decline since 1962 and 1963 when spikes in flu deaths were to blame. Before 2015, the last one-year decline was in 1993 and was attributed partly to the AIDS epidemic. The rest of the world is improving, seeing large declines in mortality and large improvements in life expectancy. Newborns in 29 countries, including Japan, Australia and Spain, had life expectancies above 80 years in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. The average global life expectancy was 71.4 and rising, according to that agency’s most recent report.

Economic News

The Tax Foundation analyzed the details of the final bill and said it is a pro-growth plan that will increase revenues by roughly $600 billion from expected economic growth, reducing the cost of the bill, the Free Beacon reported. The final Republican tax bill set for a House vote reportedly will boost gross domestic product by 1.7 percent, lift wages by 1.5 percent, and add 339,000 full-time jobs to the economy, according to the business-oriented foundation. However, the bill also would add $448 billion to federal deficits over 10 years with economic growth factored in, Bloomberg reported.

Corporate America caught fire in 2017, hauling in fatter profits than ever before. The lucrative year for big business, fueled by resurgent economic growth at home and abroad, helped spark a powerful stock market boom on Wall Street. Global companies that generate most of their sales outside the U.S. grew earnings twice as fast as those focused domestically, according to FactSet. Clearly, companies cashed in on newfound economic strength in Europe and Latin America as well as relative stability in China. For the first time in years, virtually all major global economies are growing at the same time.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes rose last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.81 million units. Home sales haven’t been this strong since December 2006, when properties sold at an annual pace of 6.42 million. However, the strong demand is depleting inventories of available home. In November, there were 1.67 million properties for sale, a 9.7% decline from a year ago. There is only 3.4 months’ supply of homes on the market, the lowest level ever tracked by the Realtors. The limited inventory has caused home values to rise faster than wages. The median home sales price increased 5.8% from a year ago to $248,000 in November. That price increase is more than double the rise in average hourly earnings, meaning that some Americans are being priced out of home ownership.

On or about Jan. 1, 18 states and 20 cities, including many in California, will hike their minimum wage because of laws or ballot initiatives that mandate gradual raises over several years or automatic cost-of-living increases. Later in the year, another three states and 18 cities and counties will boost their pay floors, according to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Twelve of the states and many cities are set for relatively large increases as part of a multiyear phase-in, while nine states are rolling out smaller cost-of-living bumps. New York and more than a dozen cities are moving toward a $15 wage by 2022.

Bitcoin and several other major cryptocurrencies plunged Thursday evening New York time as the end of an exponential year of growth neared. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to a low of $12,504 according to CoinDesk, down more than $3,000 from $15,820 less than 12 hours ago. Despite the sharp drop, the decline took bitcoin only to roughly two-week lows. The digital currency is still up more than 1,300 percent this year.

Korea

South Korea’s leader is urging the United States to postpone joint military drills if North Korea pauses its nuclear and missile tests before the 2018 Winter Olympics start in February in South Korea’s Taebaek Mountains. “If North Korea stops its provocations leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, it will greatly help in holding a safe Olympics,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said. South Korean officials stressed Wednesday that postponing the drills would be aimed at the South hosting a peaceful Winter Olympics, and not at ending the North Korean missile crisis. North Korea has fired 23 missiles since February, sparking international condemnation and sanctions. On Nov. 29, Pyongyang launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile it said was capable of striking the U.S. mainland, claiming to have achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state.

Yemen

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has said it intercepted a ballistic missile south of Riyadh on Tuesday, according to Saudi state television station Al Ekhbariya. The missile did not cause any damage. The missile was heading to a residential area in the Saudi capital, before it was intercepted, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported. A Houthi rebel spokesperson Mohammed AbdulSalam said on his Twitter account that the rebels fired the Burkan 2H ballistic missile, targeting the prestigious Yamama Palace hotel in the Saudi capital. The Burkan missile is an Iranian-modified scud missile. Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Ministry said it intercepted a Houthi missile over an international airport in the Saudi capital.

West Africa

Barely two years after West African nations defeated a deadly Ebola scourge, they are confronting a new epidemic – corruption. The International Red Cross has admitted that its officials, local bankers, volunteers and others had embezzled more than $6 million in aid funds in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In an internal audit, the Switzerland-based Red Cross said it discovered inflated purchase orders, payments to non-existent workers and padded expense accounts. Between March 2014 and January 2016, the Ebola virus killed more than 11,000 people in the three West African nations. Many of the approximately 17,000 Ebola survivors in the three countries are facing health complications from the sickness.

Indonesia

The Java Sea is rising and weather in Jakarta is becoming more extreme. Earlier this month another freakish storm briefly turned Jakarta’s streets into rivers and brought this vast area of nearly 30 million residents to a virtual halt. The primary problem though is not the weather. Instead, the capital of Indonesia itself is sinking. Jakarta is sinking faster than any other big city on the planet, so surreally fast that rivers sometimes flow upstream, ordinary rains regularly swamp neighborhoods and buildings slowly disappear underground, swallowed by the earth. The main cause: Jakartans are digging illegal wells, drip by drip draining the underground aquifers on which the city rests — like deflating a giant cushion underneath it. About 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level.

Wildfires

Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday in Santa Barbara County, California, as firefighters continued to get a handle on the massive Thomas wildfire, that that prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to request a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump. The Thomas Fire has claimed more than 425 square miles of land since it was sparked on the evening of Dec. 4, according to Cal Fire. The blaze is 65 percent contained as of Thursday night. The cost of fighting the massive fire has reached at least $110 million. Five of the state’s 20 largest wildfires have occurred since October.

Weather

Winter Storm Dylan moved into the Northwest and High Plains on Wednesday, causing hazardous travel conditions as it dumped heavy snow on several states. High winds knocked down trees and power lines in Bend, Oregon. Nearly 2,000 homes and businesses lost power in the area, as trees collapsed onto power lines, vehicles and buildings. Dylan dumped up to 40 inches of snow in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Dozens of locations in northern Montana, northern Idaho and northern Washington state have reported at least a foot of snow. Dylan is now spreading its wintry reach into the Great Lakes and is poised to produce a mix of snow and ice in parts of the Northeast starting Friday just in time for pre-Christmas holiday travel through Saturday. Several school districts in central and northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire opted to keep students home on Friday.

However, parts of the Midwest are nearing a record-long wait for the season’s first snow. Des Moines, Iowa, hasn’t seen measurable snow – at least 0.1 inch – since March 21, the day after spring officially arrived. In 134 years of records in Iowa’s capital city, the only time the first snow came later in the season was Dec. 26, 1939. A number of other locations from southern South Dakota into Iowa, western Illinois, Missouri and Kansas were also awaiting their first accumulating snow as of Dec. 20. That’s quite a contrast with a swath of the South from South Texas to the Florida Panhandle to North Georgia and the Carolinas that already picked up significant snow from Winter Storm Benji almost two weeks ago.

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 (12/8/17)

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.

Signs of the Times (11/15/17)

November 15, 2017

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Australians Vote to Legalize Gay Marriage

Australians have said they support gay marriage in a postal survey that ensures the Parliament considers a bill to legalize same-sex weddings this year. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday 62% of registered adults who responded had voted for the reform in an unprecedented two-month survey. The conservative government had promised to allow the Parliament to consider a bill to create marriage equality in Australia in its final two-week session that is due to end on Dec. 7. While gay marriage could be a reality in Australia by Christmas, some government lawmakers have vowed to vote down gay marriage regardless of the survey’s outcome. Ireland is the only other country in the world to put the divisive issue to a popular vote, with 62% of those who voted supporting a change in the constitution to allow gay marriage.

FBI Begins Investigation of Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Parts

The FBI is seeking documents from Congress after it held hearings on the Planned Parenthood abortion business selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit — potentially breaking both federal and state laws in so doing. As a first sign of a criminal probe, the FBI recently requested un-redacted documents from the Senate regarding Planned Parenthood in response to a 2015 undercover investigation by the Center for Medical Progress that exposed the abortion industry for harvesting, trafficking and selling the body parts of babies victimized by abortions. The request was made in recent days, the sources said, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), last December referred Planned Parenthood and several other abortion providers to the FBI for investigation after a lengthy probe into the transfers of fetal tissue. “Today’s move by the FBI gives us hope that justice will be served for the millions of Americans who have fallen victim to the deceptive and exploitive practices of the abortion industry,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life.

Global Emissions Up 2% Despite U.S. Drop

The Paris climate pact is off to a rocky start due to a huge increase in Chinese pollution this year, researchers said Monday in a report that finds U.S. emissions are still dropping despite President Trump’s decision to pull the nation from the global agreement. Several studies released by the Global Carbon Project and presented Monday at a United Nations climate conference in Germany say that worldwide carbon emissions are projected to rise about 2 percent in 2017 after they’d been flat for three years, according to preliminary estimates of this year’s data. The culprit, the data show, is China, which had kept its emissions in check in recent years but now is seeing a massive uptick in pollution. Under the Paris pact, China agreed to cap its emissions by 2030, meaning it’s free to ramp up pollution between now and then. More broadly, researchers say the data show the Paris agreement so far is not working as intended. “Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions ­­Climate Research.

Digital Pills Raise Fears About Big Brother

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill — a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization, reports the New York Times. Insurers might eventually give patients incentives to use them. Another controversial use might be requiring digital medicine as a condition for parole or releasing patients committed to psychiatric facilities. “It’s like a biomedical Big Brother,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

NSA Shaken to Its Core By Security Breach

America’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency was deeply infiltrated some fifteen months ago, and the fallout has shaken the N.S.A. to its core, reports the New York Times. The Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group had somehow obtained many of the hacking tools the United States used to spy on other countries. Current and former agency officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which began in August 2016, have been catastrophic for the N.S.A., calling into question its ability to protect potent cyberweapons and its very value to national security. The agency regarded as the world’s leader in breaking into adversaries’ computer networks failed to protect its own. Fifteen months into a wide-ranging investigation by the agency’s counterintelligence arm, known as Q Group, and the F.B.I., officials still do not know whether the N.S.A. is the victim of a brilliantly executed hack, with Russia as the most likely perpetrator, an insider’s leak, or both. Three employees have been arrested since 2015 for taking classified files, but there is fear that one or more leakers may still be in place. And there is broad agreement that the damage from the Shadow Brokers already far exceeds the harm to American intelligence done by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who fled with four laptops of classified material in 2013.

YouTube Blocks Jihadist Videos in ‘Watershed’ Moment

YouTube has removed thousands of propaganda videos from late al-Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki amid mounting pressure from governments and counterterrorism advocates. For years, hundreds of hours of the jihadist cleric’s talks and lectures were easily accessible on the site. As of this autumn, a search for “Anwar al-Awlaki” on YouTube gave more than 70,000 videos ranging from his years as a mainstream American imam to his time with Al Qaeda in Yemen, the New York Times reported. The same search on Sunday (12 November), however, yielded just 18,600 videos, most of which were news reports, documentaries and scholarly material about his life and death. The Counter Extremism Project called it a ‘watershed’ moment in the response of a social network to the threat of terrorism.

Somalian Charged in Bloody Stabbing at Mall of America

For the second time in just over a year, a Somalian “refugee” has stabbed shoppers with a knife at a Minnesota mall. The first case, on Sept. 17, 2016, was a clear act of jihad when Dahir Adan injured 10 people in the Macy’s at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud after asking his victims, chosen at random, if they were Muslim. But on Sunday night a man identified as Mahad Abdiaziz Abdirahman, 20, of Minneapolis stabbed two men at the Mall of America after they tried to stop him from stealing clothes inside the dressing room at Macy’s. Minnesota has the largest population of Somali refugees in the U.S., with numbers approaching 100,000, and Gov. Mark Dayton has told residents of the state that if they are not comfortable living among the refugees they “should find another state.”

FEMA Denies Texas Churches Hurricane Damage Benefits

Several churches in Texas were denied hurricane damage benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – sometimes even as they were working with the government to provide benefits to others, according to a lawyer involved in a lawsuit over the issue. “The court has set the clock ticking on FEMA’s irrational religious discrimination policy,” said Daniel Blomberg, a lawyer for Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm representing three churches. U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison ruled against FEMA’s request to delay the case until the end of the month. The churches, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God, all were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in August. Their facilities were flooded, even while they were providing benefits to community members, but the government said they would not be allowed to participate in standard recovery aid programs. “Discriminating against houses of worship – which are often on the front lines of disaster relief—is not just wrongheaded, it strikes at our nation’s most fundamental values,” Becket said.

Geoengineering the Weather Appears to be Backfiring

Artificially cooling Earth to counter global warming is a ‘risky strategy’, new research has shown, reports Technocracy News. Scientists have previously suggested that imitating volcanic eruptions bing fire aerosols into the atmosphere would help to cool the planet down. The aerosols, one of many ‘geoengineering’ techniques proposed as a way to deal with climate change, would cool Earth by block incoming solar radiation. But this could have a devastating effect on global regions prone to violent storms or prolonged dry spells, new research has shown. If aerosols are injected into the northern hemisphere, they could cause severe droughts in Africa, while if they are injected in the southern hemisphere, they could trigger a wave of tropical cyclones in northern regions of the globe. In response, the researchers, from the University of Exeter, have called on policymakers worldwide to strictly regulate any large-scale geoengineering programs in the future.

Human Fertility Declining Due to Pesticides

Human fertility is declining, and recent studies suggest conventional food may be a significant contributor to this disturbing trend, seen in both men and women. Pesticides have repeatedly been implicated in worsening fertility, and one of the most recent studies adds further support to this hypothesis. The study,1,2 published in JAMA Internal Medicine, evaluated the influence of factors known to affect reproduction on the reproductive success of 325 women between the ages of 18 and 45 (mean age 35), who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF). Compared to women with the lowest pesticide exposure, women with the highest exposure had an 18 percent lower IVF success rate. They were also 26 percent less likely to have a live birth if they did become pregnant. Analysis suggests exchanging a single serving of high-pesticide produce per day for one with low pesticide load may increase the odds of pregnancy by 79 percent, and the odds of having a live birth by 88 percent

Vehicle Recalls Increasing, Many Remain Unrepaired

The steady stream of recalls masks the fact that about 30% of recalled vehicles remain unrepaired on America’s roads, according to federal statistics. Last year was a record for U.S. vehicle recalls — more than 53 million in 927 separate recalls — but those numbers are only the latest, with the total number of recalls increasing in each a back to 2011 when the number stood at 13.6 million, according to information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are numerous reasons recalled vehicles go unrepaired even though getting them fixed does not cost the vehicle owner. These range from perceptions about the severity of the recall to a lack of available parts, but most often vehicle owners simply do not know that their vehicle is under recall. “The greatest challenge is making contact with the current owner of the vehicle. Vehicles may change hands many times over their lifecycle,” said Mark Chernoby, chief technical compliance officer for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion in Aid Relief

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked Congress for a $94.4 billion relief package for the beleaguered U.S. territory in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. During a Monday news conference, Rosselló told reporters he is seeking $46 billion to restore housing through the Community Development Block Grant Program, $30 billion through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild critical infrastructure and $17.9 billion through other federal grant programs for long-term recovery. Congress has already approved nearly $5 billion in aid to the territory that lost more than 472,000 homes to the Category 5 hurricane that made landfall Sept. 20. Nearly two months after the storm, almost 60 percent of the island remains without electricity, FEMA reported. Rosselló also asked Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from a proposed excise tax of 20 percent for merchandise manufactured abroad, asserting that products made in Puerto Rico and imported into the U.S. should be considered domestic products.

Economic News

Americans’ debt rose to a new record high in the second quarter on the back of an increase in every form of debt: from mortgage, to auto, student and credit card debt. Aggregate household debt increased for the 13th consecutive quarter, rising by $116 billion (0.9%) to a new all-time high. As of September 30, 2017, total household indebtedness was $12.96 trillion, an increase of $605 billion from a year ago and equivalent to 66% of US GDP, versus a high of around 87% in early 2009. After years of deleveraging in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, household debt has risen more than 16.2% since the trough hit in the spring of 2013.Tthe New Your Fed explicitly warned that credit card and auto loan “flows into delinquency” have increased over the past year. The fed is concerned about the sharp rise in delinquency for auto loans made to subprime borrowers by auto-finance companies, usually through auto makers or dealers.

Venezuela defaulted on its debt, according to a statement issued Monday night by S&P Global Ratings. The agency said the 30-day grace period had expired for a payment that was due in October. The debt default risks setting off a dangerous series of events that could exacerbate Venezuela’s food and medical shortages. Wall Street and other major financial centers around the globe could potentially be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and the ripple effects could be felt for years to come. Venezuela already has another 420 million dollars of debt payments that are overdue. S&P warns that Venezuela could embark on a coercive debt restructuring. in 2012, Greece imposed a coercive debt restructuring on private sector investors, and Argentina has restructured its dollar-denominated debt twice this century. Investors could take substantial losses, and there would no doubt be lawsuits lasting for years.

  • The biggest winners from distressed debt restructurings are always lawyers.

More than half of Americans have not gotten a bump in salary over the past 12 months, a new survey finds, despite a tight labor market that’s making it harder for employers to find workers. Fifty-two percent of those polled didn’t see their paychecks budge the past year, but employees with more education and higher incomes are more likely to get a raise, the Bankrate.com survey shows. Thirty percent got a raise at their current job, 10% landed a better paying job and 8% scored both within the 12-month period.

With more women working and having fewer babies, there comes a point when there are not enough worker bees to support the growing number of elderly who retire every year in countries like Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain. Economists agree that any nation with a fertility rate of less than 2.1 children per woman will not replace its aging population and ultimately fall into decline All of these countries have dismal fertility rates of between 1.3 and 1.5 children per woman of child-bearing age. Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. are not much better at 1.8 children per woman. Only the rise in immigration is making up for the birth dearth, reports WorldNetDaily.

Israel

Mexico has reportedly announced that it will change its voting strategy at the United Nations (UN) and other international bodies by stopping to vote in favor of the Palestinians. According to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Figari contacted Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Pelad and told him of the shift in strategy for all upcoming voting procedures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In mid-September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first-ever official visit to Mexico. During his historic visit to Latin America, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City and signed several agreements that bolster the ties and cooperation between the two countries. During the same month, Israel provided humanitarian aid to the country following a powerful earthquake there.

Islamic State

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement on Saturday vowing to continue the fight against ISIS in Syria until the militants are completely defeated, Reuters reported, citing the Kremlin. The statement was released after the two leaders chatted briefly during the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. It was also reported that Washington and Moscow were nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country’s civil war once ISIS is defeated. The U.S.-Russian agreement that was being discussed focused on three elements, officials told The Associated Press: “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks.

Syria

The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a firm warning to the U.S. and other foreign forces in Syria, telling them their presence was a violation of international law and accusing them of making matters worse for the war-torn country that days ago declared victory against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The ministry issued the statement in direct response to remarks by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who suggested a day earlier that U.S. forces would not be leaving anytime soon. Unlike allies Russia and Iran, which intervened against Syrian insurgents and jihadis at the request of Assad, the U.S. entered the conflict without President Bashar al-Assad’s permission and has actively supported insurgents seeking for his removal. With ISIS essentially defeated, the ministry urged Washington and its allies to exit immediately. “The presence of U.S. forces or any foreign military presence in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government constitutes an act of aggression and an attack on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a gross violation of the charter and principles of the United Nations,” the ministry quoted an official source as saying.”

A Syrian war monitoring group says the death toll from airstrikes on a market in northern Syria Monday has climbed to 61. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there were six women, five children, and three police officers among those killed in the three strikes on Monday on the market in the opposition-held town of Atareb. The Observatory said it couldn’t determine whether Russia or the Syrian government was behind the attack. The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’ chief military backer.

Europe

A cloud of radioactive pollution spread over Europe after a possible “accident” at a nuclear facility in Russia or Kazakhstan, French nuclear safety officials confirmed last Friday. France’s nuclear safety institute, IRSN, picked up faint traces of ruthenium 106, a radioactive nuclide that is produced when atoms are split in a nuclear reactor and which does not occur naturally, in three of its 40 monitoring stations late September. Faint traces were also detected in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. There has been no impact on human health or the environment in Europe, a French official stressed, but he added that detection of such a cloud was “absolutely not normal”. IRSN, the technical arm of the French nuclear regulator, said in a statement it could not pinpoint the location of the release of radioactive material but that based on weather patterns, the most plausible zone lay south of the Ural mountains, between the Urals and the Volga river. This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan, it said. At the source of the leak, the quantity of ruthenium 106 released was “major”, between 100 and 300 terabecquerels, it said, adding that if an accident of this magnitude had happened in France it would have required the evacuation or sheltering of people in a radius of “a few kilometers around the accident site”.

Poland

An estimated sixty-thousand nationalist protester disrupted Poland’s Independence Day events Saturday, waving flags and burning flares as they marched down the streets of Warsaw. Demonstrators carried banners that read “White Europe, Europe must be white,” and “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust.” Some wore masks and waved red and white Polish flags, chanting “Death to enemies of the homeland,” and “Catholic Poland, not secular.” Some wore masks and waved red and white Polish flags, chanting “Death to enemies of the homeland,” and “Catholic Poland, not secular.” While the vast majority were Poles, other protesters came from all over Europe. One of the lead organizations behind the nationalists’ march is the National Radical Camp, which has previously taken to the streets to protest against Muslim immigration, gay rights, the EU and anything it considers undermines Polish Catholic values.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s military said early Wednesday that it had taken custody of President Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, in what increasingly appeared to be a military takeover in the southern African nation. After apparently seizing the state broadcaster, ZBC, two uniformed officers said in a short predawn announcement that “the situation in our country has moved to another level.” While denying that the military had seized power, they said that Mr. Mugabe and his family “are safe and sound, and their security is guaranteed. We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” said the main speaker, who was identified as Maj. Gen. S. B. Moyo, the army’s chief of staff.

Environment

Eight states in the central U.S. are dealing with the beginnings of a water crisis. For decades, water levels in the Ogallala aquifer have been in decline. Irrigators are to blame, experts say, pumping out the groundwater faster than the rain can refill it. Over the past six years, water levels have declined twice as fast as the previous 60, according to the Denver Post, which analyzed federal data to create their report. The drawdown has become so severe that streams are drying at a rate of 6 miles per year and some highly resilient fish are disappearing. In rural areas, farmers and ranchers worry they will no longer have enough water for their livestock and crops as the aquifer is depleted. Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles, including parts of Colorado, Wyoming Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

Low-lying Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to rising seas, and its coastal people face daily uncertainty as the water and erosion snatch away their land. Some 26,000 families in Bangladesh lose their homes and way of life to climate-driven erosion every year, according to Deutsche Welle. Small islets, known as “chars,” are particularly hard-hit, as are the more than 4 million people who live on them. Erosion from rising seas and storm surge continually changes the landscape, with islets becoming submerged every year and new ones forming, forcing thousands to flee to new chars as theirs disappear.

New Delhi officials will lobby Monday for a plan to ration the use of private cars amid a grimy cloud of pollution so foul that United Airlines has halted flights to India’s capital, while many residents wore masks for their Sunday strolls. Many schools have been closed since the toxic air mass descended on the region almost a week ago. The government has banned most construction and industrial activity. Most trucks and heavy vehicles have been parked. Residents were urged to stay inside and wear masks outside. “It comes inside the house, even if you close your windows,” Shyami Sodhi, a Delhi resident, told Sky News. “It’s difficult to breathe.”

Earthquakes

A powerful magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck the Iraq-Iran border region Sunday, killing at least 530 people across both countries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was 19 miles outside the Iraqi city of Halabja. The semi-official Iranian ILNA news agency reported at least 14 provinces were impacted by the quake. Around 7,500 people were injured. Many survivors in Iran were still awaiting badly needed aid on Wednesday, three days after the quake struck Sunday. Desperate, some families tried to set up temporary shelters, using straw collected from nearby farms. The delay in getting help to the needy came as public order broke down in many instances where aid was being delivered in the Iranian Kurdish region. It was the deadliest earthquake in the world this year, surpassing a 7.1 magnitude tremor in Mexico that killed more than 350 people on Sept. 19.

Weather

Many cities in the Midwest and Northeast experienced the coldest temperatures so far this season over the weekend. Dozens of daily record lows have been tied or set, from Atlantic City, New Jersey (21 degrees) to New York City’s Central Park (24 degrees) to Buffalo, New York (19 degrees). Temperatures in the single digits were reported as far south as southwest Pennsylvania Saturday. Thanks to fresh snow cover, clear skies and light winds, International Falls, Minnesota, plunged to a low of 14 degrees below zero Friday morning. This was the earliest-in-season the “Nation’s Icebox” had ever been that cold, beating the previous record from Nov. 12, 1966, when they were 15 degrees below zero. The upper Mississippi Valley, northern Rockies and Northwest have already seen extreme winter weather conditions. Duluth averages 86.1 inches of snow throughout the entire winter, according to 30-year average data (1981-2010) from the National Weather Service. Through Nov. 13, the city had already measured 20.5 inches. Havre, Montana, had picked up 17.5 inches of snow as of Nov. 13.

At least 14 people were killed in flash floods that flooded homes and washed out a section of a major highway in an area along the edge of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday. The flooding occurred because of a powerful storm that struck overnight and dumped heavy rain on the area. Vehicles were washed down flooded roadways and deposited in piles, destroyed from the impact. Walls collapsed, creating more debris in the muddy streets. Officials feared the death toll could continue to rise as search crews look for missing people in homes and streets that were inundated on the western outskirts of Athens.

Texas faces a six-fold risk of hurricane flooding similar to that experienced during Hurricane Harvey in the next 25 years, a new study says. Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel found that extreme weather events with 20 inches or more of rain could become far more common over Houston and other parts of Texas in the decades to come. According to Emanuel, the chances of “biblical” amounts of rain totaling 20 inches or more falling over Texas from 1981 to 2000 were only 1 in 100 or less. Today, the probability is 6 in 100.

  • Extreme weather is an end-time phenomena (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)