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News Briefs for November 21, 2017

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

Museum of the Bible Opened Friday Amid Controversy

Throughout history, the Bible has been the subject of controversy. Perhaps it’s appropriate that some controversy has accompanied the planning stages for the $500 million Museum of the Bible which opened Friday in the nation’s capital. Hobby Lobby, whose president Steve Green is chairman of the museum board, paid a $3 million fine in July for illegally smuggling Iraqi biblical artifacts. Thousands of tablets and bricks written in cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing, were among the 5,000 artifacts forfeited after prosecutors said they were shipped without proper documentation. Still, about 1,000 biblical artifacts are displayed on six floors of the 430,000-square-foot museum. “Our mission is to invite and get people to engage with the Bible,” said Steven Bickley, vice president of marketing finance for the museum. He emphasized the museum takes a non-sectarian approach because organizers want every visitor to feel comfortable and learn something about the Bible. Green said he even wants atheists to feel welcome at the museum.

NAACP Calls National Anthem Racist

The NAACP of California may be able to do what the British were not — destroy the Star-Spangled Banner, reports Todd Starnes of Fox News. State NAACP leaders are calling for Congress to change the national anthem – calling the Star Spangled Banner one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner, was a slave owner who opposed giving slaves freedom, the NAACP claims. The NAACP says they just want a national anthem that does not disenfranchise part of the American population. “It’s racist; it doesn’t represent our community, it’s anti-black,” state NAACP leader Alice Huffman told the CBS television station in Sacramento.

House Passes GOP Tax Reform Bill

The House passed its version of the Republican tax overhaul Thursday, notching a key win for President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). But obstacles remain in the Senate, which is refining its own version of the legislation amid objections from key GOP senators. The bill passed with 227 votes in favor and 205 against. 13 Republicans voted against the bill. No Democrats voted for it. The bill would cut taxes by as much as $1.5 trillion by the end of the year, but there are significant differences between the House and Senate bills that will have to be resolved.

Keystone Pipeline Leak Days Before Approval Decision

After an estimated 210,000 gallons (about 5,000 barrels) of oil spilled onto agricultural land in South Dakota Thursday, state officials say they don’t believe the leak contaminated any drinking water systems or surface bodies of water. Discovery of the leak comes just days before Nebraska regulators are scheduled to announce their decision Monday whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, an expansion that would boost the amount of oil TransCanada is now shipping through the existing line. The expansion has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups, American Indian tribes and some “Ultimately, the cleanup responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they’ll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations,” Walsh said.

On Monday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the alternative Keystone XL route that will run through the state, removing the last regulatory obstacle holding the $8 billion oil pipeline project back. However, the decision could still be challenged in court. The officials were forbidden by law from considering the recent oil spill on the existing Keystone pipeline while making their decision. The alternative route of nearly 1,200-miles would run farther north than the originally proposed route. Business groups and some unions support the project as a way to create jobs. President Donald Trump issued a federal permit allowing for the project in March, reversing President Barack Obama administration’s rejection of it.

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Multiply in Statehouses Countrywide

– When Kirsten Anderson submitted a memo detailing her concerns about sexual harassment at the Iowa Capitol, she expected comments about women in the office – their sex lives, breast sizes and the length of skirts worn by teenage pages – to stop. Instead, Anderson was fired seven hours later from her job with the Iowa Republican Senate Caucus. After four years of litigation that ended in September, the state agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle her claim, leaving taxpayers footing the bill. Her case is among the first in a recent wave of high-profile sexual harassment cases that have roiled state legislatures around the nation, highlighting the moral and financial liability states faces as claims pile up. Since last year, at least 40 lawmakers – nearly all men – in 20 states have been publicly accused by more than 100 people of some form of sexual misconduct or harassment, a USA Today Network analysis found. Swift action has been taken against many high-profile men, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and others accused of sexual harassment. However, there have been varying degrees of punishment for lawmakers thus far.

  • 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. (Ephesians 5:12-13)

NSA Hacked Computer was Infested with Malware

Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab is again challenging allegations that it stole classified files from an NSA employee’s computer, pointing to new analysis that says the computer in question may have been infested with malware. The computer had 121 pieces of malware on the system, including backdoors, exploits, and Trojans, according to Kaspersky. “It is possible that the user could have [accidentally] leaked information to many hands,” the security firm said. The data comes as Kaspersky Lab battles accusations that its security software helped the Russian government to commit cyber espionage. Russian government hackers reportedly detected the classified files on the NSA employee’s computer by using Kaspersky antivirus software, which was installed on the system. The NSA computer became infected after the NSA employee disabled antivirus software to install a pirated version Microsoft Office 2013, the security firm claims. “The malware consisted of a full-blown backdoor which could have allowed other third-parties to access the user’s machine,” the company said.

Facebook, Google, Twitter Unveil Trust Indicators

The biggest online platforms have unveiled their latest attempt to fight fake news. Facebook, Google and Twitter said Thursday they have committed to using new “trust indicators” to help users better vet the reliability of the publications and journalists behind articles that appear in news feeds. The indicators were developed by the Trust Project, a non-partisan effort operating out of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, to boost transparency and media literacy at a time when misinformation is rampant. Facebook, which has faced particularly strong criticism about spreading fake news, began testing the indicators on Thursday. Select publishers will have the option to upload additional information about their fact-checking policies, ownership structures, author histories and more. When you see an article from Vox, for example, Facebook may show an icon you can tap to learn more, including what Vox’s ethics policy is and who funds it.

59,000 Haitians Ordered to Return Home

The Trump administration announced Monday it will end immigration protections for about 59,000 Haitians living in the United States in July 2019, concluding that conditions on the ground in the poverty-stricken Caribbean country have improved enough since a massive earthquake in 2010 for residents to return. The Obama administration first granted “temporary protected status” to Haitians after the nation was ravaged by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The protections have allowed Haitians to legally remain in the U.S. and have been extended each year as Haiti struggles to recover. Elaine Duke, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, made the decision that extraordinary temporary conditions on which the special protections were issued “no longer exist.” DHS officials also said the 18 months is intended to give Haitians with temporary status enough time to arrange for their departure or “to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible.”

White House Warns 29 Sanctuary Cities to Comply or Lose Aid

The Trump administration warned 29 “sanctuary cities” this week that they must prove they are cooperating with federal immigration law by Dec. 8 to receive federal aid. “Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release Friday. Justice Department officials, however, declined to say what action would be taken against communities that did not show compliance by the Dec. 8 deadline. In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Justice to deny certain federal grants to communities that did not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Internet Neutrality Rules Will Be Repealed

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it planned to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites. The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration that prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. The move sets the stage for a crucial vote next month at the Federal Communications Commission that could reshape the entire digital ecosystem.

Economic News

The average American household carries $137,063 in debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest numbers. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the median household income was just $59,039 last year, suggesting that many Americans are living beyond their means. This debt level is unlikely to shrink anytime soon, according to NerdWallet. That’s because the cost of living in the U.S. rose 30% over the past 13 years, yet household incomes only grew 28%. As a result, more Americans are using credit cards to cover basic needs like food and clothing. Medical expenses have grown 57% since 2003, while food and housing costs climbed 36% and 32%, respectively. Education costs rose 26% during that period, slightly less than income growth.

The share of older Millennials living with relatives is still rising, underscoring the lingering obstacles faced by Americans who entered the workforce during and after the Great Recession. About 20% of adults age 26 to 34 are living with parents or other family members, a figure that has climbed steadily over the past decade, according to census data. A much larger portion of younger Millennials age 18 to 25 (59.8%) live with relatives, but that figure generally has fallen the past few years after peaking at 61.1% in 2012.

Israel

In an unprecedented move, Israel on Tuesday co-sponsored a draft resolution against Syria that was submitted by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The resolution, which was also backed by the U.S., France and Germany, passed with an overwhelming majority of 108 countries voting in favor, 17 voting against and 58 abstaining. Although Israel has previously supported resolutions submitted by Saudi Arabia at the UN, it has never signed on as a co-sponsor. “The Assad regime, with full support from Iran, has been slaughtering its people mercilessly and with incomprehensible cruelty for years,” Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon declared. “Israel, which for years has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians hurt by these atrocities, stands together with the international community against this murderous regime.”

IDF units on the northern border were on high alert Monday following a weekend which saw warning shots fired by an Israeli tank at Assad regime troops inside Syria who were attempting to fortify positions in a buffer zone, violating previous cease-fire agreements. Two such incidents occurred, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, while Israeli officials appeared to confirm that they are actively cooperating with Saudi Arabia to confront Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and throughout the region.

Islamic State

With the Islamic State group almost completely defeated on the ground in Iraq and Syria and its territorial hold dramatically reduced, the terror group and its sympathizers continue to demonstrate their ability to weaponize the internet in an effort to radicalize, recruit and inspire acts of terrorism in the region and around the world. Experts charge that the terror group’s ability to produce and distribute new propaganda has been significantly diminished, particularly after it recently lost the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital and media headquarters. But they warn that the circulation of its old media content and easy access to it on social media platforms indicates that the virtual caliphate will live on in cyberspace for some time, even as ISIS’s physical control ends.

North Korea

President Trump on Monday announced that his administration has re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration removed the rogue nation from the list.” The president cited assassinations by dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out on foreign soil, as well as the treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in June days after he was released in a coma by the North after spending 17 months in captivity. Iran, Sudan and Syria also are on the list, which is administered by the State Department. According to that agency, sanctions for those nations on the list include “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”

China

China’s proposal for the United States to offer concessions to North Korea in return for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program probably won’t halt the North’s already advanced program but it might be the best way to lessen tensions, analysts say. China said Thursday it is standing by its proposal, which calls for the U.S. to suspend its large military exercises with South Korea in the region in return for an agreement by North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons program. North Korea already has an arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles that can reach U.S. allies throughout the region. A day earlier President Trump claimed China had abandoned the proposal and, instead, agreed with the U.S. position that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear program before getting any American concessions.

Germany

The breakdown of talks to form a government in Germany — Europe’s most powerful nation — means that the continent’s pillar of economic and political stability is not so stable at the moment. Chancellor Angela Merkel faced the biggest crisis in her 12-year tenure Monday when the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) walked out of talks aimed at forming a governing coalition. Merkel is now entering into uncharted territory following an election in late September that saw her Christian Democrats (CDU) fall short of a majority in parliament, requiring her to seek an agreement with smaller parties to rule. Complicating her task, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), an anti-immigration party, entered the German Bundestag for the first time, with 13% of the vote, but none of the other parties want to include it in a governing coalition.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s ruling party fired 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe on Sunday, ending his 37-year reign as the African country’s leader after being placed under house arrest days ago, a party official said. Recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was appointed as the new leader of the ZANU-PF party and is expected to lead a new government. Party members said Mugabe must resign by 12 p.m. Monday or will “definitely” face impeachment. First lady Grace Mugabe was also recalled as head of the women’s league. Mugabe remained under house arrest with his wife and resisted calls to step aside. Vast throngs of demonstrators turned Zimbabwe’s capital into a carnival ground on Saturday in a peaceful outpouring of disdain for their longtime leader and calls for him to quit immediately. Mugabe ignored the deadline and refused to step down Monday. The speaker of Zimbabwe’s parliament announced Tuesday that President Robert Mugabe has finally resigned “with immediate effect,” ending an extraordinary standoff that culminated in the end of 37 years in power.

  • Three-quarters of the population of Zimbabwe live below the poverty line. Four-fifths subsist on the food they grow themselves. All have endured decades of repressive rule, and recurrent drought. The Church in Zimbabwe plays a major role in society, and has therefore been one of the targets of government harassment and persecution. Many courageous pastors and ministers have taken a stand for justice and righteousness, risking arrest, imprisonment or worse.

Nigeria

At least 50 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the eastern Nigerian state of Adamawa, police say. A bomber struck inside a mosque packed with worshippers during morning prayers in the town of Mubi. No-one has said they were behind the bombing, but the Islamist militants Boko Haram typically target crowded places in northern Nigeria. Some 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency. The BBC reports that Boko Haram militants have recently stepped up suicide bombings in Nigeria’s north-east after the government’s military recaptured territories previously controlled by the group. At least 45 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the same state last December. In that attack two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives in a busy market.

Turkey

Turkey’s capital clamped down further on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life on Sunday in a move likely to deepen concern among rights advocates. All LGBT events, including cinema, theater, discussion panels and interviews, were forbidden until further notice, Ankara’s gubernatorial office said, to avert “public hatred and hostility” likely to emerge “within certain segments” of society. Once hugely popular gay pride parades have already been banned for several years in the Turkish capital and the country’s largest city of Istanbul. Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since its modern republic was created in 1923, and LGBTI individuals often complain of harassment amid conservatism propagated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK party.

Earthquakes

A 5.4 magnitude earthquake that was South Korea’s second-strongest in decades damaged infrastructure, injured dozens of people and left about 1,500 homeless, officials said Thursday. No deaths have been reported since the quake rattled the southeastern coastal region around the port city of Pohang on Wednesday afternoon. More than 1,000 houses and dozens of other buildings and cars were damaged or destroyed, and cracks and other damage were found in military facilities, bridges, port facilities and water supply facilities.

An earthquake swarm that struck Monterey County, California, has added fuel to the growing concerns over the next “Big One” to hit the Golden State. The first quake hit the area with a magnitude of 4.6 Monday at 11:31 a.m. about 13 miles northeast of the city of Gonzales, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). No injuries or deaths were reported as a result of the temblor, which originated near the San Andreas Fault and had a depth of about four miles. It was felt as far away as San Francisco, more than 90 miles to the north, SFGate.com reported. It produced nine aftershocks, the strongest of which measured magnitude 2.8. There have been 51 small quakes in the same general vicinity within the last decade, including a 4.6 magnitude tremor in 2011. Annemarie Baltay, a seismologist at the Menlo Park office of the USGS, told SFGate that the quake was not a sign of a larger temblor to come. “This is really typical behavior,” said Baltay.

Weather

Temperatures will split the country in half this Thanksgiving week as parts of the West make a run at record highs while the East shivers in the cold. Wednesday and Thursday have the highest probability of record-high temperatures in the West. High temperatures 10 to 25 degrees warmer than average will stretch from the West Coast into the Rockies by Wednesday. These warm conditions will expand into much of the Plains on Thursday, where some areas could see highs up to 30 degrees above average. Enhanced fire weather conditions are also possible midweek in Southern California due to the setup of warm offshore winds. The Midwest and Northeast will generally remain chilly into this weekend as a couple of cold fronts sweep through the regions. A second blast of colder-than-average temperatures will then spread across the Midwest and into portions of the East this weekend into early next week.

More than 20 sites in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have their highest mid-November snowpack on record. Many other northern tier sites rank in the top five snowiest mid-November snowpack, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Parts of the Northwest, including Washington and Montana, have already had an extreme winter, and snowfall continues to fall as storms continue to barrel into the region. In parts of Washington and Oregon, ski resorts are preparing to open, possibly a couple weeks ahead of schedule in some spots.

More than two months after Harvey, Port Aransas, Texas, continues to struggle after the powerful storm left it in ruins. Just a few miles down the Texas coast from where Harvey made landfall, Port Aransas – or Port A, as the locals call it – was walloped by the storm as it came ashore at Category 4 strength. Harvey’s top wind gust of 132 mph was reported in the town, and sustained winds of 110 mph left widespread Virtually all of the residents were impacted by Harvey, and many remain living in hotels or other homes while they rebuild their lives. Some residents have left the town and will never return. In the first phase of the cleanup, the city was removing 6,000 cubic yards of debris every day. Along the Texas coast, residents are expected to purchase Texas windstorm insurance, which is expensive. However, filling out and processing all the paperwork has been tedious. “The biggest thing would be if the insurance companies would actually pay what they owe without a million hoops and hurdles,” said one frustrated resident.

This news brief contributed by Pastor John Jacobsen, author of a number of exciting Christian fiction novels about the End Times (see www.johnajacobsen.com).  You can contact him on Facebook or purchase his books at Amazon.com at: https://www.amazon.com/End-Beginning-John-Jacobsen-ebook/dp/B005DTO2SO

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