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News Briefs for March 22, 2019

­­­­­­Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.(Romans 8:35-37)

Persecution Watch

The death toll in the attack at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques rose to 50 people; victims range in age from 2 to over 60. Thirty-nine people remain in the hospital and 11 are in intensive care in critical condition. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced sweeping changes to the country’s gun laws Thursday, including a ban on military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles like the one used in last week’s Christchurch mosque shootings. Ardern says there will be a gun buyback scheme and those who already own such weapons will have to turn them in, but they will be offered “reasonable compensation ‘. There are believed to be up to 1.5 million guns in New Zealand, which has a population of around 5 million. Officials estimate there are 13,500 semi-automatic weapons in circulation, but they can’t say how many assault rifles might be out there.

The latest Open Doors World Watch List indicate that some 11 Christians are martyred for their faith every single day. “Today, in the 21st century, we are living in a time when persecution against Christian believers is the highest in modern history,” the persecution watchdog noted. Currently, the top five most dangerous countries in which to live as a Christian are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. As is the case in all of these countries, Christians remain in grave danger for simply choosing to believe in Christ.

The news out of Nigeria is getting progressively worse as it is being reported that more than 300 people were killed in at least seven predominantly Christian villages across Nigeria in February and March this year, according to Barnabas Fund sources. In one early morning attack on the village of Karamai on Feb. 14, sources said 41 people died after 300 gunmen swarmed the village shouting “Allahu Akbar!” as they fired their weapons and ransacked people’s homes. It was reported almost all of those killed were women and children along with a few senior residents who were unable to run away. Another 71 people were killed and 28 injured in an attack on the Dogon Noma village by an Islamic group known as the Fulani militia on March 11.

A rebel group with ties to a militant Islamic group has killed six Christians – including a 9-year-old – during a nighttime attack in a mostly Christian province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to field sources for Open Doors USA, rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces – pretending to be security agents – opened fire after approaching the village of Kalau, killing three women. Nearly 500 residents fled the assault, heading to the nearby city of Beni in the Congo’s North Kivu province. Two more villagers—among hundreds fleeing the gunfire—were killed. Observers anticipate that the attack is likely to be followed by more violence at the hands of ADF, who are escalating from kidnapping to murder and seizing territory.

Omar Abu Laila, the terrorist who killed two Israelis in a shooting attack near Ariel on March 17, including the father of 12, was shot dead by Israeli special forces during a gunfire exchange when the forces came to arrest him. The Fatah movement immediately glorified the dead murderer and will give an honorarium to his family. While the Palestinian Authority’s policy of furnishing financial rewards to terrorists is well-documented, a recent report by Palestinian Media Watch reveals that these stipends can exceed the salaries earned by doctors and judges in Palestinian society. Fatah used Facebook as the means to disseminate its support for the murder of Israelis and to broadcast its message of support for terror to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Facebook users. Fatah’s official page alone has more than 170,000 followers. In February, the PMW sent Facebook a 40-page report documenting the repeated terror support by Fatah on its Facebook page throughout 2018, but still the abhorrent calls for Israel’s annihilation are allowed to continue.

Iran’s military activities and clear public threats to annihilate Israel continue to grow in frequency and intensity. With such dire promises of conflict, it would be expected that the international news media and politicians throughout the world would have something to say about this situation. Instead, Iran’s continued abusive behavior continues to be cozied up to at worst, or at best, ignored, notes United With Israel. One of the core pillars and revolutionary ideals of Iran’s Islamic Republic is destroying the Jewish state. It is also one of the religious prophecies of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Israel will be eventually erased from the face of the earth.

A few weeks before the horrific New Zealand mosque massacre were live-streamed on Facebook, the company’s top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, were touting the company’s efforts to improve its safety and security processes in a public relations campaign. In a profile piece with Fortune, published the day before the terrorist attack, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer bragged about the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) and its supposed ability to identify harmful content within “hundredths of milliseconds, billions of times a day.” His proof was a demonstration showing that the system could differentiate between a picture of marijuana and a picture of broccoli at an overall accuracy rate of approximately 90 percent. Facebook’s AI algorithms did not stop the live-streamed attack from being uploaded more than one million times. And, more than 24 hours after the attack took place, it had failed to remove approximately 300,000 different uploads of the livestream.

New Mexico Defeats Radical Bill to Legalize Abortions Up to Birth

The New Mexico Senate rejected a radical pro-abortion bill Thursday that would have kept abortions legal for any reason up to birth in the state. The AP reports that 16 Republicans and eight Democrats voted against the bill. It was a tough fight for pro-life advocates after the bill passed the House in February and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who claims to be Catholic, said she would support it. Pro-life advocates celebrated the victory and praised the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who helped to defeat the bill. “We are so thankful to the senators who stood up for women, unborn children, and their constituents tonight to vote against HB-51,” New Mexico Alliance for Life said in a statement.

Mississippi Governor Signs ‘Heartbeat’ Anti-Abortion Bill

The Republican governor of Mississippi signed a bill Thursday that will make his state one of the strongest protectors of the unborn. Governor Phil Bryant says he will sign Senate Bill 2116 – often described as a “heartbeat bill.” The measure bans most abortions once a baby’s heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights says it plans to sue the state to block the bill from taking effect July 1. SB 2116 passed the State Senate on Tuesday on a 34-15 vote, which was largely along party lines. It passed the State House earlier this month on a 78-37 vote.

Library’s Drag Queen Reading to Kids is Sex Offender

A  public library in Houston invited a drag queen who is a convicted child-sex offender to read books to children. Houston Public Library officials didn’t apologize for hosting Drag Queen Storytime, which is part of a national program. But they did “deeply regret” failing to conduct a background check. The activist group Houston MassResistance did it for them and discovered that Alberto Garza, a 32-year-old drag queen who goes by the name Tatiana Mala Nina, was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old child. The library said children are never left alone with the drag queens. And it argued it hasn’t received any complaints of inappropriate behavior. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, however, wrote in his Washington Update that the library’s assurances are of “little comfort to community members, who were stunned that anyone would be so lax about kids’ safety.”

Pentagon Identifies $6.8B of Spending Cuts for Trump Border Wall

The Pentagon has a list of $6.8 billion worth of construction projects it could choose to take money from in order to build President Trump’s border wall, according to a list provided to Congress on Monday. The Pentagon also said Congress can make sure none of the projects suffer by passing an increase in military construction money for 2020, allowing the government to go back and replenish the accounts Trump wants to drain for his border wall. The list gave Democrats on Capitol Hill targets to fire at, arguing those defense projects are more important to national security than the border wall.

Courts to Decide Legality of Trump’s Border Emergency Declaration

Congress wasn’t able to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration at the Mexican border, but the courts will have the final word. Following the president’s veto Friday of a congressional resolution rescinding his action, three little-known federal district judges have the best chance to block the emergency declaration. At the same time, this will test Trump’s theory that the judiciary is prejudiced against him. One judge is a 25-year veteran of the federal court system who was born near the Mexican border and chosen by President Bill Clinton. Another was the last judge named by President Barack Obama to the federal district court in northern California five years ago. A third is a former police officer who donated to Trump’s 2016 campaign and was named to the federal bench the following year. They run the political gamut from left to right. What’s clear is that not all the lawsuits challenging Trump’s emergency declaration will be heard by liberal judges, although Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court maintains that there is no such thing as an Obama judge or a Trump judge.

Homeland Security Says Border Situation Worse Than an Emergency

The government is on track to catch nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants at the border this month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday, renewing the administration’s plea for Congress to do something. That number would be the worst in more than a decade, and it’s more troubling than the worst years because a higher proportion of the migrants are children and families who are almost impossible to deport. According to the latest numbers, 98 percent of those caught at the border in 2017 are still in the U.S. today, underscoring how difficult it is to remove them in the current framework. “The situation at our Southern Border has gone from a crisis, to a national emergency, to a near systemwide meltdown,” Ms. Nielsen said. Ms. Nielsen said the border wall is part of the solution, but also said Congress must change the laws to allow for detention and faster deportations of illegal immigrant children and families.

More Than 1000 Illegals Cut Lose Every Day

Deportation officers are cutting loose more than 1,000 illegal immigrant family members a day, setting them free into border states as the surge of migrations overwhelms the government’s ability to handle them. Some are released with ankle monitoring devices or check-in schedules with the often vain hope that they will show up for their court hearings and deportation. In Phoenix, churches and volunteers are overwhelmed by the numbers of immigrants dropped off at the bus station. According to recent ICE statistics, officials released 14,500 migrants in the Phoenix area between Dec. 21 and early March. During that same period, they released 37,500 in communities in south Texas, 24,000 in El Paso and 8,500 in San Diego.

Citing Climate Change, Judge Blocks Drilling in Wyoming

A judge blocked oil and gas drilling across almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the U.S. government must consider climate change impacts more broadly as it leases huge swaths of public land for energy exploration. The order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade — including one last month in Montana — that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said that when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctions public lands for oil and gas leasing, officials must consider emissions from past, present and foreseeable future oil and gas leases nationwide. The ruling coincides with an aggressive push by President Trump’s administration to open more public lands to energy development.

Trump Issues Executive Order Protecting Free Speech at Colleges

President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order to promote free speech on college campuses by threatening colleges with the loss of federal research funding if they do not protect those rights. “We’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values,” Trump said, surrounded by conservative student activists at the signing ceremony. “They’ve been under siege. Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today,” he said. A senior administration official said the order directs 12 grant-making agencies to use their authority in coordination with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure institutions that receive federal research or education grants promote free speech and free inquiry. White House officials have said it will apply to more than $35 billion in grants.

Tech Industry Liberal Bias a Threat to Liberty

A group of high-powered conservative media leaders gathered on Wednesday night to strategize ways to combat liberal bias in the tech industry, which Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell called “the most powerful force in history” when it comes to the far left’s attempt at “remaking civilization.” “Conservatives are coming together, across a broad spectrum, of enterprises and joining forces to fight what some of us believe to be, potentially, the greatest threat to liberty in history,” Bozell said, noting that tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube are the primary targets. The meeting was the second gathering of the group, and more are being planned. The group plans to meet with Capitol Hill leaders at an upcoming gathering in order to finalize its strategy. Everything from legal action, anti-trust measures, competing platforms, and government regulations are on the table.

Outlook Improves for Colorado River Reservoirs

Winter storms have covered the Rocky Mountains with snow from Wyoming to northern New Mexico, leaving a bounty of runoff that should boost the levels of the Colorado River’s depleted reservoirs this spring and summer. The snow that fell during the past month has pushed the accumulated snowpack across the Upper Colorado River Basin to nearly 140 percent of average. Federal officials now estimate there could be enough snow to narrowly avert a declaration of a shortage at Lake Mead next year, which would hold off water cutbacks in the Southwest for another year. Even with the above-average snowpack, federal water officials and representatives of Western states are looking to finish drought contingency plans, which are designed to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows during the next several years. Water officials in Arizona, California and Nevada have been discussing the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan since 2015. Under the agreement, each of the states would take less water from Lake Mead under a shortage.

Puerto Rico Power Finally Restored

Eighteen months after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, customers on an island off the coast of the U.S. territory finally had their power fully restored Wednesday. However, the electrical grid is still fragile, with two major outages on the main island this week alone. Officials said a cat was responsible for the first outage, which left thousands of people without power in the capital of San Juan on Saturday. Another outage, on Tuesday, was blamed on an iguana that made contact with a 115,000-volt bar, leaving some 100,000 people without power. The power company acknowledged to The Associated Press that the current system, which serves 1.5 million customers, is a patch-up job following the Sept. 20, 2017, hurricane, and that it still needs further repairs and updates.

Smoking Strong Pot Daily Raises Risk of Psychosis

Smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rates. The research, from King’s College London, adds to previous studies that have found links between marijuana and mental health problems, but still does not definitively pinpoint marijuana as the cause. Psychotic disorders – in which people lose touch with reality – are typically triggered by factors including genetics and the environment. But experts say the new study’s findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.

Firearm Deaths of U.S. Children at ‘Epidemic’ Levels

Calling it an “epidemic,” researchers reported Thursday an alarming increase in the number of firearm deaths of school-age children in the United States:  38,942 children from 5 to 18 years old killed over the time period of 1999 to 2017. “It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active-duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms,” said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., the study lead author from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine. He called the epidemic a major clinical, public health and policy challenge, noting that the rate of death in the U.S. is about six to nine times higher than other developed nations. The causes of death in school-age children were 61 percent from assault; 32 percent suicide; 5 percent accidental; and 2 percent undetermined, the study showed.

EU Grants Britain a Delay for Brexit

European Union leaders on Thursday granted the United Kingdom an extension to its departure from the bloc, which had been scheduled for March 29. Britain will be allowed to postpone Brexit until May 22 if Prime Minister Theresa May is able to get British lawmakers to approve her unpopular exit deal with the EU. If she can’t, a shorter delay will be given, until April 12, to “indicate a way forward.” Still, Britain’s Parliament has twice rejected May’s EU deal, and polls show the British public, not just lawmakers, remain deeply divided over leaving the EU.

Economic News

Citing a more modest outlook for the economy, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday held interest rates steady and signaled it did not plan to raise rates at all this year and would bump them up just once in 2020, providing a road map for a sustained period of easy-money policy. “The U.S. economy is in a good place,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference, adding policymakers foresee “a modest slowdown, with overall conditions remaining favorable.”

After a prolonged period during which gasoline prices stayed at relatively low levels, they have started to surge as the calendar moves into spring and toward Memorial Day. The current price of an average gallon of regular gas nationwide is up 35 cents in the past six weeks. The average price of a gallon of regular gas in the U.S. has reached $2.58, which is the highest price since November.

The European Union has hit Google with another big antitrust fine, the third in a series of billion-dollar penalties the US tech giant has incurred for hindering competition. The European Commission on Wednesday ordered Google to pay $1.7 billion for abusing its dominant position in online search advertising. The Commission ordered the company to pay $4.9 billion in July 2018 for unfairly pushing its apps on smartphone users and thwarting competitors. That followed a $2.7 billion fine on Google for using its search engine to steer consumers to its own shopping platform. In contrast, Google profits were nearly $31 billion in 2018.

Middle East

President Donald Trump on Thursday overturned longstanding U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, announcing “it is time” for the U.S. to “fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty” over the region. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and formally annexed the territory in 1981. But that annexation has not been recognized by the international community, which has regarded the Golan Heights as occupied territory and Israeli settlements there as illegal under international law. The announcement hands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a significant foreign policy victory, less than three weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether he should remain in power. The move comes just days before Netanyahu is set to join Trump at the White House and follows weeks during which Netanyahu has renewed his push for the U.S. to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that two Palestinians who threw explosive devices at soldiers in Samaria drew fatal fire from troops. The IDF explained that several explosive devices were hurled at troops securing Jewish worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), not far from the city of Ariel. Joseph’s Tomb remains a popular pilgrimage site for Jews, who require security details to pray at the site and are often attacked by local Arabs, who have killed Israelis there and committed major arson attacks.

Afghanistan

Two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan on Friday, the U.S. and NATO forces said, providing no other details on the combat deaths. The fatalities, which bring to four the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulties in bringing peace to the war-wrecked country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America’s longest. There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts – facing a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also an Islamic State affiliate, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed “caliphate” has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State

A series of airstrikes late Thursday slammed into two pockets of Islamic State fighters trying to cling to the last scraps of land to be part of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate. The strikes followed nearly two days of clearing operations in the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, where hundreds of IS fighters surrendered earlier this week to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are searching tunnels a day after seizing most of the last pocket of land held by Islamic State militants.

North Korea

President Trump has found North Korea to be an unwilling partner on a denuclearization pact, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton. “The North Koreans were unfortunately not willing to do what they needed to do,” Bolton told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y. With the negotiations stalled after two summits, the last of which President Trump had walked away from, the United States is not giving up on its goal to denuclearization the Korean Peninsula. “President Trump wants this threat resolved through negotiations,” Bolton said. “He wants North Korea to be free of nuclear weapons, that’s for sure.” North Korea is withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with South Korea, officials announced Friday. The move comes after the US slapped two Chinese firms with sanctions for doing business with Pyongyang, the first action taken by Washington against North Korea since the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi ended early with no agreement.

Mexico

A government watchdog has released a white paper urging President Trump to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. “Undoubtedly, Mexican drug cartels meet the U.S. government’s criteria for FTO designation,” said a report from report from Judicial Watch, “which requires organizations to be foreign, engage in terrorism or terrorist activity or possess the capability and intent to do so and pose a threat to U.S. nationals or U.S. national security.” “Mexico, unfortunately, has lost control of the cartels,” President Trump said. “They’ve totally lost control of the cartels. Mexico last year had 42,000 deaths — murders — 42,000. It’s considered one of the most unsafe countries in the world.” Trump is considering whether to designate the cartels as terrorist groups

Netherlands

Three people died and five were hurt in a brazen shooting on a tram in a bustling residential neighborhood in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, an assault authorities said was likely terrorism. Authorities launched a sweeping manhunt for the shooter and heavily armed police descended on the city of 350,000 in the central Netherlands known for its canals, Christian monuments and old-town charm. Police released a photo of a 37-year-old Turkey-born man who they called a person “associated with the incident.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the country was deeply shaken by the assault. “There is a mix of disbelief and disgust.”

Somalia

There is credible evidence that U.S. military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties. U.S. Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible. The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.

Weather

Roads and bridges were washed out, fresh water systems were swamped, and rescue operations were in full swing Monday as rivers across a swath of the Midwest rose to record levels following days of heavy rains and snow melt. Rivers have reached historic levels in 41 locations across the Midwest, creating devastating flooding that has killed at least three people, forced thousands of evacuations, breached dams and levees, damaged hundreds of homes and flooded a military base. The death toll from the flooding rose to three when an unidentified man died after refusing to leave his home. Seventy-four cities, 65 counties and four tribal areas in Nebraska declared states of emergency Tuesday. About 200 miles of levees were compromised in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. Midwestern farmers contended with freezing floodwaters and dead livestock in the region’s latest crisis. Officials say flooding could last all spring. Water damage in Nebraska alone is estimated to cost at least $1.3 billion. When factoring in damage to surrounding states, the cost is “inevitably to hit multiple billions,” according to local officials.

More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique a week after Cyclone Idai slammed into the country, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the floodwaters. Mozambique is a long, narrow country with a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) coastline along the Indian Ocean. Idai could prove to be the deadliest storm in generations to hit the southeast African country of 30 million people. The Red Cross said 90% of Beira was damaged or destroyed. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down the airport and cut off access to the city by road. The massive flood is described as an “inland ocean” up to 30 miles wide in places.

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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