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News Briefs for March 19, 2018

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Christian-Based ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Beats New Age ‘Wrinkle in Time’

The faith-based film “I Can Only Imagine” was a surprise hit at the box office over the weekend. The movie tells the story of Bart Millard, the lead singer of Christian rock band MercyMe, and what led him to write the bestselling Christian single of all time: “I Can Only Imagine.” The film earned nearly double its expected box office gross, bringing in $17.1 million across North America. It came in third for the weekend behind the opening of “Tomb Raider” and Marvel’s “Black Panther,” while playing in far fewer theaters. The Christian-themed movie beat out Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” a movie which had all of its original Christian elements removed by the screenwriter. It also beat a new film about a gay teenage romance.

Americans’ Support for Israel Hits Highest Level in Years

A Gallup poll published last Tuesday shows that 64% of the American public sympathize more with Israelis in the ongoing dispute with their neighbors, while only 19% lean toward the Palestinians. This tied 2013 and 1991 for the highest support Israel has ever received in the 30 years that Gallup has run this poll. Democrats’ preference for Israel lagged far behind their counterparts across the aisle in Congress, at 49% versus 87% of Republicans. Support for the Palestinians hasn’t changed much since 1988, the year of the first poll. Then, 15% supported them more than Israel, while the highest backing they received was 20%, back in 2007

Appeals Court Backs Trump, Texas in Sanctuary City Fight

States have the power to punish sanctuary cities within their borders and to force local police and sheriff’s departments to cooperate in turning over illegal immigrants to the federal government for deportation, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in upholding a Texas law. The 3-0 decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks a major victory for President Trump, who has demanded punishment for sanctuary cities that thwart the federal government to protect illegal immigrants. The judges didn’t go that far, but they did say the federal government’s detainer requests, which ask local governments to hold illegal immigrants for pickup, are legal. Known as SB4, the legislation Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed last year requires police to determine the legal status of those they encounter during their duties.

IRS Finds 1.3 Million Cases of Identity Theft by Illegal Immigrants

The Internal Revenue Service in 2011 through 2016 documented more than 1.3 million cases of identity theft perpetrated by illegal aliens whom the IRS had given Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN), which are only given to people who are ineligible to work in the United States or receive Social Security Numbers, according to information published by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). However, in response to inquiries from, the IRS could not say if it had referred even one of these cases for criminal prosecution. TIGTA, which is the inspector general responsible for overseeing the IRS, discovered another approximately 1.2 million cases in 2017 in which an illegal alien working in the United States had filed a tax return reporting wages that had been earned using a Social Security Number that belonged to someone else or was fabricated. Yet the IRS also could not say whether it referred any of these cases for criminal prosecution.

Trump Sanctions Russians for Interfering in 2016 Elections

The Trump administration on Thursday sanctioned 19 Russian individuals and five Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election and engaging in cyber-attacks. The announcement was made by the Department of the Treasury and includes the 13 Russians who were recently indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The sanctions mean all property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. United States citizens are also prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.  The Treasury Department said the sanctions are meant to counter Russia’s destabilizing activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its destructive cyber-attacks. The department cited the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack the White House and the British government have attributed to the Russian military.

Senate Passes Rollback of Banking Rules Enacted after Recession

The Senate on Wednesday passed the biggest loosening of financial regulations since the economic crisis a decade ago, delivering wide bipartisan support for weakening banking rules despite bitter divisions among Democrats. The bill, which passed 67 votes to 31, would free more than two dozen banks from the toughest regulatory scrutiny put in place after the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite President Trump’s promise to do a “big number” on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the new measure leaves key aspects of the earlier law in place. Nonetheless, it amounts to a significant rollback of banking rules aimed at protecting taxpayers from another financial crisis and future bailouts. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the legislation’s passage. “The bill provides much-needed relief from the Dodd-Frank Act for thousands of community banks and credit unions and will spur lending and economic growth without creating risks to the financial system,” she said. Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) said, “Washington is poised to make the same mistake it has made many times before, deregulating giant banks while the economy is cruising, only to set the stage for another financial crisis,”

Students Stage Walkout to Promote Gun Control

Thousands of students across the nation were walking out of classrooms Wednesday to mark one month since the bloody rampage at a Florida high school that shocked the world and fueled a dynamic youth movement demanding an end to gun violence. Students from almost 3,000 schools were marking National Walkout Day, most by leaving their classrooms at 10 a.m. local time to show solidarity for the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In Washington, several hundred students of all ages massed outside the White House, waving signs and shouting “What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”

AG Sessions Announces Gun Control Measures

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that U.S. attorneys will more aggressively enforce the law that makes it a crime for gun buyers to lie on their federal background checks, one of several steps Justice Department officials outlined as part of the Trump administration’s response to last month’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The Justice Department also will increase the presence of law enforcement officers at schools and continue to review the way law enforcement agencies respond to tips from the public, Sessions said.

44 Countries Still Don’t Have a U.S. Ambassador

Forty-four of 188 U.S. embassies and international organizations that still lack an ambassador since President Trump took office. (That number includes six countries for which the U.S. does not exchange a top diplomat). Trump on Sunday condemned Democrats for obstructing his nominations and urged the Senate to move faster. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., responded by slamming Trump for ambassador positions for which nominees haven’t been put forth. Trump does not have a representative in South Korea, which faces nuclear-armed North Korea. He has no envoy in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that helps stabilize the Middle East and counterbalances Iran’s influence. There’s no U.S. ambassador in Turkey, where President Recip Tayyip Erdogan blames the United States for an attempted coup in 2016. Trump has no personal envoy to the European Union as the continent struggles with far-right nationalist movements and Russian aggression. Ambassadors are needed in Germany, Europe’s largest economy; Cuba as it forges a new relationship with the United States, and Egypt, an ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

U.S. the World’s 18th Happiest Country

The World Happiness Report released Wednesday by the United Nations shows that the U.S. ranks 18th out of 156 on the happiness scale. The report ranked each country on six variables — income, life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust and generosity. Finland ranks first, up from fifth last year. Following Finland in the top 10 are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. The same countries over the past two years have been in the top 10 spots. They are characterized by lower wealth inequality, high taxes, good access to healthcare, long life expectancy, low corruption and support for those who need help from the state or communities. The ten least happy countries are Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, Rwanda. Syria, Liberia, Haiti, and Malawi.

Opioid-Exposed Babies at Risk for Developmental Delays

A new study shows that newborns who require treatment for opioid withdrawal are at higher risk than others for delayed language, cognitive and motor skills. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center this week released the study of 87 children who have been treated at its long-term Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Clinic. The study looked at neurodevelopment of 2-year-olds who’d been treated for the syndrome that can occur in newborns who were exposed to opioids in utero. Some of the mothers had taken heroin while pregnant; others were prescribed opioid medication for the addiction. These children also have higher rates of what’s called strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes, than the general population.

America Will Have More Elderly People Than Children by 2035

The U.S. Census Bureau that projects that “Adults 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by the year 2035.” This coming shift in U.S. demographics brings with it some notable implications for U.S. society. The number of elderly Americans will be so high by that time that 1 in every 5 Americans will be at retirement age. Additionally, the death rate will surpass the birth rate. Even though the U.S. population will still continue to grow, the only reason for that growth will be immigration. For the first time in U.S. history, immigration, and not births, will be the main driver of the country’s population growth. Since the number of births isn’t enough to replace those who die, the country will certainly be seeing a drop in caretakers as the population continues to age.

Facebook Facing Data Crisis

What happens to the data you post on Facebook? And who’s responsible for how those personal details are used? Facebook is under intense pressure to answer these questions — and more — after it admitted that a company linked to President Donald Trump’s campaign had accessed and improperly stored a huge trove of its user data. The controversy erupted as UK media and The New York Times reported that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica tried to influence how Americans voted using information gleaned from millions of Facebook profiles. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has done immense damage to the Facebook brand, sources across the company believe. It will now take a Herculean effort to restore public trust in Facebook’s commitment to privacy and data protection, they said. Outside observers think regulation has suddenly become more likely, and yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears missing in action. Facebook makes money by, among other things, harvesting your data and selling it to app developers and advertisers. Preventing those buyers from passing that data to third parties with ulterior motives may ultimately be impossible.

Economic News

President Trump has now amassed his first $1 trillion in debt, crossing that ignominious mark late last week — and analysts said it’s just a taste of what’s to come after the tax-cuts and spending spree of recent months. It’s a major reversal for a president who during the campaign had said given eight years he could eliminate the debt entirely but is instead looking at setting records for red ink, notes the conservative Washington Times. “We are in for a rude awakening,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Her organization calculated that with December’s tax cuts and January’s budget-busting spending deal, Mr. Trump has already signed legislation that will add at least $2.4 trillion to the debt in the next decade and, should Congress make those policies permanent, could add as much as $6 trillion.

Americans spend nearly twice as much on health care as other wealthy countries, but it’s not doing much to improve their health, a new study finds. The United States has the shortest life expectancy and highest infant and maternal mortality rates among the 11 highest-income nations. Steep spending on drugs and doctor’s salaries are among the major drivers of the high cost of health care in the United States, according to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Economics. But, contrary to popular belief, Americans don’t use more health care than residents in other countries. Health care spending accounted for 17.8% of the US economy in 2016, compared to an average of 11.5% in the 11 high-income countries the study examined.

Americans spent $9,400 per capita on health care in 2016, compared to an average of $5,400 in the peer nations, which include Canada, Japan, Australia and several Western European countries. Americans had lower rates of physician visits and spent fewer days in the hospital, though they had some of the highest rates for imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, and some common surgical procedures, such as knee replacements, cataract surgeries and cesarean births. Per capita spending on prescription drugs was more than $1,400, compared to an average of $750 for all nations studied. The average salary for a general practice physician in the United States was more than $218,000, compared to an average of nearly $134,000 in the peer nations. Specialists were paid $316,000, compared to nearly $183,000, while nurses earned more than $74,000, compared to just under $52,000.

A sharp rise in home values last year gave homeowners a strong increase in net worth in the form of home equity. It also helped more than half a million borrowers rise above water on their mortgages. All real estate is, of course, local, and some homeowners saw significantly bigger gains than others, especially those in the Western region of the nation. Homeowners with a mortgage, representing about 63% of all properties, saw their equity increase 12% over the course of last year, according to CoreLogic. That comes to an average of $15,000 per homeowner and a collective gain of $908.4 billion. States like California and Washington saw even higher price growth, so homeowners in those states gained an average of $44,000 and $40,000, respectively. In Louisiana, homeowners saw no growth at all, and in Oklahoma, barely $2,000 in additional equity.

Middle East

Calls for a “Day of Rage” Friday by the Islamist terror militia Hamas were being blamed for a violent weekend which saw three Israelis killed and two wounded in separate terror attacks. A car rammed into soldiers manning a position north of Jerusalem on Friday afternoon, killing Capt. Ziv Daus, 21, and Sgt. Netanel Kahalani, 20 while wounding two of their comrades. The driver was later captured. On Sunday afternoon, Adiel Kolman, 32, a father of four, was killed in a stabbing attack as he left his job at the City of David museum near Jerusalem’s Old City. His attacker was shot dead by nearby police. “This attack makes it clear that the intifada is continuing for the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Hazam Kasam. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Forces ran sweeping security operations in the West Bank over the weekend in response to the terror attacks, confiscating weapons, cash and other contraband and arresting several suspects. The IDF thwarted an attempt by Hamas to renovate a terror tunnel that the army had previously destroyed leading from Gaza into Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Several improvised explosive devices (IED) were detonated adjacent to the Israel-Gaza border fence Thursday morning. No injuries were reported, and IDF tanks returned fire at Hamas targets inside the Strip, including at least one Hamas lookout point. The incident was the latest in a series of incidents along the border fence in recent weeks. Last month, four IDF soldiers were injured, including two seriously, when an IED exploded as sappers checked for suspicious devices.  Two days before that attack, hundreds of Palestinians rioted on the Gaza side of the border fence; IDF officials believe the events served as cover to place the explosives that seriously injured the soldiers.

An assassination attempt on the lives of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and PA General Intelligence Services Chief Majid Faraj occurred last Tuesday morning when they entered the Gaza Strip and a bomb exploded near their motorcade. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said, “Hamas bears full responsibility for the cowardly targeting of the prime minister’s motorcade in Gaza,” despite Hamas’ statement condemning the attack. Hamas took offense, condemning the PA for condemning it and broadly hinting that Israel was responsible for the attack.


Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing U.S. President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad. Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on Jan. 12. It said they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” – which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama – or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.


The fighting in Syria enters its eighth year on Thursday. A conflict that began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime escalated into a full-scale civil war that is now one of this century’s deadliest. Along the way, the Syrian conflict allowed Islamic State extremists to flourish, created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and exacerbated an international power struggle. The numbers speak for themselves: 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to United Nations estimates; more than half of Syria’s 20 million, pre-war population has been displaced; 5.5 million Syrians have fled abroad — 95% of them in just five countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt); 400,000 civilians are trapped in opposition-held suburbs of Syria’s capital Damascus as Assad’s government wages a relentless bombing campaign to retake the area; of Syria’s estimated 10 million children, 8.6 million are in dire need of assistance, up from about a half-million after the first year of war; nearly 6 million children are displaced or living as refugees, and about 2.5 million are out of school; about a third of Syria’s housing and half of its educational and medical facilities have been destroyed, according to a 2017 World Bank report.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seized control on Sunday morning of the city of Afrin, the target of a two-month military operation against Kurdish militias in the enclave in Syria. The takeover dealt a blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-administration there and added to Turkey’s growing footprint in the country. The Syrian rebel forces, which have served as advance troops for the Turkish operation, seemed to have entered the city without a fight, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., withdrew to the surrounding hills. But residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish airstrikes. The seizure of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish city near the Turkish border, came as other Syrian rebel groups appeared close to collapse in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus. Syrian forces have split the enclave into three parts under a blistering barrage of artillery and airstrikes.


Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. The move marks the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War and May said her government will also cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia. She said the use of the nerve agent against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, amounted to an “unlawful use of force” against Britain with chemical weapons. May said that she had spoken to Britain’s international allies including President Trump, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron and that they had agreed to “cooperate closely in responding to this barbaric act.” The Kremlin rejected British claims that it was involved in the poisoning incident. Russia retaliated against Britain on Saturday by expelling 23 British diplomats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin — the country’s longest-serving leader since former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin — scored an easy victory in Sunday’s election allowing him another six-year term. Putin’s re-election was widely expected, and elections officials had pushed hard for a strong turnout to claim an indisputable mandate. Putin has been president or prime minister since December 1999, making him the only leader that a generation of Russians has ever known. Earlier Sunday, there were widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but complaints of voting irregularities will likely do little to undermine Putin. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running against Putin, said he boycotted the election and had urged supporters not to vote because of the absence of any real competition.


Wildfires burned thousands of acres Thursday in Kansas and authorities warned that “extreme, catastrophic” fire conditions could prove disastrous for the region heading into the weekend. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a drought emergency earlier in the week, citing the persistent dry conditions and growing fire hazards. Strong winds and dry conditions fueled dozens of fires Thursday that scorched an estimated 13,000 acres in the Sunflower State. Numerous fires have been burning across Oklahoma fueled by extreme drought, consuming many thousands of acres. Fire crews from around the country are fighting several dozen blazes.

Residents are being allowed to return home after crews fully contained a blaze that ignited Friday on a Colorado Army post. Military officials told the Associated Press that a training exercise was underway at the time the fire sparked but haven’t said whether it caused the blaze at Fort Carson, located south of Colorado Springs. Several homes located off the base in El Paso County were among the structures destroyed in the fire. The blaze scorched five square miles of land.


Erie, Pennsylvania, has already shattered its seasonal snow record of 152.1 inches by more than 3 feet, and now it’s threatening the all-time snowiest winter ever recorded by its snowy neighbor, Buffalo, New York, some 80 miles to the northeast. Through Wednesday, Erie had recorded 191.5 inches of snow this winter season. Buffalo’s snowiest winter on record occurred 41 years ago, when 199.4 inches piled up during the winter of 1976-77.

Winter Storm Skylar left tens of thousands in the dark and a mess to clean up after hammering the Northeast on Tuesday with the third nor’easter in just 11 days. Some areas in the northeast received another two feet of snow. Dozens of vehicles shut down Interstate 71 in northeastern Ohio Tuesday after heavy snowfall triggered a massive pileup of 70 vehicles.

After being hit by the deadly “Beast from the East” earlier this month, Britain was again walloped by heavy snowfall and travel conditions so poor that some drivers were unable to get home Sunday night. More than 80 travelers were stranded along a 64-mile span of A30 that was shut down from Bodmin to Exeter and had to sleep in a nearby school Sunday night. In other parts of the country, crews spent much of the weekend rescuing motorists after they became stranded by the heavy snow. Rail service and flights were also canceled because of the winter storm.

This news brief contributed by Pastor John Jacobsen, author of a number of exciting Christian fiction novels about the End Times (see  You can contact him on Facebook or purchase his books at at:

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