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News Briefs for December 10, 2018

­­­­­­God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. (Psalm 46;1-3)

Praise Reports

President Donald Trump nominated pro-life, conservative lawyer William Barr to the position of attorney general Friday. Barr, who also served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, would succeed former AG Jeff Sessions. His confirmation seems likely in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, though Democrats almost certainly will attack Barr’s opposition to Roe v. Wade. Barr said he did not agree with the infamous abortion case during his Senate confirmation hearing in 1991. He said he thought Roe was wrongly decided, and abortion laws should be left up to the states, the LA Times reported at the time. Barr also said he does not think the right to privacy “extends to abortion.”

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert shared the moment he turned away from atheism and back to Christianity with America Media recently. According to CBN News, Colbert was brought up Catholic, but at some point, he turned away from religion, believing that the God he was raised to believe in was not real. That mindset would be flipped on its head, however, by a gift from a kind stranger one cold day in Chicago. Colbert shared that when he was 22 years old, he was standing on a street corner in Chicago, when a man noticed him and gave him a small, green Gideons New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. Colbert said that he cracked open the frozen pocket bible to the glossary and turned to the first verse on dealing with anxiety. It was Matthew, chapter 5, it was the Sermon, ‘And so I say to you, do not worry, for who among you by worrying can change a single hair on his head or add a cubit to the span of his life?’ And I was absolutely, immediately lightened,” Colbert recalled. Colbert said he stood on the street corner on that cold Chicago day until he read Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount. “My life has never been the same,” Colbert stated.

Disneyland lit up over the weekend as Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt gave an impassioned delivery of the Gospel of Luke during the park’s annual Candlelight Processional. In Chris Pratt style, he also added in a few of his own thoughts on the love of God. The exclusive processional is part of a tradition that has been going strong for decades, dating all the way back to the park’s opening in 1955. The event features a processional of local choirs, a variety of Christmas songs performed by a live orchestra, candle lighting, a bell choir, and a retelling of the original Christmas story, this year told by Christian actor, Chris Pratt. Pratt took time in between songs to quote Scripture and shared a few personal experiences with the audience. He spoke of his own journey in fatherhood and compared it to God’s immense love for His children.

The European Union unanimously adoption of a statement on combating anti-Semitism across the continent. The measure passed by the council’s 28-member states calls on its member states to “adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of anti-Semitism.” It also expresses EU determination to “ensure a future for Jewish people to live with the same sense of security and freedom as all other citizens in the European Union,” while urging E.U. member states that have not yet adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism to endorse it.

A coalition of medical, legal and policy organizations representing more than 30,000 health professionals nationwide praised the Trump administration for its efforts to officially uphold the scientific definition of sex on the federal level. Citing controversial Obama-era impositions of gender ideology into federal policy, the group stated, “Not only is an expanded definition of sex unscientific, but it has also proven harmful.” The American College of Pediatricians, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and the Catholic Medical Association sent the letter, which was also endorsed by 32 legal organizations, policy groups and individuals, including physicians, therapists, academics and bioethicists.

A footnote has been added to a trade agreement being negotiated with Mexico and Canada. In the original agreement, America promised to create laws establishing a protected employment class for those confused about their gender or orientation. Now the footnote states that current U.S. laws fulfill this promise.

Persecution Watch

In Virginia, a high school teacher was fired last week for telling administrators he wouldn’t call a girl a boy. Peter Vlaming, the popular French teacher at West Point High, didn’t set out to become the newest face in the war on religious liberty. But then, he probably never dreamed using the correct pronoun would cost him his teaching career either. “I’m totally happy to use [her] new name,” he said. When it came to other references, he would try “to avoid female pronouns… because I’m not here to provoke…” But he was clear, “I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith.” That wasn’t good enough for the students’ parents — or West Point High’s leadership, who suspended Vlaming in October — and then last night, ended his tenure for good.

Facebook censored an image of Santa Claus kneeling before the Baby Jesus that it had deemed “violent or graphic content.” Facebook had obscured the picture, explaining that the “photo was automatically covered so you can decide if you want to see it.” However, after a report on LifeSiteNews about the matter went viral, Facebook is no longer censoring the image. It remains unclear why the image of Baby Jesus and Santa was deemed by Facebook to be “violent and graphic content.”

There have been some 15 cases where Christian wedding businesses have been taken to court for refusing to serve same-sex couples. The cases were noted in Family Research Council’s new report, “Religious Liberty and the ‘Wedding Vendor’ Cases.” “People of faith increasingly find themselves facing lawsuits (along with censure and hostility) when they refuse to renounce their religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality in living out their faith,” says Alexandra McPhee, director of Religious Freedom Advocacy at Family Research Council. “One need look no further than the wedding industry, where small business owners are being forced to make the choice between violating their faith and freely running their businesses.” In many of the cases, the court has awarded damages to complainants.

A Florida teacher objected when he was told his job would include watching a female middle school student strip and shower inside the boys’ locker room. Shockingly, the school lawyer threatened him saying, “This might cost you your job.” The school requires that he and other P.E. teachers monitor the locker rooms, including those open showers. He let the principal know, “I’m a Christian, and this policy doesn’t work for me in a lot of areas.” Robert has worked for this school district for 24 years without any negative reviews. The school administration tried to make an example of him. They planned to put him on administrative leave until Liberty Counsel took up the case. “At this point, this system’s rogue school board flatly refuses to inform parents of the lack of a privacy forced upon their sons and daughters unprotected,” noted Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

Dozens of Irish doctors walked out of an emergency meeting about abortion Sunday after they said their concerns about conscience protections are being ignored. About 300 doctors attended the meeting by the Irish College of General Practitioners EGM in Dublin to discuss the government’s plans to legalize abortions starting Jan. 1, 2019, NewsTalk reports. Dozens walked out after complaining that leaders have been ramming through the pro-abortion legislation without consulting the medical community or giving it ample time to prepare. Many doctors also fear being forced to help abort unborn babies against their consciences.

Most Transgender Kids Will Change Back When Older, Studies Show

Experts in the field are urging caution for parents of transgender children and teens, citing studies that show minors often change their minds about transitioning when they’re adults. The phenomenon of kids and teens changing their minds about their transgender status once they grow older is called “desistance,” according to KQED, a public radio station in San Francisco. This happens — for example — when a child who is born male identifies as a girl during the child or teens years but then changes back to a male identity when an adult. Studies show that anywhere from 63 to 94 percent of self-identified transgender children and teens change their minds, KQED reported. In 2013, Amsterdam researcher Thomas Steensma released a study showing that 63 percent of transgender teens he studied had desisted by the ages of 15-16. “Problem is, nobody can tell the difference between the kids who will continue to have gender dysphoria and those who will not,” Dr. Jack Drescher, a Columbia University professor, told KQED.

Supreme Court Refused to Consider Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider efforts by Republican-led states to defund Planned Parenthood. Despite its new, more conservative tilt, the court let stand federal appeals court rulings that allowed the reproductive health organization’s patients to contest laws in Louisiana and Kansas that stripped its Medicaid funds. The court’s refusal to hear the case represents a setback for conservative interest groups in many states that have sought aggressive action against Planned Parenthood and abortion providers in general. Three of the court’s conservatives – Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – dissented and said the court should have taken up the issue. Notably, Chief Justice John Roberts and new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not join the dissent.

Terrorism Deaths Down in 2017, But Far-Right Terrorism Rising

Deaths from terrorism declined in 2017 for the third straight year, but far-right extremism was on the rise, according to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index, which found that deaths resulting from terrorism decreased 27% worldwide last year. Ninety-six of the 163 countries tracked by the index saw an improvement; 46 had declines. Sixty-seven countries had at least one death from terrorism in 2017 — a drop from 2016’s record high rate of 79 countries, according to the report. The report was produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace, a nonpartisan think tank that develops metrics to study peace and its economic impact. It defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation” and pulls its data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. There was a sharp decrease (52%) in deaths from terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS. Syria and Iraq which saw the most dramatic declines in numbers of deaths due to terrorism. Iraq saw 5,000 fewer deaths and Syria saw 1,000 fewer.

Migrant Caravan Update

A Honduran woman is believed to be the first member of the migrant caravan to have a child in the United States after scaling the border wall with her family and giving birth within 24 hours. After somehow climbing the border wall, Serrano-Hernandez and her family were met by three border patrol agents who demanded they return to Tijuana. The family refused and asked for asylum. They were taken to the Imperial Beach Station in San Diego County for processing. The move is likely to reignite the debate surrounding “anchor babies” and birthright citizenship. President Trump threatened in October to end birthright citizenship with an executive order, although others believe it would require a constitutional amendment. U.S. inspectors at the main border crossing in San Diego are processing up to about 100 asylum claims every day. Some desperate migrants are crossing the border illegally, avoiding the long processing wait.

Global Carbon Emissions Reach Record High

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing. Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent. That would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. The increase is being driven by nearly 5 percent emissions growth in China and more than 6 percent in India. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5 percent, while emissions by the European Union declined by just under 1 percent.

U.S. & Others Challenge Climate Change Language

The United States joined a controversial proposal by Saudi Arabia and Russia this weekend to weaken a reference to a key report on the severity of global warming, sharpening battle lines at the global climate summit in Poland aimed at gaining consensus over how to combat rising temperatures. Arguments erupted Saturday night before a United Nations working group focused on science and technology, where the United States teamed with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to challenge language that would have welcomed the findings of the landmark report, which said that the world has barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions by nearly half to avoid catastrophic warming. In 2015, as countries of the world negotiated the Paris climate agreement, they asked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a report in 2018 “on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.” It’s this report that has now become a flash point at the talks.

EPA Rolls Back Coal Rule Despite Climate Change Warnings

The Trump administration will reverse an Obama-era coal emissions rule as part of its effort to loosen restrictions on the coal industry, just days after a U.S. government report warned that aggressive action is needed to curb greenhouse gases and ease the impact of global warming. “We are rescinding unfair burdens on America’s energy providers and leveling the playing field so that new energy technologies can be part of America’s future,” Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a former coal industry lobbyist, said Thursday. The rule change would lift restrictions on coal emissions that effectively limited the construction of new plants. The reversal won’t lead to the immediate construction of new coal-fired power plants, but it does send an immediate political signal that the Trump administration is intent on shoring up the coal industry and other energy interests.

  • Extreme weather (including warming) is prophesied in the Bible for the end-times (Daniel 9:26b, Ezekiel 38:22, Luke 21:25, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11), so it’s going to happen regardless of what governments do or not do to combat the elements.

Many Receiving Obamacare’s Medicaid are Ineligible

Louisiana’s legislative auditor wanted to know how the state’s expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was doing, so he picked 100 people who were deemed eligible under the rules. He found that 82 of them made so much money that they shouldn’t have qualified for the benefits they received, reports the Washington Times. Auditor Daryl G. Purpera, who issued his findings last month to little fanfare outside of Louisiana, figured if those statistics hold true for the rest of the expanded Medicaid population in his state, then the losses to ineligible beneficiaries could be as high as $85 million. A federal inspector general’s report this year found 38 out of a sample of 150 Medicaid beneficiaries in California were potentially ineligible – that’s 25%. Taken statewide, that would mean more than 350,000 questionable recipients.

Thousands of Rape Kits Destroyed Inappropriately

The Washington attorney general said Tuesday he will notify every law enforcement agency in his state and direct them to ensure that rape kits are not being inappropriately destroyed. His action comes in response to a CNN investigation into the destruction of rape kits nationwide and on the heels of a Missouri police chief’s apology to victims. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the destruction of kits by a police department in his state “disturbing” and directed state police to contact the agency and ensure it is “complying with state law regarding the handling of rape kits.” The CNN investigation was published last week and revealed that 25 law enforcement agencies in 14 states destroyed rape kits in 400 cases before the statutes of limitations expired or when there was no time limit to prosecute. The number is likely much higher. There are an estimated 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country; CNN surveyed 207. The 400 cases represent and average of 1.93 per agency. If that average holds across all agencies, that would mean 32,850 rape kits have been destroyed.

Ceasefire in Tariff War Between China & U.S. Holding

China’s government said Thursday it will promptly carry out a tariff cease-fire with Washington and is confident they can reach a trade agreement, suggesting Beijing wants to avoid disruptions due to the arrest of a tech executive. Talks during the 90 day period during which President Donald Trump has agreed to suspend U.S. tariff hikes will start by focusing on farm goods, energy and automobiles, said a Ministry of Commerce spokesman, Gao Feng. Asked to confirm whether Beijing promised to buy American goods immediately, Gao said China will “immediately implement the consensus reached by the two sides on farm products, cars and energy.”

That optimistic tone contrasted with Chinese criticism of Canada’s arrest of an executive of technology giant Huawei who a Toronto newspaper said is accused by the United States of trying to violate trade curbs on Iran. Influential state media linked to China’s ruling Communist Party on Friday described Washington as a “despicable rogue” attempting to “stifle” China’s global rise by arranging for the arrest of a top executive at one of its major technology firms. Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies – China’s largest telecommunications equipment maker – was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 as she changed planes. Canada’s Justice Department said Meng, 46, who is the daughter of the company’s founder, was detained due to a United States extradition request. It provided no reason for why Meng was taken into custody but Canadian media reported she was arrested on suspicion of evading U.S. sanctions by selling American-made components to Iran.

Three U.S. Businessmen Arrested for Sales to Iran & Afghanistan

Three Virginia businessmen were charged with attempting to defraud the United States Military by engaging in illegal commerce in Iran and laundering money internationally in an attempt at winning contracts in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Justice, bidders were required to certify that they abide by the Iran Sanctions Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens and companies from engaging in commercial activity in Iran. The company allegedly violated the sanctions by shipping warehouse materials to Iran and then, eventually, Afghanistan. Abul Huda Farouki, 75; his brother Mazen Farouki, 73; and Salah Maarouf, 71, were each charged in an indictment filed in the District of Columbia with two counts of major fraud, one count of conspiracy to violate the restrictions on doing business with Iran, four counts of substantive violations of those restrictions, and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering.

Neo-Nazi Convicted for Murder in Charlottesville for Car Assault

A man with neo-Nazi beliefs who brazenly assaulted counter-protesters at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder. James Alex Fields, Jr. plowed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into the crowd, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer. A jury in Charlottesville deliberated for seven hours before convicting Fields, 21, a Nazi sympathizer from Maumee, Ohio. The jury also found Fields guilty of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three of malicious wounding, and one hit-and-run count. In all, 35 other people were wounded in the Aug. 12, 2017 assault. White nationalist Richard Spencer called the verdict a “miscarriage of justice” and said Fields “was treated as a terrorist from the get-go.” Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a fringe movement loosely mixing white nationalism, anti-Semitism and other far-right extremist views.

UK Claims Facebook Offered Advertisers Special Access to User Data

A key British lawmaker alleged Wednesday that Facebook maintained “whitelisting agreements” that gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data, echoing a key claim from an app developer that has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the social network in a California court. Damian Collins, chairman of a British parliamentary committee that has led a wide-ranging investigation into Facebook and its dealings with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica released documents that long have been sealed in a California court. The committee’s summary says, “Facebook have clearly entered into whitelisting agreements with certain companies, which meant that after the platform changes in 2014/15 they maintained full access to friends data. It is not clear that there was any user consent for this, nor how Facebook decided which companies should be whitelisted or not.”

UK Postpones Brexit Vote Doomed to Fail

Facing almost certain defeat, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday delayed a vote in Parliament to approve her controversial Brexit deal — a move met with immediate scorn in the chamber. It was cast as the act of a “shambolic government” in “complete disarray.” May’s Conservative government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties — as well as dozens of Conservative lawmakers — say they will not back the Brexit deal May and EU leaders agreed upon last month. The vote had been set for Tuesday. It is not clear when it will be rescheduled. Britain voted in 2016 to leave the 28-nation bloc, and invoked Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, triggering a two-year exit process.

Economic News

U.S. employers added a disappointing 155,000 jobs in November as hiring slowed amid worker shortages, the country’s trade fight with China and wild stock market swings. However, tShe number of open jobs rose in October to the second-highest on record, evidence that U.S. employers remain determined to hire despite ongoing trade disputes and rocky financial markets. The unemployment rate was unchanged at a near half-century low of 3.7 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. Monthly job increases have been surprisingly strong this year, averaging more than 200,000, despite a historically low unemployment rate that’s leading to widespread worker shortages. The 10% tariff the Trump administration slapped on $250 billion in Chinese imports has dinged business confidence, analysts say.

America turned into a net oil exporter last week, breaking 75 years of continued dependence on foreign oil. The shift to net exports is the dramatic result of an unprecedented boom in American oil production, with thousands of wells pumping from the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico to the Bakken in North Dakota to the Marcellus in Pennsylvania. Last week’s dramatic shift came as data showed a sharp drop in imports and a jump in exports to a record high. Given the volatility in weekly data, the U.S. will likely remain a small net importer most of the time.

The U.S. Treasury yield curve briefly inverted for the first time in more than a decade last week. The difference between three- and five-year Treasury yields dropped below zero, marking the first portion of the curve to invert in this cycle, a key indicator of an economic slowdown. An inverted yield curve is an interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the same credit quality. It’s important to keep in mind the timeline between inversion and economic slowdowns — it’s not instantaneous. The  yield curve inverted for the first time since August 2005, some 28 months before the recession began. Nevertheless, investors were spooked causing a 799 point drop in the Dow last Tuesday and another 559 Friday.

Americans continued to abandon passenger cars in November, transitioning rapidly into crossovers, SUVs and pickups as automakers increasingly strived to shift their products to the changing driver preferences. Automakers sold slightly fewer vehicles overall in November, compared with last year. Part of the decline may be due to rising interest rates, which are making car payments more expensive. But much of the fall is due to the plunging popularity of passenger cars. Sales of compacts fell 18.4 percent in November and sales of midsize cars declined 15 percent, according to Cox Automotive. But sales of compact SUVs and crossovers rose 11.6 percent and sales of midsize SUVs and crossovers increased 11.7 percent.

A Chinese court has banned the sale and import of most iPhone models in a stunning decision sure to escalate the nasty trade war between the United States and China. The court granted a pair of preliminary injunctions requested by Qualcomm, an American microchip maker. Qualcomm claims that Apple violates two of its patents. The ruling was announced publicly Monday but put into effect last week. Apple accused Qualcomm of playing dirty tricks, by recognizing a patent that had already been invalidated by international courts. Apple said it will pursue a legal response in court.

In December 2017, bitcoin prices hit a record high of just under $20,000. Flash forward to December 2018 and bitcoin is now trading a little below $3,400. That’s a more than 80% plunge. Bitcoin is at a 15-month low. Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency getting hit either. Ripple/XRP, ethereum, stellar, litecoin and numerous other cryptocurrencies have plunged in the past week.

Middle East

A U.S.-sponsored draft resolution that condemned the Palestinian Islamic terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist, garnered unprecedented support at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, while ultimately falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The U.S. attempted to condemn Hamas for firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians and using airborne incendiary devices to commit millions of dollars of damage in arson terror. Before the vote on the resolution, the 193-member world body had narrowly voted to require a two-thirds majority for approval as sought by Arab nations, rather than the simple majority urged by the United States. In the end, the vote on the resolution to condemn Hamas was 87 in favor against 57 opposed, with 33 abstentions — a plurality but below the two-thirds requirement to adopt it. The vote to require a two-thirds majority was much closer, 75-72, with 26 abstentions and several countries changing their votes to “yes” at the last minute.

In the first major flare-up since Operation Northern Shield began last week, the IDF fired on three suspected Hezbollah terrorists who approached the border with Lebanon. The operation on the northern border is intended to destroy cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah that Israel believes were intended to facilitate a full-scale attack on the Galilee region. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said IDF soldiers “shot toward the figures according to orders to open fire. The three escaped. The work continues as planned.” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council demanding that they condemn the Hezbollah terrorist tunnels “in the strongest terms possible” and hold the Lebanese government “responsible for the dangerous destabilization of the region.

Israel warned Lebanon that if Hezbollah doesn’t stop its efforts to produce precision missiles, Israel will strike the terrorist group’s targets within Lebanon, Israeli and American sources told The Wall Street Journal. Israeli sources told the paper that they fear that precision technology Hezbollah is obtaining from Iran will turn their missiles into a far more deadly arsenal. Although Hezbollah maintains an arsenal of between 120,000-130,000 missiles already, according to most estimates, they are not precision-guided. Should they obtain such technology, it would put key Israeli areas at risk.

A pregnant woman was among seven people injured last weekend in a shooting attack outside the community of Ofra, north of Jerusalem. Her condition is critical. The others are in light to moderate condition. “Shots were fired at Israeli civilians standing at a bus station from a passing Palestinian vehicle. IDF troops nearby responded by firing towards the vehicle, which successfully fled the area. The IDF Spokesman announced that in the wake of Sunday night’s shooting attack at the Ofra junction, IDF soldiers, the Border Police and security forces are combing the villages in Samaria and Binyamin in search of the terrorists. Authorities said the mother’s condition will stabilize, but both she and the baby have a long way to go before they are out of danger.

Iran

Diplomats from European countries on Tuesday blasted a recent Iranian missile test as “inconsistent” with a key U.N. Security Council resolution, as they struggle to keep the Iran deal intact amid U.S. pressure to get tough on the Islamic regime. Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile on December 1st, which the U.S. said had the capability to strike parts of Europe and the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile was capable of carrying multiple warheads and was in violation of Security Council Resolution 2231 — which calls on Iran to refrain from “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Resolution 2231 was the Security Council’s enshrinement of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from last May. The other signatories were Germany, U.K., France, China and Russia.

Iran’s capital of Tehran, a city of 13 million people, is sinking – fast. That’s the assessment of geo-scientists Mahdi Motagh and Mahmud Haghshenas Haghighi of the German Research Centre in Potsdam who used satellite data images to monitor subsidence across the region between 20013 and 1017. Their analysis shows that the land is sinking radically due to depletion of groundwater aquifers, as reported in Nature.com. But, given the radical Shiite regime’s regular threats against Israel, some rabbis see the possibility of divine retribution – reminding them of the biblical challenge to Moses in Numbers 16 by Korah, who was swallowed up by the earth along with his followers. The collapse has spread to encompass the city’s airport which is sinking up to 10 inches a year.

France

After more than two weeks of protests that have led to blocked roads, torched cars, looting and chaos in some of Paris’ wealthiest neighborhoods, France’s prime minister suspended Tuesday a fuel-tax hike that triggered the demonstrations. Edouard Philippe temporarily called off plans to increase a diesel tax. Philippe said the suspension of a new tax on fuel would last for six months and that planned increases to gas and electricity costs would also be temporary halted. The move, announced live on TV, is aimed at easing tensions after more than 100 people were injured and 400 arrested in Paris over the weekend. At least three people have died since the unrest started on Nov. 17 and the Arc de Triomphe, one of France’s most revered landmarks, was damaged last weekend. Despite the capitulation, protests have continued. Crowds of yellow-vested protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron and France’s high taxes, tried to converge on the presidential palace Saturday. Some protesters scuffled with police who fired tear gas, amid exceptional security measures aimed at preventing a repeat of last week’s rioting. Blue armored vehicles beneath the Arc de Triomphe and rows of helmeted, thickly protected riot police blocked the demonstrators’ passage down the Champs-Elysees avenue toward the heart of presidential power. The violent protests are a sign of the growing disconnect between the country’s citizens and its elites.

Russia

Russia is “in material breach” of a landmark arms control treaty and the United States will withdraw from the pact in 60 days unless Russia comes back into compliance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday. Pompeo announced the 60-day window at a NATO meeting in Brussels, calling Russia’s actions part of a “larger pattern of lawlessness.” The INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, bars the U.S. and Russia from deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 and 3,400 miles. The U.S. has long accused Russia of violating the pact – stretching back to the Obama administration. Russia has denied it’s violating the treaty.  European countries warned that the U.S. withdrawal would spark a new arms race and leave them vulnerable to Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of an arms race if the U.S. follows through on its threat to back out of the INF treaty.

China

Millions of Chinese nationals have been blocked from booking flights or trains as Beijing seeks to implement its controversial “social credit” system, which allows the government to closely monitor and judge each of its 1.3 billion citizens based on their behavior and activity. The system will be used to reward or punish people and organizations for “trustworthiness” across a range of measures. Scheduled for full implementation by 2020, the social credit system has already blacklisted more than 15 million Chinese residents from travel. This system of surveillance and governance uses a social scoring system based on the state’s perceived trustworthiness of the individual. Not only are social media and financial accounts tied into a person’s “score” – much like a credit score number – but also friends and associates are compelled to distance themselves from an offending person, otherwise, their score can be dropped too.

Jamaica

In the wake of a Free Press investigation that found sexual assaults of tourists are a long-standing and unchecked problem in Jamaica, where an estimated one American is raped a month according to State Department statistics. Multiple victims have come forward with stories about cover-ups, confidentiality agreements and payoffs by resorts looking to protect their reputations and revenue. Over the last several years, Jamaican resorts have silenced multiple sexual assault victims, discouraging them from calling the police or pressing charges, downplaying their fears and offering free hotel stays or cash refunds in exchange for a promise not to sue or tell anyone what happened.

Weather

The melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheet has now accelerated, scientists announced Wednesday, and shows no signs of slowing down, according to a new study. “Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has gone into overdrive,” said Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University and lead author of the study. “Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three and a half centuries, if not thousands of years,” he said. Ice loss from Greenland is the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise, which is predicted to lead to inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities around the world over the next several decades and centuries. At the moment, conservative estimates of global sea level rise predict an additional half a meter or more by the end of the century.

Heavy rain in California last Thursday killed at least one person, trapped people in their cars in San Diego and triggered several mudslides that forced the closure of numerous roadways. In Orange County, residents in Trabuco Canyon were under mandatory evacuations Thursday because of a high mudslide risk at the Holy Fire burn scar. In Riverside County, residents in several zones were ordered to evacuate near Lake Elsinore because of burn scars left behind by the same wildfire. A Southwest Airlines plane skidded off a wet runway Thursday morning at Hollywood Burbank Airport north of Los Angeles. No injuries were reported. Heavy snow in the higher elevations forced the closure of a major highway, I-5.

Wide swaths of the Carolinas and parts of Georgia woke up to power outages Sunday morning as Winter Storm Diego continued to dump snow and ice across the Southeast. More than 148,000 customers had no electricity in North Carolina, nearly 78,000 were in the dark in South Carolina, 26,000 in northeast Georgia, and almost 18,000 in Tennessee. More than 1,400 flights were canceled on Sunday. More than 250,000 customers remained without power Monday after On Sunday, the storm killed at least two people in North Carolina and stranded drivers for hours on a Virginia interstate. Authorities are urging residents to remain home on Monday as the storm continues to dump paralyzing snow, sleet or freezing rain across North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The warmer side of Diego brought heavy rainfall, strong winds and thunderstorms to many parts of the Southeast over the weekend. In Florida, an EF1 tornado caused minor damage in Pasco County on Sunday morning. Heavy rainfall caused street flooding in Mobile, Alabama.

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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