Thursday, October 18, 2018

Treasury Leaker Arrested

Federal prosecutors say a high-ranking Treasury Department official has been arrested in connection with information leaked to a reporter. The information being passed along to an unnamed reporter contained details of suspicious activity reported by banks about Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, suspected Russian spy Maria Butina and the Russian embassy.

Law enforcement officials say that Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior advisor at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has been arrested and charged with leaking confidential banking records. The Washington Post reports that Edwards, who lives near Richmond, was arrested with a flash drive that “appear to contain thousands of SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports), along with other highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran and the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” per the complaint.

The flash drive reportedly contained photos of as many as 24,000 SARs that were arranged into folders. The majority of the reports were in a folder named, “Debacle-Operation-CF.” Subfolders were assigned names such as “Debacle/Emails/Asshat.” The complaint notes drily that “Edwards is not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names.”

Suspicious Activity Reports are filed by banks when they spot transactions that could be illegal. The reports “are not public documents, and it is an independent federal crime to disclose them outside of one’s official duties,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. Banks filed about 2 million SARs in 2017.

Edwards denied wrongdoing when initially questioned by the FBI and then claimed that the documents were related to a whistleblower case that she had filed. When presented with digital evidence that the FBI had obtained from her phone that included hundreds of text messages with a reporter, she confessed that “on numerous occasions, she accessed SARs on her computer, photographed them, and sent the photographs to Reporter-1” using an encrypted phone app. The reporter was not identified or arrested but has been traced by media outlets to BuzzFeed.

The Post also reports that an associate director of FinCEN who is Edwards’ has also been investigated by the FBI. The boss, identified a co-conspirator in the complaint, has not yet been arrested or charged.

Edwards is being charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of SARs and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A Treasury spokesman said that Edwards has been placed on administrative leave.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. called Edwards’ actions a breach of the public trust.  “In her position, Edwards was entrusted with sensitive government information,” he said.   “Edwards violated that trust when she made several unauthorized disclosures to the media.  Today's action demonstrates that those who fail to protect the integrity of government information will be rightfully held accountable for their behavior.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Mitch McConnell Is Right About Social Security

Truth is something that we are not used to hearing in the current political climate so it can come as a bit of a shock when a politician blurts out a harsh dose of reality. That was the case yesterday when Mitch McConnell confronted the American people with the bitter fact that the deficit is too large and the only way to cut it is by slashing the sacred cows of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem, McConnell told Bloomberg. “It’s a bipartisan problem. Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

While it is not solely a Republican problem, the GOP has done little in the way of deficit reduction recently. This week the Treasury Department revealed that the deficit grew to $779 billion, its highest level since shortly after the Tea Party revolution. After trimming budgets during the Obama Administration, the Republican Congress enacted tax reform that stimulated the economy but slashed corporate tax revenues. At the same time, spending increased due to a larger military budget as well as increased interest payments on the national debt and increased Social Security spending.

The four percent increase in Social Security spending represents a major part of America’s debt problem. While it is tempting to blame foreign aid, military waste, welfare or a number of other programs for America’s mounting debt, the big three entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) together make up a whopping 46 percent of the federal budget per the CBO. The biggest of the big three is Social Security at 23 percent of federal spending.

The entitlement problem is so big that it really doesn’t matter how much cutting we do in other parts of the budget if we don’t reform entitlements. For example, the entire defense budget is only 14 percent of federal spending. The sum total of all foreign aid is only 1.2 percent of the federal budget.

The entitlement programs are at a crisis stage. The Social Security trustee report predicts that in only four years Social Security will begin to pay out more than it takes in. If nothing is done, only 16 years from now in 2034 the Social Security trust fund will be bankrupt.

While McConnell’s truth-telling is a rare act of political courage, it is unlikely that Social Security and other entitlements will be reformed soon. The majority leader’s timing in his truth-telling is less than opportune. Midterm elections are only three weeks away and the Democrats undoubtedly have a pushing-granny-off-the-cliff ad ready to go, just waiting to insert the name of anyone who touches the third rail of American politics.

The truth is that not even conservative voters really want to reform Social Security. Many conservatives have bought into the lie that the Social Security tax that comes out of their paychecks is a contribution that goes into their account. In reality, involuntary Social Security “contributions” go into a trust fund, per the Social Security Administration, from which benefits are paid from the trust fund and the excess “must be invested, on a daily basis, in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest by the Federal government.” This is another way of saying that the Social Security benefits are paid from current contributions. Any funds left over are loaned to the federal government, which must pay them back with interest.

The plan of using current Social Security taxes to pay current retirees worked well at first. But the architects of Social Security did not foresee the Baby Boom. Now, as Baby Boomers retire in droves, fewer workers are being asked to support more and more retirees. There are only two options to save Social Security: Cut benefits or increase taxes.

Voters seem to be of two minds about Social Security. On one hand, many believe that Social Security is a socialist Ponzi scheme, redistributing wealth from workers to retirees. Nevertheless, the voters also become militant at the very suggestion that benefits might be cut and that they could lose some of their “contributions.”

Even though there is no individual account containing their Social Security savings, American workers have been promised that their taxes will go to fund their retirement. It would be unconscionable for the government to break this promise to those in or near retirement. That is why Republican plans to reform the entitlements would preserve the status quo for retirees and older workers while giving younger workers the option to take part in a plan that has a better chance of being there when they retire.

Mitch McConnell gets credit for facing the tough problem that is America’s entitlement crisis. The majority leader realizes that the deficit crisis cannot be solved without reforming the sacred cow entitlement programs. Unfortunately, admitting that there is a problem is not the same as being able to solve it.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stormy Daniels' Suit Dropped Like Discarded Stripper Outfit

In a metaphorically appropriate ruling yesterday, porn star Stormy Daniels saw her legal suit hit the floor like a discarded stripper’s costume. A federal judge not only dismissed Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against Trump, but he is also requiring the adult actress and one-time alleged Trump paramour to pay the president’s legal fees in the case.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had filed suit against the president after he tweeted last April that Daniels’ story about being intimidated by an unknown assailant was a “con job.” Prior to the 2016 election, Daniels had threatened to go public about her sexual exploits with the married Mr. Trump and later claimed that Team Trump had sent the man to silence her.

Federal District Judge James Otero wrote in his decision dismissing the case that “the tweet in question constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.” The decision also stipulates that Daniels must pay the president’s legal fees in the case.

In a statement to CNN, Trump lawyer Charles Harder gloated, “No amount of spin or commentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today's ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels.” Harder said that the attorney fees owed by Daniels would be determined later.

A second lawsuit between Daniels and the president is still pending and is not affected by yesterday’s ruling. The second case involves both President Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen and stems from the $130,000 payment that Trump made to Daniels as part of their nondisclosure agreement. The second suit alleges that the NDA is not valid because Trump did not personally sign the contract.

On Twitter, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti blasted the statement by Harder and called the NDA lawsuit “the main case… due to its allegations of conduct that constitutes a federal crime.” Avenatti said that Trump would owe Daniels “attorneys’ fees and costs in connection with the NDA case that will far exceed any fees or costs awarded in the defamation action.”

Legal scholar Eugene Volokh examined the NDA last March after Daniels filed suit and attempted to clear the murky waters of the agreement. Per Volokh, the law may not require Trump’s signature to make the agreement valid, but there are other issues that may invalidate the contract including the fact that since Trump is now president restraining the speech of an individual may represent a violation of the First Amendment.

But Trump’s legal team may have rendered the NDA lawsuit moot. Last month, Trump agreed not to enforce the NDA or sue Daniels for violating its terms. That leaves the possibility that Daniels and Avenatti may pursue the case in hopes of pinning campaign finance violations on Donald Trump or of winning legal fees in the case.  Michael Cohen has already pled guilty to campaign finance violations related to the payoff to Daniels.

For now, Team Trump can celebrate its “total victory” and some vindication in the weeks ahead of the midterm elections. The second lawsuit and Mr. Avenatti’s presidential aspirations will be put to the test later.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Deficit Reaches Highest Level In Six Years

The economy boomed in the three quarters that followed last year’s Republican tax reform, but economic news has become more mixed of late with a topsy-turvy stock market and Mr. Trump’s tariff war beginning to affect bottom lines and employment. Now comes more news about the deficit that should rankle any fiscal conservatives who remain in Congress or the country at large.

The fiscal year for the US government ended in September and the figures on the federal budget deficit are not good. In fact, even though the US economy is booming, the deficit is the largest deficit run by the government in six years. The deficit for the 2018 fiscal year was $779 billion, a 17 percent increase over the $666 billion deficit in fiscal 2017. The last time the deficit was higher was in 2012 when Barack Obama presided over a deficit of more than a trillion dollars.

The deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it earns. When the federal government spends more than it receives in revenues, as it has every year since 1960 (with the exception of 1998), it must borrow the difference. Each annual deficit is added to the mountain of federal debt which currently stands at more than $21 trillion.

Democrats were quick to blame tax reform for the exploding deficit. A deficit of this magnitude in an economy this strong is historically unprecedented,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Democratic administration of President Obama and an economic policy professor at Harvard University, told the Wall Street Journal. “Undertaking permanent fiscal stimulus [through tax cuts] at this stage of the economic expansion is contrary to all sound tenets of economic policy.”

According to Treasury Department statistics, flat federal revenues were part of the deficit problem. Total federal receipts were $3.329 trillion in 2018 compared with $3.316 trillion in 2017. FY 2018 included three months – October, November and December 2017 – at higher tax rates. This means that the 2019 revenue picture looks even worse.

Under tax reform, withholding was lowered in February for individual taxpayers. Despite this, tax receipts from individuals increased by one percent. Tax payments by businesses fell more than 30 percent for the year, however.

Flat revenue was not the only contributor to the rising deficit. Federal spending also increased. Total outlays for 2018 were $4.108 trillion compared to $3.981 trillion in 2017. The spending increases were driven by rising interest costs paid on a greater amount of federal debt as well as increased military spending, which rose by six percent, and Social Security spending which increased by four percent.

Republicans argue that the tax reform is fueling economic growth, which will eventually lead to higher tax revenues. Nevertheless, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, admits that spending and the deficit are big problems.

“The deficit is absolutely higher than anyone would like,” Hassett told Bloomberg last week. “As you watch our next budget come out -- and you’ll start to see things in the next few weeks -- then you’ll see a much more aggressive stance” on spending issues.

For the past half-century, the only combination that resulted in lower deficits was when a Republican Congress put the brakes on spending by a Democrat president. The much-maligned John Boehner led the Republican House to cut the deficit in real dollars between 2012 and 2015 thanks to the sequestration. Interestingly, once Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in the 2014 elections, both spending and the deficit again started to climb. The same combination of Republican Congress and Democrat president yielded the last budget surplus in 1998.

It is perhaps ironic that the Republican deficit hawks would preside over a blowout in the deficit. It is unsurprising, however. Historically, the only thing the parties have been able to agree on is borrowing and spending at ever higher levels and the problem seems to get worse when one party controls both Congress and the White House.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the deficit problem seems unlikely to change any time soon. Unless federal revenues can be increased or spending can be cut, the 2019 federal deficit is forecast to be on the wrong side of a trillion dollars once again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Portland Mayor's Weakness Fuels Violence

Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, has lost control. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Wheeler has ceded control of his city to Antifa with predictable results.

Portland is normally a hotbed of liberalism, but the city has boiled over in recent weeks. The trouble started with the police shooting of Patrick Kimmons on September 30. In the days after Kimmons’ death, Antifa members rallied to Portland to protest. On October 14, Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group with a history of provocative rallies, staged a counter-demonstration that led to violent clashes between the rival groups. Critics charge that Mayor Wheeler contributed to the violence by ordering police to stand down.  

In the Washington Times, Wheeler said, “I was appalled by what I saw in the video, but I support the Portland Police Bureau’s decision not to intervene. This whole incident will be investigated.”

The video that Wheeler referred to was one of several taken by Andy Ngo and posted to Twitter. It showed black-clad Antifa members directing traffic in an intersection and attacking cars while Portland police looked on. The militants reportedly broke the window of a Lexus driven by a 74-year-old man who did not follow their directions.

“This is the kind of street anarchy that routinely happens where I live,” Ngo said.

The Portland violence resembles the Charlottesville rioting from last year. After Antifa descended on the city, right-wing activists staged a “flash march for law and order,” led by Joey Gibson, a former Republican Senate candidate. Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group included members of the Proud Boys, an alt-right group of brawlers founded in 2016. Like Charlottesville, when police stood down, the two groups mixed with explosive results. Proud Boys were also involved in a New York City clash over the weekend.

Oregon Live reported that participants in the street fighting carried bear spray, hard knuckle gloves, knives and firearms. There were no arrests, but riot police reported intervened to stop at least one skirmish by firing pepper balls at the crowd.  

The mayor argued that he would have been criticized no matter how he had handled the Portland mobs. “This is the story of Goldilocks and the two bears. The porridge is either too hot or it’s too cold,” Mr. Wheeler told reporters. “At any given moment in this city, the police are criticized for being heavy-handed and intervening too quickly, or they’re being criticized for being standoffish and not intervening quickly enough.”

The best solution would seem to have been to uphold the law. When two opposing mobs, neither with a permit for a demonstration, are street fighting in downtown Portland, destroying property and endangering citizens, it is the responsibility of the city government and police to take charge of the situation. Mayor Wheeler’s failure to exercise his authority to protect the city directly contributing to the rioting. It was Mr. Wheeler’s initial lack of response to Antifa that led Patriot Prayer to launch their counter-protest.

Portland is a liberal city and Mr. Wheeler was probably concerned that cracking down on Antifa would hurt his political career. Many of the Antifa protesters and their supporters are likely Portland voters who would exact their revenge on Mr. Wheeler at the ballot box. Still, what the country needs desperately at this moment is an act of political courage. Elected officials need to do their jobs and uphold the law, regardless of the consequences and regardless of the political affiliation of the rioters.

The scene in Portland was reminiscent of street brawling between German communists and Nazis in the 1920s. The comparison is especially apt since one of Mr. Ngo’s photos shows the Antifa radicals carrying a Soviet flag. In Weimar Germany, street brawling by party hooligans helped to undermine the authority of the unpopular government.

It isn’t a question of which group is right and which is wrong. Both are operating outside the law and looking for a fight. Allowing paramilitary fighters free rein delegitimizes the government and strengthens radicals of both sides. The city government should be conducting mass arrests of anyone involved in the street fighting and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. If the city government cannot control the situation, they should request assistance from the National Guard.

Mayor Wheeler’s lack of response to the violence in Portland is a show of weakness that will only encourage both groups to further violence. Both sides are undermining the authority of the government and contributing to the general atmosphere of anger and fear that seems to permeate American politics. It is up to civic leaders like Mayor Wheeler to earn their pay and secure their cities.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, October 15, 2018

Why Price Gouging Can Be A Good Thing

In the wake of storms like Hurricane Michael, there are often stories of people who flock into the area carrying loads of supplies such as food, clothes, bleach, generators, fuel and batteries. Often these people are on missions of charity, but others are entrepreneurs who truck in provisions to make a quick buck. Although these profiteers are easy targets for scorn, they do serve a useful purpose for the storm-ravaged communities.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, I lived in a small town on the outskirts of the city. While my house was spared serious storm and flood damage, many others in my community were not so lucky. Flooding was extensive and many homes were damaged or destroyed. Even for those who didn’t lose their homes, there were widespread power outages as well as shortages of gasoline and other supplies. When nearly every road is closed, it can be difficult or impossible for stores to get new stocks of food and fuel.

In the wake of the 2016 storm, my family and I volunteered at a FEMA shelter operated by several local churches. We received some supplies from FEMA and the Red Cross, but the majority of the relief items that we received were from individuals and groups around the country. In particular, churches provided truckload after truckload of food and clothes for our local storm victims.

The way the shelter operated was that we would take relief supplies in through the back door and give them away through the front. Donations were unloaded and sorted into categories. We would then use the items to make up donation boxes that were given away. At our shelter, we gave away most supplies to anyone who wanted them, no questions asked.

While this was altruistic and a service to the community, it also made abuse easy. Many locals brought donations to the shelter, but we also noticed some people who would show up every day to pick up food and other items. In some cases, we suspected that they were “shopping” rather than picking up what they needed to survive.

The problem was that when items are given away free, it creates an abnormally high demand. People who might not really need the food would be tempted to get some just because it was free for the taking.

This problem is illustrated by the need for bleach after the hurricane-related floods. In a hot, humid climate like Houston, mold grows quickly. If you have a house that is wet from floodwaters, you need bleach to kill mold in the wet areas before it spreads to other parts of the house. Bleach was in high demand after Harvey.

When shipments of bleach arrived at the shelter, they went quickly. We limited the distribution of bleach, as well as other hard to find items like tarps, to one per family, but there is the possibility that some of these items went to people who didn’t really need them. While charging storm victims for bleach would have seemed cruel, it would also have helped to ensure that the supplies went to the people who needed them most.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Duracell and other companies have joined relief organizations in shipping truckloads of supplies into affected regions, but with hundreds of thousands of people in storm-damaged areas, how can they make sure that the supplies get to the people who need them? When Duracell gives away batteries, they might well be handing them out to people who have a stockpile of batteries at home. Some might have generators or still have electric service at their home.

There is definitely a place for charity, but there is also a place for the entrepreneurs that people call price gougers. If storm victims can’t find bleach or batteries at a shelter or if the local stores are out of generators, they might be able to get these items from the entrepreneurs who drive in motivated by profits.

Supply and demand are elastic in the wake of a natural disaster. The demand for generators and batteries increases dramatically when the power goes out, especially when it may be out for weeks as one of my friends in Florida expects. If the price doesn’t go up, people will stock up on supplies on the chance that they may need them. In a post-hurricane situation, who knows when the supplies will be available again?

The flip side is that if the price is bid up, buyers who don’t really need the items won’t buy them. If a pack of batteries that generally costs $5 is selling for $20 after a storm, speculators will exit the market and only people that really need batteries will purchase them. There is also an incentive not to waste batteries if you just paid $20 for them.

Natural disasters introduce scarcity and the way that markets deal with scarcity is to adjust prices. Allowing prices to rise after storms seems cruel and selfish, but it helps to ensure that the people who really need supplies are the ones who get them. When prices are not allowed to adjust, shortages often result. Low prices are worthless if there are no products to buy.

God bless the people and the companies like Duracell that are helping hurricane victims, but we should also be thankful for the price gougers. They serve an important role in distributing relief items, but they had better have a thick skin.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Why I Believe In The God Of The Bible

Earlier this year, I had cancer. Thankfully, it was only a stage one melanoma that was easily removed, but to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the possibility of death concentrates the mind wonderfully. Some of the things that my mind concentrated on were God, the afterlife and whether my own religious beliefs reflected the true path to heaven.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and at times it has occurred to me that, for most of us, our religious beliefs are somewhat hereditary. We are Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists because we were raised in families and communities that followed those traditions. For something as important as the final destination of our immortal souls, we should probably look beyond what our family and neighbors believe and seek out the objective truth.

I’m a rational and logical person. Generally, when making decisions and forming opinions, I look for objective facts. Religion is no different. If we base our religious beliefs solely on subjective feelings and emotions, then we can’t be sure that we have the truth. Adherents of all religions feel that they have the truth, but they can’t all be right.

Investigating God and religion is actually a two-stage process. The first question is whether God and the spirit world exists at all. When that question is answered in the affirmative, the second question is which of the myriad religions comes closest to accurately reflecting the true message that God has given us. In my case, I’ve had several incidents in my life that proved the existence of the spirit world beyond my doubt so the question was whether Christianity truly represented God’s plan.

Determining whether writings and beliefs about something as intangible as spirits are true can be difficult, but the Bible actually contains some good and objective advice on how this can be accomplished. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 says, “If the word [of a prophet] does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken.” It turns out that determining truth is actually pretty easy. Just look to seek if prophecies match reality.

Objective research should include listening to both sides of an argument as well as considering alternatives. Objectively, religious claims cannot be used to prove themselves. External, impartial evidence should be used to corroborate religious claims. Not every statement made by religious texts is verifiable, but many are. Differences in language and points of view between the ancient writers and modern readers should be considered as we do so.

For example, there are several statements in the Quran that are at odds with modern science. The Quran claims that the earth is flat and that semen “comes out from between the backbone and the ribs.” The Quran also claims that there are seven planets. Muslim apologists have explanations for these passages, but these claims seem to be irrefutably wrong. Such mistakes seem inconsistent with a book that Muslims believe “exists today in the precise form and content in which it was originally revealed.” Likewise, the historical claims made in the Book Of Mormon fail to match archaeological fact.

With respect to prophetic claims, a list of fulfilled prophecies from the Quran seems very vague and open to interpretation. Another fulfilled prophecy, a great fire “in the land of the Hijaz which will illuminate the necks of the camels in Busra,” occurred some 640 years after Mohammed’s death, but is not actually recorded in the Quran.

In contrast, many of the historical claims of the Bible can be verified by archaeology. “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller is a classic text that describes much of the scientific evidence for the historical books of the Old Testament. King David, long thought by many to be a myth, is referenced in an inscription commemorating the victories of an Aramean king that was discovered in 1993. “Patterns of Evidence,” a 2015 documentary, provides plausible evidence for the Exodus by postulating that scholars were looking at the wrong dates in history.

When it comes to science, there are many claims that the Bible is in error. A representative list can be found here on Rational Wiki. Unlike Islam’s scientific claims, most of the problems have simple solutions. Some purported Biblical errors are due to a literal reading of passages that weren’t intended to be taken literally. For example, in Matthew 13:31-21, Jesus is not making the claim that there are no seeds physically smaller than a mustard seed, but that is the message that some critics get from the verse. Another example is Leviticus 11:20-23 in which the Biblical description of insects differs from the modern scientific definition. This problem is easily resolved by considering the differences in language between the Bible’s writers, later translators and modern readers. Deuteronomy 20:16-18 is held up as an error because DNA studies show that ancient Canaanites survived the Israelite invasion. The Deuteronomy verse shows that the Israelites were commanded to kill the Canaanites, but other verses, such as Judges 3:5-8 show that they failed to do so.

A claim that the Bible violates mathematic law is also dependent on assumptions by the reader. Critics claim that the large bowl described in 1 Kings 7:23-26 could not have existed because the measurements don’t fit the mathematic equation for circumference. If the Bible is right, they claim, pi would have to equal 3.0 instead of 3.14. Leaving aside rounding error and the lack of a standard measurement, the critics fail to note that the description of the brim of the bowl was “a handbreadth thick.” The equation could be thrown off by the difference between the inner and outer dimensions of the brim.

With respect to prophecy, the Bible makes numerous specific prophecies that can be tested against historical records for accuracy. Rational Wiki also provides a list of Biblical prophecies that the authors claim were in error. As even the compilers of the list acknowledge, some of these prophecies were contingent on the behavior of the recipients of the message. The classic example is Jonah’s prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. The prophecy fulfilled its intended purpose when the people of Nineveh repented and so the prophecy was never fulfilled. Similarly, some prophecies are end-time prophecies that have not been fulfilled yet.

A more difficult case is the prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26. Critics say that the destruction of Tyre never happened and that the city continues to exist today on an island in contradiction to the prophecy. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that the city of Tyre was primarily a mainland city in ancient days. Nebuchadnezzar apparently destroyed the mainland portion of the city while some survivors escaped to the island, which was later destroyed by Alexander the Great. One view is that fulfillment of the prophecy was begun by Nebuchadnezzar and completed by Alexander. Interestingly, verse 12 sounds like a very specific description of how Alexander used the rubble of the destroyed city to build a causeway to the island and finish Tyre’s destruction.

A few chapters later, in Ezekiel 29:17-20, the prophet talks about the destruction of Tyre as if it has already happened. In the same passage, he says that Nebuchadnezzar will defeat Egypt. This happened in 605 BC at the Battle of Carchemish.  Critics argue that Babylon never completely conquered Egypt, but the prophecy merely says that Nebuchadnezzar would plunder his enemy. Two other passages, Ezekiel 30 and Isaiah 19 are also cited as prophecies that were erroneous. The opinion of many theologians is that these are end-time prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled.

To me, one of the most compelling proofs of the Bible is what Rabbi Jonathan Cahn calls “the anti-witness” in his devotional book, “The Book of Mysteries.” Cahn points out that if the biblical claim that the Jews are God’s chosen people is not true, there would be no reason for the age-old persecution of Jews. Instead, we find that Jews not only have been the subject of attempts at racial extermination throughout history but that they have survived as a genetically and culturally distinct group more than 2,000 years after Judah ceased to exist as an independent kingdom.

A friend recently pointed out to me the historical evidence that God used hostile nations to judge the Jews, but then judged those nations in turn because they attacked his chosen nation. The pattern repeats many times. Egypt, a longtime enemy of ancient Israel, was conquered several times by Assyria, Persia and finally Rome in 31 BC. After the death of Solomon, ancient Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria around 740 BC. Assyria became the conquered less than 150 years later in 612 BC at the hands of Medo-Persians and Babylonians. Judah was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. Only 50 years later in 539 BC, Babylon fell to the Persians led by Cyrus the Great. In AD 70, Rome recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple at the culmination of the First Jewish Revolt. Nine years later, Mt. Vesuvius erupted during a festival celebrating Vulcan, the god of fire. This eruption, which destroyed Pompeii and several other cities, still ranks as one of the worst volcanic disasters in history. In 1945, Germany’s extermination of Jews was interrupted by the country’s total defeat at the hands of the Allies. Since World War II, the modern state of Israel is undefeated even against numerically superior Arab forces. Clearly, making war on the Jews can be harmful to your health.

When it comes to determining the truth and validity of the Bible, there is an added complexity. The Bible is not one book but is actually an anthology that is broken into two parts: The Old and New Testaments. While many of the details of the Old Testament can be verified through archaeology, the New Testament largely consists of theological books and the story of Yeshua, a Jewish carpenter better known to the world as Jesus. These themes do not lend themselves to archaeological fact-checking.

Accordingly, some claim today that Jesus never existed and is only a fictional character. This point is easily disproved through ancient writings that reference Jesus as a real person. Validating Jesus’s claims of divinity are more difficult to prove, however.

Even though the New Testament books weren’t written down until long after the death (and alleged resurrection of Jesus), there is evidence that Paul’s letters contain early church creeds that confirm that the message of the books written later was true to the story of Jesus. The evidence is that the content of the New Testament has been unchanged since the first century.

Skeptics also dispute the gospel claims about the death and resurrection of Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith. The details of gospel story have been thoroughly investigated and found plausible by such one-time skeptics as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace. I encourage any seeker to read their answers to skeptical charges that the gospel accounts are unreliable.

No matter how much evidence there is, in the final analysis there is no definitive proof for spiritual matters. Ultimately, everyone has to make a decision as to what they believe and how to react to that belief. Belief itself is not enough. James 2:19 points out that even the demons believe in God. Forgiveness and salvation only come when we add submission to God’s authority to our belief (Romans 10:9).

Even though I cannot offer conclusive proof that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the only way to heaven, I have made the choice to believe and accept that truth. This faith is not a blind faith. It’s based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Originally published on The Resurgent