LISTEN: Biden, Cuomo, de Blasio speak at funeral for slain NY cop; Most Americans optimistic about 2015 (UCNN Weekend Report #93)

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1. According to the New York Daily News, the devastated family of Officer Rafael Ramos mourned amid a sea of blue Saturday at a jam-packed funeral service for the NYPD hero killed one week ago in a Brooklyn ambush. The slain cop was eulogized by Vice President Biden, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio — who extended an olive branch to the thousands of cops inside and outside the Queens church where Ramos had long served as an usher. An emotional de Blasio, describing the NYPD as “the finest police force in this country,” first offered his sympathy to the grieving Ramos family before addressing the officer’s colleagues. Biden spoke first, eulogizing the martyred cop as a man of faith who joined the NYPD “for all the right reasons.” Many others in the audience held back tears or wiped them away with tissues during the 90-minute service. A police honor guard carried Ramos’s casket from the church into the eerily-quiet street.

2. According to the Associated Press, Americans are closing out 2014 on an optimistic note. A new poll has found that nearly half of Americans predict that 2015 will be a better year for them than 2014 was, while only 1 in 10 think it will be worse. On a personal level, about a third (34 percent) think 2014 was better than 2013, while 15 percent say 2014 was worse and half see little difference. Slightly fewer feel their year was a step down from the previous one than said so in 2013. About half of Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home this year, while 2 in 10 say they’ll do so at a friend or family member’s home. Fewer than 1 in 10 plan to celebrate at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while about a quarter don’t plan to celebrate at all.

3. According to Christian Today, a 13-year old-Christian girl abducted by armed men in Libya has been found dead in a suspected religiously motivated attack. The girl, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, was taken from her home on Tuesday during an attack in which her parents were killed. Her two young sisters were left behind. A hospital worker confirmed that her body had been found. This week’s attack follows the murder of seven Egyptian Christians in Libya in February. They were each shot in the head “execution style”, and their bodies were found on a beach in a Benghazi suburb.

4. According to Politico, President Obama sat down with NPR’s Steve Inskeep for an interview last Thursday, the entirety of which will be broadcast on Monday. In excerpts released Friday, the president dismissed claims that racial tensions are increasing as protests following the events in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the deaths of Eric Garner and two New York Police Department officers have overtaken recent headlines. When asked if divisions have increased since he took office six years ago, Obama said, “No, I actually think that it’s probably in its day-to-day interactions less racially divided.”

5. According to UPI, an intelligence-sharing pact, targeting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, has been agreed upon by South Korea and Japan. The two countries, which have never before had such an agreement, will join the United States in a trilateral deal. The formal signing will occur Monday, and the agreement will allow the three parties to respond more quickly to North Korean provocation. The United States has separate intelligence-sharing pacts with the two countries.

6. According to Reuters, from financial crisis in Russia to cyber warfare with North Korea, 2014 has generated new flashpoints right into its final days, setting 2015 up to be just as turbulent. Almost all of the major confrontations, such as the battle with Islamic State militants, the West’s stand-off with Russia over Ukraine and the fight against Ebola, will rumble on. Others could erupt at short notice. John Bassett, a former senior official with British intelligence agency GCHQ and now an associate at Oxford University, said, “Normally after a year like this you might expect things to calm down. But none of these problems have been resolved and the drivers of them are not going away.”

7. According to the Associated Press, activists say Syrian air raids on two northern towns held by the militant Islamic State group have killed more than 50 people in two days. Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that several airstrikes on the towns of al-Bab and neighboring Qabasin killed at least 53 people, including seven children. The strikes occurred Thursday. Another Syrian monitoring group also reported the raids, and activists uploaded video of the strikes’ aftermaths to social networks.

8. According to the Associated Press, a leader with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, who had a $3 million bounty on his head, has surrendered in Somalia. Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi surrendered to Somali police in the Gedo region according to an intelligence officer, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. Hersi may have surrendered because he fell out with those loyal to Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabab’s top leader who was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this year.

9. According to the Associated Press, Colorado emerged as the state with the second-highest percentage of regular marijuana users as it began legalizing the drug. The Denver Post reports that a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found about 1 out of 8 Colorado residents older than 12 had used marijuana in the past month. Only Rhode Island topped Colorado in the percentage of residents who reported using pot as often. Nationally, about 7.4 percent of people 12 and older reported monthly marijuana use. That’s an increase of about 4 percent.

10. According to PC World, Sony’s PlayStation Network is stabilizing after a suspected attack brought it down on Christmas Day and kept it unavailable for most of Friday. The company announced early on Saturday via its Ask PlayStation Twitter account that its PS4, PS3 and Vita network services were “gradually coming back online” and by late morning the PlayStation U.S. support website showed the PlayStation Network status as “online.” Hacker group Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for the outages that hit PlayStation Network and Xbox Live on Christmas Day, saying it had launched successful distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the Sony and Microsoft online gaming platforms.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind. Psalm 103:1-2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

As always, we want you to know that God loves you. He loves you so much that the Bible says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, why don’t you get to know Him today. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening. May God bless your day.

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