Signs of the Times (1/9/15)

Islamic Terror Attack in France

An apparent terrorist-related shooting at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left at least 12 people dead and wounded 10 more in Paris on Wednesday. The magazine was known for lampooning Islamic radicals, including a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Armed men wearing black hoods stormed the offices of the publication in a suburb of the city before firing automatic weapons in a scene that police described as “carnage.” The attack may be the deadliest to strike on French soil since a wave of bombings on trains in 1995. The most deadly Islamist terrorist attack ever in France followed weeks of warnings from French officials that the threat had risen to unprecedented levels. The gunmen were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar,” an Islamic phrase that means “God is great.” The gunmen got away after the attack and are still on the loose.

One of the men sought for the brutal attack previously served time in a French prison on a terrorism charge for his ties to an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group. French police were confronted with two hostage standoffs Friday as two suspects in the terror attack on a satirical newspaper were cornered in a small industrial town northeast of Paris Friday and a third gunman was holding as many as five people at gunpoint at a kosher supermarket 35 miles to the south. The suspects, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his older brother Said, 34, took refuge in a small printing warehouse and seized at least one person hostage. Two people have reportedly been killed. In Paris, meanwhile, a third gunman believed to be linked to the killing of a policewoman south of the capital on Thursday took as many as five people hostage at a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes after police announced a connection between the three gunmen.

French Attack Heralds New Phase of Islamic Terror

The massacre inside a Paris magazine office has turned nightmares about a new — and dangerously unpredictable — phase of Islamic terrorism into reality. The paramilitary-style assault on the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday killed 12 people and underscored a shift away from spectacular, large-scale attacks waged by foreign terror groups like the strike on September. 11, 2001. Instead, homegrown Islamic radicals inspired by or affiliated with jihadist organizations are launching more limited strikes that still achieve the core aim of terrorism: death, widespread fear and panic. The shift makes the task of preventing further terrorist attacks even more daunting for Western leaders. They must sift through countless clues of potential small-scale, lone-wolf attacks while also blunting the possibility of another massive strike that could kill thousands in a single incident.

  • There have already been several ‘lone wolf’ attacks in the U.S. that have been downplayed by the mainstream media

Britain’s MI5 Chief Warns al Qaeda in Syria Planning Mass Attacks

Al Qaeda militants in Syria are plotting attacks to inflict mass casualties in the West, possibly against transport systems or “iconic targets,” the head of Britain’s MI5 Security Service said on Thursday. MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned a strike on the United Kingdom was highly likely. “A group of core al Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning mass casualty attacks against the West,” Director General Parker said in a rare public speech at MI5 headquarters in London. Thursday’s stark warning from one of the West’s most influential spymasters mirrors a growing concern among Western political leaders and their Arab allies about the threat from the cauldron of militant groups in Syria and Iraq. Parker said around 600 British extremists had traveled to Syria, many joining the militant group which calls itself “Islamic State” and has taken control of swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Harvard Support of ObamaCare Hits Home

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies are now being applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar. Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed. The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month.

House Passes ObamaCare Tweak despite Veto Threat

The House voted Thursday to curb a provision in ObamaCare that some lawmakers say is hurting the job market, as the new Republican-controlled Congress moved quickly to challenge the administration on several fronts. The House voted 252-172 for the ObamaCare bill, which tweaks the law’s definition of full-time workers who must be offered employer-provided health care. Twelve Democrats sided with Republicans in approving the first Affordable Care Act-related legislation of the new Congress. The bill changes the full-time worker threshold from 30 hours weekly to a 40-hour minimum. Critics claim defining full-time employees as those working at least 30 hours is pressuring firms to save money by cutting workers’ hours below that and, in turn, the number of full-time jobs. The White House, though, already has vowed to veto the bill.

Hackers Bring Down German Government Websites

Pro-Russian hackers have claimed responsibility for a major attack on German government websites. The group — CyberBerkut — said Wednesday it brought down the websites for Germany’s parliament and Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The hack was politically motivated, with the group saying it was unhappy that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund were giving billions in bailout money to Ukraine. Ukraine is in the midst of a protracted fight with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Public Records – Now Online

An innovative new website—Instant Checkmate is now revealing the full “scoop” on millions of Americans. Instant Checkmate aggregates hundreds of millions of publicly available criminal, traffic, and arrest records and posts them online so they can easily be searched by anyone. Members of the site can literally begin searching for free within seconds. Instant Checkmate is that it shows not only criminal records, but also more general background information like marriage records, divorce records, various types of licenses (medical, firearm, aviation, etc.), previous addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, estimated income levels and even satellite imagery of known addresses. In addition to giving information on the specific person you search for, the report also includes a scrolling list of “local sex offenders” for whatever region you’ve searched.

Planned Parenthood Records Huge Profit for 2013-14

Planned Parenthood has issued its latest annual report for 2013-2014. Jim Sedlak of the American Life League has taken a close look at the figures for that year. “Last year, Planned Parenthood reported doing 327,653 abortions, which was just a few hundred more than had been done the year before,” he says. “For everything else, the number of clients is down, the number of birth-control services is down, the number of prenatal services is down.” But the organization has been able to increase its income substantially, sporting an annual income of $1.3 billion. “That’s a record income for Planned Parenthood, and it reported a profit last year of $127 million, which is the second largest profit in its history,” Sedlak told OneNewsNow.

Bitcoin “Breach” Results in Loss of $5.4M

BitStamp, which runs the world’s third largest bitcoin exchange, announced on Tuesday that $5.4 million worth of the cyber currency had been lost to a security “breach.” The Slovenia-based firm suspended operations after reporting the breach on Monday. The breach couldn’t come at a worse time for bitcoin enthusiasts who have seen the cyber currency bashed as the worst investment of 2014 amid massive drops that have more than halved the value of the digital coin.

  • Cyber currencies run great risk of cyber theft

Economic News

Employers added 252,000 jobs in December as the labor market closed out a breakout year on a strong note, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell from 5.8% to 5.6%, lowest since June 2008. Also encouraging is that job gains for October and November were revised up by a total 54,000. October’s count was revised to 261,000 from 256,000 and November’s to 353,000 from 321,000,000. The total number of jobs added in 2014 was 2.95 million, the most since 1999. Businesses added 240,000 jobs in December while federal, state and local governments added 12,000.

Wages, however, fell after rising sharply in November. Average hourly earnings dropped 5 cents to $24.57 and are up just 1.6% over the past 12 months, below the meager 2% annual pace that has prevailed throughout the recovery. The failure of wage gains to accelerate with a tumbling unemployment rate has been the biggest missing piece of the labor market’s strong showing this year.

In a stunning turnaround after the worst three-day start to a year since 2008, the stock market bounce that began Wednesday gathered more momentum Thursday when the Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 300 points, wiping out its early-year losses and climbing back into positive territory for the year. Analysts credit a stabilization in oil prices and rising hopes for more aggressive stimulus from central bankers in the Eurozone as the driving forces behind the market’s rise.

America’s 10 largest oil and natural gas companies have lost more than $200 billion combined since oil peaked in June. These companies are being slammed by crude oil falling below $50 a barrel. Drilling projects that made lots of financial sense at $100 a barrel no longer look smart. To combat depressed prices, oil companies are hitting the brakes on spending and laying off workers.

Deflation has returned to Europe. Official data shows consumer prices across the eurozone fell by 0.2% in December, marking the first time prices have fallen in the region since the Great Recession. The figure was worse than most analysts were expecting and the weakest since September 2009. Falling consumer prices could herald worse times to come for Europe’s stagnant economy because they can encourage people to hold off making purchases in the hopes of cheaper deals in the future.

Persecution Watch

The year 2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era, reports Open Doors – twice as many as in 2013. And current conditions suggest the worst is yet to come. Open Doors released its annual World Watch List Wednesday, which ranks the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian. This year, the threshold was higher for a country to make the list, indicating that worldwide levels of persecution have increased. Topping the 2015 list for the 13th consecutive year is North Korea. Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution, while the Middle East saw targeted attacks, resulting in a mass exodus of Christians. Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith.

NBC has once again omitted God from the Pledge of Allegiance. The omission happened during a commercial promoting the network’s upcoming spy thriller called “Allegiance.” In 2011 NBC was forced to apologize after they omitted the phrase “one nation under God” from its coverage over the U.S. Open Championship. It happened not once, but twice. NBC has refused to comment thus far, according to Fox News’ Todd Starnes.

A fresh campaign has been launched on behalf of an official with the Atlanta fire department – a Christian – who was fired after making public his biblically based views on homosexuality. Kelvin Cochran, chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, was suspended in November after he wrote a short book, a portion of which conveys the biblical view of homosexuality. He gave copies of the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? (self-published in November 2013), to a few co-workers he knew to be strong Christians – but three city employees also received a copy without asking for one. Mayor Kasim Reed now has fired Cochran after suspending him for a month without pay, saying “his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse work force.” Cochran, a firefighter for more than three decades, otherwise had no blemish on his record, reports OneNewsNow.com.

Ebola Update

The World Health Organization reports the Ebola death toll has risen to 8,153 in West Africa out of 20,656 cases reported, according to Christian Today. The President of Sierra Leone has called upon his nation to pray and fast for a week to tackle the Ebola crisis devastating the country. There has been 2,700 deaths in Sierra Leone alone. President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a week of fasting and prayers to end suffering from the disease starting on Thursday, January 8. “Today, I ask all to commit our actions to the grace, mercy and protection of God Almighty,”

Iran

U.S. weapons intended for Iraq’s beleaguered military are winding up in the possession of Iran’s Shiite militias, according to U.S. lawmakers and senior officials in the Barack Obama administration. These sources say that the Baghdad government, which was granted $1.2 billion in training and equipment aid in the omnibus spending bill passed last month, is turning hardware over to Shiite militias that are heavily influenced by Iran and have been guilty of gross human-rights violations. One senior administration official said that the U.S. government is aware of this, but is caught in a dilemma. The flawed Iraqi security forces are unable to fight Islamic State without the aid of the militias, who are often trained and sometimes commanded by officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Yemen

At least 38 people were killed and dozens others were injured in a car bomb explosion in front of the Police College in the Yemeni capital Sanaa Wednesday morning. The bomber parked his vehicle in the middle of the road and then boarded another that was waiting for him. As soon as he left the scene, everyone 100 meters from the explosion was killed or injured. Police recruits were waiting in line at the gates of the Police College when the attack took place.

Earthquakes

Eleven earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 1.6 to 3.6 rattled North Texas over a period of less than 24 hours late Tuesday and early Wednesday. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the temblors in the Dallas suburb of Irving, centered on the former site of Texas Stadium, once home of the Dallas Cowboys. No major damage or injuries were reported. A total of 27S quakes have shaken North Texas since late October. Before 2008, there had been only one reported earthquake in what’s called the Fort Worth Basin. Since 2008, there have been more than 100 in North Texas, which has led some to wonder if an increase in fracking is related to the uptick.

Weather

The coldest air since last January’s so-called “polar vortex” event reached the Gulf Coast and East Coast Thursday, bringing record lows to about two dozen cities and affecting more than half the U.S. population. A third surge of arctic air has entered the Northern Plains states and will reinforce the frigid feel over much of the Midwest and Northeast over the weekend. Thursday morning brought wind chills as low as 44 below zero in Greenville, Maine, while much of northern New England saw wind chills in the minus 30s. Chicago’s wind chill reached a bitter 29 below zero. Subzero temperatures were recorded in parts of 26 states Thursday morning. The nation’s low – not factoring in wind chill – was 38 below zero at Estcourt Station, Maine, which is the northernmost point in New England.

A powerful winter storm dumped snow, heavy rain, high winds and hail across the Middle East, killing at least two Syrian refugees trekking out of the war-torn country into Lebanon, injuring at least three others and knocking out power to thousands. The jet stream carved out a sharp trough from western Russia into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. With cold air near the surface and enough moisture and lift from the trough, snow was generated from southeast Europe into the Middle East. Cold winds over the Black Sea also generated sea-effect snow over Istanbul, Turkey, and even on the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini. Strong winds in Israel toppled trees and power lines in several cities, leading to power outages in Haifa and Tel Aviv. While the feared “Snowpocalypse” winter storm has not hit Jerusalem as hard as many had anticipated, the large amounts of rain and snow falling in Israel’s north has had a good impact on the level of the Sea of Galilee, which continues to recover from a years-long drought.

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