Signs of the Times (1/12/15)

Obama Administration Defends Islam, Blames Islamophobia

On Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced that the Obama administration would prioritize fighting Islamophobia in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France. Aboard Air Force One, President Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said the real problem is is lack of leadership in defending Islam against its critics, which Obama will do more of. Obama’s Spokesman said: “There are some individuals that are using a peaceful religion and grossly distorting it, and trying to use its tenets to inspire people around the globe to carry out acts of violence. And we have enjoyed significant success in enlisting leaders in the Muslim community, like I said, both in the United States and around the world to condemn that kind of messaging, to condemn those efforts to radicalize individuals, and to be clear about what the tenets of Islam actually are. And we’re going to redouble those efforts in the days and weeks ahead.”

  • The roots of Islam go back to the Prophet Muhammad who used violence to establish his new ‘religion’ that isn’t peaceful at all. Most Muslims are peaceful but that’s in spite of Islam’s call to violent coercion.

Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Attack in France

Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility on Friday for the terrorist massacre at a Paris satirical weekly, drawing attention to a deadly militant organization that has long harbored international ambitions. A member of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen provided a statement to the Associated Press saying the attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 dead, was “revenge for the honor” of Islam’s prophet Mohammed, who has been ridiculed along with other religious figures by the journal. Said and Cherif Kouachi, who were killed Friday in a shootout with French police. Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011 and received some training with al-Qaeda, officials said. Witnesses at the scene of the newspaper massacre also said one gunman claimed as he fled that he was with al-Qaeda of Yemen. An ISIS radio broadcast praised the attackers, calling them “brave jihadists.” Four hostages were killed and 15 survived in a second incident at a kosher grocery store by an affiliated terrorist who claimed a link to the Islamic State.

The aftermath of the attacks remained raw, with video emerging of one of the gunmen killed during police raids pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and detailing how the attacks were going to unfold. France deployed 10,000 troops at Jewish schools, synagogues and other sites in an unprecedented security boost Monday as authorities remained on high alert after last week’s deadly attacks in Paris. The extraordinary measures marked the first time such a large military force in France has been used in civilian protection, and brought the latest images of troops on Western streets — scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11 and later European attacks in London and Madrid.

Intelligence Gaps Failed to Prevent French Terror Attack

French security services are now facing intense pressure to explain how known militants — including one trained by an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen — faced no apparent scrutiny before they launched this week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, including the daytime assault on a a satirical newspaper, a long-declared Islamist target. The search for answers is likely to focus on a three-year period preceding this week’s shooting during which two of the alleged gunmen, Said and Chérif Kouachi, seemingly dropped out of the view of French intelligence services as well as their U.S. counterparts.French intelligence and law enforcement agencies had conducted surveillance on one or both of the Kouachi brothers after Saïd returned from Yemen, but later reduced that monitoring or dropped it altogether to focus on what were believed to be bigger threats. One reason for the lapses may be that the number of possible jihadists inside France has continued to expand sharply. France has seen 1,000 to 2,000 of its citizens go to fight in Syria or Iraq, with about 200 returning, and the task of surveillance has grown overwhelming.

  • France welcomed and coddled Islamists for years and is now paying the price for such short-sighted ‘progressive’ policies

Hacking Group ‘Anonymous’ Declares Cyber War on Islamic Extremists

Anonymous declared war on Islamic extremists Friday and promised to take revenge for the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo. In a video posted on YouTube, the group of hackers said they would track down websites and social media networks linked to terrorists, and take them down. The video is described as a message for “al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorists,” and promises to avenge the killing of 12 people in Wednesday’s attack. “We intend to take revenge in their name, we are going to survey your activities on the net, we are going to shut down your accounts on all social networks,” Anonymous said. Anonymous has hacked websites belonging to government departments, companies and other organizations. The loose collective is also known for supporting the Occupy movement.

Anti-Islamic Terrorism Marches in France/Germany

At least 3.7 million people attended an Islamic terrorism protest march in Paris — including 40 world leaders — in a show of solidarity against the terror attacks in France over the past week. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were among the leaders attending, as were top representatives of Russia and Ukraine. Rallies were also planned in London, Madrid and New York — all attacked by Al Qaeda-linked extremists — as well as Cairo, Sydney, Stockholm, Tokyo and elsewhere. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration against criticism for not having a high level official attend a unity march in Paris, calling it “quibbling” and said he will head to France on Thursday. “Our assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was there and marched, our ambassador was there and marched, many people from the embassy were there and marched.”

A massive march by anti-Islam nationalists planned for Monday threatens to raise new religious tensions — and potential violence — in Europe in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris by radical Muslims. Germany’s justice minister has urged the group called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West to cancel its demonstration, but the group vowed to go ahead with a rally that will commemorate the 17 people killed in the Paris attacks.

Ransomware is Newest Cyber Threat

Lost in much of the discussion of the recent hacking of Sony was that in their initial communications, the hackers attempted to extort money from Sony in return for not making public the private data and e-mails stolen by the hackers. Sony refused and soon thereafter the Internet was flooded with much of the material stolen, including embarrassing e-mails of Sony executives. The more common ransom hacking scenario, however involves the hacker locking the computers of its victim and preventing access to any of the information stored on the company’s computers unless a ransom is paid. Just last summer, Code Spaces, a code-hosting and software collaboration company was put out of business when its data was destroyed by hackers when the company refused to pay a ransom after falling prey to a ransomware malware attack. But this is not just a problem for corporations. Much of the focus of hackers has been on individual computer users. You first notice that you have become a victim of ransomware when you find your computer frozen and a message on your screen tells you that your computer will remain frozen until you pay a ransom. The ransom is generally required to be paid by MoneyPak cards, bitcoin or other untraceable funds.

Leading Vaccines for Ebola Show Real Promise

At a press conference Friday, Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the WHO Ebola vaccine work, said there has been real promise offered from initial tests of two of the vaccines being studied. One comes from Merck and NewLink and the other is licensed by GlaxoSmithKline. Both vaccines have “an acceptable safety profile” meaning there are no adverse effects that would keep it from being tested in a broader population. Trials of the vaccines in Africa should start soon. Health care workers will be among some of the first volunteers to be a part of this next stage of the test.

Flu Update

Flu viruses have slammed into dozens of Iowa care centers this winter, showing that meticulous safeguards can’t always prevent frail, elderly residents from becoming infected. Every resident and employee at the 150-bed Bishop Drumm Retirement Center had been vaccinated, and the staff had been taking careful sanitation measures, administrators said. But 35 residents became ill, developing coughs, fevers, aches, and in some cases, pneumonia. Several residents had to be hospitalized. At least 32 Iowa care centers have seen flu outbreaks this winter, and some of those have included deaths. The disease has been striking harder and sooner than usual throughout the country. A strain known to stalk the elderly has been circulating widely, and the poorly matched vaccine has limited power to block it.

Obama Announces Free Community College Plan

Dubbed “America’s College Promise,” Obama’s proposal would provide two years of community college or trade school to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA, attend at least part-time and “make steady progress” toward degree completion. Commonly referred to as junior colleges or technical schools, community colleges are two-year institutions that offer flexibility for students, many of whom are lower income or are the first in their families to attend college. Obama’s plan will need the support of Congress, which many say will be near impossible with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate which could cost upwards of $60 billion over a ten-year period.

One Million Expected to Lose Food Stamps

A side effect of the improving economy: About 1 million needy people will lose food stamp benefits starting this fall. That’s a new estimate by a left-leaning think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which is urging Congress to change a federal law that limits how long someone can receive food stamps when they are out of a job. Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, most adults without children can receive food stamps for only three months unless they are working or attending a job training program at least 20 hours a week. The three-month period was designed in the mid-1990s as a compromise between lawmakers who wanted a safety net and those who wanted to give beneficiaries an incentive to work. But during the recession, most states got a waiver of the three-month cap because unemployment surged. But now as the economy is improving, the three-month limit is expected to kick in again in many states.

Economic News

The construction industry, hit hard by the housing crash and recession, is ramping up hiring in an encouraging sign for job and wage growth this year. Contractors added 48,000 jobs in December, the most since last January, and 290,000 in 2014, a nine-year high. The construction industry is key to a healthy labor market because it provides the kind of middle-wage jobs that have dwindled in recent years and the prospect of stronger pay increases. Average U.S. wages fell last month and are up just 1.7% over the past year.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of those with the greatest financial security believe that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” Only 36% of the wealthiest say “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.” The rich also say most corporations make a “fair and reasonable amount of profit,” while 65% of the poor believe corporations make “far too much.”

Persecution Watch

Until a few days ago, a war memorial in a public park in North Carolina included a metal sculpture depicting a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross. But city officials voted to remove the sculpture to settle a lawsuit claiming the artwork promoted Christianity. King, a small city of about 6,000 people 15 miles north of Winston-Salem, dedicated the memorial about a decade ago. But the statue was removed Tuesday night, immediately after The King city council voted 3-2 to end the lawsuit. Now, an empty hole can be seen where the statue once stood. The memorial is on city-owned land but was paid for through private donations. As part of the agreement, the King City Council also said it would stop flying the Christian flag over the memorial and would pay $500,000 to Americans United for Separation of Church and State for the legal costs the group incurred for filing the lawsuit.

A small church in a Phoenix suburb says its local government puts far stricter limits on its roadside signs advertising Sunday services than it places on politicians, real estate agents and other groups, and is asking the Supreme Court for relief. The justices are hearing arguments Monday in a case from Gilbert, Arizona, that raises First Amendment questions about how governments may regulate their citizens’ speech. The Good News Community Church and Pastor Clyde Reed sued Gilbert, claiming that religious groups are treated more severely than others. Gilbert allows so-called directional signs, like the ones put up by the church inviting people to Sunday worship, to be no larger than 6 square feet. They must be placed in public areas no more than 12 hours before an event and removed within an hour of its end. Signs for political candidates, by contrast, can be up to 32 square feet and can remain in place for several months.


The pressure is building on Vladimir Putin: Russia will be hit by a wave of bankruptcies unless it cuts interest rates very soon, a top financial official warned Monday. Anatoly Aksakov, president of Russia’s regional banking association and deputy chairman of parliament’s financial markets committee, said firms were running out of cash. Aksakov said the central bank must cut rates this month to 15% from 17%, then gradually to 10.5%, the level they were at before the current financial crisis. A central bank rate of 17% meant some companies were having to pay as much as 30% to borrow. The impact of Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s actions in Ukraine has sparked a cash crunch by shutting many companies out of international funding markets. A collapse in the ruble, driven in part by plunging oil prices, is also causing economic pain by driving up inflation. That has prompted the central bank to jack up interest rates. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that tensions between Russia and European powers over the Ukraine crisis could result in a major conflict or even nuclear war, in an interview in a German news magazine.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong police are investigating after small firebombs were thrown at the home and business of a pro-democracy media magnate in an apparent intimidation attempt. Surveillance video showed a car backing up to the gates of Jimmy Lai’s home early Monday and a masked attacker getting out and throwing what looks to be a Molotov cocktail before driving off. At about the same time, another incendiary device was thrown from a car at the entrance to his Next Media Company. Its publications include the flagship pro-democracy Apple Daily, one of the city’s most popular newspapers. The cars used in the attacks were later found burned out and stripped of their license plates. Lai is well known as a critic of Beijing and a staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which occupied streets for 11 weeks last year to press their demands for free elections.


Iraqi authorities say a suicide car bomb has killed 12 Shiite militiamen and soldiers north of Baghdad. The attack happened Monday when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a gathering of soldiers and Shiite fighters in the town of Abasiyat, just south of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. Police and hospital officials said the attack killed 10 militiamen and two soldiers, while wounding 18 people. Iraq sees near-daily bombings and other attacks mainly targeting the Shiite majority and security forces. The attacks are mostly claimed by the Islamic State group, which seized much of northern and western Iraq last year.


Boko Haram militants opened fire on northern Nigerian villages Friday, leaving bodies scattered everywhere and as many as 2,000 people feared dead, officials said. “The attack on Baga and surrounding towns looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act,” Amnesty International said in a statement. Islamist militants sprayed bullets as they stormed in last weekend in trucks and armored vehicles, local authorities said Friday. When they arrived, they unloaded motorcycles and pursued residents who fled into the bush, firing indiscriminately, said Baba Abba Hassan, a local district head. Local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people. During the raid that started January 3, hundreds of gunmen seized the town of Baga and neighboring villages, as well as a multinational military base.

Explosives strapped to a girl, who was described as young as 10 years old, detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people and injuring 51 others. The suicide blast happened at the main entrance of the ever-crowded Monday Market, which is the city of Maiduguri’s largest market. Although no one has claimed responsibility yet, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects. This was the fourth suicide attack on the city’s market since last July.


Cuba has completed the release of 53 political prisoners that was part of last month’s historic deal between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. said Monday. The prisoners had been on a list of opposition figures whose release was sought as part of the U.S. agreement last month with the Cuban government. They had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba. Last month, Cuba and the U.S. agreed to work to restore normal diplomatic relations as part of a deal in which Cuba freed an imprisoned U.S. aid worker along with an imprisoned spy working for the U.S. and the imprisoned dissidents. The U.S. released several Cuba intelligence agents. The deal came after 50 years of hostility between the two countries.


Residents in much of the central and eastern United States have been shivering for more than a week with several waves of arctic air surging across the country. The cold wave brought record lows to about two dozen cities affecting more than half the U.S. population. A third surge of arctic air entered the Northern Plains states and reinforced the frigid feel over much of the Midwest and Northeast Friday into Saturday. Another cold wave will sweep through Monday with high temperatures expected to be 10 to 20 degrees below average from the Dakotas, Montana and Minnesota to the north half of Texas. The cold air mass will surge eastward into the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes and Northeast through Tuesday before temperatures begin moderating.

A fiery multi-vehicle pileup on snowy roads that involved 193 vehicles brought Interstate 94 near Battle Creek, Michigan, to a screeching halt in both directions Friday, killing at least one person and injuring a number of others. Frozen equipment stalled the effort to reopen the interstate Saturday. Michigan State Police say 193 vehicles were involved, including dozens of semi-trucks. MSP reports at least one semi was carrying fireworks, one of which caught on fire sending billowing smoke over the entire area. As of Sunday morning, both sides of I-94 had reopened.

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