Signs of the Times (10/5/15)

11 Christian Missionaries Crucified and Beheaded by ISIS

At several steps on their path to death by beheading and crucifixion last month, eleven indigenous Christian workers near Aleppo, Syria, had the option to leave the area and live, reports Charisma news. The indigenous missionaries were not required to stay at their ministry base in a village near Aleppo, Syria. Their ministry director who trained them had entreated them to leave. They stayed because they believed they were called to share Christ with those caught in the crossfire. “Every time we talked to them,” the director said, “they were always saying, ‘We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do.’ They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.” Islamic State militants on Aug. 28 crucified four of the Christians, including a 12-year-old boy, and beheaded eight others in separate executions. The boy was the son of a Syrian ministry team leader who had planted nine churches.

  • When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11, NKJV)

Homeschooled Children More Religious

Those who homeschool their children for religious or moral reasons make up 91 percent of the nation’s two million homeschooling families, New Republic reports. Many families who choose the homeschool alternative to private or public school education want to be able to raise their children to be strong, conservative Christians. This runs counter to the trend of the U.S. becoming more secular, with each new generation tending to be less religious than their parents. In general, the report summarizes, several studies showed that most homeschooled children who were raised in Christian homes continued in their faith, as did most children who were raised in Christian homes who went to public or private school.

  • It’s encouraging that Christian children can hold on to their faith within the secular humanism indoctrination centers (public schools), but it is far easier to do so when homeschooled.

Four Students Arrested for Calif. School Shooting Plot

Four students were arrested Saturday after police discovered a shooting plot involving Summerville High School in Tuolumne, California. Among the evidence, deputies said they found a list of the names of the targeted victims. Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele said the students confessed. When asked what the students said, Mele responded: “that they were going to come on campus and shoot and kill as many people as possible.” The sheriff’s department said they were contacted on Wednesday by school administrators regarding students who were making threats against faculty and staff.

Mentally Ill Shooters Able to Legally Acquire Guns

Criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used, according to the New York Times. The most recent shooter, Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where he was a student. He was armed with six guns, including a Glock pistol, a Smith & Wesson pistol, a Taurus pistol and a Del-Ton assault rifle, according to The Associated Press. In all, Mr. Harper-Mercer owned 14 firearms, all of which were bought legally through a federally licensed firearms dealer, a federal official said Friday. Some were bought by Mr. Harper-Mercer, and some by members of his family. He was discharged from the Army basic training and was identified by the Switzer Learning Center in Torrance, Calif., which teaches students with learning disabilities and emotional issues, as being mentally unstable.

  • The two main issues here are the lack of effective screening of mentally disturbed individuals through existing gun laws and why the shooter’s family allowed him to have so many guns at home. Perhaps they should be prosecuted as co-conspirators.

Doctors Without Borders Killed by U.S. Airstrike

Nine people were killed and another 37 people were injured after a suspected U.S. airstrike struck near a Doctors Without Borders (DWB) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan early Saturday morning. “We are deeply shocked by the attack, the killing of our staff and patients and the heavy toll it has inflicted in Kunduz,” DWB director of operations Bart Janssens said in a statement. The organization said the hospital was hit several times during “sustained bombing” starting at 2:10 a.m. Saturday and was “very badly damaged.” Of the 37 people seriously wounded, 19 are staff members. Army spokesman Col. Brian Tribus confirmed U.S. forces conducted an airstrike on Kunduz at 2:15 a.m. that “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” At the time of the bombing, there were 105 patients at the hospital, and more than 80 international and Afghan staff, Janssens said. DWB pulled out of Kunduz Sunday and called for an independent inquiry into what it calls a ‘war crime’. The acting governor of Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province said Sunday that Taliban fighters had been routinely firing “small and heavy” weapons from the grounds of the hospital. The strike was not requested by U.S. troops, a U.S. general said Monday, but was requested by Afghan forces.

Billions from U.S. Fail to Sustain Foreign Forces

With alarming frequency in recent years, thousands of American-trained security forces in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia have collapsed, stalled or defected, calling into question the effectiveness of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the United States on foreign military training programs, as well as a central tenet of the Obama administration’s approach to combating insurgencies, the New York Times reported Sunday. The setbacks have been most pronounced in three countries that present the administration with some of its biggest challenges. The Pentagon-trained army and police in Iraq’s Anbar Province, the heartland of the Islamic State militant group, have barely engaged its forces, while several thousand American-backed government forces and militiamen in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province were forced to retreat last week when attacked by several hundred Taliban fighters. And in Syria, a $500 million Defense Department program to train local rebels to fight the Islamic State has produced only a handful of soldiers.

European Migration Influx Continues Unabated

One month after the European Union agreed to secure its borders, the refugee crisis has largely fallen off the front pages and reporters are going home. But the human tide keeps rolling northward and westward, and aid agencies are preparing for it to continue through the winter, when temperatures along the refugee trail will drop below freezing. They fear the crisis will only get worse. “One thing is clear, the movement is not going to die down,” said Babar Baloch, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative in the Balkans. “What we are seeing right now … it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

While more than 500,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, more than double the figure for all of 2014, that is only a fraction of the people who are on the move. Some 4 million have fled Syria after more than four years of civil war, and 8 million have been displaced inside the country. And it’s not just Syrians. It’s Iraqis and Iranians, Afghans and Eritreans. The EU acknowledged the scale of the problem last week, even after it approved a plan to toughen border controls and provide at least 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to help Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan care for refugees living in their countries. The first new border measures won’t take effect until November, and a proposal for strengthening the EU border agency is due in December.

Catholic Synod to Address Family/Gay Issues

Pope Francis returned to Rome Monday after the longest and perhaps most challenging foreign journey of his pontificate: a trip that lasted 10 days and took him from communist Cuba to the capitalist U.S., where the popular pontiff faced some of his toughest critics — both inside and outside the church. Now comes the hard part. On Sunday in the Vatican, Francis formally opens a three-week meeting of some 270 bishops from around the world who will discuss — or, more likely, argue vociferously about — church teachings on family life, a topic that encompasses hot-button questions about the church’s views on divorce, homosexuality and cohabitation. On Saturday, the Vatican fired a monsignor who came out as gay on the eve of the meeting. Monsignor Kryzstof Charamsa was a mid-level official in the Vatican’s doctrine office.

Scottrade Hacked, Customer Data Stolen

Scottrade, the stock trading service, has been hacked — and it lost information on 4.6 million customers. The breach affected those who signed up for a Scottrade brokerage account before February 2014. On Friday, the firm acknowledged that unknown criminals had broken into its computer network. The company said it didn’t know about the theft until it was alerted by the FBI in August. According to the company, federal agents were still investigating the incident and told the company to keep silent until now. It’s unclear who did it. And as with most cyberattacks, we may never know. Hackers often hide behind computer servers around the globe.

Trans-Pacific Trade Pact Agreement Reached

The United States and eleven other nations have finally reached a long-sought agreement on a controversial free-trade pact. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, would knock down tariffs and import quotas, making it cheaper to import and export, and open new Asia-Pacific markets to American companies. Negotiations have been going on for years. Critics say the trade deal will shift more jobs and business operations overseas, as U.S. businesses seek to benefit from lower wage workers in developing economies. The TPP is a central focus of President Obama’s trade agenda and something he has pushed for since the start of his presidency. The agreement still has to gain Congressional approval.

Economic News

Why isn’t the Federal Reserve’s zero percent interest rate trickling down to Main Street? Because most American consumers are still so much in debt from prior borrowing that they can’t afford to extend themselves further. In 1955, the ratio of household debt to wage and salary income was about 0.6 – that is, debt was 60% of income. By the year 2000, the ratio had climbed to over 1.3, or 130% of income. At the peak of the recent recession, the ratio had zoomed to 2.2, more than twice household income. While the ratio has declined to about 1.8, the level of household debt is still at unprecedented levels.

The most worrisome aspect of the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates and prior Quantitative Easing money-printing stimulation, is that the Fed doesn’t have any more weapons to further stimulate the tepid economic recovery. Should the recovery falter any further and China continue to contract, another debt-infused recession may be just around the corner.

September’s jobs report, released last Friday, shows the U.S. labor force participation rate at yet another record low, undercutting the already-underwhelming numbers that have been reported in recent months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate now stands at 62.4 percent, its lowest ratio in nearly four decades. That figure means 94,610,000 otherwise-qualified Americans had dropped out of the labor force as of Sept. 30.

On average, the U.S. added 167,000 jobs a month in the last three months. That’s lower than the 200,000 monthly pace that’s considered healthy. However, the unemployment rate has declined to 5.1%, almost half of the 10% it was at during the aftermath of the financial crisis. What’s missing in the job count are the 30.2 million independent — full-time and part-time — workers in the U.S. economy. That’s up 12% over the last 5 years, according to a new study by MBO Partners and Emergent Research. These include the part time and full-time Uber and Lyft drivers, the Alfred butlers and Handy house cleaners that make up the so-called “gig” or “on-demand economy.”

Volkswagen Groups’s incoming chairman warned managers that the automaker’s diesel-emission scandal poses “an existence-threatening crisis for the company” as new details emerged about how the debacle unfolded. The crisis, which has wiped out $34 billion of the company’s value, stems from the disclosure by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month that VW had rigged nearly 5 million diesel cars in the U.S. to pass emissions tests even though they spewed far greater emissions on the highway. VW admitted to the fraud and said 11 million vehicles are affected worldwide.

Middle East

Israeli police on Sunday took the unprecedented step of barring Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from entering the Old City after two stabbing attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. A Palestinian teenager who stabbed and wounded a 15-year-old Israeli early Sunday was shot dead, Israeli police said. It came after a Palestinian man fatally stabbed two Israelis and wounded two more, including a toddler, Saturday. He was also shot dead by police. Tensions have been rising in the region in recent weeks, mainly around the religious site known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque. The outer wall of the temple compound forms the Jewish holy site known as the Western Wall. The unrest has spread to the West Bank, where Israeli troops on Sunday shot and wounded at least 26 Palestinians during an arrest raid in the Jenin refugee camp, a Palestinian hospital director said, according to the Associated Press. Two Palestinians were arrested suspected of “terror activity,” the news agency said.

Islamic State

The Islamic State has drawn tens of thousands of people from around the world by promising paradise in the Muslim homeland it has established on conquered territory in Syria and Iraq. But in reality, the militants have created a brutal, two-tiered society, where daily life is starkly different for the occupiers and the occupied, according to interviews with more than three dozen people who are now living in, or have recently fled, the Islamic State, reports the Washington Post. Foreign fighters and their families are provided free housing, medical care, religious education and even a sort of militant meals-on-wheels service. The militants are paid salaries raised largely from taxes and fees levied on the millions of people they control, in an arc of land as big as the United Kingdom. Those whose cities and towns are held by the Islamic State said they face not only the casual savagery of militants who behead their enemies and make sex slaves out of some minority women but also severe shortages of the basics of daily life. Many residents have electricity for only an hour or two a day, and some homes go days without running water. Jobs are scarce, so many people can’t afford food prices that have tripled or more. Medical care is poor, most schools are closed, and bans on most travel outside the Islamic State are enforced at gunpoint.

Syria

Russian forces bombed targets in Syria for a fourth day despite international concerns over Moscow’s intentions in the war-torn nation. The Russian defense ministry said its soldiers bombed nine ISIS positions Saturday near the terror group’s de facto capital in Raqqa. In the past 24 hours, the air force conducted 20 airstrikes near Raqqa, the ministry said. Tactical bombers destroyed various militant facilities, including ammunition and oil depots, and all-terrain vehicles, the defense ministry said in a statement. At least 11 people were killed in an alleged double strike by Russia in Syria’s Idlib province, according to opposition groups. “There were families living there,” said Ahmed alHmady, head of Syria Civil Defense in Balyoun, Idlib, who survived the attack. “There are no armed fighters there.”

Turkey

Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador in its capital, Ankara, to protest an alleged violation of its airspace by a Russian warplane near the border with Syria on Saturday, the foreign ministry said Monday. The ministry said the Russian plane was flying near the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province, and Turkish military authorities scrambled two F-16 jets which intercepted the Russian aircraft and forced it to fly back into Syrian airspace. In the meeting with the Russian ambassador, Turkey warned that Russia would be held “responsible for any undesired incident” that may occur, the statement added. Russia and Turkey have repeatedly clashed over the Syrian situation, with Moscow backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara urging his ouster. Turkey has called Russia’s new bombing campaign in Syria “unacceptable.” NATO also warned Russia to stay out of Turkish air space.

Iraq

At least 24 people were killed and 64 wounded when two suicide car bombs exploded in Baghdad on Saturday. The incident took place in a busy roundabout in Kadhmiya, a suburb in northwestern Baghdad, police said. ISIS released a statement, posted on Twitter, claiming responsibility. The Sunni bombers were targeting Shiites, the violent Islamist group said.

Weather

Officials asked all 4.8 million South Carolina residents to stay where they are and not attempt to venture into catastrophic flash flooding that’s ongoing in numerous parts of South Carolina. Officials are worried life-threatening impacts will only worsen as the 1-in-1000-year rain-event continues. At least six people have died from the floods. Authorities said hundreds of people were in need of rescue Sunday morning as the floodwaters kept rising all over the Palmetto State. Multiple dam breaches were reported Sunday morning in Columbia. Charleston has received more than 14 inches of rainfall since the historic event began Friday. One area northeast of Charleston has reported more than two feet of rain. Rescue crews went door to door in South Carolina’s capital city Monday morning as officials continued to free residents were trapped by severe flooding that swamped virtually the entire state. Officials claim it may take weeks or months to assess all of the closed roads and bridges, including a 75-mile stretch of I-95, the freeway that connects Miami to Washington, D.C. to New York.

Thousands are without power across North Carolina and Georgia after heavy weekend rain. Brunswick County, North Carolina evacuated 400 to 500 residents beginning Friday night into Saturday morning due to flooding from heavy rains. Officials in Georgia warned drivers not to push through standing water as tides overcame seawalls putting entire parking lots underwater. Flood watches were also issued for Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Outer Banks, Hyde, and Pamlico counties until 8 p.m. Monday.

For more than four days, there’s been no word from, and no sign of, the U.S.-flagged container ship El Faro as it was overtaken by Hurricane Joaquin. The 28 Americans and five Poles aboard faced winds of up to 150 mph, 30-foot waves and potentially 25 inches of rain. According to the Associated Press, a shipping container has been spotted near where El Faro, a 735-foot cargo ship, lost power in the middle of the storm. Search crews also found life jackets, additional life rings and an oil sheen. The ship is presumed to have sunk while the search continues for survivors. Searchers found life rafts and survival suits, including one survival suit with human remains on Monday.

At least 131 people are dead and an estimated 500 are missing after a massive landslide covered much of a town in Guatemala. The death toll will likely rise during the search and recovery effort. The rain-soaked side of a hill crashed down onto El Cambray, burying dozens of homes. Dozens of rescue workers and volunteers searched all day Friday in the mud and debris for survivors and victims. Many people in El Cambray did not heed a warning to evacuate. El Cambray is located about 10 miles east of Guatemala City.

At least 19 people are dead and two remain missing after flash floods inundated buildings, roads and train tracks around the French Riviera late Saturday night. Some of the victims drowned in a retirement home and were others trapped in cars and campsites. Residents of the picturesque and touristy region along the Mediterranean coast, stunned by the ferocity of the brief downpour Saturday night, described it as the worst flooding they’d ever seen.

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