Signs of the Times (11/14/15)

Horrific ISIS Terror Attack in France

The Islamic State claimed responsibility Saturday for a series of terror attacks in Paris described by French President Francois Hollande as “an act of war” that killed at least 127 people. Putting his nation’s security at its highest level, Hollande vowed to hit back against the militants and declared three days of national mourning. France has already bombing ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition. French police were hunting Saturday for possible accomplices to eight terrorists who carried out the attacks at six sites in the city, employing seven suicide bombs. At the Bataclan concert hall, where terrorists triggered explosives and fired shots during a performance by the California rock band Eagles of Death Metal, police said the bodies of more than 110 victims remained inside. Other victims were killed at a stadium and at cafes. Three suicide bombs went off outside the national stadium, where Hollande was among the spectators at an exhibition soccer match between the French and German national teams. Investigators are searching for information about the attackers. Police said a Syrian passport was found on the body of one suicide bomber at the stadium. Hollande, speaking Saturday from the Élysée Palace, said the attacks were “prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside.”

  • The efforts against ISIS have been too little, too late. They need to be destroyed by any means necessary.

G-20 Summit to Focus on Migrants/ISIS

Because of Turkey’s involvement in the conflict in neighboring Syria and the fact that combat is occurring only 300 miles from the Group of 20 summit venue in Antalya, Syria and ISIS will loom large when the world leaders meet on Sunday. The leaders — representing the USA, European powers, China, Russia, Japan, India and Brazil — plan to discuss a possible peace plan and what to do about the flood of refugees fleeing Syria and other wars. The attacks in France will also certainly be a topic.

  • There is no such thing as a ‘peace plan’ with the fanatically evil Islamic State

Sheriffs Fume over Mass Release of 6,112 Federal Inmates

Local sheriffs across America are voicing concern for the safety of the citizens they’ve sworn to protect after the biggest one-time release of federal inmates in U.S. history. The 6,112 inmates were released from federal prison at the beginning of November in response to a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce sentences for most drug trafficking offenses and apply them retroactively. It coincides with a broader and bipartisan push for rethinking federal sentencing. “There’s no transition here, there’s no safety net. This is the biggest sham they are trying to sell the American people,” Sheriff Paul Babeu of Arizona’s Pinal County told “On average these criminals have been in federal prison for nine years — you don’t have to be a sheriff to realize that a felon after nine years in jail isn’t going to be adding value to the community. A third are illegals and felons so they can’t work. What do we think they are going to do?” said Babeu, also a congressional candidate. The Justice Department says 77 percent of exiting inmates are already in half-way houses or home confinement.

Three Men Arrested for Alleged ‘Race War’ Plot

The FBI arrested three Virginia men for attempting to buy weapons from an undercover agent, which they had hoped to use to attack black churches and Jewish synagogues. They are accused of plotting to rob a jeweler and use the money to help Doyle buy land and stockpile weapons for “an impending race war,” a court affidavit says. They tried to buy an automatic weapon, explosives and a pistol with a silencer from three undercover agents posing as illegal firearms dealers. All three men, who were arrested Sunday, have lengthy criminal records, led by Charles D. Halderman’s 17 felony convictions.

Half of CA’s Illegal Immigrants Would Qualify for Medicaid

Over half of all illegal immigrants in California earn incomes so low that they would be eligible for the state Medicaid system, Medi-Cal, a new study has found, just as California is about to extend the health insurance to children in the country illegally. The non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California concluded that, should the deep blue state choose to go further and expand the program to include all illegal immigrants, 51 percent of them would have incomes low enough to be eligible for the program. The study estimates that there are approximately 2.6 million illegal immigrants living in California, and so approximately 1.4 million would be eligible for Medi-Cal benefits should they be extended to them.

Wanted: 100,000 New STEM Teachers

In schools across America, there are “Help Wanted” signs advertising jobs that desperately need to be filled. They’re all for teaching positions in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) which have 100,000 open positions nationwide. 100Kin10 is a New York nonprofit trying to fill those roles. Its name reflects its goal: train and place 100,000 new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers by 2021. “There’s an urgency to meet this target because our schools have to better prepare kids for the future where the economy will largely be driven by STEM-based jobs,” said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director of 100Kin10. What started as a group of 28 corporations, universities and nonprofits has since ballooned into a robust initiative with more than 230 public and private partners around the country.

Workers’ Share of Corporate Benefit Expense is Escalating

Companies’ health care costs in 2015 rose at the lowest rate in at least 20 years, a report out Thursday shows, but workers’ share of costs continue to skyrocket. The average health care rate increase for mid-sized and large companies was 3.2% this year, the lowest since the consulting firm Aon started tracking it in 1996. Despite this, the average amount workers have to contribute toward their health care is up more than 134% over the past decade and that trend will accelerate, says the report. Employees on average contributed $2,490 toward premiums and another $2,208 in out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments, coinsurance and deductibles in 2015, the report shows. The amount of employees’ premium and out-of-pocket costs combined was just $2,001 in 2005.

Income Tax Identity Theft Baffles IRS

Income tax identity theft is a huge problem that is only getting worse. According to a 2015 report of the General Accountability Office (GAO), the IRS paid out $5.8 billion dollars in bogus refunds to identity thieves for the tax year 2013 and according to the GAO, the real figure is quite probably higher because of the difficulty of knowing the amount of undetected fraud. The IRS announced a new cooperative effort between the IRS, state tax administrators and private tax preparation leaders to fight income tax identity theft. Included among the steps being taken are a review of the IP addresses of computers filing income tax returns online in order to identify computers filing multiple returns; and monitoring the time it takes to complete an electronic income tax return which can help identify fraudulent income tax returns since completing a fraudulent return generally takes less time than preparing a legitimate return. In addition, income tax preparation software companies will start using enhanced validation protocols including increased use of security questions.

Economic News

U.S. retail sales rose less than expected in October amid a surprise decline in automobile purchases, suggesting a slowdown in consumer spending that could temper expectations of a strong pickup in fourth-quarter economic growth. The Commerce Department said on Friday retail sales edged up 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in September. Sales at auto dealerships fell 0.5 percent last month after rising 1.4 percent in September. Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services rose 0.2 percent after an upwardly revised 0.1 percent gain in September. The lackluster report suggests that savings from cheaper gasoline are being used to pay rents, which have increased substantially over the past year.

#BlackLivesMatter has become a rallying cry in America. An equally troubling question facing the nation is do #BlackJobsMatter?, asks CNNMoney. The unemployment rate for whites is 4.4%. It’s more than double that — 9.2% — for African-Americans. It’s become accepted that the African-American unemployment rate is “always” twice that of whites. It’s been this way for decades. There was hope that the election of President Barack Obama would usher in a new era, but the overall black-white job gap isn’t closing.

General Motors has become the first Detroit automaker to export vehicles from China to the U.S. GM has reportedly solidified a plan to import a Buick from China to the U.S. The automaker will begin selling the Buick Envision — which is already assembled in China, Buick’s most popular market — in the U.S. by early next year, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The compact crossover, currently produced at a plant in Shandong province of China, will fill a key hole in the Buick brand’s U.S. lineup.

President Obama signed into law a bipartisan budget bill last week that, among other things, shores up Social Security Disability payouts. The Social Security Disability trust was on pace to run out money next year and, as a result, millions of Americans were going to receive an automatic 19% reduction in their disability benefits in the fourth quarter of 2016. The new law fixes that by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security trust fund — the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust fund — to another, the Disability Insurance Trust fund.

  • Shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic only postpones an inevitable crisis as the wave of Boomers retire and the proportion of workers supporting retirees and the disabled shrinks

Skyrocketing CEO compensation is a huge and growing concern for investors — and no wonder. In 1965, the average CEO of publicly listed companies was paid 20 times more than the average worker. Last year, it was an incredible 303 times more. When executive compensation gets that extreme, it can take a bite out of company profitability.

Persecution Watch

Christians are under siege in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, according to a disturbing new report. The Southeast Asian nation, where about 90 percent of its 250 million people are Muslim, has long been seen as seen as an example that a large Muslim majority can live in relative peace alongside minority religions, like Christianity and Hinduism. But in October, there was a troubling outburst in violence in the Sharia-law governed region of Aceh. At the urging from Islamic leaders, hundreds of Muslims took to the streets with machetes and torched area churches. “We will not stop hunting Christians and burning churches. Christians are Allah’s enemies,” one Islamic leader said, according to a report by the Gatestone Institute titled, “The Indonesian Jihad on Christian Churches.” The report said that a total of 8,000 Christians in Aceh were displaced in violent clashes.

Four Christian families narrowly escaped being burned alive in their Bangladesh homes after being accused of witchcraft. Christian Today reports that the families had endured accusations from Muslims that they were practicing witchcraft for over a year. The Muslims also threw bricks at the families’ houses and told them to leave the village. “They wanted to kill us by burning us alive, but we managed to escape. We have lost everything,” said Ramni Das who lost two houses in the attack. Neighbors helped the families escape their burning homes. Das reported the attacks to police, but no action has been taken to bring the attackers to justice, although police claim to be investigating the case.

Migrant Crisis

As Europe faces its worst refugee crisis since World War II, the European Union has launched an emergency fund for Africa to tackle the spiraling number of migrants flooding its shores. The nearly $2 billion fund was unveiled at the end of a two-day summit of EU and African leaders in Malta. The fund will support projects to combat poverty, slow down migration and speed up repatriation programs. This new money is in addition to the 20 billion euros annually donated to Africa by the EU and its 28 states. “We are under no illusions that we can improve the situation overnight, but we are committed to giving people alternatives to risking their lives,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants this week freed 37 Assyrian Christians held captive for more than nine months. The release was negotiated by the Assyrian Human Rights Network, according to the Christian Today web site. The radical ISIS army raided several villages along the Khabour River in Northern Syria in February, taking more than 200 people hostage. ISIS had demanded $100,000 for each hostage, about $23 million. The group later lowered the ransom to about half that amount. Since then, about 88 hostages have been released, but at least three have been executed. The AHRN continues to work for the release of the remaining hostages.

  • Hostage ransom fees are one of the primary funding tools of ISIS

The Syrian army has broken a two-year ISIS siege on the Kwairis military airport near Aleppo, which had been surrounded by the terror group since 2013. Government forces killed “hundreds of ISIS terrorists and destroyed their dens and cells with all weapons inside,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported. “The regime has been fighting since the end of September to break the siege,” said Rami Abdurrahman, the head of London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Taking this airport back from siege means they can advance to ISIS areas. They can use it to shell areas around Aleppo.” The Syrian military has been backed by Russian air power in recent weeks.

The Sinai Peninsula is the new front line in the battle against ISIS. But the men defending Sinai aren’t soldiers or police. They are Bedouin tribe members. “They are not Muslims,” says Sulieman El Meharwel, one of three tribal leaders who talked to CNN about resisting ISIS. “They kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them. We accept everyone, including Christians and Jews, but we can never accept ISIS.” It’s the Egyptian wing of ISIS that claims to have downed Metrojet Flight 9268 over Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. “We’ve stopped ISIS more than 20 times. We went out with more than 50 cars and kicked them back,” says Abu Atwey, of the Tarabeen tribe.


Iraqi police officials say a suicide bomber killed 17 people at a Baghdad memorial service for a Shiite militia fighter killed in battle against the Islamic State group. The official says the bomber detonated his explosives’ vest on Friday at the service in the southwestern Baghdad suburb of Hay al-Amal. At least 43 people were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but the Islamic State militant group has frequently targeted large Shiite gatherings. The radical Sunni group believes that Shiites are apostates who have strayed from Islam.

Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes launched a ground offensive shortly after dawn Thursday to recapture the strategic Iraqi town of Sinjar from the Islamic State, touching off a fierce battle for control of the strategic city. U.S. advisers are with Kuridsh units at headquarters far from the fighting, according to a U.S. military official. The Kurdish government said Friday that its forces liberated the strategically important city in Iraq, a day after it severed an important Islamic State supply route in its attempt to retake Sinjar from the militant group. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said that its peshmerga fighters were clearing Sinjar of remaining Islamic State extremists and that those fighters were “defeated and on the run.”


Twin suicide bombings just minutes apart shattered a Shiite suburb in southern Beirut on Thursday, killing at least 43 people and wounding dozens more in one of the deadliest attacks in years, according to Lebanese officials. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the explosions, which hit during rush hour in the commercial and residential area of Burj al-Barajneh, a stronghold of the Shia Hezbollah movement that is fighting in Syria. At least 239 people were wounded in the blast, the Lebanese Health Ministry said. The explosions erupted at a community center and a nearby bakery, according to Reuters. The Islamic State, which is dominated by Sunni militants, said in a statement posted online by its supporters that its members first blew up a bicycle loaded with explosives, Reuters reported. The second explosion came from a suicide bomber who detonated a charge among the onlookers drawn by the first blast.


The Taliban don’t only attack other people; factions of the Taliban sometimes battle each other. For the last four days, two Taliban groups have waged gun battles in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan, Ata Mohammad Haqbayan, the head of the Provincial Council in Zabul, said Tuesday. On one side are fighters loyal to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, and on the other are fighters loyal to Mullah Mohammad Rasool, the leader of a Taliban splinter group. So far, about 100 Taliban fighters from both sides have been killed.


Chinese pollution has reached its highest levels since record-keeping began, creating a dangerous, hazy scene in several cities. In Shenyang, in northeastern China, pollution levels soared as high as 1,400 micrograms per cubic meter. China’s government said pollution levels that exceed 35 micrograms per cubic meter are unhealthy. The highest pollution level ever recorded was 1,986 micrograms per cubic meter in Palangkaraya, Indonesia, during illegal burning in September. The pollution got thicker over the weekend as temperatures plummeted and residents burned coal to stay warm.

The city of Montreal is dumping 2 billion gallons of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River over the next several days, an action the mayor says is necessary to make repairs and improvements to the city’s wastewater system. Mayor Denis Coderre said, “If we had other options, we would have taken them, but we had no other option.” The city says it’s taking several precautions to make sure the river, its banks and its wildlife suffer no lasting harm. “The citizen outrage over ‪#‎flushgate has been overwhelming in recent days — and despite reassurances from the Canadian federal and provincial governments, the people seem unconvinced that this activity is safe for the River,” a group called Save the River said on its Facebook page.

  • What about the downstream victims? The St. Lawrence River empties in Lake Ontario.


A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Saturday off the coast of southwest Japan, triggering a small tsunami. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The earthquake struck at 5:51 a.m. at a depth of 6 miles about 11 miles southwest of Kagoshima city, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. A one-foot tsunami was recorded at 6:45 a.m. on Nakanoshima, a small island to the south of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island.


Along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada mountains, as much as a foot and a half of snow fell in western Nevada Tuesday. This led to school closures, and the heavy, wet snow briefly knocked out power to more than 36,000 customers in northern Nevada. The storm brought much-needed early-season snow to an area that’s been in the grip of a severe drought for several years. The storm created travel problems in parts of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas Wednesday as blowing snow reduced visibilities to dangerous levels. Numerous accidents were reported on slick, icy roadways. In the higher elevations of Colorado, some areas received at least a foot of new snow from this storm. Winds gusted as high as 50 mph in Nebraska as the snow fell, creating poor driving conditions. A large storm system arrived in the Pacific Northwest Friday, and it’s beginning to cause problems for many residents in western Washington. About 6,000 Puget Sound Energy customers were without power as heavy rain led to some localized flooding.

A powerful low-pressure system swept through the Midwest Wednesday, spawning severe thunderstorms and high winds. Several tornadoes were reported in Iowa, which was among numerous states reporting damage from the fast-moving system. A barn was thrown into a roadway in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. An EF1 tornado with an estimated peak wind speed of 110 mph touched down in a cornfield 2 miles west of Avoca, Iowa. Another tornado reported near Barnes City in Mahaska County caused extensive tree damage and destroyed several farm buildings. More than 6,600 customers were without power in Kansas Wednesday. Damaging winds and tornadoes tore through parts of four Midwest states on Veterans’ Day. Seven tornadoes have been preliminarily confirmed by the National Weather Service in Iowa. One tornado near Avoca, Iowa overturned semis and destroyed outbuildings. Another tornado formed on the Mississippi River before moving into Le Claire, Iowa, removing the roof of one home and damaging several others. There were also 105 reports of thunderstorm wind damage, mainly in Iowa, northern Missouri and Illinois.

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