Signs of the Times (11/18/15)

Christianity on the Brink of Disappearing in the Middle East

A new report suggests that barring significant interventions on the part of world powers, the Christian presence in the Middle East may disappear completely within a decade – or even sooner. That bleak outlook comes from “Persecuted & Forgotten?” – a biannual report on Christian persecution that is produced by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, pointing out in particular the severe crisis in Syria and Iraq brought on by Islamist groups, notably ISIS, in carrying out “religiously motivated ethnic cleaning.” Todd Daniels, Middle East manager for the advocacy group International Christian Concern, agrees with the forecast. “Without massive change in the government structures and the security structures, it’s hard to see how there will be a place for them [Christians] in the next few years.”

Only 2% of Syrian Refugees to America are Christian, Disproportionate

The Obama Administration is not admitting Christian refugees from Syria in proportion to their population. Despite the fact 10% of refugees fleeing ISIS in the region are Christian, only 2% or 53 Christian refugees of 2,151 coming to America are Christian. President Obama has admitted 2,098 or 98% Muslim refugees, reports PrayInJesusName.org. “President Obama said Monday that calls from some quarters for the U.S. to admit only Christian refugees from Syria were ‘shameful,’ yet the reality is that today’s refugee system discriminates, not against Syrian Muslims, but against Christians and other non-Muslim minorities,” reports CNS News. Critics say this is because the federal government relies on the United Nations in the refugee application process – and since Syrian Christians are often afraid to register with the U.N., they and other non-Muslims are left out.

  • The U.N. is no friend of America or Christians

Islamic State Video Warns of More Attacks on West

A chilling new Islamic State video warns of deadly consequences in the United States or any country that joins the French in their punishing airstrikes against ISIL positions in Syria and Iraq. ‘We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day God willing, like France’s and by God, as we struck France in the center of Paris, we swear we will strike America at its center in Washington,” a militant says in the video. ISIS probably has plans for more attacks “in the pipeline,” according to the head of the CIA, although President Barack Obama’s national security team said over the weekend that the threat to Europe is greater than it is to the U.S.

  • Obama claimed that his ‘strategy’ was keeping ISIS contained, yet another lie or the result of obstinate blindness. In fact, Obama’s efforts at reconciliation provided cover for ISIS expansion.

Paris Terrorism Update

On Monday, a French official identified the suspected mastermind of the attacks that killed 132 people in Paris on Friday as Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, according to media reports. French radio station RTL described Abaaoud, 27, as “one of the most active (Islamic State) executioners” in Syria. Abaaoud is believed to be linked to thwarted attacks on a high-speed train bound for the French capital and a church in the Paris area earlier this year. French police carried out nearly 170 searches and arrested 23 people in dawn raids in the wake of the attacks on Paris, and more than 100 people are placed under house arrest. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France Info radio Tuesday morning that security forces had carried out 128 raids.

French police stormed an apartment in the northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis on Wednesday where at least two suspected terrorists linked to last week’s attacks, including a female suicide bomber, were killed, authorities said. Seven arrests were made in the raid, which reportedly targeted the man believed to be the leader of Friday’s attacks in the French capital. Officials were hunting for Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, according to media reports; that led to gunfire exchanges in Saint Denis between police and an unknown number of suspects who barricaded themselves in an apartment. One woman blew herself up.

  • If Abdelhamid Abaaoud is confirmed to have been hiding out in Paris, it would mean the Islamic State operative had somehow managed to slip past security nets and return from the battlefields of the Middle East raising serious questions about how well security measures work in keeping terrorists out

The French air force carried out bombing missions on ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria, for a second day in a row. ISIS claims Raqqa as the capital of its so-called caliphate. France’s strikes early Tuesday destroyed a command post and training camp, according to military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron. They were the second wave of airstrikes by France against ISIS after the Paris attacks. The Russian military joined France in launching airstrikes against an ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria Tuesday.

At least one of the terrorists who attacked civilians in Paris on Friday entered the European Union hidden among the wave of refugees arriving on European shores. The attacks appear to have been carried out by people from several nations and to have involved extensive planning and sophisticated weapons, notes the New York Times.

  • How many Islamic terrorists are infiltrating the U.S. among the thousands of refugees being legally taken into our country? More than a few, unfortunately.

U.S. Venues, Cities on High-Alert after Paris Attacks

Homeland Security officials talked with local officials Saturday to reiterate they had received no credible threats to U.S. soil, but they urged cities to remain vigilant after the attacks in Paris. Many states opened their state or regional law enforcement centers to coordinate security. Tourist destinations such as historical sites, religious institutions, social establishments and other locations that could potentially be targeta are getting special police attention.

Dozens of Governors Refuse to Receive Syrian Refugees after Paris Attacks

More than half the nation’s governors say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, although the final say on this contentious immigration issue will fall to the federal government. The declarations come amid reports that at least one of the Paris attackers slipped through Europe’s immigration system. The governors are also concerned about “gaping holes” impacting America’s screening process. In Michigan, which has a large Arab-American population, Gov. Rick Snyder said he was putting his prior calls for the state to accept more refugees on hold until the Department of Homeland Security reviewed its screening procedures. The Detroit Free Press reported that between 1,800 and 2,000 refugees had been resettled in Michigan over the past year and that approximately 200 of those were from Syria. In a statement, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said, “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”

The Price of Counterterrorism Is Expensive

Gordon Adams, a national security budget expert, estimates that the U.S. spends at least $100 billion a year on counter-terrorism efforts. But he and other defense experts caution that pinpointing a precise cost is impossible. Counter-terrorism activities go far beyond military activities and some costs are classified. the United States spends far more on defense and counter-terrorism than any other country in the world. Its military expenditures alone top that of the next seven countries combined, which are China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, India and Germany, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Ohio Teachers Increasingly Pack Guns in School

Dozens of school districts in Ohio now allow teachers who have conceal-carry permits to pack guns on the job. While an exact number of Buckeye State districts now allowing teachers to have guns in the classroom is not known, there are at least 40, according to Joe Eaton, director of FASTERsaveslives.org, a program affiliated with the Buckeye Firearms Foundation which sponsors training for teachers from the school districts. Teachers who recently took part in the program were taught not only about gun safety and use, but were taught paramedic skills and how to react to active shooter situations, according to WKRC in Cincinnati. “The single most important factor in active killer death toll is time,” Chad Baus, of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, said in a statement to Foxnews.com. “The longer killers have their way in so-called ‘no-guns’ zones, the more people die. The sooner they are stopped, the fewer people die.”

Obama Sets Out on Six-Day Trip to Asia

President Obama arrives in Manila in the Philippines on Tuesday for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a meeting of 21 Pacific Rim economies. The president plans to highlight security partnerships across the Pacific, climate change, counterterrorism, human rights and the global refugee crisis, a White House adviser said. Military tensions with China in the South China Sea and the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are likely to be the key issues of President Obama’s trip.

More Doctors Offering Direct-Pay Health Care

Instead of dealing with traditional insurance, co-pays and deductibles, many patients are now paying a one-year membership fee that includes an annual physical exam and between two and four office visits. Small procedures such as nebulizer treatments, strep tests and electrocardiograms are included. For example, Dr. Christina Bovelsky’s patients in Delaware can pay monthly fees between $65 and $75. Yearly rates for adults vary between $780 and $900, depending on the number of visits a patient wants. Care for children under 18 ranges from $240 to $360. Additional office visits cost $80 each. A Physicians’ Foundation 2014 survey found 7 percent of U.S. doctors now run a direct-pay practice and another 13 percent plan to transition to some form of direct-pay model.

Wall Street Is Hurting

Americans have lost respect for big banks. In Gallup polls, just over a quarter of Americans trust banks today. A decade ago, it was over 50%. Top college grads increasingly want to go to Silicon Valley, not Wall Street. They see tech as a better way to make money and change the world. “People could not be fleeing Wall Street faster at this point,” says Baiju Bhatt, a computer whiz who used to work on Wall Street. “All the kinds of people I remember who would have gone into consulting or finance are definitely trying to get jobs in tech right now.” Investment banks like Goldman Sachs (GS) have responded by increasing their starting salaries and enacting “sacred Saturday” policies to give young bankers a day off.

Iraq is Flooding America with Oil

The U.S. more than doubled its imports of oil from Iraq between August and September, according to a Platts analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics. The U.S. imported 521,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day during the final week of October. That was up from zero during several weeks in August. The dramatic increase in Iraqi oil imports is only adding to the already-massive supply glut that has pushed down oil prices. Crude oil prices sank to a four-month low of $40.06 a barrel this week and they’re down 12% in November alone. Iraq has really stepped up its oil production this year despite its own battles with ISIS and cheap prices. The shift is being driven by the simple fact that it’s cheaper for oil producers to have certain blends of oil refined on the Gulf Coast than in Europe. During the last week of October, the U.S. imported nearly 900,000 barrels per day from Saudi Arabia and almost 3 million from Canada.

  • As cheap oil drives fracking operations out of business, imports of oil are increasing. So much for energy independence.

Economic News

Consumer prices edged up in October after two straight months of declines as gasoline costs moved higher. The consumer price index rose 0.2%, the Labor Department said Tuesday, Over the past year, prices are up 0.2%. Gasoline prices increased 0.4% last month after tumbling the two previous months. The report could provide the Federal Reserve more evidence that low inflation is stabilizing as it considers raising interest rates next month for the first time in nearly a decade.

Car buyers now owe $1 trillion on their car loans, the first time they’ve ever owed that much. The loan balances have been driven up by a combination of three factors — strong car sales, rising car prices and low interest rates. Interest rates are low. Borrowers with top credit scores can get loans for less than 3%. New car sales are up nearly 6% so far this year. But the amount owed is up 11%, due to rising auto prices.

Japan’s economic output shrank in the most recent quarter, throwing the world’s third largest economy back into recession and presenting another setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans for reviving the nation’s long-suffering economy. Japan’s Cabinet Office announced Monday that gross domestic product, the measure of a nation’s goods and services, fell at an annualized rate of 0.8% in the July-September quarter, and shrank at a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in the previous quarter. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Middle East

A man in his 40s and his 18-year old son were murdered by Palestinian terrorists while driving to a family celebration. Other family members were wounded. Rabbi Yaakov Litman, in his early 40s, and his son Netanel, 18, were shot dead in a Palestinian terror attack on Route 60 in the South Hebron Hills in Judea, near the city of Hebron, on Friday afternoon. The family was on the way to a Shabbat celebration in honor of the upcoming wedding of a daughter, who was not with them during the attack.

Islamic State

An American airstrike has targeted and likely killed a top Islamic State leader in Libya, in a strike that happened just as the Paris terrorist attacks were underway, the Pentagon said Saturday. The U.S. strike targeted Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a longtime al-Qaida operative and the senior Islamic State leader in Libya. This was the first airstrike against an Islamic State leader in Libya and comes on the heels of a U.S. and British operation late last week in Syria that officials believe likely killed Islamic State militant Mohammed Emwazi. Emwazi was a Kuwaiti-born British citizen known as “Jihadi John,” who appeared in several videos depicting the beheadings of U.S. and Western hostages.

Intensifying pressure on the Islamic State, United States warplanes for the first time attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that the extremist group has been using to smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria, American officials said. Plans for the strike were developed well before the terrorist attacks in and around Paris on Friday, and the assault is part of a broader operation to disrupt the ability of the Islamic Stateto generate revenue to support its military operations and run its self-styled caliphate.

The terror group that claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner in Egypt last month is a little known affiliate of the Islamic State that has quietly but rapidly grown into a powerful regional threat. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) confirmed Tuesday that the plane was blown up by a homemade explosive device. Russia is offering $50 million for information that would lead to those responsible for planting the bomb. The group called the Sinai Province claimed responsibility for a July rocket attack that hit an Egyptian navy frigate in the Mediterranean Sea off the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. The group has also tried to seize territory in the Sinai Peninsula and launched car bombs in Cairo and elsewhere over the past couple years, all signature tactics of the Islamic State militants.

Nigeria

At least 31 people were killed and 72 others injured in a bomb blast in the northeastern Nigerian city of Yola on Tuesday evening. The explosion ripped through the crowded Tipper Garage in the Jambutu area of the city at around 7:48 p.m. local time ‎shortly after evening prayers. This area houses a livestock market, an open-air restaurant and a mosque. The explosion happened as traders were leaving the mosque and others were eating at the restaurant, most likely the work of Boko Haram militants.

Earthquakes

Wildfires raging across southwest Australia killed four people, officials said Wednesday, as a blistering heat wave swept through the country. The bodies of four people were found in a rural area north of the town of Esperance, where several fires have been burning since they were sparked by lightning on Sunday. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated and schools were closed as firefighters struggled to contain the blazes, which have been fanned by days of fierce winds and temperatures soaring above100 Fahrenheit. The Salmon Gums blaze has burned through 1,100 square miles of land.

Weather

At least three people are dead and more than 1 million lost power Tuesday as powerful winds raked the Pacific Northwest and parts of the interior Northwest. Winds were clocked as high as 119 mph in the mountains of Washington state while urban centers were buffeted by winds strong enough to cause extensive damage to trees and buildings. Heavy rain is also causing its share of problems, contributing to serious flooding in parts of western Washington. Falling trees were blamed for three deaths.

As many as 38 unconfirmed tornadoes struck a swath of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska Monday, causing damage in at least two of those states as a severe weather outbreak unfolds across the central and southern Plains. Officials in Texas said one of the tornadoes destroyed an oil and gas facility, raising concerns about radioactive material stored there. The storms also brought strong non-tornadic winds to some areas, and in Texas and Oklahoma combined, some 47,000 customers woke up without power Tuesday morning. So far, there have been no injuries reported from these storms.

Authorities said a rare tornado struck a Central California town, causing damage to some structures and knocking down trees and power lines. The National Weather Service said video and witness reports confirm a tornado touched down in Denair, about 13 miles southeast of Modesto, on Sunday afternoon. The Modesto Bee reports the twister swept along nearly a mile of Zeering Road, toppling trees and fences, breaking windows and ripping off part of a church roof. The tornado came as another cold front swept across California. Hail and thunderstorms were reported in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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