Signs of the Times (1/12/16)

Persecution Watch

Christians in the Philippines are facing persecution at the same level as their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, says a missionary priest. According to Christian Today, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need that 14 people were murdered on Christmas day and a grenade was thrown at a chapel. Nine Christians were also killed on Christmas Eve. The violence was perpetrated by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. D’Ambra has been in the Philippines nearly 50 years “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq,” said Father D’Ambra.

Thirty Mexican Christians have been forced from their homes due to persecution, according to Christian Today. The Christians, who are Protestants and a minority among the Catholic-dominated country, were victims of a raid that destroyed their homes on January 4. Christian Today reports that the perpetrators of the violence are thought to be the commissioner of the community, Jimenez Hernandez, and the municipal agent, Francisco Jimenez Santiz. International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that “in the rural areas where we see persecution, many villages and their councils are dominated by adherents to syncretistic Catholicism.” Syncretistic Catholicism is a religion that mixes Catholicism with native beliefs and rituals.

Norwegian child services have begun the adoption process for five children who were seized from a Romanian Pentecostal family in November after concerns were expressed about the parents’ Christian faith, the family says. As reported by The Christian Post, the five children of Ruth and Marius Bodnariu were seized by the Barnevernet (Norway’s child services agency) on Nov. 16 after the principal of the middle school their two oldest daughters attend cited concerns about the children’s religious upbringing and how the parents were teaching their kids that God punishes sin. Although the principal only asked the Barnevernet to offer the family counseling services, the agency removed all five kids from their parents’ custody on the claim that the children were being physically abused. The children, including a nursing infant son, have now been placed in three separate foster homes while their parents have been given extremely limited visitation rights.

  • This is a growing worldwide movement under socialistic, humanistic leadership to deprive Christian parents the right to keep their children out of the public schools (secular humanist indoctrination centers)

Oregon Protesters Harassing Police, Sheriff Says

Since those occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge came to town, there has been an increase in the number of “vandalism, harassment and intimidation reports,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said. “There are continual reports of law enforcement officers and community members being followed home; of people sitting in cars outside their homes, observing their movements and those of their families; and of people following them and their families as they move around the community,” Ward said on Monday. “While not direct physical threats, these activities are clearly designed to try to intimidate,” he said. Some of the armed protesters have been able to leave and return from the refuge center during the occupation. Ammon Bundy, the son of anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and others have been hunkered down in the wildlife refuge since early January. The protest started out as a call against the conviction of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven — two ranchers who were found guilty in 2012 of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon — but soon morphed into a bigger movement, rallying against the role of the federal government when it comes to land rights.

Migrant Refugees Suspected of New Year’s Eve Rapes in Germany

German authorities have identified 31 people, including 18 asylum-seekers, as suspects in mob sex attacks and muggings in Cologne on New Year’s Eve — one of several such incidents in Europe. Demonstrations erupted in Cologne, Germany, on Saturday over the sexual assaults blamed largely on recent migrants. As a result, Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for stricter laws regulating asylum seekers. Merkel, who has been particularly outspoken in welcoming refugees to Germany, told a two-day meeting of the Christian Democrats in Mainz that tighter restrictions would be “in the interest of citizens, but also in the interests of the great majority of the refugees who are here.” Party leaders agreed on a proposal to strengthen the ability of police to conduct checks of identity papers, and also to exclude foreigners from being granted asylum who had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to terms even as light as probation.

Europe’s Plan to Distribute Refugees Unravels

The solution to Europe’s migrant crisis was supposed to be taking people off the migrant trail and distributing them more evenly across the continent to bring order to a process marked by chaos. But four months after European leaders agreed to the plan following long and bitter negotiations, the program has been crippled by a lack of cooperation — from countries and the refugees themselves. Out of an intended total of 160,000 asylum seekers, the E.U. has relocated a paltry 272, reports the Washington Post. But the problems with the relocation program go beyond a lack of participation by countries. The refugees haven’t shown much interest, either. Under the rules, asylum seekers don’t get to choose where they end up. Many are loath to risk being sent to a country where they’re unwelcome — such as Slovakia. Or they already have their hearts set on a destination where they have family or friends. Allowing the refugees to decide where they go has led to a deeply uneven distribution of the burden. Popular destinations, such as Sweden, have been overwhelmed and have recently introduced border controls to keep refugees out.

With refugee flows expected to begin climbing again within weeks, it adds to the odds that Europe will ultimately have to close its borders to refugees — and that walls will rise on a continent where the ideal of free movement once flourished. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, meanwhile, on Friday called for construction of “a European defense line” on Greece’s northern borders to stop refugee flows entirely — not just slow them. Other attempts to ease the refugee crisis through European solidarity have also fallen short, with countries ignoring for months a plea by the E.U.’s border agency, Frontex, to send additional guards to reinforce beleaguered authorities in Greece.

Drinking Water Delivered Door-to-Door in Michigan

State officials in Michigan will start a door-to-door sweep of Flint on Tuesday to hand out bottled water and water filters to address the city’s ongoing water crisis. Flint’s drinking water was contaminated with lead when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water supply source from Lake Huron to the more polluted and corrosive Flint River, and an unknown number of children got lead poisoning. The state said that if no one is at home during door-to-door visits, a flyer with information on how to get free water resources will be left. Three liaison officers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are in Michigan assisting state officials after Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the crisis Tuesday.

Strokes Skyrocket Among Middle-Aged

The fight against one of the nation’s leading killers, stroke, has been touted as a public health success story since it has been decreasing among American seniors, dropping from the fourth to the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S. But this statistic masks a chilling and dramatic increase in strokes hitting the middle-agers, a group thought to be relatively low-risk for brain-damaging blood clots. Among Americans ages 15 to 44, the incidence of stroke has risen up to 53 percent. And the proportion of strokes in the under-65 population has gone up from 25 to 31 percent. Doctors say the reasons for this alarming trend are clear. Americans are becoming obese, diabetic, and suffering high blood pressure at a younger age than in decades past.

Economic News

“Sell everything.” That harrowing advice is from The Royal Bank of Scotland, which has warned of a “cataclysmic year” ahead for markets and advised clients to head for the exit. “Sell everything except high quality bonds,” warned Andrew Roberts in a note this week. He said the bank’s red flags for 2016 — falling oil, volatility in China, shrinking world trade, rising debt, weak corporate loans and deflation — had all been seen in just the first week of trading. Band of America admits that “panic is building” but recommends against panic selling, pointing to ongoing economic growth in the U.S. Instead, they say, “near-term caution is warranted.”

The Dow lost 1,079 points last week, or over 6%, as fears about China and crashing oil prices dealt Wall Street a painful one-two blow. It was the Dow’s worst five-day start to a year on record, according to Dow Jones. Investors were once again spooked by crude oil prices, which plunged to the lowest level since late 2003. Crude finished the day Friday at $33.16 a barrel. Chinese stocks started the week with heavy losses, diving more than 5% Monday as other global markets also fell.

The strengthening U.S. dollar could send oil plunging to $20 per barrel. That’s the view of analysts at Morgan Stanley. In a report published Monday, they say a 5% increase in the value of the dollar against a basket of currencies could push oil down by between 10% and 25% — which would mean prices falling by as much as $8 per barrel. Crude futures are already trading at around $32.50, near their lowest levels in 12 years. Prices slumped 1.8% on Monday, and are 13% down so far this year.

Black unemployment fell to 8.3% in December, down sharply from the 9.4% in November. It was the lowest mark since September 2007, before the recession began and lesser than half of the peak of 16.8% reached in 2010. It was the lowest mark since September 2007, before the recession began and lesser than half of the peak of 16.8% reached in 2010. Blacks still have higher unemployment than every other demographic. White unemployment is 4.5%, Hispanic unemployment is 6.3% and Asian unemployment is 4%.

Nevada’s casino industry lost $662 million last year, and has been in the red consistently for six years. Things hit bottom in 2009 when the industry posted a staggering loss of $6.8 billion. Visitors are spending plenty on restaurants, booze and glitzy shows featuring Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and magician Criss Angel. But spending on actual gambling is way down. It’s a trend that began with the Great Recession in 2008. More people are coming to Vegas, but they’re spending differently.

Middle East

Two Israeli Arabs were indicted on Friday for planning to assassinate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hazam Sanduka, 22, an Arab resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, and Fahdi Abu Kia’an,19, an Israeli Bedouin from the Negev, were arrested last month as part of a Hamas cell and charged with assisting an enemy at wartime, contact with a foreign agent, plotting a terrorist attack and manufacturing explosives. Azzam, a resident of Qalqilya in Samaria, rented an apartment in the Abu Dis neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Azzam and Sanduka acquired ingredients to make explosives and planned on carrying out several attacks. Sanduka, who had worked in a security firm in the past, initiated the plan to plant explosives under the stage in Jerusalem’s Payis Arena where Netanyahu was scheduled to speak. They also planned a large attack in Jerusalem for earlier this month. The plans were directed by Hamas in Gaza.

The search for Arab-Israeli terror suspect Nashat Milhem ended Friday afternoon in a hail of bullets as security forces tracked him to the northern village of Arara and attempted to arrest him, prompting him to open fire. He was killed by return fire from the security forces. The announcement of his death was met with relief by Tel Aviv residents who had lived in fear for the last several days that he might attempt to repeat his New Year’s Day shooting rampage which killed three people and wounded six others, while the Palestinian Authority and Islamist terror militias Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared Milhem a “martyr” and a “hero” whose death would be avenged.

Islamic State

An air campaign aimed at crippling the Islamic State’s lucrative oil smuggling business has reduced the terror group’s revenue from a peak of about $1.3 million a day to less than $1 million, a top State Department official said. Damage to the group’s oil infrastructure and distribution networks has caused blackouts and fuel shortages in areas controlled by the Islamic State. Revenue from oil represents the bulk of the organization’s budget, funding terror operations and providing it with the resources to govern territory it controls in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS fighters who fled to the terror group’s Iraqi stronghold of Mosul after being defeated in Ramadi were burned alive in the town square, sources told, in an unmistakable message to fighters who may soon be defending the northern city from government forces. Several Iraqi-Americans and recent refugees with close relatives in Mosul told of ISIS fighters fresh off defeat in Ramadi being shunned – and executed – for not fighting to the death in Ramadi.


Trucks with food supplies reached starving residents Monday in a Syrian city and two towns caught between warring factions in the country’s civil war. Graphic images publicized of skin-and-bone children led to a breakthrough by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in gaining access to the mountain city of Madaya, north of Damascus, and the towns of Foah and Kafraya, farther north in Syria’s embattled Idlib province. The Red Cross said there were 40,000 people in Madaya and 20,000 in the smaller towns in need of help. Doctors Without Borders said at least 250 people in Madaya are suffering from severe malnutrition.


The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s car bombing and assault at a Baghdad mall that killed 18 people and wounded 50 others. Shortly after the attack, the militant group posted a statement online, saying a car bomb and four of its fighters had targeted the area where many Shiite Muslims gather and warned of “worse” to come. The attack comes two weeks after the Islamic State was driven out of the western city of Ramadi by Iraqi government troops. The militant group still controls parts of northern and western Iraq, as well as a parts of Syria. Monday’s assault began with a car bomb being detonated and gunmen assaulting the mall for more than an hour before Iraqi security forces surrounded the building, landed troops on the roof and re-gained control over the shopping zone. At least four police officers were killed, as well as two of the attackers.


A suicide bomb blast ripped through a popular tourism area of Istanbul on Tuesday, killing at least 10 people and injuring about 15 others, Turkish authorities said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said the bomber was a 27-year-old Syrian national. “This incident has shown once again that we have to stand in full unity against terror,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said. Most of the victims were German, Erdoğan said. At least six Germans, one Norwegian and one Peruvian are among the injured. Turkey has been the target of deadly attacks at least three other times since June. The Islamic State either claimed responsibility or was blamed for all the attacks.


Two Austrians and a Swede who were stabbed in an attack on a hotel in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada were only lightly wounded and in stable condition on Saturday. Two suspected militants attacked the three at a hotel in Hurghada late Friday. Security forces shot both attackers, killing one and wounding the other before arresting him. It was the second hotel attack in as many days. An Islamic State affiliate claimed an attack Thursday on a hotel in Cairo near the Pyramids that did not wound anyone. Two Egyptian police officers were also shot and killed on their way to work Saturday in the Giza district. Egypt has for years been battling a Sinai-based insurgency, which has grown in strength since the 2013 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. A Sinai-based Islamic State affiliate has claimed a number of attacks across the country.


At least five people were killed and 10 others were injured when a “projectile” hit a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders in northern Yemen on Sunday, the group said. Three of the injured were members of the group, and two are in critical condition. Several buildings collapsed and people may still be trapped in the rubble. Yemen has become a proxy battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yemen’s minority Houthis, who are Shiite, began rebelling last year against the Sunni-led government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia got involved last March by launching airstrikes in support of Hadi against rebel targets in Yemen. This is the second incident to impact Doctors Without Borders. In October, a U.S. airstrike at an MSF hospital in Afghanistan killed 30 people, including staff and patients.


Riding on hot, windy weather, a wildfire raging in Western Australia continues to wreak destruction across the state. The fire has burned more than 140,000 acres as of Friday and engulfed the small town of Yarloop. The fire’s behavior is reminiscent of the Valley Fire in California last year, which exploded and burned an area more than twice the size of Manhattan in just 12 hours. Lightning ignited other wildfires — known in Australia as bushfires — across Western Australia. The largest flared up about 70 miles south of the state capital of Perth and was dubbed the Waroona fire after the nearest town.


An invasion of arctic air has sent temperatures plunging to dangerously cold levels in parts of the Plains and Midwest. Subzero temperatures were recorded Sunday morning as far south as Kansas and Missouri. Fosston, Minnesota, was the coldest location in the Lower 48, with a low of 35 degrees below zero. Meanwhile, parts of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest were seeing wind chills in the 20s and 30s below zero. Grand Forks, North Dakota, recorded a wind chill of 39 degrees below Sunday morning. On Monday morning, the coldest spot in the Lower 48 was Embarrass, Minnesota, where the low dipped to 34 degrees below zero. Farther south, both the Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas woke up to subzero temperatures. Wind chills in the Windy City were in the teens below zero while Milwaukee saw a wind chill as low as minus 21 degrees. Single digits lows were recorded as far south as northern Kentucky, with teens into the mid-South. In Ontario, Canada, the cold weather caused the Nipigon River Bridge to separate along the Trans-Canada Highway Sunday – a closure so significant that the local municipality declared a state of emergency.

Heavy lake-effect snow was reported Monday all across the Great Lakes, leading to road closures in western New York and school closures in the Cleveland area. Areas south of Buffalo received as much as 25 inches of snow through Monday night. Lake-effect snow was most intense in northern New York, where snow bands off Lake Ontario produced snow totals as high as 34 inches in Lorraine. Snow totals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan remained under a foot. Elsewhere, northern Arizona set a record snowfall Saturday, with 22 inches of accumulated snow on the ground at the Flagstaff Airport. The storm system brought in a total of 30.9 inches during the week to the Flagstaff area.

As floodwaters continue to rise along the lower Mississippi River, it’s clear the slow-motion disaster will be among the costliest wintertime flood events in U.S. history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday that damage from the floods will top $1 billion. That number is likely to climb as the unpredictable and overflowing Mississippi continues its march south. This week floodwaters will continue to rise along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the cities of Greenville and Natchez, Miss., and Baton Rouge.

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