Signs of the Times (7/15/16)

Truck Attack in Nice, France, Kills at least 84

A truck plowed into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, on Thursday, killing at least 84 people, including two Americans, and injuring dozens of others. The driver of the large white commercial truck killed scores of people as he drove through a pedestrian-only area while crowds were watching Bastille Day fireworks. The driver was eventually shot dead by police. The driver was identified as Nice’s mayor’s office confirmed Friday that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, of Tunisian descent and a resident of the French seaside city. Cars and trucks were barred from the Promenade des Anglais during Thursday’s Bastille Day festivities, but the terrorist who plowed a 19-ton truck into a mile-long crowd of revelers got past police by telling them he had ice cream to hand out, reports Fox News.

The attack marks the third time France has endured gruesome carnage on its own soil in the past year and a half. Bouhlel does not appear to have been known to intelligence services and was not on a watch-list, according to the Nice-Matin newspaper. The attack in Nice is an example of a shift in tactics by terror groups who are encouraging followers in the West to stay home and wreak havoc with whatever means they have at their disposal, reports the USA Today. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have advocated the use of vehicles to kill people over the past few years.

Coup Underway in Turkey

Turkey’s military launched a coup Friday against the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish officials and the country’s armed forces said, in a stunning move that will likely plunge the country into further turmoil and reverberate across an already bloodstained and chaotic region. “The Turkish Armed Forces, in accordance with the constitution, have seized management of the country to reinstate democracy, human rights, and freedom, and to ensure public order, which has deteriorated,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in a statement Friday. Armored vehicles and military personnel were deployed across key areas of the capital, Ankara, and the largest city, Istanbul. The military declared martial law and imposed a curfew, according to a statement carried by state-run broadcaster TRT. Helicopters and fighter jets flew low over both cities Friday night as the embattled government struggled to maintain control. Speaking to Turkish broadcaster CNNTurk via FaceTime, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the chain of command had been violated and encouraged Turkish citizens to challenge the coup attempt by gathering on streets and at airports.

Black Lives Matter Protest Turns Violent

Black Lives Matter activists staged protests and demonstrations in major cities across the United States, and while some have remained “peaceful,” others have led to violence. Many of these protests have blocked major roadways and interstates, such as the Interstate 40 bridge in Memphis where motorists were recently stranded for hours, unable to get to school, work or other engagements, while activists stood across the road, demanding “justice.” But, not everyone has bowed down to the protesters, and several have resorted to extreme measures to get through the blocked roadways. One social media user has created a video compilation of several instances where motorists have plowed through the activists with their vehicles. These protests have hindered emergency workers from tending to injured or sick people, and there has been at least one instance of these demonstrations preventing a child from getting to the hospital. Blocking a roadway is a crime under several state laws — including Tennessee where, despite the law, police officers were told to stand down and allow the protesters to block I-40.

Black Panthers Seek to Create Their Own Nation

The self-professed national minister of defense for the People’s New Black Panther Party has declared that they, along with other organizations have set a goal of setting up “our own government in a nation within a nation.” Babu Omowale appeared in an interview with reporter Aaron Klein and said that a new “Black Nation” would be composed of five states: Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. “We just need to start migrating back to those states and taking control of the economics in those states,” he said. “If black people move in, most definitely white people will move out. So it’s not a hard process for us to have our own country within a country.” Omowale is the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which states on their website that they seek to “develop over time to a regimented Black Army.”

Target Transgender Bathroom Policy Causing Problems

In April Target announced it would begin allowing transgender men free access to the same restrooms and changing rooms as little girls. Since this boycott began there have been multiple examples of why Target’s policy is dangerous. The most recent and startling example occurred in an Idaho Target store this week. According to East Idaho News, “an Idaho Falls man who police say identifies as transgender was arrested this past Tuesday afternoon after deputies say he took photos of a woman in a fitting room in Target.” The man was booked at a local jail on one felony count of voyeurism. Though he identified as a woman, the jail inmate roster lists him as a man. The American Family Association says, “Target’s lack of action on this issue has proven that their main concern is not the safety of their customers. Target management is more concerned with political correctness and pleasing the sexual deviants than protecting women and children.”

House Passes Bill to Protect Pro-Life Conscience Rights

The House of Representatives passed the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (S. 304), by a 245-182 vote Thursday. The bill would prevent the government from discriminating against any health care provider who refuses to “perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion.” It also allows victims of discrimination to sue in civil court. The law would codify into law the Weldon Amendment, an amendment passed every year since 2004 but which Republicans and the U.S. Catholic bishops say the Obama administration has ignored. On the House floor, several Republicans quoted President Obama’s 2009 speech at Notre Dame, in which he said, “Let us honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause” related to ObamaCare. Yet last month, the Obama administration ruled that two Catholic universities in California must offer abortion coverage in their health insurance plans, despite their religious objections.

Pokémon Go Game Sweeping the Nation, Causing Problems

Two men suffered moderate injuries when they tumbled off a seaside cliff north of San Diego while reportedly playing Pokémon Go, fire officials said Thursday. One of the men told sheriffs’ deputies that he and his friend were playing the smartphone augmented-reality game Pokémon Go when they fell over the cliff’s edge, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Pokémon Go has become a summer phenomenon, a game played on smartphones in which characters are projected on the phone’s screen amid the player’s actual surroundings. The goal of the game is to capture the animated figures. Some players have become involved in traffic accidents and many have violated private property. Many of the sites selected to contain Pokémon characters are incensed and demanding to be delisted, including the Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz, Poland.

Zika Update

At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, three senior U.S. government officials warned the Western hemisphere is under threat from the Zika virus, and that Florida, Puerto Rico and Brazil are the regions most at risk, McClatchyDC reported. The officials urged Congress to pass legislation stalled by partisan politics. In Florida, officials reported 13 new infections on Monday, bringing the state’s total known cases to 282. Of these,129 of were in South Florida, a total more than any other state except New York. Addressing the Senate, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden noted that funds already redirected from other important public health activities are not enough to support a comprehensive Zika response. Frieden criticized the partisan disagreements that have held up the emergency funding. The CDC has recommended pregnant women not travel to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. American athletes and spectators can go if they observe safety precautions, Frieden said. Brazil has more than 100,000 cases of Zika, with at least 5,000 newborns affected by microcephaly.

Economic News

Retail sales jumped 0.6% in June, the Commerce Department said Friday, well above the 0.1% rise economists expected. Excluding autos and gasoline, which are more volatile, sales increased 0.7%. Economists expected a 0.3% advance. Consumers opened their wallets in the spring after displaying caution earlier in the year, buoyed by still-low gasoline prices and generally solid job growth. After payroll gains slowed in April and May, employers added a solid 287,000 jobs in June. Last month, auto sales edged up just 0.1% and gasoline station sales rose 1.2% as price increases moderated. The overall increase, however, was buoyed by a 3.9% jump at building material and garden supply stores.

Prices charged by U.S. producers rose in June at the fastest pace in 13 months, reflecting a big jump in the price of gasoline and other energy products. The Labor Department says that its producer price index, which measures cost pressures before they reach the consumer, increased 0.5% in June. That was the largest one-month jump since a similar rise in May 2015. Energy prices were up 4.1% last month while food costs rose 0.9%. Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose 0.4% in June, the biggest uptick since January. Even with the June acceleration, producer prices are up just 0.3% over the past 12 months, while core inflation is up a moderate 1.3%.

OPEC is pumping out more oil than at any time in recent history. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries produced nearly 32.9 million barrels of oil a day in June, according to its monthly statistical bulletin. That’s 260,000 barrels per day more than in May. OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, has been waging a price war since 2014 with oil producers outside the group, particularly in the U.S., in a bid to defend its market share. And it appears to be working. Supplies from non-OPEC nations are expected to fall by 900,000 barrels per day this year to about 56 million, OPEC predicted. Crude oil is currently trading at about $46 per barrel, less than half the price in mid-2014. But it has recovered strongly from recent lows of around $26 per barrel in February.

Persecution Watch

Russian Christians are extremely worried about their religious freedom after Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning all evangelism outside of churches. The Christian Post reports that the new law comes as a heavy blow to Russian Christians. It restricts all religious preaching and teaching outside of church buildings and makes breaking this restriction a punishable offense. The law is ostensibly aimed at protecting the country from terrorism. However, many have equated it to Soviet-era measures. Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, told National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) that “This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church. Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.” Thousands of churches in Russia are coming together to fast and pray that the law would be repealed. Some have even stated that they intend to defy the law and keep evangelizing. Haukka asked Christians worldwide to join their Russian brothers and sisters in prayer.

Middle East

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon addressed the Security Council Tuesday on the ten-year anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, in which the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets into Israel after provoking a conflict by attacking an Israeli border patrol. Danon told the Council that Hezbollah has not abided by the terms of the UN-brokered cease-fire which ended the war and is today poised to launch even deadlier attacks against Israel whenever its Iranian masters order it to. Danon specifically mentioned the massive arsenal of 120,000 rockets it has amassed in southern Lebanon, 17 times the number is had in 2006, all of which are banned by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” “When the war ended, this Council pledged that Hezbollah would no longer be allowed to threaten Israel and hold the people of Lebanon hostage,” Danon said. “I have the unfortunate task of informing this Council that 10 years later, the situation has gone from bad to worse. The government of Lebanon never stopped Hezbollah, and Hezbollah never stopped its military buildup.”

An investigation by the Jerusalem Post and the German newspaper Bild revealed this week that a federal agency and a private agency in Germany have conspired to violate EU sanctions on Iran, providing fraudulent quality control certificates to various businesses. Bonn-based TÜV InterCert SAAR issued the certificates in cooperation with the federal German Accreditation Council order to obtain a “competitive advantage” for German companies operating in Iran, according to the report. The Iranian companies were primarily industrial firms producing equipment, software and vehicles used for hydrocarbon exploration and production, but experts noted the dual-use nature of the equipment which can also be used for military purposes. Additionally, banks named in the report have been linked to Iran’s renegade nuclear program.

Islamic State

Even as it launches waves of terrorist attacks around the globe, the Islamic State is quietly preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago, reports the Washington Post. At the same time, the group is vowing to press on with its recent campaign of violence, even if the terrorists themselves are driven underground. U.S. counterterrorism experts believe the mass-casualty attacks in Istanbul and Baghdad in the past month were largely a response to military reversals in Iraq and Syria. Such terrorist acts are likely to continue and even intensify, at least initially, analysts say, as the group evolves from a quasi-state with territorial holdings to a shadowy and diffuse network with branches and cells on at least three continents.

Pakistan/Afghanistan

A militant leader who orchestrated a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including a 2014 assault at a school that left more than 130 children dead, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The July 9 airstrike killed Umar Khalifa and four other “enemy combatants” in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. Khalifa was a leader connected to the Tariq Gidar Group and was responsible for the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. Khalifa was also connected to a January 2016 attack on Bacha Khan University, which killed about 22 people, and a September 2015 Badaber Air Force Base attack that left 29 people dead, the Pentagon said.

Iran

Iran’s economy has benefited notably from the removal of nuclear sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the landmark deal between Tehran and major powers. But he stressed that the US will continue to apply sanctions pressure on the country over its alleged support for terror and its ballistic missile program, despite Tehran’s criticisms that Washington has not fully followed through with its side of the nuclear deal. ‘The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached one year ago today was a landmark international achievement, removing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran while illustrating the power of economic sanctions, coupled with tough diplomacy, to bring about a safer world,’ Lew said in a statement. In the year since then, he said, Iran has been able to sharply increase crude oil exports, and has opened more than 300 accounts with foreign banks to establish lines of credit worth billions of dollars. He also said the country has seen a more than $3 billion increase in planned foreign direct investment. Despite the agreement. Iran has taken advantage of a poorly worded United Nations resolution that merely ‘calls upon’ Iran to limit its missile testing. Instead, Iran has kept up a steady pace of tests, with more and more capable weaponry, reports United Against Nuclear Iran. In addition, Tehran is still sending its forces to support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and to gain influence in Iraq.

South Sudan

The U.S. military in Africa says it has sent 40 additional soldiers to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, to help secure American personnel and facilities in the war-torn city. Amid a tense cease-fire which has held since Monday night, the U.S. troops deployed at the request of the State Department. The U.S. Embassy in Juba said it is organizing flights to evacuate non-essential staff and for all U.S. citizens wishing to leave South Sudan. In five days of fighting in the capital President Salva Kiir’s forces ousted those loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar from one of their bases. The fighting left hundreds dead in the capital and aid workers said bodies remain in the streets.

Environment

A tiny species of whitefly has become a major concern in seven more Florida counties. According to a release from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), the Q-biotype whitefly is a light-colored flying insect that can cause significant damage to crops and other plants. “Crops that could eventually be affected include tomatoes, squash, beans, watermelons and many other vegetables and ornamentals,” said UF/IFAS. Whiteflies transmit more than 100 plant viruses, a major concern for South Florida’s vegetable industry. According to the Palm Beach County website, it’s estimated that the Q-biotype whitefly is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost food production worldwide.

Several canals in Brevard County, Florida, have acquired a thin film of green algae, the most recent in a string of algae-related incidents to hit the Sunshine State. Florida Institute of Technology scientists told Florida Today that the most recent bloom is a mix of two types of algae called dinoflagellates, which propel themselves through the water using whip-like tails. The algae is considerably larger-celled than most of the harmful algae blooms the lagoon suffers from, Johnson added, making the algae have a higher visual impact at much lower densities. Dead marine life is appearing on the lagoon’s bottom, WESH reports, and the outbreak may also be linked to new manatee deaths in the area, according to Florida wildlife officials.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) implemented the statewide Lionfish Challenge to remove some of the poisonous species from the waters and raise awareness to their impact. So far, 42 divers have removed 6,307 fish. Lionfish are an invasive species that can negatively affect other species and their habitats. The fish have up to 18 venomous spines on their fins, which can cause painful stings that can lead to swelling, blistering, dizziness and temporary paralysis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lionfish have very few predators in Florida’s waters, which make them an ongoing problem.

Wildfires

Thirty-one homes have been completely destroyed with 60 total buildings damaged or lost after a fire burned through Timberon, a community southeast of Alamogordo, Wednesday and Thursday. One firetruck for Timberon’s volunteer fire department was also lost to the flames. Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency in order to free up federal funds to help in the emergency response. The fire was estimated as being 290 acres in size Thursday night. Though flames and smoke had dissipated since the fire first started Wednesday evening, it continues to burn and is 0 percent contained as of Friday morning.

A lightning-ignited wildfire has burned more than 3,000 acres on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, national park officials said Thursday. The Fuller Fire is burning in the area north of Fuller Canyon Road and about 3 miles southwest of Point Imperial. Several roads and many trails have been closed in the area. The wildfire is feeding on dead and downed logs on the forest floor and aspen-tree regeneration in an area burned by the 2000 Outlet Fire. That fire burned more than 14,000 acres.

Weather

Severe weather clobbered several regions of the country on Thursday, scattering damage in the wake of multiple lines of storms. A strong storm system blew into Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday, with high winds that took down trees and heavy rains that flooded roads. Thousands were left without electricity as power lines were downed throughout the Sooner State. In Inola, the storm flattened a mobile home. he storms also damaged vehicles in transit in the Tulsa area. Half of a mobile home was overturned on a city highway Thursday. Strong winds blew over a tractor-trailer rig on Interstate 44. Creek Turnpike was blocked by flooding and a large downed tree. A downed tree blocked the road north of 91st Street on Riverside Drive, and traffic lights were knocked out at 21st Street and Utica Avenue. In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the storm ripped off the roof of a store at Curt’s Shopping Center.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were hustled away from an Arkansas high school graduation ceremony Thursday, NBC News reports, after severe winds began breaking windows. Trees and buildings were damaged by straight-line winds across the Natural State Thursday afternoon and evening. Some 150,000 Arkansas homes and businesses were without power Thursday night.

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