Signs of the Times (7/19/16)

Baton Rough Killer Ambushed Police Officers

The man who fatally shot three law enforcement officers here and wounded three others before being killed by the police on Sunday morning “was targeting officers,” state police officials said Monday. “Our preliminary investigation shows that he definitely ambushed those officers,” Lt. J.B. Slaton, a public affairs commander for the Louisiana State Police, said in a phone interview Monday morning with the New York Times. Like the gunman who killed five police officers more than a week ago in Dallas, Mr. Long had served abroad in the military. On Sunday night, about half a dozen police vehicles went racing up the quiet tree-lined street in Kansas City, that is listed as his address. The officers blocked off the street — ordering reporters out of the area and advising neighbors to stay indoors. An unidentified man emerged from the house voluntarily and was taken into custody.

The Louisiana gunman who shot at a half-dozen Baton Rouge police officers Sunday, killing three of them, reportedly assumed an outspoken persona online who railed against the police and the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Law enforcement sources told The Advocate that Gavin Eugene Long’s military records matches that of a so-called “spiritual advisor,” life coach and author named Cosmo Setepenra. Long served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years, starting in 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, according to The Advocate. The paper reported that he posted a video in a YouTube series called Convos with Cosmos titled “Protesting, Oppression and how to deal with Bullies,” where he talked about Sterling’s death and the protests that came after it. “If y’all wanna keep protesting, do that, but for the serious ones, the real ones, the alpha ones, we know what it’s going to take,” Setepenra said. “Revenue and blood. Nothing else.”

Police Officer Deaths from Guns Up 72%

The shooting deaths of three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday pushed the number of law enforcement fatalities past a tragic benchmark. As of Sunday, 31 law enforcement officers were shot to death in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which keeps data on officers killed on the job. That’s up 72% from this time last year, when there were 18 gun-related deaths. In total, firearms were responsible for 41 of 123 officer fatalities in 2015, according to the memorial fund, but it was not the No. 1 cause of death. Traffic-related incidents, such as automobile and motorcycle crashes, caused 48 deaths. Things such as drownings, electrocutions, falls and fire-related incidents led to 34 additional deaths.

Thousands of Christians Flood the Nation’s Capital to Pray for Our Nation

In the sweltering summer heat, thousands of Christians gathered near the Washington Monument on Saturday to pray for a “broken” America. Nick Hall, a young evangelical Christian and leader of the Pulse ministry, organized the event to encourage young Christians to unite in prayer for the problems in the world and then take action, the Religion News Service reports. “We believe #JesusChangesEverything,” the organizers said. The hashtag became a trending topic on Twitter during the event. “We believe there’s power in coming together. Jesus promised whenever two or more come together in His name, He is present. It’s emboldening to join with others, to know we’re not alone, to realize we can do more together than apart.” Speakers at the event avoided talking too much about politics. Instead, they focused on praying for an end to violence and suffering, and restored protections for the vulnerable all across the world.

Christian Billboard Taken Down in Favor of Atheist Billboard at Republican Convention

A Christian-themed billboard at the Republican National Convention has been rejected, and an atheist billboard has been approved in its place at the Quicken Loans Arena. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the billboard was to feature the Christian film “God’s Not Dead 2,” which is soon to be released to DVD. The proposed billboard would have featured a picture of actress Melissa Joan Hart, who plays the lead character in the film, along with the words, “I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.” The billboard company Orange Barrel Media initially seemed set to approve the billboard but just days before the convention they told Pure Flix, the distributor of the film, that the billboard has been rejected because its message is “too political” and “way too incendiary.” The convention will, however, feature a billboard sponsored by the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation featuring a picture of Ronald Reagan and the quote, “We establish no religion in this country… Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”

Republicans Adopt Most Pro-Life Platform Ever

On a voice vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio today, GOP delegates from every state and territory in the nation adopted what pro-life advocates consider to be the strongest pro-life platform the Republican party has ever adopted, reports LifeNews.com. Historically, the party has been a champion for the right to life, with its platform recognizing “that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” The new platform calls for an end to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and a ban on the use of aborted babies’ body parts in research. The new GOP platform also would condemn the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a Texas law that required abortion clinics to meet basic health and safety standards. It also calls for new Supreme Court judges who will reverse the decision and uphold the right to life for unborn babies, the report states.

Pastor Warns That Pokémon Go is ‘Magnet for Demonic Powers’

Pokémon Go has become the new craze. Kids and adults alike have been playing the game which involves using the Pokémon Go app to find Pokémon characters in real-life places. While some believe the game is simply a fun way to spend time, a number of Christians have warned that it may pose more serious dangers. There have already been game-related fatalities. U.S. pastor Rick Wiles, who runs the Trunews website, believes the game is also dangerous on a spiritual level, noting that the game “is a magnet for demonic powers.” Wiles added that “these Pokémon creatures are like virtual cyber-demons.”

McDonalds and Starbucks Now Filtering Its Wi-Fi for Porn

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation partnered with Enough is Enough on its campaign to get McDonalds and Starbucks to filter their public Wi-Fi to prevent public access to pornography. In the first quarter of 2016, McDonald’s began to implement its new filtered Wi-Fi policy in its corporate-owned restaurants in the U.S., and made the same service available to their franchisees. “This policy change to offer filtered Wi-Fi is a huge victory,” NCOSE said. “Now the majority of McDonald’s restaurants will offer safer Wi-Fi for their patrons and will no longer be contributing to the public health crisis of pornography.”

Update on Attack in Nice

There is no evidence linking the truck driver who killed 84 people in Nice with the Islamic State despite the group’s claim that the attacker was a “soldier” for the organization, France’s interior minister said Monday. While Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in Nice, may have been inspired by the terrorist network any “links for now have not been established by the investigation.” Meanwhile, Bouhlel’s uncle told the Associated Press that his nephew was indoctrinated about two weeks ago by an Algerian member of the Islamic State in Nice. Nearly 60 people remain hospitalized after the attack last Thursday, 29 of them in intensive care. More than 300 people were injured overall. The French government has come under pressure for failing to thwart the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months.

Even though Muslims were among those killed and wounded by the rampaging truck in Nice, many Muslims now fear that their entire community will be the target of blame, just as French Muslims were victims of hate crimes following two terror attacks in Paris in January and November 2015. “Life in Nice won’t be the same again,” said Nora Louzgani, 20, a university student from Morocco who was one of the thousands of celebrants on the waterfront when the truck drove over people for more than a mile before police shot the Muslim driver.

More Young Adults Now Live with Parents

Living with mom and dad is now the most popular housing choice for 18 to 34-year Americans, according to Pew Research. This is the first time that has happened since the U.S. Census started keeping records about living arrangements over 130 years ago. “Any stigma that used to exist isn’t there anymore,” says Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew. The “live at home” trend is especially popular among men under 35. A whopping 35% of young adult men in America now live with their parent(s), versus just 29% of young women. Young men are delaying marriage and all the usual trappings that come with it like home buying and kids. The main reason? Money, or the lack of it. “Men who don’t have jobs are much more likely to live at home,” says Parker, and “men without jobs are much less likely to be married.”

Economic News

U.S. consumer prices increased for a fourth straight month in June as Americans paid more for housing, gasoline and healthcare, pointing to steadily rising inflation pressures. The Labor Department said on Friday its Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in May. In the 12 months through June, the CPI advanced 1.0 percent. The year-on-year increase remains below the 1.7 percent average annual increase over the last 10 years. The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, also rose 0.2 percent in June, rising by the same margin for three consecutive months. That lifted the year-on-year core CPI gain to 2.3 percent from 2.2 percent in May. This increase is slightly higher than the average annual rate of 1.9 percent over the past 10 years.

Housing starts and building permits improved modestly in June, as the housing market continued a slow but steady recovery. New-home construction jumped 4.8% in June to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.189 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Building permits increased 1.5 % to 1.15 million, heralding future gains in starts. Home prices and sales both grew at solid paces in recent months. The median home value in the United States is $186,100. United States home values have gone up 5.4% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 2.9% within the next year.

The global economy is expected to grow a bit more slowly than expected because of the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the European Union, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday. The IMF attributed its surprisingly mild downward revision despite the so-called Brexit vote to better-than-expected world growth so far this year and the Fund’s assumption that the uncertainty fomented by the decision will gradually ebb. It also pointed to the sharp rebound in financial markets following an initial post- Brexit sell-off. The agency expects global growth of 3.1% this year and 3.4% in 2017. The U.S. economy is expected to be largely unaffected by Brexit as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates lower for longer.

Persecution Watch

Christians in central Egypt gathered for protests and prayers Monday after officials said a Muslim mob attacked priests with knives and batons, leaving one person dead in the chaos. The fighting may have stemmed from an argument over whether Christian or Muslim children had priority to pass through a street, the English-language site Ahram Online reported. The attack came months after an armed Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman and paraded her naked on the streets while looting and torching seven Christian homes in the same area, security officials said. Three people, including the father of one of the priests, were wounded, investigators said. Police arrested four people after the attack. Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population.

Islamic State

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility Saturday for inspiring the truck attack in the French resort city of Nice as police detained five people thought to be linked to the man who killed 84 people and wounded more than 200 others. The Islamic State did not refer to the suspect by name, saying only that a “soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens in “Crusader states.”

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an ax and knife rampage on a German commuter train that injured at least five people, the group said in a statement posted by its Aamaq news agency Tuesday. The statement said the attacker, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, was a member of the Islamic State group and carried out the attack in response to its calls to attack countries that are members of an anti-Islamic State coalition. The assailant was shot dead by police as he fled the scene.

Syria

Airstrikes on Islamic State-held villages in northern Syria killed at least 56 civilians on Tuesday as intense fighting was underway between the militants and U.S-backed fighters, Syrian opposition activists said. Residents in the area blamed the U.S.-led coalition for the strikes that targeted two villages, Tokhar and Hoshariyeh, which are controlled by the Islamic State, activists said. The villages are near the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij, a town that members of the predominantly Kurdish U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces have been trying to capture in a weeks-long offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 56 civilians, including 11 children, were killed in the strikes on the villages, which also wounded dozens.

Turkey

Government forces crushed a coup attempt, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday. Erdogan vowed retribution after a chaotic night of clashes between loyalists and rebels that left over 200 people dead. Erdogan said the coup’s supporters — rogue elements in the military — would “pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey” and that “those who stain the military’s reputation must leave. Turkey has detained about 6,000 people in a government crackdown on alleged coup plotters and government opponents, the Justice Ministry announced Sunday. Turkish authorities moved to widen their purge of perceived opponents on Monday by removing thousands of police officers from their posts. Turkey’s ministry of education announced Tuesday it sacked 15,200 personnel, including 1,577 university deans, for alleged involvement with a group the government claims plotted Friday’s deadly failed coup, in the latest mass crackdown against government workers there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup attempt and he called for his extradition Saturday Political instability in Turkey, a NATO member and critical U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism, could pose a setback for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and sermons blaring from speakers continue to echo throughout the cosmopolitan districts of Istanbul in the wake of Friday’s failed military coup, creating a “surreal” scene and stoking fears a nation that remained proudly secular for the last century could be hurtling down the path to full-blown Islamic rule, reports FoxNews.com.

Iran

Key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will start to ease years before the 15-year accord expires, advancing Tehran’s ability to build a bomb even before the end of the pact, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press. The diplomat who shared the text with the AP described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal in the form of a document submitted by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining its plans to expand its uranium enrichment program after the first 10 years of the nuclear deal.

Two days before the anniversary of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, the Islamic Republic attempted to launch a new type of ballistic missile using North Korean technology, multiple intelligence officials told Fox News. The test, in violation of a UN resolution, failed shortly after liftoff when the missile exploded, sources said. The effort occurred on the evening of July 11-12 near the Iranian city of Saman, an hour west of Isfahan, where Iran has conducted similar ballistic missile tests in the past. It would be at least the fourth time Iran has launched or attempted to launch a ballistic missile since the nuclear accord was signed on July 14, 2015. Iran is barred from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years under UN Resolution 2231, which went effect July 20, 2015, days after the nuclear accord was signed.

Armenia

A group of armed men took over a police station in the Armenian capital Yerevan Sunday, taking an unknown number of people hostage. The armed group showed up in trucks ramming through the gates of the police headquarters and took control of the building Sunday morning. The armed men demanded the release of Jirair Sefilian, an opposition leader and former military official, who was arrested in June. Sefilian, a harsh critic of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, spoke out again the government’s role in the ongoing conflict between pro-Armenian separatists and the breakaway Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

North Korea

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into its eastern sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said. The launch came as an apparent retaliatory protest at South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in the country. Two of the missiles traveled between 310 to 375 miles, a sufficient range to reach South Korea. South Korea and the U.S. maintain they need the missile defense system because of volatile and aggressive moves from North Korea, which carried out its fourth nuclear test in January. North Korea is pushing to develop a long-range nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the mainland U.S. Defense officials believe the North does not yet possess such a weapon.

Russia

An investigation by the global agency that polices drug cheating in sports has found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Russian government ran a widespread doping regime for years in multiple Olympic sports, calling into question whether any Russian athletes should be permitted to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month. Russia’s ministry of sport covered up positive doping results by Olympic athletes for years in both Summer and Winter Olympic sports, the investigation found, and Russian intelligence agents participated in an elaborate covert scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to replace tainted urine samples of cheating Russian athletes with clean ones.

Venezuela

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans poured into neighboring Colombia to buy food and medicine on Saturday after authorities briefly opened the border that has been closed for almost a year. A similar measure last week led to dramatic scenes of the elderly and mothers storming Colombian supermarkets and highlighted how daily life has deteriorated for millions in Venezuela, where the economy has been in a freefall since the 2014 crash in oil prices. President Nicolas Maduro ordered the 1,378-mile border shut in August 2015 to clamp down on criminal gangs smuggling goods and gasoline across the border that were sold at subsidized prices in Venezuela. Maduro blames the shortages of food, medicine and basic staples in Venezuela on his opponents, who he accuses of trying to sow economic chaos to oust him from office. His critics accuse his socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Earthquakes

A small but rare earthquake struck about 100 miles off Daytona Beach, Florida, in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnitude 3.7 earthquake struck around 4 p.m. Saturday. There are no reports of damage or that it was felt on land. In June, another earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 hit off the coast of St. Augustine. According to the Florida’s Department Environmental Protection, the sunshine state sits on a section of the North American Plate that is less active than the section situated under California. The mysterious “earthquake” detected off the Florida coast over the weekend was actually the result of testing by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Geological Survey officials said Monday. The pseudo-earthquake triggered by a manmade explosion of a 10,000-pound bomb designed to test the seaworthiness of a new U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Jackson.

Wildfires

In northern Arizona, wind gusts and low humidity have refueled a 2-week-old wildfire near the highway that allows tourists to get to the lodge, restaurant and main campgrounds on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The lightning-caused Fuller fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon grew to 11,382 acres overnight and is burning out of control, according to a Sunday update from fire officials. Firefighters aim to hold the fire east of Cape Royal Road, according to fire officials. The northern area of the fire moved from the wilderness into South Canyon Point grass areas in the Kaibab National Forest. “We are balancing the need to protect resources where appropriate while still allowing the fire to spread naturally where it is safe to do so,” Deputy Incident Commander Rick Miller said in a statement.

Weather

Weather forecasters warn that some of the hottest temperatures of the season may sear a large portion of the United States this week. Very high humidity is expected to accompany the heat, especially in the Midwest, and that will create what’s known as a “heat dome” over most of the country. Only the Northwest will be spared. Forecasters say the heat index, which measures what the temperature really feels like when you add in the humidity will likely reach the dangerous category, increasing the risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death.

A line of severe thunderstorms moved across the Northeast on Monday and was blamed for one death in New Jersey. Every major Northeastern airport was forced into a ground stop Monday afternoon by the storms. Those ground stops spanned every major airport from Boston Logan International Airport down to the three airports in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. According to the National Weather Service, spotters saw a tornado near Woodland, Maine. Tornadoes in Maine and New Hampshire are rare, according to weather.com.

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