Signs of the Times (6/21/17)

Russia Threatens U.S. Over Downed Syrian Jet

Russian officials on Monday threatened that their country would treat U.S.-led coalition planes in some parts of Syria as targets after the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet on Sunday. Russia’s defense ministry said planes flying in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, would be considered targets. The news came one day after the first time in history a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian plane – and the first time in nearly 20 years the U.S. has shot down any warplane in air-to-air combat. The plane was shot down after pro-Syrian forces attacked elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance of local militias opposed to the Islamic State, the U.S. military said in a statement. The Syrian forces wounded a number of SDF troops and drove the U.S.-backed troops out of a small town south of Tabqah, a strategic area west of Raqqa, the defacto capital of the Islamic State. The Syrian Democratic Forces are engaged in a major offensive to drive the militants from Raqqa.

Iran Launches Missiles Against Islamic State

Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7. The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. The operation “targeted Takfiri forces in the Deir Ezzor region in Eastern Syria.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard uses the term Takfiri to describe ISIS. A U.S. aircraft shot down an armed Iranian drone advancing on coalition forces in southern Syria on Tuesday. This is the second the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in less than a month.

  • Iran and Russia have become end-time allies just as prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. But don’t lose heart – Jesus wins in the end.

Anti-Muslim Terrorist Strikes in London

The man suspected of mowing down a crowd exiting Ramadan prayers at a London mosque early Monday was captured on video blowing a kiss at bystanders as he was hauled off to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. At least one person was killed and 10 others were injured in the assault, which authorities were treating as a terrorist attack. The 48-year-old man was arrested in the collision with pedestrians outside the Muslim Welfare House, Metropolitan police said. The attacker reportedly shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims.” The incident occurred outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after midnight after Ramadan prayers. Police said all of the injured were members of the Muslim community. Muslim leaders decried the collision as a hate crime and asked the public to stay calm.

Terror in Brussels

The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces foiled a “terror attack” by shooting a suspect following a small but fiery blast, the country’s top prosecutor said. A small explosion went off at Central Station, sparking panic and evacuations, before the attacker was killed by police. Fortunately, investigators believe the powerful explosive failed to detonate because of poor preparation, which Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office believes was made at the suspect’s home. The terrorist has been identified as a Moroccan national in his 30s. Belgian authorities are calling a terrorist attack. Brussels has been on high alert since March 2016 when three coordinated suicide bombings at the city’s airport in Zavendem and at the Maalbeek Metro station left 32 dead. It’s the third terror attack in Europe in two weeks.

Court Narrows Injunction Against Trump’s Travel Ban

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has cut back the injunction he issued against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban order, Politico is reporting. Watson’s move comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his injunction, but noted portions that blocked the administration from reviewing vetting procedures were too broad. The judge narrowed the injunction clearing the way for the administration to conduct internal reviews of other nation’s vetting procedures for visa applicants while the case is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has called the move a “big win,” but others were more cautious. “Procedurally, this is a narrow, but significant, victory for the government,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Michigan Officer Stabbed at Flint Airport in “Act of Terrorism”

The stabbing of a police officer at a Michigan airport Wednesday by a Canadian citizen who yelled “Allahu Akbar” and referenced people being killed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism, officials said. Amor Ftouhi, a 50-year-old Canadian citizen, entered Bishop International Airport in Flint around 9:45 a.m. and went to a restroom before dropping both of his bags, coming out with a knife and yelling “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” before stabbing Officer Jeff Neville in the neck. The Canadian citizen was motivated to come to the airport and conduct this act of violence out of a “hated of the United States,” according to the FBI. He legally entered the U.S. at Lake Champlain in New York on June 16, and then made his way to Flint.

Record-High Number of Americans Avoiding Crowds Due to Terrorism

According to a recent Gallup poll, fears of potential terror attacks are driving more Americans to avoid crowds. Gallup found that 38% of Americans – a record-high percentage since the research organization began asking the question after 9/11 – are less willing to attend large events due to the threat of terrorism. The percentage was 32% right after 9/11. The rising percentage of Americans unwilling to attend large events or be in crowded spaces comes as a potential terror attack at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday is under investigation. Another occurred in France outside of Notre Dame Cathedral two weeks ago and a string of attacks in the U.K. were carried out in the past month, including the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the June 3 attack on the crowded London bridge. Americans are also less willing to travel overseas, fly, or go into skyscrapers due to terrorism concerns, Gallup found.

Judicial Watch Seeking Documents ‘Unlawfully Removed’ by Comey

Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. “We’re looking to get action on the records that Comey unlawfully took from the FBI, and we know initially there are memos, but depending on what the nature of the documents are, there could be liabilities for Mr. Comey,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News. The “memos” in question were written by Comey himself, leaving unclear how the FBI or the courts would view them; Judicial Watch insists they are official records.

University of California Favoring Illegal Immigrants over Americans

A California university’s decision to put a limit on the number of American citizens it enrolls — while placing no such restrictions on illegal immigrants who want to attend the school — is drawing sharp criticism from education activists. “The UC system, like many others around the country, is routinely giving preferential treatment to illegal aliens at the expense of American students, many of whom are attending at great sacrifice of their parents,” Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group, told Fox News. “Ultimately, and ironically, the California government is actually penalizing Californians by not counting illegals as out-of-state students and thus allowing them to, in effect, take seats away from in-state students,” he said. Officials for the University of California say that the school system is simply being consistent with state law.

Georgia to Enforce Law Banning Abortions after 20 Weeks

The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a state law banning abortions after 20 weeks. Life News reports that the ACLU challenged the fetal pain abortion bill in 2012, preventing the law from being enforced. After the court’s decision, it will now be illegal for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks; violating the law will be a felony. The fetal abortion pain bill was so-named because science has proven unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. Georgia Life Alliance executive director Camila Zolfaghari said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”

Army’s Transgender Training Addresses Male Pregnancies

The Army has begun mandatory transgender sensitivity training for soldiers. The training covers everything from “transfemale” soldiers to transgender shower etiquette to dealing with a transgender male soldier who becomes pregnant. The matter of male soldiers with child is tucked away inside the Army’s “Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module, Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders.” “This training is mandatory for all uniformed members, as well as Department of the Army civilians,” Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told USA Today. The Army guidelines mandate facilities will not be designed, modified or constructed to make transgender-only areas. “Accommodations cannot isolate or stigmatize the TG soldier,” the guidelines state. The Army’s response to a transgender male pregnancy? “Transgender Soldiers with a medical condition, including pregnancy, will be treated the same as any other Soldier with that condition,” the policy states. “Millions of dollars and training hours have been consumed with lectures on how to deploy transgender personnel in a war zone that has laws against that behavior,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “Military commanders should be focused on fighting wars, not on how to deal with transgender personnel.”

Strong Cultural Divide in America

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy? Who deserves the most help in society? President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans, the report notes.

Economic News

Rising housing costs are putting a major squeeze on Americans. Nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Experts generally advise budgeting about 30% of monthly income for rent or mortgage costs. But millions of Americans are far exceeding that guideline. One-third of households in 2015 were “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million are paying more than 50% of their income to cover their housing needs.

Consumer confidence fell in June to its lowest point since November, according to the University of Michigan’s closely followed index and survey. The confidence index is now at 94.5. Before the election, it was 87.2. By January, when he was inaugurated, it had shot up to 98.5, the highest level in more than a decade. That was largely because of hopes that Trump would cut taxes, spend big on infrastructure and shed government regulations. Those hopes are now dimming a bit.

Various indicators show U.S. companies, particularly small firms, have been taking out fewer loans in recent months, a sign they’re spending less on new equipment and structures. And that can crimp economic growth and hiring. Economists cite a variety of reasons, including uncertainty over Trump’s agenda getting through Congress amid probes into his ties with Russia, as well as recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

Islamic State

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat. ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.

U.S.-backed Iraqi troops pushed into the last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul on Sunday, an Iraqi commander said, formally launching the final major battle of an eight-month campaign to drive the militants from Iraq’s second largest city. ISIS captured Mosul when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraq launched a massive operation to retake the city last October, and has driven the militants from all but a handful of neighborhoods. The extremists are expected to make their last stand in the Old City, a densely populated quarter with narrow, winding alleys.

Philippines

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte begged forgiveness Tuesday for declaring martial law in Mindanao island and vowed to rebuild Marawi, the battle-scarred city at the heart of nearly four weeks of fighting between Philippines forces and ISIS-affiliated militants. “I will rebuild Marawi,” he promised. The battle has resulted in numerous deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the Philippines government, more than 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The majority have found shelter with friends and family, but more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are crowded into evacuation centers, where government agencies are trying to provide basic necessities.

Britain

One week after a massive high-rise apartment fire killed 79 people, supporters of the victims and now-homeless residents marched to Parliament on Wednesday to express anger over what some are calling Britain’s Hurricane Katrina moment. The demonstration also included anti-government protesters calling for British Prime Minister Theresa May to resign because of the government’s slow response. The demonstration was planned to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech for the official opening of Parliament, when the government spells out its lawmaking priorities for the next two years. After the queen’s speech, the prime minister addressed Parliament and acknowledged that government support for the victims after the fire was “not good enough.” Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the June 14 blaze at the 24-story Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in London’s wealthy North Kensington neighborhood. In the following days, the horror and frustration over Britain’s worst disaster in years have turned into public outrage.

North Korea

North Korea is continuing to mass resources at a known weapons testing site inside the country, a defense source told Fox News on Wednesday, prompting worries Pyongyang could be plotting to greenlight another provocative nuclear bomb test amid heightened tensions following the death this week of an American student who had been imprisoned by Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. North Korea is relentlessly pursuing its goal of building a nuclear bomb that can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang has already conducted five nuclear tests and recently launched an advanced missile that suggests a functioning ICBM may be within reach.

The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans – and three Americans — regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts. Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine. There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said.

Wildfires

Forest fires in Portugal have killed dozens of people and injured many others this weekend about 100 miles northeast of Lisbon. At least 62 people were killed, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road through the forest between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including four firefighters. A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area. Authorities said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.

Earthquakes

Four people remain missing on the western coast of Greenland after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit the village of Nuugaatsiaq. The surge of water struck the village late Saturday night and destroyed at least 11 homes. Officials believe the tremor triggered a landslide into the water, which started the tsunami. Four missing people were inside their home when it was swept into the sea by the tsunami. After the tsunami, 39 people were evacuated from Nuugaatsiaq.

Weather

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday as Tropical Storm Cindy turned deadly and roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward the coast, slashing the region with heavy rains and flooding. A 10-year-old boy died in Alabama, parts of Louisiana had five inches of rain by early afternoon, and Pensacola was slammed by more than 8 inches of rain in 36 hours. And more was on the way. Cindy, armed with sustained winds of 50 mph, was expected to generate up to 15 inches of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night, and a few tornadoes also were possible through Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could produce “life-threatening flash floods along the central Gulf Coast,” the agency said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Cindy was about 135 miles south of Lake Charles, La., and about 125 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas. Cindy was expected to move inland toward southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Dangerously hot temperatures have been gripping the Southwest this week, threatening the all-time record-high temperature in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. A large dome of high pressure in the upper atmosphere has developed over the Southwest. Beneath the dome, sinking air is causing temperatures to soar well over 110 degrees in many areas. At least 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have been cancelled amid a weather forecast that predicts a temperature of 120 degrees for Tuesday. Needles, California, tied its all-time record high Tuesday when it reached 125 degrees. Las Vegas also tied its all-time record high by reaching 117 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Daily record highs were set Tuesday in Phoenix (119 degrees), Tucson, Arizona (116 degrees), Yuma, Arizona (120 degrees), and Palm Springs, California (122 degrees – tie).

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