Signs of the Times (2/10/18)

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8, NIV)

Former Muslim Leads 1,500 Muslims to Christ

Annahita Parsan is emerging as one of the most prominent religious leaders in Europe because of her work reaching Muslims in Sweden with the gospel. Parsan and her family fled Iran as refugees in 1984 and became a Christian in Denmark. In 2012, Parsan became a minister in the Church of Sweden and began to reach out to the Muslim community. So far, she has led more than 1,500 Muslims to Christ in the last five years. Parsan leads two congregations in Sweden and she also trains other churches to reach out and disciple Muslims. The 47-year-old faces great risk for sharing the gospel in the Muslim community. “I have serious threats at least a couple of times per year, a threat of a knife attack or a bomb attack. I have a police officer attached to my case I can always call, and we have security during our services. I have other threats from my own distant family members,” she added. “But for me, what I do is worth it.

Court Rules in Favor of Christian Baker

It’s become a familiar story: a lesbian couple walks into the bakery of a cake-artist known for having Christian beliefs, then sues when the baker refuses to make a custom cake for their same-sex “wedding.” Cathy Miller is the owner of Tastries Bakery in Bakersfield, California. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the state took Miller to court. She says she prepared for the inevitable string of defeats from left-leaning state judges. But in the first court action on the case – on a motion for preliminary injunction – Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe issued a strongly worded denial to the state, which wanted to immediately stop Miller from making any more cakes. “The State cannot succeed on the facts presented as a matter of law. The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace,” Lampe wrote in his ruling on Monday. “The right of freedom of thought guaranteed by the First Amendment includes the right to speak, and the right to refrain from speaking. Sometimes the most profound protest is silence.”

Congress Votes to Eliminate Obama’s ‘Death Panels’

Lost in the debate over the legislation funding the federal government is a key victory for pro-life advocates. While most of the focus has been over passing the funding bill and avoiding a prolonged shutdown, pro-life advocates have been pushing to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board — which has been commonly and derisively known as ‘death panels’ in Obamacare. “Little attention was given to the IPAB’s sweeping powers to limit not just Medicare spending, but also healthcare paid for with nongovernmental dollars,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “National Right to Life extends special thanks to the large, bipartisan majority of Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader McConnell and others, for making repeal of the IPAB a priority,” added Darla St. Martin, National Right to Life co-executive director.

Shortest Government Shutdown Ever

In the long history of government shutdowns, this one was the shortest ever. The lapse in federal funding lasted less than 6 hours—with the government officially unfunded from 12:01 a.m. on Friday to about 5:30 a.m. when lawmakers scrambled to pass a six-week spending bill. The 240-to-186 House vote gaveled to a close just after 5:30 a.m., nearly four hours after the Senate cleared the legislation on a vote of 71 to 28, with wide bipartisan support. House Democrats, after threatening to bring the bill down because it did nothing to protect young undocumented immigrants, gave Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin the votes he did not have in his own party and ensured passage. In the end, 73 House Democrats voted yes to more than offset the 67 Republicans who voted no. President Trump then signed the budget package early Friday. This was the second shutdown in a month—and the 20th since the 1970s, according to a tally by the Congressional Research Service. The longest shutdown was a 21-day spending impasse that stretched from Dec. 5, 1995 until Jan. 6, 1996—pitting then President Bill Clinton against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Lots of Spending in the New Spending Bill

The massive bipartisan budget deal stands to add hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending on the military, domestic programs and disaster relief. The U.S. government will spend about $500 billion more over the next two years, the largest increase in federal spending since the stimulus during the Great Recession. The bulk of the extra spending would not be covered by new fees or taxes, meaning the United States’ $20 trillion debt will get a lot worse. More than 60 percent of the extra funding would go toward military spending, a major Republican priority. The rest would mainly go to disaster relief, health care and other domestic priorities favored by Democrats. While the legislation sets out broad budget numbers for the next two fiscal years, lawmakers face yet another deadline on March 23 — giving congressional appropriators time to write a detailed bill doling out funding to government agencies.

Trump Blocks Dems FISA Memo Citing Confidentiality

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee recently released a memo — approved by President Trump — alleging that FBI and Justice Department officials relied on an unsubstantiated dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by the Democratic National Committee to get a warrant to conduct surveillance of Carter Page, who served on the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory team. Democrats wrote a rebuttal memo to refute the findings of the Nunes memo, but Trump refused to release it Friday night. The White House said the Justice Department had concerns that the memo would create national security and law enforcement problems. Democrats charge that the Republican memo is misleading and is little more than an attempt by Trump and his allies to divert attention away from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, and possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Dueling Memos May Cause the FBI to Withhold Information

The House Intelligence Committee’s dueling partisan memos about FBI surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser will result in federal agents keeping secrets to themselves because they no longer trust Congress, experts warn. “It’s already having an impact,” said Mike Rogers, a retired Michigan Republican congressman and ex-FBI agent who chaired the committee from 2011-2014. “The intelligence community isn’t going to lie to the committees. But they’ll go into the 100-question mode: if a committee only asks three questions, they’ll leave the other 97 on the table. They’re not going to volunteer information anymore.” Michael McDaniel, former deputy assistant secretary for homeland defense strategy, prevention and mission assurance at the Pentagon, said he thinks the memos and the committee’s partisan sniping will increase the natural inclination of intelligence agencies to over-classify information to keep it secret.

Immigration News

The world’s most persistent illegal immigrant is a Mexican who managed to get deported 44 times in 15 years — which means he also managed to sneak back across the border at least that many times. The runner-up was ousted 40 times from 2001 to 2015. No. 3, 4 and 5 on the list were deported 35, 34 and 31 times, respectively, according to data provided to The Washington Times by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While those are the most extreme cases, repeat-illegal immigrants were back in the news this week after police said a twice-deported man was driving drunk in Indiana on Sunday morning when he plowed into pro football player Edwin Jackson and his Uber driver, killing them both. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, one of the Republicans’ chief negotiators in the current immigration debate, said the fatal crash should be a wake-up call. “People are dying as a result of criminals taking advantage of the porous nature of the border.”

Walgreen’s to Allow Men in Women’s Restrooms

Walgreens has directed its stores to allow men full and unrestricted access into women’s restrooms in all of its 8,100 stores. Walgreens issued a memo stating, “All individuals have a right to use restroom facilities that correspond to the individual’s gender identity, regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth.” The policy came as the result of being pressured by the ACLU of Southern California. Since a similar public policy was announced by Target Stores, Inc. two years ago, dozens of women and children have been victimized by male predators inside Target stores, notes the American Family Association. Walgreens’ new policy could potentially result in female customers becoming victims of voyeurism, sexual assault and physical attack by unrestrained men.

Bermuda Becomes First to Repeal Same-Sex Marriage

Legislation replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships in Bermuda was signed into law by the governor Wednesday as critics called it an unprecedented rollback of civil rights in the British island territory. Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown said the legislation signed by Gov. John Rankin seeks to balance opposition to same-sex marriage on the socially conservative island while complying with European court rulings that ensure recognition and protection for same-sex couples in the territory. Bermuda’s Senate and House of Assembly passed the legislation by wide margins in December and a majority of voters opposed same-sex marriage in a referendum. LGBTQ civil rights groups said that domestic partnerships amount to a second-class status and that it is unprecedented for a jurisdiction to take away the legal right to marriage after it has been granted.

More Teens Identifying as Non-Traditional Gender

More teenagers are classifying themselves with nontraditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, according to a new study. Published this week in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the research showed that almost 3% of Minnesota teens did not identify with traditional gender labels such as “boy” or “girl.” That number is higher than researchers expected. A UCLA study from January 2017 estimated that 0.7% of teens identified as transgender. The study also found that students who identify as transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) reported significantly poorer health, lower rates of preventive health checkups, and more nurse office visits than those whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had at birth.

  • The new statistics underscore how teenagers are embracing moral relativism much like the rest of our culture, a significant end-time sign

IRS Overpaid Nearly $3.5 Billion in Obamacare Tax Credits

The IRS overpaid nearly $3.5 billion in Obamacare tax credits last year that it cannot recoup because of constraints built into the program, frustrating Republicans who have failed to repeal the health care law but say that money could have been spent on programs for veterans or infrastructure. A Treasury watchdog said the government paid out roughly $24 billion in Obamacare subsidies in the heart of the 2017 tax-filing season, with $5.8 billion in overages. Of that, just $2.3 billion was taken back, leaving $3.5 billion in outstanding excess payments. Most Obamacare exchange customers receive taxpayer-funded subsidies to help cover their premiums.

Economic News

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed out a turbulent week with a 330-point rebound Friday but still suffered its biggest weekly loss since January 2016, a tumble highlighted by the first official stock market correction in two years. In a week marked by a pair of 1,000-plus point drops, the two worst point drops in its 121-year history, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 330.44 points, or 1.4%, at 24,190.90, down from a record high of 26,616.71 set on January 26, a 9% drop. At Thursday’s close, the Dow was down 0ver 10%, the level signifying a so-called correction.

In a sale that illustrates how the rise of the American shale industry is upending energy markets across the globe, the United Arab Emirates bought oil directly from the U.S. in December, according to data from the federal government. A tanker sailed from Houston and arrived in the Persian Gulf last month. The cargo of American condensate, a type of very light crude oil, was preferred to regional grades because its superior quality made more suitable for the U.A.E’s processing plants. The end of a ban on U.S. exports in 2015 coupled with the explosive growth of shale production, has changed the flow of petroleum around the world. Shipments from U.S. ports have increased from a little more than 100,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 1.53 million in November, traveling as far as China and the U.K.

CVS Health is raising its minimum wage to effectively match recent increases at Walmart and Target as major national retailers jockey for workers in a tight job market and hand over a portion of their federal tax cut windfall to employees. The largest U.S. drugstore chain said Thursday that it would hike the starting wage for hourly workers to $11 per hour. That equals recent increases at Walmart and Target. CVS also plans to increase its paid parental leave policy to four weeks at 100% compensation for all new parents and said it would not increase employee health insurance premiums in its upcoming plan year.

Middle East

An Israeli fighter jet, under fire from Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, crashed Saturday as Israel mounted a heavy military response to what it said was the incursion of its airspace by an Iranian drone. Two Israeli pilots were injured —  one seriously — after abandoning their F-16 over northern Israel while taking part in what the Israeli military called a “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen Iranian targets in Syria. The drone, which Israel said was launched from Syria, was shot down by an Israeli helicopter after what the military called a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty.” Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Israeli forces were “fully prepared for further action.”

Tensions were running high in the West Bank Wednesday following an attempted stabbing attack by a Palestinian terrorist on a security guard at the entrance to the Karmei Tzur settlement north of Hebron. The guard was moderately wounded in the attack, while the terrorist was shot dead. The incident followed a day of rioting in Nablus on Tuesday which left one Palestinian man dead and over 100 wounded. approximately 500 Palestinians hurled rocks, firebombs and explosive devices and fired live rounds at IDF soldiers. The rioting occurred in the context of the IDF searches being carried out for the suspected killer of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal, who was stabbed to death at a bus stop just outside Ariel on Monday. The suspected murderer was named by security services as 19-year-old Israeli Arab Abed al-Karim Adel Asi. His mother told Israeli media outlets that she condemned his actions and urged him to turn himself in.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un has invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to North Korea for talks in the first major development to stem from North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, Moon’s office announced Saturday. The invitation was delivered by Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, when she and other members of the North Korean delegation ate lunch with President Moon at the presidential palace. Kim Yo Jong arrived here Friday as part of a delegation to the Olympics. The invitation is a victory for Moon who urged North Korea to participate in the Olympics in the hopes it could lead to broader talks and ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. However, North Korea has then a history of taking provocative acts and agreeing to talks that lead nowhere. Tensions between the U.S and North Korea intensified during the past year, raising worries of armed conflict on the peninsula.

Islamic State

The Islamic State has regrouped and is launching attacks in Iraq and Syria as sectarian conflicts divide the forces that once fought together to defeat the jihadists. The terrorist group has returned to fight against the Assad regime in northwestern Syria, from where it was driven out more than two years ago. Its fighters reappeared in Hama province and quickly expanded their control of the area at the expense of other rebel groups. It now controls an area of more than 400 square miles on the borders of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib provinces.


A U.S airstrike killed about 100 Syrian troops after they launched an “unprovoked” attack against a military base used by American-led coalition forces battling the Islamic State in eastern Syria, the U.S. military said. U.S. Central Command said the strikes were launched in self-defense after as many as 500 attackers began what appeared to be a coordinated assault on the headquarters of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Syria’s official state-run news agency SANA confirmed the deaths Thursday and labeled the strike an “aggression” and “new massacre.” The U.S. involvement is a rare example of U.S. forces striking directly at Syrian regime troops. In June, a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane after it bombed U.S.-backed fighters.


Hossein Salami, the deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said on Monday night that Iran possesses unique ballistic missiles that target navigation and international shipping, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Colonel Turki al-Malki, the Arab Coalition’s spokesperson, said earlier on Monday that Iran has supplied Houthi militias with weapons to target the international shipping route in Bab al-Mandeb strait.


Polish President Andrzej Duda signed Poland’s controversial new Holocaust bill late Tuesday ahead of it being assessed by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal. The law would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust. It would also ban the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” in relation to Auschwitz and other such camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland. Violations will be punished by a fine or a jail sentence of up to three years. The bill will be reviewed by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to ensure it doesn’t breach the Polish constitution. The decision to sign the bill into law has already attracted criticism from the US, Israel and France. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the law “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.” Israel accused Poland of trying to rewrite history.

South Korea

An outbreak of norovirus that forced 1,200 security guards to remain in their rooms for testing this week has Pyeongchang Olympic organizers in a frenzy to halt the progress of the common ailment before the start of the winter games. Organizers said Thursday that 128 people have tested positive for the virus, with 42 new cases confirmed on Thursday alone. In the wake of the outbreak, the military sent 900 troops to take over for the 1,200 security guards, who were forced to remain in their rooms until testing was completed. Local media have gone into “virus panic” as South Koreans worry about the worldwide of the county perception, its cleanliness of facilities, and whether athletes will fall victim to the virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting but rarely requires medical attention. Below zero temperatures have also caused some cases of hypothermia.


At least twelve people were killed and dozens remain missing in Taiwan after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook the island nation’s eastern coast late Tuesday night. Two of the victims were employees at the Marshal Hotel, which partially collapsed during the temblor. The hotel’s first through third floors were flattened. An apartment building in the area had its first and second floors destroyed and the structure was tilted at a 45-degree angle. At least seven buildings collapsed. Officials shut down the Hualien Bridge and the Su-Hua Highway was temporarily closed due to a surface uplift on the roadway.


More than 1,000 US flights have been canceled and drivers were urged to stay off the roads Friday as winter storm Mateo slammed the Midwest with at least 1 inch of snow per hour and up to a foot in some places. Public school systems opted not to open Friday in anticipation of a foot or more of snow. Two deaths are being blamed on Winter Storm Mateo as it continues to create treacherous travel conditions across the nation’s heartland into the Northeast. Another Michigan pileup on I-94 in Kalamazoo County shut down the eastbound lanes and injured several people, reports WWMT. At least 38 vehicles were involved over a stretch of three miles.

Winter Storm Liam wreaked havoc on travel Wednesday as it created a mess of snow and ice in parts of the mid-Atlantic and the South. In the Washington D.C. area, icy conditions were also reported Wednesday morning, and some school districts were closed for the day while the federal government delayed opening. More than 25,000 homes and businesses were without power in Ohio Wednesday morning, with most of those outages in the southeastern portion of the state. In State College, Pennsylvania, all classes and activities were canceled at Penn State University. The storm also created headaches in the Northeast and New England, where hundreds of flights were canceled at the biggest hubs. At the Hudson River in New York City, the Mario Cuomo Bridge, formerly the Tappan Zee Bridge, was shut down Wednesday morning after it became iced over and multiple crashes were reported.

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