And so we come around again to Valentine’s Day. After weeks of mad scrambling for seats at the best restaurant, finding a babysitter, buying overpriced flowers and poor quality chocolate in the shape of a heart, many of us will enjoy (or endure) this high holiday of romantic indulgence. Yet, most of us have never learned the deeper story of St. Valentine and why his example is worth following today.
As the story goes, Valentine was a Roman priest under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Struggling to recruit men to fight his numerous wars, Claudius banned marriage, thinking that married men had become less enthusiastic than single men about going to war and dying as they ought. Undeterred, Valentine conducted weddings in secret. He was imprisoned around the year 268 and sentenced to death by beating and beheading, supposedly on February 14.
Legend has it that while awaiting his execution, Valentine prayed for his jailer’s daughter, curing her blindness. Before being led away to his glory, he sent a note to the girl, signing it “from your Valentine.”
Of course we don’t know the exact truth of Valentine so many years later, but as legends go, this one is pretty special. Imagine the society in which he lived: sexual licentiousness was rampant and marriage under threat. Christians were a persecuted minority. Valentine’s courage in bringing young Christians together in chaste marriage caused civil unrest and defied the dominant culture and even the law.
Sadly, there is no difficulty imagining such a world. Marriage in the United States has declined steadily since the advent of no-fault divorce in the 1970s. Young people delay marriage, often until their 30s, and a majority cohabits before the wedding, savoring the delights of marriage while rejecting its commitments. The force of law also threatens marriage by defining away its essential quality as a male-female union. A new and credible threat is now rising that would remove limits on the number of spouses within marriage. Marriage as an institution and a cornerstone of our culture is weaker than it has ever been.
These threats to marriage seem to have one thing in common. They all require a “me-centered” approach to relationships. When my marriage no longer makes me happy, I leave. I can enjoy casual sex whenever I want, so why get married? When society doesn’t approve of my choice in partners, I engage political and cultural activists to redefine the family. Even Christians too often understand love and marriage as originating in the human heart. That may be why our marriage health is not too different from that in the general culture.
The radical counter to this is the reality that love and marriage originate within and are grounded in God’s love. John the Beloved Apostle tells us that we can love only because God first loved us. The best expression of love we can muster, with all its imperfections, shortcomings, and selfishness, still draws its ultimate meaning from the eternal exchange of love within the Trinity.
That great litany of love described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a vision of God’s love, not ours. He is the only one who can love with such patience, kindness, forbearance. Only the love of Christ “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The surface level, showy and self-serving love often displayed at Valentine’s Day is certainly popular. We just don’t do well in denying our own passions and desires. Other-centered—or Christ-centered—love is far more than just compromise, inconvenience, or self-denial. It is a complete commitment to the best for another, often at great personal expense. It involves crawling outside of one’s own pettiness and pride. It is the washing of another’s feet or the forgiving of another’s sins. To love truly, as God loves, is to give yourself away without expecting to be loved in return.
The Greek word martyria from which we get our word martyr is best translated as testimony or witness. Valentine was a martyr for marriage in death. All of us have an opportunity to be living witnesses to God’s purposes for marriage by testifying to its goodness in our lives, by defending its natural qualities in public debate and by demonstrating how human love is but a foreshadowing of the great love of Christ for the community of believers throughout time.
For this age, there may be no more powerful martyrdom.
(Contributor: By Daniel Weiss – Daniel Weiss is the Founder and President of The Brushfires Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a Christian vision of sexuality, relationships and the human person. He lives with his family in central Wisconsin.)
This beautiful story reminds us of God’s design for love, romance, and marriage between a man and a woman. What we are experiencing today in the U.S. is a distortion of the divine plan stemming from man’s ignorance of and rebellion toward the Creator’s blueprint. Pray for revival, desperately needed. Ask God for extended mercy that we might repent and see biblical principles restored. Pray that Christians lead the way by examining and strengthening their homes, marriages, and child-rearing practices to conform to God’s standards. The battle is against spiritual forces of darkness; thus, Christians hate the sin but love the sinners, wanting all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him. … Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:18, 21-24)
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
That outcome has become increasingly probable with President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow the United States to maintain a small military presence here beyond 2014. Now, Afghan troops are beginning to raise their voices against Karzai, demanding at great personal risk that he sign the pact.
“If the international community leaves, there is no question that we will lose ground to the Taliban,” Col. Mohammad Dost, a battalion commander in Zabul province, said in an interview. “It’s the biggest worry for every soldier now.”
In recent weeks, soldiers have voiced that concern in local television interviews and in newspaper op-eds, despite not being authorized by the government to speak on the topic. For some, the consequences have been grave.
“As everyone wants the agreement to be signed, we also call for its signing,” Gen. Momand Katawazai told TOLO News, a Kabul-based television station, last month.
Days later, officials at the Defense Ministry told Katawazai that he shouldn’t bother coming to work any more. He hasn’t been formally fired but expects to be.
“It’s been a huge headache,” he said.
In the past few years, it was extremely unusual for an Afghan military officer to publicly criticize the Afghan government. But even though Katawazai got in trouble, other soldiers have continued speaking out.
“If the Americans leave, Afghanistan will be a lone sheep, left in the desert for the wolves to eat,” Capt. Abdul Zahir said in an interview in Zabul.
“Without the BSA, our arms will be cut off,” said Sgt. Maj. Wahid Wafa, referring to the accord by its initials. “We will become victims of the Taliban.”
Military officers have passed messages like those up the chain of command, all the way to Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who discussed the agreement early last month at a meeting with the top Afghan field commanders, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Mohammadi declined to comment for this report.
No money for salaries
The United States has spent more than $50 billion to build a 352,000-person Afghan security force over the past decade.
If the two countries don’t sign a security pact, U.S. officials say they will be unable to keep even a small group of military advisers in Afghanistan. But perhaps even more important, the absence of an agreement would probably keep the United States from providing funds to the Afghan security forces.
Maintaining those forces will cost about $4 billion per year. In 2013, the Afghan government collected about $1.7 billion in revenue and had to rely overwhelmingly on foreign aid to fund its public institutions.
The U.S. military estimates that the Afghan government can afford to pay only about 12 percent of the annual cost of the Afghan forces in the next few years.
Afghan soldiers rattle off the resources they would lose if the U.S. military departs without leaving a residual force: support from American jets and helicopters, logistical assistance and artillery training, among other things. But the lack of financial aid would create an even more dire problem.
“If no one pays our salaries, the Taliban will grow even stronger than us, thanks to Pakistani assistance,” said Capt. Mohammad Nabi. Like many Afghans, he believes the Pakistani government funds, or at least tacitly supports, the insurgency. Pakistan denies doing so.
The bilateral security agreement is a constant topic of conversation among soldiers, while on base or during missions. On a recent multi-day operation in Zabul, Afghan soldiers huddled around a television each night, listening for news about the accord.
U.S. officials say it is theoretically possible that Congress could appropriate funding for Afghan forces, even if a bilateral security agreement isn’t signed. But without American troops on the ground, any U.S. oversight of that money would be difficult, if not impossible.
The United States and NATO had long envisioned leaving about 12,000 troops beyond 2014 to continue advising Afghan forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations. Now, recognizing that plans for such a force may fall through, the coalition has accelerated some of its training programs.
Its advisory program with the Afghan air force, for example, was due to last until 2017. That mission has been retooled so that it can be completed, albeit in abbreviated form, by the end of the year, according to British Royal Air Force Air Commodore David Cooper, the NATO-led coalition’s director of air support.
Like the Afghan officers, U.S. military officials recognize that a total withdrawal would leave the Afghan forces strapped.
“We’ve worked very hard to build the Afghan security forces. Giving them the ability to sustain themselves in the future is going to be critical,” said Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force. “We still need to mature the systems, the processes and the institutions that are necessary to sustain a modern national army and police force. We need to address shortfalls in leadership and training, and in capabilities such as aviation, intelligence, medical and logistics.” (Contributor: By Kevin Sieff for The Washington Post)
The Afghanistan situation is fraught with conflicting viewpoints. Western observers are hard pressed to recall a day when Afghanistan was free from warfare. Both U.S. and Afghanistan troops are battle-weary. Let us pray as Jesus taught His disciples, “… [Let] Your kingdom come. [May] Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Pray for a conclusion to war in Afghanistan. Only God knows His ultimate purpose. Christians believe what Jesus said: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Pray accordingly.
“In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:9-10)
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet…. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6, 14)
House Republicans return to Washington on Monday still struggling to find a path to raising the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority, but the normally raucous caucus is in unusual agreement that the best option is to put the white-knuckle confrontations of recent fiscal wars behind them.
Facing a timeline that leaves no room for trial and error, some party leaders were advocating a debt-ceiling solution that would wrap several popular, must-pass items around a provision to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority beyond the November midterm elections. That approach has drawn support from some surprising quarters, but several senior GOP advisers made it clear over the weekend that such a proposal would require a bloc of Democratic votes, because about 30 Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.
By Sunday night, Republican leaders had not conducted a formal whip tally on their side to determine how many votes they had, and no outreach had been made toward Democrats to determine what kind of support — if any — such a plan would receive from them.
Without as much internal dissent as in previous budget showdowns, Republicans still face a powerful enemy: the calendar. The House will adjourn Wednesday afternoon so Democrats can attend their annual issues retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and then the entire Congress is shuttered during the week of Presidents’ Day.
Once the chamber closes Wednesday, the House will not return for a full workday until Feb. 26, which is one day before Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said he will lose his ability to juggle the nation’s finances. The quick march would then begin toward defaulting on portions of the nation’s more than $17 trillion debt, sending global financial markets reeling.
This time crunch means that unless Republicans quickly coalesce around a plan, the last week of February will bring another countdown moment before a critical fiscal deadline.
House Republicans are not sounding the confrontational drumbeat of other showdowns with President Obama, who has been adamant that he will accept no trade-offs for what he considers a simple exercise in guaranteeing that the federal government will make good on its debts.
The turn toward compromise signals a break from the tactics used by Republicans in past fiscal negotiations, particularly for those who took the lead in pushing House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) into a 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October.
“There is a pragmatism here,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who founded the Tea Party Caucus four years ago, said last week. “You’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. My assessment is that most of us don’t think it’s the time to fight.”
Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who took part in an aborted coup attempt against Boehner 13 months ago, said, “Our constituents are fed up with the political theater.”
Labrador has gone so far as to advocate turning over the House floor to Democrats and letting them pass a “clean” debt-ceiling hike mostly on their own, foisting political blame entirely on Democrats and raising no false hope among conservative activists that concessions can be wrung from Obama and Senate Democrats.
The attitude of resigned indifference on the debt fight surfaced during the House GOP’s issues retreat two weeks ago, at the same Eastern Shore resort where Democrats will huddle this week. There, according to a handful of Republicans in attendance, a pair of conservative writers — Kimberley A. Strassel of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review — urged Republicans to avoid the mistake of a shutdown strategy. Outside conservative groups led the effort last year to compel Obama and Senate Democrats to strip funding for the health-care law, but in the end Republican political standing plummeted, the government was reopened, the debt ceiling was lifted and conservatives got nothing in return.
Most Republicans agree with Strassel and Ponnuru’s viewpoint of avoiding a political pitfall, but Boehner’s leadership team and a wide swath of rank-and-file lawmakers want to get something else out of this debt-ceiling battle rather than just surrendering.
The issue is finding something that can get broad backing from the House GOP but also pick up Democratic support, shifting the onus onto Senate Democrats.
Many Republicans, anxious about the upcoming midterm elections, are urging Boehner to pass legislation that could win bipartisan backing, and the leading options are proposals that Democrats have voiced support for in other negotiations.
A handful of bargaining ideas have emerged, with a proposal to restore recently cut military benefits in exchange for a one-year extension as a leading option. Other ideas, such as tying a debt-limit extension to the “doc fix,” which would alter the way doctors are reimbursed for Medicare treatments, are in the mix.
One idea that gained traction over the weekend would combine the military and Medicare issues with the debt-ceiling extension, along with offsetting cuts that would prolong portions of the automatic spending decreases known as sequestration and changes to pension programs.
But some Republicans are fearful of tying the debt ceiling to the military pension issue, wanting to vote against the debt-limit hike but not wanting to cast a vote that could be portrayed as anti-veteran.
If none of those options gains traction, the fallback plan may well be Labrador’s. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has pledged about 180 Democratic votes for a clean debt-ceiling increase, leaving the need for fewer than 40 Republicans to vote with Democrats or to just vote “present” to lower the threshold for reaching the majority.
On Friday, the Treasury began using “extraordinary measures” to buy time before it runs low on cash. The government’s cash on hand is expected to hit $50 billion on Feb. 27, after which Treasury officials fear they could fall short any day.
“If Treasury has insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for our nation to meet all of its obligations for the first time in history,” Lew wrote in a letter to Boehner.
In two of the three recent debt battles, Congress did not raise or suspend the borrowing limit until days before the Treasury-imposed deadline, causing mild anxiety in financial markets but not forcing any broad sell-off.
Nancy Vanden Houten, a senior analyst at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates, has estimated that Treasury could probably make payments until March 14, but department officials worry that even if they can make most payments, a failure to raise the debt ceiling by their self-imposed deadline would cause intense concern in the markets. (Contributors: By Paul Kane and Robert Costa for The Washington Post – Zachary Goldfarb contributed to this report.)
Give thanks that this is an election year, as House members and senators seeking re-election in November are very sensitive to their constituents. This leads to a more conciliatory mood on budget questions, with both sides open to compromise in order to avoid another government shut-down. There are no easy solutions. House Speaker Boehner said he may have a workable plan. Pray for divine wisdom to prevail on all sides, with respectful debate, for the benefit of “we, the people …” Pray for many encounters with God among our leaders.
“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:16-18)
“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” (Psalm 145:17-20)
Two House Democrats on Thursday called for an investigation of a federal auditor who accused the Internal Revenue Service of gross mismanagement and targeting advocacy groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions.
Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) on Wednesday filed a complaint with a special watchdog council questioning the independence of Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George.
The congressmen, both of whom serve as top Democrats on House oversight committees, said George produced a “fundamentally flawed performance audit” that was “incomplete” and “outright misleading.” They also alleged that he held briefings with Republican members of the House Oversight Committee without the knowledge of Democrats on the panel.
George on Thursday stood behind the findings of his review but declined to comment about the meeting allegations, which were explained to him in an interview with the Washington Post. He said he may soon issue a formal response to the accusations.
The inspector general’s report, released in May, said the IRS “used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status.” Earlier that month, then-IRS official Lois Lerner alluded to the findings when she acknowledged in response to a planted question that the agency had targeted groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their names.
George’s audit led to public outrage, six federal probes and a leadership shakeup at the IRS. It also prompted the Treasury Department to draft a new guideline to distinguish what types of political activities disqualify groups from tax-exempt status.
Supporters of the recommended rule change say it would set clearer boundaries and help IRS employees understand which applicants to reject. But many Republicans have opposed the recommendation, saying it could hinder groups from free speech.
The complaint against George follows a letter Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Connolly sent to George suggesting that he had narrowed the scope of his IRS review after agreeing to hold one-party meetings with Republicans staff on the House Oversight Committee, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Cummings is ranking member of the panel, while Connolly is the top Democrat on one of its subcommittees.
The letter asked George to hand over documents from his office relating to defining the limits of the audit. It also asked the inspector general to avoid meetings that would exclude Democrats and provide Democratic staff with the briefings they missed.
Critics of the IRS report say the audit focused too much on an a “be on the lookout” list that targeted groups with conservative names, while ignoring older lists that contained terms associated with progressive themes. Republicans have used the report to attack the Obama administration.
Karen Kraushaar, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, defended the review on Thursday, saying it “looked at the entire process of how the IRS was reviewing 501(c)(4)s,” otherwise known as social welfare groups.
George added: “We noted there were other ‘be on the lookout’ lists that included other types of organizations, but that was not the initial charge of the review and not the focus.”
Connolly and Cartwright sent their complaint on Thursday to three members of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The recipients were: Joseph Campbell, a top official with the FBI’s criminal investigation division; Beth Colbert, deputy director of management for the White House Office of Management and Budget; and Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis Fong.
The council, known as CIGIE, serves as a watchdog for the inspectors general community. George is a member of the group. (Contributor: By Josh Hicks for The Washington Post)
Pray for God to shine His spotlight of truth into a murky situation. Evidence indicates the IRS showed discrimination against conservative non-profit groups seeking tax-exempt status. If so, will those guilty be held accountable? Pray for clarity and truth to emerge amid back-and-forth charges and counter-charges aired since last year. Pray that injustice be exposed and issues resolved equitably.
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice
Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. … It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.” (Proverbs 21:2-3, 15)
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
The death last Sunday of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46 focused media attention on the nationwide surge in heroin use and overdoses. But the very real heroin epidemic is framed by an even more dramatic increase since the beginning of the century in overdoses from pharmaceutical drugs known as opioids.
These are, in effect, tandem epidemics — an addiction crisis driven by the powerful effects on the human brain of drugs derived from morphine.
Prescription opioids are killing Americans at more than five times the rate that heroin is, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These drugs are sold under such familiar brand names as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet and can be found in medicine cabinets in every precinct of American society. They’re also sold illicitly on the street or crushed and laced into heroin.
There have been numerous efforts by law enforcement agencies to crack down on “pill mills” that dispense massive amounts of the pharmaceuticals, as well as regulations aimed at preventing users from “doctor shopping” to find someone who will write a prescription.
Those efforts have had the unintended effect, officials say, of driving some people to heroin in recent years as their pill supply dries up.
The latest government survey of drug abuse shows a drop since 2010 in first-time users of illegally obtained OxyContin. But heroin use is up. It’s akin to pushing on a beanbag chair. Health officials in Maryland, for example, reported that in the first seven months of 2012, a 15 percent drop in pharmaceutical opioid overdoses was accompanied by a 41 percent increase in heroin overdoses.
Market forces play a role in this drug substitution, as do the brutal realities of addiction and the need for a fix. Street heroin is much cheaper than a pharmaceutical — typically $10 a packet for heroin, compared with perhaps $80 on the street for an 80 milligram OxyContin, public health officials say.
The stigma and lethality of street heroin — long viewed much more negatively than drugs such as cocaine, according to government surveys — are no deterrent to someone facing the agony of withdrawal from an opioid.
“In the storm of narcotic withdrawal, any opiate port will do,” said Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Florida who studies addiction.
Prescription painkillers may also grease a slippery slope toward a relapse for former heroin addicts. Hoffman appears to be a case in point. He was found with a needle in his arm and dozens of heroin packets in his Manhattan apartment. The autopsy and initial toxicology tests were inconclusive, and so the precise cause of Hoffman’s death — whether he overdosed on heroin alone, for example, or in combination with one or more other drugs — is pending further investigation.
But the actor revealed last year that, after being clean for two decades, he suffered a relapse into heroin use after first taking prescription pills.
“The main driver of overdoses right now in our country is from opioid medications, more than from heroin,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In 2010, according to the CDC, 3,036 people died in the United States from heroin overdoses, up from 1,960 in 1999.
But 22,134 people died in 2010 from unintentional pharmaceutical drug overdoses, nearly triple the 7,523 deaths reported in 1999, according to the CDC. About three out of four of those overdoses — 16,652 — were from opioids. Most of the rest of the overdoses came from such drugs as Xanax, Valium and Ativan, which are used for anxiety or sleeplessness and are categorized scientifically as benzodiazepines.
Most people who abuse pills don’t have legal prescriptions for them. They get them from family and friends, and sometimes from drug dealers. Young people may view them as safer than street drugs such as heroin because they are manufactured as medicine and originate with doctors.
“We have tried to shatter the myth that these are safe,” Volkow said.
Young people are often the victims of chemical combinations they don’t understand, said Karen Hacker, director of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Health Department, which includes the city of Pittsburgh. They combine pills with alcohol and other drugs. They may feel that snorting or smoking certain drugs is safer than injecting them. And they may not realize that slow-release opioid painkillers have long-lasting effects.
“We had people going to sleep kind of drunk and literally not waking up in the morning,” Hacker said.
Her county had a rash of 16 deaths between Jan. 17 and Jan. 30 from heroin laced with the opioid painkiller fentanyl, which is many times stronger than heroin. The chief medical examiner, Karl Williams, said that in the 1980s and 1990s, Allegheny County would typically have about 100 overdoses annually. But in the late ’90s, he said, the numbers began steadily rising, and now there are about 250 overdoses each year.
Even that huge rate of overdoses didn’t prepare the coroner for what he saw on Friday, Jan. 17, when three bodies were brought in with signs of heroin overdoses. The next day, Saturday, he saw four more cases, and then Sunday brought three more — 10 deaths in three days. Laboratory tests showed that all had taken a lethal 50-50 mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
The overdoses from the fentanyl-laced heroin apparently have stopped, Williams and Hacker said — presumably because word got to users that they were in grave peril from heroin sold in plastic envelopes stamped “Theraflu” and “Bud Ice.”
“One of the challenges, of course, with this is that there are people who hear that there is some particularly strong heroin, and they would like some of it,” Hacker said. But, she added, “most users don’t want to die. They’re not looking to overdose. They’re not looking to commit suicide. They’re looking to get high.”
Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he is concerned that many young people simply don’t grasp how addictive heroin can be.
“We see it in suburbs, among high school kids, and again it goes back to high school kids not being aware how dangerous it is. They think if they snort it or smoke it, they won’t become addicted — and within weeks they’ve become an injecting drug user,” Kerlikowske said.
“This is really among the most debilitating of drug addictions that we historically know of,” said Hall, the Florida epidemiologist. “The heroin or opioid becomes the whole focus of the person’s life. Everything is centered on how are they going to take care of their need to have the opiate in their brain in the next 24 hours and what are they going to do to get that.”
The White House is pushing more cities to follow the model of Quincy, Mass., where officers on patrol carry an anti-overdose medication called naloxone, which is sold under brand names such as Narcan. Lt. Patrick Glynn, commander of the Quincy police narcotics unit, said the program began after the city and neighboring jurisdictions had 99 overdose deaths in just 18 months in 2008 and 2009.
“We realized we could not arrest our way out of this epidemic. Young people, middle-aged people were dropping on the street, overdosing on heroin,” Glynn said.
In a recent three-year period, Glynn said, police administered 227 doses of nasal-spray Narcan and were able to reverse 216 of the overdoses. (Contributor: By Joel Achenbach for The Washington Post)
It is doubly sad that it took a celebrity’s death by self-inflicted overdosing to widely publicize the stark truth that the U.S. is in the grip of a relentless drug epidemic. Like wildfire, it is taking lives by the hundreds and thousands, without discrimination. “O Lord, we call out to you for extended mercy. As a nation, we are crumbling from within. Many are enslaved by addictions that lead them to unexpected death. Pray for sweeping, transforming revival that will cause thousands, if not millions of Americans to respond to the ‘good news’ that reveals God’s great love and brings forgiveness and freedom.”
“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27)
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
“… and the whole world [system] lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)
Without help from the heavens, Joe Del Bosque figures that 2014 will be the last year before many family farmers in California’s vast San Joaquin Valley begin to go bankrupt.
And 2014 is going to be bad. Really bad. Del Bosque has 2,000 acres scattered across several farms west of Fresno, near Firebaugh. He will leave 500 to 700 acres unplanted because there is no water for his crops.
That’s about 650,000 boxes of cantaloupe, regular and organic, he won’t be harvesting come July — about $3 million worth of produce, he estimated. It’s a few hundred workers, most of them migrants, he won’t be hiring. It’s money that won’t be spent in grocery and hardware stores in small towns across the region that produces half of the country’s homegrown fruits and vegetables. It’s a lot of schools with empty seats as farm workers looking for jobs move on with their families.
“Everybody will be hurt,” Del Bosque said. “When farmers idle land, the people who have small businesses in small communities . . . they’ll all suffer. It’s a huge ripple effect through the whole valley.”
California is entering its third year of drought, a recurring nightmare for those old enough to remember the prolonged dry period of 1987 to 1991 and the disaster of 1976 and 1977, the previous record-setting drought.
Now, 2013 is the driest year on record in California. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) officially declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17, asking the state’s 38 million people to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent. Two weeks later, with the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada at 12 percent of normal, the State Water Project announced for the first time in its 54-year history that it would deliver no water to agencies that serve 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland. They would have to get by with water from other sources, such as the Colorado River, groundwater and the little left in their reservoirs.
Del Bosque also expects a zero allocation from the federal Central Valley Project, which delivers water to farmers through 500 miles of canals. By some estimates, half a million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland will lie fallow during the upcoming growing season.
According to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, two-thirds of California is in “extreme” drought conditions and 10 percent is suffering an “exceptional” drought. The latter is a once-in-50-years event. Fifteen Western states are experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House passed a bill to help the region last week, but the White House threatened to veto it. Democrats say it would cut back environmental protections. President Obama is scheduled to visit Fresno on Friday to promote federal efforts to help farmers and others.
Some help came over the weekend as a heavy storm hit Northern California, dropping as much as three feet of snow in the Sierras, whose runoff is critical to the water supply. Forecasters hoped that a high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere that has been blocking the normal flow of precipitation might be breaking up, but it was too early to tell, and the state needs much more water than any single storm can supply.
But, for the 65-year-old Del Bosque, a father of six daughters who runs his business with his extended family, it may be too late. He is already making a Sophie’s choice among his crops, devoting the little water he has to his almond and cherry trees. Fallow land can be planted in coming years, but he can’t afford to let those trees die.
Del Bosque will tap some water he bought last year and banked in the San Luis Reservoir, and will use well water available to one of his farms. But well water is salty, less than ideal for his crops. He can try to buy water, which is selling for at least five times the normal price, but no one has any to spare anyway. Which is why 2015 looks like a make-or-break year to Del Bosque, unless it begins to rain.
“There will be no water to carry into next year,” he said. “Everyone is using every drop they’ve got, and there’s no water to be bought anywhere.”
In cities, inconvenience
Water your lawn more than once a week, or on the wrong day or at the wrong time in Sacramento and you risk a fine that for repeat offenders can reach $1,000 per violation. Almost 40 city employees have been trained to look for scofflaws. The number of people anonymously reporting their neighbors has soared from 50 in January 2013 to 1,000 last month.
“Right now it’s Saturday or Sunday, customer’s choice,” said Jessica Hess, a city spokeswoman. As long as the customer waters before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. The city has handed out 83 warning notices and one $50 fine for a second offense since enforcement began Jan. 1.
In cities such as the state capital, the drought means inconvenience, at least when compared with the life-altering decisions faced by farmers only a couple of hundred miles away.
The average family of four in a single-family home in Sacramento uses 417 gallons of water a day, 65 percent of it outdoors. Half the homes don’t even have water meters.
“It’s small lifestyle changes that people are being asked to take into consideration,” Hess said. Residents also have been asked to run full loads in their washing machines. Garden hoses must have automatic shut-off nozzles. Not far away, in Santa Cruz, restaurants may serve water only upon request and swimming pools cannot be drained and refilled.
On the Monterey Peninsula, where only 105,000 people live, in places such as Carmel and Monterey, water comes from the Carmel River and groundwater, not the giant state water system. The average person consumes 60 gallons a day, which Dave Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, said is the lowest in the state.
But with 13 miles of the river virtually dry, officials spent much of last summer rescuing steelhead salmon and moving them to other parts of the river, he said. The fish should be heading to the ocean about now but can’t get there, he said.
On the peninsula, which accommodates 8 million visitors annually, the fear is what further water shortages could mean for the tourist industry. Under strict water rationing, there could be as little as 35 gallons a day per resident, enough to guarantee health and safety, said Stephanie Locke-Pintar, the district’s water demand manager, but with little left over for businesses such as hotels and resorts.
For now, the district doesn’t anticipate even a 15 percent voluntary cutback until May 1, even if there is no more rain, Stoldt said.
Better prepared in the south
With 19 million people and little water of its own, Southern California could be the part of the state most vulnerable to water shortages. But Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the giant Metropolitan Water District, which wholesales water to the six counties of that megalopolis, said there is enough to last the year, even without more rain.
After the area was saved from strict water rationing in 1991 by the “March miracle” — a month of downpours that wiped away a four-year drought — the water district embarked on a nearly two-decade program to build water storage and promote conservation, Kightlinger said.
It gradually doubled rates, building new reservoirs and a high-speed feeder system, and promoted conservation measures. Through incentives and code changes, 90 percent of residents from Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, to the San Diego border now have 2.2-gallon toilets and low-flow shower heads, he estimated. Annual demand is about equal to what it was more than 20 years ago, when the region was home to 14 million people.
The area also dramatically increased its use of recycled and reclaimed water for irrigation. It has enough water stored in reservoirs to go the whole year without any cutbacks, he said.
Still, the district is promoting Brown’s 20 percent voluntary cutback and wants to begin incentives for one-gallon toilets, Kightlinger said.
“It’s just that we’re more prepared for it,” he said. “We’ve been hammered by some droughts, and people down here understand they’re living in a pretty dry area.” (Contributor: By Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post)
This is a matter for strong intercession. Southern California stays “green” only because water is imported from as far away as the Sierra Nevada foothills, but those sources are limited. California life faces drastic change if drought continues. In Bible times, Joseph saved Egypt from famine because he knew God and knew how to prepare. Is God waiting for more Americans to pray, acknowledging Him as the source of all life? Often, God will bless if He knows those He blesses will be grateful and give Him thanks. Pray for California farmland to receive the blessing of much-needed rain.
“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:13-14)
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44-45)
Could too much sugar be deadly? The biggest study of its kind suggests the answer is yes, at least when it comes to fatal heart problems.
It doesn’t take all that much extra sugar, hidden in many processed foods, to substantially raise the risk, the researchers found, and most Americans eat more than the safest amount.
Having a cinnamon roll with your morning coffee, a super-sized sugary soda at lunch and a scoop of ice cream after dinner would put you in the highest risk category in the study. That means your chance of dying prematurely from heart problems is nearly three times greater than for people who eat only foods with little added sugar.
For someone who normally eats 2,000 calories daily, even consuming two 12-ounce cans of soda substantially increases the risk. For most American adults, sodas and other sugary drinks are the main source of added sugar.
Lead author Quanhe Yang of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention called the results sobering and said it’s the first nationally representative study to examine the issue.
Scientists aren’t certain exactly how sugar may contribute to deadly heart problems, but it has been shown to increase blood pressure and levels of unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides; and also may increase signs of inflammation linked with heart disease, said Rachel Johnson, head of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and a University of Vermont nutrition professor.
Yang and colleagues analyzed national health surveys between 1988 and 2010 that included questions about people’s diets. The authors used national death data to calculate risks of dying during 15 years of follow-up.
Overall, more than 30,000 American adults aged 44 on average were involved.
Previous studies have linked diets high in sugar with increased risks for non-fatal heart problems, and with obesity, which can also lead to heart trouble. But in the new study, obesity didn’t explain the link between sugary diets and death. That link was found even in normal-weight people who ate lots of added sugar.
“Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick,” said Laura Schmidt, a health policy specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. She wrote an editorial accompanying the study in Monday’s JAMA Internal Medicine.
The researchers focused on sugar added to processed foods or drinks, or sprinkled in coffee or cereal. Even foods that don’t taste sweet have added sugar, including many brands of packaged bread, tomato sauce and salad dressing. Naturally occurring sugar, in fruit and some other foods, wasn’t counted.
Most health experts agree that too much sugar isn’t healthy, but there is no universal consensus on how much is too much.
U.S government dietary guidelines issued in 2010 say “empty” calories including those from added sugars should account for no more than 15 percent of total daily calories.
The average number of daily calories from added sugar among U.S. adults was about 15 percent toward the end of the study, slightly lower than in previous years.
The authors divided participants into five categories based on sugar intake, from less than 10 percent of daily calories – the safest amount – to more than 25 percent.
Most adults exceed the safest level; and for 1 in 10 adults, added sugar accounts for at least 25 percent of daily calories, the researchers said.
The researchers had death data on almost 12,000 adults, including 831 who died from heart disease during the 15-year follow-up. They took into account other factors known to contribute to heart problems, including smoking, inactivity and excess weight, and still found risks for sugar.
As sugar intake increased, risks climbed steeply.
Adults who got at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugar were almost three times more likely to die of heart problems than those who consumed the least – less than 10 percent.
For those who got more than 15 percent – or the equivalent of about two cans of sugary soda out of 2,000 calories daily – the risk was almost 20 percent higher than the safest level.
Sugar calories quickly add up: One teaspoon has about 16 calories; one 12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains has about 9 teaspoons of sugar or about 140 calories; many cinnamon rolls have about 13 teaspoons of sugar; one scoop of chocolate ice cream has about 5 teaspoons of sugar.
Dr. Jonathan Purnell, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute, said while the research doesn’t prove “sugar can cause you to die of a heart attack”, it adds to a growing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that limiting sugar intake can lead to healthier, longer lives. (Contributor: Associated Press and CBS News)
Here is an opportunity for readers to take personal inventory of their own and their family’s eating habits. Due to sedentary lives and U.S. affluence, too many Americans are overweight, unfit, and unhealthy. While we cannot “pray away” obesity or the central place sugar occupies in processed food (consider the trends in breakfast cereals), as Christians we can seek God’s wisdom, adjust to consume a healthful diet, and give more attention to the condition of the “temple” we live in.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)
In the beginning, there was “The Bible,” the most-watched cable TV show of 2013. Following its flood of faith-inspiring success are three Bible-based movies set to open in theaters this year.
The first, “Son of God,” is produced by the married couple who brought “The Bible” to the History Channel and into households across the country — producer Mark Burnett and actress Roma Downey.
“We really believed that people would show up in droves, but 100 million people was a big number,” Mr. Burnett said of the 10-hour miniseries’ total audience. “Before we knew those results, we’d already started on ‘Son of God.’”
The two-hour film, which opens with a quick retelling of the Old Testament before depicting the life of Jesus, is scheduled to be released Feb. 28.
“We know from the success of ‘The Bible’ series, it encouraged people around the water cooler or around their own kitchen tables to start talking about faith, start talking about God,” Miss Downey said. “We hope when ‘Son of God‘ is released that people will be talking about Jesus.”
Hollywood appears to be banking on moviegoers’ interest in faith and God as it prepares to roll out two big-budget films based on biblical tales. Producer-director-screenwriter Darren Aronofsky’s 3-D opus “Noah,” starring Oscar winners Russell Crowe as Noah and Anthony Hopkins as his grandfather Methuselah, is due to be released in March. “Exodus,” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses, is scheduled to be released in December.
Scholars say the time is right for an influx of faith-based movies. They note that an opportunity arises every few years for filmmakers to use cutting-edge technology to capture audiences by telling some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing stories.
“Hollywood is hungry for good source material, so it reached back to one of the original treasure troves of ancient civilization that still speaks across the centuries definitely more than the average comic book,” said Craig Detweiler, associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University, where he teaches a course on religion and film.
S. Brent Plate, visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, said the upcoming epics about Moses and Noah are the contemporary equivalents to 1956’s “Ten Commandments,” 1959’s “Ben Hur” and 1961’s “King of Kings.”
“These were big-budget and secular,” Mr. Plate said. “Some of the filmmakers and actors professed various levels of faith, but these were not any more devotional films than the new ones.”
But for Mr. Burnett, producer of CBS’ “Survivor,” ABC’s “Shark Tank” and NBC’s “The Voice,” and Miss Downey, a former star of the CBS drama “Touched by an Angel,” their latest endeavor is as much about faith as it is commerce — perhaps more so.
“Son of God” was produced on a $22 million budget, a pittance compared with the reported $130 million budget for “Noah.” The budget for “Exodus” has not been announced, but with a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, the film’s budget likely will rival that of “Noah.”
“Son of God” has no big-name actors, aside from Miss Downey, who portrays Jesus’ mother late in the film. Jesus is portrayed by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, reprising the role from “The Bible” miniseries.
The producers have eschewed typical marketing schemes. Churches and faith-based groups, they say, have been buying advance tickets for screenings of “Son of God” as group events and as a springboard for discussion, just as they did 10 years ago for director Mel Gibson’s surprise blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.”
“Son of God” has garnered praise from faith leaders such as Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, megachurch pastor Rick Warren and televangelist Joel Osteen.
“We certainly didn’t want ‘14 to go by without a huge experience for America from us,” Mr. Burnett said. “‘Son of God‘ is something we started on even before ‘The Bible’ series. It’s the way it should be seen: A big feature film experience.”
Noting the modest budget and mostly unknown cast for “Son of God,”Mr. Plate of Hamilton College said, “I think it will appeal to those who already profess Christianity but won’t make much splash outside those circles. ‘Noah‘ and ‘Exodus’ will prove much more big sellers and many nonbelievers will attend.”
Still, Mr. Gibson’s “Passion,” which featured a cast of mostly unknowns and required subtitles because its script was in Aramaic, the long-dead language of the era, brought in more than $370 million with its $30 million budget.
Mr. Detweiler said Hollywood has “consistently underestimated” the size and adventurous nature of the faith-friendly audience, and “Son of God” will be the latest test of that segment.
“When we live through a decade of very anxious times, I think we’ve found that people’s interest in ancient and transforming stories endures,” he said. “New technologies allow for fresh retellings of a powerful, ancient text like the Gospel. Jesus has proven to be a remarkably portable person who’s rediscovered by each generation in new ways.”
Regardless of how well “Son of God” plays on the big screen, Miss Downey said, she and her husband have an order for a 12-hour miniseries called “A.D.” that “will reset the story at the Crucifixion and follow the remaining disciples and beginnings of the early church.” They expect the show to begin airing in autumn 2015. (Contributor: By Meredith Somers for The Washington Times)
Give thanks that technology, properly used, can convey the message of God’s Word to multiplied millions at one time, as Roma Downey and Mark Burnett accomplished last year with their series “The Bible.” It was a phenomenal success, explained in part by the deep longing in human hearts for spiritual reality. Now, the industry is coming back with more of the same. Pray that increased attention to biblical themes will incite discussion, introspection, and consideration about one’s own spiritual condition. Pray that questioning hearts and minds will find answers in God’s message of love in the Bible.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
[Jesus said,] “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)