On Watch in Washington – December 18, 2013

December 18th, 2013

On Watch in Washington – December 18, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

MICH. LAW MAKES WOMEN BUY THEIR OWN INSURANCE FOR ABORTIONS

Adding to a growing movement in the states to press for new restrictions on abortion, Michigan this week became the latest state to require women to purchase their own insurance riders if they want coverage of elective abortions in their future health-care policies.

The move is hailed by pro-life supporters, who brought the issue to the Michigan lawmakers through a “citizen-initiative” process this year. Eight other states have passed similar statutes.

The law means “no person is forced to fund the deliberate taking of an innocent human life in the name of health care,” said Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan. “Abortion is not true health care; abortion kills a living, developing human being.”

But opponents — including Democratic lawmakers who talked about their personal histories — said the measure, which passed largely on party lines, was “extreme.”

“Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” Democratic state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer said during the debate. The attack didn’t result in a pregnancy, she said, but if it had happened under a law like this, “I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme. How extreme does this measure need to be?”

Another lawmaker spoke of needing an abortion to complete a miscarriage, while others talked about other kinds of problematic pregnancies.

Republicans, including State Rep. Amanda Price, defended the measure, which was requested in a petition signed by 315,000 Michigan voters and is aimed at “elective abortion.”

No matter how the issue is framed, “abortion is an individual choice,” said Ms. Price. “As such, it is up to each individual to make the decision how they will pay for such procedures.”

Backers of the measure said it doesn’t block insurance-covered abortion care for women in several situations, including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth. It also doesn’t affect situations where, “in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment,” a pregnancy must be terminated “to avert” the woman’s death.

But the law’s omission of “rape” and “incest” as covered reasons for abortion, though, caused opponents to sarcastically dub it “rape insurance.”

Pro-life groups countered this by bringing forward Rebecca Kiessling and other adults conceived during a rape, but who lived because their mothers did not get abortions. “No child deserves to be punished for the crimes of their father,” Ms. Kiessling, director of pro-life group Save the 1 told a news conference this month.

It is, in fact, common practice for women to pay for part, or all, of an abortion’s costs, which in 2009 was about $470 for a first-trimester procedure. In Michigan, for instance, a state agency found that 739 abortions — or 3.3 percent out of 23,000 annual procedures — were covered by health insurance.

This is because private insurance policies don’t always cover abortions, and sometimes women choose not to use their policies to pay for an abortion, research done by the Guttmacher Institute has found. In federal programs, the institute noted, the Hyde Amendment has long prevented taxpayer funds from paying for abortions, although in 17 states, state Medicaid funds are used to pay for abortions for low-income women.

In Michigan, the Republican-led chambers easily passed the abortion measure Wednesday evening. In the Senate, two Democrats and an independent voted with the majority, 27-11. In the House, one Democrat joined the Republicans to pass the bill, 62-47. The law goes into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns this month.

Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma already allow patients to purchase abortion-coverage riders and an eighth state, Utah, will let general insurance plans cover the procedure in certain circumstances, according to Guttmacher.

A lawsuit against the measure is not imminent. The votes just happened this week, “and I think people are still reeling,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, said Thursday. Still, pro-choice allies will be investigating “all their options to figure what’s the best way to try to reverse this dangerous vote,” she added.

A petition drive to repeal the law is a possibility: Shelli Weisberg, spokeswoman for ACLU of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press that opponents will meet soon to plan such a petition drive. “There will be another initiative to overturn this abhorrent act,” State Rep. Sarah Roberts told the newspaper.

Dr. Matt Allswede, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Lansing, said the law creates a “gray zone” of concern for health care providers. If a patient needs an abortion, he said, the provider will have to see if her situation “triggers the exception.” If not, they will have to find out if there’s a prepurchased rider, “and if not, explain the costs.”

There are going to be dicey situations when the fetus is potentially viable, he said, adding that there could be fines and legal issues if providers make a wrong move.

As an OB-GYN, “99 percent of our job is really wonderful. But 1 percent of it can be pretty awful,” said Dr. Allswede. (Contributor: By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)

Yes, the focus here is still on the evil of abortion, but the “good news” in this prayer alert is that we are seeing the growth of courageous legislative movements at the state level in various parts of our nation. Sadly, our federal bureaucracy strives mightily to hold absolute authority in the abortion struggle, but in recent key situations, such as in Texas, Arkansas, and now Michigan, states are flexing legislative muscle that at least impedes the wholesale slaughter of innocent lives of not-yet-born babies. These positive steps will be resisted in the courts—even the Supreme Court—but the debate is spreading in the public square, and intercessors will help carry the battle as we continue to cry out to God to save the children. The selected Scriptures are to encourage strong prayers, as intercessors cry out to God for justice for the unborn.      

“Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more.” (Psalm 10:17-18)

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)

“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)

“When I cry out to You, then my enemies turn back: this I know, because God is for me.” (Psalm 56:9)

 

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE STANDARDS

The Common Core State Standards, which spell out what K-12 students should learn in school, are at the center of a heated debate: Who should control public education? What do students really need to know? Let’s separate fact from fiction to figure out what’s at stake.

1. The Common Core is a federal takeover of public education that imposes a national curriculum.

It isn’t and it doesn’t – though it has substantial support from the Obama administration, verging on coercion.

The Common Core has been spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington-based associations that get funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2009, with bipartisan support, they engaged education reform nonprofits to take the lead in writing standards for what students should know and be able to do in math and English/language arts, grade by grade, from kindergarten through 12th.

The Core does not prescribe how students should meet those standards, though the English/language arts authors also wrote curriculum guidelines for textbook publishers, and school districts in different states can and are using the same prepackaged lessons.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core, and the Obama administration has a lot to do with that statistic. Its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition makes adoption of “common standards” an incentive to win federal funding.

The Education Department also wanted states that applied for waivers from No Child Left Behind to adopt common standards.

2. Opposition to Common Core is coming primarily from the tea party and white suburban moms.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month blamed some of the Common Core backlash on “white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Earlier, he characterized the opposition as “political silliness” and “a rallying cry for fringe groups.” The reality is that resistance to the Common Core is coming from every political direction. On the right, the tea party has indeed been vocal. Though the Core has support from the likes of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, conservative Republicans have mounted a sustained attack. Glenn Beck warned his listeners: “You as a parent are going to be completely pushed out of the loop. The state is completely pushed out of the loop. They now have control of your children.” On the left, Diane Ravitch, the most vocal critic of school reforms that focus on standardization, has suggested that federal promotion of the Common Core “may well have been illegal.” In the middle are educators, students and parents concerned about how the Core has been designed, written and implemented. They worry that teachers haven’t had time to absorb the standards and figure out how to teach them. They say prewritten lessons aren’t a good solution, because they take away teachers’ ability to individualize learning according to student needs. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers union and a supporter of the Core, has said: “You think the ‘Obamacare’ implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”

3. Common Core tests will be more advanced than current assessments.

Duncan promised that the new Core-aligned exams would be an “absolute game-changer in public education” – going beyond multiple-choice bubbles with open-ended questions that more deeply assess what students have learned and how well they can solve problems.

But the tests scheduled to roll out next school year won’t be the huge leap forward that supporters had hoped. An independent panel of education leaders determined that there wasn’t enough time or money to create groundbreaking exams.

Separately, Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond found that the Core exams under development are only marginally better than tests that have been used for years – and are less helpful than evaluations used in Singapore and by the International Baccalaureate program, for instance, that ask students to design, conduct, analyze and present their work in different ways.

4. Common Core demands that teachers toss out Shakespeare.

How much literature English teachers teach was one of the big education controversies of the year. Reflecting concern that U.S. students can’t adequately read and analyze complex studies, reports and primary documents, the Core’s English standards require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, growing to 70 percent by Grade 12. English teachers across the country expressed angst about all the novels, plays, short stories and poems they’d have to cut from their lessons.

But the Core authors clarified that the requirement applies to reading assignments across all courses – not that a single English class had to have the 70-30 ratio. Still, they want English teachers to assign more non-fiction.

Among the nonfiction works they recommend is Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 classic “Democracy in America,” along with more obscure texts such as “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and the General Services Administration’s “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” (2007).

5. New Core tests will save taxpayers money.

Some advocates think that districts can develop Common Core tests cheaply. For example, the national advocacy group Parents for Public Schools said: “Common Core State Standards will cause states to save money on creating and scoring tests. Since all states that adopt 1/8them 3/8 will use the same standards, they can also share on the development.” But the costs of Core tests have been a big concern, especially for the five states that dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a group of 18 states and the District “working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math,” according to its Web site.

This consortium has acknowledged that half of its member states will spend more than they do for current tests; one of them, Georgia, pulled out when the cost of new exams was announced. The price? More than $2 million above Georgia’s existing state assessment budget.

States lack resources to upgrade equipment and provide technical support for the new tests – costs likely to exceed that of the exams themselves. One analysis indicates that Race to the Top would provide districts with less than 10 cents on the dollar to defray those expenses plus mandated teacher evaluations.

Bottom line: Nobody knows how much implementing Common Core will cost. (Contributor: By Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post – Strauss is an education reporter and columnist for The Washington Post.)

Caution! Informer readers will quickly see the need for what the Bible calls “the wisdom from above.” Most items in our alerts come from the secular press. This article is from an ongoing series running every Sunday in The Washington Post. Each carries the headline “Five Myths About . . .” and touches on an issue of national interest currently discussed in the media. It might be about a political figure, the passage of a certain bill, a government scandal, or a social trend. But because “the myth is in the eye of the beholder” (in this case, the writer), we suggest careful reading, as the Post’s editorial viewpoint is admittedly left of center. For example, note the first “myth,” defined by the writer as, “The Common Core is a federal takeover of public education that imposes a national curriculum.” The very next sentence, however, spins this into a contradiction: “It isn’t and it doesn’t — though it has substantial support from the Obama administration, verging on coercion.” So we ask, “What part of ‘substantial support’ and ‘coercion’ does notmean ‘federal takeover’?” And so on. Please read carefully and pray with biblical perspective. Do not be swayed by deceptive rhetoric. Education analysts from all sides of the political spectrum fear Common Core Standards will define too closely what is taught and how history is interpreted, plus assign literature that may limit the student’s literary development. With our government’s tendency to revise U.S. history from the Founders’ positions on truth, Christians also know the best education for moral and spiritual development comes from the home and godly parents. To teach the mind without touching the spirit for God is to breed unbelief.

 Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding.” (Prov. 23:23)

[Apostolic prayer for early believers, to attain] “. . . to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

 

OBAMACARE’S TROUBLES ARE ONLY BEGINNING

The White House is claiming that the Healthcare.gov website is mostly fixed, that the millions of Americans whose health plans were canceled thanks to government rules may be able to keep them for another year, and that in any event these people will get better plans through ObamaCare exchanges. Whatever the truth of these assertions, those who expect better days ahead for the Affordable Care Act are in for a rude awakening. The shocks—economic and political—will get much worse next year and beyond. Here’s why:

The “sticker shock” that many buyers of new, ACA-compliant health plans have experienced—with premiums 30% higher, or more, than their previous coverage—has only begun. The costs borne by individuals will be even more obvious next year as more people start having to pay higher deductibles and copays.

If, as many predict, too few healthy young people sign up for insurance that is overpriced in order to subsidize older, sicker people, the insurance market will unravel in a “death spiral” of ever-higher premiums and fewer signups. The government, through taxpayer-funded “risk corridors,” is on the hook for billions of dollars of potential insurance-company losses. This will be about as politically popular as bank bailouts.

This December 3, 2013 photo shows a message indicating that a connection cannot be established with the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace internet site. Bloomberg News

The “I can’t keep my doctor” shock will also hit more and more people in coming months. To keep prices to consumers as low as possible—given cost pressures generated by the government’s rules, controls and coverage mandates—insurance companies in many cases are offering plans that have very restrictive networks, with lower-cost providers that exclude some of the best physicians and hospitals.

Next year, millions must choose among unfamiliar physicians and hospitals, or paying more for preferred providers who are not part of their insurance network. Some health outcomes will deteriorate from a less familiar doctor-patient relationship.

More IT failures are likely. People looking for health plans on ObamaCare exchanges may be able to fill out their applications with more ease. But the far more complex back-office side of the website—where the information in their application is checked against government databases to determine the premium subsidies and prices they will be charged, and where the applications are forwarded to insurance companies—is still under construction. Be prepared for eligibility, coverage gap, billing, claims, insurer payment and patient information-protection debacles.

The next shock will come when the scores of millions outside the individual market—people who are covered by employers, in union plans, or on Medicare and Medicaid—experience the downsides of ObamaCare. There will be longer waits for hospital visits, doctors’ appointments and specialist treatment, as more people crowd fewer providers.

Those with means can respond to the government-driven waiting lines by making side payments to providers or seeking care through doctors who do not participate in insurance plans. But this will be difficult for most people.

Next, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated 25% expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare will exert pressure on state Medicaid spending (although the pressure will be delayed for a few years by federal subsidies). This pressure on state budgets means less money on education and transportation, and higher state taxes.

The “Cadillac tax” on health plans to help pay for ObamaCare starts four years from this Jan. 1. It will fall heavily on unions whose plans are expensive due to generous health benefits.

In the nearer term, a political iceberg looms next year. Insurance companies usually submit proposed pricing to regulators in the summer, and the open enrollment period begins in the fall for plans starting Jan. 1. Businesses of all sizes that currently provide health care will have to offer ObamaCare’s expensive, mandated benefits, or drop their plans and—except the smallest firms—pay a fine. Tens of millions of Americans with employer-provided health plans risk paying more for less, and losing their policies and doctors to more restrictive networks. The administration is desperately trying to delay employer-plan problems beyond the 2014 election to avoid this shock.

Meanwhile, ObamaCare will lead to more part-time workers in some industries, as hours are cut back to conform to arbitrary definitions in the law of what constitutes full-time employment. Many small businesses will be cautious about hiring more than 50 full-time employees, which would subject them to the law’s employer insurance mandate.

On the supply side, medicine will become a far less attractive career for talented young people. More doctors will restrict practice or retire early rather than accept lower incomes and work conditions they did not anticipate. Already, many practices are closed to Medicaid recipients, some also to Medicare. The pace of innovation in drugs, medical devices and delivery is expected to slow significantly, as higher taxes and even rationing set in.

The repeated assertions by the law’s supporters that nobody but the rich would be worse off was based on a beyond-implausible claim that one could expand by millions the number of people with health insurance, lower health-care costs without rationing, and improve quality. The reality is that any squeezing of insurance-company profits, or reduction in uncompensated emergency-room care amounts to a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars extracted from those people overpaying for insurance, or redistributed from taxpayers.

The Affordable Care Act’s disastrous debut sent the president’s approval ratings into a tailspin and congressional Democrats in competitive districts fleeing for cover. If the law’s continuing unpopularity enables Republicans to regain the Senate in 2014, the president will be forced to veto repeated attempts to repeal the law or to negotiate major changes.

The risk of a complete repeal if a Republican takes the White House in 2016 will put enormous pressure on Democratic candidates—and on Republicans—to articulate a compelling alternative to the cost and coverage problems that beset health care. A good start would be sliding-scale subsidies to help people buy a low-cost catastrophic plan, purchasable across state lines, equalized tax treatment of those buying insurance on their own with those on employer plans, and expanded high-risk pools. (Contributor: By Michael J. Boskin for The Wall Street Journal — Mr. Boskin, an economics professor at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush.)

This article serves as a genuine call to prayer. It is a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred analysis that sees little ahead for the American people under Obamacare except major turmoil, disappointment, struggle, higher costs, and unexpected adjustments in needed medical  services, favorite physicians, and so on. Interestingly, the author, a gifted economist, makes no comment about a major intercessory prayer issue that, for Christians, is the matter of religious freedom of conscience and conscientious objection. The employer mandate will force churches, non-profits, and business leaders with pro-life, anti-abortion convictions to support health services for employees that include prescriptions and/or devices that cause abortion. So, while IFA is not political and does not editorialize in these alerts, still Christians are aware of the issues and will pray accordingly. As we have noted in previous alerts, two such companies have cases the Supreme Court will hear next spring, 2014. Let us mount up strong prayers for Life vs. Death. Many citizens are fearful due to alleged cover-up and uncertainty. Seek God’s mercy for the U.S.

“But Jesus called [His disciples] to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)

 

INDIA’S SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS COLONIAL-ERA ANTI-GAY SEX LAW

India’s Supreme Court struck down a 2009 lower court decision to decriminalize homosexual conduct, dealing a blow Wednesday to gay activists who have fought for years for the chance to live openly in India’s deeply conservative society.

The judges said only lawmakers and not the courts could change a colonial-era law that bans homosexual acts and makes them punishable by up to a decade in prison.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community across India reacted to the surprise decision with defiance.

“We cannot be forced back into the closet. We are not backing off from our fight against discrimination,” said Gautam Bhan, an activist who had petitioned the court.

After the ruling, dozens of activists outside the court began crying and hugging each other in consolation.

“This is a very sad day for us, we are back to square one in our fight for the democratic rights of the gay community,” said Ashok Row Kavi of the activist group Humsafar Trust.

Lawyers and supporters of gays, lesbians and transsexuals vowed to continue pressing for the removal of the law, which they say encourages discrimination, even if it is rarely invoked by prosecutors.

“We feel very let down,” said lawyer Anand Grover, who had argued the case on behalf of the advocacy group NAZ Foundation. “But our fight is not over and we will continue to fight for the constitutional right.”

He said the foundation would ask for the Supreme Court’s decision to be reviewed.

According to international human-rights groups, more than 70 countries around the world have laws criminalizing homosexual conduct, with India by far the most populous. Some other countries, while not explicitly outlawing gay sex, have measures that restrict gay-rights activities, such as Russia’s recently enacted law prohibiting “gay propaganda.”

Efforts to repeal colonial-era anti-sodomy laws have failed to gain much momentum in Africa and Asia, but there have been notable recent gay-rights gains in Latin America, where same-sex marriage or civil unions have been legalized in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and parts of Mexico.

The largest gay-rights group in the United States — the Human Rights Campaign — described the Indian court ruling as a “disturbing step backward.”

“It is incomprehensible that a court of law would take the side of discrimination against LGBT citizens,” said the group’s chief foundation officer, Jeff Krehely. “Criminalizing LGBT relationships leads to dangerous situations, not just for committed couples, but also for LGBT youth, who today received a deeply harmful message that they are less than equal.”

The United States expressed concern about the Indian Supreme Court decision, although it wasn’t immediately clear if Washington had directly raised the issue with Indian government officials.

“We oppose all actions that criminalize consensual sex conducts between adults,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. “We call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.”

The law in question, dating back to the 1860s when Britain ruled over South Asia, states that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” can be punished by up to 10 years behind bars.

The 2009 New Delhi High Court ruling, which said the law violated fundamental human rights, infuriated conservatives and religious groups who say homosexuality represents a threat to traditional Indian culture.

In a rare alliance, the groups — including the All India Muslim Law Board, Christian groups and Hindu spiritual leaders — argued that gay sex is unnatural and that India should maintain the law.

Amod Kanth, head of the Prayas organization for children’s welfare, one of India’s largest civic groups, cheered Wednesday’s ruling and said banning homosexuality is key to ensuring children’s normal development and protecting their rights to family.

“Only a man and a woman constitute a family and contribute for the holistic development of a child, which is not possible without a father and a mother,” Kanth told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Activists have long argued that the law encourages discrimination and leaves gays, lesbians and bisexuals vulnerable to police harassment or demands for bribes. In a country where arranged marriage is still largely the norm, many gays hide their sexual orientation from friends and relatives.

Acceptance is slowly growing, though, particularly in big cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai. In the last few years, activists have staged large gay pride parades featuring rainbow-colored flags and banners, joyful songs and dancing through the streets.

The government, meanwhile, has begun acknowledging India’s transgender — or hijra — community, the origins of which go back millennia to a time when transsexuals, eunuchs and gays held a special place in society backed by Hindu myths of their power to grant fertility.

In 2009, the government allowed them to register to vote as “others,” rather than as men or women. And in 2010, a new “third gender” category was added to the national census.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal said little about Wednesday’s verdict beyond agreeing that the “legislature is the final arbiter of what law should be.”

If the issue comes up in Parliament, he said, “we will take it up.” (Contributor: The Associated Press and Fox News)

Let us give thanks for the insight of India’s Supreme Court justices, in a country represented by several non-Christian belief systems, to rule in favor of traditional sexual roles and against the kind of deviations that have deeply permeated and divided our own culture. “Father God, we thank You for allowing India’s Supreme Court to make a morally upright decision on homosexual acts. We ask You to allow this decision to serve as an example to the United States that progressive reinterpretation of morality is not in the best interests of a healthy society.” Pray fervently that God will intervene in our nation to stop the continuous moral slide into a morass of sin and degradation where “Anything goes!” becomes the rule of our culture. “Dear Lord, strengthen Your church to come boldly and fervently to prayer that touches Your heart and creates an open door for divine intervention, not because we are worthy but because You are gracious and merciful.”

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;  that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days …” (Deut. 30:19-20)  

 

AUSTRALIAN COURT REJECTS LAW ALLOWING GAY MARRIAGE

Australia’s highest court struck down a landmark law last Thursday (December 12) that had begun allowing the country’s first gay marriages, shattering the dreams of more than two dozen same-sex newlyweds whose marriages will now be annulled less than a week after their weddings.

The federal government had challenged the validity of the Australian Capital Territory’s law that had allowed gay marriages in the nation’s capital and its surrounding area.

For Ivan Hinton, who married his partner Chris Teoh on Saturday, the result was heartbreaking. The couple just received their marriage certificate on Wednesday and immediately applied to change their surnames to Hinton-Teoh. Still, Hinton said he doesn’t regret going through with the wedding, and will always consider Teoh his husband.

“This was an unprecedented and historic opportunity,” he said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

The federal government’s lawyer had argued that having different marriage laws in various Australian states and territories would create confusion. The ACT, which passed the law in October, said it should stand because it governs couples outside the federal definition of marriage as being between members of the opposite sex.

The High Court unanimously ruled that the ACT’s law could not operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act, which was amended in 2004 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The Marriage Act does not now provide for the formation or recognition of marriage between same sex couples. The Marriage Act provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman,” the court said in a statement issued alongside its ruling. “That Act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage.”

Rodney Croome, national director of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, said his group knows of about 30 same-sex couples who have married since Saturday, though the actual number may be slightly higher. The court decision essentially nullifies their marriages, as it means the ACT law under which they were wed was invalid.

Alan Wright, who married his partner Joel Player just minutes after midnight on Saturday, said the court’s decision had inspired him to fight even harder for equality and focus his efforts on getting the federal government to change the law.

“I am now immensely proud to be part of a very unique, committed and courageous group of people, who — despite probably deep down knowing that it was going to be overturned … still stood up and said ‘no, we’re going to do this’,” Wright said. “In 10 years’ time, I will look back at this as being a very proud moment.”

In its decision, the court wrote that the federal government is responsible for deciding whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. The ruling means that no Australian state or territory can make that decision, said Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey.

Lyle Shelton, managing director of Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes same-sex marriage, praised the court ruling and said common sense had prevailed.

As for the ruling’s impact on the newly-wedded couples, Shelton said it was “really sad that they were put in a position” in which they were allowed to marry before the court handed down its judgment.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott opposes gay marriage and his coalition blocked two federal bills last year that would have allowed legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The ruling comes a day after India’s Supreme Court struck down a 2009 lower court decision to decriminalize homosexuality.

Gay marriage has legal recognition in 18 countries as well as 16 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. (Contributor: By Kristen Gelineau for The  Associated Press and ABC News)

Again, our own United States, once the world leader in upholding justice, missionary giving, caring for needy and displaced people, and, in general, being the world’s moral compass, has been upstaged and outdone by the Australian Supreme Court. Literally hours after the Australian Capital Territory’s law allowing same-sex marriage went into effect, the federal government challenged that law’s validity and struck it down. Many Christians and other U.S. citizens, even those with strong beliefs for homosexual “marriage,” were stunned to see such swift action by a government not only determined to keep traditional morality but having the single-minded power and authority to maintain its cultural “norm.” Again, pray that God will use the Australian determination and resolute courage to be a “contagious inoculation” that might shame our own U.S. government into seeing what a terrible Pandora’s Box has been opened. Christian prophetic voices from as many as 30 years ago predicted that all manner of gross immorality would spring ultimately from tampering with the Creator’s marriage covenant. Keep praying accordingly.  In these desperate times for our own nation, should God’s people pray the sort of desperate prayer as the prophet Habakkuk prayed in his day? See below:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save? Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises.” (Habakkuk 1:1-3)

“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps [God’s] law. (Prov. 29:18)

“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.” (Isaiah 59:14-16)

 

GOOGLE’S RACING ROBOTS GIVE AMAZON’S DRONES A RUN FOR THEIR MONEY

Google has snapped up the creator of the world’s fastest running robot and other eerily realistic animal-like machines supplied to the US military.

The internet company’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics is latest in a string of robotics acquisitions in a mysterious initiative led by former Android chief Andy Rubin.

As Amazon readies a fleet of delivery drones, Boston Dynamics is Google’s biggest prize yet in the robot wars.

Video

Among the creations to crawl, jump and gallop from its labs are Big Dog, a four-legged robot that can clamber over uneven terrain such as snowy forests, even when assailed by kicks from its makers, and Cheetah, which claims to hold the record for the fastest legged robot in the world, running at more than 29 miles per hour.

Many of Boston Dynamics’ robots have been developed with funding from the US Department of Defense’s research unit, Darpa, making Google a military contractor, at least for now.

“The future is looking awesome!” said Mr Rubin in a tweet linking to the New York Times, which first reported the acquisition on Saturday. A Google spokesperson confirmed the deal but declined to elaborate on its price or plans.

The purchase is the latest sign of a sudden and, to many, startling new interest in robots from consumer internet companies, as their operations move from the virtual to the real world.

Last year, Amazon spent $775m on Kiva Systems, a robotics company used to automate its fulfilment centers, and earlier this month, chief executive Jeff Bezos said that the online retailer is developing unmanned aerial vehicles that he hopes will deliver parcels to customers within five years.

Google’s ultimate objective for its growing collection of robots remains unclear but Mr Rubin’s project sits among its so-called “moonshot” ventures, such as self-driving cars and balloons to provide internet connectivity to remote regions.

Mr Rubin stepped down from leading Google’s Android mobile operating system in March and only revealed his new assignment after Mr Bezos announced Amazon’s drone initiative on US television.

His other acquisitions include Bot & Dolly, a design studio that makes an automated camera system used in movies such as Gravity, and Schaft, a spin-off from the University of Tokyo whose bipedal robots boast much stronger “muscles” than other bots.

Video

Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A much-viewed YouTube video shows Boston Dynamics’ four-legged WildCat robot “galloping” and “bounding” around a car park at speeds of 16 miles per hour, before – perhaps reassuringly – falling to its knees on ice.

The response from the tech community has been a mixture of awe, amusement and apprehension at the potential uses of robots at a company with Google’s scale, resources and trove of personal information.

“Which company that owns all our private data and has the motto “Don’t Be Evil” just bought a military robotics firm?” tweeted Joe Randazzo, creative director at Adult Swim, a comedy and satire channel.

“‘Don’t be evil,’ he cried, while being chased by the robot hounds,” quipped Andy Baio, a tech entrepreneur and founder of the XOXO conference, in a tweet. (Contributor: By Tim Bradshaw for Financial Times)

Prayer focus: May we encourage intercessors to pause for a moment and to gain perspective as 2013 closes and 2014 in on the horizon? This is a good moment for us to consider anew the meaning of Christmas, as we recall the birth of Jesus, our Lord. In the light of this “high-tech” article, considering where robotic technology is going very rapidly, it is also wise to note that God did not choose the send His Son forth in front of video cameras poised in Bethlehem. We read instead, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . .” Think about it as we are praying and interceding at the end of this tumultuous year. The Creator and Sovereign of the universe, our great, all-powerful God, started life on earth in a Garden, not a city; and He sent His Son, our Savior, into a non-technical age, with His chosen people in bondage under despotic Roman rule. The hymn-writer said, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. . .” Computer robotics will not save mankind. We are intrigued, and we wonder where it all is going. But only the Lord Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, can redeem men and women from their sins. Amen!

 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:4-7)

 

WILL CHINA’S MOON LANDING SPUR U.S. INTO ACTION?

China has officially joined the “Moon Landing Club,” which, until Saturday, was the exclusive domain of the United States and the former Soviet Union. China’s rover will now putter around, doing what such missions are typically designed to do: taking lots of pictures and analyzing lunar dirt, more scientifically referred to as regolith.

It may be tempting for Americans to think, “Been there, done that.” However, China is now envisioning the very same sort of ambitious megaprojects that the U.S. once dreamt of more than 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy urged America to “commit itself to achieving the goal … of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” For instance, China hopes to mine the moon for natural resources and to use it as a staging ground for further space exploration, although some believe the former goal is unrealistic because the cost is likely to exceed the value of the materials.

Still, China’s wild-eyed aspirations are inspiring. It should make us yearn for the days when we, too, thought we could do anything. But those days now seem so long ago. Indeed, the latest Rasmussen poll finds that 52 percent of Americans think that our best days are behind us. What happened?

It appears that years of poor governance — spanning at least two presidential administrations — combined with a lackluster economy have sapped Americans of their optimism. The toxic, divisive nature of partisan politics has made Washington dysfunctional. As a result, Americans hate Congress, disapprove of President Obama and are, as The Economist writes, at risk of becoming a “low-trust society” in which suspicion of others’ motives eclipses the camaraderie that typically underpins the American attitude. This is not a recipe conducive to long-term success.

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama called for a new “Sputnik moment.” Similar to how Americans once rallied to beat the Soviets to the moon, Mr. Obama wants us to revitalize our commitment to science and technology. But like most of his lofty speeches, this entreaty was soon forgotten. Perhaps the stark reality of a zealous and determined China will finally reinvigorate our dejected national spirit. (Contributor: By Alex Berezow for Real Clear World)

Let us pray that the U.S. government will use wisdom and not regard China’s recent moon landing as a challenge to “compete,” yet with no positive contribution in sight for the betterment of our nation’s people. With our own initial manned lunar landing now nearly 45 years in the past, what “real-life, real-time” advances can be counted when considering the multiplied billions spent to achieve that “one giant leap for mankind.” Was it, in fact, a leap forward? This is not to decry scientific exploration when it seeks answers leading to advancements in medicine or an enhanced food supply. But we should pray that the motivations to maintain space leadership will surrender to the better use of the time, money, and energy that would be needed to return to the moon – and for what cause? We encourage much wisdom-motivated prayer, knowing it all belongs to God.

“The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; but the earth He has given to the children of men.” (Psalm 115:16)

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky aboveproclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Ps. 19:1-4)

 

CHINA TO LAUNCH MOON ROCK-COLLECTING PROBE IN 2017

China said it was on track to launch a fifth lunar probe with the aim of bringing back lunar soil and rock samples following the successful moon landing of a space probe.

The new mission planned for 2017 would mark the third and final phase of China’s robotic lunar exploration program and pave the way for possibly landing an astronaut on the moon after 2020.

On Saturday, Chang’e 3 set down on the moon, marking the first soft landing of a space probe on the lunar surface in 37 years. The landing vehicle will conduct scientific research for a year and its accompanying rover will survey the moon’s structure and probe for natural resources.

A challenge for both is to withstand temperatures ranging from 120 degrees Celsius (248 Fahrenheit) to minus 180 C (minus 184 F), said Wu Zhijian, spokesman for the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Chang’e 4 is intended to be an improved version of the Chang’e 3 that will pave the way for the fifth probe.

First explored by the former Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s and 70s, the moon has become the subject of renewed interest, even as the focus shifts to Mars exploration.

The U.S. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently circling the moon to detail its features and resources as a prelude to building a lunar outpost. In 2009, India’s lunar orbiter, the Chandrayaan-1, detected water on the moon. Two years earlier, Japan sent a spacecraft to orbit it.

“People have started saying we’re looking for water and we’re looking for minerals and it’s becoming a much more interesting place to go to,” said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane’s Space Systems and Industry. “Especially for new countries like China and India who are testing out new technologies – it’s an ideal place to practice these before they go to Mars and beyond.”

China says its moon exploration program is about gaining a scientific understanding of the moon and developing space engineering and other technologies to prepare it for deep space exploration in the future. It is also a source of national pride.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang were at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center to hear lunar program chief commander Ma Xingrui declare the Chang’e 3 mission a success, the official Xinhua News agency reported.

“China’s moon probe is a way to exhibit to the world that we have acquired advanced space technology, which is more sophisticated than nuclear technology, and it is also a way to win international recognition as a big power,” said He Qisong, a space expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

He said that finding and developing mineral resources on the moon could help solve future problems on Earth.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently. It launched the Tiangong 1 prototype space station in 2011 and plans to replace it with a larger permanent station seven years from now.

The space program’s close military links have raised questions about its ultimate intentions and dissuaded other countries from cooperating too closely with it. In 2007, the military shot down a defunct weather satellite in an apparent show of force that created a large amount of debris imperiling other spacecraft. (Contributor: By Louise Watt for The Associated Press – Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and news assistant Zhao Liang contributed to this report.)

Intercessors are urged to maintain perspective. First, this article merely reports the planning stages of a second moon-landing attempt by China roughly scheduled for 2017. Second, where China’s economy and that of the U.S. will be then is unknown. World affairs are tense, with many key nations in decline. Will further moon exploration be in either country’s best interest some three-plus years hence? No one knows. Pray accordingly, especially for the coming year, 2014, when political movements and a U.S. election year may well set the stage for where we are and who we Americans are as a people long before 2017. “O Lord, send revival in our time. Cause Your people to be stirred to new heights and depths of intercession, that our nation might become one whose ‘God is the Lord.’ Thank You, in the name of Jesus.”

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works. No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, just as we hope in You.” (Psalm 33:12-22)

 

HOW’S BUSINESS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD?

With the release of Planned Parenthood’s numbers for the 2012 business year, some pro-life groups see cause for celebration.

Rita Diller of the American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood project agrees.

“The biggest news is that we closed about 50 of its centers and lost five affiliates as well,” she reports.

“For 2011 through 2012, Planned Parenthood actually reported a decrease in worldwide customers, and we find that, not surprisingly, it showed a deep, deep decline of its already paltry number of prenatal services.”

Those dropped 32 percent. And while Planned Parenthood uses cancer screening services to justify increases in government funding, those were 14 percent fewer.

“Even its abortion business showed a slight decline, reaching the lowest level in four years,” Diller relays. “Even at that, Planned Parenthood still killed over 327,000 defenseless pre-born babies.”

There was a slight increase in contraceptive business, but American Life League has already shown that Planned Parenthood may be inflating those figures.

“These numbers show that Planned Parenthood is being rejected more and more by the American public, while its dependency on taxpayer dollars continually increases,” the pro-lifer adds.

That amounted to more than $540 million in the last budget year.

Diller reiterates that other local providers can largely handle most of the services Planned Parenthood offers. (Contributor: By Charlie Butts for One News Now)

We close this week’s Informer alert with a prayer focus that encourages praying Christians both to “dig in” as well as to give thanks for measured progress in response to our prayers. As we face 2014 and IFA begins its 41st year of ministry to encourage thousands of intercessors across the land, we see evidence of some decline in the wicked abortion business and a greater number of innocent babies being saved. “Father God, You have watched our beloved United States sink into greater moral and spiritual decline, yet You have withheld judgment and extended mercy, giving more people an opportunity to repent and turn from the evil the abortion business represents. Let us find strength in You to continue crying out for national revival and a turning from sin and degradation. We repent for our nation and ask for cleansing. Strengthen Your church with courage and the will to intercede until this dark chapter of greed and killing is brought down. We ask all this in the powerful name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May Your Word come to pass in our day, that those who find You, find life. Those who love You will hate death. We know from Your Word that those who love death will perish.”

“Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death.’ (Prov. 8:32-36)

On Watch in Washington – December 18, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington December 11, 2013

December 11th, 2013

On Watch in Washington December 11, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

HOUSE, SENATE NEGOTIATORS REACH BUDGET DEAL

House and Senate negotiators unveiled an $85 billion agreement late Tuesday to fund federal agencies through the fall of 2015, averting another government shutdown and ending the cycle of crisis that has paralyzed Washington for much of the past three years.

In a rare display of bipartisan cooperation, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stood side by side in the Capitol with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to announce the deal, which would cancel half of the sharp spending cuts known as the sequester for the current fiscal year.

“I am very proud to stand here today with Chairman Ryan to say that we have broken through the partisanship and gridlock and reached a bipartisan budget compromise,” Murray said, calling the agreement “an important step in helping to heal some of the wounds here in Congress and show we can do something without another crisis around the corner.”

Ryan called the agreement “a step in the right direction” that protects the Pentagon from fresh cuts set to hit in January while trimming deficits by more than $20 billion over the next decade.

With the deal already under fire from conservatives for weakening the sequester, Ryan argued that the package represents “a clear improvement on the status quo” by replacing one-time cuts to agency budgets with permanent savings from other programs.

In a “divided government” where Democrats control the White House and the Senate, Ryan reminded his critics, “you don’t always get what you want.”

The deal would not deliver a key demand of many Democrats, to extend unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless. While they pledged to keep fighting, senior Democrats acknowledged that checks are likely to be cut off at the end of the month for more than a million people, potentially undercutting the strengthening economic recovery.

But the agreement could provide an offsetting boost to the economy by returning a degree of normalcy to the Washington budget process and restoring confidence in the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together after years of destabilizing strife.

“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise,” President Obama said in a statement. “But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven­decision-making to get this done.”

The deal was struck after weeks of private talks between Murray and Ryan, a political odd couple better known for advancing their parties’ agendas than for forging compromise. It represents an accomplishment and a risk for Ryan, who ran on the GOP presidential ticket in 2012 and still has White House aspirations.

Under the terms of the deal, spending for the Pentagon and other federal agencies would be set at $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014, midway between the $1.058 trillion sought by Democrats and the $967 billion championed by Republicans. The Pentagon would get a $2 billion increase over last year, while domestic agencies would get a $22 billion bump, clearing space for administration priorities such as fresh investments in education and infrastructure. (Contributor: By Lori Montgomery for The Washington Post)

With budget appropriation decisions looming for the coming fiscal year, it is a relief to have at least a portion of the financial questions addressed with a non-partisan compromised settlement. Pray that there would be righteous agreements that support sound financial practices in this volatile economy. Pray that the Lord would grant His wisdom to those who are continuing to develop national budgetary decisions.

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” (Exodus 22:25)

“Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)

 

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS IN HOBBY LOBBY’S CAUSE

A little more than 20 years ago, Congress did something that, today, is hard to imagine. Lawmakers from both parties and across the political spectrum found common ground and passed, by a near-unanimous vote, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which firmly commits the federal government to protecting and promoting our “inalienable right” to freely exercise religion. As President Clinton remarked when he signed the legislation into law, “the power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.”

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that are testing the strength of this commitment. The arguments and decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits will say a lot about the health, and the future, of what Clinton called our “first freedom.”

These cases involve religious liberty challenges by two family businesses to the rule in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and some drugs that many believe can cause abortions.

The Green family has not confined its Christian beliefs to Sunday worship, and has instead expressed them through the operation of its Hobby Lobby stores for nearly 40 years. Similarly, the Hahn family’s Mennonite faith has animated and sustained its woodworking business for generations.

Like millions of religious believers and groups, these challengers reject the idea that religious faith and religious freedom are simply about what we believe and how we pray, and not also about how we live, act and work. At the heart of these two cases is the straightforward argument that federal law does not require us to “check our faith at the door” when we pursue vocations in business and commerce.

There should be no question about the sincerity of the religious beliefs at issue. These are not cases where the profit-focused managers of publicly traded mega-companies are cynically trying to save a few bucks or to gain a competitive edge.

As many would-be Sunday shoppers know, the Green family “walks the walk.” Signs on Hobby Lobby stores’ doors say that they close on Sundays “to allow employees time for worship and to spend time with their families.” Their stores do not carry shot glasses, lewd greeting cards or vulgar posters, and the background music is Christian. Hobby Lobby contributes generously to charities and starts full-time employees at nearly double the minimum wage. When the Greens and Hobby Lobby do this, and many other things, they are living out their faith and exercising their religion.

Hobby Lobby also provides excellent health insurance, which includes coverage for most — but not all — contraceptives. However, because of the Greens’ firm belief in the dignity of human life and about when and how it begins, Hobby Lobby cannot provide coverage for some of the required drugs because they could cause an abortion.

The government and others argue that the Greens’ religious beliefs are irrelevant because they’ve freely chosen to enter the rough-and-tumble world of commerce and that, in any event, the exercise of religion is for individuals, not corporations. But Hobby Lobby’s lawyers at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will be on solid ground when they explain to the court that both of these arguments are misguided.

The issue is not whether groups, associations and corporations have religious freedom rights under federal law. Of course they do. After all, religious hospitals, schools, social service agencies and churches are not “individuals,” but it would be bizarre to say that they don’t exercise religion.

And the question should not be whether legal protections for religious liberty stop at the sanctuary door or evaporate when a person is trying to make a living or a business is aiming to make a profit. At a time when we talk a lot about corporate responsibility and worry about the feeble influence of ethics and values on Wall Street decision-making, it would be strange if the law were to welcome sermonizing from Starbucks on the government shutdown but tell the Greens and Hobby Lobby to focus strictly on the bottom line.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act reaffirmed an idea that is deeply rooted in America’s history and traditions — namely, that politics and policy should respect and, whenever possible, make room for religious commitments and conscientious objections. True, religious liberty is not absolute, and, in a pluralistic society like ours, not all requests for exemptions and accommodations can, or should, be granted. Some religious liberty lawsuits will, and should, fail, but not simply because they involve what happens at work on Monday and not what happens in services on the Sabbath.

What Clinton said when he signed the act into law is worth remembering today: “Let us never believe that the freedom of religion imposes on any of us some responsibility to run from our convictions.” He challenged us instead to “bring our values back to the table of American discourse to heal our troubled land.” The Greens and Hobby Lobby, by refusing to check their faith at the marketplace door, are doing just that.

Richard W. Garnett is a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. (Contributor: By Richard W. Garnett for the LA Times)

Our call here is “Intercessors, unite!” We know from many biblical references that God wants His people to persevere in prayer and not grow faint or become weary in well-doing. He also values unity among His people (Psalm 133) and thus, unified intercession. “Father God, Your Word teaches us to support and respect human government but also to obey the principles of your Word above all else. We thank you for government protections that allow us to live peaceable lives. But now we see our God-given religious freedoms eroding, as our government is supporting new laws that stand against Your Word. We pray that Your Holy Spirit will oversee the upcoming Supreme Court hearings in early 2014 with regard to Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, two Christian-run companies that will not violate long-held biblical beliefs now in direct conflict with Obamacare regulations. We dare to pray for Your sovereign intervention in this case so that the Court renders a 9-0 decision. Amen!” Intercessors, please follow closely and keep praying.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”  Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-6)

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)

 

ACTIVISTS URGE OBAMA TO SIDESTEP CONGRESS

President Obama’s repeated use of presidential powers is causing a tough problem — his own supporters now expect him to use it to achieve everything they want.

From immigration to the minimum wage, congressional Democrats and liberal activists this week urged Mr. Obama to declare an end run around Capitol Hill, assert executive authority and make as much progress as he can on the expansive agenda he laid out for his second term.

A day after Mr. Obama denounced income inequality, progressive lawmakers said he should take the lead by issuing an executive order requiring all federal contractors to pay workers more than the minimum wage. A dozen lawmakers and immigration activists held a news conference outside the Capitol on Thursday asking him to halt all deportations as a down payment on an eventual immigration bill.

“To not use his executive authority is not just unstrategic; it is cruel,” said Tania Unzueta, a strategist with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

On immigration, Mr. Obama raised expectations when, after years of denying he had such powers, he issued a policy last year saying he no longer would deport young illegal immigrants, the “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and are considered the most sympathetic cases. He said he was using prosecutorial discretion.

More than two dozen House Democrats have written a letter to Mr. Obama saying he can expand that authority to encompass nearly all 11 million illegal immigrants.

Presidents regularly claim broad powers, and Mr. Obama’s own list of assertions is long. He committed the U.S. to military action in Libya without congressional authorization, he has tweaked interpretations to education, welfare and health care laws, and he has tested the limits of his recess appointment powers in a case that is pending before the Supreme Court.

Mr. Obama’s base, though, wants to see more — as he learned last week on a trip to the West Coast, where he was met with hecklers.

One man interrupted the president’s immigration speech to urge him to halt all deportations, just as he did for the Dreamers. Mr. Obama said he didn’t have that much power.

Hours later, as Mr. Obama ticked off his agenda at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, a man in the audience repeatedly called out “executive order.”

“Somebody keeps on yelling, ‘Executive order.’ Well, I’m going to actually pause on this issue because a lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem, which is, just sign an executive order, and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress,” the president said — immediately drawing approving applause from his audience.

“Wait, wait, wait, before everybody starts clapping — that’s not how it works,” Mr. Obama said. “We got this Constitution. We got this whole thing about separation of powers and branches.”

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, said Mr. Obama telegraphed this year that he would use presidential powers when he ran into problems getting his agenda through Congress.

“In light of Republican obstructionism, it should be no surprise to anyone that the administration is moving more and more toward executive action,” Mr. Manley said. “The problem, however, is you can do a lot more via the legislative process than you can do through executive orders.”

Mr. Obama’s allies argue that Republicans have forced the confrontation by refusing to even debate the president’s agenda.

They point to the House GOP’s reluctance to bring an immigration bill to the floor, and to repeated efforts to overturn Obamacare and the president’s environmental policies.

Those last two moves have left Mr. Obama to act on his own.

On Thursday, he issued a memo to the heads of all federal departments and agencies telling them that by 2020, 20 percent of the energy they use must come from renewable resources such as wind or solar. That is more than twice the current rate.

On health care, Mr. Obama has made numerous interpretations that seem to conflict with his own law, including unilaterally suspending the employer mandate, deciding Americans can get subsidies even if they aren’t in state-run health care exchanges, and most recently ruling that states still could approve insurance plans even if they violate the law.

Administration officials said that last move relied on prosecutorial discretion — the same authority the president cited for halting deportations of Dreamers.

Presidents argue that they are allowed to interpret the laws, and President George W. Bush regularly issued signing statements laying out how he saw the laws Congress passed.

Mr. Obama criticized that practice and hasn’t issued anywhere near the number of signing statements, but analysts said he is still stretching the limits of his power by usurping Congress and the courts.

“The problem of what the president is doing is that he is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system; he is becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid: that is, the concentration of power in any single branch,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, testifying about executive powers to the House Judiciary Committee this week.

“We’ve had the radical expansion of presidential powers under both President Bush and President Obama. We have what many once called an imperial presidency model of largely unchecked authority,” Mr. Turley said. “And with that trend, we also have the continued rise of this fourth branch. We have agencies that are now quite large that issue regulations.”

Nowhere is the fight more acute than on immigration, where activists have taken to blocking detention facilities and chaining themselves to buses to try to halt deportations.

Mr. Obama has carved nearly 500,000 Dreamers out of deportation, but the activists want a broader halt — at least to include the parents of the Dreamers.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who led Thursday’s rally outside the Capitol, said while it’s probably true the president can’t halt all deportations, he can take some more steps, such as not applying the full 10-year bar of admission to those who enter the country illegally.

“He’s probably legally correct saying, ‘I can’t do that, are you crazy?’ But OK, what are the options?” he said. “The first time we approached him on the Dreamers: ‘No, can’t do that, I don’t have the power.’ We think there are options that do extend the power.” (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

This article should bring out the best in intercessors, primarily because the issues are clear and the stakes so high—and all the power to make change must originate with God. It is a time for courage and strength in our prayers, not for shrinking back in fear or wondering whether Christians who value freedom have any recourse. We do, of course, have spiritual strength through the power of prayer. Pray for restraint in presidential executive orders and a return to balance among the branches, just as the Framers set out in the U.S. Constitution. Historians remember that at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin?” He replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.” The specific aim of the Founders was freedom for the people, restraint of federal government, and that no president have unchecked powers. Our weapons, in prayer, are mighty in God to pull down spiritual strongholds. Pray for a return to our roots and for righteous government leaders to be elected to public office. Pray for a nationwide revival, with hearts turning to God and transformation in many communities.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
(Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

BIG COMPANIES EXPANDING HOMOSEXUALS RIGHTS

Corporate support for gay and transgender rights is reaching workers in new corners of the country and economy six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, according to a new report card from the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group.

The Human Rights Campaign found that more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies and 90 percent of all large employers it surveyed are offering health insurance and other spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of their employees.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Hormel Foods LLC and Wendy’s International Inc. are among the corporations extending the benefits for the first time next year, the campaign says in a report scheduled to be issued Monday.

The group’s 12th annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates private companies on policies affecting gay and transgender workers and consumers, also found a record number of businesses adopting policies prohibiting discrimination against transgender workers and job applicants. They include 61 percent of the Fortune 500, up from 57 percent a year ago, and 86 percent of the 737 companies evaluated.

With same-sex marriages still outlawed in 34 states and without a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the ratings suggest that big businesses are helping to fill a gap in rights and recognition, said Deena Fidas, who directs the campaign’s Workplace Equality Program. That companies like the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain and discount retailer Dollar General, both headquartered in Tennessee, started sponsoring gay rights events and working to raise their marks on the index this year is as much a bellwether as the 303 employers that received perfect scores, Fidas said.

“There is no more succinct way to say we have arrived than the Wal-Mart story,” she said. “The stores and restaurants that you find across strip malls and along highways in every pocket of the country and that are serving demographics that are more senior in age and more rural, cutting across what conventional wisdom would tell you, are places where you now find LGBT-inclusion.”

Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, announced in August that it would extend its health care benefits to its full-time U.S. workers’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex, starting Jan. 1. The company said it was making the change not as a political or moral decision but because it wanted to have one uniform policy for all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Bi-Lo Holdings LLC, the South Carolina-based parent company of the southern supermarket chains BI-LO and Winn-Dixie, started offering same-sex domestic partner benefits and health coverage to its workers in 2012, which first attracted notice when the company voluntarily submitted the information to the Human Rights Campaign this year.

“Offering same-sex partner coverage directly aligns with the company’s diversity and inclusion practices and is part of our strategy to recruit and retain top talent,” said Brian Wright, vice president of communications for Bi-Lo Holdings.

The demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages not between a man and a woman, has both directly and indirectly required large employers who had not already done so to acknowledge their gay employees and their families.

After the Supreme Court struck down a critical provision of the act, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Labor Department ruled this fall that widows and widowers who had legally married were entitled to a late same-sex spouse’s pension benefits even if they lived in a state that bans gay marriages. The decision has compelled companies to make sure they are in compliance and develop procedures for verifying eligibility,

“The most conservative employer in the world who has no interest in doing this is now legally required to do this,” said Todd Solomon, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in employee benefits.

The high court ruling also puts large, multi-state employers with self-funded health plans at risk of being sued for discrimination if they deny coverage to the lawful same-sex spouses of their employees, and many have since decided to offer coverage not only to married gay couples, but those in civil unions or domestic partnerships, Solomon said.

“Large employers are very squeamish about limiting benefits to spouses … because it’s unfair to those who say, live in Georgia and would have to spend several thousand dollars to jump on a plane and fly to New York or New Hampshire to get a marriage license,” he said. “There is no way that company is going to limit benefits just to married couples because until marriage is legal in all 50 states, somebody is not getting compensated equally and companies are really, really anxious about treating employees differently.”

The campaign also scores companies on “public commitment” — whether businesses directly appeal to the gay and lesbian community through advertising, philanthropy, recruiting, contracting, and advocacy on issues such as gay marriage. This year, 79 percent of the rated companies received credit in that category.

The trend concerns Chris Stone, a North Carolina brand strategist who evaluates companies on their compatibility with Christian biblical values for his website, the Faith Driven Consumer.

For the second year in a row, Stone has issued a Christmas buyer’s guide that detracts points from major retailers that support Planned Parenthood or have been outspoken advocates of same-sex marriage and job discrimination protections for gay workers.

“The LGBT community is here, and they are going to be here. They have been here since the beginning of time and we are not trying to push them out of the marketplace,” Stone said. “But … we are trying to establish our own place within the marketplace as well.” (Contributor: By Lisa Leff for Associated Press and The Huffington Post)

Let us pray with biblical goals, knowing what results to expect. Readers of these alerts know we do not see intercessory prayer as a formula or mystical wish list whereby we pray and society changes. With full respect for intercession—and it has deep biblical meaning and powerful influence with God—we do not have a New Testament mandate that promises prayer (alone) will change the world. Jesus sent the 11, later 12 again, into the face of Roman imperialism with the directive to preach the Gospel, make disciples, see them baptized, then taught His commands in local assemblies—all with the view that His approach would be replicated by the next generation of believers. He achieved His goals; the Roman Empire is gone, while the Church remains. Today, our potential “audience” includes all those who need the peace and inner restoration that only the grace of God in Christ can impart, whether straight people, homosexual males, lesbian women, or those who refused to be categorized. Let us pray for them, to be sure, but let us also extend the love of God and the message of the Gospel’s redeeming power. Are you adding a kind word of witness to your prayers? The Scriptures below name heinous sins, but the focus is not on what we were in our sinfulness, but what we have become through grace.

[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)

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

 

LEGAL “PERSONHOOD” SOUGHT FOR CHIMPS

A U.S. animal rights group on Monday filed what it said is the first lawsuit seeking to establish the “legal personhood” of chimpanzees.

The nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project asked a New York state court to declare Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp, “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Tommy’s “detention” in a “small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in central New York is unlawful and demands his immediate release to a primate sanctuary.

Tommy’s owners, Patrick and Diane Lavery, kept the chimp at a used trailer lot in Gloversville, about 50 miles northwest of Albany, the group said.

Besides Tommy, the lawsuit also represents three other chimps: Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp living on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University on Long Island, the group said. (Contributed by The Washington Post)

How to pray? Some will take this as a joke, but there is a deeper concern here than simply the well-being of four chimpanzees. No rational person wants any animal mistreated or made to suffer undue pain or distress. And yes, the arguments for and against the use of test animals in medical research, for example, have been debated for decades. However, let’s look more deeply at the lawsuit to establish “legal personhood” for the chimps. Much of this rallying to “animal rights” stems from a flawed worldview steeped in and growing out of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Instead of seeing God as Creator and humans as made in God’s image, certain levels of thought in today’s culture will promote elevating chimps, yet vote for killing innocent, defenseless babies in the womb. Such inequities can and will only be righted by divine intervention into a society that worships the creature more than the Creator. Pray accordingly.

“For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”          (Romans 1:20-25)

 

TEMPLE MOUNT, DREAMS OF PRAYER RAISE FEARS OF VIOLENCE

A small but growing movement by Jewish activists demanding the right to pray at the site of their destroyed temple, in the heart of this disputed capital’s Old City, is creating a potentially explosive clash with the Muslim world, which considers the spot holy and bans Jews from public worship there.

Each week, hundreds of Jews ascend the creaky wooden ramp built above the Western Wall and enter what is often called the most contested real estate on Earth. Many then embark upon a game of hide-and-seek with their police escorts — whispering forbidden prayers while pretending to talk into cellphones, and getting in quick but banned bows by dropping coins and then bending to pick them up.

Their proposals, long dismissed as extremist, are now being debated in the Israeli parliament and embraced by an expansionist wing in the ruling coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

These political leaders, many in Netanyahu’s party, want Israel to assert more, not less, control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the place known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.

“We’re looking for it to be divided between Jews and Muslims,” said Aviad Visoli, chairman of the Temple Mount Organizations, which claims 27 groups under its umbrella. “Today, Jews realize the Western Wall is not enough. They want to go to the real thing.”

Two millenniums ago, this place was the site of the Jews’ Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70 by Roman legions under Titus, who cast the Jews into exile. The Western Wall, visited by 10 million people a year, is part of the remaining rampart built around the raised temple complex. Together, the wall and the site of the destroyed temple are the holiest landmarks in Judaism.

The same courtyard is home to al-Aqsa mosque, one of the oldest in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, the golden landmark where tradition says the prophet Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.

For Palestinians and much of the Muslim world, any mention of changing the status quo at the site, the third-holiest in Islam, is incendiary. Protecting al-Aqsa has been a rallying cry for generations.

“This place belongs to the Muslim people, and no others have the right to pray here,” said Sheik Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the site. Khatib said the mosque is a unifying symbol for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

“If they try to take over the mosque, this will be the end of time,” Khatib warned. “This will create rage and anger not only in the West Bank but all over the Islamic world — and only God knows what will happen.”

The site, like all of Jerusalem’s Old City, was under Jordanian control until 1967, when it was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Waqf administers and protects the site. Israeli police also patrol the area and accompany Jewish visitors while they visit.

Non-Muslim tourists are welcome to wander freely around the grounds. But non-Muslim prayer is forbidden. Jews in religious garb are taken aside at the entrance by Israeli security officers, screened more closely and sternly warned not to pray, bow, sing, tear their clothes in mourning or display any religious items.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has ruled that Jews should not enter the Temple Mount esplanade, for fear they will accidentally walk upon ground that is part of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and only the high priest was permitted to enter.

But political leaders are urging that this stance be reexamined. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy minister of religious affairs, has proposed giving Jews an hour a day to pray there.

“There is a growing reality among sectors of the population who want to go up there and pray, and there are rabbis who are encouraging their followers to do so,” Ben-Dahan said at a November committee hearing on the matter in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “The rabbinate needs to recognize this reality.’’

War of words

The hearing quickly devolved into a shouting match. “Every citizen of Israel should have the right to pray at their holy sites without harassment or being attacked,” said Miri Regev , the committee chairwoman. “If Jews want to go up to the Temple Mount to pray, they should have that right.”

“There is no such thing as the Temple Mount!’’ interrupted an Arab Israeli parliamentarian, Jamal Zahalka. “It does not exist. It is not there. ”

Legislators hurled shouts of “Barbarian!” and “Fascist!”

Arab Israeli lawmakers stormed out in protest.

“Because of your games at the al-Aqsa mosque, a third intifada could erupt,” Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset and leader of the Arab political party Ta’al, told Regev. “You are a dangerous woman — to yourself, your children and all of us. Enough of playing with fire!”

In 2000, in the aftermath of failed peace negotiations mediated by President Bill Clinton, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon — campaigning to become prime minister — visited the Temple Mount with an escort of 1,000 police officers.

Some analysts say the visit sparked the second Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the al-Aqsa Intifada. Others claim that Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was looking for an excuse to unleash the uprising and found one in Sharon’s action. In a report by former U.S. senator and peace negotiator George P. Mitchell, Sharon’s visit was called “poorly timed” and “provocative.” But the report said Israel’s use of lethal force against rioters in subsequent demonstrations had a greater negative effect.

Today, as yet another round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are underway, Khatib and other Islamic clerics warn that proposals to grant “time and space” to Jews looking to pray on the Temple Mount could ignite a holy war.

The clerics say they have pleaded with Israeli police to limit the number of Jews allowed to visit the site and warned that Jewish extremists are trying to change a delicate status quo and create new facts on the ground.

Uri Ariel, Israel’s minister of construction and housing, told reporters after a recent visit: “The Temple Mount is ours, and it cannot be argued about or negotiated. . . . It must be open for prayer at every hour, to every Jew.”

 ‘This is our job as Jews’

On a recent weekday morning, a dozen Jews led by an activist rabbi assembled at Mughrabi Gate to enter the Temple Mount. Because they had skullcaps and some had long beards and were wearing religious garments, they were escorted by armed Israeli police and trailed by three escorts from the Waqf.

Several times, one of the escorts pointed at a Jewish visitor and said to the police, “Watch that one!” or “Hey! Is he praying?” The atmosphere was tense, but the group was allowed to slowly meander its way around the compound.

“When we come here, it is very uncomfortable. They look at us as if we are serial killers,” said David Nashbaum, a father of six who was born to American parents and raised in Jerusalem. “This is our job as Jews, to come here and pray. I don’t know what they are so afraid of.”

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that Jews are allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, but the court also grants the Israeli police power to curtail any activities that would create “a disturbance to the public order.”

Jews who sing the national anthem or religious songs, and who pray, are regularly detained and escorted away.

A frequent visitor to the site is Rabbi Chaim Richman, a director of the Temple Institute, whose mission is to prepare for the building of the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands.

He says he envisions a new temple rising toward the clouds, with underground parking, Internet connectivity, radiant heating for the sanctified floors (the priests, in accordance with Jewish law, will be barefoot), and a return of burnt offerings and animal sacrifice.

In April, Richman’s Temple Institute moved to a large, renovated space in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, overlooking the Western Wall. The project was funded by Henry Swieca, the billionaire American investor, and his wife, Estee.

Inside, researchers and artisans have created silver trumpets, wooden lyres and three-pronged forks that would turn over burnt offerings. They sewed a priest’s robe with a breastplate of golden thread and 12 precious stones, as described in the Bible and representing the 12 tribes of Israel. There is a golden menorah and an ark for the covenants. And there are architectural plans. Evidence, Muslim leaders say, that proves that the Jews have literal designs on the mount.

“This is not incitement,” Richman said. “Our mission is to kindle the spark of desire for the time when Jews are a light unto the world, and Muslims will agree it is time to rebuild, and all nations of the world will come to the Jews and ask them to rebuild.”  (Contributors: By William Booth and Ruth Eglash for The Washington Post – Sufian Taha contributed to this report.)

How to pray? This detailed, poignant report touches all Christian believers’ hearts, as it portrays the conflict of praying for Israel and for the peace of Jerusalem, yet knowing that the full blessing and peace the nation of Israel seeks—and that all Israelis yearn for—will continue to elude them until there is a national return to the Lord and a commitment to walk in His ways and inherit His promises through recognition of Jesus as Messiah. Until then, let us return to the obvious passage, given by God through King David’s worshiping heart, Psalm 122. David could not have known the full prophetic extent and meaning of these words he sang to the Lord in his day.

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For thrones are set there for judgment, the thrones of the house of David. ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.’ For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122:1-9)

[God speaking to Abram, calling him out of Ur to a land to be shown to him and given to him and his descendents in a future day:] “’I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

 

BAKERS SUPPORTERS STAND BY HIS REFUSAL TO ASSIST GAY WEDDING

Jack Phillips serves any number of gay customers at the Masterpiece Cakeshop, and he’ll sell them just about anything they want: cookies, brownies, birthday cakes, you name it.

But when Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked him in June to make them a wedding cake for their same-sex marriage reception, he declined, citing his religious beliefs. For that, Mr. Phillips may soon be out of business.

State administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer issued a ruling Friday in favor of the gay couple, ordering Mr. Phillips to “cease and desist discriminating against complainants and other same-sex couples by refusing to sell them wedding cakes or any other product [he] would provide to heterosexual couples.”

The decision was hailed by gay-rights advocates, including Mr. Mullins, who said that the episode was “offensive and dehumanizing especially in the midst of arranging what should be a joyful family celebration.”

“No one should fear being turned away from a public business because of who they are,” said Mr. Mullins in a statement posted on the ACLU of Colorado website.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Mr. Phillips argue that the ruling misses the point. They say it’s not a question of whether Mr. Phillips discriminated against a gay couple, but whether the government can force him to say something he doesn’t want to say.

“He can’t violate his conscience in order to collect a paycheck,” attorney Nicolle Martin told The Associated Press. “If Jack can’t make wedding cakes, he can’t continue to support his family. And in order to make wedding cakes, Jack must violate his belief system.”

Creating a wedding cake isn’t the same as baking a cookie: It’s a creative endeavor that communicates a message from the artist, like taking a photograph or designing a gown, she said.

“If the service or the product is expressive, if it sends a message, and the government says you have to make it, create it, and carry it for someone else, that is forced speech,” Ms. Martin told KNUS-AM talk-show host Peter Boyles.

Ms. Martin also warned that “this is just the first step.”

“If they can make Jack speak someone else’s message when they want it spoken and where they want it spoken, that is a government that we should all fear,” she said.

The judge disagreed, saying, “Respondents have no free speech right to refuse because they were only asked to bake a cake, not make a speech.”

Mr. Boyles, who has championed the bakery’s cause even though he supports gay marriage, said the case should alarm anyone concerned about government’s ability to control expression.

“It’s about the government telling you what you’re supposed to feel and believe. It doesn’t have anything to do with gay or straight,” said Mr. Boyles on Thursday’s program. “This is about this man’s right to say no, and what comes from that. This is what political correctness, authoritarianism is all about.”

The judge ruled that the bakery had violated the state’s public-accommodations statute, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ms. Martin argued that the First Amendment should trump a state law.

“Just because you open a business doesn’t mean you set up a First Amendment-free zone,” Ms. Martin said. “There’s just no law or Supreme Court precedent that says when you engage in a commercial activity, you lose your free-speech rights.”

The ADF, which is considering filing an appeal, has a similar case in the pipeline. In August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Elane Photography, whose owners had refused to take photos at a same-sex commitment ceremony. Their attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Neither Colorado nor New Mexico recognizes same-sex marriage. The Colorado men filing the complaint were married in Massachusetts, one of 16 states that, along with the District of Columbia, perform same-sex marriages.

Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said that while “religious freedom is important, no one’s religious beliefs make it acceptable to break the law by discriminating against prospective customers.”

“No one is asking Masterpiece’s owner to change his beliefs, but treating gay people differently because of who they are is discrimination plain and simple,” she said in a statement. (Contributor: By Valerie Richardson for The Washington Times)

How to pray? This is a confusing time in our nation, a time when we must look at some uncomfortable biblical truths. Bad things do happen to good people. Remember, our Lord predicted His followers would, in fact, suffer persecution—and perhaps worse. Intercessors must remind themselves that, to paraphrase an automobile advertising campaign of a generation ago, “This isn’t your father’s America.” Battle lines are being drawn sharply and severely between light and darkness and between truth and a lie. Some in our society not only flaunt their deviant views on marriage and sexuality but will chastise and punish fellow citizens who disagree based on biblical convictions. Two worldviews—indeed, two kingdoms—are locked in conflict, and it might require big steps of faith to remember that God’s kingdom is the one that will not be shaken. Pray that Christians can recognize that God doesn’t vindicate His people in every battle. There are suffering Christians around the world, and we have no guarantee that Christians who will not compromise righteous convictions will not suffer similarly right here at home. Are we prepared?

 “’These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:1-4a)

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured….Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”     (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

 

TECH GIANTS ISSUE CALL FOR LIMITS ON GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE OF USERS

Eight prominent technology companies, bruised by revelations of government spying on their customers’ data and scrambling to repair the damage to their reputations, are mounting a public campaign to urge President Obama and Congress to set new limits on government surveillance.

On Monday the companies, led by Google and Microsoft, presented a plan to regulate online spying and urged the United States to lead a worldwide effort to restrict it. They accompanied it with an open letter, in the form of full-page ads in national newspapers, including The New York Times, and a website detailing their concerns.

It is the broadest and strongest effort by the companies, often archrivals, to speak with one voice to pressure the government. The tech industry, whose billionaire founders and executives are highly sought as political donors, forms a powerful interest group that is increasingly flexing its muscle in Washington.

“It’s now in their business and economic interest to protect their users’ privacy and to aggressively push for changes,” said Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The N.S.A. mass-surveillance programs exist for a simple reason: cooperation with the tech and telecom companies. If the tech companies no longer want to cooperate, they have a lot of leverage to force significant reform.”

The political push by the technology companies opens a third front in their battle against government surveillance, which has escalated with recent revelations about government spying without the companies’ knowledge. The companies have also been making technical changes to try to thwart spying and have been waging a public-relations campaign to convince users that they are protecting their privacy.

“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in a statement. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn joined Google and Microsoft in saying that they believed in governments’ right to protect their citizens. But, they said, the spying revelations that began last summer with leaks of National Security Agency materials by Edward J. Snowden showed that “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual.”

The Obama administration has already begun a review of N.S.A. procedures in reaction to public outrage. The results of that review could be presented to the White House as soon as this week.

“Having done an independent review and brought in a whole bunch of folks — civil libertarians and lawyers and others — to examine what’s being done, I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the N.S.A., and you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence,” Mr. Obama said Thursday on the MSNBC program “Hardball.”

While the Internet companies fight to maintain authority over their customers’ data, their business models depend on collecting the same information that the spy agencies want, and they have long cooperated with the government to some extent by handing over data in response to legal requests.

The new principles outlined by the companies contain little information and few promises about their own practices, which privacy advocates say contribute to the government’s desire to tap into the companies’ data systems.

“The companies are placing their users at risk by collecting and retaining so much information,” said Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. “As long as this much personal data is collected and kept by these companies, they are always going to be the target of government collection efforts.”

For instance, Internet companies store email messages, search queries, payment details and other personal information to provide online services and show personalized ads.

They are trying to blunt the spying revelations’ effects on their businesses. Each disclosure risks alienating users, and foreign governments are considering laws that would discourage their citizens from using services from American Internet companies. The cloud computing industry could lose $180 billion, or a quarter of its revenue, by 2016, according to Forrester Research.

Telecom companies, which were not included in the proposal to Congress, have had a closer working relationship with the government than the Internet companies, such as longstanding partnerships to hand over customer information. While the Internet companies have published so-called transparency reports about government requests, for example, the telecoms have not.

“For the phone companies,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia studying the Internet and the law, “help with federal spying is a longstanding tradition with roots in the Cold War. It’s another area where there’s a split between old tech and new tech — the latter taking a much more libertarian position.”

The new surveillance principles, the Internet companies said, should include limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information, setting up a legal system of oversight and accountability for that authority, allowing the companies to publish the number and nature of the demands for data, ensuring that users’ online data can be stored in different countries and establishing a framework to govern data requests between countries.

In a statement, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, criticized governments for the “apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight.” He added, “It’s time for reform and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

In their open letter, the companies maintain they are fighting for their customers’ privacy. “We are focused on keeping users’ data secure,” the letter said, “deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks, and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.”

The global principles outlined by the companies make no specific mention of any country and call on “the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information.” But the open letter to American officials specifically cites the United States Constitution as the guidepost for new restrictions on government surveillance.

Chief among the companies’ proposals is a demand to write “sensible limitations” on the ability of government agencies to compel Internet companies to disclose user data, forbidding the wholesale vacuuming of user information.

“Governments should limit surveillance to specific known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications,” the companies said. (Contributor: By Edward Wyatt, Brian Chen and Claire Miller for The New York Times)

Prayer focus: More and more citizens are becoming wary and fearful of government intrusion into their privacy, and the main question, according polls, is, ”Why?” For years it has been known that businesses, particularly retail outlets, have tracked customer purchases and preferences, and that the resultant data is sold and traded for advertising purposes. Now the “big names” in the tech field are showing concern, and they get a serious hearing because of their clout via political donations. The process is neither clean nor is it pretty, and no one seems to know why the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting and storing so much data. Pray that resultant hearings will bring to light what is hidden and let the nation hear truth. The motives and purpose of those who read and store all this information will also be brought to the light.

“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)

“Also He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’” (Mark 4:21-23)

 

GOSPEL-STARVED NORTH KOREA AND THE BIBLE BOMBING STRATEGY

The Bibles are dropped by balloon into North Korea and strategic locations through use of tracking devices.

Eric Foley who heads Seoul USA says they are making progress by using launches that require fewer people, launch more Bibles, and track the balloons better.

“We’ve recently been able to complete most of our balloon launch activity, other than one or two launches that we hope to still get in, but this year we’ll close out having launched more than 45,000 Bibles,” says Foley.

North Koreans are required to memorize 100 stories about Kim Il-sung, who led the country until his death and was worshipped as a god. Seoul USA presents the true God to them.

“This was not an idea that we created,” says Foley, giving credit to the underground church in North Korea and Christian defectors from the Communist country.

“And so our role in it is really helping to put them, and to support them, but the vision really came from them,” says the Seoul USA spokesman.

The Bible bombs are sent into the southern third of North Korea where the wealthiest and most loyal people to the Kim dynasty live. They are also the better educated and literate. Only time will tell the impact. (Contributor: Charlie Butts for One News Now)

Watch CBN Video: <Click Here>

Pray for the success of these efforts to deliver copies of the Bible into the most repressive and anti-Christian nation in the world. Let us give thanks for the success of the mission so far and pray for the receptivity of the people’s hearts to receive and absorb the Bible’s life-giving message. We may base our prayers in God’s promises concerning the strength and power intrinsic in His Word, as well as His promise that His Word will not return void (empty, devoid of purpose), but that it will fulfill God’s plan to reach into people’s hearts through His Word. May God keep this ministry going and watch over and protect His messengers.

“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.” (Hebrews 4:12)

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

On Watch in Washington December 11, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington December 4, 2013

December 4th, 2013

On Watch in Washington December 4, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

TEHRAN TREATY: WINNERS AND LOSERS IN GENEVA NUCLEAR DEAL

The Geneva nuclear treaty with Tehran offers the West new opportunities and could change the world.  But secret documents suggest it is the hardliners in Iran who stand to profit the most from the new opening. The clear losers are Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Rarely has an international agreement triggered such widely divergent reactions as the Iran deal reached in Geneva, with proponents touting it as a solution to the world’s problems while opponents paint doomsday scenarios. Still, it is only a temporary, six-month deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a “breakthrough.” United States President Barack Obama said that for the first time in years “we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. And key parts of the program will be rolled back.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the deal “a turning point.”

An enthusiastic crowd all but crushed chief negotiator Mohammad Zarif upon his return to Tehran, after a deal had been reached with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The foreign minister deserved a gold medal for his diplomatic skills, the Iranian newspaper Arman Daily wrote enthusiastically, noting that the world had come a step closer to global peace “without Iran having to abandon its principles.”

The deal evoked a completely different reaction in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the influential Shura Council, spoke darkly of what he called Iran’s “evil agenda.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed that the deal was a “historic mistake,” saying: “the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

Trade and Industry Minister Naftali Bennett, a hardliner in the Israeli cabinet, even went so far as to paint an apocalyptic scenario, saying: “If in five years, a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning.” Of course, there are also those who draw an analogy to the 1938 Munich Agreement and liken Iran to Hitler’s Germany, accusing the West of choosing appeasement once again. So is the Geneva deal a work of God or a deal with the devil? Or is just an agreement complete with human weaknesses that could, ironically enough, end up benefiting the agitators on all sides?

Iran’s Return to the World Stage

A week after the surprising compromise, the consequences of the interim agreement are gradually emerging — consequences for international politics, war and peace in the Middle East, the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and for both the ruling class in the Iranian theocracy and its subjects.

The deal amounts to a tectonic shift in the Middle East, the kind of watershed moment in global policy that only happens once every few years. The Geneva agreement marks the return of Iran to the world stage, and its transformation from a pariah to a potential partner of the United States and Europe. At the same time, it also foreshadows the presumed decline in the importance of two powers that have been viewed as difficult but indispensable partners of the West: Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The monarchs of the House of Saud have always seen themselves as the keepers of the holiest sites in Islam, the masters of Mecca and Medina, which has led to their claim of being the leading power in Sunni Islam. The Shia, the other main denomination of Islam, is treated as heretical in Saudi Arabia, where Shiites make up about 10 percent of the population and are oppressed by those in power. The Saudis have been mistrustful of their big neighbor to the east since their country was founded in 1932. But they have always had good relations with their strategic partner, the United States, a distant power to which they supplied the oil critical to its survival and from which they bought billions in armaments in return.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan was a symbolic figure in this political marriage of convenience. For 22 years, he served as the kingdom’s ambassador in Washington, where, next to his Israeli counterparts, he was probably the most influential diplomat. The prince was on good terms with former First Lady Nancy Reagan and on a first-name basis with her husband, then President Ronald Reagan. He smoked Cohiba cigars with Bill Clinton. And according to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bob Woodward, former President George W. Bush told him about the impending US invasion of Iraq before informing Secretary of State Colin Powell. The close relationship between the two countries survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks largely intact, even through 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi rulers remained a stabilizing factor in the Middle East, working hand-in-hand with the White House.

A Rift Between Saudi Royals and White House

This began to change when the storms of the Arab spring brought turmoil to Middle Eastern autocracies. Riyadh was displeased when the US government did nothing to prevent the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. On the other hand, the Saudis would have no objection to the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite denomination and close ally of both the Shiite theocracy in Tehran and the Iranian-funded militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Riyadh was sharply critical of President Obama’s decision not to follow up on the threat of military strikes against Damascus, widening the growing rift between the Saudi royal family and the White House.

For a war-weary United States, there is also another reason why the Middle East is no longer a top priority. Thanks to new technologies like fracking, the country is not as reliant on foreign oil as it once was and could in fact attain true energy independence within a decade. The US’s old friend, 64-year-old Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief since 2012, also recognized the change when he noted that his country would make a “major shift” away from its alliance with Washington.

However, Riyadh and Washington did agree on one thing until recently: that Iran, with its presumed nuclear weapons program and its aggressive former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represented the greatest threat to the Middle East. But then moderate politician Hassan Rohani, 65, was elected Iran’s new president in June. Rohani appointed the cosmopolitan diplomat Mohammad Zarif, 53, who earned his doctorate at the University of Denver, as his new foreign minister.

Benefits for Both Sides

When an easing of the nuclear dispute was in the offing a few weeks ago, the Saudi rulers did everything they could to obstruct an agreement. But their lobbying was to no avail. The members of the UN Security Council and Germany wanted the deal, and the United States, after 34 years of having no diplomatic relations with Tehran, recognized that the prospect of rapprochement would give it more options in the Middle East. An interim agreement would benefit both sides: Iran, through the lifting of some of the ruinous sanctions against the country, and the West, through the freezing of the Iranian nuclear program. The agreement represents a six-month reprieve for both sides, and it offers the hope that something far more extensive could follow: a permanent agreement that drives away the specter of an Iranian bomb and allows Tehran to become a constructive power with the ability to defuse crises once again.

The Saudis are the losers in this historic shift. It’s also possible that the West will become more public in its criticism of their regime. So far, Riyadh’s rulers have been largely unopposed in their aggressive efforts to spread their rigid form of Wahhabi Islam. Unlike Iran, for example, Saudi Arabia strictly forbids the public practice of other religions. And while the Saudi rulers have fought al-Qaida domestically, they have never renounced violence beyond their borders. According to documents leaked by WikiLeaks, in 2009 then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Saudi Arabia a “critical financial base” for funding terrorism.

In the Syrian civil war, the royal family is reallocating its funding for the rebels fighting the Assad regime, so that Islamists who want to turn Syria into a fundamentalist country are now receiving more Saudi money than the moderate regime opponents. And women are still not permitted to drive or vote in Saudi Arabia.

Is Saudi Arabia Seeking to Become a Nuclear Power?

The fear of isolation is pushing Riyadh to embark on dangerous adventures. According to intelligence sources, the regime, with Pakistan’s help, has recently begun pursuing its own nuclear weapon. In the 1990s, the Saudis spent millions of dollars on a project to develop an “Islamic” nuclear weapon. This may explain why the only person Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, invited to tour his laboratories was the then Saudi defense minister. Now Riyadh is reported to have secretly requested nuclear know-how and hardware from Islamabad that would give it the option of becoming a nuclear power itself in a few years. (By Spiegel Staff for Der Spiegel Online)

Prayer focus: This is a lengthy article, covering international headline news following the Geneva talks on Iran and its “nuclear options.” This focus will be in the news for months to come. It is an extremely tense time for the Middle East and for the United States. Pray that the result of these talks will be fruitful and that God will uncover deception and bring truth to the light. In the aftermath of the talks, Iran and the U.S. presented very different reports of what was decided. Israel has been left with insecurity about whether the U.S. will continue with the full support our country has always given. Pray that Iran’s true intentions will be exposed, even though Iran has stated it intends to produce uranium only for peaceful means. But who can believe a regime so ungodly and evil as to call for Israel’s destruction? It appears that President Obama has more confidence in Iran’s integrity than any of Iran’s neighbors does, particularly Saudi Arabia. Thus we must remain alert and pray with discernment. Some analysts predict the inevitability of war. Let us intercede for God’s restraining hand on all nations, while we pray for peace and rest for Israel.

“Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all.” (Proverbs 28:5)

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure.” (Psalm 2:1-5)

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.’” (Psalm 122:6)

 

SURPRISING NEW ALLIANCES

The Geneva deal is creating surprising new alliances. The backward-looking, theocratic Saudi monarchy and modern, pluralistic Israel have discovered mutual interests. The two countries allegedly even have coordinated attack plans, in which Israeli fighter jets would not only be allowed to fly through Saudi Arabian airspace in the event of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, but could also depend on logistical support from Riyadh.

The mood in Israel itself is mixed. President Shimon Peres responded to the results of the negotiation with cautious optimism. Many Israelis view Netanyahu’s maximum demands that Iran completely abandon its nuclear program as unrealistic, and they also don’t believe that Tehran poses a direct threat.

Nevertheless, a majority takes Iran’s threatening gestures very seriously. As much as the Israelis acknowledge Rohani’s moderate statements, they also pay close attention to the words of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Tehran. Just a few days ago, Khamenei referred to Jews as “rabid dogs” and essentially denied them the right to their own country in the Middle East.

Critics of the Geneva agreement paint a nightmare scenario in which the release of about $7 billion (€5.15 billion) in previously frozen funds will relieve the pressure on the Iranians, pressure that had created a desperate economic situation in the country and forced Tehran to the negotiating table. It will be psychologically almost impossible to develop a new and possibly even tougher sanctions regime, even if the Iranians are unwilling to make any further concessions or fail to live up to their current promises. American oil companies and French automakers, to which Tehran is holding out the prospect of attractive terms, are already vying for contracts. In Germany, machine-building companies anticipate billions in new orders.

According to Western intelligence sources, the leadership and not the Iranian population would be more likely to benefit from an easing of sanctions. The Revolutionary Guards have managed to successfully circumvent trade restrictions with a network of front companies. The paramilitary organization, which answers directly to religious leader Khamenei and controls large parts of the economy, acts like a state within the state, subject to no rules but its own.

Will Funds Be Diverted to Front Companies?

The seemingly harmless-sounding National Development Fund (NDF) also plays a key role. According to the Iranian budget, some 26 percent of Iran’s oil and natural gas revenues — still several hundred million dollars, despite the Western boycott — will go to the NDF this year. The fund allegedly uses the money for peaceful purposes, but Western intelligence agencies report that the NDF, since its founding in 2010, has transferred more than $3 billion to two organizations on both European Union and U.S. watch lists. The first one is Energy Novin, a subsidiary of the Iranian nuclear authority, which is also involved in questionable aspects of the nuclear program, and the second is the Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards known for its dubious foreign military missions. The Quds Force is currently fighting on the side of Syrian dictator Assad, for example.

The unfreezing of Iran’s bank accounts will likely be a bonanza for the NDF, which could divert the funds into hostile channels, or use them to establish other front companies. The Geneva deal deprives the West of the ability to blacklist new organizations or individuals, because the parties to the agreement assured Tehran that they would impose “no new nuclear-related sanctions” for six months. Whether President Rohani is familiar with any such plans to “divert” the billions is questionable. Iran is anything but a monolithic nation. Rather, it is one with many centers of influence, with the threads of power all leading to the supreme religious leader.

Optimists believe that Khamenei will call off the Revolutionary Guards, at least for the next few months. He expressly welcomed the Geneva deal. Hardly any of the more reactionary elements are currently opposing the moderates. On the other hand, Rohani is proceeding very cautiously — too cautiously for many — with his reforms. Nevertheless, he has released 11 opponents of the regime from prison, and journalists have been given somewhat more latitude to voice their criticism.

The principle of hope still prevails. The way in which the “scaremongers” are being addressed reveals the extent of the shift to date. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for example, warned Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz not to “continue to sabotage” the nuclear deal. (Contributors: By Ronen Bergman, Erich Follath, Julia Amalia, Heyer and Christopher Schult for Der Spiegel Online)

More Reading: An Israel / Germany Alliance – The Trumpet

Pray fervently for God’s restraining hand on Iran, an evil regime that seeks more power to create grief for Israel and extend its influence toward global prominence. Some analysts believe Iran got much more from the Geneva “deal” than it deserved; and with President Obama lobbying the U.S. Congress to give Iran major relief from economic sanctions that have served to keep it under control, some of his closest allies and party members are voicing concerns that the president may be opening the door to a “henhouse” for a voracious “fox.” This explains Israel’s deep concerns, since an unrestrained Iran, with the nuclear power it craves, could vent its full hatred toward Israel. Intercede with confidence, knowing that God is able to restrain every predatory intention. It is edifying to note below what God once did to the most powerful king on earth in his day.

“[Nebuchadnezzar] spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?’ While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.’

“That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever:

‘For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:30-35)

 

A MILITARY STRATEGY TO DETER CHINA

China’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone last weekend made Seth Cropsey’s commentary “America Has No Military Strategy for China” extremely timely.  He is absolutely correct on two key statements.  First, an escalation between China and Japan would be disastrous and, even more importantly, the United States has no strategy for a conflict with China.  Secretary Cropsey notes that the AirSea Battle concept is the “sole U.S. preparation” but that it is not a strategy.

While no set of actions can guarantee continued peace between China and the United States, carefully considered national and military strategies will reduce the probability of a conflict.  The United States National Strategy makes that an explicit goal.  In his November 2011 address to the Australian Parliament, President Barack Obama stated U.S. National Strategy would: “continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China.  … all of our nations have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China.”

This year, Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor, clarified and reinforced the Administration’s determination to continue its rebalance to Asia.

“To pursue this vision, the United States is implementing a comprehensive, multidimensional strategy: strengthening alliances; deepening partnerships with emerging powers; building a stable, productive, and constructive relationship with China; empowering regional institutions; and helping to build a regional economic architecture that can sustain shared prosperity.”

Thus, the United States has a clearly articulated national strategy to encourage peaceful growth in the region. Unfortunately, as Cropsey noted, the United States has failed to express a coherent military strategy to support its national strategy.

Deepening the confusion concerning U.S. military strategy is the tendency of many observers to assume that CSBA’s paper, AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept, expressed the U.S. military strategy for a conflict with China.  The paper postulated that in the “unthinkable” case of a war with China, U.S. efforts would include a “executing a blinding campaign against PLA battle networks, executing a suppression campaign against PLA long-range, principally strike systems, seizing and sustaining the initiative in air, sea, space and cyber domains.” This paper stated it was not proposing a strategy but only a concept for overcoming China’s area denial/anti-access capabilities.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the ASB concept is that it scares our allies without deterring China.  Since most ASB technology is top secret, U.S. officials are unable to discuss it with our allies.  As a result, many allies assume the United States will follow the plan described in CSBA’s paper and initiate immediate, extensive attacks on Chinese territory. Our allies are obviously concerned that China will see such attacks as emanating from allied territory and respond in kind.  In short, U.S. allies are being asked to offer bases without any knowledge of what actions the U.S. intends to take from those bases.  Not a great way to reassure allies. Unfortunately because this operational approach relies heavily on cyber and space capabilities, it creates the unintended consequence of raising the value of a first strike.  Thus it is escalatory.  In a crisis, both militaries will know that the one that strikes first will achieve significant tactical and operational advantages.

ASB also fails to deter China.  Because it is apparently dependent upon space and cyber systems, China may well feel it can degrade those systems enough to defeat the operational approach.  Further, China may well believe the United States cannot afford ASB or at very least will not field the capabilities for a decade or more.  A military strategy that offers a relative inexpensive defeat mechanism or a window of vulnerability has little deterrent value.

To eliminate the confusion and reassure other nations, the United States needs to go beyond simply declaring that ASB is not a strategy.  It must clearly state U.S. military strategy for a possible conflict with China.

What Should a Military Strategy Do?

The first and most important function of a military strategy is to support the national strategy.  Therefore, any military strategy must encourage or, at very least, not discourage the continued growth and integration of China’s economy with that of the global economy.  A U.S. military strategy for Asia must achieve five objectives:

1. Deter China from military action to resolve disputes while encouraging its continued economic growth;

2. Assure Asian nations that the United States is both willing to and capable of remaining engaged in Asia;

3. Ensure access for U.S. forces and allied commercial interests to the global commons;

4. Achieve victory with minimal risk of nuclear escalation in the event of conflict; and

5. Be visibly credible today.

Ideally, a military strategy would also provide guidance for matching limited defense resources to appropriate force structures and equipment buys. Given the fact that China has a thermonuclear arsenal, a military strategy must emphasize deterrence and, if that fails, should escalate in a deliberate, transparent way. (Read more on this report.)

T. X. Hammes served 30 years in the Marine Corps and is now a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University (NDU). (Contributor: By T.X. Hammes for Real Clear Defense)

First, let us pray that, in God’s mercy, the unthinkable never happens for the U.S.: to find our country in direct conflict with China. How do we break that prayer focus into acts of intercession that we all can grasp and pray for in intelligent, “bite-size” pieces? Our U.S. Constitution was set up to guide a nonaggressive, non-militaristic nation whose federal government would be strong in defense but with no plans to invade and conquer other lands. Now, though our country has strayed from its constitutional ideals, let us pray for God to raise up, through wise use of our voting rights, morally upright, fiscally conservative men and women to return our nation to its original ideals, living life in the fear of God and with “malice toward none.” Pray that our national intentions will be peaceful, only defending our land and freedoms when necessary.  

“ If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)

“Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:165)

 

THE OTHER ARAB AWAKENING

It turns out that there were actually two Arab awakenings.

There are the radical revolutions you’ve read about in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya, none of which yet have built stable, inclusive democracies. But then there are the radical evolutions that you’ve not read about, playing out in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf monarchies. The evolutions involve a subtle but real shift in relations between leaders and their people, and you can detect it from even a brief visit to Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Gulf leaders still have no time for one-man, one-vote democracy. But, in the wake of the Arab Spring, they’re deeply concerned with their legitimacy, which they are discovering can no longer just be bought with more subsidies — or passed from father to son. So more and more leaders are inviting their people to judge them by how well they perform — how well they improve schools, create jobs and fix sewers — not just resist Israel or Iran or impose Islam.

And, thanks in large part to the Internet, more people are doing just that. The role of the Internet was overrated in Egypt and Tunisia. But it is underrated in the Gulf, where, in these more closed societies, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are providing vast uncontrolled spaces for men and women to talk to each other — and back at their leaders. “I don’t read any local newspapers anymore,” a young Saudi techie told me. “I get all my news from Twitter.” So much for government-controlled newspapers.

Saudi Arabia alone produces almost half of all tweets in the Arab world and is among the most Twitter- and YouTube-active nations in the world. By far, those Saudis with the most Twitter and YouTube followers tend to be Wahhabi fundamentalist preachers, but gaining on them are satirists, comedians and commentators, who poke fun at all aspects of Saudi society, including — usually indirectly — the religious establishment, which is no longer off limits.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who in Gulf Arab terms is a real progressive, remains widely popular, but his government bureaucracy is seen as unresponsive and too often corrupt. That’s why Saudi Twitter users have recently created these Arabic hashtags: “If I met the King, I would tell him”; “From the people to the King: education is at risk” and “#What Would You Like to Say to the Minister of Health?” (after repeated hospital mishaps).

There were torrential rainstorms when I was in Saudi Arabia 10 days ago and the Saudi newspaper, Al-Sharq, published a cartoon with three men answering this question: Why did all the streets of Riyadh flood? The government official answers: “The streets didn’t flood. That’s just a vicious rumor.” The sheikh answers: “It’s all because of the sins of the girls at Princess Nora University.” The citizen says: “It’s because of corruption” — but then the cartoon shows an arm labeled “censorship” coming from off the page to snip off this comment. That is in a Saudi paper!

In the United Arab Emirates, a government official was recently embarrassed when he was captured on a cellphone video, after a traffic accident, beating the other driver, an Asian worker, with the rope from his headdress. The video went viral across the Gulf.

People are losing their fear — not to revolt, but to demand clean accountable governance. Last week, a Saudi friend shared with me a video that went viral there on What’sApp that was posted by a poor man whose roof leaked during the rainstorms, even into his baby’s bassinet. He can be seen stalking around his rain-soaked house, saying: “I am Saudi. This is how I live. … Where is the minister of housing? Where are the billions the king has given for housing? … Where are my rights? … I feel like being in my home and being in the street are the same.”

I heard many of these stories during group conversations with young Saudis and Emeratis, who I found to be as impressive, connected and high-aspiring to reform their countries as any of their revolutionary cohorts in Egypt. But they want evolution not revolution. They’ve seen the footage from Cairo and Damascus. You can feel their energy — from the grass-roots movement to let women drive to the young Saudi who whispers that he’s so fed up with the puritanical Islam that dominates his country he’s become an atheist, and he is not alone. Saudi atheists? Who knew?

Talk about reform — in Dubai, the government has set a strategy for 2021, and each of the 46 ministries and regulatory agencies has three-year Key Performance Indicators, or K.P.I.’s, they have to fulfill to get there, ranging from improving the success of Dubai 15-year-olds in global science, math and reading exams to making it even easier to start a new business. All 3,600 K.P.I.’s are loaded on an iPad dashboard that the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, follows each week. Maryam al-Hammadi, 48, the director of government performance, strikes fear in the heart of every minister in Dubai because each month she ranks them by who is making the most progress toward achieving their K.P.I.’s, and Sheikh Mohammed gets the list. You don’t want to be at the bottom. Hammadi showed me the dashboard and explained that Sheikh Mohammed is demanding that “every government agency perform as well as the private sector in customer satisfaction and service.” The public will get an annual report.

Again, this is not about democracy. It’s about leaders feeling the need to earn their legitimacy. But when one leader does it, others feel the pressure to copy. And that leads to more transparency and more accountability. (Contributor: By Thomas Friedman for The New York Times)

How to pray? It may help if we remember the storyline in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye and Golda watch their daughters grow up in a Jewish home, then break away from religious and social traditions dating back thousands of years. One daughter marries a revolutionary; one is baptized into a Christian church. How can such things be? The fundamental discovery—for them, for today’s Middle East countries, and for us in the West—is that constant change is now permanent. And so, the basic question is, will the technology serve us or will it rule our lives? In our own country and culture, even among evangelical Christians, questions loom, ‘Where are we going?” and “Are we passing our values to the next generation?” (In general, we are not.) The technology, including the social media, is neutral, just as tools are neutral. Will they be used for good or evil purposes? What a Muslim primarily needs is not Western culture, but the Gospel, as do the Ayatollahs, as do the Saudi princes, and the street beggars, and the Islamist fanatic before he blows himself up for the promise of a heaven he will never see. Pray that in this rush toward modernity and eternity—often so aimless—the people, young and old, will hear the question, “What will you do with Jesus, who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22)      

“ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16).

“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them,
and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end. The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You.”
(Psalm 102:25-28)

 

CHILD TAKEN FROM WOMB BY SOCIAL SERVICES

A pregnant woman has had her baby forcibly removed by caesarean section by social workers.

Essex social services obtained a High Court order against the woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and her child to be taken from her womb.

The council said it was acting in the best interests of the woman, an Italian who was in Britain on a work trip, because she had suffered a mental breakdown.

The baby girl, now 15 months old, is still in the care of social services, who are refusing to give her back to the mother, even though she claims to have made a full recovery.

The case has developed into an international legal row, with lawyers for the woman describing it as “unprecedented”.

They claim that even if the council had been acting in the woman’s best interests, officials should have consulted her family beforehand and also involved Italian social services, who would be better-placed to look after the child.

Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.

“I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.

“If there were concerns about the care of this child by an Italian mother, then the better plan would have been for the authorities here to have notified social services in Italy and for the child to have been taken back there.”

The case, reported by Christopher Booker in his column in The Sunday Telegraph, raises fresh questions about the extent of social workers’ powers.

It will be raised in Parliament this week by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP. He chairs the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, which wants reform and greater openness in court proceedings involving family matters.

He said: “I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people’s rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme.

“It involves the Court of Protection authorising a caesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed. I worry about the way these decisions about a person’s mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected.”

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is an Italian national who come to Britain in July last year to attend a training course with an airline at Stansted Airport in Essex.

She suffered a panic attack, which her relations believe was due to her failure to take regular medication for an existing bipolar condition.

She called the police, who became concerned for her well-being and took her to a hospital, which she then realized was a psychiatric facility.

She has told her lawyers that when she said she wanted to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Meanwhile, Essex social services obtained a High Court order in August 2012 for the birth “to be enforced by way of caesarean section”, according to legal documents seen by this newspaper.

The woman, who says she was kept in the dark about the proceedings, says that after five weeks in the ward she was forcibly sedated. When she woke up she was told that the child had been delivered by C-section and taken into care.

In February, the mother, who had gone back to Italy, returned to Britain to request the return of her daughter at a hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Her lawyers say that she had since resumed taking her medication, and that the judge formed a favourable opinion of her. But he ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk that she might suffer a relapse.

The cause has also been raised before a judge in the High Court in Rome, which has questioned why British care proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy. The Italian judge accepted, though, that the British courts had jurisdiction over the woman, who was deemed to have had no “capacity” to instruct lawyers.

Lawyers for the woman are demanding to know why Essex social services appear not have contacted next of kin in Italy to consult them on the case.

They are also upset that social workers insisted on placing the child in care in Britain, when there had been an offer from a family friend in America to look after her.

An expert on social care proceedings, who asked not to be named because she was not fully acquainted with the details of the case, described it as “highly unusual”.

She said the council would first have to find “that she was basically unfit to make any decision herself” and then shown there was an acute risk to the mother if a natural birth was attempted.

An Essex county council spokesman said the local authority would not comment on ongoing cases involving vulnerable people and children. (Contributor: By Colin Freeman for Telegraph)

This story comes out of England and relates to intricacies in British law the details of which we do not know. The prayer focus, however, is general and universal, which is to pray for a resurgence of family care and authority in such matters and a lessening of “Social Services” interference. In this case, it was the removal of a baby from the womb without the mother’s or family’s knowledge or permission; in our own U.S. proceedings, the principle could be applied to our Social Services, where children have been declared truant, with attempts made to remove them from the home, because the family is teaching them in its own legal home school. Pray that “State as owner” of its citizens will revert to “State as servant” of its citizens.

“God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity. But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Psalm 68:6)

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

 

WE HAVE LIFT-OFF

It will be two weeks until China can claim complete success, but its most ambitious space effort to date got off to a smooth start with a successful early morning launch on December 2nd of the Chang’e-3 lunar mission. Carried into space by an enhanced Long March-3B rocket from a base in south-west China, a six-wheeled lunar rover is scheduled to be set on the surface of the moon in mid-December. It will be China’s first attempt at a soft landing on an extraterrestrial body.

If one wished to compare the international space race to Aesop’s famous fable about the tortoise and the hare, the only reasonable choice would be to cast China as the plodding but determined turtle. When China for the first time put a human in space, in 2003, it was achieving something the Soviets and Americans had already done more than 40 years earlier.

It has now been more than 40 years since America first put men on the surface of the moon—and then safely returned them to Earth. Yet the name China has given to its new rover may hint at a desire to stop playing the tortoise’s role: it is called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit.

The name is taken from a white pet rabbit belonging to Chang’e, the moon goddess in Chinese folklore, and was chosen because it is “a symbol of kindness, purity and agility” and “reflects China’s peaceful use of space”, according to Li Benzheng, deputy commander of China’s lunar programme.

Once deployed, the rover will attempt to survey geological structures on the lunar surface, look for natural resources and set up a telescope. China says it expects the solar-powered rover to operate for at least three months.

Previous Chinese lunar missions included Chang’e-1, which launched in 2007, entered into lunar orbit, and then made a controlled impact on the lunar surface in 2009. Chang’e-2 was launched in 2010 and continued operating far beyond its design lifetime. Part of its task was surveying work, including identification of the landing spot for the Yutu, in an area known as the Bay of Rainbows. It was then directed out of lunar orbit to become the first Chinese object sent through the solar system towards deep space.

Mr. Li has warned publicly of the difficulty of a successful soft landing for the Chang’e-3 mission. “So far 129 moon explorations have been carried out by different countries and only 51 of them succeeded, so there are risks in our mission,” he said on November 28th at a press conference.

Future plans are even more ambitious. China has already announced that by 2020 it intends to conduct a Chang’e-5 mission to gather samples from the moon and return them to Earth. Officials have been fuzzier about the timeline, but no less clear about their intention to attempt future missions to Mars. There has also been talk of establishing bases on both the moon and Mars, and even of growing vegetables there. (Contributor: T.P. for Economist)

The realization that a Communist regime like China is advancing in the field of technology can be overwhelming and can cause a great deal of anxiety to those who are aware that such a nation is capable of great damage to those who are weak. We Americans are being challenged at every turn these days as to where we stand—in God’s arms or in the world’s embrace. Pray that the United States will cry out to the Lord for His wisdom and covering in the days, months, and years to come. Pray that the thousands if not millions of Christians in China would rise up and take a stand for national repentance while there is yet time. Pray that American Christians would also rise up and take their rightful place as the leaders who are needed in order to overcome darkness. Pray that we will be a nation that puts its trust in the Lord.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4).

“He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7).

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

 

VIOLATING CHILDREN’S DIGNITY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Every day, my friend Laura brightens up my Facebook news feed. A gifted writer and mother of three precocious children, she relays their conversations, poignant moments, and hilarious activities with style and wit. I love her children: the deep thoughtfulness of her son, her daughter’s sass, and the smushy cheeks on her baby. I have never met them.

Another friend likes to talk about her “redneck kids” — her terminology. After hearing about her boys’ desire to wake up in the wee hours to go duck hunting and her children’s plan to shoot the Elf on the Shelf with a BB gun, I’m inclined to agree.

I’m from the East Coast but recently transplanted to flyover country. I’ve met good folk here but my heart still is with my loved ones in Virginia and my lifelong friends in DC. Many of them are only now just having children, and I may never get to hold their newborns or attend first birthday parties or cry with my friends on their babies’ first day of school. While in the past I would have depended on Christmas newsletters and the occasional phone call to feel even a small part of their families’ lives, I now benefit from daily updates on social media. I treasure the little glimpses I get into their daily routine.

But two friends recently told me something disturbing that makes me rethink our approach to social media updates. One friend confided that her 6-year-old daughter asked her mother to stop talking about her on Twitter. Another friend’s 7-year-old asked to be consulted before parents posted personal information on Facebook.

All the ways we miss the point

Two different child-free friends posted a Slate article on their walls last month headlined “Why We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online.” My first reaction was that it was funny that childless folk were weighing in on a debate reserved for parents. My second was that I, too, used to have lofty ideals about how little I planned to post about my children on the internet. My third, however, was that this article — and many other warnings about internet privacy — miss a very key point.

Much of the debate over a child’s privacy on Facebook and other social networking sites focus on the tangible: the future employer reading about toddler exploits, the prom date laughing at the picture in the tub, concern over biometrics and data mining, hyperventilation over child predators. Warnings on posting cell-phone pictures or FourSquare updates include the possibility of geotagging one’s locations and fears over burglary or kidnapping or worse.

The emphasis on protecting children from predators makes my blood boil from the ignorance. Thirty percent of sex offenders against children are family members and the overwhelming number are people otherwise known to the child. Only ten percent of child molesters are complete strangers. Our overprotection of children has far-reaching consequences beyond just keeping them safe: creating a culture of fearful children who jump at their own shadow, a breakdown of community as a child learns to not run to neighbors or law enforcement personnel for help — not to mention never allowing the Little League coach to walk him home. The emphasis on keeping our children safe from predators has negatively impacted the image of men in the eyes of our society. Men walking alone with their children or pushing them on swings in the park are briefly detained and questioned after concerned citizens call the police — a laughable result given how much modern society emphasizes complete co-parenting regardless of gender.

We have come to a point where we have denied our children physical freedom.

Our children have never been safer. And because of this, I let my 2-year-old run around at Walgreen’s (respectfully, of course) as I queue in line for a prescription. I can hear her even if sometimes I don’t see her. I have had more than one person come up to me and warn me she could be snatched away without a thought.

We have come to a point where we have denied our children physical freedom. no longer designed to challenge and harden a child’s capabilities for free thought. Children are strapped into strollers or jammed into a baby carrier on walks, with no freedom to run ahead and discover nature’s miracles on their own. We completely absolve them of personal responsibility and waylay their confidence, not giving them the opportunity to even walk up to the fast food cashier and pay for their own meal and drink, not allowing them to set foot in a public bathroom without eyes on them at all times, paper towels protecting the toilet seat, an extra squirt of sanitizer even after 30 seconds of good hand washing.

Which makes our online practices all the weirder

But even as society jealously guards our children’s well-being in the physical realm, we overdo the freedom in the digital realm. our children’s well-being in the physical realm, we overdo the freedom in the digital realm. More than middle schoolers with iPhones and Facebook accounts, what we do from the day our children are born completely disregards their integrity as little people in their own right. Yes, we have complete and utter control over those little people, but that gives us even more of a mandate to respect their personal boundaries.

Why is it now okay to detail every childish exploit in excruciating detail? Go into the nuances of our daughter’s potty training and talk about the time she talked back to you and got grounded? Look at the Facebook page of almost any mother with young children and you will see mostly pictures of her children detailing their embarrassing moments, their successes, their failures, their terrible-two-tantrums on the floor, the burgeoning ideas about God and the way the world works.

How much longer until that child shuts down and stops verbally exploring the world, afraid of being, in his eyes, ridiculed for his insight?

So let’s think about the two children I mentioned above. At 6 and 7-years-old, children are already feeling a loss of privacy and control over their public lives. I as a mother might think it’s cute to post a hilarious comment my son makes, but that comment was made in earnest. By six, my son will likely be aware that I posted about what he said, and will overhear friends confide in me the next day at lunch: “That was hilarious what you posted on Facebook! I shared it with all my friends too.” How much longer until that child shuts down and stops verbally exploring the world, afraid of being, in his eyes, ridiculed for his insight?

Our children are becoming our accessories. Especially for the stay-at-home mother, who may have had a successful professional career and is now feeling the sting of the lack of recognition and praise that comes with the territory of raising tiny self-absorbed humans, our children are our last realm of pride and accomplishment — or so it seems when one is in the trenches with toddlers. We wear their successes as badges of honor — adorable badges of honor with just the right flavor to make us look better in our friends’ eyes. We are becoming the narcissistic toddlers who do not care about who we step on to extend that feeling, that amazing feeling, of being the center of the universe (or, in Facebook terms, gaining even more likes and shares after you relate the time your baby took his diaper off and made wall art with the contents).

We are becoming the narcissistic toddlers who do not care about who we step on to extend that feeling, that amazing feeling, of being the center of the universe.

Why do we do this? One answer is the lack of real community for new mothers. I can personally attest to how isolating it is to have babies back-to-back, move across the country, and leave your career and child-free life behind. Postpartum depression rates are higher than the conventional statistics imply. The pressure to breastfeed makes any perceived failure on that front worse. Add in mothers who go through real, desperate struggles that few others can understand, and there is an overwhelming compulsion to share and share some more. Witness the responses to “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” and the outpouring of support coming from her sharing. But how many people pointed out that this mother is basically letting her entire personal community know that her minor child has severe and possibly threatening mental illness? Very few, in fact. And, even as the original article was written anonymously, the author very quickly came out from under the veil. Now her son is marked for life.

Avoiding idle gossip

Even lesser concerns, of course, portend this oversharing. The growth of the much maligned ‘mommy blog’ is a testament to the incredible desire to know one is not alone with the baby who nurses all day, the toddler who pulls hair, the preschooler who suddenly decides he wants to be back in diapers. These mothers have done a great service to the other moms out there, making us laugh and cry and finally, finally feel good about our desire to just send the kids to a babysitter and have a stiff drink. But at what cost to their own children?

I succumbed to the siren call of online posting about a week after my eldest was born.

Who am I to judge? I, the one with the lofty ideals of not posting information about my children online, succumbed to the siren call about a week after my eldest was born. I have found immense comfort in being able to type up a two-sentence pithy observation at the end of a long day. And, even as I previously limited my posts about children to Facebook (a service that gives only an illusion of privacy), I have now begun instagramming and tweeting and my academic parenting blog has more and more references to the exploits of my own little ones. Why? To be honest, I see the plaudits and recognition afforded to other “moms like me” who humorously detail life with children — you name the funny blog, I’ve probably read it.

They will be the first to tell you they haven’t made much money off their excursions into the blogosphere but I suspect they have gained more fulfillment: not only can they feel good about staying home with their children, but they can also fight that descent into obscurity that often happens when devoting one’s life to family. And I, whether it’s self-centered or not, desire that recognition. It’s hard to love one’s job, as someone once told me, when your job is currently kicking and screaming on the floor.

But when we think of “jobs” we think of careers that are entirely wrapped up in our own lives. Child rearing is a special and unique vocation. It’s the art of letting our kids forge their own identities—identities that are influenced by us, but ultimately distinct from our own. It’s hard to do that when they’re defined from an early age by broadcasting the mistakes they made so that their parents have a never-ending font of meaningless status updates. The freedom to hide our harmless mistakes from the world at large is a matter of simple human dignity. It is both amazing and disconcerting that so many of us don’t think to extend this dignity to those innocent children that trust us to take care of them. (Contributor: By Jennifer Doverspike for The Federalist)

Pray for parents in the united States that are using the media platforms to speak about their children. Pray for the children who are at the age of being able to articulate their feeling but not having the wisdom that comes with age. Pray that they maturely process the words and emotions that are sometimes conveyed on a public platform, and which—once released—can never be withdrawn. Godly wisdom is a need for all of God’s children, both young and old. Pray that more families will take a closer look at what needs to be addressed in wise use of public forums.

“There is that speaketh rashly like the piercings of a sword; But the tongue of the wise is health.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

 

36 ABORTION-BREAST CANCER STUDIES A ‘GAME CHANGER,’ SAYS SCIENTIST

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 Chinese studies by Dr. Yubei Huang and his colleagues in the prestigious journal, Cancer Causes Control, last week reported a significant 44% increased breast cancer risk among women with at least one induced abortion (IA), compared to women without IAs. The risk increased with number of IAs (a dose effect), an important measure of a cause-effect relationship, with two and three IAs raising risk by a statistically significant 76% and 89%, respectively. Earlier studies also found a dose effect.

Huang’s team cited and supports a 1996 review and meta-analysis, led by Joel Brind, Ph.D. (Baruch College, City University of New York) and colleagues at Penn State, who found a 30% risk elevation for women with any history of IAs. Huang’s team agreed with criticism from Drs. Brind and Vernon Chinchilli in the British Journal of Cancer concerning two high profile Shanghai studies.

In his analysis of the Chinese study (below), Brind called it a “game changer.” He exclaimed, “Not only does it validate our earlier findings from 1996, but its findings are even stronger, for several reasons.”

Significantly, Brind argued ObamaCare insurance funds abortion and contraceptive steroids (i.e. the Pill) which will be disastrous for women’s health.

Huang’s team said their results differed from those of a 2004 meta-analysis by Dr. Valerie Beral and her colleagues. Their paper, which claimed there was no link, received harsh criticism in seven medical journals from four experts independently of one another.

Karen Malec, president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer, said, “Our organization and the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute (which Dr. Brind co-founded) are among the groups that collaborated on an amicus brief in three lawsuits against ObamaCare’s contraceptive mandate. Last month, a federal appellate court cited the brief which reports the World Health Organization’s classification of the Pill as a Group 1 carcinogen; and the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear those lawsuits.” Read more Abortion-Breast Cancer Studies  (Contributor: Professor Joel Brind for Christian Newswire)

Offer thanks to the Lord that there are many qualified scientists and researchers who are seeking the truth about the real danger caused to women who have abortions. Pray that these findings will accelerate legislation that will cause abortion to become illegal due to its “deadly nature” both to the unborn child as well as to the mother. Pray that more medical leaders will stand up, practice, and promote the truth of these findings.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” (Psalm 25:5)

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)

On Watch in Washington December 4, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 27, 2013

November 27th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 27, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL FACES UPHILL BATTLE WITH CONGRESS

The Obama administration put on a full-court press Sunday to defend the deal the U.S. and key allies struck to try to halt Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program — but the White House faces a tough sell with members of Congress who criticized the terms and said they’ll still press for even tighter sanctions on the Islamic republic.

President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the agreement a “historic mistake.” The American leader assured Mr. Netanyahu that the deal is just a first step, and that the U.S. remains firmly committed to Israel’s interests.

But in Washington, many Republicans and Democrats shared Mr. Netanyahu’s view, saying Iran gets far more than it’s giving and that the deal only suspends, rather than ends, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry defended the agreement, reached early Sunday morning in Geneva after months of secret negotiations, saying it gives Iran a six-month window to prove it is serious about freezing its weapons program. He also assured Capitol Hill that if the Islamic republic backslides, the world can impose stiff sanctions — and could resort to military action.

“You can’t get everything in the first step. You have to go down the process here,” Mr. Kerry said on CBS‘ “Face the Nation.” “The fact is that what we’ve done is lock components of their program in place and actually roll some of them backwards.”

Capitol Hill was less than convinced, with both Republicans and Democrats saying they feared the deal was laden with carrots and lacking in sticks.

“You have now given them a permission slip to continue enrichment,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

And Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Obama’s track record doesn’t give him confidence that this administration will be able to see through the agreement.

“This administration is long on announcements but very short on follow-through,” the Tennessee Republican said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Congress is away from Washington for a two-week Thanksgiving vacation, but when it returns, the Senate has the critical defense policy bill pending.

There will be a major push by Republicans and some Democrats to add stricter sanctions on Iran to that legislation as a way of showing displeasure with the deal and trying to stiffen Mr. Obama’s spine in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, the two sides in the agreement will go back to the table to work out the next deal. The White House said Sunday afternoon that there is no set timetable for the next round of talks, though a spokesman said the administration is “eager” to get to work.

Sunday’s deal was struck between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, which combined refer to themselves as the P5 plus 1.

Talks had apparently been going on for months, but kicked into a higher gear after Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s presidential elections and took office in August after campaigning on a platform of a willingness to engage with the West.

The White House pointed out that Mr. Obama had campaigned in 2008 on engaging in direct negotiations with adversary nations including Iran, and said this deal was struck in that vein.

Late Saturday night at the White House, Mr. Obama said the tentative pact will “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb” and that the United States and its partners will not proceed with new sanctions that would scuttle the deal.

Mr. Kerry said that the choice for the U.S. was between taking this deal, or waiting and potentially letting Iran progress further. He said the latter was the option the Bush administration took, and in the 10 years since, Iran went from fewer than 200 centrifuges to 19,000, putting the nation much closer to a weapon.

The six-month interim deal offers Iran relief from sanctions that will be worth billions of dollars to the regime, in exchange for granting access to Iranian nuclear sites and a promise by that nation to reduce its enrichment of uranium.

Israel and other critics of the deal had wanted any agreement to undo Iran’s nuclear program.

Instead, the package rolls back but doesn’t eliminate Iran’s stockpile of enriched material by suspending all enrichment of uranium over 5 percent, and forcing the country to degrade its supply of 20 percent enriched uranium. Iran also agreed not to add any centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, to its supply, but it can replace those that become inoperable.

The nation also agreed not to begin operating the Arak reactor, which was considered to be a shortcut to the plutonium needed for a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Kerry said degrading Iran’s capability means if the country’s leaders decided to break the deal and try to create a bomb, it would take longer to do it.

“That means that whereas Iran today has about 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, they could readily be enriched towards a nuclear weapon. In six months, Iran will have zero — zero,” he said.

In return, the countries that imposed sanctions will allow Iran to sell oil and collect $4.2 billion on the sale, and will lower sanctions that restricted the import of gold and materials for some industries, such as automobile manufacturing.

Mr. Kerry said even with the sanctions that will remain in place, Iran will still lose $25 billion in oil revenue during the six-month period of the deal.

Opponents, though, said the deal walks back key U.S. demands — particularly in allowing Iran to enrich uranium.

They said the amount of time added to an Iranian “breakout,” or production of a full bomb, has only been increased by several months. And they fretted that beginning to dismantle sanctions will make it harder to impose them — or to enhance them later — should Iran backslide.

“Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced.”

Mr. Schumer said the terms of the deal are so bad that it actually makes it more likely than ever that Congress will pass legislation stiffening the sanctions on Iran.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest played down that possibility, saying that he believed Congress would hold off on stricter sanctions and give Mr. Obama room to operate.

He also said if the U.S. imposes deeper unilateral sanctions, if could fracture the front that Mr. Obama has worked to maintain, particularly with Russia and China.

“The concern is that rather than capitalizing on the diplomatic window that’s opened up, doubling down on sanctions at this point would actually undermine the international coalition that we’ve built,” Mr. Earnest said. “That is why we have urged Congress to act strategically, as they have thus far, to bring pressure on the Iranian regime, to reach a diplomatic solution, but do that in a way that it doesn’t actually undermine the broad international pressure that’s been brought to bear.” (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan and Tom Howell Jr. for The Washington Times)

First prayer focus: Thanksgiving! As intercessors read this, our nation’s annual Thanksgiving remembrance is less than a day away. And while Christians do not need a special day to give thanks, it is a pleasant and traditional event, usually bringing families together to reflect on God’s blessings over the past year. And even as the U.S. moves further into full-blown secularism, still let us give thanks for God’s faithfulness; for the truth of the Gospel; for God’s grace, mercy, and love; for this “age of grace” whereby the church can still share the “good news”; and for the sure promise of Jesus Christ’s return in triumph to reign supremely.

 As for what is being called “the Iran nuclear deal,” this subject is dominating the news coverage and will for days and weeks to come (see next article also, which considers Israel’s viewpoint). It is not our place to editorialize. Diverse opinions are plentiful as to President Obama’s intentions, as his trust rating is at an all-time low, since the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) is floundering in its early applications. We do know that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu believes the agreement to be a “historic mistake,” and even staunch liberal thinkers in the president’s own party, such as Senator Charles Schumer, are raising questions as to the implications of the “deal.” Please also read the next article and pray accordingly. Our chosen Scriptures do not discount God’s purpose in the national restoration and protection of Israel, but simply exemplify the truth that all the nations belong to God and none will withstand His purpose.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his [own] hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
(Isaiah 40:12)

“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold He takes up the isles like fine dust. [The forests of] Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:15-17) 

 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL FUELS ANGER, JITTERS IN MIDEAST

Israel‘s prime minister harshly condemned the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran on Sunday while Saudi Arabia remained conspicuously quiet, reflecting the jitters felt throughout the Middle East over Iran’s acceptance on the global stage.

Elsewhere, many welcomed the agreement as an important first step toward curbing Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Israel and Western-allied Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia have formed an unlikely alliance in their opposition to Sunday’s deal, joined together by shared concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and Tehran’s growing regional influence.

While most Gulf countries remained silent in the first hours after the deal was reached in Geneva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasted little time in criticizing it, calling it a “historic mistake” and saying he was not bound by the agreement.

Speaking to his Cabinet, Mr. Netanyahu said the world had become a “more dangerous place” as a result of the deal. He reiterated a long-standing threat to use military action against Iran if needed, declaring that Israel “has the right and the duty to defend itself by itself.”

Sunday’s agreement is just the first stage of what is hoped to bring about a final deal ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.

Under the deal, Iran will curb many of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual relief from painful economic sanctions. The six-month period will give diplomats time to negotiate a more sweeping agreement.

The package includes freezing Iran’s ability to enrich uranium at a maximum 5 percent level, which is well below the threshold for weapons-grade material, and is aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran one day could seek nuclear arms. International monitors will oversee Iran’s compliance.

For Iran, keeping the enrichment program active was a critical goal. Iran’s leaders view the country’s ability to make nuclear fuel as a source of national pride and an essential part of nuclear self-sufficiency.

But Israel views any enrichment as unacceptable, saying making low-level enriched uranium is relatively simple. Israel demands that all enrichment be halted and that Iran’s abilities to produce uranium be rolled back.

Mr. Netanyahu also previously called for economic sanctions to be increased. Israel fears that Iran will use the diplomatic process as cover to trick the international community, much the way North Korea did in its march toward a nuclear bomb.

“Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Mr.  Netanyahu said.

Israeli officials acknowledged they would have to turn their focus toward affecting the outcome of the final negotiations. Israel is not part of the Geneva talks but remains in close touch with the U.S. and other participants.

Israel feels especially threatened by Iran, given Tehran’s repeated references to destroying Israel, its support for hostile militant groups on Israel‘s borders and its development of long-range missiles.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace laureate, expressed cautious optimism that Sunday’s deal could change the region.

“I would like to say to the Iranian people: You are not our enemies, and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles,” he said.

Another Nobel peace laureate, Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt’s pro-democracy leader and former director of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, welcomed the deal.

In a tweet on his official account, he wrote: “After decade of failed policies, world better off w/ Iran deal. Equity, trust building, respect & dialogue R key to any conflict resolution.”

The muted response in the Gulf came after the rulers of Qatar and Kuwait met with Saudi King Abdullah over the weekend to discuss regional issues, foremost Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s regional enmity increasingly has played out as a proxy war in Syria with both countries providing lethal support for the warring sides. Saudi Arabia also accuses Iran of backing Shiite unrest across the region.

Bucking the trend, the tiny Gulf countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates praised the agreement.

“We welcome this agreement if it will the end of the fear of any weapons of mass destruction in the region,” Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told reporters in Manama.

Across Europe, countries welcomed the deal. Britain and France, which both participated in the negotiations, said they were committed to seeing the deal succeed, while Spain, Norway and Sweden expressed hope for a broader solution.

“The agreement represents an important step toward the normalization of relations between the international community and Iran, and toward a general agreement that promotes stability and security in the region,” Spain said.

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, called it an important step toward “providing assurances that guarantee the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government also participated in the talks, said the agreement vindicated Russia’s calls for a diplomatic solution.

“The result of Geneva is a win for all, showing once again that by working collectively and with mutual respect it is possible to find answers to current international challenges and threats,” Mr. Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.

Iran’s eastern neighbor Pakistan, a declared nuclear power, said the deal “should augur well for peace and security in our region and the world at large.”

Pakistan’s archrival, India, another nuclear power, also welcomed the deal.

Turkey, which borders Iran to the west, called it a “new start.”

Iran’s allies, meanwhile, lined up behind the deal.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Moussawi called it a “step forward in order to solve other regional problems.”

The Syrian government, which relies on Iran’s support in its battle against rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, also said it was proof that negotiations were the best way to resolve a conflict. (Contributor:  By Josef Federman for Associated Press – also Associated Press writers Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris; Raf Cassert in Brussels; Aya Batrawi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sarah El Deeb in Cairo; Lynn Berry in Moscow; Nirmala George in New Delhi; Malin Rising in Stockholm; Harold Heckle in Madrid; Reem Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain; Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria; and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.)

With Syria off media front pages at least temporarily, the spotlight for intercession is fully centered on the triangle formed with the U.S., Iran, and Israel in the “nuclear agreement” forged in Geneva that appears to temporarily contain Iran’s nuclear plans. While our administration seems pleased with the new agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear development, it raises the question of America’s loyalty to Israel as our strongest Middle East ally, and whether Iran will ever renounce or even modify its ultimate determination to see Israel destroyed. President Obama has given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu full assurance of our commitment to that beleaguered country, but Israel’s government has reason to be nervous because of Iran’s record of duplicity and betrayal of its prior commitments. As Christian intercessors and loyal supporters of Israel’s right to exist and flourish, let us pray for and call out to God to sustain “the [fragile] peace of Jerusalem.” Our prayer foundation stems from God’s promises going back to Abraham, promises we believe have never been withdrawn.

[God to Abraham:] “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

[Our Lord to Jerusalem:] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37)

[Paul to the Romans:] “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew…. Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace …” (Romans 11:1-2; 5-6)

 

U.S. BANKS WARN FED INTEREST CUT COULD FORCE THEM TO CHARGE DEPOSITORS

Leading U.S. banks have warned that they could start charging companies and consumers for deposits if the US Federal Reserve cuts the interest it pays on bank reserves.

Depositors already have to cope with near-zero interest rates, but paying just to leave money in the bank would be highly unusual and unwelcome for companies and households.

The warning by bank executives highlights the dangers of one strategy the Fed could use to offset an eventual “tapering” of the $85bn a month in asset purchases that have fuelled global financial markets for the last year.

Minutes of the Fed’s October meeting published last week showed it was heading towards a taper in the coming months – perhaps as soon as December – but wants to find a different way to add stimulus at the same time. “Most” officials thought a cut in the interest on bank reserves was an option worth considering.

Executives at two of the top five U.S. banks said a cut in the 0.25 per cent rate of interest on the $2.4tn in reserves they hold at the Fed would lead them to pass on the cost to depositors.

Banks say they may have to charge because taking in deposits is not free: they have to pay premiums of a few basis points to a U.S. government insurance program.

“Right now you can at least break even from a revenue perspective,” said one executive, adding that a rate cut by the Fed “would turn it into negative revenue – banks would be disincentivized to take deposits and potentially charge for them”.

Other bankers said that a move to negative rates would not only trim margins but could backfire for banks and the system as a whole, as it would incentivize treasury managers to find higher-yielding, riskier assets.

“It’s not as if we are suddenly going to start lending to [small and medium-sized enterprises],” said one. “There really isn’t the level of demand, so the danger is that banks are pushed into riskier assets to find yield.”

The danger of negative rates has deterred the Fed from cutting interest on bank reserves in the past. If it were to do so now, it would most probably expand a new facility that lets banks and money market funds deposit cash at a small, positive interest rate. That should avoid any need for banks to charge depositors.

About half of the reserves come from non-U.S. banks that do not have to pay the deposit insurance fee. Their favorite maneuver is to take deposits from money market funds and park them overnight at the Fed, earning millions of dollars risk-free. Cutting the interest on reserves would stop that.

Lowering interest on reserves would also affect money market funds, said Alex Roever, head of U.S. interest rate strategy at JPMorgan.

“[It] would decrease the incentive for those banks to borrow in the money markets, which in turn could leave money market funds short of certain investments and force them to bid up the price of their next best options,” he said.

Richard Gilhooly, strategist at TD Securities, highlighted some benefits to the Fed from the possible cut: “[It] would not only anchor short-term rates near zero, it also stands to boost the profits for the Fed as they pay less interest to banks,” he said.

Additional reporting by Michael Mackenzie in New York and Patrick Jenkins in London (Contributor: By Tom Braithwaite, Stephen Foley, and Robin Harding for Financial Times)

Prayer focus: All intercessors know it is wise to pace themselves and choose their prayer battles. We do not waste time and energy jousting with windmills. We know the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, but we also apply that in its proper context (2 Cor. 10:4). We try to discern which news items we should immediately address in concerted prayer and which are part of a larger picture. In a corrupt and greedy world, some issues will only be adjusted by God’s direct intervention. Thus, how any country, including our own, places value on its money supply and tries to control its economy is a challenge with national and international implications. However, we know that God owns everything and that His heart is open to the cry of the poor. So let us ask, “How will this affect our fellow citizens?” What about the elderly who need bank services but cannot afford more bank fees? Let us intercede with compassion for those whose finances will be adversely affected. Perhaps some can help through charitable ministries in our local areas. Meanwhile, God sees, knows, and cares.  Yes, money is an important commodity, but a believer’s dependence is primarily upon God Himself and His grace.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

“[Even] if I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness…. Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:12-15, portions)

 “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done.” (Proverbs 19:17

 

THIS IS WHAT PANIC LOOKS LIKE

Incredibly, we learned this week that Team Obama is gearing up to announce that the Obamacare open enrollment period for 2015 will be pushed back one month from the original start date of Oct. 15, 2014.  This means that people will not be able to see what their insurance rates for 2015 will be before Nov. 15, 2014.  Hmm, what’s happening in that one month that could possibly make this odd delay make sense? Oh yeah, America is holding national elections on Nov. 4, 2014.

While not yet officially announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed the latest change to the law in today’s press conference, trying to spin the changes to Obamacare as a way “to give insurers more time to evaluate the first year” of the Obamacare exchanges. Thirty days is “more time” for insurance companies?

This maneuver shows utter contempt and disdain for the intellect and capacity of voters to see this move for what it is: a blatantly political calculation on the part of President Obama. What the Democrats see on the political horizon must be absolutely horrific if they think this can be done without infuriating voters more than they already have been.

Democrats must think this delay is to their net political advantage.  Apparently, they have decided that enough voters will be mollified, caught napping and be outright deceived by their actions that it will make a difference in the November election. After all, life is all about the net, not the gross.

Anyway, this move is the opposite of leadership; it’s political cowardice, the like of which I don’t think I have ever seen. Do you think the president and his advisers laughed out loud as they hatched this plan?  Do you think they even tried to suppress the snickering that must have occurred? Is their contempt for voters so great that they all share openly in the joke?  Will Democrats in Congress be able to keep a straight face when they say this isn’t about the 2014 elections and maintaining control of the Senate? It will be scary if they get away with this.

And maybe they won’t.  The latest generic ballots show Democrats slipping in support, in large part because of the mess of Obamacare.  The Quinnipiac polling in the last week of September 2013 showed Democrats up by nine in the generic ballot.  The same poll conducted in the second week of November 2013 had Republicans and Democrats tied.  The White House’s own polls must be even worse.

I have been waiting for the Democrats’ “big punt” on Obamacare, but this is not it.  A punt must be organized and the product of some planning. Instead, this is what panic looks like.  At this point, we can only shake our heads and sigh.  We can’t get to an election fast enough to put an end to what this president and his Democratic allies are doing. (Contributor: By Ed Rogers for The Washington Post)

Prayer focus: This article has a three-fold significance for intercessors. First, it is clearly an anti-President Obama/Democrat opinion piece, and yet published in the very liberal Washington Post! This is a fairly recent trend and suggests the liberal press believes the president is taking too many liberties with the checks and balances that keep a U.S. president accountable. Second, this points at an increasing pattern. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with several other openly liberal-leaning media sources, have recently been very critical editorially of the president and his administration’s handling of the highly controversial Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare). Third, it calls attention to next year’s highly important and potentially pivotal mid-term elections, where much prayer and activism will be focused with an eye to electing senators, representatives, mayors, and state governors who will lead our nation back to its roots in the Constitution. We leave the analysis of the president’s motivations to others, but as intercessors, we urge much concerted prayer toward the election of morally upright, God-fearing men and women. Our quest, through prayer, is for elected officials who will tell the truth and walk in honesty and integrity among their fellow citizens.     

[The apostolic commitment as leaders:] “Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” (2 Corinthians 8:21)

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

“The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; He sets the standards for fairness.” (Proverbs 16:11)

“The entirety of Your word is truth; all Your just regulations will stand forever.” (Psalm 119:160)

“Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” (1Timothy 1:19)

“The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful.” (Proverbs 12:5)

 

CONNECTICUT NINTH STATE TO REJECT OBAMACARE ‘FIX’

Connecticut is joining eight other states in rejecting President Obama’s “fix” that allows healthcare policyholders with non-complying Affordable Care Act insurance plans to renew them through 2014.  Previously, California, Massachusetts, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington had come to the same conclusion.

While advocating for The Affordable Care Act (ACA) before it became law in 2010, Obama promised that if you liked your existing plan you could keep it. In a stunning reversal, when the law took effect on October 1, millions were told that their healthcare plans were canceled because of non-compliance with ACA regulations. On top of this, the federal website Healhcare.gov has been riddled with ongoing problems. As a result, last week Obama apologized, and offered a fix for the law, granting a one year extension to all who received cancelations.

However Connecticut, which maintains its own state healthcare insurance exchange, determined that the best overall outcome for its citizens is that the canceled policy holders seek health care insurance at the state exchange.  (Contributor: By Breitbart News)

Prayer focus: This brief article speaks for itself and points clearly toward the need for intercession that asks God for a general clean-up within our national government. A bipartisan group tracking honesty in the media has documented 30 separate venues in which President Obama repeated the promise that “if you like your existing plan you may keep it.” Sadly, it was not true, and the “fix” offered is not working, with nine (9) states now rejecting that approach and more to follow. But good government requires good people, so pray that salvation will come to the White House and to the halls of Congress.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 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 2:1-4)

 

AN UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH TO ABORTION, PARENTS’ RIGHTS

Judging by the ObamaCare mess, Congress has enough to worry about without adding U.S. sovereignty to the mix. But in the Senate, where inefficiency is an art form, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is choosing to waste more of the chamber’s time on an international treaty that could be one of the greatest threats to parents’ rights that no one knows about.

Like most U.N. treaties, this one sounds harmless enough. But behind its innocuous name, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), is dangerous language that cedes parental authority, expands abortion “rights,” and chips away at U.S. sovereignty. Democrats say the U.S. should ratify the treaty to encourage other countries to “catch up” to our standards of treating everyone fairly, regardless of their handicaps. But America can be an example to the rest of the world without signing away our rights. After two decades of living under the strongest piece of disabilities legislation in the world, we don’t have anything to prove. Nothing the United Nations ratifies — including CRPD — could compare with the Americans with Disabilities Act in providing protection for people with special needs. So why bother?

Because, as Senator Harry Reid well knows, U.N. measures like this one help get his party’s radical policies through America’s backdoor. Under CRPD, the U.S. would be forced to recognize so-called rights that even our Constitution does not. What’s more, those “rights” would be subject to U.S. courts interpretation — or worse, unelected bureaucrats’. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a U.N. proposal if it didn’t include a loophole to greater abortion access.

As pro-lifers point out, this is the first-ever U.N. treaty to include the words “reproductive rights” — a phrase that hasn’t slipped past Senate conservatives like Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). During yesterday’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Rubio put Secretary of State John Kerry on the spot and demanded to know if the treaty would be used to promote abortion as an international right. Kerry insisted it would not. To the packed room, Kerry promised, “Nothing in Article 25, or anywhere else in this treaty, creates a right to abortion.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the facts — which is that once a treaty is ratified, it is (as our Constitution explains), “the supreme law of the land.” Any U.S. judge could use CRPD as grounds to expand abortion in America (and now that Democrats have lowered the standards for confirming those judges, we’re likely to have plenty who will try!) Not only does the treaty bind America to the U.N.’s views on abortion, but it also takes a big bite out of parental rights.

As former Senator Rick Santorum, the father of a special needs daughter, explained, “CRPD, if ratified, would effectively put the U.S. under international law when it comes to parenting special needs children. One provision in the treaty would give the government, acting under U.N. instructions, the ability to determine for all children with disabilities what is best for them. I don’t know about you, but I believe that in America, that is the parents’ job, certainly not the government’s.”

Home-schooling families would be the obvious targets. In the United Kingdom, one mother already lost the right to continue teaching her 18-year-old son at home, despite his cerebral palsy. The local council determined that it wasn’t “in his best interests.” Imagine the leverage this treaty would give to liberals looking for ways to usurp the authority of moms and dads. Meanwhile, the dangers to life, parental rights, and U.S. sovereignty are just some of the concerns conservatives have over CRPD. This is a treaty with dozens of Articles, and anyone who suggests — as John Kerry did — that it doesn’t require “one change to U.S. law” must be waiting to pass it to find out what’s in it!

Anyone who’s still undecided on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities needs only to look at the first two letters of the legislation for a reason to oppose it: U.N. Other countries may be willing to sign over their sovereignty, but the United States should know better. To pass, the treaty needs 66 votes. Make sure your senators aren’t two of them. Contact your leaders and urge them to vote no on CRPD! (Contributor: Tony Perkins for Family Research Council)

This article provides further evidence, if needed, as to how far the U.S. has fallen from its earlier ideals. American leadership once believed in its special calling and ability to lead the world due to its unique commitment to freedom and the power of its Founders’ principles of self-balancing and accountable government. To think that our nation’s day-to-day life and parental authority, with regard to special needs children, could be enhanced by surrendering U.S. sovereignty to the UN, or that we would submit our governance to a body of nations that cannot govern themselves properly, would be laughed away as simply preposterous by the generation that emerged victorious from World War II. Pray for a return to “yesterday’s” idealism and courage to live free and to lead, not by might, but by being right about the principles that matter in parental duties as well as international relations. Pray for a general, nationwide repentance and revival, and that God will help us back to a place of courage to take personal responsibility rather than palm it off on the crippled and decadent UN. And while we do not see our country as “the chosen people,” still our Scriptures speak uniformly of doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. 

“And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.” (Deuteronomy.6:18)

“And [King Josiah] did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2)

“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.” (Prov. 21:2-3)

 

NSA INFECTED 50,000 NETWORKS WITH SPECIALIZED MALWARE

The U.S. National Security Agency reportedly hacked into over 50,000 computer networks around the world as part of its global intelligence gathering efforts, and also taps into large fiber optic cables that transport Internet traffic between continents at 20 different major points.

The agency installed specialized malware referred to as “implants” on over 50,000 devices in order to perform Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported this past Saturday based on documents it said were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The information is reportedly taken from a 2012 top secret presentation about the NSA’s worldwide signals intelligence gathering capabilities that was shared with the intelligence services of Australia, Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand that form the Five Eyes partnership.

CNE is one of three types of Computer Network Operations that NSA computer specialists perform. It “includes enabling actions and intelligence collection via computer networks that exploit data gathered from target or enemy information systems or networks,” the NSA says on its careers website.

According to a presentation slide published by NRC, the NSA deployed over 50,000 CNE “implants” world-wide.

The Washington Post reported in August that the attack tools used for these implants are developed by a specialized NSA team called Tailored Access Operations (TAO) and are designed to compromise routers, switches and firewalls to monitor entire networks.

The implants persist through software and equipment upgrades and can be used to harvest communications, copy stored data and tunnel into the compromised networks from outside, according to the Washington Post. Their number is expected to reach over 85,000 by the end of 2013.

The slide leaked by NRC also reveals that, aside from CNEs, NSA has access to large Internet cables at 20 different locations, most of them outside the U.S.; runs over 80 regional Special Collection Service (SCS) installations that are part of a joint CIA-NSA program used for close surveillance operations and wiretapping; maintains liaison with 30 third-party countries outside of the Five Eyes; and has access to 52 regional facilities dedicated to intercepting foreign satellite communications (FORNSAT). (Contributor: By Lucian Constantin for IDG News Service and PC World)

This prayer focus encompasses the question our nation has been debating since 9/11/01. It is about the balance between a U.S. citizen’s individual right to privacy and personal freedom and the need and entitlement of government surveillance for the sake of national security. Yes, the government must gather data from many sources and sort through it meticulously looking for dangerous people and their plots of destruction. But, how much is enough and how much is too much? We are grateful when terrorist plans are detected and dismantled, but are citizens paying too high a price when private information can turn into government snooping? Pray for balance and restraint on intrusion, and for God to give wisdom and insight to those persons and agencies charged with protecting us from harm. As citizen’s who are also Christian believers, let us pledge ourselves to walk uprightly in all things and to follow a righteous lifestyle.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD …” (Psalm 33:12)

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  (Prov. 14:34)

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold
from those who walk uprightly.”
(Psalm 84:11)

 

COURT CONFRONTS RELIGIOUS RIGHTS OF CORPORATIONS

Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith.

The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation, says that forcing it to provide the coverage would violate its religious beliefs. A federal appeals court agreed, and the Supreme Court is set to decide on Tuesday whether it will hear the Obama administration’s appeal from that decision or appeals from one of several related cases.

Legal experts say the court is all but certain to step in, setting the stage for another major decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act two years after a closely divided court sustained its requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

“The stakes here, symbolically and politically, are very high,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, citing the clash between religious teachings and the administration’s embattled health care law.

In weighing those interests, the Supreme Court would have to assess the limits of a principle recognized in its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which said corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment. The question now is whether corporations also have the right to religious liberty.

In ruling for Hobby Lobby, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said it had applied “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United.”

“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.

A dissenting member of the court, Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, wrote that the majority’s approach was “nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law.”

But Judge Harris L Hartz, in a concurrence, said the case was in some ways easier than Citizens United. “A corporation exercising religious beliefs is not corrupting anyone,” he wrote.

Among Hobby Lobby’s lawyers is Paul D. Clement, who led the 2012 Supreme Court challenge to the health care law. The new case opened another front in a larger war on the law, which, as Hobby Lobby put it in its Supreme Court brief, “imposes massive obligations on individuals and corporations alike in the process of attempting to fundamentally reorder the nation’s health care system.”

Mr. Clement’s main adversary in the 2012 case, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., told the justices that the 10th Circuit’s “unprecedented ruling” in this case would allow “for-profit corporations to deny employees the health coverage to which they are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the individuals who own a controlling stake in the corporations.”

The Supreme Court is generally receptive to appeals from the solicitor general, especially when a lower court has effectively held a federal law unconstitutional. The justices are also apt to step in when, as here, lower courts are divided on an important legal question. Even Hobby Lobby, which won in the appeals court, agrees that the justices should hear the administration’s appeal.

“This is a perfect storm,” said Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, adding that it is also a worrisome one. “Debates about campaign finance in Citizens United and abortion and Obamacare,” he said, “could distort the court’s analysis of religious freedom.”

Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in Oklahoma City by David Green, and it now has more than 500 stores and 13,000 employees of all sorts of faiths. Mr. Green and his family own Hobby Lobby through a privately held corporation.

The Greens told the justices in their brief that some drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are tantamount to abortion and that providing insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would make the company and its owners complicit in the practice. They said they had no objection to 16 other forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.

But Hobby Lobby’s failure to offer comprehensive coverage could, it said, subject it to federal fines of $1.3 million a day. Dropping insurance coverage for its employees, it added, would be disruptive and unfair and lead to fines of $26 million a year.

Mr. Verrilli countered that requiring insurance plans to include comprehensive coverage for contraception was justified by the government’s interest in “the promotion of public health” and in ensuring that “women have equal access to health care services.” Doctors rather than employers should decide which form of contraception is best, he added.

The administration has excluded many religious organizations from the law’s requirements; it has grandfathered some insurance plans that had not previously offered the coverage; and, under the health care law, small employers need not offer health coverage at all. In June, a federal judge in Tampa, Fla., estimated that a third of Americans are not subject to the requirement that their employers provide coverage for contraceptives.

But the administration drew a line at larger, for-profit, secular corporations.

“Congress has granted religious organizations alone the latitude to discriminate on the basis of religion in setting the terms and conditions of employment, including compensation,” the Justice Department told the 10th Circuit appeals court, in Denver.

“No court has ever found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law,” the brief went on. “To the contrary, courts have emphasized that an entity’s for-profit status is an objective criterion that allows courts to distinguish a secular company from a potentially religious organization, without conducting an intrusive inquiry into the entity’s religious beliefs.”

The appeals court disagreed, ruling that Hobby Lobby is a “person” for purposes of the relevant federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Religious liberty, Judge Tymkovich wrote, cannot turn on whether money changes hands. “Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” he asked.

Other federal appeals courts considering challenges to the health care law’s so-called contraception mandate have ruled that the 1993 law does not apply to corporations.

After finding that Hobby Lobby was entitled to the law’s protections, the 10th Circuit went on to say that the company’s sincere religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason, noting the limited number of contraception methods at issue and the many employers exempt from the law’s requirements.

Professor Laycock said that only one thing was certain about the issues presented in the case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, No. 13-354.

“They’re almost sure to take it,” he said of the justices, “and no one has any idea how it’s going to come out.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 25, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations. (Contributor: By Adam Liptak for The New York Times)

This is not a new story, but the size and success of Hobby Lobby has brought it to high-profile public focus. The issue is religious freedom, and the conviction of conscience of the owners to not provide contraceptive or abortion assistance in its employee benefits package puts the company squarely in a head-on collision course with the mandates of Obamacare. As the article stipulates, it is almost assuredly going to the Supreme Court, and intercessors should pray accordingly and as fervently as possible. Hobby Lobby’s owners are seeking to obey God by choosing to uphold and defend the lives of the innocent unborn, rather than to offer services that have abortion implications. Let us pray for the company’s principals and the issues.

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior …’” (Acts 5:29-31)

 

CALM SOLAR CYCLE PROMPTS QUESTIONS ABOUT IMPACT ON EARTH

The surface of the sun has been surprisingly calm of late — with fewer sunspots than anytime in in the last century — prompting curious scientists to wonder just what it might mean here on Earth.

Sunspots have been observed for millennia — first by Chinese astronomers and then, for the first time with a telescope, by Galileo in 1610.

The sunspots appear in roughly 11-year cycles — increasing to a daily flurry and then subsiding drastically, before amping up again.

But this cycle — dubbed cycle 24 — has surprised scientists with its sluggishness.

The number of spots counted since it kicked off in December 2008 is well below the average observed over the last 250 years. In fact, it’s less than half.

“It is the weakest cycle the sun has been in for all the space age, for 50 years,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association physicist Doug Biesecker told AFP.

The intense electromagnetic energy from sunspots has a significant impact on the sun’s ultraviolet and X-ray emissions as well as on solar storms.

Solar storms can interrupt telecommunications and electronic networks on Earth. Sunspot activity can also have an impact on the Earth’s climate.

Cycle 23 hit its maximum in April 2000 with an average of 120 solar spots a day. The cycle then wound down, hitting bottom around December 2008, the point at which scientists marked the start of the current cycle.

The minimal solar activity at the end of cycle 23 led astronomers to predict a slow cycle 24. But the reality fell even below expectations.

In the first year of the cycle, during which solar activity should have risen, astronomers counted 266 days without a single sun spot.

“The forecast peak was 90 sunspots,” Biesecker said, noting that even though the activity has risen over the past year, “it’s very clear it is not going to be close to 90.”

“The sunspots number peaked last year at 67, almost half a typical cycle,” he added.

The last time a sunspot cycle was this slow was in February 1906, the peak of cycle 14, with just 64 spots a day.

The “very long minimum: three years, three times more than the previous three cycles of the space age” was a major surprise, said University of Montana physicist Andres Munoz-Jamillio.

A magnetic switch

Cycle 24 has also diverged from the norm in another surprising way.

Typically, around the end of each 11-year sunspot cycle, the sun’s magnetic fields switch direction. The northern and southern hemispheres change polarity, usually simultaneously.

During the swap, the strength of the magnetic fields drops to near zero and reappears when the polarity is reversed, scientists explain.

But this time, something different seems to be happening. The north pole already reversed its polarity several months ago — and so it’s now the same polarity as the south pole.

According to the most recent satellite measurements, “the south hemisphere should flip on the near future,” said Todd Hoeksema, director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University.

He didn’t seem concerned about the phenomenon.

But scientists are watching the sun carefully to see whether cycle 24 is going to be an aberration — or if this solar calmness is going to stretch through the next cycle as well.

“We won’t know that for another three or four years,” said Biesecker.

Some researchers speculate this could be the start of a prolonged period of weak solar activity.

The last time that happened, during the so-called “Maunder Minimum” between 1650 and 1715, almost no sunspots were observed. During the same period, temperatures dropped sharply on Earth, sparking what is called the “Little Ice Age” in Europe and North America.

As the sunspot numbers continue to stay low, it’s possible the Earth’s climate is being affected again.  (Contributor:  By Jean-Louis Santini for AFP News Service)

There is a time for intense intercession, and there is a time to pause for praise and thanksgiving! What a comfort for the Christian believer to rest in the peace of knowing “the true God, the living God, and…everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10). Whether the nations rage or the heavens undergo tumultuous change, whether climate adjustments bring heat or cooling, He who sits on the throne of the universe holds all things “in the hollow of His hand” (Isa. 40:12). The earth will spin on schedule until God says, “Stop!” The sun will continue to shine until God says, “Enough!” Let us give thanks for God’s constancy through His Son in “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Let us ponder how small we are and how “big” God is. This is an occasion for worship! How many stars are there? The One who knows is not telling, but He who calls each star by name will sustain time and space until His purpose is complete, and He calls His Church home, to reign with Him forever.

“He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praises on the harp to our God, Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who prepares rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains. He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens that cry.” (Psalm 147:4-9)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear,
even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
(Psalm 46:1-9)

On Watch in Washington November 27, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 20, 2013

November 20th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 20, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

U.S.-RUSSIA URANIUM DEAL SENDS ITS LAST SHIPMENT

Take a canister, fill it with down-blended uranium worth $2.5 million, secure it and 39 others to the deck of a container ship, send it off toward Baltimore, and you’ve just about completed a deal that provided commercial uses in the United States for the remains of 20,000 dismantled Russian nuclear bombs.

On Thursday evening, under thick, wintry clouds, the M.V. Atlantic Navigator prepared to leave the dockyards here, closing out a 20-year program between the United States and Russia that safely defused 500 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium, known as HEU.

The program provided jobs to nuclear technicians at a time when Russia was in chaos; it sparked the development of a dilution process that enables bombs to become fuel for power plants; and it may have helped to keep poorly secured nuclear materials out of the wrong hands — at least that’s what Americans say. Russians strongly deny that the materials were not secured.

Both sides agree that it was a solid example of the ways in which Americans and Russians can cooperate, if they have a mind to do so. Despite the tensions between Moscow and Washington, Russian uranium today provides 50 percent of the output of American nuclear power plants, or 10 percent of all U.S. electricity.

Gennady Solovyov traveled from the industrial Ural Mountain city of Novouralsk to watch the last canisters get loaded. From the bridge of the Atlantic Navigator, he looked out as a huge blue crane picked up the canisters, four at a time, and lowered them gently to the deck.

“Russia was in dire straits,” he said, and it was his job, at the Urals Electrochemical Combine, to figure out nearly two decades ago how to blend HEU, or highly enriched uranium, down to a level of enrichment that would work in a power plant. Some Americans had suggested that Russia didn’t have the capability, but he proved them wrong.

The work kept hundreds of highly trained people employed at his plant over the years.

The commercial value of the agreement was $17 billion. The money came from U.S. utilities, and it provided a significant income flow to a struggling Russia. The agreement was due to expire this year, and Russia is now signing straight commercial deals directly with buyers abroad. Both countries continue to down-blend their excess uranium.

“The program has been tremendously successful,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a telephone interview from Washington. “It met its goals in terms of scale and in terms of schedule.”

Its conclusion, long in sight, should not dislocate the commercial uranium market, he said, or have any sharp effect on electricity prices.

“It is the most successful nonproliferation program to date,” said Philip Sewell, a senior vice president at USEC, the Bethesda-b­ased receiver of Russian uranium under the deal. The company, now privately run, was formerly owned by the U.S. government.

“We never considered there to be a nonproliferation threat. The material was secured,” countered Vladimir Kuchinov of Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency. But the program, he said, was the most sensible way to dispose of weapons material.

The program had to take into account the concerns of disarmament people, nonproliferation people and electric utility people, said Rose Gottemoeller, who was in on its beginnings and is now acting undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department.

“It didn’t sound very practical to me,” she said. “We had to figure out ways to fit this program into normal market competitiveness.”

But months of talks, she said, produced “a model for how to make a lot of disparate forces work together.”

It nearly foundered in the late 1990s, when the Russian economy collapsed again, NATO went to war in Yugoslavia and USEC was privatized. But the two countries worked out ways to keep the program going, and there was plenty of pride over the efforts among those who gathered for Thursday’s going-away.

“This is one that worked well for both countries — not easy to achieve,” said Rick Shannon, president of Atlantic Ro-Ro Carriers, which operates the Atlantic Navigator.

The ship is under the command of Roman Elokhin, a Russian sea dog with a full head of white hair, and in addition to the 60 tons of uranium canisters, it is carrying the usual load of aluminum, steel and containers. In early December, it will call at Rukert Terminals in Baltimore, across the water from Fort McHenry.

The uranium, last loaded, will be first to go ashore. Then it will be taken to one of three plants to be fabricated into usable fuel.

“The North Atlantic in winter, it gets a little bit hairy out there,” Shannon said. “But the old captains in the Russian fleet are some of the best in the world.” (Contributor: By By Will Englund for The Washington Post)

Prayer points: Here is an opportunity to thank God for a “happy ending.” Even in our present-day chaotic world, with social and political unrest in our own nation, now and again we come across a feel-good news item that reflects peaceful international cooperation for the betterment of two countries involved in a win-win transaction that is ending well. Here is a news story that will spark gratitude and thanksgiving for God’s grace and mercy! This article is a straightforward account of closing a 20-year deal between Russia and the U.S., once hostile cold-war rivals, whereby a stockpile of uranium that could have ended up in bombs is being “recycled” for peaceful use as fuel in American nuclear plants that will provide electricity for homes and industry. Give thanks that nothing happened to derail a successful conclusion! Our Scriptures reflect God’s forbearance in withholding judgment and showing mercy to nations.

“Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

“I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be above all the earth.” (Psalm 57:9-11)

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. (Psalm 86:5)

 

HIGH COURT WON’T BLOCK TX ABORTION LAW

A sharply divided Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Texas to continue enforcing abortion restrictions that opponents say have led more than a third of the state’s clinics to stop providing abortions.

The justices voted 5-4 to leave in effect a provision requiring doctors who perform abortions in clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The court’s conservative majority refused the plea of Planned Parenthood and several Texas abortion clinics to overturn a preliminary federal appeals court ruling that allowed the provision to take effect.

The four liberal justices dissented.

The case remains on appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That court is expected to hear arguments in January, and the law will remain in effect at least until then.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the liberal justices, said he expects the issue to return to the Supreme Court once the appeals court issues its final ruling.

The Texas Legislature approved the requirement for admitting privileges in July.

In late October, days before the provision was to take effect, a trial judge blocked it, saying it probably is unconstitutional because it puts a “substantial obstacle” in front of a woman wanting an abortion.

But a three-judge appellate panel moved quickly to overrule the judge. The appeals court said the law was in line with Supreme Court rulings that have allowed for abortion restrictions so long as they do not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Priscilla Owen noted that the Texas law would not end the procedure, only force women to drive a greater distance to obtain one.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in support of the high court order Tuesday, said the clinics could not overcome a heavy legal burden against overruling the appeals court. The justices may not do so “unless that court clearly and demonstrably erred,” Scalia said in an opinion that was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy did not write separately or join any opinion Tuesday, but because it takes five votes to overturn the appellate ruling, it is clear that they voted with their conservative colleagues.

Planned Parenthood and several Texas abortion clinics said in their lawsuit to stop the measure that it would force more than a third of clinics in the state to stop providing abortions. After the appeals court allowed the law to take effect, the groups said that their prediction had come to pass.

In their plea to the Supreme Court, they said that “in just the few short days since the injunction was lifted, over one-third of the facilities providing abortions in Texas have been forced to stop providing that care and others have been forced to drastically reduce the number of patients to whom they are able to provide care. Already, appointments are being canceled and women seeking abortions are being turned away.”

Breyer said the better course would have been to block the admitting privileges requirement at least until the court issued its final ruling because some women will be unable to obtain abortions. If courts ultimately find the law is invalid, “the harms to the individual women whose rights it restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent,” he said.

Tennessee and Utah are the other states enforcing their laws on admitting privileges. Similar laws are under temporary court injunctions in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

In Texas, 12 abortion providers say they have attempted to obtain hospital privileges for their doctors, but so far none of the hospitals have responded to the requests. That means those clinics can no longer offer abortions, leaving at most 20 facilities open in a state of 26 million people. All of those facilities are in metropolitan areas, with none in the Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico. Currently, only six out of 32 abortions clinics in Texas qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, and some have doctors who do not meet the admitting privileges requirement.

Texas women undergo an average of 80,000 abortions a year. (Contributor: Associated Press and USA TODAY)

 

WHY OBAMACARE IS ON LIFE SUPPORT

There’s nothing that Democrats want more than to change the subject from Obamacare, despite DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s protestations otherwise. Congressional Democrats don’t want to be dealing with a drip-drip of news about premiums going up, patients losing their doctors, and a broken health care website as they face angry voters in 2014. Hillary Clinton doesn’t want this issue lingering past the midterms. She hitched her presidential prospects to President Obama’s wagon and she’s not about to let someone else’s crisis damage her presidential ambitions yet again, Even Vice President Joe Biden, who called the health care law a “big f—ing deal,” didn’t mention it once at a fundraiser last week for North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan.

Unless the HealthCare.gov website miraculously gets fixed by next month, there’s a growing likelihood that over time, enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise. That became clear when even Obama, to stop the political bleeding, offered an administrative fix that threatened the viability of the entire individual exchange market to forestall a House Democratic mutiny the next day. It was as clear sign as any that the president is pessimistic about the odds that the federal exchange website will be ready by the end of the month, as promised.

More than anything, politics is about self-preservation, and the last two weeks provided numerous examples of how public opinion has turned so hard against the law that even its most ardent supporters are running for the hills. It’s not just red-state Democrats, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, distancing themselves from the law. It’s blue-state senators like Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen — and top blue-state recruits like Michigan’s Gary Peters and Iowa’s Bruce Braley, who voted for GOP legislation Friday that the White House said would “gut” the law. Nearly every House Democrat in a competitive district joined with Republicans to threaten the law. Without a quick fix, those ranks will grow.

This tsunami of blowback, which built in just the last month, is unsustainable for Democrats over the long haul. The president isn’t just losing his skeptics from the chaotic Obamacare rollout but his allies who stood to gain from the law’s benefits — namely Hispanics, whose approval of the president has dropped more than any demographic subgroup since the problems began. The simplest solution — if only to stop the bleeding — is to get the website fixed. (When former DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s proposal is to hire tens of thousands of young phone operators to sign people up for insurance — straight out of a Jerry Lewis telethon — as he suggested on “Morning Joe,” it’s clear the website problems are really bad.).

Would President Obama sign a death warrant on his own signature legislation? That’s almost impossible to imagine, but it’s entirely reasonable that he may not have a choice in the matter. Consider: Despite the White House’s protestations, 62.4 percent of the House voted for Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s legislation (261-157), just shy of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto. And consider the House Democrats who voted against Upton’s bill but nonetheless released harsh statements criticizing Obamacare. Maryland Rep. John Delaney, in a statement, wrote: “The problem we have currently is that the Affordable Care Act is not working.” Added Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: “The stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster. It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care.” Add them into the mix — the dozens more members who were poised to split with the president until his face-saving press conference — and you’ve got all but the hardy Obama loyalists who could end up bolting if the political environment doesn’t improve.

Democrats are in better shape on the Senate side, but not by as much as conventional wisdom suggests. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will do everything in his influence to protect the president — and block embarrassing legislation from being voted on — but not if it means he’ll be losing his majority gavel next year. There are 21 Democratic held-seats up in 2014, with 17 Democratic senators running for re-election. Of those 17, 10 are running in states where Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote, approximately the baseline of where House Democrats began splitting with the president on the Upton vote. Excluding Reid, an additional 15 Democrats aren’t up in 2014, but represent battleground (< 55% Obama) states where support of the law could become a long-term burden. And then there’s California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has emerged as a surprising blue-state critic of the law, retiring Montana Sen. Max Baucus, who famously predicted the implementation was shaping up to be a “train wreck,” and retiring moderate South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson.

To overcome a veto, Republicans would need 22 of those 28 winnable votes. Right now, they wouldn’t come close. But Reid and the White House may end up relying on swing-state Democrats like Claire McCaskill and Bob Casey to protect the law. If the political mood doesn’t improve in short order, will they want to be in that position? And if Republicans retake the Senate in 2015, the political momentum for repeal would only grow.

Even in the face of rough public opinion, the mantra of Congressional Democrats has been to fix the health care law, not cater to Republican extremism to repeal it. But after the president’s press conference last week, there’s been a palpable pessimism in Democratic strategists’ thinking. When I asked one Democratic campaign operative why blue-state Senate candidates like Peters and Braley would support a bill that the White House said would gut Obamacare, the answer was: “We’re on our own. We don’t care what the White House says. Would you trust them?”

That’s the type of thinking that could endanger a health care law that seemed untouchable several months ago. If the administration can’t fix the myriad problems ailing the health care exchange website, and more sob stories emerge about people losing or paying significantly more for their insurance, it’s an unsustainable formula for Democrats. There’s not much time left on the election clock to turn things around. They’ve shown unfailing loyalty to the president, but unless he manages an unlikely fourth quarter comeback, those bonds could break — and the results could get ugly. (Contributor: By Josh Kraushaar for National Journal)

God is allowing Obamacare issues to remain in front of Americans every day. Last week, we suggested a prayer focus on President Obama and his advisors, since the U.S. presidency is such a vast responsibility. Since then, the president has admitted he “fumbled” in the ramping up and “pre-selling” of the law, including the now-famous campaign promises to allow people to keep current policies and that premium prices would not rise. We now know that the promises were not valid, and thus many citizens and political leaders, including defenders of Mr. Obama and those of his own party, have lost confidence in his leadership, but even worse, in his integrity. Democrat senators and representatives are concerned about reelection, while Republicans want to press the matter for personal and party advantage. Meanwhile, intercessors should ask God for insight and compassion in prayer. Almost lost in the political mix are great numbers of fellow citizens who are suffering and being disenfranchised from their prior protection because of canceled policies. Can these injustices be fixed? Many are calling on the Lord! Will God send revival, showing His great compassion and love, perhaps bringing multiplied thousands, including national leaders, to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Will all this disappointment lead to a better, more honest and protective law? Will God bring salvation to the White House and the First Family? Please pray accordingly.

“As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10-11)

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.” (Lamentations 3:31-33)

 

TORNADOES: BEING AT CHURCH SAVED OUR LIVES

When a cluster of violent thunderstorms began marching across the Midwest, forecasters were able to draw a bright line on a map showing where the worst of the weather would go.

Their uncannily accurate predictions — combined with television and radio warnings, text-message alerts and storm sirens — almost certainly saved lives as rare late-season tornadoes dropped out of a dark autumn sky. Although the storms howled through 12 states and flattened entire neighborhoods within a matter of minutes, the number of dead stood at just eight.

By Monday, another reason for the relatively low death toll also came to light: In the hardest-hit town, many families were in church.

“I don’t think we had one church damaged,” said Gary Manier, mayor of Washington, Ill., a community of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago.

The tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of Washington to the other and damaged or destroyed as many as 500 homes. The heavy weather also battered parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

Back in Washington, Daniel Bennett was officiating Sunday services before 600 to 700 people when he heard an electronic warning tone. Then another. And another.

“I’d say probably two dozen phones started going off in the service, and everybody started looking down,” he said.

What they saw was a text message from the National Weather Service cautioning that a twister was in the area. Bennett stopped the service and ushered everyone to a safe place until the threat passed.

A day later, many townspeople said those messages helped minimize deaths and injuries.

“That’s got to be connected,” Bennett said. “The ability to get instant information.”

In Indiana, Taylor Glenna heard emergency sirens go off and received an alert on his cellphone. A friend also called to warn him the storm was nearly upon him.

Glenna went outside, saw hail and heard a loud boom. He ran to his basement just in time.

On Monday, he was surveying the damage on crutches after suffering a leg injury when the wind knocked his home off its foundation.

“I would say we had pretty good warning,” Glenna said. “We just didn’t listen to it.”

Forecasting has steadily improved with the arrival of faster, more powerful computers. Scientists are now better able to replicate atmospheric processes into mathematical equations.

In the last decade alone, forecasters have doubled the number of days in advance that weather experts can anticipate major storms, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service.

But Bunting, forecast operations chief of the service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. said it was not until Saturday that the atmospheric instability that turns smaller storm system into larger, more menacing ones came into focus.

That’s when information from weather stations, weather balloons, satellite imagery and radar suggested there was plenty of moisture — fuel for storms — making its way northeast from the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite Sunday’s destruction, 2013 has been a relatively mild year for twisters in the U.S., with the number of tornadoes running at or near record lows.

So far this year, there have been 886 preliminary reports of tornadoes, compared with about 1,400 preliminary reports usually sent to the weather service by mid-November.

Similar slow years were 1987 and 1989.

An outbreak like the one that developed Sunday usually happens about once every seven to 10 years, according to tornado experts at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

There were similar November outbreaks in 1992 and 2002, with the 1992 one being even bigger than this year’s, said top tornado researcher Harold Brooks at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, also in Norman.

The storms erupted because of unusually warm moist air from Louisiana to Michigan that was then hit by an upper-level cold front. That crash of hot and cold, dry and wet, is what triggers twisters.

Like most November storms, this one was high in wind shear and lower in moist energy. Wind shear is the difference between winds at high altitude and wind near the surface.

Because it was high in wind shear, the storm system moved fast, like a speeding car, Brooks said. That meant the system hit more places before it petered out, affecting more people. But in places where it hit, the system may have been slightly less damaging because it was moving so fast, he said.

About 90 minutes after the tornado plowed through Washington, rain and high winds slammed into downtown Chicago, prompting officials at Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and order the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay. (Contributor: By David Mercer and Don Babwin for Associated Press; Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C., and Tom Murphy in Kokomo, Ind., also contributed to this report.)

Let us give thanks for those who escaped death and injury by God’s mercy. For some, it was because of their faithfulness to attend church. And now, following the principle from the Bible’s book of James, which exhorts us to display good works as evidence of authentic faith, many Christians and their local churches are doing two things. First, they are praying for the surviving families who are affected, some of whom have lost all their possessions, including their homes – everything! Second, many are doing more, as they are able. They are collecting needed practical items, such as coats, sweaters and warm clothing for people who had temps in the 60s early this week but could be in freezing weather in a few days. If your church (or a local charity near you) is getting involved, we urge all first to pray. Then, those able to do more will find joy in reaching out to families who are now among “the least of these.” Please consider sharing as unto the Lord Jesus and respond as you are led.

“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus, also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13)

 

TEXAS COUNTY ADOPTS SWEEPING POLICY TO PROTECT LGBT INMATES

The sheriff of Houston’s Harris County has adopted a sweeping policy designed to protect and guarantee equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inmates, including allowing transgender individuals to be housed based on the gender they identify with instead of their biological sex.

The new policy, which Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s office believes to be one of the most comprehensive in the country, states “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity is strictly prohibited,” and outlines how such inmates will be searched, booked and housed, according to a copy of the policy obtained by The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement Thursday.

The policy also covers intersex inmates, defined as people born with sex chromosomes or reproductive systems that are not considered standard.

Houston has the third-largest county jail in the U.S., after Los Angeles and Chicago’s Cook County, and processes some 125,000 inmates annually. Other major jails, including L.A., Washington, D.C., and Denver, have taken similar steps to meet new federal standards for protecting inmates from sexual abuse and assault.

But Harris County is the first in Texas to adopt this extensive of a policy, according to Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, a state agency that inspects, regulates and provides technical assistance to county jails.

The 11-page policy, along with a separate three-page document protecting this population from workplace discrimination, went into effect Wednesday.

“It represents a significant step forward,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, who worked closely with Garcia and his staff.

The new policy may be notable because it’s occurring in a staunch red state proud of its conservative values, Tobin said. But she emphasized it’s not about politics.

“This is not a red or blue issue,” Tobin said. “It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe and safeguarding public funds that when sexual abuse happens in prison need to be spent on medical care and mental health care and recovery.”

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the jail currently has about 8,900 inmates and at least 250 of them, or 2.8 percent, identify themselves as lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender.

A “safe zone project” will promote a “positive relationship of solidarity” between the sheriff’s department and the gay community, according to the document. Members of this staff will wear an obvious identifier so they can be easily spotted.

The sheriff’s department will also have “zero tolerance” for staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment toward members of the gay community. Violations could “result in termination” or referral for criminal charges or other action.

Another key section of the policy states that members of the transgender community will be addressed by their chosen name, even if it has not legally been changed, both when spoken to and on their identification bracelets. (Contributor: The Associated Press and Fox News)

How to pray into this situation? A basic U.S. legal principle has always called for “equal justice under the law.” Using this standard, Christians want all people, whether in jail or not, treated as human beings made in God’s image. As long as privately held sexual identity views (even if confused) do not break the law, such persons ought not to be singled out for mistreatment, but neither should taxpayers be charged for the provision of unnatural or unfair advantages for self-determined sexual identity. Issues of inequity arise when self-focused demands of a few seek to overturn logical and natural laws based on a society that recognizes male and female differing requirements. Intercessory prayer will not suddenly change a society’s confusion and rebellion with God’s design and His laws of male and female identity. That is not its purpose. Instead, let us cry out to God for His mercy to make Himself known in a sweeping national awakening with widespread repentance and a great harvest of souls turning to Christ. Only then will a yielding to God’s Word and His reign in human hearts bring salvation and deliverance to those afflicted with sexual confusion. Only the righteousness shared in the Gospel has the power to make crooked ways straight and bring human lives into order. Ponder these Scripture passages that reflect God’s desire and purpose to redeem, to save, to renew, and to deliver from darkness to His light.

Thus says God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it … ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand … to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.’ …Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise from the ends of the earth … Let [the people] give glory to the Lord, and declare His praise in the coastlands. I will bring the blind by a way they did not know [and] lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.”(Isaiah 42:5-16)

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

 

HOUSE SPEAKER APPLAUDED FOR DITCHING SENATE’S ‘IMMIGRATION REFORM’ BILL

A pro-immigration reform organization is praising U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for effectively ending any chance of amnesty legislation passing this year.

Boehner announced November 13 that the House will not hold formal, compromise talks on the U.S. Senate-passed so-called comprehensive immigration bill, a fresh signal from Republican leadership that the issue is dead for the year.

“Speaker Boehner should be congratulated for taking that awful bill off the table,” says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.

The Senate passed S.744 in June, which would give amnesty to 11 million illegal aliens while only promising to tighten border security sometime in the future.

Mehlman, Ira (Federation for American Immigration Reform)Mehlman observes that Boehner and members of the House recognized that the Senate bill was not immigration reform.

“It was just amnesty for illegal aliens,” he says. “It was millions and millions of new workers for business interests that don’t want to pay Americans decent wages anymore.”

While any amnesty-laden legislation won’t see the light of day during an election year, Mehlman says Congress could pass “common sense” legislation in 2014, which he predicts would be popular with the American people.

“Everybody agrees that we need to do more on border security,” Mehlman tells OneNewsNow. “Everybody agrees that we need to have a system in place that protects the jobs of the American people by having some process that allows employers to determine whether the people they’re hiring are legal or not.”

The FAIR spokesman calls those reforms “non-controversial” ideas that could “go forth” in an election year.

It would benefit both political parties to pass legislation that protects the basic interests of the American people, Mehlman says. (Contributor: By Chad Groenig for One News Now)

Prayer focus: It is both biblical and practical for us to pray diligently for all members of the U.S. Congress, especially as we consider that – together – the House and the Senate create the balance whereby all American citizens have representation. That is why Speaker Boehner’s influence is so important at present, which is well illustrated by his role in keeping the so-called comprehensive immigration bill from consideration this year. Most Democrat support is for this bill, which many observers feel is a thinly veiled move toward granting amnesty to millions of people who have entered the country illegally. The Republican persuasion is that the issue must have more debate and stricter standards of investigation. Either way, the challenges associated with an open or porous border must be handled in a bipartisan manner, and for that reason, the Speaker’s cautions are good news to conservative voters. Pray much as you weigh the issues. Ask God to once again lead the nation to truth and righteous standards.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 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 2:1-4)

“Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

 

ISRAEL CAN STRIKE IRAN ALONE SAYS PM’s FORMER SECURITY AIDE

Israel can stop Iran’s nuclear program militarily and can do so on its own, Yaakov Amidror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said Sunday.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Amidror said the Israeli Air Force has been conducting “very long-range flights…all around the world” in preparation for a potential strike on Iran, which could set back its nuclear program “for a very long time.”

Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, who stepped down earlier this month, said that there was “no question” the prime minister would make the unilateral decision to use military force should it become necessary.

“We don’t need permission from anyone – we are an independent state,” he said, adding “we have our own sovereignty. If Israel is in a position in which Israel must defend itself, Israel will do it.”

Amidror’s statements came just as world powers are set to resume nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva on Wednesday which, according to reports, are expected to lead to a deal — a deal vehemently opposed by Netanyahu, who has spoken relentlessly against the agreement that would ease some sanctions while still leaving Iran with uranium-enrichment capabilities, as it was emerging last weekend.

The prime minister has been increasingly vocal in recent days about his opposition to the potential deal, saying he utterly rejects the brewing agreement. His government has been lobbying American allies in Congress to keep up sanctions.

“It is clear that this agreement is good only for Iran, and bad for the world,” Netanyahu said Sunday at a press conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who is also against the deal with Iran in its present terms. “The choice today is not between a bad deal or war,” he stressed; on the contrary, he asserted, with each passing day Iran is under economic pressure that grows and grows.

In last week’s talks in Geneva between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — Paris’s tough position on Iran was said to have prevented the global powers from signing an interim agreement with Tehran, one that would have included limited sanctions relief in return for a partial freeze of the country’s nuclear program.

“With patience and determination, you can get a good deal,” Netanyahu told Hollande. “This means maintaining pressure and increasing it, achieving a deal that would peacefully dismantle Iran’s military nuclear program, and would cause them to dismantle the centrifuges and plutonium-production heavy water reactor.”

“When someone says they are out to destroy you, we have learned in our Jewish history to take them seriously,” he said. ”It is my duty to prevent anyone from credibly threatening or executing another holocaust against the Jewish people. This is my obligation, but I also believe it’s our common obligation for the sake of mankind, for the sake of our common future.”

Over the past two weeks, Netanyahu and other senior officials have openly sparred with the US over the emerging Iran deal.

Earlier on Sunday, CNN broadcast an interview with the prime minister in which he acknowledged “differences of opinion” with the Obama administration over the way to best thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and over the terms offered by the P5+1 nations. Netanyahu said “the best of friends” can have differences, and emphasized his conviction that the Iranian program poses an existential threat to Israel.

Netanyahu restated the government’s opposition to Iran maintaining a heavy water reactor (at Arak) and its maintenance of centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium even to low levels. The Geneva offer reportedly allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5%. The Iranian regime has contended that it seeks nuclear energy for domestic programs, not for the development of nuclear weapons. (Contributor: By Times of Israel Staff for Times of Israel)

The prayer focus here is clearly to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” This is not a new item on the world news scene or for readers of these alerts, who know we have been closely tracking Israel’s place in the Middle East “pressure cooker” created by the Syria-Iran-Israel triangle. The article speaks for itself and is not complicated. While the U.S. administration wants to trust Iran’s stated intentions to use nuclear energy only for domestic programs, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is justifiably suspicious. With worldwide intelligence mechanisms in place that may be second to none, Israel stands ready to defend itself, even if a unilateral strike is deemed necessary. The question is whether President Obama is changing America’s course of supporting Israel as an ally and friend, or is he more sympathetic toward Iran? This apparent stand-off calls for extended intercession. Let us recall God’s purpose and His promises to bless those who bless Israel and deal in judgment on those who do not. The promises are ancient but have never gone out-of-date.

“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6)

 

ROBOTS LET DOCTORS ‘BEAM’ INTO REMOTE HOSPITALS

The doctor isn’t in, but he can still see you now.

Remote presence robots are allowing physicians to “beam” themselves into hospitals to diagnose patients and offer medical advice during emergencies.

A growing number of hospitals in California and other states are using telepresence robots to expand access to medical specialists, especially in rural areas where there’s a shortage of doctors.

These mobile video-conferencing machines move on wheels and typically stand about 5 feet, with a large screen that projects a doctor’s face. They feature cameras, microphones and speakers that allow physicians and patients to see and talk to each other.

Dignity Health, which runs Arizona, California and Nevada hospitals, began using the telemedicine machines five years ago to diagnose patients suspected of suffering strokes – when every minute is crucial to prevent serious brain damage.

The San Francisco-based health care provider now uses the telemedicine robots in emergency rooms and intensive-care units at about 20 California hospitals, giving them access to specialists in areas such as neurology, cardiology, neonatology, pediatrics and mental health.

“Regardless of where the patient is located, we can be at their bedside in several minutes,” said Dr. Alan Shatzel, medical director of the Mercy Telehealth Network. “Literally, we compress time and space with this technology. No longer does distance affect a person’s ability to access the best care possible.”

Dignity Health is one of several hospital chains that recently began using RP-VITA, which was jointly developed by InTouch Health and iRobot Corp. It’s approved for hospital use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Hospitals are now using this type of technology in order to leverage the specialists that they have even better and more efficiently,” said Dr. Yulun Wang, CEO of Santa Barbara-based InTouch Health.

Nearly 1,000 hospitals in the U.S. and abroad have installed InTouch telemedicine devices, including about 50 RP-VITA robots launched in May, according to company officials. The company rents out the RP-VITA for $5,000 per month.

When a doctor is needed at a remote hospital location, he can log into the RP-VITA on-site by using a computer, laptop or iPad. The robot has an auto-drive function that allows it to navigate its way to the patient’s room, using sensors to avoid bumping into things or people.

Once inside the hospital room, the doctor can see, hear and speak to the patient, and have access to clinical data and medical images. The physician can’t touch the patient, but there is always a nurse or medical assistant on-site to assist.

On a recent morning, Dr. Asad Chaudhary, a stroke specialist at Dignity Health, beamed into a robot at the neuro-intensive care unit at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael to evaluate Linda Frisk, a patient who recently had a stroke.

With his face projected on the robot screen, Chaudhary asked Frisk to smile, open and close her eyes, make a fist and lift her arms and legs – common prompts to test a patient’s neurological functioning.

“If you develop any weakness, any numbness, any problem with your speech or anything else, let us know right away,” Chaudhary told Frisk before the robot turned around and left the room.

“It’s just like being with the patient in the room,” Chaudhary said. “Of course, nothing can replace seeing these patients in person, but it’s the next best thing.”

Frisk, 60, who was flown into the hospital for treatment, said she was surprised when she first saw the robot, but quickly got used to the doctor’s virtual presence.

“You feel like he was right there,” said Frisk, who lives near Merced. “Although I am a little spoiled and like to see him in person.” (Contributor: The Associated Press and Fox News)

As technology advances, some of the parameters of intercession change, but the main focus of prayer, which is to ask God to intervene in human affairs for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom, actually remains constant. As this article illustrates, the practice of medicine continues to advance technically, and even patient care is changing rapidly. If we couple this with the ups and downs of the very complex Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare), throwing in the severe shortage of doctors in certain parts of the country, we may see more and more examples of long-distance medical care, as in this example of robotic application. At this point, Christians may well think of missions and medical missionary treatments. Suppose robots, which are computers on wheels and with other moving parts, could be programmed with the necessary data to connect with the Internet from remote locations, and stand ready to examine, diagnose, and suggest treatment for certain endemic conditions, all done electronically, drawing data from a properly “stocked” technical source. The compression of time and space, so to speak, is illustrated in the next article on Bible translation around the world. This would not take the place of the human touch in preaching the Gospel, nor would our basic message be distorted or “modernized.”

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23)

 

BIBLE IS MORE ACCESSIBLE NOW THAN ANYTIME IN HISTORY

The president of the largest Bible translation organization in the world says that more people than ever before can access the Bible in their own language, that translation programs for every native language in the world will be underway in twelve years, and that work to translate the Bible into every tongue brings us closer to the return of Jesus to earth.

“More people have access to scripture than at any other time in history,” Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, told The Christian Post in an interview on Friday. On Thursday, Wycliffe announced that 4.9 billion people can now read the Bible in their native language. Creson declared that by 2025, there will be “translation occurring in every community that needs it.” Only 1,919 language groups still lack access to the Bible, and Creson expects that to drop below 1,900 soon.

Creson states that “the last translator for the last Bible translation is alive somewhere in the world today.” He told CP why he believes that. “Thirty years ago, the average New Testament took over 20 years to translate,” Creson explained. Today, it takes about 8 years.

Even more impressive, however, is the pace at which new translations are started. In 1942, when Wycliffe Bible Translators was founded it was a North American organization that later expanded to Europe. Now, the group has teams in every community to which they reach out.

Ex-patriots, those who choose to work outside of their home country, were previously most often the primary translators, Creson explained. Now, the ex-pat worker’s role has changed to be more of a consultant. Instead of going to a new community, learning the language and customs, and then beginning the painstaking process of Bible translation, these workers check translations produced by members of the community themselves.

A worker in Holland can use Skype to check the translation of a local group in Kenya, the Wycliffe president explained. “We’re highly committed to the accurate translation of God’s Word,” Creson said. “Even though we are translating cheaper and faster, we’re not doing it at a loss of quality.”

Creson explained that a new computer program known as “Adapt It” takes a source text and translates it from one language to a neighboring language. The program even achieves 70% accuracy. “All that work which would have taken years and years to produce is done very rapidly by this computer program,” the president said.

In each new community, Wycliffe proceeds on the assumption that the language is similar to those in the surrounding area, Creson explained. “Even if that one language isn’t necessarily related, we have developed workshops that can support it,” the president said.

Wycliffe Bible Translators also teams with fellow organizations, such as the volunteer support group Wycliffe Associates, the Seed Company, and a “major field partner,” SIL International. In addition, external groups team with Wycliffe worldwide, said Creson.

“When translators have finished the translation of the Gospel of Luke,” the president explained, “The Jesus Film [production team] will then use that text to record the Jesus Film,” a video presentation of the Gospel. An audio group, Faith Comes By Hearing, has also “made a major commitment to put into audio formats all the New Testaments we produce.”

Every Tribe, Every Nation creates an electronic database, then used by the Digital Bible Library, which provides these files to groups like YouVersion, the group behind the Bible App. “It’s just a matter of a few hours until those translations are available on YouVersion,” Creson explained.

The Wycliffe president also testified his belief that organization’s work helps bring about the End Times. “I believe that the work we do hastens the return of Jesus Christ,” Creson told CP. Citing Matthew 24:14, he paraphrased Jesus’ words saying “this good news message has to be preached to the whole world, to every tongue, tribe, and nation, and then the end will come.”

“I also believe that part of God’s plan is to include somebody from every tribe and every nation to worship Him,” Creson added, referencing Revelation. For more information, to pray, give, or volunteer, Creson suggested readers visit the website, Wycliffe.org. (Contributor: Tyler O’Neil for the Christian Post)

Intercessors might well ponder this article and its time-related statistics with a sense of awe as to what God has enabled the translators to accomplish with technology. Note Bob Creson’s reference comparing a previous 20-year span for New Testament translation to the current 8 years. And all readers will instinctively know that the “8 years” will only continue to decrease with faster and faster processors. All this is a gift from God and will serve to advance His kingdom awareness and knowledge of the Gospel as software development continues to serve the global missions enterprise. Intercessors of a certain age (those who were not raised from childhood or youth with computers) may want to intercede for and instruct their children and grandchildren that their easily acquired computer skills can be utilized in the work of missions and global evangelism, when technical expertise stands right alongside of the “sent ones” who are called to preach and plant churches. Many of us know of such skilled and dedicated servants of Christ who are making this time compression work for reaching new people groups with the Bible faster than ever before. As in the Scripture below, the answer to the Lord’s modern day question, “What is in your hand?” might well be, “Lord, it’s a computer.”

“Then Moses answered [the Lord], ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff.’ And He said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put out your hand and catch it by the tail’—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—‘that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’” (Exodus 4:1-5)  

On Watch in Washington November 20, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013

November 13th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

VIVE LA FRANCE ON IRAN

We never thought we’d say this, but thank heaven for French foreign-policy exceptionalism. At least for the time being, François Hollande’s Socialist government has saved the West from a deal that would all but guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear power.

While the negotiating details still aren’t fully known, the French made clear Saturday that they objected to a nuclear agreement that British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama were all too eager to sign. These two leaders remind no one, least of all the Iranians, of Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. That left the French to protect against a historic security blunder, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declaring in an interview with French radio that while France still hopes for an agreement with Tehran, it won’t accept a “sucker’s deal.”

And that’s exactly what seems to have been on the table as part of a “first-step agreement” good for six months as the parties negotiated a final deal. Tehran would be allowed to continue enriching uranium, continue manufacturing centrifuges, and continue building a plutonium reactor near the city of Arak. Iran would also get immediate sanctions relief and the unfreezing of as much as $50 billion in oil revenues—no small deliverance for a regime whose annual oil revenues barely topped $95 billion in 2011.

In return the West would get Iranian promises. There is a promise not to activate the Arak reactor, a promise not to use its most advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium or to install new ones, a promise to stop enriching uranium to 20%, which is near-weapons’ grade, and to convert its existing stockpile into uranium oxide (a process that is reversible).

What Iran has not promised to do is abide by the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which imposes additional reporting requirements on Iran and allows U.N. inspectors to conduct short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has complained for years that Iran has refused to answer its questions fully or provide inspectors with access to all of its facilities. IAEA inspectors have been barred from visiting Arak since August 2011.

In other words, the deal gives Iran immediate, if incomplete, sanctions relief and allows it to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact and keep expanding it at a slightly slower pace. And the deal contains no meaningful mechanisms for verifying compliance. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they’re doing,” President Obama told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview Wednesday. What we have is the opposite.

The President also told Mr. Todd that if Iran fails to honor the deal the U.S. can re-apply existing sanctions: “We can crank that dial back up.”

That’s also misleading. Once sanctions are eased, the argument will always be made (no doubt by Mr. Obama) that dialing them back up will give Iran the excuse to restart enrichment. Any “interim” agreement gives more negotiating leverage to Iran. If Iran really intends to cease its nuclear program, it should be willing to do so immediately and unconditionally.

All of this echoes the strategy Iran pursued after its illicit nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002. Current Iranian President Hasan Rouhani was his country’s nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, when Iran briefly suspended its civilian and military nuclear work in the teeth of intense international pressure (and American armies on its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan). That previous suspension is treated by U.S. negotiators as a model of what they might achieve now.

It’s really a model of what they should beware. “Tehran showed that it was possible to exploit the gap between Europe and the United States to achieve Iranian objectives,” Hossein Mousavian, Mr. Rouhani’s deputy at the time, acknowledged in his memoir. “The world’s understanding of ‘suspension’ was changed from a legally binding obligation” to “a voluntary and short-term undertaking aimed at confidence building.”

Now the U.S. seems to be falling for the same ruse again. This time, however, Iran is much closer to achieving its nuclear objectives. No wonder Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu felt compelled to warn the Administration and Europe that they risked signing “a very, very bad deal,” a blunt public rebuke from a Prime Minister who has been notably cautious about criticizing the White House. The Saudis, who gave up on this Administration long ago, are no doubt thinking along similar lines. The BBC reported last week that the Kingdom has nuclear weapons “on order” from Pakistan.

The negotiators plan to resume talks on November 20, and France will be under enormous pressure to go along with a deal. We hope Messrs. Hollande and Fabius hold firm, and the U.S. Congress could help by strengthening sanctions and passing a resolution insisting that any agreement with Iran must include no uranium enrichment, the dismantling of the Arak plutonium project and all centrifuges, and intrusive, on-demand inspections. Anything less means that Iran is merely looking to con the West into easing sanctions even as it can restart its program whenever it likes. (Contributor: The Wall Street Journal)

These mid-week alerts present many heavy issues for prayer. Therefore, due to the “work” of intercession, we have found it encouraging to open our prayer points with thanksgiving and praise to God. Let us “enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.” Why do this? Because it reminds us and we wish to testify that God is always in control and that His purposes will prevail. Thus, we pray, not to engage in toppling idols, worldly philosophies, or national sins with human wisdom or strength, but to honor and obey our God and King in His call that people “pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). To paraphrase evangelical author, Jerry Bridges, our goal is not primarily to succeed but simply to obey, as to obey is to succeed.

In the immediate issue, pray for President Obama and his advisors. Pray, too, for Secretary of State John Kerry. Seasoned intercessors know that no presidency is fully defined only by the individual filling the office. His close advisors play a big part in formulating presidential policies that lead to momentous decisions. The Iranian terrain is filled with landmines, figuratively speaking. Wisdom and caution, plus divine restraint, are all needed to get through this time without major explosions. Give thanks for France’s foreign minister stepping into the discussion. Also, Israel’s welfare is at stake, and Mr. Netanyahu is properly on guard. Iran must not be allowed to bluff other governments involved. Truly, it is a time for protracted and intense prayer as the Iranian nuclear “solution” is walked out globally. Pray for supernatural help through God’s mercy.      

“Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.’” (Daniel 2:22)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

“Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’” (Psalm 46:1-10)

 

A BAN ON THE FAITH-BASED WORKPLACE

Last week, the U.S. Senate matter-of-factly, with no serious vocal opposition except a last-ditch warning of the consequences by Sen. Dan Coats, Indiana Republican, voted 64 to 32 to expand government and repeal the Bible.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act doesn’t say that directly, but its core meaning is that employers — and their employees — must accommodate every sexual expression under the sun or face federal prosecution and nuisance lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union.

House Speaker John A. Boehner said the bill would not reach the House floor. People who believe in the freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, not to mention what’s left of property rights, had better hope he keeps his promise. This is about so much more than the threat of “frivolous lawsuits.”

Even if you’re not persuaded by moral arguments, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a massive expansion of federal power and a gift to trial attorneys, who are among the largest donors to the Democratic Party. Ten Republicans joined 54 Democrats in the final vote. They’re either spectacularly naive, or they think they’re smarter than God. You can love and cherish friends and family who are homosexual without bringing a government jackboot down on everyone else.

Far from ensuring equality, the bill is a radical departure from civil rights laws, whose protected classes stem from immutable characteristics with no moral content, such as skin color, place of birth or sex. The exception is religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

What makes “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” different is that these categories are vague, not immutable, and the associated behaviors have moral implications. In fact, behavior defines the groups. Otherwise, unlike race or sex, no one would know.

By equating such behaviors with neutral, unchangeable characteristics such as ethnicity, the act says to religious employers: “You will abandon your faith-based morality and instead abet behavior that your faith and Scripture says is wrong and harmful.”

It’s a lot like the Obamacare mandate to religious health care institutions to provide abortions — or else.

If you want to know how laws like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act operate in real life, there are a growing number of cases.

In 2008, a judge in New Mexico affirmed a fine of $6,638 against a Christian couple in Albuquerque who run a photography business. Their crime? Declining to photograph a lesbian ceremony.

Earlier this year, a Gresham, Ore., Christian couple who ran a bakery were investigated for not baking a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. Harassed for months, they closed their business in September.

In California, businesses that decline to provide marital benefits to same-sex couples are denied state government contracts.

In Ohio, a black college administrator was fired in 2008 for writing an article on her own time that disagreed with the notion that race and sexual orientation are equivalent traits.

This is freedom?

Among the Republicans who voted for the bill were Sen. John McCain of Arizona and formerly conservative Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey. There is nothing conservative about giving the federal government and leftist pressure groups another enormous club with which to beat America’s employers senseless.

Conservatives work to reduce government, not to expand its power. It’s no coincidence that homosexual activist groups were among the most aggressive supporters of Obamacare. The act and Obamacare are vast, new liberal government mandates.

The nation’s workplaces have already been subjected to de facto enforcement of quotas despite provisions prohibiting them. Employers are accused of “disparate impact” regardless of sincere efforts to hire more minorities or women.

Imagine “civil rights” lawyers under the Obama Justice Department invading workplaces to ensure that there are an acceptable number of men wearing dresses, along with homosexual-related hires, promotions and celebrations.

Advocates claim that it’s about “simple fairness.” It’s not. The law will criminalize dissent against any initiative by newly empowered “sexual minorities.” Don’t feel like making your employees celebrate “gay pride day” or attend “diversity” brainwashing? Welcome to court. Hope you can afford it.

The biggest mistake that liberty defenders could make is to buy into the “religious exemption” inserted by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican. It’s a fig leaf, and a thin one at that.

Once the law is on the books, a liberal federal judge will void the exemption.

For a lesson in abusing federal law, consider that the Internal Revenue Service has throttled political speech in churches since the 1950s. Texas Democratic Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson inserted a provision in the tax code threatening the nonprofit status of religious institutions if leaders endorse candidates from the pulpit. Johnson did so to shut up overly critical preachers.

Churches in America are untaxed not because they do what Caesar tells them, but because, as Jesus says in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Johnson gag order is unconstitutional, which is why the IRS has not dared to bring a case. Conservative churches, however, have been silenced, while many liberal churches ignore the law. They know that hustlers such as Al Sharpton will run to the media if the IRS gets too frisky.

Add this law to this mix, and we’re well on the way to a day when the feds are editing sermons and punishing churches that don’t have priestesses performing same-sex ceremonies.

Proponents insist that it will never come to that, but don’t believe them. Liberal groups are working to remove the Catholic Church’s tax exemption over its opposition to abortion, and they ran the church out of the adoption business in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Imagine what they will do nationally if President Obama gets to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times. Contributor:  By Robert Knight for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), the only senator to warn of the dangers and constitutional compromises—and worse—lurking in the ENDA legislation. The question is, why were there not more conservative voices raised in protest among the 32 dissenting votes? Perhaps some were quiet for political reasons, hoping that House Speaker John Boehner will keep his promise that such a freedom-snatching law will not reach the House floor. Please follow the ENDA law with prayers and close attention as U.S. citizens and business people. Let us persevere in prayer and not be deceived. The goal of this law, as Mr. Knight honestly describes, is to make illegal all moral convictions in the marketplace (churches also?) that do not accept sinful, deviant behavior as normal, natural, and to be displayed without restraint. Freedoms are eroding. We need a return, at the national level, to God’s standards of right versus wrong as measured by His Word. Please pray as conscience is illuminated by Scripture. May God preserve our freedom to believe and uphold God’s plan for marriage, His laws of sexuality, and the freedom to see righteous government sustained. We may see harsh persecution in the U.S., with egregious fines and businesses going under as basic values are nullified. Pray for divine intervention.

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides. They continue this day according to Your ordinances, for all are Your servants.” (Psalm 119:89-91)

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of …” (2 Timothy 3: 12-14)

 

PROTECTING THE UNBORN FROM PAIN

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 228-196 in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, announced that he would introduce the bill in the U.S. Senate. Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” last weekend, Mr. Graham noted that protecting pain-capable unborn children from the horror of abortion “is a debate worthy of a great democracy.”

There is substantial medical evidence that unborn children are capable of experiencing pain by at least 20 weeks post-fertilization. Abortions performed at this stage of pregnancy use a variety of techniques, including a method in which the unborn child’s arms and legs are twisted off by brute manual force, using a long stainless steel clamping tool.

While most of us can hardly imagine undergoing a dental procedure without the benefit of anesthesia, the law of the land under Roe v. Wade condones this violent dismemberment of unborn children without any regard for their rights or humanity. Common decency demands that this be changed and that these unborn babies be protected.

Based on a 2008 study from the Guttmacher Institute (which was originally founded as a special research affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, currently the nation’s largest abortion provider), we estimate there are at least 140 abortionists in the United States who perform abortions on unborn children who are at least 20 weeks of fetal age.

When the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973, our understanding of pain and the development of the unborn child was so primitive that even a newborn undergoing surgery did not receive anesthesia — only a paralytic to keep them still.

Medical advancements have changed the way we view unborn children. Today, unborn children undergo surgery in utero. Ultrasound technology has allowed a baby’s first pictures to adorn the refrigerators of parents and grandparents long before they meet their newest family member face-to-face. Yet under current law, the same arms and legs seen in ultrasound images can be brutally torn apart during an abortion.

Just how many late abortions are performed in the United States on pain-capable unborn children? While we don’t have a good handle on just how many late abortions are really occurring, there is growing evidence that they are far more common than most people want to think.

The case of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell and hidden-camera videos issued by the organization Live Action provide further evidence that a great deal of the late-abortion iceberg is below the water. Some of the jurisdictions with the most liberal abortion policies have no reporting requirements — for example, California, Maryland and the District of Columbia — or do not collect data on the stage of pregnancy (Florida, for example).

Other jurisdictions have reporting requirements, but don’t enforce them. The grand jury report on Gosnell said that between 2000 and 2010, he reported only one second-trimester abortion to the state. Yet it appears that Gosnell probably performed thousands of second-trimester and third-trimester abortions during that decade. Multiple other practitioners who perform large volumes of late abortions have also failed to report them or have not been required to report them.

Enough is enough. It’s time to revisit Roe v. Wade’s policy of allowing unrestricted abortion.

Ten states have already enacted laws protecting pain-capable unborn children based on National Right to Life’s model bill. Just last week, language protecting pain-capable unborn children went into effect in Texas. The pain-capable unborn child language was written into a larger omnibus pro-life bill that brought on a pro-abortion media frenzy during Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster in June. Late last Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for the challenged provisions of the Texas law to take effect. The language protecting pain-capable unborn children went unchallenged by pro-abortion activists.

A nationwide poll conducted in March 2013 by The Polling Company found that an overwhelming majority of Americans — 64 percent — would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; only 30 percent opposed such legislation. Female voters split 63 percent to 31 percent in support of such a law, and among independents, it enjoyed 63 percent support as well.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,”Mr. Graham said, “The government has a legitimate interest to protect the child after the 20-week period of development because they can feel pain. That is what a rational, humane society should do — protect the child that can feel pain from an abortion.”

One-fifth of the states, nearly two-thirds of Americans, and the U.S. House of Representatives agree. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to do its job and act to protect these vulnerable members of our human family. Carol Tobias is president of the National Right to Life Committee. (Contributor:  By Carol Tobias for The Washington Times)

Pray for the success of this approach. Those who practice abortion as a business (and it is a huge, very profitable business) seem to have become so desensitized to the truth of what they are doing that they deny they are killing babies ruthlessly and without remorse. We are not talking about the ignorant young woman in the “crisis pregnancy” who is frightened and being deceived into thinking she is just having a “procedure” done for convenience. We are speaking of the Kermit Gosnells and those of his ilk who do not want any publicity about the proven fact that the baby is alive, has a beating heart, a developing nervous system, and can feel pain. Let us pray for the success of this movement to educate the public and protect the baby from such suffering in the final moments of innocent life. May God bless this effort to speak truth. May our prayers be more powerful than the brazen efforts of Planned Parenthood to deny and hide the facts.

“[Jesus said,] ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” (John 8:32)

“Then [Jesus] said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend [kill?] one of these little ones.’” (Luke 17:1-2)

 

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS BACK WITH A NEW NAME: BULLYING

Over the past few years, bullying has become a hot topic of conversation. Perhaps I should amend that: Bullying has become a hot topic in the media as it has been pushed by progressives to force mainstream acceptance of their agenda.

The bullying I am talking about is not the big kid pushing around the little kid or the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case. The acts of bullying that are making headlines are about words and feelings. Many times it is used as a catch-all for anyone that challenges the leftist ideas — suspending children for expressing their religious views or making a “gun” with their pointer finger and thumb.

You will recognize that many similarities between the anti-bullying trend today and the political correctness movement in the ‘90s. This is just the latest example of a repressive movement aiming to stifle any and all dissent.

In 1949, George Orwell wrote the ground-breaking book “1984.” In it he describes the idea of Newspeak — a state-created language intended to restrict man’s ability to describe his own thoughts and feelings. One particular aspect of Newspeak was the idea of thoughtcrime — harboring unspoken thoughts that could be deemed contentious or “anti-social.” Lacking the words to express displeasure was not enough; you could be arrested for thinking inexpressible notions.

In America circa 2013, your own intentions do not matter if you express any idea that can be construed as “hate speech.” Intentions only matter when you enact the leftist idea of what is good — even if it destroys people’s lives.

According to the American Bar Association, “hate speech” is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits.

A noble gesture, but what happens when you call someone of a different race a jerk or more colorful explicative? If you are a white male, that is hate speech. If a black man says it to a black woman, that is sexual discrimination or harassment, another form of hate speech.

When it comes to policing language, it is the offendee’s subjective interpretation that matters, not the offender’s intent. In fact, the offendee’s prior actions are not even a consideration — the person may have just run over your pet, but your anger and mental anguish does not compare to the supposed psychological damage the offendee suffers when you express outrage at that person.

All we have to do is look at any criticism of President Obama. Do not agree with his policies? Well, you must be racist. But I am black and disagree; fortunately, I have liberal white folks to tell me I am an Uncle Tom.

These accusations are not meant to point out actual racism; they are meant to discredit and silence opposition. The logical fallacies run wild: hasty generalizations, strawmen, no true Scotsman, and appeals to ignorance just for starters. Needless to say, such indictments are not valid points of debate.

The desire to silence critics is due to the left’s own narcissistic tendencies. A narcissist projects his or her own thoughts onto others; he or she cannot imagine that others think differently. The worst policies are made when we think inductively: from a small sample, they make conclusions at large.

In such cases, a person examines his or her own prejudices and weakness and assumes everyone else has them. “I have racist thoughts and must struggle to contain them, so everyone must feel that way,” or “I have homoerotic thoughts, everyone does.” Such thoughts result in rancor, self-loathing, and knee-jerk reactionary bills that abridge freedom to repress their own demons.

It also results in thinking that someone would never say mean words to others unless there is a darker thought behind it. Better to prevent anyone from saying something mean than risk hurt feelings. One’s own thoughtcrimes become everyone’s. Public shaming of any and all thoughtcrimes is coercion; it is bullying.

When you label dissent as bullying, you stifle discussion. When you endorse the policing of thoughtcrime, you do not change minds, only harden hearts. Consensus and understanding only come through an open dialogue. You cannot change a bigot’s mind by censuring his thoughts; you change it by talking to him about his views and actions and getting him to empathize with others.

But the charge of bullying not only has been used to suppress objection, it has been used to condone bad behavior.

Saying women must be responsible and aware in order to prevent getting into a bad situation is “mansplaining,” or “slut shaming,” or contributing to “rape culture.” No, it is saying that you do not walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town drunk and alone.

Telling someone they are overweight and it is unhealthy, pointing out how a proper diet and exercise actually improve mental disposition and looks is “fat shaming.” There are even court cases where clients sue their trainers for mental anguish because they tell them to stop eating junk food and keeping working out. Is everyone taking crazy pills?

There is a difference between bullying and constructive criticism, but frankly, I do not think that the left and the culture they have helped to create sees the difference anymore.

People can declare that life should just be full of love and acceptance, but to do so is to delude oneself. Life is not rainbows and unicorns. It is a grind that takes perseverance and fortitude to come out ahead.

Denouncing opposing ideas and thoughts as bullying cheapens those who are truly bullied and oppressed. If we are ever to overcome the rancor that permeates our modern society, we must fight against the attempt to give in to political correctness and cry “bully!” any time someone hurts our feelings.

Sometimes we should simply grow thicker skin, but we also need to take a step back and examine our own behavior. Instead of hiding in an echo-chamber of affirmation, we should engage those with different thoughts and experiences to understand their point of view. If we step out of our own projections, we might just find that the person we thought was a bully is actually a friend.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” (Contributor:  By Armstrong Williams for The Washington Times)

Pray for a return to sanity in the use of language. The Bible commands God’s people to speak the truth at all times. One of the Commandments is to not “bear false witness” – i.e., tell lies, whether in court or in conversation. In the Garden, the serpent used beguiling words to deceive Eve into believing that God did not mean what He plainly said about the tree whose fruit was not to be eaten. Only a few generations later, God took note that the power of a common language at Babel made mankind almost invincible, and so he confused the language to disperse them and stop their evil inclinations. Our Lord is called “the Word” because He perfectly conveyed the truth of God the Father and His message of love and redemption. But unrighteous men and women still twist the truth to take control of others. Today, children sue their parents for “bullying” when they are told to do homework or clean their room. Pray for revival resulting in widespread salvation and a return to truth and sanity in communication. Only in God’s mercy can truth once again become the national standard of communication. Pray that the Church will lead the way in speaking the truth in love, making the Gospel message plain in calling people to Christ.

“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

“ Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“…  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— …” (Ephesians 4:15)

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

 

PRESSING AHEAD ON CLIMATE SALVATION

The U.N. is determined to control liberties, livelihoods and living standards

Climate alarmists have gathered in Warsaw for the Monday start of the United Nations‘ annual climate change conference, to lay the foundation for a binding global agreement to replace the now-defunct Kyoto Protocol and “save the planet” from “dangerous global warming.”

However, a new Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change report documents that average global temperatures have not risen in 16 years, even as carbon-dioxide levels have increased steadily, helping plants grow faster and better. Antarctic ice is at a record high, Arctic sea ice is back to normal and, at current rates, Greenland’s glaciers would not melt for 13,000 years.

It has been eight years since a major hurricane struck the United States — the longest such period since 1865. Tornado frequency is the lowest in decades. Sea levels are rising at barely six inches per century. Droughts are shorter and less extreme than during the Dust Bowl era and the 1950s.

Moreover, says the nongovernmental panel, it is simply impossible to separate human influences from the frequent, cyclical, natural temperature, climate and weather variability our planet has always experienced.

Even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has muted previous claims. It now says there has been no warming since 1998, and finally acknowledges that much of the world was as warm during Medieval times as during the late 20th century.

The U.N. panel’s 2013 report finally recognizes the role that solar variability plays in climate change, and acknowledges that its computer models inadequately represent cloud cover, precipitation and “climate sensitivity” to carbon dioxide. The report admits the models failed to predict the temperature standstill and were wrong about polar ice caps, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes.

In reality, the climate and weather events, trends and cycles of recent years are essentially the same as humans have been dealing with for centuries. There is no evidence that we face imminent catastrophic man-made climate change.

Unless we shackle the energy and economic systems that enhance and safeguard our lives, modern technologically advanced societies will be able to respond and adapt to any weather events or climate changes that we are likely to encounter in the coming decades.

Then what is really going on in Warsaw?

Climate campaigners are using claims of “dangerous man-made climate change” to justify global government, treaties in lieu of legislation, anti-hydrocarbon policies, renewable energy schemes, wealth redistribution, and more taxpayer money for perpetual U.N. studies and programs.

In 2000, then-French President Jacques Chirac called the Kyoto treaty “the first component of authentic global governance.” Just months ago, President Obama said, if Congress fails to act, he will “redouble” efforts to “reach a new global agreement to reduce carbon pollution” — and continue using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close coal mines, eliminate coal-fired power plants and regulate U.S. energy use.

Despite actual weather and climate observations, as documented by both the nongovernmental panel and the U.N. panel, alarmists insist that we face imminent cataclysm. Some echo former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, Colorado Democrat, and European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who contend that even if we are “wrong on global warming,” opposing fossil fuels and promoting renewables are “the correct policies, even if they lead to higher prices.”

The U.N. panel’s Working Group III co-chairman Ottmar Edenhofer has been just as blunt. “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy,” he said. It is about “how we redistribute the world’s wealth.”

Island nations and poor countries support climate agreements, because they expect “compensation,” “adaptation” and “mitigation” money to pay for “damages” from rising seas and more frequent, more intense storms and droughts, which they blame on industrialized nations.

Not only does a growing body of evidence say these “disasters” are not happening, with the United States and European Union mired in debt, unemployment and economic stagnation, prospects for such wealth transfers are increasingly dim. Still, the demands grow louder, and the White House and State Department have already promised billions.

For Americans, an even bigger Frankenstein looms. The Obamacare disaster involves government bureaucrats taking over our health care, health insurance and one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Energy is our economy’s lifeblood, and hydrocarbons make up 82 percent of our energy resources. Policies based on climate-chaos claims mean the EPA, the U.N. and environmentalist pressure groups would control 100 percent of our economy and virtually everything we make, grow, ship, eat, drive and do. Imagine the impact on our lives, livelihoods, liberties, living standards and life spans.

As President Obama promised, this would “fundamentally transform” our nation — to “protect” us from climate “cataclysms” that exist only in presidential speeches, Hollywood movies, U.N. computer models and EPA press releases.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow has sent a “truth delegation” to Warsaw to counter climate alarmism’s myths, propaganda and outright lies. CFACT acknowledges that global warming and climate change are “real,” but our organization also understands that the causes are complex and natural, and only minimally man-made. We know the only “climate disaster” on the horizon is from anti-energy policies advocated by the White House, the EPA and the U.N.

We cannot afford to take our nation further down the path to joblessness and economic ruin.

David Rothbard is president of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT.org), where Craig Rucker is executive director. (Contributor:  By David Rothbard and Craig Rucker for The Washington Times)

This is a genuine call to prayer! We must intercede strongly, asking God to assist honest citizens in our nation in defending truth against the fables that so-called scientists are perpetrating for ideological or financial gain. When those once dedicated to “Science” sell out to manipulating their findings in nature or in the laboratory, then truth becomes relative and nothing more than something to be sold or traded to the highest bidder. The Kyoto protocols became hopelessly compromised when certain “scientists” were discovered to be falsifying their data. (No one was prosecuted.) In the past, this deception was seen as the “unpardonable sin” among those supposedly dedicated to discovering truth through experimentation and carefully controlled testing of hypotheses and theories. When integrity is missing in these equations, we will have more “Piltdown man” hoaxes, which we are about to see in these Warsaw meetings. Pray for truth to prevail and deception to be exposed.

“[Jesus said,] ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’  They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:32-34)

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)

“Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well.” (Proverbs 23:23)

 

N.J. SCHOOL DISTRICT DROPS BAN ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS

“Joy to the World” is once again an acceptable holiday message in one New Jersey school district.

After much debate and international attention, the Bordentown Regional School District has changed course and decided that its public schools can deck their halls with Christian Christmas songs in their holiday concerts this year.

Last month, the school district banned all religious Christmas carols in upcoming holiday concerts after some parents in the community deemed such songs inappropriate.

After the ban generated significant controversy, Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer released a brief statement late last week stating, in effect, never mind.

“In reviewing additional legal considerations and advice on this matter and the expressed sentiments of the community at large, I have reconsidered the decision on the musical selection for the upcoming winter programs so that pieces with traditional and historical religious origins will be permitted,” Ms. Bauer said. “Concurrently, the board will continue its review of the larger policy implications for the future.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom is an activist group that helped lead opposition to the carol ban.

In a letter written to Mr. Bauer and school board President Lisa Kay Hartman, the alliance wrote that “every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols and other religious music in school choir programs fully complies with the First Amendment.”

Matthew Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom said the exclusion of Christian Christmas songs negatively affects students, parents, music teachers and communities as a whole.

“The main [opposing argument] we see is that this violates the separation between church and state,” Mr. Sharp said.

Over the past 30 years, a growing number of Americans are labeling themselves as nonreligious. According to the poll Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, since 1972, the number of atheists globally has nearly tripled.

With this surge of atheism has come a strong push to reduce or eliminate all forms of religion from America’s public schools. The New Jersey school case came just as the Supreme Court was taking up a case involving the propriety of saying prayers before government functions such as town council meetings if it might offend non-Christians or nonbelievers.

Mr. Sharp, however believes “It’s always a dangerous thing to bring up the idea of offensiveness,” because it is virtually impossible to cultivate cultural and religious diversity without offending someone.

Mr. Sharp also points out that it is entirely constitutional to include religious songs in holiday performances.

“Our approach is to educate, and we start with what the courts have said,” he said.

In a previous case concerning Cherry Hill Township School District’s policy, a New Jersey court found that “Christmas and Chanukah are celebrated as cultural and national holidays as well as religious ones, and there is simply no constitutional doctrine which would forbid school children from sharing in that celebration, provided that these celebrations do not constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and are consistent with a school’s secular educational mission.”

Said Mr. Sharp, “I would encourage people everywhere to stand up for these songs. … I think they should be encouraged by what happened in Bordentown.” (Contributor:  By Nathan Porter for The Washington Times)

Give thanks for the sense of balance coming back into the discussion of appropriate music for Christian observance of Christmas. The secular commitment to “separation of church and state” (not a statement from the U.S. Constitution) has reached ridiculous proportions, and this discussion is a breath of fresh air. Pray for a reduction of hostility from people who do not believe toward people of faith. We should not be prohibited from calling Christmas and Thanksgiving by their real names (not “Holiday Time” or “Turkey Day”), and the wonderful Christmas carols are statements of Christians’ faith and hope. We can pray that the words of these songs played throughout the malls in America will penetrate hearts and lead people to consider who Jesus is.

“But while [Joseph] thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

 

ATHEIST ‘MEGA-CHURCHES’ TAKE ROOT ACROSS US, WORLD

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia – with more to come – after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

The founders, British duo Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, are currently on a tongue-in-cheek “40 Dates, 40 Nights” tour around the U.S. and Australia to drum up donations and help launch new Sunday Assemblies. They hope to raise more than $800,000 that will help atheists launch their pop-up congregations around the world. So far, they have raised about $50,000.

They don’t bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in the community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago.

“There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

The movement dovetails with new studies that show an increasing number of Americans are drifting from any religious affiliation.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last year that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Pew researchers stressed, however, that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.”

Sunday Assembly – whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More – taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

It also plays into a feeling among some atheists that they should make themselves more visible. For example, last December, an atheist in Santa Monica created an uproar – and triggered a lawsuit – when he set up a godless display amid Christian nativity scenes that were part of a beloved, decades-old tradition.

“In the U.S., there’s a little bit of a feeling that if you’re not religious, you’re not patriotic. I think a lot of secular people say, `Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it,” said Zuckerman. “It’s still a minority, but there’s enough of them now.”

That impulse, however, has raised the ire of those who have spent years pushing back against the idea that atheism itself is a religion.

“The idea that you’re building an entire organization based on what you don’t believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility,” said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist who was raised Roman Catholic but left when he became disillusioned.

“There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,” said Luciano, who blogged about the movement at the site policymic.com.

That sentiment didn’t seem to detract from the excitement Sunday at the inaugural meeting in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection, an “inspirational talk” about forgotten – but important – inventors and scientists and some stand-up comedy.

During the service, attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as Jones and Evans led the group through rousing renditions of “Lean on Me,” “Here Comes the Sun” and other hits that took the place of gospel songs. Congregants dissolved into laughter at a get-to-know-you game that involved clapping and slapping the hands of the person next to them and applauded as members of the audience spoke about community service projects they had started in LA.

At the end, volunteers passed cardboard boxes for donations as attendees mingled over coffee and pastries and children played on the floor.

For atheist Elijah Senn, the morning was perfect.

“I think the image that we have put forward in a lot of ways has been a scary, mean, we want to tear down the walls, we want to do destructive things kind of image is what a lot of people have of us,” he said. “I’m really excited to be able to come together and show that it’s not about destruction. It’s about making things and making things better.” (Contributor: Gillian Flaccus for The Associated Press)

Even unbelievers and, in this case, professed atheists have some sense of the need for religious expression, even if it is to celebrate what they do NOT believe in. Without looking down on such people in pride, give thanks that you know the truth of the Gospel and that it has set you free from the burden of sin and the fear of the future. Offer prayers for those trying to “celebrate” their unbelief, that the burdens of sin and doubt and the pressures of life will open their hearts to the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Only the Gospel sets people free and offers them a hope and a future in God’s love.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18)

 

PRO-LIFERS IN IOWA APPLAUD BOARD OF MEDICINE FOR BANNING WEBCAM ABORTIONS

An Iowa judge has called for a full trial before deciding whether to end webcam abortions in the state, which is where the procedure originated.

The Iowa Board of Medicine made the decision to ban webcam or telemed abortions effective this week prompting Planned Parenthood to file a lawsuit.

Jenifer Bowen, who heads Iowa Right to Life, says the Judge Karen Romando placed a temporary injunction on the Board of Medicine’s decision, which was made in August.

Romano is also likely to preside at the trial.

After the decision, Bowen checked social media and chatted with ardent pro-aborts who were lauding the decision and pushed back against Bowen’s warnings.

“You know, when I mentioned that there were at least 14 women who have died from complications of chemical abortions, I was accused of using those women as props,” Bowen tells OneNewsNow.

Bowen also noted on social media that more than 2,200 women have been injured or have severely hemorrhaged, and again she was  accused of using women as “props.”

The Iowa Right to Life spokesman suggests that shows a lack of concern, since there are grieving families because of the deaths and serious injuries, and babies that were killed because of chemical abortions.

Bowen says abortion chemicals are dangerous, and she is looking forward to the trial date. (Contributor: By Charlie Butts for One News Now)

Once again, Planned Parenthood officials show their true colors in wanting to perpetuate all portions of the abortion industry that might produce additional revenues despite the discomfort and anguish such procedures can cause abortion victims. Give thanks for this action by the Iowa Right-to-Life ministry in trying to suppress needless and unnecessary abortion “publicity” to those who suffer in the aftermath of such trauma. Pray for a successful verdict in the forthcoming trial, perhaps yet another step in exposing abortionists and the industry for what it truly is.

“The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:11-12)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

On Watch in Washington November 13, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013

November 6th, 2013

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

 

TOWN COUNCIL PRAYER CONTROVERSY AT SUPREME COURT TODAY

A pastor at the center of one of this year’s most watched Supreme Court cases will attend arguments before the justices today, Wednesday, November 6, 2013, at 10:00 AM.

The Reverend Patrick Madeiros (Mah’-dare-ose) is Lead Pastor of Greece Assembly of God, a congregation in Greece, NY, and has been a frequent guest clergy member at his local town council meetings. Over the past fourteen years, Pastor Madeiros has delivered countless opening prayers before council meetings. On Wednesday the justices will hear arguments by attorneys for the town that it has a right to continue the prayers. Lawyers for two atheists will assert that the public prayers infringe on their clients’ rights not to believe in God.

Pastor Madeiros traveled from Greece, New York, to Washington, DC, on Tuesday, November 5, where he met over dinner with the Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck (Shank) of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital and chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. The two discussed continuing strategies for preserving the American tradition of public prayers by clergy. This morning, Pastor Madeiros accompanied Rev. Schenck to the High Court to listen to oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, Susan, et al (12-696) Immediately following arguments, the pastor will make comments to the media with Rev. Schenck, and will participate in a news conference and prayer service on the sidewalk in front of the court building.

Rev. Schenck said about Pastor Madeiros and the prayers he offers at his town council meetings:

“Pastor Pat, as everyone knows him, is one of the warmest and most considerate people I have ever met. He is beloved by his congregation and by many, many others. His prayers at town council meetings are only the most visible contributions Pastor Pat makes to the community he loves. It is wrong for the courts to ban a long-held, widely accepted practice that has been going on in legislatures at every level in our country since its birth, and it is even more wrong to deny community faith leaders like Pastor Pat the freedom to pray according to the dictates of their own beliefs and consciences. There are many, many Christians in the town of Greece, but only a few atheists. Under the guarantee of the First Amendment, all parties have equal rights before the law. You can’t take away the rights of Christians in favor of preserving the rights of atheists.” (Contributor: Christian Newswire)

More Reading: Supreme Decision: Public Prayer Faces Most Serious Threat to Date – The  Congressional Prayer Foundation

This case has been followed through the courts, and now, the Supreme Court has opportunity to declare that religious speech, including public prayer, does not violate anyone’s rights. Public prayer and freedom to speak of one’s faith have been cornerstone rights since the founding of our nation. Pray that Christians will not succumb to fear in their public witness to the Gospel. Pray that the wider body of Christ will come forth strongly in expressing full confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture as the power of God. Ask God to sovereignly overrule all evil forces that would suppress God-given freedoms.

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

“And [the religious leaders] called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:18-20)

PRAY FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – NOVEMBER 10

In the traditional church calendar, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stand out in the month of November, set apart to remember the saints of the church and the souls of those who departed this world. It is fitting, then, that the modern church has set apart the month of November to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

Believers in countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam face violence, imprisonment and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. There are other places in the world such as North Korea where acts of persecution take place, but we don’t see or hear of it. Brother Andrew of Open Doors once said: ‘Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison.’

IDOP is a time set apart for us to remember thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

This year our focus includes the plight of Christians in India, who are suffering increasing persecution by militants who want a Hindu-only India. Please download the new 7-minute Free to Follow video (see below), and make use of the prayers for India, as well as those for Nigeria and Azerbaijan.

We invite you to explore the variety of resources on this website and hope you will join Christians worldwide in praying for persecuted Christians this November.

7-minute Free to Follow video <7 Minute Video>

Read More on IDOP Website.

 

BELGIUM: EUTHANASIA TO CHILDREN, DEMENTIA PATIENTS

Belgium is considering children having the right to ask for their own deaths!

In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.

Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives.

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart.

Only a few countries have legalized euthanasia or anything approaching it. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent (there is an understanding that infants, too, can be euthanized, and that doctors will not be prosecuted if they act appropriately). Elsewhere in Europe, euthanasia is only legal in Luxembourg. Assisted suicide, where doctors help a patient to die but do not actively kill them, is allowed in Switzerland.

In the U.S., the state of Oregon also grants assisted suicide requests for residents aged 18 or over with a terminal illness.

In Belgium, the ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right of euthanasia. The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights if it passes. A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months.

In the meantime, the Senate has heard testimony on both sides of the issue.

“It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die,” Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard testified.

Leonard said alternatives like palliative sedation make euthanasia unnecessary — and relieves doctors of the burden of having to kill patients. In palliative sedation, patients are sedated and life-sustaining support is withdrawn so they starve to death; the process can take days.

But the debate has extended to medical ethicists and professionals far from Belgium. Charles Foster, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.

“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”

There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children.

“The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. “It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others (children) if the need is equal.”

And Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric oncologist at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital, says the changes would legalize what is already happening informally. He said cases of euthanasia in children are rare and estimates about 10 to 100 cases in Belgium every year might qualify.

“Children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they’re terminally sick,” van Berlaer said. “Sometimes it’s a sister who tells us her brother doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution,” he said. “Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we’re not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways.”

The change in the law regarding people with dementia is also controversial.

People now can make a written declaration they wish to be euthanized if their health deteriorates, but the request is only valid for five years and they must be in an irreversible coma. The new proposal would abolish the time limit and the requirement the patient be in a coma, making it possible for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to be put to death years later in the future.

In the Netherlands, guidelines allow doctors to euthanize dementia patients on this basis if they believe the person is experiencing “unbearable suffering,” but few are done in practice.

Dr. Patrick Cras, a neurologist at the University of Antwerp, said people with dementia often change their minds about wanting to die.

“They may turn into different people and may not have the same feelings about wanting to die as when they were fully competent,” he said. “I don’t see myself killing another person if he or she isn’t really aware of exactly what’s happening simply on the basis of a previous written request (to have euthanasia). I haven’t fully made up my mind but I think this is going too far.”

Penney Lewis, a professor and medical law expert at King’s College London, agreed that carrying out euthanasia requests on people with dementia once they start to worsen could be legally questionable.

“But if you don’t let people make decisions that will be respected in the future, including euthanasia, what you do is encourage people to take their own life while they have the capacity or to seek euthanasia much earlier,” she said.

In the past year, several cases of Belgians who weren’t terminally ill but were euthanized — including a pair of 43-year-old deaf twins who were going blind and a patient in a botched sex change operation — have raised concerns the country is becoming too willing to euthanize its citizens. The newest proposals have raised eyebrows even further.

“People elsewhere in Europe are focused on assisted dying for the terminally ill and they are running away from what’s happening in Belgium,” Lewis said. “If the Belgian statutes go ahead, this will be a key boundary that is crossed.” (Contributor: By Associated Press)

How we need to intercede and cry out to God for a spiritual restoration in our own country that would give us back the value of each human life. Francis Schaeffer warned us prophetically through his writings and sermons in the last century that the “social killing” would start with abortion. He said that if a society indulged itself in the casual abortion trade (and it is a big business), so that the taking of human life from the womb was practiced easily and wantonly, what would inevitably follow – and soon – would be a similar devaluing of the life of the elderly, the infirm, the weak, those who were a burden on society, on the economy, on their families, and so on. The “culture of death” becomes a habit in a decadent society. Euthanasia means nothing more than a cleansing of society’s dregs, its “excess baggage,” as it were. Let us pray and let loved ones know that we value them and will do what we can to preserve and strengthen life until God intervenes to take them to Himself.

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deut. 30:19)

 

UK PM UNVEILS PLANS FOR ISLAMIC MARKET INDEX

Prime Minister David Cameron is taking strides to tap the burgeoning interest in Islamic finance, announcing the launch of a new Islamic Market Index in London and plans for Britain to be the first non-Muslim country to issue an Islamic bond.

Describing London as “already the biggest center for Islamic finance outside the Islamic world,” Cameron said Tuesday that the U.K.’s ambition is to go further.

“I don’t just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world,” he told an audience of international political and business leaders in London. “I want London to stand alongside Dubai as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the World.”

Islamic finance conforms to Islamic law, or Shariah, which forbids charging interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Speculation is banned, as is dealing in futures. Although still small compared with the world of mainstream finance, Islamic finance is expected to hold growing appeal for Gulf investors seeking to invest oil revenue or pious Muslims who want retail Islamic banking services.

The market in Islamic investments has grown quickly since 2006, and its value is expected to hit 1.3 trillion pounds ($2 trillion) next year. Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is regarded as its hub, but London has been courting the industry aggressively.

Cameron made a case for mutual benefits in his address Tuesday at the World Islamic Economic Forum, which for the first time is being held in a non-Muslim country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were among the nearly 1,800 political and business leaders attending the meeting. King Abdullah II of Jordan told delegates that Muslims worldwide needed to join economic blocs, follow open market trends and engage their country’s youth. Frustrated unemployed youth were a major driver of the revolutions that rocked the Arab world in 2011 and beyond.

“The business world must make it a priority to answer the needs of young people everywhere, for jobs, good jobs, secure futures and the opportunity to excel,” he said.

The London index — which would track the ups-and-downs of Shariah-compliant investments — is being launched on the London Stock Exchange. Cameron also said plans are underway to make Britain the first country outside of the Muslim world to issue an Islamic bond. It is expected to be worth around 200 million pounds and issued next year.

“For years people have been talking about creating an Islamic bond — or sukuk — outside the Islamic world. But it’s never quite happened,” Cameron said. “Changing that is a question of pragmatism and political will. And here in Britain we’ve got both.”

Alex Conroy, a trader at Spreadex, said that the U.K.’s effort to diversify business could be seen as a way to stay competitive in the finance world as Britain faces the prospect of caps on bankers’ bonuses.

“By welcoming all foreign investment this should ensure London remains a leader in global finance,” he said in a note. (Contributor: Cassandra Vinograd for Associated Press – Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.)

Our broader prayer focus: American intercessors are no doubt aware of growing Islamic influence and economic power in the international marketplace and the contrasting decline in U.S. influence and global leadership. Instead of leading the way, our nation is faltering and groping for the image of strength and moral purpose it once possessed. So let us pray for our country’s foundations to be restored. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions. Intercede for God’s mercy on the United States, and pray for sweeping spiritual renewal in the Church. When the Church gets it right with God, it is then in a position to address social, moral, spiritual and economic issues in society. Derek Prince taught us, “If you win the battle in the spiritual realm, you have won the battle – period.”

“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon,”  (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

BOLTON: ISRAEL MUST MAKE ‘FATEFUL DECISION’ ON IRAN STRIKE

Israel does not have much time to make a “fateful decision” about whether to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Sunday in a radio interview.

“Israel, I think, now faces the fateful decision whether it will allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, thus constituting a true existential threat to Israel,” he said.

“Or whether they will strike as the Israelis have done twice before against nuclear programs in the hands of hostile states,” Bolton told WABC Radio’s Aaron Klein.

“I don’t think Israel has much time,” Bolton continued. “Frankly, they should have done this years ago because we all know intelligence is imperfect and Iran may have a more developed capacity than we know about, perhaps in cooperation with North Korea.”

Bolton spoke amid U.S. outreach to Iran and amid reports Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced Saturday they are committed to the slogan, “Death to America.”

The former U.N. ambassador reacted to a statement by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said Thursday the while U.S. has “implemented unprecedented sanctions and pressure on Iran, we may very well have to use military force to back up our policy.”

Bolton retorted: “If there is anybody left in Israel who thinks that the U.S. will use military force against Iran’s program, they really need to seriously re-examine their basic values. It isn’t going to happen under the Obama administration. I’ll just say it again. It isn’t going to happen.” (Contributor: World Net Daily)

First, let us give thanks. God’s mercy is evident all over the Middle East. That part of the world has been extremely volatile for months. Yet it has not exploded into the mutual destruction we might have seen. Yes, there is still brutality, lots of fighting, and many casualties. But Syria has capitulated on its nerve gas without the U.S. shooting rockets; Iran has not attacked Israel head-on, despite its hatred; and Egypt’s tensions have remained within its borders. All this is evidence that much intercessory prayer has prevailed, so let us continue to pray. We do not know what will happen, but we can offer thanks for what has not happened. Still, Israel might act unilaterally, so we must pray. Intercessors have continued to stand in the gap. Let us remember that there are many Christians there, and the Church, both visible and underground, is very much at work to see even more souls of men and women being saved.

“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)

 

SUCCESSOR TO THE SR-71 BLACKBIRD – SR-72

The SR-71, arguably the country’s most recognizable spy plane after the U-2, was retired in 1998. But like many human retirees of the same generation, what became known as the Blackbird has had a healthy post-retirement career. From appearances in the “X-Men” franchise to cameos in the “Transformers” series, this super-speedy jet has taken off in modern popular culture.

So it’s only natural that the Blackbird’s successor might inspire similar appeal. More than a decade after the last SR-71 was decommissioned; Lockheed Martin has unveiled the gorgeous-looking SR-72. It flies just as far and twice as fast as its predecessor — and, in a twist, it’s now lethal, according to Aviationweek:

The SR-72 is being designed with strike capability in mind. “We would envision a role with over-flight ISR, as well as missiles,” Leland says. Being launched from a Mach 6 platform, the weapons would not require a booster, significantly reducing weight. The higher speed of the SR-72 would also give it the ability to detect and strike more agile targets. “Even with the -SR-71, at Mach 3, there was still time to notify that the plane was coming, but at Mach 6, there is no reaction time to hide a mobile target. It is unavoidable ISR,” he adds.

The jet accelerates by way of a two-part system. A conventional jet turbine helps boost the aircraft up to Mach 3, at which point a specialized ramjet takes over and pushes the plane even faster into hypersonic mode.

From Lockheed’s mock-ups, there doesn’t appear to be a bubble for the pilot — which suggests a windowless cockpit or fantasies about a future unmanned version of the plane. (Contributor: By Brian Fung for The Washington Post)

Our prayer here is to look forward to a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares – at least figuratively. Man builds bigger and better weapons, more costly and more deadly. But God rules in heaven and on earth. Continue to intercede for the coming day when the Prince of Peace rules with no rival. The nations are His, and all will bow before Him. Meanwhile, let us be thankful for opportunity to pray and evangelize. Our own nation is a vast mission field. Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers out to bring in the harvest.

“He [God] will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)

“Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places.” (Psalm 135:6)

“But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

 

BUSINESSES SUFFER FROM A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY, STUDY SHOWS

Security vendor McAfee says that small and midsize businesses are suffering from a false sense of security, basing their claims on a recent study conducted with Office Depot. Those who took part in the study showed a high degree of confidence that their data and devices were safe from attackers, despite industry research and evidence that proves otherwise.

McAfee’s claims come from the 1000 SMBs participated in the Office Depot Small Business Index in September. According to the data, 66 percent of the SMB owners who took part were confident that their data and devices were secure and safe from criminal hackers, with 77 percent reporting that their organizations have never been attacked.

According to the 2013 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 40 percent of the incidents examined involved businesses with fewer than 1000 employees, and a majority of them were in the retail or food service industry.

When asked for details, 80 percent of the respondents to Office Depot’s survey admitted to not using data protection. Only about half of them confirmed that they’re using email and Internet security measures. And almost all of them—91 percent—said they don’t use endpoint or mobile device security. Yet, the frightening admission comes from the 14 percent of SMB owners who said they haven’t implemented security measures of any kind in their environment.

“A business that doesn’t have any security measures in place is putting their data and customers’ trust in jeopardy. As enterprises have increased their security defenses, hackers have started to target their attacks downstream to SMBs,” said Bill Rielly, senior vice president of SMB at McAfee.

Your solutions may vary

As incident research gets stronger, organizations are waking up to the fact that single sets of best practices cannot be applied to businesses of all sizes, across industries of all types. Criminals have long targeted the low-hanging fruit, and over the last few years, SMBs have filled that role. But while having no security at all is a step backward, unless the solution is geared towards the organization’s goals and needs, designing and implementing a defensive posture can become a costly, daunting task. In fact, Verizon makes note of this in their most recent DBIR.

“Any attempt to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to securing our assets may result in leaving some organizations under-protected from targeted attacks while others potentially over-spend on defending against simpler opportunistic attacks,” the report explains.

As an example, the report notes that businesses in the retail and food service sectors should focus on the basics as attackers routinely target poorly configured remote administration services and POS systems, but the basics are not enough for the finance and insurance sectors that have to contend with physical attacks as well as those aimed at critical Web applications and services.

Organizations in the engineering, manufacturing, IT services, and consulting sectors also have a different set of issues to deal with, because they face an entirely different set of attacks aimed at exploiting human weaknesses (social engineering).

“Cyber attacks on small businesses rarely make headlines, so it is easy for these business owners to be lulled into a false sense of security, as indicated in this survey. It is especially important for small business owners to secure their systems, as they may not have the resources to survive a cyber attack, unlike a large corporation,” Congressman Chris Collins (R-New York), said in a statement. (Contributor: By Steve Ragan for PCWorld)

This article speaks of small business and the need for data security and cyber security. But in the U.S., businesses will need more far-reaching security to survive and prosper. Pray for our nation. May there be a return to God. Looking at all basic parameters for a busy, successful, thriving nation, where business, when planned well and operated by sound principles, should succeed in the greatest nation ever blessed by God, we see instead many signs of languishing, of hopelessness, of a rapid slide toward mediocrity and even lower. We want our “land” to be healed, yet we need much healing within the larger Church as well. We want the blessing of God on our country. So while business is our focus, let us pray for the atmosphere in which business may develop and prosper.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall directyour paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6)

 

SCHOOL BAN ON RELIGIOUS CAROLS DRAWS CHALLENGE

Silent night, indeed.

A New Jersey school district is facing pressure this week to reverse a new edict that bans religious songs and carols from being used in upcoming holiday concerts.

J. Matthew Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, has asked the Bordentown Regional School District to rescind its policy that “likely crosses [a] constitutional line” by excluding religious music, regardless of its demonstrated cultural value and educational merit.

“Schools are going overboard by banning Christmas songs and carols,” Mr. Sharp said in the letter to school district officials. “… Nothing in the Constitution requires this to be banned. It is an overreaction from schools to think that these things are not allowed.”

Citing in part a 2004 state court ruling, Bordertown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement Oct. 18 notifying Peter Muschal Elementary School that some musical selections for the school’s winter concerts were being questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary programs.”

But Mr. Sharp said school administrators were misinterpreting what the courts have ruled.

“Because singing a wide variety of religious songs, particularly during the holiday season, is simply a result of the dominance of religious music in this field, courts have never considered this fact to either unconstitutionally advance or endorse religion,” he said.

A similar ban nearly took place at a public school in Wausau, Wis., where district officials proposed that the number of religious songs in holiday shows be cut down. Phil Buch, the chair of Wausau West High School protested by temporarily disbanding the school’s Master Singers music ensemble.

Local media reported the story but it eventually made its way into national news. With the weight of national attention and anger the school board backed down and permitted the director’s original choices of music for now. On Tuesday, the student choir began practicing its music again, and the Alliance Defending Freedom claimed victory.

The conservative legal group is now turning its attention to Bordentown’s board of education in its attempts to remove the banning of religious songs.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled on the issue in 2004, after local parent Michael Stratechuk sued the district, claiming the policy violated the constitutional rulings on the separation of church and state.

The judges said public school administrations have the authority to choose which songs are appropriate based on constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”

“The Third Circuit ruled that while the First Amendment does not require schools to include religious music, neither does it prohibit schools from including religious music,” Mr. Sharp said. “What the First Amendment does require is that the Bordentown Regional School District remains neutral towards religion and refrains from demonstrating an unconstitutional hostility towards songs with religious origins.”

Furthermore, Mr. Sharp argued that banning everything related to religion will lead to further complications for schools who wish to teach Shakespeare, certain philosophies and even early American history.

“Our culture is infused with religion,” he said. “Even though the songs have a religious origin, that doesn’t mean they should be banned in school.” (Contributor:  By Matthew Lounsberry for The Washington Times)

Prayer points: Let us say kindly that these lawsuits and protests are brought by self-centered and short-sighted persons who lack both logic and a sense of history. Handel’s Messiah, for example, is music for the ages, and while opinions vary on why King George II of England stood to his feet upon hearing the opening strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus” (and thus, everyone else in the audience stood as well, out of respect for the king), it has become a deeply entrenched tradition of respect for the sacred, and certainly a tribute to Jesus Christ among Christian audiences. Next, we might suppose to hear a protest about writing the date on one’s checks or contracts because A.D., from the Latin, means “In the year of our Lord.” Let us pray for reason to return to the discussion. How can a Christian remember and celebrate Christmas without Christmas music? Pray accordingly.

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15)

 

CRYPTOLOCKER CREATORS EXTORT EVEN MORE MONEY FROM VICTIMS

The creators of CryptoLocker, a piece of malware that encrypts user data and holds it for ransom, are giving users who removed the malicious program from their computers a second chance to recover their files, but at a much higher cost.

CryptoLocker is a malicious program that falls into a category of malware called ransomware. Once installed on a computer, ransomware applications typically prevent victims from accessing their files or even their operating system until they pay money to the malware authors.

Security researchers generally advise users against giving into this kind of extortion and in many cases there is a way to regain access to everything without paying up.

However, CryptoLocker uses solid public-private key cryptography to encrypt files that match a long list of extensions, including documents, spreadsheets, images and even AutoCAD design files. According to researchers from antivirus firm Sophos, the malware’s creators got the encryption process right and there’s no method to get the decryption keys, which are unique for every computer and are stored on attackers’ servers, without paying up.

After it infects a computer, CryptoLocker displays a message informing victims that if they don’t pay the equivalent of $300 or €300 in Bitcoins, a virtual currency, or via MoneyPak, a type of prepaid card, within 72 hours, the unique decryption key for the files will be automatically destroyed.

Users who regularly back up their data can clean their computers and restore the affected files from backups, but users who don’t have backups should consider those files lost, the Sophos researchers said.

Some files might be recoverable using the Shadow Copy technology, which is is an integral part of the System Restore feature in Windows.

However, even users who have backups might realize that they’re not enough to repair the damage done by the malware. Those backups might be too old or they might not include files from remote network shares that have also been encrypted by the malware.

It seems that the creators of CryptoLocker considered that possibility and realized that some users might have initially removed the malware, but then, for whatever reason, changed their mind about paying up. As a result, they’ve recently started offering an online decryption service that allow such users to still recover their files, but at a much higher price.

“Apparently the crooks will now let you buy back your key even if you didn’t follow their original instructions,” Paul Ducklin, the head of technology for the Asia-Pacific region at Sophos, said Monday in a blog post. “Word on the street, however, is that the crooks want five times as much as they were charging originally to decrypt your data after you change your mind.”

The cost of using the service is 10 Bitcoins—around $2300 at the current Bitcoin exchange rate—and requires users to upload one of their encrypted files. The first 1024 bytes of the file will be used to search for the associated private key, a process that can take up to 24 hours.

“We’re guessing that the delay is because the crooks have to run a brute force attack against themselves,” Ducklin said. “Without your public key to help them match up your keypair in their database, it sounds as though they have to try to decrypting your data with every stored private key until they hit one that produces a plausible result.”

However it’s not immediately clear whether using this service is still possible after the initial 72-hour deadline given by the malware. If it is, then the cybercriminals lied and the private keys are not being destroyed after that time period.

This decryption service might have also been created for users whose antivirus programs detected and deleted the malware after it encrypted the files, leaving them unable to buy the decryption key anymore.

“We’re still saying, ‘don’t buy,’ but we’re feeling your pain enough to know how tempting it will be for some people to pay the crooks, even though the blackmail charges have now ballooned to more than $2000,” Ducklin said. (Contributor: By Lucian Constantin for IDG News Service)

For our prayer focus, here is a good example where “faith and works” come into balance. We would like to pray one prayer and have all malicious and dishonest persons repent and turn from their evil ways and all wicked computer viruses be rendered harmless, but we soon find that is generally not how God works. So we do pray for divine protection and we also back up data and invest in strong virus-detection software. This is not to belittle prayer. It is to say that mature intercessors see prayer as a relationship with a loving God and Father, not as a method to get things to go our way.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”  (2 Tim. 3:13-14)

On Watch in Washington November 6, 2013 Plain Text PDF Version

On Watch in Washington October 30, 2013

October 29th, 2013

On Watch in Washington October 30, 2013 PDF Version Plain Text Format

ARMED AGENTS SEIZE RECORDS OF REPORTER OF  WASHINGTON TIMES

Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshals Service.

Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland Security’s Coast Guard service, made a pre-dawn raid of her family home Aug. 6 and took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act

The documents, some which chronicled her sources and her work at The Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.

The warrant, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.

The Times said it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.

“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said. “This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.

“Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters’ notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response,” he said.

Maryland State Police declined to comment except to say that “evidence and information developed during this investigation is currently under review by both the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office and the United State’s Attorney’s Office,” and that a determination has yet to be made on any charges.

The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that it seized and reviewed Ms. Hudson’s documents but insisted it did nothing wrong.

Capt. Tony Hahn, a spokesman at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, said the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) was involved in the case because Ms. Hudson’s husband, Mr. Flanagan, is a Coast Guard employee.

During the search of the home, said Capt. Hahn, “the CGIS agent discovered government documents labeled ‘FOUO’ — For Official Use Only and ‘LES’ — Law Enforcement Sensitive.”

“The files that contained these documents were cataloged on the search warrant inventory and taken from the premises,” he said. “The documents were reviewed with the source agency and determined to be obtained properly through the Freedom of Information Act.”

Ms. Hudson described a harrowing ordeal the morning her family home was raided.

The agents, who arrived at 4:30 a.m. in full body armor, collected several small arms during the raid, although no charges have been filed against Mr. Flanagan, 54, during the nearly three months since.

Ms. Hudson, 50, said that while the authorities were raiding her house, Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch — who had worked at the U.S. Marshals Service — began asking questions about whether she was the same “Audrey Hudson” who had written “the Air Marshal stories” for The Washington Times. Ms. Hudson said she responded that she was.

It was not until roughly a month later, Ms. Hudson said, when she was notified that the agents had quietly seized five files from her private office — including handwritten and typed notes from interviews with numerous confidential sources related to her exclusive reporting on the Air Marshals Service.

The search warrant for the raid, issued to Maryland State Trooper Victor Hodgin by a district court judge, made no reference to the documents. A copy obtained by The Times indicates that the search was to be narrowly focused on the pursuit of “firearms” and their “accessories and/or parts,” as well as any communications that that might be found in Ms. Hudson and Mr. Flanagan’s home related to “the acquisition of firearms or accessories.”

David W. Fischer, a private lawyer contacted by the couple, said the raid is a potential violation of Ms. Hudson’s constitutional rights.

“Obviously, the warrant is about a gun, nothing about reporters’ notes,” he said. “It would be a blatant constitutional violation to take that stuff if the search warrant didn’t specifically say so.”

“This is a situation where they picked very specifically through her stuff and took documents that the Coast Guard, or the Department of Homeland Security, would be very interested in,” he added.

The raid could constitute illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment — and the fact that the materials were related to her work as a reporter could violate First Amendment freedom of the press protections.

Once the documents had been “cleared,” Homeland Security decided to return the documents to Mr. Flanagan and Ms. Hudson, Capt. Hahn said.

The Coast Guard, like the Federal Air Marshals Service, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A Reporter’s Word

What concerns Ms. Hudson and The Times is the fact that private reporting documents were seized during the search being conducted on totally unrelated grounds.

While Mr. Flanagan has a police record from the mid-1980s related to the unlawful possession of firearms, including automatic weapons, Ms. Hudson fears her private documents may have been the real target of the search.

“They tore my office apart more than any other room in my house,” she said, adding that agents did not take other potentially non-TSA-related documents from the office.

“I had a box full of [Department of Defense] notes,” she said. “They didn’t touch those.”

Some of the files included notes that she had used to expose how the Federal Air Marshals Service lied to Congress during the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks about the number of airline flights that the service was protecting against another terrorist attack.

An article written by Ms. Hudson for The Times in March 2005 revealed how air marshals were protecting less than 10 percent of domestic and international flights during the month of December 2004, and that the number of flights Homeland Security officials were providing to Congress was higher than the actual number of marshals it employed.

Ms. Hudson said the experience of having “a half-dozen armed officers rifle through my personal belongings for the three-hour search was traumatizing.”

“But when the files were returned to me and I saw all the notes that had been in their possession for a month, it was gut-wrenching,” she said.

That her private files were seized, said Ms. Hudson, is particularly disturbing because of interactions that she and her husband had during the search of their home, as well as months afterward, with Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch. According to his profile on the networking site LinkedIn, Mr. Bosch worked at the Federal Air Marshal Service from April 2002 through November 2007.

It was Mr. Bosch, Mrs. Hudson says, who asked her during the Aug. 6 search if she was the same Audrey Hudson who had written the Air Marshal stories. It was also Mr. Bosch, she says, who phoned Mr. Flanagan a month later to say that documents taken during the search had been cleared.

During the call, according Ms. Hudson, Mr. Bosch said the files had been taken to make sure that they contained only “FOIA-able” information and that he had circulated them to the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the Federal Air Marshals Service, in order to verify that “it was legitimate” for her to possess such information.

“Essentially, the files that included the identities of numerous government whistleblowers were turned over to the same government agency and officials who they were exposing for wrongdoing,” Ms. Hudson said.

Reached on the telephone by a reporter for The Times, Mr. Bosch refused to comment on whether or not journalist-related documents were seized during the search of Ms. Hudson’s home.

“I got to get on the phone with Coast Guard legal before I talk with you,” Mr. Bosch said. “It’s still an open investigation.”

Asked specifically whether documents related to Ms. Hudson’s reporting activities were taken during the search, he responded: “There was a lot of stuff taken.”

Legitimate Case?

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains that it has done nothing wrong in the case and that the investigation into Ms. Hudson’s husband is based on legitimate suspicion that he was illegally in possession of firearms.

The warrant outlines how Mr. Flanagan was found guilty in 1985 — when he was 25 — of resisting arrest in Prince George’s County, Md. A concealed weapons charge in the same incident related to an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon was dropped.

It also alludes to a no-contest plea to charges related to a tax on weapons manufacture, a conviction the justice of which Mr. Flanagan disputes on the basis of mishandled evidence and unclear advice from federal gun regulators.

In the warrant, authorities also noted that Mr. Flanagan was arrested in 1996 by police in Anne Arundel County for possessing a handgun in his vehicle, a charge that later was dismissed.

The warrant outlines how sometime this year Mr. Flanagan drew the interest of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after allegedly attempting to purchase “possible machine gun parts from a Swedish national.”

The warrant says the information was handed to the Coast Guard’s investigative service — since Mr. Flanagan worked at the agency — which conducted an interview during which “Flanagan was evasive but stated he did receive a ‘potato gun’ but it was defective and it was thrown away.”

The term “potato gun” is “slang used during the illegal importation of silencers,” according to the warrant.

Ms. Hudson said the “potato gun” claim is outrageous.

She said her husband did, in fact, purchase a “potato launcher” from an online company based in Sweden five years ago as a novelty item, but it was discarded within as few weeks because it did not work.

She noted that the law enforcement agents who raided her home did not take a “golf ball launcher” that also belonged to her husband as a novelty item. They did, however, confiscate small arms belonging to Ms. Hudson that she had legally registered with the Maryland State Police as far back as 2005.

The search warrant allowed for the weapons to be confiscated, and Ms. Hudson said the agents told her that because her husband pleaded guilty to a resisting arrest charge nearly 30 years ago, she was not allowed to possess the guns under state law. The guns she owned were for recreational shooting, she said, as well as for security concerns resulting from many of her investigations.

“I swear to God, we’re not smuggling machine gun parts from Sweden,” said Ms. Hudson, adding that the potato launcher in question “didn’t even work.”

Ms. Hudson has been a reporter in Washington for nearly 15 years and covered Homeland Security for The Times after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks through December 2009.

Her reporting has sparked numerous congressional investigations that led to legislation signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She has won numerous journalism awards for her investigations, including the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi bronze medal for public service and the Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Award in Investigative Reporting, and was nominated twice by The Times for the Pulitzer Prize.

“Protecting confidential sources is a part of my honor and hits me at my ethical core,” said Ms. Hudson. “To have someone steal my source information and know it could impact people’s careers is disgusting, a massive overreach. This kind of conduct is intimidation clearly aimed at silencing a vigorous press.” (Contributor: By Guy Taylor for The Washington Times)

This article carries a call to strong, concerted intercessory prayer everywhere across the U.S. Details beyond this report are sketchy, and further legal analysis is needed to determine whether a Constitutional violation of the First and Fourth Amendments has taken place. Such a “pre-dawn raid,” as reporter Audrey Hudson described the search of her home and removal of confidential records will bring fear to some citizens who think such tactics belong only to repressive regimes. Pray that all illegal action in this case will be uncovered and brought to accountability. We will hear more of this case; intercessors should remain alert. Our strongest weapon for a return to the foundations God gave the U.S. through its Founders is continued prayer, with repentant hearts, as we cry out to God for His will and purpose to prevail. Let us encourage ourselves in the Lord. This exposure is a good thing. The Washington Times is bringing a lawsuit, which will bring public testimony. Is our government overreaching in its intrusion into personal freedom and privacy? Let us pray boldly in faith for righteous government. Pray that we, as Christians, will prepare our hearts for spiritual awakening and revival. The passage below cites an intercessor from the past who prayed for God’s glory and for His name to be honored. Note the humility and confession, along with an appeal for God’s mercy.

“So I [Daniel] turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: ‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Lord, You are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…. [But] the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him…. For we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.’” (Daniel 9:3-9, 18)

 

FAITH AND FREEDOM: AN INDISPENSABLE PAIR

Those attending the Family Research Council’s most recent Values Voter Summit heard a lot about religious liberty — and with good reason. In ways both large and small, that cornerstone of freedom has found itself under attack at home and abroad. All Americans should be concerned about its well-being.

Religious liberty is as characteristic of America as our democratic political system and our free-market economy. Nowhere in the world is there more religious diversity, with all manner of faiths existing in relative harmony in the same neighborhoods, and with different houses of worship sharing the same streets in many cases.

History is filled with wars based on religious differences. Yet in the United States, these problems, with rare exceptions, are a distant memory.

Faith has always played a major role in American history. From our Founding Fathers to politicians today, acknowledgment of God in public speeches is commonplace in American discourse. In a letter to his wife on the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, John Adams wrote that the Fourth of July “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

But while the United States was founded by men with the deep and abiding belief in a Christian God, they took great care to ensure that any and all religions would be respected and protected by the Constitution.

Today, however, the Founders’ attitude toward religion is widely misunderstood. A major source of confusion is the phrase “separation of church and state,” used by President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut.

Many have interpreted this phrase to mean that religion should be entirely personal, kept out of schools and other public institutions. However, as Heritage scholar Jennifer Marshall has argued, this interpretation is incorrect: “Jefferson wanted to protect states’ freedom of religion from federal government control and religious groups’ freedom to tend to their internal matters of faith and practice without government interference generally.”

America’s Founding Fathers did not want the government to impose a governmentsponsored church on all Americans. Neither did they seek to confine religion to a separate, private sphere of life.

On the contrary, they believed that religion had a vital and enduring role to play in the public affairs of the new American Republic. To cite Marshall again: “The Founders argued that virtue derived from religion is indispensable to limited government. … In fact, the American Founders considered religious engagement in shaping the public morality essential to ordered liberty and the success of their experiment in self-government.”

We Americans are rightly proud of our tradition of political and economic liberty. Is an individual’s freedom to choose, though, a sufficient guarantee of a good society? Our Founders did not think so. Social critic Irving Kristol observed, “It is religion that restrains the self-seeking hedonistic impulse so easily engendered by a successful market economy.”

One of the clearest expressions of the Founders’ attitude toward religion — endorsed by most Americans today — came from our second president, John Adams. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” Adams declared in 1798. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Only a moral and religious people could acquire and retain such traits of character as honesty, kindness, thoughtfulness, respect for law, fairness, self-discipline and self-reliance — virtues the Founders rightly deemed necessary for self-rule.

Faith has always been an integral part of American society. Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville went so far as to call religion “the first of America’s political institutions,” because although it “never mixes directly in the government of society,” it nevertheless determines the “habits of the heart” of all Americans.

Whether you choose to worship or not, or however you choose to worship, everyone benefits from the interweaving of faith into our societal fabric. To eliminate it from public discourse would deny our history — and remove a crucial component of the American spirit. (Contributor: By Dr. Edwin Feulner, Founder of The Heritage Foundation – Town Hall.com)

Let us be clear as we pray. Religious liberty is not a gift from human government and merely described as such in the U.S. Constitution. It is, in fact a gift from the Creator and may not—with impunity—be curtailed or trifled with by any other institution, including the State. All leaders, rulers, countries, cultures, empires, or false religions, in any historical era, that interfere with or squelch such liberty face inevitable divine judgment, whether sooner or later. The early Church had no power, no weapons, and no voting franchise. There is no hint in the New Testament that the followers of Jesus were to take up arms to protect themselves from government excess and evil. All they had was prayer, their commitment to the Gospel, and the power of God’s Spirit. Yet the Roman Empire is gone, and the Church remains and will, with its Head, Jesus Christ, be triumphant in the end over all mistreatment, oppression, bullying, persecution—even martyrdom, if God allows such evil. We speak of it softly and carefully, with no hatred toward ungodly leaders, but our nation is turning from honoring religious freedom to acts and laws of religious repression, especially toward evangelical Christians. Pray for mercy for such perpetrators, and a heart-change for all leaders who revel in power and arrogance rather than service to those they are duty-bound to serve. May they repent while there is time; God is longsuffering. Pray that our country be saved.

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’” (John 18:36)

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear…. So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?’” (John 18:10-11)

“Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’” (John 19:11)

 

SEBELIUS TO APPEAR BEFORE HOUSE ON OBAMACARE ON OCT. 30

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday put off Republican lawmakers who want to question her about the disastrous rollout of Obamacare this week, instead agreeing to testify about the program’s computer problems next week.

A spokeswoman for Mrs. Sebelius said she cannot attend a House hearing Thursday due to a scheduling conflict. Late Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced she will appear before its members Oct. 30.

The delay angered Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who called it a “refusal” by Mrs. Sebelius to testify Thursday. He said the public deserves answers now about the burgeoning problems with the HealthCare.gov website.

“The refusal of Secretary Sebelius to appear at this week’s hearing shows that this administration is still not prepared to be straight with the American people,” Mr. Boehner said. “Every day new questions about the president’s health care law arise, but candid explanations are nowhere to be found.”

The speaker said Mrs. Sebelius‘ decision “continues a troubling pattern of this administration seeking to avoid accountability and stonewall the public.”

“What is more important to Secretary Sebelius than providing answers to the American people? I hope President Obama has a greater appreciation for the role of oversight and orders his secretary to fully cooperate with all congressional inquiries,” Mr. Boehner said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said it’s up to Cabinet secretaries to decide when and how to cooperate with a congressional inquiry.

Mrs. Sebelius will be at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on Wednesday night to speak about the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy signing the Community Mental Health Act. On Thursday, she’s scheduled to attend an event in Phoenix.

“We have always indicated to the committee that she intended to testify but that she had a scheduling conflict,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters.

Republicans have criticized Mrs. Sebelius for being more willing to appear on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to talk about Obamacare than she is to testify before Congress about the rollout’s failures.

The committee’s Republicans said that three health care contractors will testify Thursday, including representatives of website designer CGI.

“We are now entering week four of the botched health care rollout, and with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent for a system that still does not work, Congress and the American people deserve answers,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, the committee chairman. “We were told repeatedly that implementation was ‘on track,’ and it is now time for all those responsible to explain what happened.” (Contributor:  By Dave Boyer The Washington Times)

We continue to pray that God will raise up righteous government for our country. Part of that process is for Him to expose dishonesty and subterfuge among national leaders. As we pray, let us seek to avoid two temptations. Let us 1) not become “weary in well-doing” so as to stop praying; and 2) not become so angry at government dishonesty, exemplified by Mrs. Sebelius’ waffling and excuses, that our prayers are hindered. Some prayer leaders are suggesting that the continual confusion surrounding the Obamacare rollout is an answer to Christians’ intercession and thus, a blessing from God, simply because neither the program nor the people are ready. Let us remember that our battle is not against our leaders but against spiritual wickedness and evil forces withstanding God’s laws. Our nation is in God’s hands. His purposes will prevail. So let us press on in prayer. Repentance always brings change of heart, goals, and direction.  

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.  (Prov. 21:1)

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You [God] said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I … repent …” (Job 42:1-6)

 

OBAMACARE DEBACLE CALLS FOR SEBELIUS TO RESIGN

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said officials are working “24/7″ to improve the government’s health insurance website.

Nevertheless, calls for her resignation continue.

But Sebelius fired back at her critics, saying, “The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don’t work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place.”

“I have had frequent conversations with the president,” she continued. “And I’ve committed to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that.”

Her remarks come after a hearing Thursday before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in which both Democrats and Republicans denounced the government’s roll-out of HealthCare.gov.

“This is unacceptable. It needs to be fixed,” Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said.

Rep. Anna Eschoo, D-Calif., said, “Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas.”

“How can the administration punish innocent Americans by forcing them to buy from a system that doesn’t work and whose rollout has been nothing short of a disaster?” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., asked.

Republicans on the committee accused the administration of misleading Congress prior to the roll-out.

“We were repeatedly told by members of the administration that everything would be working properly and it would all be done on time,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said.

Software contractors who worked on the website said they’d done their part, insisting the administration did not allow enough time for developing or testing the site.

Meanwhile, Sebelius said she’s calling up the reserves, hoping for a quick fix to an ailing system.

“We’ve looked across the federal government at some of the best tech experts who were not necessarily on the ground working on this project but are now involved,” Sebelius said.

Some Democrats are saying the administration should extend the deadline for signing up and revise the penalties for those who don’t enroll.

Another worry: it’s now clear that many Americans are finding their health insurance premiums have shot up.

And Kaiser Health News reported that hundreds of thousands have received cancellation notices despite the president’s original promise that people could keep their plans.

Democrats who thought they’d run for re-election next year, touting the success of Obamacare, are beginning to worry about political fall-out.

“I’m also concerned about what happens next,” Upton said. “Will enrollment glitches become provider payment glitches? Will patients show up at their doctors’ offices or the hospital to be told that they aren’t covered or even in the system?”

Sebelius will appear before the House Energy Committee next Wednesday. (Contributor: Christian Coalition of America and CBNNEWS.COM)

Although this seems like a repeat of the previous item, it is not. We urge united prayer for government accountability, which is in short supply in the present administration. This is not a partisan statement or accusation but a summation of facts.  Without accountability, citizens are in peril of becoming people without a voice. When government goes undercover and makes excuses instead of being open and accountable, the people have reason for concern. Americans still want government “of the people,” through their representatives. Elected officials of the president’s own party, some closest to him ideologically, make no secret of their fears of fall-out pending the 2014 election cycle. Constituents are demanding accountability for the myriad scandals plaguing this administration, of which Obamacare is just one example. Secretary Sebelius (HHS) may be the lightning rod for the country’s anger. Historians will recall the war crimes trials in Nuremberg, Germany following WW 2, where “I only followed orders” was not a justifiable defense. Our Founders did not trust human nature, insisting on checks and balances. Leaders are to be servants of the people not masters over them. Pray accordingly.

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’”  (Mark 10”42-45)

 

CALIFORNIA STRIPS PRIVACY FROM CHILDREN

Families, we need your help this week.

As I wrote recently, California is dead set on stripping away the privacy of children — and we need to do what we can to stop the madness.

A few short months ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1266, a first-of-its-kind legislation, now known as the Co-Ed Bathroom Law. The law, as I’ve noted previously, opens girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, and school showers to any child who “self-identifies” as a girl — including boys who decide they really “are” transgender girls. The same holds true for boys — a girl who decides her “true gender self” is a boy, must be allowed to use the boys’ restrooms, showers and locker rooms. In addition, “transgendered” children must be allowed to play on opposite-sex sports teams if they so choose. (It really means that enterprising boys will dominate girls’ sports teams.)

The law hinges on the child’s right to decide his or her gender — a child might decide to “be” female one day and “male” the next. It all depends on feelings and the child’s “self-identification.” Translation: I am who I say I am, no matter what my body looks like.

It’s the very definition of unreality.

The consequences are significant, impacting far more than the “transgender” child. Under this law, children lose their right to demand privacy while undressing, showering or going to the bathroom. Instead, the left’s priority is for transgendered children to feel “included” on an “equal” basis, at all costs, even if that means other children lose their privacy.

The transgender lie is the root of the problem. For the left, it’s an axiom of faith that children must be allowed to choose a gender identity based on how they perceive themselves, regardless of whether they are born boys or girls. Many liberals go even further, holding the nonsensical position that human beings are meant to be gender-fluid, not boxed into the “binaries” of male and female. Gender, they say, might even change from one day to the next.

It’s hogwash.

Even so, normal children — boys who are boys and girls who are girls — are expected to get with the program in California. If the law stands, you can expect that children who balk at welcoming an opposite-sex child into the locker room or bathroom will be reprimanded and singled out for being hurtful and transgender-phobic. The normal children will be “the problem.”

Worse, where California leads, other states will follow. When California outlawed reparative therapy (treatment designed to help children overcome unwanted same-sex attraction) for children younger than 18, New Jersey quickly followed suit. Other states are considering similar legislation. If California’s law stands, it’s not just California students who will suffer from the loss of privacy and threat to their safety and well-being. Other states where the homosexual lobby is strong will soon get in line.

This law cannot stand! The only way to stop it is by getting this issue on the ballot as a voter referendum. Parents and other concerned citizens, organized under the coalition Privacy for all Students, have mounted a petition seeking to give California voters a referendum on the law. That means that if Privacy for all Students collects 505,000 signatures by the Nov. 6 deadline, Californians will have a chance to vote on the law — and polls indicate that a proposed repeal of the law would win hands down.

The people of California do not want this law. They deserve a chance to cast a vote in favor of protecting children. But they need our support. Call, text, Facebook or email your friends in California. Tell them to sign the petition. Go to PrivacyforallStudents.com, sign, donate to help the effort, and share the link with all your friends asking them to donate to the referendum effort regardless of where they live. (Contributor: Rebecca Haglin for The Washington Times)

This report speaks for itself. Most readers of these alerts are not from California, but we can all do God’s work there through active and unrelenting intercessory prayer. The state law, signed by the governor, is reprehensible, even for liberal California. It flies directly and defiantly in the face of God’s design and natural law. The children are being used as social-engineering guinea pigs or other laboratory test animals. This is yet another step in the downward spiral of a nation that is rapidly throwing off all restraint in its determination to dethrone Almighty God and replace Him with the golden calf of human reason. It is man saying, “Let us make ‘god’ in our image.” Let us pray in faith and in the fear of God for this atrocity to be stifled before it wrecks the lives of countless bewildered children. The Scriptures remind us of God’s sovereignty, so intercessors may worship as they pray. Psalm 2 reminds us that the nations belong to God, a gift from the Father to the Son. All will “kiss the Son” or experience divine judgment and wrath. We quote only part for space considerations but suggest the entire passage be read carefully for perspective.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion …’” (Gen. 1:26-28)

Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3)

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ’Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’

“He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure:  ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’ I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel….’” (Psalm 2:1-9)

 

AT THESE COFFEE KLATCHES, DEATH IS ON THE AGENDA

It can be tough to get a conversation going if you want to talk about the late stages of dementia, your last will and testament or the recent passing of your mother.

“When you’re at a cocktail party and you lead off by saying, ‘What do you think about death?’ it’ll be, ‘C’mon, man, it’s a party! Chill out!’ says Len Belzer, a retired radio host from Manhattan.

Belzer is among a growing number of people around the world who are interested enough in death to gather in small groups in homes, restaurants and churches to talk about it.

The gatherings, known as Death Cafes, provide places where death can be discussed comfortably, without fear of violating taboos or being mocked for bringing up the subject.

Organizers say there’s no agenda other than getting a conversation started — and that talking about death can help people become more comfortable with it and thereby enrich their lives.

“Most people walking down the street, they’re terrified of death,” said Jane Hughes Gignoux, 83, an author who leads Death Cafe gatherings at her Manhattan apartment. “But if you think of death as part of life and let go of the fear, you think more about living your life well.”

Jon Underwood, who organized the first Death Cafe in London two years ago, said he was inspired by death discussions pioneered by Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist. The first Death Cafe in the U.S. was held in Columbus, Ohio, last year, and “It’s just kind of snowballed,” he said, estimating nearly 300 Death Cafes have been held in the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Brazil and Singapore.

One was held at a Georgia cemetery. Sessions are scheduled this week alone in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

At a recent two-hour Death Cafe shepherded by Gignoux, six participants, most in their 60s, talked easily over tea and biscotti.

Kathryn Janus, 66, noted that death involves “a lot of ‘why?’ Why did a 12-year-old with leukemia die? Why did a cat get run over?”

Marjorie Lipari, 68, talked about the death of her twin brother 16 years ago.

“What does one do with that kind of hole?” she asked. “It never occurred to me he wouldn’t be with me for my whole life.”

Robb Kushner, 62, discussed the differences between Christian and Jewish funerals he’d been to, noting the open casket at a Methodist wake. Alicia Evans, in her 40s, then told the tale of a man known to be a bit “scruffy” in life who was nicely tidied up by the embalmer.

“He looked so good in the coffin I wanted to give him my number,” she said, cracking up the group.

Janus said afterward, “I like that we laugh.” But Lipari said she wasn’t sure she would ever be entirely at ease about death.

“My ego is going to be opposed to death because that’s ego’s job,” she said. “My goal is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable about death.”

Other subjects commonly brought up at Death Cafes range from financial planning to suicide. They include cremation, memorial services, loved ones’ last moments and the possibility of an afterlife.

Underwood and other organizers emphasize that the discussions are not meant to be counseling. “There’s no guest speaker, no materials, because we’re not guiding people to any conclusions.”

And while the sessions attract a wide range of religions, races and ages, organizers note there are more people 50 and above than in their 20s.

Jane Bissler, incoming president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, a professionals’ group, said she approves of the Death Cafe concept because people can speak freely about a subject that has become increasingly taboo.

“We’ve tried to shield our children. Some of them don’t know what to do at a funeral home or how to support a friend who’s lost someone,” she said. “We’ve raised a whole generation of folks that may not be talking about death.”

Audrey Pellicano, 60, a Death Cafe facilitator, said it’s not surprising baby boomers have avoided talking about death because their generation has been resisting aging for decades.

“We don’t deal with loss,” she said. “We know how to acquire things, not how to give them up. We have no idea how to leave this life and everything we’ve got.”

Gignoux said participants often bring up supernatural aspects such as communications from the dead. “Some people have very rich experiences,” she said.

The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, who arranged for Death Cafes to be held at Manhattan’s famous Trinity Church, said the discussion should be open to all views, regardless of whether they conform to religious teachings.

“I suspect every person probably has a different understanding of death, the afterlife, no afterlife,” Bozzuti-Jones said. “The different views may provide some form of healing.”

Kushner said he doesn’t need any firm answers to benefit from Death Cafes.

“I like the idea that we live with this great mystery,” he said. “Wouldn’t life be boring without it?” (Contributor: By Jim Fitzgerald for Associated Press)

Pray for more of these “Death and Dying conversations” to develop among Christian leaders and believers who will weave into the broader discussion the hope of the Gospel and the assurance God’s Word gives of a happy afterlife for those who know and trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the [person] who makes the Lord his trust….” (Psalm 40:4). Mere discussion, apart from the truth of God’s message, cannot convey peace or spiritual rest. As the hymn writer reminds us, “We have heard the joyful sound, ‘Jesus saves! Jesus saves!’” Pray and perhaps enquire of the Lord how you might be useful to Him in such a discussion group. Our life and hope rest in the risen Christ, in the power of resurrection, and life eternal beyond the grave. Let that be our consistent and continuous message!

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

 

MILITARY PERSONNEL TURN TO LIPOSUCTION TO PASS PENTAGON’S BODY FAT TEST

Doctors say a number of military personnel are turning to liposuction to remove excess fat from around the waist so they can pass the Pentagon’s body fat test.

Some service members say they have no other choice because the Defense Department’s method of estimating body fat is weeding out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds.

A number of fitness experts and doctors agree, and they’re calling for the military’s fitness standards to be revamped.

Defense officials say only a small fraction of those who exceed body fat limits perform well on physical fitness tests.

The checks are designed to ensure troops are ready for the rigors of combat. Pentagon officials say the military doesn’t condone surgically altering one’s body to pass the test, though liposuction isn’t prohibited. (Contributor: By Julie Watson for Associated Press)

Such a report might appear to offer no rational prayer focus. But, as we pray, let us consider some factors beyond the obvious. Sadly, the U.S. population, primarily due to our national affluence and abundance, has a large percentage of overweight people, many of whom are not properly fit and unhealthy in a number of ways. In military circles fitness, strength, and body mass index (BMI) are important criteria for battle readiness. However, there is a glaring inconsistency, always present with social-engineering experimentation, which is rife in military circles. It is this: standards have been lowered throughout the military community to accommodate preparing women for front-line combat roles, even though they are not designed by the Creator for such physically, socially, or emotionally. Thus, whatever the bottom line becomes for “fairness,” U.S. military standards, in all branches, are being lowered and made weaker. Personnel are less able for the task of defending the nation.  Add to this, placing women on submarines, along with the  pressure to muzzle the Christian message of evangelical chaplains, and the Department of Defense is creating disability and handicaps throughout the service branches. That is our prayer focus. Pray as you are led.

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:3-5)

On Watch in Washington October 30, 2013 PDF Version Plain Text Format

On Watch in Washington October 23, 2013

October 23rd, 2013

On Watch in Washington October 23, 2013 Plain Text Version

 

JOB-CREATION WEAKENS, BUT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DOWN

September saw the U.S. economy add just 148,000 jobs, significantly worse than expected, according to a report delayed more than two weeks by the government shutdown.

The unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 7.2 percent, the lowest since November 2008, as the labor-force participation rate held near 35-year lows, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Private payroll creation stood at just 122,000, with state and local governments adding 28,000 positions and the federal government cutting by 6,000.

Economists had been expecting 180,000 new positions and a steady jobless rate.

“This kind of report adds to the sense of foreboding about our economy,” said Claire McKenna, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

Financial markets greeted the report with enthusiasm though, boosting stock futures on expectations that monetary stimulus will remain in place.

CNBC’s Hampton Pearson breaks down the numbers on last month’s employment data.

A broader measure of unemployment that takes into account the underemployed and those who have quit looking for work also edged lower, to 13.6 percent.

“Today’s blistering jobs report has quickly reminded America that our economic problems are getting worse, despite talking point reassurances from Federal Reserve officials,” said Todd Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital.

The report likely will do little to move the needle on monetary policy.

Most market-watchers now expect the Federal Reserve to continue its $85 billion a month bond-buying program until well into 2014. Consensus sentiment is now that the central bank won’t even start easing back on, or “tapering,” the purchases until the spring.

“You would think by now you would be consistently creating over a couple hundred-thousand jobs a month, at least,” said Brad Levitt, senior economist for Oppenheimer Funds. “The Fed wants to see over 200,000 jobs a month on a consistent basis before a change of policy.”

The September report provided another reminder that while the jobs market continues to heal it is far from robust.

The bulk of the jobs came from professional and business services, which added 32,000 positions, while there were 20,000 more temporary jobs. Transportation and warehousing rose by 23,000, and there were 20,000 additional construction positions.

One of the strongest areas of job creation over the past several years, leisure and hospitality, lost 7,000 jobs for the month.

Statistical adjustments played little role in the September data, with an approximation the government uses to estimate the number of jobs gained our lost through new and closed businesses—the so-called birth-death model—subtracting 26,000 from the total.

There were, however, significant moves in previous months’ counts.

July’s growth was revised lower to a paltry 89,000 from 104,000, while August’s count was amped up from 169,000 to 193,000.

Wages grew little in the month, with average hourly earnings up just three cents to $24.09, while the average workweek was unchanged at 34.5 hours.

In short, the demand isn’t there and the money to pay additional workers isn’t there,” Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Both job and income growth remain stuck in neutral.” (Contributor: By CNBC’s Jeff Cox for CNBC News)

Prayer focus: The late evangelist Mordecai Ham is credited with saying, “I read the newspaper to learn what man plans to do; then I read my Bible to learn what God intends to do.” Christians may be joyful and give thanks in dark national circumstances, including disappointing reports. Why? How? For the same reason Apostles Paul and Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God” in a dungeon in Philippi after the jailer “put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:24-25). They knew they were in God’s will and in God’s hands. For this reason, while our beloved nation faces nearly unprecedented challenges—and unremitting prayer and intercession are as sorely needed as ever in U.S. history—still IFA’s position is and will be to introduce these Informer alerts with encouragement. May our hearts be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving to Almighty God. We know His mercies are new every morning, and we are assured His purposes are firm and will prevail until all are fulfilled. We pray, then, to please the Lord.

Shall we intercede then specifically for the U.S. economy, for more jobs for the unemployed and those suffering economic deprivation? Yes, because intercessory prayer is God’s will; and while intercessors pray with long-range faith and rarely see immediate results in praying for national resurgence, God still seeks faithful believers to “stand in the gap” and, by doing so, to avert judgment. In Ezekiel’s day, God lamented that none was found. In our own day, thankfully, there are many faithful saints who still pray. Thus, there is hope for revival that will turn a nation (its leaders and people) to the Lord in repentance and to seek the former ways of “In God We Trust.”   

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one…” (Ezekiel 22:30)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3)

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

NO SCHOOL, NO JOB, NO FUTURE

Almost 6 million young people are neither in school nor working, according to a study released Monday.

That’s almost 15 percent of those aged 16 to 24 who have neither desk nor job, according to The Opportunity Nation coalition, which wrote the report.

Other studies have shown that idle young adults are missing out on a window to build skills they will need later in life or use the knowledge they acquired in college. Without those experiences, they are less likely to command higher salaries and more likely to be an economic drain on their communities.

“This is not a group that we can write off. They just need a chance,” said Mark Edwards, executive director of the coalition of businesses, advocacy groups, policy experts and nonprofit organizations dedicated to increasing economic mobility. “The tendency is to see them as lost souls and see them as unsavable. They are not.”

But changing the dynamic isn’t going to be easy.

The coalition also finds that 49 states have seen an increase in the number of families living in poverty and 45 states have seen household median incomes fall in the last year.

The dour report underscores the challenges young adults face now and foretell challenges they are likely to face as they get older.

A young person’s community is often closely tied to his or her success. The Opportunity Nation report tracked 16 factors – Internet access, college graduation rates, income inequality and public safety among them – and identified states that were doing well for its young people.

Topping the list of supportive states are Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota. At the bottom? Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico.

“Their destiny is too often determined by their ZIP code,” said Charlie Mangiardi, who works with Year Up, a nonprofit that trains young adults for careers and helps them find jobs.

“We have the supply. We don’t have a lack of young people who need this opportunity,” Mangiardi added.

Just look at some of the nation’s largest cities. Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Riverside, Calif., all have more than 100,000 idle youth, the Opportunity Nation report found.

“Often times they lack the social capital in life,” Mangiardi said. “There’s a whole pool of talent that is motivated, loyal and hardworking.” They just can’t get through an employer’s door, he added.

That’s why Year Up spends a year working with high school graduates to teach them career skills such as computer programming or equipment repair they can use when the program ends. It also includes life coaching so they can learn skills such as time management. More than 4,500 young adults from urban areas have completed the program and 84 percent of them have found work.

But it’s a far tougher time for other young people.

In Mississippi and West Virginia, one in five young people are idle – higher than their older neighbors. Mississippi has an overall unemployment rate of 8 percent, while West Virginia posts about 7 percent. Like most states, they saw their unemployment rate fall since 2011, but researchers caution that shift could come from fewer residents looking for work and from more who had simply given up their search for jobs.

And it’s not as though the challenges emerge from nowhere. Quality early childhood programs help students from poor families overcome societal hurdles, and on-time high school graduation rates often follow quality schools – other factors Opportunity Nation examined in its report.

“A lot of times we don’t want to look at data because we don’t want to be depressed,” said Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa.

But it’s an uncomfortable reality that needs to be addressed, he said.

Using previous years’ reports from Opportunity Nation, Denson helped rally community organizations in his city to develop a pilot program to help students as young as 14 find summer work.

“When we got the index, it really allowed us to use it as a rallying point for all of the community-based organizations we work with to say, ‘Look, this is what the world sees when they look at Iowa,’” he said.

Starting next summer, Des Moines students will be placed in paying jobs, part of a citywide collaboration to help its urban communities. It will help older adults, as well, because crime rates are expected to fall, he said.

“If they’re not in school or at work,” Denson said, “they’re not usually doing something positive.” (Contributor: By Philip Elliott for The  Associated Press)

Prayer focus: This article describes a symptom, not a cause. America, even before the U.S. was formed, is unique among the nations of the world. It was established with recognition of the true and living God as its source of life and purpose, the One to whom all men and women owed allegiance and were accountable. The Puritans were pious people, coming to these shores for religious freedom and with the purpose of establishing a nation of God-fearing citizens. When such a nation rejects biblical roots, as the U.S. has done, setting aside allegiance to God as Creator and Sustainer of life, it does not remain in a neutral “safe zone” without consequences. The downward spiral results in a state of nihilism, which can be defined as the belief that traditional morals, ideas, and beliefs have no worth or value and that society’s political and social institutions are to be ignored or destroyed. God’s message of hope is “Repent and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and purpose.” The world system says, “We need more money to make these dropouts wards of the state.” The only way to change the world view is to reach the hearts of people who have lost their way and purpose. Let us pray for our nation’s youth accordingly and that Christian parents will lead their children to know and rely on God from earliest years.

“If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.” (Proverbs 29:18, The Message)

“How can [youth] cleanse [their] way? By taking heed according to Your word. ‘With my whole heart I have sought You….Let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You …Lord! Teach me Your statutes.’” (Psalm 119: 9-12)

 

KEEPING SPEECH FREE ON THE INTERNET

For Americans, freedom of speech has always been among our most cherished freedoms. Why? Because free speech and a free press provide a guardrail for all of our other freedoms. Free speech keeps us informed and connected, and it lets us hold our government accountable. Our commitment to free speech is the envy and example of the world. Yet, each generation faces a renewed struggle to preserve that freedom. Today, we’re seeing that struggle, especially in our government’s attempts to censor the Internet.

The regulatory threats to Internet freedom in America are getting more serious. True, Congress finally shelved two highly controversial bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, in 2012. More recently, Congress dropped the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act. Yet, already they are starting to work on similar legislation. The main intention behind each of these bills may be good — to protect against online piracy and cyberattacks — but they all give government far too much control over what can and cannot be said online, opening the door to greater restrictions. Censorship is not the way to fight piracy or protect against threats to security or privacy.

Free speech is a fundamental American right. The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” This includes speaking or writing in public or private, in books, newspapers and certainly on the Internet. We have a duty to protect and preserve this freedom for ourselves and our children. This year, my organization, the Consumer Electronics Association, is co-sponsoring Free Speech Week. This week serves as a reminder to all of us about the importance of free speech.

First Amendment protections also encourage innovation. As many innovations threaten existing business models, free speech ensures that government efforts to squelch innovation can and will be exposed by the press. Moreover, the First Amendment combined with other constitutional protections, such as due process, protect new businesses targeted by threatened old businesses.

An uncensored Internet is a critical indicator of a nation’s commitment to free speech and a tool to keep that freedom alive. Sadly, around the world there are still many nations that do not enjoy free speech, and many governments jealously censor the Internet to make sure people aren’t saying or reading anything considered dangerous or unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, North Korea, China and Iran are among the worst offenders in blocking their citizens’ access to the Internet.

Still, the problem of censoring the Internet is widespread around the world. According to a report released by the independent watchdog Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net 2013,” global Internet freedom has been in decline for the past three years. This isn’t just the case in nations under authoritarian governments, either. America’s rating worsened by five points this year, to 17 on a scale of zero to 100, with zero being completely free.

Keeping America’s Internet uncensored is vital to protect and perpetuate free speech. The Internet creates a platform for individuals to express themselves and say what’s on their minds. It brings people together from across the globe, allowing them to unite with like-minded individuals and to converse openly with people they may not agree with. Additionally, the Internet allows people to organize and act in defense of their freedoms and the issues they care about.

One of the most important aspects of an uncensored Internet is that it lets people hold their government accountable. Governments that don’t value freedom fear free speech, and they fiercely regulate Internet access among their citizens. These same governments have a track record of punishing — and even killing — their citizens for speaking out online. Authoritarian regimes are afraid to hear criticism, so they silence it. They also monitor content and block anything they consider offensive instead of letting people make decisions for themselves.

That kind of censorship happens in nations that are not free. It should never be allowed to happen in America. If we want to hold on to our prized tradition of free speech, we have to ensure that our Internet remains uncensored and free. We have to speak out ourselves and teach others to do the same. As we celebrate Free Speech Week, let’s remember that we have the right to free speech in America because we fought for it, and we must remain vigilant if we want to protect and keep it for future generations. (Contributor: By Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association for The Washington Times).

Prayer focus: This article is clear. Free people should enjoy free speech. When that freedom is interfered with or stifled by government, a country is on its way to a form of enslavement. In an early letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” True, this is not Scripture; but consider God’s own forbearance in such matters. He allows profane and godless men to rail against Him and His laws and still withholds immediate judgment, allowing time for repentance and for scoffers to seek forgiveness. We suggest a two-fold prayer focus: first, a restraint of increasing government control that could lead to suppression in defiance of the Constitution. And second, that the Church, while enjoying free expression, will use such freedom to preach the Gospel without dilution to seek human approval. Also, God-given religious freedom of expression is being curtailed among U.S. military chaplains, and Christians must stand in prayer and protest against such restrictions.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)

 

FRANCE BERATES US OVER SPYING CLAIMS

French President Francois Hollande has expressed “deep disapproval” over claims the US National Security Agency secretly tapped phone calls in France.

In a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama, he said this was “unacceptable between friends and allies”, demanding an explanation.

The White House said the claims “raise legitimate questions”.

The NSA spied on 70.3 million phone calls in France between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013, it is claimed.

Officials, businesses and terror suspects are among those believed to have been tracked.

The allegations were carried in France’s Le Monde newspaper and are based on leaks from US ex-intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

They prompted President Obama to call his French counterpart to discuss the issue on Monday.

Mr Hollande said that such practices “infringe on the privacy of French citizens” and demanded “explanations” from Mr Obama, according to a statement issued by French presidency.

A White House statement said the two presidents had discussed the latest disclosures, “some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed”.

It said: “President [Obama] made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would continue “bilateral consultations” to address the issue, describing France as “one of our oldest allies”.

“Protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task… because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people,” Mr Kerry said.\

In an earlier statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that “all nations” conducted spying operations.

“As a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” she said.

Envoy summoned

Le Monde says the NSA intercepts were apparently triggered by certain key words.

The agency also apparently captured millions of text messages.

It was unclear whether the content of the calls and messages was stored, or just the metadata – the details of who was speaking to whom.

And the paper did not say whether the operation, codenamed US-985D, was still in progress.

France’s foreign ministry summoned US ambassador Charles Rivkin over the allegations.

The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says the outrage is largely for public consumption, because the French government has been accused of running its own snooping operation similar to the US.

Le Monde reported in July that the French government was storing vast amounts of personal data of its citizens on a supercomputer at the headquarters of the DGSE intelligence service.

The latest revelations follow claims in the German media that US agents hacked into the email account of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Mr Snowden, a former NSA worker, went public with revelations about US spying operations in June.

The information he leaked led to claims of systematic spying by the NSA and CIA on a global scale.

Targets included rivals like China and Russia, as well as allies like the EU and Brazil.

The NSA was also forced to admit it had captured email and phone data from millions of Americans.

Mr Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted a year-long visa after making an asylum application.

The US wants him extradited to face trial on criminal charges. (Contributor: BBC News)

Prayer focus: Under the heading, “Pray for America,” a comment from The American Patriot’s Bible on intercession for our nation, though very basic, may be a helpful reminder. This is especially fitting when our weekly prayer alert has strong political overtones and implications, such as this intrusion into France’s national sovereignty. The prayer comment: “As believers, it is our responsibility to pray for America—always, not just in times of national crisis. Without diminishing the importance of the Supreme Court or the Congress or the president, they are not the source of our future or our hope. Only God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of citizens can sustain the strength and the future of this nation.” With our call to pray for the country’s leadership, we are also instructed to include “the giving of thanks” for government, even where there is room to criticize. Why? So that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Let us continue to pray for God’s mercy and for a national awakening toward righteous government.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 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 2:1-4)  

 

SEQUESTRATION STILL MATTERS

Lurking behind the government shutdown and debt limit battle is the sequester. That’s the Frankenstein-like budget-cutting monster Congress created in 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) wants to change the sequester law as part of a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

Are Democrats moving the goal post to take advantage of public outrage at Republicans for their disastrous effort to defund President Obama’s health-care law?

Was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) right on CNN on Sunday, when he said, “Democrats want to exceed the sequester caps, these things that we put into law to restrain spending.” He added, “They’re all about Obamacare being the law of the land, but so is the sequester.”

House and Senate lawmakers reacted this year to the sequester’s impact on defense spending, but did little about domestic programs. Democrats talked about domestic impact, but they acted on defense.

The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) emerged from the last major fiscal cliff showdown, and it cut $917 billion in spending over 10 years in return for allowing the debt limit to rise by $900 billion.

In addition, when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to agree on a debt reduction program, the BCA set spending caps that would result in an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts from projected spending levels through fiscal 2021.

To enforce the limits, sequestration required across-the-board cuts in discretionary defense and non-defense categories if Congress approved higher spending levels.

There was endless publicity of the impact of the fiscal 2013 defense sequester that cut $42.7 billion out of about $528 billion, including money from overseas operations such as Afghanistan. Training was cut, ship movements reduced, troop numbers lowered.

Less attention went to the $38.7 billion that was cut out of $489 billion in fiscal 2013’s non-defense spending. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said on the House floor Thursday that the sequester had cut 57,000 children nationwide from Head Start, a program that’s “a crucial lifeline in my district, combating poverty and making our communities safer, better places to live.”

On Friday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) noted the irony that because of sequester cuts, National Institutes of Health funding was reduced for the research that just got Yale’s James Rothman his 2013 Nobel Prize.

For the fiscal 2014 budget, both houses of Congress took care of defense, pushing numbers far above the BCA cap.

Should sequester continue, the House’s fiscal 2014 defense figure would have to come down $47.9 billion, while the Senate’s would have to drop $54.1 billion, according to the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center.

Subsequently, the center says, “the impact of the defense sequester . . . will double in fiscal 2014 and triple in fiscal 2015 compared to fiscal 2013.”

The report found that if the defense sequester caps were not changed, between the Reagan administration defense budget and the end of the sequester in fiscal 2021, ground divisions will drop from 20 to six, Air Force fighter and attack planes will drop by 1,632 aircraft, and Navy ships will drop by 338, with the aircraft carrier force declining from 15 carriers to seven in 2021.

On the other hand, the GOP-controlled House slashed the non-defense fiscal 2013 figure below the fiscal 2014 BCA cap level while the Democratic-led Senate would have to drop its figure, $34.3 billion, for 2014 non-defense discretionary funding

On Saturday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) discussed the impact the sequester would have this fiscal year on domestic programs, beginning with Head Start, which would cut an additonal 177,000 children.

The rest of his list was equally harsh: 1.3 million fewer students would receive Title I education assistance; 760,000 fewer households would receive less heating and cooling assistance under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program; 9,000 fewer special education staff would be in the classroom; $291 million less for child-care subsidies for working families; $2 billion less for the National Institutes of Health, which would mean 1,300 fewer research grants.

His list goes on.

The fiscal 2014 sequestration cuts are expected to kick in by Jan. 15. What to do about them became a sticking point in the current negotiations over the shutdown and debt ceiling.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) reflected the GOP perspective on the Senate floor Thursday, saying the two reasons the deficit has gone down is the tax increase demanded by Obama that went into effect in January 2012, “and the sequester, which has actually capped discretionary spending for the last two years. That is what has caused a reduction in the deficit, not anything else.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) put her finger on how Democrats look at the problem in a Sunday floor speech.

“The House,” she said, “is willing to take the sequester . . . but what they do — which is very disingenuous and what the Democrats will not be for — is basically take the lower number overall, but keeping defense at a very high number, and therefore cutting the heck out of everybody else.”

Find a midpoint between those positions and you may get an agreement. But modifying sequester has to be part of the package. (Contributor: By Walter Pincus for The Washington Post)

Prayer Focus: By now, all alert citizens, Christians or not, must be painfully aware that the U.S. Congress—both the House and the Senate, along with the Executive branch—is and has been caught up in a power struggle that has less to do with governing toward common goals set out in our Constitution than it has to do with the question among the political parties: “Who is winning?”  Citizens enjoy no assurance that the national debt is being managed with equity. The writer of this article is turning the spotlight on our severe national divisions. And to that end, we encourage much intercession for a break in all that divides our country—for nationwide healing; for a turning to the Lord; for God’s salvation to visit both the White House and the Congress; for national repentance; for leaders’ hearts to be changed, whereby the goal in decisions is, “What is best for the nation?” Please pray accordingly.

“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’” (Matthew 12:25)

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34)

 

WHEN SACRED SONGS ARE TARGETED

Last week, the Wausau, Wis., school district announced that its 15 elementary schools decided to cancel all winter concerts as did the high schools’ elite Master Singers’ Christmas program.

Outrage in the community began when music teacher Phil Buch, who has led the school’s choral program since 1981, said district administrators gave music educators at Wausau schools three options for December concerts: (1) choose five secular, or non-religious, songs for each religious song performed; (2) hold a concert and have no holiday music whatsoever; or (3) postpone any concerts in December.

More concerns argose when, in explaining the district’s actions, Wausau School Board President Michelle Schaefer said a 5-1 ratio of secular to religious songs is what she considers balanced. However, on Oct. 7, Wausau School District Superintendent Kathleen Williams tried to calm the local outrage by issuing a statement:

“It is important to note that no set ratio of religious songs versus non-religious songs was established as a part of the committee’s review. Rather, district legal counsel indicated that, if the format were changed to a new theme, it could be possible to include one religiously themed Christmas selection along with four other varied selections, which reflected themes from other religious, secular or cultural traditions. The point of this example was to emphasize the need to make a true change in the theme of the scheduled performances.”

Ms. Williams also clarified that the elementary school holiday concerts were canceled so students could devote time to preparing for and taking state and federally mandated tests, not because of religious songs.

The district’s actions are troubling and deeply antithetical to a well-rounded education. There are two things wrong here. First, the district obviously is very nervous about students’ singing traditionally religious songs at Christmas. Second, the district is sacrificing the elementary school children’s cultural education in the name of testing.

People shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting to hear traditional Christmas songs at a school Christmas concert, and students shouldn’t be made to feel that it is inappropriate to sing those songs.

This overemphasis on the secular gives students the false impression that Christmas is just about consumerism. Having students engage in the centuries’ old traditions of beautiful music tells them that there are deep cultural practices in America and in Western civilization of which they are a part.

But, when all that is eliminated or sidelined, it sends the message that traditions are not important; rather, that Christmas is just a commercial enterprise. Christmas is a real holiday that represents real substance in American culture. Education is about one generation passing on cultural traditions to the next generation. We are in real trouble if our schools now think that they must suck all the substance out of holidays.

If there is a mixture of sacred and secular music, there is no problem legally. In fact, in a precedent-setting case, Florey v. Sioux Falls School District, a federal court ruled in favor of permitting religious music as the advancement of the students’ knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage as well as the provision of an opportunity for students to perform a full range of music, poetry, and drama that is likely to be of interest to the students and their audience.

When school officials take actions like this, the problem isn’t legal. It’s a problem with emotions. They fear offending just one person. The irony is, school officials who take such extreme measures ending up offending most people in their communities.

There is a common saying in education: “More is caught than taught.” In situations such as this, students receive the very clear message from school officials: “We don’t want too much religion in our community.” That’s a terrible message.

The National Association for Music Education officially encourages schools to have students sing what it calls “sacred music.” Its policy states, “The study and performance of religious music within an educational context is a vital and appropriate part of a comprehensive music education.”

At its heart, Christmas is a religious holiday. To censor that or reduce it to being irrelevant is simply bad education. It would be like telling teachers that for Martin Luther King Day, they can’t mention that he was black because we don’t want to define people by their race.

Music programs such as those under assault in Wausau are a refreshing contrast with today’s pop-music culture. While lots of teens and preteens look to Miley Cyrus for what is musically valuable, there are educators who want to teach — and students who actually want to perform — culturally uplifting music that has inspired people for centuries. That should be encouraged, not discouraged. (Contributor: By Eric Buehrer, founder and president of Gateways to Better Education – The WashingtonTimes).

Pray for the administrations of schools throughout the United States. When our educational institutions start determining which authors and composers are sanctioned due to their themes and dissertations which have for centuries been sanctioned and deemed worthy of exemplification, we as a nation will be held hostage to the whims of a few. Composers like Bach and Handel for example could no longer be sanctioned in public institutions for study or performance. Ask the Lord to pour His wisdom into our nation’s educational foundations and that spiritually sound and rational thought will prevail.

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)

Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 96:1)

 

CHRISTIAN STORIES OF RELIGIOUS REPRESSION

Standing up for personal religious views is leading to trouble with authorities, several Christians said last Saturday at a conference on faith and family values.

Audrey Jarvis, a student at Sonoma State University in California, said she was asked by a teacher to take off her cross necklace when she was working at a student orientation event.

When she declined, the teacher asked her to at least hide it.

The requests, which were made publicly, were “very demeaning and embarrassing,” Ms. Jarvis said this weekend in Washington at the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by several organizations including the Family Research Council.

Ms. Jarvis said she “refused to sit down or be quiet” and, with the help of the Liberty Institute in Texas, she received an apology from the university.

These kinds of violations of First Amendment protections and religious liberties are not isolated, said Jeff Mateer, general counsel of the Liberty Institute.

In another Texas town, he said, school officials who had received a letter from a Wisconsin group called Freedom From Religion Foundation told cheerleaders to stop using banners with words from Bible verses.

The Kountze High School cheerleaders sued, saying they had rights to free speech and religious liberty, and a judge ruled in their favor, Mr. Mateer said. But school officials have “dug in” and are appealing the ruling.

The Survey of Religious Hostility in America has found about 1,200 current incidents of religious persecution — about twice as many as last year, the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council said in a report.

The survey tallies challenges to public prayer in schools and in public events, efforts to remove crosses on veterans memorials, and rejection of public displays of Nativity scenes and the Ten Commandments. It also includes cases in which companies with religious convictions are forced to abide by health care rules that require coverage for “abortion-inducing” products.

Former Fox football analyst Craig James, who has been outspoken about his Christian faith, told the annual summit that he was dropped from his job suddenly because “corporate” leaders didn’t like some words he said more than a year ago while campaigning for a public office.

Mr. James recalled that he said he believed marriage between one man and one woman is ordained by God, and they “held it against me.”

On a separate panel on religion and the military, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, who spoke as a private citizen, said he was improperly sanctioned over the gay-marriage issue.

In earlier sessions, speakers urged Americans to stand up for traditional values of life, freedom and personal responsibility.

If tea party Republicans and Christians would just give up their God, give up their guns and, of course, give up their disapproval of gays, “then maybe, just maybe, the national comedians will stop mocking you and the national news will just ignore you rather than try to destroy you,” said Star Parker, founder of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education.

But these are just “lies of the left,” she said, adding that liberal welfare policies that devalue fathers, marriage and work have caused decades of harm to families and communities.

Lila Rose, president of Live Action, told the audience of nearly 2,000 to not stop fighting for the protection of the unborn.

“The culture of life is the most important human rights issue of our day,” and young people are getting that message, she said. (Contributor: By Cheryl Wetzstein for The Washington Times)

Pray for our nation’s leaders in all positions of authority. It has been observed by many that when you have leaders that do not treasure the Godly wisdom that our nation has honored and observed for centuries, you will have the unrighteous implementation of laws, rules and regulations that suppress righteous liberty as brought forward in the article above. Pray for the strengthening of the policies that promote religious freedom in America in all its expressions.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

 

HHS BRINGS IN VERIZON TO HELP HEALTHCARE.GOV

The international telecommunications company Verizon has been tasked with helping the government fix the federal health exchange, USA TODAY has learned.

An informed source in the telecommunications industry said Verizon’s Enterprise Solutions division has been asked by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the performance of the HealthCare.gov site, which is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made official.

HHS office said Sunday the department would reach outside its government contractors to civilian companies that might be able to solve HealthCare.gov’s problems more quickly.

“Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov,” an HHS blog post said on Sunday.

HHS did not respond to a request for confirmation about Verizon. The company also declined to comment.

It makes sense for HHS to seek Verizon’s help, said Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s former chief technology officer and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “There is an existing ‘best and brightest’ available to call in,” Chopra said. “Verizon is one of those already under contract.”

The odds that the problem will be fixed are “50-50,” said Clark Kelso, California’s chief information officer under governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. “They’ve got a short window here to try to fix things,” Kelso said. “Simply throwing a lot of new programmers at something like this does not guarantee success.”

According to Verizon’s website, they “provide converged communications, information and entertainment services over America’s most advanced fiber-optic network, and deliver integrated business solutions to customers in more than 150 countries.” The company also works for HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on other information technology contracts.

“They are people who already know the government process,” said Chopra, adding that he did not know the identities of the companies recruited for help.

Chopra said the government’s data hub seems to be working, and “these are known issues. There isn’t a tech expert with a Superman cape soaring in to fix this issue, nor is that needed.”

California’s health insurance exchange experienced many of the same early issues as the federal site, Kelso said.

“We’re starting to do the same thing the feds are where we’re taking the site down over the weekend,” Kelso said. “A common problem for government websites is that you typically underestimate what the load is going to be.”

But California also had bad code from the insurers, which led to people getting bad lists of available doctors in some of the new health plans.

“The result was you were getting bad information about whether your doctor was part of your plan,” Kelso said. “So they deactivated that portion.”

The federal site, Kelso said, seems to have communications issues between the states and insurers.

To a user, it can look like the system is not processing my information; it’d be like Amazon never confirming a payment you’ve made, he said.

Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, which helps larger organizations on cloud computing projects, said the site’s problems may taint perceptions about the law and its performance.

“This kind of problem has been around since the earliest days of the Internet,” Crandell said. “Sites getting so much response that they stop working. We call that a ‘success disaster.’ I’m sure they will fix it. What is worrying is that problems with this site a being extrapolated to suggest problems with the actual law. As we know from experience, website performance is the public face that many projects and companies show to the world.”

Chopra said many website launches, including from civilians, tend to have glitches. He cited the United/Continental airlines merger — where the website had issues merging the two companies’ websites for at least a month — as an example.

“I hope this will be a footnote in the Affordable Care Act’s effect on the health care of the American people,” Chopra said. (Contributors: By Alistair Barr, Kelly Kennedy and Jayne O’Donnell for USA TODAY)

While many Americans are very concerned about the stated implementations of various aspects of  Obamacare and tax dollars supporting the abortion industry, there does need to be wisdom brought forward to correctly and efficiently fix the technical issues with the web site problems currently being encountered. Prayer for continued righteous pressure on ceasing the abortion support in the Obamacare legislation is far more important than promoting prayer for a system that advances the death of our infants. Pray that Obamacare guidelines that do not protect all life will be rightly identified and marked for deletion from support.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mothers womb… Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13, 16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Watch in Washington October 9, 2013

October 8th, 2013

On Watch in Washington October 9, 2013 PDF Plain Text Version

 

SUPREME COURT CASE COULD DEFINE RELIGION’S ROLE IN PUBLIC

A small town in upstate New York is at the center of what legal scholars say could be one of the biggest religious freedom cases in decades, as the Supreme Court prepares to open its 2013-14 term next week.

The case, the Town of Greece (N.Y.) v. Galloway, involves the town council’s practice of beginning its meetings with a prayer offered by a volunteer “chaplain of the month” — Christian and non-Christian — and has attracted friend-of-the-court briefs from religious, secular and civil liberties organizations. The surprising decision to take the case and how it rules could offer new insights on how far the court headed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is prepared to go to redefine the role of religion in the public square.

A decision in favor of those challenging the city could affect religious observances at public events and gatherings across the United States. Prayer before school board meetings, high school athletic events, local charity events and many more could be threatened.

“If the court were to rule for Galloway, it would have to abandon prior precedent, it would have to abandon hundreds of years of practice going back to the founders of our country, and put in jeopardy the many practices and events that reflect our religious heritage throughout the country,” said David Cortman, attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy organization supporting the town of Greece.

Town of Greece v. Galloway is just one of a number of hot-button cases on the docket. The justices also are set to tackle major cases on federal campaign contribution limits, affirmative action, the president’s recess appointment powers and police search procedures.

The court will look into social issues including abortion, housing discrimination and affirmative action, and a year after upholding the core of Obamacare, the court is likely to challenge the law’s requirement that companies with 50 or more employees provide insurance for employees’ use of contraceptives. Companies headed by religious conservatives are claiming a corporate right to freedom of religion that they say the law’s mandate would violate.

Legal scholars say it is not clear what attracted at least four justices to agree to take on the New York case and how far the court may go.

“As has often been the case under Chief Justice Roberts’ leadership, one of the many interesting and important questions the Galloway case prompts is whether the court will make headlines and turn heads by announcing a big change in its doctrines or will instead disappoint journalists who want news buzz and law professors who need new topics by resolving the matter on narrow grounds,” Notre Dame law professor Richard W. Garnett said in a symposium on the case on the legal website Scotusblog.com.

Mr. Cortman said a ruling in favor of Galloway could have major implications, potentially bringing an end to prayers at presidential inaugurations, the “In God We Trust” motto on the nation’s currency and even the cry “God save the United States and this Honorable Court” at the openings of the Supreme Court’s public sessions.

“The new test would be, ‘If I see or hear something that may offend me, and it happens to be religious, that creates some sort of a constitutional violation. We would have challenges to all of these [traditions],” he said. “That would create not only more disarray, but not reflect the true meaning of the Constitution.”

Both sides say the case involving Greece, a modest-sized city on the banks of Lake Ontario, gives the justices wide latitude to revisit legal questions of the prerogatives of church and state.

In 1999, the town of Greece began to include ceremonial prayers before all city council meetings, with almost exclusively Christian clergy delivering the prayers. The tradition continued without protest until early 2008.

Local residents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, protested that only Christians were delivering prayers at city council meetings. With the help of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens filed a lawsuit in 2008, claiming the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and promoted Christianity to town residents.

“A vast majority of the time, the Christian clergy have delivered explicitly Christian prayer,” said Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United. “Meanwhile, the people in the audience are there to petition their government, receive honors or take the oath of office and they are asked to stand or bow their heads for these kinds of prayers that their conscience doesn’t permit them to participate in.”

In their brief to the Supreme Court, the respondents urge the court to reject the precedent set in the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, in which the court ruled that most legislative prayer practices did not violate the Constitution.

The respondents also argued that the town of Greece is not neutral in its selection of prayer leaders and heavily Christian clergy, and does not giving “nontheists” the opportunity to speak.

City council members argued that they did not intentionally exclude members of other religions from participating in the prayer sessions, and that audience members were not forced to participate in the ceremonial prayers.

“The folks who have volunteered to pray before the meetings are merely reflective of the demographics of the town,” Mr. Cortman said. “Just because a town may happen to be more Christian than a different religion doesn’t automatically create a constitutional crisis.”

A district court sided with the city council, ruling that there was not enough proof that Greece officials were intentionally excluding non-Christians. In 2012, the ruling was appealed by Americans United, who again argued that the prayers were unconstitutionally sectarian in nature and established Christian beliefs and religion in the town.

“We are not asking the court to eliminate the prayers here. We are asking that people not be pressured to participate in that prayer, and that the prayer be inclusive and nonsectarian so that it avoids reference to details on which people are known to differ,” Ms. Khan said.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens, stating that the town’s prayer practice was an endorsement to their religious viewpoint.

The town and the Alliance Defending Freedom took the case to the Supreme Court.

“Americans today should be free, as the founders were, to pray,” Mr. Cortman said. “The Supreme Court has ruled that public prayer is part of the history and tradition of this country. The large number of significant parties that have filed briefs in this case certainly support the continuation of this cherished practice.”

Oral arguments for Town of Greece v. Galloway are scheduled for Nov. 6. (Contributor:  By Matthew Lounsberry for The Washington Times)

Today, our prayer focus begins with thanksgiving and praise. Readers of The Informer prayer alert are men and women of faith, willing to “pray into the news” week after week—not an easy task. It requires courage and far-sighted perspective. You are brave souls, embracing a holy assignment that is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, none can persevere apart from God’s grace. This is a fight of faith, but it is a good fight. Intercessors are able to look into a barrage of potentially bad news and yet see the Good News of redemption and revival through the power of Jesus Christ. To encourage you, then, let us begin this week with praise and worship. The psalmist said to Almighty God, “I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O Lord, how great are Your works!”

As for the Town of Greece (N.Y.) v. Galloway, after our pause to praise and to consider God’s faithfulness, we may pray in unity, “Lord God, Ruler in heaven and on the earth, may Your kingdom come; may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. You raise up [government leaders and judges], and remove them when they have fulfilled Your purpose. We intercede for our sinful nation, asking you to extend Your mercy and to bring revival. Start Your deep work in us, Your people. Give us, if it please You, men and women of integrity to lead our country back to its roots and to You. You are our righteous God and Lord of all, and we proclaim, after our spiritual father, Abraham, ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ We pray in the matchless, holy name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”        

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night… For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O Lord, how great are Your works!”   (Psalm 92:1-5)

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold [firmly] of eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession….” (1 Timothy 6:12)

“So [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. [May] Your kingdom come, {may] Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Luke 11:2)

Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; [and] He gives wisdom to the wise…’” (Daniel 2:20-21)

“And Abraham came near [the Lord] and said, ‘Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’” (Genesis 18:23, 25)

 

CHRISTIANS MUST OPPOSE OBAMACARE

Christians need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law. The reason is simple and macabre: Obamacare enables U.S. taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for members of Congress and their staff. That’s right. Pro-life Christians will be forced to subsidize the slaughter of unborn children.

Mr. Obama publicly vowed that Obamacare would not allocate taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. In fact, he convinced pro-life Democrats, such as then-Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, to support the 2009 health care overhaul on this very promise. Mr. Stupak prevailed on the president to sign an executive order stipulating there would be no taxpayer-funded abortions under Obamacare. As with much else about the law, Mr. Obama lied. He deliberately deceived the American people.

Recently, the Office of Personnel Management released an Obamacare guide, stating that members of Congress and their staff are allowed to now receive U.S. taxpayer funds to get an abortion. Think about this: Christians will be compelled to violate their conscience rights, paying for a practice they find not only morally abominable but goes against their fundamental religious beliefs. This is an assault upon their faith, individual liberties and religious freedom.

Devout Christians are obligated to oppose Obamacare — including those who champion social justice and universal health care. Christian teaching is crystal clear: The killing of innocent human life is wrong, a heinous transgression of one of God’s most sacred commandments. Abortion is murder; it is state-sanctioned infanticide. Obamacare is ensnaring Christians in its nefarious web, making them culpable in the killing of unborn babies. Their tax dollars will pay for the abortionist’s knife. Unwitting Christians will have the blood of innocent children on their hands.

This should come as no surprise. Progressivism is at war with traditional Christianity. Liberals seek to create a society without God. Their goal is personal liberation — the destruction of the family, Christian culture and all the other social bonds that act as bulwarks against radical individualism. Abortion clinics are liberalism’s Gulag Archipelago, death camps scattered across the landscape. For liberals, abortion is key to erecting a society without sexual consequences. If a pregnancy is unwanted, liquidate the baby. Secular progressives believe that nothing — including innocent human life — must stand in the way of the sexual revolution. It is genocide masquerading as “choice.”

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, more than 50 million unborn babies have been butchered. Hence, abortion has taken more lives than murderous dictators, such as Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. Liberalism is responsible for more deaths than Nazism or Soviet communism.

The abortion coverage within Obamacare is part of a larger attack upon Christianity. The law’s contraceptive mandate compels Catholic institutions — universities, charities and hospitals — to provide its employees with free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. The Catholic Church rightly argues it tramples on basic doctrine, abrogating religious liberty. The mandate means that Washington, not the Vatican, should determine the church’s social teaching. Mr. Obama is not the pope. He has no business telling the Catholic Church what it can and can’t do. This is why the U.S. Conference of Bishops is suing the administration, hoping the Supreme Court will nullify the contraceptive mandate. If it is upheld, then the church has said it will close down many of its hospitals and charities rather than betray core religious principles.

Christians must wake up before it’s too late. There is a virulent prejudice still acceptable in America: Christophobia. For decades, liberal elites have sought to purge religion from the public square. Prayer has been banned from schools. The Ten Commandments have been taken down from courthouses. Same-sex “marriage” is becoming encoded in law, overturning marriage between a man and a woman as a sacred, unique institution. Pornography is rampant. The family is breaking down. Our culture is obsessed with sexual promiscuity and moral permissiveness. God and Christians are regularly mocked. Even in the military, Christians are now told to remain in the closet.

Enough is enough. America is a product of English and Christian civilization. Our Founding Fathers were Christian patriots, who understood that individual liberties stem from a higher power. The most important is the right to life. Christians must declare that their allegiance to their faith transcends that of the ideological, secular state. If Obamacare continues to insist that we subsidize abortion, then it’s time for Christians to march on the streets in peaceful opposition. Mr. Obama is not worth the loss of our souls.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio host on WRKO AM-680 in Boston. (Contributor: By Jeffrey T. Kuhner for The Washington Times)

 

U.S. WON’T BE FOOLED BY IRAN

Rapprochement with Iran won’t come at the expense of Israel’s security or its relationship with the United States, top Obama administration officials said Thursday, but they added that it would be “diplomatic malpractice” not to explore whether Iran’s nuclear program can be defused peacefully.

The forceful defense of engagement made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry during a visit here with their Japanese counterparts was the first high-level U.S. answer to a blistering rebuke delivered Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader warned that the West is being fooled by the new, friendlier face of Iranian leadership that is being offered by President Hassan Rouhani.

“I did not interpret Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments as suggesting that we are being played somehow for suckers,” Kerry said. “I understood it to be a warning: Don’t be played.”

Iran does not recognize Israel and in the past has said the Jewish state must be destroyed. Israel sees an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat, and Netanyahu told the United Nations on Tuesday that Israel would act alone to prevent a bomb if no other nations were willing to do so.

That was a direct challenge to the Obama administration, which has repeatedly pledged to take military action against Iran if diplomatic efforts fail. Nothing about the new diplomatic effort with Iran changes that bottom line, Kerry and Hagel said.

Kerry praised Rouhani for bucking hard-liners at home to reach out and propose substantive new talks about an advanced nuclear program in his country. The United States fears the program is aimed at developing a bomb; Israel says it is certain of that intent.

Iran has pledged to bring an offer to disarmament talks later this month in Switzerland. U.S. negotiators hope the offer will include a willingness to accept limits on Iranian enrichment of uranium, the fuel that can be used either for power plants or weapons. Iran is seeking relief from crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed by the international community as its nuclear program advanced.

Iran’s new willingness to talk led President Obama to call Rouhani as the Iranian leader left the United Nations meeting in New York last week — the first such direct contact between a U.S. leader and an Iranian one since before the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Hagel said he understands Israel’s concern over the turnabout, but added, “I have never believed that foreign policy is a zero-sum game.”

“Engagement is not appeasement, it’s not surrender, it’s not negotiation,” Hagel said. “Aren’t we wiser if we can find ways to resolve disputes, recognizing the danger, being very clear-eyed and keeping the strongest military in the world?”

Netanyahu used his U.N. address on Tuesday to pick apart the Iranian leader’s overtures, calling Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Rouhani’s effort, Netanyahu said, was nothing but a “charm offensive” to get the West to ease sanctions.

In an interview with NBC on Wednesday, Netanyahu went further. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, heads a “cult” bent on Israel’s destruction, Netanyahu said, and Khamenei, not Rouhani, will decide the country’s nuclear direction.

Kerry said that Iran’s assurances — that it seeks only peaceful nuclear energy, not a weapon — will be put to the test at the negotiating table.

“I can assure the prime minister, as I would assure all the people of the world, and particularly Iranians, there is nothing here that is going to be taken at face value,” the chief U.S. diplomat said Thursday.

“We have an obligation,” Kerry said. “It would be diplomatic malpractice of the worst order not to examine every possibility . . . before you ask people to take military action or do what you have to do.”

In Washington on Thursday, the leader of the Obama administration’s Iran negotiating team was pressed at a Senate hearing to clarify what kinds of concessions the United States might be willing to offer Tehran officials at the talks in Geneva.

“I understand the need to test the diplomatic possibility, but by the same token, I get concerned when I hear about easing of sanctions,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs.

Sherman said the Geneva talks, which are scheduled to begin Oct. 15, would focus on “confidence building,” including “some early test” to gauge Iran’s sincerity. But, she insisted, “the fundamental, large sanctions that we have in place should not disappear unless all our concerns are addressed by the Iranians.”

Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report. (Contributors: By Anne Gearan and Craig Whitlock for The Washington Post)

 

CONGRESSMAN: REIN IN THE UNAUTHORIZED AMERICAN SURVEILLANCE STATE

Although ideological obstructionism in Congress over federal finances has led to the first government shutdown in 17 years, it’s worth remembering that there is one issue where bipartisanship still holds — reining in the surveillance state.

In July, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and I [U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. ] led an effort to defund one piece of our ever-expanding intelligence-industrial complex — the ongoing collection of phone records, “metadata,” by the National Security Agency. Although our amendment fell just short, what happened on the House floor that day constitutes a turning point in our efforts to reclaim our civil liberties.

I say this for several reasons. The program itself clearly exceeds the authority granted by Congress. Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain certain business records only if it can show that the information is “relevant” to an ongoing national security investigation. Though Congress clearly intended Section 215 authority to be directed at a particular individual, and related to a specific investigation, the government chooses to collect records of every phone call made in the United States. In practice, the relevance standard has lost all meaning.

Although Amash and I assembled a bipartisan coalition that was just seven votes shy of a majority, there is ample opportunity for our numbers to grow over the coming months. For example, a number of bipartisan reform bills have been introduced in Congress, including my LIBERT-E Act, there will be other amendments to authorization and appropriations bills, and we must reauthorize the Patriot Act itself in 2015.

Most importantly, the arc of history is on our side. The “red scares” following both world wars eventually led to the discrediting of officials such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The illegal wiretapping of political “enemies” and other Watergate-era abuses led to the adoption of a number of checks on the intelligence community. Over time, wartime deprivation of liberties are inevitably exposed. The people — and their representatives — eventually reclaim their rights.

That’s what I witnessed firsthand on the House floor on July 24. Jerrold Nadler, a liberal New Yorker, was in complete agreement with Jim Sensenbrenner, a conservative Wisconsin Republican and the principal author of the Patriot Act, that the NSA had gone “far beyond” the Congress’ intention. Zoe Lofgren, a Silicon Valley Democrat, joined with a Texas Republican, Ted Poe, in denouncing the program as lacking proper limitation or oversight.

In contrast, our opponents relied on their usual tactic to rally opposition — fear. They told us that if the Amash-Conyers amendment passed, “our country will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” although the government could have continued the responsible collection of business records on a case-by-case basis. The opposition also warned that “we’ve forgotten what happened on Sept. 11,” even though the 9/11 commission concluded that the attack resulted from a failure on the part of the government to share information, rather than a lack of surveillance capability.

What we must do now is take this new spirit of bipartisan cooperation and apply it to the decaying legal architecture of the federal government’s dragnet surveillance programs. It’s not easy taking a position at odds with your party leadership or the administration. They control the bully pulpit, set the terms of the debate and can twist arms. (Contributor: By Congressman John Conyers Jr. for Roll Call)

Here we are given clear prayer points: With regard to national news, one of IFA’s approaches to intercession that we know carries God’s approval is for us to ask, “Is there an aspect of the (immediate) story for which we may first offer thanks?” The psalmist reminds us: “Enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name” (Psalm 100:4). And so, as intercessors who are conservative but without a political agenda, we are grateful and praise God when we see His grace extended for a bipartisan congressional effort to limit federal government overreach. Let us also pray for success within the House of Representatives to work on this symptom of government encroachment, where the goal is to reign in citizen surveillance that has gone far beyond initial Congressional authorization. As we pray, let us not forget that the original design for the federal government, as ratified by the Colonies, was to protect and defend a new nation and individual freedoms, never to evolve into a ruling class.

“Jesus called [His disciples] together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles [i.e., pagan nations] lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great [i.e., a main leader] among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to become first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)

 

MARRIAGE GROUP TO SUE IRS OVER DONOR LEAK, SAYS LIST WENT TO POLITICAL ENEMIES

The National Organization for Marriage will sue the IRS on Thursday, saying it has evidence that someone within the agency leaked the organization’s private donor list to its political enemies in 2012 but that nobody has been held responsible.

Release of confidential taxpayer information is a felony, but the organization’s leaders say the Internal Revenue Service and its internal auditor, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, have stonewalled their efforts to learn who was responsible.

“Somebody did this deliberately and it was planned, and we need to know who it was,” said Cleta Mitchell, attorney for the Act Right Legal Foundation, which is handling the case for the organization, one of the most prominent groups opposing same-sex marriage. “The IRS needs to pay. Ultimately, the IRS is responsible for the damages.”

The lawsuit is being filed as the IRS faces questions about its treatment of conservative nonprofit groups that have applied for tax-exempt status. Congress and the inspector general are investigating that matter.

The inspector general also investigated the leak of the National Organization for Marriage’s donor list, but apparently closed the case without publicly identifying who was responsible.

The organization said that when it tried to pry loose any information, the inspector general said it was blocked by privacy laws from releasing anything. Yet Steve Miller, who was acting commissioner at the IRS, told a House committee in May that agency officials determined the leak was “inadvertent.”

John C. Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, called that explanation laughable.

He said the leaked forms bore internal IRS markings that someone tried to blur in the electronic document, indicating that they were trying to hide the origin.

Also, the information ended up in the hands of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-rights group that is politically opposed to the National Organization for Marriage.

“It suggests to me that this thing was deliberate and at high levels — head of the division, a political appointee, somebody. And darn it, we’re going to find out who did it, and we’re going to wrap it up with a bow and send it over to the Justice Department and keep the pressure on,” Mr. Eastman, who is also a law professor at Chapman University, told The Washington Times.

A call to the IRS seeking comment on the case went unanswered Wednesday. Most of the agency’s employees have been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

The National Organization for Marriage was founded in 2007 to fight proposals for same-sex marriage and advocate for traditional marriage — particularly Proposition 8 in California.

The organization said the leak involved the 2008 list of donors to the National Organization for Marriage Inc., the nonprofit advocacy arm of the organization. That information is reported to the IRS but is required under law to be kept confidential.

But the donor list was given to the Human Rights Campaign, which posted it online during last year’s presidential campaign, followed soon after by the Huffington Post, which highlighted a $10,000 donation from a political action committee associated with Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Huffington Post described the person who leaked the information as a “whistleblower.”

A day after Human Rights Campaign posted the document, that organization’s president, Joe Solmonese, left and became a co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign eventually took the information off its website, but the Huffington Post maintains the document on its site.

Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Eastman said they are stunned that the IRS and the inspector general are refusing to say more about how the leak happened.

They said the IRS told them that because the investigation is now part of their official file, it cannot be disclosed because that would mean disclosing confidential taxpayer information — even though they were the targets of the wrongdoing.

“What they’ve done is they’ve taken a federal law that Congress enacted 40 years ago to protect the taxpayer from the IRS, and they’re hiding behind that and using that same law to protect the IRS and perpetrators,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The National Organization for Marriage has faced a number of complaints over its political activities, including a 2012 ethics charge lodged with California’s Fair Practices Commission accusing the group of violating state election laws in 2008. The organization said that battle cost it more than $10,000 in legal fees.

The National Organization for Marriage says that complaint is based on information gained from the confidential donor list. (Contributor:  By Stephen Dinan for The Washington Times)

We remind those following these alerts that our prayer points are suggestive, never directive. We encourage intercessors, who we know will pray as led by the Holy Spirit. Still, because this and other IRS-related media items have become more numerous in the weekly news flow, our goal is to help maintain focus. During the past 6 to 8 months the public has absorbed repeated reports of “scandals” (called such by secular media) with regard to secrecy, cover-up, and illegal tampering by government agencies. So far, few if any incidents have been resolved. Here, then, is a pro-marriage organization striking back by suing over violation of privacy with regard to its donor list. The facts of the leaks are not in dispute, but responsibility is being shielded. While we are enjoined to pray for those in authority, we also know that God wants injustice exposed and judged for its dishonesty. We suggest intercessors call upon our righteous heavenly Father, who wants truth to penetrate every dark corner, so that the oppressed may be vindicated. Please pray accordingly.

“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Prov. 22:15)

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

WEB GOT A LITTLE LESS FREE IN PAST YEAR

Though the Internet has been hailed as a vehicle for individual freedom and political accountability since its inception nearly 20 years ago, a new report suggests that the Web got a little less free around the world in the past year.

The study “Freedom on the Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media,” released Thursday by the research group Freedom House, found that a growing number of countries around the world are going to extraordinary lengths to monitor and censor its citizens’ Internet use and social media surfing.

“Some of the methods have become quite brutal,” said Sanja Kelly, co-author of the Freedom House report.

Some 34 of the 60 countries surveyed imposed have new restrictions since May 2012, according to the report. Even some leading democracies saw their openness ratings fall in this area, “often as a result of struggles to balance freedom of expression with security.”

The United States ranked fourth in the level of Internet openness, trailing only Iceland, Estonia and Germany. Finishing at the bottom of the survey were Syria, China, Cuba and Iran. And Freedom House researchers said that Web-based repression can be much more direct and personal than traditional government efforts to stifle dissent.

“In the past, political censorship mainly affected political activists, but now we’re seeing regular citizens being arrested for expressing their opinions,” said Ms. Kelly.

The rise of social media over the past five years also has added an extra dynamic to the dynamic of online free speech globally. “Because social media has become such a powerful tool, many countries have become worried,” she said.

According to the study, “Over the past year, the global number of censored websites has increased, while Internet users in various countries have been arrested, tortured, and killed over the information they posted online. Iran, Cuba, and China remain among the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to Internet freedom.”

The free exchange of ideas and viewpoints made possible by the Internet is what has attracted governments to try to control the Web’s political spaces, analysts say.

“Anytime people have the ability to [communicate], the natural human tendency is to do so,” said Sally Wentworth, senior director of strategic public policy at the Internet Society.

In many instances, individuals have been arrested and jailed for tweeting a subtle criticism of the government or even “liking” a post on Facebook that questions certain laws or government policies. Authoritarian governments, such as Vietnam, Venezuela and Ethiopia, were particularly stringent on blocking various blog and social media posts that challenged the government line.

The report cites how popular media websites “were repeatedly subject to ‘distributed denial-of-service’ attacks during the 2012 and 2013 Venezuelan presidential campaigns.

Also, the conflict in Syria saw an influx in Internet censorship and persecution. “In Syria, over 20 people over the past year were murdered because of what they posted online,” Ms. Kelly said.

Still, the report found some countries have improved their level of Internet freedom. Sixteen countries increased their scores in the past year, including Myanmar and Morocco, which “unblocked previously censored websites as part of its post-Arab Spring reform effort,” the report found.

The U.S. government slightly increased its Internet regulation over the past year, primarily because of new measures to counter terrorism and expand surveillance.

Many of the new restrictions target not political dissent but other illegal activities being conducted online.

“Governments around the world are increasingly establishing mechanisms to block what they deem to be undesirable information,” the report says. “In many cases, the censorship targets content involving child pornography, illegal gambling, copyright infringement, or the incitement of violence.”

Even so, “a growing number of governments are also engaging in deliberate efforts to block access to information related to politics, social issues and human rights,” the report concluded.

“Some content is harmful content and should be banned. … However, any limits should be minimal and proportionate to the possibility of crime,” Ms. Kelly said. (Contributor:  By Nathan Porter for The Washington Times)

The specific call for prayer here is not about Internet content or freedom of expression but about the degree of monitoring and censorship permissible in a society once committed to its citizens’ freedom. The Internet, like all technology-age advances, is a tool; as such, it can be used for good purposes or evil, for legal transactions or for fraud and stealing. Righteous people will speak and act from righteous or morally neutral intentions, while those with darker motives will try to discover ways and means to cheat, steal, and betray. Sadly, after 9/11/2001, everything in the U.S. changed, and honest Americans have had to pay a steep price for enhanced government surveillance. As always, in such cases, the question is how much is too much? Let us invoke heavenly wisdom and pray according to God’s will, as the principles of His Word reveal.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:5-8)

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34)

 

CHINA TESTING NEW SPACE WEAPONS

China last week conducted a test of a maneuvering satellite that captured another satellite in space during what Pentagon officials say was a significant step forward for Beijing’s space warfare program.

The satellite capture took place last week and involved one of three small satellites fitted with a mechanical arm that were launched July 20 as part of a covert anti-satellite weapons development program, said U.S. officials familiar with reports of the test.

One official described the satellite-grabbing spacecraft as a “mobile satellite launch vehicle.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the specifics of the test. But Cynthia O. Smith, the spokeswoman, confirmed that the satellites, designated Payloads A, B, and C, have maneuvered in space since their launch.

“The United States Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Combatant Command for Space (JFCC-Space), consistent with its routine operations to maintain track of objects in space, has monitored these satellites since their launch and has noticed the relative motions of these satellites amongst each other and with respect to other space objects,” she said.

The Pentagon’s website Space-Track.org does not report on missions or functions of the hundreds of space objects it tracks, and Smith referred further questions to the Chinese government.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return emails seeking comment on the ASAT test.

The satellites involved in the space warfare development program were identified by the Chinese as “scientific experimentation satellites,” according to a notice published July 24 in the online journal Space News.

They were identified as Chuangxin-3 (Innovation-3), Shiyan-7 (Experiment-7), and Shijian-15 (Practice-15). The spacecraft with the robotic mechanical arm that conducted the satellite capture experiment has not been authoritatively identified from among the three orbiters. However, space analysts suspect it is Shiyan-7.

Space News is published by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), which builds strategic missiles and space launchers, and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), China’s largest missile manufacturer.

The notice stated that the three satellites were launched atop a Long March-4C rocket on July 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north central China.

“These three satellites are to be used for the observation of space debris and conducting scientific experiments in space maintenance techniques like space arm operations,” the statement said.

Space Track continues to identify the satellites as by their payload designations, rather than using the Chinese names.

Space analyst Bob Christy, who writes the blog Zarya.info that first disclosed the three satellites, said no public information has indicated the three satellites involved in earlier close maneuvers engaged in a significant orbit change since activities in August.

“There have certainly been no more approaches between them, and Payload A has shown no sign of maneuvering in the whole of its time in space,” he said in an email.

Since no other satellites are in the same orbit as the three satellites and another satellite known as Shijian-7, “if the capture was last week, it didn’t involve any of these working together,” he said.

Christy said that leaves the possibility that Payload B was captured by Payload C during a close flyby around Aug. 17.

“My actual calculations showed them getting closer than 500 meters but given the inherent error margins of the Space Track data, I stuck with a few hundred meters,” he said.

Another possibility is that the test involved a detachable part of one satellite and its release into a separate orbit, and the subsequent recapturing of the component using the extension arm, Christy said.

“If the separation distance was small and the period of separated flight was short, then U.S. sensors are unlikely to have detected an extra object in orbit,” he said.

A third possibility is that the test involved completely different satellites that were not observed by non-government space trackers.

Christy’s analysis of the August activities revealed that the satellites conducted several experiments.

Since August, Payload C and Shijian-7 showed slight variations in orbit that are likely the result of thruster operation for position control, Christy stated in a recent blog post.

In August, Payload B, a non-maneuvering satellite, was positioned about 620 miles behind Payload C, a spacecraft that specialists say could be the craft with the manipulator arm, and Payload C gradually slowed to until is passed very close to the other satellite.

The robotic satellite may be part of efforts to develop China’s large space station set to be deployed around 2020.

However, Pentagon officials believe the small satellite activity is more closely associated with China’s secret ASAT program.

Little is known about the Chinese space warfare program, which is among the Chinese military’s most closely guarded secrets.

China conducted a direct ascent ASAT missile test in January 2007 that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite and created tens of thousands orbiting debris pieces that threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft.

Chinese officials have told U.S. counterparts that the 2007 test was a one-time event and so far have not conducted further debris-causing satellite attack tests.

A U.S. official told the Free Beacon in August that the launch of the three satellites was part of Beijing’s covert anti-satellite warfare program.

The official said the craft with the robotic arm was viewed as the most threatening because U.S. satellites, vital strategic assets used by both the American military and civilian infrastructure, are vulnerable to kinetic or electronic disruption in space.

The official said the satellites are part of China’s “Star Wars” space weapon program that has been largely ignored by the Obama administration over concerns that pressing China to explain its space weapons would upset U.S.-China relations.

The ASAT program is a “real concern for U.S. national defense,” the official said.

Until the satellite capture, the mission of the spacecraft with the mechanical arm was unknown. It was thought that it could used to grab, gouge, or alter the orbits of other satellites.

The craft also could be used for maintenance and repair.

Rick Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, said the robot-arm satellite that he believes is the Shiyan-7 is part of China’s dual-use space program that includes satellites for military close-surveillance and attack missions. Civilian applications include development of space manipulator arm technology.

“As an ASAT, a future version of the SY-7 could be used to take close-up images of U.S. satellites, to remove systems from those satellites and return them to China, to directly damage U.S. satellites or to plant ‘mines’ on those satellites or close nearby,” said Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“An SY-7-like ASAT gives China the option to attack enemy satellites without creating a large cloud of debris that may also damage other Chinese satellites.”

Fisher said China recently hosted a major space conference and is seeking to position itself as a space “superpower” as a means to increase cooperation and technology acquisition from other countries.

At the conference, “Chinese officials made a deliberate appeal to Canada, which developed and built the manipulator arm used on the International Space Station and U.S. Space Shuttles,” Fisher said.

However, Fisher said China made every effort to conceal the People’s Liberation Army’s role in the space program and would probably deny any military role in the developing mechanical arm technology for offensive space operations.

“The ‘Canadarm’ [manipulator arm] was developed in Canada with Canadian funding and four were purchased by NASA for the U.S. Space Shuttle program,” he said.

China conducted a test launch of a new high-Earth orbit anti-satellite missile called the DN-2 in March, according to U.S. officials.

This entry was posted in National Security and tagged anti-satellite, ASAT, China. (Contributor: Bill Gertz for The Washington Free Beacon)

Given China’s propensity to hide its scientific progress, it would be naïve for Americans to think the Chinese are not consistently honing the edges of their space discoveries and weapons, seeking every advantage, even superiority, if God should allow a confrontation among world powers. So as we pray for divine restraint on all countries who might wish our nation harm, as well as for our government to maintain strong defenses, still the most significant and potentially fruitful intercession would be for our beloved U.S. to awaken, through transforming revival among believers, and, as a result, return to its godly heritage. 

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalm 33:10-12a)

“For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28)

“God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.” (Psalm 47:8)

 

CHAPLAIN ASKS GOD TO FORGIVE SENATE’S POLITICS

Who’s got the toughest job in the Senate during the government shutdown?

Even some of the chamber’s 100 senators might concede it belongs to Barry Black, whose job as Senate chaplain to provide counsel, wisdom and prayer is being put to the test.

The Seventh-day Adventist minister and former chief of Navy chaplains has become “a daily conscience check” for the U.S. Senate, as The New York Times put it Monday. Every day since Oct. 1 when the government has been left without funding for the fiscal year, Black has delivered a sharply worded prayer to the men and women who hold a key to breaking the nasty budget impasse.

“Forgive us also when we put politics ahead of progress,” Black said Monday in his deep baritone.

Another of Black’s prayerful admonitions: “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable. Remove the burdens of those who are the collateral damage of this government shutdown, transforming negatives into positives.”

Black, like thousands of other government workers, is not being paid during the partial federal shutdown. He began his current job in 2003, after 27 years in the U.S. Navy and retirement as a rear admiral. Black, who grew up in a public housing project in Baltimore, is the first African-American chaplain in the Senate.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, paid tribute to Black on Monday by entering the NYT article into the Congressional Record. Durbin said Black is “being given awesome responsibility to prove the power of prayer in the midst of the government shutdown.” (Contributor: By Catalina Camia for USA Today)

Not many of us think to pray for the people whose job it is to pray, but we are reminded of the role of the chaplain’s ministry through this timely article featuring Senate chaplain, the Rev. Barry Black. Rev, Black is a thoroughly grounded evangelical who treads a political pathway carefully but effectively in attempting to pray for and minister to 100 senators of various faiths, even those who state “None” as their religious preference. As we pray for Rev. Black, let us ask God to increase his effectiveness and open hearts among his “parishioners” to the Gospel. We may pray with confidence; and, knowing the powerful life that is in God’s Word, and its effectiveness when applied, we can believe that the power of the message far exceeds the political limits placed on the messenger. There are forces working behind the scenes that want to silence our country’s religious heritage and push all reference to prayer and witness out of the mainstream completely. This is seen especially in the U.S. military, so let us extend our prayers to the military chaplains as well. Our Scripture passage is counsel from an imprisoned veteran preacher (the Apostle Paul) to a younger pastor (Timothy) urging him to be strong in ministry and reminding him that “the Word of God is not chained.” Nor will it ever be, praise God!

“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier…. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim. 1-9)

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me [your Apostle Paul], that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:18-20)

On Watch in Washington October 9, 2013 PDF Plain Text Version